When I make a word do a lot of work like that, I always pay it extra…

I love words, despite the indignities I enforce upon them, so I relish a little bit of grammar geekery.

Geoffrey K. Pullum has a wonderfully nasty post up at Lingua Franca and a wonderfully wonky post up at Language Log, both discussing an article by Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri.

Petri piles on poor old Bill Keller (isn’t being married to Emma punishment enough for you jackals?), not only for being a concern troll and a horrible human being but, worse still, a blatant and premeditated user of “passive constructions” in his writing. As Petri puts it:

Concern trolls thrive on passive constructions the way vultures thrive on carcasses.

Pullum wonders whether Petri might be getting her “passive” confused with her “obscured agency”, and details his analysis in the Language Log post. There are tables and numbered lists. It’s great fun.

Pullum also links to his tutorial essay which provides a “clear and simple explanation of what a passive clause is” in English, and his forthcoming article Fear and Loathing of the English Passive (pdf):

No folk rhetorical property could yoke together this diverse array of constructions. What is going on is that people are simply tossing the term ‘passive’ around when they want to cast aspersions on pieces of writing that, for some ineffable reason, they don’t care for. They see a turn of phrase that strikes them as weak in some way, or lacks some sort of crispness or brightness that they cannot pin down, and they call it ‘passive’ without further thought. And such is the state of knowledge about grammar among the reading public that they get away with it.

If concealed passives dipped in a little bit of scorn are your thing, then that will keep you entertained for a while.

Meanwhile, in segues, music. Sunday is Australia Day, and one of Australia’s proudest traditions – besides pretending to have invented pavlova*; meat pies; footballers in tiny shorts; dispossessing indigenous peoples; and shipping coloured people back where they came from – is the Triple J Hottest 100. Voting on the best music releases for 2013 has ended, but if you feel like an Aussie weekend, tune in online at 12 noon Sunday Sydney time (Saturday evening for most of you).

You may have to crank up the thermostat and buy some Australian beer to get you in the mood. Think James Boag or Little Creatures. Please don’t buy Fosters, because it is watered-down mule piss.

Cheers, buckeroos. I’m off to bed, for there is to be much drinking today, so that we’ve got a headstart on Sunday. I’ll post a post at Balloon Juice at Hottest 100 kickoff time for anyone who wants to listen along.

ETA: * Edited for accuracy

EATA: Jesus, you’re going to turn me into Greenwald.

Petri probably was using the term “passive construction” in some rhetorical sense to mean “hiding behind the alleged views of others”, but that means she was being unclear, and exposing herself to the argument that she didn’t know what the term meant. I’m a writer who agonises over every word (and I still manage to fuck up half my posts). I try to use words in a way that avoids confusion, and Petri wasn’t doing that.

I agree, however, that that doesn’t mean she deserves to be called a nincompoop.

Weekend Music

Having the stones

In December 2013, in a 6-1 vote, the City Council of Shreveport, Louisiana passed an non-discrimination ordinance which covered LGBT people. The one vote against was a councilman by the name of Ron Webb.

Webb recently introduced a motion to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance.

Transwoman Pamela Raintree turned up to the City Council meeting where Webb’s motion was to be debated, and this happened:

In her speech against the motion Raintree said, “Leviticus 20:13 states, ‘If a man lie also with mankind as he lieth with a woman, they shall surely put him to death.’ I brought the first stone Mr. Webb, in case that your Bible talk isn’t just a smoke screen for personal prejudices.”

Webb withdrew his motion, which might just go to show that it’s not entirely impossible for a godbotherer to feel shame.

Via Towleroad.

Shut the internets – We have our winners

The delightful bspencer at Lawyers, Guns & Money:


This is what happens when you have a tiger by the tail, but you made the tiger. And you made it out of poop-flinging piranhas. How do piranhas fling poop? I don’t know. I’m not the one who Dr. Frankenmcardled the piranhatiger. Please quit asking me stupid questions.

What I’m saying is that Megan McArdle gets the commentariat she deserves, the one she created.

… and the wonderful Thers at Whiskey Fire, with a more in depth mcarglebargling:

Megan McArdle —

Yeah, I know, it’s probably pointless, but what the hey.

Megan McArdle delivers herself of a 59,000-word blog post (give or take) wherein she McSplains that while sexism exists, nobody, especially girls, should ever ever ever call anyone a sexist, no matter how sexist their behavior, because that is like shooting them with a gun, a gun that might cause hurt feelings. (Literal guns of course are harmless and everyone should have like nine of them, to go with their artisinal Moroccan fig-basters and stainless steel Syosset heritage goose denipplers.)

