Friday, January 31, 2003

BEHOLD! I am the Sun God

But you can just call me Cliff.

A friend and I have embarked on a strike/counterstrike operation, whereby we each send the other the most bizarre homepage links we can find. Yesterday, I sent her this one, (found on Dave Barry's blog) and behold, this day marketh the arrival of the Sun God.

I'm open to suggestions for others. No porn, please. We exchange these links at work.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Note to Poets Everywhere--Basically, You Suck

Found this little story via Drudge, and I'm pissed off. See, I'm what you might call a traditionalist when it comes to poetry: I cut my teeth on iambic pentameter, and I think that William Carlos Williams did more to utterly destroy poetry as a serious art form than any other human being, ever. The stuff being passed off in modern literary magazines is not poetry, it's short stream of consciousness essays arbitrarily cut into sections that "look poetic." The content may be relevant and interesting, but please, don't call it poetry. Pretty please? Because it isn't. Poetry. Just because you think it should be. Poetry is an exacting form, and the challenge is in being able to utilize the form and still get the message across. And that, in a nutshell, is why it's so hard for me to find modern poets that I like--the form has become sloppy, and the thought behind the poetry mirrors the form.

That's how we end up with poets like Amiri Baraka, and the latest hazardous waste from Pinter--when form and content are sub-par, the poetry takes a backseat to the "Poet as Personality." Here it no longer matters WHAT you write, so long as it is somehow controversial or shocking. The fact that the envelopes these folks are attempting to push are by now yellowed and frayed from age and overuse is beside the point. They're still out there, "shocking the bourgeoisie;" except that the bourgeoisie long ago dismissed them as harmless, irrelevant nutters and moved on.

Poetry used to be relevant to daily life. Books of poetry used to actually SELL and were appreciated beyond the tiny little circles of self-congratulatory critics and their "small but prestigious" college presses. But no more. And that's why the attempt to hijack the First Lady's poetry symposium is so ridiculous. There's someone in the White House who cares about the art form, and the choice of poets on the docket are a nice mix. So what do the participants do? Instead of helping to resurrect the country's enjoyment of a literary form that can be uplifiting, edifying and thought-provoking, they turn it into an "All about me"-Fest and ad hoc political protest. Let my next message to these hacks be perfectly clear: Drop Dead.

Walt Whitman's Civil War poetry is haunting and moving in ways that Adrienne Rich should weep over. Why? Because he was a nurse during the war. He saw it and lived it. If you wanted to protest the war in Iraq, why not do so by focusing on Whitman, who, by the way, the First Lady included? But noooooo. Sam Hamill, the brave soldier, instead calls for explicitly anti-war poetry to throw in his host's face, because obviously Whitman is too old and mainstream. Today's poets need to make their modern voices heard. They are boors, rubes, and egotists, little children at the adult dinner party throwing tantrums to get attention. And like little children, they received a "time out" for their trouble--the symposium has been cancelled. Way to strike a blow for poetry, morons.

I'll leave you with this excerpt from the article:

Marilyn Nelson, Connecticut's poet laureate, said Wednesday that she had accepted the White House invitation and had planned to wear a silk scarf with peace signs that she commissioned.
``I had decided to go because I felt my presence would promote peace,'' she said


Marilyn, I have no words. But I can suggest a couple of uses for that scarf.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

You Say "Pacific," I Say--THAT'S AN OCEAN, DANGIT!

What with all the hubub over presidential pronunciation of "nuke-u-lar," I feel compelled to insert my biggest pronunciation peeve here:

My direct superior, when he wants to say "specific," says "pacific." In meeting after meeting I sit there, dreading his "pacific examples" of X or a "pacific reference" to Y. His examples and references are neither particularly peace-loving nor oceanic. Like the narrator in the Tell Tale Heart, I am going to go slowly mad, until one day I leap upon the conference room table and start whacking him with a Palm Pilot, shrieking "SPA-cific! SPA! SPA! SPA!"

