samedi, février 28, 2009

Fast Times at the Salon d'Agriculture

Woo! Le Salon d'Ag!

You might wonder why I'm all excited about the nation-wide equivalent of a state fair. Well, if you look at my post from this same event two years ago, you'll see that le Salon d'Agriculture is a fine place for food and alcohol-related fun. Too much fun, at times.

While I was trying to avoid the debauchery of last time (and two of my companions were trying to avoid a repeat of last week's drunken poker game), we nonetheless managed to "discover" a fair bit of food and alcohol from the various regions of France. The whole thing was too much of a jumble to recount in linear form, but here are some highlights:

  • One of my friends immediately opined that the crowd at the Salon was not at all Parisian or even from another large French town. The fashion, the accents, the attitudes (or lack thereof) all pointed to the folks that populate the countryside and small villages.
  • On that note, we proceeded to buy sandwiches from a booth selling various kinds of cured meats. The young man that helped us was being rather talkative and smiley, as if he was trying to hit on all three of us at the same time. Alas, he had very "countryside" teeth.
  • My companions were apparently too timid to sweet-talk their way into free samples of wine and liquor, so it was up to me to do it for all three of us. In most cases, all you needed to do was approach the booth, ask a couple of anodyne questions about their wine ("I've never heard of Bardol wine, what's it like?"; "Where is you winery located?") and wait for them to propose a tasting. Then, you make some vaguely-informed comments about the wine ("hmm, very smooth, but also a bit sweet." "wonderfully dry and just a bit tart" "lots of character, but a bit more tannic than I would normally drink"). And then, you make some gestures that imply that you're interested in ordering, but just not right now ("Do you take orders by phone?" "Do you have a website?"). The same technique applies to other kinds of foodstuffs and spirits.
  • One vintner pointedly presented us with a crachoir (spit-bucket), as if to see if we were really there to taste the wines and possibly buy, or just to get drunk. We didn't spit.
  • There were some disctinctive regional differences between wine-sellers. Pretty much, anybody not located in Bordeaux or Burgundy was thrilled to have us at his/her booth and spent ages presenting his/her wines. The people from Burgundy and Bordeaux, however, were dealing in 30€+ bottles of wine, and were selling wine like used-car salespeople. They would quickly offer you lots of samples from very expensive vintages, and then lean on you to order a crate of something right away. One guy in the Bordeaux section gave me at least 4 different tastings, and then whipped out his order book and started filling out an order. When I asked him to give me an estimate and I would come back later in the day, he gave me this whithering look that made one of my companions start to nervously try to back me up ("We'll be back for sure! When just need to think about it"). Not unironically, his reaction prevented me from coming back and making a smaller order (I had been thinking of maybe getting 6 bottles and paying a slightly higher delivery price).
  • After one of the trio had left, we the remaining pair headed back into the salon for a few more rounds. We discovered a beer made in the Champagne region that was surprisingly tasty, so I bought a bottle.
  • Near the end of our time there, we hit the stands in the DOM-TOM regions (yes, all of France's tropical territories were grouped together in the salon, like a little island of bright colours and loud music). We shared a sandwich filled with a sort of ginger-chicken, which was a bit messy. We were leaning on the counter of the neighboring stand, which was otherwise empty and already had the detritus of previous visitors. A moment later, just a piece of chicken fell out of the sandwich, a guy who was presumably the owner of the stand came up and started yelling at us for making a mess. I took the napkin I had and used it to clean up the counter so that there was no trace of our presence. The owner came back and started saying, "I'm not yelling at you to bother you, but—" to which my friend angrily replied, "Of course you're bothering me!" and walked off. This left me trapped with the angry owner, who gripped my forearm rather tightly and kept on insisting that my friend shouldn't have gotten angry. I told him that we had cleaned up after ourselves (and the detritus of others, besides) and that he should leave it at that, and then I managed to pry myself loose from his grip and rejoin my friend.
  • While at one of the French-Caribbean booths, we witnessed a group of guys getting stinking drunk on rum drinks. Obviously they were partying to forget something, because one of them started to stare morosely into his glass and get very quiet. One of his friends noticed and tried to cheer him up, but whatever it was that was bugging him got to his friend, too, and soon they were both wiping away tears from red-rimmed eyes. Soon, the rest of the group noticed them, took turns consoling them with hugs, pats on the shoulder, tousling of hair and so on, until they managed to cajole them into at least the appearance of a better mood. All of this was interesting and touching and all that, were it not for the fact that it was going on in a brightly-lit convention centre. There's probably something to be said about most intimate / empathetic stuff happening in dimly-lit or dark places.

vendredi, février 27, 2009

The difference one asshole can make

Yes, as you might imagine, tonight doesn't end very well. Nothing catastrophic, mind you, just shitty.

