Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Riddle of Steel

I need to have a new feature here. Once a month, I will ask my wife, "What is the greatest joy in life?" You, I, and my best friend Ivan know the answer is this: To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.

But the sexy and clever water-sylph I have married produces even better answers than this. I think the first time I asked her this, her answer was:
"To defeat your enemies, to plunder their cities, and to suckle at the teats of their mourning-wives."

I asked her again just now, and her answer is this:
"To conquer your foes, to lay their fields barren, and to glory in the adoration of their children."

It's all I can do to keep myself from sundering my quills in deference to her raw, untamed brilliance. This blog would lose nothing if I ceased my blather to only record her answers ad infinitum.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Here I am at Urban Bean, having my obligatory Americano (I've really taken to this, forsaking the mocha and the latte). I had to get out of the house because, even though the Internet is the same here as at home, I'm more easily distracted in the home environment. There's something about telling myself I need to get out, packing up my bag, walking up five blocks, and setting up in this coffee house that makes me take myself more seriously. I get more writing done this way, for sure.

And it was quiet. Usually this place is quiet and everyone minds their own business--when I came in some old guy gave me the hairy eyeball when I took a seat two tables away from him, and he packed up his crap and departed in a huff. Everyone else is usually very chill and quiet, but these two young women just came in and they're the kind that need to announce their presence. They need everyone to know that they are here, even though they're not saying anything interesting and they're not doing anything useful. Just blabbing about fashion models and fashion magazines. They made a big stompy to-do about whether they should sit inside or outside, and they tromped across the floor to go outside, then came right back inside for who-knows-why. Apparently they're using new feet and legs because they had no spacial control, kicking chairs, tables, and the bench as they stumbled their way to a table and sat down. And now they need to chat about inane shit...

Man, this place used to be so cool, back in the day, before the Normals ruined it. By all means, Barbie and Tequila, please keep yammering about ugly clothes that cost more than you could earn in five years. Please demand that everyone acknowledge your presence even though you have less ecological clout than a deer tick.

Also: I had to get rid of that ClickCounter widget. When I logged on today I saw an extra button in the shape of a tree, soliciting donations on behalf of some ecological non-profit... ostensibly. I'd never heard of the organization and damn sure didn't want my hundreds of readers throwing their money at a scam, so I got rid of the silly thing. Not that anyone was using it. Man, too lazy to even click a button that says Good or Bad. Man.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Yo! Wiggety-Wiggety Co-opted Culture

I know MoveOn.org has their heart in the right place. I know they're doing more in the realm of political activism than I am. That's undeniable and I'm not saying they're lazy or anything.

I am saying that my first impression of them was less than formidable. When I think "MoveOn.org," I go back to an early video of a tall, gangly white man with Coke-bottle glasses. He was lurching and lunging around while contrivedly rapping. It was an embarrassment of co-opted black culture, and I think someone who'd grown up with this style of performance as a marker of identity in their culture would feel insulted rather than flattered. It really was awkward.

He was rapping about the necessity of voting, and that's an important message, certainly. It was just a really... unattrative display, and that's what I think of whenever I see this organization's name. I go right back to this lanky white boy in thick glasses affecting inner city mannerisms, and it's distasteful. That's just what it means to me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Here's the Mutiny I Promised You

Just had a good interview with "Library Mary," progenitor of Minneapolis' iteration of the drunken spelling bee. Inspired by Philadelphia's model, she's created an intelligent yet rambunctious social event. I just remembered an important question I forgot to ask her, I'll have to figure out how to get in touch with her again.

Today's a beautiful bright blue sky, against which the green and red tree out my windows stands stark. It's the kind of day that reminds you of a car commercial. Hilarious, how automotive manufacturers love to use clear skies and clean environments to reflect their vehicles. Kind of like signs incorporating jolly cartoon pigs happily slow-roasting their friend's or brother's ribs on a spit, to advertise a BBQ restaurant. "What's the hot ride for 2009? The new BMW Quisling! You could be the first person to spoil this particular stretch of Wales or New Zealand."

There's a message board (a BBS, actually) I've been on for over 13 years, and I've taken a hiatus from it now and again. I just returned from a six-month break, but instantly fell back into the in-fighting and petty squabbling that chases me away each time. ...I can't even write about it without getting carried away: three times now, I've deleted paragraphs of ranting about it. The point is that I just can't go there anymore. I can't seem to show up without getting into really, really stupid fights with people I otherwise like. I can't logon without getting into these fights. They're uninterested in my joys and amusements, and they band up to attack me on trivial interpretations, sometimes willfully misunderstanding me to escalate a conflict.

Imagine you're a regular at a bar or social club and you've been going for, like me, over 13 years. You're a regular, you know the regulars, you've got a history with this group of friends. But in recent years you find yourself in an increasing number of arguments, alone and on the losing side. And then comes the point where you have to walk away because you can't set foot in there without getting in another fight. You're distinctly not proud of these fights, you don't feel good about yourself while you're in them, and they threaten the status of what you call your "friendships." Then comes the first night you don't go to that bar, and then you don't go back. That's where I am: these are pretty much my only friends in Minneapolis, I know few people outside of this social arena. But now it's a cancerous organ that refuses to operate properly for me: its goals and functionality are directly oppositional to mine. It's not wrong, and I'm not wrong, but we are no longer working well together. It's profoundly disappointing to me that I have to abandon this group but this conflict is not improving at all. There is no happiness or positivity associated with it for me anymore, it is nothing but fighting, insults, conflict, and resentment. I really don't have the energy, and recently lost the desire, to keep banging my head against this wall.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing Exercise: Second-Person Perspective

You approach the weathered building: traces of hastily removed ivy still pin-prick the magnolia stucco. Your friends look at you with expressions of muted alarm but you assure them, this is just part of the charm of Nouveau Bistro Erudite. You, being considerably hipper than your friends, have heard tell of this charming out-of-the-way eatery in rumors born aloft on vespers among the local cultural luminaries. You approached your friends and invited, nay, dared them to come with you to experience a realm of sensation far beyond their meager comprehension. Delighted and intrigued, they could only accept, and now you try to block out your anticipation of their imminent disappointment when they discover how baldly you lied to them. But you’ll burn that bridge when you get to it.

As you enter the Nouveau Bistro Erudite, you feel as though you are stepping into another world. The colors are brighter, the scents are sharper, and the prices are steeper. The music is uncomfortably loud but there is nothing to be done about any of this. Nouveau Bistro Erudite is simply an inundating wave of stimulation and it demands to be accepted on its own terms. You’re here, no one made you come, so you are tacitly bound to comply.

The maître d’ approaches your group, a coy smile dancing about the corners of his thin, wormlike lips. His hands are cold and somehow impart a sense of sliminess as he limply greets you, and there is now a chill in your metacarpals that will remain until your next opportunity to thrust your arms into boiling water. His accent is unclear: French with the soft consonants but with a distinctly Baltic fricative. You strain to understand his inquiries—fortunately, smiling and nodding seems to satisfy most of his questions, and soon you are ushered to your table.

The layout of Nouveau Bistro Erudite challenges most senses of the word layout. Your table is an asymmetrical glass top resting on plaster casts of bones. The bones appear human but also exhibit signs of gigantism or osteoporosis. You look with envy at the neighboring tables: 2x4s stretched across pillars of cinderblocks, tarpaulin stretched taut over a small square garden of living bamboo, and a Jenga-like stack of Kalashnikov rifles apparently autographed in gold by a dozen US Senators.

