Sunday, January 30, 2005

Democracy, Iraq-style

Iraq has held its first free and contested elections since Mohammed was a little boy, chasing infidels across the Tigris River with ITRs (Improvised Throwing Rocks.) There is great rejoicing.

Before we get all damp about this momentous event, let’s see what passes for “free” and “contested” elections in Iraq. The entire country has been under a curfew that lasts essentially from dark till dawn. No civilian vehicles were allowed on the roads. No candidate names were listed on the ballots; voters chose slates identified only by party name. The locations of the polling places weren’t even made public until a few days ago. This was done to keep the insurgents from blowing up all the voting booths and killing the election workers before the election. They killed enough of them in Mosul that the rest of them quit, anyway. I’d pay money for some reporter to ask Don Rumsfeld what he thinks about the prospects of cleaning up those few remaining "dead-enders" (his term) now.

As near as I can figure, election day for a public-spirited Iraqi means dressing warmly in whatever shrapnel-resistant clothing he can round up, sneaking to the polling place on foot, carrying shopping bags and carpentry tools so he can deny he’s going to vote, just in case an armed man asks. He skulks in to vote, hoping the joint doesn’t get blown up while he’s there. Finally he get to make his way home via the most indirect route imaginable so no one follows him home and blows up the wife and kids. This is Iraqi democracy in action, Dubya-style.

The Bush Administration will announce a great victory and milestone, even if a only hundred people in the whole country are driven in Abrams fighting vehicles under heavy air cover so they can vote. We’d take them in Humvees, but they’re only safe enough for our soldiers, not Iraqis, since some of the extra money for armor was diverted to pay for inauguration security.

Thank God our long national nightmare is over. There will be a duly elected provisional Iraqi government in place in a few weeks, frantically churning out a constitution to make James Madison blush in time for year-end elections. Today’s inspiring events will bring Shi’ites, Sunnis, and Kurds together in a hand-holding celebration of goodwill not seen since the NFL stopped using “Up With People” as Super Bowl halftime entertainment. Our kids in uniform will be home by Christmas.

Right after the Chicago Cubs win the World Series.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Good Night, Johnny

Johnny Carson died yesterday. Some of you may not remember him (he’d been off the air for thirteen years), but you’re reminded of him every night on television. David Letterman and Jay Leno owe their careers to him, as do too many other comics to mention, including Roseanne Barr, Bill Maher, Joan Rivers, and George Carlin. I remember seeing Carson and Bob Newhart discussing the then-new wave of standup comics getting sitcoms based on their material (a la Tim Allen and Roseanne) and both of them agreeing Jerry Seinfeld might do well in a sitcom. He might, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

It seems foolish to say this about someone I never met, even casually, but Johnny’s passing makes me feel a little older by making me even less connected to my youth. It was a milestone when I became old enough to stay up to watch the Tonight Show. I’m not a nostalgic person normally, but I feel a little of that come back every time I hear, or think of, the Tonight Show band playing the theme song. Tony Kornheiser uses “Tea for Two” as background music for his radio show’s email segment, but I still think of it as Johnny and Doc Severinsen’s acknowledgement of a joke that crashed and burned.

Carson was the master. Leno and Letterman are good, but Carson was primarily interested in making the guest look good; either of his successors will take the easy laugh before nursing a guest through an sub-par appearance. The greatest difference can be summed up in a simple analogy: I used to comfortably fall asleep in bed with Johnny on the tube; with his successors, I always watch on the couch and shut off the TV before turning in. I’m not sure I want these new guys in my house without keeping an eye on them.

A Good Run

It has been said of New Englanders that baseball is not a matter of life and death, but the Boston Red Sox are. That’s how I feel about football and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers were soundly beaten last night by the New England Patriots, 41-27, ending their hopes to go to the Super Bowl. New England was clearly the better team, even though the Steelers had their chances. All the big plays were made by the Pats, and the Steelers couldn’t step up when opportunities arose. The defense allowed big plays; Ben Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown; the running game was erratic; and maybe most damning of all was their inability to make a fourth-and-one early in the game. Pittsburgh always makes fourth-and-one by running it right up the gut. They tried it last night and New England stuffed them.

