Adventures in Bureaucracy
Thursday, April 17, 2003
And speaking of unseemly...

I have my own idea for a reality show in which a group of aspiring actors and actresses compete to see who will make it through a series of progressively more degrading acts for fabulous prizes: a supporting role in a major Hollywood picture for the winner, a supporting role in an HBO movie for the first runner up, and a role in a softcore porn flick for third. I call it "Casting Couch" - perfect for Fox's 2004 season.
Wednesday, April 16, 2003
It appears I'm not the only one to find Disney's current business strategy unseemly:

"The spectacle of various Congressional shills for Disney demanding indefinite extension of the company’s copyrights was never very edifying. But it’s given a particular grotesqueness by the Mouse’s abuse of its own characters: no copyright thief could do as lousy a job on these properties as Disney itself has done with Mickey’s recent appearances or Piglet’s Big Movie. Now it’s the turn of Mowgli and co to get the not-quite-straight-to-video treatment."

Jeez, have some diginity. What's next, "Tron II"?
"Oprah Magazine"'s editor at large... there's a joke there, but I'll leave it alone.
Uh oh, looks like someone's concerned about the whole legacy thing again. More specifically, how Bush's legacy is going to make his own look weak. Whatever happened to riding off into the sunset?
It's official - with the addition of meteorologist Adam Caskey, channel 7 now has the most annoying morning show in Washington! The only way it could possibly get worse would be having Gilbert Gottfried do traffic reports.
Sunday, April 13, 2003
The rites of spring - I have a springtime tradition that was repeated yet again today. Every year I do my taxes on the last weekend before April 15, and every year I swear that NEXT year I'll save myself some anguish and do them early. Well, there's a lot more swearing than that... @%!&?! Schedule D. All that bother for a capital gains return small enough to blow on a Domino's order. The whole process is really not that difficult, just tedious and time-consuming. Maybe that's why a whole industry has grown up to help people with their tax returns. I saw that with immigration stuff too, lawyers who charged $1000 to fill out applications that cost $100. It might be worth it not to have to deal with the headaches. Next year will be different!

But I really shouldn't complain too much about taxes, considering that they do pay my salary and all.
Saturday, April 12, 2003
Articles like this don't exactly help the cause when you're going to the government to ask for money.
Friday, April 11, 2003
This piece should be the basis for serious j-school discussions of journalistic ethics. Was it worth the price just to broadcast reports with Baghdad in the background instead of a studio?
Thursday, April 10, 2003
There's some interesting information in this report from Human Rights Watch, but it looks like the initial predictions were a bit wide of the mark.

"A war will bring new hardship to existing civilian and displaced populations within Iraq; produce new refugee outflows to neighboring countries; strain the resources of and possibly prompt a backlash in neighboring countries against Iraqi refugees; and place new demands on donor states to provide increased assistance inside Iraq and to Iraq's neighbors, as well as to open their own doors to a significantly larger number of Iraqi refugees." A U.N. official was quoted as saying there could be several million refugees to Iran alone, and there was an estimate that about two million people could be displaced.

The first prediction looks like it's happening now, but the war doesn't seem to have produced the massive population displacement that was predicted here and elsewhere before the fighting actually started. There were some reports of people fleeing Iraq, but these were mostly foreign residents and not Iraqi nationals. Indeed, many of the refugee camps prepared along Iraq's borders were never used. Perhaps it had something to do with the speed of the war - just three weeks to regime collapse! Fedayeen tactics of essentially holding populations hostage probably discouraged internal displacement. There are reports of people on the move (this looks like a really good site if you're interested in refugee issues), but only a fraction of the numbers initially predicted.

