Evil Forces in the World

Reflections on ''Evil Forces in the World,'' as well as occasional remarks concerning ''Good Forces in the World.''

Saturday, August 17, 2002

First in a series I'd like to call "Genius or Idiot?"

"You sell 17 million records, and it sounds like it's great and gravy and shit, but I didn't enjoy it too much man. They told me, 'We want you to wear these baggy pants because the young kids like it, and it's all glittery and polished and everything,' and I said, 'Fuck no, I'm not wearin' this gay-ass shit.' They said, 'Well, here's a million dollars, man, will you do it?' And I said, 'Fuck yes.' Anybody would have done the same thing if they were given the chane. I'd lick my mother's asshole for a million dollars."

- Vanilla Ice
(Thanks to Salon.com)

Friday, August 16, 2002

At present, my body is covered in sweat, filth, and grime. Having just returned from the ungreat outdoors, this is hardly a surprise. Due to the thick layer of High Endurance Old Spice that is coating my pits, I don't "reek," to use the term of choice, but I am about to take my second shower of the day.

Summer is evil.

This might strike you as an extreme contention, and perhaps it will jeopardize my reputation for sound judgment in matters of good and evil, but I am firmly committed to this proposition, and I'm quite convinced that history will vindicate me when the final accounts are settled by The Great Accountant Himself, Norbert T. Hugglebuns. (This is not in fact his name; had I access to the real name, I certainly wouldn't share it with you, not because I wouldn't want to do so but rather because it would almost certainly result in my being vaporized by a lightning bolt.)

In the summer months, most people look fleshy, uncomfortable, and diseased. Roughly thirty or forty people look exceptionally pretty, but these people generally don't read books. That's actually a lie. These people are often exceptionally intelligent, which is incredibly bad news: yes, they will soon be running the planet. I'm not happy about it. I don't know about you.

When we're swaddled in clothes, and parkas in particular, the great equalizer is at work: do you wear your massive parka with panache? This is crucial. When we're all more or less nude, this doesn't come into play. Instead, we're obligated to be largely hairless, which I'm most assuredly not. (Much to my chagrin, I've discovered that -- and I apologize in advance to the squeamish among you -- that there is hair growing on my body where I had never imagined hair would grow, and I don't mean my bloody bum, so don't get your knickers in a twoozle. For example, the traditional area on the reverse-side of my forearm. Hair? And I've discovered a stray, solitary hair on the top of my left foot. Bloody hell. I am not as hairy as some, but, being of South Asian origin, I'm perhaps hairier than most, which, in light of the decidedly not-cold temperatures which prevail in much of the subcontinent, to use a fairly crappo term, strikes me as a cruel, cruel joke of some kind.

The evil kind.

Thursday, August 15, 2002

I hate to be such an utter neocon stereotype, but Brent Scowcroft really rubs me the wrong way; the great tragedy is that this crusty bastard will soon be praised to the skies as "statesman-like" by various readers of The Nation, which is evil in the way slavish Europhilia is evil: it won't kill you, but it an ugly, ugly thing, not unlike a boil or cyst. (I read NYRB religiously; I'll even read the flimsy English-language edition of Le monde diplomatique; I will not, however, read The Nation, except for the always thought-provoking essays by Richard Kim, who is sharp as hell, though I'd give it some consideration if a recent grad I know decides to work for them.)
In the first of a twelve-thousand part series, I will reveal my secret shame, and how.

"Picture it: Sicily."

No. More like high school, ca. 1997. Fortunately, we were long past the era of the flat-top fade, which was a regrettable episode in our collective life. I managed to avoid ever having a flat-top fade, in large part because my hair is very straight, and so I never managed to reinvent myself as a high-top sneaker-wearing House Party extra. I did have very long hair at one point, but never thought of myself as a "longhair," thank heavens; the length was mainly a function of a misplaced and utterly irrational fear of barbers. But surely you can understand a fear of men (and sometimes women) who love knives and chemical sprays. In some respects, I was ahead of my time. Also, I had built a massive robotic doomsday device, which incorporated 31st century principles of gobotics. That is not true. Mainly, I danced around a lot for no discernible reason.

Back to MY SECRET SHAME. I went to my senior prom with a young lady who was (1) very pretty, in a late-1990s sort of way; (2) not interested in me in the slightest, which strongly suggests severe lameness on my part; and, worst of all, (3) two years young than me. But wait, there's more: (4) long before the evening was through, she left me.


I had been abandoned at my own bloody prom, and so I danced with a number of "hot chicks," as opposed to "hot Czechs." Part 1, MY SECRET SHAME.


But good robots can go bad, and under the command of motorcycle/robot Cy-Kill, the Guardians raged against the machine, becoming a band of insurrectionists known as the Renegades. And so, it was up to jet/robot Leader-1 and his team of loyal Guardians to keep Gobotron from destruction.

