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Friday, July 22, 2005
or, A SECRET HISTORY OF NEIL ARMSTRONG
I'm going to go a little way out here. But don't worry: it'll all come out in the wash.
Today will be "Moon Day" when we finally wise up and make it a holiday. Actual Moon Day was on Wednesday, but if it were a 'legal' holiday, this would be the Friday for the three-day weekend. Because, whether anyone else on Earth goes along with me, July 20th is a humankind holiday. It is, perhaps, a holiday that transcends species entirely. The shared recombinant DNA of the entire planet can celebrate the moment; perhaps, if the Gaia Hypothesis is correct, it is a sacred day for the entire, living, sentient planet.
And for the last two days, I've been trying to write this column. By Wednesday's end, I had a middling-piece, but it just was all wrong. It tried to weave various histories, but it was missing the personal piece.
A funny thing about my writing: ever since I started writing in college, I have had a little technique that I call 'composting.' I read the material, or, in the case of fiction, think about the characters, and immerse myself in the subject, and then I just drop it. I forget about it, but I've always felt that terra incognita towards the back of the brain, perhaps the subconscious, perhaps the soul (but then, what is the subconscious, if it's not the soul in scientific drag?) churning and doing SOMETHING, but what, I don't really know.
And then, at some mysterious point (usually a deadline) the oven timer goes off; there is a silent, mental chime, and whatever it was I was going to write about is "done."
For the past two days, the oven's been baking, and no words have been present.
The moon landing was a very personal experience for me. You know the landing itself: either you witnessed it, or you heard about it, or you read about it.
But it was one of those 9/11 moments: everyone knew where they were when it happened. It is a secret music that each of us carries. We all know the song playing on the radio, but each of us has a "secret" version: we remember a moment that is associated with that song, with that moment.
My secret moment was a life-long fulfillment: I am old enough to remember Sputnik (October 4, 1957), barely. Mostly I remember the tremendous agitation among the giant adults who supervised me. I had just learned to walk, recently, and I only really remember the emotions: the USA was behind the USSR. They were in space, and shortly thereafter, we launched our reply, Explorer I (January 31, 1958). I was 22 months old for Sputnik, two when Explorer followed. The space race was on.
Thence the launching of monkeys and dogs, and then the USSR sent the first man into space: Yuri Gagarin. I well remember the consternation that caused. I was living with my grandparents in their Victorian Gingerbread house, in Kearney, Nebraska. If you've been to Harry Truman's house in Independence, Missouri, you'd recognize my grandparents' house, a slightly less accessorized version of the same model, but eerily similar in design, ornamentation and layout.
A lot of people used to tell my grandfather that he looked a lot like Harry Truman -- a "compliment" that he hated, having been a life-long Republican working for the Union Pacific.
The KEARNEY DAILY HUB had a picture on the front page, and the long discussion about the "space race" would continue for years thereafter.
The first Mercury shots were sources of unalloyed wonder, but through the 'Sixties, our space program was continually a day late and a dollar short.
In 1963 or 1964, a college buddy of my Dad's stopped by at our little ranch-style house (painted fuscia, to the consternation of the neighborhood), on his way back to his job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. He had a thick three-hole punch binder filled with Surveyor photos. Slow motion deliberate crashes into the moon, trying to find the best landing site; trying to understand that enigma that has fascinated ever since eyes have existed to see it.
Throughout my elementary school education, I was stricken with bouts of Gemini Flu. No one ever noticed that I went into my "sick" routine ("I don't feel good. Do I have a fever?") on the day of Gemini flights. I never had many sick days, and usually, dutifully attended school and only had the very occasional tardy -- invariably because of some Emergency Beyond My Control: my bike got a flat, or a group of Laramie bullies (my age) I cornered me, and proceeded to stomp my schoolbooks, stomp my bike, and then stomp on me. My illness was inevitably accepted -- especially in later years when I made sure that I heated up the mercury at the bottom of the thermometer to around 100 degrees F.
And I would follow the non-stop coverage of the Gemini mission from the fold-out hideabed in the study, while remaining too sick to go to school. Usually, Walter Cronkite would explain the goings-on. There were no remote controls in those days, and you had to manually switch the channel. I thought Huntley-Brinkley on NBC were boring, and ABC's string of anchors were pretty dull, except for Jules Bergman, who really did the science explanations better than anybody else.
When Grissom, Chafee and White died in the fire on the launchpad simulation (Apollo 1), I grieved with the rest of the nation.
When we began to pass and pull away from the USSR, I was patriotically thrilled.
And then the flights around the moon. The famous Christmas Eve reading from Genesis, which was very, very cool. The Madeline Murray O'Hare law suit, which I agreed then and agree now was correct. It was definitely an "establishment of religion" but it sure as heck was totally cool. Ironically, we were back at my grandparents' home for Christmas that year, and I watched the Earth as seen from lunar orbit on Apollo 8 in the same place I'd seen the newspaper announcing Yuri Gagarin's space flight what seemed a million years earlier.
