Thursday, June 30, 2005

Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week

Ode to Teflon Tim: Limericks

There once was a man named Tim
And my his hair was so prim
He pleaded and plotted
His ties they were dotted
And toTim, gov'ment was on the rim.

No new taxes, said this Teflon man Tim
Though the budget situation looked grim
"This is completely unacceptable;
I find public money contemptible"
So as you can see Teflon Tim was quite dim.

The state still needs money, surmised Teflon Tim
And from the smokers he could certainly skim
A dollar a pack
Don't call it a tax
Or Teflon Tim will break precious limbs.

And the tribes certainly owe us, said Teflon Tim
Though an historical study proves this notion slim
"A casino we'll build!
All will be gild!"
But Teflon Tim knew this was just a sad whim.

So we must shutdown, said Teflon Tim
Until the gov'ment is rightfully trim
Leadership will trickle
And he's now in a Pickle
But there are no worries when you're Teflon Tim.

Katherine Kersten on...the Supreme Court

I'm not going to spend much time debating Katherine Kersten's points in her latest Strib column. In the two Supreme Court decisions she has chosen to highlight - loosening eminent domain* rules and a confusing stance on two separation of church and state cases** - I share some of her concerns.

Using these two cases as a backdrop, though, Kersten goes on to seek an "expert" opinion on what makes a good Supreme Court nominee, as a vacancy is widely anticipated. Who did she choose as an expert? None other than U.S. Senator Norman Coleman, who predicatably makes the assertions that any Supreme Court judge should follow a strict reading of the Constitution, should not be moderate (because apparently moderates don't have principles), and should share George W. Bush's political philosophy.

I apologize for sounding crude, but what a load of crap. A large part of the reason conservatives hate judges and the courts is because they are a moderating institutional influence on the nation that resides outside of the two- and four-year partisan election cycles. The fact that they tend to be moderate is good because that's precisely where most Americans stand in their principles. One need only look back a few months ago at the horror known as the Terri Schiavo debate and its aftermath to see that the extreme conservatives in power can't stand the notion of others challenging them. But those challenges are necessary in order to protect the country and its citizens from overzealous legislators such as Norm Coleman and many of his counterparts in the Republican party.

Here's another problem I have with the Kersten's article, and ones in the past. The best columnists seek out people who they may disagree with and then explain why they have those disagreements. Kersten only seeks out and writes about people she agrees with, thereby presenting herself not as a thoughtful writer but as a shrill ideologue shilling for the Republican party platform.

*Eminent domain (in which a municipality is able to acquire privately owned land for far less than it may be worth and develop it for the "good" of the community) can be a blessing and curse; and in the hands of overzealous well-to-do suburbanites its power can now be used to create a further stratification of wealth in this country.

**The Court split on two separation cases in which public displays of the Ten Commandments were called into question. One decision, a Texas case involving a Ten Commandments monument built in a public park sometime in the '50s, was upheld leaving the structure intact. The other decision, a Kentucky case where the commandments were framed and displayed in courtrooms, was ruled unconstitutional. The fact that the cases were split in their direction reveals the ideological difficulties they represent, but also leave many questions left unanswered, which will in turn lead to many more lawsuits before it's figured out.

Daily Demise

  • Today's the day, kiddos. Minnesota Meltdown 2005 is nigh, and I hope you're prepared. I know I am: I've got fresh batteries in all of my flashlights, a year's supply of Ramen noodles, and a 50 gallon drum of fresh drinking water stored in the basement. But seriously, the fact that our leaders haven't been able to resolve this budget dispute is pretty ridiculous. And while I admit that I'm biased, I think the bulk of the responsibility for this display rests on Teflon Tim's shoulders. The DFL have backed away from their most controversial measures, and they passed the bipartisan transporation bill almost two months ago that would have helped avert all this (if Teflon T hadn't VETO'd it). So here we are. Good news: they're going to pass a bill to keep state parks open. Bad news: Pawlenty and his ilk won't even agree to a "lights-on" measure that would ensure government runs normally for another month or so while they figure this out. Does anyone know what happens during a shutdown? I mean, how long could this thing go on?
  • Here's a great reason to open a sex shop: Spite.
  • It wouldn't be a beautiful day in Minnesota without constant reminders that we now have real, genuine, we're-not-kidding-they're-gorgeous, Hollywood (that's in California) stars right in our own little St. Paul! And, we even have those, those, those, papa-rAzzzees! Real ones...from New York and London, Engaland!
  • Another annoyance that's soon-to-be-coming to St. Paul: mayoral polls. The City Hall Scoop says the Chris Coleman and Randy Kelly campaign staffs will be setting goals of personally calling every St. Paul resident 113 times in the next year. Ok, that's a slight exaggeration, but you get the point.
  • In a more somber note, the Minnesota Women's Press has an excellent article about the struggles of women in Darfur. (

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

BOOKS: Sizeable Assets

Star Wood Leigh becomes a star in Pamela Anderson’s debut novel Star: a novel

That Pamela Anderson would add “writer” to her résumé was improbable and unexpected; that her novel, Star (written with the ghostwriting abilities of Eric Shaw Quinn), would be a thinly veiled autobiography was not. For what else does she have to share or know other than her own high glam life? Those with any familiarity of Anderson’s bio might say that the cover of the book explains everything. Naked with white stars painted all over her body which make her strategically covered sizeable assets that much more tempting and irresistible—this is the stuff her reputation is made of. Indeed, early press releases indicate that her debut novel was going to be titled “From the Waist Up.” (She signed a 2-book deal with Atria, an imprint of Simon & Schuster; Star Struck is to be released August 16). Like Paris Hilton and Jenna Jameson before her, Pamela hopes to parlay her reputation as a sex icon into commercial literary success. If The New York Times Bestseller list is any indication, her book has become a runaway success, and thus deserves a decent review.

If Anderson was a non-fiction writer she would be fired from her job for the same reason New York Times reporter, and now novelist, Michael Finkel was fired from his (see his excellent book True Story). While he never violated the spirit of the truth, the facts didn’t check out. It is not going too far to suspect that, like Finkel, Anderson’s Star contains nothing that is not true in spirit (or at least nothing that Anderson didn’t convey to her ghost writer over lunches), but it is a waste of time to try and match the fictional characters to their real-life counterparts because the latter serve not as brute facts but as so much raw material used liberally to shape the former.

After all, it is a novel, even if one preordained to “beach read” status: "Small-town girl comes to California; falls into a lot of different traps here and there, shoots for a very sexy magazine, and meets powerful men. It's fiction!" Anderson said, laughing, in an interview. Yes, fiction…

In her fictitious story, Pamela Anderson Star lives in Canada Florida and is discovered by a beer company, Labatts Zax beer, when she was spotlighted on the stadium jumbotron wearing a tight Zax beer T-shirt. “And there she was.” And there they were. She became the new star in Zax beer ads, the official Miss R&R. Then Playboy Mann magazine, a national magazine celebrating sex, invited her to the mansion Castle in L.A.—Hugh HefnerMarsten Mann’s opulent hilltop home stocked with the world’s most beautiful women and the richest and most famous men—for a photo shoot. She was chosen for the cover. “It’s for real.” Encouraged by her mother’s wisdom—“Life is like sex. It’s not always good, but it’s always worth trying”—Star moved to L.A.

What will she do in L.A.?

Men. At the Castle Star meets her television idols and some of her future lovers: Van Pursens or “Stormy” from Hip-Hop Cops, TV star Vince Piccolo, and producer Peter Rodick. After the Mann shoot, she gets a job on the TV show Home Improvement Hammer Time, a half-hour sitcom about the life of a family man who hosts a home-makeover show, as the sexy, almost naked Hammer Time Girl. “Her character was there to help push the products because of how she looked in a T-shirt.” Soon enough Star finds herself on the cover of Informer, a tabloid magazine.