"Good robots can go bad." Sleep on that, liebchen.
Heavy metal is back. It's true: this month's Spin, which typically runs 4-5 months behind each year's trend, has released "The Metal Issue," sporting, of course, a photograph of Axel Rose, circa 1987. But you don't have to read Spin in order to know what's up - arguably, today's most popular rock and roll band, Weezer, has declared itself "basically a metal band," and similarly, teen and MTV favorites, "Sum 41" plays the Metal card at every opportunity, jamming live last year on MTV with none other than Judas Priest. And finally, even indie rock, the bastion of anti-trend fervor, has dipped its hand into the indie rock form of Metal: late 1970s garage punk. Metal is certainly back; just this morning, I passed two kids wearing Metallica and AC/DC shirts, respectively and, I might add, non-ironically.

Should we be scared? If you are a large, white male who aggressively asserts his masculinity: no. However, if you are a woman or gay male, you probably might want to feel a little bit uncomfortable.

Why? I appeal to recent cultural history for an answer. The late American 1970s saw the rise of disco and R&B music, groups such as the BeeGees and Earth Wind and Fire. This emergence corresponded pretty closely to the 'outing' of gay male culture in our post-Stonewall era America. Dance clubs, which were the fountainhead of such music, often were also largely filled by gay males, as culturally speaking, gays responded better to club society and disco music (versus Led Zeppelin and AC/DC, which possessed an aggressive masculine, misogynist streak).

When disco - which reached its pinnacle with Staying Alive in 1978 - came crashing down in the early 80s, Heavy Metal was the antidote. Radio stations threw out all their Diana Ross and Cheryl Lynne in favor of hard rock, such as AC/DC. Around this time, a radio station in California held a "Bee Gee Free Weekend," and another station held a "Disco Burning Party" at the local baseball stadium, which gathered some 8,000 people. The crowd brought their respective disco albums, and basically threw them into a big bonfire in the middle of the stadium, which was later blown up by large explosives.

As many writers have noted, this anti-disco backlash was also a very anti-gay movement, coinciding with the rise in the AIDS epidemic (then thought to be an exclusively gay community illnesss). Hard Rock and Metal was male and not pussy: it was the opposite of effeminate and dancy, anything that might be equated with homosexual society. I have seen videotapes from the "Disco Burning Party," and not too suprisingly, the number of women, blacks, or other minorities were almost nil; the number of large, white men sporting mullets and tattoos were more than a few. This is not to draw an impressionistic evaluation of a cultural happening: but I do think it fair to say, judging by the lyrics of Heavy Metal music and writings on Heavy Metal at this time, that Metal was favored mainly by straight white men, reacting against the increasing visibility of 'out' gay men and the AIDS epidemic.

What does this mean today? Well, Metal is certainly back. Hardcore masculinity is in as well. Normative gender roles - dudes and chicks, dudes fucking hot chicks - are also back in popular culture (just look at the current slew of high school movies). Like in the late 70s, music groups that one may describe as "pansy," and sociologically effeminate or "gay" (I think of the Backstreet Boys here) are out, taking hard knocks from hard rocking guys like Tommy Lee. It seems that the recent cultural backlash against both boy groups and dance music in general (there are exceptions of course, like Kylie Minogue, but that is an exception and a European import, where the above "American" theory does not apply - and besides, who is listening to Madonna or Janet Jackson right now?), is again a backlash against the mounting tide of queer 'empowerment'. Like all those white guys getting scared shitless of AIDS in the early 80s, today all the queer studies classes at Brown and Berkeley, all the sexual indeterminancy and bi-sexuality (think of Kissing Jessica Stein), and publicy outspoken gay activists have gotten the heterosexual majority on the ropes. A fierce reversal has been coming for a while: and the hetero-block wants to see more sexual determinancy, more straightforward gender roles, and more old-fashioned masculinity and dudes and chicks.

So, should we ("we" if you are a woman, gay, or minority) be scared? Maybe not. Culture, especially American culture, tends to correct and moderate itself after moments of upheaval. And gay culture has made enough inroads that we probably won't see the gross violence and aggression against gays we saw in the early 80s. However, one chilling thought: R&B music, which back in the 70s, was most identified with women-friendly, gay-friendly, dancy music, has become dominated by, of course, hip-hop. Hip hop, as most people can tell, is decidely misogynistic and anti-gay. Interestingly, the one boy band that has thrived in the recent wave of Metal-ness has been N-Sync, which has taken a hip hop turn ("Girlfriend" w/Nelly). Rap gets by fine with Metal these days, and perhaps this is only because of its similar aggressive male stance, and anti-"fag" ethos. Rap and Metal, actually, have always gotten on very well - think of Limp Bizkit - whereas dance/club music, like AV Helden plus Common, has failed miserably. We are seeing a unified front here, one not particularly agreeable to anything that might resemble sexual tolerance.