The service is prompt, if incomprehensible, at this restaurant and you wonder just what it is you’ve gotten yourself into. The waiters take your order with their backs turned to you, and they wear neither pants nor underwear. You attempt to decipher a menu printed alternately in Hebrew, Aramaic, and a brazen reinterpretation of cuneiform. The cuisine at Nouveau Bistro Erudite is Peruvian-Scottish fusion with Norwegian influences, but there is no way for you or your party to know that. You simply point at the entries with the fewest characters and stare at the table candles in an attempt to quell the frosty feeling of fear in your stomach. More’s the pity that what serves as candles in this restaurant is a literal interpretation of the Hand of Glory. Prized in the Middle Ages for its ability to grant burglars the gift of invisibility for as long as it burned, the Hand of Glory is a hand harvested from the corpse of a hanged man, treated with paraffin. It is then that you realize you’re not only paying for the time and labor of the kitchen, but also tremendous overhead and legal fees.

Conversation is impractical at Nouveau Bistro Erudite: bands of feral children roam throughout the establishment. When not promenading in hourly pot-and-pan parades, they may be seen herding polecats into the restrooms or shanking patrons who have been momentarily distracted for whatever reason. There is plenty to distract you in this restaurant, but under no circumstances must you let your attention stray from a strictly defensive posture.

Management offers complementary service: appetizers and drinks are on the house. Your party must draw straws to determine who is to retrieve them. It is urgently recommended they do not go alone: the rooftop dire wolf kennels of Nouveau Bistro Erudite are renowned throughout Eastern Europe for the singularly handsome, savage breed they cultivate. It is incorrect to suggest these dire wolves are never fed; it is more precise to say they are never intentionally fed, for they do amply feast upon wayward diners, of which there seems to be no shortage.

At last your dinner arrives: skirting expertly between clans of feral children warring for territory, the semi-nude waiters present large covered platters to your table and abruptly your stomach grumbles with hunger. It has been scientifically quantified that the level of induced stress in this restaurant burns no less than 350 calories per 15 minutes in a recumbent adult male, 6’ tall and 200 pounds.

The platters are uncovered and you cannot believe your eyes: the food at Nouveau Bistro Erudite fairly glows with health and flavor. The brie crawls onto your baguette for you. The turkey breast is so tender, you may spread it with a butter knife. The asparagus is pale, pale, pale, and so soft you must spoon it to your lips. The carne asada is sliced so thin that a gentle breeze disturbs it from its plate and it drifts daintily into your waiting maw. You are rapt and lost in the sybaritic delight of consumption and scarcely realize one of your number has been stabbed between the fourth and fifth ribs, puncturing his lung and preventing him from screaming. But no matter: he does not notice either and his blood has thoughtfully postponed flowing so as to permit the completion of this sumptuous repast.

There is no dessert, but liquid magma is inducted into the room, intended to stream through an exposed ceramic channel but occasionally overflowing and claiming the unaware. You cannot believe your bill, but there it is, taped to the end of a gun. You and two of your friends collaborate on a second mortgage to cover half of what you owe (woe betide those luckless men and women who got caught during the subprime dining experience) and management agrees to waive the remainder: you surrender your wounded friend to the restaurant, and he will be harvested for what organs have not been violated during the meal.

You swear you will never come again, but this will be a lie. For weeks your dreams will be haunted by Nouveau Bistro Erudite, and in two months a very physical craving will set in. You will find new friends, gullible friends with a lot of money, and you will return.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Day Seven: Departure via the Blue Lagoon

Woke up after dreams of an online friend calling me (she does not have my number IRL) because I associate her with world travel, and here I was in another country. It's like a kind of validation, suggesting that I've arrived or am on the rise. I wouldn't want my Reykjavik excursion to represent the last time I left this country. I'm not one of those who threatens to leave every time a jackass is (re)elected president; I'm one of those who says people should stay and fight, rather than hand the nation over to the undereducated and xenophobic. All things considered, where is it better anywhere else?

Anyway, we did not shower today because we anticipated doing so at the Blue Lagoon. Whenever we talked with anyone about leaving the country, they would inevitably insist that we must hit the Blue Lagoon before we go to the airport. Each one recommended the tour that stops at the Blue Lagoon on the way to the airport, iterating how relaxed it leaves you when you board the plane. We really had no choice in the matter: had we refused, I have no doubt that the local gentry would have raised a collection to pay for our tour tickets, bound and gagged us, and hauled us in Superjeeps to the Blue Lagoon and forced us, at gunpoint if necessary, to relax there. No one can fault the Icelanders on lack of pride in their nation, and they certainly have much about which to be proud.

I packed up my clothes, and my note in my journal indicates I packed "very effectively," probably hearkening back to my military training. We learned how to stuff quite a lot of clothing and supplies into a single rucksack and we got a lot of practice at that. Rebecca and I shared a quick skyr for breakfast and waited outside the guesthouse for our shuttle.

The morning was drizzly and overcast, so we wore our swank rain gear for the day. The Blue Lagoon Tour shuttle scooped us up and we headed out into the volcanic wasteland: miles and miles of craggy black rock and undaunted patches of rugged grass. My gamer geek mind went back to the logistics and I couldn't imagine trying to ride a horse over the landscape. Even with horseshoes, the odd crag would poke up into the horse's hoof, into the frog, and potentially cause a lot of damage. It would even be risky to get off and lead the horse through this unnavigable terrain: movement would be cut to 1/3 normal rate.

We arrived at the Blue Lagoon. Disembarking from the bus, we passengers followed a trail of wooden planks wending between excitingly chunky volcanic boulders. The facilities are quite elegant and inspiring, and I felt as though I were entering a prohibitively exclusive spa. I went on my best behavior to represent my nation (or the exceptions within my nation) most positively. We were given magnetic bracelets--magnetic, not for health but for security, as they let us through turnstiles and synchronized with our lockers. I'd never seen anything like that before. We locked up our stuff, went to our showers--and they are very insistent that everyone shower. The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland's prized locations, and staff and patrons alike take personal offense to anyone who thinks they don't need to shower or forgets to do so. They want to keep that water clean and present, and no one gets in without having scrubbed down. I only wish the bottles of colored fluids in the shower had been labeled: I assumed one was a body wash and the other a shampoo and attempted to use them as I saw fit.

The Blue Lagoon is not a geothermal spring but is fed directly by one nearby. The water is channeled in through pipes so it is just as hot as anyone could desire. I left the shower area with my large spa towel and was struck by the chilly light rain of the day. The milky blue pools, spilling around the volcanic scenery and sensually steaming, were more than welcome and I inducted myself rapidly. The water is a whitish blue because of the silica that lines the pool everywhere there is water. At several locations there are reservoirs set up where one may ladle out great dollops of silica: you scrub it all over your skin, leave it caked on your face for five minutes. From this treatment your skin stays fresh and soft for days. I skipped the reservoirs and scooped it directly from the bed of the pool, exfoliating myself with wanton abandon.

