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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Sometimes I wonder if the movers and shakers of this country, from both the public and private sectors, secretly believe that average Americans are idiots, unable to see beyond the tips of their noses and unable to think their way out of a paper bag.

From government, we have the spectacle of the "Iraqi Spin Trio" of Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell , coming up with new explanations for why we invaded Iraq every time a previously offered explanation gets shot down. We haven’t found weapons of mass destruction. We haven’t found a nuclear threat. It’s pretty much acknowledged that there was no danger of us or anyone else being attacked by Iraq. We haven’t established any Iraqi connection to the horror of 9/11. Now we’re down to saying that Saddam Hussein was a bad guy who gassed his own people and did other horrible things and getting rid of him was a good thing and wasn’t that a good enough reason to invade Iraq?

O.K. It’s not being said in quite that way, but pretty close.

And the amazing thing is that President Bush still has a more than 50% approval raring.

Is there any wonder they think we’re idiots?

Maybe the private sector is taking its cues from the Bush administration.

Philip Morris is a big conglomerate.

Oscar Meyer, Kraft Cheeses, Maxwell House Coffee, Miller Beer, Post Cereals. They’re all part of Philip Morris or of Altria group, the new name they adopted last year.

But they are also the world’s leading tobacco company, celebrating one hundred years in business this year and they still rake in huge profits selling tobacco products world wide.

But if you see their ads on television nowadays, backed up by the same sort of stuff on their web site, you’d almost think that they are giving up the business of making and selling cigarettes because all they talk about is how they’ve reduced their advertising and how their marketing is now "responsible" and how they wouldn’t dream of going after non-smokers and how they are champions of carding young looking folk and how they are champions of discouraging kids from taking up smoking.

If you can believe what they say, the world’s largest tobacco company only wants to sell their tobacco products to adults who already smoke!! Now I ask you, if they are successful in discouraging young folks from taking up smoking, where are they going to find the "adults" who are already smokers to buy their tobacco products in the years and decades ahead? Remember, they’re not only staying away from advertising to kids, but they’re not going after adult non-smokers either.

Could it be that there is a 10 billion dollar judgment pending against them and that they are fighting an order to deposit a 12 billion dollar bond which they claim would force them into bankruptcy and they want the world to start thinking of them as responsible good guys?

Does anyone remember seeing these ads before there were any tobacco law suits or judgments against them?

Have you noticed that as the pictures of corporate responsibility unfold, a subliminal image keeps flashing in the background?

I can’t be sure, because it sounds so ridiculous, but it looks like a picture of a bridge with a "for sale" sign attached.

Then there’s the Purdue company.

They sell chicken and I’m a chicken eater from way back.

I have no objection to ads for chicken telling me that chickens are fresh and plump and juicy and tasty and any other word designed to persuade me to buy chicken on my next trip to the supermarket.

I know vaguely how chickens that we buy to roast or grill or sauté are raised, but it’s something I don’t think about when I’m buying or when I’m eating chicken . There’s nothing much I can do about it, even if I wanted to, and anyway, it’s just the chicken’s bad luck to be way down on the food chain of which we, while we’re still alive, are the ultimate beneficiaries.

Still, when you juxtapose the television ads that Purdue has been running with the sort of thing that’s described at this typical web site , it doesn’t leave you with a warm feeling about the Purdue Company.

True, the Mercy for Animals folks have an ax to grind , but that doesn’t detract from the truth of what they say about the life and times of the chickens we eat.

It may not be a traditional type of untruth in advertising to air a series of television commercials showing chickens with human qualities being put through their paces so that they can become "good" enough to be slaughtered by the Purdue Company for our gustatorial pleasure, but it sure comes close.

It probably doesn’t bother the Iraqi spin trio or the folks at Philip Morris though.

I bet if you asked, they’d tell you that eating happy chickens is good for the peace of the world, but that they would never think of encouraging young folk to embark on a lifetime of happy chicken indulgence.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Many years ago, I was producing a monthly news and information audio cassette magazine for the American Medical Association and decided to insert a regular feature called "The Patient’s Point of View."

The idea was to give doctors some insight into how patients felt about a variety of things. We thought it would be educational and sometimes amusing.

I hired the late great Dick Applegate to write and narrate the feature. Dick was a former NBC, ABC and United Press correspondent who lived the kind of life that you usually read about in works of fiction. He’s been gone a good number of years now, and if you never heard him or met him, you missed knowing one of the greats in broadcast journalism.

Dick and I tossed around possible topics for the very first edition of the feature, and finally hit on the idea that it should be about being kept waiting in the doctor’s office, way beyond the scheduled time of an appointment.

Dick did a brilliant job of writing and recording the piece. He did it in a humorous vein and we visualized the doctors laughing their heads off, but maybe getting the message at the same time.

In our dreams!

Within days of the tapes being mailed out, complaints began to pour in. Who was this guy Applegate telling us how to schedule our appointments and what patients think of being kept waiting? We don’t need to have to read or listen to this garbage in our journals.

We discovered that doctors, at least those AMA members who were getting the tape journal, didn’t like the idea of a lay person questioning any of their practices.

It was the first and last edition of "The Patient’s Point of View."

If Dick were alive today, it would have warmed the cockles of his heart to have heard about the patient who got bent out of shape being kept waiting hours past his appointment time, and did something about it. He sued the doctor!!.

He only got $250 in small claims court plus a few dollars more to cover costs, and the doctor says he plans to appeal, but it was a victory nonetheless, and maybe a message to the entire medical profession on behalf of those of us who have suffered for years from this apparent indifference by doctors to the value of a patient’s time.

In general, I have the greatest respect for doctors, but there are some things about the way they practice that doesn’t make that respect come easy.

And thinking nothing of keeping patients waiting way beyond their appointment times without explanation or apology is one of them.

In the case cited, the doctor admitted that he over booked. Whatever his particular reasons for overbooking, I know that there are doctors - mostly specialists - who do it deliberately, sometimes booking three patients at the same time at fifteen minute intervals, so that during appointment hours they always have patients in three separate examining rooms while the waiting room is full of more groups of three waiting their turn.

With that kind of booking schedule, there’s no "down time" for the doctor, but inevitably the result is that almost none of the patients get seen at their scheduled appointment time and some get seen as much as 30 to 60 minutes late, sometimes later. And there is almost never a voluntary explanation for why you are being kept waiting. It’s the normal physician’s office routine and sad to say, most patients just accept it.

The gentlemen from Las Vegas who didn’t accept it, has done what many of us would like to do and what I’ve threatened jokingly to do on more than one occasion while waiting for my own doctor. Charge him (or her) for time spent waiting beyond the scheduled appointment time.

While we’re on the subject of doctors, we might as well comment on another annoyance.

Doctors today complain that the cost of running their practices is coming close to putting them out of business. The burden of paperwork and the cost of malpractice insurance are a couple of things that are usually cited. Some are now talking about charging for phone calls and for filling out forms and writing letters for patients, and indeed some already do. And the idea of charging patients an annual flat fee to cover all these "extras" is also being floated.

Should we sympathize with their financial problems?

Well, perhaps we’d be quicker to sympathize if the specialist who spends fifteen or twenty minutes with us after being an hour late for our appointment, didn’t send us a bill for $200.

Or if our primary care physician didn’t hit us or our insurance company up for sixty or seventy bucks for ten minutes of his time. We always figured that phone calls, and writing prescriptions and the occasional letter and filling out of forms was covered by that pretty hefty appointment fee.

Maybe we’d be more sympathetic if, when we had to go to the hospital for some kind of test, we didn’t discover that it was feeding frenzy time for as many doctors who could find a place around the carcass. You find it out when you see bill after bill from people you never even knew existed, but who somehow were in on your test. There’s no way for you to know whether all these people were really needed to contribute to or evaluate your test or if the charges are appropriate.

It’s the routine. You’re not supposed to question it.

We’d certainly be more sympathetic if, when we are hospitalized for a period of time, we don’t see bills covering daily "visits" by one or more doctors, adding up to hundreds or thousands of dollars .

For sure we’d be more sympathetic if we saw that there was no billing for the days when the doctor poked his head inside the door just to say good morning. Or for days when he poked his head inside the door and didn’t say anything because he didn’t want to disturb your beauty sleep.

There was a time when doctors charged a set fee for an office or - for us old folks who remember this - a house call. Nowadays, most have a sliding scale. Different charges for short visits or intermediate visits or extended visits - and no discount for keeping you waiting for that visit!

If some of the doctors who are trying to re-arrange the financial aspect of their doctor/patient relationships are successful and their ideas begin to spread, we could soon be facing a mirror image of the way lawyers charge for their services.

Can you imagine the chaos at the health insurance companies trying to figure out the appropriate coverage for "notes to file?"

And fifty years from now, these will be the good old days.

Heaven help us.

Friday, September 26, 2003

I don’t think I’ve ever come to appreciate all of the fine nuances of professional football.

