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June 25, 2004 - June 18, 2004

Friday, June 25, 2004


Abuse of Power, Chickenhawks, and the Limbaugh Defense


Can you handle the truth?

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 magazine Slate. 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 fun of him?

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 rebuttal also published by Slate. 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 Hoffman.

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 following:

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 with her.

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 microphone.

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 "ditto" instead.)

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 in kind.

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 power."

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 digress...)

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 behavior."

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 Marines," chanted the pancaked, blow-dried anchors of the Fourth Estate who'd glommed onto some old video tapes showing elite Marine Recon troopers having their 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 blood 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 fighting men in the world. They've been forged and tempered in fire and are as hard as steel.

They're special men. Not stockbrokers, accountants and lawyers. They jump out of perfectly good airplanes, mainly at night, dropping behind enemy lines to slit throats and create instant carnage. They do brutal stuff in 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 standing tall, singing the Marine Corps Hymn and walking that swaggering, cocky walk that only a Marine who's looked death right in the eye without blinking can.

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 needed macho warrior spirit.

Commanders, worried about their careers, may again overreact and further soften training standards -- which except in units such as Rangers, Green Berets, Force Recon, and SEALs are already soft as jello throughout the forces.

We now have the most safety-first, politically correct military force in American history. Which is jolly great for the War of the Rose Petals. But bad news for America when one day down the bloody track, our soldiers again bump up against fierce politically incorrect warriors and get their clocks cleaned as we did in the early stages of WW II and Korea and most 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 a trailer that does the usual masterly job of capturing the whole movie in a few minutes time.

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.



UPDATE -- 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


instapunk062504

Bierce.


LONG GONE. Today 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 in Literature offers this glimpse of his appeal (if we can call it that.)

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.
      ONCE: Enough.
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 fans.

First up is The Devil's Dictionary, 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.imprinted 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 instead.

"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.

The Horseman in the Sky

One sunny afternoon in the autumn of 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 crime.

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 rifle.

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 strange, half-defined 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 summits!

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 better, smiled.

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 sergeant whispered.

"At what?"

"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?"

"Yes."

"Well?"

"My father."

The sergeant rose to his feet and walked away. "Good God!" he said.

Happy birthday, Mr. Bierce.







Wednesday, June 23, 2004


instapunk062304add

Disgraceful Fun.


PSAYINGS.5Q.23. 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 recently 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 private War on Terrorism 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 Women's Revolt.

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


instapunk062204

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 it:

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 they saw:

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.”

We're 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. Enjoy.




Monday, June 21, 2004


instapunk062104

PUBLIC PSERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT.

Watch out for speedtraps.

PSAYINGS 5A.10. 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.

PSAYINGS.5A.41. The curs at Time Magazine 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 Scientist Highlights?

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 trauma.

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.



PSAYINGS.5A.13. 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


instapunk062004 WONDER TIME. 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:

My 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 eyes.

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 on.

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 the couch.

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 whatsoever.

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.


Achilles and Sonny

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.


Sonny, 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 time.

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

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.


Naomi, 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 experience.

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 known them.




Saturday, June 19, 2004


Fisking Anonymous

Senior intelligence official tells all. Jolly good show!

HALLITES . 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.

Bush told he is playing into Bin Laden's hands

Al-Qaida may 'reward' American president with strike aimed at keeping him in office, senior intelligence man says

Julian Borger in Washington
Saturday June 19, 2004

The Guardian

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 provoke easily.

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 ask her.

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 Waziristan.

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 expertise.

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 professionals."

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 economic advantage.

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, and Clinton.

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 unreliable.

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 is."

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 acquire them.

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 president."

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 know.

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 on'?"

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 press.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

Tally ho.




Friday, June 18, 2004


instapunk061804add

Infidels.

They killed Paul Johnson. Click on the picture to see what they did.

AL QAIDA. 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 you David:

Psalm 58:
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.

Psalm 83:
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 .

Psalm 137:
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.

Selas.




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