Oh yeah? Your MOM compromised national security for political retribution!

I hope everybody had a great fourth of July! I did. It’s a great opportunity to blow stuff up in celebration of what is ostensibly a democracy!

“Ostensibly,” of course, because our president has apparently given up even trying to make it seem like there’s a functional system of checks and balances still in place. In case it’s not obvious, I’m talking about Bush’s using his get-out-of-jail-free card on Scooter Libby on Monday, commuting Libby’s sentence for perjury for his involvement in the Valerie Plame case.

I didn’t particularly feel like complaining about it on here at the time, since it just seemed superfluous and futile. The liberal outrage was pretty well covered on the internets, described by people much more eloquent and knowledgeable than I am. Plus, every time I think that there’s absolutely nothing that Bush could do that’s a more blatant “fuck you” to the American people, he surprises me by topping himself. So I was afraid to jinx it.

There’s been a tremendous furor over Bush’s move, from Congress, the press, and the people, so naturally the White House responded today in the best way it knows how: by pointing fingers at the Clintons. Bill Clinton summed up what a lot of people — excuse me, of course, I mean a lot of liberals — are saying: this is standard practice for the Bush administration, acting as if they answer to no one.

White House spokesman Tony Snow’s response? “You started it!”

That’s right. Instead of actually responding to the allegations or providing any logical and coherent attempt at making the decision sound valid, they brought up Whitewater. That’s not just bad politics, that’s bad humanity. It’s what cranks on message boards and comment threads do, whenever the Bush administration is asked to justify its actions — they go straight to mentioning cigars and BJs. If Mr. Snow gets asked about the issue again, I’d recommend the ever-useful “Nuh-uh!”, “Says you!”, and the indefeasible “I don’t make trash, I burn it!”

Again, this is entirely expected of the administration at this point. This is, after all, the president who defended his decision earlier by saying: “The consequences of [Libby’s] felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.” Which has got to be ample consolation for Plame, seeing as how her former life in the CIA suffered the consequences of a ridiculously brazen case of petty political payback. Maybe she can save Libby a place in the unemployment line.

But look, there’s only about a year and a half left in this administration. Could you guys please, for our sake, at least do us the courtesy of pretending that there’s a working government and effective political system in place? And could the congressional majority take some time away from their busy schedule of bending over, and make a show of restoring the balance of government, like they’d promised? And could I impose on Mr. Snow to put a little effort into political rhetoric that at least touches on the issue of hand, before he resorts to “yo mama” jokes?

I can’t stop it I don’t know how it works!

The game of unspeakable fun (image from boardgamegeek.com)I watched Thank You For Smoking a few weeks ago, but I was so let down by the ending I didn’t know what to make of it. Surprisingly, the whole Don Imus scandal puts it into perspective.

Thank You For Smoking plays out as a well-produced, well-performed, cleverly-written story that seems to be building up to some incisive satire about lobbyists, politics, and the tobacco industry. It sets the stage, defines the characters, and takes a few detours for some really slick and well-done scenes that don’t really say anything remotely original. There’s a long and genuinely funny segment where the main character meets a fancy Hollywood movie executive and his fawning assistant; it ends having said nothing more than “Hey, aren’t LA people phony?” Afterwards is a scene with Sam Elliott perfectly cast as the original Marlboro Man; that results in the razor-sharp observation: “people are often motivated by money.”

The movie spends all this time with Aaron Eckhardt’s character, setting him up as a charming man who could talk his way into or out of anything, a man who’d built his entire life around the idea that there is no solid dividing line between right and wrong. And, like most smokers, he’s built elaborate networks of denial and self-delusion in order to maintain an addiction that he and everybody else knows is dangerous and lethal. As he explains to his son at one point: by changing the argument from “are cigarettes dangerous” to “do I have the right to choose for myself,” he moves the line, shifting it from an indefensible position to one where he’s the victim and he’s got the moral upper ground.

