What's All This Then?
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
BASKETBRAWLGATE NO SURPRISE
It’s not exactly the kind of subject I would normally choose to discuss at holiday time - I’m still recovering from Turkey overload - but everyone seems to be talking and writing about the same thing, so I decided not to wait to add my take on the event.
I’m talking about what by now someone has surely named "basketbrawlgate."
None of what happened surprised me. The surprise is that it doesn’t happen more often.
That there are "fans" of the type that started the brawl is certainly no surprise. Were it not for barriers that separate the fans from the athletes at football, baseball and hockey games, I have no doubt that there would be "basketbrawlgate" type occurrences several times per season.
Even with the barriers, we still get the kind of thing that happened at Comiskey Park a couple years ago, when a yahoo and his son raced onto the field and attacked a Kansas City coach.
Usually, these are isolated incidents that don’t erupt into a brawl between players and fans. In the White Sox case, Kansas City team mates quickly subdued the idiots and they were hauled away by the police.
Our unruly fans haven’t quite reached the level of Britain’s soccer hooligans. These are idiots - frequently unemployed idiots living off of government largesse -who go to soccer matches with the intention of engaging in a riot. Mass arrests and deportations from European countries to which they’ve traveled to cause trouble, have become commonplace.
But these are problems in which the professional athletes are not involved, as indeed they shouldn’t be.
On the other hand, while no one should be surprised that there are yahoos attending sports events of all kinds and masquerading as fans in this country, no one should be surprised that given the opportunity, team members in some sports, would willingly, instinctively and aggressively join with hooligan fans in their riotous rampages.
In the case of "basketbrawlgate," the players involved come from a league where intelligence, education, social background, strength of character and absence of criminal tendencies are not elements that are considered or carry great weight in hiring decisions.
What matters to basketball team owners - and to basketball fans - is the ability of the individual to play superior basketball. And the superior ability to play superior basketball is not necessarily found in people having all of the positive attributes listed above.
The search for such future athletic performers by team owners or their scouting employees, can start as early as grade school. More and more now, we see kids who can run and jump and slam dunk a basketball, joining NBA teams right out of high school. Most however, are recruited for the basketball minor leagues, which as we all know are adjuncts to our nation’s colleges. The same is true for football.
Almost without regard to their academic abilities or potential, they are sought after by scouts from rival colleges, vying with each other in their offers of scholarships and other incentives to lure the young men to their institutions of higher learning. Not to get an education but to play basketball or football or any other sport that attracts large audiences, pays the obscene salaries of college coaches and athletic directors and fills the coffers of the schools bank accounts.
One would like to think that a sport where the players are drafted from among graduating college students, would produce athletes who are not just skilled athletically, but who are reasonably well educated and well rounded individuals - potential future leaders of our nation.
Obviously and regrettably, this is not the case - and when it is, it is likely to be accidental and incidental to what interests those doing the drafting. And what interests the team owners is the same as what interests the college recruiters - athletic ability. Running, jumping, catching, height, weight - these are the "qualities" sought by the owners of American professional sports teams.
So it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that some of the athletes who are drafted for professional sports teams, showered with obscene amounts of money and thrust into the public spotlight, are hooligans in waiting. Or just plain hooligans.
Usually, their hooliganism manifests away from the field of play. Drug offenses. Drunken brawls. Sober brawls. Murder. We’ve read about them for years. Well known athletes have been involved in all of these kinds of activities. And these are people that the fans turn out to watch perform on the field or on the court. So why should it be a surprise when they react like hooligans when challenged or provoked while engaged in their athletic endeavors?
Sports writers and others have been looking for reasons for the basketball brawl and for whom to blame. Certainly the fans who threw things at the players share some of the blame. The players who charged into the stands and attacked those fans are more to blame. Their designation is that of professionals but their actions were the antithesis of professionalism. They were the sort of actions you would expect from street hooligans who live by a code of reacting to any act of violence with greater violence.
But I think the greatest blame has to go to the system and those who run it. The people whose only desires are to have winning teams and to make money. Those are the people who cast their net into the waters of budding athletic ability, caring little about the athletes they catch other than can they run, jump, throw and catch well enough to help their basketball or football team win. If they can do these things, they can be morons or degenerates or sociopaths and they can still be given multi-million dollar contracts and thrust into the kind of intense physical competition where they are subjected to the kind of pressure that cries out for the qualities that they lack. Qualities like self discipline and self restraint.
As long as colleges and professional teams continue to recruit team members without giving as much consideration to the intelligence and the character and the values of the people they recruit as they do to their athletic abilities, we’re going to have yahoos on some of these teams who are capable of exhibiting their yahoo tendencies at any moment in the heat of any competitive event.
So let’s not be surprised when what happened in the Pacers/Pistons game happens again.
And when it does, I hope the sportswriters of America will acknowledge the blogger who first coined the word that so aptly describes this kind of blot on the concept and ideals of sportsmanship.
Monday, November 29, 2004
A BLACK FRIDAY FABLE
As readers of this blog know, several decades ago I worked in television and one of my employers was channel 7, the owned and operated ABC outlet in Chicago, where among other things, I edited and mostly wrote a small company newspaper called The Pioneer.
It was an unpaid, extracurricular voluntary effort, but most of the time it was fun. On a few occasions, when I needed to fill some space, I would resort to composing a piece of fiction. One such piece I published here on October 4, 2003, calling it "Fiction as a Blog."
Last week, when I was taking a Thanksgiving blog break, I heard a lot of talk about "Black Friday," an expression given to the day after Thanksgiving when - if the economy is in any kind of shape at all - retailers begin to emerge from being in the red for much of the year - and move into the black with the onset of Christmas shopping.
That talk stirred a memory in a couple of my remaining gray cells. It was a memory of another short work of sophomoric fiction that I used as filler material for an issue of The Pioneer one Christmas season - either in November or December, but I would like to think it was published around this time of the year - although in what year, I will leave to the reader’s imagination. I always like to think of such times as "not that long ago."
I think it was my old friend Bud Photopoulos - now retired after a long career with ABC News - who commented on the opening line of the piece when it first appeared, pointing out that a shroud would hardly "ring" anything. I believe I responded that if Lewis Carroll could have slithy toves gyre and gimble in the wabe - I most certainly could have a shroud ring anything I wanted it to.
Someone else questioned my use of the same opening and closing paragraph. Heck - I was trying to fill specific space at the time , not win a Nobel prize for fiction.
Besides, I was young, impetuous and thought I could take any kind of literary license I felt like taking. Needless to say, I did not pursue a career in professional fiction writing.
Here’s the bit from long long ago, which I called:
The Price of Mistletoe
A thick black cloud of atomic dust ringed the earth like a shroud. Beyond the cloud, in the far reaches of space, a lone star stirred as if called from slumber and began to pulsate, faintly, with a gentle rhythmic beat. And with each beat its radiance grew, until all the heavens were filled with its brilliance. Rays of light raced down across space and hurled themselves against the cloud below with insistent fury. But the star could not penetrate the cloud and no eyes could marvel at its splendor. Slowly, the light receded. The star, its energy spent, slumbered once more…….
It was the evening of December 24th. The year - four thousand, nine hundred and sixty two. High atop a snow capped mountain, in a man made peak of concrete and steel, the wise men of the world sat facing each other across a conference table. Their faces were drawn and their brows furrowed, for great were their responsibilities.
For hours, they had been engaged in discussion on matters of great import. Votes had been taken, counted and retaken, compromises made and decisions reached. All current problems had been solved. All that is, save one.
An expectant hush had fallen upon the gathering and all eyes were turned toward the head of the table where the leader had risen to his feet. Of all the noble faces at that assembly, his was by far the noblest. A picture of wisdom and strength, he stood for a moment in silence, his gaze seeking out each individual face, the radiance of his smile bathing the room in a warm glow.
And then he spoke.
"My friends, " he began, "as is our custom, before discussing the final item on our agenda, I will recount, for the benefit of our younger members, the history of these meetings and the reasons for them. As you all know, after the great explosion of 2,095, when all of mankind save our ancestors, perished, all that could be saved of human knowledge was brought to this building for safekeeping. Concerned only with the problems of survival, our ancestors were faced with the decision of which portions of that knowledge to pass on to the pitifully few children being born to them. Obviously, with a limited populace, the keynote had to be specialization, and many portions of knowledge were ignored and fell into disuse. In later years, when the problem of living space became acute, many records had to be sacrificed completely. Centuries passed and memories grew dim. Our origin was forgotten. The reason for our being became a mystery. We believe however, that our ancestors anticipated this, for in their wisdom, they decreed that each year, the leaders of our people should gather in this place and review all remaining items of knowledge that might point to our origin and the reason for our being, for possible revival in our teachings. This, then, is the purpose of our meeting today."
The leader paused for a moment to sip some water from a jeweled goblet before him. His listeners cleared their throats and shifted in their seats to find more comfortable positions. Then all was silent once more and the leader continued.
