Saturday, August 20, 2005

We Listen So You Don't Have To

So I've started a new job recently, basically sitting in a corner of a warehouse entering data all day. Like all warehouses, it is dirty, smelly, and dangerous. Perhaps my previous forklift-driving experience will be utilized at some point.

This is not nearly as much fun as it sounds like. However, a job's a job, so my endeavor is to make the day somewhat more pleasant (or at least less unpleasant).

So I was at the Target the other day to get a little boom box for my little corner of heaven. As big-box behemoths go, Target is actually not bad at all -- compared to the narrow, vertiginous aisles and slovenly, trudging morlocks of Walmart, it's frickin' paradise. The people are friendlier, less likely to abruptly park their shopping cart in the middle of the lane like there's no one else there, and there's more room in general. Not that I mind bumping shoulders with strange milfs all that much, but they might mind having to work around me. Can't say as I blame them.

In front of me at the Target check-out line was an elderly man, purchasing a couple of toiletries and the ever-popular "Support Our Troops" magnetic ribbon. I couldn't really tell which version it was -- the sharing-with-others "I Support Out Troops" model, or the more imperative "I"-less iteration, which may as well have an exclamation point appended to it. Arbeit macht frei and all.

Anyway, rather than merely finding snappy ways to inveigh judgment on this poor man who had the misfortune to be within my sight range (O, tremble all ye vertebrates at the mighty snark of Heywood!), I simply found myself wondering why it had taken this man this long to take the plunge and decide that his magnetic opinion finally begged to be publicly registered. Seriously.

As I began lazily sifting through various motives -- none of which, at this late stage of the game, could possibly be all that accurate -- it occurred that I may have completely misread his intentions. Perhaps he had read of Cindy Sheehan's standoff in the Texas scrub, patiently waiting for something resembling an explanation from Preznit Nappy Time, and something had clicked for him. Maybe the situation made him scrutinize his feelings about US policy a bit more, and he had decided that, for him, supporting the troops meant bringing them home forthwith. Maybe he felt that the war and occupation would be over when they're over, but in the meantime, he still felt basic solidarity with his soldiers and countrymen, regardless of future circumstances.

I don't know; indeed, I'll never know. But it occurs to me that most of the pro-war folk have got theirs. Someone who has waited a couple years to say their piece and advertise their pet phrase may actually be approaching the whole thing from another perspective. Challenging assumptions, even with baseless speculation, can occasionally be somewhat constructive.

So I take my newly bought electronic bounty back to my OSHA-winked-at stall, to embark anew on wildly entertaining experiences with small-town radio media. Oh, frabjous day!

In the name of fairness and equanimity -- as well as the sheer lack of decent hard rock stations in the area that don't lard their programming with twenty fucking commercials every fucking hour -- I flipped it over to the enemy the last two mornings for intermittent bursts of spastic polemic.

In this area of California, the word "Rush" does not instantly connote extended song structures, or Geddy Lee singing about modern-day warriors and the temples of Syrinx. No, for most people here "Rush" automatically means the formerly-fat, oft-married, drug-addled dipshit who spouts nonsense in a passive-aggressive "I'm just a funny guy" palaver. Because he happens to do all this in a basso profundo and get paid a shitload of money for it, many folks tragically take this moron seriously.

Friends n' neighbors, I submit to you that you simply cannot appreciate the enormity of the task before you -- unfucking the political mentality of the average American -- until you force yourself to endure some of Oxycontin Limbaugh's peculiar verbal noodlings. It is seductive, it is pernicious, it provides the template currently in vogue across the jingosphere. It is a toxic gumbo of pejorative, demeaning names culled from Mad Magazine and repeated ad nauseam, tethered to the most cherry-picked sack of lies outside the NSA, all drenched in a gooey newspeak sauce, the better to convince all the proles that ignorance really is strength, that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

