Sunday, February 29, 2004

9:07 in the chair with good and evil

Today a few interesting things happened to me.... well okay maybe not that interesting, but that won't stop me from writing about it. It was payday yesterday. So, needless to say I've already managed to fritter away some of my money. I've added Oz Season 3, Matchstick Men, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Spirited Away and the House of Cards trilogy to my (ever increasing) dvd collection. Because: Oz is one of the best TV series ever (hopefully they'll get their arses in gear and release the last three series before my death), Nicolas Cage is one of my favourite actors, the Coen Brothers are my favourite film makers, I heard Spirited Away was good and I just couldn't believe that they had the House of Cards trilogy in a US dvd shop. I only ever caught snatches of the TV shows when they were originally screened on the BBC, but from what I did see it looked very good. Lots of Machiavellian going ons and a wonderful way that the lead character talks to the camera and brings you (the viewer) into his confidence. So far I have only watched Matchstick Men (which was very good. I can't believe that Alison Lohman was a 23/24 year old playing a 14 year old. I also can't believe that she is the girl who looks so beautiful in Big Fish), and the first couple of episodes of Oz (also very good, reaching the same high standards set by the first two seasons). But enough on my frivolous expenditure.

This afternoon (the safternoon) I toddled down to the bus stop and caught the bus to the local mall. At this point I should probably point out that the local mall is one of the most pathetic shopping centre/malls that I have ever been to, but it is right next to a Barnes and Noble (more on which later). On the journey to the mall I was surrounded by a gaggle of giggling (girl) college students discussing whether or not Will Smith was cute/funny and something or other about Saved by the Bell. I'm not quite sure what it is, whether it's the pitch or the tone or what, but their voices had a similar effect on me as a power drill applied to my temple would have.... i.e. not a very good effect. Who knows maybe I'm just some kind of intolerant bastard (a very likely scenario, as all those (un)fortunate enough to have met me will attest to), but there's something about some American accents that just grates against me. Eventually the bus arrived and I got off with some small shred of my sanity intact, of course I'm not sure how much of my sanity I had when I got on the bus... but I have a feeling that it diminished over the course of the journey. And, after buying a pair of jeans that don't really fit and a couple of the aforementioned dvds (and yes I am faintly amused to have used the word aforementioned and now I am pondering whether dvds is a valid English construction as opposed to DVD's... and for that matter whether English deserves a capital letter), I made my way across the road to Barnes and Noble. By the way, the mall and the bookshop (along with a Walmart, a cinema and a few assorted shops) lie on either side of a highway. There are a couple of places on this highway which have traffic lights... but you are not allowed to cross the road at the traffic lights (or so the sign says). Instead you a meant to drive (or maybe take the bus) across the road.... needless to say I was a very naughty boy and crossed the road by foot.

The first thing that I did in B&N was to get a vat of dodgy tea (I foolishly asked for medium instead of small), the tea might have been nice enough but it was some what diluted as one teabag is not generally designed to infuse a paddling pools worth of water. As I sat there staring out the window on to the sun drenched car park I overheard the gentleman and lady on my left strike up a conversation. Or more correctly I heard him strike up a conversation with her. I sat and wondered why don't I ever strike up conversations with complete strangers in coffee shops. Occasionally they strike up conversations with me... like the crazy man in McDonald's 6-7 years ago (just before I gave up on McDonald's because the food is crappy and the smell they produce makes me want to retch) who asked me whether I could spare him some change for his tube fair. After I politely refused he asked me whether he could have a chip (a fry for you americans), so I said sure help yourself. He then proceeded to tell me that I should never take the tube because it was dangerous and that you can get anywhere the tube goes by bus (an interesting point I thought as he had initial asked me for money for his tube fair). After the tube discussion he moved on to telling me what a good complexion I had and asked me to guess his age (late 30's) and telling me his actual age (50). Finally the talk turned to women.. and his advice was (obviously paraphrasing as my recollection is not perfect) "if you can't find a nice effeminate English girl, go for an Italian or a Spanish or a Polish girl.... particularly the Polish girls". By which point I had finished my burger and I left... and he went to talk to/ get money out of another customer/victim. Not quite sure why he has stayed with all these years, isn't the mind a funny thing. I seem to have digressed. Back to the couple on my left. You see, I was very impressed by the gentleman who struck up the conversation with the girl. She was a fairly attractive Chinese girl and he was a fairly bland American guy (not that I'm really the best judge of boy looks). And he had to over come a couple of impediments... the first of which was a speech impediment. Now on occasions (several times a day) I get tongue tied and I fumble my words or get stuck mid sentence, etc. But I wouldn't go as far as to say I had a speech impediment. I'm merely clumsy with my words. At first I thought that he was speaking slowly because she was foreign. But after a couple of minutes it became apparent that he had a fairly significant stutter (or maybe I mean stammer). So I was impressed that despite his impediment he tried to start up a conversation with an attractive girl. Then as their conversation continued my admiration for him increased when he divulged that he was an entomologist. Here was this stuttering bug studier that was chatting to (the first step of chatting up) an attractive girl....... you've got to admire a guy who tries.

