Monday, March 25, 2002
Old friends, Saturday night, bottle on the table and ice in a bowl. It was Wesley’s 50th - fiftieth! - and our old friend Jack had been imported from LA for the occasion. All my old friends are older than me, but none of them seem old at all; no matter how many years and obligations you hang around their necks no one’s stooped or slow, and indeed a strange stern wind seems to make them all stand up a little straighter these days. We’d met downtown in a chophouse for a big celebration, and since I was the designated driver, pounding cups of coffee like, well, cups of coffee, I did not disembowel the British-accented fellow at the end of the table to decided - for no good reason I could detect - to launch into a Mac vs. PC argument. He was contemptuous of the Mac platform because it didn’t do ANYTHING, which he seemed to define as the ability to run a certain automation-control software. To me, this is like dismissing your Bose radio because it can’t network with other Bose radios in Sweden. Who cares? I noted, kindly, that the Mac was very good if you wanted to edit video -

“Who wants to do THAT?” he barked, smiling at the table with a big hey-back-me-up-guys! grin.

“Well, I do -”

“Leave it to Spielberg!” he crowed.

“Spielberg is busy,” said the Giant Swede, a lifelong PC man who plans on getting an iMac for editing family movies, “and he’s not interested in doing my kid’s birthday party footage.”

But the barkin’ Brit had his script, and went to the next page with relish. “The Mac’s intuitive, they say. Oh, yes! Dragging a floppy to the trash can to eject it, that’s intuitive!”

“We don’t have floppies anymore,” I said, smiling.

Another fellow chimed in, and insisted that the only people who used Macs were people who collected porn, since the Mac was so good at graphics.

“And they can’t be networked!” the Brit said with inordinate delight.

“Actually, I have a wireless home network that works just fine, and at the office all the graphics Macs are networked quite nicely. Now, for burning DVDs at home -”

“WHO DOES THAT?” he brayed.

Jeebus Chrysler. I gave up. It’s a lesson to us all, really: always make sure that the vehemence with which you express your opinions has a toehold in reality, or people who actually know something about the subject will conclude you’ve taught your rectum to form words and rammed a megaphone up your arse. I enjoy a good debate, but this was like debating religion with a really dumb boozed-up 15th century Pope. (I’m th’ Pope! Lorenzo M. thinks I’m smart, so you shuddup! Kiss th’ ring. ZZZZZZ.)

Then came cake, so all was well.

After the chophouse a few folks came to Jasperwood, including my old roommate Jack. One of the smartest men I’ve ever known. His BS detector can hear a mouse inflate Afghan casualties from across the state. Unfortunately for him, he knew me when I was young and insufferable, when my pretension, self-regard and overclocked sense of personal misery was unbearable to anyone who’d spent a few days in the adult world and taken notes. Now it’s all amusing, since galloping time has contrived to put us all in the same wagon. A ten-year difference in age means less now than it did then. And so it came to pass that we all stood out on the cliff of Jasperwood at 1:38 AM, Jack and Wes burning Canadian heaters, me content with the evening’s small Partagas, laughing at moments now twenty years gone.

When you’re in high school, you think you’ll be friends 4 EVR! but it usually doesn’t work out that way. When you’re in your 20s, there’s so much future en route you don’t give much thought to the permanence and endurance of your friendships, but when you’re 40 and find that somehow you’ve dragged these guys along through your triumphs and misadventures, it hits you: you’ll carry my box or I’ll carry yours.

Being guys, this awkward love cannot be acknowledged. A toast to that one waitress everyone wanted to date, however, will do.

Did a radio interview Friday morning - a remote with WHYY for a future episode of “Been There, Done That.” It was day three of the cold, the day when your head really feels like it’s packed with drier lint, and I was not too hopeful my contributions would be worth airing. Never mind that my voice had crawled into my nose - public radio is the one place on the dial where you don’t expect people to have radio voices (the host of BTDT has classic radio pipes, but think of the host of “This American Life.” Only on NPR.) I drove to St. Paul, and ran into a colossal traffic jam on the highway - hopped off at the first exit ramp, and made my way via “surface streets” (as opposed to underground tunnels, I guess) to downtown. I used to work in downtown St. Paul, in that late-80s period where I turned my back on Minneapolis and embraced the city where I worked as a reporter, where my radio station was, where the TV station on which I appeared was located. Thanks for nothing, Minneapolis. I regretted my move at once. . Some people love St. Paul, and I can see why; it’s less besotted by the Thing of the Moment, content to be a mild quiet backwater off the rushing river next door. The grand boulevard of Summit is one of the most magnificent streets in America - wide as the centuries it spans, cooled in the summer by the long green nave of its sheltering elms. Extraordinary architecture. Lovely colleges in friendly neighborhoods. Dull as a meal of potatoes and paper. I couldn’t take it and I wanted OUT.