So, should we be scared? I'm not sure, but I do not want to get my ass kicked anytime soon.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Attack your crops like a boll weevil
Killin' cotton
Like John Rotten, got shot an'
Cruise Staten Island, from Todt Hill to Totten-
Ville, paid a mil to Chilly Will on the still
Feel? Said "check the reel, always keepin' it real"
My meals
Ready-to-eat, defeat
Foes in combat, my wombat, bat-eating
Skull like a tomcat
My DAT is incredible, Oedipal complex
Is complex, my Metroplex at the cineplex
Flex my heat, plexiglass is past tense
proceed, I can't stand to heed heads
Who're too stupid to stand, yo, they ain't even bipeds
Or tripeds, my tripods
Epaulets by IZOD
Is always playin' my tracks
Some have suggested that my grammar isn't up to snuff, and that I indulge in redundancies: I have but this to say: Sure, I didn't go to some damn fancy-shmancy private school. Didn't go to Groton or Andover or the Yanomani School for Militant Ululating Youths. All of my schools had numbers: 160, 179, 201. And I'm proud of it. "I'm Dirty Dee, damnit!"

Senseless rap:

Heathens balk, when Ethan Hawke talks
Hawks (nowadays, endangered) get outlined by chalk
Talk magazine (now extinct) tried to get green,
like Heavy D all up in the limosine, a spate of
magazine Charlie Sheens (indeed, reams) called
the Hottest State a state of sedat-
ion, dooming it to a mediocre fate (James Tate
without the great) - okay fuck it:

I choker the Ochre in strip poker,
Andrew WK gets wet?
I get soaker; Paul Simon after Garfunkel?
I get folker. Neil Diamond (not Neil Simon)
is hard, gets swinging like Doug Liman,
killed a man in Remo, just to kill some timin'
the chicks from Cryin' (the video) are divinin'
After I sign-in, I get back to the tie-ins:
I spend all day Oh, Carolinin', while watching
the Shining (which does not start Ethan Hawke).

This is infuriating in the extreme:

As Washington finally begins its long-awaited debate over war with Iraq, skeptics are having a field day with all the potential obstacles to an American march to Baghdad: international opposition; the difficulty of targeting Saddam's diffuse chemical and biological weapons; the fear that he might use them; the potential for American casualties. But there's one potential problem that so far has slipped under the radar screen: the little-known city of Kirkuk.

The oil-rich town, which lies just south of the Kurdish safe haven established at the end of the Gulf war and 150 miles due north of Baghdad, has long been central to the Kurds' nationalist aspirations. It also happens to be home to some of Iraq's oldest oil fields, which are still among the world's most lucrative. So it's hardly surprising that the Kurds--who have so far proved cool to America's war planning--have made control of the city in a post-Saddam Iraq a key condition of their support. A post-Saddam Iraqi constitution, drafted by one of the main Kurdish parties and circulated in Washington last month, designated Kirkuk as nothing less than the capital of an autonomous Kurdish federation.

The problem for the Bush administration is that the Kurds are not the only contenders for the city. Iraq's Turkmen minority--ethnic Turks who insist they constitute a majority in the city--vow they will not live under Kurdish rule. And Turkey, which greatly fears Kurdish nationalism (given the secessionist inclinations of the Kurds within its borders), considers itself the guardian of its ethnic brethren inside Iraq. The government in Ankara recently informed Washington that it will do whatever it takes to protect Turkmen interests--including invading Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. "This is a nonstarter, a red line for us," a senior Turkish official told me. During a recent visit to Ankara, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was told by Turkey's military brass that if Kirkuk is promised to the Kurds, they won't back an American attack on Iraq.

(A word of warning: TNR.com now requires registration.)
There are two movies we want very badly, the we referring to all decent Americans, both of which take place in a decidedly musty, atypical setting: the small New England liberal arts college, a far cry from the cut-throat world of competitive street-racing, but not as far as you'd necessarily think, particularly since, I'm told, a fair amount of competitive street-racing goes on in the Amhersts of the world, but you didn't hear it from me. (This is the point at which I should acknowledge a prejudice; whenever I reference small liberal arts colleges derisively, it's always Amherst; whenever I reference them with a swell of goodwill in my boob, or rather breast, it's inevitably Swarthmore, which is exceptionally green, pretty, and awesome; also, it is the home of James Kurth, who is a real ass-kicker.) The first is, of course, The Rules of Attraction, which features a very '80s Shannyn Sossamon, as well as an all-too-convincingly '80s Kate Bosworth, who is vastly more appealing in her 21st century guise. But appealingness, or its allied qualities, are hardly the heart of the matter; to think otherwise is nothing less than evil.

A tentative definition of evil: everything worthy of "catching a brick, yo."

The other is The Human Stain, an adaptation of Philip Roth's novel of the same name. (Like a lot of young men my age, I am a great lover of Philip Roth.)

I should also mention the following projects: The Children of Men, based on one of my favorite books of all time, which is allegedly going to be directed by Alfonso Cuarón of Y Tu Mama Tambien fame, but there's been no filming as yet. Frustratingly enough, they've altered some crucial plot points, but that's to be expected. And of course Megalopolis, in part because it features Parker Posey, a formidable force for good. Oy, she's going to be in Personal Velocity in a lead role.

