Overheard in line on Friday, a tantalizing sentence fragment: “Cuban cigars and Johnny Walker Blue.” Oooh. In Orwell terms, Inner Party provisions. I think I’ll start talking about Johnny Walker White, and see if people pretend to know what I mean. “Oh, yeah, a little JW White, that’s good whiskey.” At which point I feign surprise and say really? I was under the impression it was vodka.

But of course I will do nothing of the sort.

Before I install OS 10.2 on my computer, and NO THIS WILL NOT BE a long boring technical rang, I have to back up my hard drive. Specifically, my MP3s, of which I have 3000 +. That’s 17.5 GB of music, and each byte was taken from a CD I own, and yes I am going to heaven. I could put it all on five DVDs, but I have a long-standing distrust of hard media; one scratch, one poorly-made disc whose surface degrades, one time taping the disc to the sole of my shoe and “footboarding” down the hill after an ice storm, and the disc is useless. I needed another hard drive. Yes, they fail too, but you can often retrieve your data, and the chance that both my computer and my exterior hard drive will fail simultaneously is rather rare, unless a nuclear airburst wipes all electronics out. In which case I don’t think I’ll need my collection of Julie London torch songs anymore. Maybe I’d need them more than ever. I’ll run screaming across that bridge when I get to it.

So. Off to CompUSA, the computer superstore. They had two (2) external firewire hard drives. Two. This being America, I was horrified; I wanted 40 of them, each based on the same Samsung drive, each gussied up in a different case that fit my lifestyle and told the world who I was, even though the drive would sit in a dark box all the time. I wanted a drive that would make absolute strangers say “Hmm - I can tell by your choice of case finishes that you’re a man of style and taste, and the way you’ve eschewed trendy design touches tells me you value the eternal over the ephemeral. And the way you’ve jammed that firewire cord into the USB 2 slot tells me you’re an idiot.”

Two. Two drives.

But they had DVD players. And they had DVDs. One shelf of each. Now: why do most folk go to CompUSA, the computer store? I’m going to take a guess here and say “computers,” or things related to them. A USB hub. Some paper. Some ink cartridges, whose price reflects the fact that they contain ambergris and gold. Most people don’t stand there looking at the DVDs, thinking well golly, I’d heard about these things, but I didn’t know they existed yet. And here they are! Imagine that! They’re not impulse items. But CompUSA, the computer superstore, has decided that they should carry fewer computer hard drives and more DVD players. This is like a grocery store eliminating all salad greens but iceberg lettuce so they can sell dictionaries.

Thinking that the world as I knew it had turned upside down, I asked myself: where would I go to buy a DVD player? Best Buy. What if - I know this sounds mad, but bear with me - what if they had hard drives? So I went to Best Buy. They had FOUR external firewire hard drives, and they also had about 97 flavors of DVD players, too. AND 100X the number of DVDs, including “American Pimp” for ten dollars, and freezers, and more gaming software than CompUSA, the computer superstore.

And the drive was ten bucks cheaper.

Bought it, went home, read the instructions. The Windows instructions were three pages long, and advised that you go to three different websites, find a driver on a page whose url was as long as an NBA player’s shinbone, sacrifice a songbird to the Santeria deity of your choice, and give it a shot. The Mac instructions were: plug it in. Turn it on.

So let’s all welcome the new drive Snowy, named after Tintin’s faithful dog. Yes, it’s a twee name, but it fits the color of the drive, and these things are important.

To Mac users, anyway.

One of the advantages of having a computer used by 5 percent of the market, incidentally, is this: when you call tech support, you get right through. I had a problem with installing 10.2 on my iBook, thanks to a Microsoft geegaw stuck in the OS’s gullet like a fishbone. My advice to anyone upgrading to Jaguar: choose the “archive and install” option. Copy down all your internet info, since you’ll lose all your prefs and settings, but it’s worth avoiding the aggravation. Do I recommend an upgrade? Depends. I chose it for the simpler wireless networking - the machines now sniff each other out and show up without getting your hands dirty configuring the network. The main program is much better. The Find function built into every window is very, very nice. But the look of text in 10.2 is incredible. Just incredible. If only you all knew how lovely your websites look now.

