When Blue Becomes Black Redux

In yesterday's post we talked a little about how it feels to suffer from clinical depression. The content was written nearly a year ago as we pondered our position one day. We wrote it as an exercise in getting some of our perceptions down on paper for our therapist and as a way of helping people understand what the illness is like from an up close and personal vantage point. We were neither deeply afflicted when we wrote it or when we posted it yesterday.

Many of you commented on the post and offered plenty of much-appreciated support. We're always a little surprised by that because it comes from people who have never met us and who only know us through what they read. We think that gives their support a power that makes it especially precious.

Even though the Poobah appreciates you more than he can say, you should also know that yours is not the only support we get. Mrs. Poobah, the Poobette, the Omnipotent Dad, and even the Omnipotent Pooch all provide unending support and understanding. We also have quite a good therapist and a well-trained psychiatrist who handles the medication end of things. Without this devoted team, grappling with the devil would be so much harder than it already is.

We've suffered for many years and eventually went into therapy about 15 years ago. About five years ago we made the difficult decision to begin taking medication. Over the years our condition has waxed and waned - sometimes because of external events, other times because the internal wiring got all floopy. It ranges from the very difficult to the minor annoyance level and we try to take them all in stride.

Our recent post about being a human requiring "will" is partially a result of those personal cycles. As the pattern of our life and illness became clear, we developed the willpower theory. We thought of all the times we were in bad shape and wondered why we didn't go deeply and permanently off the deep end. After all, we knew plenty of people who had, including many related directly to us.

We've always been functional, even when our mood is as black as black can get. We go to work. We play with the dog. We do odd jobs around the house. We live our life. Sometimes we just do it with significantly less enthusiasm than a non-sufferer.

Thankfully, we've never reached that stage when we've lost ourself completely. We did this because we had the will not to. We never considered collapsing in a heap a viable option. While we sometimes don't have a lot of "hope" in the sense that many people have it, we have a belief that things will eventually improve and invariably they do. We also accept that sometimes they get bad again and invariably they do that too.

Embracing this concept has been difficult, but we've made our peace with it. We appreciate the times when we feel better and we work hard at staying there. When things aren't so bright, we try to squeeze some sort of useful experience from it. We might learn a new coping mechanism. We may use the depressive's essentially pessimistic view to identify something we can change as we get better. We've learned that there is some good to be had in the struggle and while we wish we didn't have to do it, we're also intensely aware that is part of the fabric of our life.

The thing I've learned from blogging is that there are people out there who care about us, even we they don't have to. It isn't your "job" to protect us and help us, yet you do it anyway. And that, dear and supportive readers, is the biggest lesson I've learned lately. You are, quite simply, magnificent.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, January 31, 2006

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When Blue Becomes Black

I suffer from clinical depression.

Not the, "I'm down because someone dinged my car in the parking lot and my boss is an asshole" sort of depression. I suffer from real-live, medication-taking, genetically-predisposed, chemically-imbalanced, go to the analyst twice a week depression.

On my best days I don't feel good, I just feel not so bad. Happy is a very illusive emotion for me.

The depression can come on in many ways, rapidly or slowly, creeping subtly or like the proverbial ton of bricks. When it's mild, I can grab hold of myself and shake it partially off - maybe distract myself with some mindless activity or watch a stupid comedy on TV until the impulse passes. When it's bad, it's very bad.

At its worst, it feels like my most nightmarish bogeyman grabbing me by the neck and plunging me into deep and murky water. I struggle under the surface and fight and flail, but just like a physical drowning, I finally succumb. The emotion makes my lungs heavy, so heavy I can't breathe. I feel myself begin to float. I see the light above me, but it isn't some sort of heavenly white like in the movies, it's the deepest black hole you can imagine. When my life flashes before my eyes, only the bad parts appear.

Many people who know me are probably quite surprised by what I've described. They see me as a generally happy-go-lucky sort of guy. One who cracks jokes or tells stories. I'm so adept at this mask that a great many of them have probably never suspected. But the funny thing is, it isn't a mask. It isn't something that I trot out to put a happy face on things. What they see is a synthesized version of what I imagine it's like to be happy. I haven't had enough experience with the real thing to carry it off naturally. What they see is me, having a not so bad day. A day when I'm using the jokes and stories not to cover what I'm feeling, but to imagine what it must be like to feel what they see.

While I've certainly been exposed to things and people in my life that weren't helpful, none of that caused my illness. I was born with some bad brain wiring, it's as simple as that. A bad roll of the dice.

Sometimes I get angry about it, but not in the way you might think. Sometimes I get angry at the constant struggle and how "unfair" it is. Sometimes I get angry about the strain it puts on my family. Sometimes I get angry about having to take medication and go to the therapist. But especially, I get angry with myself. I get angry that I'm not some sort of Lance Armstrong of the depressed who can say, "I'll be back, whip this nasty illness, and win the Tour de France." There are no miracles here - just another in a long string of days that I take one at a time, hoping that I can turn it into another not so bad day. There's not even a cheap yellow band to symbolize the struggle. If there were, I'm sure it would be black.

Sometimes the anger gives way to shame, especially if I've let it get the better of me. I'm ashamed that I've lashed out or that I was too weak to stop the anger when I felt it begin to rise. Sometimes I'm ashamed of the pain it causes others or that I sometimes can't be strong for them. Sometimes I'm ashamed of complaining because I know there are many people much worse off than me.

When I'm at my best, I feel proud of myself for holding it at bay, even if I couldn't do it without the meds and the therapy. I can almost fool myself into thinking it's all my doing and that I've finally got the beast in a headlock, ready to take it down. When I'm at my lowest, the anger and shame come back multiplied by the years it has gone on, fuel for the beast I can't ultimately vanquish.

Mine is a limited battle where the best I can manage is an uneasy peace. My life is like a maniacal teeter-totter, always hovering at the tipping point and making me wonder which way is up and which way is down.

I suffer from depression, and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, January 30, 2006

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From the Poobah Files: I Hate Hemingway

The following post is a letter the Poobah wrote several years ago to a college friend. We wrote it on a day that we decided to call in well to work. We're not sure that it is all that great, but we're tired today and a proper post is beyond us. Besides, we like the story about the professor. We hated that guy.

-- Omnipotent Poobah, 1/28/06

October 21, 1997

Dear G,

I awoke this morning at 4 am, besotted with the most ravaging sinus headache imaginable. I drugged myself until I could barely stand and still it kept at me like some angry wolverine. My first, and probably, best inclination was to lay down and sleep it off, but this was impossible of course. Instead I sat and noodled at the computer and lay plans to skip work and sleep it off later.

