Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Laughter is Sometimes Helpful

This is Josie Long---my new favorite stand-up comedian.

Same Song, Third Verse


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

No Sleep Again

This is beginning to piss me off. Maybe I'll at least hallucinate by the end. It's always good to have something to look forward to.

Monday, December 29, 2008

No Sleep Last Night

Which is what I expected was going to occur when all my meds were withdrawn and I was revealed to the world for the insomniac that I am. This also means that I have no energy to blog today. Perhaps tonight I will sleep. Maybe God will have mercy on my soul.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Now With Anonymous Comment Option Removed

The only thing I've managed to acquire by leaving anonymous comments on is negative comments and insults, so that option has to go. I admit that my posts are at times snarky and sarcastic, but at no point do I ask for unsolicited nastiness. If you've ever read H.L. Mencken, you understand the basis upon which much of my writing style is formulated. If you don't, then you're totally missing the point altogether.

I've hit the same situation here which many of you have already reached on your own blogs with your own unfortunate troll problems. Henceforth, if you have no identity, you have nothing to say here in comments.



Reading Babbitt (And Other Related Digressions)

I've been reading Sinclair Lewis' book Babbitt--which two generations ago was a frequently used noun to describe a person obsessed with consumption and consumerism---with a corresponding deficiency in taste, decency, and culture. These days Babbitt reads like a prescient declaration of the future way of things. In the days before banal television programming, a glut of soft news, and widespread anti-intellectualism disguised as low culture, Lewis' George H. Babbitt is the original master of dilettantism and Philistinism. The barker of platitudes and trivialities presented as folk wisdom, Babbitt is meant to satirize the mind of the typical businessman.

A personal reflection, if I may. Large sections of the book makes me uncomfortable on all kinds of levels because, as I've stated directly and indirectly on this blog, I was raped by a man when I was a child. The fallout from that event in my young life is quite pronounced. As a rule, I keep scant male company and there's a reason why most of my friends are female. Lewis' jocular portrayal of back-slapping good old boys and their laddish behavior I find decidedly creepy. Combine a natural aversion to men with a history of never feeling comfortable with so-called normal masculine behavior and one might be able to understand how difficult it is for me to read page after page of vapidity masquerading as male bonding. Even depictions of male bonding make me uncomfortable, since I have a tendency due to the abuse to associate platonic affection between men with latent undertones of overt sexual exploitation.

My own issues aside, the author's point, of course, is to make the conduct of these small-town businessmen with inflated egos and nagging wives seems as patently offensive as possible. We're not to like them---we're to deplore everything for which they stand. These days they'd cheerfully vote Republican whenever possible and cheerfully spout racial epithets on their way to the polls. My hope is that very soon this book won't seem as true to life---though I know the best satire never completely dates.

"Well, You Could Be A Mormon"

This was part of my conversation with the outgoing clerk in charge of Young Adult affairs at meeting. I was remarking how damned difficult it is to pull more Young Friends together at First Hour worship. She was a well-meaning young woman about my age and a little on the loopy side. Soon her term presiding over an unfortunately needless formality will be over and it will be someone else's turn to be perpetually frustrated or blissfully ignorant---assigned to give periodic self-serving announcements after worship is over and immediately before time to break for refreshments.

I began by saying It would be really nice to have more Young Adults here.

She began by saying Well, it used to really depress me, too, but... She frowned.

If you were a Mormon, you wouldn't have to worry about it.

And for a moment I drifted away, thinking about how different my life would have been if I'd been raised Mormon: voting Republican, buying into everything upon which the LDS church stood, questioning nothing, wearing a suit, a white-collared button down shirt, a name-tag bearing the name Elder Camp, daily donning sacred undergarments to protect myself from evil, and inevitably finding a nice, bland, plain, subservient wife after service one morning, immediately before a whole group of us were about to depart to go apple-picking in the community.

It seemed like I had somehow ended up on Utah Savage's blogstream--one of her more vivid nightmares.

The woman had grown up Mormon and converted to Quakerism, which was the reason for this interesting, but rather unorthodox answer. It underscores a larger problem. Left-leaning spiritual groups historically have problems keeping young adults engaged and coming to service. For example, this morning I saw a young woman in her early twenties sitting with her parents, looking as though she was only there to begin with to appease them. Sure enough, the instant she could get away from worship she squirmed towards the exit door and never returned.

This really needs to change. I'd like to work to revitalizing Young Friends groups all over the country. My thoughts return to this constantly and I hope soon I'll make good on my promise.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Agony of Defeat

I am sad to report that I will not be able to attend the Inauguration. Apparently my elected representatives have let me down yet again. I suppose I didn't contribute enough money to their respective campaigns, which, since they are all Republicans, I certainly wouldn't have done in the first place. Since demand was so high I must admit I wasn't really expecting I'd get one and so I'm not really that devastated.

Still, watching at home will be a much warmer experience and I will probably get a better view than if I had been there in person. But I am still disappointed. Boo!

Or, If You Prefer

You can read the poem I wrote last night.


bad company
usually comes in
the form of men

with ornate and
highly visible forearm

invariably sacrilegious

leering vacantly
mouths open

identical to the way
you're afraid you look

while gazing across
the seats at the latest
attractive stranger

they hunch forward
elbows resting heavily
on knees

talking incoherently
out of the
sides of their mouths

undoubtedly making
women nervous enough
to clutch their purses

reassuringly tighter
shifting their bodies
two inches closer to a

poster advertising
the merits of a
social service agency

one could (I suppose)
stare back
but it would have no
effect whatsoever

all bad company understands
is the evils of
institutionalized food

and the acquisition of
loose change

soon they'll leave
ambling out at the most
unlikely stop imaginable

forcing one
to think up a new game

Saturday Video

I admit that I came along a little too late to appreciate R.E.M. at its peak. By the time I entered my early teens, they were well into their grandiosely orchestrated, bombastically overproduced phase that gave rise to songs like "Everybody Hurts" and "Losing My Religion". The early IRS albums are about all I can listen to these days without earplugs. For what it's worth, let the record stand that R.E.M. were, at the beginning, a good little college rock band with tightly crafted, homegrown songcraft and a freshness that set them far apart from the commercialized crapola that passed for music during the 1980's.

"Gardening at Night" is probably my favorite of all their early singles. I can stand R.E.M. in minimal doses even at their best, since they get a little monotonous with repeated listens and their glaring technical limitations become ever more clear with repeated listens. Still, this is a great track.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Happy Boxing Day!