Many years ago, when I worked in television, I did some free-lance work on a few Chicago Bears home games, which in those days were played in Wrigley Field.

My job was to work with the announcers, high up in the broadcast booth, and one of the things I had to do was scribble out lead in lines to break for a commercial, including the score, hand them to the play by play guy and cue him when it was time to go into the break.

During one game, being played on a particularly cold day, one of the teams scored a safety - and the director almost immediately called for a break.

Unfortunately - at that moment in time - I had no idea what a safety was or how many points it earned, and when the announcer turned and reached out his hand for a cue card, I froze. It was already freezing in that blankety blank booth, open to the winter elements, but it could have been mid-summer and I would have been just as motionless.

Fortunately, the announcer managed to do the lead in to a commercial without my help.

It didn’t take me too long after that to learn what a safety was, and everything else about scoring and a great deal about the rules and strategies of the game.

But one thing I was never able to appreciate was the strategy that some teams - many teams in fact, employ in the last couple of minutes of a game that they are losing by some huge score.

What is the point of calling for time outs, or, if the team has possession, employing other strategies to stop the clock and drag out the game?

I suppose you could chalk it up to pride. Maybe the team can get a score and not lose by quite as big a margin. But still, the result is inevitable, so why not accept defeat gracefully? Play hard till the last whistle, sure. But don’t keep stopping the damned clock.

I thought about this when I picked up my paper this morning and read that a second Federal judge had blocked the provisions of the "do-not-call" list from taking effect, this time citing free speech issues.

The earlier decision had rested on the FTC’s apparent lack of authority to create the list in the first place and Congress seemed to have fixed that problem with remarkable speed yesterday.

I know the people in the telemarketing business would like to be able to operate with as few restrictions as possible on their ability to annoy the hell out of people at the most inconvenient times imaginable, but have they mislaid their minds and their calculators?

Fifty million people have already signed up to be on the do-not-call list and that number most likely will grow in the months and years ahead.

According to experts who have been quoted in news reports about this latest ruling, the issue of free speech is complicated and is likely to take some time to work out.

But do the telemarketing folks really believe that Congress will ignore the express wishes of 50 million Americans and not find a way to solve this problem?

And do they think they have a better chance than a snowball surviving in Hades of actually selling something to even ONE of those fifty million?

After this second court decision, the president of the Direct Marketing Association was quoted as saying that they were not going to ignore the wishes of the American public and that "we are not out to subvert the desires of the American public who don’t want to be called."

That’s great. So why do they and other direct marketing groups keep going back to court to stop the do not call wishes of 50 million Americans from taking effect next Wednesday?

Without a court challenge, there would be no free speech issue, and, beginning on October 1, those of us who signed up to be on the list would be able to sit down to dinner with some degree of confidence that we can finish without unwanted telephonic interruption.

If the telemarketing industry is sincere about not wanting to bug people who don’t want to be bugged, I have an idea that they should welcome with open phone lines.

They have their own "do-not-call" list which presumably they honor once consumers have registered their names and phone numbers with them. Why not just invite the FTC to turn over that list of 50 million people who signed up for the government list and add it to the existing industry list?

Wouldn’t that be the easy way to not "subvert the desires of the American public who don’t want to be called?"

Incidentally, I note that the Denver judge who issued this latest ruling was one Edward Nottingham.

Do you think maybe one of his ancestors was some kind of sheriff?

Thursday, September 25, 2003

I’ve been reading about the worries some people are expressing about Mel Gibson’s film, "The Passion," which is supposed to be about the last 12 hours of the life of Jesus Christ.

In a Los Angeles Times article expressing concern that that the film would fuel anti-Semitism which is on the rise world-wide, The Simon Wiesenthal Center's Rabbi Marvin Heir and Harold Brackman, wrote the following:

"It shouldn't need saying, but apparently it does. The Romans and their procurator, Pontius Pilate, were in control of Jerusalem at the time of Christ's execution — not the Jews. Crucifixion was the preferred Roman method of punishment, not one sanctioned by Jewish law. Jesus and his followers were Jews; there was no Christianity back then. Could Jewish authorities have played a role in turning Jesus over to the Romans because they feared a revolt or because Judaism gives no credence to the notion of a divine messiah? Possibly. But, it was the Romans, not the Jews, who crucified him, as they had crucified thousands of other Jews."

Gibson was raised in an atmosphere of anti-Semitism. His father was the notorious holocaust denier, Hutton Gibson, who also has alleged that the World Trade Center was destroyed by remote control and not by hijacked planes and that the Second Vatican Council was a Masonic plot backed by Jews. Because of this, there is some concern that he may have made a deliberately anti-Semitic film,

On the film’s "fan web site," Gibson, who is a devout Catholic, though a member of a Catholic sect that has distanced itself from main stream Catholicism, is quoted as abhorring anti-Semitism and saying that "in no way does his faith endorse hatred or bigotry or anti-Semitism or blame the Jews for the death of Christ."

On the other hand, in describing his approach to the making of the movie, he said "it’s meant to tell the truth. I want to be as truthful as possible."

I don’t know whether or not Gibson is anti-Semitic, or whether or not he set out to make a film that is anti-Semitic, or whether or not it will be interpreted as anti-Semitic.

I’m not concerned about Gibson’s purported efforts to truthfully portray the description of events as they appear in the Bible, but what I’ve long been concerned and puzzled about, is the belief, held by millions, that the events described in the Bible are literally true. Just as they’re portrayed. Word for word.

Those who have seen the film say that it is indeed faithful to what is written in the Bible.

That is the same Bible that tells of the earth being "created" in seven days, of men living to be 900 years old, of the waters of a sea parting so that people can walk across the sea bed, of water being turned into wine without the benefit of grapes, of one woman being turned into a pillar of stone in the blink of an eye and another giving birth without the benefit of male sperm.

This is the same Judaic/Christian Bible that has influenced the lives of millions of people for hundreds of years and has played a major role in shaping the last 2000 years of history of much of the world. And its contents are believed to be absolute truth by millions of people living today.

And I’ve never been able to understand why.

Because it’s old?

Because there were no cameras or tape recorders to record the events it portrays, so who’s to say they didn’t occur exactly as scribes set them down years after they occurred?

Because you can’t prove the events didn’t take place, other than by the application of logic and scientific principles, and who wants to muddy things up with science and logic?

Because its a "holy book" and you must simply accept it on faith??

Yet think what would happen if there were claims today of events similar to those portrayed in the Bible.

We would demand proof.

Scientists would provide logical explanations for that which is claimed as mystical phenomena.

"Miracles" would be debunked as simple magic tricks.

Anyone claiming to be a "son" of God or a prophet of God would have to do more than make such assertions before sane people would take them seriously.

After all, this is an age where we understand that an eclipse of the sun doesn’t mean that the sun God is mad at us.

Of course there are always enough nuts among us to provide sufficient following and financing to charlatans making crazy claims. Some will allow themselves to be led to mass ritual suicide.

The works of non-fiction that are being published today - history, philosophy, science - are all subject to review and criticism and verification. Nothing in the writings is accepted on faith. If it was, it would be called something else.


I’m not saying that the Bible doesn’t make valuable contributions to our study and understanding of history. Of course it does.

But when Mel Gibson uses a Bible story to make a movie and people who see it believe they are seeing a portrayal of absolute truth, I can’t see it making any kind of contribution to our understanding of history or of ourselves.

But I can see it as Messrs. Heir and Brackman see it - possibly re-enforcing the irrational belief that "The Jews killed our Lord."

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Is a bad computer day comparable to a bad hair day?

Since I have very little left of the latter, I really can’t say.

What I can say is that my modem decided to go to sleep today and only awoke after I made an appointment for a serviceman to come out and fix or replace it.

Meanwhile, archives are down except for June but should be back soon per Blogger. Of course they said that yesterday.

I’ll be following up on the Library Hotel/Dewey Decimal System, brouhaha in the days ahead. Seems the Dewey folks lawyer says he had to sue to protect their trademark because the hotel people wouldn’t sign a little piece of paper saying they were numbering their rooms with OCLC’s permission.

That sounds a little simplistic, but the hotel owner is in Europe and says he’ll answer questions about all this when he gets back.

For those interested in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I recommend that you go to a blog called "Not a Fish," scroll down to the September 20 post and read this lady’s translation of an article in Yediot Aharonot about why a bi-national state solution is no solution.

I suggest this because I have some thoughts on what could work if there are enough sane people on both sides of the conflict. They will be the kind of thoughts that will be considered naïve by people like the author of the aforementioned article and people who think along similar lines - but this is just a blog, so I’ll post them here anyway.


Today is a bad hairs in my computer day.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Of all the images one might conjure up of the world of libraries, surely "hard nosed " wouldn’t be one of them.

Most of us think of libraries as places of quiet and dignity and learning , and librarians as courteous and helpful people, the kind that wouldn’t hurt a fly.

