Sunday, December 31, 2006

Gripe of the day

Is there a chance that I can buy any kind of food from anywhere in the continental United States that does NOT have a picture of a leering Rachel Ray on it? It's not that big of an ask, is it?

Digital Video Transcode Service

Turn online videos (like SNL's Dick in a Box) into downloadable files. Do it right here.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

N is for Neville who died of Ennui

Friday, December 29, 2006


Easily one of the ugliest days of the year for me. For the most part, I seem to have put the Sara thing in some kind of context, sort of talked myself down from the ledge of despair, if you like. I know the right things to say to myself, believing them is a different story. A sample of some of the inane shit I've been feeding myself:

1. I'm better off. No one deserves to be with someone who doesn't value them..that's what marriage is for.
2. She may have had her own issues, which may have prompted this. There's a world outside of me, you know.
3. Most of the hurt is to the pride, most of the damage to my confidence. Pride isn't that big a deal and as for confidence, I never really had any to begin with.
4. In a few weeks, this will be a distant, throbbing memory.
5. Your choice of life. It comes with the territory.
6. I never embarrassed myself with her. I didn't say any gay shit. I was cool as the other side of the pillow. I played the game the way it should be played. She was the one who folded.

I told you, it was weak shit. I'm upset and no amount of bargaining with myself will alter that. It's got to run it's course and what I don't like about myself, will be there whether or not she's there.

Welcome to the dating life of adults. It sucks donkey balls.

Funny thing is, I remembered something (actually, my co-worker David Cohen reminded me), when she showed up yesterday, we were playing pool and I had been having a horrible game. The moment she showed up, I became Minnesota Fats and was drilling them like some pool-house shark. I looked good out there and she commented about how good I was.

I told you I only had weak shit to make myself feel better.

I'm down. I feel old and tired and pretty pointless, right now. I want to fast forward the first three months of this new year.

The challenge is not to fuck up all the good things I've done, by doing something stupid. Just because I want the pain to go away quickly. Pain is good for you.

It makes very useful filling for stupid blogs like this one.

Slept like ass yesterday (and not the good kind, either) even by my feeble sleep standards. Kept hearing people mumbling and whispering all kinds of random shit. If this is what the descent into insanity (let's face it, never a very long journey for me) is like, then I hope they give you a family-size box of Advils to go with it.

Obviously, my dumping yesterday is the trigger to all this, but the underlying insecurities and damaged emotions are what's at play here. I called my parents today to wish them a happy Eid...but I was so dumbstruck and edgy that I think I did more damage than good. Plus, I spoke to my dad for about 20 seconds, felt like lashing out at him, so cut the conversation short and asked for my mum. She got on, gave me her life-battered voice which pissed me off so much, I had to get off the phone immediately. The only person I didn't mind was my brother: he's a good kid who doesn't deserve to be stuck in between two lunatics like me and my mother, and a cold, avoidant fatalist like my dad. My brother's a shred of decency in the midst of a giant indecency, namely our family.

So, I hung up on them, obsessed with ways never to call them again and have it be alright. I watched Pedro Almodovar's 'Volver' yesterday and it was all about a fractured matriarchal family, who'd been savaged by the men in their lives. Not one single man emerges from this film with any credit. Almodovar is a gigantic fag who nevertheless has an overwhelming love for womankind (lending credence to my theory that all homosexuals are actually faking it, in order to get closer to as many women as they can, without being rebuffed), typified by the loving portraits of different women that he serves up in almost every scene of Volver.

I'm tempted to go on a tangent of how if he's this gay and yet loves women as much as he does, then maybe this somehow indicates that you're supposed to hate the people you sleep with, in order for there to be some kind of attraction. I guess the resentment stems from the power they have over you...that you allowed yourself to be vulnerable to them. I could come up with a whole theory around that..

But I won't. Like all my theories, it's got holes the size of craters and it's almost entirely subjective, biased and exhausting. I exhaust myself sometimes.

Why I brought up Volver is because it's about forgiving family and reconciling with them, while letting the past be the past. It almost inspired me to do the same. I say almost because that lasted exactly twenty seconds after being on the phone with them. I just got so angry and so frustrated, that I had to hang up. I felt paralyzed whilst talking to them, having neither the language, nor the emotions to reach out and connect with them.

The list of possible conclusions:

1. I'm just a hateful person, a total jerk.
2. I can't deal with the demands of emotional closeness.
3. I don't speak Arabic well enough to make a connection with them.

All the above are true. They may not be popular, they may not square with anyone who's met me's impression and they may seem like neat and easy answers, but they're all true.

Ok, I'm rambling. Pretty apt for a blog called Ramblefish but pretty insufferable all the same.

The point I'm trying to make is I don't know where to go from here. Running out of options, unable to connect with either friends or family and carrying enough misery-laced ennui to keep a convention of nihilists employed through the next millenium.

From Gorey's Gashlycrumb Tinies: "N is for Neville who died of ennui"

Is it Koln with it's great cathedral?
Milan with it's glamour and it's pace?
London with it's river and it's bridges?
Lisbon with it's beauty and it's grace?

Funny looking buses
Climb it's pot-bellied hills
And a solitary jogger
Times the time he kills

Do you know where I'm gonna go?
None of you have guessed, so none of you can know
If you've been, that's not where I mean
It's got class and it's got excellence like you've never seen

Your town is dragging me down
Dragging me down, down, down
Your town is dragging me down
Dragging me down, down, down

Is it Dublin with it's culture and it's wit?
Madrid with it's market square?
Paris with it's bustling cafes?
Hull with it's musical flair?

Do you know where I'm gonna go?
None of you have guessed so none of you can know
If you've been, that's not where I mean
It's got class and it's got excellence like you've never seen

Your town is dragging me down
Is dragging me down, down, down
Your town is dragging me down
Is dragging me down, down, down

As I watch them drop the grain into your fish tank brain
How can you like this place when it never even rains?

Never even rains

Your town is dragging me down
Is dragging me down, down, down
Your town is dragging me down
Is dragging me down, down, down

Is dragging me down, down, down
Is dragging me down, down, down
Is dragging me down, down, down

Everybody's talking at me

Everybody's talking at me
I don't hear a word they're saying
Only the echoes of my mind

People stopping staring
I can't see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Thru' the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes
Backing off of the North East wind
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

Woh Woh Woh

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Thru' the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes
Backing off of the North East wind
Sailing on summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

Everybody's talkin' at me

So, this chick, Sara, told me we had to talk today. She said "this" wasn't "working". I stopped her before she could launch into what a "great guy" I was and how this "wasn't easy" and all that bullshit. I was pretty stoic and said (rather cryptically, I might add) I wasn't surprised and that I hadn't really felt anything.

I couldn't stop her from saying "I hope we can be friends" (because I was busy secretly feeling sorry for myself and got distracted) but I did tell her that I wasn't interested. I'm not big on dates-into-friends. Also, I'm not accepting any friendship applications right now. Who has the time or the energy to carefully fold up your sexual attraction and stow it away, before making forced attempts at seeing someone in a new light. It serves the asker, not the askee.

Besides, I wanted to bang her and since I didn't, the feeling has gotten stronger. Becoming friends with her would have been the emotional equivalent of blue balls.

I'm a little bummed out by all this, though it could have been far worse, but for a number of factors:

36% The good side of depression is it also stops you from being sad
22% When you're older, you develop an immunity to being fucked over
19% I secretly believe I deserve it...or, it was a secret until I blabbed about it here
12% I believe the reason she dicked me over was because I was nice to her...women are like that, despite all the pc-ness.
08% My feud with my family convinces me love exists, just not for everyone; another thing religion and polite company fail to discuss
03% I know I'm a good friend and a good lay...everything in between is lost on me

I dropped her at home and said thanks for everything. Then, I went home and played with my dog, who was pissed off because I was late feeding her. Then, I sat down and started writing this post.

Tomorrow, I'm going to work. Partly, because I have an obscene amount of work. Mostly, because if I didn't go to work, I wouldn't have anything in my life.

New Years is coming up and I don't think I'm doing anything. Not because I'm not lonely and don't want to spend time with "friends"...but because I don't think I have the ability to disguise my bitterness and disenchantment any longer. I'd drink too much, get belligerent with people I didn't know and snappy with people I do know. I would probably also get into some kind of fight. I would also wish that the person I fight with, would kick my fucking ass. I really wish somebody would. It would feel like I had it coming, but also it would be a nice change to feel something. Pretty much anything.

I really can't feel anything right now. If you've ever read Leslie Thomas, say "Tropic of Ruislip, you'll know the sadness mixed with bewilderment that he infuses in all his male characters and that'd be me. Also Thoreau's "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation" quote is fitting here.

I don't want to be dramatic and suicide is definitely not on the cards (please don't even think about leaving a comment or phoning to "check in"..I'm just talking here and besides, I don't give a crap what you have to say) but it's tempting to think of an absence of life. I mean, this existence is just such an undignified, thankless, toilsome (if such a word exists) tapestry of disappointments and letdowns. What is the fucking point?

Of course, the comedy of how my entire outlook would have been altered had Sara remained, only to sleep with me, only to fall for me, only for us to build lives together, have babies and give them happy little's a really bad cosmic joke, but that's how things work. But it didn't pan out that way and here I am.

Another school of thought (the Egyptian one, I think; possibly the last time the words "Egyptian" and "thought" were used in the same sentence) is that it's high time I picked a good girl, married her, had babies and distracted myself from thinking solely about myself.

Yeah, right: have more kids in this world so they can deal with all the ugliness we can scarcely conceive, much less explain.

