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Thursday, April 28, 2005

I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about the team of intrepid explorers who proved that Robert Peary’s claim of reaching the North Pole in 37 days wasn’t an idle boast. They too made it in 37 days, knocking a few hours off of Peary’s record.

But I have to say that I’m disappointed in the way the story is being reported. On American television the attention is focused on Matty McNair, presumably because she is the only US citizen on the team - and female to boot. But that doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t bother me that the reporting in England concentrates on the English leader of the expedition - and I would imagine the Canadian media is heaping praise on Hugh Dale-Harris and maybe newspapers in South Africa are making sure their readers know that team member Andrew Gerber was born there.

What bothers me is that the team is being hailed as the fastest group ever to reach the North Pole on foot!!!

I’ve no doubt that they all stood around congratulating each other when they arrived at their destination - and in that sense they were "on foot." But getting there on foot? Walking 483 miles?

I don’t think so.

In the news story linked to above, the word "dog" is mentioned once - to describe Hugh Dale-Harris’ profession - Dog Driver. And "dogs" plural, is mentioned casually in a paragraph that says the team traveled in a style similar to that of Peary’s expedition. And that’s it. No mention of how many dogs helped the explorers with their "walking." No mention of their names, their sex, their ages, their ancestry, where they were from. Nothing. Just "dog" and "dogs."

It probably isn’t something that will bring objections from the SPCA or the American Kennel Club or any other organization representing man’s best friend, but on behalf of all of them I say shame!! This human "feat" was accomplished on the backs and feet of a brave team of DOGS!! The dogs did the "walking." The humans were along for the ride.

You won’t see the story reported that way in any newspaper or in any telecast, but on behalf of the members of the expedition without whose presence the mission could not have been accomplished, I present the headline that tells the true story of what happened.


Bush Boost for Jackson

I know that when the two sides were picking the jury for the Michael Jackson trial, they tried to find out everything they could about the potential jurors to see if they could determine which way they might lean and what kind of evidence might influence them. But I wonder if they went to the trouble of learning their political preferences - who supported President Bush and who thought he was a horse’s ass.

If they didn’t, they’re probably doing it now - scrambling to figure out how many are Republicans, how many Democrats and if there are any "other." The prosecution is hoping that most of them are still steaming over the way that the Supreme Court stole the 2000 election from Al Gore. The defense hopes that there are twelve died-in-the-wool Republicans sitting on the panel And if the defense is right, the Jackson camp is celebrating because they’ve just been handed a guaranteed advance "not guilty" verdict.

I’m sure the jury has been pretty confused up to now. They’ve listened to all these witnesses tell stories of inappropriate "touching" of young boys. But one by one, the witnesses have turned out to be less than credible. Some of them are downright impossible to believe.

So what is the jury to think? There’s a lot of smoke, even though it’s as confusing as the mixed signals that came out of that Vatican chimney a few days ago. But could there be that much smoke without any fire?

After all, the guy admits that he loves little boys and he loves sharing his bed with them. He says there’s no greater love than sharing your bed with someone. And there he was on that interview tape with the evil Martin Bashir, holding hands with the young boy who would later take the stand at his trial and say that he had been molested. The molesting accusation didn’t hold up well under cross examination - but still, there was the tape of a 46 year old man holding hands with a twelve year old boy who is not related to him. Even if he was related to him - even if the kid was his son - you’ve got to think that there’s something weird about a guy who would sit and hold hands with a 12 year old boy while he was doing a television interview that he knows is going to be seen by millions of people.

But then the President came to Jackson’s rescue - because there he was on television the other day - the leader of the free world - the moral leader of our nation - walking through a field of flowers, holding hands with a grown man who is not a relative and who is dressed in the way Jackson dresses when he comes to court - in a costume. A different kind of costume mind you, but a costume nonetheless.

The Jackson jurors aren’t sequestered, so they are able to read the news and watch television. They’ve probably been instructed not to talk about the case with anyone and not to read about it or watch television programs about it. But there were no instructions that would have prevented them from seeing the President of the United States and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, walking hand in hand through a field of flowers. And if they were jurors who held the President in high regard - if they believed that he was a man of the highest moral standards - then they could easily have concluded that there was nothing wrong with two guys holding hands in public. The President and the Prince are obviously not homosexuals, so there was nothing sexual about their public hand holding. True, one of them wasn’t a 12 year old kid, but the principle is the same. And if the jurors are true Republicans, making the obvious connection is simple.

There’s nothing wrong with the way Jackson acts with young children. In fact it’s downright presidential!!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A friend sent me an e-mail over the weekend that’s worthy of some comment. I assume it’s one of those things that’s been knocking around the Internet for a while but I doubt that too many people who take time to check on this blog will have seen it - unless you have the kind of friend who thinks it makes an important statement.

I think it makes some kind of statement. A dangerous one.

It comes complete with pictures which I’ve left out and before each statement is a large type headline - DID YOU KNOW? I’ve left those out too, but feel free to ask yourself the question before you read each gem of information:

As you walk up the steps to the building which houses the U.S. Supreme Court you can see near the top of the building a row of the world's law givers and each one is facing one in the middle who is facing forward with a full frontal view ... it is Moses and he is holding the Ten Commandments!

As you enter the Supreme Court courtroom, the two huge oak doors have the Ten Commandments engraved on each lower portion of each door.

As you sit inside the courtroom, you can see the wall, right above where the Supreme Court judges sit, a display of the Ten Commandments!

There are Bible verses etched in stone all over the Federal Buildings and Monuments in Washington, DC

James Madison, the fourth president, known as "The Father of Our Constitution" made the following statement:

"We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

Patrick Henry, that patriot and Founding Father of our country said:
"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ".

Every session of Congress begins with a prayer by a paid preacher, whose salary has been paid by the taxpayer since 1777.

Fifty-two of the 55 founders of the Constitution were members of the established orthodox churches in the colonies.

Thomas Jefferson worried that the Courts would overstep their authority and instead of interpreting the law would begin making law an oligarchy - the rule of few over many.

The very first Supreme Court Justice, John Jay, said:

"Americans should select and prefer Christians as their rulers."

How, then, have we gotten to the point that everything we have done for 220 years in this country is now suddenly wrong and unconstitutional?
Lets put it around the world and let the world see and remember what this great country was built on.

It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, it is very hard to understand why there is such a mess about having the Ten Commandments on display or "In God We Trust" on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance. Why don't we just tell the other 14% to Sit Down and SHUT UP!!!
The e-mail ended with a request to pass the message on if I agreed - presumably with that last line. I don’t and I won’t, but I will comment here.

I believe in a very strong separation between church and state and I’m appalled at the ongoing efforts to intertwine religion and politics. Of course we’ve always had a religious "litmus test" for political candidates. We’ve never called it that - but just have someone announce that he’s running for President and say that he’s an atheist - that he doesn’t believe in God. He couldn’t get elected dog catcher!! So it doesn’t happen.

But that isn’t really a violation of the separation of church and state - that we won’t elect anyone who says he doesn’t believe in God. We don’t codify it in any way and no one is really harmed by it.

The same applies to a statue purporting to be Moses holding the ten commandments on a Federal building. It’s art rather than religion. If Moses existed, no one knows what he looked like, nor anything else about the ten commandments mythology, so what you see as you approach the Supreme Court building doesn’t violate anything and shouldn’t bother anyone unless you think the artist stinks. The same can be said for other statues and carvings that adorn that and other Federal buildings. They are reflections of this country’s religious tradition which certainly can’t be treated as if it didn’t exist - but they are unobtrusive reflections. As magnificent as they may be from an artistic point of view, they don’t reach out and hit you over the head and demand that you believe in what they represent.

The same thing applies to our money. So it says "In God We Trust." That doesn’t mean that the government is endorsing religion or is somehow intertwined with religion. The coins don’t scream "you must believe" as you take them out of your pocket or purse to buy your groceries. In fact, most of us aren’t even aware that the words are there. We know they’re there, but we’re not consciously aware of it as we handle and use our money.

