James WolcottJames Wolcott
James Wolcott is a VANITY FAIR contributing editor
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"Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war."
Posted by James Wolcott

As the champions of freedom and democracy twirl on hill and dale like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, Eliot Weinberger in The London Review of Books has the poor taste to remind us how we got to elections held under military occupation and curfew. It's a mosaic of forget-me-nots that too many have forgotten, a litany of shriveled lies...

"I heard the president say that Iraq is ‘a threat of unique urgency’, and that there is ‘no doubt the Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised’.

"I heard the vice president say: ‘Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction.’

"I heard the president tell Congress: ‘The danger to our country is grave. The danger to our country is growing. The regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.’

"I heard him say: ‘The dangers we face will only worsen from month to month and from year to year. To ignore these threats is to encourage them. Each passing day could be the one on which the Iraqi regime gives anthrax or VX nerve gas or, some day, a nuclear weapon to a terrorist ally.’

"I heard the president, in the State of the Union address, say that Iraq was hiding materials sufficient to produce 25,000 litres of anthrax, 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin, and 500 tons of sarin, mustard and nerve gas."


"I heard Colin Powell say: ‘I’m absolutely sure that there are weapons of mass destruction there and the evidence will be forthcoming. We’re just getting it now.’

"I heard the president say: ‘We’ll find them. It’ll be a matter of time to do so.’

"I heard Donald Rumsfeld say: ‘We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad, and east, west, south and north, somewhat.’

"I heard the US was building 14 ‘enduring bases’, capable of housing 110,000 soldiers, and I heard Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt call them ‘a blueprint for how we could operate in the Middle East’. I heard that the US was building what would be its largest embassy anywhere in the world.

"I heard that it would only be a matter of months before Starbucks and McDonald’s opened branches in Baghdad. I heard that HSBC would have cash machines all over the country.

"I heard about the trade fairs run by New Bridges Strategies, a consulting firm that promised access to the Iraqi market. I heard one of its partners say: ‘Getting the rights to distribute Procter & Gamble would be a gold mine. One well-stocked 7-Eleven could knock out 30 Iraqi stores. A Wal-Mart could take over the country.’

"On 1 May 2003, I heard the president, dressed up as a pilot, under a banner that read ‘Mission Accomplished’, declare that combat operations were over: ‘The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on 11 September 2001.’ I heard him say: ‘The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We’ve removed an ally of al-Qaida, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more. In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused and deliberate and proportionate to the offence. We have not forgotten the victims of 11 September: the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.’

"On 1 May 2003, I heard that 140 American soldiers had died in combat in Iraq.

"I heard Richard Perle tell Americans to ‘relax and celebrate victory’. I heard him say: ‘The predictions of those who opposed this war can be discarded like spent cartridges.’"


"I heard Donald Rumsfeld say: ‘We never believed that we’d just tumble over weapons of mass destruction.’

"I heard Condoleezza Rice say: ‘We never expected we were going to open garages and find them.’

"I heard Donald Rumsfeld say: ‘They may have had time to destroy them, and I don’t know the answer.’

"I heard Richard Perle say: ‘We don’t know where to look for them and we never did know where to look for them. I hope this will take less than two hundred years.’"


"I heard about the wedding party that was attacked by American planes, killing 45 people, and the wedding photographer who videotaped the festivities until he himself was killed. And though the tape was shown on television, I heard Brigadier-General Kimmitt say: ‘There was no evidence of a wedding. There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too.’

"I heard an Iraqi man say: ‘I swear I saw dogs eating the body of a woman.’

"I heard an Iraqi man say: ‘We have at least 700 dead. So many of them are children and women. The stench from the dead bodies in parts of the city is unbearable.’

"I heard Donald Rumsfeld say: ‘Death has a tendency to encourage a depressing view of war.’"

Depends on whose deaths, I suppose.

01.31.05 2:45PM · LINK

Radioactive Afterglow
Posted by James Wolcott

Yesterday on one of the Fox financial shows, James Rogers, author of Investment Biker, commodities guru, and neighbor-down-the-block (an utterly irrelevant detail I thought I'd toss in to make this blog sound more "personal"), was asked by host Neil Cavuto whether the elections in Iraq would be successful. Rogers said, "They'll be successful because the media will say they're successful," adding impishly, "Fox News probably already has the results."

Rogers was right. Barring catastrophic violence, the media was prepared to hail the elections as a triumphant day for Democracy. Despite all the talk about the Liberal Media playing spoilsport and wanting the elections to fail (a syndicated cartoon strip--State of the Union, by Carl Moore, the worst scrawler ever to pick up an eyeliner pencil and doodle in the dark, depicted "the liberal media" trying to stomp out the balloting in league with Arab tyrants and terrorists), the coverage yesterday was resolutely upbeat and near-ecstatic today. Yesterday, CNN had cameras around the U.S. where Iraqi expats were voting...one correspondent mentioned that only 26,000 Iraqi exiles out of nearly a quarter million eligible to vote even bothered to register, a remark completely ignored by the glossy, Desperate Housewives-looking anchor, who chirped something about the "pride" beaming from every face. Dan Rather couldn't have sounded more positive about what was unfolding, talking about the blue ink on the thumbs of voters bearing the indelible sign of freedom, etc., not that such inspirational talk will do him a damn bit of good with his fanged detractors. Peter Jennings also highlighted the most positive developments taking place, with none of the raised eyebrows or sardonic undertones for which he's always accused. No, despite all the talk of the Liberal Media or the MSM sympathizing with the insurgents and rooting for disaster, the coverage was geared for good news. Robert Fisk, in the Independent UK:

"The media boys and girls will be expected to play along with this. 'Transition of power,' says the hourly logo on CNN’s live coverage of the election, though the poll is for a parliament to write a constitution and the men who will form a majority within it will have no power.

"They have no control over their oil, no authority over the streets of Baghdad, let alone the rest of the country, no workable army or loyal police force. Their power is that of the American military and its 150,000 soldiers whom we could see at the main Baghdad intersections yesterday.

"The big television networks have been given a list of five polling stations where they will be 'allowed' to film. Close inspection of the list shows that four of the five are in Shia Muslim areas – where the polling will probably be high – and one in an upmarket Sunni area where it will be moderate. Every working class Sunni polling station will be out of bounds to the press. I wonder if the television lads will tell us that today when they show voters 'flocking' to the polls."

They did just that.

Which is not to take away from the bravery of the Iraqi people who did make it to the polls, particularly in the most dangerous cities. As Chris Albritton concludes in Back to Iraq, today was a symbolic victory for the Iraqi people over the bombers and beheaders. Indeed, their example should shame Americans, who have curled up into a fetal position with cowardice since 9/11, wanting to the state to make them feel "safe" no matter what the cost to civil liberties and personal freedom here and abroad.

What I dread is how this day will be used by the new centurions. The Iranian blogger Hoder, with whom I had the pleasure to lunch when he visited New York (something I haven't mentioned previously, for worry it would ruin his rep and get him de-linked by certain sulky bloggers), sensibly, succinctly observes today, "On the one hand I'm really excited that Iraqi people have been able to start the path to a potentially democratic political system, on the other hand I'm really upset that this will embolden neoconservatives and will be seen as a confirmation of their dangerous plans for the world."

The Iraqization of Iraq, the democratization of Iran--it's all part of the same endless, widening bombing run.

P.S. "WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States has rebuffed pleas to join a European diplomatic drive to persuade Iran to give up any ambitions to add nuclear bombs to its arsenal, U.S. officials and foreign diplomats say." Yahoo! News

01.30.05 1:51PM · LINK

Exciting Update
Posted by James Wolcott

I can now report that Fox News is adding a new regular to the roster of its upcoming show Feith and Friends. The latest member of Doug Feith's new TV family is Donald Luskin, resident economist at National Review Online. In a press release still in the draft stage, Roger Ailes hails his latest acquisition, crowing that a program hosted by "the stupidest fucking guy on the face of the earth" deserves a financial guru who has been designated "the stupidest fucking economist in the world."

Certainly Brad DeLong and Pandagon wouldn't quarrel with that high estimate of Donald Luskin's duncehood. But I'm not sure Luskin brings anything fresh to the Feith and Friends lineup, apart from the ability to point his finger whenever he accuses Paul Krugman of something dastardly. I fear that Ailes may be going Freddie Silverman on us, and Feith and Friends could prove to be his Supertrain. A programming genius, Silverman was said to be blessed with a "golden gut." But a golden gut only lasts so long before it gives out, done in by too many pizzas.

01.27.05 1:10PM · LINK

New Gig for Dumb Guy
Posted by James Wolcott

As many of you learned today over your outmeal, Douglas Feith has left his job as Undersecretary of the Defense Department and Neocon Call Boy, news which has brought mild rapture to the left side of blogland.

However, I can exclusively report that the Pentagon's gain is broadcasting's loss. According to my highly placed imaginary sources in a certain skyscraper on Sixth Avenue, Feith has just been signed by Fox News, which intends to build a weekend show around him called "Feith and Friends."

Breaking the news to the wage slaves and overpaid hosts at Fox, Roger Ailes said, "When I heard that General Tommy Franks had described Feith as 'the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the planet,' I knew he was the man for us." Ailes took a George Burns draw on his cigar. "But I was also taken aback, since I thought we already had the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the planet listed on our payroll," he said, stealing a sly glance at Sean Hannity, who jovially quipped, "I guess that makes me the second fucking stupidest guy on the planet!" "And me, third!" piped up Cal Thomas.

Morale is very high at Fox News these days. They're swearing like sailors over there.

Asked whom the "friends" on Feith and Friends might be, Ailes said he was already in contact with Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher. "A black conservative on the take, a white woman on the take, and the fucking stupidest guy on the planet--sounds like the right mix to me. Certainly no one can say Fox News isn't doing its part for multiculturalism," Ailes chortled, leaving the cafeteria staff no choice but to join in.

