Saturday, May 31, 2003

I'm running around quite a bit today, but I had a few minutes, and I wanted to do one of these....

Which song...
reminds you of your school days?:

Ooh. Bad one to start with. I erased my school days from my memory a long time ago. There are dozens of songs that recall specific moments from my childhood--I remember reading the exact comic book I was reading in March 1965 (Fantastic Four # 39) while listening to "Lovers Concerto" by The Toys--but anything associated with school is long gone from the files. I like music, and would never associate it with the horrors of my schooling.

inspired you to make music?:

When I was a kid I thought "Hey Little Girl" by the Syndicate of Sound as as cool as music could possibly get, and I fantasized about playing it, but, no, I never was musical.

reminds you of a low time in your life?:

"I Believe" by the Buzzcocks is what I always played for self-pitying comfort after bitter disappointments; there is nothing so purgative of bad stuff as playing this song at full volume while Pete Shelley screams "There is no love in this world anymore" fifty or sixty times.

reminds you of a high time in your life?: There are a few I could give here, but the Pulp Fiction soundtrack reminds me of the best moments at my job in the mid-90s--it was played in the warehouse all the time.

reminds you of falling in love?:

Easy. "I Have Dreamed," the Oscar Hammerstein song from The King and I, definitive version by Frank Sinatra (Sid Mark closes every one of his Sinatra radio broadcasts with it). It's all about longing and hope in equal parts:

In these dreams I've loved you so
That by now I think I know.
What it's like to be loved by you.
I will love being loved by you.

are you embarrassed to admit that you like? So many. I will pick one: "Cara Mia" by Jay and the Americans.

reminds you of a great holiday (vacation)?:
I don't recall that many great vacations, so this is a tough one. I will go with Andrea Bocelli's ubiquitous "Con te partiro'" because I heard it first in Italy and it reminds me of living there.

puts you in a good mood?: Any version (and there are several) of "Zombie Jamboree":

Back to back
Belly to belly
You know they don't give a damn
because they're dead already

reminds you of summer?: Go ahead and laugh, but "Grazin' in the Grass" by The Friends of Distinction transports me into balmy 1968 every time.

reminds you of rain?: The version of "Kissing a Fool" by George Michael.

Friday, May 30, 2003

Well, the lunch was nice. The Concordville Inn is one of those old-folks restaurants where the wallpaper, decor, table arrangements, and waiters never change from one year to the next, as a comfort to the geriatrics who form the primary clientele. Scallops in butter sauce, yum.

So I was slightly paranoid, but not too. Things will continue as they are until roughly July, when many duplicate departments will be consolidated in a process that will essentially see groups and individuals competing against each other for the remaining positions.

See, the corporation I work for is really two different corporations: An accounting firm that does audits and taxes, and a consulting firm that implements technology improvements. A year or so ago, they decided to fully separate and change names in the wake of the Arthur Anderson/Enron scandal that brought major scrutiny on companies that performed both functions and thereby created major potential conflicts-of-interest.

But now they are doing the opposite. They are combining even more closely than before, and the admin people in Consulting (where I work) will have to compete against people in Accounting for jobs.

So anyway, come July, I will have to do one of the following:

1. Find a new job
2. Move to Wilton, Connecticut (and that ain't happening)
3. Adjust to a different job in the company
4. Not change at all.

So as you may guess this uncertainty has robbed me of all ambition to do anything the rest of the day except work on my resume (don't worry, I will spare you). And finish my damn article.

Thursday, May 29, 2003

Fran, my boss, has asked to take the three of us in his department to lunch tomorrow. This, coupled with numerous rumors rampaging about lately, makes me think the worst: That it's possible our entire department may be laid off. Now, it could be nothing, simply an appreciation, as this is an act he's promised to us for some time. So now I have the pleasure of waiting to see what the next wonderful 24 hours holds.


Wednesday, May 28, 2003

While I continue to work on my column, I wanted to absolve myself of the responsibility of a blog entry by reprinting my favorite of my ATO editorials, the one from # 2. It does not appear that the Thermopylae movie is going to appear any time soon, but I like it anyway.


Sometime soon, a lot of people are going to have to learn how to spell “Thermopylae.” As I write this, the automatic spell-checker on my Word 97 program angrily underlines it in red, clearly wanting nothing to do with it. But alas—the Persians and the Spartans, Xerxes and Leonidas, are coming, marching unstoppably into our national consciousness.

