I'm just back from three weeks in Burma/Myanmar (the country so nice, the military dictatorship named it twice!), where electricity is often intermittent and access to internet can sometimes require renting a motorcycle just to drive to a shack with a dial-up connection. So I'm out of the blogging rhythm and find myself wanting to post a poem about a play. (I'm pretty sure that's not how this is supposed to work.)
I'll post more notes on Myanmar later (where I had to invent a fake resume just to get a visa, since reporters are not welcome). But uppermost in my mind this afternoon: in my jetlag-insomnia, I've been re-reading Hamlet and stuff surrounding Hamlet.
Since this year is Greek poet C.P. Cavafy's 150th birthday, here's his deadpan (with some buried glimmers of glee) synopsis of the play. The poem, King Claudius, reminds me of an entry I once read in a theater calendar that described Glengarry Glen Ross as a play about a contest in a real-estate office.
If Cavafy had been a theater-calendar editor, he might've described Hamlet as "an elaborate lie told by an enabler named Horatio to cover up for his mentally ill friend."
If you want more celebrity bullshit posts, post 'em. And please note that the two Seahawks posts were by regular actual employees of The Stranger, and one of them was so disdainful as to actually constitute a Golden Globes post.
This infographic started making the Twitter rounds last night, and it is highly, as the kids say, relevant to my interests right now, because it's an accounting of all the money that's gone into the preparation for the Republican National Convention. Which basically means, it's all the money that the local and federal governments have spent so that Republicans can throw this party.
I dunno, this is my first convention, so maybe I'll experience some sort of an epiphany once the speeches get under way tonight, but right now, it's repulsive to me that this entire city has been temporarily disfigured, its downtown gutted, and its citizens more or less placed under martial law for a week so that cable networks can provide a few hours of video. And it's frustrating for me to realize that we're paying for this, especially when one of the major themes of the convention is lack of dependence on the government.
I woke up at 1:52 am and have not been able to go back to sleep. Please excuse errors in spelling or logic.* Today is gonna rule.
"A New Era": Senegal ushers in a new president after former President Abdoulaye Wade, whose "rule has gone from mass celebrations to mass protests" conceded defeat in the general election, allaying fears that he would again try to cling to power.
Health Act hearings start today in the Supreme Court. They'll last three days, and are an "epic clash that could recast the very structure of American government. But [they begin] with a 90-minute argument on what a lawyer in the case has called 'the most boring jurisdictional stuff one can imagine.'” To wit:
The main event — arguments over the constitutionality of the law’s requirement that most Americans obtain insurance or pay a penalty — will not come until Tuesday. On Monday, the justices will consider whether they are barred from hearing the case until the first penalties come due in 2015.
Where's the beef?: Seattle branch of Sysco recalls 16,800 pounds of potentially tainted beef, which it sold to "a single customer, which operates restaurants in Washington, Colorado, Arizona and Texas." Sysco would not name the affected restaurants, although they're also "not sure whether any of the meat made it onto menus before the recall was initiated." A spokesman said none of the beef was sold in grocery stores.
"I am Trayvon Martin":2,000 march in Mt. Baker to protest the slaying of the Florida teen at the hands of the "neighborhood crime-watch captain."
''They asked me when I first had anal intercourse, oral sex, what sort of toys I played with as a child." Only the ill, disabled, or homosexual can avoid conscription service in the Turkish army, the second largest in the U.N. Proving that latter can be a humiliating affair.
He had his first of five heart attacks at age 37: Cheney waited longer than average—20 months compared with a year or less—for his heart installation. HAR HAR. In less amusing news:
Assuming that Cheney's kidneys and other organ systems were working properly at the time of the transplant and he suffers no issues with organ rejection, the latest procedure could extend the former vice president's life by a decade or so, said Dr. Randall Starling, a specialist in cardiac transplants at the Cleveland Clinic.
Everyday Music Capitol Hill location reopens:Across the street. Black Breath play a show tonight at 8:30 pm.
“If just given the chance, if given their freedom, Koreans in the North are capable of great progress as well,” President Obama said in a speech to 400 students at a foreign affairs university in South Korea.
And finally, Blockhead's "Insomniac Olympics" after the cut:
Big day in the hole. This is how the scene looked a couple hours ago—the orange crane swinging around, that green backhoe (see it?) lifting sludge out, the workers in bright clothes (behind the tree) closely watching. The boring machine that started its journey in the U District was estimated to break through the near wall (the wall you can't see, near those workers) tonight at 9 pm, but I was just down there and the estimate has been revised to midnight. News crews have been crawling the block for hours. Now they're not going to get the footage they were all looking forward to for the 11 o'clock news. The boring machine is said to be under the sidewalk and moving slowly, cautiously, just about to break on through.
