I read The Sunday New York Times, so you don’t have to: Jan. 23
It’s snowing. Again. First music of the day, Baha Marimba Band. Just to be a contrarian to what I see on the other side of the window.
1, As the Times says, this story is somewhere between “a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine‘s “Spy vs. Spy.” A former CIA operative, Duane R. Clarridge, has spent the last two years operating a private spy network in Afghanistan and Pakistan, gathering information and gossip about militants and political figures. So now, not only does the U.S. government use contractors such as Xe (formerly known as Blackwater) to conduct dirty business abroad, private American citizens are doing it as well. The findings of Clarridge’s agents are turned over to the American government and Fox News figures such as the eternally creepy Oliver North. The 78-year-old Clarridge has had plenty of experience in these matters, his resume showing a long history on clandestine operations with the CIA, including heading the Reagan administration’s covert wars in South America. He was indicted in 1991 on charges that he lied before Congress about his role in the Iran-Contra scandal. Now, his secret operation is funded by like-minded conservative interests. In Afghanistan, Clarridge’s interest in destroying the Karzai government works at cross purposes with the Bush and Obama administration attempts to keep it afloat. “Sometimes, unfortunately, things have to be changed in a very ugly way,” Clarridge says in a documentary that appears on YouTube. “We’ll intervene whenever we decide its in our national security interests to intervene…. Get used to it, world. We’re not going to put up with nonsense.”
2, The establishment of a new African-American history museum as a part of the Smithsonian Institution leads to an interesting question: Who tells history, and what story do they tell? “The Air and Space Museum, for example,” the Times writes, “repeatedly ran into controversy over exhibits on the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Meanwhile, the newest Smithsonian museum, the National Museum of the American Indian, has been criticized as being overly reverential and lacking in historical perspective, because it presents its story primarily from an American Indian point of view.”
3, The job title “Barroom Bard” seems to be becoming a thing of the past. In the New York section, the life of Newsday columnist Ed Lowe, who died last week, is celebrated. “Ed’s office was the bars of Long Island,” says one pub owner, “and he spent long hours in the office, if you get what I mean.” According to another acquaintance, “Ed called himself a ‘professional saloonst.’ He listened to your story, jazzed it up and cleaned it up, and wrote it so it was understandable to everyone.”
4, In Week in Review, a word from Conan O’Brien: “The new Republican controlled House voted on whether to repeal the health-care bill. If that goes well, they’re going to see what they can do about this whole women voting business.”
5, Those who place union demands at the root of the troubles faced by American workers, take note: Only 11.9 percent of the U.S. work force belongs to a union. That’s the lowest percentage in 70 years.
6, Amazing how this bit of news on the attempt to construct a “virtual fence” along the 2,000-mile U.S. southern border escaped attention last week: Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano “announced that the virtual fence was history,” columnist Linda Greenhouse writes. “She said her department had concluded, after spending $1 billion on the first 53 miles, that the project failed to meet ‘current standards for viability and cost effectiveness.’ ” However, as Greenhouse points out, the 2005 Federal act that allowed the director of homeland security to “set aside ‘all legal requirements’ that he might regard as standing in the way of building the fence” remains in place. The homeland security chief of the time, Michael Chertoff, used that act to steamroll through any objections against what we’ve now seen was a very bad idea. We could have used the help of a few of these anti-government, pro-states’ rights advocates on this one. And maybe saved $1 billion.
7, Get ready for the next revival act: 73-year-old Wanda Jackson, the rockabilly queen known for hits such as “Let’s Have a Party” is releasing a new album, backed by the White Stripes’ Jack White. “She’s influential to every modern female singer, whether they know about her or not,” White says.
8, Interesting essay in the magazine by Rebecca Traister, who suggests American cowgirls such as Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane embody the American ideal of female strength. That’s what gives rise to Sarah Palin. Traister closes her essay in the hospital room of the seriously wounded Gabrielle Giffords, watched over by fellow lawmakers Nancy Pelosi, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Kirsten Gillibrand. Four women with a wide range of political views (Gillibrand and Giffords were elected as pro-gun), squeezing Giffords’ hand and witnessing her opening her eyes for the first time. It’s women as the healers. Traister writes, “the fact that it is now possible for three female congressional colleagues to cheer a fourth through a miraculous recuperative step demonstrates that it is high time we expand our vision of how women might, and do, embody America’s spirit.”