Did you know that Goofy has a last name? True. I’ve been watching Goofy cartoons with Gnat - I got the Disney Treasures collection, sent in a metal box that presumably shields the precious discs from shrapnel. (As with all of the Treasures series, the discs contain large portions of Leonard Maltin, who has been granted some sort of cinephile authority for reasons I’ve never understood.) We used to watch the Silly Symphonies, but some are too scary. None of the Goofys are scary, and a few of them aren’t bad. But they raise more questions than they answer. No, I’m not talking about the tired old stoner dilemma (if Pluto is a dog, what’s Goofy, etc.). In the fifties, Disney decided to give Goofy a family. He has an irritating red-haired son, and a human wife. It’s unnerving, really - here’s this dog-thing with long dog ears, a dog-snout with a round black nose, but he has human hands and big stupid human feet. And a human wife. In one cartoon, Goofy stays home with the kid and tries to run the household - with hilarious results!, as they’d say. It’s standard stuff, but notable for one curious running gag that seems very unDisney: whenever a deliveryman appears, Goofy opens the door - and is stunned to get a big kiss on the lips from the milkman, mailman, meatman, etc. Garwsh! Friendly sort. But you can’t help but realize that all the deliverymen are used to getting something from the woman who usually opens the door. And why shouldn’t she throw themselves in their roguish arms? She’s married to a monster!

His last name is “Geef.” Goofy Geef. If it ever comes up in a trivia contest, thank me.

Fine weekend. Bone-cracking cold, though; down in the lonely teens with a miserable wind. Did nothing of note, just the usual house-and-tot duties. Watched Men in Black II: eh. Today I was out on errands with the Giant Swede, and I remarked that I’d seen MIBII. “Eh,” he said. A shrug. A shrug that said “not a useless 90 minutes, but underwhelming and somewhat lazy; it coasted on the goodwill the audience brought, fulfilled your barest expectations and did nothing to make you wish for a third, nor resent an additional sequel. It merely was.” Really, that’s what the shrug said. The movie pissed me off from the start, when Will Smith rides a giant worm through the New York subway, attempting to jam a hypo full of Giant Worm Trank into the beast’s skin. I’ll buy that. For the sake of enjoying what’s to come, sure. I’ll buy that. But he forgets to duck as they’re speeding along, and gets beaned in the head by a steel beam. They’re moving about 50 MPH. The top of his head should have come off, and his brains should have unspooled. He doesn’t even sustain a bruise.

I will accept talking dogs, tiny spaceships, randy worms, secret agents, big silver guns, Biz Markie as a Post Office alien, and Lara Flynn Boyle with cleavage, but don’t ask me to believe that a human being’s skull can strike a metal support beam in the subway at top speed, and it won’t even break the skin.

I’m serious: stuff like that just makes you think, oh, right, loud noisy stupid movie content to be loud noisy and stupid because it thinks I came for another heapin’ helpin’ of loud, noisy and stupid.

“Geef” is probably an industry term for “average moviegoer.”

Jean-Charles, my French brother-in-law, asked me for some PC help - he wanted to make a home movie of his daughter’s birth, and just couldn’t seem to get anything to work. So I went over to his house to take a look. If I knew then what I knew now, I’d have brought a pistol and put a bullet through his PC. The movie-editing software was aimed at the consumer, much in the same way that North Korean artillery is aimed at Seoul, and it’s fairly recent. Apple’s iMovie has been out for a couple of years, so the PC boys have had ample time to study it, see what makes it work. And did they learn? No. There’s no incentive to learn. They developed an interface based on iMovie - clips on the right, editing line on the bottom, viewscreen in the middle. And then they PCified by adding seventeen icons and check-box options that had nothing to do with anything you wanted to do. Still, I figured I could help.

He’d plugged in his camcorder, let it roll, and downloaded 25 minutes of video. As with iMovie, the program cut the video into separate clips, depending on when he paused the camera. But whenever you clicked on an individual clip to edit it, the clip went back to the beginning of the movie. Each clip had an icon that showed how the scene began, but each clip started at 00:00:01. Huh? I hunted around for the location of the clips, and found the right folder. There were no individual clips. The program recorded the video as one gigantic bolus, and pretended that the clips were discrete files, which they weren’t. So when you edited any portion, you were working with the entire 3.3 gigabyte file. I cannot begin to describe how farked this is. Trust me.

Nevertheless, I tried to edit a clip, moving the sliders around. In iMovie, when you snip footage from the start or end of the clip, it disappears; in this program, it’s still there. The only way you can save your changes, it seemed, was to work on another clip, whereupon the program asked if “you want to save the changes you made in the options menu.” It goes without saying that I had not done anything in any options menu.

