Book Review: The Weed Agency

Jim Geraghty, Contributing Editor and author of The Morning Jolt at National Review (@jimgeraghty on Twitter) and co-host of The Jim and Mickey Show podcast, has written a thoroughly enjoyable piece of fiction grounded in the depressing reality of the way the federal government works. And by “works” I don’t mean “works for you”, I mean rather “works for its own¬†perpetuation”. The book is The Weed Agency: A Comic Tale of Federal Bureaucracy without Limits (Full disclosure: Jim occasionally retweets me).


The book takes the reader inside the fictional Agency of Invasive Species (AIS), a Carter-era addition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, focusing on the decades-long battle its career bureaucrats face in maintaining the agency’s relevance (and funding) in what appears to be a changing Washington. It follows both career bureaucrats at the top of the agency and (later on) starry-eyed newcomers looking at a position at the agency as a stepping stone to more grandiose careers in other Federal agencies. It also features a career antagonist of the agency (in this book, the terms ‘antagonist’ and ‘protagonist’ can only be used in a relative sense) whose efforts are aimed at exposing the agency’s uselessness and bringing it to an end.

As one who is familiar with the ways that small branches of larger federal agencies work, the book is a frighteningly spot-on description of their machinations: they look for opportunities to grow; in the absence of growth, they run silent so as to avoid making enemies; they tie themselves to benefactors in the House or Senate, preferably with seniority and majority status; and they innovate only if required.

For regular readers of Geraghty and of conservative Twitter, there are multiple easter eggs hidden throughout the book. (I won’t give them away here, go buy a copy!) There are also numerous appearances by people you’re familiar with from C-SPAN, or cable or network news, their dialogue written so much to the way you would expect to hear as to be frightening. A certain HHS Secretary’s ability to string words and sentences together without pause for breath made me laugh out loud in-flight. A House Speaker’s ability to get caught up in discussions of technology and philosophy, to his own detriment, just makes you shake your head. These elements of dialogue benefit from Geraghty’s interactions with the subjects in his capacities at NR.

Most importantly, as Geraghty notes through regular references, many of the words and actions of politicians and career agency staffers are driven by actual references and occasional quotes from other…well, they’re not scandals, in the traditional sense…but they’re examples of the hand-in-glove relationships between appropriators and agencies that exist in real life. The story in The Weed Agency is fictional, but the barest sheen exists between the fiction and fact so as to both make the tale completely believable and exceptionally depressing at the same time.

As mentioned earlier, the story captures an apparently changing Washington: it begins in the heady, early days of the Reagan administration, where the thought of slashing whole agencies seems an achievable reality. The story progresses through the decades, encountering the Clinton administration, a Republican Congress, the tech bubble, 9/11, and more. Each of these seemingly monumental changes to the political winds, however, is met with the tidal rush of government as-is. Many of the lessons imparted to newly minted assistant administrator for the AIS, Jack Wilkins, by his boss, Adam Humphrey, are perfect descriptions of the survival pattern of any Federal agency. Or of the cockroach, for that matter. It makes reality clear: Change in government is a Sisyphean effort at best. For every budget slashing Nick Bader, there’s a Vernon Hargis, porkmaster supreme, who looks at the growth of the Federal government as an employment and construction opportunity for the constituents of his rural Kentucky District.

The political winds of 1992 bring three new characters to the story, recent college graduates who, inspired by the Clinton election, find their own niches in the agency. Lisa Bloom, Jamie Caro, and Ava Summers each bring their own energy to the Agency, but each views this job as the first rung in a career to something bigger. Through the years, their close-knit friendships are strained, and Ava, in particular, finds her way out of government. Of all the characters, hers raises sympathy in that she is the nearest to reaching “outside the matrix”, so to speak. But her time out of government in the late 90s tech sector finds her in equally frustrating ground, where the promise of a tech startup rarely lives up to the ability to deliver. If anything, it’s her time in government that prepares her BS meter for the inevitable tech sector death march that follows.

