Saturday, January 24, 2009

Saturday Story Hour: Bolaño Sci-Fi

A new feature here at Fosco Lives!: Saturday Story Hour.

Last weekend, Fosco finished reading Roberto Bolaño's novel The Savage Detectives. You may remember that Fosco's obsession with Bolaño was sparked by last year's blockbuster novel, 2666. You may also recall Fosco's recent post on Bolaño's Amulet. The Savage Detectives is incredible. It's not as harrowing as 2666, nor as sprawling (although it does contain respectable sprawl of its own). It's also funnier and sexier.

The Savage Detectives is a meditation on the relationship between literature and biography. The novel attempts to offer a portrait of two influential Latin American poets ("Arturo Belano" stands in for Roberto Bolaño in the narrative) who came of age primarily in Mexico in the 1970s. The first and third sections of the book take the form of journal entries by one of the poetry groupies who hangs around with the "visceral realists" (a funny fake name for a Bolaño's poetry movement) in Mexico. The mammoth center section of the novel is a collection of anecdotes, reminiscences, and testimonies from people all over the world who encountered Arturo Belano or his compatriot Ulises Lima over a period of twenty years. We never hear from either Belano or Lima directly; all our knowledge of them is filtered through the stories of others.

This center section allows Bolaño to do what he's best at: tell lots of different stories in the voices of lots of different characters, many of them only peripherally related to the main narratives of Belano and Lima. Some critics have found this multiplicity of voices and stories to scatter narrative momentum, and Fosco can see this. At the same time, however, every damn one of the individual reports/anecdotes is an absolute joy to read. Fosco is willing to accept that trade-off.

For your Saturday reading pleasure (and because you need to read more this year), Fosco would like to reprint here one of his favorite stories from The Savage Detectives. To enjoy this passage, you really don't need to know more about the novel than I've already explained--this is a stand-alone story, in its way. It's got a sci-fi vibe to it, but the Bolaño wit shines through.

From The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, translated by Natasha Wimmer:

Felipe Müller, sitting on a bench in Plaza Martorell, Barcelona, October 1991. I'm almost sure it was Arturo Belano who told me this story, because he was the only one of us who liked to read science fiction. It's by Theodore Sturgeon, or so Arturo said, although it might be by some other author or even Arturo himself; the name Theodore Sturgeon means nothing to me.

The story, a love story, is about a hugely rich and extremely intelligent girl who one day falls in love with her gardener or her gardener's son or a young tramp who just happens to end up on one of the estates she owns and becomes her gardener. The girl, who's not only rich and smart but also headstrong and a little impulsive, lures him into bed the first chance she gets, and without quite knowing how, falls madly in love with him. The tramp, who's nowhere near as smart as she is and who doesn't have a high school degree but who makes up for it by being angelically pure, falls in love with her too, though naturally not without a few complications. In the first phase of the romance, they live in her palatial mansion, where they spend their time looking at art books, eating exquisite delicacies, watching old movies, and mostly making love all day. Then they live for a while in the gardener's cottage and then on a boat (maybe the kind that cruises the rivers of France, like in the Jean Vigo film) and then they roam the vast expanse of the United States on a couple of Harleys, which was one of the tramp's long-cherished dreams.

As the girl lives out her love, her interests continue to prosper, and since money begets money, she gets richer by the day. Of course, the tramp, who's generally clueless, is decent enough to convince her to devote part of her fortune to good works or charity (which is something the girl has always done anyway, through lawyers and a network of various foundations, though she doesn't tell him so, in order to make him think she's doing it on his account) and then he forgets all about it, because ultimately the tramp has only the vaguest idea of the mass of money that trails like a shadow behind his beloved. Anyway, for a while, months, maybe a year or two, the girl millionaire and her lover are indescribably happy. But one day (or one evening), the tramp falls ill and although the best doctors in the world come to examine him, there's nothing to be done. His health has been ruined by an unhappy childhood, an adolescence plagued by hardships, a troubled life that the short time he's spent with the girl has barely managed to ease or sweeten. Despite all the efforts of science, he dies of cancer.

For a few days the girl seems to lose her mind. She travels all over the globe, takes lovers, immerses herself in dark pursuits. But she ends up coming home, and soon, when it becomes clear that she's more obsessed than ever, she decides to embark on a project that in some way had already begun to take root in her mind just before the tramp's death. A team of scientists moves into the mansion. In record time, the house is doubly transformed, the inside into a sophisticated laboratory, and the outside, the lawns and the gardener's cottage, into a replica of Eden. To shield it all from the gaze of strangers, an extremely high wall is erected around the grounds. Then the work begins. Soon, the scientists implant a clone of the tramp in the womb of a whore, who will be generously compensated. Nine months later the whore has a boy, hands him over to the girl, and disappears.

For five years the girl and a team of specialists care for the boy. Then the scientists implant a clone of the girl in her own womb. Nine months later the girl has a child. The laboratory in the mansion is dismantled and the scientists disappear, replaced by teachers, the tutor-specialists who will keep watch from a distance as both children are raised according to a plan previously drawn up by the girl. When everything is set in motion the girl disappears. She travels, she attends society parties again, she plunges headfirst into perilous adventures, takes lovers: her name shines like a star's. But every once in a while, cloaked in the greatest secrecy, she returns to the mansion and observes the children's progress, unseen by them. The clone of the tramp is an exact replica of the man she fell in love with, his purity and innocence intact. Except that now all his needs are met and his childhood is a peaceful succession of games and teachers who instruct him in all he needs to know. The female clone is an exact replica of the girl herself, and her teachers repeat the same successes and failures, the same actions of the past.

The girl, of course, hardly ever lets herself be seen by the children, although occasionally the clone of the tramp, who is never tired of playing and is a bold child, spots her through the lace curtains of the mansion's upper floors and goes running after her, always in vain.

The years pass and the children grow up, becoming more and more inseparable. One day the millionairess falls ill, with whatever, a deadly virus, cancer, and after a purely symbolic struggle, gives in and prepares to die. She's still young, forty-two. Her only heirs are the two clones and she leaves everything ready for them to inherit part of her immense fortune the moment they're married. Then she dies and her lawyers and scientists weep bitterly for her.

The story ends with a meeting of her staff after the reading of the will. Some, the most innocent and farthest from the millionairess's inner circle, ask the questions that Sturgeon guesses readers might ask themselves. What if the clones refuse to marry? What if the boy and girl love each other, as seems indisputable, but their love never goes beyond the strictly fraternal? Will their lives be ruined? Will they be condemned to live together like two prisoners serving life sentences?

