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Monday, April 30, 2007
Look Who's Back

It seems that no one can stay away from the lure of the spotlight. Some people are famous for a little while, and then they drop off the radar. Not everyone can have a fifty-year career, like Peter O'Toole or Sean Connery. Although, judging by the cited examples, you ought to be from the UK if you crave longevity.

Bob Barker. I needed an American in there.

Someone once said that politics is show business for ugly people, and I wish it had been me. It's a great line, made all the greater by the truth of it. Like show business, most people in it don't stick around in politics for too long, which I attribute to the vast temptations of scandal that come with power. Of course, lots of people wield power without ever being elected, and those people are the best proof of the addictive nature of power.

Over the past twelve months, many retired generals have come forward to speak of their reservations about the war. Those on the left, especially before last year's midterm elections, were thrilled to have unimpeachable military figures speaking out against the war and the Bush administration's miserable inability to run it.

I was less thrilled.

Oh, sure, there was some relief in hearing that people in the know were saying what so many of us had suspected for a few years. But with so many dead and wounded over that period, saying "I told you so" was inappropriate, and furthermore, useless.

I wanted to know why these military leaders, the ones who have spent their lives training for war, fighting in wars, teaching and studying tactics for combat, why these people stood by while giddy dilettantes who shirked their duty during Vietnam, allowed the finest military in the world to be used in such a haphazard and pointless way.

And said nothing.

If even one highly-ranked military official had said, while still in Iraq, that the plan was flawed, that there was no apparent strategy, that American men and women were sacrificing so much in a conflict that we had no business fighting in, perhaps a meaningful dialogue could have started sooner. Saying the Titanic isn't unsinkable after you're already been rescued is meaningless.

Yes, you would have never been promoted again. Yes, you would have been removed from your command. And yeah, the Bush administration would have destroyed your reputation, as they value loyalty to the president over that to the soldiers, the country and especially the truth.

Which brings me to the new book by former CIA director, George Tenet.

The balls on me, to go after a Presidential Medal of Freedom winner.

Tenet is best remembered for his exclamation about the "fact" that Saddam Hussein has WMD. He called it a "slam dunk."

Four years later in his book, he claims that what he meant was that in regard to making a case that the public would believe, well, that was a slam dunk.

Like that's better somehow.

Tenet, in his recollection, was just a hapless guy who meant well, but got swept away in the feverish march to war by Neocons drunk on power. He was the head of the god damned Central Intelligence Agency, and knew the truth, but no one would listen to him.

And like these suddenly concerned retired generals, Tenet has found his voice. Too late, by several years, and thousands of lives.

If George Tenet had resigned and stated why in late 2002 or early 2003, the press might have found its collective balls, and done some actual investigative work that could have uncovered all of the lies and dissembling that the administration had been doing since September 11, 2001. But he didn't. Power and the limelight are tough to walk away from.

Not for everyone, though.

There is a man named John Brady Kiesling, a lifelong diplomat who was working for the State Department under Colin Powell during the run-up to war. In spite of the fact that he knew he was effectively ending his twenty-year career, he concluded his resignation letter to General Powell with the following paragraph:

"I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share."

Was that so hard?

Actually, I'm sure it was. Keeping your mouth shut so you can stay with the team is relatively simple. Telling the President of the United States and his alleged brain trust of sycophants that they are taking this country down the path to a costly, quagmiric foreign policy nightmare is hard. I suppose that's why so few people bothered to do it.

George Tenet has found his voice, and just in time to sell a few books. I heartily encourage you to ignore it.

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posted at 12:18 AM


Friday, April 27, 2007
Who the hell is Mike Gravel?

He was a US Senator from Alaska from 1969 until 1981, and to my surprise, was one of eight candidates at the Democratic debate in South Carolina yesterday. If you think you might like to see what politics sounds like with the bullshit removed, have a look:

He has no chance, but I hope he spends the next 16 months taking potshots at everyone.

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posted at 1:09 PM


Friday, April 20, 2007
A Short Walk

I don't really understand how a guy gets from A to B in terms of this shooting at Virginia Tech.

