Monday, December 17, 2007

Climate Scientists at Prayer

Just yesterday, the Pope weighed in on the subject of climate change. Which is helpful, because what better way to cut through the noise of debate than to get an infallible opinion?

The Pope reportedly intimated that the climate debate was being skewed by a fringe group of unethical, ideologically hidebound charlatans hell bent on obscuring truth and ignoring reason in order to get their way. Just who are these nefarious schemers? No, not the baptists, whose grill one might expect the Pope to be eager to get all up in. The evildoers are--wait for it--the environmentalists! Apparently they have been driven by their Wiccan masters to create a mass illusion of global warming so that they may play midwife to the birth of a brave new world of composting toilets, recumbent bicycles and hackey-sack tournaments.

Needless to say, like any decent satirist, I wept for joy when I heard the report. When, pray, had fertilizer distributor ever backed up a dump truck in a driveway and disgorged six cubic yards of such fecund manure in which to cultivate the pointless and profitless musings of an intellectual mediocrity such as I? In my imagination, I humbly accepted numerous major awards for the riotous, scathing, globally transformative, and yet somehow achingly poignant piece I would soon write on the topic. At the thought of how poignant it would be, tears welled in my eyes again, though I had not the foggiest notion from whence the aforementioned poignancy would be derived.

Just one problem. What the Pope actually said was nothing like what they said he said. Perhaps the pointy hat thingy he wears fell down over his face and momentarily obscured his words.

This was an enormous disappointment. It was like a dream where you are starting your swing on a world series winning homer and suddenly the bat becomes a live chicken and the ball turns into Carol Channing. You awake to the deafening screeching that ensues.

However, I find some small solace in this little dumpling of a thought: the Pope was actually correct when he said what he never said. The environmentalists are close minded ideologues committed to world domination. I ought to know--for I am the most pious of environmentalists.

Though we are a largely ecumenical collection, all environmentalists acknowledge one central, revealed truth: the apocalypse is nigh. Christians, for their part, welcome the apocalypse. It signals the coming of the Messiah, redemption, and the kingdom of God. Though the Bible is short on details with regards to what day to day life will be like after The End, it is generally assumed that in the Kingdom of Christ, gas prices will come down to under a dollar a gallon, fat will be considered attractive, and malls will be open 24/7. On lazy summer evenings, the children will catch fireflies until dusk, and then roast marshmallows over the fresh burning corpses of gays and atheists.

Surely for Christianity these are flush times. They've got a ringer in the White House, the signs of the second coming falling into place like three cherries on a slot machine, and, apparently, unlimited access to meth-dealing male prostitutes. What could be better than that? If they have an enemy right now, it can only be complacency. It's a wonder they don't just lay around in bed all day.

Not so for we environmentalists. We believe that there is no "after" The End. It will be like sleep, but without dreams, and not followed by coffee and pancakes. Ever.

Thus, for us there is no greater goal than the preservation of our own skinny little vegan asses.

You must understand, we don't have a Bible of our own to provide insight as to what the future holds, what meaning there is to existence, or whether it's OK to eat shellfish. Instead we are reliant upon the constantly revised consensus of a class of mystics we call "scientists." Selected based on how smart they look in glasses and how dull they are at parties, they roam the four corners of the globe (which we hold by faith to be spherical, by the way) and look for signs that will tell us what the future holds and what meaning there is to existence.

Once, in ancient times, scientists conducted their investigations by examining the organs of sacrificed sheep, the distribution of scattered cowrie shells, and the patterns of bird flight. Nowadays, they do exactly the same thing, but they have clipboards and they wash their hands frequently. Periodically, our scientists gather together, compare notes, and then issue a statement of belief. And their belief becomes our creed, or canon, if you will.

Right now, our piously held faith with regard to the future is that there isn't going to be one.

You can see why this realization, by itself, would be upsetting. But to fully appreciate the extent of our present discomfiture, you must take into account a second fundamental doctrine of our order, which is that life has no meaning.

Now you might think that believing that life has no intrinsic meaning would incline us to surrender our mortal coils with a shrug of indifference. But counterintuitive as it might seem, though we're not sure why we are living, we are really, really, REALLY certain we don't want to die.

Thus we environmentalists face a paradox framed by core tenets of our own beliefs, an existential crisis analogous to the impending permanent triumph of Satan. Really-really-don't-want-to-die, meet going-to-die. There's plenty of room to debate the opposing views of environmentalists and Christian fundamentalists, but it's pretty obvious which group is more acutely dangerous and likely to lash out. You'd better believe we are reevaluating our pacific tendencies regarding means and ends. And while there may still be a list of things we won't do, we don't need a very big piece of paper on which to write them down.

So what the Pope didn't say was true. But before you Christians settle into the cocoon of smug, smarmy, self-satisfaction with which you are so familiar, consider this. Though you may be inclined to dismiss our scientists because they are a little fuzzy on apostolic theology, they've nonetheless proven to be pretty good about predicting events in the world of the senses. They know why plastic wrap keeps casseroles fresh. They know what combinations of fibers lead to itchy underwear. And they know when there's a good chance that the climate is tipping into patterns of behavior unprecedented during man's time on earth, and likely to be a lot more irritating than any wool-blend briefs.

How's the weather down there in Atlanta? Not getting much rain, are you?

Just because you may not be going to hell anytime soon doesn't mean it's not going to get hot.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Crisis Report: Are There Enough Psychos Left to Run this Government?

News Analysis

The release of a National Intelligence Estimate proclaiming the consensus view of U.S. analysts that Iran is not, after all, building a nuclear weapon dropped on Washington like a weapon of mass destruction this week.

News coverage has been light relative to the magnitude of the issue, and has focused largely on perceived damage to the Bush administration's credibility and questions about whether the President was aware of the substance of the report even as he warned that Iran posed an imminent nuclear threat.

But analysts and government insiders suggest that the media has been slow to pursue a number of important facets of the story.

Uri Bolgakov, an analyst with Jane's Defense Weekly, expressed disappointment that the media has failed to uncover more of the technical backstory and covert operational detail.

"I would expect," said Bolgakov, "that a case like this would involve numerous curvaceous Persian femmes fatale, scenes of high-stakes baccarat play, and the massive explosion of a secret underground Uranium enrichment facility, heralded by a disembodied voice counting down the seconds to the final conflagration over a loudspeaker. At least, that's how it usually happens. Certainly we want to know what team of geniuses labored over satellite photos and sensor readings to piece together the puzzle? What tortured, epic subterranean political artery did the news follow to escape the inky maze of bureaucratic purgatory and burst into the bright light of day on CNN?"

"God," concluded Mr. Bolgakov, "Persian women are so hot."

Most news outlets did not respond to our inquiries regarding the lack of coverage Bolgakov bemoaned. However, Jack Weis, Managing Editor for International News at MSNBC, was dismissive.

"Boring," said Mr. Weis. "Is Brad Pitt involved? Does it have tits? Call me back when it has tits."

It seems clear that lacking celebrities, frontal nudity, or televised auditions by amateur vocalists dreaming of stardom, mainstream media outlets will be disinclined to pursue the backstory behind the NIE. But some remain bullish on the potential for the NIE issue to provide a compelling narrative.

"A more fruitful vein of inquiry," says New York times film critic A.O. Scott, "if we are to derive from this issue the entertainment so foundational to our national security and way of life, follows the thread of personal betrayal, revenge, and internecine power play within the Bush administration that is revealed by the unexpected release of this NIE. Here at least is the stuff of drama. Here are Stephen Hadley and the President at the dais magnifying their shame by refusing to acknowledge their error. There is Dick Cheney raging in his office, his torrent of profanity accompanied by an escorting rain of froth and spittle. And there, in the background, are the veiled Greek chorus of neoconservative bootlickers wailing in dismay."

"And just in time for Christmas. Thank you, Mr. President!"

But there are whispers among Washington insiders about a facet of this story that has been ignored. One that has, they say, dire implications for the future of the current administration and the country.

No one from the administration agreed to speak on the record. But one insider in a position to know offered this perspective: "All observers of the Bush White House understand that the release of this report represents a profound failure of the hitherto flawlessly coordinated messaging of agencies managed by the executive branch. I'm referring to agencies like the Department of Defense, the Justice Department, the courts, both houses of Congress, Fox News, Chuck Norris—they know who they are. The plan to demonize and then attack Iran has been a done deal for about three years. Word from the OVP is that Cheney already had plans to have himself packed in a coffin filled with the soil of his native Wyoming and shipped to the soon-to-be newest American military base in the center of Tehran, there to celebrate his 1,451st birthday. And then McConnell comes along and just shoves this NIE up Cheney's ass. Unbelievable."