The Greek revival, so to speak, began with the 1998 publication of Gates of Fire, Steven Pressfield’s literate popular novel—somehow not an oxymoron in this case—and the simultaneous appearance of Frank Miller’s award-winning graphic album 300. Both books retold the Thermopylae saga in dramatic fashion from different perspectives: In Miller’s graphic album, the Spartan king Leonidas is essentially the protagonist, and most of the story is seen through his eyes. Gates of Fire invents a wounded helot who has survived the destruction of the 300, and who recounts the story for the Emperor Xerxes.

Although they did well, neither of these books was a landmark commercial success. Pat Conroy’s jacket blurb tells us that “[Pressfield] did for [the Persian] war what Charles Frazier did for the Civil War in Cold Mountain.” However, Gates of Fire did not achieve Cold Mountain’s enormous popular success, probably because—in my opinion—all those funny Greek names on the printed page are a little daunting to the casual reader. For its part, the graphic novel 300 was probably the best-selling “war comic” in 30 years—of course, there have been almost no war comics in 30 years.

The joint appearance of these two books would have been a brief but welcome blip on the mass cultural horizon, except for one event: Gates of Fire is being made into a movie.

Pressfield is best known as the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, and Gates of Fire the novel is itself highly cinematic. Not surprisingly, the $120 million production is to be filmed by director Michael Mann with the lead performed by either George Clooney or Bruce Willis. This, in a diseased, celebrity-obsessed society utterly unwilling to acknowledge any event older than five minutes ago unless Tom or Mel takes us firmly by the hand and leads us to it, was the turning point. For the first time since Rudolph Mate’s 1962 The 300 Spartans (a film known for its bad acting, inaccurate costumes, and great action sequences), Thermopylae is coming to your local theater, and now people are going to have to learn how to spell it.

Mind you, I am not complaining. Certainly, a well-made historical film is always welcome. And Thermopylae is such a great story—the ultimate AGAINST THE ODDS story, in fact—that it would be hard to mess it up. Even the worst contemporary reviews of The 300 Spartans all mention what a great story it is. The real problem here, especially for us—the people who really care about such things—is historical accuracy. So…are there any problems with the source material—Pressfield’s novel itself?

The most obvious thing is Pressfield’s title. Gates of Fire is an extremely loose translation of the name of the battle. As almost anyone with even a superficial knowledge of the conflict can tell you, Thermopylae is literally “hot gates”—as Pressfield tells us himself in the course of the novel. The title Hot Gates is probably a little too cryptic for the mass audience for which the novel is intended. Pressfield’s choice of title seems clearly less an error than a concession to publishing necessity. But overall Gates of Fire does not offend too much in this area.

Miller’s 300 takes more liberties—most strikingly in how, for dramatic impact, he invents face-to-face scenes between Leonidas and Xerxes that never took place. But the scenes are so well done that the reader tends to forgive Miller.

However, in a larger sense it’s pointless to criticize the accuracy of these popular entertainments: They are only being faithful to the source material. “Herodotus’s description of the combat reads like a fancy picture and can hardly be trusted in detail,” carps The Cambridge Ancient History. Historians have had problems with the telling of this story for two and a half millennia. But it continues to be told. And why?

Because the story of Thermopylae is more important as an object lesson than as a history lesson.

At the most basic human level, the story is incredibly compelling: A few thousand Greek warriors holding off an army of hundreds of thousands. The bravery and morale of these men could not possibly be emphasized too much.

But there is a much larger lesson. It’s one of the areas where the historical record and all the various fictional accounts agree: The supremely important lesson is that not all civilizations are the same.

One of the most annoying and corrosive anachronisms in the recent telling of history is the imposition of modern values into ancient societies that would have looked upon them like Martian artifacts.

In vain, we search the history of (in Karl Wittvogel’s famous phrase) oriental despotism for the idea of human freedom. It’s not just that we fail to see, for example, slave revolts. It’s that the very idea of a slave revolt is inconceivable. Barring divine intervention—as in the book of Exodus in the Bible—a slave is a slave forever. The Old Testament, like the Koran, gives instructions in how a righteous slaveowner should treat his slaves. The belief that slavery is inherently wrong simply did not exist in the ancient world. Saying that Xerxes’s Persian Empire was opposed to human liberty is somewhat like saying that Teddy Roosevelt was opposed to nuclear proliferation. For the Persians, the concept did not exist.

Human liberty in the Greek model was a genuinely new idea in world culture. In 486 B.C. the idea existed only in that place. It could very easily have been snuffed out.

