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Saturday, April 17, 2004

TO PAUL BREMER: ABOUT THIS AL-SADR GUY 

Dear Paul,

I’ve been reading that a rather nasty Shiite cleric by the name of Muqtaba al-Sadr has rounded up all the dirt bags in Fallujah to come to the aid of his cause; that is, establishing Muqtaba al-Sadr as the kingpin of Iraqi dirt bags. It appears from reports that Muqtaba al-Sadr has also cultivated the assistance of Sunni Muslims in his charge to disrupt the June 30 transfer of power and cut himself in on the power structure. For the moment he has somehow convinced certain Sunnis that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend” but we all know that when convenient, these Muslim brothers will once again draw swords and begin slitting one another’s throats with the kind of merriment that only come from hundred’s of years of religious resentment and pettiness.

Given that Muqtaba al-Sadr is basically a Shiite mob boss with limited appeal, I’d like to suggest the following action to shake the more influential Shiites from their slumber and remind them that before last March the Sunni minority of Saddam Hussein’s regime frequently murdered their number en masse, sometimes just for the pure joy of seeing Shiite blood soaking the Iraqi desert. The best medium of delivery would be video cassette with a copy to Al Jareez and a copy to every Shiite leader of consequence.

Begin by providing Saddam with a first class haircut and a shave. Dress in him one of his scary military uniforms, one with all the medals and ribbon he gave himself for gassing Kurds and Iranians so that he appears menacing and ready to take the reins of power. Hand him a couple of unloaded AK 47s to hold in each arm. Then have him deliver the following message directly into the camera:

“To my Sunni brothers and all Iraqi people.

I’m back!!!!!

The US coalition has decided to abandon the ridiculous hope of creating a non-authoritarian government here in the cradle of civilization and has decided to hand back the country to me. President Bush sent me a note this morning saying, “It’s all yours Saddam. You can have it!!”

They have released members of my government from captivity who have joined me here in Baghdad. And though I can never replace Qusay and Uday, my beloved sons, auditions will be held to fill their posts. We will be auditioning certified psychotics and homicidal maniacs only. And please be apprised that general hiring practices still apply, that is, no Shiites.

One small change is in order. The Kurds will no longer be a part of our country and the US has promised to bomb the humus out of us if we try anything up north, but luckily there are still plenty of Shiites to oppress and torture and we really shouldn’t be too sad to see the Kurds go.

Also, please, do not discharge any weapons in celebration until the coalition has completely left our borders. Returned fire is much more hazardous than falling bullets and it’s always easier to look tough when no one is shooting back.

So there you have it. I look forward to reigning supreme once again.”

Once this is delivered have operators ready to take the many calls from Shiites eager to plant a homing device in his turban.

All the best,
Capt Williard

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

JUSTICE IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM - SORT OF 

By this account the animal kingdom has taken revenge on a Virginia holy-roller for an episode in a Glassport, Pennsylvania Assemblies of God church. Last week the Glassport church staged an Easter play that featured the pummeling of the Easter Bunny and breaking Easter eggs. All of which, according to the youth minister Patty Bickerton, was intended to teach the children that Easter is about Jesus and his resurrection and not about a fictional distributor of candy and hard boiled eggs.


On Easter Sunday a rattlesnake in Rose Hill, Virginia, apparently taking exception to having his furry breathern roughed up in the name of the Almighty, sunk its fangs into the Reverend Dwayne Long during a serpent handling portion of a Pentecostal service. As is custom in such churches, the Reverend Long eschewed medical assistance and subsequently was introduced to his Maker, or the infinite void, the following day. No word yet on if Reverend Long has made a re-appearance this week or if his followers expect a sighting. The Easter Bunny is expected to make a full recovery and has said he will return next year with his usual assortment of treats. He did caution his fans that he might be slowed down just a bit with the additional weight of a Taser Gun and cayenne pepper spray carried in the event radical Christians attempt a repeat performance of this years pagent. The rattlesnake in question was not charged but was asked to change his denominational affiliation and it was suggested he attend the neighboring Baptist church next Sunday.


Bickerton and her attorney anticipate law suits to recover the current and future costs of psychological services for the 50 plus children in attendance. Bickerton intends to resign her positon as youth minister and take a full time public relations positon at Disney where she will put her skills to use explaining why Michael Eisner should remain on board while shareholders are beaten senseless.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

HOW(ELL) JAYSON BLAIR SAVED THE NY TIMES 

Who’d have thought that when all hell was breaking out at the NY Times that Jayson Blair’s lunacy would end up saving the paper? That’s right, the same Jayson Blair who spent drug and depression filled hours holed up in his Manhattan apartment filing phony dispatches from Washington, DC and Palestine, West Virginia actually saved the Time’s bacon. Don’t believe it? Then pick up a copy of May’s Atlantic and read “My Times”, former executive editor Howell Raines’ encomium to himself as the paper’s martyred savior. By the time you make it past the first couple of paragraphs, Blair’s addictions and scams - and the subsequent fallout that claimed Raines job-look to be a godsend that rescued the paper from a 21st century Charles Foster Kane.


Raines loose grip on reality is evident from the start. In the first paragraph he informs the us he was a “casualty” of the Blair disaster and that his contribution to The Atlantic is motivated by a soulful desire to “to provide a final service for the newspaper I worked for and loved for 25 years, by revealing the real struggle that was going on at the Times as the Blair scandal played out”; No apology to the readership, no contrition for any harm done to the Times reputation, no indication that he has spent thirty seconds on any real introspection, just the foreshadowing of a self righteous tale that could have been titled, “The Perils of Howell: Or, Can You Believe These Idiots tried to Blame Me?” All of this and Raines has just completed paragraph number two.


