Simulated Terrorist Attacks; or, Drag Me out of the Ball Park

Here’s the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity we’ve all been dying for: playing a victim in a mock terrorist attack. And this isn’t just any simulated terrorist attack. This is a terrorist attack on a baseball team! The Reds, no less!

As the Cincinnati Reds press release reads:

On Saturday, September 30 the Department of Homeland Security and the Southwestern Ohio, Southeastern Indiana, and Northern Kentucky (SOSINK) Regional Collaborative will conduct a full scale simulated terrorist attack training exercise at Great American Ball Park.

I know what a full-scale terrorist attack is. But what’s a full-scale simulation? Do we have to pretend to be afraid? Or can the fear be real, but the threat fake? Or can the threat be real and the fear be fake?

Hmmm, maybe the press release explains these nuances?

The Reds are asking for volunteers to come to Great American Ball Park to act as fans to be evacuated after a simulated attack. In appreciation for your attendance the Reds will provide each participant with a voucher for two tickets to a future baseball game in the 2007 season as well as other promotional items.

Omigod, omigod, omigod, am I reading this correctly? Can it be true? I can be a victim and a future attendee at a Reds baseball game? A voucher!? It’s a dream come true. But wait, what about my kids, can they come too?

Volunteers do not need to pre-register. Families are welcome.

YES! Well, then, I’m definitely bringing my family. It’s an outing! Family time, together! Mom and Dad and the kids! Popcorn, hotdogs! Smallpox, anthrax! What a day!

But how long will this take? I hear real terrorist attacks can take days, you know, dragging on and on forever, like Texas.

We ask all volunteers to arrive at Great American Ball Park between 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. Free parking will be provided at Great American Ball Park, The East Garage, and Parking lots B, C, and the Freedom Center parking lot. The volunteer fans should be finished by 10 a.m.

Whoa, free parking and I’m done by 10am? Sign me up!

Oh, I forgot, there’s no need to pre-register! It’s a democratic simulation! Everyone’s invited! The more the merrier. Bring your friends! Bring your neighbors! Play dead! Play bloated disease-ravaged corpses! Play hostages! Play that one cool dude who’s ex-Special Forces and takes on the terrorists singlehandedly! It’s a simulation and anything goes!

Don’t Hug that Tar Baby

It’s been widely reported (and not just on the Daily Show) that new Presidential Press Secretary Tony Snow used the racist term “tar baby” in his first televised press briefing.

Responding to a question about the NSA’s secret wiretapping program, Snow answered:

I am not going to stand up here and presume to declassify any kind of program. That is a decision the President has to make. I can’t confirm or deny it. The President was not confirming or denying. Again, I would take you back to the USA Today story to give you a little context. Look at the poll that appeared the following day […] something like 65% of the public was not troubled by it. Having said that, I don’t want to hug the tar baby of trying to comment on the program… the alleged program, the existence of which I can neither confirm or deny.

Just to illustrate what “tar baby” means to most people, below is a photograph of Tar Baby’s Pancakes, a restaurant in North Myrtle Beach whose logo taps into the vast reserves of racist imagery comprising our nation’s history.

I snapped this photograph in July 2005, when I was in Myrtle Beach with my family. We didn’t eat at Tar Baby’s, but when I saw the sign, I had to stop and pull over. The sign left me speechless (close-up of the sign at Flickr). Finally–and sadly–I’ve found some relevance to this photograph.

Tar Baby’s (Larger Image)
Posted to Flickr by samplereality.

Evel Knievel (not dead yet)

It must be a slow news day at the Associated Press. There’s an article on Evel Knievel, who’s apparently racked with pain, not to mention short-term memory loss. Not sure if this story really is newsworthy, but at least it’s written with a sense of irony:

Evel Knievel has trouble now just walking from his condo to the pool. The ’70s cultural icon and poster boy for fast living and derring-do is 67, his body broken by years of spectacular crashes and ravaged by a multitude of serious ailments. The king of the daredevils can hardly get out of bed most days, let alone straddle a Harley.

