Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Now we've achieved craptastic perfection

I don't know what to say about this, except that I think we have achieved some sort of perfection in suck.

Not only that, but the BPocalypse has done so -- out there on the soiled marshes of Louisiana -- in a massively appropriate, full-circle kind of way.

What am I talking about? Pick up your
New York Times, man! Behold the dawn of a new standard of outrageous dumbth.

THEY'RE HOUSING oil-spill cleanup workers in FEMA trailers. You know, the ones that reek of formaldehyde:

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, they became a symbol of the government’s inept response to that disaster: the 120,000 or so trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to people who had lost their homes.

The trailers were discovered to have such high levels of formaldehyde that the government banned them from ever being used for long-term housing again.

Some of the trailers, though, are getting a second life amid the latest disaster here — as living quarters for workers involved with the cleanup of the oil spill.

They have been showing up in mobile-home parks, open fields and local boatyards as thousands of cleanup workers have scrambled to find housing.

Ron Mason, owner of a disaster contracting firm, Alpha 1, said that in the past two weeks he had sold more than 20 of the trailers to cleanup workers and the companies that employ them in Venice and Grand Isle, La.

Even though federal regulators have said the trailers are not to be used for housing because of formaldehyde’s health risks, Mr. Mason said some of these workers had bought them so they could be together with their wives and children after work.

“These are perfectly good trailers,” Mr. Mason said, adding that he has leased land in and around Venice for 40 more trailers that are being delivered from Texas in the coming weeks. “Look, you know that new car smell? Well, that’s formaldehyde, too. The stuff is in everything. It’s not a big deal.”

Not everyone agreed. “It stunk to high heaven,” said Thomas J. Sparks, a logistics coordinator for the Marine Spill Response Corporation, as he stood in front of the FEMA trailer that was provided to him by a company working with his firm. Mr. Sparks said the fumes in the trailer from formaldehyde, a widely used chemical in building materials like particle board, were so strong that he had asked his employer to provide him with a non-FEMA trailer.
HAPPY FOURTH to us, citizens of the stupidest flippin' nation on earth.

The sun rises in the east? Every day?


Who knew?

Really, who'd have thought that a 15-year-old girl would ever overdose and die at a humongous rave at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum? I think what we need is a blue-ribbon panel to study what may have gone wrong here, and why an underage girl would even want to go to such a thing, much less take illicit narcotics.

One is grateful the stadium's operator has declared a moratorium on raves of 185,000 people until we figure out what happens at such events, particularly how additional scores of youth ended up injured.


READ THE SHOCKING story of this totally unforeseen tragedy in this Associated Press dispatch:

Barry Sanders, president of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission, said he is ordering the venue's managers not to book any raves until the full commission takes up the issue at its July 16 meeting. At that time, he said he'll recommend that the full commission continue the moratorium.

The uproar over last weekend's 14th annual Electric Daisy Carnival has grown by the day as new details emerge about the mayhem and drug abuse that filled the Coliseum during the event, which featured carnival rides, light shows and appearances by techno star Moby and Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas.

Videos of the event show a generally peaceful crowd dancing to the music, but as evening falls the Coliseum's football field becomes tightly packed with revelers. At one point, as people leap over a fence to move from the seating area to the field, one of the performers launches into an expletive-filled tirade from the stage, demanding that the crowd violently push them back.
NOW, I THINK a prime focus of any investigative panel should be on whether any particular expletives were the triggers for the crowd violently setting upon fence-jumpers.

Also, it might be worth exploring whether everyone might have better gotten along
(and avoided "hard" drugs, too) if they had all just been issued medical marijuana to mellow them out. Another question: "magic" brownies, reefers or free disposable pipes?

Truly, unforeseen tragedies like this are the worst.

'All right, Mr. Jobs, I'm ready for my close-up'


OK, the iPhone 4
may suck as a cell phone, and Steve Jobs may well be a jerk, and the whole friggin' company that is Apple may specialize in arrogance and overpricing,
but. . . .

Damn!

What before would have required lots of high-end equipment, crews of technicians and a cadre of special-effects geniuses now can be accomplished by a plucky --
Did I just write "plucky"? -- little crew of young filmmakers.

With an iPhone that costs much, much less than a color television did when I was in college.

Now, whether "cool" actually intersects with "necessary" (especially in light of the team of trade-offs and unintended consequences we hitched our wagon to on the trail to high-tech Nirvana) . . . that's another conversation entirely.

Till hubby decides you're good as dead


Watch CBS News Videos Online

"What is going to happen to me, Father?" I ask before he gets away altogether.

"Oh," he says absently, appearing to be thinking of something else, "you're going to end up killing Jews."

"Okay," I say. Somehow 1 knew he was going to say this.

Somehow also he knows that we've finished with each other. He reaches for the trapdoor, turns the rung. "Give my love to Ellen and the kids."

"Sure."

At the very moment of his touching the rung, there is a tapping on the door from below. The door lifts against his hand.

"That's Milton," says Father Smith in his workaday ham-operator voice and lifts the door.

A head of close-cropped iron-gray hair pops up through the opening and a man springs into the room.

To my astonishment the priest pays no attention to the new arrival, even though the three of us are now as close as three men in a small elevator. He takes my arm again.

"Yes, Father?"