Anyway, I started my day by making a short trip to my neighborhood market to get a few things for me, but also the fixings for chimichurri. A friend of mine is having a birthday party next Monday, and I had offered to make some Peruvian food for the event. There rest of the stuff I was going to prepare on Sunday, but I thought I could at least prepare the chimichurri early, since the stuff actually benefits from sitting and curing for a while.

Also, after more than a week of living on a strict fish-and-vegetables diet, I decided to treat myself to a tasty, tasty roast chicken. I managed to get one that had perfectly-roasted skin; when the skin is browned and just beginning to get crispy, it's like kryptonite to me. Anyway, since I hadn't eaten breakfast and last night's dinner had been pretty light, I fell on the chicken like a madman and pretty much picked its bones clean. Now, even though roasting chickens here in France tend to be smaller than the bionic creatures you find in the US, that was still a lot of poultry-flesh. I spent at least an hour afterwards, just staring at the wall and wondering what I had done to myself. I pretty much didn't eat anything else that day, except for some carrot sticks later that evening.

Anyway, the rest of the afternoon was pretty unexciting. I finished my manuscripts for the two entries I'm contributing to the 2nd edition of the Grove Dictionary of American Music, submitted them, and then did some work back-tagging my blog. That is, I went through some of the first posts I made to my blog and added the tags that I've developed since then. This is somewhat important for my project, because I have a few tags that correspond to particular chapters in my thesis (i.e., Touch, Solidarity, Affect), which I'm using as a marker so that I can come back later and cull some anecdotes to structure my chapters. The task was slowed down considerably by the fact that Blogger doesn't offer a convenient way to label and re-label more than one post at a time, but it was also much slowed by the fact that I couldn't resist reading these posts from almost 2 years ago. Good times, good times.

So, on to this evening's activities

Get On To Get Off: Heartthrob, Butane and Yakine @ Le Rex

Actually, I started my night at On Cherche Encore..., where Fantômette and Franck Valat were spinning for the evening. I spent maybe an hour hanging out with them, but I had to split shortly afterwards. I was on Yakine's guestlist for the event at Le Rex, and since he was spinning first in the evening, I needed to be there well before he finished his set.

I hopped on a vélib and made my way over by approx 1h00, and got through the line pretty quickly. I checked my coat and headed out onto the dancefloor, which was still pretty empty. As a friend of mine had pointed out last weekend, the first couple of hours at most clubs in Paris look markedly similar. Large groups of young guys that would normally have trouble getting into a club show up very early (when the bouncers are less picky) and buy bottle service (which also helps secure your entry). The result is that you have this odd landscape of empty-ish dancefloors, and tables filled with clots of similarly-dressed young men, nursing tiny doses of alcohol mixed with some juice. There's an air of anticipation/desperation that I normally would associate with the end of the night, really.

0h00-2h30: Yakine

Anyway, I ran into my friends S. and D., who were also there to see Yakine spin. The three of us hung out near the DJ booth, trying to make our support of Yakine as visible and physically present as possible. By about 2h00, other friends started to show up and the dancefloor was filling in. His set started off rather low-key, but by about 1h30 he had moved into higher-intensity tracks and he started getting into it. He's a relatively quiet guy, and so he can be a bit stone-faced on the decks. However, by the second half of his set, he was cracking a smile more often and looking like he was genuinely having fun. His track selection was solid and his transitions were always smooth; my only quibble with his technique was his tendency to cut the bass during the breakdown of a track, and then bring it back a few beats after the track itself had already kicked back in. You can hear it because the bass kick in the track usually has some upper-frequency element that passes through the low-cut filter and creates a sort of "echo" effect of the bass that would normally be there. So his manipulations of the bass kick was sometimes out of sync with the track itself, but otherwise the set was great.

2h30-4h00: Heartthrob live

Heartthrob's set was good, but I have to admit that I've heard better from him. The set started off pretty weak, but that's sort of to be expected; it's a live set, and in live sets the performer tends to start off with some broad gesture that falls flat 50% of the time. Nonetheless, he was pretty slow in getting off the ground. By about 30 minutes into the set, things picked up and got interesting, with slightly more complex bass patterns and punchier samples. He still has a fondness for sustained, echo-y, granular washes that I don't share, but I've made peace with that aspect of his aesthetics.