The tour factors in two and a half hours of relaxation here. The shuttle bus drops you off, and you are left to your own devices for 150 minutes before it's time to leave. Imagine that, wading around in startlingly warm geothermal mineral bath, drifting among tourists from all over the world, and killing a couple hours in this manner. If I lived in Iceland, I know I would lose a lot of money to visiting the geothermal pools, I know that for a fact. I'd be broke and my skin would glow with vigor.

We finally emerged from the pools, washed up, and reconvened in the café where once again I had to have an Icelandic hot dog. Not "the city's best" but still okay. I also picked up a pouch of fish jerky, BITAFISKUR, for the trip. Rebecca had no interest in sharing any of that: even dried, it still bore a musk reminiscent of a fishing wharf. We spotted Bob (Golden Circle Tour host) with a large group of teenagers. He must run a variety of tours, good for him.

After a quick scan of the tourist shop we boarded our bus and headed off to Keflavik. Our flight wasn't due for over and hour so we had time to peruse the snack bar, find a mailbox to send off the last batch of postcards, and do some last-minute shopping at the souvenir shops.

The flight back to the States was uneventful. I slept pretty well, after a couple episodes of Malcolm in the Middle. This plane had little TVs on the back of each headrest so I watched what I wanted, and that ended up being a map showing our trajectory across the globe.

I had no time then to be sad to have left Iceland because I hit the ground running: we got our car from the airport parking lot and Rebecca drove me straight up to St. Paul, where I was only 30 minutes late for my first class of Information Search: Food and Culture. After class I slept like a rock. And that's that.

END

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Aside: Hyponomy

I've never heard of "hyponymy" before (and, apparently, neither has my laptop's spelling dictionary), but today's article on PoeWar.com covers just that. And since I'm all about exploring poetic functions with formulas I can grasp, I think I'll practice this one right now. I think this one will be about me-e-e-e... and a failed relationship from my past! How original!

He was a restoration project, she was the projects.

He was a hare, she was a sloth.

He was a recipe, she was rotting in Tupperware.

He was corrective lenses, she was horse blinders.

He was Throbbing Gristle, she was Jessica Simpson.

He was mass, she was similar magnetic polarity.

He was a kitten in a tree, she was a wolverine on a burning raft.

He was biomass, she was oxidization.

He was a Slim Jim, she was Yorkshire pudding.

He was a set of blocks, she was Silly Putty.

He was Lucida Console, she was Edwardian Script.

He was a 6' extension cord, she was a portable generator.

He was an exposed nerve, she was adipose material.

He was a seahorse, she was a Bonobo ape.

He was not without his flaws, she was not without her merits.

Actually Starting the Writing Process

So, I've got a pretty good idea for an article, and I've written up the query letter. I have two textbooks on query letter writing, took careful notes through last week's class on the subject, and I have an experienced friend in Manhattan who has also offered me personal advice. I think my loins are about as girded for battle as they possibly can be... short of actual experience.

(Picture: the writer in the morning.)

I brought my query letter in to class last night and was very encouraged with its condition. The instructor only had a couple points, which included dividing one paragraph into two and the suggestion that perhaps claiming "1,000 words in one week" would give an editor pause: has the article already been written? Has it been submitted anywhere else? See, I want to submit this to Wired and with articles 1,000 words and less, they purchase all rights; more than that and they only purchase North American serial rights. This article could easily go over that limit, with what I have to talk about, but I looked at another article in the same section and it was pretty tiny, so maybe the editor's going to negotiate it down in size. I didn't think 1,000 words in one week was especially boastful but I have absolutely no idea how this system functions. Maybe that is audacious.

Anyway. The letter is tight and, by all external indicators, is ready to go. So I'm about to submit it. Just going to send it along and wait to hear back. Oh yeah, Wired's Web site said that the editor-in-chief is Evan Hansen but the latest print issue said it was Chris Anderson... oh, wait. Evan is the editor of the online site, Chris is editor for the hardcopy. Huh, wonder who I address this to, then? I guess I should call.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Aside: Bob's Red Mill Ten Grain Hot Cereal

C'mon over here, boys! I got somethin' ta share with ya!

Thet's right, boys, belly on up to the ol' picnic table. Sorry I hain't been able to shell out fer somethin' better 'n this ol' thing, but as you know, ol' Bob's kinda skint and times is hard fer a grain farmer. Oh, the ol' missus, she's always on me about, why cain't ya grow corn or soybeans like everyone else, thet's where the money is, doncha know. Wa-a-al, that's exactly why I ain't a-growin' thet stuff! Ol' Bob's always treadin' the unbeaten path, if ya know what I mean.

Anyway, heh heh! Listen to me bellyachin'! Thet ain't why I called y'all up here. I got somethin' fer ya! A special li'l treat I like to call Bob's Red Mill Ten Grain Hot Cereal! He'p yerself, boys!

See, I named it after myself, Bob, and the name of this farm, Red Mill Farm. See? See how I did thet? An' I call it "Ten Grain Hot Cereal" on account of there bein' ten differ'nt grains in it! Go on and count 'em if ya like, but you know ol' Bob's on the up-and-up. You know you'll never get less'n a square deal with ol' Bob, right boys?

He'p yourself to as much as yer bellies can hold, boys! Hard workin' farmhands setch as yerselves deserve it! God knows I hain't been able to pay ya, an' I want ya to know I'm sorry 'bout thet, but as you know times is hard for the ol' Red Mill. But I'll be damned if I'm-a just roll over and capitulate to th' caprices of the grain elevator, ya hear me? Oh sure, it's all corn and soybeans right now, but what about tomorrow? Okra? Beets? Naw, boys, grain's a classic. Grain'll be here longer'n you or I and everybody'll be eatin' it from the cradle to the grave. You c'n bank on thet.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Aside: the US versus More and More

Okay, so I'm drinking Christian Brothers and Glögg, and I'm reading the news. I see three major things happening, closely related to each other.

The US has frozen the bank accounts and assets of Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), accusing them of shipping contraband materials meant to enhance Iran's missile program, as well as supplying logistical services and military-related cargo to the Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics. The US accuses IRISL of hiding its activity by falsifying documents and undertaking tricky "schemes."

IRISL denies these allegations. It says its cargo has been verified in all destination and departing ports, and all its paperwork is substantiated. Moreover, it says that because it is a stock-owned and not government-owned company, the US's actions are illegal.

Iran already has three sets of UN-imposed sanctions on it for refusing to suspend parts of its nuclear program, which Iran claims is peaceful and intended to produce energy (although it admits having bought materials from the black market network headed by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, which has also supplied Libya and North Korea with illicit nuclear technology). These sanctions seem to exempt the Bushehr nuclear plant.

And speaking of, Moscow has initiated talks with Iran to complete construction of the Bushehr nuclear plant. So the US is attempting to seize supplies intended for this Russian operation in Iran as retaliation for Russia's assault on pro-West Georgia. Bush has also announced halting talks of a US/Russia nuclear cooperation pact.

It looks like Bush's last hurrah is intended to rile Russia and Iran into such a frenzy that they're completely hostile to whoever takes the presidency after him.

Further, Moscow has also entertained talks with Syria about reopening a Soviet-era port in Tartus, the second largest port on the Syrian coast, just north of Lebanon. As for this... why? Why is it now important for Russia to step up access to a port directly between Turkey and Egypt, on the Syrian coast, with only Iraq between it and Iran? Is Israel planning to attack Lebanon, and Russia is increasing naval missions to defend it? How are Syria's talks with Moscow going to affect its relations with Israel?