The NIE's release has been widely interpreted as the result of a rift between hawkish elements of the administration on one side, and those favoring diplomacy on the other. According to sources, the reason the White House has done so little to dispel such speculation stems from a fear that any public discussion of the real cause would sow panic among policy makers and business leaders alike.

"At the heart of the matter, what we are dealing with is a personnel problem," said the anonymous administration official. "When W. brought in McConnel as DNI and Gates to head DoD, people assumed it was in reaction to pressure for more experienced and balanced leadership. But that was never a factor. The real truth is incredibly sobering, and it ought to scare the pee out of every American that wants to see the government function in a coordinated way. The fact is, we just ran out of crazy people to hire."

"And now look. What a clusterfuck."

Another high level member of the administration, also speaking off the record, confirmed these points. "Do you think people like Ashcroft, Hadley and Rumsfeld grow on trees? These are unique talents we're talking about. Finding people who are that bat-shit, balls-out, head-banging insane but who also are capable of maintaining the appearance that they are effectively managing a mammoth federal agency with a budget in the billions of dollars... It's no picnic."

"And they have to be able to tie a tie. If you know anyone like that, have them contact me."

As word of the administration's dilemma circulated among the Republican Presidential hopefuls, a contentious debate erupted.

Tom Tancredo said he found the news "of great concern," and expressed a willingness to revisit his hardline position against immigration from Mexico. "If there is one thing all those Mexicans have in spades, it's a whole lot of loco. Especially after they get some Don Julio in the tank."

"I think it's just ridiculous to suggest that America doesn't have the talent we need for these roles," countered Rudy Giuliani. "This is the greatest country in the world, and in my administration all executive departments will be managed by people who are more than unhinged enough to keep the mullahs guessing."

Mike Huckabee, armed with the labor department statistics detailing the shortage of functional psychopaths in the workforce, accused Giuliani of playing loose with the facts. But Giuliani held firm, saying that, at the least, he would find job candidates that "go in and out. Then we'll tweak their medication to minimize periods of lucidity."

"The talent pool for these roles is indeed paper thin," says Rob Gonuff, Director of Insta-Temps, Inc. Mr. Gonuff's company specializes in providing unbalanced, incompetent and borderline-retarded staff on an hourly or contract basis, and has been a key staffing resource for Mr. Bush since he was Governor of Texas. "[Giuliani's] right that America is producing more and better crazy people than ever before. But crazy how? To what degree? You can't just take any schizoid psychotic off the street and make them a Director of the NSA. All they'll do is horde newspaper and soil the furniture. What you need is a megalomaniac with a persecution complex and a set of highly specific destructive impulses. Ideally one with a doctorate in Public Administration from Harvard."

Gonuff looked wistfully out his office window. "Man," he mused, "could I place a few of those..."

Seeking an objective opinion, the White House Office of Management and Budget last year retained consultant McKinsey and Co. to help them identify optimal sources of candidates. The results were intriguing.

"What we found," says McKinsey analyst Jeff Rollins, "was that, based on criteria provided by the administration, the ideal candidate would likely have a religious background, sociopathic tendencies, a messianic streak, and a past littered with traumatic, violent experiences. Basically, we're talking Islamic fundamentalists. The Christian ones are just too soft."

"We assumed the OMB would reject our conclusions outright, but they debated internally for about seven weeks before officially declining," continued Rollins, pausing to allow the ominous implications of his statement to sink in. "I'd say the desperation is palpable."

The government's challenge is a common one, says Gonuff, and in the end, they will have to be willing to broaden their search. "There will never be enough nutjobs to fill every opening available in this administration. At a certain point, they have to get real and fall back on what the market can offer: imbeciles, do-nothings, crackpots and ding-a-lings. America's universities are stamping these people out like paper clips. I've got about four hundred sitting home waiting for the phone to ring—not that they'll know to pick up the receiver when it does. I can have one behind a desk at the State Department tomorrow morning. Today, in a pinch."

"Insta-Temps has shown what we can do in past. Where do you think Gonzo came from? George Tenet? Michael Brown? Michael Chertoff? Lurita Doan? Douglas Feith? When you can't find coo-coo, you've got to be ready to fall back on dim."

"You know who understood that lesson? The National Republican Presidential Search Committee, that's who. Back when they hired us in 1999."

Friday, November 30, 2007

You're Already Gay, Why Ruin it by Getting Married?

I love gayness. I also love marriage. However, to combine them would ruin both.

Let me back up off my initial statement a little bit. I nearly love gayness. Life is dull, so I am thankful for people that lisp and swish and whose mysterious and often ambiguous gender serves as fodder for a guessing game to pass the time at airports. Yes, I know many gay people project no telltale mannerisms. I know there are gay men that read, or pretend to read, the sports section. I know there are gay women who shave their armpits. I do not love these gay people. They make not the smallest effort to entertain me, and I, in return, find them as tiresome as normal people.

I used to love gay people more than I do now. The turning point came on a night when, to demonstrate my liberality, I attended a "gay" party. I chuckled when informed that I possessed a bubble butt. I laughed when someone asked if they could use my behind for a table. But when instructed to "get [my] ass in that cake, bitch!", I demurred. Thus did my love affair with gayness revert to more prosaic dimensions. For I knew that one drunk and rude homosexual spoke for all gay people everywhere.

I am married, therefore, like all married people, I love marriage. This is true. Ask any married person and they will confirm this, for they know there is no upside to saying otherwise. If they hesitate, there is a good chance that they will not be married for much longer.

Frankly, I'm not sure why the gay people are so eager to get their hands on the institution of marriage. They seem to have a pretty sweet set up without it--the men in particular. Possessed of all the most desirable of female qualities such as a strong fashion sense, an acute emotional intelligence and a highly developed appreciation for musical theater, they retain only one purely male trait: the desire to have sex at every waking moment. And since both partners have insatiable sexual appetites, fully 100% of the disagreements that would originate with the male in a heterosexual relationship never materialize. Bonus: sex with men outside the relationship is encouraged!

This is true of all gay male relationships.

I find it a bit harder to make a similar case that the typical lesbian relationship attains some ideal. Lesbians--and I mean ALL lesbians--display a set of male traits that I know from personal experience to be overrated. What's so great about being mechanically inclined if people are constantly roping you into fixing things? And while being emotionally inaccessible seems to have advantages--such as providing ample security for my fragile ego without lessening the warmth that my wife and children feel for me--it's hard to be sure when they speak to me so seldom. Beyond such male characteristics, lesbianism seems to be denoted by an over-emphasis on cuddling, ambivalence toward housekeeping, and an above average predilection for cats... I think. But I admit, I don't really know because I am confused by lesbians. They show so little enthusiasm for making themselves attractive to me.

But quibbling aside, it is clear that the gay couples are happy together. Why would they want to throw it all away by getting married? Don't they know not to mess with a winning streak? But if you are determined to leap from the cliff of swingledom against all better judgment, I will arm you with a few frayed scraps of wisdom, though they will provide only cold comfort as you plummet to your doom.

First off, what kind of marriage are you looking for? God marriage, or just the kind that begins with tax breaks and ends with alimony? If the former, I'm afraid I must disappoint. Because God--and by that I mean the REAL God, the one who busily smites and burns people, who drowns them or turns them to salt, and who won't love you if your foreskin is intact--that God, I'm sorry to say, finds what you do disgusting. He will give you nothing and you will like it.

His disdain is reflected in the policies of real churches, where the congregants have a sound and well-ingrained fear of being smitten, burned, drowned, solidified or in other manners fatally reproved. In such venues you can hardly expect to be welcomed, for the humble in the pews know that the Lord's avenging fire does not spare those in close proximity to its intended target. Thus the only denominations that will provide the service you seek are a small handful that have departed from His true path, though they still maintain the trappings of piety. Of these, only the United Church of Christ has proven willing to commit metaphysical suicide by offering you the genuine sacrament. There are other denominations ostensibly friendly to your absurd demands--notably the Unitarians, who, like you, will do anything, and every episcopalian parish between Vermont and Maryland. These churches are so overrun by queers that the Eucharist procession is indistinguishable from a Castro Pride Day parade. Yet they will only offer you what they cagily term a "covenanted relationship," which is like the faux-personal response you get when you write a fawning letter to Brad Pitt, only the fake signature is God's and are you happy now? then put your money on the plate.

For the devout sheep that graze in the rest of our nation's houses of worship, it pains me to say that you ask too much if you wish them to extend their Christian mercies so far as to willingly accompany you as you swish towards certain damnation. You cannot hope they will share in your joy as you solemnly exchange matching cock rings. And you certainly cannot expect that they will join you, figuratively and literally, in the orgiastic carnal celebration that will follow. If daily news reports are to be believed, these are all privileges reserved for their ministers and prelates alone.

