Saturday, December 30, 2006

Thanks For The Memories

No longer of this world: one Saddam Hussein, a monster whom, in the not-so-distant past, America hand-fed and armed with our very best. How quickly we forget.

Go here to see the high-quality original of this Flash film (a format that Google Video and YouTube don't accept at the moment, hence my wobbly version), compiled and produced by Eric Blumrich. It's more relevant today than ever, if that's possible. I also recommend checking out Blumrich's site, Bushflash; to say it's content-rich is an understatement.

Friday, December 29, 2006

While We're On The Subject Of Paying For One's Crimes

Before attempting to remove the splinter from another nation's eye, we might consider addressing the two-by-four that's lodged in our own.

So they're going to hang Saddam Hussein. American talking heads, for the most part, give the impression that they believe justice is being served. And the comments around my house aren't much different: Commit a crime; face the time.

Still, you can't help but notice that American Justice and its entourage, media whores all, have had a little work done since the seventies. When President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon all those years ago, the notion of Justice, or Justice For All, anyway, underwent some shape-shifting. From HuffPo contributor Jonathan Tasini:

I think it is a fair argument to make that had Nixon been convicted and served a prison term--as he should have--the Iraq war might never have happened--and hundreds of thousands of people would not have died, we would not have squandered as much as $2 trillion on an insane war and we would not have opened up a huge rift in our relations around the world. Is it not likely and plausible that, with the precedent of a Nixon conviction and imprisonment very much branded in the consciousness of our elected leaders, the current president and vice president (particularly the latter who worked in the Ford presidency) might have paused for a moment, in their improper, fallacious and illegal pursuit of an immoral war and the evisceration of our civil liberties, to ponder whether they were committing acts that might land them in jail? Given the individuals, I'll concede that perhaps nothing would have deterred them from committing impeachable offenses, that in the words of the House, were "subversive of constitutional government," caused "great prejudice to the cause of law and justice" and brought "manifest injury to the people of the United States."

We can undo some of the damage that the Nixon pardon caused. And that task must be taken up by the incoming Democratic majority. Incoming Speaker Pelosi and incoming Majority Leader Reid, if you continue to refuse to hold the current Administration accountable, as set forth in our Constitution, for the breaking of our laws and the violation of their sworn oaths, you will only be prolonging our national nightmare for years and possible generations to come. Future presidents will not hesitate to repeat the behavior of the Nixon and Bush Administrations because they will see our track record--our unwillingness to hold our elected leaders accountable for laws they violate. Based on lies that they will cloak in their own justification and without the proper Constitutional authority, future presidents will embark on wars that will kill countless more young men and women.

If we are a nation of laws, then let no person consider himself above those laws. And let no penalty or sentence effectuated thereby be undermined, diluted, or waived--and Justice For All thus denied--simply because the ones who broke, and continue to break, said laws temporarily occupy the halls of power.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Meme Demystificatus

No-one took a shot at my stories here at The Last Duchess, but numerous readers at Shakespeare's Sister dove in, and quite a few were correct in their guesses, though they weren't all 100% sure. Which is why it's called a guess, no?

This little collection was great fun to put together though, and it confirmed my belief that I am a better storyteller than creator of flat-out fiction. On to the stories and their veracity (or lack thereof), then.

Story Number One, Final Exam Anxiety. True. I held on to the B, but suffered a nasty cold throughout my Christmas vacation.

Story Number Two, Motherf*cking Bomb Scares On A Motherf*cking Plane. True. The story of what I was doing in New York that particular time around is so unbelievable, I considered including it, but it's also a rather long and involved tale that would've consumed the whole post.

Story Number Three, Tea And Tyranny. False, but only the name of the leader: Idi Amin was indeed living in Saudi Arabia then, and I doubt I'd have run into him in Nassau, as Minstrel Boy pointed out. The tall, uniformed man who approached me at the harbor was actually a high-ranking Bahamian official, and he was very charming and proper--not at all despotic. And the tea and biscuit purchase, the setting, the car, the conversation, and the lunch were all recounted accurately. I simply thought that a hated, exiled criminal with an oddly fun-to-say name would make for a story so outrageous, it had to ring true.

Story Number Four, Brown M&M Blues. True. Furthermore, at an after party, Mr. Roth literally climbed over me, stepping onto and across my lap and bracing himself by placing one hand on the wall and one on my shoulder, in order to get to the other side of a fully-occupied sofa and sit closer to the bar. What a jerk.