We trashed everything he’d done and started again. Started the program. Let’s make a new movie. How do we do that? Ah - here’s the Wizard. It says “choose NEW PROJECT from the menu.” As God is my witness: there was no menu that said NEW PROJECT. “Click on that” said Jean-Charles, pointing to a small icon of a movie camera. “That makes a new file.” And so it did. Very intuitive. Next step: I was presented with an interminable menu of “templates.” What these templates meant, or looked like, was not explained, and some of them were file formats. If you’re going to make a movie at a certain dimension with a certain codec, you’d better decide ahead of time. I chose no template. Now, let’s get the video, which we do . . . how? “There,” Jean-Charles said, pointing to a button that said CAPTURE PICTURE.” Of course, pictures are still images to most people, but never mind. I pushed the button. Nope: got a box that said the camera was not running. In iMovie, you can hit the import button without the camera running; this program required you to run the video before you started capturing, thereby assuring you lost the first few seconds of the scene. To top it off, the dialogue box had this merry statement:


Excuse me? If the camera explodes and destroys your footage, that's a catastrophic failure. It the subsequent fire burns down your house and the surrounding blocks, leaving you homeless in the merciless void of a Minnesota winter midnight, that's a catastrophic failure. While I'm happy to live in a culture where the inability to import digital imagery is a CATASTROPHE, language that didn't invoke mass destruction to describe the program's inability to communicate with a peripheral might have worked as well. Even better, if I dare say.

Who writes this crap? Who? How do people who have no idea how to create a video-editing program for consumers end up writing video-editing programs for consumers? It’s like getting into a car that won’t let you cinch your seatbelt until you’ve entered a Driving Template (Highway? City? Mixture of the two? Rush hour? Rural two-lane blacktop?)

It’s possible that there were solutions buried deep in the help menus, but Jean-Charles had spent an hour reading them, and learned nothing.

Oh, and as for importing music: iMovie lets you browse your iTunes library and select what you want. This program required you to select the tune ahead of time, and move it to a special audio resources folder. Then you can import it.

I should note that this was a 2001 era PC, and did not have a Firewire port. He had to buy one, install it, find the drivers for his camcorder (a c. 2001 model that worked the first time when I plugged it into my laptop) and slaughter some doves while chanting LLIB SETAG SI DOG with a Phrygian accent. My Mac came with Firewire standard in 2001. Yes, yes, yes I know, you could get a PC with Firewire in 2001; duh. But I think in 2001 it was hard to get a Mac that didn’t have it. And when he wants to burn his movie, he’ll have to get a DVD burner, which I had in 2000. And yes, yes, you could, etc. Point is, I’ve found that with Apple, the future is already installed.

Was his machine cheaper? Yes. But time is money; I’ve never had to claw my way through the sodden mess of a corporate website looking for the one driver that will let me do what I want to do. (The last peripheral driver I needed was incorporated into a system update.) I’ve never had to spend a Sunday afternoon trying to understand what iMovie wants me to do, because it does what I want it to do. Jean-Charles said that the program made him feel stupid, because he couldn’t figure out the simplest tasks, and I reassured him that this was hardly the case. If the software makes you feel Geefish, it’s the software’s fault. Video-editing on this level shouldn’t be hard. It’s checkers. If the program makes you feel as though you’re playing chess in the dark with oven mitts, blame the idiots who wrote the program.

I’ll say this for his machine, though: if he ever wants to back up that 3.3 GB movie file on floppy disks, he’s all set.

Matchbooks return this week, with a multipart additions. Enjoy.
Resolved: whenever I see someone in the grocery store pick up an Old El Paso Taco Pizza kit, and they seem to be debating the purchase, I will spring forward, knock the box from their hand and shout RUN! POISON GAS STREAMING IN FROM THE JERSEY MARSHES! They will leave the store, and forget all about the Taco Pizza kit. will have done my part.

I don’t know what I was thinking. Well, yes, I do; I was thinking that I was tired of tacos, and tired of burritos, and tired of fajitas, and tired of enchiritos, and tired of Southwestern Ranch Style Gorditas, and all the other indistinguishable arrangements of salt, pepper, ground cow and tepid cheddar. I could have, and should have, bought the punishingly expensive Frontera salsa imbued with special chilies revered by the Aztecs for their delicate flavor, mystical aroma and plumber-in-a-jar qualities, but the last time I fed Gnat that stuff she made a face that resembled Winston Churchill attempting to pass a cricket bat sideways through his urethra. As it happened she would have nothing to do with the Taco Pizza - the very name struck her as absurd. Mac and cheese she wanted. Who’d have guessed it.

Snow today, soft and constant. It’s that light fluffy variety you can’t really shovel, because the act of shoveling makes the snow blow from your shovel blade and curl back onto the sidewalk. It looks like winter again, which is fine. But it’s confusing. “It’s Christmas!” Gnat declared today. I said that Christmas was over. Pause; frown. "Habby New Year?" Yes, dear. Happy New Year. And so she wished everyone we met today a Habby New Year!, and why not? That ought to be our sentiment for the entire month of January. To our jaded adult ears, however, the phrase sounds out of place on January 2nd, when 363 days of the year are yet to come. I think we need to hear that every day in January, frankly.

