September 30, 2008

Jail Time!

From BBC NEWS | Scotland: Scottish crime 'lowest since 80s'

Oh, brave new world!

From BBC News | Scotland: Scots jail numbers at record high

D'oh!

So, apparently the reason Scottish crime is at an all-time low is because all the CRIMINALS are ALREADY in PRISON.

Or, I guess, heh, you might say, tee-hee... They're all loch-ed up.

September 27, 2008

Things That Make Andrew Feel Old, #19935

This week, in the freshman writing class that I teach, I was having one of my students read out a passage from a book so that we might better discuss it as a class. It was a personal essay by a writer who was lamenting his typewriter's usurpation by a word processor, and the student read thus:

"I feel forever confused by RAM, DOC, and . . . duh— . . . does . . . ? Dose . . .?"

Barely able to contain my sobs, I looked up from my own book and quietly corrected her:

"It's pronounced DOS."

And she just shrugged her shoulders and continued.

See also: Fonz (pt. 1); Back to the Future; Fonz (pt. 2).

September 26, 2008

September 24, 2008

What Doesn't Kilt You Makes You Stronger

From BBC NEWS | Scotland: Bid to keep kilt-making in check
Some of the country's leading kilt-makers are meeting in Perth to determine exactly what is, and what is not, a Scottish kilt. . . .

They want to create a blueprint for the traditional kilt-making industry. . . .

Kilt-maker Ruthven Milne said: "A kilt is a traditional garment, not a fashion garment."
Boy, I'll say.
"There is a certain length it should be. It must be about an inch and a half from the floor when you are kneeling and it is pleated to the pattern that is in the kilt itself."
But if your kiltmaker asks you to kneel in front of him, ask him to buy you dinner first.

According to a representative for Skillfast-UK, the kilt sector contributes about £350m per year to the Scottish economy — or about one-and-a-half days worth of Iraq. So clearly, all we need to do to offset the cost of the war is really step up global kilt production. Who wants to kneel down first?

September 22, 2008

A Moment of Seriousness

It was with much thrill and delight that I discovered Tony Blair was to make an appearance on The Daily Show last week. After all, Jon Stewart is one of my favourite comedians, and Tony Blair is one of my favourite politicians — the combination was bound to be a winner.

But actually, I found the interview kind of upsetting, if only because it tapped into some much broader (very deep and important) thoughts I’ve been having about the world lately — thoughts that are no doubt related to the tone of the current election campaigns, though I suspect not caused by them entirely.

See, it seems to me that in among all the big ideas that are getting thrown around these days — and here I’m referring not just to all the promises of hope and change and hope again, but to the whole spectrum of abstract ideas, from democracy to freedom to unity to tolerance to whatever — the much more important idea (and I admit, it’s an idea too) is getting lost: the idea that, in the end, hey, we’re all just people.

I started feeling this way, I think, after an ah-ha! moment I had while in Dubai. Ramadan was beginning as I arrived there, and the stores were littered with endless posters promising special promotions for the holiday season: Discover the holy month with new Ramadan applications from Nokia! Break your fast this Ramadan with a family bucket meal from KFC! And at first I found it kind of funny, in my jaded, cynical way, that this religion that we’re always being told is so obsessed with holiness and purity was succumbing so readily to such tacky hucksterism.

But as I was sitting staring at that KFC poster (admit it, you thought I’d made that one up, didn’t you?), it struck me that, really, it wasn’t any different from the sorts of posters KFC puts up all over the United States at Christmastime. But then, of course it’s no different; just because you take your religion seriously, it doesn’t mean you don’t need to make a living. Why shouldn’t capitalism be just as well established in the Middle East? (And, yes, I realise Dubai is hardly Mecca, but I think it’s still a fair point.) All this nonsense we’re fed about the clash of cultures and the strange, spooky world of Islam obscures the fact that, Islam or not, the Middle East is just a place where other people live out normal, prosaic lives, just like ours. In that respect it’s not so different from New Jersey.

And that really was a revelation for me. I mean, obviously I don’t deny that there are palpable differences between the West and the East, but suddenly those differences seemed to pale, to me, in the face of something as simple and as profound as everyday human life.

Anyway, to go from this quasi-mystical serenity straight back into OBAMA WANTS YOUR TWO-YEAR OLD TO HAVE SEX made the latter appear, as you might imagine, a little more vulgar than perhaps it would have otherwise. And it highlighted to me just how much we’ve forgotten about our common denominator, even within the United States. We’re so caught up in these big abstract ideas — gay marriage! Freedom of religion! The right to life! The right to choose! — that we fail to understand that each and every person who takes a different stance from us on one of these issues is still a person, with a family and a job and a collection of hopes and worries that is overwhelmingly similar to the ones that keep us awake at night.