By now, I'm sure most of us have seen the package that Cho sent NBC between killings Monday morning. We've heard bits of the rambling manifesto. We've seen the pictures of him holding the pistols, the knife, the hammer. Those pictures would be almost silly and cartoonish if he had not decided or been compulsively driven to take his walk that day. There were two photos that really stood out for me as I first saw them broadcast Wednesday afternoon:

This doesn't look like a crazy person. I suppose it would make more sense somehow if he looked like a speed-freak Hell's Angel, but he doesn't. Cho looks like scores of people that we all see every single day of our lives.

Based on what we now know of his past, Cho was quite obviously suffering from mental illness, which came out in his writings from classes, his actions toward other students and faculty, and other behaviors. In spite of that, I don't know if anyone could have reliably predicted that Cho would do what he did this past Monday.

There is a lesson in here, although I doubt I could fully elucidate it. I do not intend to trivialize what happened, or glorify the actions of a killer. I don't know what made Cho step over the threshold from revenge fantasy to murder. I look at these photos, and I worry that more of us than would care to admit it toe that line more often than we may even realize.

There are a lot of things that people are angry about, both real and imagined. There are a lot of guns out there.

I used to watch Homicide: Life on the Street on NBC. It's one of the best things that's ever been on television, and as a former resident and survivor of Baltimore, I was in a position to appreciate it more than most.

One episode ended in a way that has been on mind for many years now. A husband whose wife was randomly murdered in a robbery says to one of the detectives, "When this first happened, I used to ask 'Why me?' But that was wrong. The question we should all ask is 'When me?'"

Go live your life and enjoy. Not one thing is guaranteed.

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posted at 12:37 AM


Monday, April 16, 2007
Virginia Tech

As of this writing, there are thirty-two confirmed fatalities on the campus in Blacksburg. I am not sure if this figure includes the shooter, who is also confirmed dead. The president of the United States, George W. Bush, is said to be "horrified" by the killings.

I doubt that.

I have never seen a great deal of remorse on Bush's part as college-age men and women die in Iraq. I guess it was just their bad luck to not go to college, where their deaths could have somehow touched the president in a meaningful way.

If the president was truly affected by today's events, or any day's events, we might see him lead the charge on some sort of meaningful gun-control legislation with teeth. Alas, we will not.

To the best of my knowledge, an American record was set today in Blacksburg, Virginia. A new low. The question is not what we will do about it. The question is, how long until it is broken?

My condolences to the families and friends.

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posted at 11:19 AM


Evidently Chicken Town

posted at 12:23 AM


Friday, April 13, 2007
And so it goes

Rest in peace, Kurt. Best of luck back on the home planet, and please, don't forget to write.


posted at 4:56 PM


Thursday, April 12, 2007
Right again, jackass

CBS fired Don Imus this afternoon.

"Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"

Great days are ahead, my friends, now that racism is over. Frankly, I'd be surprised if the Shiites and Sunnis didn't throw down their arms, get together, and sign a peace treaty with Israel.

Yes, anything is possible, now that Don Imus has been fired.

I have set my alarm for 5am tomorrow morning, in eager anticipation of seeing the sun rise in the west. If racism can be so easily overcome, then the other laws of nature should be toppling as well.

Perhaps GM and Toyota, in a burst of good feeling, will finally unveil the vehicle which will end our dependence on fossil fuels. Why shouldn't they? There is nothing holding any of us back from being the best we can be, now that Don Imus has been fired.

This is what it's all about. This is the Utopian future we have dreamed of.

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posted at 2:35 PM


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The most recent development in the story is that MSNBC, which televises Imus' morning show live weekday mornings, has gone beyond its initial two-week suspension, and has decided to dump the show from its lineup.

All of this is due to the reaction after Imus' comments last week about the Rutgers women's basketball team. By now, we've all been blasted again and again with someone or other recounting the phrase "nappy-headed hos." I think that this phrase is going to become a cultural touchstone for years to come, sort of like "You are the weakest link," "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" and "You forgot Poland."

When I first heard the clip, my reaction was that Imus had said something stupid and offensive, and it came off as a lame attempt at humor. Imus has certainly been in these waters before, although in his career, he has a had a lot more good moments than bad, and I don't say this as a fan of the show. I like some of his interviews with politicians and others, but by and large, I find it a bit dry. Imus is very good at what he does, it's just not for everybody.