Slow, uneventful weekend. Lasted forever. I sat on the porch and listened to the cicadas, the end-of-summer sound whose end you never notice; you forget all about the cicadas until you hear them again the next year. It’s as if they’re drilling holes in the scrim of the season, one at a time, converting the thin sheet of summer into a net that lets the fall blow right in. Or something as laboriously poetical. We had the Labor Day BBQ at Mr. and Mrs. Not So Crazy Anymore Uke’s house, with all the standard characters in attendance - the Giant Swedes, Wes the Filmmaker, and assorted children. It was a delight to see Gnat play with other kids; she idolizes them, and they’re very kind to her. The small plastic jungle-gym was turned into a ship, and they sailed away to a distant island. (All bord, Gnat sang. All bord.)

Other than that, what did I do? Finished finishing the book. I went through the manuscript with great trepidation, since I feared that this thing really chewed the wax planarium, but it’s not bad. The logistics stink, though, and now I’m finishing up the complex key that matches text to photo to page to picture . . . ecch. It goes to the agent on Friday.

And now I go back to work. Forbidden Planet screen grabs all week long! I’m not sick of this thing yet. And new Flotsam tomorrow - it’s column night, and I am tired and full of meat.

Then one day you wake up and realize you’re sick to bloody death of Fiestaware. It’s been building for years, but it hits you: you’re tired of colors that do not go with any food you’d possibly want to eat. Coral plates. Off-turquoise plates. Gray plates, for heaven’s sake: what were you thinking? Here, have some dead burned cow on a plate the color of old dead meat. And they’re heavy, too; you need a wrist brace to take more than four from the shelf. They’ll never break - drop them, and they dent the floor; toss them out the back door onto the bricks and they’ll skim like a Frisbee. You’ll never be rid of them. Unless . . .

Unless you break the tall Fiesta glassware, one by one. Oh, they’re made of stern stuff, these glasses; their flared mouths look delicate, but you can crack them against the granite counter and they’ll just bounce. But if you put some rocks in the dishwasher and set it on POTS AND PANS, there’s a chance. It could work.

Or, you could just marshall your courage and announce to your wife that you’re sick to bloody death of bloody Fiestaware, and note that she says “fine.” She’s long since ceded cupboard control to you, because you’ve yet to make a misstep. The juice glasses from Williams-Sonoma with the French pre-war labels: a hit. (And if they ever break, there’s a backup set in the storage room.) The Crate and Barrel glassware - bingo. The relentless standardization of the dishtowels met with success as well, and why? Because she has a life, that’s why. And you have your kitchen. Your cupboards. You open them up and behold the march of progress, peering at the ten-ton stack of Fiestaware, and you think: your time will come. Fiesta delenda est.

Book book book. To my dismay, I omitted several pages from the final version, and this means . . . . oh, never mind what it means. More work, that’s what it means. And it has to be done Friday; I’m having lunch with my agent, and there will be that sweet moment when I hand the thing over. I’m surprised how much I like this book; I really am. Usually at this point I am swamped with despair, but to my surprise everything I wrote in that hellish July holds up. Just beware of the release date for “Interior Desecrators” - the last book came out on September 11. I still remember showering that morning, thinking hoorah, it’s book day; I turned on the shower radio and heard Peter Jennings describing smoke coming from the WTC - why, I thought, are they replaying news from the bombing in 93?

The other night I watched the video compliation I made from the TV scenes I taped that day, and all the emotions of that day came right back: horror, fear, fury. All undimmed. It doesn’t go away. It shouldn’t. It won’t. Today at Target I bought a CBS book / DVD compilation of images from 9/11, “What We Saw.” It’ll go in the box that holds items from that day - the newspapers, the magazines. I also included the daily paper from 9/10, just to capture the world before that wretched morning.

Which brings us to this.

At work today I got an email from someone who sent along one of the “cartoons” on the site, and he proclaimed it the funniest cartoon he’d ever seen. I don’t know quite what he meant. Some people assume that just because I work at the StarTribune my tongue is thick with Terry McAulliffe’s shoe polish, and they assume I believe certain things.