Star makes it big, really big, around the time she decides to get breast implants to feel more confident as the Miss March centerfold for Mann (we learn that she can still wear the same-sized bras as before; they’re just a little more snug). Soon after she will begin playing a role in Baywatch Lifeguards, Inc., a job that requires her to work at the beach a few days a week. Star never has to worry about Mae West’s maxim: “I’d rather be looked over than overlooked.” Star just naturally attracted extra attention, especially from men. Local guys had always looked hungrily at her nicely filled out body, the body that California attracted, that Hollywood guys pursued, that magazines and the press pictured, that television and movie producers sought. Once her breasts bloomed—“and bloom she did”—this small town girls life bloomed, too. As her younger brother, Hank, summed it up at her going-away party: “Come listen to my story ‘bout a girl named Star. Had a magic T-shirt that took her very far.”


Star is as much a symbol of sex as Marsten Mann’s Castle. Sexual sessions are used to punctuate and structure the story, which alternates between the career breaks she lucks upon and the men (and women) she plays with as she evolves into the notorious high profile rock-star dating Pamela Anderson.

Anderson knows her readers want the dirt on her sexual life, and its her relations with men that mark the turning points in her life. Yet the descriptions of her sexual relations don’t tell us much beyond her sexual preferences (she doesn’t like fast lovers, she prefers very skilled, handsome, rich men, especially rock stars, who are fans of foreplay and oral sex and are adventurous if not also a little bit exhibitionist), and the book ends with clumsy attempts to make the book more fun and sexy by doubling the pages devoted to description of sexual acts. If it starts out as a tale of the thrill of a small town girl going to Hollywood to become her own independent woman, it ends with two chapters—“Hollywood nights” and “life in the fast lane”—that feature her lavish life of sex, Castle parties and her love-hate relationship with the press: “The trouble is we [stars] want them to look when we want them to look, but we don’t want them to look when we don’t want them to look. I guess you can’t have it both ways.”

As Virginia Woolf reminds us, a good memoir or autobiography does not just say, “This is what happened”; but what the person was like to whom it happened. We want to know about Star and how the world looks through her eyes. It is in this regard that Star is not a contribution to literature but, as Atria books intends, a piece of commercial fiction of interest chiefly to fans of Pamela.

Ghostwriter Quinn is unable to show us Star and her world in 294 pages. Instead, he has Star’s friends and family tell the reader about her character. We are told that Star always tries to find the best in people and always makes the best out of everything. She always has a top-of-the-world mood. “Honestly, I think I could have a good time with her at a bus terminal,” says her friend Theresa. Most obvious is her characteristic “naïveté” that lends her a certain unintentional wit and that disarms and compels others to feel protective toward her. These pages ring with authenticity, as they surely reveal a bit of Anderson’s smart mouth and ability to be herself. Star is free of the need, as only very pretty women can be, for her to understand the ins and outs of life, particularly of conversations—“Sometimes I just have no idea what you are talking about, Star said, smiling and shaking her head at Billy, who only laughed harder.”

One can’t help feeling that while Star lives a luxurious and lavish life, her main aim in leaving home—to be her own woman—is incompatible with her temperament and highly public life. Star sets great store by her independence—no man has been able to possess her for long—yet she yearns to marry, to get serious and settle down. But as the guys got wilder, Star was too willing to go along for the ride. One wonders if her book is not an attempt to leave her wild life behind and get serious at settling down by poking fun at her previous life.

Daily Doom

  • Minnesota Meltdown 2005 is imminent, my friends. Sviggy Sviggum is preparing "mentally" for a shutdown, while everyone else is racking their chips. Honestly, though I've spent some time now joking about this, I thought they'd reach a last-minute deal. Today, that really doesn't look like it's going to happen. DFLers certainly share the blame in this debacle, but at least they've proposed a "lights-on" agreement that would keep the government running until a deal is made, while Teflon Tim and the GOP are still talking about initiative/referendum and the damn casino. The last glimmers of hope have the DFL backing away from their proposed income tax hike for the top earners while the GOP say they won't cut anyone off MinnesotaCare. Of course, that means the GOP will have to find some moolah, and we all know they don't like spending cash unless its on themselves. Who're the losers here? We all are.
  • On the other side of the river, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak says the only people who need to worry about getting shot are those engaged in high-risk behavior. Nick Coleman finds two cases of shootings during such dangerous behaviors as "sleeping" and "going for a walk."
  • Read about the stars in the Prairie Home Companion movie here, here, here, and here. Oh, and see the slideshow of the stars here.
  • Who are these people?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Daily Melee

  • I realize you're all waiting word on Minnesota Meltdown 2005 with bated breath, so here's my word on it: Yikes. With all the screaming and yelling, all of the theatrics and vigils and kumbaya-ing, it all comes down to four men. Teflon Tim, Deano Johnson, Sviggy Sviggum, and Matt Entenza (whose name doesn't lend itself to a clever pseudonym). They burned the midnight oil at the governor's manse last night, but no white smoke appeared. Today, it's more of the same although there are concessions and thinly disguised compromises floating in the rotunda. Though the Pawlenty's racino plan went nowhere during the regular session, the GOPers still cleave to it in hopes of ekeing out an extra $110 million per year ($220 million per biennium) on the backs of the gamblin' kind. The cigarette "fee" is all but a lock so we'll raise some more money on the lungs of the smokin' kind. This still leaves the two parties quite far apart, yet the GOP is taking a softer tone on MinnesotaCare and the DFL is taking a softer tone on visiting state parks this weekend. All I know is that if this thing actually goes through, the politicians better quit kissing babies and start smooching the gambling smokers in our fine state.
  • Former FBI whistleblower and woman trapped in the '80s Colleen Rowley announced she will run against Republican Rep. John Kline in the 2nd district (which stretches from the southern suburbs to Red Wing in the east and Le Seuer in the south). You remember Kline, don't you? The guy who carried the nuclear detonation box for Reagan? I mean, with a qualification like that what does Rowley think she's doing contesting him?
  • Speaking of Reagan, Laura Billings offers her take on his win over Lincoln in the American Idol-style "Greatest American" contest.
  • When the new meth laws force Sudafed behind the counter, will Minnesota law enforcement officials have the statistics to measure its success (or failure)?
  • Have you heard about the Mass Missed Connection going on at the Uptown Lunds? Apparently, just about every lonely soul (whose desperate enough to look for descriptions of themselves on the Craigslist Missed Connections board) has decided to go to Lunds and practice their passive-aggressive dating style among the avocados, Campbells, and frozen custard. Here's an idea, folks: When you see someone you think you may be interested in, go talk to them.
  • It's Hollywood in Minnesota time! Prairie Home Companion: The Movie is about to begin shooting in St. Paul and I'm about to puke in anticipation of more articles on Lindsay Lohan sightings.

Katherine Kersten on...Gitmo

You know what I've noticed about Katherine Kersten's articles? She rarely actually makes an argument. Instead, she relies on the words of a particular person to make a case for her, but never proceeds to look at the big picture. In this instance, she appeals to a Minnesota National Guardsman who served at Gitmo, but never witnessed nor took part in interrogations.

Kersten uses this Guardsman to make generalizations about the prisoners' quality of life at what is essentially an illegal - internationally and nationally - facility. Because the food is good, because they are allowed to exercise, because they are given copies of the Koran and arrows pointed toward Mecca, it must follow that these prisoners are treated fairly and justly, Kersten surmises. They are treated better, she continues, than they would be in their home countries.

All of that is fine and dandy, but Kersten never takes it a step farther. She ignores the legal limbo these individuals are being held in, she claims they are being held for their value to national intelligence yet most have been detained and isolated now for almost four years, and then makes the most unbelievable assertion that some detainees don't want to leave the base.

The problem with Gitmo is not the food or respect for religion or any of these on-the-surface, easy-to-explain-away conservative concoctions. (What does it say that Gitmo detainees are treated better than they would be in their home countries...that the facility is better than those in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Hardly something to brag about.) Rather, it is the prison itself and where it exists. These prisoners stand outside the criminal-justice system of the United States as well as outside the criminal-justice system of the international community. They are stuck with no advocates, no opportunity to defend themselves, and no ability to legitimately proclaim innocence. Are these detainees guilty of crimes against the U.S.? I don't doubt that the majority are. Is it right for the U.S. to hold them outside the rules that guard other international citizens accused of crimes against the U.S. as well as prisoners of war? No. It's not right, plain and simple.

