11. 01. 01
Noon, Halloween. Finished putting up the lights, and am now regretting that I did not buy that smoke machine. The general effect is pretty good - a rope of orange lights leading deeep into one of the garage bays, pointing to The Tunnel, where I will stand in a white robe, illuminated by white light. (Hi, kids! I’m Emperor Palpatine’s good brother, Gallantine!) Actually, the whiteness of the robe will highlight the words BATES MOTEL, sewn on the left breast. Heh.

Jasper sat on the driveway and watched the workmen replacing a roof across the street. A team of four Hispanic gentlemen, working swiftly and with great brio, shouting and singing and flinging tiles on the lawn. It’s one of those things you associate with warmer times, like sprinklers and mowers. But it fits today: it’s almost 60. Another warm Halloween. Nothing better.
I’m watching a Fox news anchor hand Clovis Maksound, fmr Arab League ambassador to the UN, his arse. Clovis looks like Hans Moleman, which doesn’t help his case much. Clovis is defending every possible aspect of Saudi culture, politics, and involvement in spreading puritanical Islam, and not a word he says is believable. This is the problem with diplomats: they’re diplomatic.

Now it’s more anthrax news, which no longer concerns most people. I find this fascinating: the nation is finally hit with biological weapons, and after X number of days we suck it up and move along. Except for the media, of course, which is on this thing like a tongue on a toothache.

They just showed a shot of some jets on an aircraft character, and I thought I could make out a pilot’s name stenciled on the side. That violates the rules set down by the Pentagon. Interesting. Rewound the picture (bless TiVo) - sure enough, his name was Major Bonds, and his nickname, stencilled below:


I love America.

Finishing up a light lunch of Weight Watchers Bistro Selections. Pretty bad. I’m not eating Weight Watchers because I have to watch my weight; I’m eating it so I don’t have to. If that makes sense. I tried some Lean Cuisine a few weeks ago when it was on sale, and was impressed with its Savory New Flavors and Zesty Recipes. I think I lost five pounds after 9/11, and I’d like to keep the weight from creeping up. This Weight Watchers stuff, however, is awful. The chicken tastes air-puft; the mashed potatoes are just dense hot starchy air, like the atmosphere in a kitchen were real mashed potatoes were actuallly made. The sauce is like chugging boiled water over which someone waved a boullion cube. No thanks.

Ah! The daily White House press briefing. They’re not interesting in information; they’re interested in scoring points. And as such they look like idiots. One fellow asked a leading question about Cheney involvement in the tax breaks to oil companies, and when the camera went back to him you saw this moist little man with a bad combover, nervously nibbling the end of his pen. Makes him look small and greasy, but that species thrives in the clammy rooms of officialdom. Now it's Lester Kinsolving, who is not just a regular variety idiot but a grandstanding fool as well (Will Geer will play him in the movie) just accused the president of trading governance for baseball. Ohhhkay. Apparently he expected Ari to say “That’s absolutely right, Lester. The president turned his back on the nation and the war." Criminey.

Now it’s the Pentagon briefing, with RrAdm Stufflebeam (played by James Crumley in the movie.) . . . . You know, it’s not the military that’s fighting the last war. It’s the press corps. They remember then Gulf War and, less distinctly, Bosnia; they associate any committment of ground forces that doesn’t lead to instant victory as Vietnam redux.

Here’s how tonight actually worked. When I came home from a trip to the office I discovered the string of black lights on the floor. They’d fallen down, and three had shattered. I restrung them, plugged them in: POOMPH. Half of SW Minneapolis lost power, I think. Well. No black lights. So now instead of being Emperor Ovaltine glowing in the depths of the garage, I’m a guy in a bathrobe on a folding chair.

I threw away the lights. I ripped up the orange rope lights that would have channeled the urchins into my lair, and arranged them in a semi-circle around the inside of the garage. It now looked like a tiny stage. Given the candy I had, it would literally be the Kit-Kat Klub.

Meanwhile, the neighbor down the street put up his display. A real homemade neon sign: BATES MOTEL.

So I sat in a chair in the garage, reading the Wall Street Journal by the orange lights. (I had to wave kids over. They’d walk right past. Apparantly a guy sitting in an open garage door surrounded by orange lights with a glowing pumpkin did not spell Treat Giver.) Gnat came out in her unicorn costume and stamped around, agog at the lights: OHHH WOWWW. Sara took her around to see the lights and costumes, and I’ here to tell you I’ve never seen anything as precious as this little creature with the tail and golden horn walking down the hill, holding on to Mom’s hand.

When the waves of kids stopped coming, I had that priceless Halloween moment when the streets are finally empty, but the music from neighbor’s displays is still drifting down the block. Leaves stir; bare trees scratch the moon. Warm air with a chill hidden in its marrow. Then, under the streetlamp:

A Black Cat.

Perfect Halloween. Perfect.


Bill Charuchas, That Cheezeborger Guy has died, in Greece. Saw the obit this morning: he was a booze wrangler at the Billygoat Tavern, noted for his catch phrases (including the deathless “Try the double cheese! It’s the best!) and “Cheeps, no fries.” Of course all these things were made famous by fellow Chicagoan John Belushi. (Wonder if he ever cut Bill a check.) And of course the Billy Goat Tavern was the haunt of the revered & most sainted Mike Royko. What rarely gets mentioned is what a dump the Billy Goat was, and is. It’s just a room with rickety tables, old publicity photos that don’t even have kitsch value, and, if I recall, the inevitable framed newspaper articles, none of which bear rereading. It was one of the most depressing bars I’d ever visited, but if you’re a Roykoesque boozer, atmosphere matters less than a generous pour and tolerant management.