So, now to the asshole. I was dancing at the front of the room, in front of the live setup, against the metal stanchions they had installed around Heartthrob. By now, there was a crushing crowd all around, as clearly the entire techno-loving population of Paris had come out to adulate the scion of the Minus label. There was this guy dancing to the left of me, who was occasionally shoving his way into my space. I managed to hold my ground, but then a cute girl sidled up on the other side of him and complained that she didn't have enough room to dance. The prospect of possibly bedding her was clearly all the motivation he needed, and he barreled into me, pushing me into the person on the other side of me. I tried to push back, but the person on the other side was pushing back at the same time, so I ended up being forced behind both of them, and their shoulders closed in front of me. Annoyed and a bit bruised, I went back to dancing, but made a point of dancing right up close behind the asshole and occasionally co-ordinating my dancing so that I would "accidentally" collide with him pretty hard.

A few minutes later, I decided to go find my friends. My bag was hanging on the metal stanchion, right in front of the asshole, so I had to reach between him and the girl and start untying my bag. He seemed to think that I was trying to elbow my way in between him and the girl, and so he started pushing really hard on me, and I was holding onto my bag, which was tied to the stanchion, so the whole thing was threatening to tip over and the strap on my bag was probably going to break. After shoving back for a moment, I put a hand on his shoulder, squeezed as hard as I could, and started yelling in his ear that I was trying to get to my !@#$ing bag. He gave me a bit of space and said, "Well, get your bag, then." as if he hadn't just been doing his best to prevent that. I finally removed my bag, let loose a string of curses at him, and moved on.

However, the interaction had put me in a foul mood, and it wasn't being helped by all the other people colliding with me as I made my way across the dancefloor. I found my friends and spoke briefly with them, choosing not to tell them about the confrontation, since they at least seemed to be having a lot of fun, and I didn't want to bring them down. If I had really been loving the music, I probably would've been able to overcome my own foul mood and get back into the partying spirit, but Heartthrob wasn't inspiring me and the nastyness of the whole situation tainted the rest of the night for me. I guess it's not surprising how much of a difference one asshole can make to a whole night. Much in the same way that a bouncer/doorperson can make or break your night out (especially in Berlin), one sufficiently dickish jerk can suck the fun right out of your evening.

I stayed around until about 4h00, waiting patiently for my mood to improve, and then finally gave up and headed home.

The bike ride home was pleasant, at least.

jeudi, février 26, 2009

Luis does Bobby Jindal (but not like that, thank you very much)

Well, yesterday I gave you my play-by-play snark on Obama’s address to the joint session of congress (a sort of unofficial “state of the union” address). So today, I’m giving you my play-by-play reaction (snark) to Bobby Jindal’s response to Obama’s address. I tell you, this was really hard to watch, and not because of his compelling argumentation…

