Saturday, December 31, 2005

Ringing out the Old

It’s customary as any year draws to a close to recount its major events. “From the Home Office” celebrates its first anniversary by beginning its own year-end tradition.

JANUARY – George W. Bush is inaugurated as President, claims his election victory gives him a mandate to act as he sees fit. When an aide points out the dictionary definition of “mandate” implies getting more than 50.000000001% of the votes, Bush replies, “The dictionary’s just a goddamned book. I’m the president, that Constitution thing says words mean what I want them to mean.”

In a related event, the Christian Coalition and Moral Majority remove their endorsements of Bush, stating they’re uncomfortable with the idea of the president having a “man date.”

FEBRUARY – North Korea announces it has nuclear weapons. Former Director George Tenet returns to the CIA to unveil the complicated mechanism through which Saddam Hussein transferred all his nuclear weapons to North Korea hours before the war began in 2003. Tenet also reveals the existence of surveillance photographs of Mohammed Atta meeting with Kim Jong Il in Prague several days before 9/11.

When asked why he didn’t invade North Korea, President Bush says he didn’t want to fool with that International Date Line thing and not know if any news took place yesterday, or was going to happen tomorrow.

MARCH – Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist attempts to prove Terry Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state by having her flown to New York to appear “live” in the Broadway musical “Spamalot,” as part of the “I’m Not Dead Yet” number.

APRIL – Pope John Paul II dies, is replaced by Pope Benedict XVI. Vatican announces that in an attempt to appeal to a wider base of Catholics, all Masses will now begin with the Who’s refrain, “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

French Catholics surrender in droves to altar boys wearing new “brown shirt” vestments.

MAY – Mark Felt admits to being Watergate’s Deep Throat. Democrats laud him as a man of conscience; Republicans condemn him as a traitor. Bob Woodward pays tribute to the man who made his career by hiding under the bed when the feds come to ask what he knows about the Valerie Plame case.

JUNE – Michael Jackson is acquitted of child molestation charges. Jury members say they think he did it, but so little of Michael Jackson’s original equipment remains, they weren’t sure who it was they were voting on.

JULY – I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Karl Rove are implicated in the Valerie Plame leak scandal. President Bush backtracks from his original pledge of “anyone involved in leaking will no longer work in this administration,” to “anyone found guilty of a crime will not longer work for this administration.” Future fallback positions include “anyone caught red-handed on videotape,” and “anyone caught red-handed on videotape actually shooting Valerie Plame” will no longer work in his administration.

AUGUST – Hurrican Katrina destroys New Orleans. CIA reveals evidence of Katrina having lunch with Saddam Hussein in the days before 9/11. FEMA Director Mike Brown embarrasses Arabian horse enthusiasts by shopping at Nordstrom’s when he should have been watching CNN for updates.

SEPTEMBER – Dennis Kozlowski sentenced to 8 ½ years in prison for bilking Tyco shareholders out of $600 million. Supreme Court decrees this to be the standard for dollars stolen per years sentenced, releases every other thief currently in prison.

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay indicted by a Texas grand jury and has his name legally changed to Tom DeNy.

OCTOBER – Chicago White Sox end 87 years of frustration by winning World Series. Harriet Miers nominated for Supreme Court to show Cubs fans the true meaning of “hopeless.”

NOVEMBER – Senate Minority “Leader” Harry Reid invokes a rarely-used Senate rule to demand a closed session when Ted Kennedy is too drunk to tell the difference between “yea” and “nay.” Majority Leader Frist takes advantage of no gallery or reporters to kick Reid’s ass in cloak room, saying, “I used to take Daschle’s lunch money every day. Now I’m going to eat your lunch.”

DECEMBER – President Bush admits to ordering the National Security Agency to perform warrantless surveillance on American citizens inside the United States. Bush condemns the New York Times for breaking the story, claims to have classified photos of Times’ editorial board having lunch with Mohammed Atta and Saddam Hussein shortly before 9/11.

Happy New Year, folks. If the seeds planted in 2005 ripen as expected, 2006 should be a blast.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Great, Not Perfect

No disparagement of the accomplishments of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation” will ever be found here. They grew up amid the deprivations of mankind’s greatest economic cataclysm, too young to understand why. That sense of deferred satisfaction served them well during the war, and a profound desire never to do without again probably fueled the duration of the subsequent economic rebound.

