Friday, September 30, 2005

Musical Injustice!

Today on Salon there's a tongue-in-cheek article by the New Republic's Spencer Ackerman about the possible hidden indicator in this weekend's Yankees-Red Sox series, the relative musical stylings of Boston pitcher Bronson Arroyo and New York outfielder Bernie Williams.

While I have no problem with anything that makes fun of the Yankees and/or Red Sox, there were two big problems.

1) Ackerman gets Arroyo's name correct every time. Frankly, this is unprecedented. During last year's playoffs, my roommate and I started calling him "Billy-Bob Arrobo" in honor of the fact that, try as he might, Tim McCarver was NEVER able to get his name right.

2) It's an outrage that there could be a whole article about ballplayer/musicians vis-a-vis October baseball without any mention at all of the paramount importance of former Angels' infielder Scott Spiezio's band, Sandfrog!, to Anaheim's 2002 Word Series win.

For shame, Ackerman...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Chief Justice John Roberts

I haven’t done the research (who do you think I am?), but it seems to me that John Roberts is the second-most-discussed person in Cole Slaw Blogstory behind only Alex Kuczynski. So, it’s unfortunate that the proprietors couldn’t be here for the conclusion of the saga, when John Roberts was confirmed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court today.

But they aren’t here, so instead of sober jurisprudential analysis from CrimeNotes, you’re going to get the first Crunk Raconteur Democratic Pride Awards (John Roberts Edition). Let’s get to it!

Methodology: I supported a vote of NO on the nomination, although I also support the decision not to filibuster him. He could be worse, and he seems competent, so I’m resigned without much bile to his confirmation, but I don’t think the Democrats should help them do it. If Roberts had been confirmed by unanimous consent, it would have given the Bushies the political cover they need to appoint a real right-wing wacko next time. Their argument would have been “Hey, you got the consensus nominee already. Now we get a real conservative.” (Note: this message would have resonated, despite it being BS.)

22 Democrats made me proud by voting NO.

While I appreciate all 22, 19 of those represent decidedly blue states and won’t face any real ramifications for it (think Ted Kennedy or Barbara Boxer).

2nd Runner Up: Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV): The Minority Leader earns my praise because he seems to have bought into the same line of reasoning as I did. That said, he’s only the 2nd runner up because he is the Minority Leader, and we should expect that from him (still, it’s nice to know that we can).

1st Runner Up: Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA): Iowa has been a battleground state lately, and, in fact, was red in 2004. But that didn’t sway Sen. Harkin into a mealy mouthed YES vote. Well done, Senator Harkin.

And the winner is…

Senator Evan Bayh (D-IN): Indiana is a hard-red state, and it took real guts to vote against a Bush Supreme Court Nominee when you’re from a state where Bush pulled 60% in 2004. Perhaps this was all just positioning for a future Presidential bid, but you know what? Fine. I’ll remember this when the time comes, Senator, and will consider it a point in your favor.

Senator Bayh may call upon Crunk Raconteur World HQ whenever he likes to claim his prizes, a bottle of Bertman’s Ball Park Mustard and an Arrested Development: Season 1 DVD set.

(Note: I have decided to refrain from sending another 500 word post detailing the accompanying Democratic Shame Awards, but if you want to know who won, all you need to know is this: The alternate name of the Democratic Shame Awards is “The Liebies”)

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Chance to Showcase that Republican Entrepreneurial Spirit!

According to the Offender Orientation Handbook published by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Correctional Institutions Division, state penitentiaries in Texas offer job training in the following areas:

Automotive Trades
Construction Trades
Horticulture/Landscape Trades
Welding and Other Metal Trades
Diesel Mechanics
Computer-Related Trades

Now, maybe it’s just me, but it seems like the door is wide open if someone, who will be spending some time at a facility of the Correctional Institutions Division, wanted to start some additional training know, if he had particular expertise in other areas…

…like, say, pest control and money laundering.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Accountability, Oh, What a Feeling!

I remember a time, and it seems so long ago now, when a faux-folksy gentleman came out of Austin and decided to run for president. As I remember, he used to talk a lot about accountability. He was going to be a CEO-president, you see. He was going to appoint good people, give them authority, and hold them accountable. Just to see if my memory served, I went back to the transcripts of the presidential debates that year, and checked. Sure enough, that guy used the word “accountability” no fewer than 10 times.

There have been many times since then when I have thought about that with a growing amount of bile (the infamous press conference when he couldn’t remember a single mistake he made is an example), because I don’t know if I’ve ever seen any group of people worse at actually holding people accountable for their mistakes than the Bush Administration.

In that vein, Mike Brown, Arabian horse enthusiast and disgraced FEMA director, came to Capitol Hill this morning.

Much like his boss during that press conference, Mr. Brown was asked what mistakes he felt he had made, and his response was rather telling. One of his problems, you see, was that he didn’t manage his time with the media very well (you see, it’s the media’s fault). The other is even more typical of these guys. The problem was that he wasn’t quite able to keep those horrible, incompetent Democrats, Blanco and Nagin, from screwing everything up.

Accountability, indeed.

Now, a Republican would point out that Brown has, in fact, been fired (held accountable, as it were), and to an extent, that’s almost true. But it should be pointed out that Brown is still working at FEMA at full salary! He’s been on the job since he was asked to resign for rank incompetence, and will be for another couple of weeks. All told, he’ll be on the FEMA payroll at full pay for a month. According to the Plum Book, he is an Executive Schedule, Level III official, which means his annual salary is $149,200 per year. That means that, in the month after he was asked to resign for rank incompetence, Michael Brown will be paid more than $12,400 of your tax dollars.

Accountability, indeed.