I had been watching the space race from earliest childhood. And the landing on the moon seemed within our grasp.
It WOULD happen. It wasn't just crazy science fiction.
It's hard to remember that there was a time (reported to me, because I wasn't there) when all sober, reasonable people knew that the idea of going to the moon was sheerest lunacy.
And, until 1969, they were entirely correct.
But those who dreamed of going to the moon were either wildly imaginative, dangerously delusional or suffering from delerium tremens, or all three.
The science fiction writers who came of age in the 1940s have reported that it was not uncommon for them to be accosted by total strangers -- seriously sober and reasonable people -- who were happy to share their unshakeable opinion that anybody who wrote stories about going to the moon was a couple sandwiches shy of a picnic basket.
It was a shameful thing to write science fiction (or sci-fi), because the idea of traveling in space was nutty. So only kids and nuts would read the stuff. Many parents issued blanket prohibitions against their kids reading SF, considering it a sort of literary pornography. It enfeebled the mind, it was immoral -- possibly due to the profusion of exceptionally busty women on the covers, usually wearing the skimpiest spacesuits this side of Frederick's of Hollywood.
And, happily, when they landed on the moon, the science fiction writers were honored guests. They had weathered the long trek from outcast status to hero status.
I read a lot of SF. It only seemed natural in a "Space Age." And, I read a lot, anyway. I had a subscription to SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, and thought I was going to be a scientist "when I grow up."
So I was keenly aware of just what a profound moment in the life of a species, in the life of a planet that the moon landing represented.
In Arthur C. Clarke's novelization of 2001-A Space Odyssey, he makes the point (using different language) that the Black Monolith buried on the moon was the perfect pons asinorum. Pons asinorum literally means "bridge of donkeys" and it was a test meant to separate the teachable from the idiots. It's an idiot test. If a species can't develop space travel to their nearest neighbor, then they're not interesting to us. The test of the black monolith is a sort of galactic SAT on a pass/fail system.
To have actually traveled the terrible void that separates the Earth and the Moon in a series of tin cans powered by special lighter fluid was a lot more than just a symbolic "war" between the world's two super-powers. It was a happy accident that their vanity had channeled the post-World War Two rivals into a strange quest -- John Kennedy's stated goal of landing a man on the moon and bringing him safely back by the end of the decade (the 1960s).
For awhile, it looked like we were going to make it easily. And then the Apollo 1 fire.
Here is my secret history of the Moon Landing.
Grandpa had died the previous winter. The whole extended family had taken over the Fort Kearney Hotel, then. The joke made the rounds about when our Great Aunt had asked my Grandfather if all that weight wouldn't make the moon fall out of the sky. And he'd just looked at her, disgusted. (You had to have been there.)
We had moved to our new, dream house the summer before, during the Mexico City Olympics. My brother and I occupied the basement, with our own bathroom. We had a two car garage. I was about to enter the ninth grade, the "senior class" of Laramie Junior High. We'd be the high men on the totem pole, as the then-current colloquialism went.
And "we" were landing on the moon. By "we" it was hard to pin down: was it us kids? we USA folks? Americans, North and South? Or was it everybody? By the end of the day, I would realize that it was everybody. But at the time, I was in an exultation of State: The United States of America had won the race to the moon.
We're Number One! But it was far more than that. I wouldn't realize it until Apollo 13, but even then, I had a feeling that this was a Day for the Ages. The whole of humanity was watching.
It was a perfect summer day, with clear blue skies and gentle sunlight. It was "hot" by which I mean that it might have been in the eighties. I had finished my pony league season, the highest point of my baseball career. In the last game of the season, at my last at-bat, I had hit the center field fence halfway up -- which would be the best I ever got. I never hit a home run, and I have often reflected on the little twist of fate involved: had that ball carried another couple of feet, I'd have won the game for my team, and we'd have been in the playoffs.
It would have been Michael Jordan moment. Instead, I only managed a stand up single, and was thrown out (sprinting was never my forte) on the only stolen base attempt I was ever given by any Third Base Coach. Such is life.
I didn't know it then, but that's as close as I'd ever get. It was the best summer of my childhood, but I wouldn't know that until much, much later.
It's funny how we never realize that the best moments of our life are happening when they're happening. Only years later do we understand that we'd been on a mountaintop but never realized it.
My brother had finished his career in little league, and the sponsor of the team, the owner of the "Circle S" motel across from the Wyoming "War Memorial" stadium, invited all the families to his cabin near Jelm, Wyoming, thirty miles west of Laramie.