I wasn't really offended by what he said, although I'll admit I was actually shocked to hear his producer, Bernard McGuirk, use the word "jigaboos." That's some old-school racist verbiage, there. Interestingly, in the non-stop feeding frenzy since then, I've heard no one on television repeat this part of the conversation. Now, they may be sparing our delicate sensibilities, but if "nappy-headed hos" is so awful, then I suppose it shouldn't be repeated ad nauseum, either.

Jigaboos. Christ.

I thought about that word, and was fairly sure I hadn't heard it since college, and that was in a history class.

African-American studies, if you must know.

Again, I was surprised when I heard it last week, and it started me thinking about the word. I suppose the be-all end-all of racist slurs is "nigger." That is just one of those things you say when you're pretty sure that you're ready to be punched in the face. It's not a word that I use, or even think of to use, to be honest. I understand the weight of it, and the baggage it carries. It's a shocking thing, and it ought to be. Unfortunately, it isn't anymore. I know I can turn on the radio in any city in America, and maybe anywhere in the world, and if I have the right station on, I will hear that word and many others like it in no time at all. And to be honest, it doesn't shock me in the least when I hear it.

Have I become desensitized to it? Has it lost its power through the constant use in certain musical circles? And is that a good thing somehow?

That's a separate topic, and besides, Imus didn't say "nigger." He didn't say "jigaboo" either. He called the women "nappy-headed hos."

And in a medium where Rush Limbaugh can refer to Barack Obama as a "Halfrican-American" and Neal Boortz can opine that a black US Congresswoman from Georgia looks like a "ghetto slut," it's hard to understand why Imus is in so much hot water.

It was a stupid attempt to make fun at their expense. Did they deserve it? No. Do most people who get skewered by deejays, pundits, talk show hosts and late-night comedians deserve it? All of them? Probably not.

But like the Bat signal from the Batman TV show (I suppose it could have been any brown mammal, in retrospect), the usual suspects have raced to the front of the fray, and they have been there often enough to remember to bring their own microphones.

The Revs, Jesse and Al.

I have spoken about Jesse Jackson before. This man was in the shit during the civil rights movement in the US in the 60s. This guy marched, protested, and put his life at risk time and time again to further the cause. He was standing with MLK on that damned balcony in Memphis when the doctor was assassinated. He was a legitimate candidate for president in 1988, and has a lot of good to his credit, more than me, and more than most.

Since '88? Not a hell of a lot. He tends to show up at places where racism or the old-boy network may be impacting maybe eight people. Wasting time protesting Major League Baseball for not having enough black employees in the front offices is a misuse of effort. Defending Michael Jackson as he faces child molestation charges destroys your credibility. You may have noticed that black males are dying at one another's hands in obscene numbers, and too many of the ones that live end up in prison.

And frankly, after you refer to New York City as "Hymie Town," you don't get to call anyone a bigot anymore. Sorry, that's just how it goes.

Sharpton, on the other hand, started badly, coming on the national scene as the point man in the Tawana Brawley fraud, but since then has gotten his hair together, dumped the velvet warm-up suits and gold medallions, become respectable, and a man of consequence in political circles by speaking the truth. In the 2004 campaign, he was the only candidate who seemed to be speaking English at the debates. I like Al.

But he cannot resist the lure of the big takedown, be it Michael Richards, or Don Imus. I don't recall seeing him or Jesse hovering around the Mel Gibson circus, but I suppose they may have been busy that week.

This gets into what Bill Maher has aptly referred to as "fake outrage." I couldn't possibly put it any better than that.

You know who doesn't get to be outraged by what Imus said? Anyone who owns a 2Pac or 50 Cent CD. You've heard black women degraded, and danced along to it. You need to shut the fuck up.

It's not absolutely relevant to the issue, but I would like to know if any of the women on the Rutgers team had even heard of Don Imus before last week. I would also like to know if any of them had anything on their individual iPods that could be considered offensive in the same way as Imus' remarks.

And if so, do you hear it differently now? I hope so, I really do.

I feel bad for these women. They didn't deserve this. They play a game at a world-class level, they are students at a good school, and not one of them probably ever dreamed she'd be famous for something like this. If they have injured feelings, I am sorry for that.

But hurting your feelings is not a criminal offense.