Even though, in this modern age, such service organizations as hospitals have taken to the airways to promote their services with just a hint of downgrading rival hospitals in their advertising, it hasn’t happened and one would never expect it to happen with libraries.

Could you imagine a library spokesperson popping up on your television screen to ask why you would go to library"X" with its inferior selection and numbers of books , when his or her library offers so much more and at no extra cost?

Of course not. Library science is synonymous with gentility.

Librarians want you to read books. That’s the sole purpose of their existence. And true librarians don’t care where you read your books. They would even encourage you to buy books in addition to borrowing them from the library.

What’s important is that you read books , and they applaud and encourage any effort that can achieve that end result.

But it seems that that attitude does not extend to the folks who own and control an integral component of thousands of libraries world wide, the invention of Melvil Dewey known as the Dewey Decimal System.

A luxury hotel next door to the New York Public Library in mid town Manhattan came up with the bright idea of creating a Dewey Decimal System library theme. The Library Hotel, as it’s called, has more than 6000 books in various categories scattered throughout its 60 guest rooms.

The idea of a hotel having books that guests can read isn’t new, but the Library Hotel came up with the innovative idea of numbering their rooms with Dewey Decimal System numbers and then stocking the rooms with books in that DDS category. So, if you like to read poetry, you ask for room 800.003. If you’re into erotic literature, take the room a couple of doors down at 800.001. And if architecture’s your bag, you’d want to be up on the seventh floor in 700.001. And so in. The full list is on their web site. Click on "concept."

A lot of people think it’s a great idea. There have been great write ups. Guests seem to like it.

But not Online Computer Library Center, the folks who own the Dewey Decimal System.

They are suing the hotel for big bucks, claiming that people who look at the hotel’s web site might think it’s connected in some way to the owners of the DDS.

Although the news story about the law suit doesn’t indicate that it includes the allegation that the people who look at the Library Hotel web site are congenital idiots and that their idiocy will in some way result in harm to OCLC, it surely must be part of the complaint.

I looked at the web site. It’s well put together. It obviously describes a thematic concept and the hotel’s ownership is clearly shown as HK Hotels, which owns four other hotels in New York and one in Europe.

How the Library Hotel's theme for its rooms could harm the owners of the Dewey Decimal System is beyond me, but then I’m not a lawyer and don’t have a lawyer’s capacity for thinking strange thoughts.

But let me try.

If there are lawyers who will take on fat clients and sue fast food companies claiming that they are responsible for their client’s obesity, and there are lawyers with clients who claim ownership of a phrase like "fair and balanced, " maybe the OCLC lawyers have conceived of the very likely possibility that the library idea will catch on with other hotels, and in a few years, there will be thousands of hotels in every country in the world housing thousands of books in rooms arranged according to the Dewey Decimal System .

Soon the hotels will start advertising their premises as alternatives to libraries. Then they will claim that they are superior to libraries. People will start going to the hotels instead of the libraries. The libraries, the OCLC’s source of income, will begin closing, unable to compete with books being read in luxury.

The hotels will refuse to pay the annual fees that libraries pay to OCLC, claiming that they are not libraries, simply hotels that have purchased some books for their guests to read. What will the OCLC want next, the hotel lawyers will ask - to collect annual fees from individuals who buy books to read in their homes????

OCLC lawyers will allege that the organization will have to close its doors for lack of revenues and the Dewey Decimal System will collapse, leaving the books in whatever libraries are left open in total disarray. Hotels would then come up with their own system and people thinking they have made reservations for a week of children’s fairy tails will instead find themselves embroiled in the world of erotic literature.

Chaos will reign. Democracies will teeter on the edge of anarchism.

Where do you think this one will end up on the all time list of nutty law suits?

I figure in the top fifty. Maybe even in the top ten.

I can’t wait to see who’ll be starring in the movie.

Monday, September 22, 2003

I have to try to remember not to punch in certain radio stations while I’m driving in heavy traffic. Not if I want to avoid having an accident that is.

It almost happened two days in a row.

I have a habit of switching from station to station if no particular program is holding my interest. I’ll switch over to FM where I go back and forth between a classical and a jazz station and back to AM where I usually switch between a couple of talk stations and one all news station.

I do the same thing at home with the television remote. I have no problem watching two to four programs at the same time. It drives my wife crazy, but fortunately, we have three receivers, so she can and often does go off to a bedroom to watch a program free of remote switching interruptions.

But back to the car radio.

Switching around the other day, I played a guessing game with myself. I knew that Rush Limbaugh was on the air at the time, so I thought I would punch in his station, but before doing so, try to guess how long I would have to listen before he uttered the word "liberal"

I guessed under a minute, punched in the frequency and began counting - a thousand and one, a thousand and two, a thousand and - and that was it. I never got to "three" before the word came spitting out of the car speakers. I laughed so damned hard, I’m sure I wasn’t in complete control of my car.

Then I did it again a day or so later. Not the same game. I was just switching from station to station and there was Rush offering a spirited defense of Dick Cheney and his Haliburton connection.

Why, Rush was saying , because of pressure from those hated liberals, the vice president cut all ties with his former company and the fact that they are going to reap billions in no-bid contracts for work in Iraq has absolutely nothing to do with clout or influence. He has absolutely nothing to do with that sort of thing. It’s just a coincidence that we’re spending billions with a company that he once headed.

I seem to remember that there was a similar coincidence following Cheney’s tenure as secretary of defense in the Bush senior administration, during which time, Haliburton did extremely well with defense contracts thank you. On leaving government service, Cheney went job hunting in the private sector. I guess. Or maybe the private sector went looking for him. In any event, he coincidentally landed the job as CEO of Haliburton and became a VERY rich man.

Now he’s back in government, Haliburton is reeling in huge chunks of our tax money and Rush Limbaugh is trying to cause traffic accidents by insisting that the Haliburton/Cheney relationship is a zero factor in decisions to award no-bid contracts to this company.

I live close to the city of Chicago, the fiefdom of the Daley family and I well remember the tenure of Daley the elder as mayor of the windy city.

At the moment, Richard the younger is lord of the manor, but when Richard the first reigned, the epithet "windy" was freely interchangeable with "clout" and ‘da mayor" wasn’t one to offer "coincidence" as an explanation when he was criticized for giving city business to friends and family.

Daley’s attitude was, who else would you expect me to give it to ? And if you didn’t like it, King Daley would extend an invitation to "kiss my mistletoe."

It was arrogance to the nth degree , but at the same time, almost refreshing. It was clout but it wasn’t illegal and Daley didn’t much care what you thought about it.

How much more refreshing it would be if we could get the same kind of honesty from those who are charged with selecting which corporations are getting the multi billion dollar governmental contracts for the re-building of Iraq?

When there are allegations that maybe these companies aren’t being chosen on merit alone, something like:

"Well sure there’s some influence. Not that Mr. Cheney calls us on the phone and tells us to give business to Haliburton, or Mr. Schultz tells us to drop a few billion in Bechtel’s coffers, but they don’t have to . We know these people. There are wheels running these companies. They know everybody here and everybody here knows them. Sometimes we don’t really know who’s here and who’s there!! So when we look over the list of companies, who do you want us to pick? Joe Blow and son of Podunk Iowa? Get real!!"

At least if I heard something like that, I wouldn’t collapse in a fit of uncontrollable laughter and cause a traffic accident.

On the other hand, I might faint dead away at hearing someone explain some of the considerations that influence the selection of companies to receive those multi-billion dollar government contracts, and to be told to kiss someone’s mistletoes if I didn’t like what I was hearing.

Better just keep defending your buddies against all that liberal smearing Rush. It’s safer for us station changing drivers.

Saturday, September 20, 2003

A friend of mine died last December.

John Weigel was a man of many accomplishments.. He had a long and successful career as a free lance announcer and in 1964, founded the first UHF television station in Chicago, where he had the good sense to hire me as a producer/director.

Neither he nor I lasted long at the station. I moved on to other things and John was moved out by a hostile take over. Later, I owned a license for another UHF frequency along with some partners, but we too were ousted by hostile activity. But that’s another story for another time.

John’s children were bright and successful. One son, Tim, who also died not too long ago, was first a newspaper reporter and then a television sports anchor.

In his later years, retired from the world of broadcasting, John lived on a farm in Wisconsin where he tried to pursue still another career.

John Weigel lived a life that a lot of people would envy, but with all of his successes, he felt unfulfilled.

Above all, John wanted to write novels and over a period of years, working just about every day in between farm chores, he completed manuscripts of at least one work of fiction and maybe a second..

I know about them because for some reason that I never did understand, he looked to me for criticism and advice about his work.

I don’t know how John did his original writing - whether he wrote in longhand or pounded on a typewriter or dictated into a tape recorder, but I know he had an assistant who took whatever he produced and typed it up on some kind of word processing equipment, because John would send me copies of his work on floppy discs - as I recall, the old fashioned 5 ½ inch kind..