"Even if you were a combination of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronltite, and Charles Kuralt rolled into one—no, especially if you were those guys --"

"As a matter of fact, I happen to know Charlie Kuralt, and there is not a sweeter guy, a more tenderhearted person --"

"Right," says the priest ironically, still paying not the slightest attention to the stranger, and then, with his sly expression, asks, "Do you know where tenderness always leads?"

"No, where?" I ask, watching the stranger with curiosity.

"To the gas chamber."

"I see."

"Tenderness is the first disguise of the murderer."

"Right."

-- Walker Percy,
The Thanatos Syndrome

Did you watch the CBS Sunday Morning video from Barry Petersen? Good.


At least we have a starting point -- a frame of reference. The ending point is that this story is as monstrous as it is tender.

It is all the more monstrous because I can understand his anguish . . . the thinking . . . the rationalization . . . all wrapped in heartfelt tenderness. This tenderness leads -- if not, alas, to the gas chamber for poor Jan Chorlton -- at least to whitewashing her objectification. Her dehumanization.

This is because -- you will note that she is referred to in the past tense -- everyone seems to see her humanity, all that makes her Jan, as being wrapped up in her mental function. In her memory, which Alzheimer's has stolen from her.

And it all makes sense, doesn't it? We observe that she is slipping away. We don't know her anymore, just as she doesn't know . . . anyone. Scientists can explain this.

Scientists also can explain the angry outbursts Petersen described. There's a name for them -- Sundowners Syndrome, being that the episodes generally happen toward the end of the day.


I KNOW a little about this. Alzheimer's killed my mother in law. We watched, my wife and I, as her mom began to act -- for lack of a better term than the indelicate -- stupidly. We watched as she tried to cover for her mental lapses and bizarre behavior.

My wife struggled to make heads or tails of the retired bookkeeper's now-chaotic finances, as Mom fought her every step of the way.

We did the whole take-away-the-car-keys thing.

We watched as her personality changed, as she began to slip into a second adolescence, as she began to mindlessly shoplift from the corner convenience store. As her id began to overtake her superego. Then it was time for assisted living.

It was time for spending down the last of her meager assets on her assisted-living bills. For my wife, her eldest surviving daughter -- the only child still in Omaha -- to get conservatorship, to deal with nursing-home and Medicaid caseworkers.

For trying to find humor in the increasingly bizarre behavior, because if you didn't laugh, you wouldn't stop crying.

For feeling guilty because you felt angry, because you didn't know who the hell this person in front of you was. She sure as hell wasn't Mom.

AND FINALLY, it was time to be so overwhelmed as to feel nothing, because you were just another stranger Mom knew not. Another stranger she barely would acknowledge or look at with eyes that revealed. . . .

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing. Nobody was home, and the lights were fading fast.

It was an ongoing wake, only without the socializing in the funeral-home coffee shop.

Her life ended in a darkened room in the locked "memory wing" of Douglas County Hospital -- the only option left when the assisted-living folks, unable to deal with Mom's increasing aggression, piled her into a taxicab on a snowy day and sent her there.

Without that bit of heaven-sent socialism, God only knows what would have happened to her. The staffers at that charity hospital are saints. They do -- and do cheerfully -- what you and I can't . . . or won't.

WE WATCHED Mom die -- my wife, my brother- and sister-in-law and me -- during the wee hours of a wintery mid-March morning in 2006. She turned gray, with her skin mottled, from the feet up. Her breaths grew shallower and farther between. And then they stopped.

Mom didn't have Alzheimer's anymore. And we could start to remember what she was like . . . before.

And we also could begin to be gripped with fear every time we have a "senior moment." Is this it? Am I next? Is my wife -- Mom's daughter? Oh dear God, how could I bear it?

One way or another, Jan Chorlton and Barry Petersen are living our worst nightmare.

Well, not exactly.

No, my worst nightmare is that I would succumb to what tormented Petersen, then put what I longed for before what my dear wife deserved. What she deserves is for me to fulfill the vows I made to her and to God almost 27 years ago.

What she deserves is for me never to abandon her -- nor for me to offend her dignity by screwing another woman with impunity, with her powerless to object, then making like we're some sort of bittersweet, loving ménage à trois (albeit one where only two of us would be having any fun). Damn it, love is not just an emotion -- it is an occasion of grace and (sometimes) an agonizing, brute act of one's fallen will.

But this story . . . it's all so tender, no? No doubt.

Tenderness that justifies betrayal. Tenderness that makes adultery seem so . . . reasonable . . . civilized . . . compassionate . . . open-minded.

Petersen's is a tenderness that I can get my head -- and my heart -- around. You want to cut the lonely, hurting guy a break. And that scares the hell out of me.

Because it all offends the human dignity of the helpless person we've all just dehumanized here -- Jan Chorlton . . . Petersen. Who is still Barry Petersen's wife. And who we
-- tenderly, of course -- regard as figuratively dead, if not technically so.

I mean, it's obvious, isn't it?

AND THAT right there is the g*ddamned lie. And the God-damned one, too.

Because if you can buy that bit of utter dehumanization and objectification in the name of compassion and tenderness, it ain't that far a trip to the gas chamber.


HAT TIP: Rod Dreher.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

All the stuff we can't live without


Gotta have me an iPhone.

Ooh! Ooh! And an iPad.

And a smart phone! And an iPod! And a digital camera . . . and a laptop, too!