Me, I think power and success have gone to Roger Ailes' cigar-smoke-filled head. Doug Feith has an annoying voice and in his Senate testimonies never displayed any talent for bantering with sidekicks or getting off a clever ad lib. Even on television, being stupid isn't enough; you've got to have other things going for you, too.

01.27.05 10:29AM · LINK

Dubya's Zippity Do-Dah Day
Posted by James Wolcott

At NRO's Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez is impressed by the endorphin surge President Bush displayed during his press conference today.

"I only saw parts of it so I'm not going to be particularly helpful in relaying specifics--but, wow was he in a good mood. You almost get the impression he enjoys doing these now.
Posted at 11:14 AM"

Scroll down a bit and you'll see two earlier entries from the gal they call K'Lo.

"31 DIE [KJL]
in a Marine helicopter crash in Iraq.
Posted at 09:43 AM

W is holding a press conference at 10 a.m.
Posted at 09:39 AM"

Ponder that a moment. The White House announces a press conference in the morning. After the announcement comes the news that 31 Americans died in a chopper crash in Iraq (6 others died today in seperate incidents). The president takes the podium fresh with the knowledge of that tragedy--and radiates a cheerful disposition bantering with the press about senior citizens and their faulty memories. She can't see something scarily wrong with that? She doesn't spot some sort of emotional disturbance or disconnect? Imagine if Bill Clinton had been chirpy and chipper having just received the news of 31 soldiers dying in the theater of combat--Rush Limbaugh would have devoted three hours to it, and Fox News would have dragged Dick Morris out of the all-you-can-eat buffet for his "expert analysis."

When Bush did address the soldiers' deaths, he said that we "weep and mourn" when Americans die, but as he was saying it his hand was flatly smacking downwards for emphasis, as if he were pounding the table during the business meeting, refusing to pay a lot for a muffler. The steady beat of his hand was at odds with the sentiments he was expressing--he didn't look or sound the least bit mournful or sombre. And why should he? Death doesn't seem to be a bringdown for him. There isn't the slightest evidence that he experiences the anguish LBJ did as casualties mounted in Vietnam. His record as chief executioner in Texas is of a man for whom the death of another is an administrative detail, a power exercise. As Sister Helen Prejean wrote in The New York Review of Books:

"As governor, Bush certainly did not stand apart in his routine refusal to deny clemency to death row petitioners, but what does set him apart is the sheer number of executions over which he...presided. Callous indifference to human suffering may also set Bush apart. He may be the only government official to mock a condemned person's plea for mercy [Karla Faye Tucker's], then lie about it afterward, claiming humane feelings he never felt. On the contrary, it seems that Bush is comfortable with using violent solutions to solve troublesome social and political realities."

Comfortable, hell, he's downright enthusiastic about it. He's so cocky now that he can't even fake a semblance of sorrow after hearing news that would have made most presidents turn ashen.

01.26.05 6:13PM · LINK

Posted by James Wolcott

Lance Mannion justly questions my characterization of director John Ford as a "conservative coot." This may have been too reductive, though most histories of Hollywood chart a rightward drift in Ford from The Grapes of Wrath to the blacklist era, where he was in the conservative camp along with Wayne, Ward Bond, Adophe Menjou, and others. But it's probably not fair to consider him a conservative in the way the term is used today; he was a more roiled, contradictary figure. One of the reasons it's hard to get a bead on Ford's politics and personal outook on life is that so much has been read into his films posthumously. Too much, probably. I'm suspicious of the unsettled depths that auteurist critics discern in Ford's work because the evidence is that Ford's mind was not a reflective one, but one belonging to a lazy, repetitive, four-square artist.

In an interview that appears in his collection Negative Space, Manny Farber says:

"In a Ford movie, the star is always in the center of the screen telling you what the point of the scene is, ...and these beautiful physical specimens have all this leisure time to glory in being themselves--John Wayne or Jimmy Stewart in lousy costumes.

"...they're like stamps--George Washington--they're right there, they're not going to move an inch, and you know Ford doesn't give a fuck about the country out there, that's why he used those goddamn mesas over and over again: it hid the fact that he couldn't care less about the West. It was an escape hatch."

Admittedly, I'm prejudiced against Ford. I've never liked his Westerns that much, I hate all the corny, boisterous Irish horseplay in his films, and consider The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence one of the the great overpraised sawdust exhibitions, agreeing with David Thomson that the culture's embrace of its most famous line--"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend"--betrays the truthtelling spirit of movies, for all their mythologizing. "Adherence to legend at the expense of facts will ruin America--the work is well under way."

The only John Ford movie I can watch repeatedly is a minor WWII actioner with melancholy overtones called They Were Expendable, which has a beautifully quiet performance by Robert Montgomery. Wayne's pretty damn good in it too.

01.26.05 11:43AM · LINK

Maple Sugaring
Posted by James Wolcott

My Vanity Fair column on The L Word and related grapplings is online here, though why you would read something online instead of delving into the more abundant riches of the magazine itself is beyond me. Once The L Word begins its new season on Showtime, I will be blogging regularly on the show that fascinates me so.

In a related development, AP has an item about Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denouncing PBS "for spending public money on a cartoon with lesbian characters, saying many parents would not want children exposed to such lifestyles."

The cartoon was Postcards from Buster, a frolic with which I'm unfamiliar. Buster is a bunny who makes an unexplained excursion to Vermont, a state which recognizes civil unions. Up there the cottontail meets two lesbian couples, "although," the AP dispatch dryly notes, "the focus is on farm life and maple sugaring."

A PBS spokesman said the it had decided not to distribute the episode to its nearly 350 stations, but that the Education Dept's complaint had nothing to do with its decision.

Oh yeah, right.

01.26.05 11:27AM · LINK

Just Say No
Posted by James Wolcott

Daily Kos features a rollcall of bloggers opposed to the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General.

Count me in.

Alberto Gonzales is a careerist jellyfish who genuflects before presidential prerogative and has never betrayed a trace of intellectual distinction or moral integrity. He helped grease the assembly-line execution apparatus of the great state of Texas when Bush was governor by omitting in his clemency memos facts relating to poor counsel, mental incompetence, even evidence of innocence. Quoting from The Atlantic's report on Gonzales's clemency memos, Nat Hentoff wrote in The Village Voice:

"One of the cases in the article was that of 'Terry Washington, a mentally retarded thirty-three-year-old man with the communication skills of a seven-year-old.' In his three-page report on Terry Washington, Gonzales never mentioned that Washington, as a child, along with his 10 siblings, was 'regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts.' And this was never made known to the jury, although both the district attorney and Washington's trial lawyer knew of this potentially mitigating evidence.' Just hours after Gonzales's brief report to Bush, Washington was executed.

"In the July 20, 2003, Washington Post, Peter Carlson wrote, 'It's hard not to conclude that both Gonzales and Bush were rather callous, even cavalier, about the most profound decision any government official can make—the decision to kill another human being.' And now Gonzales will be our chief law enforcement officer."

Not without a fight, he won't.

01.25.05 9:31PM · LINK

Slow as Joelasses
Posted by James Wolcott

SCTV once did a parody of Perry Como called "Perry Coma," in which the sweatered crooner warbled while flat on his back, promoting his upcoming musical special, "Perry Coma: Still Alive."

I thought of Perry Coma today while watching Senator Joe Lieberman in inaction. He's always sounded deeply drowsy, but today his vital signs seemed to slip into the danger zone that barely separates us from the undead.

He propped himself up to drone his support for the nomination of Condi Rice as Secretary of Clueless, arguing that we should celebrate the breakthrough confirmation of an African-American woman for such a powerful post, even though her being African-American and a woman were irrelevant to her qualifications. Then why bring it up? I suppose it's progress of a sort when a duplicitous incompetent can be promoted regardless of race or gender--I can hear Don King jubilating, "Only in America!"--but it ought to make for a muted celebration. Sleepy Joe also argued that partisanship should end at the nation's shores when the country is engaged in global war on terror, which is counseling Democrats to commit self-emasculation. They did that during Bush's first term, and look at the good it did.

On the domestic front, another war is being waged, a war against curse words and blatant nipplage.

"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Legislation aimed at raising fines tenfold for indecent acts on broadcast television and radio is due to be unveiled on Wednesday by Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, his spokesman Aaron Groote said on Tuesday.

"Brownback's legislation would raise the maximum possible fine to $325,000 per violation with a maximum of $3 million per continuing violation, according to a draft of the measure obtained by Reuters on Tuesday. The maximum now is $32,500 per violation.

"Lawmakers and Federal Communications Commission officials have been seeking significantly higher fines as a way to deter broadcasters after a rash of incidents, including nudity and profanity on television."

Five senators are co-sponsoring Brownback's bill, four Republicans and a Democrat. Guess who the Democrat is.

01.25.05 6:49PM · LINK

Hands Across America
Posted by James Wolcott

Previously, I tendered the explanation that the reason warbloggers like the term "Fisking" was because it sounded like "fisting" and got their thin libidinal juices going, and sure enough: On CNN, a craftily designed hologram named Hugh Hewitt enlightened the interviewer, "Just this weekend, Tim Blair, an Australian blogger, a very good blogger, took a 'Washington Post' piece that was completely silly--and the term is fist--destroyed it, deconstructed it, proved that it was all spin." Alfafacited this comment with approval, then went behind the barn to be alone for a few minutes. It's all too tres, tres sordide.

01.25.05 5:51PM · LINK

Foiled Again
Posted by James Wolcott

Frowny day for cultural warriors. They had been hoping that Fahrenheit 9/11 would be nominated for best pic Oscar so that they could rise on their hind legs and j'accuse Hollywood liberals for hating America, then lick their chops over Michael Moore's possible acceptance speech, storing up their indignation for the big event. Fox News was a-twitter the day of the People's Choice Awards--awards only those with unable to spell their own name and count to ten on their fingers would care about. The day of the broadcast they previewed the event, running items about how Moore's fans reportedly had stuffed the internet box so that he would win, and what he might say at the podium to make news. Over at NRO's Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez, who donated her brain to science pre-death and has to make do with a backup generator, settled in to live-blog the festivities, "waiting for a Moore-Gibson showdown," since Gibson would be in attendance for The Passion, also in contention that night.

