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Saturday, May 29, 2004

Special San Francisco edition

As I walked down to the new Embarcadero plaza at the end of Market Street, I stopped in at one of these Left Coast coffee places for some serious, snap-to-attention Left Coast coffee, and goddamn if Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” wasn’t on the speakers.  And I really was sitting on the dock of the bay, too.  I suppose they have the tune on 15-minute tape loop.  If I start hearing Richie Havens’ version of “San Francisco Bay” in stores today, then I’ll know itÝs all about the tourism.

So what am I doing in San Francisco?  Officially, it’s the convention of the American Literature Association, at which I appeared on a roundtable on teaching Don DeLillo’s White Noise.  Unofficially, I’m hanging out with Bay Area friends and writers Joseph Lease and Larry Gallagher, reading about the history of affirmative action, and (at the moment) planning on taking a ferry across the bay.

The sun is out, the air is clear and crisp, and the bay is beautiful beyond belief.  But I’m not blogging about those things.  That would only generate envy and resentment at us jet-setting academics who flit from conference to conference having a grand old time.  (Actually I’ve never been to the ALA before; I don’t go to very many conferences, now that I think of it.) And I don’t want your envy and resentment.  I want your pity and horror!

Really.  I’m serious.  I have flown on exactly five occasions since October.  On four of those five flights, including this one, I have arrived without baggage.  Gainesville, Florida: a four-hour delay in State College, and no bags in Gainesville.  Atlanta: no baggage.  St. Louis: one-hour delay in Pittsburgh, and no baggage.  San Francisco, no baggage.  What the hell is going on?

On two of those flights, I knew perfectly well what was going on: my connecting flight was one of those Brazilian needle-nosed jets, the kind in which one crawls into the fuselage on all fours and is strapped into one’s seat in fetal position.  They were full flights, leaving the northern climes in late winter, which meant that according to the laws of physics, the combined weight of the passengers and their bags would bring the plane down in some catastrophic manner unless my garment bag were unloaded from the plane and put on a later flight.  (I’m not kidding˝ two different airlines actually told me they were doing this.) Well, I’m happy to be inconvenienced slightly if it keeps forty or fifty of my fellow beings from dying a most gruesome death.  But on the St. Louis and San Francisco flights, I wound up being the only passenger whose luggage was mishandled.  This I do not understand.

The irony is that the only reason I travel with a garment bag is to bring a suit for a public presentation.  When the bag doesn’t arrive, I wind up having to speak in my travelling clothes, so that when the bag arrives the next day, I have no real use for it.  I might just as well have brought a tiny overnight bag or small suitcase that would escape the attention of weight-conscious baggage handlers at hubs around the nation.  Now, this isn’t a terrible thing in itself, because academics (yes, even those of us who teach cultural studies) are allowed to appear in public rumpled and disheveled to some degree.  But when you fly for seven hours, arrive in San Francisco at midnight (3 am Eastern), and have no toiletries and nothing fresh to wear for your conference presentation the next day, it’s downright unhygenic.

I do want to acknowledge that US Airways took such pity on my abject state that it issued me a little overnight bag (razor, deodorant, toothbrush-toothpaste, etc.) and even a small clothing allowance.  This allowed me to stop by the Gap yesterday morning for some lightweight˝ and clean!˝ summer clothing, so that I was not an offense to the sensibilities of my fellow panelists and conference interlocutors.  I think the fact that this was my fourth bagless voyage may have moved even the heart of the lost-baggage clerk, who, of course, hears nothing all day except complaints about lost baggage.  (My demeanor is this:  I am not an angry airline passenger.  I am merely abject and weary, especially at 3 am Eastern time.)

Anyway, things are all right now.  My bags arrived in my hotel˝ the Hyatt Regency at the Embarcadero Center, which should be familiar to all you Mel Brooks fans for its role in the film High Anxiety˝ only 21 hours after I did, at 9 pm last night, and now it’s Saturday at noon, and it’s a beautiful day.  When I get back to Pennsylvania, though, I will have to sit down and think this all out: as Freud (and, before him, folk tales) taught us, you only need three occurrences to establish a pattern.  Four is just eerie.  Maybe my bag is being flagged for a reason?  Maybe, just maybe, I should remove all these stickers I put on it last summer?

Posted by Michael on 05/29 at 09:57 AM
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Thursday, May 27, 2004

New York Times reporter Judith Miller warns of possible Cuban bioterror attack

I just thought that this might be a good time to go back to May 2002 and revisit Judith Miller’s seemingly carefully-hedged and scrupulously-attributed claims that Cuba and Iran were teaming up to hit the US with biological weapons.  Of course, Ms. Miller doesn’t come right out and say, “you have to understand, I’m shilling for the far-right tinfoil-helmeted Undersecretary of State John Bolton.” But she doesn’t really need to:

I think what you have here is a problem with how to interpret information about what Cuba is doing. Yes, there is a lot of activity that is suspicious. There’s a lot of circumstantial evidence. And there are a lot of very unsavory contacts, as the administration regards them, between Cuba and especially Iranians who are involved in biological weapons.

And this kind of information led Mr. Bolton and before him another senior State Department official to say that there is a limited offensive effort. Specifically, the State Department said Cuba was experimenting with anthrax and that, of course, got our attention in the press.

But the debate is over how to interpret this information.

This is “embedded journalism” at its finest:  note how Miller embeds “as the administration regards them” in that first paragraph and caps this off with a reference to “debate,” as if she herself is agnostic.  Note also that it’s not just Bolton she’s quoting here:  no, there’s another State Department official before him, so clearly this can’t be looney-tunes saber-rattling Boltonian spin.

What about people who dispute these claims, like former President Carter?  Well, Carter might be a dupe, or he might be in a “camp”:

CNN: Do you have reason to believe that President Carter got duped [Monday]?

MILLER: Well, I think that really how you see this issue depends on what you would like to see. I mean I think that there are many individuals who would like to see a loosening of the four-decade-old embargo against Cuba. And I think that President—former President Carter may be in that camp.

Point being, people, let’s not forget that Miller wasn’t just a Chalabi shill.  She was an all-purpose neocon/extremist shill.

Posted by Michael on 05/27 at 08:22 AM
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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The 40 percenters

Yeah, yeah, Bush’s numbers are down.  But in order for Democrats to get his approval rating to be where it should be, post-Clarke, post-Abu Ghraib-- that is, somewhere between 5 and 15 percent (somewhat higher in the South)-- we need to understand just why his remaining supporters are still hanging on.

So, as a public service to all the smart, well-informed, snarky progressives and liberals and lefties reading this blog on a regular basis, I’ve devised a handy pop quiz that we can distribute to Bush supporters, in order to discover (in the best traditions of Gramscian cultural studies) the continuing appeal of the Bush presidency.

What is it you like most about the Bush administration and its policies?

___ I like the lying! It turned me on when the President spiked that EPA report on the toxic air quality around Ground Zero, thereby consigning thousands of firefighters, police, Guardsmen, rescue workers, and ordinary citizens to debilitating lifelong respiratory illness!  If people are so worried about a few tiny particles floating around, let them buy those little fiber masks, for goodness’ sake!  Every Ace Hardware sells ‘em.

___ I like the incompetence! It’s so cool the way the President and his advisors blew off legitimate CIA and DIA intelligence on Iraq, and decided instead to take the word of an Iraqi double agent who’s working together with Iranian Islamists.  The post-"Mission Accomplished” occupation of Iraq has been every bit as cool!

___ I like the torture! I came for the tax cuts, but I’m staying for the torture and humiliation of random Arabs from Gitmo to Abu Ghraib!  It’s such a pleasant surprise, and so damn long overdue!  That’ll show whoever-they-all-are that you don’t mess with the U.S.!

___ I like the cuts to veterans’ benefits! Why should a bunch of veterans get all those free medical goodies?  I support the troops, sure, but only by flying a flag from my car.  Don’t come around here asking me to pay more taxes just because some soldier comes home with the sniffles.

___ I like the attacks on overtime pay! I’m sick and tired of people freeloading off the rest of us by working ten or twelve hours a day.  And I’m sick and tired of the way Democrats pander to their special interests.  It’s about time we had a President tough enough to draw the line when it comes to outrageous labor demands.

___ I like the $500 billion deficit! Clinton made me sick with all his feelgood liberal talk about “balancing” the so-called “budget.” Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter!

___ I like the new Medicare plan! Though I wish someone would explain it to me.  What’s this about donuts being covered after two thousand dollars?

___ I like the cowboy hat! I also like the whole Crawford ranch brush-clearing thing.  I think it’s shameful that Bill Clinton left him all that brush to clear.

___ Could you repeat the question? I wasn’t really paying attention.

Please clip and send to a Bush voter near you.  Thanks.

