Friday, June 30, 2006

New Car, World cup, visitors and more

Well, we got our new car, after an incredibly long, convoluted, confusing and quite frustrating quest. we finally got it just in time to leave for a month. It is worth it, I think. We went downtown last night and the kids were thrilled. I will post the whole saga when I can write it up and pictures within a day or two. I barely even know the brand name, but it is "Mistubishi engine, Mistsubishi design, made in China." So they say. I have been cruising around and it drives nicely though it is pretty underpowered. The second row of seats swivel which is all of our favorite feature.

i went to a bar the other night to watch Brazil/Ghana World Cup game. i was with Jim Yardley and two African friends, Nathan Belete, an Ethiopian World bank guy an pretty good friend and Charles Mutinda, a more recent friend who is Kenyan. His wife is a teacher at Dulwich. Great guy. We met up with some other guys nathan knew, Including another Ehtiopian, who is an MIT PHD here developing a cheap MRI with a Chinese firm that will make it much easier to get them all over the world. All of Africa was pulling hard for Ghana, and these guys were no exception.

The game started at 11 pm. We went to a cool sports bar/English pub downtown which i had heard of but never been to. It was packed. Many chinese, a bunch of expats and at least a hundred Brazilians. Who knew? They were all decked out, jerseys, yellow wigs, flags everywhere. There was a Brazilian DJ blasting tunes and everyone was samba dancing. Man, Brazilian women in Beijing shake their hips just as well s they do In Rio. What a country.

I was sort of surprised by how much all the Brazil stuff made me feel homesick. We've spent enough time in Brazilian joints in the Ironbound, newark to relate to it. But I was pulling for Ghana. You probably know how that all went. Ghana seemed to have the odds heavily stacked against them , including the refs. But they gave it a valiant effort and were right in it for the first half before fading in the second. I really am beginning to enjoy watching this sport.

Jacob and I were pulling for Ghana because of his old Ghanian soccer coaches at South Mtn Soccer. The next morning I tried to explain to him hw they made me proud by being so valiant in defeat, trying so hard in a game the whole world figured they could never win. They fell behind 1-0 within 5 minutes but never gave up and played their hearts out and were right in it for a long time and sometimes you can learn more about yourself in defeat than victory. He listened with great interest and I think he really got it. But maybe I was just too tied from getting home at 2:30.

Anyhow, I would love to go back for more games, and any all involving Brazil -- I haven’t mentioned the dancing on the bar at halftime and post game yet -- but I think the rest of the games and def. the semi and finals are at 2 and 3 am here.. I do that for steelers playoff games.. not sure about the World cup.. though there should be a column in there, I guess.

lastly, laura Romanoff is arriving tomorrow for a visit, popping up from a biz trip in Hong Kong. she is heading out on her own for a few days in the middle but will be here for 8 days.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Happy Birthday to brother Dave

Delaware Dave celebrates his birthday today. So Happy Birthday. And slightly belated best wishes to cousin Amy.

Catching up on photos

All from the last day of school.

Two More Jacob Columns

Jacob loves doing these and was very excited by the fan email he received. Susan P. he was particularly thrilled by your praise and invitation since I told him it was from the editor of Slam, which he regards as a pinnacle.He is very excited to visit the office this summer. I just wish I could reproduce these in the way he does them, with this multi-color word art format.

All he wants to do in the morning is jump on the computer and write a column. He had a very unhappy time this morning when he realized that he had lost yesterday's masterpice, which was a primer on how to kill ants. He typed over it to make his title page for the page he now says he is writing, which is:
"Jacob Paul's columns, written when he was a kid."

Welcome to the downside of computers, kid. I hope the experience does not turn him off of writing these because it's a nice habit.. much better than watching DVDs.

By : Jacob Paul Date : June-24-06
The School Summer Holidays

The School Summer Holidays started yesterday. It will end in 7 weeks. When I go to the U.S.A. with my family I will have lots of fun. And when I come back the school Summer Holidays will be over.

By : Jacob Paul Date : June-26-06
Camp Has Begun

Camp has begun . Today wwill be the 2nd dayof camp. the camp will have a field trip every Thursday. After 2 more weeks camp will be over. And then I will go to the U.S.A. with my family

Videos of the kids

Anna singing her Happy father's Day song to me

Jacob and company in Kids summer Night Dream. Pretty hilarious stuff.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Column response

First off, let me say that this was an extremely touchy subject to write about. Becky was very uncomfortable and made me rein in some aspects. she was probably right. I have been having some really interesting back and forth with friends here about this and i will post more of them. But this is a start.

I understand that this whole subject is sort of embarassing and it seems insane and luxurious beyond belief to people at home. But it is what it is. Having an ayi here is not a luxury symbol.

I call this whole villa lifestyle fake rich and some people really revel in it. we enjoy certain aspects of it while feeling vaguely uncomfortable the whole time.

Someone posted this as a comment.

I wish you would have explained the "Get over it" comment more. Perhaps you didn't inquire of the speaker.

From the apparent implication, it's discomforting to see how foreign "guests" in China have adopted a patronizing colonial mentality.

I understand how you might find that this makes you uncomfortable, but at the same time it seems that you aren't really resisting it.

I'm not sure who, but I'm pretty sure it was before I posted the column so somone who read it online and made their way over here. I sense it was someone chinese.

I am sympathetic to their viewpoint to a certain extent but I really don't think it is fair to refer to a "patronizing Colonial mentality." For one thing, Chinese people who can afford it all have ayis and they pay them literally a third of what we do, while having them work many more hours. My sense is pretty strong that if there were no Westerners with colonial mindsets in China, ayis would still exist and their plight would be worse.

Interestingly, my teacher Dong wrote the following:


i never knew you paid so high salary to ayi.

a couple of my friends in beijing , they had diploma from college and works
in office , only can earn 2000 yuans per month, even less. (it depends
degree and working experience in china).

i think your decision is correct.
we can help someone, but shoud be reasonable!

life is uneasy , for everyone.


i still remember i was homeless and slept on chair of GREEN PARK IN


and then the letters from readers started rolling in today:

In reading your article, I found it a bit odd. I am a full time Wall
Street working mom, who wakes up at 4:15 am gets into work at 6am and
leaves at 5pm. My father and mother-in-law watch my 2 year old, I don't
have a nanny, cleaning lady or a cook and certainly don't have help on
the weekends. What world do you people leave in???

Please do not publish my last name.




Thanks for the letter. the world I live in is the expat world in China.

My wife has a very demanding job and we did all the childcare dances at home in Jersey.. daycare, nannies, aunts and uncles...

It is different here and what i was trying to express is that for all the advantages it also creates some really odd and uncomfortable relationships.

Thanks again for taking the time to write.
Alan Paul

this guy is a regular reader and correspondent and a former longtime expat.
Hi Alan!

Paying too much and not being selective with staff (just taking them over from the previous renters) is a recipe for disaster. We saw this over and over again (in Africa and the Far East). Expats, like you, always had complaints about staff, and the staff took advantage of the 'weak' expats.

Sometimes you have to be hard and start afresh. Fire your current staff and get new ones. There are many others who can use the income and your current staff has had it good for many years. Tell the new staff exactly what is expected from them before they start work, make clear you are the boss, and pay them a little less than what most expats pay but give them benefits (such as medicine, when required). This has worked really well for us. Friends who had problems with staff and followed this tip had good results as well. Staff start to respect you and are much more productive. My wife, who is Bruneian, and grew up with Phillipino staff came up with it. Learn from people who had staff all their life. It may also help you on nights out: do you enjoy the calls from your kids when having dinner with your wife away from home?!

How about a World Cup Story? Guess with China not playing there is not much interest but there must be a German or English bar in Beijing which is packed during the games!


and this...

Dear Mr. Paul,

Firstly, I know how much your children will benefit from this experience unless they are too young when they come back. Secondly, I spent my early childhood as an expat kid in India in the 1950s. In those days, we had "outside servants" - a gardener, guard and driver, and "inside parents" - bearer (houseboy), cook, ayah, cleaner, all of whom had homes on our property. Of course we overpaid them outrageously by local standards, but a pittance by ours. We also had fewer servants than many of my parents' friends. By the way, they were around all the time it seemed, and thought nothing of coming into any room to do whatever they had to at any time! In a rather sad way, they were invisible. I know that in India today, the staff has typically been cut back a lot.

I enjoy your articles a great deal,

Richard Guha
Pasadena, CA

This is just the beginning of this subject.. More to come.

My last column

Comforts, and Discomforts,
Of Domestic Assistance

June 23, 2006

A business trip recently took my wife to Taiwan for a few days. Plotting strategy for solo parenting, I found myself thinking back a few months to the last time she left. I struggled getting all three kids out the door to school each morning, even with things going fairly smoothly and the kids behaving well. I had to let eight-year-old Jacob ride off by himself and accept that Eli and Anna would be late.

Still, I got them up, dressed, fed, cleaned and on their way, with lunches and completed homework in their backpacks and I did it myself, without the help of an ayi (nanny). If you don't think this is a big deal, you are right. You have also never lived as an expat in China. Around here, it could be grounds for someone to question my sanity.

It's not like we forgo domestic assistance. We have two and a half helpers: Ding ayi takes care of two-and-a-half-year old Anna every day from 11:30 a.m. when preschool lets out until she leaves at 6:00 p.m.; Yu Ying ayi cleans the house Monday through Friday; and Mr. Li, a cook, makes dinner two or three times a week. (Ayi translates roughly to auntie and is the word used to describe household help. It is quite disrespectful for a child to address an adult by their first name without a title.)

We inherited Yu Ying and Mr. Li from our predecessors and while we like them very much, having three employees feels like overkill. Downsizing is a very reasonable option, but it's a difficult decision because all three people depend on their income from us. Despite all this help, many would consider us understaffed because we don't have help before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m. or on weekends. We are lucky that both of us are around a lot; I almost always work at home, while Rebecca is able to do so when necessary and rarely has to travel extensively.