Arguments and debates break out. Moral and ethical questions are raised. The oldest lawyer and scientist, however, soon take it upon themselves to clear up all doubts. Even if the boy and girl don't agree to marry, even if they don't fall in love, they'll still be given the money they're due and they'll be free to do as they like. No matter how the relationship between them develops, within a year the scientists will implant a new clone of the tramp in the body of a surrogate, and five years later they'll repeat the operation with a new clone of the millionairess. And when these new clones are twenty-three and eighteen, no matter what their interpersonal relationship might be--in other words, whether they love each other like brother and sister or like lovers--the scientists or the scientists' successors will implant two more clones, and so on until the end of time or until the millionairess's immense fortune in exhausted.

This is where the story ends, with the faces of the millionairess and the tramp silhouetted against the sunset, and then the stars, and then infinite space. A little creepy, isn't it? Sublime, in a way, but creepy too. Like all crazy loves, don't you think? If you add infinity to infinity, you get infinity. If you mix the sublime and the creepy, what you end up with is creepy. Right? (447-50)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bridget Jones's Senate Seat

Today, in a surprising move, New York Governor David Paterson named chirpy actress Renée Zellweger as the junior senator from New York.

Senator Zellweger is expected to bring a refreshing dose of her winning awkwardness to the role, with a steady program of embarrassing pratfalls and teary self-acceptance.

Surfing the Times

Someone on the New York Times editorial staff has a hard-on for surfers lately. In the last week, the Times has had two online front-page feature stories on surfing. However, Fosco doesn't really blame them. After all, Fosco lives just a few blocks from one of the most famous surf spots on the West Coast and he finds the whole sport/pursuit pretty fascinating (although the physical attractiveness of most surfers has been greatly exaggerated).

Fosco's favorite surf story in the Times actually dates from 2006. It was this article on the intrepid surfers of Lake Erie. Fosco is a Midwesterner by birth, and so he finds it fascinating that surfing is possible on one of the Great Lakes. And here's an image that has stuck with Fosco for over two years:

It was the kind of day that lives mostly in Cleveland surfers’ fantasies. Pushed by the storm’s winds, water the color of chocolate milk rose 10 feet in the air before slamming onto a beach of boulders and logs. The temperature was 40 degrees and falling. One surfer, Vince Labbe, climbed onto his board only to get blown backward by 40-mile-an-hour winds.
"Water the color of chocolate milk"! I love that image. It's absolutely disgusting. But at least the waves must be nice, right? Well, not really.
The strongest winds and waves come in winter, just before Lake Erie freezes. Waves up to 10 feet have been surfed, but the largest swells are usually chest-high. Instead of curling into a vertical wall, the waves are round like haystacks, and they collapse onto the shore like soggy paper.
Wait. It gets even worse.
Surfers learn to avoid ice chunks the size of bowling balls. Some wear goggles to surf through freezing rain, which can sting their eyes like needles. That is a bad idea, Mr. Labbe said, because the goggles freeze to their faces.

Surfers watch their friends for signs of hypothermia, urging them to leave the water when their eyes glaze over and their words slur. Ear infections are a common affliction.
And you thought Pacific "surf bums" were deluded... Surfing in Cleveland is clearly an insanity on par with something out of the DSM-IV (or Mormonism).

Happily, the Times published a second article on the Great Lakes surfing scene last week, with an article on surfing Lake Superior. Believe it or not, surfing Superior is actually colder than Erie.
“It’s warmer in the water,” said Markus Barsch, 21, a tree trimmer from Ashland, Wis., and one of a dozen surfers who had shown up to shred on a 20-degree day.

Surfing in a snowstorm may sound like a direct route toward hypothermia or certain death. But on Lake Superior, where surfers ride all months of the year, thick wet suits, gloves, hoods, booties and petroleum jelly smudged on exposed skin all form a protective shell against the crushing cold encountered by wave catchers in what is one of the world’s most unlikely surfing scenes.
What do you even say about something like that? Except "jeez."

Yet if you prefer warmer waters for your surfing, there are other dangers, according to today's Times article on the surf gangs of Oahu. It seems that the famous surfing sites on Hawaii's North Shore are under the control of a surf gang called the "Wolfpak." Seriously. However, before you laugh too hard, you should know that these are guys to take seriously:
The most notorious member is the group’s enforcer, Kala Alexander, a professional surfer with muscular tattooed arms and “Wolfpak” inked across his knuckles. In 2007, Alexander starred in “The 808,” a reality television series about the Wolfpak and the North Shore, and appeared in the films “Blue Crush” and “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” But he has also gained fame for YouTube videos that show him pummeling surfers on the sand several years ago.

“The code is to respect other people,” Alexander, 39, said. “People come over here and don’t respect other people. You’re going to run into problems if you do that.”

That is what happened to Chris Ward, a 30-year-old professional from San Clemente, Calif., and runner-up to Kelly Slater last month at the Pipeline Masters. In November, Australian publications reported that Ward cut off a local surfer while riding a wave at Pipeline. He was banished to the beach, where a Wolfpak member smacked him in the head. Without providing details, Ward confirmed that the incident happened.
Dude, you so can't cut off another surfer. Yet while all of this may sound either a bit silly or a bit dangerous (depending on your temperament), there are those who argue for the necessity of gang control of the best surf spots as a way of keeping order:
As surfing has become increasingly popular, some say fear of violent reprisal ensures order and safety at congested and perilous surf spots like Pipeline.

“It’s a dangerous environment, and without a self-governing control pattern it would just be chaos out there,” Rarick said.


“It was crowded when I came here,” Alexander said about Pipeline. “A lot of people in the water, not much respect. Where I grew up on Kauai, you respect everybody in the water, especially your elders. Don’t step out of line. We just brought that mentality over here.”
Hey, remember the episode when Paulie said that about the Newark garbage business?

Actually, Fosco's favorite part of the article was his discovery that his (recently-married) college roommate Derek Ho was actually a surf star in Hawaii before Harvard:
At the time there was a void in the Pipeline lineup as those who regulated the waves during the 1990s, like Derek Ho, Johnny Boy Gomes and Marvin Foster, had grown older and moved on.
You know someone for fifteen years and this kind of thing still comes as a surprise.

Finally, a Reason to Care about Science

There is always something interesting going on at Harvard. Like, for instance, a visit from the best chef in the world, Ferran Adrià (of impossible reservation El Bulli in Spain). Adrià is responsible for molecular gastronomy, an approach to cuisine that uses experimental techniques based in chemistry and engineering to produce new preparations of food. You've probably seen it practiced (usually badly) by several "Top Chef" eliminees of the past few seasons. The foremost American practitioner is probably Grant Achatz of Chicago's Alinea (where Fosco had an ethereal and surreal meal in December 2007).

But dinner at El Bulli is beyond pretty much anything that you can find in this country. Dinner is a 35 course tasting menu. Adrià is a living legend, responsible for some of the most fascinating (and funny!) food preparations you've ever seen. Here is his "letter soup":

You can find an entire slideshow of his creations here.

