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Crank Call


Published February 22, 2006 at 5:00 p.m.

I wanted to write this week about that new test for people over 50 -- "baby boomers and their parents," as the Associated Press calls them -- published by the American Medical Association and said to measure the risk a generic geriatric has of "dying within four years."

You can imagine this is a subject dear to my heart. I'm over 50 myself and, let's face it, a bit sloppy when it comes to "maximizing" my health and keeping an eye on all those "co-morbid factors" that can lead to an early death. Frankly, I don't want to spend what time remains with my doors locked and blinds drawn, hiding under the bed and eating seaweed and sawdust in exchange for a few months of life -- if I'm lucky, that is, and don't go hunting with Dick Cheney. It just isn't worth it, and I wanted to tell you why.

Failing that, I planned to draw your attention to a new line of computer and telephone technology that helps you find out if your lover, partner, fiance or spouse has been "cheating" on you. Surveillance is all the rage, as you know, and there's no reason to leave it entirely in the hands of government. Indeed, it would be unpatriotic to do so, which explains why such cutting-edge programs as "Love Detector," "CheckMate" and "TruTest" are enjoying a big vogue at the moment, both here and abroad.

"The 'Love Detector' exploits voice-analysis technology used by police and fraud agencies to help you discover what your partner's voice is telling you that their words aren't," says London's Independent. "Use it now to confirm your doubts and it could save you the cost of dinner." It could also get you killed, unfortunately, thereby obviating the need for longevity tests. Because, while "Love Detector" can secretly tap your sweetie's phone and analyze "how interested they were in what you were saying, and how much hesitation and passion there was in their voice" when you called, writes the Guardian, "it doesn't exactly tell you 'This man is a lying pig' or 'She's sleeping with your brother.'" It isn't "exactly" reliable, in other words, and one of you, sooner or later, is bound to go off half-cocked.

Know what I mean? Good, because Cheney's little caper on that quail shoot in Texas, combined with his post-peppering excuses for what happened and didn't, shattered my plans for punditry this week like a blast of some birdbrain's buckshot.

Trust me: If there was ever a story that could grab what's left of this nation's attention, "Quailgate" was it. If there was ever a story that better reveals Dick Cheney's true nature, I can't imagine what it is. And if there was ever a story guaranteed to obscure the larger criminality of the Bush regime -- "Plamegate," Scooter Libby, Jack Abramoff, the Katrina disaster, the "war on terror," the war in Iraq, the war on civil liberties, the war on children and the poor and disabled -- well, you get my drift. I'd swear that the White House had arranged the whole thing, only my state-of-the-art snooping software doesn't "exactly" confirm that Cheney is a lying pig. I need my intuition for that.

Yes, I know, the Cheney story is officially closed. It was just an accident, you see -- as if that was the point, instead of the untruths, half-truths and no-truths our modern-day Bismarck has deigned to divulge. His task is made easier by the befuddled, fawning, forelock-tugging sanction of his victim, Texas moneybags and major Republican donor Harry Whittington. Battered, bruised and blamed though he was, Whittington still found room in his (literally) broken heart to forgive po' widdle Dick.

"My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week," Whittington "rasped" from his wheelchair when the hospital sent him home. "This past weekend encompassed all of us in a cloud of misfortune and sadness that is not easy to explain . . . Accidents do and will happen."

Simultaneously, according to the AP, "more than 20 people, including an American soldier," were blown to pieces in Iraq on Saturday. Nothing to do with Cheney, of course.

Now, in the wake of Comrade Whittington's "gracious" acceptance of fate, even the media that hyped "Quailgate" to the skies are knuckling under and backing off, knowing, if they don't, that Cheney and his ilk will lump them together with what columnist Tim Rutten calls "conspiracy-minded bloggers" and The New York Times dismisses as "armchair yammerers." We don't want any yammering from the fourth estate, now do we? Why, it would completely destroy the American people's tremendous faith in the integrity of journalists, just when the latter have begun to wake up and ask all those "hardball" questions. "No, sirree!" as they say in Texas (and, I should think, anywhere in Cheney's presence). Better for everyone if the press just goes back to sleep.


True, as of Sunday, The Houston Chronicle was audacious enough to run a headline saying, "Questions still surround accounts of Cheney shooting accident," adding specifically that details of "the hunters' positions and their spacing" had been "vague," at best. But this kind of thing will become the exception rather than the rule, I predict, as the story "loses its legs."

With or without a tap on your phone, the Veep and his varmints bag their bird every time.

Speaking of Crank Call