There's a lot of stuff we can't live without today -- despite the fact that we of a certain age all lived quite nicely without every single bit of it just 30 years ago.

TROUBLE IS, says Nicholas Kristof in his New York Times column, lots of people in the Congo can't live in peace -- or at all -- because of all the stuff we can't live without:
I’ve never reported on a war more barbaric than Congo’s, and it haunts me. In Congo, I’ve seen women who have been mutilated, children who have been forced to eat their parents’ flesh, girls who have been subjected to rapes that destroyed their insides. Warlords finance their predations in part through the sale of mineral ore containing tantalum, tungsten, tin and gold. For example, tantalum from Congo is used to make electrical capacitors that go into phones, computers and gaming devices.

Electronics manufacturers have tried to hush all this up. They want you to look at a gadget and think “sleek,” not “blood.”

Yet now there’s a grass-roots movement pressuring companies to keep these “conflict minerals” out of high-tech supply chains. Using Facebook and YouTube, activists are harassing companies like Apple, Intel and Research in Motion (which makes the BlackBerry) to get them to lean on their suppliers and ensure the use of, say, Australian tantalum rather than tantalum peddled by a Congolese militia.

A humorous new video taunting Apple and PC computers alike goes online this weekend on YouTube, with hopes that it will go viral. Put together by a group of Hollywood actors, it’s a spoof on the famous “I’m a Mac”/”I’m a PC” ad and suggests that both are sometimes built from conflict minerals.

“Guess we have some things in common after all,” Mac admits.

Protesters demonstrated outside the grand opening of Apple’s new store in Washington, demanding that the company commit to using only clean minerals. Last month, activists blanketed Intel’s Facebook page with calls to support tough legislation to curb trade in conflict minerals. For a time, Intel disabled comments — creating a stink that called more attention to blood minerals than human rights campaigners ever could.
AS I contemplate this, and reflect on how complicated and pampered our Western lives have become, I'm thinking of Maude. Yeah, Bea Arthur's character in the '70s Norman Lear sitcom.

Whenever her husband, Walter, did something to irk her, she always rolled out what became her catchphrase:
"God's gonna get you for that, Walter."

We're Walter.

Monday, June 28, 2010

This is (CLUNK) what it's come to


This is what 8-track cartridges are good for today. Even (especially?) at an estate sale Sunday.


Even though I had little use for the things 30-something years ago, I still cannot escape the gnawing realization of these pictures as metaphor. For my youth.

For me.

FOR THE whole world I knew . . . and, frankly, thought wasn't that terrible.

Crap.

Yesterday's a dream
I face the mornin'
Cryin' on . . . CLUNK . . . a breeze
The pain is callin', oh Mandy

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blithering Pinheads


Dear oiled wildlife: You're screwed.

Here's what happened Saturday when someone called BP's Oiled Wildlife Hotline:
"She kept putting us on hold constantly, and then she came back and asked me what restaurant I was close to. And obviously we're not near any restaurants, we're in the bay, out near an island -- Cat Island -- and she didn't understand what Cat Island was. She kept asking me what state I was in."
THING IS, you'd think these morons would know where Cat Island was by now. Saturday's wasn't the first call to the hotline from there:


(866) 557-1401. It's where IQ tests go to die.

Gulf wildlife, too.

It pay$ to be a $crew-up


Isn't it funny how some of the best political criticism ever comes quite by accident and unawares -- in this case, into an open mike?

The scene was a Sarah Palin address Friday night at a Cal State -- Stanislaus fund-raiser. You can see some of that above. Afterward, unawares into the open mic, an unseen reporter utters the money quote of the year in political analysis:

"Now I know the dumbness doesn't come from just soundbites."


THE ASCENT of Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate, says something really bad about America today. And I'm not necessarily talking politics; I'm talking about things moral and culture here.

How is it that the biggest thing in the Republican Party right now is a woman who, judging the YouTube evidence, was a pretty horrible sportscaster on Anchorage TV? This before going on to be equally bad at everything else.

After tanking as a TV sports babe, Palin went on to be mayor of a little Alaska city, then parlayed that into the governor's mansion.

In Juneau, she served as an unexceptional (and basically unknown) chief executive, before being plucked from obscurity by Sen. John McCain to be his running mate in 2008. In that role, she was an woefully unprepared, extraordinarily gaffe-prone veep candidate who excited crowds by playing to their worst instincts.

And, unsurprisingly, the woman who sowed as much division inside the McCain-Palin campaign as she did among the electorate became a
failed vice-presidential candidate when the Republicans went down in flames. This was before, less than a year later, she became a failed governor -- resigning her office amid a flurry of media scrutiny and state ethics investigations.

MEANWHILE, some point out that the woman isn't doing so hot at parenting, either.

But there is one thing at which Sarah Palin is really, really good -- promoting herself. And by extension, making money --
lots and lots of money -- off that self-promotion.

In a Salon column by Joan Walsh, we learn this about that "fund-raising" speech Palin gave in Turlock, Calif.:
Palin's entire appearance was controversial. Raising money for California State University-Stanislaus, she reportedly charged a $75,000 speaker's fee and asked for another $18,000 or so in expenses, including first class plane travel for her entourage and luxury accommodations. Although CSU is a public university, its leaders didn't disclose Palin's demands -- saying a private foundation was raising the funds, and was thus exempt from public disclosure laws – and we only know about them because intrepid student journalists found the contract in a dumpster.