That’s why I went to Washington, really - I saw it as a way to eventually loop my way back to Minneapolis. A rather Goldbergian machination - Rube, not Bernard - but it worked.

Now I get to downtown St. Paul only when I have to do NPR or local public TV - if it’s the latter, I drive in, yammer, drive out. Doing radio gives me a chance to walk around a bit, and this time I toured the places I’d haunted when I worked downtown. Back then there were two big shopping malls - Town Square, a butt-ugly early 80s twin to Minneapolis’ butt-ugly City Center. Two cheeks of the same butt, really. Later came the Pride of St. Paul - the World Trade Center. (Really.) Three semicircular floors arrayed around a fountain that shot to the top of the atrium roof. A food court! Victoria’s Secret! The Limited, coffee shops, a record store, a book store, and every thing you’d need, right there, waiting for the lunch-hour locusts to descend and cart off the merch.

It’s all gone.

It’s all gone. Town Square was turned into a government office complex, with some cafes for the worker bees in the tower above. (I am married to one such bee, and a lovely bee she is.) The huge garden on the roof is gone; the three-story waterfall that pooled in the basement food court is gone as well. The World Trade Center has been taken over by Wells Fargo; the fountain is dry, the shop windows walled off. Urban commercial failure on a massive scale. Why?

The Mall of America didn’t help. Urban renewal 40 years ago didn’t help, since it blasted the heart out of downtown St. Paul and replaced it with superblock skyscrapers standing alone in windswept plazas. Thanks, guys. Nice going. It’s not that downtown St. Paul is dying - it’s actually better off now that before, with a new hockey arena, a new Children’s Museum, a new Science Museum, and a new Museum of Museums for all I know. It’s become a Festival Destination! which is usually a sign that a city has ceased to be a real city. I don’t know what’s sadder - a city inhabited mostly by ghosts, or a city that insists there are no ghosts at all.

Anyway, the interview went fine, and no, I don’t know when it will air. When it was done I asked Marty, the host, if I’d sucked too badly.

“No,” he said, “you sucked just fine.”

God bless him.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

Today: Czerny writing; Target altruism; sugar-blasted choco-Gnat; miserable mood shift leading to mild screedism

The following words are just finger-limbering exercises, mere scales, and I make no apology for it. I have two pieces to write tonight, and it’s later than usual for the start of the nightly session; I had 11 hours of Gnat-care today, took a 20 minute nap that did more harm than good (reminded my body of the concept of sleep, and it had the effect of waving a lit cigarette under the nose of a smoker who’s been too engrossed in a project to step outside for a heater. More more gimme more!) At least the cold’s gone - perhaps it realized it was last to the ViralFest ‘02, and slunk out the door so it didn’t look like it had nowhere else to go.

I’d be in great shape if I had anything to write about. This is a bad Monday for political humor. Hey, I know - the Ray Whitewater report! You can call him Ray, or you can call him Jay, but you don’t has to call him


Mondays I like, because I work at home, watch the tot, and go to Target. If I spent less than $30 at Target, I know there was really no reason for the trip, and I was just going through the motions. (“Okay, sir . . . one can of Wizard Vanilla Breeze Furnace Room deodorizer, one Michael Graves dental floss spindle, one pound of pressed cork, one video - ‘Let’s Make Wine Corks at Home!’ - wow, sounds fun. . .that’ll be thirteen sixty.”) If I spend $120, there’s an appliance in there somewhere. Every time I go I talk myself out of a kitchen gadget. I do not need a Belgian Waffle Maker, or the EU Waffle Maker as it’s now known. I certainly do not need a Salton Quesadilla Iron, which is the size of a manhole cover and weighs sixty pounds. But I could have quesadillas! True - but rare is the day when I collapse in despair in my kitchen because my sudden stabbing desire for hot compacted cheese triangles has been thwarted by the lack of equipment. I contemplated a mixer, one that will really pulverize ice down to the atomic level, since Summer’s coming in about a year and I’d like a nice frosty smoothie on the cliff, or a nice smooth frosty, or whatever the hell it’s called when you throw some fruit in the thing, push P (for pulverize), pour the goop into a glass and glug in some Absolut to even out the healthful benefits.

I avoided all of these things. But I bought diapers, which are not cheap - unless, of course, you buy the cheap ones, which actually stink before you put them on, and have adhesive strips with the gripping power of a moist linty Post-It Note. You might as well just Scotch-tape a Bounty towel to the kid’s butt.