For over an hour, the movie builds sympathy for his character so that the line becomes blurred even for the audience. And then finally, one of his choices is turned on him, and everything in his life is ruined — his job, his only friendships, his relationship with his son, and he can’t even smoke anymore. We see a video segment where every thing he’d done in the movie up to that point is re-examined and described with a different spin — now, the actions and words we’d been led to believe were harmless seem cold, manipulative, and downright evil. He’d manipulated everyone, including the audience, and probably even himself, into believing his own spin. After seeing that, I became convinced that this movie was the best, most effective indictment of moral relativism I’d ever seen.

And then, of course, the movie works to undo every single bit of that. His friends and family come back to him, his son still idolizes him, those who had wronged him are shown getting their come-uppance, and not only is he offered his job back, he gets the greatest pleasure of being able to turn it down. I’ve said before that I don’t mind happy endings, and an ending that’s negative just for the sake of being negative or “edgy” is even more vapid than having Lassie show up and E.T. come back to life. But a happy ending is just deadly to satire. Without the edge — and especially the way this movie shies away from the edge so much you’d think it were a hemophiliac — you’ve just got a “character study.” Which is just a tactful way of saying, “a story with no point.”

So what does any of this have to do with racist comments from a radio shock jock? Not much, until you find this Time magazine analysis of the reaction to Imus’ comments, and in particular John Rogers’ response to that article.

The Time story is titled “Who Can Say What?” and asks the same question a lot of people are asking: where’s the line? Why is there such an outcry when Imus says the same things that [insert black celebrity here] has been saying for years? And why such a strong reaction to this incident, when Imus himself has been saying the same thing for years? Why is it okay for Sarah Silverman or Sacha Baron Cohen or “South Park” to say hateful things about blacks and Jews, but suddenly the offenderati comes out with White Liberal Guilt guns blazing whenever Don Imus, Isaiah Washington, Michael Richards, or Mel Gibson says them?

And the reason I like Rogers’ commentary so much is that he cuts through all the attempts at cultural analysis of a Very Complex Issue and says simply: it’s really not that complicated. (He goes on to describe it in terms of comedy and power brokering, which is fine but just a smaller part of the whole thing).

Like it or not, there’s still a line there, and it hasn’t moved all that much in the last 30 or 40 years. And shame on anyone who tries to make it out that it’s constantly in flux, being manipulated by some “cultural elite” of easily-offended liberals who, as part of their nefarious hidden agenda, are forever lying in wait to bait people into thoughtcrimes and discredit them.

You see that claim alleged over and over again, people forever asking, “So when exactly is it okay to be racist/homophobic/anti-semitic/misogynist?” The answer is pretty simple: “Never.”

“But wait,” they claim, “black/gay/Jewish/female people say that stuff all the time and they not only get away with it, they’re applauded for it!” And that’s the heartbreaking part. Because you realize you’re not just explaining comedy anymore. You’re having to explain basic human decency to a person who just doesn’t get it, and it’s like trying to explain algebra to a caveman. They don’t understand it, they’re never going to use it, but everybody keeps telling them that it’s important and they should be ashamed for not understanding it. And all they can ask is “Is this going to be on the final?” (Considering that intolerance and religious fundamentalism so frequently go hand-in-hand, I’m surprised more people don’t realize that yes, this is going to be on the final.)

One of the bits that the Time article seems to be bewildered by is from the Sarah Silverman show. There’s a scene in the pilot where she meets God, who’s played by a black actor, and she asks, “Are you God’s black friend?” Why is that acceptable, when Imus’ calling a bunch of college basketball players “nappy-headed hos” isn’t? Both are racist comments intended for shock value. And neither is coming from a black person, so you can’t say that it’s “taking back the word.” How can this be?

