Hitch on the cowboy cliche

I’m going to avoid commenting on the State of the Union Address, other than to say it could have been worse. I hope it goes without saying that I think it would have been better if Gore or McCain were delivering it.

I do awfully enjoy seeing Christopher Hitchens– British wag, former Marxist, Kissinger-indictment-ringleader– defending Bush against the charge that he is a reckless cowboy in this excellent Slate article. I have to agree with Hitchens that this characterization is fair neither to cowboys nor to Bush. To wit:

To have had three planeloads of kidnapped civilians crashed into urban centers might have brought out a touch of the cowboy even in Adlai Stevenson. But Bush waited almost five weeks before launching any sort of retaliatory strike. And we have impressive agreement among all sources to the effect that he spent much of that time in consultation. A cowboy surely would have wanted to do something dramatic and impulsive (such as to blow up at least an aspirin-factory in Sudan) in order to beat the chest and show he wasn’t to be messed with. But it turns out that refined Parisians are keener on such “unilateral” gestures—putting a bomb onboard the Rainbow Warrior, invading Rwanda on the side of the killers, dispatching French troops to the Ivory Coast without a by-your-leave, building a reactor for Saddam Hussein, and all the rest of it.

While I do think we can afford some more time to carry out inspections and show some evidence to convince our more peaceable (or naive) allies why Saddam is dangerous, I am damn tired of the French riding around on their multilateralism high horse. As Hitchens points out, they are the last to talk.

Oh, wait. Actually, wouldn’t the Germans be the last to talk– or does the Hitler-Mussolini pact count as multilateralism? (Sorry, low blow.) Hitchens’ comments on Schröder are flawless as well:

It’s true that Bush was somewhat brusque with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, but then Schröder is a man so sensitive that he recently sought an injunction against a London newspaper for printing speculation about his hair color and his notoriously volatile domestic life. What we are really seeing, in this and other tantrums, is not a Texan cowboy on the loose but the even less elevating spectacle of European elites having a cow.

You have 1783 unread messages

Despite the fact that my mail boxes are overfull and under-read, despite the fact that fifteen days after my birthday party I still have dishes—and parts of the floor—to wash, despite the fact that my two-plus-year project at work is in its final days, I felt drawn to finally try cultivating a weblog.

This last week I read Sugar Blues. This is a captivating book about the history of sugar. Sugar induced and perpetuated a good deal of slavery, and I’m not talking about the addicts. Much less than harmless "empty" calories, the author lays the blame of many ills onto sugar consumption, and does so plausibly. The book also demonstrates the power of industry to alter government, even when the change is against the best interest of the public.

Having been an avid reader in the last few years of diet and exercise plans, I already knew the message that this twenty-five-year-old book would deliver, but I didn’t expect it to be so captivating. Also read recently: The Warrior Diet—how to eat like a Roman legionnaire. It’s interesting, but not nearly the page turner that is Sugar Blues. War, slavery, plague—and plaque. Sugar Blues has it all.

Shades of Borges’ Map

Am I the only one who has found the ever-present backdrops that Bush administration officials speak in front of a tad Orwellian? With rubrics like “Defending Our Homeland” printed a thousand times, they seem to be designed to ensure that even citizens who watch the evening news with their TVs on mute get the not-so-subtle message that Bush is in charge and on target. But this week the backdrops became both more sinister and more hilarious. It was revealed by numerous outlets including the AP and the Seattle PI (with a much cheekier article) that the “Strengthening America’s Economy” backdrop was a creepily perfect simulacrum of the actual warehouse scene it covered, down to shelves and stacks of boxes in jaunty array. Except, of course, that the backdrop boxes read “Made in America,” while the actual, hidden boxes all read “Made in China.”

Anytime I read about an actual-size replica of a thing covering the thing itself, I can’t escape comparisons to Borges’ Map, “so detailed that it ends up covering exactly covering the territory.” Inevitably, it is the map, and not the true territory, the people come to love and trust– the simulacrum instead of the true thing. When the map decays, they miss it and feel “lost,” even in the presence of the land itself. You can be certain that if the Washington spin machine stopped for even a day creating its confectionary cover of actual events, we would all be alarmed by the strange country lurking underneath.

