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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Severing ties

My latest column is out. It is also my last column. After more than six years of writing for the fine people at Internet Broadcasting I have finally decided to pack it in.

I have to say that I am genuinely sad about it and questioning the wisdom of the decision. I want to be a writer, but now I've abandoned a platform that had the potential to deliver an audience in almost every corner of the United States. On the face of it, I've pulled one of the most boneheaded moves in my long and tragic history of boneheaded moves. And it's entirely possible, in the next month or so, that I will wake up at 3 a.m. screaming and punching myself with the realisation of my irreparable stupidity.

But, as the Welsh are so fond of saying, there you are.

Ending the column feels like severing my last tie to America. I still have friends and family, but those are things that transcend. My mother-in-law struggles to fully comprehend that fact, but family, friends, these loves that we carry in their various forms, are nationless. Eric, for example, is American because that's where he lives. He likes where he lives but if he were to change nationality the intrinsic thing that makes him my friend wouldn't change.

Often, when I say that I am homesick, I am mixing my words. I am not sick for "home" but for those people and things that are in that place I once called home. I don't miss America but the people and things that are in America. A hungry person does not long for a refrigerator but the things contained within.

The column, however, was, in my mind, American. It was supposed to be geared toward an American, "family" audience and I would adjust my words and spelling accordingly. It was accessible everywhere, but philosophically very much in America.

I'm not explaining this very well. In part because I'm weary, and in part because I question the need to deconstruct my nebulous emotion toward a column that no one was reading. It's like those people who write treatises about why they blog. Who fucking cares? Don't analyse, do. I suppose, though, if you are analysing on your blog your reason for blogging, you are indeed blogging.

But I'm digressing. Considerably. Point is, that column felt like some kind of yarn tied to my finger and stretched across the Atlantic to help me remember what it's like to think and feel like an American. Or, perhaps, to give me legitimacy in claiming to know those things. What American living abroad is actually qualified to pontificate on that mysterious non-entity that is the average American? We are quite clearly not average -- we have passports, we've chosen to leave the country (but I'll still be on Radio Cymru next Wednesday to chat about the election results).

So, I took a wee pair of scissors and snipped that thread.

It was probably bad timing; I have been suffering devastating homesickness this week. See above for an explanation of what I mean by homesickness. Friends, family, smells, foods, places. Not mindsets or procedures or modes. Here is where I want to be. This is my home, so I can't claim to be homesick.

But at the same time, I feel somewhat disconnected from this place. In severing my final American tie -- in part to be able to dedicate whatever time I would have spent on that column instead on Welsh-medium writing -- I found myself questioning the dividend. In slowly shaking off my Americaness over the past two and a half years, what have I gained? My mother will answer this by listing achievements: "You're this close to getting a university degree, you are soon to be publishing a book, and so on. What the hell is wrong with you? The things gained are impossible to miss."

She will be right, of course. But there is still that melancholy of a thing lost. Even when it's something you wanted to get rid of.

Dummy heads

I think this is mildly interesting:

There is talk that credit cards could be next in terms of economic doom. Although the overall effect is expected to be less severe than with the mortgage crisis, there is a possibility that at least a few credit card companies could go belly up.

Meanwhile, I noticed this week that Discover has increased my limit by $2,000 (i.e., they are willing to let me spend more money with their card). They did this for a person who has twice been late on payments in the last year and who has not had a job in two and a half years. Some part of me wants to stop paying my credit card bills just to hasten their demise. Evil stupid fuckers.

(Note: In fairness, most likely they extended my limit in an attempt to get me to use the card. Discover is not accepted anywhere in Britain or Ireland, so I haven't used the card since July 2006)

Friday, October 24, 2008

Anti-bling

The Welsh-language hip-hop scene could fit comfortably in a Chrysler Town & Country; everything that hip-hop has come to be it is not. And despite that, or perhaps because of it, there is something beautiful-appealing about the lonely state of this music form yn y Gymraeg.