That's why Katherine Kersten can't write an argument in favor of Gitmo that stands on its own merit. Because if she were to actually scratch the surface of the debate rather than attempting to use rhetorical tricks and logical fallacies she would have to admit the problems with it.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The June bug reconsidered

The Piedpiper opined some time ago - though I'm not sure how serious he was - that the June bug or June beetle surely undermines Darwin's theory of natural selection. To us it seems so vulnerable to prey, so ill-adapted to its conditions, so aberrant, that it may fancifully be called a living fossil, or so he says ("the junebug should have gone the way of the dodo centuries ago."). Yet, like Michael Jackson, it's still around.

Its existence may tell us much about ancient forms of life, but it surely is not consistent with the ordinary view of special creation theories in which species are supposed to have been created (as a cell? egg? seed? baby? adult?) out of thin air and perfectly adapted for their environment. If anything, the existence of a bug with parts useless to its existence serves as a grave objection to the assumptions of creationists and their ilk.

Not so for Darwin and his "theory of descent with modification" (as he likes to call it). He too was captivated by the existence of ill-fitted organisms like the June bug. Rather than undermining his theory of natural history, such specimens only strengthened his conviction that species are mutable. He said,
"Nor ought we to marvel if all the contrivances in nature be not, as far as we can judge, absolutely perfect; and if some of them be abhorrent to our ideas of fitness. We need not marvel at the sting of the bee causing the bee's own death; at drones being produced in such vast numbers for one single act, and being then slaughtered by their sterile sisters; at the astonishing waste of pollen by our fir-trees; at the instinctive hatred of the queen bee for her own fertile daughters; at ichneumonidae feeding within the live bodies of caterpillars; and at other such cases. The wonder indeed is, on the theory of natural selection, that more cases of the want of absolute perfection have not been observed." (Darwin, The Origin of Species, Chapter XIV)

The Mobil Melee

One night last week, we took a field trip to downtown St. Paul. The reason? The Mobil station on Grand Avenue a couple blocks before West 7th was selling gas for "just" $1.89 per gallon. (It was still at that price as of Saturday night, in case you're interested.) Since this price dramatically undercut the $2.15 at our nearest gas station, we figured it would be a sure bet to save a few bucks.

Now, I didn't live through the energy crisis of the 1970s; I've only read about it and seen pictures of impossibly long lines at gas stations. On that night downtown, though, there may as well have been a war going on (oh wait...there is).

At one random point I counted 14 cars waiting for a chance to fill up. Maybe this doesn't sound like a lot; there were eight pumps (one of which was out of order). This was not rush hour, but 9:30 on a weekday night. Additionally, cars continued to pull in, hoping, praying for a spot at one of the blessed pumps.

People were driving askew. They were cutting others off, blocking traffic, stepping out of their cars and sharing foul words with those who offended them. Certain appendages were flicked by and at several participants in what I've dubbed the Mobil Melee. I'm not sure what held the scene back from anarchy, but I know it was held back by a very thin and frayed string.

The whole thing would be ludicrous if it weren't so sad. I mean, it's just gasoline after all. What's the point of kicking and screaming over it, acting like short-tempered children who want more ice cream.

But gasoline is not simply a treat. It's lifeblood. It's what keeps many people employed; it's what keeps our economy from crumbling; it's what we rely on for a plethora of our earthly needs.

That's where it becomes sad, and scary. Without even discussing the national security and foreign policy implications of oil, it's plainly evident we are a nation addicted to gasoline. We've invested in a dramatic and gigantic infrastructure that relies solely on the power of a single non-renewable resource; one that cannot be replaced in nature without the allowance of a few million years. Yet, like addicts who continue going to their pushers despite rising and unhealthy costs, we can't shed this notion of gasoline as the fuel source rather than as a fuel source. We need something to wean ourselves off this addiction, because trust me, there's nothing worse than going cold turkey.

I realize I sound like Thomas Friedman, with his dependence on foreign oil spiel and "geo-green" strategy, but when you take a second to think about the ridiculousness of it all, you realize we need to find some other ways.

Hybrid? Sure. Fuel cell? Maybe. Hydrogen? I don't know. Barring hybrid cars (which still rely on gasoline as a fuel source), these have been and still are long shots with little to go on but high falutin inspirational language and no show of practicality. What's worse, we have no major investment in developing these or other technologies. They are paid lip service, but no action is ever taken.

Americans love their country because we proclaim we have freedom. Much of that freedom is in our freedom of choice. But how much freedom do we really have, when so much of what we have is dependent on a single substance, the vast majority of which exists outside our borders?

Daily Tidings

  • This is the week, folks. Minnesota Meltdown 2005 officially begins at midnight Friday morning should no deal be reached in the next few days. What are our lawmakers doing to avert the partial government shutdown that would cause some 16,000 layoffs, close state parks and highway rest areas during their busiest time of year, wreakhavoc among essential nonprofit community services, among other unforunate circumstances? Well, Teflon Tim has his bags packed and the jet fueled for Camp Ripley, a military training camp near Brainerd. His plan? Hijack DFLers Dean Johnson and Matt Entenza, then submit them to Racino Water Torture until they cave. Luckily, Johnson held his ground and they will continue negotiations at the Capitol.
  • Speaking of torture, the Minneapolis-based Center for the Victims of Torture, marked its 20th anniversary by coming out of the political closet and speaking out against U.S. prisoner abuse.
  • Back to Minnesota Meltdown 2005 for a sec...the GOP House members (who have nothing better to do with their time, apparently) have taken to panhandling outside Senate Majority Leader Johnson's office. And they're liveblogging it! Those GOPers; so tech-savvy.
  • Norm Coleman + New York Times = Yet another apocalyptic indicator
  • Bill Frist was in town Sunday campaigning for Mark Kennedy's run at Dayton's open Senate seat. There is absolutely nothing witty or sarcastic to say about that.
  • Wait, wait...more Minnesota Meltdown coverage! Due to Pawlenty's VETO of the bipartisan transportation bill, Metro Transit will be forced to cut routes if the shutdown comes to fruition. I'm sure David Strom and his buddies in the Taxpayer's League will offer carpools to those stranded.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Good things take time

I lived with a guy in Canada, Randy Bolton, who once worked for Labatt beer. He liked to say, whenever he failed to do something (on time) or was cooking up some hair-brained scheme—"Good things take time"—sometimes accenting the message by making rapid-fire shooting gestures with his hands. While it can be abused, I like the message. It's optimistic but not Pollyannnaish. And it's true.

I'm finally going to put more RAM in my iBook and this weekend will (most likely) be in the northwoods of MN, far from access to the Internet. Meanwhile, I'm working on some posts that will take some time to research and write. I hope to captivate readers with them next week.

As the French say, bon voyage.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Daily Downer

Suggestion Box

As some of you may know, St. Paul's central post office is moving from its prime riverfront location in Lowertown near Union Depot to Eagan. While this will shift 1,000 jobs out of the city, our political figures are having nocturnal emissions over the development prospects of this vast amount of freed real estate. Mayor Randy Kelly and former mayoral candidate (current Ramsey County Commissioner) Rafael Ortega have vowed to join forces. RK wants to create a multi-modal transportation hub that would connect light-rail and bus transit with high-speed trains (?) to Milwaukee and Chicago. The Amtrak option doesn't really appeal to the PeP, though. So we've come up with a few suggestions of what we'd like to include in the plans:
  • Pie-Eyed Picayune-themed restaurant serving Ramen noodles, sloppy joes, and South Dakota Sippy-Cups (aka cans of Grain Belt)
  • The world's largest teflon sculpture: made in Tim Pawlenty's image, of course
  • A life-size replica of the Metrodome...except this time let's make it an indoor water park!
  • Prairie Home Companion theme park where Garrison Keillor's sonorous voice is always with a creepy way
  • Industrial waste and rusting barges

Leave your suggestions for the downtown St. Paul riverfront by clicking the Comments link below!