They had a bar-b-que, and the obligatory gallons of potato salad, the beans, the hamburgers and hot dogs, the relish and mustard, and lots and lots of catsup. They spelled it "catsup" but everyone pronounced it "ketchup" for reasons that were mysterious then, and remain so today.
There was a mini-bike that all the kids were supposed to take turns riding, but the line was too long, so I hiked out in the woods, through the Ponderosa Pine and the sagebrush, with the meadowlarks calling, along the dusty dirt road the minibike roared back and forth on. I was always looking for arrowheads, but I never found one. Instead, I found a couple of those old green-glass insulators from a nearby power pole, which I took as a souvenir. The linemen had probably just dropped the old ones and replaced them.
And the clock ticked. There was a radio on in the cabin, and I listened to the reports from the moon. The men were playing penny-ante poker, joking and yakking above the tinny sound of the radio, and the mothers were in the kitchen, cleaning up the remains of the day, chattering about this and that. The only subject that was missing from the day, oddly enough, was baseball, or the team, or the little league season.
When it was time for us to get back for the moonwalk, I told my parents, neither of which were very much interested.
I was astonished.
This was, perhaps, the most profound piece of history I'd ever witnessed, far more profound than any voyage of Columbus or Magellan; more important than wars or elections. And the adults were oblivious.
Perhaps it was because I was peculiar -- I've always been a "collector" of history -- or just because this was the final payoff of a national odyssey that had begun barely after I'd been born. It was that home run I'd missed weeks before, but in a much larger sense.
What was astonishing to me was that, in a room, full of businessmen, civil servants, professors from the University of Wyoming, housewives, filling station owners, etcetera; in this whole cross-section of Laramie society, what was important was penny-ante poker and sharing recipes for potato salad.
The strange sense of disillusionment that I felt then is still with me: they didn't know, and they didn't care. Just another day, another picnic in the woods.
So, I took that youthful stratagem that we all learned so well: I began to pester them, a gadfly stinging their good time, just at the edge of being swatted, until they finally became too annoyed, or disgusted, and reluctantly left the party.
We drove east, back to Laramie, in the sunset of a perfect July day. We got back in plenty of time, and I watched the CBS Eye himself, Walter Cronkeit, as he wiped a tear away and, later, after Neil Armstrong blew his line: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
At the time, I simply accepted its absurdity. It was profound BECAUSE of where it had been spoken. It didn't matter what Neil was actually saying. We got it. It was supposed to be "one small step for A man" but Neil was evidently so nervous that a couple of words dropped out.
We can forgive him for that. Here was a fundamentally NON-stage center person in the sharpest spotlight, with the biggest audience in the history of "mankind," and he had just enough stage fright that he flubbed his line.
Neil was that fellow we'd been looking for all those centuries: he was the Man in the Moon.
If Cyrano de Bergerac had beaten him to it, Cyrano was hiding that day. Green cheese suddenly dropped out of our lexicon. The mystery had vanished in the face of the majestic fact.
We'd made it. We'd gone from the savannahs of Africa, domesticated animals, learned agriculture, built civilizations and empires that rose over and over again, and the cumulative effort, the collective effort of millions living and dead had placed two fragile human beings on the face of the moon that had inspired our wonder and curiosity ever since we first looked at the heavens and asked: What is that?
And, in the years since, I have celebrated that moment every year for the past thirty-six summers, and like those parents, oblivious and happy with their beer and their potato salad, we have still not embraced the epiphany of that moment.
So I spent the last couple of days celebrating Moon Day. It is my holiday until enough others accept it that we celebrate it as a "holy" day.
Because such moments come very few times in the life of a species, and, if one is very, very lucky, once in our brief lifetimes.
And I don't blame the adults. They didn't realize that it was a peak moment, just as I never realized that I'd gotten as close to a home run as I'd ever get.
Each of us, who was alive then, has their own secret music: we have personalized the moment; we remember where we were and what we were doing. We remember, but our memories are seldom jogged. And it's a shame.
Now, as we watch the weather satellite images to see whether we should evacuate, or when storms are rolling in; as we use our "space-age" materials and computers; when we're hooked to bio-telemetry devices to do computer diagnostics on our bodies; when we see a satellite catch the sun, far above the sunset, when we watch old episodes of "Leave it to Beaver" on our satellite dish service's basic channels, we don't really remember that moment when we first touched the man in the moon.
But I still do.
Happy Moon Day.
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
SO WHAT'S WRONG WITH KARL?
or, OH WHAT A WICKED WEB WE WEAVE
So, I'm sitting on the back stoop, thinking and taking a smoke break, and it hits me: Karl is in bigger trouble than I thought.
Well, look at his modus operandi.
He's amoral, analytical, and willing to color outside the lines. This focus has given him the sobriquet "boy genius."
Frankly, I saw the picture of him as a high school debater, and I knew exactly who the guy was. I knew them in high school and college.
