THINKING OUT LOUD
Sometimes ideas come in messy clusters that intersect and bounce off
one another in ways that defeat linear argumentation and presentation.
The result is not so much a line as a wandering climbing vine of the
sort that can crush a barn or strangle an elm tree. I fell
into such a mess when I decided that despite reservations, I should
publish a link to Christopher Hitchens's review of Fahrenheit 9/11
in the online
. It's been
just a week or so since Hitchens did his best to eviscerate the memory
of Ronald Reagan, chiefly by a process of name-calling that depended on
our willingness to accept the writer's assumption of superiority over
his subject. Now he has turned his black heart toward Michael Moore and
concocted a lengthy polemic that begins with contempt and ends with
rhetorical annihilation. If I dismiss his diatribe against Reagan, why
should I endorse his verbal assassination of Moore? And why should I
elevate Moore by linking him to an essay that takes him seriously when
it seems so much more fitting just to make
At length I opted for linking to Hitchens's piece because his weapons
in this instance -- unlike the Reagan attack -- comprised journalistic
and intellectual ethics which he demonstrated that Moore had betrayed
in his movie. There was pure vitriol in his presentation, as always,
but there was also extensive citation of Moore's deliberate
falsifications of fact, meretricious editing, and blatant
self-contradictions concealed by a uniform sarcastic tone. This time,
in short, Hitchens's argument was sound, and the determination of so
many mainstream Democrats to bless Moore's propaganda as legitimate
nonfiction commentary made me realize the educational value of this
particular lengthy analysis.
So I hunted down a link
to the review, at which point I discovered a second link, this one to a
. The author was one
David Edelstein, presumably a film critic by trade. Edelstein did not
attempt to counter most of Hitchens's charges. Rather, he chose to
regard them as immaterial in light of his own emotional history:
Back in the '80s—the era of Reagan and
Bush 41, when milquetoasts Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis were the
ineffectual Democratic candidates and Jimmy Carter was off building
houses for poor people... when there was an explosion of dirty
Republican tricksters like Lee Atwater and trash-talking right-wingers,
from Morton Downey Jr. to the fledgling Rush Limbaugh—I found myself
wishing, wishing fervidly, for a blowhard whom the left could call its
own. Someone who wouldn't shrink before the right's bellicosity.
Someone who would bellow back, mock unashamedly, and maybe even
recapture the prankster spirit of counterculture figures like Abbie
Abbie Hoffman? His was the "prankster spirit" that conspired to incite
the appallingly ugly riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in
Chicago. Nostalgia for the 1960s is an eerie phenomenon, and one we're
not through paying for, as the rest of Edelstein's piece makes clear.
His Hoffmangeist leads him to this extraordinary confession:
In 20 years of writing about film, no
movie has ever tied me up in knots the way Michael Moore's Fahrenheit
9/11 (Lions Gate) has. It delighted me; it
disgusted me. I celebrate it; I lament it. I'm sure of only one thing:
that I don't trust anyone—pro or con—who doesn't feel a twinge of doubt
about his or her responses. What follows might be broadly labeled as
"waffling," but I hope, at least, that it is bold and decisive waffling.
Is this what it means to be an open-minded 'moderate' in the liberal
view? Perhaps so, because Edelstein immediately concedes all the
Needless to say, Fahrenheit 9/11
never waffles. The liberals' The Passion of the Christ,
it ascribes only the most venal motives to the other side. There is no
sign in the filmmaker of an openness to other interpretations (or world
views). This is not quite a documentary—which I define, very
loosely, as a work in which the director begins by turning on the
camera and allowing the reality to speak for itself, aware of its
complexities, contradictions, and multitudes. You are with Moore, or
you are a war criminal. The film is part prosecutorial brief and part
(as A.O. Scott has noted) rabid editorial cartoon: a blend of insight,
outrage, and sniggering innuendo, the whole package threaded (and tied
in a bow) with cheap shots, some of them voiced by Moore, some created
in the editing room by intercutting stilted images from old movies.
He proceeds in the course of describing the movie's tactics to make
another revealing admission about himself:
In one scene, his camera homes in on a
Flint, Mich., woman weeping over a son killed in Iraq, and the effect
is vampirish. After the screening, a friend railed that Moore was
exploiting a mother's grief. When I suggested that the scene made moral
sense in the context of the director's universe, that the exploitation
is justified if it saves the lives of other mothers' sons, my friend
said, "When did you become a relativist?"
I'm troubled by that charge—and by the
fact that we nearly came to blows by the end of the conversation.
The ends justify the means. It's okay to use purely emotional
exploitation if the motivation is saving lives. (I suppose if we could
put enough sobbing mothers on TV, that would be a valid substitute for
learning anything about the world outside mama's living room.) Using
similar logic, he arrives at the conclusion that all the chicanery and
cheap shots in the movie are acceptable. His first stated reason is
what I call the Limbaugh defense:
...when it comes to politics in a time of
war, I think that relativism is, well, relative. Fahrenheit 9/11
must be viewed in the context of the Iraq occupation and the torrent of
misleading claims that got us there. It must be viewed in the context
of Rush Limbaugh repeating the charge that Hillary Clinton had Vince
Foster murdered in Fort Marcy Park, or laughing off the exposure of
Valerie Plame when, had this been a Democratic administration, he'd be
calling every day for the traitor's head. It must be viewed in the
context of Ann Coulter calling for the execution of people who disagree
He runs a number of slick misrepresentations by us here, overlooking
the fact that Michael Moore has accepted an Oscar for a documentary
that was a work of fiction, which is professional misconduct of an
order not exhibited by the opinion purveyors he wishes to hold to a
documentary standard. Limbaugh may have repeated the charge that Vince
Foster was murdered, but I'll bet dollars to donuts he never averred it
was the truth. Laughing at the outing of socialite (inactive) spy
Valerie Plame is hardly unethical; I'm willing to do it again right
here without fear of seeming unethical. (Ha ha. See?) And I can
guarantee that Ann Coulter's desire to execute those who disagree with
her is akin to her long hair and short skirts, a mere fashion
statement. Edelstein does not stop here, though. He ups the ante.
Considerably. He may regard his second stated reason as merely an
elaboration of the first, but I do not. See what you think. He lays it
out for us in the concluding paragraph of his essay:
Along with many other polite liberals, I
cringed last year when Moore launched into his charmless, pugilistic
acceptance speech at the Academy Awards. Oh, how vulgar, I
thought—couldn't he at least have been funny? A year later, I think I
might have been too hard on the fat prick. Six months before her death
in 1965, the great novelist Dawn Powell wrestled in her diary with the
unseemliness of political speech during an "artistic" event: "Lewis
Mumford gave jolt to the occasion and I realized I had gotten as
chicken as the rest of America because what he said—we had no more
right in Vietnam than Russia had in Cuba—was true but I did not think
he should use his position to declaim this. Later I saw the only way to
accomplish anything is by 'abusing' your power." Exactly. Fahrenheit
9/11 is not a documentary for the ages, it is an act of
counterpropaganda that has a boorish, bullying force. It is, all in
all, a legitimate abuse of power.
At first I wondered why Edelstein had, in his recitation of
Limbaugh's misdeeds, omitted the one that has drawn the most ink in
recent weeks -- his purportedly serious comparison of the events at Abu
Ghraib with mere hazing, such as might be practiced at Yale's Skull and
Bones initiations. But I skipped that for the time being to consider
the importance and the merit of the Limbaugh Defense, which is
everywhere employed to justify the rhetorical excesses of Democrats
from Al Franken to Teddy Kennedy to Al Gore.
Do you see how the cluster phenomenon works? We started out with a
consideration of the controversy over Michael Moore's latest act of
cinematic vandalism, but now we're forced to review the antique litany
of charges against Rush Limbaugh. He has become the Great Excuse, the
Carte Blanche Exculpation of all liberal venom, hatefulness, and ire.
We're not even supposed to discuss the works of someone like Moore on
the merits because it doesn't matter what his demerits might be as long
as Rush Limbaugh is still within spitting distance of the Golden EIB
As it happens, I've been mulling this curious fact for quite a while
now. A month or two ago, I read a little personal essay in Salon
magazine by a woman who was mortified to learn that her psychiatrist
was a Limbaugh listener. Her friends told her to get a new therapist
immediately. Her own reaction was bafflement and confrontation. She
couldn't believe that this woman who had understood her, helped her,
and led her to better decisions in her life could possibly see Limbaugh
as anything but a detestable idiot. She revealed to the psychiatrist
that she knew this dirty secret about her. She was further confounded
when the psychiatrist admitted the truth of the charge and remained
calmly unapologetic about her vice. Ultimately, the writer of the essay
acknowledged that she was still seeing the same therapist but felt
profoundly mystified by this flaw in her being.