As readers of this blog know, I spent some of my formative years in England, which has an official religion in the form of the Church of England - and where Christian ritual is frequently a part of royal and parliamentary pageantry. But it’s little more than background noise to the average citizen. It’s part of the landscape that one knows is there, but not a matter of contention. As a non Christian, I sang hymns in school in England and hardly gave it a second thought. It was more traditional than religious. I’m long removed from the UK, but I can’t recall that "faith" was ever a major issue in political campaigning in the years that I lived there - and certainly not the "official" faith of the nation. In fact, if the Conservatives were to win the next election and oust Tony Blair, the next Prime Minister would be the current leader of the Conservatives who happens to be a Jew. The anti-Semites might not like it - and there are plenty of such idiots in the old country - but most people couldn’t care less.

I think it’s just wonderful that we can quote the religious sayings of some of our founding fathers and agree or disagree with them as we see it, but that has little to do with the argument that this e-mail message makes - that people who object to certain public religious expression should just shut up because they’re in the minority. That would be exactly the opposite of what our country is supposed to be about!!

Despite what this e-mail message says, most people who do not consider themselves followers of any particular faith, or who think of themselves as non practicing members of a faith, couldn’t care less about statues of Moses or etchings of the ten commandments or bible verses chiseled into stone walls. They don’t care that much about "Under God" being in the pledge of allegiance, though it was added under circumstances strangely like some of the things going on today. But an effort to remove it was rejected by the Supreme Court, reasoning, among other things, that it was a ceremonial reference to our religious history, which could be said about a lot of the trappings that this e-mail message refers to. Examples of our religious beginnings and traditions to which most of us give a tip of the hat, but little more. And most people do not object to these things and want them removed from the public view and conscience. So I don’t agree that there is the kind of problem that the e-mail says exists with a minority trying to change decades of religious tradition.

But there is an argument. It’s one that the e-mail doesn’t address head on but it’s what the message is really about. The sort of thing that went on in the "Justice Sunday" telecast over the weekend .

What some of the 14% of us who don’t believe in God - and I suspect a goodly portion of the 86% who do believe are concerned about, is the encroachment of religion into areas where we don’t think it belongs. Such as overt, in your face expressions of religious belief by members of the judiciary. Like the Chief Justice of Alabama who was removed from office for defying a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the rotunda of the state courthouse. We want our judges to deal with the secular laws under which we are governed, not the "laws" that they believe are dictated by "God." We may not always agree with their interpretation, but whatever decisions they make, we want them to be on the basis of what they find in the law, not in their bibles.

Most of us don’t think overt expressions of religious belief has any place in public schools either. There are schools run by religious faiths where the faithful can send their children to get their education - and there are church and synagogue classes where children who attend public school can go to learn about religious faith. And parents can teach their children anything they want to.

The e-mail cites a concern of Thomas Jefferson that the courts could overstep their authority and make law rather than interpret law, resulting in an "oligarchy" imposing the "rule of the few over the many." Those same concerns are being voiced very loudly today, particularly by those commonly thought of as the "religious right," who see nothing wrong with intertwining politics and religion and the judiciary and religion. But we have checks and balances that can address excesses by the judiciary.

This e-mail is urging an oligarchy of the religious majority. Take a look around the world and see what countries that would put us in the company of. Then think if you would agree with the message of the e-mail and would want to pass it on!!


Surrogate Links for a Blog in Cyber Stress

Eric Zorn advised me that he is trying to get his tech geeks to make some changes to his blog, including the restoration of his links - which are off somewhere in cyberspace. In the meantime, I've posted a temporary link to them under my couple of links on this page so that I can occasionally visit some of the sites he listed - and I'm going to suggest that other of his linked bloggers do the same.

Monday, April 25, 2005

If I’d know who ABC had picked for its person of the week on Friday, I might have postponed inaugurating my POW selection.

For whatever reason - I watched Friday’s "World News" and I still couldn’t figure it out - they picked Sandra Froman. And who is Sandra Froman you may ask? She’s the successor to Charlton Heston. No, she’s not going to star in a re-make of "The Greatest Story Ever Told" or "Ben Hur." She’s the new president of the National Rifle Association.

She is only the second woman to hold this post, but would that be reason enough to make her ABC’s Person of the Week?

I have nothing against the NRA as an organization as long as it’s a membership organization for hunters and recreational target shooters. But when it’s an organization that advocates the right of just about anyone to personally own just about any kind of firing weapon - from a 22 caliber hand gun to a hand held ground to air missile - I think of it as an organization of nuts and anyone who leads it as its chief nut.

When ABC resurrected their "Person of the Week" bit, they put themselves somewhat behind the eight ball, having to come up with someone credible every Friday. I don’t think they’re succeeding, and when they come to the same conclusion, look for the bit to disappear - this time for good.

Bridge Shares For Sale

If anyone bought into the variety of reasons being offered by financial pundits for the gyrations of the stock market last week, I have an inside track on a new issue of Brooklyn Bridge preferred that will only be available through selected blog sites. Keep checking back here and I’ll post the price and purchase details as soon as they become available. And don’t tell anyone about this. We don’t want the owners of the Triborough and Queensboro to beat us to the punch!!

Friday, April 22, 2005

It’s Friday and Peter Jennings is away from his anchor desk battling his recently discovered lung cancer - but the "Person of the Week" segment of the ABC newscast lives on. I have no idea who has been selected for the honor tonight, but I have decided to borrow from my alma mater and, from time to time, nominate my own person or persons of the week.

This week it’s "persons." Two of them. One good. One bad.

My selection for good person of the week is George Voinovich. The two term Senator from Ohio brought a breath of fresh air to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting room when he declined to give UN Ambassador nominee John Bolton an automatic vote of approval and actually voiced a non-partisan concern about the candidate’s qualifications.

It was a breath of fresh air because the Senator gave the distinct impression that he was not speaking as a member of a political party, but as a responsible elected official trying to do the job he was elected to do.

I don’t question the possibility that other members of the committee would have voted their consciences if Committee chairman Richard Lugar had gone ahead with a roll call after Voinovich dropped his bombshell, but all the head counts up to that moment had indicated a ten to eight vote - ten Republicans for and eight Democrats against - and that sure sounded like pure partisanship.

I’m not too impressed with the nomination of Bolton - not so much because of his alleged bullying personality, or as former State Department official Carl Ford described him - "a quintessential kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy" - but because the job as UN Ambassador calls for diplomatic skills, and I can’t imagine UN representatives from other countries being anxious to work with a guy who they figure has zero respect for them. How someone with Bolton’s reputation for being undiplomatic coupled with his stated disdain for the United Nations, is expected to improve the functioning of that body is beyond me.

Nonetheless, if a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee who knew Bolton personally and agreed with the President that he was the right man for the job had indicated that he would vote for confirmation, I would be equally impressed. I wouldn’t agree, but I would be impressed with any Senator who concluded that what he actually thought about a nominee for a position as important as UN Ambassador, was more important than blind partisan solidarity.

It isn’t easy to voice an independent thought in these times of bitter partisanship in Congress. Voinovich is already being dubbed a "traitor" by a group called Move America Forward,which describes itself as "non partisan" - but an examination of their web site tends to persuade otherwise. They’ve launched an ad campaign against Voinovich over his reluctance to cast a vote until he has had more time to consider all of the questions being asked about the man. They’re trying to intimidate him but I suspect he will hold firm. Even if he decides to support Mr. Bolton, he will have demonstrated that he is a man of conscience and not just a partisan puppet - as so many elected officials appear to be nowadays.

We need more like him in Congress and fewer so called "non-partisan" "patriotic" organizations like Move America Forward.

So I nominate George Voinovich, Republican of Ohio, as my good person of the week!

I regret that my bad person of the week shares my last name, but even though we Smiths for the most part are a noble lot, every once in a while we turn up a bad apple.

It’s also regrettable that the guy shares both his first and last name with the fictional hero of Robert Heinlein’s Hugo Award winning science fiction masterpiece , "Stranger in a Strange Land," because this real life Michael Smith is the opposite of the hero he perceives himself to be.

