Why, I oughta ... 

Things go from bad to worse. The wicked prosper. A-holes rule. More than 60 percent of us know the score now, but we also know it’s too late. Too long we were the three monkeys covering eyes, ears and yap. While we worried that the terrorists would win the war, the holy terrors won the country. I think Wally and the other great maverick brains would agree with me on this: That the big problem here was, is, and will continue to be short attention spans. We can dither only a short time on a particular issue before the Popeye Imperative buzzers in: That’s all we can stands of this bastard, and we can’t stands any more. For instance: Just days ago, everybody was all hot about Iraq — quagmire, unwinnable, inextricable. Then Katrina hit, and we found out the hard way just what a bad thing it is for one’s country to have pisspoor leadership. We met the enemy and he was fat-assed clueless FEMA, who never thought he’d be called on to actually DO anything. He was the self-congratulatory Homeland Security grub who earned introduction to the old Cummins Prison strap if anybody ever did. So we moved Iraq over into the Ancient History column, the To Think About Later column. Then Rehnquist died in the night, and we woke to the Kafka prospect that a clown will be picking more than 20 percent of our Supreme Court in a swell foop. So we moved New Orleans and the breakdown of leadership into the Ancient History column, To Think About Later if we ever get the time. Meantime, the great gasoline gouge occurs, the sorriest, most contemptible gouge in a lifetime, profiteering on a national tragedy, and there’s only time for a quick mutter about it, an interstitial curse dopplering away, and one of those “Why, I oughta…” things that Shemp Howard used to do, before the telltale restlessness impelled us to move on. The day after gas went up 47 cents a gallon in 24 hours in my particular bailiwick, the gas-price story was already Ancient History, to think about later, perhaps when it gushers up over $4 a gallon. It might get a few hours of attention again then. It might, if another superannuated oracle doesn’t croak that day. If another coastal metropolis doesn’t disappear by joint act of God and governmental incompetence. If the Ma’am of Foggy Bottom doesn’t suddenly fess that those Salvatore Ferragamos were, ahem, for Himself and Turd Blossom, with some backroom El Casa Grande J. Edgar and Dick Morris kinkalot obviously afoot. Iraq may get into the light again for an hour when the 2,000th American is killed there by a lunatic more than happy to have taken us up on the bring it on. The Dome People might rate a Where Are They Now? featurette on the first anniversary of the big blow, but it can just about count on being bumped, as Channel Four at crisis height bumped Katrina for some pre-season ball. I’m thinking it might be some kind of group attention deficit disorder. Maybe cultural; or having to do with global villaging. Maybe a signature characteristic or side effect of modernity. Or maybe our brain electricity is amped up and more spasmodic than it was for the oldtimers who could stay focused. Anything’s possible. I’m just reading a new book that says Alzheimer’s is caused by hamburger meat. Maybe our ADDs, collective and individual, are caused by acid rain or second-hand cigarette smoke or watching too much TV. Or hamburger meat. Not long ago, the whole pack was hot after this Rove homunculus like the townspeople with their flambeaux after Boris K. Frankenstein. Another 72 hours and the toughs with the tarbucket and the rail out of town might’ve kicked down his dungeon door. But something else happened — who can even remember what? pricks have all the luck as well as all the money — and all the clamorers for justice went home and forgot there’d ever even been a clamor. T.B. Rove and them thought it was God intervening to scatter critics like he did at Babel, but here’s what it really saved them: Short attention spans. Worst thing about this malady is that they know about it, and have already used it to beat the system. The system is screwed. They’ve gone in and pulled out its historic self-correcting innards and it groaned once and died. They can do what they want now and you and I can’t even get in their way. They couldn’t get in their own way. They use our s.a.s. to cover incompetence, malfeasance, mendacity, corruption and indifference. They use it to avoid any and all accountability, knowing that before a check or balance can be brought to bear, we’ll already be off on the next Aruba or Runaway Bride, momentum squandered. Lies (e.g., Asa Hutchinson on the “extraordinary job” the feds performed last week in New Orleans) outlast the patience of those who know better, and by iteration at last become truth, and history. “Why, I oughta…” never gets past the ellipsis.

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