Saturday, January 31, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
You might have noticed that since Inauguration Day, there's been no mention of George W. Bush around here. This is kind of by design. I just felt that with Obama taking office and the Bush era finally behind us, the worst possible insult I could level at our illustrious former Failure-in-Chief would be to ignore him completely -- barring, of course, a truly newsworthy event like, say, his being arrested overseas, Pinochet-style, and put on a plane to the Hague.
But this little item is simply too good to let pass without at least a quick word or two.
Bush has remained so conspicuously incognito since leaving the White House on January 20th that you'd think there was a disaster going on somewhere that required his attention. For more than a week now, America has, well, let's face it, we haven't really wondered at all what happened to George Bush -- but that doesn't make it any less of a curiosity to see him finally surfacing at, of all things, a women's basketball game in Waco, Texas.
Needless to say, the applause he received when he and Laura stepped into the auditorium at Baylor on Wednesday was thunderous; I mean, hell, Robert Blake can still get a good table at Vitellos. But it's the very fact that a Christian university in Texas may constitute the only truly friendly crowd Bush can find these days that's so noteworthy. I wish I could claim to be better than this kind of Schadenfreude, but it's just entertaining as hell to think that Bush has already been relegated to the state fair tour circuit. Less than two weeks out of office and he's like a sex-offender with an electronic house arrest bracelet around his ankle. He leaves the house -- in this case, Middle-of-Nowhere, Texas -- he runs head first into the torch-wielding mob and the guys with the German Shepherds.
Or maybe this is a better analogy, considering who we're talking about: He's like a kid who's been sent to his room after almost setting the house on fire.
Watch this video and appreciate how uncharacteristically humbled and small he looks. It's startling to know that someone so feckless and ineffectual caused so much damage to our country and to the world.
"Thank you for your support! Stay positive, and pray out loud!"
-- newly minted country music cliché Jessica Simpson, to a crowd of fans after her show in Charlottesville, Virginia
(One can only imagine that Simpson herself recently prayed for a Kentucky Fried Chicken supply truck to overturn in front of her home.)
***VIA GAMESPONGE.COM: UNOFFICIAL WALKTHROUGH OF GRAND THEFT AUTO IV by @Deathstalker666***
***SECRET HIDDEN LEVEL: "DON'T SPARE THE ROD"***
This one's a bit tough, but it's hella-entertaining. After you've completed the construction site mission with a perfect score, you (Niko Bellic) will find yourself in a cutscene that takes place late at night by the docks. Dimitri Rascalov is there, looking to make a deal with you.
Dimitri (with thick Slavic accent): Well Niko, do you still want to kill me?
Niko (with equally thick accent): Do not tempt me, Rascalov. What do you want at this hour?
Dimitri: It seems your, eh, "special talents" have not gone unnoticed by those in very high places. I tell them you are uncontrollable but they do not care. They tell me they need someone like you -- someone, how you say, working below the radar -- to do a very special job for them. It is job that must never be traced back to the people who ordered it. You understand?
Niko: Yes, yes. I get it.
Dimitri hands you a manila envelope which you open, pulling out a photograph and examining the face on it.
Niko: I take it they want this man -- dealt with?
Dimitri: Ah, you're not as stupid as you look, Serb. His name is Blagojevich. A fellow countryman of yours -- which I suppose means that he's a sniveling rat that will be easy to kill.
Niko: Very funny, Rascalov.
Dimitri: This Blagojevich will be difficult to get to. He is a corrupt politician -- a governor -- who has barricaded himself inside his office downtown. Yesterday, some of our mysterious benefactors voted him out of office for his crimes, but of course, being a Serb, he is refusing to go quietly and is kicking and screaming like scared child. The people who hired us, who go only by code name "Donkey," want you to go in and, eh, "convince him" to leave. Oh yes, and this convincing should look like mob hit, you understand? You remember what your kind did to enemy troops during Balkans war? That is what you will do to Blagojevich, yes?
Niko: Yeah. I get it. But after I take care of this, I'm coming for you, Rascalov.
Dimitri: I will be waiting, Serbian scum.
Scene fades to black and you find yourself outside on the street. Jack a car and head downtown to Blagojevich's office. When you get there, police will be surrounding it, shouting to the governor on bullhorns, trying to get him to surrender. If you look up, you'll be able to see Blagojevich sticking his head out of a broken window on an upper floor. He's shouting obscenities down to the cops and throwing molotov cocktails at them. Make sure to duck the fireballs as you get out of the car and make your way around the back of the building. There you'll have to break a basement window and slide through it. If you walk to your left after getting into the basement, you'll find the elevator. Hit the button and head up to the 3rd floor. When the elevator door opens, you'll see a large sign behind a reception desk. It's trimmed in purple fur and reads "BIG ROD: GOV!" You should already be able to hear Blagojevich yelling from his office. Aside from that, the whole place should be empty except for the bodies of a couple of dead hookers. Just step around them.
Now, this is important: hide your weapon. If you come up on Blagojevich with a gun, he'll scurry away, shouting at you to "go fuck yourself, you fuckin' prick." It'll be easier if he just thinks you're a standard fellow Eastern European gangster. When you walk into Blagojevich's office, he'll have his back to you as he lights molotov cocktails and tosses them out the window and down onto the cops below. He's wearing a tracksuit, screaming and laughing, "Hey, you like that you fuckin' pansies! Think you can fuckin' take down Big Rod, you fuckin' motherfuckers? I'll fuckin' show you, pigs!" As you quietly approach him, be careful to avoid the smashed mirror ball on the office floor, since the crunch of glass under your feet will give you away. Finally, when you get right behind him, you'll get a cutscene:
Blagojevich (quickly turning around): What the -- who the fuck are you?