I suspect that we were supposed to share the woman's mystification.
Yet I found in her words the beginning of an unraveling of mystery. I
realized that the hysterical character of the writer would never have
allowed her to listen to Limbaugh, such was her horror of this Evil
Eye of the Radio (oxymoron intended). She would have felt herself
violated and traumatized by the experience. Her knowledge of Limbaugh
was a vicarious phenomenon. She loathes Limbaugh because of what other
right-thinking liberals have told her about him.
Those of us who have listened to him at some length generally find
it hard to reconcile the standard description of Limbaugh with the
reality. He is accused of being rude, mean, arrogant, hateful, racist,
deliberately dishonest, and wild-eyed in manner. His audience is
supposed to consist of automaton followers, who are so obedient to his
every whim that they call themselves ditto-heads, so ignorant that they
aren't even aware of their status as mindless rubber stamps.
The only problem with all this is that it's not true. Limbaugh's
fabled ego is in large part a manufactured persona, one that cleverly
counterpoints his confident and often satirical monologues about
politics. Every time he returns to his standard self-congratulating
refrains -- "I, in my infinite wisdom, have figured out more than the
amateurs in the audience can do by themselves," "I, who can discover
the truth, making zero mistakes, with half my brain tied behind my
back" -- he is winking through the airwaves at his ditto-heads,
reminding them that they are hearing personal opinions inflated with
sarcasm and a profound sense of fun. He is sharing his most important
message of all, not to take it all too seriously, because in that
direction lies misery.
That's why one of the most enduring, and sometimes infuriating,
aspects of Limbaugh's radio persona is his insistence on a Reagan-like
optimism. Many of the ditto-heads, far from echoing his pronouncements, try
to penetrate that optimism with anecdotal evidence from the heartland
of the myriad ways that American liberty and culture are in decline.
He is unfazed by such sermons and seeks to reassure them that all is
not lost. (The term ditto-head by the way arose from the amount of time
wasted in the early years of his show by callers who couldn't make
their point without first telling him how grateful they were that a
conservative was finally on the air after generations of the liberal
media monopoly. He asked them to stop this practice and simply say
Nor is he mean. He is courteous to callers, and even when it becomes
obvious that the angry person at the other end of the phone has lied to
the screener in order to vilify him, he allows them to make their
principal point, and he attempts to respond with reason or humor rather
than hostility. He may hit the kill switch after an exchange or two,
but usually he does so only after a caller has begun repeating himself
-- the equivalent, on radio, of the dreaded 'dead air.'
Yes, he uses inflammatory terms and nicknames -- feminazis, the
French-looking senator Kerry, etc -- but he conspicuously does not call
even the most truculent callers names, and unlike many talk radio
hosts he frequently returns good for ill, offering advice to those he
believes misguided in their hostility. I recall an instance when,
shortly after his revelations about drug abuse, a doctor called in to
insist that Limbaugh's hearing loss was definitely caused by drug abuse
and, further, that the cochlear implant would cease working, in fact
had already begun to deteriorate, according to the doctor's diagnosis.
It was an astonishingly vindictive performance, and Limbaugh did no
more than mildly respond that the doctor's assertions were not true. It
was not that he wasn't wounded; it was that he wasn't going to respond
All this may seem overlong, but it's a necessary foundation for what
it is that the liberals really hate about Limbaugh. For it cannot be
the case that none of them has ever listened to him. The secondhand
convictions of those who don't listen are nevertheless important. These
are the things liberals wish were true about him. And the extraordinary
depth of their hatred arises from the fact that they're not true. They
hate him for all the things he is not.
He is not a racist or race-baiter, which is not to say that he does
not make fun of "The Reverend Jesse Jackson," but that his political
terminology is not code for a return to segregation and white
supremacy. When a man talks for three hours a day, five days a week,
for a dozen years, it doesn't take a mindreader to determine whether he
favors a law that is truly color-blind or a law that seeks to
restore priivilege to the prejudiced. Limbaugh truly believes in the
power of individuals of both sexes and all races and faiths to succeed
by dint of hard work and ceaseless aspiration.
Limbaugh is not most of the things he is accused of being. He is not
a ranter, but a talker. He takes remarkably few calls. It would be
physically impossible for anyone to rant for three hours a day without
relying on callers as targets of opportunity. The show's format simply
doesn't allow for that. He is not particularly religious, either, as
his more than occasional salty references make clear. He does not hate
women. Men who keep marrying women may not have figured them out
entirely, but they still seem to regard the opposite sex as worth the effort. He is
not irrational. The general course of his show is a fairly
spontaneously developed line of argumentation about the point at hand,
interrupted by digressions but rarely derailed by them. He likes
thinking. He likes hearing himself think out loud. And 20 million
listeners like to hear him do it.
He is also not a coward. He is routinely dismissed as a chickenhawk,
but there are many kinds of courage, and all of them are admirable.
This is a man who endured what has to have been an inconceivable
nightmare. Having worked his way to the top of his profession, the
number one radio host in all the land, he continued to perform while
the one sense most important to a career in radio, hearing, fled
catastrophically away from him, leaving him at last in utter silence.
Yes, he had the wherewithal for the expensive last resort that was
available, but no one should kid himself that Limbaugh's cochlear
implant is not a very imperfect and difficult prosthesis. He persevered
through the deafness, through the operation that can restore voices but
never music as you and I know it, and he never whined or even mentioned
the irony of this particular loss to a man of his vocation. All that
takes guts, even for a millionaire.
In sum, Limbaugh is not the vile kneejerk reactionary bigot that
liberals would want a man with his following to be. Like the woman
puzzling over her ditto-head psychiatrist, they cannot comprehend that
the millions who listen to Limbaugh are not hateful ignorant fools. For
the liberal vision of right and wrong to hold, the dittoheads must be
troglodytes. And so must he. That it ain't so is the bitterest pill of
all. With their usual convenient and solipsistic logic, liberals leap to
the conclusion that they need populist troglodytes of their own to
counter the imagined ogre they have created in Rush Limbaugh.
Thus, we have liberal justifications aplenty for the Frankens and
Moores who are every bit as nasty, mean-spirited, and irrational as
the Limbaugh they have invented to appease their superior egos. This is
the only way in which a liberal like Edelstein can proudly plant a flag
in the moral quicksand of "the ends justify the means."
Clusters of ideas. We should be done by now, right? But there is
still hanging in the air that exorbitant rationalization at the end of
Edelstein's defense of Michael Moore: "legitimate abuse of power."
We go reeling back to an earlier question. Why would Mr. Edelstein
so conspicuously avoid mentioning the latest, most inflammatory charge
against his bete-noire Limbaugh? Because he cannot dare to mention Abu
Ghraib in this context, and he knows it. The first word that follows is
"abuse," as the military-hating mainstream media has ensured, and no
clever liberal is going to make the mistake of evoking "prisoner abuse"
when he is arguing in a separate instance for "legitimate abuse of
Still, I am obliged to bring it up, because Mr. Edelstein and his
fellow Moore apologists are in a box on this one, a box that discloses
the true and complex nature of their self-professed "moral relativism."
Back to Limbaugh. He has been pilloried for comparing, however
tongue in cheek, the Abu Ghraib abuses with hazing of the kind seen in
college fraternities. This is considered outrageous, even though it
does not amount to an argument for "legitimate abuse of power," but for
understandable abuse of power.
Limbaugh, we are supposed to believe, is trivializing crimes that can
be allowed no circumstantial mitigation of any kind, because... why?
Because liberals know better.
Note, too, that when Limbaugh is being attacked for his "hazing"
remarks, the standard charge of "chickenhawk" is, for once, kept under
wraps. Why is that? Because even though liberals are absurdly making
the case these days that no one who has not served in combat --
including the President of the United States -- is qualified to have
opinions or propose strategies involving military action, we are obliged to remember
that morality is relative in the liberal universe, and so one does not
have to have served in combat to deliver final judgment in advance of
the facts on troops who have misbehaved in a combat environment. (If
you're keeping track of the liberal physics involved here, observe that
this is an absolute judgment wrapped inside a relative judgment, which
makes it okay. Uh, somehow.)