Yeah, he's smart. But he ain't a genius. He's adapted political techniques from the Nixon and Reagan White Houses, the latest statistical techniques, and devoted himself to precinct by precinct focus on elections.
But he's like Tom Landry was: once they figured out his game, he stopped winning them. Landry's whole technique was to keep it close until the middle of the third quarter and then bury the opponent without any chance of coming back. Rove's trick is to find the opponent's strength and use it against them as a weakness.
Like many political operatives, he stays in the shadows, if he can help it. When I was working on the Gore campaign in 2000, I did an internet search to see what I could dig up on Rove, because it seemed obvious to me that HE was the motive force behind the Bush campaign.
Well, that and a lot of money.
I couldn't find a thing on the guy. His traces had been covered up as neatly as they covered up Bush's cocaine and possible dealing, Bush's 'war' record, and Laura Bush's high school vehicular homicide. There was NOTHING on the man.
It struck me that this wasn't accidental. I didn't pursue it, but I wish that I had. I tend to have very good instincts about these things. As friends will testify, I've called the future more times than any soothsayer has a right to.
(It's more a matter of seeing patterns of history repeat themselves: When we went into Afghanistan, I said that it was Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby: the more we struck, the more stuck we'd get, and we are DEFINITELY stuck, aren't we?)
So, by moving to the middle of the spotlight, he's already off balance, and in unfamiliar territory. That kind of cultivated anonymity becomes a habit, and, finally, a lifestyle. Suddenly being in the spotlight, under the maximum media glare is like being exposed, naked, onstage at Carnegie Hall.
I would wager that he's as uncomfortable as an environmentalist at a Republican Bar-B-Que.
But the critical factor in his technique that's missing from the current mess is objectivity.
You see, Karl has always been about manipulating other people. Other candidates. In that, he's not that unusual for political consultants. They cultivate that invisibility that my girlfriend, the lady private eye, used to point out that undercover operatives use. Nothing that sticks out; nothing that catches the eye, and certainly nothing that would put you on the radar. The phony humility of most political consultants (and Rove used to have oodles of it) is really a distraction technique. The candidate is the star.
Like a zillion would-be rock bands, they are utterly convinced of their technical and musical prowess, but they need a front man, who can handle the terrible energy of all that audience attention. It used to amaze me how many band ads you'd see in the RECYCLER for bands that were utterly complete, but lacked a front man with "strong stage presence."
Political consultants are like that. Karl is like that.
And, they are used to playing their peculiar form of chess, but they are utterly unfamiliar with being ON the chessboard. Games of Wizard's Chess are frightening to them.
So, Karl has lost his objectivity. He can't see himself. He doesn't know how to behave fronting the band. He's used to being the invisible bass (or, in this case, BASE) player, commenting to the drummer while the Mick Jagger, or the Roger Daltrey wows the chicks into screamage.
Remember, when Karl met George, he thought George looked like a rock star.
Now, Karl's the rock star, and habit won't let him leave his "defense" to other, weaker players. He is the focus, and without the carefully calculated persona, the stage moves, the trickeries and illusions of the stage magician he toils behind the curtains to use, astonishing the audiences, well, Karl's a duck out of water.
So, the ham-handed manner in which the whole Rovegate mess has been handled over the past two weeks finally makes sense.
At first, they did nothing, because Karl was secure in his invisibility.
And the story grew.
Then, he realized that he was in trouble.
So, he went into smear mode.
But suddenly, in the spotlight, smear mode only made him look worse.
And he couldn't come up with the slick arguments and fallacies that he's used with a hundred politicians. Because he's not a politician, and, most importantly, he neither SEES himself, nor has any image of himself as a front man.
He's been working through intermediaries, of course, but the rabbits have been stillborn from the hats. The lady has ended up sawn truly in half (uuurgh!) and the wires on the levitation trick are catching the spotlight, giving away the stunt.
Karl is most definitely in trouble.
And, like most people in this situation, he's becoming his worst enemy. Each trick, each spin, each dodge has served only to erode the credibility of his shock troops: the Limbaughs, the Hannitys, the Hill Republicans, Faux Nooz. They are starting to look silly and ridiculous.
And so, the Hill Republicans are taking the Fifth.
But, really, the bigger story is that the whole Iraq Lie is coming unraveled. Yesterday's Bush stumble (changing "leaker" to "crime" etc.) was the cherry on top of a Sunday of ludicrous spinning: Ken Mehlman and Lindsay Graham were the nuts sprinkled on the whipped cream of mendacity. The syrup was the ever-compliant Sunday Show hosts, and the Ice Cream remained the ineluctable truth that Rove lied. That Libby lied. That Scott McClellan lies, and that Bush probably lied. The polls bear this out.
But the bigger issue is the entire weakness of the Bush Administration: history is rife with one simple truth, and that is that when you abandon practical political reality for wishful ideological fantasy, the strain finally rips you in half.
