Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Special Comment

And now, as threatened—er, I mean as promised—a Special Comment.

There was a time when this reporter had only two “must see” television shows: Seinfeld and the Sunday Night SportsCenter, with Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann. Olbermann left, and immediately disappeared onto the maw that was early MSNBC, only to re-appear when he caught on to George W. Bush’s sleight of hand faster than most.

While it must be admitted that many of Mr. Olbermann’s Special Comments are spot on, no one can view his delivery of these comments for long before becoming repulsed by the false and inappropriate histrionics used in their delivery.

[Turn to face other camera.]

Not content to let the words speak for themselves, your manner of speaking approaches a level of scenery chewing associated with watching William Shatner perform King Lear. Your voice trembles, your head shakes with indignation, though only moments before you concluded a segment with the words, “Today’s worst person in the worrrrrld!” after poking fun at whoever earned your daily wrath.

Those who find themselves in your crosshairs richly deserve it. It is the exaggerated venom and ire of the Special Comments that we take issue with. You may say it is entertainment, and you clearly relish your self-appointed role as the Bill O’Reilly of the Left. Yet it is you, sir, who usurp the gravitas of your betters by appropriating Huntley and Brinkley’s theme music, and Edward R. Murrow’s sign-off.

[Rustle prop pages and return to Camera One.]

Last Friday you took Hillary Clinton to task for juxtaposing comments about her will to remain a presidential candidate with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. A crude and tasteless statement, to say the least. Yet you, sir, devoted virtually seventy-five percent of your broadcast to this matter, then another [add tremor to voice] one thousand, nine hundred and nine words of personal commentary.

[Turn to other camera while spittle is removed from lens of Camera One.]

These additional words shed no light. They added little to our understanding of the matter. They served only to show your audience the depth of your self-indulgence and self-importance, running past your broadcast time into the next program because you—you, sir!­—had to ensure your loyal viewers knew how you, the only voice who felt the injury to its deserved extent, felt.

One thousand, nine hundred and nine words devoted to a fifteen second comment that may or may not have discussed the hypothetical death of a single human being. One thousand nine hundred and nine words. Yet Abraham Lincoln, a man you profess to admire at every opportunity, Abraham Lincoln required only two hundred seventy-eight words to pay eternal and sincere homage to the fifty-one thousand casualties at Gettysburg. We have no videotape of Mr. Lincoln’s address, yet we may be safe to assume it did not include the melodramatics you so regularly append to your comments like decals on a car window.

One thousand, nine hundred and nine words. The Declaration of Independence consists of but thirteen hundred and twenty-two, with no visual aids. John Kennedy’s inaugural address that inspired a generation is thirteen hundred sixty-six. Yet you needed one thousand, nine hundred and nine words to ensure that everyone watching you on Friday, May 23, 2008, one thousand, eight hundred and forty-nine days since the announcement of “Mission Accomplished,” knew the sincerity of your emotions.

[Shuffle prop papers and make obvious effort to compose yourself.]

Sincerity and depth of emotion are not measured by the number of words or accompanying theatrics, sir. Well chosen words, plainly spoken, contain all the meaning and sub-text necessary if their subject is suitably horrendous; if it is not, no quantity of vocal tremolos, or catches in the voice, will do so. Do not listen to me; view the tapes of your spiritual master, Edward R. Murrow. One will do. Watch him ask Senator Joseph McCarthy if he has no shame. Murrow did not play to the camera, nor to the baser tastes of some who were watching. He spoke truth, the unvarnished truth, sir, which has always been, and will always be, adequate to express any emotion. This is why Murrow will be remembered long after you have faded from the memory of even those who study such matters.

Good night [throw prop papers from desk with disgust] and good luck.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Hillary Clinton has become an embarrassment to her party and to this nation. Not to herself; she is well beyond anything that relates to shame.

Yesterday’s comment in South Dakota to justify remaining in a race she cannot win probed a new low, even for her. Her lack of an apology has shown she is less interested in the welfare of her party, or this nation, than she is in getting she wants. Her only possible reason to remain in the race is because she’s Hillary Clinton, and she’s entitled.

