Thursday, July 30, 2009

I Fought The Law and The Law Won

This has always been one of my Clash favorites (and I love the Clash!) One of the nice things about YouTube is that I can see live performances of older bands--things I would have seen except that I was 2 or 3 or unborn at the time. Another nice thing about YouTube is that someone has taken the time to upload pretty much everything to the site. By this I mean you can pick any song that you want to hear--no matter how obscure the band--and there is probably a YouTube recording of it. It may not have video, but the song will be there-it is the Cloud iPod.

So over the past few days I've had a few gigantic and really boring spreadsheets to wade through and make sense of. While engaged in this really boring task, I've been listening to music off of YouTube one song at a time (since we have a no-i-pod policy where I work.) While engaged in this I re-discovered the Green Day cover of I Fought the Law. I listened to it several times before watching the video (being a good worker-bee I didn't watch any of the videos at work--I just pulled up the songs and continued working on my giant, boring spreadsheet.)

I think it's a good cover. Green Day manages to put their own mark on the song without diminishing it at all and although I'm not a guitar player I think they did as well as Mick Jones on the riffs.

So here's the video

Monday, July 27, 2009

On Villains

I was watching an episode of Firefly a few days ago when something interesting occurred to me. In the episode in question, the Firefly team are noticed by an Evil Gangster (Niska by name) who has a grudge against them (particularly against the captain). Niska stops what he's doing and immediately demands of all within hearing that they bring the captain in--as any classic, powerful bad guy would do. Powerful bad guys let everyone know they really want to get this small time pisher who once got the better of them. They make public their desire for revenge.

For example, in Star Wars, Jabba the Hutt has a bounty on Han Solo. Everybody throughout the three movies knows that. When he's caught, there's gloating (as there is when Niska catches Malcolm Reynolds--the captain of the Firefly.) Villains in movies and books always gloat. It allows time for the rescue team to show up. But that is beside the point.

It occurred to me as I was watching Niska-this powerful bad guy-tell everyone to stop what they're doing and go get Captain Malcolm Reynolds, that no actual powerful bad guy would actually behave this way.

I know my tyrants. I'm a scholar of Dracula, Henry VIII, Hitler and Stalin (he's my favorite.) If any of these men (with the possible exception of Hitler since he was so crazy I don't know what he'd do) had been gypped by a small conman they would never let anyone know--regardless of their desire for revenge. If anyone *did* happen to remember the incident (and I believe these men would have been more likely to eliminate their own men who'd seen them getting gypped than the guy who gypped them) and did happen to mention that the small time operator who'd once got the best of, for example Josef Stalin, was back in the neighborhood, he (Uncle Joe) would probably just laugh a very big laugh, pour a shot of vodka for everyone, and say something like "That man's got very big balls-coming back here. Here's to his big balls-may they stay attached to him." After this, Stalin might or might not (depending on his mood) very quietly find the guy and kill him. Possibly with his own testicles in his mouth. But no one would be told about it.

These guys would *never* publicize their defeats to those beneath their touch.

This is not to say that they'd never talk about their kills. Stalin did say "no man-no problem." Goring admitted (possibly falsely) to starting the fire in the Reishtag. It's just that if some small time operator had burned them and they still held a grudge no one would know, because that would damage their credibility and the perception by their followers that they were anything other than a big time operator.

S'all I'm sane.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Visiting a sick friend

My boyfriend works part time in a camping store. The owner (who is a wonderful guy) has brain cancer. He spent a month and a half in MGH where they operated on him three times. (One planned and two emergencies.) They've now moved him to a rehabilitation hospital in the North End. He's 88.

We had a going away party for one of his employees last night. Going away parties consist of all employees and their significant others and the owner and his lady friend going out to Boston Beer Works or The Grand Canal and having greasy bar food (Beer Works actually serves fried pickles) and drinks. It's a always a good time. This time of course, the owner was missing.

All day one of the guys had been saying that we should all go over and visit him (the owner) in the rehab place after the party. I assumed he was joking. "Yeah--that's a great idea. That's just what every rehab hospital needs--20 drunk people showing up late at night." I said the first time the plan was mentioned.