Unlike Sean Hannity, who is merely a shameless meat puppet who will say pretty much whatever his corporate masters tell him to; and unlike Michael Savage, who apparently gets paid by the aggregate amount of spittle puddled around his mic stand at the end of each show; Limbaugh is the undisputed leader of talk radio's Völksicher Beobachter movement. And it revolves around the simplest of all concepts -- one side is always right, and the other is always wrong, and their motives are invariably suspect. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Facts and events are largely orthogonal to the theater production -- the real strength is in impugning every deed and word of the opposition, as well as in the repetition of it all. It's essential to the bonding process Limbaugh initiates with his dittoheads; it's also essential when the stories and excuses in the talking points change, as they invariably do with this gang of shape-shifters.

So Cindy Sheehan and her fellow protesters, in the Limbaugh model of discourse, become a bunch of "squatters in a ditch", keeping poor Dear Leader from his daily diet of power naps and Little League games. Now more than ever, it's crucial for Limbaugh to characterize Sheehan as such; any less might draw attention to the fact that the Iraq approval polls have hovered in the mid-30s for several months, or that these ditch-squatters inspired over 1500 separate candlelight vigils across the country this past Wednesday night.

(Frankly, I can take or leave the feel-good ritualism of the candlelight vigil. It does nothing for me, pro or con. But that's just the way I'm wired. Some people enjoy parades; I honestly don't get the concept. They look like barely-concealed conformism and militarism to me. Still, when groups of people align in 1500 different towns across the country in a simultaneous show of support, that's not a few disenfranchised kooks; that's a movement in the offing. That's formalized discontent gaining momentum.)

There's no turning back for Limbaugh, O'Reilly, Malkin, and the rest of the Horst Wessel gang. Never mind that O'Reilly once swore to his viewers, in another of a long line of staged moments of heterodoxy, that he "will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again" in the absence of WMD; that was then and this is now. Never mind that a clear majority of the country understands where Cindy Sheehan is coming from and agrees with her, despite cheap shots at her appearance and desperate attempts to cast her as a Jew-baiter.

(Incidentally, if the media ever bother to do their jobs and get around to examining Larry Franklin's espionage, and the role that AIPAC plays in lobbying people like Doug Feith and Paul Wolfowitz, we'll see just how much of all that is actual Jew-baiting, and how much is really just good old-fashioned influence-peddling and foreign-policy meddling. Doesn't matter to me if they're Jewish or Presbyterian, Israeli or Norwegian, a crook's a crook.)

Another disconcerting and off-putting feature of Limbaugh's program is the sheer volume of commercial time -- much of which, in the time-loathed spirit of the equally-execrable Paul Harvey, is done by Limbaugh himself. I simply don't have the patience to sit through it all, but my rough estimation is that it appears to be a "10-5" model -- ten minutes of content, then five minutes of commercials. I guess the guy's gotta pay for his pills somehow.

On Wednesday morning's show, during a rant about how troops' morale is so fragile -- despite being allowed to take part in Dear Leader's Perfectly Planned Glorious Crusade Great War On Terror Grand Scheme Against Vietnam Entrenchment War O' Liberation -- that it surely cannot withstand repeated viewings of Cindy Sheehan's pained, rumpled visage interrupting the preznit's nappy time and bike ride, he took a rather poignant call.

The caller, "Debbie" from Indianapolis (the mention of which city prompted the ever-politically-incorrect Limbaugh to spout that since it was derived from the word "Indian", the NCAA was going to force a name change -- oh, megadittoes there, fatboy, way to stick it to, um, Whitey), prefaced her remarks with a tiresome anecdote about how her 13-year-old's first word -- before even "Mama" or "Dada" -- was "ditto". Oh, too charming by half, Deb.

Anyway, Debbie went on to to tell us that, like Cindy Sheehan, she too had a son in the Marines. Unlike Casey Sheehan, Debbie's son was still alive (though Debbie did offer that he and his platoon had run over two mines in one day at one point). Debbie, who by this point was nearly sobbing into her phone, went on to declaim Cindy Sheehan for her Crawford standoff, insisting that it undermined the dignity of people serving in the military, as well as that of the fallen.

