<= 2001.05

2001.07 =>

[JUNE 2001.]

people uglier than you & i

The cottage industry of depression.

Vicente Fox thus far. He bears watching in all sorts of ways, especially the new policy on migrant workers which would allow Mexican citizens in the U.S. to vote in elections. The effects of this attitude are already being felt back home. The salient thing is that Fox is trying to work within the realities of the economic disparity that sends people north, and even if his candor is alienating stupid people in the U.S. it's a necessary step.

Though, granted, his neoliberalist ideology and connections with the multinationals are worth keeping an eye on. There are reasons he and Dubya get along so well.

My landlord and his wife are in my bathroom. They've been there for a while. I understand that they're just replacing the ceiling fan and routine maintenance is good and keeps the building together, but it's still oddly violating.



Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath both went to McLean, and Anne Sexton taught poetry there; only it was a mental hospital rather than a school. The Atlantic discusses "McLean chic," the weird aura of literary prestige that has come to surround the place.

Just six years after her treatment, when she was twenty-seven, Plath realized that she could capitalize on her stay at McLean. After spotting two articles on mental health in Cosmopolitan magazine, she wrote in her journal, "I must write one about a college girl suicide ... And a story, a novel even ... There is an increasing market for mental-hospital stuff. I am a fool if I don't relive, recreate it."

Are they wandering planets, or giant alien earthships? We may never know.


choco babies ii

Oh Jesus, I've been telling people about the ice borers for years without knowing they were a hoax. Okay, I'm dumb. This was my junior year in high school, around the time I stopped reading Discover. At least other people have been taken in too, here ("It is purely opinion as to whether these ice borers are a problem in the Antarctica, I personally nelieve that it is part of the natural cycle of things.") and here ("Of course it's true. It's in Discover.").

Dementia linked to a sudden love for Italian pop music.

Gear up that liberal guilt: there's slave labor in your chocolate. I don't know what to do any more. As this side article points out, there's not much point to a boycott. And when they start saying things like "How could modern society allow youngsters to be enslaved to produce a crop that becomes the very food - chocolate - that symbolizes happiness, luxury and romance?" I just get ill. I have to go now.


choco babies

Garbled language day!

For those who haven't seen it before, engrish.com documents our mother tongue's misadventures in Japan.

"Our little friend "Tomte" use magical secret-power fro delicious BREAD that, Well enjoy in next morning. Children who living in NORTHERN EUROPE tell us secret that just baken BREAD. YES ..........TOMTE's secret. HOKUO as. BREAD country SAPPORO is very similar with TOMTE's land."

Via geegaw, the markov toy mixes n' matches from texts such as Alice in Wonderland, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, and the Communist Manifesto, e.g.:

Alice had no reason to be Jews though they are the conditions of existence. When the thousand years are over, Satan will be with them God's wrath on the great day of the waters into blood and to exercise his authority for forty-two months. He opened his eyes were getting so used to come out of his tail. 'As if it thought that she had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with a much more like a scroll, rolling up, and there was not the abolition of bourgeois society.


el mago de oz

Here's a lengthy Washington Post article on the few surviving Munchkins from The Wizard of Oz. Six of the ten still tour, appearing at events like Minnesota's annual Judy Garland festival:

This is fame in America. Fame in America is being a 78-year-old great-grandmother wearing a turquoise flowerpot on your head and having men, women and children twice your size approach you with wonder. It is being an 82-year-old naturalized citizen whose father once buried you in sand to make you grow and then sold you to a troupe of traveling midgets—and who now gets picked up in a limo and ferried to places where people pay $5 for your autograph.

In former years the Munchkins would have been defined as midgets, not dwarfs: meaning that they lack human growth hormone but are otherwise proportional. In recent years, however, identity politics has combined with a shift in scientific attitudes to produce a new nomenclature. Midgets are now referred to as "pituitary dwarves," identifying the hormonal cause of their malady, while other dwarves suffer from chondrodysplasia, or abnormal bone growth. Pituitary dwarfism is now usually treatable with human growth hormone, so the Munchkins truly are a dying breed.

