Wednesday, January 31, 2007

It's the Romanovs, Stupid Stupid Romanovs

Yes! That's the analogy!
I'm no professional historian, but I've stayed at a Holiday Inn Express, and if I was to think of past historical figures that Bush and Cheney ultimately remind me of, it isn't the easy, intellectually shallow, and easy to discredit Hitler. Bush is pretty damn bad, especially by American historical standards, but Hitler was in a class all his own, with Stalin, Mao some distance behind, and a whole host of murderous thugs like Tamerlane somewhere in the rear view mirror.

No, Bush and Cheney remind me of the last of the Romanovs.

Bush has the shallow, unintellectual stubbornness of Nicholas II. He distrusts and even mocks people who are intellectually on a higher plane or actually make an effort to be intellectually curious. Like Nicolas II, he believes he has been ordained by God to be "the Decider" and therefore any decision is God's decision.

Cheney, on the other hand, has the narrow-minded haughtiness of the Empress Alexandra, along with the refusal to tolerate those who don't bow down to his small-focused ideals of good and evil -- and inability to consider any decision or statement he makes is not correct by that fact alone.

They also, have managed to create a militaristic Administration that goes looking for Tsushimas and Tannenbergs, only in slow motion.

And if you look at the Richard Perles, Paul Wolfowitz's, Laurie Myolries, and every blowhard at FoxNews, you have no shortage of Rasputins.

(Links added.) I haven't seen the opulent Nicholas and Alexandra in a long time, and much of what I remember about it is the creepy performance of the best of the Doctor Whos as Rasputin—but maybe it's time to put it on the Netflix list and see if it looks more disturbingly familiar than it used to. I know that the first time I saw it was back in 90s, during a considerably...saner presidency.

I can't help but be reminded also of another epic film set (in part) at the end of the Romanov era, and some lines that my friend jules is fond of quoting. Yevgraf, Yuri Zhivago's coldly dedicated Bolshevik brother, recalls how he enlisted during the patriotic fervor at the outbreak of "The War to End All Wars"—though he had, um, a farther goal in mind than defeat of the Kaiser:

In bourgeois terms, it was a war between the Allies and Germany. In Bolshevik terms, it was a war between the Allied and German upper classes—and which of them won was of total indifference. My task was to organize defeat, so as to hasten the onset of revolution. I enlisted under the name of Petrov. The party looked to the peasant conscript soldiers—many of whom were wearing their first real pair of boots. When the boots had worn out, they'd be ready to listen. When the time came, I was able to take three whole battalions out of the front lines with me—the best day's work I ever did. But for now, there was nothing to be done. There were too many volunteers. Most of it was mere hysteria.
The times are different, the war is different, and I fervently hope that the wreckage the Bush Administration leaves behind proves kinder and gentler than the wreckage that helped create the Soviet Union—but I swear, as I watch support for the Iraq debacle falling and Bush's poll numbers dropping, that's what keeps coming to mind:

The boots are wearing out.

In other news, I'd like to thank WWOZ in New Orleans for allowing John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" to be the first thing I heard upon waking up and getting online this morning. My GOD, what an astounding, exuberant, magnificent piece of music. It makes you laugh, cry, and dance all at once—even when you're fresh out of bed and haven't had your coffee yet. Great, great, great way to start the day, lemma tell ya.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Random Flickr Blogging #3776: Random State of the Union Flickr Blogging

For the 2007 State of the Union Address I was all set to play the Terror* Drinking Game, wherein you drink every time Bush mentions terror or one of its cognates, but this year, Greg Palast and his kids turned out to have a much smarter idea for a SOTU drinking game:
There was that tongue again. When the President lies he’s got this weird nervous tick: He sticks the tip of his tongue out between his lips. Like a little boy who knows he’s fibbing. Like a snake licking a rat.

In his State of the Union tonight the President did his tongue thing 124 times—my kids kept count.

Indeed, it was an awful night for those of us playing the Terror* game: it was a full twenty minutes in before the Decider mentioned "terrorists." That's a long time to go without a drink when you're listening to George W. Bush.

Last week I was trying to do some MLK-related Flickr Blogging in honor of the man and the holiday, but I just couldn't get the words and images to come together right—and where MLK Jr. is involved, I very much want to get things right. Perhaps the stakes are just lower with George W. Bush, I don't know, but I hope that the following Random 2007 State of the Union Address Flickr Blogging at least gets something right. Pressed for time, I used The Method.