Many of our friends and neighbors are not so lucky. Many people posted here cover all of China, or even Asia. We know many men and a few women, working for everything from the International Monetary Fund to Deloitte, who are gone for weeks at a time, sometimes popping back in for weekends before heading back to the nearby airport.

In such cases, it is understandable that an ayi ends up playing such an important role to a mother with several young children. We have a bit of the opposite problem -- our boys don't really accept the ayis' dominion over them. Many a night, we've had an evening out on the town interrupted by repeated phone calls -- "When are you coming home? Where are you?" The ayi tells them to go to bed and they say, "No, call my dad." They never behaved like that with babysitters at home, but it took them about two minutes to size up the situation and realize what they could get away with. Ayis often treat the children as the boss, despite our repeated and firm admonitions not to do so.

Many of the kids who came here at a younger age (like Anna) don't have this problem and have wonderful relationships with their ayi, from whom they also learn to speak fluent Chinese. Ding speaks English quite well, which makes things much easier for us but also hampers all of our Chinese language development.

A few months after arriving here, we were speaking with an expat who has lived here for years. She asked how our transitions were going and how the kids were doing. We said everything is great and the kids have thrived, but the mornings remain a scrum, even with both of us helping shepherd the kids through their routines.

"Why don't you have an ayi helping you?" she asked.

"They don't start that early."

"Well, change that or hire another ayi just for the morning."

"No, we're not used to that. We don't need another person buzzing around our house at 7 a.m."

"Get over it."

But we don't want to get over it in part because those sometimes-difficult morning hours are also solid family time.

We had some help back in New Jersey, with a nanny watching our youngest for most of the last five years. But this is much more omnipresent and it also creates an entire caste system that I have to oversee. Yu Ying is from a rural province and is illiterate, never having attended a single day of school, while both Ding and Mr. Li are Beijingers with high school educations. There is a certain amount of hierarchical jostling about which I am only dimly aware, and I prefer it that way.

One way we deal with what is for us an uncomfortable position is grossly overpaying, making us either very kind employers or total patsies. We basically paid everyone what they asked for, which turns out to be 50% more than most expats pay and probably 100% more than most Chinese. At around $300 a month they make more than most professors here. We still pay all three workers combined just over half what we paid a single nanny at home.

For some perspective on how cushy the Monday-Friday, less than 9-5 jobs working for us are, consider the nice young girl who works at a nearby grocery store. Noticing that she always seemed to be there, I asked her if she ever got a day off. "Yes," she replied with a smile. "Two days a month."

But it remains hard for us to get used to this employer situation. It often feels like we are living like British tea plantation overseers in India, circa 1900. Many expats seem to really enjoy living this fake rich lifestyle, but it's uncomfortable for me. We try to be respectful and make sure the kids are the same, pushing them to say please and thank you, and pick up after themselves rather than waiting for an ayi to swoop down. When one of us ends up on our own, we batten down the hatches and try to enjoy some special time with our kids. And we always try to remember, and remind our kids, just how lucky we are and how unusual this arrangement actually is.

* * *
Readers Respond

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. I received a lot of mail regarding my column about our kids' school, including many from people who attended international schools themselves. Here is a sampling:

* * *
Do your kids get any Chinese education in the culture or the language? Also, does the Chinese government regulate the curriculum in any way?

-- Raey W. S. Webster

My kids take an hour of Mandarin most days but their learning of the language has been pretty slow. They are learning the written language, which is particularly difficult for 5-year-old Eli, who is just learning to read English. We need to put them in more situations where they are forced to use the language and next year we will probably use a tutor at least once a week. I have noticed that while the kids' vocabulary is limited, their pronunciation tends to be spot-on, no simple feat in this tonal language. They have learned quite a bit about Chinese culture as well, particularly Jacob.

The Chinese government does not regulate the curriculum, though schools have to turn in an overview of their intended curriculum and a list of textbooks to be used in their initial licensing application. The government also monitors the schools' incoming shipments of imported books and other materials.

* * *
Your article reminded me a lot about my childhood experiences in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and especially Grades 4-9 at the International School of Bangkok. It's good that your kids are adjusting this well to the expat life; I'm absolutely sure that your family's time there -- regardless of how long or short your stay in Beijing will be -- will have nothing but positive affects on their personalities, careers, and goals in their years to come.

-- A. Radin Ahmed

Thank you. Most writers who attended international schools had similarly positive outlooks, which I find encouraging.
* * *
This is not "diversity"; it is "elite Westerner privilege". Though I would probably never send my girls to private schools here in the States, I might do the same thing if I move back to China or Hong Kong. I laughed at your thoughts of "fancy pants social climbers and status seekers who attended country clubs" and totally agree with you.

-- Litao Mai

I understand your point about elite Western privilege, but that doesn't mean the school is not diverse. There are over 40 nationalities represented. My biggest concern with private schools at home is they are taking the kids out of their community and teaching them that they are different and better, the very definition to me of elite. Here, the private school is the community, and that to me is a crucial difference. [Litao Mai is a friend of mine from Maplewood, NJ.]

* * *
I too have moved my young family to China (Shanghai) recently and share many of the experiences you have described. We have been thrilled with the schools in Shanghai and have already decided to keep our kids in international schools when we eventually return home to the US.

-- Doug Wright

That's an interesting idea. We are planning on sending our kids back to public school.
* * *
I loved your article about your boys' very British school and the uniforms. My 3-1/2 year old grandchild just started kindergarten at a Tokyo international school. The "culture shock" may be when you return to the states and your children go to public school with no uniforms, a lack of discipline, and the contemporary American attitude that children own the world and what they wear is part of their "right to express themselves".

My American friends see the photo of my granddaughter in her uniform and see some sort of straitjacket. I look at it and think -- lucky Mom -- no quarrels on school mornings over what to wear.

-- Mary Harada

I agree almost completely with your thoughts on school uniforms, which is shocking to me, as it is almost 180 degrees from what I would have said a year ago.

* * *
You hit the nail on the head. I have lived overseas most of the time since 1990 and have experienced the joys and difficulties of raising my children as expats attending international schools. Overall, it has been a great experience for them.

You were absolutely right when you mentioned that your children were learning in a more diverse cultural environment. My youngest son, Dean, has grown up mostly overseas… attending a British school in Norway, a Chinese Montessori school in Malaysia, a public school in Texas, an American school in Colombia, and now an IB school in Denmark. In all of these he has developed friendships with others from a variety of cultures. Right now, he has solid friends from Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Latvia, and the U.S., along with others from the Far East, Africa, and Europe. He regularly chats with friends that now live in Colombia, India, Sweden, and California. I can't imagine a better way for a child to grow up and appreciate other cultures.

Several years ago, I [heard] a speaker call family's like mine "global nomads." Her idea was that people like me, and perhaps you, are nomads in a modern society and that we tend to lose track of our home. Although I am a wanderer in today's world I have never lost track of my home. I am proud to be an American, and a Texan. As you work in other cultures I trust that you too will remember your roots and teach your children to honor their home, as well as appreciate the cultures that you experience.

-- Ross Ensley

Thanks for your thoughtful letter. I do know a lot of global nomads who have lived all over the world and some of the kids may well lack a national identity. That certainly is not the case for me or my family, or most of the people we know.

* * *
I spent two years as a high school student at an international school in Kobe, Japan. Reading about the cultural diversity at your children's school put a big smile on my face as I remembered all of the wonderful people I met from all over the world. I am firmly convinced that exposing your children to other cultures is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give, regardless of the child's age. The experience creates better global citizens and positively shapes the children's paths for the rest of their lives. How else would a kid like myself that grew up in Detroit now make his home in southern California, working for a Canadian firm consulting to a Dutch company at a Scottish installation -- and feel right at home . . .

-- Jay Gillam

* * *
I would like to hear more about what your kids are learning. Are there any electives, or is it a set curriculum?

-- Tom Farrelly

Our kids' school follows a Montessori curriculum through first grade and the British national curriculum thereafter. From second grade on, there are two elective clubs a week, as well as a wide range of after school options.
* * *

Monday, June 26, 2006

Check this out

Check this

Page down and look on the right side. I am told that the column has been quite popular in chinese.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Jacob's Column

Jacob wanted to write a column like mine. Here it is. he is very excited. "This is the first time I ever really wrote something on the internet."

By : Jacob Paul

No More School

School is over now. It has been lots of fun but now it is over. I can’t wait until next School year. I also can’t wait until Camp Adventure starts. After Camp Adventure I will go to the U.S.A with my family. When I Come back I will start School again. Hooray!

Friday, June 23, 2006

Okay, okay.. .Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Carrie wrote:

I agree w/ "anonymous" re the "yellow fever" _expression. Sort of like when your Christian neighbor tells you a funny story about cheap Jews - somehow it just doesn't have the same ring as when your brother told you the same joke.

I changed the title on that post. Idon't wnt to give anyone stumbling through here who doesn't know me well the wrong impression. It seemed okay since kathy said it, but point well taken on repeating the phrase. By the way, you are one cheap, big-nosed Jew, Carrie!

Amy Mindell wrote:

That last quote from your dad is the absolute funniest thing I have read in months. I just laughed out loud!! You go, boyfriend. By the way, I thought my eli was gay bc his favorite color was pink and his favorite "guy" was the pink power ranger. but he secretly likes girls now, especially one named Autumn.

Well, make sure you wait until he's almost 40 to tell him. It will be funnier, trust me. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Eli likes the ladies

Eli has always liked the girls and nothing has changed in that respect except that he seems to have a special affinity for cute Asian girls. The other night I mentioned to Becky and Kathy Chen that I thought we might have a Chinese daughter-in-law in 20 years and Kathy laughed and said, ”Eli has yellow fever!” I don’t think I had ever heard the term before.