  • Ok, right from the beginning: who did the lighting for this debacle? How did you manage to make an Indian guy look orange?
  • Ugh, he sounds like a fourth-grade teacher. The excessive modulation of pitch in his voice (sing-song-y), the overly-slow rhythm of his speech, and his insistence on placing a massive emphasis on every remotely important word makes feels like condescension. It’s gong to be hard to convince us if you’re insulting our intelligence with your delivery…
  • And the hand gestures! People made fun of Obama for punctuating everything with a hand-jab, but this is kinda rediculous. The fact that it’s the same double-handed sawing gesture all the time makes it look like a nervous tic. He seems profoundly uncomfortable and ill at ease.
  • Oh great, now he’s making remarks about how great it is that a black guy is the President. I suspect that this is going to be the new opening gambit for Republicans voicing opposition to the still hugely popular president: “See? We’re sensitive to racial issues! Now, about that uppity president’s stimulus plan…” Also, the combination of the facile congratulations with Jindal’s condescending tone is especially galling: “Good for you, boy! Have a cookie!” Yes, Obama is black and the president at the same time; this is very historical and stuff, as evidenced by the fact that everyone and his or her dog has been saying so since November 4th. It’s no longer a new insight for anyone, so the fact that you keep repeating it is telling, IMHO.
  • “The President completed a redemptive journey…” oy vey.
  • Oh, now I see where he’s going with this: “Obama’s a child of foreigners, and I am too! So you should have the same warm feelings for me! (Unless you’re racist, in which case please note that I’ve changed my first name from ‘Piyush’ to ‘Bobby’).
  • “My parents also came from a distant land…” What is this, fairy-tale hour? JUST SAY INDIA! YOU’RE NOT A MEDIEVAL BARD!!
  • “They instilled in me an immigrant’s wonder at the greatness of America.” Oh fer fuck’s sake. “An immigrant’s wonder”? Really?? Because wherever they’re from, it certainly wasn’t as great as America. OK stopstopstop right here folks, I need to rant for a moment:
    • the US really has to drop this “greatest nation on earth” schtick. Do you love your country? Sure. Does this mean that you need to make absolutist claims about its superiority to all other nations of the planet? No, dammit. America is great: OK, at least within an ever-dwindling set of parameters. But the US needs to come up with another form of patriotic expression than superiority and supremacy. There’s a historically important reason why most European countries, for example, avoid this sort of rhetoric like the plague.
  • OK, back to listening to this.
  • Now some anecdote about going to the grocery store with his father, and his father saying “Americans can do anything.” Oh, you can already tell this is going to be a motto for this speech.
  • There you go, he said it again. Is this his version of “Yes we can?” ‘Cause it’s not working so well.
  • “When we pull together, there’s no challenge we can’t overcome.” Wrong party, Jindal. The Republican party is the party of individual responsibility, not collective care. According to conservative philosophy, you don’t pull together, you act as self-interested parties in a free market that somehow results in a good outcome for everyone…most people…well, the profitable few. Those who don’t fare so well must’ve not worked hard enough.
  • “Republicans are ready to work with the new president…” I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when he said this, as I might’ve damaged my screen with spit-back. What?! The Republican strategy so far has been to minimize any efforts of bipartisanship by Obama and then obstruct his success as much as possible. It’s clear that the plan is to come out of this as newly-devout conservative purists, just as their opposition to everything that comes out of Obama’s office ensures a crashing failure (or so they hope). Gah.
  • “Today in Washington, some are promising that government will rescue us from the economic storms raging all around us. Those of us who lived through hurricane Katrina, we have our doubts.” WHAT?! Did you just use the example of Hurricane Katrina to argue that government can’t save us from the financial crisis? Are you seriously arguing that, since the government failed horribly at dealing with Katrina, the government should have no role in dealing with the global economic crisis? Do you really think the government was too involved rescuing people from the floodwaters? What precisely was to be done instead? Anyway, as a Republican, you shouldn’t even utter the word “Katrina” for another 10 years. Christ. That’s it. I quit, I’m out of here.
  • OK, OK, I’m back. But I’m not enjoying this.
  • “Let me tell you a story…” NO. GIVE A SPEECH, PLEASE. Fuck. I mean, anecdotes are fine and everything, but they should be embedded smoothly into your argumentation, not jammed in there like some sort of entertainment “intermission.”
  • Declares his frienship with Terry Lee, a New Orleans Sheriff that has been constantly under criticism for racial profiling.