Naturally, Limbaugh was enamored of the poignancy of Debbie's call -- so much so that he replayed the entire exchange on Thursday morning's show -- and I certainly don't doubt her sincerity. But as we've discussed, sincerity is a non-issue. Cindy Sheehan is also sincere. She also happens to have facts and context on her side, putative Jew-baiting notwithstanding.

What it boils down to is this: Limbaugh -- and Debbie, for that matter -- have characterized Sheehan's stand as some sort of template which all must abide by. Sheehan has said nothing of the kind; she has said that she wants an explanation for her son, and by association, perhaps a preponderance of American citizens would also like to hear this explanation. If Debbie doesn't want to hear the hamster wheel clicking while Dear Leader thumbs through his mental Rolodex for his usual rafts of shopworn Freedy McFreederton boilerplate, she doesn't have to listen. Debbie and the rest of them are entirely welcome to continue to believe in the ever-shifting excuses and rationales for this fucking mess.

But that has fuck-all to do with who Cindy Sheehan "speaks for". At the very least, she speaks for herself. As for her efforts to ventriloquize the intents and wishes of her fallen son, they seem far more realistic and far less offensively speculative than those of O'Reilly or Malkin or Limbaugh.

And that's because they don't want to admit -- can't admit -- that when all's said and done, despite their false ministrations and puny team-building rhetoric, they are wrong and they know it. They know goddamned well that they liberated Iraqis from a tyrant only to leave them to the moo-lahs. They know that despite our genuine efforts to democratize Afghanistan, we were all too eager to leave the majority of that misbegotten country to the foul warlord culture that nurtured animals like the Taliban in the first place.

They know that, despite Dear Leader's armchair-general efforts to cow Iran and North Korea by hitting the "low-hanging fruit", those countries have been emboldened by our flailing in Iraq, and have taken advantage of the opporunity to radically accelerate their nuclear programs. They know that, in the face of Bush's strutting bluster about how "all options were still on the table" with regard to dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions, that Russia, still a power player with very serious interests in that region, called his bluff:

Russia warned on Wednesday against using force to stop Iran's nuclear program, saying any such action would have grave and unpredictable consequences.

"We favor further dialogue and consider the use of force in Iran counter-productive and dangerous, something which can have grave and hardly predictable consequences," said a statement posted on the ministry's Web site


Earlier this month U.S. President George W. Bush said military force remained a last resort to press Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

"We consider that problems concerning Iran's nuclear activities should be solved through political and diplomatic means, on the basis of international law and Tehran's close cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency," the Russian statement said.

So much for the Pooty-Poot lovefest, eh? It's all of a piece -- Bush is a petty, smug little man who thinks he can get his way with swagger and bluster, which explains his popularity with hacks like Limbaugh and O'Reilly, who after all are clearly like-minded people. I don't know who the fuck is actually fooled by that stupid shit -- clearly neither the Iranians nor the Russians are.

They can send their attack dogs after Cindy Sheehan all they want; most people recognize her few missteps as something to be expected from people who aren't professional media whores, but rather truly regular people. She's not a pretend reg'lar guy like George W. Bush, she's a normal person who had a normal life, raising kids and doing charitable work for the Catholic laity, until the Vulcans had this bright idea to fuck everything up for Jeebus.

So the conservabot commentariat know all these things, but they are stuck with this chump. It's their job -- for which they are very well paid, despite their delusions of persecution -- to feed and water the plants and vegetables who tune them in, to dole out a daily dose of bullshit to the ruminants milling in the kraal. Limbaugh in particular likes to pretend that he's "educating" people, but he's really indoctrinating them, inculcating them.