Oh, and if anyone is curious, I also looked up the 2004 debates. Anyone have a guess how many times that guy said the word “accountability”?

That’s right. Zero.

Buyer's Remorse

As a newly-minted-yet-not-happy-about-it subscriber to TimesSelect, I was just clicking around and seeing what is available to me for my $50 bucks a year. What did I find?

John Tierney's Book Club.

I want my money back...

Pardon me, but how do you say, "Stirba - Werewolf Bitch" in Dutch?

AMSTERDAM -- If you ever want to entertain a Dutch video store clerk, try calling around on a Monday night and asking whether he has any sequels to The Howling.

Today is a rainy day in Amsterdam. Blessed with good weather, I took yesterday for granted, spending much of it indoors looking at Rembrandts, Vermeers and Van Goghs. I returned to my friends' apartment for a large dinner of steamed mussels and Dutch cheeses.

From there, we turned our attention to one of the defining themes of this leg of my trip: The Howling.

I don't know how many of you have seen The Howling. Starring Dee Wallace Stone of E.T. and Cujo, it's the story of a successful early-1980s anchorwoman who finds herself ensnared in a web of secret identities and werewolves. While the definitive horror movies of the early '80s were geared to a teenage audience, The Howling is perhaps the first blood-and-guts werewolf flick geared to an audience of middle-aged women. Basically, it's could be a Lifetime-channel movie, but for a couple disembowelings and a gratuitous sex scene.

I'm pleased to say that it's terrible. Really terrible. If Ed Wood had been alive in 1982, he might have made The Howling. Throw together a montage of people smacking their lips, incongruous accents, and stop-action werewolf metamorpheses, accompanied by a synthesizer soundtrack and a four-minute shot of a hamburger being grilled, and you have the whole movie.

Amsterdam may have its red light district; its Vermeers; its canals; and its bikes. But when you're on a Howling kick, none of that matters.

Last night's after-dinner conversation led to the inevitable: The Howling. My English-speaking host called a local video store and asked whether they had The Howling 2: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch. No dice. Perhaps The Howling 3: Marsupials? Alas, no. By then, the video store clerk was laughing into the phone.

The werewolf spring had run dry. My second host and I struck out for the local video store. We decided on George Romero's lesser zombie film, Day of the Dead.

Monday, September 26, 2005

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Buried in today’s Washington Post, on pages A12 and A19, respectively, were articles about the Pentagon taking over responsibility for natural disaster response and the Iraqi Defense and Interior ministries. Great! What could possibly go wrong with this guy in charge?

So, the Pentagon is going to be handling natural disaster response, eh? Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we just go to a lot of trouble and expense to create a whole new cabinet department in charge of things like that? Isn’t it a part of their mission to “lead, manage and coordinate the national response to acts of terrorism, natural disasters, or other emergencies?”

I guess my questions are, if, after all this time, DHS is still unable to fulfill its duties, what did we just spend all this time and money on? If DHS is so incompetent in handling natural disasters that the Pentagon has to take over those duties, why have a Department of Homeland Security at all? And, last but most important, if DHS is so incompetent at handling this part of its mission (natural disasters), how can we possibly trust that it will be able to handle the rest of its duties (i.e., fighting terrorism)?

In other news, the second Post article discusses the shift in the management of the Iraqi Defense and Interior Ministries. Apparently, up until now, assistance to those ministries was provided by the State Department, ostensibly “to reinforce the principle of civilian control of the security services.” This is, to put it mildly, an important principle to reinforce. So, what does it say now that, more than 2 years later, the Pentagon is clawing back power?

My favorite part is that the change from State to DOD was made because the State Department was having trouble putting in place “many of the budgeting, contracting, personnel management, and other systems necessary to administer the country’s military and police units.” That’s just fantastic, because if there’s any organization whose budgeting and contracting practices we want the fledgling Iraqi government to emulate, it’s the Pentagon!

I guess my biggest point, though, is this: Don’t you think that these large assumptions of power on the part of the military maybe should have rated coverage a bit more prominent than A12 and A19?

Unlikely Appreciation Corner: Tampa Bay Devil Rays

(Author's Note: This is the first edition of an idea I had while discussing Eurotrip with Flop. Periodically this week I will be expressing my appreciation for things which just don't get their due. I begin with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.)

Does it seem to anybody else that the Tampa Bay Devil Rays are unusually important to the American League pennant race for a team that’s sitting 26.5 games back in its division? The creepy, flappy fish have played 29 of their last 41 games against 4 of the AL’s 6 contenders (New York, Boston, Cleveland, and Anaheim. They haven’t played Chicago or Oakland since before the All-Star break), and have 3 games left starting Tuesday in Cleveland. Over that period, since August 12, they are 22-19, and look like they may be frisky next season, right?

Well, maybe not…they are the Devil Rays, after all…

Still, sports’ diametric scheduling opposite to Purdue has the day off today, and we wish them a nice, relaxing day. Oh, and Carl Crawford, I’m sorry for that time in Baltimore when you were standing on first base and I was heckling you for like 20 minutes. I didn’t mean it, I was just trying to make Aubrey Huff laugh (mission accomplished, by the way)…

Why am I being so nice to the Devil Rays, you ask? What, can’t a guy appreciate a team that’s been through a brutal month and a half and wish them well? Why do I have to have an ulterior motive? Okay, fine, there is one thing…

Hey, guys, if it’s not too much trouble, could you do me a favor and lose the next three games? A nation of baseball fans, who think watching the Yankees and the Red Sox again is about as appealing as another ersatz presidential photo op showcasing President Nero’s steadfastitude and resolutacity, are counting on you.

