Saturday, January 31

Fun With Monogamy, Vol. MMDCCCI

POOR WIFE: You know it's my birthday next week, right? Have you bought my present yet?

RILEY: How many does this make, dear?


RILEY: See, I knew that would shut you up.

POOR WIFE: Quiet! I'm counting.

Friday, January 30

They're Not Booing, They're Saying "Looou, Looou...Fuckin' Get Over It, Already".

Lou "Boom Boom" Cannon, "Obama's Reagan Transformation?" January 27

WITH little to go on beyond a few excerpts and the fact that their combined throw weight is fast approaching that of James Mitchner (plus the fact that he's now enlisted his son in the effort), we've pretty much restricted ourself to the occasional baseless insinuation about Lou Cannon's Reagan canon, now up to volume five and, one imagines, Young Ronald's first day of school, or perhaps the cutting of his second molars or first public park massacre. Really, I happen to view Ronald Reagan as the edge where McCarthyism, modern PR flackery, and the bombing of Dresden meet, and I'm not exactly taciturn, and I have no idea how I'd fill five volumes about the man without a lot of repetition. And cussing.

Sure, my opposition is ideological and, as I've admitted, might not differ qualitatively from age-group Gipper-worship nerds of the David Brooks class. I was, thankfully, spared the direct experience of that sort of Hollywood which carved Reagan into a demi-star. My first encounter with him was when he took over Death Valley Days from The Ol' Prospector, or whomever, though what I remember most about the show was 20 Mule Team Borax, the sponsor whose product, as a hand cleanser, I adored (Lava, too; I just liked washing with grit, I guess). Next thing I knew he was Governor of California, somehow, and a Nazi. Then he spent a time as a political punchline, then out of the blue he bought a microphone, stole a briefing book, and was elected President. I'm not sure I've had another experience that compares. Maybe the time my sister knocked me unconscious with an old wood-shafted driver she was swinging, but that didn't last nearly as long or hurt as much.

My young life had seen an Oval Office occupied by The Allied Commander in Europe, Mr. Camelot, the Crafty Senate Fixer, a Former Vice-President and Perpetual Paranoid, then the Accidental Accident Not Waiting To Happen, and Jimmy Who?, the last two the product of interesting times, as the Chinese would say. For sure, Nixon had always seemed to me to be the President of Somewhere Else, not anywhere where I lived, but at least one understood the political dynamic that had put him there. If Carter came from nowhere and was already a primary lock before anyone noticed, well, at least he'd accomplished it with a sort of new understanding of the process, like he'd gotten the Democratic nomination by hiking the ball directly to the running back, which you had to respect. Reagan, on the other hand, was like looking up and seeing Cap'n Bob from the old morning Popeye cartoon show of your youth taking the Oath. Not to mention that he'd run on a platform of These Kids Today! With the Hair and the Music an' the Marihuana! Let's Shoot 'Em! Reagan wasn't a fluke, or an aberration; he was New Coke™, he was Pepsi Clear™, he was Harley Davidson™ cookware. He was the cynical manipulation of Product Placement by a coterie of Kennedy-obsessed wingnuts who'd realized that Name Recognition, properly packaged, could be hurled onto peasant houses below with a reasonable expectation of success, provided you defined "success" in a certain way.

The Reagan hagiography business has, among other things, tended to suggest that he rode into the White House having convinced the American people that his time-honored ideals, recently fallen into disrepute through fashionable Sixties commie-narco-nihilism, were in fact the magic elixir of American Greatness. Or it does so when it isn't necessary to tell the opposite story (a common feature of St. Ronnie tales is their reversibility). This is where we find Cannon:
the presidential exemplar that may be most useful to President Obama as he seeks to jump start the economy is a Republican whose single-mindedness in his first months in office enabled him to gain the confidence of the American people and approval of his proposals from a Congress he did not control.

That president is Ronald Reagan, whose long-term goals were different from Mr. Obama’s but who was also willing to put pet projects on the back burner in the cause of economic recovery. In 1980, Reagan campaigned against President Jimmy Carter on a mix of issues, while giving priority, as Mr. Obama did in 2008, to a sagging national economy. “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Reagan asked over and over again.

Wage and Price Controls. The end of the Gold Standard. Two Oil Embargoes. WIN buttons. Stagflation. The 70s were not exactly a decade humming along economically until Jimmy Carter fucked it up. That Reagan "ran against a sagging national economy" is hardly surprising (the gross understatement of "sagging" is curious, the dog that hiccuped instead of barking, designed to suggest that the whole thing was just a matter of Carter's lazy posture); that he "ran on a mix of issues" is the pop historian's version of giving every kid who enters the race a trophy.

And the real irony here is that in the annals of US Presidential politics Reagan is the shining example of a Single Issue candidate who persevered long enough to gain the nomination without ever having been relegated to a crackpot third party. Of course this is due in large measure to the fact that the major party he already belonged to was now a den of cranks. Reagan's appeal for sixteen years had been The National Debt, aka, the evil and metaphysical ineptitude of a strong central government. That this idee fixe attracted a range of political positions on everything from Space Weapons to school dress codes, some intellectually contradictory, shamelessly pandering, or simply incoherent, isn't an accomplishment; it's a description of sentience. Whoever was elected in 1980 was going to have as his first order of business The Economy, which had been the first order of business at least since the Fall of Saigon.

And furthermore, he was going to operate in a climate where The Fed was squeezing the money supply dry until inflation ended, come hell or high water. That was the decision (finally) reached during a moderate Democratic administration, however warming to the cockles of whatever's in the place of the heart of an incoming Republican one, was The Gipper's good fortune. The government threw people out of work to break the back of double-digit inflation. The Reagan administration knocked itself out trying to claim credit for any positive effect. (One of my favorite Reagan era anecdotes involves then-Treasury secretary Don Regan stating, in Spring, 1981, that the market upturn was the result of anticipation of Reagan's Miracle Tax Cuts; he then shut up about it for the following 19 months, for some reason.)

As for "not controlling Congress", it depends here on describing the remaining Dixiecrats in Congress as belonging to the party opposite Reagan's. We think no more need be said.

And look, if there's some lesson to be learned from the single-minded front of the early days of Reagan, we hope it's not taken. Because that lesson is how easy it is to appear competent with the Press as your courtesan. Indeed, "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" would become a mantra, in large part because it was rarely examined, just as "Stay the course" would subsequently become an exercise in mass hypnosis. Reagan's tax cutting was disastrous (as he himself would be forced to tacitly admit; compare the Bush II gang, having learned the Lessons of Vietnam, which simply refused to admit anything of the sort. We Win!). His military spending was incontinent, big-ticket Star Wars nonsense. Naturally this meant that in the end he'd be hailed as Our Economic Savior for modest economic growth, the worst jobs-creation record since WWII, two recessions, the massively accelerated wage stratification, and the Olly Olly Oxen Free regulatory climate that already had led to the looting of the Savings and Loan industry, not to mention, of course, the near quadrupling of that National Debt he'd been so obsessive about. If only for balance's sake was he lauded for rebuilding a military chockablock with AWACs and B1s and aircraft carriers in search of a mission, one capable of launching the greatest Armada since Normandy at Grenada while simultaneously training groups of armed thugs to disrupt democratically-elected Central American governments we didn't like, culminating in the glorious defeat of The Soviet Union by bank overdraft. It's odd that this latter method wasn't mentioned at the time, nor has it ever been attempted or even suggested since, but there you are.

No, Mr. President; though it may be tempting to cruise through your administration getting blowjobs from the Press and posing for stamps, and while it might mean that Josh Marshall is still laboring over you twenty-five years after The Final Stiffy, we like to think you were elected to do the opposite. And if Lou's right, and you are the one Democrat who "understands the nature of Reagan's appeal", we hope this just means you're the one least likely to try to duplicate it, if you care about the rest of us.

Thursday, January 29

Programming Note

TWELVE-point-five inches of snow here, officially, and a Republican mayor, which means the streets are still such a mess that Indianapolis Public Schools, which almost never close to begin with, and never for two days in a row, are closed for the second day in a row. I took yesterday's closing as God's insistence, via Dennis Prager, that we should have sexual relations in as many and various positions as we're still able to get into; my Poor Wife took it to mean I should get the driveway shoveled. We compromised: I cleared it enough to make sure the paramedics could get in.

The bit about "a Republican mayor" is hardly partisanship on my part, since I'm not a Democrat, and neither is the opposition party in Indiana; the last Republican mayor, Stephen "I Am Legend" Goldsmythe, routinely skimped on maintenance in order to protect his image as a tax-cutter, and would have lost his reelection bid in 1996 if the election had been held at the end of winter instead of the beginning, and if the Demopublicans had managed to nominate someone who'd ever been photographed.