And this is precisely where every historian, novelist and screenwriter has always placed the point of conflict at Thermopylae, at the level of ideas. Says Pressfield’s Leonidas, talking to his troops about Xerxes and his empire:

His comrades are not Peers and Equals, free to speak their minds before him without fear, but slaves and chattel. Each man, even the noblest, is deemed not an equal before God, but the King’s property, counted no more than a goat or pig, and driven into battle not by love of nation or liberty, but by the lash of other slaves’ whips.

And Miller’s Leonidas is even more specific:

We do not sacrifice the rule of law to the will and whim of men. That is the old way. The old, sad, stupid way. The way of Xerxes and every creature like him. A new age is begun.

This is why Theromopylae is important: Not so much that it changed history. Lots of things change history, including weather, geology, disease, and so forth. These changes in history have affected our speech, dress, technology, customs, and, in general, the way we live our lives. But Thermopylae was more than that.

Thermopylae changed the way we think.

And so, I’m steeling myself to prepare for the mangled corpses of a perfectly good foreign place name that are sure to be appearing (and preserved for at least the near future) on the Internet, the Hall of Fame for bad spelling.

Thurmopellay. Thermoplea. Throwmommaplay.

I can live with them.

Tuesday, May 27, 2003


"How 'bout that Annika story, wow, it's a big one. The New York Times is pretending to send three reporters to cover it."
--David Letterman

"Do you know Teri77, AN, onebyone, Xanderr, etc? I have trouble following much of their chatter... it is in some sort of strange
shorthand that old farts don't (can't?) understand."
--from an email from my brother Joe

"Is thisAbington Gay Man Hobby Center?"
--an actual phone call received at our store

"How is it that domestic politics in this country is at once so rancid and so banal, so embittered and yet so uninspiring?"
--the first line of Christopher Hitchens's long-awaited review of Sidney Blumenthal's horrifying book The Clinton Wars

Oh, and there is at least one white rapper that I like after all.

Monday, May 26, 2003

Forsan et haec olim meminisse invabit.
--Vergil, The Aeneid

I have to work at the store and write a column today, so I won't be online much at all. By rule, I must post a list today, so I am doing my fave unrequited-crush songs. Because that is what I do.

"Behind the Wall of Sleep" by the Smithereens, "Long Long Time" by Gary A. White, made famous by Linda Ronstadt ("I can't say you hurt me when you never let me near"), "Absolutely Sweet Marie" by Bob Dylan ("Yes, I waited for you when you hated me"), and of course "Creep" by Radiohead. Benvenuti al mio mondo.

Friday, May 23, 2003

"I don't think it would be possible to make this movie worse than the original unless they gave electrical shocks while watching." --from a post on the Game Industry Forum on a possible sequel to the Dungeons and Dragons movie

When lacking a subject, I always like to resort to that old standby, the hate list:

1. Former Congressman Bob Edgar. Not so much because of his politics, but because he was largely the author of the "compromise" on I-476 that reduced the highway from three to two lanes in each direction south of Route 3, ensuring eternally bottlenecked traffic in the southern half of Delaware County. Thanks, Rev. I pronounce your name with great sincerity every time I have to get on the Blue Route during the week.

2. The International Star Registry. I understand that people who fall for scam artists do so--ethically speaking--at their own risk. But such a nakedly obvious flim-flam act that is so widely advertised just cannot fail to make my skin crawl every time I hear it on the radio. Why can't people understand that "...your star will be published in book form and copyrighted in Washington, D.C." means the same thing as if you substituted "Brooklyn Bridge" for "star"?

3. Alcoholism. I thought of this while looking at the current Vanity Fair where they have one of their trademark mega-cast photos, this time with the entire cast of everyone who was ever a regular on Law and Order, except for Dianne Wiest (for reasons unknown) and Michael Moriarty. Moriarty's absence irritated me because everyone knows where he is--apparently living out the rest of his life in Vancouver, B.C., busily drinking himself to death. He was the person who, more than anyone, made that show, and his absence from the group photo bothered me to no end. That one episode of L&O where Zelko Ivanek (the D.A. in Homicide and the Governor on Oz) played this deeply evil yuppie convict out to destroy Ben Stone's life was one of my favorite bits of episodic television ever.

Brief related hotness break:

Fave ADA babes from L&O in order:

1. Carey Lowell.
2. Elisabeth Rohm
3. Angie Harmon
4. Jill Hennessey

4. Deinstitutionizing of the mentally ill. I'm libertarian in almost all things, but throwing seriously mentally ill people onto the streets doesn't help anyone, and is one of the prime reasons I hate cities so much. I can no longer watch movies like The Snake Pit or One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest which are, in retrospect, propaganda for deinstitutionalization. It was for this reason that this week's report of psychologists at the APA convention in San Francisco being violently assaulted by raving street people scored a perfect ten on the Poetic Justice Meter.