Just a tiny figure, rigid and restrained, blue eyes filled with pain…


The decision of the Supreme Court to grant a stay of same-sex marriages in Utah shouldn’t really come as a great surprise, whatever the actual merits of the stay application.

The attorneys from the Utah AG’s office have shown no particular signs of competence. Take, for example this passage from Judge Shelby’s decision denying the State a stay on December 23:

The court had a telephone conversation with counsel from both parties a few hours after it issued its order. The State represented to the court that same-sex couples had already begun marrying in the Salt Lake City County Clerk’s Office and requested to the court to stay its Order of its own accord. The court declined to issue a stay without a written record of the relief the State was requesting, and asked the State when it was planning to file a motion. The State was uncertain about its plans, so the court advised the State that it would immediately consider any written motion as soon as it was filed on the public docket.

Now, that all sounds fairly innocuous but, although I’m not a constitutional lawyer, I’ve been in and out of a few court rooms in my day, and those last two sentences are like a silk-wrapped brick around the ears. When a judge politely asks you exactly when you were planning on actually filing the motion you are seeking, the correct answer is never, ever, “We’re not sure”. My lawyers call that a CLM.

Rachel Maddow blamed it on incompetence,  and I don’t disagree. However, I suspect there may also have been an element of hubris, a misplaced confidence that Shelby (National Guard, Desert Storm, the United States Army Achievement Medal and the National Defense Service Medal; a BA from Utah State and a Juris Doctorate from University of Virginia; a law firm practice in commercial litigation and personal injury; a registered Republican with a wife and two kids, who was endorsed by Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee for his qualifications and his “unwavering commitment to the law” when he was appointed to the District Court, if you believe the wikipedia) wouldn’t do anything so silly as letting the gays get married. Not in Utah, surely.

The AG’s office has spent the last two weeks desperately trying to stick the ferret back in the bag where the ferret don’t want to go. Their stay application to the Supreme Court (which you can find here, along with the couples’ response here) parroted the usual guff – that the same sex marriages occurring in Utah are an “affront” to the rational interest of the State in banning same-sex marriage, because the ban somehow makes straight, married people have more babies, and that the couples seeking to be married are seeking a new right called “same-sex marriage”, rather than the established right of “marriage” which right, they note, the gays are perfectly free to use as long as they marry someone whose genitals revolt them, like in the bible.

Still, on one front they are right – this is a question that the Supreme Court needs to decide and, until they do so, the better position is probably to preserve the pre-decision status quo in Utah, no matter how touching the photos of gay Utahnanians getting hitched, or how entertaining the freakout by the godbotherers about the gays touching marriage and getting dirty fingerprints all over it.

With the stay issue out of the way, one would like to think that we might be able to get back to talking about the substance of Shelby’s decision, at least until that Duck Dynasty guy gets caught cottaging or one of Mitt Romney’s grandkids turns out to be asian. Read the rest of this entry »

Hot Japanese Dancing Girls


Happy weekend, kiddies.

Some music for you, most of it linked to by punters at Balloon Juice in my music threads. Suffern ACE came up with Hurray For The Riff Raff, with Look Out Mama:

Wasabi gasp comes through again with Elliphant – Down On Life

Katarzyna Nosowska and Marek Dyjak’s Ognia!

and Kat Edmonson – <I don’t know

Notmax with Pearl Bailey doing Big Spender

Violet with  Salsa Celtica’s Yo mvoy

To finish off, my current earworm:

and the cure for almost every earworm. It even works on Celine Dion.

Héritage – It’s French for inheritance

So, kiddies. It’s a still, slightly damp morning down here at the other end of the world, but the light is yellowed and odd through the haze. The air is redolent of burning eucalypti and, sadly, a couple of hundred houses that went the same way, with more to come it seems. Spare a thought for those poor people, and the brave boys and girls of the volunteer Rural Fire Service.

But for the smoke, which is playing silly buggers with my asthma, I could be as far from the fires as you. My neighbour is pottering in her garden. A kookaburra is eying off the goldfish pond from his perch in the jacaranda. The kids next door are playing a bit too much hip hop for my taste, but it’s not too loud so I haven’t called down the wrath of the local constabulary upon them. (Ask for Constable Reilly – he’s the one with buttocks like a ripe, if slightly bruised, peach.)