Some would say that it’s just because Silverman’s funny and Imus isn’t. Some would say that it’s because Silverman’s liberal and Imus isn’t (Silverman makes a comment against that in the article). Some would go into a long explanation about the political inequities of comedy and how it’s only acceptable when those of a lesser socioeconomic status are using words to negotiate an exchange of power with those who are traditionally in dominant societal roles, and because a Jewish woman can relate to a position of inequity better than a wealthy white male, Imus was perceived as a bully while Silverman isn’t.

Which is all just more White Liberal Guilt mixed with political correctness and pseudo-academic wankery. There are aspects of all that that are correct, but it all boils down to the same thing: Silverman can say racist words because she isn’t expressing racist ideas. One is saying, “look at how idiotic racist over-privileged white people are;” Imus was saying, “look at how scary and dirty those black people are.” It shouldn’t take a damn dissertation about “context” to explain that.

But why now? Why is “nappy-headed hos” such a colossal offense, when Imus has been saying the same type of thing for years? The problem is in thinking that the two are unrelated. That there’s some hidden dictionary only the offenderati have access to, where “suddenly” one phrase has been listed as objectionable, and the only way to know what’s offensive is to keep guessing until you get Al Sharpton to complain. A much simpler and more obvious explanation: maybe this shit’s been building for years. The context isn’t some weird imbalance of power between college basketball players, a radio shock jock, huge broadcasting corporations run by Rich White Men, and the liberal media. The context is that the guy’s been showing himself to be a racist for years, and he finally got called on it. Even shock jocks tend to have more intelligence than a puppy, but the media reaction to Imus’ case has been more like “you have to catch him in the act or he’ll never learn!”

The Time article has a quote from one stringy-headed ho in a passage about the escalation of offensiveness in the media:

Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter is probably the best example of this, playing a constant game of “Can you top this?” with herself, as in March, when she told the Conservative Political Action Conference that she would have a comment on Senator John Edwards, “but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot.” Coulter is only the most egregious example — from Bill O’Reilly on Fox to Glenn Beck on CNN, offense is the coin of the cable realm.

As much as I hate to feed a boorish, skeletal lich with the attention she so desperately and transparently requires to feed her minions and wreak unholy vengeance upon this Earth, she makes it difficult not to, because she’s just such an obvious example of irresponsible evil in the media. Describing how to be a decent person without mentioning Coulter in contrast is like a game of Taboo where you have to describe “goodness” without mentioning the word “evil” or “badness.”

Coulter’s fans and fellow pundits — which is to say, “idiots” — would say that that one quote wittily and effectively counters so much of what’s wrong in today’s media: we’ve lost our edge and our honesty, we’re no longer able to say what we really think because the lines of acceptability keep being redrawn, and the weak and inoffensive are rising to power.

Bullshit. What that quote says is: “John Edwards is a faggot.” And if that’s what passes for incisive commentary from pundits on The Right, I don’t know why they’re crusing Beltway bars for cretinous sluts who’ll say anything you want if it means they get a sound bite and a book deal, instead of going directly to a fifth-grade playground.

I always assumed that Limbaugh, Coulter, and the others who I’m sure are every bit as offensive but don’t get as much media attention, were evil because they were so manipulative. They were just savvy enough to recognize what people are scared of and what they don’t understand, and were able to manipulate that to discredit the other side. But every time I see the outrage and bewilderment in the media over what should be obvious to anyone who had parents or a kindergarten that taught them how to treat people, I have to wonder — do they really just not understand? And which of those possibilities is worse?

The line is still there in plain sight to anybody with any intelligence. Contrary to what they’d have you believe, it’s not being moved by an unseen hand, and they’re not just saying what “everybody thinks” but is “too afraid to say out loud.” Most people can still see the line; the only question is whether they have the dignity or class or intelligence or have just plain earned the right to step over it. It’s not a case of “political correctness.” We matured past “political correctness” a long time ago, not long after it became a buzzword. And we didn’t do it by being proud of being “politically incorrect;” we did it just by being correct.

Your papers, please

from unrealid.com, via the Hartford CourantApparently, it is possible to be too ignorant of the state’s rights vs. federal rights issue, and too complacent in the idea of a Democratic majority in congress magically making everything better. I was totally ignorant of the RealID Act and that it’d progressed so far.