Ah, the late 50s and early 60s: when substance abuse was a man’s job. Before the kids took it over and ruined it.

Gnat told herself a joke today. We were walking along this morning, the dog trailing behind sniffing some bunny spoor, when Gnat suddenly burst out laughing and said - and I quote - “Glolly lobby baba Boppie.” And the she laughed again, and repeated the same sentence. Boppie, of course, is Jasper dog, who was nowhere in sight when she came up with this insight. It just seemed as if she thought of something funny that had to do with the dog, and it cracked her up. It’s a wonderful age. It’s the age when tickling, for example, is actually funny.

Today was a day without Teletubbies. I hummed that Lennon tune all morning: Imagine there’s no Dipsy / No Tinky Winky too / No boinging ball of Lala / no Hoover named Nunu / Imagine all the Tubbies / Pleading for their liiiiives / Eh-ohhhhh, you may say “you’re an adult” / but it’s no longer any fun / watching Gnat stare at the Tubbies / and me without a gun

The TV componants in the family room are now hidden behind doors, so Gnat cannot get my goat by pushing the buttons on and off over again. A guy from The Shop came by to knock out the backs of the various armoires. That’s what they call it: the Shop, as in the CIA’s nickname. Hell, if he used any of those tools on me, I’d confess. His cut was rather imprecise, and perhaps that could be ascribed to the tools, but a good workman never blames his tools. A good workman, however, does not leave his tools behind, which is what this fellow did. I heaped up the levels and drop clothes, put them on the front porch and called Customer Service. (Or “Delta Force,” as they probably call it.) He didn’t come back.

Now that the doors close and the TV is set back in the corner, it opens up a good deal of playtime real estate (or “theater of operations,” as I call it) which is constantly filled with Gnat’s materiel and assets. I clean this stuff up five times a day. She goes down for a nap, and I put everything away. Before we leave on our afternoon jaunt, I put everything away. I’m not being the Toy Nazi here - there’s a reason. Put a baby in a field of scattered toys, and she’s quickly bored; let her take everything out of the basket, and she’s amused for a long time. It’s all down to a science now. I was making supper tonight, thinking: this is my favorite time of the day, really. Me and the Gnat chatting, Judge Judy pinching off some Cletus’ head, food cooking, a meal en route: ah. I’ve got it worked out so I’ve time to clean the entire kitchen by the time Sara gets home: a hot meal and a clean house for my busy weary wife. Fifteen instant husband points I can spend on a nap. It’s amusing, really, when you consider how slovenly I used to be - heaps of piles, piles of heaps, a trashcan looking like a beer bottle cornucopia. Blame adulthood, I suppose; blame Modern Times. The more you know you can’t control the big things, the more you take solace in small assertions of order.

It’s Thursday night, traditionally my own private Friday. No Gnat duties tomorrow. Of course, tomorrow is Friday for real, and as usual I’ll find myself at the office at 3 PM wondering what the hell I’m going to say today. (Imagine if what you did two hours before quitting time on Friday would be judged by 600,000 people.) I’ll go downstairs in a while and watch Crime Story - having daily episodes really adds momentum, and makes me regret that it didn’t get a longer run. I’m a little surprised to learn that the show was not only as good as I recalled, but better. Last night was the end of the first season, which as far as I know is the only TV cliffhanger to end with a nuclear detonation.

Contrast this with one of the other legs of Mann’s TV tripod, Miami Vice. Always loved that show; still a guilty pleasure. I used to be annoyed by the trendy guest stars, but now they’re no longer trendy, so the episodes stand on their own. In fact, when the show is freed of its cultural baggage, its need to Speak for the Zeitgesit, it’s more enjoyable. Popularity can kill a good show - witness the X-Files, which was no longer allowed to be ordinary, but had to be INCREDIBLE, lest fans carp about sloth and decline. Anyway - a lot of the Vice stories hold up, a few are interesting time capsules, but all of them suffer from something that never plagued Crime Story: lousy secondary characters. The 2nd string team on Crime Story wasn’t given much backstory or action, but they were all solid characters. The second string on Vice consisted of the Trudy and Gina, who didn’t do much, and the two dufuses in loud shirts, who were sort of the AntiCrockett and AntiTubbs. They could suck the drama out of any scene just by showing up.

Here’s a pivotal moment in American culture: the moment Sonny Crockett no longer smoked Luckies.

Anyway - secondary characters are always the key to a good continuing story; that’s why the original Trek was great, and Voyager got dull. I remember a series of Swedish detective novels I read in the 80s, written by a husband and wife team - terrific stories, but the supporting cast bonded you to the tales. Each had a characteristic, a few small idiosycracies, that made them feel like old friends. I like my first novel better than my second for this reason; that’s why Homicide was better than Hawaii 5-0. Who cared about Dan-O? Who knew anything about him? It’s why the Spirit is better than Superman, why Bond movies turned into empty noise. And it’s probably why I bleat about the Gnat and the Jasp.