I'm just going to sit here on my couch and wait for my mania to come back, to fool me into thinking things are ok and to carry me through a few more seasons of this dreadfully tiresome life I live.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Tide Is High

The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one
I'm not the kind of girl who gives up just like that
Oh, no

It's not the things you do that tease and wound me bad
But it's the way you do the things you do to me

I'm not the kind of girl who gives up just like that
Oh, no

The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one
Number one, number one

Every girl wants you to be her man
But I'll wait my dear 'til it's my turn

I'm not the kind of girl who gives up just like that
Oh, no

The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one
Number one, number one

Every girl wants you to be her man
But I'll wait my dear 'til it's my turn

I'm not the kind of girl who gives up just like that
Oh, no

The tide is high but I'm holding on
I'm gonna be your number one
[Repeat and ad lib until fade]

Such Great Heights

I am thinking it's a sign that the freckles
In our eyes are mirror images and when
We kiss they're perfectly aligned
And I have to speculate that God himself
Did make us into corresponding shapes like
Puzzle pieces from the clay
And true, it may seem like a stretch, but
Its thoughts like this that catch my troubled
Head when you're away when I am missing you to death
When you are out there on the road for
Several weeks of shows and when you scan
The radio, I hope this song will guide you home

They will see us waving from such great
Heights, 'come down now,' they'll say
But everything looks perfect from far away,
'come down now,' but we'll stay...

I tried my best to leave this all on your
Machine but the persistent beat it sounded
Thin upon listening
And that frankly will not fly. You will hear
The shrillest highs and lowest lows with
The windows down when this is guiding you home


I'm not here anymore. At least not in any form that I recognize. I am SO worn out, ravaged really, from the inside out from all the doubt and second-guessing. I don't know how people do it.

The short answer is, not everyone suffers from te level of self-doubt that I excel at. Quite debilitating. Well, maybe not debilitating. I mean, I still get out there and do work and meet "friends" and pursue marginal interests (such as romance, to pull a card out of the deck). But all the while, I feel like some kind of contestant on a gameshow...the odds are against me and I'm merely there for the amusement of the man.

What a joke. I know why I'm down like this. The holidays. Cold, miserable, lonely holiday season. And while I could have always flown to Egypt and spent the holidays there..I'd rather be alone and miserable here than alone and miserable in Cairo.

Sara's with her family. And I haven't seen any actual friends in a while. And I hate my parents. It really doesn't leave anyone, does it?

There's the dog. And I think she's getting depressed from all the negative vibes I've been giving her.

The irony is that on paper, I seem to have it all. But you can't tell how empty someone is just from looking at them. I used to think that my depression was the product of privilege, but that simply isn't true. I was miserable growing up, tortured in my teens, conflicted in my twenties and now empty in my thirties. Have I had any good times?


I've achieved things. And done things. And experienced things. But I'm just not happy.

That in fact, would be the definition of miserable. Not happy. Someone who can't shake the feeling of doom and gloom. Joyless. I should put that down in my dating profile.

I actually put down a variaton of that once. "Depressed but never depressing". I think that line single-handedly depressed my responses by 75%. Even honesty doesn't work.

Alright, got to last until the New Year.


Because the alternative would be just to kill myself and get it over and done with. But I couldn't do that.

It would kill my parents (ironic, really) and despite their own selfishness, I'm better than them. I also don't know if there's a God who punishes for things like that, but it would be the epitome of irony that my punishment for killing myself to escape a life of misery would be an eternity of misery.

Richard Dawkins said he finds it strange that most religions talk of a God who would punish you primarily for not believing in him, rather than rewarding you for your deeds. Why would he care so much in being believed in? I mean, no one believes in me and I don't go on about it..

Things will get better. And then they'll get worse again. And then they'll keep doing that little dance until one day, I'll be dead and it won't matter.

I wonder how long it'll be before Sara makes for the exit? I hope it's soon. I don't need this glimmer of hope that is sustaining me...I need total and utter and complete despair. At least I'll know something for sure, then. That my misery is truly and utterly perfect.

Yes, yes, yes, self-fulfilling prophecy and all that. I can't help it. My emotions are paralyzed and I can only feel the things that I feel.

I just got a call from Banana Republic. They said they wanted me for focus groups. And then they said "In this case, we're looking for someone who's either married or living with a significant other".

Even Banana Republic are fucking with me.

Alright, I'm going to a strip club. Fuck you for judging me.

A Dour Winter

This holiday season has been bleaker and lonelier than usual. The on-going conflict with my parents which has effectively paralyzed me for the umpteenth time in what I rather euphemistically refer to as my adult life, plays a big part in that but it's also a product of my inability to plan my future. Simply put, I have no idea whether I should stay in New York or not.

I like it here but I'm torn between how terribly lonely it is and how this loneliness is probably something inside me. Like the old adage, the downside of going on vacation is that you have to take yourself along. Were I to move somewhere new, I'd effectively be giving up what little I've managed to build up over six years to start anew somewhere else...much like I did when I left Egypt in 1999. It's a sickness, this need to escape my reality by succumbing to this wonderlust, but the problem with finding a cure is I scarcely know where to begin.

Do I tackle my rejection of my mother, or the paralyzing panic attacks that strike out of clear blue skies or the crushing depression or the unbridled mania that leads me to extend myself far beyond all prudence and common sense? I oscillate between an oppressive need to be alone and a burning desire for companionship...a contradiction which is being tested by the latest contestant in America's fastest-shrinking dating game 'Who wants to date Basil'...the delightful Sara. Of whom I don't know what to make.

It's baffling me, this relationship with Sara. No sex, as yet, and no indication that she's even attracted to me. No surprise since even I'm not attracted to me half the time, why should anyone else? That said, I know that my own self-flagellating view is unjustly skewed and that it's possible for other people of similar insecurity and vulnerability to see me as a creature worthy of reciprocal nakedness. To that end, I've initiated a couple of make-out sessions which usually don't last beyond a few minutes and typically ended with a change of subject or, more bafflingly, a resumption of the original subject we were on, prior to commencement of said amorous overtures.

I want to get her in bed. And I want to talk to her afterwards. And yet, I also want her to run away and never look back. To find somebody else, someone with a more stable mind and to leave me to wallow in this pool of my own insecurity and paranoia. It is diabolical how I feel compelled to work against my own best interests.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

War of the Roses

Pure trash, this. If you're not familiar with how War of the Roses works, here's a quick explanation.

1) A spouse calls the radio station in NY suspecting his/her mate is cheating
2) The radio station calls the significant other pretending to give out a dozen free red roses, and all they need to provide is a name and a message.
3) 9 times out of 10 the guy/girl is sending roses to the mistress or person they're cheating with.
4) The original spouse is listening to all of this...

Listen to all of them here.

Lance Asshole

He's a jerk, he's backwards and he's full of himself. No surprise, since he comes from the same state as our dearly beloved President. I guess when you beat cancer, people don't seem that important but make no mistake, he is a tool of the highest order.

Rub-a-Dub-Tub Style

Dear GQ: A friend of mine invited my wife and me over for dinner, and then he said we could all get in the tub together. I'm worried that they're the free-and-easy type who are going to strip down and jump in. Is it okay for us to keep our suits on, or will we just look like total squares?

GQ Responds: I admit, I'm kind of suspicious of hot-tub people. My guess is that they'll be wearing their birthda suits and that they may also want to give both of you backrubs. If you want to get in the hot tub after dinner, then feel free to put on your bathing suits and hop in with them. Chances are, if they're naked, they'll tell you how much better it feels without the suit. You and your wife could work out some kind of code-I believe S&M people call it "the safe word," a word that means "Let's get the hell out of here." Sometimes, squareness is the better part of valor. My friend Richard Prince once did a painting called I Answered an Ad in a Swingers Magazine and My Parents Showed Up.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Faster Firefox

Users of Firefox can dramatically speed up their browser if they are using a broadband connection. It looks like the default settings are optimized for dial-up and don’t take advantage of some of the capabilities of cable-modem or DSL. The steps are easy to follow and you'll see an instant improvement in performance.

Type “about:config” in the address bar. Press ENTER.

In the Filter box, type “network”.

Scroll down to “network.http.pipelining”.

Double-click it and the value will change from FALSE to TRUE.

The line below should be “network.http.pipelining.maxrequests” and the default value is 4.

Double-click it and increase the value by typing in 10. (You can experiment with different values to see what gives you the best performance. Mine is currently 10.)

That’s it.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The pattern hasn't really changed: any success we have is immediately sabotaged by her, because she's convinced it's the only way to keep us close to her. And he won't ever talk to me directly about what he wants to communicate. Because he doesn't believe it himself. He wishes he was dead, she wishes she was dead and I certainly don't want to live like this.

People are so fucking lame..

Friday, December 22, 2006

Little Miss Bullshit

You can't try and be deep. You either are or you're not. What a waste of time this movie was.

An Honest Mistake

They don't mean a thing to you
They move right through you
Just like your breath
But sometimes
I still think of you
And I just wanted to
Just wanted you to know
My old friend...
I swear I never meant for this
I never meant...

Don't look at me that way
It was an honest mistake
Don't look at me that way
It was an honest mistake
An honest mistake

I forget I'm still awake
I fuck up and say these things out loud

My old friend...
I sweat I never meant for this
I never meant...

Don't look at me that way
It was an honest mistake
Don't look at me that way
It was an honest mistake
An honest mistake

Don't look at me that way
It was an honest mistake
Don't look at me that way
It was an honest mistake
An honest mistake

Thursday, December 21, 2006


Turning Patrick Süskind's legendary murder mystery "Perfume" into a movie, the German director Tom Tykwer faced an obvious problem: The story concerns the sense of smell, which the film medium (efforts by John Waters and Les Blank aside) cannot convey. Well, let's call that Problem No. 1. There was also the fact that the protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille (played in the film by English actor Ben Whishaw), is a sort of wild child from the slums of Paris, gifted with the finest nose of his time, who begins murdering beautiful young women in order to distill and bottle their essence.

Then there's Süskind's supremely literary voice, which captures both Grenouille's subjective consciousness -- his longing for love, acceptance and recognition as the greatest artist in his genre -- and enough outer, objective reality to remind us that he is committing unforgivable crimes. Given all that, I suppose it's a credit to Tykwer (best known for "Run Lola Run") that his "Perfume" works as well as it does. It's an extraordinary visual experience that captures 18th-century France as a realm of filth, blood, vomit, cruelty and all-around depravity, which even the best perfumers can only partly cover up.

"In bringing this book to the screen, I felt I had to make something where the usual rules of watching a film do not apply," Tykwer tells me in a phone interview. "It was very exciting." What he means, he continues, is that "there's a hero in the film who's probably the darkest hero ever. But there's nobody else to relate to, don't forget that! In 'Silence of the Lambs,' we see Hannibal Lecter through the Jodie Foster character; she's the hero. But we have a character who is both good and bad, who is Hannibal Lecter and Jodie Foster in one."

