What's All This Then?
Thursday, September 30, 2004
DEBATE PREDICTIONS AND REACTIONS
This is by way of a before and after commentary. Before and after the first Presidential debate.
It’s a few hours from that debate as I type these notes and I’m wondering whether I will be able to sit through it without throwing my jaw out of whack by having it drop in amazement so many times, or hurting my vocal chords by yelling WHAT??? or ARE YOU KIDDING?? every five or six minutes, or bruising my hands from pounding on the table out of sheer frustration.
I don’t expect the joint appearance will persuade anyone to switch their preference from one candidate to another, so it will be aimed at the few who haven’t thought about the issues or about the two men vying for the office and who could be persuaded to vote for one or the other for some relatively simply reason.
Their general appearance and demeanor for example. Some pundits have been saying that Kerry needs to try to come across as being "more likable." They probably have a valid point. Even people who have pretty much made up their minds who they are going to vote for, like to think of their president as a "regular guy" - someone they could sit down and chew the fat with.
Neither of the candidates can claim the role of being able to identify with "just plain folks" the way Bill Clinton could, but Bush is more able than Kerry to hide his privileged background with his grin and his casual way of talking and his malaprops. And there are plenty of people who will vote for a candidate just on the basis of his "likeability." Clinton was a good debater and campaigner, had a good grasp of the issues and had good ideas - but I’m sure his looks played a not unimportant role in winning the Democratic nomination and the Presidency.
But apart from their looks and their debating styles and their body language, what may have an effect one way or another on undecided voters is their selection of words and the meanings that they ascribe to them and whether the candidates will challenge each others use of those words and meanings.
For example, over the past several months, Mr. Bush has been able to get substantial mileage out of the phrase "war on terrorism." He’s used it again and again in front of enthusiastic audiences and in television ads. And nobody really questions it. Nobody asks, what do you mean Mr. President? Obviously we are against acts of terror, but we can’t really be "at war" with "acts of terror" that may be committed against us at some time in the future. But we know that there is a group of people who have committed acts of terror against us and continue to threaten new attacks against us - and their name is Al Qaida. And we are definitely engaged in a war against Al Qaida. Could it be Mr. President, that by not calling the war by its proper name, you are somehow able to broaden it to embrace any military action we undertake, such as the invasion of Iraq?
Mr. Bush is a master of using simple rhetoric to mask extremely complicated issues and it has been working for him. He follows the dictates of the late radio commentator and motivational speaker, Earl Nightingale, who once created a motivational tape program that may still be available from Nightingale-Conant or some other source. It was called KISS - keep it simple salesperson.
I said a few days ago that these would not be "debates" in the true sense of the word, but condensed sound bites from the Bush and Kerry stump speeches and television commercials. I expect Bush to repeat his major sound bites - the world will be safer with a free Iraq - America is safer with Saddam Hussein in a jail cell - Kerry supported the war on Iraq - a leader shouldn’t be sending mixed signals - you can’t be a leader if you question the credibility of our allies - we’ve got Al Qaida on the run… and on and on and on. Simplistic one liners. These things are so because I say they’re so!!
Kerry of course will say that Mr Bush is doing it all wrong and he (Kerry) can do better. And the inevitable "I have a plan."
I didn’t watch or listen to every last minute. I was multi-tasking.
My jaw wasn’t thrown out of whack. My vocal chords feel fine and my knuckles are unbruised. My initial gut impression was that the non-debate was a push. I thought they both did well being themselves. Bush had all of his usual "I’m sure of myself" black and white positions that we’ve been hearing in his stump speeches. Repeated over and over. And Kerry criticized everything that Bush has done and is doing and intends to do and indeed said that he had a plan for just about everything. So I was a little surprised when the instant polls gave Kerry the edge by a substantial margin. Maybe because Bush didn’t come close to scoring the knockout that his supporters had hoped for - or even landing a good punch or two. Maybe because his body language wasn’t as likable as it is when he’s making a stump speech to a partisan audience when there’s only applause and no criticism. In some of the cross shots, when Kerry was speaking and Bush was listening, he looked positively angry. His team was probably very angry because the two sides had agreed to no reaction shots. Obviously, the TV director didn’t feel bound by the agreement hammered out by Jim Baker and Vernon Jordan and hadn’t signed a loyalty pledge.
I was a little disappointed that Jim Lehrer didn’t use any of the kind of questions that might have been asked if the candidates had been able to pose questions to each other. The kind that I included in my September 24 post for example. And I’m disappointed that there was no discussion of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Or on why no Arab countries are part of our "coalition of the willing." Or that on homeland security, there were no questions about the Patriot Act and about what is going on in Guantanamo, which Seymour Hirsch has said is going to make Abu Ghraib look like a Sunday school picnic.
But all in all, it was probably worth while - if only to see the two candidates together on the same stage. As contrived as these debates are, they still are sometimes able to give the voters something that they can’t get from radio and television commercials and stump speeches - a glimpse of what these guys are really like and what makes them tick.
And in this particular debate, it would seem from the early polls, that Kerry came out on top. If he can do that in two more debates, this could turn out to be a real horse race.
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
SUPPORT AND DISSENT. NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE
We have a young relative who has served in Iraq and who may have to go back, but is home for the moment and safe.
A few days ago, he sent us a copy of a letter that was written by a marine currently serving in Iraq and forwarded to him by one of his military buddies.
The letter was to the marine’s father and was responding to a question that his father had put to him. It began "Dad, you asked me what I would say to America from Iraq on 9/11 if I had a podium and a microphone. I have thought about it, and here is my response."
There followed an eloquently written treatise on freedom and liberty and sacrifice and democracy and what America stands for. It is far too long to include here, but here are his closing comments:
The bottom line is this: Republican or Democrat, approve or disapprove of the decision to go to war, you need to support our efforts here. You cannot both support the troops and protest their mission.
I’m tempted to say that despite this young man’s obvious writing skills - almost poetic in fact - he just plain doesn’t get what this country is all about, even though he’s "laying his life on the line" for it and for me and the veterans he speaks of are "bearing the physical and emotional scars of defending our freedom!!!"
I’m tempted to be critical and say that he just doesn’t understand that people can be totally supportive of the military personnel involved in a mission , yet still be highly critical of the reasons behind the mission and those who designed it. That the two positions are not mutually exclusive.
But I won’t do that because he "gets" what he thinks it’s all about, and indeed, by laying his life on the line in Iraq he may lose it. And you can’t be critical of a brave young kid like that.
Instead, I’ll comment on what else his letter is about, and that is the syndrome of the soldier in battle who must seek and find reason when there may be none.
For most of recorded history, young men have fought and died in wars not of their making. Some were wars that had to be fought, when one country attacked and attempted to subdue another. The two world wars of modern times were such wars, and no one questioned the mission of our service men and women or thought that any of the lives lost were lost in vain.
But there have been wars that should never have been fought. Wars instigated by leaders acting out of arrogance or ignorance or venality or religious fervor. Wars that were the result of misjudgments and miscalculations. And all fought by young men called upon to risk and possibly lose their lives.
What are such young men to think of their mission in the heat of battle as they see their comrades die or suffer horrendous injury? That they are engaged in a stupid war that should never have been started and that their comrades are dying and suffering terrible injuries in vain? Some may think that, but most are more likely to feel like the young marine letter writer. That their nation asked them to fight a war. That their commander-in-chief asked them to uphold their sworn duty. And that they are fighting and dying for their country and their fellow countrymen. And no matter what the war, it makes their mission noble and worth while.
It’s reflected in the very words of the eloquent young letter writer. - that he and his compatriots are putting their lives on the line for us!!
This isn’t a period of history like that of the Vietnam war era, where a military draft was in effect and potential draftees had an opportunity to ask questions about Vietnam and why we were there and to examine their own consciences and decide whether or not it was a war for which they were willing to lay their lives on the line. For "us." To "defend our freedom." And many of course did not.
Today’s military, as the young letter writer points out, is all voluntary. There is no opportunity for anyone already serving in the military to question the morality or legality of our invasion of Iraq. If you’re sent there - you go. To attempt not to go because you do question the legality or morality or even the suitability of the invasion would be an act of desertion. So you go, even if reluctantly. Even if filled with fear. Very likely filled with fear. And you tell yourself that the sacrifices you are making and that you see others making - including the ultimate sacrifices - are worth while. They have to be worth while. Otherwise nothing that you or your compatriots are doing over there makes any sense.
