Saturday, November 10, 2007


Excuse me for saying this, but I want to take a huge dump on the faces of the Jonas brothers. I just encountered can I say it...bizarrely excessive music video by this vigorous, youthful trio. Interestingly enough, an interview with the Jonas' is one of the most viewed YouTube videos at the moment.

Being a person that loves electronic instruments, of course I take offense at the band's use of synthesizers. Otherwise my disdain for this band, should you examine the link, are obvious. But I do not feel contempt at them so much as I feel overtaken by disbelief. Tell me, readers, do people really listen to this kind of music?

Come See Ben Lee

New School Provost Ben Lee. This editorial runs in the November 12 issue of The New School Free Press.

If you are even remotely curious about the future of your university's programs and curricula, you should attend Provost Ben Lee's presentation on the university's academic initiatives on November 29.

The New School's Provosts have always been overshadowed by the outsize personality of New School's President, Bob Kerrey, and all of his outrageous controversies. But for the most part it is the Provost, not the President, who takes the lead in initiatives that are absolutely integral to the university's academic operations. Over the past several years, the Provost's Office has risen to a prominent position here, having developed full-time faculty governance rules, introduced a plan to hire full-time faculty at multiple divisions, and narrowly avoided a part-time faculty strike during negotiations over the terms of their union contract.

Lee, who replaced Arjun Appadurai as Provost in Summer 2006, now pilots a plan to revolutionize, for better or worse, our university's curricula. He has worked with the New School's deans to develop a series of university-wide, interdisciplinary and project-based programs that will tackle complex issues like global warming and urban renewal. In his presentation next week, we expect that Provost Lee will discuss the complications administrators have seen so far in bringing Parsons and Lang students together for lecture courses, and the latest developments in creating the Environmental Studies program.

Administrators say that the university-wide programs will be a more efficient and effective use of our university's resources--and we are inclined to believe them. But so far, the project has seen serious challenges. The university plans to hire more faculty that will work at multiple divisions here, and university officials have told the Free Press that scheduling courses for joint faculty can be mind-boggling in its complexity.

And this year, after Lang forced its Social and Historical Inquiry program into the new model by turning two core seminar courses into Social Thought lectures 1 and 2, a lot of Parsons students greeted their new lectures on liberalism, sociology and economic theory with a resounding "So what?" The few Lang students taking these courses, meanwhile, have suffered through dumbed-down discussion sections where their classmates struggle to define terms like "class" and "capitalism."

Last Spring, Provost Lee presented the university-wide plan to a crowd of officials and a few students. By this Fall, he said, the plan should be in a more advanced state. If not, he added, "this process has failed."

The project, indeed, has been coming along--but the progress has given officials more problems to solve. Now, it looks like Lee is walking a tight-rope during a Chicago wind-storm. If you are wondering how he intends to pull off this bold undertaking--which will hugely affect your education, of course--you need to be in the Orozco room on the 29th.

The University-Wide Academic Plan
Thursday, November 29, 2007
66 West 12th Street, 7th floor
Orozco Room

Photo: courtesy the New School

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Pancakes After Mosul

In October 2005, a plane filled with soldiers touched down at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State. Sergeant Carl Westlind stepped onto the tarmac, then hopped onto a bus with his platoon, which headed to Fort Lewis nearby. The soldiers marched over to a gym on the base, where their families were waiting.

“Oh hell yeah,” Westlind recalled thinking, in a phone interview earlier tonight. “Oh hell yeah.”

They arrived at the gym, and a huge shutter door opened. It was a Hollywood moment, he said. Immediately he saw his mom, a housewife who loves gardening, in the crowd of eager parents. His commander gave a brief, congratulatory speech, then dismissed the soldiers for the weekend.

Westlind, 25, a member of the Charlie Company Styker Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, had spent the past year in Mosul, a city in Iraq then at the focal point of a U.S. counterinsurgency effort. He described his mission as “police work,” pursuing “bombmakers and guys that chopped off heads.” Now, he was back in the United States.

Westlind raced to his mom and gave her a huge hug.

“I’m home,” he told her.

Westlind spent some time in his hometown of Longview, Washington, an industrial and logging town of about 50,000, forty or so miles north of Portland, Oregon. He got a good night’s sleep. He ate at his favorite restaurant, The Pancake House. He had a lot of money saved up, so he considered buying two four-wheel drive ATVs. He decided to save his money.

He also reunited with as many people as he could—his dad, a lineman who lives in Alaska, his girlfriend at the time (the relationship never worked out), old high school friends. Many of them, he said, asked “spectator questions.”

“‘Blow anybody up?’ No,” he said. “‘Did you kill anybody?’ Nope.”

In Mosul, Westlind stayed with his reconnaissance platoon in an air-conditioned metal container at a Forward Operating Base on the edge of the city, next door to a mortar platoon. It was “one big old family,” he said.

On one of their last patrols, Westlind's team was was caught in a vicious firefight and a soldier almost died. But in general, Westlind said his team faced little combat. The resistance came randomly, he said—once in a while, a few “jackasses” would drive by in a car and fire a few shots at the soldiers.

“I hear the word 'war,' I think of WWII. D Day," he said. “Honestly, it didn’t really seem like war."

In a year, he only fired his weapon once. Late one night, he was heading down a road in a convoy back to base. An Improvised Explosive Device erupted, hitting the truck ahead of his. Everyone dismounted from their vehicles and scanned the area. After making out what he thought were two insurgents in the distance, a soldier started firing a 50-caliber machine gun. Westlind followed suit, pumping grenades from his Mark-19 in the same direction.