Thus, Limbaugh, who would not normally be permitted to have an
opinion about matters military, is in this case entitled to an opinion
as long as it agrees with the correct opinion. (Of course, it's highly
important that relativism be applied scrupulously and artfully in
multiple aspects of the 'chickenhawk theorem,' because I'm sure
liberals wouldn't like to defend the slam-dunk implication of the
theorem that 99.9 percent of all women over the age of 40 should keep
their damn mouths shut when it comes to matters military. Anyway, we
There is a further irony here, which is to say another contradiction
hovering in the relativist atmosphere of the liberal universe. Was
Limbaugh so wrong, after all, to bring up hazing as a point of
comparison? The answer is no. In fact, the subject of hazing is so
relevant that it might lead to the perverse conclusion that if the
chickenhawk theorem ever
applies, this might be its most plausible proof.
Those of us who have not served in combat units know little of the
cultural meaning of hazing in a dangerous discipline. Civilian
ignorance has caused this somewhat unsavory aspect of military life to
become frankly controversial at intervals in the past. Does anyone
remember the 1997 scandal involving the hazing of Marine paratroopers?
It began with the broadcast on national television of this video.
People were horrified to observe that the young Marines who had just
qualified for their jump wings had those wings pinned literally to their chests by the
unit's veterans. They saw brave young men screaming in pain during an
apparently pointless hazing ritual. How could this have been allowed to
become a marine tradition?
The top brass immediately leaped in to
express their horror and outrage
The top officer of the Marine Corps on
Friday condemned hazing incidents in which young
Marine graduates of a paratrooper school had their metal insignias
pounded into their chests by fellow Marines.
"I am outraged that Marines would
participate in such disgusting behavior," Marine Corps Commandant
Charles Krulak said. "There is absolutely no excuse for this type of
But there were distinguished combat veterans who weren't hesitant to
point out that some of this outrage was disingenuous and that civilians
couldn't fully understand what they were condemning. Colonel David Hackworth,
one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. military history, wrote:
Last week, the media dropped more bombs
on our proud Marine Corps then
the Japanese did from Wake Island to Iwo Jima.
"Bad Marines," "Brutal Marines," "Beastly
chanted the pancaked, blow-dried anchors of the Fourth Estate who'd
onto some old video tapes showing elite Marine Recon troopers having
golden jump wings pounded into their chests.
The politicians quickly joined the chorus
of wailers. Secretary of Defense
William Cohen said he was "disgusted" and "disturbed"
and implied that heads would roll.
True, the TV footage was shocking. Like
much hazing, the "wing initiation"
had gone over the top.
Such behavior is impossible to defend,
and now, because of the camera,
that practice will come to a screeching halt.
But what if there had been video cameras
at Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Chosin
reservoir, and Hue? I wonder if the shocking footage of these terrible
baths would have put an end to war?
He avows his own hope that a day will come when there is no more
war, and he informs us that all combat veterans feel the same way. Then:
But until war disappears, warriors such
as our extraordinary Marine Recon
men of the bloodied chests are needed. They are some of the toughest
men in the world. They've been forged and tempered in fire and are as
They're special men. Not stockbrokers,
accountants and lawyers. They
jump out of perfectly good airplanes, mainly at night, dropping behind
lines to slit throats and create instant carnage. They do brutal stuff
training because war is brutal, and they must be macho to survive.
In their heads, machismo makes them
bulletproof, capable of doing the
impossible. They believe they'll all come back from the mission
tall, singing the Marine Corps Hymn and walking that swaggering, cocky
that only a Marine who's looked death right in the eye without blinking
What worries me about this latest hazing
scandal is the inevitable long
range aftermath. Cohen's comment that he'll have "zero tolerance"
concerning similar antics may end in further diluting the vitally
macho warrior spirit.
Commanders, worried about their careers,
may again overreact and further
soften training standards -- which except in units such as Rangers,
Berets, Force Recon, and SEALs are already soft as jello throughout the
We now have the most safety-first,
politically correct military force
in American history. Which is jolly great for the War of the Rose
But bad news for America when one day down the bloody track, our
again bump up against fierce politically incorrect warriors and get
clocks cleaned as we did in the early stages of WW II and Korea and
recently in Somalia.
Can we at least infer that there are complicated issues involved?
For the conservative, this means that there is a different hierarchy of
absolute and relative. We see a relative wrapped inside an absolute.
The absolute is that we depend on our military to serve bravely,
effectively, and honorably. The relative is that we don't always know,
nor do they, what the practical, or inevitable, tradeoffs might be
between 'effective' and 'honorable.' For the liberal, the hierarchy is,
of course, reversed. The umbrella relative is that we may or may not
need our military, because if wishes were horses, liberals would ride
the dove of peace through every crisis, however ridiculous a dove might
look in a field of flak. The absolute is that the military we put in
the field has to observe every single nicety of civilian life,
including the participation of women where they don't belong and the
maintenance of behavior standards that wouldn't embarrass a poetry
reading at Sarah Lawrence College.
If you're a conservative, you might see in Hackworth's op-ed of
seven years ago an unsettling forecast of the confused and diluted
military discipline we have observed at Abu Ghraib -- let's pretend
female soldiers laughingly humiliating "politically incorrect warriors,"
in between videotaped orgies in the post-Clinton army. Chances are, the
malefactors did not undergo a hazing ritual quite like the one that
became such a scandal in 1997. Maybe theirs was more like what was done
to most of the Abu Ghraib prisoners -- a clownish psychosexual ordeal
that dulled their sensitivities without teaching them the gravity of
their duty. Is this good or bad? How are we, mere civilians, to know?
Perhaps by thinking about it more deeply than the TV wags with their
raised eyebrows want us to. Five years prior to the Marine scandal, a
liberal screenwriter -- father of the West Wing Aaron Sorkin -- penned
a script called A Few Good Men.
It was about a hazing incident that turned fatal. Those of you who are
old enough will recall that 1992 was just prior to the compulsory
left-right hatred that Democrats now blame on the vast right-wing
conspiracy and Republicans blame on Clinton himself. Be that as it may,
Sorkin's movie laid out a genuine dilemma that had to be decided,
interestingly enough, by the military itself rather than a mob of
omniscient anchormen and cable pundits. If you need a refresher, here's
that does the usual masterly job of capturing the whole movie in a few
The inescapable point of the movie was that despite the life and
death matters involved, there is no such thing as a "legitimate abuse
of power." A subsidiary point was that there is such a thing as an
understandable abuse of power,
which should leave all of us, liberals and conservatives, humble and
careful in our judgments.
And if we now circle back to the beginning point in our cluster of
ideas, can we really make the claim, or allow Edelstein to do it for
us, that Michael Moore's dishonest and libelous film trickery is
legitimate in any sense?
I grant this has not been a neat discussion, and our conclusions may
be far from neat as well. But the real world is not neat, either. And
sometimes it's valuable to grab the oranges and apples from the ground
where they fall and force ourselves to tell one from the other.
Thank you for your patience.
Click on the image for the Shuteye
Town 1999 version of the movie.
-- Michael Moore has defenders and all this analysis is not done in a vacuum -- CLICK HERE
to see the valiant defense being mounted on Mr. Moore's behalf by his little oysters (Get it? A food reference.).
Thursday, June 24, 2004
is the birthday of Ambrose Bierce. He was born in 1842, and nobody
knows when he died, because he journeyed to Mexico in 1914 and was
never heard from again. A fitting departure for a writer of horror and
war stories, although it must be said that he was far more than a
teller of tales. His entry at the site Today
offers this glimpse of his appeal (if we can call it
Those familiar with Bierce usually
approach him through his Civil War
stories ("An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "Chickamauga," etc.) and
then stay to enjoy, or at least marvel at, his celebrated aphorisms and
definitions. These offer a scoff for every situation, and are so
thoroughly, happily bitter that even H. L. Mencken recoiled in horror.
Almost any sampling from The Devil's Dictionary will demonstrate what
Bierce was capable of feeling about human relationships:
HUSBAND: One who, having dined, is charged with the care of the plate.
BRIDE: A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.
MARRIAGE: The state or condition of a community consisting of a master,
a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
HOMICIDE: The slaying of one human being by another. There are four
kinds of homicide: felonious, excusable, justifiable and praiseworthy.
BORE: A person who talks when you wish him to listen.
In honor of Bierce's dark and scathing contribution to American
letters, we've rounded up some internet resources on some of his works,
in hope that those who are not already familiar with them will become
First up is The
, a true masterpiece of malice. The link will
carry you to the complete text, but be advised not to read it in a
single sitting. It can turn your blood to acid and your heart to ashes.
But you'll be laughing right up to the moment the metamorphosis occurs.
