June 30, 2004

Thinking of departures, in relation to Bremer's exit stage right [said in the voice of the weekday-afternoon-cartoon Pink Panther]. The introductory text of Bill Burke's latest book (Autrefois, Maison Privée), is a letter from the former prime minister of Cambodia, Sirik Matak, sent to the U.S. Ambassador, in response to the U.S.'s offer of a chance to escape the country before it completely fell to the Khmer Rouge:

'I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection, and we can do nothing about it.

'You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter, because we are all born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you [the Americans].

'Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.'

No, I'm not sure how this relates to Bremer, or the idea of freedom, or of the idea of Iraq. But maybe the idea of credibility, maybe I can see how it relates.

Posted by dbrown at 01:46 PM
June 29, 2004
Auto News Digest

Some of the most interesting gossip these days has been showing up in the Digest column of Automotive News.

from 5/31:
"Ford's lead witness in Pinto trial dies" [Harold MacDonald, age 86]

from 6/28:
"Rapper Snoop Dogg wants a Chrysler 300C, but he's going to have to pay for it. ... Chrysler grabbed headlines when Snoop left a voice mail message for Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche, asking "What I gotta do to get that brand-new 300 up outta you?""


"More than one month after Jaguar Formula One driver Christian Klien crashed his car at the Grand Prix of Monaco, a 108-carat diamond that had been mounted in the car's nose remains missing. The $322,000 rock was part of a publicity stunt to promote the upcoming film Ocean's Twelve, which is about a diamond heist."

Posted by dbrown at 06:17 PM
June 28, 2004
Before the Crash


They always have impeccable timing.

Posted by dbrown at 10:26 AM
June 27, 2004
Commander in Chief

So it's very hard to even think about keeping up with the political news, and of course there are a dozen very, very capable bloggers doing it for us. But this passage from todays' Washington Post story about the CIA and the torture memos stood out for its bluntness and for the great reporting behind them. I'm not sure which part is the most interesting, but the very last sentence is a likely candidate:

"Although the White House repudiated the memo Tuesday as the work of a small group of lawyers at the Justice Department, administration officials now confirm it was vetted by a larger number of officials, including lawyers at the National Security Council, the White House counsel's office and Vice President Cheney's office. ...

The legal opinion was signed by Jay S. Bybee, then head of the office and now a federal judge. The office consists mainly of political appointees and is considered the executive branch agencies' legal adviser. Memos signed by the head of the office are given the weight of a binding legal opinion. ...

In addition, Timothy E. Flanigan -- then deputy White House counsel -- discussed a draft of the document with lawyers at the Office of Legal Counsel before it was finalized, the officials said. David S. Addington, Cheney's counsel, also weighed in with remarks during at least one meeting he held with Justice lawyers involved with writing the opinion. He was particularly concerned, sources said, that the opinion include a clear-cut section on the president's authority."

Posted by dbrown at 10:34 AM
June 24, 2004


When I got interested in photography in the late 1980s, I would spend hours in the stacks of the college library, looking through the 779's. (Actually it was probably the LOC system, so the TR 6-somethings.) Among the books in there was Bill Owens's Suburbia, published in 1973 and since reissued via D.A.P. It fit into my just-out-of-suburban-angst mood, as it gently and not so gently poked fun at the unsuspecting fools who thought the empty cloistered life of the new suburbs out in the sunbaked foothills east of the SF Bay Area was the good life. (Each photo had a bit of real-life speech or dialogue beneath it, a mode Jim Goldberg would use to even greater effect in Rich & Poor [download the PDF at the bottom of that page, really].)

But there was this one picture that always transcended the easy irony of suburbia/Suburbia, seen above. The caption reads, "How can I worry about the damned dishes when there are children dying in Vietnam." Yes, she seems a bit vacuous, like everyone in the book. But on the other hand, Yes, how can you do the dishes when there are kids dying Vietnam?

I've been thinking about that picture a lot this past year, with kids dying in Iraq. (And my dishes are dirty, but I'm not saying they're related.) I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 tonight and came out sad and angry and thinking, again, about the dishes.

