In 2004, Steve Dublanica started Waiter Rant, an anonymous blog that charted his vexations waiting tables at an upscale bistro in the New York City 'burbs. Four years later, Dublanica emerged from the blogosphere with a bestselling memoir of clueless patrons and coke-snorting kitchen staff. One of the hardest parts of being a waiter, he told Oprah, was attempting to master the calculus of good and bad tipping.
In Keep the Change, Dublanica sets forth on a dizzying quest to understand the mental math and morality of gratuities. Half travelogue, half manifesto, the book recounts his misadventures in tipping as he travels across America talking with a cross-section of the 3 percent of the workforce that relies on tips. He shadows doormen and parking valets, tries to make tip-jar-worthy espresso with Portland baristas, and interviews Vegas strippers between lap dances—all to "figure out how to tip with a clear and informed conscience."
Dublanica's advice: When in doubt, tip and tip well. Give baristas more than your change; 50 cents is "amazing," says a manager at Starbucks (which forbids employees from labeling their tip jars as such). Give your dog groomer 20 percent. Give altar boys at your wedding 10 to 15 bucks each. Give car-wash attendants three to five dollars directly, since supervisors sometimes steal their tips. One comes away from Keep the Change with a sheepish sense of having unknowingly stiffed many whose survival depends upon the kindness of customers.—Zoë Slutzky
This Studs Terkel-style oral history sets out to rebrand the US Border Patrol as more than just a political prop for the anti-immigration crowd. Through interviews with active and retired agents at a post in Arizona's scorching Sonoran Desert, the authors (one a former agent) cast the force not just as enforcers but humanitarians. One retired officer recalls holding impromptu funerals in the desert for migrants who didn't make it. The men in green, as the authors put it, "are the people you'd pray were on your trail and on their way." In spite of its one-sided view, Desert Duty brings to life a perspective on the border debate you rarely hear about.—Tim Murphy
In 1987, when Deb Olin Unferth was 18, she followed her charismatic boyfriend George to Nicaragua to "foment the revolution." This proved more difficult than they'd anticipated: The couple spent less time overthrowing an oppressive regime than fighting with each other, trudging through squalid streets, and getting robbed. This clearheaded and funny memoir captures the grit and chaos of a tumultuous moment in Central American history, but it's really a coming-of-age story. "It was the first time I dried clothes on a line, interviewed a politician, the first time I searched for food, the right road, the right bus," writes Unferth, who's now a novelist. She didn't become a revolutionary, but she did become a grown-up.—Kiera Butler
Dog, Inc. explores the curious history of pet cloning, from its roots in a 1928 experiment in which a German biologist replicated a salamander, to the present, when scientists are only too willing to help doting dog-owners reanimate their canine companions. After describing a range of pet-related experiments, from Snuppy the cloned puppy to fluorescent beagles and freeze-dried cats, Woestendiek wonders: Should we do something just because it's possible? At the heart of his narrative are the pet owners who refuse to accept that the clones bounding into their arms are only physical replicas of their departed mutts. As one remarks, "I can't wait until Booger 2 is born. I'm having to sell my home to pay for it, but that's OK, because I'll have my friend back."—Maddie Oatman
At a press conference in Frankfort today, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced his unlikely plan to save the state's economy—by offering a massive tax incentive to the planners of Ark Encounter, an eco-friendly Noah's Ark theme park to be built outside Cincinnati. Building a Genesis-based theme park, during a recession? Shouldn't he be focusing on Job?
During the news conference, Beshear was asked several questions regarding the separation of church and state and whether support of the project was constitutional.
He said the law does not allow him to discriminate against a for-profit business because of the subject matter. Not everyone supports NASCAR, the governor said, but that did not stop him for providing incentives to allow Kentucky Speedway to hold a Sprint cup race next year.
He said there was nothing "remotely unconstitutional" about the business and the economic impact it would have on the state.
A Noah's Ark theme park actually sounds like a lot of fun—animals (x2), water, "replica of the Tower of Babel"—and if it can replicate the success of the nearby Creation Museum (run by the same group, Answers in Genesis), it promises to be an economic boon. Eighty percent of the museum's visitors come from out of state, which means that, sinkholes permitting, they're likely to cram as much into their visit to Kentucky as possible. Beshear's justifications seem legally airtight—even American Atheists couldn't come up with any objections.