Many viewers, I suspect, will have trouble with this. Tykwer tries to take us inside Grenouille through voice-over narration, and by showing us key scenes from his nightmarish childhood -- his mother is executed for abandoning him, and he is nearly murdered in the cradle himself. But the operative word here is "nightmare." We can certainly be convinced to root for Grenouille as he tries to transcend his grotesque circumstances, in the manner of a Dickens hero. But as I said to Tykwer, it's as if we watched Pip of "Great Expectations" grow up into a strapping lad and start pickling hookers: Your sympathy wears thin pretty fast.

With the help of Whishaw's extraordinary performance, and a heavily allegorical climax that is so extraordinary and, if you haven't read the book, so unexpected, Tykwer nearly pulls it off. "What I hope," he says, "is that you keep rooting for Jean-Baptiste in a way that is very disturbing. It's a very strange experience, both for the audience and the filmmaker. You get involved, I think, with his vindictive and obsessive pursuit of his own happiness. This guy longs for something so basic, and his plan is so fascinating, that you can almost accept the fact that he commits these murders in order to fulfill it."

A lean, vulpine figure with something of the strangeness of David Bowie's alien in "The Man Who Fell to Earth," Whishaw makes a compelling visual focus for Frank Griebe's camera. The rest of the cast is hit-and-miss -- Alan Rickman brings tremendous dignity to his role as Grenouille's chief pursuer, but let's not talk about Dustin Hoffman trying to play a once-famous Italian perfumer. Who thought that was a good idea?

Tykwer is one of contemporary cinema's great perfectionists, and his re-creation of 18th-century Paris, along with Grasse, the famous "perfume capital" of Provence, is nothing short of amazing. (The film was mostly shot in Barcelona and nearby regions of Spain, with interiors in a Munich studio.) But if "Perfume" is a beautiful film, it has a cold heart, pumping aesthetic perversity icily through its veins.

Are audiences at any level of the film marketplace likely to embrace a film whose protagonist kills young women, one after the other? I suppose "Perfume" is really an allegory about artistic creation and its costs -- something underscored by that climax I'm not giving away, the one with 800 naked extras writhing in the town square -- but it's not like that's such a crowd-pleasing topic either. A memorable and outrageous movie, but one more likely to be remembered as a massive folly than a whopping success.

"Perfume" opens Dec. 27 in New York and Los Angeles, with a wider release beginning Jan. 5.

Moths drink the tears of sleeping birds

A close-up of the moth’s proboscis reveals its barbed tip (Image: Roland Hilgartner / Mamisolo Raoilison)
A species of moth drinks tears from the eyes of sleeping birds using a fearsome proboscis shaped like a harpoon, scientists have revealed. The new discovery – spied in Madagascar – is the first time moths have been seen feeding on the tears of birds.

Roland Hilgartner at the German Primate Centre in Göttingen, Germany, and Mamisolo Raoilison Hilgartner at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, witnessed the apparently unique sight in the island state’s Kirindy forest.

Tear-feeding moths and butterflies are known to exist elsewhere in Africa, Asia and South America, but they mainly feed on large, placid animals, such as deer, antelope or crocodiles, which cannot readily brush them away. But there are no such large animals on Madagascar. The main mammals – lemurs and mongoose – have paws capable of shooing the moths. Birds can fly away.

But not when they are sleeping. The Madagascan moths were observed on the necks of sleeping magpie robins and Newtonia birds, with the tip of their proboscises inserted under the bird’s eyelid, drinking avidly (scroll down for images). This was during the wet season, so the scientists think the insects wanted salt, as the local soils are low in sodium.

But sleeping birds have two eyelids, both closed. So instead of the soft, straw-like mouthparts found on tear-drinking moths elsewhere, the Madagascan moth has a proboscis with hooks and barbs “shaped like an ancient harpoon”, Hilgartner says.

This can be inserted under the bird’s eyelids, where the barbs anchor it, apparently without disturbing the bird. The team does not yet know whether the insect spits out an anaesthetic to dull the irritation. They also want to investigate whether, like their counterparts elsewhere, the Madagascan tear-drinkers are all males who get most of their nutrition from the tears.

Virgin komodo dragon birth

Science be praised! Two female Komodo dragons at two different zoos have self-fertilized eggs in isolation -- with no help from a Komo-dude. Other reptile species reproduce asexually in a process known as parthenogenesis. But Flora’s virginal conception, and that of another Komodo dragon earlier this year at the London Zoo, are the first time it has been documented in a Komodo dragon.
Link. Twin immaculate conceptions. The eggs are expected to hatch around Christmas. The new messiah is a lizard? (Thanks, Aira)

Reader comment: Anonymous pedant says,

Strictly speaking, the miraculous pregnancies of the two komodo dragons aren't immaculate conceptions, unless you meant to imply the dragon fetuses aren't tainted by original sin. (The argument could be made that all komodo pregnancies are immaculate conceptions, so to speak.) Virginal conception is perhaps a closer term, I'd imagine, though I can't vouch for these two particular dragons' virtue. I have recently heard this mistake referred to snarkily as the "immaculate misconception."

Monday, December 18, 2006

An SNL Samberg Special

Merry Christmas everyone

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Halo 3: Instant Karma

Halo 3 "Starry Night" TV commercial remixed with John Lennon's Instant Karma. This is the biggest game of the century..

Fight ! Kikkoman

I'm just endlessly fascinated by Japanese humour..

Saturday, December 09, 2006

"I Yam What I Yam!"

A great new collection of early Popeye comics exposes the nutty sailor as an independent-minded brawler whose good humor masked the tough life of an immigrant.

By Douglas Wolk

Dec. 9, 2006 | It's a very good time for aficionados of classic newspaper comics -- the great strips that have spent decades out of print, or have never been collected in the first place, are finally being reprinted in nicely designed editions. Fantagraphics' exquisite chronological volumes of Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" and George Herriman's "Krazy Kat" led the pack, but the last couple of years have also seen sharp hardcover reprints of the early years of Winsor McCay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland," Frank King's "Gasoline Alley," Hank Ketcham's "Dennis the Menace," Tove Jansson's "Moomin" and Chester Gould's "Dick Tracy." (Somebody still needs to publish definitive editions of Milton Caniff's "Terry and the Pirates" and Walt Kelly's "Pogo," though.) Now, another top-tier strip is getting the top-tier treatment, with E.C. Segar's "Popeye, Volume 1: 'I Yam What I Yam!'"

The strip it reprints wasn't called "Popeye" -- at least not until decades after this material appeared. It was called "Thimble Theatre," and Elzie Crisler Segar started drawing it in late 1919, almost nine years before Popeye himself showed up. It wasn't about Popeye at first, either -- it was about the Oyl family (including Olive Oyl, of course, but also her relatives Castor Oyl, Nana Oyl, Cole Oyl and Cylinda Oyl), and Olive's hapless boyfriend, Ham Gravy. And even when the sailor man made the scene, he wasn't quite the benevolent, spinach-gobbling romantic that the later animated cartoons made him out to be: He was an independent-minded brawler whose good humor masked the effects of a life as rough as anyone on the funny pages has ever endured.

The first volume of "Popeye" (there will be six in all), which takes us up to around the end of 1930, conveniently omits most of the first decade of "Thimble Theatre." You won't miss it -- the first few pages, beginning with the daily strips from September 1928, are slightly stale slapstick, a mildly amusing bit of business involving a "Whiffle Hen" named Bernice who can't be killed no matter how hard anyone tries, and whose head can be rubbed for good luck. ("Well I'll be popeyed!" declares Castor with surprise on the story's first page.)

Then, four months later, Castor and Ham need to charter a boat and hire somebody trustworthy to sail it for them. "Hey there! Are you a sailor?" Castor asks the first person he sees. "'Ja think I'm a cowboy?" snaps a battered-looking man in sailor whites with one eye, a corncob pipe and matching anchor tattoos on his bulging forearms. "O.K. you're hired," Castor replies. Two days later the sailor has a name: Popeye. And all of a sudden "Thimble Theatre" gets much funnier.

For one thing, every time Popeye opens his mouth, he says something nutty. His dialogue is one long string of malapropisms, mangled pronunciations and wildly colorful lowlife slang, punctuated with "Blow me down!" for emphasis every chance he gets. "I'm goner lay ya among the swee'peas," he keeps telling his sparring partners. (Hence his adopted son Swee'Pea's name, which sounds a little bit less tender when you think of it that way.)

But there's also a touch of sadness and even cruelty to Segar's jokes. View the early "Popeye" strips from a distance, and you notice that they're almost all about class stratification: the WASP-y, middle-class turned nouveau-riche Oyl family exploiting the determinedly lower-class Popeye, with his immigrant's tortured English and willingness to undergo incredible suffering in the hopes of catching a break. Which he never will: Bought off with a million dollars at the end of his first adventure, he wanders out of the story for a month or so (by the end of which it appears to have been made clear to Segar that he'd better get the star back onstage pronto), then turns up penniless, explaining that he was talked out of his fortune by "a dame." For which you can read that he's been playing craps down at the docks again. He's deathly afraid of "evil spiriks," and chalks up anything he doesn't understand to them. Even the familiar catchphrase that provides this volume's subtitle is a declaration of pride in ignorance. It's his response, more than once, to a string of insults: "No matter what ya calls me -- I am what I am an' tha's ALL I yam!"

There's no spinach anywhere in this first volume, and very few of the familiar "Thimble Theatre" supporting characters: no Swee'Pea, no Alice the Goon, no Jeep, barely any of the Sea Hag and, most regrettably, no J. Wellington Wimpy. And there's another curious surprise: It's nowhere near as good as Segar's later work. The strips that appear in the touring "Masters of American Comics" exhibit and "The Smithsonian Book of Newspaper Comics" are all from later in the run, when Segar developed a surer line, more uninhibited layouts, a much more keenly honed sense of comedy and suspense. Here, though, even after a decade of "Thimble Theatre," he was still flailing a little with his stories' pacing - a mystery involving a man who has sat motionless for 20 years gets resolved via pseudoscience explained at exhausting length - and drawing his characters from a static middle-distance perspective, as if the strip were a theater.

