Tuesday, December 12, 2006


I've been thinking a lot recently about the latest blog post from yes! this is Nick Robinson about traffic:

There is a real horror in being forced to use deadly, destructive machines to get to work and back. After all, almost 43,000 people died in 2003 in accidents ... without reason, except for the routinization and acceptance of terror on our commute to work and leisure.

and how our automobile culture is related to the social division of labor — he quotes Andre Gorz:

it never occurs to you that work, culture, communication, pleasure, satisfaction of needs, and personal life can and should be one and the same thing: a unified life, sustained by the social fabric of the community.

* * *

Last week I read "Abandon the Old in Tokyo" by Yoshihiro Tatsumi, a series of short comic stories. In the interview at the end of the book, Tatsumi describes the era he was writing in, and about:

Japan was destitute after World War II, but by the late-'60s, it entered its period of high-growth economics. Economic development was considered more important than the way people actually lived their lives.

In the title story, a man lives with his aging and infirm mother in an apartment building where everyone still does their laundry (including his mothers' frequently peed-upon bedclothes) in a shared washtub. Meanwhile, the man works as a garbage collector, one of his coworkers finding a washing machine that just needs a simple repair. "Doesn't matter how handy it is. People get rid of anything old."

* * *

For the first time this year, there are actually more poor people living in America's suburbs than there are living in its cities (in absolute numbers; the percentage of people in poverty in urban areas is still higher).

Friday, December 08, 2006


The other night, I took E to see the modern dance company Pilobolus. She is very much into dance (ballet especially, of course, but with a healthy appreciation for other forms of dance as well).

I enjoy dance, but I can't say that I have ever before been completely entranced by an entire dance performance. The program talked about how Pilobolus uses collective improvisation to create a new "vocabulary" for dance — different than the "vocabularies" of ballet, or modern dance, or hip-hop — and the results are in fact strikingly original. "Memento Mori" wasn't so much dancers dancing the parts of a marriage, but dancers who had so closely observed the physical vocabulary of a marriage — the grimaces, grins, preening and poking, exasperations and expectations that our bodies develop for each other during long companionship — and used them to create a piece of art that was very classically structured (unlike most marriages).

* * *

I've started a new job, and a new blog. The new blog is at MySpace, and it's just about food. What I've cooked and how to cook it. I've moved a post or two over there from here, posts that were, for the most part, just recipes. I also deleted a few posts from this blog which were just notes about news or such — I'm trying to keep this to be just, ahem, writerly things.

My new job is primarily writing. My official title (officially conferred upon me on Wednesday) is "Assistant to the Director of International Affairs," but basically I am a grant-writer. Clear narrative, careful attention to crafting our proposals within the shade of political language preferred by each grantmaker in turn, and most importantly: meeting deadlines. I like being clear, ferreting out shades of politics and I'm pretty good at making deadlines.

But I do have issues about writing as work. Flipping burgers is work, running machines in a factory is work, serving customers is work, teaching is work. And really, writing is work, too, but it has been so tied up in my mind with privilege that, before starting a writing job, I've always tried to write (both the blog and writing leaflets, etc. for the movement) in the corners of my time — during down time at work at my customer-service job (I'm fine with using the boss's time), or if I wake up early because of my occasional insomnia, or on the weekends when the laundry is all done and the house is fairly clean and H has taken the kids off somewhere.

* * *

I first read blogs about two and a half years ago, mostly mommy blogs, primarily the excellent though long-defunct days of the week, but also dooce and fussy and some others (until they all blogged about proudly crossing picket lines at a mommy-blogger-convention in SF — I haven't looked at them since). Now that the kids are older, more person-like at 6 and 8, I suppose I don't feel like I need even the minimal validation of reading blogs about other parents who are also driven crazy by the mysteries of small-child-behavior, who form the online bad, but not so bad, parents club.

