Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Another day, another dollop

We are pleased to report an overwhelming response to the first highwayscribery blog installation. All ten of you responded. Special thanks to Anibal Sincero whom we don’t know, but posted anyway.

And yes Anibal, I think the plan is to shoot us, so pay attention.

The promise was to keep it short and sweet while covering such diverse topics as politics, culture, poetry, journalism, literature, and social commentary, but there was a considerable amount of politics today:

On Monday the (r)epublicans in the Senate beat back a Democratic proposal to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 over an 18-month period. That’s $206 a week or $824 a month.

Lucky the (r)epublicans were able to save the working poor from those liberal elitists.

Now, in the “Kissing Power’s Keister” category we have Todd S. Purdum of the “New York Times” toasting the (p)resident’s “vindication” over the “thaw” towards democracy in the Middle East.

Let’s be clear, the demonstrations and dissent happening over there are anathema over here where you get a billy club to the backside in response.

In the wake of stories Bush has been sending terror suspects to places like Syria for torturing (since our nettlesome civil rights prevent it here) one has to wonder whether he has quite that much to celebrate. If they get democracy, where are you going to hold their heads under water until they crap?

I don’t know anything about Purdum, but his writing speaks for itself. Like a member of the team that plays the Harlem Globetrotters, he’s clearly paid to lose, parroting the administration’s every manipulation as news, rather than cant to be called out on.

(r)epublicans love democracy in other countries and hate it at home, because debate and dissent go against their God-given right to be correct at all times. Back in the 1980s Ronald Reagan fired thousands of striking air traffic controllers (and we don’t know how many died at the hands of their inexperienced replacements), while maintaining a soft spot in his heart (and pocketbook) for the Solidarity union in Poland.

Which brings me to a Reuters story about how unions here are being audited by the government at tremendous cost to their treasuries and strain on their staffs. They (the unions) say it’s payback for going all-out against Bush in the elections.

That’s because he’s a uniter and once the elections are over we’re all Americans...

I know that for a lot of people unions are not a very cool thing, but I’ve always believed in them strictly because the best job I ever had was as a member and shop steward with The Newspaper Guild.

You get enough people to pitch in and pay for a lawyer and voila! The workplace becomes a pleasant place. A manager on a little power trip has to think twice before someone files a grievance and an arbitrator goes through that manager’s underwear draw. After a while, mutual respect sets in and the culture of a company really changes. On top of it, you sit down to talk about a raise every three or four years.

Try these things at work on your lonesome.

“Salon” did a nice piece on how the administration schedules the return of wounded soldiers so that they arrive in the U.S. at night, out of the pesky press’ view. It’s all about supporting the troops you see (as long as you don’t). Once the dye is cast you don’t want to go around questioning things and “aiding the enemy.”

Never mind how that’s an excellent incentive for presidents to cook up wars; you’re getting into democracy now and that’s what they’re working on over in the Middle East, not here.

The Italians are pretty upset that U.S. soldiers shot up a car full of agents rushing a one-time hostage to safety. I don’t think they did that on purpose, because such a thing requires top-notch intelligence operatives. But if it didn’t happen we would not have known it is U.S. policy to discourage negotiations and instead let these people get beheaded for the larger aim of.... yup, democracy in the Middle East.

Do U.S. soldiers shoot at journalists? Well, the family of the Spanish cameraman killed by a U.S. tank crew a year or so ago (filming from a hotel full of reporters) have a chilling story to tell about how that went down. And a CNN executive had to resign two weeks ago for suggesting the same.

I can tell you that here, being a journalist isn’t what it used to be when folks talked to you, because a free press was an important institution to a country they cared about. Well they don’t necessarily talk to reporters anymore because they are the enemy, like the environmentalists, and trial lawyers; with no purpose other than to muck up the smooth running of the stock market and the little government we have mounted to assist it.

(r)epublicans, of course, think journalists joined the hippies in subverting the war effort in Viet Nam. Stupid planning, a determined enemy, and an ignorance of history had nothing to do with it.

Which brings me to Dan Rather who took on the Bush crowd and lost his job as a result. Not that he probably didn't deserve it. Danno had a juicy story with a former Texas legislative leader admitting making calls to save W. from nasty turn in Viet Nam, but got greedy, running a story that wasn’t properly vetted.

Maybe Rather let the popular myth he brought Nixon down get to his head. I could have reminded him that what journalists do is shed light on corruption and let the body politic do the rest, but I’m a blogger (for two days at that). Rather goes a ways back with the Bush folks. How many remember his tet-a-tet with George Sr. back during the 1988 campaign, from which he came out the worse for wear, as well?

Walter Cronkite got some play today, piling on and saying Rather’s job at CBS should have gone to Bob Shiffer or Schiffer or whatever his name is, back in the day. But I read Cronkite’s autobiography in the mid-nineties and he clearly felt pushed out by Rather, or because of him.

He was from a different era, Walter, when folks were nicer and loyalty counted for something. His demise coincided with the nasty business of corporate takeovers and media mergers that is still with us, like an intractable skin disease, to this day. The book, characterized by his uncanny reporting, paints a grim portrait of a legend’s final disposal.

You don’t get the sense of a shining intellect from Cronkite’s book: more a picture of what open territory existed for those who managed to get through World War II in tact.

But as a transition into the literary portion of today’s installation let me quote him in a high moment:

“Can we believe that the beleaguered peoples of the world will long be tolerant of those who possess the tools, but who can’t make them work for the good of humankind everywhere?”

I like that.

So onto literature before I sign off. I’ve been reading T.C. Boyle’s “The Inner Circle” this past week. Boyle’s been around a while, but I never read him because I was sticking with dead, classic writers whose success was less upsetting to my own literary aspirations.

Now I’m more mature and have accepted the fact I’m not the smartest, most important person in the world. This realization has been made easier to stomach by the fact I have a fabulous head of hair, well into my mid-forties, that could make Donald Trump scream. I mean, were I at a party with Trump and some model...but wait, I digress and do damage to myself as a level-headed man of reason with gadfly impulses.

T.C. Boyle. There are other books of his I would have preferred to read, but my sister bought me this fictional account narrated by a supposed collaborator of the famous sex researcher, Dr. Kinsey. I haven’t finished the novel yet, but so far it is quite delightful.

The sexual revolution did not (as I thought) begin with women burning their bras in the 1960s, but with this courageous and offbeat man in the 1930s and 1940s. That he was able to do this from a university in Indiana is all the more impressive.

Indiana, despite being north of the Mason-Dixon Line, is the most redneck state in the union. It’s as if someone was using the U.S. to make an omelette and flipped it so that Mississippi was superimposed over Indiana and then when it opened up during the eating (to get at the cheese and mushrooms inside), all the conservative attitudes from Mississippi were left on top of Indiana.

Of course you’re saying, “Sure highway scribe, but wouldn’t that mean Mississippi would be less reactionary after it got pulled off Indiana and left all its conservative goop behind?”

And highway scribe would have to respond, “You’ve obviously never been to Mississippi.”

Anyway, it’s quite impressive the way Boyle sprinkles historical facts and details in so casual and unforced a manner. And his portrait of the obsessive great man and the way he used the fact most of us like to talk about ourselves and sex to propel his “project” says a lot about, well, us and sex. The rendering of Kinsey's many facets and enthusiasms draws a kind of map for those who want to avoid the trap of mediocrity.

Boyle finds interesting ways to express everything that’s going on without ever seeming to try very hard; and that’s not easy.

And there’s the little bit of literature to hopefully sweeten up the bitter upper parts of today’s installation. News permitting, I will write much less tomorrow.

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