"All other portions of knowledge having been reviewed, we come, finally, to the ancient rite or festival known to our ancestors as Christmas. The origin of this festival is not known and its celebration was abandoned completely, shortly after then great explosion. From ancient writings, we have been able to determine that the festival was some sort of periodic ritual dedicated to boosting the general economy of the various groups that populated the earth during the days of free trade, and that this was done with a gay abandon not apparent at other periods of their calendar. However, in these writings, our scholars have detected a strange quality of mysticism connected with the festival that they have been unable to explain. And, my friends, throughout the centuries, at the times of these meetings, there have been members of our group who claimed that they actually felt this mystical quality."
Again the leader paused, moistened his lips and went on.
"In the spirit of our ancestors, we have agreed that all knowledge, whether it be profound or apparent superstition, shall be offered to this assembly for serious and impartial consideration, and it is in this spirit that I submit for discussion and vote the question of the possible revival of the festival of Christmas."
Mopping his brow, the leader sat down amidst a mild burst of applause. There followed an animated yet seemingly light hearted discussion. Within minutes a show of hands was called for, the result a resounding rejection and the meeting was quickly adjourned.
One by one the wise men departed until only their leader and one other, the youngest and newest member of the group, remained. Softly, the leader approached the young man and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.
"What troubles you my son?" he asked. The young man raised his head, looked full into the wise and kindly countenance of the leader and replied. "Great leader, while you were speaking this evening, I too felt for a brief moment that mystical quality of which you spoke. It is not for me to question the wisdom of the elders, but somehow I had hoped - I had thought - since others have felt this same quality, perhaps the revival of this festival would in some way help us find what we are seeking."
The leader took the young man’s face between his gentle hands and looked deeply into his tear filled eyes. "My son," he answered, "you have every right to question the decision of your elders. Our wisdom is not so great that it should be considered infallible. Do not think that we have treated this matter of Christmas lightly. For centuries, our people have examined this festival with great care. All of them looked into their hearts with agonizing self appraisal before rendering a decision. We have searched deeply and earnestly for some one little thing that would even remotely suggest that this festival could have some bearing on the unsolved mysteries of our existence. All that we have found that could be substantiated, you have heard here today. My son, whatever mystical quality you or others may feel, we cannot, in good sense, persuade ourselves to believe that a celebration primarily concerned with the acquisition and distribution of miscellaneous material objects, could be worthy of revival in our teachings."
For a moment longer, the leader continued to gaze into the eyes of the young man, then turned and left the room.
The lights dimmed and the young man stood alone before a great window, his head hung in dejection. For a long time he stood in silence, and then, sobbing suddenly, he turned, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, pressed his face against the cold glass and tried desperately to penetrate the inky blackness beyond.
A thick black cloud of atomic dust ringed the earth like a shroud. Beyond the cloud, in the far reaches of space, a lone star stirred as if called from slumber and began to pulsate, faintly, with a gentle rhythmic beat. And with each beat its radiance grew, until all the heavens were filled with its brilliance. Rays of light raced down across space and hurled themselves against the cloud below with insistent fury. But the star could not penetrate the cloud and no eyes could marvel at its splendor. Slowly, the light receded. The star, its energy spent, slumbered once more…….
I of course am an atheistically inclined agnostic who regards Christmas as a reasonably pleasant time of the year in the western world and little else. But I was and am aware of the clash between the religious and commercial aspects of the holiday with all of its ironic implications, and I though the piece had something to say about it. For believers and non believers alike.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
THANKSGIVING BLOG HIATUS
After twenty months of blogging just about every weekday, I think I deserve a short vacation from commenting on the passing parade. I’m sure it will keep on parading and passing without my comments for a few days while I devour turkey and marvel at all the things that can be done with turkey leftovers, day after day after day after.. ..well I’m sure you’ve all had similar experiences.
Back in the post turkey era - hopefully with renewed vigor.
Monday, November 22, 2004
TROUBLING TIMES FOR THE POWELL FAMILY
The Powell family hasn’t been doing too well lately.
First there’s Colin.. It’s kind of sad to watch this once greatly respected public servant twist slowly in the wind as he continues to throw himself on his sword and play the loyal soldier for his President.
You would think that the debacle of his appearance at the United Nations, when he offered incontrovertible proof of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs and stockpiles, would be burned into his consciousness and there would be no way that he would make the same mistake again. That he would say, "Mr. President, I made a fool of myself once while the whole world watched. I’m not going to do it again while there’s the slightest chance that there will be the same sorry outcome. Besides which, I’m leaving as soon as Condy can be confirmed, so why don’t you have her present our proof about Iran?"
Yet there he is, at a moment in time when European nations are trying to put some restraints on the Iranians without flatly accusing them of racing to produce an atomic weapon and send the whole world up in flames, doing exactly that. Making flat out accusations with the same kind of "incontrovertible proof" - to what end is beyond me.
As with Iraq, making these kinds of accusations leaves us no fall back position. If Iran denies that it is trying to produce atomic weapons - as indeed it already has - what does the United States do, having thrown down the gauntlet? Try to get the rest of the world to join us in sanctions against them? Good luck with that approach. And besides, we’ve already brushed aside sanctions as a way of containing the ambitions of the axis of evil members.
So what does that leave? There’s no way we can consider restraining Iran through military action and the Iranians know it. We’re already stretched too thin in Iraq and with our other obligations around the world - and the American public wouldn’t stand for a repeat of the Iraq debacle. A majority may have voted for Mr. Bush, but I’d be willing to bet that that old "fool me once" adage is lurking in the back of a lot of people’s minds, particularly as things go from bad to worse in Iraq with no end in sight.
Not too much talk about opening schools and building soccer fields and repairing electric lines nowadays is there? Sooner or later, reality catches up with and smothers spin.
A lot of people have flat out said that Mr. Bush "used" Powell to get himself elected in 2000, when Powell was far more popular than he was - maybe popular enough to have run and been elected President himself. And a lot of people think that Powell could have stopped the Iraq invasion by resigning when his views were brushed aside and his advice ignored.
You would think that he would want to go out with as much of his dignity intact as he could hold onto, but he seems unaware that he is departing the world stage as a sad caricature of the man who made such a promising entrance four years ago. There’s no doubt that he’s sincere in his current efforts to do good works as he travels the Middle East hot spots and talks to Israelis and Arabs about the future, but the sad question is - is anybody listening? According to New York Times columnist and PBS News Hour contributor David Brooks, Hosni Mubarak once told Senator Bob Graham that he wanted someone serious from the administration to come and take a look at the Middle East situation - but not Powell. "Don’t send Powell" he is reputed to have said. Why? Because you can’t trust that Powell is speaking for the administration.
Brooks didn’t put a date on when this happened, but it doesn’t really matter. It could have been any time during the last four years while Powell was trying to be a voice of moderation and pragmatism before becoming Bush’s buffoon at the United Nations.
It makes me want to see Condoleezza rushed through and confirmed even faster so that he can be saved any further embarrassment.
Over at the FCC, where Powell the younger reigns without any pending resignation, we have an agency that is becoming the Spanish Inquisition of contemporary broadcast morality. And the Monty Python gang notwithstanding, everyone does expect this Spanish Inquisition to come crashing down on their heads if they exhibit the slightest hint of anti moral heresy.
First we had the nation succumbing to devil worship after being exposed to the sight of Janet Jackson’s breast for a mini second during the last super bowl halftime show. Or at least that seemed to be the implication based on the furor that followed the broadcast. As far as I could tell, there were no viewers of this horrific scene that were turned into pillars of salt, yet from the volume and source of the protests that allegedly poured into the FCC and to CBS, you would think that we had been attacked by an army led by the anti-Christ himself.
The fines that were levied against the network and its owned and operated affiliates were the largest ever assessed - and it scared the heck out of a whole bunch of other televisions stations - enough for them to refuse to broadcast "Saving Private Ryan" for fear that Michael Powell’s FCC would hit them with major fines and maybe other sanctions for airing a movie about war that had - believe it or not - swear words in it!!!
What on earth is happening here? Are we becoming like the countries that are supposed to be the antithesis of what this country is all about? Countries where it is against the law to be critical of government? Countries where prime time television programming might consist of el presidente orating about the glories of some third world administration for two or three hours, stopping only for sips of water - or patriotic music played over patriotic images from six to ten p.m. just before the grand Ayatollah closes the day’s programming with a plea for Allah to strike down all the infidels?
It’s getting pretty scary when a part of our free media has to think twice about how some pencil pushers in a government regulatory office might react to anything that would be likely to bring protests from members of the self named moral majority before going ahead with any kind of programming.
The gag opening for a Monday night football game that had a performer from "Desperate Housewives" pretend to seduce a football player into skipping the game to spend time with her - and pretend to disrobe, has the same army of moralists at it again - exhorting the FCC to condemn and punish this moral heresy. It was a gag for Pete’s sake. It was funny. I didn’t see it when it was originally broadcast - I don’t watch televised football. But I saw clips on the news - and I can’t see what there was that would offend anyone. Unless it was the sight of a white woman jumping into a black man’s arms.
Would Powell and the FCC have gone after CBS with such vigor if there hadn’t been such an outcry of protest from the public? We don’t know, but what seems likely is that they can be influenced by such an outcry - and we can assume that a great portion of it was an organized protest by those who would impose their moral standards upon the nation.