To her disappointment, the showdown never came. Indeed, to the dismay of conservative bloglodytes, Gibson made comradely comments about Moore in the press room afterwards, saying he felt "a strange kinship" with him. Moore returned the compliments. This shouldn't have been a shock. What cultural-rube Hollywood haters don't understand is that there is a fraternal order among filmmakers, whatever their political stripes. That's why a nihilist and Nixon-hater like Sam Peckinpah could pay homage to a conservative coot and classicist like John Ford. Why a Republican like Clint Eastwood has no problem compunction working with lefties like Sean Penn and Tim Robbins. Talented people respect talent. They have larger spirits than the political pundits that glom on to them.

And now the cultural samurai have been robbed of the opportunity to pit Fahrenheit 9/11 against The Passion in the Academy Awards, or to foam that the first was nominated and the latter not. Neither was nominated for best pic. On cable news today, some of the usual suspects tried to whip up ire over The Passion not getting the top nod--Pat Buchanan will be fulminating tonight--and how this proves how Hollywood slights Christians, but it all seemed rather going-through-the-motions-ish. Since neither The Passion nor Fahrenheit 9/11 got nominated, it's hard to argue a political bias at work.

What's clear is that the Academy voters weren't interested in being caught up in another bout of controversy, being used for political badmitton. So they opted out. They turned their attention to honoring achievement, and the nominations are mostly sensible and just, if unsurprising. At least there won't be a Roberto Benigno to embarrass us (it's still a crime that he won for Life Is Beautiful and Ian McKellan didn't for Gods and Monsters). My only quarrel would have been with the noms for the overpraised Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a grubby, pretentious shambles--Dennis Potterish discontinuities without Potter's juggling ability--whose mood seems to reflect Season Affect Disorder. To borrow a phrase from Peter Cook, it's "an allergy of the human condition," complete with runny noses.

01.25.05 4:49PM · LINK

Grassy Knollers
Posted by James Wolcott

Rigorous Intuition, a blog with an, ahem, unique perspective, dips into the memory bag to retrieve a Johnny Carson flashback that brings back a whole spooky era.

"Try to imagine Jay Leno devoting an entire Tonight Show to Michael Ruppert [author of Crossing the Rubicon and overseer of From the Wilderness], and the topic of Dick Cheney's role in the attacks of 9/11. Or David Letterman conversing for an hour with Dr Nick Begich, co-author of Angels Don't Play this HAARP, on the weaponization of the ionosphere.

"Because as bizarre and unlikely as those scenes would be, 37 years ago this month, Johnny Carson spent 50 minutes with New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison - and millions of Americans - on the subject of the state-sanctioned murder of John F Kennedy."

Carson didn't cotton to Garrison, the conversation was contentious, but still--imagine something that earthquakish in its implications being argued on the country's number one late night talk show. Rigorous Intuition also excerpts an ominous interview with Mort Sahl, whose agitation was responsible for Garrison getting booked on the Tonight Show, conducted in 1968 only a few months before the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. "If America goes, it will surely be an inside job," Sahl predicted. That's what the Bush administration is: a hammering cacophony of inside jobs.

Which got me to "thinking." Last week the Wall Street Journal ran an article on the improved fortunes of Air America, which is is picking up audience share and affliliates and proving doomsayers wrong. Good for them. But the network still has room for improvement.

I think Air America should devote an hour or two each week to discussing and delineating conspiracy theories regarding the machinations of the Bush administration, the oil companies, the interlocking Washington think tanks, and their media stooges. Some would say this plays into the hands of the right and the mainstream media, who mock any evidence of longterm coordinated activity from scheming factions as the frothings of conspiracy buffs. As Gore Vidal has written, "Post-9/11, the American media were filled with pre-emptory denunciations of unpatriotic `conspiracy theorists', who not only are always with us but are usually easy for the media to discredit since it is an article of faith that there are no conspiracies in American life."

But if you're going to be dismissed as a conspiracy buff, why not embrace the term, brandish it proudly, put it to good use? Gay activists converted "queer," an epithet of abuse, into a battle cry by wearing it like a badge until it became semi-legitimized. Why not adopt "conspiracy buff" with defiant pride? Because of course there are conspiracies in American life, as Vidal is shrewdly aware--conspiracies to hide and blur Bush's service record and DUI; to protect the sleazy racketeering of Tom DeLay; to further the fortunes and ambitions of Ahmed Chalabi; to prevent a complete undertaking as to what transpired before on an 9/11 (consider Rumsfeld's recent Freudian slip about the 9/11 flight being "shot down" over Pennsylvania--scroll way down); to remake the Mideast to neocon specifications. Let's get it all writhing on the table.

It used to be said that liberals needed their own Rush Limbaugh. Well, now they have him; he goes by the name of Ed Schultz. What they don't have is their own Art Bell. Someone smarter and more rooted in reality than Bell, but someone to haunt the midnight hour and map out the coordinates of the power grabs being conducted under the phony canopy of the "War on Terror."

01.25.05 2:33PM · LINK

Bucky Dent
Posted by James Wolcott

What do you get when you dent your bucky?
--Karnak the Magnificent

01.25.05 2:32PM · LINK

Lonely Are the Brave
Posted by James Wolcott

Why is Barbara Boxer out there all alone asking the tough questions about Condi Rice's snail trail of deceit and fearmongering? She has the audacity to act as if the Senate actually has some traditional advise-and-consent role to play and for her pains is caricatured as a shrieking harridan on Saturday Night Live and a witch on talk radio. Boxer was terrific today on CNN, refusing to back down and reiterating her questions and objections regarding Rice with emphatic clarity while Sen Lugar mumble-mumbled some pathetic excuse-making about how Rice didn't deliberately mislead the country re Iraq's WMDs, she just did the best she could under the circumstances. Look, Biden and the rest of you Democratic punk-asses--get behind Boxer or get lost. She shouldn't be up there on the parapet alone, not with this wrecking crew trying to gear us up for war on Iran.

01.23.05 4:32PM · LINK

Johnny Carson
Posted by James Wolcott

Unable to let go, some entertainers hang around so long (too long) that they fade and enfeeble before our eyes, milking out guest spots and relying on the affectionate memories of the performers they once were. They overdraw on our memories until our memories become as tired as they look. Once death finally comes, it's the end-point of their diminishment, a drawn-out tapering-off from peaks reached in the grainy past. This didn't happen with Johnny. He decided not to let it happen, and stuck to his decision. After three decades as host of the Tonight show, Carson quit at the top and never glanced back or sideways, preserving the memory of a comedian in his silvery prime and making everyone who came after him look primitive. His poise, his polish, his precision, were unsurpassed. I was dispatched to LA to catch one of his last shows for Vanity Fair and what struck me sitting in the audience--something that one didn't come through simply watching at home--was the power of his presence. He was taller than one expected, and when he popped through the curtain, he project a physical force that one didn't expect. (Letterman's a big guy too, but he doesn't have the concentrated energy that Carson had--the dynamic focus.)

In retirement, Carson became appalled by the degeneration of cable news coverage and political discourse post 9/11. I received a wonderful note from him a few years ago--a note from Johnny Carson! I've never opened an envelope more gingerly--in which he lamented the dying out of voices of reason such as astronomer Carl Sagan, a frequent guest on his show. An astronomy buff himself, Carson prized science and reason. In his latter years he must have felt even more estranged from a country embracing its own hysteria.

01.23.05 2:44PM · LINK

New Hope for the Never Born
Posted by James Wolcott

Some godly people in the belfry of the blogsphere are complaining that Dr. SpongeDob Stickypants has been wronged--mischaracterized--in his "outing" of a prominent yellow sponge. They direct us to a clarification statement on the Focus on the Family site in which Dr. Dob draws distinctions the media appear to have muddled.

"From the outset, let's be clear that this issue is not about objections to any specific cartoon characters." Well, that's a relief. "Instead, Dr. [SpongeDob] is concerned that these popular animated personalities are being exploited by an organization that's determined to promote the acceptance of homosexuality among our nation's youth."

Let me be clear as well. No one wants to see beloved animated personalities exploited. At a recent Friar's Roast I ran into a certain excitable cartoon wing-flapper who was still bitter over the way he had been duped by the Justice Department. He taped a spot for what he believed was a local Neighborhood Watch PSA, only to discover later it was intended to sell the Patriot Act to preschoolers and entice them to spy on their parents and neighbors. He was still hopping mad about it. Then he went over to say hi to Freddie Roman, and I was stuck with Rita Rudner, who was fiddling with a false eyelash that was coming loose. I don't know why I go to these things.

While roaming around on Dr. Dob's site, I came across this pecularity, a Post-Abortion Grandparents' Kit devoted to helping parents get over a daughter's abortion, which robs them of a future grandchild. "Your heart still aches for the grandchild you'll only hold in heaven." To ease the heartache, the kit includes a book titled I'll Hold You in Heaven. Every bereaved parent wants to know they'll see their child again. In I'll Hold You in Heaven, renowned Christian leader and pastor, Dr. Jack Hayford, presents not platitudes but solid biblical truth — the truth that babies lost to death wait for us in heaven."

Not hope, mind you, or thrilling speculation, but "the truth."

Admittedly my Biblical scholarship is on the thinnish side, but I don't recall any passages devoted to fetal eschatology. I wonder where they were unearthed. We were told in Catholic school that the souls of the unbaptized were warehoused in what H.L. Mencken called a "Limbus Infantum," but even then we knew this was something cooked up by church theologians in lieu of a real explanation to anything.