But then at about 8:30 the plan came up again. "It's just down the street--we can be there in 5 minutes." said the main instigator. In the end it wasn't 20 people--more like 10 and it wasn't that late and we weren't that drunk.

The weather was beautiful--a hot Saturday had cooled to a breezy Saturday night. I took my shoes off and walked through the grass and the fountain at the Rose Kennedy Greenway. There were still little kids running through the fountain in their underwear.

We walked down the street and into the hospital. A woman at the front desk looked at all of us and asked "Are you all set?" We didn't respond--we just hit the up button on the elevator.

All of us filed into the hospital room. For a wonder, the patient was still away reading the Globe. Here we were--an odd assortment of people in their party clothes visiting a hospital on a Saturday night. We talked and joked for a few minutes. Somehow we felt we could say the one thing we didn't say (or at least I could never bring myself to say) when we visited this guy in the daylight "We miss you."

And then we all said goodbye one at a time (which was nice, but a little funereal.) All the women kissed the patient on the cheek and all the men shook his hand. And we went out into the beautiful summer night to find more fun.

Friday, July 24, 2009

278 Pages into The Great War for Civilisation

I'm reading a book about written by Robert Fisk. He is an Englishman who has been based in the Middle East for a long time. This book is about some of the many wars that have happened there since 1979.

Reading this book I have come to a few conclusions. One, I feel like I aught to know more about all of this. It is not entirely my fault that I don't since I was 4 in 1979. An aside-I had dinner with my mother and my aunt tonight at The Grapevine in Salem. We discussed what we were reading and I hauled out my telephone book sized history of the Middle East and said "You guys probably know a lot more about all of this than I do-since you were older than 4 in 1979." and they both said yes, they did know a bit more. But that didn't mean that they weren't interested in the Full Story.

I thought about this riding on the commuter rail back to Boston. In 1979, they didn't have the Internet and the consequent up to the minute news reporting that we now have (duh!) but furthermore, at the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution, subsequent hostage crisis and the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war, my mom was making sure I didn't eat glue or stick my fingers in electrical sockets while carrying, bearing and then caring for my little sister. For which I thank her, by the way. These things were probably taking up enough of her attention that she didn't notice the bad news from the Middle East. My aunt would have been performing the same glue-and-socket-avoidance for her son, my cousin aged three. So she might have (understandably) missed some of that too. I mention this because I'm sure that plenty of other people were ignorant of what was going on because they were busy living their lives and there was not yet a 24 hour inundation of news.

Anyways, the conclusion I've come to (although I suspect it was hanging around in the back of my mind waiting for better supporting evidence) is that most of the people who've been running things in the Middle East are psychopaths who the American government had no business dealing with-let alone installing or supporting.

The UN, Médecins sans frontières, the Red Cross, the Red Crescent and Amnesty International are the only western organizations that should have had anything to do with the Middle East. 1979 would have been a great year to start investigating alternative fuels. But here it is 30 years on and the US is embroiled in not one but two wars in the Middle East both (arguably) our own fault.

The guys (it was mostly men) running things in the Middle East in the late 70s and the 80s *all* behaved like Vlad Tepes and I'm going to go out on a limb and say they probably haven't improved much since then. This is what the world looks like with the guard rails removed.

Amendment: I'm sure there were honest men and women running things as well--I am after all reading a history written by a war correspondent. But it seems to me there were an awful lot of thieves and thugs to whom the westerners gave countenance.

Westerners have had tyrants and psychopaths as their leaders. As a result, starting with the Magna Carta, the governed (even if they be the nobility) have attempted to put emergency breaks and guard rails--rules, around the government and its executive to keep tyranny at bay. None of those guard-rails exist in the Middle East. And so, we have Vlad Tepeses, Bloody Maries, Josef Stalins and Cathrine de Mediciss running the Middle East and we do business with them?

I am not at all implying that we in the West are pure as driven snow (Hitler? Stalin Abu Gharib? Guantanamo Bay?) All I'm saying is that we shouldn't do business with thugs.