Unless you're Canadian, British, Australian, or a citizen of a Commonwealth country, today you too can pretend to celebrate an additional holiday. Anglophiles the world around can rejoice! Rest assured, like all holidays worth celebrating these days, the holiday has been transformed from the feast day of St. Stephen to a day of after-Christmas shopping and general consumer excess. I suppose you could always stay home and watch cricket, though.

This could be a tonic to Americans feeling bummed out that Christmas is over, wishing to have something to celebrate in the interim.

In unrelated news, ever since the water main broke in Bethesda, the unit has been functioning on a contingency plan to consolidate patients and conserve water usage. This means that the alcoholics who would normally be housed on the first floor have been transferred up here. In countless other hospitalizations, I have found that combining psychiatric patients and addicts is a recipe for disaster. I have seen fists fights, verbal altercations, need for physical restraints, and lots of other horrific mental images I'd rather not revisit in my mind. Mostly I dislike having nine strangers in the place of what would have been a quiet holiday with only two other fellow patients---since most other people went home for Christmas.

Add this to the fact that I am being swiftly tapered off of my Seroquel, meaning I'm having awful withdrawal symptoms and you may understand where my frame of mind is these days. Still, the alcoholics will be back where they belong on Monday, within two weeks the side effects will subside, and the protocol will begin on 12 January. Thanks for all those who have been looking out for me. You are loved.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

This Christmas Day, Please Remember

1. The retail salesperson who had to deal with 5,000 rude customers a day during the Holiday season and is grateful for the season to be over.

2. The multitude of workers from a variety of vocations who are foregoing Christmas today and working. Saying, Well, they probably get holiday pay does not and should not detract from the fact that they are at work today and not with their families and loved ones.

3. The policeman, the fireman, the EMT, the 911 operator, and all of those other workers who are on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and who we have a tendency to take for granted unless we have an emergency.

4. Everyone for whom Christmas Day is their only guaranteed holiday off, probably without pay, and who do not have the ability to attain anything else otherwise.

And be it therefore resolved.

Next year, don't forget that the people with whom you interact while doing errands and otherwise rushing through your time-limited existence are human beings, too. They have families, feelings, frustrations, and concerns just as pressing to your own. Do not depersonalize them in your haste to seem in step with your fellows. In the grand scheme of things, nothing is that damned important.

Get it right next year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

For a True Appraisal, Look Underneath The Surface

Yesterday's water main break here in Bethesda underscores the root cause of many of our problems. It was discovered, for example, that the offending pipe was built in 1964. Water Works officials had been warning the entire area that the system was under heavy strain and that breaks like these were only a matter of time. As a matter of fact, there had been nearly 3,000 similar incidents in the past ten years alone. Increased demand and usage is squarely to blame. Our industriousness and overpopulation have been our undoing yet again. Our foolishness is also to blame, since we have yet again been obsessed with trivialities at the expense of crucial issues that, hidden from our view, we frequently take for granted.

Furthermore, the event underscores how we place so much stock in cosmetics in this society. It's often more important to display an attractive exterior than to address the multitude of problems which exist hidden, underneath the surface. It reminds me of the woman who purchases expensive makeup to disguise the ugliness of her inner issues. I'm reminded of the Minnesota interstate bridge collapse as another example of how our infrastructure is crumbling while we put our money into superficial matters instead. Expensive wrapping paper will not obscure a bad gift, and so too we need to seriously put some thought into resolving this crisis. To cite a historical example, Alabama politicians and governors into the 1960's waxed proudly about having paved new roads on their watch---since the state was still largely rural then, good quality roads were badly needed. Furthermore, newly paved roads served as a visible symbol for everyone to see that government did provide needed results. These days, I think we believe that somehow these prosaic, but still simple matters have been put aside forever and require no future work. Not so.

Allow me to propose a solution if I may. We are in a recession. People are out of work. Imagine how many jobs could be created all over the country if we got to work fixing our decaying and ancient sewer systems. I know it would probably take years and years before the task was through, providing a steady supply of work in the interim. One of my many hopes for an Obama administration is a new CCC or adoption of a Newer Deal. Not every reform measure has to be overly complex. Sometimes the simplest measures are the most needed. I am aware this probably makes too much sense, but hopefully soon our President will act rationally and logically for a change. I'm hopeful.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This Year I'll Be Starting a New Tradition

The Jewish Christmas.

Chinese food and a movie. Nothing's open and nothing to do, so might as well stay home.


I woke up this morning to no running water in my sink, toilet, or shower. This is thanks to a huge water main break which occurred a couple miles away in Bethesda. A flood of Biblical proportions resulted, meaning the entire NIH campus is without water pressure. Quite annoying, but at least I didn't have anything to do today. No point in confronting the world unshowered and disheveled.

I'm still not up to snuff yet, friends. Yesterday was draining. My antidepressant medication is being swiftly tapered down to nothing, lest it interfere with the results of the forthcoming protocol. Yet again, I recognize that without an adequate dose of meds I am much more vulnerable to events in the outside world that ordinarily would not phase me. When I first got ill, I wished to see if there was any way possible I could live without medication, and found out that it simply wasn't possible. In my teens, the smallest critical word would be agonizing to endure, sending me to my bed to agonize over it for days at a time. I've improved since then quite considerably, but even with therapy, self-reflection, and a good quality medication cocktail, my illness persists.

Part of it is that we're at t-minus two days until Christmas and I haven't even remotely been "in the spirit." Much of this is due to the fact that I'm staying in unfamiliar surroundings in an unfamiliar city, but the older I get the harder I find it possible to sell into a romantic ideal of peace on earth and unconditional love to everyone when the reality is buy as much as one possibly can for as many people as one can for no good reason except for the fact that everyone else is doing it too and one wouldn't want to seem out of place, now, would one? Another big part of it is that the whole country is in a recession and the emotional toll it's taking on people is not particularly pleasant to observe casually on my travels out into the city.

I'm not going home for Christmas this year since I'm not particularly feeling up to traveling. I must admit the thought doesn't upset me, though when the day arrives and I'm here and not among my family I'll probably cry a few tears. My mother cried up a storm when I called her last, but she seems to have calmed down.

I believe the water is back on, so I'm going to go take a shower.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It Was Only a Matter of Time

before I started to feel some adverse effects from the tapering/washout period. I'll be back tomorrow full speed, I hope. In the meantime, have a good week and I wish each of you a Merry Christmas.