Niko: Just a friend. Take it easy.
Blagojevich (jumpy, but suddenly smiling): Hey, hey! Somebody from the old country, eh? Good to see you, pal. The boys send you to help get me outta this mess?
Niko: Eh, something like that.
Blagojevich: I knew it (laughing). I knew they wouldn't let a guy like me take the fall. They know I'm too valuable -- and they damn well know I'm no rat. (Turns back toward the open window and shouts) YA HEAR THAT?! I'M NO RAT, YOU FUCKS! (Tosses another molotov through the window)
Niko: My God, man. You need to sit down. Relax.
Blagojevich (pacing back and forth behind his desk): Yeah, yeah. You're right. It's just that this whole thing's been so fuckin' crazy, ya know? I mean, fuck -- alls I did was try to rip off the FDA, beat the shit out of guys who didn't back my legislation, hand over state jobs to anybody willing to write out a check to my seven-year-old daughter, and sell the new president's senate seat to the highest bidder. I mean, what the fuck?
Niko: They take their laws very seriously in this country.
Blagojevich: Too seriously, am I right? Eh? Hey, you want some blow?
Blagojevich sits down behind his desk and sticks his face into a mountain of cocaine, which he snorts loudly then comes up laughing. As he does this, he puts down the unlit molotov bottle in his hand. This gives you your opening. Pull your gun on him -- preferably the shotgun.
Blagojevich (suddenly standing up): Hey hey, what the fuck is this, amigo?
Niko: This is business.
Blagojevich: Wait a minute -- they sent you, didn't they? Cullerton, Reid, Pelosi -- all those assholes.
Niko: It doesn't matter who sent me. All that matters for you is that I am here.
Blagojevich (backing up with his hands raised): Oh come on, pal. Maybe we can do a deal. Ever thought about owning a Dunkin Donuts off the turnpike? Great business opportunity. Or wait! I know! A man of your stature belongs in public office. How'd you like to be a U.S. senator? Think of it -- Senator, uh, what the hell is your name?
Niko: Niko Bellic. Unfortunately for you, it's the name you're going to be taking to your grave, my friend.
Blagojevich: WHAT THE FUCK!? You can't kill me, you fuck! I'm the first black governor of Illinois, you filthy son of a bitch!
Pay close attention, because this is where Blagojevich will reach behind his back and pull a small pistol from his waistband. You'll have to duck the shot he fires while making sure not to shoot him in front of the window, because if you do he'll fall backward through the open window and you won't be able to do what Dimitri ordered you to. After Blagojevich fires at you, jump forward and grab his gold chains, only then do you blast him in the chest with the shotgun.
Blagojevich: Ugh, you, you, fuuuuuuck.
As Blagojevich dies, pull out your knife and scalp him, taking his abundant mane as proof you accomplished your mission, then you can toss him through the open window. When you do this, you'll get a cutscene of Blagojevich's limp body smashing onto the hood of a police car.
Now get the hell out of the office before the SWAT teams come storming up the stairwell. Take the elevator back downstairs and escape out the back. You'll then get a call on your cellphone. It's Dimitri.
Dimitri: A job well done, Serb.
Niko: How did you know?
Dimitri: 24-hour cable news. What a country.
Niko: Would you like to tell me what I'm supposed to do with all this hair? It's chafing my fingers.
Dimitri: Go to alley behind Ben's Chili Bowl franchise. Sunglassed men in black limousine will meet you there to pick it up and take it to their boss. By the way, he -- you know, the man in charge of "Donkey" -- had his people call us. He has message for you. He says he likes your style and wishes to send more work your way.
Niko: Oh yeah?
Dimitri: Yes. You know of man named "Limbaugh?"
The cutscene fades to black.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Seriously -- Seriously.
The fucking guillotine for these people.
The New York Times: What Red Ink? Wall Street Paid Hefty Bonuses in 2008/1.19.09
Because every media circus needs a freakshow.
The Huffington Post: Octuplets' Mother has Six Other Children Already/1.29.08
Related: DXM: An Open Letter to the American Media/12.22.08
Yesterday on Oprah (my favorite three words in the English language), Gayle Haggard talked candidly about what she called her husband's "lifelong struggle with same-sex attraction." In addition to carefully constructing the most laugh-out-loud euphemism for "being gay" in human history, the wife of disgraced evangelical preacher Ted Haggard commented on the latest not-very-shocking-at-all revelation concerning her husband: that the gay sex scandal surrounding him extends to a fling he had with a male church volunteer. I wrote about Ted Haggard's troubles in November of 2006, just after the story broke nationally. Here now is that piece.
A few years back, my wife and I and one of our closest friends undertook an adventure which wound up becoming one of the seminal events in each of our lives: We went on a three-week, cross-country road trip. We started in Miami, drove all the way out to Los Angeles, then back. During our journey, we stopped in several major cities -- New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Vegas -- but also in the tiniest of tiny towns. It was during the time spent taking in the smaller blips on the map that most of our fondest memories were created. From an unforgettable conversation with a teenage check-out girl in Erick, Oklahoma -- one that involved my inability to understand the concept of grasshoppers stuck in the grill of our SUV -- to stumbling upon an impromptu dance by a group of Native American children in Holbrook, Arizona, to the purchase of a souvenir coconut head in Ocala, Florida, to a drunken 4th-of-July celebration in Odessa, Texas, the entire experience opened my eyes to the astonishing beauty of my homeland. It's something I still wouldn't trade for anything in the world.
We saw so many strikingly different kinds of terrain -- met so many wonderfully different kinds of people.
As we pushed inward from the coast, into the heartland of America, we did however notice one particular image which seemed to assert itself inescapably everywhere we traveled (aside from Elvis, whose face -- thin or bloated -- adorns every form of memorabilia imaginable from sea to shining sea).