Perhaps I should order Dr. Hayford's book. I'd like to know how the unborn are stowed in heaven, and whether they grow, mature, and are educated in a heavenly orphanage, or remain suspended in the infant stage until the parents and grandparents arrive to raise them as their own after a tearful, joyous reunion.

Whatever one's feelings/thoughts/convictions about abortion, this sounds like a pretty good deal for the fetuses. They get an EZPass shortcut to heaven, bypassing the pain, suffering, tedium, and disillusionment of earthly existence the rest of us must endure.

A related book on the subject offered on the site is called Tilly, which asks and answers the question, "What would it be like to meet the child you aborted many years ago … and to find forgiveness and healing?" I must say, all these aborted children are awfully good-natured.

01.23.05 1:07PM · LINK

Bibi's Back in Town
Posted by James Wolcott

What exquisite timing. Right on schedule, Bibi Netanyahu hit the cable talkshow rounds Friday, the day after Bush's inaugural address to a sea of cowboy hats and mink coats. He appeared on CNN, Fox News, and CNBC, and may have dropped in at ESPN's Sportscenter to offer his playoff picks for all I know--I can only monitor so much. Bush's vainglorious call to bring freedom and democracy to the countries we don't like was greeted with electric boogaloo excitement by neoconservatives and warbloggers such as Michael Ledeen, Victor Davis Hanson, the chap who posts at Belgravia Dispatch, Fred Barnes, and the branch office of the Likud Party known as the New York Sun. To them, this speech was a wet dream with warheads. It was now Bibi's cue to make the rounds and reinforce the Bush Doctrine from an Israeli perspective ("Bush was on to something profound" he told Fox), and begin to gin us up for war against Iran, or at least a very stern scolding accompanied by bombing runs.

Recall how prominent Bibi was post 9/11 and in the runup against Iraq. How well I remember him on those same cable talkshows, talking ominously about suitcase nukes that could be smuggled into the country through Hussein-sponsored terrorist outsourcing. He told insiders the same thing. According to a column (April 13 2002) by Robert Novak, who, whatever else is written under his name in the book of infamy, knows what his fellow Republican weasels are up to, reported:

"WASHINGTON -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in secret briefings of U.S. senators in Washington this past week, warned that Iraq's Saddam Hussein not only is acquiring nuclear weapons but may have the means of delivering them against the United States.

"Netanyahu, who is positioning himself to succeed Ariel Sharon as prime minister, warned that the Iraqi weapons could enter the U.S. in satchels carried by terrorists. U.S. intelligence has minimized the likelihood of such an approach."

Guess what? They were right. But course what Bibi would say is dangerous new world Hitler Poland 1939 failure to act can't take chance. He said it then, and he'll say it again vis a vis Iran.

It's such a pity his original scheme to liberate Iran wasn't applicated. Whoring for Rupert Murdoch, Bibi...well, let's go right to a UPI news report dated 9/12/02, yes, the day after the first anniversary of the Twin Towers attacks:

"Citing the hundreds of thousands of satellite television dishes in Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu told the House Government Reform Committee that the United States could incite a revolution against the conservative Iranian clergy through the use of such Fox Broadcasting staples as 'Melrose Place' and 'Beverly Hills 90210' -- both of which feature beautiful young people in varying states of undress, living, glamorous, materialistic lives and engaging in promiscuous sex.

"'This is pretty subversive stuff,' Netanyahu told the committee. 'The kids of Iran would want the nice clothes they see on those shows. They would want the swimming pools and fancy lifestyles.'"

I had no idea Bibi was such a satellite-dish swinger. Well, there's still time to dust off this plan and treat the young people of Iran to horny helpings of The O.C. and Paris Hilton in Simple Life, but I fear it would be blocked by media decency advocate L. Brett Bozell III, still bearing a grudge against Fox's The Simpsons for basing the character of Willie the Hothead Handyman on him. Some men's prides, once wounded, never heal.

01.22.05 12:59PM · LINK

Posted by James Wolcott

If SpongeDob Stickypantswishes to train his gaydar on a homosexual menace that threatens the very synthetic fiber of the institution of marriage, he need only dial an innocent-sounding cable channel called GoodLife TV, which smolders with muscular man-on-man action smuggled under the guise of "nostalgia."

A new channel devoted to sedentary baby-boomers, GoodLife runs the usual service-feature shows on cooking and traveling with a heavy dose of fifties/sixties reruns to remind its target audience of their wonder years: The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Combat!, 77 Sunset Strip.

These dusty idylls pose no danger to the institution of marriage or the fate of the individual soul in God's gentle yet merciless gaze.

However, Goodlife has also saw fit to resurrect a batch of Warner Brothers Westerns that exude a musky aroma of a bunkhouse where the wrong kind of bunking has been going on after sundown.

Bronco, starring Ty Hardin. Bronco. Ty. You tell me those aren't gay-sounding names. Then there's Sugarfoot, starring Will Hutchins. Sugarfoot--another name that sounds awfully fey to me. In the title song, he's described as "easy lopin'" (the sagebrush version of crusing), and joggin' along "with a heart full of song." Show tunes, no doubt. Cheyenne, starring Clint Walker, whose title tune asks the haunting musical question, "Cheyenne, Cheyenne where will you be camping tonight?" Camping, indeed! The song has him dreaming "of a girl you may never love," and I think I know why he may never love her, and why he needs to go "camping."

But no Warner Brothers Western promotes the gay lifestyle more than Lawman, starring John Russell and Peter Brown. "John Russell, a 6'4" ramrod straight, ex-Marine with the most compelling steely gaze on television, embodied the courageous, no-nonsense Marshal Dan Troop," says a Lawman fan site. Peter Brown played his young deputy, and theirs was a stern daddy/ relationship seething with subtext. "The series generally avoided sentimentality, but for those who looked for it, the bond between the two characters was even stronger than the words exchanged would suggest." The nature of that bond is indicated in the opening credits, where sheriff would toss his rifle to his handsome deputy, who "hefted it with approval." Oh I just bet he hefted it with approval.

Now some would say these shows can't possibly do harm to the sanctity of marriage between man and his second wife. They're quaint time-capsules, fond memorabilia. I'm sure SpongeDob would agree that temptation preys in many forms, and is most seductive when our guards are down.

Picture a middle-aged baby boomer who plops himself down to watch the GoodLife channel and refresh his happy memories of a boyhood spent eating dinner on the TV tray and building model airplanes in the basement. He has no complaints about his marriage, his kids haven't yet turned against him, and yet there's a vague, gnawing dissatisfaction in his life, a sense of something lacking, a piece missing from the puzzle we call life. He watches Bronco and admires how well Ty wears his buckskin. Sugarfoot, there's something dewy about him; was there ever a cowboy with such maiden eyelashes? Something begins to stir inside him, and the steely glances between the stars of Lawman start to make him queasy, but in a good way. A good kind of queasy.

He tries to put all this out of his mind but the next time he's in the porn store in the part of town where he knows he won't be recognized he drifts accidentally on purpose from the hetero section into the aisle where leather caps and chaps and disco mustaches predominate. He tells himself there's nothing wrong with being curious as he checks out a few of the cover boxes, more intrigued than he dare admit by these glistening abs. One day he makes a nervous purchase, telling himself it'll be just the one. But no man is satisfied with just the one, and item by item he begins to acquire quite a stealth library. He starts posting on gay websites under the handle "Sugarfoot," all sorts of suppressed urges rise to the surface, a desire for a kind of human contact he has too long denied himself, and before you know it this once staid family man has turned into a David Leavitt novel that walks by night.

It only takes one conversion like this in every community for Satan to fatten the future membership roll of Hell with American souls.

So beware of Bronco and Cheyenne, and be on the lookout for this character too.

01.21.05 5:23PM · LINK

Siege Mentality
Posted by James Wolcott

Lance Mannion--be honest, is there a better nom de plume in all of blogdom?--has a superb post today about the DC inaugural lockdown. I only caught snippets of the coverage today--jury duty--but I was impressed once again by how skillfully the reporters, pundits, and historians managed to dismiss the evidence of their own eyes. Despite the fact that there was no specific terrorist threat, the security was unprecedented even for these unprecedented times, with FBI snipers on rooftops, clusters of antiaircraft missiles, layers of police and checkpoints, video command centers monitoring every spilled cup of coffee (CNN's Kelli Arena provided an inside peek), and rows of empty bleachers. The commentators noted this clampdown with a sigh of regret, and mentioned the "irony" of President Bush using the words "freedom" and "liberty" dozens of times in his address while the city was under such tight constriction. But this has gone past way irony now into total cognitive dissonant breakdown. Commentators refuse to recognize the ominous import of the stepped-up militarization of the parade and pageantry, and increasingly of civilian life in this country under a president who likes to wear neat little uniforms that say, "Me commander-in-chief." It's ridiculous for Judy Woodruff and Doris Kearns Goodwin (I think it was her I heard nattering) and Jeff Greenfield to wax patriotic about presidents and inaugurals past as if there were some heartening continuum at work when there are snipers perched on the roof of the White House and enough riot police to protect a Latin American dictator. As the columnist that Mannion reprints says, What's on display in Washington today isn't strength, it's fear. Fear the White House wants every American to share, so that they won't mind--will accept--endless rows of men in visored helmets and boots.

01.20.05 6:31PM · LINK

Let the Word Go Forth
Posted by James Wolcott

I hereby decree that Dr. James Dobson--founder of Focus on the Family; man of faith; fanatic; fool--be hereby known throughout the land as SpongeDob Stickypants.

Why? the people beg to know.

Here's why.

SpongeDob Stickypants. His next target: the disquieting bond between Yogi and Boo-boo.

01.20.05 12:52PM · LINK

Ramblin' Man
Posted by James Wolcott

I don't have time to organize my "thoughts" into a necklace of pellucid pearls (for the benefit of some of you slower students, that's what's known as Irony), so I'm just going to ramble.