They decided their children should not, would not, suffer these hardships. Therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. The Greatest Generation’s greatest strength, their willingness to sacrifice, spawned the subsequent Baby Boomer generation’s greatest weakness, their demand for instant gratification without consequence.

Politics has given us two men to personify this thesis: George Herbert Walker Bush, forty-first president of the United States; and his son, George Walker Bush, President Forty-Three.

George H.W. Bush was a child of privilege in an era when the credo “to whom much is given, much is expected,” held sway, especially in the Puritan-influenced New England of his childhood. Bush was one of the first carrier-based fighter pilots of World War II, a war when the families of privilege considered it a matter of honor for their children to serve. He continued his national service in a number of roles, including Congress, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Vice President, and President.

Regardless of one’s opinion of his politics and policies, all can agree George H.W. Bush served his country well and faithfully. The only breath of scandal to touch him was Iran-Contra, when he claimed to be “out of the loop;” no scandal for personal gain or advantage was ever associated with his name. He lost his bid for re-election as president when he did what he thought was right for the country, reneging on his “read my lips” pledge to raise taxes. This probably cost him the presidency, and may well have led to the period of sustained economic growth shepherded by Bill Clinton.

George Walker Bush grew up in post-war boom times, in an era when privilege meant shielding your children from the burdens of your youth. The younger Bush will not (cannot?) account for his first forty years, except for selected excepts beyond his ability to shield. He went to Yale as a legacy, and was given choice duty in the National Guard while his less-fortunate peers were humping mortar plates and body bags through the rice paddies of Vietnam. As some point, even that may have become too onerous for him; the service records of the second half of his hitch are essentially unverifiable.

He firmly believes that finding God at age forty granted him a clean slate. He failed at everything he tried before politics, using his family connections to finally be elected governor of Texas as a “compassionate conservative.” The record shows little record of his compassion; Texas executions rose as quickly as its educational standards declined. He continues to show no tendency to conserve anything except what is his, or that of his friends.

He wants what he wants when he wants it, leaving the bills for future generations to pay. His “conservatism” does not extend to the environment, where today’s children will have to contend with the damage of his policies, enacted with an eye to keeping his backers happy today; later is someone else’s problem. He regularly attacks the liberties his father spent his life defending, because he gets to do what he wants. Others are either for him, or against him; there is no “loyal opposition” in his eyes. Disagreement is disloyalty.

This is not meant as an attack on Bush the Younger. The Bushes were only used here as examples of the sad state we currently inhabit, where primacy is assumed, and no sacrifice is too small to accept if it delays what we want. The Baby Boomer Generation stands on the shoulders of those who came before them and dishonors their sacrifices. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have died to defend the liberty they assume as their birthright. The lack of outrage over the current violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Fourteenth, and who knows how many other amendments, all in the name of “protecting the homeland,” show the heirs of the Greatest Generation believe only others should sacrifice.

The greatest accomplishment of the Greatest Generation was to reshape the world they inherited and hand their children a far better place. Their greatest failure was in not passing down the values that made those accomplishments possible. It would be a sad legacy it this was the longer-lasting bequest.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A Christmas Miracle

There are more Christmas miracle stories than Liza Minelli has prescriptions. How often to you actually see one? Or have one happen to someone you know? Even rarer, have it happen to you? I have, just yesterday. Don’t believe me? Just look at all the things that had to go exactly as they did for this true, and truly heartwarming, story to occur.

I had one last errand to run at the local mall. I usually spend as much time at malls on Christmas week as George W. Bush spends at Mensa meetings. This year I had to get one special gift for a special someone. My heart was so overwhelmed with the spirit of the season that I took advantage of a rare weekday off work to brave the mall.

I had someplace to be later, so I was in a bit of a hurry. Lacking time to brush my teeth after a quick snack in the car coming home from grocery shopping, I grabbed two sticks of gum from the kitchen counter and popped them in my mouth. The gum had been sitting there at least six months, as I chew maybe a pack of gum a year.