Mr. Smith is the self described Vietnam veteran who stood in line for 90 minutes at a Jane Fonda book signing in Kansas City, just so he could spit at her with a mouth full of tobacco juice!!

He called the disgusting act a "debt of honor" and said that a lot of veterans would like to have done the same thing.

Somehow I doubt it. I’d like to think that most people who served in our country’s military would not think it honorable to spit in a woman’s face because of her anti-war activities thirty three years earlier. As wrongheaded as the methods she chose to protest may have been - going to Vietnam and posing with North Vietnamese troops and issuing ridiculously uninformed statements about the war and about how our prisoners of war were being treated, instead of parading in front of the White House or the Pentagon - attacking her in this vile manner brings dishonor to one of the pillars of our democracy - one that servicemen and women frequently insist is what they fight for. The right to dissent. However strident, however unpopular and, as was very much the case with Jane Fonda, however wrongheaded.

While Ms Fonda has never retreated from her belief that the Vietnam war was unjustified, she has apologized many times for the wrongheaded things she said and did when she went there to make her protest. Now, thirty three years later, it is an embittered Vietnam war veteran who acted in a wrongheaded and cowardly manner. He didn’t even stand his ground after he attacked her. He turned and ran down the aisle.

Although Smith was arrested and is due to appear in court in May, Ms Fonda diffused the situation somewhat by refusing to press charges. In this, the 67 year old actress exhibited a little class. It’s a shame that the man who thought he had been wronged by her 33 years earlier, wasn’t able to do the same.

So my second "person of the week" is Michael Smith, who I hope will get some help in the mental health department and not show up any time in the future as a candidate for that same title.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Would it be sacrilegious to say enough Pope coverage already? Probably if a Catholic or some other member of the Christian faith said it, but since I’m neither, I guess I can say it without being either sacrilegious or disrespectful.

I know there are more than a billion Catholics around the world and millions here in the United States, so there is strong interest in the selection of a new Pope as there was in the death of John Paul II - but how many times can the world’s television cameras point at the same images and how many different ways can newspapers tell the same basic story?

There is nothing happening that could be considered "news" unless it is the fact that there is not unanimous approval of the selection of Joseph Ratzinger by the world’s Catholics. It would be news if the opposite were true - if no objections could be found anywhere among Catholics. But of course there are objections of various kinds - the most interesting one - at least to me, being his background growing up in Nazi Germany, being a member of Hitler Youth and serving time in the German army. That apparently bothers some people who perhaps think that Nazism somehow clung to him and has become part of who he is.

You might think that those who would be bothered the most by that particular background would be Jews, but it doesn’t seem to be the case. Of course you won’t find any unanimity of Jewish opinion. If you did, that would be news indeed. It’s a well known fact that if six Jews get together to discuss any topic, you’ll get at least seven opinions.

There doesn’t seem to be any strong Jewish objection to his election. The view expressed in the Jewish publication TIKKUN, is I think a minority view.

Mainstream Jewish opinion I think is better reflected in the views found in the Jerusalem Post.

I have no strong feelings one way or another about his election. I would imagine the cardinals knew that there would be some controversy about his origins in Nazi Germany - but I think they also knew that there would be positive and negative reactions to just about anyone they picked - and I think they picked this guy as a bridge between one long reigning Pope and another who might also be more than a temporary leader. Of course, the 78 year old Benedict XVI could fool them all and stick around into his nineties.

But whatever he or any Pope does or says is of little interest to me. As a Jew, I would hope that he will continue the efforts of his predecessor to get rid of the nonsense that has allowed - no, encouraged Catholics and other followers of Christian religious denominations to persecute Jews for centuries. Beyond that, what little interest that I have in Ratzinger’s elevation is in observing the reaction of Catholics, who certainly aren’t unanimous in their views.

A typical example of that divergence of views - and what inspired me to pen these comments -is what I found when I opened my morning paper today and turned to the Voice of the People section. Most of the letters selected for publication were about the election of Cardinal Ratzinger - and they were pretty much split down the middle.

One writer thought that the new Pope would continue the "failed" policies of his predecessor. Another simply termed the late Pope’s "right hand man" "wrong man" - saying that he feels as badly about the Ratzinger elevation as he would if Dick Cheney were to become a presidential nominee. And a third said the church couldn’t have picked a worse choice!!

On the "pro" side, there was a letter that decried the notion that Ratzinger’s election was controversial, saying that the church (and presumably the new Pope) wasn’t out of touch with the world. The world was out of touch with the CHURCH!!

But my favorite letter, also a supportive letter, was one written by one Daniel Sobieski, a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune "letters" section. The editor of the section must like the ideas this guy presents - or is on the same page politically or something, but his views are given way too much space for a feature that is supposed to be "the voice of the people." That’s just a personal opinion, having nothing to do with the subject of the new Pope.

This letter writer thinks that Ratzinger is the right man for the job because he is "faithful to the doctrine of his church." Mr. Sobieski is obviously a religious, orthodox Catholic who agrees with Benedict XVI about the need for the church "to be true to its beliefs." More power to him.

But it was one of those "beliefs" that made me do a double take and read the letter again because it reminded me so much of a time many years ago when I had a business telephone number one digit removed from the number of a Catholic Church and, as I’ve written here before, when I used to dispense advice to the Catholic faithful who mistakenly had dialed my number looking for guidance from the priesthood.

The "belief." I’ll quote it verbatim. "Catholics can’t pick and choose what they believe."

Could there be a more powerful argument than that kind of attitude for the separation of church and state? That if you are "born" into a religion, or if you decide as an adult to practice a particular religion, you are required to give up your right to indulge in rational thought. That there is an implied sign over the church door that reads "abandon thought all ye who enter here."

Imagine what the practice of such a doctrine would do to secular life. If you belong to a political party, you have no right to vote for someone from another party. If you vote for a president, you can’t pick and choose which of his policies or nominees or decisions you support. You surrender your right to independent thought when you enter the voting booth.

I would assume that Mr. Sobieski is one who denies the evidence of evolution, because he makes it very clear that he has no tolerance for the evolution of religious practice and belief. "Catholic doctrine," he says, "is as immutable and unchangeable as the ten commandments." If that "immutability" had never been tempered by evolutionary thought, by not "picking and choosing" the rational over the irrational, the sane over the insane, we’d still be in the throes of the Spanish Inquisition and I’d be hiding in my own modern day version of an Ann Frank attic.

My vote goes to the letter writers on the "con" side of the issue. They’re still Catholics but they haven’t surrendered their right to decide what aspects of the faith they can accept and what needs changing.

I know if I were a Catholic - or a practicing member of any faith for that matter, my guiding principle in coming to grips with the demands of the faith, would be the ancient "Serenity Prayer."

"God Grant Me The Serenity To Accept The Things I Cannot Change, The Courage To Change the Things I Can And The Wisdom To Know The Difference"

It makes sense even if you leave off the supplication to "God" and just think of it as a good rule to follow in life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

It’s been a while since I felt the need to say anything much about Air America Radio. It isn’t on the air in the Chicago area where I live and it isn’t convenient for me to listen to it on my computer - and frankly, I have no strong desire to listen to it. Which leads me to the reason I’m going to talk about it today - an op-ed piece in the L.A. Times titled Why The Liberals Can’t Keep Air America From Spiraling in. It was written by one Brian C. Anderson , who is a senior editor of City Journal and author of "South Park Conservatives: The Revolt Against Liberal Media Bias," a newly released book which I have to assume from the title, identifies the politics of the author.

The piece itself purports to explain, among other things, why Air America is struggling with outlets in some fifty markets, when self appointed moral values expert Bill Bennett’s morning talk show, launched about the same time as Air America, reaches "nearly 124 markets." I put those numbers in quotes because that’s the way Mr. Anderson reports them. I’m not sure how many markets "nearly 124" is - or would that be "are?" It gets confusing when a writer uses these fancy show biz expressions, but then his whole piece is confusing. He neglects to say that conservative talk radio has been building for years, so any "liberal" show that gets launched is playing catch up from the get go. He also neglects to say that the Bennett show is distributed by Salem Radio, a satellite radio service that serves Christian format stations and conservative gabfest stations and had conservative talk shows on the air in a whole flock of markets before Bennett came along. So they had a ready made market for his show on many of those conservative stations where they also had the likes of Michael Medved and Dennis Prager already on the air. If there was such a thing as a large group of stations carrying "liberal" talk shows, any new launch of that kind of talk show, assuming it had a witty and articulate host, would also have a ready made market for the product. Bennett didn’t start from the same starting blocks as Air America Radio.

