Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Amazing Powers of Alberto the Great

The Senate Judiciary Committee's grilling of Alberto Gonzales provided fascinating insight into what the Attorney General believes his job as Attorney General actually entails. We at Project M learned a lot about what is included among the many duties of our country's top law enforcement official. Bucky and I managed to compile the following:

Included: Delegation - the only skill you'll ever need

Once you get to be Attorney General, you are the top dog. You needn’t sweat the small stuff, and it’s all small stuff. From now on, all major decisions can be made by your staff. You need not have any knowledge of the decisions they make, the process behind those decisions, nor why there is even a need for the decisions in the first place.

Not Included: Having a Clue

No need to sweat when your Chief of Staff contradicts you under oath, you are far too clever to panic! The firing of the U.S. attorneys was a "plan you never liked" kind of like Dr. Evil's quest for sharks with laser beams on their heads. Don't these imbeciles at the Senate understand the burden of proof for your incompetence is in their hands? Your hands were tied. You were absolutely compelled to execute a "bad plan" from unknown decision makers you do not recall; you're only the Attorney General, it's not like you could just make the decision yourself.

Included: Early On-set Alzheimer's Disease

The lack of any recall faculty is an asset by which you can claim not remember meetings documented by your schedule, articles you wrote, statements you made, press conferences you held, whether or not your shoes are untied, your mother's maiden name, or the very definition of the duties of the Justice Department. The Department that you are apparently leading without your knowledge.

Included: Poof! Magic!

At the Justice Department, decisions are made by a combination of divine intervention and Scooby Doo criminal chicanery. In Gonzo world, purge lists aren’t made by “people.” They simply appear, wholly assembled, out of thin air and are passed down to phantom administrative minions for implementation without anyone knowing why, while Karl Rove runs around in the background, dressed in a pterodactyl outfit, making spooky noises and frantically deleting e-mails. And they woulda gotten away with it too- if it wasn't for you meddling Bloggers!

Included: Non-Verbal Communication with Other Humans

Once you reach Operating Thetan Level: AG, you no longer need to audibly converse with other beings. Gonzales repeatedly expressed "shock and awe" at the revelation that U.S. Attorney Carol Lam felt blindsided by her firing after all independent accounts verified her superior performance as U.S. Attorney representing San Diego.

Sure, Gonzales never spoke directly to her, nor did anyone in the Justice Department mention to her the “immigration” cases that supposedly warranted her dismissal. Gonzo simply used the awesome power of his mind to feel engrams of disapproval at Ms. Lam. Sadly it seems only Sen. Orrin Hatch’s mind was receptive enough to “receive” Mr. Gonzales telepathic powers.

Not Included: Vulcan Mind Meld

Ms. Lam is not the only one immune the great Gonzo’s mental abilities. He has all the answers up there in his noggin but can’t impart that knowledge directly to Senators unless their name rhymes with "snorin". Instead he must use the outdated technology of “words” to communicate. He knows why he did what he did even if he can’t, at this moment, find in his mind where those reasons might be, for actions he doesn’t recall doing. And he would have done things differently, if he did things, since whatever he did he can't recall, but he knows that it wasn't improper, and he'd still like to get to the bottom of that thing he didn't do. “Words” are woefully inadequate to make sense of that. If only Spock were here.

Not Included: The Unyielding Support of "The Decider"

While you frantically gasp for air during your testimony to the mean busybodies of the Senate, the Decider crawled out of his bubble long enough to express his unwavering support. That's a Heckuva Kiss of Death. Will 'Berto keep his job? Well, as the great Rummsfeld once said "there are known unknowns that are unknowable knowns." Like the Donald before you, you are the only man for the job. Until you’re not. Loyalty is a one way street Fredo. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Just in case you aren't feeling bad enough

Like everyone I was stunned and horrified by the shooting at Virginia Tech yesterday. My deepest sympathies go out to all the families. I do have some strong feelings on many of the issues involved, and I will try to post once we know more about what happened and I've had time to collect my thoughts. However, Juan Cole made an excellent point on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer last night that urgently needs repeating. We as a nation are rightly sickened by the shocking, brutal, and pointless deaths to a degree where most us probably can't even really get our head around the scope of the tragedy.