Ars Technica has an article about Real ID and how some states are refusing to adopt the standard. According to the Wikipedia article, California is one of the states eager to adopt it, so it’s still unclear what can be done by those of us who live in CA and are just anti-Federalist enough to be annoyed by the bill, but apparently not so politically savvy that we did anything about it when there was still time.

This Snopes article refutes the more tinfoil-hat level conspiracy concerns, but seems nonplussed about the bill’s legitimacy. I can remember growing up and hearing people in suburban Atlanta freaking out about UPC symbols, ATMs, and even credit cards being either government plots or The Mark of the Beast. So it’s a damn shame that legitimate complaints about this inane bill could come across as similar paranoia.

Going back to the Ars Technica entry, I think the problem is best summed up by this observation:

When considering the potential security implications of the Real ID act, it is worth noting that the 9/11 hijackers were all legal residents with proper identification.

Personally, I tend to be so skeptical of conspiracy theories and privacy paranoia that it could even be called naivete. But even if you dismiss the privacy concerns, the idea of increased federal bureaucracy with no foreseeable benefit should be alarming. A centralized mandate for identification from Washington, forcing the states to modify their already-existing systems to comply? With absolutely no effect on terrorism or illegal immigration, the two areas that homeland security is supposed to care about?

You don’t have to be a libertarian to think that’s pretty stupid, if not downright scary.

Breaking News: Presidential Hopeful is a SMOKER who went to SCHOOL!

Suspected terrorist and cancer-spreader, ObamaMy favorite news story in recent memory is the repeated inept attempts at a smear campaign against Barack Obama. I didn’t make a big deal about it, because I assumed everybody would get a good laugh and then move on. Apparently I was once again being naive, giving the state of American politics too much credit.

Google’s current tv gives a decent run-down (warning: that link plays video). The comedy started when conservative genius think-tank Insight magazine (warning: that link is moronic) dropped the bomb that Obama attended a terrorist-training madrassa while growing up in Indonesia. The “article” couches the shocking allegation as political infighting between Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Obama’s. It’s still up there, even though CNN shows how ridiculous the claim is.

Unfortunately, while that CNN article does debunk the claim, it doesn’t go far enough to show how ridiculous and irresponsible it is. Madrassa is the Arabic word for “school.” You might be inclined to say, “oh well, it’s an unfortunate but understandable mistake, no harm, no foul,” except for the fact that this is old news.

A couple of years ago, my friend Moe was complaining that “news” sites kept trying to link people with terrorism by pointing out that they attended a madrassa. Growing up in Egypt, he went to a secular madrassa, where he was taught terrorist activities such as reading and writing. (Moe would often then put a knife up to my neck and attempt to decapitate me, after which we’d just laugh and laugh. Good times.) Trying to forge a link there would be like saying that since George W. Bush attended a college, and there are known colleges of cosmetology, then Bush has a clear link with ladies’ and men’s hair sculpting. Ergo, Bush is a homosexual. You read it here first.

That tack having failed, the cheesy sleazemeisters at Fox News decided to expose Obama’s shameful secret: the man is a smoker! Don’t try to tell John Gibson it’s a non-issue; he raises the tough questions: why does Obama insist on keeping this scandal a dirty little secret? (The answer: he doesn’t. At all. Everyone knows, nobody cares, and like every other g-damn smoker in the US, he’s trying to quit).

The surprisingly ambidextrous Gibson attempts to back-pedal, cover his ass, and point fingers in this self-serving column. He claims the arguments are coming from Clinton’s campaign, and he once again brings up what? Obama’s terrorism training.

But instead of just pointing and laughing, people are treating this as if it were serious enough to warrant defending. Even normally sane pundits are trying to add perspective.

