Archive for April, 2004

The Shoddy & the Dead

April 24, 2004

This is probably going to come out all wrong & make it sound like I’m pining for some savory violence that I can suck up from the safety of my home, but since warfare seems an inherent part of human history, I’m sorry I have to live in the era where our technological advances plus Washington’s willingness to only pick on paper tigers like Noriega & Hussein have turned battles into such one-sided, quickly resolved affairs. Part of the joy & glory of being alive at all resides in bearing witness to the momentous events that happen in your lifetimepeople who live through something like the Civil War or the Depression (or the Crusades or the Black Plague or 9/11, for that matter) have a claim no other generation can make. And the epicor rather, the collection of epicscalled “World War II” seems like it would’ve been, on one level & one level only, an absolutely exhilarating thing to live through (especially when it became clear that the Nazis & Japanese were about to get a right royal wedgie), regardless of the “Greatest Generation” blarney it would give rise to 50 years later. So many of the dramas that made up that epicthe Battle of Britain, Leningrad, Stalingrad, Midway, the Normandy invasionhad a satisfying shape precisely because the numbers & technology were roughly balanced on both sides, & the higher loss of life & greater length of time it took to conclude them gave them a greatness the storming of Panama City Beach can’t even get a whiff of. I should probably thank my lucky stars that the Bush dynasty contents itself w/such tawdry outbursts of aggression, but it still makes me feel like something is missing.

Elsewhere, the administration’s continuing freakout about the pictures of flag-draped coffins continues w/unabated silliness—do they really think nobody knows the bodies are coming home, or in what form? The ban, though, isn’t revealing only of official paranoia, but also of America’s denial about the cost of political decisions, the price of patriotism, & the very fact of death itself. The Pentagon insists it’s all about the families’ privacy, blah blah blah, as if the dead soldiers’ dogtags & mutilated body-parts are visible in the pictures, when of course the military has expertly handled the remains of fallen soldiers for decades, if not centuries, w/some basic, dignified rituals—the blowing of “Taps,” the manicured lawns lined w/rows of white crosses, &, yeah, the flag-shrouded coffin. Anyway, I guess the White House realizes that doublethink is hard enough to accomplish under the best of circumstances, & right now the American public needs all the help it can get.

Sign him up

April 18, 2004

Woodward was just too rich on 60 Minutes tonight. I simply can not believe as I’m sitting here that George Bush said the shit he did in these interviews, especially knowing that it was Bob Woodward who was sitting on the other side of the desk w/a tape recorder. I know Woodward hasn’t always acted like the return of Jacob Riis since ’74, but still he keeps coming up w/all these goodies & spilling them out on the table for everyone to pick through, while the dopey politiciansespecially the dopey Republican politicians, who you’d think would’ve maybe learned something by nowkeep swinging their doors wide open for him.

There’s no such thing as a silver bullet this early in a campaign, but if there was anything like justice in this world there would be in this case. Woodward made a lot of big charges tonight. For one thing, Bush told him that he gave the Saudi ambassador our war plans for Iraq not only two days before he bothered to inform our Secretary of State about them, but that he also showed His Excellency a map marked “NOFORN,” the James Bond-y designation for information that isn’t supposed to be shared w/foreign governments. Ambassador Beanbag or whatever his name is reciprocated this largesse by offering to cut American oil prices in time to make a difference in the current political season—& then ran out to his car where he reconstructed the top-secret documents he’d just been shown.There was also yakkety-yak about how Tommy Franks, whose integrity I once wrote a fairly admiring ode to, flatout lied to the world by saying he hadn’t been told to work up any war plans for Iraq, when in fact he’d been doing exactly that on Bush’s orders for the previous five months, & about how the White House paid for the invasion’s preparatory work in Kuwait by siphoning off $700M from funds earmarked for Afghanistan, in direct contravention, as Woodward good-naturedly pointed out, of the goddam Constitution.