But as the professor rightly pointed out, horror on this scale happens everyday in Iraq. Every day. Sometimes more than once. See if that thought doesn't shut down your neural fibers. So the next time someone babbles on about the progress being made in Iraq, democracy being "messy", or the “good news" that is being ignored, think back on how you felt yesterday, think about how the whole country ground to a halt with grief and fear. Now imagine how you would feel if senseless, violent death of this magnitude happened in your city, every day, for years, with no end in sight, and feel free to punch that person in the face.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Why Mormons Matter

Utah is a very odd place, and lately its oddness has been standing out in a particular way: as a bell weather for the Bush Presidency. Last weeks naughty language inspired revolt at BYU aside, Utah is still one of the last strongholds of support for President Bush. This has allowed the media to portray Utahans as unusually conservative, ignorant, or even stupid and the local populace hasn’t exactly helped with quotes like these. But that is a very shallow understanding of the culture. The real root of the matter is a reverence for authority that emanates directly from the structure of the Mormon Church, and is so deeply engrained it Utah society it permeates everything from politics to basketball.

Every religion thinks God is on their side, but virtually all must rely on ancient texts God gave to someone else long ago to figure out exactly what he was saying. The problem of course, is someone else’s words are always open to interpretation; especially if that person is um…dead. Because their sources are “existentially challenged”, when most religious leaders claim the will of God, they have to reference it, explain it, justify it. Argue over it. This can’t help but create a culture with at least a minimum tolerance for debate. Hell, even Osama Bin Laden has to site passages in the Koran

Not so the Mormons. Their founder Joseph Smith was a pretty smart dude. When you start a religion it’s always handy to give yourself a direct line to God. In fact, face time with Yahweh proved so much fun, he let other people in his flock take out the power for a test drive. That quickly proved a bad idea as God developed an unfortunate habit of saying different things to different people and much squabbling ensued. So Joseph took his God phone back, and ever since then it’s been the exclusive property of the current Prophet of the Mormon Church. Joe never made a smarter decision.

Seriously, can you imagine a better trump card? It’s the ultimate in dispute resolution. Can’t decide whose turn it is to take out the trash? “Hold on, let me call God…he says vacuuming the rug doesn’t count, it’s still totally your turn.” Game, set, match. God has literally spoken: you lose. Thank you for playing.

How many other religions give the exclusive right to talk to God to one living being? The Pope? That’s really it. And the Catholic Church is simply too large, diverse, and bureaucratically unwieldy for the power to be truly effective. The Mormons however, are just small enough to move as a single organism and their uber centralized structure has allowed them to pivot on a theological dime in ways that are truly impressive.

I ended up smashing head first into this anti-analysis brick wall during my own “coming out” story. I was fourteen years old and just beginning to realize that I knew everything. I proudly expressed my ever so impressive theological doubts to my Mormon Bishop, arguments that I had passionately believed in for at least ten minutes. His response? “I don’t think it’s your place to question the Prophet”. That was it. Not “You are sorely mistaken for reasons, x, y, and z.” No theological shoot out at the O.K. Corral in which my finely honed rhetorical bullets would win the day. Turned out my sin of apostasy was pretty meager in comparison to my sin of thinking the subject was up for debate in the first place.

But look at the situation from his point of view. What’s the use of even discussing a controversy when we have a direct conduit to the big guy? Why argue about what is right and wrong when we’ve already have the answer, the Ultimate Answer. What purpose could debate possibly serve? Mormons aren’t particularly dumb or ignorant, but they have been taught from a very young age that critical thought is something that is simply unnecessary in certain situations. Mormons can be brilliantly analytical in many areas of life, but some subjects are simply walled off in their brains.

This sanctification of not questioning authority has been hugely influential on Mormon (and thus Utah) culture. Utah has always been the most fertile ground for pyramid schemes in the nation. The local basketball coach can make personnel decisions so inexplicably bizarre they’ve actually earned there own nickname from national sports writers. But no local reporter has even written a single story on the subject over the entire season. In any other market, it would be an on going saga endlessly quibbled over in the media, but in Utah, the coach is THE COACH, and so whatever he’s doing must be the right decision.

So despite my heckling of them last week, the BYU students protesting Dick Cheney may well have produced a watershed moment. When the most authoritarian presidency in history can no longer count on the most authoritarian community in the nation for unconditional support, the jig may well and truly be up. After all, if the Mormons are starting to doubt you, you must have done some serious bullshitting.