Posted by dbrown at 11:38 PM
June 22, 2004
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders

selected amazon reviews of the DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR:

"The DSM... is complete fiction. Psychiatric "diseases" are VOTED into existence by a panel of about 1000 members of the "Mental Health Industry", and when these "diseases" win the vote and are included in the next edition of the DSM, they become by that fact "real". I would suggest that any person about to have a diagnosis rendered upon them through the use of DSM IV and who is concerned about their rights to disagree should contact attorney Skip Simpson of Dallas, Texas."

"The DSM-IV is a political document ... Psychiatrists creates myriad phony illnesses to justify their constant destruction of innocent people with heavy drugs, electric shocks, insulin shocks, other shocks and destructive brain operations. The DSM-IV is the vehicle for this criminal fraud. "

"Imagine for a moment that someone tattoo's a single word upon your forehead."

"The DSM is to psychiatry what Malleus Maleficarum was to the Inquisition. Historians will find it an essential guide to the superstition and cruelty of the period. "

"Hi I'm Lynn I was Thinking Of Buying This book DSM-IV-TR. forThose of you who already have it.Is it just a referance book or arethere any tests in it that tell you what the diagnosis is?If nothave you seen anything like thisanywhere? Feel free to E-mail me lynnfromselah@XXX Thank you Lynn"

Posted by dbrown at 05:48 PM
My Life

Office conversation this morning about Bill Clinton and his sexual tastes. There's a pause, and a female voice says quietly, "I'd give him a blowjob."

Posted by dbrown at 11:31 AM
June 21, 2004
Round Up, Rundown

It seemed like a slow news weekend, I know, with Wild Bill sucking up the air in the room. But some things not to miss:

Sy Hersh's latest in a series of insider bombshells, in this case about Israel seeing how awful our War was going ("Ehud Barak ... took it upon himself at this point to privately warn Vice-President Dick Cheney that America had lost in Iraq") and beginning to fund and train the Kurds ("Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan.")

A "found" Repub stratregy memo about the language to use, and not use about the War: "It's not the war in Iraq -- it's the war on terror. ... [do not use] the phrase 'the War in Iraq' to communicate your policies to the American public. To do so is to undermine your message from the start," it said. "Your efforts are about 'the principles of prevention and protection' in the greater 'War on Terror.' "

Ha'aretz's reminder of who the enemy is. Or what we're fighting for. Or something like that. "[Hebron] is blooming with the work of graffiti artists. Shaul says some of the graffiti must have been cleaned off recently, but the selection adorning the doors of Palestinian shops and the walls of the houses is certainly impressive: "Arabs to the gas chambers"; "Arabs = an inferior race"; "Spill Arab blood"; and, of course, those hardy perennials - "Death to the Arabs" and "Kahane was right."

Posted by dbrown at 12:18 PM
June 20, 2004

So I'm at Cotillion in Greenwich, minding my own business in my rented tux, and the fathers start streaming in, in white gloves, white tie, and tails, like in some Busby Berkeley number except that it's now my life, and then the emcee takes the mic, and its David Ogilvy. Not the advertising patriarch himself -- he is crafting banner ads for God these days -- but his son. Later, I'm introduced, and manage to utter only, "I enjoyed your father's books." Which is perfectly true. It is strange, that world up there in CT. You just never know what's going to happen. On the way home, we pass a front-yard tent being set up for a Laura Bush appearance on Tuesday, $25K a couple.

Posted by dbrown at 06:57 PM
June 18, 2004

Was dozing to CBS Evening News, which was doing a story about a father who just lost his son in Iraq. (It was a Father's Day story, a particulary 2004 one, or 1968, or 1944.) Some of his son's personal effects had been sent to him, including his dog tags, which he showed to the camera. I swear, though I was half-asleep, that the fifth line, which states the dog taggee's religion, read "JEDI KNIGHT." This made me happy, and, of course, sad.

assuming it's true. anyone else watching cbs? anyone else a jedi knight?

Posted by dbrown at 07:06 PM
June 17, 2004
Cloud Man


Bowing to international popular demand, I present you Cloud Man. +1 magic, baby.

Posted by dbrown at 08:39 PM
June 16, 2004
The Lost World


well, wait, there's more. Kidz Art, for one. And a dress-your-lamb-of-god game. And, truly, proof [scroll down for the photo] that dinosaurs still walk the earth. Take that, Chas. Darwin.