The loss wasn’t nearly as disappointing as the fact they didn’t play well. This isn’t Yankee-dom, where ultimate victory is all that counts and anything else isn’t just a disappointment, it’s unacceptable. The Steelers were 6–10 last year, 31st out of 32 teams in rushing, always a Pittsburgh staple. This year they introduced a rookie quarterback in the second game of the season and still went 15–1, helped in no small part by a running game that ranked second in the league.

Coach Bill Cowher will take a lot of abuse today for losing his fourth conference championship game in five tries, all of them at home. It’s tough, but I’d just like to ask all of those demanding changes to think about whether they’d prefer trading Cowher in on any number of coaches who receive a lot of ink and never even make the playoffs.

The Super Bowl will be kind of a let down here at The Home Office now. Getting geared up as the Steelers go deep into the playoffs always makes it difficult to care what anyone else does, unless they might eventually play the Steelers. For now it’s fun to look back at the highlights (and there are plenty of them when you go 16–2, including playoffs) and look forward to next year, as many of the core players returning with another year of experience under their belts.

Besides, summer is almost here: pitchers and catchers report in a month.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Back in the Saddle Again

WASHINGTON, D.C. - George W. Bush shocked the world today by declining to take the oath of office for a second term as President of the United States.

"Ah, hell," he said through a spokesman, "it's been fun and all, but four years is plenty. I only did it so's I could stick it to Clinton and Saddam Hussein for making my Daddy look bad all them years. I want to thank Karl "The Fuhrer" Rove and Jeb and all them wild galoots in Ohio who made this possible, but now it's time to get likkered up before I'm too old to piss it out again."

Vice President Dick Cheney was unavailable for comment and is not expected to stick his head out of his undisclosed location until February 2, when he makes his annual prediction on the arrival of spring.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Free Time

I occasionally receive comments referring to how much time I must have on my hands, often after a rant has been made public. It may be phrased wistfully (“I wish I had as much free time as you must have.”), as a statement (“You have way too much free time.”), or as a question (“How much free time do you have?”) I can only surmise that those of you who read these think I sit in my little (rubber) room with nothing to do but to while away the empty hours of my barren existence writing messages that only my delusional psyche can believe anyone would care a rat’s patootie about.

Au contraire.

I am as busy as anyone, busier than some. I have found a few ways to free up a few minutes each week to keep in touch with you and I am willing to share these tips, solely in the interest of camaraderie, as a way of improving the discourse. Some of these will make more sense to some of you than to others. Such is life. Please feel free to use them, so that you, too, may find some small fragment of your busy life available. Please join our already credited correspondents in this quest, instead of remaining the Internet parasite that you are, entertaining yourself vicariously through the efforts of others.

Primary among the ways I create free time is by not wasting any of it wondering where everyone else gets their free time. Life’s too short. I have achieved the balance I currently cherish through scrupulously avoiding any interest in how anyone else spends their time, or how much of it is free. I find it simple. I don’t care. Really. Whether you spend your time giving massages to the inhabitants of your local leper colony or spend it fantasizing about yourself, Nicole Kidman, and Catherine Zeta-Jones in a tub full of whipped cream is all the same to me. (Female readers may feel free to substitute Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas in the above sentence.)

Another time-saver is proof reading, or rather, the lack of it. I have deduced from reading what comes in to the Home Office that many of you have already mastered this one, so I won’t spend much time on it.

You, too, can have enough free time to write tedious messages that only your enormous ego allows you to think are entertaining. With sufficient discipline and time management, you can write stultifying prose, banal poetry, and trite descriptions with the best (?) of them. Who knows? Maybe some day someone will tell you, “I wish I had half the free time you must have.”

Every journey begins with a single step, Grasshopper.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

The Big Unit

The Low Brass Correspondent recently contacted The Home Office to ask what I thought about the Yankees’ signing of Randy Johnson, known to all who even casually follow baseball as The Big Unit. I have already stated my position as a member of Red Sox Nation; the Low Brass Correspondent is a die-hard Yankee fan, if the term “die-hard” can be used for any devotee of The Evil Empire. Yankee fans are all fat and happy in the affirmation of God’s Plan when the Yankees win. When they lose, head must roll. After last year’s collapse in the ALCS (excuse me, that’s record breaking collapse), it wasn’t enough that Torre, Stottlemyre, Mattingly, Giambi, and even Rivera be fired; he wanted them shot.