Peripherally, Sarah "Shoots Wolves From Planes" Palin has stated that she thinks Israel should do whatever it takes to defend itself from Iran. Israel is planning a tactical strike against Iran's nuclear plants. It has also stated intention to kidnap President Ahmadinejad in New York, where he will attend a UN conference.

Fatal Hit and Run, St. Louis Park, MN

Just got this alert e-mail from the City of Minneapolis, thought I'd spread the news:

On September 11, 2008 around 4:20 a.m. a 64 year old St Louis Park resident with cerebral palsy was struck and killed by a hit and run driver on Excelsior Boulevard less than a block from his place of employment. The male, who will be identified by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, had been employed by the Minikahda Club in the same position since 1962 and rode his bicycle to work along Excelsior Boulevard almost every day around 4:15 a.m.

The victim, who was wearing a bike helmet, was struck by a tan vehicle and that vehicle most likely sustained right front damage. Investigators are asking that anyone with information about this case call Sgt. Bruce Folkens at 612-673-3410 or Sgt. Chris Karakostas at 612-673-3400.

The PIO contact for this case is Sgt. William Palmer.

Day Six - Monday - Norse History and Geology

We were permitted to tour the Culture House, after all that hubbub with the royalty and the government and the hey-hey-hey. We locked up our belongings and headed downstairs to the chambers of the historical artifacts.

The layout was really compelling, enlarged illustrations from the traditional texts, the sagas. They broke down what each figure represented in various illustrations: priests, warriors, wives, merchants, etc. The floor featured large amulets and carvings, the walls were similarly adorned: the point was to impress you with an atmosphere of viking culture. I was quite impressed.

As we moved through the rooms, we experienced the accoutrement of centuries-old Icelandic life, as well as recount the visitations of other countries like Norway and Denmark. One room highlighted the use of vikings and Norse gods in popular culture, such as Marvel's creation of the super-hero Thor. I recognized the source for a large painting one artist rendered: one of the most dramatic scenes in Njarl's Saga, the bit where this one dude is separated from his tribe by a broad river. In the middle, floating on a broad ice floe, is a clutch of enemy tribesmen who are all set to kill him if he should attempt to cross. So the guy takes a running leap, lands on his own shield, skids across the ice like on a snowboard, cleaves a man's head in two with his ax, and leaps once more to the far bank before anyone else can get to him. One of his tribesmen congratulates him and calls it "a manly feat!" I have a terrible head for names, but no one could easily forget a scene like that.

We entered the room wherein are stored the Sagas. This was tantamount to treading on holy ground for me. Each saga was originally a record of land ownership: as people settled Iceland's shores, they kept track of who claimed what patch of land. As time went on this record expanded to include large incidents such as murder or marriages, and then smaller incidents like town gossip. Sometimes a scribe could find himself executed for recording embarrassing information that such-and-such didn't want recorded, or for recording it in a sarcastic or unflattering tone. Plenty of room for editorializing in these sagas. Well, time goes by and this one man, Snorri Sturluson (Latin for "knows which side his bread is buttered on") decides to travel the country and collect all the sagas for posterity. He hand-wrote his collection in two large tomes of calfskin pages. The very picture of "savvy" (nothing less from the twice-elected lawspeaker at the Alðing), when everyone else was running out and grabbing land and declaring themselves king, Snorri opted instead to court each of these kings and pay them homage, for which brownnosing he was rewarded most handsomely. He was invited to stay wherever he liked and enjoy lavish feasts with the various and sundry powers that be. They offered him a retinue to tour with him as bodyguards, for currying such tremendous favor naturally put one's life at risk with other political scamblers.

Much later, Denmark occupied Iceland and, not unlike cutting off a man's balls to prove ownership over him, removed the sagas and stored them in Copenhagen. As you might imagine, this was a tremendously sore point for the Icelanders for centuries. The handiwork and labor of their boy Snorri was languishing in foreign lands! One of the rooms of the Culture House was dedicated to a tremendous celebration: I watched a black-and-white TV broadcast of huge Naval ships in a harbor, officers in full dress uniform carrying two huge books draped in cloth, and every Icelander in the country crowding the streets, perched on rooftops, all cheering their hearts out as the sagas were returned to their homeland. It really was moving to see: they all deeply cared about this national treasure, both written and removed long before any of them were ever born.

And there they were, the original texts (well, not the original HEIMSKRINGLA, the record of the Norse kings, which was destroyed in the Copenhagen fire of 1728. Good job, lads. After losing the first page of this text during transport, you destroyed the rest of it and only two copies exist), in a thick glass case with dim protective lighting. Pages spread open for display, calligraphy from the 12th century (with editorial comments running down the sides) telling the history of this nation and a couple others. I was in awe and I think even Rebecca was a little impressed.

The room after that was modeled to resemble a typical calligrapher's office, and my soul nearly left my body in delight to be here. There was a large, sturdy, ancient wooden cabinet whose shelves bore powdered dyes stored in scallop shells. There was a jar of quills to be stripped, quills that had been cured, quills that had been carved into pens. Here was a writing desk with a thin, heavy chain sheathed in cloth: the better to hold pages down for reading or writing. My heart beat faster as I studied the props and learned how they remedied the problems that arose during calligraphic writing, how they resolved these issues with their level of technology, the ingenious solutions upon which we have found no room to improve for centuries. ...Well, except for pens. Pen technology has shot through the roof, of course. And inks. But everything else! There was also evidence that this room was a popular spot for school field trips: pamphlets that described everything in basic English, exercise tablets, calligraphic lines written on strips of printer paper in a child's shaky hand. I found a stack of souvenir bookmarks and helped myself to one. Oh, such was my thrill!

Then it was time to leave because the museum was about to close. We started to gather our stuff when one of the curators came over. "Have you seen the Surtsey exhibit?" she asked us.

We replied we hadn't, but we knew they were about to close so maybe we'd come back.

"Oh, no! You must see it!" she said, smiling with some enthusiasm. "It's amazing! It cannot be missed."

We thanked her very deeply--they were keeping the museum open later so we could see this exhibit, all for the low-low admission of 300 kronur (about $3.36). We wondered what this could possibly be about, that it was so important to see.

Walking from the basement to the 3rd floor (the 2nd floor was dedicated to theatrical performances), we were greeted by a tremendous panoramic display of churning, frothing lava, surrounded by speakers roaring with volcanic activity. Striking!

Evidently there was an eruption off the coast of Iceland that formed a small island, SURTSEY. Occurring only a few decades ago, scientists flocked to the location to track the progress of the island. Graphic displays showed the shape of the island as it changed during this time, growing, breaking off, receding, falling back into the ocean. Scientists also took this opportunity to track how the various forms of life made their way to the island. Lichen grew upon the shores, seeds floated across the ocean to plant in the soil and spread, other seeds flew tremendous distances through the air and took root on Surtsey. Eventually, insects and birds arrived, and once in a while some plant or animal turned up for no good reason the scientists could conceive. Just some freak accident brought it there. This also was terribly fascinating and we were grateful they insisted on us seeing it.