So what might be next? Censorship of gags about Mary Cheney on Letterman? No more talk about President Bush being something less than a Rhodes scholar from Jon Stewart?
I wouldn’t put anything past the power of the nation’s blue noses to exert their influence over the airways while we have the second four years of a Bush administration.
I have a feeling that Colin Powell will be glad to be out of it. And if I were Michael, I would turn in my badge and my gun and join with Dad in some nobler pursuit.
Friday, November 19, 2004
GOOD NEWS. ENGLAND IS NOT GOING TO THE DOGS
As readers of this blog know, I have not been happy with Tony Blair’s lackey like support of George Bush in just about anything and everything he wants to do. I read somewhere that when Blair asked Bill Clinton, with whom he had a more natural political relationship, how he should relate to Bush, Clinton said "be his friend." Obviously, Blair took that to heart and then some.
For years now, merry old England has evolved to look and sound more and more like an extension of the United States - a fifty first state if you will. There was a time when you could travel across the Atlantic and find yourself literally in another world, full of ancient traditions and edifices, quaint customs and charming people who spoke the same language that you did - albeit sometimes with unintelligible accents.
That time has long past. The England that I knew as a child and as a young man has almost completely disappeared. Today, on the streets of London, you’re more likely to find a McDonald’s than a fish and chip shop, and more likely to come upon a Starbucks than a neighborhood tea shop. In fact. I’ve written here about the horror of stopping in at a friendly looking café in an English country town and asking for a cup of tea only to be told "we don’t do tea!!"
Back in June of last year, I was horrified to hear that London Bobbies - the symbol of British civilization known and respected world wide and instantly recognizable in their unique "bobby helmets" were being allowed to wear Turbans. Those whose religion called for that kind of headgear that is.
And on September 18 of last year, I deplored the crass behavior of the British public for the way they were treating American illusionist David Blaine.
But every time I think that the spirit of what was once the United Kingdom has been swallowed up by the rush of the centuries and - for want of a better word - by Americanism, something pops up in the news with a wink and a nod to tell me that it’s all a cosmic joke and to not believe what I see on the surface, because God is really in his heaven and all is still well in England’s green and promised land if I would just stop paying attention to the man behind the curtain and concentrate on the fire bellowing wizard.
And if you’re not a Wizard of Oz fan, I’m sorry for you but there’s no way I’m going to explain what that last sentence means.
One such "pop up" happened just two months ago, on September 17, when I observed that despite the passage of years and changing times, some things, here and across the pond, never really change - and the example that I cited from across the pond was the continued existence of delightfully mad Englishmen that Noel Coward coupled with mad dogs as being the creatures that one would not be surprised to see venturing out in the midday sun. In this case, the mad Englishman was Batman invading Buckingham Palace.
And now, with Blair having come to Washington to pay homage to his leader and perhaps pick up a few crumbs of reward - that part wasn’t made very clear at their joint press conference - and returned home to try to soothe his own party members and mend bridges with Jacques Chirac, - all downers to Anglophiles of the world - a moment of wonderful madness has again arisen
Parliament has enacted a ban on fox hunting with dogs. No more Yoiks, tallyho. Well maybe the traditional hollers haven’t been banned. And there’s no reprieve for the fox. The gentlemen and lady hunters in their fancy hunting attire can still chase after the critter on their horses and fill him with buckshot or whatever ammunition they’re using nowadays for their blood sport. They just can’t run him to ground with a pack of howling dogs.
I fully support the humanitarian aspects of the ban, but I’m delighted at the furor that it has caused and the wonderful traditions that it has resurrected in the old country, foremost among them, good old fashioned class snobbery.
The ban was enacted in the House of Commons - the representatives of the people, while it was vigorously opposed in the House of Lords - the representatives of what used to be the good old days when people knew their proper place in society and you could separate them into societal strata by virtue of their accents.
To paraphrase how Professor Henry Higgins might have put it - the Lords were saying. "Look at those MP’s, creatures of the gutter. Condemned by every silly ban they utter."
And , as Bob Dylan would have put it, the MP’s were saying The Times, They Are A’changin."
The result of the ban has England in a state of reasonably civil, civil war, though there’s no telling when it might get out of hand and erupt into something not quite so civil. It’s almost like our red state/blue state clash of cultures here, the red state types of England being the people of the land, and the blue state types from the cities It was the lead story on the BBC news the other night and they were talking about landowners retaliating against the lower class cretins who were trying to take away their sport by denying access to their lands for such things as building roads and erecting electric or telephone wires. And farmers withholding their produce from the market.
Adding to the frustration of the hunters is the way the ban was enacted - under the aegis of the "Parliament Act" which you can read about here. Passed in 1911 and amended in 1949, it’s been used only three times before - to lower the age of consent for homosexual sex, to allow British courts to try Nazis suspected of war crimes and to change the electoral system for selecting representatives to the European Parliament.
With that kind of history, using it to ban dogs from the fox hunt seems a little like using the RICO Act to prosecute traffic violators. The pro hound hunting people certainly think so. They say the act has been wrongly applied and they’re taking the battle to the courts. And the Conservatives say that if they win a majority in the next general election, they’ll repeal the ban
This could get serious - and a lot more fun before it’s over.
Which part would you think for Hugh Grant in the movie? A huntsman or an MP back bencher? He’s already played a Prime Minister, (Love Actually) so maybe he’ll show up as a British red stater. And my vote goes to Eddie Murphy for the voice of mournful out of work hunt dog trying to apply for unemployment compensation.
Thursday, November 18, 2004
AMERICA’S NEW "FACE TO THE WORLD"
I guess it was inevitable that Colin Powell would not be around for Bush’s second term. For most of his first term, Powell was marginalized and his proposals overridden by the Rumsfeld and Cheney cabals. Had Powell prevailed, we might never have invaded Iraq, or at the very least we would have gone there with overwhelming force - force enough to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime and to better control the aftermath.
Instead, you see what we have. The Iraq of today. Chaos. Endless war.
The result of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz/Rice doctrine trumping the Powell doctrine.
I’d love to see Powell pen a "tell all" book, but he’s a good soldier so I don’t expect it will ever happen. Besides, he wouldn’t want his son to be kicked out of his job at the FCC.
And now we have "she’s like a daughter to me" Condoleezza Rice nominated to be our next Secretary of State. She’ll fly through her confirmation hearings like a knife through butter and for the next four years there will be only one doctrine in our foreign policy,
That perhaps is how it should be, but I have to wonder if the nation is best served by cabinet members selected more for their unwavering loyalty to their President than for their knowledge and ability and their willingness to give him their unvarnished opinions and to alert him to the state of his appearance when he comes down to breakfast dressed only in his wrist watch and slippers.
With Condoleezza Rice, we will have a Secretary of State who is almost an alter ego of George Bush. On matters of foreign policy they have been speaking with one voice for the past four years, but one wonders whose voice it is - Dubya’s or Condoleezza’s? Whenever you wanted to find Condoleezza on a week-end or after hours, the best place to look for her was somewhere in the vicinity of Mr. Bush. The two seemed inseparable. At Camp David or on the Texas ranch or anywhere else, you’d be likely to see Condoleezza at Dubya’s side as much as Laura. I’m not sure that there’s ever been a relationship between a President and a National Security Adviser like that of George Bush and Condoleezza Rice.
Like millions of my fellow Americans, my knowledge of Ms. Rice comes from reading about her and watching and listening to her in her many television appearances - on the Sunday morning talk shows and when giving Congressional testimony.
She’s obviously a very bright woman - an over achiever with an impressive bio. She was advising President Bush senior on Soviet and East European Affairs and on National Security when she was only in her thirties - and now, fifteen or so years later, she’s being elevated to become, as President Bush the younger put it, "America’s face to the world."
I’m just a little old no clout blogger, but my view of this selection is that it’s a long way from the best face that we could present to the world. In fact, it might be one of the worst faces.
I’ve always wondered what it is that makes someone an appropriate National Security Advisor. One would think that it would be someone who first has vast experience in the area of US national security - that is, experience in or great familiarity with the inner workings of all of our security agencies - the FBI, the CIA , the NSA, the NNSA and others, along with the knowledge of years of experience and service of how other countries work and how, when and why they might be in conflict with us.
I never got that impression from listening to Ms Rice. Her knowledge and experience seemed academic rather than practical. Supposedly, she was an expert on the former Soviet Union which represented zero threat to the United States when she assumed her present office in January of 2001, but though she testified to the contrary in her appearance before the 9/11 commission, others have said that she had no real knowledge of the threat that we did face - that posed by Al Qaida and other elements of the Arab and Muslim worlds
She did impress me as being very assertive. As I watched her testify before the 9/11 commission for example, I got the impression that she had little patience for some of the probing questions that were posed to her. She seemed to be telling each member of the commission as she expanded her answers beyond the specifics of the questions being asked - "I am a very knowledgeable person and if you’ll just pay attention, I will impart some of this knowledge to you." Many of her answers were expanded into a lecture mode. Perhaps that isn’t surprising. She has been an award winning teacher.