In her speech Friday night, the vengeful Palin trashed the students as "dumpster divers" with her trademark meanness: "Students who spent their valuable, precious time diving through dumpsters before this event in order to silence someone ... what a wasted resource," she told the crowd. "A suggestion for those Dumpster divers: Instead of trying to tell people to sit down and shut up ... spend some time telling people like our president to finally stand up." CSU student journalists were barred from the speech.
IT TAKES a special lack of integrity to make the kind of money Palin does for being such a colossal f***-up. For being such an ill-informed, unprepared doofus. For being such a political failure, not to mention a quitter.

It takes a special kind of gall to charge $93,000 to give an awful speech at a fund-raiser for a cash-strapped public university.

It takes a special kind of moral disorientation to be the public embodiment of Sarah Palin, Inc.

And we're just the kind of morally disoriented country to let her get away with it.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Calling Sally Struthers. . . .


All Obama's horses and all BP's men can't put a good shrimp po-boy back together again.

This nursery rhyme from the oily bowels of hell represents yet another face of the BPocalypse, another glimpse into a culture and a people being murdered as surely as greed corrupts . . . and corporate greed corrupts absolutely.

When Tony Hayward and the feds are done with south Louisiana, I wonder whether Sally Struthers will trek down there to make Cajun Children's Fund ads with starving bayou babies?

HERE'S A little thing from The Associated Press, whose reporter is surveying the wreckage down near the End of the World, cher:
Vicki Guillot has served her last seafood po-boy.

The local bounty of fresh shrimp and oysters that once kept the only restaurant in this rural Louisiana town bustling can no longer be culled from the Gulf of Mexico because of the massive oil spill that has fouled the water.

All her distributors can offer her now is imported shrimp at twice the price she was paying 10 weeks ago before an oil rig explosion triggered the disaster that has dumped millions of gallons of crude off the Gulf Coast.

"The last price I got from him was for imported shrimp, and I said, 'No thank you,'" Guillot said Thursday. "Our waters are all around here, our boys fished all the time. To buy imported?"

Then, she shook her head from side to side as she broke down in tears in the kitchen of Debbie's Cafe.

Guillot, 49, had to close the restaurant for good Tuesday after just six months in business.

Friday, June 25, 2010

3 Chords & the Truth: Singing in tongues


Diese Woche auf 3 Chords & die Wahrheit, könnte man sagen, dass wir mit einem musikalischen Turmbau zu Babel.

Musik aus aller Welt, die alle durch die Jahrzehnte, die alle in verschiedenen Sprachen. Nur nicht Englisch ist.

Das ist so ziemlich das Spiel für das erste Drittel des Big Show -- und es ist ein guter. Du wirst sehen. . . oder vielmehr zu hören. Einfach zuhören, OK?

Es ist 3 Chords & die Wahrheit, euch alle. Seien Sie dabei. Aloha.



QUESTA SETTIMANA il 3 Chords & la Verità, si potrebbe dire che siamo dotate di una torre di Babele musicale.

Musica da tutto il mondo, tutto attraverso i decenni, tutti in lingue diverse. Solo, non in inglese.

Questo è esattamente il piano di gioco per il primo terzo del Big Show -- ed è un buon compromesso. Vedrai. . . o, meglio, sentire. Basta ascoltare, OK?

Si tratta di 3 Chords & la Verità, tutti voi. Essere lì. Aloha.


3和音&真実の今週場合は、我々はバベルの音楽の塔を備えていると言うかもしれない。

音楽は世界中から、すべての数十年を通じて、すべての異なる舌インチ英語だけはありません。

それはかなり最初のビッグショーの3分の1のためのゲームプランだ - そしてそれは良いものだ。やってみなよ。 。 。というか、聞いています。ただ、[OK]を聞く?

それが3和音&真実である場合、すべての。そこにいなさい。アロハ。



DENNA VECKA 3 Chords & Sanningen kan man säga vi featuring en musikalisk Babels torn.

Musik från hela världen, alla genom årtionden, alla i olika språk. Bara inte engelska.

Det är ganska mycket i spelet planen för första tredjedelen av Big Show - och det är en bra en. Du kommer att se. . . eller snarare höra. Lyssna bara, okej?

Det är 3 Chords & Sanningen, ni alla. Vara där. Aloha.


THII WEEH ahh 3 Chorr & th' Truu, yuh miiiiii aay weeh featurin' uh musicuh tow'r uh Baabuh.

Musiih fra aah ov'r th' whurr, aw throughtha decaay, aw 'n diff'uhh tuhh. Jus' naah En'liih.

Thaah pre'ih muuh th' gaah plaah fuh th' fuuhh thir' th' Biih Show -- an' iih a guuh 'n. Yuh seen . . . uh, raath'heah. Juuh liih, OKaaaaaaay?

Iih 3 Chorr & th' Trooh, y'aah. Be th'aa. 'Looha.


ESTA SEMANA, el 3 de Acordes y la Verdad, se podría decir que estamos con una torre de Babel musical.

Música de todo el mundo, a lo largo de las décadas, todos en lenguas diferentes. Simplemente no Inglés.