"Thank you very much. And tonight, I have a high privilege and distinct honor of my own -- as the first President to begin the State of the Union message with these words: Madam Speaker. (Applause.)

In his day, the late Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. from Baltimore, Maryland, saw Presidents Roosevelt and Truman at this rostrum. But nothing could compare with the sight of his only daughter, Nancy, presiding tonight as Speaker of the House of Representatives."

Neither could anything compare with the sight of this, coming at him across a Berlin hotel room in the decadent waning days of the Weimar Republic—but that's another story.
"The rite of custom brings us together at a defining hour -- when decisions are hard and courage is needed. We enter the year 2007 with large endeavors underway, and others that are ours to begin."

"Rex here just made a similar large endeavour on the carpet. Didn't ya, Rexy? Didn't ya? Oh, that was a big smelly large endeavour, oh yes it was." "Rrrrrrr."
"Some in this chamber are new to the House and the Senate -- and I congratulate the Democrat majority. (Applause.) Congress has changed, but not our responsibilities. Each of us is guided by our own convictions -- and to these we must stay faithful."

"The mere mention of 'convictions' in relation to the Bush Administration makes my nipples explode with delight!"
"A future of hope and opportunity requires that all our citizens have affordable and available health care. (Applause.) When it comes to health care, government has an obligation to care for the elderly, the disabled, and poor children. And we will meet those responsibilities. For all other Americans, private health insurance is the best way to meet their needs."

"Pretty much every other developed nation has rejected the idiotic assumption that, as Tom Tomorrow has said, parasitic middlemen (aka insurance companies) have to be allowed to make a profit before people can have access to health care. It seems obvious that public health insurance is in fact the best way to meet these needs."

"Indeed. That line about 'private health insurance' may well be the most blatantly unsupported assertion in all of Bush's speech. Mmmmph. *slurp slurp*"

"And one of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. (Applause.) Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. (Applause.) A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time."

"Perhaps this Civilian Reserve Corps, whatever the hell it is, would be interested in my fearsome JAZZ HANDS!"
Reactions to the 2007 State of the Union Address have been...unenthusiastic.

"I spent weeks building this 'Bridge to the Future', but he hasn't used it once. Harrumph."
"I sure am glad I went with Palast's game and not the terror one. Thanks to that tongue thing, my doors of perception have been opened WIDE. Wooooooo."
As we contemplate the remainder of the Bush II presidency—as we watch our national treasure spilling into the sands of Iraq, and our national prestige spilling into the drains of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and our own government sneering at our own Constitution, and the gap between rich and poor widening, and the Earth warming, and the ocean levels rising—it is good to remember that, over the course of history, many other great civilizations have crashed and burned. It was probably foolish to think that ours would be any different.

(Random Flickr Blogging explained here; photos from here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.)


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Oh, Speed the Vanishing Point

I couldn't quite polish it off today, but I'll be back early tomorrow with some State of the Union Random Flickr Blogging. Meanwhile, William Rivers Pitt about captures my sentiments:
This was a tiny, tepid performance by a tiny man who is shrinking, even now, before our very eyes. Let all the gods that are or ever were be thanked that he only has one more speech to go before history swallows him, before this nation and the world is faced with the grueling challenge of cleaning up all the bloody messes he has made.
For more see today's Democracy Now! I'm ashamed to admit that I did not notice that he hadn't mentioned the Gulf Coast or Katrina. Perhaps I was too busy wondering where the hell the "Civilian Reserve Corps" came from. Is he ripping off Wesley Clark now?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Prepositional Warfare

Lo siento por la sadly typical blog hiatus; 'twas a busy few weeks. I hope to be back in the next few days with some fresh posts—and maybe some State of the Union Random Flickr Blogging. Meanwhile, after spewing coffee all over my screen upon reading this (via Media Matters), I just had to share a barbaric yawp with the world (emphasis mine):
President Bush will propose a deep tax break for Americans who purchase their own medical insurance and would finance it with an unprecedented tax on a portion of high-priced health-care plans that workers receive from their employers, according to the White House.


Administration officials familiar with the plan say it reflects the new political order in Washington, where Democrats now control both chambers of Congress. They refuse to characterize the plan as a tax increase because it raises no new money for the federal government. Instead, it would add a new tax on employer-provided health-care plans worth more than $15,000 to subsidize those who buy modestly priced plans out of their pockets.