I leave you with Bjork talking about her television.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Thought of the Week

"Supreme independence is to shed oneself of unnecessary things."- Mohandas K. Gandhi

Condition Has Its Cost

Meeting today was comprised of the usual First Hour worship, but immediately afterward we were implored by the Angel Gabriel (an eight-year-old boy in a costume, speaking his lines without much conviction) to walk across the campus to the Bethesda Friends Meeting's annual Christmas Pageant. The site of the Pageant happened to be the stage/lunchroom of the Sidwell Friends Lower School, which will soon have a new student, the youngest Obama daughter. As I filed into the large room where a small orchestra, conductor, and two dozen or so kids dressed up like a fidgeting nativity scene were ready to begin the proceedings, I couldn't help but think about the numerous things which wealth can provide.

Miss Obama will certainly have every amenity imaginable available to her: a curriculum focusing on multiculturalism and diversity, violin lessons if she so chooses, a well-maintained campus, a low student/teacher ratio, eco-friendly, water-saving toilets in the bathroom, and on and on and on. I wonder if she'll take for granted the abundance of her surroundings as the product of two high-achieving, extremely well-off parents. Certainly I hope she doesn't and hope she uses her priviledge to help others. I didn't have that luxury when I was growing up, though I was fortunate enough to be a student in good quality public schools.

When my two sisters and I were children and adolescents, my mother was a popular elementary school teacher who the process of rapidly rising up the ladder towards upper level administration. Though both of my parents made enough money to send us to private school, Mom didn't wish to seem like a hypocrite or to invite bad press, which is why all three of us were placed in the same public school system of which she was an employee and major decision-maker. Though I do not hold her responsible for my misery in a public school, I have since realized I would have been much happier in a private school setting. Yet, I wonder if I would have become complacent if everything I'd ever wanted was placed squarely at my feet. Part of the reason why I was so interested in learning about the outside world, absorbing everything I could from outside sources, and otherwise overachieving was because those things simply weren't available to me during the school day.

What do you think? I know some of you out there choose to send your children to private school, and some of you prefer public school. I'd like to know your reasons.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Saturday Video

One of my favorite songs of all time, especially because of the lyrics in the chorus---which implore the listener to not dwell on the past, nor dredge up painful past events best left buried. Since my illness makes me inclined towards doing both of those things on a regular basis, listening to this song has always been a kind of catharsis to me.

Remember, remember, today

And don't feel sorry
About the way it's gone
And don't you worry
About what you've done

Friday, December 19, 2008

Why I've Been Taking a Bit of a Break (From Politics)

When I was in my early twenties, I flirted with radical activist politics. Expressing a deep sense of righteous indignation about a variety of things, using important-sounding words to underscore my points, finding fault with almost every system and function within society, and generally staying in a state of mind somewhere in between frustration and condescension was my life. In short, it was too much, it was draining, and I never got any resolution for all of my lofty goals and aspirations. Furthermore, the strident voices of the radical left, while they aim to win converts, end up isolating themselves from only a few true believers and instead of informing the masses, they instead turn off the average Jane or Joe. Thus they exist in relatively tight-knit colonies of the most committed and devoted to the cause, these insular cells which if entered look not unlike a parallel universe.

It was at that point that I shifted more to the middle. Not because I was actively surrendering my ideals, but mostly because as a moderate it was highly plausible to occasionally see some reforms I favored passed into action. The life of a radical is a life of feeling supremely isolated and it's also a life of being around a bunch of self-important complainers who are always pissed off about something. Even the biggest success gets parsed, analyzed, and transformed into something else to be angry about---mostly because the change enacted didn't go far enough. Being that radicals almost never get anything they want, I couldn't function for long as one of them.

Now we're in the part of the political season whereby we are called to collectively second-guess the cabinet selections and tentative decisions of the President-Elect. I have a totally different perspective, since Obama's election in and of itself is joyous to me. I think perhaps we must think we're somehow obligated to get everything we want exactly the way we want it, which subsequently reminds me of my radical days. Even if the most liberal political candidate ever was elected, I don't know if he or she would make every decision more or less in line with the whims of the left-wing base. I'm not sure if we're a nation of whiners as much as we are a nation which claims to want a diversity of ideas, that is, as long as they're the same are ours.

Case in point. Click ahead to around 4:44 or so in the below film.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And So On, And So On

With the withdrawal of my Seroquel has come a period of mild depression. Fortunately, this will not last for more than the next two weeks, at which point the protocol will begin and the Ketamine will take over. The only thing of note I accomplished today was doing the shopping for the unit at the grocery store and acquiring the ingredients necessary to fix our weekly Friday meal. Still, that was at least something. I found out shortly upon my return that EEGs will not be performed during the protocol due to a scheduling conflict. Too many people and not enough beds, apparently. Still, they will perform a PET scan after each one, which is a full brain computer profile that tends to reveal more than any other procedure yet developed.

I wish to write more, but my concentration and focus is not sufficient enough. I have a page and a half of a short story I have been sitting on for nearly a month, but my compulsion to finish it simply isn't there. In times like this, back home, I would increase my coffee consumption by 400%, but Lithium has a weird way of neutralizing a caffeine buzz or at least rendering it to something quite mild. In my wilder years, I smoked copious amounts of pot to produce the same effect, but would inevitably toke my way into a state of severe depression by the end. Apparently five consecutive days of THC infusion + my brain = depressive episode. It's one of the many reasons I no longer partake.

My cold is almost completely gone, though antibiotics have managed to upset my colon somewhat. Within the next two days I'll be totally rid of it. I've gone back to my exercise routine, and am now incorporating an elliptical along with the stationary bike. However, the elliptical (meant to simulate cross-country skiing) puts all of my body weight upon my right leg and in particular my right knee, making me afraid somehow that I'm going to tear a ligament if I keep at it. Perhaps I'm doing it wrong somehow, and one of the more blatantly lesbian recreational therapists will be around tomorrow morning to show me how to properly do it.

In an outing with The Norah yesterday I traveled out to what was advertised as "Washington, DC's, Best Record Store", a bold claim made by the employee of a nearby used book store we went to immediately before. It was a decent little indie store, though I have to say I've seen much better in my travels. The evolution of the music industry and recording music is rather telling--effective last month the store will reduce its CD catalog to niche releases and new albums alone. Most of the remainder of the catalog will be vinyl, since that accounts for most of its sales. As much as I enjoy LPs, they aren't especially durable and vinyl greatly restricts the portability of music. One must play them in one set location with a minimum of jostling. For example, one certainly couldn't take a vinyl album to listen to on the metro or in the car.

I've resisted getting a decent record player because LPs are normally ten dollars more than CDs, they quickly give out, forcing you to buy a replacement, and needles frequently break as well, requiring even more additional expense. While I understand the merits of the format---since nothing does quite sound as warm and engaging as a LP, their resurgence over the past several years is a bit of a fad (albeit a lasting fad) and most fads aren't rooted in sense. Who knows where the industry is headed---since file downloading has become so omnipresent that many people like me rarely buy albums anymore.