But my ur-text for political image manipulation has to be the passage from an essay in The White Album where Joan Didion visits Nancy Reagan in the California Governor’s Mansion on a day when she is accompanied through her daily activities by a TV crew. As an eloquent Geocitiesjournaller recounts:

As Didion records it in her essay, the newsmen tell Mrs. Reagan to go about her normal activities. But might not one of these normal activities be picking flowers, one of them suggests? Yes, Mrs. Reagan affirms. Perhaps a rose, another newsman suggests? At this point, Mrs. Reagan seems to be aware that reality (her public persona) is being constructed because she says she could pick the rose, but she would be more likely to use a rhododendron. Just as the reader sighs in relief that at least there are limits to how much historical fiction a person will participate in, the following happens:

‘Fine,’ the newsman said. ‘Just fine. Now I’ll ask a question, and if you could just be nipping a bud as you answer it…’
‘Nipping a bud,’ Nancy Reagan repeated, taking her place in front of the rhododendron bush.
‘Let’s have a dry run,’ the cameraman said.
The newsman looked at him. ‘In other words, by a dry run, you mean you want her to fake nipping the bud.’
‘Fake the nip, yeah,’ the cameraman said. ‘Fake the nip.’ ( White Album 91)

Of course, we now know it is endlessly naive to imagine any limits to how much historical fiction political figures will generate around themselves. If we are good capitalists, we must believe that there must be voracious demand balancing this endless supply of carefully crafted unreality. And that is a depressing thought indeed.

Finances meet fandom

Well, it happens every day– Mammon always trumps the Muse. But as Marvel asks for– and gets– judicial recognition that the X-Men are not human, the fans are in an uproar. This WSJ article has the details. In sum, Marvel asked for the ruling because “non-human figures” have a cheaper duty rate from China than dolls– dolls being, ipso facto, “human figures.” Almost every time some bean-counter pulls a number out of his ass to justify a “cost-saving move,” the cost of pissing off your most loyal fans ends up being much higher.

All that being said, I find it hard to put a price on any action figure styled after Hugh Jackman.

Me and my ACL

Most of you know (some of you in excruciating detail) that I destroyed my left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in a rugby match November 2. After many delays, some interesting physical therapy, and lots of ice and ibuprofen, I will be having ACL reconstruction surgery February 3.

So what does this involve? This site offers a good overview. For the non-squeamish, this site offers even more detail and some lovely photos.

I’m pretty cool with all this, with exception of two words: “bone screws.” Not only does that sound like medieval torture, I’m not looking forward to setting off airport metal detectors for the rest of my life.

My surgery will be a bit less involved than what is described above as I have opted for an allograft vs. an autograft– the replacement ligament will come from a cadaver donor instead of being harvested from my patellar or quads tendon or hamstring. Virtually everyone I have talked to who has had the surgery said they would do this is they had the chance again, as the harvest site was more painful and problematic than the actual reconstruction.

This is not just because I’m a wimp– though I am all for avoiding pain. The allograft should allow me to get back to normal day-to-day activities sooner. And as for my favorite abnormal activity, my surgeon and I wanted to avoid the inevitable weakening that any autograft would have inflicted on the harvest site. Given that I play lock, I need all the explosive strength I can get.

So when will I be on the field with the men of Quake again? I am looking at 8-9 months post-op before I can play, with a return to some aspects of training with my mates within 6 months. So I am holding out hope that I might be on the pitch at least a little in the 2003 Fall friendly season. That’s my goal, damn all the people who think I’m crazy for playing again. Quitting is not an option.

Frozen dessert treats from hell

So a few weeks ago, Jay calls and he’s all, “Hey, why don’t you come over for dinner tonight. David is going to make a shepherd’s pie.” And I’m all over that because I love me a good home cooked meal and especially one filled with things like lamb and mashed potatoes. So Erik and I head over there with a bottle of wine, and it smells great and I’m all looking forward to dinner and a nice conversation and maybe even some good music because they’ve got so damn much of it in that house, but what I’m not realizing is that I’m about to have one of those life-altering moments where you suddenly realize where you developed one of your most deep seeded (or is it deep seated?) issues–in this case, my hatred for ice cream.
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Next it will have to be the Paulette\Paul (Prudhomme) project I suppose