Monday, July 20, 2009

And now for something completely different

I had to go to the Cambridgeside Galleria Mall this evening. Since I was in the neighborhood, I treated myself to dinner at Helmand; a wonderful Afghan restaurant located in the culinary wasteland of East Cambridge by the Mall.

I hesitated about eating there though because the big thick book I'm reading at the moment is The Great War for Civilization, by Robert Fisk. The subtitle is The Conquest of the Middle East and I couldn't help but wonder if some of the staff (or the owner) might be offended.

Upon reflection this seems weird. I've had no problems eating in Indian restaurants while reading Salman Rushdie or Shashi Tharoor and I wouldn't think twice about reading about China while sitting in a Chinese restaurant. I've probably brought some biography of Stalin into a Russian restaurant at some point in time. I guess I'm a bit more concerned about offending the Afghan staff since the US is currently invading their country. Regardless of whether or not you think that invasion is a good idea, you can see that some of them might be a bit sensitive about it, and here I am sitting eating their delicious bread and aush and reading about it. Or at any rate reading about the prior invasion of Afghanistan--the one that the Russians threw.

I picked this book up at the recommendation of Ted Rall. He recommended it on his blog as a good history of the wars (many of them caused by western meddling) in the middle east over the past 20 years or so. The author is a foreign correspondent who's been based in the Middle East for several decades. There's lots of primary sources--including *jibblie jibblie* Osama bin Laden. Apparently, Fisk was the first western journalist to interview the man.

Horrible things are described--a torture chamber that the Shah's secret police had set up, the "trial" and execution of the secret police after the Iranian revolution, the sound of bullets coming at you and I'm sure much more. And he tries to be fair (at least about admitting the rights and wrongs of both sides.) The Shah's torture chambers were horrible, but although they were understandable so were the executions that followed the revolution. But he describes some humorous scenes too, one of which I'm about to quote at great length.

This takes place in Afghanistan during the Russian Invasion. The author had bought a carpet and he had just spent time in the bazaar buying a satin bag in which to carry the carpet home. Before going out to the bazaar, he had memorized the phrase for "satin bag" as it was not part of his vocabulary. When he arrived back at his hotel, the front desk clerk told him there was fighting just out of town, so he hired a rickshaw to take him to the fight. At first he sees nothing, but when he hears gunfire he flings himself into the first house he sees.

This is from the third chapter of the book-the one entitled The Choirs of Kandahar.

He has just thrown himself into a house and is attempting to identify himself to the occupants.

"I had just enough wits to remember the Pushtu for journalist and to try to tell these poor people who I was. "Za di inglisi atlasi kahzora yem!" I triumphantly announced. But the family stared at me with even greater concern. The man held his children closer to him and his wife made a whimpering sound. I smiled. They did not. Fear crackled over the family. Only slowly did I realise that I had not told them I was a journalist. Perhaps it was the carpet upon which I had landed in their home. Certainly it must have been my visit to the bazaar a few hours earlier. But with increasing horror, I realised that the dishevelled correspondent who had burst in upon their sacred home had introduced himself in Pushtu not as a reporter but with the imperishable statement: "I am an English satin bag."

"Correspondent, journalist," I now repeated in English and Pushtu. But the damage had been done. Not only was this Englishman dangerous, alien, an infidel intruder into the sanctity of the Afghan home. He was also insane. Of this I had no doubt myself. Whenever we journalists find ourselves in great danger, there is always a voice that asks "Why?" How on earth did we ever come to risk our life in this way? For the editor?"

In 900 pages or so I'll be able to say if the rest was just as good.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dining out or..?

I've always enjoyed walking into the middle of conversations and trying to figure out what they're about. Especially when the terms people are using are general enough that there are several different possible subjects. I believe has put together a few comics about that.

Today one of my coworkers was dining out at Fire and Ice with her husband. Fire and Ice is a restaurant where you pay a cover charge and eat all you want. They have all kinds of raw food (meat, veggies noodles and a salad bar) and you grab what you want to eat and put it in a bowl, along with some sauce. You take the bowl to a communal cooking area-a circle shaped griddle with cooks standing around it. The cook takes your bowl of stuff and dumps it on the griddle and cooks it and returns it to your bowl. You take it back to your table, eat it and then go back for more.

