May 17, 2013: Efflorescence

Suddenly, the flowers are budding. The trees are greening. Dandelions brighten my lush lawn. And America is entering that glorious era that recurs every eight years: the President’s second term is riddled with stupid scandals, and nothing good will ever happen ever again.

The past weeks have seen not just the IRS scandal, but a resumed focus on the Benghazi consular attack. I know what you’re thinking; my admirers beat a tattoo on the cobblestones, chasing after me with this question. They stop me on the street, or waylay me as I dash out of the opera, to demand: why would I make common cause with the gang of right-wing mutants currently lapping up the blood of four dead Americans?

The question begs answer. First of all, I make no common cause with today’s crypto-fascist GOP, nor House Oversight Committee Chairman/probable arsonist Darrell Issa. Those creeps should be dragging their knuckles at the bottom of a mineshaft in a region safely isolated from the rest of humanity. But until "Operation: Goldmine" can take effect, I have found that even parasites are necessary for gastric health. Policemen don’t care when gangbangers shoot each other; I feel much the same when a jackal like Issa makes Attorney General Eric Holder, the little man who thinks "due process" is as optional as a Subway sandwich topping, sweat and implode on national television. Let the badgers rip one another’s faces off! I’d sooner mourn roadkill.

However, beyond the thrill of seeing high-speed collisions between hacks of each party, there is a more haunting melody. Though it’s apparently apostasy for anyone on the left to say so, the slaying of four Americans, including an ambassador who genuinely seemed a rare, humane, and decent friend of the Arab world , was an enormous failure. Not since Lebanon has such a calamity occurred. And, as I argued months before the attack occurred, as in Lebanon, our foolish, illegal intervention into another country’s civil war on the side of some of the combatants but not others would be paid in blood.

Members of both parties sent those guys onto the killing floor, into a restive country the fine minds behind the Libya War had no understanding of, and, desperate to prop up this stunning victory, failed to safeguard these civilians. Once the attack had begun, according to the military brass, it was too late to stop it. So they didn’t even bother to try. (Yes, the military that brags about its ability to project force anywhere on Earth couldn’t be bothered to scramble in time for "Zero Dark Thirty-Two.") It’s a fine explanation, one those uniformed assassins are no doubt very proud of stating publicly – just like horrorshow social climber Susan Rice, with her patently ridiculous claims that a Youtube video inspired the slayings, not an obviously well-organized network of attackers, intact from their days of glory bringing down Gaddafi.

Well. The good guys won though, right? No one will take seriously the loss of another few lives, tinged as they are in the usual insufferable partisan bickering. And Hillary Clinton will still run for president, and still win.

And the gang of cheapjack creeps she brings in – the Lanny DavisesMark Penns, and eunuchs named "Phillipe" of the world – they’ll make slugs like Susan Rice and Darrell Issa look like Jefferson and Adams.

Happy Friday.

General Gandhi

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May 2, 2013: Skin in the Game

I am well aware that this column constitutes that most remote of intersections; that is, the lonely corner where a thinking writer and a receptive audience meet. I know all too vividly just how glamorous my career as one of the Internet’s rising thought leaders must look to you. An abiding, sui generis talent I may possess, yes – I will concede that much. But saddled as I am by my deeply ingrained sense of honor (I am a Southerner with a strong belief in fair play), I cannot capitalize on my considerable talents in the ways accorded to most of my colleagues. As much as I’d like to cash a twenty thousand dollar check for aiding in the valiant fight against Social Security, coward conscience forbids me.

Writing is a bunch of codswallop without skin in that game. Ninety percent of my meager income comes from tracking down delinquent borrowers and deadbeat dads all over the Great Lakes region. But while principled journalism and skip-tracing may not appear to be related fields, both professions have bludgeoned the same curt moral into my neural plate: evildoers are rarely punished, and never for the right reasons. As the great, late George Jones sang, “there’s no justice in this world anymore.”

Americans rightly look to sports for an artificial type of justice. But aside from the glorious immolation of the Lakers, and the deterioration of Kobe Bryant’s Achilles tendon into Laffy Taffy, there hasn’t been much to cheer. The anthropomorphized family of Troll dolls that owns the Sacramento Kings, having finally exhausted their gambling fortune on Rohyphnol refills, is preparing to deprive a serious basketball town of their team. The play itself is, well, increasingly frustrating. And even this week’s feel-good story about Wizards big man Jason Collins, the first active NBA player to come out as gay, couldn’t pass without journalistic scandal.