First thing I heard this morning was Howard Fineman on Imus declaring that Brit Hume was "a terrific journalist." Ah, the brotherhood of hacks--I wonder if they have their secret handshake. Fineman went on to scoff at John Kerry's vote against Condi's confirmation as an empty gesture, but I have more respect for Kerry's gesture, futile though it may be, than I do Joe Biden's windmill arm action and posturing. He makes a big show of saying that he has little faith in Rice being anything other than Bush's translator and message-machine--that he hoped she would be a firm advocate for the State Department rather than simply a loyalist, but that his instincts told him this was unlikely--and then voted for her anyway!

Biden is like a slugger who never quite gets good wood on the ball, no innuendo intended. He gets into the batter's box, scuffs up the dirt with his cleats, gets settled, takes practice strokes, and--here comes the pitch--lets rip with a mighty swing...and pops up. Again and again, he goes through his Rocky Calavito rituals, and each time he hits an infield fly.

I don't pretend to comprehend the retractable spines of so many Democrats. Poll after poll shows that a majority of the American people now thinks the invasion of Iraq was unwarranted, a mistake, not worth the cost in lives and money. What's striking about the LA Times poll is that only 4% support sending in more troops to get the job done. Increasingly, the American people don't think this war is worth it and want Out.

And yet I'm still seeing elected Democrats saying that, even with what they know now (no WMDs, no real postwar planning), they still would have voted to authorize the war.


Imagine you were persuaded to invest heavily in a business venture. They drew quite a picture for you of future prospects, made big promises. Over the course of three years, you learned that your business partners had conned you (and perhaps conned themselves), the contractors were corrupt, and the neighborhood that you were assured would welcome you with a marching band and hula dancers was firing sniper shots at your windows and trying to burn down the building. You lost your original investment, and pumped in more money to keep the venture going, only to lose that too, and to keep losing, with no end in sight, smoke rising in every direction.

Under those circumstances, knowing what you now know, would you say, "Yes, I still believe investing in Rathole Unlimited was the right thing to do"?

If you were Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill), you would.

MR. RUSSERT:  You voted--you said you would have voted for the war if you had been in Congress.


MR. RUSSERT:  Now, knowing that are no weapons of mass destruction, would you still have cast that vote?

REP. EMANUEL:  Yes.  Well, you could have done--well, as you know, I didn't vote for it.  I still believe that getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, OK?  But how you go about it and how you execute that war is the problems we face today.

That's become the talking point for a number of liberalish Democrats, to say it was right to go to war, what's wrong is the way the war has been conducted.

Never mind what I think, that a war waged on false pretenses and false premises is always wrong. If a majority of the American people can now admit the original decision was a mistake, why can't Democrats? When are they going to stop hitting popflies?

01.20.05 9:49AM · LINK

Public Service Announcement
Posted by James Wolcott

American fans of the British soap EastEnders have had their hopes chopped out from under them until they have nothing left to cling to but each other. First BBC America dropped first-run episodes of the mouthy, bustling series to make more room for hairsprayed rot like The Persuaders and comedy "classics" such as As Time Goes By, a sitcom so devoid of incident that you watch in dozy fascination, wondering how Judi Densch went from this paint-drying experiment to become queen of all she surveys.

Now WLIW Channel 21 in Long Island is threatening to pull the plug until 29 thousand buckaroos is raised by the end of the month to buy another round of the series from the Beeb. They're not even doing a fundraising for the show on the air, forcing its fans to rush into the breach, which they have, led by the tireless Larry Jaffee, editor of the Walford Gazette.

Why should you care? Well, you shouldn't, really, if you've never watched the show. But if you have, if you have funky memories (as I do) of Den and Angie, Sharon, 'Chelle's clueless husband Lofty, and the pious, chainsmoking, sublimely nosy Dot Cotton (played by June Brown, with whom I once had the privilege to lunch--we talked, of all things, about her small part in Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and what went on on that unruly set; what a world), you may want to make a modest communion offering or attend the benefit at Soho House. The "Save EastEnders" campaign is getting close enough to its goal for every little bit to make a dif.

01.19.05 6:29PM · LINK

Jury Duty
Posted by James Wolcott

...two words that make hardened New Yorkers break out in hives.

Me, I don't mind, mostly. I am resigned either to serving on a jury or being cut loose and tossed back into the pool. I am not one of those people who tries to get out of it by customizing bogus excuses (such as one friend's declaration that she didn't believe in the jury system, that we should like judges decide cases, like they do in Europe--"You're not in Europe," she was tartly told), claiming attention-deficit disorder (I've heard several people have tried that, to no avail), or feigning a tubercular cough worthy of a bohemian romance. Since arriving in New York, I've served on two juries, and if I serve on a third, that works out to one trial every decade, which is hardly an onerous price of citizenship. Besides, courts are fascinating, an ongoing theatrical, and teach an instructive lesson: on TV, it's the sexy lawyers who drive the action, but in the court room it's the froggy judges who set the tempo, draw the eye. Sam Waterson's McCoy--gesticulating; quarrelling with witnesses, opposing counsel, and the judge; asking leading questions in a sarcastic voice ("Were you in a rush to leave the restaurant because you knew you had a body to bury?"); doing a double-take and looking stunned whenever he's overruled--wouldn't last ten minutes in Judge Ira Gammerman's court (he presided over the previous trial I was on). Mr. Son of Abe Lincoln with the Noble Adam's Apple would get slapped down so fast the part in his hair would go crooked.

All of this is a zithery way of saying that blogging this week is subject to the vagaries of the Southern District Court. I just hope I won't be stuck in the jury box and miss the president's stirring inaugural address, in which he will ask Americans to pay any price and bear any burden to make this a better world for his campaign donors and their demon spawn. Afterwards, Chris Matthews will call the speech Kennedyesque in its cadences, Michael Bechloss will remind us that Andrew Jackson carried a wooden comb in his vest pocket during his inaugural address in 18 oh who the hell cares. and David Frum will be carried out on a stretcher, overcome with Vicks VapoRub. I just hope too many car bombs don't go off in Iraq to mar the festive mood.

01.18.05 5:10PM · LINK

Rude Is a Four Letter Word
Posted by James Wolcott

There's this blogger, calls himself The Rude Pundit. He's not kidding. He's rude. How rude? Rude enough to title his MLK Day post:

Martin Luther King Would Fuck Bush's Shit Up (2005 Edition)

He's right, of course. Because MLK was a man. The faith he embodied and professed wasn't fanaticism hiding behind pursed lips, as Bush's is. King faced down his fears. Bush represses his under rodeo bravado, strutting his stuff before applause-machine audiences that he reassure him that he's top gun.

Rude Pundit: "Last year, there was a near riot when President Bush dared to lay a wreath on King's grave. This year, he'll be in a far, far more controlled environment, the Kennedy Center, where the noisy, violent life of King will be reduced to a consummable, pleasant hum."

01.17.05 2:02PM · LINK

Bush Country
Posted by James Wolcott

"The Independent, along with several British and American papers, still covers stories in Baghdad in person, moving with hesitation - not to mention trepidation - through the streets of a city slowly being taken over by insurgents. Only six months ago, it was still possible to leave Baghdad in the morning, drive to Mosul or Najaf or other major cities to cover a story, and return by evening. By August, it was taking me two weeks to negotiate my dubious safety for a mere 80-mile journey outside Baghdad.

"I found the military checkpoints on the motorways deserted, the roads lined with smashed American trucks and burnt-out police vehicles. Today, it is almost impossible. Drivers and translators working for newspapers and television companies are threatened with death. Several have asked to be relieved of their duties on 30 January lest they be recognised on the streets during Iraq's elections. In the brutal 1990s war in Algeria, at least 42 local reporters were murdered and a French cameraman was shot dead in the Algiers casbah. But the Algerian security forces could still give a minimum of protection to reporters. In Iraq, they cannot even protect themselves."
--Robert Fisk, reporting from Iraq

Apropos, the neo verb "fisk" and its variations are terms that will never besmirch on this site. Slurs on the name of a great and brave reporter, they gained currency among warbloggers not only because they caricaturize an ideological enemy but because "f---ing" sounds so much like "fisting," a sexual practice that excites certain verboten latent tendencies in many of them. It gives them an illicit tingle, f---ing a post. Oh well, everyone to his own hobbies, but not under my roof, mister.

01.17.05 1:24PM · LINK

Sour Krauthammer
Posted by James Wolcott

Don't conservatives ever get bored spouting the same old tailpipe exhaust? I know they don't care about boring the audience--they assume that you can't tell those dumbies anything often enough--but don't they ever bore themselves? Don't they ever experience an inner slump when they're about to repeat an anecdote as tired and stale as a downtown hooker after Fleet Week?

No, I don't believe they do. They use those faded anecdotes the way Reagan used his, as wadded-up insulation to stuff in the holes of their brain and prevent any new or unsettling notions from breezing in and rattling their convictions. Even Charles Krauthammer, considered to be one of the more "thoughtful" conservatives (depth perception being a matter of degrees--compared to Fred Barnes, a fossil shell looks thoughtful), is as mechanical as a player piano. Put a quarter in the slot, and he churns out a column that sounds like senility set to a ragtime rhythm.

The very title of his latest syndicated column is a groan-inducer: "Rathergate confirms the media's left bias." Liberal bias, that poor strawless scarecrow with which conservatives can't bear to part. He uses the panel report about the 60 Minutes II Bush National Guard debacle to once again decry the leftward slant of the elite media in general and CBS News in particular. Proof of this endemic bias being the fact that CBS did "ad-hominem investigative stories" on the Swift Boat vets instead of an "examination of the charges," but it doesn't matter what CBS did, because if they had debunked the debunkable charges (as so many other outlets did), that would have been damning evidence of liberal bias too. Everything in Krauthammer's column is paint-by-numbers, he can't even bother to twirl it up a bit. So we get the standard saw about the "liberal media cocoons" of New York and Washington--as if any cocoon could be more snug and self-reinforcing than the studios of Fox News or the think tanks of DC. And how's this for a starchy paraphrase of a Dylan lyric? "[You] do not have to be a weatherman to ascertain wind direction." Open snuff box, sniff.