The impression that she didn’t leave me with was that she was skilled in the area of diplomacy. Obviously, in her role as National Security Advisor testifying before a Congressional committee, she wasn’t auditioning for a future role as a diplomat, but one would think that the innate qualities that you would expect a diplomat to have would come through during the course of a lengthy give and take hearing. I found Ms Rice somewhat arrogant and dismissive of others who had given testimony that didn’t agree with her view of things. And I found her generally unlikeable.
In my view, her nomination to succeed Colin Powell and to present our "face to the world" says something very clear to the world. It says if you didn’t like our foreign policy during the first four years of this administration, you’re going to hate the next four years, because it isn’t just going to be more of the same, but even more more of the same. In your face more of the same. It says to the world, you knew that Colin Powell was a voice of moderation in our foreign policy, that he tried to act as a brake on some of our runaway actions - that he succeeded in part by persuading us to at least go through the motions of trying to work through the United Nations and to listen to the opinions of other world leaders. But that’s all in the past. When our new "face to the world" speaks, you’ll be hearing the unfiltered voice of the President of the United States - no brakes applied or tolerated.
I’m sure it didn’t enter the President’s mind that the nomination of Condoleezza Rice sends that kind of message to countries with whom we need to mend fences. If he was sincere in his expressed desire to reach out to allies and other friends who have strong disagreements with us, he might have considered nominating someone who would signal a greater willingness to listen and to compromise and to back away from the doctrine of acting unilaterally when Mr. Bush’s "gut" tells him to. The nomination of Ms Rice sends exactly the opposite signal.
But I guess it could have been worse. He could have nominated Don Rumsfeld - he of the dismissal of France and Germany as the unimportant "old Europe." I know that isn’t much of a consolation - that the nomination could have been worse - but in these dark days of the Bush years, volume two, we’ve got to look for glimmers of "good news" wherever we can find them.
Wednesday, November 17, 2004
WAR IS HELL. DID ANYONE EXPECT SOMETHING DIFFERENT?
It’s a strange day indeed when I find myself almost on the same page as the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. The difference of course - and the reason for the "almost" - is that I don’t respond to things stridently, in knee jerk fashion and without pausing long enough to allow my brain to catch up with my mouth. I wait a day and make sure that I insert this kind of disclaimer before I type anything resembling an agreement with anything they’ve said.
I know that they’ve been rushing to the defense of the young marine who was videotaped shooting and killing an apparently wounded and unarmed insurgent, lying on the floor of a room in a mosque in Fallujah.
The tape has set off a fire storm in Iraq and across the Arab world and the US Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte, has expressed regret for the shooting, which would seem to me to be wholly appropriate. "No one can be happy about an incident such as that one, " he said. Absolutely. Who could argue with that sentiment? Not even Limbaugh and Hannity.
But then Ambassador Negroponte added a few more words that I do find inappropriate. "The important point," he said, "is that the individual in question will be dealt with. The matter is being looked into and whatever measures are necessary under our system of military justice I know will be taken.''
Whoa there Mr. Ambassador. Dealt with? That sounds like a rush to judgment to me. In fact, it sounds pretty much like a condemnation. This wasn’t some kind of premeditated murder. This marine - probably a kid, his name and age haven’t been revealed - was in the middle of an urban battle, fighting his way from street to street, from house to house and room to room, facing bullets and grenades and booby trap bombs along the way.
He was doing what his President has asked of him. Putting his life on the line for a cause that he has been told is noble and just. The enemy he’s facing isn’t easily identifiable. These insurgents aren’t wearing any uniforms that identify them as combatants. If anything, they might be wearing a G.I. uniform that they’ve stolen from somewhere to lure our guys into a deadly trap. It’s hardly Marquess of Queensbury rules. This is an enemy that doesn’t play by any rules of engagement.
Most likely this marine has seen some of his comrades fall and die. Almost certainly he is feeling a tension beyond the imagination. Maybe grief too if indeed any of his buddies have been killed. He knows that at any moment a bullet, a grenade, a bomb could come in his direction and end his life - that he could easily become a photograph and a name displayed "in silence" at the end of the PBS News Hour program
I don’t know what went through his mind when he saw the wounded man on the ground. From the audio on the tape, it would seem that he thought the man was "faking" death. He may have been fearful that the man was concealing some kind of weapon or wired in to a deadly booby trap.
I can’t imagine how anyone can come to the conclusion that shooting the man was an unnecessarily reckless act and not an instinctive one. The young marine didn’t have the luxury of viewing a videotape of the unfolding scene from the comfort of a favorite chair in his den or living room back home, as those who will judge him will no doubt have. They’ll be able to look at the tape again and again and analyze it second by second just as the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination was examined frame by frame for decades. He didn’t have the luxury of discussing the situation with his colleagues in safe and comfortable surroundings before making the decision to shoot, as those who will be judging him will have when they discuss the incident with his colleagues in safe and comfortable surroundings.
Whatever this was, it was no Abu Ghraib. It was no Mai Lai. It was one man, engaged in war, under stress, acting instinctively. Certainly not after long reflection. Perhaps he was wrong in what he did , but he was in a war zone where any moving thing presented a possible danger to his life - and I would rather he be wrong and alive and the enemy dead than any other kind of possible scenario. It’s a hackneyed phrase but as true as it’s old. War is indeed hell and this incident was a glimpse of what war is all about.
Police in American cities are frequently faced with unknown situations where split second decisions have to be made, and on occasion people have been shot and killed who were unarmed and not committing any crime. It happens when police officers mistakenly believe they are being confronted with a life threatening situation. Those cases are always investigated, but there is an initial assumption by police and other authorities that the officer involved was trying to do his job to the best of his ability and didn’t just decide that the easiest way to handle whatever he perceived the problem to be was to execute someone.
The marine who is already a cause celebre in the Arab world deserves no less. He should be presumed to be someone who might have made a mistake, but who was trying to do his job to the best of his ability, which includes trying to stay alive and to help his comrades stay alive.
Our young kids are suffering enough in the battle to bring stability to this God forsaken country. We don’t need to add to the suffering by making this marine a sacrificial lamb and punish him to show the Arab world how just and moral we are. They don’t believe it anyway and the more we try to make excuses and whine that this or that action doesn’t represent the way we "really are," the more they’ll think we are amoral liars.
They know what war is like and they know that some acts of war may verge on atrocity but are, for the most part inevitable. We should leave it at that.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
MURDER TRIALS AND ILLICIT CARTWHEELS
Soap Opera "News" Reviewed
A lot of conservative "true believers" do not believe that you can trust the regular news media - TV Networks, major newspapers, news magazines etc., to report what is really happening at home and around the world. You have to look to the likes of the National Review or the American Spectator or maybe Fox News.
I don’t usually turn to such media outlets for my news, but if they’ve been avoiding certain "news" stories to which the "regular" media outlets have been devoting an inordinate number of hours recently, maybe I should start reading them.
There are two "stories" in particular that I haven’t been able to avoid, because I turn on my television and tune in to a news or news magazine or interview program - and there they are. That all of these programs consider the stories "news" must have the likes of Ed Murrow and Ralph McGill turning in their graves.
I don’t know what it is about the Peterson murder trial that makes it big news, to be reported on day after day. Maybe it’s the soap opera plot - the eight month pregnant mother disappearing on Christmas Day, the husband engaged in an extra-marital affair while supposedly grieving over her disappearance, the eventual discovery of her body and that of her child, the antics of the husband before he is arrested, and finally the trial and the jury verdict after it seemed like there wouldn’t be enough jurors to satisfy the juror dismissing judge.
I don’t watch soap operas - never have - so I didn’t get hooked on all the details of the case, and to tell the truth, I wasn’t interested. But on various news and news feature television programs, I caught glimpses of the accused Scott Peterson in the courtroom and he always looked more or less the same. Serious and calm. Not agitated or frustrated or fearful or angry. Cool, calm and collected. Sometimes even amused or sufficiently relaxed to smile when he was conferring with his attorney. Who knows - maybe they were telling each other jokes to relieve the tension.
But I thought about how I would act if that was me on trial for murder - and if it was for a murder that I did not commit. I think I know how I would act. I would be angry. All the time. I would be frustrated. My attorney might be urging me to stay composed , but I would be saying to him "Are you crazy? They’re all lying through their teeth about me and you want me to be calm?" And I would testify. I would insist on testifying.
Perhaps other people would handle it differently. Maybe they would suppress their anger while the serious business of defending themselves was underway. But when I heard about the guilty verdict and how Mr. Peterson reacted - by staring straight ahead - expressionless, no visible emotion, I knew he was guilty. Without following any part of the trial. Without knowing anything about the prosecution witnesses or the details of their testimony. I knew this guy was guilty. I knew it because when you haven’t committed any crime and you’ve sat through weeks of listening to people say that you did, and then a jury files into the courtroom and pronounces you guilty - guilty of a capital crime that you did not commit, you don’t stare straight ahead and display zero emotion.
You scream!! You pound on the table and yell "No. No. It’s not true. I didn’t do it. You’ve got it wrong." And when your lawyer and court officials try to calm you down, you tell them no, you won’t calm down. You say give me the truth serum. Hypnotize me. Give me any test you want. It’s all lies. I didn’t do it.
