The Daily 750









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Very Good and Goof Proof

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Did you know that the White House hosts an online forum? Yep, you can Ask the White House, and an administration official or a friend of the administration will answer. The President himself has yet to participate, but Sean Astin has, and he was here on the Upper Left Edge! In Person! For the 20th anniversary of The Goonies!

Yes, it’s a trifle. When the air cools and crisps and hints of fire, wood and wind, when the light leans back in the sky, leaves go its hard grasp and relies on a caress to get through the day, one's thoughts can momentary relax into a picayune.

Ask the White House is so inconsequential even Harriet Miers has hosted the column, twice. She’s said she's for a National Day of Remembrance and for everything else George Bush has ever proposed. She thinks the President is “a great leader!”. She was with him on September 11th, “making sure the remarks he prepared to give to the Nation from Louisiana were properly prepared for him. It took some time, and the President saw me hurrying to give them to him. He said, ‘Good hustle!’ He made me feel good that I was contributing.” I'm trying to imagine a 56-year-old woman in panty hose and pumps, in the late summer heat and humidity of Louisiana, in training for Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, being thrilled to have been praised for her "good hustle" while acting as a copyboy, but I can't. It's one of the thousands of small, everyday events that might go into a Stephen King book and, followed only by the words "Thanks, honey," create an overall sense of forboding and even horror.

The forum is also comprised of the sort of questions and answers that readers of Walter Scott’s “Personality Parade,” taking up Page 2 of Sunday’s Parade magazine for as long as any of us can remember, will recognize.

Compare.
PARADE: Since Katrina hit, I’ve worried about Emeril Lagasse. Is the Big Easy’s famed restaurateur OK?
ATWH: Did NBC use the real Camp David to film THE WEST WING? They have shown Camp David for the past two episodes.

Note the similarities: Concise questions that could easily be answered with a Yes or a No, with any additional exposition a pure gift to the reader. Questions can be answered happily and with exclamation marks: “Why, yes, Emeril is fine! He told us!” “No, I understand it isn’t the real Camp David, which is a beautiful, serene place!” Questions that, if answered incorrectly, hardly merit a correction. “Emeril’s publicist hasn’t heard from the famed restaurateur since September 29, but NoLa has reopened and is serving its fine Cajun food nightly.” “Yes, NBC did use the real Camp David, and donated $1 million to the preservation fund for the privilege.” And, each forum has been used by its writers as propaganda machines.

Now the differences. Most obviously, there really is a President. Ask The White House really is hosted by said friends and officials, although the forum is about as interactive as presidential debates are, well, debates.

But there is no Walter Scott the journalist. Never was. The journalist Lloyd Shearer wrote the column from 1958 to 1991 when, presumably, he was overwhelmed by the Parkinson’s that took his life ten years later. Since then the page has been written by journalist and author Edward Klein, famous recently for the many errors in his book The Truth About Hillary.

But I’m late to the personality parade. Writer Tod Goldberg admits to a deep, unnatural obsession with the column, and writes about it with the same enthusiasm and revulsion a child has about a parade -- love the bands and the floats and the chance to stand on the street and scream, hate the scary clowns.

Ask The White House was hosted on July 24, 2004 by outgoing Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier. Mesnier was born into a family of nine children in the village of Bonnay, in the Burgundy region of France. Snails, coq au vin, beef Bourguignon, pinot grigio – all the great hearty foods and wines of France come from the Bourgogne. Roland had no formal training but started an apprenticeship at 14 and worked his way through Europe, to Bermuda, and then to Virginia, where he was discovered by Rosaylnn Carter, who hired him in 1979.

Roland’s first question during his Ask the White House session was from "lovin", in, not surprisingly, California: "how can i make amazing crème brule?"

"Creme Brulee really is simple to make," Roland responded. "I have used a recipe that I created in the White House for years which is stove top creme brulee. Unfortunately, it would take too long to explain it here. But it is very good and goof proof."

The former pastry chef and the current nominee for the Supreme Court both rose through the ranks from little formal training. Both are admired by the White House for their "perfection" and "dedication." And both claim to be peerless without offering any details.

I think I’m on to something. Or maybe I'm comparing sweets and honeys.