Thursday, August 31, 2006


Long before "1984," Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote "We" -- a dystopian nightmare that remains eerily relevant even as Huxley and Orwell seem almost quaint.

By Priya Jain

Sept. 1, 2006 | "True literature," wrote the Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin, "can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy functionaries, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics." In that case, Zamyatin was a truly mad heretic. The father of the dystopian novel, Zamyatin is widely recognized as the first writer to take H.G. Wells' science-fiction vision and turn it on its head. If the novel, with its low-tech paper-and-ink delivery system, is rebellion against scientific progress, the dystopian novel has to be the greatest act of rebellion in existence. Technology is about making us more efficient and happier; the dystopian novel is about making us realize how important, and deeply human, it is to be lazy and unhappy.

Zamyatin wrote his masterpiece "We" in 1920-21 as a satire of the tyrannical bent institutionalized Bolshevism was taking -- years before the worst features of the Soviet system truly became apparent. "We" served as the inspiration for George Orwell's "1984," and although Aldous Huxley swore he'd never read "We," his "Brave New World" bears a resemblance to it. ("We" also probably influenced Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451," Ayn Rand's "Anthem," and Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Dispossessed.") And yet Zamyatin's name is rarely mentioned when discussing dystopian literature outside of the classroom. Orwell and Huxley regularly top best-book lists; "Big Brother," "newspeak" and "soma" are a part of our lexicon, but invoking terms from "We" brings up blank looks.

Hopefully, Natasha Randall's new translation will earn Zamyatin the readers he sorely deserves. "We" is one of the few dystopian novels to invoke a nightmarish atmosphere that hasn't aged (Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale" is another). Now that we know that the biggest utopian ideas of the 20th century -- communism, fascism, the perfectibility of mankind through technology -- were not only insane but also destined to fail, the classics of the genre can seem a little outdated. "1984," with its crumbling, post-blitzkrieg London, invokes a fear of rampant communism that is no longer a part of our lives. "Brave New World's" child hatchery and whizzing airplanes call to mind "Gattaca" more than a foreseeable future; Huxley's character names -- Lenina, Bernard Marx -- are quaintly mid-century. That doesn't mean we should discount these novels; they are a part of our literary history. On the other hand, because there is nothing era-specific about "We's" landscape, Zamyatin's imagined future still feels sadly, scarily possible.

As the novel opens, it's the 26th century A.D., and the Earth is under the power of the government of the dictator known as the Benefactor. A 200 Years War has killed all but .02 percent of the world's population, giving rise to the One State, which was partly created out of the need to ensure that there be no more revolutions. The One State has discovered the equation for "mathematically infallible happiness," which mostly consists of eliminating ego and desire. People no longer have names but numbers, and they're taught to think of themselves not as individuals, but as parts of a whole, a unified "we." They are referred to as "ciphers." (A quibble with Randall's Modern Library translation: In the 1993 Penguin Classics edition, "ciphers" are "Numbers," and "the One State" is the compactly futuristic "OneState." It may be that Randall's choices are closer to the original Russian, but they're much less evocative.)

In this mechanically minded future, a Table of Hours dictates every movement of the day; the ciphers get up, eat breakfast, and go to work in constant synchronicity. Their heads are shaved, and they wear matching uniforms and gold badges on their chests with their numbers. There's also a Table of Sex Days that ensures each cipher gets exactly as much sex as he or she needs. Thanks to the "Lex sexualis" claiming "Each cipher has the right to any other cipher as sexual product," finding a partner is no longer a problem.

Without individuality, privacy ceases to be an issue. The city of the One State is surrounded by a Green Wall, made of glass, and within the wall, everything too is made of transparent glass -- buildings, sidewalks, beds and chairs. (Only on Sex Days do the ciphers get to lower the blinds in their own rooms.) Even the space shuttle that the One State is set to launch -- in the hopes of conquering whatever unknown societies exist on other planets -- is made of glass. "We" takes the form of a diary started by the builder of that shuttle, a mathematician called D-503. When the Benefactor urges the ciphers to write something dealing with "the beauty and the grandeur of the One State" to send up in the shuttle -- in the hopes that words, before arms, will convince the extraterrestrials to willingly subjugate themselves to the One States' "beneficial yoke of reason" -- D-503 decides to record his daily life, so that those living "in the savage state of freedom" will see how wonderful un-freedom really is.

D-503 is cheerfully aware that life in the One State might sound absurd. Comparing his diary entries to a 20th century novelist needing to explain the word "jacket," he writes, "I am certain that the barbarian, looking at a 'jacket' would think: 'What's this for? Just more to carry on my back.' I have a feeling that you will think exactly the same thing when I tell you that none of us, since the Two-Hundred-Year War, has been beyond the Green Wall." But he soldiers on nonetheless: "I will just attempt to record what I see, what I think -- or more exactly, what we think," he writes, and he stays true to that goal even when his "I" begins to deviate from the "we."

Soon after D begins his records, he goes on a "walk" -- really a march of "hundreds and thousands" "in measured rows, by fours" -- and meets I-330, a female cipher with "white -- unusually white -- and sharp teeth" who immediately gets under his skin: "There was a kind of strange and irritating X to her, and I couldn't pin it down, couldn't give it any numerical expression." He hates her at first and then realizes that she's infected him with the one thing that trumps all rational thought: love. And, as he soon discovers, I-330 is a rebel; before long she ensnares him in her plot to overthrow the One State.

Anyone who has read "1984" can probably guess what happens, but Zamyatin's plot is almost secondary to his playful character sketches and his poetic descriptions of D's metamorphosis. Zamyatin's characters are, on the surface, cartoonish, but that adds a gleefully surreal element to the novel. Almost every cipher magically contains the physical properties of his or her number: I-330 is "thin, sharp, stubbornly supple, like a whip"; O-90, the female Number D shares his Sex Days with, is short and round, and D refers often to her "pink circle of a mouth." Even the X factor that D notices in I-330 expresses itself physically, in the sharp lines of her eyebrows and between the corners of her mouth and nose.

D himself doesn't resemble the letter D, but he too is a caricature: He obsesses over his hands, which are "hairy and shaggy," "monkey hands" -- a portent of the transformation he's about to undergo. And some of D's thoughts are hilariously inhuman, like when O-90 tells him, "I would so like to come to you today and lower the blinds," and D thinks it a sign of her dimness, writing with exasperation that she "knows as well as I do that our next Sex Day is the day after tomorrow." But he is also overwhelmingly passionate -- even when discussing math problems, his excitement nearly shakes the page -- and when he starts to embrace the irrational, that passion turns him into a poet, and he experiences love, and all its accompanying terror and wonder, with heartbreaking rawness. Shortly after sleeping with I-330 for the first time, D finds "the air itself is a little rosy, all steeped in the sun's gentle blood," but later, suffering from her absence, the days become "the same yellow color, like desiccated, incandescent sand." As a doctor tells him, when D goes to the Bureau of Medicine with the hopes of being cured, "How awful for you! By the looks of it, you've developed a soul."

With his childlike confliction and confusion, D appears to share little with his creator, aside from their mathematical backgrounds. Zamyatin was born in Lebedyan, Russia, in 1884, the son of an Orthodox priest, and worked for most of his life as a naval engineer. The rest of his biography describes a man who was not only unafraid of a fight, but was perpetually looking for one. He was arrested several times, first in 1905, for being a Bolshevik student activist, and later for trying to publish satire critical of the regime that had risen from Bolshevism. He was also exiled repeatedly, and always managed to find his way back. Thanks to his friend Maxim Gorky, he managed to land a literary job in 1917 and helped nurture the young literary talent that arose in Russia in the 1920s. "We," naturally, was banned (it was first published in New York, in English, in 1924, and wasn't allowed into the USSR until '88 under glasnost). In 1931, tired of censorship, Zamyatin asked to be allowed to go into exile one more time, writing to Stalin, "I beg to be permitted to go abroad with my wife with the right to return as soon as it becomes possible in our country to serve great ideas in literature without cringing before little men" -- and, amazingly, won his freedom. He fled to Paris, where the lack of conflict seemed to disagree with him: He died in 1937, unable to complete another novel.