Segar also had a habit of belaboring his jokes: Popeye and Castor are suckered into investing in a "brass mine" at one point, and go around for what seems like ages getting into fights with anyone who snickers at the name. What he was already terrific at, though, was sneaking fear and poignancy into a strip that pretty much had to deliver a chuckle a day. He spends weeks building up to the first appearance of the Sea Hag, a supernatural being who sails a ship called the Black Barnacle -- Popeye is terrified of both of them, in a blindly superstitious way. And when she actually shows up, she's a silhouetted tangle of hair against a nearly black scribble of night sky, one of the scariest images that's ever shown up in a newspaper comic strip.

Every time Popeye declares his independence to defend his brawling ways, part of the joke is that we're seeing how he ended up missing an eye, hanging out on the docks and all but alone in the world: "I comes when I likes and I goes when I pleases and I don't take nothin' from nobody, no time. Blow me down!" (That line is doubly funny because Popeye, who's just knocked out some big brute with one punch, is relaxing with his hands on his hips, one ankle crossed over the other. He really, truly doesn't care.) He's cheerful because he's not even sure what he's missing. "No woman'll ever make a sap outta me," he declares. "I'm forty and they ain't never even tried it."

He's a street fighter at heart, and he's capable of taking incredible amounts of abuse. In a confrontation with the wicked Mr. Snork in late 1930, he's shot 20 times, but what he's most upset about when he goes to the hospital is that the doctors who've operated on him have left in an unlucky 13 of the bullets: "Now listen ya crazy tonsil jerkers ya either got to take another one out or put one back." Then Castor reminds Popeye that he actually has 25 bullets in him, counting a dozen from an earlier fight. "Blow me down I feels good now!"

By the end of the book, the daily strips are growing into the monument that "Thimble Theatre" would become. The Sunday pages, which told a separate story and are set at the back of the book, aren't showing quite as much progress. Popeye didn't show up on Sundays until more than a year after he'd debuted in the daily strip; the 1930 strips included here are crammed with plot (Segar drew as many as 22 panels in a single strip), but don't have quite as much verve. Most of them have to do with Popeye's temporary career as a boxer, derailed by his habit of punching the bejesus out of anybody who bugs him. (It's funny once -- maybe twice.) The Sunday incarnation of "Thimble Theatre" incarnation was originally accompanied, as it is in this book, by a smaller, unrelated, not especially well-remembered Segar strip called "Sappo." The one noteworthy "Sappo" sequence here takes a few potshots at modern art -- when John Sappo shows a surrealist painting to an art dealer, the dealer declares, "It's all wrong. Ask any modern artist -- the head should be at the bottom." So Sappo turns the painting upside down and sells it to the dealer for a wad of cash.

Segar didn't care about that highbrow stuff - he was an entertainer first and an artist a distant second, at least at this stage of his career. The four-color dots on the cover of this volume, an extreme close-up of a Sunday panel's image of a boxing-glove-wearing Popeye punching out himself and his opponent simultaneously, make it look a bit like a Roy Lichtenstein painting -pop recontextualized as fine art - and as welcome as the book's deluxe production is, the Segar of 1930 might have found it a little odd. By the time he died of leukemia in 1938, he'd started to care much more about his art, and he'd become a better entertainer because of it. By then, of course, Popeye was a huge franchise of cartoons and merchandise, and "Thimble Theatre" finally became "Popeye" proper sometime in the '70s. Part of what's great about these early strips is that they're not just about the malaprop sailor - they're about the thimble-size world he wandered into, a world he took over by force of will and a powerful right hook. In his words, "I socks 'em permanent."

This article appeared on

Friday, December 08, 2006

The last Neocon

Criticizing John McCain feels like shooting Bambi: you can't feel good about yourself. he's an American hero who withstood a level of torture (over 5 years!) that few of us can even comprehend (A long day at work may feel like torture, but what this guy was put through puts everything firmly in perspective.

And yet, his views along with his aspirations for the highest job in the land make him, for me, simply untenable.

The Iraq Study Group shot down Bush's failed war strategy. Yet John McCain stubbornly supports it -- calling for more troops and promising unattainable victory.

By Joe Conason

Dec. 8, 2006 | With the broad establishment acceptance of the Iraq Study Group's new report, the embattled neoconservatives have clearly lost the debate over Iraq. Their belligerent foreign policy has been universally discredited. Their strategic fantasies have led the United States into a losing war, to the great detriment of American security and prestige. Today their desire to send tens of thousands more troops into the Iraqi quicksand is shared by less than 10 percent of their fellow citizens, according to recent polls.

Yet even now they still can boast the support of the most formidable Republican presidential candidate expected to stand in the next election: Sen. John McCain, the last neocon.

At this late date, very few politicians are as eager as the Arizona Republican to echo the calls for escalation in Iraq now heard from neocon opinion leaders in the Weekly Standard, the Wall Street Journal, the National Review and the New York Post, whose front page caricatured James Baker and Lee Hamilton as "surrender monkeys" on the morning after they released the ISG's findings. Among his Capitol Hill colleagues, McCain was almost alone in joining the right-wing attack on the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton Commission, whose report dismissed demands for additional combat brigades as unrealistic. He was enraged by the report's emphasis on political negotiations and on the excessive costs of the military effort. "Sustained increases in U.S. troop levels would not solve the fundamental cause of violence in Iraq, which is the absence of national reconciliation, Meanwhile, America's military capacity is stretched thin: we do not have the troops or equipment to make a substantial, sustained increase in our troop presence. Increased deployments to Iraq would also necessarily hamper our ability to provide adequate resources for our efforts in Afghanistan or respond to crises around the world."

Over and over again, regardless of the realities on the ground and in the armed forces, McCain urged President Bush to deploy enough additional troops to Iraq to constitute an overwhelming force, although the specifics of his plan (and exactly where he hopes to find several brigades of trained, equipped and combat-ready soldiers) remain murky. The credibility he earned from his suffering in a North Vietnam prison camp -- as well as his reputation for blunt honesty -- evidently exempts him from answering difficult questions about his plan for "victory."

According to McCain, there is no alternative to winning except losing, and losing would create an existential threat to the United States. "The consequences of failure are so severe that I will exhaust every possibility to try to fix this situation," he recently told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week." "Because it's not the end when American troops leave. The battleground shifts, and we'll be fighting them again. You read Zarqawi, and you read bin Laden ... It's not just Iraq that they're interested in. It's the region, and then us." He doesn't seem to understand that the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's "al-Qaida in Iraq" organization is only a small part of the Iraqi insurgency, most of which is devoted solely to expelling the U.S. occupation.

McCain's willingness to call for a deeper commitment to the war, however, has won praise and admiration even from those who have come to feel that he is wrong, simply because his views are unpopular. Wrote columnist George Will, a recent critic of the neocons, McCain brings a "steely" moral clarity to the Iraq debate. But there are more skeptical ways to assess the senator's "straight talk" about Iraq.

Despite his bullish claim that more combat troops are available for deployment, McCain almost certainly knows the contrary to be true. Last month the Washington Post (a newspaper whose editorial page strongly supports the war) reported that top military officers and defense analysts think that McCain's escalation scheme is "implausible" and probably impossible. Not only would increasing troop levels inflict severe stress on the already strained Army and Marine Corps, but the results would be far less significant than the senator has suggested. For someone who constantly touts his concern for soldiers and their families -- and who is no doubt sincere -- the former POW sounds strangely oblivious to the extreme price they pay during repeated rotations back into Iraq. He also sounds ignorant of the long-term danger to the American military posed by the war's costs.

Does McCain really expect that the president and the Pentagon will accept his advice? Or is he merely positioning himself for the war's aftermath, when he will claim that his spurned counsel could have won the victory that eluded Bush? Is he truly an idealist -- or is he a cynical demagogue? The answers may be impossible to know. There is much evidence that he values his integrity, and much evidence that he values his ambition even more.

But it is worth remembering that McCain still believes American forces could and should have "won" the war in Vietnam. Someday perhaps one of his admiring interviewers will ask him why he thinks we ought to have sacrificed the more than 50,000 American lives lost in that atrocious debacle -- and how many more American lives he thinks we should be willing to sacrifice in this one.

'To be honest'

Is there a more trite, meaningless phrase out there? Possibly, 'At the end of the day', but this doozy manages to pack less meaning than even that. I always feel the phrase 'for a change' ought to be said at the end of it, to make the event a bit more momentous. Trim the fat, I say, for leaner, meaner dialogue.

Wedding party dancing to German metal

This video of a wedding party dancing to the unique musical stylings of German pornogrind band Cock And Ball Torture, is insane. I recommend watching it several times, paying close attention to the celebrants' various dance steps.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

This is a testament to my subversive nature but I find myself empathising with the Republicans these days. I still find most of their stands on personal liberties repulsive but they're beginning to look nicer and sweeter and saner than most Democrats. It's probably the fact that the Democrats are already beginning to look fat and coffled and power-crazy.

I'm voting for Nader in 2008. Hopefully, it'll be an absentee ballot.

"There is not enough time to do all the nothing we want to do."
Bill Watterson

All about my mother

I hate that she's miserable, as I know she is. Only someone who's this deeply unhappy can make someone she supposedly cares for this unhappy. So she's miserable and I'm miserable and I don't know what to fucking do.

I can get over it or get distracted from it, the one thing I can't do is resolve it. Because she lacks the tools to compromise or control her questionable emotions. And I lack the tools to get over my lingering resentments or my fractured emotional mechanism.

Wishing her dead was "wrong", whatever that means. But there's value in examining even the basest of emotions that present themselves. The desire for her to just drop dead is both an act of vengeance and a desire for her to be put out of her misery..and mine, of course. The fact is, when she dies and if I'm around to witness it, I can imagine that I'd be shattered by it. The "what ifs" that plague my life. Why couldn't I have tried harder? Why couldn't I just swallow my anger and my hurt?

Because I don't have the tools, that's why. The same tools I lack to love my mother are the same tools I'll lack to love anyone else. I'm absolutely tormented by this notion.

And I'm tormented by the notion that if I found someone who didn't mind how crazy I can be, that would somehow mean that they're as damaged as I am. That if they couldn't see how emotionally impotent I am, then that would mean that their own emotions are undeveloped or fractured. That I would end up with someone that I'll end up hating.