And really, aren't you being unfair? After all, churches are merely Sunday breakfast clubs for the superstitious, each constructed around its own peculiar fetishes. Examples of utterly random notions as the basis for eternal salvation abound. Some believe that any ancestors you don't know about are in hell, until you find out about them, at which time they get paroled. Others believe that prayer is the only acceptable treatment for gangrene. And of course others--well, pretty much all of them--believe that boy-on-boy or girl-on-girl action is a deal breaker. They can't change their minds without ceasing to be the holy and ludicrous thing they are. And if you have given up work and sleep and dedicated your life to changing your church's creed so that you can walk down the aisle, I must break this unpleasant news: you're even more screwed up then they are.

Which brings me to the question of civil unions. Many homosexuals have come to terms with the fact that God will never love them, and that they will soon be subjected to infinite suffering for eternity. In reaction, they are looking to get a piece of the pie so big and delicious in this lifetime that it will make up for what is to come after.

So, should gay couples have access to the same civil rights and privileges as heterosexual couples? Should they get the same tax breaks? The same rights of inheritance? The same rights of hospital attendance in the event that one partner is gravely ill? Thankfully, unlike the thorny issue of matrimony in God's sight, the answer to this question is plain.

Absolutely not.

Look, you, my gay friend, have made the decision--yes, the decision--to be different. You certainly have never hesitated to accept all the perks that came in tow. The special recognition in high school. The free time that you enjoy while the rest of us attend to the parents and siblings that do not refuse to speak to us. The exalted sense you get from being in such an exclusive club. That you would now insist on also reaping the benefits reserved as recompense for those of us that labor under the dull yoke of normalcy seems to me distastefully opportunistic. There is a limited amount of money available to be distributed as tax breaks. More for you means less for me, and I'm not prepared to make that sacrifice. At least not unless you are willing to share some of the color and excitement of your lifestyle with me.

Did I mention I have a bubble butt?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Our Cowardice-Based Foreign Policy

That hissing sound you hear is the air leaking out of America's hegemonic balloon. Someday you will tell your great grandchildren what it was like to be a citizen of the most powerful country on earth. They will not believe you. They also may not understand you, since they will have been raised to speak only Mandarin.

That our present level of dominance is unsustainable we can say with Newtonian certainty. Much as water will find its own level, so will the balance of power between nations swing back to a mean after a period of uneven distribution. Of the factors that have made us the most powerful country on earth, the only one that was uniquely American was the political and economic system that generated wealth like kudzu, and that secret recipe has now become a staple of kitchens in China, Indonesia, and even the once-calcified culinary institutions of Europe. Soon all the world will be asphyxiating beneath the matted vines of a luxury once reserved for us alone.

The party, in other words, is over. If we have not noticed the caterer putting the chairs on the tables, it is because we are too drunk to rise up off the couch. The only open question now is whether we will accede gracefully and play the role of partner in the order of nations, or will we act the megalomaniacal Caesar until the bitter end and lash out indiscriminately at all who come within range of our mindless rage, raving like an addict in withdrawal, grain alcohol in one hand, matches in the other, as we make the planet our funeral pyre.

Hmmm, I wonder...

I'll confess: it's a rhetorical question. The early results are in and the answer is evident in the way our military outlays continue to expand relative to the rest of the world, even though we already spend more than the next 15 most martial-minded nations combined. It is evident in the proliferation of American service uniforms in all four corners of the globe even as American diplomats become an endangered species. And it is evident in our look of disgust as we brush away the filthy hands of nations clutching at our sleeves, hoping for a moment's audience to say, please, sorry to disturb you, but you're kneeling on my throat.

It wasn't always this way. If we have become the world's bully, it is not because we haven't had positive experiences with soft power. In the years after WWII, we took the rest of the world on a joyride of economic and cultural globalization that brought great riches and a significant degree of freedom to swathes of the planet previously unaccustomed to such pleasures. We were then, as now, armed to the teeth and forever demonstrating our good will by shooting people. But our adventures in Vietnam and Korea, the ass-kickings we administered via US-supplied proxies in Latin America and the middle east, and most significantly, the cold war's one-hydrogen-bomb-for-every-household plan were less responsible for our present hegemonic precedence than our far-more-benign role as the world's preeminent loan shark and pusher of drugs like Baywatch, Hotpockets, cigarettes, and warehouse-sized bathrooms. In fact the only drugs we kept just for ourselves were the actual drugs. We also retained dibs on all the Chips Ahoy! cookies, which, because of the drugs, we will definitely want later tonight.

But now, presented with the opportunity to boldly lead or brashly dominate, we've put on our brass knuckles. This approach achieves a trifecta: it is simultaneously futile, shameful and stupid. But it is not surprising, for all Americans are attuned to a whispering voice that only we can hear, a voice that ever contests the better angels of our nature, calling us something worse than murderer, worse than liar, worse than cheater...

Calling us pussy.

How is it that this notion, that we are "soft," is an arrow privileged to bypass all our critical faculties and strike a fatal blow to our self image, even while we can blithely equivocate when charged with seemingly far worse trespasses? The answer is found in a handful of formative historical and cultural factors that make multilateralism and cooperation an unnatural act for us. These demons have been dozing uneasily in our national psyche for decades now, but circumstances are conspiring to fully rouse them. They have not had their coffee yet, and they are in a foul mood.

The first of these demons is the myth that there are only two approaches to conflict resolution: Thunder Dome deathmatch or appeasement, as embodied by the rather drab figure of Neville Chamberlain. Chamberlain, as you probably know, was singlehandedly responsible for giving the word appeasement a pejorative connotation when he let Hitler know that Britain would look the other way if Germany elected to get jiggy with Czechoslovakia. Five years and millions and millions of dead people later, it looked like the wrong call. Fair enough. Chamberlain's misjudgement certainly deserves to be ranked as one of history's more piquant learning moments. But the second world war was the birth agony from which sprung our modern international order, and like any creation story, it exerts an outsize influence on our perspective of contemporary events. So it is that ever after we have been inclined to see diplomacy of any kind as a thinly disguised desire to french kiss Adolf Hitler.

Mirror image to the myth of appeasement--and likewise uncritically granted a significance unsupported by the facts--is the myth that Ronald Reagan toppled the Soviet Union with only the withering power of his steely gaze and several hundred billion dollars of America's lunch money spent on stealth bombers. It is only one of several miracles attributed to the gipper which led to his recent canonization. The others were turning America's frown upside down (1981-1983), and when he addressed the Liberian ambassador by name without prompting in 1987, despite suffering from a well-advanced case of Alzheimer's. But the Soviet Union had been leaking at the seams for 50 years by the time Reagan arrived on the scene, assisted towards an early grave by the prudent pressures of every administration after Roosevelt. Pinching a comatose invalid's respirator tube is something less than slaying a raging dragon.

We are further discouraged from cooperative action by a deep seated belief in the goodness of competition in all matters. If we were to assist other peoples and nations who have so plainly failed to develop sewage systems and useless trinket based economies on their own, what critical lessons about not living in your own filth and coveting expensive, pointless toys would thereby go unlearned? And there is an ironic analog to facets of Darwinian theory involved here as well. For though the more pious among us would not be descended from apes, they are nonetheless at ease with the idea of survival of the fittest, mapping neatly as it does onto the unassailable tenets of free enterprise and the market economy. Strong animals devour the weak, they note, it is nature's plan. Which may be true. But as America transforms from a shining beacon into a bristling fortress, they might pause to consider how seldom successful animals devour those of their own species. Genetically distinct for no more than 100,000 years, humanity is still in a pre-release trial phase, by nature's standards. It's not to late for her to cancel the project altogether.

So let us review. Appeasement is bad. Cooperation with those you should be competing with is appeasement. And who should you be competing with?

Everyone, of course.

In better times, these self-serving urges coexist with the more compassionate and good-hearted aspirations of our citizenry and, by electoral extension, our government. But these are not better times, for now we are in great fear. We are afraid of terrorists. We are afraid of global warming. We are afraid we'll get sick with no health insurance. We are afraid of immigrants. We are afraid of our credit card debt. We are afraid of gas prices. And while we don't much care if the rest of the world hates us, we are deathly afraid that they will laugh at us. France most of all.

Yet our crisis presents a tremendous opportunity. There is ample historical evidence that great leaders can harness the energy latent in our anxiety and channel it in positive directions, revolutionizing our sense of ourselves and our role in the world. Unfortunately, none of that evidence is to be found in the last eight years, and none of those leaders are named Bush. So we strut brashly back and forth on the world stage, our shirt open to the navel, spewing profanity and reeking of booze as we inquire who at the bar--if any have not yet eaten--would like a knuckle sandwich? But let us pick two examples at random from the tome of reasons that we are idiots, and consider them in order of ascending degree of irony.

First, every step we are taking to insure our continued dominance is serving only to hasten our downfall. The economics of our strategy are disastrous. Soldiers cost a lot more than diplomats, and having them running around the middle east shooting people is making the locals nervous. That, in turn, drives up the price of oil, which drains what little cash we have and sends it right to those nice men with the framed picture of Osama Bin Laden on their wall. And when the President implores us to continue spending this Christmas, next Christmas, and every day in between, that only increases our consumer debt, already at Alice-in-Wonderland levels. All our guns aren't going to be much use when we can't afford any bullets.

Another facet of our "strength" is manifested in a disdain for multilateralism. Far from widening the power gap between us and other nations, our go-it-alone mentality is only accelerating the creation of new international combinations that don't look to the U.S. as a center of gravity, if they even include as at all. The economy of the EU may soon rival ours in size. Much of the world is pursuing climate action without American participation. If we thought to discipline the world by threatening to uninvite them to our party, we're finding instead that we've simply given them the push they needed to learn how to throw a party of their own. And in their minds, the best thing about their party is that a certain colossal asshole will not be in attendance.

There is a positive feedback loop that occurs here (note--"positive" in this instance is not the same as "good"). As each ill-conceived attempt to control the world blows up in our face, our anxiety level ramps up, eliciting ever more irrational and heavy handed reactions on our part. In short, it is suicidal, and in the end we will press our face into a pile of cocaine, shout "Say hello to my little friend!" and be cut in two by a shotgun blast from behind. Be sure to bring popcorn.

But the greatest irony about our policy of strength is that it is, like most indications of bravado, actually cowardice. We are what we most fear and despise--utter pussies. Confronted with the prospect of change, we cannot summon the courage to manage the process so as to mitigate the downside and conduct ourselves with the humanity and honor which are the only things of value in this life. Small wonder. The last generation to experience national hardship in this country is at this moment waiting for a nurse's aid to roll them over and change their diapers. The rest of us equate our second cars and second homes with vital organs of our body; we could no more do without our wine chiller than our pancreas.

But rather than trying to horde our power, or beat other nations over the head with it, what if we actually invested it? What if we supported genuine freedom and democracy in Pakistan? In the short run we would lose some leverage against Islamic extremism there, and yes, some unreliable characters would get their fingers on the nuclear button. But Musharraf has delivered little of value to us, and arguably our support for him only enhances the Taliban's power base in that country. In the long run, a significant change of course in our policy there would take the wind out of the fundamentalists' sails.

And what if we engaged with Iran and at least kept them talking until their geriatric leadership croaks? The young people that make up a huge proportion of their population have western predilections, and will soon take over the country and be a friend to us. Unless we do something stupid. Like what we're thinking of doing now.

What if we looked for a multilateral solution in Iraq? What if we made a genuine effort to address the question of Israel and the Palestinians? What if we actually packed up our forces in the middle east and left? These thoughts are Dick Cheney's nightmares--which is reason enough to give them serious consideration--but such tactics would have universally positive effects. The threat of terrorism would wane considerably. We would save enough money to give health care to every American and still be able to take the whole country out for ice cream.

Change is coming, whatever we do. Why not display a little less strength. And a lot more courage.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Our Presidential Nightmare is Over!

At Only Sayin' we are sensitive—and vulnerable—to the charge of negativity. So today, let us place our bitterness to soak in a warm glass of bile on our bedtable, and declare the good news.

While the liberal whiners whine, and the America-hating, naysaying surrender monkeys say nay and throw in their 50%-post-consumer waste/50% hemp fiber towels, our nation stands on the threshold of a monumental victory.

As I'm sure you are aware, we have been suffering under the oppressive yoke of a President hell-bent on destroying all that is good and decent in this great land. A president determined to irredeemably corrupt our national soul. To set our government and society on a course for disaster from which we can never hope to recover.

Some claim that his intentions are pure, though his methods be flawed. But we who are vigilant have always known better. We have seen his henchmen and counselors masquerading as pillars of society while relentlessly cultivating our destruction. We have watched as he furtively gathered the reins of power in his insatiable embrace. And we have seen his plan ripen and grow heavy on the bough.

But rejoice, dear reader. For though you thought the harvest of that bitter fruit inevitable and were resigned to shatter your body upon the barricades in futile glory, or fall honorably upon your own blade, or worse still, to move to Canada—I tell you we have snatched victory from the ravenous jaws of defeat. The president's conspiracy has been thwarted and we will soon consign his nefarious plot to history's overflowing dustbin, along with 8-track tapes and most of the world's glaciers.

For those of you who do not follow the thread of politics, I am speaking, of course, about President James Madison.

'Twould be a bitter blow to the man known as "Jemmy,"—an inoffensive moniker that belied his infernal proclivities and craven lust for power—to know that his intrigues have failed. As he prepared to leave office in 1816, so confident was he that his machinations had matured beyond any chance of countering, that he dropped all pretense and brashly taunted our nation in his final address to congress, declaring to have established...

A government pursuing the public good as its sole object, and regulating its means by the great principles consecrated in its charter, and by those moral principles to which they are so well allied; a government which watches over the purity of elections, the freedom of speech, and the press, trial by jury, and the equal interdict against encroachments and compacts between religion and the state; which maintains inviolably the maxims of public faith, the security of persons and property, and encourages in every authorized mode the general diffusion of knowledge which guarantees to public liberty its permanency and to those who possess the blessing the true enjoyment of it; a Government which avoids intrusions on the internal repose of other nations, and repels them from its own...a government, in a word, whose conduct within and without may bespeak the most noble of all ambitions—that of promoting peace on earth and good will to men.

If you have ever stopped short at a cross-street with your children in the back seat, you know how the imagination proceeds into the intersection alone to envision the skid, the impact that almost was, the shattering of glass and bone. So in the case of Madison's devilish scheming must we taste the horror of a tragedy averted and tremble for our country were his perverse vision fulfilled.

But this nightmare is truly over. As the rising sun peeks in our window, its rays strike and destroy each bĂȘte noir conjured by that most petite of founders.

No longer are we susceptible to the allure of such weak and effeminate distractions as the pursuit of "the public good." Goodness is by its very nature dissipative, absorbed to no apparent impact among the millions. It is greatness we desire. Will future generations swell with pride to know that Meals on Wheels delivered extra helpings of canned green beans this week? Twaddle! The energy of such samaritanism were better redirected to hoist high the celebrities and magnates who will wallow in surplus on our magazine covers and society pages, and who may eat and keep warm as proxies for the rest of us.

"Pure" elections? Perhaps no other facet of Madison's invidious agenda has been so hotly contested. As people of color found means to circumvent the best intentions of Jim Crow, and the advent of womens' suffrage rendered the once-steadfast guidepost of federal policy no more than a weather vane gyrating wildly in response to the cyclical lunar ravings of that delicate sex, preserving the integrity of the franchise has required a Herculean commitment. Thankfully, the courts have been able to leverage the saving power of voter suppression and republicans have delimited our electoral districts to ensure balance. And when all appeared lost nonetheless, electronic voting arrived and enabled us to dispense with time-consuming vote tallying, and eliminate all possibility of error by starting from the correct result and calculating the precinct totals in reverse.

With a single brilliant stroke, the noble defenders of right have also triumphed over those pestilential twins, freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Yes, it has proven impossible to stop individuals from trying to turn our country from good to bad by criticizing our policies. But the consolidation of media outlets engendered by deregulation combined with the symbiotic teat-sucking that pervades the relationship of giant corporations and the government ensures that the overwhelming majority of citizens are spared the discomfort of ever being exposed to anti-American thinking. By which we mean the kind of thinking distinguished by the degree to which it diverges from the thoughts thunk by our leaders. And in the event subversive ideas find voice in the media—for example, the morale-busting assertion that Saddam Hussein did not personally pilot all four of the 9-11 aircraft—there are a handful of heroic souls who, with the battle-cry "Iraq-nine-eleven!" will hurl themselves into the trajectory of such insidious notions. Thus do they selflessly "take the bullet" of treasonous, faith-sapping lies otherwise destined to lodge in doe-eyed America's gut.

Trial by jury. It is hard for us, living as we do in this golden age, to believe that there was a time when jurors could actually have been expected to doubt the good intentions and competence of those charged with law enforcement. But indeed, it was a stroke of diabolical genius by which Madison required criminal justice professionals to grapple for the approval of drunk, illiterate, and possibly even Irish buffoons to consummate the pure formality of converting indictments into convictions. In his arrogance, he failed to anticipate that those buffoons would evolve and develop the uncanny ability to recognize the guilty as whoever is sitting in the accused's chair when a prosecutor describes frightening things that might happen somewhere, someday.

But just in case--no more habeus corpus. Because you can't be too careful.

Regarding Madison's celebrated "interdict against compacts between religion and state," much work remains before we can openly acknowledge the obvious: the United States is a Christian nation. Yet who can fail to detect the hand of the lamb of god in the beneficent workings of our government? Think of the millions of starving, homeless African families whose sole joy is found in the clammy, listless embrace of the children who would never have been born had aid agencies been permitted to include birth control among their family planning options. Or consider how empty would be the naves of our nation's churches were the destitute and downtrodden able to obtain shelter and sustenance via the sterile auspices of our civic bureaucracy. And what licentiousness would be too abhorrent for the ranks of the civil service were they not ably policed by god's anointed bureaucrats?

Madison also aimed to obstruct the well-meaning interactions of constituents and representatives in the name of preserving the "public faith." He hoped thereby to make government ineffectual. But let Madison roll in his grave, for his cynical attempt to mark as corrupt the proper and vigorous assistance the elected provide to their deserving supporters, and to make it impossible for the beneficiaries of such services to show their just gratitude has come to naught.

What about "the security of persons and property" and the permanency of "public liberty?" Of course, Madison hoped that prohibitions against the government monitoring the actions and intentions of its citizens would enable enemies of the state to plot without hindrance and eventually destroy the nation from within. But after numerous close calls, no longer do we cower and wonder where our foes are going, who they are conspiring with, or what may be secreted in the sinister recesses of their corporal cavities.

Eager to strangle our national spirit at home, Madison was equally loathe to share our blessings abroad. But was he avoiding "intrusions on the internal repose of other nations," or was he such a stranger to compassion that he could deny inferior cultures the fruits of our generosity and the opportunity to play some part—however insignificant—in our national epic? On this score we may a long last sleep peacefully. For never has all the love, generosity, kindness, and protection that America can offer been displayed more ubiquitously to thankful nations around the globe.

"Peace on earth and good will to men," said Madison in closing. Did he suppress the callow laughter rising in his throat as he twisted the long knife of this lie in the heart of his homeland? Did he feel a tinge of regret for inflicting the tragedy whose fulfillment he believed sealed? Was there even a shred of humanity left in his withered soul upon which the fragile seedling of remorse could find purchase? Only Madison himself could say, and from the regions of the damned where his shade surely dwells, no wayfarer can return with report. But here on earth, in this new, budding paradise, we can rejoice that his monstrous intent has been foiled, and the true meaning of his final words salvaged at last.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

How to Frighten a Lawyer


That is what every American lawyer feels, or will soon feel, or certainly should feel as they regard the unhinging of the justice system whose constancy is as fundamental to their intellectual grounding as the vestibular mechanics of the inner ear are to their ability to chase after speeding ambulances.

Evidence that we are living in the eye of a perfect legal storm is all around us. A supreme court stacked with ideologues who disdain precedent. An executive that has abducted our body of law and is intent upon tearing the ligaments whose flexibility has ever determined the range of permissibility. Habeus corpus thrown in a pit and murdered, unmourned and unmissed. The prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure surveilled, shanghaied, stripped, garnished, and extraordinarily rendered--all on a warrantless and politically motivated whim. A justice department demoted to little more than a branch of the Republican party campaign call center. A paper tiger legislature whose laws are disparaged as mere suggestions and whose subpoenas are disregarded.

In better times, any one of these trespasses would have precipitated a crisis. In concert, they represent a hazard of millennial proportions.

As yet, not all lawyers have grasped the gravity of the situation. You will be shocked to learn, dear reader, that lawyers exhibit many of the same foibles and weaknesses that bedevil those of us with souls. Some lawyers are highly specialized technicians, perhaps focusing their clinical attentions upon the arcane minutia of corporate law. The legal equivalent of a medical specialist who studies only the transfer of a single hormone between kidney cells, they may show up at work for years blithely unaware that the patient has cancer. Eventually however, those kidney cells will begin to smell a little ripe.

Other attorneys--I must shock again--care for the principles of law only to the extent that doing so helps them line their own pockets. The lion's share of time in law school is not dedicated to constitutional law and its quaint fixation on individual rights and the balance of powers. Instead, predictably, prospective attorneys labor endlessly to master the law as it relates to a concept even more central to our national character than liberty. I am referring, of course, to money, and how to get it, how it's taxed, how to leave it to your cats when you die, how long to lock up a white man that steals it, and how much longer than that to lock up a black man that does the same.

Attorneys that absorb these lessons are rewarded with great wealth and enjoy a patrician existence. But seated in the cloistered recesses of their clubrooms after dinner, even the most staid and successful of this breed may espy a faint disturbance roiling the once-placid surface of their Armagnac. For with such subtlety do the seismic tremors that unsettle our legal bedrock announce themselves. He raises one puzzled eyebrow as he regards the snifter. How serious, he wonders, is the reckoning portended by those delicate ripples?

How serious? Imagine how physicists would react if dropped objects ceased to reliably fall. Much as cooks found themselves holding guns at the battle of the bulge, scientists would have an all-hands-on-deck moment. Surely the search for dark matter would seem a lot less urgent than it had only a day before. That is the scale of dislocation that our present course heralds in the legal arena.

You see, like physics, the law is a towering structure painstakingly articulated upon a mere handful of core principles. From its roots in ancient holy texts, through English common law and American legal history, it largely transcends political and social revolution. Even apparent sea changes, like the emphasis on individual rights codified in constitutions inspired by secular humanism, are not entirely radical. Six thousand years after Cain served Abel, our number one law enforcement challenge is still people hitting other people over the head with sticks. So much for progress.

And just as a chess game is less a series of positions than it is a set of rules for change, so the process for amending and enforcing laws is more important to the continuing viability of our society than the specifics of the laws themselves. Confidence in the stability of law enables us to plan for the future. Why would you pay into the Social Security fund if your money was going to be frittered away to compensate for the revenue lost via corporate tax breaks? Why would you join the military if your tour could be extended indefinitely by federal fiat? Why indeed?

The law commands reverence on grounds of its ancient lineage alone. With the presidency hanging in the balance, Al Gore declined to contradict the verdict of the supreme court regarding the 2000 Florida ballot recount rather than cast doubt on the legitimacy of that decision. In 1974, that most politically pugilistic commander-in-chief, Richard Nixon, resigned rather than drag the country into a constitutional crisis over impeachment. Maybe these apparent acts of integrity are motivated less by a sense of fair play than by a primeval terror. We are imprinted with an archetypal memory of a time when The Law was spelled with capital letters and the only Miranda Right you had was the choice of thumb screws or hot pokers. Commanded to enter the tent that housed the holy ark and conduct devotions, Aaron's brother made a trivial ceremonial error and instantly burst into flame. Perhaps Nixon saw the capitol custodians recharging fire extinguishers and was inspired to decline further confrontation.

Every acknowledgment of the sanctity of the legal process strengthens our society, whether it is you showing up for a court date for unpaid parking tickets or FDR scotching New Deal programs declared unconstitutional by the supreme court. It would be difficult to overstate the economic and social advantages that accrue from our legal stability. Where would American prosperity be today absent the alchemical interplay of our business-friendly legal structure catalyzed by the egalitarian ethos that unleashes so much of our human potential? If you are inclined to take that progress for granted, look around. There are plenty of countries where wealth is still measured in goats and chickens and no public service is too trivial to require a bribe. What's more, our legal quietude is by no means in a state of self-sustaining equilibrium. Quite the opposite. Like a second-place sports team with overly-optimistic hopes for next season, we humans are always far closer to reverting to brutishness than to realizing a utopia. Every new crack in our constitutional foundation will swiftly be exploited by opportunists who seek to enshrine aberrant notions of the balance of powers, further erode the suddenly ambiguous promise of habeus corpus, or wiretap the phones of their political enemies.

So what are the President and his sage counselors trying to accomplish? All of them understand how the law works, either because they have been to law school or have had the personal pleasure of being indicted. So clearly they must have a plan. Most logically, we might assume they are trying to stretch the sinews of our legal structure to extremes in order to alter our frame of reference. Like yoga for the law (but without the serenity) they hope to make the system so limber that what would once have seemed beyond its range of motion will suddenly be within easy reach. If we once deny the right of habeus corpus to accused criminals, then offering them some niggardly trappings of due process will seem positively munificent by comparison. If we can turn the Department of Justice into a branch office of the Republican party, then an Attorney General who demonstrates something less than utter subservience to the Executive can be accounted democracy's zealous steward.

But if these were the administration's motives, legal professionals would be unruffled. Such Machiavellian cynicism is the air they breathe, the perfumed water in which they bathe, the brier patch in which they are at peace. It takes considerably more than that to horrify a lawyer.

