Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another Year Shot To Hell: The Best Of The Worst Of The Year Past From Kiko's House

(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON DECEMBER 18)
Talk about a year made in blogging heaven! Never in my long scriberly career have I had so much at my fingertips to sound self important about, and practically every day has been an adventure in bathos, pathos, mythos and . . . uh, hathos. It invariably surprises me when a fellow blogger says there is nothing to write about; my problem throughout 2008 has been what not to write about.
Herewith some posts from the past 12 months in which I stuck my neck out -- and as events would prove, occasionally got it loped off:
THE COW PIE PRESIDENCY: ABJECTLY AMORAL
WITH THE ABILITY TO SHOCK BUT NOT SURPRISE

(January 2) A year ago today, back when a surge was something that you didn't want to fry your computer, extraordinary rendition was a stirring playing of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, people thought FISA was the federal agency that protected their bank deposits and a Huckabee was a . . . something or other, I posed a couple of questions:

Can we survive two more years of a Bush presidency?

Have we become a nation of sheep? LINK.

IN WHICH WE COMPARE 1968 & 2008:
THE ANSWER MY FRIEND IS BLOWIN' IN THE WIND

(February 18) Having been eligible for the draft and an all-expenses-paid trip to Vietnam since I was 18, 1968 was the year that I turned 21 and finally was old enough to drink and vote, which I did in that order and with great enthusiasm.

I had a front-row seat for this year of great change, but nowhere were those changes manifested so powerfuly than in the presidential race. This presidential election year also is shaping up to be one of potentially great change, which begs the question: Were the changes of 1968 more important than the changes of 2008 could be? LINK.

WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN
TO GOOD CHRISTIAN CONSERVATIVES
(February 23) Harvey and Harriet Cedars are not just the breadwinners in a typical conservative Christian Republican family. They're hard working middle-class folks who have been going through some very difficult times but were confident that their president, his government and the Supreme Court that he has molded over the last seven years were on their side, which is to say God's side. This has been good enough for the Cedars because they knew that God was on their side -- their God anyway.

Then things got all crazy. LINK.

JACK KEROUAC: AN APPRECIATION

(March 12) I caught the Kerouac bug so bad that I read virtually everything he wrote. The good news from this literary experience is that I can confirm that Kerouac is deserving of the mantle of trailblazing Beat Generation writer. The bad news is that I was to read only two more Kerouac books that gripped me as On the Road had, and most of the rest of what he wrote is second rate or worse. LINK.

ABEER QASSIM HAMZA IS STILL DEAD

(March 26) Steven Green is the poster boy-man for much of what is wrong about the Iraq war.

This petulant loner was allowed to enlist in the Army and was fast-tracked to the war zone despite a history of drug, alcohol and emotional problems and a petty criminal record.

Green had been in Iraq for only a few weeks when he was found to have "homicidal ideations" by Army psychiatrists. Nevertheless, he was sent back into combat before finally snapping when he corralled some buddies and talked up the idea of raping Abeer Qassim Hamza, a pretty 15-year-old who lived with her family near a checkpoint that Green's unit had been manning without relief for days. LINK.

JUDGE NOT THE PRESIDENTIAL DAUGHTERS
FOR THEIR FATHERS
(April 2) Oops! It happened again – Chelsea Clinton was aksed about the Monica Lewsinky scandal while stumping for her mother.

There is some unanimity among mainstream media pundits and bloggers that such questions should be off limits. Their reasoning, such as it is, is that Chelsea was a teenager at the time, she surely has attained some sense of closure by now, and the whole subject is . . . well, yucky.

I beg to differ – up to a point. LINK.

EXPOSED: THE SILENT EPIDEMIC
THAT IS KILLING OUR IRAQ & AFGHAN WAR VETS
(May 8) Nick was never the same after Vietnam. He would lapse into deep depressions. He let his teeth go, chain smoked cigarettes and pot and drank way too much booze, fought with his wife and would leave home for days at a time after suffering nightmares about the people that he had killed and seen killed.

I was one of the very few people who knew about Nick's Vietnam experience. It was horrific -- skippering a Navy river boat that patrolled the Mekong River. You know what I'm talking about if you've seen Apocalypse Now. Nick lived Apocalypse Now.