Today Gnat saw a ladybug on the wall. Previously she had seen ladybugs in a book; to see one on the wall, moving, was like having Winnie the Pooh walk around the corner and say hello. For her, every day is an exercize in watching reality get redefined and revised. What a gift to be able to see it through her big blue eyes.


Warm does not equal November, but this year it does. Saturday the Giant Swede picked me up in his wife’s convertible, and we drove to Caribou for coffee under a kind sky and a hot healthy sun: felt perfect. Swung into the magazine store afterwards, and I bought cigars and two Simpsons figurines - Prof. Frink, and Snake. Wish they’d had the fourth issue of that Marvel Fantastic Four series, so I could have completed the Arrested Adolescence trifecta. Toys, superheros and cheroots. I don’t know what’s more alarming - to wonder if I’ll ever grow up, or to realize that I HAVE, and this is as close as I’ll get. But I’ll make no apologies; it’s not as if I live in a dank moist cave full of toys, comics, skin mags, and Battlestar Galactica memoribilia. It’s a matter of balance.

Saturday was just bizarre, conducted in a fog. I’d stayed up late Friday night watching Crime Story and war news. My wife woke me early, as usual, to take Gnat for the morning shift. Such is the Way of Things - she takes the early weekend hours, then hands me the babbling bundle to entertain while she goes back to sleep. I got downstairs: 6:22 AM. Whoa. I was working on five hours of sleep here. And it was 40 minutes to Looney Tunes. This is going to be rough. I made a large breakfast and did what I could to keep Gnat amused; when relieved, I went to the Dark Room, the bedroom whose shades keep it midnight black, and which holds the old comfy bed I miss so much. (The new one is a product of the Klingon Mattress Company.) When I woke, I had a frightening amount of energy. Organized the drawers. Cleaned the fridge - and by “clean,” I mean I took all the drawers and baskets out, cleaned all the shelves and surfaces.

In my previous life, I didn’t clean the fridge unless it spawned life, and the waving tentacles inside put up a fight when you wanted to wrest a beer from their suctioned arms. This is what happens when you get a house you love. Cleaning the fridge is an honor.

Read a piece over the weekend warning that American support for the war would wane once we had photos of dead American soldiers, a la Somalia. Once again we would blanch, roll into our shells like a snail that’s been poked in the head. What drivel. Somalia was seen by most Americans as a humanitarian operation; when we saw the pictures of dead soldiers, people figured: well, fine, screw you, if that’s how you want it. This is different. Saw a poll the next day: 60% of Americans would support nuclear retaliation for use of weapons of mass destruction. (WMD) Depending on the weapon used, that would probably go to 70, 75%. If the Al Qaeda uses one of those stupid radioactive bombs, though, that wouldn’t necessarily be a WMD. You can kill more people by poisoning a water supply. The terror quotient is large, but here’s the point: in a nation this huge, this geographically diverse, terror in NY, DC, or LA doesn’t put everyone into a state of quavering delirium. Whatever they do is going to piss everyone else off MORE, and consequently erode the chocks that keep our nastier armaments from taking off to Baghdad.

Okay .
. . I’m in front of the computer for the 12th hour today because . . . ?

Because I’ve started the proposal for the next book, Interior Desecrators. (Yes, the site will return, but in a much diminished form.) Too bad it isn’t the labor of love that the Gallery was; it’s a labor of hate & contempt, but in a healthy sort of way. I designed the cover, which of course won’t be the final version, but man: it’s ugly. This thing will not only leap off the shelf but go for your jugular. It pains me to work in this palette, with these fonts; I have a substantial collection of 70s fonts, all of which were no doubt crafted with loving recollections of a Sid & Marty Kroft childhood (just got a vision of a gigantic unnameable evil worm that slumbers for all eternity until awakened to perform a silly dance; such a creature would be . . . Lovekroftian.) (Sorry; obscure.) but to me it’s like snorting Sweet ‘n’ Low.

Because I’ve had to stop the redesign to fix the printer, realign the heads, test different paper weights, etc. Such a thrill.

Because writing is actually a release after a day of pixel-tweaking.

Because I’m a day or two away from finishing the GLORIOUS TRIUMPHANT RETURN of the ENTIRE SITE, which should happen Wednesday or so. I just can’t stand to keep it down anymore, and I think I can bear the bandwidth if I don’t put the entire Interiors site up, and everyone thinks before they click. This is perhaps my favorite redesign of them all, although I couldn’t say why. Oh, wait: I know why: because it contains huge amounts of revenue-gathering advertisements.

Well, no. But. I’m going to try something new here. The site, as it was, will still be free. But instead of putting up new stuff willy-nilly, I’m going to create a members section. Every Monday, a new peculiarity from the Institute’s gargantuan archives. Pictures, money, ads, early 60s British men’s magazine pinups, matchbooks, and many other peculiarities. A year’s subscription: $25. There will also be a Bleat tip jar for those who just want to toss a buck my way. Stay tuned. And oil your wallets! Or not.


Another kitchen Bleat on the ibook. It’s 8: 40 AM; we’ve been up for two hours and twenty minutes, and thus far no Teletubbies. I’m holding fast on this. If I see that “funny lady’’ skit again I’m going to have a stroke. She’s sitting on a chair in the woods, surrounded by children; it’s “King and Queen Day,” and you can bet they will not be addressing the antidemocratic nature of hereditary rule. No, they’re addressing a more important matter: the need for the rulers to have a crown before they can all have biscuits. There’s a dead-eyed stuffed bear with a crown: the king. Funny Lady is to be the queen, but she lacks the cranial adornment the role requires. She leads everyone in a sing-song chant to summon the crown. It floats down from the treetops, alights on her head, and then she speaks in a plummy mock-Queen voice. Whereupon the crown flies back up into the sky, and she castigates the crown for being a “naughty, proud crown.” REPEAT TWO TIMES. In a thousand years it could be read as a depiction of the concept of divine right - i.e., the symbol of rule descending from the Olympian heights.

