Nov 29, 2008

'Sometimes they call me 'Ugly Man''

A big man in a Santa suit, he rode his little-bitty bike down to Wal-Mart.

Warren Brewer is 69 and he has a big, scraggly white beard. He owns two "Santy Claus" suits, one he "just growed out of," and one he "just growed into."

He had the new one on, that day, and he was going, he said, "to have all the babies seeing Santy Claus." So he took out the tiny bike he calls "Rudolph," and he peddled down Valley Hill Road to the Riverdale Wal-Mart. He rode down the hill on that little tiny bike, and then he came up a rise. Being so big, on such a small bike, he pulled on the handles and flipped over backwards, and landed on his rear.

There were a crowd of children there, and all of them laughed.

"I got up and said, 'That was a pretty good trick, wasn't it!'" Warren recalled. "I wanted to cry, 'cause it hurt, but you don't have to tell anybody that. I jumped up and said, 'That was a pretty good trick, wasn't it!'"

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily: The Santy Claus of Eunice Drive
Using a false name

Lester, he used to say, when he was in a confessing mood, he would say, “The only thing I ever did was fight with the cops.”

Lester was a grunt. He was proud of that. If you asked him, and sometimes even if you didn’t, he would tell you, he was just a grunt. He would tell you, no one listened to him and he had nothing to do with how fucked up everything was.

He used to smoke with the cigarette cupped in his hand, so if the boss rolled by where we were standing, he wouldn’t see Lester's smoke. Lester wasn’t supposed to smoke during jobs. But he did, because he was a grunt and he prized his little acts of defiance. He was actually the foreman, but still, that's what he'd do. He had this stringy hair, greasy down around his ears. He was missing teeth, from fights, and he had a long list of criminal conviction, all of which he characterized as misunderstandings. All except the one he admitted to.

"I did fight with the cops," Lester would say.

I’d ask him, “What about the other stuff? Driving drunk? Disturbing the peace? Using a false name?”

And he’d say, “Fucking authorities man.”

One of the characters invading Iraq in Generation Kill, suggests shooting an officer. It’s meant literally, a little bit, but pitched as an unfunny joke about how impossibly fucked up everything is. It’s meant as an expression of an anger and impotence. It's perfect “grunt.” It reminded me of Lester, that helpless frustration at incompetent bosses.

Generation Kill tells the Iraq war experience of grunts. Which is how we always tell our war stories. This Iraq war movie is like the last one from the last war, Jarhead. It's like almost all the Vietnam war movies and all the “Greatest Generation” kitsch, the WWII movies and mini series specials and documentaries. It’s democratic. It’s populist. This is how we always see ourselves: We are grunts.

Sometimes, we will act like this is very visionary and brave, to tell the war through the people who fought it. But we always do that, and it allows us to avoid all the really problematic questions, like responsibility. We don't know how this all got started, because we're just the grunts. The world was this FUBAR before we got here and we’re doing what we can, but we’re not the bosses, we’re not the authorities and nothing is really our fault.

I don't know why we persist with this idea of ourselves, now that we're the world’s lone superpower. We keep telling that story, with us as the grunts, even though it's really ridiculous. We keep telling it, maybe because it allows us to deny responsibility. We’re like the burnt-out hippie who owns the Fotohut in That ’70s Show, somehow incapable of realizing we’re the boss. Ownership is sort of incomprehensible. We’d rather think of ourselves as stupid, than in charge, and we take offense at the implication we’re not grunts.

Tracy, he used to do that -- get mad at me for implying he was an authority. He would be reprimanding me, getting angrier and angrier as he thought about how I was an impertinent punk, and I would try to calm him down with a respectful, “Yes sir. Yes sir.” Then he's get so mad his chest would squeeze and he’d squeak, “Don’t ‘sir’ me, Daniel. I work for a living.”

Of course, he didn’t work for a living. He sat in his musky office sneaking cognac, letching after students, and thinking of new ways to casually mention he had once spent an afternoon with William F. Buckley.

