Monday, October 27, 2008

News from the "Real Virginia"

The pinko Judy Feder campaign sends its ill-mannered guttersnipes to verbally assault incumbent Congressman Frank Wolf -- cruelly asking him pointed (ow!) questions about how he proposes to fund the McCain health plan (hint: ask Joe the Plumber about his tax bill). Wolf defends himself as nobly as can be done -- by setting his goons loyal lieutenants on the impertinent questioners and gazing elegantly, and silently, at the distant horizon.

Judy needs to hire less insolent jackanapes, is all I'm sayin'.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans

A six-mile pileup on the Dulles Greenway. Six miles. A half-mile backup isn't unexpected, but six miles is unprecedented. All the way back to the Shreve Mill Road exit. Unbelievable.

But that's what confronted me as I made my way home at about four o'clock to pick up Freddie from the schoolbus and drive him in to Leesburg to catch the Obama rally at Ida Lee Park. Wonder Woman and Betty, coming from another direction, were going to meet us there.

This plan, in retrospect, was a trifle naive. Cellphone calls between the two parties were punctuated by swearing, impatience, and expressions of disbelief at the incredibly snarled traffic. Ida Lee is in Leesburg's northern outskirts, and for most Washingtonians is accessible via only three main roads, two of them built decades ago and desperately overcrowded even on normal days. Yesterday, the entire system broke down completely. Leesburg and evirons was a parking lot.

The one thought keeping us relatively calm was that there would be opening speakers who would drone on for an hour before Obama spoke. So it was that, an hour after the rally's scheduled start, three out-of-breath attendees (Wonder Woman decided -- wisely, as it turns out -- not to brave the crowds) hustled from our parking spot on Old Waterford Road, across the back fields of Ida Lee. We could hear cheering off in the distance. Then, unexpectedly, we started to notice a trickle of people coming toward us. Ah, we thought, Mark Warner probably bored 'em so bad they decided to get home for dinner...

Nope. The trickle became a flood. We'd missed it. Ganged agley, as the poet said.

One small positive moment in an otherwise deeply disappointing evening: The police cordoned off a stretch of road behind the stage as we were crossing it, and down the road we could see police cars and motorcycles, lights flashing. We waited for a few minutes, and sure enough, the motorcade rolled majestically by. By stroke of sheer luck, we were on the right side of the road to catch the briefest glimpse of that indelible face, smiling and waving at us.

Almost made the whole thing worth it.

Update: The failing light made any photos I took pretty sucky, but better photos are here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Power of the Anagram

Barack Hussein Obama:
I smoke a cabana brush
Marihuana becks -- a sob!
Bi hero's musk: a cabana
A Caesarian bomb husk

John Sidney McCain:
Johnnie's mad cynic
Ninja cynic moshed
Ninja's comedy inch
Johnny's id in Mecca
I cad, minces Johnny
Join my chins! Dance!

Sarah Louise Heath Palin:
A hellish pro-euthanasia
A lusher aphasia hotline
A palatial heroine! Shush!
A heel! Aphasia rhino slut!

Joseph Biden:
John bids: Pee!
John's deep bi

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

That Wacky DNA!

I found this photograph of Barack Obama's grandparents absolutely amazing. His grandmother, as you're no doubt aware, is poorly, and Barack is suspending his campaign Thursday to be at her side, which is as it should be. I wish the Obama and Dunham families all the best.

It's the grandfather that makes the photo so astonishing: I've shown the photo to some folks at work, asking if they could tell whose grandparents they are. None of them picked up on it until I told them, but afterwards they could easily see Barack's face in his grandfather's: the jawline, the ears, the eyes, the tilt of the head.

One of the folks I showed it to noted that the photo points up what many people miss: That Barack Obama is as much white as he is black -- he is, she said, from all of us.

I was crestfallen this morning to read of Obama's family troubles and the suspension of the campaign -- for altruistic reasons, but also for selfish ones: I was looking forward to attending the Obama rally in Leesburg tomorrow, and assumed the suspension went into effect immediately. Later, I found that he would begin the suspension on Thursday, after the rally. Yay for me, I guess.