God speed, Devil Rays…

Civilized in Amsterdam

AMSTERDAM -- A lot of people told me that that Amsterdam would be like New York. People said that about London, too, but I haven't found the comparison correct in either case.

The licentiousness in Amsterdam is far more under control than I expected. After a couple days, I have yet to observe a Dutch whore. I also haven't seen any stoned-out white Rastafaris.

It feels calmer and more manageable than New York. The lack of constant horn-blowing and shouting does that to a place.

So Amsterdam is not like New York, and it isn't as out of control as I imagined. Most everyone here is calm, friendly, slightly prim-looking, very civilized.

The whores and the marijuana are largely out of sight and out of mind, because you know what Amsterdam is all about? It's all about bikes.

There are more bikes than at Mackinac Island. These people bike everywhere, and everybody bikes. Old ladies in skirts, old men in suits, yuppies, teenagers -- bikes galore. The bikes are not fashion-conscious or lean in design. They are sturdy. Cleveland native Margaret Hamilton might have pedaled such a bike down the backroads of rural Kansas.

This lends an edge of egalitarianism and self-effacement to the city. How bad a day can you have if you put on your suit, then bike to your banking job?

As much as I like the idea of the bikes, and watching the Dutch happily pedal past, they cow me as a pedestrian. I have a touch time walking down a sidewalk on a good day. Between auto traffic, the city's trams and its slightly cobbled stones, the bicycles make it more likely that I'll get brushed back or knocked on my ass.

This is especially troublesome because I've been liberally enjoying something that is illegal in the U.S. but widely accepted in Amsterdam: jaywalking.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The Double bv-BV

As Flop suns himself and searches for a new crustacean crush, I have to think he's not too happy about the combination of Michigan's humiliating, choking defeat, along with the fact that he gave the keys to his blog to someone who is as gleeful as I am about Michigan's humiliating, choking defeat.

But, out of deference to my hosts, I won't comment any further on this, except to note that Michigan is now 2-2 whereas my own alma mater is 4-0.

That said, this should be an exciting upcoming week, and I'm happy to be here guest-blogging. We've got a lot of ground to cover, and I hope to do it justice. We'll be covering, among other things, the scapegoating-in-progress of Michael Brown, the John Roberts confirmation, the paramount importance of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the AL pennant race, and the rise of a hip-hop self-help guru.

Stay tuned...

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Almightly Savior Isn't Home Right Now, Leave a Message

As the deluge of media coverage in the weeks since Hurricane Katrina in her early enthusiasm for Mardi Gras wrecked havoc upon the Gulf Coast has made pretty darn clear, there were a lot of fuck-ups made by a lot of people.

All evilness aside, even I've found this equally sad and frustrating.

But then I came across the most poignant illustrations of stupidity that has come out of this whole mess, and it angered me because a lot of this really could have been avoided if people had just thought things through.

And the tragedy in this instance really wasn't the fault of a lethargic federal bureaucracy, or the ego-swelled morons who seek state and local office, it was because of a few unwavering Catholic nuns.

Yes, nuns.

Apparently, while the ladies who run New Orleans’s Lafon Nursing Home of the Holy Family had the good sense to stock up on a few supplies, their actual emergency plan consisted of a prayer:

"Taped under receptionist Gloria Williams's desk were 'urgent' instructions to recite in case of a hurricane: 'Our Father who art in heaven, through the powerful intercession of Lady of Prompt Succor spare us from the harm during the hurricane season.'"

Apparently the nuns never bothered to think up an alternate plan, just in case it turned out the Almighty One might be a little busy during a Category Five hurricane.

It would be funnier if it hadn't resulted in the deaths of a few dozen senior citizens.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A capital idea

OK, your guest bloggers will be getting around to posting shortly. For the week, we've placed Cole Slaw Blog mostly in the hands of two friends from the D.C. area. More specifically, the part of the Commonwealth of Virginia immediately across the Potomac from the nations capital. We think you'll enjoy them while my co-blogger and I recreate on opposite sides of the Atlantic.

Housekeeping slaw

As is probably clear, with both Cole Slaw Bloggers out of town, posting here could be light. However, you may see a guest blogger or two. If so, do not be alarmed. They post here with our full imprimatur. One exception, however. All their postings are their own, so Crimenotes and I disclaim liability for any libel, slander, defamation, hurt feelings, gored oxes and spit-takes.

I suspect Crimenotes will continute to file his boozy foreign dispatches, and I promise to pass along all tales of seaside antics from the lowcountry, as I'll be traveling with some people well known to the CSB family. If someone brings a digital camera (not me, as I don't own one), I'll also try to post a picture of any crustaceans or other marine life I manage to pluck from the brackish deep, as well as any other antics that warrant sharing. I also imagine I'll be watching coverage of another deadly hurricane, while anxiously checking Weather Underground's tropical weather section.

Also, if you miss your near-daily slaw fix, I suggest checking out our partner in side-dish bloggery, the estimable spinachdip. As well as selections from our list of links.

Crimenotes is a mensch

As my pint-pounding co-blogger has pointed out, I've been rather absent from this blog lately. Leaving him to take up the burden of filing dispatches from Scotland as he endeavors to drink Edinburgher publicans dry. If he's drinking as well as he's blogging, I'm sure the Scots will be tapping those strategic McEwan's reserves soon.

Travel, both unexpected and expected, has been the reason for my absence. I recently had to make an unplanned trip, return to New York, and now I'm about to leave for a long-planned vacation to a resort island in the South Carolina lowcountry. I'm hoping it will be free of cyclonic tropical weather patterns. Before I go, a couple thoughts.