Mayor Gomer's not being blamed for the shoddy work, not yet, in part because his handlers launched a highly-effective preemptive strike last October (The price of salt is up! Our trucks are aging!), and in part because that would require something resembling an adversarial Press. And the storm did dump about twice as much snow on us as predicted, but it was still supposed to be bad enough, and lengthy enough, that they should have preparting to plow all along. Instead they wasted time salting, which wasn't going to work for long, if at all. Okay, so you get wrong-footed sometimes; there's no grading on a scale. The Japanese still lost Midway, but one imagines that Nagumo didn't get to go on local teevee afterwards to explain how well everything was going.

So, posting is on Snow Holiday, but I did want to mention this. tbshrew, in comments:

Almost certainly Kristol enjoyed [a] student deferment from '70-'73...

I hold a personal advantage here, since I was a member of the '72 draft class: Nixon ended student deferments in 1971, the year of Kristol's eligibility, as part of an ongoing attempt to answer charges of favoritism in conscription before the law expired in mid-1972. My recollection is that deferments were grandfathered for people who had completed two years of college. That may not be accurate, but at any rate, Kristol could not have received one; it's possible he could have applied for one when he registered, but he would have been classified 1-H until the lottery, after which it would have been no longer available, even if he was already in college. He's a big fat liar, in other words.

Anyway, back to work, and if you think getting a savvy, desirable, middle-aged woman shit-faced drunk at 8:30 in the morning, without her realizing it before it's too late, isn't work, then you and I run in different social circles.

Tuesday, January 27

Not To Mention That People Pay To See Asashoryu.

Asashoryu's great comeback win in the just-completed Hatsu basho--going 14-1 after withdrawing from the previous three tournaments due to injury--was marred by his making this gesture afterwards. No, really. The Yokozuna Deliberation Council plans to warn him about it. Compare the career of Bill Kristol.

Richard Pérez-Peña, William Kristol's Column in The Times Ends". January 26

Michael Calderone, "Who Should Replace Bill Kristol?" January 26

Scott Horton, "The Sacking of Bill Kristol". January 26

Peter Edmonston,"Thane Says He'll Repay Remodeling Costs". January 26

YES, indeed: compare the career of Bill Kristol. I was not one of the Left Blogostaners who thought the sky was falling because the Times hired him. When your stable includes MoDo, Brooks, Friedman, Kristof, Herbert, Collins, and Rich, with John Effing Tierney departing, the sky, like your pants, is already around your ankles. We'll grant the larger issue is probably the idea that the Op-Ed Ward should be fastidiously faux-balanced according to the dictates of someone who imagines Maureen Dowd to be at the far pole of political discourse, one opposite David Brooks; obviously, if the Times would just acknowledge the lack of epistemological rigor--without even addressing the remarkably narrow "range" between "liberal" and "conservative" exemplar--things could improve overnight. How about balancing all those people who were dead wrong about Iraq, or the Bush presidency in general, or the importance of selecting a Commander-in-Chief who doesn't wear earthtones, with someone who wasn't? How about adjusting for abject careerism, Conventional Wisdom molding, or apparent sanity? Maybe one Op-Ed slot should go to someone who has actually met an American who earns less than $125,000 without having to calculate how much to tip.

Just kiddin'. Look, anyway, my problem with Kristol was not that he got the slot, so much as it was he who got the slot: no writer, no thinker, apparently holds no opinions which could not be predetermined by anyone familiar with Hudson Institute press releases, and personally and professionally dishonest. (Again I repeat--since it was on C-SPAN, making me one of thirty-five people who actually witnessed it without working there--that in August of 2002, on that morning call-in show, Mr. Kristol twice told callers that he was "too young for Vietnam". I had no idea at the time how old he was, but it was obvious the moment he said it that he was lying. In fact, it was obvious the moment he was asked the question that he had already been lying about it for years, probably decades. Kristol is in fact a year older than I, making him a member of the last draft class eligible for conscription for an entire year. He got a high draft number [rare for a December baby; they didn't mix the lotto balls thoroughly, apparently] and so was able to go right from The Collegiate School to Hahvahd Yahd. I do understand that should we decide to remove everyone who is personally dishonest from the ranks of journalism/pundithood vast stretches of teevee/newspaper/magazine reporting would go unmanned, but there are probably some arguments against doing so as well; it's just than none comes to me offhand. So Kristol, faced with incontrovertible proof of his hypocrisy--something any college grad should at least have been able to talk his way around, if not confront head-on--chose instead to lie, blatantly, in an effort to get through the following twenty minutes. There's only one reason to lie under those circumstances, and it answers the question of whether the Chickenhawk business is all feathers or marrow-deep.)

Last night I started poking around news coverage of the Kristol Dismissal, beginning with the Times own coverage, a couple hundred words from Pérez-Peña (who now tops Michael Bérubé for Most Superfluous Actions Required To Type A Last Name), including a howler artfully withheld to the last second, when Kristol says of his Times column: "It's a lot of work."

Scott Horton tops that bit, albeit unintentionally, with this from his "inside source with first-hand knowledge":
The source makes clear that the decision not to renew Kristol’s contract is not related to his neoconservative ideology—Kristol’s proximity to key Washington players ranging from Bush and Cheney to John McCain (whom he supported in 2000) was considered a distinct plus. His leading advocacy of the Iraq War also added to his appeal. Kristol was viewed as a mover and shaker whose ideas had ready impact on the political firmament in Washington.

So in other words, when hiring a by-lined opinion writer, the Times imagines that insider connections are a positive, rather than, in this case especially, an explanation for a lifetime as a sluice for slightly-liquified bullshit. Kristol--it almost goes without saying--was one of the "journalists" Scooter (or Dick) called with the Plame story. I'm pretty sure this had made the papers by December, 2007; I wonder why it didn't make the vetting process. I wonder why the Times would offer to pay for what it could get for free, aside from the fact that in printing it on the Op-Ed Ward avoids any more Judy Miller-type unpleasantness while still getting the story out. I mean, Kristol could always claim under oath that'd he'd been lying; who the hell would question that?

The real cake-topper, though, is Calderone's Politico blog, wherein Andy Rosenthal, the other end of the two-shitty-ended nepotism stick here, tells at audience at Columbia that he admires the work of Byron York and Megan McArdle. We are left, again, to explain the frequency of the modern juxtaposition of the utterly incredible and the dirt-common, as well as the self-annihilating sentence; there is, simply, no way anyone could make that statement and simultaneously maintain that words mean things.

Maybe we're just not supposed to notice. Take Peter Edmonston's piece on John Thain, the ex-Merrill Lynch CEO who spent $1 million redecorating his office last Spring, and who, like the Christian school that beat the girls with learning disabilities team 100-0 in basketball, suddenly discovered the error of his ways just after the PR snowball gained enough mass to start rolling on its own. Million-dollar 'dos belonged to an earlier era, he now realizes; namely, the one in which you didn't get called on this crap:

“They were a mistake in the light of the world we live in today."

Which, I gotta admit, sorry as either one is, still makes two more apologies for egregious behavior than Bill Kristol's ever gonna make.

Monday, January 26

I'm Guessing The Times Announced It's Kristol's Last Column So You Could Tell It From His First, Or His Second, Or...

William Kristol, "Will Obama Save Liberalism?" January 26

I was afraid Bill was going to choke in the final inning and actually say something that wasn’t instantly and flatly contradicted by observable reality, but he stepped up like a champ and protected his streak.

-Scott C

SPENT the weekend watching films, great and near-great, partly by accident. The 120-hour U-Verse DVR limit is too skimpy for me, and there's no upgrade or way to hook up an external drive, so I have to record anything I want to save, and the cheap-ass DVD recorder I bought for the purpose is quirkier than a roomful of Siamese cats. In response I do what I always do faced with balky equipment: I revert into shamanism, spouting various incantations and making the 21st century urban equivalent of blood sacrifices. I could, I suppose, just read the manual, but there are a couple of problems with that: a) I did read the manual, initially; what is now required is studying the damn thing; b) this is, I think, more effort than ought to be required by any piece of machinery costing less that $100; it ought to be like a fuckin' Chevy Chevette: obvious place to put the key, standard, intuitive, readily visible means to choose between 'D' and 'R', and no radio; and c) it's buried somewhere in the twenty-eight columnar inches of my manuals and warranties file, which dates to 1977. No, they're not in order. What kind of question was that?