Every year it's the same fucking deal. If I didn't have the self-awareness to piece this shit together, I'd be happier. And if my chemical fuck-ups didn't give me the bleakest of motherfucking outlooks at regular fucking intervals, I'd have the joy to try and be happy.

Fuck if. I never even get depressed anyway, just enraged. And the only person I take it out on is me. So what harm is it doing? And you know what the next question on that list is: What good is anything I've ever done?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Edward Said Critiqued

This article is a joke. It's entire argument is hinged on Edward Said ignoring certain so-called 'prominent Western intellectuals' because they don't support his theories. Which is ludicrous really because there were certainly intellectuals who did not view the Arab world in a stereotypical,Orientalist mold..but enough did and it was those that influenced the popular opinion in the Western world, which persists to this day. If anything, this weak attempt at discrediting Said will only encourage more people to read Said and realize what a significant thinker and pioneer he was. It's rare that I don't agree with a article but this is one of those times.

The famous professor and Palestine advocate claimed that bigoted Western stereotypes about the Orient support imperialism. But Middle East scholar Robert Irwin proves it was Said who didn't have the full picture.

By Gary Kamiya

Dec. 6, 2006 | Edward Said's "Orientalism" was a cultural bombshell that has become a landmark -- some would say a crater. One of the most popular and influential academic books ever written, it inspires condemnation and praise in equal measure. Published in 1978, "Orientalism" not only was a founding text for the academic fields of postcolonial theory and subaltern studies, but also remains one of the most-cited works in what we can broadly call the "oppositional canon." It has been translated into 36 languages, and it continues to be cited, discussed and taught throughout the world.

Said, who died in 2003, was born in Jerusalem, moving to the United States as a young man. A professor of English literature at Columbia University, he was also an outspoken advocate for the Palestinian cause, which made him extremely controversial. He sat on the Palestinian National Council but became an increasingly bitter critic of Yasser Arafat and resigned in 1991. (Said was probably the only person who could claim both that his office had been fire-bombed by right-wing Zionists and that his writings had been banned in the occupied territories by Arafat.) In "Orientalism," Said argued that from the beginning of Western civilization, Europeans have seen the East -- and in particular the Middle East -- as an alien and threatening Other, and have constructed a mythical and self-serving version of it. Said maintained that this version of the Arab world, which flowered in the work of British and French scholars in the late 18th century and continues to be accepted today, provided a justification for the Western imperialist projects that started with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798. Far from being objective, Said wrote, the scholars of the 18th and 19th centuries served the interests of power.

This Orientalist discourse, he maintained, is racist, condescending, controlling, dehumanizing, feminizing and "essentialist" -- that is, it asserts that there is a mysterious "essence," invariably religious, that defines the Arab world. That supposed essence, Said argued, is completely mythical and artificial, based not on actual knowledge or experience of the Arabs but purely on the West's imaginary construction. In other words, Orientalism is an enclosed system, impervious to reality and indeed designed to ignore it.

This monolithic assertion of Western villainy is based on a theoretical framework that Said derived from the French philosopher Michel Foucault. The key idea is "discourse," which Foucault defined as a system of thought that defines what can be "known." This system is inextricably linked to power in all its forms -- hence Foucault's famous formulation "power/knowledge." For Foucault and Said, it was a naive illusion to believe that knowledge can exist independent of power. Because Orientalism is a discourse, no one can really escape it: it is a trans-subjective phenomenon. But Said became dissatisfied with Foucault because his theory did not allow a way out. The other thinker to whom Said was indebted, the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci, provided the concept of "hegemony," which allows for the possibility of resistance to inviolable discourse.

In "Orientalism," Said ranged far and wide, from famous scholars like Louis Massignon and Sir Hamilton Gibb to literary greats like Flaubert and Nerval to hosts of unknown travelers and writers. He unearthed countless examples of grandiose statements made by Westerners about the mysterious, threatening, promiscuous, God-obsessed, immutable East. These statements were not coincidental or contingent, Said argued, but reflected a universal imperialist discourse that historically governed everything any Westerner could say or think about the Arab world. As Said put it in reference to the 19th century, "It is therefore correct that every European, in what he could say about the Orient, was consequently a racist, an imperialist, and almost totally ethnocentric." To the end of his life, he believed that this view of the Arab world still held sway.

Said's book provoked a furious controversy that still rages today. With America trapped in Iraq, and with the Middle East on the verge of a regional crisis, the debate about "Orientalism" is not a merely academic one. Bush's entire "war on terror," and in particular his bizarre decision to invade Iraq, could be seen as driven by Orientalist beliefs and assumptions. Moreover, ominously and quite predictably, "Orientalist" ideas in Said's sense are beginning to pop up in the national discourse. One of the peculiar ironies of the Iraq war is that its architects used politically correct pieties to justify it. Bush and former deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz repeatedly used nameless skeptics, "who say the Arab world isn't ready for democracy," as straw men to give an idealist gloss to their plans for war. Today, disillusioned and angry conservatives are beginning to rebel against these pieties. Rush Limbaugh, as usual, gave crude voice to the inchoate beliefs of millions when he said that we should just "blow the place up." As the Iraq nightmare deepens, these opinions are likely to become louder.

At this fraught historical moment, a new book, Robert Irwin's "Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents," launches the most formidable assault on Said yet. Irwin has impeccable scholarly credentials: He teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, has written on Arabic literature and art, and is the Middle East editor of the Times Literary Supplement. Irwin's book is a hybrid, both a history of the academic field of Orientalism and an all-out assault on Said's most famous book.

Irwin maintains that Said's thesis is false, the arguments he made for it dishonest, distorted and weak, and his theoretical framework self-contradictory and evasive. He charges that Said engaged in a counterfactual rewriting of history, attacking figures from earlier eras because they did not say or do what Said thought they should have. Said's entire project, in his view, is "a work of malignant charlatanry in which it is difficult to distinguish honest mistakes from wilful misrepresentations."

Irwin takes pains to point out that, politically, he is on Said's side. "I have no significant disagreements with what Said has written about Palestine, Israel, Kipling's 'Kim,' or Glenn Gould's piano playing." This strengthens Irwin's position, as some of Said's supporters have argued that much of the opprobrium heaped on "Orientalism" has come from those opposed to Said's outspoken support for the Palestinian cause, thus serving as an example of the very Orientalist bigotry Said attacks. No such charge can be leveled against Irwin.

Irwin's strategy for demolishing "Orientalism" is to focus on the major figures in the field and to show that who they were, what they believed, and what their scholarship and attitudes were toward the Arab world bear no resemblance to Said's version. He devotes only one chapter to a direct critique of Said's book and in the final one considers other critics of Orientalism. The rest of "Dangerous Knowledge" presents the rich and complex history of Orientalist scholarship and the often eccentric men (and they were almost all men) who engaged in it. His goal is to use reality to dissolve the abstract and tendentious cloak of villainy that Said drapes over an entire scholarly field. It's on this empirical battleground, not in the lofty clouds of theory, that Irwin battles Said. He uses the history of Orientalism and the careers of Orientalists as a needle to let the hot air out of Said's 30,000-feet-above-facts balloon. And the result is one of the more spectacular deflatings since the Hindenburg.

Contrary to Said, Irwin reveals, the towering figures of Oriental scholarship tended to be unworldly, solitary figures, who, far from demonizing the Arab world or Islam, were sympathetic to it and were often regarded as suspiciously un-Christian by their contemporaries. Many were opposed to Western imperial designs on the Near East. Like scholars through the ages, they spent most of their time working diligently on often dry-as-dust textual or linguistic problems. They were also often slightly loony. The father of Orientalism, Guillaume de Postel (1510-1581), was, Irwin notes, "quite barmy": The "foremost expert on Arabic and Islam in Europe" also believed that a woman named Johanna was the angelic pope, the new Eve, the mater mundi who possessed X-ray vision that allowed her to "see Satan sitting at the center of the earth." Postel's weird ideas led the Inquisition to investigate him, but the Holy Office, in a kinder, gentler moment, decided that he "was not a heretic, merely insane."

Irwin acknowledges that a handful of Orientalists suffered from a conflict of interest because they worked on imperialist state projects, but the vast majority did not. Similarly, although a few, like Ernst Renan and Joseph-Arthur de Gobineau, were explicitly racist, most were not. They were genuinely fascinated by the Arab world and Islam, and though some of their scholarship may have suffered from received ideas and prejudice, there is no evidence to support Said's overwrought thesis that all of it did. And even if some of them were working in bad faith, Irwin argues, that did not necessarily mean their scholarship was bad. Above all, there was no unitary, unchanging Orientalist discourse. Like any other academic field, "Orientalism advances ... through disagreement and criticism rather than comfortable consensus."

Moreover, Irwin argues that Said grossly oversimplified the complex historical encounter between East and West. For much of its history, he points out, Europe either ignored Islam or regarded it as a form of Arianism, the ur-heresy that denied the divinity of Christ and was rejected by the Council of Nicaea in 325. Far from turning Islam into a menacing Other, for centuries most Europeans couldn't care less about it, being much more concerned with demonizing rival Christian sects. Nor did the West always hold the upper imperialist hand over the East: The European powers were fearful of the mighty Ottoman Empire for centuries. In short, the relationship between East and West, rather than being one of simple dominance and submission, was far more nuanced.

No one denies that the West ultimately dominated the Orient and colonized it, or that its often racist domination affected the way Westerners thought about the East. Yet Irwin points out that the history of Orientalism simply doesn't track with the history of imperialism. Some Orientalists in the imperialist heyday held strikingly enlightened and nuanced views; others were myopically "essentialist" when the Mideast was of no political or economic concern to the West whatsoever.

Against Said, who insisted that Orientalism remained frozen in place, Irwin shows that the field progressed, that knowledge increased. He believes in the possibility (not always attained, of course) of objective scholarship. He argues that academic inquiry is not merely a handmaiden of power, but has its own logic and internal development, and that successive generations of Orientalists criticized, built on and transformed the work of those who came before. "There are such things as pure scholars," Irwin writes. "I have even had tea with a few of them." This view is regarded as sentimental, naive and retrograde in certain circles, but at least you can argue for or against it on the basis of evidence. We really do know more about the textual history of the Koran than we did before, for example.

