Ashcroft's Perilous Nipples
by Mark Morford
Sometimes it's the small stabs of meaty, ugly irony that provide the strongest jolts of pleasure, the most potent whiffs of toe-curling perspective and soul-curdling karmic vinegar.
Sometimes it's stories as tiny and seemingly insignificant as Attorney General and noted McCarthy sycophant John Ashcroft, a ferociously religious and wildly troubled, apparently sexless, desperately conservative ball of walking disgust with no discernable pulse but that's just an opinion, ordering his very own Justice Department to spend $8,000 to purchase heavy blue drapes to cover the two large, noble, partially naked statues that have adorned the department's Great Hall since the 1930s.
Because he doesn't like to be photographed in front of them, is why. Because they're partially naked. Because the female statue, the Spirit of Justice, has a single, full, apparently very lawless breast exposed, unashamed and openly nipply and dwarfing our dear militant anti-everything Power Ranger when he's trying to look all serious and asexual and tough.
Because part of the male statue, the Majesty of Law, is also partially exposed and probably very buff and assumedly poor John just can't concentrate on the more pressing matters of the nation like how to best illegally detain immigrants and wiretap your phone and set up illegal war tribunals and openly hate all you gay people and women when those pesky pornographic icons are looming over him like scary naked sinful beasts of scary naked sin.
Not when photographers are always gleefully vying for the best angle from which to snap pictures of John's famously depressing and leathery scowl with a large well-shaped bronze female nipple in the background.
You may think it unfair to pull a broader message from this tiny and relatively sweet incident. You may think Ashcroft's gesture does not necessarily bespeak some sort of larger truth about the current administration, its value system, the direction of the country, the overall misogynistic, monastic, dangerously unprogressive, hypocritical attitude of our leaders as a whole, or how we are enjoying at this very moment what is easily the most conservative, sexually terrified, ill-humored, anti-choice regime in 50 years.
You would be wrong.
Because it's exactly the tiny and seemingly irrelevant details that reveal the true nature of a person, an administration, a viewpoint, a dogma. Sometimes. Like this time.
Sure it's easy to condemn, say, the shockingly insulting USA Patriot Act, with its appalling arsenal of civil liberties-bashing provisions and outright displays of unconstitutional, jingoistic paranoia, the hugely increased authority of the FBI and CIA, expanded police powers, reduced rights of the accused to discuss their cases with their lawyers, in private.
Sure it's easy to poke at Shrub for trumpeting the new National Sanctity of Life Day for the benefit of the antichoice movement when only China executes more people than his own home state and he goes to sleep every night dreaming of Tomahawk missiles raining down on Afghanistan, killing innocents in decrepit villages and making the world safe again for puppet governments and oil pipelines.
These are large and obvious targets. Lynne Cheney creating a blacklist of American academics who don't openly support the war and believe her husband is sort of creepy and ashen and probably not fully alive? Easy. Powell looking soul-sucked and lifeless, drained of all intellectual balance and moderation? Done.
Ken Lay stuffing Enron documents down the shredder as fast as his hoofed appendages can muster while breathlessly dialing Cheney's bunker with his nose as his wife goes on "Today" to lament the loss of the Range Rover to personal bankruptcy while claiming that her husband had no idea about all the siphoned billions and the gutted retirement accounts he himself orchestrated? Big as a house.
But life is in the details, honeychile, and while the larger atrocities can sometimes be explained away as blatantly vicious power-grabs or necessary evils in this time of unnecessary war -- or even as openly hypocritical political maneuverings given how the Demos ain't exactly unsoiled humanitarian angels either -- we must sometimes look to the small intellectual bludgeonings for our proofs.
And here you have it. Eight grand to cover some statues that have stood for upwards of 70 years, representing the ideals of justice and law. Erected before Ashcroft was even born. Endured through some 13 presidents and countless polishings. And now, all covered up. Your tax dollars at work.
Ashcroft's gesture is merely a painful reminder, really, a very clear signal that you are absolutely correct to be suffering that deep unsettling feeling that absolutely no open-minded or otherwise constructive trails are being blazed by this administration.
No progressive ideas are being forwarded, no improved status for women or gays or minorities, no sense that the nation is in good hands or that we as a country can at last quit being so Janus-faced and hypocritical about sex and art and justice as a whole. Let's just cover that right up, shall we?
And as for Ashcroft himself, well, clearly it's entirely appropriate that the statues symbolizing Justice and Law be hidden in his presence.
Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate, unless it appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which it never does. He also writes the Morning Fix, a deeply skewed daily email column and newsletter. Subscribe at sfgate.com/newsletters/