Another Treatment Moment

Budget cutbacks are on the rise here at NIH. It started first in subtle ways--for example, reduction of plastic cups in which medications were dispersed in favor of cheaper, smaller paper cups. The shuttle routes which transport people back and forth from campus to other points in the immediate vicinity are also being eliminated or greatly reduced. These are the first two examples I can think of when one contemplates the impact of a bad economy on a government agency. Subsequent things to go, I predict, will be the free movies we're shuttled to on Wednesday evenings and a reduction in additions to the patient library. I'm sure there are other changes which have gone into effect as well that aren't as visible. My fear, of course, is that they'll have to cut back on research studies which selfishly I would like to see preserved because I do hope that they might just find a cure for what I have within my lifetime.

Since I've been here, I've filled out study after study with a sharpened number two pencil, contributed blood to a genetic profile, undergone hours in a MRI tunnel, dealt with the indignity of having parts of my chest hair shaved to accommodate the electrodes of an EKG machine, and asked to rate the severity of every imaginable facet of my illness. The begin date of the protocol looms ever closer. Shortly after the first of the year, I'll undergo a fresh round of neuropsych testing for two busy days, and then begin the infusions. My days will be packed full of things to do almost from the moment I'm awakened from sleep at seven o'clock in the morning. This was the ultimate goal of why I'm up here, though it has been nice to really get to know the DC area.

Yesterday I was asked to explore the minutia of my most severe suicide attempt in great detail. It didn't bum me out (as the doctors and nurses had feared) so much as it reminded me of a part of my life of which I am exceptionally bored. When I first got ill, I was obsessed to navel-gazing excess with my diagnosis and compelled to relate every imaginable element of what I had into all elements of my daily life. This is a commonplace occurrence but it's also a stage in my development that has nothing really to offer me if I choose to look backwards. I romanticized my misery at that point in my life, which deeply exasperated many who loved me. I had a long way to go in those times towards health and as a result was quite clingy and needy. The passage of time has healed many wounds though I still bare some major scars from the past.

Provided I feel up to it, I'll be blogging about the daily routine of the protocol when it arrives. Many readers have expressed interest in how it works. As of now, I'm going into it the way I have from the moment I arrived here---seeing this all as some grand, glorious adventure. And on that note, I take my leave of you all.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Checklist for the Modern Age

I am a deeply superficial person

I relate to the characters in bad sitcoms

I am overly conscious of the sincerity in my voice

I use slang in an ironic context

I use bits and pieces of other peoples' personalities to form my own

Only proles and wild boars are free

I like to have sex with people

I measure my self-worth by the quantity of my possessions

I get excited by just thinking about fast food

Drinking heavily prevents me from confronting my demons

I think it would be fun to run a newspaper

I celebrate the major holidays of other peoples' religious traditions because I have none of my own

Every two child did. I will.

I can't understand why anyone would get a tattoo on his/her feet

Sometimes I still think people should be stoned to death

Book Review: Kurt Cobain's Journals

When I was coming up, it was fashionable to defend Kurt Cobain's shortcomings, much like a clinging girlfriend who knows her boyfriend is a loser but chooses to see his good side despite the substantial flaws. We bought hook, line, and sinker into a more or less uniformly romantic portrayal of a doomed rebel and tortured genius--a myth disseminated wholesale by a sympathetic music press and MTV news. Among the major mythologies advanced to excuse his untimely death by his own hand were the oft-cited revelations that chronic stomach pain (which a series of doctors had failed to treat sufficiently) were the major reasons for his heroin addiction and eventual death by suicide. Another strain of this sort of thinking asserts that his death by his own hand was a kind of noble sacrifice and statement to protest the soul-destroying aspects of mainstream success. Rather than take my place as another enabler and smitten adherent of the school of dysfunctional rock star, I'd rather comment on what I see as a deeply troubled human being.

Very much the autodidact, Cobain's journals are full of creative misspellings, future plans, handwritten letters to friends and record labels, fragments of stories unfinished, and outlines of songs and music videos. A high school dropout, Kurt Cobain never went to college and thus didn't possess the kind of educational polish which might have vastly improved his collection of rants and sarcastic bon mots. In many respects he was a slacker with a tremendous amount of unfulfilled potential. Still, potential aside, he had a shockingly immature side as well and an unhealthy infatuation with violence, bodily function, and toilet humor. While he decried materialism, consumerism, and mindless conformity with ample spleen in his writings and in his lyrics, many of his pronouncements were made in the terminology of an overgrown bratty seven-year-old boy with a potty mouth.

One expecting to find much in the way of finished thoughts or consistency need look elsewhere. The collection includes page after page of crude drawings, sloppy handwriting, occasional brilliance, mood swings, and frequent imperfection. Cobain could have badly used an editor or even considered editing his own material. As shown in the journals, his bare-bones, elliptical song lyrics were the only substantive efforts to undergo any real revision or more than cursory afterthought, with the exception of a few of his paintings or sketches. While reading through the sloppy, handwritten text, the image which sticks with me is that of a wiseass, lazy, frequently self-righteous, drug addicted loner in bad need of a shower, living in his aunt's attic. When one look at it this way, the mystique quickly evaporates and the real Kurt Cobain shines through.

What I was also struck with were the contrasts between the alternative scenes in the general same Seattle area at the time. Nirvana and other grunge bands had few similarities to the more politically active, chronically outraged, highly educated, young liberal riot girrl scene raging in the Pacific Northwest. Nirvana were much less self-consciously activist in their music and in their discourse, far too uncommitted, slothful, selfish, and destructive in general to have the discipline to advance any ideology. In this regard, they were more like malcontents griping about the right social ills with no real, sustained conviction aside from the fact they were against the status quo. The truth of the matter is that while constantly decrying the soulless nature of success, Kurt Cobain wanted to be huge, wished to make it, lusted after stardom, methodically planned his rise to fame, and attained it. The deepest irony of them all is that once he achieved his dreams, he couldn't handle the pressure and the demands.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Yellow Journalism: Then and Now

These were the defining characteristics of Yellow Journalism.
  1. scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news
  2. lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings
  3. use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudo-science, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts
  4. emphasis on full-color Sunday supplements, usually with comic strips (which is now normal in the U.S.)
  5. dramatic sympathy with the "underdog" against the system.
Scarily enough, think of how many of these factors are commonplace today, so commonplace that no one even questions it. These days, we might consider these five points the basic building blocks of today's news story. For comparison's sake, let's look at a visual example.