He got a message on the radio: “Westlind, you’re right on top of him!” He continued firing a barrage of grenades. But after the troops scanned the target area, they found nothing.

Westlind is still not sure if he killed anyone, but since his team never recovered any bodies after the incident, he tells people that he did not.

“If I did,” he said, “they were obliterated.”

Not much had changed in Westlind’s hometown, he said. One friend looked a tad older. There was a new supermarket.

Westlind said he had not changed much, either—he experienced no anxiety attacks, nightmares, or other Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder-related complications.

But he still has memories of his time in Mosul.

Around Christmas time in 2004, a suicide bomber found his way into one platoon’s chow hall. He blew himself up, killing 19 soldiers. Every so often, the image of one victim returns to Westlind’s mind: “A fairly heavy-set soldier staring straight into the sky, starting to turn a little bit blue.”

Westlind loved the men of his own platoon. With them he had spent three years training in California, Louisiana and eastern Washington, and then serving in Iraq.

“I consider every one of them my brother,” he said. “Some of them I would consider my dad.”

“We all came back home alive,” he added.

He regrets not collecting all of their phone numbers after returning from Iraq.

Not long after Westlind redeployed, he was posted as a recruiter at a station in Lynwood, Washington. Most people who entered the office to join the Army were either felons, he said, or “overblown medical cases.” A man once came in who had wires in his hands, pins in his knees and a plate in his head. These types were all summarily rejected.

Westlind also recruited at Lynwood, Meadowdale and Scriber Lake High Schools. He had trouble finding new recruits.

“‘Oh, heck no. I hate Bush. I hate the war.’ Blah blah blah,” he said. “Those are two things I just can’t help.”

Last May, he transferred out of the recruiting job and moved to Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas. By the end of his recruiting tenure, he said, “I put in zero people.”

In a few months, Westlind will leave the United States again. He is now training for a deployment to Afghanistan. He is not sure when he leaves, or where he will go once he gets there. He is happy that he will go there instead of Iraq, he added, since Afghanistan is statistically facing less violence than Iraq.

Westlind will get married before he deploys. He met his 32-year-old fiancée when she worked on ships for the Navy and built tug-boats—“stuff that big boys do,” he said. He hopes that she will be prepared for their separation once he deploys. He is optimistic, since she knows the ways of military family life.

“Luckily for me,” he said, “she’s an Army brat.”

Photo: Sgt. Carl Westlind with the Strykers in Mosul, Iraq

Monday, November 5, 2007

A Senseless Me

At the moment, I want to be like Gary Karp
just a picture on a website or a sticker on a wall
so anyone can do to me what they please
and all I’d do is be.
I wish for a wilderness around me,
but to live as nothing, merely this piece of paper
fodder for imaginations, but nothing still.
Of all my surroundings, I would smell and taste, see and hear
and best of all feel nothing.
For who would I be then, but me
and only me?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Am I Forever Cursed to Drink the Foul Soup Mac Serves?

I came across an old friend today - a compilation by the band that predated Xiu Xiu, Ten In The Swear Jar. I slipped the CD into my MacBook's narrow mouth.

Needless to say I was excited to hear the classics "San Jose Fight Song" and "Hot Karl." Those are two of my favorite songs. But I felt sick when the machine started coughing and wheezing, the CD struggling to spin smoothly. I felt a deep pain inside of me. Finally I felt that my whole world had flipped upside down.

It all started a few days ago, when one after the other my computer ejected several CDs from its mouth. Now it looks official: iTunes downloads are fine, but my computer no longer accepts CDs.

Tonight is a sad night.

Don't Blame Musharraf, Blame Democracy

Pakistani President/Commander in Chief Pervez Musharraf is the latest to pull off the classic trick of the modern age: invoking democracy to justify the termination of democracy.

Musharraf has announced to his people, in a fog of legal euphemism, that he will run the nation how he pleases and subjugate any critics, in order to quell any further humiliation of he and his supporters and to present a "unified" front against the bands of Islamic fanatics encroaching upon Pakistan's major cities.

"WHEREAS the Government is committed to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and holds the superior judiciary in high esteem, it is nonetheless of paramount importance that the Honourable Judges confine the scope of their activity to the judicial function and not assume charge of administration."

"I General Pervez Musharraf, Chief of the Army Staff, proclaim Emergency throughout Pakistan...I hereby order and proclaim that the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan shall remain in abeyance...This Proclamation shall come into force at once."

Check out Musharraf's "Proclamation of Emergency" here. You will find fine examples of totalitarian double-speak.

The reality of the situation - police storming the streets and the Supreme Court, phone lines being jammed and independent television stations being shut down - is of course dire. I tend to think that such acts are as much control as marketing: to grab for power and simultaneously present a new, alternate reality.

What will the terrorists, the enemy here, think? That Musharraf is a brave and fearsome leader who is so bold as to buck the will of the Bush Administration, and who will certainly reunify the military? Has he breathed fear into their hearts?

Or will they see Musharraf as he is seen by the majority of Pakistan's democracy advocates, and now the international community - an out of control flip-flopper, so weak and starved of support that he must declare "emergency" in the country he leads?

Musharraf presumably intends to crush the violent Al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers with impunity, no longer hindered by the rule of law. He intends to crush the opposition movement, largely moderate critics who are pushing for the return to democratic law. But surely this newfound "emergency," this pronouncement of chaos, will embolden all of their causes. Surely, in his attempt to enforce a false sense of unity, Musharraf will only birth more and more enemies.