CBS sports meathead Tim Brando was the first to notably spew bullshit, whining that Collins did not meet Brando’s exacting definition of “hero,” as some had called the NBA center. In the ensuing backlash, Brando, who reserves the sanctified title of “hero” exclusively for golfersRed Sox announcer Curt Gowdy, and middle-aged non-gay Christ lovers, chose not to double down on that pussy Jackie Robinson. Instead, Brando dug in his heels, scolding the venomous Internet for its small-mindedness, and finding solace in the glad tidings of ex-Clinton hack Lanny Davis, an international criminal who belongs in an airless dungeon.

No justice for Brando, who heroically survived his homosexual nightmare. Yet, even when a deserving party gets punished these days, it’s always for the wrong reason. Just ask Howie Kurtz, the “Uncle Frank” of CNN Sundays, who thought he’d nailed Collins when he noted the NBA player’s omission of a broken engagement to a woman from his Sports Illustrated tell-all. There was only one problem: Collins explicitly mentioned his broken engagement to a woman in the same Sports Illustrated tell-all. Then, Kurtz released, then scrubbed, a video of himself crudely joking about Collins.

Well, I may be old-fashioned, but we still have a watchdog media that must police itself when necessary. Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, long a sterling judge of moral character , summarily fired Kurtz from his job as Washington bureau chief for his inexcusable error. It was good to see such accountability mandated by the employer of, among others:



But I’m quibbling – what’s a few hundred thousand dead among friends? Good job, Tina, on sending the right message to any rogue wedding planners seeking to leak spurious intel. Top-notch ombudswoman-ing.

Of course, the flip side of having no villains is we also have no heroes, even when they’re staring us in the face. Just ask the cowards at San Francisco Pride, organizers of the annual gay pride parade. One of their organizers had it in his or her head to honor a certain whistleblower for his disclosure of mass murder, corruption, and corrupt international bargaining to the American public. Can’t have that! That would be an “insult” to gay soldiers everywhere, claimed SF Pride’s Lisa Williams. Better to keep cashing checks from Pride Celebration underwriter Wells-Fargo, a flag-waving all-American firm busted for illegally foreclosing on hundreds of veterans’ homes .

And now, as I drift into sleep, my eyes glazed, I see another honest person has been killed for staying honest.

Ah, well. I should stick to my more honorable profession. I think the deadbeat dad I’m hunting is somewhere in Wisconsin.

General Gandhi

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April 26, 2013: News Cleanse

My doctors inform me this country is ruining my health. It has been a cumbersome winter, and events have left me poorer for it. I go hardly a few seconds without hiccupping. My arteries resemble something like the piping of a bicycle pump left outside for a winter. My stomach can only hold down split-pea soup, weak tea, and lime Jell-O; anything else, I upchuck violently, spraying the detritus out of my mouth like a can of mace.

The human body is a perfect instrument, and thus, I must heed its call, and draw interpretations where my doctors cannot: American news is poisoning me, slowly sapping my bene esse. Have you got me? Yet still I continue. Just for you, the reader.

Every day of the past week has been, to quote Bob Hoskins in “The Long Good Friday,” kind of “like fuckin' Belfast on a bad night.” As the story of the Boston Marathon bombings continues to unfold, at least one thing is clear: the Tsarnaev brothers were stupid, grotesque burn-outs whose great accomplishment in life was to kill four people, one of them a child. They were not terror masterminds; young Dzhokhar, whose Twitter account seems like an extended performance art piece demonstrating the “banality of evil,” ran over his own brother fleeing the Watertown shoot-out, before shooting himself in the mouth – and surviving. Personal accounts of Tamerlan Tsarnaev seem to confirm what photographs only suggest: he was an arrogant prick, a bully, and possibly an experienced killer.

But there’s a disconnect here. The international terrorists who bombed the Marathon and killed a young MIT officer turned out to be two waterheads who’d be unqualified to shovel shit. Was not the threat somewhat overblown? And yet, the usual suspects were out in force – demanding we shred the already tattered Constitution, try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as an “enemy combatant,” and give him no Miranda warning prior to his confession. In America, an assault weapon you can buy with no ID at a gun show is not a federally classified “weapon of mass destruction” – but a Williams-Sonoma pressure cooker is.