And because I live with a 2-year old, I will. Lucky me.

Yesterday’s Goofy remarks left out the new & crucial role Goofy has in our house. My wife bought four Disney hand puppets - the aforementioned Mr. Geef, Pluto, banal Mickey and gigglly Minnie. Gnat now requires that we do certain things as these characters. “You be Goofy,” she says to me, and I am required to adopt a hyuk-hyuk-gawrsh voice for whatever we happen to be doing. I have to read books in the Goofy voice while she wears the Pluto puppet. My wife is required to be Minnie. Gnat chooses to be Pluto, who has no speaking voice. This was fun the first time, but it wears on you. When my wife came home tonight I tossed her a puppet and said “now you be Goofy.” She knew just what I meant.

Much more to say, but it’s a column night, and I’m wrestling with the death penalty. I like it in the specific examples - traitors and child-killers - but not in general, and hence I have no consistent view on the matter. I’m being subjective, which is one of the things that ought not come into play when you’re talking about using the power of the state to kill. It’s one of those complex shades-o-gray issues that eventually comes down to yes and no.

As most of them do. I’ve changed on this topic over the years; I used to support the death penalty, but I’m less and less certain as the years go on. When it comes to horrible crimes and ironclad proof of guilt, I’m not troubled by it - but it’s not always that easy. Anyone who thinks the system works owes it to themselves to read the recent New Yorker piece by Scott Turow, who served on a panel that advised Gov. Ryan about the death penalty. Turow was on the fence before he joined the panel, but decided against capital punishment in the end. I read the article, and thought, with regrets: yep. Can't do it anymore. Can't say yes. It’s not that I oppose it completely, but I feel less uncomfortable saying No than I feel saying Yes, and this is one of those things you'd best be certain about.

But I’m babbling. I meant to steer you all to the Institute, which is now revived and revitalized, and will feature boocoo updates in 03. Scroll down to the Ozark Vacation Wonderland, and enjoy a blast from 1972. Warning: no actual enjoyment will be had.
So now I have to remove Sheryl Crow AND Pete Townsend from my iTunes playlist. Ms. Crow has informed us that war is bad for our karma, and that it can be avoided by “not having enemies.” She has a point. Cancer can be avoided by not having any flesh, but given the alternative, I’ll opt every time for a world stuffed with bright meat. I try not to make enemies, but damn if they don't keep volunteering for the job.

I almost made an enemy today in the parking lot at the grocery store. I was waiting for someone to pull out of a parking spot. It was a choice slot, right by the door; when you’re carrying 40 pounds of Gnat, and you know you’ll be carrying the same plus 10 pounds of groceries on the return trip, you value those spots right next to the handicapped slots. When the car pulled out another vehicle zoomed up the road from the other direction, and made for MY SPOT. I honked and flashed the lights. No good. In he went. He’d seen me, but he’d decided that an idling vehicle with its blinker on could have meant ANYTHING. I pulled up behind him, rolled down the window. He got out.

“You know,” I said, “ you - ahhhhh, what’s the point.” And I drove away.

“Whasa madder?” Gnat asked.

“Daddy is dealing with a MORON,” I said.

“A mowon,” she said. “Whas dat.”

“You’ll find out,” I said.


As for Townsend: yikes. Eek. Eww. Whenever I hear the phrase “Child PR0n” I get a strange brainfreeze: the words do not compute. On my list of things that threaten civilization, pr0n is a distant 93rd to the possibility of a Carrot Top movie. When I visit fark.com and my cursor strays over a BOOBIES link, I do not run to the shower for a full-body exfoliation. But you have the word “child” and you have the word “porn” and in between the two are every other word in the English language; I cannot imagine how the two could be connected. It’s like “leather supper” or “icestorm inferno” or “rainbow darkness.”

People who use children for their sexual gratification should be walled up and left for dead. I guess that makes them my enemy. And in Ms. Crow’s world, that’s my problem.

Imagine you’re living in WW2, and you learn that Glenn Miller had kiddie-diddler urges, Dick Powell is in Berlin on a fact-finding mission, Hitchcock is insisting that the Blitz could be solved with diplomacy and understanding, and the Andrews Sisters showed up for an awards banquet wearing T-shirts that criticized Lend-Lease. Hitler the Second would be running Germany today, because the beautiful people would have convinced America that scrap drives were a plot by the rubber-industrial complex.

Yes, I’m exaggerating. It’s late. I’m tired. Loooooong day:

The kid threw a minor fit in the toy aisle at Target. Daddy said one thing and she said another. A classic story, a timeless tale, with one difference.

Daddy wanted the toy.

Put it BACK, Gnat said, waving her hands at the blister pack containing a Simpsons figurine. PUT IT BACK.

No, I said firmly, Daddy is buying that.