It's like a person standing in two canoes. While the paddlers are each in synchronization on either side, it's one outrigger. But suppose those canoes begin pulling away from each other. Only a slight difference in their angle, and the person with one foot in each is in trouble. Eventually, he can neither keep both boats together, nor spread his legs any further. Usually, he falls into the river. And often swamps at least one canoe.
And that's really what's happened to the Bush Administration. Karl is only the loose thread on the pink cheerleader sweater. Begin to pull and it all begins to unravel.
Politics, quoth someone, is the art of the possible. But the ideologue doesn't see it that way. Politics becomes the art of creating the preferred reality. As Abe Lincoln said, prophetically, you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time; but you can't fool all of the people all of the time.
And that's when you fall in the river.
Pretty soon, what's wrong with Karl will be that he's all wet. And I'm pretty sure that George won't throw him a line to keep him from drowning. People follow the pattern of their own lives, and George's life has not been rife with acts of self-sacrifice.
So, I'd lay even money that the sacrifice will be one soggy Karl Rove.
And that's his problem.
Monday, July 18, 2005
KARL AND GEORGE AND SPIN, OH MY
or, HERE WE GO AGAIN
Bush slithered a Rovian lie today.
Or, perhaps you might call it a parse.
I realize that some of you out there might be thinking that this is becoming a stenophagous blog, and I apologize for that misperception. We will return to our flights of fancy and general dithering shortly. But last night, I heard Joe Wilson on Morning Sedition saying that we need to keep our eyes on the ball and since I've been saying that for awhile now, I just figured it was open invitation to agree with my own stated wisdom.
"Stenophagous" by the by, means
SYLLABICATION: ste-noph-a-gousBush stated that if someone in this administration has committed a crime, they would no longer serve in this administration.
Which is a moronic dodge. A lot of the "quick" pundits have caught the lowering of the bar that this represents -- moving the threshold from "leakers" to "criminals."
But, gee, DUH, George.
If someone in this administration has committed a crime, they CAN'T serve in the administration.
They would, in all probability, be too busy in adapting to their new living conditions, wardrobe and diet.
In other words, George punted on integrity -- as he punted on "serving" in the National Guard long ago: first taking the prerogative to jump to the front of a long line (hundreds) to get in (and thus avoid Vietnam) and then deciding to not show up when transferred to Alabama, and thence to Massachusetts. Duck and dodge and never be responsible.
When he made his impassioned "get to the bottom of it" bray, and that he'd "fire" the "leakers," Incurious George almost undoubtedly knew full well who those leakers were. In fact, this administration lied to the press corps and, thus, the entire American people that employ them, that Rove and Libby had nothing to do with the leak, and that such a charge was "ridiculous." (Scott McClellan).
But let's follow the weasel words herein: From "fire the leakers" to "crime" and "won't work in this Administration" is more than just a sneaky re-statement. It represents an ultimate abrogation of responsibility.
Because "firing" an employee is a volitional act, based on authority. You have to have the authority to fire the employee, and you have to have the will to do it.
But "crime" and "won't work" suddenly shunts off that burden. The "authority" here becomes the courts -- another branch of government entirely. And should the employee be convicted, the "firing" becomes a given: the employee either goes to jail or on probation, but in either case, he is debarred BY LAW (the Congress) from "serving."
So, George re-parses and punts. This is unconscionable, and it is typical of this cowardly bully. For all his posturing, he has not so much as the ethical or intellectual integrity to admit so much as having made a single mistake.
Besides, Bush firing Rove would be a miracle akin to Charlie McCarthy firing Edgar Bergen or the special effects computers firing George Lucas.
But that's not really what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about the CIA and the damage done by the malicious leakers.
But first, let's take a moment to review the day's news:
Mon, Jul. 18, 2005Well, Bush's "straight shooter" image isn't going to suffer any in my eyes from these revelations, if that provides him any consolation.
But, coming out of that press conference this morning was the much more FRIGHTENING news that seems to have dropped off the radar:
Bush Reverses U.S. Policy on India PowerIs this insane? Nuclear power is "clean" energy? Well, maybe when the reactor is going. But the whole nuclear waste problem is why we decided, in the 1970s -- as a nation -- to stop building nuclear plants. Well, that and 3-Mile Island. Sending nuclear plants and fuel to India strikes me as akin to handing a Bic lighter and a bottle of lighter fluid to a five year old. India is most assuredly not a five year old, but I think that the inevitability of the conflagration to come is equal in both instances. The magnitude of the five year old's disaster will, however, be considerably smaller.
The BEST way, according to a nuclear proliferation expert I heard this morning, to stage a nuclear terror incident is by blowing up a nuclear power plant. And, of course, spent fuel rods can be reprocessed into bomb-grade material.
And, speaking of scary ...