Now, I realize that what I’ve written about The Weed Agency makes the book seem like a depressing read. It’s anything but. The reality it captures is depressing, but it is an engaging and thought-provoking read.¬† It is, moreover, eye opening for the novice as to how government really works, beyond the things we learned watching Schoolhouse Rock growing up. For the non-novice, like myself, it is filled with engaging insight. The one element that seems missing – and it’s probably good that it is, otherwise the book would approach Ulysses in readability – is the extent of intra-agency politics. An entity like the AIS within USDA would, in my experience, have been shuffled through many reorganizations within the USDA within the lifespan covered in the book. Each of those would have also resulted in turf and budget battles within the agency’s requests for appropriations. The absence of this is noticed only by true wonks; to the general reader, the dysfunction present, the Houdini-like ability of an agency’s representatives to walk into multiple meetings where funding is to be slashed, only to exit with new missions and funding increases, is staggering. And would be hilarious if it weren’t true.

Not at all because he retweets me: Jim Geraghty’s The Weed Agency is highly recommended, informative, and an entertaining examination of the government we have, and the way it fights to maintain itself.

CORRECTION: HHS Secretary, not HUD Secretary. Corrected after seeing in today’s Morning Jolt (to quote @redsoutrage, “squee!!)


CrowdSourcing a Drinking Game

In the latest episode of The NerdRage podcast on Spreecast, which I was able to (in part) listen into and participate in live, I made a suggestion in the comments:

pictured: Osei Dixon, my moderately insane suggestion

NerdRage co-host Osei Dixon essentially said, “do you want to die, Kevin?” And let’s face it: there’s a reason why taking a drink every time Lembas tousles her (self-described) “soft and silky” hair might lead to alcohol poisoning.

pictured: Lembas flips us off. In a good way.

A few other ideas were thrown out during the show, and I tossed a few past Lembas this morning

which led, in turn, to the delegation of authority:

And so, as I suggested, I take my irresponsibility seriously. I’m providing a rough template for the NerdRage drinking game below, with some suggestions based on the last few episodes. Feel free to provide ideas in the comments, and I’ll revise and modify. I particularly need help with Osei’s idiosyncrasies (Lembas, your help appreciated here). With that, your NRDG:

Gentle sips

  • Lembas flips her hair
  • Lembas unbuttons one button on her shirt
  • Lembas mentions donuts, particularly in the context of Osei wearing them or their essence
  • Lembas or Osei mention Hobbit porn (without being goaded into it from the comments)
  • Lembas says “that’s what he/she said”
  • Osei discusses his gaming blog, vids, etc.
  • Lembas makes indication of the fact she is in her bed/bedroom
  • Lembas says “I will cut you.”
  • A solid drink

  • Lembas loses her Internet connection
  • if Lembas, Osei, or any other on-video guest call out your podcast chat by name (either mentioning you by name or quoting from the text)
  • you arrive in the chatroom
  • Osei mentions his Mom, particularly in reference to listening to the podcast
  • Lembas mentions former co-host Tim (@RightWingNerd), particularly in context of abandonment of Osei
  • Lembas unbuttons a second (visible) button on her shirt
  • Osei says “that’s what he/she said”
  • Lembas plays “show and tell”, as with her knee-high boots in Episode 8
  • Osei “goes British”, by using the bad accent he uses to read his own Tweets.
  • Chug

  • Osei’s mom appears on the podcast
  • Charts and Graphs I

    So about two weeks ago, John Ekdahl was discussing the ways in which the media ignores stories (that night, it was the latest set of protests for May Day in Seattle) while ignoring some of the most obvious items in those stories. So I told John I’d send him a chart. And so I did:


    And the next day, it went viral:


    Hat tips to Michelle Malkin, Ace, even Glenn Reynolds for linking it. Heck, the fine folks at Twitchy even labelled it “Flowchart of the Year”.
    20130518-002506.jpg Talk about blowing up a little blogger’s ego.

    Anyway, in the two weeks that have followed, we’ve seen more of the same, some of which couldn’t be hidden from the public. The IRS. The Benghazi hearings. And more. It has begged for another more generic chart looking at information and The Narrative.


    Now, this isn’t to suggest that this is a “one size fits all” for all journalists in all situations. I’ve been interviewed by journalists, and count some as friends (both in social media and in real life). Nonetheless, when it comes to issues of The Narrative, of the effort to centrally message in spite of contradictory evidence, I think that this one’s applicable. It was being finalized when the AP story broke. That caused the last question to be added.

    Now, is that all? No. I love making charts and graphs. And so this will serve as the start of a new feature here at BB. I hope you enjoy it.

    BB writes tomorrow’s headlines today

    I provide the following for our friends in the media, as given today’s court ruling, they’ll need this article sooner rather than later.