I won’t repeat or comment on the arguments that Anderson makes for why right wing radio succeeds and liberal radio fails. You can click on the link and read his article.

But I’ll repeat a couple of comments on the subject that I’ve made in the past. As I pointed out here on April 16, 2004, Air America’s business plan was all wrong to begin with .

It’s a great deal more difficult to buy out all of a station’s air time than it is to find a station to carry individual syndicated programs of one, two or three hours daily. There aren’t many station owners in the country that are willing to sell all of their air time to a single buyer - and those stations that might be available that way are likely to be small, low wattage stations in obscure spots on the dial. And probably broadcasting foreign language programming.

So Air America started with a self inflicted disadvantage. If they are still trying to buy out the total air time of stations around the country, in my opinion they are continuing to inflict themselves with a disadvantage.

But long before they went on the air, I predicted they would fail, and my reasons were laid out on my blog post of October15, 2003.

I haven’t changed my opinion since then. Americans whose political views are centrist or somewhat to the left of center, don’t need to listen to radio programs that attempt to reinforce their view or that attack some of the things being said by the ultra conservative gabbers. If they happen across one - fine. But unlike the seemingly large number of people who slavishly tune in their favorite RWRAR (Right Wing Ranter and Raver), like children wanting to hear Daddy read them the same story, night after night, after night, liberals or centrists aren’t likely to be attracted in large numbers to that kind of radio programming from the left. They are quite happy to sample the broad spectrum of news and information print, electronic and broadcast services available to them and sort out the rational wheat from the irrational chaff.

Some of Air America’s programs could likely succeed and perhaps even rival the audiences that the right wing programs attract - if they were individually syndicated to decent stations and played in decent time slots. I’ve mentioned Randi Rhodes as one who could do well opposite a Limbaugh or a Hannity, but most of the other Air America hosts aren’t that good at radio - and certainly not the kind of radio that the conservative gabbers feed to their masses.

But even though I would have liked to have seen Air America become hugely successful, airing on hundreds of stations, it doesn’t concern me that they haven’t made a big impact. They’re not needed.

There is a "David" of incredible sling shot ability, slaying the Goliaths of right wing pomposity and disingenuity every day of the week. Except for Friday. And the weekend. What the hell, this "David" only needs four days to counteract all of the hot air emanating from the loudmouths of the world - political, non political and whatever might be in between. It’s one that I tune in religiously - no pun intended - to observe the wheat being separated from the chaff with good humored skill. It’s called THE DAILY SHOW. On the comedy Channel.

I recommend it to Brian Anderson and anyone suffering from Limbaugh addiction. Or Hannityitis. Or Medvedosis. Watch nightly for a week and e-mail me in the morning.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

In all of the years that I’ve lived in the United States, there have been two or three times when I’ve said things like - "That’s it. If so and so happens, I’m leaving." The country that is. To move to some other part of the world where what happens won’t make me mad enough to want to kill someone. I never really meant it. It’s a little like swearing that you’ll "kill" someone the next time he or she does something that makes you mad enough to do so. But you don’t mean it. You’re just venting your frustrations . Blowing off steam.

But there are times when you mean it more than other times, and this has got to be one of them. I’m not about to pack my bags and go looking for some better place to live, but I’m dismayed enough to think that there must be better places where better things are happening than are happening here.

I was disappointed when George W Bush won a second term. I wasn’t crazy about John Kerry as the Democratic candidate, but Bush scared me. And with a majority in both houses of Congress, I was worried about the kind of shift that was taking place in the country.

The campaign worried me with its emphasis on so called "values" - a code word for a variety of narrow religious beliefs. It worried me when opposition candidates had to respond to that kind of campaigning with loud protestations of their own religious beliefs. No matter what they might privately believe after giving appropriate lip service to the religion in which they were raised, they had to play the game of thump the Bible and praise the Lord. They had to do it because the vast majority of voters believe in God and in all the trappings that flow from that belief. And a majority of them weren’t about to vote for candidates who didn’t proclaim their own faith in that God and swear that religion was a guiding principal in their approach to governance.

The make up of the Senate bothers me much more than in the past with senators from a basket of the less populated states able to assure a Republican majority - and with the voting proclivities of the people in those states - likely to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I know the Senate is designed to give equality to states that the House, with it’s proportionate representation can’t provide, but there’s something worrisome about a Congress where for example, a handful of states with eight representatives between them can have twelve Republican senators sitting alongside two Democrats from a single state with twenty or thirty representatives.

That make up of the Senate that bothers me so much has resulted in the dialog becoming more strident, more partisan and of late, more extreme, with the Republican threat of the "nuclear option" to do away with the 200 year old tradition of the filibuster so that a handful of Federal judicial nominees that the Democrats strongly oppose can be confirmed

Perhaps Senate leader Frist assumes that Republicans will retain a majority for decades to come, which may indeed happen. But it’s more likely that shifting sentiments will realign the Senate makeup in the future and it will be Republicans who will want to exercise the ancient privilege of the minority to filibuster against an objectionable policy or Presidential nominee. Let’s hope that cooler Republican heads will prevail and that this scorched earth policy will be dropped before there’s a back draft that will burn all of the members.

But it appears that no cooler heads can stop Senator Frist from plunging this nation’s political dialog into a murky abyss from whose depths it will be impossible to emerge without deeply scarring the national psyche.

He has agreed to join a telecast on April 24, sponsored by the Family Research Council, the theme of which is that Democrats who oppose any of the President’s judicial nominees are "against people of faith." This is a vile canard. This is the stuff of the centuries old canard of Jews plotting to take over the world and of using the blood of Christian babies to make matzos. This the most vicious, nation dividing attack imaginable. And this is the leader of the United States Senate, blithely preparing to join with and support the ridiculous allegations of this conservative religious group for personal and party political gain without giving any consideration to the cost - or worse, not even being aware that there will be a cost.

We’ve already seen a preview of the kind of battle cry being raised on the right - that if you don’t agree with administration policies or nominees, you are supporting whatever it is that this country opposes!! You hear it from right wing radio pundits about the Bolton nomination. If you’re against John Bolton as UN Ambassador, you’re not just against John Bolton, you’re for the United Nations and against John Bolton! As though the purpose of his nomination was not to represent us at the United Nations but to do battle with that body. As though the United Nations was our enemy!!

And now, Senator Frist will stand with the group that says that if you oppose a Bush judicial nominee, you aren’t just against the nominee, you’re against people of faith. It doesn’t matter if those who are opposed are themselves people of faith - Christians, Jews, whatever. . The irresponsible canard is being thrown out as a tool to drive an even wider wedge between the right and the rest of the country than the one that already exists after the bloodletting of the last two Presidential elections.

As if we didn’t have enough to divide us.

I was around for the McCarthy era and that scared me. But that was a cakewalk compared to what could happen if the right continues to pursue the line that Democrats are the enemies of "people of faith." Forget Red Channels and the House Un-American Activities Committee. How about our own twenty first century version of the Spanish Inquisition? The "Senate Committee on the anti-Christ" - ferreting out the unbelievers so that they could be held up to ridicule at election time and between elections. Or maybe worse.

We know what can happen when there are strong competing religious beliefs among the populations of some nations. We’ve seen it in the Middle East and in Africa and we’ve seen it in Ireland.

Are those the kinds of divisions that the Republicans want to pursue as part of their political agenda? We’ll be watching closely to see how far Frist and his colleagues travel down this dangerous road. And how close they’ll come to make me start muttering again about looking for some other place to live.