But Peterson displayed no reaction - and unless he was drugged or had been reduced by the pressures of the trial to a semi catatonic state - to me, his non reaction was an admission of guilt. "Goddamn it, they got me. But I’m not going to show any disappointment or weakness. I’m going to take it take a man."
Well where’s he’s likely to be going, he’s going to need a lot of that attitude. That and then some!!
The second item of "news" to which newspapers and broadcast news outlets paid - in my view inappropriate attention - and to which NBC’s "Today" show last week-end devoted a whole segment of special coverage, involved the case of the "cartwheel kid suspension."
The initial reports of the story as they appeared in newspapers and on television newscasts, were that an eleven year old girl had been suspended from a school in California for doing cartwheels. And the initial reaction was - what kind of nonsense is that? Suspending a kid for doing cartwheels? What the hell’s happening in our schools today.
Then we hear that the kid was doing her cartwheels in hallways and outside on concrete surfaces and that the school was concerned about kids getting hurt - her and others - and that she’d been told to stop doing it more than once but kept doing it anyway.
When I was eleven, I was enrolled in a "public" (very private) school in England and had I done what this kid did - disobeyed a rule and a direct order from a teacher - or worse, from a principal, my rear end would have been caned and my parents might have been informed. They might have been asked to come in for a conference. They would probably have been warned that expulsion was possible if I repeated the offense. And almost certainly, my father would have added to the pattern left on my rear by the school caning.
That was a long time ago and in a different country and I’m not suggesting that anything like that should have happened to this kid, nor did I accept it stoically when it happened to me, but there is no "story" here. There is nothing scandalous or shocking or reprehensible. The kid disobeyed a school rule. The school required kids to conform to certain rules of behavior. She didn’t. She was punished. If she came back and did the same thing after being punished, the logical next move would be expulsion. Go find another school - if you can.
Once the reason for the kid’s punishment became known, that should have been the end of it. The media outlets should have been embarrassed for latching on to the incident as a "story" to begin with. But - as the original not ready for prime time cast member John Belushi used to say on Saturday Night Live…. NOOOOOO. That’s an elongated " No." Hard to reproduce in print.
The kid’s parents decided to set an example for her. Not to explain to her that there are some rules in life that need to be obeyed and while there may be some that you might decide to disobey as a matter of principle, this wasn’t one of them. Instead, they decided to show her how to be total jerks in front of as large an audience as can be found - like those watching "Today" on a week-end morning.
There were the kids parents telling the world that the school and the school principal was wrong. That all the kid was doing was using her God given right to exercise her arms and her legs and what have we come to in this country when a school punishes a kid for doing just that? And there was the school principal on the same program looking uncomfortable, but obviously feeling that she had to be a part of this ridiculous charade to explain what the rules were and how the kid was repeatedly asked to obey them and how she was punished when she refused.
And there was Lester Holt, perhaps feeling just as embarrassed as the school’s principal - at least I hope so - but nonetheless, going back and forth between the principal and the kid’s jerky parents as though there was really some newsworthy item to explore here.
What I find more reprehensible than the ridiculous attitude of the kid’s parents and the horrible example they are setting for her as she approaches her teen years, is the lack of judgment by the producers of the Today show in giving air time to what is essentially a non-story. They should have reached the same conclusion as any mature adult. That the parents of the kid are a couple of jerks for making a fuss over her being punished for breaking rules and disobeying a school principal and that their "story" should be treated appropriately - as a non-story!!
But it wasn’t, so on behalf of all the sane blogs in the blogosphere (and yes, there are millions of totally worthless, insane ones) my apologies to Ed Murrow and Ralph McGill for the disturbance that this kind of crap must be causing to their eternal rest.
Monday, November 15, 2004
WOBBLY POST ARAFAT START
Having ended my last week of commentary on an upbeat note, expressing hope that the death of Arafat would open the door to the arrival of a new leadership that would actually want to negotiate a peace with Israel, events over the week-end almost dashed that hope before it could take any recognizable form.
In fact, it seemed like business as usual all the way round. A bunch of Fatah hoodlums barge into a mourning tent where Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and some other Palestinian officials are paying respects to their departed leader, shout "No no, Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen is the agent of the Americans," and start shooting, killing two people. and wounding others.
So what happened after that? Were these punks quickly arrested and hauled off to jail to await arraignment and trial? Did Abbas say this sort of thing will no longer be tolerated? That those who resort to violence of any kind against anybody for whatever reason, will be treated as common criminals and dealt with accordingly?
In your dreams sanity seekers.
The voice wasn’t that of Yasser Arafat, but the words were those of crazed "Arab speak."
"This attack has no personal or private dimension," said Mr. Abbas. "It’s the result of emotions following the martyrdom of President Arafat."Emphasis on the word "martyrdom" added by your humble scribe.
Mohammed Dahan, the former security chief for the Gaza Strip - and we know how well he maintained law and order in that territory, added his take on the incident.
"What happened was the result of confusion that started when Abu Mazen entered the tent together with dozens of journalists. This led to the chaos that we witnessed there."Emphasis on the words "confusion" and "chaos" also added by your humble scribe.
"Confusion?" "Chaos?" Is that what the potential successors to Arafat’s rule want us to believe was the reason for an attempted assassination that resulted in two deaths even if one of them wasn’t the man the murderers were screaming about? Abu Mazen’s bodyguards surrounded him when they started their screaming and managed to whisk him away. But it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this band of armed punks - about twenty of them according to news reports - weren’t firing at people point blank because they were "confused." They were trying to kill people and they succeeded.
Maybe it was too much to expect even the beginning of the hoped for "one eighty" that I wrote about in my comments of last Friday, but at least one could hope for an absence or at least a minimizing of unreality in the rhetoric. Instead, it came full blast, as though they were obeying a last wish of their dead leader to carry on with the same kind of "Arab Speak" that he used to con a susceptible world for 40 years.
Arafat, who died in Paris of causes that are being kept secret, though rumors abound on the Internet that he was a closet homosexual and died of AIDS, is being described by Mahmoud Abbas as being a martyr!! His death wasn’t just death. He didn’t just die. He "martyred!!" I don’t know whether I can use the word as a verb or not, but it fits the description of what Abbas was trying to say - or maybe it was Abu Mazen. That he didn’t die like millions of people die - of a disease or of old age. No sir. His death was an act of martyrdom!!. He "sacrificed" his life for the Palestinian people.
Maybe one of the reasons for using the assumed names that all of these Palestinian leaders seem to have, is that they can say crazy things to their domestic audiences, speaking as their nom de guerres - and then turn around using the name that their parents gave them at birth to sound sane to the western world.
Maybe I’m making too much of what was said at the incident - and maybe Abbas and Dahan were actually being diplomatic - trying to put a calmer face on madness for the benefit of the Palestinian man in the street. Trying to convince him and his brethren that the death of Arafat will not bring chaos, with the various armed factions battling with each other for power - and that everything is proceeding peacefully toward elections in January.
It may not be the case - it probably isn’t - but whatever happens on the West Bank and Gaza on January 9, 2005 could well turn out to be a model of democracy in action compared to what may or may not happen in Iraq in the same month.
And in this crazy world, I guess we have to be grateful for any small mercies that might emerge, no matter how strange the packaging in which they might be wrapped.
The late CBS News?
I was interested to see that the time it took for Merck to withdraw Vioxx from the market was a big news item over the week end. A big story on "Sixty Minutes." Big revelations. Merck might have known about the potential for Vioxx to cause hearts attacks and strokes long before they decided to pull it.
Maybe CBS was suffering from the "rather not" syndrome following the Dan Rather "Sixty Minutes" debacle over the Bush service documents that never were - except as a forgery that is. Maybe they just didn’t want to rush to report anything about Merck taking its sweet time to withdraw Vioxx while raking in millions in profits. Maybe they first wanted to check all of the blogs that were expressing doubt about Merck’s sincerity ever since the withdrawal announcement was made. After all, it was the blogosphere that was their undoing in the phony papers case and they didn’t want to get stung twice.
Heck, all they had to do was check my blog posting of October 13 wherein I pointed out that everbody had known about the problem for a long time, including the FDA.
You just gotta learn to trust us, CBS.
We are the new purveyors of truth.
To say nothing of justice and the American way………
Friday, November 12, 2004
THE POST ARAFAT ERA HAS ARRIVED
I’m not sure if any significance can be attached to the fact that Yasser Arafat died on 11/11, but at least the date of his death will be easy to remember. And though there’s no connection, it produces a kind of eerie feeling when you think of the date of another seminal event of recent time - that of 9/11!!
And when I say "another seminal event," it’s with the hope that Arafat’s death will indeed be a seminal event - an opportunity for Palestinian leadership to do a "one eighty" and start moving toward an end to endless war - and an eventual peace.
I suppose we can be grateful that Suha Arafat went after Yasser’s associates, accusing them of "trying to bury him alive" and didn’t come up with some crazy scenario about Israelis spraying his Ramallah compound with poison gasses or sending death rays over telephone lines or sneaking an assassin into his Paris hospital room. This is a woman who could give Steven King a run for his money - if she had any literary talents to go along with her warped imagination.
