June 26, 2010

Spit and Polish, But Mostly Spit

I haven't paid much attention to the McChrystal-Obama affair. I read McChrystal's Wikipedia entry, and it's not notably different than the resume of Westley Clark , a vainglorious idiot of soaring bad character. Clark, like McChrystal was personally courageous from time to time, but so is an Atlanta cop, an EMT is Hartford's north end, or an agoraphobic crossing the street.

Both of them add up to fairly standard men of their kind. They seem to be brave. Without men like that you don't have a D-Day but you also don't have a Passchendaele - where probably a million men were wounded or killed in one 5-month operation in 1917.

The list of Passchendaeles, big and small, grew after 1939, up to and including the fracas I was drawn into. So I'm not the guy with automatic respect for an officer class plastered with service ribbons. I'd like to know, for instance, where McChrystal earned the CIB (Combat Infantryman's Badge) when his bio doesn't show any real, leg combat operations. That goes for a lot of other tinsel dangling off peacocks like him.

McChrystal is a social liberal. He voted for Obama. He also banned Fox News from his staff headquarters, which is a familiar quality, to my generation, in a staff officer. No unwelcome opinions allowed. Indeed, all the principals in the Obama-McChrystal farce are like that. So when reality works its compensating magic on a bunch of contending liberal fools, our side is winning without much effort.

What happened between Obama and McChrystal? The General seemed to believe that a White House and defense establishment composed of people like himself was a good thing, until it wasn't. The fantasy of liberal administrative competence is held together by the same things that eventually disprove it: Arrogance, ignorance of cause and effect, and plain stupidity.

McChrystal also seemed to believe that he could toot his little bugle to a "Rolling Stone" reporter - impressing the literati with his "out-spokenness" - where his maundering and self-promotion would remain their little secret. This buried the needle on the Stupid-o-meter, and makes you wonder if this jackass belongs on the same continent with sharp-edged paper or kitchen utensils.

Instead of being protected from cuts and punctures on some assignment above The Dew Line, McChrystal was prosecuting the nine-year old war in Afghanistan, which is the liberals' mission to turn a broken land of Islamic Fred Flintstones into a nation of Ty Penningtons. The whole thing would be laughable if it wasn't so lethal.

A century of American death, toil and treasure might raise it to a nation of Islamic Al Bundys, but killing bad guys on the Paki side of the Durand Line and winking at their cousins on the Afghan side won't even raise Haji Flintstone to the next level, which is somewhere around John Conyers. That seems to have been McChrystal's strategy, although I would like to be proved wrong.

Brain-power on Afghanistan isn't scarce. Michael Yon and the crazy, ballsy, super-smart Brit, Rory Stewart, have forgotten more about the region than anyone at The Pentagon knows. But here's the problem. An old saw, which I believe to be true, is that first-rank managers surround themselves with other first-rank people. Second-rank managers prefer the advice and company of third-rank foks, third prefer fourth and so on, in a cascade to incompetence. It's impossible for Obama to surround himself with, or understand, first-rank advisors because he's inexperienced and not particularly bright where it counts.

I'm with Lou Dobbs on the Afghan war. End it. Now. Will we? Obama reached for Petreaus because McChrystal couldn't blow any more smoke around his confusion, escapism and delirium as President, and especially around his loathing for American muscularity and assertiveness wherever it exists. McChrystal did it until his conceits collided with Obama's. Petraeus is different. This should be interesting.

Dads, Don't Go!

June 24, 2010

Crazy, Man...

Hello Readers! I've been on sick leave from GNN for longer than I've worked here. Goomba has ordered me back to my desk under threat of revoking my discount at his Railroad Salvage Store in Woonsocket. Every man has a price, so I'm back.

Nothing has changed here. Teresa and Opie are still tugging on the hems of their miniskirts and talking about boys. LL is adjusting his sights, Odie is sharpening something, Jihad Gene's pants are neatly folded on his desk and DC is buried in seed catalogues.

Goomba is still air-drumming to "Itchycoo Park" ("the best dang song ever written"), which he plays over and over on his cassette player. Everyone else is upstairs on the first floor drinking up Goomba's old supplies of free Postum.

I have a neurological disease, which is why I've been absent. It's made some things impossible and a lot of things difficult. QWERTY typing is hard, and, sometimes, so are movement and cognition. There's not much movement and cognition at GNN, so my stock has actually risen here, but every silver lining has a touch of gray (Jerry Garcia). My touch of gray is medications, which swizzle the subjective and the objective together into a muddy, depersonalized unreality. Imagine that you're in a noisy, over-lit bar, at a Christmas party with people you detest. You've had three drinks in 20 minutes and you go somewhere in your head, even though your body is at the party enjoying itself. That's what it's like for me all the time.