  • “some bureaucrat” stopped N.O. citizens from saving others in their boats. Sure. If you’re going to make that claim, you need something more substantive than “some bureaucrat,” as if a tubby caricature in a pin-stripe suit just materialized in the middle of the post-Katrina devastation.
  • “The strength of America is not found in our government.” There’s the conservative money shot. It’s a pretty tone-deaf argument to make, but fine, at least you’re talking politics now.
  • “this spirit will get us through the storms that we face today.” No, Bobby. A bunch of people having “spirit” isn’t going to undo the financial crisis we’re in right now. It’s a bit bigger than grassroots organizing and individual volunteer work. Everyone can play a part, yes, but the government must play the part that no other entity can play.
  • Again, “Americans Can Do Anything™”. No, Bobby, no. Thanks to the last eight years of dwindling civil liberties, Americans certainly aren’t free to do a lot of things. If what you mean is that Americans are capable of anything, again, no. Americans can’t turn back time, they can’t un-kill Iraqis and Afghanis and their own soldier-children, they can’t completely snuff out terrorism, they can’t boss China into doing anything anymore, they can’t be serious about removing illegal workers from the US labor system without causing further collapse in manufacturing, construction and the domestic service industries, and so on. Nor, for that matter, are any other citizens of any other nation capable of anything.
    • In fact, just to bring in the Spinoza [LINK], the better point to make is that we can never fully know what Americans are capable of. This means that, at any moment, could potentially surprise ourselves with action we had never thought possible (both in the positive and negative sense). But anyway, I digress.
  • OK, now the Republican wish-list
  • Cutting taxes for working families
  • Cutting taxes for small businesses
  • “strengthening businesses” whatever that means
  • new tax credit for home-buyers
  • “These plans would cost less and create more jobs.” Prove it. This all sounds like an ass-backwards version of what was already proposed in the stimulus bill…only less economically stimulative. A tax credit for home-buyers? I realize that the housing market is in a slump, but encouraging more property speculation isn’t going to help.
  • Now on to complaints about the stimulus bill
  • while containing some good policy, it’s “larded” with wasteful spending. Examples follow…
    • money to buy new cars for the government
    • money for high speed train lines (he calls it a “magnetic levitation line from Las Vegas to Disneyland” which is wrong on all three counts; it’s high-speed rail and the budget hasn’t been allocated to a particular route yet, and that allocation will be done by a former Republican congressman)
    • “and 140 million dollars for something called volcano monitoring.” YES, IT’S CALLED VOLCANO MONITORING AND IT HELPS PREVENT MASSIVE LOSS OF LIFE YOU IDIOT. OMG THIS MAKES MY HEAD HURT.
  • “Instead of monitoring volcanoes, what congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in Washington DC.” Oh I see what you did there. Yes, very clever turn of phrase. Excessive spending is TOTALLY analogous to the threat posed by another Mount St. Helens.
  • …”saddle future generations with debt.” Yes, thank goodness you weren’t doing any of this when your party was in power.
  • Apparently, Louisiana is a corruption-free paradise of bipartisan co-operation. Did you hear that, people of New Orleans?
  • Instead of mirroring Obama’s concerns for the environment, health care and education, here’s his hobby-horse: the price of gas.
  • “We believe that Americans Can Do Anything™” Ugh. OK, is that the fourth time so far? This is going to kill me.
  • Apparently, here’s the Republican health-care principle: “No American should have to worry about losing their health-care privileges.” Clever phrasing there. Notice that people who never had healthcare in the first place are not covered by this principle. Nor is the right to affordable healthcare. They just think that it shouldn’t get any worse than it already is. WE’D LIKE AN IMPROVEMENT, THANK YOU.
  • His take on education: “The Children of America Can Do Anything™”
  • OK, now he just made a joke about Louisiana being half underwater or half under indictment at all times. Seriously.
  • Republicans have hope, too! We just don’t hope in the government. Instead, we hope in you, the American people. Group hug!
  • “Our party got away from its principles.” Oh, here comes the mea culpa
  • “You elected a Repulican government to champion limited government, fiscal discipline and personal responsibility….Republicans lost your trust, and rightly so.” OK, this would’ve been a good way to start the speech.
  • Apparently, he’s “determined to regain your trust.” Apparently, by making stupid shit up about ‘excessive spending’ in the stimulus bill.
  • “This is the nation that cast off the scourge of slavery” Yes, after the rest of the enlightened world had. It took a fucking civil war in the mid 19th-century to get rid of slavery in the US, so let’s not act as if America blazed the way for emancipation in the world.
  • And, in closing, “Americans Can Do Anything™”
  • You just couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you, bobby?