(By the way, more extensive details of the transportation plan from the developer's Web site can be viewed here.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Daily Disturbances

  • With only 12 days left until Minnesota Meltdown 2005, I trust you're all stocking up on canned vegetables and evaporated milk. The prospects of averting a state government shutdown just went down the PeP's color-coded system of ill-thinking government from Mauve (unlikely aversion) to Fuchsia (aversion as likely as Pawlenty and Dean Johnson singing a duet of the "Back to the Future" soundtrack). According to a state Supreme Court ruling, Hutchinson Technologies is eligible for approximately $150 to $200 million in tax exemptions, which means that's $150 to $200 million that won't go toward the $400+ million budget shortfall. Don't worry, though: House Speaker Steve "SpongeBob" Sviggum is on the case...while 13-year-old girls describe him as "mean." Classic.
  • The Strib finally pays some attention to the new Mexican Consulate in St. Paul; AND show they can habla the espanol.
  • The City of St. Paul and the Ramsey County have decided to work together on developing the prime downtown riverfront real estate opening up now that the post office is moving to Eagan. Soon-to-be ex-mayor Randy Kelly wants to build a "multi-modal transportation facility." Hey, I'm all for providing some light-rail and bus transit, but here's an idea: how about building some things that makes people want to come to downtown St. Paul? Did anyone ever float that idea?
  • Well, the DFL may not have been able to endorse a mayoral candidate in Minneapolis, but the Green Party sure did. Meet Fahreen Hakeem.
  • Did you know that in 2005 Americans will spend an estimated $125 billion on weddings? Laura Billings did.
  • Wisconsin bites the hand that feeds it.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Katherine Kersten on...A Kid With One Arm

Evidently, Katherine Kersten had nothing to write about today. So she went on and on about a 10-year-old who has one arm. It has the ever-present conservative message of triumph over adversity and belief that a sunny disposition will get you anywhere you want to go in life.

Of course, as a cynical blogger, optimism does not always come easily to me so it shouldn't be surprising that I find something askew in Kersten's writing. Her message is certainly fine: On those days when you feel like you have one hand tied behind your back and you just don't think you can go on, remember this little boy who is able to do so much. The story is uplifting, inspiring, and has a message that ought to be told.

What I find amiss in Kersten's article, though, is not really her fault (unless she did it intentionally, which I will probably never know). It's written in the same tone as a career politician speaking about this or that impoverished family who managed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, fight off their troubles, and work really really hard to eke out a middle class existence. It's a tone that is casually dismissive of the millions who suffer from poverty, from discrimination, from society's willingness to cast off that which is outside the norm, and reflects the image of America as filled with rugged individuals. If you are unable to pay your bills, or if you file for bankruptcy, or if you can't afford healthcare, then that means that you are lazy, that you are not smart with money, that if you just work a little harder you'll find a break. In reality, however, a little extra work won't always yield a break, and poverty can't just be willed away. It takes a dedicated effort on everyone's part - poor, middle class, and rich - to achieve that dream.

Read the article about the boy with one arm. Maybe I'm looking too far into this. Maybe I'm trying to make a point that's not really there. Nevertheless, it doesn't change the truth.

Daily Duty

  • Well, apparently it's special education and kids-with-disabilities day at the Strib office. The nefarious Katherine Kersten proves she could have a bleeding heart if she really wanted to; Nick Coleman offers a gloomy take on Holy Angels, a school that according to him hates kids with special needs (psych: they don't have the facilities and booted out a young man with muscular dystrophy, yet accepted his able-bodied twin brother). And in one of the Strib's famous synergasmic moments, they tie it all to a state auditor report on education funding in this fine state, because special education spending has risen more than 30 percent in the past few years, while funding from our state's leaders (read: Teflon Tim Pawlenty) has been frozen or laughably underfunded (laughably, that is, if it wasn't so tragic).
  • Slow down, people! Twenty is plenty!
  • Last week, Vulcanus Rex - leader of St. Paul's notoriously annoying and misogynistic Vulcan Krewe - plead guilty to groping three female servers at a bar. Those dudes just need to get a clue...and drop the 10 a.m. fire truck runs to Billy's. Laura Billings offers a few other tips.
  • Another sign of the apocalypse: Soucheray covers Michael Jackson.
  • Self-congratulatory message: City Pages lists The Pie-Eyed Picayune among its Minnesota blogs. For we are jolly good fellas.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week

The pie-eyed pickle of the week goes to Dick (Prague Meeting) Cheney for his pie-eyed note of confidence voiced on CNN's Larry King Live: "I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Ah yes, the proverbial last throes, which must seem to Bush's press spokesman, Scott McClellan, as neverending as the questions those darn journalists, angling for some credible evidence in favor of Cheney's pie-eyed diagnosis, keep posing:

Q Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, you have a desperate group of terrorists in Iraq that are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy....

Q But the insurgency is in its last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President talked about that the other day...

Q But they're killing more Americans, they're killing more Iraqis. That's the last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: Innocent -- I say innocent civilians...

Q Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just explained to you the desperation of terrorists and their tactics.

Q What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, we're making great progress to defeat the terrorist and regime elements....

Q Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at the Vice President's remarks. I think he talked about it.

Q Yes. Is there any idea how long a last throe lasts for?

Dick, I'm afraid that the Iraq insurgency is not in a pickle — you are.—PEP

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Guys in Pink

"Don't you know about the new fashion honey?
All you need are looks and a whole lotta money."
—Billy Joel, "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me"

Conventional wisdom has it that guys hate pink, and rightly so. But you wouldn't know that from the clothes on display in every men's department of every department store. The trend, if you can call it that, is no longer subtle. Every month some article announces that pink is the "in" color for men, that pink now transcends the gender lines, that pink is the new orange (or new red, or whatever), that it's what "fashion-forward" guys are doing, that nothing says confidence more than pink. Men should, in short, wear more pink (for that matter, more colors generally), and the style industry "experts" and various spokespersons want men and those who shop for them to know this.

Who, you ask, started this so-called trend? That's a good question. Its origins are dubious at best. I've read that pink is popular in Japan, that pink and black together symbolize punk thanks to Avril Lavigne and Good Charlotte, that pink became popular chiefly because rappers started sporting pink in music videos, magazine shoots and on award shows' red carpets, including pink cell phones and pink cars.

This is how men are duped, hoodwinked, snookered into buying pink:
"Nazir [a salesman] snatches a pink shirt and lays it over a rack. He places a silk pink tie on the shirt and slips them both under a black Calvin Klein suit jacket. Then he tucks a matching pink handkerchief in the left breast pocket. 'If you wear this, you'll be the man of the occasion,' he assures a Daily News reporter. 'You'll be a ladies' man.'"
Are you kidding me?! This is precisely what academics call "the fetishism of commodities," the habit of endowing things with self-contained, mysterious and almost magical properties to shape the world in distinctive ways. The fetish arises because we endow entities with powers that they do not have (e.g., the ability to provide us with a superior life). You won't be a ladies man. You'll be wearing pink.

You won't look pretty in pink either. You should be embarrassed to even think about wearing such an outfit. Do you follow the fashion trends of rappers? Have you seen the guys who buy pink these days?--They're suckers who don't know what they're doing. Okay, perhaps—perhaps—if you had the right pink, the not-so-innocent-pink (rather than hot- or bubble-gum-pink) you might—might—be able to pimp yourself out. But let's face it, you're no rap star and you've probably never seen a real pimp in your life.

Style is the man himself, and you're no man that should or could sport pink. Period. This is pie-eyed fashion advice for the ages.

Friday, June 17, 2005

The House of Usher

"What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher?"
—Edgar Allan Poe

I volunteered to be an usher at the Guthrie, or, I should say, I intended to. It sounded like a good idea -- until, that is, I entered the "house" as the Guthrie administrators call it. Like Poe's visitor to the House of Usher, there was (owing perhaps to the rain) an unredeemed dreariness of thought hanging about the place.

The heavyset, colorful woman leading usher training and orientation wasted no time informing us of the chief benefit of ushering - two free tickets to each show (except the first one of the season). That amounts to four shows in exchange for about 40 hours of ushering ranging from 1 to 4 times a month. Not bad. But not that great either.

Not that great after I learned that we wouldn't be receiving any parking vouchers, that we had to wear garmets of certain color, that too strong perfumes were forbidden, that we would most likely end up taking tickets at the doors or helping exceedingly old and frail persons reach their graves seats. And of course we would have to undertake all this while maintaining an outward disposition of extreme cheerfulness and warmth.

My depression of soul began when she tried to convey what ushers mean to the Guthrie and to the patrons. It was the manner in which all this, and more, was said, which curbed my enthusiasm. "You are indispensible to the operations here at the Guthrie," she gushed. "We couldn't put on a show without out you."