A couple quick stories on this front:

•Last week, I went to school midday to drop something off for Jacob. Eli’s class was on the playground. They all ran up and said, “Hi, Eli’s dad. Hi, Eli’s dad.” Except Eli. No sign of him. On my way back out, I saw him holding hands with Angela Wong (pictured here as Super Girl). She was leading him away, saying “Come on doggie.”

That night he told me when asked that they play girls chase boys and when the boys get caught they are dogs. No one else was walking around holding hands.

•Last week, coming home from Jacob’s play, Eli said to me, “If Caroline was a lady, she would be a saxy one.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Also Krystal, Xin Yi, Angela and China Claire (Claire Moy, called that to distinguish her from E’s cousin “Michigan Claire.”)”

Xin Yi and Krystal are the two girls in the middle picture. They are both Singapore Chinese and are best friends, always together. Xin Yi is moving in across the street from us next week. Eli is not sad about that.

•That’s Claire hugging E, taken on the night we all went out on a boat on Houhai Lake for Chinese Full Moon Festival last fall. That was the night that Claire and Eli kissed and declared their love for each other. Months later, Claire was in a car accident and broke her collarbone. Eli was extremely upset. I assured him she was okay and he calmed down. At bedtime, he burst into tears again. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “It hurts when your love breaks her arm.”

Last summer, I was discussing Eli’s love of the ladies with my folks. I said, “He is either going to be a ladykiller or gay because he sure likes playing with girls.”

“Funny you should say that,” Dixie replied. "I used to think you might be gay too!”

Now, I had never, ever heard this before. I asked him why and he shrugged.

“You just were so happy go lucky. I had never seen anyone act so… gay. I didn’t know how else to explain it.”

True story.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Father's Day with Eli

Eli's class held a Father's Day breakfast last Friday. There's not much cuter than watching a bunch of five and six year olds carry hot cups of coffee on china across the room. They had practiced for days and the intense concetration and two hands on the saucer technique and slow, slow gaits were priceless. His teacher sent me along these photos.

This morning, jacob read a book about dinosaurs to eli's class at circle time. That was priceless as well. Unfortunately, I didn't know it was happening so I didn't have my camera. But he did great and was hilarious answering questions afterwards, sitting in front of the class in a chair with his legs crossed.

"Did all dinosaurs have wings?"

"No, only some. Maurits?"

"Were all dinosaurs slimy?"

"No, the only looked and felt that way when they were in the water. Race?"

"Did dinosarus pee and poo?"

"Of course. They were alive."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

World Cup and more...

I was flipping through the TV Sunday looking for the NBA finals (I was a day off) when I came across the Czech-Ghana World Cup game. I called Jacob over, figuring that with all the soccer he’s been playing and I’ve been coaching, we should tune in together.

People here are in a World cp frenzy. Chinese are really into it, despite the humiliation of not qualifying and, of course, all the Euros are frothing at t e mouth. I have been invited to a bunch of late night watching gatherings but have not attended any due to my various ailments. Maybe the next round…

Anyhow, Jacob came in and we started watching this very exciting game. We were both blown away by how good the play was. I was awed at the goalie kicks, the precision of the plays being run, especially by the Ghanians, the headers, everything.. I was really transfixed and quite surprised by that. As I thought about it I started really laughing at myself.

I have been watching so much soccer for the last year – all f it played by kids 9 and younger. I imagined someone who thought they knew basketball because they coached elementary kids tuning in a Finals Game, seeing Dwyane Wade and saying, “Wow, that guy is really good! This sport is better than I thought. ” Well, that was me.

We had a rooting interest for Ghana because all the pro coaches who ran practices last year at South Mtn. Soccer were Ghanian and former national Team members. We were both really excited when they won and will try to catch more games.

As for my elbow, it is much better but still looks like this… as pictured.. After days of steady improvement, I think it is actually worse today. I am going back to the doctor on Thursday so we’ll see what happens.

Lastly, I think I am finally closing in on the car purchase – just in time for it to sit for a month while we return home and shell out gazillions to rent a vehicle. Wait until you hear the whole convoluted tale.

Sarah is the champion, my friends...

Hey, my niece Sarah Kessler's Little League team won the Short Hills championship or something. That's her top row odf kids, far right with the braids. She won the Spirit award and my sister says they went 12-2 o something with 8 girls on the team, though I challenge anyone to pick them out in these pictures. Anyhow, congratulations Sarah!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

5-year-olds' email correspondence

The latest emails between Eli and his dear friend Jackson Wagner in maplewood.

Dear Eli,

Thanks for the postcard. I still like Star Wars a little. I'm into Spy
Kids and I saw all 3 of the movies. Spy Kids III is my favorite. Are you
into spys also? I won the science award at After School Program and I got a
trophy at my morning kindergarten for TV turn-off. Looking forward to
seeing you this summer and I can't wait until you come back here to live.


P.S. I don't think the cheese is funny anymore.

dear jackson

I'm glad you got my postcard. Jello!

I don't think the cheese is funny any more either. But I do think what is funny is this: "sello, sello, hello mr. jello." I just made that up.

Do you need some badges at school? I need some badges and a uniform at school. Did you make any new really good friends at school that you talk them into the word cheese? If I say this, would it make you laugh with the word cheese in there? This is the cheese! Buy the most fantastic fat cheese with the cheese in your eye.

Do you think that is funny? I bet you are laughing right now when you see this.

Bye. I can't wait until I see you again.

I will just say one more thing: Mr. Baloney Tony.



My last column


International School Helps
Teach Lesson in Diversity

June 9, 2006

When any family moves, the kids' transition is always of paramount concern. That feeling is only magnified when the relocation is overseas. As our own move to Beijing became imminent, all of our anxieties seemed to narrow into one: how would our children, particularly Jacob, our eldest, take to Dulwich College of Beijing, or DCB, the British school they would be attending?

A few weeks before leaving New Jersey, we received an email detailing the school's uniform requirements. The tone was very formal, very stern … very British. And the contents terrified us -- there were requirements for "shiny black shoes," high navy socks and polo shirts. Jacob had a life-long aversion to anything other than Velcroed sneakers, sweat pants and T-shirts. A simple and absolute refusal to wear the uniform seemed a distinct possibility and I was not entirely unsympathetic. My father taught me to be open-minded about everyone except the fancy pants social climbers and status seekers who attended country clubs or sent their kids to "pretentious private schools."

Now we were jumping into that pool, deep end first. DCB is affiliated with Dulwich College of London, a 400-year-old, quite prestigious academy. In just its second year, the unspoken goal seems to be to turn itself into Beijing's elite international school, with a strong emphasis on athletics, performance and school spirit. Like the other schools here, it is hugely expensive, nearly $20,000 per annum. (Like most other corporate expat parents who get the fees paid by the companies that sent them abroad, we don't pay ourselves because there are no public school options here.) All of this was far removed from the suburban New Jersey public school where Jacob attended kindergarten and first grade. We liked the school, but "optional" programs like art, music and gym perennially face cuts and there is endless angst around town about the system reaching a tipping point and tumbling into the abyss.

It didn't take long for most of my fears about the British school to fade. I was deeply relieved that Jacob and Eli's teachers were both warm and sunny American women. The kids took to the school immediately, with Jacob leading the charge. He never questioned the uniform and even enthusiastically embraced the mid-year decree that students from Year 3 (grade 2) up commence wearing their "best-dressed" uniforms every Thursday, including a sports jacket and tie. He volunteered for the year-end play and is on the DCB soccer team (sorry I can't bring myself to write the words "football club" without quotation marks), whose opponents include the Japanese School and a couple of Chinese schools. In short, he has had a fantastic year.

Maybe a dose of British discipline is just what Jacob needed. But if things had not worked out, we would have had other options, because international schools are thriving in Beijing. There are at least 25 such schools in and around the city, enough to fill a book, the recently published "Stadler's Education Guide to Beijing", though not all schools are in English or serve all grades. Most people we know attend one of three located in our neck of the woods, where many expats live in housing compounds: Dulwich (British curriculum), the Western Academy of Beijing (International Baccalaureate, an international high school diploma) and the International School of Beijing (an international curriculum but generally viewed as being the most American). Each of the schools has its own history and philosophy but all appear to be booming.

ISB moved into a striking new 33-acre campus four years ago. The school has about 1,800 students from pre-k through high school. WAB has a massive new high school under construction. When it opens this summer, they will have a total of about 1,400 students. And DCB is constructing a beautiful new 880-student facility a few miles north of the current campus, which will continue to house grades 4 and below. Eventually, the school will also have nearly 1,400 students total. All three of these schools have waiting lists in at least some grades.

ISB is Beijing's oldest English-language international school, celebrating its 25th anniversary. It was founded as a joint project of the American, British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand embassies and didn't begin accepting non-embassy children until 1988. The relatively small number of nongovernmental expats in Beijing before then often sent older children to boarding schools back home.

We chose Dulwich because it was located right outside our compound and several people we know had their kids at DCB's forerunner, the Montessori School of Beijing, where they were all happy. (Dulwich bought the school last winter.) The transition has caused some anxiety around here, and there is lots of talk about the British curriculum and how it compares to others. All I know is the kids are learning a lot and they are excited to go to school every day. It all seems much less complicated when your kids are young, which is one reason the lower grades tend to have longer waiting lists.

There is a perception that raising "third-culture" kids becomes more difficult as they get older. One friend with an 11-year-old who has had difficulty making friends here frets that he has shut down his ability to open up after moving through three countries in a few years. We consider our kids fortunate that their American identity is secure amidst their international adventure, though it is less of a factor since we plan on being long back in America before our kids become teens.