But if you asked him, and sometimes even if you didn’t, Tracy would tell you he was a grunt.

What about the other stuff? The Latin and Greek, the opera-singing wife, the position at a private school? “Fucking so-called authorities, I would say.”

Even those of us who aren’t close to being grunts insist we are. It’s almost like a mass delusion, some sort of confusion that’s come to define us and now, if we lost it, we would lose our minds. Call it democracy as self-deception. It’s populism as perpetuated amnesia: I don’t know who I am, but I don’t remember having anything to do with fucking up the world. I’m just a grunt.

That was the genius of the Bourne trilogy, I think. It’s the only really successful depiction of this post-Cold War consciousness. Rather than repeating the pathology, Bourne captures it. He, like us, doesn’t remember how he got here, has blocked out the memory of what he has to do with it, and is increasingly angry to have been put in this situation. He, like us, only admits to fighting with the cops, fighting back. But even as he says it, he knows and we know it’s ridiculous. Then, of course, in the last scene he’s told that actually he asked for this. He volunteered. He’s a willing participant, and can’t hide behind these petulant antics.

No one’s fooled by our stupid self-descriptions, eventually not even us – We know this innocence is really pretty damn faux. We've been using a false name. We're not grunts. We're not innocent. Maybe we need more movies about generals, but we should figure out how to take responsibility.
Jumble and surprise

Renaissance of cute
World-saving puns
Interview w. Shephard Fairey
The pirates' pictures
Pirates, pirates, pirates. This jail is full of pirates. This whole city is pirates.
Anomalies in the sky = dark matter?
Robots are more ethical as soldiers
The vexing, Napoleon Dynamite problem
"a letter by itself is nothing... words/words that go bang/the most significant is to dare.''
Helvetica on the subway
Life w/ Roland Dahl
Zadie Smith: 'novels attempt to cut neural routes through the brain'
City of shards: Beirut by Elias Khoury
The problems with James Woods
Pictures of punks; '76 - '84, London
Life Magazine photos now on Google
Cotton map/election map
Torture and the problem of "statelessness."
Why are you honking?
Urban alienation is a (regressive) myth
Beat letters
Is sadness healthy, distinct from depression?
Gender specific children
An essay unwritten
Why mailmen hoard mail
Revisiting Johnny Cash's prison performances
Consequences of gay marriare
10 problems with evangelicals
Squares live longer
In a world without stories...
Shakespeare wrote for money
MetroCard alibi
Obama, Ayers & Gross
Germany short on Santas
In defense of Drudge design
Zizek is Evil
Household landscapes
The man and his car
Victimhood is more comfortable than power
Crime is a symbol of our freedom

Nov 26, 2008

A ritual, a record of all the rain
Rainfall average

The record is in the feed store, hanging on the back of a post, in back of the counter.

It's dark brown, like the color of thick gravy, and has been there for 69 years, grease-pencil boxes marking the months, across, and the years, down. It's hanging there, unobtrusive, a ritualistic record of all the rain that's fallen on this town.

Willis Swint, a quiet man with a white mustache twisted up into handlebars, keeps this record every day. Each morning, he measures the precipitation and he checks the temperature. He does it at the same time, at 8 a.m., exactly, every day, like it's always been done. He calls it in to the National Weather Service, as he's been doing since he graduated from college, and as his father did before him.

Then, as regular as a priest in prayer, he marks the data down on the chart on the back of the wooden post.

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily: Keeping the weather record

Nov 25, 2008

Ugly turkeys

As chicks, they're chirpy and innocent, fuzzy puffs, all wobbly-legged and wide-eyed. Baby turkeys are like little balls of cuteness, but they get ugly pretty quickly.

Adult turkeys, their heads and necks are hideously naked. Skin hangs from their faces in fleshy globs and a fat noodle of flab swings off their beaks, wrinkled and flaccid. In happy holiday drawings, the skin on a turkey's head is always red, but that's not right. It's pink, discolored, pale, and red in splotches, red like the color of a slapped baby.

Adults, they peck each other's feathers out, smell of musky feces and waddle grossly.

If you watch enough generations of these birds, watch as they grow, as they turn from innocent to repulsive, you get so you see how they were always ridiculously ugly. If you know turkeys, you get so that when you look at an egg, you're not deceived by the innocent symbolism of potential. You see the coat of crusted mud, caked with molted feathers.

Read the full column @ the Clayton News Daily: The terror of turkeys

Nov 24, 2008

Tom Gish, who pulished The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., weekly with the moto "It Screams," who fought corruption with 'watchdog' journalism, and has been called rural America's best journalist," died on Friday, at the age of 82.

May he rest in peace.

Nov 23, 2008

Wheel of future


I am leaving the Clayton News Daily on Dec. 12, exactly two and a half years after I started.

I really value the time I spent there, though I'm still having trouble thinking about it, expressing what it was, or explaining what it was like. I know that it's going to disturb me for a long time to come. At this point, the experience still feels really private and misunderstood, and I don't even really know how it matters.

The week after I leave the paper, I am moving to Germany, where my fiancee is working for the next four or five years. This is a challenge, for me, and there's some part me that has been panicing constantly, but I'm also really thrilled, to be doing this, and I know that I need this.

There's a lot I still don't know and it hasn't quite happened yet, but the wheel's been spun.

Nov 21, 2008

Things I didn't know
and was surprised to learn, this week:

1. More than 100 members of the IWW were convicted on charges of harming the war effort, during WWI. It's not clear they did anything more than oppose it.

2. Charles Darwin, curious about species migrations across oceans, spent some period of time floating stuff in salt water. He started with seeds -- flowering cabbages and stuff -- but before he was done he was floating dead dogs and birds in these vats of salt water he had all over his house.

3. Alger Hiss was targetted as a Communist by the Associated Farmers when he was at the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, because he was working on New Deal Policy, before any of the Whittaker Chambers stuff.

Nov 18, 2008

The Godoys can't think of it as a mistake.

It's too horrible, too awful, to have been an accident, when their 16-year-old son was shot in the head.

The Clayton County Police said it was unintentional, and Makonnen Sheran, a friend of Anthony Godoy's, wasn't charged with murder, but with involuntary manslaughter.

But Anthony's father and mother, Oscar and Bettie Godoy, can't accept that.

"He shot my son," said Oscar Godoy. "He executed my son -- he shot him in the head. If it's an accident, you're not going to point it into the head and shoot ...

"'Oh it was an accident,' that makes it like he had nothing to do with it. He shot my son."

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily:
Family struggles with son's death

Nov 15, 2008

Before that bullet

They used to be neighbors. They knew each other, had close friends in common, and were supposed to be going to the same party.

The two men, both young fathers from the northern end of Clayton County, were connected before the one, Jerome Burgess, drove the car used in the drive-by killing of the other, Dana Varner.

They were connected before that bullet.

Burgess, a 19-year-old, also known as "Oops," is accused of being an accomplice to the Oct. 26 shooting of Varner, a 16-year-old who was standing on a Riverdale sidewalk when he was shot down with an assault rifle fired from a moving vehicle.

According to police, Burgess is a gang member with "an abandoned and malignant heart."

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily:
Mother, sister, defend accused killer
Shameless joy

Kalani Frazier came dancing and singing onto the stage like a cymbal crash of exuberance.

Through the glittery curtain and into the spotlight, she came out with delicious decadence and flagrant, shameless joy.

This, Frazier told the audience, is "Cabaret."

Outside, there might be an economic crisis, but inside is "Cabaret." Outside, the world might be coming to an end, but inside, there's theater and dancing, almost-naked girls. Outside, there might be repression, depression, and recession, but inside, in "Cabaret," you can forget all that.