Story Number Five, Yo, ho, ho...Fish Fingers! True. A while back, I wrote an e-mail to the parent company of Birdseye to ask if they had any of that year's ads in their archives. The correspondence went back and forth, with employees copying me at every turn, and then it all went silent. Oh well. The sounds, smells, and colors of the experience live on, in all their sunny accuracy, right here in my brain.

Thanks to all who hazarded a guess or two. What fun!

Happy Birthday, Queen Mum II!

Many happy returns to my elegant mother, Christine, to whom I owe my love of books, ballet, and handsome Italians--it was she who recommended I see Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon all those years ago because, as she put it then, "He is simply irresistible, what with those huge, dark eyes..."

See what you got me into, Mum?!

With hugs, kisses, endless admiration and appreciation, and of course, love,


Meet The F*ckers

So, asks one reader, Is this Mr. Litbrit aka Robert person real? Or is he a figment of your imagination, a sort of literary device for your stories?

Gentle Reader, I assure you: with the exception of one small story in the Magical Mystery Meme post, everything I write here is non-fiction. If it's completely made-up, you'll know because the words WARNING! Fabrications ahead! will appear somewhere after Once Upon a Time... Robert is real, as are Sons One through Three, as are all furry, feathered, and scale-sporting friends, the adventures of whom are chronicled herein.

Anyway, another reader asked why I don't post some family photographs. I think most parents can understand my squickishness when it comes to putting pictures of my little ones on the Big Bad Intertubes. Shots of Robert, shots of me--no problem: we're grownups; we can properly consent to it. So can the boys, when they're grownups, too. In the meantime, however, I thought these South Park cariacatures of us, which I created at a totally cool South Park DIY site that Shakes turned me on to, would provide good visuals for my stories.

South Park Robert is so spot-on, he looks more like the actual man than Robert himself does.

Ah, you can say that about all of the characters in my life and stories, really. Check them out:

Son Three, the smallest and loudest.

Son Two, my clairvoyant little Cuddle Bunny.

Son One, The Dictator (and arbiter of All That is Cool).

Mr. Litbrit, also variously known as Robert, Roberto, and Dad.

Yours Truly, litbrit.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Meme Magicalis Mysteriosa, var. "litbrit"

I'd been laying low in my sparkly Christmas bunker, hoping to be overlooked. But no.

It appears silas216 of Outpost of the Empty Head has thrown the Magical Mystery Meme gauntlet down in my general direction.

So: five litbrit stories, one of which is either partially or completely untrue. Wherein resides the lie? Leave your guesses in comments!

Story Number One

It is December, in the late 1970's, and I'm in my sophomore year at the University of Florida. My last final exam that quarter is International Relations, and I'm going into the home stretch of a challenging course with a wobbly B average, so it's an important grade. I stay up all night studying--or, at least, I try to. Somewhere between four and five in the morning, my fatigue gets the better of me: I set my alarm clock for six and my head hits the pillow like a ton of bricks. Of course I sleep through the alarm, but all is not lost, since I awaken a full twenty minutes before the exam is to begin. We are having one of those sub-freezing cold fronts in Gainesville, but there is no time to choose clothes and dress myself, so I grab my maxi-length wool coat--one with a huge faux-fur collar and cuffs--and put it on over my undies and camisole as I run out the door, wriggling my feet into my sneakers as I went. I run across several blocks of the UF campus and arrive at my International Relations class just in time to see the professor handing out the exam papers.

The only empty desk is situated next to the radiator--which, like so many radiators in old, old buildings, worked on HIGH or not at all--and I am already quite hot, having run about a mile in what seemed to be no time flat. But I have no choice, so I sit down and set to work. As the hour wears on, I become soaked in sweat. The window next to me is painted shut. And I can hardly take the professor up on his repeated offers to take my coat, lest I be known forever after as the student who led not a Boxer Rebellion, but an Undies Uprising.

Story Number Two

It is fall, early eighties, and I am flying from New York to Tampa. About thirty minutes before we're due to arrive, the aircraft makes a sudden, steep descent. We land, and the pilot throws on the retros almost immediately; the plane practically screeches to a halt. A voice comes on the P.A.

"Ladies and gentlemen, you've probably noticed that we've landed a little early. We're actually in Jacksonville, and there has been a threat to the aircraft. Please leave all your belongings on board and exit as quickly as possible."