D does embody one of Zamyatin's most steadfast beliefs, that the dialectic between entropy and energy -- dogma and revolution -- propels history. By framing that dialectic as a psychological drama, Zamyatin also ensured that "We" would resonate long after he was gone, transcending mere parable or satire. Unlike Orwell's Winston Smith or Huxley's Bernard Marx, D starts off happy, a truly dutiful cipher who believes wholeheartedly in the One State. He acknowledges that there are kinks in the system -- "even today … from the shaggy depths of things, you can here the wild echoes of monkeys" -- but rejoices that these are "easily repaired, without having to stop perpetual, great progress of the whole machine." And besides, as he's writing, the powers-that-be are putting the finishing touches on the Great Operation, which will surgically remove every cipher's imagination and complete the perfection of mankind.

Because he's telling the story, much of the novel's action takes place in D's head, a Freudian battle between the superego and the id, which I-330 awakens in him. (And like so many innocent-seeming words in Zamyatin's novel, the title "We" takes on this other layer, of the two different D's fighting between love and reason.) The further he goes down the path to the irrational, the more forcefully he argues for the One State rationalism, as if he were trying to exert some control over his mind. Reading his defenses of the One State is to understand that tyranny isn't the product of some monstrous impulse, but rather an extension of human reason, stretched, unchecked, until it's gone too far. There's a dispassionate, theoretical logic to D making fun of the "ancients" for knowing animal husbandry but allowing humans to procreate willy-nilly, or in proclaiming the hypocrisy of those same old governments for making it a crime to kill one person but allowing everyone to shorten their own lives through unhealthy habits.

Nor is it illogical to read the story of Adam and Eve as he does, as a choice between "happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness," and the "beneficial yoke" of the One State as returning mankind to the garden. And when love invades -- what the mathematically inclined D first understands as the irrational number √-1 -- and unhappiness, jealousy and yearning pervade him, it becomes impossible not to pity him and almost to wish that he could go back to his blissful, robotic state. As a character, D becomes far more interesting when he starts to live in the irrational world "where minus one has roots." And yet, how can we not want him to be happy, even if that means subjecting him to the Great Operation? Zamyatin knows that the One State doesn't just exist on the page, nor is it some evil plot concocted by an unknown they; that "we" encompasses all of us.

The tension between reason and the irrational doesn't just exist in D's head; each detail in "We" hums with hidden meaning, a compressed accordion of metaphors, jokes and symbolism. I-330 doesn't just look like the letter "I," she also represents the individual "I," revolting against the "we," and the irrational √-1, represented in math as i. Mathematicians tend to dismiss D's social-mathematical defenses of the One State as overly simplistic and error-ridden "pseudo-math," but because of Zamyatin's engineering background, it's probably wise to assume that his mistakes were intentional, signaling the faultiness of the One State's happiness formula and adding another layer to D's unstable psyche. For example, D writes that "bliss and envy are the numerator and denominator of that fraction known as happiness," and that thanks to the "Lex sexualis," "the denominator of the happiness fraction has been reduced to zero and the fraction becomes magnificent infinity." Of course, dividing by zero yields nothing; it is an illegal operation -- probably Zamyatin's sly joke on the impossibility of ever really eradicating envy.

But if we're safe from ever being rid of envy or desire, Zamyatin suggests that something equally scary could occur. One of the remarkable things about the One State is that it doesn't seem to need to censor the past. There is an Ancient House at the edge of town, where D and I-330 meet up, that serves as a museum to the creaky history of opaque walls and jumbled apartments. Early in the novel, D attends a lecture on music that features a classical piano performance. He frequently refers to Kant and Pushkin, and he's familiar with Shakespeare. Yet none of these things move him or the other ciphers to feel, to revolt. Orwell's dystopian tyrants rewrote books, and Huxley's simply destroyed them, because they feared such things might awaken the humanity in their citizens. The real-life tyrants under whom Zamyatin lived feared art's power as well. There's something comforting in that thought -- that as long as we have books and music, religion and history, humanity can be brought back to itself. And yet Zamyatin gets at a scarier idea: For people without humanity, art has no effect. It's not a theory we should put to the test. While "We" still has the power to hold our imaginations, we need to read it.

This article appeared on

Rated "R" for Righteous

"This Movie Is Not Yet Rated" pulls back the curtain on the secretive MPAA movie ratings board, moral "experts" determined to protect little Johnny from pubic hair and bad language.

By Stephanie Zacharek

The next time some barf-worthy line of ad copy exhorts you to see a movie through the eyes of a child, remember that in most cases, someone else already has. The Motion Picture Association of America ratings board exists to make sure that children -- they are our most precious resource, you know -- aren't unwittingly exposed to on-screen nudity, violence, drug use or inappropriate language. And if you think that sounds like censorship, both the MPAA's former head, the so-smooth-he's-slick Jack Valenti, and its current one, Dan Glickman, would race to assure you that it's not: The system is entirely voluntary; no filmmaker is required to submit his or her movie for a rating. On its Web site, the MPAA comes off as a folksy little organization dedicated to serving the greater good by helping parents "make informed decisions about what their kids watch." The MPAA ratings board doesn't want to spoil a good time, it just wants to make sure little Johnny isn't warped for life by hearing the F-word or catching a glimpse of pubic hair. And what's so bad about that?

Plenty, if you're a thinking adult who cares about the vast artistic possibilities of moviemaking, both within the mainstream and outside it. That's the driving concern behind "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," filmmaker Kirby Dick's exploration of the MPAA ratings board, a mysterious and anonymous group of individuals who distract us by carrying out the seemingly harmless task of providing guidelines for parents, even as they wield a disturbing degree of control - control that's only growing and deepening - over what adults can see. As Newsweek film critic David Ansen, interviewed in the film, says of the ratings system, "It's supposed to protect children, but it's turning us all into children."

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated" is a sincere, spirited, fascinating picture that scrapes away at the purportedly benign facade of the MPAA ratings board -- a facade that has been meticulously plastered, painted and gilded over the years by former Lyndon B. Johnson aide Valenti, who headed the MPAA from 1968 until 2005 -- to uncover its insidiousness and suggest the breadth of its influence. The picture, deliciously, catches MPAA representatives in one lie after another, picking up on their backtracking and doublespeak about their motives and modes of operation. At one point Matt Stone tells of how the 1997 feature he made with Trey Parker, "Orgazmo," received an NC-17. When he approached the ratings board chairman, asking what he could do to get an R, he was told that the board couldn't give specific guidelines -- "because that would make us a censorship organization," Stone recalls her saying. Later, when he and Parker submitted "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut," which also originally received an NC-17, Stone again asked what he could cut to get an R. That time, he received an explanation of the specific words and acts that had to go. (Stone attributes the different treatment to the fact that "South Park" was released by a major studio, Paramount.)

"This Film Is Not Yet Rated" includes interviews with a First Amendment lawyer, a box-office analyst, two former ratings board members, and numerous filmmakers who have had pictures slapped with the dread NC-17 rating, including John Waters ("A Dirty Shame"), Wayne Kramer ("The Cooler"), Jamie Babbit ("But I'm a Cheerleader"), Mary Harron ("American Psycho") and Kimberly Peirce ("Boys Don't Cry"). (Waters' movie was the only one of those that couldn't be trimmed to receive an R.) An NC-17 rating -- or, for that matter, no rating, if a filmmaker refuses to submit to the ratings board at all -- can be the kiss of death for a small picture, or even a big one, since it severely limits how a movie can be advertised. Many news outlets won't run advertising for NC-17 or unrated pictures, and most theater chains won't show them. As box-office analyst Paul Dergarabedian points out in the film, the difference between an R rating (which means children under 17 can be admitted with a parent or guardian) and an NC-17 one (which means no one under 17 can be admitted at all), can be millions, or even tens of millions, of dollars. That's a potent and direct refutation of Valenti's claim, documented in the film, that ratings make no difference at the box office.

The MPAA is a trade association -- it was founded in 1922 to advocate for the American film industry -- that serves the six major studios, and its board is made up of chairpersons and presidents of those studios. The ratings board, conceived in 1968 by Valenti, is a group of 10 to 12 individuals employed full-time by the MPAA, each of whom serves for a term of several years. The identity of these individuals is kept secret, "to protect them from influence," Valenti has said. But according to MPAA rules, they are always parents, or people who have raised children. In stock footage used in the film, Valenti intones that they're "neither gods nor fools," although they throw their weight around like the former and collectively seem to have about as much sense as the latter.