"Im Cabaret, au Cabaret, to Cabaret," sang Frazier, backed by a chorus of dancing girls in the opening musical number of the Clayton State Theater's presentation of "Cabaret."

Read the full story at the Clayton News Daily: Life is a 'Cabaret'

Nov 13, 2008

Fantistically horrid phrase from the humana lady:

There is telephonic counseling for the claims utilizer.

Nov 12, 2008

HAROLD

In the corner, a cockatoo was talking.

"Up! Up!" he said, which seemed like a weird preposition to repeat. A woman eating crackers said the bird can say other things. She said he can say, "I'm a pretty bird," but the cockatoo didn't cooperate, and called out, "Up! Up!"

The other birds chattered, squawked and screamed. The people milled about and muttered, examining the birds and their lists, at the avian auction on Saturday.

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily: Birds put up for bids at state auction

Nov 11, 2008

Veterans Day

BILLY
One more time

The Romo brothers ran into the store, according to the police investigation, and the one brother ran into the back and shot Samuel Richardson to death.There was a short struggle, a shot, and Richardson was dead.

The other brother stopped, up front, and stuck a gun in the face of Jarret Lockhart, threatening to hurt him if he didn't do what they wanted. Lockhart didn't try to stop the armed men. He didn't try to fight them. He just tried to get out of there.

"He tried to run from the business," Lt. Linda Lash wrote in her arrest warrant affidavit, "but he was shot twice in the back. He fell to the floor, and before both Hispanic males fled, they shot him one more time."

The final shot was directly into Lockhart's face. The bullet went through one cheek, Lash said, and out the other.

Witnesses told police they saw Lockhart crawl out of the store, covered in blood, collapse on the sidewalk and ask for help.

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily:
Motive still unknown in fish house shooting

Nov 8, 2008

Orval
ORVAL

KITSMILLER
Orval explains how pineapple handgernades explode

Orval Kitsmiller. O-R-V-A-L. V. Yeah. Kitsmiller: K-I-T-S-M-I-L-L-E-R.

I was with Patton's Army in North Africa from 42 to 45. I was with General Eisenhower in Korea, 50 to 53. I stayed out for about six months. There were no jobs or anything like that, and they told me I could maintain my rank of corporal, so I said I guessed I'd do that.

I don't know why. There just wasn't any to be had.

I got a job as an apprentice machinst at an ice cream plant, but that didn't go too well. Didn't work out. So when they told me I could maintain my rank, I went back into the Army and stayed 'til I retired.

I was in the CCC. You probably don't know what that is. FDR's CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps. It was for work for the depression. We were planting windbreaks in Kansas when the war started, and they said if you only had six months left, you could get out to join. So everybody was 'that's what I'm going to do, I'm going to join.' So they said, 'what about you Kits?' and I said I guessed I would too.

I went in as a tank driver. There was a surpluss of tank drivers in North Africa, though, so I drove the duece and a half. Like that one over there, did you see it? It was like that. I hauled ammo and supplies to Patton and his army.

Yeah we used to do that. In North Africa. I remember, we used to go fishing with hand gernades. You'd just throw them in. You had to get back though. They were the pineapple hand gernades, about like this, and the frags didn't care who they hit. They were frags, they didn't care. You had get back. That's what I would do.
Stripped away

In 33 minutes, the last of the lie was stripped away. Where once even his ex-wife and closest friend believed it, Douglas Yutaka Rhoades confessed to the lie in court, pleading guilty to impersonating an FBI agent.

Rhoades, a 42-year-old Jonesboro man, told those closest to him he was undercover with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, tasked to investigate cyber crimes, child pornography and rogue agents.

He had a metal badge with his photo on it, signed by bureau founder J. Edgar Hoover, and marked with a large, gold shield. He had a Glock handgun he put in the console of his minivan every day when he left for work. He had DVDs of child pornography, bags of candy and children's clothes -- all, he assured his family, part of the investigation.