5. American Idol and everyone who cares about it.

6. Dinners that last more than two hours. Even I don't love food *that* much.

7. Week-long rain that encompasses an entire holiday weekend.

8. The bizarre and profoundly antihistorical attempt to find "Islamic values" in the American Constitution.

9. Katie Couric. Don't get me started.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

I am collecting absurd-cottage-industry socialism stories.

The classic one was from Chairman Mao's so-called Great Leap Forward program in 1958. Mao basically decided that every Chinese should have his own smelting furnace at home to melt down scrap metal. No, really, think about it: Just do the math! If everyone produced a hundred pounds of metal per person, China would immediately be one of the preeminent industrial powers in the world! It's brilliant! Of course, things didn't quite work out. Nobody remembered to farm the fields, and local governments found it necessary to cook the books on how much metal they were producing. The government ended up with millions of little turd-shaped blobs of the crudest form of pig iron which had to be re-refined in regular steel mills.

"Three years of famine followed," state the textbooks dryly but invariably.

I didn't think anyone could ever top that one, but hey, believe in Fidel, baby. This is from today'sNRO:
The Wall Street Journal reported nearly a year ago about Castro's efforts to clone Cuba's world-record-holding milk cow, Ubre Blanca. According to Boris Luis Garcia, formerly a molecular biologist with Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, Castro wanted to shrink cows to the size of dogs. Castro's idea was to get around the scarcity of milk in the cities by providing Cuban families with miniature milk cows they could keep in their apartments. According to his plan, the miniature cows would graze on grass to be grown in drawers under fluorescent lights.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003


Tuesday, May 20, 2003

I rarely talk about television here, mostly because it's so unremarkable. As for example, the sweeps episodes I watched tonight.

The less said about the seventh and final season of Buffy, the better. The show disappointed me dearly at its end, accomplishing what would have seemed impossible a year ago: It left me wanting less. The series finale perversely allowed the most annoying characters to live, and killed off the most interesting. That, at least, was surprising. This season's 24 was only slightly less predictable than the rotation of the earth on its axis. (my psychic powers told me in the first episode that the nuclear terrorism would be due to the machinations of evil right-wingers, and certainly not Muslims).

I could only bear to watch the final hour of the Hitler miniseries on CBS, and they billed it correctly: It is a study in evil. The evil of the people who created this crap. It's worse than bad--it seems to serve no artistic purpose except to drop sixteen-ton anvils on the heads of the audience, with "Bush=Hitler" written on them.They have Hitler saying things like "Our democracy is under attack by the terrorists" which the real Hitler would never, ever, ever, ever, ever (have I made my point yet?) ever say, even to deceive; Every molecule of Hitler hated democracy, which he called "a disease." The acting is wooden and didactic, the production values chintzy and cheesy (compare HBO's exquisite Conspiracy, which was made for a fraction of the cost of this mess). As entertainment and as history it's equally appalling.

But I am in a good mood nonetheless, because I'm going to be working for Against The Odds magazine again; I'll be writing a regular column on current events and historiography and gaming.

Sunday, May 18, 2003

I'm of a few minds about The Matrix Reloaded. The first hour or so is about as deadening as cinema can get, with a bunch of newly-introduced characters that we don't care about who don't get to do anything in this movie (presumably they will in the next) but get to say and do lots of uninteresting things for much, much longer than the audience wants them to.

And then there is this bizarre scene of the world's largest mosh pit intercut with the most obtusely-filmed sex scene in the history of cinema, all going on beyond any possible audience interest to a factor of ten. So when, as the second half of the film gets going, and the film suddenly leaps to life, it's a rude shock to those of us who are still awake.

Mind you, the film makes far too little sense. It is nearly impossible to figure out which of the new characters is working for whom at any given time, and by the end of the film I came up with five distinct factions opposed to each other: 1) The machines who control the Matrix 2) The human rebels who oppose the machines 3) The Hugo Weaving "Smith" character who seems to have set up shop for himself 4) The "Merovingian" character, a decadent aesthete who nonetheless has the excellent taste to dress Monica Bellucci in skin-tight polyethylene 5) Bill and Ted, or at least it seems that way (every Keanu movie, no matter how serious, feels to a degree like a Bill and Ted movie:"Bill and Ted are stranded on a bus with a bomb"; "Bill and Ted comfort a dying Charlize Theron"; "Bill and Ted discover that reality is a computer-generated construct.") .