In pursuit of these mysterious creatures of darkness, Dick decided to hire his own private detective to smoke out the identities of the board, and the most entertaining and exhilarating sections of "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" are the ones showing how she painstakingly located and identified each member of the group. Her name is Becky, and she's appealingly straightforward even when being sneaky, as when she goes about collecting pictures of all but one of them, caught unawares as they go about their everyday business.

As if her ferreting out of the ratings board members weren't enough, Becky also uncovered the makeup of the MPAA appeals board, a separate group whose identities are also kept secret. The appeals board is the group a filmmaker must submit a film to if unhappy with the rating granted by the ratings board. And as Dick shows us, the appeals guys are an even more insidious bunch of operators than the ratings crew: They include a buyer for Regal Cinemas, a vice-president of sales for Sony Pictures, the CEO of Fox Searchlight, and vice-presidents from both Landmark Theaters and Loews, as well as two representatives of religious groups, one Catholic and one Episcopalian. That means if your film doesn't survive the MPAA's moms and pops, those self-appointed guardians of our moral standards, you're really in trouble, because then you have to go up against the suits and the cassocks. In other words, this is a case of big business and organized religion putting their heads together to render a moral judgment on a filmmaker's work -- a judgment that could affect how much money a movie makes, or whether it even gets released at all. That's a nightmare at worst, and at best the punch line to a very bad joke.

Dick himself is a mischievous presence, and he obviously relishes the fight he's picking here. There's a lot of information packed into "This Film Is Not Yet Rated," but Dick's cool scrappiness -- which sometimes leaks over the line into smugness -- is what really informs the picture. Dick takes impish delight in the ridiculous conversations he had with Joan Graves, the chairman of the MPAA ratings board (and the only member whose identity is made known by the MPAA to the public) and the MPAA's surly lawyer Greg Goeckner, both of whom he had to deal with in the course of submitting "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" for rating. (Dick appealed the ratings board's original NC-17, but he couldn't get the ruling overturned.) It's also great fun to hear Waters recount details from his own experience with the appeals board: They told him, as he went in, that they served cookies -- but he was not to get any crumbs on the floor.

The movie makes some smart points about why the MPAA is so fearful of sex: Harron points out that "unleashed" sex -- particularly gay sex -- is viewed as a powerful force that could rend the fabric of society. In other words, because sex is so uncontrollable, it's the very thing that must be controlled, at all costs. But even though many of the assertions made in "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" are right on the money -- and amply supported -- Dick and his interviewees often undermine their own arguments with shoddy logic and harebrained connections. One sequence features director Wayne Kramer and star Maria Bello talking about how frustrated they were that, because of its explicit sex scenes (and, specifically, a flash of Bello's pubic hair), "The Cooler" at first received an NC-17 rating. (Kramer received an R after he recut the movie.) Both Kramer and Bello speak intelligently about how important it is for movies to reflect human experience, including sexuality -- and then Kramer defensively adds that, in this particular sex scene, the characters are actually in love. So? For Kramer to justify a sex scene as masterly and sensitive as the one he, Bello and William H. Macy achieved by assessing how "in love" his characters are is exactly the kind of moral conjecture that the MPAA ratings board itself might apply.

Dick and some of his subjects also make the point -- and they're not wrong -- that violence often gets a free pass from the ratings board, while sexual content, particularly anything pertaining to gay and lesbian sex, gets the board's big white panties in a twist. But instead of leaving the observation at that, Dick allows several of his interviewees -- one of them an actual Ph.D. -- to posit that violent movies actually cause violent behavior. (When "experts" make that argument, they always proceed as if such a link has actually been proven, even though none has.) Dick is essentially saying, Movies don't control our minds -- except when they do. He also includes a rapid-fire montage of scenes depicting violence against women, designed to make us recoil. But even those snippets are taken out of context, with no regard to the filmmaking or the story around them -- exactly the kind of dumb, compartmentalized thinking that drives the MPAA ratings board.

Even more dispiriting is when Babbit speaks about when "But I'm a Cheerleader" first received an NC-17 rating, largely because of a scene in which Natasha Lyonne masturbates while fully clothed. She goes on to express her outrage that, at the time, she saw "a million times" the trailer for "American Pie," which, she claims, shows Jason Biggs masturbating with a pie. Dick illustrates with a clip showing Biggs sprawled on a kitchen counter, face-down, the splooshed pie oozing out around him. That would have been a great little touch -- except that particular pie-masturbation sequence doesn't appear in the "American Pie" trailer -- it doesn't even appear in the theatrical release of the movie. It only appears in the unrated version, available on DVD. (In the theatrical release, we see Biggs holding a pie plate to his crotch -- a little weird, but barely even suggestive.) Babbit has falsely recalled that she saw it in the trailer, and Dick either fails to catch the error, or purposely misrepresents the reality.

In a picture that sets out to puncture the hypocrisy and duplicity of the ratings board, that's a pretty significant lapse. Even "American Pie" obviously had to do its little deferential dance in front of the ratings board, a fact that might have been used to reinforce Babbit's point: What's wrong with showing teenagers masturbating, anyway? Instead, she and Dick use "American Pie," misleadingly, as an example of a bigger, more successful "them" getting preferential treatment over a smaller, struggling "us."

While it's true that independent filmmakers have a much tougher time in front of the ratings board than big-studio directors do, the reality is that the MPAA's grandiose moral pronouncements, handed down in the form of ratings, don't serve mainstream audiences any better than they do moviegoers who seek out pictures on the fringe. "This Film Is Not Yet Rated" takes on the MPAA ratings board as no other documentary has done. But it fails to ask the most important question: Why should there be a ratings board at all? Parents may claim that they need the MPAA's guidance. But is it really such a good idea to blindly accept the so-called recommendations of a group of people whose identity and motives are unknown to us? Does that qualify as good parenting, when many newspapers (and certain online magazines) contain more specific information on a film than the MPAA provides? Shouldn't it be part of a parent's job to find out for him or herself what a given movie might contain, instead of allowing a faceless organization to decide what's objectionable?

One of the arguments often made against the abolishment of the ratings system is that if we didn't have it, we might then have government censorship. But if that were the case, as First Amendment lawyer Martin Garbus points out in the film, at least movies would then be subject to judicial review, instead of the moral whims of a bunch of allegedly average parents.

The MPAA has somehow gained the trust of parents without earning it. If the MPAA had its way, we'd achieve a completely watered-down, desexualized culture, approved for a general audience. Our kids would grow up to be perfect creatures who never swore, touched anything harder than lemonade, or had anything but heteronormal sex. We could take pride in the way we protected our children; maybe we'd eventually forget how we robbed ourselves.

This article appeared on

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Lost Girls"

Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's shocking X-rated masterpiece takes three childhood heroines and plunges them into sex-soaked adulthood.

By Douglas Wolk

Aug. 30, 2006 | "Tell me a story," a young girl asks at the beginning of Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie's dizzying graphic novel "Lost Girls." We can't see her; all we can see, for the entire first chapter, is a mirror with an ornate carved frame, and whatever happens to be reflected in it. On the first page, that's a wealthy woman's bedroom in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1913. "Oh, I don't know any stories," the older woman says. "Your little white breasts, they're so lovely. They'll never be as beautiful once you're grown. Will you touch them for me?" All we can see of the woman is her leg, stretched out as she masturbates.

To put it bluntly, the scene is totally creepy; naturally, it's also more complicated than it looks. As it turns out, the woman is Lady Alice Fairchild, a drug-befogged upper-class Englishwoman in her 60s, and she's just talking to herself. The girl is her reflection in the mirror -- or, rather, the lost self Alice imagines on the other side of the mirror. Alice has extensive experience with imagination and mirrors; you've probably already encountered her younger self, the protagonist of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass."

The themes of "Lost Girls" are all right there on the first page: storytelling as a way of making sense of the transformations that sex brings about, children's sexuality and its adult exploiters, and an almost Modernist formalism -- the idea that working within interesting and rigorously defined structures, no matter how outré they are, will yield worthwhile results. (We get the very strong impression that this is what Lady Fairchild always does to get off.)