The saga of sucks.com, which is not a porn site, although whitehouse.com (owned by the same guy) is. Who knew?


shitloads of electric sheep

Two sci-fi links today. The first is another short report on how life could exist on Jupiter's moons. I like the theories about how molecular oxygen could be forced down into the subsurface oceans, though their "Moons of Mystery" graphic is pretty silly.

Here's a sort of advance review/disquisition on A.I. Time magazine claims that it's fascinating, but admits the clash between two directors with utterly opposite styles. Plus artificial intelligence has been a cinematic trope for decades now (they've done it to death on Star Trek, for Christ's sake), and plot summaries like "A noted scientist of the remote future lays down a piquant challenge to his colleagues at Cybertronics Manufacturing: 'I propose that we build a robot who can love... a robot that dreams'" don't suggest anything remotely new or interesting. I might rent it some time.

Tom Stoppard on conceptual art: when did artists stop being makers (poet from Greek poietes, Eliot's il miglior fabbro, and suchlike etymology)?

From Aimee: Cookie Monster is assaulted.


dubuque & fairchild

Don DeLillo's bum luck: a meditation on how, in this late age, not even major authors can reach the rock-star status enjoyed by the likes of Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal in their heydays. The article's pessimism is a bit overwrought, though—DeLillo's status seems more enviable to me than that of his predecessors. Consider how many times Mailer and Vidal have made idiots out of themselves in public. Actually, have they been doing much else for the past few decades?

Run Lola Run's Tom Tykwer and Franka Potente are back with The Princess and the Warrior. Flawed, they say, but still worth seeing, in like four months when the film finally makes it to Iowa.

I am moved in, nearly. For the first time in a year I have an actual bed to sleep in. I'd guess that this house is close to a century old, right beside the university. I can practically spit and hit the Workshop building from my window. I have a lovely view of giant sun-dappled trees through glass warped with age, framed by deep brown woodwork. It actually feels like an artist's flat, in contrast with the last apartment, which felt like a motel. I came back from Marlowe's at six-thirty this morning; the sun had already been up for almost an hour on this near-longest day of the year. The air was cool and a mist hung over the Iowa River, thin wisps of white cirrus hovering wraithlike a foot above the surface of the water. I had never seen it before.


back in the saddle

How the world will end: the expansion of the universe is not slowing down, it's accelerating. So it'll keep on growing forever.

By then the sun will have shrunk to a white dwarf, giving little light and even less heat to whatever is left of Earth, and entered a long, lingering death that could last 100 trillion years—or a thousand times longer than the cosmos has existed to date. The same will happen to most other stars, although a few will end their lives as blazing supernovas. Finally, though, all that will be left in the cosmos will be black holes, the burnt-out cinders of stars and the dead husks of planets. The universe will be cold and black.

But that's not the end, according to University of Michigan astrophysicist Fred Adams. An expert on the fate of the cosmos and co-author with Greg Laughlin of The Five Ages of the Universe, Adams predicts that all this dead matter will eventually collapse into black holes. By the time the universe is 1 trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion years old, the black holes themselves will disintegrate into stray particles, which will bind loosely to form individual "atoms" larger than the size of today's universe. Eventually, even these will decay, leaving a featureless, infinitely large void. And that will be that—unless, of course, whatever inconceivable event that launched the original Big Bang should recur, and the ultimate free lunch is served once more.