Posted by dbrown at 10:20 PM
Like its the fucking 17th century, or the 1920s

A friend alerted me to this fascinating round-up of the 2001 Fellowship Baptist Creation Science Fair.

Prize-winning projects included, in the elementary division, "My Uncle Is A Man Named Steve (Not A Monkey)" -- "Cassidy Turnbull (grade 5) presented her uncle, Steve. She also showed photographs of monkeys and invited fairgoers to note the differences between her uncle and the monkeys. She tried to feed her uncle bananas, but he declined to eat them. Cassidy has conclusively shown that her uncle is no monkey."

In the middle-school division: "Women Were Designed For Homemaking." "Jonathan Goode (grade 7) applied findings from many fields of science to support his conclusion that God designed women for homemaking." way to go, Jonathan.

And the high-school division produced "Maximal Packing Of Rodentia Kinds: A Feasibility Study." "Jason Spinter's (grade 12) project was to show the feasibility of Noah's Ark using a Rodentia research model (made of a mixture of hamsters and gerbils) as a representative of diluvian life forms."

Better still, the page links to other valuable Creation Science resources, including this list of Creation Science Fair projects, such as:

70. How do mice react after 24 hours of confinement? What about other animals?
71. How does soap clean?
72. What is God made of?
80. Why did God make pests like bugs and mosquitoes?
83. Why do people believe in Evolution?
104.Why do cats hate dogs and dogs hate cats?
105.What are aliens and are there really any in our world? see Lamentations 5:2, Eph 2:12, Heb 11:34.
114. What shape is outer space?

Posted by dbrown at 06:51 PM
June 15, 2004

Once upon a time there was a market research firm in lower Manhattan named Jupiter Communications. They were tiny, but they caught the first swell of the Internet bubble and rode it very, very well. The company's founder, Josh Harris, cashed out after the IPO*, and went on to try to become the Warhol of the internet via his next company, Pseudo. Then Harris became famous for webcasting his life, via www.weliveinpublic.com. Or infamous. Errol Morris made one of the better episodes of his IFC series "First Person" about Harris and his web-based self-obsession; it is worth searching out, if it is search-out-able. [oh, a short bit is available here.] Then 1999 came, Pseudo hemorraghed money like [insert half-offensive Ebola reference], and went dark. It was bought last year (?) and is something else entirely now.

Which would be all ancient history, but last night I was walking down Crosby St., just south of Houston, and spied a small, demolition-size Dumpster full of signs and display material for Pseudo.com. It was in front of the back door to the old Pseudo loft.

I forget what Warhol's Factory space became. I imagine that Dumpster was more interesting.

** full disclosure: through a series of events, I, in fact, made money on jupiter's IPO, which was promptly spent going snowboarding in biritsh columbia, which is how all internet bubble windfalls should have been spent. Also, I think I went to a New Year's party in the Pseudo space, in 1998/1999. Prince's 1999 was played, I remember that much, and cheap Russian champagne flowed like water.

Posted by dbrown at 02:59 PM
June 12, 2004
Junk Warrior


Tag sale at a day care center in Ulster County. Bunch of dirty baby clothes and dumb toys, ready to leave, but then notice a red-haired boy off to the side, with a little table of his own. He's selling homemade trading cards. Fifteen cents each, special ones for twenty-five cents, packs of four for fifty cents. I try to buy a lot (including the "Extrem Deck"), but still it's only $1.20. He seems unfazed by his own genius, and unfazed by a strange 34 year old buying homemade trading cards. Not shown here: "Right Leg of Forbidden One" (a 25-cent card, 1000 attack points and 1000 defense points) and "Cloud Man" (2000 attack points, 9000 defense points).

Posted by dbrown at 08:04 PM
June 11, 2004

Bush just had a nice line in his eulogy of RWR: "The convictions that shaped the president began to shape the times."

Let's recall some of those convictions: Oliver North, John Poindexter, Richard Secord, Casper Weinberger, Elliott Abrams, Robert C. McFarlane, Michael Deaver, E. Bob Wallach, James Watt, Alan D. Fiers, Clair George, Duane R. Clarridge, Anne Gorscuh Burford, Rita Lavelle, Richard Allen, Richard Beggs, Guy Flake, Louis Glutfrida, Edwin Gray, Max Hugel, Carlos Campbell, John Fedders, Arthur Hayes, J. Lynn Helms, Marjory Mecklenburg, Robert Nimmo, J. William Petro, Thomas C. Reed, Emanuel Savas, Charles Wick.