Posted by Michael on 05/26 at 09:21 AM
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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Finals exam

Stanley Cup finals begin in five minutes.  The call here is Lightning in six, though personally I’d prefer that the series go seven.

Posted by Michael on 05/25 at 01:57 PM
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Wingnuts furious at Chalabi news

Chalabi Revelations Spark Outrage

American conservatives reacted angrily yesterday to recent reports that Iraqi exile and former Bush administration confidant Ahmad Chalabi has been plotting with Islamist mullahs in Iran, both to leak sensitive information about the U.S. occupation over the past year and, indeed, to induce the U.S. to embark on the occupation in the first place in the hope that it would oust Saddam and strengthen anti-American forces in Iran.

“This is an outrage,” cried Fox News analyst Morton Kondracke.  “The media need to stop spreading bad news about the war in Iraq, and go back to believing whatever our President tells us.  If he says that Chalabi is a friend of the United States who has valuable information on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, that’s good enough for me.  If he says that Chalabi is a dangerous man who is not to be trusted to tell you the correct time, that’s also good enough for me.  And if he says both things in the same week, I will believe them both.  I await further instructions from my leader.”

“Yep,” said a bleary, strung-out talk radio personality who spoke on condition that he remain anonymous.  “Thassa way it oughta be.  Jussa frat prank.  Britney Spears.”

The blogger known as Instagator promptly agreed.  “I’m just talking through an alternate orifice here, you know, not really thinking about what I’m saying or anything, but how long do you think that the freedom of the press˝ which never really existed prior to the 1960s anyway˝ will be tolerated in the United States if the media keep trying to criticize the President and his foreign policy?  You know, just what if.”

Every other conservative blogger promptly agreed with Instagator’s prompt agreement.

Chalabi Revelations Spark Outrage

American conservatives reacted angrily yesterday to recent reports that Iraqi exile and former Bush administration confidant Ahmad Chalabi has been plotting with Bill and Hillary Clinton to defeat George Bush in November.

“This is an outrage,” cried Fox News analyst Morton Kondracke.  “As any sane person can see, Ahmad Chalabi has been working against American interests all along, and we need a full and complete Congressional investigation into how U.S. intelligence could ever have relied so thoroughly and so disastrously on a known scoundrel and double-dealer.”

“I don’t want to sound like one of the nattering nabobs of negativism,” said New York Times columnist William Safire.  “But is it too far-fetched to suppose that Chalabi was working with John Kerry to install Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket in 2004, and that he was also working with Hillary to have Kerry ‘disappeared’ not long after the election?  Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not.  All I can say for sure is that Hillary Clinton will be indicted, sooner rather than later.

“Yep,” said a bleary, strung-out talk radio personality who spoke on condition that he remain anonymous.  “Thassa way it oughta be.  Fort Marcy Park.  Fort Marcy Park.”

Conservative bloggers promptly called for Hillary Clinton’s impeachment.

Posted by Michael on 05/25 at 03:39 AM
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Monday, May 24, 2004

Rip in space-time continuum

So this was my second consecutive weekend without Internet access-- in fact, my second consecutive weekend at an extended-family residence, and thus my second consecutive weekend without access to the outside world in any form.  Last week, it was the B├ęrub├ę-o-rama in the Tidewater area.  This time, it was Janet’s parents’ place near New Haven, where I wound up driving Janet and Jamie on Saturday morning after Janet woke up in our NY hotel with one of those blinding migraines.  This also means that I’ve spent two consecutive weekends trying to “help” family members with the unfathomable intricacies of their domestic affairs.  Like persuading my mother to plug in the shredder and begin thinking about the initial procedures for commencing to inaugurate the opening stages of how to plan to get rid of newsweeklies from the mid-1990s, and fixing my father-in-law’s lawn-sprinkler system so that it will not only run for 30 minutes every other day except during leap years in every other sunspot cycle, but it will also co-ordinate its CPU with that of his burglar alarm and call-blocking system, so that if an intruder breaks into their house and attempts to receive a call from a telemarketer, he will be promptly and embarrassingly drenched to the skin.

So I’ve been trying to catch up with the news this torpid Monday morning, and I see that George Bush has fallen off a bicycle, the U.S. has bombed a wedding party full of innocent civilians, leaving stone-faced Pentagon staffers to lie about the details.  I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.  Didn’t these things already happen last year and the year before?  (And check out that headline on the Hertzberg piece!)

This is really eerie.  Next thing you know there’ll be a disputed election or something.

Posted by Michael on 05/24 at 04:16 AM
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