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to help much because I wasn’t really able to read all that he had written. In those days, my word processing software was an early version of Word Perfect and while it was partially compatible with whatever system his assistant was using, on my computer, I could make out only about half of the words. The rest was code gobbledygook. Later, John sent me some pages of printed copy, but I was never able to see a complete version of anything.

I think John tried to submit his book or books to publishers, maybe even to agents, but I know that he was never able to get anything published and I have no idea what happened to the floppy discs on which he had his work stored or to any printed versions that existed. And I don’t remember what happened to the discs he sent to me. I think I sent them back, but I might have thrown them away after I no longer owned any computers that had a slot for 5 ½ floppies.

I tell this story because I am now a blogger, and if John had lived, I would have introduced him to blogging and urged him to serialize his works of fiction on a personal blog of his own..

Maybe he would never have been able to find a print publisher. Maybe his stories weren’t good enough.

But with the advent of personal web sites and web sites providing access to books that can be read on-line, anyone can self-publish their work, and even if very few people read it, one can at least take comfort in the knowledge that the work has been immortalized.

Assuming we don’t blow this world to kingdom come in the future, a work of fiction published on- line should always be there and asking the right kind of questions, google should always be able to find it.

I myself am trying to put together a book. Not like John’s works of fiction, but a non-fiction collection of consumer issue correspondence between individuals and corporations or governmental agencies . Clicking on "my other blog" will provide a more detailed description. It’s something that I’d like to see published in a traditional way and maybe even make a buck or two for the struggling author, but if that couldn’t happen, I’d settle for putting it on the Internet if I can gather enough material

Meanwhile, while searching through filing cabinets full of old papers and tape recordings looking for John Weigel’s old floppy discs, I came across copies of an old company newspaper that I once produced and almost totally wrote for a television station at which I worked in the late fifties and early sixties before I joined with John in his television venture.

On the back page of three of those newspaper issues, was a serialized work of fiction by yours truly, written, as I recall, to fill up some space.

Well, I can’t publish any of John’s work on line, but maybe I can have fun publishing some of mine.

So, I’m about to embark on the painful chore of creating a Word version of this ancient story, and on some future week-end - I wouldn’t let it intrude during the work week - I’ll offer it as a blog entry.

I called the story "A Different Kind of Smell" - a quasi parody of a line from Romeo and Juliet.

Maybe it’ll stir some memories in some of my long ago colleagues at that station not so very far away.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Many years ago, when I was a starry eyed, unsophisticated young fellow, I discovered the works of Ayn Rand, beginning with The Fountainhead. I read it first and then "Atlas Shrugged." I never got around to Anthem.

I was fascinated by the stories. To me, they were great yarns and the heroes great characters.

I sometimes identified with the characters. I pictured myself as a Howard Roark type of rugged individualist, defying the world and coming out on top. (I was deeply disappointed in the movie though. I just couldn’t buy Gary Cooper as Roark).

I didn’t recognize the philosophy behind the works at the time and even when I came to understand it - sort of - it didn’t bother me. The writing was that good. And by someone whose native language was not English!!

I am reminded of Rand and her philosophy of "objectivism" because of the case of Richard Grasso, the New York Stock Exchange Chairman who just resigned amid growing public criticism of his $140 million "deferred compensation" package.

You’re not going to look too good defending the idea that this guy is entitled to that kind of money while the nation is still reeling from the revelations about the very corporations that the NYSE is supposed to regulate.

But I open my paper the other day and sure enough, there’s a defender in a letter to the editor from someone at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine California.

According to this bozo, Grasso’s compensation is nobody’s business but the "owners" of the NYSE and that the furor over his obscene take home package is really the result of - and I quote "the Marxist notion that all property is collectively owned - as if those who own not a red cent of the NYSE somehow have the right to tell owners what to do with their private property."

I thought that some of the comments that Rush Limbaugh makes about how "liberals" plot and scheme to destroy everything that he holds sacred was pretty nutty stuff, but the accusations coming out of the Rand Institute sound even nuttier.

The Rand spokesman categorizes Grasso’s decision to resign as "caving in to the mob" and a "lack of moral courage" and "cowardice" and that such cowardice will "hasten the day when all will be forced to live by the Marxist mantra - that all property is theft."

If you’ve read the works of Ayn Rand, you’ll recognize such nutty statements as recurring themes in her plot lines.

Rand is long gone, but it seems her disciples are alive and well, and apparently still trying to apply her fictional concepts that private ownership sits on a higher moral ground than the public good to the real world that we non -objectivists have to live in.

I had almost forgotten about objectivism, but after reading the aforementioned letter, I went looking and found the Rand Institute web site.

I don’t think these folks are dangerous, but I do think they’re nutty enough to bear watching and I’ll be looking a little closer at what it is they are doing out there in - where else - California, and maybe report back here with some observations.

Meanwhile, take a peek yourself and see what you think of them.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

What on earth has happened to the English?

We used to think of England as a peaceful, verdant land, devoted to tradition, quaint customs, polite behavior and an innate sense of fairness.

Young students at England’s public (VERY private) schools, were taught to treat athletic opponents in a respectful manner. After a soccer match between rival schools, the winning team was expected to give three cheers for the losing opponents, as they walked off the field.

London’s bobbies, with their helmets and chin straps, weaponless other than the truncheons hanging by their sides, were the highly visual assurance that all was well in what Shakespeare called;

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war

(King Richard ll, Act ll, Scene 1)

Nowadays, one tends to think more of Noel Coward’s lines about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun.

The United Kingdom and Europe suffered through one of the worst heat waves in their history just a few short weeks ago and that might have left a goodly number of the various populations with addled brains.

Of course it wouldn’t explain English soccer hooligans or Bobbies roaming the streets of London wearing turbans!! (See my blog posting of 6/18/03).

Nor would it explain the incredible experience I had a few years ago, stopping in at a country tea shop for a spot of the brew, only to be told "we don’t DO tea!!" That was about the time when McDonald’s started popping up all over the landscape.

Historians may select that period, coupled with the heat of the 2003 summer and the emergence of the Osbournes as television icons, as the beginning of the final stage of decline of former British glory and hegemony and the descent of British citizens to the depths of incivility.

How else can one explain the treatment being given to David Blaine?

Suspended above the Thames near Tower Bridge in a clear box, the American illusionist is trying to survive for 44 days without food, having previously succeeded with such stunts as standing on a tiny platform 109 feet from the ground for two days and nights without food or drink and being encased in a block of ice and in a standing position for more than 60 straight hours.

I’ve seen David Blaine do his "street magic" and I think he is a skillful and entertaining illusionist.

But I’m no great fan of his feats of endurance. I don’t find them entertaining and I don’t really know what it is he’s trying to prove or what starving yourself for more than six weeks has to do with a magic act.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t imagine my lack of enthusiasm for these stunts being a reason to attempt to physically and mentally abuse the man, and that is precisely what English people are doing as he attempts to complete this latest stunt.

The stories are difficult to swallow for an anglophile. People pelting his see-through box with eggs, bananas, even golf balls. People taunting him with the sight and aroma of food. Women stripping in full view of the box. Hooligans banging on drums in the night in an attempt to prevent him from sleeping. Others trying to blind him with laser beams. One man was even arrested for trying to cut off the tube that supplies him with water, without which he would stand no chance of surviving.

Betting is legal everywhere in England and people have been wagering on the outcome of Blaine’s attempt.. Recently, worried English bookies began shortening the odds of him succeeding because the vast majority of the betting has been on him failing to last the 44 days.

With the way he’s being treated, the currently offered odds of 5 to 2 that he’ll fail look a lot better than odds of 4 to 9 that he’ll succeed.

There’s a French expression - plus ca change, plus ca reste la meme chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

At one time - and for a very long time, it was a phrase that epitomized the character of what , in King Richard ll, Act ll, Scene 1, Shakespeare also called;

This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands.
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

How sad that as far as our English cousins are concerned, instead of those words being applicable to what we have always believed of the English character, some of their recent behavior conjures up a different phrase.

The more things change, the more they change for the worse.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Well, I guess I’ve been taken to task. I reviewed instapundit and Eric Zorn’s Chicago Tribune blog and almost immediately, Zorn reviewed me right back with a lengthy piece in his blog.

Now I feel like Ronald Reagan’s handlers on the day after one of his press conferences with the need to explain what the great communicator really meant to say.

I sure hope that Professor Reynolds or the thousands of bloggers who visit instapundit every day don’t get wind of my review and start inundating me with point by point responses to my observations. I don’t think I could take the humiliation.

Meanwhile, I’ll try to respond to Zorn’s response using the same format he used. My words from my review of his blog - in bold print. His response. My response to his response, again in bold print, indented.

(ME) I don't know why the Tribune feels the need to publish a blog which could be summarized as an extension of the print and on-line paper consisting of "stuff we had no room for or wouldn't bother to publish anyway."