[roll call borrowed from William Pitt]

Posted by dbrown at 12:26 PM
June 10, 2004

Was making my usual tribute to Sir Edwin Landseer, and remembered that he was once considered the most famous artist in the world. Briefly. If you lived in England and liked deer. Herewith, other most famous artists, according to google:

John Banvard
Sir Edwin Landseer
Auguste Rodin
Andy Warhol
Albrecht Durer°
Enguerrand Quarton**
George Mitrofanovic***
Jacques-Louis David ****
Reylach Levlan *****

° “the most famous artist of Reformation Germany”
** “the most famous artist of the period [early fifteenth century]”
*** “the most famous artist of the period, around 1619-1620”
**** “the French Revolution’s most famous artist”
***** “Perhaps the most famous artist of all time”

Posted by dbrown at 09:02 PM

still obsessed with reagan; watched cspan's live coverage of the people waiting to see the coffin for an hour last night. But more interesting is this excerpt from Lou Cannon’s biography, "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime," found on Bob Somerby's Daily Howler:

CANNON (page 631): [I]t was obvious to [Donald] Regan and [White House counsel Peter] Wallison that the president was still shaky in his recollections. Wallison drew up what Abshire called an “aide-memoire” to help the president recall what he had told them. At the top Wallison wrote, “On the issue of the TOW [missile] shipment in August, in discussing this matter with me and David Abshire, you said you were surprised to learn that the Israelis had shipped the arms. If that is your recollection, and the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.”

The question, of course, came up...After a preliminary question about presidents and their NSC staffs, Tower asked Reagan about the discrepancy between his statement and Regan’s on the question of whether he had given prior approval to the Israeli arms shipment. Reagan rose from his chair, walked around the desk and said to Wallison, “Peter, where is that piece of paper you had that you gave me this morning?” Then he picked up the paper and began to read, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.”

Tower’s jaw went slack. It was, as Abshire put it, “a low moment.” Tower suspected that Reagan was being manipulated by his counsel, and the Tower Board’s chief of staff, Rhett Dawson, asked Wallison for a “copy of the script” when the board departed. But Wallison was even more amazed than the Tower Board by Reagan’s response. “I was horrified, just horrified,” Wallison recalled later.

Posted by dbrown at 02:31 PM
June 09, 2004
Fish Story

I have discovered the most foul-smelling exhaust vent in New York City: behind the Red Lobster, on west 41st st. Hot afternoon visit recommended.

Posted by dbrown at 08:10 PM

Ana's mention of Chris Matthews's odd justification of Reagan and his foggy lies makes me think of the ex-president's appearance in Cryptonomicon:

"Shaftoe looks harder and sees that it is not a bomb but a large bullet-shaped microphone on the end of a boom.

The lieutenant with the pompadour leans forward now, instinctively seeking the light, like a traveler on a cold winter’s night.

It is that guy from the movies. What’s-his-name. Oh, yeah!

Ronald Reagan has a stack of three-by-five cards in his lap. He skids up a new one: "What advice do you, as the youngest American fighting man ever to win both the Navy Cross and the Silver Star, have for any young Marines on their way to Guadalcanal?"

Shaftoe doesn’t have to think very long. The memories are still as fresh as last night’s eleventh nightmare: ten plucky Nips in Suicide Charge!

"Just kill the one with the sword first."

"Ah," Reagan says, raising his waxed and penciled eyebrows, and cocking his pompadour in Shaftoe’s direction. "Smarrrt —you target them because they’re the officers, right?"

"No, fuckhead!" Shaftoe yells. "You kill ’em because they’ve got fucking swords! You ever had anyone running at you waving a fucking sword?"

Reagan backs down. He’s scared now, sweating off some of his makeup, even though a cool breeze is coming in off the bay and through the window.

Reagan wants to turn tail and head back down to Hollywood and nail a starlet fast. But he’s stuck here in Oakland, interviewing the war hero. He flips through his stack of cards, rejects about twenty in a row. Shaftoe’s in no hurry, he’s going to be flat on his back in this hospital bed for approximately the rest of his life. He incinerates half of that cigarette with one long breath, holds it, blows out a smoke ring.

