19 October 2007


George Saunders at the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, from his new book The Braindead Megaphone.

The Burj Al Arab is the only seven-star hotel in the world, even though the rating system only goes up to five. The most expensive Burj suite goes for twelve thousand dollars a night. The atrium is 590 feet from floor to ceiling, the largest in the world. As you enter, the staff rushes over with cold towels, rosewater for the hands, dates, incense. The smell, the scale, the level of living, fascinated attention you are receiving, makes you realize you have never really been in the lap of true luxury before. All the luxury you have previously had--in New York, L.A.--was stale, Burj-imitative crap. Your entire concept of being inside a building is being altered in real time. The lobby of the Burj is neither inside nor out,. The roof is so far away as to seem like sky. The underbellies of the floors above you grade through countless shades of color from deep blue to, finally, up so high you can barely see it; pale green. Your Guest Services liaison, a humble, pretty Ukrainian, tells you that every gold-colored surface you see during your stay is actual twenty-four-karat gold. Even those four-story columns? Even so, she says. Even the thick, four-story arcs the size of buses that span the columns? All gold, sir, is correct.

Satirist Stephen Colbert's nascent presidential campaign (he claims to be running only in his native state of South Carolina) gives us a brief glance into the dues you owe to be a real-live candidate.

However dismissive Mr. Dawson may be about Mr. Colbert’s plans, he said that he did not believe the Republicans could stop him from seeking both Republican and Democratic delegates.

“There is nothing in our filing that would prohibit him from running on both ballots, if he chose to pay the filing fees,’’ Mr. Dawson said.

And what is that fee? A steep $35,000, said Mr. Dawson.

“The great thing about America,’’ Mr. Dawson said, “is if you can meet the constitutional requirements to run for president of the United States, you can do so. In Mr. Colbert’s case, we look forward to his paying the filing fee before Nov. 1.’’

An unusual public appearance in America for a man who has not been christened an Enemy of the State, but will be. Bolivian president Evo Morales on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.