(ZORN) It's important to remember that Breaking Views was my idea, not the Tribune's, and that my judgment about what to put in the blog has quite a bit to do with format and time issues and very little to do with space issues. Whether or not the mini-reports and essays and tangents I include here are of less interest than everything else published in the paper on a given day is, of course, a judgment any reader is free to make. But it's unfair, not to mention a mistake, to judge content by the format or forum.

(ME) O.K. But regardless of whose idea it was, it IS a Tribune blog, part of the on-line edition. I withdraw my silly line about "stuff we had no room for or wouldn’t publish anyway," but I still don’t see why a major metropolitan newspaper that has an on-line edition, needs a blog.

(ME) Much of the blog is a glorified gossip column.

(ZORN) I don't know what "glorified" means, but I seldom if ever traffic in what I'd call gossip -- floating rumors or dishing on the private lives of public figures.

(ME) O.K. What do you call columns that run a variety of newsy and informational squibs coupled with bits of commentary ? Whatever it might be called, give it the ability to be as long or as short as the author wants it to be (not possible in a print version) and that’s what I mean by "glorified."

(ME) I would think of a blog run by a newspaper columnist as a place for that columnist to say things that perhaps he can't say or doesn't want to say in his print column.

(ZORN) It would be dishonorable of me (or any columnist) to write anything on the web that I wouldn't write in the newspaper. .

(ME) Well of course. But I would assume that as a columnist, Zorn has an editor or editors that look over his work and that on rare occasions, the word "dele" appears somewhere beside a paragraph or a line or a word, which would mean take this out of the column. Maybe even in reference to a whole column. All I meant to imply was that I would think of a blog by a columnist as a blog without an editor. Or to paraphrase Seinfeld’s soup nazi, no dele for you!! Of course if the Zorn print column goes straight from his computer screen to electronic typesetting room, or whatever it’s called, with editors and subscribers seeing it for the first time together, then to quote another favorite of mine, sadly deceased - never mind.

(ME) I would think of it as a place where he could write with less constraints than are placed on him at the paper.

(ZORN) The writing style on the web is generally somewhat less formal than it is in the ink-on-paper media, but the "constraints" of accuracy and taste -- if that's what Smith means -- ought to remain in place.

(ME) See response above.

(ME) You can't put absolutely anything in a print column of a major newspaper, no matter who you are. But as you can see as you surf the world of blogging, constraint is a word that isn't in the blog dictionary.

(ZORN) "Constraint" may not be in everyone's dictionary in the blogosphere, but I'd argue that good blogs --the best and very worthwhile blogs -- exercise it all the time. They may use more cuss words than I can use here at chicagotribune.com, but the writers are responsible in their factual assertions and strive to be fair (though seldom balanced!) in their analysis and presentation.

(ME) Zorn may be more right than me. He’s obviously more knowledgeable about blogging than I am. For example, I only came across the word "blogosphere" a day or two ago. On the other hand, he’s separating out the "good" blogs - a judgment call, from the hundreds of thousands that are out there and I repeat, constraint isn’t a word that leaps out at you when you click on them at random.

(ME) Zorn does a good job of putting together the Tribune blog and I would expect no less of him. But as a daily reader of the Tribune, I don't see that it has any great value it in its present format.

(ZORN) I thank the gentleman for the compliment and can't argue with his opinion. I try to make visits here worthwhile, but I know I can't and won't please everyone.

(ME) The gentleman says you’re welcome. I’ll look in from time to time.. Who knows, I might get hooked.

(ME) I can think of several good uses for a Tribune blog that would persuade me to visit it on a regular basis. Here's just a couple.

1. Give Tribune reporters who don't write editorials and don't have a column, an opportunity to write short "op-ed" pieces on any topic they feel strongly about.

(ZORN) My guess is that you'll see more and more reporters given opportunities like this as we continue to explore uses of the web. But they will always have to be careful not to compromise their roles as objective journalists. A newspaper can't, for instance, have the county reporter penning an on-line essay about what a turkey a certain county commissioner is, then have that same reporter's byline appear atop a story involving that commissioner's role in a particular controversy.

(ME) Well of course not. I know about those kind of restraints. Years ago I created an audio-cassette magazine for the American Medical Association. I recorded the pilot for the series with Ed Newman as host and we were all set to begin publishing when NBC had second thoughts. What if Ed had to do a negative report on the AMA? Would he compromise his role as a reporter because he was also an AMA spokesman? So they pulled him. Then they offered Hugh Downs. Then they pulled him. We finished up with Raymond Burr. Still, it would be fun to read a metro reporter’s take on a world situation and a foreign affairs writer’s opinion of city government. Wonderful hidden talents might be revealed.

(ME) 2. Publish a flock of letters that the Voice doesn't have room for or just doesn't want to publish. If the Voice editor doesn't want to cooperate with such an idea, invite readers to send their letters directly to the blog - and not just about what's in the Tribune blog but about any subject. The Trib blog could render a great service by offsetting a bad Tribune Voice habit, that of occasionally publishing a viewpoint on a controversial issue without publishing a contrary view.

(ZORN) I'm offended! Smith pooh-poohs my blog as "stuff" the paper "wouldn't bother to publish anyway," but then says he'd be eager to read letters from random citizens that don't make that grade.

Actually, what he's talking about here are message boards or mediated forums. And we have tried those over the years.

Back when the Tribune's online presence was closely linked to America Online, we had a slew of message boards that were very lightly edited (mostly for profanity and libel). There was even a particularly lively board devoted exclusively to my column.

Interesting little on-line communities formed on these boards, but they never became the grand municipal salon we envisioned. Later, post-AOL experiments were equally unsatisfying. They never proved to be a substantial draw.

That said, however, and undiscouraged by the lessons of the past, I've decided to experiment with what chicagotribune.com calls a "graffiti board" on this blog.

I'm inviting / requesting readers to post comments on what they read here, either specifically or generally, as well as suggestions.

It's called a "graffiti board" and not a "message board" because the software limits the length of comments to 300 characters (about 60 words; one short paragraph). I have to review and approve each message before it gets posted online, and while this will slow things down it will also, I hope, ensure decorum, relevance, variety and whatever else I decide I want to ensure.

(ME) Now I’m offended. I’ve already withdrawn that silly line about what’s in the blog. Wait a minute. Zorn hasn’t read it yet. O.K. I withdraw my offendedness. (Get lost spell checker). But I don’t go along with his description of letters that don’t get published in the paper as those that "don’t make the grade." The letters that are published are the subjective selections of an editor or editors and do not necessary reflect on any aspect of the worthiness of letters that are not selected for publication. And sometimes in the Tribune print edition, letter selection and rejection have the appearance of bias. For a case in point, click on my September archives and read my September 4, 2003 blog. Then look at the only
letter that the Tribune Voice of the People deigned to print on this subject.

And I wasn’t referring to message boards or mediated forums. I was suggesting that maybe the Voice editors would let Zorn look over letters that they weren’t about to print and let him select those that he believed worthy of publication, particularly if they would give balance in topic areas where the print Voice had not given balance. And if they wouldn’t allow such a thing, my alternate suggestion would be to start an on-line letter segment, letters about anything, not just what people read on the Tribune blog and not a "grafitti board."

Hey, this is fun. I would love to do an ongoing point/counterpoint with Zorn.

But then he does that with fellow columnist Mary Schmich. And they both get paid for it.

And besides which, he’s a professional writer and I’m a struggling amateur and he’d probably make me look foolish.

So forget about it Zorn. You’re not going to lure me into that trap!! Boy, these columnist types sure are sneaky …..

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

A favorite theme of science fiction is that of parallel worlds occupying the same space but with their populations being unaware of each other. Except for the story’s heroes and villains of course. They not only are aware of the multi dimensional worlds, but can travel back and forth between them at will.

I’ve often thought of that same condition as applying to the United States, with multiple USA’s , similar but not exactly the same, occupying the same space-time but with portals opening and closing so that, like the heroes of science fiction stories, we are occasionally confronted with brief images of worlds in which we do not live.

For me at least, the happenings in the world of entertainment over last few days have brought that eerie concept into sharp focus.

I was of course familiar with Johnny Cash but I was somewhat surprised to find that I wasn’t aware of him as an important American icon.

When the first several minutes of national newscasts were devoted to his death and to his life’s work, it wasn’t just a surprise. It was a reminder that different people can live through the same period of history, yet experience totally different histories. In mine, Johnny Cash was a country singer who once had a comic song about a boy being given the name of "Sue." That’s about how I would have described him if anyone had asked.

In the world portrayed on recent newscasts, he was a giant in the world of country AND rock music and his death was a great loss to music, our country and the world.

In entertainment, this may be the era of Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, the Goo Goo Go Gos and the Foo Foo Frum Frums, but it’s the era of some kind of parallel world that I simply don’t live in .