I am reading, as I am wont, a scholarly work about healthcare reform, and the politics of healthcare reform. This one was linked to by Backwoods_Sleuth over at LGF. It’s a ripper.

I like to read all political books as if I knew nothing about the author (and let me tell you, with the amount I drink, I’m often not pretending). It’s wonderful. I read a book the other day by a young woman called Ann Coulter that was the funniest thing I had read in years. Who knew Americans could write satire that dark? Or Germans? Mein Kampf. Fucking. Hilarious.

Anyway, let’s see. A National Health System for America. Edited by Stuart M. Butler and Edmund F. Haislmaier. Good solid names, I thought. I imagined them as avuncular, charming types. Maybe a bit fusty, but a good night out if you got a few drinks into them early enough.

Published by the Heritage Foundation. Who doesn’t like heritage? I have a Louis Quinze armchair I’d sell my nephew to match, and that’s heritage. Heritage made me think that Stu and Ed are possibly a little more conservative than me and you, but so’s many of my friends. I imagined that the Heritage Foundation has a nice library, with lovely armchairs, where Ed and I could get happily shickered together on some of his undoubtedly fine scotch while we bantered about inpatient deductibles. It was all quite reassuring.

Now, being your dedicated blog-servant, I have read all 127 pages of Ed and Stu’s little book, and I am pleased to say that you pretty much only need to read the introduction, in which Ed and Stu quite helpfully summarise the whole thing.

Let’s see. Are you sitting comfortably?

Health 1

Sounds familiar. Not many laughs in there though. Well, if you’re not a Republican, anyway. Then it might raise a few guffaws. A good start though – Our health system is fucked. And has been since at least 1988, apparently. More amazingly, people expected Congress to do something about it. Who would have thought?

And why, pray, is it fucked up?


Yep, that sounds about right.  Ed’s actual chapter 1 is helpfully titled, “Why America’s Healthcare System is fucked”, so you get the basic idea of it. It takes 33 pages to say, “It was politics and greed what done it”.

50 years or so of political dysfunction and corporate avarice has left us with a medical system that is second to none, a medical insurance system that operates like a dickensian cheese dream, and a lot of people who can’t afford to access either one of them. This is considered quite odd in countries where people have guaranteed access to good healthcare at a reasonable price.

Now, Stu and Ed, it must be said, seem to have a thing about Big Government which, almost inevitably, means they don’t think much of socialised medicine.


And let’s be frank – they have a point. Big Government always leads to socialism, which leads to Communism, which eventually leads to all of us living in yurts and surviving on potato peelings and all the hooch we can drink. You start out planning a stable, vibrant, free, democratic, capitalist society with universal welfare and instead you end up living in the three feet of space between the yaks and the fish drying racks, and only having parades to watch on the telly.

Moreover, it is clear that socialised medicine doesn’t work, given the many studies which demonstrate that universal healthcare always results in private doctors and insurers being driven into penury, and medical care being reduced to the level of leeches and opening holes in people’s skulls to let the bad thoughts out. Not to mention the seven month waiting list for a good leeching.

We’ll put aside such silly (nay, un-American) thoughts and move on.


“This not only gives conservatives a reputation of insensitivity…”. That’s gold, right there. It’s another of those irregular verbs, Minister – I know my own mind; you are a grumpy old git who hates poors and blacks; they have a reputation of insensitivity.

Thankfully, dear Haislmaier and dear Butler have a strategy that will keep us all healthy and, almost as importantly, our society free of the socialist taint, which they intend to outline in exhaustive detail.

Health 2

The remainder of the book looks at reform of Medicare and Medicaid, with a focus on state governments forming public-private partnerships to provide healthcare for the elderly, the poor and the chronically ill, before good ol’ Ed finishes us off with a rousing call to arms.

FinalWorks for me. A health insurance system where people (or their employers) are assisted to freely choose between a large number of competing providers to buy mandatory cover, backed up with price subsidies for some and guaranteed basic care for all.

I’m trying to remember where I read about something just like that over the last three years or so.

I am, of course exaggerating. Stu and Ed’s proposed system was different to the Affordable Care Act in many details. Despite the sweeping terms used in their introduction, the system they proposed was clearly aimed at protecting people from the costs of catastrophic injuries, based upon the primacy of the (almost) unregulated market, and enforced through tax breaks and vouchers.

Still, throw a few pre-existing condition protections, some minimum standards and a couple of bundled payments arrangements into Stu and Ed’s plan,  and you’ve got … well, Obamacare.  Even if it whiffs a bit of the gunpowder tang of socialism, it might, at worst and with a little bit of tinkering, form the basis of a future system more to their liking.