Charging the camera...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chicken or Shit?

Yesterday, young Betty and I hauled ourselves down to Leesburg to knock on doors for Obama. When we told the campaign workers that we'd come from Lovettsville, they sent us back there with a list of 35 doors to hit -- we knew the area, could best plan a route, etc. Which was true. Thirty-five doors around rural Lovettsville, where home-lot acreage often runs into the high two figures if not higher, is no small effort, and both Betty and I were plenty footsore by the end.

Given the ugly tone of what I've been seing on television and in the blogs, I'd expected something much more depressing than the experience actually was. No one set the dogs on us -- I think being greeted by a father-daughter team with a clipboard was disarming for a lot of folks, and I was always careful to say I was a near neighbor. Only one woman closed the door on us with anything like asperity, and nearly everyone was unfailingly polite, even when saying they were voting for McCain. No racial slurs, no "socialism," nothing that I'd half-dreaded confronting.

We're nice folks in Lovettsville.

What did surprise me was the number of people -- well over two-thirds, in my estimate -- who told me they were as yet undecided. I don't how many were saying it because they didn't want to tell me who they were really voting for, and how many truly hadn't made up their minds. In retrospect, I'm glad I hadn't read David Sedaris' Shouts and Murmurs column from the latest New Yorker:
“Who are [the undecided]?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.

Probably best not to go canvasing with that image in your mind.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Tipping Point

As it is The Matriarch's birthday, I took her to lunch today to regale her with prezzies and an update on the family. Macaroni Grill near her place, Italian Wedding soup and a Pizza Siciliana that the waiters and cooks were kind enough to leave on a windowsill to cool before serving -- wouldn't do to burn a patron's mouth with piping-hot pizza.

Our waiter was a rather chirpy young fellow of perhaps 23 summers, with a small, carefully tended chin-tuft and pointy hair. He presented me with the check, and we did the formal credit-card minuet that always extends a restaurant visit by ten minutes or so. My pen was poised over the receipt to enter the amount of his tip as I calculated twenty per cent of $27.67 -- his service had been quite good and his manner genial -- he opened his mouth to speak.

"So, did you guys watch the debate last night?"

We allowed as how we certainly had, and I went back to my calculations, wondering if this young man was at all aware of how dangerous his situation was -- was this really a topic he should be broaching just as I'm making out his tip?

"Yeah, I don't know. I think Obama won the thing, but I've got friends who are gonna vote for him just 'cos he's a black guy."

Now I'm calculating fifteen per cent...

"Really?" sez the Matriarch, who's been canvassing for Obama this week. "And how do you feel about it?"

"Oh, I don't know if I'm even gonna vote at all. I just don't know anything about Obama, what he stands for. I think McCain would be a really good leader, but I hear he's got a bad temper..."

Ten per cent of $27.67 is easy...

I spoke up. "If you don't know anything about Obama, even after he's been campaigning on your television set for two years, you might try looking up double-yew, double-yew, double-yew BarackObama dot com. It has all his position papers, his stances on issues, pretty much everything you need to know..."

"Yeah, maybe I'll do that. I just don't know if I'm gonna vote at all, though."

All right, let's see... five percent of $27.67 is half of ten percent...

But I was merciful. Wait-staff get shafted even in the healthiest economies, and who am I to punish this young man for depressing the crap out of me?

I gave him the standard fifteen.

"Y'all have a good day now. Hope to see you back soon!"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cue the Seven Horsemen

Noted satirist and National Review columnist Christopher Buckley, son of William F. Buckley, has endorsed Barack Obama. Explaining why he published his endorsement at The Daily Beast rather than NRO, he notes,
Dear Pup once said to me sighfully after a right-winger who fancied himself a WFB protégé had said something transcendently and provocatively cretinous, “You know, I’ve spent my entire life time separating the Right from the kooks.” Well, the dear man did his best. At any rate, I don’t have the kidney at the moment for 12,000 emails saying how good it is he’s no longer alive to see his Judas of a son endorse for the presidency a covert Muslim who pals around with the Weather Underground. So, you’re reading it here first....