Whoa! Did I read that correctly? It's a government initiative that takes money from some (more fortunate) people and uses it to help other (less fortunate) people—but it's not a tax increase because the money doesn't go to the federal government, except in an only-passing-through sort of way?

Democrats! Your path is clear! It's time to roll back those ridiculous Bush upper-bracket tax cuts (passed in a time of war and national crisis no less, tsk tsk). Remember: as long as the money only goes through the federal government, it's not a tax increase! Use it on national health care, use it to improve public education, use it to build a fairer economy, use it on alternative energy development, I don't care. The Chimp Administration itself just said that it's not a tax increase if the government doesn't keep the money, so be not afraid to advocate what the plutocrat-lovers sneeringly call "redistributive taxation": they can't call it taxation as long as the money only goes through, and not to, the federal government.

In their typically oily, weaselish way, they've offered up a euphemistic redefinition to justify a pathetic quarter-measure intended to suggest that they're sort of, kind of, oh-so-belatedly going to actually do something about the national health care crisis. Let's shove that euphemism right down their throats.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

You Forgot Healing

Jack Shafer notices some other words that came up with annoying regularity in the Ford coverage:
On the occasion of President Gerald R. Ford's death, the press applied the word decent to him so often that it stopped sounding like praise and started to sound like an insult.

On television, Morton Kondracke, Donna Brazile, Charles Gibson, Bob Schieffer, Andrea Mitchell, and Pat Buchanan all testified to Ford's decency. The New York Times' obituary rang the decency bell three times, the Chicago Tribune's twice, the Boston Globe's once. News coverage in both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times cited Ford's decency, and so did Newsweek and Time.

But the Washington Post led the parade, hailing his royal decency in at least three news stories (Dec. 28, Dec. 29, and Dec. 31), as well as in a Dec. 28 editorial and a Dec. 29 op-ed by Watergate investigator Richard Ben-Veniste. A Dec. 28 Style section tribute by Wil Haygood buried the dead president with seven "D" words—and that's not counting the eighth in the headline.

When not calling him decent, the press called him "honorable." When not calling him honorable, it praised his "integrity," his "virtue," his "common sense," and his "humble" style. They did so with such unceasing frequency you had to wonder what they had against the man. Was it the plaid jackets? The pipe? The bald head?

What will the adjective of choice be when the current Bush goes, I wonder, and how monomaniacally euphemistic will it be?

Javert, Maybe

I'm a little wary of being on the same page as Christopher Hitchens, but he, too, seems sick of all Ford-related "healing" blather:
You may choose, if you wish, to parrot the line that Watergate was a "long national nightmare," but some of us found it rather exhilarating to see a criminal president successfully investigated and exposed and discredited. And we do not think it in the least bit nightmarish that the Constitution says that such a man is not above the law. Ford's ignominious pardon of this felonious thug meant, first, that only the lesser fry had to go to jail. It meant, second, that we still do not even know why the burglars were originally sent into the offices of the Democratic National Committee. In this respect, the famous pardon is not unlike the Warren Commission: another establishment exercise in damage control and pseudo-reassurance (of which Ford was also a member) that actually raised more questions than it answered. The fact is that serious trials and fearless investigations often are the cause of great division, and rightly so. But by the standards of "healing" celebrated this week, one could argue that O.J. Simpson should have been spared indictment lest the vexing questions of race be unleashed to trouble us again, or that the Tower Commission did us all a favor by trying to bury the implications of the Iran-Contra scandal. Fine, if you don't mind living in a banana republic.
Ouch! Hitchens also excoriates the Ford hagiography for downplaying some other inconvenient facts, not least being his support of Indonesia's genocidal 1975 invasion of East Timor. Alas that Hitchens is not as clear-headed when it comes to the Iraq war, but what the hell. Timothy Noah also has some spot-on reflections on the pardon, and I must say that his opening sentence is a humdinger:
In the days since Gerald Ford's death, so much praise has been heaped on the late president's blanket pardon to his predecessor, Richard Nixon, that you'd think Tricky Dick was Jean Valjean. These magnanimous pronouncements are a preening exercise in cost-free generosity three decades after the fact. They reflect little or no consideration of the merits of the pardon itself.