Moore and Gebbie began working on "Lost Girls" in 1990, when Moore had already written graphic novels like "Watchmen" and "V for Vendetta" but wasn't yet as famous as he's become. (The first six chapters were serialized in the early '90s; the rest has never been seen before, and the project itself has practically reached the age of consent.) The finished version is an exquisite physical object: a $75, slipcased set of three oversize hardcover volumes, reproducing Gebbie's mixed-media artwork in luminous color. (Its publisher, Top Shelf, sold the first 500 copies at July's Comic-Con International; it will be nationally distributed in September.) Moore has been telling interviewers that the point of "Lost Girls" was to make dignified pornography, rather than "erotica" -- to produce something that was beautiful and well-wrought, and also overtly, unblushingly about what happens behind bedroom doors.

Another way of putting it is that it's a really advanced version of slash fiction, a sort of "I Am Curiouser and Curiouser." In short order, Alice finds herself at a hotel on the Austrian border, the Himmelgarten, where she becomes entangled, figuratively and literally, with beleaguered English hausfrau Wendy Potter and Midwestern farm girl Dorothy "Dottie" Gale, late of, respectively, "Peter Pan" and "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz." All three women have stories of their own, though: They've built grand metaphors -- pornographic-utopian worldviews, really -- around their adolescent sexual experiences. Naturally, those worldviews look very much like Wonderland and Neverland and Oz, right down to the styles of those books' original illustrations, except that everybody's doing everybody else -- boys with girls, boys with boys, girls with girls, and a few other permutations. (Toto is virtually the only character from the source books who escapes with his innocence intact.)

It's a brilliant move: Moore and Gebbie have found a consistent, elaborate metaphor of sexual discovery in three books whose authors didn't put it there, or at least probably didn't deliberately put it there. Alice, for instance, tells the story of how her adult identity, and her fetish, began to form: As a girl, while being molested by an older friend of her family -- he had white hair and a pocket watch and spectacles and he was known as "Bunny" (of course he's the White Rabbit) -- she saw her reflection in a looking glass. That child, she imagined in that charged, hazy moment, was not just her older self but her true love, forever young and innocent. (And the suggestion is that she's attracted to actual younger women -- maybe children, maybe not -- because they remind her of that reflection.)

Moore has very often contextualized his comics within some kind of tradition, and "Lost Girls" devises, from a few scraps and hints, the idea of a legacy of pornographic fine art from the prewar era. In every room of the Himmelgarten, instead of a Bible, there's a white book of erotic tales and illustrations by famous decadent fin-du-siècle types like Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley (all, of course, pastiched by Moore and Gebbie). Gebbie's artwork is partly inspired by that era's artists even outside the pastiches -- her shapes and tones owe more to the ways early 20th century painters, especially Matisse, abstracted the human body than to the way most cartoonists do. She designs and decorates virtually every page with allusions to Art Nouveau; few comics artists care so much about wallpaper. Gebbie sometimes succumbs to the froufrou soft-focus eroticism of a David Hamilton photograph or an old "Emmanuelle" movie, but most of the time she avoids the clichés of both coy pastel "erotica" and clinical, sodium-lighted hardcore, and her sense of color and shade is unparalleled in comics.

So "Lost Girls" is shocking, it's lovely, it's ambitious, it's grandly clever -- but is it any good? Yes: It's very, very good, if flawed. Parts of it are some of the most extraordinary stuff Alan Moore has ever written; parts of it made me want to tear my own eyes out. (Some of them are the same parts.) Moore loads every line with thematic weight until it groans, his idea of what an American farm girl talks like is ridiculous, and the timeline is a mess: A few weeks' worth of events are spread out over a year, just so the narrative can encompass the May 1913 premiere of Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps," the June 1914 assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and the subsequent outbreak of the Great War. Still, even some of Moore's stylistic tics work to his advantage here, like the elevated language he resorts to whenever he's got a point to make, with its da-dum da-dum iambic meter and lofty, elaborate diction ("An unseen hand undid my blouse, then moved inside and I sank gratefully into a fauve delirium; the drugging cherry warmth of her").

There's a lot of that high rhetoric here, because Moore's got an epistemological ax to grind. He wants to make very sure we get the difference between representation and reality, since he knows perfectly well that, as protectively fond as he is of Dorothy, Wendy and Alice, a lot of people are going to be extraordinarily unhappy about his setting them up with strap-ons and opium pipes. In one later scene, the Himmelgarten's unctuous manager Monsieur Rougeur explains that the fictions in the hotel's White Book "are uncontaminated by effect and consequence. Why, they are almost innocent. I, of course, am real, and since Helena, who I just fucked, is only thirteen, I am very guilty. Ah well, it cannot be helped." He's in the background of a sequence of panels as he delivers his monologue; the foreground is a series of close-up penetration shots, and the top half of the page is a scene of pedophilic incest, lovingly rendered in the style of the Marquis Franz von Bayros, with text pastiching Pierre Louÿs.

All of this is terribly uncomfortable to read; it's meant to be, obviously, because the argument is no fun if it's too easy. "Lost Girls" flirts openly with the idea of adults having sex with children, in everything from the premise of the book to its key sequences to Rougeur's coy admission of guilt as protestation of innocence. If there's a single sexual taboo that still pushes everyone's buttons, it's pedophilia. But one of the strongest effects art can have is a sort of inductive shock -- carrying you along someplace you don't want to go -- and as Moore and Gebbie underscore at every turn, no matter what their characters claim, what "Lost Girls" is showing isn't real. It's imaginary scenarios involving imaginary characters famous for their imaginations. The children's books about them haven't been violated; they're safe on the nursery bookshelf.

For that matter, if Moore and Gebbie have no time for prudes -- Wendy's husband, Harold Potter (whose name appeared in "Lost Girls'" early chapters long before J.K. Rowling finished her first book), a stuffy, frigid sort, is humiliated in a handful of rather-too-nasty, farcical scenes -- they've really got it in for adult molesters of children. Without giving anything away, a pivotal moment of each girl's story comes when the great and terrible authority figures who've taken advantage of their nascent sexuality are revealed as the tiny men behind the curtain they are.

Moore has always been a formalist, from the clockwork structure of "Watchmen" to the Kabbala-map organization of "Promethea," but the structure of "Lost Girls" takes his formalism to the point of fetishism. (At least it's formally appropriate.) Each volume is named after a line from one of the source books, and contains 10 chapters, two of them devoted specifically to Wendy, two to Dorothy, two to Alice, and two including excerpts from the White Book. Each chapter has its own title and title page; each chapter in the second and third volumes in which one of the women tells her story includes one wordless full-page image directly inspired by a scene from that girl's original book.

More or less every other page in Vol. 1 has some kind of sexual content; that's ramped up to every page in Vol. 2, and practically every panel in Vol. 3 is flat-out hardcore. But by that final volume, the former child stars are fucking against the apocalypse. The war ("that which is most great, which is most terrible") is about to break out, the soldiers are off to the front, and there's nothing left for the hotel's remaining residents to do but lock the doors and screw themselves insensible until they have to run away.

The third volume is the roughest in more than explicitness: The characters enter the sort of pornotopian frenzy they've always imagined, and discover that coming back out of the sexual Wonderland is difficult and painful. The final sex scene is curiously feeble -- and it's followed not with any kind of afterglow, but with a sorrowful awakening into the world outside the boudoir, as the flames rise across Europe. Whatever awful realities come out of sex, Moore suggests, are a thousand times less awful than the violence that its energy can be perverted into.

The curious -- or curiousest -- thing about "Lost Girls" is that while it's enormously powerful and gorgeously executed, it's not actually all that sexy, or likely to inspire many fantasies on its own. The kind of release it offers is a fetishist's release: the sense that a ritual has been completed precisely. If it fails as smut, though, it's a victory as art, which is not a bad condolence prize. Like any number of boundary-pushing, button-pushing works before it, it may well require some kind of scandal, or at least a high-placed moralist's denunciation, to find the audience it deserves. It's spoiling for a fight, and it's worth fighting for.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Great ad campaign for the boardgame RISK

My bottom REALLY hurts

The doctor says hemorrhoids can be caused by stress, though the good news is they go away. This is day three and I'm in some serious discomfort over here. I've used about a gallon of Prep H. but it doesn't do any good. And the taste won't wash from my mouth.

Oh, I'm kidding, I didn't really ingest it.