When they fought at night, the big guns on the warships made rings of incandescent gas. Not fat doughnuts but long skinny ones that twisted around like lariats. Shaftoe’s body is saturated with morphine. His eyelids avalanche down over his eyes, blessing those orbs that are burning and swollen from the film lights and the smoke of the cigarettes. He and his platoon are racing an incoming tide, trying to get around a headland. They are Marine Raiders and they have been chasing a particular unit of Nips across Guadalcanal for two weeks, whittling them down. As long as they’re in the neighborhood, they’ve been ordered to make their way to a certain point on the headland from which they ought to be able to lob mortar rounds against the incoming Tokyo Express. It is a somewhat harebrained and reckless tactic, but they don’t call this Operation Shoestring for nothing; it is all wacky improvisation from the get-go. They are behind schedule because this paltry handful of Nips has been really tenacious, setting ambushes behind every fallen log, taking potshots at them every time they come around one of these headlands. . .

Something clammy hits him on the forehead: it is the makeup artist taking a swipe at him. Shaftoe finds himself back in the nightmare within which the lizard nightmare was nested.

"Did I tell you about the lizard?" Shaftoe says.

"Several times," his interrogator says. "This’ll just take another minute." Ronald Reagan squeezes a fresh three-by-five card between thumb and forefinger, fastening onto something a little less emotional: "What did you and your buddies do in the evenings, when the day’s fighting was done?"

"Pile up dead Nips with a bulldozer," Shaftoe says, "and set fire to ’em. Then go down to the beach with a jar of hooch and watch our ships get torpedoed."

Reagan grimaces. "Cut!" he says, quietly but commanding. The clicking noise of the film camera stops.

"How’d I do?" Bobby Shaftoe says as they are squeegeeing the Maybelline off his face, and the men are packing up their equipment. The klieg lights have been turned off, clear northern California light streams in through the windows. The whole scene looks almost real, as if it weren’t a nightmare at all.

"You did great," Lieutenant Reagan says, without looking him in the eye. "A real morale booster." He lights a cigarette. "You can go back to sleep now."

"Haw!" Shaftoe says. "I been asleep the whole time. Haven’t I?"

He feels a lot better once he gets out of the hospital. They give him a couple of weeks of leave, and he goes straight to the Oakland station and hops the next train for Chicago. Fellow-passengers recognize him from his newspaper pictures, buy him drinks, pose with him for snap shots. He stares out the windows for hours, watching America go by, and sees that all of it is beautiful and clean. There might be wildness, there might be deep forest, there might even be grizzly bears and mountain lions, but it is cleanly sorted out, and the rules (don’t mess with bear cubs, hang your food from a tree limb at night) are well-known, and published in the Boy Scout Manual. In those Pacific islands there is too much that is alive, and all of it is in a continual process of eating and being eaten by something else, and once you set foot in the place, you’re buying into the deal. Just sitting in that train for a couple of days, his feet in clean white cotton socks, not being eaten alive by anything, goes a long way towards clearing his head up. Only once, or possibly two or three times, does he really feel the need to lock himself in the can and squirt morphine into his arm.

But when he closes his eyes, he finds himself on Guadalcanal, sloshing around that last headland, racing the incoming tide. The big waves are rolling in now, picking up the men and slamming them into rocks.

Finally they turn the corner and see the cove: just a tiny notch in the coast of Guadalcanal. A hundred yards of tidal mudflats backed up by a cliff. They will have to get across those mudflats and establish a foothold on the lower part of the cliff if they aren’t going to be washed out to sea by the tide.

The Shaftoes are Tennessee mountain people—miners, among other things. About the time Nimrod Shaftoe went to the Philippines, a couple of his brothers moved up to western Wisconsin to work in lead mines. One of them—Bobby’s grandpa—became a foreman. Sometimes he would go to Oconomowoc to pay a visit to the owner of the mine, who had a summer house on one of the lakes. They would go out in a boat and fish for pike. Frequently the mine owner’s neighbors—owners of banks and breweries—would come along. That is how the Shaftoes moved to Oconomowoc, and got out of mining, and became fishing and hunting guides. The family has been scrupulous about holding on to the ancestral twang, and to certain other traditions such as military service. One of his sisters and two of his brothers are still living there with Mom and Dad, and his two older brothers are in the Army. Bobby’s not the first to have won a Silver Star, though he is the first to have won the Navy Cross.