So covered with liver spots are Sour Kraut's complaints that I awaited the Inevitable Quote conservatives use to buttress their case, and right on cue:

"This [liberal] myopia was most perfectly captured by Pauline Kael's famous remark after Nixon's 1972 landslide: 'I don't know how Richard Nixon could have won, I don't know anybody who voted for him.'"

Oh God, that again.

Three decades have gone by, six presidents have succeeded Nixon, and conservatives are still citing that musty quote.

Look, I was friends with Kael for nearly twenty years until a falling out that's a continuing source of regret, and it was the sort of thing she'd say. She couldn't believe anyone with a light on upstairs could think Tom Cruise was a capable actor either. So fucking what? She was the film critic of The New Yorker, not even the fulltime critic (for much of her tenure she alternated with Penelope Gilliatt); she wasn't the editor of a metropolitan paper, a commentator on network news, a political columnist, or even a chronic petition-signer. She hadn't the slightest influence or control of the news flow in this country. She reviewed movies brilliantly, period. She was a bylined writer expressing herself in a public forum and speaking only for herself, despite Krauthammer's attempt to convert her into a synecdoche. (My bet is that a Brendan Gill, for example, probably crossed paths with a Nixon voter or two in the private clubs he belonged to where a few Republicans lurked.) Kael was no snob elitist. She was a traditional liberal in the best sense--skeptical, reasonable, scorning the radical chic of Susan Sontag and the Stalinist politics of the Hollywood Left (particularly Lillian Hellman) as scathingly as she did the law-and-order demagoguery of Nixon and Reagan's nursery-school simplicities. She was also a child of the Depression--tough, outspoken, indeed tougher and gutsier in her opinions than a power parasite like Krauthammer or any of the others who invoke her name reflexively and disparagingly. (She could hold her own with Sam Peckinpah, for gawd's sake!) She had grown up seeing Nixon in action from the infancy of his political career, a sour familiarity that I for example didn't share (though I voted for McGovern--the first vote I ever cast in an election). She would have been even more appalled by Bush II, since at least Nixon was capable of ratiocination (listen to the dribble of Bush's mind in this interview exchange (scroll down to the Washington Post excerpt).

The pinstriped peasants with pitchforks won't be happy until Dan Rather is trapped in the collapsing castle, and brought down with it. I have no great desire to defend Rather, but the eager glee with which other longtime colleagues in the news business are piling on is disgusting. If they don't have the decency to defend Rather's record of achievements in broadcasting, which is not inconsiderable, then the least they could do is stand aside rather join the gang tackle. The mob mentality was alien to Kael, whose independence of mind was hard-won and acutely responsive to everything new around her. She thought for herself, something Krauthammer hasn't done in so long that his brain would probably jam like the fax machine in Office Space at the mere try.

01.16.05 3:57PM · LINK

Heh Is for Horses
Posted by James Wolcott

As a fictional character, I have no insight into my motives and methodologies. I am but a force manipulated by unseen fingers on a Ouija board in the fourth dimension. So Roger L. Simon's speculations into the voodoo that I doodoo might as well be motes drifting in a shaft of windowlight. Ditto for anything Alfafa has to heh. He should go play with his digital camera and take pictures of himself in the bathtub.

But since Simon was so civil in tone, I will be as civil as I can be with a knife permanently wedged between my teeth and say that this whole business about pessimism versus optimism is, well, silly. I'm pessimistic about some things (environmental protections under Bush), optimistic about others (the prospects for the Mets), agnostic/indifferent about most else. But I do believe in being skeptical at all times, and I would assume any writer or commentator would wish to have a healthy skepticism as standard operating equipment. I was skeptical about the claims and rationales for the war in Iraq, and three years later I don't think such skepticism was unjustified. Today we learned that the search for WMDs is being wrapped up with no evidence of banned weapons being discovered. Now Simon has posted that the WMD threat was never the primary reason he supported the war. That may be. But that's how it was sold to the American people with scare talk to convince us that we must act now before it was Too Late and, as Condi Rice said more than once, the next smoking gun turned out to be a mushroom cloud. And again and again warbloggers would pounce upon a discovery of this mobile lab or that stash of shells or that trace of ricin and say aha! here they are, why aren't the MSM reporting this?--only to learn a few days later this was rusty material left over from the Iran-Iraq war.

Simon is palsy-walsy with Michael Ledeen, who sometimes posts on Simon's site and is (or was) collaborating with him on a screenplay. Ten days after the 9/11 attacks, Ledeen published a column called "Creative Destruction"--neocons love creative destruction, especially the destruction part--in which he tee'd Iraq and Iran for regime change, even though at at this point the U.S. hadn't engaged the Taliban. Ledeen lamented that the intelligence and foreign policy establishment had done so little to fan the flames of freedom in the region. To wit,

"In Iraq, we have halfheartedly supported an umbrella organization, the Iraqi National Congress, under the outstanding leadership of Ahmed Chalabi.

"Yet the State Department, as recently as yesterday, was still telling them that they must not, under any circumstances, operate inside Iraq. That is sheer folly, for it guarantees that we get the worst of both worlds: We enrage Saddam even further, but ensure that we won't be able to get close to his throat. The president should order these embarrassing restrictions removed, give full support to this democratic resistance movement, and encourage the downtrodden and long suffering Iraqi people to join Chalabi and win their freedom."

Well, the Bushies heeded Ledeen and his fellow neocons and embraced the "outstanding leadership" of Chalabi and the Iraqi exiles, who fed them and us factoids and fantasies about what would unfold in Iraq when the tanks liberated Baghdad. Jim Lobe, delving into a 220 page report from the Defense Science Board regarding the preplanning for the war, writes:

"Before the war, the Pentagon civilians, who were backed by Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to exclude the State Department or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from postwar planning and operations largely because of their belief that the two agencies would promote Sunni Arab nationalists in the place of Saddam Hussein. They, on the other hand, supported exile leader Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shi'ite who, they believed, was committed to a thorough de-Ba'athification of Iraq and staunch alignment with the U.S. and even Israel.

"They also believed Chalabi's repeated assurances that U.S. troops would be greeted as 'liberators' by virtually all Iraqis, rather than as 'occupiers' and so planned to quickly draw down the 140,000 troops who invaded the country to only about 30,000 by early 2005."

Well, we've seen how well that panned out. Pessimism, schmessifism. It doesn't matter if the glass is half-empty or half full if the glass is filled with blood needlessly shed.

And today Simon is all caffeinated about another urgent summons from Norman Podhoretz to gird our loins and show the fortitude to wage World War IV. Ledeen, Chalabi, Podhoretz--these are your comrades, Mr. Simon, and you're welcome to them.

01.12.05 1:28PM · LINK

Howard Fineman: Still Searching for the Perfect Shade of Lipstick
Posted by James Wolcott

Tbogg, wincing, directs us to a demure pile of Howard Fineman fingernail parings about how "Rathergate" spells the demise of the "Media Party."

Forget for a moment that Fineman, a mucky-mucky at Newsweek and MSNBC pundit who preens like a courtier, jeers at the "Media Party" as if he weren't a fully paid-up club member with spa privileges. When he writes, "It's hard to know now who, if anyone, in the 'media' has any credibility," it doesn't penetrate his pancake makeup that few have less credibility than he, and not because he's tilted at too many windmills and missed.

No, what's startling is Fineman's ignorance of the history and dynamics of his own profession. He now looks at journalism not through the eyes of a journalist but through the contemptuous eyes of those he covers, sharing their disdain.

One supremely, fatuously blithe sentence says it all. Writing about the media's bloodhound pursuit of the truth about the war in Southeast Asia and Watergate, Fineman, lolling in the comfort of hindsight, observes, "The crusades of Vietnam and Watergate seemed like a good idea at the time, even a noble one, not only to the press but perhaps to a majority of Americans."

1) I would say that those "crusades" also seem like pretty goddam good ideas in retrospect, considering that the alternatives were endless slaughter in Vietnam and the complete subversion of the Constitution and a gangster mentality unchained had Watergate never been investigated. I have to believe that if Howard Fineman had been an editor in 1972, he would have shrugged off Watergate and assigned his reporters to meatier stories, such as finding out who's designing Mrs. Nixon's inauguration gown and how well it drapes.

2) The notion that Vietnam and Watergate were press "crusades" is an ignorant and idiotic telescoping of history. During much of the buildup and carnage in Vietnam, the establishment papers and newsweeklies (Time, particularly) were resolutely for the war as a bulwark against Communist incursion in Southeast Asia (the domino theory), as were the American people. The opposition came from the fringe--Ramparts, Evergreen Review, underground papers, I. F. Stone's Weekly (I.F. Stone, who should be the patron saint of Koufax bloggers)--and bled into the mainstream middle as the carnage continued unabated with no end in sight. Reporters in the field who saw how badly the war was going constantly fought with their editors in NY and DC, who watered down their dispatches. The press turned against Vietnam when the chasm between what was coming out of the Pentagon and White House and what their own reporters were telling them and their cameras showing them became too wide to bridge. It was an unfolding process. (If Walter Cronkite had said the Vietnam war was unwinnable in 1966, he would have sounded like a mad prophet. By 1968, when he issued his dire prognosis, he was voicing what so many knew but had been reluctant to say.) The public slowly turned against the war because of the mounting casualties, deaths that seemed more and more futile. The Gallup Poll today showing that 50% of the American people now believe the invasion of Iraq was a mistake reflects the same pattern of attrition.