One of the odd spinoff discoveries from all this is that space is flat and Euclidean after all, which kind of pisses me off. I spent a fair amount of time when I was younger getting my head around the concept of curved space, and it was such a cool idea that it's upsetting to see it's untrue.


moving day

While I and select beatific friends carry the futon up a narrow stairway, amuse yourselves with Ethan hanging out in San Francisco.


you love a certain person

Via geegaw, here are watercolor illustrations of the "Love loves to love love" paragraph from the Cyclops chapter of Ulysses. I had the text of that same paragraph pasted to the door of my dorm room about three years ago, when I was bitter and despairing and angry all the time. More so than now, I mean.



seven steps to a slimmer soul

There's another sequel of sorts to E.A. Abbott's Flatland. This one is called Flatterland and Salon's critic had way too much fun with the review.

"And when you're four-dimensional," the cube said, "you can do stuff like this!"

The cube winked out of sight, and I felt a mild tugging sensation amidships. A pair of jockey shorts appeared, twirling in midair. A vertiginous purple light strobed through the leg and waist holes.

"Hey! Those are mine! Take those off!"

The shorts vanished and the cube winked back, about the size of an iMac, spinning zanily. A ball of baked beans glopped to the floor beneath it. "You'll never guess where your shorts are now!" the voice boomed.

For your entertainment, I have also drawn a picture of the figure that used to haunt my nightmares from ages four to seven or so. Its name was the Statue, and as far as I can tell my brain generated it by crossing a Muppet with a hammerhead shark. You have to click here to see it because I'm afraid to put it on the main page.


we'll have goals in a liberal world

Starting to move. Boxes of books up stairs. Not fun. All the literature from the ancient world to World War I and some of the European modernists has gone up. This leaves literature 1930-2000, plus all of the nonfiction including the encyclopedia set, which should fill nine or ten more boxes. Perseverance.

Also, last night we discovered Noggin. Who knows what they show during the day, but at night it's all reruns of old PBS kids' shows: "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company" and "3-2-1 Contact." The great part is that the network is clearly aware their only audience is stoned Gen-Xers looking for nostalgia, and they don't care.


serpentine pad

Hey, a review. Is it shameless to link this? It's just that I've never been compared to Raymond Chandler or a pregnant cat before and, well, I wanted to share.

And as long as I'm being shameless, we went out for drinks with George Saunders last night. That's more exciting than it sounds: all that really happened is George Saunders gave a Prairie Lights reading and someone convinced him to come to the Atlas Grill. He sat on a bar stool, sipping a glass of water, and nearly thirty Workshop people circled him. I talked to him only briefly.

GEORGE: Everyone here is so young! How old are you?
ME: Twenty-two.
GEORGE: Christ, that's young.

Then he told me a story about how he's living in Tobias Wolff's old house at Syracuse and people will walk down the street and look at the house and say "Do you remember when Toby lived here? He was such a dear man! If only he were still living here," so George Saunders feels slighted by contrast. Then I left because everyone else wanted to talk to him, including an old man who came out of nowhere with (apparently) a bunch of secret information about Leonard Peltier.

Danish ornithologists report: Copenhagen starlings have incorporated the ring tone of Nokia cell phones into their calls. Andrew Smith of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds asks us to consider the ramifications: if the sound becomes sufficiently popular with urban birds, it "could bring a place like San Francisco to a standstill."

The Church of Satan says "Think different"; Apple demands they retire the slogan.


mewling and puking

Saw the Riverside Theatre production of As You Like It last night. Because el cheapo is el besto, I got a free ticket by ushering; meaning I had to wear tan pants and a black apron, fold inserts into programs, and scrub chairs dry of the perennial drizzly not-quite-rain that happens out here in the summer. I was also in the play, sort of, as the guy who gets knocked out of his chair in Act I, Scene ii so that Charles can use the chair to whack Orlando upside the head.

