Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Lost Art

My dad and I just watched this video of Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Junior tapdancing. I'm speechless and utterly entertained.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Not Reading

Currently I am sitting in my room, drinking a glass of rioja (fine-- a bottle), reading about the British war effort in 1940.

I'm going to miss this someday.

My routine for the last three months has been surprisingly consistent. At the moment, I'm sick of it, but I imagine that I will look fondly upon it at a later time.

Considering that I have class on Thursdays and Fridays, I spend every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday preparing for class, sitting in my room at my desk reading articles and books listed in the course reading list. During the day, I procrastinate and maybe bang out an article or two. But the action, the action dear reader, happens at night. Come 9pm, I throw a sweater or collared shirt on (it gets unbearably cold in my room at night-- a very Poe-esque detail), sit at my desk, open my laptop, turn my notebook to a blank page, uncap my fountain pen (yes, I use a fountain pen), breathe, and start reading.

Naturally, I find any opportunity to pause in my studies. A trip to the grocery store, a sudden urge for a cup of tea (my masters degree is a tribute to the humble peppermint leaf), a quick check of the news, a random blog post...

Recently, the main light went out in my room, and being a Romantic era-inspired guy, I refuse to change it. Instead, I use a small lamp precariously perched on the upper right hand corner of my desk. It provides the perfect amount of inspiring Victorian light as it's the closest thing I have to a overflowing wax-magma candle in a pewter holder. If I could wear a smoking jacket and waistcoat, I would. The tricky part is pinching the monocle between my eyebrow fat and my cheekbone.

So here I sit, getting progressively more drunk with each academic argument. I like to think this is something Churchill would have done. As a matter of honesty, I've been reading quite a bit about Churchill recently. I don't necessarily like the guy (too "Help the brown man; strengthen the British Empire" for my taste), but ya gotta admire his charm. It reminds me of a great story that is probably fake:

After delivering his famously slurred "We will fight them on the beaches" speech, a lady MP approached Churchill and exclaimed something like "Mr. Churchill, you are drunk!" To which Churchill replied, "Yes madam I am drunk, but in the morning I shall be sober-- and you will still be ugly." It's even funnier if you imagine Eliza Doolittle as the lady MP.

Well, I must get back to the books. Studies await. Knowledge eagerly anticipates absorption. History begs for discovery! Tomes of the ancients stir from their bibliographic slumber! Pages need writing! Ink shall be spilled!
To pens, Gentlemen! To pens!

Where in the World is... Osama bin Laden?

General McChrystal believes that capturing or killing ObL is a key in the war in Afghanistan. I agree. But, I gotta tell you, I don't think we're going to find him. That's because, in my opinion, he's not in Afghanistan and he's not in Pakistan. Let's go to the map:

Bin Laden escapes from NATO forces in Tora Bora in 2001 and hasn't been seen since. That was 8 years ago. If he is interested in any degree of self-preservation, he would get the hell out of Dodge, because either the US will find him or there is always the possibility that the Pakistanis find him and offer him as a prize to the US. Consequently, aid shoots through the roof, Pakistan is praised as a stalwart ally in the region-- Pakistan sticks its tongue out at India and grabs a hold of America's hand as the two walk into the sunset together.

Some possible scenarios:

Option 1. Bin Laden escapes the region. He has to go through either Iran or the Central Asian dictatorships-- I mean, republics. Right. Would the Iranians give him safe passage, assuming he was identified or outright asked their permission? Well, yeah I think. Our boy Ahmadinejad might pull a little historical lesson out of his pocket: The US helped the Mujahideen in Afghanistan to make the occupation more costly for the Soviets. A-mad, by granting bin Laden safe passage out of the region, could effectively accomplish the same thing against the Americans. From there, bin Laden either goes to Africa (Ethiopia perhaps), which isn't too likely. I'd say he goes back to Saudi Arabia.

WHA! But the Saudis are our allies! Well yeah, but no, kind of. It's no secret that the Saudis fund Pakistani madrassas that teach Wahhabi Islam (the brand of radical, ultra-fundamentalist Islam that al Qaeda and the Taliban subscribe to [and notably, much of the Islamic world scorns]) in Afghanistan. Effectively, they play a double game: Let Americans overthrow Saddam (a secularist dictator not interested in forming an Iraqi Islamic Republic), let the Americans save Kuwait (a fellow OPEC member and regional neighbor)-- but undercut the Americans in Afghanistan. It sort of makes sense, from a Saudi perspective. With bin Laden safe in Saudi Arabia, he can continue to fund Al Qaeda, receive medical attention, and generally be an unreachable pain in the ass for the US. Plus, with the Saudi brand of near complete control of all aspects of society, we will not find him if he is there.

Option 2. He's dead. Yeah. He died a few years ago. Just sitting on a rock, picking his fingernails, then-- poof. Dead. Natural or napalm, it makes no difference. But if we never confirm his death or find a body or grave, much like the 12th Imam for Shi'i, he will continue to influence the movement, attain a saintly status, and never go away.

Option 3. He's still in Af/Pak. That's pretty dumb.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Live It Up

The inimatable, ever charming, Michael Caine talks about Texan accents and growing old.

"The great thing about growing old is that you haven't got an alternative. The only alternative is death, so you might as well be cheerful and have the greatest possible life you can have. I always meet people who are living as though it's a rehearsal and the show's gonna be later, and I feel like saying 'This is the show! This is it, it's not the rehearsal. Look, you've got the costume on!'"

Because Pee Wee Says So

Somewhere deep in an underground bunker, under thousands of feet of concrete, miles below the thriving metropolis, a group of concerned activists gather to discuss a growing societal fissure:

"It's everywhere. On the streets, in the schools, on top of urinals. It's in the goddamn currency for christsake!"
"I don't know Bill, I think you're overreacting."
"I'm not overreacting dammit! We're at war, and desperate times calls for desperate housewives!"
"Thousands of tons."
"Listen, we need a public offensive. A new front in the war. I'm talking shock and awe."
"You don't mean..."
"I do."
"But he's a rogue. A loose cannon! He's unpredictable! He shot it up in a 'movie' theatre for crying out loud!"
"He's the best option we've got."
"Are you sure you want to do this."
"Positive. The kids look up to him and the parents fear him. It's the only option we've got."

"Get me Pee Wee Herman."

I present to you, a PSA about the dangers of crack-- starring Pee Wee Herman.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Yes, Minister Mullah Omar?

I just attended a "Tea and Conversation" event on campus hosted by the LSE Afghanistan Development Society (of which, I am a member). A woman who works with Amnesty International for Women's Rights was the speaker, but the conversation covered most aspects of modern Afghanistan. The most insightful comment came at the end:

She said that the United States' policy of opening the possibility of negotiating with the Taliban is undermining the fight against the Taliban and hurting the Afghan populace.

Imagine this: you are an Afghan farmer in Kandahar. The US just said that they might bring the Taliban into the political process, yet they are fighting the Taliban at the same time. So, you must make a choice. Either remain passive to the Taliban now, or rise up against them. The US is looking for you to rise up against the Taliban. However, what if the Taliban become part of the government and the man who you were fighting against is now the governor? Historical amnesia is a rarity.

Should you remain passive, you and your family are subjected to the horrors that are associated with Taliban rule, namely, nearly zero women's rights, a radically strict interpretation of Sharia law (ban on music, dancing, and just about anything that impedes a strict observance of Wahhab Islam), and a flourishing opium trade to name but a few.

It is a no win situation. Either be an enemy of the Taliban now and suffer, and, if the US introduces the Taliban into the system, be remembered as the enemy of the current governor; or remain passive, further strengthening the Taliban and giving them the edge they need to take power forcefully. Or join the Taliban (or at least passively support them), and become the target of NATO bombs.

Despite what think tanks produce, bringing terrorist organizations into the political process is not always a good way of moderating their views, it seems. Or, if you'll allow me to contradict myself, perhaps the situation I just described is a necessary transition in order to bring the Taliban into the government, and then, if they want to have a chance in hell of getting any of their goals achieved, they would have to moderate their views.

The Great Game never ended.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Downfall of Grammar

And for all of you Grammar Nazis out there, this one is for you.

...Or How I Learned to Love the Ice-Melt

I don't usually think like this, but I started thinking like an economist today.

In the shower (naturally) I was thinking about global warming and the associated email scandal dubbed Climategate (which is a stupid name. [If you are interested in a very witty play, look for a copy of "Mastergate: A Play on Words." Even the title is a pun. It's brilliant]). Climategate, from my point of view, is irrelevant, because global warming is a proven fact. Maybe the source is natural, cyclical warming of the Earth and not man-made. I didn't give a shit (in the shower). I was thinking, "How can I make money off of global warming?"

I'm not sure why I thought of this, but I'm sure I'm not the first to think of it. There are plenty of sick bastards out there who capitalize on every disaster or catastrophe. Let's just make it a thought experiment.

How to make money off of global warming:
1. Fact- Sea levels will rise due to the polar ice caps melting.
Analysis- The future water shortage problem is fixed!
Solution- Invest in desalinization technology. If I can take all the extra water, pull out the salt, and sell it, I could be a rich man.

2. Fact- It's gonna get hotter.
Analysis- People need to cool off...
Solution- Swimming pools! Ok, admittedly I'm not as excited about this one. I'm trying, people.

3. Fact- Glacial retreat.
Analysis- More usable land in Greenland.
Solution- Northern Excursions Tourism, Ltd.

4. This might not make sense, but hear me out: FEMA sucks. That was proven. Apparently, the government (or the past administration) can't handle the logistics of disaster relief. Now, this might sound crazy, but what if disaster relief was subcontracted? What if there were government contracts to specialized, licensed companies to provide relief? Would it save taxpayers' money? I have no idea, but I think it might. It would only be in the interest of the company to maximize efficiency, while the government has, to my untrained eye, basically unlimited money (700 billion dollars for stimulus sort of came out of nowhere). So, given the capital and necessary legislation, I would start an international disaster relief organization. It fulfills a moral fuzzy feeling to boot.

