Instapun*** Archive Listing

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February 28, 2007 - February 21, 2007

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

You're fired.

Dan Bartlett, Scott McClellan, and Nicolle Devenish

THE LIST. George W. Bush doesn't like to fire people. It's his greatest weakness. If he wants to prevail in his most important policies, however, it's time he overcame that weakness. Pictured above are the first three heads that must fall: Dan Bartlett, Strategic Communications Planning; Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary; and Nicolle Devenish, White House Communications Director.

These people assumed their current posts in the wake of the President's highly successful campaign for reelection. Since then, they have presided over one public relations debacle after another -- the needless Schiavo brouhaha, the incompetently presented Social Security reform initiative, the appalling failure to take credit for successes in Iraq or to counter the MSM's "Vietnam quagmire" fantasy, the Cindy Sheehan farce, the self-destructive Miers nomination, the Valerie Plame fiction, the cone of silence enforced while the Democrats screamed and shouted their "Bush lied" lie into every network microphone for months, and the feeble counterattack that led to the ridiculous playacting of John Murtha.

By any possible standard of competence in communications, these people are miserably and irredeemably inept. If they were merely obedient soldiers executing the instructions of the big boss, they should have resigned en masse long ere this in protest at being deprived of the opportunity to exercise their good judgment. If they actually concocted the communication plans that responded to the crises listed above, as seems more likely in the court of the Great Delegator, they should be drummed out of the profession -- hollow square, buttons ripped off, swords broken -- the works.

The one thing I can't understand is why more Republicans haven't demanded exactly this step. It may be difficult to see into the workings of Bartlett's and Devenish's jobs, but we see McClellan every day. The picture shown here is typical -- hands up in surrender. He is continually at a loss, defensive, borderline oafish, argumentative when he should be cool, placating when he should be predatory. His performance alone is enough to indict his communication superiors. He's minor league and even his surname is unpleasantly evocative of the blowhard general who was always piling up more resources for a battle he could never bring himself to fight. Get rid of him. NOW.

Dan Bartlett is, according to his official bio, "Counselor to the President.... responsible for all aspects of President Bush’s strategic communications planning and the formulation of policy and implementation of the President’s agenda. He also oversees the White House Press Office and the Offices of Communications, Media Affairs, and Speechwriting." Which means he can offer up the excuse that he's too busy and important to get involved in the disastrous day-to-day bumbling of White House communications. But it's not a good excuse. There's no value in architecting the big plans for tomorrow when today is a fire burning out of control. His bio says he's from Austin, Texas. Another old friend in over his head in the big time. Get rid of him. NOW.

Nicolle Devenish. Has anybody even heard of this babe? She's 33. She's a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. [!] She's also the White House Communications Director. Her sole responsibility is to advance the president's agenda in the press and protect him from partisan assaults. Is it possible that her schooling so accustomed her to the treasonous and hateful rhetoric of the left that it doesn't even raise her blood pressure? "Never you mind, Mr. President. When you meet them for wine and cheese in the faculty lounge, they're really pussycats. Just let them talk." Or is she too busy preening in the mirror of her corner office -- sexy power player already and only 33!! Actually, it doesn't matter what the story is with Nicolle. She's a bimbo, and she needs to be fired. With prejudice. NOW.

You can whine if you want about the sin of shooting the messenger. But in this case it's a misnomer. Delivering bad news to the President isn't their primary job. Going to war in the communications arena on his behalf is. And their performance in this respect has branded them as fools, cowards, and stooges.

Now tell me why the blogosphere isn't seething and bubbling with exactly these sentiments? Are you all asleep?

Then wake the hell up.

Monday, November 28, 2005


A Lipizzaner stallion of the Spanish Riding School

PSAYINGS.5A.9. It was a fluke, really. One brief ad on television. If it ran again, I didn't see it. But it gave the dates for two performances in Philadelphia by the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. The rest was fore-ordained -- run to the computer, sign on to Ticketmaster, buy some seats for a prince's ransom, and journey to Philadelphia for two hours with the legendary Lipizzaner stallions.

For those who haven't heard of them, the Lipizzaners are a 400-year-old lineage of equine royalty, bred and trained to perform ancient feats of precision and beauty that transcend horsemanship to become a kind of liturgy. The riders are the best you'll ever see, but you hardly see them at all because they appear to be motionless adornments of  the horses, which are a wonder of the world:

Th(eir) movements range from the exact performance of walk and canter to the piaffe, a sophisticated “trotting on the spot,” and the passage, or Spanish step... describe(d) thus: “The horse throws the diagonal pair of feet upward with the greatest of energy and pauses a moment longer than when trotting. This awakens the impression that he sways free of all earthly weight.”

The feats also include pirouettes and half pirouettes, the mincing cross-steps of the plié, the intricate weaving and shuttling of the quadrille and pas de trois--and much more. Most dramatic, of course, is the “work [airs] above the ground”--the courbette, levade, and capriole.

Stylized these various exercises certainly are. Yet, paradoxically, they are all based upon the spontaneous action of the horse in nature, a formalization of the leaps and kicks, curvetting and prancing that can be observed in any pasture. Nothing artificial or grotesque enters the curriculum of the school--none of the three-legged gallops, the backward canters, the waltz steps of the circus and the trick-riding ring. Each movement simply develops to its ultimate refinement a natural pace or position.

Natural, yes, but also disciplined, intricate, and deeply imbued with human history and civilization. The horses and riders are exclusively male because the ancestry of the movements they execute is war. The famous "airs above the ground," in which the Lipizzaners stand and even leap forward on their hind legs, were originally conceived -- in the time of the ancient Greeks -- to protect the rider from enemy swords in combat.