The mainstream media outlets, pundits, and fourth estate insiders routinely criticize the blogs for resorting to this very same thing, when they are almost always the instigators and worst offenders. What made me post on this topic was when I observed yet again how even the so-called "news" outlets feed us all a steady diet of crap and then wax indignantly when someone else might wish to provide the unvarnished truth. So far as I am concerned, they can all go under, since they're failing the public by peddling a bunch of gossip and hyperbole---failing in their responsibility to be the purveyors of truth---obsessed with the lowest common denominator at the expense of hard facts.

Superficiality, materialism, and consumerism go hand in hand so far as supreme vices are concerned, and this sort of behavior, as Bill Hicks would say, systematically lowers the standards of society as a whole, tainting our collective unconscious and making us pay a higher psychic price than we could have even imagined.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Since I've been up here I've been encouraged to contemplate the environmental and psychological aspects to my condition. Particularly I've been asked to examine my childhood and adolescence. What a sad tale both of those are. Still, I have never been shy about revealing myself, even on a public forum, so for the sake of processing what I've been through, I might as well spill.

I was born into the world a high-strung, nervous, easily frightened child. Preferring my own company to those of others my age, I had all the makings of a born loner. To their credit, my parents tried everything to get me to be more social: church youth groups, sports, clubs. Instead of making friends, I sat alone at the table and avoided the company of my peers. If I had exhibited these qualities now instead of in the early to mid 80's, treatment would have been much more aggressive and I might well have found myself on medication and therapy. As it was back then, no one was quite sure what to do and assumed (wrongly, I might add) that this was something I'd grow out of eventually.

He's so bright
. This was the refrain of one school counselor or teacher or friend of my parents after another. I find this motif slightly comical now, because it implies that mere intellect alone can redeem gaping personality defects. If they'd looked closer, they'd have seen a perpetually depressed child with resulting major self-esteem issues. Assigning blame for past ills, particularly in this case isn't an especially helpful endeavor because the game of playing "what if" is fine as an exercise in speculation, but it leads one to no substantive answers. The short of it is that no one knew quite how bad I was. As an aside, I taught a Sunday School class a few years back. A boy was literally pushed into the room by his parents, then after they left, he proceeded to isolate himself in a corner, clearly scared out of his wits. I thought to myself, I was that kid once.

A lifetime with a strange collection of tentative acquaintances who were mostly adults and only one real friend to speak up left me vastly unprepared for adolescence. Alienation and self-isolation kept me years behind and it also worked against me in the dating department. Hard to believe now, but at fifteen I was seen as a naive innocent. The onset of my first major depressive episode and a largely forgettable high school experience in which I alternated back and forth between drug fueled courage, a hyperactivity that I know now as the precursor to mania, and paralyzing bouts of depression. Perhaps some of the women I pursued have forgiven me now for being needy, demanding, and being utterly clueless towards dating protocol. Mostly I think I was invisible in those times---a person many wished to know in detail, but few knew how to approach and a soul even fewer could say for certain that they really knew.

I think the point in me writing all of this, from their perspective, was to come to some sort of understanding of what transpired back then. Does one ever really understand one's past? So many times we return to how we used to be in the hopes that it might reveal something that might explain who we are today. The answers provided are often quixotic riddles. And I've found, much to my frustration, that self-awareness just by itself is often no guarantee of health or contentment. I suppose the challenge is to work within one's limitations without feeling hamstrung by them. I am aware of my shortcomings but have I forgiven myself for having them?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Five Images From High School

Perfect when you don't have the energy to write.






Colds Are a Drag

A sore throat has subsided. Having to blow my nose every three second has largely subsided as well. Now I am just congested and feeling very tired. I slept several hours yesterday and may have to do the same today.

I'll be back to full strength eventually. But it's not going to be today, for sure.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

An Open Letter

Dear Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority,

I am aware that you are desperately trying to prepare the public transit system for a crush of approximately 4 million extra visitors who are set to arrive here to attend the Inauguration of President Barack Obama. However, I suggest you do track maintenance every week day between the hours of 12 and 6 am when the rail system is effectively shut down for the night. I know you have a little more than a month before the big day arrives, but you could be a little smarter about it. Perhaps this is asking too much.

Last night, it took approximately one hour longer than it should for me to arrive back here at NIH because someone in their dubiously sound logic had decided to schedule

a) train delays
b) an ice hockey game
c) track maintenance

all simultaneously. This meant that the car I rode in was completely packed with people for most of an hour. This also meant that I was forced to endure the indignity of dealing with boorish, highly intoxicated hockey fans in an environment which was highly conducive to claustrophobia. Henceforth, I recommend putting the money into developing more than two tracks, which would make situations like these a thing of the past.

In common sense (in an era where there is apparently none of it),


Saturday Video

Keep this in mind this Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What I Meant To Write About

1. How the recently deceased Betti Page was a cult figure for geeks, hipsters, and the bohemian set.

2. How I dated a woman (briefly) who cut her hair like Betti Page. If only she had the looks to go along with the hair style.

3. How I met a man once, the sort of man with a ponytail and 100% black clothing, who told me to please let me know if you find a woman who looks like Betti Page. You see, that was his particular fetish. Fetishes have no power except for the fact that they are fetishes.

(That was going to be the point of the whole post)

4. How I wasn't exactly part the target audience for Betti Page adulation, since I normally have a strong dislike for most trends, even trends that appeal more to the socially awkward and mildly eccentric. Case in point. I never had much of an interest in R. Crumb or underground comics and I never purchased how-to manuals at sex stores with titles like When Someone You Love is Kinky or Loving Your Mistress Is Not Enough.

5. How I have nothing more to say.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mid-Life Crisis in Progress

One More about Treatment

The cold worsened slightly overnight and has now headed into my chest. I hope this is the worst it gets, since I can stand blowing my nose constantly far more than I can hacking, coughing, and wheezing. Last night a humidifer was placed into my room and I am doing all the things one is supposed to do: drinking lots of water, consuming mass quanties of orange juice, and taking tylenol and a decongestant. My immune system will eventually rid itself of this but I know I have several more days of this.

Thanks to all who wished me well yesterday. Colds are annoying. I had a good run of luck since it had been several months before I'd gotten physically sick. Perhaps someday they'll find a cure for the common cold.

Yesterday I was informed of the exact date the trial begins, which is 12 January. Every day I am administered the ketamine I will go through a relatively similar routine. First, transportation to the treatment room on the first floor, whereby an IV will be inserted into one of my arms. Next, the drug infusion will be administered over a period of forty minutes. Two doctors and three nurses will remain in the room with, asking me questions and monitoring my response. Everything will be obsessively documented and I will be asked in great detail to describe my mood, the sensations I feel, and the intensity of the anti-depressant effect derived from the medication.