Of course, after the deal she purportedly cut with the surviving Palestinian leadership - 22 million a year in exchange for revealing where the rest of the loot is buried - or something along those lines, she won’t have to dream up any more crazed scenarios. The truth of that deal is nuttier than any future fictions she could devise.
I googled Arafat this morning and the venerable search engine claimed 11,400,000 hits. Adding his first name however, produced only 1,300,000. I’m not sure why. In both cases I’m asking for references to Arafat, not Yasser plus Arafat, so you’d think both searches would produce similar results. But then who can figure the inscrutable minds of the google programmers?
Abu Ammar produced only 56,500 hits and I could see right away that many of them had no connection with Arafat’s nom de guerre, which I guess he almost never used - unlike two of his recent "Prime Ministers" - Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Abu Ala (Ahmed Qureia).
I didn’t expect to uncover any of the secrets that Suha Arafat may reveal somewhere down the road, but somewhere buried in all those hits, are some of the comments I’ve made about Arafat since I began writing this blog. Over a year ago for example, on September 8, 2003, I said that peace was impossible while Palestinians supported Arafat. But I also said in that same commentary that if there was to be any movement toward peace, the Palestinian support of everything that Arafat and the PLO stood for , would also have to go.
In a sense, Ariel Sharon is echoing this sentiment by saying that negotiations can only take place with Arafat’s successors if they clamp down on terrorist activities. I hope that this doesn’t mean that there will be no dialogue with them if there is a suicide bombing or if Hamas attacks a settlement in Gaza. In my comments of September 10, 2003, responding to some hard line suggestions about how Israel should deal with the Palestinians, that Daniel Pipes made in a New York Post article, I argued that Israel should keep talking, even while adhering to most of his hard line suggestions.
I would urge the same thing now. Newly elected chief Abbas will be in no position to put a swift stop to acts of violence and Sharon must know this. And he obviously knows that people sworn to wage war with Israel until the nation is wiped off the face of the earth will continue to do everything they can to sabotage any effort to reach a peaceful solution, no matter who has been appointed to succeed Arafat.
If Abbas makes it clear that his goal is to dismantle all the independent militant groups and negotiate an overall peace agreement on behalf of all the Palestinians, Sharon should do everything in his power to help him - to prop him up - to make him look like a real leader in the eyes of the Palestinian population. That means start talking and keep talking - even if there are acts of violence - even as sporadic warfare continues. If it is the Israeli position that no negotiations can proceed until what they hope will be one of the end results of negotiations comes to pass - that is, an end to violence - then it will never happen. That would be a classic case of putting the cart before the horse.
I would also urge Sharon to take a fresh look at the peace plans that have been floating around in Israel and in the Palestinian territories that have a lot of backing, but so far not from the Israeli government. I wrote about those plans back on October 28, 2003. And I’d urge him to take a look at the proposal I made for a two state solution back on October 10, 2003. With sane people on both sides of the negotiating table, something like this could actually work.
The departure of Arafat no doubt will see a renewed effort by members of the world community to bring the conflict to an end - and indeed it has already begun with Bush lackey Tony Blair in Washington looking to be rewarded for his support of the Iraq invasion with help to press for his ideas for a Mid East settlement. Read - "put the squeeze on Israel." That may be the danger in the post Arafat era and Israel needs to be wary of the outside "peacemakers."
But for the first time in a long time, there’s a feeling of hope that maybe, just maybe, a solution can be worked out that both sides can live with. And it may even happen in my lifetime. And wouldn’t that be something?
Thursday, November 11, 2004
AN ELECTION ANALYZER ANALYZED
While some of the "instant" political pundits have already arrived at their conclusions about the election and have told us why Bush won, others are urging patience, telling us that it will take several months of analysis before we can understand all of the elements that added up to his victory.
Individuals however, absolutely know why they voted for or against his re-election, and one such individual’s reasons were revealed to me the other day when I opened my newspaper and read a letter to the editor. It was from a sixty year old former school teacher, whose reasoning sounded so much like that of a pupil being taught to understand by rote, that I thought it worth commenting on here.
The writer’s mindset - even if it represents a minority of those who voted for the President, could serve as a model to be studied by Democratic strategists. Maybe they could then figure out how to get people to think the way the Republican strategists got this person to think.
Here’s some of what the letter writer had to say, with of course my comments interspersed:
I am a 60-year-old woman who cast my vote for George W. Bush for president, though I've often wondered why he still wants the job. I'd like to share some of the reasons that led me to this decision, and perhaps in the process offer insights to Democrats as they begin to reconstruct their party.I’m waiting with bated breath.
I can no longer be patient with a body politic still consumed by bitterness over of the election of 2000. Please get over it and move on.Whoa there insight offering letter writing lady. You want those who didn’t vote for Bush in 2000 to "get over it?" Where was your advice in 1992 and the next three years and again in 1996 and the three years that followed that year? Eight years of people not just "not getting over it," but trying to destroy a sitting president!! Of course he was a Democratic President, so maybe it doesn’t count. You gotta lighten up and allow for a little equal opportunity post election bitterness.
I fear the prospect of a foreign policy based on the notion that America has to be liked by the rest of the world before we can be respected. I have been a teacher and I know this doesn't work.How the hell could you have ever been entrusted with the malleable brains of our children if that’s your interpretation of Senator Kerry’s approach to foreign policy ? What it is of course, is a re-statement of a Bush campaign sound bite. And you bought that instead of listening to what Kerry actually said - again and again. And you’re offering insights???
I lost trust in the candidate who could claim that our fears of the terrorist movement would end with his election.Of course no such thing was ever said by Senator Kerry. But again there were sound bites ridiculing lots of things that were never said, and I guess those are what you heard. Things like accusing Mr. Kerry of saying that he wouldn’t take any kind of action about anything without getting "global permission." Remember that? And you have trust in the candidate who kept repeating that lie??
I was bewildered by a candidate who could promise a solution to our nation's health-care problems in his first hour of office. I have been a nurse and this just isn't possible.Well of course as a nurse you would understand that it would take at least several hours. Maybe a whole day. Even I know that. I’m sure Kerry knows it too. It sure wasn’t in any of his position papers on health care. He must have been drunk or tired when he said he could do it in an hour. And everyone in the liberal media must have been drunk or tired too, ‘cos none of them reported it. Until the other day that is. In the paper that published your letter.
I was dismayed by the lack of wisdom of party bosses who think I can be swayed by the likes of what Hollywood has to offer.Well, I guess they were influenced by the likes of Ronald Reagan and George Murphy and Fred Thompson and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But I sort of agree with you. I dunno about wisdom, but doing a bad job of trying to copy your opponent’s successful use of what Hollywood has to offer doesn’t display too much imagination. I think they gave too much credit to song and dance man Murphy. They should have dumped Springsteen and Streisand and stuck with B movie actors. Incidentally, do you think Arnold will follow in Fred’s footsteps and go back to movie acting after he gets tired of playing politician?
The rationale that the global war on terror is separate from the war in Iraq escapes me, as well as the notion that if weapons of mass destruction are not found by an arbitrarily set time, then they're just not there. Have any of us ever actually tried to find a needle in a haystack?I guess this is where we unenlightened folk run into big trouble. We can’t pin down where this "global war on terror" is taking place, but for sure it isn’t in Iraq. Maybe what you mean is that our invasion of Iraq attracted a lot of terrorists to that country and they’re now attacking our troops there. But that’s hardly global now is it? And you’re right about the needle and the haystack and arbitrary time limit thing. Just because the Supreme Court wouldn’t let vote counting continue in 2000 doesn’t mean that Al Gore wasn’t elected President does it? Or would that be a mixed metaphor? You’re the teacher. You tell me. By the way, what happened to the teaching gig? Nursing pay more money? Or were you caught trying to persuade kids to adopt your interpretation of syllogistic reasoning?
I am angered by those who use the strength of our nation's diversity in an effort to divide us, and by national media that have lost their objectivity.Me too. Shame on George Dubya after he promised us that he was a "uniter" not a divider. And shame on that media giant Limbaugh. Well, maybe not him. After all, when did he ever have any objectivity to lose?
But I have been buoyed by our president's steadfastness and resolve over the past four years. There has always been an innate calmness about him under unprecedented circumstances. And I always feel I know where he stands on issues even if I don't always agree with him. I know he means well, and I know he is an honest man, at peace with himself and his God. These are the reasons why Bush won my support.But if you substitute "Chauncey Gardner" for "our president," your description would be just as accurate. And if "Being There" happened here, you would most likely have voted for Chauncey, wouldn’t you?
Than again, there are some who think that it did and you did.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
ATTACK AND HATE MAIL NOT WELCOME
I’ve been meaning to comment on this topic for some time. I’m talking about unwanted e-mail responses to what I say in this blog.
I know that I invite response when I say "Agree? Disagree? Tell me." But that’s not an invitation to send attack or hate mail.
My blog is not like some others that allow comments to be posted below any of my posts by anyone who wishes to do so. Nor is it the elaborate kind of page that the Chicago Tribune’s Eric Zorn has, with special sections for reader comments. I don’t have an Internet guru to create that kind of a set up for me. I’m stuck with the free blog service that Google offers.