Reminds me of a conversation I overheard in May 2002. I was in the National Air & Space Museum at the Smithsonian, oogling one of Knievel’s star-spangled jumpsuits, which was–and still is–on display there (pictured here). And I overheard a couple of kids talking about how cool Knievel was–even though he was 20 years before their time. And one of the kids says, yeah, too bad he died.

You have to ask yourself, which is worse: smashing a flaming motorcycle into a cliff wall and falling to your death, or little kids thinking that’s how you died?

A Return to Sesame Street (Fisher-Price Style)

Since Elmo was (regretably) such a success with our son, we’ve rescued a bunch of old-style Fisher-Price “Little People” from my parent’s attic, including a few Sesame Street characters. Here we’ve got Bert and Ernie (circa 1974) tooling around town in a garbage truck.

Whose garbage truck? I’m not sure. I don’t recall Oscar the Grouch actually being a sanitation worker. In fact, wouldn’t he more or less be the enemy of Sesame Street’s trashmen? I mean, I think he had rabies or something.

In any case, Niko loves the toys, and it’s weird watching him play with the very same slobber-encrusted, booger-smeared toys that I played with thirty years ago. I don’t know who was more upset when Ernie went missing for a week, Niko or me.

[My Sesame Street photos on Flickr]

Puzzling over the flight home

How many passengers on a transatlantic flight play Sudoku?

Apparently all of them.

Another observation from the flight…One of the in-flight movies was The Dukes of Hazzard. I assume this movie was supposed to appeal somehow to the retro-seeking, nostalgia-desperate Gen Xers like myself, who spent many Friday nights in the eighties watching The Dukes and The Incredible Hulk. Like other attempts to create new franchises from recycled television shows, the movie was, well, I can’t say a disappointment, because I didn’t expect anything at all in the first place. But the spirit of the movie was all wrong, fundamentally misguided. Bo and Luke Duke, the good guys, were buffoons, played for laughs, while the bad guys–Boss Hogg, Roscoe–were played straight. This is the opposite of the original series.

Of course, I’m overanalyzing a movie that is obviously meant to be taken lightly. Still, I think it’s worth pointing out that this inversion of the comical and the serious seems to happen a lot in the adaptation of seventies and eighties television shows for the big screen in the new millennium. It’s as if the old shows–Incredible Hulk, Starsky and Hutch, The Dukes of Hazzard–weren’t campy enough, so the remakes have to be in camp-overdrive. Or rather, as if to prove we once took the originals seriously and didn’t conceive of them as camp at the time, we have to produce remakes with even greater camp value.

The single exception to this trend seems to be the Sci-Fi channel’s remarkable reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. In this series, what was once camp is now deadly serious. And that’s what makes Battlestar one of the best television shows around right now.

A lost World Trade Center poem

I recently found a poem I had written years and years ago, in July 1992, which I had absolutely, totally forgotten about. I wrote it in an undergraduate creative writing course with the astounding poet James Reiss. I’m not sure why, but Reiss generally liked my stuff. For an undergrad, I guess it was okay material. A few weeks after the class was over I was walking down the muggy streets of Oxford, Ohio, and Reiss drove by, shouting out to me, “There goes the Tungsten Wunderkind!”

Tungsten, now that I’m remembering, was one of my favorite words that summer, and Reiss knew it. The “wunderkind” was Reiss’s idea. For a while after that I fancied myself the Tungsten Wunderkind. Long after most young men give up the idea of becoming rock stars I harbored fantasies that Tungsten Wunderkind would be a great name for my first band. The one that would go on to fill stadiums around the globe, stop world hunger, meet the Pope.

How embarrasing.

But this poem here, the one I discovered in an brittle plastic binder in the back of a closet, Reiss didn’t like. I remember that too, now. Never mind the erratic meter and graceless lines, it was the closing stanza that irked Reiss. Too much like the end of Planet of the Apes, with Charlton Heston staring aghast at the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. Reiss pointed out the unintentional allusion, and I thought it was a compliment at the time.

I think I see now what Reiss was getting at.