Next comes a PET scan, an EEG, blood work, and more questions. Then my day concludes in the early evening. The protocol lasts exactly a month from start to finish. The first two weeks I'll be administered either ketamine or a placebo, then I'll break for a week before the second section resumes, then for the remaining two weeks I'll again receive either ketamine or placebo. Either I'll receive the active medication the first two weeks, or I'll have to wait until the end before I receive it. Since this is a double-blind study, no one except for the immediate supervisors of the study will know for sure.

I have approximately one more month where I will have the ability to go out during the day. When the protocol starts, as I mentioned earlier, I won't be through with tests and trials until the early evening. Provided I'm feeling up to it, I might go out a little in the evening but that will be the extent of my free time. I really hope the medication doesn't make me feel sick, because I have every desire to document how the trial affects me. If ketamine has a positive effect, I certainly wouldn't be able to be prescribed it on the outside, but it might give my doctors a better idea of treatment regimens to try.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


I'm sick. A severe winter cold has been making its way through the ward and I am the latest victim. It begins with a sore throat, which I have had since midday yesterday. I hope this is the worst that it gets. When I was a child, I had step throat almost once every three months and since it happened so frequently I have a tendency now, even as an adult, to assume automatically that I've come down with it. As I reflect back upon my past, I think of how frequently I was afflicted with something or other, and how I never managed to have a mild case of much of anything. For example, when I came down with the chicken pox when I was seven, I was so ill that I missed two solid weeks of school and very nearly had to be hospitalized.

As a result, I hate hate hate being ill. Ever since I quit smoking a year and a half ago, began exercising daily, drank lots of water, and starting treating my body better overall it has been several months since I have been physically sick. The good thing about doing all of those things is that even if I do come down with something (which we all do at some point, no matter how judiciously we follow a healthy regimen) the symptoms are much milder and the duration is lessened considerably. By contrast, when I was still up to my old ways, I remember a trip to Boston in the the late winter, whereby I picked up a nasty case of the flu, and infected almost all of my graduate school classmates.

I'll feel better with time and rest, which are, of course, the only real ways to treat a cold.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Movie Review: M

A condemnation of Weimer Republic-era Germany, Fritz Lang's early sound film is in keeping with other works of the period. Ostensibly a thriller about a child murderer, the movie criticizes Germany society as a whole for being immoral, corrupt, and sleazy. Though Peter Lorre's serial killer is a mentally disturbed pervert, his fellow countrymen are hardly any better. In M, one can see why Nazi rule was such an attractive prospect for millions of ordinary Germans. Before enforcement of rigid discipline and the establishment of a police state, organized crime was rampant, society was in a state of moral decay, and government ran inefficiently. The German Expressionist school of directors which included F.W. Murnau, G.W. Pabst, and Robert Wiene among others all explored darker cinematic territory in their works.

After committing a series of sensational crimes, Hans Beckert, the murderer, becomes the focus of an extensive manhunt. The negative publicity and resulting hysteria throws the police into a state of hyperactivity, desperate to find the killer and bring him to justice. As a result of increased police activity, this throws the crime underworld into a panic, since increased vigilance by the cops means that their nefarious activities are being disturbed. In short, it's bad for business. Thus, the crooks decide to take matters into their own hands and find the murderer themselves. That it takes criminals themselves to locate one of their own is itself a comment on the inefficiency and incompetence of the police. In the end, though both groups are working separately, a combination of efforts between the two finally locates Beckert. First apprehended by the crooks and subjected to a kangaroo court trial, the police eventually stumble across the proceedings, forcing the criminals to flee in terror.

Director Lang would eventually flee the country when the Nazis arrived, as would his newly-minted star Lorre---both of them had Jewish ancestry. Lang was famous for being extraordinarily difficult to work with, and upon arrival in Hollywood, he made many enemies. Prominent actors and actresses would often refuse to work with him, complicating casting for subsequent films. Lang's brutality towards his actors was well-documented. For example, in M, Lang threw Peter Lorre down a flight of stairs at least twelve times, one for each take. The intent was to make Lorre seemed frightened and utterly demoralized while being tried in front of the criminals. Lorre would become a major star in Hollywood, though when he arrived he could barely speak English. He was quickly typecast as a sinister villain, which is how he is best remembered to this day.

M is often considered an early film noir, though this is a bit of a stretch. Certainly the film was an influence upon subsequent filmmakers who made noir works, but this picture works first within the confines of the Expressionist school, while quite cleverly adding a crime drama element to it. Future directors would mine this same territory, particularly evident in the American obsession with gangster films during its own early sound era, but M is neither purely a Expressionist work or a Noir---it straddles the gap between the past and the future. What is clear is that Fritz Lang never bettered this film and that it remains a classic.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Monday Treatment Update

At the moment, I'm in a bit of a holding pattern. One of my medications, Seroquel, is being slowly tapered down to nothing. As the dosage has lessened, so too have my periods of anxiety, self-defeating thoughts, and mild paranoia increased. Monday, after rounds, I'll undergo another reduction. It's a lengthy process, 50 mg at a time every week, starting from 450 mg which was my original dose. Some of you have asked for in depth information about the study and for right now, there isn't much in the way of it. Have patience, my friends.

Around the first of the year, however, the Ketamine infusions will begin. That's when the really interesting stuff begins. If I'm feeling up to blogging during the active part of the trial, I'll be sure to document the way I feel and the sensations I experience. I'll also write about the way the procedure is done. My doctor informs me that Ketamine has an anti-depressant quality and also aids in sleep. For right now, knock on wood, I've mostly slept well at night. Even if my sleep worsens, I know I only have three weeks to go before the infusions begin and sleep becomes easier. Ketamine, of course, is a tranquilizer.

In the meantime, I have been getting out and about on a regular basis both to break the monotony of the ward and to deliberately force myself to be around other people. Back home I didn't go out very much and self-isolated, so I've enjoyed the change from being a recluse. I feel a bit like an extended tourist in addition to being a voluntary research patient. And on that note, I will prepare myself for another day's excursion in the wilds of Washington, DC. Have a good week, everyone.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Missing The Point

The headline in The Onion read

Teenage Katrina Survivor Wins Another Writing Contest

The humor being that the judges of the writing contest cared nothing for merit, or for skill, or for awarding a prize to the most qualified, most deserving entry. Instead, the powers that be would rather give the prize to a Katrina survivor, a decision that would seem socially conscious and trendily sympathetic in the eyes of others. The judges and the people behind these contests were, in effect, doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

And the whole time I was reading this article, I kept thinking about this passage of scripture.

"The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.

Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice.