Even if I had the kind of elaborate site that Zorn enjoys, I don’t think I would be as non discriminatory as he is in selecting which readers’ comments to publish. He always includes plenty of verbal attacks and insults. Of course that may be because that’s the tenor of a majority of his e-mail responses . Or maybe he just publishes all the responses he gets.
As some of you know, I sometimes will respond to e-mails that present interesting arguments - and on rare occasions, I will refer to or substantially quote from those arguments when writing one of my daily commentaries.
But I do not respond , refer to or even - once I’ve identified a pattern of a correspondent - read hate or attack mail. I have my e-mail programmed to send such messages directly to the "delete" box and from there they get erased.
What brings all of this up is a column in today’s Chicago tribune by one Mary Schmich, who, coincidentally, shares her column space with Eric Zorn and who is not only not a blogger, but one who once wrote a column that inspired me to call her - jokingly of course - the ANTI-BLOGGER!!
But in her column of November 10, 2004, Mary redeems herself, because she obviously knows about and sympathizes with some of the trials and tribulations faced by we sensitive bloggers who receive mail from people who don’t like what we write.
In the column, she offers her services as a "hate mail consultant" to those who would like to make their hate mail more effective.
If you have trouble linking to her golden words - either because the Chicago Tribune wants you to "register" to read certain things on line, or because the page is no longer available, here are selected suggestions of hers that I urge those of you who send me hate or attack mail to read - because at the moment, your mail is not being read - and even when it does, on occasion, get into my "in box" and get looked at - it isn’t being acknowledged or answered.
On the other hand, if you follow Mary’s suggestions - who knows - you might be able to compose something that I’ll use in my blog or even acknowledge via e-mail. After all, that’s what you want isn’t it? To know that your invective has been viewed?
Tell ‘em Mary:
- Do not begin your letter with an expletive. It may satisfy your urge to throw a rotten tomato, but wouldn't you rather make your mark with fresh ideas than with spoiled fruit?I’d like to add a note to Mary’s second item about responding to what’s actually on the page, not to what you read between the lines.
That particularly applies when what is written on the page is obviously humorous. Tongue-in-cheek. Not serious. Not to be taken seriously. Like the long quote from Howard Gensler’s column on seceding to Canada that I used the other day, followed by my own gag suggestion of creating BLUE "settlements" in RED states. Someone actually responded as though some serious suggestions were being made in that piece. That’s not just "reading between the lines." That’s someone devoid of any sense of humor and I can’t think of anyone whose opinions I would less welcome than someone who doesn’t know when or how to laugh.
So there. You’ve been lectured. With help from Mary Schmich. Don’t send me any more hate or attack mail. You're wasting your energy. Unless you can improve your prose and your attitude. No name calling and respond to what I write, not what you think I mean.
Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll acknowledge your effort - and maybe, just maybe, comment on your comments.
I hope I’m not being a bad influence with this blog. A young grand nephew of mine over in England has been following the US elections with great interest for the past three months and has formed some very strong opinions which, after looking at my blog the other day, he has now begun to express in his OWN blog!!
I’m not sure why he’s as angry as he is about our election, but maybe I’ve forgotten how passionate you can get about something when you’re seventeen years old.
Still Larry, you have to temper your passion with reason. We can’t impeach Mr. Bush with a Republican majority in the House and Senate. Unless you can find something buried in ancient British law that can be used. Why don’t you check it out - and if you find something, we’ll pass it on to the Democratic National Committee and see what they think.
Hey, we’ve got four years to suffer. We might as well try to find things to amuse ourselves.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
NO EVOLUTION IN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT
It’s that time again - if indeed it ever goes away. I’m talking about the clash between religion and science and between the deists and the doubters.
We’ve just had an election where religious faith played an important role - and now religion seems to be a hot topic everywhere you turn - particularly religious controversies , two of which are currently on the front burner of the news media.
Evolution is always a hot button subject among the reality deniers and what better place for it to raise its monkey shaped head after 59 million Americans have expressed their devotion to "moral values" than in Texas, where they never execute an innocent person, but they do execute - boy do they execute.
But I digress - and before I’ve even gotten started yet.
Down in Texas, they don’t want to lead kids astray when they’re studying science in school, so they’ve attached a disclaimer to their science textbooks warning that evolution is "only a theory."
Well, I agree. That it’s a theory, that is. I think the full name, when referring to Darwinism, is "the theory of evolution." But that’s not why the Texas State School Board wants that disclaimer attached. They can deny it from now to the day when liberalism is declared a federal offense, but what they are doing is making a religious statement.
They’re saying that the whole process of evolution leading to the emergence of Homo Sapiens that’s described in their science textbooks isn’t necessarily to be believed. And when they say that, they are saying that there is an alternative to consider that’s as plausible a theory as evolution. And there is only one other widely believed "theory" about the origin of mankind - and that’s creation. By a supreme being. There are some fringe theories knocking around about aliens landing on earth a few hundred thousand years ago and giving the human race a kick start, but none of those are what the Texas educators are talking about. They want to equate creation by a God as being equally plausible and equally arguable as evolution.
That argument of course is not sustainable. While holes can be picked in the theory of evolution and are indeed picked regularly by creationist "scientists," there is a wealth of measurable evidence to support the conclusion that we and our simian cousins have evolved from the same family of ancestors, taking different forks in the evolutionary road that separated us and our development.
On the other side of the coin there is zero evidence of the theory of "creation." There is no scientific data to support the theory that some immortal, all powerful being, waved a magic wand and created the earth, the solar system, the Milky Way , the cosmos , the Big Bang - everything. And all in a matter of days. It is all based on faith that such a thing could have happened and that there could be some immortal being that was behind it all.
This post election era seems to be the season for a revival of this kind of controversy.
While the Texas authorities are asking their kids to be skeptical about evolution, the Seventh Day Adventists have picked this moment in time to insist that the earth was literally created in six days - a literal six DAYS, each 24 hours long!! And they say it all happened just a few thousand years ago - maybe seven to ten thousand.
Evolution? Darwin? Dirty words, not to be spoken.
According to news reports, that recent Seventh Day Adventists announcement came after three years of conferences on the issue of creation. Boy, would I liked to have been in attendance at some of those conferences. What could they have possibly talked about for three long years? And what evidence could they have considered?
I think I can answer that last question. From what I’ve read of what they want their 13.6 million world wide members - of whom almost a million live in the United States - to believe, the evidence to support their conclusion about how the earth and life began, the evidence that they sifted through and discussed and argued about is - wait for it - THE BIBLE.
They don’t even try to meld the Bible with Darwinism as do many deists who accept the scientific evidence of how the universe came into being and approximately when and are looking for an "intelligent design" to point toward a divine cause. They want their followers to believe in the literal truth of what is written in the Bible.
By their actions and pronouncements, the Texas school authorities and the Seventh Day Adventists, do nothing to advance knowledge or promote understanding . Rather they contribute to the harm that has been caused over centuries by pitting mythological beliefs - or perhaps I should say yearnings, because that’s what I think is at the root of such beliefs - against logic and scientific knowledge and inquiry.
And the harm doesn’t just come from pitting religious belief against science. Just as much harm comes from pitting one kind of religious belief against another. I’m sure that hundreds of thousands - maybe millions of Jews who were slaughtered during the holocaust of the 1930’s and 40’s and in the centuries before, went to their deaths firmly believing in the existence of a supreme being - as many who slaughtered them also did,.
The latest reports from Fallujah has insurgents, Iraqis, Syrians, Jordanians, Saudis, running through the streets of that city, setting off bombs, firing at our troops and crying Allah Akba - God is Great.
I am sure if you asked such people, they too would scoff at the idea that they are the end product of an evolutionary process that began in the fires of the early universe. They believe in creation and that they are doing the work that their creator wants them to do.
Crazy? Of course it is.
But as we learned in the just concluded election, when it comes to matters of faith, what people believe is a greater influence on society - on all societies - than what we know, what we can prove and what we can theorize.
Mr. Bush and his team understood that, tapped into it and profited from it. And now the Democrats are wondering what they should do about it.
I’ll have some comments on that topic in the days ahead.
Monday, November 08, 2004
HOW TO TURN RED TO BLUE FOUR YEARS FROM NOW
Maybe I started a trend or maybe it’s just coincidence, but at the philly.com site, they’ve gone one better than my suggestion that Illinois should secede from the Union. They’ve suggested that the BLUE states secede to CANDA!!
Since the site indicates that the story containing the suggestion will only be available on the web for a short time, here’s the basic text should you have trouble using the link.
O CANADA, WE PLEAD TO CEDE TO THEENot a bad idea, but for those of us who would prefer to remain in the United States without messing with our borders, I have a much better one. We’d have to wait four years and hope that the sky doesn’t fall during that time, but during those four years, we can do things that will guarantee that there will never be another disastrous election like this last one.
How? By borrowing a leaf from our friends the Israelis - and particularly from Ariel Sharon.
The answer is settlements. We BLUE Staters have to create settlements in selected RED states.