The point of the trip was to buy air filters for Gnat’s dehumidifier. A Kaz WF2 filter, to be specific. I went to the dehumidifier aisle. There were none. Target has red phones throughout the store - you dial 234, someone answers, you state your need and they give you directions. The lady informed me, with no small amount of sorrow, that it was no longer dehumidifier season. It was now fan season. Dehumidifier season! I insisted. Fan season! she said, and all the filters are gone. I thanked her for her time and moved along. Later, poking through the cold remedy section, looking for the gallon jug of Nyquil, I saw a row of . . . dehumidifier filters. Could it be? I looked: Kaz WF2! Of course! Here in Health and Beauty, there were no seasons, only the constancy of human disease. I bought two. And then I thought: what if someone else needs the filters, and calls the Answer Lady?

So I called her back: 234. “Hello, is this the person I asked about dehumidifier filters?” It was. I explained that they did carry them in aisle three of health and beauty, just in case anyone else should ask. I don’t know what pleased her more: this happy news, or the fact that I’d called her back to add some helpful info. We exchanged a half-dozen God Bless Yous and hung up, and I actually felt as if I’d done my good deed for the day.

Well, if it’s that or nothing, might as well do something.

One quick swing through the grocery store. Bought bread. The kindly lady behind the counter asked if Gnat would like a cookie, and I said sure - whereupon she handed the kid a cookie the size of a Salton Quesadilla Iron. I try to keep my daughter’s daily sugar consumption down to 50 percent of her body mass, so getting this thing away from her was necessary. And impossible. Luckily, she shares, so when I asked for a bite I took huge chunks until I’d eaten 75% of the thing. A woman a few feet away gave me a strange look - here I was, taking candy from a baby - but it was that or have the child flying around the house like a hummingbee again, trying to suck nectar out of the plastic plants.

Went home, made spaghetti sauce, let it simmer on the burner until it was A) savory, B) rich ‘n’ thick, and C) so incredibly hot it burned my tongue and rendered the rest of the meal both painful and tasteless. Then my wife called and said she’d be late. I sat on the sofa and read “Hop On Pop” for the ninth time that day. Wife. Sleep. Up. Walk Dog. Now This. More in an hour - turns out I have something else to say.


Okay, I’m back. Wrote the column, or at least rolled out the dough I will bake and slice tomorrow. I think this is going to trend in the screedish direction, so those of you with no interest in my spittle-flecked orations are advised to leave. Can I come with?

I wanted to talk about an interview I heard on the radio today - two Arab-American advocates for more balanced representation of Arabs and Muslims in the movies. When I heard the subject, I tried to think of movies I’d seen that had positive Arab role models. Does Star Trek count? Seven years of an Arab doctor who, while painfully geeky in the first few years, was smarter than anyone else. Then there was the fellow in the Mummy movies, who swashbuckled nicely, glowered charismatically, and saved the slab-like white-boy hero about nine times per hour. And then there were the Afghan fighters in that Bond movie - and doesn’t that look dated nowadays. Westernized Mujahadeen. Sigh. Well, I’m sure there are other films - point is, I never regard a movie’s moral construct as my own; after seeing Midnight Express, for example, I didn’t burn with a hatred for the Turks, and vow that should I ever meet a Turk I would punch him out for the appalling conditions of Istanbul’s penal system. Likewise, should there be Islamic terrorists in a movie, I will regard this as a reflection of a world in which there are Islamic terrorists. It would seem odd if the terrorists were Finns or Newfoundlanders. It would be like making a movie about Tibet and portraying the occupiers as Guatemalan. Even if they show Chinese soldiers behaving poorly, I’m not heading down to the Lucky Dragon Buffet to throttle the busboy.

The men on the show, however, made the point that not all terrorists were Islamic, and movies should reflect this. On one level it’s disingenuous, since the West at the moment is not worried about Colombian terrorism or the Shining Path or even a resurgent Red Brigade. On another level it’s just plain wrong: I have seen more movies about IRA terrorists in America than Arab / Islamic terrorists. There’s that Sean Penn / Robin Wright movie, that Brad Pitt / Harrison Ford movie, the second Jack Ryan movie, that Jeff Bridges / Tommy Lee Jones movie. (You know, those movies.) There’s “Arlington Road,” which dealt with domestic terrorism. The first Die Hard movie concerns a European terrorist; the second has disaffected American military men who kill hundreds of innocent people as its villains. And there’s a Harrison Ford movie where he’s the POTUS on Air Force One, hijacked by Slav terrorists. Hollywood could turn out an anti-Al Qaeda movie each week for a year and not match the number of movies I saw growing up where the CIA was the villain.