As for the rest of the show: I'm iffy on many of Shakespeare's comedies, since they can conform so closely to formula as to seem like practice pieces for the more adventurous comic plays (Midsummer, Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night.) Plus it always irks me when the courtiers start using their wit to mock the manual laborers. But this production was a lot of fun, with some truly inspired costume design (lime green Doc Martens matching a lime green tie) and startling incidental music. The ditty in Act V, scene iii was replaced by a downtempo duet version of the Magnetic Fields' "Let's Pretend We're Bunny Rabbits," and the quadruple wedding at the end segued into a dance party featuring Blur's "Girls and Boys." Everyone onstage seemed to be having an infectiously good time, which is probably what you want in a comedy. In my experience, theatre people are much more upbeat and energetic than writers. Something about spending all day at your computer with the coffee and the Wild Turkey just sucks the vim out of you.

Links from alert readers: Grumpy Doug reveals that the Oxford English Dictionary has made "Doh!" an official part of the English language, and Felisa sends in some musings on repulsive food.

Pimiento loaf is also very, very wrong, in a way that you can't understand the word "wrong" until you've seen that part of the Sgt. Pepper movie where George Burns does his soft-shoe routine, and you realize that you've come into the presence of a thing that, while composed of recognizable and seemingly innocent parts, resembles nothing as a whole that you've ever seen before, and is therefore so subtly bizarre and terrifying that the hairs on your forearms stand all the way up.

And today is sunny and sublime; and I'm listening to the Abduction from the Seraglio overture and ready to go out for some abduction of my own. Grr!


ahura mazda miata

I turn on my computer this morning and it reminds me that today is Flag Day. "Great," I thought, "what does one do on Flag Day?" After doing some research (including one site which inflicted a horrid MIDI version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" upon me), it appears that you raise the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance and then there are speeches and marching bands and so on, at least in some cities. We're having a rainstorm here.

Two-step aka U.K. garage: the new genre for the club kids, which, being British, has already acquired a sizeable load of sociocultural baggage.

And this is to say nothing of the serious theory that has sprung up around electronic music in England. The better writing about techno and drum 'n' bass regularly places beat science alongside the most head-crunching social and political thought. Throw down a slamming break-beat and there will be a British writer ready to decorate it with a quote from Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida or Theodor Adorno.

Last week's top searches on this site were, in alphabetical order:

—"city quiz"
—"essay about holographic theory"
—"free videos of woman whipping man"

Hope everyone found what they were looking for.


the boy who can enjoy invisibility

Re: yesterday's furniture, I think I've hit on a solution using a sort of Non-Euclidean Apartment Geometry which will allow me to set up shop regardless of what the landlord decides.

Maintenance just came through. Three friendly and highly mechanically competent men entered the apartment and spent ten minutes running around the piles of literary crap which have collected on my floor, fixing the broken toilet/curtains/stove/fan like some Midwestern species of benevolent elf; then they disappeared with nary a word. Huh.

It had to happen. Here's the new teen-pop song about instant messaging, which goes Britney Spears's "Email My Heart" one better:

Hey LOL, G2G
I gotta go, but baby
Watch for me 'cause
I'll be right back, BRB
So sign on and I.M. me.

The song is getting rave reviews from instant-messaging teens, e.g., "I think it's the bomb!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


art poop

Saturday is move day, and what a royal pain in the ass it's turning out to be already. My future landlord, who said I could store some of furniture currently in the place, is now trying to renege. So I have this giant futon. What the hell am I going to do with the futon? Damn the logistics of life.



On the phone last night, I came to the conclusion that I really have no idea whether I'm currently happy out here. After doing some intensive introspection/endoscopy, the best I could come up with was "dissatisfied." I'm not sure whether this is the usual dissatisfaction which is endemic in our society and which I blame on advertising, or something trickier and more personal. But I've been unable to relax in months.

I should abandon this novel for now. I need a vacation from it. I'm not sure, however, if I'm capable of taking a vacation without the constant thought of it hanging from my neck like a millstone. Damn it, America, you raise your kids to achieve and this is what happens. I'm constitutionally incapable of being a slacker, and this is sad.

The secret, troubled life of Arthur Conan Doyle.