This called for a generous application of the Balm of Choice, whereby she gets the illusion that she has some control over our purchasing decisions. She got to choose which pattern of napkins we bought, which container of rawhide sticks we got for Jabber, etc. I let her choose the dishwashing soap, and that meant we had to sample the aromas of all 48 varieties. We do this every trip. Standing in the aisle of Target, judging the scents of soaps as if they were the bouquets of fine wines: one of those moments when life just seems perfect, and you’d be content to do this forever. But today she insisted on holding the bottles. It takes a gentle hand to make the spout issue a faint puff of soap-scent. Toddlers’s grips are not so finely calibrated. Hence: blurt. Soap, everywhere. And the thing about soap is this: you can’t wash it off. It just gets worse. I hadn’t intended to buy soap at all, but the idea of putting the gooey bottle back on the shelf seemed wrong. Someone would grab it, get soap on their hands. Someone would have to clean it up. So into the cart it went, bleeding blue goo on Kirk Van Houten.

My wife went down to Rochester today for a court hearing; she wouldn’t be back until nine, so: I could experiment with dinner. I had a brilliant idea: why suffer the vagaries of pizza deliverymen? Why not make my own, and apply the sauce in quantities I prefer? We went to the grocery store, and I bought all the necessary provisions. At one point we passed a display of popcorn implements, and Gnat said:

“Popcorn. I had at big movie.”

Processing . . . processing . . . right. She’d gone to see the Veggie Tales movie with my wife, had popcorn, and lemonade, and thrown a small sleep-deprived overstimulated toddler-fit when she ran out of lemonade.

“What movie was it?” I asked.

“Veggie tales.” She paused. “I have lemanade. Boo hoo hoo hoo.” And she did a mocking imitation of herself throwing a fit.

At two and a half, she can fake emotion and use the skill to mock herself. This is heartening and alarming, but mostly hilarious.

My wife came home early while I was choking down my wretched homemade pizza.

“I go Target,” Gnat said. “I pitch fit. Put it back! Put Sissons back! Boo hoo.” And she laughed.

" I pitch fit." That’s my girl. This morning I overheard her reading to a stuffed animal, and she said what the heck? That’s my girl! Tonight when I sat down to read a book she said “No, Daddee, Mommy read. You go work on your puter.”

That’s! My! Girl!

Before I go to bed
I check the TiVo listings to see what’s playing at 3 AM - that’s where TCM et al dump the interesting films they run once or twice a year. I found “Happy Land,” a WW2-era film about a dead soldier who returns to cheer up his grieving father (Don Ameche). It begins with bustle and cheer and pluck and Good Ol’ American gumption, all of which stop and collapse when the protagonist opens the door and finds a telegram deliveryman.

Everybody who watched the movie in 1944 knew exactly what that meant.

It makes you wonder how people kept from going mad with dread and grief. If the bad news came via the mail, you could steel yourself for the daily delivery; you could shuffle quickly through the letters and circulars looking for the one with the seal - then you could relax. But the idea that the Western Union man could show up any time and hand you the news - you’d get that cold pang in the gut every time you heard the doorbell.

I also TiVo’d a 1960s WW2 movie, “Is Paris Burning?” I remember seeing that ad in the papers when I was doing some research, and the title always stuck in my head. Because the answer, obviously, was “no.” Paris did not burn. The movie had an All-Star Cast, and promised Great Sweeping Drama, but I imagine America audiences walking out with curdled expressions. It’s essentially a French movie about the liberation of Paris, which was performed by 65 brave partisans and a handful of useful Americans. Yes, it stars Kirk Douglas, Glenn Ford, and Anthony Perkins, but their scenes were short, and they don’t look like the rest of the film. Why did I bother? Because it had Orson Welles as the Norwegian ambassador, and I never miss a chance to watch Orson sleepwalk through a pay-period. And it had Gert Frobe! This doubled the number of Gert Frobe movies I’ve seen, right here. In “Goldfinger” his voice was dubbed (by Marni Nixon, actually) and in “Burning” his voice is dubbed again. For all I know he actually sounds like Graham Norton or Wally Cox.

He plays the Good Nazi, the military man who owes his culture to Prussian traditions, not paperhanger upstart fanaticism, and hence he does not destroy Paris as Hitler demands. When he surrenders to the French - and you don’t get to use that phrase too often - he does so according to his traditions. It’s actually a civilized transfer of power. Very Old World, but that’s the Old World for you.

Okay, that’s it - I’m cross-eyed with exhaustion. See you tomorrow.

Called up “Gawker,” my lifeline to true NYC culture, got a page from Jan. 10. Hmm. Hit reload, and got a page that said “Under Construction.” It’s as if I’d watched the site blow up right as I watched. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe that’s the new bug in the Safari browser: eliminates other websites just by looking at them. Note to Apple: fine-tune the Heisenberg compensaters.