As the situation stabilizes and order returns to Iraq, a huge number of Iraqi refugees will probably return to the country. Between one and two million Iraqis are thought to have fled the country during Saddam's rule. The Human Rights Watch report indicates that most live in neighboring countries - between 250,000 and 300,000 in Jordan, 203,000 were in Iran, 60,000 in Turkey, 41,700 om Syria, 15,000 in Kuwait and 5300 in Saudi Arabia. Other substantial populations are in Sweden (25,900), the Netherlands (26,100), the United States (19,100), the United Kingdom (12,000), Australia (10,000), Norway (8200) and Canada (6000). It will be interesting to see whether the same thing that happened in Afghanistan, where millions returned when the Taliban regime had been deposed, happens in Iraq. There's every reason to think that it will. After all, there's no place like home, especially when home is no longer a police state.
Something to think about (via Arellanes).
When exactly did a certain class of Briton decide to turn its collective back on everything British? The BBC seems to be going down the proverbial crapper, and why? Apparently because they had been stung by criticisms of being "too British"! Hmmm... you suppose that some people might have listened to the BRITISH Broadcasting Corporation in part because of its Britishness? Naaah. A hip new global perspective would be much better. Or apparently not, if even British people are switching them off.

You'd think they might have learned something when British Airways tried the same thing. The "world's favourite airline" decided to change its image because it was - you guessed it - too British. So it dropped the stylized Union Jack and painted the tails of all its planes with one of many hideous patterns from artists around the world. Thus they dumped one of the world's most recognizable brands in favor of a flaccid ribbon. Virgin Atlantic took the opportunity to become Britain's flag carrier (that Richard Branson sure knows how to get good publicity), until BA finally abandoned the program to put the Union Jack back on its planes.

But it looks like the BBC is intent on going down the same path.
Wednesday, April 09, 2003
The downfall of Saddam’s statue symbolizes the situation as a whole. The Iraqis in the crowd obviously wanted to get rid of the stature, but they did not have the ability to do it on their own – the pedestal was too thick for sledgehammers, and the rope they used was too weak to pull the statue down. American troops helped enact the will of the people, and even then the statue stubbornly clung to its supports even after it had been broken at the knees.

Now comes the really tough part: building Iraq into a country that its people can direct and that will not pose a threat to us, its neighbors or its own population. Hopefully the United States will help with that task as well, and there’s every indication that we will.
I'm not going to hold my breath.
What an amazing day. How could anyone watch the scenes coming from Baghdad and not share just a little in the joy of the Iraqi people there? The struggle may not be over and there may be difficult days ahead, but the turning point has been reached. The fear is gone. It’s impossible to see the palpable relief, the sheer elation, and not break into a grin yourself.

And yet it’s something that no Westerner can really understand on more than an intellectual level. We have never had to fear the knock on the door in the middle of the night, to wonder which of our friends or colleagues is reporting on us to the secret police, to worry that we are not effusive enough in our public demonstrations of undying love for our leader. Words like “fascist” and “repression” and “police state” are tossed around in political discourse to signify negative things, but not things we need to worry will actually happen. The scenes from Baghdad today should remind us how lucky we are that we can take our freedom for granted.

So I wonder what all those people who were opposed to this war were thinking today, when the most repeated word in the media seemed to be “jubilant.” I think that many if not most opponents were motivated by honest concern for the suffering of average Iraqis. How many have reconsidered their opposition to the war in light of today’s celebrations? Or the reports of torture chambers in town after town in Iraq? Or news of a children’s prison? Do all those anti-war protesters still think this was a war that should never have been fought?
Sunday, April 06, 2003
I never met a U.N. representative who failed to conform to a certain professional profile. They call themselves ‘internationals,’ and are generally young and inexperienced, although the heads of their missions tend to be old and uninterested. They have a strong prejudice against privatization, and too many of those chosen for economic responsibilities hail from Sweden and other countries where statist socialism remains the political religion… Once these locusts have descended on a country, the economic gap between them and the local population quickly yawns, with scandalous results.

I'm sure the other NGOs are much better.
Saturday, April 05, 2003
From an upcoming scene from the musical (yes, I'm still working on that), the reporters at a press briefing sing a familiar tune:
“Advance is halted / Stuck in quicksand
The plan’s been faulted / They’re all fighting hand to hand
False expectations / Do you admit you’re bogged down?”

I wonder if the presence of coalition forces in Baghdad in sixteen days will put an end to all the talk of quagmires. Probably not.
Does anyone else think that John Kerry is looking more and more like this every day? Well, without the pirate hat, that is.

But Kim Crawford has some other things to say about the melancholy Senator: "You a hero, Kerry. We all know it, and respect you for it, especially since you won't let us forget it. That has nothing to do with the fact that you grew up to be a screaming fucking crybaby in a marriage of convenience to a ketchup whore."