Well, now it is later. I still haven't slept and, in fact, don't have anything to show for the day except for a wrinkled backside courtesy of a long soak in a warm tub. Instead I've decided to write. It seems a shame to waste a foul mood and aching head on mere sleep anyway.

I Hate HemingwayIt sometimes fascinates me that I can't seem to write except when I'm angry or loopy. I'm always quite amazed by those people who can sit down and use their inner discipline to will themselves to do it. It takes that kind of stuff to write for a living and I clearly don't have that kind of right stuff. If I had to depend on my ability to will myself to do it I'd be a very hungry man indeed.

Come to think of it; I'm not as alone in that as it may seem. That would be the answer as to why you have to be dead to be very successful at art or writing. It takes you a lifetime to scrape together enough stuff to put into a book and it apparently requires you to be a stone asshole as you do it. A pity.

The day began as foggy as my brain. After the sun came up, I went to the back door to sweep it open and gaze upon my usually splendiferous and panoramic view. Instead I was greeted by gray. It was foggy, or cloudy, sometimes you can't tell which this far up the hill. When I'm in the right sort of melancholy mood the fog is quite nice, but this morning it was just fog and cold and damp and tres unwelcome.

I had to replace it with a cup of coffee. I tried some of that International Coffee stuff (don't ask why were drinking that stuff, we can't imagine why - ed.) to see if it had the same wonderfully energizing effect on me as it does on the models who advertise it on TV. Sadly, it didn't. It soured my stomach and made my head hurt more. Curses! Failed again by Madison Avenue imagery. The next thing you know I'll find that you really can't become orgasmic using shampoo.

Fiona (The Omnipotent Dog - ed.) lies at my feet in a puddle of sun that has finally burned through the clouds. There's a slow rise and fall to her velvety belly. Every few minutes her thick jowls puff up and a tiny "woooof" comes out. Her front paws wag to and fro, engaged in some imaginary rabbit chase. I always wonder what happens in the minds of dogs. If I find the world as weird and strange as I do, I can't help but wonder what they make of it.

Why does Fiona suddenly jump up and run like a demon though the house at a terrifyingly high speed (we finally figured out that she does this when she farts. - ed.)? Why does her tail fascinate her so? How can she find such obvious and utter joy in gnawing at a bone for hours on end? People say cats are enigmatic, but I think dogs are really the mysterious ones. Cats act the way they do because they are just high-fallutin' furry little pricks. Dogs act the way they do for some more mysterious and less obviously mystical reason. I can't help but believe that if I could figure it out I'll have cracked the nut of life.

My reading continues. I'm still on Hunter Thompson's book (Proud Highway - ed.). The word tome certainly describes the thing. It is big and heavy and full of words. I still find it amazing though. The man has written 20,000 letters and saved them all. I can't imagine saving 20,000 anythings. The letters really are a unique insight into HST (Hunter died by suicide last year - ed.) as a person - a way to cut through all the hype that has grown up around him over the years. Still, I think some people are beginning to take this way too seriously. I found a Website devoted to serious discussions of his works and the meanings therein. There is even one that features a psychological profile that ties into the things he has written. All the whys and wherefores, just like a site devoted to Hemingway or Fitzgerald.

Personally, I think such literary criticism is really bunk. It's a place for pretentious and tweedy old English professors to make it seem like their opinions count. I suppose I shouldn't be so harsh on this topic, but I've run into so many of these self-anointed old shits over the years they now make my skin crawl.

I had a professor of modern literature in college who was a self-professed "Hemingway expert". I'm not much for self-professed experts in anything, especially Hemingway, and this old coot certainly rubbed me the wrong way. His lectures were interminable. He droned on in movie-casting-perfect monotone as students dropped off to sleep across the class. He began the year by telling each of us - in his earnest tweedy professor way - that there were no rights or wrongs in his class. Opinions were what counted. You would be graded on how well you expressed them.

Late in the year, we had to write a lengthy critique of a Hemingway work that now escapes me. I set to it with no particular relish because, quite frankly, I loathe Hemingway. I think he is one of the most overrated writers of this century. He was too full of himself and his titanic struggles with life. I think I'm borne out in my opinion because the Father of Machismo was too chicken to keep going until he died naturally. Instead he cut it short with a shotgun to the mouth (oddly enough, just like Hunter Thompson - ed.) in Ketchum when his popularity began to wane.

In short, I said as much in my essay. Now, I'll admit that it was not one of the most stunning critiques ever written. I didn't much like it myself, but that wasn't supposed to be the point according to the dear professor - the opinions were. I got the paper back with a huge D scrawled across it. His only commentary was a short note to the effect that I didn't know what I was talking about and that my opinions had absolutely no merit in his "expert" eyes.

I was enraged. If the old fart wanted to give me the D for handing over a poorly written paper, so be it. But, this "your opinion has no merit" gig was a bit much, especially after his stunningly long and boring lecture about no rights or wrongs.

I chose the inopportune time of the final exam to make a case of this point. I challenged him as the other students sleepily wrote soppish essays of undying love for old Buckshot Mouth. I told him I would happily accept the D for poor writing - hell, even poor penmanship - but I was standing my ground that Hemingway was a boor and a hack. We volleyed over it for several minutes. Me expressing my "unmerited opinions", he expressing disbelief at the overturning of his scholarly life.

In the end, he elevated the grade to a B because I got him to admit that he didn't know Hemingway personally (so therefore didn't have a real clue as to what he was all about) and that he hadn't even read the short story he had assigned (despite being an "expert"). He also seemed to cower at my suggestion that I would take the argument up with the dean, a "personal friend of mine" (proving once again that connections beat expertise any old day). It was a fine performance and I look back on it fondly. Not so much for the improved grade, but because I was able to get under his skin. There's always a certain satisfaction in that - especially when the pompous are involved.

Having told this story, it makes me wonder where my aversion to authority comes from. I've certainly had my run-ins with plenty of sanctimonious windbags, but probably no more than anyone else. Perhaps one day there will be a Website devoted to my inner psychological workings and I'll be able to find out. Oops! Silly me! I'll be dead by then, won't I?

That's it from my little corner of the world.

Now it's your turn,

Tech Tags:

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, January 28, 2006

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As We See It: Democracy on the March Edition

Bush Plots "Stategery" for Dealing With Abramoff Scandal

Hamas Members Discuss the Fruits of Democracy

George, Careful What You Wish For...You Just Might Get It

Noblesse Oblige My Friends, Noblesse Oblige...NOT!

Sen. Dianne Feinstein Reacts to Canadian Warning to "Back Off"

Waiting for Their Ship to Come In

Headline: Report Shows Iraq Rebuilding Effort Crumbling

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Friday, January 27, 2006

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On Being a Human

Several weeks ago we ran a post entitled, On Being a Man. It detailed a list of things we felt helped define what being a man in today's culture is about. In one of the comments, our friend Mary from Knock Knock asked us to consider a similar, if broader, question - what defines being a human?