That's it. Exit as quickly as possible. My heart sinks and then begins to race. I'm not frightened, not exactly; instead, I feel an overwhelming and supernaturally potent urge to get away from whatever is about to explode. Somehow, we all remain calm and oddly silent as we skitter toward the emergency exit and jump onto the blow-up slide, which is as much fun to whip down as it looks, only you're so busy concentrating on not being blown up, you forget to enjoy yourself. There are flashing lights everywhere and a wide circle of police and firefighting vehicles is forming around the plane. As soon as my bare feet hit the ground, I run as fast as I can, bursting through the line of uniforms and cruisers and dogs and sirens.

Within moments, an officer grasps my arm and takes me indoors where other passengers are queuing up to use the pay phone (no-one has cell phones back then). After the bomb-sniffing dogs have done their thing, we board the same plane and continue home to Tampa. No-one ever tells us what the threat had been or why it was leveled against a routine New York-to-Florida flight. We are, however, offered a single cocktail "on the house". The elegantly-dressed retired man who is my seatmate is bent over, re-tying his shoes, when the flight attendant comes by; he looks up at her and says Courvoisier, please. A double, if possible.

Story Number Three

It is the early 1980's and I am in Nassau, Bahamas, for what is essentially a day-trip errand. It is my job to take a packet of legal papers and contracts to an attorney in this city, present them to him for his review and signatures, and bring them back to my boss in Florida later that day. I've already carried out my duties, and there are three hours to kill before my return flight leaves. I walk around a little, browsing the souvenier stands and t-shirt shops; eventually, I find a little grocery store that carries English sweets and teas, so I go inside and buy enough chocolate-covered Digestive Biscuits and boxes of TyPhoo to fill three bags. Then I continue my walk and head over to the harbor where all the cruise ships dock. I sit on a bench and am daydreaming away, enjoying the warm breezes. Suddenly, there is a throat-clearning noise behing me. I twist my torso and look over my shoulder: a tall, African man in a military uniform stands there.

"Are you enjoying yourself, Miss?" he says. His voice is basso profundo and heavily accented.

I tell him, "Yes, thank you, the Bahamas is a beautiful place to be today."

"Where are you on other days, then?"

"Florida," I reply. "I have to fly back in a couple of hours."

"Ah. So you don't live here," he said, gesturing toward my grocery bags.

"These are English, um, cookies and teas...things that are hard to find in the States."

The man turned and pointed to a black 7-series BMW. "You will come and have lunch with me, then, before you take your English cookies back to America."

And that is how I came to share conch salad and a couple of Kalik beers with exiled Ugandan president Idi Amin Dada.

Story Number Four

It is the early 1980's and I work as an assistant to a rock concert promoter. Our next show is a big one: The Rolling Stones, with Van Halen as the opening act. I am reviewing the concert riders, those attachments that specify things like what sort of food and beverages must be offered backstage and so forth. One odd request from Mr. Roth sends me to my boss for clarification: All brown M&Ms removed?

"Yes," says Boss. "Go to Albertsons, buy a dozen or so bags each of plain and peanut M&Ms, come back here, pour them into a couple of salad bowls, and pick out all the brown ones, please, Deborah. You can be sure the fucking caterers won't do it."

I go to Albertsons, and when I return, I set to work on the M&M-sorting while Boss fields call after call. He summons me again.

"Get Jeff (a PR guy and our contact at Disney World) on the phone. One of Mick's kids is having a birthday, and he wants to rent the Magic Kingdom for a night. Close the place to the public, but have all the main rides operational. Think they'll do it?" he said, knowing full well that anything, pretty much, is available for a price.

We secure the private Disney evening for Mick and his entourage, and since I'm finished taking care of the M&Ms, I start reading the Stones' rider. Among the requests is this: "One large bowl M&Ms; Mick will gladly accept any brown ones that David Lee Roth doesn't want."

Story Number Five

It is the late 1960's. My little brother and I attend a catholic convent in Barbados. Normally, the only adults we see are nuns who float around in head-to-toe white habits and the occasional priest, also in full garb. But one day, my history class is interrupted by a black-leather-bedecked and British-accented film crew and director: they are walking up and down the rows of desks, snapping photographs of my classmates and me and telling us to try to be natural. A few days later, half of us are called to the Headmistress' office and informed that we will be helping to make a television advertisement.

We spend the next week at the beach and on board a pirate ship called the Jolly Roger. Ashore, we dig up fake treasure chests, over and over, and feign excitement over what we find inside, which is the product for which we're making this advert: Birdseye Fish Fingers. The "captain" is a hilariously funny and foul-mouthed British actor who, every day, starts out sober but proceeds to get increasingly more drunk as the shoot wears on. When I mention that I don't think I can do another scene because I can't eat another bite of fish finger, he digs a little pit in the sand and whispers to me to spit into it between takes--it will be our secret.