For any among you who prefer to do your reading from T-shirts rather
than books or CRTs, here's a site offering Bierce merchandise
with some of the briefest meanest entries from the DD. You may even be
tempted to buy one, although we'd prefer it if you'd buy one of these
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge" was mentioned above. It's a classic
short story, but it's also become a classic short movie, which you can
learn more about (and possibly see) at liketelevision
Here's a preview
of the 28-minute film
made in 1962. The vidclip is a promo piece for liketelevision, so be
prepared to wait through previews of the Burns & Allen
TV show and One Step Beyond
, an early rival of Twilight Zone
, before seeing the
Owl Creek footage. It will likely make you want to see the movie and
try out the musical experiment they demonstrate in the preview. (If
your browser is cranky about playing the clip, you can also access it
at the liketelevision link.)
Finally, we thought you might want to read a sample of Bierce's
strangely compelling fiction. So here is the complete text of one of
his most haunting stories.
Horseman in the Sky
One sunny afternoon in the
the year 1861, a soldier lay in a clump of laurel by the side of a road
in Western Virginia. He lay at full length, upon his stomach, his feet
resting upon the toes, his head upon the left forearm. His extended
right hand loosely grasped his rifle. But for the somewhat methodical
disposition of his limbs and a slight rhythmic movement of the
cartridge-box at the back of his belt, he might have been thought to be
dead. He was asleep at his post of duty. But if detected he would be
dead shortly afterward, that being the just and legal penalty of his
The country was wooded
everywhere except at the bottom
of the valley to the northward, where there was a small natural meadow,
through which flowed a stream scarcely visible from the valley\'s rim.
This open ground looked hardly larger than an ordinary dooryard, but
was really several acres in extent. Its green was more vivid than that
of the inclosing forest. Away beyond it rose a line of giant cliffs
similar to those upon which we are supposed to stand in our survey of
the savage scene, and through which the road had some how made its
climb to the summit. The configuration of the valley, indeed, was such
that from this point of observation it seemed entirely shut in, and one
could not but have wondered how the road which found a way out of it
had found a way into it, and whence came and whither went the waters of
the stream that parted the meadow two thousand feet below.
The father lifted his
leonine head, looked at the son
a moment in silence, and replied: "Well, go, sir, and, whatever may
occur, do what you conceive to be your duty. Virginia, to which you are
a traitor, must get on without you. Should we both live to the end of
the war, we will speak further of the matter. Your mother, as the
physician has informed you, is in a most critical condition; at the
best, she cannot be with us longer than a few weeks, but that time is
precious. It would be better not to disturb her."
So Carter Druse, bowing
reverently to his father, who
returned the salute with a stately courtesy which masked a breaking
heart, left the home of his childhood to go soldiering. By conscience
and courage, by deeds of devotion and daring, he soon commended himself
to his fellows and his officers; and it was to these qualities and to
some knowledge of the country that he owed his selection for his
present perilous duty at the extreme outpost. Nevertheless, fatigue had
been stronger than resolution, and he had fallen asleep. What good or
bad angel came in a dream to rouse him from his state of crime, who
shall say? Without a movement, without a sound, in the profound silence
and the languor of the late afternoon, some invisible messenger of fate
touched with unsealing finger the eyes of his consciousness - whispered
into the ear of his spirit the mysterious awakening word which no human
lips ever have spoken, no human memory ever has recalled. He quietly
raised his forehead from his arm and looked between the masking stems
of the laurels, instinctively closing his right hand about the stock of
His first feeling was a
keen artistic delight. On a
colossal pedestal, the cliff, - motionless at the extreme edge of the
capping rock and sharply outlined against the sky, - was an equestrian
statue of impressive dignity. The figure of the man sat the figure of
the horse, straight and soldierly, but with the repose of a Grecian god
carted in the marble which limits the suggestion of activity. The gray
costume harmonized with its aerial background; the metal of
accoutrement and caparison was softened and subdued by the shadow; the
animal\'s skin had no points of high light. A carbine, strikingly
foreshortened, lay across the pommel of the saddle, kept in place by
the right hand grasping it at the "grip"; the left hand, holding the
bridle rein, was invisible. In silhouette against the sky, the profile
of the horse was cut with the sharpness of a cameo; it looked across
the heights of air to the confronting cliffs beyond. The face of the
rider, turned slightly away, showed only an outline of temple and
beard; he was looking downward to the bottom of the valley. Magnified
by its lift against the sky and by the soldier\'s testifying sense of
the formidableness of a near enemy, the group appeared of heroic,
almost colossal, size.
For an instant Druse had a
feeling that he had slept to the end of the war and was looking upon a
noble work of art reared upon that commanding eminence to commemorate
the deeds of an heroic past of which he had been an inglorious part.
The feeling was dispelled by a slight movement of the group: the horse,
without moving its feet, had drawn its body slightly backward from the
verge; the man remained immobile as before. Broad awake and keenly
alive to the significance of the situation, Druse now brought the butt
of his rifle against his cheek by cautiously pushing the barrel forward
through the bushes, cocked the piece, and, glancing through the sights,
covered a vital spot of the horseman\'s breast. A touch upon the
trigger and all would have been well with Carter Druse. At that instant
the horseman turned his head and looked in the direction of his
concealed foeman - seemed to look into his very face, into his eyes,
into his brave, compassionate heart.
Is it, then, so terrible to
kill an enemy in war - an
enemy who has surprised a secret vital to the safety of one\'s self and
comrades - an enemy more formidable for his knowledge than all his army
for its numbers? Carter Druse grew pale; he shook in every limb, turned
faint, and saw the statuesque group before him as black figures,
rising, falling, moving unsteadily in arcs of circles in a fiery sky.
His hand fell away from his weapon, his head slowly dropped until his
face rested on the leaves in which he lay. This courageous gentleman
and hardy soldier was near swooning from intensity of emotion.
It was not for long; in
another moment his face was
raised from earth, his hands resumed their places on the rifle, his
forefinger sought the trigger; mind, heart and eyes were clear,
conscience and reason sound. He could not hope to capture that enemy;
to alarm him would but send him dashing to his camp with his fatal
news. The duty of the soldier was plain: the man must be shot dead from
ambush - without warning, without a moment\'s spiritual preparation,
with never so much as an unspoken prayer, he must be sent to his
account. But no - there is a hope; he may have discovered nothing;
perhaps he is but admiring the sublimity of the landscape. If
permitted, he may turn and ride carelessly away in the direction whence
he came. Surely it will be possible to judge at the instant of his
withdrawing whether he knows. It may well be that his fixity of
attention - Druse turned his head and looked through the deeps of air
downward as from the surface of the bottom of a translucent sea. He saw
creeping across the green meadow a sinuous line of figures of men and
horses - some foolish commander was permitting the soldiers of his
escort to water their beasts in the open, in plain view from a hundred
Druse withdrew his eyes
from the valley and fixed them
again upon the group of man and horse in the sky, and again it was
through the sights of his rifle. But this time his aim was at the
horse. In his memory, as if they were a divine mandate, rang the words
of his father at their parting: "Whatever may occur, do what you
conceive to be your duty." He was calm now. His teeth were firmly but
not rigidly closed; his nerves were as tranquil as a sleeping babe\'s -
not a tremor affected any muscle of his body; his breathing, until
suspended in the act of taking aim, was regular and slow. Duty had
conquered; the spirit had said to the body: "Peace, be still." He fired.
An officer of the Federal
force, who, in a spirit of
adventure or in quest of knowledge, had left the hidden bivouac in the
valley, and, with aimless feet, had made his way to the lower edge of a
small open space near the foot of the cliff, was considering what he
had to gain by pushing his exploration further. At a distance of a
quarter-mile before him, but apparently at a stone\'s throw, rose from
its fringe of pines the gigantic face of rock, towering to so great a
height above him that it made him giddy to look up to where its edge
cut a sharp, rugged line against the sky. At some distance away to his
right it presented a clean, vertical profile against a background of
blue sky to a point half the way down, and of distant hills hardly less
blue, thence to the tops of the trees at its base. Lifting his eyes to
the dizzy altitude of its summit, the officer saw an astonishing sight
- a man on horseback riding down into the valley through the air!
Straight upright sat the
rider, in military fashion,
with a firm seat in the saddle, a strong clutch upon the rein to hold
his charger from too impetuous a plunge. From his bare head his long
hair streamed upward, waving like a plume. His hands were concealed in
the cloud of the horse\'s lifted mane. The animal\'s body was as level
as if every hoof-stroke encountered the resistant earth. Its motions
were those of a wild gallop, but even as the officer looked they
ceased, with all the legs thrown sharply forward as in the act of
alighting from a leap. But this was a flight!