That image is the cross.
You don't fully comprehend or appreciate America's unquestioning adherence to the Christian faith until you realize that a whole lot of people obviously believe there is no landscape so pristine or flawless in its own right as to avoid being improved upon by the insinuation of the ancient torture device on which Jesus was supposedly executed. Whether along a major highway or a lone, isolated road, crosses can be seen everywhere -- in all variations of shape and size. They're made of wood and stabbed into otherwise empty fields; they adorn the tops of steeples which dot the topography; and in the otherwise unremarkable roadside town of Britten, Texas -- they're made of corrugated steel and literally pierce the sky at a height of 190 feet.
Needless to say, we had to stop.
My friend would later perfectly articulate the overwhelming sense that each of us had while standing in the shadow of a cross the size of a building. "The effect is fearsome and oppressive, a symbol not of love and acceptance and forgiveness, but of domination. Looking up at it, you expect to see a zeppelin moored to its top, illuminated by giant search lights," he'd write. My mind, on the other hand, couldn't shake a much more succinct term for what we were witnessing in the middle of the expansive Texas plains: Industrialized Jesus. We'd witnessed hundreds of franchises of Christianity throughout our journey, and would no doubt witness many more still; this one just happened to be the biggest -- the Jesus Christ Super-Center.
After the requisite time necessary to fully document the giant cross on film -- on the chance that someone back home might not believe the existence of such an object -- we pressed on, continuing our southwestern route through the United States. This course, took us nowhere near Colorado Springs, Colorado -- a place which might have been a required destination should we for any reason have desired to see the true fulmination of the Industrialized Jesus concept. It's there that we would have found the New Life Church, a mammoth structure dubbed, with all possible lack-of-subtlety, a "Mega-Church." It seats thousands and could be mistaken for a shopping mall were it not for that ubiquitous cross making it perfectly clear that what's being sold inside is salvation. Up until yesterday, it was also the religious seat of arguably the single most powerful evangelical Christian in the country: Reverend Ted Haggard.
Haggard is a man who has spent the past thirty-four years of his life preaching the gospel of Jesus and the inerrant truth of every aspect of the Bible. Recently, he was the leader of the 30-million-strong National Evangelical Association, and a personal friend and adviser to President Bush -- even participating in weekly conference calls with the White House. He's also been, for some time now, a staunch opponent of gay-marriage and has worked tirelessly to support ballot amendments which would ban it in eight states this election day.
And that's exactly why, last Thursday, an openly-gay male escort publicly destroyed Reverend Ted Haggard.
What 49-year-old Mike Jones did was the figurative equivalent of an assassination: He calculated his actions perfectly and timed his shot to inflict maximum damage not simply to Haggard but to his cause. He claimed to have proof of a three-year affair with the reverend that included not just sex, but regular use of methamphetamines. Before those who would certainly jump to the defense of Haggard could even get their talking points in order -- before the Rush Limbaughs of the world could power up a mic to cry election-year foul -- Jones disarmed them by admitting that political consideration was indeed integral to the timing of his attack; he wanted to expose the hypocrisy of Haggard and the demagogues on the right and specifically chose the moment that would hurt and disillusion them the most. The truth was -- and is -- simply staggering: the leader of America's evangelical Christians, exposed as a gay drug-user.
Haggard initially denied the accusations, insisting that he hired Jones for a massage but never had sex with him and that he bought meth from him but threw it away. Although not quite as catchy, both retorts seem destined to become the new "I didn't inhale." Since then however, Haggard has admitted to having a "lifelong sexual problem" -- telling his followers in a letter that he's a "deceiver and a liar," "sexually immoral," and that there is a part of his life which he calls "repulsive and dark."
That sound you hear right now is a whole lot of people gloating with satisfaction.
While the level of hypocrisy and arrogance involved in Haggard's private life versus his self-righteous public crusading is indeed sickening and indefensible -- and there is certainly plenty of legitimate nose-rubbing to be done to Haggard's many intolerant minions -- for some reason, after a reflexive moment of giddy Schadenfreude, the news of this man's downfall and his own reaction to it began to stir a different emotion in me entirely.
Ted Haggard has spent most if not all of his existence living a lie, and he's done so for only one reason: because his unwavering belief in the literal teachings of a 2000-year-old book has taught him that he must. There's a distinct possibility that the reason Haggard found Christ to begin with was that he sincerely hoped that through him, all things were indeed possible -- the suppression of his true feelings and urges being the most pertinent of those things. There are thousands if not millions of Christians out there who hope for the same transformative power of religion. The enrollment in schools which the church claims can "straighten-out" homosexuals is proof of that hope; the success-rate of those schools is proof of its folly.
Many claim that religion in general, and Christianity in particular, does more good than harm; it gives meaning to life and provides its believers a moral compass with which to navigate the world.
Ted Haggard is married, and has five children -- all of whom don't need to concern themselves with angry threats of an impending hell, because they're going through it right now. The person they love and admire the most has devastated them, simply because he could never admit who or what he truly was and is -- because Ted Haggard the fire-and-brimstone preacher has always believed that the true nature of Ted Haggard the man is "immoral, repulsive and dark," when in fact, it's nothing of the kind; it's only the dishonesty that's immoral. A man's relentless submission to superstition has destroyed himself, the family he loves, and more than likely a small part of those who have respected him and held him up as an example.
The biggest tragedy however, might be that Ted Haggard has wasted the one life he was given.
He's done it by lying to himself, and by trying to convince others that they should do likewise.
For that I blame not the believer, but the belief -- the same belief that would lead someone to plant a giant metal cross in the middle of a place that was so beautiful just the way it was.