The set-up requires (this much is science) that the set remained tuned to the recording, which, until a recent upgrade, meant it had to be performed on the main teevee, the only one which could play recorded material. As a result I try to slip recording time in at odd hours. One of the magickal oblations involves leaving the set on, since nearly every time I haven't the recording gets fucked somehow. I think that's the technical term. Anyway, this meant that beginning early Friday I watched the filmic, arty, Royal Shakespeare Company Lear from 1971, followed by Paths of Glory and Easy Living, which I watched in part. Then Friday night my Poor Wife was making sure the bedroom remote had the same hair-trigger as the two downstairs, until she landed on Dr. Strangelove, fortuitously at the beginning of the scene with George C. Scott and his secretary, which stopped her dead in her tracks in a way Slim Pickens changing from helmet to cowboy hat in a crisis might not've, and we watched the rest of the way through.

My knees were objecting to being kept in bed after that, so I came downstairs and watched The Rules of the Game, my first purchase upon belated entry into the DVD world, a film I've seen thirty times and still see differently on each viewing. After that I went looking online for Ruggles of Red Gap (the real one) for my Poor Wife's birthday, but found the only available copy is an import missing (so someone says at Amazon) a scene. (This is an abomination; where's Criterion?) This led me Sunday morning to check out the racks at Fry's, and bring home Criterion's The 3rd Man, not as a birthday present but a replacement for the copy she'd bought some time ago at Half-Price Books, which came from Alpha Video, specialists in fast and indifferent transfers of a collection of copyright-free films taped over rabbit ears and stored in a car trunk for twenty years, apparently. We watched Shadowing the Third Man, an excellent 90-minute documentary about the production, though it controversially suggests that Orson Welles was something of a jerk, and my Poor Wife reports that she can't see the later, goateed Orson without hearing John Candy doing him on SCTV, so now I can't, either. She went to bed; I treated my insomnia to Fellini's The White Sheik.

This was supposed to be the long way around (please, O Reader! you expect that, no?) of noting how much I enjoyed the escape, but then I ran into Kristol's column and the conflicting note at the end:

This is William Kristol’s last column.

Which cannot possibly be true, beyond the bounds of the Times Op-Ed Ward (hence the conflict; I feel no need of having Bill Kristol to kick around, which we'll have anyway). And somehow with the opening words (I did not yet realize it was the swan song, of sorts, of the fugly duck, the trumpeter chickenhawk):
All good things must come to an end. Jan. 20, 2009, marked the end of a conservative era.

Since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, conservatives of various sorts, and conservatisms of various stripes, have generally been in the ascendancy. And a good thing, too! Conservatives have been right more often than not — and more often than liberals — about most of the important issues of the day: about Communism and jihadism, crime and welfare, education and the family. Conservative policies have on the whole worked — insofar as any set of policies can be said to “work” in the real world. Conservatives of the Reagan-Bush-Gingrich-Bush years have a fair amount to be proud of.

I saw my weekend in an entirely different light. I had watched two of the films most admired in cinema history for, among other things, the presentation of human morality as confused and complex, not black and white (for that matter, even the Sturgis-penned Depression-era screwballs break the mold; the Ur-libertarian banker and his profligate playboy son have hearts as well as bathroom fixtures of gold, while the clucking hens of Boys' Companion Magazine are ready to think their narrow-minded worst of someone). Fellini gently chided morality for its tone-deafness; if Strangelove and Paths of Glory painted their villains in broader strokes, still they were fools as well as murderous martinets. And from Lear, of course, not just the foul corruption of power, but the swift cosmic retribution for utter stupidity in statecraft.

Good Lord; I'd been watching thirty years of "conservative ascendancy".

There's really no question about the discrepancy; Kristol's had the best education money can buy. His recurring mantra, that the last thirty years of "Conservatism", viewed through the prism of "Conservatism", has been a roaring success, provided one filter out all evidence to the contrary, is a function, not a bug-wit.

We would, just for starters, argue that this "ascendency"--not of "conservatism" with or without quotes, but of Rightist extremism--dates to Nixon's brilliant and cowardly Southern strategy, and thus has crested forty. And we'd ask What's been accomplished? The Crackpot Rightist litany of complaints is the same as it ever was; Sarah Palin's gurgling hardly differs from Spiro Agnew's. Reproductive rights, despite four decades of hammering, still reside with the individual where they have not been rodent-gnawed at the edges; we're more diverse and multi-cultural than ever. Backwoods moralism is everywhere on the run, even in your own party last election, Billy. Public school biology classes are still part of the science curriculum, and prayer is restricted to silent, individual efforts to see one's classmates burst into flames, or to get laid. If a facile hero-worship still rules common sense in the matter of military spending and global adventurism, well, 'twas ever thus, at least since the Whisky Rebellion, and exempting brief periods when the public's lust for Glory ran headlong into the Army's Need for Cannon Fodder (I'm sorry. Did that hurt, Bill?). No amount of post-defeat lying about Iraq is going to usher us on to Damascus, Billy-boy. You got your shot, you ran with it, and you broke the Army, and US hard-power capabilities, worse than Nam did. We celebrate Martin Luther King's birthday now, not Bull Connor's. Even the National Review's stopped calling him a Red. I think.

But hey, everyone has his reasons, as Renoir said. It hasn't been all disaster. There's all the tax-cutting, though we might be forced to mention that thirty years covers the period between Reagan grandstanding about signing the trillion-dollar debt ceiling and the Bush administration handing us trillion-dollar debts per year. The single-handedly defeated Soviets are still a pitful, helpless giant. The Vietnam Memorial you tried to stop as insufficiently faux-patriotic love so much is the most popular stop in Washington, D.C. Daniel Ortega's still out of power. Grenada's still free. National Airport and one of our two-dozen surplus aircraft carriers are still named for St. Ronnie. We're safer than ever. George W. Bush leaves office not nearly as hated as Dick Cheney.

And Bill Kristol who has a column in the Op-Ed funhouse of the World's Most Liberal Newspaper gets to tell us that Barack Obama, plopped hopefully into the morass the past forty years of "Conservative" ascendancy brought us, has a four-year opportunity to clean it all up and prove to Bill Kristol that "liberalism" is worthy of the four decades just past, though I'm guessing he's not going to remain an impartial observer in that time. And like the rest of his fantasies, I suppose it's a damned good try, if that's the sort of thing you like, or else a pretty fair treatment for a black comedy.

Sunday, January 25

The Continuing Struggle To Reconcile The Recent Defeat Of The Republican Party With The Blinding Stupidity Of Apparently Eligible Voters

I'M at Target. If you must know, I was buying a wire-mesh wastebasket. Okay, since you're now saying "Wastebasket? I thought the Riley household didn't waste anything", it was to house my collection of juggling balls, beanbags, clubs, and cigar boxes formerly located on a chair in my office, plus somewhere to the south, east, west, and north somewhat. Anyway, I have one item. I'm heading for the checkout. I am ready, I think, for anything.

My new Target is now a few months old, meaning that even if the economy weren't in the crapper they'd be cutting back on cashiers by now. So there's a little back-up, but I manage to find a line that's wrapping up one customer with only one ahead of me. And yes, I should have known this was an ill-omen, thanks.

Now, the woman in front of me is older than I, maybe approaching elderly, but she also looks like one of the professional elderly, like she smelled something unpleasant in 1962 and her face stuck like that. Plus her dress code is strictly First Thanksgiving.

So the first thing that happens is that while her purchases are being rung up an equal-sized pile is remaining behind on the conveyor belt, and in front of the pile is what appears to be a Target gift-card. I immediately figure I've managed to get behind a phantom shopper. You know the sort? There's one person in line ahead of you, but she accounts for three or four separate transactions, because not only can none of her friends venture out in pursuit of their own sundries, none of them can do math or make change. Which does tend to call into question all the Chicken Little reports about modern public education.

But hey, okay, there are shut-ins and such; I'm a charitable fellow. But it seems to me that if you need someone else to do your shopping you could just kick in the change for travel expenses, plus maybe I'd like to get the medicine home before Baby's croup gets any worse. But, okay. Ready for anything. I'm now a couple feet back from the transaction, because her stuff is still spread across the entire length of the conveyor, and the cashier gives her the first total, and she says--do not get ahead of me--but the shelf said it was on sale for $40, not $70.

And the cashier explains that the item rings up for full price, but then she gets the discount.

Now, I'm not sure it precisely was a gift card, but whatever it was the clerk instructed her to swipe it through the credit card deal, and this was a foreign concept to her. You have my complete sympathy, lady. But it's enough of a mystery that the two of them manage to complete a register pas de deux that locks everything up for forty-five seconds. Then there's a couple more swipes, one by each, before it takes, and the Grant Wood painting come to life is just sort of standing there, frozen, and the clerk hands her the stylus and says, you have to sign.

At this point I am thanking god I didn't go with the cast-iron wastebasket.

Now she looks down at the little screen, and suddenly she's got the eyes of a twenty-year old. "But this says I agree to pay this amount. I don't agree. It's supposed to be forty dollars, not seventy!"