The main reason for my post this evening (the seevning) is John Podhoretz. One of my favourite american TV shows is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I think it is sometimes very funny and very accurate. Case in point the observation that MSNBC had a link from a jumping squirrel scurrying along a fence to the massacre at Columbine. And asking the asian guy off Star Trek (Salo/Sako/Sato???) about the lack of male asian porn stars, and whether he was offered a part in "Hot Wet Bitches" all asked by an attractive woman. It is very reminiscent of the stuff they used to do on The 11 O'Clock show with Daisy Donovan (so hot) , a show which helped boost the careers of Sacha Baron Cohen (Ali G) and Ricky Gervais (the Office). Anyway, one day last week Jon Stewart interviewed Mr Podhoretz who has just written a book proclaiming Bush as a great President -- "Bush Country : How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane". And being that I once had pro Bush feelings (well they were more anti-Clinton/Gore feelings) but now I think he's awful.. thanks in part to the liberal media bias here in America and also due to people like Michael Moore and things like the breaking of the Kyoto agreement and the Iraq/Afghanistan wars etc, etc. So, I was interested in what would be in a pro Bush book. I flicked through a couple of chapters and some of the points that Mr Podhoretz was making were very good. All this stuff likening Bush to Hitler is obviously ridiculous... and it was interesting to read about some of his AIDs initiatives and some other stuff that has since been lost in the fog of rage. Obviously the book only portrays a very one sided argument, but their a plenty of anti Bush books out there portraying the other side of the arguments. And I guess it's true that Bush has done some good things (along with some bad things that aren't mentioned in the book). However, after garnering some degree of respect from me for some of the stuff in the book Mr Podhoretz went and lost it all and more in one fell swoop.

Being as I don't have a copy of the book in front of me there will be some paraphrasing of the words actually used in the book, hopefully I do not distort the meaning at all. At one point he is talking about how the Liberals say that the rhetoric of Bush, talking about the fight against terrorism and the war in Iraq in terms of Good (America) and Evil (Bin Laden and Saddam), is very similar to the rhetoric of Osama Bin Laden talking about Good (him) and Evil (America). And Mr Podhoretz's response is: "but they forget one important thing Bush is Good and Bin Laden is Evil".

That is not an argument! That is merely repetition of Bush's rhetoric. It distresses me so completely how seemingly intelligent people can talk about current affairs in terms of Good and Evil. I remember a while ago talking to a distinguished physics Professor (who shall remain nameless) about countries developing weapons of mass destruction. And I said to him don't you think it's hypocritical for America and Britain to tell countries like Iran and North Korea that they shouldn't develop these weapons when we ourselves have them? And his response was "Ah but we are basically a Good country?". At which point I just gave up. In every war that has ever been fought (well maybe not every war.... but certainly lots of them) all sides have thought of themselves as the Good side. Nobody thinks of themselves as Evil... and who are we to judge? I'm not a religious person. In fact I abhor almost all religion. But there is one bible story that I think should be at the forefront of everybody's mind before they start banding about words like Good and Evil. It is the one where Jesus tells a crowd of people about to stone a man "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone".

Good and Evil are not absolute concepts that apply in the real word. They are ideas that belong solely in fairy tales and the like. Sure there are people in the world who are selfless and always try to help other people but are they Good? Maybe, maybe not. And there are people in the world who do terrible things kill, main, rape, rob, etc. Are they Evil? Maybe, maybe not. Until the day that I am omniscient, it's not my place to judge who is Good and who is Evil. But it seems that Bush and Podhoretz are ready to usurp their God and deliver divine judgement in this life. It must be nice to have such `clarity' (a word used a lot in Podhoretz's book), to know that one is completely and absolutely right and just. The hypocrisy makes me sick to my stomach.