We left the Culture House museum and went back to the center of town, this time to visit a tourist gift shop. I took to a certain tarot deck with stark illustrations inspired by an ancient form of art. Rebecca found some nice cards she would incorporate in a tryptich of marital life. We admired various t-shirts (a favorite in the city was "ICELAND: Great Weather and Cheap Beer--What More Could You Want?"), noting that very ancient runic symbols were popular motifs for shirts, pins, courier bags, lots of things. I found an interesting set of toys, marketed as an early viking toy set. The pieces were modern representations of original toys that viking children would have played with on their farms: pieces of animal bone and thread bobbins from their mothers' sewing kits. Knuckles, vertebra, teeth, and jaws all represented different things. The lesson is that kids were determined to play, even with pieces of animals, and why not? Cheap, durable, requiring an active imagination: these things were fantastic. I was fascinated by the set but didn't pick it up, for unlike its source material it was quite pricey.

Then we went to Segafredo where I indulged in an Irish coffee (how many coffee shops in the States serve alcohol?) and we shared a lemon pie. I also came up with a little joke:

Reykjavik taunt: "Don't let the door hit you in the nose on your way out."

This is because the doors to their businesses swing inward, rather than outward like in the States. Funny, how you can use all sorts of doors that swing in either direction in your home country, and your mind subconsciously adjusts to each of them in their unique contexts, but you go to another country where they do something differently and it's just jarring and it takes a while to figure out why. When I leave my house, my door swings in, so why should it disrupt me so much to leave a coffee shop and have the door swing in? It just threw me.

We returned to our room at Gastafell and rested, watching American Dad. We left, walked to that gas station with the crazy quesadillas from Serrano, to make some change for the evening's activities. Another booth at the gas station makes hot dogs, so I picked up the bacon-wrapped footlong dog. At this point I was really becoming attached to how Icelanders have their hot dogs and I requested the fried onions, dark mustard, and the mysterious "hot dog sauce."

We caught the 3 bus with uncharacteristic success and rode out to a large mall, KRINGLAN. There was another Café Paris at the mall, so of course we had to go there. As I'd been feeling stronger in my interpretation of Icelandic phonetics, I attempted to recite my menu choice in Icelandic and the waitress seemed to understand, largely. I had a honey lemon crepe and an energy drink, CULT (http://www.cult.dk/). Rebecca ordered a chicken Greek salad that seemed to come with only four cubes of feta.

Eventually it came time to see Iron Man, the purpose of this little trip. We enjoyed the film tremendously. It's a great movie! I was also just really grateful to see Robert Downey, Jr., cleaned up and acting again. I've always been rooting for him.

There was an intermission, which freaked Rebecca out. She looked around in amazement as everyone else got up and started to leave. In this day and age, I suppose, one just does not expect intermissions... or we from the States do not, and these kids here all took it for granted. It takes you out of the movie, I suppose, but they did stop at a good spot and it was a welcome break for anyone who really had to use the bathroom.

I went to the concession counter for some water, thinking I'd get a bottle of something vaguely fruit-flavored and carbonated. You know, a splurge because we really had not been spending enough money this week. The kid behind the counter, however, asked me, "What size?"

Reflexively I said large, though most of me was wondering what size had to do with water. He pulled a large soda cup from the stack, went off to a little side room and filled the cup with water drawn from the tap. In the States that might be an insult, since municipal water is various degrees of nasty no matter what the city officials try to insist, but in Iceland this is a special treat. The cold water is runoff from their glacier and it is clean, pure, and delicious. The kid gave me a large cup of this glacier water and when I pulled out my wallet he insisted it was free.

Now I was completely floored. I thanked him profusely, confusing him, and went back to my seat to share this story with Rebecca. She laughed and said, "You should have told him that this would have cost us four dollars in the States!" It's funny because it's true. It was a jarring contrast, to get this free water and see that amazing museum for 300kr, after everything else was two to three times as expensive as in our country.

The movie ended and we asked some emo-looking kid directions back to the bus stop. So glad these guys are (at least) bilingual; no Icelander could have done in Minnesota what we did in their country. Fluently he reoriented us and we ran across the parking ramp, down two flights of stairs, up the sidewalk and over the pedestrian bridge spanning the highway, in plenty of time to catch the 3 bus in the other direction. We rode off into the sunset--the movie got out at 11:30 PM but the sky looked like it was 9:00 PM. Another thing we couldn't get over.

(to be cont.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Aside: Anime

I've been watching old episodes of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the TV series based on the movies. I'm enjoying the hell out of it. I don't know how popular it is in Japan or in the States, but I think it's amazing. The illustration, the detailed animation, and the little things they think of to add. One person was leaving a building and glanced at a wall clock. It would've been simple to just have it look like a retro analog clock, despite this show taking place in the future, for irony's sake. Nostalgia is big in a show about cybernetics and humanity. It could have been minor enough of a prop that they simply use an LED digital clock, you know, no big deal.

But no. Someone wanted that clock to look nice. It only shows up in the 15th episode and doesn't play a key part in anything (except to let the audience know when the action's happening), but someone went out of their way to design a unique clock for the office. It has a rectangular liquid crystal face, running horizontally. Arabic numbers at the top and center tell the time, and then here's what kills me: the LED clock pendulum. Again, they could've taken the easy way out and simply animated an analog-looking pendulum, leaving the viewer to assume that the technology is so advanced that of course it would look real. But no. Someone designing this clock decided that the pendulum should be represented by angled ovals in only seven positions! This black dot blips across the clock face in seven spots. Someone decided that the LED clock should not hearken as far back as a retro analog clock but should go as far back as the murky, experimental dawn of exploring LED technology! That just kills me.

That, and one of the extras for this episode's plot has requested a booth in a bar for himself and one of the main characters, because he's forming a friendship with him. The waiter comments favorably upon this and brings him a bottle of alcohol. But not just any bottle: the beveled, spherical bottle distinctive of Blanton's, my favorite Kentucky bourbon. It even had the little brass horse-and-rider on the cork. It was at that point I had to put it on Pause and come here to my laptop and hack out my praises.

The first anime I remember loving was Bubblegum Crisis: 2040. This is funny because not only was there at least two generations of anime prior to this series, but the 2040 series is the sequel series to the original Bubblegum Crisis, with which it only shares a few characters. I suppose it's not terribly different from someone enjoying Laverne & Shirley but never having heard of Happy Days. Something like that. Bubblegum Crisis: 2040 was the catalyst that got me passionate about anime and prompted me to seek it out at all costs. Those costs turned out to be "free" as the grey market of BitTorrented and fansubbed anime fresh from the Japanese airwaves was easily indulged. Then again, it wasn't quite "free" as I rapidly filled up a 200GB hard drive with all the shows I fully intended to see when I had the time.

Of course, you can't mention that without someone chiming in that he's got 1.5 terabytes of anime on his computer, and someone else adds that she just crested four petabytes, as a matter of fact. Yeah, well, when I was collecting anime memory was considerably more expensive than it is now (without such luxuries as 7200rpm hard drives, even) and I've never earned more than $32k/year, so, it was an accomplishment for me...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Aside: Even Cooler Tech Stuff

Following: Check out that link. It's a widget that helps you follow updates to your favorite blogs right from the Dashboard.