I never felt much kinship with other "stay-at-home dads," probably because most of them were still men, and they either retained too much manliness and wanted to talk about sports, or were too into renouncing their manliness and wanted to talk about feelings. I liked the mommy-blogs because they spoke the vocabulary of the Small and Daily and Material, not the Big and Important.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The sudden violence at the heart of beauty

Well, the World Cup is over, something H is no doubt happy about as all this watching soccer matches with my daughter E has been interfering with my ability to get the housewife work done. We started during the first round watching the few matches actually televised over the air on the weekends, the players little blobs of color moving the ball around our fuzzy rabbit-ears powered TV screen, but soon became hooked on trips down to the Bosnian cafe downtown, which projected all the games in high-definition digital cable quality onto a wall.

It was a good move for the cafe, for both children (we dragged E's younger brother S down with us for a few midweek games, while H was at work) have become enchanted with their selection of sweets — especially the Leaning Tower of Pisa cake, with layers of hazelnut, chocolate and cream — and I will likely return for the free internet, the burek (a spiral-shaped, meat-filled pastry which we had for lunch just before the final match) and the air of Europeanness about the place. The Europeanness appeals to me not so much for its "sophistication" (the cafe in question is probably significantly less sophisticated than many other places in downtown Burlington) or for any political reasons (I don't have a lot of illusions about Europeans being vastly more politically enlightened than Americans), but its sense of tolerance-of-ambiguity.

* * *

Over the last few weeks, the handful of political listserves that I am on have been infected with various political readings of the World Cup. On the more newsy list, composed pieces like "A Socialist's Guide to the World Cup" and Dave Zirin's "Edge of Sports" commentaries; on the more local discussion-oriented list, commentaries on the game and commentaries on the commentaries and — finally — a bitter argument about what to make politically of Zidane's head-butt in the final match.

All the writers and commentators were men, and the bitter argument about Zidane was between the men who were militantly anti-racist (and therefore rooting for France — whose team is not only the most multiracial national team in Europe but also has taken public stands against racism — and understanding about Zidane — who is of Algerian descent — losing it when the Italian player allegedly called him a "dirty terrorist") and the men who were militantly anti-violence ("there is no excuse," "more like Mike Tyson than Michael Jordan,"

* * *

Throughout the tournament, I tended to root for teams based not so much on politics but on the beauty of their play.

In the U.S.-Ghana game, I found myself captivated by the speed of the Ghana team's play, despite their lack of precision. I had actually been mostly watching the Italy-Czech Republic game being shown to the left, figuring it would be better soccer, but the U.S.-Ghana was the game that 95% of the folks in the cafe were watching, it was projected larger and its commentary was being played louder, and the sheer energy and physical grace of Ghana's players drew my attention away from the more technically sophisticated European match.

I was happy to see England eliminated, I thought they were playing coarse, sloppy, get-it-done soccer. Against Ecuador in the round of 16, they just kind of pushed their way around the field until a free kick just outside of Ecuador's penalty box allowed them to bring in the specialized artillery — the famous Beckham and his ability to bend — for a 1-0 victory. It was too bad the Portugese weren't able to take them out with more style — if Portugal had played the way they did against France in the semis or Germany in the consolation match, they wouldn't have needed to go to the penalty kicks — but the penalty kicks did give Portugal's goal-keeper a chance to remind the world that defending against penalty kicks isn't just luck.

The France versus Brazil game was the highlight of the cup. The Brazilian players — and ok, I was probably rooting for them because of their amazing social movements as well as their amazingly beautiful play — have an astounding capacity to control the ball, to just pluck a careening ball out of the air with a tap of the foot or an angling of the chest and have it drop, perfectly docile, right at their feet. And then to find the next player, calculate the angles to the minutest of tolerances, and propel the ball through the opening as soon as it appears and moments before it closes. And in this game, the French played the same game, but even better — with Zidane, as the commentator put it, "pulling the strings" from the midfield.