mercredi, février 25, 2009

Obama's address to congress, with my snarky comments

OK, I’m one day late, but I’m watching Barack Obama’s Address to the Joins Session of Congress. Here’s my reactions, as they happen:

  • The shot from the coverage I’m watching on FOX (I know, it was what I could find on YouTube, OK?) follows Obama as he walks down the aisle into the chamber. What I notice is that it’s like he flanked on both sides by undulating walls of grasping hands. Everyone is reaching out to touch his shoulder to get his attention. I wonder how he feels about that; if he’s squicked by it, he isn’t showing it at all.
  • Awww, he gave a shout out to the First Lady….who is looking mighty fine in that violet sleeveless dress.
  • Now, a list of narrative examples of how “everyday people” feel the crisis:
    • “the worry you wake up with” / “sleepless nights”
    • “the job you thought you would retire from, that now you’ve lost”
    • “the business you built your dreams upon, that’s now hanging by a thread.”
    • “the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope.”
    • OUCH. For some reason, that last one has the most affective impact for me, and not just because I work in academia. I think nothing incites that combination of sadness and shame like seeing the lives of your loved ones curtailed by your inability to support them.
  • Standing Ovation #1: “we will recover, we will rebuild and America will come back stronger than before!” Hey, it’s a pep talk now!
  • What I would’ve stood up for: “The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation.”
  • “Now if we’re honest with ourselves we’ll admit that for too long we’ve not always met these responsibilities.” Don’t tell me that wasn’t a clear Bush/Republican dig.
  • “I say this not to lay blame or look backwards.” Oh yes you do; don’t be coy. Let Bush and his party take credit for what they’ve wrought.
  • “We have lived through an era where too often short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election.” OK, that last one was a pretty transparent dig. I like this!
  • “The surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future.” This one got applause. Yay not-to-subtle-Marxist-critique!
  • Re: his “agenda” for economic recovery: “it’s an agenda that begins with jobs.” This got more applause.
  • Standing Ovation #2: When he announces that his stimulus bill “is now law” (as if anybody in the room wasn’t aware) only a certain part of the room stands up.
  • Long list of the kinds of jobs this stimulus bill would create: green-sector jobs, retention of teachers in public schools, retention of police officers—in fact, a lot of it is about jobs that won’t be lost.
  • Why does the camera cut to the very uncomfortable Mitch McConnell (R-KY) when Obama talks about the tax credits for low-income families paying for college tuition?
  • “Now, I know that there are some of you in this chamber—and at home—who are skeptical about whether this will work.” (camera cuts to a smirking McCain) “And I understand that skepticism; here in Washington, we’ve all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises, wasteful spending.” How was that for an agile sympathy-suckerpunch combo? He’s all, ‘I know about disappointment, too; remember the last 8 years?
  • Biden will manage an “oversight effort” on the stimulus package, apparently because “nobody messes with Joe.” Pelosi gives him a standing ovation.
  • Re: fixing the credit crisis: “Every American should know, that it directly affects you and your family’s well-being.” Translation: this isn’t just a hand-job to the financial sector, folks; your ass is riding on these banks as well, like it or not.
  • What follows is a pedantic (but comprehensive) explication of how a “credit crunch” pretty much fucks everything up.
  • Hmm, he’s definitely playing the populist / anti-bank card now, promising all sorts of harsh “accountability” for banks that take government funds. Some snide comments about how “those on Wall Street” might prefer to take the money with no consequences for their reckless decisions.
  • Standing Ovation #3: “This time [i.e., not like the first bank bailout in the fall], they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer.” Pelosi shoots right out of her seat for this one. Lieberman claps soberly…the backstabbing traitor.
  • Standing Ovation #4: [right after the previous one] “This time, this time, CEOs won’t be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks, or buy fancy drapes, or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.” That last one was clearly a reference to that zillionaire that was recently accused of massive fraud à la Madoff.
  • Standing Ovation #5: [not 10 seconds later!] He repeats the “doing something is better than nothing” argument (which is specious, but efficient), implying that inaction could result in a stalled economy for a decade. “That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation and I refuse to let that happen.
  • Re: the unpopularity of helping banks after they’ve fucked things up for themselves: “I promise you: I get it!”
  • “We cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment.” WHERE WERE YOU 7 ½ YEARS AGO?!
  • Standing Ovation #6: “I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single wall street executive…but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can’t pay its workers or the family that has saved but still can’t get a mortgage.” Thunderous applause. Go anti-finance-sector sentiment! If this weren’t a thoroughly capitalist country, you might call this capitalist-baiting. Maybe banker-baiting.
  • “we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession.” Great line.
  • Standing Ovation #7: call to finally reform market regulation. Was anyone seated for that?
  • Now he’s talking about his upcoming budget. What’ll be in it?
  • Another Bush/Republican dig: “…the stark reality of what we’ve inherited: a trillion-dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.” Translation: I’m doing what I can with this mess, but if you want to blame someone for this, look into the last 8 years.
  • Standing Ovation #8: A list of examples of how America has historically launched large state projects during times of upheaval. The last one got the ovation:
    • railroad construction during civil war
    • public high school system emerging from turmoil of industrial revolution
    • during world wars, the creation of the GI bill, and thus “the creation of the largest middle class in history”
  • “In each case government didn’t supplant private enterprise, it catalyzed private enterprise.” True, although there’s always the specter of nationalization.
  • Standing Ovation #9: While there will be cutbacks in the budget, there will be significant investment in:
    • energy
    • health care
    • education
  • HELLZ YES. Pelosi jumped up like her seat was hooked up to a 3,000 volt wire.
  • Standing Ovation #10: complains that all of the recent innovation in “green technology” has been happening overseas, and that he is committed to reasserting America’s predominance: “We will lead again.”
  • Standing Ovation #11: “More renewable energy in America.” Does this require a standing O? Is it really that surprising / groundbreaking?
  • Standing Ovation #12: “I believe that the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.”
  • Dude, this is like a Catholic mass! An endless series of standing up and sitting down. If they start kneeling, they’ll have to burn some incense.
  • Standing Ovation #13: “we can no longer afford to put health care on hold. It’s time.” [camera cuts to Hilary Clinton]
  • Standing Ovation #14: mention of passing of the S-CHIP bill days into the new administration. Pelosi jumps out of her seat before he finishes the sentence.
  • Standing Ovation #15: “seeking a cure for cancer in our time.”
  • He’s starting a planning committee for health care reform next week
    • Electronic charts, new technologies to reduce cost
    • Preventative medicine
    • Broader health-care options (read: near-universal)
