"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 30 November 2000. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Hit & Run 11.30.00


It's time to face the hard truth: No matter how devoutly we wish for it, the election standoff is not going to end in bloodshed. Ever since The Economist cracked wise with its law-vs.-guns assertion (that in other countries the army takes over in times of crisis, while in America the lawyers do), a rosier version of this theme has caught on with the less skilled funsters in the government. Leave it to party hacks to turn the original left-handed compliment to our legal system into a shot of pollyanaish patriotic flapdoodle about the resiliency of our open democracy and rule of law. Most recently, a Florida legislator mooned about how heartening it is that TV news vans, rather than armored vehicles, are set up in our streets.

Leaving aside the question of why we should be expected to show gratitude that there hasn't been a military takeover of our country, we wonder why there is such fondness for viewing governance as a series of coups d'etat and Krystallnachts that are always just about to happen if we don't find a quick way out of our crisis. Certainly it will help scare the citizenry into "coming together as a nation" after our next monarch is crowned, but we're reluctant to give up our inalienable right to ignore both putzheads and get back to more pressing issues, like working on some new Jet Grind Radio tags, and maybe writing up that history of facial hair in the US we've been contemplating for so long. As Vinegar Joe Lieberman, who earned his Chicken Little credentials back when he defined Monicagate as the gravest crisis in American history, spoke movingly about the "orchestrated demonstrations" that "intimidated" Miami ballot-fixers into quitting early for Turkey Day, the Democrats' exit strategy began to take shape — Gore as America's Giacomo Matteotti, a man of the people undone by mob rule.

Nevertheless, with a handful of Democrats, united behind diminutive former labor secretary Robert Reich, accusing Gore of increasing "cynicism" among voters, we're already looking for ways to come together (otherwise we must all come separately) for Prince W. And if Dumb Son's ingathering of Daddy's Legion of Doom is any indication, we can already guess how that will be done. Within a few months of his inauguration, the American people will come together behind the most patriotic act of all — settling the Bush family's unfinished business with Saddam Hussein. Does anybody doubt that bringing in the Iraqi leader's head will be the first, if not the only, item on the Baker-Powell-Cheney agenda? This isn't to say we expect happy warrior Al, the fearless leader of the Clinton administration's Serb-bombing faction, would have done any more to reduce the American threat to world peace. But Gulf II is too tempting for the Bush stooges to ignore for long. It allows most of the original cast members to relive their glory days, it can be undertaken at no political cost, and even W. can correctly identify who the bad guy is. Like Rocky II, this sequel will right the clouded outcome of the original. When it's over, the painful divisiveness of the election will be put behind us, and W. will have proven his fitness to rule. That is, of course, if the wily Iraqi doesn't find a way to survive once again. We're already rooting for him.

Speaking of Bush-era supervillains: Why has the Bush clan bothered to fly in all those high-priced legalistas — the biggest deluge of criminal talent to hit the Florida coast since the Mariel boat lift — to block the results of the election, when they've got their own in-house election buster living right there in Miami: former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega? The Gold Coast retiree and former Bush I family retainer must be champing at the bit, much as Clinton did during the election, to get in there and show the kids how it's done. You can imagine Manuel sneering at how gentleman Jim "the velvet hammer" Baker has been outmaneuvered in every election cadge, squeeze, sift, stuff, and lockbox switch imaginable. Even with brother Jeb the state governor, a Jebbie loyalist GOP state legislature, and Jeb's very own Republican Secretary of State certifying the damn thing, it's still going to the Supreme Court. Certainly Manuel must have some tips on the fine art of "disappearing" a few chad-counting seniors here and there and straightening out a few journalists' facts and figures with a little jeep ride out to the Everglades. For a full and free pardon (Poppy Bush gave one to Cap Weinberger, after all) Panama's answer to Richard J. Daley, Sr. could have ended the whole fiasco before anyone even had to vote. And for a Bush family that feels elections only get in the way of coronations, he sure must look like the right choice today.

"I have love to give!" sobs William. H. Macy, playing a formerly precocious child genius and now rejected lover in the film Magnolia. Unable to face the reality of his broken adult dreams in a cheesy Burbank bar he sobs to anyone who'll listen: "I ... HAVE ... LOVE ... TO ... GIVE!" And in Al Gore's seemingly hourly addresses to the nation since Election Day — where he has passionately (for him) laid out why he still has the love he's been wanting to give since his dad, Albert Gore Sr., sent his boy prince out to pull a political sword from the stone and declare himself the one true king — there's a plangent echo of that plea. Like other frustrated boy wonders Lex Luthor, Jerry Lewis, Seymour Glass, Orson Welles, and Gary Coleman, Gore holds onto that childhood ideal of himself and just can't quite grasp the reality that the world around him doesn't want the love he's got. The reality is, Gore couldn't outwit a drunk driving, verbally dyslexic, been-in-politics-five-years daddy's boy. Just as Luthor went bald and Orson did magic tricks on Merv Griffin, super wonk Al couldn't outwit super dolt Dubya. This is not surprising. No boy wonder ages gracefully: Luthor stayed bald, geriatric Jerry still plays an 8-year-old, Orson got fat, Seymour never got out of the tub, Coleman didn't age at all, and Al Gore will recount votes for the rest of his life. "I have love to give!" Macy shouts at the bartender who won't return that love, and Al Gore, sipping his Tennessee JD at the other end of that bar, will be able to tell him true, that even when 50 million people give it back, it's still not enough.