Qunicy Jones, banging 19-year old Heba El-Awahdy

Qunicy Jones is Banging a 19-year old Hottie, Heba Elawadi:Quincy Jones, the 73-year old curmudgeon, is allegedly “dating” Heba Elawadi, a 19-year old aspiring fashion designer from Egypt. Dating, in this context, means that Heba is changing his diapers, giving Quincy a quick dose of Viagra, then grabbing one of Quincy’s pets and rubbing the pet all over his engorged junk. Quincy is so old that he thinks this means he had sex with Heba, meanwhile she is off doing God knows what and telling everyone who complains “Don’t fuck with me, I’m dating Quincy Jones. He’ll fucking cut you.”.

This story was reported by Subvert Society here.

Two cocks

Ikea ad showing dog's pee-pee, causes furore

Damn, that dog is hung!

Tottenham Hotspur have agreed a deal to bring Mido back to the club on a permanent deal from Roma.

The 23-year-old striker was at White Hart Lane last season on loan and scored 11 goals before returning to the Italian club.
Spurs boss Martin Jol had been attempting to bring the Egypt international back after his departure, and has now has Mido back to bolster an attacking line-up at White Hart Lane including Dimitar Berbatov, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane.

Jol said: 'We've been tracking Mido since his loan ended and we were always keen to bring him back.

'Roma took some persuading and I'm delighted to have him in the squad.

'He knows I like him as a player, his strength in the air and his mentality. It's an excellent addition to the squad and our striking options are now complete.'

The striker told official website: 'I'm very happy to be back.

'It was, and it always will be a great honour for me to play for Tottenham.

'I always knew in my heart I would be coming back. It is a fantastic move for me, I have some good friends here and it will be good to be back with the lads. I saw them training today and I'm looking forward to working with Martin and Chris (Hughton) again.

'I can't wait to pull on a Tottenham shirt, to play at the Lane and score some goals.'

Why doesn't the Okapi get any love?

I ponder things like that.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Ouch. It hurts.

While on the subject of asses, I've got a poll question for you. There are three women I know:

Woman A: Lots of fun, solid person with intelligence, humor and integrity but the physical chemistry isn't where it should be.
Woman B: Very ordinary personality, pleasant albeit a little bland but the physical chemistry is white hot.
Woman C: Sexually atttraction is like sparks in a volcano..but I hate everything about her: from character to values to the way she thinks, it all sucks. But seriously, the sex is absolutely insane.

Who do you think I should go for?

My bottom hurts

Please remember my ass in your prayers, tonight.

The Bottom Line

BBC's Love Soup

Love Soup is a really super show. Subtle humor with strong narrative thrust. Tamsin Greig and Michael Landes star as Alice and Gil are a perfectly matched couple. Just one thing is holding back their relationship - they've never met...

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Robots vs. Monkeys

Robots fighting monkeys is as cool as it gets. Check it here. Thanks to Chris DiClerico for this one.

He's not the only one. *Huge sigh of relief*. Why am I suprised I have pain down there? Thats what you get when you've been ass-raped by the federal government for going on to two years now.

If I ever become a citizen, I'm voting independent. Fuck the Dems and the Republicans. Corrupt, sweetheart deal-mongering asssholes.

The world can kiss my ass (and make it better)

So I woke up this morning feeling pretty deflated, and I choose my words carefully when I say deflated. I could have gone with 'depressed', but the fact is, I know what depression is and this ain't it.

The chief difference is that depression is a medical condition (which I have) which brings about a hopelessness, sadness and apathy to your life, like a giant dark cloud covering a bright, sunny sky. It's not even caused by anything going on in your life at the time. And even though science can't exactly explain why it happens, it's thought to be tied to a chemical imbalance.

I'm going to digress for a second; you should get used me switching mid-thought: when I'm not depressed, I'm usually highly manic causing my mind to races and touch on a million thoughts a second. The window of time where I'm 'normal' is actually very brief.

The amount of natural phenomena that science is at a loss to explain or, to use the scientifically-sanctioned euphemism "we don't quite understand how it works", is quite staggering: everything from the way cancer works to subatomic physical properties to how to reconcile the theory of relativity with quantum mechanics (both theories contradict each other), and depression is no different. Which begs the questions, where do the proponents of evolution in this country get off poo-pooing the intelligent design people, wheen so much remains unexplained.

Don't get me wrong: I'm no fan of the backward, lazy, pseudo-science peddlers that would have you believe the world is six thousand years old and that evolution doesn't exist. My point is that neither side can lay claim to the absolute accuracy of their respective hypotheses, so perhaps an open mind about the scientific and metaphysical possibilities should be maintained.

But I digress, as I mentioned earlier: I woke up feeling deflated and deflation, unlike depression, has it's reasons. I had a shitty Friday.

Somehow, I managed to get over it for the rest of the day, Friday, as well as all of yesterday. This morning, it really hit me, the mountain that I have to climb in order to become a citizen of this country. The amount of racism, xenophobia, lack of courtesy, incompetence, discrimination and outright hostility has left a very sour taste in my mouth. What bothers me more than anything is that despite having played by the rules, paid my dues and worked hard, I'm going to have to pay over $3000 for a lawyer, my citizenship is going to be delayed for God-knows-how-long...and the experiences of the past six months have made me question if I want to be a part of such a racist and self-righteous institution as the United Colonial States of America. Economic colonialism, but colonialism all the same.

The answer is yes, I do. Despite its faults, it has good points as well. And where I come from, Egypt, is no different, only poorer.

I also woke up this morning with ass trouble, which I get from time to time. Most men get it, is the inconvenient truth, though fortunately mine flares up (no pun intended) only occasionally. It's not quite hemmaroids, but it hurts and it hurt me something fierce this morning, after a few days of warning.

At least I have an answer to the question 'What's up your butt?'

I don't have any preparation H in the house, despite this having happened to me before. Usually, when it does, I buy it, use it and when the inflamation subsides, I throw it away. I don't like the idea of putting the rest of the ointment in my medicine cabinet only for some girl to see it and wonder why she's involved with someone with ass trouble. You laugh, but it's the little things.

Given my ass trouble and my wretched deflation, I probably shouldn't have had an omelette with that much salt and...beef jerky. I'm ashamed to say I've made omelettes with beef jerky and they taste delicious, not to mention all that protein.

The problem is that omelettes with beef jerky are ghetto, even if ghetto people don't make them that way. And feeling ghetto is no way to feel when you're also feeling deflated. I know I'm an eccentric person but the problem is that eccentricities lose their charm when you're feeling low. Then, they just make you feel like a freak, as I should feel considering I made a beef-jerky omelette today.

I went to work and stopped by Starbucks along the way to pick up a Venti pick-me-up of Mocha Frappacino. $5.09 if you can believe that.

What pisses me off about that price is the balls on the people at Starbucks. Not only is it shit expensive, it's also shit inconvenient finding an extra 9 or 10 cents to go with your $5. They could have charged $4.99 or $5 for one and not have their profits affected that much, but they don't give a shit. The nerve of those Starfucks bastards charging an extra 10 cents in order to meet their arbitrarily obscene profit margin, all at the expense of their customers' comfort. Who the fuck did they think they were?

And then a thought struck me: why not order the Grande, instead of the Venti. Roughly half it's size, why did I need a bucket of sweetened mocha frap, when a mug would do just as well. It would also save me a few bucks. It's about time I learnt to discipline myself.

So I ordered a Grande Mocha Frappacino with no whipped cream.


Can you fucking believe that? Half the size and only 65 cents cheaper! The BALLS on those people! And what pisses me off even moreis I still bought it. Instead of taking everyone hostage, forcing them to serve coffee for free, demand that my citizenship be expedited and ask for a small plane, fueled and ready to head to Cuba.

On the way to work (yes, I had to go in today), I saw a new 'public service' advertisement at the bus station that had a picture of a very cute toddler, sitting in the back seat of a car, looking absolutely stunned. The tagline read:


How petty and small-minded is that? Have we fed all the homeless people, cured cancer and stopped all war so we can now tackle the vexing problem of the kind of example we set our kids when we lose our shit at the ass-faced soccer mom cunt in the minivan who cut you off because she hasn't mastered the principles of driving, not to mention peripheral vision? Yes, I hope my daughter learns that lesson from me: if an ass-faced soccer mom cunt cuts you off, you better let her know she's going to get an earful of obscenities that probably impune her heritage, her various mental deficiencies as well as a wide range of imaginative sexual proclivities that I confidently assert she partakes in, with the help of a variety of farmyard animals, men of the cloth and the eunuch of husband whom I imagine frequents bathrooms on the Interstate to service fat truckers.

