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).

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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!!)

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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:

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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.

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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

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

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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:

NERD RAGE DRINKING GAME
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
  • 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.
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    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.

    NM “Assault Weapons” bill gets a hearing Thursday

    The “assault weapons” bill, New Mexico House Bill 402, will be heard by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee at 1:30 PM Thursday, per the house committee schedule. Tonight I finished penning my note to my representative, who sits on that committee. It reads (in principle) as follows:

    I don’t write letters like this every day. Today, though, I write to you with urgency regarding a bill that will come in front of you Thursday as a member of the Consumer & Public Affairs Committee, and may ultimately come before you on the house floor, namely House Bill 402 as submitted by Representative Easley.

    That bill, focused on criminalization of future purchase, and on possession and safety issues related to “assault weapons”, flies in the face of our inalienable rights as specified in Amendment II, United States Constitution (and reaffirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller), and in our own State Constitution, Article II, Section 6, which states

    “No law shall abridge the right of the citizen to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes, but nothing herein shall be held to permit the carrying of concealed weapons. No municipality or county shall regulate, in any way, an incident of the right to keep and bear arms.”

    Those words were written in 1910, and ratified in time for statehood two years later. The concept of “security and defense” entrenched in that section of Article II was tested six years later when the town of Columbus was attacked by Pancho Villa’s Division of the North. The town, while a home to the 13th Cavalry, was strongly defended by its armed citizenry, who used their own guns to defend their lives and their property.

    While the risk of cross-border incursion or foreign invasion is lower today, the continued need to protect one’s home, life, and the lives of one’s family are paramount. You have long been a proponent of maintaining an armed vigilance as one element of a balanced response to violence: you’ve worked for possession rights for officers of the court (as you’ve sponsored in various forms since 2003) together with domestic violence bills (such as HB 249, 2006) as well as numerous expenditures to enhance the Albuquerque Police Department.

    For the maintenance of security and defense as laid out in Article II, Section 6 of the New Mexico Constitution, in line with the rights laid out in the second amendment, I urge your strong opposition to Rep. Easley’s bill, and for the encouragement of fellow Republicans and liberty-minded Democrats in defeating this bill.

    With warmest regards,

    Kevin in ABQ


    NOW is the time to act.
    NOW is the time to make your voice heard.

    Lapdogs and Kept Men

    Both Brian Cates and Ace (who provided a link to Jerry Bowyer at Forbes) had columns of value today, all with some common themes that show the greased pole we face when competing in the arena of ideas.

    Jerry Bowyer lays out the concept of “kept conservatives”:

    The kept conservative’s announced job is to represent the conservative point of view, but their real job is to give the illusion of balance without really challenging any of the core tenets of liberalism. They spend lots of time ‘reinventing’ the Republican Party, and the new invention is always the same: more liberal. They live among liberals, their friends are liberals, and, of course, they are paid by liberals.

    Do, in fact, read it all. Ace cites Mika Brzezinski’s pet rock, Joe Scarborough, as a perfect example of same, to which I added some humor in the comments:

    Just remember: As soon as Joe announces for the Presidency

    (chorus of laughter)

    Ahem.

    (silence)

    As I was saying, as soon as Joe announces for the Presidency he’ll be declared the ‘maverick’ candidate, and if he should happen to get the nomination

    (more laughter)

    Yes, yes, get it out of your systems.

    (more laughter, petering out in time)

    Yes, now should he get the nomination, he’ll be described as he was all along – as a reactionary conservative.

    To me, this is the flowchart path of the kept conservative in Washington (and, to the extent necessary, those outside the beltway – e.g., Chris Christie). As long as they stay in place, they’re beloved; once they express traditional orthodoxy (or leave the KeptCon reservation), all bets are off. A case study is Sen. John McCain.

    Long loved as the ultimate “maverick”, as soon as he secured the 2008 GOP nomination we began to hear (unfounded) whispers on his private life, photos showing him as bloodthirsty, and more. Once the election was over, and McCain was no longer a threat, he could return to KeptCon status. but ask a few tough questions of DefSec nominee Chuck Hagel? Chris Matthews goes and suggests McCain might be having a “flashback” to his POW days.

    To me, the picture of the last two general elections, and of the ways in which the left and the media (but I repeat myself) have taken centrists and made them Birchers tells me we’re as well off to nominate a Conservative and get it over with.

    For true conservatives, those Jerry Bowyer describes as “St. Thomas More Conservatives”, the evolution path is simpler. Some pseudocode:

    If type.conservative = StThomasMore then Reaction.Media = vapors and investigation

    Ask Sarah Palin. Ask Rick Perry. And not all of these are inflicted by the media, either; some are self-inflicted, with the blood drawing the sharks. And while the opinions of the KeptCon are left for those of us on the right to reveal, it is done knowing that the effort, while useful, will lead to

    Reaction.Media = Republican infighting and disunity

    while the media keeps its powder dry for any signs of St. Thomas More Conservatives.

    Brian, in a similar vein, hammers on the questions an engaged media would be asking if only the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave were a Republican (rather than Lapdog Media, I prefer the term “Tiger Beat Media”, as it gives more an appearance of the form of their trade they’re attempting to ply). And these two problems go hand in hand. For one has to have a desire to investigate to do investigative journalism. And one must be challenged with facts and the potential of shaming for ignoring a story if they refuse to do so. When the press assumes a unity viewpoint regarding power, as they have with this President, they in turn have vacated their independence, and are but organs of the state itself.

    It’s late. That’s enough for now.

    Random points

    As I’m lacking a continuous long-form thought stream, I wanted to get a few random thoughts written down:

    We are now past the halfway point of President Obama’s tenure in the Executive Office. We made it through the last four years; we can make it through the next four, with each others’ help and prayers.

    From reading reports on the inauguration (sorry, I was working) it sounds as if the crowds were smaller. But just as petty as four years ago. You remember, don’t you? Back then, they booed and chanted “na na na na, hey good bye” to President Bush; today, they booed Paul Ryan. A movement chock full of people better suited to throwing snowballs at Santa Claus at Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia.

    The Obama campaign apparatus – now reclassified as a not-for-profit – is appropriately designated. As it really represents a religious movement. Nonetheless this organization may be used to mobilize voters for issues, it appears unlikely to be put at the beck and call of another’s campaign. This same hubris cost Democrats in 2000, and Republicans (to a lesser extent) in 2008.

    My life, in aggregate, is good: my wife and kids are healthy. My Penguins are 2-0 to start the year. I’ll need whatever distractions I can get. But I also need to get involved. Now.

    I finally discussed the new shotgun with the wife tonight (I’m looking at taking up sporting clays). With little kids around, she’s been hesitant in the past. I think I made a good case for a safe plan that will provide appropriate safeguards, while enabling the kids to learn and respect the tool, as they would any other that could injure them. Which is to their advantage in the long run. Fearing a gun, or any other weapon, isn’t the concern: avoiding their misuse, or deterring someone with another weapon and malicious intent, is.