Amtrak deserves to get Am-smacked.
The protagonist of Surf Girls of Maui, also known as Blue Crush falls hard for a pro football player. Oh, for the love of all things good, reasonable, and decent -- this is simply madness. Couldn't the fellow in question be a surfer at the very least? Surely that's a defensible proposition. After all, the two lovebirds could discuss, say, surfing:

CREEPILY FLAWLESS WASPY SURFER-GIRL: So, uh, what do you like to do?
CFWSG: Cool.

As opposed to:
CREEPILY FLAWLESS WASPY SURFER-GIRL: So, uh, what do you like to go.
CREEPILY FLAWLESS WASPY FOOTBALL-PLAYING DUDE: Uh, you know, a little of this, a little of that.
CFWSG: Oh yeah, like what?
CFWFPD: Yeah, you know, I read a lot of books, uh, you know. I love playing SSX Tricky. Football.
CFWSG: Cool.

Now, as you can see, the outcome isn't terribly different, but surely one strikes you as more plausible than the other.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Rick Fabulous and me gettin’ stoopid on the I-R-T
Smokin’ tea and trees, sippin’ on Hi-C
Picture these two thugs with the loveliest mugs
Peddlin’ ritalin and assorted vitamins, not to mention fresh cars with fins
But always win
In the battle, leave brains addled
Tongue rattles with the phrase that pays
Spendin’ school days in a haze, I amaze
Alleviate your malaise with my gaze
Suckers try to front but I don’t get fazed
I glaze
Many donuts, I like to go nuts
With the grown-ups, I spill my guts
What? I’m stuck in a rut
I repeat once, twice repeat
Gettin’ heated, but I needed
Lyrical elixirs
Don’t meet ladies at cotillions and mixers
Mix it like Madhuri Dixit
I leave the microphone broken, fix it
Disgust from both friend and foe
Not a hood but a harmless fellow, nice and mellow
I lay low, keep the flow nice and slow
On the go
Get around from town to town
Much faster than the speed of sound
Kick the verbs and nouns with the Gang Bloodhound
Reflections too profound abound
And so I slow down
Dirty low hooligan
With the booley Boolean
And alligators
That see you later with no ifs, ands, or buts
Rob your tomb like King Tut’s
Tutenkhamen, eat lots of ramen
Like Bob Marley we
Captain Outrageous
Dr. Ze-us
Rick “So-so Fabulous” Fabulous
Madam Revenge

After losing the Battle of Vienna, the Ultimate Squad, America’s leading superhuman fighting force, realizes that the end is near. Phineas Skullhead, archenemy of the Ultimate Squad, has conquered much of industrial Eurasia and is preparing a final assault on North America. While some seek to resist Skullhead’s seemingly ineluctable advance, others succumb to despair.
Scene 1

Dr. Ze-us, visibly distressed, is staring at a computer screen. He is holding a large bottle. GUMBOOT, a telepathic and telekinetic dwarf, sits by ZE-US. ZE-US is soused.
DR. ZE-US: Heh heh. I remember . . . I remember when I joined this outfit. No, no. No, no, no. You know what I remember really well? When I was six. Six and a half. Six and a half and three quarters. Point two. I was sittin’ in class at Princeton, where I was getting my twelfth Ph.D. Medieval Studies, I think. I was sittin’ next to this dame and she had this waist. I mean, you could . . . You could put handcuffs around this waist, my God. She had that tiny mouth, sexy eyebrow, dirty . . . thing happening. Yeah. Her name was Samantha BRON-shteen. So, I’m six right, and I’m three-two, but I’m a cool guy, so I walk up to her. You know, shoot the shit. Whatever.

GUMBOOT emits a high-pitched squeal, followed by a series of nonsensical noises.

DR. ZE-US: Precisely. Jesus, who da hell is that?

RICK FABULOUS (FABULOUS pronounced “fah-boo-lus”) enters the room. He is giggling uncontrollably.

DR. ZE-US: Fah-boo, you almost gave me a god-damn heart attack. Jesus. How’s about I knock you on the head with a rock or somethin’, how’d you like that? You swarthy bastard.

RF: Ey, I’m fah-boo-lus! Fah-boo-lus, bebbe! Ebery-body lub mee. Ebery-body. Ey.

Suddenly, RF is filled with dread and despair.

RF: Ebery-body . . . [RF hyperventilates.] Ebery . . . body . . . lub me. Lub. Please lub meee!

GUMBOOT emits a high-pitched squeal, followed by a series of nonsensical noises.

DR. Z.: Get a friggin’ grip, you god-damn panty-waist. Oh Jeez Louise, you filthy son of a bitch, have a drink.

RF: Ebery . . . Eberybody love Rick Fabulous, right? Eberybody lub me?

RF takes a swig.

RF: Eh! I feel like dancin’ the night away!

RF begins to dance with a honky-tonk flair. No music is playing. He begins to sing “I want to be a girl, I want to be a girl,” all the while using coquettish gestures.