When I was a doe-eyed 18-year-old college freshman, I took a job at as a wage-slave at a Miami record store and somehow quickly became involved with one of the more seemingly untouchable of my co-workers -- a 22-year-old grad student. She and I spent quite a few nights hanging out in her dorm room with the lights off and candles lit, getting drunk, talking ridiculous philosophy, and fooling around.
Obviously I could never quite get my head around the idea that I was having sex with what at the time appeared to be a real woman, and typically found myself wandering back to my own place at four in the morning without my feet actually touching the ground. It was, I figured, every young boy's fantasy.
One of my favorite memories of that time wasn't really her, though, so much as her taste in music. She was a huge fan of Dead Can Dance, and would often play the band's stuff during our late-nights spent together -- dusting the entire experience with an ethereal sheen that made me wake up the next morning wondering whether I'd simply dreamed the whole thing.
Since those days, I've kept a place in my heart for Dead Can Dance -- which isn't really difficult, given that they're one of the few truly indescribable acts in modern music. The aural landscape created by Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry can only be described as wondrous.
From their 1988 album The Serpent's Egg, here's the extraordinary, evocative video for The Host of Seraphim.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
When I left Miami this morning, it was 77 degrees and sunny. I got off the plane in New York this afternoon to gray skies, freezing rain, snow on the ground, and black ice on the sidewalk in front of our apartment.
Something is obviously very, very wrong with my judgment.
Regardless, I'm home.
Regular posts resume first thing tomorrow morning.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
The PR Firm E-mail of the Week:
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Please let me know if you need additional information or have any questions.
I look forward to hearing from you soon!
How did you know it was my birthday a few weeks ago?!?! As I'm sure you're aware, I and my readers LOVED the bestselling book He's Just Not That Into You, especially after Oprah drooled all over a copy of it on her show. We also in no way think that the book's author, ex-stand up comedian and lone heterosexual male Sex and the City writer Greg Behrendt, is in any way the world's biggest douche. But the icing on the cake? PRODUCT PLACEMENT! I can't tell you the kind of joy I and my readers get trying to pick out every product forcibly stuffed into a modern blockbuster until the result is one giant, distracting advertisement for an assortment of crap that hits you over the head like a can of Dinty Moore Beef Stew™. So I guess the only thing left to say, Katie, is THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! (By the way, you misspelled "Connelly.")
Now, just for the hell of it, a repost of a piece that ran way back in September of 2006 that deals with consumerism, He's Just Not That Into You, and its Ultimate Douche author, Greg Behrendt.
"Return of the Attack of the Attack of the Creepy Surrealism"
Last week I brought up a phenomenon which just about everyone has become aware of at one point or another, and which Washington Post columnist Joel Achenbach termed "Creeping Surrealism." (Sign O' the Times/9.12.06) It's the strange and overwhelming feeling that nothing is real anymore -- that information manipulation has become so virtuoso as to render the artificial completely indistinguishable from the genuine.
An inevitable by-product of this is that even if Americans can tell the real from the fake, they no longer think the distinction matters and therefore don't even bother to try to anymore.
One of my favorite examples he cites is the curious case of Pepperidge Farms "Homestyle" Cookies, which are literally designed to look as if they've been lovingly spooned onto a cookie sheet one by one, no doubt by Grandma's frail, caring hand -- the engineered imperfections doubtless proof of this fact. Achenbach posits that we all fully understand the reality -- that the Pepperidge Farms company has created a mold which cranks out cookies meant to look as if they weren't created by a mold -- but choose to ignore it.
We just accept the fact that we're being royally bullshitted.
A second example he offers is the strange and somewhat unnerving predilection many in this country have toward trusting the people on television, simply because they're on television. Achenbach reminds us that long before reality TV created a vast expanse of gray area between honesty and nonsense, a significant portion of the American population saw nothing unusual in writing letters to Robert Young -- TV's Marcus Welby M.D. -- requesting medical advice. Only the most delusional among them actually believed that Young was, in fact, the wise and kindly doctor he portrayed on TV; the rest simply assumed that anyone who played the part so well had to be familiar with the subject -- which is frightening in and of itself, particularly when that subject is medicine.
I've seen dozens of examples of this phenomenon throughout my career: for every one television news anchor who truly understood the material that was going into his or her head and subsequently coming out of his or her mouth -- or took part in the assembly of that material for that matter -- there were five who didn't have a goddamned clue what was going on in the world, or in their own newsroom, that wasn't placed in their teleprompter by a 22-year-old, six-dollar-an-hour writer. Yet, when the queries and suggestions from the audience came, they came addressed to the face on the screen rather than the people who were actually responsible for the gathering and dissemination of the information in question.
No matter how cynical we believe we've become throughout the years, to this day millions of us still trust the talking head on the mysterious glowing box in the living room.
The difference these days however, is that the recipients of all of that misplaced trust have finally learned to fully exploit and capitalize on the public's lack of discrimination when it comes to on-screen persona versus off-screen reality -- and they're now doing it in profoundly inventive ways. To put it another way, they're taking the advice that Guns N' Roses offered fifteen years ago: Use Your Illusion.
Enter Greg Behrendt.
For much of the early 90s, Behrendt made the rounds as a somewhat substandard comic -- basing a good portion of his stand-up material on the supposed inherent irony in being a "Rock n' Roll Guy" (spiked hair, earrings, tattoos, affinity for wallet-chains with low-slung jeans), while at the same time being a "Metrosexual-type Guy" (hair wax, sterling silver earrings, skin cleanser, affinity for wallet-chains with low-slung Diesel jeans). Despite the fact that in reality these two extremes are nothing more than opposite ends of the same spectrum of vacuity, Behrendt's routine eventually caught the eye of HBO, which put him on television -- and that's where things really took off; he landed a somewhat surprising new gig, which simultaneously made him the poster-child for Creeping Surrealism.