Adrià's visit to Harvard is especially notable, however, because it came under the auspices of the Harvard School of Engineering. According to the press release, Adrià's talk actually focused on the use of hydrocolloids. Even more interesting, this visit allowed the signing of a "Memorandum of Understanding"(!) between El Bulli and the Harvard SEAS, which allows for a staff exchange(!!) between the two institutions. How cool would it be to be an engineering grad student who got to spend some time doing research at El Bulli? (Well, assuming that it could ever be cool to be an engineering grad student...)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Celebrity Love!

E! Online breaks a celebrity engagement announcement with this picture:

Based on this picture, Fosco would like to congratulate Far From Heaven's Julianne Moore and MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow. They make a lovely couple.

An Apology for Our Way of Life

Fosco was generally a fan of Obama's Inaugural Address, especially his inclusion of "non-believers" in the list of people who make up this country (Fosco's friend Todd was pleased with this as well). And as for the Bushies who were offended by Obama's obvious repudiation of the previous administration? They can suck it.

But now, two days later, Fosco remains a bit troubled by one line from the address in particular:

We will not apologize for our way of life nor will we waver in its defense.
There are (at least) two ways to read the defiance in this sentence, depending on what you think Obama means about "our way of life."

If this phrase means things like sexual and racial equality, free speech, something like democratic representation, and some level of tolerance for difference, then sign me up. Those are good things and there is no need to apologize for the social benefits of a liberal democratic society. However, who is actually asking us to apologize for these things? Other than maybe a few mullahs? If this is what the line means, I like it; but it's not really a line with very broad application.

However, there are plenty of things about our "way of life" that we really ought to be apologizing for. Our CO2 emissions. Our addicted consumerism. Our economic exploitation of the Third World. Our consumption of an obscene amount of the world's resources (per capita). Our narcissism and exceptionalism. Cultural imperialism. SUVs, hedge funds, high fructose corn syrup, and celebrities. Now Fosco is not speaking to you as someone who is above these things; he is as much caught up in this "way of life" as the rest of us (well, except for the SUV part). But there is a lot about our way of life that is indefensible. And even though it can be hard (very hard) for us to change how we live (to live more simply, more sustainably), that still doesn't make our current way of life right.

So yeah, maybe when it comes to some things about our way of life, we do owe the world an apology. And we also owe a commitment to make things right. And I wish Obama had been more clear about this.

(Barely) Living in Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz may be warmer than some places, but we obviously pay a premium for the mild life. According to an article in today's Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Bucking the national trend of dropping rental rates and higher vacancies, Santa Cruz County apartments were ranked as the second most expensive in the state.


The survey, released Wednesday by RealFacts, a rental industry research company based in Novato, claims that renters throughout the country should have an easier time finding rental housing and end up paying less than they might have a year ago. But, not necessarily in Santa Cruz, where occupancy rates in the larger properties have averaged 96.5 percent and rents have averaged $1,637.
This isn't news to Fosco. You can see a photo of Fosco's apartment complex at right. He lives on the second floor, so he has a skylight. (Fosco's landlord is Bosnian, which accounts for the homey "Welcome to Little Sarajevo" sign. He really tries to make the complex feel like a community!) Fosco is actually lucky to live in a complex this nice, for which he pays a substantial $1750 a month. That may seem like a lot of money for a such a rundown place, but you should see Fosco's pal KFR's apartment...

From the Annals of Burying the Lede

You may have already seen something like this, a pictorial compilation of all of the newspaper front pages from January 21. It's a nice Obama collage and very much speaks to the relief that almost everyone feels right now.

Fosco's favorite part is the front page of the Philadelphia Daily News, seen below as surrounded by a number of other front pages from that same day:

I don't see the word "Obama" anywhere on that page. Clearly, this is independent journalism at its finest.

Bring Me The Jonas Brothers!

Fosco doesn't much like kids. As far as he's concerned, kids are just adults who don't know how to carry on a decent conversation. So he's a little surprised to discover that he thinks the Obama girls are adorable.

Now part of it is clearly their Inaugural outfits, which Fosco thinks are absolute perfection. He's just never seen kids look that cute. But even beyond that, there is something kinda appealing about little Malia and Sasha. Not that Fosco would probably ever want to talk to them (or, God forbid, babysit them).

However, Fosco does find himself thinking that these girls should be spoiled in every possible way during their stay in the White House--regardless of the cost to the American taxpayers. Basically, I think the White House needs to be turned into the Neverland Ranch, but without handsy "Uncle Michael."

Luckily, this process has already begun. According to this piece in People:

While their parents were making their rounds at 10 inaugural balls, the girls entertained new pals from the Sidwell Friends school – and had a surprise visit from the Jonas Brothers.

In a scavenger hunt designed to help Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, get familiar with the White House, hiding at the end in the East Room was certainly an all-American treat: Kevin, Joe, and Nick Jonas!


The Jonas Brothers, who came with their parents, were snuck in through the East Portico and played three acoustic songs and posed for photos with each of the young guests at the party.
The story goes on to note that the Jonas Brothers will be the first residents of the new White House "Tween Habitat," designed to provide living quarters and display space for over thirty celebrities and entertainers of Malia and Sasha's choice. During their time in captivity, the Jonas Brothers will be fed and cared for by a specially-trained staff. Portions of the "Tween Habitat" are designed to simulate the situations that the Jonas Brothers would normally experience "in the wild," including theme areas called "Disney Store Autograph Session," "Backstage at the Kids' Choice Awards," and "Fingerbang with Taylor Swift." While the Jonases will be allowed to spend their free time as they choose, they will be required to perform twice a day (once on Sundays) for the duration of President Obama's term.

Future residents of the Tween Habitat will likely include Demi Lovato, Zac Efron, and Senator Joe Lieberman (dressed as Yasmin from Bratz).

Fosco's Torture Memo (Hint: Bush is going to jail.)

Fosco wishes to thank The BeeMaster again for his recent guest post here at Fosco Lives!, even though it made this blog an (unlikely) stop on the Bush legacy tour. But, after all, when you read that twenty percent of Americans still approve of George W. Bush, don't you ever wonder who those people are and what they're thinking? Well, now we know.

Fosco would like to note that guest posts are always welcome here. On any topic. However, with that being said, I suspect that Fosco Lives! is going to become a little less political for a while (at least until the next Prop 8 flare-up--most likely around June when the California Supreme Court releases its decision). On the one hand, Fosco doesn't want to get complacent now that Obama is in power. On the other hand, there are so many things that Fosco likes more than politics. Many, many things. Not only will this de-emphasis on politics thrill Fosco's boyfriend Oz, it will also allow Fosco to concentrate on some recently-neglected topics (like music and literature). And, to be honest, Fosco is looking forward to feeling a bit less angry on a daily basis... At the very least, this will be good for Fosco's health.

I hope you'll still feel comfortable commenting on The BeeMaster's defense of Bush (especially as more and more of it is proven by history to be untrue). While some of the things that The BeeMaster wrote can be considered legitimate differences in opinion, there are several things that are more problematic. And there is one thing that Fosco just cannot let slide.

The BeeMaster claims that

When water-boarding is brought up, we will see that it was used on only three suspects, one of whom was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaida's chief of operational planning, who divulged vast amounts of information that saved hundreds of innocent lives. Whether this tactic--it creates a drowning sensation--is torture is a matter of debate. John McCain and many Democrats say it is. Bush and Vice President Cheney insist it isn't. In any case, it was necessary.
Fosco may have a bee in his bonnet about torture lately, but there are several things wrong in this statement.

First, the "debate" on whether water-boarding is torture is really only a debate in the same way that there is a debate about whether smoking causes lung cancer. Aside from a few people who are motivated to believe otherwise, the answer is clear. There is a long trail of legal precedent that identifies simulated drowning as torture under American law. The legal precedent has been traced by Judge Evan Wallach in a recent article in the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law. You can download the full text of Judge Wallach's paper from this URL. Judge Wallach's article also presents the clear historical record that the United States has regularly punished simulated drowning as torture:
Indeed, despite increasing discussion of variations of [water-boarding], and their application on a global scale, nobody seems to remember that, not so very long ago, the United States, acting alone before domestic courts, commissions and courts martial, and as a participant in the world community, not only condemned the use of water torture, but severely punished as criminals those who applied it.
Most notably, this happened with the Japanese water torture of American servicemen during World War II, when a number of Japanese interrogators were convicted by the US of torture for using water-boarding techniques. Historically, there is no question that the United States law has considered water-boarding to be torture. I look forward to George W. Bush's prosecution for war crimes. Seriously.

Of course, many conservatives are willing to admit that water-boarding is torture while maintaining that it is unavoidable or necessary to save innocent American lives (and this will presumably be Bush's public defense if/when we get to his war crimes trial). But, even if this is true (and, in a moment, we'll see why it's not), it's a claim that follows from a pretty unpleasant system of moral reasoning. Neither Christianity nor the traditional secular Kantian model of moral reasoning would agree that one can engage in a grossly immoral act in order to do some moral good. Rather, if you want to believe this, you're stuck in the troublesome realm of utilitarianism, where you have to calculate the sums of goods and evils and so on. Sometimes that seems easy; sometimes it's clearly not. But when it comes down to it, I think most people aren't too comfortable basing their ultimate morality on that kind of utilitarian calculus.

As far as the question of whether torture saves lives, I think the problem here is that too many people have been watching that televised propaganda film called "24." Maybe Jack Bauer saved lives by torturing someone (I don't know--I watched Triumph of the Will instead), but very few people who know things about torture are willing to vouch for the realism of "24." Since The BeeMaster is so keen on the information we got out of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), let's talk about his case.

I recommend this article from Vanity Fair, December 2008. In it, the respected investigative journalist David Rose speaks to CIA, FBI, and military sources about the results of prisoner torture. Here's what he learned about KSM:
As for K.S.M. himself, who (as Jane Mayer writes) was waterboarded, reportedly hung for hours on end from his wrists, beaten, and subjected to other agonies for weeks, Bush said he provided “many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans.” K.S.M. was certainly knowledgeable. It would be surprising if he gave up nothing of value. But according to a former senior C.I.A. official, who read all the interrogation reports on K.S.M., “90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit.” A former Pentagon analyst adds: “K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.”
Hmmm. That doesn't sound promising. But KSM must have said something useful when he was tortured, right? Not so much:
Several of those I interviewed point out the dearth of specific claims the administration has proffered. “The proponents of torture say, ‘Look at the body of information that has been obtained by these methods.’ But if K.S.M. and Abu Zubaydah did give up stuff, we would have heard the details,” says [former FBI terrorist interrogator Jack] Cloonan. “What we got was pabulum.” A former C.I.A. officer adds: “Why can’t they say what the good stuff from Abu Zubaydah or K.S.M. is? It’s not as if this is sensitive material from a secret, vulnerable source. You’re not blowing your source but validating your program. They say they can’t do this, even though five or six years have passed, because it’s a ‘continuing operation.’ But has it really taken so long to check it all out?”
But, you say, these are low-level interrogators and anonymous sources. They must be out-of-the-loop. Or secret liberals (you find a lot of secret liberals among FBI terrorist interrogators).

But what if the Director of the FBI (reluctantly) went on the record about the fruits of torture?
I ask [FBI Director Robert] Mueller: So far as he is aware, have any attacks on America been disrupted thanks to intelligence obtained through what the administration still calls “enhanced techniques”?

“I’m really reluctant to answer that,” Mueller says. He pauses, looks at an aide, and then says quietly, declining to elaborate: “I don’t believe that has been the case.”
Hmmm. I'll take "torture does not save lives" ftw.

In fact, according to this editorial by a former CIA interrogator, torture may actually be responsible for American deaths:
I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me--unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.
You can believe this or not. But if you want me not to believe it, I need to see a source that is at least as experienced and as knowledgeable as this man about the situation on the ground in Iraq (and neither Bill O'Reilly nor TrAnn Coulter count).

You know what would be so funny if it weren't so sad? The FBI and CIA have known for a long time how to get good information out of detainees. FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan did it (see the Vanity Fair article) with the conspirators in the Kenya and Tanzania US Embassy bombings. The former CIA interrogator mentioned above relates (in his Washington Post editorial and subsequent book) that,
We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."
What was this secret method of interrogation?
I taught the members of my unit a new methodology--one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they're listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of "ruses and trickery"). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.
I see. Wait--it's almost as if someone had discovered a way to interrogate successfully! Did anyone Cc. Bush?

So why do so many people want to torture detainees? I can't help but think that a very ugly type of vengeance is at work here. Do not think that Fosco is above anger at those who perpetrated 9/11 or those who do/would kill American troops (or civilians). I want those people to get what they deserve. However, I believe that "just deserts" are morally meaningful only when they are just. Vigilante justice is not justice. No matter what Bush et al. claim, it is possible for us to punish evildoers under our system of laws. It might take more work (although it may not), and it will definitely require more restraint. And in calling for this restraint, I am not particularly interested in protecting terrorists; rather, I am interested in protecting our American moral character.

To grammatically write

Why did Chief Justice Bald Spot mess up Obama's oath of office? Was it to slightly spoil the Obama sound bite (that would otherwise be played ad nauseam for the rest of human history)? Was it to subtly draw people's attention to Article II of the Constitution (a passage that is sorely under-read by schoolchildren)? Or was it for some other nefarious purpose?

According to Harvard know-it-all Steven Pinker (incidentally, a man who looks like an old lesbian), Robert flubbed the oath because of his aversion to split verbs. Pinker notes that the oath, as written in the Constitution, splits the verb "will execute" by the addition of the word "faithfully." As Pinker notes:

Instead of having Barack Obama “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Chief Justice Roberts had him “solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.” When Mr. Obama paused after “execute,” the chief justice prompted him to continue with “faithfully the office of president of the United States.”
Why did this happen? As Pinker points out, some legal style manuals tend to strictly adhere to a rule against split verbs. Presumably, Roberts's legal training has rendered him unable to read aloud bad grammar.

Except, Pinker also has some good news (especially for Fosco's students): split verbs are not bad grammar. In fact, they're often the best way to adequately express a thought:
Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that [many split-verb] corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, “to say.” But in English, infinitives like “to go” and future-tense forms like “will go” are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them.
Thank you, Steven Pinker. From now on, Fosco will happily split his verbs.

Extra Credit: Fosco intentionally used six split verbs in this post (not including the obviously awkward title). Did you notice them?

Extra Extra Credit: Identify every time Fosco UNintentionally splits a verb in any (or all!) of his previous posts.

Extra Extra Extra Credit: Buy Fosco a book. Right now, he could use pretty much any novel in French. Contact Todd for Fosco's address.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Michael Cera prepared to RUIN EVERYTHING

In recent weeks, we've been watching as the "Arrested Development" movie comes closer to reality. Last we heard, the holdup was the (unfortunately) indispensable portrayer of George Michael Bluth, Michael Cera. Well, today the news gets worse.

According to a report at Defamer, Cera recently

explained that he wouldn't sign on because there's no script yet. Of course, as creator Mitch Hurwitz has explained, there won't be a script until Hurwitz knows for sure which cast members are coming back. What a hilarious, Arrested-worthy Möbius strip of stalled misunderstandings. We are never getting this movie.
Right. It only makes sense to want to see a script first. Because clearly Michael Cera needs to know more about the character he will be playing. I mean, without a script, Michael Cera might end up signing on to a movie in which his character has to kiss his cousin or something.

Please, Michael Cera: the economy is crumbling, BSG is ending, and I have a cold. FOSCO NEEDS THIS MOVIE.

Picture of the Day

Fosco's friend Anne Hathaway at an Inaugural event. She always looks so beautiful.

RIP Wire-haired Man-goblin

Last fall, while everyone was paying attention to the presidential race, the NFL held a football season--one of the most boring ones that Fosco can recall (is is possible to care about the Tennessee Titans if one lives outside of Nashville?). Imagine Fosco's surprise when he woke up today--in a post-political mood--to discover that the Arizona Cardinals will play in the Super Bowl.

For those of you who don't follow football, let me try to put this in context. Having the AZ Cards in the Super Bowl is a bit like Norbit winning the Oscar for Best Picture: technically the movie is eligible, but Eddie Murphy isn't exactly calling Spago to reserve a room for the victory party.

What makes the Cardinals Super Bowl run even stranger is that their quarterback is the aged Kurt Warner (seen at right with an unidentified companion), a man who has had the strangest football career of the last twenty years. In the late 1990s, he was playing for an arena football team in Iowa (and bagging groceries in the off-season). In 1999, he was a backup in the NFL who ended up starting due to injury: he was named NFL MVP that year and won the Super Bowl. Two years later, he was MVP and led the Rams to the Super Bowl again. Good story.

But then, three years later, he was released and had disastrous tenures as a starter for two other teams. This year, Warner was expected to be Arizona's backup before the season started. And then he won the starting job and, well, here we are... It's just such an odd story of ups and downs--second chances, third chances, etc. And yet, if Warner wins this Super Bowl, he will have more NFL championships than Brett Favre or Peyton Manning.

Now Fosco has always appreciated Kurt Warner, despite the fact that Warner is something of Jesus-freak who believes that God is directly responsible for wins on the football field (as if God would be an Arizona Cardinals fan! We all know God prefers Tom Brady's Patriots.). For Fosco, the most entertaining part of the Warner mystique had to do with Warner's crazy wife, an ex-Marine divorced cougar with a penchant for feathered apparel. She also maybe looked a bit like a lesbian (of the New Age variety). I mean, look at her: she's just one Native American tattoo away from owning a crystal store with her lifepartner in Taos, New Mexico. Needless to say, Brenda was no typical NFL trophy wife... And did I mention that she had a habit of calling in to local sports radio and defending her husband?

My love of Brenda Warner reached its apex with this headline in The Onion (or see below):

There is probably no better phrase in the English language than "wire-haired man-goblin." (N.B., this was also the apex of Fosco's appreciation for The Onion.)

But things have a way of changing, no? Imagination Fosco's surprise when he discovered that the years have been kind to Brenda Warner. Very kind. As Deadspin reports, Brenda Warner has become "kind of a babe." Which is good, I suppose. I mean, it's nice if Brenda wants to look more like every other NFL wife. And yet... I miss the man-goblin I learned to love. She was weird and she was tough and that made things (especially boring things like Kurt Warner's personality) a lot more interesting. Please, Brenda: bring back the man-goblin! Make this Super Bowl worth watching!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Guest Post: The BeeMaster defends Bush

This is a first for Fosco: a guest post! And a conservative one! You may know Fosco's old friend, The BeeMaster, from his good-natured conservative comments on posts here at Fosco Lives! Recently, The BeeMaster asked Fosco if he would be willing to publish a defense of Sarah Palin on this blog; Fosco was intrigued and accepted. In the Inaugural hubbub, The BeeMaster changed his mind and offered instead a positive evaluation of the Bush Presidency.

Needless to say, Fosco doesn't agree with most of what The BeeMaster argues below. However, Fosco does think it's worthwhile to have this kind of debate. The blogosphere is typically ideologically fragmented, with sites for conservatives and sites for progressives. This arrangement has its benefits, of course; however, sometimes it's nice to hear from someone who disagrees with you (without being too disagreeable). Anyway, thanks to The BeeMaster for his interest in the blog and his hard work in preparing this guest post. Please give The BeeMaster your attention and I'll see you all again tomorrow afternoon.

First of all, great thanks to The Fosco for allowing me to guest blog on Fosc Olives! A blog is a personal space, not a public forum. So it shows great confidence in his own positions that Fosco can tolerate diversity of opinion in his blog. While I attempt to comment on several blogs, Fosc Olives! is one of very few that allow (even polite) objections. I appreciate and am very careful not to ruin that privilege.

I had originally asked Fosco to guest blog on the subject of Governor Sarah Palin but decided nobody really cares right now. Should she become relevant again, you may hear my take on “Governor Moosemunch.” Instead, on Bush’s last day as president, I thought I might make some comments on the Bush legacy.

First of all, the partisan hysteria and the avalanche of abuse and ridicule will fade. And history will probably hand down a far more positive judgment on Bush's presidency than the immediate, knee-jerk loathing we are witnessing today. For instance Ronald Reagan, ridiculed by the media as senile (at best) or corrupt (at worst) now is regarded by the general public as one of our most beloved presidents.