Over the centuries, many people much smarter than the Poobah have pondered this question. There have been thousands of essays, books, articles, and studies, all in search of an answer to the question. Many of them, we're quite sure, were well-researched and thought out, while others, we're also quite sure, were swill. Loyal readers may have noticed that well-researched and thought out treatises are not the Poobah's usual style. Better to wing it and do what we do best - pontificate.

So here's what we think:

There are essentially three things every human - or for that matter, mammal - needs: air, food, and water. Many people also throw in shelter, but we maintain that given a gentle enough climate a human could do without it.

Besides, shelter brings with it many of the things that needlessly complicate human existence. You build a hut and the first thing that happens is you want new drapes to match the dirt floor. From there it's a short leap to working 80 hours a week to pay the mortgage on the hut, finance your iPod, and pay monthly payments for an "essential" SUV that gets 5 mpg. We are, after all, human and that's what we refer to as human nature.

So what else makes us uniquely human?

Language? Nope, lots of animals can communicate.

Opposable thumbs? Sorta, but some apes have pretty handy thumbs, so we're not buying it. Besides, even we can live without a thumb. Just ask soomeone who had their's blown off in Iraq.

Greater power of thought? Well, the 5 mpg SUV shoots that one down. You don't see dolphins driving one do you?

A great many people would argue that "faith" is an essential. We have to concede that it's important, but if it were essential, how do you explain deep cynics who survive quite nicely? But faith did send us down a trail that held some promise.

What about "will"?

You can't get the first three human qualities without it. If you lacked will, you'd sit and starve or die from hunger. You could even decide to deprive yourself of air and die. If you believe that some other quality is necessary, how would you obtain it without the will to do so? Even a PB&J sandwich is worthless, though still tasty, without the will to eat it.

If you believe that faith is all important, an honest person would have to concede that without the will to believe, faith is impossible. Will is what leads some people to believe in a God while it is the same quality that leads others to believe there is no such thing. We choose to believe what we want to believe and do what we want to do solely because we possess the will to make that choice.

Will is also what allows us to survive. Even people who are adequately fed and watered have to possess a will to live. Many a person has simply willed themselves dead and it became so. Many other people made the opposite choice and in many cases beat the odds and continued to shuffle around on this mortal coil.

So here's the punchline. If we have this essential quality in all of us, why is it we make such stupid choices with it? Why do we willingly allow people to starve or be mistreated? Why do we willingly let injustice and greed drive our lives? Why do we willingly destroy the planet - which coincidentally provides the air, water, and food we all need? Why do we willingly elect all sorts of charlatans, grifters, and imbeciles to make some of our decisions for us? And more importantly, when we see the those leaders for what they are, why do we make the willful decision to do nothing about them?

So in the end, we have an answer of sorts. You have to have food, air, water, and will to be a human. But that last thing we all have - the will - only provides more questions and almost never provides a clear answer.

Funny how that works out, isn't it?

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, January 26, 2006

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You Get Trust the Old Fashioned Way...You Earn It

The President as He Waits for the Next Shoe to Drop

It's another day and there's another charm offensive from the Ba-Bush-Ka. Today's topic, wiretapping.

It seems he's a near-permanent fixture on television these days as he offers up literally dozens of defenses for things he has already done or appears to be looking to do in the future. He is constantly on, talking to his citizens as if they were school children fresh off the short bus. His explanations are often rambling, confused, or downright wrong and a surprising number require repair by a crack team of PR spinners who dutifully explain, repeatedly, that the President really didn't mean to say what he said, but something totally different.

When watching the actions of his supporters, it's hard to tell just why they put up with it. They dote on his every word and find themselves joining the spinners on the PR tilt-a-whirl. For them, no mistake is ever quite a mistake, no gaffe quite gaffey enough to be heeded. The issues, mistakes, and miscues are always labeled vicious twistings of the mainstream media. They're mudslinging smears. The transcript of the press conference lied and the (insert name of the topic du jour here) is really a win instead of a colossal fiasco.

Their advice, drink the Kool-Aid - politics is a hot and sweaty business and you need to cool off.

Giving the Prez the benefit of the doubt - and we admit that's pretty damned hard sometimes - why are the constant justifications necessary? It seems impossible to us that a single person could come up with so many unpopular or inept ideas and proposals. The law of averages would suggest that at least some of the time he would be able to pick something we could all, as a nation, get behind. Yet he has the uncanny ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and anger roughly half of the country on any given day. We can think of no other President in recent memory who was so good as pissing off people so often.

Does it not dawn on him and his loyal followers that if half - or in some cases more - of the country is questioning him, that the questioners are not going to be satisfied with a little speechifying, some mud slinging, or a rapidly spinning Ferris wheel of PR?

His mantra is "trust me". Yet he seems to have no clue as to why people don't. Here are some examples:

One moment he says the US does not engage in wiretapping its citizens. Period. A few weeks later the story is that not only do we wiretap them, but we've been doing it for a long time, the Patriot Act that was supposed to address this issue is an inadequate yet must-have tool, and the legal system set up to deal with wiretaps is OK to bypass whenever he deems it necessary - contrary to what a significant number of legal scholars, Senators and Congressmen, and more the than half the population thinks.

But warrantless wiretapping is a complex issue. Let's take something like coal mine safety. Coal mine safety is one of those things we should all be able to get behind, right?

When the two sets of miners died in West Virginia, Dub was all over it. We'll investigate! We'll get to the bottom of this and fix the problem! I am the man of action!

On Monday, two of the administration's mine safety experts testified before in a Senate hearing for one hour. When asked by the Republican Chairman, Arlen Specter, to stay a few minutes for followup questions the experts said they had "pressing business" and left the hearing. Ineptitude or imperial hubris - we report, you decide.

Dub, we know you want us to "trust" you - and we want to, really - but here's the thing, with a track record like yours NOBODY should trust you, opponents and supporters alike. To do so would be the height of irresponsibility and we know how you hold personal responsibility in such high esteem. Your feet must be held against the fire because you seem incapable of doing anything without a scorched sole.

So we'll make you a deal. When you start to make solid proposals that don't require so much spin that we feel like a cow caught in a hurricane, we'll trust you. When you develop a track record of carrying through without screwing up, we'll trust you. When we have some reason to suspect you will succeed where you so often have failed before, we'll trust you. Until then, we won't trust you any farther than we can throw the White House.


Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, January 25, 2006

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Go Ahead, Pick Up the Bat and Give Him a Smack

It seems that Bushco's Smearer-in-Chief apparently feels he's out of the indictment penalty box and ready for action. In a speech last Friday, Karl "Turd Blossom" Rove laid out his plan to whip the democrats collective ass in the upcoming mid-term elections.

The speech, which was, as always, short on details and long on "the democrats are a bunch of fraidy cat pootieheads" rhetoric, was classic Turd.

The War on Terror? They suck, we rock.

Domestic spying? It's not a minus, it's a plus.

The cloud of indictments hanging over him and several of his cronies? Um, well he wasn't talking about them so much on Friday.

Any honest observer would tell you there was nary a new idea in the whole speech. No details, just the same old "trust me because I'm a good ole boy from Crawford full of sincerity and Bible Belt goodness" schtick.

And the democratic response? Nothing. Bupkis. Nada.

Here Turd is laying out sturdy Louisville Sluggers with which to smack him, and not a single democrat picked up the bat and took a swing for the home team. There is a crisis of leadership my friends and clearly what we need is a someone who will pick up the bat, look into the distant outfield with a steely glint, and point to the fence with the determination of Babe Ruth.

We live in a very dangerous time. It is a time when the power of the executive is growing by leaps and bounds through the use of dubious signing statements, executive fiats, and just plain "the law don't apply to me because I'm the King of Crawford" pronouncements. There is only a shell of check or balance left between the executive and the legislative and judicial branches. And as we speak, King George is working to stack the Supreme Court so pesky judges won't bother him either.

What about the legislative branch you ask? Dub and his pal Blossom are banking that both republican-controlled houses of Congress will continue to vote in favor of their best personal interests and against the interests of the country. No one in Congress votes for the good of the people anymore. They vote to retain their seats and not be eviscerated by some fringe loon.

The canaries in the democracy coal mines have already stopped chirping. The Chimp's dreadnought already seized power in a sort of bloodless coup. He is waging wars against the people's expressed wishes. He is abrogating entire amendments of the Constitution by spying on citizens. He doesn't believe in a right to privacy and has groomed Supreme Court nominees to support that dubious position.

To question is treason. To probe is name calling. If you aren't with me, you're clearly against me. Talk about fear. If anyone is fearful here it's George.

While they prattle on about every single facet of daily life being inextricably bound to the War on Terror, they've convinced a not insignificant number of people that these measures are necessary and that the sky will fall without them. This is truly a scary development.

Fight the terrorists on land.

Fight them on the sea.

But, do exactly what they want when it comes to shredding the Constitution, because you know what? Terror is good for business. The CEO President is a businessman. And everyone knows, what's good for Osama is good for the country.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, January 24, 2006

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As We See It: Spy vs. Spy Edition

President Bush and Vladimir "Patootie" Putin: One Can't Drive and the Other Can't Govern

Secretary of State Condi Rice in Her "Naughty Secretary" Outfit

Iran Tries a Last Ditch Effort to Escape Nuke Program Shutdown

Saddam Hussein: The Sunny Sunni

George Forgets Which Type of Tapping He Really Likes

Halliburton Brand Water: It's to Die For

Bush Stumps for His Domestic Spying Agenda

The Lord Moves in Mysterious Ways

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, January 23, 2006

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The Window

Trips to visit Grandma were never "over the hills and through the woods" affairs for me. They were dark, scary affairs full of the kind of angst usually found only in the best horror movies.

Grandma was an inmate at the Weston State Psychiatric Hospital in Weston, WV. The hospital was built ages ago in the best tradition of medieval bedlam-all gray granite, soaring parapets, and heavy wooden doors. Even though it sat in the middle of a pleasant and green park-like acre, you always expected to see it backlit by dark skies full of thunder and lightning and foreboding clouds.

Today my memories of the place reside in a single vignette. I can't remember if it is the memory of a single visit or a composite made up of snippets from all of our visits and magnified through the lens of time. But each time I think of the place, this is what I see:

I enter a long and dark hallway. Mom is on one side of me and Dad is on the other. I can feel the damp warmth of their hands as they hold mine. We walk along the corridor as one, six legs moving in unison, our heels clicking loudly on the maroon and white checkered linoleum.

The place stinks of urine and vomit and sweat with heavy disinfectant overtones. Close by, and far away, I hear the other patients as they talk to whoever lives in their private hells. Some are speaking to unknown companions in a soft and soothing murmur. They repeat the same phrases over and over, a mantra that keeps them alive. Others laugh maniacally out loud. Their unseen companions are obviously the most hysterically funny people on Earth. Deep in the bowels of the ward I hear a scream and a woman's voice barking out long low grunts. Later I hear a single scream of, "Sarah!".

As we pass down the hallway I glance to the right and to the left. Every few feet we pass heavy steel doors with massive locking handles of stainless steel. Each door has a tiny wire-reinforced window up high and a small narrow slot lower down. An orderly wearing a rumpled white suit and black shoes is locking one of the doors with a key from a huge brass ring. There are at least a hundred keys there, one for each cell. Just like a jail.

Halfway down I look up and see a large window set in the cold, granite at the end of the corridor. It is very large and out of proportion to the confined hallway. It soars from near the floor all the way up to the high ceiling. If this were a church it would be filled with beautiful stained glass filtering light into delicate colors on the floor. Here it is nothing more than a light source, a holdover from the days when the place was new and there was no electricity.

The sun streams into the window and holds tiny particles of dust aloft in the warm, damp air. I wonder why the place is so dim with all the sunlight about. When I get closer to the window I see that most of the light is blocked out by persistent grime, the chicken wire embedded in the glass, and the rusty iron bars bolted to the outside.

Just next to the pool of light sits my Grandma. She rocks steadily in a chair, staring at the light and slowly grinding snuff against her lower lip. Every so often she lifts a small, discarded snuff can to her lips and spits a long string of brown liquid into it. The can has a blue and gold label that says "Top". It has a picture of a jaunty little yellow top playfully spinning against a blue background.

She looks up slowly from whatever she sees in the light on the floor. She seems suspended in a thick, viscous liquid, like honey. Her movements are painfully slow. She is wearing a light purple dress covered with tiny white flowers. It is exactly the kind of dress that women wear in movies about the Old West. Her face is chubby and pink and covered with a fine white down. Her hair, once long and luxuriant, is now wrapped into a huge, messy-white pile on her head. Here and there soft pink scalp shows through and I notice that there are far too many bobby pins holding it all together.

Synapses firing at the speed of a slow metronome, she looks at us. A faint glimmer of recognition begins in her cloudy eyes and spreads to the corners of her eyes. It crawls at an excruciating pace, one muscle at a time, to the corners of her mouth. She slowly bends her mouth into a broad smile, revealing her missing teeth and snuff stains.