Parking at the mall was at a premium, as you’d expect on December 23. It took ten minutes of looking until I found a spot only a few rows from the entrance. Something looked unusual a lane over from me and, good Samaritan that I am, I went that little bit out of my way to see if anything was wrong.

Imagine my surprise and dismay when I saw a big, honking Dodge Durango parked to occupy three spaces! Pulled in at an angle, the nose filling what might have been a pull-through space, the rest of the Durango parked across two spaces on the side from which the driver pulled in.

You can imagine my concern. What looming catastrophe could cause a driver to park in such a haphazard manner so close to the mall entrance on a day when everyone knew parking would be at a premium? Imminent childbirth? Dire illness? Needing to get to the last X-Box at Electronics Boutique? Whatever had happened, surely this person was in need of everyone’s understanding and sympathy.

I noticed a piece of lined notebook paper under the back window wiper. Thinking it might be a clue to provide more information, possibly allowing me to be of some assistance, I moved closer to read what it said. Three simple words: You are rude.

My heart went out to the poor parker. Surely he or she must have faced a daunting hardship, or the Durango would not have been parked in such a seemingly thoughtless manner. Based on personal experience, owners of enormous SUVs are renowned for their consideration of others, as well as calm and passive driving habits. How would this innocent feel if, bearing parcels of Christmas joy, he or she returned to the vehicle only to find such a snarky insult clipped to it?

I thought of removing the note but stopped with my hand in mid-reach. Who was I to deny the First Amendment rights of the note writer, no matter how distasteful the opinions expressed? Especially at this most sacred season, would not such a gross violation run contrary to everything we hold dear as Americans? I knew in my heart that if I removed the note, the terrorists would have won.

But what to do? The Durango person had to be shown there were those among us who felt his (or her) pain, and were appalled by the fascistic antics of the intemperate note writer. I pondered for only a few seconds before the true meaning of the season brought me an epiphany. A gift! What better way to express disapproval with the nasty note than to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas (Hanukkah) by leaving a small token of our shared humanity?

Now the question of what to leave was thrust upon me. Money seemed too impersonal, and would blow away in the breezy weather. I had little else of even sentimental value on me, as I was on my way into the mall, not laden with gifts as I would be when exiting. I stood pensively, chomping on my now-flavorless gum, until my second, and even more miraculous, epiphany of the day struck me.

I vowed to leave something of myself. Unfortunately, almost all physical aspects of humans are firmly attached. Hair would be blown away by the same avaricious breezes lurking to steal the previously considered cash. Yet there was one item with which I had become so intimately acquainted that it bore my very DNA. What more profound and sincere gesture could be given?

All that remained was to find a suitable location for this simple token. The cool, breezy day would dry it up if left anyplace exposed. It was easy to roll my gum into a properly-sized ball and park it in the driver side door lock with considerably more accuracy than the driver had used to park the Durango.

Brings a tear to your eye, doesn’t it?

Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah.

Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye

Fear not, Red Sox Nation. Examine how this fall has gone with a clear eye:

Sure, Johnny Damon and his rag arm have left to join The Evil Empire; Corey Patterson and his US trade deficit-like walk-to-strikeout ratio are available.

They traded their primo shortstop prospect for a starting pitcher with enormous potential (cool) and a third baseman in his mid-thirties coming off a season even worse than the year he had testicular cancer (not so cool); immediately turned around and traded the shortstop to whom they gave a 4-year, $40 million contract just last year, leaving the position in the capable(?) hands of Alex “I’m not even Joey” Cora.

They traded Doug Mirabelli, the only man with the Zen-like concentration to catch Tim Wakefield, leaving Jason Varitek to lay awake nights with the sweats over the prospect of having to catch Wake every fifth day. They got a good second baseman in return, but he’s changing leagues and has played 120 or more games only twice in the last seven years.

Things look gloomy in Beantown. Schilling and Foulke are still unproven, most of the guys who made their weird chemistry work are gone, and the only team older than the Sox is the Supreme Court.

Despair not, Chowderheads. It’s early in the off-season and Larry Lucchino’s on the job. Remember the great job he did with the Orioles? How about with the Padres? Lucchino’s greatest accomplishment was hiring Theo Epstein, who spent $100 million a year and did for the Carmines what Kenny Williams did for the Pale Hose for maybe two-thirds as much.