This isn’t just garden-variety ignorance, or Crooks and Liars‘ awesome term, “Fox stupid.” These guys know what they’re doing, to a degree — even though anyone with intelligence can tell that they’re grasping at straws in a desperate smear campaign, they’re planting seeds of doubt that the more susceptible will remember. Image manipulation, and teaching ignorance.

But what’s most amusing about the whole thing is the conservatives’ desperation at trying to smear a guy who on the surface, has so much going against him. I can imagine a roomful of Michael Moore’s prototypical angry white men just sputtering with rage that they’ve got a black man, who was raised Muslim, and is named Barack Hussein Obama, and the best they can come up with to discredit him is that he went to school and he smokes.

They’re trapped in their own minefield of spin and image, they never really understood the “political correctness” that they’ve tried so hard to vilify, to the point they don’t know what they’re allowed to criticize. (Of course, calling somebody a “liberal” is still fair game, and they’re doing all they can to make that word rank just below “baby-eater” in terms of acceptability). You get the sense that Obama could legally change his name to Barack Stalin Benedict Arnold Clinton Gaymarriage Hitler, and Fox would be scrambling in the archives trying to find video footage of him littering.

Do you hear what I hear?

Georgia moms against witchcraftSpending time at my parents’ house means seeing hours and hours of CNN, and this week that means every-fifteen-minute updates on Virginia representative Virgil Goode’s discomfort over his fellow congressman’s religion. In particular, how tougher immigration policies are necessary to keep people like Keith Ellison from being born and raised in America and taking advantage of the United States’ establishment clause.

For me, I’m just happy. First, because it’s Christmas. Second, because Ellison’s taking the high road, and a faint ray of light is finally starting to break through and show Goode for what he is: a uniquely stupid individual, and not a representative of the oppressive Conservative Republican Theocracy that controls everything in this country. And third, because for once the idiocy isn’t happening in my home state.

I don’t know if it’s the spirit of Christmas, or if I’d just gotten an unfairly negative impression last time I was here, or if I’m just getting to be less of a tight-ass, but things actually seem to be a little more tolerable in suburban Atlanta these days.

I had to go to the mall to do some Christmas shopping, and the traffic, soullessness, and commercialism were as bad as I’d expected. But it all ended up being pleasant, because people everywhere were friendly. It was a shock to the system — as much as I like San Francisco, I still say that people there keep to a strict mind-your-own-damn-business policy. The clerks here were busy but friendly, and people waiting in line would strike up conversations with me, a complete stranger.

Even better, I ended up feeling like a dope. The mall I went to is targeted primarily towards black people. I don’t know why that’s controversial to say (it’s not just on Wikipedia, where anything can be the grounds for “controversy”); apparently, it’s racist to acknowledge that retailers have target demographics. Whatever the case, Dekalb County is predominantly black, Rockdale is predominantly white, and this bastion of retail paradise straddles the two. As I was shopping, I was keeping an eye out for how people were handling having to fight for the valuable Borders and Best Buy resources that both black and white communities need.

And it turns out exactly like you’d expect — it’s a big freaking non-issue. After all my years living in the San Francisco Multicultural Biodome, I’ve become just as guilty of being Pompous Left-Coast Liberal as I used to accuse everyone of being when I first moved out there. I guess I was going in to my home county acting like an explorer observing relations between the Afrikaaners and the Zulu, or like the one blonde-haired blue-eyed college boy who reluctantly creeps out onstage at “Showtime at the Apollo.”

Instead, what I saw were a bunch of people shopping. And teenage friends hanging out; the younger they were, the less it seemed to matter what race anybody was. Maybe things will keep getting better as long as us liberal caucasians allow our sphincters to unclench. And that, as my Aryan princess Martha Stewart would say, is a good thing.

All we are saying is give Satan a chance

No doubt this story about a woman fined for hanging a peace-sign wreath is going to be making the rounds a lot, but really, it’s just astounding.

