About greg

Just another bozo on the bus.

the dignity of the office

President Obama appears in a BuzzFeed video promoting the Affordable Care Act.

FOXNews: “I yearn for my president looking presidential and serious right now.”

George Will: “Some people think this diminishes the presidency.”

President Obama in a radio interview with Marc Maron speaking about racism: “It’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say the word ‘nigger’ in public.”

FOXNews: “It’s outrageous, David. I think he has absolutely lowered the standard in terms of being president of the United States.”

“I’ll tell you this, [people are] probably wondering why Barack Obama still has a job.”

President Obama appears on Funny or Die and other web/YouTube channels.

Washington Times: “Mr. Obama is the Rodney Dangerfield of presidents, showing the office no respect.”

Rush Limbaugh: “You talk about beneath the dignity of the office, maybe setting a new low. President Obama with YouTube interviews.”

President Obama orders a hamburger with Dijon mustard.

Sean Hannity: “As you know President Obama is a real man of the people and yesterday he dropped by a popular Virginia restaurant to grab a burger with his pal Joe. Now the Gateway Pundit blog pointed out that plain old ketchup, well it didn’t quite cut it for the president. Now take a look at him ordering his burger with a very special condiment.”

Laura Ingraham: “What kind of man orders a cheeseburger without ketchup but Dijon mustard?”

President Obama criticizes FOXNews in a speech.

FOXNews: ” It’d be nice if Obama respected the office. When he does things like this, it diminishes not just him but the office itself.”

President Obama mocks climate change deniers.

Freedom Foundation: “Barack Obama demeaned the dignity of the presidency by ridiculing tens of thousands of scientists for simply disagreeing with his lay opinions on global warming.”

President Obama wore casual clothing into the Oval Office on a weekend.

Andrew Card (in a right-wing radio interview): “I’m disappointed to see the casual, laissez faire, short sleeves, no shirt and tie, no jacket, kind of locker room experience that seems to be taking place in this White House and the Oval Office.”

President Obama mentions the death of Osama bin Laden in a campaign speech.

Pat Buchanan: “And the great asset the President has is the Oval Office, the presidency of the United States. He is diminishing that by using events which are national events as partisan events.”

President Obama is photographed with his feet on his desk in the Oval Office.

FOXNews: “Obama is disrespecting the Oval Office.”

President Obama talks about birth control.

Andrea Tantaros / FOXNews: “Don’t you think it diminishes the office of the president, talking about condoms?”

President Obama states Congressional Republicans are deliberately blocking his agenda.

John Boehner: “[His] flippant dismissal of the Constitution is utterly beneath the dignity of the office,”

Obama criticizes Republicans while campaigning for Harry Reid.

Dana Perino (FOXNews / former Bush press secretary): “The divisive rhetoric that he’s used seems to me beneath the office.”

Marco Rubio: “I think he unnecessarily demonizes his opponents. It’s not that there’s a disagreement on policies. He actually wants to convince people that you are a bad person. He has not conducted himself with the dignity that is worthy of that office.”

President Obama criticizes FOXNews.

Karl Rove: “The president of United States should not be afraid of coming on Fox News, nor should the president of the United States diminish his office by seeming to engage in a petty fight with the — with the — with a network himself.”

I miss the days when conservatives cared so deeply about the dignity of the office of President of These United States.

Editorial Note: Conservatives did NOT actually claim ordering a cheeseburger with Dijon mustard diminished the office of the president; they merely implied ordering a cheeseburger with any mustard other than yellow mustard was unAmerican. And probably gay. Possibly a wink at ISIS.

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petty, cruel, selfish

In the world of espionage, there are spies — and then there are spies. The majority of spies operate under an official cover. They may actually be agents of an intelligence service — the CIA, for example — but they’re usually placed in legitimate positions in an ordinary government department or agency. A CIA agent might be placed as an admin clerk in an embassy in Turkey, or a courier in a consular station in Poland.

