Saturday, July 30, 2005

Bobo in Paradise

aristocratsShorter David Brooks: Having built my entire career upon an edifice of gross sociological generalizations, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that these generalizations do not apply in any manner to my own family. My time-consuming and expensive commitment to my son's traveling baseball team does not originate in the soulless vacancy of upper middle class existence; rather, it has preserved his boyish nature while incubating a manly disposition that will serve him well as he gazes down upon his poorer and less talented social inferiors.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Delayed Vacation Blogging (Part III):
Bread and Circuses

jester_luteFloating on the open sea has the potential to be really goddamned boring. Every now and then, the ship passes an picturesque island, or an oil derrick, or a floating corpse. But for the most part, the pace of life on a boat is fairly predictable. Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink — that sort of shit. Fortunately, cruise ship passengers can look forward every night to a dazzling array of distractions. You can feed yourself into a coma while watching Tom Jones concerts on a big screen by one of the pools; you can hit the nightclubs, listen to white-man blues bands, and make bad decisions with alcohol; you can gamble; you can cower in your room and watch television, avoiding all contact with other people for fear of the germs and sin they carry.

But on the Grand Princess, everyone loves a good show. In its promotional literature, Princess Cruises promises "World Class Entertainment," noting that it has "ushered in a brand new era" in shipboard fun. "Some ships have three separate show lounges and three different shows nightly so that you can choose what you want to see and when. Whether it's a Broadway-style musical at the Princess Theatre, a Las Vegas-style nightclub revue at the Vista Lounge, or an intimate cabaret club performance in Explorers Lounge, the choice is available every night. "

I don't know about the rest of you, but when I think of World Class Entertainment, certain images spring immediately to mind. I think of dancing bears, ribald toasts, fistfights, and other species of unfocused mayhem. I think of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.
Let me put it this way — I've seen Tom Comet balance a running lawnmower on his chin while audience members heaved cabbages and butternut squash into the spinning blades; I've seen Rubber Boy dislocate every joint in his body and climb into a piece of carry-on luggage; I've seen the amazing Mr. Lifto dangle a cinder block from the Prince Albert piercing on the tip of his dick. You think a juggling acrobat is going to impress me?

Predictably, we skipped most of the nightly shows, managing on two non-consecutive evenings to attend a moderately non-lame stand up comic performance and a Broadway revue that was 77% lip-synched. The Broadway show was pure rubbish, to such a degree that I unconsciously assumed that everyone else on the ship would agree with me. As in the following conversation, duplicated more or less exactly in several conversations with near strangers:
ME: So, did you see that show last night?
ME: Wasn't it objectively awful?
FP: No, I really loved it.
ME: . . .
FP: . . .

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Delayed Vacation Blogging (Part II):
Cabin Stewards of the World Unite!

On the day after the Service Employees International Union's long-overdue disaffiliation from the AFL-CIO, it seems only fitting to spend a few moments reflecting on the globalization of the service industry workforce.

PrincessDancingCouplesOnce upon a time, luxury cruises were a dalliance enjoyed only by the hyper-rich; today, the globalization of the pleasure industry workforce has lowered operating costs substantially, so that cruising has become a form of mass tourism, a $13 billion dollar a year industry accessible to a more ordinary class of schlubbos. In the generous company of my mother in law, my wife and I recently took a Princess Cruise, where over the course of two weeks we stopped in nearly a dozen Mediterranean ports and took in more sunshine than we enjoy in an entire year of living in Juneau, where we are plopped in the middle of the world's largest temperate rainforest. Truth be told, we had nothing short of the mindlessly relaxing time promised in the narcotic promotional literature (e.g., "It's all here for you - delicious dining, exciting entertainment and incredible pampering"). We loafed on the deck, glugged vat-sized mixed drinks, loped our way to the eternal buffet at unreasonably short intervals, and — when we weren't being pampered — zipped around the various ports of call, taking photos of Greek and Roman ruins and learning lots of interesting things about the ancient world that we have since forgotten. We met some interesting people, ate some great food, and returned with a small supply of affordable European booze. For two weeks I did not feel wheezy with anxiety over the research projects and two new fall courses that would demand my attention when I returned home.