Ok, I'm scaring myself. Forget everything you read.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Flaking Out

As I stood in line at the Sainbury's, I decided that I was going to be environmentally friendly and not accept a paper bag for my purchase. I am perfectly capable of carrying it outside.

Once outside, I immediately regretted my decision. I walked about 300 meters carrying a box of Bran Flakes under my arm.

Got the visual?

I felt like an ass.

Can you imagine a more unattractive commodity to carry in public, unbagged, than Bran Flakes? Carrying a box of cereal is one thing ("Geez, I guess this guy really likes his cereal, considering it's the only thing he bought."), but Bran Flakes is quite another ("Geez, I guess this guy has compacted bowels or something.") I felt like the box should have been wrapped in porn magazine black plastic. It might have hidden my shame-- or at least tricked others into thinking it was more interesting than Bran Flakes.

Don't get me wrong: I like Bran Flakes. I mean, I really like them. Good firm texture. Perfect balance of milk soakage to milk deterrence, thereby avoiding soggy slop. Bargain value weight to volume ratio. But, I don't go parading the stuff around like Johnny Appleflakes. It's just not civil.

So I walked, in daylight, down High Holborn with my Bran Flakes tucked ashamedly underneath my left armpit, trying to look as casual as I could and trying not to look fellow pedestrains in the eye.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What does Gerald Ford Dream About?

I'm a klutz. Half clumsy, half putz. I break things. It's an accident mostly. There are some days at work where I break multiple things at multiple times. Open the refrigerator door. Oops. PLOP. One beer glass-- dead. Take a rack of wine glasses from the wash station. Oooh shit! BANG. There was another rack of rocks glasses underneath the rack I took. Well, they were rocks glasses. Now they're just a hazard and a chore to clean. I tried catching some of the falling glasses with my foot (it's physics people: if I can decrease the distance that an object falls by placing my foot halfway between the floor and the origin of descent, I can impede the acceleration of said object by a substantial sum. Plus, my foot is cushy and the floor is tile. Remarkably, I make this calculation in the instant [T=0] that the object [rocks glass] starts its descent. Stupidly, I don't take into account the shattering factor).

I am such a klutz, I trip in my dreams. Does this happen to you? I can be minding my own dreamland business, walking along, fighting bullies, sexing multiple hotties, and breathing underwater, but present me with a flight of stairs and my orgy superhuman dream-persona turns into Steve Urkell.

To boot, my body physically jerks during my klutz dreams. When I trip down the flight of Matt'sMind stairs (an inevitable eventuality), my actual body reacts with a powerful and quick equilibrium calibratory jerk. It fucking pisses me off.

I Want To Go Where Everybody Knows My Name

I've done it. It took me about two months and maybe 100 quid, but I've done it.

I am a regular at a cafe.

Whenever I move to a new city/country, I instinctually always try to make myself a regular at a neighborhood cafe or restaurant. I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe I like the comfort of familiar faces. Perhaps it's the joy of a cliched "The Usual, sir?" There's also the chance that I just like the food, though that's usually not the case. I like these places because I like the people in them. I like the smell and the feng shui arrangements. It only takes about 15 seconds and one look around to decide if I like a place. Based off my first impression and, importantly, the reactions of the staff, I can tell if I will like the place or not. More than once I have walked inside, looked around, and walked right out. Sometimes a staff member will even approach me or ask a question of "can I help you?" Still, something was wrong. I say "no thanks, just looking around", and wave a frenzied hand about the air in an attempt to communicate my frivolous investigations. Then I walk out. But sometimes, when the planets align, I feel right. It clicks. That's something special.

Off hand, these are the one's that I remember:

Munich: "Tschuss". In Maxvorstadt, a salad bar place with free wi-fi and a late 20's crowd. Most of my posts from my Munich-period were written at one of the back tables here. Usually, I ordered a "Grosse Mixsalat mit karotten, kicherebsen, und fetawurfel, bitte."
"Soda". Pretty close to Tschuss, this place had a really hot waitress who I used to oogle at. (See my post called "The Look". It's somewhere in my 2007 archives.) I ordered the weissbier and some kind of mushroom and pasta dish. I was really into mushrooms at that time. Weird.

Paris: "Le Rive Gauche". Located right on the Place St. Michel, this charming little cafe was the base of operations for the tour company. For that reason, I was forced into making it "click", but I have a feeling that it would have clicked anyway. The staff here were perfect Parisians: Jean-Luc, Pierre, and I don't remember the other one. Every morning I walked inside and was immediately greeted by Pierre, "Bonjour Matt, ce va?" "Bonjour Pierre, tres bien, tres bien. Ce va?" "Bien. Petit cafe?" "Oui, si vous plat." And just as I was sitting on a tall stool, Pierre/Jean-Luc placed a hot espresso in front of me. A packet of sugar (I drank my espresso with sugar when I was in Paris. It wasn't until my Moroccan vacation that I started drinking my coffee and espresso black), and I started my typical Paris day wonderfully.
"Cafe Blue Sky". I've written about this little joint in Montmartre before, so dig into the archives for a full description. In brief, it was run by a midgetine Madagascar man with the most charming high pitched laugh a wandering American could ask for. I ordered a Croque Madame avec un petit cafe. I mostly wrote my blog posts here. Unfortunately, I heard that the place closed down since I've been there.
[If you want to see the exterior of this cafe, it's in the movie whose name I can't think of right now. Robert de Niro is in it, and he is in Paris. Jean Reno is also in it. Fuck. Anyway, in the opening scene, De Niro comes down a long flight of stairs, outside, and turns right into a cafe on a corner. That's my cafe. Interestingly, and this made me giggle with insider-knowledge delight, the interior shots were not shot at this cafe. The interior is way smaller.]

New York: "Building on Bond". My little piece of Brooklyn heaven, this chic and intelligent-trendy Cobble Hill cafe served pretty good food, and importantly, had free wi-fi. The servers were fantastic, with personality and care. Whether I was talking about the art of book-binding with Paul or just shooting the breeze with Lynn, I was always in good company and felt like a part of the neighborhood.
"Provence en Boire"... or something like that. Another Cobble Hill joint where I would set up shop with my laptop. They had great French food and good cappuccinos. Oddly, I arrived one day to an empty restaurant and signs posted saying it had closed because of "illegal operations". And that was it.

And now, London: "Tiffins Cafe". How to describe my new haunt. Hm, well, I should start by saying that I live directly above the cafe and only have to walk out my front door to be within 10 feet of their entrance. In fact, we often get their mail. The ambiance is, well, it feels very London working class. Lots of construction workers clothed in their bright yellow High Visibility vests and pants (an ensemble that I can't imagine American workers ever agreeing to wear, despite the obvious increased safety attributes) eating their breakfasts, with the occasional businessman type. It sort of walks the line between diner and cafe, leaning more towards diner-- but not an American diner. It feels like an overcrowded cafe that serves a lot of fried things (which I don't eat). Yet, something about it clicks for me. The patrons are an Indian/sub-continent couple (not sure if they are married or what) who are just about the sweetest people around. I walk in nearly every morning, greet the two behind the counter, and inevitably the man will say "the usual sir?" "Yes please!" And before I even sit down, my breakfast is being cooked up. The waiters (who are wonderful) don't even write my order or give me a check anymore. I sit, eat, do some school work, get up, give thanks, and leave the money with some tip on the counter. It's great.

Last week, the lady asked me where I was from because I have a funny accent (that was such a weird feeling for me. I have an accent? Dude. YOU have one!). I said New York, here for grad school, blah blah, will go home to NY in two weeks. She said, "don't worry, as long as you're here, we'll take care of you." My heart melted.

I order the "Chef's Special #5". Two eggs, baked beans (brilliant), two rashers bacon (wider than American bacon, lacks the striation of fat/meat of American bacon, and is a tad saltier), two pieces of "brown" (wholewheat) toast, and a milky "coffee" (an americano, as filter drip coffee is a prized commidity in short supply with Starbucks holding a near monoply).
Since it's "the usual" now, I don't have the heart to tell them to cook the eggs longer (I don't like runny yolk-- I want to eat the yolk, not mop it up), and don't put milk in the coffee-- I hate milky coffee. No. I'll eat my runny eggs and drink my milky coffee in satisfaction and happiness. It's ok.

My ultimate dream: Someday, when I am long gone and hopefully famous in some respect or field, these and other places will have a little blue plaque outside that reads "Matt Reed, famous _____, frequently ate here when he lived in Munich/Paris/New York/London. He loved the people and the ambiance and did some of his best thinking here. He frequently ordered ________. Come on in, relax, and have a good day."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Weltkrieg Tabagerie

Men clothed in turtleneck sweaters and checkered pattern ties. The scratching of fountain pens recording indecipherable morsels of important sounding information. Sounds of haughty laughter following a well executed witty quip.

No, we're not in the House of Commons. We're in my Origins and Conduct of World War II class. By far the most upperclass white male of my classes.

I walk in once a week to sit around a large, mahogany stained table for two hours, in a room with exposed white painted piping in the ceiling and wall-to-wall bookshelves, discussing topics that would make any self-respecting armchair historian giggle with academic masturbation. Things like: The Remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss, the Czech Crisis, and the Phoney War. Real topics that real men enjoy. I can't even write this post without squinting, leaning slightly forward, and giving each topic its deserved momentary pause of gravitas.

Peering through the thick fog of smoke that has settled in our little room, I can barely make out the figures around me. Seated at the other end of the table, the Humpty Dumptine Churchill puffs a fat cigar and provides color commentary as we, with reckless abandon, tear into Chamberlain's gutlessness and curse French laziness and unthinkable military preparations. Goering, looking like a perverted Buddha, sits delighted and jiggles with morphine-soaked laughter as we expose the idiocy of Ribbentrop. I sit, reluctantly, next to Mussolini (I was late and it was the last seat open) who makes fart noises whenever Churchill rises from his chair, sending mainly himself into fits of phony barrel chested laughter that makes the tassel on his fez hat flop limply about. Stalin and Molotov pass notes in between staggering swigs of Siberian cough syrup. And De Gaulle shouts an awful lot from the back.

