HOUSTON (Reuters) - Bassam Khalaf was paid to help keep U.S. air travel safe as a baggage screener. His alter ego, the Arabic Assassin, rapped about flying a plane into a building. The Transportation Security Administration could not reconcile the two and fired him last week, saying his free speech rights as an aspiring rap singer did not extend to his right to check luggage at Houston Intercontinental Airport. 'I was one of the ones screening the bags thoroughly,' Khalaf said on Friday. 'I wouldn't let a bomb get on a plane.' He also was the self-proclaimed 'Arabic Assassin,' who didn't do songs about love but preferred to sing about killing, raping and blowing things up. Or, from the same song, 'my name is Bassam, a one-man band, I came from sand, affiliated with the Taliban.' Khalaf, a Houston native of Palestinian descent, said the incendiary lyrics about rape, murder and mass attacks were meant only to get attention and help get his first album, 'Terror Alert,' a distribution deal. Instead, the TSA fired Khalaf, 21, after six months on the job and gave his name to other federal agencies for investigation, spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said. 'There is a certain level of integrity employees are asked to maintain,' she said. 'He's been tasked with protecting the very people he's talking about harming.' 'We wonder what the public would think if we didn't fire him,' she said. Khalaf believes his Arab-American ethnicity played a role in the firing, but McCauley said that was not true. Khalaf said publicity about his controversial rapping had brought lots of phone calls from both admirers and detractors, but none from record distributors. He also admitted to being a little worried about his future employment possibilities now that word is out about his music. 'I better make it (as a rapper) now because there ain't no turning back,'"
Another failed attempt at irony in the post-ironic age declared immediately after 9-11. I'm kind of even not amused a little myself. His literary defense might be that he's read a lot of Browning and was just enacting a dramatic monologue along the lines of Fra Lippo Lippi.
Neuza wrote a blog entry recently about a celebrated case in Rio de Janeiro in which the daughter of a police official started loving up a drug lord from the favelas. The girl in question actually left a comment on the Mina's blog, saying, "Subi o morro sim e nao me arrependo de nada." "I went up the hill and I don't regret a thing." The favelas of Rio are built on the hillsides, the best neighborhoods nestle down in the valleys and on the tidal plain.
There was a famous book by Caco Barcellos, "The Godfather of Santa Marta," about Marcinho VP, a commander of the quadrilha in that favela, in which the charismatic drug guerilla starts seeing a hot bohemian babe from the flatlands and thinks about going straight, only to go out in the end in a Cagneyesque blaze of gory glory. True story. The guy talks about how disoriented he feels when he descends into the normal city grid, having spent his whole short life in the tangle of improvised arrangements up on the hill. The morro and the condominium live side by side in Rio de Janeiro.
Blogging is huge in Brazil like you wouldn't believe. And none of this nonsense about the "blogging industry" and self-appointed blog pundits like Jeff Jarvis flacking for it on TV. Much less talk about alternative media, much more actually doing it. Probably has something to do with the high rate of unemployment among journalists and other very smart people, whom the Estado de S. Paulo has dubbed "The New Poor." When the smart people start slipping into the grey and black economies (at least 40 percent of GDP in Brazil), the informalidade starts turning into more of a smart mob. And just wait til those cheap Chinese PCs start arriving.
Neuza is doing really well, has a whole book of short stories ready to go, says she is writing her first New York themed story. I've been a bit under the weather myself lately and undergoing a battery of humiliating and distasteful medical probes and pricks worthy of a UFO kidnapping story. But the situation at work--without telling tales out of school--is much more encouraging than just a short time ago. I can actually afford to draw down on my quota of sick days. Not that I haven't been sitting here on the couch doing work-related activity. Writing a tech case study this week.
Next week, we go up the hill to Brazil. We celebrate Nona's 90th, I get to party with my groovy bros-in-law, we register our marriage so I can get permanent resident status (just in case, you understand, and for our plans several years down the road). Then it's off to Pernambuco and then Minas Gerais. Planning to come back loaded with books, cordeis, the early work of Chico Buarque, a couple cases of Espirito de Minas, the finest cachaca known to man, perhaps even a viola caipira to plunk on.
Our dreams keep us alive.