On my nightly wander through the alleys of Blogtown I found many sites infuriated by this
Le Carre drivel in the Times. If you haven’t read it, trust me: you have. It’s another dispatch from the alternate universe where the FBI puts the screws to newspapers that run too many anti-war letters, where Bush appears on TV to lead us all in Communion, and a stunned and cowed population shuffles off to the Gruel Factories while top-hatted plutocrats lean from their SUVs and spit thick brown wads of sputum at the losers of life’s lottery. Look: reasoned, principled objections to the war are necessary; we need good debate. But it’s time that the newspapers of the world just say no to the latest chunk of recycled fatuity just because it’s penned by a recognizable name. Better a thoughtful disemboweling of the post-Saddam strategy or lack thereof by Herbert Z. Nobody than another bloody gout of half-digested Quiche Cliché by someone whose name we remember from a tired trawl through an airport bookstore.

I’m pretty sure Stephen King is skeptical about the war, for example. I know his politics. But he hasn’t made the leap so common to others in the scribbling, warbling and gesturing arts - he doesn’t think we’re all dying to hear his prescriptions for Middle East foreign policy. Oh, interview him on the matter and he might pop off, but I can’t imagine him sitting down, firing up a Winston Light, and telling himself that this 1200 word essay will change the world, because people will think: hey, it’s Stephen KING talking! He wrote “The Stand,” and his fictional account of the repercussions of biological weapons programs gives him a unique perspective. Let’s lend an ear!

I wouldn’t have brought this up at all, except for one word bobbing in the torrent of LeCarre’s invective. See if you can spot it. The paragraph is typical for the genre, as it gives the impression of someone in the grip of a hysterical delusion, attempting to shove handfuls of imaginary rats down the sink drain:

The imminent war was planned years before bin Laden struck, but it was he who made it possible. Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as how it came to be elected in the first place; Enron; its shameless favouring of the already-too-rich; its reckless disregard for the world's poor, the ecology and a raft of unilaterally abrogated international treaties. They might also have to be telling us why they support Israel in its continuing disregard for UN resolutions.

The word isn’t “Enron.” (Yes, without the Iraq situation, we’d all be transfixed by the endless Enron story.) It’s “ecology.” Let’s strip away the intervening words and boil it down:
“Without bin Laden, the Bush junta would still be trying to explain such tricky matters as its reckless disregard for the ecology.”

This word stuck out for me because of a piece I read over supper. A little profile in the WSJ about the euphoniously named Azzam Alwash, an Iraqi immigrant to the United States who wants to restore the great marsh that once stretched between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It was an ancient swamp dotted with communities that lived in the sort of peaceable, sustainable style so beloved by the anti-Globos: people made their houses from reeds, for example. Unfortunately for the residents, and for the millions of birds that stopped off at the marsh on their migrations, and for all the other countless details of this ecosystem, the rebel Shiites used the swamp as a hideout.

So Saddam had it drained.

How? Why, he commanded the construction of a 350-mile long diversion called “The Saddam River.” The WSJ article goes on: “This project was followed by even larger hydroengineering schemes: the Mother of all Battles River in 1994, and the Fidelity to the Leader Canal in 1997.”

I googled until I could google no more. I found no pieces by John LeCarre denouncing Saddam’s destruction of a gigantic ancient ecosystem. I found a few LeCarre references to Kyoto, where he worries that criticism of the American viewpoint is being oppressed. And that is utterly typical: specific, large-scale environmental atrocities are less important than the theoretical consequences of American refusal to adopt the Kyoto protocols. Saddam is a local evil, and the world is full of those; such is life. But America is a global evil - and hence it cannot be allowed to remove a local evil, because that would legitimize the existence of something far more pernicious, i.e., us. Le Carre says as much:

I’m dead against Bush, but I would love to see Saddam’s downfall — just not on Bush’s terms and not by his methods.

In other words: when the people of Iraq are liberated, Le Carre will be horribly conflicted. He would have sat in a French cafe in WW2 and spit at the partisans who worked with the Allies, because their armies practiced segregation. Better to be slaves under pure simple evil than free men liberated by hypocrites.

Back to the swamps.
There’s a website devoted to the cause of helping the Marsh Arabs, as they’re known. Be warned, it’s run by absolutely crazy people who think that nothing will change unless Saddam is removed from power. Personally, I think it’s a plot by US heavy construction equipment companies, who will get lots of money when the international community starts work on reclaiming the marshes. And need I mention what those Caterpillar trucks will run on? OIL!

Curious whether Le Carre had exploded in a similar spasm of righteousness during the 1998 escalation, I googled Le Carre Iraq 1998. Interesting stuff.
From an Australian journal, a long piece on why inspections wouldn’t work. Check out this section on the efficacy of the inspection process. I’ve boldfaced the interesting words.

Traditionally, the ubiquitous minders would discover where the UN inspectors were heading and ample warning was given. This time the inspectors were prepared. "I forbade all operational discussions on internal phones in the hotel or even in public places or rooms," says Taylor. "Important conversations were scribbled on scraps of paper and shown to the person concerned. All very Le Carre , and all very necessary, believe me."