Eso es más o menos el plan de juego para el primer tercio del Big Show -- y es una buena idea. Ya lo verás. . . o, mejor dicho, oír. Sólo escucha, ¿OK?

Está a 3 Acordes y la Verdad, a todos. Estar allí. Aloha.


CETTE SEMAINE sur les 3 Accords et la Vérité, vous pourriez dire que nous sommes dotées d'une tour de Babel musicale.

Musique de partout dans le monde, tout au long des décennies, le tout dans des langues différentes. Juste pas l'anglais.

C'est à peu près le plan de match pour le premier tiers du Grand Spectacle -- et c'est une bonne chose. Vous verrez. . . ou, plutôt, d'entendre. Il suffit d'écouter, OK?

Il est 3 Accords et la Vérité, à vous tous. Soyez là. Aloha.


THIS WEEK on 3 Chords & the Truth, you might say we're featuring a musical tower of Babel.

Music from all over the world, all through the decades, all in different tongues. Just not English.

That's pretty much the game plan for the first third of the Big Show -- and it's a good one. You'll see . . . or, rather, hear. Just listen, OK?

It's 3 Chords & the Truth, y'all. Be there. Aloha.

Design . . . by Apple


Call it Design by Apple.

If you hold the new iPhone model wrong, your calls get dropped.

And then, if you drop your iPhone -- and really, it's a blinkin' cell phone . . . all God's people drop their cell phones -- this happens:



THERE IS a term for this. "Really bad design."

It may be pretty, but it obviously isn't practical. Practical is important. Epic fail for Apple.

Of course, it could be that Apple was aiming to create a metaphor for the Age of Consumerism. If so, brilliant.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

'God help us all'



Before hurricane season is over, chances are some part of the oil-fouled Gulf coastline is going to get whacked.

And when it does, a whole heapin' helpin' of toxic slop is going to go far inland.




I COULDN'T tell you how far inland in places like this -- northwest Florida. But I can tell you the oil could get way far "inland" in Louisiana.



AND IF -- when -- it does, we have no idea of the hell that's going to be unleashed in every possible way all hell can break loose.

President Obama must be clueless. A sane man, in possession of a clue, wouldn't be handling this mess as Obama has thus far.

He wouldn't be this lackadaisical on skimming the glop on the open water, as opposed to letting it get into marshes and estuaries.


AND HIS administration wouldn't be throwing roadblock after roadblock in front of local officials trying to do something to block the oil, even if it's of questionable value.

Certainly, a sane chief executive wouldn't be shutting down what's left of the economy of a battered state with a draconian deepwater-drilling "moratorium" that a scientific panel never recommended. No one -- aside from, perhaps, certain libertarian nutwagons -- is advocating anything less than strict federal oversight of ongoing and future drilling, something the Obama Administration was less than rigorous about before . . .
well . . . you know.

But this moratorium? Further crippling an already crippled economy?
In the middle of the Great Recession?

How does one go from almost Bushian levels of regulatory indifference to an outright ban so quickly, with so little regard for the economic and human toll?


THEN AGAIN, if people can get used to oily beaches enough that they let their kids play in the "tar balls" -- get used enough that they just pack Goo Gone in their beach bag, just like tanning lotion and Off -- maybe all the president's men figure folks along the Gulf coast will adjust to abject poverty amid a toxic "new normal" and won't make much trouble for Obama.

Or maybe the very legitimacy of the U.S. government -- one in the process of being exposed as both feckless
and uncaring -- will be challenged in ways we haven't allowed ourselves to imagine since 1865.

As the guy on Pensacola Beach said yesterday, "God help us all."

The press' big secret that never was


Journalists are human . . . fallen creatures . . . craven . . . eager to go along with the "cool kids."

And they'd just as soon not have all their shortcomings paraded around for the world to see and their credibility to rue.

I'll alert the media.


THING IS, says Jay Rosen of New York University, they'd just spike the story. This, from his PressThink blog, on how Politico let the cat out of the bag, then stuffed it back in there and threw the sack in the river of denial:
As everyone who pays attention to the news knows by now, an article appeared in Rolling Stone this week by freelance reporter Mark Hastings that would up forcing the resignation of General Stanley A. McChrystal as commander of American troops in Afghanistan. Hastings had been invited to hang out with McChrystal and his staff and was witness to their contempt for the civilian side of the war effort, which he reported on. It was a shock to everyone in Washington that McChrystal would make such a blunder, and the press began immediately to dissect it.

The Politico was so hopped up about the story that it took the extraordinary step of posting on its site a PDF of Rolling Stone’s article because Rolling Stone had not put it online fast enough. In one of the many articles The Politico ran about the episode the following observation was made by reporters Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee:

McChrystal, an expert on counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, has long been thought to be uniquely qualified to lead in Afghanistan. But he is not known for being media savvy. Hastings, who has covered the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for two years, according to the magazine, is not well-known within the Defense Department. And as a freelance reporter, Hastings would be considered a bigger risk to be given unfettered access, compared with a beat reporter, who would not risk burning bridges by publishing many of McChrystal’s remarks.

Now this seemed to several observers—and I was one—a reveal. Think about what the Politico is saying: an experienced beat reporter is less of a risk for a powerful figure like McChrystal because an experienced beat reporter would probably not want to “burn bridges” with key sources by telling the world what happens when those sources let their guard down.