And no matter how many more documents get released demonstrating that this administration is a toxic swill of incompetence and corruption, there is still a subset of cretin that has become so addled by the bullshit shoveled by Limbaugh and friends, there's just no getting to them.

But most people are in the middle, and they can be reasoned with. The facts are on the side of the opposition, seeing as how the party in power has no use for them. It is incumbent upon the Democrats to recognize these facts, and secure Bush's failures as the albatross they surely are.

Last night's return of Real Time With Bill Maher was certainly welcome. I found myself very impressed with Paul Hackett. Hackett was a last-minute substitution for Cindy Sheehan, as Sheehan had to hustle back home to care for her ailing mother. As it turns out, Hackett will prove to have been the better choice anyway. Eventually Sheehan has to go back home for good and try to get on with her life, and the people who are currently so outraged about her will forget her name by Christmas.

Hackett, on the other hand, has a real political future ahead of him -- he's funny, smart, engaged, and unafraid to speak his mind. I found myself wishing he'd run for something out here. I'd love to replace a treacherous, servile enabler like Dianne Feinstein with a pit bull like Hackett. If the Democratic Party is going to survive and thrive and return to its lost glories, it needs more Paul Hacketts, pure and simple. This is the future of the party, folks.

I was initially thrilled to see Chris Rock on the panel; for some reason, I have always had an affinity for black comedians, starting with Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor, and culminating in Rock and Dave Chappelle. I don't know if it's a different sense of pacing and comic timing, or just the nothing-left-to-lose mentality of sticking it to The Man. Suffice to say that Rock's Bring The Pain was this generation's Live At The Sunset Strip, as far as I'm concerned. Rock has real chops and timing, and when he's on top of his game, he's almost unbeatable.

And when Rock first opened his mouth to spout off about gas prices, it was funny. Republican hacks Kellyanne Conway (who looks like nine miles of bad road these days) and Asa Hutchinson were busily trying to massage Dear Leader's incoherent policies into something palatable to the coveted triple-digit IQ demographic, and Rock plopped the "gas price" shtick right in the middle of it, throwing the two elves off their game.

Problem was, it was pretty much all Rock had to say all night -- gas prices are too fuckin' high. Well, yeah, don't I know it. I just paid forty fuckin' dollars to fill up my Honda Accord so I can commute 30 miles each way to the daily fuckin' grind. But hey, Chris, what are you driving? Why do I get the feeling that it's much more likely to be a Hummer or an Escalade than a Prius? And if that's the case, then you're part of the fuckin' problem, buddy. Even if the entire Middle East resolves itself back-to-front overnight, we still can't get around the simple math. We still have to be proactive about reducing aggregate consumption and waste now. Even if we start drilling in ANWR tomorrow and it turns out to have 10 times as much oil as we thought; even if Iran and Saudi Arabia suddenly reject their oppressive sectarian cultures and proclaim their undying love for us.

Even if gas prices drop by a buck tomorrow. That's how serious, how imminent this problem has become. Peak oil means, quite literally, that we'll never have any more oil than we do right now; it's all downhill from here.

I don't care that Chris Rock is "just" a comic. I think that's a cop-out. Jon Stewart has engaged in a similar cop-out whenever people refer to The Daily Show. You cannot have as many professional politicians and historians and serious people as they have as guests, and not have a desire to do serious commentary. I think TDS does serious commentary; pointing out the absurd hypocrisies of the people in power is a valuable service that the mainstream network media simply has no interest in providing. Just because it's presented in a humorous and entertaining format doesn't mitigate its value.

I think Jon Stewart should embrace his role in the punditocracy, rather than try to dodge or run from it. No one expects him to be Peter Jennings, but TDS has really struck a cultural nerve, and they've done it with mostly fact-based satirical commentary. It's news, just as surely as anything George Orwell wrote was news. Stewart tragically downplays his role, but with creatures like Nancy Grace and Rita Cosby mucking up the "serious" news channels with their pernicious nonsense, it's an opportunity to step up and assert himself.