You would think, if you were as naive as I’m pretending to be, that while Ed and Stu might have concerns about the mechanics of the Affordable Care Act, they would would be broadly in favour of it.

I don’t think the ACA is perfect. I do think it’s a great stepping stone to an even better system. Something like this one. Or this. Or this. But that’s not going to happen for what, twenty years, the way we are going? In the meantime I will take what I can get.

Only dimwits, weasels or madmen would advocate digging our new system out, root and branch, returning us to the old one (which everyone one of us knows is helplessly broken), in the vain hope of then passing comprehensive health legislation through a fundamentally divided congress jammed full of dimwits, weasels and madmen.

Sadly, Ed and Stu have spent the last few years fulminating at length about how Obamacare will eat the souls of your little babies. Stu seems positively exercised that anyone might think that all this government mandate stuff might be his fault because that wasn’t what he meant, and even if it was he’s changed his mind and besides, he only came up with it in the first place to piss Hillary off.

Don’t Blame Heritage for ObamaCare Mandate

The confusion arises from the fact that 20 years ago, I held the view that as a technical matter, some form of requirement to purchase insurance was needed in a near-universal insurance market to avoid massive instability through “adverse selection” (insurers avoiding bad risks and healthy people declining coverage). At that time, President Clinton was proposing a universal health care plan, and Heritage and I devised a viable alternative.

Moreover, I agree with my legal colleagues at Heritage that today’s version of a mandate exceeds the constitutional powers granted to the federal government. Forcing those Americans not in the insurance market to purchase comprehensive insurance for themselves goes beyond even the most expansive precedents of the courts.

And there’s another thing. Changing one’s mind about the best policy to pursue — but not one’s principles — is part of being a researcher at a major think tank such as Heritage or the Brookings Institution. Serious professional analysts actually take part in a continuous bipartisan and collegial discussion about major policy questions. We read each other’s research. We look at the facts. We talk through ideas with those who agree or disagree with us. And we change our policy views over time based on new facts, new research or good counterarguments.

Thanks to this good process, I’ve altered my views on many things. The individual mandate in health care is one of them.

Meanwhile, dear old Ed really does have his knickers in a twist, telling everyone who he can make listen that Omamacare is a vile distortion of his beautiful words. Including Neil Cavuto, who I swear thought was fictional, like Damocles or William of Ockham.

No Way Out: How Conscience Gets Trapped in Obamacare’s Little Box of Horrors

Thus, however this particular issue is eventually resolved, the root problem will still very much exist. Given the enormous amount of discretion the law grants to unelected bureaucrats in numerous places, there are likely many other ways that Obamacare can conflict with religious freedom. We have yet to see, for example, how the essential benefits package rules will affect issues related to reproduction, end of life, and parental authority over medical care and testing for minor children.

Indeed, when it comes to religious freedom, the most fundamental problem with Obamacare is that it empowers an overweening federal government—often through a vast regulatory system administered by unelected bureaucrats—to micro-manage every corner of the health care system and everyone who participates in it. Furthermore, from the perspective of the legislation’s authors, this result is, in the parlance of software developers, not a bug but a feature.

When a building is so badly designed and built that no amount of renovation can fix it, the only solution is to call in the bulldozers and start over—preferably with different architects and engineers. The same is true of Obamacare.

Dimwits, weasels and madmen – it’s all the Republican party has left.

All picture quotes:

Health 17

Important issues concerning my lawn and your presence upon it


I love my iThings, but the iMessage bug is making me grumpier than a bulldog with one ball.

I use iMessage to chat with my lovely friend Sandra during the day.

At the moment our conversations seem to consist of three or four messages in a row from me (as I realise that none of the messages I sent in the last hour have been delivered, turn iMessage off, reset my network settings, turn iMessage on, and resend the messages that don’t, upon reflection, sound dumb, stoned or needy); followed about ten minutes later by seventeen from Sandra (as she realises that none of her messages have been delivered, stares at her phone in puzzlement for a good six, seven minutes, turns iMessage off, resets her fucking network settings, turns iMessage on, and then resends every single message because self-editing is not amongst Sandra’s skills); followed by one message from me responding to whatever actual content there was in Sandra’s messages; followed by about two dozen from Sandra explaining how she’s changed her mind about three quarters of the stuff she said in her first lot of messages; followed by a few minutes of normal chatting, an hour’s gap, and repeat.
It’s exhausting.

Also, young people.