See why this blog is called Tightly Wound? Yeah, I thought so.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Now, Whose Son Are You Again?

Gratuitous Two Towers post. Read the mangled captions and laugh, laugh, laugh. Ah, who could forget Theoden's inspiring war cry, "Now for Rat!"
If You Think Stanley Fish Chaps My Ass, You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet

Enter Edward Said, Grand High Muckety-Muck of that tired cliche' of lit. crit: Post-Colonialism. Mr. Said has spent his entire scholarly career lamenting the fact that his people have been marginalized by Western oppressors, until they have come to internalize the values of the colonizer and thus, have destroyed themselves through inculcated self-loathing and its resulting impotence.

Let me be frank: in grad school, I found Said's stuff to be useful, mainly because it was simplistic, easy to plug in, and politically en vogue, thus guaranteeing me an A on every paper I wrote using the theory. As long as you stuck to the formula white=imperialistic evil, the Other=purity and fabulousness, you were golden. And since most of the Western Canon was authored by the dreaded DWEM (Dead White Euro Male), why, Post-Colonial theory could apply to everyone from Chaucer to Faulkner. Woo-hoo! Plug, type, get an A. Repeat process as necessary, and still have plenty of time left for bar hopping later on.

Of course, Mr. Said would probably be horrified that I treated his ideas so cavalierly, but what else can one do with racism and self-loathing disguised as critical theory? Yep, I said racism and self-loathing. Mr. Said is guilty of projection. He suffers from the enraged impotence of the Westernized intellectual, and he's dying to take it out on EVERYONE ELSE. My case in point is this little screed in The Guardian, where he begins by delineating the imminent demise of America, but only sustains it for a couple of paragraphs before his real target is revealed: the Arabs themselves.

For Said, America is evil because it wants to impose its will on others. That can be our only intention, regardless of stated reasons. Why? Well, because we're inherently evil, but we're only evil because white folks are in charge. Sucks to be us, I guess. Palestine=good, Israel=evil--we've all heard these arguments before, so read them yourself. They aren't the point here--paragraphs like this one are:

Only what we and our American instructors say about the Arabs and Islam - vague, recycled Orientalist clich├ęs repeated by tireless mediocrities such as Bernard Lewis - are true, they insist. The rest isn't realistic or pragmatic enough. "We" need to join modernity - modernity in effect being western, globalised, free marketed, democratic, whatever those words might be taken to mean. There would be an essay to be written about the prose style of licensed academics like Fuad Ajami, Fawwaz Gerges, Kanan Makiya, Shibli Talhami, Mamoon Fandy, whose very language reeks of subservience, inauthenticity and the hopelessly stilted mimicry that has been thrust upon them.

Or this one:

Why is there such silence and such astounding helplessness? The largest power in history is about to launch a war against a sovereign Arab country now ruled by a dreadful regime, the clear purpose of which is not only to destroy the Ba'ath regime but to redesign the entire region. The Pentagon has made no secret that its plans are to redraw the map of the whole Arab world, perhaps changing other regimes and borders in the process. No one can be shielded from the cataclysm if and when it comes. And yet, there is only long silence followed by a few vague bleats of polite demurral in response. Millions of people will be affected, yet America contemptuously plans for their future without consulting them. Do we deserve such racist derision?

Here's where Said slides right off the rails of sanity. It's not racist derision to get rid of a bad guy. No one is sitting around thinking, "Ya know, those swarthy desert dwellers need the firm guiding hand of whitey to set them straight." Our thought processes are more along these lines: "Hey! A bunch of assholes want us dead! Knock that off, you!" We take exception to being murdered, regardless of the races involved. But to Said, anyone stating that idea--particularly if they are of Arab derivation--is "inauthentic," just a subservient tool of the man. Yes, everyone has been hyp-mo-tized by the evil Western colonists. Oh, the horror. Said is angry that his culture isn't strong enough to resist outside influences and remain pure. He is then put in the awkward position of being resentful that brutal dictators are being removed in favor of more freedoms, and trying to state that while freedom isn't bad, it shouldn't be forced on Arabs by outsiders. At this point, most reasonable people are completely justified in this reaction: The HELL?