Discussions are centered around questions like: Did the Germans have a clear plan for rearmament?
(Side note: In this context, even I say the word "Germans" with a tinge of contempt... "Germans". The hard "G" was a perfect starting consonant to have for an enemy. "The Germans". My medulla oblongatic biological reaction when saying the word is to furrow my eyebrows, squint, and give my head a quick jerk for added emphasis. I honestly don't know if we would have ever had gone to war with the Lithuanians. It just doesn't sound as good. "Germans". Hell, even "Japanese" [or the far superior, from a propagandist's point of view, though infinitely more racist "Japs"] has the hard "G". Fuck war with the Indonesians!)

Questions with little modern relevance. Questions whose answers are buried in "the stacks". Questions that spark a memory of a little known quote from Hitler, recorded secretly by a secretary, that sends waves of High-Register Staccato Academic Laughter Snorts throughout the room.

The HRSALS ("hersals") are usually in response to the most disgusting and inhuman of quotes or paraphrases. We snort our surprise and acknowledge the entertainment value over such crackpot ideas as the forced deportation of European Jews to Madagascar, or Stalin's choice phrase that the Non-Aggression Pact was "cemented in blood".

As the room goes warmer from the collective body heat of these aged men (I should note, there are two girls in the class of about 14), worked into an academic frenzy, our time suprisingly expires. We give a round of thanks, collect our pocketwatch chains, waistcoats and umbrellas, and return to the real world.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Hay Cadajo

I cut my finger pretty badly yesterday while slicing open a passionfruit (which, by the way, I had never seen an actual passionfruit before coming to London). I'm telling you, I was in so much pain that I was seeing stars for a couple of minutes. If I was alone, I might have even cried. But instead, I let out a stream of curses-- in Spanish. Which brings me to an interesting point: I curse in four languages at work.

If you'll remember, my workplace is a cross between a New York City steak-n-burger place and the Cantina scene from Star Wars. We've got Brazilians, an Italian, an English/Cypriot and me behind the bar. Also behind the bar are hundreds of ways to injure oneself, and according to Murphey's Law, There Will Be Blood. The only entertaining part about it, if there can be any entertainment in bodily harm, are the different ways of saying "Fuck" or some other delicious expletive in different languages.

The phrases I shout when shit goes wrong are:
"Hay cadajo"
"Fuck me"
"God fucking dammit"

We also use these phrases for the observation of pretty girls. Usually, the two bartenders will be standing next to each other, arms crossed, sipping soda water, complaining about how hard we work, when a gaggle of gorgeous girls come stepping up to the bar. One of us will gnudge the other, twitch our head in the direction of the ladies, and use one of the previously mentioned phrases, drawing out the words for effect. "Cattsooooo". There might even be a covert high five. Then, we turn it on. The other guys can make killer cocktails. I have to settle for charm.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Words of Wisdom

"The splinter in your finger only makes you unhappy when you're not talking to someone who has a railroad spike through his head. " - Scott Adams

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wounded Pride

My hands are covered in about a dozen wounds of varying severity-- and I couldn't be more proud.

I have always harbored a deep respect for those who work with their hands in any capacity. It is a Romantic, civilized activity that, being a history major (or perhaps just lacking visual creativity), I have not had the opportunity to indulge. Until now-- sort of. As a bartender, I am making "art" in a form-- temporary art, to be sure. And hopefully delicious art. And if I am lucky, art that is enjoyed more than once. But art nonetheless. A peripheral benefit of my craft is that I can show physical evidence of it, i.e. cuts and scrapes. They are pretty bad ass. It's a new and exciting change for me. Try proving to somebody you're a painter (or a historian for that matter). "Oh hey, check out my stain!" What does that prove? Nothing. Nice try klutz. Come talk to me when you swallow some turpentine. That would be bad ass.

In the past, I can relate with complete honesty that people have commented on my soft and handsome hands. Though the observation was meant as a compliment, I took it as "Wow, your hands reveal that you are quite the pussy. Ever lift a heavy cardboard box, Goldilocks?" It struck me deep. But not anymore. Now, I look like I manwrestled a lawnmower-- and lost. What could be better than that.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rock It

I don't know if I ever shared this link before, but in case I haven't, check it out.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Classic Rock and Roll.

Leon Russell-- "Jumping Jack Flash/ Youngbloods"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Exact Opposite of Hell

One of the trials that makes up my day at present is one that I'm sure many of us have to endure. It is such a common misery, that I'm sure we could all benefit from a little recognition:

Getting out of the shower into a cold room.

I don't know about you, but I like my showers hot. Real hot. Like a curry. I like it when the air is so thick with steam that I can visualize the microscopic mildew that is bound to grow in unreachable corners, succored on my thermal excesses. A small price to pay for red skin, relaxed muscles, open pores, and decadent deep breaths. It's where I do my best thinking, my deepest relaxation, and my best singing. But, eventually, I have to leave.

The decision to turn off the shower water is similar to the decision involved in getting out of bed. There's always the possibility of staying just a little bit longer. Even while I weigh the relative benefits of staying or leaving, I'm still in the shower/bed, and that's a good thing. Deliberation is simply my means of procrastination. And usually (this might be unique to me), I start daydreaming while deliberating. I mean, let's face it, if I am deliberating I am fully aware that I should be exiting the bed/shower, and therefore the deliberation consists of a cyclical argument where I don't really "say" anything convincing. I repeat myself over and over again. It is during this intentionally indecisive mantra that I start daydreaming-- and god only knows the thoughts that come into my head. But the point is that while daydreaming, I am still in bed/shower. It's a vicious cycle of inertia-- one that I enjoy immensely.

Eventually, I turn off the shower (not after a last moment's hesitation at the steel knobs). I wipe the excess water from my body (a trick I learned when I was about three years old from my father) and prepare myself to exit the Relaxation Chamber. Parting the waxy curtain, I'm shocked into a standing fetal position by the flowing air currents that apparently only manifest themselves when I emerge from showers. Fuck, I hate my life. Everything hurts. I must purge my body of every last molecule of epidermal hydration. It's my only hope in the struggle against goose bumps. But goddammit, wouldn't you know, that even the simple act of bringing the hanging towel closer to my body generates typhoonic wind currents that give the last 1-2 left hook before I can finally wrap myself in cotton's warm embrace-- well, at least the top half of my body. My two bit and tackle still have to suffer.

Stepping out of the shower is always a chore, thanks to the genius who invented "bathroom tiles". Sure, the little rug helps, but it's usually wet by this point. But wet bathroom rugs are the least of my worries. I still have to open the door to the freezing hallway. It's a bit like a fireman opening the door to enter a fire-- except the exact opposite. They have gear and respirators and enter burning hallways. I'm naked and dreading the run through the Hallway Gauntlet into my room. After some (unnecessary) deliberation, I open the door-- and I'm hit with a sonic boom of cold. Fuck. Everything hurts.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Process

A thought I just had in the shower at 12:49am:

Getting a Masters degree in history is akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle, except the individual pieces are hidden throughout the house. Everybody knows that the pieces exist; the trouble is finding them. What I mean is that we (junior historians) know that the statistics and interpretations exist, but putting them together just means wading through the online based journal articles and published books, and finding the arguments that support the subtlety suggested views of our professors (not that it is their intention to do so-- but why would they assign a reading list that purports views contrary to their/established interpretations? I would heap immense respect upon the professor who offered evidence that is contrary to an established viewpoint). Original thought is discouraged. Towing the line is the name of the game. This seems to be more of a lesson in patience than in critical thinking. Better yet, this process is a measure of who has the financial capacity to afford this educational luxury.

Perhaps the evolution from armchair historian to professional historian comes in the PhD process. Maybe that is where the good are separated from the great; the passively-interested from the deeply concerned. Maybe we are learning the method now and the application (i.e. original thought) comes later. If this were the case, I just wish it was admitted. But again, only those who can afford this luxury can partake in the process, and that's sort of fucked up.

I think I am just tired from reading so much. A lot of this stuff is quite mind numbing.

The Next Generation

I was walking through Harrod's a few days ago (not shopping, just for the experience of walking through Harrod's) when I saw an elderly lady sitting at a little rickety booth. She was selling the red poppies that Brits put on their lapels for Rememberance Day-- a tradition that I find wonderful and moving. At this point, I still had not found a place that sold poppies (they are everywhere, but damned if I haven't seen a single vendor until this point), so I walked over to her to make my donation and get my fashionable floral accessory.

As we started chit chatting, she said quite bluntly "You have an accent" in her sort of let-it-go elderly way. I laughed and said, yes, I am from the United States. I then overshared and started talking about when my NY accent comes out and only with certain words like "water", "dog", and "drawer". She was obviously not interested. I tend to do that when I get excited.

She asked me what brings me to London. School. What am I studying. I roll my eyes, as I always do at this point, and explain that the title of my course is quite self-important, I breathe in deeply and then say with appropriate hand gestures, "The History of International Relations", after which I clarify and say "basically modern history." She says something along the lines of how we can use that nowadays. I agree.

Then, she turns the conversation. She mentions the recent shooting at Fort Hood. We agree that it was a real tradgedy and a dreadful event. She expounds on her thoughts, and confides in me her distaste for Muslim people. She asks me, "have you heard them talking? Dreadful language." She continues, and mentions some ridiculous details of an encounter with two Muslim women, filled with such hyperbolic drivel that is not even worth reproducing here. It was offensive and biologically impossible.

Not knowing whether to officially denounce the ignorance of this geriatric or just be passive, I choose the latter and don't agree with her but sort of rock on my heels, make eye contact, and tighten my lips to show my discomfort and passive disagreement. She didn't get it. I quickly concluded the conversation and walked on.