So the cashier explains, yes, well, we have to do this in this order; your final price will be $40, which will be taken off at the end of the transaction.

"But I don't agree to pay $70."

"You're not paying $70. It will..."

"But it says I agree."

"Just a moment, m'am."

"It says 'I agree'. I don't agree."

I will give the clerk credit; when she hit the button to light up the flashing beacon for "Manager needed" it was without any sign of rancor. Professionalism is professionalism.

I was simultaneously selecting which of the remaining three lines I wanted to be third in, unfortunately failing to adjust for the breeze from the guy behind me shoving into it first. That one moved along as expected, about a quarter off Indifferent. I'd made it to next up when back behind me the second manager arrived to reinforce the first, who was looking like a man who'd just realized he left his pills in a different jacket.

Friday, January 23

Okay, So He Wasn't Perfect. No President Is Ever Perfect. So Stop Criticizing Him For Not Being Perfect, Already!

Karl Rove, "Bush Was Right When It Mattered Most". January 22

THE Times lets us know that some of the Bush43* Jolly Junketeers had their feelings hurt by what they felt was personal criticism of their man in Barack Hussein Obama's inaugural speech. Mr. Rove, apparently, was among them (though that's not what the piece some staffer wrote his Journal column would have you believe). Meaning--do not get ahead of me--that the same administration, some of the same people, and, in fact, its very political architect, who came to power with an orchestrated six-week effort to cover their criminal enterprise--and their criminal incompetence--with a series of personal attacks on their predecessor, leave it with a hissy fit.

It's fitting, yes, and again we ask "why not?" and "who ever deserved it more?"

Which ought to be enough: we're sick of you people; have you not been out in sunlight in the past four years? Just go away. Cheney's found happiness speaking to the twenty-five people in the country who wouldn't rather kill him. You can too. (Karl, maybe you could orchestrate another takeover of the College Republicans! Sounds like fun. Although it still won't get you laid.) If you insist otherwise we can go on like this; at some point you're going to stop commanding whatever interest that now remains, except on FOX, and the real truth will start coming out, at which point you'll wish you'd taken this time to dig fallout shelters.

I remind you Joe Fucking Klein complained about the Vandalgate story, and he might as well have been a member of your administration, and look what it got him. Like the groundhog, only six more weeks of slime. Not a rhetorical denunciation of failed policies at a time of great national anger over what was done in our name, but patently false accusations, planted and fanned in the Press. Oh, of course, the Court-appointed President didn't sully his hands with it; it was just his Press Secretary and Sources in the Administration who Spoke on Condition of Anonymity. Yeah, that fooled us.

So as much as one is tempted to say "Eat it, assholes, and remember it's just the appetizer course," or "Tell it to Max Cleland, Fuckface," and be done with you, the rules are pretty clear, and you wrote them: it's the President's job to say "Nothing to see here, folks"; the rest of us are supposed to keep it alive indefinitely, amid general merriment. So the intrepid blogger follows the link to hear just what The Brain has to say (or whoever wrote it; my own doubts about The Brain's ratiocenations are well established, but if this is an example of his work, and what wowed 'em in the Oval Office for seven years, we're lucky to be getting off with just a few major disasters). Let's climb aboard the Former Air Force One with the other freeloaders, shall we?
The former president and his wife thanked each passenger, showing the thoughtfulness and grace so characteristic of this wonderful American family.

And they smelled like the wild mountain thyme, I suppose. Fuck, aren't we to expect that Bush's days of revealing his true nature in public are finally behind him? Aside from all those inadvertent revelations every time he opens his mouth, I mean? Conversely, are we to expect we'd hear the truth from Karl Rove if they weren't?
Yet, as Mr. Bush left Washington, in a last angry frenzy his critics again distorted his record, maligned his character and repeated untruths about his years in the Oval Office. Nothing they wrote or said changes the essential facts.

Which are exponentially worse than even they know.
To start with, Mr. Bush was right about Iraq.

Well, it's a relief to finally get that settled.
The world is safer without Saddam Hussein in power.

No doubt about it; today the world is a safer place.
And the former president was right to change strategy and surge more U.S. troops.

Complimenting Bush on The Surge is like applauding Karl Wallenda for his final landing. Okay, sure, you keep going with what worked for ya, but look: number one, "The Surge" was not a change in "strategy"; it was not even a change in tactics, the category it properly belongs in. It was a PR cover for doing precisely what we had been doing, while stretching it out until the end of the administration in a worthless bid to save face. We "surged" an additional 15-20,000 troops, to return our troop level to around 150,000, roughly where it had been all along after the opening weeks. But we weren't at 130,000 because of some "strategic" decision; we were there because we've worn out our manpower and matériel. We increased levels, not by employing troops which had been hangin' 'round the PX at Fort Dix, but by increasing the deployment time of troops already in Iraq, and shortening the already insufficient R&R of those who'd come home. If we've pacified (for now) Sunni chieftains by buying them off (which we started doing before The Surge) it merely underlines how completely unprepared we were to face post-war Iraq in 2003, and how idiot ideologies trumped sound practice for years. If the Sunni have driven out foreign elements, well, it goes to show how few there were to begin with, through all that time you were insisting we were fighting al-Qaeda. Finally, and plainly, it's rather easy to say Iraq is on the Mend (there. I just said it.), but what happens in the long term is anyone's guess, and it's not going to have a fucking thing to do with The Surge. Although, if you think things're so great, why not winter there this year? Maybe you and 43 can fly in together, in broad daylight, on a commercial flight. You know, like Ahmadinejad did.
Mr. Bush was right to establish a doctrine that holds those who harbor, train and support terrorists as responsible as the terrorists themselves.

Next stop Pakistan!
These tough decisions -- which became unpopular in certain quarters only when memories of 9/11 began to fade -- kept America safe for seven years and made it possible for Mr. Obama to tell the terrorists on Tuesday "we will defeat you."

First, what made it possible for President Barack Hussein Obama to mouth off to terrorists is the same thing that made it possible for you: chest thumping is rarely fatal, and frequently rewarded.

Second, "in certain quarters"? Where? Who's forgotten 9/11? Same people who were insufficiently overjoyed by Saddam Hussein's capture? You gotta try getting out more, now that you've got some free time. It was your fucking fault. You had every opportunity to set things right, time and time again, and you stayed the course, remember? Who kept fucking with that stupid Color Alert Scale, anyway?
Mr. Bush was right to be a unilateralist when it came to combating AIDS in Africa. While world leaders dithered, his President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief initiative brought lifesaving antiretroviral drugs to millions of Africans.

Okay, two things here: as much as we appreciate the antiretrovirals, tripling aid to Africa while 50% of the increase goes to Abstinence Programs which have no connection whatever to the problem is a unilateral Republican absurdity. Second, it's simply amusing to hear this one touted as Bush's African Legacy (worked on Katie Couric, there Karl; I guess that counts for something); where was it on the campaign trail? It's like you've fallen to #18 on the list. "Never hit anybody with a golf ball".
At home, Mr. Bush cut income taxes for every American who pays taxes. He also cut taxes on capital, investment and savings. The result was 52 months of growth and the strongest economy of any developed country.

Aw, what th' hell? Sure. Nice handling of the economy. Bravo. Tax cuts worked like a charm. I hope every American voter'll remember you for it. And this is the best damn Tootsie Roll I've ever had. Enjoy your time off. May it seem like forever.

* julia informs us that Bush's Oval Office Note was headed "From 43 to 44"; even worse, we find that Politico's Obama coverage is called Politico44. This faux-jock bonhomie, this reductio ad NASCAR, cannot be allowed to stand, if not for the sake of the Republic, at least out of respect for my lunch.

Thursday, January 22

Children Held Hostage By Death Cultists

I'M scanning the Times this morning and I note the latest of our biennial battles over teaching 20th century biology in schools has begun in Texas (of all places), over a little-noted and much-ignored requirement that students critique "the strengths and weaknesses" of all scientific theories.

And the first thing that pops into my head is "Blah, blah, blah", followed by my most recent experience with Parker, the pernicious kindergartner from next door, who got into the house Tuesday afternoon on the pretense that his mother wasn't home, and immediately asked if we had a laptop. I talk with him from time to time, and I'm fairly convinced he's a bit weak in the analytical thinking department; forcing him to consider various knots and alternate theories of fastenings would probably do little except delay his mastery of shoe-tying several weeks, if not months. We gave him a sugar-free soda and let him play with the cat. With the Cartoon Network on. Young multi-tasker.

Next was the fact that this time around the exercise in small-town small-mindedness writ to Commonwealth scale is being spearheaded by a Young Earth dentist, and I had to wonder if he thinks A Good Talk With Jesus should be taught as a critical-thinking-man's alternative to the professional treatment of dental caries.