  • Yes, I'm traveling on one of the best college foots Saturdays of the year. But Michigan plays a rare night game and I should be able to see it. I'm told there's even a bar where alumni gather on said undisclosed island. (Of course there is.) My viewing plans for the following Saturday involve a sports bar in or around the Savannah, Ga., airport. If anyone has any recommendations, I'm open.
  • I was going to write a whole post on this, but outside events intervened, so I'll just pose an question. To what extent is eporting from the White House press corps so bad because reporters themselves are largely in the same bubble that George W. Bush is? It's easy to say that they're a pack of simpering diddy-bops who like power and access, but I don't think it's that easy. (This thought was prompted when I read this Discuss, citing concrete examples.
  • I think predictions are silly and pointless ... and yet fun in all sorts of ways. Which is why I'm excited to see if my prediction, made before the season, that Oregon will beat USC proves accurate. Another college football prediction. Texas Tech will score 100 points this weekend. And with any luck feel totally empty inside after showing Indiana State who, in fact, is boss.
  • Before flying home, I played my annual round (actually just nine) of golf yesterday, and I'll be honest with you. it was a bloodbath. Then again, I made my first par since 2000, so it was not without its upside. (Please keep in mind that, excluding pitch n' putt, I probably haven't played 36 holes since that time.) I might be worse than when I first started. That said, golf always seems to accentuate my inner randomness, and I usually enjoy myself.

Carrying the weight of this blog on my shoulders

EDINBURGH -- I was thinking about a Thomas Friedman-like post about how a small anecdote tells the entire story of globalization, but I'll leave the Pizza Hut saturation of Scotland and observations about the atrocities of British reality television for another time.

Last night I met an elderly Scottish bar owner named Ian. Ian likes George W. Bush and doesn't understand why Americans hate him. Nigel, who owns a scuba gear factory, argued that a missile hit the Pentagon and that there's been a cover-up of what happened to the fourth plane.

Earlier in the night, a drunk local tried to fight a bunch of Spanish backpackers. The pretty ladies tending the bar were frightened and upset. They said that they've never seen anything like that happen. Some dude sitting next to me apologized to me on behalf of Scotland for my having had to witness the near-altercation. It was kind of exciting, but not as good as a crazy fight I saw at the Subway Inn on E. 60th St. Later, I was told that fights in Edinburgh lead to someone getting a black eye, but a fight in Glasgow leads to a broken bottle being jammed into your chin. I'm glad that Glasgow was not on the itinerary.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The sound of silence

EDINBURGH -- So I check in from an internet cafe Scotland, and see that my co-blogger has been grossly negligent in updating Cole Slaw Blog.

I'm pleased to announce that, by unanimous consent, CSB commentor Evil Girl will be guest blogging from Washington, D.C.

My trip is progressing just fine. London is like a major East Coast city, only a lot of dudes wear suits and ties, and people like sending text messages. I despise these two things.

Otherwise, I'm enjoying the British obsession with animals, especially squirrels. This is a highly anthropomorphic country. I watched an old man conversing with a squirrel in a tree and showering it with compliments; another old man feeding a squirrel by hand and calling it "my lovely"; and today saw a group of Scottish schoolchildren on a field trip go berzerk when they saw a squirrel in a tree.

Friday, September 16, 2005

At least he has good penmanship

This note from the president reads, "I think I may need a bathroom break?"

The Reuters caption reads:
U.S. President George W. Bush writes a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a Security Council meeting at the 2005 World Summit and 60th General Assembly of the United Nations in New York September 14, 2005. World leaders are exploring ways to revitalize the United Nations at a summit on Wednesday but their blueprint falls short of Secretary-General Kofi Annan's vision of freedom from want, persecution and war.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Before I turn out the lights ...

Friday morning I head out for a three-and-a-half week vacation in Europe. I may check in with a post or three, but I don't expect Cole Slaw Blog to be a major priority. With a little luck, I'll come back with a couple stories in which corruption, silliness and clarity are simultaneously achieved, along with a some pictures of pretty castles and pretty ladies.

Between now and mid-October, this site is in my co-blogger's hands. I repeat: Flop will be manning the oars of this creaky skiff alone. Get it? If he commits acts of libel, writes something outrageous, or you're just left confused, I'm not accountable. If he upsets you, I apologize for both of us.

Before I go, here's the good stuff that kids go for:
  • Zadie Smith's new novel gets a rave review from New York Times hard-ass Michiko Kakutani. On Beauty apparently is modeled on Howard's End and set in Boston. I loved White Teeth and even though I found The Autograph-Man disappointing, it was a benign failure. It's a great feeling, falling in love with an author who's only a year or two older and knowing that her career will be around for your entire adulthood. Roth and Updike are getting up there in years; Chabon and J.S.F. are never going to make the cut. I'm grateful for Zadie Smith.
  • Neil Young has a new album, Prairie Wind, coming out on September 27. It's going to be more country than rock and roll. I like Neil best when he's with Crazy Horse wailing on a guitar, singing something about dread and mortality. If he did that all the time, though, he'd probably go insane, and almost any new Neil Young is interesting.
  • Spinachdip got ignored by the Times. To which I say, just as well. Not only would the Times ruin his street cred, it also would cast him in the role of some kind of bizarre Starbucks watchdog for the Lower East Side. (Click here for my take on how the Times would depict Flop and me.) Nobody needs that distinction. It might be satisfying for a couple of days, but then it would feel weird.
  • This one is too nasty to be recounted on our demure little blog. Nasty and depraved, yet hilarious for all reality TV fans.
  • Currently reading Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World, a Shakespeare biography that pieces together moments in his life with passages in his plays. Very readable and interesting.
  • Political Humor has assembled a list of the stupidest quotes about Hurricane Katrina. You'll have read or heard most of them already, but there are a lot of neglected gems here: "You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals...many of these people, almost all of them that we see are so poor and they are so black, and this is going to raise lots of questions for people who are watching this story unfold." –CNN's Wolf Blitzer, on New Orleans' hurricane evacuees, Sept. 1, 2005; "I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word 'unrest' means that people are beginning to riot or, you know, they’re banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that." -FEMA director Michael Brown, Sept. 1, 2005.
I'll aim for a couple of dispatches from the road. Thanks for watering the plants,


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Book Review: Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami

There's a great moment in Whit Stillman's comedy of manners, Barcelona. One of the American characters observes that it's easier to be in a relationship with a Spanish woman because any moments of offense or non-compatability are attributed to cultural differences rather than personality clashes.