So we can understand the young man’s letter and the approving sentiments of our young relative who sent it on to us. But he is wrong. Nothing in any criticism of those who sent him to war and their rationale for doing so, detracts one iota from our total support for him and for the success of his mission. And the fact that we can do both at the same time is not something that should give aid and comfort to our enemies. It is not a sign of weakness or disarray but of the ultimate strength of our system - a system that allows us to do battle with our enemies while discussing the merits of the battle among ourselves.
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
SUPPORTING BUSH WITH COCKEYED COMPARISONS
I really should stop listening to radio talk shows. There’s too much risk of them giving me apoplexy.
I had the radio on yesterday and the subject was the election and who was best equipped to handle the "war on terror" - a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one - but that’s a topic for another day.
Somebody called in and said he thought that Bush would do a better job because he was resolute and decisive and wouldn’t back down and some other assorted nonsense, and then went on to say that we’ve learned from history that appeasement doesn’t work with tyrants - and mentioned Hitler. That’s all. He just mentioned Hitler - as in "look at Hitler." He didn’t elaborate about what went on in the 1930’s in Europe and the nature of the "appeasement" that was attempted with Mr. Schickelgruber. I doubt that the caller was alive at the time or that he had any familiarity with the history of those times. If he had, he would not have tried to make comparisons with the events leading up to World War ll and the problems that we face in the world today.
In the 1930’s, the world faced a true threat from a despot with a massive military machine. Had Hitler’s generals been free to pursue the war without his interference, there’s no way of knowing what the outcome might have been.
Yes, there was an attempt at appeasement - a desperate hope that if small concessions were made to the madman of the Third Reich, he might be satisfied. I was very young at the time, but I remember Neville Chamberlain returning from Munich in 1938 with the agreement that he had negotiated with Hitler that he said would bring "peace in our time." A year later, Hitler called the agreement "a scrap of paper" and invaded Poland, setting off World War ll.
Yes, Britain, the rest of Europe and the United States should have known that war could not be avoided by appeasing Hitler. That he had to be defeated militarily. Hindsight is always 20/20.
What scares the hell out of me is the thought that the caller to the radio show I was tuned to yesterday - and others that I’ve heard expressing the same views - represent a majority view in this country. That George Bush is a man who knows that you can’t appease our "enemies" and disabuse them of the idea of doing us harm through negotiation. And that John Kerry doesn’t.
Who should we not appease? Al Qaida? The terrorists that are members of this infamous organization? Of course not. There is no appeasing madmen who are happy to die as long as they can murder Americans as they blow themselves up. Yet Mr. Bush goes around the country saying that "there are some people with whom you just can’t negotiate," as though revealing some kind of insight into the complexities of today’s world, and he gets applauded for saying it!!! And people call into radio shows to add their applause. The implication of the well rehearsed line of course, is that John Kerry would try to negotiate with terrorists. That anyone, even those whose political philosophy is to the right of Attila the Hun, would actually believe such a thing is beyond comprehension.
Who else should we not appease - or should not have appeased? Iraq? Saddam Hussein? Just as we should never have appeased Hitler? Those who have bought into the idea that the two can be linked in some way are victims of one of the greatest political con games in history.
There simply is no comparison and thus nothing to be learned from the history of World War ll that would apply to the problems that confront us today.
In September of 1939, the world was facing a massive war machine and a nation determined to wage war against the nations of Europe, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. There wasn’t any question about whether or not they had weapons of mass destruction. They were already using them. And there wasn’t any question about the threat that Germany and later Japan posed to the rest of the world.
How anyone could compare those days and the military might of the Third Reich with the alleged threat to our security posed by Iraq is beyond me. Iraq had no military forces capable of inflicting harm to the United States. They couldn’t even make much of a dent in Iran’s defenses after years of armed conflict. Iraq had made no move to attack the United States or any of its facilities around the world and it had no association with Al Qaida and the 9/11 attack. Yes, it was a nation run by a brutal dictator and yes, he was less than cooperative with the arms inspectors who were trying to make sure that he didn’t become a threat of any kind.
But there is no way in the world that not invading that country could be thought of as appeasement. What would we be appeasing? Appeasement implies that a peaceful attempt is being made to persuade some aggressive party not to do something, and carries with it the promise of some benefit if the aggressor would just back off. So how would the alternative to invading Iraq be considered "appeasement?"
Iraq was ordered to disarm by the United Nations. They said we have disarmed and handed over mountains of documents that they claimed was evidence of their lack of armaments.
Mr. Bush said we don’t believe you and we’re coming to disarm you. Of course we were coming no matter what. Mr. Bush had made up his mind long ago that he was destined to oust Saddam Hussein and bring democracy to the Middle East, solving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict along the way.
That isn’t a recognition that you can’t appease "aggressors." Rather it’s evidence of a miscalculation of unprecedented proportions and a rationalization right out of the works of Lewis Carroll.
And the irony of the Bush doctrine of eschewing "appeasement" in favor of preemptive military action against a nation posing no threat to the United States other than that "perceived" by Mr. Bush, is that our military capabilities are now so taxed that we would be hard pressed to mount a military offensive against another nation that suddenly posed a real threat to our national security.
So much for who is to be most trusted to pursue the "war on terror" and make us safer in our beds.
Rather fallout - Bias from the right?
As I said yesterday, CBS isn’t about to fire Dan Rather. They may come down hard on the producer that put the whole Bush in the Air National Guard piece together. It is after all the producers that do all the investigative leg work on the "Sixty Minute" programs and do a lot of the on-camera interviews which may be integrated into the final piece. Rather may have had the authority to put the kibosh on the segment, but I doubt that he had much to do with efforts to vet the material.
But being the front man, he’s the one whose taking the public heat and being "fired" by those who have the ability and desire to fire him. Like the news-talk radio station in the town where Rather grew up - KPRC in Houston. They didn’t like the "60 Minutes" debacle and expressed their disapproval by taking Rather’s daily radio show off the air in that market.
The program director of the station, one Ken Charles, was quoted as saying "I feel that no anchor should ever be the story or bigger than the story. I thought it was appropriate to take him off the air."
I didn’t see any question posed to Mr. Charles or any comment from him as to whether his doctrine of "no anchor being bigger than the story" applied just to news anchors, or news magazine anchors or to other "anchors" in the general areas of news and information and investigative journalism and opinion. Nor did I see any comment from him about a doctrine of removing any kind of "anchor" from the airways who is found to be broadcasting lies and misinformation and who’s stock-in-trade is distorting the statements of anyone they disagree with.
I have to surmise that there is no such doctrine at KPRC, since Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage are still on the air there.
The hue and cry from the right is that Dan Rather goofed while exhibiting "liberal media bias."
What do you think they call taking him off the air in Houston? And what do you think they call the Limbaugh and Savage shows on their station?
Monday, September 27, 2004
I know that polls are usually pretty good predictors of the outcome of elections. There have been a few exceptions. Dewey did not beat Truman and a race for governor in Illinois a few years ago that the polls said would be a runaway, turned out to be a squeaker.
But they’re usually right.
What puzzles me about political polls though, is the results that keep changing from week to week or month to month. For example, we get a poll that says candidate A is leading candidate B 55% to 45%. A couple of weeks later, candidate A is still leading, but now only by a couple of percentage points and with the famous "margin of error," it’s a dead heat.
But when I see these changing results, I wonder if anything has really changed other than the fact that the numbers are from a new poll. Did they go back to the same people who they polled for their first result to see if or how many of those people had changed their preference? That would obviously produce a true comparison between an earlier and a current poll and if there had been a shift of sentiment among the same people used for the original sample, you could assume that the campaigning was having some effect on voters.
On the other hand, if the pollsters don’t go back to people they’ve already polled to see if they feel the same way, but take new polls with different people and get different results, why should we believe the second poll and not the first? Surely the only way to find out if voter sentiment is really changing to any significant degree is to take cumulative polls - that is, to re-poll people that have been polled in the past every time a new poll is conducted and publish the combined results.
I know I haven’t been polled this year, nor do I know anyone who has been polled, and if I was polled, the preferences that I would indicate would be the same as they were when the this year’s national and local campaigns began, and I think I could say the same for most of the people I know who haven’t been polled.
Messrs. Bush and Kerry will of course pay attention to the polls and to some extent be guided by them, but from where I sit, they tell me that this is one of those elections like the one four years ago. It’s going to go down to the wire.