But it also amounts to a giveaway (as much as $37.5 million) to AiG, an organization that's committed to defeating secular science education; (the park promises educational exhibits to go with its amusements). And while Beshear says he'd be open to the same kind of deal with any for-profit religious organization, is there any realistic chance of anyone besides AiG creating something of this stature? The market for a Hijra-themed resort in Paducah seems a little dry right now.
Map courtesy of USGSIt is a matter of public record that I'm an avid fan of weird maps. And over at the appropriately named Strange Maps blog, Frank Jacobs has unearthed a pretty neat one: John Wesley Powell's proposal to divide the western United States into a series of amoeba-like blobs amoeba-like water districts. Powell, the one-armed geologist who first mapped the Grand Canyon, believed that water management was the single most important issue facing regional development, and therefore the West should be governed accordingly. Per Jacobs:
Powell's warning at an irrigation congress in 1883 seems particularly prescient: "Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land." Powell must have been frustrated by the contrast between the way his achievements were lauded, and his warnings ignored...
Like Jefferson's states, the units proposed by Powell seem, well, the wrong shape. From a purely cartophile point of view, they don't work as well as the states that did eventually make the cut. Ironically, they lack the normality of the present batch of straight-border states. Or is that just the force of habit talking?
To jump to Powell's defense, I'd say the whole thing actually has a sort of Central Asian feel to it; you won't find any box-like Wyomings hovering around the Hindu Kush. The biggest problem, though, seems to be that these places would be even less populated than our existing western states. The southwestern corner New Mexico, for instance, gets its own hypothetical state/district, even though no one actually lives, or ever has lived, southwest of Las Cruces.
Anyways, Powell was prescient in that he understood that management of natural resources and environmental limits were going to be preeminent issues facing the nation a century hence. But he was obviously shortsighted in thinking that 21st-century (or 20th-century, or 19th-century) leaders might ever be moved to do anything about it. To wit: His amoeba plan was scrapped at the behest of...the railroad industry.
The much anticipated release of The Anthology of Rap has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. The project, which features a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr., has drawn criticism for the abundance of transcription errors—and in hip-hop, the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between, well, George Wallace and Gerald Wallace (an actual mistake in the book). That's a shame because, errors aside, it's an awesome compilation: 920 pages of some of the baddest, phattest, flyest tracks ever dropped.
And that, invariably, means plenty of preposterous pop-culture references. Unless you rolled with Junior M.A.F.I.A. back in the day or hail from Queensbridge, you're probably not included in this book. But plenty of totally random people (and things! and historical events!) are. So what exactly shakes like Smucker's grape jelly? What's the best way to hijack a space shuttle? And what does Nas really think about Calvin Coolidge? We've got you covered. Here's our unofficial, abridged political and pop-culture Anthology of Rap index.
Daniel Radosh's Rapture Ready! is one of those books where, as soon as you finish, you wish you could go back in time and revisit something you wrote previously, now that you actually know what you're talking about. In this case, that would be my dispatch from the Focus on the Family bookstore in Colorado Springs. At the time I wrote that Christian pop culture was about added value: product + God = better product. But there's actually a pretty intense debate, as Radosh's book makes clear, over contemporary Christian performing arts. Should Christians try to work within the secular system and promote their values through actions? Should they shun the system and purge their pop culture of non-Christian references? And beyond that, should they really be focusing so much on profits rather than, say, prophets?
It's a fascinating book; Radosh checks in on Christian music festivals, Christian wrestling, Christian chick-lit (and its End Times counterpart, Christian pit-lit), Christian stand-up comedy, Christian Batman ("Bibleman"), Christian raves, Christian sex workshops—you name it, really. Anyway, check it out. And in the meantime, here's a clip of Psalty the Singing Songbook, my favorite revelation (sorry) from the book; he's like a mix of Ronald McDonald and Spongebob, if Spongebob weren't an agent of the homosexual agenda: