Tuesday, May 21, 2002
"Simply by virtue of being human, [we] carry a precious capacity for autonomous judgments about what is real." - Lisa Ruddick
RE: What Bush knew
It is utterly foolish to blame Bush for not putting the pieces together, as if being the president was like a Hardy Boys mystery. Only in the movies does the president sit behind his desk staring at a hundred disparate sheaves of paper, and then...he sees the connection...My God! They're going to attack New York! (picks up the phone)...Get me Ashcroft!
The only thing Bush has to be legitimately criticized for is the same thing that ends up at the bottom of all of these imbroglios - there should have been fuller disclosure sooner. The stonewall is the scandal, after all. But to construe the facts we have now as "He knew and did nothing" is to seriously distort and misunderstand those facts, perhaps intentionally.
But you know what? Cry me a river, Junior.
Better men than Bush have had to bear harsher criticism from better men than Joe Lieberman during worse wars than this one. Lincoln and McClellan come to mind; FDR and Henry Stimson, etc. It's just America. The president is not a child to be isolated. The slings and arrows are part of the gig, wartime or no.
Friday, May 03, 2002
[Another old post, put up for archive purposes]
Olympic Fervor Abates
I have recovered, if by "Olympic fervor" you mean "Watching five minutes of four-man bobsled while assembling a metal shelf in my living room." I can't watch the NBC coverage any more; it's enough to put me off the Olympics altogether. Their decision is clear: The only athletes we get to see are Americans, plus maybe whoever the top two-or-three international competitors are. The Olympics are a massive, sprawling enterprise, and at every minute, someone, somewhere is competing, jumping off a ramp, whizzing around an oval, shussing down a glistening steep, firing those rifles that look like praying mantises perched on the back of the biathletes. But American TV doesn't care about that. American network television has decided that all you care about, Mr. & Mrs. American Public, all you care about, stupid, passive, overfed, maudlin couch potatoes that you are, is saccharine string music over touching stories of achievement and pluck as we hear the heartbreaking details of the heartbreaking divorce of the heartbreaking parents of an heartbreaking, plucky, inspirational and heartbreaking American ski jumper who has never placed higher than 7th in any international competition. And then we cut to some vacuous fathead on the ground with a microphone, talking about "What an amazing story, the perseverence of this young man from Montana..." and in the background, tiny, sailing figures in the distance, we see....what? PEOPLE ACTUALLY JUMPING OFF OF THE RAMP. Who are they? How far did they jump? Who cares! They don't speak yankee, and they can't be milked for pseudo-inspirational pabulum or "scandals." And don't get me started on the "scandals."
It really is depressing, because some of the stuff these athletes do is amazing. I seem to remember, in my younger days, when my brother and I built a couch-cushion fort in the den and watched the Games for what seemed like days at a time (standing up and destroying the fort in an excess of celebration when the American hockey team beat Russia...I still remember that), anyway, I remember the coverage being COVERAGE, not spin, not hype, not comforting fairytales. Maybe I have tricked myself into wishful thinking. I say just put a camera at the bottom of the hill and tell me who the skier is, and show his time. If there is a break in the action go someplace else and show some other competition. Would it really be such a ratings disaster if the primary goal of the network was to show as much actual competition as was possible to stuff into the time allotted? I understand, commercials, sure, covering the Olympics is a massive endeavor, and you have to make it profitable, but I would be willing to accept some on-screen hanger ads, and commercial breaks, and more sponsor signs, if it just meant that I could WATCH THE FREAKING OLYMPICS, instead of what it is now, oscillating between hallmark card and tabloid, and making me sick.
Of course neither Lincoln nor Hayes could match the mighty Ninja of the 4th Circle James Garfield, whose death-dealing left handed "Moaning Shrike" style was the scourge of the White House halls - many's the staffer who turned in a substandard speech or position paper, only to find moments later that they were staring at their own still-beating heart clutched in President Garfield's hand as they slumped disbelievingly to the floor...
[Archiving an old post about Stephen Ambrose - seems sort of mean now that we find out he's got throat cancer.]
Context often determines the severity of an act of literary pilferage. Ambrose's books are full of stereotypes and cartoons, squadrons of fierce, independent men who would sooner die than retreat or live without honor. Ambrose himself has created a public role through his writing as the primary apostle of everything that has gone before, the Good Old Days when people had some goddamn backbone, by God.
If context ever worsens the offense, it does so here. Ambrose has done more than most to coat history with a saccharine fairytale of glory; the fact that he opportunistically and dishonestly stole from other writers to do it just makes that glory seem like a commodity that someone decided to artfully package and sell. What a disservice to the real stories, and to the real people that lived them. If patriotic remembrance is "Ambrose history," which it very much is today, then Ambrose's hypocrisy tars it all, however honestly and scrupulously done. What a chump.
So I found myself at the office really early today knocking out some research, and listening to my walkman, when suddenly I realized that I had in fact stopped researching and been playing furious air drums for at least ten minutes. How did I notice? Well, I noticed when the managing partner of the entire office walked by and stopped in his tracks in front of my door and gave me an inquisitive look - you could see the calculation: "Here at 6:45 - good. Eyes closed, limbs flailing about in all directions, walkman so loud as to be audible from the hallway - not so good." By the time I noticed him, he was already walking away - I took the walkman off, got up and stuck my head out of my door - no sign of him, in either direction on my hall...maybe I just dreamed it...
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Dear Every Manager in the World:
There are an awful lot of managers out there who do not believe in honest dealing with employees that have fallen out of favor, who believe it is better to create a culture of secrecy within their office, to force their employees to lie to the target of their ire, who find it easier to smile in the face and stab in the back, to create heirarchies of "ins" and "outs" within their staff, to greate a generalized paranoia in all employees as every professional snub or frustration, however minor or routine, becomes a possible harbinger of disfavor and the conveyor belt out the door.
This type of management is a plague and a pestilence. This type of management only protects the MANAGER, not the target. Any notion to the contrary is laugable self-delusion. From the employee's point of view, this is sheer cruelty, as projects slip away, work stops flowing, office relationships are strained, paranoia sets in and eventually, when he just can't stand it anymore, he quits, in fury and desperation, with no severance and no unemployment benefits (the real reason most managers would rather force an employee to quit than be fired).
There are really only two reasons to fire someone - There isn't enough money, or they are f**king up. In the first instance, since the employee didn't do anything really wrong, you owe them the respect of a straight-up explanation. In the second, leaving them in place is just permitting them to keep f**king up on the company dime while you spare yourself the embarrassment of doing your job. If this is your strategy, I hope your boss does you the courtesy of firing you properly.
Every Mid-Level Employee in the World
Who hit who hit who hit blah fucking blah fucking blah:
So foolish...chasing the flapping shirttail of the father of violence as he sprints back into the dim and irretrievable past...what if you could catch him, what then? What if you could stand and watch, all of you jabbering blamethrowers, as the first jew hits the first arab, or the first arab hits the first jew? Would half of you jump up in righteous joy and shout "I KNEW IT!! YOU BASTARDS, YOU STARTED IT ALL!" Would the world suddenly see one side clothed in righteousness and the other snarling in the black cape, twirling the skinny moustache?
Would it make a bit of difference, as you bulldoze the holy land or throw your souls at paradise with the flat roasting bang of the suicide bomb? Would you feel better as you looked at the tense, angry faces of your neighbors?
You are combatants over a piece of ground, like millions of combatants before you. The fairy tales you both tell yourselves and each other about how the other side is entirely to blame, and you are utterly justified, are nonsense and propaganda, like the rivers of nonsense and propaganda that flow like the Jordan out of every war, in every age.
Re: Moussaoui trial:
This is not the first time that federal courts have prosecuted a defendant whose does not recognize the validity of the court itself. In the early nineties, the trials of the so-called freemen in Montana presented similar challenges, albeit with fewer eyes on the courtroom. Defendants in those cases indulged in pseudo-filibustering, discovery abuse, endless objections and a hundred other cavils and roadblocks, including threatening the life of the judge on multiple occasions. But the court maintained an even strain, applied its own rules as fairly as possible, and moved the case along.
This is why the judge has appointed and will not excuse the so-called "shadow counsel" Moussaoui has refused to confer with. Should Moussaoui refuse to cooperate, and continually interrupt the proceedings with out-of-turn commentary, ar objections with no legal basis, or in any way that the judge deems necessary to preserve order in the court, the defendant can even be removed, and the shadow counsel will serve as proxy, objecting when there is a legally justifiable reason to do so.
No doubt Moussaoui will squawk interminably and the case will drag, but the process has an internal momentum that will eventually bring the case to a close, regardless of who his lawyer is, or how many times he objects to the jurisdiction of the court. Federal judges have the power to gag defendants who become disruptive, as they did in the freemen trial. Just keep hammering the process, give him the same chances to present his side as everyone else gets, and get on with it.
Theorizing that it is dangerous to allow Moussaoui to search government documents or speak openly in court supposes that somehow Moussaoui has, or will be able to formulate, absolutely devastating critiques of America and it's laws, or that he still has some secret communiques to express. The cell of which he was a part, and about which he has secret information to express, are all dead, their mission accomplished. We have heard the gravamen of his criticism, and it is fractured, fanatical nonsense (Give Spain back to the Moors! It's the greatest crime in history!). The choir to which he is preaching will surely give him an amen, but the rest of the world will see an open system dealing reasonably with the unreasonable.
Of course we must give him his soapbox. Why not? Do we seriously fear what he has to say? Are we going to change our laws just because we don't want to hear someone badmouth the USA? Shutting him up is the coward's way out. Let the jackass babble, put the evidence before the court, and if he's guilty, convict him. If he's not, don't. Doing anything else just looks like lynching a scapegoat.
Wednesday, May 01, 2002
We increasingly feel shoved aside and marginal if we do not open our mouths and do something, anything, to contribute to the general din.
There is a difference between the front line and the back line. Yeah, there are a thousand Lord of the Rings reviews on RottenTomatoes, but nobody reads 99% of them. 500 reviews await your perusal as you contemplate the purchase of a CD on Amazon, but at best you breeze through the pro reviews and read a couple of the amateur blurbs until you get to one in all caps and stop. Harry Knowles is top 50, but who else has clawed out of the blog backlog(okay, Drudge)? We are just background noise.
The media blizzard we slog through daily is not generated by machine, it is merely facilitated by them. Every jagged image, every block of text, every flashing blackjack 888.com ad on the side of every website, every billboard on the bus, every urinal ad, every pointed editorial about media saturation, every review, every gossip column, every guest editorial, every extensive essay on wheat production in 1890's Nebraska, every travelogue about wiry American backpackers spending a season picking betel nuts in Java, has been drafted, fact checked, photoshopped and captioned, edited and polished, and production floored, and 4-colored, and shipped out the door or posted on the web or the phone booth, covering every f**king available surface in the country (drinking a pint yesterday evening I notice, etched onto the side of the glass - "XM - radio to the power of X").
And the content itself, filling page after page after page of magazines and websites and newspapers. Who reads it? How many hundreds of thousands, how many millions of words a day are cast out into the ether to be ignored, just a squirt of piss in a raging torrent of water?
I suppose there is value if your expression starts a dialogue, but how much of the content on our pages on our screens, on bus kiosks and lampposts and pint glasses is intended to start a dialogue? Some of it is intende to spark a crass type of expression - purchasing, commerce, disgorging of cash. But so much of it is just inert, gossip we don't need about people we have no reason to care about and opinions that don't matter. Perfect example? This post. I see everyone else opening their mouth and letting fly, and I feel like it is not enough merely to arrive at a judgment - I must EXPRESS it, or it feels impotent, pointless.
Who really cares about this opinion of mine, this little gem dredged up and presented? No one. Not even me - I recognize its transitory aspect; soon it will move off the server, another pebble in the avalanche, and on to new posts, and if all goes well, I won't even notice when I harmlessly die that I have talked and talked and talked and talked, but never made a sound.