Rumsfeld vows speedy action on Guantanamo trialsAnd so, the first "Military Tribunal" kangaroo court cases will now proceed, and the Administration will undoubtedly use the stories to "spin" the Gitmo revelations of torture, et al, by stating that now detainees are getting "due process." Why does George Orwell spin in his grave?
Even worse, the Orwellian net spreads even wider, as the Patriot Act has emerged from committee with minor, cosmetic changes, recommended as PERMANENT on nearly all "sunset" provisions. But it gets worse. Here's a story that's flying under the radar:
Wednesday, July 6, 2005 - 12:00 AMAnd this:
Sun, Jun. 26, 2005Gee. First let's get around the Geneva Convention; then let's get around the Constitutional guarantee of due process, and now, let's get around the Posse Comitatus Act.
Courtesy of the US Army: http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/baker1.html
Document created: 1 November 99
But, something else has, er, now cropped up ...
It seems that the Guard has hired Enron's former attorneys and has been charged with shredding documents requested by the committee. Why? Because a loophole in the Posse Comitatus act allows National Guard units that aren't activated to do it. This may be going on in other states as well.
Well, 1984 was only twenty years late, BUT, I still want to talk about the effect of the Valerie Plame Affair on the intelligence community.
First, "outing" Plame sent a message to potential whistle-blowers: Say a WORD, and we'll get you.
Secondly, it sent a counter-productive message to "assets" and potential assets around the world: You can't trust the US Intel agents to keep a secret. We'll pay a price for this one up the line. We "outed" a Pakistani mole working inside Al Qaeda last year, upsetting British MI-6, and sending the clear message: Americans can't be trusted to keep intelligence resources secret. And we'll pay for that one, too.
Thirdly, I want to address an argument I've been making, and has been being quietly "refuted" by clueless talking heads:
That the Plame Affair represented a massive disaster to CIA operations, not just one agent. That there is at least one undercover operative's death resulting from it.
The argument is that we DON'T KNOW if this is true, and I would accept that argument, EXCEPT:
From the very beginning, we've been told that much of this "war" on terror would be secret, and that we couldn't always reveal our victories. That's a hell of a deal. It's like a poker game where the dealer getting to hold all his cards in secret, but all the other players have their cards showing.
Well, what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander: I say that it seems more than likely that major damage was done by this clueless, vindictive personal and political attack on a decent and unquestionably brave public servant, Joe Wilson. It doesn't matter whether we can prove that Rove and Libby (and their bosses, don't forget) actually contributed to the murder of agents and assets.
All that matters is that it might have happened. The same rules that allow them to shield their secret wars from public scrutiny allow me to say that secret casualties resulted from this assinine episode. You can't have the argument both ways. Clearly, damage was done, and we KNOW that the full extent will never be publicly be known.
Therefore, instead of demanding that the "dealers" turn over their cards, I merely assert my right to keep mine face down. When they show me theirs, and when they tell the truth about casualties and the death of agents, caused by political hacks abusing the powers LENT them by the people, then I will back off my claim that the Plame Affair created a far larger disaster than merely destroying the career of one public servant ... by men whose "public service" is, at BEST, questionable.
(Self-service, mostly. As in gas stations.)
So, keep your eye on the ball. The whole scurvy crew is in trouble, and remember, a wounded animal is the most dangerous form of game.
Ask yourself this question (which I asked long ago, when I was writing un-PC screenplays about secret power and its corrupting influence): If they are willing to do these things to NON-citizens, what makes you think that the mere fact of a border on a map, or your citizenship will shield you from their practices?
Valerie Plame would probably tell you different.
And, at least, this column managed to escape being stenophagous, although the White House Slime Merchants have most definitely NOT.
Sunday, July 17, 2005
THE SPIN CYCLE THAT NEVER ENDShart williams
or, BRAINWASH, RINSE AND SPIN
Sometimes I think that the entire Republican strategy was born when a Republican with soap in his eyes misread the label on his shampoo bottle: Blather, rinse and repeat.
Today's "Sunday morning" wonk shows are barely history, and the lies are now firmly getting out there. Karl did nothing wrong. The soundbite on CNN has Lindsay Graham, now a Senator, based on his notoriety as a "House Impeachment Manager."
That's right, Mr. "Rule of Law" himself is giving Karl a pass, Lindsay Graham -- who was once so certain that Bill Clinton had broken the law and HAD to be removed from office for lying about his involvement with an excessively willing fellatrix (who gained access to the White House because Newt "I'm Having an affair with my Office Staffer" Gingrich decided to shut down the government.) Whence this omniscient certitude, and how stupid do they think we are?