Yet after September 11, 2001, the poem seems different. Definitely not better, definitely not redeemed, just different. I don’t feel prescient so much as in sync with Hollywood’s darkest fantasies. It’s still a bush league poem, but it’s a bush league world we’re living in.

     in my dreams…

i raze the World Trade Center
down to its cornerstones.

first i heap the ticker tape
(IBM up five and a quarter,
DuPont down two and a half)
into a haystack.

then i douse the pile with
gasoline and light a whole
book of matches from TGI
Fridays and toss it in.

finally i

awake and leave behind
twin shivering spines
hunched over the harbor.

Baby’s First ATM

So yesterday my wife, son, and I ventured for the first time into Kids-R-Us, home of the well-behaved toddler, destination of choice for the stark raving mad parent. Our visit deserves a separate post of its own (suffice it to say that it ended with the purchase of 100 plastic balls, each the size of a grapefruit), but what really needs to be said is this: why does a child need a play ATM machine?

Here you see an image (Larger Image) of what the proud parent ahead of me in the checkout line bought their little girl: the YOUniverse ATM toy, complete with a plastic ATM card, an alphanumeric keypad, a functioning screen, a slot that accepts bills, and Baby’s first PIN number. WTF? Seriously, a PIN number.

It’s true that many toys are nothing but thinly disguised training tools, preparing our children for the drudgery of adult labor–play kitchens, play vacuums, play tools–but I think the play banking machine is a different beast altogether.

The machine takes for granted an idea that I will go to my deathbed resisting: that our electronic lives–our database selves composed of PINs, account numbers, credit records, virtually every transaction of our day-to-day lives, stored and aggregated in corporate datawarehouses–are essentially our whole identity.

Without that PIN, we’re nothing.

I am reminded of a scene in Don DeLillo’s White Noise, in which our hero Jack Gladney visits an ATM machine:

In the morning I walked to the bank. I went to the automatic teller machine to check my balance. I inserted my card, entered my secret code, tapped out my request. The figure on the screen roughly corresponded to my independent estimate, feebly arrived at after long searches through documents, tormented arithmetic. Waves of relief and gratitude flowed over me. The system had blessed my life. I felt its support and approval….What a pleasing interaction. I sensed that something of deep personal value, but not money, not that at all, had been authenticated and confirmed. (White Noise 46)

Written over twenty years ago, this passage still seems fresh–if only we stop to think about it. Automatic Teller Machines have become such a part of our daily life that we forget. “Automatic” now describes us as much as it does the machines themselves.

DeLillo continues, “the system was invisible, which made it all the more impressive, all the more disquieting to deal with.” I think Baby’s First ATM functions as an innoculation to the more disquieting, unsettling aspects of our second, database selves. It’s not a conscious effort by the banking industry, of course (I am not that conspiracy minded). Rather, I think it’s the absurd, logical extension of the reduction of our lives to sets of data owned by corporations.

Jets! Bombs! War! A Visit to the National Air and Space Museum!

We went to the National Air and Space Museum today, thinking it’d be a lark for our 16-month old son, who loves planes and anything else that makes a lot of noise and moves through the sky.

I’d forgotten, though, exactly what the Air and Space Museum memorializes: jets, bombs, and war.

Truly, the history of flight is the history of war in the 20th century.

Political aggression and state-sanctioned bloodshed were the twin engines that powered the technological advances which made dying, death, and destruction, all wrought by aircraft, both quicker and cheaper, and ultimately, easier in the modern age. Obliteration from on high, cities reduced to blips on radar.

Even space, the final frontier, is now essentially a battlezone, a militarized nebula of satellites and payloads. This, at least, is what we learned at the museum.

Next week, no kidding, we’re seeking an antidote to all this flag-waving glorification of war, something not so exuberant and triumphant. Something a little more, uh, aware of the follies of greed and rapacity.

Maybe some Bosch at the National Gallery of Art?

The Pros and Cons of Life Hacking

I’ve been meaning to blog about Clive Thompson’s NYT Magazine article on life hacking for a week now, but, as it happens, I’ve been operating on “continuous partial attention” myself since, oh, I don’t know, weeks, months, maybe years even.

While the science Thompson describes is fascinating–when is the perfect moment to interrupt someone at work?–I tremble thinking how this science will eventually be put to use: making us more productive workers.

Taylorism was nothing compared to what the good people at Microsoft are cooking up, with their studies of attentions spans, interruption cycles, and multitasking management.