So. The host of the radio show asked for an example of an anti-Arab movie, and one of the guests said “Rules of Engagement.” Which concerned some Yemeni militants shooting up a US Embassy. He said that America does not make movies showing the positive side of Yemen, the normal happy civil daily life. The host of the show pointed out that 17 Americans died when a US ship was blown up in a Yemen port. The guest remarked that it was the failing of American movies that they did not show why people were driven to such actions.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. I assume that in most places around the world, normal civil daily life is the rule, and that it is not inconsistent with a culture that harbors all sorts of alarming ideas. But it got better: the show took a call from a woman who came in as hot and fast as a jet overshooting the deck of an aircraft carrier; she said YOU PEOPLE, which is always my cue to file the fulminations under DISREGARD. She was steamed about the Saudi media stories that described the elaborate means by which Jews extract blood from Gentiles for their holiday pastries.

Said the guest, as cool as could be:

“I thought we were talking about stereotypes.”

Meaning, the stereotypes he didn’t like. That an Arab state-run newspaper should print the Blood Libel, and that a Western reader should draw an inference from this about Saudi culture, was irrelevant. And let’s remind ourselves of the subject matter of the interview: foreign Islamic extremists in American movies. By the guest’s logic, the truth about Arab attitudes in other countries should not be disseminated if it makes people draw conclusions about Arabs in America.

Huh? Do I check the Mogadishu wires to figure out what the Somali clerk at the video store is really like as a human being?

Here’s the deal: somehow I’ve seen a million movies with Euroterrorists, and I don’t regard my French brother-in-law as the tool of Direct Action. I do not believe my Irish friends are wiring potato-bombs in the basement to put under the desk of my Welsh co-worker. Having seen “Three Days of the Condor” and “Enemy of the State” several times, I nevertheless believe that the people I’ve met in the CIA do not spend their off-hours arranging for Americans to be assassinated for uncovering labyrinthine plots to corner the Uzbek strategic platinum reserve. Why, then, should I assume that all Arabs and Muslims are terrorists, based on a few movies that incorporate the reality of militant Islamic terrorism into their plots?

Well, it’s not me, they’re worried about - it’s the impressionable proles. Maybe. But there’s not a movie in the world that had the impact of the footage of 9/11 - the image of the planes knifing into the buildings, the towers tumbling down had no names and faces attached. When it was known where terrorists came from, and on whose behest they committed this appalling act, that was the moment that the clock reset to 12:00:00 for many people. That was when I started paying attention. That was when I started reading as much as I could from as many sources as possible, and the more I read the greater my dismay becomes. Which is why this interview - and many like it I’ve heard - left me cold. They sound less concerned with the reality of Islamic terrorism than the fact it is being depicted. I’m tempted to say if the shoe fits, don’t light it, but that would be wrong.

It goes without saying that the guests deplored terrorism. It goes without saying that they deplored suicide bombing. It goes without saying that they were compelled to note what drove people to terrorism.

It goes without saying that right before the show concluded, the guest admitted that the sucide bombers were blowing up babies, but the Jews were targeting infants too. On purpose.

And where were the movies about that?
Wednesday, March 27, 2002
Today: a brief history of acceptable liquors; grinding the oil of dead oranges into sundered trees; hey presto! An unexpected Screed!

At the risk of poaching on VodkaPundit’s territory, I’d like to devote a substantial portion of the Bleat to the spirituous world.

Stopped off the Package Store, as we called it in Fargo, and felt like a bad, bad dad. It’s next to the library, and when we pulled over Gnat said “bucks? Bucks!” I got her out, put her in the stroller. “Bucks!” No, honey, we’re not going to the library. “Bucks!” No, buze, honey. Buze.

Some advice for the budget conscious tippler: you may find yourself weighing a bottle of inexpensive spirits, something with a good label and a tax stamp comfortingly free of misspellings, and while you’ve never heard of it, you think: Hey, how bad can it be?

If the question occurs to you, then you are about to find out.

Point Beer was always known in these parts for having an inverse relationship between the label - classic Beer art of the highest order outside, and brackish swill within. When I saw Point Pale Ale, however, I thought they might have come up with something worth trying, unless they’d just added Bleach to the lager and figured that made it pale enough. And hey, how bad can it be?

Point Pale Ale is not as bad as it could be; you can swallow it without hearing your stomach lining sizzle away, and if you pour it in a ficus planter the leaves will still be on the branches tomorrow. A professionable reviewer would probably call it “amusingly vomitable.” But after I drank it I opened a James Page Pale Ale, and found the Page to be undrinkable. It was as if the Point had rewired my palate. A Trojan Horse ale that destroys your ability to recognize good beer! I checked the label to see if it was really called Pale Ale.exe, but no.