But, damn, the visual beauty of this film is at times overwhelming. And the three big setpiece fights in the second half of the film--Keanu's Neo vs. an infinite number of Hugo Weavings (at this point the Smith character reminds me of the little kid who stalks John Cusack in Better Off Dead with the constant demand for "two dollars."), the fight with the Oracle's bodyguard, and the car chase with the Merovingian's phasing hitmen--are breathtaking, and I've never seen anything onscreen like them.

So is it worth seeing? Not only is it worth seeing, you can even come in halfway in and not miss anything.

Friday, May 16, 2003


I had almost finished writing a 5,000-word essay on socialism and the environment, and it disappeared (the culprit, I believe, was a burp in the line, not blogspot).

I am NOT happy.

Keep in mind that you are NOT off the hook. I will, God willing, rewrite the damn thing from memory, links and all. But not today.

So instead, I will post two incredibly unimportant gossip items about entirely forgettable celebrities from today's New York Post that nevertheless tell important cultural stories. Item # 1:

May 16, 2003 -- GUITAR legend Johnny Winter was singing the blues after he lost a sweet rent-stabilized penthouse at 501 E. 87 St. A Manhattan Supreme Court judge ordered him to pay more than $30,000 in back rent last month. Winter had been living in the double-balconied pad on the Upper East Side with his wife since 1974, and paying cut-rate rent the whole time. But when he renewed his lease three years ago under the corporate name "Ole Pa" rather than under his own name, the landlord argued that the spread was no longer protected by rent stabilization laws. The judge agreed and Winter is now strumming his guitar in Connecticut. [emphasis added]

I don't care at all about this person, but the story is an important reminder of one of the inexorable lessons of socialism: Socialism invariably results in the poor subsidizing the wealthy. In this case, in the form of New York City taxpayers paying cash to support rock stars. For 26 freakin' years.

Item # 2:
May 16, 2003 -- ACTRESS Selma Blair might think Gucci model Anthony Natiello is her new beau, but his girlfriend has something to say about that. Brooke Bogach fumed when she saw our item linking the two and reporting that they were all over each other at a recent Interview magazine party at 66. Bogach, Natiello's love of six years, says "We are expecting our first child on May 21, 2003. This article has caused a tremendous conflict between Anthony and I [sic]. . . Anthony says it was strictly a business matter and that his agent Ingrid Mcallough, from Clear Model Management, said it would be a great publicity opportunity for him to get noticed." [emphasis added]

I have been saying for a long time that we are rapidly becoming a society where who you are is defined by who you are ****ing. But I thought I was being metaphorical.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003


Top Five Westerns

5) The Searchers
4) The Magnificent Seven
3) The Quick And The Dead
2) High Noon
1) The Wild Bunch

Top Four Journalists

4) Ian Johnson
3) Sebastian Junger (The Perfect Storm, etc.)
2) Robert Kaplan (Balkan Ghosts, etc.)
1) Mark Bowden (Black Hawk Down, Killing Pablo)

Top Five Punk Covers

5) Tell Me, The Dead Boys
4) I Fought The Law, The Clash
3) California Sun, The Ramones
2) My Way, The Sex Pistols
1) Knights in White Satin, The Dickies

Top Ten Cities That I've Visited

10) Prague, Czech Republic.
9) San Francisco.
8) Bolzano, Italy.
7) Guadalajara, Mexico.
6) New York City.
5) Salzburg, Austria
4) (cringes) Paris, France.
3) Venice, Italy
2) Rome, Italy
1) New Orleans.

Top Five Most Hated Sports Franchises

5) Washington Redskins
4) New York Football Giants
3) Boston Celtics
2) New Jersey Devils
1) Dallas Cowboys

Top Five Versions Of Puccini's "Nessun Dorma" From Turandot

5) Aretha Franklin
4) Enrico Caruso
3) Andrea Boccelli
2) Luciano Pavarotti
1) Russell Watson (shut up)

Top Five Political Columnists (Michael Kelly would have been on this list if he were alive)

5) Michael Ledeen
4) Nat Hentoff
3) P.J. O'Rourke
2) Mark Steyn
1) Christopher Hitchens

Top Seven Small Towns That I've Visited

7) Frankenmuth, Michigan. Look up the term "cheesy" in the dictionary and you will find a picture of this recreation of someone's idea of a cozy German village. The only guilty pleasure on the list.
6) Lucca, Italy. One of the few towns in Europe with its medieval walls completely intact.
5) Wilmington, North Carolina. Pretty colonial architecture, nice people, underrated beach nearby. Oh, and only a few miles from the SC border, with, y'know, fireworks.
4) San Marino, Italy. A gorgeous little independent country at the top of a mountain in Central Italy, a half hour from the beach.
3) Acquaviva, Italy. Nothing special, but this was Giovanni's home town in Puglia. This was the only southern Italian town that I spent any real time in, and had that shimmering-in-the-sun quality that I'd heard about so much with Mediterranean places.
2) Oberammergau, Germany. This is the template for all cute, charming German towns, and I fell in love with it instantly.
1) Bellagio, Italy. A stunningly picturesque little village in the middle of Lake Como, so stunningly picturesque that they named the world's most garish casino after it.