This is nothing less than a free speech issue. Don Imus can say anything he wants, this is America. If the Klan gets permits to have a rally in the park because they meet all the conditions in order to obtain them, then the Klan gets to march. I can choose to not listen to Imus, or not attend the rally if I desire. I can call the President of the United States a sonofabitch, and there's not one thing anyone can do about it. My friends might shun me, and I may get kicked out of the NRA, but that's part of the equation. Free speech has consequences.

Imus may lose his audience, his sponsors may pull their ad budgets, and CBS Radio may decide after those things happen that he's no longer a commodity worth keeping. If they can him then, it's a business decision, and that's how it ought to be.

Firing Imus because he went over the line and hurt someone's feelings is cowardice.

If I was a betting man, I'd wager that CBS will cave, just as NBC did, and send Donny off to his ranch. No one has any balls anymore, and it's better to put out a mediocre product than to occasionally stir up controversy. They fired Dan Rather over those memos about Bush's AWOL time during Vietnam, even though everything that was in these faked memos was 100% true.

CBS. The Tiffany Network. What a joke.

Tiffany. That sounds like a nappy-headed ho's name, but that's just my opinion.

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posted at 11:42 PM


Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Clear as a Bell

What would happen if you took a world-class musician, stuck him outside a busy Metro station in one of the world's capitals with his $3.5 million dollar instrument, let him try to make a few bucks from commuters, and videotaped the whole thing?

Well, the Washington Post asked, and the answers are really quite interesting. Take a few minutes, read, and watch.

Special thanks to my friend Sarah in the District who first told me about this.

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posted at 8:16 PM


Monday, April 09, 2007
April Fool's Day +16

Congress was out of town last week for Easter and whatnot, but some people in the government were hard at work. That makes me feel good, as a citizen and a taxpayer. Even better, the workaholic I speak of is the highest-ranking law official in these United States, the head of the Department of Justice. More justice? I'm all for it.

But doesn't the Attorney General need a break, too? There are a lot of reasons to think so, naturally. But Alberto Gonzales, in fact, does not need a vacation, at least based on his statements regarding the firings of federal prosecutors last year. He claimed that he didn't know about them, didn't get into all the day-to-day workings at Justice, and after all, how could he? He's only the top guy there. The good news is, he is well-rested, and needs no time off.

But what could he possibly have to do in Washington last week, while most of the city was at half-speed? I'm sure he could have put extra effort in to the War On Drugs, which makes the War On Terror look like a runaway success. No time, as it turns out. The Attorney General spent his vacation rehearsing testimony for his scheduled testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 17th. And all he got was this lousy t-shirt.

I don't know why the thought Alberto Gonzales cramming to get his story straight makes me laugh, but it does. Gonzales has appeared before the Senate in the past, and every time, this seemingly very sharp lawyer gets his ass handed to him. I suppose it amuses me because I know that all of these people are liars, but with Alberto, it's just so damned obvious. The best part is, he appears to believe (like his boss) that no one will bother to check up on him, and compare what he says to the facts. Again and again, he says one thing, and is contradicted by overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Now, I'm not saying he's a liar, but I do have this photo of him with his pants on fire.

That being said, Gonzales is hard at work, preparing to give testimony which will clear up all of the shenanigans going on at Justice. The bad news is that his chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, has already testified to the effect that Alberto may have, in previous statements, and forgive the legalese here, lied through his teeth.

We are left with two competing visions of Alberto Gonzales:

1) He's a petty political hack who is more interested in serving George W. Bush and the Republican party than in doing his job, which is to oversee the law in the United States.

2) He's a great guy, just horribly incompetent.

I suppose it could be both, but I'd like to give him more credit than that.

Currently, he is now practicing, rehearsing his lines, so that this time, unlike past appearances, he will know the facts, be prepared and polished, and come off like a regular pillar of virtue. What's fun though, is that from what I hear, it's not going well. Gonzales can't seem to keep track of the timeline, and he contradicts himself.

One lesson I've learned in life is that as much fun as it is to lie, there is the inconvenient problem of needing to keep track of the lies. It's a pain in the ass, and unless you're some sort of pathological genius, it's just too much work. Score one for the truth, the last refuge for the lazy.

Alberto is not lazy. He is working long days to get ready for his appearance, and you may read into that what you will. He is in large measure working alone. One reason is due to the fact that so many of his aides will be called as witnesses, and he is not allowed to discuss these matters with them. The other reason is that the people that the White House sent over to advise him have gotten so exasperated with the AG, that they have all but thrown up their hands in futility.