  • “Nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt called for reform, the cost of health care has weighed down our economy and our conscience.” Nice turn of phrase there.
  • Standing Ovation #16: “Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.” Does this mean we’ll see something before next xmas?
  • Now, on to education
  • “a good education is not just a pathway to opportunity, it is a prerequisite.” Interesting point.
  • Some depressing statistics of education levels and drop-out rates in high school and college.
  • Standing Ovation #17: that every person has access to a complete and comprehensive education (does this mean my future as a prof is secure?) Pelosi again jumps out of her seat. I feel like I should get her a pair of pom-poms.
  • He calls on every American to commit to at least one year of college or higher education, including community college / vocational training. OK, now he’s pandering directly to the educators!
  • Standing Ovation #18: “Dropping out of high school is not an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country.” And Fox, in its endless racial sensitivity, cuts immediately to the row of black legislators. “Of course! Black people drop out of high school a lot, right? Let’s get a reaction shot from some highly-educated black people!”
  • It’s a bit of a surprising move to link education to patriotism—at least in America.
  • Standing Ovation #19: A new education goal: by 2020, the US will have the largest proportion of college graduates in the world.
  • Obama promises support for higher education training if you volunteer in the community, serve the country (militarily?)
  • Standing Ovation #20: Asks that the education bill be named after Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ted Kennedy (D-MS).
  • Speaks about the “importance of parents” to a child’s education, although the phrasing makes it sound like a subtle reproach (i.e. it’s not the government’s job to tell your kid to turn off the TV and do his/her homework).
  • Standing Ovation #21: “Responsibility for our children’s education must begin at home. That is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue; that’s an American issue.”
  • Standing Ovation #22: underlines the importance of not passing to “our children” a debt that they can’t pay. For once, the Republicans in the room seem as enthusiastic as the Democrats
  • Obama even jokes about it after the ovation: “See? I know we can get some consensus in here.”
  • Sorta-Standing Ovation #23: Only this phrase: “With the deficit we inherited…” then Obama smirks as only the Dems stand up and clap. Chuck Schumer lucks positively delighted.
  • Claims that stimulus bill was passed without earmarks (technically correct, although ask him about the Omnibus bill coming down the pipe).
  • Reminds everyone that he had recently pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term.
  • Claims that his budgeting committee has already identified “2 trillion in savings in the next decade.” I’d be curious to see those numbers.
    • End educational programs “that don’t work”
    • Terminate agriculture funding for the large corporations “that don’t need it” (what about small farming?)
    • No more “no-bid contracts”, which have “wasted billions in Iraq” (this got a mini-standing ovation from the centre of the house)
    • Reform military acquisitions “so that we’re not paying for cold-war-era weapons we don’t use.”
    • Remove “waste, fraud and abuse” in the medicare system (i.e., for seniors)
    • “balance” the tax code by ending tax breaks for corporations that outsource their labor overseas.
  • Standing Ovation #24: see the last point in the list above.
  • This is called a pre-buttal: “You will probably hear from other sources that rolling back these tax cuts constitutes a massive tax increase on the American people…” deflate criticism before it’s articulated.
  • Standing Ovation #25: if you make less than $250,000 (“a quarter million,” he repeats to emphasize its size), your taxes will not increase “by a single dime.” The Republicans are mostly slow to stand up, but they eventually do.
  • Standing Ovation #26: “In fact, the recovery plan (stimulus bill) provides a tax cut—that’s right, a tax cut!—for 95% of working families. And, by the way, these checks are on the way.”
  • We must address the growing cost of Medicare and Social Security (by “we” he means Americans; I’m just a spectator caught in the consequences).
  • Calls for tax-free universal savings accounts “for all Americans.” (applause)
  • “Finally, because we’re also suffering from a deficit of trust…” he wants to restore the feeling of transparency and honesty to the budget process…
  • Standing Ovation #27: “…and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we’ve been a nation at war, no longer will we hide it’s price!” You can’t not stand up to that, right?
  • Announces intention to “review” the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not concrete details.
  • Standing Ovation #28: nonetheless, commits to making a plan that “responsibly ends this war.”
  • Shows his hawkish / tough side, claims that he’ll work on the effort in Afghanistan / Pakistan to “defeat Al Qaeda and combat extremism.”
  • Standing Ovation #29: “I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half way around the world. We will not allow it!” Interesting shift from first person singular to plural.
  • Addresses himself to the soldiers on the field “and to the families that bear the quiet burden of their absence.” Again, nice turn of phrase.
  • Standing Ovation #30: “We honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice and you have our unyielding support.” Cut to a scene of some chubby politician shaking the hand of a young military officer conveniently located in the crowd.
  • Claims that new budget increases the numbers of soldiers and marines
  • Standing Ovation #31: expanded pay and benefits for veterans.
  • “There’s no force more powerful than the example of America.” Huh. I don’t know about that…
  • Standing Ovation #32: references the requested closing of Guantanamo Bay detention center. “Because living our values doesn’t make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger.”
  • Standing Ovation #33: “that is why I can stand here tonight and say with out exception or equivocation that the United States of American does not torture. We can make that commitment here tonight.” The last phrase implies pretty heavily that, under the Bush administration, we probably did.
  • Discusses the importance of foreign policy
  • “we can no longer shun the discussion table”
  • mentions Middle East convoy (Holbrooke) assigned for Gaza conflict
  • mentions need for international co-operation for fixing the economic crisis.
  • Insists on this time as “the crossroads of history,” where the present is stretched out into historical time.
  • Standing Ovation #34: in honor of Richard Abbas (sitting in the audience), a Florida banker that cashed out of his company, took a huge bonus, and then distributed the cash to his employees without saying anything to the press. The ovation was hesitant at first, but picked up speed.
  • Mentions Greensburg, Kansas, which was completely destroyed by a tornado and is now being re-built as a clean-energy city.
  • Standing Ovation #35: quotes the words of Ty’Sheoma Bethea (in the audience, next to the First Lady), a student in a “hopeless” public school in NC, who wrote a letter to congress asking for help. “We’re not quitters.”
  • Moves to closing gestures, about how these people (the three examples preceding) should inspire “us” (legislators, but also the general public) to work for the nation.
  • “I know…look, I know that we haven’t agreed on every issue—thus far.” (laughter from the crowd, as he looks at the Republicans.”
  • Standing Ovation #36: “…but I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed.”
  • “That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.” So, patriotism as political engagement quelconque? (c.f. Agamben)
  • of course, no American “no church in this state” speech can end without “God bless America.” Sigh.