Taylor eventually got to his man, a university professor and expert on ricin, a favoured toxin for individual assassination. He also eventually uncovered the professor's hidden papers (some tucked inside old magazines in an outer office), which included documents showing ricin research results on animals, its efficacy as a weapons agent and details of the production process. The papers also revealed that the biological section of the Iraqi Scientific Research Centre, a civilian program, was involved in support of the military's biological weapons program. Nothing better reveals the extent of Iraqi deceit than the saga of the missing growth medium. Growth medium is the dry nourishment required to feed deadly bacteria to reproduce them. In 1995, David Kelly, then the senior British UNSCOM inspector, met an Israeli intelligence officer in a safe apartment on First Avenue and 38th Street in New York. The Israeli handed over documents proving that British and German companies had exported 32 tonnes of growth medium for bacteria to the Iraqis - substantially more than could ever have been required for normal civilian use. Only one conclusion could be drawn.

(Inspectors) established that the Iraqis had used 18 tonnes of the medium for growing substantial amounts of anthrax and botulinum toxin. When the final count was done, the inspectors found seven tonnes unaccounted for. It is still missing.

"They say it's been stolen but we know for sure that's just another lie," says Barton. "It's good for growing bacteria for years to come. My guess? They'll use it for anthrax."

Then I found this, which proves Le Carre been daft for some time now. It’s on a website that comes up as “Ocean Press Publishers of books on Cuba, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Latin America, Social Change and the CIA.” The article is dated Oct 13, 2001, and honest to God, it’s called “We Have Already Lost.”

“Mr. bin Laden in his cave must be rubbing their hands in glee as we embark on the very process that terrorists of their stamp so relish: as we hastily double up our police and intelligence forces and award them greater powers, as we put basic civil liberties on hold and curtail press freedom, impose news blackouts and secret censorship, spy on ourselves and, at our worst, violate mosques and hound luck–less citizens in our streets because we are afraid of the colour of their skin.”

The worst thing we can do is violate mosques. Which, of course, we’ll start to do any day now. (
The French are already on the job, but Le Carre - as befits an Englishman who trades his name for the gritty snail-shell of a Gallic nom de plume - doesn’t seem to notice.) (Hat tip: LFG) In any case, I don’t think there was a good deal of gleeful hand-rubbing in Osama’s bolthole towards the end. At the end of the piece, Le Carre faults Bush for his constant God-bothering, and huffs:

Mr. Bush, keep God out of this. To imagine God fights wars is to credit Him with he worst follies of mankind. God, if we know anything about Him, which I don't profess to, prefers effective food drops, dedicated medical teams, comfort and good tents for the homeless and bereaved, and without strings, a decent acceptance of our past sins and a readiness to put hem right. He prefers us less greedy, less arrogant, less evangelical, and less dismissive of life's losers.

Odd how someone who doesn’t profess to know anything about God ends the paragraph speaking on His behalf. In any case, here’s what the other side has to say. Some boring stats on US assistance to Afghanistan:

TOTAL U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance for 2002 - $186,545,775

TOTAL U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance for 2001 - $183,107,625

TOTAL U.S. Government Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan for 2001/2002 - $369,653,400

This is about three times the amount of money the Federal Government spends on the National Endowment for the Arts. Now comes a big cut & paste job from a government site; believe or don’t believe. I know enough people working for agencies of this nature, so I believe. Anyway, here’s the US-government supplied data. If you want some visual info:


What the site says

Fact Sheet
U.S. Agency for International Development
Washington, DC
September 6, 2002

Afghan Humanitarian Relief and Reconstruction

Afghanistan was the number one recipient of U.S. humanitarian assistance before September 11, and America continues to lead the international community today. Poverty, famine, a devastating drought, and years of war and civil strife have created a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan , which has been aggravated by years of Taliban misrule. The people of the United States, through USAID, have responded.

Humanitarian Aid

-- Funds. The President pledged $360 million to help the people of Afghanistan . Since October 1, 2001 the U.S. Government has already provided more than $420 million in assistance, more than $220 million is through USAID.
-- Food . The United States provided 80 percent of all food aid to U.N. World Food Program (WFP) for Afghanistan last fiscal year, and already more than 50 percent this year. Our goal is to deliver 300,000 metric tons (MT) of food aid to the people of Afghanistan through the spring. (52,000 MT of food a month will feed approximately six million people.)
-- Supplies. To protect people from the weather, USAID is providing wool blankets and quilts; shelter kits, plastic sheeting and winterized tents. We're also distributing mattresses, clothes, stoves, cooking sets, firewood, coal, lanterns and water containers.
-- Medicine and healthcare. We've provided medical kits and funds for health centers and mobile clinics. We're sponsoring public heath education and programs on hygiene, obstetrics, maternal and childcare, and malnutrition. We're employing trained personnel to conduct educational outreach on basic health and nutrition, especially to women. We're helping expectant mothers, training local birth attendants and funding the distribution of vitamins and the immunization of young children.
-- Communications. Through the International Organization for Migration, we're distributing over 30,000 radios that allow Afghans to hear special broadcast bulletins concerning food distribution, security, health care and other information relevant to displaced people.
-- Transport. We've airlifted commodities from Pakistan and Italy to ensure there was no break in the Central Asian pipelines into Afghanistan , and funded the purchase of vehicles -- some equipped with snow plows -- to speed the delivery of supplies into villages.