The whole idea behind the anarchic-sounding life hacking, it seems to me, is to simplify your life, not so you can enjoy it more, but so that you can increase your productivity. Even the famous hipster PDA presumes that efficiency and work are the most important things in your life.

I don’t want to hack my life so that I can work more and work better. I want to work less.

Play is an endangered species.

Disney babies are always dreaming

The following text is from the packaging of an “easy-grasp” fork and spoon set some kind, Disney-loving soul gave our son:

Playtime is filled with pixies and princesses. Bathtime overflows with pirate ships and mermaids. Meals are shared with bears who love honey. And Naps take place in castles, not cribs. So whether they are fast asleep or wide-awake, Disney babies are always Dreaming.

Well. Aside from slyly mentioning a host of Disney characters, this little piece of whimsical poetry actually makes me feel guilty for not encouraging my son to think of bathtime as an exciting Little Mermaid/Pirates of the Caribbean adventure.

Although, I do get a kick out of the idea of imagining the only Pixie I know by name–Frank Black–playing blocks with my son during playtime.

Going in for tests…

Sitting in the local coffee shop I overheard a group of fifty-ish women having their weekly coffee clutch. Their conversation drifted toward doctors and illnesses, and one of them related how the husband of a mutual friend was “going in for tests.”

I’ve never thought much about this phrase before, but suddenly today it struck me somehow as one of the key phrases of modern American society, over-medicalized, over-diagnosed, aging as we are.

The patient—well, he wasn’t technically a patient, really, because the tests were performed on an out-patient basis—underwent a “series of tests,” a “battery of tests,” and after all of them the results were inconclusive.

Again, this word inconclusive somehow seems like a metaphor for today’s America. Something’s wrong, but we don’t know what. The doctors are baffled, puzzled, stumped. The specialists are called in. The machines are fired up, foreign electrons pulsating through our flesh, our blood drawn, our tissues sampled, and all we have in return is a printout that’s inconclusive, too-soon-to-tell, let’s adopt a wait-and-see approach and come in again for tests in six months. Nobody can explain it to us, nobody knows, and we leave the sterile air-conditioned waiting room, walking dazed and blind into the sunwashed parking lot, a blast of summer air at the door, feeling Damocles’ sword above our head.

Reagan at Disney World, Memorial Day Fun!

LA Times, May 23, 1985
(Larger Image)

In honor of Memorial Day, I’m taking a break from my Danger in Suburbia series, and am digging into the archives for this Memorial Day-related post.

Twenty years ago, on May 23, 1985, the LA Times ran this article, reporting on President Reagan’s plans for Memorial Day. The headline reads “President to Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney World.” This paratactical pairing–Honor Unknown Soldier, Visit Disney–is surely one of the greatest juxtapositions to ever occur, ironically or not, in newsprint in the free world.

Yet somehow, it’s very fitting, very Reaganesque.

Both the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery and Disney World theme park in Orlando are products of the same cultural impulses: ritualized nostalgia and the allure of fantastic (an anonymous soldier who dies so that we may live, whose death, because it is no single, identifiable soldier’s sacrifice, memorializes all soldiers’ deaths…how different is that from the idea of a Magic Kingdom whose monorail whisks individuals away from their lives in the parking lots into a world of talking mice and space mountains?

Well, okay, quite a bit different…but I still think both concepts represent two key cultural phenomenon which define America. And Reagan, as always, embodies both at once. War and entertainment, patriotism and consumerism, memory and fiction.

Killer Robots!!!

From the archives: one of my students dug up a report by the United Auto Workers which details the history of death-by-robot in the auto industry. As the report warns us, “Robot injuries are one of the best-kept secrets.” The best-kept secrets where, I’m dying to ask, and I’m hoping they mean “in the industry” and not “in the universe.”

I hate to be sanguine about such a deadly issue, but I have to say that the report has a sardonic tone to it. Some of it almost seems like poetry. Consider these lines:


1981 Robot pushed repairman into grinder.
Robot squeezed person against conveyor.
Robot crushed person against a planer.
Robot pushed person into weld positioner.