Talk about flattery! If anything ushers are the most dispensible part of a performance. To be sure, they are needed and make people feel more at home. Ideally, 24 ushers would attend to the house (8 ticket-takers & 16 proper ushers, plus the head usher, who is paid). But it turns out that the Guthrie can pass with 8 - but that's a stretch.

Indispensible? I'm not that credulous: they take anyone willing and who can climb steps, show you where the aisles, doors and bathrooms are, send you home with a packet of info to study (Rule 5: Ushers are always happy!) and expect to see you again an hour before the show starts.

I fled out the door. I have never worked with the public, and I wasn't about to start here - at this stuffy place slated for destruction (into which the Walker's sculpture garden will expand - yay!).


Finish strong. The weight-lifter's maxim.

Just finish. The grad. student's maxim.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Katherine Kersten on...Terri Schiavo

You knew it was coming, didn't you? I mean, she's already hit-up home-schooling, leveled gay marriage, went on a bender with G.K. Chesterton (?), proved she can live the thug life, and written a junior high love letter to the Siren of Stillwater, Michele Bachmann. Of course, Katherine Kersten would have to cover Terri Schiavo.

And of course, she ties Terri Schiavo to the anti-abortion crowd, which just happens to be holding a national convention in the Twin Cities this week and just happens to have Schiavo's brother and sister as guests of honor and just happens to include a tribute from Brother Paul O'Donnell, Schiavo family spokesperson and Franciscan Brother of Peace (a group that happens to be based out of St. Paul). Oh yeah, and this all just happens to occur the day after Schiavo's autopsy is released (which unequivocally proves she was in a persistent vegetative state and was not abused).

And of course, Kersten attempts to take the high road. She refers to the media circus that surrounded the obsessively televised Schiavo drama, yet interestingly enough makes no mention of the fact that it was people of her own persuasion causing the drama. She also carefully sidesteps the judicial issue, probably because it was a blatant example of how conservatives use courts to their own ends, and when they fail will stop at just about nothing to get their way.

This article, by far, bothers me more than any of Kersten's previous, and not simply because of the factual and necessary omissions stated above. Death is a serious matter. I think all conscious human beings know and realize that fact. Toward the end of her piece, however, Kersten's ends begin to fray and she makes an argument I've heard before, portraying abortion rights supporters and right-to-die supporters as pushing the nation down a slippery slope toward the mass extinction of human life seen during Hitler's reign.

But if Kersten could manage to step out of her heavily insulated conserva-shell for just a few brief moments and look around, she may realize that these people are not bloodthirsty animals nor are they intent on purging the world of the sick, of the disabled, or of the infirm. Rather, these are people who have the utmost respect for all of those groups. These are people who live and work with these groups on a daily basis, who have individual relationships with them, and who care for them more than anyone else. I can understand Kersten's moral dillemma; it's one I find myself frequently debating within my own morals. Yet, to compare those that care the most to historical characters that represent humanity at its basest, is far and away the most grievous accomplishment of Kersten's short Strib career.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Copyright infringement...or marketing opportunity? You decide.

Daily Digits

  • Actually taking his job seriously (with a just a small side salad of political posturing) Minnesota AG Mike Hatch has approached the courts about the conditions of a possible state government shutdown scheduled for July 1. Pawlenty's apparently backed off his earlier claim (reported in the PeP) that road construction projects would be stalled, although that's still a probable scenario. And what's Governor Yokel doing about all this? Blaming the Dems...what else! Because you see, he's the victim here. The government is not his responsibility. I mean, how much do you expect from your elected leader?
  • The NY Times finds it hilarious that Minnesotans enjoy seed art at the State Fair as well as legitmate theatre at the Guthrie. I find it hilarious that the NY Times is covering an Al Franken appearance at the U of M, while treating him like a candidate for Senate in 2008. Is it news every time Franken receives a Crock-Pot from an admirer?
  • Never mind the housing bubble and the fact that there'll be about 15,000 empty condos in downtown Minneapolis by least they're building them with style.
  • The newest Mexican Consulate will open Monday in St. Paul on East 7th Street, just north of downtown. All I can say is: it's about time.
  • Daddies lock up your daughters and mamas don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys...50 Cent and G-Unit are going to be in town this summer!

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week

In the Pie-Eyed Picayune's first installment of the presitigious Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week award, we generously offer two Pie-Eyed Pickle-on-a-Stick trophies to none other than...the Hatch Sisters!

They're escapades endeared thousands (well, hundreds at least) with their drunken belligerence, Chicago police ass-kicking, and savvy sophistication. They're not-guilty verdict was something of non-event, yet what better way to kick off your father's run for governor of Minnesota!

Congratulations, girls!

Please send future suggestions for the Pie-Eyed Pickle of the Week Award by clicking the e-mail link below.

Hatch innocent!

A (faux) conversation with Michele Bachmann

As evidenced in Katherine Kersten's recent love letter to State senator Michele Bachmann, the salty mix from Stillwater has made quite the splash over the past year. The PeP thought it would be great to sit down with the venerable and always respectable Ms. Bachmann to get to know the real Michele.

PeP: So Michele, you're really making quite a name for yourself. Tell us, what drives you?
Bachmann: Power. Money. Sex. God. Pretty much the standard motivatators.

PeP: I see. Now, you've definitely been at the heart of the gay marriage amendment debate within the Minnesota State Legislature. Obviously, people have questioned your intentions. Can you set the record straight and tell us definitively, are you homophobic?
Bachmann: I wouldn't say I'm not so much homophobic as I'm anti-pro-gay. But, of course, I wash my hands with soap twice after going near one, whether they're "out" - as they say - or just suspected. The gays, well, they're just going to hell. So why should we let them be happy on earth by marrying a person they think they truly love?

PeP: You're saying you find homosexuals unclean and ill-fit to share the same earthly joys as you share?
Bachmann: Listen: Just ask yourself, what would Jesus do?

PeP: What would Jesus do?
Bachmann: And?

PeP: Uhh...I don't know. I think he really wouldn't give a shit.
Bachmann: Well see, that's where you're wrong. Jesus would turn them away from the temple, banish them to the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, and find a judge who will let an anti-sodomy law stand in this country. One little anti-sodomy law...that's all I'm asking for.

PeP: Ok. Let's change the subject, shall we? You recently wrote a commentary in the Star Tribune touting your higher education bill of rights legislation. Could you tell us a little about it?
Bachmann: As I'm sure you know, higher education in this state is run by a wild-eyed cohort of socialists, Trotskyites, reds, atheists, nihilists, secular humanists, and worst of all, liberals. No one is safe from their sphere of influence. Parents believe they're sending little Jimmy off to the Carlson School of Business, when in all actuality he's being shipped to the Karl Marx School of Treason. We need to protect all viewpoints, which is why we need to replace 99 percent of the faculty, staff, and administration at our state's colleges and universities with tried and true conservatives.

PeP: But won't that then just give conservative ideology an advantage and the unparalleled sphere of influence?
Bachmann: If a liberal has a problem with a conservative teacher, so what? If a conservative has a problem with a liberal teacher, then there's something wrong. Conservatives are the only ones capable of impartiality in this country. I'm the only person you can trust to keep away the ungodly, the immoral, and the transgendered.

PeP: Well, there you have it, folks. Michele Bachmann unplugged.

For further reading, see "Dump Michele Bachmann"

Monday, June 13, 2005

Katherine Kersten on...Michele Bachmann

In a beautiful piece of conservative synergy, sister souljah Katherine Kersten delivers a wallop of a love-note to Minnesota Senator Michele Bachmann, the tireless advocate of traditional values and gay-bashing. In her first scoop as a new Strib columnist, Kersten reveals that Bachmann is the real victim, AND that gay rights supports are intolerant! After all, Bachmann was allegedly "accosted" in a Scandia women's bathroom by those heathen homosexuals and their allies, and is still receiving treatment for the gay cooties that infected her. (This, of course, explains her unusual clandestine behind-the-bushes appearance at a gay rights rally on the state capitol mall.)

As usual, Kersten doesn't discuss the merits of the controversial (and hopefully ill-fated) bills Bachmann has introduced. She'd rather stick to blowing her black-print kisses and trying to get the boys at Powerline to keep clutching the Kleenex box.

See also: Katherine Kersten on...Gay Marriage

Daily Wha?

  • I know, I know, I know, coverage of the Hatch Girls fell off over the weekend, and I didn't even announce the most shocking news of all...they were found innocent! I guess that doesn't make the news about Michael Jackson quite so amazing, eh? Nick Coleman threw in his two-cents (well, it was more like a dime) yesterday in the Strib. See also: the Hatch Girls slideshow. Love those Hatches!
  • In related news, Mike Hatch, MN attorney general, father of the Hatch Vixens, as well as past and future losing DFL gubernatorial candidate, announced the trial ended personal "year of hell." Nah, Mike, that'll be 2006 when you have to give yet another concession speech. Zing!
  • Sweet Thandiwe (aka The Doctor) Peebles has her head in the Minneapolis School Board guilliotine, but the African-American community is rallying behind her. Doug Grow takes the Board to he should. Who gives someone a mandate for change, and when she starts changing things for the better (in less than one year, by the by) Whitey gets up in arms because she's allegedly rubbed people the wrong way. Besides, would it make sense for a bankrupt school district to buy out 18 months of her $130,000+/year salary? I think not.
  • As the sky is literally falling outside my window, Fox 9 News declared war on the weather vis a vis Operation: Storm Season, and Soucheray laments the overabundant use of that old standard, the siren.
  • Need another reason to lament the fact that Teflon Tim Pawlenty stamped the oversized VETO on the popular and bipartisan transportation bill? No? Well, I'll give you one anyway. If the budget doesn't pass, all highway construction projects will cease. But don't worry, commuters: that just means when you leave for work on Highway 62 Monday morning , you'll get there by Friday afternoon!
  • Ding, dong, General College is dead. The U should be well on its way to being one of the top three schools in the world any day now.

Not Guilty

"Not guilty, for looking like a freak..."
—The Beatles, "Not Guilty"

The King of Pop is not guilty for charges of conspiracy, child molestation, attempted child molestation, and administering an intoxicating agent. As my friends know, I never doubted his defense for a second. For what ground was there to stand on against MJ? Apparently none.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

The satisfaction of a good waiter

A good waiter always calls to mind one of the most famous waiters in literature, a nameless waiter who appears in Sartre's Being and Nothingness and who serves as the locus classicus of the Sartrean idea of "bad faith," i.e., pretending to ourselves that we are mechanistic, determined objects instead of accepting the reality of our (alas, unbearable) freedom. Sartre's waiter's movements betray a kind of bad faith because they are so over the top: "His movement is quick and forward, a little too precise, a little too rapid. He comes toward the patrons with a step a little too quick. He bends forward a little too eagerly; his voice, his eyes express an interest a little too solicitous for the order of the customer....All his behavior seems to us a game." He is playing at being a waiter in a café, says Sartre.

And what a good play that can be! I had the pleasure of dining at Bobino's for a late lunch today, after a trip to the MIA. The café was almost empty, one waiter was working. We found out that the waiter had only recently began work at Bobino's, but it was clear that he was experienced. A key to charisma is to make others feel privileged. Our waiter knew how to do this without being too solicitous: "The pancakes. Very good Sir! That's an excellent choice; well done! I fully approve, fully approve." And on he went, reassuring me that I had made a good choice, congratulating me as if I had accomplished a terribly difficult feat, done what has never been done - ordered the pancakes. (They were delicious).

Friday, June 10, 2005

So you wanna be a hair model, baby?

The second time I became a hair model, or nearly so, came by surprise yesterday at Coffee News Cafe in St. Paul. I was standing in line to buy a chocolate chip cookie, and a woman with long, dark, curly hair approached me. Writing from memory:
Woman: Hi, would you like to be a hair model for me this Sunday? [to sweeten the deal she adds] You get a free haircut. I've been looking for a guy with the length of your hair.

Me: [not making eye contact, wearing a painful grimace on my face like a vegan looking at a piece of meat, and obviously neither flattered nor curious] No. I recently had my hair cut.
You see, the first time I became a hair model, or nearly so, came when I went with a friend to Aveda to volunteer as one. Being one of the few men there, I was eventually chosen. The girl wanted, judging by the diagram, to do some sort of triangle-cut on one side of my head. I said I would show up the next day. I lied.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Daily Entree

  • The Hatch Girls faced their second day in court today. The best part is that Elizabeth's voice is referred to as "reedy" and "terrified" as she was allegedly manhandling experienced Chicago cops and bodyguards. Someone give 'em both a shot of tequila.
  • An outstate DFLer wants to put a retractable roof on the new Twins stadium through tax-increment financing. Not a bad idea. Of course, I was rather looking forward to snowed out games in April.
  • Laura Billings gives high school valedictorians a well-deserved spanking. But what about the home-schoolers?
  • State DFLers try to make cigarette "fee" an actual fee and make a tax a tax. MinnesotaCare recipients prepare to swamp emergency rooms. Republicans? They'd rather let the state shut down than compromise.
  • Chris Coleman gets a boost from Big Labor in bid to oust Supreme Pontiff Randy Kelly as St. Paul mayor.
  • Been to Pizza Luce on Lyndale lately?

Summer vacation

Ever wonder why school lets out for summer vacation? According to a historian at the University of Chicago, the tradition of halting academic work in the summer began in America in order to allow students to go home and help out on the farm until after the harvest. Today, of course, this reason no longer makes sense, yet we spare students from summer academic work.

Maybe it's just me (an aspiring academic), but summers always feel empty, a break too long, without a meaningful raison d'etre. Indeed, who really knows what one is supposed to do during the summer? Travel? Work? Play? Perhaps anything at all, but only on the condition that you "Have a GREAT summer"— the typical, impersonal, thoughtless, clichéd farewell I hear every year. And it often comes across as a challenge, a way to say "I'm going to have WAY more fun than you this summer." Or as an insult, "Have a great summer ('cause I know you won't)."

I've learned not to expect anything great in the summer. Despite one's best intentions, summer inevitably seems to drag on, for we all know that we'll pretty much be the same person when its over, only perhaps tanner and buffer, but hardly raised intellectually. And we look forward to a new school year not out of sheer boredom but rather in anticipation of the busy growth that is to come, the uncertainty of where we'll be and who we'll be at the end of it.

Katherine Kersten on...Gang-Banging

I'm not exactly sure what to think of KeeKee Kersten's influential insight into the Twin Cities African-American community. I mean, I'm sure that a middle-aged white conservative woman (whose new photo on the Strib Web site, by the way, looks less reptilian and more raptorish) holds infinite street cred, but I guess I didn't realize that every problem within the black community is the St. Paul NAACP's fault. Thank goodness, we have KeeKee to explain these things.

In the article, she raps with Tyrone Terrill, St. Paul's Director of Human Rights, who sent a two-page letter to 100 black community and religious leaders last month equating gang-banging with terrorism, and appears to be in favor of denying civil rights to U.S. citizens who break the law.

Unsurprisingly, neither Terrill nor KeeKee make any mention of improving education, alleviating chronic poverty, stepping up gun control, strengthening law enforcement, lowering prison recidivism, offering affordable drug addiction treatment, or any other of the myriad options to stop all this gang-banging (I would love to hear KeeKee say the word "gang-banging"). No, the only real answer to the problem, according to this interracial dynamic duo, is religion and the nuclear family.

What a great idea! Perhaps KeeKee and Terrill should go up to North Minneapolis and start handing out Bibles and marriage certificates to the drug dealers. That'll solve things.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Daily Entrails

  • Pretty big storm last night, eh?
  • Nick Coleman points out the profound stupidity of Pawlenty's "health impact fee" (aka cigarette tax). Who will pay for school library books when all the smokers quit or die? I guess the best way to improve education in Pawlenty's Minnesota is to start sucking on cancer sticks.
  • Is it really believable that the Hatch girls were bragging about their father being the highest law enforcement official in the state of Minnesota while celebrating a birthday in Chicago? Come on...
  • Mayor Randy "Back-stabber" Kelly announced this year's selection for the St. Paul Reads program is Place Where the Sea Remembers by Minnesota author Sandra Benitez. Kelly and the superintendent announced the selection on St. Paul's West Side, which is predominantly Hispanic, and proclaimed it was chosen to highlight "diversity." Would it be too hard to just choose the book because it happens to be good? Oh, wait, then Kelly wouldn't have an excuse to go to the West Side and pretend he's culturally sensitive. What an idiot.
  • Speaking of Randy Kelly, read his quote about the U.S. Postal Service moving out of St. Paul. I'm all for redeveloping some prime riverfront real estate, but high-speed trains to Chicago and Milwaukee? Moving Amtrak downtown? Who is this guy?