The new boss (same as the old boss) has performed a daring daylight raid, strengthening the Sox while potentially crippling the Yankees with the recent signing of backup catcher John Flaherty. Who has Posada’s back now, Big Stein?

I wonder if Scott Adams is a Red Sox fan. This has Dilbertian overtones all through it.

On a baseball-related note, the United States government has prohibited Cuba from playing in March’s World Baseball Classic. When I first saw the headline on the Internet, I thought it said Cubs Couldn’t play. That I could understand.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why Didn't He Ask Congress?

My opinions are rarely confused with those of George W. Will. That doesn't mean he's always wrong. Witness this column from the December 20 edition of The Washington Post.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Our Protector

What is al-Qaeda’s primary goal? Effectively destroying America’s infidel way of life. Killing and causing mayhem are only means toward this end. We hear regular talk of sleeper cells undermining our society, and of agents who will stop at nothing to destroy all we hold dear. This week exposed the most dangerous terrorist agent working in the United States, the single man who has done the most to destroy our values and system of government: George W. Bush.

Congress passed the Patriot Act in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Liberals decried it as a serious erosion of Constitutional rights; Conservatives hailed it as providing sorely-needed powers in the alleged “war on terror.” The Bush White House said all the right things, which was easy for them. They had no intention of being bound by it.

We learned this week that our intelligence agencies have been spying on American citizens within the borders of the United States. These extraordinary actions have been, Bush says, “critical to saving American lives.” He went on to say that only those with “a clear link” to al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations have been targets.

According to who? If the link is so clear, then probable cause should be easy to establish. Special courts for private hearings were created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Even those secret tribunals are considered too restrictive by Bush. The ultimate criterion for who gets spied on is Bush’s personal judgment, which has already given us the Iraqi quagmire, record deficits, and demonstrated his regard for true homeland security matters by his administration’s “response” to Hurricane Katrina.

“The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. Since he invoked the Constitution himself, let’s see what it says on the matter, specifically the Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. Bush has yet to give a categorical explanation of how his recently exposed actions fit in here.

Caught with his hand in your cookie jar, Bush took the usual refuge of scoundrels and blamed the messenger. The recent New York Times article that exposed him “puts our citizens at risk,” he said, because “our enemies have learned information they should not have.” No methods have been revealed, and no agents’ covers have been blown. (Insert your personal Valerie Plame comment here.) Not just laws, but our most cherished Constitutional values are being flaunted at the highest levels of government. The American people who (barely) elected Bush have a right to know that the protections we have been told to assume since birth only extend as far as a spoiled kid with a messianic complex says they do.

Look at the example we’re setting for Iraq in the way of democracy. We have secret prisons, where people who may (or may not) be terrorists are tortured by our agents. (Bush’s best defense there is to say at least we’ve kept the deficit down by using existing Iraqi prisons.) We plant and pay for stories in the Iraqi press to make the situation on the ground look better than it is. Given some of the existing characteristics of the Iraqi population, how long will it be before Saddam v 2.0 takes over, using our actions as a template for “democracy?” (See this blog’s entry for December 11, titled “What We’re Fighting For.”) The updated Saddam might well be associated with terrorists. Given the religious demographics, he could be assumed to be willing to partner with Iran. We’ll be a lot safer then.

Bill Clinton was impeached for lying under oath about personal matters. He shouldn’t have done it, and may have deserved his impeachment solely for his hubris and disregard of the country’s business by refusing to come clean. On January 20, 2005, George W. Bush raised his right hand and swore an oath in front of millions of people to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Hell of a job he’s doing.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Just Desserts

Natalee Holloway made the cover of the National Enquirer the last two weeks in a row. Once was to report a phone call her parents allegedly received from her; the other was about evidence the Aruban government was covering up.

Is there a lower form of life in America today (other than any visiting Saudi princes) than the employees of supermarket tabloids? We could discuss the merits of those who buy these rags (if they have any), but saying these rodents are just giving the public what it wants is like excusing FEMA for butchering the Katrina emergency by saying other people made mistakes, too. (Not that the Bush Administration hasn’t tried.)