Bin Laden says that America and Bush are Evil. Bush says that Bin Laden is Evil. Podhoretz says that their rhetoric is not similar as Bush is Good and Bin Laden is evil. Not really an argument as such. Is Bin Laden evil? Maybe. He, or people associated with him were responsible for a truly heinous act on September 11th. They killed thousands of people. I would not want to defend him at all. But is he the absolute Evil incarnate the Bush and Podhoretz portray him as? I don't know. To some people who believe they are repressed he offers hope. A false hope possibly. And I disagree vehemently with his methods. But is he Evil? Again, I don't know.

What about Bush? Is he Good as Podhoretz would have you believe? Is he Evil as Bin Laden would have you believe? Over the course of the last two and half years people acting in his name (or at least in the name of the country of which he is the figurehead) have killed thousands and thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq. And we are not just talking about military casualties there have been a whole hell of a lot of civilian casualties. And even the military casualties were still fathers, sons, brothers, sisters, etc. The pro war campaign will tell you that these people died in the liberation of the two countries. But it doesn't make them any less dead. Now before anybody gets all excited and claims that I'm equating Bush with Bin Laden, I'm not. I am simply pointing out that depending on how you choose to interpret the evidence each man has a lot of blood on his hands. And each man claims that he is doing it in the name of Good and that he is fighting Evil.

For those who want to find them there are similarities between the two. But, there is one important distinction. And that is the distinction of accountability. Bush is accountable to be the layers of American democracy and ultimately to the American people. Whereas Bin Laden is accountable to? But that doesn't make Bush Good and Bin Laden Evil, it merely means that some of the blood on Bush's hands can get spread around amongst the rest of the Americans (and over in Britain and a few other countries too while we are in a sharing mood).

You see for me growing up in the UK in the 1980s I've had a lot of training in the concept of terrorism. Thanks to places like Guildford, Birmingham, Brighton, Warrington and Omagh. We had our own Bin Laden's in Jerry Adams and Martin McGuinness (amongst others). And lots of people used words like Evil to describe them. Sure the (largely funded but US donations) IRA (and all the other military and paramilitary organizations on both sides) never managed to kill thousands, at least not in one go. But is 100 dead twice as Evil 50 dead? I don't think so. One dead is bad, two dead is also bad, ten thousand dead is still bad.

And now these men, who's voices we weren't allowed to hear for years and years, are now politicians (and some are even MPs) who talk to the government and participate in the always almost faltering peace process. So, for me at least it's hard to use words like Good and Evil, as there are always at least two sides to each story. And living so close to Northern Ireland I've got to see how each side tries to take the moral high ground effectively claiming what it's doing is Good and what the other side is doing is Evil. Admittedly those words are rarely used, but similar words are used. And the truth? If such a concept exists, lies where it always does... somewhere in the middle.

So, I don't really have much time or respect for people banding around Good and Evil. As it always seems to be said right before something unpleasant happens to somebody. And anyone who writes in their book that A is Good and B is Evil, doesn't really deserve any serious consideration for anything they say. Sorry Mr Podhoretz, but you've got to have an argument. You can't just band around Good and Evil and use that in place of an argument. Sure Bin Laden has done terrible things. Sure Saddam has done terrible things. But isn't bombing a wedding party and killing 50 people a terrible thing? And who is it that is ultimately responsible for the actions of the American military? Could it possibly be that Good man Bush (backed up by the rest of you Americans)?

Now I've got this far I'm not sure if I should post this entry. I'm not a journalist or a orator and I feel I've not really explained myself very well... still here it is warts and all (well actually I've gone back and removed some of the warts).

Besides it's not as if anybody will ever read it..... except for me that is.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Sincerely melancholic naked hangovers

I spent most of today lounging around my flat with a nasty hangover courtesy of the excessive quantity of sangria, wine, orange flavoured vodka and vodka flavoured oranges (or possibly mandarins) that I consumed last night. I think it might have been my first hangover since New Year's Day.... but maybe I'm just forgetting one. So, today has not been as productive as it might have been. I think it was close to 6pm (or 18:00 for our European friends who don't like am/pm) before I got round to outing my trousers on. All in all very impressive.