Meanwhile, from the building across the street, even from the upper floors, you can hear a low, distant groan, like the building's stomach is growling.
I believe the regime has a week left, 10 days at most. And maybe even less.
He has no way of leaving Tripoli. All the roads are blocked. He can only leave with an international agreement and I think that door is closed.
I think it would be difficult for Gaddafi to give himself up. And he is not like Hitler who had the courage to kill himself... I don't think the evolution of the situation in Tripoli will allow him to survive.
If Gaddafi goes down, Bashar al-Assad will need to take a hard look in the mirror. There's plenty to see in this mirror.
The actual shake was a very very big shake. It began softly but just kept building and building in intensity. It seemed to last for several minutes. Shortly after the quake people were panicked. An elderly couple crashed their car in front of my office and I had to pull the old lady out of the back seat. She had a broken shoulder and could not speak from shock. It took several hours for the ambulance to come.
I live in Shinjuku, Tokyo and work in Meguro ward. I had to walk several kms across the city on Friday night home and witnessed the packed streets, massive traffic jams, the emergency centres full of people wrapped in silver foil blankets, salarymen with company-issued hard hats walking home, and the empty convenience stores and supermarkets, as food quickly disappeared from shelves. The general mood on Friday afternoon was panic and uncertainty—while Friday night, in spite of the crowded city, was a surreal melancholic calm.
The next 24 hours were pretty tense with public transportation suspended, communications down, food supplies limited, and the threat of a nuclear meltdown at a nearby power plant. We were also being constantly shaken by powerful aftershocks. I imagine very few people slept on Friday night, as they were constantly on edge to run outside with pre-packed survival bags at any moment. We were also tormented by the media images of the devastation just north of us that we couldn't do anything to help. All that being said, though I am safe. My friends are safe and my house has very little damage. Tokyo was mostly left unscathed, with just a few areas where buildings collapsed and fires started. The injuries and deaths in Tokyo were few. The biggest problem here had been countering the panic and rumours that have spread so quickly and made people feel insecure. I spent most of yesterday on FB and in front of Japanese television trying to counter the rumour mill, which was going crazy as people, often non-Japanese-speaking foreigners, were caught up in a web of mis-information and fear.
I had been organizing a charity event for the Christchurch Earthquake appeal for this evening, but unfortunately had to postpone it, as things are still critical here.
My thoughts are entirely with the people up north now. Am looking forward to seeing what we can do to help in the coming days, weeks and months ahead.
My friend Bryan Stokley teaches English in Nagoya. He's not an earthquake expert or anything, but he's the only person I know in Japan. I'm taking him up on his offer to put me in touch with people from Tokyo, but for now I'm gonna try to go back to sleep.
Were you anywhere near that business?
Not the massive tsunamis, but definitely had quite a scare.
How far were you from the epicenter?
I'm in Nagoya, it's centrally located on the main island and about 450 miles or so from Sendai, the epicenter.
How significant were the effects in Nagoya?
Minimal, just a lot of shaking. good 25 to 30 seconds. I can put you in touch with people in Tokyo if you'd like. It was a lot more intense there.
Describe the mood over there. How frequent are earthquakes in the area?
They are pretty frequent but always short, never that intense or long. people here develop kind of a false sense of security because they think they are so well prepared. I think the majority of people are pretty shocked. It certainly doesn't help the morale of the country. They're already pretty distraught over all of the social and economic ills they're facing.
If I heard correctly, this is the biggest quake in Japan's recorded history. When is was the last major quake, and how does this compare?
The last one of this kind of magnitude was the kobe earthquake in 1995. It was like 6.8 or something. Lots of people died, so it was kind of a wake up call to Japan to reevaluate their construction practices so as to prevent anything of that magnitude from happening again. if you mention earthquakes here everyone immediately talks about the Kobe earthquake. This will rank up there as a significant earthquake globally and nationally. Right now everyone's in WTF Just Happened Mode. trains, planes buses etc are stopped. People are walking back home like after September 11th.
How widespread is ground transit disruption?
I think it's all fucked from Tokyo and moving north up to Sendai. It's hard to get a connection even here cause everyone's using their phones.
What time did the quake hit, and what time is it now?
It's 10:13 pm here. It hit around 2:40 in the afternoon. Nice spring day, sunny
Have you talked to anyone in Tokyo?
Yeah, a lot of people are using Facebook to post updates and communicate.
How has internet service in your area or Tokyo been affected?
Internet seems okay, but phones were pretty messed up earlier.