That seems fair to me. Who fucking cares what kind of message the kid gets? It won't be a worse message than the one she gets when we bomb the shit out a 3rd world country or she goes with her friends to Cancun to suck some mono-syllabic, twelve word vocab kid's pink knob for the eternal immortality and stardom of that cherished digital tome of the day also known as a Girls Gone Wild video.

I am so flipping mad. I think it's because I have to work today. And even if I didn't, I'd still be mad because it's such a crappy day as well.

Most of all, I'm mad because I have a sneaking suspicion that even if my citizenship woes were to be resolved, Starbucks were to lower the price of its Venti Mocha Fraps to $4.99, ads promoting the surgical removal of your middle finger to resist the temptation of flipping off crazy fucks who drive purely to piss you off were banned, I'd still be unhappy and lonely as all fuck.

I think my depression is on the verge of returning. Maybe a month or two at the outside, and it scares the shit out of me.

"An Affair of Love"

That's the name of the subtitled French movie that led to my earlier revelation. "Une Affaire Pornographique" is by Belgian director Frederic Fonteyne and it's excellent. Despite it's name, it's not very racy, simply an examination of the way people fall in love while navigating sex, and have sex while traversing love.

I like seeing human connections in any form and I'm frequently quite moved by it. In a sense (and I appreciate the relative pretentiousness this coming statement), my interest in porn comes from the same place. Sure, getting off is part of it, especially during the barren months, but my favorite porn movies (most were made in the 1970s) are as much about loneliness and exposure as they are about sex.

I loved the hook behind "Une Affaire Pornographique": even though Sergi Lopez and Nathalie Baye got together to fulfill a mutual sexual fantasy, (we're never told what it is) when they end up making simple love, it's so much better and more fulfilling than the act that brought them together in the first place.

I like that thought. It acknowledges our emotional needs without denying our prurient ones.

I just found out Frederic Foneteyne is also responsible for the stunning La Femme De Gilles. Keep your eyes on him!

Eureka Moment

I like to listen to music. That doesn't make me special. I also like to watch movies, especially at home. The problem is I sometimes get the urge to do both at the same time. It's odd, I know, but I'm watching a good movie and my thoughts drift to Fergie's "London Bridge" and I just feel like hearing it, right here, right now. But if I do, my enjoyment of both the movie and the song will be impaired, because I'll either miss out on the dialogue or the lyrics.

The solution came to me tonight: watch foreign films with subtitles! That way, I can turn the volume down in the movie, read the subtitles AND listen to the song [right now, I'm listening to Joyce Simms' "Come into my life"] at the same time.

Genius, isn't it? The quality of my life has increased by .0324%. Doesn't seem like much but any increment of quality life increase, in the twenty first century, is significant.

I'm insane.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Officer Forsooth, please report for duty

Judging nations based on their porn

I form a lot of my opinions on different countries/ nations by the kind of porn they produce (or, in Egypt's case, the kind of porn they don't produce). It's a very revealing (har, har) window into the colllective freudian psyche that we all carry around with us, all the time. Here's a quick guide to porn from all over the world:

Germans: unaffected, highly-glammed up, perfunctory, with subtle S&M undertones. The men usually look quite paunchy and too hairy while the women are attractive, if a tad grungy.

French: fluffy, breezy, playful and always personal. The men look like tools, the women always look fresh and great.

Swedish: confident, enthusiastic and I've never seen women with a bigger smile on their face. The men look ok while the women look tight and have harsh features.

English: bawdy, naughty and ever so slightly embarrassed. The funny thing about English porn is that the men are always cast as low class cads with thick cockney accents while the women are usually unsophisticated northern types with heavy northern brogues.

Spanish: Definitely very passionate, lots of sneering, great bodies but lots of spitting and talking. The men always seem to be smaller than the women (weight, height, you name it).

Italians: Dashing is the best way I can describe it. They know what they're doing and they don't waste time before they get down to business. Lots of talking, which is interesting. Both the men and the women look great. The late 1970s/ early 1980s produced some of the best Italian porn around.

Americans: emphasis on size, strong detachment from the act, very performance-oriented which makes it feel kind of fake. Oh, and the misogyny is kind of hard to miss.

Slavic/ Russian: Highly, highly glamorous. The women are absolutely stunning and more experimental, with tons of anal, ATM, DP etc. Most of the girls look like they just turned 18, which suggests a lot of girls who turn to porn. It's very clearly a business and the women look like they just clocked in for their 8-hour shift.

Japanese: repressed, strong emphasis on bondage and objectifying women, heavy school-girl role playing aspect, heavy interest in sadism. It's very weird and almost always hinges on the woman being in some kind of distress and/ or discomfort. Not that there's anything wrong with any of that...just that I find it slightly disturbing and not at all my cup of tea.

In case you're wondering, my favorites are Swedish and French.

Three unusual Japanese words I know

Nyotaimori is the much fabled "naked sushi" of Japanese origin. It's extremely difficult to find sushi restaurants that serve this openly. The reason for the difficultly in finding places that serve it is how the sushi is served, namely that it's on a naked body. This is normally a reasonably young and attractive woman and it has many feminists angry (perhaps rightly so if they don't see any value in a cultures traditions or art). There have been protests. Many in fact. The rough translation of the word Nyotaimori is "Adorned body of a woman." This type of art (yes, it's an art) is well accepted in Japan. Tokyo is world famous for this type of dinner theatre and art practice.

Hikikomori (pulling away, being confined, i.e., "acute social withdrawal") is a Japanese term to refer to the phenomenon of reclusive adolescents and young adults who have chosen to withdraw from social life, often seeking extreme degrees of isolation and confinement due to various personal and social factors in their lives. The term "hikikomori" refers to both the sociological phenomenon in general as well as to individuals belonging to this societal group.

The Japanese Ministry of Health defines hikikomori as individuals who refuse to leave their parents' house, and isolate themselves away from society and family in a single room for a period exceeding six months. While the distinctiveness of the phenomenon is varying depending on the individual, some of such youths remain in isolation for a span of years, or in rare cases, decades. Many hikikomori may start out as school refusals, or Tōkōkyohi in Japanese.

According to estimates by psychologist Tamaki Saito, who first coined the phrase, there may be a million hikikomori in Japan, twenty percent of all male adolescents, or one percent of the total Japanese population. Surveys done by the Japanese Ministry of Health as well as research done by health care experts suggest a more conservative estimate of 50,000 in Japan today. As reclusive youth by their very nature are difficult to poll, the true number of hikikomori most likely falls somewhere between the two estimates.

Though acute social withdrawal in Japan appears to affect both genders equally, due to differing societal expectations for maturing boys and girls, the most widely reported cases of hikikomori are from Japanese families with male children who seek outside intervention when their son, usually the eldest, refuses to leave the family home.

Seppuku ("stomach-cutting" or "belly slicing") is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Seppuku is also known in English as hara-kiri and is written with the same kanji as seppuku but in reverse order with an okurigana. In Japanese, 'hara-kiri' is not in common usage, the term being regarded as gross and vulgar.

Japanese has a large number of different words related to death. Not all of these are still commonly used in Japan.
jisatsu for suicide
Seppuku and hara-kiri for ritual suicide
inseki jisatsu, suicide due to feeling guilty - still common in Japan
junshi, following one's Lord into death
jumonji giri, a version of seppuku with a second and more painful vertical cut across the belly
shinju for double suicide, and also more recently for murder suicides
joshi for a double suicide of lovers - this is still common in Japan
oyako shinju for a double suicide of parent and child
boshi shinju for a double suicide of mother and child
fushi shinju for a double suicide of father and child
ikka shinju for a family suicide
muri shinju for murder suicide
goi shinju for voluntary suicide (as opposed to murder suicide)
funshi for suicide to express indignation
tonshi for unexpected, sudden death

The following terms are archaic expressions from the Hagakure, a practical and spiritual guide for a warrior, written between in 1709:
oibara, to follow one's Lord into death by seppuku
maebara, to precede one's Lord into death by seppuku
sakibara, to follow one's Lord into death by seppuku
kobara, suicide to protect one's children
rokubara, suicide to protect one's family

When it's time to rock a funky joint
I'm on point!
When it's time to rock a funky jam
I'm the man!