Good luck explaining the fargin’ bear, though.

Off to the polls tomorrow to vote. To give non-Minneapolitans an inkling of the tenor of local politics, we have two candidates, and they’re both from the same party. Oh, there are a few fringe candidates, but the real choice is between two Democrats. A month ago the election was supposedly a dead heat, with the incumbent mayor slightly ahead. I have no idea why. She has a whiny voice, no charisma, a hectoring speaking style and no particular record, other than she sat in the seat during the boom years. She will lose this election - partly because one of her cronies on the City Council was caught shaking down local businessmen, which you do - not - do in this city, and partly because it was suspected she’d bolt town to join the Gore administration. Minnesotans look dimly upon those who betray an unseemly desire to leave for Bigger Better Places at the earliest possible opportunity.

Yes, I left for the East Coast once upon a time, but I made a point of stating I’d be back. Made it easier to crawl back four years later, I’ll tell you that.

Whoa: I can smell Baby from across the room. What Jasper smells I can only guess. Time to change the Gnat.

Noon. 66 degrees. Unbelievable.

Gnat went down for her morning nap; I did a little work and laid down for a nap. Just as I was drifting off, the phone rang. I answered. The other party hung up. Some bored small imp killing time in hell, probably. That’s the equivalent of a mailroom job in hell: phoning people randomly.

Now I’m having a Salisbury steak for lunch, although Lean Cuisine calls it Meatloaf. The box says it contans one serving of vegetables. I cannot possibly see how. Parsley? Would that it were so; if only parsley was such a potent vegetable you could satisfy all your needs with one sprig. I think the human body’s reliance on vegetables is a cruel joke. Perhaps “reliance” is the wrong word, as Scotland proves, but to get a nice long healthy life you’re supposed to eat your vegetables. I’m not sure the trade-off is worth it; you may be a few years at the end, but it’s probably equal the time you spent joylessly choking down boiled broccoli. I’d rather go face down, fast, in a plate of chili at 76 than suffer the grim attenuations of mental decay and wander off this mortal plane at 78.

Perhaps there are pureed vegetables in the meatloaf - if so, I’d like to doff my hat to Modern Science. That’s the spirit, lads! Now for my daily ration of fruits, which I love, but are not as important as vegetables. They’re Pat Metheny to vegetables’ Coltrane. Offenbach to vegetables’ Schoenberg. Watteau to vegetables’ Motherwell.

Hey: if we really were meant to eat vegetables, we wouldn’t have molars.

A lovely day; 74 degrees. Interesting to think that the temperature will be zero in six weeks. Better that than 148, I suppose. But not by much. Went to the park with Gnat - did the swingsets, the slides, the stairs. The park was full of kids and moms, chatting in little mom-knots around the park. Then we went shopping: Target for a new coffeemaker to replace the gawdaful Capresso piece-a-krep I bought at Williams Sonoma. Not only does it take a day to make a coffee and blow steam like a Soviet locomotive, it now leaks. Target had 14 models, which could be boiled down to a few concepts: dirt-cheap Mr. Coffees, which I will always associate with Joe DiMaggio (odd how a slugger ended up a pitchman), pricey Krups will I always associate with German industrial war profiteers (“We’ve removed the second P, and passed along the savings to you! Also the guilt!”) a few Melittas, which remind me of a college girlfriend who insisted on making coffee with this annoyingly time-consuming cold press Melitta thing. The second cup was always cold. But Melittas now have a heating element, so I gave them a look. It had the usual fatuous features (“Our new Flav’r Lok system locks in the flavor”) but it was inexpensive and sedately designed. I bought it. I also bought a 12-pack of bathroom tissue, not because we needed it, but because a very long time ago I bought about 100 rolls at once. When you do this, you get out of the habit of buying it, and then you discover one day you’ve none. Then I bought stuff we don’t need now, but never have when we do need it: generic pink gut-coat, generic antacids, band-aids not made by Band-Aid, razors, shaving cream (all hail Nivea for men, which has no perfume; why would I want my shaving cream to oil my flesh with Cool Rain or Sport Scent or Mountain Creek - I mean, what if the mountain has a mine, and the creek is full of arsenic and other run-off chemicals?) I spent my entire 20s and 30s getting the last few atoms out of a can of shaving cream, scraping my skin off with a blade whose repeated use made Winston Smith’s Victory Razor look like D’Artagnon’s foil. And of course the shaving cream back then was Barbasol. Might as well have shaved with mentholated Cool-Whip. That’s probably what it was.

Then the grocery store. I’d expected a barbeque outside, given the warm weather, but not in the weekdays, it seems. I’ve meant to mention this: all summer Lunds had a tent with a grill, and a kind fellow cooking up all sorts of magnificent meats. He was about nine feet tall, pink, and bald. Hence I came to think of the place as Francis Dollarhyde’s Cafe, a reference that will only mean something to people who’ve seen “Manhunter.”