Yes, you can also set up a blog list on your own page and click those links. This is like one screen that receives all the latest feeds, plus it announces to the blog (in some cases) that you're Following it, which means you're a fan. Plus, it starts a folder in your Google Reader and collects them all there. That, to me, is just about the pinnacle of convenience, another stab at creating a community structure such as is already enjoyed by LiveJournal, Friendster, Diaryland, and others. Anything that helps me and my friends connect and stay in touch with each other is great.

As for me, I'm freezing in this house. At the start of September someone seems to have turned down the nation's thermostat promptly. I'm checking out a variety of free MMOs and comparing them against each other, potentially to wean me off the World of Warcraft teat. Nine Dragons is the hands-down the most gorgeous, Asda Story is very lavish (if childish), but I have to reserve judgment until Chronicles of Spellborn finally comes out.

I'm enjoying my classes and hope to start pitching stories like a mad demon. Anna from WordHustler found my blog, said some nice things, and pointed me to her Web site which seems to be a useful tool indeed. I thought the writing market was inaccessible but it appears to be quite accessible (though everything I've read assures me rejection is going to be the recurrent theme) so... here we go.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Aside: Misgiven Protests

Went to class tonight--Writing for Publication and Profit--and it was very interesting. I'm enjoying the hell out of this class, and the resources it provides are invaluable. Over break I ran out to Subway for a quick sandwich. As I sat and ate, an old man came in and grilled the ESL worker behind the counter as to what his plans were for the store this evening. Sound weird? Yeah, that's a weird as hell think to come in off the street and interrogate someone with.

But his motives were pure: apparently there's a Rage Against the Machine concert in downtown Minneapolis, and when they get out at 10:30 PM it's anticipated to erupt into another demonstration down Hennepin Avenue. And because the press has been stressing the violence of Monday's protest, the street is lined with cops ready to thwart those who would smash in the windows of businesses lining the street. Indeed, large trucks have come by and removed all the newspaper dispensers lest they be used to break the windows as well.

This is fucking ridiculous. Not the preparation of the threat, but the threat itself. Assholes are using legitimate political protest as an excuse to be extra-naughty. They could throw a rock through a window any other day of the year or they could throw it during the RNC protests. The difference is that by lashing out with vandalism during the political protest, they are defeating the very protest they purport to participate in, and they don't achieve anything useful besides. They can say they're protesting Republicans and smash in a store's front window: did they do any research? Did the store owner vote Republican? Maybe they just ruined a Democrat's business, maybe a Libertarian's. These vandal assholes have whipped themselves up into a frenzy beyond logic and reason. All they see is enemies everywhere, and they have given themselves permission to transgress the rights of others, calling their own actions noble. They honestly believe that if you squeeze out a huge salsa diarrhea shit and call it a rose, it suddenly smells sweet (which would explain their aversion to personal hygiene).

So. Decent, peaceful people cannot walk around freely right now. In thirteen minutes, teh kidz are going to pour out of their Corporate McPop-Punk concert and destroy other people's property and somehow this is going to overthrow the national government overnight.

What's the enemy up to? I just listened (unwillingly) to 20 minutes of Sarah Palin's speech, and everything I know about Republicans has been reinforced: they are only capable of lying, and they desperately want to believe each other's lies as well as the lies about themselves. Nothing Giuliani said about Palin or the Republican party was true and the crowd loved it. Nothing Palin said was true or accurate and the crowd roared in agreement. Even as she took a dig at the fanatacism of Obama's supporters and the crowd erupted in delight, they could not pick up on their own irony.

What can you do? Obama's got his work cut out for him: in addition to promoting himself, he has double the workload, with having to cite everything McCain and Palin say and provide citation as to why it's not true, whereas McCain and Palin can just make up vague claims with no substantiation. It's maddening in its injustice and imbalance. What can you do? What can anyone do to make things right? When there are so many people who want so badly to be wrong and do wrong things and force other people to abide it at gunpoint, against their intellect and their conscience, what can a right-thinking, decent person do in the face of that?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

2008 RNC Protest March


2008 RNC Protest March, originally uploaded by Kevin D. Hendricks.

Photographer Kevin D. Hendricks spotted me in mid-stride.

My First Protest (part 2 of 2)

Many speakers took the stage, with a long line of folks waiting their turn for the mic. Code Pink did a cute little skit and led the crowd in a song. A large group of Iraq veterans filled the stage and the ground in front of it to state their piece. It was around this point, I think, that I began to feel resentful that the Republicans had seen fit to bail out of their own convention and the RNC would not be held at full strength. But, you know, their hands were tied. What could they do? Gustav was wavering between Cat 2 and 3, and they'd mismanaged Katrina so badly they couldn't but make the gesture of giving a rat's ass. I'm guessing the Republicans who stayed behind felt a little ripped off, at their big convention.

Slowly the crowd started to form up and drift from the stage--which did not deter more speakers from taking the mic--and we filtered down the Capitol grounds, all lined up and ready to go... but no one was going. Once in a while I thought I saw movement but, like Minnesota traffic, it was only people scootching up further to form a denser traffic jam. Meanwhile the Anarchists had formed their group, flanked by huge, striking banners of red and black handsomely lettered in different languages. Red and black flags stuck out from their columns at excitingly odd angles, and they kept their spirits up with a number of chants, like "Ah! Aqui! Aqui Capitalista!" and others about fucking the State. There were little kids in the crowd, sure, but what better time for free speech? Which is more important: protecting your kid from a word or from Republicanism?

For me, the quote of the day popped up at this point. A man behind me commented to his friend: "I hate to say it, but the Anarchists are the most organized group out here." A sagacious observation that would bear itself out repeatedly throughout the day.

Finally we started to march, filtering down Wabasha way up ahead. There was a one-man counterprotest, perhaps, or just one paranoiac visionary trying to inform a crowd he thinks will be sympathetic to him. It reminded me of the time The Creatures were performing in Minneapolis and I was tasked to flyer for an event night some friends had started. I was out there in my goth gear, handing flyers to other goths, but there was one kid clearly of the heavy metal distraction trying to distribute flyers for a band called "S.A.T.A.N." and no one wanted anything to do with him. It was so sad! He looked like the one puppy nobody wanted to play with, and his eyes were wide with confusion. He totally thought he could bridge the gap between goth and thrash metal--"You wear black! We wear black too!"--and he knew, he knew he listened to the coolest music, but could not understand why there were no takers for what he peddled.

This one-man protest reminded me of that. This balding conspiracy theorist decided that he'd found a potential audience of sympathizers for his cause. After all, we're already up in arms over the suffocating yoke of Conservatism, why not attack the oppression at the source? So there he was with his sign, "WAKE UP AMERICA YOU ARE BEING BRAINWASHED BY ZIONISTS" (with multiple exclamation points in superscript) and free literature. At one point he spotted me taking pictures of him and started to trot over in his little black Crocs. "Excuse me, sir, could I have a minute of your time?" he said in a cloyingly soft voice. From behind me my wife yelled, "NO!" and the crowd permitted us to drift on by.

We were gratified to be walking along, and then we turned onto Wabasha, where the hill sloped down before us, and we were given a suggestion of how many people were in attendance. We felt this inspiring, all these splinter factions and John Q. Publics gathered together for a common cause (whatever it might be: a couple speakers tried to turn it into an Obama rally), marching down the designated streets and proudly displaying our signs to... people who already agreed with us.

