a pretty good day

My day? How was my day? I’m glad you asked. My day didn’t go quite as planned.

My plan was simple. Most of my plans are simple. I’m not even sure you can call a vaguely elastic notion of ‘a nice lunch somewhere’ and ‘a walk someplace interesting’ a plan. But that was the extent of it. A nice lunch. A walk. What could possibly go wrong?

But first I had a minor problem to deal with. My debit card was about to expire. I’d called the bank before the Thanksgiving holiday to find out if a new card had been sent (I recently moved and was concerned the card might have been sent to the old address). I was assured the card had just been mailed to the correct address and I’d have it soon. But it still hadn’t arrived yesterday, so I called the bank again and spoke to a very polite young man named Michael.

Michael told me I needn’t be concerned, the card had probably been lost in the mail. But to be safe he could put a block on the debit card and send me a replacement debit card. He asked if it would be okay if he did that. I said “Why don’t you send a replacement, and I’ll keep using this one and keep an eye out for suspicious charges.” Michael didn’t think that was a wise course of action. It took a few more minutes of conversation before I finally realized Michael was just being polite; he was absolutely going to enforce a policy of blocking the existing card and issuing a replacement to protect me (and the bank) from fraud. And he was going to block the card NOW.

I checked my pockets; I had a total of US$19 in cash. Enough for lunch and a walk, but certainly not enough for the next few days. I asked Michael “What am I going to do for cash?” Simple — go to a branch of the bank, he said, and they’ll issue a temporary replacement card I could use until my permanent replacement card arrived.

So I went to the bank. A very polite young man named Terry said he was terribly sorry the post office had lost my renewed debit card, and he deeply regretted any inconvenience it caused me, but he’d be delighted to give me a temporary replacement card. He just needed to see a state-issued photo ID card. I gave him mine. It had expired. “Sorry,” polite Terry said. “You need to have a current state-issued photo ID card.” I showed him my Social Security card. No. I showed him my Veterans Administration card, issued by the federal government, complete with a brightly-colored photo of my smiling face. No. I showed him my voter registration card. No. I showed him various other forms of photo identification — everything from an ancient faculty ID card from Fordham University, to my library card, to my Utata business card, all with photos of me at various ages. No. I pointed out that it was highly unlikely I’d concoct an elaborate false identity spanning more than a decade just to obtain access to a temporary replacement debit card for an account with just a few hundred dollars in it, especially since I’d had an activated and working permanent debit card just an hour earlier.

Terry was very polite…but no. I needed to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get a new state-issued photo ID. On my return, he’d be over the moon to give me a temporary replacement debit card.

So I went to the DMV. Yesterday was the 29th day of November. Going to the DMV at the end of the month, when everybody who dawdled and/or forgot to renew their various licenses, is like a combination of attending a Palestinian funeral in Gaza (a mad, chaotic crush of people, all rending their clothes and wailing, wishing they too were dead) and an old-style Soviet bread line (an infinite number of somber, sad-faced, spiritless drones dressed in rags, waiting in line with bovine fatalism, without any real hope of getting anything remotely like what they’re standing in line to receive). To make matters worse, I arrived right at lunch time, when all the employed people who were delusional enough to think they could get their end-of-the-month DMV chores done during their lunch hour arrived. And when most of the DMV personnel went out to McDonalds for a Big Mac.

I got in line. I waited. I made it to the clerk — a polite middle-aged man named Raul. “I need to renew my state-issued photo ID,” I said. Raul would be absolutely delighted to renew my state-issued photo ID. Did I have a certified copy of my birth certificate? I told him the bank didn’t require a certified copy of my birth certificate to get a temporary replacement debit card…so no. “How about your passport?” No, I hadn’t brought my passport either (which wouldn’t have done any good anyway because it’s also expired). Raul said if I returned with a valid passport or a certified copy of my birth certificate, he would happily give me a new state-issued photo ID so I could get my temporary replacement debit card until my permanent replacement debit card arrived since my existing debit card had been blocked because the post office had apparently lost the renewal debit card.