My reply to his question about Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner dropping another $50 million on his new Johnson was a resounding, “So what?” Big Stein is caught up in being Big Stein. Randy Johnson was the Big Name out there and Steinbrenner wanted him, just like he wanted A-Rod last year, even though he didn’t really need him. I read an article last week (I forget where) that asked what Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, Gary Sheffield, and Jose Contreras have in common as Yankees? No rings. All were the big free agent Big Stein had to have and paid through the nose for. The original recent dynasty (Bernie, Jeter, Posada, Tino, etc.) was carefully put together, and all parts complemented each other to be good enough to win the division, then roll through the playoffs, contrary to the Braves, who always roll through the season and tank in the playoffs,1995 notwithstanding.

Current Yankee policy seems to be to assemble a team like they were Strat-o-Matic cards and pile up statistics. Concerns over Johnson's health may be a microcosm of what no Yankee fan wants to think about: this is an OLD team. Posada's 33 and a catcher, Bernie and Sheffield are 36 (and Sheffield may have a steroid problem this year with the new policy), Sierra's 39, Olerud's 36 (if he stays), Mussina's 36, Brown's 40, Rivera is 35 and Gordon's 37. Tino Martinez is back as Giambi insurance, and he's 37. Injuries are going to start to happen (see: Bernie Williams last year) and there's no place to go for replacements: the farm system well is about dry.

Big Stein let the Red Sox (excuse me, the World Champion Red Sox) jack up the price and decided to outspend and out-off season headline them, which is the same formula the Mets have used for years to get their brains beat in by the Yankees. Big Stein has too much money available for the Yankees to stink, and his baseball people are smarter than the Mets' baseball people, but he's setting himself up for another disappointment from which his chosen remedy (spend more money) may not be able to help him.

As tough as it is to watch the Yankees pay two players (almost any two regulars) more than Pittsburgh’s entire payroll, it only heightens the anticipation of seeing Big Stein’s face when they get beat again, which they may well do. People and teams in the real world can take solace and some satisfaction from progress, or a surprising season. When you drop $200 million (plus tax) there’s no satisfaction except winning it all, and even that has to be a little hollow. How much fun is winning when you’re expected to, when it’s demanded of you? Winning once every eighty-six years; now there’s an accomplishment.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Dead End Jobs

The Home Office’s never-ending quest for truth takes us today to Fallujah, Iraq, where dread terrorist mastermind Ali Musab al-Zarqawi is recruiting a suicide bomber to kill off a few more infidels in time for the American evening news. Not only the American military has trouble meeting recruiting targets. Suicide bombers rarely follow in their father’s footsteps (as most of them are blown to tiny bits before getting old enough to spawn), their retirement plan stinks, and re-enlistments are unheard of. Zarqawi is explaining the newest enlistment incentives to a somewhat reluctant recruit.