Top Three Offensively Stupid Faux-Italian Things That Americans Say That No Real Italian Would Be Caught Dead Saying

3) Appallingly incorrect noun genders, as in "LA FORNO."
2) Italian-Americans who insist that Italians call their country "IT-LY."
1) Bruschetta, which idiots pronounce "BROO-SHETTA" and gently but firmly correct you when you pronounce it properly ("Bruce-ketta").

Seven Cities From Hell

7) Jacksonville, North Carolina. Otherwise known as The Place Where Camp Lejeune Wipes Itself.
6) Fort Wayne, Indiana. If you've been there, you'll know why.
5) Chester, Pennsylvania. I must have been very bad in a previous life to have to see this place every day on my commute.
4) Mostar, Bosnia. And I saw it *before* the war.
3) Paterson, New Jersey. I had to include at least one place from New Jersey on this list, so I chose the town that the September 11th hijackers felt at home in.
2) Bratislava, Slovakia. Full of Joe Stalin's idea of great architecture.
1) Reno, Nevada. Good God, what an awful place.

Monday, May 12, 2003

-----Original Message-----
From: Suzanne
Sent: Monday, May 12, 2003 8:30 AM
To: Edwin
Subject: Help me out?


Xxxxx and I have been having a fight about the war and politics and I can hold my own, but I need your help with this one. Please explain why he is dead wrong? Can you?

Which finally brings me to something about which I feel very strongly. In my travels I encounter many impoverished people including children who, before they are very much older, will probably end up in prostitution and crime so that they can provide for their parents and families. Today, rural poverty throughout Asia and Africa is, in the main, directly attributable to the failure of the Bush administration and, to a lesser extent, the EC to live up to their obligations to eliminate agricultural export subsidies which allow Western farmers (at $1 billion a day) to undercut millions of poor producers in the Third World. This is an affront to the principles of fairness and fair trade on a massive scale. Talk about a weapon of mass destruction! All very noble to get rid of Saddam but I think if people could see the results of American and EC protectionism they might begin to see through the hypocrisy of "the freeing of Iraq".

Love, Susan


First of all, any discussion of export subsidies for farmers is, one would have to say, a total non-sequitur for the invasion of Iraq. To me it sounds like the kind of admission of defeat where you don't admit defeat but instead change the subject.

“Today, rural poverty throughout Asia and Africa is, in the main, directly attributable to the failure of the Bush administration and, to a lesser extent, the EC to live up to their obligations to eliminate agricultural export subsidies which allow Western farmers (at $1 billion a day) to undercut millions of poor producers in the Third World.”

My answer is long and rambling, but not nearly long enough.

I can walk into any grocery in America and I see Chilean grapes, Turkish dates, Mexican avocados, Guatemalan bananas, Italian olive oil. Certainly there are price supports in America, but the USA is the freest food market in the developed world. EEC protectionism is far more pervasive. Having said that, as a free-market person I believe that all protectionism is wrong and it only hurts consumers. But it’s not protectionism that turns third world farmers’ daughters to prostitution. It’s two things:

1) Local governmental corruption and complicity (absence of the rule of law) and

2) Atrocious economic policies (absence of a market economy)

There are any number of places in the world where there are child prostitutes, either with the direct complicity of the national government (I can get on a plane to Havana tomorrow and have my choice of a wide variety of 11-year-old boys or girls), or corrupt local officials, as in much of Asia. The rule of law is at least as important as macroeconomics in determining wealth and poverty. Where there is no rule of law, no contract is enforceable beyond the degree with which you are prepared to use violence.

Andrew Vacchs, the novelist whose fictional detective hunts pedophiles for a living, describes two different types of villages that he sees in certain parts of rural Thailand: Those with children, and those without. The ones with children are the ones that armed themselves when the pimps arrived, kind of like The Seven Samurai. The ones without children are the ones where they didn’t arm themselves. This is what the absence of the rule of law means.

Blaming poverty in Africa and Asia on people thousands of miles away is not only specious but it begs the question…why are some places in the region wealthy and others are brutally poor? Why is that? (If you recall, PJ O’Rourke’s magnificent book Eat the Rich was entirely devoted to this very subject, and I would recommend it to anyone who legitimately wants an answer to this question and not simply bash America).