They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

When we cease following the light within ourselves and become consumed with appearances rather than substance, we too become Pharisees. We are transformed into hypocrites obsessed with outward appearances and externals rather than the internal guidance within our hearts. We act not out of genuine conviction, but out of a desire for adulation in a public forum. I think of all the people I've known over the course of my life who achieve a phD and then for the rest of their lives insist on being called "Doctor". These are the same sorts of people who are quick to let you know how well-educated they are and precisely where they went to school.

Instead of acting this way, friends, allow me to propose a solution. Let's do the right thing for the right reasons, this time. I have found that if you never lose sight and deny the inward stirrings of your heart, you will never go astray.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Saturday Video

I thought this one is very timely.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Movie Review: Citizen Kane

More ink has been spilled about Citizen Kane than any other film, so I won't try to top what has already been written. Orson Welles' masterpiece succeeds because it, in typically American fashion, synthesizes a variety of genres and cinematic styles together. All of the disparate forms in lighting, set design, audio recording, plot development, and almost every imaginable component which had come before it are skillfully combined. The final result deeply influenced the creation of film noir and a Hollywood fascination with mysteries for years afterward. Though William Randolph Hearst (upon whom the character of Kane is largely based) used his esteemable powers to keep the film from being widely shown, thus rendering it a box office disappointment, the end product was deeply influential to later filmmakers and then, fifteen years after its first run, hailed by critics and public alike as one of the greatest movies ever made.

Citizen Kane was shot with a relatively modest budget, and these days would have likely been brought to the attention of an audience as an independent film. Major studio films of the period were frequently lavish affairs full of expensive elements and eye candy, often at the expense of the narrative. The limitation of Kane are scarcely recognizably since Welles creative eye is so sharp that he uses every special effect available in the period to counter budget shortfalls. Not enough money to pay for thousands of extras to fill a Kane political rally? Welles uses a drawing still to serve the same effect. Not satisfied with the authenticity of the newsreel footage that introduces the audience to Charles Foster Kane? Welles has the sequence deliberately scuffed up by dragging it across a concrete floor. Unable to shoot a sequences in one exhaustive take? Welles shoots the film in two separate sections, then skillfully combines the two in the lab.

What I find particularly interesting are the camera techniques and lighting. Utilizing deep focus shots and extended takes required a judicious use of lighting. Unorthodox camera angles were used as well, sometimes shooting downward at the actors and actresses from a raised position, sometimes shooting upwards at the cast by a camera positioned on the floor. These unusual angles and lighting were deeply influenced by German Expressionism and the film that comes to mind is F.W. Murnau's Sunrise. Movies before had never created a metanarrative within themselves. Citizen Kane is one part detective story, one part cautionary fable, and two parts inventive narrative. Character development is not as refined as it would have been had the action not jumped back and forth between time. Almost all the screen time is devoted towards flashbacks from the point of view of the major characters, and that in itself was unheard of for the time. In large part due to Welles' background as a radio star, Citizen Kane is a radio play brought to life. Indeed, if the visuals were deliberately removed and only the audio were to remain, one could still easily follow the plot.

The film retains a kind of freshness that even today can be appreciated. Staid old Hollywood had been releasing one grandiose Technicolor epic and a million cookie-cutter genre pictures by the time of its release in 1941. Though its effects were not immediately felt upon the American film industry, it did influence many filmmakers to follow, and was often cited as evidence of the auteur theory of direction. Ironically, the results destroyed both Hearst and Welles. Hearst's waning influence weakened ever more fully, since the campaign to destroy Citizen Kane ultimately backfired in the end. Hearst's long-time mistress, actress Marion Davies, found herself unwittingly savaged as a talentless hack through her character in the film, Susan Alexander, which undeservedly destroyed her critical and commercial reputation in the process. For Welles, Citizen Kane was such a commercial failure that he was never able to create another film without massive studio interference.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

One of My Favorite Scenes

Fad Diets are Just That

These days, it's exceedingly trendy to eat gluten-free. In the eighties it was macrobiotics, then in the nineties veganism and vegetarianism caught fire, then in the first part of this decade everyone was quick to purchase organic food and avoid carbohydrates, and now people ascribe to the latest incarnation. I predict that in five years time, gluten will be all but forgotten and everyone who at least feigns to be health-conscious will be loudly proclaiming the negative effects of the latest dietary evil. Just think, who counts calories anymore?

Forgive me for being skeptical. Considering I grew up with a militant vegan sister who converted around age fifteen and would routinely chastise the rest of the family for daring to be so uncouth as to consume meat, I've seen this sort of behavior with my very own eyes. This same sister, I might add, has now has reversed course 180 degrees, making me aware of what I suspected all along---she was merely a bandwagon jumper. Don't get me wrong, I do understand from whence this kind of thing stems. Humans and Americans in particular love to believe that alternative (holistic or otherwise off-label) treatments like these counter the perception that modern medicine should not be the answer for every ailment and can even make things worse. Those who rail against a nation of hypochondriacs seeking perfection in the form of a pill believe in diet regulation and a kind of do-it-yourself form of health.

This kind of thinking reminds me of taking stock in alchemy or any other pseudoscience. It might be best not to second-guess the licensed practitioner while still retaining the knowledge that medicine cannot fix every problem and that, moreover, no one's life can ever be perfected. I marvel at how certain people will take the latest highly inconclusive bit of medical evidence and transform it into some cure-all dietary regimen that, if you'd believe the hype, by itself can solve a multitude of health issues. Nothing in life is that simplistic.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Digressions and a Bit about Minority Art

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is one of the best art galleries I've perused since I've been here. The presentation of the work is attractive and whomever wrote the placards giving in depth information about each setting didn't get bogged down in esoteria. Save needless information for a book, but introduce each grouping in ways that are informative and give a good overview of the period or style of the works. Male visitors were in the minority, surprise surprise, but there were a few besides me. Most of the people around me were older, well-dressed professional women either my mother or my grandmother's age. Some of them looked like those nutty PUMAs from early this year who were supposedly a lethal minority of sore loser Hillary Clinton voters.

As for the art itself---much of it is of excellent quality. Some of the works, however, border on gratuitous---for example the openly lesbian bull dyke photographer who got a friend to carve (very painfully I might add) a crudely rendered drawing into the flesh of her upper back. Painful to look at, for sure, especially since blood was quite noticibly trickling down her back in the shot. Yet again I am reminded of how often explicitly LGBT art tends to be just that----explicitly LGBT at the expense of the craft itself. I noticed this earlier on a visit to a Dupont Circle area movie/music shop, whereby almost every title expressly designed for the attention of a queer audience bordered on soft porn. One of the stereotypes about gays and lesbians is that they are hypersexual and films like 90% of the ones I saw do absolutely nothing to discourage that portrayal.