She leans closer and kisses me on the cheek. As she pulls back, she gives me a pinch and murmurs, "Jackie." She smells of old sweat and snuff. I notice a dry tear just under her right eye. She doesn't take the time to wipe it away.

As Mom and Dad talk to her in hushed tones, I look away from the group. An old man with a huge hooked nose and very scratchy beard shuffles over and looks at me like I'm an alien. Mom and Dad are occupied with Grandma and don't take much notice of the old man or of me.

He slowly reaches down and touches the top of my head with a shriveled old claw. The hand is bent and leathery and has long, dirty fingernails. As he lovingly rubs my head a tear appears just under his right eye too.

Today I realized something about the place. It is a place where people come and sat in rocking chairs. They stare at the sun filtering in through the big window at the end of the hall. They sit and grow old and watch helplessly as their minds slowly abandoned them. When everything is gone, and they can no longer muster that faint and glacial glow of recognition, death sneaks up on them and takes them anonymously away.

I imagine that death doesn't use the front door. I think it goes out through the window and into the bright sunshine outside.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, January 21, 2006

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Transcript: Bush Press Conference

WASHINGTON (Poobah Press Services) - President George W. Bush held a rare press conference yesterday and talked with reporters about a host of issues facing the country.

W: Welcome to the White House ladies and gentlemen. It is a rare privledge for me to address the White House Press Corps. I have a great affininitism (sic) for all of you. Scott, if you'd like to get out of the way, I think I can handle these fellas.

McClellan: Uh, sir? We've talked about this. Why don't you let me field the questions? It is, after all, my job. I'm a professional. My Mom is watching...

W (Interrupting): Scott, you're not the boss of me. Get the hell out of my way! Don't make me write an executive order on your ass. I CAN! It'd be legal too! Just ask that Mexican jumping bean over at Justice. He'll tell you.

McClellan: Yessir.

KAREN (Hughes)! He's doing it again. My God Karen, stop him, stop him! (McClellan leaves the room.)

W: I'm ready for your questions. Helen, I'd start with you, but you ask hard questions and I don't like hard questions because they're too much work. Hard work. That's what I'm doing for the American people, hard work. Yes, yes, yes, very hard.

CNN: Mr. President, Helen's not here today.

W: Oh. Well you go then fella. Hey, did I ever tell you that you remind me of that Jeff Gannon fella? Helluva guy. Got a bald head. I love to rub bald heads. Asked easy questions too and looked mighty fine in them Speedos of his.

CNN: Uh, oh-kay! Mr. President, Osama Bin Laden released a tape yesterday calling for a truce to allow Muslins to rebuild Iraq. In the same tape he also warned of potential new terrorist attacks within the United States. How would you respond to that?

W: Well, Saddam...I mean Osama - I always get those guys mixed up. Osama's the one with the moustache, right?

CNN: No sir. That's Saddam. Osama has the beard. Well, they both have beards now...I can't believe I'm engaging in this conversation! I have a degree from Columbia!

W: Well, either way, those guys ought to shave once in awhile. A guy with a beard can't be trusted. That's why I made Secretary Chertoff shave his. He has a bald head too. I love those bald heads. Makes them swim real fast when there's a flood. I think he loo...

CNN: (Interrupting) Mr. President? The question?

W: Oh yeah. I think that the idea of a truce is just plain nonsense. Muslims can't clean up this mess, only America can. I mean, does Bechtel have a Muslim branch? No. Osama just wants a cut of the action because his family owns a big competitor to Bechtel and Halliburton. He just wants to screw Dick out of what's rightfully his. He...

Screw Dick. Hee, hee, hee. I just made a joke. Screw Dick. Ain't that funny?

CNN: Yes sir. The question?

W: All I have to say to him is BRING IT ON! We'll whip his sorry ass and finally Daddy'll be proud of me for what I've done. Daddy, are you watching?

WaPo: Sir, a follow up! If you can't find Osama, how do you propose that the Unites States will be able to, in your words, "kick his ass"?

W: Spying, that's how. Spying is a wonderful thing. You get to listen in to telephone calls. It uses all sorts of fancy gadgets...I don't understand them myself mind you, but Dick shows me how to work all the buttons. Sometimes I even break into the call and tell them Prince Albert's in the can.

WaPo: Uh sir? That's "Do you have Prince Albert in a can"?

W: Well hell no I don't! Do you?

WaPo: Never mind sir.

ABC: On a different tack Mr. President, you've staunchly defended your right to tap telephones and now you seem to be broadening the effort to spy on citizens by demanding search records from some of the biggest search engines...Yahoo...Google. How do you intend to use these records?

W: Well first I'd like to say that we asked for the records to keep ourselves safe from terrorists...then there is that porn thing. Pornographicallness (sic) is sick and it's plain as the dick on a steer that only Muslim fellas would do that.

They got beards you know! You can't trust fellas with beards!

Anyway, I just can't bear the thought of them sweaty, bearded Muslims looking at my dear, sweet Jenna on that Internet thingamajig. I mean she's only for the American fellas to look at and lust after. The ones that respect the country and salute the flag. Corn-fed good looks, that's how I describe her. Yessir. One pretty filly.

But I regress...that's the right word ain't it?

Porn is a threat to democracy and we've got to stop it. No more beating off in front of computer screens. That's what Attorney General Ashcroft always said.

Did you know he covered up them boobies on Lady Justice? I always kind of liked them though. They reminded me of Laura.

Next question?

Fox News: Sir, we understand there is a small, but dedicated minority who seem to be unhappy with the way things are running under your administration. It's true they are all raving, lunatic democrats who should all be put to death, but would you care to comment?

I'm sorry for asking such a bold question sir. Would you like me to withdraw it?

W: No, I can draw for myself.

I think everything is going exactly according to plan. Iraq, perfect plan...execution, not so much, but a damn good plan. Iran, I give myself an A+. Boy, I sure wish I'd have been able to do that in college. Would have made my life a whole lot easier, I tell you!

And, that Italian fella I put up for the Supreme Court? Great guy...even if he ain't bald. Them traitorous democans (sic) don't like him though. So I just say tough titties to them. If you was in charge, you could nominate whomsoever (sic) you'd like. But you ain't, so suck on it you losers!

That's just my little way of being a uniter, not a divider you know. I like to build bridges. I DO like to blow them up though. Damned exciting. Concrete and steel flying through the air. Helluva sight.

MSNBC: Sir, what about...Excuse me sir, we need to go to break. Can I finish the question after the break?

W: Sounds good to me. I got to take a leak anyway.

MSNBC: (After returning from break) Sir, what about the burgeoning lobbyist scandals?

W: What scandal? I ain't heard nothing about no scandals. Must not be much of a problem then, is it? The people trust me because I trust the people and when people trust people it leads to a sense of trust. Trust me on that.