The "courbette"

Yet the overall impression is not martial. Many compare the group interactions of the Lipizzaners to ballet, and it is true that the performances are accompanied by Austrian waltzes and symphonic works (including Mozart's Jupiter), but the spectacle would be just as dramatic with no music other than the faint clinks of harness, the steady muffled footfalls of the horses and their occasional soft snorts. For there is, despite the beauty and grace of it all, an underlying sense of seriousness, of work being done, a ritual of practice for a moment when all the discipline will be not a show but a requirement. That moment will probably never come, but the horses are nevertheless ready. They know what they are doing. They look focused, solemn, and proud. Having seen them in person (at ring level, so close that horses frequently passed less than ten feet away), I was not surprised by the following account:

In the closing days of World War II, as the guns of the Red army were thundering at the gates of Vienna, Colonel Podhajsky [head of the Spanish Riding School] confronted a desperate situation. He had managed unobtrusively to smuggle many of his stallions out of the city to a refuge at St. Martin in Innkreis in Upper Austria. But the Nazis balked at dissolving the school altogether; the people, they argued, would take it as a sign that the jig was up.

The colonel was left, then, with ten horses and two riders to survive the approaching cataclysm as best he might. Bombs probed at the vitals of the capital with fingers of fire; buildings to right and left of the riding hall flowered suddenly into flame and collapsed in smoking rubble.  

“The horses--they behaved like veterans,” the colonel told me. “Magnificent! The air-raid signal would sound, and, without even being called, they would calmly file out of their stalls, ready to take shelter in the passageway alongside the riding hall. A bomb would come down --crash!--in the Michaelerplatz, the glass would fall around us like hail, and the Lipizzaners would crouch down, down, down, like this”--and he held his palm out flat--”until the attack was over, and then they would just get up. They shivered. But they never panicked.”

It was General George Patton who rescued the endangered Lipizzaners, in defiance of his orders, and the general's grandson Benjamin Patton was the guest of honor at the performance I saw in Philadelphia. He got a standing ovation from the crowd. It was a moment of American pride, but the larger emotion was one of human pride, pride that the worst of man, war, could give rise to this sacred joining of two species into a kind of prayer of motion and devotion to perfection. Such a joining is not easily accomplished, and no part of it is a trick. Both the horses and the riders spend upwards of 10 years learning to work seamlessly with one another. Some of the stallions who perform are 25 years old. They can execute their routines with or without a rider, and the riders must aspire selflessly to invisibility:

Here, indeed, we come near the heart of the haute école. For the objective of this demanding discipline is not so much the hackneyed goal of “making the man and his mount seem like one,” as it is that of causing the man himself virtually to disappear. So serene must be the rider in his seat, so disguised or invisible his guidance by the pressure of thigh or heel, rein or body weight, that the audience’s attention slips away from him altogether and becomes focused wholly on the fluid movements of his horse.

And thus the human role in the relationship is both exalted and humble. The uniforms and the long switches that stand in for swords also disappear, and one is left with a sense of awe for a creation that includes both man and beast manifesting the spirit in the flesh.

But words will not do to capture the Lipizzaners. The only two remaining venues are in Atlanta and Houston. If you live anywhere near these cities, go to the Spanish Riding School website and get tickets. It's almost a quarter century since they last performed in the U.S., and they probably won't return here anytime soon. Go to the website. There is also a video at the site featuring brief performance segments. It, too, is insufficient, but still worth viewing by those who won't get to see them in person.

For additional information about Lipizzaner history and the current tour, go here, here and here.

A last look:

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sacred Places

A view of the James River from Berkeley Plantation

YANKS. You are looking at the place where the first Thanksgiving celebration occurred -- and the place where "Taps" was written and played for the first time. These events occurred about 170 years apart and though both may seem like the dusty past to us, they are part of the vast American tapestry which also includes us. This is a year in which it's especially fitting for each of us to ask how well we are living up to the courage and sacrifice of our forefathers, whom we should thank in the same prayers we offer up to the Almighty. There are sacred places where great and noble things occur, joyous, sad, and meaningful. We Americans happen to live in one of those places. This Thanksgiving, turn your gaze toward the James River and listen, just for a moment. The joy and the sorrow know each other, and they hold the power to make us one.

The Berkeley Plantation house, home of two presidents.

Enjoy your holiday weekend. We'll be back Monday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

CNN Blames 5th Dimension

It happens all the time. Some parallel universe is just trying to help us out.

XOFF NEWS FLASH. In response to accusations by Matt Drudge that CNN inserted a subliminal 'X' over the face of Dick Cheney during the network's broadcast of his speech yesterday, CNN CEO Jonathan Klein held a press conference early today to deny any CNN complicity in what he termed "an intrusion from a parallel dimension or universe or something that clearly wishes us well."

CNN's Klein speaking to the press

Klein said, "It may seem like a disturbing phenomenon that some intelligence beyond our control is interceding so directly in our affairs, but I think we should all take heart from the fact that they are obviously much more intelligent and trustworthy than the policymakers in the current administration."

Asked if the incident was indicative of an anti-Bush or anti-conservative bias at CNN, Klein was adamant in his denials. "No CNN employee had anything to do with this. We believe strongly in our responsibility as journalists to report the news with total objectivity, so that every person in our audience can make up his or her own mind about just how corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest this administration really is."

Meanwhile, the Bush administration announced that it had asked the justice department to look into the circumstances of the CNN broadcast. A spokesman for the Justice Department's Media Affairs Division declined to comment on next steps.

Justice Department Media Affairs Director Rod Piper

We'll report further on this story as it develops.

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