It is in situations like these where I have to make a decision: Do I express my opinion (what I would call "educated and informed opinion") in the attempt to convert her from her opinion (what I would call "ignorant and hateful opinion")? My answer is "no". She is too old. A harsh reality, but reality none the less. She isn't going to change her views no matter what spark of insight I can provide. She had hate in her heart and I couldn't heal that. Maybe others can, but I can't. My only hope is that she doesn't influence younger generations and spread lies.

So, what can you do to help combat ridiculous and harmful stereotypes? Educate yourself. Meet and listen to people of different backgrounds. Listen. Coopertation is key.

However, I can't help but admit a pang of guilt when I think back on this episode.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Psycho? Analysis?

I haven't been nice recently. It's a trend I've noticed over the past few months or so. I'm less nice sometimes. My patience is shorter and my quips more biting, less sensitive, very crass. I can think back to my first years in college (not that long ago) where I was the kindest SOB on the block, as naive as a puppy and just as enthusiastic about the world. Wearing my baseball cap, shaving, shunning alcohol and womanizing; if I was a Catholic, I would have been a good Catholic boy.

Things changed. I stopped shaving, for one. I drank. I became more confident. More of an asshole at times, surely. The trend continues to this day. My ego shapes my public persona and that persona at times embarrasses me.

I find that periodic self-assessment calms me. It eases my anxiety. I feel like I have won a small inner-monologue battle when I realize that I am being a douche.

Also, sitting at a computer for hours on end, reading about Nazis, tends to facilitate my inward analysis. It traps me in my own head. If I were alone on a deserted island, I could live forever. If I were trapped in a small room, I would go insane. If I were a monk, I would see God.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tall, Dark, and Evolutionarily Advantageous

Do you think that attraction to "exotic" looking people, in what ever way you define that, is an evolutionary adaptation for diversifying the gene pool? Is it a biologically stimulated reaction, beyond free-will control, that trumps cultural affinity or other "nurture" arguments and attracts us to those of a different background than ourselves? In other words, do I want to bang hotties because we'll have sexy looking children?

I think so.

The flip side of this is to cite the whole Oedipus argument, where men marry women like their respective mothers. In this case, the gene pool isn't diversifying at all-- it's an intelligent and humorous lady who can take tequila shots down like it was "waw-tah".

But, I feel that exposure to the "exotic" is a modern phenomenon, and furthermore, it is only within the past 20 years or so that it would even be socially acceptable to intermingle with one considered "exotic". (And I am taking a way liberal view on this topic here, for simplicity sake. Unfortunately, a sizable [again, I'm being generous] part of the global population still ignorantly talk of "race" and "staying with your own kind".) The Oedipus argument is moot because the alternatives were minimal. Today, we are free to go beyond the familiar.

Sexual freedom has exposed repressed evolutionary biases! Thanks Hippies!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The New Bubble Boy

I'm just putting it out there because I know that everybody is thinking it but too afraid of the scorn that such an admission would bring.

What if the Balloon Boy hoax is a hoax? What if, to cover up the fact that they really thought that their fucking six year old kid might actually be soaring through the clouds in an aluminum foil bubble, the parents concoct the story that they concocted the story. They figure that the jail time or fines will be less for deceiving the media instead of reckless endangerment of a minor, so they proclaim that the whole thing was staged.

At least, that's what I would do.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Billions and Billions

I was fortunate enough to recently stumble across a video clip of Carl Sagan, the famed scientist with the famed measured diction. It may surprise you, but I have a long and sentimental history with Mr. Sagan. It started in sixth grade.

In the sixth grade we had a fun little teaching-tool where every Friday we would mix up the schedule by integrating and mixing up the three different sixth grade classes. Therefore, I got to hang out with my buddies in other classes for a couple of hours in an otherwise strictly segregated week.

Each teacher, with their respective mixed population classes, would sponsor an activity centered around watching an educational video. That was like giving out educational candy for a short attention spanned sixth grader. We loved it. Except Mr. Stowe's group. Everybody hated it.

Stowe was taken right out of some warped alternate reality TV show. He had a cartoonish bald head, black rim glasses, and was as rigid as a lamppost, and just as funny as one. Obviously having some sort of military background (I only figured this out later), Stowe walked rigidly, spoke measuredly, and sat erect at his immaculate desk fingering his stress balls. Right.

On an amusing side-note, Stowe's preferred method of punishing his delinquent students was pretty creative: He made us hand copy, word for word, National Geographic article pages. He obviously took pleasure in assigning "NGS"s to us. For those who were frequent losers, he would just say something like "Chris. 5." And that meant that Chris (and actual person who's last name I won't reveal) would have to copy five pages of an NGS article into a notebook.

Imagine this punishment: The transgressor (probably wearing a puffy Starter jacket) would sit at a chipped multi-layered wooden desk, Number 2 pencil in hand, and a yellow-covered NGS on one side of the desk and a notebook on the other. Then, through a Herculean effort, they would write down every word in the article (not making any mistakes, lest they re-do the entire thing). It was physical punishment (torture), as your hand cramped up badly, yet it was educational too as the copier inevitably learned something of relative importance. Stowe, you crafty sonofabitch. I wonder if you censored the NGS collection to remove the Papua New Guinea saggy boobs or over-the-shoulder-penis-holster articles.

(Disclosure- I never was punished with an NGS [or anything else for that matter], so the pain from hand cramping is only hear-say. But, I think I would have hated it even more because we were required to write the article in pencil. To this day, I hate writing in pencil. In fact, I can't remember the last time I wrote with one. Perhaps what bugs me the most is the gray residue it leaves on my finger pads. That chalky feeling is infuriating. I can smell that feeling right now. Oh, and fuck sharpening pencils too! And splinters. And octagonal shapes. And missing or depleted erasers. Damn you Ticonderoga! The academic ink stain is far superior to the Neanderassholic smudgings of a pencil in all respects.)

As previously mentioned, each teacher showed educational videos to the class. The point of the class was to learn how to take notes. So, as the video rolled, you were expected to take copious notes because the following week, the teacher would assign an essay topic about something mentioned in the video. We then went back to our notes and wrote the essay based on them.

Stowe chose to show Cosmos, created and narrated by Carl Sagan. Our class sat there, bored to tears, writings furiously every single word the helmet haired man said. It was akin to group NGS torture-- without even the slightest possibility of seeing some boobs. Instead, we watched "billions and billions" of suns dance across the screen. At the time, I would rather have given up pizza Friday instead of go to this class. But in retrospect, it was a great exercise and gave me an appreciation for the genius and humanity of Mr. Sagan. Listening to him speak reminds me how small and insignificant life on this planet is, in a cosmic sense. It's a joke. An infinitesimal blip on the galactic radar. But I'm sure Mr. Sagan would agree, that's what makes it so special. Rest in Peace. Watch the video.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Concocting Cocktails for Cockneys

Being a bartender ain't easy business. I am under pressure to consistently turn out beautiful and delicious creations every living second, and 90% of the time I am making three or more at once. When that ticket pops up in my station, I tear at it and pray that I know the cocktails that it contains. But, while whipping up these creative concoctions, three more tickets are printing out behind me. Now my body starts to over heat and I have a minor panic attack. The other bartender asks if everything is alright. I assure him everything is fine, but only to save myself from embarrassment. Somehow it all gets done. In the rare moment that I have a second to wipe my dripping forehead, I need to be refilling my juice containers, cleaning glasses, cleaning the station, making espresso-based drinks, restock the refrigerator, and flirt with the waitresses. I love every moment of it.

Being a novice bartender, I don't even have all the ingredients down yet, so that adds a level of complication and doubt to my work. Is a Killer Zombie with pineapple or orange juice? Does a Mai Tai have a dash of apricot liquor or a dash of cherry brandy? What the fuck is a Toblerone? I try to visualize the recipe sheet ("the specs") in my head, breathe, and it usually comes to me as if through some Bacchusean intervention: orange, apricot, milky pussy drink. My blood pressure normalizes.

Unfortunately I can't share cocktail recipes with you, as it is company property. But, I can share ingredients, as they are listed on our menus! So, here's one for you to try and figure out. I'll give you the tools, you need the creativity, oh talented reader you.

Kiss Me Quick

Midori, Malibu, and Peach Schnapps
Apple juice

Really simple and really tasty, if fruity drinks are your thing.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Voices in My Head

I spend an unsettling amount of time talking to myself. Usually, I am just singing whatever song is in my head at the moment. I'll sing in the shower, sing while doing dishes, or quietly mouth the words to a song while walking (I don't actually make sounds though. I don't want people to think I am talking to myself. Right?). If I am caught in the act, I usually start humming some fictitious tune to mask my song selection. So, if you see me humming some atonal ditty, I was probably just singing "Oh Sherrie", and imagining myself on stage pushing the new Journey singer off the stage, donning a leather jacket, and high-fiving Neil Schonn as he busts out into a face melting guitar solo.

When I am not singing arena rock anthems to myself, I am legitimately talking to myself, and that's sort of scary. I do have a curious habit of fixing onto a specific word and repeating that word over and over, never tiring of it nor realizing how often I am repeating it. Sort of like Tourettes Syndrome. Often, oddly, the word is in a foreign language. Now, I am not that proficient in any foreign language, but I have enough of an ego to convince myself that I can speak a few of them with a convincing accent (Spanish, French, and German, namely). Therefore, when I fix on a word, I pronounce the hell out of it. Sure, it's probably the wrong pronunciation, but dammit, it sounds good to me.

I also talk to myself when I am angry. I mean, I have to be fucking pissed off, but when those rare occasions arise, I will blabber to myself incessantly. Usually I am saying what I wish I said to the person who pissed me off. Or, I am saying what I want to say. But I am not just coming up with pithy comebacks or stinging criticisms. I am forming situations. I form complex situations, filled with contingencies and motives and subterfuge, around myself and the offender. Like a master chess player, I start thinking of retorts to moves that haven't even been played yet, never mind imagined by the (imaginary) interlocutor! I can get myself so heated up that when I bring myself back to reality, I have no choice but to laugh out loud at how ridiculous I am acting/thinking. But I try to remember my comebacks, just in case.