Home. Supper. Feed Gnat. Wife arrives.


Today’s Editorial.

A number of people have sent me some URLs for sites that show Afghan casualties. I appreciate the links, but I’m not certain what I am supposed to do with this information. It’s odd how the very people who often decry the superficiality and image-driven nature of modern culture are often the first to use pictures to change minds. Well, I do know this:

I’m sure the people behind these sites had one devoted to opposing Taliban atrocities prior to 9/11 - in fact, I don’t doubt that they had extensive sites concerning Taliban atrocities. Surely a person of their evident smarts knows the difference between killing civilians as a deliberate matter of state policy and killing them, by error, in the prosecution of war; if the latter bothers them, the former must have occasioned all sorts of website protests. I’m sure the makers of these sites would have put up extensive collections of dead-body from the WTC collapse if the US had not gone to Afghanistan. I’m also sure that they prefer sanctions and diplomacy - unless those sanctions actually hurt civilians, in which case they’d have to be lifted.

I know these things must be true, because the people who make these sites surely do not believe in a moral equivalence between the US and the Taliban. They’re much too smart for that . . . evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.



We’re watching Barney now.

I realize this is like fighting alcoholism with cocaine, but I’ll try anything to wean Gnat off the Teletubbies. I don’t mind it as much. The Barney-thing isn’t as annoying as I thought, but the kids bug the hell out of me. I believe that all children who show theatrical promise should be put to work in the factory, preferably one that refines coal dust or holds a few hundred finger-pinching looms. You know the kind of child I’m talking about. Show kids.

One of these kids looks like a small waxed Ernest Borgnine. Poor girl.

It’s another morning at the kitchen table, although that doesn’t really describe this high slab at which I sit; I’m sure the designers called it a Lifestyle Island, or a Relational Facilitation Space. It’s almost 60 degrees at 8:30, which is once again unbelievable. Of course, the minute we get used to it, the temperature will fall to the upper 30s, and the snow will come - not gentle white flakes, either, but horrid sleety cloud-spittle or a stinging gust of icy grit. I hope it’s a hard winter - by which I mean lots of snow. Since 97 we’ve had mild winters, cool springs, wet summers. Give me the straight news, doc. I can take it. Give me seven feet of snow, as long as the April showers do not extend to the Fourth of July

Gnat just came over with a book to read, another plotless series of rhymes. Some are Seuss books - and I know this is heresy, but some of his drawings creep me out. There’s a book on feet (“In the house and on the street, how many different feet you meet!” which is an exhortation to a life of desperate fetishism, if youi ask me) and it actually contains the words HERE COMES CLOWN FEET, which is something I hear in my worst dreams. Much of Seuss’ loopy charm comes from his inability to draw actual identifiable figures. Yet they just hook kids; the drawings of Sandra Boynton, which are far more accomplished and inventive, don’t have the same elemental appeal. Curious George, however, she loved right away - monkeys must strike kids as pure fuzzy id. We read that book a lot.

Partly because I love Curious George, and have read ahead to make sure there are no clown feet.

Many magazines come to my house each day, but today I read something that truly bothered me - for reasons I’ll explain at length. The article was called “Language as Politics,” which warns you that we’re in for some real fun. It begins with this unpromising lede:

“Corporate English obscures reality by excluding people.”

Your heart sinks. We are already knee-deep in academic blather, and we’re not past the first period. You can tell we’re among those who believe in Monolithic Corporate State, one that has entire divisions whose white, middle-aged male managers start each day by asking the staff “now how can we marginalize women and minorities today? Ideas, people! Ideas!” The reference to “reality” lets you know that there ain’t no one here but us epistimologists; “excludes” is the enemy of “inclusion,” and therefore makes baby Jesus cry, and “people” means us. the Masses, as opposed to the robots who run the corporations. One might say “Academic English obscures reality by excluding comprehension,” but I wouldn’t say it until you got tenure.

We go on:

“Passive verbs are consistently used and the subjects of action not identified (as in this sentence.) Corporate English commonly portrays economic processess as if they just happen, independent of people.”

Yes, all those news stories you read that said the hospitality industry is in the tank because people aren’t taking vacations, or that the real estate markets are still holding steady because people are refinancing, or a dozen other examples - you misread the pieces. Your memory fails you. Now, then, again: what does two plus two equal?

It goes on: “So, instead of saying ‘the school is charging students more money for courses,’ corporate language users write ‘Tuition fees are going up.’”

So . . . college press-release office are now part of Corporate America. Interesting. Most people who read that “tuition fees are going up” would naturally conclude that students (or their parents) are going to pay. Most people don’t read a story about auto prices dropping and think, “Boy, that’s a great break for squirrels and wildebeests.” Since people ARE the economy, mentioning their participation is like spending every other sentence of an oceonography textbook to describe the presence of water. But we go on, with more devious work from the dastardly They:

“Similarly, they write, ‘Interest rates may climb again,’ instead of ‘the banks will charge you more for a loan.’”

There’s a reason I’m dwelling on this nonsense. Trust me. But just look at that example: the two aren’t equal. They don’t say the same thing. One speculates; the other not only states a rise as a certainty, it presents the fact unmoored from any other economic factors. (Like people.) This is all bad, say the authors, because it leaves people out of news reporting. Want another chilling example? This should convince you:

“Terms like ‘escalating inflation rate’ do not conjure up the image of people lining up at a food bank.”