HOP on a Saturday afternoon. It doesn't get better than that. And it goes a long way to correcting the shit I went through yesterday.

Friday, August 25, 2006



That, is the faux-cutting edge name for setting up a meeting with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) at Federal Plaza. They could have said 'set up a meeting' but that would be simple, direct and effective - everything the USCIS certainly is not.

Let me give the end of this story away: I got so angry there, I started gesticulating and waving like a mad man and eventually got removed by security, doubtless confirming a few middle eastern stereotypes along the way.

The reason I sought an 'infopass' is because it came to my attention that the USCIS had fucked up:

August 8, 2005
Applied for Naturalization
August 10, 2005
Received a confirmation letter with my name misspelt: 'Nasser' instead of 'Nassar'.
Wrote them back asking it be corrected.
August 18, 2005
Received a letter with the name spelt incorrectly again.
Wrote back and asked them to correct it again.
August 25, 2005
Received a letter acknowledging mistake and correcting name
February 28, 2006
Naturalization Interview; passed
Was told my application was pending due to the FBI background check not being completed
Was told it could take a few months
July 14, 2006
Wrote my congresswoman asking her to intervene to find out why it was taking this long
August 1, 2006
Received a letter from the FBI by way of the USCIS..with my name spelt incorrectly: 'Nasser'
This may be one of the reasons why they're taking this long.

It's very distracting to try and focus on their discrimination when their incompetence keeps getting in the way.

Anyways, I booked an appointment for today at 10am. I waited for two hours (despite arriving on time) and when I got to the window, the black bitch gave me attitude like it was going out of style. So, naturally, I gave her some back.

I'm very good at it. When I'm distressed, I have a vicious delivery of scything one-liners designed to make the person they're aimed at feel they rank somewhere between a compost heap and the brown stains in your toilet, if you don't clean it with a toilet brush. It also absolutely guarantees the end of any kind of productive exchange.

I unleashed one of those, a torrent of snarling insults. She looked at me and said she wasn't even supposed to be helping me, because since I interviewed in Long Island, that's where I should go.

A fallacy.

1. Infopass schedules time and location with USCIS officials. They scheduled me here.
2. LI doesn't even have Infopass and they don't pick up their phones.
3. The USCIS helpline assured me that Federal Plaza was the main office, handling all naturalization cases, including Long Island.

I related point number 3 to her, punctuated by a flurry of barbs and disparaging, withering looks.

"They're wrong. They've been wrong before"
"I know that" I shot back. "They spelt my name wrong for starters and gave the incorrect spelling to the FBI"
"The name doesn't matter. We go by the A number here"
"Listen, Omarosa, it's called an FBI Name Check. If you don't know what you're talking about, get me somebody who does"
"I'm telling you what she's going to tell you. The helpline was wrong"
"You're both wrong. And I don't mean incorrect. You're just plain wrong. You shouldn't even be allowed to talk to people."
"I ain't wrong and you need to leave."

I demanded to talk to her supervisor who greeted me with the following statement:
"Sir, if you're going to be a citizen of this country, you need to learn to conduct yourself better"

Oh, hells no.

So I let her, and everyone within earshot, have it.

"How dare you? How dare you jerk me around like this for the better part of a year and then not even try and help. How dare you spell my name incorrectly, acknowledge that it's been corrected and then give the FBI the wrong name anyway? If you two would get your heads out of your asses and do your fucking jobs, I'd get out of here and you two can go back to napping on the job".

They called security. Security edged closer to me, one hand on their gun. Politely, but firmly, they asked me to leave.

I looked at the hand he had on his gun. What was going on? I struggled to compose myself and my eyes closed as I thought briefly. I opened them, looked at him squarely in the face and said:

"No. I'm not going anywhere until the two stooges in there give me what I came here for. That's my right"

Stooge A handed me a document, which she had just typed out. It was an official response from the USCIS that my case was still pending, due to the FBI Name Check not having been completed.

And my name was spelt 'Mohammed Nasser'.

Multiply my rage by six and you have some idea of my subsequent reaction. I stuck my head against the window and told the bitch with the attitude what I thought of her and her Mickey Mouse job and her Mickey Mouse federal authority. They both backed off and looked at the paper which I'd shoved back at them, too flustered to say anything. My rant, unabated, continued to multiply until I was nothing more than a very red Egyptian snarling and frothing and snapping, with spaghetti-like arms waving everywhere. If I had seen me acting like this, I would have shot me with a tranquilizer gun.

The guards were stunned at my reaction and neither one made a move. The entire hall (composed of hundreds and hundreds of immigrants) looked on in stunned silence (and, if I were to indulge myself, marvel). No one seemed sure what to do next.

"What's the matter now?" asked one of the guards, a little reticently.
"She made the same mistake that I came here to correct. She misspelt my name in exactly the same way. This is what I've been shouting about all day. You losers can't even get a name right. I wouldn't even trust you to make my fries at a burger king. What do I have to do get you to spell my name correctly? Commision a neon sign and hang it outside this building? How about a two engine plane spelling it out with smoke? Would that help you?"

As you can imagine, this didn't exactly go down well with a whole host of people there. After correcting my name ("he made me nervous" muttered Stooge A to Stooge B, by way of explanation for spelling my name wrong), the guards led me out.

I stood outside the Federal Plaza building. The two guards, who had escorted me out of the building, turned around and walked away without so much as a word. I stood there for a few minutes, smoking a cigarette and then went into the subway.

Monday morning, I'm going to see a civil rights lawyer with experience in immigration law. I can't handle the twin forces of incompetence and discrimination on my own. I'm going to spend all my money making them pay for this.

Flickrs Angels

God, this site is so hot. Very tasteful nudity, in my opinion. How is it possible there are this many hot women in the world?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The case for Halloumi Cheese

Halloumi Cheese doesn't get nearly enough love. Try it with's delicious. Also, cheese on the BBQ might sound strange, but not with Halloumi, a cheese indigenous to Cyprus. Traditionally, it's a mix of goat and sheep milk though some very good Halloumis are made just with sheep's milk.

One of the things that makes this cheese so unique is that it can stand up to a tremendous amount of heat. At temperatures where other cheeses are reduced to a melted ooey-gooeyness, halloumi maintains its structure and develops a beautiful golden crust. Its mildly salty, mellow-yet-slightly tangy flavor make it a real crowd pleaser, (particularly when it's served warm). And the way it squeeks when you cut through it with a knife gives it a distinctive personality.

A friend of mine wants to get a nosejob. I don't think she should do it. Even an imperfect nose is a thing of beauty, just ask Kate Bush.

To Iran with love

From the botched Iraq war to threatening Iran with "regime change," neoconservative policies have been a boon for Tehran.

By Joe Conason

Aug. 25, 2006 | If the neoconservatives were not so adept at claiming the patriotic high ground for themselves -- and convincing the nation that they are interested only in advancing the security of America and Israel and the cause of democracy -- it might be time to start asking which of them are actually agents of Iran. The question is pertinent because "objectively," as they like to say, neoconservative policy has resulted in enormous profit to the Iranian mullahs, at grave cost to the United States and with little or no benefit to Israel.

The most obvious example, of course, is the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has conveniently eliminated Iran's chief military rival in the region, and replaced Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime with a weak government dominated by Shiite Islamist parties friendly to Tehran. The only certain outcome of our misbegotten effort is that the Iranians have finally gotten what they could not achieve during eight years of war with Iraq, despite the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of dollars. And we delivered the prize to them at no cost -- except what we have lost in thousands of dead and wounded U.S. troops and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Oddly enough, they don't seem any more grateful than the Iraqis.

Remember that the war's chief instigator, aside from the neoconservatives themselves, was their friend and collaborator Ahmed Chalabi, who has since proved to be a more reliable ally of the Iranians than of his former American sponsors. With much help from domestic propagandists, Chalabi oversaw dissemination of the disinformation about Saddam's "weapons of mass destruction" that served as the rationale for war. The original neocon plan was to enthrone him in Baghdad as a strongman ruler, at least on a temporary basis. He had promised, among other things, that the new Iraq would grant diplomatic recognition to Israel. Things haven't quite worked out that way.