As long as he's not questioning his patriotism.
Thursday, April 03, 2003
This is really great. It's good to see a reporter who doesn't use "journalistic objectivity" as an excuse for doing nothing.
I can totally see Liza Minelli doing that last song.

Where can I get a prescription for Prozac at this time of night?
Wednesday, April 02, 2003
Damn. That musical thing has become a brain worm that just won’t go away.

Act Two, Scene One: The curtain rises to reveal Ari Fleischer beginning another press conference at the White House. Helen Thomas stands up and begins singing “Guantana-Me, Guantanamo”, but Ari cuts her off.

Ari: “Do you have to do that in every press conference?”

Terry Moran (a cameo by Tom Green): “It’s the only song she knows.”

Ari informs the assembled reporters of a new diplomatic initiative in another song, “Talking Turkey”. The trip will will take him to Istanbul, Ankara and Incirlik, along with Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice. The press corps forms another conga line and files off stage as Colin, Donald and Condoleezza enter. Condoleezza tells them that they have new information on the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein, and that the President wants the four to secretly go into Iraq to find him after the diplomatic talks in Turkey. They repeat the chorus to “Road to Baghdad” as they file offstage.

Meanwhile Helen Thomas, hiding behind a television camera, overhears the plan and comes up with a scheme of her own to follow them and find out what happened to Saddam. Terry Moran is proven wrong as Helen belts out another song, “This Old Buzzard’s Flying Away”:
“They say I’m past it / That I’m just a relic / And some even say I smell / Less than angelic.
But this old buzzard’s flying to Turkey / I’ll show I’m a reporter still worthy.
So I’m over the hill? / I’ll show them, I will! / This old buzzard’s flying away!”
Huh. That'll teach me to tuck into the Hungarian Bull's Blood wine with dinner. It's now way past my bedtime.
Act One, Scene Four. The monkeys walk the satellite back across the stage as the curtain rises on the Oval Office. The audience sees Ari, Condoleezza, Donald and Colin gathered around the President, who cannot be seen by audience behind his chair (like Charlie in "Charlie's Angels"). They are on a conference call with Dick Cheney (Tammy Faye Baker), seen at stage right singing "Undisclosed Location".

Bush tells the rest that Saddam and his sons cannot be found and tasks them with locating the Iraqi leader. The four sing "We're off on the road to old Baghdad" and the first act ends.
Act One, Scene Three. The curtain rises to reveal a group of people in shadow standing on the moon, looking down at the Earth. A spotlight reveals a grim Osama bin Laden (Broadway veteran Tommy Tune) staring intently at the planet below. He sings his first song of the production, a little number called “Try, Try Again”, as undead skeletons (played by a rotating cast of anorectic supermodels) with top hats and canes come onstage.

Osama: “It didn’t work / With the Taliban / Now my DNA’s / All over Afghanistan.
But I’ll try, try again / With President Hussein.
I must bring him along / But where has he gone?
He must be found! / He can’t go to ground! / He must be found!
But for my plans of actions / I’ll need some distractions….”

The lights rise to reveal the Saddammettes (Susan Sarandon, Jessica Lange, Janeane Garofalo, Chrissie Hynde and Sheryl Crow) in form-fitting designer burqas and heavy make-up. They sing a 50s-style do-wop song, "Not in Our Name", seemingly unaware of Osama, their location and the undead dancers around them.
"Shoo be do be do wah / Shoo be do be do wah / Shoo be do be do wah / Shoo be do be do wah
We don’t want war / We just want peace
But Bush goes and looks / For enemies
He starts these wars / But not in our name
Who cares about / Saddam Hussein?
None of us do / Woo woo woo woo.
Shoo be do be do wah / Whoa whoa whoa whoooooooa."

