Monday, July 23, 2007

The Mysteries of Novelty and Irony

Here in the Pacific Northwest, cool humid weather is common. But every now and then, a weather front dubbed “The Pineapple Express” pushes up from the south and a deluge of rain, rather than clearing and cooling the air saturates it. Around here, warm humidity is a novelty. So yesterday, when I was out on the Kitsap Peninsula, picnicking with friends on a little beach just east of the Hood Canal, I kept thinking that any time now I would have to put on the long-sleeved shirt I’d brought thinking I’d need it on the ferry. (Which I didn’t.)

Since last week’s news featured a high incidence of acts of despotism by the Bush Administration, as we munched goat cheese and blueberries and raspberries and drank a delicious dark beer, we couldn’t help but review a few of them. As my special contribution to the conversation, I offered the Oregonian’s revelation on Saturday that a member of Congress from Oregon, Peter DeFazio, who sits on the House’s Homeland Security Committee, had been denied access by the White House to view “the classified portion of a White House plan for operating the government after a terrorist attack.” The paper quotes DeFazio as saying “I just can’t believe they’re going to deny a member of Congress the right of reviewing how they plan to conduct the government of the United States after a significant terrorist attack.” According to the article, Conservative legal scholar Norman Ornstein said he “cannot think of one good reason” to deny access to a member of Congress who serves on the Homeland Security Committee. “I find it inexplicable and probably reflective of the usual, knee-jerk overextension of executive power that we see from this White House.” The article closes with this sentence: “Maybe the people who think there’s a conspiracy out there are right,” DeFazio said.

As I noted to my friends, I couldn’t decide whether that last line was meant as a joke. It’s the times we live in: without a baseline for judging what is appropriate, irony becomes supremely tricky. My friends, though, convinced me that the most likely reason the White House denied De Fazio access is because there’s no real plan for him to review. Remember Heckuva job, Brownie? they said.

Upon further discussion, we came up with our own plan: send the POTUS up to the Space Station. He’d be safe there. He could take his Attorney General with him, and maybe the Supremes as well. They’d all be safe, happily ruling from a celestial altitude, with never another thought about subpoenas and congressional hearings much less hurricanes and public opinion polls to disturb their peace of mind again.

While we were talking, I cast several admiring glances at the lovely wildflowers growing in the rocks near the water line. I couldn't identify them or even remember ever having seen them before. As we were packing up to leave, I wandered over to read a placard displayed on an informational kiosk only a few yards from our picnic table. It displayed ten plants, most of them flowering, that it identified as noxious weeds threatening Puget Sound habitats . The plant with pretty yellow flowers growing only a few feet away from the kiosk was one of them.

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