'Collapse' collapses

If there is one thing to say about Jared Diamond, it's that he's ambitious. The ecobiologist evolutionary pscyologist what-have-you with the Pennsylvania Dutch beard thinks big. And, in this life, you either go big or go home, baby.

I have to wonder whether Diamond should have just stayed home rather than dedicating so much time and travel to his most recent doorstop, Collapse. Below is a description taken from its NY Times book review; as good as any for this tome:

Accordingly, he sets out, in differing degrees and depth of detail and in no particular order of importance, a wide variety of particular cases, opportunistically chosen: archaic societies like Easter Island, the ancient Maya, and the Greenland Vikings, which long ago collapsed into self-produced ecological disaster; third-world emergent states like Rwanda, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic that, disorganized, mismanaged, backward, and overpopulated, are well along toward producing such an outcome for themselves; modern or modernizing civilizations, like China, Australia, and the United States, that appear at the moment to be dynamic and flourishing, but in whom the first premonitory signs of overreach, waste, decline, and ruin are beginning to appear. Then, from the evidence of these cases, he constructs a short and miscellaneous checklist of factors that together and separately "contribute" to a society's fate: the inherent fragility of its habitat, the stability of its climate, the friendliness or hostility of its neighbors and trading partners, and, most important of all, the conclusive and decisive determinate force, "the society's responses to its environmental problems." Within the bounds of chance and circumstance, peoples, like individuals, make their own destiny. Choosing well or badly among policies and possibilities, they determine themselves what ultimately becomes of them.

The basic message of Diamond's work is that civilizations have control over their sustainability or demise based on the choices they make, primarily in regard to environmental practices. To sum that up, however, he needed 560 pages of excruciating detail about societies past and present that fell apart, are in the midst of crumbling, or are strong yet showing signs of potential danger.

Honestly, for the first 250 pages or so, I didn't mind the excrutiating detail. I had never learned much about the mysterious disappearance of the Easter Island inhabitants, nor had I even heard of the Greenland Norse. It made for an interesting study in previous cultures, their successes and their mistakes, and eventually their defeat. I read his chapter on Rwanda and watched Hotel Rwanda in conjunction, which, if anything, pushed me to further explore the causes and potential solutions to genocide. As I began rounding the final bend, though, I started wondering how this was all going to be tied up.

But Diamond never ties it up. That would be impossible. The scope is simply too large. The book begins with his generalized comments on the environment and how it lead to the ruin of past societies and could possibly lead to the ruin of present or future societies; and the book ends with the same generalizations. Everything in the middle felt like filler. It felt like he needed an excuse to go off to exotic desitinations to do research.

I certainly don't fault his research. It's fascinating and informative. Unfortunately, I never felt connected to it. I never felt like because Easter Islanders died off wholly and completely, that we as a global society are in imminent danger of doing the same. Rather than reaching back to his original premise within his discussions of different civilizations from yesterday and today, each section is just a thread hanging in the air. When Diamond decides to apply a particular idea to another, he pulls one of the threads, but the rest are still just hanging there.

The most obvious contention against the book is why choose to highlight the falls of some of the most isolated societies in the history of the world in order to illustrate why our present situation leaves us in danger of collapse without corrective action. Diamond explains, for example, that because Easter Island was so isolated, each person on every part of the island relied on others in different parts of the island to make a sustainable society. Due to the fact that (presumably) some people on the island were not carrying on sustainable livelihoods, the society's collapse obviously affected all. In our increasingly connected world, Diamond goes on to say, globalization is making each locality reliant on one another - not merely for economic reasons - but rather for several other reasons, including the environment. A gigantic river dam in China will not only affect the Chinese, but also India and other countries in Southeast Asia. Until we make a concerted effort as a global civilization to improve our enviromental policies and practices, we are doomed to a potentially fatal demise.

I agree with this premise. The world is interconnected in ways now that have never before been possible. As time goes on, we will see more and more of how actions in one corner of the globe create reactions in an opposite corner of the globe. Diamond, however, never delivers on his overinflated premise.

Early in the book, Diamond shares a question one of his students asked when he was teaching a course in preparation for Collapse: What was the person on Easter Island thinking when he cut down the last tree? I have a better question, though: What was Jared Diamond thinking when he finished page 560?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Against recycling

To be against recycling is to say something politically incorrect. But this is not the first time I've said something politically incorrect. And I'm not against the original idea behind recycling so much as what the institution has become, namely, a license or excuse for individuals and corporations to both consume and produce more and more waste while at the same time proclaiming that one is doing something good for the environment by "recycling."

I put "recycling" in scare-quotes because it ain't what it used to be. If memory serves me correctly, before recycling became so popular and politically correct, it began its career as one of the "3 Rs": Reduce, Reuse, Recyle. It comes at the end of the list because, in terms of reducing waste and pollution, it is the least important - almost an afterthought. But today recycling is all-important.

Recycling is the lazy man's idea of Reduce and Reuse. It is much easier (and often cheaper) to "recycle" (read: throw away) rather than repair something in disrepair, use reusable items, or reduce waste (by-)products. If the problem is that in the future we will have nowhere to safely dispose of waste, then recycling as an answer is like solving the problem of long lines by telling people to stand closer together: it's a temporary solution, but the problem which gave rise to it has not gone away.

Go ahead and continue to recycle—really, it's better than nothing—just don't tell me you're doing the environment a favor.

Katherine Kersten on...G.K. Chesterton?

The PeP is not even going to bother with a Katherine "KeeKee" Kersten translation. Apparently KeeKee has lost her mind and decided to write about G.K. Chesterton and some former state capitol lobbyist's wet dream called the American Chesterton Society. I really don't know what to make of KeeKee's fascination with ol' Gilbert Keith other than the fact that he was so fat Melville used him as an inspiration for the great white whale in Moby-Dick. Add in the fact that Chesterton allegedly converted C.S. Lewis to Christianity and has a serious chip on his shoulder against modernism, and you have a poster boy for today's far-right. Of course, they can just look past that whole opposition to capitalism thing...

Daily Roundabout

  • When Mike Hatch throws his hat in the ring for governor, at least he won't have to look too far for a security detail; his two lithe, buxom daughters go on trial Wednesday for biting and scratching police officers after a drunken escapade in Chicago. Those Hatch girls: beautiful and lethal.
  • The Strib stands up for excellence at the U and tells General College to stand down. The Dean of GC follows this advice by...stepping down and leaving his throngs of fans bewildered and lost, like Hansel and Gretl. Also like Hansel and Gretl, GC is doomed to die in a fiery oven, operated by none other than Fun Bobby Bruininks rather than some crotchety old woman. Oh well.
  • Colin Powell is further reduced to historical obscurity by having a Minneapolis "crack den" named after him. Dang, that's gotta hurt.
  • The official poster design for the 2005 Minnesota State Fair has been released. Last time I went to the State Fair, though, I remember many drunken fat people eating fried lard on a stick and not so many trippy goats licking sno-cones. But hey, I sure wouldn't mind seeing some trippy goats licking sno-cones.
  • Laura Billings takes a swipe at an ill-informed reader while suggesting the Twin's new stadium don the uninspiring moniker: Hennepin County Taxpayer's Stadium. Personally, I'd like to see the Spam Center. Eh?
  • Real-estate developer Kelly Doran has decided to enter the fold in the race for Mark Dayton's soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Senate seat. Who's Kelly Doran? I have no idea. But apparently he's a "centrist Democrat" whose cash account alone makes Dayton's net worth look like chump change, and his political platform includes the fact that he co-owns about three million square feet of shopping centers. So, if I understand this correctly, we have a white man with no political history or record of activism who has accumulated enough wealth to run a campaign for Senate without name recognition or fundraising in order to replace a white man with no political history or record of activism who had accumulated enough wealth to run a campaign for Senate without fundraising. Give it a break, guys. Can't we find a Democrat that's actually qualified for the Senate?
  • Nick Kristof continues his journalistic crusade for Darfur. When will Bush put money where his mouth is (or isn't)?