Could the neocons truly have been so dense and clueless about the consequences of an American invasion of Iraq? Not if one believes their constant flattery of their own seriousness and sagacity. They did do an excellent job of misleading the American public about how the war would proceed, from their promises that the costs would be underwritten by Iraqi oil, to their predictions that a "new democratic Iraq" would radically improve the prospects for regional peace and progress, to their assurances that Shiite domination would prove benign. William Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor whose magazine so assiduously promoted war, brushed aside any concerns about empowering the Shiites during an April 2003 interview with National Public Radio's Terry Gross:

"And on this issue of the Shia in Iraq, I think there's been a certain amount of, frankly, Terry, a kind of pop sociology in America that, you know, somehow the Shia can't get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There's almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq's always been very secular." For a man who by then had spent almost 10 years arguing for war in Iraq, he was either stunningly ignorant or intentionally deceptive.

It would be easier to believe that Kristol and his fellow war enthusiasts were merely misinformed or stupid if all of their mistakes did not so consistently benefit Tehran. But consider the results of the policies pursued by the White House at their insistence.

By constantly threatening Iran and proclaiming a policy of "regime change" that may someday be imposed militarily, the Bush administration has gravely weakened the domestic opposition to the mullahs. This loud, clumsy approach has made the U.S. so unpopular among the Iranian people that exile groups seeking democratic reform dare not identify themselves with us. Actually, the excessive belligerence of the neoconservatives is a great boon to the otherwise unpopular mullahs, creating an external threat that unites the Iranians and distracts from their domestic misery. And the threat of an attack by the United States has given Tehran an excellent reason to continue seeking a nuclear deterrent.

In the same vein, Tehran profited from the original Bush policy of refusing to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear ambitions, which divided the United States from its traditional allies in Europe and allowed the mullahs to play Russia and China off against the West. Indeed, the overarching Bush policy of breaking apart our alliances and acting unilaterally has aided all of our adversaries, especially Tehran, by dividing and weakening us. (See Iraq war, above.) Meanwhile, the failure to unite the world behind sanctions much sooner has allowed Iran to accelerate its nuclear program.

The Iranians have also enjoyed the fruits of an incredibly reckless decision by the Bush administration -- again encouraged by the neoconservatives -- to back Israel's bombardment of Lebanon. Tehran's friends in Hezbollah are now the toast of the Arab world, and they are well on their way to destabilizing Iran's enemies (and America's allies), destroying any chance to revive the peace process, and radicalizing Muslims around the world. What benefit, if any, the U.S. or Israel derived from this latest misadventure is hard to see.

At still another level of policy, the Bush administration has fought to prevent the imposition of automobile fuel economy standards or other conservation measures that would begin to free us from Iranian threats to withhold oil. While the White House occasionally pretends to be interested in new energy technologies, the government has done little or nothing to pursue real energy independence. But then, that is simply the inevitable result of electing George W. Bush as president, a failed oilman more concerned with chopping brush and making fart jokes than foreign policy.

And then there's Dick Cheney, the real author of these disastrous policies. It is the vice president who has provided the bureaucratic muscle behind the neoconservatives, whose patronage he has long enjoyed at the American Enterprise Institute. Cheney too has a curious history with Iran, as the former chief executive of Halliburton, a company that blithely and repeatedly violated U.S. sanctions against Iran through foreign subsidiaries. As a congressman, Cheney was also the most outspoken apologist for the secret arms trading with the Iranian mullahs, despite their record of supporting terrorism against American troops, that almost brought down the Reagan administration.

But Cheney is an opponent of Tehran, as are his comrades at the Weekly Standard, in the Pentagon and elsewhere in the ranks of neoconservatism. They aren't secretly trying to give aid and comfort to Tehran.

It only looks that way.

Responsive Face Constructor

Manipulate his facial emotions here. It was decent entertainment for a good thirty-seven seconds.

Raging Mojo

So an understanding of the principles of sexual attraction, continues to elude me in a big way. I'm aware that I'm not an especially good looking guy with a less-than-stellar physique and plenty of personality issues that would account for eight sequels to 'One flew over the cuckoos nest', but I do have good points as well:

I'm tall, I'm very solidly built (in that disgusting boys-can-eat-anything and-still-get-muscles kind of way), I look vaguely threatening and bad-boyish (though I'm really nothing of the sort), I have a couple of tattoos (which suggests ill breeding and loose upbringing) and I have a quick wit, which endears me to the mass populous.

What I don't understand is why some months, women treat me like I'm invisible and other months, I feel like the guy in the Axe Effect commercial. It's not perception, either. The difference is palpable and the interest is constant.

I know that pheremones probably play a part in it. All that stuff about attraction being on a chemical/ sub-atomic level might sound like pseudo science to you, but how else can you explain the divorce between the rational and the carnal reasons for being attracted to someone? You can't. Pheremones play a part.

Another thing, when my depression lifts, my energy becomes palpably more positive and women seem to pick up on that. Or, to extend the pheremone thing, maybe the depression stifles my natural pheremone production so the ladies don't pick up on my desperate signals to get their attention. This is likely, because when I'm down I have as much interest in sex as I would in having my bare ass spanked by a 6-foot swedish dominatrix, dressed as a traffic warden.

Ok, bad example.

Another thing: when my mojo is on, I find I can better control what we tantricallly refer to as 'dry orgasms'. It's when I come without ejaculating, which helps me recover faster so I can do it more. It's a little known fact that ejaculation and orgasm in men are two separate functions and if you train yourself to separate them, you're doing yourself (and the young lady) a lot of favors.

When I'm depressed, I have a harder time controlling the length of copulation (not quite a two-pump chump but no marathon either). I've also known the 'seed' doesn't look like it's the kind I'd use to make a baby: weak, lacking in color and volume-challenged.

Hmmm. I just read this post back to myself and even I'm grossed out. Still, candor is the ally of the clear-minded. That's not a saying, but it should be. I make stuff up all the time. A couple of years ago, I told my boss that during Christmas, in certain towns in the North of England, people cheerfully greeted each other with the bizarre expression 'Don't bugger the fat man'. I explained to him that this arose out of the joking concern that because the men drank so much over the holidays, there was a danger they might return home suddenly, walk in on Santa Claus depositing the gifts, mistake him for their (rather hefty) wives and have sex with him instead. My boss cried tears of hearty laughter and I never told him that I had made that whole thing up, just because I could. I dread to think he might travel to Newcastle and greet a random miner with a jubilant 'Don't bugger the fat man'. Because the fat man will probably bugger him.

Speaking of candor, I knew a couple of girls who had the ability to ejaculate when they came. Not all the time, just sometimes. It was this clear, water-like fluid that wasn't especially sticky and it gushed out like a geyser. They reported that it usually accompanied the kind of mind-bending orgasms that have sold a billion airport romance novels. The girl would then look up at me as if I was some kind of genius, when really all I did was jiggle the lock on the door a few random times, the way I normally do, while maintaining an expression of knowing concentration.

I don't know what I'm doing down there. Nobody does and it's not from lack of training. Most women don't understand two things about vaginas, probably because they've only ever dealt with their own:

1. They're like fingerprints: no two are alike.
2. No two work the same way.

Every time you're with a new woman, you have to re-discover the things that get her off. Plenty of foreplay can be the shit in some quarters, others prefer to hit the fast forward until they get to the straight-up fucking. Even identifying magic spots, like the ear or the nipples or the soft area behind the knee, can be problematic. Some women like a soft touch during intercourse, others prefer a rough motion; some get off only with cunnilingus, others don't see the point to it. Depending on who you ask, tossed salads can be one girl's cup of tea, or her poisoned chalice.

There's absolutely no consistency whatsoever and it can be extremely confusing. That, to me, is the major argument for monogamy: perfecting your ability to get a specific someone off (of course, the old joke rears itself at this point: Why do women fake orgasms? Because they assume we care). I even knew this one girl who couldn't bear to have it touched, during oral sex. All I could do was blow on it with a steady, cool gust, and that got her off.

How did I get on to this? Stream of blogness-ness is kind of scary..

Crazy in Compton

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood."
-Marie Curie