Monday, January 24, 2005

TODAY'S TOP FIVE: I Survived the Blizzard of '05, But I Was Really Bored.

RIP Johnny Carson A lot will be written this week about Johnny Carson's cultural and sociological significance - as a last exemplar of the time when popular culture had a center, as the last link with the vaudeville era, as the comforting tonic for Vietnam-era Americans facing social disintegration, etc. But what should be remembered is that he was an individual, a performer, and most of all knew how to deliver material well. Even when he bombed, he got a laugh - "You didn't boo me when I smothered a grenade at Guadalcanal" being one of my favorite ripostes to an unenthusiastic crowd. This link takes you to another good example: the text of "What Democracy Means to Me," which he delivered in September 1991, after the final collapse of the Soviet Union. Read it, and remember that, despite all the talk about his Midwestern sensibility and his essential white guy-ness, how gutsy his stuff could be, especially in light of today's superpatriotism: "Democracy is buying a big house you can't afford with money you don't have to impress people you wish were dead...Yes, democracy means fighting every day for what you deserve, and fighting even harder to keep other, weaker people from getting what they deserve."

DIY, the Rumsfeld Way Here's a good example of good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity: When the existing national intelligence service refuses to cook the books to produce information that suits your distorted view of the world, get around the problem by simply creating your own intelligence service! That's what Donald Rumsfeld did: the Washington Post has exposed the existence of an organization called the Strategic Support Branch which has been spying in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world for two years.

A Grateful Nation Says "Fuck Off" The presumptive future Prime Minister of Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, has raised some eyebrows in Washington with comments this weekend relating the first item on his agenda: getting rid of the Americans. Al-Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is also the leader of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of the main Shi'ite parties formed on the instructions of our old pal the Ayatollah Al-Sistani. Al-Hakim denounced the Americans for "massacres and atrocities" against the Iraqi people and said he wants U.S. and British troops to be replaced by Iranians and Syrians. It will be interesting to see if there isn't some kind of "major surprise" with this week's elections that result in the election of a more pliable Iraqi.

Antonin Scalia, More Catholic Than the Pope Here's an interesting story about evil genius (and possible soon-to-be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) Antonin Scalia telling a Louisiana Knights of Columbs group that Christians should "live fearlessly." Scalia exhorted the Knights to embrace "traditional Christianity," and held up for their edification the example of the martyr St. Thomas More, who died for opposing Henry VIII's break with Rome. "I find it hard to understand people who revere Thomas More but who themselves selectively oppose the teachings of the pope," Scalia told the crowd. One such dissident jumps immediately to mind: Antonin Scalia, who in 2002 announced that the Church's condemnation of capital punishment simply doesn't apply to him: "I read it, I considered it, and I decided that I disagree with it, so I am disregarding it," Scalia said then. He also said that any judge who agrees with the Church's teaching about the immorality of capital punishment should resign. "Here I stand, I can do no other," said a famous 16th century European religious figure, but not Thomas More.

Dial 'P' For Perjury Although Alberto Gonzales has not been confirmed as the Attorney General yet, if he does get approved he will begin office in an unusual way: having just committed a crime. Newsweek has dug up proof that Gonzales perjured himself when he testified in Congress about his role in helping GW Bush get excused from jury duty in 1996 - a chore that would have revealed Bush's own drunk-driving conviction from 20 years earlier (on his registration form, Bush cannily left blank the answer for whether he had ever been convicted of a crime - and thus did not perjure himself). Gonzales apparently requested an off-the-record interview with the judge in the DUI case, an interview that resulted in Bush being excused for jury duty. Under questioning from Sen. Pat Leahy, though, Gonzales said no such meeting ever took place. Hey, didn't the Republicans recently impeach a president, claiming that the issue was that he had lied under oath? Ah, never mind: That was seven years ago, and who can remember that far back?

-Consider Arms