Goomba has appointed me Arts & Entertainment reporter. I can't say who got bumped from this position, but he spent too many hours in a place called The Sun Art Theater in Texas. My first assignment is to do a feature on the video technology that makes a movie like "Shrek" possible, or enables Ellen Degeneres to do a commercial for Cover Girl beauty products. I'm not sure if they're the same technique, and Goomba seems more interested in understanding video embalming (Degeneres) than motion capture ("Shrek"), probably the first reason - as I suspect - is because he secretly thinks "Shrek" is real. I don't want to tell the big, loveable child the truth.

Second, what Goomba wants to know is whether the hair-spray-on-the-camera lens that made Doris Day look 18 when she was 96, is like what they did for Degeneres, and do for him in the big-screen bio-epic he plans for himself. I don't think this is what Nick wants. He showed me Ellen's commercial. They dialed the technology up to eleven for her face and the results make the scrubbed, featureless, red-lipped tart in Progressive commercials look as real as Helen Thomas, by comparison.

Ellen's face looks like a white pie shell with yellow fringe. Four other vague features must represent eyes and nose, and that rippling pink gash must be a lipsticked mouth. It tracks with Degeneres's praise for the powers of Cover Girl. And powerful stuff it is, that's the message if you want to look like Ellen Degeneres looking like The Man Who Fell to Earth.

At any rate, I don't know how they do it or why. Has someone really powerful decided that TV facsimiles of humans will prepare us for the eventual transition to full computer simulation of news, entertainment and advertising entities? Maybe one day Obama will be tele-cast looking like Little Richard; in that case you'll know who to blame. This might be a good time to go crazy after all. I'll get back to you.

June 20, 2010

My Grandfather was an American

It's been many years since he lifted me into the air, threw me squealing over his shoulder, and in broken English with a mock solemn voice threatened to toss me into the branches of his apple tree and abandon me forever. I worshiped my Nonno. He was a baker. He was also the son of a baker and the grandson of a baker.

You didn't know him, so let me describe him. He was the smartest, strongest, tallest, and funniest man who ever lived. That was when I was 7.

By the age of 12, I saw him as mysterious and downright cool. One autumn Saturday morning we drove to Manhattan where he bought me a fedora almost identical to his. It was my birthday. We lunched at an neighborhood eatery where people knew him as "The Major" and cheerfully greeted him with embraces. We ate soup and bread while Puccini on the jukebox filled our corner of the room. My head swam trying to follow the conversations in Italian he shared with visitor after visitor to the table.

We walked through New York, side-by-side in overcoats and fedoras, as he told me about Ellis Island and Brooklyn in 1910. Our outing included Flower Drum Song on Broadway. It was as magic a day as I've ever experienced. Six months later, I was living in California, part of the great migration of the time, and I never saw him again.

Nonno loved America. He was proud of his Italian heritage, and he was certainly cynical about politicians, but he was patriotic without embarrassment. When he walked past the American flag, he'd crisply lift his hat.

He left Italy because, as a working-class teenager in a poor village, he wanted to avoid an arranged marriage, guaranteed servitude, and a death in his 40's like his father and grandfather before him.

America promised wealth and success for hard work. He wanted his own house with a small orchard. He wanted his own business.

He wanted to eat. He loved sausages, cheese, wine mixed with tap water, Schlitz beer, coffee, pastries, ice cream, potato pancakes, and, of course, macaroni. And the man smoked at least one cigar every day.

He wanted to buy a Ford. Nobody in his family had ever owned an automobile. He was never happier than when preparing "the machine" for a Sunday drive to Woonsockett or Fall River.

He once told me he should have been a cowboy. He loved Glenn Ford, Amos & Andy, and Jimmy Durante.

America promised education for the 6 children he would inspire and frustrate. The education he never had. There would be no more bakers. He wanted doctors and teachers and accountants. Five out of six ain't bad. My father became a baker.

Nonno wanted to marry a beautiful girl who would love him, respect him, laugh at his jokes, and grow flowers in their orchard.

He wanted to live past 60 with teeth in his mouth.

He was an American and, in America, his dreams came true.

He would weep to see us now. Contrarians, elitists, feminists, intellectuals, and political operatives have managed to belittle almost all the things he loved about America.

Eventually, his work ethic, materialism, independence, heterosexuality, diet, tobacco habit, patriotism, gruffness, generosity with DDT, upward mobility, and carbon footprint would each be mocked or outlawed.

I've been told that when my father was fighting somewhere in Italy during World War II, my grandfather (not a big fan of the Catholic faith) would go to church every evening to pray and light a candle. After the war, my father returned to Rhode Island and surprised his parents by sneaking through the kitchen and suddenly appearing as they sat in the living room.

He proudly told them that, while in Italy, he had been able to see his father's village and birthplace.

My Nonno answered, "Never mind that, you home now!"