The cartoons on this site are dreary and sophomoric; yes, yes, Bush is stoopid, hyuk hyuk. They’re missing the essential element for good satire, which is a basis in truth - I mean, does anyone think Bush has sex with dogs? It’s the 08-31-02 cartoon the guy sent me, and in one respect it’s accurate; it sums up the man’s boundless narcissism quite nicely. But I think they mean it seriously, since they note that they miss Bill, and wish he was president. It seems to suggest that if Bill Clinton had been president on 9/11, there wouldn’t have been an attack.

Right. Mm-hmm.

Let’s all recall the stirring speech President Clinton made when he toured the WTC after the bombing.


The last cartoon is particularly amusing. It shows a guy who’s hacked off his gangrenous fingers, due to lousy HMO coverage. Small quibbling note:
the fellow was actually a New Zealander named Ted Matthews. He cut off the fingers because he got a letter from the hospital saying he couldn’t have an operation for six months. (The hospital said this was a mistake, and that he could actually have one in a few weeks.) Good thing he’s not a cancer patient - they have to wait four and a half months for their first appointment.

I belong to an HMO; when I was about six inches from death with pneumonia I called for an appointment and got in that morning.

As for the “see how stupid he looks” cartoon, some reminders here.
As Time reported:

Lewinsky says that during three sexual encounters, Clinton was on the phone with Congressmen; during another, he took a call from his disgraced consultant Dick Morris; in each case, phone logs bear out her account. (Lewinsky says she was performing a sex act on Clinton while he spoke to Alabama Representative Sonny Callahan. The lawmaker, aghast, says they were discussing American troops in Bosnia.)

Just curious: let’s say you’re the parent of a soldier going to fight in Bosnia. Do you prefer the Commander in Chief to:

A) Be the passive recipient of oral sex from an employee while your son or daughter’s fate is discussed by your local representative

B) Be sitting in a chair with his pants on, taking notes

I never could convince people of this, but it wasn’t the sex that bothered me about Clinton. It was the sex on company time.

Miss him? Until today, I hadn’t thought about him for weeks. Just looking at him is like looking at a cover of Entertainment Weekly from 1999, featuring the stars of some high-flying but short-lived TV show. Whatever.

Except that it might be relevant to this very day. Googling around for “Clinton WTC bombing 1993”
I came across this, from that radical right-wing New Republic. Food for thought. Served on a Fiesta plate. Take it home! Oh, don’t worry about when you’ll return it.

Keep it as long as you like.


I watched part of the CBS 9/11 special last night. (I don’t know if it’s been broadcast yet; I got the DVD at Target.) It is a pity that this particular historical record contains so much Bryant Gumbel, but it has its moments. In the middle of an interview with a woman who saw the first plane hit, she gasps Oh My God, another one - and it reminds you again of that moment, the point when you grasped exactly what was happening, and the ground swayed. I’d say it brought it all back but it never went away. There hasn’t been a day I haven’t thought about it.

That bothers some people. There’s an attitude in some quarters that there’s something unhealthy about thinking about 9/11, certainly in dwelling on the details. They’ll allow a certain amount of regret and dismay. They’ll permit you a brief spasm of anger, but it had best be followed with a nuanced assessment of American foreign policy. Remark that you had a nightmare about your daughter getting smallpox or a nuke in New York, and they’ll roll their eyes; tut tut the lad’s gone mad. These people are no doubt bracing themselves for the first anniversary, but for different reasons than you might have. They can’t stand people who won’t let go of 9/11. Once they washed the ash off their car it was over for them; why can’t it be over for everyone? Do you really think your inability to move along makes you a better person? Stop waving the bloody shirt. Send it to the cleaners already, and leave Iraq alone.

Tonight I was googling around looking for a picture of Christine Hanson, the daughter of Kim Ji-Soo and Peter Hanson. She was two. The family was flying to Disneyland when the terrorists slaughtered the flight attendants, stabbed the pilots to death, and drove the plane into the building. (Yes yes, we know what happened; don’t be so dramatic, and Disneyland? Please. You’re getting bathetic.) My wife came up with Gnat to say goodnight while I was searching; I gave the little tot a peck on the lips and told her daddy loved her, and went back to work. As I heard the crib rail go up I heard a particularly deafening jet pass overhead - one of the old unhushed cargo planes that makes the china rattle at Jasperwood - and I remembered something from last night.