Reading translated fiction is a little like that. When I like something, or when I don't understand it completely, I'm unsure of how much stems from the translator and how much comes from the work itself. A good chunk of my summer was spent reading Don Quixote, which I found entertaining and fundamentally lighthearted. At the end, reading Harold Bloom's essays about the book's sorrowful qualities, I couldn't tell whether my own opinion arose from the translation or from a view different from Bloom's.

My reaction to Kafka on the Shore was a little different. First thing's first: I loved it. It is strange in every way, entertaining at all times, and completely readable. The book alternates between the first-person narration of its protagonist, a fifteen-year-old runaway who names himself Kafka. Kafka Tamura is the son of a famous Tokyo sculptor. When he was four, his mother abandoned him, taking his sister with her. Kafka grows up tormented by recurring Oedipal prophecies.

He renames himself Kafka and runs away from Tokyo. Conversing with an alter-ego named Crow (which is apparently a rough translation of the word "Kafka") he finds himself fleeing to a small private library with a catalogue specializing in haiku. There, he befriends an androgynous recluse named Oshuma and finds himself attracted to the head librarian, Miss Saeki.

Alternating with Kafka's story is the odyssey of Nakata, written from the third person. The opening pages of Nakata's story provide one of the book's most absorbing passages, set during the American occupation of Japan and reading like a Japanese version of The X-Files. As an adult, Nakata is a sort of holy fool -- akin to a Forrest Gump, only with an ability to converse with cats.

Nakata's journey leads him to encounters with American marketing icons Johnnie Walker and Colonel Sanders. Kafka finds himself variously immersed in classical poetry, an aged pop song, a mystical forest, and a sexual obsession with two women.

The author, Haruki Murakami, has a serious cult following in the U.S. When I told a friend that I was about to start this book, he reacted the way I react when someone mentions The Hold Steady. But for such peculiar, brainy stuff, I found the book pretty accessible. While ocuppying similar errain, Murakami makes a much easier read than any of Thomas Pynchon's books. Don DeLillo's White Noise and End Zone came to mind, only with less pretension.

I like Kafka on the Shore more than any other novel I've read this year, but this enthusiasm comes with a significant reservation. The book ends with a series of quasi-mystical connections and encounters that do not always make sense. I'm tempted to attribute my moments of confusion to an ignorance of some sort of Eastern philosophy or uniquely Japanese themes. If this were a Western book, I suspect that I'd be less forgiving of the final fifty pages, where, it seems, things go a bit off the rails.

At other points, the book reminded me of Tom Robbins, whose novels I find entertaining but slight and forgettable. Is Nakata some sort of embodiment of a weak Japanese cultural memory and a country drawn to but tortured by Western products and pop culture? Do Colonel Sanders and Johnnie Walker instead give Nakata (and early 21st century Japan) a way of mediating some kind of national postwar pain? Or is this just slightly lazy brand-droppings, some sort of literary cheap trick from Murakami?

Reading the book in translation makes me a lot more forgiving. In much the way Barcelona's Ted and Fred took a generous view of Spain's women, I'm giving the book's possible weaknesses the best possible interpretation. Even if I weren't, I would have loved this book anyway. A couple years from now I'll probably think of Kafka on the Shore as my first Murakami.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Counterpoint: No, they are not, in fact, ready for any football

If experience teaches us anything, it's that NCAA Football 2006 on Playstation 2 does not predict the vicissitudes of real life.

On Playstation 2, Michigan beats Notre Dame 63-0 and holds the Irish to 140 yards (including -14 rushing yards) while Steve Breaston breaks three or more offensive records.

In real life, Michigan chokes every time it's in the red zone. Chad Henne makes lousy decisions and inaccurate throws and Breaston drops a key pass. I get stuck with a sunburn, a bad mood, and yet another case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Before, I was sad to be leaving for a trip to Europe, knowing that I'd miss a full third of the college football season. Now, I'm glad to be escaping.

Do you think rooting for a shitty football program will be enough to get refugee status in the E.U.? Me neither. Even if it did, I'd be stuck watching something lame like soccer or competitive jumping jacks. (No disrespect to fans of soccer or jumping jacks.)

Thanks to all who made the weekend in Ann Arbor so great, fucktarded offense notwithstanding. New York is home but Ann Arbor remains the mother country. Some nights I get weepy just thinking about it.

Here are a few pictures from the weekend. The sandwich is a Georgia Reuben from Zingerman's, an Ann Arbor institution. The reason it's pictured here? Georgia Reubens have cole slaw as an ingredient.






Am I the only one ...

... who likes the Burger King commercials with the creepy "King" mascot superimposed on NFL footage? I won't lie, they put a small spring in my step.

I hated the ones during the NCAA Tournament with the vaguely creepy ranch, even though I approved of their high quantity of pretty ladies. And the ones with the plastic-headed King waking up in the dude's bed, well, the less said about those the better.