Osama dispatches the undead to Iraq on flying monkeys (played by the remaining original cast members of “The Wizard of Oz”). He then sings a plaintive song called “Where are My 72 Virgins?” as a large group of scantily-clad bare-chested slave men begin gyrating sensuously in hot oil in the background. Sheryl Crow begins to sing “All I Wanna Do” while ogling the slave men, but Osama chucks a rock at her and her singing suddenly stops. Chrissie Hynde shouts “Give us what we deserve!” and the scene goes dark.
Tuesday, April 01, 2003
Act One, Scene Two. A group of monkeys carries a satellite across the stage to indicate the action is shifting from Washington to the Middle East. The scene opens with another big production number in the lobby of the Kuwait Hilton, where a group of reporters sings “Just Ku-Waitin’ Around”, a musical complaint that they have nothing to do because the embedded reporters in Iraq keep getting all the air time, with a water ballet a la Esther Williams in the koi pond to finish.

Two of the reporters get together over a bottle of Listerine to voice the same complaints without the song and dance. After several slugs of “mouthwash” they come up with a zany scheme to sneak into Iraq with a camera crew to answer the biggest mystery of the war… what happened to Saddam?

They agree to sneak across the Iraqi border at sundown. The scene ends with a duet called “Old White Guys” about Dan Rather, Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw: “Old white guys / With wrinkles ‘round your eyes / You’ll retire someday we surmise / Old white guys. / Then you’ll see / That desk’ll be for me / If I get that big story / Then you’ll see.”

The curtain falls as the reporters call for some of "that special Aquafina" before their next assignment.
Regular readers (both of them) of this site know that I have on occasion ventured into the world of song, so it’s unfortunate that Michele at “A Small Victory” mentioned her idea for "War: the musical undead space comedy”. I’ve been mulling it over ever since I read the post, and I think it’s terrific. The big movie musicals helped buoy spirits during the tough times of the 1930s, and spirits could use some uplifting these days as well. Plus the idea has been rattling around in my head and won’t go away, so, without further ado…..


Act One, Scene One: The curtain rises on the White House briefing room. Ari Fleischer (played by Bruce Willis) is answering questions from the White House press corps. Helen Thomas (Nathan Lane) waves her hand wildly, hoping to attract the press secretary’s attention, and sings: “Ari can you hear meee?”

Ari also responds in song: “I see you Ms. Thomas / Behind that big fern / There’s a lot going on / So just wait your turn.”

Helen is undeterred: “Ari, Can you hear meeeeee?”

Ari: “I’ll answer your question / With truth and verve / But listen, old lady / You’re on my last nerve.”

Helen: “Ari, Can you hear meeeeeeeee?” Helen hits a high note, and Ari's water glass shatters.

Ari: “All right, Ms. Thomas / Just give your speech. / What is your question? / I’ll bet it’s a peach.”

Helen Thomas sings the rousing “Guantana-Me, Guantanamo”, a mambo musical question asking about prisoners of war, the Geneva Convention and all those guys from the Afghanistan campaign, as the first big dance number begins. The rest of the press corps dances behind her, forming a high-kicking chorus line at the end.

Ari: “I’ll always tell you / As much as I know / But what’s with you / And Guantanamo? / That’s all the time / That we have for today. / This conference is over / Now please go away.”
The press corps forms a conga line and quickly dances out to file their stories

Ari, however, stays at the podium shaking his head. Condoleezza Rice (Mad TV’s Debra Wilson) and Donald Rumsfeld (SNL’s Darrell Hammond – who else?) walking in from stage right to commiserate. Ari and Donald sing a duet called “They Don’t Listen”, swapping tales of their encounters with the press with the refrain: “They don’t listen / To anything I say / They don’t listen / It’s the same thing every day.”

Colin Powell (Orlando Jones, in a casting move that caused a minor scandal after Harry Belafonte auditioned for the role) rushes in to announce that they’ve all got a meeting with “The Big Guy”. Condoleezza tells them that they’ve got a plan. They link arms, and the curtain falls as the group leaves for the Oval Office, exiting while singing an upbeat tune called “The Team's Together Again”. The curtain falls.
For about two weeks every year Washington is the most beautiful city in the world. Summers are sweltering and winters are raw, but springtime here begins with one of nature’s most spectacular displays. And that display has started – the cherry blossoms are out! I did a little recon down by the Tidal Basin at lunchtime today, and I’m happy to report that many of the trees are in bloom. The buds are out on the others, so the peak viewing time is supposed to be this weekend. It’s a great time to visit Washington, so if you can, hop on the train or book a flight (after all, nobody else is flying if you believe some news reports) and come to D.C. for the show.

