What’s It Like to Be a Dick?

Sometimes, I wonder what it’s like to be Dick Cheney. Is he really that sullen and sour in his personal life? Does he see plots around the corner from his living room as readily as he sees them in the Washington press corps? I’ve known more than my fair share of difficult and persnickety people, but Dick is at the extreme edge of the envelope.

The Cheney family (they pronounce it Chee-Nee) makes a little more sense.

Wife Lynn can be snippy while she unstintingly supports the Big Guy, but she at least smiles occasionally and intimates there may be an actual human being lurking under the skin. Daughter Mary is the lesbian who’s seemingly more sensible than Mom or Dad – perhaps that “gay gene” had a common sense enzyme attached to it. Daughter Elizabeth may be the smartest of the bunch. She’s normally remains in the background, just an entry in Dick’s Wikipedia entry, thereby avoiding the ill-will of the nation and two-thirds of the world.

The Two Dicks

For me, there are two Dicks. One is the affable, seemingly competent SecDef during Gulf War I. He smiled. He gave interviews. He answered questions rather than telling the questioners their questions were “inappropriate”. Then there’s the Dick we suffer today. A curmudgeonly semi-hermit, with all the warmth of Batman’s Penguin, who crawls out from under his rock to pronounce most of the US population traitors and unpatriotic vermin. Dick’s Gulf War smirk has turned into a venial, incessantly pissed-off mug convinced everyone in the world is wrong except him.

There were harbingers of Dick’s conversion from his Gulf War self from the beginning of the administration. Tasked with choosing a viable Veep for George W. Pootiehead, he chose – SURPRISE! – himself. Even by Washington standards, that was an impressive display of hubris. I believe he always coveted the top job, but was savvy enough to know he couldn’t win, even with Robertson, Falwell, and Dobson rowing his boat. He needed the coattails of someone so completely devoid of common sense, they’d outsource the whole job to him.

By the time Dick and George took the stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue, Dickie had stacked the cabinet and pulled off a silent coup. People accused Junior of being Dick’s ventriloquist dummy, but Dick wasn’t just pulling the strings, he chose the dummy’s outfits, dressed him, emptied the sawdust turds from his shorts, and guided George’s hand across whatever paperwork he couldn’t sign himself. Dick divided his time between his secret, undisclosed location and showing up at the White House and the occasional Sunday morning talk show to let people know just who was in charge.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

One Smart Dick

There were a few dampers at the Cheney Theatre of the Absurd, but mostly he ran amok, undeterred by the guy actually in charge or any of the politicos charged with keeping him on a short leash. Dick was, and is, a force of malevolent nature. Team him up with Rove and they make Katrina look like a breezy day in the spring. They don’t believe in a scorched earth policy, but scorching the dirt, digging it up, and firing it into space on the tip of a nuclear warhead.

There’s probably little left to fear from George as his administration runs down. He’s slow and the scandals are deep. He’s already stated his intention to be pigheaded until the last day so we’ll get what we expect from him until the next election because quite frankly, there’s little left for him to hose. It’ll be wall-to-wall scandal and world class ineptness all the way.

But Dick is smart. He may be crazy, but he’s mean and single-minded. It’s a deadly combination. From all outward appearances, he’s a man obsessed and not shy about using his considerable power to make the point that he is right and everyone else is wrong. I don’t know what the corrosive substance was that turned him so rabid, but it’s still there and hasn’t run it’s course. I wonder about what the inside of his head looks like and what it all means for the rest of us. I can’t even picture Dick with a kid on his knee, so I’m completely in the dark about what he might be like with all restraints lifted.

Dick may go quietly or he may decide to take the rest of us down with him. Nothing is out of the question where Dick is concerned. He has the disposition and cunning of a wolf. Even if I can’t see what’s inside that angry head, I can see he’s still as dangerous as a rabid dog – and just as unpredictable. I just wish I could see what it’s like to be Dick Cheney, but one thing’s for sure…

I won’t like the view.

A Computer Named Earline

On the rare occasion when my computer turns hours of work into eMulch, my free association isn’t “oh shit”, but “I never used to have this problem with a pencil and a piece of paper”. I’m no Luddite – although I often sympathize with them – but I’m no leading edge technology adapter either. My technology lag has nothing to do with my adaptability to technology, I just don’t really see the need for much of it. I’ve learned to use dozens of applications, worked as a technical writer for hi-tech devices, and can troubleshoot the Omnipotent Dad’s frequent computer issues over the phone with 98% success.

Perhaps there’s an opening for me in Bangalore.

A Computer Named Earline

My first experience with computers predated the PC revolution by more than a decade. It was a typesetting machine – quaintly named Earline – that stood five feet tall and three feet wide. It read paper tape punched by a separate keyboard, offered no editing capabilities, and produced text on photographic paper that had to be developed, dried, and cut into the desired segments before pasting it to a paper galley with hot beeswax. Earline had less computing power than your average digital watch and a brain comprised of 37 printed circuit boards. I attended an intense month-long school on how to operate, troubleshoot and repair the temperamental bitch.

Today, that sounds like an arcane way to do something a modern word processor can do better in substantially less time. However, it was a quantum leap over the behemoth Linotype that represented a mechanical update to hand set type little unchanged since Gutenberg. Clunky as it was by today’s standards, it, at least, served a useful purpose.

Today’s technology often isn’t.

iPod? No Thanks

I only reluctantly bought a cell phone years after they became fashionable and still only use it when absolutely necessary. My first VCR came years after everyone else had them, my DVD is only two years old, and I have no iPod. There is no TiVo in our house and we also do quite well without an entertainment center or HD television. I still own a turntable and hundreds of albums on old-fashioned plastic rather than on fast-disappearing disks.