"Kids develop their sense of self when they are adolescents, so all the issues of raising your children outside of your home culture are magnified," says Sandra Jarvis, the DCB Pastoral Director who will run a parents seminar on raising expat kids next week. "They don't really identify with the culture of their parents. They identify with other expat children, who have developed almost their own subculture."

Over 40 nationalities are represented at Dulwich, with Americans making up the largest single block at 28%. This number is deceptive. The school includes many American passport holders who come from non-English-speaking households, mostly Chinese families who had kids while living in the U.S. There are many Chinese students from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and elsewhere, though the mainland China government forbids its citizens from attending international schools (there are persistent rumors, however, this will change soon).

It's a polyglot student population. Some of our boys' friends include Brits who were raised in Finland and Hong Kong; Israeli Argentineans who moved here from London; a Bulgarian-British boy who has only lived in Beijing; a Thai-Scottish girl; a Japanese-Chinese brother and sister; and an ethnically Chinese boy with a mother from Spain and a father from Hong Kong. The kids barely notice the differences and, I must confess, the uniforms assist in that leveling.

As our first year draws to a close, our concerns over the shiny black shoes seems a lifetime ago. We laugh at the formal memos now and I barely bothered to read the recent note about changes in next year's uniforms. Whatever they are, we'll get them and the kids will wear them. I've chatted with several expats lately who are plotting to stay overseas for another 10 years to keep their kids on the international school gravy train rather than face the scrum of public schools or the expense of private academies. That is nothing we are contemplating but I am sympathetic to the idea, which represents a shocking shift. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks after all.
* * *

Readers Respond

Write to me and I'll post selected comments in a future column. Please let me know if you want to share your thoughts but don't want your letter published. Below are selected, edited responses to my previous Expat Life column, on my TV-repair experience at a Beijing market.

* * *

I was so happy to find your column online. My husband and I just relocated to Seoul, Korea from the U.S. We are very excited about this opportunity to live among and learn about another culture. I look forward to reading more about your experiences in China -- I appreciate that you are trying to experience the local culture and language, and are exposing your children to this also. We hope to start our family here. I look forward to reading more about your experiences.

-- Cathi Harris

Thanks. Best of luck as you set out on your international adventure. I hope that my columns continue to remain relevant to you.
* * *

Thank you for sharing your personal experiences -- I really enjoy reading your story every week. I wish it was more often & more in depth but like ice cream, it's better in small amounts.

-- Mitch S.

Thank you. The column actually runs every other Thursday, so think of it as really, really rich ice cream.

* * *

As a 3rd-generation Chinese-American with two children adopted from China and a thirst to learn about China, present and past, I find your column very interesting. I'd like to live in China for a couple of years so my family can experience it and really pick up the language and culture -- more than just going to Chinese school on the weekend here in southern California. Keep up the great, fresh and informative writing.

-- Laryn Lee

Thank you. Drop me another line if you make any movement towards coming here for a visit or longer.
* * *

Great article on TV repair. I grew up in colonial Hong Kong and came to the US to start college 20 years ago. Last year for an anniversary present I took my wife to China to see what it was like. With her "fresh perspective" [similar] to yours, she noticed much the same things you have.

-- Sri Viswanath
* * *

As a former expat, and recent traveler in China, I appreciate your articles. My 3 kids were the age of yours when we first went overseas in the 60s. Their experiences growing up in foreign countries has given them a different perspective on the world than their current friends. They are much more comfortable with foreigners here and with traveling overseas with my grandchildren.

Living in countries with both 110 & 220 V and transformers we never had any problems, each had different non-compatible plugs.

-- Dave

Several other people wrote in with similar observations about the plugs. Unfortunately, the two-pronged plugs here are just compatible enough to cause some problems. I also fried my guitar amp by plugging it into an adapter when it needed a transformer, but that's another story.

Thanks for sharing your kids' experience. I hope you find this week's column on point.

* * *

I just read your wonderful article on the TV repair adventure and the commentary afterwards. I visited China and Tibet last summer with my 17-year-old son and just loved it (although I'm not brave enough to attempt what you and your family are succeeding at).

-- Peter László

Once again, I can only say thank you.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Kids Summer Nights Dream

Jacob finished the second of two performances of Kids Summer Nights Dream, the year-end Dulwich play. It was really quite impressive. Two hours long, no kids older than fourth grade. they don’t mess around there. They had a big stage, pro lightings, smoke machines, great sound system…

The kids did a great job and they were mostly all smiling ear to ear the whole time. Jacob loved it. I am proud of him, H e was sort o f hesitant to do it at first, and we gave him a slight push to the first rehearsal and then he just totally dug it. Once he realized several of his friends, including Javier Wong and Sweet Caroline were in, he was hooked. Both of them are in these pictures.. That’s Javi hugging Jacob and Caroline singing next to him.

They had one day of rehearsal last week from 8:30-5 and I though the would be exhausted and grumpy but he was exhausted and happy. They had a couple more half day rehearsals this week and then a performance last night and tonight.

Jacob was great. He moved with energy and confidence, sang loudly, put himself front and center. And I watched him on the side of stage when he was off, singing and dancing along and even mouthing words of dialogue.

One of the teachers told me tonight that he was like an extra director, because he always knew exactly where everyone should be when and told them in no uncertain terms. He told me on the way over tonight that “I get stage fright but it only lasts five minutes and then I feel great.” We’ll try t get him to do the drama club or join the orchestra or band next year.

He is actually supposed to do a modeling job tomorrow for a clothes catalogue. They use all these Western kids, the blonder the better and have been after Jacob and his curls all year. He finally said he wanted to go because.. Caorline is going. Her mom is attending so all we have to do is drop him of at 8:30 am.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ayi situation

Well, we did it yesterday, told Yu Ying and Mr. Li that they would not be working for us next year. And it was hard and I feel pretty crappy about it.

Mr. Li took it like a man, I guess you could say. “Okay, mei wenti {No problem}. If you can help me get another job, that would be great.”

That’s sort of what I figured would happen there. I also think he may have suspected something in part because I really thought his food stepped it up a notch in the past month.

Yu ying was upset. She looked stricken really. I had Kathy there to translate for me and she was a great help. Despite what the other chinese say, I think Yu Ying is nice, honest and very loyal. I know that she and her extended family depend on her salary.

So all of that makes it really hard, but it is definitely the right thing to do. Don’t bother writing in saying don’t feel guilty, because I don’t really. I just feel sad. We will give her a good severance and I’m pretty confident I can help her find a job in here. But there’s no easy way to fire someone, particularly someone you consider a nice person who is so dependent on the job.

I was really dreading telling my chinese teacher, Wang dong about this. He and Yu Ying are friendly and I really like him and respect him and consider him sort of a moral exemplar, an ascetic, monk-like almost. Anyhow, he came in this morning right when Becky was leaving, and Yu Ying sort of looked at Becky and started crying and Becky was trying to comfort her and Dong walked in and asked what was the matter. And so the conversation commenced, with all of us standing in the front, near the door.

And Dong was talking to her and she was crying a little, holding back tears and she was saying how we were such good people with such good hearts and she knew she could probably get another job but so many treat ayis so badly and how would she find people like us. And this was not making me feel good.

And Dong, who was a chinese philosophy and history major, starts talking to her in ancient parables. “The moon can not be full every night.” “Everyone has fun at a party but no one thinks abut the end , but all parties must end.” And so on. He was wonderful, managed to make everyone feel a little less crappy. He is a really a great guy, very unusual. He wants to try to come to America in two years and I would like to help him get a job and therefore visa.. it’s early, but think about schools which would like a great Mandarin teacher.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

My reach is unending!

Even from Beijing Riviera, I have moles inside Mercy Hospital and they write:

I had business meetings at Mercy Hospital today. I still have my connections and they told me Steeler fans wearing Ben's #7 were outside of the hospital holding vigil last night. A few had dragged one of those steel garbage cans and lit a fire in it (you know like in "Rocky" where the guys are on the street corner warming their hands and singing "take it back du-du-du-du-du) while some woman had brought a grill and was selling hamburgers. Did I say vigil... I meant tailgate.

Tough I can't yet reveal the name Ben is admitted under while he is at Mercy make sure I tell you after he is discharged.

Thanks, Todd.

Clarifying the pogrom scares

Danny the Wolverine writes in from his top-secret perch atop the Cathedral of Learning, from which he can monitor Pittsburgh's fast-beating heart:

I don't mind being mentioned in the blog, but you didn't say it was a Jewish old lady from Squirrel Hill that hit him, I don't want your loyal readers thinking I am some paranoid nut. I mean when they say "Martha Fleishman, 62, of Squirrel Hill" you know that the rest of the burgh is reading it as "Jew Lady from Jew Hill".


I apologize for the oversight but still say you are a paranoid nut, along with Icky Reingold, who said this:

not good for the jews.

in response to Steve Galpern's note asking this:

Anyone else notice in the news reports that the woman driving the car that Ben R hit on his motorcycle was one Martha Fleishman from Squirrel Hill?

Come on guys. Are you all serious? Am I naive? Did they close Pinskers early and lock up the menorahs?

Will they blame us for this, too?

In an additional development, KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh reported Roethlisberger does not have a valid Pennsylvania motorcycle license and that his temporary permit expired in March, though he does have a valid automobile driver's license. The Pennsylvania Department of Motor Vehicles declined to comment on the report.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Throwin 'bows and Big Ben

My elbow is doing at least a little better today though it still seems like there is a mid-sized rock under my skin, atop the joint. B is home and I am happy, on many levels.

Yes, of course I have heard about Big Ben. What an absurd and potentially situation. How do states pass no-helmet laws? I had no idea they were being repealed instead of enacted until I read about this. Anyone who wants to ride without a helmet should sign a waiver absolving the public of any liability or responsibility for their health care. Which is tangential I know.