It's 5:26 am here, and I'm sitting at my desk in my underwear because I can't sleep. Also, I can't find my glasses. Anything else I should be asking?
I dunno. I wish could help. The Christchurch thing is interesting. A lot of japanese kids died and then they come back home and get hit again. It's definitely gonna affect the morale of the country which as I said is at an all-time low. I haven't talked to an optimistic Japanese person in like 3 years.
Sounds grim. Maybe this will make people rally?
its possible. They're good at that kind of thing. I think they can take solace in the fact that they were much more prepared this time and that helped minimize the loss of life.
The shit keeps hitting the fan in Iran, where the government seems determined to put the people down and the people seem determined to keep up the fight for what Darya, our correspondent in Tehran, describes as:
1. critical thinking about anybody and anything (results: respect for the law, freedom of the press, and etc.), 2. access to modern technology, especially internet and books, 3. respect privacy
In response, the government unleashed what witnesses said was an extraordinary number of security forces to violently battle the crowds. Witnesses said mobs of anti-riot police and plainclothes Basij militia lined the streets and on several occasions fired directly into the crowd and beat protesters with steel batons. In one neighborhood, the Basij took over a commercial building and dropped tear gas canisters from the roof onto the protesters, witnesses said.
Then Darya, without explanation, sends me a joke:
In a wine factory the regular taster died and the director started looking for a new one to hire.
A drunkard with ragged, dirty look came to apply for the position.
The director of the factory wondered how to send him away.
They tested him.
They gave him a glass of wine. He tried it and said, "It’s red wine, a Muscat, three years old, grown on a north slope, matured in steel containers."
"That’s correct", said the boss.
"It’s red wine, cabernet, eight years old, a southwestern slope, oak barrels."
The director was astonished. He winked at his secretary to suggest something. She brought in a glass of urine. The alcoholic applicant tried it.
"It’s a blonde, 26 years old, pregnant in the third month. And if you don’t give me the job, I’ll also name the father
I asked her for some exegesis, but she went silent. I like to think that Darya sent me this message just to affirm that, despite all the fire and brimstone, the revolutionaries of Iran are keeping their humor.
After hackers began some malicious jokes at my expense yesterday, I swore off computers and went on an overnight drunk. While stopping in at Big Mario's for some sustenance, a woman scolded me ("You're supposed to be watching the office?"). I told her that set up a dummy at my desk (not true) and that things should be fine (not true). I do not remember much after this point, and I woke today under my desk (my usual sleeping quarters for Officewatch™) to find this mysterious item on top of it:
I do not know who these pranksters are, or it this effort and yesterday's hack into my computer are the work of the same force, but I intend to find out.
In 1971, performance artist Chris Burden had himself shot in the arm. In 1974, Burden was crucified on the top of a Volkswagen bug.
Also in 1974, Marina Abramovic installed herself in a gallery with 72 objects that people could use to manipulate her (scissors, a whip, a gun with a bullet) and was shocked (shocked!) when people took her up on her offer: "I felt really violated: they cut my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away."
In 1999, a struggling artist and writer named Johnny Knoxville invented the idea of Jackass, in which he and a group of friends would make Burden and Abramovic look like amateurs: Knoxville and company would get shot with guns, then get stung by wasps, then ride their skateboards into walls, then be dropped from stupid heights. MTV won a bidding war for the rights to produce the TV show.
The show was okay, as was the first Jackass movie—just the guys figuring out their calibration between pop culture, Caligula-worthy S&M, and the history of performance art. But the 2006 film Jackass Number Two raised the stakes a thousandfold, making pikers not only of Burden and Abramovic, but of the Jackass franchise as it had been known so far.
Though they never claimed to be "performance artists," Knoxville and company contributed heavily to the field. They staged a running of the bulls in a suburban neighborhood; allowed their cocks to be attacked by snakes (the symbolism! the irony!); launched themselves off ramps in shopping carts equipped with rocket-launchers (the best critique of runaway consumerism before or since—and I'm looking at you, Jan Fabre, and your stupid stage picture of women in shopping carts giving birth to rolls of toilet paper).
In the film's coup de grace, actor Steve-O shoved a giant fishhook through his cheek (which was attached to a fishing rod) and went swimming with sharks, using himself as bait.
Narratives that climax in extreme pain are the narratives we remember: the Oresteia, the New Testament, Hamlet. The Jackass concept was Western narrative on rocket-propelled roller skates. While violence and pain is the peak of any given story in the Western tradition, Jackass created a story where violence and pain were the baselines—its dramatic tension was built entirely out of pain-peaks but still had to peak somewhere. After folding in the cultural commentary (bulls in suburbia, snakes-on-snakes, a man fishing with his own body as bait), Jackass Number Two became a multifaceted jewel of populist performance art. (Plus, Lieberman hated it—to its credit.)