mardi, février 24, 2009

My furry roommate

Remember back in the fall, when I saw a mouse in my kitchen and finally decided to buy a mousetrap? [LINK] Well, the mouse mysteriously stopped showing up as soon as I brought the mousetrap home, so I cleaned my kitchen of any edible items and called a unilateral truce.

Then, tonight, he scuttled across my kitchen floor. Again. With all the lights on, in the early evening. He didn’t even have the decency to lurk about in the dark.

And so here I am, preparing the mousetrap again. I have no cheese left in my fridge, so I attached a bit of red cabbage to the trap, as if that’s going to work.

lundi, février 23, 2009

Back in the Saddle, musically

Etude 007: Reggaetón Edition

Yay! Back in the saddle, so to speak. After work, I finally got around to making some music again. It’s just a short 2-minute loop with some reggaetón samples that a friend sent me, but I was just happy to have produced something after more than a month of radio silence.

Anyway, I had crashed at a friend’s place the night before, so I got up at 10h00, fell back asleep, woke up again at 10h30, and finally got myself out the door. I was in no shape to go directly to work, so I had to climb on my bike and pedal my way around parc Buttes-Chaumont and make my way over to my place for a hasty shower and breakfast.

I got to work a bit late, but my boss seemed to forgive me, and my day was otherwise pretty unexciting. I headed home and set about making a fish salad out of those two roasted sea bass that I had left over from the night before. It actually worked out pretty well. I made some mayo from scratch with some good olive oil, an egg, lime juice, mustard and a clove of garlic (and with the help of a good hand blender, mind you). From there, I finely diced some onions, fennel, turnip, and carrots along with some of the fennel greens. I took the fish and carefully disassembled them, pulling the flesh off the skeleton without taking too many pin-bones with it; I flaked the flesh with a fork and removed any bones I could find, and then I mixed the fish in the veggies and added the mayo. Not bad, really.

I also made a roasted cauliflower soup, which was “improved” by adding a small container’s worth of crème fraîche. See? It’s healthy, because there’s vegetables in it…despite the pound of cream.

My evening was spent mostly dealing with the banalities of preparing application dossiers for fellowships and dealing with pedagogical issues, but before going to bed I decided to stay up and make a bit of music. It’s been almost a month since I had resolved to make something—anything—musical at least once every couple of days, so tonight was my night to get back to it.

dimanche, février 22, 2009

The Four-Night Weekend, Part 4: The Postponed Date

Well, today was short but not entirely quiet. Since I had returned home at about 10h00 in the morning, I let myself sleep into the early afternoon (15h00) and then got up and went about blogging my little heart out. I managed to catch up on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, so I was doing pretty well. I also took care of a few bits of school-related housekeeping and then set about making some parsley-flavored rice and roast fish. Tasty! I roasted all three of the fish, since they were beginning to get old. I only ate one, and I put the other two in the fridge, thinking I might make some sort of fish salad out of them tomorrow.

I got a call from the guy that I met on Thursday (with whom I was supposed to have a hot date last night, but it didn’t work out) and he invited me over to his place for some drinks. We ended up staying up really late chatting and such, so I crashed at his place, thinking foolishly that I would wake up early enough to swing by home before going to work.