Unless of course, during this week’s "debate," Kerry admits that he was never in Vietnam or Bush acknowledges that he never learned to read or write.
Obviously there are no people at CBS who are students of George Santayana. Rather (no pun intended) the CBS/Viacom brass seem to be schooled in the Nixon/Clinton/Stewart philosophy of adding insults to one’s self inflicted injuries. Or as Santayana put it, not learning from history.
Having allowed itself to be coerced by we know not who to broadcast a story based on forged documents about Dubya’s Texas Air National Guard service 30 years ago, they have now made themselves look guilty of the "liberal prejudice" of which they have been accused by a number of right wingers, by pulling a "60 Minutes" program on "The Rationale for War in Iraq," saying that it was "inappropriate" to broadcast such a report so close to the Presidential election.
Ironically, it was a program that was originally scheduled for airing on September 8, but was delayed in favor of the infamous forged document piece!! And that apparently was considered to be appropriate.
This is CBS, the network that produced, then, under pressure from conservatives, decided not to air a mini series about Ronald Reagan. At least they didn’t burn it. They gave it to a cable outlet to broadcast - and take the heat.
Ed Murrow must be turning in his grave.
Edmund Burke, speaking in the British House of Commons, said that there were three estates in Parliament, "but in the reporter’s gallery yonder, sits a fourth estate, more important far than they all." CBS doesn’t seem to have anyone who understands or agrees with what Burke said either. The slightest application of outside pressure or criticism seems to make them forget that they are part of that fourth estate - more important than whatever our equivalent of those other three ancient British "estates" were.
Having been embarrassed by a single mistake on "Sixty Minutes Two," the bean counters at CBS - or maybe at Viacom, have put their tails between their legs and decided that surrender was the better part of valor. After all, they’ve done it before.
What does this say about CBS? Is anyone really going to buy the story that they have suddenly decided that a documentary piece about weapons of mass destruction or the absence thereof, which has been many months in the making, was "inappropriate" because there’s an election a few weeks away? Does this mean that CBS has adopted a new rule that news items will be examined for their possible influence on the election and that any item of news that they believe could sway voters one way or another will be left off of all newscasts until the election is over?? And what would be an appropriate "cut off" date for those kinds of stories preceding any election?
The irony of all this is that some of their most vocal critics from the right hand side of the media, dish out misinformation and downright lies on a regular basis and are never embarrassed by it. For some, it’s their stock-in-trade and they are true believers of Edmund Burke’s assessment of their importance.
Some people are calling for Dan Rather’s head. They want him to resign or to be fired. That’s not going to happen. At least the CBS brass have shown some guts about that. They’ve announced that he will anchor the CBS coverage of the Presidential debates.
But I’d like to see them put the "Rationale for War" segment back on "Sixty Minutes" - and while they’re at it, re-schedule the Reagan mini-series!!
Friday, September 24, 2004
THE NON DEBATE DEBATES
The first Presidential debate will take place next week and from what I’ve been hearing about the rules that they have agreed to, the candidates might just as well stay home and have the moderators read prepared statements that they can both fax in to the debate site.
These won’t be debates. The candidates will each make their own memorized statements and rebuttals in a managed television production as ritualized as a royal wedding. It is so managed and so ritualized, that the debate moderators are being asked to sign something akin to a loyalty oath - an agreement not to deviate one iota from the structure that was worked out by Jim Baker and Vernon Jordan.
What are we going to learn about George Bush and John Kerry that we don’t already know? Surely nothing of substance. If anything, the debates might reinforce the sad state of affairs in which we find this nation - that our choice for the person to lead us through these complicated and troubled times for the next four years is between these two men.
You have to wonder what it is about our system of government that allows it to come to this. Be honest with yourselves folks - Republicans and Democrats alike. Do you really think that George Bush and John Kerry are the two best possible candidates for the office of President of the United States?
If there were some rational method of selecting our leader from among the wisest and the finest and the most experienced and the most understanding, would these two be among the top one thousand, or the top one hundred thousand or the top one million possible choices for the job? Don’t you know people personally who you believe are smarter and have better ideas than the two of these candidates combined??
But we don’t have a rational method of selecting the best possible leader. We have this imperfect system called democracy and we have to deal with it the best we can. One of these two that we will watch "debate" next week, will be our next president. And I’m not sure whether it’s a good or bad thing or a cosmic joke, that only a fraction of us will bother to decide which one it will be.
For the most part, a presidential election is a referendum on the performance of the incumbent. We want to know as much as we can about the challenger, but it’s usually our judgment of the sitting President that determines the outcome. However attractive the challenger might be, if, in the minds of the voting public, the sitting president has done a pretty good job, the odds of him being reelected are pretty good.
Despite the recent slew of polls showing Mr. Bush leading Mr. Kerry, Americans are divided pretty much down the middle in their support for the two candidates and the political philosophies that they represent. For that reason, the debates could provide a significant opportunity for voters to measure the candidates against each other in a way that isn’t possible listening to their stump speeches or watching their 30 and 60 second commercials.
That could happen if the debates were true debates with the candidates having at each other with free wheeling challenges and rebuttals. But it’s not going to happen. What we’ll get will be scaled down versions of their stump speeches and syntheses of their radio and television commercials.
In a real debate, we could hear questions posed to the incumbent that might reveal the true nature of the man currently occupying the office. The questions that he has to answer are more important than those posed to the challenger, because the incumbent is the one asking us to retain his services based on his performance for the four years he’s already been in office.
I think a lot of people might have a clearer picture of the man after he answers some pointed questions with as much time as he would need to answer them and with the ability of Kerry to challenge his answers.
Here’s just a few that I would like to see asked and answered and the answers debated.
"You keep saying over and over that we are fighting "terrorists" in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them here. You say that in front of partisan supporters who applaud as though the statement really has meaning. But are you really asking the American people to believe that there was an army of terrorists in Iraq planning to launch terrorist attacks against the United States, and our invasion of that country has prevented that? And if that’s what you’re saying, what proof do you have to offer that this is the case?"
"You’ve said that Iraq "supported" terrorists because of payments made to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers and has other tenuous connections to terrorism and you’ve cited that and suggestions that Saddam Hussein was somehow connected to 9/11 as part of your justification for invading Iraq, while you do nothing about known supporters and havens for terrorists, such as Iran, Syria and Lebanon. How do you reconcile invading Iraq as part of the "war on terrorism" while doing nothing about these other countries?"
"You’ve said that Mr. Kerry is sending "mixed signals" when he criticizes your policy on Iraq, implying that this is somehow unpatriotic and that a "leader" shouldn’t do such a thing. Are you saying that a challenger can’t criticize your foreign policy or that it’s harmful to this nation to criticize you foreign policy? Are you saying that some topics should be off limits in a Presidential race?"
"Several insiders who have left your administration have written books in which they say very clearly that you were obsessed with the idea of deposing Saddam Hussein almost from the moment you took the oath of office and that it had nothing to do with his alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction or any threat that he posed to our security. What do you say about these people? Are they all idiots or liars or did they all coincidentally misinterpret what you said to them and in their presence in the same way?"
"You keep saying the economy is improving because of your tax cuts and you point to the encouraging new job numbers. But we never hear anything about the specifics of these new jobs as we do about the jobs that are lost!! For example, some recent headlines over a matter of a few days have told us that Delta is cutting up to 7,000 jobs, Mitsubishi is laying off 1200, Goodyear plans to reduce its work force and Franks Nursery and Crafts is closing it’s national chain, putting thousands out of work. And those kinds of headlines are appearing almost on a daily basis. Are you able to cite any specifics about these new jobs? What companies have hired people? At what salaries or hourly wages? With what benefits? And specifically, which of these companies cite tax cuts as the reason they’ve hired new people?"
"Since you took office, the number of Americans without health care insurance and who have fallen below the poverty line has increased. Do you think your record in these two areas is deserving of a vote of confidence from the voters?"
And above all…..
"When you were running for the Presidency, you said you were a uniter, not a divider. After you lost the popular vote and were elected by the slimmest of electoral vote margins and with help from the Supreme Court, can you cite the conciliatory gestures that you made towards the majority that opposed you, immediately following the election and in the years that followed, and can you cite the things that you’ve done that you think has "united" the people of this country?"
Unfortunately, no one will bring up the question of whether Mr. Bush has a messianic view of his role as President and whether he believes he was doing "God’s work" when he sent us to war against Iraq and whether or not he thinks that "God speaks" to him and tells him what to do.