But as I read on, depressingly familiar argument after argument--and the required allotment of time for the well-heeled Discovery Institute to insist it isn't a Creationist front--something was nagging at me, and I was near the end when it suddenly crystallized. It was in paragraph two, and it's so familiar that it was hiding in plain sight:
The debate here has far-reaching consequences; Texas is one of the nation’s biggest buyers of textbooks, and publishers are reluctant to produce different versions of the same material.

Now, I've been listening to this for thirty years, since "Doctor" Duane Gish and Creationism v.1.0: California and Texas get to dictate what's in everybody's textbooks because of their buying power. But doesn't that belong to the era of Linotype? It's 2009 (that is right, isn't it?). If textbook manufacturers still can't insert or excise a paragraph somewhere and still make a profit it seems like someone would be eating their lunch somewhere. I mean, the kids today are all shopping at places like The Doghouseblogshop at CafePress, where inventive and attractive designs people spent an entire afternoon thinking up are custom-printed to your order on a variety of items you'll wonder how you ever lived without. Thirty years was long enough for the notorious slow-learners in the American electorate to catch on to Reaganism; maybe it's time the Prairie Barbarians fund their own Continuing Ignorance programs.

Wednesday, January 21


• Now that it's possible, how 'bout we end the smirky, smarmy '41' and '43' business, and clear up any further confusion over whether President Bush means George Herbert Weepy or George Doofus, Jr., by never referring to either of them ever again?

• Or at least not as "President". "The Defendant" would be acceptable.

• Mr. Real President, who, now that you are safely ensconced in the office I would like to begin referring to as "Barack Hussein Obama" at every opportunity--it's not quite so funny now that he's really the President, eh, wingnuttosphere?--just who was it decided to punt on the speech, and why? Afraid of trying to live up to your reputation? I'm agnostic about it, myself--and some other things we'll get to in a moment--but it felt like turning up for some big-name rock star who plays nothing but his new material, straight through, no encore.

• Going short was good--you wanna draw parallels to Lincoln that's a good place to start--but how do you go short and still have filler? Valley Forge? Whoever put that there should be named US Trade Representative to the Northern Mariana Islands, starting tomorrow.

• Same, and long overdue, for this Westward Ho the Wagons shit. This country was settled by slaughtering the indigenous peoples and destroying their way of life. We can argue about smallpox, if you really want to; we can note that those peoples were, in their turn, frequently as ruthless and bloodthirsty as the rest of our damnable species. But the general pattern is clear: Europeans, especially the English and Spanish, and less so the French, took the land for their own use, through numerical and technical superiority and certain biological advantages (disease, horses), slaughtering and enslaving thousands; and the United States of America warred on any tribe with the impudence not to git when we said Git, then broke the resultant treaties as soon as it was desirable.

I'm not saying I was hoping you'd announce you'd be reviewing every treaty back to 1778, in your office, starting noon Friday. Anybody who'd run on such a platform--or, hell, was discovered to have expressed the idea in an undergraduate paper, for that matter--is not going to be elected President. But lemme tell you a little story.

My wife has been watching a particular soap opera since her college days. She used to have to catch up on vacations; now we get Soap Net. And I've been known to sit in, just to spoil her fun.

And here's the thing: there will be the most ridiculous story lines designed to get someone from A to B; currently, as one example, one of the wealthiest women in the world has suffered transient global amnesia, been declared dead and buried (it was actually her doppelgänger, a waitress from the wrong side of the tracks. I'm not sure how many doppelgängers this makes over the last twenty years). But wait, that's not the ridiculous part. She's arrested for trespassing on her own property--the cops in town don't recognize one of their most illustrious citizens, of course, but that's not the ridiculous part, and thrown in the clink for what seems to be several days without a court appearance. And my question, my usual question, is this: given that you'd settled on this absurd chain of events, and given even that you imagine the conventions of the genre give you a free hand with Coincidence, Probability, and advances in DNA testing, how hard could it be to write it so that it doesn't insult the intelligence at every fucking turn? If we need this "toiling, straining, carving out a better life for their descendants" routine, does it have to be at the expense of our knowledge of the enormity that came before?

• Going topical, well, your call, and who knows? I'm all for slagging the greedy, of course, and the line about "favoring only the prosperous" was when you were in your best rhythm. (Speaking of which, can we do something about that lack of modulation, or is it simply too late and you too famous to bear correction? You're good one on one; you certainly are capable of taking flight; but every speech sounds like you practiced it with a bullhorn. Vast stretches of the transcript ought to be typed in ALL CAPS. Silence. Spaces. Mezzo-fucking-piano, dude.) I just think your audience wanted to soar.

• And thanks for sneaking me in at the back there, sir, but in a day given to interminable expectant exhortations of the Almighty, who, so far as we know, remains steadfastly on the side of the bigger battalions, may I just note that I'm not a Non-Believer? I am, under the circumstances, a Dis-Believer. It's not that I chose not to participate; I think you're all full of shit. If we could at least get that much settled I'll go back to being more patient about my second-class citizenship than y'all have a right to expect. 

• Why was John "Box Turtle" Cornyn seated so prominently? What's it going to take before The Comically Oversized Stetson is recognized as the path-crossing black cat of Presidential inaugurations?

• Dick Cheney. I believe we now know why he's really been hidden for seven years: because he's a fucking drama queen with a gun. If I didn't know better I'd swear he did it just for the satisfaction of taking someone else's handicapped space. I am also now convinced that it's really Lynn who's been running the VP's office all this time.

• "...not Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, nor Dan Senor will miss any meals"
-Jimbo Riley, January 18, 2009

So thanks, CBS, for making all our dreams come true, not just by hiring Bartlett, but having him on hand so that Katie's platitudes wouldn't just hang in the air unseconded. Oooh, Dan Bartlett is wishing the new President well!  Gee, I guess the extremist Right really is reasonable! I watched the speech on C-SPAN, but I turned over to CBS for a slog just after, in time to hear Katie ask Dan "What's the overwhelming feeling right now for President Bush?" which was not answered with "Drunk, probably" or "God, Katie, do you still not realize the man's dumb as a stump and a complete sociopath?" but, instead, more platitudes. Let the Weasel Soar, indeed. At one point Bartlett said he didn't think Bush would "try to interject himself into the public debate". Thank you, Amazing Kreskin. After Katie volunteered the African legacy bullshit, Bartlett said something about how Bush had "given voice to people living under authoritarian regimes". I know, I know, I'm a little older than Dan, but I distinctly remember Jeanne Kirkpatrick saying we liked authoritarians. Tempus fucking fugit, I guess.

• There was someone on hand--he couldn't get a word in edgewise, so I'm not sure who it was--who finally managed to note above the Bush panegyric that a lot of people were just thrilled to see him go. Which caused Katie to suddenly go all epistemological on us, and Dan to add that this was true of every President. Sure, Dan. Just never as true. Thanks for your help.

• Even better, though, was a taped exit deal when some CBS news supernumerary or other told the story of "one of the most touching moments in recent inaugural history", which gave me about 0.5 sec to think "it's gonna be Reagan". And sure enough, it was the tale of that bittersweet moment when the Just Ex-President and Unindicted Co-Criminal, flying over the White House on his way to personal oblivion and public aircraft carrier christenings, said--as the CBS flunkey had it--"Look, honey, it's our little bungalow." Awwwwww. And everybody broke down, included hardened Secret Service men, he says.

Oh, yeah. My Poor Wife reports students openly weeping in the hallways after hearing that one in class.

Look, maybe if you've still got the man's dessicated member in your mouth the Lou Cannonization of Reagan is touching, and never mind that it's entirely possible by that point he thought it was a bungalow.  Or a painting. Or the in-flight movie. But as far as I'm concerned it's a first-class example of how Wit and Wisdom were devalued in those days, and with predictable long-term results. Plus, he called his wife "Mommy," not "honey". Funny how that little detail got garbled.

Tuesday, January 20

Programming Note

IT'S a day for other people to make speeches, not to take note of what I hope, for what's left of his sake, is the worst thing Christopher Hitchens ever wrote, and not just in terms of its subject (Wow, you just gave Oliver Fucking Stone a flesh wound!). You may already have formed some notion of how I view the breathless celebritization of presidential inaugurations, versus the genuine significance of the speech, and you're probably correct. Even so respected an orator as The Next President seems somehow to take a back seat to The Hoopla, in which people who would otherwise be fawning over the Oscars™ get to imagine they are doing so, quadrennially, thankfully, in the service of something serious, and historical, and earth-shaking, when they're really only interested in determining the night's Winners and Losers in the fashion derby.