Here’s something you may not know. In order to get a certified copy of your birth certificate, you need to go to the county courthouse and present a state-issued photo ID card or a valid passport. In order to get a valid passport, you have to present either a state-issued photo ID card or a certified copy of your birth certificate.

Happily, I actually had a certified copy of my birth certificate. So I returned to the house, found the birth certificate, returned to the DMV and Raul gave me a new state-issued photo ID, returned to the bank and Terry gave me a temporary replacement debit card. It took six hours. Then I had a very pleasant but very late lunch, and took a very short walk as the sun was beginning to give up.

During the walk I saw the best Men’s Toilet Ever:

menAnd I saw this quickly-walking woman who had no interest in having a cold beer:

cold beerBack at the house, the mail had been delivered. You can imagine how I felt as I approached the mailbox. But of course, the debit card hadn’t arrived while I was out getting the temporary replacement debit card. This is real life, not fiction, and real life rarely gives you a neat and tidy resolution.

In real life, mostly what you get is another day pretty much like the day before. Every so often real life drops in a day that’s twisted as a pretzel. But I kind of like pretzels, and even though my day didn’t go as planned, I thoroughly enjoyed most of it. It was still a pretty good day.

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cause of death

There’s a very good chance you’ve never heard of Adnan Farhan Abd-al Latif. Wait…make that the late Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif. He died in September. He died in his cell in a Guantanamo Bay detention center. A couple days after he died, a spokesman for the Department of Defense said “There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted.” No apparent cause of death. He just died, they said. End of story. Go on home, nothing to see here.

Except, of course, it really isn’t the end of the story and there really is something to see, although we might not want to look at it.

Immediately after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, the U.S. cast an exceedingly wide net to catch anybody who might be even remotely connected to the plot. That response was extreme, to be sure, but mostly understandable under the circumstances. What is not understandable and what is indefensible is what the U.S. has done since then.

Adnan Farhan Abd-al Latif

Latif, a citizen of Yemen, was one of the people caught in that wide net. In December of 2001 he was (according to his testimony) traveling to Pakistan to obtain treatment for ongoing neurological issues stemming from an auto accident seven years earlier. He was seized by Pakistani police, who turned him over to U.S. authorities. It’s been widely documented that the CIA offered bounties of between US$7,000 to $25,000 to Afghan tribesmen and Pakistani police for capture of suspected al Qaeda or Taliban fighters. The Pakistanis routinely arrested foreigners and sold them to the U.S.

Latif was shipped to Guantanamo on Jan. 17, 2002 — one of the first people to be detained in Gitmo.The Bush administration claimed that the 779 people detained in Gitmo during the “war on terror” weren’t covered by the Geneva Conventions and therefore could be held without charge, without any due process, and without any sort of judicial review — and they could be held indefinitely. Forever.

The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed, and in 2004 they ordered that Guantanamo detainees were entitled to minimal due process. At the very least they had to be informed of the allegations made to justify their detention and given the right to try to refute them.

Latif was given a hearing in which no evidence was offered to support his detention. He was cleared to be released from custody. That was in 2005. He was cleared for release again in 2007, and once again in 2009. Each time, the release was blocked or delayed. In 2010 Federal District Judge Henry Kennedy Jr. ordered Latif’s release, saying his ongoing detention was unlawful. That ruling was also blocked.

After the first time his release was denied, Latif tried to commit suicide. He tried several times, in fact. He went on hunger strikes, during which he was forcibly fed through a tube inserted in his nose. He spent most of the last five years in solitary confinement, often with his hands in cuffs and his arms pinned to his sides by a body cuff in order to prevent him from more suicide attempts. In September, Latif apparently found a way to finally succeed.

Of the 779 men detained over the years at Guantanamo, only 167 remain there. Most of the detainees were found not to be a threat and were released without charge. About 70 were transferred to detention centers in their native countries. Eight to ten inmates died, several of them by suicide. Of the 167 men who remain, about half have been cleared for release. But they’re still in Gitmo.

“There is no apparent cause [of death], natural or self-inflicted,” says the Department of Defense of Adnan Farhan Abd-al Latif. He was 32 years old. He’d been held without charge at Guantanamo for 10 years, 7 months and 25 days — a third of his life. He’d been cleared for release for more than six years.