Said's radically skeptical position, by contrast, was so abstract and chameleonic that it was impossible to disprove it, since it constantly dissolved (and hid behind) a multitude of deconstructive readings. The eminent Middle East expert Fred Halladay made a telling point when he argued that the close literary analysis of texts, Said's specialty and his primary analytic technique in "Orientalism," may not be applicable to social science.

Irwin also makes the devastating critique -- one that even Said's defenders don't really attempt to rebut -- that Said ignored examples that don't fit into his theoretical framework. One of the most glaring examples was his almost complete failure to engage with German Orientalists. Said peremptorily dismissed critics who raised this issue, saying their point was "superficial or trivial" and that there was "no point in even responding to them." But if Orientalism is inseparably bound with political power, as Said posited, then German Orientalists should be of minimal importance, as Germany had no imperial stake in the Arab world. In fact, as Irwin points out, German Orientalists dominated the field for a long time. Similarly, Said completely ignored the Russian Orientalists, who in fact did serve an imperial empire in Muslim Asia. The reason is obvious: The German and Russian Orientalists didn't support Said's thesis.

The most eminent of all the German scholars of the Arab world, and indeed a figure whom Irwin calls the "greatest of the Orientalists," was a Hungarian Jew named Ignaz Goldziher. Shaped by "the overlapping worlds of the German and Jewish Enlightenment," Goldziher rejected the racist essentialism of Renan, who had "previously generalized grandly on the intrinsic monotheism of the Semitic spirit and the incapacity of the Jews and Arabs to generate any kind of mythology. Goldziher considered all that to be racist nonsense: 'There is no such thing as a psychology particular to a given race.'" Goldziher revolutionized Islamic studies, breaking major ground with his research on the hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) and exploring Islamic revivalist movements. "He believed in the future of Islam and its ability to revive itself from within. As has been noted, he was hostile to colonialism and the Westernization of the Near East. He had supported the Egyptian nationalist revolt of Arabi Pasha (in 1881-2). In 1920, he wrote a letter to a Christian Arab friend in Mosul: 'I have lived for your nation and for my own. If you return to your homeland, tell this to your brothers.' A year later Goldziher was dead."

The great scholar Albert Hourani, author of the magisterial "A History of the Arab Peoples," said "Goldziher shaped our view of what Islam is more than anyone else." Irwin writes that "a book on Middle Eastern and Islamic studies that gave no account of Goldziher's work in the field would not be worth the paper it was printed on."

And what did Said have to say about this towering figure? He mentioned Goldziher twice in passing. The first comes in a list of other scholars; in his only slightly more substantive discussion, which consists of a single sentence, he wrote, "Yet Ignaz Goldziher's appreciation of Islam's tolerance toward other religions was undercut by his dislike of Muhammad's anthropomorphisms and Islam's too-exterior theology and jurisprudence." Said concluded that the crucial fact about Goldziher's work was his belief in Islam's "latent inferiority." For Said, it seemed axiomatic that merely to express negative opinions about any aspect of Islam or the Arab world was to be a biased, racist, essentialist Orientalist. By those standards, Said himself might well have qualified, since as Irwin points out, he himself seemed to have had no sympathy for or interest in Islam.

It should be said that Said's failure to engage with Goldziher was not driven by any kind of bigotry. As is clear from his political writings -- which are much more lucid than his attempts at grand cultural theory -- Said was bitterly opposed to anti-Semitism in all its forms; he denounced terrorism and always insisted that justice for the Palestinians must be accompanied by Arab acceptance of the Holocaust and respect for the historically unprecedented sufferings of the Jewish people. The charge raised by some of his opponents that he was anti-Semitic is scurrilous. However, that fact does not excuse Said's tendentious and distorted use of historical evidence in "Orientalism." Said ignored Goldziher not because he was Jewish but because his exemplary career gave the lie to Said's thesis.

Another of Irwin's key criticisms is that Said was hopelessly confused about what the Orientalist discourse actually was. At times, he wrote about it as if it were inescapable and the Orientalists merely victims of a system of thought they were powerless to resist. But at other times, he explicitly blamed the Orientalists for being racist and imperialist. This structural ambiguity, which, Irwin acutely points out, originated in the tension between the views of Foucault and Gramsci, fatally weakened Said's argument (although it allowed him to slip out of all criticism).

Finally, as Irwin reveals, Said's convenient poststructuralist position that the Orient did not exist, but was a Western construction, ignored reality. Different regions of the world do share certain cultural traits, and it is absurd to deny that Islam plays a major role in the societies and culture of the Middle East -- and that it is a role significantly different from Christianity's in the West. To say this is not to "essentialize" those societies or reduce them to religious caricatures, but merely to acknowledge the obvious. Perhaps Said's most compelling argument, as Mike Jay notes in one of the smartest reviews of Irwin's book, is that Orientalists, obsessed with their caricature of exotic Islam, ignored the political and economic reality of the Arab world and rarely paid much attention to individual Arabs. This is true, but it is not necessarily evidence of bigotry: It took scholars in all fields a long time to understand the importance of such unglamorous realities. In any case, it's hardly surprising that Islam, the most obvious marker of difference between Europe and the Middle East, should have interested European scholars. Said cited Western pronouncements about Islam as if they were prima facie evidence of essentialist racism, when in fact they mostly seem to have been attempts -- admittedly often rather purple and unconvincing -- to make sense of it. As with many poststructuralist arguments, there is an emperor's new clothes aspect to Said's outrage at the attention that Orientalists paid to Islam.

"Dangerous Knowledge" pretty much demolishes Said's attack on academic Orientalists. But does Irwin demolish Said's larger point that Western imperialism has generated a racist and condescending discourse about the Arab world, one that still operates today? The British literary critic Terry Eagleton argues that he does not, that Said was wrong about details but right about what really mattered. Eagleton mocks Irwin's "gentle, ivory-tower" belief that Orientalism "is mostly a story of individual scholars" and derides what he claims is Irwin's inability to comprehend Foucault's ideas: "He gives the impression that he could recognise an ideological formation about as readily as he could identify Green Day's greatest hits." Eagleton writes that "the current debacle in Iraq ... has rekindled a rabid Islamophobia in the west" and that "all Irwin needs to do to recognise the broad truth of Said's thesis is turn on the television set."

To attack Irwin for being unable to recognize "ideological formations" is to beg the question (that is, to assume the very point being debated), since Irwin's entire, meticulously argued point is that Orientalism was not such a formation. Eagleton's point that the current Islamophobia vindicates Said's thesis is more interesting. In a penetrating and largely favorable review of "Dangerous Knowledge" in the Times Literary Supplement, Christopher de Bellaigue argues that "Irwin's reluctance to expose his discipline to Said's charges of collusion in Empire, post-colonial domination and, more specifically, brutalities committed in the name of Zionism, is the main flaw in an otherwise meticulous and impressive book."

De Bellaigue gives some specific historical examples of such collusion and justly criticizes Irwin for ignoring them. He also makes a legitimate point that Irwin erred by ignoring the contemporary influence of the eminent Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who, Bellaigue notes, has used his academic authority to push his support for Bush's "war on terror" and to issue "mischievous and misleading" pronouncements about an inevitable war with fundamentalist Islam. A strong supporter of Israel who has published widely in popular journals, Lewis was invited to the White House by Dick Cheney to discuss Mideast strategy. Lewis is, in effect, Said's right-wing counterpart -- but those who hold Said's views are never invited to the White House. (Jimmy Carter, a former president whose new book is critical of Israel, isn't even supported by his own party.) The wide acceptance of Lewis' neoconservative ideas in America, and their implementation by the Bush administration, support the idea that a racist "ideological formation" which sees the Arab/Muslim world as depraved and violent does indeed exist.

Irwin's book would have been stronger if he had grappled with these issues. But the (brief) triumph of neoconservative ideology in the United States does not prove Said's thesis. Lewis may be a one-man pinup for Orientalism, but he is the exception that proves the rule, at least in the academy and among specialists. The truth is that most experts on Islam and the Arab world are appalled at the Bush administration policies. Public prejudice against Arabs and Muslims exists, of course, but it is not the clanking monolith Said described. Public support for the "war on terror" (now rapidly dwindling) has had more to do with a visceral public reaction to 9/11, and the anomalous, single-issue sacred cow of Israel, than with a historic bias against the Middle East and Arabs that allegedly goes back to Aeschylus.

Ironically, Said himself recognized this. Criticizing the Arab world's crude polemics against America, he wrote, "It is not acceptable to sit in Beirut or Cairo meeting halls and denounce American imperialism (or Zionist colonialism for that matter) without a whit of understanding that these are complex societies not always truly represented by their governments' stupid or cruel policies." It is striking how little Said, the practical Palestinian politician, dealing with real-world issues, sounds like the grand theoretician of "Orientalism."

At the end of "Dangerous Knowledge," Irwin asks why "Orientalism" has been so successful. "It is a scandal and damning comment on the quality of intellectual life in Britain in recent decades that Said's argument about Orientalism could ever have been taken seriously," he writes. "If Said's book is as bad as I think it is, why has it attracted so much attention and praise in certain quarters?" His answer: resentment of established Orientalists by partisans of new disciplines like cultural studies and sociology; anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism; the allure of trendy figures like Foucault and Gramsci; and general Western "hand-wringing and guilt about its imperialist past."

There is no doubt that the same reasons apply to certain quarters in the United States. The larger question raised by the success of "Orientalism" is the venerable one of ends and means. Its defenders say that the West really does have much to feel guilty about, and they argue that Said's book, though flawed, is praiseworthy because it has forced the West to be more self-critical.

But this position is a slippery slope, only a step removed from defending Stalinist realism and other "dialectically justified" hack work. An unflinching look at America's imperialist past -- and the crude stereotypes about the Middle East, ignorant hostility and out-and-out racism that underlie much of our current foreign policy and helped pave the way for the Iraq war -- is indeed necessary. But Said's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach is counterproductive. It may have swelled the ranks of subaltern studies programs and provided grist for numerous postcolonial studies Ph.D. theses, but that doesn't make his argument correct. In the end, bad books are just bad books, and when they are canonized for instrumental reasons, the result is a coarsening of thought and an ever-widening and unhealthy divide between the academy and mainstream culture. Indeed, there is reason to believe that such sweeping indictments produce a public backlash and result in more bigotry, not less. Demands that villains du jour -- whether males, white people, the West, heterosexuals or thin people -- reflect on their guilt do not seem to lead to greater enlightenment.