In this I am not the mere prisoner of irascibility, innate or cultivated, the dour profile of my Midwestern upbringing, nor my sans-culottes political tastes: the first Inaugural in my active memory is John Kennedy's in 1961, which set a damned high standard for speechmaking that all intervening speeches have failed even to approach; as the gowns and the glittering stage costumes have become exponentially more dazzling the speeches have mostly huddled in Pat Nixon's Good Republican Cloth Coat, yet failed to ward off the cold. (It's interesting, too, that the recent Inaugural Hoopla follows almost the same arc as the Republic at large: revived by the wrong-headed Truman, heedless of the size of the snowball, the general downhill trajectory he was launching it on, or the avalanche field 100 meters below; quixotically downsized to something befitting a democratic society, and government, both poised to benefit from post-Renaissance advances in thinking, by Jimmy Carter, who was promptly taken out and pummeled for the affront; returned to its full ersatz, Old Hollywood Todd-AO pseudo-Glamor by President Nancy and Ronald Reagan, who managed to quadruple the number of inaugural balls as a warm up to tackling the National Debt; followed by Bill Clinton, who just couldn't stop himself. George W. Bush's featured Ricky Martin.)

As well, y'know, I do not share this visceral reaction to Presidential melanin. It is not that I don't understand those who do. I don't understand the "how far we've come on race" business, which seems to me, if it needs illustrating--and a better way of doing that, I think, is a hard look at where we were--is much better shown by the ability of Denzel Washington or Samuel L. Jackson to open movies that could have as easily gone to Bruce Willis, and that Oprah is not only the most powerful person on earth, but also its Lit teacher. Those are every-day realities; the odds on Barack Obama becoming President were long, regardless of his skin color. Conversely, the idea that his skin color was some sort of impediment to getting the nomination of the Democratic party was simply one of those fantasy simulations his rabid blog-o-sphere fanboys ran when they needed to explain their natural superiority to the backwoods residents of Pennsylvania or Indiana, states which ultimately went to Obama in the general, it should be noted, and without need of further exegesis. I mean, God Knows that Chronos could have been kinder to Barbara Jordan, but then her gender, her sexual orientation, and her multiple sclerosis all probably cost her more than her heritage. It seems, if anything, that people are celebrating the fact that Democratic party power brokers conceded that an African-American could be elected President, provided he was a remarkably attractive candidate, raised a lot of money, and the Republican party was lying face down in its own sick. Call me when they decide an un-photogenic lesbian atheist socialist with a minute knowledge of the US role in South and Central America is just what the ticket needs. I'm in the book.

Frankly, I'm more excited about having a President who can speak, and I'm hoping--foolishly--that it might start a trend which could eventually find its way to local news, where I have been enduring a week-long festival of coiffure models who cannot pronounce the word "inaugural". You try joining in the excitement under the circumstances. Out of no fewer than seventeen I have heard exactly one do it right, and she was sporadic about it. In-nawg-er-ul. In-aw-gurr-ation. Channel 8 managed to give one of its bench players the historic overview piece where he mangled it as every fifth word for two-and-a-half fucking minutes. Indeed, the damn thing has partnered with historic much like Bonnie teamed with Clyde; somebody last night tossed us to "the historic streets of Our Nation's Capital" where one of her satellite henchmen was standing on the historic sidewalk in front of an historic wrought-iron fence. I suppose I should be thanking god that he's called the Vice-President, and not dep-a-dee something-or-other, and I suppose we're all thankful we don't have to wait until Feb-a-wary.

Small blessings, though, were soured somewhat by the occasional break from the Celebrifest to discuss "the massive security problem" with counter-terr-iz-im experts. On the grounds, I suppose, that these guys don't want to be called "Security", since it draws unfavorable parallels between their own real expertise and the policing acumen of the average mall cop. And, no doubt, because the nets don't have any "counter-Republican experts" on the payroll *.

* cheap shot

Sunday, January 18

Heil and Farewell

I SUPPOSE the Limbaughs, the Aileses, the Malkenseses, the Bozells, and the Cornerites will be with us Always; like cockroaches, the clap, and shithouse rats, the seamless melding of vermin and environment is the difference between evolutionary success and failure, and God's Own Blowtorch burns hot but sadly indiscriminate. In truth I have no real idea how they and their ilk will fare in the coming years, but I do know that conventional recourses--accuracy, honesty, shame, ridicule, decency--have proven notoriously non-lethal to this point. Though it is also the case that a strong, if minority, opinion holds they must be kept around lest in eliminating them entirely we fall prey to some more loathsome insect, one with the possibility of approaching human-like cognitive functions.

Somewhere, this time next year, a Britt Hume or a Sean Hannity will discuss "the news" on FOX, a Richard Perle or a Frank Gaffney will pocket a speaking fee, a David Frum or a Glenn Beck will assault innocent NPR listeners. A year from now Laura Bush's book will be one year closer to the remainder bin, and, if the wind is southerly, Condi Rice might be close to finding a deal for hers. Peggy Noonan will see angels or talk to monuments. The economy is always sunny for fixers and image consultants and lobbyists and button men; not Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, nor Dan Senor will miss any meals. Colin Powell will eke out a living intoning military-sounding management tips when he's not helping his wife vandalize public schools for that sweet, tax-exempt largesse. Whatever Dick Cheney is up to will, like an iceberg, remain 9/10ths hid, but a glimpse at the remainder will be enough to confirm that it's constructed of taxpayer dollars, severed baby parts, and bullshit. And somewhere Jonah Goldberg will say something that is both stupider and lazier than anything anyone's ever said before.

The Wheel goes 'round, the Moving Finger writes; the new Fall shows are just eight months away. We don't pretend to remember every atrocity, scandal, fuck-up, or Remarkable Act of Brave Cupidity this administration has foist upon us, and, frankly, at my age it's all begun to blend into Nixon and Reagan, anyway. We're too old to try to cheer anyone up, and anyhow it was never exactly our line. We say, only, enjoy this Rogue's gallery if you can, and let it stand for the hundreds of others time, space, and even the generous free hosting limits of a Blogger account prevent us from picturing here. They're far from gone, and many of those who're not presently incarcerated but are of no current use to what are euphemistically known as "Republican donors" will shortly be drawing government pensions. If we can't be cheery about it, we can at least express our hope, and our hope that many share our hope, that the filthy scum stain these people left on the Tidal Basin is their high-water mark, at least until the next hard rain.

"Pickles", your popularity was always based on the public's desperate
hope that, if it came to it, you'd prove up to the task of putting
poison in the man's Dr. Pepper. This being no longer needed, you're
about to find out just how deep that popularity ran.


KathERINE "Are You Here For an Affair?" Harris

The Hammer

Condimelda (thanks, Chris)

Bill "The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing" Frist

L. Paul "I Was Only Issuing Orders" Bremer

John "The Perfect Backdrop" Negroponte (thanks, Alex)

Rare support for Democracy among Congressional Republicans

A proud, proud moment for us all.

New Iraqi flag. Rumors it was designed by Simone Ledeen proved unfounded,
and besides, she took an Art class.

Cheer up, Mary. You'll always have Jimbo.

Mary "I Got Mine" Cheney

Bud Day, Patriot.

Meghan O'Sullivan. I understand you're not one of the major culprits, but look: I smoked dope constantly from 1969 to 1976, and I concluded that, high or not, I should not pursue a career where my decisions would impinge on public safety. Having posed for that sort of picture should have told you the same.

Monica Goodling. The Strategic Orgasm program is long overdue.

Former Representative Mark Foley (right), West Palm Beach, FL.

Ben Domenech, author.

Ken Blackwell, voting rights activist.

James "I Sorry, That Line Is Busy" Tobin

Ever notice how those WSJ gravures look like mug shots, but never are?

Darleen "Former Boeing Executive" Druyun (story here in case you missed it.)

Michael "On To Damascus" Ledeen

Holy Joe. In the spirit of that bipartisanship the kids are all diggin' today.

Friday, January 16

Hey, Cowboy, That Brush Ain't Gonna Clear Itself, If You Know What I Mean.


LOOK, Fuckhead:

First thing: just because David McCullough gave Truman a big sloppy tonguebath in 1993, it doesn't mean we won the Korean War retroactively.

Too subtle for you? Well, I'm sorry, but then what isn't?

Let's put it this way, then: first, fifty years post-Truman--it was forty when McCullough's book won a Pulitzer--isn't an historical perspective; it's people on either side of an issue still arguing it in real time, but on faded upholstery. Second, what's said by the sort of historian, or demi-political-historial populizer, who typically answers the call when Newsweek, or Commentary, or Rolling Stone decides to run a Top 100 list, isn't History, either. Last, what Americans have to say about it is only a fraction of the story, though I sure don't expect you to understand that one.