Filled with amazement and
terror by this apparition of
a horseman in the sky-half believing himself the chosen scribe of some
new apocalypse, the officer was overcome by the intensity of his
emotions; his legs failed him and he fell. Almost at the same instant
he heard a crashing sound in the trees - a sound that died without an
echo - and all was still.
The officer rose to his
feet, trembling. The familiar
sensation of an abraded shin recalled his dazed faculties. Pulling
himself together, he ran obliquely away from the cliff to a point
distant from its foot; thereabout he expected to find his man; and
thereabout he naturally failed. In the fleeting instant of his vision
his imagination had been so wrought upon by the apparent grace and ease
and intention of the marvelous performance that it did not occur to him
that the line of march of aerial cavalry is directly downward, and that
he could find the objects of his search at the very foot of the cliff.
A half-hour later he returned to camp.
This officer was a wise
man; he knew better than to
tell an incredible truth. He said nothing of what he had seen. But when
the commander asked him if in his scout he had learned anything of
advantage to the expedition, he answered:
"Yes, sir; there is no road
leading down into this
valley from the southward."
The commander, knowing
After firing his shot,
Private Carter Druse reloaded
his rifle and resumed his watch. Ten minutes had hardly passed when a
Federal sergeant crept cautiously to him on hands and knees. Druse
neither turned his head nor looked at him, but lay without motion or
sign of recognition.
"Did you fire?" the
"A horse. It was standing
on yonder rock-pretty far
out. You see it is no longer there. It went over the cliff."
The man\'s face was white,
but he showed no other sign
of emotion. Having answered, he turned away his eyes and said no more.
The sergeant did not understand.
"See here, Druse," he said,
after a moment\'s silence,
"it\'s no use making a mystery. I order you to report. Was there
anybody on the horse?"
The sergeant rose to his
feet and walked away. "Good
God!" he said.
Happy birthday, Mr. Bierce.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
Catharsis is good for the soul, and sometimes it's good to go a little
over the top to relieve the frustrations caused by events out of our
control. Today we're going to do nothing more ambitious than have a
little fun with terror.
First, just to remind us of what we're so frustrated about, here's an
al Qaida recruiting and training video
captured by the U.S. military.
Next, we'll give you an opportunity to prove how restrained you would
have been if you'd been on duty in Abu Ghraib prison. You'll have every
resource you need to demonstrate your virtue and kindness. Ready for al Qaidamon
You've probably heard that some of the more pacific and enlightened
among us are now pitching the idea of negotiating with al Qaida. Here's
a movie that explores the possibility. It's called Diplomacy
Of course, you may be one of the ones who just want to get a clean shot
at the ultimate bad guy. If so, you might enjoy Bin Blaster
And if you want to be your own special forces unit, you can wage your
in four different scenarios, including a face to face,
er, meeting with Osama.
But not everyone gets off on a little isolated shooting and killing. If
you're really really disgusted with Islam, the middle east, and our
loving allies the French, Da Payback
is going to be just your cup of tea.
Finally, a little video feature you shouldn't watch if you blushed
during Janet Jackson's Super Bowl performance. It's actually a good
deal racier than that, but it's also quite funny. So weigh the matter
carefully, then click on Taliban
If any of this offends you, we'd like to apologize, but we just can't.
Instead, we'll give you some good advice. Get a sense-of-humor
transplant and come back tomorrow when we'll try to be a little more
dignified and serious.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Back from Olympus!
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
He's ba-a-a-ack. And he's absolutely everywhere. His
16-pound book got reviewed on the front page of the New York Times, and
they just loved
As his celebrated 1993 speech in
Memphis to the Church of God in
Christ demonstrated, former President Bill Clinton is capable of
soaring eloquence and visionary thinking. But as those who heard his
deadening speech nominating Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic
National Convention in Atlanta well know, he is also capable of
numbing, self-conscious garrulity.
Unfortunately for the reader, Mr.
Clinton's much awaited new
autobiography "My Life" more closely resembles the Atlanta speech,
which was so long-winded and tedious that the crowd cheered when he
finally reached the words "In closing . . ."
The book, which weighs in at more than
950 pages, is sloppy,
self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man
prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant
recording angel of history.
He also had a wonderful and charming interview with Mr. David
Dimbleby of the BBC.
A preview story described some of the highlights:
The former American
president, famed for his amiable
disposition, becomes visibly angry and rattled, particularly when
Dimbleby asks him whether his publicly declared contrition over the
affair is genuine.
His outrage at the line of
questioning during the 50-minute interview, to be broadcast on Panorama
on Tuesday night, lasts several minutes. It is the first time that the
former President has been seen to lose his temper publicly over the
issue of his sexual liaisons with Ms Lewinsky.
In fact, everyone's been so glad to see him again that
the Associated Press celebrated by conducting a poll in which 1,000
Americans were asked to compare Bill Clinton with Ronald Reagan. As
expected, people still admire Clinton lavishly. Fully three in ten
believe he was a greater president than Reagan, one in three believe he
was a better communicator than Reagan, and almost half as many people
who respect Reagan as a person respect Clinton as a person. You can
read the rest of the lovefest here.
Even card-carrying members of the vast right-wing conspiracy
were overjoyed to see Bill on TV again. They couldn't tear themselves
away from the screen and rushed into print with their delight at what
Just as they
absurdly greeted Hillary Clinton’s book a year ago as “candid” about
how she only learned after eight months that Bill Clinton had lied to
her about Lewinsky (on the June 4, 2003 Today Katie Couric gushed about
how Mrs. Clinton was “very candid about a very personal matter"), some
network stars have been equally gullible about Bill Clinton’s new book.
Couric touted at the top of Monday’s Today: “True confessions. A candid
President Clinton talks about his political accomplishments and
personal demons.” Over on
ABC’s Good Morning America, George Stephanopoulos called the book “very
candid, there's no question about it, a lot of personal revelation
there.” Time’s Joe Klein, appearing on Today, complained about how the
media “blew” Clinton’s “scandalettes way out of proportion.”
just as happy to see him again at the folks at the MRC. So we're
joining into the general adulation with a rare excerpt from Shuteye
Town 1999. The
hyperlinks work (look for the little hand to appear as you move the
cursor around, then click.) The F11 key will give you a full-screen
view of the graphics as you visit one of the bays at Afrian-Amerianz
Station's Hall of Heroes.
Monday, June 21, 2004
Watch out for speedtraps.
It's the first day of the hot season, and if you're like us, you're
going to be out there on the highways and back roads boosting the
throttle for that marvelous wind-in-your-face feeling. That's why we
want to share a little gift that's free on the internet: a site where
you hunt down and smoke out the dirty, cowardly speedtraps
that afflict our great nation. You can search by state, county, and
town. We recommend it highly as a safeguard for your summer fun.
The curs at Time
are salivating over new charges of abuse at Abu Ghraib.
More detainees are claiming sexual abuse that goes beyond mere
humiliation. But before you forget about Paul Johnson and start foaming
at the mouth about the inexpressible evil of America, take a look at
this article in the obscure online magazine New
People are woefully bad at recalling
details of their own traumatic experiences. When military personnel
were subjected to threatening behaviour during mock interrogations,
most failed to identify the questioner a day or so later, and many even
got the gender wrong. The finding casts serious doubt on the
reliability of victim testimonies in cases involving psychological
If you want details of the latest study, read the whole article. It's
not long, but it may help in the assessment of some of the wilder
charges that aren't documented with self-incriminating photographs.
The Kerry campaign is burning the midnight oil to find ways of
countering the negative public impression created by partisan attacks
like the one shown above. Now they think they've identified a means of
proving that "Kerry isn't a waffler, a double-talker, or a spinner."
Web surfers can log on to a continuous Virtual Press Conference in
which candidate Kerry answers every question posed. An unnamed campaign
spokesman said, "Ordinary average Americans will be able to see for
themselves that Senator Kerry gives direct answers without mincing
words." Try it. We did, and you know what? He's a lot more terse
and succinct than we thought he'd be. Ask your question here
(Scroll down for the answer.)