Monday, April 18, 2005

I’m probably no more prescient than the average cynic, but it keeps happening. I predicted on February 24, 2005 that nothing would come of the Valerie Plame "outing" case, except that Patrick Fitzgerald, Northern Illinois’ modern version of Javert, would pursue two journalists as vigorously as he would a pair of serial killers, while quietly folding the rest of the investigation of who in the Bush administration revealed the identity of a CIA agent to conservative columnist Robert Novak.

Fitzgerald may yet prove me wrong, but every indication is that the "investigation" is to all intents and purposes, over - and there’s no indication that any indictments will be announced soon - or ever. The hounding of the selected journalists however, will continue. Novak seems exempt. Or maybe, unlike Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper, he revealed who told him what, but it wasn’t enough to persuade Fitzgerald that a crime had been committed.

Do the words cover up, stonewall, enemies list, modified limited hang out and plausible deniability come to mind?

A calmer Monday op-ed page

I’m not a big baseball fan, so I don’t really care one way or another about the return of the national sport to the Nation’s capital or that the Washington National’s are leading their division. But for one day at least, I am happy that a professional team is back in Washington after a 34 year absence. That’s because Charles Krauthammer IS a baseball fan - so much so that the ultra conservative ex-physician columnist has devoted his current opinion piece to the joys of baseball and of having a team back in DC. Which means for one day, he won’t be telling us why liberals are responsible for last week’s market plunge, the high prices of crude oil and gasoline, teenage binge drinking, the American divorce rate, casualties in Iraq, homosexual behavior, anti-Semitism and the death of the Pope.

Way to go Nationals!!

Reminders of creeping old age

There are clues that tell you when your tenure on this planet is nearing an end and one was presented to me this past week-end. In my Sunday newspaper book section crossword puzzle!!

Clue: Limbaugh target, with "the" - answer: LEFT

Clue: (blank) surfing: Googling yourself - answer: EGO

And the puzzle theme - CELLULAR CONNECTIONS

Clue: "After four weeks of dating, we’ll re-think things."

Answer: Month to month agreement

Clue: "I won’t complain if you date someone else"

Answer No roaming charges

Clue: I’ll treat - sometimes"

Answer: Flexible rate plans

Clue: "I’ll always be available to chat"

Answer: Unlimited talk time

Clue: "The first date won’t be expensive"

Answer: Low activation fee

Clue: "I’m busy Monday thru Friday during the day"

Answer: Free nights and weekends

It’s not that I’m unfamiliar with any of this., I’m painfully aware of Limbaugh. I uses Google all the time. I have a cell phone, which I use for maybe three to five minutes in a busy month . Most months there are no calls. But when these things start appearing as clues and themes of one of the joys of my daily - and particularly weekend existence - crossword puzzles - I realize that I’m living in someone else’s world, not mine. And if that isn’t a reminder that you’ve traveled one hell of a distance greater than the few miles you have left, I don’t know what is.

Headlines that make me mad

There have been a couple lately. A few days ago, it was the announcement that the cost of certain prescription drugs was about to soar once again. This on the heels of a report of an AARP study about how much they’ve gone up over the last five years - at two and a half times the rate of inflation in 2004 alone!!

What’s so damned pathetic about this is that absolutely nothing is done to put a stop to it. There’s always a lot of hand wringing and "plans" advanced to ease the burden on the elderly and others who get hit hard in the pocketbook. But it’s like tilting at windmills. Like sending an army of ants to fell an elephant.

The pharmaceutical companies can do whatever they want - charge whatever they want - and no one in government has the balls to stand up and say that they are an industry out of control to the detriment of this nation’s citizenry and it cannot be allowed to continue.

But they won’t - and we’ll keep getting these headlines, and more and more people will se their health deteriorate as the medications that could keep them alive are priced out of their range.

I have a brother living in England. He and his wife are senior citizens. They live on a limited fixed income. Both are unwell. Both are on multiple, health sustaining medications which seniors can get for little or no cost if they get their prescriptions from a doctor working for the National Health Service. I hesitate to think what could happen to them if they were forced to pay what we have to pay for those medications.

On the other hand, my brother is paying way more for his gasoline than I’m paying for mine - better than $5.50 per gallon. But that’s because about 75% of that price is TAX!! It’s so costly - he doesn’t even buy his gas by the gallon. He buys it by the LITER!! Which brings me to the second headline that makes me mad - and this one I can quote verbatim because it was the front page headline on my Sunday paper.


In other words, just accept the fact that gas prices are up way over two bucks and they’re not about to go down any time soon. And it isn’t because the gas tax rates have gone up. It’s because crude oil prices have gone up. And I just love one line from the story below the headline. "A spectrum of factors drove crude oil above $58 a barrel this year." But nowhere in the story did I find the word "futures" or "trading," which I found not only surprising but frustrating. I did of course find that $58 plus reference - but no word about who’s price that was. Saudi Arabia’s? Iran’s? All of OPEC’s? The rest of the world’s oil producing countries? No, it’s a FUTURE’S price. When that price backs off a buck or two and the explanation is "profit taking," who do you think is making that profit? And when it goes back up again, who do you think is profiting on the upside?

Every year in recent times, when the price of gasoline hits new highs, politicians make the kind of noises that politicians make and oil "experts" make the kind of noises that oil experts make, and we poor ordinary folk are left aggravated and confused and stuck with paying the high prices that some of us can’t afford to pay.

Just once I would like to see some explanations that are actually understandable to we non politicians and non experts. For example, when we are being blasted with the crude oil price breaking all time records, explain where that record breaking price comes from. Is that the current "basket" price set by the OPEC members - and if it isn’t (it isn’t) - tell us in plain English where it comes from, and then maybe we’ll have some follow up questions to ask the politicians and the experts and maybe we’ll start a dialog free of the gobbledygook that confuses.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Whenever I write about religion, or whenever I discuss religion, I usually classify myself as an atheistically inclined agnostic. I do this because I’m like most of my fellow humans in one way - and that is that I’m not happy at the thought of oblivion following my shuffling off this mortal coil. So I tell myself that since I can’t disprove the belief held by many that humans are possessed of a spirit that continues to exist in a sentient form after we die and our bodies rot away, I’ll continue to think of myself as a passive non-believer. As opposed to a pro-active atheist that is. Such as Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists who appeared on Larry King Live last night to discuss "What Happens When we Die, " along with two Christian ministers, a Rabbi, a Muslim and a "lecturer on spirituality."

But I have to say that it’s hard to hold open that tiny little sliver of doubt about the possible existence of a "sprit" when I behold the fantasy fictional nonsense on which such belief is based, as I did watching and listening to the assembled group on Larry King’s program yesterday.

Each of the believers gave their idea of what happens after death - after the obvious of course - that we begin to rot away if we’re not frozen or burned. And each had their own fictional story about where the "spirit" or the "soul" goes and how it gets there

My personal favorite was the route to heaven proposed by evangelical pastor John MacArthur, who insisted that you could only get there if you accepted Jesus as your savior. He backed off on this a little when a caller asked if heaven was devoid of souls before Jesus came along and cited some Old Testament characters who had made it to the next world, but he didn’t touch on what he thinks happened before the Old Testament came into being and it wasn’t too clear what he thinks will happen to the millions of living persons who aren’t Jesus worshipping Christians. Other than fellow panelist Ellen Johnson, who insisted that there was no "secular evidence" that Jesus ever existed! I’m sure the good pastor had an idea what would happen to her when the spirit of her dead body went looking for some place to go.

The rest of the pro after-life believers recited and argued their particular understandings of who gets to heaven and how, and the more they talked, the more I sat shaking my head in disbelief at their fictional creativity.

It was truly astonishing to see this group together, postulating about imaginary rules and regulations for ascendancy to an imaginary existence in an imaginary realm and doing it with straight faces and with obvious sincerity.

"I’m sorry Rabbi, you make a left, not a right turn at the corner of Prophets and Seers, otherwise you’ll end up in Luciferberg and you might never be able to get a ferry out of there."