(snip)

Right. And that’s exactly what Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee did. They revealed one of political journalism’s state secrets: beat reporters have a motive to preserve key relationships, so they often don’t tell us everything they could, which makes them more reliable, more predictable, in the eyes of the powerful people they cover. They were being good Politico people by asking: how could McChrystal and his staff be so unsavvy?

And Andew Sullivan picked up on it. “Why, one wonders, have we not heard a peep of this from all the official MSM Pentagon reporters and analysts with their deep sources and long experience? Politico explains…” Then he cut to the passage from reporters Lubold and Lee that I began with.

Meanwhile, Thomas Ricks, formerly a beat reporter covering the military for the Washington Post, made a similar observation at his blog for Foreign Policy magazine:

Reporters doing one-off profiles for magazines such as Rolling Stone and Esquire have less invested in a continuing relationship than do beat reporters covering the war for newspapers and newsmagazines. That doesn’t mean you should avoid one-off reporters, but it does mean that they have no incentive to establish and maintain a relationship of trust over weeks and months of articles.

Our reveal is looking pretty good, isn’t it? Gordon Lubold and Carol E. Lee let us in on a little trade secret. They have no motive to make it up. Lee is a beat reporter herself, qualified to speak on the subject. Lubold has covered the military for years. Politico trades in this kind of observation; it was founded to reveal some of journalism’s “state secrets.” Tom Ricks, a former beat reporter for the Washington Post who also covered the military, says pretty much the same thing: beat reporters have an investment in continuing the relationship so they are less risky for a powerful figure like McChrystal.

And then, the next day… the reveal disappears. The Politico erased it, as if the thing had never happened. Down the memory hole, like in Orwell’s 1984. The story as you encounter it online today doesn’t have that part (“would not risk burning bridges…”) in it.
THIS is only "news" because too many in the journalism profession have convinced themselves they're special, an opinion not shared (to the chagrin of The Daily Blab) by much of their audience.

And, by Jove, you don't tug on Superman's cape. Or put Clark Kent's little secret under a banner headline on the front page.

Unfortunately for convenient little fictions, it's already all over
Facebook. It was all over Facebook decades before there was a Facebook.

Episode 1, Season 1 of
Lou Grant was all about it (above). That was 1977. And it wasn't the only time this phenomenon has wormed its way into the popular imagination.

We all know journalists -- or, at least, of journalists -- who are "in the tank" for someone or something. The same goes for reporters who hold back to preserve their "access."

No one likes to be the kid who's always left out. We all crave approval, even from all the wrong people, and we, as a rule, enthusiastically play "the Game."

It takes courage to go against the grain, to be the lone wolf. It takes even more courage to be a truth-teller when doing so is going to cost you big time.

Sure, your editor will praise you for your big "get," but will he or she be so pleased with you when you start getting scooped week after week on all the "everyday" stories, and a few big ones, too? "Access" isn't nothing in a competitive environment.

In the military, they give out medals for heroism because humans, by their nature, aren't. Valor is extraordinary; we recognize that.

Ditto with major journalism awards, like the Pulitzer. True truth-telling, even in journalism, is exceptional.

It's the reason we have heroes. It's the reason journalism students of my generation were filled with visions of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bringing down a president. Of the
New York Times and the Washington Post risking all to publish the Pentagon Papers.

And then Woodward became an editor at the Post . . . and started writing books where he got unprecedented "access" in return for putting the stories born of that access . . . in his books. Later. And not in the Post. Tomorrow.

Journalists? Playing "the Game"?

Who knew?

MOST ALL of us, that's who. At least those of us vaguely familiar with the concept of "original sin" and fully in touch with what true gutless wonders we're fully capable of being -- and how utterly ordinary that is.

In my opinion -- which, to the surprise only of journalists, matches that of scads of folks -- the story here isn't that Politico quickly ran outside to fetch their dirty underwear off the clothesline. The story here, instead, is more like "Whom do they think they're fooling?"

Only themselves. And that's my final answer.

Apples. Hotcakes. Head gaskets.






You got your agriculture. You got your cooking lesson. You got your basic auto repair. What's not to love about this 1966 episode of
Green Acres?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sign of the times


No, the oil spill never was funny. But whoever was behind the "BP cleanup crew" Twitter feed helped to keep us sane as we were hit with daily deluges of tragedy.

And now the BPocalypse claims another victim --
our sense of humor.

I concur with the above sentiments concerning BP. Rat-bastard genocide mongers.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Taking it out on the 'small people'


Devoured all the news today. That was a big mistake.

Got the top general in Afghanistan being insubordinate in front of a Rolling Stone reporter and, therefore, all the world.

Got any number of plugged-in political types saying, yeah, what Gen. Stanley McChrystal said about his civilian bosses was bad . . . but, geez, we don't know if President Obama can afford to fire him.

Got a federal judge in New Orleans striking down Obama's moratorium on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

And now we got Interior Secretary Ken Salazar vowing to impose a new moratorium on such offshore drilling.


A PATTERN is emerging here. A swaggering Obama talks about finding out "whose ass to kick" and then talks big about what BP is going to pay for in the Gulf . . . right before getting rolled by BP, which refuses to pay for what Obama promised Americans it would.