We just got a minute for one more question. I got to take a nap or go on vacation. I forget.

Bravo: Sir, for the gay community the issue of...

W (Interrupting): Gay?! You're going to ask about that movie with all the homosexual cowboys, ain't you? Hobson really hates that one...hee, hee, hee.

Well, I just got to say that it is pure filth. Cowboys are too American for such behavior. I mean I am one, a cowboy, not a homo. I just can't bear the thought of them out there alone in the wilderness getting up to all sorts of homosexual shenanigans. Just the two of them...good looking fellas too, mind you...staring off into the beautiful American landscape with the pretty music making you all chilly inside. I liked the looks of the eyes on that one fella, Heathcliff, was it? Very nice eyes. Prettier than Laura's almost.

Uh, I got to go to the bathroom to beat...er, take a piss. Scottie, here boy...here (whistling). Wrap this up will you?

Farewell to all you media fellas...and the girls too. Maybe you should all shave your heads before we get together again. I'd like that. I'd like that a lot.

McClellan (Renetering the room): That'll be all for today ladies and gentlemen.

Karen, Goddamit where the hell have you been?! You left me here alone with that nutcase again and you know I can't control the crazy bas...(interrupted).

NYT: Scott, um, the microphones are still on.

McClellan: Oh.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Friday, January 20, 2006

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Jetsam and Flotsam

Our omnipotent attention span is still flagging., so we've found a way to use it to our advantage - a post of bits and bites that pop randomly into our omnipotent head:
  • What's up with Steven Colbert's right ear? I can hardly watch the Colbert Report because my eyes keep zeroing in on it.
  • The bags in potato chip commercials always have pristine tops that are out of propotion to a real bag.
  • Extra sharp cheddar cheese and ice cold chocolate milk really taste good.
  • How come the people in CSI Las Vegas never turn the lights on? They always use flashlights, even outside and in the dayime.
  • The cadavers on CSI are much more realistic than the ones on NCIS.
  • How come you never see cats at the beach?
  • Have you noticed that Shrub is smirking measurably less lately?
  • How many different brands of beer showed up on top of Joey and Chandler's fridge in Friends?
  • Drivers almost never appear in car commercials. It looks like everything is done by remote control.
  • Why do people find magic acts entertaining?
  • Should you not use a handicapped bathroom stall even if it is the only one available and there aren't any handicapped people around?
  • How'd they get Clutch Cargo's mouth to do that in the old cartoon?
  • Why do fools fall in love?
  • Who thought that a red dot would make a dandy new logo for Kotex?
  • Every time we drive over the golden gate bridge, we have an irresistable urge to stop the car, run at the railing, and pull up just short of jumping...just to see what happens.
  • Try this experiment. The next time you get into an elevator, stand facing the crowd.
  • If you want to me members of the oppostie sex, choose a common name and walk through a crowdy area, like a beach or a mall. Each time you pass a good candidate, say the name..."Suzie? Is that you?" Eventually, you will run into a Suzie.
  • Did primitive peoples need to trim their fingernails? Nails are sorta handy tools sometimes.
  • Bob Dole looks exactly like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.
  • What possesed the first person to dig up a potato and eat it? How'd they know it was food?
  • Every terrorist tape that shows up features at least one AK-47. Is that supposed to scare everyone more than a threat to blow up a city?
  • Did you ever notice just how square Trent Lott's head is?
  • If dogs' sense of smell is so keen, why don't they swoon when a garbage truck goes by?
  • How long will it be until they make a big screen version of F-Troop?
Just wonderin'.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, January 19, 2006

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There's Grass on Grandma's Fish

We didn't post for the past few days because our normal concentration deficit has ballooned like the national one. We had plenty of good ideas, but not nearly enough patience to do them justice. As usual, there were plenty of current events and things to raise our hackles, but when we tried to sting coherent sentences together...bupkis.

We're not sure that we're faring much better today, but we'll try.

Our dearly departed Uncle Pard was our favorite relation. Armed with a laconic wit, his slow, Idaho drawl made stories live. He looked the part of a cowboy - hence, the nickname "Pard" - and was the only human we know who could carry off wearing a bolo tie. The son of high muckety mucks in the Mormon church, he abandoned religion as soon as he left home and spent the rest of his life disavowing his LDS roots by telling anyone who asked, "You can't trust those Gawdamned Mormons."

Pard and my Aunt Doris lived most of their life in Conda, ID, a small company town that existed only to serve a phosphate mine that loomed over it. Conda had a population of about 300 and Pard was always complaining about the traffic and threatening to leave for someplace with "fewer Gawdamned people".

He loved to fish and was able to cast a fly with an uncanny precision. On his fishing trips, you could always count on a full creel and later, a full belly. This was not a man who went out fishing and stopped by the local grocery store to pick up an "emergency" a fish to take home for supper.
Pard and Doris's pace of life matched their small, no-stoplight hometown's. A simple intention to cook some freshly caught trout on the backyard grill became and all day affair.
  • 2:30 pm - Doris yells to Pard, "Pard! Better get that grill going. It'll be time for supper soon." "I'm working on it," he replies after a swig of his beloved Olympia beer.
  • 3:30 pm - Doris yells, "Pard! You got the grill going yet?" Pard replies, "Still working on it."
  • 4:00 pm - "Pard! How's the grill coming," Doris asks. "Gawdamnit," Pard mutters under his breath. "We're out of charcoal starter."
  • 4:15 pm - Pard drinks another Oly. "I reckon I better go get that Gawdamned starter."
  • 4:45 pm - Pard drinks another Oly.
  • 5:00 pm - Pard leaves for the only store in town.
  • 5:15 pm - Pard returns with a 6-pack of Oly, but without the starter. "Gawdamnit," he mutters under his breath.
  • 5:30 pm - Pard opens another Oly, squirts the starter on the fire, and lights it.
  • 5:35 pm - The fire goes out.
  • 5:45 pm - Doris yells, "Pard! Get that Gawdamned fire going." Pard replies calmly, "I'm working on it.
  • 6:00 pm - The fire is finally going and cooking can begin. Pard yells to Doris, "You got those fish cleaned. The fire's ready." "Gawdamnit," Doris replies.
  • 6:30 pm - The fish are finally cleaned and on the grill.
Pard watches the fish slowly cook. They begin to take on that delicious wood smoke aroma and are turning a golden brown on the edges.

He reaches down to flip them and when he does, one of the beautiful fish falls from the grill and lands on the freshly-mown grass.

"Gawdamned it," Pard says as he picks up the fish and gives it a critical look. After a few seconds, he grins and slowly wipes the fish on his worn jeans and removes the last pieces of grass before flipping it back on the grill. He smiles at me and says the wisest thing I ever heard him say.