By the way, don’t put any special interpretation on the fact that I know these names. It’s hard to avoid hearing them as it would have been hard not to be familiar with Johnny Cash, but I know nothing of them beyond the names. And of course the Goo Goos and the Foo Foos are names I made up. They don’t exist. I think. Or maybe they do. Somewhere. It can be confusing, living in a parallel world.

I also knew who John Ritter was but I had never watched him in any of his television programs, so even though I was saddened to hear of someone dying suddenly at such a young age, he really wasn’t someone from the world I live in. But I gather he was a likable fellow. No doubt in another world, another me watched all of his programs.

Then there’s Celine Dion. The other night I was watching a segment of one of those television magazine type programs that had a feature on her life and times.

Again, this is someone with whom I am familiar, but I was astonished to hear that she is the world’s best selling female performer!!

More CD’s than Britney or Christina? I would have thought that all three lived in the same world, but obviously not. How could a Dion sell more recordings than a Spears? Or in MY world, how on earth could she sell more than Streisand or Linda Eder, who incidentally wasn’t even IN my world until a few months ago when I first heard her sing?

It’s not just show business.

Not too long ago, the Chicago Tribune exhibited incredible insensitivity toward its Jewish readers by publishing a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon. Then, while trying to apologize for their gaffe, they made matters worse by insisting that none of their editors had recognized it as being anti-Semitic.

What world were THEY living in? I wrote about it on this blog site on June 3,4 and 11, 2003.

On the other hand, some years ago, there was a Jewish television news anchor in Chicago who professed that he had no idea that there was such a thing as a Black National Anthem. Chicago’s African-American population wondered what world HE lived in.

He’s still on the air and by now I would imagine that he’s found a portal through which he can get glimpses of the parallel world where everyone stands when they play "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

Coming back to Celine Dion, the television program showed some of her Las Vegas act, which has a huge cast of back up singers and dancers and visual effects of all kinds , plus the "world’s largest television screen." Despite all of this, said the program host, all eyes are focused on Celine

Among my collection of Sinatra CD’s is Sinatra at the Sands when he was fifty. Just Frank and the Count Basie Orchestra. No back up singers. No dancers. No visual effects. No giant TV screen. Just Frank on a bare stage. Singing. Guess where all the eyes were focused.

That’s a glimpse of the world I live in . I kind of like it.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Back on May 13, 2003 I wrote a little bit about blogging in general and said that I might be offering an occasional critique on selected blogs and today I am doing just that.

First, a few more general comments.

I haven’t been blogging that long and I don’t know that much about its history or its growth or its impact, so it’s entirely possible that some of the things I might observe here may be way off base.

Having said that, it’s my impression that the basic audience for web logs is other bloggers.

Some audiences, as I think I said on 5/13/03, are made up of bloggers who are already connected in some other way and so have mutual interests- fellow students, fellow workers, fellow philatelists, fellow conservatives, liberals, anarchists, flat worlders, bug collectors and so on. They share interests so they link to and read each other’s blogs.

Other audiences seem to be made up of people who are just heavily into the world of blogging. You could almost call then professional bloggers!! In terms of content, they do not appear to have a specific connection to the blogs they view or say they view. Their interest seems to be an affinity for fellow "heavy bloggers."

In some ways these bloggers give the impression of being almost cult-like, with references to each other and to people and situations that are obviously known to each other but are a mystery to the "drop in" observer There are even cult-like blogger icons.

One such is reviewed below.

A third possible audience could be people who do not have a blog, are not particularly into blogging, but are directed to a blog from some non-blog source. A blog created by a newspaper for example, which is my second selection for review.

First, the blogger icon.

Soon after I began writing my own blog and occasionally looked at others, I became aware of "instapundit."

Instapundit is one Glenn Reynolds. a law professor from the University of Tennessee and you can click on his name and read his self posted bio.

It’s a site that greets you by name, so if you want to be anonymous and have the software , click out and back in again as I did. It also asks for money to support the blog. I have a hard enough time supporting the Illinois lottery so I declined the invitation.

Although he denies it in his FAQ’s which you can find on his web site, I would have to categorize Reynolds as a compulsive blogger, who, as his bio says, is interested in everything and his blog site certainly shows it.

It seems to be a scattershot series of almost stream of consciousness type of references to a variety of events, people, writings and rantings, posted from morning to night and peppered with links. In fact, a good many of his postings are JUST links.

I looked at September 10, 2003, which seemed to be a typical day at instapundit.com with (I think) 33 posts, starting at 7.06 a.m. and ending at 11.36 p.m., with 61 links scattered among the posts!!!

I say "I think" because it’s possible that I miscounted. It wasn’t easy wading through post after post after post on subject after subject after subject. If the man teaches, writes op-ed pieces and books as he says in his bio, I don’t know when he does it. Maybe between 11.36 p.m. and 7.06 a.m??

I don’t get it.

Glenn Reynolds is some sort of icon. All kinds of bloggers link to him and claim to read him daily, and for the life of me I can’t imagine why.

There’s even a web site that lists blogs that were inspired by instapundit.

And I found a site that at one time monitored and reported critically on instapundit, but it seems to have given up the ghost because the last post I could find was dated November, 2002.

I can’t really critique the content of instapundit.com because I don’t have the time, nor sufficient interest to wade through the mountains of material one finds there, as indeed I found on other web logs that are linked directly or indirectly to instapundit.

As I said before, these seem to be members of a cult of webloggers. I visualize them seated at their keyboards hour after hour, glazed eyes glued to their monitor screens, fingers racing to keep up with the thoughts and opinions cascading through their minds.

I’m probably way off base on that visualization, but that’s the image that pops into my mind when I look at these blogs.

If people read the voluminous daily output of instapundit and click on all the links to other sites that he presents and get something out of it, I say good luck to them. He’s obviously a very bright man with lots of interests, lots of opinions, lots of suggestions about things to read and people to listen to.

But I’m happy if I can get through my daily paper, do a few chores and write a single commentary at my blog site . And as you can see, I don’t manage to do that every day. Incidentally, if you want to know why I started blogging, read my April 29, 2003 comments.

I spend a few minutes every now and then scanning randomly selected blogs and there are one or two that I check briefly two or three times a week. That number may increase as I come across more blogs with material of interest to me that is presented concisely and with language that is easy to read.

No offense professor Reynolds, but Instapundit won’t be one of them.

Second review.

The Chicago Tribune is a pretty good paper and one that I read every day.

You can also read it on line.

It also now has a blog site, run by columnist Eric Zorn.

And to repeat my comment on instapundit - I don’t get it.

I like Zorn. He’s a good writer and I find myself agreeing with much of what he writes in his column, particularly on controversial subjects. And I imagine he’s enjoying himself running the Tribune blog .

But I don’t know why the Tribune feels the need to publish a blog which could be summarized as an extension of the print AND on-line paper consisting of "stuff we had no room for or wouldn’t bother to publish anyway."

Much of the blog is a glorified gossip column. The only thing missing are bullet titles that are sometimes used to break up segments of a gossip column. There is one regular bullet - "Pundit Patrol" a capsule description of what local newspaper columnists are writing about that day.

There’s a poll. That seems to be a regular feature. There are ads. There’s a link to Zorn’s print column and links to other blogs, including - what else - instapundit!!

I would think of a blog run by a newspaper columnist as a place for that columnist to say things that perhaps he can’t say or doesn’t want to say in his print column. For whatever reason.

I would think of it as a place where he could write with less constraints than are placed on him at the paper.

And yes I know that many columnists have free reign and can write about whatever they want to write about - but there are constraints. You can’t put absolutely anything in a print column of a major newspaper, no matter who you are. But as you can see as you surf the world of blogging, constraint is a word that isn’t in the blog dictionary.

Zorn does a good job of putting together the Tribune blog and I would expect no less of him.

But as a daily reader of the Tribune, I don’t see that it has any great value in its present format.

I can think of several good uses for a Tribune blog that would persuade me to visit it on a regular basis. Here’s just a couple.

1. Give Tribune reporters who don’t write editorials and don’t have a column, an opportunity to write short "op-ed" pieces on any topic they feel strongly about.

2. The Voice of the People segment in the paper has limited space and is highly selective in what it deigns to print. Publish a flock of letters that the Voice doesn’t have room for or just doesn’t want to publish. If the Voice editor doesn’t want to cooperate with such an idea, invite readers to send their letters directly to the blog - and not just about what's in the Tribune blog but about any subject. The Trib blog could render a great service by offsetting a bad Tribune Voice habit, that of occasionally publishing a viewpoint on a controversial issue without publishing a contrary view. There is a current case of that kind which should be obvious to any Tribune reader.

If the Trib blog thinks either of these ideas have merit, I may come up with some others.


Saturday, September 13, 2003

I don’t always find time to write anything in this space on week ends but as my wife is wont to say, Friday the 13th comes on a Saturday this month, so I’m taking the opportunity to kick off what will likely be a continuing series of comments on less than truthful advertising.

