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War is over if you want it: a reaction to the withdrawal

war is over

The Iraq war took a notoriously low toll on the vast majority of Americans. All of the sacrifice on this side was borne by enlisted members of the military and their families. This is not to say, however, that Americans with a wisp of consciousness did not have to cope with the news that emanated from the war zone. How should those opposed to a war of choice feel when – day after day, year after year – proof of the folly is reported in the lists of dead soldiers and civilians?

I recall the eve of the invasion, as the countdown to Bush’s ultimatum ticked down on the corner of the screen, Bill Press and Tucker Carlson signed off from their crappy program, Spin Room.

“Well, I hope I’m wrong,” the anti-war Press volunteered gamely after articulating his fears of a prolonged occupation. At 21, I was nowhere near the level of maturity it took for Bill Press to admit that the best outcome would be a quick and decisive exchange of power and return to peace. In the run up to the war, I was tossing and turning in bed, talking to myself, consumed with righteousness. I wanted nothing more in life than to be proven right, war sucks, yet what could be grimmer and more psychologically unsanitary than feeling satisfaction at the protraction or intensification of a war?

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The quick shit: meditations on time spent in the restroom

bathroom stormtroopers

Jimmy Tracy is a nurse.

I meditated about anal hygiene on this site last year, but I sense that another scatological debate begs for the light of day. Picture, if you will, a stack of magazines next to a toilet. My entire life, I have never done more than stare at the cover of the one on top while I took care of business (Playboys excepting, of course). It gradually dawned on me that people actually read articles, or even entire magazines, while shitting. My question boils down to this: How huge are these anaconda shits and may I please see what took you 10 minutes to push out?

I feel as though I may be tempting fate. Not because I’m asking to look at your stool, but because I don’t want to ridicule the unwell. I can’t judge anyone with bowel disease or acute infectious diarrhea. Take your time – I’ll use the shitter upstairs. For that matter, older folks have slower gastrointestinal motility. If I let my father-in-law beat me to the bathroom, I only have myself to blame. My issue is with healthy young people. Your stacks of magazines tell the story. You need to wrap it up. People are waiting.

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Ode to the Haitian tap tap

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How to explain Port-au-Prince traffic? No lanes, no cops, no rules. However, almost no animosity or mistrust between the drivers. In its place, there’s a sense of battlefield camaraderie among those brave enough to take the wheel. From above, I imagine it would resemble a fast-forwarded stadium parking lot exodus. On the street level, it’s mouthfuls of dust and smoke, choppy as horseback, a veritable brass ensemble of horns, and there is no better way to experience it than on a wooden plank protruding from the back of a rusty, dilapidated pick-up.

Tap taps are the idiomatic public transportation of Haiti, the hackney carriage of Port-au-Prince. The iconic version of a tap tap is a vividly decorated pick-up with a covered bed, though many are unpainted trucks with natural, tetanus-colored roofs. There are two parallel benches and, invariably, a spare tire in the bed. The tailgate is removed, so the benches and railing extend the approximate width of an extra human ass past the bumper. Passengers jump into the back, sometimes while the truck is rolling and already packed stiff. In this case, the newcomer stands on the protruding portion of the bed with his head above the cover: the most ventilated, scenic, perilous, and entertaining spot in a tap tap.

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Mohamed Bouazizi: Man of the Year

tunisian protests

Mohamed Bouazizi. Anyone who believes that technology saturation, mutually-assured nuclear destruction and globalization has deprived our era of romanticism need merely Google his name. What chasms lay between you, gentle reader, and an indigent 27-year-old Tunisian who immolated himself on an otherwise mundane Friday morning in December? And how could he have known that his violent end would mark the beginning of peaceful movements across the Maghreb?

His act, like many suicides in from Sharm el-Sheikh to Islamabad, was inherently pathological but also explicitly political. Nothing about his short biography leads me to believe that his grievances went beyond garden-variety Middle Eastern (or, if you like, North African) corruption. His suicide was basically over a little nose-bloodying by some municipal thugs in lieu of an unpaid bribe. I, for one, would have put a cold lamb T-bone on his face and said, “Suck it up, Mo. Shit happens.” But the young street vendor took his complaint downtown, was rebuffed by a local governor, and set himself on fire before lunchtime. Therein lies the point of the sword. The majority of South Tunisians, Tunisians, North Africans, and citizens across the region and the entire world think more about day-to-day pains in the ass and humiliations than eternity in paradise or a fiery grave. But corruption, unlike terrorism, rarely kills, so it seldom inspires revolutions and strengthens stable dictatorships. But when it does…

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A sensible plan to not create jobs, gorge the Pentagon, and royally piss everyone off

evil elephant

The House Republican Study Committee took a bold first step toward national solvency with the release of its 2011 budget recommendations Thursday. As Congress faces a projected federal shortfall of $14 trillion, the brightest minds in the Republican Party honed in on the most pressing expenses on the national invoice.