None of us will see a penny of pay for our work; apparently, the ad agency paid a lump sum to the convent in exchange for the use of their little (Catholic) savages. And to this day, I cannot eat fish fingers, or fish sticks, or food that in any way whatsoever resembles a breaded piece of seafood product.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Dead Don’t Give A Damn What We Call It

Once again, Frank Rich nails it:
In his classic study, “The Great War and Modern Memory,” Paul Fussell wrote of how World War I shattered and remade literature, for only a new language of irony could convey the trauma and waste. Under the auspices of Mr. Bush, the Iraq war is having a comparable, if different, linguistic impact: the more he loses his hold on reality, the more language is severed from its meaning altogether.

When the president persists in talking about staying until “the mission is complete” even though there is no definable military mission, let alone one that can be completed, he is indulging in pure absurdity. The same goes for his talk of “victory,” another concept robbed of any definition when the prime minister we are trying to prop up is allied with Mr. Sadr, a man who wants Americans dead and has many scalps to prove it. The newest hollowed-out Bush word to mask the endgame in Iraq is “phase”, as if the increasing violence were as transitional as the growing pains of a surly teenager. “Phase” is meant to drown out all the unsettling debate about two words the president doesn’t want to hear, “civil war.”


In the case of “civil war,” it fell to a morning television anchor, Matt Lauer, to officially bless the term before the “Today” show moved on to such regular fare as an update on the Olsen twins. That juxtaposition of Iraq and post-pubescent eroticism was only too accurate a gauge of how much the word “war” itself has been drained of its meaning in America after years of waging a war that required no shared sacrifice. Whatever you want to label what’s happening in Iraq, it has never impeded our freedom to dote on the Olsen twins.

I have not been one to buy into the arguments that Mr. Bush is stupid or is the sum of his “Bushisms” or is, as feverish Internet speculation periodically has it, secretly drinking again. I still don’t. But I have believed he is a cynic — that he could always distinguish between truth and fiction even as he and Karl Rove sold us their fictions. That’s why, when the president said that "absolutely, we’re winning" in Iraq before the midterms, I just figured it was more of the same: another expedient lie to further his partisan political ends.

But that election has come and gone, and Mr. Bush is more isolated from the real world than ever. That’s scary. Neither he nor his party has anything to gain politically by pretending that Iraq is not in crisis. Yet Mr. Bush clings to his delusions with a near-rage — watch him seethe in his press conference with Mr. Maliki — that can’t be explained away by sheer stubbornness or misguided principles or a pat psychological theory. Whatever the reason, he is slipping into the same zone as Woodrow Wilson did when refusing to face the rejection of the League of Nations, as a sleepless L.B.J. did when micromanaging bombing missions in Vietnam, as Ronald Reagan did when checking out during Iran-Contra. You can understand why Jim Webb, the Virginia senator-elect with a son in Iraq, was tempted to slug the president at a White House reception for newly elected members of Congress. Mr. Bush asked “How’s your boy?” But when Mr. Webb replied, “I’d like to get them out of Iraq,” the president refused to so much as acknowledge the subject. Maybe a timely slug would have woken him up.


The joke, history may note, is that even as Mr. Bush deludes himself that he is bringing “democracy” to Iraq, he is flouting democracy at home. American voters could not have delivered a clearer mandate on the war than they did on Nov. 7, but apparently elections don’t register at the White House unless the voters dip their fingers in purple ink. Mr. Bush seems to think that the only decision he had to make was replacing Donald Rumsfeld and the mission of changing course would be accomplished.

Tell that to the Americans in Anbar Province. Back in August the chief of intelligence for the Marines filed a secret report — uncovered by Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post — concluding that American troops “are no longer capable of militarily defeating the insurgency in al-Anbar.” That finding was confirmed in an intelligence update last month. Yet American troops are still being tossed into that maw, and at least 90 have been killed there since Labor Day, including five marines, ages 19 to 24, around Thanksgiving.

Civil war? Sectarian violence? A phase? This much is certain: The dead in Iraq don’t give a damn what we call it.

All I can say is, since *ahem* George Bush is reportedly a reader, someone ought to slip a copy of today's New York Times next to the Virgin Mary and pretzels on his breakfast tray.

(Access to the full NYT piece today requires subscription; however Common Dreams usually publishes Rich's column a week post facto.)

UPDATE: The Minstrel Boy has posted the whole Rich column at his place.