Behrendt was hired as a "consultant" on Sex & The City; he was brought on board to correct the writing staff of women and gay men whenever they were about to make one of the show's straight male characters do something that a real straight man would never do -- such as get anywhere near a woman who essentially looks like the four-legged half of a Tijuana donkey show. The only real requirements in the job description were that Behrendt be heterosexual and be at least as funny as the writers themselves, which judging by their output was about as funny as prison rape.
But here's the thing, Behrendt's stint on Sex & The City was by no means the end of his career -- far from it in fact; what he did next was parlay the "experience" he gained on the show into a best-selling book on -- in Creepily Surreal fashion -- relationships.
Perhaps you've heard of it -- it was called He's Just Not That Into You.
To recap: A relatively unfunny stand-up comedian took a gig on a show about women who sleep with the Manhattan phone book but can't make any of their relationships work, and used it to write a self-help book for the kind of vapid women who watch the show regularly and can't make any of their relationships work.
Now comes the latest twist: Behrendt has used the success of that book and his follow-up, the Oprah-ready monikered It's Called a Break-Up Because it's Broken, to land himself his own talk show, which debuts this week. What does the show focus on? If you guessed relationships, you win yourself some hair wax. In the commercial for the syndicated show, which debuts this week on various channels around the country, Behrendt walks purposefully while saying -- without so much as a hint of a knowing smile or a tip of the hat to irony -- that he's going to help people get more out of their "relationships -- all kinds of relationships."
And needless to say, no one is more qualified to take on this seemingly gargantuan task than a guy who consulted for a show about casual sex and who once briefly dated Janeane Garofalo before she had her sense of humor surgically removed and began a new career as a pissed-off quasi-lesbian.
The Behrendt Love Gravy Train isn't the only one to have departed from the Sex & The City station. Awhile back, Kim Cattrall either became the toast of the method-acting community by forgetting completely where her character ended and where she began, or simply hoped to exploit the public's alleged fascination with her on-screen reputation by writing two books on -- can you see it coming? (pun completely intended) -- female sexuality. Her advertising campaign may as well have been a new twist on a well-known catchphrase: "I'm not a whore, but I play one on TV." Once again the idea seemed to be that no one is in a better position to lecture the American public on a given subject than someone who's portrayed an expert on that subject on television.
There's a part of me that would love to chalk all of this narcissistic presumptuousness up to Hollywood in general and its well-worn cadre of Yes Men; it's probably the only place in the world where a rambling, coke-fueled idea tossed out at four in the morning is met not with a healthy level of friendly skepticism, but rather with a chorus of giddy approval and six business cards.
Regardless of who's behind the selling of this crap though, one thing is for certain -- we're still happily buying it.
And that's as Creepily Surreal as it gets.
Thursday, January 22, 2009
"George W. Bush left this country with a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who couldn't administer a 35-word oath without tripping over his own dick."
-- Chris Kelly in the Huffington Post
You knew this was coming -- I mean knew it, as in you could've put money on it and been 100% certain of getting a tidy return -- and yet somehow it remains impossible not to shake your head a little at such mind-bogglingly desperate stupidity.
Unable to stop the tidal wave that just washed over them, the truly delusional conspiracists on the far right will now use Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts's royal fuck-up during the inauguration to claim that Barack Obama is not, in fact, president of the United States. It's already begun, which is surely one of the reasons the oath was readministered yesterday; the high court wants to put any tin foil-hatted naysayer's minds at ease and remove any doubt as to the legality of this transfer of power. It's a tack that would work were we still living in a world where fact mattered more than conjecture, and where every idiot with an opinion -- no matter how ludicrous -- could preach bullshit to the masses through the internet or talk radio and rally this country's lowest common denominator just for the hell of it. The bottom line is that the dingbats who believe that Barack Obama's presidency isn't legitimate are going to believe it regardless of what anyone tells or shows them. These are the same people who still think Obama isn't a U.S. citizen because his birth certificate is phony (it isn't), and that Obama's a Muslim (he's not). They believe this horseshit because they want to -- because they have to -- and nothing short of John Roberts coming to their doorstep and assuring them in person that the oath is legal and Obama really is the president will convince them otherwise (and even that would probably force them to add a new scenario to their conspiracy theory that involves Roberts being replaced by an android or forced to lie because the liberals are holding his wife and kids hostage).
It's the usual wingnuttery. And despite what we've all witnessed, what we've all felt, over these past few days don't look for it to let up anytime soon.
This is just the beginning of the insanity.
Related: DXM: The Speed of Lies/8.28.08
Anyone who comes here even semi-regularly knows that Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are just about my favorite band in the world these days (these days being the last five years or so).
Here they are in a live performance for MSN from Portland, Oregon.
This is All You Do Is Talk.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I figured I'd warn everyone that it's going to be a little slow around here over the next few days.
I'll post a couple of things here and there, and will likely have a substantive piece up later today or tomorrow, but I'm in South Florida right now visiting friends and introducing Inara to my extended family, so I'm going to enjoy the time I spend down here and not worry too much about neglecting the site.
Don't take it personally or anything.
Things will be back to full capacity before you know it. Until then, let me at least leave you with something useful.
Here are 101 uses for vinegar.
Chances are you've had a kind of personal soundtrack playing in your head throughout the past 24 hours. The events we all witnessed yesterday lent themselves to music in ways that defy description. I know that each of you had a song or two that you felt fit the collective moment perfectly.
For me, it was a song that I honestly hadn't heard or even thought about in almost two decades. The closing track from Genesis's self-titled 1983 album.
Here's It's Gonna Get Better.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
My fellow citizens:
I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors. I thank President Bush for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and cooperation he has shown throughout this transition.
Forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath. The words have been spoken during rising tides of prosperity and the still waters of peace. Yet, every so often the oath is taken amidst gathering clouds and raging storms. At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents.
So it has been. So it must be with this generation of Americans.
That we are in the midst of crisis is now well understood. Our nation is at war, against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred. Our economy is badly weakened, a consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some, but also our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age. Homes have been lost; jobs shed; businesses shuttered. Our health care is too costly; our schools fail too many; and each day brings further evidence that the ways we use energy strengthen our adversaries and threaten our planet.
These are the indicators of crisis, subject to data and statistics. Less measurable but no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land - a nagging fear that America's decline is inevitable, and that the next generation must lower its sights.
Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many.
They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America - they will be met. On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.
On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn out dogmas, that for far too long have strangled our politics.
We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.
In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.
For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life.
For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West; endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.
For us, they fought and died, in places like Concord and Gettysburg; Normandy and Khe Sahn. Time and again these men and women struggled and sacrificed and worked till their hands were raw so that we might live a better life. They saw America as bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions; greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction.
This is the journey we continue today. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions - that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.
For everywhere we look, there is work to be done. The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act - not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth. We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together. We will restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality and lower its cost. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age. All this we can do. And all this we will do.
Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions - who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.
What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them - that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply. The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works - whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account - to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day - because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.
Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control - and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous. The success of our economy has always depended not just on the size of our Gross Domestic Product, but on the reach of our prosperity; on our ability to extend opportunity to every willing heart - not out of charity, but because it is the surest route to our common good.
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.
Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.
We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.
For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.
To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.
To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.
To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.
As we consider the road that unfolds before us, we remember with humble gratitude those brave Americans who, at this very hour, patrol far-off deserts and distant mountains. They have something to tell us today, just as the fallen heroes who lie in Arlington whisper through the ages.
We honor them not only because they are guardians of our liberty, but because they embody the spirit of service; a willingness to find meaning in something greater than themselves. And yet, at this moment - a moment that will define a generation - it is precisely this spirit that must inhabit us all.
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends - hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism - these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
This is the price and the promise of citizenship.
This is the source of our confidence - the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.
This is the meaning of our liberty and our creed - why men and women and children of every race and every faith can join in celebration across this magnificent mall, and why a man whose father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand before you to take a most sacred oath.
So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:
"Let it be told to the future world...that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive...that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."
America. In the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words. With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come. Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.
God bless you.
And God bless the United States of America.
Just a quick note from Malcontent Central:
I'll be flying out of New York City in an hour or so (consider this a heads-up to Laguardia's goose population) bound for Miami.
I'll be able to watch the inauguration from the airport when I land, which in some ways thrills me to be able to stand with dozens of strangers taking in history.
Have a great day. Enjoy the moment. I'll have something to say about all of it when I get where I'm going -- a place, by the way, where the temperature is a balmy 65-degrees.
Filmmaker and fellow Huffington Post regular Lee Stranahan makes a good point this morning over at Bob Cesca's site about what the future will look like for Barack Obama -- and by future, I mean what his eventual legacy will almost certainly be.
"One hundred years now, schoolchildren in the United States will know the names of three Presidents by heart; Washington, Lincoln and Obama.
I say this before we even know exactly how successful President Barack Obama will be. As far as the pop culture part of history is concerned, I don't know if it matters. Obama is iconic in a unique way for a number of reasons including his racial background, his name, his looks, his youth, his campaign visuals and the birth of new media in his time. His record is important to us but his place in history is already assured.
One hundred years from now, hardly anyone will remember George W. Bush. He's a footnote, a failure, a buffoon. The guy before Obama. Whatisname. His record may be akin to Hoover but in the big scheme of things he's Chester Alan Arthur."
I'll actually take it one step further. It seems inarguable to me that George W. Bush will be remembered by history not only as the man who preceded Obama but whose failures and mistakes almost certainly helped to usher in the era of Obama.
You ask what George Bush's legacy is? It's Barack Obama -- plain and simple.
Monday, January 19, 2009
In the words of Flounder: Oh boy, is this great!
The Huffington Post: Shoes Thrown at White House on Bush's Final Day/1.19.09
I'd make some wise-ass comment about this, but honestly I'm too busy laughing.
The Washington Post: Street Preachers Shout Down Passers-by at Inaugural Concert, Warn Obama Supporters of Damnation/1.19.08
I rarely do this sort of thing, but I think today calls for a little interactivity around here.
So, I'm posing a question: If the last eight years -- the entire Bush presidency -- were a movie, what song would play over the closing credits?
Go ahead, folks. Do your worst.
CH: “I want tongue. Give me tongue."
AS: “No, I'm not giving you tongue.”
CH: “Let the record show: Sullivan wouldn't give tongue.”
AS: “He's gayer than I am!” (to a third party)
-- Conversation between Christopher Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan while the two were stuck in an elevator together at Slate.com's pre-inauguration party in Washington, DC
I figure by now I've sufficiently delved into the enormity of George W. Bush's failure as president of the United States and therefore the significance of today, his last day in any sort of position to further fuck this country without Vaseline.
Still, maybe it's worth reminding everyone a final time (God, how that has a nice ring to it) of one of Bush's more endearing or irritating qualities, depending on your political perspective. And so, my good friend Steve Bunche -- talented artist, insightful social critic, and general pop culture ronin -- has compiled a list of the best examples of George W. Bush's affinity for murdering the English language.
The Vault of Buncheness: One Last Facefull of Bush/1.19.09
Just wait. They're coming.