In this regard, Irwin's refusal to genuflect before a hopelessly flawed work simply because it is politically correct is part of a salutary trend on the left to be willing to criticize propagandistic or tendentious works, no matter how "right thinking" they are. In America, this trend has manifested itself in the largely victorious (at least in mainstream culture, if not in the academy) counterattack, led by Robert Hughes, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Todd Gitlin, C. Vann Woodward and others, against the cruder forms of multiculturalism and identity politics.

As America tries to figure out how to deal with the Arab and Muslim world, and to educate the American people so that catastrophes like Iraq don't happen again, it is vital that a full spectrum of opinions be heard. The long history of Western imperialist meddling in the Middle East, the West's consistent stifling of Arab attempts at political reform, and many other such matters must be discussed. But it is equally important that the role of religion and culture be acknowledged, and that historical and even anthropological analyses of Middle Eastern societies not be ruled out by the left simply because they lead to certain conclusions that may make bien-pensant intellectuals uncomfortable. (The role of tribes and the importance of honor and revenge in Arab culture are two examples.) All of these complex issues must be put on the table and given a full national discussion -- for our sake, for the Middle East's sake and for the world's sake.

Said argued that Western knowledge about the Middle East serves only Western interests. Against that dark view, we need to insist that knowledge is always good. As we struggle not just to extricate ourselves from Iraq but also to forge a more humane and enlightened policy toward the Middle East, we need more Orientalism, not less.

Monday, December 04, 2006

"A small man in search of a balcony"

9/11 gave America amnesia about the real Rudy Giuliani. He's an authoritarian narcissist -- and we don't need another one of those in the White House.

By Cintra Wilson

Rudy Giuliani at a fundraising event in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in 1999, while he was exploring a run for the Senate.
Dec. 5, 2006 | There is something deranged about you ... this excessive concern with little weasels is a sickness ... you should go consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist with this excessive concern, how you are devoting your life to weasels. You need somebody to help you. There are people in this city and in this world that need a lot of help. Something has gone wrong with you.

-- New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on his radio show, to a ferret advocate, after imposing New York's 2001 ferret ban

There is at least one nice thing one can say about former New York mayor and current Republican presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani -- besides, of course, his penchant for dressing in drag, his love for opera, and the fact that he used to share an apartment with a gay man.

On 9/11, all Americans were frightened children, and in a moment of mythic personal heroism, Mayor Giuliani filled the gaping leadership void. The president looked like a petrified chimp; Cheney was spirited to an underground bunker. Only Giuliani could pull himself together sufficiently to get on TV in the midst of the wreckage and show America that a grown-up was still breathing. On that terrible day our reptile brains looked at Rudy Giuliani and said, "We're OK now. Daddy's home."

And we forgot, some for a moment, some permanently, that Daddy was psycho.

The attack on the twin towers blew a hole in downtown Manhattan and in our collective memory. Osama bin Laden and company did a better P.R. job for Giuliani than spin ghouls Hill & Knowlton ever did for Dick Nixon. He made everyone but the most grouchy and resentful New Yorkers forget that before planes crashed into the World Trade Center, Rudy was a hyper-authoritarian narcissist with a lust for overkill verging on the sociopathic.

And now, at a time when the machinations of another hubristic bully have brought an unprecedented expansion of the powers of the presidency, "America's Mayor" may be our next chief executive. He is neck and neck with John McCain when Americans are asked their preference for the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is alarming to think that the murky dealings and totalitarian tendencies that have marred the current administration could flourish even more under another control-junkie Republican. It is even more frightening to think what a commander in chief who already has a violent record of abusing authority could do with the unrestrained might of a geopolitical superpower. Given Giuliani's historic willingness to take Spanish Inquisition-style action against threats both real and imaginary, is anyone in doubt that it is every American's duty to keep Rudolph Giuliani as far from the White House as possible?

His political career may have been defined by his willingness to confront scary bogeymen, but during slower periods when there were no obvious villains around, Giuliani's interpretations of who or what constituted an immediate threat became increasingly bizarre, personal, puritanical and dangerous. Before the planes hit, when he had too much power and not enough to do, Giuliani, like an old soldier who comes home and starts abusing his family in lieu of a real enemy, was pulling a Great Santini on New York, rooting around in our sock drawers with a Maglite, looking for vices to confiscate and sins to punish. By the mid-'90s, Mayor Rudy was abusing authority according to the whims of his own paranoid, hyper-defensive personality disorder in way that would have made Tiberius self-conscious.

As his second term wound down, New Yorkers knew what Rudy was, and they were sick of it. In 1999, they rejected his caudillo-style attempt to amend the city's (relatively new) term-limit law so he could serve another four years. By May 2000, with crime at historic lows, the city's economy still aglow, real estate prices soaring -- the kind of external factors that normally make politicians untouchable -- his approval rating had slid to a Bush-oid 37 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. In December 2001, when Giuliani finally stepped down -- after trying and failing to exploit his post 9/11 popularity by passing a special law that would've added three months to his reign) -- the New York Times interrupted its elegy for the Rudy years with a sober reminder. "The suppression of dissent," noted the Times, "or of anything that irked the mayor, became a familiar theme."

Rudy's character flaws were evident at the very beginning of his public career. Before he ran for mayor the first time (and lost) in 1989, Giuliani had a shining Tom Dewey-esque reputation as a giant-killing prosecutor. Among the reporters who followed him, he also had a reputation for inflating his own accomplishments and using his power to humiliate people.

While U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, he nabbed Wall Street insider traders Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken -- that was good. But then Giuliani had to go the extra vainglorious mile of adding a signature "perp walk" photo-op to the arrest. He publicly shamed his defendants, and fed his tough-guy image, by marching them out of their offices in handcuffs through a gauntlet of tipped-off reporters. He decimated New York's five big mob families by applying the federal RICO statutes early and often, but he also tried to take credit for a strategy that was already in effect before he took office.

When he became mayor in 1994, his personality disorders reached full flower. As a boy growing up in Brooklyn, young Rudy was torn between the priesthood and the law, opting for the latter. Though being a prosecutor did allow him to be both censorious and powerful, which he clearly enjoyed, the job of mayor was a dreamlike fusion of his two childhood ambitions. He was like a pope with a gun.

He also quickly set about undermining his own most notable accomplishment. Prior to 9/11, Giuliani was best known for the remarkable decline in New York's crime rate during his tenure. Many have questioned whether Giuliani's hardcore policing methods were really responsible for New York's metamorphosis. The crack epidemic had ended, the economy had rebounded, and New York had hired thousands of new cops and changed its policing style under Rudy's much-derided predecessor, David Dinkins. What is certainly true is that some of the city's success in fighting crime was despite Giuliani, instead of because of him.

Giuliani hired Bill Bratton as police commissioner, and Bratton put together a team of cops who transformed the way America polices itself. Deputy Commissioner Jack Maple had invented a statistics-based system called Compstat that entailed "flooding the zone" with cops in whatever physical location showed an uptick in crime. As head of the city's transit cops Bratton had applied the "broken windows" theory, which posits that cracking down on petty crimes catches perps guilty of bigger crimes and sends a message of order, and had cleaned up the subways. Together, Compstat and "broken windows" and Bratton's team helped push New York's crime numbers down.

They also pushed Bratton to center stage, and that drove Rudy crazy. Only a year into Rudy's first term, when Bratton was praised in the pages of the New Yorker, NYPD press spokesman John Miller was asked to downsize his staff of 35. The former ABC newsman refused, saying he wouldn't be "a loyal Nazi," and quit.

In 1996, Bratton's face appeared on the cover of Time. Giuliani got rid of him. He also, apparently, initiated an investigation into whether a Bratton book deal constituted a conflict of interest. It was speculated that Rudy fired the man many called the nation's best police chief because he was, simply, insanely jealous.

To replace Bratton, Giuliani brought in Howard Safir -- a move that alienated the remaining players on Team Bratton, particularly Bratton's No. 2 man, John Timoney. When a visibly dismayed Timoney referred to Safir as a "lightweight," Giuliani, in a move that would set the tone for his zero-tolerance policy toward dissent, first tried to demote Timoney to captain, then forced Timoney out of office, ordering him to take a leave of absence until his retirement. Jack Maple, the man responsible for Compstat, resigned days later.

Giuliani, having destroyed what might have been the best management team in NYPD history, had to start from scratch. Bratton's successors continued using the tactics of the men Rudy had canned, but twisted and distorted them. Giuliani and Safir, in trying to one-up the strategic balance of the Bratton team's approach to law enforcement, opted to jack up the "enforcement" and not pay so much attention to the "law."

Safir's NYPD beefed up the Street Crime Unit, a corps of hyper-macho officers once described by the Village Voice's Nat Hentoff as "a rogue police operation whose members make Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry look like Mahatma Gandhi." They were given leeway to enact "stop-and-frisks" of ordinary citizens -- supposedly to discourage them from carrying guns. While Safir's office implemented easier arrestee processing methods, New York's nonwhite citizens became increasingly alarmed by a police force they perceived as hostile, overzealous and racist. Go figure: members of the Street Crime Unit, Hentoff reported, delighted in wearing T-shirts emblazoned with such intimidating slogans as "We Own the Night!" and the Hemingway quote, "There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and like it never care for anything else."

In two years, the Street Crime Unit officially reported 40,000 stop-and-frisk confrontations, but only 9,500 of those searched were arrested. In a radio interview, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was alarmed enough by these stats to tell WNYC's Brian Lehrer: "I've spoken to many officers who say they do not fill out the required forms for every stop-and-frisk. They may fill out one in five or one in 10. We may have several hundred thousands of these police actions without arrests."

Inevitably, perhaps, "the hunting of man" resulted in the killing of man. In 1999, unarmed African immigrant Amadou Diallo, mistaken for a rape suspect, was shot 41 times by Safir's Street Crime Unit while he fumbled for his keys at his own doorway.