Sunday, June 20, 2004
In a recent InstaPunk entry
R. F. Laird suggested we should "yank something we take
for granted out of context and observe just how amazing it is." Some of
our readers have responded eloquently to this challenge, and today we
are offering what we hope will be the first of many such communications
from friends who are blessed with the ability to see majesty and
meaning in the commonplace. If you would like to submit a wonder of
your own, please email it with all appropriate graphics to the address
shown on this page. We look forward to hearing from you. Now for a
detour into the miraculous world of dogs:
Life with Greyhounds
When I adopted my first greyhound, Sonny, I used to say that I got a
greyhound because I wanted to look like my dog – long, lean, and
elegant. (This is something only to be imagined when you are five feet
tall.) He is the most beautiful dog I have ever seen, with a
narrow, beautiful face, brown doe eyes that break your heart, a deep
chest with a nipped-in waist, long slender legs that sunlight shines
through, ears that can lie down or stand up depending on his mood, and
a blinding white coat with fawn patches. He makes me feel as if I'm one
of those art deco statues, a perfect woman moving in stride with an
equally perfect, devoted companion.
There is a myth that greyhounds are hyperactive. And it is a myth. They
sleep about 20 hours a day and love to lounge around. Sometimes it's
difficult to get them in motion at all. This from an athlete whose top
speed would embarrass Secretariat. Though they love to go for a walk
anytime, mere walking requires some training. It's a question of
repealing their instincts. The fastest sprinters on earth next to
cheetahs, they can reach top speed faster than a Ferrari, but they tire
quickly when they have to slow and maintain their pace for a long walk.
They do it because they want to be with you. Imagine the world's
smallest, slimmest racehorse content to stroll at your side taking in
the sights and smells of gardens, people, cities and countryside.
But their cslm willingness cannot hide the exotic nature of a
greyhound. Because they have no no body fat, they require a coat when
the temperature dips below 40 degrees. Their diets have to be managed
to perfection if they are not to gain weight. If they overeat by even a
little, the extra flesh is too great a strain for their fine-boned
bodies. I learned to feed my boys in strict rations twice a day. If
more or less food is needed, I can adjust the amount they eat within
days because their bodies respond so quickly.
All of this knowledge was still in the future when I first took steps
toward acquiring my first greyhound. Having passed the adoption
requirements and reference checks, I received a phone call on September
29, 1995, telling me that 'my boy' was ready to come home and that I
could pick him up on the first of October. I asked what he looked like
and was told that he was white with fawn patches, at least 7 pounds
underweight, and scruffy from all the fleas that had chewed on his
fragile skin. His name, they told me, was Knock and he was not yet two.
I was informed of other details. He didn’t walk very well on a leash,
he was exceptionally timid, but he had been pronounced safe for cats.
My daughter Susan and I started our journey up the Garden State Parkway
on Sunday morning, both very excited to be adding this special dog to
our family. We already had two cats and one dog, a fairly
dog-aggressive mixed-breed terrier named Tissues, who had recently been
diagnosed with mouth cancer. It was a grim time. We had just lost two
dear canine companions in June, Lady and Snoopy, within a week of each
other. Tissues had sunk into serious depression, refusing to eat or go
for a walk. So we had decided, in extremis, to adopt another dog. We
arrived at the home where our greyhound had been boarded since his
rescue from the life of the track. When we went inside, three long
heads curled around the doorway and looked us over. The foster-mother
Gwen said, "The middle one is yours." I stooped down to greet the
three faces eye to eye. Our boy immediately sidled up to me, lay down,
and rolled on his back, inviting me to start rubbing his belly. Gwen
was astonished and said she had never seen a grey do that before. To me
it felt inevitable, an immediate joining of spirits.
I received a half hour’s worth of instructions, a scroll of do’s and
don’ts, a folder of papers, a special collar and leash, and a crate. At
long last, we loaded the hurriedly renamed 'Sonny' (who would have a
dog named Knock?) into the car and started home. He was placid and
accommodating the whole trip. As Susan studied his deceptively smooth
face, she suggested we should have named him Yoda for his big, knowing
There's a protocol for introducing a track-damaged greyhound into a new
home. Following Gwen’s instructions, Susan stood outside and somewhat
away from the house while I went in and got Tish. The terrrier and I
went out the door and down the street to join Susan and Sonny. We had
taken a couple of steps before Tish realized that she was in the
company of a very large and spectacular creature. She almost jumped out
of her skin. But we stuck to the protocol and took the two for a
ten-minute walk before entering the house through the back door,
deliberately not our usual entry. By now, Tish seemed accustomed to her
new friend and it seemed as if everything would go smoothly from here
And so it did. Sonny proved to be a gentle, friendly, and affectionate
boy, fond of both other dogs and cats. Tissues took to him immediately
and lay directly in front of his crate, keeping him company whenever he
was in it. After he mastered the difficult (for greyhounds) art of
walking up and down steps, Sonny soon displayed the true nature of all
greys, the overwhelming desire to be a couch potato. A seven-foot
potato. He liked nothing better than to stretch his vast limbs to their
full extension and take up the entire three cushions, allowing no one
else any space. Tish observed this and objected. She knew the couch
belonged to her, not Sonny. Her determination to reclaim the couch bore
fruit; by December all traces of her cancer had disappeared. The vet
called her God’s miracle because there was no other possible
eexplanation for her cure. She crowned her triumph by reclaiming her
spot on the couch, which she accomplished by sitting on top of Sonny
until he moved or gave her enough room to curl up in the steep curves
of his body.
Cats were one thing, but people were another. Sonny had lived the life
of a gladiator, a professional serf at the dogtrack, and people made
him nervous. Unaware of the stress it would cause him, Susan and I
invited 20 people for Thanksgiving dinner. Sonny was so traumatized by
all the strangers that he crushed himself in the back of his crate and
shook like a leaf. After four hours of this misery, I knew he had to go
out but couldn't bring himself to leave his crate. So I attached his
leash and tried to lead him out the door. He stared wildly at all the
people, then launched himself into a prodigious leap -- practically
knocking me over -- and flew out the door. When the dismaying guests
finally went away, he forgave us and returned to his usual paradise on
But greyhounds are spiritual creatures. They learn, they adapt, they
grow. Sonny slowly began to get used to visitors, as long as there were
no more than one or two people. We continued to guess about what had
happened in his two traumatic years of racing; he remained
exceptionally tense with men. When a male came in the house, he ran for
his crate and refused to come out or greet anyone. Unfortunately for
Sonny, we had Christmas Eve to contend with too. And he repeated his
performance for everybody. Only children were accepted with no concern
Over the next year, he became accustomed to life in a house. He loved
to run in the back yard and Tish would always try to run with him. She
would give up after about 5 steps. Sonny would coyly look around to see
where she was and play hide and seek with her. He created the world’s
best track by running in a circle and I spent most of my time shoveling
dirt back in, a truly futile task.
In March of 1996, Susan came home with a stray that she had found
outside the parking garage where she worked. He was large boned,
skinny, missing a lot of hair, and had eyes full of mucous. After a
veterinarian visit to make sure he was healthy, Achilles now needed
surgery. His eye problem was the result of ingrown eyelashes. The
operation cured his problem and he became one of the gang.
Tissues just adored her boys and pushed them around regularly. They
accepted this because they could. They were much larger and didn’t need
to push back. Now we had Achilles trying to run with the greyhound.
There has never been a funnier sight than a medium-sized terrier and a
large Swiss Mountain dog trying to keep up with a greyhound.
In October 1996, I decided to bring a kitten home from the barn where
my horses were boarded. He was black but had a misshapen lip and
mucousy eyes. He used to follow me everywhere and even helped me when I
was cleaning out a stall. I felt sorry for him with his conditions and
selected him because he was so outgoing and needed help. We named him
Ajax. He immediately fixed on Sonny and started playing with him. I did
not know how things would turn out. Ajax was so small and Sonny looked
enormous next to him. I would watch closely as they played. Ajax would
run and attack Sonny’s leg, biting merrily away as the grey just looked
at him. Then he would lie on his back and Sonny would put his long nose
down and sniff him. It was all I could do to stay in my seat. But the
kitten seemed confident and Sonny never did anything wrong. Ajax loved
to run up to Sonny when he was lying on the floor or sleeping and
attack his tail or walk on him. They would sometimes sleep together and
Ajax was so completely unaware of any possible danger that he would hop
up on the couch and walk on Sonny’s head and over his body searching
for the perfect spot for a nap.
Ajax, and Mickey
(A greyhound really keeps you warm.)
Eventually Ajax even took his game outdoors and would run across the
yard to attack Sonny, who always stood completely still while the cat
flung himself around Sonny’s leg.