Politico: The 10 Bush Pardons to Watch For/1.18.09
I posted this clip once before, last year, but as far as I'm concerned you can never get enough Marvin. So with that in mind, and with today being an especially appropriate day for the enduring message behind these songs, here's a rare live performance of What's Going On and What's Happening Brother -- by the late, great Marvin Gaye.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
Saturday, January 17, 2009
Friday, January 16, 2009
Watching Matt Taibbi rip apart the New York Times' most lovable hack, Tom Friedman, has been one of my favorite spectator sports for more than a few years now.
And his latest piece ups the ante in brilliant and hilarious ways.
The New York Press: "Flat N All That" by Matt Taibbi/1.14.09
A disclaimer: What I'm about to say will probably offend the hell out of some of you. It only makes sense given that the source material I'm drawing from was considered so offensive by so many. I guess you'll have to let me know whether I get right up to the precipice without going over on this one -- or if I've finally just thrown myself off the cliff.
One of Chris Rock's most infamous bits postulates that there's a distinct difference between "black people" and "niggers." According to Rock, one of the qualities that makes the latter stand out as such an embarrassment to the former is that "niggers" will often loudly take credit and ask for affirmation for something mundane that they were supposed to do anyway -- they'll, for example, boast about taking care of their kids when any normal, well-adjusted adult, black or white, would understand that such a responsibility is a given and therefore not worthy of a pat on the back.
I don't think I need to elaborate on why this was the first thing that came to mind as I watched last night's "Farewell Address" from President Bush. We've become used to seeing Bush delusionally deny his mistakes and outright failures, and God knows we've seen him drag ass when he should've been on the ball. But last night, as Bush proudly proclaimed that whether or not you agreed with his decisions you have to admit that he did, in fact, make some decisions, it hit me like a sledgehammer the number of times over the past eight years that he's expected credit and acclaim for doing the bare minimum his job requires. The sheer volume of instances in which he tried to pass off the merely mediocre as something spectacular.
When you think about it, it's maddeningly ironic that someone who really has done so little while in office -- who's made almost no serious effort and typically tries to get away with working as few hours as he can -- managed to screw up the country as monumentally as he did. Bush is regularly in bed before 10pm, regardless of what might be on his agenda or could be in need of his attention; he's taken more vacation time than just about any president in recent memory; he's intellectually incurious in ways that would embarrass a 6th grader. And yet, he touts all of this -- this 9-to-5 ethos -- as proof that he's doing what needs to be done, as if working on a Saturday and skipping a lunch or two qualifies as going above and beyond the call of duty.
If you believe Chris Rock's definition of the word, then Barack Obama cleaning up the messes left behind by George W. Bush is just another example of a strong, intelligent African-American having to undo the damage done by -- well, you get the picture.
Obama may be the first black president of the United States, but I think it's pretty clear what Bush was.
Very few bands have the kind of reverse correlation between how long they lasted and how lasting their impact has been than pop gods Jellyfish.
Those familiar with the band are probably nodding excitedly right now simply because Jellyfish tend to inspire a special kind of devotion among their fans -- and their fans encompass just about anyone who's ever heard them.
Formed in the early 90s out of San Francisco's colorful neo-hippie scene and L.A.'s famed Paisley Underground, Jellyfish only recorded two full-length albums and a live EP, but their unabashedly bubble-gum-psychedelic sound -- part Beatles, part Cheap Trick, part Beach Boys, part Partridge Family, a lot of XTC -- influenced guys like Ben Folds and Beck, and bands like Fountains of Wayne, Panic at the Disco, and the Decemberists.
I remember I picked up Jellyfish's debut album, Bellybutton, on my first trip to L.A. back in 1991; it remains one of only two albums in my life that I've bought on sight and without hearing so much as a note of music contained on it, strictly because I liked the album cover,* which in the case of the Jellyfish record featured a shot of, what else, a woman's bellybutton. (I have a thing for the female bellybutton; don't ask.) I got about half-way through the first song on the CD before realizing that I'd lucked out and accidentally stumbled onto something great. To this day, Bellybutton is one of my favorite albums -- with it's follow-up, Spilt Milk right behind it.
Here now, four from Jellyfish.
First up, from Bellybutton -- it's That Is Why.
Next, from Spilt Milk, a really cool low-tech recording of the band doing Joining a Fan Club during a live in-store performance back in 1993.
From Bellybutton, here's The King is Half-Undressed.
Finally, from Spilt Milk, it's New Mistake.
*The other album was Def Leppard's Pyromania, which I suppose proves that, in addition to women's bellybuttons, I like fire.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Damn. Now what's Biden gonna do with that big wad of dollar bills that's been burning a hole in his pocket?
Mother Jones: Palin To Be No-Show at Obama's Dinner and Cocktail Event Honoring McCain/1.15.09
Just a quick note from the management:
I wanted to take an opportunity to once again annoy the hell out of you nice folks by reminding you that if you like the stuff you find here at Deus Ex Malcontent, there are a couple of ways you can support the site (I mean, aside from reading -- which is certainly appreciated).
If you haven't picked up a copy of my memoir, Dead Star Twilight, please feel free to do so. You can purchase it as an e-book that will immediately be downloaded to your computer by clicking here. To those who've already read the book and have responded to it so favorably, thank you; I'm honored that it moved you, made you laugh, kept you turning the pages, etc. That's the most important thing in the world to a writer.
The other way you can show a small amount of love is to donate money via the Paypal electronic tip jar in the right-hand sidebar of this screen. Obviously, this site is free and will remain that way. I don't clutter it up with ridiculous ads for products you probably wouldn't care about anyway; I don't demand a subscription or anything silly like that. I put a lot of effort into Deus Ex Malcontent, but it's always been a labor of love and one that means more to me than just about anything else I do professionally. I mean, Jesus, I lost my job over this thing and never once have I questioned whether it was worth it. I love this little experiment of mine; it's my personality in every way and it's allowed me a voice I otherwise wouldn't have had. Judging by the surprisingly decent numbers I regularly pull in and the reaction from you guys, you enjoy the site and value the time and effort put into it.