By the late 1870s, Conan Doyle's father, Charles, appears to have been enduring an agonised twilight existence in the family home, as he made a spectacular decline into drunken insanity. Conan Doyle, at home thoughout his student days, would have experienced this at close quarters. But there was worse. For, during this crucial period, his mother's affections had strayed. With his sisters largely away, he may well have been the sole grown-up witness to the spectacle of his father being cuckolded in his own home, and by a man who was only five years older than Conan Doyle himself.

Mozart may have died from trichinosis. This is the latest in a series of 150 or so different diagnoses, but I like this one because it reminds me of the Mozart Club in the tiny town of Goldfield, Nevada, which one passes through driving between Reno and Vegas. They offer a "Mozart Burger" there, which is topped with greasy mounds of cheese and a fat slice of ham.


i can't sail my yacht

Bush, !no! The rest of the world loves America so, and if we start executing foreign nationals things can only get better. Fred tells a story about a Spanish bartender who, speaking quickly and slurredly, would ask American tourists something that sounded like "Eres americano?"

"Sí, sí," the tourists would reply, delighted to be communicating in the native language. Only the bartender was actually asking "Eres maricón?"

A couple of new books on the Congo, or what's left of it.


christian soldiers

I got an email from Columbia Records yesterday, letting me know that rasputina.com "is revamped and very fun and interesting." They're right, assuming you're into Rasputina: three ladies who play cellos through distortion pedals and wear corsets onstage. They describe their style as "chamber-goth." The good news here is that in this era of evil record corporations consolidating, when even Morrissey is having trouble getting signed, it seems that Columbia is sticking with this eclectic, small-selling act. The site includes a collection of insults that their singer hurled at the Marilyn Manson crowd, back when they were opening for the Antichrist Superstar.

How can you be so mean? Because Wal-Mart is your Dream and it's all you have, you fuckers.

Why are you killing us with your kindness? We're sorry you have to wait forever for His Highness.

Where's Manson? Why he's shopping at the Hallmark Christmas store!

I know, it is very exciting; Manson will be out in just a few thousand hours. You are axing yourself: What will he be wearing? Will he get blood on me?

If you came here to see: Forbidden Monkey Cutting, or Unsanitary Satanic Napkin Folding, this is your lucky night.

I know I wish I was fingerpainting at the Putt-Putt golf party across the road right now, and I bet you do too, you little inbreds. But we're all stuck here, at the Festival of Evil.

Suck, Feed, and Plastic are all dead, maybe. At least temporarily. Time for an elegiac shower.


he would love some cypress

CNN has published a summary of the federal execution protocol, which is frightening in its precision. It reminds me of the Nine Inch Nails "Happiness in Slavery" video, where a machine devours a man (if you've never seen it, you're lucky). The final sentence is "The execution room will be cleaned and restored to its previous condition." Clear all variables.

This world map of who executes and who doesn't is also telling.

Percy Shelley, on love.

It is that powerful attraction towards all we conceive, or fear, or hope beyond ourselves, when we find within our own thoughts the chasm of an insufficient void, and seek to awaken in all things that are, a community with what we experience within ourselves. If we reason we would be understood; if we imagine we would that the airy children of our brain were born anew within another's; if we feel we would that another's nerves should vibrate to our own, that the beams of their eyes should kindle at once and mix and melt into our own; that lips of motionless ice should not reply to lips quivering and burning with the heart's best blood:—this is Love. This is the bond and the sanction which connects not only man with man, but with every thing which exists. We are born into the world, and there is something within us, which from the instant that we live, more and more thirsts after its likeness.


if it hurts, that means it's working

From l'Onion: "Author Wishes She Hadn't Blown Personal Tragedy on First Book." Ha. Yup.

