Cedar creatures

John McCaslin
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Posted: Aug 15, 2003 12:00 AM

Early this week, we wrote that President Bush was spending part of his vacation "clearing cedar" on his Texas ranch, only to have several readers write to ask what clearing cedar actually means.

"Growing up in central Texas made me very familiar with the cedar trees so common and yet hated by ranchers," wrote Ronald Best, who abandoned the cedar canopy of Texas for Lakewood, Colo. "To hear that our president personally cares about his land to pitch in and clear these pesky junipers himself says a lot about why President Bush is beloved by so many Texans."

How are the cedars usually cleared?

"When I was a child, itinerant 'cedar choppers' moved from ranch to ranch, clearing and burning cedar trees," says Best. "My father once warned us about these mysterious people and when my sister and I misbehaved, (he) would tell us we could be given away to these mysterious people."

HUMBLE ARI

The dog days of August have crept into political pollster Frank Luntz's usually busy office - or so we gather from his latest poll, "Ari, We Thought We Knew Thee."

Only 27 percent of Americans, the unusual poll finds, are able to correctly answer the question: "Who is Ari Fleischer?"

And (as my ex-girlfriend would say) your point would be?

"Over the years, secretaries in presidential administrations have been criticized for grandstanding or taking advantage of their appointed powers," Luntz explains. "Not so, evidently, with recently departed White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. Surely someone who was interested in self-promotion could have made quite a name for himself."

But in fairness to Luntz, there is a far more serious side to the poll.

Fleischer was the public face of the Bush White House, if not the entire country, for nearly 2½ years: from the unprecedented deadly terrorist attacks on this nation through the controversial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"He was on the news 365 days a year, yet only one in four Americans know him," observes Luntz. "That doesn't say much about the American people."

SPAMMING BUSHIES

Bryan Wilkes, a member of the Bush administration, was surprised to get "spammed" Tuesday (Aug. 13) by Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean.

"I think it's interesting that Howard Dean is spamming people to try to get support, especially since he's touting his online grass-roots efforts," Wilkes said of the candidate's mass computer e-mailing.

The former governor of Vermont brags in his generic spam message that he's attracted more than 250,000 supporters via the Internet in recent months - raising a whopping $7.6 million during one eight-day period in June.

Dean told Wilkes that, with his financial help, he can defeat his boss in 2004.

WHAT'S THERE TO LOSE?

We're not sure if President Bush has signed up for the summer school course, but Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is offering to train every head of state and their top Cabinet ministers in the most advanced scientific knowledge of total Natural Law - the Constitution of the Universe - so they can quickly gain enlightenment and create a prevention-oriented, problem-free administration in their nations.

The training will be held at the convenience of the world leaders and will be conducted via videoconferencing so that the heads of state don't have to leave their countries.

"In a short period of time, these leaders will become enlightened custodians of the Constitution of the Universe, which administers the infinite diversity of the universe with perfect order," Maharishi promises. "And then, following their own culture, religion, and beliefs, these leaders will be able to make their people happy, healthy, and fulfilled."

CONGRESSIONAL VICES

Jim Berard, a Capitol Hill press secretary since 1987, is author of a new trivia-crammed book, "The Capitol Inside & Out" (EPM Publications Inc.), with an introduction by former Sen. Eugene McCarthy.

"I sat for a time next to Sen. Herman Talmadge of Georgia, who was the last tobacco-chewing and tobacco-spitting senator," McCarthy writes. "Sen. Talmadge was either a poor shot or simply careless. I often had to sit sideways in my seat to avoid flying tobacco juice."

As with Talmadge's aim, the author "fills in gaps and cracks" of history with his new book, says McCarthy, who was happy when the Capitol building's official snuff boxes (and chew stashes) were encased for history's sake in Plexiglas. ("Also kept for decorative rather than practical use are brass cuspidors, or spittoons," Berard notes).

Now, rather than tobacco, there's an official "candy desk" in the rear of the Senate chamber, a tradition begun in 1968 by Sen. George Murphy (R-Calif.), who "kept a supply of candy in his desk in the last row, near the doors."

Now, "by tradition, whichever senator's desk occupies that location must be stocked with candy for the rest of the Senate," Berard writes.

Another revelation from the book: The beautifully painted canopy of the U.S. Capitol Rotunda may depict a bevy of less-than-virtuous beauties.

When renowned artist Constantino Brumidi painted his masterpiece fresco, "Apotheosis of Washington," 180 feet above the Rotunda floor, he seated 13 questionable ladies around the Father of Our Country, Berard notes.

"Working atop a high wooden scaffold, Brumidi idealized the first president, showing him ascending into a golden sky, surrounded by historical, mythological and allegorical figures," Berard writes. "In order for the figures to be easily viewed from the floor far below, Brumidi painted them more than twice life size, some of them 15 feet high. The work took 11 months to complete."

Shown clad in his military uniform, George Washington is flanked by 13 maidens representing the 13 original states.

"When Brumidi created the Apotheosis, he needed models for the ... 13 original colonies," Berard continues. "Frank G. Carpenter, Washington correspondent for the Cleveland Leader in the 1800s, wrote in one of his columns: '(Brumidi) is said to have been a free liver, and the story is told that the 13 fair faces which look down into the Rotunda include those of certain ladies of questionable reputation with whom he was acquainted.'"

You don't say?

"In other words, Brumidi's work may show the Father of our Country surrounded by ladies of the evening," Berard says. "George doesn't seem to mind," the author adds.

OLD WOMANIZERS

An amazingly mum Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi is back in the news after he reached an agreement with the United States and Britain on compensating the families of victims of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

Libya is now accepting responsibility for blowing up the Pan Am flight over the Scottish town, resulting in the deaths of 259 primarily American passengers and crew and another 11 persons on the ground. Each family, under the agreement with Libya, will receive about $10 million.

It's been several years since this column has written about the once highly visible and vocal Gadhafi, a onetime womanizer who is said to be so laid back today that he's given up chasing the ladies, including Western reporters.

In fact, the last time the Libyan leader appeared in this column was in 1998, when he offered to send President Clinton his own personal lawyer to help deal with the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

"I have no bad intentions toward (Clinton), and I (am) willing to send him a lawyer to defend him," Gadhafi explained to Al-Jazeera TV. "Clinton is not Reagan, who was ridiculous, an idiot, aggressive and behaved like a cowboy."

We would assume he wouldn't send his lawyer to help George W. Bush, either.