A swaggering Obama calls McChrystal on the carpet last fall for ridiculing remarks by the vice-president . . . right before McChrystal and the Pentagon roll him and get "the surge." And now McChrystal and his aides further heap ridicule upon the civilian leadership -- including Obama himself this time -- to Michael Hastings, who got it all on tape . . . or in his notepad:

The next morning, McChrystal and his team gather to prepare for a speech he is giving at the École Militaire, a French military academy. The general prides himself on being sharper and ballsier than anyone else, but his brashness comes with a price: Although McChrystal has been in charge of the war for only a year, in that short time he has managed to piss off almost everyone with a stake in the conflict. Last fall, during the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in London, McChrystal dismissed the counterterrorism strategy being advocated by Vice President Joe Biden as "shortsighted," saying it would lead to a state of "Chaos-istan." The remarks earned him a smackdown from the president himself, who summoned the general to a terse private meeting aboard Air Force One. The message to McChrystal seemed clear: Shut the f*** up, and keep a lower profile

Now, flipping through printout cards of his speech in Paris, McChrystal wonders aloud what Biden question he might get today, and how he should respond. "I never know what's going to pop out until I'm up there, that's the problem," he says. Then, unable to help themselves, he and his staff imagine the general dismissing the vice president with a good one-liner.

"Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?"

"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"

When Barack Obama entered the Oval Office, he immediately set out to deliver on his most important campaign promise on foreign policy: to refocus the war in Afghanistan on what led us to invade in the first place. "I want the American people to understand," he announced in March 2009. "We have a clear and focused goal: to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan." He ordered another 21,000 troops to Kabul, the largest increase since the war began in 2001. Taking the advice of both the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he also fired Gen. David McKiernan – then the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan – and replaced him with a man he didn't know and had met only briefly: Gen. Stanley McChrystal. It was the first time a top general had been relieved from duty during wartime in more than 50 years, since Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur at the height of the Korean War.

Even though he had voted for Obama, McChrystal and his new commander in chief failed from the outset to connect. The general first encountered Obama a week after he took office, when the president met with a dozen senior military officials in a room at the Pentagon known as the Tank. According to sources familiar with the meeting, McChrystal thought Obama looked "uncomfortable and intimidated" by the roomful of military brass. Their first one-on-one meeting took place in the Oval Office four months later, after McChrystal got the Afghanistan job, and it didn't go much better. "It was a 10-minute photo op," says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his f***ing war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed."


(snip)

Part of the problem is structural: The Defense Department budget exceeds $600 billion a year, while the State Department receives only $50 billion. But part of the problem is personal: In private, Team McChrystal likes to talk shit about many of Obama's top people on the diplomatic side. One aide calls Jim Jones, a retired four-star general and veteran of the Cold War, a "clown" who remains "stuck in 1985." Politicians like McCain and Kerry, says another aide, "turn up, have a meeting with Karzai, criticize him at the airport press conference, then get back for the Sunday talk shows. Frankly, it's not very helpful." Only Hillary Clinton receives good reviews from McChrystal's inner circle. "Hillary had Stan's back during the strategic review," says an adviser. "She said, 'If Stan wants it, give him what he needs.' "

McChrystal reserves special skepticism for Holbrooke, the official in charge of reintegrating the Taliban. "The Boss says he's like a wounded animal," says a member of the general's team. "Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he's going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous. He's a brilliant guy, but he just comes in, pulls on a lever, whatever he can grasp onto. But this is COIN, and you can't just have someone yanking on shit."

At one point on his trip to Paris, McChrystal checks his BlackBerry. "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke," he groans. "I don't even want to open it." He clicks on the message and reads the salutation out loud, then stuffs the BlackBerry back in his pocket, not bothering to conceal his annoyance.

"Make sure you don't get any of that on your leg," an aide jokes, referring to the e-mail.

By far the most crucial – and strained – relationship is between McChrystal and Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador. According to those close to the two men, Eikenberry – a retired three-star general who served in Afghanistan in 2002 and 2005 – can't stand that his former subordinate is now calling the shots. He's also furious that McChrystal, backed by NATO's allies, refused to put Eikenberry in the pivotal role of viceroy in Afghanistan, which would have made him the diplomatic equivalent of the general. The job instead went to British Ambassador Mark Sedwill – a move that effectively increased McChrystal's influence over diplomacy by shutting out a powerful rival. "In reality, that position needs to be filled by an American for it to have weight," says a U.S. official familiar with the negotiations.

The relationship was further strained in January, when a classified cable that Eikenberry wrote was leaked to The New York Times. The cable was as scathing as it was prescient. The ambassador offered a brutal critique of McChrystal's strategy, dismissed President Hamid Karzai as "not an adequate strategic partner," and cast doubt on whether the counterinsurgency plan would be "sufficient" to deal with Al Qaeda. "We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves," Eikenberry warned, "short of allowing the country to descend again into lawlessness and chaos."

McChrystal and his team were blindsided by the cable. "I like Karl, I've known him for years, but they'd never said anything like that to us before," says McChrystal, who adds that he felt "betrayed" by the leak. "Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.' "
THE ONLY WAY the military -- or at least this part of it -- could show anymore contempt for the commander in chief, civilian rule and the constitution would be to frog march Obama out of the White House with an M-16 to his head . . . right before seizing control of the TV networks and announcing the coup d'état as a fait accompli.