It seems nobody is subscribing to Salon Premium (surprise), so they brought in... Peter Coyote to talk about it? I would download the 550K commercial, but I'd rather use the bandwidth on something more productive, such as menwholooklikekennyrogers.com. As this site exhaustively documents, there are a hell of a lot of men out there who look like Kenny Rogers. There is also a corn muffin recipe from the geniune article.



Sorry I was away. I desperately need to reorder my life. You should see this place. You should see the dishes in the sink. I don't know what half those stains are. I didn't know I had that many dishes. Why are my A.S. Byatt books and Alien laserdiscs under so many goddamn socks? You know what time I've been getting up, most days? 1:30 p.m. That's not human. I need help.

I think the problem is eating. Eating is a pain in the ass for me. Cooking and cleaning take so much time, and the pleasure afforded by actually eating the meal is so minimal these days, that I just don't do it much. I want those Jetsons food pills. For years I resented having a body at all, and while I've partially come around on that, my corporeal form still requires much more upkeep than I feel like giving it most of the time. Anyway, I think my somewhat pathetic goal list for June is a) to start getting up in the actual morning, and b) to establish regular mealtimes. I'm aware that this lifestyle is a major reason why my head feels like it's falling off half the time.

Also, I taught my first class (undergrad fiction workshop) yesterday. To complete the weird looking-glass aura of being on the other side of the teacher/student divide, I'm in the same classroom where I took my last workshop. My chair is practically still warm from Chris Offutt. The job is much more low-key than I had expected, though. Of course I haven't really taught anyone anything yet.

The novel is dead, again. This dunderheaded article suggests that its place has been taken not by television or film, but by nonfiction. The novel no longer has anything new to tell us. You know what? I—no, I can't even start. I have to wash the damn dishes.


the grape nuts(tm) affair

Michael Chabon has a website. Check out his speech at the Nabokov museum.

I might as well just come all the way out and confess that there were many times in the course of the writing of my latest novel—always at some crucial point—when I felt, as the dial-a-psychics say, that he was with me. This last book took me more than four years to write and along the way there were rough spots. It is a roomy book, and every so often I got lost in it. At other times I found myself caught up in great gusts of writing, sprinting through fifty pages in five or six days. In the middle drafts, there was the crisis week when you realize that what needs to be re-conceived, re-invented is not the damn book but you. And sometimes you just do not feel at all up to the task. Often, when I was in one of these periods of stress and ferment, I would go for a walk. Sometimes it was in the countryside; at other times I would just walk around my neighborhood in Berkeley, California, where I live. I would climb up out of the Cave of Wonders I spent four years spelunking, pale and squinting, and get out in the breeze and the sunshine. And I would always see a butterfly. A lone flapping straggler sometimes; or sometimes the woods or the long grass would be filled with them. (I just want to say here that I know nothing at all about butterflies, or chess, for that matter). There were butterflies in New Hampshire, and the next year in Old Chatham, New York. One summer the yard of our house was throbbing with little white ones. Doubtless, in each case, it was the time of year and the fact that my most intense periods of work on the book tended to occur when I retreated to the country or a week or two. But each time I derived as great comfort from the sudden dizzy trajectory of a little scrap of orange and brown across my path as a believer would from a heavenly sign.

Yesterday I finished Gass's Omensetter's Luck (avant-garde, psychological, set in turn-of-the-century Ohio with a stream-of-consciousness technique that was apparently considered revolutionary at the time though I saw it as basically a talented aping of Ulysses, and lots of lovely, terrifying descriptions of a preacher's mind cracking), then moved on to Richard Powers' The Gold Bug Variations, which contains some truly atrocious puns. My favorite so far concerns "...a major dental development that would, like the Great Wall of China, provide the long-sought security of Tartar Control."


wandering days

The letters of Dashiell Hammett are out. They seem less-hard boiled than his fiction:

A minimal courtesy for men who lead duplicitous, or anyhow complicated lives: don't use the same endearments for all your loved ones. It suggests a poverty of vocabulary; or more offensively, a precaution against using the wrong pet name in moments of passion. Hammett has no such scruples. There's a time when everyone is a cutie or a cutiepie or a blond cutie: Lilipie (or Lilishka) for Lilian Hellman (more of a cheesecake, I've always thought), Maggiepie for Maggie Krober; and even his daughter Mary is another blonde cutie, which may have had something to do with, or be emblematic of the things that had something to do with, her mental breakdown.