Perhaps it's just Stewart's way of not getting too precious about it all. That's fine, but he and his cohorts should know that they are appreciated, that we do in fact get the absurdity of it all, that we don't just regard what they're doing as just another comedy show.

So neither Jon Stewart nor Chris Rock are absolved by the nature of their occupations. Maher is a good example of this; he has never shied away from being topical and engaged in his material. He understands that there's no drop-down in a mere "comic" doing serious commentary -- indeed, that's where a lot of the real deep cultural mining is going on, particularly in this era of tiresome slacker post-irony.

Back to Maher's show last night, in which the final guest was none other than Phyllis Schlafly, looking not unlike a wizened Ronald McDonald in an ornate buttressed wig roughly the color of a baboon's ass. Schlafly was there to pimp her book, yet another exhaustively moronic tract insisting that the Ten Commandments are the basis for all Western thought and judicial ethos. As Maher rightly pointed out that only two of the commandments -- stealing and killing, obviously -- are even illegal, Schlafly trotted out the injunction against bearing false witness, as if 3 out of 10 made her point for her where a mere two just wouldn't do it.

It's the typical mindless emo-boilerplate, perpetuated by these pearl-clutching ninnies who can't understand why it's such a bad idea to make the whole country believe in their invisible friend -- an irritating habit in a six-year-old, but infuriating in people who are supposed to be adults. We get it lady, you have an invisible friend and you rilly rilly like him. Good for you. Now either fetch me a beer, or get the fuck out of my face already.

I didn't think he'd actually do it, but Maher launched the "gay son" Scud on Schlafly, as her son's deviant lifestyle is fairly well-known among people who have acquainted themselves with Schlafly's incessant idiocy. Nice touch.

Undaunted, Schlafly grimaced and kept pimpin' away. At that point, Maher should have just started interjecting random graphic descriptions of gay sex. "So, do you think your son -- the fruit of your blessed loins -- spits or swallows? Do you think he's ever pulled a train at a Fire Island mixer? Do you ever wonder whether he lets his husband come in his ass, or if he makes him pull out and drop his load on his back?" That sort of thing. Fuck these people.

Anyway, nice to see Maher back -- like Jon Stewart, an oasis of unflinching reality and sanity in an increasingly insane and intellectually dishonest commentariat. It's a welcome antidote to Tweety Matthews' schmoozefests with Norah "Newsmilf #1079" O'Donnell and the effervescent Bobo, pegging the bullshit meter on a weekly basis.

[update: Frank Rich's latest column pretty much nails all the same points. But hey, I prefaced mine with a nice rambling story. More value for your entertainment dollar -- that's the Hammer Promise.]

The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan's story, not the mother who symbolizes it. Cindy Sheehan's bashers, you'll notice, almost never tell her son's story. They are afraid to go there because this young man's life and death encapsulate not just the noble intentions of those who went to fight this war but also the hubris, incompetence and recklessness of those who gave the marching orders.

Specialist Sheehan was both literally and figuratively an Eagle Scout: a church group leader and honor student whose desire to serve his country drove him to enlist before 9/11, in 2000. He died with six other soldiers on a rescue mission in Sadr City on April 4, 2004, at the age of 24, the week after four American security workers had been mutilated in Falluja and two weeks after he arrived in Iraq. This was almost a year after the president had declared the end of "major combat operations" from the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln.

According to the account of the battle by John F. Burns in The Times, the insurgents who slaughtered Specialist Sheehan and his cohort were militiamen loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American Shiite cleric. The Americans probably didn't stand a chance. As Mr. Burns reported, members of "the new Iraqi-trained police and civil defense force" abandoned their posts at checkpoints and police stations "almost as soon as the militiamen appeared with their weapons, leaving the militiamen in unchallenged control."