I was attempting to give my friend and her husband a few tips on the best way to go about this (make sure you've got enough stuff in your bowl, get a bowl full of stuff to be cooked and a salad at the same time so that you spend as much time eating as you do waiting for your stuff to be cooked etc.)

I was saying "When you get there don't be afraid to use your elbows--it's a big crowd and then some guy comes up to you and grabs all your stuff and.." When I was interrupted by another coworker.

"That sounds horrible." She said. "What is this--arrival at the Concentration Camp?" We explained that no, it was dining out at Fire and Ice and then it occurred to me that we could have just as easily been discussing checking baggage at Logan Airport. Both alternate scenarios involve large crowds where someone comes up and grabs all your stuff.

I've been laughing about it ever since. No one else seems to get it though.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Kobayashi is still my favorite

Kobayashi was once again defeated by Joey Chestnut in today's hot dog eating contest. But he's still my favorite competitive eater. In spite of his loss today, I'm showing my support by posting a video of him in his prime. To be fair he lost this contest too. But he lost to a bear. No human wins an eating contest with a bear. But he made a good showing.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Do no Harm

I have a friend in Mass General Hospital with a malignant brain tumor. The guy in question is 88. He's a wonderful man. He owns a camping store in the North Station area of Boston. It's the equivalent of the Strand Bookstore of camping stores. Or perhaps the original Filene's basement. The floor looks like it hasn't been washed since Eisenhower was president. But there isn't a better deal to be had for Arcteryx gear in Boston. The staff are mostly men--gear geeks. It's also, like the Strand, a good place for people who don't fit in the regular world to wash up--artists, transsexuals going through their transitioning, and good intelligent people who'd rather work in a camping store and earn 10 bux an hour with no health insurance than put up with the sort of shit I deal with driving a desk.

And my friend is very good to them--sometimes too good. You really have to go out of your way to be dick to get fired--incompetence alone is not enough. He does his own bookkeeping. The funny thing is, he doesn't know a thing about the products he sells. One time when I was in the store asking one of the guys about a particular jacket, I was surprised when he answered my question. He's the only person who works there and doesn't wear the gear the store sells. I don't think he even has a pair of Smartwool socks. (I don't hike, but I live in Boston and so I appreciate Smartwool and Goretex. I get all my wool socks, jackets, back backs, bags and sandals there.)

Anyways, the guy's a good man. And now he's at MGH with no control whatsoever over anything in his life. He's immobilized. And every time I see him he looks worse--because he's 88 and has a malignant brain tumor and they operated on him to try to get it out.

He collapsed several weeks ago and was taken to MGH. They determined he had a mass in his head. The first time I saw him was a few days after the collapse, but before the surgery. He couldn't get from the chair to the bed without help, but he was talking and cracking jokes and his phone was ringing off the hook. His buddies were gonna come by with a pizza later on. He was clearly knocked up, but he was still himself--completely.

The next time I saw him was after his first surgery. He had a big sock, or something over his head. He didn't look happy, but he could still talk and though it was clear he'd had better days he looked pretty darn good for an 88 year old who'd had people hacking at his brain.

Since then he's had two emergency surgeries. I know the first was about fluids in his brain and I assume the second was as well (the draining tube attached to his head gave it away.) At the beginning of the michegas, I had thought--well his days are numbered, but he'll get to walk out of here on his own two feet and get to be himself for a while and get his affairs in order before he has to come back here or go to hospice care.

Now, after two more surprise surgeries, I'm thinking he will not be walking out of MGH and any meaningful conversations I want to have with the guy (well, meaningful monologues at this point since he can barely speak) had better happen soon.

I'm also thinking, brain cancer didn't do this to him. Doctors did this to him. He was much better before they decided to open his skull and have a look-see. He may not have had much time left either way--but wouldn't he have been better off if they hadn't tinkered with him?

What does that Hippocratic oath say again?