There’s a cause of death, right there.

whoop hallo

It’s that time of year again. Call me old-fashioned, but this is my favorite time of year. Each year the arrival of Thanksgiving means it’s time to renew the War on Christmas.

Yes, yes, I know — you’ve been seeing Holiday Christmas decorations and advertisements since Hallowe’en. It’s understandable that you might think the season of War on Christmas has been underway for a few weeks. But no, I’m a traditionalist; if waiting until after Thanksgiving to start the War on Christmas was good enough for our forefathers a decade and a half ago, it’s good enough for me. Once you abandon tradition, chaos follows.

What makes this War on Christmas season so special? It’s because this is the time of year in which we’re reminded that some Christians are incapable of maintaining their faith in Christ without the constant validation of their belief system through advertisements from major American retailers. FOX News and Rush Limbaugh have convinced some folks that unless clerks and cashiers mechanically repeat the phrase “Merry Christmas” the religious significance of the holy day will be diminished. Bill O’Reilly has taught them that every time somebody says “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” a bell stops ringing and an angel loses its wings.

Despite the fact that in every city, town, and village in the United States there’s a tax-free Christian church, they want you to believe Christianity is under attack. Despite the fact that the birthday of the Christ Child is a federal holiday, they want you to believe Christmas in danger. When you’re standing in the checkout line at a Big Box store to buy products made by cheap-ass child labor in some Blakeian ‘dark Satanic Mill’ outside of Mumbai, they want you to believe the real sin takes place if the cashier fails to say “Have a Merry Christmas.” They want Christians to be afraid.

And me…I’m happy to help. I don’t have anything against Christians (seriously, some of my best friends are Christians). But I am against stupidity. And c’mon, it’s hard to find a better example of stupidity than the War on Christmas. I sorta kinda feel anybody stupid enough to believe Christianity in the U.S. is at risk deserves to be made uncomfortable.

That makes me a cheerful soldier in the War on Christmas. Starting Friday, I will clatter merrily about town saying “Happy Holidays” and “Season’s Greetings” to friends and strangers alike. I will do my part in the War on Christmas. It’s my duty as a good citizen.

You’re either with Christmas — or you’re with the terrorists!

In fact, it pleases me to slightly misquote the estimable Ebenezer Scrooge: “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A Happy Holiday to everybody. Season’s Greetings to all the world. Hallo there. Whoop. Hallo.”

dumbass business owners

Spoiled children. All those CEOs of restaurants who are whining about Obamacare, who are promising to punish their employees by cutting their working hours, who are promising to raise the prices of their products — they’re all spoiled children. They’re like those kids at Christmas who wanted a US$1200 mountain bike but only got a $700 urban bike, and so throw a tantrum and hurl the bike to the ground.

It doesn’t help that the news media report their temper tantrums, giving them some legitimacy. John Metz owns a buttload of Denny’s outlets and a handful of Dairy Queens, so hey let’s report his dumbass outburst. Zane Tankel owns a bunch of Applebees restaurants, let’s report his idiotic babbling. John Schnatter owns Papa Johns, maker of astonishingly shitty pizzas, surely the people need to hear this douchebag’s blatherings. I mean, these guys are rich and we’re supposed to listen to what rich guys say. Right?

john metz, dumbass business owner

Hey news media guys — remember Mitt Romney? Rich Guy Supremo? You reported all the crap he had to say and never bothered to tell the public that so much of it was bullshit and lies. News media guys? You’re doing it again. You’re reporting the whines and lies of rich guys and not bothering to mention the utter bullshit factor. Seriously, y’all need to get a handle on that. Maybe try reporting facts for a change, along with the rich guy bullshit.

zane tankel, another dumbass business owner

For example, Obamacare is really really good for small businesses that employ fewer than 25 people — which is something like 90% of small businesses. They’ll get subsidies that will help make insurance coverage for their workers affordable. And if you’re a responsible business owner who already provides health care coverage for your employees, then Obamacare won’t affect you at all.