In order to hold this position, you have to believe that any humanitarian or self-preservation based operation by America is a mere front for those who want TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD. In this equation, we're The Brain, and the UK is Pinky. And the argument is just as ridiculous as the metaphor. The reality is that America will consult with the future leaders of Iraq, will lend humanitarian and military aid, and then will want to get the hell out of there as soon as possible. John Kerry will not be the new Governor of Iraq, installed by coup to rape the land and pillage the mosques and send the booty to Fort Knox on the backs of camels whilst ladies fair wave lace hankies at the brave conquering soldiers. Said's entire idea is based upon traditional models of colonialism, and they no longer hold true. Well, unless you're France, but that's another story.

So let's wrap up. Look, EDWARD. I'm thinking you need to address some personal issues first, before you start attributing differences of opinon among those who share your heritage to creeping Uncle Tom syndrome. Unless of course your aim is to be classed among the fine thinkers of the world like Harry Belafonte. When you make the argument that liberty and equality are inherently wrong, not because of what they are, but because other countries who don't share your skin color bring the ideas to your shores and people from your culture then EMBRACE those ideas--well, you may want to rethink your arguments, is all I'm saying. Come Mr. Tally Man, Tally Me Irony.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Monday Musings

Had a friend over last night to watch the game. He's been our friend since the days of yore and grad school and he's a great guy, but politically we're divergent when it comes to things like money and national defense. Although we realize this, and so don't normally engage in political conversation, it does tend to come up, as it did last night. Generally, the hublet and I just let him ramble, though I do enjoy tossing an occasional barb his way just to egg him on.

So last night we're chatting, and amongst the usual rhetorical suspects, he came out with a couple of ideas that just really irritated me:

1. The idea that "most Americans don't get it--they don't understand what's going on" re: war, foreign policy, etc.
2. The idea that we need a "referendum" on well, everything in this country, apparently.

Let me answer the last one first. When I pointed out that we elect leaders to lead, and that if their leadership proves unsatisfactory we kick them out, our friend was not satisfied. He seems to think that every major policy recommendation should be subject to a popular vote. Ooookay, fine. It sort of goes against the point of having a Republic as opposed to a pure Democracy, but whatever. The reason I mention it is because he was simultaneously making point #1--that most Americans are too dim to know what's happening. So this begs the question, why have a referendum if the folks voting on it are too stupid to take their responsibilities seriously? Why would the "mass of dumbass" be better able to navigate the complexities of foreign policy than folks elected by that same mass to be directly involved?

But over and above this argument is the belief that underpins it--that while our friend is mentally engaged and capable--"the great unwashed" exists and is collectively stupid. Here's my question, then: WHERE, exactly, is this morass of stupidity located? I could argue that hublet's students are a tad uninformed, and that would be putting it lightly. But they're TEENAGERS, and we're supposed to be educating them. You could talk about graduation rates and those goobers that appear on Jay Leno's "Man on the Street" interview, but I could point to examples of intellectually curious non-college grads and the fact that folks who got the questions right probably weren't featured on The Tonight Show.

And as the above arguments from my friend demonstrate, an advanced degree doesn't guarantee superior intellect or information. It's a big country, full of the smart and the not-so-smart; those who want to engage in the big questions and those who frankly don't care. If educators and the media are doing their jobs by making the information available, then I believe those who want to engage in the debate will get said information. If they aren't, or if the information is laced with condescending disdain for the "average Joe," then who is to blame for the much lamented "dumbing down of American society?" Is the only lasting product of the intelligentsia going to be contempt for those who didn't make the cut?