I suppose if there was such a thing as a "dictionary of cynicism, "some of the definitions for "advertising" might be, lies, misinformation, flim-flam and mumbo-jumbo.

I suppose it could also be a definition for a law firm, but that’s a topic for another blog. This one is about truth in advertising.

I know that may be something of an oxymoron, but surely we can hope that at least they won’t tell us blatant lies.

Here are two examples that have been bugging me lately;

Amoco was taken over by British Petroleum. Now BP is running commercials about Amoco gas that finish with the BP Logo, identified as "Beyond Petroleum."

There’s no such company as "Beyond Petroleum." That old American standby Amoco, is now owned by BRITISH Petroleum..

Are those folks at Britannic House in London worried that Americans will quit buying Amoco gas once they realize it’s now part of an - Ugh - British company?

Those radio commercials for "On Star" are pretty impressive. That’s the outfit that has your car in the sights of its eye in the sky and can get you out of all sorts of trouble. They can open locked doors if you’ve left your keys inside. They can get you medical help lickety split if you fall ill.

You’re never alone on the road if you have On Star.

But… when you listen to the commercials , are you hearing a true version of how On Star works or an abridged "teaser?"

An example:

They ask you to believe that you reach an On Star operative, tell him you are sick, he immediately is able to reach an emergency service, patches you in to the service, tells them your exact location, the service operative asks a couple of questions and then says " we know where you are, we’re on our way." And all of this takes place in about a minute, including the announcer’s pitch.

If you’ve ever tried to reach an emergency service , explain your problem and get a response, you have an idea of how long it takes. You may have even read of horror stories about emergencies, response time of emergency services and unfortunate outcomes.

But maybe the people that On Star calls are on the On Star payroll.

After all, this is America. Money talks.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Israel founding father David Ben Gurion is reputed to have said that for every two Jews, there are three opinions.

Apply that formula to the members of the Israeli Security Cabinet - I don’t think it has any non-Jewish members - and you can see the difficulty Israel has in deciding how to handle or what to do about Yasser Arafat.

Their proclamation labeling Arafat as "a complete obstacle to any process of reconciliation" and that "Israel will work to remove this obstacle in a manner and at a time of its own choosing" was looked upon by some as an official decision to expel him from the area and the Palestinians reacted in their usual self defeating fashion by descending on his Ramallah compound by the thousands, cheering and firing guns into the air - somewhat reminiscent of the street scenes that we witnessed on the west bank and Gaza after 9/11/01.

I view it more as an expression of utter frustration with years of inability to find Palestinian partners capable of concluding and living up to even an interim peace agreement, and of a wish that Arafat would just somehow disappear.

I would hope - and presume, that cooler heads will prevail and that there will be no real attempt to forcibly expel Arafat from the west bank.

An Arafat on the loose, running around the world, being greeted as a hero in Arab and maybe even some non-Arab counties, could be more of a problem than he presents sitting in his Ramallah office.

Commenting the other day on Daniel Pipes’ ideas about how to deal with the Palestinians for the next decade, I agreed with most of what he proposed except for his belief that there should be no negotiating unless and until the Palestinians give up their anti-Zionist fantasy.

I thought that the two sides should keep talking, even while violence rages.

I still think so, but I don’t think any agreement can be reached while Arafat lives and continues to wield his obstructionist influence. We’ll either have to wait for him to die or hope that enough members of the Palestinian leadership will shut him down in some fashion.

Ten years after Oslo, lots of people are commenting on what went wrong and what lies ahead.

Here are a couple of interesting commentaries, side by side in today’s Chicago Tribune;
What the future holds for the Mideast and The right agreement with the wrong people.

Being one of those multi-opinionated people described by Ben Gurion, I’ll probably have some comments on these commentaries……

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Two years ago, my wife and I were vacationing in England and spending the day with a relative in Milton Keynes, a small town about a 45 minute train ride from London

Just about the time when the crazed murderers were crashing their hijacked planes into the twin towers, I was calling home to check up on my dog, and my daughter, who was doing dog and house sitting duty, greeted me with "are you watching this?"

We turned on a television to see the horror unfolding before our eyes and it was almost all we could think about for the rest of our trip.

The Brits were wonderfully supportive. People, hearing our accent, would approach us on the street or in pubs to express sympathy and support. Memorial displays went up overnight. There was a national three minutes of silence on September 14th and people stopped in the street like statues in a tableau for the full three minutes. It was very moving.

A year later, I made note of the anniversary in my diary, (that was in a pre-blog era) and my opinion then was that Islam itself was at the core of this irrational hatred for America and for the western world in general. . This morning I took a look at that diary entry and it reads no different from what I might have written as a blog today, so instead of writing anything new, here are my thoughts of one year ago:

9/11/02 A year has passed since the madmen attacked our country with their belief that they were doing God’s work and heading straight for paradise as their reward for wounding "The Great Satan."

The world hasn’t changed since then, as so many pundits have said over and over again. But what has changed is our understanding of the state of the world and its populations that existed a year ago and exist today, and the need to do what ever can and must be done to stem the tide of ignorance and evil that threatens to disrupt and perhaps destroy civilization.

Who are these madmen? Who is the enemy? Is it countries ruled by despots spewing hatred for things western and for the United States in particular? Partially. Perhaps.

Is it religious fanatics from many countries who have "hijacked" the religion of Islam and used it as an excuse to launch terrorist attacks against us? Partially. Perhaps.

Or is it possible that it is the Muslim religion itself, even when practiced peacefully by millions around the world? Can we really live peacefully in a world where millions of its citizens believe that paradise awaits them upon their death, that those who don’t believe as they do are "infidels" and thus enemies, where the rules and customs of their society are those of the seventh century and where their religious leaders wish to impose those rules and customs upon all the people of the world? I think simply not. The enemy is buried deeply in the psyche of that religion and will continue to be a threat even if the countries where it flourishes become democracies with separation of church and state.

This is a fanaticism far more dangerous than our Christian ancestor crusaders. The crusaders had the fanaticism and the sword but their descendants had time to become becalmed and more tolerant of those that they believed to be the "infidels." The fanatics of today have at their disposal, jet planes, high explosives, guns, biological weapons and - heaven help us - perhaps atomic weapons.

Do we have the time for them to become "becalmed" and more tolerant of their "infidels" before civilization goes up in smoke? That’s the question confronting us today in my view and we’d better start looking at it and stop being so "politically correct" by saying that the madmen are only those who "hijack" and "distort" Islam. I think there is enough in the religion itself to represent a threat to civilization and we need to find ways to deal with it.

On reflection, my thoughts of a year ago might read like a preemptive endorsement of the decision to invade Iraq, or maybe a suggestion that we declare war on Islamic nations, but that certainly wasn’t my intention.

I was just venting in frustration, along, I’m sure, with millions of civilized people around the world.

Those of us who will prevail.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

One of the problems I encounter in writing this little personal blog is that because there are so many topics and events on which to comment (remember, the theme of the blog is commentary on the passing parade), many of the things I would like to write about have to be put on the back burner and by the time I get to them, the moment has passed and they have become swallowed up in that passing parade.

Today is one of those days, as was yesterday when I didn’t even get a chance to write anything.

How can I comment on anything but the latest horrific turn of events in Israel?

In my September, 8 commentary, I said that peace was impossible in the region as long as the Palestinian people continue to support Arafat and his disastrous policies. Then I read an article in the Jerusalem Post that cites polls taken among Palestinians in the west bank and Gaza, revealing strong support for armed violence and suicide bombings, and one is left with the feeling that there is nothing anyone can do to resolve what seems like an unresolvable problem.

But good people keep trying.

Yesterday, a cousin sent me an article from the September 9, 2003 New York Post by Daniel Pipes. (If you’re not familiar with him, you can read about him here).

Speaking of the failure of Oslo, Pipes proposed what he categorizes as a "different" approach to the problem for the next decade and I have listed it here in case you don’t have time to click on the link to the article above.

1. Acknowledge the faulty presumption that underlay both Oslo and the road map (Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence).

2. Resolve not to repeat the same mistake.

3. Understand that diplomacy aiming to close down the Arab-Israeli conflict is premature until Palestinians give up their anti-Zionist fantasy.

4. Make Palestinian acceptance of Israel's existence the primary goal.

5. Impress on Palestinians that the sooner they accept Israel, the better off they will be. Conversely, so long they pursue their horrid goal of extermination, diplomacy will remain moribund and they will receive no financial aid, arms or recognition as a state.

6. Give Israel license not just to defend itself but to impress on the Palestinians the hopelessness of their cause.

When, over a long period of time and with complete consistency, the Palestinians prove they accept Israel, negotiations can be re-opened and the issues of the past decade - borders, resources, armaments, sanctities, residential rights - be taken up anew. The sooner we adopt the right policies, the sooner that will be.

I agree with almost everything that Pipes lists in his six points but I am somewhat confused by his categorizing all of these ideas as "different."