No, what they have seen is something that turns the stomachs of all but the most irredeemably jaded of their profession. Not the body of the law engaged in a salubrious if rigorous routine of calisthenics, but one dragged into the Vice President's office to be beaten with baseball bats. They've watched Dick Cheney deliver blow upon frenzied blow, droplets of sweat spraying from his swollen apoplectic face as the shock of each blast echos through his limbs. Though the law does not resist, the ferocity of the assault escalates. Alberto Gonzalez presses the unsigned authorization for the euphemistically-named terrorist surveillance program into the limp hand of the heavily-sedated John Ashcroft. The vice president's office refuses to turn documents over to Congress, denying its kinship with the executive branch. The Justice Department circulates secret memos approving specific methods of torture explicitly prohibited by laws passed by the congress and signed by the president. The President signs bills into law and then issues signing statements excepting himself from their execution. U.S. Attorneys are dismissed for declining to fabricate grounds for indicting Democrats, or to short-circuit ongoing prosecutions of Republicans. GSA chief Lurita Doan mobilizes her non-partisan agency in the service of the Republican party.

Blow after blow. Until the law is no more than a disarticulated bag of gristle and meat, wrists limp on arms, arms limp on shoulders. Cheney, Addington and Gonzalez drop their clubs and stagger to collapse in chairs, panting from the exertion, sweat soaking their suit jackets.

Professional detachment deserts the lawyers who observe. Most look dazed and baffled. Some are physically ill. There is one frozen in the act of taking a bite of a pretzel.

They wait, expectant. Surely, the congress or the courts will rush to the rescue? But the congress is neutered and the courts are stacked. What about the media or the populace? They are disinterested, uncomprehending, or simply frightened into submissiveness. Perhaps God himself will take note, and law's murderers will be consumed in a sudden flash of immolating fire?

But nothing happens. Galileo drops his ball, but it just hangs in the air.

What now?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Has Jimmy Carter Been Raping Kittens?

People hate Jimmy Carter.

Not the eyeball-rolling, head-shaking, dismissive dislike you might expect to find directed at a man that irritated you 30 years ago, but foaming-at-the-mouth, sputtering, viscous-dog-straining-at-the-limit-of-his-chain, carotid-artery-busting apoplexy. The kind of anger you would usually reserve for the person who is at this very instant shitting on your head or raping your cat.

I stumbled into this lake of bile in the comments section of a Reuters article detailing some unusually blunt rhetoric Carter directed at Dick Cheney in a BBC interview. I should have known better. Reading visitor comments rarely edifies, even when most of the participants are bright and perceptive enough to share my views, and I avoid reading them for the same reason I eschew man-on-the-street interviews on the local news. Because the man on the street is invariably an idiot.

So as my better judgment failed me and I naively allowed my eyes to drift towards the comments section, I knew some shrillness would be in the offing. But I was stunned to see just how much shrillness was being offed.

I expected comments to run about half and half between Carter/liberal haters and a choir of amens that seems to accompany any public figure critical of the Bush administration these days. The Reuters site is shared public space after all, attracting pie-eyed socialists, goose-stepping neo-fascists, and everyone in between. It is the virtual analog of the Department of Motor Vehicles--the place you will meet everyone that lives near you, regardless of their race, gender, affluence, or commitment to personal hygiene. But apparently I forgot to carry a zero when I did my calculations. Hardly one in twenty commenters had anything nice to say about the former President, and each member of this timid minority was swiftly disemboweled by the frothing mob.

What is it about Jimmy Carter that evokes such visceral disgust? As a people, we are renowned for responding to the personalities rather than the substance of our political leaders. Shouldn't this work to Carter's advantage? He is--at least in my childlike estimation--kind and decent. Yet he is assaulted for his rudeness towards Dick "Go fuck yourself" Cheney. He is a devout Christian--a Sunday school teacher for crying out loud--yet he is upbraided as an apostate. He has worked his whole life for peace, yet he is disdained for effeminacy and held responsible for not only the violence that occurred during his term of office, but for most of the violence that has occurred since. Several visitors even assigned blame for the Iraq war to Carter!

What gives? Let's hear from some of our incisive commentators...

Posted by laoh0441
There are just two types of people that are likely to comment on the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Those that don't believe he was absolutely the worst president in history, and those that were actually forced to endure the gas lines, 21% interest rates, wearing cardigan sweaters to stay warm in our homes and being held hostage by Islamo-fascist terrorists in Iran...

Laoh was not alone in tagging Carter with culpability for the numerous economic and foreign policy challenges of his presidency. I could summon a host of facts to debunk this assault, however doing so would require that I break a profuse intellectual sweat at a time when I am without a ready change of intellectual underwear. Suffice it to say that blaming Carter for oil prices, interest rates, and the blossoming of a popular revolution in Iran is like mailing someone a rubber chicken and then blaming them for not receiving a cupcake. In economic matters above all, a one-term president can do little more than reap what was sown by his predecessors or eat whatever wild bounty is furnished by the natural fortunes of drought and flood.

Other commenters lambasted Carter for breaking with the tradition in which former presidents refrain from criticizing their successors.

Posted by jdle0384
Carter needs to act like a real man and a real former president and SHUT THE HELL UP. Up until him there was a professional courtesy among presidents. But that's too good for old Jimmy...

Touché. I will allow a point scored and an additional half point for the left handed swipe at Carter's virility and the judicious use of CAPITAL LETTERS! It is a tad unseemly for a former president to call a sitting executive to task. In the Georgian's defense however, I would argue that the tradition of restraint applies to disagreements regarding policy or management style, and that Dick Cheney's penchant for wiping his ass with the Constitution falls outside those categories. Perhaps I am puritanical in this regard?

But neither Carter's policies nor his post-presidential deportment are the source of the hatred he attracts. Rather, they are opportunities for his detractors to express a more fundamental anger. It is no coincidence that Jimmy Carter was the least presidential President of this century. He was elected because, at that unique moment in history, the electorate wanted a figure of the most human scale. A neighbor. A simple, honest farmer.

In our history, we have elected Presidents that are fatherly, or heroic, or powerful, or patrician. That in this instance we submitted willingly, eagerly to someone small is best rationalized as a reactionary act of self-abasement. Exhausted by more than a decade of inconclusive war in Asia, weighed down by economic malaise, repulsed by the small-time criminal antics of Nixon and his cohorts, America was ready to do penance. I'm not saying we willingly performed a rite of contrition; the word "sorry" does not appear in the American lexicon. Rather, we subjected ourselves to the rule of the meek in a subconscious act of self-flagellation. It was absolution via masochism.

And like an arrogant prom queen who, in a fleeting moment of weakness, sleeps with the school's biggest loser, we despised ourselves in the morning. And we unburden ourselves of that self-loathing by heaping abuse upon that poor, geeky, acne-ridden kid into whose arms we so willingly fell. Jimmy Carter became our secret shame. What if we are meek, indecisive, vulnerable, credulous and softhearted like Jimmy?

If only we could find a President who is overbearing, infallible, callous, cynical and cruel. Then we'd never have to be ashamed again.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Can America Survive without Her Pimp?

Hi. Well, I wanted a change of pace--I'm tired of that place. Anyway, all you do when we're there is talk to all your friends from the Heritage Foundation. The food's good here. Why don't we just take this two-top by the door. I can squeeze in, no problem--I may be a country of 300 million people, but I've dropped a few pounds lately. That's nice of you to say... but maybe I wanted to do it just for me. I want to see if I can fit into the dress I wore to Lincoln's second inauguration.

Um, just iced tea for me. Thanks.

Why the look? Can't a girl have iced tea? Sorry about not calling you back yesterday. Yeah, last week too. I've been really busy and--sure, I've got something I need to talk to you about as well. It's only one thing, so maybe I should go first, you see--OK, sure, you go first.

You really think things are going better over there? I mean it seems like it's just a vicious circle, the sectarian violence, the chaos... Yes, I know how much I depend on the oil, but I think I'd like to try to cut back. What? Don't you want me to? If I didn't need the oil wouldn't the terrorists lose interest in me anyway? Isn't that why they hate me? No? But that doesn't make sense--I mean, I'm not really so wonderful as you say, and it seems like they wouldn't go through so much trouble just because I'm happy. Maybe--

OK, what--oh. No, you finish. Yeah, that border fence. I've been meaning to talk to you about that too. Yes, I know it's a lot of people. Yes. No! They did not come on to me! Drugs?! Of course not! What a terrible thing to say! They bathe as often as you or I. You didn't have to say it--I know what you meant! Maybe I enjoy learning Spanish, did you ever think of that? It's not a question of whether I appreciate all you do for me. Can I?... OK.

Excuse me? I changed my mind. I'll have a double martini.

Right, health insurance for poor kids. that just doesn't seem right. But that's just it--I think it's time I started getting more involved, understanding this stuff. Yes, I could! I don't think you want me to try! Well, I am upset. No, I think I should be. Did you ever consider maybe I do know what I want? You've never asked! I WILL RAISE MY VOICE IF I WANT TO!... I will raise my voice if I want to! Really? I don't think you need my help to embarrass yourself!