Here (skip ahead to about 1:40 in the video) you have Y Diwygiad -- two guys who wouldn't look out of place at the Fargo Applebee's performing for whatever audience that may happen to exist in the Harry Potter space (i.e., under the stairs) between the gift shop and the toilets of the Millennium Centre in Cardiff. In terms of artform purity this is hard to beat; they're not doing it for the money. You've got to respect that.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lo siento

"Black Rain" by Ben Harper

I apologise that I have become more and more brazen in breaking my loosely-adhered-to rule of remaining apolitical -- the latest evidence being the Barack Obama badge over there on the right.

If you are one of those people who occasionally stumbles upon my posts several months after the fact -- reading this subsequent to the 2008 election -- you'll see that I have since removed the badge, so here it is in the body of the post just for you:

There is something about a presidential election that causes my behaviour to become more and more erratic. I fail to heed the advice of Public Enemy and I believe the hype. I start to think that this really may be our last chance (a) and I get sick in worrying that we'll blow it.

Since the beginning, the rhetoric of the Obama movement has been to give voice to those who have been ignored or unheard over the past several decades. But an honest person would have to admit that sometimes people are unheard because they've given politicians little reason to listen. Ideologically, a politician should be representing the common views of his or her constituency, but practically and in terms of job protection it makes more sense to represent the common views of those people who can be arsed to show up on election day.

A handful of this blog's readers may remember the time that Paul Wellstone came to my high school and pointed out that the visit was politically a waste of time because people our age were so unlikely to vote (b). There is little to no incentive in fighting for people who won't stand behind you.

And so I worry about a variation of the Bradley Effect rearing its ugly head -- a slacker effect. It strikes me that a number of these unheard voices are the voices of those people who are perpetually telling themselves and others that they're just trying to get their shit together. You know, the relatively intelligent cook at Denny's who is a nice enough bloke but who will never leave his mother's basement. He talks a good game, purports to have dreams and aspirations but is unlikely to put any of them into action.

"Will he really show up on 4 November?" I think. "Is he actually even registered to vote?"

I get so wrapped up in this and the potential negative consequences that I lose perspective. I can't see the funny side. I can only imagine endless The End Of America As We Know It scenarios. It makes me feel sick and empty and frustrated and helpless. I feel cornered. I feel trapped.

At least I'm not the only one feeling this way.

The Karl Rove strategy is to simply accept that there is an insufferable throng of whining idiots who are too lazy to go to a specific building on a specific day and punch a specific hole in a specific piece of paper. So, the way to win an election is to pull harder into the party base and hope that you've got more numbers than the other guys -- let the people in the middle flounder in their laziness and indecision. McCain-Palin appears to have taken on this strategy, doing its best to paint Obama as whatever awful thing they can think of that will send the base into fits. This week they're going for socialist.

But then they see Obama raising enough campaign money to stabilize Iceland's economy, and 100,000 people turning up at a rally, and their own No. 2 incapable of doing anything but nodding her head and they think: "Shit."

Cornered and panicked they are allowing themselves to go batshit crazy, like Michelle Bachmann McCarthy Overdrive (c) calling for investigation of people with "anti-American views," or a certain family member who will remain nameless asking why I and the child bride had bothered to vote when we so clearly "hate America."

The peaceful transition of power seems to expose how fragile that peace is. We're all going a bit nuts, regardless of what pockets we're from.

I am trying to ease away from constantly paying attention to all this. But, having today agreed to be on Welsh radio the morning after the election, I can't make any promises. It's on my mind. I find it difficult to blog about anything else. I'm sorry.

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(a) If America is great, one of the things that makes it so is the scarcity of last chances.

(b) Wellstone was unique in his desire to represent even those who ignored or opposed him.

(c) Is a BTO reference too obscure for anyone who didn't grow up with KQRS?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I can haz cheap emotional manipulation?

Shameless kitten

This is the envelope from a piece of junk mail that arrived today from the RSPCA. It is so woefully shameless that it's almost brilliant satire. Look at the kitty with it's lil bwoken weg. Ahhh. What cruel, heartless bastard would deny wee Mr. Snuggums here?

This guy.

You are whores, RSPCA.

No doubt their next campaign will involve direct insult and threat: "Look at this sad little cat you self-important prick; it will die if you don't give us money. Pay up or we'll use the might of our publicity machine to tell the world how shit you are in bed. You will die penniless, alone and despised if you don't write a cheque right now, and your soul will burn forever in the unforgiving fires of hell."