OE6BWhile all this was transpiring, a young Filipina named Wallapha was cleaning our toilet, changing our linens, showering our room with chocolate candies, and restocking our supply of bottled water. Halfway through a ten-month contract during which time she was granted not a single day off, Wallapha labored 11 hours a day, shared a tiny below-water cabin with another steward, and took in a base salary of $50 a month, earning the rest of her income from tips. In a departure from its earlier, purely voluntary tipping policies, Princess Cruises now automatically bills each passenger $10 a day to cover gratuities for cabin stewards. Although we never found out for certain, my wife and I were quite sure that a sizable chunk of that (now mandatory) "tip" never made it into Wallapha's paycheck. All things considered, she could not have been making more than $15-17,000 per contract. During her three hours off each day, Wallapha was allowed to leave the ship but not permitted to mingle with the passengers, which might blur the strict line between labor and leisure on which the entire fantasy of the cruise depends.

Nonetheless, I was not surprised to find out that Wallapha (who sees her 8-year old daughter for two months a year) intended to continue working for Princess as long as she was capable. The average Filipino lives on less than 60 cents a day, while the Philippine economy staggers under the weight of 20% unemployment, an all-time high that the government seeks to allay by helping overseas employers recruit and export a million workers per year. Remittances from these workers add $8.5 billion annually to the Philippine economy, a sum that constitutes about a tenth of the nation's GNP — more than the combined value of the nation's top five export industries. This is a nation, I often remind my students, that was owned by the United States when my parents were born. The colonial status the Philippines was rationalized as the proper way to extend democratic institutions, Protestantism, and economic modernization to a benighted people. So much for all that.

Given all this, here's an example of what not to say when encountering your cabin steward in the hallway following an afternoon spent eating corn dogs and drinking vodka by the pool:

WALLAPHA: Hi there, how are you today?
ME: Boy, I'm tired.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"No law at all in Deadwood — is that right?"

alswearengenFrom today's White House press briefing, with the role of Scott McClellan being played by TV's Ian McShane:

Q Last Thursday the White House threatened to veto the defense bill if it includes standards for the humane treatment of prisoners, drafted by Republican Senator John McCain. And also on Thursday the Pentagon refused to comply with a court order to release photos and videos of prisoner abuse in Iraq. Don't these documented cases of abuse suggest that the U.S. military should adopt higher standards for the humane treatment of prisoners?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of fucking things here — and just so you understand that I appreciate the gravity of your fucking question, booze and pussy are free for the next hour. Now, out of a keen sense of courtesy, we did put out a position paper that is available for you cocksuckers to look at, talking about some of our concerns when it comes to the defense authorization bill that the Senate is moving forward on. We certainly would have concerns if there are amendments that would interfere with the President's ability to effectively conduct the global war on these cocksucking terrorists. And some of these fucking hoopleheads have suggested amendments that we believe might be unnecessary or duplicative. We want to make sure that there is nothing that restricts the President's authority to be able to do what he needs to do to protect the American people and prevent attacks from happening in the first place, and bring to justice those cocksuckers who seek to murder these stupid, innocent fucks.

Now, in terms of issues relating to allegations of abuse of these cocksucking detainees, this administration has taken those allegations very seriously. That's why we have moved forward to hold cocksuckers accountable, and we have made sure that justice is served to those who were involved in any wrongdoing. But there are laws and treaty obligations that are in place and that we follow. And the Department of Defense has made it very clear that when it comes to detainees, that they treat them in a humane fashion, by slitting their fucking throats and feeding them to Wu's pigs.

Now get the fuck out of my office.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Delayed Vacation Blogging (Part I):
If Scarborough Doesn't Care, Why Should You?

msnbcAIf you love Joe Scarborough as much as I do, you'll know that he's been almost obsessed with the disappearance of young white men as with the disappearance of young white women. (Why is Scarborough's soul so preoccupied with these sorts of unsolved mysteries? Well, this incredibly strange Wikipedia entry may not settle the hash anytime soon, but it offers something like a hint.)