Agents with an official cover may engage in covert work, their espionage activity may be dangerous, but they’re protected. They have diplomatic immunity. If they’re caught engaging in espionage, the agent may get roughed up during interrogation, but the most severe punishment will likely be expulsion from the host nation.

There are also agents operating under non-official cover. These are NOC agents. They have no official association with any government agency — and, in fact, are trained to deny any connection in the event they’re caught. They’re not protected by diplomatic immunity. If they get caught, they’re fucked. Deeply fucked. The nation they work for isn’t going to come to their aid, and they know that. They’re subject to long periods of incarceration, possibly torture, possibly execution. Hell, if their cover is blown, they may even be assassinated on the street.

NOC agents are serious spies.

I’m nattering on about this because it’s being reported that Comrade Trump is planning to pardon Scooter Libby.

Cheney and Libby

You may be asking yourself, “Who the hell is Scooter Libby?” It’s a good question. He was a disciple of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who served in the Bush 2 administration. President George W. Bush was, by almost all accounts, looking for a reason to invade Iraq. He and his staff settled on the claim that Iraq illegally possessed weapons of mass destruction, and was attempting to obtain more such weapons. As part of that claim, the Bush administration accused Iraq of attempting to buy a form of processed uranium from the country of Niger.

Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador to Gabon who had served in diplomatic posts in five different African nations and was very familiar with African intrigue, was sent to Niger to investigate the issue. He found there was absolutely no merit to the Bush administration’s claim.

Shortly thereafter, a conservative columnist with the Washington Post wrote an editorial casting doubt on Wilson’s findings. In that editorial, he stated that Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame — an energy analyst for Brewster Jennings & Associates — was actually a CIA operative. That was accurate, but incomplete. Plame was, in fact, a covert NOC agent working on issues of nuclear proliferation. Not only that, Brewster Jennings was a front company created for, and operated by, the CIA. By divulging Plame’s CIA affiliation, her life was put in jeopardy, as were the lives of everybody working for Brewster Jennings (most of whom were unaware it was a CIA front). Every covert espionage operation being conducted by agents at Brewster Jennings had to be scrapped.

NOC operative Valerie Plame testifying

Who told that columnist that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative? Nobody was ever charged with that crime, but it was accepted knowledge that Scooter Libby leaked the information. Why? As political payback for Joseph Wilson’s undermining of the weapons of mass destruction claim.

Libby was charged, tried, and convicted of four felony counts related to the crime. He was sentenced to thirty months in prison. President Bush commuted that sentence, so Libby escaped most of his punishment. Bush, however, refused to pardon Libby for the crime.

Comrade Trump is now, apparently, planning to do what Bush didn’t. Why? Who the hell knows for sure why Trump does anything? But it’s probably no coincidence that one of Libby’s most vocal supporters was John Bolton, who Trump has just nominated as his national security adviser.

Oh, and there’s this: guess who made the decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Valerie Plame case? James Comey.

Would anybody be at all surprised that Trump, purely as political payback, would pardon a man who, also purely as political payback, outed a NOC CIA operative and destroyed an entire CIA front company as well as an untold number of covert operations? Nope.

That’s classic Trump. Petty, cruel, selfish, and willing to place his own wants above the needs and safety of the nation.

okay, we still have to do something about syria, again

“We HAVE to do something about Syria!”
“Okay. Why?”
“Because the Syrian government used chemical weapons against their own people!”
“Okay. But hasn’t the Syrian government been killing their own people for…wait. Wait a minute. Wait just one goddamn minute. Didn’t we already have this conversation? This exact conversation? Five years ago, didn’t we have this same conversation?”
“Yes. But this time I’m serious!”
“Okay. Has anything changed in the last five years?”
“Yes! We have a new president!”
“Okay. And is he better equipped to handle delicate, highly nuanced, incredibly volatile international situations?”
“Are you fucking crazy? It’s Donald Trump!”
“Okay. So we’re still fucked, then?”
“Yes, that’s correct! Massively fucked! Fucked all around!”
“Okay. And knowing all that, your position is…?”
“We HAVE to do something about Syria!”

about that witch hunt

There’s something really interesting about the raid on the office of Michael Cohen, Comrade Trump’s attorney — something that’s not getting the attention it deserves. Most of the attention is focused on the raid itself.