Friday, October 9, 2009

What A Fool Believes

If I had to make a contribution to "Stuff White People Like", it would be Michael McDonald.

This clip is just a taste. If you can form a visual, imagine me singing this song in my best MMD impression, alone, with my iPod buds in, in my room, and getting a little too into it.

On the Other Side...

This article, however, kind of made me sick. Profs don't get cookies at staff meetings and upperclassmen don't get hot breakfast in their dorms and students can't use a shuttle and have to walk for 15 minutes to get to the library? Boo fucking hoo. Talk about a catered elite. Grow up.

NY Times Article

In support of my previous post, here's a not particularly revealing but nonetheless interesting article from the NY Times on higher education in the US.

An International Education

I have high hopes for my class time here at LSE. Already, I have engaged in an unprecedented level of debate and critical thinking in class, and it's only the second day. The reason for this, I think, is that it is not a given that most of the students agree on things that I had perceived as relatively straightforward subjects or issues. The international composition of the student body encourages this wonderful spectrum of ideas and experiences in the classroom; something that was completely lacking at Trinity, for example (Oh god, seminars at Trin were painful. I specifically remember a seminar in my sophomore year where we all basically agreed with each other on most points throughout the entire year. Agreement? The very idea is anathema to academia. We're supposed to be tearing each other's arguments to shreds, no matter the validity or logic [a joke, but unfortunately, not a joke in Congress and other venues]! But, Trinity was mostly upper class white kids. We had gone through basically the same experiences, read the same newspapers, and seen the same TV shows. Sure there were [some] conservatives and liberals, but the "arguments" were predictable and shallow. Think Crossfire without the bowties or the bald guys. Been there, seen that).

International schools must be the best source of education available. They challenge you, the student, to analyze some of your most comfortable assumptions and come to grips with opposing assumptions, and perhaps most importantly, realize that "the answers" are rarely in black and white. In fact, "the answers" are rarely answers at all, but convenient expressions of power over the weaker.

Is there a solution then to the "New England Rich White American" system of education, where we are rarely ever challenged to really tear into supposedly concrete issues? Well, what about forced integration? Eh, "forced" is never a good PR word. "Encouraged integration"? Isn't that just another way of saying Affirmative Action? Kind of. Maybe that's why I was never a militant anti-AA person.

How about "Encouraged International Representation"? Subsidized tuition for students from sort of second and third tier technological nations (whatever that means) to encourage real debate and analysis, to challenge base assumptions, and to take students outside of their comfort zone, in US universities. I'm sure this already exists, but it should be better publicized.

And one final thought: After talking to all my Europe-born buddies here, I do realize that the US education system is insane, in terms of cost. Higher education could solve an infinite number of problems (crime, poverty, obesity, etc.) in the US, but most never have access to it due to the cost. Furthermore, why should a kid from a lower class family bust his/her ass in high school when there is no prospect of a college education? Dropping out seems like a logical solution when there is no hope.

I retorted to my EU buds that given the population of the US, subsidized education costs would be a mammoth expense on the population. Educating 80 million Germans on the cheap is doable, but 380 million Americans? That's a whole different ballgame. I hope my convenient answer is wrong. The touche to my retort is to increase taxes to a EU comparable level, and that can pay the costs. That will never happen. The myth of "hard work will make you a millionaire in America" is too strong.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Direction

I was reading old posts on this blog (and for those of you who haven't, go into the archives and rehash my memories of my boozing times in Munich or my lost loves in Paris [or really, my bumbling attempts at feminine attraction]), and realized that I haven't had any real adventures to note thus far while in London.

But then I realized that what was once an adventure now seems rather commonplace. Waking up hungover with three new names in my mobile phone and not knowing who these people are or how their numbers got in my phone in the first place seems so 2008. I guess I'm growing up. Or maybe I'm just drinking too much. Perhaps the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Also, I realized that some people occasionally read this blog and might pass on any delicious kernals of gossip that I express here, so I have to be selective in my posts.

But, now that I have internet at my flat, I promise to post juicier posts and use this blog less as a soapbox for my political ravings (well, maybe I'll occasionally brighten your day with a delectable diatribe about some Central Asian topic of interest).

Monday, October 5, 2009

Living Just Enough For the City

I’ve been in London for only two weeks and already I feel like an expert. Giving directions in the streets to tourists seems like second nature to me (and you should see their reaction when they hear my {accentuated} American accent) at this point, even though I haven’t seen most of the city. Unfortunately, I haven’t taken the time to do all of the sights, though I still have the entire year ahead of me. I will see Big Ben yet!

Instead of sightseeing, I have spent the past week searching exhaustively for a job. Given my year as a restaurant manager in New York, I have some clout and had a fair chance of landing a serving gig. In fact, when I roll up to a place that seems promising, I usually spew out that I was a restaurant manager in NY before I even say my name. And the resulting effect is exactly as intended: awed silence punctuated with raised eyebrows. Right away, I have changed their perception of my possible talent for the better. Basically, they think I’m hot shit, and I'm not about to shatter their illusions.

You’d be surprised how much street cred the mere mention of New York has here. It is where everybody wishes they were. I mean, my boss came up to me and asked what were the chances he could get a bartending gig in the City for a few years. The Uzbeki bus boy pulled me aside and asked me about green cards. The guests have cousins who have lived in NY for a year and never want to come back. And no joke, I’ve been proposed to for marriage twice. Hell, I'd consider it! An US passport and an EU passport...

Enough fantasizing about the actuality of the possibility of my retiring to Bavaria-- back to my job search. After saying no to two possible jobs (and the two proposals {though one is still up in the air}), I have settled on being a bartender at a busy restaurant in Covent Garden. I am mainly making cocktails, as opposed to the pouring beer bartender-type (I scoff at thee!). Now, those of you who know me might say, “Matt, I didn’t know you knew how to make cocktails!” To which I retort, “You’re right. I don’t know what the fuck I am doing.” Truly, I don't know what the fuck I am doing. I am starting from scratch and I have no idea how I got the job. The most cocktail mixing experience I have ever had was in college, when I would pour copious amounts of Dubra vodka straight from the plastic jug (yup, plastic) into a red Solo cup and then douse it with cold Sprite (others preferred Mountain Dew, but I didn’t like the way it made my teeth yellow/green). This place is teaching me everything, from how to hold a bottle to how to pour the perfect shot (Did you know the English shot is significantly smaller than an American shot? I think an English shot is about 1oz, while our shot is 1.5 oz. Yet again, America goes big), not to mention a gaggle of cocktails, many of which are house specialties. We’re not talking about your grandma’s mojitos, but instead I am making, for example, our signature Twisted Mojito with:

Mint leaves
Stoli Vanilla Vodka
Apple juice
Licor 43

My coworkers are a colorful cast of characters. I work behind the bar with two Brazilians, an Italian, an English girl, and a Kosovar. Serving in the restaurant, we have an Irish girl, a couple of English guys, a Russian, a Frenchman, a South African, a Scotsman, a Croatian, and another American with an Irish accent (don’t ask-- I did, and the answer wasn’t logical or satisfactory). Of the three managers, one is a Danish guy with an American accent, one is an English guy, and one is a Polish girl.

The guy from Kosovo is an interesting dude. We got into a discussion about Kosovar identity today (at my instigation; I’m a history major-- so sue me!), and trust me when I say, the national pride of the people of Kosovo is not the sort of ridiculousness of the Texans where “We like things big and we’re gonna be seedin’ from the Union and make Walker Texas Ranger our President!”

Kosovar identity runs much deeper than I could ever imagine. My colleague (the Brits love that word) said that his people are Illyrian, descendants of one of the oldest peoples to inhabit the area. When I asked if he was more Grecian than Slav, he shook his head and said, “No, we’re different.” When I asked about what happened to his family during the war, he told me how he was preparing to go back to Kosovo to join the army and fight the Serbians (a group of people he “will always hate”).

He was willing to risk his life for Kosovo, but not because he was passionate about the possibility of having a country. That seemed of secondary importance. In fact, he remarked once in our conversation, completely nonchalantly, that “now we have a country.” That is not what was important to him. To him, it seems, the fight was for the the people. And that's what makes a Kosovar a Kosovar. Their identity is not ethnic, nor religious, nor national. It is historical. It is tribal. I find that fascinating.

That just about sums up my time in London so far. Working my dry chapped hands (which have a myriad of little cuts from god knows how many gadgets of destruction that live behind a bar), and not even thinking about school-- yet. That's step two.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Night at the Hostel

The room has 4 beds, is next to the hostel bar, has no window or means of ventilation, and last night, I shared it with a severely overweight Irishman. As I lay awake, staring at the horizontal support beams of the bed above me, I listened to this guy engage in a respiratory battle of epic proportions. His artillery blast snorts were punctuated by the ringing klaxon of his constant slamming into the steel bed supports in a futile effort for comfort. I, stripped down to my boxers out of necessity, cowered in fear, speechless and sweating, on my uncomfortable mattress, trying to fake myself into real sleep. The struggle lasted all night. No body emerged victorious.

Impressions and Observations

The following is an incomplete list of my first impressions of the English and other random travel sightings.

1. Americans hold their passports in their hands as they walk through the airport. Everybody else keeps it in the jacket or pocket and only breaks it out when necessary. Americans clutch that important document like an evangelist clutching the pocket-Bible. Maybe we wish to convey a sense of entitlement and a perceived necessity of recognition.

2. I feel like I am in a Guy Ritchie movie.

3. Everything, down to the BBQ sauce on the table of the cafe, is "By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen." That's silly.

4. My first meal was two runny eggs, a long sausage, two flat and floppy slices of ham, buttered bread, and a half pound of baked beans. I wasn't expecting baked beans for breakfast, but I kind of liked it.

5. My tea came with milk already in it. I forgot where I was.

6. I think the waitress creamed when she saw the tip I left her. I forgot where I was.

7. English girls (and this is only my first impression) don't take care of their hair the way American girls do. It's just sort of there. I like nice hair.