Harry Truman was a man, like you, almost totally unprepared to be President, and who, like you, was of questionable intellect for the job. Like you, he ignored his experienced Secretary of State in favor of listening to cranks, crackpots, and political fixers, to the long-term detriment of his country. Unlike you he had what is usually termed a "personality", as opposed to a series of spasmodic mannerisms and alcohol blackouts driven by a low-grade intellect and held together by ski. And also unlike you, he had some discernable positive qualities aside from never wearing blue shoes with a brown suit.

Any canonization, even elevation to some alternate Calendar designed as a sop for the terminally superstitious masses, requires a lot of Wite-Out. In Truman's case this includes assuming the Cold War was both justified and worth the nearly incalculable cost; pretending that the accidental President reneging on the four-termer's Big Three agreements was warranted because Stalin was a tyrant and Henry Wallace a Pinko; convincing oneself that the handling of Korea made sense, then or now; accepting the idea that select folktales of the semitic peoples directed that payment for the Nazi genocide be made by people who were 1500 miles away and had nothing whatever to do with it; imagining that specious anti-Communism trumped the enormity of Colonialism, even at the expense of our WWII allies in Indochina and elsewhere; dissembling the results of that belief; and, for the contemporary reader, perpetuating the idea that Truman's righteous desegregation of the armed forces was, in fact, carried out at the time.

And look, whatever happened in the interim, at least in 1948 we were sure the Soviet Union existed; compare the endless waste of time, lives and treasure you've sent us on with metaphysical certainty, where the only real enemy may be the one we're creating. Whatever else he did, Truman did not order the bombing of Vienna in 1946 on the grounds that they weren't with us when it counted.

Sure, we can argue these points, if you like, but that's not the point. The point is that the man who confidently (if "confident" is not too feeble a word) invaded Iraq to clear out the vast stores of nu-cue-lar and biological weapons might by now be conditioned to look both ways before he jumps to conclusions based on "what everybody thinks".

This, of course, is not what you're really up to. You don't give a shit about History, where the profit margin is thin; you have, being suddenly left alone in that big House you should have been smart enough to stay out of in the first place--yes, we grant you enough intelligence to have seen the mistake you were making, both personal and in the name of the country you profess fealty to when required; it is your biggest failure, you fucking fake cowpoke, that you went ahead anyway and figured at worst it'd be another Harken deal, and you'd come out clean again--left alone now, we say, the true George W. Bush comes out. And the true George W. Bush turns out to be the one your detractors--fucking assholes--knew all along: vain, supercilious, and stupid, a man whose every public pretense was a lie. You're the guy who "didn't read polls", who "governed from the gut"; now you're fucking pleading for one last shot of attention, while simultaneously pretending that you aren't. It's difficult to believe you could really believe we'd buy it, except we know you, and we know your track record, and we know the shell game your party's run for forty years now. You weren't smart enough, and you got took. We suppose that, to the extent you recognize it, it rankles more seriously than your reputation with the Great Unwashed, because you were always one of the Sharpies so long as you could play with house money. You, and your party, have fully insulated yourselves from the Reality community, which may help you sleep nights, but it's that community which was right about you all along. You're an intellectual disaster and an emotional trainwreck, an incurious ideologue and a criminal sociopath. You're a pathetic liar. And you're not just stupid, you're a fool.

And now you're done.

And now you imagine you can fool us, when the only people left to fool are those saw through you all along, and those who learned the hard way.  And now you imagine how satisfying it will be when, in forty years' time, some blip of a marketing opportunity causes someone yet unborn to write about how misunderstood your Presidency was, how tough you had it, how you tried. And that somewhere, on hearing the news, your nurse will prop that smirk on your face one final time, and you'll get to laugh at the suckers one last time on your way to Hell.

So long, fuckhead. May your retirement be a long, long one.

Thursday, January 15

They Think The Blurting May Be A Mild Form Of Tourette's

"Dunno, but last I checked, no one's announced that the White House is booked and won't be ready for occupancy on Monday."

--James "Jimbo" Riley, responding to his wife's question about what was in the news today, then hoping he wasn't giving anybody ideas.

Let Us Now Apologize To Dick Cheney

Pattern from recreation of the Harry Whittington shooting. The discrepancy 
between the target's wounds and Whittington's still baffle ballistic scientists 
when they're sober.

I HAVE a confession to make, which is another way I'm pretty much the opposite of Dick Cheney: I've never found him the slightest bit interesting, and I don't now that I've roped myself into writing about him. This is not the expression of my own taste or an assessment of Cheney's personal style. I don't get any way that he's interesting. He's done some things which people who're predisposed to disliking him anyway find outrageous, like being the only sitting Vice-President to shoot a man with an $11,000 Italian shotgun, while drunk, on a canned hunt, for pen-raised birds; he moved, almost immediately upon taking office, to auction the prerogatives of the President to the highest-bidding Energy sector (this last is, probably, unfair, since there's no way they'd pay for what they could already have for free; one can hardly suppose that as head of the National Energy Policy Development Group he was threatening to go Green unless his price was met. His role has no doubt been more in the line of keeping the sluice gates open and taking periodic quality samples of the cash flow). He was, and is, a thug and a fixer for the old Goldwater Western interests, which is how he came to be in the right spot to take advantage of the power vacuum that existed in the candidacy of the annointed, but yet un-nominated George W. Bush, namely the one between his ears. This is Luck, pure and simple, and pure luck is never interesting except as a moment's diversion, maybe.  How he came to be in position might be a decent tale to scare young children with, but Cheney seems nothing more than the sort of cheap goon known to professional hockey, the guy who isn't known for the sharp check on the boards, or even the flashing stick, but the eagerness to slip in a kidney punch or two when he thinks the refs aren't watching.

And those kinda guys don't make it to the Hall. What's Cheney? Not a thinker; a reliable rubber-stamp for the most crackpot, paranoid tendencies to actually make it inside the US government without wearing stars and an Air Force uniform. Or perhaps short of that, perhaps not; it may simply have been his bad luck to be born too late to be an effective advocate for Armageddon. This is impressive? His government work was founded on his ability to convince roughly 1100 of our fellow citizens to send him to Washington; he eventually maneuvered himself into the Executive Branch *, where he became the driving force behind the worst decisions in modern American political history, apparently in no small part because some people were impressed, or astonished, that he could do so while sounding absolutely convinced of his own inerrancy. And not just that, but behind the worst decisions which couldn't be retracted or modified, on the grounds that failure only occurs when one admits failure. This did not make him our most philosophically reflective Vice President, but our most epistemologically deranged one.

I happen to be old enough--this was not necessarily to the good--that I realized fully what Dick Cheney, Vice President, President of the Senate, and Law West of the Pecos could mean, because I'd seen him in action in the Congress. Cheney, Alan Simpson, Phil Gramm, and Dick Armey were like the Four Stumps of the Goldwater West, with Steve Symms as their cousin who was dropped on his head in infancy. All had sinecured Republican seats (Gramm after he joined in the trendy Dixiecrat-GOP conversion), all owed their political, if not their personal, personas to the anti-civil rights, pro-Lawn Order, Get-a-Haircut, Hippie, Sixties backlash, filtered through Nixon (Armey joined up during the Reagan administration), and all gained prominence thanks in large measure to the Sorry We're Liberal, Here's a Free Pass to Say Whatever Crackpot Thing You Like Without Being Fact-Checked Post-Nixon Press, and the resultant Reagan Revolution. All could be counted on to vote against civil rights, legislative oversight, the regulation of commerce, and, for that matter, delicious soup, provided the Western money interests were agin' it. And all managed to avoid Vietnam--Simpson, who is sometimes exempted from the group on the grounds that a) he has something approaching a sense of humor; b) he demonstrated a willingness to try to sound semi-reasonable back when that was required of a teevee pundit; and c) he holds a couple of libertarian civil-rights ideas, à la Bill Buckley, though we suggest this would rather be something to potentially disqualify him from the other side, than patch things over from this, served in the Army in 1950s. Or when Rumsfeld was a flyboy.

And Cheney was the worst of the friggin' lot: Gramm without the charm. He combined bile, bilge and bullshit in a way that transcended all three, but certainly not by dint of intellect, turn of phrase, or novelty of approach. Here's the Cheney page at BrainyQuote, for example; find something he's said that isn't notable merely for being self-aggrandizing, breathtakingly wrong, gratuitously ugly, or all three. Find one.