I suppose I should spend a moment on the very obvious things about the raid that are interesting. Like the fact that it’s not a raid. It’s raids. Multiple. The FBI raided his office, his home, and a hotel room.

Then there’s this: it’s really uncommon for the State to seize client material from an attorney. The attorney-client privilege is pretty sacrosanct; it doesn’t get cast aside easily. But there are a few exceptions to that privilege, one of which is that discussions between an attorney and a client involve committing or covering up a crime are NOT privileged. They’re not protected.

So for the FBI to conduct those raids, they first had to convince a prosecutor that they knew with a high degree of certainty that 1) the material they were seeking was evidence of a probable crime or cover-up being discussed by Cohen and Comrade Trump, and that 2) they’d find the material in the locations they were searching.

Attorney Michael Cohen

But here’s what’s getting overlooked: the name of the prosecutor who got a judge to issue that search warrant. Geoffrey Berman.

Who the hell is Geoffrey Berman? At present, he’s the interim United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Why ‘interim’? That’s an interesting story. The office had been held by Preet Bharara, who the NY Times described as “the nation’s most aggressive and outspoken prosecutor of public corruption and Wall Street crime.” When Trump was elected, all 46 U.S. Attorneys were asked to submit letters of resignation. Trump, however, apparently met personally with Bharara and asked him to stay on.

This was a potential problem for Comrade Trump since his financial empire is based in New York City, which is part of the Southern District of New York. That meant any financial investigation into Trump would be conducted by Bharara. Marc Kasowitz, another of Trump’s personal attorneys, publicly stated he warned Trump that Bharara would ‘get him’ on corruption issues. Trump then attempted to call Bharara, who refused to accept his phone call, saying it would be inappropriate for him to discuss legal matters involving the president with the president. He was fired 22 hours later.

Comrade Trump then met with a number of attorneys to decide who would be the next United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. It’s wildly inappropriate for the president — or any government official — to interview attorneys who might be responsible for investigating his business dealings. But wildly inappropriate is Trump’s calling card. And who did Trump select for that office? A Republican who’d been a partner in the law firm Rudy Giuiliani worked for. A Republican who’d contributed US$5400 to Trump’s presidential campaign.

Geoffrey Berman, interim United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

That’s right: Geoffrey Berman.

Think about that for a moment. It means 1) a U.S. Attorney who was essentially hand-picked by Comrade Trump was 2) presented with evidence convincing enough for him to believe there was sufficient probable cause that 3) Trump and his attorney had engaged in communications involving either a criminal act or covering up a criminal act that he felt 4) compelled to ask for and convince a judge to 5) issue a warrant to search three locations where evidence of that crime or cover-up would be found.

That is astonishing. And I mean astonishing in the earliest sense of the term (okay, for word geeks: astonish, from the Latin ex, meaning ‘out’ plus tonare, meaning ‘thunder’; in other words, thunderstruck — staggered and dazed by the auditory shock wave created by lightning).

Comrade Trump keeps calling this a “total witch hunt.” If so, that would mean Michael Cohen is a witch’s familiar and Trump is a fucking witch. But c’mon, it’s not a witch hunt. Witches deserve more respect than that. After all, the Wiccan Rede says ‘An it harm none, do what ye will.’ That certainly excludes Trump. No decent coven would accept him as a member. Even if he was a witch. Which he’s not.

UPDATE: It appears I got ahead of myself…and ahead of the facts. It appears Berman DID NOT initiate the search warrants for Cohens office and elsewhere. Although the search was executed by the Southern District of New York, it’s being reported that Berman was recused from the process. It’s not clear at the moment whether he recused himself or was recused by his superiors. In any event, the warrant application came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

The problem with these fast-moving events is that…well, they’re fast-moving.

fuck those guys

A few days ago I lost my patience with Bret Stephens, an anti-Trump conservative who wrote an apologia defending Kevin Williamson, who’d just been hired by The Atlantic despite having publicly expressed his opinion that women who’d terminated their pregnancies (and their doctors) should be hanged. My position was simple: if you think the opinion that hanging people for receiving or performing an absolutely legal medical procedure has a legitimate place in the marketplace of ideas, then…well, fuck you.