Monday, June 06, 2005

Grand Old Day: Divinely Inspired?

Two of the PEP's crack correspondents attended the Grand Old Day festivities yesterday in beautiful St. Paul, Minn., and the event left one (myself) pondering the spirituality of the drunken escapade. Think about it: Grand Old Day. Put those three letters together and you have G-O-D.

This leads me to wonder about the real nature of Grand Old Day. A few conspiracy theories:
  • Grand Old Day is secretly sponsored by fundamentalist evangelicals who wish to raise money on the backs of the libidinous. Thus, they turn around the sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll ethos and use it to their advantage. They use ultra-embedded operatives who blend in with the crowd and ensure no one discovers the truth. This would explain Dean, the 45ish pony-tailed man in a baseball cap with a whiny lisp, who followed us home from The Hold Steady show and consistently referred the that band as Lifter Puller, which they haven't been known as since 2000. I know, I know...very interesting.
  • Grand Old Day is a clandestine experiment funded by the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis used to determine the viability of Thomas Aquinas' arguments in favor of drunkenness. Well, maybe not quite in favor of drunkenness, but close.
  • Grand Old Day really is a divine occurrence in which GOD (or "I Am" in Hebrew) allows those made in his image to enjoy His creations such as sunlight, the fermentation of hops and barley, and the miraculous taste of deep-fried cheese. The Big Man was evidently upset about something, however, when Har Mar Superstar hit the Dixie's stage and the skies tore open and unleashed an unpleasant downpour, which undoubtedly caught PEP correspondent Ilya as he walked to his car. At least there was no pestilence.

Are you down with G-O-D? Yeah, you know me.

Friday, June 03, 2005

"My advice to you all is to stay at home,—or at least do not come here."

I'm a big fan of the HBO series Deadwood. One naturally wonders how accurately the show reproduces life in Deadwood in the late nineteenth century. The show is framed as the adventures of a violent outpost of civilization: "The spring of 1877 brings major changes to the teeming outlaw camp of Deadwood, as civilization makes its way to town. New arrivals will usher in an era of power struggles with the camp founders-and power struggles in Deadwood have a way of turning violent..."

Compare that description with a news article from The Farmers' Cabinet, 6/26/1877, Vol. 75, Iss. 51, p. 1. Though it's no documentary, Deadwood certainly conforms to the spirit, if not the letter, of this article.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Deep Throat deserves praise

It's a shame: faster than one can say "whistle-blower," Deep Throat's decision to go public has all too predictably occasioned a frankly childish atmosphere of condemnation, spurred on by G. Gordon Liddy himself, who is surely in no moral position to condemn the man who exposed the Nixon administration's conspiracy to obstruct justice. According to Liddy on CNN, "If he [Deep Throat] possessed evidence of wrongdoing, he was honor-bound to take that to a grand jury and secure an indictment, not to selectively leak it to a single news source."

Is it fair to second-guess Deep Throat's act? John D. O'Conner's Vanity Fair article is remarkably sensitive on this point and generally a good, evenhanded account of Deep Throat's courage and moral calculus, both then and now. Perceiving that the White House was intent on using the Justice Department for its political ends, Mark Felt believed that the integrity of the FBI was at stake. Felt, it seems, went to the Post almost depsite himself. As Felt's son puts it,

"Making the decision [to go to the press] would have been difficult, painful, and exruciating, and outside the bounds of his life's work. He would not have done it if he didn't feel it was the only way to get around the corruption in the White House and Justice Department. He was tortured inside, but never would show it."

The more I read about Deep Throat the man, the more I believe the words of his son. Deep Throat made whistle-blowing legal and laudable, and for this he should be praised.

Katherine Kersten on...Gay Marriage

Katherine Kersten proves she's firmly in the closet, with the door shut and locked, yet she still obviously goes to great pains (what with all the nonsequiturs and red herrings) to illustrate her point: "No, no, we really don't hate the gays! It's just that they're ruining society and infecting our kids with their so-called lifestyle choices, and if we allow this to continue the earth will quake and the oceans will boil." As usual, a PeP translation:

Katherine says: "Supporters of same-sex marriage seem to believe they're on the right side of history. They view the issue through the prism of civil rights, as the 2005 equivalent of getting black Americans out of the back of the bus [...] Marriage -- the union of one man and one woman -- is about much more than individual rights, with only the happiness of two individuals at stake. It's a universal, cross-cultural social institution that is critical to the common good."
PeP says: Denying a group of people a set of state-protected rights and responsibilities is not ok if that group is black, Asian, American Indian, etc. Denying a group of people a set of state-protected rights and responsibilities is ok if that group is gay.

Katherine says: "Minnesotans don't see the marriage debate as a replay of Selma, Ala., in 1965. They understand the nature and purpose of marriage very differently than same-sex-marriage advocates do."
PeP says: Minnesotans are uncomfortable with their sexuality.

Katherine says: "Why does marriage exist? Because sex between men and women makes babies: the next generation. Getting men and women to stay together to raise these children is a tricky business, but the long-term survival of society depends on it."
PeP says: Katherine Kersten...asking the tough questions, coming up with the tough answers. And here the PeP has been thinking the whole baby thing had to do with storks and the omniscient one. Oh yeah, and implying that society is in dire need of survival, despite the overpopulation and what have you, is perfectly legitimate, don't you think?

Katherine says: "Social science bears out common sense here. Kids with a married mom and dad have the best chance of flourishing on every conceivable measure, from avoiding juvenile delinquency and out-of-wedlock births to forming successful marriages themselves."
PeP says: And those kids from broken-homes are just filthy little wretches with no hope for the future.

Katherine says: "Star Parker [is] a black social commentator with a special interest in our ravaged inner cities, where traditional marriage has broken down." She says: "Most children in the inner city, have two loving adults: a mom and a grandmother. Two loving adults aren't enough. Kids need a mom and a dad."
PeP says: Well, if she's a black social commentator she must know what kids in the "ravaged inner cities" need. Her race also releases Katherine from offering any of this person's credentials. I mean, she's a black social commentator...what more do you need to know?

Katherine says: "Obviously, I won't divorce my husband if same-sex marriage becomes legal. But a radical redefinition of marriage -- recasting it as a matter of 'love between individuals' rather than the social institution that preserves the nuclear family -- will change what's been called our 'marriage culture,' with major consequences for our children and grandchildren."
PeP says: This is where the hellfire, brimstone, meteors, ocean-boiling, and Riders of the Apocalypse come in.

Katherine says: "If we adopt same-sex marriage, we'll be sending our children the message that 'family structure doesn't matter' -- that kids can do without moms or dads. Instead of encouraging traditional marriage, we'll be offering them a smorgasbord of "life-style options," and telling them their choices are merely a matter of personal taste. Here's the message that will be reinforced in our schools, on television and in the movies: Society has no special stake in any family form. Do just as you please."
PeP says: Is that really the message we'd be sending? Or would it be that two people who happen to be biologically different than Katherine Kersten would finally be able to have their love viewed as legitimate in the eyes of the public institutions that represent them? Or would it be that children of homosexual couples are finally allowed to be a real family? Or would it be that Katherine has a lemon shoved so far up her ass that she shits lemonade?

Katherine says: "If same-sex marriage prevails, I suspect we'll see both a decline in marriage and an upsurge in out-of-wedlock births, as Scandinavia has."
PeP says: No statistics to back up that claim, but who needs them...Scandinavians are socialists!

Katherine says: "The agenda of traditional-marriage proponents is not negative -- fear or hatred of homosexuals. It's positive -- to protect and preserve marriage as the universal, socially supported institution that keeps mothers and fathers together to care for children."
PeP says: So after we eliminate this whole gay marriage thing, we should abolish divorce, right? Right!

Katherine says: "Minnesotans believe that gays and lesbians have a right to live as they please. But they don't believe that gays and lesbians have the right to redefine the institution of marriage for everyone else."
PeP says: Don't tread on me...especially if you're gay.