He's not interesting. Even as a paragon of evil he's not interesting. Were we to take the time right now to lay out the case that the Iraq war followed the blueprint of Vietnam, as re-written in the 1970s and 80s by the American Right, if we were to argue that it, in fact, represented the Grail of American hegemony sought by military pinheads like Cheney ever since--maybe for "Grail" we could substitute "John Wayne Bobbit's Severed Penis"--we would yet have to note that Cheney stands almost alone: he seems to be the only person at whatever end of the political spectrum who imagines that Vietnam went just fine, aside from our pulling out and coming home. He will, of course, flip the common coin of the Right that The Media aided The Dirty Hippies in bringing the enterprise down, but he seems, at bottom, to be perfectly content with ongoing disaster, so long as it's his own. Keep up the fucking bombing; whether it works or not seems not to be his area of focus. Consider that whole "Fourth branch of government" schtick. Did it even sound like he was making an argument? It sounded like a chain email snopes had already debunked.  I can't even figure out why he bothered to say anything at all. And while it's true that this sort of ill-tempered rejection of Reason Herself plays well on the Right, he didn't even seem to bother with playing it to them; more like he knew useful idiots like Glenn Reynolds would step up to the plate no matter what was being flung at 'em. Mr. Supreme Self-Assurance could be relied upon to do one thing in public, back before the '06 mid-terms mercifully hid him away from us for good: whenever one of his Big Ideas was in trouble he'd come out a lie through his teeth about it. The man is the antidote to panache.

Yes, yes, yes; there are dirty unmentionable deeds in Cheney's dossier; there may not be much else. Yes, he's got a man-sized safe, yes, he outed an undercover CIA agent for political purposes (for tiny fucking political purposes, at that; to prevent the public from figuring out Operation Shifting Rationale was a series of lies? Really, who did you think was missing that?); he's probably got a suitcase full of the greenbacks Paul Bremer misplaced. He's a noisome slug whose main positive accomplishments--cowering Congressional Democrats and co-opting Tim Russert--could have been accomplished by anyone, and by fax, and who gained the standing to do so, not because anyone outside Wyoming ever voted for him, but because he took advantage of the Bush Crime Family's need, in the first case, for a Western fixer, and, in the second, for a full-time driving instructor. Big whup. Just so he clears out by Monday and stays where a subpoena can find him, and just so he keeps cleaning his own guns.
* You don't really need that explained, do you?

Wednesday, January 14

Bush Farewell Tour, 2003: Take That, People Who Said It Couldn't Get Any Worse!

The President of the United States personally thanks decorated Marine Jim-Jeff "Bulldog" Gannon-Guckert, who served as his official Press Room bodyguard before it turned out he couldn't handle flak, either.

He diggy, diggy, diggy, but no meat dar.

-Joel Chandler Harris

IF a great novelist is required, among other things, to be great, or at least very good, days on end, months at a time, then the Bush administration is the Tolstoy of Stupid, and 2003 is its War and Peace, Now With Twice The War! It is a year which will begin with The Sixteen Words You Shouldn't Say In A State Of The Union Address, the suggestion to Tony Blair that painting one of our planes UN blue and flying low over Baghdad might draw enough fire to make the international community forget who it was dealing with, and the granting of the first of two years' worth of White House Press passes to a dog-tagged and Brazilian-waxed male prostitute who was, at the height of 9/11 paranoia, working under an assumed name, and go downhill from there. And not just downhill as in "things have hit a bad patch", but rapidly, precipitously, headlong-into-ghenna-fire stuff, month after month, leavened only by the dark humor of an administration, and a lapdog press, conducting obliviously premature Victory celebrations, and whatever slapstick one could make of Christopher Hitchens wetting himself again. On the bright side, visionaries could point to the day when a war so badly conceived as to render "ill-" hopelessly inadequate, one politically timed, unimaginably corrupt, and shockingly wasteful, would yet allow Keith Olbermann to poke his head up from under his desk and become a Liberal.

Look at the additions to the political lexicon alone: sixteen words! WMDs! Islamofascism, Shock and Awe! Greeted as Liberators! Coalition of the Willing, embeds, de-Baathification! Steely-eyed Rocketman! Mission Accomplished! flypaper strategy! Democracy is Untidy! east, south, west, and north somewhat! Bring 'em on, a few dead-enders, Werewolves! rape rooms, spider holes, mobile anthrax labs! six-months, tops! Curveball, Chalabi, Saeed al-Haideri, Chemical Ali, Qusay and Uday! Custer Battles, LLC! Toppled statues and Insufficient jubilation! The New Iraqi flag!

Commander Codpiece!

Preznit giv me turkee!

Scooter giv me Valerie Plame!

Okay, fun's fun; I set out with a vague notion of memorializing the end of the Bush presidency by reminding people of some of its foibles, failures and fuck-ups, and particularly some that might have been forgotten simply due to the volume of available material. But by the time you reach 2003 the laugher starts mocking you. In the United States of America, in the opening decade of the 21st century, a march to a war which was militarily and politically unnecessary, which was sold on lies and based on transparent falsehoods the mass market press, and the Congress of the United States, would pretend not to recognize, was incompetently, sometimes criminally conducted, and which turned into a major international cultural disaster almost from the start, a political disaster soon after, and a military disaster within a couple of months, was yet absolutely inexorable. In a country full of intelligent people with instantaneous access to global information, large numbers of the natural political opponents of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as well as the independent Press, all of whom had had months, even years, to comprehend what sort of petty criminals, intellectual thugs, cheats, grifters, certifiable paranoids and pathological liars, political fabulists, sexual cripples, amoral opportunists, mercenaries, professional racists and religious hypocrites they were dealing with, threw in behind him! Saddam must go! Hans Blix must go first! They had pictures of the same two Nixon leftovers who were now driving the push for war shaking the hand of the Worse Than Hitler tyrant who now threatened Civilization herself, or would, once he managed to produce the necessary weapons in sufficient quantities and find some way to deliver them. Discovery of how Saddam Hussein came to be the Iraqi strongman was a Google or a Wiki away. The political manipulation of 9/11 was already crystal-clear; the gleeful, unrepentant, and consequence-free looting of the public treasury was already on display. That the whole thing was being led, or "led", by the cosseted scion of a venal band of New England plutocrats whose original paltry allocation of wits had been furthered dulled by decades of nightly alcohol poisoning was becoming clear even to people who had devoutly wished otherwise for the sake of the country, and his hard-on to top his Daddy by "finishing the job" in Iraq was common currency. What was to be expected of the Bush administration was what we got. It's fine and fitting, now, that Bush is treated as a leper, and Cheney as a leper who also flings feces and has a shotgun. But what about the people who missed this at the time, or who wanted to be on the right side of the coming Victory parade (for which there's still $20 M in Congressional-approved funds in the till somewhere)? One of 'ems our next Secretary of State.

Remember PFC Jessica Lynch, who fired her weapon until it was empty, was shot multiple times, raped, sodomized, and tortured in captivity, protected at great personal risk by a kindly Iraqi civilian, who walked six miles to tip off the military, which rescued her via Special Ops? All true, except for the part after "Lynch". When the story fell apart, via the BBC, Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria "Torie" Clarke called the accusations, "outrageous, patently false and unsupported by the facts."

PFC Lynch, then twenty years old, showed more personal courage and honesty than all the grey men who ran the war combined. And while that may not have required much at all, remember: she stood for the truth when she had plenty to gain by not doing so, and plenty of pressure to simply go along. Compare the biography of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. Compare the actions of Four-Star General Colin Powell, later so "conflicted" by his UN performance. Remember who fought, and still fights this war, and remember just what kind of people they do so for.

It ain't funny. I contend, and will until someone shows different, that the Iraq war was pencilled in for 2003 by the Bush campaign in 1999. There was too much insistence on the jump date to believe otherwise; we short-changed Afghanistan before we'd even entered Kabul, because specialist units were needed on schedule for Iraq. We cashiered any general officer or service branch Secretary who argued for sufficient troops; we went ahead even without permission to use Turkey as a staging area. We went to war with one-quarter the force doctrinally required to occupy Iraq because the political timetable, designed to make 2004 a military victory parade followed by a re-election pageant, was fixed: 2002 was too early, reserved for provoking a casus belli in the No-Fly Zone--in the event, made superfluous by 9/11--while 2004 was too late, open to charges of Wagging the Dog, as well as blowback from a less-than-favorable initial result. We called for no sacrifice beyond bravely facing Mall crowds; you don't call for sacrifice from people you hope will show up at the polls for you in a twelvemonth. We went to war so these scumbags could get re-elected and continue looting the Treasury. And the whole thing gets treated as if they'd just misread the intel.

It's not funny. Read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City for a look at how we ran the place once we took it. Tell me then that mere incompetence explains using Roe v. Wade as a determinant of which recently-graduated college Republican would redesign the Iraqi health care system, and which manage its economy. How many US military families are missing a father, mother, a wife, a husband, because of this? How many more Iraqis are? George W. Bush, now, can manage to dredge up a mistake or two he might've made. "Mission Accomplished" is an example.

No shit, Sherlock.

It ain't funny.