Finally, this little quote from a piece Le Carre wrote for the Nation:

Do governments run countries anymore? Do presidents run governments? In the cold war, the right side lost but the wrong side won, said a Berlin wit.

Perhaps it's amusing in the original German.

But. I remember the Soviet dissident we put up in our house in '83; he'd been imprisoned for ungood wrongthink, and injected with a wide variety of chemicals to pacify his anti-Soviet tendancies. Contrast: I have a newspaper column in a quasi-major metropolitan daily. I could, if I wished, spend the next year railing against the Bush administration, three times a week. Nothing would happen to me. Nothing. My editors would not complain.The publisher wouldn't take me aside. The guvmint would not come calling. It would never occur to me that I'd suffer any professional repercussions from changing my happy-fun column into a 24-7-365 anti-war diatribe - and if you think I'm mistaken, trust me on this: you have no idea what you're talking about.

That's life in the "side that won." The wrong side, as a "wit" had it.

I'd mail LeCarre all the copies of his books I owned, postage due - if I hadn't dropped them off at the Salvation Army the last time we moved.

And that’s the end of that chapter. Day one of blogging is over; I’m done; good night.
Not posted 11:35 PM

Just returned from the evening dog-walk; Jasper did not excrete. That new diet is working! Yes, just one pill once a week, for all his nutrients.

Actually, no. He probably did his sinful business earlier when I let him out. But it means I have two more plastic bags in my coat pocket. I always take two. Never use two. Since the lining to both pockets is shot, this means that every day a more bags go into the mysterious reaches of my coat. Tonight when we returned I removed 10 plastic bags. Some day I’ll get hit by a car, and they’ll go through my pockets, discover 29 plastic newspaper bags, and think: nutcase.

Oh, right, I'm blogging today. A link . . . um. There are no good links for “man with many plastic bags,” although this is one of the more unusual names I’ve seen. Maybe because when I was growing up, an unattractive, grouchy old woman was called a “bag.” So “Bagsonthenet” sounds like some sort of pervy site catering to men who like mean, haggard, bleary-eyed women with cheap dye jobs who smell like cigarettes and cats. I should check my mail; the filters have probably deposited a dozen come-ons promising HOT BAGS WAITING FOR U in the spam folder.

Not posted 7:37 PM

Just finished the gruesome Thursday Fish Feast, where I attempt each week to find a new & unsatisfying way to get something vaguely piscine down everyone’s gullets. Gnat happily consumes her fishsticks, aka a heap o’ greasy breading wrapped around a three-micron-thick wafer of minced scrod. I try to prepare an adult version, and each week I try something new hauled from the briny deep. Today it was calamari - more like Breaded O-Rings, or Breaded Washers. You ate one, and you realized: well, this must be what it’s like to bite into a rolled condom. I also had two Italian Breaded Cod Fillets which required six tablespoons of Heinz Zesty Cocktail Sauce to drown out the brackish parsley.

I had calamari in Italy once, during a trip to Herculaneum. It had been caught that very day. They didn’t chop it or de-tentacle it; they just rolled it in crumbs and tossed it in the oil. You could still see the black eyeballs, and you couldn’t help but realize you were eating BRAINS. Yes, brains. Sweeet, delicious BRAINS.

Anything’s good when it’s deep-fried, even brains. Maybe especially brains.

You know, poking around the web looking for a website for Mrs. Gordon fishsticks, it’s amazing what you find. (Warning: long load, and I have no idea what it really is; as described, it's not exactly an enticement.)

Not posted 6:11

Just got back from our afternoon errands. Quite the time. I promised Gnat I’d take her to the toy store today, so off we went to the small hoity / toity mall in Edina. Every time we go there, she fills her pampers. The sight of all those toys has the same effect on her bowels that the sight of massed troops had on Harry Flashman. Since we’d not yet deposited anything in the account, I gathered the requisite materials from the car - but I was instantly reminded that this is winter, and the garage isn’t heated, and hence the package of wipes was frozen solid. I think using something this cold to clean someone’s fundament violates the Geneva Convention. No child wants to feel the cold blade of Mr. Plow as they're being swabbed. I asked her if she could wait to poop until we got home.

“No,” she whispered. “Sorry, Daddy.”

I assured her it was okay.

She’d been in the store five minutes when the inevitable happened. Ah well. While heading to the bathroom to change her, we passed at a framing store. There was a picture in the window. Jaw: sternum. Jaw: floor.