In other words, these people are advocating that no economic news be reported without mentioning a subjectively derived account of its adverse effect on someone. How many people are lining up? Where? How many are lining up because inflation went up .01%? The authors don’t only want to chain a cement block to the ankle of every fact, they want to make straight economic reporting impossible.

Who cares? you say. Wait. Trust me.

Here’s the rousing conclusion, advising people to use “Popular English” instead of the doubleplus ungood “Corporate English.” Popular English, you see, uses “easy words and sentences” and:

“It addresses matters of power and control, with people put back in. So, for example, take a sentence like this: ‘Miners are advised to adhere to a schedule of chest x-rays at two-year intervals.’ Using clear language, it can be changed to: ‘Miners should get their chests x-rayed every two years.' Popular English advocates would also add: ...and join the union health and safety committee.’”

Now, the reason I bring this up: this little essay came from the Guild Reporter, the official magazine of the Newspaper Guild and the Commication Workers of America. It is exhorting us, the media, to insert bias and pro-union statements in our reporting. I repeat: the Newspaper Guild wants us to change “might” to “will,” salt our economic reporting with manufactured stories of hardships we presume will follow, and insert a pro-union message wheneve appropriate.

I’m a union member - not really much of a choice - and I support collective bargaining. But this little article was astonishing, not so much for what it said but for where it appears. It simply doesn’t occur to the Guild leadership that the house organ shouldn’t advocate slanting stories to help the union; in the Guild’s mind, the union is objectively good - so a pro-union story doesn’t violate objectivity.

My dues at work.


Restless night. Had a bad dream - an Islamic Terrorist got in the house. Apparently I’d really made him mad a year before, and he’d sworn to show up a year later EXACTLY and kill everyone in the house. He wasn’t a terrorist then, but apparently he’d been busy the past 12 months. So I’m outside in the yard and he comes around the corner with a big grin: Hi, I’m back! And he has three rifles in bags slung around his shoulder. He forces everyone inside but falls asleep, which allows me to hide the guns in the potting shed and call 911. I get a cop who sounds like an old bored man who’d really rather be at the bingo parlor. I explain my situation, and he replies “well, that doesn’t sound like the sort of thing we do,” which sets me off: what do you mean? I scream. “Well, what if we showed up and it was a hoax? We’d look pretty stupid.” Now I’m really shouting - which of course wakes up the terrorist. Luckily, my dad’s here too, and he holds him down while I attempt to knock the guy out with a hammer. It doesn’t go very well. The terrorist is getting annoyed, but he’s not putting up much of a struggle. After about a dozen blows I’m getting a sore arm.

And I finally wake up. I’m still pissed at that cop, though.

Another warm day in November. Last year at this time we had an inch of snow on the ground. Tonight it rained, an early spring rain. A few leaves still hanging on; green grass everywhere. Winter is going to be a rude surprise, I’m afraid; the last few days have lulled everyone into thinking we might waft along in this perpetual twilight of autumn, but no.

Short Bleat. Very tired. Partly because of the dreams, partly because Gnat woke too damn early and did her little cough-and-whimper routine for half an hour. I am sympathetic to all her needs except for the ones manifested at 5:00 AM. I am not inclined to dance down the hall singing Wakey Wakey. She’ll go back to sleep, eventually. And she would drift off, and we’d drift off . . . for five minutes. Then: a little cough, a short sharp bark. Silence. Then another. Silence. Two minutes. Then another. No REM sleep for us. Finally she drifted off, but the damage was done; both parents dragged all day today. I went to the office for two hours to prepare the next column, and wasted half my time watching a flaming truck evade police. Of all the flaming stolen truck chases I’ve seen, this was the best. Practically the entire newspaper office clustered around TVs to watch, which is something that always amuses me: in TV newsrooms, when the papers are delivered, work does not stop to examine the paper. Which ought to tell us something.

One of the more surreal aspects of the chase was its resemblance to isometric perspective video games - it was like watching a real-life version of the Sims, or Diablo, or any other such game. I kept thinking in terms of hit-points and turn-based strategy: okay, now the cops will deploy stop-strips, but if their AI is anything like run-of-the-mill games, they’ll string them parallel to the shoulder. And it also reminded you of the gargantuan scale of modern life - this guy never ran out of road, and it seemed as if the entire world had been paved with grey. The entire world was made of roads. And he still could not find the one that led to freedom.

Went home, made supper, read to Gnat: when I asked her to point to the watermelon in the book, she did. This amazes me. I have no recollection of teaching her that. We haven’t had watermelon in the house this year but twice. I’m just beginning to realize how many, many ideas and words are locked up in that little head. Tonight while I ate supper she staged a little play with some finger puppets, calling them by name, arranging them here and there with great deliberation. From what I remember about what my parents told me, this was how I was: I could always amuse myself. I hope she grows up to see solitude as an opportunity - and since she also has her mother’s sociability, I can only conclude she will rule the world.

Now I go to watch TV with Jasper’s head in my lap. This I need. ZZZzzzzz.

