ANATOMY OF A CLUSTERFUCK
©2009 by Michael Raysses - printed 4.24.2009
I love bombast. And the apotheosis of my ardor is never more exquisitely achieved than when said affectation incorporates the perfect balance of sound and cadence, while laced with a patina of profanity. Though it would arguably be easy to view bombast as a writing style unto itself, sometimes one can achieve rank bombasticity in a single utterance. And no word reaches the soaring heights I am describing better than the king of all such expressions—ladies and gentlemen, tendered for your approval, the timeless classic—clusterfuck.
For the uninitiated, perhaps a quick definition is in order:
clusterfuck (plural clusterfucks)
- (vulgar) A chaotic mess that might be compared to group sex, in which participants are so intertwined and intermingled that they might penetrate each other rather than their intended target. Its more precise usage describes a particular kind of Catch-22, in which multiple complicated problems mutually interfere with each other's solution. The looser usage, referring to any chaotic situation, probably prevails.
It bears mentioning that any clusterfuck is subject to the Law of Governmental Presence, which states that any garden variety clusterfuck is prone to inflate to epic proportion when conducted within eight nautical miles of any governmental agency, body, or representative. Given that the word probably traces its etymology to the military that almost stands to reason.
Lest there be any confusion, the term is oftentimes misunderstood. To prevent needless uncertainty as to when you’ve encountered a clusterfuck, let’s look at some related concepts.
For instance, a clusterfuck isn’t necessarily a disaster, although a series of ever-expanding clusterfucks can most definitely engender disaster (See Bush, George W.) A clusterfuck also isn’t the same as a shit storm, which is really nothing more than a small bunch of clusterfucks on their way to becoming a disaster. (For further clarification, see TARP. No, not the large sheet of waterproof material. The other one, the one with the bailout.)
The best way to appreciate a clusterfuck is to examine one. Here’s a great case in point: last December, the Bush administration conducted the functional equivalent of a fire sale of leases for oil and gas exploration in the southern and eastern parts of the state of Utah. Above and beyond the speed at which the auction was set up, a rate which didn’t allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s that are federally mandated in situations just like this, the scope of the sale was exceptionally broad. Buckling to pressure from a raft of environmental groups, the BLM reduced its initial offering and agreed to auction off only 150,000 acres of land.
Despite this magnanimous concession, the proposed sale was pilloried as a direct threat to certain pristine areas of the state. Areas that abutted national parks and red rock desert. Plots of land that could arguably be labeled sui generis. (Nothing screams ‘bombast’ quite like a well placed Latin phrase, does it?)
On the day of the auction, a 27 year-old economics student named Tim DeChristopher attended a protest march of the BLM sale. Sensing resigned despair in his fellow protesters, in a fit of anti-authoritarian brio DeChristopher decided to infiltrate the auction as a means of disrupting what he viewed to be not only a fraudulent sale, but one that would irretrievably damage national natural treasures.
Surprisingly for DeChristopher, gaining access to the proceedings proved to be relatively easy. Consistent with general clusterfuck theory, the BLM was in such a hurry to conduct this auction they neglected to enforce the standard security measures typically required. Tim showed his driver’s license, filled out a small form, was given a bidder’s paddle, and escorted in. (Personally, I can’t believe they didn’t make him at least demonstrate the Vulcan death grip or something.)
Once inside, Tim witnessed the auction process and soon was actually driving up the cost on parcels of land merely by waving his bidder’s paddle. But because his mission was to save the land, not just cost the cadre of oil and gas interests more money to have a shot at drilling and exploration, he decided to bring his ‘A’ game—Tim was in it to win it, as they say.
Which is exactly what he did. Tim proceeded to win 13 bids, totaling 22,000 acres, at a cost of $1.8 million. Then he was detained by the authorities because even they have limits as to how much they can and will contribute to a clusterfuck. (According to Tim, once apprehended, the officer who treated him most brusquely was a mall cop who worked in the building where the BLM office is housed, which only deepens my appreciation for the verisimilitude of that Paul Blart movie.)
Public support sprung up for Tim faster than an oil speculator at a hastily prepared sale of oil and gas leases. Within a very short time, he was able to raise $100,000 through his website, www.Bidder70.org, to cover the cost of the initial payment to the BLM for the leases in question, as well as for what was sure to involve legal defense costs.
Then on February 4th, in a move that to the casual observer appears to run contrary to the concept of the clusterfuck, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar invalidated the oil and gas leases that had been auctioned off, which for all intents and purposes could arguably be construed as the government’s admission of “my bad.”