Young men should stop wearing their jeans so tight it distorts their buttocks and makes them pointy and lumpy at the top and all flat at the bottom so it looks like they go down to their knees, because no girl really wants to fuck a boy who looks like he has a pointy, tumorous, shelf-bum. And they should either shave or grown a beard, none of this manky tufts in odd places and lines shaved into the side and a mustache that looks like they knitted it out of their nose hair and cat dander. I’m in Hong Kong this month, and I swear, dears, if I find myself stuck on the footpath behind one more kiddie who’s walking, wearing headphones, head down and typing on a Samsung, I’m going to push the little shit under a bus.

Also, too, Republicans. Dickheads.

[James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) – La Vielle aux loques]

I hold with those who favor fire…

Lyndon always used to call me Sarey, and I always used to call him Beej.

At least, if I am being entirely honest, I always called him Beej to his face. When it was just Bird and me, then all bets were off, particularly if Bird had been on the gimlets, and we used to refer to him as “Ol’ One Gallon”, “the Senator from Texarcana” or, once Bird was well under the sauce, “Old Fuckface”. Christ, that woman could drink. Drink and scheme. She was a good hater too. She was like the entire George W. Bush administration without the Jesus. She was one of my dearest friends.

I quite liked Beej. He always reminded me of a big, dumb hound that just wanted to be loved, and maybe have his balls scratched very now and then.

The two of them fought just like a cat and a coonhound too, even though they loved each other madly. On their honeymoon, they had four blazing rows (although Bird always said the first one didn’t count because she hadn’t pegged anything at Beej’s head). By the time they arrived home, they’d both gotten the taste for make up sex, and it had all spiraled horribly from there, until, like some fucked-up and almost-extinct North African swallows with tails so long they can’t find their own cloaca with a map, they just ended up fighting all the time and forgot about the fucking entirely.

I’d turned Beej down in ’60 when he asked me to help him with his “campaign”, on the basis that I was much more likely to get stoned and/or laid hanging around with Jack Kennedy. Jack always had the cutest groupies and the best painkillers, and the whole bit between then and Dallas is, mercifully, a bit of a blur.

In mid ’64, I ran into Beej in a dive bar outside Houston. He had been stood up by an assassin-for-hire he had arranged to meet with the aim of engaging said assassin to rub out Barry Goldwater. He bought me a beer and caught me up on the Sixties. Someone had been sending him beefcake postcards with the eyes scratched out and holes stabbed into the mesh posing pouches, signed “Hubert”. Beej had convinced himself the perpetrator was either Bobby Kennedy or Goldwater, decided to do something about it and had plumped for snuffing the Pisstream from Phoenix first, on the basis that (as he put it) “I hate that fuck anyway”.

Anyway, I convinced him that it might be better if he let me handle it. As I pointed out, if I could get Jack Kennedy through 16 primaries, three years as president, one funeral and the fucking Warren Commission without anyone finding out about his missing leg, tracking down who sent some porno to the White House was going to be a doddle.

A few days later I was back in the White House again, as LBJ’s Special Investigator. I had drinks with Bird the first afternoon. I told her that she needed to donate her little stash of Bruce of Los Angeles pics to Goodwill and move onto tormenting Beej some other way. Then we got tanked on some very nice rum I’d picked up the month before in Havana, and later that night Beej got luckier than he’d gotten since about November 8, 1960.

That calmed him down for a couple of days, but then Goldwater made some offhand remark to Kissinger at a togas and tarts party at Bohemian Grove (Barry was a toga, Henry a quite well-endowed tart) about LBJ being a corncob-pipe pussy, which got back to Beej through the usual sources.

Beej sent Barry a telegram telling him he was (so far as I recall) “a wore out, brokedown, molly mule, sat at a trough an’ stuffin itself, packed to the bunghole with corn, wind and mulepucky”.

From that point it was on like grease on a piglet.

I don’t remember exactly when the nuclear bomb got installed onto Air Force One. Bomb, singular. Certainly not more than one, as I have seen bandied about.

I’d heard rumours something odd was going on. Then again, something odd was always going on. I put out some feelers, made some calls to a few flyboys of my acquaintance. Then I was called away to Cuba for a few weeks. Castro was playing up. He’d found out that Chernenko (also one of ours, at least at that point, and a pain in the arse to keep in line) had wangled a dozen cases of French bubbly out of his handler, and now Fidel was demanding equal dibs. Don’t talk to me about inconvenience until you’ve gone through Cuban customs with a half dozen bottles of Besserat de Bellefon 1932 stuffed up your skirt.