In 1962 South Korea was an underdeveloped country, with a GNP on a par with Ghana. Today it’s part of the developed world. Taiwan was similar. In one generation, trade with the American market lifted a billion Chinese out of poverty. These countries didn’t whine about American price supports. They (or rather the entrepreneurs in these countries) simply figured out what Americans wanted, and they sold it to them. There were alternatives: Poverty, starvation, and the North Korean variant, cannibalism. But instead, these newly developed countries figured out what the world wanted to buy from them, and they made it. That’s the essence of the free market: It works around trade barriers.

The bottom line is that no one has the right to demand that the world economy conform to their skill set.

The fact is, rural farming in the Third World is highly inefficient and much too labor-intensive. Rural populations are declining everywhere, not just in the underdeveloped world, as farming becomes more efficient. The demographic upheavals that send the sons and daughters of farmers to urban areas are not the fault of evil American plutocrats.

Love, Ed


G-spotgames introduces Prison Bitch: The Card Game
Hi Everyone,

G-spotgames.com is happy to announce its website is now up and that we are taking pre orders for our first game.

Who we are: G-spotgames is a new company that will be producing satire board and card games based on adult themes. Our first game, Prison Bitch: The Card Game is an expandable card game for 2 or more players.

About Prison Bitch: The Card Game:

Prison Bitch is a gard game set in the backdrop of a male prison. Each players choses on the game's "Character Decks" as his character, then pitts that character against the other players in an attempt to become the dominant prison tough man. Players must manage resources such as Thugs, Bitches, Money and Items. Thugs are used to attack the opposing players and to recruit and steak bitches. Items provide additional money income or weapons for thugs to use. And bitches are farmed out each turn to generate the character money from which to maintain and play cards from the deck.

Each Character Deck in Prison Bitch is designed to be stand alone and in itself is not expandable. But players may expand thier Prison Bitch game by adding and playing new Character Decks as they are introduced.

For more information on the various Prison Bitch products to be released and to place your Pre Order, visit us online at http://www.g-spotgames.com . Currently scheduled for release in June.

Wholesale and Retail Trade Discounts are available.

Bob Dawson
G-Spot Games

Friday, May 09, 2003

A wonderful dinner with my sister Suzanne at the Mendenhall Inn last night. She made an interesting--and fully unexpected--criticism of the way I discuss her on this blog ("The way you write, the reader can always add the phrase 'because she's a bitch' onto the end of every sentence you write about me": "My sister doesn't like me discussing 'hotness' on the blog....because she's a bitch." "My sister prefers playing EverQuest....because she's a bitch."). I truly, truly love my sister...because she's not a bitch. Her four incredibly likeable and strikingly decent children didn't become that way in a vacuum.

Suzanne was especially cute in describing Tom's emails from Italy, where he's visiting his brother Marty. La mia moglie e gioia, they begin ("my wife and my joy"). Being in Italy really does have that effect on people.

She is as fun and ironic and chatty as ever. Chatty in her case is a compliment, because she is so interesting and can, among all the family talk, weave in discussions of ideas and ethics and values that can leave me with a lump in my throat. But inevitably whenever we talk for more than a few minutes, the subject of our sister Mary comes up, like a shadow over us, and we have to say something about her. It's like a rule. It is so terribly impossible to describe her to those who didn't know her. And to those who did know her, no preface is necessary: It becomes a kind of code. Well, Joe did this and Suzanne did this and Ed did this...and then there was Mary. Even 16 years after her death, talking about her is--for me, anyway--infuriating and terrifying and compulsive. When we talk about her, there is neither bitterness nor pleasure; to me it always feels like we attempt, over and over, to capture our own emotions at the time, and to understand what being around such an angry, disturbed person meant to us. To us, this is far more important than any rational explanation of her madness. Because there really is none. Talking about her is not exactly cathartic for us, but it is absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

I am starting to collect opinion pieces from mentally unbalanced individuals who invite us to watch their heads exploding in public, like this one and this one.

I know it's not nice to laugh at crazy people, but jeez. I mean, how can you read lines like

Today, I live in an America that makes my stomach hurt and fills me with terror.

It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness.

and not laugh? Mylanta, the next civil right.

Tuesday, May 06, 2003

First of all, as a game store owner, I just want to say that this is the greatest television commercial ever made.