Bobby goes and talks to Oconomowoc’s Boy Scout troop. He gets to be grand marshal of the town parade. Other than that, he hardly budges from the house for two weeks. Sometimes he goes out into the yard and plays catch with his kid brothers. He helps Dad fix up a rotten dock. Guys and gals from his high school keep coming round to visit, and Bobby soon learns the trick that his father and his uncles and granduncles all knew, which is that you never talk about the specifics of what happened over there. No one wants to hear about how you dug half of your buddy’s molars out of your leg with the point of a bayonet. All of these kids seem like idiots and lightweights to him now. The only person he can stand to be around is his great-grandfather Shaftoe, ninety-four years of age and sharp as a tack, who was there at Petersburg when Burnside blew a huge hole in the Confederate lines with buried explosives and sent his men rushing into the crater where they got slaughtered. He never talks about it, of course, just as Bobby Shaftoe never talks about the lizard.

Soon enough his time is up, and then he gets a grand sendoff at the Milwaukee train station, hugs Mom, hugs Sis, shakes hands with Dad and the brothers, hugs Mom again, and he’s off.

Bobby Shaftoe knows nothing of his future. All he knows is that he has been promoted to sergeant, detached from his former unit (no great adjustment, since he is the only surviving member of his platoon) and reassigned to some unheard-of branch of the Corps in Washington, D.C.

D.C.’s a busy place, but last time Bobby Shaftoe checked the newspapers, there wasn’t any combat going on there, and so it’s obvious he’s not going to get a combat job. He’s done his bit anyway, killed many more than his share of Nips, won his medals, suffered from his wounds. As he lacks administrative training, he expects that his new assignment will be to travel around the country being a war hero, raising morale and suckering young men into joining the Corps.

He reports, as ordered, to Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C. It’s the Corps’s oldest post, a city block halfway between the Capitol and the Navy Yard, a green quadrangle where the Marine Band struts and the drill team drills. He half expects to see strategic reserves of spit and of polish stored in giant tanks nearby.

Two Marines are in the office: a major, who is his new, nominal commanding officer, and a colonel, who looks and acts like he was born here. It is shocking beyond description that two such personages would be there to greet a mere sergeant. Must be the Navy Cross that got their attention. But these Marines have Navy Crosses of their own—two or three apiece.

The major introduces the colonel in a way that doesn’t really explain a damn thing to Shaftoe. The colonel says next to nothing; he’s there to observe. The major spends a while fingering some typewritten documents.

"Says right here you are gung-ho."

"Sir, yes sir!"

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Sir, it is a Chinese word! There’s a Communist there, name of Mao, and he’s got an army. We tangled with ’em on more’n one occasion, sir. Gung-ho is their battle cry, it means ‘all together’ or something like that, so after we got done kicking the crap out of them, sir, we stole it from them, sir!"

"Are you saying you have gone Asiatic like those other China Marines, Shaftoe?"

"Sir! On the contrary, sir, as I think my record demonstrates, sir!"

"You really think that?" the major says incredulously. "We have an interesting report here on a film interview that you did with some soldier* named Lieutenant Reagan."

"Sir! This Marine apologizes for his disgraceful behavior during that interview, sir! This Marine let down himself and his fellow Marines, sir!"

"Aren’t you going to give me an excuse? You were wounded. Shell-shocked. Drugged. Suffering from malaria."

"Sir! There is no excuse, sir!"

The major and the colonel nod approvingly at each other.

This "sir, yes sir" business, which would probably sound like horseshit to any civilian in his right mind, makes sense to Shaftoe and to the officers in a deep and important way. Like a lot of others, Shaftoe had trouble with military etiquette at first. He soaked up quite a bit of it growing up in a military family, but living the life was a different matter. Having now experienced all the phases of military existence except for the terminal ones (violent death, court-martial, retirement), he has come to understand the culture for what it is: a system of etiquette within which it becomes possible for groups of men to live together for years, travel to the ends of the earth, and do all kinds of incredibly weird shit without killing each other or completely losing their minds in the process. The extreme formality with which he addresses these officers carries an important subtext: your problem, sir, is deciding what you want me to do, and my problem, sir, is doing it. My gung-ho posture says that once you give the order I’m not going to bother you with any of the details—and your half of the bargain is you had better stay on your side of the line, sir, and not bother me with any of the chickenshit politics that you have to deal with for a living. The implied responsibility placed upon the officer’s shoulders by the subordinate’s unhesitating willingness to follow orders is a withering burden to any officer with half a brain, and Shaftoe has more than once seen seasoned noncoms reduce green lieutenants to quivering blobs simply by standing before them and agreeing, cheerfully, to carry out their orders.