8. The English seem spiteful in a number of interesting ways: driving on the left hand side (honestly, give it up), having the steering wheel on the right side, not using the euro, and having their own plugs which are different from the mainland.

To be continued.

That's Obtuse.

I hate reclining seats. The problem that I have is that it takes a real arrogance and selfishness to push that steel mentos button and then throw my weight into the backrest. What if the person behind me has their tray table in the upright and locked position and is leaning over at the exact moment that I decide to indulge in the comforts of modern aeronautical furnishings? God forbid they're changing a baby's diaper on their lap, or possibly loading an automatic shotgun. There are already too many accidental discharges, both baby and Benelli, in this world. Why take my chances?

My basic conundrum boils down to this: Check behind me by ducking my vulnerable and over sized head into the steel battering ram pushcart trafficked aisle, and timidly ask permission of the Australian guy behind me for something that is my FAA given right to enjoy, or, have the gall to hit into that recline and never look back-- literally.

Have I mentioned that this all needs to be accomplished within a moth sneeze of the seat belt light going off? Should I decide to recline, oh say, mid way through the flight, now I'm really pissing the people behind me off. By now, they've settled into a routine and made progress on their seat cushion butt divots. But here comes Capt. Comfortable, selfishly stampeding on their already subatomic leg room.

I'm an ass.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Robert McNamara- Secretary of Defense under Kennedy and, for a time, Johnson- is a man who I admire not for his Cold War era policy decisions, but for his profound intellect and insightful observations. I highly recommend that anybody interested in modern conflicts see the enlightening documentary about McNamara entitled The Fog of War.

One of McNamara's rules of war is to "empathize with your enemy". To prove his argument, McNamara puts forth two historical case studies: the Vietnam war and the Cuban Missile Crisis. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, McNamara posits that we (the US government) were able to successfully empathize with Khruschev and the Soviets. Khruschev knew that he had put everybody in a hell of a mess by deploying missiles in Cuba, but at the same time, if we were to deescalate the conflict, we had to give Khruschev an out so that he could politically save face. In other words, we had to put ourselves in Khruschev's shoes (all the more impressive, as we all know how abusive Khruschev can be to his footwear). By empathizing with Khruschev, we understood that in order to step back from the brink of nuclear war, we had to remain silent (and hold back from rolling our eyes) when Khruschev loudly proclaimed that he had single handedly saved Cuba from destruction at the hands of the US because he pulled the missiles out. Obviously, this is a gross distortion of fact, but hell, we didn't shoot each other. Everybody wins, sort of.

We didn't win in Vietnam, however, as we never empathized with the Vietnamese (North or South or whatever [distinctions between North, South, Communist, Viet Cong, etc. were very difficult to make and we, as a learned public, were and are too quick to start placing labels on the Vietnamese circa 1950s-70s. There was a lot of grey area, to say the least.]). We saw the Vietnam war as a war to halt the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia, and as a war to maintain the independence of the South from the the North. The Vietnamese didn't see it that way at all! To them, it was a civil war, and the US simply replaced the French as an imperialist power trying to impose itself on the Vietnamese. The two sides were looking at the conflict in completely different terms, and for that reason the US could never have won the war in Vietnam. McNamara paraphrases a VC commander who said that the North Vietnamese were willing to take as many causalities as necessary to fulfill their goal, and unless the US was willing to do the same, we could never have won that war.

With these lessons in mind, let's try to apply them to the war in Afghanistan. Let's ask, what are we fighting for? What are we trying to accomplish?
Answer: To destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist network by killing or capturing its members and leaders, and to also crush the Al Qaeda-allied Taliban movement which supplies and harbors Al Qaeda. A secondary goal, and a minor one as far as the US government is concerned (or at least that's how it is acting), is to rebuild the shattered Afghan nation and infrastructure and develop this narcostate into a functioning and self sustaining sort-of-democracy.

Now, let's try to empathize with Taliban and Al Qaeda, and the Afghan people. How do they see the conflict? Al Qaeda and the Taliban see us as an imperialist, pro-Israel, outsider who is trying to impose itself on the Middle East and destroy Islam. Destroying Islam is ridiculous and harmful propaganda that isn't even worth discussing as it is so preposterous and wrong. But the imperialist aggression argument has some merit. In Iraq, I agree! No good came from the Iraq war; it was an imperialist aggression. In Afghanistan, however, I disagree. We can accomplish real good there. And by kicking out the Taliban (knock on wood), we really can turn around a once-repressed nation.

What about Al Qaeda goals? I think it's safe to say that most of the goals of Al Qaeda are not feasible or productive to the US, including: destruction of the state of Israel and removal of all combat personal from Central Asia and the Middle East, and especially Saudi Arabia.

So, destruction of Israel? Insane. Not gonna happen. More critical policies towards Israel? Definitely possible (in my opinion, helpful) and in fact, things seem to be heading in that direction. Take Obama's criticism of settlement expansion in the West Bank (though, bark and bite are two very different things. Plus, I think every recent President has asked for a "moratorium" on settlement expansion, to no avail).

Removal of combat troops? That seems like not such a bad idea, as far as Saudi Arabia is concerned. Besides being one of the most repressive nations on Earth, it is also the most holy for Muslims. We probably shouldn't have troops there. Moving US combat troops elsewhere, say, Kuwait or... Iraq(?) seems like a better idea. Hmm. I'll think about that one. However, removing troops from Afghanistan or Iraq at this time is suicidal and counter-productive. Not gonna happen.

What about the Afghan people? How do we empathize with them? How do they see the conflict? I don't know the answers, but it's probably very complicated. Are we in Afghanistan for natural resources? Not really. So why are we there? Altruism? I'm not sure that anybody would believe that. So when we kill civilians (accidentally) in airstrikes, what are the surviving Afghans supposed to think? How do we want our presense to be felt? We're there to get Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Do the Afghans see a benefit from that? Are they safer? What do they want? How can we help them now that we are there?

These are the questions we should be asking-- not to policy analysts or diplomatic intellectuals-- but to the Afghan people.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Harpo and Chico

I giggled like a fourth grader watching this.

Not to be that crusty guy who shakes his hickory cane at the skateboarding youth, but, man, they don't do it like this anymore.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Pawn

I was cleaning out my old room at my parents' house recently (that has been co-opted by my 8 month old nephew's furniture) and found a short story I wrote in 10th grade. It's probably the first thing that I was proud of, as far as writing is concerned, and I remember my teacher read it out loud to the class without telling me first. She just started reading it-- and I was thrilled. Her margin comment reads, "Save this story! Show it to your children some day. You should be very proud of it. There is so much understanding in it and such memorable, vivid description-- and it moved me to tears." So, for your reading pleasure, here it is, unedited, without my usual parenthetical asides or interruptions.

The Pawn

I wish I was back in Jersey. I miss the smell of it. Some might find that hard to believe, but I sincerely do. I miss my crusty old baseball mitt with all the stitchings coming undone. I miss the pleasant smell of freshly cut grass, and the silence of picking weeds in the vegetable garden. I miss the sight of my lovely mother bending over the hot stove at dinner time, tasting her spaghetti sauce and then adding a pinch of oregano to the mix. Why am I here then? What have I done wrong?

The damn stick is stuck again, and the engine keeps on sputtering like an old woman. Damn French, you can never trust em. They couldn't build an airplane if their life depended on it... and it does. And so I'm here. Why am I out here? For them? For democracy? Fight your own goddamn war! That's what I say! Why should I have to travel a thousand miles for these ungrateful, unsympathetic bastards. I don't want to get killed a thousand miles from home defending somebody else's country, lousy bastards.

And that noise! I just wish that Palmer would die already. It seems like a pretty awful thing to say, but he's been gurgling back there ever since we got there. Every time he manages to hack out a nasty cough, a hundred little droplets of blood splash on the back of my neck. The sad thing is, is that they are warm. So warm it sends a shiver down my spine every time he does it. I can feel the sensation run down my back, like a little spider running towards the bottom of my spine. I keep straining my neck, just to try and get a look at him, see how he's doing, but he's just out of sight. I can only see his hands. His hands are grasped to the sides of the cockpit, holding on for life. He looks like he is bracing himself for a shock that will never come. Yet, I dare not speak to him. I could never. Then I will know that he truly is dying. A way of cheating myself, I guess. And that sound! He sounds like he is gurgling mouthwash- ha- mouthwash. Wouldn't we be so lucky?

Cocking my head to the side, I can see that the nimble biplane is passing over the front now. Boy, it looks like Hell erupted from the depths of the Earth, with fire and brimstone, and settled right here. The front is an ugly brown snake, weaving its staggered path past the horizon in both directions. I have to keep myself from turning away in disgust. What I am witnessing I dare not wish upon Satan himself, for this must be his doing. The smell of ash and death fills the open air, making me want to clog my nostrils, even at eight thousand feet. Craters, corpses, barbed wire, more corpses, more barbed wire. The sun is glistening off the wire like raindrops at dawn. If only it were that. The corpses are scattered throughout the front, but mainly in the belly of the snake. No Man's Land. Simply a graveyard of thousands of men. Most of the corpses are not intact. Heads, legs, torsos, lying around, without a body in sight. There are scattered puddles which were at one time some woman's son, some daughter's father. Looking down, there are no Germans, no French, nor any English, just death. It looks like a giant children's game from above. People run, people run back, some fall (they are out), some make it back. They sit and rest, and then do it all again. No real purpose, no real progress. The game of war.