"Well, I can’t agree with that Pastor. My tour guidebook says clearly that if you catch a righteous bus number fifteen, you won’t be held up by any rush hour traffic and any right turn will take you to down town Nirvana."

"Well I respect you Rabbi, but we all know that there’s no such thing as a number fifteen righteous bus. The only way down town is on the Grace and Mercy subway line"

O.K. Nobody said anything like that, but they might as well have. The believers all had very specific but very different rules for how you get to this heavenly life after death. I might have had a different reaction - I might have watched and listened with intense interest, hoping to hear something that could persuade me to re-examine my thoughts on the question - if only they had put forth some philosophical or even scientific arguments for the existence of a spirit that survives in another realm without the need for a body.

But they didn’t. The closest anyone came was the Muslim representative who equated the "soul" with energy and said that energy doesn’t disappear. But for the rest of them, it was "rules" about faith and grace and mercy and forgiveness and righteousness and love and awareness and a partnership with God. These were the rules for finding the way to "life" in heaven after death on earth. All man made fictional creations.

The whole transcript of the conversation is available at the link above. If you don’t think it’s a scary read, you probably subscribe to one of the competing fictions offered by the believers.

It certainly did nothing to move me off of my position as an atheistically inclined agnostic. I hang on to the agnostic part in spite of people like this and views like theirs. But watching and listening to them called to mind a question that I have posed many times on this blog Actually, it’s an answer to a question that the answer implies.

Why they don’t come.

You know who!!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

I guess there was a very good reason for the White House spokesman Scott McClellan to make it clear the other day that the President and Tom DeLay are not personal friends - just friendly co-workers in the Republican crusade.

If he had instead given the impression that the two leaders were socially friendly, people might have interpreted the timing of such a statement as a Presidential endorsement of the concept of admission of wrongdoing by an elected Republican official.

Tom DeLay has actually apologized for something. Well, maybe not exactly apologized, but clarified something he said that he may not have said exactly the way he wanted to say it. He didn’t really want activist judges who were active in non-Republican causes shot at dawn - just to receive 40 lashes before bed for a week.

But as you know, President George W Bush has never been wrong about anything. At least not in his estimation. And he certainly doesn’t apologize. He doesn’t negotiate with himself and he doesn’t apologize. Those are two inviolable pillars of his Presidency and of his administration.

Tom DeLay has now erred by not following that example and I was ready to conclude that the President would start distancing himself further and further from the congressman. That he would begin with something innocuous, like mispronouncing his name or "accidentally" calling him Bob instead of Tom. And crank it up from there. Whatever Carl Rove dreams up.

But then today, the President calls DeLay "an effective leader" and that he "looked forward to working with him." I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Lord, it’s fun to watch some of these politicians do their thing. You don’t have to rely solely on John Stewart and the Daily Show for the much needed daily dose of comic relief. Of course if you miss it in "real" life, you can always see it in the evening on the Comedy Channel!!

Bankruptcy winners and losers

Now that Congress in its wisdom has made sweeping changes to the bankruptcy laws, it’s time to look at the winners and losers. There’s no question about who the winners are. The banks, finance companies, credit card issuers and any company selling anything to individuals on credit. They’ve been lobbying for this for years and they’ve won big.

It won’t have too bad an effect on the poor schmos who get too many credit cards from a credit card industry run amok - and who are induced to buy merchandise they can’t afford from retailers because there are "no payments until next year," and who end up with monthly or weekly payments that come pretty close to their net income. Sometimes exceeding their net incomes!! They can file for bankruptcy and not have to repay their debts because they’ll be able to pass the new law’s means test.

It should have a positive effect on people at the other end of the income scale - the stinking rich who run up millions in debt, file bankruptcy and somehow continue to live as though nothing bad had happened - hanging on to their mansions and their affluent life styles. For my money, they could have passed a bankruptcy law just for these kind of people.

The people who will likely be hurt by the new law will be people who can’t pass the means test - whose incomes are at or above their state’s median income. Whatever the reason for their bankruptcy petition, there is no way that the new law will allow them to get a fresh start in life.

The holier then thou crowd that voted for and that supported the changes, talk about the need for restoring a sense of responsibility for ones debts, but there are times when circumstances burden good people with the kind of debt that they cannot possibly repay without it having a clinically depressing effect on their psyche and their soma. The kind of debt that could ruin their life if they can’t escape it through a bankruptcy petition. But the new law says sorry about that. You have to suffer the indignity of submitting your life’s circumstances to a third party for examination of your "means" and their judgment will decide whether or not you can get out from under your mountain of debt or be burdened with it until the last penny is paid off.

And while you’re paying it off, you’ll have to go to school to be counseled on how not to get into that kind of debt. Like how to avoid a catastrophic illness and run up hundreds of thousands of medical bills. And how not to lose a job and be out of work for a year or more while bills pile up.

It’s interesting that Congress didn’t see fit to reform the bankruptcy laws for business. So company managers who run their businesses into the ground won’t have to submit themselves to counseling. And a company like United Airlines can hire a CEO with a big bonus to steer it through its bankruptcy, while they try to wiggle out of their pension plan obligations, which might contribute to the need of some of their retirees to consider filing for personal bankruptcy somewhere down the road. Then the new law will require them to undergo counseling. What will the counselor counsel them? Not to work for United Airlines??

Way to go Congress!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

I have no expertise, nor am I a follower of astrology, so I’m not sure if things that I observe to be eerily coincidental and connected have any significance - or if it is just that I have a somewhat warped and cynical way of looking at the world.

Maybe the people who see the image of Jesus on a piece of burnt toast or the Virgin Mary in paint splatters on the side of a barn will have the kind of insight that can put the right interpretation on these events.

First we have the royal spectacle of Charlie finally getting married to the woman who for years was the third wheel in his first marriage. It was for all those years a menage a trois without, we are asked to believe, any sexual liaison between Charlie and Camilla, though I’m not sure the question was ever asked and answered to anyone’s satisfaction. But there was little question about what Camilla meant to the heir to the British crown before, during and after his marriage to Diana - and he has now confirmed it for all the world to see and admire. Or yawn in total boredom.

Then we have Jane Fonda on a book tour, preceding, overlapping and continuing beyond Charlie’s nuptials, attempting to rehabilitate herself all over the place, appearing on any radio and television program that will have her - to explain that she was really ashamed of some of what she did and said in Vietnam all those years ago and she really wasn’t the Hanoi Jane that some Vietnam veterans believe her to be. She also seems to want everyone to know that she was engaged in what might have been a series of menage a trois - or would that be menages a trois - I’ve forgotten most of the French I learned in school? At any rate, she seemed not in the least abashed to speak of first husband Roger Vadim’s proclivity for sharing his and Jane’s bed with other women who tickled his fancy - or whatever it was that they did that attracted him to them. Three in a bed. Just like the song from Cabaret. And this menage was definitely sexual. And Jane went along with it.

Finally, we have the funeral of the Pope, which caused Charles and Camilla to postpone legalizing whatever it is they’ve been doing since they moved in together - at least for a day. And maybe that solemn event even persuaded Jane to take a day off from her promotional whirlwind. And there in attendance was President Bush accompanied by Mrs. Bush and of course, the person who makes up his particular "menage a trois" - Condoleezza Rice. I say this without any intention of being disrespectful. I’ve made comment here before about the unusually close relationship that seems to exist between Ms Rice and the president. How when other cabinet members are off doing their own thing with their own families or friends on week-ends or any other time when they’re not burdened with work, Condoleezza seems to be at Dubya’s side - at the Texas ranch, at the White House - wherever he is, she seems to be - almost like a member of his family.

Unlike Charlie and Jane’s menage a trois experiences, there’s nothing sexual to be implied from the closeness of the President to his Secretary of State, but there is most certainly the impression that the relationship is something more than elected official and trusted advisor, confidant and cabinet minister. And Mrs. Bush seems quite happy with it.

Incidentally, there were other foreign ministers in attendance at the Pope’s funeral, but out of more than 70 delegations, I could only see five represented by a President and a foreign minister and only one with a President, a First Lady and a foreign minister - and he was a guy!!

