Gossip on Sunday: Olivia’s leaky roof and the floods in England

The Lutterworth Mail

Somehow it has fallen to me to take Nigel Dempster around by the hand and introduce him to everyone. I think he’s at a bit of a loss down here, frankly, since most of us consider gossip columnists very bad company. I try to be nice to all, however, so when Dot Schiff asked me to go with her up to C2 for a bit of a soirée to welcome Count Gottfried von Bismarck, I wrangled an invite for Dempster.

It naturally was a perfect occasion for gossip columnists. Almost the entire population of C8’s Suetonius block was there, shunning each other, but fawning over everyone else. Dempster was absolutely in his element–and so was the count, for that matter, all lederhosen and lipstick. Always nice to see the gay community in full bloom. But somebody please tell me why that Channon cow was down from C1! She couldn’t stop going on and on about the water damage being inflicted on her stupid ceiling rosettes by the floods in Britain.

I told her nobody gave a fig about damp descending from England. No one is going to say, “Oh dear! There are floods in Quagging-under-Mire.” That’s why it’s not Quagging-on-Mire, isn’t it. English floods  are useless to our cause, and they’ll continue to be so until somebody (paying attention, Al Gore?) up top gets it right and links the floods to Bush, who is so obviously the source of all natural disasters.

It’s not beyond hope, yet. The surface media are getting closer: “Britons can blame the heatwave that has scorched eastern Europe over the past month for the deluges that have just wreaked havoc across the country,” said the Observer‘s science editor. It turns out that when hot air meets cool air, it rains. Nobody knows where cool air comes from, but heatwaves are caused by what? Bush’s failure to sign the Kyoto treaty, of course. Ergo…well just get me rewrite: “Britons can blame George W. Bush for the deluges that have just wreaked havoc across the country.”

So if darling Olivia wants her first-circle rosettes intact, Americans better start paying attention to the newspapers and elect a Democrat. Only then will we have no more hurricanes in the Gulf and no more heat waves in Hungary.

This is all so clear. Why do I have to do everything?

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Posted 22.07.2007 by Pultizer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty
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The “global” “threat” of al-Qaeda in Sumer

The New York Times

It took weeks, but I finally managed to make New York send me the office map they’re using in discussing al-Qaeda. It was a screw-up. Keller told me the map should have been sent a long time ago, but he had put an intern on it. They need my expertise, but they can’t send a simple thing (other than Bush) straight to hell?

Anyway. It’s important that we get this right, since obviously we are not in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda–that is, the militant group who protested against American policies by briefly interfering with air transportation in such a way that the architecture of downtown Manhattan was modified.

No. The al-Qaeda we’re talking about when we talk about the looming American defeat in the Tigris and Euphrates river basin is “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.” It’s an important distinction because people easily understand that American interests have nothing to do with Mesopotamia.

It’s similar to what’s happening in Afghanistan, which has nothing to do with the Taliban. The Taliban of Bactria, however, are responsible for some civic disturbances. Should we care about Bactrian militants? No. Likewise, the nuclear policy of the Elamites means nothing to us and neither does the insurrectionist mood of militant Islamic students in Gandhara. All of Assyria is in turmoil, but nobody cares because nobody knows where “Assyria” is. As I told Keller, the headlines practically write themselves: Americans increasingly dubious about Bush policy in Sumer. Can’t we read the cunieform on the wall? Even the bizarre ideology of the people of Media goes right over modern American heads.

He’s a slow learner, Keller. Must be that desert school in California where he went to college. Here’s the memo he finally came up with:

People: We need to provide readers with a helpful perspective on the Bush administration’s so-called “war on terrorism” — and especially how much of it is being fought in faraway places that have nothing to do with American interests. The administration, for reasons of its own, wants Americans to think al-Qaeda has something to do with Iraq. That’s nonsense, of course. However, al-Qaeda is heavily invested in Mespotamia. In fact, I had research look up “Iraq” on our al-Qaeda maps and the place does not even exist:

Now I have been pushing for this forever. I got the idea when I saw that article in the Independent that said six out of 10 young Americans couldn’t find Iraq on a map. “Just wait until they ask them to find Mesopotamia,” I wrote to Bill.