That’s Hennepin Av. in the 20s. That’s going over the fireplace in the family room.

Not posted 4:55 PM

Mitch Berg says what I’ve been thinking the last few days: Townsend might be telling the truth. It’s worth considering his explanation before tossing him into the pyre. Having said that, my next comment will be completely unfair, but it’s true; I was watching the Simpsons on Tuesday, the area-code episode, and Homer learns that the Who are coming to town. “I’m their biggest fan,” he said, “even when they were the Hillbilly Buggerboys.”

I wrote that down, thinking I’d want to remember it. I also wrote down some words about a Perkins commercial that featured Chicken Fried Steak, which was shown, as always, slathered in “Country Gravy.” The phrase struck me as amusing; it’s like saying “Rural Sauce.” So I wrote that down too. Next morning my wife comes down and sees a Post-It note on the counter:

Country Gravy
Rural Sauce
Hillbilly Buggerboys

She’s used to this, actually.

Incidentally, Mitch is looking for work, so go give him a buck or two. I haven’t seen him since, oh, the 80s - we worked at KSTP, and he was putting together some demo reels for a conservative talk show. He needed a liberal to debate, so he chose me, the guy who’d voted Carter - Carter - Mondale - Dukakis and was right on the glide path to vote Clinton. Then I got a job and bought a house, and then I went to work in Washington DC . . . but that’s another story.

Not posted 1:45 PM

Holy Crow, they found warheads? That’s unpossible. It’s almost enough to make me wander over to a few message boards and wait for someone to insist it’s all a set-up, a ploy to boost Dubya’s ratings, and in any case it proves that inspections are working! An angry-looking Iraqi official is on TV now, insisting that they had misplaced the warheads. If so, I think we should regard Iraq as a giant sofa cushion, assume that everything fell into the crack between Iraq and Iran, peel the country from the earth’s crust and look there. Probably find some coins, too.

Not posted 1:36 PM

Feeing better. I don’t know why, but I’m almost jaunty.

The TV news has an alert: President Bush returns to White House. This is an alert? What, he was going to hole up in a Motel Six for the rest of his term? He’s getting off the copter now; he’s opening his arms as if welcoming someone. Ah - his dog is running up to him. He’s giving it a good scratch . . . walks away. Stops, gestures for the dog to follow. It does.

He’s a dog guy.

You know, there’ s a certain segment of the population that would vote for a president if he’d be the first to have a ferret in the White House.

I need something to read. Let's go check Max Power.

Not posted 1:14 PM

Heh. Brian posted a link to the 20th anniversary of the Lisa computer, and used the headline “Lisa, it’s your birthday, happy birthday Lisa” - millions get it, millions don’t. I remember reading about the Lisa, as I tapped away at my TI/99, wondering if ever I could afford this wonderous machine. The Lisa was the Jane the Baptist to the Mac, which of course has brought me such happiness - but what of Lisa? Supposedly the name stood for Locally Integrated Software Architecture, but it was also the name of Steve Jobs’ daughter. Does this mean she’ll suffer from Dennis the Menace syndrome, and spend her adult life fighting the publicity that attended her childhood? How does she deal with the fact that her namesake was a failure, and the unsold units were dumped in a landfill ?

Not posted 1:02 PM

I am still exhausted. I feel like a bag of cotton balls. After Gnat went down for her nap I tried to do the same, but I’d had so much coffee my heart felt like a hummingbird in a shoe box; I laid there thinking it would be unfortunate if I had a heart attack now, because she’d wake up and cry and no one would come. But my wife comes home at six, and she’ll probably nap until one, so that’s just five hours, but still, that’s a long time to cry. Poor girl.

So I got up, played a computer game. I found myself in a hallway that had been blocked off with filing cabinets, chairs, and desks. When you see this in a game, you’re looking at an immovable object. You can lob a grenade at it, hit it with a Stinger missile, but that pile is staying right where it is. Grr.

It’s not a bad game, but like all games, it’s ridiculously unreal. You can kill a guy by shooting him three times in the butt, for example. Shoot him twice and he just stands there, but shoot him three times and he warbles a Wilheim and flops on the floor. Hah-hah! And did you know that terrorists had developed a special armor that allows them to take shotgun blasts to the head from a distance of 12 inches, and live? True story.

Not posted 12:10 PM

This is not going well. Consciousness, I mean. I woke with that profound exhaustion that signals a grim day ahead. I can’t wake up. My stupid fault for staying up stupidly late working on that stupid John Le Stupide piece. It’s everyone else’s fault for saying stupid things. Everyone is stupid but me.

Not posted 9:11 AM

Let’s try blogging today. Of course, I won’t post anything as it happens; I’ll just heave the entire wad up at the end of the day. I suppose this means finding links, too. Well, should be fun. And just for amusement, let’s see if I can work a Simpsons reference into every entry.

Not posted 7:57 AM

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