But keep your eye on the bouncing ball, folks, because part of what defines a clusterfuck is the momentary appearance that sanity has taken hold, which is exactly what happened here. The leases in question were voided. A single person with more heart than all the people in the auction that day felled the Goliath that is the oil and gas industry not with a slingshot and stone but instead with a bidder’s paddle and a flick of his wrist. Nothing was destroyed, defiled, or otherwise desecrated. Unless of course you count the derailed locomotive of greed embodied by the oil and gas industries that were there expecting uncontested whacks at the piñata placed so generously before them by the Bush administration.
So where, pray tell, is the clusterfuck?
In what has to be an example of the worst April Fool’s joke imaginable, on April 1, Tim was indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah for two counts of vi 4 olating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Act. (A lesser charge of wearing a flannel shirt to a government auction was considered but dropped.)
Let’s pause for a moment to review, shall we? The government conducts a highly questionable sale of oil and gas leases that it ultimately voids, yet later they decide to criminally prosecute the man who provided them the opportunity to reconsider and correct their reckless conduct by wielding a bidder’s paddle? (Paging a Mr. Kafka, Mr. Franz Kafla!)
And then in a move that redefines craptacular, on April 3, the BLM levied an $81,000 fine against Tim. Mind you, this is the same BLM that refused Tim’s payment of $45,000 dollars on the fraudulent bids he made because those payments were offered “too late.”
Right about now you’re asking yourself “what’s that smell?” It’s not teen spirit, and it’s not napalm in the morning—it’s a Clusterfuck, with a capital C. Said Clusterfuck will reach its surreal denouement on April 28 when Tim is arraigned.
Now it’s safe to say that we as a nation have become used to diminished expectations. Even with the election of a man who is actually qualified to run the country, we know better than to expect much that even remotely approaches positive from our government and its agencies. But what we can’t condone is when our government is guilty of what in its best light looks like malfeasance, especially when they are given a chance to grant themselves a reprieve by a citizen who has the balls, heart, and spirit to act consonant with his moral compass, a device conspicuously not consulted in the government’s decision making process.
I have given up expecting bureaucracies like the BLM to actually do that which they are created to, which in this case is manage federal energy sources in an environmentally sound way. (My italics.) What galls me most deeply is the wholesale lack of respect for resources present in this case. (Um, I don’t know whose italics those are.) And by resources, the untapped oil and gas that lies beneath the ground in Utah aren’t all I am referring to. I am talking about the very real, immeasurable and invaluable human resource of people like Tim DeChistopher! (OK, that’s definitely my exclamation point.)
compassionate—not in jail, his contributions to society neutralized, while sapping limited resources by being incarcerated—but in the vanguard of the vital democracy we remember ourselves to be.
It’s been said that two wrongs don’t make a right. This case proves an exception to that rule. The BLM failed in its responsibility to adhere to federally imposed environmental guidelines before holding the auction. Tim, by his own admission, represented himself to be a qualified bidder, which he wasn’t. When the Department of the Interior voided the sale, the two negatives perpetrated by both parties multiplied to create a positive—the lands in question are safe for the time being. The decision to prosecute Tim is the perfect final touch for those who like a little closure with their clusterfuck. That Brett Tolman, the U.S. Attorney who is prosecuting this case, wants to participate in some perverse act of reverse-alchemy by spinning political straw out of environmental gold is regrettable. The real focus is on what we do to support Tim in this scenario.
Tim told me that what moved him to act as he did was the realization that he could actually handle serving time to save the imperiled lands. What he couldn’t live with was waking up ten years down the road, seeing those lands ransacked by the oil and gas industries, and live with the knowledge that he had the chance to do something about it and didn’t.
Well, we have a chance to endorse Tim right here, right now. Go to www.Bidder70.org. Make a donation, write your representative. And if that leaves you feeling like you want to do more, then go to www.PeacefulUprising.org and really throw your oars in the water. To do anything less is beyond wrong—it’s clusterfucked.
Michael Raysses is a writer/actor/National Public Radio commentator living in Los Angeles. E-mail him at MichaelRaysses@hotmail.com. For information on Tim DeChristopher, go to www.Bidder70.org. Tim will be arraigned on Tuesday April 28, at 11:am in Salt Lake City. He faces up to ten years in Prison. Former Director of NASA Dr. James Hansen will testify on Tim's behalf.