Who gets hurt by Obamacare? The five percent of ‘small’ businesses that employ more than 50 low-wage, uninsured workers. Those businesses will get popped US$2000 per worker every year. Now, that sounds like a lot of coin. But when compared to the sales those companies make and the profits those companies earn — no, not so much.

john schnatter, all-meat dumbass business owner

The Papa John Pizza guy, he’s claiming he’ll have to charge an extra ten to fourteen cents per pizza to cover the estimated five to eight million dollars it would cost him to pay for his hourly-wage workers (by the way, Schnatter takes home about $2.7 million annually). Two things. First, so what? An extra dime and a nickel? Pffft. If you were loopy enough to buy just one of this guy’s shitty pizzas every week for a year, the extra fifteen cents per pizza would cost you less than eight bucks a year. Second, don’t forget that the pizza guy is bullshitting and lying. Even if his five to eight million dollars estimate is accurate (and it probably isn’t), it would only raise the cost of his shitty pizza by about three to five cents.

That’s right, by raising the cost of shitty pizza less than a nickel, Papa John could give his employees health care. He’d have healthier workers, happier workers, workers who are less likely to quit, workers less likely to take a sick day, and workers who feel some sense of loyalty to the company. I’m willing to bet Papa John could actually attract customers if he advertised that he was raising his prices a nickel in order to be sure his valued employees would get health care coverage. But to make a political point against President Obama, this dickwad is willing to further alienate his low-wage employees and his customers (well, those customers other than other angry Obama-hating dickwads).

Spoiled children, these rich guys. Nothing but spoiled, pampered children who are used to getting their own way. So I’ve got one piece of advice for these dumbass business owners:

crows

When I was a kid, a neighbor had a crow for a pet. I was altogether fascinated by that bird. It was huge and black; it walked with a dignified, clerical stride; and it was astonishingly clever. It was so smart it hardly seemed to belong to the bird family. It was was almost as if some sort of spirit being was inhabiting an unnaturally large bird’s body. The bird was so large I found it a little scary and intimidating, but I was completely taken in by it.

Ever since I’ve been a fan of the crow. A fan of all the larger Corvidae, actually — ravens, jackdaws, rooks, magpies — but mainly the plain old common crow. One of the things I love about crows is that despite their size (they’re burly bastards; they get up to about 21 inches from beak to tail) they’re almost invisible. People simply don’t notice them most of the time. Cardinals, they notice. Goldfinches, they notice. Blue jays (also Corvids, by the way), they notice. Bright, cheery, colorful birds — even the tiniest of them — get noticed. Crows get ignored. It’s like they have the power to cloud the minds of humans.

From the day I first picked up a camera, I’ve wanted to take a good photograph of a crow. Not a good ‘nature’ photograph that includes a crow. Not a documentary photograph. Not a ‘pretty’ photo. What I wanted was to take a photograph that showed crow-ness. I wanted to shoot a photo that depicted crows as I understood them. That desire became more intense after I discovered Karasu, the book of photographs by Masahisa FukaseKarasu means ‘ravens’ in Japanese. The English-language version of the book was called The Solitude of Ravens. They were the most amazing black and white photographs — strange and wonderful. Fukase’s ravens were feral and furious; they looked supernatural and dangerously smart. I wanted to photograph a crow the way Fukase photographed ravens.

And I tried. For years I tried. If I saw crows — in town, in the woods, on a bike path, it didn’t matter where — I’d often follow them. I have been led astray by crows more times than I can count. But I never got a shot I liked. Never.

Yesterday on my Thursday Walk for Utata I happened to hear some crows flying overhead. I was talking on my cell phone at the time and had to end the call rather abruptly. “Oh god, crows…there are crows…lots of crows…have to go…bye.” I couldn’t see where they were coming from; a bulding blocked the way. But as I cleared the building I could see a tree filled with crows. Filled.

So I rushed to get there. I needn’t have hurried though. Crows kept coming. And coming. And flying away and coming. For an hour crows came, landed in the trees, rested a bit, took off, flew away. An hour. The most amazing hour. And they were still there when I left, still flying away, still arriving.