Gonzales is also clearly being cut loose by the GOP, with the exception of Bush, who never fires anyone until years after it becomes obvious that they are doing a terrible job. No one is interested in defending yet another corrupt Bush Administration cabinet official, and I can't blame them. It's quite gratifying to watch this White House, which managed to keep a lid for so long on rampant incompetence through blind loyalty and a feckless Congress, suddenly become utterly unable to manage anything without leaving a sense of criminality, or the stench of a complete absence of ethics.

Set your DVR, there's blood in the water.

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posted at 10:20 AM


Sunday, April 01, 2007
Where are we?

I don't know why this topic popped into my head today, but I am not being influenced by the date, and that is all I can say for certain.

I guess I was thinking about 9/11 a little bit today, which I don't do very often, like most Americans, I suspect. I was watching television, and I saw Ari Fleischer from some old White House press briefing, and it took me back to just how much he used to irritate me. It was still kind of early in Bush's presidency, and I wasn't yet used to the fact that the administration would just say things that were either incomprehensibly stupid, or patently false.

Oh, sure, by the time Scott McClellan took the job, I was almost immune to the lies, and was hardly ever throwing things at my TV anymore. Hell, by the time McClellan left the job, I actually felt bad for him a lot of the time, having to stand there, defending the hypocrisy and immorality of the Bush White House. Ugh, it was cringeworthy.

But Fleischer seemed to really enjoy making things up, and spouting talking points, particularly just after 9/11, when the entire administration was puffed up and fake brave. It was a strange time for a lot of people, and I remember a lot of people were actually in a state of mind, asking themselves, "when will it be okay to laugh again?" Everyone was watching what they said, except Bill Maher, and you recall what happened to him.

It sounds ridiculous, but it was hard to find anything funny and topical on TV or the radio right after 9/11. There was a lot of speculation that "irony was dead" and it was time for America, and especially smug prick Gen Xers like myself to start taking things seriously. This was our Pearl Harbor, our JFK assassination, it was like the time I could have met Mr. T at the mall. The entire day I kept saying, "I'll go a little later. I'll go a little later." And then when I got there, they told me he'd just left. And when I asked the mall guy if he would ever come back again, he said he didn't know.

It was pretty terrible, is what I'm saying.

But these many years later, irony isn't dead, which is good for the most part. Irony is a bit overused, and I think most people should leave it alone, but in the right hands, it can still do a lot of good, like a scalpel in the hands of a skilled plastic surgeon.

On the down side, any national sense of purpose that we had (or pretended to have) after 9/11 is long gone, we are mired in an insurgent war in Asia, the administration has been exposed in nearly all areas as criminal, malicious and incompetent, and like on September 11th. 2001, I am without health insurance.

I don't need nostalgia. I live in George W. Bush's America, where things don't change, and when they do, it is only to somehow become markedly worse.

So irony is not dead. Roger Rosenblatt, writing in Time magazine just after 9/11, was completely wrong. Baby Boomers all think that they are the center of the universe, and I suppose Rosenblatt is no different. I've gone on and on about this giant demographic, in numbers and in weight, often enough that I need not rehash it here. Boomers like Rosenblatt crave the good old days, when men were men, America was #1, and people knew their place. You know who I mean...

Well, it's the 21st Century, the Boomers are starting to hit their Viagra years, and the United States, in many measurable ways, is in as bad of a condition as it's been in many decades. I don't care to listen to the opinions of the people who have been fucking up my country for the past couple of decades. Your choices and actions from adolescence up to now have been consistently and tragically wrong, and you can't be placed in substandard retirement housing quickly enough to suit me.

To be fair, I can't imagine any of my generation being able to run this country at any point in the future. We have been raised with diminished expectations, and even I can admit that people like that should not be put in charge of too many things. Although certainly Bush and the rest of us would have been better served had he not been told as a child that anyone can grow up to be president some day.

So irony isn't dead after 9/11. The only thing that has truly expired is the credibility of people like Rosenblatt to say that the younger generations are soft, and don't know anything about hardship.

Stay skeptical. These people know nothing.

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posted at 12:25 AM

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