"This Lieutenant Reagan complained that you kept trying to tell him a story about a lizard," the major says.

"Sir! Yes, sir! A giant lizard, sir! An interesting story, sir!" Shaftoe says.

"I don’t care," the major says. "The question is, was it an appropriate story to tell in that circumstance?"

"Sir! We were making our way around the coast of the island, trying to get between these Nips and a Tokyo Express landing site, sir! . . ." Shaftoe begins.

"Shut up!"

"Sir! Yes sir!"

There is a sweaty silence that is finally broken by the colonel. "We had the shrinks go over your statement, Sergeant Shaftoe."

"Sir! Yes, sir?"

"They are of the opinion that the whole giant lizard thing is a classic case of projection."

"Sir! Could you please tell me what the hell that is, sir!"

The colonel flushes, turns his back, peers through blinds at sparse traffic out on Eye Street. "Well, what they are saying is that there really was no giant lizard. That you killed that Jap* in hand-to-hand combat. And that your memory of the giant lizard is basically your id coming out."

"Id, sir!"

"That there is this id thing inside your brain and that it took over and got you fired up to kill that Jap bare-handed. Then your imagination dreamed up all this crap about the giant lizard afterwards, as a way of explaining it."

"Sir! So you are saying that the lizard was just a metaphor, sir!"


"Sir! Then I would respectfully like to know how that Nip got chewed in half, sir!"

The colonel screws up his face dismissively. "Well, by the time you were rescued by that coastwatcher, Sergeant, you had been in that cove for three days along with all of those dead bodies. And in that tropical heat with all those bugs and scavengers, there was no way to tell from looking at that Jap whether he had been chewed up by a giant lizard or run through a brush chipper, if you know what I mean."

"Sir! Yes I do, sir!"

The major goes back to the report. "This Reagan fellow says that you also repeatedly made disparaging comments about General MacArthur."

"Sir, yes sir! He is a son of a bitch who hates the Corps, sir! He is trying to get us all killed, sir!"

The major and the colonel look at each other. It is clear that they have, wordlessly, just arrived at some decision.

"Since you insist on reenlisting, the typical thing would be to have you go around the country showing off your medals and recruiting young men into the Corps. But this lizard story kind of rules that out."

"Sir! I do not understand, sir!"

"The Recruitment Office has reviewed your file. They have seen Reagan’s report. They are nervous that you are going to be in West Bumfuck, Arkansas, riding in the Memorial Day parade in your shiny dress uniform, and suddenly you are going to start spouting all kinds of nonsense about lizards and scare everyone shitless and put a kink in the war effort."

"Sir! I respectfully—"

"Permission to speak denied," the major says. "I won’t even get into your obsession with General MacArthur."

"Sir! The general is a murdering—"

"Shut up!"

"Sir! Yes sir!"

"We have another job for you, Marine."

"Sir! Yes sir!"

"You’re going to be part of something very special."

"Sir! The Marine Raiders are already a very special part of a very special Corps, sir!"

"That’s not what I mean. I mean that this assignment is . . . unusual." The major looks over at the colonel. He is not sure how to proceed.

The colonel puts his hand in his pocket, jingles coins, then reaches up and checks his shave.

"It is not exactly a Marine Corps assignment," he finally says. "You will be part of a special international detachment. An American Marine Raider platoon and a British Special Air Services squadron, operating together under one command. A bunch of tough hombres who’ve shown they can handle any assignment, under any conditions. Is that a fair description of you, Marine?"

"Sir! Yes, sir!"

"It is a very unusual setup," the colonel muses, "not the kind of thing that military men would ever dream up. Do you know what I’m saying, Shaftoe?"