But maybe there’ll be something there to guide or influence those of us who haven’t yet decided who to vote for, so for that reason, I hope the debates are a ratings smash.
Thursday, September 23, 2004
LOOK WHAT A LETTER TO THE EDITOR HATH WROUGHT
On May 7 of last year, I wrote a critique of the "Letters To The Editor" section of major metropolitan newspapers.
I expressed my bewilderment at some of the strange letters that editors of such sections select for publication. But the main point of my critique was that newspaper editors with opinions that they’d just love to be able to express in their paper but can’t because there would be serious repercussions, may be able to do so by using unsuspecting surrogates who have similar opinions and put them in a letter to the newspaper.
An editor who is a raging anti-Semite for example, isn’t going to launch an attack on Jewish Americans and write an editorial or op-ed piece calling them traitors because they support Israel. Even if he had the authority to write editorials or op-ed pieces, he couldn’t do it. Maybe in some hate rag - "Adolph Speaks" - but not in any respectable paper.
On the other hand, if a letter trickles in from a reader with similar views and makes the argument that has been made many times before and most recently about the so called "Neo-cons" surrounding the President, that some American Jews put the interest of Israel before that of the United States, an editor of the letters page could easily justify putting it in the paper as a valid opinion that the writer was entitled to hold and that perhaps reflected the views of a segment of the community.
That would be the explanation he might offer if the selection of that letter for publication was challenged, but it could just as well be that it was selected because it reflected the views of the selecting editor!!
If you think about it, the editors of "letters to the editor" pages of newspapers large and small, wield extraordinary power. By their letter selection, they are able to create the impression that the subject matter of those letters reflects the concerns and opinions of the community at large. For example, four or five letters might be published on a single day on a particular topic and that topic would dominate that section of the paper on that day. But those may be the only letters on that topic that the paper accumulated over a period of days or maybe weeks, as opposed to dozens of letters on other topics that were not selected for publication. And they may well have been selected because the subject matter was of interest to the editor of that page, not because it was a hot topic being discussed locally or nationally.
In June of last year, I wrote two or three pieces about a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in the Chicago tribune and about the responses from readers that the Tribune selected for publication. Within one of those pieces, I called attention to a letter that the Tribune had published on May 2, 2003, asserting that "Israelis had been slaughtering and dispossessing Palestinians with impunity long before there was a PLO," and that no letter refuting this ridiculous assertion had appeared in subsequent editions of the paper, including one that I had written.
Such is the power of the "letters" editor of the newspaper that you read.
All of this is by way of a preamble to a story about one editor’s decision to publish a letter expressing views that I would imagine many Americans may have had in recent times in moments of extreme anger, but quickly dismissed as a madness of a moment - not something to be considered seriously or acted upon. Rather than provide a link to the story which might require you to register with some on line newspaper edition, here it as, as reported out of Phoenix Arizona a week or so ago:
PHOENIX -- The letter to the editor was printed more than nine months ago, but its effect is still reverberating through Arizona.It may not be the equivalent of shouting "fire" in a crowded theater, but I hope that the issue is allowed to proceed to trial so that the spotlight can be shone on the power of "letters to the editor" to incite and to misinform while the newspaper itself hides behind the first amendment.
Wednesday, September 22, 2004
THE RATHER GOOF AND SO CALLED "BIASED" NEWS REPORTING
It seems that Dan Rather and "Sixty Minutes Two" and CBS have combined to give the Republican party and President Bush a gift that keeps on giving. Barring any additional revelations that could turn the story upside down and make the cohorts of the alleged victim the culprits, the "we told you so" attacks on the "liberal media" will continue right up to election day, no doubt with allusions to Democratic party dirty tricks.
The whole affair brings up some intriguing questions. I think we can dismiss the idea that someone in the Kerry campaign forged a bunch of documents in the most amateurish way imaginable and then passed them to an intermediary to give to a "Sixty Minutes Two" producer. A child would know that you don’t forge a document that is supposed to be more than 30 years old on a twenty first century word processor.
So the first intriguing and so far unanswered question is, if the documents are indeed forgeries, who forged them? So far, all that has been admitted or revealed is that former Texas National Guardsman Bill Burkett has said that he "misled" CBS and "Sixty Minutes Two." Misled about what? The source of the documents? The bona fides of the documents? His intentions?
The second batch of intriguing questions - at least to me - is how bloggers, in a matter of a few short hours following the broadcast of September 8, were "revealing" flaws in documents that were supposed to be more than 30 years old. I haven’t read any of those blogs, so I don’t know how they went about their detective work, but their swift and apparently accurate appraisals attests to their extraordinary investigative skills.
How long were the documents shown on television screens of these blogging detectives? I didn’t watch the program so I don’t have any personal knowledge that could help answer that question. I also don’t have the time or desire to do the detective work to find out how many seconds were devoted to showing close ups of the documents.
Were these bloggers Bush supporters who were lying in wait with their VCR’s primed to record the broadcast so that they could examine it later and at their leisure? Assume for a moment that this is what happened, we then have the image of blog detectives peering at a television screen on which is a picture of photocopies of documents that document experts have looked at closely and determined had "problems." Not that they were forgeries, but that there were problems with them and they couldn’t be authenticated. Certainly not from a photocopy. And the experts had them in their hands. Under microscopes or whatever instruments they used. But the bloggers, looking at a telecast of these photocopies, were able to spot the alleged inconsistencies.
In an op-ed piece in today’s Chicago Tribune, Clarence Page points out that blogger Harry MacDougald, a conservative lawyer with no expertise in typography or 30 year old typewriters but with strong ties to the Southeastern Legal Foundation, which helped lead the drive to disbar Bill Clinton from practicing law in Arkansas following the Monica Lewinskey scandal, came up with a highly technical analysis of the documents within four hours of the "Sixty Minutes Two" broadcast , but won’t comment on how he knew so much about the documents so quickly.
Some people are suggesting that Rather was set up, but if so, by whom? Surely not by Bill Burkett, who is as anti Bush as they come. He says that he "misled" Rather and CBS, but does that mean that he knew the documents were forged or something else? And could there be a Republican "mole" at CBS???
The Republicans of course are asking questions about a possible collaborative effort by CBS and the Kerry campaign to embarrass President Bush. I suppose it’s possible that a network news organization and some of it’s principal anchors and reporters and producers could be biased in their interpretation and presentation of the presidential campaign, but you would have to show me a smoking gun and several bullet wounds to convince me that there is active cooperation between a network and a political party or campaign. And that goes for Fox as well as for CBS, NBC and ABC. That kind of thinking is conspiracy thinking run amok.
But now we come to the question of whether Rather is one of these "liberal" newsmen who presents "biased" news. It’s an interesting question but I don’t think one that can be answered in any way by this current incident. Here I think we have a news anchor and a producer - and perhaps other people at CBS news - who were convinced that the substance of the allegedly forged memos was true, and were so anxious to break the story on top of the Boston Globe piece, that was based on an examination of official documents, that they - recklessly in my view - decided not to delay the story long enough to check and re-check the authenticity of the memos in their possession and look for other verification.
There may have been "liberal bias" affecting Rather’s desire to get the story on the air, but I don’t believe for a minute that he would have had anything to do with it had he known the documents were forged.
But as I say, the question of whether or not the network news anchors exhibit a "liberal bias" in their presentation of the news, is an interesting one. I have watched the network news of ABC, NBC and CBS and I am unable to detect a "bias" in their presentation of news. I suppose one could point to "bias" in the selection of news stories and the aspects of those stories that are covered. In that sense, one could say that Al Jazeera is "biased" because its reporting on Iraq concentrates heavily on the deaths of Iraqi civilians and ours does not. In the same sense, you could say that our reporting on the Olympics is "biased" because of our almost exclusive concentration on American athletes.
So that kind of bias is in the eye of the beholder. For months, conservatives complained that the news reporting out of Iraq was biased because all the good news was being ignored - the re-building that was going on, the local councils that were being formed, the hugs and kisses greeting our troops. In my view, the relative short shrift given to those "feel good" stories in the first year or so of the Iraq conflict was the result of - you’ll pardon the expression - good news judgment. What the conservatives wanted reported just wasn’t the "news." Interestingly, we hear little of those kinds of complaints nowadays.
But conservatives see "bias" in news reporting where the rest of us don’t. They see it in the wording of news scripts. Anything that smacks of editorializing - the use of adjectives to describe the demeanor of a Republican candidate - an "angry President Bush" for example - can be perceived as bias. The even see it in the facial expression, body language and voice inflection of network news anchors.