In lieu of something deep (‘cause that just ain’t happening today), I wanted to talk about people who I just don’t get, people whose total lack of talent and physical appeal belies their enormous success. I mean, in public life, people tend to have either ability, or intelligence, or, failing that, attractiveness or at least some sort of basic charisma that makes us want to see and hear them to some degree. But there are quite a few people who, in my eyes, have no apparent reason for being successful, whose celebrity is a continuing mystery to me.


10. MARILYN MANSON. I give him points for at least admitting it.

9. ROSIE O’DONNELL. Normally, American talk show hosts tend to be something other than aggressively unpleasant.

8. MICHAEL BAY. A director who (based on the camera work in his films) apparently suffers from advanced Parkinson’s is somehow regarded as some kind of rock star? Please.

7. BILL MAHER. The neediest, and the unfunniest, man in America.

6. TOM GREEN. Are there really people who can listen to this guy for more than three seconds without wanting to drive into a bridge abutment?

5. JACQUES CHIRAC. I'm sure he would remind us that deals with the underworld are just a sign of "sophistication" and “pragmatism.”

4. LARRY KING. He’s got the trifecta working for him: Painful to look at, proud of his refusal to ever read a book, and dumb as a post. My favorite King moments are whenever he realizes that he’s just asked a really, really, really stupid question (which is about 3 times an hour), and he reminds us—every single time—that, aw shucks, he’s just a little Jewish guy from Brooklyn.

3. ROY LICHTENSTEIN. There were so many candidates from the art world, but the thought of someone who became a multimillionaire by plagiarizing comic book artists from the Fifties who were working for $5 a page...that one just leapt to the forefront.

2. BEN AFFLECK. In this sense the JLo thing makes sense to me: Putting up with her is the required Tribute To The Unholy as recompense for the eight-figure salaries and the back-end deals. Insert “back end” JLo joke here.

1. WHOOPI GOLDBERG. Do I even need to comment on this one?

Honorable mention: Sandra Bernhard, Sarah Jessica Parker, Camryn Manheim, Chris Tucker, Carrot Top, Joel Schumacher, Pauly Shore, Senator Barbara Mikulski, Madonna, Arsenio Hall, Jerry Jones.

Monday, May 05, 2003

There's a wonderful MEMRI article that's up at Frontpage.com, digesting a recent al Qaeda anti-Shia screed. This is significant because it's the first time I've seen any attacks on Shia doctrine from the Sunni fundamentalists. Up until now, Osama's boys have been all Islamic-solidarity, in spite of all the centuries of ill will between the sects. For what it's worth, I have tended to favor the Shia case--in my years as a Baha'i I came to appreciate the Shia point of view (Baha'is believe in the right of succession of the Shia imams rather than the Sunni Caliphs).

I'm thinking that this--the Sunni fundamentalist attack on Shia Islam--is another consequence of the successes of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq: The insects are beginning to devour themselves.

And I'm currently making my way through Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs trilogy, and I can already tell that they will be taking up a lot of my time this week because I will have to watch them multiple times to get the color symbolism. Dammit.

Sunday, May 04, 2003

I'm working on a couple of things, but I wanted to include some of my favorite recent quotes:

"The Madness of George Dubya is really an example of the madness George Dubya causes in his opponents. Let us take it as read that he is not as verbally fluid as his predecessor, who was positively brimming with fluids."--Mark Steyn

And Dennis Miller made his op-ed debut for the Wall Street Journal the other day with a response to that psychotic Norman Mailer column earlier in the week. I will resist the temptation to simply reprint the whole damn thing because it's just one delicious line after another. I will just stick with:

"And as Mr. Mailer's prostate gradually supplants his ego as the largest gland in his body, he's going to have to realize, as is the case with all young lions who inevitably morph into Bert Lahr, that his alleged profundities are now being perceived as the early predictors of dementia."

Friday, May 02, 2003

So I saw X-Men 2 with Stu's old girlfriend Sally and her brother and their friend Ken. It was an entirely coincidental meeting--the theater was the Regal 22 in Warrington in Bucks County, where I almost never go. I was being misanthropic as usual and went by myself and there they were. I asked Sally when she was getting her license back, and she wasn't sure if it was 2015 or 2017 (It only takes one DUI, if you insist on driving without your license afterwards). The movie was a lot of fun, compared to the first one: less gosh-wow and more story.

I was in the area because I was at the store dropping off the stuff I picked up at Sports Images in Manasquan NJ earlier. Nothing really to remark about, except that I never need to see any traffic circles again in my lifetime, and the fact that my gasoline fillup in New Jersey which was thirty cents a gallon cheaper than in Pennsylvania. There really aren't many more corrupt state governments in America than the one in Pennsylvania.

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