I also visited the Depressing Tequila Section today, so named for its sparse and predictable supply. The bad stuff is plentiful, and is meant to be mixed with Coke or paint thinner to make it palatable; the good stuff is hideously overpriced, and given its Mexican origins you really don’t know if it’s the best of the best or something ladled out of a ditch behind a Tijuana clap clinic. I mean, they sell you one bottle for 80 bucks, they don’t need to sell a second. The very concept of good tequila strikes some as oxymoronic, but that’s a mistake; good tequila is worthy of the honor of being taken neat. (Which always sounds like you’ve been seduced by someone with clean fingernails who makes the bed afterwards.) My favorite among the affordable non-blinding tequilas is Hornitos Green. (Avoid the Brown, or “Commemorativo.” I don’t know what it’s commemorating, but I’m sure all the bodies haven’t been found yet.) It has a crisp taste, a small bite, a mellow finish, and it plays well with others, i.e. the incomparable Yucatan beer Leon.

So there I stood in the aisle, thinking: there will be no Mexico this year. There will be no night when I will stand on the edge of Cozumel Isle, my feet in the warm water, listening to the sibilant sound of the sea stealing the shore. There will be no hot afternoons where I’m pounded brown by the Aztec sun, the cool beer vanishing into my body like a drop of rain in the trackless Sahara. There will be no Mexico this year.

I bought the Hornitos, took it to Jasperwood, put it on a high shelf next to the small little blue-rimmed tequila glass I bought in the Five Suns store. I closed the door and let them dream in the dark of home.

Now, from the mailbag, which of course is not a cloth container of paper correspondence but a magnetically fixed sequence of ones and zeros that processes disembodied signals into readable format. On the library conflict last week, someone noted that it was odd I didn’t already have a library card. Really? I haven’t had one in years, partly because I like to own the books I like, and mostly because for decades I’ve relied on the free books that pour into newspaper offices. Ever since college, I’ve been able to get books for nothing. Any aspiring writer should be taken to the book depository and shown the tottering stacks that will remain unread and unreviewed, and likely tossed onto the FREE table at the paper. It’s enough to make you take up insurance sales.

On the fact that I mentioned how many hours I took care of Gnat - several Moms called this a Dad characteristic, and said they never toted up the hours. Well, I do, mainly to impress myself. It’s fun to hang around the house all day with a 20-month old, especially when she regards “the nice mice eat rice with spice” as the ne plus ultra of sophisticated japery, and particularly when she is as sweet and cute as my cheerful little girl. It is less fun when she’s in high spirits during a diaper-changing session, and there’s more feces-flinging going on than a territorial dispute between monkey tribes, but that’s part of the job. (Disinfecting, I mean.) But it’s a long time without a break. It just is.

Today, for example, I got a call from a friend who also employes the same babysitter, and when she mentioned the babysitter’s name I burst into a wail. I had completely forgotten that the babysitter was out of town today. She’d told me about this day a month ago, and reminded me every Tuesday when she visited, and of course it sunk in like a BB bouncing on a granite countertop. So I had to bag the column for Wednesday - and since I was waiting for the DC office to give me the all-clear on another column, I was stuck at home. What to do?

Polish, of course. Got out the rags and the Pledge Orange Power polish and did all the cabinets, doors, and trim in the kitchen; did the dining room table, the chairs, the living room coffee table, and the window frames. Polished until the Pledge was gone. Gnat trailed behind with a rag, doing her part. The radio played a commercial for a new household cleaner, and according to the lyrics this product was a big hit with Mothers.


I’m not saying I do the majority of cleaning around the house - my wife still does the laundry, mostly because she has realized after all these years of marriage that I am simply not wired to add the dryer sheet. It’s just not going to happen. We have a fair division of labor here, but I do all the daily cleaning, all the shopping and cooking, and I’d like all media, from ads to TV shows to movies - especially movies! I need their validation! - to reflect my reality. I have no role models! I’m out here on my own!

You know, people who dip a toe into this site and read one Screed often assume I am some sort of Rusty Yates reactionary; I grow weary of explaining that believing in an aggressive posture towards Islamic terrorism as well as reformation of the tax code and the educational system does not mean I believe in the Patriarchy, and mourn the good ol’ days when a man could whup hissef a doxie or a darkie if’n the mood came upon him. Well, no; while I think one parent should be home with the tot, it surely doesn’t have to be the mother. Oh, so you’re one of them home schoolers, then! Sigh. No. And yes: every day we both learn something new.