I’m sure, had they watched Peter Jennings last night, they would say that his juxtaposition of remarks by Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry about Iraq and the way he introduced them, was a blatant exercise of liberal "bias."
The first clip was of Mr. Bush saying that Kerry had said that we’d be better off if Saddam Hussein was still in power. Jennings then introduced the Kerry clip saying, "here’s what Mr. Kerry actually said." And of course, Kerry said something entirely different.
Right now, the news organizations at ABC and NBC are happily reporting on Mr. Rather’s perceived goof - and even CBS is allotting appropriate time to reporting the story of their own missteps. Are they exhibiting "liberal bias" in their interpretation of the known facts of the story? If you want an answer to that question, you’ll have to tune in Rush Limbaugh or someone of that ilk. I won’t, but I can tell you the answer without checking. It’s YES. Of course they are.
In a way, this could be a healthy thing, not just as a clarion call to news organizations to emulate Woodward and Bernstein and Caesar’s wife, but to remind them of what is really important and what is really news in the midst of a presidential campaign with only 41 days to go. It isn’t about what either candidate did or didn’t do thirty years ago.
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
COSTLY "FREE" LUNCHES
Of all ancient adages, none are more true and more enduring than the admonition that there is no such thing as a free lunch.
It’s a truism that can be applied to almost any assertion to the contrary. "Buy one get one free" is simply another way of saying that there’s a sale on. Just try asking for the "free" item without conforming to the "buy one" requirement. Even the free lunch at the local mission requires some form of payment. It may be to join in some sort religious service or it may be that in the act of accepting the lunch, one is "paying" by admitting and exposing one's poverty and need. In either case, there is a price of some sort to pay.
Internet spam of course, is the most recent entry into the "free lunch" deception industry and sad to say, people must be buying into it because the spam keeps coming - the most ridiculous of course being the widows of presidents and finance ministers of far away counties offering to share millions of dollars with you if only you’ll provide them with details of your bank account.
One popular form of "free lunch" that is being bandied about nowadays is "interest free." It’s a gimmick freely (no pun intended) used by the automobile industry to induce you to buy an automobile and pay for it over an extended period of time. They could also sell you the same car on credit that indeed has an interest charge but with a lower base price for the car, and you could finish up paying the same as the car bought with a "no interest" loan. Either way, you can be sure that the car manufacturer and retailer are making a profit.
Lately, I’ve been getting intriguing looking offers from credit card companies to pay off any existing credit accounts I have with a "balance transfer" advance that would be interest free for a limited number of months.
I’ve had more than one of these offers, and the period for which zero interest would apply to any advance taken varies from five or six months to a year. One company is offering zero interest for life on any amount you borrow to pay off other accounts.
Such a deal. With Mr. Greenspan about to crank interest rates up - as Emeril Lagasse would say - another notch - it’s tempting to see if such offers make sense, even to pay off low interest debt, such as home equity loans which are usually at half to three quarters below prime. But three quarters below prime isn’t as good as zero, even when using the Arthur Anderson advance school of accounting methodology, so I took a look at the offers through my handy "no free lunch" prism.
Here’s what I found.
First, the usual caveats about paying on time. You have to make at least the required minimum monthly payment, whatever that amount may be, and there is no allowance for late payment. If you are late a New York minute - poof - there goes your "zero" interest and the entire sum borrowed is now at some double digit interest rate - maybe in the high teens. So if you opted to pay off a 3.5 or 4 percent loan and got sick one day or had a lapse of memory and forgot what day your new credit card zero interest loan payment was due, you could easily end up with four or five times the interest rate that you gave up for the irresistible "zero" rate.
But even if you are meticulous in your paying habits and are never late, you need to read all the fine print of the offer if you really want to enjoy a zero interest rate. It tells you that you’d better stop using the credit card once you’ve used it to pay off other debt or the zero interest deal is off.
Buried in the small print is an explanation of how any payment you make is "applied." No matter how big or small the payment you make - unless it’s for every last dime that you owe - it is "first applied" to your "zero interest" debt. That means, if you continue to use the credit card after you’ve used it to replace other debt with a zero interest loan, no amount of any payment you make will be applied to your current purchases. It will all be applied to the zero balance loan. That means that the amount of any purchases you make on that credit card, will accumulate interest at whatever rate the card normally calls for - which may be somewhere in the high teens!!! And the interest will keep accumulating until your "zero interest" debt is paid off.
They do warn you about this in the fine print. They say that because payments are first applied to your "zero interest" debt, your "savings" may be reduced. That’s a little like saying if you drink two fifths of scotch in ten minutes, you may become inebriated.
The "zero interest for life" offer doesn’t give you a chance to pick up a zero interest loan and keep it at that rate. It has a requirement that after a certain grace period, you begin making at least two purchases or cash transactions every month while a balance remains on your "zero interest" loan. It doesn’t say whether or not the two monthly purchases or cash transactions have to be of some minimum amount, but no matter what the amount - if you borrow say $15,000 at zero interest and make payments of $450 a month, you’ll have better than 33 months of purchases and cash transactions accumulating at a possible double digit interest rate. In other words, you will have to pay interest in order to acquire this "zero interest" loan, but they can technically call it a "zero interest" loan because the interest charged will be on the purchases or cash transactions you are required to make each month as part of the whole deal.
The only difference I can see between disingenuous and fraud, is that one is a twelve letter word and the other is a five letter word.
Murder at will - the new Iraqi way of life
I’ve been staying away from politics and wars and terrorism for a few days, but after hearing of the murder by decapitation of an American hostage in Iraq yesterday, with the prospect of two more such murders taking place today or tomorrow, of another American and an Englishman, I have to ask the question that millions of people must be silently screaming as they hear this horrendous news. How come we can never find any of these people? Before they decapitate their next victim?
Despite all of the horrible news coming out of Iraq day after day, Mr. Bush keeps insisting that we did the right thing and that we are making progress and the puppet prime minister says that he’s in charge and that elections will be held in January and it’s not nearly as bad as what’s being reported. Of course in the wake of the "Sixty Minutes Two" fiasco, they can claim that none of the news organizations reporting out of Iraq can be relied on to give the "true" story.
But no news organizations can be accused of making up the taking of hostages and the televised decapitations, which have become a regular part of the Iraqi scene.
But if we’re supposed to be in charge and if Iyad Allawi is overseeing some kind of government structure, how come not a single one of the abductors has been caught? How come there hasn’t been a hint of where these groups are hiding or where they are hiding their hostages. And apart from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, not a hint of any kind of intelligence about who they are or where they are. Not any reports about manhunts being conducted. No house to house searches. No hint that we have any idea how to find these murderers or how to stop them.
If this was happening in this country and not one hint of progress had been made in the search for the murderers - no word of authorities "closing in" or "tightening the noose" around the necks of the decapitators, the press, the broadcast media and politicians of all stripes would be screaming bloody murder. Mr. Kerry would be asking over and over - "Is this the guy you want as your leader? Do you really want to see abductions and televised decapitations every month while your President says we’re making progress and that he wouldn’t do anything different if he had to start this whole Iraq business over again?"
It’s an indication of where we are in Iraq. Not in charge and in the middle of a quagmire.
And an administration "spinning" while chaos reigns.
Monday, September 20, 2004
The Internet is a modern wonder and a virtually limitless font of information of all kinds. It’s also a wonderfully convenient vehicle for conducting personal business. I pay most of my bills on line. I book air and rail travel on line. I make hotel reservations on line. I can almost live my life on line.
And sometimes go crazy doing it.
With all of its wonders and conveniences, using the Internet can also be incredibly frustrating and incredibly annoying.
For example, communicating with a company that communicates with you via the Internet can often become an exercise in futility. Here’s just one example. I use Hallmark to send virtual cards to people. I sent a birthday card to someone last month and waited for the e-mail advice from Hallmark that it had been viewed. I waited and waited. No advice. I figured the birthday boy hadn’t gotten around to clicking on the URL to view his card. But a few days after his birthday, we were talking on the phone and he thanked me for the card which he had viewed early on the morning of his birthday. I figured O.K. - sometimes e-mail messages go astray and while I was sure Hallmark had sent one, as they always do, it had somehow got lost somewhere in cyberspace, and as long as the recipient had seen the card, I wasn’t going to worry about it. Until about a week after
talking to him when an e-mail from Hallmark popped into my in-box saying that the birthday card had just been viewed.