Navel gazing of any kind doesn't make for good art or for good expression. I understand how many of these galleries wish to be inclusive and put the (Insert Big Flashing Lights) gay or lesbian or black or American Indian or Asian or Hispanic or other historically oppressed minority among the other works, but the artists in question ought to understand they are artists first and minorities of whatever variety strongly second. There are artists of all stripes who have made a name for themselves based on the novelty of what they are and I like them much less than artists whose works speak more loudly than their personal life. A man I have much respect for once told me that there are often two types of openly gay or lesbian public figures: gay professionals or professional gays. As you might have guessed, I much favor the former.

Back to the work I saw, some of it could easily have been called pornographic. I understand the intent---that today's society is so sex-drenched and how we are bombarded on a daily basis with highly sexualized images, but I think we're all reminded of that in an almost de facto way that we don't need art to show us something about ourselves we're already aware of consciously. To me, that's the role of art---to show the audience something subconciously that they'd never realize in a conscious frame of mind. By this point in time, everyone knows about the plight of downtrodden minorities. I picture several visual artists who know they need never really produce anything particularly novel so long as they continue to navel-gaze with their work and mine the same old ain't it awful territory that some liberals love to emphasize ad nauseum. I'm not sure expression of oppression was ever supposed to be a stock in trade or a cottage industry.

Or, In Case You Need to Laugh

Hitler (Blanks) a Donkey

How Unfortunate

The whole purpose of a participatory democracy is just that, participation. Turnout should never be low if a people understand, collectively, that voting isn't just a right, it is also an obligation. I make a point to go to the polls no matter what the issue might be. Perhaps I am expecting too much from the so-called "responsible citizenry" in this matter, but I don't think so.

Still, the results of the election don't truly surprise me. As a former resident of the city of Atlanta, after settling there I quickly realized that in the Peach State one has Atlanta but is also surrounded by the rest of Georgia. Many segments of the state are far more backwards than Alabama or Mississippi. The fickle nature of the electorate is what disturbs me the most. Galvanize public opinion, run constant commercials, saturate the discourse with election-related news, and spend millions of dollars and you can still only manage to get 65% of eligible voters to even bother to spend five minutes to cast their ballot. Again, I'll never understand, nor forgive people who have to be treated to a three-ring-circus before they'll even do what they ought to do anyway.

I do not understand the psychology of the Proles and I do not believe they or anyone else has a right to be ignorant. That our Founding Fathers assumed people would naturally embrace their civic duties strikes me a little more than an pie-in-the-sky dream. Too often those of us self-proclaimed guardians of "the way things ought to be" embrace a kind of cynicism wrought of frustration with the status quo. In earlier times in this country's history, electioneering was a sport almost in its own right. With constant distraction from media and a sense of powerlessness, the ballot box finds itself the domain of a minority most elections.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Tale of Hubris: The Larry Langford Story

Though I have been up here in Washington, DC, receiving treatment I have still been monitoring the news from home via the internet. Yesterday I read that Birmingham mayor Larry Langford had been arrested and charged as part of an expansive 101 count indictment. Rumblings that the hammer was about to fall had been heard for months, but even I was surprised to see such an extensive prosecutorial case against Mayor Langford. I do not doubt his guilt, but my hope is that justice will be served and not obscured if, like so many other corruption trials, the introduction of race as spectacle comes to the forefront during the trial.

So it is that my main gripe with Langford is that he stoked a history of racial conflict to win his office. In Birmingham, where even forty-five years after fire dogs, hoses, and church bombings almost every substantive political debate becomes painted in Black versus White terms, during his election campaign the soon-to-be mayor exploited every established fault line to his own advantage, even smearing his closest rival as too white to rule over a city, which, like many cities in the country, is comprised primarily of African-Americans. When race becomes an extenuating factor, one can be sure that both whites and blacks lose, since it fosters the election of demigods and ideologues when all would be much better served by elected officials wielding tact and competence rather than bluster and conflict.

In his term in office he proceeded to ramrod a variety of initiatives through the Birmingham City Council, from the controversial (an increased sales tax to ostensibly fix up the urban decay), to the grandiose (tax revenue earmarked to construct a domed stadium), to the delusional (paying the money to officially apply for consideration to hold the 2016 Olympics, despite not having enough hotel rooms to house it). This was typical idea-a-day Larry Langford, causing many to whisper that the mayor was mentally ill. He may be, but if he is, he has no business running a city, or running a city into the ground, for that matter.

In his previous role as Mayor of Fairfield, a nearby city, he destroyed the city's finances through reckless spending and unwise decision making. Before being elected Birmingham mayor, Langford was perhaps best known for being the driving force pushing to build an amusement park called Visionland. Visionland, poorly designed and badly funded, hemorrhaged money from the beginning and never caught on with the public. What had been meant to compete with Six Flags over Georgia in Atlanta very nearly went bankrupt within a few years of opening, was sold, its name changed, and is only now barely sustained by the presence of an outlet mall that was built adjacent to the park.

To avoid the Larry Langfords of the world what must be discarded first and foremost is the politics of distraction. Birmingham is a good example of what happens when racial conflict becomes a zero sum game. As Barack Obama talked about in his well-received speech on race earlier this year, we can continue this endless strife in the same tried-and-true fashion by which it has always existed, but nothing will change if we do. We can choose our elected officials based on ancient resentment rather than competence or vote reactively rather than proactively, but nothing will change. Let's use the example of Larry Langford as a cautionary tale and an instructive lesson that being stuck in the past will always hold us in shackles.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Soul: Construct or Established Fact?

This article, I have to admit, made me a little angry. The writer clearly believes that the soul is a kind of rough phantasm, some anomaly of human realization that is not real and will be eventually discarded wholesale. This is my gripe with certain members of the scientific community, who insist everything be touched, tasted, smelled, felt, or seen before they acknowledge it as real. The scientific method will only take one so far, in my opinion, and being beholden to hyper-rationalism in everything is the quickest way to fail to kill romance or to entertain any semblance of mystery in one's own life.

Though I have called into question certain established facts in my life and while I also believe that the unexamined life is not worth living, neither have I become so inherently skeptical that I've purged away religion or spiritual belief. The soul is a beautiful construct to me. As the article points out, its roots go deep into the past. Though there are some thing that are deeply ingrained in the fabric of humanity which I struggle against as a pacifist (for example, war), there are other time-honored tradition which I keep and see no need to reject wholesale. This article could also be titled "Why I Could Never Be a Atheist."