No new information has emerged during the past 32 years that makes Ford's pardon to Nixon look any more justifiable; indeed, what facts have dribbled forth make it seem less so...Nor can the pardon plausibly be considered an example of the bipartisan spirit for which Ford is justly, if too extravagantly, praised by Washington insiders. The pardon may have had the long-term effect of tamping down partisan warfare between Democrats and Republicans over a possible criminal trial (obstruction of justice would have been the likeliest charge), but when a Republican short-circuits prosecution of a fellow Republican, you can't call that bipartisanship. These logical obstacles help explain why people who defend the pardon today do so with vague language about how, in retrospect, it was better for the country to set rancor aside and move on.

Go ahead: just try to imagine a version of Les Miserables starring Richard Nixon as Jean Valjean. I dare you.

The Most Extraordinary Rendition of All

PZ Myers has my favorite take on Pat Robertson's recent claim that God told him that America would suffer a very bad terrorist attack "sometime after September" this year:
Hang on there. A possible nuclear attack by terrorists? We've heard this possibility discussed before as a justification for torture. Robertson knows something. Quick, call Kiefer Sutherland and let the waterboarding begin!

Once he breaks, he'll lead us to the terrorist mastermind (codename: Lord), and then we can send in a Ranger battalion to take him out.

Alas that this is only slightly less silly and convoluted than the average 24 plot.

Another Awesome Question

From Laurent Joffrin, apropos of the botched, bungled, and benighted execution of Saddam Hussein:
There is often a foundational crime at the origin of civilizations. But what kind of civilization hangs in the small hours of the morning, in a secret lean-to, filmed by the eye of a peeping camera, on the day of the biggest religious holiday? An act of justice was expected. We get a crime of civil war.
Count me as one of those people who, like Wallace Stevens's tree, is of at least three minds when it comes to Saddam's death. There's a part of me that rejoices at seeing a thug, tyrant, and liar hanging for his crimes—and that has a list of other political figures it frankly wouldn't mind seeing lined up at a scaffold. There's another part of me that rejects the death penalty as inherently barbaric—however awful the wrongdoer might be, and however large a savage thrill one might get from contemplating their demise. And there's another part of me that wonders what secrets Saddam took to the grave with him—secrets, perhaps, about just how much our own government did to prop him up and facilitate his thuggery—and whether such secrets are the real reason there was such a rush to hang him.

And now it looks like that rushed execution is going come back to haunt us. Can this administration do ANYTHING right?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

A Couple of Awesome Questions

The series of tubes known as the internets can be a good place to find answers, but lately I've been struck to the quick by a couple of questions I've run across there. And if there's one thing we've learned from Socrates, it's that questions are sometimes much more important than answers. The most recent (thanks to Atrios for the reminder) comes from the latest page of Get Your War On:
Do you think we'd still use sports metaphors to talk about war if baseball games ended with civilians' blown-up body parts strewn all over the field?
The other comes from Gavin at Sadly, No!, who voiced this utterly profound question after apparently snapping while responding to yet another in a long, long chain of wingnuts, Bushbloggers, and media whores:
What is wrong with us that makes you possible?
Man. Suddenly, I have a vision of that question flashing over and over from the side of a Goodyear blimp that crisscrosses the country and circles around and around at every big pro-war, pro-Bush, pro-Fox, pro-Limbaugh, pro-Hannity, pro-O'Reilly, pro-Beck, pro-Savage Weiner, etc. event:


I'm guessing the airspace in Washington is too constricted for such a thing to circle the White House—but Crawford?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Random Flickr Blogging #0101: Happy New Year Flickr Blogging

I've got to get on to some errands, not least of which is whomping up a mess of black-eyed peas, but here's a quick seven to start the new year.

Sure, Darth Vader could use his supersensory ex-Jedi powers to help him get around, but everyone else on the Death Star would be lost without the You Are Here kiosks.
At that moment, in his floating laboratory high in the stratosphere, Dr. Montopolis activated the Hypercleavatron, and Sarah suddenly found herself being pulled inexhorably upward.
The Hypercleavatron also caused havoc at the auto show.
And on the perch these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of toucans:
Look on my bill, ye mighty, and despair!"
Egrets. I've had a few.
(Yes, I'm aware that these are probably actually sandhill cranes. Shut up.)
Most of the swans knew to stay away from Koitown. "You're a long way from home, lung-breather."
To join the prestigious Shoko drummers of Japan, you need two things: an impeccable sense of rhythm and an almost superhuman tolerance for groin pulls.
Random Flickr Blogging explained here; photos from here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Happy New Year!


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