What made this so credible was Woodward himself. Age, or rather aging (he still looks fighting trim), agrees w/him, & when he talks he makes you feel like he’s giving you the shit just as straight as he can. (Unlike Ben Bradlee, who I wouldn’t have bought a sandwich from.) It was a perfectly composed, convincing performance w/a frankly magnificently proportioned semse of humor underlying the seriousness of his charges. Best of all, those charges are utterly damning to Bush in the clarity of their significance, & leave scant room for any squirrely, wriggling questions about interpretation or bias. Taken together it was frickin’ impressive, & if Woodward’s specificity & perspective make Richard Clarke look like a forgettable footnote loon instead of the Democrats’ best hope, well, that’s probably all for the best, especially since Clarke stopped being a factor in this drama precisely because something about either him or his charges just never hit home in the American heart. Woodward, by contrast, is an enjoyably sneaky talker who tells his stories in a subtly believable way. For instance, when he’s recounting the moment when he asked Bush what history will think of him for the war, he describes just how Bush was standing & exactly how he pulled his hands out of his pockets to shrug in a feckless way before dispensing of the question w/something very like, “History? Who knows? We’ll all be dead.”

Wait a minute, buddy, you just did some jackassin'—you can't shut up now.

April 17, 2004

There’s a big difference between a journal & a blog. One can keep a journal to work things out in one’s mind, to record events or those tiny workaday revelations you’d probably otherwise forget, for the sheer love of writing or just to give the brain a workout. Whatever the purpose, it’s understood that subject & audience are one & the same, & in the vast majority of cases it stays that way for eternity.

Keeping a blog, though, is like reading one’s journal out loud through a megaphone. It presupposes that there’s something inherently fascinating about the writer’s mind in a way that a book or poem doesn’tafter all, no editor, or any other abiter, is going to provide any feedback about these words before I hit the “Post“ button & send them wheeling out towards whatever reader is luckless enough to stumble into their path. That presumption is all on the writer’s partthat is, on my part& in that sense I can’t help but recoil from the idea, the same way I recoil from the folks who go on Oprah because they think their life-stories are just so gosh-darned fascinating, gee, who wouldn’t be spellbound by them? Even worse, it’s damned unlikely that I’d use such a public space to spell out my most abiding worries or fears, my sex-fantasies or nightmaresthings that are normally thought to help define a person as an individual. What that leaves me with then is my “opinions,” in a medium that’s already crawling like maggots w/opinions, takes, predictions, interpretations, & a million other forms of talking out one’s ass. And opinions about what? Movies? Politics? Baseball? Life? All this shit that anyone who knows me can already recite by heart?

Nor does it help that there’s something inavoidably faddish about the very notion of bloggingnothing’s easier than picturing some graduate student 50 years from now doing his Master’s on the quaint little craze that infected so many people at the birth of the Internet. O, how they’ll chuckle (before dozing off) over Joe Schmoe’s tirades against Bill Gates! Either that, or else the blogging craze will continue to grow until everyone is doing it, including your Aunt Myrtle, thereby rendering it really moot. Along w/all the goddam talk-shows, call-in shows, & reality-TV shows, blogging seems to be waving on the ultimate consummation of Warhol’s 15-minutes-of-fame prediction (which I promise to never again mention in this space, along w/the phrases “24/7,” “The tribe has spoken,“ & “That’s what I’m talkin’ about“). The only thing is, Andy Warhol never had reason to believe that the 15 minutes might happen only in our minds.

Anyway, this is all by way of saying that I’m not yet totally sold on this blogging business, & if I go for periods of time without contributing much here, well, it’ll either be due to that or else to my innate laziness. You figure it out.

A chance to weep, anyway

April 13, 2004

After watching the evasions, filibuster speechmaking, & moonman demeanor that made up Bush’s much-ballyhooed prime-time press conference tonight, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a worse performance by a sitting president—hell, Richard Nixon’s farewell meltdown before the White House staff looked practically coherent by comparison. Bush’s incredible response “I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it…I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer,” his unadorned skedaddle from the question about his joint commission appearance w/Cheney, his frank admission that he still doesn’t know who we’re giving the car-keys to on 6/30, his hopeless inability to even conceive of himself making mistakes, the shot of a visibly distressed Condi Rice staring at him w/bugged-out eyes, all combined w/the lost, beseeching gaze he time & again directed to the heavens in mid-sentence…I mean, Jesus, this one took the cake.