Regardless, I mention Scarborough only because — unlike the unfortunate liquor store heir George Smith IV — when I went on a Mediterranean cruise last month, I did not mysteriously vanish somewhere between Greece and Turkey after a night of gambling and reckless bacchanalia. Happily, as of this writing my wife is under no suspicion of having caused my blood-speckled disappearance, and Joe Scarborough has wasted exactly zero minutes of valuable cable news time on the vital question of which nation might take time out from waging civil war (Liberia, where the ship was registered) or sucking up to the EU (Turkey, in whose waters the vile crime transpired) to give a toasted shit about the circumstances under which I devolved to fish food.

So I survived my cruise without being murdered.

Believe me — I'm as surprised as the next person, but it's the small victories that make life bearable.

(Tomorrow's Topic: "Cabin stewards of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your congested sleeping quarters, your 11-hour shifts, and your $50 monthly salary!")

Wingnut Hootenannies


Friday, July 22, 2005

Friday Cat/Paul Wolfowitz Blogging


Here's one of the thousands of nameless cats my wife and I encountered last month in Kusadasi, Turkey, halfway through a twelve-day Mediterranean cruise. Feral felines were everywhere to be found in the eastern Mediterranean, as was the pulverizing scent of cat urine, which seemingly coated the bottom two feet of every building and alley wall in the Greek islands and the Turkish mainland. It smelled remarkably like our own living room, where our three cats and two dogs joust for recognition by soiling the floors and bookshelves with pungent regularity.

On the subject of my recent cruise, I have been spurred into action by a gruff e-mail received today from one of my academic mentors — a scholar who has published on Theodor Adorno but whose intellectual life will evidently lack fulfillment until I blog about my vacation. To wit:

[I]'m gettin' profoundly sick of reading all the current shit on your blog . . . [W]hen in hell are you going to do us all a favor and tell us what really happened on The Voyage To Nowhere or whatever that cruise was. We're starving out here; we need the skinny. . . .

The administrative process is pretty murky, but I'm pretty certain this person is in a position to revoke my Ph.D, which I earned mostly by plagiarizing material from the back of cereal boxes and transcribing the assorted ravings of Minneapolis' most articulate street wastrels. With that in mind, I have vowed — by Monday, by Christ — to begin posting a series of short entries about the gluttonous days I spent aboard the Grand Princess.

Until then — and so long as we're thinking about the smell of cat urine — I give you the comic stylings of Paul Wolfowitz:

"Promoting democracy requires attention to specific circumstances and to the limitations of U.S. leverage. Both because of what the United States is, and because of what is possible, we cannot engage either in promoting democracy or in nation-building as an exercise of will. We must proceed by interaction and indirection, not imposition. In this respect, post-World War II experiences with Germany and Japan offer misleading guides to what is possible now, even in a period of American primacy. What was possible following total victory and prolonged occupation—in societies that were economically advanced but, at the same time, had profoundly lost faith in their own institutions—does not offer a model that applies in other circumstances”

— "Statesmanship in the New Century" (2000)

Oh, Paul, you stupid fuck.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

On this Date in 1986 (Part V); Or, If I Could Go Back
in Time and Kick My Own Ass, I Would Do It Today

As always, background info for this series is located here. Previous entries here, here, and here.

On this date in 1986, according to my Roanoke (Va.) Catholic High School Calendar:

July 20: Major hangover. Went to mall. Turned in application at Burger King.

Ladies Love Cool James

10287_500It's peak cruise ship season here in Juneau, and the annual celebrity trophy hunt has produced its first head suitable for mounting, as L.L. Cool J dropped in yesterday for a brief visit on his long, slow journey to obscurity. Obediently, the local newspaper dispached a crack reporter to the scene, where the following significant observations were made:

His stage name is an acronym for "Ladies Love Cool James." Wearing a hat is one of Cool J's trademarks. During his visit to Juneau, he wore a black parka.

Miciana Hutcherson, who has listened to Cool J's music since she was 5, said his music has a catchy beat.