Zarqawi: Walid Hamal el-Fodder, welcome to al Qaeda. It honors me to meet one who shall soon be martyred and join with Allah. I wish only that I could join you in your glory.
Walid: Please, don’t let me keep you from anything. Actually I’m not so sure about the martyr part.
Zarqawi: Do you not wish to bring honor to your family and gain your reward of many virgins in Paradise? (nudges Walid in ribs with elbow)
Walid: My family needs more than honor right now. We have been living on dog feces and recycled water from airplane lavatories since you martyred our city by inducing the Americans to destroy it.
Zarqawi: Your generation are such complainers. When I was a young man in Jordan we would have sold my sister into slavery for a meal as fine as dog feces! What more could you want than to die as part of the jihad?
Walid: It’s the dying part I’m having trouble with. I’m thinking of joining the police.
Zarqawi: Then you shall surely die, with as many of your infidel masters as a martyr can take with him.
Walid: Still dying, huh? How about the Army?
Zarqawi: Die.
Walid: Is there any part of the jihad that doesn’t involve me dying?
Zarqawi: No. (Smiles craftily.) Join us and you and your family can gain by your glorious martyrdom.
Walid: Your not going to give me the honor speech again, are you?
Zarqawi: Honor should be enough, but these are difficult times. I am prepared to offer you ten thousand filthy American dollars for your martyrdom.
Walid: Do I look like I just fell off a hummus truck? I won’t be here to spend it.
Zarqawi: We will give it to your family. Yes, that is the ticket, we will give it to your family.
Walid: So all I have to do is blow myself up and you’ll give my family ten thousand dollars.
Zarqawi: Ten thousand filthy dollars, you forgot filthy.
Walid: Sorry. Filthy. It will still spend, will it not?
Zarqawi: Yes, my young and naïve friend, it will spend.
Walid: And all I have to do is blow myself up?
Zarqawi: Not so fast. We must barter first, it is our way. Blowing yourself up is not the way to Allah. Killing infidels and their collaborating whore-dogs when you blow yourself up is the secret to martyrdom.
Walid: How many do I have to kill?
Zarqawi: As many as possible.
Walid: What’s my incentive? I mean, what’s the minimum I can kill and still be a paid martyr?
Zarqawi: Five.
Walid: What if I kill more?
Zarqawi: Same deal.
Walid: No incentives?
Zarqawi: All right, ten thousand for at least five, and another three thousand apiece for every one over ten. Not ten thousand per piece, ten thousand apiece.
Walid: What about the ones that don’t die?
Zarqawi: Nothing.
Walid: That’s not fair. The Americans have some great medical benefits. I might blow someone half up and he’ll recover.
Zarqawi: We do not pay you for killing someone who does not die. We are not running a welfare state here.
Walid: I can understand that. How’s this: nothing if he recovers, but partial payment for maiming? Maybe five hundred dollars for each arm or leg, a thousand for an eye?
Zarqawi: It is against regulations. I will tell you what I can do. I will add one virgin to your harem in Paradise for every limb or eye you destroy in a survivor.
Walid: It’s a deal. (sotto voce) Sucker.
Zarqawi: (sotto voce) Sucker.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Tricky Alberto

The results of White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez’ first day of hearings on his nomination to be Attorney General yesterday were not encouraging. Gonzalez said all the right things, but what had been merely Orwellian disconnects between reality and its perception are becoming more like Lewis Carroll all the time.

Gonzales is best known for writing the memo advising Dubya that the Geneva Convention didn’t have to apply to anyone rounded up in Afghanistan or Iraq. His manner of addressing that dubious accomplishment are disturbing, not that it will affect his confirmation one way or the other.

Gonzalez began by attempting to distance himself from what has become in the post-Abu Ghraib world an inconvenient political misstep. In a comment worthy of the Nixon Administration’s “previous statements are now inoperable,” Gonzalez told the senators, "I will no longer represent only the White House. I will represent the United States of America and its people. I understand the difference between the two roles."

Does that distinction bother anyone else? Shouldn’t the president and his policies represent the American people? Was it Gonzalez’ previous job to tell Dubya what he wanted to hear, no more and no less? It’s an acknowledgement by a still-favored Administration insider that Bush’s agenda runs contrary of the American people, instead of just hearing it from those malcontents (like Clarke and O’Neill) who were trusted advisors until they disagreed with our erstwhile unclad emperor.

When asked by Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R – PA) if he approved of torture, Gonzalez replied, “Absolutely not, senator.” Not just no, but absolutely not. I feel better already.

It’s good to know our nation’s chief law enforcement official is against torture. It would have been nice to hear more about his definition of torture, just for the record, since his definitions of several amendments in the Bill of Rights seem to be flexible, if not downright whimsical.

Holding prisoners uncharged and incommunicado even to their lawyers clearly doesn’t qualify as torture to Al; it probably doesn’t meet Webster’s definition, either. I guess that makes it all right through the Bush Administration’s looking-glass.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

News Flash

This just in from the LA Correspondent:

PITTSBURGH--In an effort to increase revenues and save a franchise that doesn't give a crap about winning, the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates announced that they will change the name of the team to the New York Pirates of Pittsburgh.

Bud Selig, still the commissioner of baseball for some damn reason, had no comment, though sources tell the Associated Press than Selig's former team, the Milwaukee Brewers are considering renaming themselves the Chicago Brewers of Milwaukee.

Pirate owner Kevin McClatchy said in a press release that the name change should allow the Pirates to increase their payroll from last year's $32 million to $35 million in 2005. "This could be the difference between getting a firstbaseman who can hit 15 or 16 homeruns. We could be contending for third place next year." Lloyd McClendon said he was "excited" about the change. "I always wanted to manage in New York. I know the press coverage will be intense but I know my team is ready for the challenge."