And more than that, they are people who we live and interact with in a civilized and friendly way on a day-to-day basis. It makes no difference to me if the guy driving my bus, or teaching my class — or even just smoking on the street corner — thinks abortion is wrong, or whatever. He’s just another person who lives his life without ever, really, causing any problems in mine. But when we spend all day hearing about how THEY want to take away OUR RIGHTS, you can’t help but get a little leery of the bus driver, you know? Even if he’s just blindly standing up for his beliefs the same way we’re blindly standing up for ours.

Which brings me back to Jon Stewart. Now, if you haven’t watched The Daily Show much, perhaps you don’t know just how anti-Bush and anti-war Jon Stewart is — but I don’t think there’s a public figure who’s been as consistently vocal against the occupation of Iraq as he has. So naturally, with one of its architects sitting two feet away from him, he couldn’t help but sink his claws in just a little. He poked and prodded and pestered Tony Blair with questions, and jibes, and comments that were almost sneering, until the ex-PM got very serious and said, with regard to invading Iraq:

“When you take a decision like that, I hope . . . it’s not an easy decision, it’s not one you take lightly, it’s one with an awesome responsibility . . . You never take a more difficult set of decisions . . . But you know, in the end you have to take a decision. You have to come down on one side or the other. And these are things you then live with for the rest of your life — and so you should.” (emphasis mine)

And then, even in the face of such gravitas, Jon Stewart went on to badger him for another five minutes.

Okay, so it wasn’t an apology. It wasn’t an admission that he made the wrong choice. But it was a very poignant, very honest answer, in response to a very difficult question. And while history will show whether or not he was right or wrong, at that moment, when Tony Blair decided to invade Iraq, he was a human being who was put in an awful, terrible, difficult situation, and he did the best he could. He knows it’s caused death and suffering. He knows he’s caused death and suffering, on a scale vastly larger than any of the people who we label vicious criminals and put away in jail. And now he’s sitting here, in front of thousands of strangers, admitting to his sins.

And if that doesn’t change what’s happened, if that doesn’t make things right — then so what? Can’t we stop and appreciate the horrendous burden that this person suffers with? He didn’t want to be Prime Minister so he could decide whether to invade other countries, but it happened — and he had to deal with it, and he still has to deal with it. I know I’d be suffering if I were in his position. And that’s why, if it had been me sitting in the interviewer’s chair, at that particular second, I would have stopped giving him a hard time.

Maybe that’s the reason I’m not a talk show host. But it seems to me that if the big ideas, no matter how noble, can obscure humanity — the biggest idea! — with such success, well: perhaps it’s time for us to start ignoring the big ideas. Let’s forget about our lofty ideals, for a moment, and remember that even the pro-life homophobe is a person (and so, of course, is the gay abortionist). They pay their taxes and drive their kids to school and wonder if their savings will still exist next month. In the end, in fact, they’re just like us — and if you deny that, you’re no less warped or fanatic than you imagine them to be.

So why can’t we just cut all this crap for a while, and try to get along? No one is out to get you. No one wants to make you suffer. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a pro-life movement, or, for that matter, a pro-choice one (or pro-war, or anti-war, or whatever). But a person’s not a demographic, a person’s not an abstract belief, and a single person is certainly not the war in Iraq. People are people, and, regardless of anything else, they deserve, at a minimum, to be treated that way. For shame, Jon Stewart. For shame.

September 19, 2008

September 18, 2008

Outlet Shopping

Gosh. I think eight days must be a record-length hiatus in the history of my blog(s). And do you know what? I think it's affecting me; I've been feeling really out of sorts the last day or two, for no particular reason.

[Edit: Actually, if you discount CWG, there was an 11-day gap between posts in February 2006. I felt pretty out of sorts then, too, but I think that was mostly down to having had my ass recently dumped.]

Now, the empiricist in me sagely clucks that the connection is probably spurious — that the same hectic schedule that's been robbing me of blog time is also what's responsible for dampening my mood — but the writer in me, well... He's kind of a romantic. And he thinks that I've grown so used to my creative outlet over the last five (!!!) years, going without it, suddenly, has left me dysthymic. (Then again, why listen to that hack? He's not even really using the word dysthymic correctly.)

Anyway, speaking of hectic schedules: this semester I am teaching three days a week, working at Ploughshares the other two days a week, and taking two classes on top of that (one of which is run by a frankly hilarious man who thinks that two books a week is a manageable workload). Plus occasionally attempting to have a life outside Emerson. Occasionally.

But I do seem to be falling into a routine, finally, so with any luck I will be back to angrily ranting about the world on my blog (rather than to unsuspecting members of the public) within the next couple of days. And CWG, of course, is back tomorrow.

September 10, 2008

Spare Us Your Change

At a town hall meeting yesterday, Obama lashed out at the McCain-Palin ticket's promise to clean up Washington, saying:
"You can't wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."
Ummm... Mr Obama? Have you met you? This is probably about the point where Jon Stewart would play a hilarious montage of clips in which you call for change about three umptillion times.