But what's funnier than said creepy mascot taking a pick to the house? Not much, I say. We're only a couple weeks into football season, but already, TV has made up for those horrible Taco Bell commercials last season which made me inappropriately despondent for humanity's prospects. Now if we could just get Aaron Taylor to be the sidekick on someone's talk show.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Now that it seems rather clear that there's little reason to be confident that much contingency planning for large-scale disasters has taken place at the federal level, I think it's time that Cole Slaw Blog makes a gentle suggestion: Someone, anyone (preferably someone smarter than we) needs to request federal or state and local contingency plans for evacuating large urban areas, right?

It's been four years since the unimaginable became all too imaginable, and we've recently learned that when it comes to evacuating large metropolitan areas, it'd be foolish to assume that those responsible have a plan. This, I think, is what open-records laws were made for.

While I can evision certain parts of the plan being sensitive, surely there's enough bare-bones information in there to confirm that someone, somewhere, has a clue.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Why yes, I am ready for some football

It's officially on. Yes, the college football season is two weeks old, and my past two Saturdays have been spent in glorious football immersion. But the beginning of the NFL season is always a big day for me. I was raised on this.

My mom had Browns season tickets before she met my father, and I more childhood Sundays in a certain big, drafty, filthy football cathedral by the lake than I ever did in church.

My Cleveland Browns memories are a happy tangled jumble of sights and sounds (and, let's be honest, smells.) I remember my dad complaining that Paul McDonald had all the mobility of a fencepost. And I remember the way the hot dogs tasted, hot and damp out of the vendor's metal box. (Yes, the mustard was properly brown.)

There was a reassuring sameness at Browns games. My parents always clipped the rosters from the paper and stuck them to a piece of thin cardboard with clear tape, for a weatherproof program. We'd pass it back and forth with my grandfather, who had arranged it so his seat was right by ours by slipping some cash to a kid on one of those seat-improvement derby days and having him run straight to the seat he wanted.

We sat three or four rows up from the main walkway. Section 33. During TV timeouts or halftime, I'd watch all people go by. It was a parade of bad mustaches and mullets. Sateen union jackets and giveaway painter's caps. I'd look at the skyscrapers visible out the open end of the stadium and look at cars going by on the Shoreway and wonder how anyone could be doing something else while the Browns were playing.

I guess I didn't think very big-picture back then. I didn't look ahead on the schedule, or wonder how the Browns stacked up with the rest of the AFC Central or anything like that. I just wanted to go to the games and watch the Browns win.

And now, 20 years later, it's still all I really want on a fall Sunday. I love football season.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Advise and consent

Earlier, I was wondering aloud if Mike Brown had to be confirmed by the Senate. Turns out he did. And didn't. Oh, the wonkery. It's all fodder for the DVD "Policy Roundtable: Too Hot for public-access."

Regardless, I can't get too upset about the way in which "Brownie" got waved into office. Even though it's now clear that he's a total hack, I certainly didn't raise my voice at the time and I can't remember anyone else doing so. It's one of those stupid Washington things, kind of like the way no one in Congress really reads the bills. It's naive and quaint to expect otherwise.

Well, maybe this is a bit too Schoolhouse Rock of me, but I 'm going to say it's time we rethought that. Senators probably aren't going to start taking that part of their jobs seriously unless their constituents demand it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Random civilian disrupts photo op with profanity

Dick Cheney's effort to fake interest in dead poor people was briefly disrupted this afternoon when an off-camera protestor shouted, "Go fuck yourself, Mr. Cheney. Go fuck yourself."

What happened next is interesting. A CNN reporter asked, "Are you getting a lot of that Mr. Vice President?"

Cheney responded, "First time I've heard it. Must be a friend of John..., er, ah - never mind."

John who? John Kerry? John Edwards? John Conyers?

A smart politician would have faked compassion. He or she would have said, "I understand that people are unhappy with circumstances and we're doing everything we can blah blah blah ..." Then, he or she would be praised for compassion and understanding. He or she wouldn't have gone for chuckles, and wouldn't have cut themselves off from jabbing at an unknowable John.

I mean, if Ronald Reagan were in office, he'd have 90 percent of the country weeping and hopeful every time he stepped in front of the microphone. The House of 1,000 Corpses would be described as a future shining city on a hill. His charisma in this disaster would have ensured a 1,000-year reign of witches.

Maybe it's the country's good fortune that Bush, Cheney and Chertoff suck at looking interested. If they pretended to give half a damn, they could still do nothing, only they'd get away with it. At least these bastards show their true colors.

Catch the video at Crooks & Liars.

I also recommend reading David Enders's article at Mother Jones and the Wall Street Journal's account of white New Orleans. The rock has been lifted.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Blame game

OK, so Scott McClellan admonished reporters not to play the "blame game" in a sort of attempt to demand the kind of obeisance and support the president got after Sept. 11.

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, what should be done immediately is that we get help to the people who need it, and we continue to do that. We have been doing that; we're continuing to do that. I know some just want to engage in the blame game. There will be a time to talk about all these issues. We've got problems to solve, Bob --

Q But --

MR. McCLELLAN: Bob, we've got problems to solve and we're going to stay focused on solving those problems and helping those who need it.

If that's the case, what would we call this? Sounds like a blame game to me. Doesn't the president know that questioning the government makes the baby Jesus cry?

Geography lessons

When Michael Chertoff referred to "the city of Louisiana," that was a verbal slip. Stupid and it made him sound callous, but a verbal slip nonetheless.

Here is ignorance on a grander scale. At least he's funny:
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said the administration is "getting a bad rap" for the emergency response.

"This is the largest disaster in the history of the United States, over an area twice the size of Europe," Stevens said. "People have to understand this is a big, big problem."