If you've got the time, I've got the Bleat. This might possibly the be the longest in Bleat history. You are, of course, free to flee. Let's begin

Got my DVD of Star Trek: the Neverending Story today, aka the first movie. I’m actually looking forward to watching it, since it’s been recut and improved. The original version really bit the wax tadpole, and I’ll never forget my disappointment when it first came out. It was my generation’s Phantom Menace! Well, Friday night I’m going to reconnect the widescreen - I’ve dreaded returning to the Medusa coiffure of wires I removed when the armoire was installed - and give it another chance. I will not, however, buy the DVD of Shatner and Nimoy interviewing each other about their Trek days; I hear it’s not only mind-grindingly banal, but that Shatner actually rips some trouser burlap in the course of the conversation.

Which reminds of the state of Twin Cities talk radio: there’s a host who occasionally belches on air by mistake - and when this happens, they cue up the tape to see if he did, in fact, birth a gut-bubble. This show is so driven by its own cliches that when the host belches, they believe the audience expects them to revisit the tape.

A good day, if cold; the air had a wintry feel to it this morning. Not the real thing, but a warning, the meteorlogical version of the Emergency Broadcast System. Played with Gnat all morning, and yea it was a Barney-free day. Although I’m forcing her to watch a show I like: Rollie Poly Olie. It has never registered on the national cultural radar like Barney or the Teletubbies; too bad. It ought to get every award available. A robot kid in a streamlined house! Of course! It has a Mom and a Dad, which is good, and a sister and dog and a grizzled old goggle-eyed Pappy, and a dog. It doesn’t try to load each episode with winky references for the adult who’s been dragooned into watching it; instead, it just tells short clever stories anyone can enjoy. Even the theme makes me smile - it’s done in a late 20s pop-music style, a warbly tenor singing through a megaphone. An absolutely charming show.

I look forward to it more than she does.

Okay! That’s it for fun! Another patented polarizing Friday screed en route. I can’t hold off anymore.

Two speeches by two presidents today. I imagine the Bush speech gave many people what a long-ago girlfriend called the Cheevers, a shivvering spooky dread. All that applause when the armed forces were mentioned fills some with clammy fear; having once belonged to that camp, I know exactly how if feels. You feel as if you’re outside. Your smart learned mind reaches for previous instances in which the population cheered the military with undue enthusiasm, and you think: Triumph of the Will! My God, look at those people in uniforms - they’re wearing brown shirts! The big backdrop, the flags held by people in the crowds - it scares you. These people seem blind. When the president talks about the treatment of women in Afghanistan, you think yeah, and now we’re bombing them, and besides women here still make 70 cents to men’s dollars. Devoutly anti-Clintonites were guilty of the same thing - the oppositional instinct drives out nuance. You cannot see the plain truth of the thing in front of you, because you don’t believe that thing is capable of containing a truth.
Speaking of Clinton: that’s the other speech. It wasn’t given today, but was reported here and there. Clinton at Georgetown. He chose an interesting time to recite a litany of American sins, and he seemed to define them rather broadly. From a news report:

 “Mr. Clinton said the international terrorism that has only just reached the United States dates back thousands of years.
     ‘"In the first Crusade, when the Christian soldiers took Jerusalem, they first burned a synagogue with 300 Jews in it and proceeded to kill every woman and child who was a Muslim on the Temple Mount. I can tell you that story is still being told today in the Middle East and we are still paying for it."’

I thought: who’s this we, Lone Ranger? I don’t recall reading about the 82nd airborne landing at Jerusalem. I don’t recall any Jews hijacking planes and smashing them into buildings to avenge the sins of the Crusaders. More to the point, a couple hundred Americans were blown up in Lebanon in the early 80s, and up until 9/11 we didn’t talk about it to this day. I am not impressed by the fact that some in the Muslim world have a uselessly long memory; they’re like Otis the drunk in the Andy Griffith show. They chose to live in the jail, and they have the key. They can free themselves of the past whenever they wish.

The former president’s speech was marinated in a particular worldview I’ve heard elsewhere, but I was surprised to hear it from him. And it was interesting to hear a man who was such a pivotal player in history exempt himself from shaping the history of the recent past. It’s almost as if he’s absolving his inactions by summoning historical forces too great for one man to turn away. In any case, it was just another iteration of a philosophy I’ll call Virtuous Defeatism, for lack of a catchier term. Here we go:

I’ve written here before about people who believe that skepticism is not only an obligation - which it is - but a modus vivendi, the only possible option for a Thinking Person. The end result of this philosophy is intellectual paralysis. The sufferers are unable to see some things for what they really are. Shown an elephant, their first instinct is to say that it might be the skin of an elephant stuffed with rabbits; just because it’s been an elephant before doesn’t mean it’s one now, and you have to look at who wants you to think its an elephant. When the elephant starts trampling people, and you want to round up villagers to drive the elephant away, the Virtuous Defeatists make fun of those who have accepted that this is, indeed, an elephant. But what of the dead people killed by the elephant today? Well, if it was an “elephant,” they’ll say, using mocking quotes, what drove it to stamp on the villagers? Who cares? It’s killing the villagers! Well, so you say - but look, here’s some evidence of poachers who killed elephants in Africa for their tusks. This is all just a war for ivory.

These people believe that skeptical minds will bring about Change - broadly defined in Utopian terms - but this sort of reflexive disbelief is usually a recipe for inaction. It cannot do anything without first convening a committee to draft a statement about the Elephant Situation, and they'll spend six hours arguing whether the statement from the People’s Front for Ibex Liberation will follow or preceed the Trisexual Orang-utan League’s call for free distribution of those tasty bananas, num num.