We were watching an Olie episode in which a storm knocks out the power, and Pappy tells tales by fashwite. (Flashlight, in non-Gnat parlance.) The episode begins with a little song, sung in ominous tones: storm’s comin’, storm’s comin’. Gnat sings along, since she’s seen the episode a million times. But in the middle of the ep she got up, tottered to the back door, and said: storm’s coming, daddee. Then she crossed the room to the window on the opposite side of the door, and said again: storm’s coming. I explained no storm was coming, that we were just fine. We were perfectly safe. But she got up again, and again, and again.

Then I listened to what she was saying: Stars Coming. Not storm: stars. When she heard the roar of the planes overhead coming in for a landing at the Mpls/St. Paul airport, she ran to the door to see the lights as they passed over head, then ran to the window to see the stars pass by once more. She knows what an airplane is - she’s been to France on one, after all, and even identified a picture of a swept-wing jet as an airpane despite its strange triangular configuration. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t see stars overhead as well, flying in formation, passing over the house like the smiling stars in her beloved Olie show.

She knows everything, of course. She’s pretty sure of that. If something’s unclear or strange, she asks, and then it either fits and clicks or it doesn’t, and her confidence in her knowledge is unchanged. (This morning, for example, she was looking at my screen saver, naming the celestial objects. Rrth. Mune. Jubider. Ooh, stars.) The world is an amazing place for her; it’s safe, it’s kind, it’s full of toys and nice dogs and trips to the park and Jell-O at night with a storybook, and when she falls asleep to the sound of the planes overhead she thinks of stars, spinning and twinkling.

Little Christine was Gnat’s age, give or take a month; bin Laden’s lackeys killed her - and did so to ensure that other fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters died as well, preferably by the tens of thousands. This little girl’s death wasn’t even a comma in the manifesto they hoped to write. They made sure that her last moments alive were filled with horror and blood, screams and fear; they made sure that the last thing she saw was the desperate faces of her parents, insisting that everything was okay, we’re going to see Mickey, holding out a favorite toy with numb hands, making up a happy lie. And then she was fire and then she was ash.

I feel the same anger I did on 9/11; I feel the same overwhelming grief. Nothing in my heart has changed, and God forbid it ever does.


It’s done. The book is finished. When I’m done here I’ll print the cover, shout FACTUS EST, apologize for the mild blasphemy, then light a cigar the size of a phone pole while I crank up some Led Zep on the headphones. Yes, Led Zep. Sorry. An old failing, a weak spot. They were a favorite when I was a callow youth, and I just bought the 4 CD collection of their “greatest hits” - a curious name for a batch of songs that failed to chart, but I know what they mean. In a way I’m reluctant to delve into the collection, lest my belief in Jimmy Page as one of the greatest rock guitarists ever meets sober reality. And I’ll probably realize how much the music reminds me of a great empty steppes of my post high-school life, when this thrashing racket was the soundtrack for dateless weekends in the dorm room.

Man, now I’m depressed.

Well, that’s how it was. The worst part about my first year at college was the quietude of our dorm’s wing on a Saturday night. It meant other people were out having fun. The fact that they came home at 1:30 AM shouting loud boozy boasts, followed by spasmodic orations to the wing’s commode, didn’t really dissuade me from envying them; at least they were out there being stupid. I was in here being stupid. Those are, perhaps, the two types of people in a nutshell: the guys who wandered out to the bars on Saturday for an evening of swirly befuddlement, and those who stayed at the dorm stoking hookahs, resenting the oafs, contenting themselves with the fact when the oafs barked up a skinful they wouldn’t wonder whether Rilke had such nights of debauchery when he was young.

Oh, just listen to the fargin’ record, already; stop analyzing.