Giuliani's response was callous. He refused to meet with black leaders for a month -- then again, he pretty much always refused to meet with black leaders. And he absolutely refused to reconsider his police department's policies. But it was his response to the killing of another young black man a year later that was, perhaps, his Katrina moment with the New York public.

In 2000, 26-year-old Patrick Dorismond was shot and killed by an undercover detective participating in Operation Condor. The cop had approached Dorismond to ask where he could buy marijuana. Dorismond was offended, a scuffle ensued, and Dorismond died.

In the outcry following Dorismond's death, Giuliani was snide and unapologetic. He released Dorismond's juvenile records to justify Dorismond's homicide eight years later. He also, famously, sneered that Dorismond was "no altar boy" and defended his comments with a breathlessly cynical legalism, saying it was impossible to libel the dead.

"The Dorismond case has focused dissatisfaction on the Mayor," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac College Polling Institute. "Ninety percent of New Yorkers know something about the case, and only 16 percent of New Yorkers approve of the Mayor's public response to this incident."

Rudy's treatment of Dorismond -- who had, in fact, been an altar boy -- was evidence of what had become Rudy's signature trait. He smashed ants with a hammer. He went absolutely nuclear on anyone who suggested for one second that anything he had done might be open to question. He humiliated people just as he had humiliated Wall Street's supposed bad guys 15 years before.

Giuliani called his critics jerks, Marxists and fuzzy-headed liberals. He accused them of having psychological problems. He denigrated and gay-baited schools chancellor Ramon Cortines, calling him "precious" and a "little victim."

In 1997 a man named James Schillaci, who took a videotape exposing the existence of an NYPD speed trap in the Bronx, was crushed like a bug. After Schillaci took his evidence to the New York Daily News, the NYPD went to his apartment and hauled him off to jail for unpaid traffic tickets. A police spokesperson described Schillaci as a sex offender because of sodomy and burglary charges against him from years before. The traffic tickets were dismissed, just as the sodomy and burglary charges had been dropped. Giuliani said, "There is nothing to apologize for."

That was the same year Giuliani officially adopted a zero-tolerance policy toward any and all criticism and satire aimed at himself. He had the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority remove an ad for New York magazine from city buses that joked that the magazine was "Possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn't taken credit for." A U.S. District Court judge slapped Rudy down for his inability to take a joke or tolerate the First Amendment; the ban was lifted. But this only seemed to encourage him even further in his delusion of being Warrior Christ of the Apocalypse-elect.

His policy of humiliating and intimidating his critics finally extended to his own household. Giuliani could, in fact, have learned something from the wise guys he used to bust about how to keep a mistress without embarrassing the missus. In 2000, the second Mrs. Giuliani, newscaster Donna Hanover, had to obtain a court order to stop him from bringing girlfriend Judith Nathan to Gracie Mansion, where she and Rudy's children were still living. Rudy struck back by announcing his separation to the press before telling his wife. Donna had a press conference outside the mansion in which she accused the mayor of also cheating on her with his former press secretary, Christyne Lategano, though that wasn't news to any of the reporters in attendance. Rudy had the last word. The wife and kids were eventually booted out of said mansion, and Judy Nathan became his third wife.

In any case, despite the temper tantrums, the abuses of power and the ritual shaming of opponents, there came a time in the '90s when New York was, admittedly, relatively clean. But once the major vermin were more or less under control, Giuliani kept on cleaning. And cleaning. And cleaning. Like Martha Stewart on her hands and knees in her four-star hotel bathroom in the middle of the night, scrubbing the tiles with Ajax brought in her own luggage.

Cops under Giuliani and Safir enforced, with excessive gusto, a heavy-handed crackdown on graffiti, subway turnstile jumping, street artists, jaywalking, public drinking, public urination, peaceful protest demonstrations and the squeegee men who washed windshields at stoplights.

While it was certainly less life-threatening to be white in New York during the Giuliani administration, everyone I knew at one point had either a first- or secondhand tale of police behaving in a Kafkaesque fashion, under the mayor many had nicknamed Il Duce -- or "a small man in search of a balcony," as newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin memorably called him. I was once on the receiving end of a profanity-laced verbal tirade and nearly arrested by a particularly aggressive cop when I passed a plywood wall with a poster advertising a Celine Dion concert, and drew a moustache on chalk.

During the Giuliani era, it was routine police procedure to handcuff and jail New Yorkers over minor infractions like smoking a joint in public, and then to drop charges. If you wanted to prosecute the police for misconduct after such an experience, you couldn't do so without opening your own case back up. Job suicide, in today's fundamentalist corporate atmosphere -- still, nearly 70,000 people filed lawsuits against the New York Police Department during Giuliani's two terms as mayor, claiming they were strip-searched for offenses as minor as jaywalking.

Martial law, anyone?

But, other than the moustache, those were often "offenses" that someone (not me) might plausibly argue were harmful to society. Rudy's prosecutorial bent began to turn toward more the more invisible, personal sins of the city, as if he could no longer differentiate between his personal ethics and the law. With a righteous puritanical zeal that would impress any closeted homosexual televangelist, Rudy sought to remake New York in his own image and likeness, by interpreting things that personally annoyed him as actual crimes.

The pope with a gun, despite his own very randy behavior, desexed New York. He pushed strip clubs to the margins of the city. He gave seedy but authentic 42nd Street a forced extreme makeover, transforming the corridor of ancient peep shows into a tourist-friendly megamall, replete with towering Disney store and windows full of bobble-head Derek Jeter figurines. Some residents really missed the lap dancing.

In 1999, Giuliani picked his most absurd fight: with the Brooklyn Museum over the art show "Sensation: Young British Artists From the Saatchi Collection." Without seeing it, Giuliani became offended by "The Holy Virgin Mary," a now famous painting by Turner Prize-winning-artist Chris Ofili, of a black Madonna, employing the controversial (yet puerile) elements of elephant dung and female genitalia -- ostensibly for shock value. And Rudy, shocked down to his adulterous Underoos, went off on a rampaging fit of Comstockery that made even ardent supporters think he was an overreaching jerkbag.

In a move widely perceived as power drunk and control freaky, Giuliani threatened to close the Brooklyn Museum and cancel its annual funding if the offending painting was not removed. He even issued statements about his intention to establish a "decency panel," granting his office (read: himself) the power to decide what creative works were decent enough to be allowed to be considered art in New York City. When graffiti artist Steve Powers staged a protest by drawing a caricature of Rudy and charging all comers a buck to throw fake elephant poop at it, cops threw him in jail.

The museum, with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union, countered with a lawsuit, charging Giuliani with violating the First Amendment -- and won. The ruling by federal District Court judge Nina Gershon stated, "There is no federal constitutional issue more grave than the effort by government officials to censor works of expression and to threaten the vitality of a major cultural institution as punishment for failing to abide by governmental demands for orthodoxy." Even Rudy's fellow New York City Catholics opposed his actions by 48 to 42 percent -- and Jay Leno, on national TV, compared him to Hitler.

Then, of course, there was the infamous 2001 ferret ban. New Yorkers, as the end of Rudy's reign neared, were half-expecting him to adopt the Singapore model of public canings for spitting and enact a citywide ban on gum.

By then, Rudy seemed to have taken himself out of earshot of most of his critics. Much like another petulant, authoritarian, unpopular second-term Republican. Rudy was stranded in the sandbox of his own mind, surrounded by sycophantic cronies. He had picked as playmates men whose careers were most distinguished by their loyalty to Rudy, loyalty at points verging on the conspiratorial and cultish. However, such insular habits made Giuliani an ideal Republican in a party that increasingly spoke of moral certitude, rewarded its supporters, distanced itself from reality, and punished or silenced dissent.

Giuliani's strangest bedfellow was surely Bernard Kerik, the even less qualified successor to Howard Safir. Kerik, who during his undercover days dressed like Lorenzo Lamas and compared himself to Serpico, enjoyed a tendency to play fast and loose with law enforcement, using his detectives as virtual Praetorian Guard for resolving personal matters. Kerik's autobiography was published by his own extramarital bedfellow, shameless publishing gorgon Judith Regan (who published Kerik's book long before failing to publish O.J. Simpson's "If I Did It"). Kerik allegedly sent detectives to search, SWAT-style, the homes of Fox TV employees after Regan claimed they had stolen her cell phone ... he was also reprimanded for sending detectives, on the city's dime, to do research for his book.

But he had once been Giuliani's personal bodyguard and thus was qualified to become New York's police commissioner. When Giuliani recommended that Bush nominate Kerik (then his business partner) head the Department of Homeland Security in 2004, Kerik's life unraveled miserably under the scrutiny of the vetting process. He withdrew his name and eventually pleaded guilty to accepting such perks as apartment renovations and personal loans, while a public official, from businesses with alleged mob ties.

After 9/11, with the help of Kerik, Rudy cashed in his own newly refurbished reputation as a leader by launching a consulting firm called Giuliani Partners, which includes Giuliani Security & Safety. It is, of course, a clubhouse full of cronies that included, until his recent difficulties, Bernie Kerik. He also cashes big checks for speaking to adoring crowds of heartland voters whose names do not end in vowels.

"America's Mayor" seems to be convincing those crowds that he is one of them. Pundits have been speculating that Giuliani is too liberal and otherwise sullied to win the Republican presidential candidacy –- he may be anti-peep show, anti-blasphemy, and anti-ferret, but he is pro-gun control, pro-choice and pro-gay rights. But Giuliani appears to have been in a long, quiet process of sliding ever rightward. Among those now raising money for Giuliani's presidential bid are Christopher Henick, former deputy assistant to Karl Rove, Bush fundraiser Anne Dickerson, and legendary Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens.

America's Mayor may be America's next president, and America's next Angry Daddy. There is no consolation in knowing ahead of time how wrong that could go.

"At the end of the day," predicted Steve Powers, he of the fake elephant poop, "[Rudy will] find a way to screw things up again. He's the victim of his own temper and temperament, especially when he has a real taste of power. Once he treats America like he treated New York and really gets out of hand with it, forget about it."

This article, by Cintra Wilson, appeared on