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Cardiff go boom

It's that time of year again: the leaves are changing, the sunsets fall earlier, and the chill of autumn evenings are punctuated with explosions. Soon Britons will be setting fire to a Catholic bloke.

Well, not exactly.

Depending on how hot the girls were in your school, you may or may not have been paying attention on the day they mentioned Guy Fawkes. He was the chap who, more than 400 years ago, plotted to blow up Britain's Houses of Parliament with the king and most of the Protestant aristocracy inside.

He failed, of course. But for his trouble he was tortured for several days, hanged and then cut into pieces. Afterward, it would appear that someone, somewhere, said to themselves: "You know, that was jolly good fun. But what with all the torturing and hanging and cutting into bits, I can't help but wish that we had also set him on fire."

So, an effigy of Fawkes was made and promptly set alight. With no quality television like "Strictly Come Dancing" to distract anyone, this torching of a fake person turned out to be a delightfully good time. So much so that the British decided to keep at it for hundreds of years, burning Guy Fawkes anew every 5 November.

For those of you playing at home, a tradition of this time of year is for children to wander about town with their Fawkes effigies in tow, encouraging people to give them a "penny for the guy." Although, this has died out considerably in recent years. People aren't quite as comfortable as they once were in encouraging children to burn traitors. And, I think, the children are somewhat lazier than they used to be.

When I lived in Portsmouth, in the late 1990s, the tradition was already on its way out. I once passed a boy on the street who was sitting next to his effigy in the city centre and asking all passersby for change. But on closer inspection I discovered that his "guy" was, in fact, just his friend sitting really, really still. I gave them 10p for the sake of their entrepreneurial cheek.

These days, people tend to skip the bit about doing nasty things to fellas from the 1600s and celebrate in one of two ways: 1) simply set yourself aflame whilst pouring litres and litres of petrol on a pile of soggy detritus in typical British weather; or 2) lose a hand to a stockpile of fireworks that make the Beijing Olympics look like an also-ran.

Here in Wales we tend to choose option No. 2. In the Welsh language the celebration is most commonly referred to as Noson Tân Gwyllt, or "Fireworks Night." But it would be more accurate to describe it as "Fireworks Season." The fireworks started last week and will continue almost nightly until February -- with the post-Fireworks Night fireworks falling into the pre-New Years fireworks window.

On the actual night, my neighbourhood will become reminiscent of those CNN warzone news reports -- all British accents and explosions -- and there will be no sleep. The wealthy Indian family that live on the other side of the tracks behind my house will play Bhangra music at 6 million decibels and set off a sustained 50-minute pyrotechnics display, as they do every time there is anything worth celebrating.

In the United States, the tiny distance between my house and theirs would be our backyards. But here, there are three homes in that space. And on the night, each of those houses will be setting off fireworks as well. At the end of the evening we'll all meet each other in the local hospital's emergency room.

Strangely, I can't wait.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Absentee ballot

video

I was thinking yesterday about how much I wish Michelle Obama would just go off on Sarah Palin. I like to imagine that when she is in interviews she is using every bit of her strength to keep herself from unleashing a verbal firestorm against the folksy cheerleader that calls her husband a terrorist.

I'm going to stray into ridiculous stereotype territory here but the three most frightening words in my world are: angry black woman. Verbal devastation is the black woman's superpower. Somewhere deep in Michelle Obama's soul is the ability to unleash a storm of words that would lay cities to waste.

In Welsh mythology, the cry of the red dragon is so overwhelming that it forces women to miscarry and causes the crops to fail. That's what I envision a Michelle Obama tirade to be like. I picture a group of men delivering a box to a podium and then running away in fear as Michelle comes tearing out like the Tasmanian Devil in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

Unfortunately Michelle Obama is too good for that. As Annie says, she's reasonable. And has apparently learned to control her powers to such an extent that she claimed on Daily Show she watches reruns of the Dick VanDyke show.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The post in which Chris talks about politics and falls into a spiralling panic

All U Can Eat - Ben Folds

The other day I was talking to Rachel about a girl we both know who is, for all intents and purposes, a self-serving, out of touch, ignorant, morally ambiguous bitch. But see, she's pretty. And I have this terrible habit of wanting to be an apologist for pretty girls' unacceptable behaviour because, you know, they're pretty.