FindYourSpot.com asks you some questions about your lifestyle preferences, then generates a list of cities where you might like to live. As my top six I get San Bernardino, CA; Shreveport, LA; El Cajon, CA; Las Vegas, NV; Las Cruces, NM; and Little Rock, AR. I just need to end up someplace where either the summer or winter is inhospitable, but not both. I don't understand why human beings ever decided to settle this part of the world.



Occasionally someone writes something that you feel sure you would have written, given enough time. Frank Black's "Blast Off" includes the lines "I'm in a Beckett trance" and "I'm wearing Beckett's pants."

Alert reader Peyton points out TriSenx, whose slogan is "The Internet Finally Comes to It's [sic] Senses." Their apparent crusade is to bring smell to the Internet. They have recently lauched Aromafest, "the world's first online scent chat," and you can now download a "Scent Design Studio." In addition, New Scientist reports that the company

...is unveiling a desktop printer that "prints" smells and tastes. The printer will be loaded with a cartridge that holds 200 water-based flavours that can be "printed" in various combinations to create thousands of different smells. The company is also planning on producing edible paper, allowing you to print out tastes.

For perspective on the intelligence of this venture, I refer you to the fate of Smell-O-Vision in 1960s movie theaters.

If you thought I was doing a public service, rather than just being an asshole, by correcting TriSenx's grammar above, you may be interested to know that the David Foster Wallace grammar essay from a couple Harper's ago is now available online. There was a period about a month ago where every time I went to Marlowe's he made me a copy of the article, which I then lost before leaving. Actually, I think Vu took them all. Anyway, the essay is now up for all to see, though it appears to have been scanned in by a program with occasionally questionable OCR and it's kind of a pain to navigate the footnotes. I'd recommend opening two windows if you want to read it off the screen. And for God's sake skip the first paragraph: it's not actually part of the essay.


fusiles y frijoles

Reading today: Jennifer Schirmer's The Guatemalan Military Project, unusual among exposés in that it includes candid and detailed interviews with many top-ranking Guatemalan officials, including three former presidents. The most revealing interviews are those with General Héctor Gramajo, defense minister from 1987 to 1990. They detail the nuts and bolts of just how a repressive society is put together. In 1982, with the coup that placed Ríos Mott in power, the Guatemalan military implemented a "30/70" program of "Beans and Bullets" in fighting insurgency in local villages. As Gramajo explains:

So we had 70 percent Beans and 30 percent Bullets. That is, rather than killing 100 percent, we provided food for 70 percent. Before, you see, the doctrine was 100 percent, we killed 100 percent before this.

Under the new system, after a selective massacre was carried out in certain villages, they would be rebuilt and the remaining inhabitants forced to live in a psuedo-military installation with the same name as the old village, only now with barbed wire and watchtowers. Food was rationed in exchange for work, usually construction labor, and men were forced to join the military as "civil patrollers" whose task was to root out guerrilla elements in the village, or risk torture or death themselves. The new villages were called "Poles of Development" and even had their own mascot, Polín Polainas, who is depicted as a smiling Mayan boy on the back of a 1985 propaganda pamphlet, with the caption:

Yesterday from Quiché, today from Sololá, Polín Polainas, candid and courteous, comes to plow the Guatemalan fields, leaving in his wake his exemplary studied love, and inspiring the portent of peace, development and accord, like supreme yearnings for a national unity. His attire doesn't matter. His origin doesn't matter. Polín Polainas is omnidimensional. Polín is omnipresent!


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