I've noticed that I have several stages of drunkenness (and therefore hangover-ness). If I am just pleasantly drunk on beer or wine then I'll come home and drink lots of water, maybe have an aspirin (or similar), brush my teeth, take my clothes off, go to bed. In the morning I'll wake up either with no hangover or just a slight fuzziness that wears off by midday. If I'm slightly more drunk then I'll forget to brush my teeth and maybe forget to drink any water, but I'll still manage to get undressed and go to bed. The following morning I'll wake up feeling like the beer monkey has shat in my mouth (it's an unpleasant furry taste), and I'll probably be properly hungover. The severity of the hangover being determined by the quantity of sleep obtained, with more obviously being better. Then if I'm truly drunk I'll get home and if I'm lucky manage to take off my coat and shoes and fall asleep fully clad. On the next day I'm usually hungover until at least late afternoon.... sometimes I'm so hungover that the following evening I can't drink... fortunately this is a very rare occurrence.

Last night was a get naked but fail to drink any water or brush my teeth kind of an evening. And after spending all morning in bed I was feeling more or less okay when I got up at 2.... just to assuage any concerns you may have had for my current wellfare.

On Friday I got an email from my landlord saying that they were going to be showing people around my flat that afternoon, as they are trying to rent it for next year. I'm not quite sure what happens if I want to stay. I don't know if there is deadline for me saying "hey I want another year", and if there is whether it has already passed. But anyhow back to my story. So, as I've mentioned before I am currently living all on my lonesome... aahh isn't it sad. And being as I am a twenty-something (six in case you are interested) male, my flat is not entirely all together tidy and clean. It's not truly awful but there are lots of things scattered across the floor (books, cds, games, assorted papers, etc.) and my laundry basket ends up being a big pile of dirty clothes in one corner and my bin is overflowing with rubbish. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary, but none to tidy or clean (I don't own a vacuum cleaner or a mop or anything like that). I'm sure that it was very impressive for whoever was viewing the flat. There was one thing that was the real icing on the cake though. Next to my mattress where I had dropped it last night was a copy of Playboy's book of lingerie. I just really really hope that whoever was being shown the flat were these crazy uptight alcohol hating people who would have been shocked by the mess and pornography... I'm just disappointed that I tidied up my couple of hundred beer bottles when my brother was over here a few weeks ago.

Not really sure what else has been going on in my world of late. Obviously I still spend an unhealthy amount of time daydreaming about one fantastically impossible situation or another. This weekend alone has included: many football (proper football with a round ball) scenarios, most commonly playing for a non-league side beating Liverpool and/or Arsenal in the cup; become a writer and actor and seducing one of Natalie or Scarlett; becoming a music performer and singing/rapping about how I become a singer/rapper just to get girls interested in me; and many more that I can't recall at the moment. I can't help but think I could (or maybe should) be putting all this time and effort to better use... but obviously I'm too lazy for that to be anything but a crazy pipe dream. Much like my intentions to go to the gym/swimming pool and to actually start writing my account of the treble year, still who knows maybe one day I'll actually amount to something.... I wouldn't advise breath holding though.

I'm sitting in a rather pleasant melancholic state at the moment. Well actually I'm sitting in a dish chair that is sagging under my weight in the state of Pennsylvania. But my mood is pleasantly melancholic. As I sit here and wonder what it is that I actually want to do with my life... and wonder how you go about meeting and talking to new people. Never been something that I am terribly good at... which problem explains why I am writing a blog entry at half twelve on a Sunday night following a day when the only person I spoke to was at the checkout of the supermarket. Although in all fairness being as I spent a large part of today asleep it's no real surprise I didn't speak to many people. I think I just don't really understand myself.... but maybe nobody does, understand themselves that it is and not understand me. I'm pretty certain nobody understands me, after all I may well be locked up if they did. You see this is the sort of drivel that a melancholic state leads to, that and long bouts of me staring at my blank walls. Although in all fairness they are pretty walls as blank walls go, a pleasant sort of dirty white colour.

On the plus side I didn't lose any money gambling on Man United beating Leeds on Saturday... but only because my gambling website of choice has been broken all weekend. I hope it's fixed soon as they have almost £100 of my money tied up in their accounts. With any luck it will be back up and running tomorrow. I'm not sure if it is legal for me to place bets on these sites whilst I am here in Pennsylvania.... as I'm pretty sure that gambling is illegal here (or very strictly legislated). But when I place a bet at the UK based site (using my English bank account) am I betting in Pennsylvania or Britain? Damned if I know... or maybe I'll be damned as I don't know.