But having a first-class temperament and a first-class intellect, President Obama will (I pray, secularly) surely understand that traditional left-politics aren’t going to get us out of this pit we’ve dug for ourselves. If he raises taxes and throws up tariff walls and opens the coffers of the DNC to bribe-money from the special interest groups against whom he has (somewhat disingenuously) railed during the campaign trail, then he will almost certainly reap a whirlwind that will make Katrina look like a balmy summer zephyr.

Obama has in him—I think, despite his sometimes airy-fairy “We are the people we have been waiting for” silly rhetoric—the potential to be a good, perhaps even great leader. He is, it seems clear enough, what the historical moment seems to be calling for.

So, I wish him all the best. We are all in this together. Necessity is the mother of bipartisanship. And so, for the first time in my life, I’ll be pulling the Democratic lever in November. As the saying goes, God save the United States of America.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Agent Provocateur

I'm in there somewhere...

I've noticed a trickle of traffic (or is it a trackle of terrific? I can never tell...) coming in from this post at Making Light. The post, about a month old, remarked that the protesters at the RNC in St. Paul were mostly (overwhelmingly) peaceful, and that a few hotheads had goaded the police into a ridiculous overreaction, repeatedly tasering peaceful protesters who were on the ground in custody, busting heads, what have you. All disgusting stuff, of course. But those hotheads... Who were they?

The link that commenter Joel Hanes left in comments was to an ancient post of mine, about Super-Joel Tornabene, the fella who was famously photographed sticking flowers into National Guards' rifle barrels at the Pentagon protest of 1967. (That post flushed out SuperJoel's brother, who popped into the comments to say hi. Good times!) Hanes' comment-with-link came in the context of a discussion of agents provocateurs, some contributors speculating that the St. Paul hotheads had been exactly that -- government-hired ringers who stir up violent trouble and give the pigs peace officers the excuse to bust some heads (or, more contemporarily, exercise their Tasers on helpless prone protesters).

That phrase, agent provocateur, stirs a memory in the Jingo cranium, the beginning of my disillusionment with leftish activism.... [Wavy dissolve lines....]

It is May of 1979 1980.* Your Ned is a sophomore at Kenyon, so idealistic that even his own parents can't stand him. I fell in with a bad crowd of other raving peacenik pinkos, forming that year a little organization we were pleased to call the Kenyon Peace Coalition.

The bugbear of those times was nuclear power (Three Mile Island was only a few months in the rearview mirror), and the KPC got a mailer from the Clamshell Alliance, organizers of a protest at the Seabrook, New Hampshire, power plant, which was under construction and very unpopular with the locals. The protest organizers were very clear: Rather than stand around the gates of the plant waving signs and looking all righteous, we were going in. We were going to occupy the plant, repel all boarders, and shut it down.

But, you know. Peacefully. In accordance with the nonviolent precepts of Ghandi and King. Consensus decision-making.

Yes, yes, I know. They were proposing what amounts to a paramilitary operation, to be carried out under principles of strictest consensus. You can smell the stupid from three decades away.

But to three eighteen-year-olds itching for our places in history, a weekend spent overthrowing the Entrenched Powers of All Kinds of Evil and Stuff -- maybe even getting our first whiff of tear gas! -- sounded like a peachamaroot of an idea. We KPC Kidz got the mandatory nonviolence training at a church in Columbus, packed up a weekend's worth of bologna sandwiches, and ho for New Hampshire.

Thus it was that on a lovely, slightly chilly spring morning in the beautiful town of Seabrook, your Ned found himself soaking wet from a police fire-hose, his bandana once soaked in lemon-juice to neutralize tear-gas but now simply soaked, chanting slogans at impassive state troopers in riot gear at the gates of the plant. One KPC Kid had gotten a faceful of Mace, but the firehose had immediately washed it away, a happenstance we thought pretty funny.