Let me get this straight: They've trotted out G. Gordon Liddy, Watergate Burglar, and Lindsay Graham, House Impeachment Manager to lecture US on the "Rule of Law" and the guilt or innocence of spinmeister Karl Rove in rolling up a clandestine WMD tracking operation involving dozens, if not hundreds of sub rosa agents and contacts? And, pathetically, the sheer (small-) mindless viciousness of trying to smear Joseph Wilson by attacking his wife doesn't count for anything. Ken Mehlman, the GOP's new Chairman/Attack Dog has been everywhere, repeating the Party Line. Listen:
Or listen to this, that cleverly reminds us WHO Ken Mehlman was before becoming Chair of the RNC: from the DES MOINES REGISTER http://desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050714/NEWS09/507140407/1001/NEWS
Rove didn't leak name, says RNC chairmanRove's former employee at the White House and Bush campaign manager (from less than a year ago) is taken as an "authority" on the case? And the talking heads don't call him on his distortions, on the outright lies he's peddling, of course. At least they're consistently complicit lapdogs. (And what's a great reporter like this doing stuck in Des Moines instead of sending him to Washington D.C. where we really NEED them?)
I know: it sounds sordid, but this whole Rove thing is the dictionary definition of "sordid":
ADJECTIVE: 1. Filthy or dirty; foul. 2. Depressingly squalid; wretched: sordid shantytowns. 3. Morally degraded: "The sordid details of his orgies stank under his very nostrils" (James Joyce). See synonyms at mean2. 4. Exceedingly mercenary; grasping.But you probably already know all of this, else, you've received the "Talking Points" via one of your favorite GOP propagandists, and have your bumper-sticker "refutations" and "debate points" written in crayon by your phone, so you can call in to "progressive" radio talk shows and scream over the host -- no doubt to impress your redneck buddies at the Freeper virtual watering holes.
So I'm going to do something different than the eighty gazillion "political" blogs are doing. I'm just going to talk about lies.
We have been raised in a culture of lying. We are inured to it, but, ironically, we BELIEVE them, anyway.
The use of blatant lies has become so ubiquitous in American culture and media that we accept them unquestioningly, even though, often, we KNOW that they're lies.
The latest Rove trick? The NEW YORK TIMES issued a scurrilous article on Friday, using an "anonymous" White House source who stated that he wasn't supposed to be talking about the case, and, thus, he wouldn't give his name. (REALLY REALLY credible, right?) The article stated that Karl Rove got the information FROM Robert Novak, instead of vice versa.
And now, since it was in the NEW YORK TIMES, other media are parroting the story, and Mehlman and the GOP are marching in lock-step, quoting the NEW YORK TIMES piece.
Talk about circular reasoning! The White House spin machine is cranking to full tilt-a-whirl speed -- and does ANYBODY with half a brain NOT believe that Karl Rove not only came up with the story, but coached the "White House Official" on exactly the spin they were going to give the media? Or that they were going to use the weekend news cycle to twist the story around to 'noble' Karl, helping his buddy at TIME out by warning him about Joe Wilson's "credibility" and how his wife had given the (implied wimp) Wilson the job to check out the Niger story?
And, knowing this all to be lies, the TIMES and the POST and the networks have now accepted this manufactured "fact" to blur the story away from Karl. And nobody's willing to explain that it wasn't JUST Valerie Plame.
But that's the point: even when we know that it's a lie, we believe it anyway, because keeping your BS meter turned on in the blizzard of BS we're regularly subjected to is just too hard on the brain batteries. That's the point: they lie to us, we KNOW they lie to us, and we say that they're lying to us, even while we send away for magic penis enhancement pills. (And, was there ever a White House that so neatly filled the target audience demographic for said pills?)
But let's look at the ambient mendacity that fills all the empty moments of our drive-time ennui:
I was listening to a commercial on AirAmerica (a national spot, from internal evidence) for a "book of the month club" for foreign film DVDs -- i.e. subtitled flicks.
It was the standard "friend telling friend" commercial. The female voice had seen this amazing foreign film at a theater. The smarty pants says: "I own it." The female and other male query said smarty pants. Was it a bootleg? Did he download it? No, quoth Smarty Pants, and delivers the spiel: cheap, great, comes right to your mailbox, you're the envy of intellectual poseurs everywhere, makes your penis bigger, etc.
And then the astonishing lie. First, of course, there's the implication for the reptile brain -- the true target of our advertising, and, increasingly, our politics -- that the Consumer DVD Guy is the Alpha Male in terms of attracting the Female Voice. The Second Male, his penis unenhanced, tries to save face by mentioning a second movie. "I saw this amazing Moroccan film at a little theater in Boston."
And the Alpha Male says. "I own it."
And all chuckle. Pretentious DVD of the MONTH CLUB, right?
But, the critical minds nags, HOW on Earth would Alpha Male know WHICH Moroccan film, and WHAT theater in Boston?
Is there only one theater in Boston that shows Moroccan films? And has Morocco only ever made ONE film?