So, if you feel like you can afford to, please give a little toward it. I rely on you, the readers, to keep DXM running. You of course don't have to donate; I'll likely keep doing this regardless. But if you can spare a couple of bucks because the material you find here is a welcome and entertaining part of your day, then it'd certainly be appreciated by yours truly.
Thanks again for reading and we now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
So, if you're watching any of the cable news channels you know that there's a US Airways jet down in the Hudson River, one the West Side of Manhattan. It's needless to say astonishing that, according to early reports, no one was killed in the crash landing -- especially considering that the water temperature has to be somewhere around 30 degrees.
But as I flipped over to catch a little of CNN's coverage, the first thing that came to mind -- from a news standpoint -- was how much the network must be missing the aviation expertise of Miles O'Brien, whom network president Jon Klein fired a couple of months ago. Miles had always been CNN's go-to guy during these kinds of news events; he knows planes inside and out.
Well, it was Jacki Schechner who directed me to Miles's Facebook page where -- in a show of audacity that's just fucking staggering -- there's a message from a CNN booker asking if Miles would be willing to do a live beeper (a telephone interview) with Wolf Blitzer on The Situation Room.
I guarantee Miles got a good chuckle out of it. I also guarantee that he has enough class that he'll likely simply ignore the request.
If it were me, I'd call Jon Klein personally, laugh in his ear, then hang up.
It's probably a good idea to preface what I'm about to say with a quick fact: I was in New York City two days after September 11th, 2001; I covered the aftermath of the attack that leveled the World Trade Center both from ground zero and from the 69th Regiment Armory at 25th and Lexington, which was where many of the families of those missing and presumed dead were sent to have their cases processed. I held in my arms men and women who'd just lost loved ones and who were, at that moment, devastated remnants of the people they had been just a few days earlier. Because of all this, I felt an electrified rush of jingoistic venom like nothing I'd ever experienced before. I wanted to see those responsible for the catastrophic anguish around me not simply brought to justice, but made to suffer in the most excruciating way possible. The people who brought down the World Trade Center -- and part of the Pentagon, and a commercial jet full of innocents in Pennsylvania -- deserved to die, and die horribly. They still do.
I need to make all of these experiences and these feelings clear, because maybe if I do it will help to lend a certain kind of weight to what I think now has to be said.
George W. Bush and members of his administration should be investigated and stand trial for their crimes -- for their trampling of the Constitution, their illegal and unnecessary war, launched under false pretenses, against a country that didn't pose a clear and present danger to the United States and, most egregiously and despicably, their illicit and explicit approval of the torture of enemy prisoners.
Last month, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report detailing the Bush Administration's fingerprints on a plan, first hatched in 2002, to reverse-engineer the SERE training (Survive, Evade, Resist, Escape) given to some U.S. special forces units. The object of SERE is to teach special-ops personnel how to withstand the kind of interrogation methods they could face if captured by countries or militias that don't honor the Geneva Conventions. It was the creative idea of the White House to have SERE instructors turn around and teach torture techniques to covert interrogation teams involved in the War on Terror.
For years, this underground program remained largely and safely removed from public scrutiny; although it was in fact reported on, the administration engaged in its usual obfuscation and deflection while quietly charging those who dared to ask too many questions with being unpatriotic in a time of war. Over the past couple of weeks, though -- maybe emboldened by knowledge that their time is almost up and that they'll likely never be held accountable for their actions -- the Bush Administration's chief architects of this plan have begun, Colonel Nathan Jessup-style, to admit that they ordered the Code Red and would do it again if given the chance. Dick Cheney in particular confirmed in no uncertain terms that the U.S. tortured al Qaeda prisoners and all but dared potential critics to do anything about it.
He knows he can be as forthcoming -- to say nothing of brash and arrogant -- as he likes right now, because he knows that he's right: His critics in the incoming administration aren't going to do a goddamned thing about any of it. They'll talk tough -- say they're not ruling anything out and that investigating the past transgressions of the Bush clan is always on the table. But when all is said and done -- in other words, next Tuesday -- it will end the same way for Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, et al: They'll live out their lives in expensive homes far from Washington, DC, counting the money they're making from honorary corporate positions and speaking engagements. And they'll sleep very, very well -- with clear consciences.
The problem is that many of the Bush Administration's sins, with special attention paid to the issue of authorized torture, don't qualify as a simple case of a bunch of guys improvising during an unprecedented time in American history -- doing the best they could with what they had. George W. Bush and his cronies broke the law. Willfully. Wantonly. And if we truly adhere to the belief that no one is above the law, then that makes them all criminals.
I'm more than willing to admit that, from a political perspective, any attempt by incoming president Barack Obama to prosecute members of the Bush White House would be a lousy idea, one sure to be met with resentment from many of the leaders he needs to work with and outrage from a portion of the country he needs to help heal. Most Americans who consider the Bush era to be a dark age in our history are content to see its engineers and enablers thrown out on their asses, their lasting legacy one of unmitigated shame. Most people just want to move forward; that's what electing Barack Obama was all about. But if we remove the political question, what we're left with is solely a legal one: Did Bush and company break the law?
Again, they did.
And this country's standing and stature can't be restored simply by swinging a U-turn and looking toward a new kind of future without taking responsibility for the mistakes of the past. We'll never get our respect -- self and otherwise -- back if we just pretend like the last eight years never happened and let the men behind one of our nation's most embarrassing periods quietly walk away from the disastrous mess they made.
We don't torture. That's not who we are -- not what this country is about.
What we're about is bringing the guilty to justice.
Whether it's a foreign terrorist or a U.S. president.