I’m not sure what’s most alarming about it:

  • That the neighbors didn’t recognize it as a peace sign. But then, I have to remember that not everybody lives as close to Berkeley as I do, and they don’t see them as frequently. Maybe we should just be glad they didn’t think it was the Mercedes logo.
  • That some neighbors used “we have children serving in Iraq” as grounds for their complaint. No, you dipshits, just no. “But my children are serving in Iraq” is supposed to be your knee-jerk response to people protesting the war in Iraq to try and guilt them into shutting up. It’s not for when somebody wishes for an end to war so that your children can come home and pass your damaged moron genes onto their kids.
  • That the homeowners association president is such a tool. The AP version of the story starts with the guy, Bob Kearns, taking the school principal approach, describing it as if he’d been stuck in a bad situation and was just being fair to all the residents. But towards the end of the story, you see the truth:

    Kearns ordered the committee to require Jensen to remove the wreath, but members refused after concluding that it was merely a seasonal symbol that didn’t say anything. Kearns fired all five committee members.

    In other words: Kearns is not just your typical idiot who thinks himself a Patriot, but a coward who will enforce his opinion and then hide behind the rules.

  • That there are still homeowners associations. Yeah, I rent. The whole concept is bizarre to me.

At the risk of getting too earnest here: what the hell, people?

For a couple of years, I’ve been trying to keep up the role of “left-leaning moderate” I’ve assigned myself. Even though I’ll make comments about how the invasion of Iraq was completely unjustified, how Bush is an idiot and Cheney is the harbinger of Hell’s dominion over Earth, and how Fox News and other gross Republican propaganda is twisting and corrupting America into a nation of evil, my heart hasn’t been completely in it. There’s always the voice in the back of my head that’s saying, “Remain objective. Be skeptical of everything. Make sure that you’re not just spouting out mindless left-wing propaganda. There are still intelligent, well-meaning, but misguided people who don’t share your opinions.”

Crap like this just shows that The Dark Side is winning. Until now, every time I’ve seen one of those “Support Our Troops” stickers on the back of a car (okay, an enormous SUV) (and I’ve been to malls in the Atlanta area, so I’ve seen thousands of them), I’ve assumed that the driver of the vehicle and I had roughly the same sentiment, but were looking at it from slightly different sides of the political spectrum. They were saying “Soldiers are risking their lives out of a sense of duty to their country, and we should support them until they get the job done.” I was saying, “Although the war is unjustified, the soldiers’ sense of duty is completely justified, and we should support them and do all we can to bring them home safely.”

Now, I’m saying the same thing, but they’re saying, “Love it or leave it, you Godless pinko San Francisco faggot-hippie.” And the map of the US in my head no longer looks like the simple red state/blue state job we’ve had rammed into our collective subconscious, complete with the well-intentioned-but-simple-minded midwesterners that people like to believe still exist. Instead, it looks like those old propaganda films that show the Red Menace spreading out from Russia and enveloping Europe and Asia. Now it’s a black cloud emanating from Washington and wherever Fox News broadcasts from, twisting people’s minds so completely that they believe peace on earth is something to be frowned upon.

The residents who supposedly complained because their children are serving in Iraq — what the hell are their children serving for, anyway? Is it not so that they can return to the US and watch idiotic television and get fat off too much food and play overly-violent videogames and enjoy all the mind-numbing excess that should come from peace? Or so the people of Iraq can go about their lives in peace without being afraid they’ll be murdered and thrown into a mass grave by their own countrymen? Or so that the Left and the Right can go back to arguing about economic policy and civil rights and marriages and abortions instead of arguing about whether it’s a good thing to go to a politically unstable area and kill people and set off civil wars?

I can understand how the Bush Administration benefits from having an ongoing war with no end in sight; it’s a relatively cheap way to whip up your supporters into patriotic frenzy and keep them too afraid to vote you out of office. But how does your average American benefit from wanting an end to peace?

Democracy Inaction

See also: fruits, nutsToday I exercised the right of every American citizen to have an uninformed voice in the course of action of our government.