* * *

In the final match, E was rooting for Italy, and made a little Italian flag to take to the cafe. On the walk down, I explained that I was sort of rooting for France -- because they had played such an awesome game against Brazil — but that the thing I liked about the Italian team was that they play such a strong team game, with no real stars (altogether ten different Italian players scored goals during the cup), and that there is beauty not just in individual grace, but also in organization.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A measure of winter

It's snowing again today, which I'm appreciating because I feel like this year we've been cheated out of real winter in Vermont. Yeah, it's been cold, and we've had some snow, but the joy of real winter is the snow that piles up and never goes away for months, the little mountains that accumulate on either side of the driveway, and the suspension of all the great exact rules of trafficking and sidewalk-vs-lawnness that we are supposed to obey the rest of the time.

We live in the urban neighborhood we do because we've basically incapable of keeping a lawn and garden up, and would be driven out of town on pikes if we lived in the suburbs. When everything is covered by snow for months, it is an equalizer, we don't have to worry about what lies beneath. And it's a little unpredictable, it's harder on people with cars to get around in a blizzard than people with good stout hiking boots. It's our taste of the traffic culture of Latin American cities like Caracas and Mexico City, where the roads are one big dense game of Frogger, and everyone's life is dependent on a dozen little negotiations, none of which come out exactly fairly.

So much of the politics of the middle class are Great Schemes: from conservative to liberal to leftist. The Great Scheme of the "free market" or "good business climate," the Great Scheme of "socio-economic integration in the schools," the Great Scheme of measuring everyone's exact rate of suffering in detail, the Great Scheme of academic "Socialism." None of these great schemes allow for the reality that the snow plow might just leave a big chunk of snow in front of your house, no matter how deserving or undeserving you are, and you're just going to have to convince your neighbors to all pitch in together to get your car out of the driveway. And that is (or should be) the heart of socialism.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Physical education about the revolution

PODER, a community group from San Francisco (along with some of us from the rest of the U.S.) painted a solidarity mural in a community in Caracas (inside the complex that the mural is on the wall of is one of the new health clinics, staffed by a Cuban doctor, that's providing free health care for the people)

I painted the white spots on the soccer ball:

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Thinking about a revolution

I recently finished reading The Fiction of a Thinkable World, which argues that if we are to have a successful anti-capitalist politics, we need to understand that the ideology of capitalism is inscribed in the very way we think about thinking. In order to resist the ideology that we are individual actors in a marketplace exchanging commodities and value, we need to resist the ideology (for that is what it is) that we are individual consciousnesses who receive perceptions from an external world (including our bodies), have "rational" abstract thoughts about these perceptions, and exchange these abstract thoughts with other individual consciousnesses through the medium of language. In fact, according to the neurological evidence, we think with our bodies, and our thought is not just "shaped" but constituted by our social relationships with other people.

* * *

This week I am in Venezuela and experiencing a revolution in process. In fact, that is what the Venezuelans call it: el processo. But capturing it in words (its energy, its successes, its weaknesses, its strengths and its precariousness) just isn't going to work. I can (and probably will) write reports about the "missions" that are improving the lives of workers and the poor, essays about the use of state power to foster people's organizations, and leaflets about how it is important to prevent the Bush Administration from engineering a "regime change." But none of that will capture what is going on here. Even my experience here can't capture what's going on, because I'm not making the revolution with.

* * *

Gödel, Escher, Bach, a book about thinking that I read in college, makes the point that translators are faced with all kinds of choices about what "level" to translate — a word-for-word translation of "he sees white mice" from German might be better translated as "he's got a screw loose" for English readers unfamiliar with the German idiom. At the highest "level," he says, you could argue that the best way to translate a Tolstoy novel is to simply read a Dickens novel. That's the level I want to bring my experiences of Venezuela back on.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Regularly expressing

So I haven't been posting very much recently ... here's what I've been doing:


* * *

Perl, which stands for "Practical Extraction and Reporting Language" (or "Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister," depending on who you're talking to), is one of the more popular languages for writing web applications. It is particularly well-adapted for web applications because it has very powerful tools for dealing with text(s), which is, after all, what the internet is made up of.

Perl scripts include a lot of slashes (and hash-marks, and other punctuation used in strange ways). Most often, these are to denote "regular expressions."

While regular expressions are indeed a thing of sublime beauty, I have to say I find the punctuational thrift of Perl terribly confusing.