All in one year

It is finally the end of 2004 and things look set for another strange year ahead of us. I have not had much time or impulse to write on the site for the last few days. I am doing some more web work for Andrew at Computer Zone Consulting. Andrew is himself Sri Lankan, and I saw him for the first time in a few weeks on Monday as the news rolled in from the tsunami disaster zone.

It's a hard thing to figure out the scale of this thing, to put it in a relative view that you can even comprehend. All those videos they've been playing on the cable news constantly—people washing and twirling away—is so incredibly unnerving and weird.

So anyhows, I'm trying not to get down about this whole mess, because the world is a messy place and we all end up muddling along no matter what. Of course, things are going weirdly in other places. By the end of January we'll have a sense of whether or not the situation in Iraq is going to screech off and out of control, or else fizzle down. Meanwhile in Washington they are getting hunkered down for another round of the Amazing Bush Administration and its Circus of Follies.

So it's a season of change for everyone now. I'm looking back at the things I have done and seen this year, and I think overall I did pretty well, but I still don't know what I ought to do when I graduate. It's kind of amazing that it's already time to get out of college. I have enjoyed the experience, but I do regret not studying abroad somewhere, as I think it would have given me a clean slate and fresh approach instead of those pointless months here... specifically the difficult experience of the Dupre Single days.

This year was a good one, though. I learned a lot of things about how the world worked, I talked with a lot of strange people. When I look back, I think that this was very much a breakthrough year in terms of just being willing to go out in the world and see what happens, for an often skittish person like myself.

January 2004 was pointless, so I guess we should skip to February. Back then, I advanced the story of the war, as I see it, in a worthwhile way, when I asked John Kerry during his visit to Macalester if the intelligence distortions (meaning the fake WMD and al Qaeda stories, mainly) should be considered a criminal matter akin to Iran-Contra. Kerry gave me one of those classic two-paragraph answers, but I would say, looking back almost a year on it, that he probably gave me the wrong answer.

My view of the matter is that Ahmed Chalabi and the neo-cons consciously knew they were providing bad information about Iraq, and hence deceived everyone in the government, and in particular our elected representatives in Congress. Kerry said that he had 'no evidence' that it was illegal, but he never really pursued the issue as a campaign matter, I suppose in particular because his campaign acted self-consciously 'tainted' by his position on the war early on.

But that's the key thing about it: Kerry could have weaseled out of responsibility for the war vote by saying that 'we wuz lied to!!' and provided the American public an entertaining tale about Chalabi and the rest of them, which would have drawn more attention to the malevolent incompetents running the Pentagon, forcing the frame of debate back to Bush's systematic deception and the war's managerial disasters. By the end of the campaign, Kerry was alleging that they were 'playing games' with intelligence, but that doesn't really mean anything to Joe Sixpack. They should have given us the spy story. It would have been cool.

Afterwards, in March I went to London for a week and stayed on the floor of Nick Petersen's flat. This came just a couple days after the Madrid bombings, and I thought that security would be escalated all over the place. It was my first trip to Europe and I made the most of it. I didn't obsess with seeing tourist attractions, and instead tried to wander all through town, a project assisted by Nick's encyclopedic knowledge of London architecture. On the first night, Victoria came back from her apparently horrible school in Wales. Vic's mom and siblings had also come to London for break, and they had a fabulous suite at the County Hall (Hotel?). The room had a little balcony high above the river Thames, and from there I could look right across the river at Parliament and the clock tower, as that huge Ferris wheel thing turned overhead. I saw the House of Commons meet, I went to the Prime Meridian and some museums...

Then I hopped the Eurostar (?) train to Paris, and wandered around there for a day, eating a Royale with Cheese on the banks of the Seine, and I even went in and saw the Mona Lisa and other places in the Louvre. Emi showed me all over town, and it was just a damn awesome place to be, like something out of a movie of someone else's life (this sense was helped along when I watched that recent Jack Nicholson movie, which ends in Paris, on the flight back to Chicago).

The summer was an interesting venture. I took an electronic art and journalism law classes at the University of Minnesota. Made some friends, picked up some useful information and put together a sweet DVD of many of my better photographs and videos.