The obvious course of action here would be to fire McChrystal on the spot. Now, it's starting to look not so obvious, says
The Washington Post:
But relieving McChrystal of his command on the eve of a major offensive in Kandahar, which White House and Pentagon officials have said is the most critical of the war, would be a major blow to the war effort, said military experts. The president has set a July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, creating massive pressure on the military and McChrystal to make progress in stabilizing Afghanistan this summer and fall when troop levels are at their peak.

"My advice is to call him back to Washington, publicly chastise him and then make it clear that there is something greater at stake here," said Nathaniel Fick, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now chief executive of the Center for a New American Security. "It takes time for anyone to get up to speed, and right now time is our most precious commodity in Afghanistan." If Obama believes the current counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan is the right one, then he cannot afford to jettison McChrystal, Fick said.
OBAMA CAN'T win Afghanistan. But he can lose civilian control over the military, and greatly speed up the bipartisan, administrations-long process of delegitimizing the U.S. government.

And faced with a fresh humiliation at the office, Barack Obama comes home, puts on his favorite "wife-beater" and opens up a fresh can of Stanley Kowalski on the hapless people of Louisiana:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Tuesday he will issue a new order imposing a moratorium on deepwater drilling after a federal judge struck down the existing one.

Salazar said in a statement that the new order will contain additional information making clear why the six-month drilling pause was necessary in the wake of the Gulf oil spill. The judge in New Orleans who struck down the moratorium earlier in the day complained there wasn't enough justification for it.

Salazar pointed to indications of inadequate industry safety precautions on deepwater wells. "Based on this ever-growing evidence, I will issue a new order in the coming days that eliminates any doubt that a moratorium is needed, appropriate, and within our authorities."


(snip)

Salazar said in his late Tuesday statement imposing a moratorium "was and is the right decision."

"We see clear evidence every day, as oil spills from BP's well, of the need for a pause on deepwater drilling," Salazar said. "That evidence mounts as BP continues to be unable to stop its blowout, notwithstanding the huge efforts and help from the federal scientific team and most major oil companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico."
OF COURSE, when a feckless and emasculated president starts abusing the "small people" just to prove he can kick somebody's -- anybody's -- ass, what he may well end up doing is finishing off a wounded state. And nothing says "economic recovery" like possibly erasing 100,000 jobs in a matter of mere months.

In that case, the bed Obama makes for himself just might be
The Burning Bed.

A pouch of Red Man with every internal passport!


Leave it to a conservative, God-fearin' enclave of flag-wavin' all-Americanism like Fremont, Neb., to turn itself into a Stalinist enclave in the name of . . . Americanism.

Because there are Hispanics in town, and because some of them might be illegal, a town's gotta do what a town's gotta do. In the case of the small city northwest of Omaha, that means "requiring renters to provide information to the police and to obtain city occupancy licenses," says an article in today's
New York Times.

And people think Barack Obama's a Nazi.
Or is he a totalitarian commie? I forget which . . . maybe he's both.

Now I'm wondering what America has to say about this brand-new, pint-sized police state on the Plains?


HERE'S WHAT
the Times said, anyway:

In Fremont, a meat-packing town of about 25,000 people, unofficial results from The Associated Press late Monday showed that 57 percent of voters approved a referendum barring landlords from renting to those in the country illegally, requiring renters to provide information to the police and to obtain city occupancy licenses, and obliging city businesses to use a federal database to check for illegal immigrants.

Opponents of the new law, including some business and church leaders, had argued that the City of Fremont simply could not afford the new law, which is all but certain to be challenged in court. In a flurry of television commercials and presentations by opponents in the final days before Monday’s vote, opponents said paying to defend such a local law would require a significant cut in Fremont city services or a stiff tax increase — or some combination of the two.

“There were a lot of tears in this room tonight,” said Kristin Ostrom, an opponent who gathered with others in an old V.F.W. building to await the results. “Unfortunately, people have voted for an ordinance that’s going to cost millions of dollars, and that says to the Hispanic community that the Anglo community is saying they are not welcome here. They thought they were coming to a small-town community with small-town values.”
AYE, THERE be the rub -- those "small-town values" again. What people forget is "small-town values" cut both ways.


OFTENTIMES, "small-town values" are dictated by small-minded people with big-boned fears of The Other. Like Mexicans coming into town to work at the packing plants for low wages and few benefits -- big-corporation "values."

This, of course, is more commonly known as "exploitation." And none of it can work without the diligent efforts of local managers who, no doubt, will wax eloquently all day long about how it's "small-town values" that make Fremont such a great place to work and live.

For all I know, some of the packing-plant brass might have voted for Fremont's little totalitarian scheme. It's no skin off their nose; their plants lie outside the Fremont city limits.
As residents of Fremont began considering what the decision would now mean, details of the new law were a new matter for debate. Some noted, with puzzlement, that the law would not apply to the area’s two biggest meatpacking plants (including Hormel, the largest employer) because they are just outside the city’s official boundaries, and that the law would also not apply to “casual labor for domestic tasks” around Fremont homes. But some said they believe the housing requirements — and new $5 occupancy license rule — might apply to people living in nursing homes.
SEE, THE LAW doesn't even cover the gardener. Is Fremont a great town, or what?

Still, you have to wonder how seriously anyone -- including what illegal immigrants may reside in Moscow on the Platte -- will take it when the person demanding
"Your papers, please" is wearing a seed cap?