Another positive this week was that I received my latest application receipt number from the BCIS. For those new to this blog, or those with memory problems.... on the last I-94 card I got from them they managed to confuse my country of birth (Zimbabwe) and my country of nationality (Great Britain). So way back on the 13th of January I sent them an application to replace my card with one which has the correct information on it. The form (I-102) that you fill out to do this is meant to be accompanied by a $100 application fee, but you don't have to pay the fee "if the error(s) on your document was made by BCIS, through no fault of your own." Being as I never told them I was a Zimbabwean national I thought this probably applied to my case, so I sent off the application sans fee. And then on Tuesday or Wednesday I got the standard application receipt number form saying that my fee had been waived and that it would take 30-45 days to process the application. On Friday I received a second letter from BCIS it said:

Dear Sir/Madam:

Reference is made to your Application for Replacement/Initial Nonimigrant Arrival/Departure Document (Form I-102), which you submitted to this office without fee. Included with your application was a request for waiver of the filing fee.

Your request for waiver of the filing fee is approved. However, a decision has not yet been reached on your application. Each applicant must establish eligibility for a requested immigration benefit. Please note: A minimum of 60 days will be required to process your form.



Acting Center Director

Which raised a number of questions for me. If they have agreed to waive the fee then surely they are admitting they made a mistake... and therefore surely they have essentially approved my application, but because they are an evil government organization they feel the need to waste an extra N days of my time. Is it 30,45 or 60 days that it is going to take? And when does the clock start counting on these days. My application was made in mid January so does the clock start then or does it start from when they sent me this letter and if so which letter? What bloody immigration benefit am I requesting? I'm asking them to fix their mistake on their piece of paper which the use to monitor when and where I arrive and leave the country. I was taught in school that you never have Sir/Madam with Sincerely... how sincere can you be if you don't know the name of the person you are writing to? When will I receive the new I-94 card? (I'm betting April/May) What is the chance of them not fucking it up this time? How the bollocks do I go about submitting my tax return if I don't have a Social Security number because I can't apply for one until my BCIS documentation is in order? But I am pleased that they are processing my application, I was beginning to wonder whether my application had been filed in the bin because I didn't submit the fee. It turns out they just waste extra time if you don't pay the fee.

Anyway it's late now and I guess I should turn in for the night.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Thoughts from my sick mattress

That is it's me who's sick and not my mattress. Which as far as can tell, and how do you tell these things, is happy and healthy. Thinking about it. I wonder if the title for this blog will even show up.... if it doesn't the first sentence will make even less sense than my usual opening gambits. And what exactly is a gambit? I know it has something to do with chess... but I can't really be bothered to find out what.

All yesterday I was feeling lethargic... and then this morning (which I always want to write as the smorning.... cause that's how I say it) I woke up with a dodgy stomach, and a sore throat and various other ailments. Meaning that I had to go and spend lots of money on medicine, and Cadbury's chocolate, at the local pharmacy. So now.. after spending most of the day sucking throat sweets and the like I have a mouth that feels all furry and nasty. I might have to go and brush my teeth. Which I am sure is a thrilling story.

There are lots and lots of things that I have been meaning to write about... but my mind is now almost entirely empty. And did I mention my throat hurts.

While I still have the energy to, I want to plug a few websites that I am strangely devoted to. Up first is Neil Gaiman's site and in particular his journal, in which he writes about all manner of things. Some of which are unbelievably interesting... and through which I got to hear the wonderful "March of the Sinister Ducks". For instance on Sunday I learned that Julie Schwartz had died.... and I didn't even know who he was... or the fact that he was a he.... and I got pointed to where I read all manner of fascinating things about the recently departed man.

It all got too much for me so I got up and brushed my teeth. Another site that I have been reading on occasion over the past month or so is Rose Neko's weblog. I found a link to her site from an article she wrote about the (really rather good) Firefly series on the Firefly fansite. And I'm not quite sure why I keep on reading.... probably just cause she's a girl who likes something that I like. But it might also have something to do with the fact she has a nice writing style.... who knows... I find it best not to spend to long thinking about these things, as I don't really want to know what is going on in the darkest corners of my mind.

On a complete change of tract there is the always interesting site. Whose t-shirt I am seen proudly modelling in one of the links on the right-hand side. If you have any interest in (proper) football, or you just want to enjoy the best range of t-shirts anywhere on the web. Check out the site. They have lots of interesting feature writers... including the near legendary Andy Gray. The site was (I believe) founded in part by Danny Kelly, and has for the last 4 or 5 years that I have been reading it been the best source for football opinion around... which is kind of what you'd expect from an opinonated so and so like Danny Kelly. The forums and reader's letters contain some of the most entertaining material I read each week.

There were lot's of amusing little things that I wanted to mention... but I've no fogot them all. Maybe later......