Surely we have been trying for decades to persuade not just the Palestinians but the entire Arab world that peace cannot be achieved until they accept Israel’s existence and stop their anti-Zionist fanaticism.

Obviously any new ideas about how to get to that point would be welcome, but what Pipes seems to be suggesting is an Israeli
version of the infamous Arab "three no’s" of 1967 - no peace, no negotiations, no recognition - in other words a state of perpetual conflict but with the promise that it will all change once they drop their non-acceptance.

I don’t see how such an approach would work, unless Pipes is suggesting that we impose so much pressure on the Palestinians that their will collapses completely and they come to the negotiating table as a defeated people. That would be a fantasy as nutty as their dream of a greater Palestine without an Israel.

I think we should throw all our weight behind suggestions 4,5 and 6, but keep talking.

And, agreeing with suggestions 1 and 2, don’t make any deals that are doomed to failure.

Monday, September 08, 2003

If there was ever any doubt about why Israel and the Palestinians of the west bank and Gaza, have not been able to achieve some sort of peace agreement, surely the reason has now become crystal clear.

The road block to the road map - or for that matter any other peace ideas that have been proposed over the years - is the presence of Yasser Arafat as the leader of the Palestinian people.

There is simply no way that one can look at this man’s history and conclude that his goal for the Palestinians has been peace with Israel and a sovereign state for his people in the west bank and Gaza.

Remember that the PLO was founded before there was any occupation of these territories and remember that the name of the organization is the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Liberation from whom? From Jordan and Egypt, the countries that controlled the west bank and Gaza before the 1967 war?

The answer of course is that "liberation" was and is Arafat’s not the slightest bit subtle code word for "elimination" of the state of Israel as stated in the PLO’s infamous charter , and there is no indication that his goal has changed, despite his shared Nobel prize and his 9/9/1993 letter repudiating terror and violence!!

Both of these documents are worth reading to remind ourselves of who we are dealing with on the Palestinian side of the argument.

We can pretend as much as we like that there is some hope remaining for the road map as Arafat goes through the charade of "appointing" one prime minister after another with the usual aliases- the latest being Ahmed Qureia, also known as Abu Ala - but it’s obvious that it’s a charade and that these appointees have no power to try to make order out of chaos.

Hell - if any of them try to confront Arafat with any kind of disagreement, they’re liable to be confronted themselves by masked gunmen bursting into governmental conference rooms to show who is really in charge, as we’ve seen happening when Mahmoud Abbas tried to assert some authority.

Can you picture that kind of nuttiness taking place in any civilized society? Of course not.

So wither the road map?

Those who think that it’s still viable while Arafat remains are delusional. But more than Arafat must go if there is ever to be a chance for peace and for some form of Palestinian statehood..

The Palestinian support of Arafat and everything he and the PLO stand for - and it’s all there in their charter - must also go. Because Arafat is not alone in his guilt. Ordinary Palestinians - or at least, enough ordinary Palestinians to keep him in power, have supported this man for nearly 40 years as he’s led them from one disaster to another.

Eventually, the man will be gone and rational people will take over and enter into serious negotiations to end the conflict.

But as long as he is alive and the Palestinian population continues to support his so called leadership, nothing will be accomplished but the continuation of their misery and they will have only themselves to blame.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

I don’t suppose I can get the Chicago Tribune to blink by writing today’s blog, but I just have to comment on an editorial in the Sunday, 9/7/2003 paper.

The editorial asks the question "Will the world blink again" and virtually mocks the reluctance of France and Germany to support the request we are preparing to present to the Security Council asking for United Nations help in the policing and re-building of Iraq.

The editorial quotes from the Bush address at the U.N. last September when he asked "Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding or will it be irrelevant?"

In other words, "Will the rest of the member states support us going to war against Iraq because that’s what we’ve decided to do whether you think that’s the right thing to do or not?"

The answer of course was that, right or wrong, they didn’t think that the nature of Iraq’s non compliance with U.N. resolutions warranted massive military action and it seems that they haven’t changed their mind.

Now, after we thumbed our nose at the U.N., threw insults at European and other nations for not falling lock step behind our leadership, and launched a war with only the United Kingdom making a major contribution, we find ourselves in deep trouble, with military personnel being killed almost every day, terrorist attacks being launched against Iraqi and International targets with horrible loss of life, and the cost of the operation skyrocketing out of sight, we are asking those same nations to join with us, help bear the cost and put their military people in harms way - under our leadership of course.

The Tribune editorial writers categorize the initial responses of France and Germany to this request as; Who? Us? Do something?

Well, I’m no lover of France or Germany, but isn’t the initial answer more like; Hey, we told you you were wrong. We told you not to go to war. You didn’t listen. You said, O.K., we’ll go it alone. And now you want us to send over some troops and money to help you out of a jam? We’ll think about it, but don’t hold your breath.

The Tribune hopes that "the members of the United Nations will be willing to do more than blink when confronted with challenges such as the future of Iraq’s people."

I hope so too, but right now, I would imagine that more of a few of them are winking rather than blinking at our obvious discomfort , and won’t be in any great hurry to come to our aid.

That would be no surprise to me and it shouldn’t be to the learned men at the Tribune either.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

There was another audio tape from Saddam Hussein the other day, broadcast on Al-Jazeera, which seems to have some sort of exclusive deal with Saddam or whoever it is that’s recording these tapes.

Every time a tape surfaces, we hear that it is "allegedly" the voice of Saddam and/or that it sounds like his voice.

What we don’t know, or what Al Jazeera won’t tell us, is how these tapes get delivered to this Qatar based, Arabic version of CNN.

With all of the modern investigative devices available to the FBI, the CIA and other investigative bodies, we could surely make some small progress in the hunt for Saddam Hussein if we could get a handle on how he ships his tapes to Al Jazeera.

Is there a postmark for example, or don't the Iraqi
authorities stamp letters with the originating post office or whatever passes for a post office in Iraq ? For that matter, does Iraq have a postal system?

Perhaps it gets delivered by way of some premium service. Fedayin-Ex or United Camel Service .

Are we looking into this? Is anyone asking questions? Do we have a mole in the Al Jazeera mail room? Or in every Iraqi post office,
Fedayin-Ex office or United Camel Service office?

If not, why not?

But apart from the route the tapes take to get to Al Jazeera, think what might be learned if we could get our hands on them and subject them to scientific examination. Maybe we could find out if they were recorded on a $9.95 portable cassette player or in a professional recording studio. Just that little piece of information might turn out to be a valuable clue. Do we know how many recording studios there are in Iraq and where they are and if not, why not?

Maybe instead of offering twenty five million in the hope that some disgruntled Iraqi will fink on Saddam, we should spend a few bucks doing some serious detective work with the clues he presents to us.

If we can figure out how tapes get from a fugitive Saddam Hussein to the Al Jazeera studios, maybe we’ll be able to figure out what he did with those elusive weapons of mass destruction.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune who, for the most part, writes about local politics.

The hallmark of his writing style is to attach derogatory nicknames to the politicians and political insiders. The mayor of Chicago for example is "little big man" and one of the city government departments is "the department of Tony."

Occasionally, Kass moves out beyond his usual beat and takes on subjects of a broader and more complicated nature.

Today was one of those occasions, a column titled Pollard has no business seeing spy file, daylight

I have no special expertise on the Pollard case but I know enough about it to want to offer some comment on the Kass column, so I wrote a letter to the Tribune "voice of the people" feature as follows:

It's kind of surprising that John Kass, who exhibits little faith in the veracity of local governmental officials, accepts completely the federal story line about why Jonathan Pollard should never be let out of prison.

No one has ever been given a life sentence for passing classified information to an ally, and while there is no question that he was guilty of that offense, Pollard is serving a life sentence because of allegations of treasonous acts for which he was never indicted or tried, based on the infamous secret report submitted to the sentencing judge by former secretary of defense Casper Weinberger.

It has been suggested that a full blown trial might have been more damaging to Mr. Weinberger than to Pollard.

There may or may not be any truth to that allegation, and there's a lot of discussion about it, pro and con, to be found on the Internet. But we do know that this wasn't the first time Weinberger was involved in a trial that might have revealed all kinds of embarrassing information but never took place. He managed to avoid his own trial for conspiracy and lying to congress and the American public, courtesy of a pardon from President Bush the elder.

Now Pollard wants access to the Weinberger report so that he can have the chance to defend himself against the accusations it contains, for which he has never been tried or officially charged but for which he is serving a life sentence.

Sounds fair to me. Sounds like the American way. But he's being told that revealing that information would create a security risk and that seems O.K. with Kass.

Jailed for life because of accusations. Secret accusations. No opportunity to challenge them or to challenge your accusers.

What country does that sound like to you Mr. Kass?

I doubt that the Tribune will publish my letter, but at least my small (but hopefully growing ) audience can read it here.

If you’re interested in the pro and con view on the Pollard case that can be found on the Internet, go to Google and type in Jonathan Pollard. You’ll get over 100,000 hits.