Besides, I have seen first hand what the hatemongers do with these terms. Rightwing Christian fundies are always obsessing about “the devil in Hell,” when “Tom Hanks in Perdition” would work out much better for everyone. But fascist intelligence, including James Taranto and Rich Lowry, is already catching on, so we have to be quick and thorough, especially if we’re ever going to get out of the mess we’ve made trying to help those damned Judeans.

As I told Keller, God knows we have to stay ahead of the curve, but the devil always knows better.

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Posted 19.07.2007 by Pultizer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty
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SUVs in Iraq: An Untold Story

The New York Times

Excllent job by Jack Broder this morning to put the blame for Baghdad traffic accidents squarely where it belongs: On George W. Bush’s failed Iraqi war policy, the widening gap between rich and poor in America, and seat belts.

Filling Gaps in Iraq, Then Finding a Void at Home

America has given much to Shaheen Khan. It has taken something, too.

Three years ago, she was a nursery school teacher here, a meek woman with a melodic voice who charmed the children with tales from her native Pakistan.

Today, Mrs. Khan shares a room in a dreary nursing home on the fringes of Houston, paralyzed from midchest down and tormented by a fateful choice to try to remake her life.

Mired in debt and strained by a sometimes difficult marriage, Mrs. Khan signed up in 2004 with the military contracting giant KBR to do laundry for American forces in Iraq, a job that promised to triple the $16,000 a year she was earning at the school. She was assigned to work in the Green Zone in Baghdad, and she convinced herself that she would be safe.

Five weeks after arriving in Iraq, she was speeding down a Baghdad highway in a Chevy Tahoe when the driver swerved to avoid a box he feared was a bomb. The vehicle rolled five times, leaving Mrs. Khan unconscious, suspended from her seat belt with a crushed spinal cord. Doctors have told her she will not walk again.

Front page, too!

The foreign desk sent me Broder’s draft and, as usual, New York pandered to Washington by cutting out some of Jack’s more trenchant remarks:

Some critics say the woman should never have accepted a ride in an SUV with a carbon footprint as large as that of a Tahoe, a truck ironically named after a pretty lake. “If she’d been walking, this wouldn’t have happened,” said former vice-president Al Gore.

But even so, without Bush–and the inequities of capitalism, the swerving drivers, the suspicious litter, the hideousness of interior decorating in nursing homes run by private companies, men, the low pay given to daycare workers, the conditions of the roads in the Iraqi capital, and the false security of “green zones” that are all evidence of growing Republican insensitivities to climate change–Mrs. Khan’s melodic voice would still be heard ululating among Houston’s young.

No wonder they hate us.

There’s a lot the American people are not being told. Good work, Broder! Keep peeling back those layers, etc.


This all reminds of of a story Lillian Hellman was telling Bernie Shaw the other night at Steve Rubell’s re-briss. “I always used to swerve when I saw a bag in the street,” she said, “because I convinced myself that you never knew whether or not there was a baby in it.”

“Which way did you swerve?” asked Shaw.

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Posted 17.07.2007 by Pultizer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty
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Posting and Reporting on Dogs and Blogs

The New York Times

This morning, I run into Adolph Ochs and Carr Van Anda and a bunch of the old gang at the opening of High & Mighty, Bishop Pike’s new colonic clinic. They’re all in a great mood–until I show them this story, called “The Hand That Controls the Sock Puppet Could Get Slapped,” in this morning’s Times:

On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog — or the chief executive of a Fortune 500 company.

John Mackey, chief executive of Whole Foods Market, used a fake online identity.Or so thought John Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods Market, who used a fictional identity on the Yahoo message boards for nearly eight years to assail competition and promote his supermarket chain’s stock, according to documents released last week by the Federal Trade Commission.

Mr. Mackey used the online handle “Rahodeb” (an anagram of his wife’s name, Deborah). In one Internet posting sure to enter the annals of chief-executive vanity, Mr. Mackey wrote as Rahodeb, “I like Mackey’s haircut. I think he looks cute!”

Then I show him this one from last week’s Wall Street Journal (I mentioned it myself a few days ago).