I can breathe a sigh of comfort, not of relief, as I cross over the front now. The terror is over for now. I turn my head to check on Palmer. His hands are no longer there. I hang my head for a moment, and say a small prayer. I'm not a religious man, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

What purpose does this serve though? Is God testing my courage? My strength? My sanity? My one partner in this hell has a bullet lodged in his neck and is now gone. Now don't get me wrong, I am a man, yet, at that moment, I began to cry. I was not hysterical like a little girl who lost her puppy, but the kind of crying that makes other people want to come over and ask what's wrong. But that didn't happen. And I wept. I thought about how when he was first hit how he screeched like a dog whose paw got stepped on. He called to his mother, asking her to come get him. He called to God, asking Him to forgive his sins. And I wept. He called to me. While holding his hand upon his blood soaked neck, he told me to tell his mom that he died gloriously in battle. Tell her about how we shot down seven Jerries, and killed ten on the ground, before he was killed-- shot through the back of the head. Tell her how we were getting a medal for our bravery, and how the squadrons across the front were holding memorials for him. But no. Mrs. Palmer's son did not get a medal. He did not get a ceremony. He did not die valiantly. He died while scouting a farm house. He was killed by a hidden machine gun nest-- the one he was looking for. He never killed a German. He never fired his weapon. He never made it back. He was just another casualty. And I wept.

I can see our aerodrome from here. But luck is not on my side. The aerodrome is gone. The airfield is a crater. The hanger is rubble. The hospital is in ruins. I am alone here, without a gunner, with a swarm of Jerries heading right for me. I wish I was back in Jersey.

Friday, September 11, 2009

55th and 6th

The food is never really that great- but I expect that. Every carb-heavy dish served to every hunched over patron is monochrome brown, as are the mountains of plastic wrapped pastries that only appear appetizing. Orange juice provides the single fleck of merciful color. The silverware is identical too-- everywhere. My teaspoon is stamped "9 Winco 18/0 Stainless". I've actually never seen that before. It's usually just a pressed "Stainless Steel". Weird. (A little research reveals that Winco is a supermarket similar to Walmart. Curiously, they only have locations on the west coast and a few Rocky Mountain states. How did their silverware end up in Manhattan? I guess it doesn't matter much.)

Heavy white ceramic mugs make a dull thud every time they are replaced on the fake marble counter top. The sound is unmistakable and comforting. It is a part of American culture. (The equivalent French sound is much higher pitched: an espresso cup clinking into its recessed crater-home on the saucer.) Plus, the unlimited coffee is nice. I haven't seen that idea anywhere outside of the United States. I think it's a sign of American kindness. I can't partake in the ritual though, because after one cup I get the jitters and have to switch to decaf (which might as well not be coffee). Even then, I will feel a slight uneasiness and constant fluttering in my chest for the next few hours. But I expect that.

The businessman sitting next to me uses every condiment available on his Western omelet (no cheese) and home fries, side of sausage. He haphazardly puts a heart attack inducing amount of salt over his entire dish, taking little care or pride in where the grains fall. He seems content enough to just go through the salting motion. A pinch of pepper from an ash filled shaker on the omelet, a plop of ketchup on the home fries, and a dash of Tabasco sauce over the whole mess. Milk from a carton (not the little prepackaged striated white plastic thimble-cups with peel back lid) and sugar in his coffee. He's either a control freak or severely indecisive-- I'll go with the former. When leaving, he's impatient to pay his bill and repeatedly calls the server over and waves his money rudely in the air, even though the kind server is clearly taking another customer's order.
Yeah, control freak.

Jose, the charming veteran waiter who bears an uncanny resemblance to ex-Pakistani president/dictator Pervez Musharraf, is aging a bit. His sideburns are white now and his glasses thick. He's a charmer. He comes over to me, leans on the counter top, looks me in the eye, and says, "You asked for grits but I gave you po-tay-toes" (he enunciates each syllable of "potatoes"). He is right, and he smiles. "These things happen," I say as I shrug my shoulders in willing surrender. It is all right.

I sit for a few more minutes, read a few more pages of my paperback, and get up to leave- but pause to get Jose's attention to thank him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Kid Is Not My Son

I am sitting at my neighborhood cafe, sitting across from a boy of about 7 years. His brother sits next to him, playing with some random toy (it's a hippie kind of cafe). Much to my enjoyment, "Billie Jean" comes on the radio. And, to my complete surprise, the boy starts singing (in key) the introduction:

who- Whoo. WHO whoooo.

He turns to his brother, "do you know who's singing?" "What?" "Do you know who's singing? It's Michael Jackson. That's Michael Jackson. I want to be him so bad for Halloween."

A young boy wants to pretend to be Michael Jackson. Define irony.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Moroccan Memories Revisited

Sitting on the F train last night, without conscious outside stimulus, I suddenly remembered a funny little episode that happened while I was in Morocco. Let's kick it:

I had befriended a young guy in Fez named Tarik. The story of how I met him is a long one that maybe I'll write another time (I walked up to a group of young men sitting around in a dark alley with a vaulted ceiling and started talking to them-- there). Tarik took me to his "uncle"'s carpet shop. No, this isn't the opening to the next Hostle movie (nor the first "Matty Does Morocco").

Tarik and his uncle brought me into this private back room to show me their wares. The room was a giant cube with a concrete floor, high ceilings, and wall to wall shelves stuffed to capacity with carpets of every color shape and style. I was brought over to a simple cloth couch, made to sit, and Uncle then came out with a pot of mint tea for all of us. I have to be honest and relate that I was in a high state of alert, as there is not a small chance that this could be a setup and I am about to be blindfolded, beaten, stripped, and shipped to a Tunisian prison. To combat this, I spent my entire visit kind of on edge, ready to lash out with a well placed jab to the throat at a moment's notice, a la Jason Bourne. But I hid this pretty well, I must say.

So there I sat, drinking sweet mint tea, while Tarik and Uncle brought out dozens and dozens of carpets for me to judge. And I was to judge-- but I had to do it in Arabic, which I found curious. It went like this: Tarik would show me a carpet, give a little explanation about its significance and why it was so friggin' expensive, and I was to respond "la" ("no") if I didn't like it, or "wa'ha" ("yes") if I liked it. For some reason, Tarik sort of whispered those instructions to me in an aside when the Uncle was in the other room (good carpet, bad cop?). I guess Uncle is a stickler for tradition.

I distinctly remember lounging on the couch with regal posture, drinking my tea, and given the circumstances and my somewhat eccentric imagination and penchant for the theatrical-- I assumed a dictatorial sultanic air. When I saw carpets I didn't like or that offended my refined sense of style that I had honed over the past 10 minutes, I would frown an abhorrent frown, crinkle my face with a pained expression, dismissively wave my manicured hand, and, with an air of disgust mixed with a dash of Victorian insult, I would steadfastly declare "La... la" while shaking my head in completely appalled disapproval. Tarik and Uncle would respond enthusiastically and, like a pair of Jawas, repeat my admonition to themselves ("Oh-- la, la") and hurriedly fold up the scorned drapery.

After I settled on a pair of exquisite carpets, the bargaining began. It took about 20 minutes. Back and forth, offer and counter-offer, interspersed with moments of silence to drink our tea and re-assess our strategy. Finally, I made an offer for both carpets that was acceptable to Tarik. Now, remember, it was Uncle's carpet shop, so Tarik had to convince him that my offer was satisfactory. Uncle came in from the other room (I don't know why he left in the first place). He whispered my offer to Uncle in Arabic, made a few empathetic gestures, and exchanged a couple of glances with me, as if to say, "I don't know if he'll take it. You might have to raise your offer." This could have all been simple pagentry, but it made for a good show. Dramatically, Tarik backed away and Uncle approached me. He stared at me for a few moments in silence, sizing me up, and then, with a smile, extended his hand. We shook hands, exchanged currency, and just when I thought I could walk away, I learned that I had to tip the guy who wrapped up the carpets in brown paper. We all gotta make a buck.

Walking outside, Tarik, being a hospitable host, brought me out to eat at a local food stall. And the best way to describe this place was as a "stall". This place was the size of a handicapped toilet, and run by a pudgy Moroccan with a viciously lazy left eye. Undeterred by the minuscule size nor the drifting eyes, Tarik and I squeezed into the stall and found two stools to sit on. And bunched in there, shoulder to shoulder with strangers (well, I guess the entire country was filled with strangers to me), the proprietor put a bowl of soup and a hunk of doughy bread in front of me. It was a well-spiced white bean soup in a thick, oily red stew. My lower duodenum let out a preemptive moan. And just when I prostrated myself in humble supplication to the gods of Inevitable Diarrhea, I realized I didn't have a spoon. Odd. Tarik informed me that they don't use spoons-- they rip off the bread and use it to scoop up the soup to their mouth, sort of in the Ethiopian "pinch with bread and eat" manner. I try. I fail. Tarik laughs and asks the proprietor for a spoon.

My ears perked up-- as did the hair on my neck.


One of the most repeated mantras in the Moroccan guide books is to never use silverware at food stalls. Cleanliness and sanitation are not exactly Moroccan buzzwords.

The stall worker searches for a spoon, succeeds, and gives it a rinse in tap water.

Fucking great. Not only is this spoon dirty-- he just washed it in tap water. Bowel wrenching, gut twisting, stomach turning, intestinal curdling, tap water. Then he hands it to me. I take the spoon, hold it at arms length, staring at it like it was a salamander that I don't want to touch. I dip the spoon in the soup, fish out a couple of white beans, and, like I was sipping hemlock from a chalice, take a deep breath and raise the liquid to my lips.

I'm already up Shit's creek, so why not go for a swim?

I eat all the soup, all the bread (in the vain hope that the bread will absorb some of the intestinal detritus) and sit back, ready for my bowels to explode at a moment's notice. Tarik seems pleased. Stall worker seems pleased-- but I'm not sure if he was looking at me. I let out a pathetic "Lamakla baneena!" ("The food is delicious!"). Lazy Eye gives me a puzzled stare. I, in desperation, repeat my butchered Arabic "lamakla baneena!". LE sort of smiles, probably not understanding a single word I just said. Breaking the tension, Tarik puts a glass in front of me. It contains a purple liquid and judging by the viscosity and little bubbles of agitation around the perimeter of the glass, it is probably a juice of some sort. Tarik doesn't know what it is either. He just tells me "it is good".

And it was.