The Associated Press later excised the remark from its story.

UPDATE: And then there's this bit of fun:

A South Carolina health official said his colleagues scrambled Tuesday when FEMA gave only a half-hour notice to prepare for the arrival of a plane carrying as many as 180 evacuees to Charleston.

But the plane, instead, landed in Charleston, West Virginia, 400 miles away.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Cronies and consequences

Tell me again why the president appointed a former show-horse czar Michael Brown to head an agency whose core mission is about as essential as governmental responsiblities get? I think the answer is pretty clear: Geroge W. Bush values his buddies first. You and I and everyone else come a distant second.

You know, this really gets to the heart of my objections to him as president, which date to 1999, when I made sure to vote for John McCain in the Michigan Republican primary. He's a crony conservative who doesn't respect government (and by implication, citizens). Or do you think Bush saw the bang-up job he did running the International Arabian Horse Association made him just the guy to entrust lives to?

This raises another question, one I haven't been able to answer in what has been an admittedly cursory investigation. Did Michael Brown require Senate confirmation? If so, maybe it's time for us to start demanding that Senators help weed out the patronage picks and require at least some minimal qualifications in appointees to important positions.

Compassionate conservative

Barbara Bush the elder:
What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is that they all want to stay in Texas. Everybody is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway so this (chuckle)--this is working very well for them.
Keith Olbermann rips the national leadership to shreds. Here's a taste:
The seeming characterization of our government that it was on vacation when the city was lost, and could barely tear itself away from commemorating V.J. Day and watching Monty Python's Flying Circus, to at least pretend to get back to work. The seeming identification of these hapless bureaucrats: their pathetic use of the future tense in terms of relief they could’ve brought last Monday and Tuesday — like the President, whose statements have looked like they’re being transmitted to us by some kind of four-day tape-delay.

But no. The incompetence and the ludicrous prioritization will forever be symbolized by one gaffe by of the head of what is ironically called “The Department of Homeland Security”: “Louisiana is a city…”

I found these excerpts on Atrios, the past week's definitive chronicler of outrage and incompetence.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Chief Justice Roberts

A couple of people -- namely, HMQ2K5 and her significant other, blog pin-up Brian -- asked about my reaction to the president's decision to name John Roberts chief justice.

The public must always know what Cole Slaw Blog thinks of the judiciary's future.

As I told them, I don't think it's a big deal, except for the part about having the first openly gay chief justice. It doesn't affect my views on Roberts. As before, we're left with a guy who doesn't have the egregious record of the paleoconservatives Bush might have named. In some respects I'm cautiously optimistic, in others I'm concerned, but I'm willing to hold my breath and hope that over the course of 30 years he'll try not to destroy the lives of women, minorities or the poor; as noted, he is ardently pro-gay, so they're safe.

The chief justice position is largely administrative, involving the assignment of opinions and the agenda of the justices' post-argument conferences. A chief justice affects the efficient functioning of the Supreme Court (the consensus was that Rehnquist was a superb administrator but that his predecessor Warren Burger was a nightmare) but in terms of the future of abortion or other issues, Roberts's influence as chief justice won't be any stronger than as an associate justice. He will still be the junior (and gayest) member of a very experienced (and straight) court.

It will be interesting if Bush names New Orleans-based Edith Brown Clement to the now-unanointed O'Connor seat. He would nominate a true moderate, a woman and a New Orleans-based maritime lawyer. Let the healing begin.

Lastly, I am sad and sentimental about Rehnquist. As a dork, I've spent a decent portion of my last six years reading, arguing about, and attacking his opinions. He was thoughtful and brilliant, and liked to play tennis with his clerks. With Hurricane Katrina still so absorbing and infuriating, though, it is hard to muster much sadness for the passing of a man who led a long and rewarding life.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sunday Stylin': not today

Our Sunday Stylin' roundup will not be seen today because, between the Rehnquist news and the continuing agony on the Gulf coast, it would seem even sillier than usual. You can go read it yourself and parse the joys of Rich Gay vs. Poor Gay in Provincetown, Mass.; a moveable feast of status affirmations in Los Angeles and the section's own tribute to New Orleans. The last of these is a list of "22 reasons America needs New Orleans, the national capital of eccentricity" and it's not terrible. Mostly. Some are downright pointless and stupid. Here are some of the better ones.
  • Oyster loaf at Casamento's on Magazine Street. The crunchy local French bread showers crumbs on your hands. Each bite contains bread, mayo and the delectable local bivalve, breaded and brilliantly fried. Casamento's closes down for the summer because oysters are better other times of the year.
  • If you are a grown man, this is the only place in America where you can step off an airplane, and be guaranteed that within 30 minutes a respectable woman unknown to you will call you "baby," as in, "How you doin', baby!" If you are a grown woman, you will be called "darlin' " whether you are the least bit darlin' or not.
  • You can stand at the foot of Ursulines Avenue and watch a huge oceangoing ship slide by above the level of your head.
Fair enough. Though frilly hats and the author's cozy relationship with a real estate agent aren't exactly national treasures. For a more serious assessment of the importance of New Orleans, please see this article, which was dredged up by a commenter over at TPM Cafe.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"If you want a little thing in your yin-yang"

I'm not positive, but I think I just heard those lyrics in the new intro sequence to College Gameday. And that was the least annoying thing about it.

Somebody at ESPN needs to be fired immediately.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Things that aren't depressing

It's hard to focus on silliness when you're watching your country go to hell.