You can sure tell who Bush’s old man is—even as his presidency resembles Senior’s more & more, so does his personality. Tonight’s exercise was one of those Reaganesque attempts to talk “directly to the people,” but if Bush appeared half as flustered, insincere, & occasionally flat-out frightened in America’s barrooms as he did on my TV, he botched the effort before he even got started. He had one intense moment, when he said that “nobody likes to see dead people on their television screens,” but printed transcripts of the press conference probably won’t convey how non-sequitorial & even slightly bizarre it felt when he described his meetings w/gold-star families as “a chance to hug and weep,” as if soldiers’ deaths are in reality a good thing because they give everyone a chance to pour out all their bottled-up feelings. Bush’s earliest evocations of the “comforting the families” theme were to be expected, but by the end his constant retreat behind it simply reeked of political expediency (it’s the dark flip-side to campaign-trail baby-kissing) & just another indication of how far removed he is from the chaos he’s created. I’m pretty darned sure that’s not what Karl Rove had in mind.

Rumors of War

April 4, 2004

I can never keep it straight whether the warm, dry air & the cool, moist air that cause tornadoes when they collide come from the north or south or east or west, but it sure feels tonight like some similarly volatile combination is about to bust out over America. On the one hand, The Passion of the Christ just racked up enough in ticket-sales to keep Mel Gibson & his descendants in myrrh & frankincense for generations to come. That’s been followed by a spate of TV-movies about the life of a hunky looking Judas & the life of an even hunkier looking Jesus, plus a report on Good Morning, America by a former ABC employee & religious nut who filmed audiences watching The Passion w/a night-vision camera the better to witness their religious goosebumps, & whose pronouncement that the movie was responsible for at least one “miracle” went entirely unchallenged by that world’s worst living excuse for a journalist, Diane Sawyer. Further, this week saw a string of demonstrations by looney-tunes folks upset about gay marriage, all of them fronted by groups w/names like “Americans United Against Preversions.” On the surface it looks like a return to the early years of Reagan’s first term, but this time around all that “Morning in America” crap is having a hard time finding traction. Even a larger-than-expected uptick in the employment rate couldn’t cheer up Bush’s supporters for more than a half-hour or so.

And no wonder. Look at today’s news, for instance. (And this on a Sunday, for crying out loud.) At least eight more U.S. troops dead (w/“dozens more” wounded, but we never seem to learn any more about them unless they’re wholesome, blond, & taken as POWs), & this time it’s a hardcore Shiite faction that teed off on us. Not the Sunnis, not foreign terrorists, but members of the very group that stand to gain the most from our presence in the first place. Nor does it help that the attacks took place in at least four cities around the country & in response to our shutting down a newspaper. It’s the kind of development that drops the bottom out of your stomach, but the number of our killed & wounded will probably be the focus of media attention thanks to last week’s grisly doings in Fallujah. Meanwhile, the 9/11 commission, having already taken several startling turns in the last couple of weeks courtesy of Richard Clarke, was also restive. It turns out that the commission’s executive director, Eugene Zelikow, faxed the White House a photo of Admiral Leahy testifying at the ’45 Pearl Harbor hearings in an effort to disprove Condi Rice’s contention that there was no precedent for an executive branch person to appear at such hearing. Meanwhile, commission chairman Thomas Kean said on Meet the Press that the public is going to be “surprised“ by the commission’s findings, adding that he doesn’t expect the White House to drag out its intelligence vetting of the report because “Nobody has any interest in having the report sitting around Washington during the election period and pieces of it leaking out. Nobody has any interest in this thing coming out September or October, in the middle of the election,” remarks that surely caused a run on the White House liquor cabinet. And finally, no less a personage than Foreign Relations Committee chairman Richard Lugar announced that he is “really haunted” by the thought of us handing power back to the Iraqis on June 30 without a more secure & comprehensive plan for the transition.

I’ve always wondered what it would take to make a man like Dick Lugar feel haunted, & right now it looks like the same thing it takes before an established political pimp like Lugar will start peeling his lips off the backside of his own party’s administration: an all-out policy meltdown. With such a complete & obvious disaster on his hands, it’s hard to believe that George W. Bush is avoiding impeachment, much less caught up in a dead-heat race for reelection. I guess it’s a good time to remember those sourpuss Congressmen on Rodino’s committee who were so enveloped in denial that they voted against the Articles of Impeachment, even knowing what they knew.

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