Jul 22, 2018

The Marble Urinal Conspiracies

I don't remember peeing in the actual White House. Besides,  any relief I sought there would have been mundanely in the servants' wing, the press room facilities, during the AP days when I  (rarely)  attended Ron Nessen's briefings.

A different story existed across the alley in the garish old rococo Executive Office Building, built by an architectural Timothy Leary in the 1870s and 80s.  I did a bit of business there as a low-rank political operative in the Reagan years. We swilled coffee during  business hours, and fancy beer and wine flowed freely enough late in the day.

A man's bladder has its requirements, and the American taxpayers of the late 19th Century ensured his need would be met in grand and glorious style. Those flamboyantly grained marble pissoirs were two feet wide and tall enough to make a coffin for a short man. No where else in my life have I actually giggled shaking out the last drops.

I almost always made up little fantasies about my pissing predecessors. Did Teddy Roosevelt dangle his big stick there while conferring quietly with an adjacent William McKinley about which Cuban hill to immortalize? Did his cousin  Franklin sidle up next to Cordell Hull and, sotto voice,  plot ways to goad Tojo into attacking Pearl Harbor?

They certainly could have, validating a life-long suspicion that our masters will  always find ways to to secretly scheme to piss away our fortunes and our lives. And how better than companionably unzipped, shoulder to shoulder, at the upper end of the Washington, D.C. sewer system? No secretary with her shorthand pad. No recorders. No snoopy little aides with pals in the press corps.

All this comes to mind as we open another chapter in our largely aspirational quest for the oxymoronical "open government."

The internet apps wizards say they have found a way to make official government email both private and self-destroying. They mean they have at long last emulated Mr. Orwell's memory hole. It is now the libertarian Winston Smith clandestinely battling the Inner Party. Of course people like you and I root for Winston, but probably to little avail.

For instance, if you see Presidents Trump and Putin heading for the same Helsinki privy, rest assured that they can privately plot to organize your world according to their own  secret designs. There will be no leaks.