"Sir, no sir! But I do detect a strong odor of politics in the room now, sir!"

The colonel gets a little twinkle in his eye, and glances out the window towards the Capitol dome. "These politicians can be real picky about how they get things done. Everything has to be just so. They don’t like excuses. Do you follow me, Shaftoe?"

"Sir! Yes, sir!"

"The Corps had to fight to get this. They were going to make it an Army thing. We pulled a few strings with some former Naval persons in high places. Now the assignment is ours. Some would say, it is ours to screw up."

"Sir! The assignment will not be screwed up, sir!"

"The reason that son of a bitch MacArthur is killing Marines like flies down in the South Pacific is because sometimes we don’t play the political game that well. If you and your new unit do not perform brilliantly, that situation will only worsen."

"Sir! You can rely on this Marine, sir!"

"Your commanding officer will be Lieutenant Ethridge. An Annapolis man. Not much combat experience, but knows how to move in the right circles. He can run interference for you at the political level. The responsibility for getting things done on the ground will be entirely yours, Sergeant Shaftoe."

"Sir! Yes, sir!"

"You’ll be working closely with British Special Air Service. Very good men. But I want you and your men to outshine them."

"Sir! You can count on it, sir!"

"Well, get ready to ship out, then," the major says. "You’re on your way to North Africa, Sergeant Shaftoe."

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Posted by dbrown at 05:04 PM
June 08, 2004

Has anyone been watching the live feed on CSPAN of Reagan lying in state in Simi Valley? The lack of action is astounding. I'd make a crack about Frederick Wiseman. And those soldiers, standing watch. It is the first time I understand sitting shiva, and yet it is something else entirely.

Posted by dbrown at 11:31 PM
June 07, 2004
Terraforming Update

via mefi, a New Scientist story describing a robot that "squirts successive layers of concrete on top of one other to build up vertical walls and domed roofs." Which reminds me of Gibson's Virtual Light, though it seems the scifi folks got to the idea about 50 years before M. Gibson.

Posted by dbrown at 08:51 PM
June 05, 2004
Speaking Of

Saturday afternoon on the George Washington Bridge, a dozen or so police cars speed through the traffic, stop mid-span, and then cops climb over to the walkway. There are only officers there; one stoops to look through a backpack.

Posted by dbrown at 05:11 PM
June 03, 2004
Karen's End


James Estrin's photographs and narrative of one woman's "death with dignity." "Multimedia Feature" in the right column; not linkable.

Posted by dbrown at 03:29 PM
June 02, 2004

Josh Marshall says: "President hires outside counsel in the Plame case."

Posted by dbrown at 07:21 PM
June 01, 2004

It surprises me sometimes how few real stories there are out there about the middle- and lower-middle-class suburbs and the drug-addled lives the kids live. I know firsthand, back in the day. To be sure, there are some nice accounts, most famously Donna Gaines's Teenage Wasteland, and River's Edge, and also a true-crime book about a murder in the suburb next to mine, The Boy Next Door. (And I have not seen Elephant, though there were hints in Private Idaho.) (Jim Goldberg's Raised By Wolves should be mentioned, but that's much more inner-city; Larry Clark's Teenage Lust gets a shout-out too.) Today's Times brought a short addition to the canon, Charlie LeDuff's story on a Las Vegas family. He lays it on a little thick, but that's why we like him.

"...Daddy walked in from work one day into his perfect home with the high ceilings, green lawn and pool out back, and saw a stranger, a world-weary sloucher with black hair and nails and a bull ring through her nose....

How can you be good, she asks, when everybody around you is bad? She tried, the horses and the teen council, being the perfect daughter of two judges. But she couldn't do it forever, fending off the bad kids and their parties and grown-up stories about three-way sex. Then a friend, a 14-year-old boy, killed himself. After that she joined the crowd, pulled in like a ball in the ocean. The horse was eventually sold.

She is a thin girl, waifish with long, angular face, a tongue stud and nose ring. She is frenetic, unable to focus on a topic for more than a few sentences, calm one minute, ripping through a string of invective in the next. At 17, she has a poor self-image. She describes herself as ugly, small-chested and big-hipped. "I'm not good looking. I'm not an adult. I'm not anything. I'm spoiled," she says and laughs at the absurdity of herself."

Posted by dbrown at 10:56 PM