The guy has a lot of people depending o nhim so on top of being idiotic I think it is rather selfish. Is that harsh? Maybe. But come on. You've got Jay williams and Kellen Winslow as examples. I tdoesn't take a geius to figure it all out. Helemtless riding and maybe even any bike riding should obviously be banned as standard procedure in all pro. sports contracts. Too much to lose all around.

I do not, however, fear a Sq. Hill pogrom, unlike my good friend Danny "the Wolverine" Rosen, who is double locking his doors and grabbing his pitchfork.

Slam compadre Lang Whitaker wrote in with his own tales of elbow woes, which sound remarkably like mine, except for the overnight hospital stay and homeless roommate.

Hey...was slacking on your blog because I've been traveling like crazy
for the NBA Finals (I'm going to all the games this year). Flew from
Dallas to NYC today and am flying to Miami in the morning. The Heat suck,
by the way.

Anyway, your elbow thing sounds exactly like what happened to me last
year, this exact weekend. I'd fallen and banged it two weeks earlier,
but I had no problems.

Then out of nowhere I woke up in the middle of the night with a
throbbing pain, like you. Doctor gave me a shot and drew a line, I came back a
day later and it was much worse, and they had me spend one night in a
hospital so I could get meds in an IV all night. I was there for about
24 hours. They evetually decided I had celulitis, which I'm still not
sure what that is. Something about an infection in the elbow. Here's a
picture of my elbow from last year...

...and here's what I wrote about it at the time...

After that, I had to take some strong antibiotics for about a month and
I still have a tiny knot there.

Strange how that works out. Maybe only cool people get random elbow


Monday, June 12, 2006

Photos of my elbow

Not to gross anyone out, but...

I'm not sure how this looks to you but it is actually much much better than it was over the past few days. I'm feeling optimistic about this. It did force me to miss the weekend softball playoffs. I switched teams this year from the Papa John's Pepporonis to join the Jew squad, the mighty Pinyin Minyin but never played a single game. Too many scheduling conflicts, usually with Jacob's soccer games, sometimes with family outings. The few times I could make it games were cancelled for one reason or another. I had sitters all set for two games Saturday and one Sunday but couldn't do it.

Now I also have to cancel a hike on Weds I was looking forward to. I was invited to join a weekly hiking group by a reader of my column. This is their last outing until the fall, so I'll have to wait till September. In the meantime, hopefully my elbow will be back to normal soon.


Just back fromthe docotr, who thinks arm looks much better than yesterday and I agree. So a few more days on meds and taking it easy and then back for a checkup. without re-reading what I wrote, I fear I amy have been melodramatic but it's been a strange and hazy few days. I do think I am on the road to recovery. It never fails to amaze how much fades into the background when confronted with a health scare or problem.

and the fun continues...

Well, this has been one fucked up few days for me, with one seriously disfigured elbow to show for it.

I can’t even begin to straighten out the sequence of events in my head but here’s a quick breakdown:

My elbow was sore and slightly swollen last week for three or four days, which seemed a little odd since I had no recollection of having banged it and it felt like I had received a considerable bang. I went abou\t my business. Becky went to Chicgo on Thursday. Friday afternoon it became much, much more swollen and started to appear red. I made an appointment at SOS Medical clinic for the next morning. I had the Camerons over for dinner Friday night and, over margaritas, Wyatt really egged me on to have this checked out. He said it looked awful.

I put the kids to bed and then went to a mirror and really studied my arm – the elbow is a very difficult part of the body to look at it adequately. It was freaking me out, really red and swollen. I took a few naproxen and went to bed. I woke up in the middle of the night with my arm throbbing and I started to panic. It was by then painfully evident that whatever was going on was not the result of bruise or external force, but was an internal problem, likely an infection and I feared I had waited to long to have it checked out. I probably would have gone to the emergency room right then, at 2 or 3 am ,were I not home alone. There are people I could call in such a situation but it wasn’t totally clear to me that it was the right thing to do, so I willed myself back to sleep.

The next morning, I dropped eli and anna off at friends’ house (Jacob had slept over) and went down to SOS Clinic. I can’t even begin to get into everything that followed except to say: it seems apparent that this is an infection, the cause of which is unknown and there is no reason to fear it in s the joint as I have not had intense pain or any fever and I have full; range of motion in the elbow.

They did a songoram which revealed significant tissue inflammation in addition to fluid around the joint. She gave me antibiotics and strong anti-inflammatory and marked it with a marker and told me to come back if it breached that. I carried on yesterday somewhat normally, but by the evening it was clear that the swelling was worse and the redess had expanded. I was supposed to go see the Chinese national basketball team play an Australian squad so I had a babysitter, who I kept. Anna was at a friends and I went back to the hospital.

I saw another doctor. She was concerned but laughed at me when I said I was fine staying in the hospital if that’s what she thought was best because I didn’t want to lose my arm. (I admit that the thought occurred to me and I do not panic easily – this has just been really odd and puzzling.) The mystery only deepened. She gave mea blood test which determined that my white blood cell count is a barely elevated 11.1. (she had told me I as staying if it was 30 or 35). She doubled my dose of Kevlac and added a second drug, all after making sure that as she suspected the efficacy of this dosage orally was virtually the same as it being administered by IV.

I should also note hear that I feel my medical care has been very good. Both doctors were thoughtful, careful and seemed to know what they were doing. I ran everything by Dixie Doc and he agreed. He has also been very puzzled by this case, as certain things don’t quite add up. He thinks there is a chance that I don’t have an infection at all but rather some sort of arthritic inflammation. On the meantime, my arm feels much better today and the swelling is down –though still bad enough to merit concern and yucks and wide eyed stares from anyone who looks at my arm. But the redness has again breached its dam. I am off to the doctor again a few minutes.

Becky will be back tomorrow afternoon. She has been really traumatized by this happening while she s away and tried unsuccessfully to come back a day early. I really have been fine, kids have been well behaved, I’ve had Ding ayi stay late a few times and several friends stepped up to the plate big time. But my arm is still fucked up and they mystery remains.

Actually, the very act of me typing this is violating doctor’s order not t work and stay in bed. I did take it easy today but one can only watch so many episodes of Deadwood DVDs. I will keep you posted.

Friday, June 09, 2006

New Dallos baby born

My cousin Andy Dallos had his second baby the other day. Or I should say his wife Laurie did. Here are some pics, and below is the announcement sent by grandma Carol. I'm not sure whether Laurie is that hardcore if a Yankees fan or if Andy put the cap on her head just before the shutter snapped, but I admire her for it either way. Mazel Tov! I'll raise a glass of bijiao to you and Emily this weekend.

We joyously welcome the arrival of
Emily Grace Dallos, born 6-06-06
7lbs., 4oz. to Andy and Laurie Dallos.

Sister of Ashley and cousin of Annalese, Adrienne, Jared and Ellie.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

My guitar hero

Albert King is numero uno to me. This is a pretty vivid example why that is so. I interviewed him within amonth of starting work at GW and it was one of the most intimidating and best experiences of my life.

Slam dunk championship at adidas camp

Remember how I wrote about the 7-foot impossibly skinny 14-year-old whose picture dwight Howard's parents wanted tot ake pictues with? well, here is. Mr. Zheng Zhun.

Wang Shan leapt over TJ Ford, who was kneeling there. He had two better looking attempts but missed the dunk, then rolled this one in.

Dwight Howard actually lost one on one to this guy, Zhou Peng, who was camp MVP. Obviously, Dwight wasn't trying his hardest but he still got annoyed. Then he did this.

Last day of soccer pictures

That's eli with his good friends Brandon Fosh and Millie Middleton. Eli and Millie were far more interested in each other and goofing off than playing a proper match of football, as the Brits say. After the game, one of the Chinese mothers asked me if Eli and nMillie were twins and was shock I said no.

"They are always together and they look just alike!" she exclaimed. "We all thought they were twins."

I was not offended that she thought we all look alike.

Anna and Allegra

These two are so cute together, I think a couple of Chinese women's heads may have exploded. And they love eachother. Allegra Swanston is a Brit and Anna's classmate.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


We want to make some changes in our domestic help situation here but we are fairly frozen by fear and guilt. Log story short, Kathy Chen are family and leaving and they have an ayi who is a great cleaner, really nice, smart and solid – and a great cook. Basically, we can hire her and replace both Yu Ying and Mr. Li, which will save us about $400 a month and really streamline our lives. It’s a no-brainer, really, except…

… Except we feel really guilty and it is is unbelievably angsty for us to do this. Not so much about Mr. Li. I like him and would still use him for parties, special occasions, etc, but I think the will find more work without too much problem as his skills seem to be pretty unique. Not so sure about Yu Ying. She is really nice and loyal but she is not the best or most efficient cleaner. And apparently, all the other Chiense staff hate her, including Mr. Dou, Becky’s driver, and everyone else who deals with her.

I don’t fully understand why though Cathy discussed at length with Mr. Dou and the consensus opinion is she is lazy and shiftless, but really good at kissing wei-gou-ren(foreigner) booty.

Maybe so. All I know is her husband doesn’t work and she supports a big family in Anhui with this job. I actually think I can pretty easily help her get a new job, from my perch on the BJ Riviera Welcome committee (I know, I know). We would also give her a few months’ pay as a severance and then start the new year with what I really think would be a better situation. Like I said, it’s a no-brainer and it would improve our quality of life and I really think we are going to do it. Becky’s verdict: “I think we should do it but I am not going to deal with, so it’s up to you.”

Anyhow.. still working buying the car. We have made the money transfer, but now we have to change the money from dollars to RMB and it’s another multi=step process.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Rocket Man

Howie Bernstein showed me a video of this 10 or more years ago. It is just as funny today.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Idiot America

I just read this in an old Esquire mag and thought it was really, really good. I found it online and wanted to hsare. It's long, but worh it.

Greetings From Idiot America

by Charles P. Pierce, as originally published in Esquire Magazine, 11/1/05

There is some undeniable art -- you might even say design -- in the way southern Ohio rolls itself into northern Kentucky. The hills build gently under you as you leave the interstate. The roads narrow beneath a cool and thickening canopy as they wind through the leafy outer precincts of Hebron -- a small Kentucky town named, as it happens, for the place near Jerusalem where the Bible tells us that David was anointed the king of the Israelites. This resulted in great literature and no little bloodshed, which is the case with a great deal of Scripture.

At the top of the hill, just past the Idlewild Concrete plant, there is an unfinished wall with an unfinished gate in the middle of it. Happy, smiling people are trickling in through the gate this fine morning, one minivan at a time. They park in whatever shade they can find, which is not much. It's hot as hell this morning. They are almost uniformly white and almost uniformly bubbly. Their cars come from Kentucky and Tennessee and Ohio and Illinois and as far away as New Brunswick, Canada. There are elderly couples in shorts, suburban families piling out of the minivans, the children all Wrinkle-Resistant and Stain-Released. There is a clutch of Mennonite women in traditional dress -- small bonnets and long skirts. All of them wander off, chattering and waving and stopping every few steps for pictures, toward a low-slung building that seems from the outside to be the most finished part of the complex.

Outside, several of them stop to be interviewed by a video crew. They have come from Indiana, one woman says, two toddlers toddling at her feet, because they have been home-schooling their children and they have given them this adventure as a kind of field trip. The whole group then bustles into the lobby of the building, here they are greeted by the long neck of a huge, herbivorous dinosaur. The kids run past that and around a corner, where stands another, smaller dinosaur.

Which is wearing a saddle. It is an English saddle, hornless and battered. Apparently, this was a dinosaur used for dressage competitions and stakes races. Any working dinosaur accustomed to the rigors of ranch work and herding other dinosaurs along the dusty trail almost certainly would wear a sturdy Western saddle.

This is very much a show dinosaur. The dinosaurs are the first things you see when you enter the Creation Museum, which is very much a work in progress and the dream child of an Australian named Ken Ham. Ham is the founder of Answers in Genesis, an organization of which the museum one day will be the headquarters. The people here today are on a special tour. They have paid $149 to become "charter members" of the museum.

"Dinosaurs," Ham laughs as he poses for pictures with his visitors, "always get the kids interested." AIG is dedicated to the proposition that the biblical story of the creation of the world is inerrant in every word. Which means, in this interpretation and among other things, that dinosaurs coexisted with man (hence the saddles), that there were dinosaurs in Eden, and that Noah, who certainly had enough on his hands, had to load two brachiosaurs onto the Ark along with his wife, his sons, and their wives, to say nothing of green ally-gators and long-necked geese and humpty-backed camels and all the rest. (Faced with the obvious question of how to keep a three-hundred-by-thirty-by-fifty-cubit ark from sinking under the weight of dinosaur couples, Ham's literature argues that the dinosaurs on the Ark were young ones, and thus did not weigh as much as they might have.)

"We," Ham exclaims to the assembled, "are taking the dinosaurs back from the evolutionists!" And everybody cheers. Ham then goes on to celebrate the great victory won in Oklahoma, where, in the first week of June, Tulsa park officials announced a decision (later reversed) to put up a display at the city zoo based on Genesis so as to eliminate the "discrimination" long inflicted upon sensitive Christians by a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh that decorated the elephant exhibit. This is a serious crowd. They gather in the auditorium and they listen intently, and they take copious notes as Ham draws a straight line from Adam's fall to our godless public schools, from Darwin to gay marriage. He talks about the triumph over Ganesh, and everybody cheers again.

Ultimately, the heart of the museum will be a long walkway down which patrons will be able to journey through the entire creation story. This, too, is still in the earliest stages of construction. Today, for example, one young artist is working on a scale model of the moment when Adam names all the creatures. Adam is in the delicate process of naming the saber-toothed tiger while, behind him, already named, a woolly mammoth seems to be on the verge of taking a nap. Elsewhere in the museum, another Adam figure is full-size, if unpainted, and waiting to be installed. This Adam is reclining peacefully; eventually, if the plans stay true, he will be placed in a pool under a waterfall. As the figure depicts a prelapsarian Adam, he is completely naked. He also has no penis. This would seem to be a departure from Scripture inconsistent with the biblical literalism of the rest of the museum. If you're willing to stretch Job's description of a "behemoth" to include baby brachiosaurs on Noah's Ark, as Ham does in his lectures, then surely, since we are depicting him before the fall, Adam should be out there waving unashamedly in the paradisaical breezes. For that matter, what is Eve doing there, across the room, with her hair falling just so to cover her breasts and midsection, as though she's doing a nude scene from some 1950s Swedish art-house film? After all, Genesis 2:25 clearly says that at this point in their lives, "And the man and his wife were both naked, and they were not ashamed." If Adam courageously sat there unencumbered while he was naming saber-toothed tigers, then why, six thousand years later, should he be depicted as a eunuch in some family-values Eden? And if these people can take away what Scripture says was rightfully his, then why can't Charles Darwin and the accumulated science of the past 150-odd years take away all the rest of it?

These are impolite questions. Nobody asks them here by the cool pond tucked into a gentle hillside. Increasingly, nobody asks them outside the gates, either. It is impolite to wonder why our parents sent us all to college, and why generations of immigrants sweated and bled so their children could be educated, if it wasn't so that we would all one day feel confident enough to look at a museum filled with dinosaurs rigged to run six furlongs at Belmont and make the not-unreasonable point that it is all batshit crazy and that anyone who believes this righteous hooey should be kept away from sharp objects and his own money. Dinosaurs with saddles? Dinosaurs on Noah's Ark?

Welcome to your new Eden.

Welcome to Idiot America.

LET'S TAKE A TOUR, shall we? For the sake of time, we'll just cover the last year or so. A federally funded abstinence program suggests that HIV can be transmitted through tears. An Alabama legislator proposes a bill to ban all books by gay authors. The Texas House passes a bill banning suggestive cheerleading. And nobody laughs at any of it, or even points out that, in the latter case, having Texas ban suggestive cheerleading is like having Nebraska ban corn. James Dobson, a prominent conservative Christian spokesman, compares the Supreme Court to the Ku Klux Klan. Pat Robertson, another prominent conservative preacher, says that federal judges are a more serious threat to the country than is Al Qaeda and, apparently taking his text from the Book of Gambino, later sermonizes that the United States should get with it and snuff the democratically-elected president of Venezuela.

The Congress of the United States intervenes to extend into a televised spectacle the prolonged death of a woman in Florida. The majority leader of the Senate, a physician, pronounces a diagnosis based on heavily edited videotape. The majority leader of the House of Representatives argues against cutting-edge research into the use of human stem cells by saying that "an embryo is a person... We were all at one time embryos ourselves. So was Abraham. So was Muhammad. So was Jesus of Nazareth." Nobody laughs at him or points out that the same could be said of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, or whoever invented the baby-back rib.

And, finally, in August, the cover of Time -- for almost a century the dyspeptic voice of the American establishment -- clears its throat, hems and haws and hacks like a headmaster gagging on his sherry, and asks, quite seriously: "Does God have a place in science class?"

Fights over creationism -- and its faddish new camouflage, intelligent design, a pseudoscience that posits without proof or method that science is inadequate to explain existence and that supernatural causes must be considered -- roil up school districts across the country.

The president of the United States announces that he believes ID ought to be taught in the public schools on an equal footing with the theory of evolution. And in Dover, Pennsylvania, during one of these many controversies, a pastor named Ray Mummert delivers the line that both ends our tour and, in every real sense, sums it up: "We've been attacked," he says, "by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture."

And there it is. Idiot America is not the place where people say silly things. It's not the place where people believe in silly things. It is not the place where people go to profit from the fact that people believe in silly things. Idiot America is not even those people who believe that Adam named the dinosaurs. Those people pay attention. They take notes. They take the time and the considerable mental effort to construct a worldview that is round and complete. The rise of Idiot America is essentially a war on expertise. It's not so much antimodernism or the distrust of intellectual elites that Richard Hofstadter deftly teased out of the national DNA forty years ago. Both of those things are part of it. However, the rise of Idiot America today represents -- for profit mainly, but also, and more cynically, for political advantage and in the pursuit of power -- the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is a good. It also represents the ascendancy of the notion that the people whom we should trust the least are the people who best know what they're talking about. In the new media age, everybody is a historian, or a preacher, or a scientist, or a sage. And if everyone is an expert, then nobody is, and the worst thing you can be in a society where everybody is an expert is, well, an actual expert.

In the place of expertise, we have elevated the Gut, and the Gut is a moron, as anyone who has ever tossed a golf club, punched a wall, or kicked an errant lawn mower knows. We occasionally dress up the Gut by calling it "common sense." The president's former advisor on medical ethics regularly refers to the "yuck factor." The Gut is common. It is democratic. It is the roiling repository of dark and ancient fears. Worst of all, the Gut is faith-based.

It's a dishonest phrase for a dishonest time, "faith-based," a cheap huckster's phony term of art. It sounds like an additive, an artificial flavoring to make crude biases taste of bread and wine.

It's a word for people without the courage to say they are religious, and it is beloved not only by politicians too cowardly to debate something as substantial as faith but also by Idiot America, which is too lazy to do it.

After all, faith is about the heart and soul and about transcendence. Anything calling itself faith-based is admitting that it is secular and profane. In the way that it relies on the Gut to determine its science, its politics, and even the way it sends its people to war, Idiot America is not a country of faith; it's a faith-based country, fashioning itself in the world, which is not the place where faith is best fashioned.

Hofstadter saw this one coming. "Intellect is pitted against feeling," he wrote, "on the ground that it is somehow inconsistent with warm emotion. It is pitted against character, because it is widely believed that intellect stands for mere cleverness, which transmutes easily into the sly or the diabolical."

The Gut is the basis for the Great Premises of Idiot America. We hold these truths to be self-evident:

1. Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
2. Anything can be true if somebody says it on television.
3. Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

How does it work? This is how it works. On August 21, a newspaper account of the "intelligent design" movement contained this remarkable sentence: "They have mounted a politically savvy challenge to evolution as the bedrock of modern biology, propelling a fringe academic movement onto the front pages and putting Darwin's defenders firmly on the defensive."

A "politically savvy challenge to evolution" is as self-evidently ridiculous as an agriculturally savvy challenge to euclidean geometry would be. It makes as much sense as conducting a Gallup poll on gravity or running someone for president on the Alchemy Party ticket.

It doesn't matter what percentage of people believe they ought to be able to flap their arms and fly, none of them can. It doesn't matter how many votes your candidate got, he's not going to turn lead into gold. The sentence is so arrantly foolish that the only real news in it is where it appeared.

On the front page. Of The New York Times.

Within three days, there was a panel on the subject on Larry King Live , in which Larry asked the following question: "All right, hold on. Dr. Forrest, your concept of how can you out-and-out turn down creationism, since if evolution is true, why are there still monkeys?"

And why do so many of them host television programs, Larry?

This is how Idiot America engages the great issues of the day. It decides, en masse, with a thousand keystrokes and clicks of the remote control, that because there are two sides to every question, they both must be right, or at least not wrong. And the poor biologist's words carry no more weight than the thunderations of some turkey-neck preacher out of the Church of Christ's Own Parking Facility in DeLand, Florida. Less weight, in fact, because our scientist is an "expert" and, therefore, an "elitist." Nobody buys his books. Nobody puts him on cable. He's brilliant, surely, but his Gut's the same as ours. He just ignores it, poor fool.

This is a great country, in no small part because it is the best country ever devised in which to be a public crank. Never has a nation so dedicated itself to the proposition that not only should its people hold nutty ideas but they should cultivate them, treasure them, shine them up, and put them right there on the mantelpiece. This is still the best country ever in which to peddle complete public lunacy. The right to do so is there in our founding documents.

After all, the Founders were men of the Enlightenment, fashioning a country out of new ideas -- or out of old ones that they excavated from centuries of religious internment. Historian Charles Freeman points out that in Europe, "Christian thought... often gave irrationality the status of a universal 'truth' to the exclusion of those truths to be found through reason. So the uneducated was preferred to the educated, and the miracle to the operation of natural laws."

In America, the Founders were trying to get away from all that, to raise a nation of educated people. In pledging their faith to intellectual experimentation, however, the Founders set freedom free. They devised the best country ever in which to be completely around the bend. It's just that making a respectable living out of it used to be harder work.

THEY CALL IT THE INFINITE CORRIDOR, which is the kind of joke you tell when your day job is to throw science as far ahead as you can and hope that the rest of us can move fast enough to catch up. It is a series of connecting hallways that run north through the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The hallways are lined with cramped offices, their doors mottled thickly with old tape and yellowing handbills. The Infinite Corridor is not a straight line. It has branches and tributaries. It has backwaters and eddies. You can get lost there.

One of the offices belongs to Professor Kip Hodges, a young and energetic North Carolinian who studies how mountain ranges develop and grow. Suffice it to say that Hodges's data do not correspond to the six-thousand-year-old earth of the creationists, whereupon dinosaurs and naked folks doth gambol together. Hodges is recently returned from Nepal, where he rescued his research from encroaching Maoist rebels, who were not interested in the least in how the Himalayas became the Himalayas. They were interested in land, in guns, in power, and in other things of the Gut. Moreover, part of Hodges's duties at MIT has been to mentor incoming freshmen about making careers in science for themselves.

"Scientists are always portrayed in the literature as being above the fray intellectually," Hodges says. "I guess to a certain extent that's our fault, because scientists don't do a good enough job communicating with people who are nonscientists -- that it's not a matter of brainiacs doing one thing and nonbrainiacs doing another."

Americans of a certain age grew up with science the way an earlier generation grew up with baseball and even earlier ones grew up with politics and religion. America cured diseases. It put men on the moon. It thought its way ahead in the cold war and stayed there.

"My earliest memory," Hodges recalls, "is watching John Glenn go up. It was a time that, if you were involved in science or engineering -- particularly science, at that time -- people greatly respected you if you said you were going into those fields. And nowadays, it's like there's no value placed by society on a lot of the observations that are made by people in science.

"It's more than a general dumbing down of America -- the lack of self-motivated thinking: clear, creative thinking. It's like you're happy for other people to think for you. If you should be worried about, say, global warming, well, somebody in Washington will tell me whether or not I should be worried about global warming. So it's like this abdication of intellectual responsibility -- that America now is getting to the point that more and more people would just love to let somebody else think for them."

The country was founded by people who were fundamentally curious; Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, to name only the most obvious examples, were inveterate tinkerers. (Before dispatching Lewis and Clark into the Louisiana Territory, Jefferson insisted that the pair categorize as many new plant and animal species as they found. Considering they were also mapping everything from Missouri to Oregon, this must have been a considerable pain in the canoe.) Further, they assumed that their posterity would feel much the same as they did; in 1815, appealing to Congress to fund the building of a national university, James Madison called for the development of "a nursery of enlightened preceptors."

It is a long way from that to the moment on February 18, 2004, when sixty-two scientists, including a clutch of Nobel laureates, released a report accusing the incumbent Administration of manipulating science for political ends. It is a long way from Jefferson's observatory and Franklin's kite to George W. Bush, in an interview in 2005, suggesting that intelligent design be taught alongside the theory of evolution in the nation's science classes. "Both sides ought to be properly taught," said the president, "so people can understand what the debate is about."

The "debate," of course, is nothing of the sort, because two sides are required for a debate. Nevertheless, the very notion of it is a measure of how scientific discourse, and the way the country educates itself, has slipped through lassitude and inattention across the border into Idiot America -- where fact is merely that which enough people believe, and truth is measured only by how fervently they believe it.

If we have abdicated our birthright to scientific progress, we have done so by moving the debate into the realm of political and cultural argument, where we all feel more confident, because it is there that the Gut rules. Held to this standard, any scientific theory is rendered mere opinion. Scientific fact is no more immutable than a polling sample. This is how there's a "debate" over the very existence of global warming, even though the preponderance of fact among those who actually have studied the phenomenon renders the "debate" quite silly. The debate is about making people feel better about driving SUVs. The debate is less about climatology than it is about guiltlessly topping off your tank and voting in tax incentives for oil companies.

The rest of the world looks on in cockeyed wonder. The America of Franklin and Edison, of Fulton and Ford, of the Manhattan project and the Apollo program, the America of which Einstein wanted to be a part, seems to be enveloping itself in a curious fog behind which it's tying itself in knots over evolution, for pity's sake, and over the relative humanity of blastocysts versus the victims of Parkinson's disease.

"Even in the developing world, where I spend lots of time doing my work," Hodges says, "if you tell them that you're from MIT and you tell them that you do science, it's a big deal. If I go to India and tell them I'm from MIT, it's a big deal. In Thailand, it's a big deal. If I go to Iowa, they could give a rat's ass. And that's a weird thing, that we're moving in that direction as a nation."

Hence, Bush was not talking about science -- not in any real sense, anyway. Intelligent design is a theological construct, a faith-based attempt to gussy up creationism in a lab coat. Its fundamental tenets cannot be experimentally verified -- or, most important, falsified. That it enjoys a certain public cachet is irrelevant; a higher percentage of Americans believes that a government conspiracy killed John F. Kennedy than believes in intelligent design, but there is no great effort abroad in the land to include that conspiracy theory in sixth-grade history texts. Bush wasn't talking about science. He was talking about the political utility of putting saddles on the dinosaurs and breaking Ganesh's theological monopoly over the elephant paddock.

"The reason the creationists have been so effective is that they have put a premium on communication skills," explains Hodges. "It matters to them that they can talk to the guy in the bar, and it's important to them, and they are hugely effective at it."

It is the ultimate standard of Idiot America. How does it play to Joe Six-Pack in the bar? At the end of August 2004, the Zogby people discovered that 57 percent of undecided voters would rather have a beer with George Bush than with John Kerry. Now, how many people with whom you've spent time drinking beer would you trust with the nuclear launch codes? Not only is this not a question for a nation of serious citizens, it's not even a question for a nation of serious drunkards.

If even scientific discussion is going to be dragged into politics, then the discussion there at least ought to exist on a fairly sophisticated level. Again, the Founders thought it should. They considered self-government a science that required an informed and educated and enlightened populace to make all the delicate mechanisms run. Instead, today we have the Kabuki politics and marionette debates best exemplified by cable television. Instead, the discussion of everything ends up in the bar. (It wasn't always this way. Theodore Roosevelt is reckoned to be the manliest of our manly-man presidents. He also was a lifelong science dweeb, cataloging songbirds, of all things. Of course, he shot them first, so maybe that makes all the difference.)

It is, of course, television that has allowed Idiot America to run riot within the modern politics and all forms of public discourse. It is not that there is less information on television than there once was. (That there is less news is another question entirely.) In fact, there is so much information that fact is now defined as something that so many people believe that television notices it, and truth is measured by how fervently they believe it.

"You don't need to be credible on television," explains Keith Olbermann, the erudite host of his own show on MSNBC. "You don't need to be authoritative. You don't need to be informed. You don't need to be honest. All these things that we used to associate with what we do are no longer factors. "There is an entire network [the Fox News Channel] that bills itself as news that is devoted to reinforcing people's fears and saying to them, 'This is what you should be scared of, and here's whose fault it is,' " Olbermann says. "And that's what they get -- two or three million frustrated paranoids who sit in front of the TV and go, 'Damn right, it's those liberals' fault.' Or, 'It's those -- what's the word for it? -- college graduates' fault.' "

The reply, of course, is that Fox regularly buries Olbermann and the rest of the MSNBC lineup in breaking off a segment of a smidgen of a piece of the television audience. Truth is what moves the needle.