Anyway, a week later I arrived back at Dulles, about midnight, having had no sleep for two days, to be met by a brace of White House muscle, whisked off in a car and wheeled onto Air Force One. Beej gave me a big hug and told me I smelled like a drunk hog in a bearskin rug – he was entirely correct, although in my defence that’s what Havana smelled like in 1964. He patted me on the back and said, “It’s good to see you, Sarey. We’re off to fuck up Phoenix,” burped royally and then he was gone, back (presumably) to the airborne Presidential Throne where he did most of his actual thinking.

Down the back of the plane, the usual hangers-on were already making inroads into a three gallon jug of Beej’s hooch. Jesus, that stuff. He called it Texas White Lightning, vintage about five minutes ago, and he made it in his own still which was stashed in a storeroom off the Executive Office Building bowling alley. The jugs had to be opened outside in the Rose Garden, ever since one exploded at dinner and wiped out about half of the Truman china. It made your ears tingle, and tasted like an axe to the face. You couldn’t get hooch like that at the White House again until January ’93.

Rusk and Bob McNamara were yet again taking poor old Marv Watson for next month’s booze money (and, apparently, his socks) at seven-card strip, although they were having a bit of a hard time of it because Helen Thomas was in her normal spot, displaying the true spirit of a free press – on the table, one shoe on with her knickers twirling around one ankle with each high-kick, singing something rude. Beej tended to keep the Corp off the plane, but Helen always got a jersey ever since she beat him in a chillidog eating competition at Camp David in ’62, and then burped so loud three secret service agents came running with a pair of pants in case Beej had shat himself.

George Reedy, who’d only had the Press Secretary job for a few months, seemed to be the only one who wasn’t enjoying himself. He sat there, head slumped on his hands, staring at his drink, seemingly a little concerned about his ability to sell the atomic devastation of even a minor US city like Phoenix as a good-news story at the next day’s presser. I tried to reassure him, but he was inconsolable, so (after I’d rolled a big fat one of Havana’s finest) I grabbed the half-empty jug and climbed up on the table with Helen.

Forty minutes out from Phoenix, I could feel the plane start to descend very slowly as Beej came in for a drink and a bit of a dance. Twenty minutes out, Jimmy Cross came to fetch us. He sat himself back down in the pilot’s seat, and the rest of us all crammed in around him – Beej, Bob, Deano, Helen, Marv, George and me, all drunk as lords, all stuffed into the cockpit of Air Force One to watch Phoenix burn.

We saw the lights of Phoenix coming up, getting closer as the plane got lower. “Bring us in close,” said Beej, “I want to see that the tiles on that fucker’s roof.” Closer, and it felt like I could see cars and little houses flashing below us and the bulk of Camelback looming ahead of us.

“Go,” said Beej, and Jimmy pressed the button. There was a solid, satisfying clunk from the back of the plane, and then Jimmy started to take her up. I looked at him, and I swear that fucker held my eye for five whole seconds, and he didn’t wink until a second before the flash.

Beej whooped like a quarterback at a chicken ranch, grabbed a pair of goggles and ran towards the back of the plane as the controls seemed, at least, to jerk in Jimmy’s hands and the plane rocked in the air. I went back to Beej to watch the fireball. He seemed oddly sad. “It wasn’t a very big explosion,” he said, so I explained to him that it was just a little nuke, but big enough to do the job and, after he’d make a dick joke, we stood in the window and watched the flames fall swiftly behind us.

It was a big explosion, sure enough – the kind of thing you’d see if you happened to be flying by in a dangerously low-flying plane as someone set off a round dozen of the US Army’s finest thermite charges and a shit ton of smoke flares right in the middle of a 500 foot wide scale model of Phoenix and its surroundings, just like the one the entire staff of Luke Air Force Base spent several weeks building out of painted chipboard and sand, somewhere deep in the Sonoran Desert.

For the rest of his life, Beej was convinced that Barry Goldwater had escaped by the skin of his balls from the smoking, radioactive pile that was Phoenix, Arizona, and that Barry wasn’t man enough to call Beej out about it.

Still, he must have seen something in Barry – a little bit of the Barry who later said that good Christians ought to kick Jerry Falwell in the nuts – because the last time I saw him Beej said to me, “I’m glad that fucker Goldwater survived, Sarey, even if it was just so I could kick his ass”. Then he smiled, give Bird a kiss, and we wandered off to dinner.

– For Ron Capshaw, and for Helen with love.