Senate Agrees To Vote On Bolton’s Mustache

While John Bolton's confirmation as US ambassador to the United Nations remains uncertain, the senate today agreed to a straight up-or-down vote on the judiciousness of Bolton's mustache. "We have a constitutional duty to advise and consent Presidential nominees," said Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the six senators who brokered the compromise, "and while we're waiting to consent, we figured we'd take a crack at advising." The vote, originally scheduled for this afternoon, was pushed back to Thursday after a rift opened between the senators advocating an "aggressive trim" and the so-called "Norelco sixty-two" who urge Bolton to make a clean shave of things. "The color doesn't even match his hair," said Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas, who counts himself squarely in the latter camp. "Does he somehow not know what it looks like?" Thought a vote seems all but inevitable, President George Bush continued to stand by Bolton's mustache, calling it "the right facial hair for the right lip." Also rallying to Bolton's defense was Sen. John McCain, who called the mustache "rather dashing" and is expected to cast the lone vote in favor of its retention in an effort to preserve his reputation as a maverick.

Books: CivilWarLand In Bad Decline and Eastern Standard Tribe

Note: These reviews are part of the Booklist 2005 Project.

The Queen read CivilWarLand In Bad Decline before I did, and when I finished the first short story in the collection I was eager to discuss the book with her. “What did you think of it?” I asked her.

“Eh,” she said. “It was kinda repetitive.”

“Repetitive?!” said I. “Are you kidding? This is one of most original books I’ve read in a long time, and the author, George Saunders has a remarkably distinctive voice. I’m really enjoying it.”

The Queen just shrugged — her way of saying, “Come talk to me again when you realize I’ve won this argument.”

So I read the rest of the stories. And, yeah: kinda repetitive.

The stories in CivilWarLand remind me of those found in Barrel Fever, the first book by humorous David Sedaris. Before he started writing exclusively about himself and his family, Sedaris cranked out a couple of very funny fictional stories (including one of my all-time favorites, “Glen’s Homophobia Newsletter Vol. 3, No. 2”), full of cynicism and characters that act in widely inappropriate ways. But unlike Sedaris, most of Saunders’ narratives have a science-fiction cast, set in a near future where business life and American life have become synonymous and the public vernacular has become infested with self-help affirmations and corporate jargon.

In almost all cases, the protagonists in the tales are average people struggling to stay afloat in Saunders’s dystopia. And while each provoked me to laugh out loud a time or two, I did feel like I was reading the story over and over again by the time I reached the novella “Bounty.” It didn’t help that, halfway through “Bounty,” I realized that I had read it before, ten years ago when it first appeared in Harper’s.

An Amazon.com reviewer advises suggests that you read no more than one CivilWarLand story per month, and while that might be a little overboard, I’m inclined to agree that spacing them out somewhat is probably wise. Still: very funny in small doses.

Also set “five minutes in the future” is Cory Doctorow’s Eastern Standard Tribe (which you can read for free, along with all of his other works, at craphound.com). While humorous, the setting for EST is much less absurd than that found in CivilWarLand, and the author seems more intent on provoking thought about the ramifications of our current technology than in waylaying the reader with non sequiturs in the hopes of generating belly laughs. But then, having laid the groundwork for a philosophical thriller, the book abruptly becomes conventional, alternating between a rather standard swindle story and a conundrum lifted straight from ‘Catch-22’ (so much so that even the novel’s main character remarks upon the similarity).

EST is short, which is both its failing (in that it doesn’t deliver on the promise of it’s opening chapter) and its saving grace (as once the plot devolves into something unremarkable, the hasty conclusion keeps it from outstaying its welcome). I quite enjoyed Doctorow’s writing style and there were plenty of great ideas to be explored in this book (even if, ultimately, I felt like they got the short shrift), and I look forward to reading more by him. If Down And Out In The Magic Kingdom is as good as I’ve heard, EST will have served as a nice appetizer.

Of Mice And Munitions

For a while The Squirrelly’s favorite plaything was the Busy Ball Popper, a.k.a. the toy that parented our child during the Avery Flu. You drop plastic balls onto a platform on the top, they fall through a hole and roll down a curving ramp, and they eventually descend into the base of the toy, whereupon a battery-powered fan accelerates them until they pop out of the top and fall onto the platform, repeating the cycle ad nauseum.


Guns & Ammo

Once the balls are set in motion, there’s little to do but watch them. So although it’s a neat toy, it’s not very interactive. Or it’s not supposed to be, at least.

The Squirrelly lost interest in the Busy Ball Popper for a while. Then one day he discovered that he could wrench the entire platform / ramp portion of the toy off. That left only the base, which contains a U of the tube and the fan. Then he began dropping things into the input side of the tube, to see what would happen to them. Some, like his square magnets, would go halfway through and get stuck; other stuff would get flung out the other side. In fact, things that weighed less that the balls supplied with the popper would come flying out of the tube with considerable velocity.

After some experimentation The Squirrelly found the perfect projectiles: the small mice our cats play with. He took to carrying the base of the Busy Ball Popper around the house, occasionally stopping to press the oversized red button that starts the fan, dropping a mouse into the tube, and watching it get shot across the room.

That’s right: fifteen months old and my son has already McGuyvered up a rocket launcher.

I’d should find out where my college sociology professor is living these days. I’d love to bring The Squirrelly over to his house, let him loose in the living room to wreak havoc for 15 minutes, and say, “so all gender differences are culturally instilled, are they?”*

Update 06/08: Today The Squirrelly figured out that a handful of cat kibble dropped into the Busy Ball Popper will be expelled like buckshot. Science … on the march!

*Of course, we did dress him in that camouflage jumper

Twenty-five Things I’m Glad I Am No Longer Required To Do

  • Show you the money
  • Wake up and smell the coffee
  • Want a piece of you
  • Sit on it
  • Keep it real
  • Wang Chung tonight
  • Get all up in your grill
  • Think outside the box
  • Be there (and/or be square)
  • Talk to the hand
  • Take it up a notch
  • Kiss your grits
  • Get jiggy with it
  • Catch you on the flipside
  • Open up a can of whoop-ass
  • Gag you with a spoon
  • Keep on truckin’
  • Get with the program
  • Eat your shorts
  • Take it easy
  • Give mad props
  • Bring it on
  • Touch base
  • Quiero Taco Bell
  • Not go there