"Shhh! Don't tell anybody. That one's for your Grandmother."

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, January 18, 2006

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Where Are The Grocery Carts With Sidewinder Missles?

There are things in our modern world that are sometimes a big cross to bear. Many scenarios - buying a car, navigating the bank's phone mail, or anything to do with the health care/insurance industry spring to mind - simply try our patience beyond all reasonable bounds. But few things compare to our own personal hell...grocery shopping.

Come along, if you will, as we tackle today's provisioning expedition:

The trip begins in in the parking lot. The lot - apparently designed by lobbyists for the funeral industry - is gridlocked with monstrous SUVs idling away fossil fuels at a prodigious rate. They are blocking traffic in every direction because the drivers are too lazy to grab the caribeners and rope, climb down from their heady perches, and walk an extra ten feet to the store. Better to wait for a closer space.

We grab a cart. It is one of the new plastic ones, twice the size of the old metal ones and with a quarter less internal space. It's been taken up by a baby seat big enough for an overweight cop. With our head down and fingers in our ears, we run the gauntlet of Calcutta beggars raising money for everything from bird flu relief to a new bowling alley for the blind. Pulling our pants leg away from one particularly aggressive Girl Scout cookie vendor, we triumphantly enter the Grand Palais of Victuals.

First stop. The produce section. It's that place with all the moldy and rotting fruits and vegetables. The carefully waxed and watered veggies were fresh-picked in Chile and New Zealand a scant six months ago. Why this is necessary when we live in California - where you can't swing a leek without hitting a vegetable farm - is a mystery. Finding a cucumber that resists the pressure of our thumb before turning into a putrid, green mass is impossible. We select one with only a very fine fur of mold. And don't get us going on onions. There are apparently 6,000 varieties, none of them resistant to rot or mold.

Entering one of the aisles, we run into the first of 50 aisle blockages for the day. A smart young shopper has parked her cart crosswise to the aisle while she simultaneously yammers on her cell, topples a display of canned beets, and rifles her purse for a stick of gum. Her response to a little omnipotent throat clearing (and finally, a polite "excuse me") is to stop yammering, throw daggers at us, and move the cart just far enough so that we can squeeze by if we tip it up on two wheels. We still don't understand why grocery carts don't come with stupidity-seeking Sidewinder missiles as standard equipment.

The cereal aisle is our favorite. It stretches away into infinity with walls ten feet high that display all 500 varieties (Kellogg's only though, General Mills cereals are on aisle 3). Each box shouts in a graphical orgy of bright colors and cartoon characters to be selected. And the sizes - everything from a single serving to a box the size of a La-Z-Boy. It comes with an optional financing plan and forklift for easier handing. With all the visual tumult, we find it difficult to actually focus on a single box. So, we just swipe about three feet worth of boxes into the cart and get on with things.

Selecting milk is easy by comparison. It simply requires putting on a parka and entering the freezer in search of a bottle that isn't already past it's expiration date. However, we are baffled as to why the same type and size of milk from four separate dairies have varying costs spread over a $1.50 range. Our theory is that Big Oil also controls the vitamin D market and runs prices up and down just because they can. We'd call for an investigation, but Congress wouldn't put the vicious greedheads under oath.

Then, it's on to the meat department where we find all manner of fat, gristle, and bone posing as edible protein. There's some green beef over there, but the tag still shows a week left before expiration. We search several minutes trying to find a chicken breast that came from a bird raised away from a nuclear power plant. All of the ones in the counter cost $28.73 and were apparently taken from the breasts of 75 lb. swans when the chicken supply went south. One will last a fmaily of four six weeks. We fair little better buying fish. We pick up some "fresh salmon" that is ice caked, stiff as a board, and glows red in the dark.

From meats we move to frozen foods where some frozen mastodon hump - 98% fat free! - was squirreled away after the last Ice Age. Then, we enter an entire row of walk-in freezers containing pizza. How anyone can stomach these particleboard, glue, and cheese concoctions is beyond us - much less enough buyers to warrant an entire aisle. Have these people never heard of delivery...oops, guess not, it's DiGiorno!

Finally, we stumble wearily to the checkout. We are tired and we want to go home. But alas, the suffering is not over. There are 10 manned checkout stands and two of the new self-service stations. Four of the manned ones are open, two are broken down, and the remaining four checkers just went on break.

Over at the self-serve area four checkers play canasta and wait until someone at the self-serve needs help. We estimate this to be approximately 100% of the self-serve users. We can clearly see the nice lady from aisle one, still yammering and scanning the same can of peas over and over. Behind her is the elderly woman we've already passed seven times as she moved around the store opposite the flow of traffic. She is searching a handbag the size of a sailor's duffle looking for her checkbook and yelling, "Where do I put the check? Where are all the baggers? How come there's no cash register? Where's the beef?" (Really, she did say that...we're not making it up!)

We politely ask our bagger for paper. He says, "we don't have none," and starts shoving a large can of beans into a plastic bag on top of a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. We reach over to the end of the next checkout and retrieve 25 paper bags. He replies, "I didn't think we had none," apparently unable to see the three feet to his left. We wipe up the egg yolks as he continues to use plastic every other bag.

We leave and run the beggars gauntlet again. Out in the parking lot we feel as though a heavy weight has been lifted. We quickly put our bags in the car, settle in with some good music, and start to back out.

As we begin to move, a woman pauses directly behind the car and stoops down to tie her toddler's shoes. After narrowly avoiding tragedy, we beginto move again, only to have one of the behemoth SUVs pull to within four feet of our bumper. As we search for a way to get out without starting a game of chicken with the Hummer, the driver stops talking on her cell phone, honks, and motions for us to vacate HER space pronto. We try to back into her in frustration, but the bottom of the beast clears the top of our small car and we suddenly find ourselves free.

As we pull away we see a huge Bush/Cheney 2004 sticker on her window and we are left yet again wondering why - for the love of God - cars don't come with Sidewinder missiles either.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, January 15, 2006

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Breaking Eggs in Gitmo

For most people, Guantanamo Bay conjures up images of swarthy men in turbans, behind chain link fences, bowing to Mecca, and saying their daily prayers. At its best it's a prison. At worst, a sun-drenched, palm-draped torture chamber. We visited Gitmo several times as a young Poobah in the Air Force and it always seemed an odd place, even then.

The sailors told me their chief recreation was drinking beer on the beach. One trip verified it. Hundreds of sailors, drinking in the hot sun, waving crazily to the cruise ships just offshore, and screaming to be picked up from their atoll. It was like Gilligan's Island with more beer and no Ginger or Maryanne.