It helped that Nick was diagnosed fairly early on with a condition that has only recently been given a fancy clinical name -- post traumatic stress disorder. LINK.

BOOK REVIEW: PYNCHON'S MASON & DIXON:
AN 18th CENTURY MUSING ON ALL THINGS
(May 18) Mason & Dixon is the penultimate book in my long slog to read the complete works of Thomas Pynchon and is of more than usual interest because your Faithful Reviewer plies his trade within a stone's throw of one of the markers placed by the eponomymous pair of 18th century surveyors in determining the demarcation line between Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia that would become the symbolic cultural boundary between the North and South.

Like Pynchon's 2007 magnum opus,
Against the Day, Mason & Dixon is complex, wonderfully subversive and laugh-out-loud funny. But also like that book, it is more accessible than his earlier works, notably Gravity's Rainbow, a masterpiece but with prose so dense that you can stand a fork in them. LINK.

MILES DAVIS: AN APPRECIATION

(May 25) Writing about Miles Davis is daunting, if not downright intimidating. For one thing, the legendary trumpet player probably has been analyzed more than any musician-composer this side of Beethoven. There is even an entire book on just one of his over 100 albums.

For another thing, a word like "legendary" does not begin to capture the enormous influence that Miles exerted on the genre, the many -- and I mean many -- young musicians he mentored who became stars in their own right, and his vast body of his work and extraordinary improvisational powers. LINK.

THE SISTERHOOD IS POWERFUL BUT IT'S
TIME TO RETURN THOSE EVENING GOWNS

(June 12) Like radio waves reaching earth from some cosmic calamity millennia ago, the yarbling of Hillary Clinton sycophants who believe that her candidacy was gang banged into extinction by the mainstream media, right-wing bloggers and Barack Obama acolytes can be faintly heard, although it is so much background noise as Clinton herself and practically everyone else who is determined to take back America link arms and march toward November.

Has it only been five days since Clinton’s extraordinarily gracious concession speech? It seems like light years in this corner of the universe where the political landscape changes by the news cycle, and yet some diehards just can't seem to face up to the reality that the fancy evening gowns they bought so they could dance the night away with Bill and Hill at her inaugural balls will have to be returned. LINK.

TIM RUSSERT WAS NO WALTER CRONKITE

(June 16) I felt embarrassed watching the orgy of self-important coverage about Tim Russert on the networks and cable news shows. You would have thought that someone really big like the Pope had died. This is because at heart I remain an old-school journalist who believes that becoming part of a story – which Russert did with proud regularity – is a cardinal sin and that the death, marriage or the winning of an award by one of our own should be duly and briefly noted, but then it is time to get back to work.

The "Meet the Press" host was by all accounts a loving husband, father and son who went about his business joyously, but I am at a loss to understand why that made him so special. LINK.

DAVID ADDINGTON: A PATRIOT OR A TRAITOR?

(July 25) One of the underreported and unappreciated aspects of the Age of Bush is that despite the appearance of unanimity some administration officials, typically careerists and not political appointees, were horrified at the embrace of torture and other extralegal actions and spoke up. They were silenced and in some case were fired, demoted or resigned.

When an official whose loyalty to the rule of law ran deeper than their loyalty to the administration tried to fight back, they usually were met by a human chain saw by the name of David Addington. History is filled with people like Addington who believed absolutely that they were doing right for God and Republic but whose actions were so awful that what they saw as patriotism was in fact traitorous.

By that calculus, the foul deeds of Benedict Arnold, Alger Hiss and Aldrich Ames pale in comparison to Addington's actions. LINK.

EDWARDS & CLINTON: A CAUTIONARY
TALE OF THE LURE OF POWER

(August 15) As uncomfortable as the subject may be for people for whom the protection of privacy is more important than the corrosive effects of lying and hypocrisy on politics, the more that I learn about John Edwards' romp with Rielle Hunter, the more Elizabeth Edwards reminds me of Hillary Clinton. Minus the cancer, of course.