He "did falsely assume and pretend to be an officer," according to the federal indictment, but the elaborate lie fell apart.

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily: 'His life was a lie'
Around + purging the political links

From the top
96 point type
Election symmetry
Russian aggression?
They got your number
8 greatst election movies
Is fiction inherantly capitalist?
There is no arc: the end of Opus
The end of the Black Mafia Family
'Jean-Claude Van Damme made me cry'
Limbaugh logic suffocating conservatism
Studs Terkel and the radical idea of the long memory
Does Libertariansim make sense anymore?
Studying the DNA of grizzly bears in Mont.
Nadar gets kicked even more to the margins
How campaigns are like megachurches
How Ted Stevens can vote for himself
Top satirical campaigns for president
The legacy of Luther in Wittenburg
Why won't Nader won't go away?
Please return missing quote marks
Is political activism cool again?
Hey boomers, we get it now
Why don't war heros win?
The great American mosey
Walter Benjamin forever
Lessons of Lou Dorfsman
Today I saw a child die
Just say no to robocalls
Writer and living novel
dumped (photographs)
Outlaw Bible Online
Andre Bazin 1 & 2
The study of ugly
Ugly future
Sy Hersch

Nov 6, 2008

things seen
THINGS SEEN: One of the Murder Trial Doodles
A way out through confession

In his interviews, the detective starts out by saying he "just needs the truth," and then he adds a sense of seriousness by telling the interviewees they're "flirting with a felony." The detective increases the pressure on interviewees, and then gives a little, offering a way out through confession.

When witnesses persist in saying they know nothing, Martin starts stating things he "already knows," even though some of those things he doesn't know, can't prove, or are simply lies designed to elicit the truth.

Hicks characterized the interviews as something like psychological coercion, and accused Martin of feeding his witnesses the pieces of the story he wanted, then threatening and bribing them to put the pieces together.

"You're telling him what you want to know, and he's giving it back to you," Hicks said.

Martin countered that his interviews cut through the falsehoods and the fears, getting witnesses to admit what really happened.

"He looked like a person who wanted to tell me something," Martin said of one key witness he interviewed. "He wanted to tell me, and every time, I had that feeling from him and something was blocking him, whether he was scared or he was involved ... He was wanting to tell me something ... I told him, if he gets arrested, he'd be sitting down in Reidsville penitentiary and he'd be wishing, down the road ... he'd be wishing he'd talked to me."

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily: Four said to connect juvenile to murder

Nov 5, 2008

In the breezeway of building M

Edward "Boo Man" Mills was shot in the back, according to the medical examiner.

The bullet hit him in the back, on his left side, and struck a rib. The bullet broke the rib, then hit his left lung, deflating it, and tore through his 17-year-old heart.

He died on the ground in the breezeway of building M, at Williamsburg South Apartments in Jonesboro.

When Mills was wheeled into the medical examiner's office at the Georgia Bureau of Investigation headquarters in Decatur, the dead teen had a hole in his back and an exit wound in the middle of his chest.

Read the full story @ the Clayton News Daily: Juvenile murder trial starts
The 44th President of the United States
photo by Callie Shell

"It’s the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America."

Nov 2, 2008

Humility in the art of the possible

There wasn’t more than a paragraph about Adlai Stevenson, in the little picture book of political history. But the picture did it. He was sitting there, Adlai Stevenson the presidential candidate, with a hole in the sole of his shoe. And I wanted to vote for him.

Stevenson and his liberalism were long gone, by the time I knew what politics was and was cramming American history at the public library. There was nothing about my Christian and Conservative understanding of the world, which would naturally draw me to Stevenson. There was no automatic affinity there, but I was moved.

It seemed to me that the photo showed someone who was optimistic, even idealistic, and yet aware of reality. The image showed someone who cared enough to wear a hole in his shoe, and yet someone knew what it was like to have that hole.