Fair or otherwise, I think presidents are eventually remembered for one, sometimes two items. Sort of a major/minor thing:

FDR: Wheelchair. WWII.
Truman: The atom bomb. Got us into Korea.
Eisenhower: Bald. General in WWII.
Kennedy: Assasinated. Started the space program.
Johnson: Took over after Kennedy. Got us deeper into Vietnam.
Nixon: Watergate. Visited China.
Ford: Pardoned Nixon. Clumsy.
Carter: “Malaise” speech. Builds crappy houses. (runners up: Camp David accord, Iran hostages)
Reagan: “Evil empire.” Star Wars. (runners up: Iran/Contra, Cut taxes)
Bush I: Gulf War, “Read my lips”
Clinton: Monica, “I feel your pain.” (runners up: Impeachment, Health care fix attempt, Government shutdown)

I’m not saying they should be judged on these things. Truman, for instance, should also be remembered for the Marshall Plan, Kennedy his fiscal conservatism (especially tax cuts to stimulate the economy), and Johnson his passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the help of Republicans when Democrats (including Al Gore Senior) voted against it.

Back to GWB. September 11th will forever be regarded as the defining moment of his presidency, and history will look in vain for anyone predicting that the people murdered that day would be the last ones to die at the hands of Islamic fundamentalist terrorists on American soil over the following seven years.

The decisions taken by Bush in the immediate aftermath of that moment will be pored over by historians for the rest of our lifetimes. One thing they will doubtless conclude is that the measures he took to lock down America's borders, scrutinize travelers, eavesdrop on terrorist suspects, work closely with international intelligence agencies and (especially) taking the war to the enemy has foiled dozens, perhaps scores, of murderous attacks on America. There are many people alive today who would not be but for the passage of the Patriot Act.

The next factor that will be seen in its proper historical context in years to come will be the true reasons for invading Afghanistan in October 2001 and Iraq in April 2003. The conspiracy theories believed by m any (generally, but not always) stupid people - that it was "all about oil", or the securing of contracts for Halliburton, and so on - will slip into the obscurity from which they should never have emerged had it not been for comedians like Michael Moore.

Instead, the obvious fact that there was a good case for invading Iraq based on 14 violated UN resolutions, massive human rights abuses and unfinished business following the interrupted invasion of 1991 will be recalled.

Similarly, the cold light of history will absolve Bush of the worst conspiracy theory accusation: that he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. History will show that, in common with the rest of his administration, the British government, Saddam Hussein's own generals, the French, Chinese, Israeli and Russian intelligence agencies, and of course the CIA, everyone assumed that a murderous dictator does not voluntarily destroy the WMD arsenal he has used against his own people. And if he does, he does not then expel the UN weapons inspectorate looking for proof of it, as he did in 1998 and again in 2001.

Question: When the president said to the nation that the mission was to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons program; when the president said that Saddam must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons; when the president said “We've got to act now and we can't allow Iraq to be free to retain and begin to rebuild its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs in months and not years;” When the president said all that to the American people, was the president lying? Yes or no?

Does it change your answer to learn those were President Clinton’s words from 1998 when he addressed the nation the day he bombed Iraq? Discuss.

Bush assumed that the coalition forces would find mass graves, torture chambers, evidence for the gross abuse of the UN food-for-oil program, and also WMDs. He was right about each but the last, and history will place him in the mainstream of Western, Eastern and Arab thinking on the matter.

With his characteristic openness and at times almost self-defeating honesty, Bush has been the first to acknowledge his mistakes - for example, tardiness over Hurricane Katrina - but there are some he made not because he was a ranting right-winger, but because he tried too hard to win bipartisan support.

For example, the invasion of Iraq should have taken place months earlier, but was held up by Bush’s waiting to find support from UN Security Council members, like France, that had ties to Iraq and hostility toward American involvement. We didn’t strike Iraq until eighteen months after September 11th, hardly a “rush to judgment” and plenty of time for Saddam to remove WMDs of which there is some evidence he did.

History will also take Bush's verbal fumbling into account, reminding us that Ronald Reagan also misspoke regularly, but was still a fine president. The first MBA president, who had a higher IQ and grade-point average at Yale than John Kerry, Bush's supposed lack of intellect will be seen to be a myth once the papers in his presidential library are available.

Films such as Oliver Stone's W, which portray him as a spitting frat boy who eats with his mouth open and is rude to servants, will be revealed by the diaries and correspondence of those around him to be absurd travesties of this charming, interesting, and personable history buff.

George W. Bush has done more for AIDS and malaria in Africa than any other president. And certainly for the women of Afghanistan by saving them from Taliban abuse, degradation and tyranny. And homosexuals in Iraq who are no longer subject to the death penalty as under Saddam Hussein.

When Abu Ghraib is mentioned, history will remind us that it was the Bush administration that imprisoned those responsible for the horrors. When water-boarding is brought up, we will see th at it was used on only three suspects, one of whom was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaida's chief of operational planning, who divulged vast amounts of information that saved hundreds of innocent lives. Whether this tactic--it creates a drowning sensation--is torture is a matter of debate. John McCain and many Democrats say it is. Bush and Vice President Cheney insist it isn't. In any case, it was necessary.

Lincoln once made a similar point in defending his suspension of habeas corpus in direct defiance of Chief Justice Roger Taney. "Are all the laws but one to go unexecuted, and the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated?" Lincoln asked. Bush understood the answer in wartime had to be no. Some might even study the Geneva Convention and learn such combatants are not eligible for its protections. And as such, even if prisoners were tortured, it wouldn't be a war crime. As Charles Krauthammer said recently, "Those are precisely the elements which kept us safe and which have prevented a second attack."

There is an aspect of Bush’s decision making that merits special recognition: his courage. Time and time again, Bush did what other presidents would not have done and for which he was vilified and abused. In a recent interview he said he refused to “bail out” the Republican party in 2004 by withdrawing from Iraq because it wasn’t the right thing to do. That -- defiantly doing the right thing even if it hurts -- is what distinguished his presidency.

Mistakes are made in every war, but when virtually the entire military, diplomatic and political establishment in the West opposed it, Bush insisted on the surge in Iraq that has been seen to have brought the war around, and set Iraq on the right path. Today its gross domestic product is 30 per cent higher than under Saddam, and it is free of a brutal dictator and his rapist sons. Even Barack Obama finally, under duress, had to agree.

Sneered at for being simplistic in his reaction to September 11, Bush's visceral responses to the attacks of a fascistic, totalitarian death cult will be seen as having been substantially the right ones.