She’ll make every effort to become the victim again. The misogyny cries have been loud the past few weeks, even though no responsible voice has uttered any such comments. The usual suspects—crackpot, rednecks, Fox News anchors—made the usual sophomoric arguments; no one who might have voted for her listened to them, anyway. Playing the victim is an unorthodox way of petitioning for a position of leadership; some might consider such a tactic unworthy.

It wasn’t working, so she raised the stakes to martyrdom: she’s staying in case something happens to Obama. What might happen to him? Lots of things; since she brought up assassination, she may consider one of the possibilities to be some hard-working, white American busting a cap in his uppity black ass. Has it never occurred to her that some of her less enlightened supporters—in, let’s say, West Virginia or Kentucky, where she currently bases her claim to be “America’s Candidate”—may consider such comments akin to King Henry II’s comment to his nobles regarding Thomas à Becket: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

As if this wasn’t bad enough, her “apology” shows more about her than the original gaffe. When Mike Huckabee made a tasteless Obama assassination joke last week, his apology was immediate, and contained the sentence, “I apologize that my comments were offensive.” Not “might have been construed as offensive,” or, “some may have taken offense.” Were offensive. Period.

Compare that to Hillary’s apology: “I regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma…was in any way offensive…”

If? If? What meets her definition of “offensive,” if that does not? While not as callous as George W. Bush’s numerous statements on the Iraq War or Hurricane Katrina, it certainly meets any sapient human standard of giving offense. The lack of even that scintilla of self-awareness alone disqualifies her as a worthy candidate. I can’t wait to see how her supporters try to justify her as vice presidential material now. “She’s the best qualified person to take over when—oops, I mean if—someone clips him?”

Enough is enough. No more of the Clinton camp demanding forgiveness because she’s allegedly being held to a higher standard than Obama. The Obama campaign bent over backward to be gracious when questioned afterward. What would her campaign’s response have been if the roles were reversed? Can you picture Terry “The Prince of Darkness” McAuliffe shrugging it off?

In the words of an old Willie Nelson song, “I’ve forgiven everything that forgiveness will allow.” The sniper fire in Tuzla. Signing a pledge to say Michigan and Florida wouldn’t count, until you needed them to, and your later statements that declared these people had been unfairly disenfranchised, comparing it to women’s suffrage, the abolition of slavery, and the civil rights movement, while still claiming caucus states do not count for as much. Placing images of Osama bin Laden in an anti-Obama ad. The 3:00 AM phone call ad. Kissing up to Fox News and Richard Mellon Scaife. Exploiting William Ayres on the ABC debate. Whining about always getting the first question.

Go away. You are little better than a Rovian Republican in liberal garb. The break this country needs from the politics of Bush-Clinton-Bush demands better than you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

They're Serious About This

Maybe the reason I’m not a published author is a lack of imagination. I worry constantly about how much—and for how long—the audience is willing to suspend disbelief; maybe I should talk with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH). He seems to think people are willing to forget things that actually happened.

Last week Boehner unveiled the new Republican “strategy.” Faced with public’s slow but insistent realization that Republicans have presided over an ill-conceived and mismanaged war, a failing economy, unprecedented separation between rich and poor, a policy of actions we’d call war crimes if anyone else did them, and an erosion of Constitutional rights more extreme than the McCarthy era, Boehner knows they can’t run on their record. So he’s going for marketing. To use a Madison Avenue term, they’re changing the brand. The Republicans are now pushing themselves as “The Change They Deserve.”

To quote Budweiser: Dude. You’re the guys we want a change from. House Republicans are so steadfastly against changing anything “accomplished” during their tenure, they voted against mothers, as a stalling tactic. Their regular whining about how Democrats haven’t implemented their promised changes have the sincerity of the Menendez brother asking for mercy because they’re orphans. For Republicans to realize now they’ve spent ten years going down the wrong road is like pulling the emergency brake after the car has gone over the cliff.

