Friday, December 23, 2005


The BBC has a nice overview of our Glorious Leader's inglorious year.

I've seen conservative types argue that all this criticism of the guy is wrong, even if it's merited, because in the end having a weak and discredited president is bad for the whole country. And quite possibly there's a kernel of truth in there. I certainly worry about what's in store for us over the next 3 years we're stuck with the guy. But the key thing is that he's brought it all upon himself. When you criticize the human rights record of, say, Belarus, and the dictatorial nature of that Lukashenka guy, and the rest of the world basically says "pot, meet kettle", that's bad, but the rest of the world's been watching us, and they have their reasons.

When a new appointment is announced, and everyone immediately assumes the nominee is an incompetent, corrupt crony, one might argue that's bad for the country, and for the "prestige" of the presidency, whatever that is. But it's not the public's fault he keeps appointing political hacks and toadies to top-level jobs they aren't qualified for. Healthy skepticism is not a crime, and skeptics are not enemies of the state.

I don't intend for this to be primarily a political rant blog. There are quite enough of those already, many of them worth reading. But sometimes you just gotta.

For example, get a load of this latest twist on the NSA surveillance scandal. Now John Bolton's involved, which is unsurprising. The really fun part is that this all came out in May, back when GWB could still do no wrong in the media's eyes. Therefore this story didn't get a lot of attention, since there's no obvious way to put a happy spin on it.

To be fair, I imagine that most EU governments do a lot more domestic surveillance than ours does. In particular, I expect the UK is absolutely rife with it, to a degree that nobody in this country would tolerate. I'm certainly not arguing that this is acceptable, but presumably they work within some legally binding framework specifying what they are and aren't allowed to do. Which is what we thought we had here, as well, with FISA and all. But no, now we're told that George holds some kind of "inherent authority" that entitles him to listen to any private conversation, and otherwise basically do as he pleases, regardless of what the laws of the land say.

A person with that kind of authority is a king, not a president. There are good kings and bad kings. Sometimes you get a good king (or queen), who exercises his (or her) power with benevolence and restraint. Or at least you get a mediocre ruler, who takes an attitude of benign neglect toward the country and doesn't give a lot of orders, period, benevolent or otherwise. George Bush Sr. might have made a decent king, for example. But the problem with good kings is that they aren't always good parents, and thus are succeeded by smirking, arrogant bad kings, secure in their airtight bubbles of courtiers, unwilling to tolerate any opposition at all. GWB and his cronies consider anyone they personally dislike as an enemy of the nation as a whole, meaning that it's not merely OK to act against them with absolute impunity, it's practically an obligation, and one they exercise gladly. Bad king.

But I don't want any kind of king at all. The general public doesn't want a king, and most interestingly, it seems the intelligence community itself doesn't want a king either.

In the current climate, it's understandable if people in the three-letter-agency community sometimes wax nostalgic for a more glamorous bygone era, when the likes of Julia Child and Josephine Baker graced the Agency payroll.

If you find the idea of Julia Child as a secret agent rather hard to believe, you'll want to watch some of her old cooking shows. In particular, check out the bouillabaisse episode on disc 1. Watch how she chops up all those fish. It'll make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, I tell you. And when she's done, it all ends up as part of a delicious and highly civilized French meal. The world is a strange place.

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