Both women worshiped at the altar of political prominence and power, so much so that they overlooked clear evidence of their husbands' violation of their wedding vows. They contributed to their husbands' phony public personas as straight arrows and then circled their own wagons when confronted with the truth. LINK.

N.J. HOSPITALS CRISIS:
CULLEN WAS THE SYMPTOM NOT THE PROBLEM

(October 28) Charles Cullen is every hospital's nightmare: A deranged nurse who methodically murders patients by giving them hard-to-detect overdoses of medications.

As a result of Cullen cooperating with authorities in a plea bargain that will keep him behind bars for life, hospital procedures were tightened with his input and the New Jersey legislature passed the Nurse Cullen Act.

The act would seem to be a good thing on its face, but it is a safe bet that New Jersey hospitals have killed many more patients than Charles Cullen did as its health-care system has imploded. LINK.

THE OBAMA LANDSLIDE & LEADING
AMERICA OUT OF THE WILDERNESS
(November 5) I voted yesterday in the most important election of my lifetime after the most dramatic primary and general election campaign of my lifetime. And as I left the polling station and walked out into the chilly morning air, it all fell into place: Barack Obama represents what America once was and can stand for again. As well as this: Obama did not transcend race so much as make the case that he is the best man to lead America out of the wilderness.

If that seems simplistic, it is. Because while the hydra-headed monster of racism may have been bowed in 2008, it has not been beaten. In fact, John McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates took demagoguery to new heights in a campaign that never found its groove except when it came to fear mongering. LINK.

BABY BOOMERS FINALLY PASS THE TORCH
& NOT A DAY TOO SOON
(November 10) The tears of joy have dried. The stage in Grant Park has been taken down. The celebrations are history. As the dust settles from Election Day 2008 the biggest message is that the 1960s are now officially over. The Baby Boomers have passed the torch. We are finally moving on. And not a day too soon.

Born in 1947, I am a card-carrying Boomer and very much a product of the 1960s and the dirty little war and enormous social upheaval that decade brought. I am also aware that having been given the wheel a few elections ago, we have blown it bigtime. LINK.


WHY REWARD GENERAL MOTORS
FOR LOUSY MANAGERS & PRODUCTS?
(November 13) I keep going back and forth on whether America's Big three automakers should be bailed out. On the one hand, the collapse of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler would have an immense psychological impact in the depths of a recession, not to mention the loss of as many as 2.9 million jobs, according to one estimate. On the other hand, why reward managers and boards of directors so inept that they couldn't figure out how to remain competitive over the 30 years since the Japanese Invasion began?

General Motors is especially problematic.
The beginning of its downturn from innovative colossus to the maker of boring rental cars can be traced back to 1976 when a peppy little import called the Honda Accord first arrived in the U.S. LINK.

WHY WERE PSYCHOLOGIST BEHIND THE CURVE
ON THE BUSH TORTURE REGIME?

(November 16) In September of this year, the American Psychological Association reversed a longstanding policy by voting to prohibit its members from participating in interrogations or acting in an advisory capacity at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere after revelations that some psychologists have been involved in so-called intensive interrogation sessions.

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Stanley Fish asks a provocative question: Why did psychology, generally considered to be one of the most liberal of disciplines, lag behind its sister professions regarding one of the most troubling consequences of the so-called War on Terror — the Bush administration's approval of the use of torture and enlisting health-care professionals in and out of uniform into helping extract information from terrorists and other so-called enemy combatants? LINK.

REPUBLICAN KINGS OF MEAN: CHANNELING
HERBERT HOOVER & SCREWING JOE SIXPACK
(December 13) The Republicans not only didn't learn from the thrashing they received in the November election, they have refused to dial back even a notch or two on the mean spiritedness that repelled so many voters while embracing a position that is even to the right of Dick Cheney.

And so there were Senate Republicans this week in the 11
th hour of a lame-duck session madly waving Old Glory and bloviating about free enterprise as they held a cocked gun to the heads of the American auto industry.

When the smoke had cleared, it was obvious that settling an old score with those blue collar guys and gals who carry union cards was more important to these senators than risking the loss of another three million jobs on top of the the two million that already have gone kaplooey because of the Wall Street over Main Street economic policies they have so slavishly supported. LINK.

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