Republicans claim to be the party of Bible-reading, God-fearing Americans. It looks more every day like voters may be ready to administer some Biblical lessons on that whole “reaping what you sow” thing. One can only hope.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

250 Days and Counting

The Literary Correspondent recently sent in an informative piece showing the relative “greenness” of George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch and Al “I invented Climate Change” Gore’s home in Tennessee, which has a carbon footprint the size of Texas as viewed through a microscope. The data checked out on Truth or Fiction, though the Crazy Like Me Correspondent insists I point out Gore uses his home as an office for his organization, which is why it’s so large and energy-intensive, and that he buys carbon offsets to minimize the effect. Okay, maybe, but still, where’s the wind farm and solar panels, Mr. Green Jeans?

Under other circumstances I would have re-circulated that, showing I can poke fun at blues and reds alike. Not for Dubya. My distaste for him transcends political disagreement. Not only do I detest him as a person, I loathe the elements of the American psyche he has so successfully appealed to, and what it says about us as a nation. His cynical invocations of patriotism have debased the concept to the point where someone who used to sincerely tear up when The Star-Spangled Banner was played before a ball game now rises only to avoid embarrassing the Sole Heir.

This is no exaggeration. If anything, he has received a pass, as occasional bouts of Outrage Overload force me to recharge my batteries. This week I’m in the mood to call him for what he is, with his own words as evidence. Not malapropisms; not misstatements. The real deal.

When asked about the current oil situation, and his thoughts on conservation, here are his own thoughts, from an interview with CBS Radio: "Bush also said that, while he was a 'big supporter' of energy conservation, he would not issue a specific appeal to the public to ease up on driving and not use as much fuel. 'I think they can figure out how to do that,' he told CBS. 'I mean, the market has a way of convincing people to drive less, depending on their ability to afford.'"

This, from the alleged president of all the American people. His partners and peers can afford gas at ten dollars a gallon; what about the guy who needs to fill up his ten-year-old car to make a fifty-mile daily round trip to his job that pays only enough to qualify him as one of the “working poor?” He can’t move closer to work; he can’t afford to live there. He can manage gas to get to work, or bread for his family; not both, and his president tells him, in essence, to eat cake.

Recently Bush was asked about sacrifice in time of war; were any Americans aside from the troops and their families sharing the costs of his war? Specifically, had he made any personal sacrifices? Here’s his response to Mike Allen of Politico:

Allen: "Mr. President, you haven't been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?"

Bush: "Yes, it really is. I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.

Above all, he is a coward. Not just for his avoidance of the same military service he now claims to envy those dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. He speaks before only hand-picked audiences, afraid to face even the possibility of dissent. Sent his wife to brief the press on the Burmese cyclone, knowing they wouldn’t ask her to draw too fine a comparison with New Orleans. He lacks even the fortitude to admit to human frailty. By never admitting to a mistake, he is a parody of the Christian piety he claims to embrace.

Jeremiah Wright had the right church, but the wrong pew. If God is to damn anyone, then God damn George W. Bush. It is beyond the capability of anyone with a shred of conscience to dream of attributing such thoughts to someone else, let alone to sincerely claim them as his own. This man has no decency, no conscience, no humanity. He is as vile a caricature of a human being as has disgraced the public stage in my memory. We cannot be rid of him soon enough.

Friday, May 09, 2008

No One's Wrong All the Time

Not even me. Frequent Commenter Runs With Scissors rarely agrees with me, though his comments are always appreciated. He chimed into The Home Office's most recent post with a link in his comment that deserves more recognition than a comment.

George F. Will is someone with whom I rarely agree, even less often as time goes on. Still, once or twice a year he hits one out of the park, such as this essay on Jewish World Review. Not only is he dead on, he evokes a rare nostalgic moment for me, as my first fully realized memory is of listening to Bill Mazeroski hit the home run that won the 1960 World Series for Pittsburgh.

Thanks to Runs With Scissors for reading, commenting, and pointing out this excellent morsel.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Differing Perspectives

My friend, and Clinton supporter, Sean has posted a passionate inventory of his feelings about the events in North Carolina and Indiana last night on his blog. My comments are below:

Running the risk of seeming ungracious (since my candidate is now ensconced as the presumptive nominee), it’s a shame Clinton supporters can't resist sour grapes even when conceding defeat. Much as Bill's impeachment debacle played out, none of what did Hillary in was her fault. It was a conspiracy involving the media, addled voters wearing rose-tinted glasses, and a Rube Goldberg nominating process.

