Friday, May 14, 2004

New pieces 

For the books 

Amid the busiest day I've experienced in some time, a revelation: the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is a poster child milquetoast university whose poor administration and endlessly moronic leadership will perpetually doom it to academic mediocrity and financial langour.

I despised the university as an undergraduate, but I always thought that was simply a product of living within academia in a school with airs of being a big, successful business. Now I work in the university's administrative wing, and I can see clearly the ways in which I was wrong in my judgement; the university isn't blindly parading itself around as a big business, it is actively ignoring the needs of the student body to promote the growth of a campus-bound beauracracy. Ask our new provost, and he will most certainly agree. I get a distinct impression when listening to him speak that anything outside of the business and technology sector amounts to arcana. He'd shudder if you told him you wished to study classics. He loves sports, sports arenas, sports parking, sports facilities, sports fees to be paid by every student per credit hour. In counterpoint, the admissions department is so inept and poorly-staffed that paying $15 for an expedited transcript is no guarantee of its being mailed (as I am learning today, fully a month after I paid said fee... oops! ha ha ha! sorry for that $80 late materials fee!)

Farewell, academics in Little Rock. Hello University Office of Infinite Purchase.


Wednesday, May 12, 2004


This afternon under the influence of a rainy influx of cool air and diffuse light, I lied my way out of post-work obligations so that I could come home and nap under my bedroom window's soft infusion of temperate humidity and draughts of neighborhood chatter. As I lay quielty, my mind wandered in its usual terrible ways, uncontrollably keeping me awake with speculation and fear and the hope that froths between the two. I wished for one of those Nepalese tonal bowls that I'd played at Allison's the night before. I'd heard them in audio recordings before, but in person the sound was electrifying, focusing. Holding the device while playing it amplified the serenity of the sound, overtones wobbling in and out of phase as my hand increased or decreased its speed and pressure against the rim of the bowl. I thought of that tone as I nodded away.


I dare you, George W. Bush et al, to accuse this family of being un-American in their criticisms:

[Nicholas] Berg's brother David on Wednesday told reporters outside his family's house that the U.S. position is false. He said the family received e-mails from Berg after his release in which he made clear he had been held by U.S. forces.

In an interview with Boston radio station WBUR on Tuesday, Berg's father, Michael, said: "I still hold (Rumsfeld) responsible because if they had let him ago after a more reasonable amount of time or if they had given him access to lawyers we could have gotten him out of there before the hostilities escalated.

"That's really what cost my son his life was the fact that the U.S. government saw fit to keep him in custody for 13 days without any of his due process or civil rights and released him when they were good and ready."

The interviewer asked, "Do you really blame Donald Rumsfeld for your son's death? And will you do anything in addition to that lawsuit you had filed?"

Michael Berg responded, "It goes further then Donald Rumsfeld. It's the whole Patriot Act, it's the whole feeling of this country that rights don't matter anymore because there are terrorists about.

"Well, in my opinion 'terrorist' is just another word like 'communist' or 'witch' and it's a witch hunt, and this whole administration is just representing something that is not America, not the America I grew up in."

"It's images that turn the public against a war..." 

I persuaded myself yesterday to view the videotaped decapitation of 26 year old freelance contractor Nicholas Berg. This is the material we've incited, I thought, this is a product of the presence and action of my country in a region seething with some very determined, very upset theists who feel that god blesses the extermination of the faithless. I owe it to myself to be an objective consumer of this (and other) materials that proliferate out of conflicts in which I am involved through the chain of responsibility inherent in republicanism. So I watched it.

Holy shit. Holy fucking shit.

I felt my puke reflex rumbling with disgust, not because of the gore, not because of the shrieking that becomes a mewling gurgle as the throat is torn apart, but in response to the reality of it, the reality of a videotaped slaughter dispersed with an included prologue directed toward the viewer. It certainly calls one's role to attention in an event that otherwise would be considered a wholly third party criminal act--this is us, we're a part of this, we elect our own representatives, and this is a byproduct.

I feel such empathy for this kid, I feel so bad for him, so terrified watching him struggling

I watch the gang of captors during the spectacle, I hear them chanting "Allah akbar" and I want to spit in their faces venom for their blasphemy, their prideful arrogance in thinking that a supreme being would condone what they captured on film, the use of a body for a political agenda under the name of god. "Decapitation" implies efficiency, grace, speed, cleanliness; this wasn't decapitation, this was homicide, malice, murder, premeditation, sin, fright.

I wonder what permutations exists with the roles reversed, with Americans in the role of brutal agressor.

Everyone must see this video. You owe it to yourself to be honest, to accept what is happening, to peel your face away from censored media and face the brutality of the lifestyle we are living. If for no other reason, watch this to know how affected you feel when made vulnerable, to know what a fucking horror it is and to devote oneself to ensuring that this never happens with our blessings. You owe it to the dead Nicholas Berg to watch him die.


Monday, May 10, 2004

Peace Corps 

People have the capacity to be unbearably poetic, fascinatingly observational creatures. In my never-ending quest to make a decision on the Peace Corps issue, I spend a lot of time thumbing through photographs and texts left as resources by returned volunteers. On days when I read material like this, I resoundingly announce my enthusiastic intentions to enter the service:

"As soon as I walk in I notice my packed bag sitting in the kitchen, waiting for tomorrow's departure. I can't sleep so I go to the roof to look over sleeping Ranighat. I can't look in any direction without recounting encounters with people, street food, places I've been, places I haven't, the houses of kids I knew. They will never see me again and soon I won't remember many of them... This may or may not have happened. I may not see the clocktower and think, "This is a last." I may not notice the Bollywood movie posters that used to catch my eye. This part of my life is over (or rather, ending soon) and I will never live again in this city full of contradictions — and that makes me sad. Very. But a new chapter in my life is opening. And I am turning the page, anxious for a new beginning."
--Scott Allan Wallick

Wallick entered the Peace Corps shortly before I graduated from college in 2002 and has now completed his service. I've essentially done nothing over that same period, albeit a positive, refreshing nothing, but the comparison certianly draws out a dramatic reference for what one can do in just a couple of brief years.


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