By paragraph seven he defines his mission as executive edtior, "making great journalism.... and getting the Times off its glide toward irrelevance". Raines is not satisfied with practicing great journalism, he wants to make it; anyone want to guess in whose image it might be made? This could explain why Raines devoted enormous resources and coverage to the contre-temps between Martha Burk and Hootie Johnson on the question of whether the Augusta National Golf Course should allow women members. Making good journalism apparently means killing a column by the Pulitzer Prize winning sportwriter Dave Andersen, when that column runs contrary to your political POV and equating the clubby habits of rich white males and rich white females with watershed moments in civil rights history.

Raines chief whine is that an institutional sclerosis both thwarted his mission as executive editor to reinvigorate the paper and eventually forced his removal. He envisions a new Times, a highly functioning organization with an accelerated pulse derived from a Raines inspired meritocracy – a term he never adequately defines but we get the hint that since it’s Howell talking here, we should just trust his wisdom on that one. At page 52 he educates us on the obstacles he faced while attempting this makeover: two competing cultures, one a decidedly small culture of competition and excellence led by, guess who?; The other, a lazy, cancerous dragon of complacency and complaint, held spellbound under the influence of the evil Newspaper Guild. (For someone who consistently attacked President Bush’s unilateralism and black and white worldview, Raines apparently has no problem embracing Manichaeism as a convenient explanation for the struggle inside the Times. Throughout the article he continuously returns to this theme, reminding us wherever he is criticized or questioned that it’s the culture of complaint conspiring against his benevolent motives. Sound familiar? Yep, George II is always quick to toss this righteous grenade at his detractors.)


Befitting his widely rumored outsized ego and warped sense of self importance, Raines proceeds to murder countless numbers of innocent trees in 24 double column pages of rationalization and finger pointing that read like a demented lover’s lament. Like a man obsessed with his object of desire and deluded in his relevance to their life, Raines wants us to believe that his motives are pure and his cause is right because the poor creature he cares for is incapable of knowing what is in their best interest.


And predictably, Raines turns petty after he has been told to take a hike and goes public with his “lov
es” private failings. In a parenthetical note, he reveals that a room in the Times building used to “plot” the takeover of the International Herald Tribune from the Washington Post had once been a salon reserved for trysts by the current publisher’s grandfather (and not so coincidently, the same publisher that sacked him). Raines is smugly self congratulatory on his clever implication that the Sulzberger family conducts its affairs in an underhanded manner but like similar efforts to smear reputations, it’s really the accuser who suffers.


Raines doesn’t directly engage the Blair story again until page 74 when he calls our attention to his courage in publishing the Time’s mea culpa and how he was attacked by members of the paper's culture of complaint for devoting too many column inches to the embarrassing episode. St. Howell has fallen on so many swords and absorbed so many blows for integrity that at this point in the chronology he must have looked like the Black Knight from “Monty Python and The Holy Grail”, an armless, legless torso threatening to bite off the legs of his next antagonist.


On page 76 we are informed that Jon Landman’s April 2, 2002 memo warning that Blair had to be stopped from writing for the paper had been circulated in a “bureaucratic loop” that didn’t include Raines (perhaps a loop created by the nefarious Newspaper Guild?). Otherwise, as he assures us, “…the Jayson Blair story would have ended there”. Of course it would, because Howell says so, yet, it doesn’t explain why Raines was so alienated from such significant information that had been passed to his immediate reports. Raines seems oblivious to another culture at the Times, one that was being reported when the Blair story was headline material: everyone at the Times feared Raines’ bullying, temper and ego mania. Raines wasn’t getting the bad news because no one wanted to be the messenger. Hmmm, how can something like that can happen in a meritocracy?


Raines again dutifully impales himself taking “full responsibility for the failure to catch Jayson Blair” and admitting he failed to closely read the paper’s published corrections where Blair’s stories had become commonplace. (In the new meritocracy, that’s one demerit for Howell Raines) Yet he insists ”the slack I was cutting Jayson had nothing to do with his accuracy problems” then spins Blair’s treatment under the Time’s EAP program as the reason for approaching Blair with kid’s gloves, telling us he was “relying on my experience with the two previous cases (alcoholism) when Jayson Blair returned to work. I had learned to spot the warning signs of relapse and also about those signs of energy, productivity, and sociability that indicated a recovery was in process".


It’s here Raines’ hubris truly betrays him. St. Howell is not just the editor to save the Times, he is also a self appointed drug and alcoholism counselor reading the tea leaves of personality to determine the viability of an addict’s recovery. Because he was legally prohibited from engaging the Time’s EAP program on Blair’s status, he was forced to rely on his own experience which, according to Raines, had consisted of two reporters under his charge in Washington and New York who recovered from alcoholism. OK, but why didn’t Raines have a face to face with Jayson to find out how he was doing and with his supervisors to see that controls were now in place? Apparently, the executive editor of the world’s greatest newspaper was entirely unfamiliar with the most pervasive personality characteristic of the addict - the relentless con game he plays at all times.


Howell Raines: visonary, leader, moral arbiter, recovery counselor and martyr to the cause of a new NY Times molded in his image.


If I’m the Sulzberger family, and anyone else associated with the Times, I’m sending Jayson Blair a thank you note and wishing him well. If he hadn’t crashed and burned in public, St. Howell would still be "making great journalism" his way and I fear little would be fit to print.

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