Hutcherson, a theater host for the Mount Roberts Tramway, said many people, mostly tourists, went to the tram to see Cool J. Once residents knew he was in Juneau, they followed him around downtown.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Memento Mori

04 mort
Via Eric Muller, we read of a most excellent obituary.

On June 3, 2005 at 10:45 p.m. in Memphis, Tennessee, Dorothy Gibson Cully, 86, died peacefully, while in the loving care of her two favorite children, Barbara and David. All of her breath leaked out.

The mother of four children, grandmother to 11, great-grandmother to nine, devoted wife for 56 years to the late Ralph Chester Cully and a true friend to many, Dot had been active as a volunteer in the Catholic Church and other community charities for much of the past 25 years.

She was born the second child of six in 1919 as Frances Dorothy Gibson, daughter to Kathleen Heard Gibson and Calvin Hooper Gibson, an inventor best known as the first person since the Middle Ages to calculate the arcane lead-to-gold formula. Unable to actually prove this complex theory scientifically, and frustrated by the cruel conspiracy of the so-called "scientific community" working against his efforts, he ultimately stuck his head in a heated gas oven with a golden delicious apple propped in his mouth. Miraculously, the apple was saved for the evening dessert. Calvin was not.


At the time of her death, Dot was visiting her daughter, Carol in Memphis. Carol and her husband, Ron, away from home attending a "very important conference" at a posh Florida resort, rushed home 10 days later after learning of the death. Dot's other children, dutifully at their mother's side helping with the normal last minute arrangements - hospice notification, funeral parlor notice, revising the last will, etc. - happily picked up the considerable slack of the absent former heiress.

The entire obit is well worth reading.

Mission Accomplished

10603fOne of the great things about my current research project — an ever-lengthening essay about neoconservative foreign policy discourse and cold war historical memory — is that I get to read virtually everything that Richard Perle has ever written for public ingestion. Beginning with An End To Evil, the book he co-authored with the ex-Canadian David Frum, we can twirl a dead cat through the entire corpus of Perle's work without striking more than a handful of credible predictions about the future; even more striking, however, is Perle's consistent inability to judge the consequences of events that have just transpired. Certainly, one could make the same argument about any number of wartime observers, especially those who aim to reach a popular audience (as is the case with Perle, whose well documented enthusiasms for the finer things in life requires him to seek the coin of the realm as vigorously as possible). With Perle, however, we have a case in which the punditry and the policy were institutionally linked, a fact that only partially explains why the rhetorical preferences of the Bush administration are usually indistinguishable from the latest editorial in The Weekly Standard.

Today's sample of ungrounded dullardry comes from the May 2, 2003 issue of USA Today, in which Perle bears witness to the 15-second span of time in which the Iraq war could be described in the past tense:

From start to finish, President Bush has led the United States and its coalition partners to the most important military victory since World War II. And like the allied victory over the axis powers, the liberation of Iraq is more than the end of a brutal dictatorship: It is the foundation for a decent, humane government that will represent all the people of Iraq.

This was a war worth fighting. It ended quickly with few civilian casualties and with little damage to Iraq's cities, towns or infrastructure. It ended without the Arab world rising up against us, as the war's critics feared, without the wuagmire they predicted, and without the heavy losses in house-to-house fighting they warned us to expect. It was conducted with immense skill and selfless courage by men and women who will remain until Iraqis are safe, and who will return home as heroes. . . .

Iraqis are freer today and we are safer. Relax and enjoy it.

One cannot and should not try to refute any of this on its own merits, as the eventual consequence will be the refutation of language itself.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

I love Cheesy Poofs
You love Cheesy Poofs
If we didn't love Cheesy Poofs
We'd be lame!



Friday, July 15, 2005

Vote for Harry Savage; Defeat Terrorists

58Two friends from Minneapolis have insisted that I link to this blog being maintained by one Harry Savage — if that is his real name — to publicize to his quest to represent Ward 10 on the Minneapolis City Council. I'm not certain quite why my friends are so amused by this aspiring public servant, but they allowed the wife and me to crash at their house two weeks ago, and I think it's best to honor such debts quickly and without protest. My friends have, though, asked me to note that one of Harry's blusterous campaign mantras is "No Taxpayer Supported Stadium! Period," a slogan they find puntuationally incomprehensible — something about following up an exclamation point with the word "period." OK, sure, I guess that's a real howler. Things must be a bit slow in South Minneapolis these days.