I’m always left feeling guilty and ignorant every voting period, because of my policy of spending 30 minutes reading the for & against arguments about the propositions, then going to the poll and voting straight Democrat. I’ve done more research into buying mouthwash than I usually do for voting. (And yeah, I do use mouthwash. Shut the hell up.) And at the moment, I’m more up to speed with the politics of Damalsca and the Archadean Empire than of the state I live in. In my defense, water supply improvement bonds and Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s Hummer aren’t 1% as cool as nethicite deposits and big-ass airships.

My main goals were to vote against Leland Yee and to vote No on Proposition 86. Turns out Yee wasn’t on my ballot, so his anti-videogame political grandstanding will have to continue unchecked until I move to a different district. And it’s no surprise that I voted against 86 (it’s the one that would introduce an additional $2.60 tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in CA) — I wanted to ask if they had a blacker pen so I could vote more against it — but it may be surprising that I’m against it for more than just the obvious altruistic reasons. It offends me as exactly the kind of intrusive, moralizing legislation that turns people to the dark side of Republicanism or even worse, libertarianism. I want to find the people who came up with the proposition and just breathe on them.

And when you vote in San Francisco, you’re constantly reminded that you’re voting in San Francisco. There’s the good way — the ballot’s in three languages and the names you’re voting for are of the widest multicultural demographic you’re going to see outside of Sesame Street. And then the bad way — last year, the Stupid City Proposition was something along the lines of “Should it be the policy of the city of San Francisco to call for an end to the Iraq War?” This year, it’s “Should it be City policy to call for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney?”

Which is one of those can’t-win questions like “How long have you been beating your wife?” It’s all in the wording. Should Bush & Cheney be impeached? Boy howdy. If the politics of Washington are such that getting blown by an intern is grounds for impeachment, then manipulating a terrorist attack and deceiving your constituency about it are most definitely grounds. But should it be City policy to call for the impeachment? No. It should be City policy to figure out why the water coming from my tap has the color and consistency of Goldschlager, or why it takes an hour and a half or $20 to get from any one part of the city to any other, or why the city has almost as many homeless people as it does iPods. So how are you supposed to distill all that down to “yes” or “no?”

Our President Has Stones

Say what you will about George W Bush, the guy’s got balls. After invoking the memory of the brave dead, he described our enemies:

We have learned that they are evil and kill without mercy, but not without purpose. We have learned that they form a global network of extremists who are driven by a perverted vision of Islam, a totalitarian ideology that hates freedom, rejects tolerance, and despises all dissent.

Mixed in with the frequent Fox News-like warnings of enemies “determined to bring death and suffering into our homes,” he has the stones to mention “tolerance” and “moderation” so many times you’d think it was the Democratic National Convention.

Even though his administration and its policy of Rule By Fear has emboldened the extremists driven by their own perverted vision of Christianity. The ones who have been working around the clock since September 2001 to turn “tolerance” and “moderation” into dirty words. Words that are spit out as insults, terms almost as profane and stomach-turning as “liberal.”

The key is moderation, we learn. You can’t achieve a real totalitarian ideology that despises all dissent by flying planes into buildings. You have to work at it over time. Chip away at civil liberties. Turn your citizens against each other. Make sure there are plenty of groups left within the populace to foment fear and distrust — if Muslims aren’t available, there’s always the homos and atheists and liberals.

And make absolutely certain there’s always a nebulous enemy out there in case anyone has the temerity to point out that you’re destroying your country’s scientific development and notions of personal privacy. Just point at the Middle East, shout “Booga Booga! Bin Laden! Homeland Security!” and you’ve turned a concerned citizen into an Unpatriotic Enemy of Freedom.

Even after building his speech on the bodies of the victims of the World Trade Center attack, he has the nerve to admit that Hussein had no direct connection to 9/11 but still insists that the invasion was essential to keeping al Qaeda at bay.

So the question is whether it actually takes balls to go on national television and lie to your constituency, or whether it’s just evil.