And I never had an ounce of diarrhea. A not-so-small victory.

Monday, September 7, 2009

America Always Wins!

Global recession?

Bull shit.

Despite the collapse of the financial markets, American arms sales increased this past year to 38 billion dollars. Not only do we spread freedom, but we also spread the freedom to kill your neighbor.

Andrew Undershaft is smiling.

And take a look at who our best customers are:
United Arab Emirates
Saudi Arabia
South Korea

With the exception of Morocco and Brazil, we're talking about some of the hottest hot spots of international conflict.

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

Dream Job

If I don't become a history professor, or a foreign policy analyst, or an actor, or a bum, I think my dream job would be "biological bad ass," and by that I mean a discoverer of new species. Check out this article:

How cool is that! There is still stuff out there that nobody has ever seen. My god, if I could travel the world, ducking into dank dark caves, cataloguing inconceivable crevices, and discovering creatures never before discovered-- I'd probably be a huge hit with the ladies.

Sexy Momma: "Oh hi, this is my boyfriend Tom. He's works in public relations for a magazine. Isn't that interesting?"
Enter Matthew R. Reed, sporting sun baked skin, a rumpled khaki safari shirt and olive trousers with worn knees. He removes his tarnished fedora with his right hand and calmly wipes perspiration from his brow with his forearm.
Matt: "Public relations? That is very interesting. I discover shit."
Sexy Momma: "You haven't explored every crevice."

That would be my go-to pickup line.

But in reality, I don't think I have the chops for the job. I mean, imagine shuffling through some mosquito infested bog, picking leeches off your inner thigh, only to have that huge fucking rat run across your feet. Oh lord, I would scream bloody murder and probably let out a little fart (I was excited, sue me), and most likely kill the creature by mistake. That wouldn't go over so well with the boss.
"Well, Reed over here finally saw this rodent we've been tracking for six months, but when it ran through his legs he got scared and beat the crap out of it with a shovel."

A boy can dream.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Manly Soap

I like soap. Not the fancy Williams Sonoma stuff. Just soap. The simpler, the better. Give me a white bar of Ivory without moisturizers, and I am all giggles and wiggles.

One of my dreams is to grab an obscenely large knife and cut a swath out of an Irish Spring bar, like the guy used to do on the commercial.

I would smell that cross-section with all the nasal power I could muster. Divine.

It's Not an Alligator!

I think I am going to make a habit of recording dreams that I remember in this blog. Here is mine from last night. All interpretations and mockeries are welcome.

I can't remember too many of the details, except that the focus of the dream was my pet. My pet was that animal that looks like an alligator, but it's not. It's smaller and has a more rounded snout, and I distinctly remembering that in my dream, I made the distinction quite clearly and was frustrated when people called it an alligator (I'm even a pompous prick in my dreams).

Anyway, this animal who's scientific name I forget lived in a fish tank in the living room. It was the old living room in my parents' house on Long Island, before it was renovated. There was never fish tank in that room, to my knowledge. So, this animal lives in a giant fish tank. Got the mental image? It's sort of yellowish with smooth skin, and at this point about a foot long. The pet; not the fish tank. However, one day, some person (I don't remember who) pissed the animal off (I remember that they were standing on it. Yep, they were knee deep in a fish tank, standing atop the evolutionary cousin of the Nile crocodile. Not exactly a Jack Hannah of All Trades) and it kept escaping from its fish tank. Dammit. Now there's a giant alligator-relative on the loose in my parents' living room. Thanks, person I don't remember. Mom's gonna be thrilled.

Now, having patiently and studiously observed the late Steve Irwin in action, I knew that if I could get on the alligator-evolutionary-cousin's back and wrap my hands around its snout, it would be incapable of claiming my forearm as its own. (Animal Fact: It can clamp its jaws with force, but has minimal strength in opening its jaws. In my dream, I remembered this fact, apparently.)

I accomplish this feat with surprising dexterity and subdue the marauding beast. Suddenly, as if on cue, a gaggle of well endowed hot chicks in microscopic bikinis pop out from behind the ottoman and we all impulsively start grinding to a thumping Latin beat, rubbing hormone soaked bodies in slow motion with disco lights flashing a staccato rhythm, allowing, through the darkness, only the briefest exchanges of seductive glances.

Actually, no. Not at all. Sorry. Not even my dreams are that creative. Apparently I much prefer to dream of domesticating biologically diverse fauna rather than cavorting with sexy ladies in skimpy clothes. No further comment.

At this point there's a gap of remembrance. I don't quite know why, but eventually the faux-alligator gets to be about six feet long-- and we become the best of friends. I specifically remember a sense of camaraderie emerging between us. No- I don't start grinding with the reptile while listening to Tito Puente. That's just uncivilized. Suffice to say, at its present size, the beast no longer fit in the fish tank. However, in a phantasmagorical Deus Ex Machina, somebody suggests sending it off to Connecticut. Why send my gator pal to CT? You got me. It's a friggin dream. And that's where the dream ended.

Have a field day with that one.

Who Is Reading This Blog?

I'm not about to toot my own horn, but check out this NY Times article that ran today:

And I call your attention to the crux of the argument:
"Under the strategy described by General McChrystal and other commanders in recent weeks, the overriding goal of American and NATO forces would not be so much to kill Taliban insurgents as to make ordinary Afghans feel secure, and thus isolate the insurgents. That means using force less and focusing on economic development and good governance. "


Yeah. I just parroted four years of real experts' advice to the White House. But it still feels good.
Humbly prostrated,

Monday, August 31, 2009

Debt Free!

I hate economics. I have no original ideas concerning anything related to domestic politics.

But try this one: My idea to decrease the national debt is to eliminate tax returns.

In my world, when I lose 20-30% of my paycheck to "taxes", it's gone. Like, I never see it again. Gone. And, I am happy to do it. That money builds schools, paves roads, pays cops, and helps supply Afghan druglords. I smile.

I don't know about you, but I'd gladly never get a tax return. I'm sure I'm not alone when I admit, I totally don't look forward to or even come close to remembering that time of year when I get my check from the government. It's an afterthought. "Oh hey, money from the government? How convenient! First round is on me."

Mr. Obama. Keep it. You can do better things with tax returns instead of funding my liver's demise.

An Admission

I always wished that I had a nickname. In all honesty, I never really had one. Sure, "Matty" is not my actual name. It's a nickname. But it's too easy. A drunk gibbon with a broken typewriter could have thought of that one. And most people don't even call me that anymore (it's a Trinity thing). No-- I wanted a title. Something to be proud of. Something that resonated with the masses. Something that said "here's a guy with a reputation." Whatever that means.

Honestly, I always wanted to be called "Skip". Or maybe "Govner" or its Anglicized form, "Guvna". Possibly "Cap'n". I'd settle for "Buck". And here's the thing: I know three different people who were called Skip, Cap'n, and Buck, respectively ("Guvner" would be pushing the envelope). I envied them immensely.

It is a universal maxim that people do not create their own nicknames. But dammit, why was I passed over! What did I do or not do to earn such nomenclatural scorn?

I think my desire for a nickname feeds my ridiculous fantasies of grandeur. For example, the image I have of myself as a pseudo-fictious Bobby Kennedy, complete with horn rim glasses and a raging temper, shouting at Cuban ambassadors in nongrammatical Spanish. I want to shout at Cuban ministers. And when I did, they better refer to me as "Senator". It would make me the happiest boy in the world.
And Dick Cheney needs to shut the fuck up.

A Difficult Decision

Public support for the Afghan war is apparently slipping. The previous months have seen the highest fatalities of the entire occupation (44 killed in July), and according to the Washington Post, 51 percent of people polled said the war was not worth fighting.

Now, I am about to defend the continuation of a war?

I never (never) thought I'd say this, but-- yes.

I cannot imagine a more selfish and morally bankrupt response to a resurgent Taliban than to pull out from the country completely and leave a shattered nation to be re-controlled by a radical and repressive "regime". Maybe a quick timeline will put it into perspective:

1980's: Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. US funnels money and guns to Mujaheddin through the Pakistanis to fight a proxy war. Soviets eventually withdraw.
1990's: Warlords run the country. No central government of note.
1994: Taliban movement born from a disgust of warlords and lawlessness. Quickly gains popularity.
2001: 9/11.
2000's: US invades Afghanistan because Taliban shelter Osama bin Laden. US topples Taliban regime quickly and effectively with the help and support of local warlords (also known as "the Northern Alliance"). Taliban flee to Pakistan and mountainous border area (with the help of Pakistani intelligence-- but that's a whole other story). US also supports Hamid Karzai, Pashtun leader, and new government. Government never able to provide needed security due to debt and little income and corruption (and a US distracted with Iraq war).
2008-9: Taliban reemerging, again, in a lawless time. Who knows what will happen...

If we left Afghanistan on its own, the Taliban will take over the country-again- foster militant Islam- again- institute repressive measures against women- again- and harbor and protect Al Qaeda- again (if they are willing to leave cushy Pakistan).

You've heard it before, and I totally believe it: If you break it, you buy it. Or here, if you invade and destroy an already destroyed nation, it is your duty as a civilized nation to help the shattered nation rebuild. We cannot just leave. We need to stay. We need to help the Afghans create a viable nation with the ability to sustain a vibrant and multi-ethnic population. It is important to remember: these are real people trying to support their families. This is not just a region on a map. There are people there. And they don't have a choice to get up and move or get up and "get a job". They need help. They need help that is beyond the capabilities of the current government. They need our help. And since we went there and bombed their villages (not on purpose, of course, but there were so many civilians killed in pursuit of the Taliban and Al Qaeda that it is worth noting), it is our duty to stay-- and to help.

So perhaps more soldiers isn't the solution. The solution, in my opinion, is more engineers. Stop the Taliban not by killing individual members. Stop them by building a happy populace. Stop them by building schools and roads. Because, the moment that a Taliban cell destroys a newly built school for girls, they will be vilified by the population, and then the American's won't have to kick the Taliban out. The Afghans will gladly do it.