Early hi-tech pioneers envisioned a world where computing would benevolently advance civilization beyond comprehension. Of course, such pipe dreams have come and gone before. I’m old enough to remember how chemicals and noo-ku-lar power were to transform the world into an ultra-clean utopia with robot maids and Jetson cars. Instead, computer technology primarily exists to create believable online porn and more efficient ways to blow one another up.

Somewhere along the line, technologists stopped writing software to take mankind to the moon and started creating applications that cause clear-cutting the rain forest to make paper for paperless offices. Today, we can easily access more information that our grandparents could glean in a lifetime. Unfortunately, our ability to use all the data is another problem entirely.

Perhaps the Luddites Were Right

There’s no doubt computers have changed our world. Sometimes our self-imposed slavery to them creates good things, other times…not so much. We see computers do amazing things and seem alarmingly willing to forget they’re stupid boxes that can’t think. We transfer more and more of our world to their control, creating an environment where no one is really expert at anything. The useless data piles up and the development goes on so rapidly it has outstripped mortals’ ability to cope with it. Soon, the dumb boxes will think and our evolution truly will be intelligently designed by a human God creating machines in his image. They’ll eventually will self-perpetuate without regard to biological life. Perhaps the Luddites were right.

We never used to have these problems with a pencil and piece of paper.

Four Inch Squares of Underwear

Thirty years ago today, I reported to the Armed Forces Processing Center in Richmond, VA. I spent the day with several hundred others being poked, prodded, analyzed, weighed, and measured. It was done en masse, impersonally, and followed an assembly line model of efficiency. I raised my right hand and swore to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic. By virtue of being an old man of 21, I was given “command” of twelve 17 and 18-year olds. I was to make sure these young men – none of whom had ever traveled more than 100 miles from home – made it to Lackland AFB, TX.

It was like herding cats.

Get the Hell Off This M*ther Fu*kin’ Bus Pronto!

We arrived at Lackland that night and were herded off our bus – none too gently – by a squad of fire-breathing drill sergeants. We spent the night standing for hours in formation or lying down in our beds only to be rudely roused every few minutes by a series of fire drills that continued until all 50 of us vacated our barracks in less than 30 seconds. Finally, our first 24-hour day ended and we slept…for four hours.

The next day we began the mystical transformation from civilians to airmen. Each of us surrendered all personal items – clothing, jewelry, books – and went to a room for identical buzz cuts. When we finished our 30-second stylings, we walked across great mounds of shorn hair and joined an assembly line.

The place smelled heavily of mothballs.

Stop One: Strip bare. Stop Two: Don an ill-fitting, unmarked uniform. Stop Three: Put on ill-fitting boots. Stop four: Link arms in pairs and walk together through a gauntlet of medics pounding shots into arms with air-powered inoculators. Flinched at the vital moment, and you received not a tiny pinhole, but a small slash. Regardless of the type of hole, they all bled. If your partner passed out, you carried him through the rest of the line.

Trabants Off the Assembly Line

We rolled off the assembly line like identical Trabants from an East German auto factory. Identical hair cuts. Identical uniforms sans name or insignia. Identical hats, folded identically whenever removed. After a 15 minute trip down the assembly line we became, not a gaggle of undisciplined and individual civilians, but a homogeneous organism composed of 50 identical and interchangeable airmen.

For the next six weeks, we acted as one. If one misperformed, we all suffered the consequences. If one couldn’t hack the pre-dawn, pre-breakfast 1.5 mile run, those on either side linked arms and carried him – something I did every morning for those six weeks. If one flunked a test, everyone retook it until we all passed. Only when our entire flight suitably impressed the sergeants did we all receive the first coveted perk of individualism – our last name sewn onto a blue and white name tag.

I learned many things over the six weeks. Did you know Right Guard spray deodorant removes shoe scuffs from linoleum without ruining the shine? Or, that a bad sunburn is a violation of Article 108 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (destruction of government property). Prell shampoo leaves no soap scum and I can still fold my underwear in perfect 4 inch wide rectangles, make a bed that can bounce a quarter, and produce a damn good “spit shine”.

Hint: It doesn’t involve spit, but it does involve flaming shoe polish and nylon hosiery.

Building the Better Airman

Many civilians see these dehumanizing actions as insulting and inane. They see the revocation of all individualism as a bad thing, rather than necessary preparation for the day you might be asked to sacrifice yourself. They quite often miss the point that an undisciplined, individually-focused group would run rather than stand their ground in the service of something greater than themselves without being stripped bare and rebuilt in the military’s image.

I was a Cold Warrior. I never went to awful places where people plotted to end my life before I ended theirs, though I got uncomfortably close several times. I never entered combat, but was close enough to those who did and privy to enough hyper-realistic practice warfare that I know something of their sacrifice. I was simply lucky – lucky in more ways than the obvious.

My experience made me the person I am today. I still fold my underwear in 4 inch rectangles and make my bed with hospital corners. I even walk differently – with a measured 18 inch step and perfect click of my heels. But, I also know the value of something larger than myself and see the great strength of individualism supported by homogeneity. Those six weeks taught me more about handling adversity than the many years I spent surviving a chaotic home life. They taught me that sometimes subordinating oneself to a larger goal is a powerful virtue, but also taught me that molding an unfair and chaotic world to my own needs is more powerful still. Those six weeks really did make me who I am today.

And, I wouldn’t change a moment of it if I could.