I became an adjunct member of Red Sox Nation when I sat in a dark TV room in my college dorm watching Carlton Fisk wave fair his homerun to win Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. I got home from work just in time to see Bucky Effing Dent drop his floater on top of the Green Monster in the 1978 playoff. Going to graduate school made me a local resident in time to see Bill Buckner’s gaffe for the ages in 1986. So I may not be a resident and suffered through all 86 years of desert-wandering, but I’ve paid my dues.

I finished reading my Christmas gift from my daughter today. Faithful, by Stewart O’Nan and Stephen King (yes that Stephen King). Every Red Sox fan should read it. The writing is entertaining, funny, and always captures the feel of two good friends bullshitting about the game they love. It also shows the good side of sports fans, as opposed to the six-pack swilling lout who only knows his team should win and sucks if they don’t because they’re overpaid. (They almost certainly are overpaid, and they may suck, but it’s nice to have the discussion on a more elevated plane, even if it’s essentially the same discussion.)

This is a great and fun read even if you’re not a member of Red Sox Nation but just a baseball fan. Well, maybe not a diehard Yankee fan. (Correction: there are no “diehard” Yankee fans. Yankee fans believe it is their divine right to win all the time. Not just win, but to humble the unworthy opposition. In the Yankee fan’s perfect world, they would travel around and play the Washington Generals 162 times a year.(Another note: The Washington Generals are the patsy team that travels with the Harlem Globetrotters, and should not be confused with baseball’s new Washington Nationals just because they might be almost as bad. Come to think of it, those are the only two sports teams wholly owned by their opposition. Literally.) Yankee fans will have to find some other form of entertainment. Kissing my ass comes to mind.)

The best thing about Faithful is its ability to remind the reader why baseball is the single greatest thing devised by the mind of man. Get a copy. The co-author is even from Pittsburgh and his formative years were shaped, in part, by Bill Mazeroski’s home run to win the 1960 World Series from the pre-Steinbrenner, Evil Empire Yankees. How cool is that?

Sunday, January 02, 2005

A New Level of Outsourcing

Remember the Bill of Rights? Habeas Corpus? Innocent until proven guilty? Pass those scruffy old ideas down to your grandchildren as you sit by the fire you have to light when heating oil goes up to $25/gallon, because they won’t be around much longer.

Today’s (January 2, 2005) Washington Post has an article about the Bush Administration’s plans to lock up suspected terrorists indefinitely when there is insufficient evidence for a trial. (Note to less well-informed readers: In the Bush Administration, “indefinitely” means “forever.”) These alleged miscreants will be stored in American-built foreign prisons, in the care of foreign governments who have promised to treat the prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Convention and “cruel and unusual” guidelines. I guess this is why they have to be foreign prisons; we don’t meet those standards, if the Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib examples are guidelines.

This is a sweet deal. Now the DIA, CIA, FBI, or any acronymically-named governmental agency right up to the Orwellian Department of Homeland Security can snatch someone they feel hinky about and have an internally-appointed individual declare him or her to be a terrorist. Then the alleged potential scoundrel can be whisked away to the enlightened foreign government of choice (Saudi Arabia and Pakistan come to mind) for indefinite incarceration outside the accountability of the “responsible” U.S. government agencies.

Think of the potential. Drug money is sometimes used to subsidize terrorists. Soon all drug dealers may eligible for the Turkish prison lottery if the G wants to broaden the definition. Then drug users. A protester can get deluxe accommodations on the next trip to the Devil’s Island Hilton, if the right authority gets a bug up its ass about the protest in question interfering with a governmental activity, like alternate-side parking in a snow emergency. Think that’s a reach? Take a look at how the RICO and death-penalty statutes have expanded over the past twenty years. Indonesia’s luck we’re not bombing them, once Dubya found out there were Americans killed by a tsunami originating there. Oh, wait, Rumsfeld decided against bombing Indonesia; there aren’t any targets there.

It’s a good thing God talks directly to Dubya. We can all rest easy in the knowledge that we, or no one we know, will be scooped up by mistake, or because we cut some bureaucrat off in traffic.