Whatever. Tsarnaev’s life is already over, his death sentence a foregone conclusion, barring a dramatic turn of events (what if his confession is thrown out?). Yes, we’ll pad the law books with draconian law after draconian law to prevent people from making a dirty bomb out of their kitchen appliances, but will kill any attempt at gun control and quash any remaining workplace safety regulations.

After all, last week, the town of West, Texas was the site of an explosion the depraved Tamerlan Tsarnaev could only dream of inflicting. The explosion at the West Chemical and Fertilizer Company plant, which registered as a 2.1 magnitude earthquake and flattened buildings, killed at least fifteen people, mostly firefighters and paramedics. As the specter of legislation restricting the immigration of Muslims bounces around the echo chamber, less discussed are the regulatory failings that preceded the Texan disaster. As ProPublica reports,

“The fertilizer plant hadn’t been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 1985. Its owners do not seem to have told the Department of Homeland Security that they were storing large quantities of potentially explosive fertilizer, as regulations require. And the most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5,250 in fines.”

Negligence on a murderous scale – much like Wednesday’s events in Bangladesh, where a politically-connected building owner’s sweatshop complex collapsed, killing hundreds, despite visible cracks and government warnings to stay away.

There are many rooms in the mansion. And many weapons of mass destruction in this world.

General Gandhi

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April 19th, 2013

Francisco de Goya, detail of "El sueño de la razón produce monstruos" (c. 1799)

“After that the city was deathly silent, and no one was to be seen on the streets for several hours – until church time. It was a sparkling morning, and around the post office the air was fragrant with the scent of magnolia blossoms.”

Charles Portis, “How The Night Exploded Into Terror,New York Herald Tribune, 1963

Shot answers shot, so by the time you read this, “Suspect #2” will be sprawled out dead, or shackled in an interrogation room, or at least had his real name splayed across the Twitter [YesEd.], something more substantive than “white cap.” He’s in the jackpot; his life in these moments is worth less than the paper the Post is printed on.

No matter. Because this is the way we live now.

When a bomb explodes late at night, and punctures the placid sheen of the dark, somewhere in the mind of Americans the mythical has been slain. In its place, people we don’t know but whom we fear have hoisted a new standard. Now pressure cookers, in which mom made pot roast, are filled with carpenter nails and ball bearings, and explode and take life and limb with them.

Maybe the perpetrators are “dark.” We can’t explain what they’re doing, but if they have darker skin, many people purse their lips and nod knowingly. They know who the bad guys are. “Those people.” It’s as loathsome a notion as those that Rupert Murdoch made his millions off of – the public wants red meat, not truth. It’s real venom, but it courses through all mammals, a bloodline marking savagery in all its stripes, in every race.

This is all far too regulated, just a chain of misfortune these days I suppose we’re meant to accept, arching across the water, borne on drones and in backpacks and from long rifles and Glocks and machinery so frightening you can’t conceive of it.

Who has the energy, eh, Joe? An eight year-old is torn to pieces by shrapnel, his crime, wanting to hug his father.

This is no way to live. I don’t have anything funny to say. Words are not enough.

General Gandhi

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April 12th, 2013: Mouldering Maggie

“The eyes of the mad king upon the branch are upturned, whiter eyeballs in a white face, upturned in fear and supplication. His mind is but a shell.”

Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds

They’ve been falling all over themselves to emphasize Baroness Thatcher’s “accomplishments,” haven’t they? It is awfully considerate of putative leftists like Labour leader Ed Miliband to put aside their convictions and praise the cooling corpse that “broke the mould” of British leadership. Yes, she was sui generis - Britain never before nor ever since has had an arch-capitalist premier with a penchant for killing swarthy peoples – but as “Brilliantine Eddie” noted, it was Margaret Thatcher’s “ability to overcome every obstacle in her path” that has secured her place in history.