DR. Z.: So anyway, like I was sayin’. This Bron-shteen girl, she had knockers bigger than Morocco. Maracas. “I’d like to shake those maracas,” I said to her, and she slapped me silly. Oh Jesus, Fah-boo, I’m gonna slap you from here to Texas.

RF: Peace, love, and all of that jazz, bebbe. Ey.

DR. Z.: We’re all gonna die. Like, soon.
Slum Village has released a new album, and, unsurprisingly, it's dope.

I've just received word that realultimatepower.net has posted an enormous update. Rest assured, you'd be foolish not to take a look; moreover, you'd risk opening a planetary rift, through which molten lava might seep through and kill Scrooge McDuck, various pretty girls, and a number of massive battle tanks.

Do you recall the movie Juice, starring a young, wild-eyed Tupac Shakur as the young, wild-eyed "Bishop"? Bishop, a mercurial fellow, is a great lover of pistols; sadly, he is also a great lover of shooting and killing others, which is evil. I recommend the movie, as it features a wide array of flat-tops, including the classic flat-top fade.

I've come upon another item I wrote some time ago, which strikes me as uncharacteristically earnest (there's been some editing):

Many tax-cut advocates are indeed closet libertarians with a reflexive opposition to redistribution. Many are also sincerely committed to alleviating the conditions of the very poor and believe that a tax cut, by spurring economic growth, will do just that. Most of the supply-side rhetoric is nonsense. On the other hand, the notion that the federal government is capable of using spending to solve enduring social problems is also a bit daft. Like Susan Mayer and Christopher Jencks, I consider myself to be a hardheaded _____. Targeted interventions can do a great deal of good, but there are many things that money can’t buy. All Americans ought to have basic needs met and redistribution is an effective means to that end. But we live in a democracy and first-past-the-post democracies are oriented toward the median voter. The bulk of redistribution that occurs in the US is from the nonpoor to the nonpoor, often through the hidden welfare state of tax subsidies. While a compelling case can be made for spending on early childhood nutrition, things like agricultural price supports and subsidized tertiary education for the upper-middle-class, not to mention the bloated military establishment (I’m a hawk, mind you), are far more representative of how tax dollars are spent. If tax cuts for the rich are good for the economy, and the jury is still out, they needn’t be bad. Of course, _____ uses the long boom as evidence that it does not. Well, might the economy have grown faster without the tax increase? I doubt it, but it is a possibility. The recovery began under President Bush and was driven in large part by technological changes that were a long time coming; productivity gains that hadn’t materialized despite massive investments in high-technology suddenly appeared in the statistics, a phenomenon that might have been uniquely insensitive to tax treatment. To say that it is, “logically and necessarily true that if you believe that the Bush tax cut will help the economy, you must believe that the Clinton tax hike hurt the economy” doesn’t hold water. The point concerning the convexity of tax distortion applies here as well. On page __, _____ discusses a National Review article (written by Ramesh Ponnuru, if I recall correctly) concerning the political economy case for tax cuts, namely that removing too many voters from the tax rolls can undermine democracy. As _____ acknowledges, this is a very serious argument that deserves our attention. Removing the median voter from the tax rolls could lead to punitive taxes on the rich eventually to fund subsidies for the middle-class. (The poor, who do not vote and are often looked upon with derision by the median voter, might not be helped very much at all.) But does this mean that Bush is lying when he says that he wants to reduce the burden on the lower-middle-class and the working poor? Nicholas Lemann, who wrote a fine New Yorker essay on this matter, might agree, but Mickey Kaus, formerly of TNR, would not. In this regard, as in many others, Bush is not “living up” to the expectations of his conservative allies. The “class warfare” rhetoric is irresponsible and silly, but it is no worse, to say the very least, than frivolous charges of racism, many of which have been levied against Bush. _____ shouldn’t he held responsible for these charges, but it should be pointed out that reckless things are often said in the give-and-take of contemporary politics.

By now, I think these arguments are commonplace. I'll add that I'm profoundly discouraged by the domestic political scene at present. Evil or no, I sense that the hegemony of the center-left has taken a turn for the not-great. What do I mean by the hegemony of the center-left? Leaving aside the partisan affiliations of the president and the congressional majorities, it is fairly clear to me that the center-left holds the initiative, intellectually and strategically, on the crucial policy questions: access to medical care and the future composition of the education industry. As John Judis and Ruy Texeira convincingly argue in their new book The Emerging Democratic Majority, we have every reason to believe that the tenuous Republican majorities of the present are fleeting, soon to be replaced by a more assertive Democratic legislative majority, bolstered by broad cultural-demographic shifts in US society, e.g., the changing ethnic composition of the population, the changing class composition of the population, and changing social mores, etc. And so a post-Reagan, and post-Clinton, neo-neoliberalism (not the neoliberalism of Charles Peters, TNR, and the Atari Democrats, exactly) will almost inevitably come to the fore. The question is, what kind of neo-neoliberalism? The original neoliberalism was, despite a number of nagging, persistent flaws (most, in my estimation, involving "the social issues"), pretty damn airtight: basically, it wedded a commitment to the poor with an appreciation of both the free market and American power. Judging by the priorities of the neo-neoliberalism -- specifically, a zealous commitment to a "patient's bill of rights" (which would stymie efforts to cover the uninsured), generous government-funded prescription drug coverage and comprehensive regulation of the pharmaceutical industry (which would stymie pharmaceutical innovation), and a zealous opposition to, for example, school vouchers (which would, over the long run, dramatically improve educational outcomes) -- I worry that it weds the worst of right and left. From the right (not my kind of right, but my kind of right may well exist only in my own brain, and possibly that of the now-vanquished Bret Schundler), it gets a narrow concern with the interests of the nonpoor. Of course, the concern is more with the salaried lower middle class than with, say, small-scale entrepreneurs, but that makes for precious little difference: the poor are deprioritized, which is perhaps inevitable. From the left, there is a slavish devotion to identity politics shibboleths and a still-strong distrust of American power.