It's a lie. Pure and simple. Worse: we don't even care. It doesn't bother us in the least that an advertisement has blatantly lied to us, to sell us a product that we, astonishingly, believe is on the up and up.
How could we know that? The only thing we know is how to buy their product, and we've only got the one demonstrable lie as evidence of their "good" intentions!
Wouldn't that challenge credulity, were our brains turned on?
Well, lucky for us, they aren't.
Here are some major lies we hear everyday that are clearly lies, and yet we never question them, and often believe them, implicitly.
"The Stock Market, reacting to news of Elephant Breeding problems in Nebraska, fell thirty points today."
Huh? Who could possibly know this? Heck, in the last week, the "graphs" of the New York Stock Exchange (the world's most prestigious off-track betting parlor) are compared with the London bombings to show how markets were affected.
Well, I believe that trading slowed to a trickle during the period when everyone was checking their wireless internet phone to figure out what had happened. And then it returned to the starting point.
But that is ONE major TV catastrophe. (The current official death toll stands at 55, but, when you consider that three bombings in other parts of the world usually kill more than 55 persons, you have to recognize that it's the PERCEPTION of tragedy that matters in disseminating anxiety. The magnitude is not particularly important. Just look at the missing White Blonde Girl in Aruba.)
How about the regular, mundane pseudo- "cause and effect" reports on what the stock market "thought."
And people call astrology a pseudo-science! Technically, astrology was a purely empirical discipline wherein celestial events were combined with earthly happenings (which was where the big bucks were, serving a King, and pointing out the "omens" for him) to form "causal" relationships.
Compare: "An eclipse in Leo, your Majesty. This signals the death of a Head of State! (Not you, your Majesty. Your conflagration of Mercury in Leo with Mars at your fundraising protects you from the ill effects of this malodious omen.)"
"Stock markets rose sharply today, reacting to projections of a bumper crop of soybeans for the third quarter. (Don't worry, though. Your soybean futures contracts are firmly rooted in the burgeoning demand for biodiesel in the Scandanavian lowlands next summer. Heavy caribou migrations should prompt an army of diesel Volvos and Saabs to drive up to the Arctic Circle to pester the Sami.)"
It's soothsaying, pure and simple, and so idiotic that a couple of years ago, when a panel of "experts" on the "economy" were asked about the prospects of a recession, they agreed -- to a pundit -- that recession fears were ludicrous. It later turned out that we were ALREADY in a recession when the panel was convened.
So, they're lying.
("Your Majesty might find this penis enhancement amulet useful, as well.")
Weathermen don't exactly lie to you. They just couch their predictions in the perfect tense: as future events that WILL happen, as surely as the sun rises in the East.
But saying that "tomorrow will have highs in the mid-seventies, with cooling in the late afternoon as this Marine Layer moves in ahead of Thursday's storm front. So, get those gardens planted now!" is still a lie. The Weatherperson is PREDICTING. But the historic accuracy does not warrant the questionable certitude. Get out your old barometer from the garage and track your local weatherperson for two weeks, and see what "accuracy" the TeeVee weather gets you.
Or, my favorite commercial technique. A "real person" -- obviously an actor -- gives a glowing testimonial about how they've been using new FORMULA X and it REALLY GETS RESULTS! Their penis is larger, they make more money, and no one comments on their body odor anymore, except in complimentary tones.
First of all, it's an ACTOR! ("I'm not a real doctor. I play one on TV. But CLINICAL TESTS say that FORMULA X is ..."). They've been paid to pretend that FORMULA X is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Secondly, um, er, it's NEW. They just released it! And yet they have what we are expected to believe is a LONG EXPERIENCE of using FORMULA X regularly.
Somehow, we all know that the Person With The Perfect Teeth that smiles a lot at us (a cue to the anthropoid brain that you can trust them; that they LIKE you and hope that you like them. Politicians have used this smiling bit from time immemorial. But if it didn't work, the technique would have been dropped a long time ago.) is TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT FORMULA X! They CARE about us! They LIKE us! They want US to USE FORMULA X!!
And we do.
We know it's a lie and we go and buy FORMULA X anyway.
Here are the Coors Twins. Drink our beer, and be a macho guy and both twins will have sex with you.
Come on: we KNOW that's what those commercials are actually communicating. We ogle the Twins, because they know that our reptile brain is cued to that sort of thing. Worse, WOMEN probably STOCK the Coors beer, so that "macho" guys will think that THEY are the twins. There are undoubtedly women who are COMPETING with those animatronic Barbie dolls, because of the implicit sexual challenge involved.
After all, the Coors Twins ARE smiling.
So is Ken Mehlman. So is G. Gordon Liddy. So is Lindsay Graham.
And, if you buy FORMULA X, Karl Rove will smile, too.
But, alas, your penis will not be enhanced one whit.
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