After a couple of years, Sonny finally became used to people coming
into the house and would even come to greet them. He began to enjoy
holiday parties (especially all the food that he can reach). He is
still wary of strangers and will revert to his old habits from time to
In September 2002, Susan bought a house and planned to move herself and
Achilles. Tissues had passed away in April at the age of 15, and now
Sonny would be an only dog. Friends of mine adopted a greyhound in
October and Sonny and I would visit them to help him adjust to his new
life. Jay loved Sonny’s visits and the two boys would play and run
together in the yard and at the dog run. But Jay was very quiet and
withdrawn otherwise, so they got a second grey. With Buddy’s arrival,
Jay started to come out of his shell and enjoy his new life. In January
2003, I adopted another greyhound, Patrick.
Patrick settled in very quickly, even with the five cats. They just
love to play with his tail, which he wags most of the time. When
Achilles moved in March, we had no separation anxiety. He still comes
for visits and sometimes for overnights. It’s as if he never left. Both
greys are always delighted to see him and he takes up his old spot in
the bedroom with them.
Patrick was so easygoing and cooperative that I decided to take him for
training. We took beginner obedience first. We didn’t need the
instruction for pulling since greyhounds don’t pull, and we didn’t need
to learn how to stand at the side since they love to stay planted next
to you. But they don’t normally sit because their conformation makes it
uncomfortable for them. I thought I would never get him to sit. We
tried and tried and tried. At long last, after 8 weeks, he finally
mastered it. After this huge success, I decided to take an agility
course. Patrick balked at everything. He just refused to try anything
new. We had to lift him onto the A-frame, guide him up the
teeter-totter one tiny step at a time. He was enjoying himself
enormously. Finally, we were able to do each piece of equipment, so we
moved on to advanced beginner. More balking. On the last night of
class, we were able to work outdoors and he performed perfectly. Never
being one to miss an opportunity, I immediately retired him. No
competition for us.
But in July, disaster struck. On July 1st, I received a call from the
barn that my horse, Naomi, was very sick with a colic. I called the vet
immediately and he said he would meet me there. When I got to the barn,
Naomi was in serious distress. Her belly was bloated and she now had a
twisted gut. There was nothing to do but put her down. It seemed such a
terrible way to end a life of 25 years.
now in heaven
On the fourth of July, I noticed a small lump on Sonny’s right front
leg. I was sure that it was not an abscess and I didn’t think it was an
insect bite. Now I had to wait for the vet’s office to open. The worst
possible news – it’s a tumor. We scheduled surgery and a biopsy. The
tumor was benign but the doctor was not able to remove everything so
there was a good chance that it would grow back. Sonny would not leave
his leg alone and ripped out the stitches. Back to surgery we went to
sew it up again. It finally healed but all too soon the tumor started
to grow again. Now we had to wait; the tumor would either burst or cut
off the circulation in his leg.
This past Monday, June 14th, the tumor burst. Sonny went to the vet’s
on Tuesday. The vet was willing to try to cut it out if I was
willing to try, so Sonny went for surgery on Wednesday morning.
Luckily, there was sufficient skin to sew him up and now it is healing.
Sonny is 10 and a half. The doctor said that the tumor might grow even
more quickly as a result of the surgery. I am trying to face the
prospect of losing him.
Both of my boys love other animals. Greyhounds are so used to being
with each other and hanging their heads on each other’s backs that they
do not recognize any form of danger from another dog. If one starts
running at them, they simply stand and wait for their newfound friend
to arrive. This has caused me some scary moments over the years because
not all dogs are so friendly. There have been greyhounds injured and
killed by other dogs. They are completely defenseless. Greyhounds also
rarely bark (except for Patrick who is all too willing to let you know
that he wants something with a bark). We have been to a couple of
greyhound picnics with one-hundred or more greyhounds in attendance and
there is not a single bark. It is a most extraordinary and eerie
Since Patrick came to live with us, I realized even more how much I
love greyhounds. I thought I already knew this from having Sonny, but
Patrick has made this feeling even more intense. I cannot imagine life
without one. These retired racers, so poorly treated in their life on
the track, are serene, loving, and eternally sweet companions. Their
eyes are as gentle as spring rain, and their long faces are as graceful
and moving as a dream of angels. I feel honored and privileged to have
Saturday, June 19, 2004
. Trust the Brits to be involved when there's some really good
cloak and dagger work underway. The same people who brought us Kim
Philby and David "Squarehead" Cornwell are breaking the news that an
unnamed senior intelligence official is getting ready to expose the
deep love bin Laden has for the Bush administration. You can read the
full piece here
which might be wise, because we're going to tackle it a sentence or two
at a time. And yeah, we know we're not intelligence experts, whatever
that means anymore, but we do possess a modicum of logic and common
sense. Let's see how those two homely attributes stack up against what
passes for intelligence these days.
told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands
'reward' American president with strike aimed at keeping him in office,
senior intelligence man says
Julian Borger in Washington
Saturday June 19, 2004
A senior US intelligence official is
about to publish a bitter condemnation of America's counter-terrorism
policy, arguing that the west is losing the war against al-Qaida and
that an "avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked" war in Iraq has played
into Osama bin Laden's hands.
Wow. This has got it all. A provocative headline, a downright
inflammatory subhead, a mysterious highly placed source, and a
vitriolic quote -- all in the first few lines. Should we wait or just
sail in right away? Well, you know us. Avaricious, huh? The Bushies
couldn't wait to reap the bonanza of a $100 billion war expense, a $70
billion rebuilding effort, and a quick handover of Iraqi oil revenue to
the provisional government. We've seen infomercials on late-night TV
that looked more promising than this particular formula for enrichment.
Premeditated? We hope so. Somehow invasions don't belong to that
category of festivity that seem best done as a spontaneous lark.
Unprovoked? Right. Twelve years of defiance, U.S. planes shot at in the
no-fly zones... who could be provoked by that? Certainly not the old
'intelligence' hands who refused to be provoked by the World Trade
Center bombing (1993), the Khobar Towers, Riyadh, the embassy bombings, the U.S.S. Cole,
et al. Whatever else you want to say about them, those boys don't
Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing
the War on Terror, due out next month, dismisses two of the most
frequent boasts of the Bush administration: that Bin Laden and al-Qaida
are "on the run" and that the Iraq invasion has made America safer.
Funny. Just the other day on Drudge, the Financial Times was
reporting that Gitmo interrogations had turned up the interesting
fact that Mullah Omar wasn't too gung-ho about the 9/11 attack.
Seems he was afraid the Americans might do something military in
Afghanistan afterwards. The genius bin Laden told him not to worry, the
Taliban was safe. But now we learn that bin Laden actually prefers it
this way; he must find it especially inspiring to have big chunks of
his leadership captured or assassinated. In fact, that's how you make
his day. Another dead colleague, another divine inspiration. As for
whether America is safer or not, let's just say that it's become
clearer all the time that the American intelligence apparatus may not
be the best judge of that. We know this gypsy who divines the future
from the grounds at the bottom of your Starbucks cup. Maybe we should
In an interview with the Guardian the
official, who writes as "Anonymous", described al-Qaida as a much more
proficient and focused organization than it was in 2001, and predicted
that it would "inevitably" acquire weapons of mass destruction and try
to use them.
We're always much surer of ourselves, too, when we write as
'Anonymous.' Amazing how it reduces the blood pressure to know you can
say anything without fear of direct retort and personal challenges.
(Note the tagline we're using for this piece. Cool, huh.) One could
point out that a real good way to become more focused is to be the
target of a continuous international manhunt. That would sharpen our
concentration wonderfully well. How about you? What else? Oh. The dire
prediction. Imagine you were a 'senior intelligence official' who had
participated in the Keystone Kops pursuit of terrorists and WMDs over
the past ten years. How hard would it be to make this particular
prediction? Or to put it another way, how hard would it be to avoid
making this prediction? Color us impressed.
He said Bin Laden was probably
"comfortable" commanding his organization from the mountainous tribal
lands along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
He would know this how? Of course, you'll have to pardon us for
being a bit skeptical when a high-level spook uses the word 'probably.'
The Pakistani army claimed a big success
in the "war against terror" yesterday with the killing of a tribal
leader, Nek Mohammed, who was one of al-Qaida's protectors in
But Anonymous, who has been centrally
involved in the hunt for Bin Laden, said: "Nek Mohammed is one guy in
one small area. We sometimes forget how big the tribal areas are." He
believes President Pervez Musharraf cannot advance much further into
the tribal areas without endangering his rule by provoking a Pashtun
revolt. "He walks a very fine line," he said yesterday.
You see, we can place great confidence in the words of Anonymous
because he has been "centrally involved in the hunt for bin Laden." And
Scotland Yard was centrally involved in the hunt for Jack the Ripper.