As a responsible citizen, I thought I would do the right thing and inform Hallmark of what I presumed to be some kind of software glitch. I was sure they would be grateful for having it brought to their attention so I sat down and composed a friendly and witty e-mail letter.
Did I get a friendly reply? Did the Pope convert to Islam?
How about an automated response with the subject heading reading Your e-mail will not be read? And the message as follows;
This e-mail address cannot receive replies. If you have questions about your e-card, please use the link below to go to Hallmark.com. Then click Customer Service in the navigation bar to visit our self-help section.I did follow the link all the way to "Customer Service" in the navigation bar, but of course there was no way to communicate the information that I had received a "just viewed your card" advice more than a week after it had actually been viewed.
I spent a little more time hunting and pecking to see if I could turn up an appropriate individual at Hallmark with an e-mail address that I could write to, but without success and I gave up.
Then this morning, I received an e-mail telling me that I had not yet viewed a card sent to me last week. This was a Blue Mountain card and I had indeed viewed it last week, but I wasn’t about to try to let Blue Mountain know that they have a glitch in their software. There are enough things chipping away at my sanity without me contributing to the erosion by voluntarily involving myself in a "lost in cyberspace" misadventure.
But virtual card company software glitches - if that is what these two incidents were - are minor irritations. A major irritation is an assault on my e-mail in-box that began last week offering mortgages and home equity loans and mortgage analysis and a host of similar services. So far, I have probably received 25 to 30 of these e-mails over the course of a few days - and they are all originating from the same e-mail address with different names or words before the "@" sign. The address is @ayumache.us and they’ve arrived with such lead in "words" (before the "@"sign) as refulgent, reformation, libertine, treadul, othecting, arch, jingo, coolie, ascetic, aticotion, tutelary, feart and throus.
They identify themselves as coming from "Mortgage Finder, "Mortgage Analysis," Mortgage Services," "Refinance Doctor" and "American Refinance Group," but all show an address in Austin, Texas to which you can write to stop receiving the offers, along with an 800 number and a link, which brings up a web page that lists multiple categories of annoyances that you can ostensibly stop by clicking in the box next to them. I decided not to click on anything, figuring it would do no good and maybe make things worse. There is no company identification on the page and the "source" view has no useful information.
I tried to call the 800 number to see if I could learn anything from that experience, but the call was picked up at what seemed to be the end of a greeting message because all it said was "begin recording after the beep." I hung up and tried calling back but got busy signal after busy signal. Eventually, my call was answered again, but all I got was a recorded message saying that "the mailbox" was currently full and to "try again later. I can imagine how much success in stopping these e-mails one would have by calling this kind of 800 number.
The reason that these e-mails are not just annoying but worrisome, is that they are offering me mortgage services connected to my home, and some of them list my home address in the body of the message.
Now I know my e-mail address can easily be picked up by online solicitors, and since my name is right on my e-mails, I’m not surprised when these solicitors address me by name. It IS both surprising and worrisome when they list my home address. Maybe I’m naïve about what can be learned about an individual through his or her computer, but I never thought that an e-mail address could reveal the street address where the computer using that e-mail address is housed.
And if they can’t determine my home address from my e-mail address or by invading my computer in some other way, it means that someone who does
know both my home and e-mail address, is selling the information to online solicitors.
I have a theory about this. Since the "Do Not Call" law went into effect last year, telemarketers, frustrated at the legal stoppage of their ability to interrupt our dinner hour, have moved into or formed alliances with the cybersolicitation industry.
We can’t get away from these people. They are like cockroaches. They’ll be here after our sun novas and burns the earth and all the rest of its inhabitants to a crisp. The only saving grace to that scenario is that there’ll be no one left for them to solicit. They’ll have to fall back on soliciting each other. For all eternity.
Hey, maybe there is such a thing as hell after all.
Friday, September 17, 2004
CHANGES AND TRADITIONS
Thomas Wolfe said "Your Can’t Go Home Again." The French say "Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose."
Somewhere in between those two pithy sayings is a kernel of truth that carries a sense of equilibrium and continuity without which I think the world would descend into a maelstrom of utter chaos.
Two or three recent news items give me hope that while the world may become more complex and more difficult to understand and while one generation may be overwhelmed by a sense of loss as another generation takes over the running of everything, there are things so traditional and so embedded in our psyche, that while they may be pushed far into the background and out of sight, they are nonetheless always there, anchors to the past to remind us of what keeps us sane -"the more things change the more they stay the same."
Reading all the bad news that one can find in the paper each day, it was good to come upon a headline that generated a healthy belly laugh.
Daley aide denies clout on teen’s $50,000 jobThat’s Mayor Richard M Daley of Chicago, son of the late Mayor Richard J Daley of Chicago.
A nineteen year old kid, son of the business agent of a union local, had been hired by the city as a building inspector for a fraction under fifty grand a year. Right out of high school. And there was no clout involved. No siree. He was just well qualified. His skills and experience well worth the fifty grand salary plus perks.
Older Chicagoans - for that matter older Americans in general, will remember the fiefdom of Daley the elder. He reigned in the era before the Shackman decree, at a time when the Democratic machine ran the city, at a time when vote totals were known before the polls opened, and when they were adjusted to conform to whatever may have been needed for a Presidential candidate to win Illinois - and above all at a time when there was a strict protocol for being hired for a city job and it was that those doing the hiring "didn’t want nobody that nobody sent."
At one time, in those far off days, it was suggested that I could get on the city payroll with the skills that I had to offer, those skills being the ability to stay away from city properties except to show up to collect a paycheck , the proceeds of which I would then "share" with my job sponsor. I don’t know if such a thing could actually have been arranged but I didn’t wait around to find out. I declined the offer.
But those days have gone. The city has changed. In this clean, modern, post Shackman era, there is no machine, there is no patronage and nineteen year old kids who want a fifty grand a year job don’t have to be "somebody that somebody sent" to be hired. They just have to have the skills and the experience. Like this particular nineteen year old son of a union business agent who has suddenly "resigned." Probably because he got a better offer from McDonalds.
If you stand outside Chicago’s City Hall at midnight on a windless night, that sound you hear is the ghost of Daley the elder chuckling. And maybe the echo of me laughing my head off.
Across the pond is one of the great cities of the world - London. And it has changed over the years, just as Chicago has. It was always cosmopolitan, but it was once very English and very Caucasian. Now it’s a hodgepodge of colors and ethnicity’s and languages - all very colorful, but very different from the London of my youth.
The Public (very private) school I once attended is now - horror of horrors - a co-educational school!! The last time I visited the lovely house I once lived in, it was populated by a diverse group of individuals and my old bedroom was someone’s apartment!!
And those changes extend outside of London. Not that many years ago, my wife and I were traveling through the countryside and stopped at a wayside café for a spot of tea. My wife drinks coffee, which was fine. They had the full selection of coffees to accommodate the tastes of Americans and Europeans. But I’m a tea drinker and asked for the usual and traditional English beverage, only to be told "we don’t do tea!!"
Those words still haunt me to this day. Despite the continued magnificence of England’s historical edifices - the Tower, St. Paul’s, Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, Windsor Castle, the British Museum and the rest - they’re still there and still impress first and second time visitors - those words for me marked the end of an era, the passing of the England that I once knew and loved. I thought to myself that Thomas Wolfe was right You can’t go home again. But he was wrong and so was I.
Like the glories of the old Chicago machine which still exists in different form but most of the time conveniently out of sight, the essence of what makes England England never really disappeared. It just went into a period of contemplative quiescence from which it emerges every once in a while to remind us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Everything may look and sound different, but beneath the surface, it’s still the England of old.
The vision of "Batman" perched on a ledge beside a Buckingham Palace balcony, championing the rights of divorced fathers, coupled with the pictures of fox hunting enthusiasts invading the House of Commons to protest a bill that would ban the use of dogs in the pursuit of this ancient blood sport, was like a shot of expatriate nationalistic adrenaline to me.
Some people considered their protest performances criminal acts and called for them to be punished. I say they should be awarded the Order of the Garter or the Victoria Cross or whatever honors are available.
They told me that England still spawned the Englishmen that Noel Coward coupled with mad dogs - those who unhesitatingly venture out into the midday sun. The guardians of the quintessential character that defines England.
Nuttiness as normalcy.
Monty Python in daily life.
And made me realize that not "doing" tea was actually a bold statement of that self same quintessential character. Like a spam sandwich without any spam in it.
