Tuesday, July 26, 2005

The ClipArt Menace, or Texlahoma Lives

I don't have anything deep to say. Let's get weird.

I'm famous for my little crusades. My enemies list is broad and unique. At last check, it included: the cart guy at Ikea, the online ordering department at Sears, IHOP, the airport in Vienna, the Euro, Cafe Odeon in Dupont Circle, tequila, New Big Wong in Chinatown, Continental Airlines, and a few gypsy cabs. Unfortunately, Sarajevo doesn't have much in the way of consumer culture or pugnacity, so I don't really have much to assault. Instead, I've decided to focus my efforts on the evils of ClipArt.

In my office, we have a massive book and 16-disc set of Clip Art called Art Explosion. While it's fairly recent software, it has very 1950s notions of the world. Today, I was trying to find a health-oriented picture for a newsletter article I was working on. All of the doctors were male (except for one, a gynecologist no less). All of the nurses were female, and wore those quaint uniforms with the tricornered hats. So, out of curiousity (...as to how much I can get away with while being paid by the hour), I flipped back to the Index. The listings for women include Woman and Baby, Woman Cooking, Woman Teaching, and Woman Shopping. And then, these are the index listings for men: Man on Raft, Man on Motorcycle, Man on Construction Site, Man Driving, Man Traveling...I could go on and on. In the world of ClipArt midgets, the menfolk conquer the world while the womenfolk stand in front of chalkboards and ovens.

But Art Explosion is afraid of more than just progress. These ClipArt cartoon people live in a horrifically bleak, menacing world. It looks like one of those post-apocalyptic action films I've had to watch with at least half a dozen former boyfriends. All of the Health and Medical photos feature crutches, giant syringes, bruises, blue-green tongues, astoundingly large thermometers (which go you-know-where), pallid pregnant women, and wounded children with head bandages. I count six ClipArts of forceps alone. There are four ClipArts of cartoon men being chased by giant, menacing syringes. Worst of all, there is a ClipArt of a man encased in a giant condom. Lord knows spermicide inhalation would be a long, horrible death. There are no ClipArts depicting healthy lifestyles or positive health professionals of any kind.

The Art Explosion terror spreads to every facet of life. There is an entire folder devoted to cartoon car accidents. ClipArt people are stranded in airports, their wallets are stolen, their barbecues explode, and their hands are ripped apart by fireworks. The guy who chews tobacco sports a mullet. Motorcycle guys cruise around without helmets. Slackjawed children gape at their math homework. It's like the ClipArt universe resides somewhere in Texlahoma (in Douglas Coupland's novel Generation X, characters tell stories about Texlahoma, an asteroid orbiting the earth where it is perpetually 1974 and everyone keeps getting fired from the Woolworth's perfume counter).

So how do I battle the ClipArt menace? Write nasty letters? Irate phone calls? Suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Two for the Price of One

I felt so guilty about not updating for a while that I decided to give you two essays for the price of one.

Your Sin Dollars At Work

I just wanted to report that Indian gambling is the greatest thing to come out in the last fifty years. (Runners-up include the expressions “baby momma” and “baby daddy”, hair texturizer, and the “under $30 sale” section on Nordstrom’s webpage.)

My dad started having chest pains while visiting his brother in Cherokee. He moved forthwith to a hospital, got a four-way bypass, and is now recuperating in Asheville. Amazingly, heart surgery has improved so much in the last 11 years that he was in the hospital for less than a week (last time around, when I was in high school, was a completely different story). Today he moves to an elder care center in Cherokee, and then afterwards will live in a small house on the reservation. The best part? The Eastern Cherokees are paying for all of this with casino proceeds. Thanks to the legions of fat, baseball-capped tourists who drive all the way to the mountains to play video poker and eat lukewarm buffet lasagna, I can continue to be one of those horrid selfish children that does not have any elderly parents living with her.

Instead, Dad can hang with the assortment of wacky relatives we have in the area. For the record, if you ever hear about a guy in western North Carolina waving a shotgun out of the window and saying, “You’ll never take me alive!”… it’s probably my Uncle Joe. There’s also a wide assortment of cousins – this being the mountains, everyone is related to everyone else – and plenty of people to visit.