In a sign that, for all the shouting, our nation is returning to normalcy, Gore scheduled his Monday plea for patience in a comfortable five-minute slot that ended before the start of Monday Night Football. There's something heartening in the fact that even Al Gore, whose touch football photo op ensured a legacy of shame will live on long after his political career, knows when to put the welfare of NFL fans above his own narrow interests. But the real import of the gesture didn't become clear until the fourth quarter of the Packers-Panthers game, when a crazed fan charged the field and was promptly drilled by Green Bay running back Ahman Green. In a truly Gore-like refusal to accept defeat, the intruder got up for an 80-yard run before being taken down by security guards. But even in the sanctuary of the American pastime, there's no escape from the kind of nit-picking, replay-appealing and endless revision that both the Republicans and the Democrats have made general throughout the land — Carolina fans spent much of the week blaming the media and arguing about whether the twelfth man was an actual Panther fan or a Green Bay plant.

The Internet just got seven new ghettos. In a unanimous vote two weeks ago, the optimistically acronymed Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers saw fit to bestow its official blessing on a mess of new top-level domains, bringing the total number of TLDs that aren't ".com" to nine. You're excused if you don't give a rat's ass.

Through a process that was both years too long and miles too stupid, the ICANN board approved — drum roll, please — .biz, .name, .pro, .museum, .info, .aero and .coop. Yes, the thundering demand for a .museum domain has finally been met. And .aero adds a zesty Lucky Lindy flavor.

The only possible explanation for making such mediocre additions to a badly over-taxed system — while the well-regarded .web and .xxx domains were ignored — is that ICANN, often regarded as the sycophantic toady of trademark holders, had no intention of diluting the worth of the One True TLD, .com. The fact that the Domain Name System can handle literally millions of unique roots has been happily ignored by almost everybody involved. There is no technical reason why .web, .xxx, .sucks, .nom or .rectalleakage couldn't be added tomorrow, save the fact that Disney would then have to hire someone to go register disney.rectalleakage, to keep it out of the hands of pranksters.

Which, to our thinking, is reason enough to do it, all by itself.

As a wise man once said, the past is always in flux, but the future never changes. In a year when nostalgia for classical futurism has seen several landmarks already, The New Yorker's special digital issue gave us one more, issued forth from the furrowed brow of anti-masscult mandarin David Denby. In a special cameo appearance as "a reporter at large," Denby leads off an Omni-circa-1980 article on the wonders of optical fiber with promises straight out of 1880. "[W]e will...send Trollope to Kazakhstan and the grand library of sixteenth century Timbuktu to Tampa;" the breathless critic writes, "we will transfer a corporation's billing records to Bombay and send three-dimensional architectural designs to Madrid..." Transfer billing records to Bombay? Are we ready for this brave new world? Denby isn't sure either, but it's to his credit as a curator of antique conjectures that he took pains not to leave out the crown jewel of populuxe predictions: "We will routinely gaze," Denby tells us, "at the faces of our sons and daughters when we telephone them at college." That's right, the PicturePhone is on its way! So you can see your kids without having to leave home (or The Home). Having genuflected to Edward Bellamy and H.G. Wells, Denby then pulls off a menopausal masterstroke by eliding post-World War II futurism, going from blithe, cold war pangloss to portentous, postradical seer in midparagraph: "In general we will accomplish tasks so quickly that we will create enormous new wealth. That's for starters. The revolution will end by changing the nature of time itself...we shall achieve simultaneity, ending the gap between desire and fulfillment; we shall no longer wait."

Luckily for Denby, all this cool technology he keeps hearing about hasn't transformed society yet, so he can still take credit for the scoop. Sadly though, despite Denby's late-arriving prescience, the revolution isn't likely to happen anytime soon. We called up one of our experts, an optical-fiber scientist with Corning Inc., to ask about some of these predictions.

So, is optical fiber really going to change the nature of time?

I don't know. It might seem like it if you are waiting a long time for information to download.

What will life be like when there is no gap between desire and fulfillment?

I'm not sure what you mean.

David Denby, in The New Yorker, says that the gap between desire and fulfillment will disappear with the invention of all-optical networks.

Well, I guess he is speaking about network congestion or something — maybe the delays in getting large amounts of information or rich media when you need it.

Will all optical networks create wealth?

They already have! Corning stock has skyrocketed over the past couple of years. We recently had a three-for-one split ... Our stockholders are really enthusiastic.

Well, how about this: Will all-optical networks allow you to send Trollope to Kazakhstan?


Anthony Trollope, the 19th century author. Or rather his books.

Oh, yeah.

What about three-dimensional architectural designs to Madrid?

Yeah, of course. Would that be, like a blueprint?

I guess.

You don't need an all-optical network to do that... You could just fax it. Or send it DHL.

So it really doesn't sound like all-optical networks are going to change human life fundamentally.

No, you'll be able to get much more information much quicker. You probably need a fast optical connection into your home, but it means you will have much greater access than you do now.


courtesy of the Sucksters