Good Lord: the first tune that came up was Kashmir, which is seventy-two minutes long; a classic FM staple, always used when the DJ has to head down the hall to drain the skein.

(air guitaring)

(oh yeah.)

(air celloing.)

Vokdapundit projected how the Senate would vote on a resolution to strike against Iraq, and he said both members of the Minnesota delegation would say nay. I think he’s right. Paul Wellstone - or Wellstone! as his bumperstickers! say! - would surprise me if he voted yes. But it would be a principled vote. That’s who he is. I find myself arguing with nearly everything he says and does and thinks and believes, but he’s not one of those angry nullities animated by hate and contempt. He’s a decent man. Wrong, but decent. I’ve met him twice - once at some whomping Press / Congress clusterfarg at the Sheraton Woodley; he was a new Senator, friendless and clueless, and we had a nice chat about home. Met him again last year, I think, on a TV show, and we had a nice chat about DC - which was now home for him. I wouldn’t vote for him if you held a bandsaw to my carotid artery, but if it was a choice between Wellstone and Trent Lott to watch my house while I was on vacation, I’d chose Paul; Trent would be likely to express the need to work together with the burglars and move the process forward in a collegial way.

Dayton is likewise decent; Minnesota turns out these guys by the hundreds. (Jesse Ventura being a strange exception; in retrospect he seems like a boil we had to lance.)

Man, “Trampled Underfoot” kicks ass, and in particular Peter Grant’s ass, and if you’ve ever seen it you know that takes some doing. Where’s my Bic lighter?

Anyway. Dayton is an heir to a department store fortune, one of those millionaires who wants to raise the taxes of people who make $130,000. (Hey, if he can take it, they can take it.) Also a nice guy. Not a jot of artifice. He wrote a piece for Thursday’s Strib op-ed page. I’d like to excerpt this portion:

For the past 50 years, American leaders have faced dangerous men in other countries, who also possessed weapons of mass destruction. They successfully protected our country and preserved our planet by preventing war, not by starting one. What compels a different response now?

What a flexible mind we see at work here. We never started a shooting war with the Soviets, therefore the entire concept of preemptive attacks are off the table. For good.

In just 18 months, this administration has made drastic changes in the United States' approach to preserving world peace. They denounced and discarded the ABM Treaty, the no-first-use doctrine and several international accords. The first two were linchpins of international stability in the nuclear age. The last were imperfect, but important, products of nations working together to create a better world.

Linchpins of stability. Snort. Let’s assume that the US had completely, utterly, unilaterally disarmed in the 70s and 80s, while holding on to the ABM treaty and the no-first-use doctrine. There would be red flags over Paris. Well, more than usual. Without a credible deterrent, those “linchpins” were cardboard shields. As for the “several international accords” Dayton mentions, his priorities are revealed: “important” trumps “imperfect.” The tangible effect on US security and strength matters less than the shiny-eyed groping towards “a better world.” Whether a "better world" might result from a planet rid of the Taliban, the Tikrit mafia, and any other changes the coming war will force on the Middle eastern satrapies isn't even considered, because they did not originate in a position paper penned by a UN diplomat who has lunch with his Syrian counterpart and tears up his parking ticket when he returns to his double-parked limo.

As replacements, President Bush chose a major buildup of U.S. military power and additional weapons of mass destruction.

Bush = Saddam. Noted. This is from a man whose fortune rests on the ability of his forebearers to forge a distinction between their department store and the one across the street.

He proclaimed a new U.S. policy of launching preemptive attacks against threatening enemies. And he stated that the United States would take military action with or without other nations' support.

It’s a given in Daytonland that “other nations’ support” is the sole factor to determine the legitimacy of self-defense. If Syria’s on board, we can invade Saudi Arabia. Right?

It has been said that we judge ourselves by our intentions; others judge us by our actions. We believe in our country's goodness and greatness; we cannot understand how others could view us differently. However, they do.