Thanks to my dear friends at Chowhound I’ve recently discovered a new favorite blog (sorry, Jay, but this one is too up my alley). The Julie/Julia Project is the daily adventures of a woman who is trying to work her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cookery and have a life at the same time. I felt a particular kinship with her while reading of her unfortunately textured orange mousse; her liquid mess seemed like the perfect complement to the solid mass of cornmeal and buttermilk that took two extra cooks and all of the remaining milk and eggs in the house to turn into cornbread last Sunday.
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You will be assimilated…or, you know, maybe not

For years my friends have been telling me I’m the perfect person for TiVo. “Join us, join us,” they say in deadened tones, holding out remotes as they walk towards me like extras in Night of the Living Dead. I watch a lot of TV, have shows I like to keep up with regularly, and about a billion actors I keep my eyes open for. Plus I can spend a whole day reminding myself to set the vcrs for something, and then promptly forget when it comes time to set them. But a lot of things made me not want one — high cost, the size of the machines (the previous boxes were big enough to fit a small child into), the fact that it recorded stuff for you without asking, which freaked me out profoundly. But once I started my Buy Electronics Before Being Laid Off program, I figured I might as well break down and get one. The new series 2 versions were considerably smaller, recorded more TV, and seemed, while still high priced, a better value (although I didn’t at the time know about the monthly $13 for service, which kinda changed my perspective to a little more sour).

And last weekend I went shopping with the two best people you could shop for a TiVo with. M has been evangelizing them for what feels like forever, and L had been working there designing the UI until recently. So I got it all figured out, went to purchase one, and they were completely out of stock. They said they’d have a truck in the next day, so I dutifully went back to a store farther away with M, and they only had two left of the more expensive, higher-capacity one, so I bought it. Best Buy could not have made it more difficult. M patted my shoulder and told me we could go have a drink afterwards — by the time they had asked me for the name of my mother’s first boyfriend, I thought my head was going to explode. And now BB has pretty much every piece of information on me that it can have, including my underwear size and bra cup, because apparently they refuse to sell you a “service” without you providing all that and your blood type and then signing in said blood. I’m sure the incompetent woman at the counter went home and complained to her family about the two screaming bitches who came through her line that day, but when it comes to privacy, screaming bitch doesn’t even begin to describe me. Hera on a tear would probably do it.

So I buy the thing and M helps me set it up, probably deciding at that point that she has no respect for me because I can’t figure anything out at all (the technically competent must be so frustrated by people like me, who look at diagrams and go “duh?”), and then we go off and have dinner and take her electronic toys to her place, and I come back and it says it’s processing and whatnot, but that I can watch live TV. So I play around, start reading my manual, and suddenly during Alias I realize that even though I have to pee really bad, I don’t have to wait for the commercial because — voila! I can pause it or rewind it! Terribly exciting. I come back and watch Marshall giving Syd flowers and think, well, maybe it’s not so bad. I watch Boomtown and go to bed and it’s still processing.

Then I come home on Monday and turn it on to see what I can do with it. With the manual and a plate of Mongolian tofu in front of me, I start doing the guided tours. Fun stuff. I don’t like the fact that it’s taken over my system completely, and now I can’t do anything except watch live TV without at least two, usually three remotes in my hand, which I hate, but I’ve moved past anger and denial into acceptance. And I find it’s recorded things for me that I didn’t ask it to.
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Cell phone + camera + locker room = trouble

Given their early adoption of anything electronic, it’s not too surprising that Hong Kong is the canary in the mineshaft (so to speak) on this issue. It’s unclear from this CNET.com article whether unsuspecting gym-goers have been phonecammed, or whether people are just expecting trouble.

I must say that cameras posing as phones do raise some privacy issues– and not just when you’re naked. You know, that scary stalker-looking guy you always see at the bus stop… is he taking on the phone, or making a deposit in the electronic “spank-bank”?

Free money from the big labels

The record labels screwed pretty much everybody, and they have to pay for it. So says the judge in a recent lawsuit filed by 41 attorneys general (including Washington’s own Christine Gregoire)… but almost nobody has claimed their share– up to $20 for everyone who has bought a CD (or LP or casette!) between 1995 and 2000. I filed my claim under the class action lawsuit on this handy site. It took all of 3 minutes.

Wired News has this article
on the whole deal. The sort of bad news is that if more than 8.8 million people sign up (which would seem likely if the results so far weren’t so lame) the consumer remedy will be voided and the damages will go to groups promoting music across the states involved in the suit. (Would that include KEXP???)