Saturday, May 08, 2004


Someone please explain the photograph and caption accompanying this article.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

It's only funny because it's true

Here is a job listing on the web site of Virginia-based CACI, one of the private defense contractors whose employees are accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners.

The job opening: interrogator. Location: Baghdad, Iraq.

The first line of the job description: "Under moderate supervision, provide intelligence support for interviewing local nationals and determining there [sic] threat to coalition forces." The key words are "under moderate supervision."

But the real kicker: Applicants should have "excellent communications skills."
Speak, memory

I've kept a diary for years, an electronic one. Below is an entry dated December 19, 1994, about a year and a half after I graduated from college.

Hint: Even though it's in the third person, it's about me.


He had close friends in high school. Hanging out with his friends seemed like the most important thing in the world, more important than school or family. Yet for some reason he was not unhappy when they all graduated and went their separate ways. It was too exciting that they were all going on to college, and besides, they'd get to see each other over holidays and summers.

And they did stay in touch very well for the first few years. Frequent calls and letters kept the friendships seeming fresh, even though a lack of daily contact made the friendships seem like relics.

But he still felt that they were the greatest friends anyone could have, and he was nostalgic for the time when the friendships were the most important thing in the world. Now, in college, he had new friends, of course, but these were different from the ones he had in high school. The new friendships were more formal, less warm. He thought this was because he was older; maybe people just close off as they grow up, he thought. And he went to a demanding college, so it often seemed that he just didn't have as much time for friends as he used to.

Then he began dating a woman seriously, and friends started to seem unimportant, almost a hindrance. Time spent with friends was time not spent with her or at the library. School and love were serious matters; friends were dispensable, even frivolous. The two of them had a future to plan together. It was them against the world, and friends wanted to tear them apart. He spent less time with his college drinking buddies. He also fell out of touch with his high school friends. He noticed that once he stopped making the effort to keep up with them, the friendships waned almost completely, so maybe he had been the only one interested in staying in touch all along, anyway.

Unfortunately the romance became nightmarish, and it took months of struggling for them bothm to realize it was not working out. He was relieved when they finally called it quits, because he missed the things he used to do with friends, things that seemed frivolous at the time. But to his dismay, he discovered that he had been altogether too successful in convincing his friends that he didn't need them anymore: he didn't have any. There were some people he'd kept in touch with, of course, but he hesitated to call others for fear of sounding desperate and clingy.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Pass the okra

It distresses me to read stories like this one about institutional bigotry at Cracker Barrel, the roadside restaurant chain that will gladly sell you a harmonica, a gingham apron and a Goo Goo Cluster with your fried chicken and turnip greens. And the chain is not just racist: it refused to hire gays and lesbians until a stockholder revolt prompted the company, in 2002, to quietly add LGBT language to its nondiscrimination policy.

So just don't go there, right? Trouble is, Cracker Barrel is based in Lebanon (pronounced "lebnin"), Tenn., in my home county of Wilson, one county east of Nashville. And Cracker Barrel's menu authentically reproduces the cuisine of Middle Tennessee, down to the salt-cured country ham, fried okra, chicken-fried steak, squash casserole and sweet iced tea. What I'm saying is, Cracker Barrel tastes literally, uncannily like home, and I find it surreal that here in Madison--hell, almost anywhere--I can drive out to the interstate and eat the comfort food of my youth, food I otherwise would have to travel half a continent to eat.

So from time to time, I go to Cracker Barrel. And I feel guilty about that.

But I really, really like country ham. And sweet iced tea. I'm so ashamed.