There’s a discussion to be had on abortion, to be sure. But it’s basically impossible to have a discussion when one party’s position is “hang ’em.” In any event, the issue isn’t abortion itself; that just happened to be the subject on which Williamson expressed himself. The real issue is this: what are the boundaries of civil discourse?

After some reflection and thought, and under pressure from outraged readers of The Atlantic, the magazine decided NOT to hire Williamson after all. Jeff Goldberg, the editor who’d hired Williamson, offered an explanation both for his hiring and his firing. In defense of hiring him, Goldberg said, “[N]o one’s life work should be judged by an intemperate tweet.” Which I happen to agree with. However…well, let Goldberg himself say it: “The tweet was not merely an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment post.”

Composing an impulsive, decontextualized, heat-of-the-moment tweet ain’t easy.

In other words, Goldberg thought it was fine for Williamson, in the heat of the moment, to say he’d like to see women who have an abortion and the doctors who perform them hanged. But it was NOT okay for Williamson to actually hold that view as a considered opinion. To which I can only reply to Goldberg, fuck you. That’s bullshit. Even in the heat of the moment, once somebody voices the opinion that ‘you and people like you deserve to be killed‘ the discussion is basically over, even if the person who says that doesn’t really mean it. The fact that Williamson DID mean it, only makes it worse.

Now that Williamson has been returned to the editorial shelf, conservatives are rushing to his defense and the defense of free speech.

Kevin Williamson’s firing is another reminder that much of American conservatism finds itself ghettoized not by choice, but by the left’s active demands that the right be silenced. Socialists, national or otherwise, don’t like to compete for ideas when they can shut up others.

Fuck you. Nobody is calling for the right to be silenced. But a lot of folks do hold the opinion that advocating death by hanging for folks who engage in a legal medical procedure isn’t a position that merits much consideration or discussion.

It appears that The Atlantic has fired Kevin Williamson. That was close. They almost expanded their intolerant little bubble for a brief moment. In the end, we knew they couldn’t abide employing a talented individual with – gasp – a different worldview.

Fuck you. I feel no obligation to tolerate a worldview that says women and their doctors should be killed for legally terminating an unwanted pregnancy. If you feel that’s an acceptable worldview, then…well, fuck you.

Kevin Williamson: hired for his talent, fired for his views. This is chilling.

Fuck you. You know what’s chilling? Saying women and doctors deserve to die because they choose to undergo a medical procedure you find abhorrent. That’s pretty damned chilling to any sort of civil discussion.

“You dare omit the nutmeg? Have at you, villain!”

Here’s the thing: there are venues and forums for every political, social, or religious view, no matter how extreme. If you believe Jews are actively plotting to destroy Christianity, there’s bound to be a place where that view can be discussed. If you believe nine-year-old boys are capable of consensual sexual experiences, there’s probably a place where you can discuss that. If you believe slavery is a legitimate social institution, I’m pretty sure you can find a forum where that view is welcome. If you believe people who eat meat should be locked up in a hog containment barn for a year, there are places where that view will be seen as legitimate. If you think it’s a mortal sin to omit nutmeg when serving eggnog, you can find a venue where that belief will be applauded.

But extremist views of any sort don’t belong in general social discourse. Extreme voices shouldn’t be silenced, but that doesn’t mean we’re obligated to hear them or accept them as legitimate. And if you think claiming women and their doctors deserve to be hung by the neck until dead is NOT an extremist view, then fuck you.

in which i sorta lose my temper

I’d never heard of Kevin Williamson until a friend sent me a link to an opinion piece in the New York Time entitled The Outrage Over Kevin Williamson. Even though I’ve lost a lot of respect for the Times, and I generally avoid their opinion page these days, I read the piece. I wanted to know 1) who the hell is Kevin Williamson, and 2) who was outraged by him, and 3) why.