This stance is hardly limited to a single political party; instead, it's more or less a sign of the times, although I do think there's reason for optimism on the identity politics front. I may be wearing rose-colored glasses, but I get the distinct (cliched) impression that there's been a sea-change in US attitudes toward race and color, particularly among the kids just slightly younger than yours truly. This impression is based primarily on my perceptions of youth culture as derived from television, popular music, and movies. I am, as frequent readers will no doubt know, an avid consumer of youth culture, but this isn't to suggest that my observations are accurate, as I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always the keenest observer. No, that's not true. I am, in fact, the keenest observer, in large part because I am "keen."

My own allegiances are to what Michael Tomasky derisively, and misleadingly, refers to as "velvet conservatism," which is to say an older center-left tradition that is more or less homeless at present. Not exactly what Tomasky calls "velvet conservatism," but close:

But if the concurrence of these events has any larger meaning, it's that they give rise to a new and possibly influential strain in American political discourse. If one were to take Hertog, Steinhardt, Peretz, and Lipsky's politics and put them in a centrifuge, the substance that would emerge would be as follows: It would be explicitly neither Democratic nor Republican. It would be right of center, especially on foreign policy (and most especially on Israel). It would be right of center, too, on a good number of domestic questions. But because it would pay some obeisance to the New Deal and even (sometimes) to the Great Society, which neoconservatism refuted thoroughly, and because it would purport to care deeply about poor people of color -- Hertog is messianic on the topic of vouchers and calls urban education "the civil rights issue of this generation" -- it would stand quite apart from, say, the obstreperous conservatism of a Tom DeLay. Indeed, it would claim its roots in a historic pragmatic liberalism that today's wandering liberals, this gang of four would argue, have cashiered out of slavish devotion to quota queens and teachers' unions ...

So: Not the nastiness of Tom DeLay, but for God's sakes not the woolly-headedness of Ted Kennedy or Hillary Clinton. This tendancy would be conservative but elusive; conservative but gently so; conservative but sometimes surprising. Call it a "velvet conservatism."

Yeah, I'd tweak that considerably. While I'm droning on, I may as well be more specific. A very wise man, also a former employer, characterized the broad political stance of America's greatest weekly newsmagazine roughly as follows: (1) for using government to alleviate inequality, poverty, and other symptoms of social injustice; (2) against divisive identity politics, instead standing for an inclusive American identity, a healthy pluralism coupled with a respect and appreciation for our common cultural and political heritage; (3) and, perhaps most importantly, for the use of American power to advance the cause of liberal and democratic values around the globe. I believe in all of these things, though my program for (1) might be slightly different than the program the gentleman in question had in mind. Another thing that's important to me is a cosmopolitan sensibility, and I don't mean a disdain for hillbillies and NASCAR, which I certainly don't share with loathsome Manhattan parochials and other scumbags. What I do mean is a firm belief that questions of social justice are presumptively global rather than local, which, counter-intuitively, is why I believe in a strong, assertive US foreign policy and, perhaps less counter-intuitively, a policy of unilateral free trade and generous overseas development assistance tied to constructive, conducive domestic policy environments in the recipient states. (I'm aware of the P.T. Bauer critique, and I certainly hope that any revamped ODA policy would take it into account.)

But yeah, this is all pretty idle: purposive strategic action rules the roost, often to no particular end aside from self-aggrandizement. That's most assuredly evil.
I should add that Mishra has an excellent piece on related things in Granta 77, the next to most recent issue. And no, I certainly don't endorse every bloody thing the man says; his distaste for the United States is, in my estimation, evil. That said, he's sharp as hell, which is good.
Please read everything Pankaj Mishra has ever written in the New York Review of Books, starting with his latest (now a bit stale). He's written a novel. I will read it and report back to you shortly. Consider the following passage from the aforementioned article:

"Were the arguments of those who advocated the partition of India right? Were they right to realize that Muslims will have to live in India as subjects of Hindus? That they cannot enjoy equal rights? These questions entered my life a bit too early."