Here are some things that have made me happy anyway.
  • The John Roberts confirmation hearings start next week. Conservative Bloggers Who Support the Gay Judge Roberts want you to know that they support him. Even if he is gay.
  • Conservative Bloggers Who Support the Gay Judge Roberts have learned that Judge Roberts is a cousin of Kanye West ("who apparently is a rapper") and that Mr. West loves Judge Roberts. Even if he is gay.
  • Man with cat on head -- Maggie and Oliver, I'll see you next weekend.
  • Hey! College football season gets rolling tomorrow! In a recent season of NCAA Football 2006 on the Playstation 2, the following occurred: Michigan went undefeated and beat Tennesses in the Rose Bowl, 42-7; Mike Hart won the Doak Walker and Maxwell trophies; virtually the entire Michigan defense was First Team, All-American; and Steve Breaston won the Heisman Trophy.
  • Incidentally, why does Steve Spurrier get such a definitive nickname -- "The Ol' Ball Coach"? I don't hate him like everyone else, but still.
  • My co-blogger can't catch crabs enough.

I wish I could list more things that aren't depressing. Unfortunately, it has been an ugly week.

Circumspice, Denny, circumspice

Dennis Hastert really needs a clue. While I hope his "questioning" the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans was made in an honest, searching manner, his past performance leaves me wondering. Is he really just someone who seeks honest answers wherever they may lie, or is he just a big, dumb idiot? Or simply a political hack?

I can't say for sure. Assuming that the House speaker is, in fact, just wondering if New Orleans is important to the rest of the nation, I point him and other skeptics in the direction of the nearest gas station. Or to any one of a number of stories about the economic impact of having the Crescent City out of commission.

UPDATE: This, Denny, is how we do it. Honest questions, not archly ominous ones. There are good questions to be raised, but suggesting bulldozers probably isn't the way to do it.

* True Michiganders and lovers of random-ass trivia among us know that circumspice is Latin for "oh, just look around, will you?" in the state's motto. It comes in handy whether seeking a pleasant peninsula, or just a goddamned clue, already.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Polling the room

If today's New York Times editorial about the government's failure to grasp the fall of New Orleans was a tad dainty for you, others were happy to rev up the rhetoric.

First is Rude Pundit:
Here's the Rude Pundit's fuckin' amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Fuck all yer anti-choice, save the flag bullshit amendments. Here it goes: No motherfucker who became wealthy due to inheritance is allowed to be President. No pampered pukes who get their hands dirty only as a lark. No asshole socially-connected cocksuckers who own three, four homes, fuck, no one who owns a huge fuckin' house they call a "vacation home." Sure, sure, we may have to sacrifice a Kennedy or two along the way, but, shit, and c'mon, between George Bush I's golfing during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 (which was a double fuck-up because not only was he allegedly the President, but he was in the middle of a campaign to do it again) and now George Bush II's, well, fuck, golfing and goofin' on the guitar when a million of his citizens are displaced and over half of them are fucked for good, we can sacrifice a potential liberal or two to ensure that there's never a President Jenna.

For there he was, our goddamned President, standing there in the picturesque Rose Garden, surrounded, like Al Capone with his capos, by his cabinet, as if to say, "Don't worry - you won't have to rely on me." Having been pried away from his "working vacation" like a meth addict from an iodine factory, Bush appeared irritated that he had to talk to us last night. He smirked, he gave a campaign-like laundry list of shit heading to New Orleans and elsewhere, he told us what we already fuckin' knew from CNNMSNBCFox: that Hurricane Katrina was major, that his "folks" around him were ready to do their jobs, but, hell, at least he didn't mention how jim-fuckin-dandy Iraq is.
Next, national treasure Angry Black Bitch:
If we follow “Scooter logic”, we should blame the whole mess on Mexico, claim they have the ability to manufacture hurricanes in a lab, produce diagrams to show such a hurricane manufacturing process and invade Mexico after the rest of the world calls us crazy. Then, after it is proven they didn’t manufacture the hurricane, Scooter would trench in and plea with us to “stay the course”. Meanwhile, the hurricane damage would be left half cleaned up, Mexicans would rise up against us and be labeled an insurgency and Scooter would then use that insurgency as a justification to…all together now…stay the course!

The South will rebuild. A bitch comes from Southern stock and they will survive and find a way to thrive.

But right now all my ass can say is shit, fuck and shit again.
David Brooks, of all people, provides a useful history lesson and predicts that political tumult will follow:

We'd like to think that the stories of hurricanes and floods are always stories of people rallying together to give aid and comfort. And, indeed, each of America's great floods has prompted a popular response both generous and inspiring. But floods are also civic examinations. Amid all the stories that recur with every disaster - tales of sudden death and miraculous survival, the displacement and the disease - there is also the testing.

Civic arrangements work or they fail. Leaders are found worthy or wanting. What's happening in New Orleans and Mississippi today is a human tragedy. But take a close look at the people you see wandering, devastated, around New Orleans: they are predominantly black and poor. The political disturbances are still to come.

James Wolcott declares that "New Orleans died for Bush's sins" and quotes at length from Paul Craig Roberts:

What a terrible casualty of the Iraqi war – one of our oldest and most beautiful cities, a famous city, a historic city.

Distracted by its phony war on terrorism, the U.S. government had made no preparations in the event Hurricane Katrina brought catastrophe to New Orleans. No contingency plan existed. Only now after the disaster are FEMA and the Corps of Engineers trying to assemble the material and equipment to save New Orleans from the fate of Atlantis.

Also -- and pardon me if you've already heard this -- but for a large part of the day, FEMA was funneling Hurricane Katrina donations to a Pat Robertson front organization. This organization was previously found to have given economic support to one of Robertson's diamond mines in Zaire.

Lastly, while thousands of Americans suffer and others slowly die, the American secretary of state went shopping for luxury goods.