The sidewalks were lined with people who thought like us and wanted to see the procession. They were not lined with Republicans who stepped out early to survey the hubbub. There was no conflict, just a lot of cheering. I felt kind of silly at this point: I should have made my sign mention that it was the GOP that I disagreed with, instead of just arbitrarily disagreeing with any viewer. Consequently, I felt I had to keep my sign rolled up much of the time, though Rebecca assured me any viewers would understand what I was getting at. She's more experienced in these ways than I.

I experienced a moment of fright, the first time I saw the riot cops lined up to block a street and guide us along. It's one thing to sit down at Burger King and see a couple SWAT snipers come in on break and get a Whopper. It's quite another thing to be very clearly in a flowing stream of protesters and come up to a wall of riot cops. Many people (chock-full of great ideas) walked right up to the cops to ask them questions or, in one case, offer Wiccan blessings to coerce them to go away. Earlier, between the bus and the Capitol grounds, a group of riot cops had been lounging on a corner as they waited to get situated. A man in an oversized suit jacket, loud tie, and long stringy hair decided the wisest thing he could do would be to walk right into the middle of them and engage an officer in a staring contest. Crazies don't realize that the fact that they don't have much experience with cops does not mean cops don't have much experience with crazies. They ignored him like a gnat and eventually he wandered off, doubtlessly feeling much empowered by the experience.

This little dog was just cute and everybody liked it. I'm sure there are hundreds of pictures of it floating around online at this point. That's all.

Finally we got to the end of the loop and started to enter the Freedom Cage. I'd heard about the Freedom Cage in Denver, which was just a large enclosed cage with a microphone in the center. The protesters declined to enter it. Here, it was a series of large metal walls that could be locked together to form any shape. It was structured to encourage a large U-turn as we neared the Excel Center (wherein the Republican swine were oinking their support for a less-than-full cast of stars). At no point did I feel threatened upon entering the Freedom Cage; friends of mine avoided it, envisioning the walls turning and shutting us inside, vulnerable to crates of gas canisters. I was subjected to CS gas in Basic Training and the worst thing about it is the runny noses and occasional vomiting. That would've put a kaibosh on our festivities.

So now was my chance: I unfurled my sign and hoisted it proudly for the RNC. A row of riot cops stood behind this stretch of Freedom Cage, holding batons and gas grenade launchers. I promoted my sign to them as well. I saw a tiny person in riot gear (pictured) and will write an adult children's book, The Smallest Riot Cop: "His baton was so heavy, and his helmet just didn't fit right!" There I am, chanting with whatever's going on behind me, waving my sign above my tricorn hat, and the last riot cop in the line, a blonde woman with a big smile, started gesturing to me, something like driving the steering wheel in a car. I registered confusion and stared at her harder, and she started spinning her hand at me. Rebecca said, "She's telling you your sign's upside down." I checked my sign and, sure enough, I'm an idiot that had to be corrected by a riot cop. We shared a little laugh over that.

After that, we were just backtracking where we'd already been. There was a group of men in camos that could've either been National Guard Military Police or SWAT, I didn't know. A woman on the other side of the fence was moseying by with a tape recorder. I took the opportunity to yell "San Dimas High School football RULES!" and I yelled it again near a group of Minneapolis bike cops, who either got it (it's a Bill and Ted reference) or just appreciated a light-hearted break. Where the riot cops were inscrutable, the Minneapolis police seemed to enjoy my sign, as well. And while Rebecca was off in the middle of the crowd, I snuck over to the side to tell the cops they were doing a great job and I was glad they were there. Anything to take the edge off. Just because I disagree with the Republicans, that doesn't mean I have to antagonize the cops.

We walked on a little further and Rebecca yelled, "Oh no! They've occupied Mickey's!" That would actually be a crushing blow to me, but I imagine the Green Party and the veg*ns wouldn't care.

There were also some very good side shows, too. A lot of artists had created some excellent pantomime political figures and enacted all manner of skits and performances. A huge-headed Bush and Cheney dragged the murdered corpse of Liberty down the street. A British bobby rapped about the criminal travesties of the current administration. Gandhi, with an enormous cranium, wandered among the crowd as well, reminding folk of his example. Several men toted around a large inflatable planet Earth, which was very attractive and easy to spot.

But the Anarchists' adventure was not done. Displaying further organization and choreography, they had a technique where they would slow down for a while, let the street open up in front of them, then have a countdown from 10 and then yell "Revolution!" and run up the block. Then they went back down to strolling speed and... that's all. It was just funny this one time (wish I knew St. Paul geography so I could remember where it was), I was meandering in the street, starting to feel very thirsty, when a bunch of riot cops leapt into action. By this, I mean they had been resting on the curb, kicking back, shucking the jive, and then abruptly leapt to their feet, donning their helmets and taking up arms. I'm all, "What the?" and looked behind me to see a large red-and-black army roaring up the street. I told my friends, "Crap, it's the Anarchists!" and ran for the safety of a grassy median. Yessir, no harm could possibly come to anyone standing on a grassy median (so we must've been walking SW on 10th St E and turning NW onto Cedar St, headed back up to the Capitol), the resounding lesson from my military training, doubtless. But the Anarchists ran up, turned the corner and strolled away before the riot cops could line back up. That part was kind of ridiculous. I did wonder aloud whether true anarchy always starts with a countdown, someone near me appreciated that.

And so we wended our path back up to the Capitol and hung out for a while. I invited some friends I found on the way to my Labor Day cookout, and we listened to a speech for a little while, a couple guys ranting despite having no audience. We trudged up to University and Rice to catch a 16, but so did everyone else so the boarding was very slow-going. At one point, a sports car going too fast (eastbound on University) decided to take a left turn and somehow didn't notice our bus crossing the intersection, westbound. He nearly drove into the side of us, providing a moment of excitement. Hopefully the bus driver caught the license plate.

After that it was even more uneventful. We reached Minneapolis and walked through downtown to where we'd catch a 4 or 6 bus to home. On the way we saw intermittent white folk dressed overly formally, and by their questions (and bunting) realized they were stragglers from the RNC. I didn't unfurl my sign for them, though.

There was a point in the parade where the MPR building marquee displayed there had been seven arrests in the protest (before it was even done), and we agreed that only seven out of 10,000 people was a pretty good ratio. By the time we reached the Capitol the number had increased to ten; during the cookout friends told me it had gone up to 50. I'll have to research that. I heard stories of idiots using the opportunity of the protest to break windows and slash tires, which is of course asinine. They just see their chance to be naughty, they don't think about how that actually reflects poorly upon the legitimate protesters. And of course, they are what the news sources will focus on, rather than the peaceful and responsible majority. It's a beautiful world... for you.

Monday, September 1, 2008

My First Protest (part 1 of 2)

Yeah, honestly, I'd never been to a protest before and Rebecca insisted I should go to this one. I had no moral compunction against it: I think Bush rigged his elections, he lied to get us into war with Iraq, Cheney and Rove are crooked as all hell, and McCain's a sellout where he isn't oblivious. All I've seen of Republicans is that you need to lie or be a hypocrite to be one. The Republican who isn't lying is quoting a news source he knows is lying, to do the lying for him. That's what life and the news have shown me.

But did I want to get arrested for peacefully protesting the Republican National Convention in St. Paul? I saw what happened in Seattle, I saw what happened in Denver, and this weekend I saw the rampage of that Ramsey County sheriff. Why would I volunteer to be a part of that?

