Saturday, June 24, 2006

Adventures with Brian Dean

Brian and I visited his parents' in upstate New York over the weekend. Upstate New York knows - Saratoga Springs in particular - knows how to party, let me tell you. Not many pictures from that time, sorry, since I was pretty hammered myself. But it was also a nice holiday, with a backyard pool, barbecue, and badminton games.

A week before that, I visited Brian's place in New Bedford, where he hosted a party. The next day, over very pleasant rum smoothies, I ripped some music from Brian's unterminably huge CD collection ...

Update: It appears that pictures of Brian that
I posted here and on my Tabblo webpage are being misused. So, I am taking down all pictures of Brian and his family that I posted online. Brian, I really apologize for the inconvenience.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Earthfest (May 2006)

Tabblo: Earthfest (May 2006)

Earthfest happened on May 28, 2006 at the Esplanade in Boston.  It was a good time ... See my Tabblo>

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Support the troops?

Many Americans are very patriotic. While I think patriotism is an overrated virtue, I can live with it. But some Americans are too much so. If you live in the US, you can't escape one of the most visible expressions of empty nationalism, the "Support The Troops" bumper sticker. On a daily basis, I see people driving SUV's -- each as big as a house and probably guzzling enough gas to light up Baghdad for a day -- with these bumper stickers on the back. I can not think of a more vacuous expression of support.

Does the army deserve unconditional support? Even when they massacre innocent civilians by the dozens? Granted that the civilians in this case were from Haditha, Iraq, who don't count (About 3000 American soldiers are dead. The most conservative estimate for the number of Iraqi deaths since the "liberation" of Iraq is upwards of 60,000). It is undeniable that at the lowest level, it is self-interest that motivates people to voice their "support" for the poor troops, who do their fighting for them, while they go on watching American Idol.

It is this same self-serving and nationalistic sentiment that is being exploited by those in power to malign critics (witness the Valerie Plame leak), introduce fascist legislation like wiretapping people's conversations, spying on journalists, and so on, all in the name of national security.

One of the most disturbing instances of this came recently when a German citizen, Khaled al-Masri, filed a lawsuit in the US for being mistakenly held by the CIA in Afghanistan for almost half a year, and "renditioned" ("beaten, sodomized and repeatedly questioned about alleged terrorist ties"). A federal judge acknowledged that he was wrongfully held, and "has suffered injuries" and "deserves remedies". But the Justice Department invoked a "state-secrets" clause to force the judge to throw out the lawsuit because of the "grave danger" it posed. When individual safety begins to be compromised in the name of a larger interest--national security is only a mask it wears--we know we are entering a totalitarian atmosphere. As a libertarian, I find this revolting and scary.

A less grave, yet equally stupid instance of what I call language nationalism is the call for making English the national and official language of the US. George Will, a columnist for the Washington Post, wants legislation to stop ballots in heavily Hispanic areas from being bilingual. He argues in his column "A Vote for English" that the "civic conversation" in America can only be understood if you speak English.

Hey, genius George, although it is debatable (civilly, of course), let me take for granted the existence of the nation's civic conversation. But you do know there is such a thing as translation, don't you? I am pretty sure that Spanish (for instance) can accomodate equally well any idea that can be expressed in English, if not better. As for your typically conservative paranoia about "the national identity becoming attenuated" due to immigration, Spanish is the fastest growing language in the United States. In a few decades, if not sooner, it will be as widely spoken as English. In other words, Spanish will very soon be a part of the national identity of the United States, if not already. Not recognizing this reality, and imposing your idiotic views on everyone else is symptomatic of the jingoism I am talking about.

Winner of award for biggest tool of May, 2006: George Will. Runners-up: people who think its cool to use IM-type English ("u r so hot lol!!!") in all written communication.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Visit to Needham Appraisal, Cambridge, MA

I mentioned previously that my car was involved in a collision -- guy on a motorbike rear-ended me. My insurance company recommended a place where I could get an appraisal for the damages to my car. So I go to this place on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge: Needham Appraisal.

Needham Appraisal is run by two aged Italian men, who I will call Vinny and Tony. They were the kind who apply more olive oil to their hair than you need to run an Asian massage parlor. Mind you, they were nice guys. Vinny was sitting at a computer, playing hangman, and Tony was smoking. In fact, Tony didn't stop smoking for the whole duration I was there (about half an hour), not even to talk.

I noticed the hangman game that Vinny was deeply engrossed in. He wore thick glasses, with thicker frames, and was peering into a thick dictionary open in front of him. The partially completed word in the game was:

_ A _ A I S T

I knew immediately what the word was, but he apparently didn't. He was down to two chances, and he still had about half the alphabet unused. Sweat was pouring down his forehead. Shit was tense. I said, "Try 'D'". He looked up from the computer at me with a mixture of hope and suspicion. He wiped the sweat off his brow, and entered "D" in, not having a better option. After about a good second, the computer said, "You Win! DADAIST is the correct answer!" At that, Vinny jumped up, exultant, took my hands in his, and pumped them in gratitude, shouting repeatedly, "Thank you! You saved my life!" I was bemused. I was thinking, "Dude, its only a game of hangman!"

Tony was apparently the appraiser. I led him out to my car, and he came, cigarette dangling from his mouth, and a camera from his neck. He walked around my car and took pictures. Tony was not only old, he also looked so frail he could be on the endangered species list. I was afraid the flash from the camera might shock him into a stroke, and indeed make him extinct. Somehow, that didn't come to pass, and I drove away with my car appraised.