So I stumbled upon something that I referred to as pretty girl syndrome, which is the wavering internal compass that guides this particular pretty girl, as well as several others I know. For those pretty girls reading, I'm not saying that every pretty girl is like this, just that it is a behaviour endemic of your kind (a).

As a pretty girl said female has spent her life encountering (and gravitating toward) weak-willed souls such as myself who can't build up the testicular fortitude to break down her fucked up little world view. So, she has learned that necessary and primary to every action, decision, viewpoint, etc. is that which she wants.

There's a difference between selfishness and want in this case; a sufferer of PGS can be wholly altruistic. But rather than being driven by a strong sense of what is right and wrong, or what have you, her motivation for altruism is that she wants to do it.

For example, a few weeks ago I was running through Bute Park and I saw a guy who was slumped over by a tree. My assumption was that he was your average park-dwelling drunkard but something about the way he was positioned made me concerned. So I stopped and walked over to ask if he was OK.

The whole time I was walking toward him, I was thinking about how I would prefer to just leave him there. If he was just some drunk guy, I didn't give a damn about him, and I should just carry on jogging because he's probably got a knife and will attack me as soon as I get close and so on and so on and I REALLY did not want to be dealing with this bloke. Not at all.

But my father somehow managed to instil in me a basic respect for people. So, cautiously I approached our man in a heap:

"Hey, mate, you alright?"
"Mmmgfhgh?"
"I said are you alright? Are you OK?"
"Uhmff. Yeah. Fine. Got any change, mate?"

And off I went about my run. The point is, no matter how desperately I wanted to walk away I couldn't let myself because somewhere deep in my sad twisted soul is the belief-hope that people are good and that we should be decent to each other. And that overruled what I wanted to do.

But for a PGS sufferer, want is most important, and no decision can be made without it. Want is the foundation for all thought, action and deed. To this effect, no action, thought or deed needs serious vindication. Want is the only reason; it is the best reason.

And so we arrive at Sarah Palin. Woman is fucked in the head, yo.

And that wouldn't bother me but for the fact that she is representative of a great mass of people who think exactly like her. The modern "conservative" (b) movement has become little more than a horde of snarling monkeys whose alleged moral foundation is the fun-house moving floor that is want. In the immortal words of Karl Rove: "We create our own reality." (c)

The only reality is that of want.

McCain-Palin want to run the United States. With their want established, there is no other necessary vindication. So they can -- with free conscience -- lie, slander, and mislead for the sake of achieving this aim. In their mind they aren't doing anything wrong because they are working toward their stated want. And what has me waking up at night feeling sick is the reality that there are so many millions of people buying it wholesale; watching this all straight-facedly and with the inability to see that it's just a really bad Disney movie.

Actually, it's worse than a Disney movie. Because in a Disney movie Obama's adorable children would somehow dupe Sarah Palin into a character-exposing tirade in the middle of a stump speech. Like Homer Stokes in " O Brother, Where Art Thou?" she would expose herself to be a right-wing racist wingnut and everyone would boo and throw rotten vegetables.

But what would really happen in that scenario is that her faithful throng would cheer wildly and call for the murder of Barack Obama.

The pretty girl calls Obama a terrorist, pisses on the concept of rational thought, lies, misleads, and encourages the ugliest sides of the American mindset... and we just sit and watch.

This. Shit. Is. Fucked.

The child bride and I will be sending our absentee ballots in the post on Wednesday, in good time for November's election. Here's hoping they achieve something.

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(a) And because I am so weak in the face of beauty I will even back away further and state that this is a behaviour exhibited in all facets of person; but I have only noticed it in pretty girls because they are the only thing I pay attention to. Because I'm a sexist. And Europhile scum. And a terrorist.

(b) I'm too lazy to go into this, but modern conservatives are in no way conservative.

(c) To be fair, that quote has never been fully pinned to Rove but to an unnamed person in the Bush administration who is generally believed to have been Rove. The full scary quote, by the way, is: " We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."