Wisely declining to withhold so much as a three-hole puncher from the Department of Defense, which accounts for over $1 trillion in spending per annum, the new House majority plans to empty the pockets of programs that never helped anyone, such as USAID. A couple weeks after laughing off the suggestion of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to terminate $80 billion in superfluous Pentagon spending, our Republican friends proposed to slash funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal assistance to poor people (who probably broke the law anyway).

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The Lower Dens at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

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Everything is better when it’s free, but living in Washington, D.C. can raise your expectations beyond, say, leftover pizza crusts or real-estate broadsheets. One of our priceless gems is the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center, where the Lower Dens performed early Monday evening.

Millennium Stage features an act every day at 6 p.m. in the Grand Foyer (read “gargantuan lobby”) of the Kennedy Center. They also stream the shows live and archive them on their website. Performances are tailored to the septuagenarian Foggy Bottom crowd and cultured commuters waiting out the rush-hour bottleneck; shows are an hour long, appropriate for all ages, and don’t raise your blood pressure.

Into this formula stepped the Lower Dens, an indie rock quartet from Baltimore of whom I had never heard until checking the Kennedy Center website an hour from curtain. The group, self-described as “New Wave” on its MySpace page, faced what qualifies as a full house in a corner of the cathedral-sized lobby. The standing-room-only audience ranged in age from around three to seventy-five. Retired schoolteacher ushers in red blazers herded the constant influx and efflux of non-paying customers. Everyone was tired, well-behaved, and profoundly tepid in their applause in spite of an obvious sense of general approval.

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The tax deal: Obama and the Republicans

Obama

To borrow a phrase from the Colbert Report, the Republicans dangled their big brass ones during the midterm elections and the subsequent lame-duck tax debate. They stood in the face of public opinion polls to champion the extension of Bush tax cuts and estate tax provisions, using as leverage expiring unemployment benefits. An unreformed Scrooge might have cheered them on gleefully. Many on the left felt it was a fight Obama should have relished.

The accord Obama struck with congressional Republicans last week should not be a surprise for at least two reasons. The first was the consistent mix from White House mouthpieces of theoretical opposition to extending the tax cuts and an explicit willingness to broker a deal. The other is the fact that Obama has been compromising since Inauguration Day. Only Republican Indian-giving (pardon the expression), hyperbolic rhetoric, and voting discipline have masked the fact that Obama has tried unsuccessfully to craft a centrist Third Way since we met him in 2004. He sacrificed much on the stimulus, health care reform, and financial reform, all of which were diluted by Obama’s quixotic mission for Republican good faith. History will mark this as the theme of his first term. Which leads us to the controversial pact and his quest for a second.

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Dirty Boy! John Waters does The Simpsons

A year before Will and Grace debuted in 1998, The Simpsons ran an episode guest-starring John Waters called “Homer’s Phobia.” In retrospect, it’s amazing to think an episode about Bart becoming fruity was controversial or edgy in the late ‘90’s, but it was. Though over the last fifteen years we have witnessed a near-complete entertainment coup by our gay friends, this episode was pioneering enough to win an Emmy and an award from the folks at GLAAD.

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Lebron James contributes to Lebron James Poetry Contest

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“Shoot me with your words/you may cut me with your eyes/but still, like air, I rise.”

Dressed up like a Beat and accompanied by gratuitous bongos, Lebron James belatedly contributed to the poetry contest bearing his name in a Nike commercial released this week. As obviously as the ad was written by deft corporate screenwriters, I thought the verse was just contrived enough to have possibly been the one license offered Lebron in the whole production. I have since been told it is an excerpt from a Maya Angelou poem, “Still I Rise,” but it only served to evoke the question: is King James is cynical enough to abstain entirely from the creation of an ad campaign designed to profit off his unique set of personal anxieties? I suspect he’s content to simply play Nike’s versions of himself on TV.

This confluence of the ad and poetry contest brought to mind Gilbert Arenas, James’s onetime peer at the summit of NBA talent. Three years ago, I watched a low-budget D.C. Comcast Sports Net profile of the Wizards’ star. You know the type: highlight reels, goofy interview sprinkled with forced jollity, a pillow-fluffing for Washington’s top athlete. At the time, everyone loved Arenas for his joie-de-vivre on the court, a couple winning seasons, and his ability to drain this type of PR free throw.

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The Pillars of the Earth: a review of sorts

pilars of the earth

One bright Saturday morning in September, I lightly packed my backpack and took the Metro down to the National Book Festival on the National Mall. I invited a select group of friends who I deemed sufficiently sophisticated and dedicated to the written word to accompany me to the festivities. Fortunately, book fairs are very easy to enjoy on one’s own, thanks very much.