It’s a more revealing comment than would appear at first glance, submerged as it was in the lukewarm water sloshing around inside Miliband’s skull. That is the way we live now: to overcome every obstacle in your path is to be great, especially for a grasping non-entity like Ed, lusting after power like a monster Maggie spent her wasted life hoarding. Yes, in this desperately infantile endnote of an era, of “Leaning In” and “Yes We Can,” the obstacle itself matters little, and the weaker the better –whether they’re beggared coal miners, brutalized Irish Catholics, or tin-pot Argentine sailors. To praise the principle of Thatcher’s ruthlessness, without regard for the blood-spattered fine print, is to praise Buffalo Bill’s sewing skills without noticing the fabric.

Thatcher was a woman. How wonderful; it was a woman that broke the glass ceiling on drowning the poor and toasting the rich before slamming the hatch shut on any other grocers’ daughters trying to “have it all.” It’s as much a comfort to her many victims as Obama’s skin color is to the latest Yemenis roasted by his drones, or as meaningful as the sexual orientation of our infantrymen to the Afghans they brutalize. Never before has a broader array of humanity been more contaminated by the power of nightmares.

“Iron Lady?” The striking miners at Orgreave made their own stainless steel, battling for something more than “modernization” and profit margins. “This lady’s not for turning?” Don’t make me laugh. Ten Irish martyrs starved themselves to death in the H-Blocks of Long Kesh rather than wear the prison uniforms of Margaret Thatcher’s government. A scant four years after Bobby Sands had reenergized the IRA, Margaret had turned into a moderate – signing the Anglo-Irish Agreement, her tail tucked between her legs. “The Leaderene?” Sure. Tell that to the African National Congress’s Pallo Jordan:

"In the end I sat with her in her office with Nelson Mandela in 1991. She knew she had no choice. Although she called us a terrorist organization, she had to shake hands with a terrorist and sit down with a terrorist. So who won?"

I’ll concede nothing to this warthog from Hell – not her “accomplishments,” borne off the impoverishment of working women who won’t get a ceremonial funeral, not her “determination” in propping up Pinochet’s sultanate of rape rooms and mass murder, nor her “fortitude” in shaking whiphands with every apartheid premier she could drag in front of a camera. Margaret Thatcher, always sure of herself, never in doubt, can exit this world sure of the one great achievement I will grant: she was instrumental in making the world a much worse place.

Of course, to concede her the transformative, near-omnipotent power given in all her fawning obituaries misses the point. Thatcher was merely, as Byron wrote of the similarly grotesque Castlereagh,

The vulgarest tool that Tyranny could want,
With just enough of talent, and no more,
To lengthen fetters by another fixed,
And offer poison long already mixed.

Thatcher did not exist in a vacuum. She won elections. Enough Britons supported her, the same way enough Americans supported Reagan, Clinton and Bush in their effort to turn our economy into a casino. She bugged the cars of labor leaders and sank the Belgrano and shoved her own soldiers into the Northern Irish meat grinder – she kept winning, only felled when a turncoat toppled her.

But she was praised, supported, by a disgusting class of nouveau riche, bottoming out in the City of London and on Rupert Murdoch’s Fleet Street, combinations of genetic mistakes reconfiguring themselves into a ruling elite. And there were not enough Tony Benns or Glenda Jacksons or Arthur Scargills or Diana Goulds to stop not just her, but the rotten impulses she spoke to in the human heart. Thatcherism was not just the moral depravity of one person; it was a social failure. More, more, more. This was the depth of her deranged philosophy.

How moving it was to see all walks of political life unite to condemn those unseemly, spontaneous celebrations that spread like prairie fire across the U.K. the moment Van Helsing signed the death certificate. What will be said of this class of politicians when they die – their legacies those of the Thatcherite, which is to say, economic terrorism, amorality, and war?

Oh well. There is no Hell for them to go to, only the Hell she left behind. But it can at least comfort us to know that while the tumor she called her heart only stopped beating this week, her brain had deteriorated into sponge cake years ago. She’ll get no cosmic judgment, no eternal punishment, and so it is that the revelation that her “blotter paper” mind had congealed into glue must suffice.

I suppose her heinous children were trying to appeal to the public’s sympathy, disclosing that Maggie kept forgetting her husband was dead, how she’d bawl and gnash her teeth with each retelling, as if it was the first she’d heard of the news.

And it’s a heartwarming story. Maggie Thatcher usually forgot easily about the people she killed. So nice to hear she spent her retirement repeating the stages of grief enough times for all her victims.

General Gandhi

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