The attempt to occupy the plant earlier in the morning had been just about as pathetic as you'd expect. Since I couldn't afford to be arrested -- my Philosophy of Art finals were a week away! -- I volunteered to help form part of a human roadblock on a secondary road well away from the planned breach-point. I didn't see the main action, but I was told that perhaps three protesters had actually managed to get through a cut in the fence, promptly to be arrested. The rest of the attackers were chased away by dogs and firehoses. At our little roadblock, we saw the main body of protesters streaming away into the woods; a lone policeman with a dog began wandering down the road our way, and consensus (heh!) quickly grew that our road-blocking endeavors were pointless, discretion the better part of valor, and didn't those woods look like just the thing to melt into right about now.

Oh, we were a brave bunch of nonviolent followers of Ghandi and King!

The protest now took shape around the front gates of the plant -- just as the organizers had insisted it wouldn't -- and this is where your Ned received his first experience of a firehose (really not as bad as you'd expect). The crowd, enthusiastic at first but losing steam somewhat from the wet and cold (far worse than the firehose is what starts to happen to you ten minutes after the firehose in cool weather). At this moment, a guy -- scruffy-looking, three-day beard, much like the rest of us -- grabbed me by the elbow.

"Hey, you look like a troublemaker!"


He apprised me of the situation. A schoolbus loaded with plant workers, the day shift I suppose, was attempting to enter the site, but the gate was blocked by the protesters. The crowd's enthusiasm for the consequences of blocking the workers from entering -- busted heads, dog bites, more tear gas -- had waned considerably. The mass of people parted reluctantly to let the bus pass -- in so doing conceding that this was absolutely no longer an operation to shut down the plant. Something was needed to stir the shit.

My interlocutor pressed a box of roofing nails on me. "Whatcha gotta do is, before the bus starts to move, you take some of these nails, prop 'em between the tires and the road, and blammo!"

Blammo indeed.

And that, my friends, is an agent provocateur.

It didn't occur to me then -- that is, the thought, the words, "this man is trying to convince me to commit vandalism in order to provoke minor violence so that the police have an excuse to commit major violence on these people" didn't form in my head. Tear gas and fire hoses have a way of jumbling up your head after a couple of hours. But every instinct I possessed, even at the volatile age of eighteen, told me this guy was Serious Bad News -- and I am not now, nor have I ever been, much of a vandal. I shook my head no, repossessed my elbow from his grip, and wandered back into the crowd.

The bus did pass without incident, so I guess my pal didn't find any takers. Odd, how he didn't do it himself.

But that's the way they work. It just takes one tiny little incident -- and a bus with blown-out tires full of nuclear-plant workers surrounded by anti-nuclear protesters, many of whom are disappointed at not having gained access to the plant and shut it down, certainly qualifies -- to turn a manageable situation into a full-on police riot.

What a species.

Update: Recalling this story has unleashed a flood of memories. On the morning of the action, I was riding in a van whose driver had volunteered to take some fifteen of us to the staging site. The town cops knew damned well what was coming, and were using any excuse to nab protesters before the thing got under way, meaning that a van full of fifteen people was a mighty vulnerable object indeed. He had us all lie on the floor.

Suddenly the driver said, "Oh, shit!" A cop car had apparently taken interest and was tailing us. The driver pulls into the parking lot of a little general store. He points to the nearest person -- me -- and says "Go in there and buy something! Look normal!"

Whistling nonchalantly, I ankle into the store, fishing in my pocket to see what I had.

I had exactly one dime. For my phone call, you see, after I'm busted. My wallet's back at the campground.

I look around the store. Of course, even in 1979 1980* you couldn't buy even a pack of gum for a damned dime. My fine mind racing -- what to do? what to do??? -- I hit upon the perfect solution. I strode manfully up to the clerk...

And asked for change for a dime.



*Fuck you, Wikipedia