It’s a simple matter of numbers. Electoral College numbers. We have major surpluses of good guys in some of our BLUE states that could do much more good elsewhere in the country. In California for example, we kept the state BLUE by more than a million votes. By contrast, Florida turned suspiciously RED by almost three hundred and seventy seven thousand misinformed voters. That - or some touch screen voting machines were inappropriately touched!!
But for whatever the reason the unfortunate result occurred, if three hundred and eighty or, to be safe, four hundred thousand sane and well informed California voters, moved down to Florida and created a BLUE settlement there, Florida’s 27 electoral votes could be moved from the RED column to the BLUE column four years from now - and there would still be a huge Democratic majority left in California to keep that a state of true color.
In the election just concluded, a shift of just Florida’s 27 electoral college votes to Kerry would have given him the Presidency 279 to 259!!
The folks that we would urge to move from California to Florida wouldn’t be experiencing too much hardship. Weather wise it would be pretty much of an even swap, and the settlement could be in a part of Florida that doesn’t get hit with the horribly destructive storms.
I haven’t done a comparison of property values in the two states, but I would venture a guess that that would be close to an even swap too - with California probably having a slight edge in value.
Now, when I say "settlements," I don’t mean a bunch of tents and pre-fabs. I mean whole new towns, built from the sewer lines up. Floridians would probably welcome the boost to the state’s economy that a new BLUE city going up in their midst would bring. It might even persuade some local residents to realize how they had been led astray and bamboozled into voting the wrong way on November 2.
But we have to be careful. Because of the various laws banning discrimination in housing, there would have to be contingency plans in place in the event that Karl Rove gets wind of the idea and starts moving Republicans en masse from states where they enjoy large majorities of the uninformed and easily manipulated.
In which case, BLUE staters should be prepared to transfer populations from New York and Illinois and Maryland and Massachusetts into states like Iowa and Nevada and New Mexico and West Virginia.
It isn’t a very likely contingency however. The Republicans who voted to re-elect Bush, those Republicans whose thought processes and political philosophies are rooted in the mid to late nineteenth century, are prone to live in the house that their grandparents or great grandparents built or lived in. Or at least in the same neighborhood. Or in the same town, For sure in the same STATE. They’re so rooted that some of them consider other states foreign lands!!
Actually, that’s not that outlandish a concept. If you were a foreigner traveling across this country, trying to make sense of the different accents and customs and laws, you could easily get the impression that you were indeed traveling from one country to another and not just from state to state.
Anyway - there it is Democrats or maybe I should just say BLUE staters, since plenty of us are independents who actually vote for people from both parties. The way to make sure that we don’t elect a Bush clone in 2008.
Move on America!!
Friday, November 05, 2004
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE ELECTION
As we wrap up commentary on the 2004 election and look forward to subject matter that isn’t all political, it’s time to take a moment to raise a glass to the memory of Guy Fawkes, who, absent the ability to express his views via a blog - Al Gore hadn’t invented the Internet in 1604 - tried to make his political statement by blowing up the Houses of Parliament. It didn’t work and his failure has been celebrated every year since on November 5 by fireworks displays and the burning of effigies of Mr. Fawkes. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those effigies being wheeled around this year in the streets of England by young children pleading for the traditional "penny for the Guy," are made up to look like our newly re-elected President.
I know that there are a few people over here who would like to burn Mr. Bush in effigy after last Tuesday - and their desire was likely heightened after listening to him yesterday asserting that he had a "mandate," that "the people were behind him" and that he "earned political capital and intends to spend it."
The man is truly astonishing. A mandate??
Reagan beating Mondale by close to seventeen million votes in 1984 was a mandate, but I don’t recall Reagan talking about "earning political capital that he was about to spend." Maybe he had some respect for the thirty seven and a half million who didn’t for him and didn’t think rubbing their noses in their defeat was a good way to start his second term.
Bush senior won by seven million and Clinton by more than eight million the second time around, and I don’t recall either one of them crowing about a mandate and starting out their presidencies by thumbing their noses at the opposition.
George W is starting his second term the way he started his first - not offering a single conciliatory gesture to the fifty five and half million people who didn’t vote for him.
Yesterday, I cited and linked to the Daily Mirror headline across the pond, asking how more than 59 million Americans could be so dumb. I think I can come up with an answer other than the ones I suggested yesterday about voters wanting a President who would be against abortion and gay marriage, and despite what I said about being worried about the way Americans might be voting in the future, I think the answer makes the re-election of Bush a little less ominous for those in mourning and preparing to mourn for the next four years.
And the day before, I asked, tongue in cheek, who the unfortunate 1, 371,882 Illinoisans were who voted for Alan Keyes for the US Senate. I think I have the answer there too.
Keyes wasn’t a serious candidate, just as he wasn’t in his previous tries for the Senate from another state or in his bid for the White House. Any intelligent person knows that, even if they agree with his religious beliefs. So why would they vote for him, knowing that he didn’t stand a snowball’s chance in Hades of winning and that he was not a serious candidate to begin with? The answer, in my view, is knee jerk Republicanism. Obviously Barack Obama wasn’t the choice of everyone who went out to vote, but a voter could express opposition to Mr. Obama simply by not voting for him. But that wasn’t enough for the 1,371,882 Republicans who cast their vote for Mr. Keyes. Even if they believed, as I do, that Mr. Keyes is an articulate madman who should never hold public office, the compulsion to vote for a Republican - any Republican, was just too great to resist.
In 1998, when Peter Fitzgerald - the man whose seat was being sought by Obama and Keyes - was elected, he received a total of 1,709,041 votes. In 1992, a presidential election year, the losing Republican candidate for the Senate got 2,130,714 votes, compared to the winning total of 2,627,316 for Carol Mosely Braun.
The math speaks for itself. In a year when there were record vote totals nationwide, a lot of Illinois Republicans did not vote for Keyes. They may have even voted for Obama. The 1,371,882 who did vote for Keyes were Republican dinosaurs. Dress a donkey in a clown suit and put an R next to his name, and you can be sure that he will pick up a substantial portion of the Republican dinosaur vote. But the fact that that vote was as small as it was, is a healthy sign.
I know that there will be people who will send me e-mails and assert that there are Democratic dinosaur voters who would do the same thing - and I’m sure they’d be right, though I would think in smaller numbers - but today I’m talking about Republican voters. I’ll dissect the Democratic psyche some other time.
Coming back to the Bush victory and looking for reasons why he was re-elected other than the "moral values" nonsense and "homeland security" and the "war on terror," I think it boils down to the gullibility of the electorate - the fact that in any given year, the American voter can be persuaded to vote for the candidate of either party, given the right set of circumstances and the right kind of campaign.
Though it might seem otherwise from vote totals that - if you voted for Kerry - might be spinning around in your head, I don’t buy the conclusion that a Republican has been re-elected to the White House because the electorate has moved to the right - any more than I bought the idea that we had moved to the left when Clinton was re-elected. In fact, the re-election of Clinton is a prime example of how the combination of an attractive candidate and a skillful campaign can persuade voters to cross party lines without feeling that they are betraying their core beliefs, even when their core beliefs are telling them that the guy they’re voting for is the antithesis of their political philosophy and his opponent is their blood brother.
Over the last 40 years, we have elected four Democrats and four Republicans to the White House. I’m not counting Ford because he was never elected and I’m not counting re-elections. We’ve had Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton and George W Bush. And even though Mr. Bush is supposedly a "wartime" President, I think he could have been unseated with the right candidate - someone with a Clinton type of appeal and campaigning style - and a smarter campaign.
Even Kerry could have been elected with two or three minor changes in his campaign.
First, he should never have built his acceptance speech around his Vietnam service. I winced when he came out and "reported for duty." He had bought into the idea that he needed to present himself as a potential "commander-in-chief" and it backfired. Having served in the military for a year or for 30 years isn’t the resume that’s needed for the job of commander-in-chief. It’s a civilian job!!
Secondly, he should have reacted angrily and immediately when the swift boat predators came out with their attacks. He should have been prepared for their garbage because they’ve been hauling it out for years - every time he runs for office. I’m not sure what he was thinking. That it wouldn’t be noticed and that it would go away?
Thirdly, he should never have posed for photo ops, hunting, fishing, playing touch football or anything else of that nature. You don’t convince anybody that you’re Mr. Everyman by posturing in that manner. Either you come across that way - as Clinton, and to a lesser but nonetheless successful extent, Bush did, or you present yourself as who you are and trust the voters to accept you that way.
And finally, when he knew that his vote to authorize military action against Iraq was going to come back and bite him during the campaign and he was challenged to say how he would have voted had he known no weapons of mass destruction would be found, he should have given the answer that might have won him the election instead of the answer (he would have still voted "yes") that possibly cost him the election. He should have said, had he known how the President planned to use his vote, he would have voted NO!!
So much for the election of 2004.
Oh, one more thing. A good thing that came out of the election. Ralph Nader has been rendered irrelevant. He may not know it yet. It’s hard for any rational thought to penetrate the shield of his ego. He may run again. He’s like an Energizer Bunny run amok. But his vote totals will be reduced to those of the lesser known nuts as they almost were this time - a hundred here, fifty there. And maybe he’ll finally get the message.
And once again, TGIF.