So, keep on dropping your rent money into the slot machines, America! This semi-Cherokee thanks you for your financial irresponsibility.

Bureaucrat, Diplomat…What’s the Difference?

I’ve found the strangest thing about my new life isn’t the constant moving or the culture shock. It’s the assumption that I have “married rich.” Four people said this to me at my high school reunion in the first hour alone. I’m a little fed up with being indirectly called a gold digger – if that had been my intention, hell, I’m cute enough to marry some actual money.

Speculating on someone else’s finances is natural, but usually the speculation is dead wrong. Sorry, guys, but diplomats are still bureaucrats, and we’re as a rule not very wealthy. My clothes come from H&M and Old Navy, and maybe a few clearance items from Ann Taylor. We took nice holidays in Colombia because nobody visits Colombia, and all the tourist attractions are therefore dirt cheap. I have the luxury of working part time because housing is free while we are abroad.

I guess it’s so weird to me because I’ve never thought of myself as financially well-off. Mainly because I’ve always been so damn broke. Most people think diplomacy and envision nice houses, long black cars, and immaculately uniformed maids. Nobody sees the long-distance coach class flights, the hideous State Department-issued furniture, and the trip to four different grocers to find green peppers. I haven’t been to a fancy cocktail party in a year, and in fact find them excruciating.

So, no, I didn’t “marry rich,” I “married well” in a non-financial sense. And that’s much more interesting than fancy parties and chauffeurs.

Monday, July 11, 2005

A Decade Late and a Dollar Short

I just wanted to ask everyone to take a moment and remember Srebrenica, as today is the ten-year anniversary of the massacre there. Matt is there today, herding various American functionaries on and off helicopters and making sure everyone has their Evian water and foot lotion. (Much like Ashlee Simpson, traveling diplomats have detailed riders listing their needs when they travel.)

I've been living here two months and don't understand what happened at Srebrenica. I don't understand on an emotional level, and even the facts themselves are pretty murky. Bear in mind this is a country with a three-member rotating presidency, a semiautonomous Serb republic, and multiple competing police forces. You could be a Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim), Bosnian Croat (a Bosnian of Croatian ancestry) or a Bosnian Serb (a Bosnian of Serb ancestry), or a Croat, or a Serb. There is not a single aspect to the region that does not give me a headache. Some days I feel like I need a master's degree in political science just to hail a cab.

Maybe Srebrenica can't really be explained, anyway. The short version is that Serb elite troops, called the Scorpions, invaded the region, which was supposed to be a UN "safe area"...but only protected by a handful of severely overmatched Dutch peacekeepers who had been instructed to fire only in self-defense. This is much like keeping a toy poodle as a guard dog, and being astounded when all your stereo equipment disappears out the back window. The Dutch begged for help, but none ever came (part of a larger problem: as far as I can tell, the international community spent much of the war tripping over itself). The Scorpions tossed the peacekeepers aside, then systematically murdered 8,000 Muslim men and boys and chucked their bodies into mass graves.

Until last month, a majority of Serbs did not believe the massacre had actually occurred. Everyone received asylum in the US, they said. Or they ran into the hills. It's just more slander to heap upon the Serbs, who have suffered enough already. Then the videotape came to light, and it's been airing nonstop all around the world. Several Scorpions videotaped themselves murdering six Muslim men, and made copies for souvenirs (some facts are too ghoulish to wonder about...souvenirs?) The tape, which I've seen parts of, is gruesome and leaves no doubt about what happened. The tape had been dug up by a Serb activist, and she's been getting death threats ever since.

Today, Srebrenica is a part of the Republika Srpska, a semiautonomous, mostly Bosnian Serb region. Technically, it's part of Bosnia-Herzegovina. However, the RS is notoriously fractious: this is where the war criminals hide, the signs are in Cyrillic (Sarajevo uses the Latin alphabet), the police have different uniforms, and no one is quite sure what country they belong to. Again, even a basic understanding of this region requires years of practice.

So, even if you don't understand Srebrenica, please try to. We're a decade late, a dollar short, and hopelessly ignorant. It's the least we can do.