Fact is what sells. Idiot America is a bad place for crazy notions. Its indolent tolerance of them causes the classic American crank to drift slowly and dangerously into the mainstream, wherein the crank loses all of his charm and the country loses another piece of its mind. The best thing about American crackpots used to be that they would stand proudly aloof from a country that, by their peculiar lights, had gone mad.

Not today. Today, they all have book deals, TV shows, and cases pending in federal court. Once, it was very hard to get into the public square and very easy to fall out of it. One ill-timed word, even a whiff of public scandal, and all the hard work you did in the grange hall on all those winter nights was for nothing. No longer. You can be Bill Bennett, gambling with both fists, but if your books still sell, you can continue to scold the nation about its sins. You can be Bill O'Reilly, calling up subordinates to proposition them both luridly and comically -- loofahs? falafels? -- and if more people tune in to watch you than tune in to watch some other blowhard, you can keep your job lecturing America about the dangers of its secular culture.

Just don't be boring. And keep the ratings up. Idiot America wants to be entertained. Because scientific expertise was dragged into political discussion, and because political discussion is hopelessly corrupt, the distrust of scientific expertise is now as general as the distrust of politicians is.

Everyone is an expert, so nobody is. For example, Sean Hannity's knowledge of, say, stem-cell research is measured precisely by his ratings book. His views on the subject are more well known than those of the people doing the actual research. The credibility of Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania on the subject of the cultural anthropology of the American family ought to be, well, minimal. He spent the summer promoting a book in which he propounded theories on the subject that were progressively loopier.

"For some parents," he writes, "the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home." He goes on later to compare a woman's right to choose an abortion unfavorably with the institution of slavery. Nevertheless, he's welcome in the mainstream, at least until either he's defeated for reelection or his book doesn't sell.

"Somewhere along the line, we stopped rewarding intelligence with success and stopped equating intelligence with success," Olbermann says. We're all in the bar now, where everybody's an expert, where the Gut makes everyone so very sure. All opinions are of equal worth. No voice is more authoritative than any others; some are just louder. Of course, the problem in the bar is that sooner or later, for reasons that nobody will remember in the clear light of the next morning, some noisy asshole picks a fight. And it becomes clear that the rise of Idiot America has consequences.

ON THE MORNING of September 11, 2001, nobody in the American government knew more than Richard Clarke did on the subject of a shadowy terrorist network called Al Qaeda. He had watched it grow. He had watched it strike -- in New York and in Africa and in the harbor in Yemen. That morning, in the Situation Room in the White House, Clarke watched the buildings burn and fall, and he recognized the organization's signature as well as he'd recognize his own.

Instead, in the ensuing days a lot of people around him -- people who didn't know enough about Al Qaeda to throw to a cat -- wanted to talk about Iraq. What they believed trumped what Clarke knew, over and over again. He left the government.

"In the 1970s and 1980s, when the key issue became arms control, the traditional diplomats couldn't do the negotiating because that negotiating involved science and engineering," Clarke recalls. "Interagency decision papers were models of analysis, where assumptions were laid out and tested. "That's the world I grew up in. [The approach] still applied to issues, even terrorism. Then these people come in, and they already have the answers, how to spin it, how to get the rest of the world on board. I thought, Wait a minute. That isn't analysis. It's the important issues where we really need analysis.

"In the area of terrorism, there is a huge potential for emotional reaction. The one thing I told my team [on September 11] -- they were mad and they were crying, the whole range of emotions -- was that we didn't have time for emotion that day."

Nothing that the administration of George W. Bush has done has been inconsistent with the forces that twice elected it. The subtle, humming engine of its success -- against John Kerry, surely, but most vividly against poor, cerebral Al Gore -- was a celebration of instinct over intellect, a triumph of the Gut. No campaigns in history employed the saloon question with such devastating success or saw so clearly the path through the deliberate inexpertise of the national debate. No politician in recent times has played to the Gut so deftly. So it ought not shock anyone when the government suddenly found itself at odds with empirical science. It ought not shock anyone in the manner in which it would go to war.

Remember the beginning, when it was purely the Gut -- a bone-deep call for righteous revenge for which Afghanistan was not sufficient response. In Iraq, there would be towering stacks of chemical bombs, a limitless smorgasbord of deadly bacteria, vast lagoons of exotic poisons. There would be candy and flowers greeting our troops. The war would take six months, a year, tops.

Mission Accomplished. Major combat operations are over.

"Part of the problem was that people didn't want the analytic process because they'd be shown up," Richard Clarke says. "Their assumptions would be counterfactual. One of the real areas of expertise, for example, was failed-state reconstruction. How to go into failed states and maintain security and get the economy going and defang ethnic hatred. They threw it all out.

"They ignored the experts on the Middle East. They ignored the experts who said it was the wrong target. So you ignore the experts and you go in anyway, and then you ignore all the experts on how to handle the postconflict."

One of those experts was David Phillips, a senior advisor on what was called the Future of Iraq program for the State Department. Phillips was ignored. His program was ignored. Earlier, Phillips had helped reconstruct the Balkans after the region spent a decade tearing itself apart with genocidal lunacy. Phillips knew what he knew. He just didn't believe what they believed.

"You can just as easily have a faith-based, or ideologically driven, policy," he says today. "You start with the presumption that you already know the conclusion prior to asking the question. When information surfaces that contradicts your firmly entrenched views, you dismantle the institution that brought you the information."

There was going to be candy and flowers, remember? The war was going to pay for itself. Believe.

"We went in blindfolded, and we believed our own propaganda," Phillips says. "We were going to get out in ninety days, spend $1.9 billion in the short term, and Iraqi oil would pay for the rest. Now we're deep in the hole, and people are asking questions about how we got there. "It's delusional, allowing delusion to be the basis of policy making. Once you've told the big lie, you have to substantiate it with a sequence of lies that's repeated. You can't fix a policy if you don't admit it's broken." Two thousand American lives later, remember the beginning. One commentator quite plainly made the case that every few years or so, the United States should "throw a small nation up against the wall" to prove that it means business.

And Idiot America, which is all of us, cheered.

Goddamn right. Gimme another. And see what the superpowers in the back room will have.

AUGUST 19, 2005, was a beautiful day in Idiot America. In Washington, William Frist, a Harvard-trained physician and the majority leader of the United States Senate, endorsed the teaching of intelligent design in the country's public schools. "I think today a pluralistic society," Frist explained, "should have access to a broad range of fact, of science, including faith."

That faith is not fact, nor should it be, and that faith is not science, nor should it be, seems to have eluded Doctor Senator Frist. It doesn't matter. He was talking to the people who believe that faith is both those things, because Bill Frist wants to be president of the United States, and because he believes those people will vote for him specifically because he talks this rot, and Idiot America will take it as an actor merely reciting his lines and let it go at that. Nonsense is a no-lose proposition.

On the same day, across town, a top aide to former secretary of state Colin Powell told CNN that Powell's pivotal presentation to the United Nations in which he described Iraq's vast array of deadly weapons was a farrago of stovepiped intelligence, wishful thinking, and utter bullshit. "It was the lowest point in my life," the aide said.

That it has proven to be an even lower point for almost two thousand American families, and God alone knows how many Iraqis, seems to have eluded this fellow. It doesn't matter.

Neither Frist with his pandering nor this apparatchik with the tender conscience -- nor Colin Powell, for all that -- will pay a substantial price for any of it because the two stories lasted one day, and, after all, it was a beautiful day in Idiot America.

Idiot America is a collaborative effort, the result of millions of decisions made and not made. It's the development of a collective Gut at the expense of a collective mind. It's what results when politicians make ridiculous statements and not merely do we abandon the right to punish them for it at the polls, but we also become too timid to punish them with ridicule on a daily basis, because the polls say they're popular anyway. It's what results when leaders are not held to account for mistakes that end up killing people.

And that's why August became a seminal month in Idiot America. In its final week, a great American city drowned and then turned irrevocably into a Hieronymus Bosch painting in real time and on television, and with complete impunity, the president of the United States wandered the landscape and talked like a blithering nitwit.

First, he compared the violence surrounding the writing of an impromptu theocratic constitution in Baghdad to the events surrounding the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Undaunted, he later compared the war he'd launched in Iraq to World War II. And then he compared himself to Franklin Roosevelt. One more public appearance and we might have learned that Custer was killed by Hezbollah. Finally, we saw the apotheosis of the end of expertise, when New Orleans was virtually obliterated as a functional habitat for human beings, and the country discovered that the primary responsibility for dealing with the calamity lay with a man who'd been dismissed as an incompetent from his previous job as the director of a luxury-show-horse organization.

And the president went on television and said that nobody could have anticipated the collapse of the unfortunate city's levees. In God's sweet name, engineers anticipated it. Politicians anticipated it. The poor bastards in the Ninth Ward certainly anticipated it. Hell, four generations of folksingers anticipated it.

And the people who hated him went crazy and the people who loved him defended him. But where were the people who heard this incredible, staggeringly stupid bafflegab, uttered with conscious forethought, and realized that whatever they thought of the man, the president had gotten behind a series of podiums and done everything but drop his drawers and dance the hootchie-koo?

They were out there, lost in Idiot America, where it was still a beautiful day. Idiot America took it as a bad actor merely bungling his lines.

Nonsense is a no-lose proposition. For Idiot America is a place where people choose to live. It is a place that is built consciously and deliberately, one choice at a time, made or (most often) unmade. A place where we're all like that statue of Adam now, reclining in a peaceful garden of our own creation, brainless and dickless, and falling down on the job of naming the monsters for what they are, dozing away in an Eden that, every day, looks less and less like paradise.