But Jackass 3-D doesn't push this project anywhere. It may be the most conservative Jackass yet. Its crew—some are parents now, some have gone around the bend and then gotten sober (when Johnny Knoxville orchestrates your intervention, you know you have problems), and some seem saggy and haggard. Its stunts are thin. Its sap has run dry. Where Jackass Number Two was an apotheosis of bodily sacrifice in the name of cultural commentary, Jackass 3-D is just guys getting socked in the nuts.
None of its moments rise to the level of art, but a few reach towards art criticism: a slow-motion shot of a dildo fired from a cannon and slamming through a glass of milk (and, of course, eventually hitting a man's face) recalls Harold Edgerton's photographs of a bullet piercing an apple. A fartiste plays the trumpet with his asshole and fires a dart at a balloon like Le Petomane. Knoxville climbs a pole and a dog bites his ass (perhaps a Joseph Beuys reference?). One of the film's videographers pukes repeatedly (when Steve-O drinks a glass of sweat, when Steve-O installs himself in a Honey Bucket full of dog shit and is slung around by bungee cords, and one or two other times).
Jackass 3-D has a few poetic images. One guy pisses in the wind—the wind being the exhaust of a jet engine that not only showers the guy with his own piss, but sends him flying backwards ass over teakettle. One scene has a Marquis de Sade human-torture-machine, in which two dudes jump off a platform, land on a lever that launches another dude into the air, where he is shot at by other dudes with paint-ball guns.
But Jackass 3-D does not improve on Jackass Number Two. The latter was an epic of bored dudes getting bruised and bloody to makes jokes about (and show up the heroes of) art history. The former is, at its heart, just a souped-up game of grab-ass.
...in Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou, who totally would've made the New Yorker's "20 under 40" list of authors if he weren't born in 1966, about a new bar called "Credit Gone West" that really pisses off the citizens of a town called Trois-Cents.
The bar is translated as "Credit Gone Away" in this excerpt from an anthology, but I couldn't find the whole novel—where the bar is called "Credit Gone West"—on Google Books.
Check out pages 106 and 107:
And especially this part:
... there was direct action from a group of thugs who were paid by some old assholes from the district, nostalgic for the days of the Case de Gaulle, for the life of a houseboy, the life of the faithful negro with his service medal, for the days of the Colonial Exhibition and the negro balls, with Josephine Baker leaping about in a skirt made out of bananas, and these paragons of respectability set snares without end for the boss, with their thugs in hoods who came at the dead of night, at the darkest hour, armed with iron bars from Zanzibar, with clubs and cudgels from medieval Christendom, poisoned spears from the time of Chaka Zulu, sickles and hammers from the Communist block, catapults from the Hundred Years' War, Gallic billhooks, pygmy hoes, Molotov cocktails from May '68, machetes left over from a killing spree in Rwanda, slings from the famous fight between David and Goliath, with all this heavy arsenal they came, but again, in vain, though they managed to destroy one part of the bar, and its was the talk of the town, and all over the papers...
I'm a sucker for a writer who can tame time like it's a pressed ham—condense it, slice it, and show us a cross-section.
And if you'd like to hear a news report in Lingala (referenced on page 107) that involves men cutting up meat with machetes (perhaps the same model used to attack Credit Gone West) please enjoy:
UPDATE IN THE BRIGHT LIGHT OF MORNING Forgive me for the pressed ham remark. It seemed to make sense at 3:30 this morning.
"What does it mean to go to war increasingly with soldiers whose hardware is made in China and software is written in India?"
"Just like software has gone open source, so has warfare. Unlike an aircraft carrier or an atomic bomb, you don't need a massive manufacturing system to build robotics—a lot of it is off-the-shelf; a lot of it is even do-it-yourself. For about $1000, you can build [a Raven drone, equivalent to what American soldiers use in Iraq] yourself."
"There's already a Jihadi web site that you can go on and remotely detonate an IED in Iraq while sitting at your home computer."
"You don't have to convince a robot that they're going to receive 72 virgins when they die to convince them to blow themselves up."
"People are more likely to support the use of force if they view it as costless."
Also, the Big Dog is something from a nightmare. Discuss:
No one visited today, but I noticed two sets of mysterious and filthy socks directly outside the office door as I attempted to escape before the evil cheesecake had its way with me. I do believe they are from either Charles, the heads, or this spaceman across the street, who appeared the same night as the second head.