Haven’t the Holloways suffered enough? They aren’t the first to be subjected to this treatment, but it seems more severe for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is that Natalee is presumably dead. As a parent, my greatest fear, and one never far from my mind, is that something terrible will happen to my daughter. She’s fourteen; I’m almost fifty, and I suspect my parents still feel that way.

What worse is the Holloways never asked for this. They’re not Michael Jackson dangling his baby over a parapet, or Britney Spears getting married for fifteen minutes and making sure the whole world knows about it. As much as celebrities have to put up with, they at least get some (indirect) benefit: all publicity is good publicity today. Whatever keeps the buzz alive will sell your product, especially if your product is you. At what other time could (alleged) child pornographer R. Kelly sing the national anthem at a fight? Madonna kept her career going through lean singing years by being professionally scandalous.

Ever wonder what you’d do if you won the lottery, one of those hundreds of millions of dollars jobs? High on my list would be starting a my own supermarket tabloid. My rag’s only topics would be the lives of the reporters, photographers, and publishers who make their living from the anguish or embarrassment of others.

Ever wonder if the Enquirer’s publisher likes to get liquored up and paw his secretary? Maybe do more than that? How about the underage orgy that went on at his house while he and the wife were driving drunk through a day care parking lot? How do you think their Holloway reporter would like being interviewed about our pictures of him, Dennis Rodman, and a gerbil? Dirty pictures of Grandma from when she was a struggling starlet? Might be fun to find out.

We’d would lose money; the public is much more interested in seeing people with supposedly perfect lives knocked down a peg. It’s part of the love-hate relationship we have with celebrities. Everyone knows my targets are crudballs, so where’s the fun? That’s okay. I just won three hundred million dollars; I can absorb some losses. Besides, I can probably finance the paper by accepting the occasional “honorarium” for something I could print, but am willing to reconsider. Crudballs like this must have some fully-articulated skeletons hanging in their family closets.

What We're Fighting For

The White House would have you believe over 2,000 Americans have died in Iraq because creating democracy in Iraq will make us safer. Here’s a look at some of the folks who are supposed to do this for us.

It’s not politicians, or closet Ba’athists, or even the insurgents who won’t have blown themselves to tiny bits by then. I’m talking about grass roots, average Joes and Janes who make up the bulk of any electorate, what Nixon would have called the Silent Majority.

The valley of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers is allegedly the birthplace of civilization; since then local civilization has suffered from what is, at best, arrested development, if not profound retardation. Witness the quaint local custom of honor killings.

Honor is important to Iraqis, and is provided by men doing manly (to them) things. Women can dishonor the family a million ways, even though almost all of them requires a man, who may not leave the woman any choice. Women who don’t measure up, regardless of the circumstances, have dishonored the family, and must make amends. We’re not talking about washing dishes for a month, or being banished; they have to die, and a family member has to do it.

National Public Radio recently interviewed an Iraqi family whose sixteen year-old daughter was kidnapped in an extortion plot. The daughter was returned, but since no one could prove she hadn’t been raped, she had to go. Her cousin, a policeman, shot her with his service weapon because, in his words, her father and brother lacked the courage. He made it sound like he did her a favor. She could never have shown her face again. She didn’t go to school, or have a job, so no one there will wonder about her. The only people who know she’s gone are her family and her tribe, and they know why. No charges will be brought because no one sees anything wrong with this.

I’m rarely accused of being politically correct, yet I try not to be too harsh on the customs of others, knowing many of ours can seem pretty strange to someone looking in from the outside. Honor killings are easy: these people are animals. Not “animal,” as in having disgusting personal habits; “animal” as in “sub-human,” or even better, “not human.” George W. Bush thinks it’s worth thousands of young American lives and billions of dollars he won’t spend to ensure Americans’ health care to turn Iraq over to vermin like this. He thinks it will make the world a better place.

Bush and I finally agree: give them the country. Quickly. The elections are December 15. Sit down with the winners on January 1 and give them the timetable by which they’re going to get their army and police in gear, and get our people out of there by Christmas 2006. Then the Iraqis can live in their little cesspool without infidel intervention. The United States has done more than enough wrong in Iraq over the last decade; at least we didn’t create Iraqis.