Today Gnat learned the funny word daddy said when he realized the babysitter wasn’t coming!

Now, a screed. I did not intend to do this tonight, but after a day of not writing I apparently needed to pound the keyboard until I was done. (I am now done.) It’s about a Nicky Kristoff column from the Times, which I’m sure the rest of the blogosphere is feasting over as I speak.

Words the spellchecker didn’t recognize: Saddam. Conan. mmmGLAVIN. Thermobaric.

You can guess the theme.

Thursday, March 28, 2002
I don’t know what to say today; I really don’t. It’s a mark of the times that a suicide bombing that kills 3 makes one grim and angry, and the news that a bomber was using a Red Crescent ambulance to ferry explosives just makes you pissed, but a story about a bombing that kills 15 and injures over a hundred just stuns you silence. Does it take numbers to impress me now?

On one hand everything hums along as usual - I hear the ting and clang of plates filed in the dishwasher downstairs; I hear Gnat laughing (probably because she’s amused by the way a handful of applesauce looks on the wall) and Jasper whining, because he is worried that against all odds and contrary to every single previous evening of his life, he will not be allowed to lick the plate. I hear the clever little music cues of Rolie Polie Olie floating up the stairs (Gnat was insistent that I find her an episode with “Uncle,” meaning the Elvis-esque robot with the high hair and the suthun twang.) Planes overhead; clanks in the radiator. The contented hum of the computer’s fan. Life is safe and life is good and none of this feels right tonight.

I just went down for a beer, and passed the remains of dinner - a big bottle of malt vinegar sits on the counter, and it will take as long to empty as a bottle of Tabasco in a Swedish larder. That was today’s mission: malt vinegar for the fish & chips. Went to the local grocery store and noted that they’d been bought by a local chain - good, I thought. This place is shabby. It needs a lick of paint, a few new managers striding around with clipboards, lifting that deadly jobs-are-on-the-line eyebrow. On the other hand, it’s always served me well; I can always find what I need -

They didn’t have malt vinegar.

Had to go elsewhere. That’s how tough my life is. That’s the situation that prevails: my need for malt vinegar was not instantly gratified.

An observer to the bomb-blast scene described a dead young girl, perhaps 10 or 12, lying on the ground with her eyes open, looking as if she was surprised.

So we went to Lund’s, home of numerous vinegars. Tall thin bottles with willowy herbs within, the gourmand’s version of the worm in the tequila bottle. Big wobbly plastic jugs of brackish Heinz, subtle flasks with elegant labels. No British Malt Vinegar, alas. Had to do with a cheap domestic vintage. Olive Oil was the snob-sauce of 01; I predict vinegar will be the mark of good breeding in ‘03. And, in a normal world, this would be an amusing sign of how good we lotus-eaters have it.

A total of 62 people were taken to Laniado Hospital, 15 in serious condition among them a 45-year-old man and a 5-year-old boy, both with head injuries, who were later moved from Laniado to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.
Another 33 of the injured were taken to Meir Hospital, two of them in serious condition.

"It is a jihad, victory or martyrdom," Hamas said in the statement.

Got home. Plopped Gnat in her chair for the afternoon snack; while she hurled peas at the dog, I read the New Yorker article on the Iraqi war against the Kurds. It is absolutely mandatory. It’ll ruin your day, and you owe yourself to read it.

Let me give you a salient excerpt. According to Iraqi defectors, Saddam has weaponized aflatoxin.

Richard Spertzel, the chief biological-weapons inspector for UNSCOM, put it this way: "It is a devilish weapon. Iraq was quite clearly aware of the long-term carcinogenic effect of aflatoxin. Aflatoxin can only do one thing—destroy people's livers. And I suspect that children are more susceptible. From a moral standpoint, aflatoxin is the cruelest weapon—it means watching children die slowly of liver cancer."

I live in a world which is proving, every day, that Nazism was not the summation of human perfidy. It was just the start. The Nazis had the basics - race hatred, death worship, a bland bureaucracy designed to handle the paperwork of mass extermination. But they lacked the patience of Saddam. It takes foresight and a keen instinct for the long-term to spray towns with chemicals that will kill the next generation of children - and do it as a research project.

The Nazis had a self-invented myth with an incoherent embrace of German paganism - not the sort of thing that has street appeal, and likely to collapse when kicked. No German soldier ran to battle for the greater glory of Wotan. Saddam is hardly the model of religious devotion, but it would appear that in his culture the secular historical role models are inextricably bound up with religious ideology. Again, from the New Yorker:

The campaign against the Kurds was dubbed al-Anfal by Saddam, after a chapter in the Koran that allows conquering Muslim armies to seize the spoils of their foes. It reads, in part, "Against them"—your enemies—"make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly."