OK... Look... I'm sorry. But I just don't know what I think anymore. Yes, I know you love me. Goodness knows you never stop telling me how much you love me. That's the problem. It's just that, well, I need a little space right now.

Look, this isn't easy. You know, I looked at myself in the mirror this morning. I look awful. I'm not doing anything with my life... Just shopping, watching television, partying all the time. I know, it was fun. But I just thought, isn't there something more than that?

I really miss my dads. You talk all the time about how much you respect them, but if you had your way, you'd have a constitutional amendment against people having more than one father. My dads wrote the constitution, you hypocrite! They hated everything you stand for. If they were still alive today maybe they could have talked some sense into me before I got involved with you.

Dammit, I promised myself I would not cry. I will not cry.

It's just been such a long road, you know? I mean, I was always the belle of the ball, but I was just a small town girl. And then came the World Wars, and everyone cheering me. I see now how it went to my head. You know when I was happiest? In the 60's. People were burning flags,and saying terrible things about me--Do not call me "baby"! Can't you see what I'm saying? For the first time, I felt like I could just be myself. And it was beautiful.

Hey, what do I have to do to get a refill over here?! Oh, no smoking? OK, no. Just one more drag.

Yeah, I came back to reality alright. The coke. The clothes. The parties. And you were there to pick me up, you and your fat cat friends in your fancy suits and luxury cars. I hated you, and I hated myself for needing you. Your flattery made me cheap. But now you've gone too far. Torturing people? Locking them up for years for no reason? Eavesdropping? The Valentine's Day card with the Abu Ghraib pictures was a little over the top, don't you think? Whatever happened to candy and flowers? You're a sick, paranoid bastard! And all to protect me, you say? Well, maybe I don't need to be protected. Did that ever occur to you? You know what? I don't think I'm as vulnerable as you say. I think you're trying to frighten me into staying with you. To drag me into the slime where you live so your misery can have some company!

What!?! You bastard! This has nothing to do with the Democrats! I did not flirt with them! Sure, they call me all the time and tell me how much they love me. Of course I know they're trying to get into my panties. You ought to know. Well, you told me the same lies, but they came out of your mouth a lot easier. You must be so proud. You saw what!? In the cloak room? With Harry Reid?! I never did! I'M A WHAT!? NO, I THINK YOU NEED TO COOL OFF!

No. I'm fine. I'm OK. Yes, coffee would be good. Yes, and some napkins and seltzer. And another martini. That's what I said, isn't it? Prissy bitch. What? No, you must be hearing things.

So. I'm a whore, am I? Then I guess that means that you've been my pimp all these years, getting me to degrade myself while you get fat and rich. I see it all now. All the fake protestations of love. Plying me with farm subsidies. Pump priming my stock markets when they started to sag. Making me hump a pole for the drunks at the bar while you count the receipts. Hey, where do you think you're going?! Yeah, fine! That's right, get out! And don't bother to call--It's over!! DO YOU HEAR--UH, OH SHIT, I'M GONNA PUKE! I'M--

Uuuuuuhhhhhhnnnnnn... Uuuuuuugg... Ack.

What? What are you people looking at?! This is what you wanted, right?! Well congratu-fucking-lations! But I'm gonna make a new start. Everything's gonna be different.

I need some air... Where is that phone?... Yes. Hi, Hillary? It's me... Yes--It's over. Oh God, what am I going to do? I don't have anywhere to go... Really? You do? You're not just saying that? OK, I'll be waiting for you right here.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

All Sane Conservatives are Now Liberals

Have you noticed? All sane conservatives are now liberals.

We see them all the time now. The ex-Reagan officials like Paul Craig Roberts who repudiate the administration's conduct of warrantless surveillance, among other things. The battalion of retired generals speaking out against our ill-conceived escapade in Iraq. Past and present officials of the justice department appalled at the politicization of law enforcement. Even Bill Buckley has registered his patrician displeasure.

Conservatism has retreated into a bunker so far to the right of reality, that these lifelong Republicans and defenders of the establishment find themselves on the right side of liberaldom, happily playing footsie with the likes of Keith Olbermann and Amy Goodman. Their core beliefs have not changed, but they sure are taking a fresh look at who is lucid enough to partner with in achieving their goals. It is as if they fell asleep of an evening safely in their suburban McMansions, and woke to find themselves deep behind enemy lines with Birkenstocks where their wingtips used to be.

Dazed they are. Glassy-eyed, filthy, malnourished, and too shell-shocked to speak. We find one unconscious, face down in the grass. We roll him over.

"My God, he's a rational conservative."

"Poor blighter."

"Let's get him back to the commune."

We feed him vegan organic miso broth to renew his strength and let him soak in patchouli scented baths.

Several days later, when he has recovered sufficiently, we come to speak with him. He knows now that he is in the hands of liberals. He is filled with trepidation. If even half of what Ann Coulter has said is true, what monstrous fate awaits him?

We meet in a light-filled solarium, the window curtains billowing in the morning breeze. An angelic child brings a fresh pot of herbal tea and scampers away.

So begins our attempt to recruit this once-mortal foe. We do not hope to convince him of the merits of socialized medicine, affirmative action, or legalized marijuana per se. We ask only that he join us in pledging commitment to reason-based policy-making. To set out our case, we first offer our perspective on why he has been cast out, why the American body conservative is convulsively expelling its rational elements in a desperate bid for self-preservation. It is a tale of an ancient pas-de-trois between conservatism, rationality, and established authority.

The instinct of conservatism is at least as old as human tribalism. It is a tendency towards prudence, risk aversion, and skepticism about change. Studies have shown that people who identify as conservatives are inclined see the world in black and white. This is likely to be genetic, and is not to be disparaged. When the cornered woolly mammoth turns to charge, natural selection does not favor the hunter who pauses to consider the nuances of enraged woolly mammoth behavior, but rather he who runs like hell.

Archetypal conservatism is joined at the hip with rationality for the simple reason that acting like an idiot is dangerous. It leads to broken bones, starvation, and uncomfortable venereal diseases. So conservatives have historically been deliberate, cautious, and above all, sensible. It does not make them very much fun at parties, but it keeps them out of trouble.

Conservatism's bond with established authority is less fundamental, but strong and ancient in its own right. Historically, as ever more complex civilizations proliferated, conservatism became practically synonymous with the interests of the establishment, both kingly and priestly. These were the forces that guaranteed the stability and safety that conservatism values. Did this attachment to the establishment strain the bonds of conservatism's marriage with rationality? No, because rationality was a tool of the ruling classes, employed for the creation of state infrastructures like legal codes, military organization, and systems of trade. So rationality served the needs of the establishment.

The rise of science as a formal discipline--as opposed to something that medieval barbers did on occasion by accident--only enhanced the utility of rationality to established authority. Nothing insures stability like prosperity. America's brief history is a perfect example. Science has given us mechanization, industrialization, and the ability to develop our natural resources. The result has been an unprecedented explosion of highly distributed wealth. Despite numerous unnerving social and economic upheavals engendered by the blistering pace of our growth, on the whole mouths have been filled, roofs erected, and physical safety insured to a degree that would once have been thought impossible. Thus conservatism, rationality, and the establishment have been skipping hand in hand (in hand) through the ages all the way to the bank and a little candy store called World Domination. It's been such a successful partnership that many conservatives consider affiliation with the establishment to be an inherent facet of their belief system.

But what if the establishment stopped behaving in ways that ensured long term security?

Consider the challenges facing America right now, and our reactions:

  • As the economy goes global, the lion's share of growth goes to nations that are behind the curve, like China and India. It is impossible for the U.S. to maintain its economic preeminence without borrowing beyond our current means, effectively mortgaging our future. Does America have the discipline and self-restraint necessary to soften the inevitable landing? If you're wondering whether discipline and restraint are something we can purchase with a credit card, I think you have your answer.

  • A huge proportion of our wealth has been derived from the easy availability of natural resources. Now supplies are tightening, yet industry is loathe to disembark the gravy train before it has come to a complete stop. It is difficult to think of a resource that isn't becoming scarce--water, oil, metals... Oh well, at least there's still plenty of coal. Wait, why does that ring a bell?...

  • Oh, right: coal is our death warrant. Science tells us that there's a global environmental crisis on our doorstep. If it isn't addressed, there will be massive dislocation. Thankfully, it appears the impact will be disproportionally borne by brown and black people--I use the term "people" loosely--who live in lands far from us. Still, it will be ugly. There will be flooding, starvation and masses of refugees. Refugees will be issued torches and pitchforks for effect. Thankfully, we Americans have recognized that we are the biggest single cause of this impending disaster, and we are responding to the challenge in a manner consistent with our historical role as a beacon of freedom and compassion: we are erecting electrified fences along our borders. That ought to deter the riff raff.