This is the beginning of an anguished confession and polemic that appeared in a collection of essays about Indian Muslims, published soon after the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992. The author, Suhail Waheed, who writes for Urdu and Hindi newspapers in north India, offers an experience that is seldom found in India's English-language media, which is dominated by the concerns of middle-class upper-caste Hindus. As a young Muslim in a small town, Waheed saw himself as entering the secular world of new India, where he would be free to remake himself. But, as he describes it, he was always reminded of the fact that he was once born a Muslim in India. As a minor government official, he invited the hostility of a pro-BJP newspaper editor and was summarily reprimanded by his superior; when he asked what he had done, he was reprimanded once again. He eventually resigned after his Hindu bosses made him stay at work during official holidays for the Hindu festival Diwali. As a journalist on a Hindi newspaper he was confined to reporting on "Muslim issues," which enabled him to observe how anti-Muslim violence in north India made even affluent Muslims seek shelter in ghettos.

Waheed's essay seemed slightly overwrought when I first read it, and it took me some time to realize that it was describing the lower-middle-class world of stereotype and prejudice that I myself had known in my childhood in the small towns of north and central India during the late Seventies and Eighties. I experienced this world from the very different perspective of an upper-caste Hindu, who feared and distrusted both Muslims and low-caste Hindus, an attitude I was reminded of early this year when an old friend in Benares casually pointed out a distant relative of his, a retired police officer, who liked to boast of how he had himself shot dead fourteen Muslims during a riot in the city of Meerut. I remembered then how Hindu police officers charged by the English-language press or human rights groups with committing atrocities against Muslims often became heroes among upper-caste Hindus.


I found this lighly fictionalized account of an incident from the life of a highly lame young man; I must have written in four years ago.

Living in a commune was trying at times, but it did have a number of advantages over the atomized dormitory life I lead now. The lectures, I think, were the best part. Every Sunday, a member of our jolly little collective would give an hour-long talk on a topic of interest and then lead a discussion. The uninitiated unfortunates were always welcome, but outsiders were few and far between. For a few weeks in the spring, an elderly woman from the Spartacist League would come to offer stern condemnations and, of course, to drink our wine and eat our cheese. Other members of the public, however, had better things to do with their Sunday afternoons than discuss Gramsci and the chrematistics of the vagina. One Sunday, we had an unusual guest. She didn’t seem to be a Spartacist, for one thing. That week, the lecture was on Soviet anthropological techniques and ethnogenesis in Central Asia, a topic I was interested in at the time. Much to my chagrin, I had a difficult time paying attention. I kept glancing over at our guest. I found her quite striking. She was striking in a wan, suburban sort of way, to be sure, but striking nonetheless. At the time, I think I wanted to kiss her, which is a bit odd considering that such impulses are foreign to me for the most part. I wondered about her. I theorized. Speculated might be more appropriate, actually. I imagined her as a recovering Jewish Rastafarian from Bronxville. Perhaps it was her matted brown hair. I thought about her politics and her musical taste. I figured she liked Leonard Cohen, which was good, and Ani DiFranco, which was bad. During the discussion, I did my very best to seem clever and articulate. Rest assured, I failed miserably. In the middle of the discussion, our guest left. I didn’t catch her name. After creating such an elaborate portrait of who she was and what she was about, I even missed her, if that makes any sense at all. Fortunately, I did manage to see her a few days later.

In some regards, I can be very determined. Ruthless, even. At dinner, I was often quite ferocious when arguing with the commune’s Stalinist faction. (Though they were a minority, they always managed to impose their fruit juice selection on the rest of us. Call it “democratic centralism.”) I’ve never been determined in matters of . . . of . . . dating? Dating. Mating. Something. Obsessive, perhaps, but I don’t think determined is the word. After my encounter with the mysterious guest, however, I was determined to meet her. By day, I kept my eyes peeled as I walked about. By night, I . . . slept. But I thought about her. And other things as well, but I did think about her a little, at least. Three days of waiting and seeing yielded no results. On Thursday, however, I saw her in the lobby of our humble commune. I didn’t react immediately. That, of course, would be gauche. And pitiful, for that matter. I waited. As soon as she left the building, I ran after her. Far from suave, but it did the trick. Of course, I didn’t know what to say. “Who are you?” seemed a little off-putting. Suddenly, I was inspired. I would lie. I asked her if her name was Ahdaf Soueif. (This sounded a little like a low guttural roar, which I hadn't intended.) Naturally, it wasn’t. The name was, after all, a composite conjured up from memories of old classmates. Once she denied any association with either the Ahdafs or the Soueifs, I asked her for her real name. It was Nancy, and I was smitten.