After that stuff ended, I went to the site of the Republican National Convention with Dan Schned and Peter Gartrell. It was at times the most overwhelming experience I've ever had. When the police officer pulled his hat off to show us the photos of his friend who died at the WTC, or when the girl from Iowa showed us a video of anarchists setting the dragon on fire right next to her, or when we stood on a corner as AIPAC delegates to the convention streamed past, happily celebrating the renewal of the Likud-Republican political alliance that I so loathe. Or when we tracked down the bar where Dick Cheney was drinking, or when we chanted in the streets in an unlicensed march....

So, then, was it worth it? Was it worth the hassle, the arrests, the gasoline expended, just to go out there and watch people wave some signs around? You know, I think it was. I think that it helped me to ground some of the symbols that they manipulate in our minds—the WTC site, for one. These things become easier to understand once you see them, stripped of the media frames, the pretexts and moral arguments. Just to stand there and smoke a cigarette, then another cigarette, in the great important Negative Space in south Manhattan, helps to assert some control over the symbols they wield. It helped me settle the issue somehow.

After that we went down into the WTC subway stop. I walked over to one of the support beams and rubbed my finger on a bolt encrusted with sparkling reddish-brown dust. I rubbed the dust between my fingers and smelled it, a certain, dusty, burned smell, the torched synthetic substances from the offices, mixed with window and beam particles, had plunged down, and puffed into the tunnels under the city where no amount of cleaning could ever eradicate the traces.

I saw Bush himself a few days before the trip, as he made a campaign appearance in Hudson, Wisconsin. I saw him get off the bus and shake people's hands, and I could finally see what is so difficult to discern from home: that man is just the front face for a whole vast system of domination and control. It's a much larger problem than just that man. It's the administrative deception, the suppression of agencies like the EPA. We make the mistake of projecting perceived personality traits into understanding the political problems we have, without understanding how much of the issue is organizational.

School went pretty well this semester. I actually did something that I thought might not happen: I had a conversation with a really quite devious neoconservative that came to Macalester. For quite a while I wondered what might happened if I encountered Michael Ledeen at the Roundtable, but when I suddenly did, it was a surprise because he hadn't even given his speech yet. I ended up talking with the odd character over lunch, a bizarre twist. I gamely tried to suggest to him that the Iranians weren't determined to nuke Jerusalem the moment they developed the Bomb, but Ledeen would have none of it. A quixotic sort of notion to try convincing this guy that we shouldn't lose our cool about Iran, but of course he would never change his mind.

I learned a key thing about the people that run things from this encounter: They are very moody people. They are not well-adjusted low-key technocratic sorts of people. They are grim and weird. Ledeen himself admitted a manic depressive condition, and I think that whole kind of thing is what drives them to make their crazy decisions as much as any kind of Evil Agenda we might try to fathom from their actions.

And then the election. In some ways I barely want to hear about it, to hear about how such a vast section of the American public wholeheartedly embraced absurd lies about the situation, and how despite a sense that we were careening out of control, we were still destined to end up with these ridiculous cats for another four years.

I guess a sense of needing to refute that 'destiny' led me to place a shred of hope in the election-challenge folks, although of course it offends my sense of what it means to live in a democracy when I hear of a single vote damaged, lost, vanished or even potentially manipulated by our crappy system. At this point, we are hearing some interesting stuff out of Florida about Congressman Feeney and the usual Florida corruption, but it seems like we will never hear much of an articulation of how evil it was in Ohio when election supervisors implemented a strategy to direct voting machines away from heavily Democratic precincts into the suburbs. Is that really what we can accept as an element of a 'legitimate' election?

To round out this year end ramble, I would say that I am still much the same sort of person as when I began this year, but I think that I managed to advance my view of the world by talking straight to some of the important people, going into hazardous places like New York, and trying to express my own views of the world via this website, the campus paper, and just talking with people. I think I've tried to criss-cross some interesting slices of Americana this year and listen to what people have told me. As time has gone past, it seems more clear to me than ever that I still have a very long ways to go before things make sense to me.

The good thing is that right now I feel less like giving up than before. I don't have a sense that my energy is evaporating, but with the end of school coming around I have to try to pull together a new plan. Not easy for anyone... There is still a world of opportunities out there. I will have to spend a while poking around...

So here's to 2004. A year I got through by taking some chances and going new places. As for 2005, that's the year when things really better start clicking.

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