Oh, wait, sorry — I'm being told that you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, as long as you also sprinkle it with some salt called hope.

I mean, seriously, is this what we have been fucking reduced to? Can't either candidate appreciate the irony in the fact that they are both calling for the same thing — and that thing is CHANGE?!!

Let me tell you something, Obama-Biden-McCain-Palin: I don't want any fucking change, okay? I want concrete stuff. I want good healthcare and a better economy and not to have to hide my US passport when I'm abroad. So why don't you all shut the hell up, stop trying to see who can end up in the changiest YouTube remix, and actually do some real fucking work, huh?

Ahem.

September 08, 2008

Sparking Up a Dubai

So, finally: Dubai.

It didn't really dawn on me that I was going to the Middle East — the real life Middle East! — until about four hours into the flight, when I happened to turn on the flight tracker and realised, with a sobering jolt, that I was directly over Baghdad. That kind of put my five-star resort holiday in perspective. Kind of. (Seeing Baghdad on a flight tracker map is only slightly more meaningful than seeing Baghdad on an evening newscast map, as far as feelings of identification go.) But it certainly did remind me that even a five star hotel in the Middle East is still — well — in the Middle East.

And, sure, as the Middle East goes, Dubai is pretty Westernised: anyone a tourist is likely to run into speaks passable English, and they have consumer capitalism up the wazoo (though not literally, obviously, as that would contravene Islamic law). There are McDonaldses everywhere, and Starbuckses everywhere, and, to be honest, pretty much every Western chain you can think of — from Dunkin Donuts and Second Cup to Applebees and TGI Fridays (that last one I find particularly hilarious, since Friday is, of course, the Islamic day of worship).

But still, it was my first trip to the Middle East, my first trip to an Islamic country, my first real trip to another culture — and, dammit, Westernised or not, I was determined to find it interesting.

Although, actually, my first real thought about the Middle East when I landed was not so much interested as it was inane. I saw a guy in traditional Arabic garb — white tunic, head dress held in place by ring on head — and thought: "Gee! He looks just like something out of a Tintin book!" (I really did.)

And then, after that, to be honest, I didn't find much to get excited about, for a while. The place reminded me of just one, big, Muslim Vegas: big boulevards, glitzy hotels, a lot of desert, and, at night, a buttload of neon lights (again, not literally). The only things missing were the gambling and hookers — which I suppose some would argue is what makes Vegas Vegas — but I really couldn't shake the feeling of deja vu for the first couple of days.

More tomorrow; I'm still fighting the jetlag, and I think it's winning.

September 07, 2008

Dubai Dubai Doo

A full and resplendent treatise on Dubai will — with any luck — follow in the next few days. In the meantime, please enjoy this fresh set of fun facts about the emirate:

Dubai is an Arabic word meaning “Place of many grotesquely fat tourists who are unaware of the existence of sunscreen.”

•The official sand of Dubai is sand.

•Ninety percent of all buildings in Dubai are taller than ninety percent of all your buildings. Wuss.

•Dubai is home to the world’s only indoor black diamond ski run. It is literally made of black diamonds. Wuss.

•The world’s first form of air conditioning was invented in Dubai, a central “cooling tower” built into every home. The innovation made a small fortune for its creator, Mohammed al Sears-Roebuck.

•Old Dubai sits on the so-called “Dubai Creek”, which is where the expression “Up the creek without a paddle” originates (paddles are illegal in Dubai).

•There is a strict curfew enforced in Dubai for under-21s and anybody who is not made of gold. If you are under 21 and not made of gold, you are pretty fucked.

I am in Heathrow and pretty bored.

September 01, 2008

Palin Comparison

Oh, okay, I get it: so the Dems have a black guy, the Republicans have a chick, and now come November everyone is going to have to be either racist or sexist. Unless you're a Nader voter. In which case you're both, and kind of a douchebag.

Some facts about Palin:

•At 44 years old, she is three years younger than Obama. Despite that, the average age of the McCain ticket is still over a decade older than Obama. (Full disclosure: the average age of the Obama ticket is actually slightly higher than that.)

•In school, Palin was nicknamed "Barracuda", because of her tendency to savagely attack small fish.

•Palin is in no way related to former Monty Python member Michael Palin, although she still has several pictures of him on her mantelpiece.

•According to the BBC, Palin finally adds "newsworthiness" to the Republican campaign. Ouch!

•Although many have pointed out that, as vice president, Palin will be only "a heartbeat" from the presidency, it is more accurate to say that she will be only "a heart attack" from the presidency.

•Republican strategists hope that Palin will appeal to the several million women who voted for Hillary Clinton, because women are too stupid to tell the difference between liberal feminists and pro-choice nutbags.

•As Palin is a pro-drilling former beauty queen with a son in Iraq, it is scientifically impossible for her to be more all-American.

The end.

[Reflections on Dubai, coming soon!]