Bret Stephens

The editorial is written as an apologetic letter to Williamson by Bret Stephens, who I only know as a conservative political writer who opposes Comrade Trump. It begins with Stephens citing the reasons for the apology:

Sorry, first, that you have to endure having your character assailed and assassinated by people who rarely if ever read you and likely never met you. Sorry also that your hiring as a writer for The Atlantic has set off another censorious furor in media circles when surely there are more important subjects on this earth.

Okay, then. This guy Williamson, who has been offered a job writing for The Atlantic, is apparently having his character assassinated. That’s shameful. Nobody likes that, nobody is in favor of character assassination. So at this point in the editorial I’m feeling a bit of empathy for poor Williamson. Until I found out why there is a ‘censorious furor in media circles.’ Stephens writes:

The case against you, as best as I can tell, rests on three charges. You think abortion is murder and tweeted — appallingly in my view — that doctors and women should perhaps be hanged for it.

I may have set a North American speed record for shifting from empathy to censorious furor. This guy tweeted that women who have abortions and doctors who perform them ought to be hanged? Hanged?

Stephens lists a couple other reasons for that ‘censorious furor’ but really, why bother? I mean, that first reason alone is more than censorious furor-worthy. Hanged, for fuck’s sake. Hanged!

I don’t like abortion, as I’ve said elsewhere, but I completely support a woman’s right to choose. I can understand why a lot of folks disagree with me. I can also understand why a lot of folks would like to turn back the clock and make abortion illegal again, though I think they’re absolutely wrong. I can even understand (on a purely intellectual level) why some folks would think it necessary to criminally punish women and abortion providers. But hanging? Are you fucking kidding me? Hanging?

Stephens goes on:

[Y]our critics show bad faith when they treat an angry tweet or a flippant turn of phrase as proof of moral incorrigibility. Let he who is without a bad tweet, a crap sentence or even a deplorable opinion cast the first stone.

A flippant turn of phrase. Hanging women and doctors…just a bit of irreverent frivolity. I’ve written my share of crap sentences, and I know there are folks who think some of my opinions are deplorable. But you can hand me that first fucking stone, because if advocating hanging women and abortion providers isn’t proof of moral incorrigibility, then I don’t know what is. What kind of fucking madness is that? You know what really shows bad faith? Wanting to hang people for receiving or performing an absolutely legal medical procedure.

Kevin Williamson

Stephens finishes by chastising the people who don’t think The Atlantic should hire a guy who has advocated hanging women and abortion providers. He says,

[T]hey foreclose the possibility of learning something useful from someone smart. Learning does not require agreement. There’s a reason this section of the newspaper is labeled “Opinion,” not “Affirmation,” “Reinforcement,” or “Emotional Crutch.” Liberals used to know that. What happened?

What happened? I’ll tell you what happened, you pus-brained fuckwit. A lot of people have no interest in ‘learning’ the opinions of assholes like Kevin Williamson who think the appropriate response to terminating an unwanted pregnancy is to string women and their doctors up by their necks until they die. That’s what happened.

thanks

Occasionally people send me things. I’ve no idea why they do, but they do. Not often. Maybe three or four times a year. But periodically the postal carrier arrives at the door with an unexpected package.

Well, not always unexpected. I mean, usually somebody has emailed me and said something like “Dude, I have something for you — what’s your address?” And I give them my address. Why the hell not? I spent a chunk of my life as a professional invader of privacy, so I know the notion of personal privacy is pretty much an illusion. So far nobody has mailed me dog shit or anything explodey, so there’s that.

It always pleases me when these packages arrive. Sometimes, I confess, I’m a tad confused by what’s actually in the package — because sometimes the thing in the package is…well, let’s say some of the stuff is eccentric. But still, how could I not be pleased at the generosity and thoughtfulness behind the gift?