If you do decide to come for the cherry blossoms, try for Friday or Monday, as the weekends tend to be pretty crowded with all the bureaucrats, lobbyists, students and lawyers who live in the suburbs. I certainly wasn’t the only person out at the Tidal Basin today, but it wasn’t packed with people as it tends to be on the peak weekend. Still, Washington’s a great place to spend a weekend, so come on down.

Just be prepared to walk. Washington’s Metro system may amaze lots of tourists, but it’s not going to get to very close to the place where all the trees are. Get an early start and you should be able to see all the highlights of the city in a few hours.

Start off by taking a cab or Tourmobile to the FDR Memorial. Just do it, your legs will thank me for it later. If you haven’t been to the city in a while, this will probably be a new one for you. It’s right on the Tidal Basin, so you’ll see the cherry trees and the daffodils in West Potomac Park as you go in. The memorial itself commemorates the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a series of enclosures, with an interesting use of water throughout. After you walk through it, you’ll come out right on the Basin, where the trees should be at their peak. It’s also a good spot for photos of all the trees with the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, two of the big three monuments in the city. Turn right and start your walk around the basin. You’ll go over a bridge and see the Jefferson Memorial on your left.

But there’s a little diversion first for the George Mason memorial, straight ahead after you’ve crossed the bridge. You’ll see the forsythia, daffodils and pansies surrounding a fountain. At the far end is a statue of George Mason himself, sitting on a bench with his cap next to him. This should be a new one to most visitors, and there are some benches. If you need to sit down already, you’re in for a long day.

Then continue your walk to the Jefferson Memorial, which is much larger than it looks from the other side of the Tidal Basin. It’s a particularly good time to think about how Jefferson shaped the ideals of this country, with some passages on the walls around you. There are bathrooms downstairs, and it’s a good place to sit on the marble steps and take in the view.

After that continue around the other side of the pool. If you’ve got energy left you might want to rent a paddle boat and get away from the crowds for a few minutes. There are more good places for pictures here.

As you cross another bridge and walk towards the boats, you’ve got a choice to make. You can keep going left towards the Washington Monument (they’ve got some port-a-loos set up nearby), then back towards the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. This is still the best place for your grand pictures of the Mall, despite the construction of the WWII Monument at the end of the Reflecting Pool, and there are more bathrooms here too. Or you can go right towards the Capitol and the Smithsonian Museums. They’re all free, one of many things the American taxpayer has given me (others include my job!). If you’re completely knackered by this time, the closest Metro station is the Smithsonian Station (12th and Independence), but the platform is usually packed in the afternoons. You might want to cross the Mall and head for Federal Triangle (12th Street between Coonstitution and Pennsylvania Avenue). Across 12th Street from that station is the Old Post Office Pavilion, which has a food court if you want a quick lunch and a bathroom break. It also has a bell tower with a great view of the city, and it’s generally not too crowded.

This turned out to be rather longer than I had expected, but as you have probably guessed, I like Washington. This is the best time of year to rediscover that there’s more to the city than politics and Marion Barry.
Al Gore on the Dixie Chicks: "They were made to feel un-American and risked economic retaliation because of what was said. Our democracy has taken a hit… Our best protection is free and open debate."

Do you listen to the words that come out of your mouth, Al? Must be a programming glitch or a short circuit of some sort. Let’s recap. Natalie Maines says that she’s ashamed that George W. Bush is from Texas. Some members of the public don’t take kindly to that and express their displeasure by not listening to or buying Dixie Chicks records. Natalie apologizes, sort of. She wasn’t stripped of her citizenship and deported. She wasn’t put up against a wall and shot. She was not arrested, detained or dropped into a shredder. Where’s the threat to democracy, Al? Sounds a lot like that free and open debate you just mentioned. Natalie can say whatever she wants, and the rest of us can react however we want. Government doesn’t enter into it. Hurt feelings aren’t going to overthrow the republic.

Jeez, Al. You’ve got a new job now. That election was years ago. Let it go and move on.
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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