Personally, I'm more taken in by these bits of campaign dada:

Second, we need a Guiliani-style crack down on minor and major crime. Small crimes create an atmosphere in our community that encourages bigger crimes. We are seeing it all over Minneapolis with increase [sic] homicides and other violent crime. Only in this way will our kids will be safer [sic] and neighborhoods cleaner.


I feel that our campaign is on the road to victory. Our cause is about fighting crime not coddling criminals. With this being said, a hard line approach on crime is what the doctor ordered. This will advance our efforts against hardcore criminals and enable us to bring terrorists to justice. All this being done when we focus on the minor crime, which is first clue [sic] that your city is falling apart.

You Can Have This Bench When You
Pry It From My Cold, Dead Fingers

465px-JusticethumbcWilliam H. Rehnquist, for reasons known only to him and his bitter, vengeful Lord, has evidently decided to be the first Supreme Court Justice to give up the ghost while serving on the bench since Robert Jackson (right) gasped his last breath on 9 October 1954. In a statement released Thursday, Rehnquist announced that "I want to put to rest the speculation and unfounded rumors of my imminent retirement. I am not about to announce my retirement. I will continue to perform my duties as chief justice as long as my health permits. Much to my surprsise, I have discovered that by ingesting the sparkling, virginal blood of our peachy, Caucasian youth, I can enjoy a robust life ad infinitum."

The White House soon disclosed its pleasure at the news. "He is doing an outstanding job, and we are pleased he will continue his great service to the nation," said Scott McClellan, the president's spokesman. "As I indicated yesterday, every person who works here at the White House has the confidence of the President. Oh, wait. Uh, sorry. I thought you asked me about Karl Rove again. You were talking about Rehnquist? My bad. Look -- he's old, he's got cancer, and we've got a whole list of CRAAAAAAAAAAAZY motherfuckers ready to take his place. You do the math."

The 80-year-old chief justice, who learned in October that he had thyroid cancer, had returned hours earlier to his home in suburban Arlington, Va., after spending two nights at the nearby Virginia Hospital Center, where he was treated for a fever.

Photographers were camped out in front of the house as they had been for weeks, recording his daily trip to and from his chambers at the court and awaiting word of a retirement that was expected in many quarters to be imminent.

The prospect that the scene on his lawn, with its overtones of a ghoulish death watch, would continue all summer was evidently what drove the famously tight-lipped chief justice to issue his statement.

Last Friday morning, when a reporter shouted a question about retirement at him as he left for work, he replied: "That's for me to know and you to find out." The rumors that flooded Washington throughout the remainder of the day became almost comical, as when the columnist Robert D. Novak declared on CNN that the chief justice's retirement would be announced at 4:50 that afternoon.

"So what?" Novak shrugged. "I say a lot of shit. Fucking sue me."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

He Gives New Meaning to the Concept of a "Push Poll"

SenatorM9KENICropThanks to Ohio's stratospheric corruption, the near-universally loathed governor of Alaska, Frank Murkowski, is somehow not the least popular chief executive in the nation. (You can find the new state by state poll numbers here.) With a 31% approval rating, Murkowski stands out as one of the worst governors under whose rule I've had the misfortune to live. This includes the years I spent writing my dissertation in Minnesota, greeting each day with a newfound bafflement that Jesse Ventura was in charge. I won't bore you with the details about Murkowski, except to note that the governor's mansion — which sits about a mile from my house — has become a popular destination for local hounds in need of a good morning bowel clearing. Too many times to count, we've driven by the rather modest estate and witnessed a disgruntled canine hunched over in mid-act, legs twitching with sweet anticipation, squintingly depositing on the front lawn a little steaming metaphor for the governor's political future. 9771_500Indeed, our governor has become so closely associated with dog shit in the state's political unconscious that some enterprising local dissenters have taken to planting tiny flags — each bearing a picture of Murkowski's goofy, flabby face — in the little mounds of egesta that adorn our 200 miles of hiking trails. Evidently, the local Fourth of July parade in Juneau even included a giant float resembling one of these organic monuments. (On a not-unrelated note, the parade also featured a "Logging is Good" float that urged people not to buy recycled toilet paper because — and the phrase "No, I'm not fucking with you" comes to mind here — recycled toilet paper has been used before. As the float's creator described it, "We want people to have new stuff. New wood, so new trees are cut.")