On the other hand, it's a life experience and I'm supposed to be a writer, experiencing life so I can write about it. I did join in one protest: I participated in an Environmental Impact Statement as a last-ditch effort to prevent the Dayton-Hudson Phase II Project. Obviously, this was a round, solid failure. The building was constructed and then handed over to Target for their headquarters. Still, I enjoyed the effort. I gathered some pamphlets and listened to other speakers, then did some quick math. When I took the microphone I discussed how clotted traffic was already and how the Dayton-Hudson Phase II Project would further complicate that. I broke down, even in an ideal situation (four people carpooling in each car, filling their proposed parking ramp) there would be a thousand extra cars taking up space in the downtown area. Even if six people carpooled in an armada of minivans (garnering a little laughter from the audience), the difference was negligible. One of the members of the Dayton-Hudson board, present, flippantly suggested that we simply incorporate more Metro Transit buses. I responded to him directly and said anyone who suggests even more buses has never attempted to catch a bus on Nicollet between 4:30-6:00 PM, provoking a good round of applause. Also, this would be the first sighting of me for a woman who later dated me for some time. That was nice, much more positive than those harrowing dates I attempted through FastCupid and Match.com.

So last night, Rebecca and I drove out to Walgreens for poster board and Sharpies, and we crafted our posters. ...Or, I crafted my poster (see) and she reviewed a lot of interesting quotes from historical statesmen and philosophers but I ended up drawing her a huge peace sign this morning, scant minutes before running out to catch our bus. My sign, obviously, was not intended to be incendiary or alarmist, just a clear representation of my discontent with the current presidential administration. Originally I was just going to write "DISCONTENT" but then came up with an umbrella statement that represented me accurately.

I didn't plot it out very well and kept running out of room, which was embarrassing. Despite, it was legible and looked nice. Better than angry ballpoint or something, I guess. A more practical problem came up later, once my plan was in the implementation stage. Also, the tricorn was just supposed to represent my self-proclaimed status as a patriot, but a friend pointed out tonight that it could be interpreted as an extra layer of pun in conjunction with my sign (in that I'm wearing three "points" on my head). I tried very hard to not become upset at this realization, but I hope to gods no one who saw me thought this was the "gag." I believe the pun is the lowest form of humor and would never willingly perpetrate such an unhappy stunt.

Rebecca had protested in the past but said she'd never gone to one this huge. While 50,000 people were "anticipated" to show up, according to local news sources, I wouldn't say more than 20,000 were there. Tonight's dinner table estimate placed it between 5,000-10,000, actually, but the local media really wanted to hype it up like a potential disaster (especially in light of the to-do out in Denver). I'm guessing local news sources are entirely staffed by melodramatic teenage girls, who could turn tripping on a crack in the sidewalk into "Omigod, Chelsea! This morning I literally almost died."

Rebecca had been to larger protests, but I'd only attended an air-conditioned room of 30 seated protesters who signed up for a couple minutes at a microphone. I'm all listening to NPR's "what to do if you're arrested" segment, and when the ACLU handed out their pamphlets, "What To Do If You're Stopped By The Law Enforcement," I almost took two: one for my pocket for the pigs to find and confiscate, and one to hide in my lower colon for later reference in my detention cell, if I survived the ritual beating attendant with arrest. I was in a heightened state of paranoia--William S. Burroughs said, "Paranoia is the highest state of consciousness."--and Rebecca did nothing to allay my fears beyond pooh-pooh them. There would be too many of us for the cops to arreest and we probably wouldn't be involved in it. I thought our sheer numbers would only provoke a proportionately violent response from police in full riot gear. I erred on the side of conservancy and couldn't believe how nonchalant my wife was being.

We packed a bag with water bottles and Luna bars and ran out to catch the 4 northbound. On the way we saw this sign plastered over the hardware store on Lyndale around 25th St. It reads "Run Away Slaves / Make Art Not Condos" (division mine). I tried to get a shot of it but it was through a bus shelter. Rebecca supposed that the sign would not be there by the time we returned home. As it turned out, a different vandal (other than the one who placed it there) had made a casual attempt to tear it down but only removed a narrow horizontal strip in the upper third of the poster. It occurs to me now that my interpretation may be inaccurate and it could be a racist statement, suggesting that only runaway slaves make art instead of contributing to society with condominiums. However, there are way too many condos here already, and Art vs. Condos is a counterintuitive dichotomy to draw.

We bused downtown, stopped at Starbucks for a quick caffeine jolt, then caught a 94 bus eastbound. I ended up sitting next to what looked like a couple of independent journalists (they were wearing large press badges on lanyards that read "I used to be a bottle" (a comment on recycled products)). Rebecca struck up a conversation with them and we learned they were from the European Broadcasters Union: the guy next to me was from London and the one in the corner, from Germany. We asked the London guy (the German was reading a paper) what he thought of the Twin Cities and he compared it to Denver, having just come from there. He asked our impressions of our own city: Rebecca disagreed with my statement that Minneapolis wishes it were New York (I call it "little brother syndrome"), and I disagreed with her assessment that there is no diversity in ethnic cuisine. We're pretty useless to talk to, as a pair: any opinion will immediately be countered and nullified by the other and nothing is gained in the end. Still, we recommended our favorite restaurant, Peninsula, which the London reporter was pretty interested in.

None of the usual buses were driving through the Capitol area so I'd downloaded a PDF map of the alternate routes and navigated us close enough to the Capitol. We were impressed by the ocean of people in attendance and waded our way up the hill to where the speeches were taking place. There was a large stage of risers and a shelter set up, housing two huge banks of speakers that should have carried each voice across the entire crowd but somehow this didn't happen. Maybe a physicist can explain to me how humid air dampens sound, or how a field of human heads prevents the travel of sound. I do know that there are correct and incorrect ways of holding and speaking into a microphone and that the laity are largely ignorant of these. If you give the average joe a microphone (see also: karaoke), he will probably hold it less than an inch from his lips, point it straight into the back of his throat, and scream into it. This is incorrect technique. Indeed, the woman who was speaking when we walked up was shrieking ineffectually into the microphone, and the huge banks of speakers did nothing to remedy the situation. And the angrier she got--which was quite--the higher her voice went. The microphone and speakers were redundant as the only people who could hear her were those standing just in front of her.

It went on like that: a lot of fervent and unprofessional speakers misusing the microphone. I feel like I'm not supposed to criticize this because, duh, of course they're not professional: they're just average citizens. I also feel like I'm not supposed to complain because we're supposed to be on the same team, like I'm holding back progress by not supporting everyone at that rally. But I honestly couldn't understand this frenzied woman who could shout in a range only dogs could hear. The only speakers I cared about were the few who spoke well and clearly. It's like playing soccer in elementary school. You're on a team you're all wearing similarly colored shirts and you all have the same enemy. But some of the players can't kick the ball or direct it well, and others trip after a few steps or running. You're stuck swallowing your laughter because someone else is going to angrily inform you "at least they're trying" and kick you off the team. I don't want to be kicked off the Minnesota Liberals. So here I'll confess to being a cad and tonight I'll pray for a grander spirit.

This is going to be a huge entry so I'll break it up into two chunks. Sorry, two people that ever read this. Sorry for testing your patience. I will actually continue this tomorrow, for real.