In those days, Americans still held the place under lease from Cuba. We paid about $4000 a year and Castro steadfastly refused to cash the checks. The lease ran out several years ago and we're still there today, like an obstinate tenant who won't leave, even after they've been served an eviction notice. First a Cold War, now a War on Terror. Cuba always has been someone else's pawn.

We first visited as part of a week-long series of missions flying in and out of Panama. It was a nice gig if you could get it. Short flying days and long, tropical nights in a nice Panamanian hotel with a casino, good food, and plentiful beer. In return, we hauled a little of this and a little of that around to keep democracy on the march throughout the Caribbean basin.

Flying in and out of Gitmo in our lumbering C-130 was always a dicey affair. The air base is located on the middle shoreline of Gitmo's U-shaped bay. The runway runs parallel to the beach and there's a sizeable mountain towering over either end. Approaches were always steep, ass-puckering affairs where pilots brutally wrenched the airplane around the sky to avoid the mountains before throwing themselves onto the runway and screaming to a stop by standing upright on the brakes. If you overshot, there wasn't much time to correct before you got up-close and personal with the mountain on the opposite end. The old saying, "any landing you can walk away from is a good one" took on special meaning at Gitmo.

A young sailor in command of a huge forklift met us as the airplane parked. When we opened up the airplane he stared in awe at our cargo of beer, fresh fruits and vegetables, and eggs. "It's been awhile since we had anything fresh," he said. "I can do without the veggies, but I sure could go for a beer and a plate of eggs. We've been eating powdered ones for so long I can't remember what real ones taste like."

Unloading went along smoothly until we got to the last pallet - the one containing the eggs. With a fair amount of grunting - who knew eggs were so damned heavy - we got up a good head of steam and pushed the pallet out of the airplane. Just as the pallet rolled off, the young sailor repositioned the forklift just enough so that its tines didn't catch the eggs, but crashed through them.


We yelled to the sailor. He yelled to us. Thousands of egg yolks dripped off the pallet and started to sizzle on the hot concrete. A slight wind caused the suspended egg pallet to twist and it ground still more eggs into gooey mush. Give us a hundred pounds of ham and onions and we would've had the makings for a huge omelet.

Everyone stared quiet and slackjawed for a moment, unsure of what to do. The sailor broke the silence first.

"SON OF A BITCH!" he screamed. "I can't believe this! I broke the fuckin' eggs! I am gonna get my ass kicked so bad for this. We've been waitin' for weeks for these eggs and I broke 'em! Oh shit...oh shit... oh shit! Everyone in this shithole has been waiting for them and like a dumbass, I broke them!"

To calm him down, we ordered up a second forklift and helped him get the dripping mess safely off the forklift and on the ground. He threw most of the few surviving eggs on the ground in a fit of anger. A fire truck showed up and after upbraiding the sailor for his stupidity, the firefighters began to wash the whole sorry mess down a nearby drain. They all continued to cuss under their breath, so many F-Bombs it sounded like a full scale artillery battle.

"I am so fucked, you guys," he said as we closed things up to leave. "So many people are gonna kick my ass for this. What a day! I guess there's only one thing to do now," he said. "I'm going to grab a beer, go to the beach, and get drunk. Maybe I'll get a sunburn. That'll teach my stupid, sorry ass."

Which sounded like an excellent idea to us.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, January 14, 2006

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As We See It: Lying Bastards Edition

More PhotoShop news from Omnipotent Poobah Omnimedia

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Friday, January 13, 2006

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The Media Politics of Applesauce

American society used to hold a place of high esteem for "the media" - or in more genteel and less electronified times - the press. Being a reporter, while never a high-paying job, held a certain cachet. Reporters were fighters for truth. They didn't lie. They wrote things that helped change society for the good. Their papers or stations weren't profit centers, their primary mission was disseminating information. In fact, they often lost money...oh, the horror! And, when reporters got it wrong they did an appropriate amount of navel-gazing before fessing up and trying to fix the problem.

Today, reporters have a lower approval rating than politicians and gasp...lawyers. The change didn't happen overnight and it was as much the fault of a changing society as of the reporters themselves.

The change began - as many recent wrenching changes did - in the 1960s. The world was roiled by hot and cold wars, rapidly advancing technology, and a diminishing fear of government leaders. At the same time, television burst on the scene and politicians began to make such spectacularly huge mistakes they could no longer be ignored (see Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, both Bushes, et al).

The advent of instant media, coupled with an intense drive for profit and the public's demand that they be "entertained" by the news, were all nails in the same coffin. News in it's traditional sense began a long, slow, and painful death. Today the idea of "the media" is so diluted that no one can even define what it is anymore. Is Rush Limbaugh part of the media (the pompous windbag never stops telling you he doesn't think so)? Wonkette? Michelle Malkin? Homespun bloggers like you and me?

The sad fact is that "the media" is as divided as the country it serves. There are hard righties, hard lefties, and few middle of the roaders. While true reporters try to preserve balance, it is sometimes an impossible job. As likely as not, both the left and right will charge bias, each saying their "view" was left out or twisted. In many cases, what they are really saying is the story doesn't represent their view exclusively. Many news consumers only want to hear the things they agree with, just ask Dubya. That doesn't make it true, it only makes it their perception.

Much like buying apple sauce, you can get a clearer picture of the news you consume with a little effort. For example:
  • If you read or watch something obviously biased (Fox News comes to mind), remember to balance the vitriol with some vitriol from the other side. Keep your mind open to both sides and weigh their arguments on their merits rather than on how loudly they scream.
  • Always choose more than one news medium. Media is a plural word, remember that. Anyone who only watches TV news is going to have a much different appreciation for a story than someone who reads it in a newspaper. Each medium has its forte. TV news is fast, newspapers are more thorough, radio gives an entirely different point of view. But a word of advice. Always take e-news with a huge grain of salt. It is much too easy to pass off stupidity and invective as news on the Web...just look at us for living proof.
  • Remember that not everything the media does is supposed to be even-handed and fair. It seems a little shocking to us, but we're heard a zillion complaints about editorials being slanted. Editorials ARE slanted you morons! They are supposed to take a position and get people to think and participate. If you only want to hear your view, dial in Rush Limbaugh or Randi Rhodes.
  • Remember that everyone can participate in media. There are plenty of venues from e-mail to letters to the editor. Better yet, call the local paper or TV station and give them a story idea or two. You see, the thing about news is that it can't be covered if the media doesn't know it exists. Throw them a frickin' bone and clue them in if you know about something of interest.
And finally, always be skeptical about what you read, listen to, or see. Check the quality. Check the price. Because we're telling you it's just like buying applesauce, except way more important.

Good night and good luck.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, January 12, 2006

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