I don’t put any particular interpretation on this trio of public figures engaged in, talking about or exposing their particular "menage a trois" experience all at about the same time, but it has to mean something!! I don’t know what, but I’m going to be giving my toast a thorough examination before I eat it from now on. And I’ll be keeping a weather eye on the sides of barns, just as an extra precaution.

This is how a reasonable man can get ulcers

I don’t get to listen to any "liberal" radio punditry. Air America Radio doesn’t have an outlet in the Chicago area and it isn’t convenient to try to listen to it on my computer. But if liberal radio pundits are as bad as those on the right that are all over the dial and easy to catch night or day - then we are in big trouble as a nation because neither side will be making sense - just partisan nonsense.

I sometimes laugh at some of the nonsensical things that the RWRAR say. Sometimes I shake my head in disbelief. And sometimes I yell at the radio in total frustration.

Today was a yell at the radio day, precipitated by the ranting of one Denis Prager - a man who seems to be as much in love with the sound of his own name as with the philosophy he espouses - maybe more so. Listen to him for fifteen minutes one day and you’ll know what I mean. Mr. Prager was off on a favorite harangue of RWRAR’s nowadays - that liberals "don’t get it" - that liberals have been wrong about every major issue since they were "right" about the civil rights act. And even that wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the support of brave and forward thinking Republicans. His particular harangue that precipitated my verbal assault on my totally innocent broadcast receiver was about Iraq. That since Iraqis went to vote in large numbers and are moving toward forming a representative government, why is it that liberals can’t admit that Bush was right!!! Whereupon I screamed at the radio.

Right about what??

Does he or any of the right wing pundits actually believe that people who disagree with them politically, don’t agree with them and with Mr. Bush that most people prefer to live free than under the heel of a tyrant, that freedom is preferable to imprisonment, that given a choice, most people would prefer to elect their leaders rather than have them imposed upon them? Is all that what "liberals" won’t admit President Bush was "right" about ?

I’ve listened to these people on and off for a while now and I’m still not sure whether they believe some of the things they say, or whether they are being deliberately disingenuous when they set up straw men to knock down as though the ideas and beliefs they attribute to the straw men actually represent any legitimate prevailing view.

In this case, the proposition is that Mr. Bush was "right" to invade Iraq because now the people of Iraq have indicated that they like being free to elect their leadership. Other than the "insurgents" of course.

You could perhaps make the argument that the President was "right" if he had gone before the American people a couple of years ago and said that Saddam Hussein is a terrible dictator and the Iraqis would like to be rid of him and be free but he won’t leave so I’m going to ask Congress to support an invasion to topple him from power and set the Iraqis free. It will cost more than fifteen hundred American lives and thousands of injuries, some of them awful beyond the imagination, but in the end, our sacrifice will be justified. Those people in that country on the other side of the world will be free - and isn’t that America’s mission in the world? To set its people free? To set all nations free?

But he didn’t make that argument, so the answer to Mr. Prager is that you’re asking the wrong question. Maybe if you ask the right question and you ask it with sincerity and not just so that you can come back with a ready made "gotcha" type of topper if you can get someone to call in and try to respond, maybe you’ll get a sincere answer. But when you ask "are you still beating your wife" type questions, you’ll earn the disdain such ‘questions" richly deserve.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Also cremate the cyber crooks. And of course, spear the spammers.

It should be front page headline news, but I guess we’ll take the news from wherever it can be found. At last, a cyber-terrorist has been hauled into court, tried, found guilty and sentenced!!

Nine years in the hoosegow!! For spamming!! For sending millions of junk e-mails. And the idiot could have gotten away with it if he wasn’t a crook who needed to mask who he was and send out his junk with a phony return address. If he had used a legitimate return address, his assault on the world’s e-mail in-boxes would not have been criminal.

Nonetheless, it’s a story that should be blazoned across cyber-space, printed on the front pages of the world’s newspapers and made the lead on newscasts for at least one day. It needs to be done to send a message to the other classes of cyber criminals - the hackers and the virus creators. If a mere spammer can get NINE YEARS just for sending out junk mail, think what will happen to you when you get caught.

I may just start sending the story as an attachment or within the body of an e-mail to criminals like the ones sending these kinds of messages:
Dear Comcast member,

Technical services are being carried out on a planned software upgrade.
We earnestly ask you to visit the following link to start the procedure of confirmation of your personal data.

However, failure to update your billing information record will result in account termination.

ATTENTION: If you can't load site with the form for updating account information, it means that your account status is "On hold".

If you do not activate your account it will be terminated in 48 hours.

To activate and update your account send your full information to brucefularz@operamail.com
full name:
full address:
credit card number:
exp. date:
pin: we need pin to verify your identify.

Check all information carefully before submitting it. Mistakes or any blank fields will terminate your account.

Support Team
Can you believe these idiots? And can you believe the people who actually fall for these scams and reveal their credit card numbers???

The garbage I hear on right wing radio!!

As I’m sure you have surmised from reading this blog, I do not hold ultra conservative radio talk show hosts in high regard. In fact I group them all together under the banner of "Right Wing Ranters and Ravers" (RWRAR).

I listen to some of them in spurts - usually when I’m in the car and can easily punch from station to station. I do it to keep abreast of their major themes of the day and to reassure myself that I have correctly classified them as RWRAR, which means, among other things, that truth and logic has no place in their philosophy if it clashes with their basic premise. Conservative Good. Democrat/Liberal Bad!! Their goal is to attack any concept and any persons to the left of Atilla the Hun , whether or not there is any basis for such an attack.

A couple of days ago, my classification of two such loud mouth idiots was confirmed in a matter of minutes listening to their programs. The first was the putative leader of the pack, Rush Limbaugh. I punched into the program at a moment when Limbaugh answered a caller who wanted to know why the Democrats weren’t jumping up and down, complaining about and condemning Robert Mugabe for the atrocities he has committed since he assumed power in Zimbabwe - and for rigged elections and so on. I don’t know what discussion had preceded the call. Perhaps they were discussing dictators and/or rogue regimes and what we should or shouldn’t be doing about them. But the caller wasn’t interested in why the United States was or wasn’t doing or saying things about Mugabe - just Democrats.

O.K. The guy was an idiot - or maybe just so brain washed that he believes in a world of good and evil. Conservative Good. Democrats Evil.

I waited to hear Limbaugh’s answer before punching in another station. And he took a minute, finally saying that he hesitated - perhaps was even reluctant to give "the answer" - but he decided he would do so anyway. It was because Democrats were reluctant to upset a large portion of their base support by criticizing a leader of another country who happens to be black!!!

As the late Jack Paar would have said, I kid you not. He may not have used those exact words, but that’s the "explanation" he offered his audience for why Democrats weren’t more critical of Mugabe!! Because he’s black!!!

There are two possible explanations for that response. The first that he actually believes it, which would provide an answer to a question I posed here on November 18, 2003 - Is Limbaugh losing it? The second, that in order not to deviate from his pervasive theme of all Democrats/Liberals being evil, he’ll say whatever he feels he needs to say, whether there’s a grain of truth or logic to it or not.

Either way, his response was typical of so many of his comments about what Democrats do and what they believe in and why. Ludicrous.

The second case concerns a brief moment listening to the Michael Medved program. It’s possible that this guy is more annoying than Limbaugh. He doesn’t dwell on politics as much as Limbaugh, but his views on just about everything are from the perspective of extreme conservatism. He likes to argue about the topics covered on his program, rather than discuss them and to "top" his callers who disagree with his opinions and analyses. He speaks as though he is an authority on any topic that arises. And he sounds just plain unlikable.

Medved loves to play "gotcha" with guests or callers who disagree with him and I caught one of those attempts in the few minutes I spent listening to him the other day. He had as a guest on the telephone, Ingrid Newkirk, co-founder of PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Despite the portrayal of her organization as a bunch of whakos, Ms. Newkirk sounded intelligent and logical. She didn’t suggest that animals be treated on the same level as humans, only that they should be treated humanely when there was a choice between humane and inhumane treatment - such as the ways in which animals are raised and slaughtered for consumption. Who could disagree with that desire? A sadist maybe, but surely not an ethical human being.