For about eight years until last August, the company confirms, Mr. Mackey posted numerous messages on Yahoo Finance stock forums as Rahodeb. It’s an anagram of Deborah, Mr. Mackey’s wife’s name. Rahodeb cheered Whole Foods’ financial results, trumpeted his gains on the stock and bashed Wild Oats. Rahodeb even defended Mr. Mackey’s haircut when another user poked fun at a photo in the annual report. “I like Mackey’s haircut,” Rahodeb said. “I think he looks cute!”

Ochs slowly turns a bright reddish-blue. I could only feel sorry for him. Then they yank the hose.

“So?” he says.

“So? First. Sock puppets? Second. This was a page-one story for them. I just think it looks pretty bad for us to be so far behind the Journal, and then we run the same story in almost the same words. People might get the idea we’re…”

Ochs isn’t listening. “First of all, we’re only four days late. Second of all, it’s a long way from Wall Street to 43rd Street…”

Van Anda’s nodding away, ticking off Ochs’ points on his fingers.

“Third, we got the dog and they didn’t.” They walk away.

Then, just as I’m about tanked-up, Van Anda’s back, wearing his smug face. “One more thing, Walt. We also got the sock puppet.”

I aspirate my colonic all over Ed Snow. Poor Ed. I cover Ochs and Van Anda in glory and what? They treat me like crap–and I cover Ed with it.

I get home and Jack Reed’s there with today’s Wall Street Journal editorial:

Reading about the covert blogging of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, we were reminded of a New Yorker cartoon from some years ago featuring two mutts and a computer. “On the Internet,” one says to the other, “nobody knows you’re a dog.”

I wish they’d have sent Bartley down here. I’d love to rub this in his santimonious face. Old cartoon jokes? Blogging? “Christ, Jack! That wasn’t ‘covert blogging!'”

“No kidding,” says Jack. “This is covert blogging. Those capitalist tools don’t know the difference between a blog and a Yahoo group? Who writes their editorials?”

I tell Jack about Ochs. “Hell, Walt. Then the Journal even got the dog, too.”

So for my side, all we’re left with is the sock puppets. This profession’s going to be the death of me, again.

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Posted 16.07.2007 by Pultizer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty
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Front page news: Some people are really rich!

The New York Times

Back in my day up top, the Times was considered the best paper in the world to work for because the people who read it were the richest and most powerful people on earth. They all read the paper because they wanted to read about themselves.

So perhaps today’s front page is just a nostalgic exercise–or maybe it’s a reminder of the huge and growing gap in America between the wealthy and the filthy rich. Either way, tycoons are back! The news covers the front page the way Siberia covers Asia.

Why? Because Times readers need to know just what pigs they truly are:

Only twice before over the last century has 5 percent of the national income gone to families in the upper one-one-hundredth of a percent of the income distribution — currently, the almost 15,000 families with incomes of $9.5 million or more a year, according to an analysis of tax returns by the economists Emmanuel Saez at the University of California, Berkeley and Thomas Piketty at the Paris School of Economics.Such concentration at the very top occurred in 1915 and 1916, as the Gilded Age was ending, and again briefly in the late 1920s, before the stock market crash.

Now it is back, and [retired Citigroup chairman Sanford] Weill is prominent among the new titans. His net worth exceeds $1 billion, not counting the $500 million he says he has already given away, in the open-handed style of Andrew Carnegie and the other great philanthropists of the earlier age.

Good bye, Gilded Age! Hello, guilt! They are shameful, those Times readers. I knew Lenin and I knew Stalin, and we all agreed that to make the world more fair, only Lenin and Stalin should be truly rich.

It is an odd logic, I know, but  if you run the government (or the Times, and really who doesn’t wish they were both the same thing), it makes a lot more sense.

I remember that time, back in the ‘teens, when the Times was very concerned about the rich–“The 400,” they called themselves, because 400 was the maximum number of people Mrs Astor could fit in her ballroom. In fact, the Times was so concerned with the 400 that the paper routinely allowed publicists retained by the best families to write their own social coverage. 

As Arthur Kober was telling me, before he agreed to talk to the Times about how he “justifies” making money, Sandy Weill should have called Bobby Zarem.

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Posted 15.07.2007 by Pultizer Prize-winning New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty
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