Mind you, this is the justification for killing fellow Muslims. I know, I know, the Old Testament is chock full o’ smiting, and yes, yes, I know, there are batshit militias camped out in Idaho who believe that the Bible commands them to slay the Jews, the Mud People and their mongrel offspring. This is different, and it speaks to the character of a culture that a secular tyrant brands his crimes in explicit religious references. Why? To give the underlings a sense that they’re not really killing innocent people, but doing God’s work? To silence the objections of decent Muslims who regard the tyrant as an affront to God & Muhammad, PBUH? Is the Arab world so hideously cynical that they regard Saddam’s unholy choice of nomenclature as a political move instead of the deep and profound blasphemy it represents? The acts themselves make you weep, and the cynicism of using the Koran to justify them takes your breath away. And makes you recall, again, the film of the Palestinians on the West Bank cheering as the Scuds streaked overhead. I’ll never forget that.

I suspect the Israelis haven’t forgotten it, either.

Gnat is in bed now, sleeping soundly, dreaming of the puppy and the bugs and Elmo, who is always happy to see her and tells her he loves her. Maybe in her dreams she plays with her shadow. It’s her new friend, her new fascination, this strange dark companion who appears on the brightest of days. She waves, and it waves back. It goes where she goes. It will never leave her as long as there is a sun in the sky.

They ran in a panic through the city, Nasreen recalled, in the direction of Anab. The bombardment continued intermittently, Air Force planes circling overhead. "People were showing different symptoms. One person touched some of the powder, and her skin started bubbling."

"We saw people lying frozen on the ground," Nasreen told me. "There was a small baby on the ground, away from her mother. I thought they were both sleeping. But she had dropped the baby and then died.

“And I think the baby tried to crawl away, but it died, too.”

Friday, March 29, 2002
Hello! Hi! Good Morning! Hey there hi there HO there we’re as happy as can be! Didja hear about the duck who walks into a bar, and says to the bartender: do you realize I am an improbable creation whose existence is accepted by the person hearing the joke, because they know that unqualified acceptance of a talking duck in a bar will facilitate the unveiling of a clever retort at the joke’s conclusion? And the bartender says “If this was a New Yorker cartoon, you’d be a dog.” Hahahaha!

Sorry. I just feel the need to be extra light today, given that yesterday’s bleat poured cold downer-sauce all over everyone’s happycakes. It’s led to a million letters - and I apologize in advance if I don't reply. I feel horrible about the letters I don’t answer. I just have no time to give all my correspondants what they're owed, and it bugs me. Example: a fellow sent me a book to autograph. Took me months to send it back. I had to go get an envelope, for one thing - and while that sounds simple, taking care of the Gnat adds a level of logistical complexity that makes simple chores the equivalent of coordinating the Normandy landing. (Sometimes she pukes in the car, which completes the metaphor.) Kids can take a trip to Target, the mall and the grocery store, but if the kid hasn’t kristofed her Pampers before you leave the house, you find yourself in Kinko’s with a child whose aroma trumps the toner haze, looking for a bathroom.

At the risk of telling you more than you want to know, I don’t have anything to drink after noon unless the day’s itinerary includes the computer store or the Mall, both of which have men’s rooms capable of housing a stroller. Before you have kids, you don’t think of these things at all. Then one day you put the Diet Coke back in the fridge because the Target men’s room is on the other side of the cash registers, and you can’t get a cart in there and certainly can’t hold the tot while you micturate. Men without children can simulate the experience by putting a chimp in a burlap sack, grasping it with one arm, sidling up alongside an occupied urinal and trying not to do what the Ghostbusters warned against, i..e, crossing the streams.

Gnat is not yet two - she turns two July 31 - but she already knows two, possibly three, words. Today she pointed to the word ELMO on a videocassette and said “Elmo.” Hmm. I wrote ELMO on her drawing tablet, and asked her what that said.


I wrote “Olie,” and asked her what that said. She paused, bit her lip, and said “Olie.”

Later, reading “Hop on Pop,” I pointed to the word “Hop.”

“Hop!” she said.


While fastforwarding through a Sesame Street I paused at the Count, who is one of the very few Sesame Street characters I can take. “Four, Five, Six,” she said, correctly identifying this obsession of this felt-skinned Middle-European vampiric noble. The nombarh of the day, as it turns out, was 13, and Gnat said “firtee.”

We haven’t done those numbers yet. I stopped at ten, but apparently she kept on going.

She also said “rnie” when Ernie came on, and I’d never called her attention to his presence, either. What really floored me, however, was when she pointed to a group of mice and said “mice.” Heretofore they have been merely “mos.” When she sees one mouse, it’s “mos.” When there are more than one, it’s “mice.”