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Look, An Albatross!

WF 0092 - Space Shuttle

The launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery was cancelled today when it was decided that no one really knew what the fuck it was supposed to be doing up there in the first place.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


genocide.rwanda11George W. Bush waxes ignorant upon the topic of genocide:
On July 11, we remember the tragic loss of lives in Srebrenica ten years ago. The mass murder of nearly eight thousand men and boys was Europe's worst massacre of civilians since World War II and a grim reminder that there are evil people who will kill the innocent without conscience or mercy. This horrific event remains a source of pain for people in the Balkan region and for all those who believe in freedom and the dignity of human life. I join all Americans in sending our deepest condolences and expressions of sympathy on this solemn occasion.
Evidently, it isn't enough for Bush and friends to seize any opportunity to exploit the memory of the lives extinguished on September 11, 2001; with his commemorative message on the 10-year anniversary of the grotesque massacre in Srebrenica, Our Savior has officially distinguished himself as the chief exploiter of pointless atrocities around the globe. I wonder if the president, as he offered his bewildered assent to these words, recalled his interview with TV's Sam Donaldson during the 2000 campaign, when he announced to the world that "We should not send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide outside our strategic interests" (as quoted on page 68 of my copy of The War Over Iraq, by presidential taint-tasters Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol).

Specifically the governor was referring here to the Rwandan genocide and the million-plus hacked and bloated corpses for whom he continues to care not a gingersnap — unless, that is, he finds room to mention them while scolding the UN Security Council, or while reminding the "international community" of its failures to discern the proper degrees of evil in its midst, or while fluffing himself over the moral necessity of raining cluster bombs down upon Iraq. As for the Muslims evicted from their homes, herded onto buses, scattered into the woods and shot by the truckload, it's worth noting that the word "Srebrenica" has not stumbled past the lips of George W. Bush since August 6, 2001.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Holy Crap — Everything Still Sucks, Doesn't It?

i'm backSo I’ve been back in the US for nearly a week, but until tonight I’ve not felt inspired to rededicate myself to this blog. Part of this, I’m sure, can by explained by the decisive lack of wingnuttery to be endured on a Princess Cruise to the Mediterranean (a vacation about which I shall have more to say shortly). Satellite television on the ship consisted mainly of BBC and EuroNews, which as best I can tell is the European riposte to CNN's Headline News, only with more cricket and Formula One highlights. We received precious little news about the United States, save for the occasional, unfortunate reminder that complete dumbasses were still in charge of it all. Unburdened by disappointments from the Homeland, my news consumption consisted mostly of trying to read headlines from Italian and Greek newspapers written in languages and alphabets, respectively, that I cannot understand or pronounce. Meantime, I regressed into an almost antediluvian state of satisfaction with the world.

So it’s taken me nearly six days to wind myself back into a tense coil of disgust, mostly because I’ve been artifically sustaining my insulation from all my usual media vices — Fox News at the gym, right wing radio as I putter around town, and daily plunges into the primordial yeast of The Weekly Standard , Powerline, and National Review Online. I’ve only barely looked at my favorite blogs, having spent three weeks reminding myself how to read actual books; now, to make matters worse, I find myself overwhelmed by the awesome volume of text the brilliant and clever fuckers on my Blogroll have been churning out since June 13. I'm optimistic that that any lingering feelings of slack-jawed felicity will soon be smothered.

I’m literally pouring myself an ouzo and grinding my teeth with anxiety as I write this.