Maybe it takes a Brit to believe that failure is a good credential for
Imperial Hubris is the latest in a
relentless stream of books attacking the administration in election
year. Most of the earlier ones, however, were written by embittered
former officials. This one is unprecedented in being the work of a
serving official with nearly 20 years experience in counter-terrorism
who is still part of the intelligence establishment.
He's still part of the
intelligence establishment. Great. If you were part of a huge
establishment that kept falling on its ass in critical situations in
public, would you feel any incentive to tell the world that your
screw-ups were somebody -- anybody -- else's fault, and you just
couldn't be held accountable for anything that has happened, is
happening, or will happen? Does anybody else feel like it's time to
fire a few of the sorry so-called expert asses that are warming the
plush chairs of the intelligence establishment?
The fact that he has been allowed to
publish, albeit anonymously and without naming which agency he works
for, may reflect the increasing frustration of senior intelligence
officials at the course the administration has taken.
Or it may reflect the increasing fear of senior intelligence
officials that sooner or later, even they will be exposed and reviled
for their incompetence. Can you spell P-E-N-S-I-O-N?
Peter Bergen, the author of two books on
Bin Laden and al-Qaida, said: "His views represent an amped-up version
of what is emerging as a consensus among intelligence counter-terrorist
What a potent mouthful: "a consensus among intelligence
counter-terrorist professionals." If we're allowed to consult the
record on this, we might be excused for preferring a consensus of the
1962 New York Mets.
Anonymous does not try to veil his
contempt for the Bush White House and its policies. His book describes
the Iraq invasion as "an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war
against a foe who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer
We're still waiting to hear about the economic advantage. Lifelong
Washington bureaucrats are always the most insightful people about how
economics work, we know, but a shred of fact might be helpful in
enabling us proles to understand. As a footnote, we'd be more
respectful of Anonymous's refusal to veil his contempt if he weren't so
thoroughly veiled himself.
"Our choice of timing, moreover, shows an
abject, even willful failure to recognize the ideological power,
lethality and growth potential of the threat personified by Bin Laden,
as well as the impetus that threat has been given by the US-led
invasion and occupation of Muslim Iraq."
Another big mouthful. However, if we were looking for a great
example of "abject, even willful failure to recognize the
ideological power, lethality and growth potential of the threat
personified by Bin Laden," we probably wouldn't pick the first
administration that dared to overturn the status quo in confronting and
seeking to kill Islamofascist terrorists. We might light instead on the
senior officials who twiddled their thumbs while bin Laden was moving
from attack to attack with utter impunity from the intelligence and law
enforcement establishments, not to mention the blind eye of Reno, Gore,
In his view, the US missed its biggest
chance to capture the al-Qaida leader at Tora Bora in the Afghan
mountains in December 2001. Instead of sending large numbers of his own
troops, General Tommy Franks relied on surrogates who proved to be
As opposed to the times when the Sudan tried to hand bin Laden to
the U.S. on a silver platter.
"For my money, the game was over at Tora
Bora," Anonymous said.
How cool is this? The game is over. Guess Anonymous can just sit at
his big desk shaking his head at everything that happens from now on.
Nothing left to do.
Yesterday President Bush repeated his
assertion that Bin Laden was cornered and that there was "no hole or
cave deep enough to hide from American justice".
Anonymous said: "I think we overestimate
significantly the stress [Bin Laden's] under. Our media and sometimes
our policymakers suggest he's hiding from rock to rock and hill to hill
and cave to cave. My own hunch is that he's fairly comfortable where he
If it's cause for concern when an intelligence official says
"probably," imagine how confident we are when he has a hunch.
The death and arrest of experienced
operatives might have set back Bin Laden's plans to some degree but
when it came to his long-term capacity to threaten the US, he said, "I
don't think we've laid a glove on him".
"I don't think" is almost as good as a hunch, though it may be, in
some sense, truer.
"What I think we're seeing in al-Qaida is
a change of generation," he said. "The people who are leading al-Qaida
now seem a lot more professional group.
"They are more bureaucratic, more
management competent, certainly more literate. Certainly, this
generation is more computer literate, more comfortable with the tools
of modernity. I also think they're much less prone to being the Errol
Flynns of al-Qaida. They're just much more careful across the board in
the way they operate."
We're inclined to agree that Anonymous knows his stuff about
bureaucratic management. Who but a Washington bureaucrat would conceive
that the most fearful descriptor he could apply to Al Qaida would be
"bureaucratic." We're quaking in our boots. Any moment now, the next
attack may come in the form of a series of suffocating regulations.
What would we do then? Oh that's right. We have senior intelligence
officials who know how to deal with that eventuality, if no other.
As for weapons of mass destruction, he
thinks that if al-Qaida does not have them already, it will inevitably
The most likely source of a nuclear
device would be the former Soviet Union, he believes. Dirty bombs,
chemical and biological weapons, could be home-made by al-Qaida's own
experts, many of them trained in the US and Britain.
Duh. And on whose watch did they get all that training, Anonymous?
Anonymous, who published an analysis of
al-Qaida last year called Through Our Enemies' Eyes, thinks it quite
possible that another devastating strike against the US could come
during the election campaign, not with the intention of changing the
administration, as was the case in the Madrid bombing, but of keeping
the same one in place.
"I'm very sure they can't have a better
administration for them than the one they have now," he said.
"One way to keep the Republicans in power
is to mount an attack that would rally the country around the
We've been waiting for this part of the spiel. Only a true
professional bureaucrat would be able to figure out that bin Laden's
greatest fear is a return to the dread days of the Clinton
administration, when counter-terrorism lay firmly in the hands of
experts like Anonymous. When bin Laden contemplates the havoc Kerry
will wreak by genuflecting to the anti-terror leviathan named Chirac,
he practically wets his pants. Worse still is the prospect that under a
Kerry administration, the Taliban might be restored in Afghanistan and
then bin Laden would have to return from his comfy aerie to the urban
dangers of Kabul. For months he has lain sleepless in his bed pondering
ways of enhancing the electability of the man who made him look like
such a genius with Mullah Omar. "Anyone but that ruthless and cunning swift boat
captain," he mutters. "anybody but Kerry."
The White House has yet to comment
publicly on Imperial Hubris, which is due to be published on July 4,
but intelligence experts say it may try to portray him as a
professionally embittered maverick.
The tone of Imperial Hubris is certainly
angry and urgent, and the stridency of his warnings about al-Qaida led
him to be moved from a highly sensitive job in the late 90s.
Oh? So he's been working in a cubicle next to the copier for the
past five years? But that wouldn't make him bitter or strident, would
it? And isn't it odd that the "consensus among intelligence
counter-terrorist professionals" is being articulated by a guy nobody's
seen except at the water cooler since before 9/11.
But Vincent Cannistraro, a former chief
of operations at the CIA counter-terrorism centre, said he had been
vindicated by events. "He is very well respected, and looked on as a
serious student of the subject."
Oh, that explains it. He's a serious student of the subject. Why, we
have it on good authority that he got a 720 on his counter-terrorism
SATs. That's easily in the 99th percentile. Of what, you ask? We don't
Anonymous believes Mr. Bush is taking the
US in exactly the direction Bin Laden wants, towards all-out
confrontation with Islam under the banner of spreading democracy.
Excuse us, but that's what war is. Two combatants identify one
another as enemies and have at it. Unless one of them chooses abject
surrender, that's pretty much how it has to go.
He said: "It's going to take
10,000-15,000 dead Americans before we say to ourselves: 'What is going
We've been saying the same thing. Largely because of brain-dead
bureaucratic incompetents like Anonymous. There's no way to finesse
this war with elegant memos or bitter, self-promoting leaks to the
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004
Friday, June 18, 2004
killed Paul Johnson. Click on the picture to see what they did.
. As the
slaughter of the helpless continues, the modern secular responses we
read seem increasingly weak and pitiful. The enemy are jihadists, but
we are not permitted to speak of crusade, only of 'justice,'
'civilization,' and 'outrage.' Perhaps it's time to call a spade a
spade -- it's the Islamofascist
killers who are the true infidels here, after all -- and call down upon
their heads the kind of Old Testament vengeance they deserve. I give
6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; tear out, O LORD , the
fangs of the lions! 7 Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows be blunted. 8 Like a
slug melting away as it moves along, like a stillborn child, may they
not see the sun.
13 Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains
ablaze, 15 so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your
storm. 16 Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your
name, O LORD .
8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays
you for what you have done to us- 9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
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