As for Watergate, Fineman makes it sound like the entire press suited up in armor and mounted their steeds into battle at the first trumpet. Hardly. The Watergate breakin was dismissed as a second-rate burglary of trifling interest with Woodward and Bernstein's digging being dismissed at the outset as a snipe hunt by the loftier placed in the media. Watergate didn't become a "crusade" until the story became so juicy, the evidence of corruption so pervasive, and the testimonies so riveting, that the entire nation was transfixed.

When you see how gullibly the media swallowed the lies and claims from the Bush administration and their neocon mouthpieces about WMDs in Iraq, it's pretty damned hard to accept the notion that the Media Party suffers from an excess of prosecutorial zeal, and that we're all better off with the ghost of Edward R. Murrow finally being sucked into the ventilator so that reporters can resume a more modest role shining Karl Rove's shoes.

01.12.05 11:08AM · LINK

Chronic Abusers
Posted by James Wolcott

The title says it all. Fresh Horrors at Guantanamo.

I repeat my earlier proposal.

Either convert the Gitmo prison facility into a bird sanctuary, or empty it out and burn it down.

On a related note: I am unable to confirm a rumor I am trying to start that Fox News is considering hiring Spc Charles Graner as a commentator and pinch-hit host should he be acquitted of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. This would indeed be a controversial talent pick, one that would no doubt earn head-shaking disapproval from the graybeards in the Old Media. But Fox News feels that Spc Graner has proven that he is one tough dude who knows how to get the dirty job done, which plugs in nicely with the cable news channel's angry white male demographic. The way he cocked his thumbs-up at the camera after forming naked Iraqi prisoners in a pyramid demonstrates the sort of can-do attitude America needs to fight the war against terror without losing its sense of humor.

Well, I can see their point. He and Oliver North might make quite a team, bouncing around in a jeep together. Of course, if Graner is convicted, this will all be moot. Cable news is a fast-moving medium and can't afford to wait for a future prospective host to be released from prison.

01.11.05 10:56AM · LINK

Send in the Exorcist
Posted by James Wolcott

Fear stalks the media illuminati. They keep looking over their shoulders, wondering if they will be the next to be struck.

Struck by what?

The curse that haunts the green room of Topic [A] with Tina Brown.


Bernard Kerik was a guest on the show. Look what happened to him. Deep doo-doo up to his bald crown.

An isolated instance? Sadly, no.*

Editor Judith Regan appeared on the show to promote Jenna Jameson's heartwarming tail--I mean, tale--How to Make Love to Bernie Kerik like a Porn Star. Regan was revealed to be one of Kerik's paramours and served with a subpoena involving a lawsuit regarding chrome dome.

Then my friend and frequent Topic [A] Stanley Crouch suffered a medical setback that had many of us concerned. He's fine now, in fighting trim, but it was a scare.

And now Topic [A] guest Armstrong Williams, wantonly brought down in a payola scandal for his advocacy of Bush's No Child Left Behind program, a program which of course I vigorously support. Perhaps Williams was being karmicly punished for his pantomime mocking of wheelchair bound Max Cleland on one Topic [A] panel.


But there's a pattern here that suggests something bigger and more ominous is afoot. The green room may be paying host to an evil presence that's infiltrated the very carpeting.

I certainly hope nothing bad befalls one of last night's guests, documentary filmmaker and feminist Jennifer Baumgarten, who is now my favorite bisexual apart from Alice on The L Word.

*in the original post, I used this phrase without correct attribution and linkage, thereby committing catchphrase infringement, something for which Milton Berle was often accused. The link has been linked and Sadly, No added to the blogroll, where it rightly belongs.

01.10.05 4:22PM · LINK

Captain Video's Visor Yields Poor Visibility
Posted by James Wolcott

Last week an inside peep courtesy of the Washington tipsheet The Nelson Report made the blog rounds concerning Bush's see-no hear-no policy regarding the war in Iraq. According to The Nelson Report, Bush literally didn't want to hear any bad news about how thing going there, EVEN FROM SENIOR MILITARY COMMANDERS, only "progress reports" that played up the good things GE brings to life: new schools, etc. The Report went on to say that the sunshine policy wasn't the product of aides trying to filter news from Bush, that Bush himself insisted on accentuating the positive.

Given Bush's refusal to remove his Captain Video space helmet, isn't any wonder that sympathetic bloggers have been aping his example?

For months, hawkish bloggers have been dismissing and downplaying the black smoke pouring out of Iraq. They would direct readers to the Belmont Club or Belgravia or Bloomsbury or whatever these hangouts for the horsey-set are called for crushing refutations of grim tidings. Again and again they blamed the BBC and Reuters--which one bon vivant said should have its name changed to Reactionary News Agency--and, their favorite sneer acronym, the MSM (mainstream media), which was drenching the airwaves and newsstands with prophecies of doom. They trumpeted the Iraqi bloggers who agreed with them and patronized the Iraqi bloggers who mourned and railed against the ensuing chaos in their country. They pounced upon every post from a military blogger who told them the media was painting a distorted picture, and ignored the revelations coming from Soldiers for the Truth.

But now reality can no longer be barred entry. Andrew Sullivan, whom I often abuse, but only because I care, has an item today from Stratfor that the battle to subdue the Iraqi insurgency may be lost, and with it the prospect for democracy in Iraq. And Daily Kos alerts us to a Republican Congressman from North Carolina who says it's time to start thinking about American withdrawal from Iraq. As certain bloggers scratch their heads like Alfafa, wondering if sending in death squads would be the way to go ("I don't know whether this sort of thing is a good idea or not -- I can see arguments both ways"), a brutal desperation is surfacing among those who once anticipated a cakewalk. Not knowing what to do, they're willing to do anything, or at least entertain the notion...torture, death squads, whatever.

It's going to break Norman Podhoretz's peach-pit heart, but it will soon become time to recognize the inevitable and blow the whistle on the World War IV he and the neocons have been so determined to wage. At some point Dick Cheney will place a fatherly paw on Dubya's shoulder and say, "Earth to Captain Video: Time to bug out--I mean, withdraw in an orderly fashion." It's going to be hard breaking the news to the little fella.

I just hope his loyal space rangers are able to take the shock too.

01.10.05 11:45AM · LINK

Give and Take
Posted by James Wolcott

I am embroiled in tense contract negotiations with Vanity Fair. It isn't about money. Money isn't the issue. Half a million a year to write party-foto captions and a few feuilltons strikes me as eminently fair. The stumbling block is my insistence that my new contract stipulate I be granted space for one column a year devoted to No Child Left Behind program. Vanity Fair refuses to submit, claiming such a column wouldn't conform with the "format" of the magazine or fit into the "mix." I don't see why an author should be at the mercy of the "mix" every month. Although I gather that some brethren have been able to cash in by promoting this bold government initative, my own advocacy is selfless and sincere. As Vanity Fair's "Teen Scene" correspondent, I have a vested interest in the welfare of America's children, especially those in bare midriffs who know how to shake it. It is vital to ensure that no child be left behind, because once left behind, he or she begin to loiter at the mall and drift into a River's Edge lifestyle. Children are the precious hope of this country's doomed future. They will be the ones who will have to replant the ravaged forests and restore America's reputation in the world after the ignorant idler currently pretending to be president returns to Crawford, Texas to fall off his tricyle in retired disgrace.

So I'm afraid I'm adamant, unless VF can find a way to "sweeten the pot."

I trust negotiations will be resolved before VF's annual party this week, being held in Yasser Arafat's former compound in Ramallah. Why the party planners insist on these out-of-the-way venues is beyond me. After being ferried in a cargo plane for 18 hours and pawed over by Israeli security, it's hard to feel one's freshest. But if I decline to go, it may look like a contract ploy, and I don't wish to leave that sort of petty impression. Besides, I hear Graydon has hired a kickin' DJ, and it would cruel to deprive my colleagues of my rhythm moves.

01.09.05 7:19PM · LINK

Around the Horn
Posted by James Wolcott

I have been derelict in not drawing notice to Steve Gilliard's fundraiser this week. I donated yesterday, and encourage others to do likewise. Gilliard is a good guy who sometimes uses bad language, according to the girls in the bridge club. I haven't noticed this myself, but then again I was raised by Wallace Beery and Marie Dressler, two names lost on most of you.

Today the G Man and Atrios relay tawdry news about one of the minor characters in Attack Poodles, the obedient Armstrong Williams, who's the sort of black conservative who gives other black conservatives the bad name they deserve.

Tbogg alerts us a disturbing image of a child sent to bed with a copy of Blog, a book written by some entity with the hoot-owl name of Hugh Hewitt. Perhaps the picture was taken in fun. But force-feeding an impressionable girl this sort of tendentious blather can only lead to intellectual bulimia in later life. Result: she could end up looking like this.

01.07.05 4:01PM · LINK

Executive Shakeup Excludes Me Yet Again
Posted by James Wolcott

As many of you have read by now, I was passed over for the job of editorial director at Conde Nast. Stoical as I am, it's hard to hide my disappointment; you could almost describe me as crestfallen. I thought I had an excellent shot at this cushy post--I mean, challenging position. I had hope that James Truman, who's departing for Spain to enter matador school, would put in a "good word" for me. I knew Truman slightly when he was a freelancer for The Face, in those thrilling postpunk days, and, though we had taken different paths, here we both were at Conde Nast, livin' the life. Granted, he and I hadn't spoken in a decade, but we nodded in the general direction of each other at the special screening of The Perfect Storm before delving into our goodie bags.

I also had wizard plans to convert the top floor of 4 Times Square into a luxury spa, which I believe would have gone over big with the staff, not that we would have let them in without a special pass.

I probably didn't help myself with my presentation of the prototype for a new young men's magazine I wanted to launch, provisionally titled Wanker. With proposed articles such as "Nose hair--the enemy within," "Do you spend too much time in the bathtub?," and "Used Condoms: not just Christmas tree ornaments anymore," I thought Wanker had the makings of a winner. But after Si drew his finger across his throat, the meeting was adjourned and I was escorted to the service elevator.