The number of US troops killed during the eight years of the war against terror has been fewer than those slain capturing two islands in World War II, and Britain has lost fewer soldiers than on a normal weekend on the Western Front. As for civilians, there have been fewer Iraqis killed since the invasion than in 20 conflicts since World War II. Keep in mind we occupied Japan ten years after WWII, and the Japanese were a homogenous and civilized society! Also after WWII, Germany remained split with Allied power supervision for over forty years. During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised “immediate” withdrawal, but Vice-President Joe Biden last week said our presence in Iraq will continue until 2012. In other words, during their entire term.

Iraq has been a victory for the US-led coalition, a fact that the Bush-haters will have to deal with when perspective finally, perhaps years from now, lends objectivity to this fine man's record.

He won’t be remembered for them but there are other achievements. In 2001, he jettisoned the Kyoto global warming treaty so loved by Al Gore, the environmental lobby, elite opinion, and Europe. The treaty was a disaster, with India and China exempted and chaos the certain result. Everyone knew it. But only Bush said so and acted accordingly. In doing so, he stood against global warming hysteria. He slowed the movement of this worldwide hoax, providing time for facts to catch up with the dubious claims of alarmists. Thanks in part to Bush, the supposed consensus of scientists on global warming has now collapsed. The skeptics, who point to global cooling over the past decade, are now heard loud and clear. And finally a rational approach to the theory of manmade global warming is possible.

The credit crunch, brought on by the Democrats in Congress insisting on home ownership for non-creditworthy people, will initially be blamed on Bush, but the perspective of time will show that the problems at FannieMae and FreddieMac started with the deregulation of the Clinton era. Bush (and separately, Senator McCain) attempted to increase oversight but was thwarted by Democrats (including Barney Frank) that called such accountability “racist.”

Yet another achievement was Bush's unswerving support for Israel. Reagan was once deemed Israel's best friend in the White House. Now Bush can claim the title. He ostracized Yasser Arafat as an impediment to peace in the Middle East. This infuriated the anti-Israel forces in Europe, the Third World, and the United Nations, and was criticized by champions of the "peace process" here at home. Bush was right.

Another success was No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the education reform bill cosponsored by America's most prominent liberal Democratic senator Ted Kennedy. The NEA, school boards, even conservatives adamant about local control of schools -- they all were and are still against it. It requires two things they oppose, mandatory testing and accountability.

Kennedy later turned against NCLB, saying Bush is shortchanging the program. In truth, federal education spending is at record levels. Another complaint is that it forces teachers to "teach to the test." Um, the tests are on math and reading; they are tests worth teaching to.

The Medicare prescription drug benefit, enacted in 2003. It's not only wildly popular; it has cost less than expected by triggering competition among drug companies. Conservatives have deep reservations about the program. But they shouldn't have been surprised. Bush advocated the drug benefit in the 2000 campaign because if he hadn't acted, Democrats would have, with a much less attractive result.
Then there are John Roberts and Sam Alito. In putting them on the Supreme Court and naming Roberts chief justice, Bush achieved what had eluded Nixon, Reagan, and his ow n father. Roberts and Alito made the Court more conservative. And the good news is Roberts, 53, and Alito, 58, should be justices for a long time.

Bush also strengthened relations with Asian democracies (Japan, South Korea, and Australia) without causing a rift with China. On top of that, he forged strong ties with India. An important factor was their common enemy, Islamic jihadists. After 9/11, Bush made the most of this, and Indian leaders were receptive. His state dinner for Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2006 was a love fest.

How does Bush rank as a president? We won't know until he's judged from the perspective of two or three decades. Judging the “sophomoric invective” recently I don’t think there’s any place for his place in history but to go up.

Barack Obama was not my choice. But still we can all celebrate the pageantry of the quadrennial, peaceful transfer of power that gives everybody another shot in four short years. I firmly believe this is one reason we have such a peaceful society and elections don’t result in riots in America. I’ve been depressed on inauguration day before. All of us have one time or another. Yet we don’t take up arms with each other except in words and ideas. I’m grateful I have been able to do that with you today.

May God bless President Barack Obama, the United States of America, and my friend Fosco.

More Inaugural Thoughts

  • If you didn't watch, check out Gawker's Top Ten Inaugural Moments (with video!). I like it when they call Rick Warren a "doughy hate-walrus."
  • Both Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd were taken ill at the Inaugural lunch. Both are reportedly fine. I blame the pheasant.
  • If I were Michelle, I would be thinking: "You mean now I have to spend all night in a ball gown?" I'm exhausted already and I'm only watching the whole thing. It's a grueling day.
  • Chris Matthews: "I gave Val Kilmer a ride back to his hotel last night."
  • I'm glad we have a president who flashes the "shaka," instead of the "shocker." From the NYTimes liveblog:

  • Reviews of the speech are still mixed, mainly because I think expectations were for something more rhetorical. However, as commentators read the text more closely, a kind of admiration is taking over. This might be exactly the speech Obama needed to make, even if it's not quite the one we wanted to hear. Read the text.
  • Fosco has completely come around on Michelle's dress. It was perfect and gorgeous. Check out some more of Isabel Toledo's work here.

Goodbye Bush Street. Hello Obama Avenue.

In case any of you were doubting that San Francisco rocks, here is further proof.

From a piece in SFGate:

On inaugural morning a mysterious group descended on Bush St. and covered up every mention of Bush with Obama stickers.
This is what it looks like:

Unfortunately, workers are removing the stickers as we speak. However, maybe this will spur the city government to permanently change the street name. Wouldn't that be cool?

Regime Change: Live Blogging the Inauguration

10:00 AM PST: Well, I think you can make it through the rest of the day without Fosco's commentary. Thanks for your company this morning. Happy America!

9:56 AM PST: As the Bush helicopter disappears from sight... our long national nightmare is over.

9:48 AM PST: And here comes the Bush goodbye. I like this part. Think he'll give a big middle finger to everyone? We've been through a lot together, George... Ciao.

9:45 AM PST: Not rave reviews for the speech, even from the MSNBC commentators. Although everyone liked the outreach to the Muslim world (as they should).

9:40 AM PST: Finally. Doesn't America feel warmer? Happier? Sexier? I agree.

9:37 AM PST: Joseph Lowery benediction: "When yellow will be mellow"? Seriously? That was freakin' goofy.

9:33 AM PST: Should we really have so much praying? Isn't it a bit much?

9:32 AM PST: Poetry interlude with Elizabeth Alexander. You know how Fosco feels about Inaugural poetry. This one? Meh. "What if the mightiest word is love?" Not a terrible line.

9:26 AM PST: A strangely campaign-like speech at first, no? Lots of policy talk. A resounding rebuke to Bush/Cheney on all fronts, though.