I cannot think of another time in American history when our Senators were so damned worried about the opinions of French bureaucrats, English editorialists, German soccer enthusiasts, and Lebanese hummus wholesalers. Once upon a time this nation had Senators who railed against the government from dusk to dawn, but when told that the Germans agreed with him, hissed “piss off, Fritz.” Now it’s different. It’s as if people of Dayton’s ilk believe they’re really Senators in some transnational body that represents the world, not a weirdly-shaped state with its head jammed up against the broad flat butt of Canada. I’m starting to think they’re all Senators from the United Federation of Planets, and soon the Temporal Police will show up and take them back to the future. (Note: the UFP is the body that reduced Kirk in rank for doing the right thing. Politicians: always the same.)

These new policies and pronouncements have damaged our standing with allies and other countries.

Russia issued one (1) peep over the ABM treaty, and that was it. As for the other unspecified acts of unilateral high-handedness, are we to assume that the point of one’s foreign policy should be to bend to the wishes of allies? Did we get the approval of Mexico and the Philippines before going to Bosnia? Note that Dayton makes the distinction between allies and other countries, and worries that our actiosn damage our standing with the latter - by definition, non-allies who are dispositionally inclined to disapprove of our existence, no matter how it manifests itself.

But I know what he means: by acting in our own interest, we impede the goal of creating a world where no nation acts in its own interest, but acts according to the Good of the Planet. We have to set an example for the rest of the kids. Granted, Iraq kicked out the inspectors, attempted to assassinate Bush 41, shoots at the planes in the no-fly zone, is proceeding lickety-split with its nuclear program, funds Palestinian suicide bombers and quite possibly has its fingerprints over the 93 WTC attack and the OKC bombing, but if we let Saddam stay in power, China might take its knee off Tibet’s neck in 2043.

They have reduced our national security, as they have increased international insecurity. Effective world leadership calls for us to develop better international relationships and to use our enormous resources to improve world conditions. Successful world leaders do not lead the world to war.

The paragraph is remarkable for its gassy banality, but let us just marvel at the folly of that last line. Here’s a Senator who doesn’t grasp a fundamental fact of 2002: the world is already at war. As much as it pains us to point out the obvious to a Senator: Successful world leaders lead their side to victory.

read the piece, and see for yourself what Dayton seems to have forgotten. There’s one thing missing from his editorial: any mention, recognition, recollection, acknowledgment, or reference to a little thing that happened once upon a time.

September 11. Not a mention. Not a nod.

God, I am tired of these people. Not of the dissenters - by all means, pile on, argue, have it out, kvetch, cavil, carp and screed away; that’s our way. I welcome the Robust Debate. I’m just tired of this holy ninnyism, these tired appeals to an transnational ideal that has no relation to the fragile, fractured world we actually inhabit. The other day someone came around to my door on behalf of some cause - I can’t remember which - and while I was kind in my dismissal, I was firm and quick. There are lots of causes I used to have. Things I wanted to see happen. The abolition of the NEA, for example. I happen to support state-funded arts, in the form of block grants to localities to prop up a theater or an orchestra. I know, I know. I shouldn’t. It’s pork, it’s a deviation from the dictates of the market, it’s confiscation of property to fund something, etc. I know. But it’s one of those small things that could keep the pilot light of civilization burning, and if there was greater local control it might wrest the power from the ossified permanent revolutionary party of art commissars who use the NEA to fund specious crap no one wants - aside from a snarky coterie of disaffected theorists. Less bisected cow-carcass art exhibits, more Pryce-Jones. I can dream, eh?

Well, I dream no more. I have a dozen little causes like this. None of them matter right now. You can have your NEA, your light rail, your death-to-vouchers, and any number of issues over which reasonable people can reasonably, and honorably, disagree. We’ll get to that later. Right now we have a little problem with a thing called Militant Religious Fascism, and I want to see its teeth kicked down its throat so hard that shattered molars shoot out the end when it dies. I almost wanted to say to the bliss-faced doorknocker: I don’t have time for my causes. Don’t expect me to have time for yours.

iTunes just kicked up “When the Levee Breaks.” Sen. Dayton might regard the title as alarmist; as the water reached his neck, he even might ask us to consider why the river hated us, and whether we were responsible for unseasonable rainfall. It’s one thing to volunteer to be a useful fool. But if that’s your role, don’t meet it halfway. At least try to be useful.



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