Let's start with "people buying into hope." Here's a brief quiz: Who said this: "Now, one of Clinton's laws of politics is this. If one candidate is trying to scare you and the other one is try get you to think, if one candidate is appealing to your fears and the other one is appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope." Give up? Bill Clinton, during the 2004 campaign. Obama keeps coming back to the hope theme: Hillary runs ads of sleeping children who will be unsafe of she isn't elected.
Then there's the "media's notion of inevitability." First, she didn’t mind any it six months ago when everyone with a press card presumed she would win. As for lately, it's not the media's notion of inevitability: it's a mathematical notion of inevitability. Even before last night, she couldn't catch up if she matched her best previous performance in every remaining primary. Dropping out isn't defeatist; it's a simple matter of reading the handwriting on the wall.

As for the "tragically flawed nominating process," she had no objections to it until she realized she couldn't win within its rules. There's a good reason for that: Clinton supporters probably played as much of a role as anyone in writing those rules.

What did Hillary Clinton in was a poorly run campaign that assumed this was a coronation, not a campaign. She changed messages and personas as often as Dubya changed reasons for going to war in Iraq in the winter of 2003. It finally caught up to her when enough people decided she was a triangulating chameleon who would say whatever she thought was necessary to sway whoever was standing in front of her when she opened her mouth. In the northeast or a college town? Wonk time. Moving south? Drop those Gs and knock down a few boilermakers in the back of a pickup truck.

Hillary Clinton would have made a fine president, but she would have been more of the same of what got us into the current state of affairs. It's time for something different. Maybe it will be better; maybe not. It sure as hell can't get much worse.

Monday, May 05, 2008

James Lee Burke

Every time I read something by James Lee Burke I tell myself, “You really need to read more James Lee Burke.” This year I’m finally getting around to it, and it’s made my reading time richer and more rewarding. I just finished PEGASUS DESCENDING after reading CADILLAC JUKEBOX in March and JOLIE BLON’S BOUNCE in December. I don’t like him more each time anymore; he’s who I come back to when I want to be reminded why I love to read.

His characters walk in off the cane break as fully-formed people, with lives beyond the glimpse we catch through the window Burke provides. He uses the Cajun, Creole, and Confederate background of New Iberia Parish like Rembrandt choosing a precise color from a palette of his own creation. The names are eccentric to a northern ear; PEGASUS DESCENDING includes Cesaire Darbonne, Koko Hebert, Monarch Little, and my personal favorite, Bellerophon Lujan. Maybe those who don’t live along the Bayou Teche don’t think twice about them, but they set the tone and atmosphere better than five pages of description.

Which, come to think of it, Burke also does as well, or better, than anyone. It’s fashionable today to skip non-essential description in the interest of moving the story forward. Nothing wrong with that; the quicker pace fits better with contemporary readers’ expectation and attention spans. Burke’s descriptions come from another, more leisurely time, before television and movies denied us the privilege of drawing our own mental pictures. The astute reader quickly forgives the lessened pace, thanks to descriptions of such beauty you don’t want him to cut to the chase. An example from PEGASUS DESCENDING:

The transformation that took place in Whitey’s face was like none I had ever seen in another person. The eyes didn’t blink or narrow; the color in them did not brighten with anger or haze over with hidden thoughts. The jawbone never pulsed against the cheek. Instead, his expression seemed to take on the emotionless solidity of carved wood, with eyes as dull and cavernous as buckshot. I believe I could have scratched a match alight on his face and he wouldn’t have blinked.

The same counter-contemporary tendency is shown in Burke’s scenes of violence. It’s not that he lingers over them for prurient or gratuitous purpose; he lets them unfold, like watching in slow-motion. The suspense builds as he ramps up the tension a sentence at a time, holding back the climax like a classical composer’s delayed cadence, so when the release comes it’s quick and you have to wait for your blood pressure to return to normal before going on to the next page. The pressure is never completely released; enough always remains to sow the seeds of the next crescendo.

It takes a singular talent to be able to fight the tendencies of modern culture and win as Burke routinely does, and what I say may read like the pabulum of hero worship. Those who are unfamiliar with his work should try him, then draw their conclusions. Those already acquainted with Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel are already wondering which one they should read next.