Some highlights:

  • One resonant line for Fosco: "begin again the remaking of America"
  • Love the shot of Malia taking a photograph of her dad speaking.
  • Great cutaway to Bush during part about not giving up our ideals in favor of our safety.
  • Message to the world: "We are ready to lead once more." Nice.
  • Shoutout to "nonbelievers" along with the religious. I like that.
  • Very well-written passage speaking to the Muslim world and Third World. Strange to have a president who acknowledges the rest of the world (especially without making threats).
  • "when the levees break" = fuck off, GWB.
  • "duties" is an important word. Bush seemed to think our primary duty as citizens was shopping. I think Obama has something grander in mind.
  • He gets choked up during his quote of Washington. Me too. That was a masterful moment.

9:04 AM PST: Oath time. Whoa--what the hell was that? Did Roberts know the oath or was he making it up too? Was Obama too nervous? A surprisingly real moment in an otherwise tightly choreographed spectacle. Wait, is Obama still president? Do we have to do the oath again?

9:00 AM PST: Love Yo-yo Ma. A nice change from Bush's Inaugural performance by Rascal Flatts. Did you know that you could design Rascal Flatts' new CD cover? I mean, assuming you could create something crappy enough.

8:57 AM PST: That's one heckuva bible that Jill Biden is holding.

Is it me, or did that oath sound a little made-up? Was John Paul Stevens ad-libbing?

Hey, there's Bruce Springsteen! Shouldn't he be performing?

8:55 AM PST: Aretha Franklin's backup choir: "Ring ring ring ring ring ring."

8:50 AM PST: Rick Warren talks a good game, I'll give him that. He certainly enunciates distinctly. Oz: "His enunciation reminds me of Chris Berman."

8:48 AM PST: Rick Warren: "[God,] You are loving to everyone you've made. Except homos."

8:45 AM PST: Feinstein speaks: CA power, baby. Maybe she should be Senate majority leader...

She's channeling that movie trailer announcer guy: "In a world..."

And there's that trademark Bush smirk. I wonder if Botox could wipe that away.

8:43 AM PST: It's my senator, Dianne Feinstein! Hey, she still owes me a reply.

8:38 AM PST: After eight years of inappropriate presidential nonverbal behavior, it's nice to see Obama's expression. He knows exactly what he's supposed to look like.

8:32 AM PST: Ouch. Bush is getting booed. And they're singing "Hey, hey, goodbye." Is this an inauguration or a basketball game? It's not in the best of taste, but what does it tell you about the Bush Administration? And after a presidency marked by his complete insulation from any dissent, I can't help but feel a little happy that he is going to hear some of it now.

8:31 AM PST: Matthews: "This is the network that has opened its heart to change." Damn it, Chris... you're making Fosco's defense of you look silly.

8:29 AM PST: Most sentimental caption for a future commemorative item... Chris Matthews reading Sasha and Malia's minds: "My daddy's president." Gag.

8:24 AM PST: Sasha and Malia look incredible: adorable and professional at the same time. Nicely done, Michelle. Fosco is digging Sasha's orange and pink ensemble (although those colors don't always quite work together).

8:21 AM PST: The MSNBC commentators are ripping on Old Bush's apparent frailty. He does look like he might not live through the ceremony.

Wait: who invited the Bush twins? Don't they have something else to do? Isn't it Happy Hour somewhere?

8:18 AM PST: They're keeping Jimmy Carter away from Clinton and Old Bush. Carter fucking hates those guys. Seriously. Isn't that interesting?

8:15 AM PST: Olbermann: "President Clinton looking unusually somber." Hillary looks great in blue, doesn't she?

8:13 AM PST: Speaking of GILFs, there's Joe Biden's mother. I'm glad she is able to see him take the oath--God willing, of course.

8:12 AM PST: And there's Al Gore. Remember how he was supposed to be our president? And now John Kerry. Sure wish he had been a better candidate.

8:07 AM PST: Hey, where'd they find Dan Quayle? I thought he was living under a pseudonym in Argentina.

8:04 AM PST: Very excited to see John Paul Stevens give the oath to Biden. JPS is one of the good ones. It's a shame that Obama has to receive the oath from John Roberts, that smug bastard. Oh well, at least it's not pubic hair aficionado Clarence Thomas.

8:00 AM PST: Michelle looks gorgeous, but her hair is having a little trouble (perhaps because of wind?).

7:59 AM PST: Chris Matthews can't stop comparing the Bushes to the Romanovs. Another unfortunate comparison.

7:55 AM PST: Motorcade, motorcade, motorcade. I'm glad that MSNBC has a real-time map of the motorcade's location. Look, cars!

7:50 AM PST: Bush looked a little less happy when he heard the Obama cheers. Do you think GWB and Obama are talking in the limo?
GWB: "You know, you're a surprisingly handsome man..."
Obama: "It sure looks cold out there."

7:47 AM PST: The floodgates open: here come the senators. Wait, who invited Joe Lieberman? That guy's a dick.

7:46 AM PST: As much as Fosco dislikes Lynn Cheney, he still doesn't think it fair that everyone calls Jill Biden "Dr. Jill Biden" and yet ignores Lynn Cheney's doctorate.

7:45 AM PST: Hmmm. Why does Rachel Maddow instantly recognize VP Cheney's daughter?

7:43 AM PST: Barbara Bush is a GILF.

7:41 AM PST: Ted Kennedy! He looks healthy as an ox. Much commentary on his hat. Where is Kenneth Cole to help us understand?

7:36 AM PST: An interview with a member of the crowd who slept in an office building last night. That makes me tired just hearing it.

7:29 AM PST: And America wonders: will the hero pilot attend the Inauguration? Who did he vote for? What is his favorite food? What else can he teach us about how to live our lives?

7:28 AM PST: If I were Barack, I would state my name in the oath as "Barack Hooooooooo-ssein Obama." And then turn to the camera and wink.

7:25 AM PST: Oh Doris Kearns Goodwin, I don't know how to quit you.

7:17 AM PST: David Axelrod: "Within five minutes of the end of the oath of office, we'll have repealed half of Bush's stupid executive orders." Or something like that.

7:15 AM PST: Fosco hates crowds and that one looks like his worst nightmare. Even with all that Obama love, I would probably get trampled to death.

7:05 AM PST: I am sympathetically cold.

7:02 AM PST: On MSNBC, Eugene Robinson says that this looks a lot like the Million Man March. That seems like a problematic comparison.

6:55 AM PST: Michelle brings a gift for Laura. Let's speculate: lingerie? "Change" t-shirt?

6:51 AM PST: It's time for coffee at the WH with GWB and Dick.
Obama: Good morning, Mr. President.
GWB: So long, suckers!
Dick: Myeh!

6:49 AM PST: Michelle is wearing a yellow/green Isabel Toledo. I like the choice of designer, but I question the color.

6:44 AM PST: Good morning, Obamaketeers! Welcome to history. Thank goodness MSNBC is inexplicably interviewing Kenneth Cole. Seriously. Fosco wishes he hadn't spent so much energy of late arguing for MSNBC's journalistic seriousness...