Walking on the gravelly sidewalk adjacent to the lawn, I noticed a silver-maned chap speaking in front of a camera and an unpretentious woman holding a boom mike and a list of questions. I immediately pegged them for those sensationalists at C-SPAN. The man was smartly dressed in a navy blue suit that was somehow repellant to the clouds of dust kicked up by passers-by. I leaned over the cameraman’s shoulder and listened as the man talked in a soft British accent about writing a book to raise people’s interest in World War I. The interview ended moments later, and I moved on to the book sales tent with a tepid interest in figuring out who this dude is.

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A personal account: the Sleepless in Seattle soundtrack

sleepless in seattle soundtrack

I don’t recall anyone in my family going to see Sleepless in Seattle, nor did we ever rent it from Specs on South Dixie Highway. It was the toast of the country in 1993, heralded as the best romantic comedy in a generation, but the impact of its release was little felt in the Tracy household. And while it’s possible that my mother bought a cassette of the soundtrack for herself that summer, it seems highly out of character. It was probably a birthday gift between soccer moms. Fancy that soon thereafter this 11-year-old had to accept that it was his favorite album of all-time.

Every summer of my youth, the expatriate Tracy clan of Coral Gables would pack up like the dysfunctional Joads and trundle northward to visit the extended family. Various points in the journey would devolve into a war of attrition at close quarters. I would instigate by provoking my older sister. Liz would retaliate, often by punching me and hurting her hand, which constituted total victory for Jimmy and set me off into utter rapture. My mother would invoke the Lord’s name (and much saltier language) until unbuckling her seatbelt and lunging like a rabid Yeti into the backseat, sinking her claws into our soft pubescent flesh.

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Part II: Haiti, life in the clinic

Haiti

Diagnosing disease in a fully-loaded modern emergency room is a process that rarely takes place entirely within the walls of the department. A patient is seen for five minutes by a physician. Once orders are placed, a cascade of events begins. Blood and urine is collected and sent to a laboratory. Meanwhile, the patient is sent to radiology for scans and x-rays. A call may be placed to the patient’s primary physician. This gathering of data may take many hours, sometimes warranting an overnight stay without a firm diagnosis. American healthcare workers are addicted to data and lashed to it by fear of litigation, and there is no evidence more incriminating than within an emergency room armed to the teeth with diagnostic and interventional firepower.

This is the only world I had ever known before I went to Haiti for a week of volunteer work as a nurse last month. Suddenly, our misfit gang of nurses, paramedics, and firefighters were thrust into an environment wherein each of us was called “doctor” and the most powerful tool we had was the stethoscope around our necks.

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Glenn Beck rally, pumped and ready to restore honor: whatever that means

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As I neared the National Mall en route to a tee time Saturday afternoon, I dialed my radio to C-SPAN’s live transmission of the Glenn Beck revival, “Restoring Honor.” I was rudely re-routed from Ohio Drive over the Memorial Bridge, where hordes of hideously dressed Caucasians mystifyingly sauntered away from the keynote speaker toward Arlington Cemetery. Perhaps they mistakenly heard there was a Bob Evans within walking distance. While I searched the vacant faces in the crowd for the emotional tenor of the afternoon, I gave Reverend Beck a few minutes to plead his case.

As if to herald the eye of a mighty storm, Beck strained to put a more nuanced event on the busy calendar of an otherwise ham-handed, childishly simplistic political movement. He insisted that his demonstration to “restore honor” would not be political, but some kind of pep rally for veterans and God-fearing Americans who feel upset about the direction of American culture. Because the themes were shrouded in a soupçon of mystery and because it interrupted my drive to the golf course, I tuned in to hear what Beck had to say when the spotlight shone brightest.

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Part I: first impressions on Haiti

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Jimmy just returned from a weeklong medical trip to Haiti. Here are his first impressions.

Haiti is a country that needs friends. During that all-too-brief window between the Cold War and the War on Terror, Bill Clinton attempted to make Haiti an example of American intervention on behalf of human rights instead of capitalism or military strategy. At the time, he seemed like the captain of a pick-up basketball team picking the scrawniest kid on the court first overall. Now, we admire him for bringing Haiti into the Clintonian sphere of influence, but there remains a vast distance between Haiti and that part of the world not related to Bill Clinton.

To be honest, my interest in Haiti, before and since the earthquake, has been cool at best. My Lebanese heritage draws me to the intrigue of the Middle East. I married into a Latino family and am trying to become fluent in Spanish. I was reared to be cultured in Western art, so I worship the European masters. The Haitians have their own language, religions, and culture, which render it fascinating but inaccessible to the intellectually lazy. My sister studied Afro-Caribbean religions in graduate school, so I thought, “Fuck it, I can always say my sister knows about that shit.”