And by way of a bonus, their stories and that of the young retiree from Chicago city employment, took my mind off Presidential politics for a day. A good way to end the week.
Thursday, September 16, 2004
HAPPY NEW YEAR AND ANALYSIS
I mentioned a couple of days ago that the Jewish New Year was just around the corner and last night it arrived. New Year’s Eve, Biblical style. No boozing and hell raising. Just synagogue attendance and prayer. If you’re into that kind of stuff.
And it’s a time when greetings are sent, via snail mail and increasingly today, via the Internet. At one time, Jewish New Year’s greetings were pretty straightforward, wishing you health and happiness and "well over the fast." That’s for people who fast on the holy day that comes ten days after New Year’s - Yom Kippur.
Here’s one that has been circulating via e-mail that’s somewhat updated from those ancient greetings:
May your hair, your teeth, your face-lift, your abs, and your stocks not fall; and may your blood pressure, your triglycerides, your cholesterol, your white blood count and your mortgage interest not rise.Well at least the last two paragraphs were more in keeping with the sentiments of old time New Year’s greetings.
It’s the beginning of the year 5765, coinciding with that other year - 2004.
I guess we get used to using those kinds of mathematical terms to remind ourselves "what year it is," without stopping to think much about the significance of the numbers. In the Christian world of course, the number represents the number of years since the supposed birth of Christ. I’m not sure exactly what incident marks the beginning of counting years in the Jewish tradition other than the Biblical story of creation as told in the Old Testament.
Most people I guess don’t give the numbers any thought, but I’m not most people and if I look at the numbers for more than 30 seconds, I’m apt to start musing about our beliefs and how they came about and how silly I think most of them are.
I’ve written in the past about how old the earth and the solar system and our galaxy and the cosmos are and how long man has been around as a distinctly recognizable critter. A blink of an eye in terms of the time that has elapsed since the big bang or whatever beginning the cosmos had - assuming that it had a beginning. And within that blink, somewhere in the last microsecond of the descent of the upper eyelid, came the events from which we now date the passage of time.
Billions of years elapsed and living creatures came and went, with Homo sapiens eventually achieving dominance over the rest of the earth’s living inhabitants. And thousands of years passed with Homo sapiens harboring all kinds of beliefs about his origins and about deities, until a group of them settled on one idea 5765 years and another 2004 years ago and started counting the years of our existence from those times.
Why there was never a time before then - say twenty or thirty or forty thousand years ago, when a belief could have taken hold from which time counting the passage of time could have begun, I don’t know. Maybe "God" wasn’t ready to reveal himself until 5765 and 2004 years ago, though why he would do the revealing in seemingly contradictory ways thousands of years apart, is a mystery.
But whether it was more than five thousand years ago or two thousand years ago, if modern science had reached the stage it is now at when these ancient events took place - and if modern recording devices had been available - videotape, audiotape - it is reasonable to assume that those events would not have been the springboard for counting the passage of time on earth. The event or events would have been examined, dissected and explained and any mythical interpretations and explanations would have been debunked.
We now have the science and the modern technologies, so of course no new events can arise to surmount the ancient events and create new markers from which we would again begin to measure the passing of the years.
The irony of all of which of course is that the modern science and recording devices that would have prevented those ancient events from being the ones from which time would henceforth be measured, will prevent them from ever being replaced by other events in the future.
Barring some unimaginable event that would reveal the answers to all the questions man has ever asked, it will always be Anno Domini and Rosh Hashanah.
And so a Happy Jewish New Year to one and all.
Wednesday, September 15, 2004
RATHER, FRANKLIN & STEWART
(not a law firm)
I don’t have an opinion one way or another about the authenticity of the documents that CBS alleges are genuine and that peck away at George Bush’s guard service during the Vietnam era. I also don’t think it matters and I don’t care what he did more than three decades ago. If you can believe Kitty Kelly, he was doing hard drugs during his father’s administration, which is a lot more recent - and true or not, I don’t give a damn . I’m focused on the last four years and the potential for the next four.
Nonetheless, I find it interesting that much of the challenge to the CBS presentation - which many Republicans think is a deliberate attempt by Dan Rather to influence the election - started with bloggers. Bloggers were the skeptics who started to examine the documents and pointed to what appears to be printing that is inconsistent with the typewriters that were available in 1973.
Here’s my contribution to the controversy as a blogger. If someone went to the trouble to forge documents to prove that Mr. Bush goofed off when he was supposed to be serving in the Air National Guard - why on earth would they use a twenty first century word processor to create the forgery?? It makes absolutely no sense, unless the documents were created as a gag, in which case, Dan Rather, the Sixty Minutes staff, and all the employees of CBS News and the rest of the CBS organization, must be morons and holders of large blocks of Brooklyn Bridge Preferred.
But if the documents are forgeries and were created for the purpose of embarrassing Mr. Bush, why were they not typed on a typewriter that was available in 1972 or 3? In terms of typewriters, 1973 isn’t that long ago. I’m reasonably sure that they’re available from typewriter repair and re-sale shops which are all over the place. There was one a block or two away from my house for years until the owner died. I could have bought typewriters from him dating back to the forties. Maybe earlier. As it is, I still own an IBM typewriter that I use to address envelopes and that probably dates back to the late seventies or early eighties. I also own an Underwood antique of unknown age.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that a fifth or sixth grader would be able to recognize something created from WORD or WORD PERFECT.
So while all the suspicious bloggers are questioning the authenticity of the documents and so called experts who had been consulted by CBS are now saying that they were not able to authenticate them, I am asking why, if they were forged, they weren’t forged on a typewriter available in 1973.
And one possible answer that I’d like to throw out for skeptical consideration is that they were!!! That they were typed on a typewriter that was available in 1973 and that someone will produce such a typewriter to show that whatever typeface characteristics were being questioned on the documents, could be re-produced on a typewriter from that era.
Maybe not, but I have heard claims to that effect, and though the late Colonel Killian’s secretary doesn’t recall typing the documents, she says the gist of what’s in them is accurate. Of course she’s 86 years old, so she could be remembering incorrectly on both counts.
But again, who cares? A storm in a teacup. Except maybe for Dan Rather if he was so easily hoodwinked.
Does the name Larry Franklin ring a bell?
A few weeks ago, he was big news. Possibly an Israeli spy. A mole at the Pentagon, some news outfits were calling him. He could be charged with espionage. Any day. He might have passed classified information to someone at the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee who may have passed it on to someone in Israel. He was cooperating with the FBI, which information presumably came from the FBI. Others might be involved.
There was a lot of breath holding.
Is this one of those non-stories or a real story that’s been temporarily put under wraps to break at some future time selected by whom for what purpose???
Conspiracy theory enthusiasts, stand by!!
I see that Martha Stewart has finally come to her senses regarding her conviction for lying to the Feds about her insider trading. It looked like she would drag her case out for months, maybe years with appeals, dragging her company down with her while she put off the inevitable - jail time.
Now she’s asking to begin serving her time as soon as possible, even though her appeals are pending. She says she wants to get it behind her as quickly as possible. If she’d have made the same decision back in July, when she was sentenced, she’d be looking forward to being released in time to celebrate Christmas at home. Now she’ll be spending the holidays advising hookers and spouse killers how to make Christmas wreaths from toilet paper and toenail clippings.
Her statement of today took note of the expected delay of getting those appeals heard, at which time she fully expects to be vindicated - or to be granted a new trial at which time she will then be vindicated. Which sounds like a pretty curious possibility to me.
Why would she ask the judge to send her to the pokey ASAP and still keep her appeals going? What if an appeals court grants her a new trial a few months after she gets out of jail? Would she go through another trial with the same witnesses and the same defense - and to what end? If she’s found guilty again, could a judge decide on a stiffer sentence than the one she’s already received and send her back to the pokey? And if she goes through a new trial and is acquitted, what would she have accomplished? She couldn’t claim that she had "regained her good name." The facts of the case have been out in public view for too long and people have made up their minds about what she did. And I don’t think she would need to get her conviction overturned to regain her position with her company after she’s served her time. If I’m wrong on this, I stand corrected.
But if I was advising Martha, I’d tell her to serve her time, drop the appeals and accept the fact that though she screwed up, she most definitely got screwed by prosecutors out to make a big splash.
That’s the Federal government for you. Willing to go after the rich and famous with as much energy and enthusiasm as a cloutless petty crook.
Or as some might say, equal opportunity fuckers.