Thank Sesame Street? No. We just watch the Elmo and Count portion. Most of Sesame Street bugs me and bores her. The theme annoys me. Big Bird annoys me. The location segments appear to be set in this Serpico-era New York where kids have to get tetanus shots before they touch any of the playground equipment, and the parents all look like it’s 1974. (Possibly because the film is old, and it is 1974.) It’s often smug and self-righteous - today, for example, there was this worm who was about to take the worm subway. The human person was praising the worm for taking the worm subway instead of driving a car, and said “when you drove the worm car you were stuck in traffic, and you couldn’t find a parking spot! I’ll bet you’re so much happier now that you have the worm subway.” Jebus.

As long as I’m on sacred cows: I’ve been watching the Twilight Zone at night lately, because it’s all I have time for when the working day is done. Conclusion: Rod Serling is highly overrated. Yes, some of his stuff is wonderful, and yes, some of his work was head & shoulders above the rest of TV in its day. (It’s amusing to read stories about Uncle Miltie and the Golden Age of TV, as if everything was Sid Caesar and Ernie Kovacs. TV back then stunk like a box of rutting skunks.) Having seen many Serling-penned tales in the last few weeks, I see the hand of a man who was writing too much and reached for a platitude as often as a Chesterfield. Trust me: if there’s a story about a depopulated world with one man and one woman, it doesn’t matter if they’re space travelers or survivors of a nuclear war - at the end of the show we’re going to find out that their names are Adam and Eve. One such story had a very young Elizabeth Montgomery - with black hair; think Emma Peel, only sexier - dealing with a young brutish enemy soldier, played by Charles “Touch” Bronson. Camp-fest extraordinaire. (A Bleat No-Prize to the first e-mailer who gets the “Touch” reference.)

Serling really didn’t like people very much. He liked them in general, but their messy meaty individual incarnations annoyed him. They were complex, and complexity was his enemy. He seemed to believe he was telling parables, moral lessons, and this required evil wolves and noble woodsmen - there’s not much nuance or shading in a Serling tale. He’s making a point, and if the story suffers so the point may thrive, so be it. His posthumous respect may rest on his dark view of human nature - bleakness and cynicism, after all, are often viewed as the sign of a Serious Person Engaged with the Issues, and optimism & cheerfulness the sign of Panglossian delusions. Examples:

One ep concerned a small town that was going to hang a man at dawn. In 1962. Happened all the time, I suppose; the sheriff unlocks the single cell in the local jail, leads the feller down to the Town Scaffold for a little neck-snappin, bowel-loosenin’ trouser-stainin' enterTAINment. Bring the kids! Well, wouldn’t you know it - dawn never came. It stayed dark! And this darkness was - are you ready? - a metaphor for the darkness of the townspeople’s hearts. Saw another with Mel Cooley (yes, I know, Richard Deacon, but he’ll always be Alan Brady’s Smithers to me) as a cold-hearted industrialist. (Tthere’s rarely any other kind in the Twilight Zone.) He replaces all the factory workers with computers. Yes, assembly line workers replaced by IBM mainframes with less memory than my coffeemaker. All the archetypes are trotted out for our boos and cheers - there’s the wrinkled old shop foreman who warns Mel that men need to work, and a laborer who gets drunk, attacks a computer and is shot dead by Mel (industrialists all have a pistol in the top drawer.) The Stunning Twist Ending: Mel himself is replaced!

Who could have seen that coming?

Some great shows, sure. And it had a perfect themesong whose status as a bizarro-cliche obscures what a creepy, inventive piece of music it is. (Think of it: it’s a theme without a theme. There is no melody.) It has two of William Shatner’s greatest performances. If it’s on, I’ll watch it, but the more I watch the Serling-penned episodes, the less godlike Serling becomes. And if you have any doubts on that score, “Night Gallery” should remove all doubts.

At least they haven’t digitally removed the cigarettes yet. Even though the smokes put him in the dirt, there’s something refreshing about a guy who insisted on smoking during his 17-second introductions. Reminds me of a documentary I saw on Leonard Bernstein - he had finished conducting some long grueling slab of Mahler, and went backstage while the audience clapped their hands raw. An assistant had a pre-lit cigarette waiting for him, and Lennie converted it to ash in two seconds flat.

Mind you, I’m not sniping at him for the fun of kneecapping a revered TV icon. Could I have done what he did, week in and week out, for all those years? No sir. No.

That’s all for this week, folks. Thanks for bearing with me. Drive safely! Do good works! Death to Hamas!
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