It’s poetry in motion. Or at least, poetry in automotion:

Pushed, squeezed, crushed, pushed
Grinder, conveyor, planer, positioner
Robot, Robot, Robot, Robot.

More liberty from the liberty-loving Liberty Baptist Church

Yesterday I focused on the bag I received, like manna from heaven, except it wasn’t the desert and it wasn’t edible, and it wasn’t from God either, from the Liberty Baptist Church. Now I’d like to share, because that’s WWJD, what was in the shiny, plastic, shopping bag from what I like to think of as God’s grocery store.

You can see below the “Response Card” that I’m presumably supposed to fill out and presumably supposed to return to Liberty Baptist Church. Because I am, after all, of course, going to rush out this weekend and attend services there.

The front of the card is straight-forward enough. Name, email, phone, address, my kids and their birthdates. Keep expanding that database! Sell it to the Family Research Council! Sell it to Karl Rove! Because that’s WWJD.

It’s the back of the card that really attracts my attention. There, with a simple checkmark, I can select a box that says, “I’m committing my life to Christ.”

That’s it? It’s that easy? I just check the box? With my pencil? And that’s that? I’m saved? My life of sin, gone? The iniquities and depravities? The feeding tube business? Wiped away? This box here, right here? I check it? And I’m saved? My soul cleansed in the cleansing cleanser of Liberty? And what, no signature required? No photo id?

It’s like Salvation for Dummies. It’s like Redemption for Idiots.

But wait, it can’t be that simple, can it?

Ah-ha, I see it…There’s a trick to it, a test. For beyond the checkbox, temptation lies…Just a few lines down I have the opportunity of requesting more information. Among the things “I’d like information on” are “Couples,” “Men,” and “Women.” So, like, if I’m into wife-swapping, that’s what they’re asking? Or looking to hit on some young pure Southern ladies? I sign up here? What if I check the box for more information on men, will I be reported to the Gay Squad? It’s a trick!!! Entrapment, I tell you!! Don’t check any of these! Just check to commit your life to Christ and get the hell out of there!!

liberty-card1.jpg Click for larger image

Liberty Baptist Church Wants Me!!!

Yesterday I had the good fortune of receiving, on my front porch, a gift bag from Liberty Baptist Church in nearby Mooresville (“Race City U.S.A.”). At left is this fabulous surprise, which made my day (click the image for a larger photograph). How ironic that just moments before finding the bag, I had been pondering my near certain eternal stay in Hell, roasting like a puffy white marshmallow in the fiery depths of infernal damnation. I wasn’t sure which mortal sin would be the one to ultimately land me there, but I’m sure it had something to do with feeding tubes.

Liberty Baptist is, as the pamphlet inside the bag assured me, an “old fashioned, missionary” church, just like the ones I see on TV!!! None of that New Age feel-good stuff. We’re talking Baptist, pure and simple and God-fearing and Footloose free.

But what really draws me to the church is the name itself: Liberty.

Man, am I a sucker for liberty. It’s right up there with freedom. I mean, liberty, that rocks. And if liberty weren’t enough all by itself, the name is actually sanctioned by the Bible!

In this detail from the photograph of the bag, you can see that “Where the spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17). True, true.

But I wondered what else the Bible has to say about my favorite word, liberty. Well, in the King James Bible there’s a great book called Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach (i.e. Not That Jesus). In Sirach the good prophet tell us, “Give the water no passage; neither a wicked woman liberty to gad abroad” (Sir. 25:25). Cool, “gad” in the King James Bible! And yes, I agree–keep those wicked woman home to gad.

And in Sirach 26:10, “If thy daughter be shameless, keep her in straitly, lest she abuse herself through overmuch liberty.” Whoa, not just liberty but overmuch liberty? That’s heavy. Like, I’m thinking, and I’m probably wrong here, but “overmuch” kind of means “too”? As in too much liberty? Hell, yes, when you’re talking about women!! If there’s one thing the Bible teaches us again and again, it’s that shameless women and liberty don’t mix. Give a woman an inch and she’ll take a mile, or whatever distance it takes to get her abroad, where she can gad about all she wants.

Tomorrow: what else is inside my bag from Liberty Baptist Church?