Tuesday, September 14, 2004
September 14, 2004
OPRAH’S CAR STORE - BEST DEALS IN TOWN
If it wasn’t obvious before, it certainly became obvious from my comments of yesterday that I am totally unfamiliar with the Oprah Winfrey show.
The snippet of conversation that I caught on the radio about Oprah giving away cars was BIG news - and I thought it was some silly local issue. (She does tape right here in town).
My misconception was corrected this morning. The gimmick or stunt or whatever it is you want to call it, is not only BIG news - but it is BIG news around the world!!!!
Yes sir, from Boston to Bangladesh, from Cleveland to Calcutta, from Denver to Denmark, from East St. Louis to East Timor - the Oprah car give-away is THE news of the day.
Apparently, the cars were donated by General Motors and marketing experts and other pundits are saying that the publicity generated by the stunt was worth millions of dollars to GM. Much cheaper than advertising.
I guess I can’t classify myself as a pundit or any other kind of expert, because I don’t think for a moment that giving away a particular Pontiac model on the Winfrey show will influence a single person to run out and buy that model - unless that person is brain dead and lives life as a reflection of what he or she sees happening on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Winfrey on the other hand, is getting a priceless amount of publicity. Maybe not in Bangladesh or East Timor - though it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a big story in those far away places - but certainly all across this country and wherever else in the world her show is seen.
The FRONT PAGE headline in today’s Chicago Tribune for example, reads "Carmaker, audience both win on Oprah". Bring up Google today and of the eight "in the news" items listed, Oprah is there along with Buckingham Palace and the Cayman Islands. And it cites 284 related stories. And it’s all over the broadcast news programs and on the radio and television talk shows.
I’m sure that the 276 people who were given the cars are overjoyed - though some might be less joyful when they find out they have to pay income tax on the value of the gift - but to me, the story conjures up two visions, neither of them the least bit pleasant.
One is the class action attorney who sues on behalf of thousands of people and reels in fees of millions of dollars while his "clients" each get a coupon for $1.95 off their next purchase of whatever, or a check for 75 cents that they’ll never cash. And yes, I know a close to $30,000 car is a bit more than a $1.95 coupon, but the principle and the comparison are valid just the same. The cause may appear noble but the principal benefactor is the attorney.
The second image is that of the Sultan to whom supplications pour in from the teeming poverty stricken masses and who then grants an audience to a selected few, and with cameras and microphones broadcasting every moment, passes out gifts of money and land and reprieves of death or jail sentences. And cuts off the tap when the cameras and the microphones are turned off. Sorry, you didn’t make it while we were on the air. Go back to your life of squalor.
Apparently, thousands of appeals for help come into the Oprah show - and from time to time, like the Sultan or the class action attorney, they select one or two or a group of such supplicants to use as a vehicle for their own purposes - in Oprah’s case, to build a show, the core theme of which is granting these poor folk their wishes. And while they might be considered as doing good works, the major benefit accrues to the show and to Oprah.
I have read that Oprah does indeed make charitable donations and from time to time does the sort of thing that she did on her car give-away show, without making her largesse part of one of her shows. She’s to be commended for such acts of kindness, but in my view, they’d be far more commendable if conducted in private or even anonymously. It seems that we hear about them with annoying regularity, whether they’re part of a show or not. Does the word "leak" come to mind? Or maybe just "press agent?"
The give-away show wasn’t as bad as it could have been. They could have selected 20 or 30 of the needy people sitting in the audience and left the rest of them nursing their disappointment. As it is, the 276 were the selected from who knows how many needy people had sent pleas for help to the Winfrey production office and who sat home watching and wondering why Oprah couldn’t have picked them.
I wonder how it must feel to get the chance to play the role of a supreme Sultan in front of millions of television viewers.
I have no interest in the type of program that Oprah conducts. It has nothing to do with Oprah per se. I just don’t watch those kinds of programs. But every now and then, I read or hear about something happening on one of them, and while it may send a shudder down my spine, I am reminded of why I don’t watch those programs, and I’m grateful.
Putin and Bush on the same path?
Who woulda thunk?
For decades, we and the Soviet Union were mortal enemies, pointing our weapons at each other and surviving only because of the threat of MAD - Mutual Assured Destruction.
We were so different that 50 years ago, we changed the wording of our Pledge of Allegiance to emphasize the difference. They were "Godless." We were "God Fearing."
Then the Soviet Union collapsed when Ronald Reagan threatened to return to making "B" Movies with Russian sub-titles and our former enemy began to move in the direction of a western style democracy. Very slowly mind you. An inch at a time. Still, the movement did seem to be in the right direction.
But then came 9/11. And just days ago, Russia’s "9/11."
And suddenly, we have the surprising outcome of Vladimir Putin emulating George W Bush.
Not that Bush has decreed that only HE can decide who is fit to be the Governor of any state or that he wants to change the way individuals can "win" House or Senate seats - (no more individual candidates - just party lists of candidates) - but Putin has seen the hold on power that Mr. Bush seems to have achieved by embracing 9/11 and declaring that only HE can prevent a recurrence and that extraordinary measures that chip away at freedoms we have long taken for granted are needed to help him do his job - and he has concluded that if it can work for Dubya, it can work for Vladimir.
We still have huge differences though, and it has little to do with who is Godless and who is God fearing. Bush can’t make the kind of changes that Putin is proposing. He is prevented from doing so by the Constitution and by a tradition of ours coming up in November. A Presidential election. Bush may be gone.
But not Putin. It seems that there is nothing standing in the way of him doing what he wants to do - and what he seems to want to do is have absolute, dictatorial power.
So that he can protect Russians from terrorist attacks.
Doesn’t that give you a warm feeling? The leaders of our two great nations with the same great purpose in mind. We should all be able to sleep better tonight.
Just keep a night-light going.
Monday, September 13, 2004
AULD LANG SYNE - ISRAELI STYLE
The Jewish New Year is a couple of days away and the following has been making the rounds via e-mail, I guess originating in Israel and I guess in honor of the event.
In this age of fear of terrorists and visions of death, destruction and the disruption of civilized societies by madmen, I think it’s something worth reading.
WE HAVE NEVER BEEN BETTER OFF!A brief comment.
Though I sympathize with the sentiments expressed in this piece and agree that "they" - Jewish people, Israelis or non-Israelis - will "win" in the end, I don’t believe it will be by way of a military defeat of their enemies. Arab forces have been defeated again and again, but there is still no peace
The "win" will come when the Arab nations finally accept the existence of a Jewish democracy in their midst. That may be a long way off, but Arafat and Sharon and their contemporaries are getting old and will soon be gone and perhaps leaders will emerge who were born into and raised in today’s realities, and put a stop to all of the nonsense buried in the distant past. Then maybe there’ll be some different but equally stirring prose being e-mailed around that also will be worth passing on.
Would that I could be here to participate in the passing.
Oprah Being Oprah?
I don’t watch the Oprah Winfrey show, so the only time I have any idea what she’s up to on any given program is when I hear someone talking about it.
This morning was such a time. There was an argument on the radio about the pros and cons of Oprah giving away cars to members of the studio audience at a recent taping. Maybe to everyone in the audience. It wasn’t clear from the conversation, but that was the impression the discussants gave.
The program host thought that it was a fine thing. Other people on the program disagreed as did a number of listeners who called in.
What wasn’t clear was whether or not this was a promotion by a car company or Oprah playing lady bountiful.
In either case, my reaction is the same. This sort of thing is self promoting ostentation of the worst possible kind.
But from the little that I know about Oprah, it perhaps is to be expected. She has been elevated - and perhaps has elevated herself, to a status something above that of a mere mortal, and thus a surprise give-away of cars to a group of total strangers, is probably not thought of as anything out of the ordinary by her, by her staff or by members of her fawning audience.
I remember accidentally catching the tale end of an interview someone did with her. I don’t know how I came across it. I was tuning in to something else and there she was. She was getting ready for a trip - I think to Europe - and the interviewer was asking, as more or less a closing question - "what time does your flight leave?" And Oprah answered casually, "when I get there," as though this was obvious. Not four or five or six o’clock mind you, but when I arrive, board my private plane and tell my pilot I’m ready to leave.
Hell, I don’t begrudge Oprah her private plane. I wish I had one. But when leaving from the airport for Europe "when I get there" becomes the norm and other people’s norms are aberration’s, maybe there is no such thing as ostentation in her world - just Oprah being Oprah.