After about ten minutes I realized there were really too many crows. It was impossible to focus on just a few. It was a crow jumble, a mosh pit of corvids. It was almost Biblical. I’ve no idea how many there were. An overwhelming number of crows. There are, for example, 482 visible crows in the photograph above (Yes, I actually counted them, putting a red dot over each individual crow so I wouldn’t count them twice; 482…and there are certain to have been some I couldn’t make out in the tangle of branches).

The noise was staggering. Thousands — tens of thousands — of crows, all cawing and cackling. It created a sort of pervasive white noise. Your brain filters it out. Intellectually you register it as noise, but it somehow seems both physically and emotionally distant. Like if you were hearing it through the wrong side of a telescope — if that makes sense. Perhaps it was just sensory overload.

It never occurred to me to use my camera to video the crows — which I deeply, deeply regret. Instead I tried to find some way to photograph the mass, to show the scale of the murder of crows. It was impossible, of course. Maybe Fukase could have done it. Maybe. I surely couldn’t.

Eventually I stopped trying. I let the camera hang idly in my hand. I just stood there and watched and listened and was amazed.

It was, for me, a truly phenomenal moment — if you can call an hour a ‘moment.’ I don’t know why so many crows gathered together. I don’t know where they came from or where they were going. They were flying off into the sunset. Literally.

I still don’t have the photograph I want. I came a bit closer, but I suspect the only way to show real crow-ness — to show the essence of crow — is to zero in on just a few birds. Three, maybe, or four. Or two. Maybe one. Maybe just a part of one. I don’t know.

But last evening’s experience didn’t cure me. It added another level of enchantment to my understanding of crows.

cool cool cool cool and uncomfortable

So. Chris Kluwe has been named by Salon magazine as the Sexiest Man of the Year. There are at least four cool things about that. And one uncomfortable thing.

Cool Thing #1: Salon picked a jock but didn’t celebrate him for his jockitude; it celebrated him for his politics, his beliefs, his willingness to express those beliefs, and his nerdiness. Salon is saying being smart is sexier than playing sports. I like that.

Cool Thing #2: Salon picked a guy who used to be best known for kicking a football (an American football, that is; there are a lot of non-American guys who are best known for kicking a football) but is now best known for writing a scathing letter to a homophobic Maryland state legislator. Salon is saying it’s sexy to be politically progressive. I like that.

Cool Thing #3: Chris Kluwe is an unabashed video gamer. Hard core gamers are known for two things: being dorks and being some of the most vocally homophobic and misogynistic beings on the planet. Salon is saying dorks can be cool and sexy without being dicks. I like that.

Cool Thing #4: In his interview in Salon, Kluwe says he learned how to express himself forcefully (with creative cursing) by spending time on gamer message boards.

You have to hang out on online gaming message boards for about six or seven years and get into a lot of arguments…. With the whole arguing on message boards, I found a very effective style was to present a carefully reasoned, thought-out argument and highlight it with really kind of bizarre swear words where you stop for a moment and go, “What does that even mean?” It’s the juxtaposition between the two. The swear word sticks in your head but you think on it and you realize there was a point too.

Salon is saying it’s sexy to be able to express yourself deliberately and clearly, even if that expression includes comments like “[Y]ou also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain.” A classic gamer-nerd insult, that. I like it.

The Uncomfortable Thing: I discovered it’s difficult for a straight guy to write something about the Sexiest Man of the Year without starting off with a disclaimer. Like “I don’t normally do a Google Image search for Chris Kluwe Shirtless” or “This is the first time I’ve paid any attention to a magazine’s Sexiest Man of the Year article.” The feeling that you first need to assert your heterosexuality before writing about the sexiest man of the year is essentially homophobic. It’s uncomfortable to realize that even though you support gay rights and despite the fact you have many gay friends, there’s still a kernel of homophobia buried inside you. I don’t like that.

But this is one of the ways you change culture. This is one of the way you shift social attitudes. You celebrate people who stand up for ideas and beliefs that are unpopular. You celebrate people who may not fall into traditionally heroic categories. You celebrate magazines like Salon that celebrate men like Chris Kluwe. And you try to recognize your own stupidity and make an effort not to come across as a fromunda stain.