    (AP) [DeadGirlFirstName] [DeadGirlLastName], [age], a junior-high school student at [SchoolName], died yesterday at [HospitalName] in [CityName]. The cause of [DeadGirlFirstName]’s death appears to have been an adverse reaction to levonorgestrel, also known as the “Morning-After pill”. It is suspected that [DeadGirlLastName] made an over-the-counter purchase of the drug two days ago at [PharmacyName] Pharmacy, [Address], and that contrary to instructions provided with the medication, took the two-pill regimen in a single dose, causing uncontrollable bleeding. She delayed informing friends or her parents and was found unconscious in her room by her [Relative], who called 911. [DeadGirlLastName] was dead on arrival at [HospitalName].

    HEAR THE SHOCKING 911 CALL HERE [insert link]

    Friends of [DeadGirlLastName] expressed shock at the situation.

    “[DeadGirlFirstName] was a good friend,” said [FriendName], [FriendAge], a classmate of [DeadGirlFirstName]’s at [SchoolName]. [FriendName] further discussed the pressures she, [DeadGirlLastName] and other young girls are under: “… sure, lots of girls our age are…y’know…doing it with boys…even older boys.” [DeadGirlLastName] apparently had been seen with [BFName], [BFAge], a recent graduate of [HSName] High School. Police are investigating whether [BFName] and [DeadGirlLastName] were carrying on a relationship; if so, [BFName] might face charges of Statutory Rape, given [DeadGirlLastName]’s underage status.

    Experts, including those at the Food and Drug Administration, recommended unrestricted access to levonorgestrel for girls and young women for years. a Judge’s ruling in 2013 made the medicine an over-the-counter item. The FDA contended that the restrictions in place at the time – requiring a prescription – effectively kept many adolescents and younger teenagers from being able to use a safe drug in a timely way to prevent pregnancy, which carries greater safety risks than the morning-after pill.

    Meanwhile, [DeadGirlLastName]’s parents {insert if appropriate: , who are divorced,} and who declined comment, are left to mourn their daughter, who starred on the [TeamName] team and looked forward to a career as a [DeadGirlCareer].

    – 30 –

    Rule 5 Friday: Save Page 3

    Earlier this week, intrepid blogger Robert Stacy McCain shared with us a tragic story from the UK. Seems that feminists have declared war on the Page 3 Girl, the ubiquitous topless buxom model featured on the same-titled page of The Sun (sorry if my grammar is a bit off there, but just typing topless and buxom in the same sentence is a bit…distracting).

    20130315-235602.jpgPictured, L-R: Haggard, disheveled woman without positive body image strives to bar men, lesbians from enjoying the fine female form; older feminist who tried this before whilst a lefty member of Parliament.

    That said, as soon as this fact was noted this week, it made the choice of topic for a Rule 5 Friday (now Saturday as I type this) an easy one. Join us below the fold for some of the finest women the UK has sent our way. Obviously, since we’re discussing buxom and topless, NSFW applies.

    Continue reading

    A Year Without Andrew

    A year ago today, about 7:50 AM MT. I was sitting in my car, in front of my son’s school, waiting to stand in line with him. It’s a nice place, one that welcomes parents in line to say the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord’s Prayer. The early arrival gave me enough time to check my Twitter feed.

    And in a few seconds, I was floored. Because it was clear that Andrew Breitbart had died.
    I followed Andrew on Twitter…well, mostly. His was the first account that I ever invoked the “block retweets” capability in Twitter. Because Andrew was a prolific re-tweeter of all of the vitriol he received, and of some epic takedowns of random jobbers and media blowhards.

    I watched his speeches, most of all because he got it. That fighting for a handful of votes in Washington pales in comparison to the greater fight, over our culture. That cowering in our beliefs is a sure way to defeat in that lesser battle. And his humor, his in-your-face approach in dealing with the self-described arbiters of truth, that captured me.

    And I sat down to read Righteous Indignation. A really wonderful tale of how a man found conservatism in the front seat of a delivery car. How making the countercultural choice in a liberal hotbed could only be conservatism.

    I cried that morning, reading that Twitter stream. Said a prayer for Andrew, for his wife, his kids – we’re about the same age, so I felt a simpatico with him. Said a prayer for us, those who had lost his burning flame at the tip of the spear. Joined in the #DJBreitbart effort on Twitter. And prayed that I could raise my voice with one-fifth the strength of Andrew.

    I never met you in person, but I miss you so much.