It was in this state of mind that I was offered a chance to go to Haiti to work as a nurse for a week at the end of July. The most preparation I did was to read a book by the doctor who began the Medishare program. I also leafed through a French phrase book. The next thing I knew I was on a plane to Port-au-Prince.

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Klosterweek: the Chuck Klosterman I know

we love u

I know very little about Chuck Klosterman and there’s a good reason why I never will. While recounting epiphanies made during conversations, it seems as though he has the uncanny ability to concoct a subtle opinion about deep shit in a matter of split seconds (i.e. “but that’s not really valid,” etc.). This makes me terrified of ever talking to him about anything deeper than the weather.

Of course, he may (a) indeed possess a lightning-fast wit, (b) meditate over every possible viewpoint before initiating a conversation, or © boil down entire conversations so it appears that a moment of cocktail-party banter unearthed a nugget good enough for publication. (Fresh from reading Eating the Dinosaur, I had to ape him at least once – too bad it’s not a humorous footnote). I like to think it’s one of the first two, because they would be one or two awesome things to know about Chuck without having to stop trembling, pat-dry the pee on my pants, and then introduce myself.

In this light, the first essay in Dinosaur is the most intimidating but also the best in the book. It’s vintage Chuck, an examination of his experiences as an interviewer explained by interviews with other interviewers.

In a certain state of intoxication, I opened the book in front of the MLB All-Star game in Anaheim. Softly in the background, four innings flew by as the pitchers made mincemeat of hapless sluggers squinting into the late afternoon glare. Meanwhile, Little Jimmy, curled up in his tattered undies with beer warming on the table, read totally transfixed, feeling like he stumbled into the candlelit sanctum of the Smart People Club.

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Recycle the Examiner!

capitol hill interns

It’s the stuff shooting sprees are made of. I only see it two or three mornings a week, each time for less than a minute, but it’s always enough to get my blood simmering before I even touch my coffee.

Outside of the George Washington University Metro stop, a group of smiling, pleasant black people hand out free newspapers. “Enjoy your Tuesday,” one told me today. Half of this contingency hands out the Express, Washington Post’s vapid, third-grade vocabulary rehashing of AP stories. The other half dish out The Examiner. With its austere eagle-bedecked logo (stolen from the venerable San Francisco broadsheet) and splashy local front-page headlines, The Examiner looks the part of a serious and D.C.-centric alternative to the pretentious national coverage of the competition.

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World Cup rundown: we're winners

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I was waiting until the United States advanced before commenting on the World Cup because, let’s face it: this was almost another pointless hype-fest like Germany ‘06. I deplore the use of this word in sports, but Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Algeria was a fucking redemption within a redemption. Clint Dempsey’s nullified goal in the first half might have lead to a despicable repeat of the Slovenia debacle. The Americans would have walked away from the Cup righteously protesting the outcome of two of their three games. That would have been worse than a plain ole ass-whoopin’. Instead, the extra-time winner by Donovan erased the memory of the first-half controversy and the Slovenia affair in one fell swoop.

The most immersive subplot of the Americans’ World Cup run is how the tournament is being received here in the U.S. World Cup enthusiasm around the embassies of Northwest D.C. has divided our city not in thirty-six ways, as one might assume, but just three. There are many, like the guys at my 7-11 with a 28’ TV behind the counter, who literally do not miss a minute. Then, there are people who don’t give a wet fart about soccer. Finally, there are my neighbors and friends who show a tepid, transient interest in the passion of the world.

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Foster an Israeli settler!

foster care

Do you have room in your heart for an Israeli settler?

As we are all now infinitely aware, last month Helen Thomas helpfully floated the names of three countries as potential destinations for Israelis who awaken to the fact that fulfilling Zionism is exciting but neither smart nor particularly fun.

Most notably, she mentioned Germany, which my sister insists is fantastic and where anti-Semitism is actually verboten. Considering how hard Liz is to please and how universally legal anti-Semitism is, Germany’s a pretty solid primary option.

Next, we consider Poland. Richard Cohen of the Washington Post pointed out that, immediately after World War II, the Poles murdered 1,500 Jews who attempted to move back into their homeland. Personally, I never had anything against the Poles, at least not before learning this ugly bit of history. But does anyone really think this would happen in 2010? To suggest it is a little rough on those goofy Polacks for my liking.

Anyway, we move to option #3. Almost all commentators have been omitting the last country mentioned by Ms. Thomas. Of course, to mention it would be to open an interesting can of worms. The United States? Helen Thomas (or should we call her Tellin’ Hamas?) suggested that the Jews, the people she ostensibly despises, should all…move in next door?

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