But sometimes it gets bloody; sometimes the failure to achieve Utopia does not discredit the idea, just the timidity of the methods used to secure it. The failure of Capitalism to address inequities is always depicted as a flaw of capitalism; the failure of Utopianism to bring about heaven on earth is always blamed on the insufficiencies of the people in the movement, or the means they use. Since the cause is supremely Just, human error and chance are criminalized; an inability to complete a Five Year Plan does not discredit the goals of the Plan - such a thing is not conceivable! - but can only be attributed to conscious efforts to thwart Utopia. And this is, by definition, a crime against humanity.

Hence the bloody basement of the Lubyanka.

No movement whose organizing principle is Opposition to Everything ever accomplishes heaven on earth. At its worst it cripples society and makes it vulnerable to the Jacobins eager to get down to the business of chopping heads for the greater good. This is why I find the American Revolution so astonishing - it managed to avoid that period of totalitarian tyranny that usually follows.

Anyway. Deep breath. Continue:

I was thinking of this today while listening to a caller on a radio show. He was describing the impossibility of choking off the money to terrorism, because there would always be oil money to fund it. He was smart, but wrong - and his point is an example of Virtuous Defeatism: since it is impossible to do the perfect thing, scorn must be poured on anything that does not attain perfection. It’s possible that freezing assets and cutting off these money supplies might have a small impact, but any impact is welcome. The point is to get the other side off balance in every possible way so they’re always having to readjust on a dozen different fronts. You want their to-do list to be:
1. Dig out from collapsed cave opening
2. Attempt to restore radio contact with trenches
3. Repair APC to send someone to see why trenches have fallen silent
4. Wire money to cell in Pierre, South Dakota to blow up Mt. Rushmore
5. Get tape to Al-Jazeera demanding Ramadan cease-fire so 1-4 can be accomplished on a broad scale across the front

The caller then went on to say it was our fault, because - get this - Big Oil was covering up the amazing water-powered internal combustion engine. And who was helping them? The Bush administration, with its Oil Cabinet! They want this war for the Caspian oil! The call was a reminder of how people can squander all their knowledge and reasoning by refusing to relinquish The One Thing, the armor-plated idea that can never be questioned or forsaken. It’s usually something the rest of us fools & sheep don’t understand, and the person who believes in The One Thing isn’t really interested in convincing us about it. They’re happy to point out our ignorance with snorts of contempt. Fine, you want to believe the earth is round, go right ahead, ball-boy.

Which brings me to Katha Pollit of the Nation, who is writing some of the most peculiarly wretched pieces of the war. From her latest:

" Robert "Bowling Alone" Putnam hopes Americans will say goodbye to lonely nights dropping gutter balls down the lanes of life and come together in "civic community" as they did during World War II. (World War II? Uh-oh. Wasn't this supposed to be one of those little quickie mini-wars?)

Um . . . no; didn’t you get the memo? For a columnist to say something this stupid means she’s either not paying attention, or deliberately lying.

“He writes nostalgically of ‘victory gardens in nearly everyone's backyard, the Boy Scouts at filling stations collecting floor mats for scrap rubber, the affordable war bonds, the practice of giving rides to hitchhiking soldiers and war workers.’ Those would be certified heterosexual, Supreme-Being-believing scouts, I suppose, and certified harmless and chivalrous hitchhiking GIs, too--not some weirdo in uniform who cuts you to bits on a dark road.”

This sort of drivel debunks itself, of course. If Catholic Bishops formed a bucket brigade to put out a burning building, she would stand in the middle and drop the buckets to protest the Church’s refusal to ordain women. It’s Virtuous Defeatism at its best: better there be no scrap-drives than have a scrap-drive run by people whose voluntary exercize of free association has an exclusionary component. But this is just a wind-up for the big pitch:

“There's a gendered element, too, as Philip Weiss noted in the New York Observer: Whether or not more men than women support the war, as Weiss claims, 9/11 and its sequelae have definitely rehabilitated such traditional masculine values as physical courage, upper-body strength, toughness, resolve. The WTC attack is men vs. men--firefighters v. fanatics. (It would seem positively ungrateful to ask why, in a city half black and brown, the "heroes" were still mostly white, and, for that matter, still mostly male.)”

Got that? “Heroes” in scare quotes. This is as reprehensible as saying “Rosa Parks, a ‘heroine’ of the struggle for the right to a bus seat . . .” One senses that Pollit is not only tired of people who use words like heroes, but people who believe in the very concept. Once you accept that the people who drive away the rogue elephant are “heroes,” you are less likely to consider whether the elephant might actually be full of rabbits. Never mind the villagers who owe their lives to the men who took action.

It reminded me of a story a friend told me recently. They had a block party, and as is the custom, a fire truck showed up to amuse the kids. One of the firepersons was a rather petite female, presumably hired after the city fire department rejiggered its standards of physical fitness. A neighbor of my friend remarked how neat it was to finally have women firefighters; my friend - who is not only female but six feet tall - replied that she hoped that this firefighter wouldn’t be the one to attempt to carry her from their second floor bedroom. Whereupon the neighbor looked at my friend, looked at the firefighter, and put two and two together: deadlifting my friend out would have been impossible. Reality and The One Thing had just met like particles in an atom smasher.

And reality, of course, lost. “She could drag you out,” the neighbor said.
My point, then, is simply this: why do the people who insist I question everything never seem to question themselves?

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