Casey Sheehan's death in Iraq could not be more representative of the war's mismanagement and failure, but it is hardly singular. Another mother who has journeyed to Crawford, Celeste Zappala, wrote last Sunday in New York's Daily News of how her son, Sgt. Sherwood Baker, was also killed in April 2004 - in Baghdad, where he was providing security for the Iraq Survey Group, which was charged with looking for W.M.D.'s "well beyond the admission by David Kay that they didn't exist."

As Ms. Zappala noted with rage, her son's death came only a few weeks after Mr. Bush regaled the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association banquet in Washington with a scripted comedy routine featuring photos of him pretending to look for W.M.D.'s in the Oval Office. "We'd like to know if he still finds humor in the fabrications that justified the war that killed my son," Ms. Zappala wrote. (Perhaps so: surely it was a joke that one of the emissaries Mr. Bush sent to Cindy Sheehan in Crawford was Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser who took responsibility for allowing the 16 errant words about doomsday uranium into the president's prewar State of the Union speech.)

Mr. Bush's stand-up shtick for the Beltway press corps wasn't some aberration; it was part of the White House's political plan for keeping the home front cool. America was to yuk it up, party on and spend its tax cuts heedlessly while the sacrifice of an inadequately manned all-volunteer army in Iraq was kept out of most Americans' sight and minds. This is why the Pentagon issued a directive at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom forbidding news coverage of "deceased military personnel returning to or departing from" air bases. It's why Mr. Bush, unlike Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, has not attended funeral services for the military dead. It's why January's presidential inauguration, though nominally dedicated to the troops, was a gilded $40 million jamboree at which the word Iraq was banished from the Inaugural Address.

THIS summer in Crawford, the White House went to this playbook once too often. When Mr. Bush's motorcade left a grieving mother in the dust to speed on to a fund-raiser, that was one fat-cat party too far. The strategy of fighting a war without shared national sacrifice has at last backfired, just as the strategy of Swift Boating the war's critics has reached its Waterloo before Patrick Fitzgerald's grand jury in Washington. The 24/7 cable and Web attack dogs can keep on sliming Cindy Sheehan. The president can keep trying to ration the photos of flag-draped caskets. But this White House no longer has any more control over the insurgency at home than it does over the one in Iraq.

Exactly. If the opposition had half the persistence and consistency that the demons of the administration have, you'd have a real discussion of the issues at hand, because people would be up in arms about this shit. This simply cannot stand anymore. Anyone who is genuinely concerned with what the plan of action is, what the true goals are and how they are supposed to be achieved, and whether leaving Iraq in the hands of medieval imams is really what we went over there to accomplish -- people who really care about those issues past the constant lies and obfuscations from these bastards need to decide which side they're on and get with the program.

The administration and their media minions certainly understand the principle of "divide and conquer", hopefully the Democrats learn it over the next 15 months. Enough with the cat-herding -- now is the time to get the message out, and do it with conviction.


pseudolus said...

Well, H, you posted a great one here. Yet another bookmark for me. You covered a lot of ground, but I didn't wander away. You hooked me early and played me to the end.

Another link to email to my fence riding friends.


Remonster said...

Wow! OK so this is what an under- employed English Major does with all that education. Much appreciated form this war profiteer working in Baghdad.

ah Salaam,

Heywood J. said...


Thanks for sticking with it. I almost broke it up into two posts because of the sheer length, but decided to go with my gut. Glad you hung in there.


I have one (1) year of college under my belt from twenty years ago, and my major was Business Administration. I had to drop out and join the working world. Such is life.

I'm under-employed because this area, while relatively cheap to live in, is that way because there are very few good jobs.

If you are actually in Baghdad -- whether you're a soldier, or just a guy over there as a private contractor because everything in your hometown got outsourced to Bangalore -- good luck to you. Stay safe. Come home in one piece.

Whatever my level of sheer hostility to the reckless bastards that started this shit, it doesn't trickle down in the slightest to the people that actually have to be there and deal with it. Keep that in mind.

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