A random assortment of stuff folks have sent me.

I get photographs, of course. Lovely, interesting, beautifully printed photographs. And books (usually about photography, or about photographers, or by photographers but I’ve also received stuff like old Conan Doyle novels). I’ve a friend who, like some character out of fiction, sits in European cafes and writes beautifully (occasionally indecipherable) hand-written letters on the most sensuous paper, sometimes including an interesting business card. And occasionally there’s the eccentric stuff — shark teeth, a bent and rusty horseshoe, a bit of shale shaped like a duck’s head, an advert for gas masks, a box of Jane Austen band-aids, a ceramic ashtray. “Saw this,” people write, “thought of you.” I’m not sure quite what it means when somebody sees a key chain modeled after a Medical Examiner’s toe tag and thinks of me, but I like to think it’s somehow a compliment.

Yes, I took a selfie with a Jane Austen band-aid on my nose.

Okay, this is going to seem like a tangent, but it’s not. Back in 2012 I wrote a blog post about encountering a huge murder of crows. A couple of years ago, I was notified about a new comment on that post. It read:

Hi Greg,
I love your photos. I, too, am a huge fan of crows and ravens. We had a pet raven named Cyrano De Bergerac. He was so smart and so funny. I was wondering if I could use/buy one of your crow photos to include in a painting I want to do.
Thanks from heather

I said yes, of course. I usually say yes to this sort of thing. Besides, I’m a huge fan of crows and a huge fan of Cyrano (the Brian Hooker translation) and a huge fan of folks who can paint. So I said yes, then I promptly forgot all about it. I usually promptly forget about this sort of thing. But then in January I got an email.

Dear Greg, I responded to an early blog post about crows. I had a pet raven named Cyrano De Bergerac and I asked if I could use your photos for a painting I wanted to do. I finally got around to working on it. I am almost finished and I was wondering if you would like to have it. If so, may I have your mailing address?  Thanks from Heather

So I gave her my address. And, again, promptly forgot all about it. Then the painting arrived.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Something small, I suppose. Maybe one of those 8×10 cotton duck canvas panels. Actually, I’m not sure I had any expectations at all. I was just pleased that Heather liked a photograph, and pleased that she wanted to use it as a basis for a painting, and enormously pleased that she was generous enough to want me to have the final work. But whatever I was expecting, I can say without any hesitation that it wasn’t this. It wasn’t 34×24 inches of this:

I was gobsmacked. My gob? Totally smacked. It’s crows, of course, but it’s not just crows; it’s Aesop’s crow, the one from the fable in which a thirsty crow drops pebbles into a jug of water until the water level rises so he can drink. It’s Aesop’s clever crow channeled through Heather Vos, with a bit of mysticism tossed in, and a healthy dollop of pure crowness.

There’s a 12th century bestiary that includes an imaginary discussion between a crow and God. God, it seemed, was foolish enough to try to ignore the crow. The crow wasn’t having any of that, even from a god. The crow said,

“I, Crow, a talker, greet thee Lord. with definite speech, and if you fail to see me it is because you refuse to believe I am a bird.”

This what I love about crows, and it’s what I love second-most about this painting. Crows are clever, confident enough to talk to gods as an equal — confident enough to explain things to gods. We see that crow confidence here.

What I love most about the painting, of course, is that it exists. That it’s a physical reminder that people like Heather Vos exist. That a woman from a small town in Ontario, was thoughtful enough, generous enough, talented enough to create this painting and share it with me.

I’m a lucky guy, I recognize that. I live in a safe place, I have a warm bed in which to sleep, I haven’t had to miss a meal in years, I have friends and family. I’m generally a ridiculously happy person. On those rare occasions when I start to feel the world is cold and cruel (and there’s ample reason to feel that way these days) all I have to do is look around my desk and I’m reminded that the world is full of people who are kind and caring and altruistic and warm-hearted — and I’d go on, but I already sound too much like a Pollyanna.

But thanks — thanks to Heather and to everybody who has ever sent me anything, including their thoughts.