I'm sure Thomas Wallace, formerly of Conde Nast Traveler, will do a dandy job, but I can't help but feel an opportunity was lost for Conde Nast to think "outside the box."

01.06.05 12:02PM · LINK

In Memoriam
Posted by James Wolcott

Graceful eulogy to Susan Sontag in The Village Voice by Gary Indiana.

01.05.05 8:00PM · LINK

Martians invade text
Posted by James Wolcott

Not sure what went wonky below. I support the euro, of course, but didn't intend to pepper into the post. I'll have a skilled mechanic look into the problem, as soon as Goober wakes up from his nap.

01.05.05 7:46PM · LINK

A Modest Proposal
Posted by James Wolcott

A spirited debate (pry open eyelids, insert toothpicks as tentpoles) has broken out in bloggyville (scroll down) over the issue of torture, and whether it should capsize the nomination of Alberto Gonzalez as attorney general. I’m not sure what there is to debate. A) Of course that jellyfish should be rejected. B) Torture is uncondonable. It’s a barbaric vestige, like slavery and capital punishment. Torturers torture for the same reason bullies bully: because they can. But a bully’s ability to inflict physical and psychological pain is usually limited to the length of his arm, the reach of his fist. Torture is a theater of cruelty backed by the institutional power of the state (and often church); most torture is conducted not to elicit information from captives but to inflict terror, a terror that is often capricious, based on misinformation or deliberate disinformation (A falsely informing on B), and open-ended. A torture victim may tell the torturers what they want, or make up something meant to satisfy them, only to be tossed back into the cell to be dragged out and tortured again. Torture is a hell with no marked exit.

Torture is also the invention and production of men. Women may take part—though I imagine it’s rare, and under duress—but only men could devise the intricate and cruel tortures and torture devices that have been inflicted over the centuries. Only they would draw up the blueprints for machines and procedures to exact the maximum amount of pain and humiliation just shy of death.

The tone is set from the top. According to Justin Frank’s Bush on the Couch, Bush exhibits anal-sadistic tendencies, as evidenced by his branding of frat initiates with the red-hot tip of a wire coathanger. So perhaps it is no surprise that some prisoners at Guantanamo received unwelcome enemas, or that many of the humiliations at Abu Ghraib involved simulated buggery; anal sadism institutionalized. It also signifies that, given Bush’s cowboy image, that roughing up prisoners at Abu Ghraib was known as “going cowboy” and "wild, wild west" on them.

It’s time to shut down this rodeo. Each wave of revelations from Gitmo reveals worse than we knew before. I would propose that the prisoners be distributed to mainland facilities, where their conditions can be monitored by lawyers and outside observers, and that the prison facility itself be converted into a bird sanctuary. A number of closed military bases across the country have been converted into nature preserves, and Cuba is said to be host to a rainbow spectrum of birdlife.

If the Gitmo facility can’t be converted into a bird sanctuary, then just empty it out, air it out, and burn it down.

P.S. Urban Swami is a tiger of wrath on the same topic today.

01.05.05 2:02PM · LINK

Cwazy Mixed-Up Kid
Posted by James Wolcott

"No wonder you're all mixed up.  You got a white man's first name, a Spanish man's second name, and a black man's third name."

...Mickey Rivers, one of the greatest comedians ever to roam the outfield, diagnosing the identity crisis of teammate Reginald Martinez Jackson, better known as Reggie.

A similar condition bedevils Andrew Sullivan, whose sensible name badges a multicar pileup of identity conflict. He's a gay British Catholic Tory conservative "eagle" who deplores the etiolated patriotism and willpower of the coastal elites but resides in the blue lagoons of Washington, DC and Provincetown. His sympathies keeps tugging him in so many different directions that he intellectually resembles Steve Martin in All of Me, herkily-jerkily battling with himself as if being yanked by an invisible leash. (Read his graf today about the nomination of Albert Gonzalez for A.G. and watch him tug himself back and forth.) Sullivan seemed to take forever to recognize what was apparent to the statues on Easter Island statues, that the Republican Party is hostile to gay marriage and gay identity, eager to support homophobia for political gain, and that the only gays it's comfortable with are white men and women who look like wedding-cake couples and stay discreetly in the closet. He kept holding out hope that because Bush, based on anecdotal evidence, was personally comfortable with gay people, he wouldn't push for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Then came the inevitable disappointment. One by one the inevitable disappointments succeed one another, like a line of tumbling dominos, and each day Sullivan returns to his little fort, ready to give the Bushies the benefit of the doubt yet again.

For all of his lofty rhetoric, which catches the tailwind of Tony Blair's, Sullivan gets a little peckish when the lower ranks forget their place and question their duties. Atrios today provides several prize examples. I will only note Sullivan's interesting choice of words in the following:

"I'm sorry but I pay for those soldiers to fight in a volunteer army. They are servants of people like me who will never fight. Yes, servants of civil masters."

Servants? Masters? Some Brits just can't let go of the remains of the day.

01.04.05 11:53AM · LINK

Flash Bulletin: a web exclusive
Posted by James Wolcott

The father of us all, Gore Vidal graces Vanity Fair online with a Nero Wolfe investigation of the vexing mystery, "Was Lincoln Bi-Sexual?"

"The young Lincoln had a love affair with a handsome youth and store owner, Joshua Speed, in Springfield, Illinois. They shared a bed for four years, not necessarily, in those frontier days, the sign of a smoking gun—only messy male housekeeping. Nevertheless, four years is a long time to be fairly uncomfortable. The gun proved to be the letters that passed between them when Joshua went home to Kentucky to marry, while Lincoln was readying himself for marriage in Springfield. Each youth betrays considerable anxiety about the wedding night ahead. Can they hack it? To Sandburg's credit [Carl Sandburg, poet and multivolumed Lincoln biographer] he picked up on this (who could not after reading the letters?), but, first time around, I skipped his poetical comments on Lincoln's 'streak of lavender and spots soft as May violets.' Sandburg was a typical American of his time and place; he knew that any male with sexual feelings for another male was a maiden trapped inside a male body. Even the great Mae West, our first commanding sexologist, was convinced that fairies were simply women, obliged, through no fault of their own, to inhabit crude male bodies: Plangently Doctor Mae mourned her lost sisters."

There are those who will contend--nay, rage--that the Great Emancipator could not have been a bi-guy. I can see Lynne Cheney shaking her head now, deploring this latest affront in "revisionist history." But even she will find it hard to quarrel with Vidal's inspirational last paragraph, which reverently bows to the mysterious ways in which the Almighty works.

01.03.05 10:23AM · LINK

"Kind of a Shame"
Posted by James Wolcott

From The Economist, January 1st-7th 2005 (registration required; oh just go out and buy the damn thing):

"There is only one traffic law in Ramadi these days: when Americans approach, Iraqis scatter. Horns blaring, brakes screaming, the midday traffic skids to the side of the road as a line of Humvee jeeps ferrying American marines rolls the wrong way up the main street. Every vehicle, that is, except one beat-up old taxi. Its elderly driver, flapping his outstretched hands, seems, amazingly, to be trying to turn the convoy back. Gun turrets swivel and lock on to him, as a hefty marine sargeant leaps into the road, levels an assault rifle at his turbanned head, and screams: 'Back this bitch up, motherfucker!'

"The old man should have read the bilingual notices that American soldiers tack to their rear bumpers in Iraq: 'Keep 50m or deadly force will be applied.' In Ramadi, the capital of central Anbar province, where 17 suicide-bombs struck American forces during the month-long Muslim fast of Ramadan in the autumn, the marines are jumpy. Sometimes, they say, they fire on vehicles encroaching with 30 metres, sometimes they fire at 20 metres: 'If anyone gets too close to us we fucking waste them,' says a bullish lieutenant. 'It's kind of a shame, because it means we've killed a lot of innocent people.'"

Kind of a shame, killing the people you're trying to democratize, but after awhile, says the same lieutenant, "It gets to the point where you can't wait to see guys with guns, so you start shooting everybody..."

With characteristic dry English understatement, The Economist's embedded reporter (Economist pieces are unbylined) notes, "[W]hen America's well-drilled and well-fed fighters attempt subtler tasks than killing people, problems arise." Their contempt for Iraqis is undisguised and dramatically expressed: a soldier, confronted by "jeering schoolchildren," fires canisters of buckshot from his grenade-launcher at them, and marines busting down doors in Ramadi scream at trembling middle-aged women: "Bitch, where's the guns?" Small wonder, ventures the correspondent, that "many Iraqis are probably more scared of American troops than of insurgents."

The last grafs of the report recount a big whoopy-do operation in the smugglers' haven of Baij involving a convoy of 1000 troops supported by Apache attack helicopters targeting three houses that had been linked to Zarquawi's terrorist band, according to a local informant.

There was no one in the houses except women and children. Rather than return to base empty, they pay homage to the last reel of Casablanca and round up the usual suspects.

"...they detained 70 men from districts indentified by their informant as 'bad.' In near-freezing conditions, they sat hooded and bound in their pyjamas. They shivered uncontrollably. One wetted himself in fear. Most had been detained at random; several had been held because they had a Kalashnikov rifle, which is legal. The evidence against one man was some anti-American literature, a meat cleaver, and a tin whistle. American intelligence officers moved through the ranks of detainees, raising their hoods to take mugshots: 'One, two, three, jihaaad!' A middle-tier officer commented on the mission: 'When we do this,' he said. 'We lose.'"

There's a Peter Cook-Dudley Moore routine, one of their woolgathering dialogues, where Dud asks Pete, "So would you say you've learned from your mistakes?" and Pete replies: "Oh yes, I'm certain I could repeat them exactly."

That seems to have been the Bush administration's approach to Iraq. Take the mistakes of Vietnam and repeat them exactly.

And at that you can't say they haven't succeeded.

01.02.05 10:43AM · LINK

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