I was probably reading too much into the image, accepting too much of the stagecraft at face value. I remember it now not to say Adlai really was that way, but because it does capture what was and is important to me in politics. It’s important, to me, that my politics not be poisoned by either cynicism or ideology. I don’t want to disregard the way things really are, and I also don’t want to let limitations leave me paralyzed.

Which was really what I identified with in American Conservatism. As articulated by Kirk & Co., Conservatism carried a sort of central humility. It meant knowing who humans were, and not attempting to remake the whole world while disregarding social history. The response to a revolutionary move wasn’t, in this conception, to defend the status quo, preserve the power structure, or generally react, but, rather, to oppose the violence of make-overs, recognize the disguises of ideology, to be cautious and full of self-doubt.

There were two very concrete moments when I realized my conception of Conservatism was way out of snych, and the practice of Conservatism appalled me: 1) A young Republican leader aggressively opposed the idea that poor people should be helped, just not by government. He viewed the poor as lazy pariahs and “welfare queens.” 2) A College Republican argued that while proof of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction had not been offered, invasion in preemptive self-defense is right because we “trust the president.”

It seems to me that since the beginning of the Iraq war, “Conservatism” has been a very anchorless concept. Certainly, since Reagan, there’s been an elision in the idea, as the Conservatism we know is a composite. But at least since the Newt Gingrich era was replaced by the George W. Bush era, the character of Conservatism has been wildly adrift. What the idea means and how it can be measured has been redefined and redefined, though humility hasn’t been part of the conversation at all.

At one point, during the Republican primary debates of this year, the party pretty much said torture of suspected enemy combatants is a non-negotiable part of the idea of Conservatism. Sarah Palin described Conservatism as a refusal to "blink." Maybe the clearest moment, for me, was when McCain answered the question about evil. He said "defeat it," without offering any sense of Solzhenitsyn's caveat, that the line separating good from evil runs through human hearts. McCain, instead, fulfilled Kirk's definition of imprudence, "for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away."

Barack Obama's answer was different. I thought his answer, ridiculed as lilly-livered and weak, was marked by marked by maturity and humility, rather than hubris. He actually echoed the Solzhenitsyn statement, and displayed that awareness of failings, sense of caution, restraint, and deliberation.

"Now, the one thing that I think is very important is for to us have some humility in how we approach the issue of confronting evil, because a lot of evil’s been perpetrated based on the claim that we were trying to confront evil. In the name of good, and I think, you know, one thing that’s very important is having some humility in recognizing that just because we think that our intentions are good, doesn’t always mean that we’re going to be doing good."

In every unscripted sentence I have heard, Obama displayed this cautionary approach and his very careful thinking. His political practice has held this tenant of humility. I heard it ridiculed by the Conservatives who now own the Republican party, but I personally identify with the parsing, the hesitating, the careful consideration. That’s not a weakness, I don’t think, but a strength.

Joe Klein, the author of Primary Colors, points to this in a piece for Time Magazine. Obama, he writes, introduces a "quality to American politics that we haven't seen in quite some time: maturity."

"He seemed to be thinking in my presence, rather than just reciting talking points, and it took him some time to think through my question about gut decisions. He said the first really big one was how to react when incendiary videos of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's black-nationalist sermons surfaced last spring. 'The decision to make it big as opposed to make it small,' Obama said of the landmark speech on race relations he delivered in Philadelphia. 'My gut was telling me that this was a teachable moment and that if I tried to do the usual political damage control instead of talking to the American people like ... they were adults and could understand the complexities of race.'"

If this is liberalism, what Obama is doing, then I buy it. It is, actually, realistic and optimistic. It is opposed to cynicism and doesn’t ignore reality. His politics really captures what’s important to me in politics. I think it’s the best of the art of the possible.

I was flipping through some behind-the-scenes photos of the Obama campaign when I found it. He’s talking on the phone, there are papers everywhere. He’s leaned back, shoes up on a table, and there are holes in the soles of both of them.

Nov 1, 2008

For All Saints Day

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
                  - Dylan Thomas