Later that day, armed with her name, I sent her an e-mail in which I proposed a meeting. An hour later, she responded and suggested that we have dinner. I guess it was my first date, though I suppose no bilateral declaration had been made to the effect that it was in fact “a date.” I was eighteen. (A little late, I know.) We had a lovely conversation. As it turned out, she was not a Jewish Rastafarian from Bronxville. Rather, she was an agnostic of Methodist origin from Scarsdale, but she did date a half-Jewish Rastafarian named Omar at some point in the past. And she did like Leonard Cohen. And she was very, very smart. It was a different kind of smart, though, then the kind of smart that thrived in the commune. Despite our hairy underarms and boho pretensions, we communards were quite elitist in our own way, and we didn’t suffer fools gladly. Clara was a contemplative kind of smart, not an aggressive kind of smart. I wasn’t used to that at all. A slightly frazzled kind of smart, too, which I liked a lot. We parted ways and I returned home with an extra bounce in my step. The Thai food we had was far better than the thin gruel to which I had grown accustomed. I made a quick sketch of my worn and haggard face before going to bed. I was happy.

A few days after we had dinner, I asked her to join me in the commune for a screening of “Matewan.” About an hour into the movie, we were joined by Frank. Frank was one of the older members of the commune. Frank was very strange. To this day, I am convinced that Frank came from outer space. I can almost swear that he could bend steel with his mind. (I've seen it, and he did a far better job than the notorious fraud Uri Geller.) Then again, we all have our peccadilloes. The thing is, Frank was just plain sinister. After sitting quietly for ten minutes or so, he suddenly turned off the television and started to fondle my head with his serpentine, slender fingers as part of some kind of interpretive dance. Once his head-fondling was done, he started cackling like a madman. I offered to walk Nancy home then and there. She accepted.

It was a beautiful and pleasant evening. Everything smelled like lilacs; in fact, I'm not sure as to how lilacs smell exactly, but I can tell you this much: nothing smelled like armpits, including my armpits, which is saying something: specifically, it is saying, "thanks to modern technology, and also to the Boogiedown, for holding it di-down." There was a bit of drizzling. Right before she entered her dorm, she kissed me. Having never been kissed before, I was a bit confused by what precisely I was supposed to do. With the rain falling on our faces, it felt very nice. I returned to the commune and never talked to Nancy again.

Sunday, August 11, 2002

Let's take a closer look at the following item:

Consider the slogan: "My Legacy, My Pride, My Kathmandu!"

I haven't decided as yet whether this constitutes an evil statement. There's certainly a plausible case to be made, based largely on the elemntary contention that such a fanatical love of one's Kathmandu is a fantastically unhealthy impulse, an impulse that may well lead a young boy of about sixteen to stab another chap in the eye with a pair of painstakingly sharpened tongs. And by tongs, I do not mean secret Chinese hooligan gangs. Are there any gangs other than hooligan gangs? Yes, there are disciplined, regimented, organized gangs, many of which include dancers in midriff-baring denim jackets. I oppose all such gangs. I recommend that you do the same. Said gangs are very much on the rise. Would you like pecan or pumpkin pies? I would. Yes.
I am furious. I am both furious and sad.

First, Terry Coogan's new movie (I used to call them films, but then I said, "Screw that: movie has two syllables; also, I'd like to add: 'Dirty Dee, damnit!'"; that said, I do like to say that I'm "going to the cinema," in large part because it sounds hella Third World) was awful, and yet the critics ate it up. Why? Because it's bloody British. I promise you, it's true. I know what you're thinking. "Surely that kind of slavish Anglophilia is out of style." Out of style like a goddamn fox. Oh, I enjoyed it alright, at least at first. It's exactly the kind of thing I'd generally enjoy, and yet the pace was just awful. I mean, bloody hell, I'm no connoisseur. I'm not even entirely sure if I spelled "connoisseur" correctly. I certainly hope so. But yes, honestly I'll see just about any damn movie. I went to see XXX as soon as it was released. I literally arrived before the theater had opened its doors. This is in large part because I'm an exceptionally lonely man, but the point remains: I love the movies. I did not love this movie. And my head is piping hot. There is steam wafting from my head. Evil! Evil Las Vegas!

There is some good news, however: productivity growth remains exceptionally high. Of course, this could mean that I'll be unemployed for quite a bit longer, as the world used to need seventy-three men to do the work of a single Reihan, and now it only needs six extremely mighty men. I know what you're thinking: "Young man, I do not consult this web site for the purposes of learning about your endless street brawls, love of badminton, NesQuik guzzling, or shiftless goonery; rather, I read it obsessively, with wild eyes and crazy, crazy bangs based loosely on the cat from A Flock of Seagulls, for the sole purpose of rooting out evil." You make an excellent point, and I sincerely apologize. Incidentally, I have an exceptionally hairy belly, which is neither here nor there.

And then this Turkmenbashi fellow names a month of the year after himself. Evil. How about naming a lousy taco after yourself, you loon? Surely that would be a sound, reasonable gesture. And yet sound, reasonable gestures are not, tragically enough, the order of the day. For we live in a mad, mad, mad, mad world.

I have fallen madly in love with a book. This isn't the first time. I'd very much like to learn more about Stahlhelm and Reichsbanner, but I haven't come upon very many English language sources as yet. Rest assured, I'll be working on it.