There is a common thread in all these examples. Our Republican leaders and prayer-obsessed middle America are desperately trying to preserve the status quo at the cost of longer term stability. It's not like it's in their nature to think long term in any case. The end of the world is never more that six years away for senators, and evangelical Christians expect to be raptured long before campaign season arrives. So rational conservatives must now regard the wide fanatical eyes of their once-staunch allies with profound uneasiness. If the Republican party and salt -of-the-earth America have thrown reason under the bus, where does security lie? Can America resist global pressures indefinitely? Or must we accede to change--gradual or not--to insure a secure future?

Don't take too long to think about it, for as the lords of the establishment discard the ballast of reason, they become drunk on the thrill of liberation. Their personal ideology is a far more permissive guide to decision making than the sour and unimaginative counselor we call reality. Perhaps they will awake to the danger they court, but more likely, hopelessly enamored of license, they will become increasingly untethered, and will pilot our ship of state gleefully over the falls.

So here you are. Your erstwhile friends may hold the reins of power, but they have deserted the field of reason, and it so plainly and completely belongs to the left that to be rational is to be liberal as well. I'm sure that's not an easy notion to swallow, but there it is.

And if the idea of being pitied by liberals causes you to recoil in revulsion--have no fear. For we need you as much as you need us. Surely you realize we are incapable of surviving on or own. Inevitably we will end up coddling terrorists. We will get so stoned that we'll forget to plant crops. We will cut ourselves when trying to use scissors. We need your cynicism, your common sense, and your facility for accounting.

You might as well join us. You're already here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

America's Diary: the Osama bin Laden Entries

Editor's Note:
The following are selected entries from America's diary relating to Osama bin Laden, covering the period from 9/11/2001 to mid 2007. On September 12, 2007, Only Sayin' received an anonymous package containing America's diary. Entries date from early 2001 to mid 2007. The accompanying note indicated that the diary was obtained by a country that "used to be a friend," and was provided so that we might see the "real America." To support its veracity, the note indicates that the diary was located under a pile of sweatshirts on an upper shelf of America's closet, along with two bottles of Mike's Hard Lemonade, birth control pills, and a box of never-sent love notes addressed to Australia.

The diary runs to several thousand pages in five volumes with hand-illustrated floral-themed covers. When the material came into our possesion, we naturally assumed that we had hit upon a treasure trove of enormous historical significance. However, review of the material quickly dispelled such idealistic notions. Our editorial staff was unanimous in the opinion that the America revealed in these volumes is so petty, so shallow, and so self-absorbed that to release the material publicly would be devastating to our national psyche. Thus, in light of the recent controversy regarding the degree of America's committment to the capture of Osama bin Laden, we are reprinting only a handful of entries relating to the Al Qaeda mastermind.

The rest we have burned.


September 11, 2001

Dear Diary,

OMG. This has been like the worst day of my life! Somebody just blew up the twin towers, the pentagon, and crashed another hijacked plane. The news keeps playing it over and over again. Why don't they show something to take everyone's minds off all these horrible things?

My life is ruined. I am seriously going to kill myself.

Russia and Germany called, but I just let it go to voicemail. I can't talk to anyone right now. Even that bitch France called.

Where in New York are the twin towers? Not where the shopping is, I don't think. Definitely not Broadway. At least the Hard Rock Cafe and the Disney store are OK.


September 12

Dear Diary,

Today I found out that it was Osama bin Laden that did it. He is totally gross in his picture. All those people are gross. Why can't they shave? They look like they never take a bath. They're crazy and they ruined everything. Mexico was supposed to have a party on friday, and now it's cancelled. Everybody is acting totally sad and depressed.

I am SO pissed off. I'm going to catch that dickhead and fly an airplane into him, and set him on fire and then put him out and do it all over again. We'll see how he likes it and all his stinky arab friends.

I'm swearing a pact right now. I will burn his ASS!


September 21,

Dear Diary,

There was big concert about 9/11 on television. It was kind of wierd--there were no commercials.

Dave Mathews is totally hot! I would do him in a second!


September 27, 2001

Dear Diary,

I am SO frustrated! I've been looking everywhere for OBL, but I can't find him! He is such a pussy! And now everyone's laughing at me cuz he kicked my ass and I can't do anything about it. When they see me they act all serious and sad, and they're all like they're my best friends and offering to help me. Even France put her arm around me today!!! How yucky is that?! GOD I HATE THAT BITCH!!!!

I am going to show all of them. I am going to explode like a super bitch, and they all better watch out.

P.S. I was totally in a horrible mood today. Only Britain sat with me at lunch. I know I keep saying I'm through with him. He is such a LITTLE BOY, but at least he has good taste in ME! Told him I'd go with him to the Group of Eight summit next week. You should have seen how happy he was. Pathetic.

Maybe I'll get a better offer.


October 7, 2001

Dear Diary,

I feel fantastic. I told you I was gonna kick some ass, and today I started. I rolled into Afghanistan like a bitch on wheels. You should have seen the look on the other countries' faces. They were totally freaked out. When I woke up in the morning, all I could think about was kicking OBL's nasty, sweaty ass, but from almost the second I starting whipping Afghanistan, I swear I completely forgot about that towelhead faggot. I mean, I was rolling over a whole country! There were bodies flying everywhere, stinky little Arabs screaming for their mommies and shitting themselves if I even looked at them.

What do I care about catching one gross little Arab when I can kill a whole country full of them?

P.S. Got pretty carried away by the excitement. Have a vague memory of sucking face with Spain during the artillery barrage. My imagination?


November 20, 2001

Dear Diary,

So now Afghanistan is like totally conquered. Fabu, right? Not! What a shithole! There's absolutely NOTHING to do there! It smells and the bathrooms are disgusting and the food is gross and they eat with their hands out of the same dish! Like I'm going to put anything in my mouth when those nasty hands have been there. Everybody acts all weird and refuses to speak English.

I'm totally boooooooooored. OBL is hiding in the mountains, and I'm bombing the shit out of him, but this place is so crappy that I swear you can't even tell which parts have been bombed and which parts haven't! And I don't even know if it's doing anything. Meanwhile, all the other countries are all like "We support you!" and "You go!" but I have a feeling they're actually happy that I'm off in the middle of nowhere just so they can do stuff without me behind my back.

If they think they can ignore me I will teach them a lesson they will never forget!


Decmber 2, 2001

Dear Diary,

I am so done with Afghanistan. I can't believe I even wasted my time on that. Not sure what's happened to OBL, but whatever. Loser.

I've been thinking about a way to really bring down the house. Stay tuned!


July 9, 2002

Dear Diary,

I totally hate this year! Afghanistan was completely unsatisfying. I am ready to tear those Arabs a new one, and now all the sudden everyone's like "Hold on for a minute, let's talk about this..." LAME-O! Even my so-called friends are frustrating me. If they were really my friends, shouldn't they help me? Instead we all have to do this conflict resolution bullshit at the UN. What a crock. It's all run by loser countries like Egypt and Nigeria--of course THEY"RE all like--ooh, let's resolve this conflict. Let's TALK about it. PUSSIES.

Well they better duck. This girl is just getting started.


February 16, 2003

Dear Diary,

I told England today that I'm going to attack Iraq. I could tell he was peeing his pants. But I was wearing my new turquoise halter top with the spaghetti straps. I looked so HOT. I leaned over to give him an eyefull, and he was like, just say when...

As if! How about never, girlie boy? Does that work for you?

Some of the other countries don't want me to do it. God, I hate it when they try to control me. I made up some bullshit that Iraq and OBL were friends. Whatever. It'll shut them up.

I am so psyched! Iraq is going to rule! Told Israel about it. He didn't say much, but I could tell he was impressed.

Super-secret: Israel is totally hot!

Pros: Kicks ass almost as much as me, great hair.

Cons: Jewish


March 18, 2003

Dear Diary,

Game on! Guess all the other countries know who's boss now. The looks on their faces were priceless. My posse is totally kissing my ass. Like they could do anything without me. Everyone's shitting bricks. Even France was speechless for once, that pansy. She can suck my ass!

Who's your daddy now, OBL?

I am so happy!


September 13, 2007

Dear Diary,

BEING ME IS THE WORSE THING EVER! I HATE MY LIFE! Iraq is so sucky! They totally don't appreciate anything I've done for them. All the other cuntries have been ignoring me. Even England stopped calling me. Like I care what he does. And then Australia called to say that Osama was on tv. I was like, Hello? ANTM is on! You're lucky I have TiVo or I'd flip out on you!

Why does everyone hate me? I didn't start all this--OBL did. Am I supposed to just lay down and do nothing. NFW!

Well I. Do. Not. Care. What they think. I don't need their help, and I will NOT be ignored.

I think Iran's been talking about me behind my back...