Medved - and people calling into the program - kept pushing her to say that animals were as important as humans - maybe more so - to adopt the position of some extremists who give animal lovers a bad name. She wouldn’t bite. She kept insisting that there was no competition between animals and humans - that her position was reverence for all life and for doing the least possible harm to the animals with whom we share the planet.

At one point, the discussion touched on something alleged to have been said by Isaac Bashevis Singer’s son or grandson - I didn’t catch the precise reference. But Medved tried to play "gotcha" by pointing out, with a knowing smirk (I could hear it even if I couldn’t see it) - that Singer didn’t have any children!! That would be news to his son, Israel Zamir.

Newkirk let the gaffe go by so Medved tried to play another round of "gotcha." He asked if she came upon a human and a dog drowning in a river, who would she save? That of course was a nonsensical question, having nothing to do with the cause that Ms. Newkirk espouses and contributing nothing to a discussion of the topic or to a courteous exchange of ideas. Ms. Newkirk humored her tormentor and said that she would hope they would both be saved. But Medved wouldn’t let go, What if it was your dog, he asked with a triumphant vocal flourish?

And she still didn’t bite, exposing Medved for what he is - at least in his radio life. Someone whose only contribution to the free exchange of ideas is to attack, to ridicule, and to show that his ideas and verbal skills are better than anyone who disagrees with him.

What a pathetic contribution..

Out of curiosity - I checked on line to see if anyone else had any similar opinions of Medved, and ran across the erudite web site of James Wolcott, whose address I may add as a link so that I can read him from time to time. Hint: He doesn’t like Medved one bit!!!

Friday, April 08, 2005

A couple of seemingly disconnected things which strike me in an odd way.

I suppose after a couple of thousand years of madness, one shouldn’t be particularly surprised or disturbed at reports of anti-Semitism. Nonetheless, I find it a mite disturbing at such reports emanating from those bastions of freedom - the U.S. and the U.K.

According to a report that I just read in a Jewish publication, there were 375 anti-Jewish attacks in Britain last year. I emphasize the word "attacks" to isolate it from other anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic incidents - snubs, insults, mayoral proclamations and the like. I’m talking about physical assaults, desecration of cemeteries and houses of worship and the bullying of schoolchildren. Those sort of "incidents."

On this side of the pond, the Anti Defamation League reported 1821 anti-Semitic "incidents" last year - a nine year high!! The League gathers its information from police reports and from local organizations and the "incidents" are similar to those occurring in the UK. Sadly, they include incidents at universities which have become major centers for both spontaneous and organized expressions of anti-Semitism, usually hiding behind anti-Israeli, anti-Ariel Sharon and pro-Palestinian positions.

Of course, all of this pales when compared to the rampant anti-Semitism across the European continent, for which I don’t have statistics, but I guarantee that the growth in that ancient expression of bigotry is far greater there than in the US and UK.

But none of what is happening in the UK and the US is widely reported. If you don’t come across a two inch paragraph buried on the inside of your newspaper, you have to have an interest in the subject and go hunt for news of what’s happening.

Lately, I’ve been listening to two prominent, extremely conservative, Jewish radio talk show pundits who are syndicated from coast to coast and who follow each other daily on a local station in Chicago. Both of these gentlemen emphasize their Jewish origins and Jewish faith. Both express an absolute belief in a deity. And both speak of Christianity, including evangelical Christianity, with great reverence. If you didn’t catch a moment of their programs when they make reference to their religion, you would think both were evangelical Christians. Both give the impression that being right wing and "main stream," they are immune from the scourge of anti-Semitism. They don't say so. They just give that impression. And both are strong supporters of President Bush and just about every last one of his policies.

I put these two, seemingly disconnected items together - the steady growth of anti-Semitism - and the Christian worshipping, openly and proudly Jewish, ultra conservative radio pundits - only because the juxtaposition somehow strikes a discordant note. Maybe it doesn’t strike you that way, but for me it creates a feeling of something out of whack.


Speaking of radio talk show hosts - but in this case, someone decidedly not Jewish, I read a column by Kathleen Parker the other day about the Bill Bennett talk show, which I must admit I had no idea was on the air. It’s described as a "morning" talk show hosted by the well known arbiter of moral values, and apparently it’s doing well, playing in 116 markets, including 18 of the top 20. I’ll take Ms. Parker's word for the numbers, though citing "markets" as a measure of success instead of station call letters, can be a little misleading. There are thousand watt stations in "major markets" that you need to be under the transmitter to hear. Maybe that’s why I haven’t heard it in Chicago, if the Windy City is one of his markets.

The thrust of Ms. Parker’s column is that Bennett’s show is a breath of fresh air. No yelling. No dumbing down. No condescending. And no advancing any particular ideology. The man respects the intelligence of his audience, she says, which may be what distinguishes him from other shows on the air.

She makes him sound like a truly wonderful addition to radio punditry, except that right after the line about him respecting his audience, she quotes him as saying "liberals really think they’re smarter than anyone else, therefore they don’t listen."

Which could have come right out of the mouth of Rush Limbaugh or any of the other attack dogs of the RWRAR (right wing ranters and ravers) crowd. The standard theme. Posit whatever definition you’d like to attach to "liberals" - "they think they’re smarter than any one else, they’re pro the gay rights "agenda," they’re against the ten commandments, they support a culture of death, they hate America" - and on and on ad nauseum.

My definition of a conservative radio talk show host who might be considered a "breath of fresh air," would be someone who exhibited all of the qualities that Ms. Parker attributes to Bill Bennett, plus the ability to get through a single broadcast without telling his or her audience what it is that "liberals" do, think, admire, hate, fear, worship, believe and want.

As you might imagine, I’m not holding my breath waiting for him or her to come along.

With all of the outpouring of love and admiration for Pope John Paul II being expressed with such fervor and wholeheartedness by conservative pundits, I wonder how many people are struck by what I see as the irony of some of the outpouring.

Here was a man with beliefs and specific political positions and world views that are shared by many Americans. But whenever those Americans have raised their voices in support of those same world views and political opinions, they have been attacked and vilified as naïve, dangerous, defeatist and un-American by the same conservative pundits who are now praising the life and works of the late Pope!!

The conservative pundits will of course have perfectly logical explanations for the apparent disparity. They will see nothing contradictory in praising someone with whose core international views, beliefs and policies they violently disagree. Besides which it would be politically disastrous to acknowledge the view that if Karol Wojtyla had followed a path other than the church and had emigrated to the United States as a young man and had ridden those views of his to a political career in this country, he would be one of those people attacked by them daily from coast to coast as one of those @#$&*#!! liberals!!!

I’m not saying that the praise and love and respect coming from the right hand side of this country isn’t genuine. It's just that that symphonic outpouring of adoration has a discordant underlying counter melody of disingenuousness about it.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The last thing I want to do is say anything on behalf of a scumbag like Matthew Hale, but I’m not at ease with the sentence of 40 years handed down yesterday for plotting to kill Federal Judge Joan Lefkow.

I penned my reservations about this case last April 27 , and I haven’t seen or heard anything since to convince me that his conviction wasn’t more for being the scumbag that he is than for being guilty of the crime for which he was convicted.

I must say that I’m conflicted about the outcome of this affair, because while I’m not at ease with the conviction and sentence, I’m happy to see this piece of human excrement sent up the river for a while. I would have applauded a trial and a conviction for "hate speech with intent to cause harm" - a loose description of laws on the books in some European countries - but we have no such crime with which to charge vermin like Matthew Hale.

One of the things contributing to my ill at ease feeling is that the murder of Judge Lefkow’s husband and mother, committed by someone not connected to Hale’s sick organization, was a factor in arriving at his sentence - the maximum possible. Bart Ross, who committed those murders and then killed himself, isn’t around for us to try and to punish. If he had been, it might have taken the edge off for Hale. Maybe the sentencing judge wouldn’t have come down quite so hard on him. But maybe he would have. It’s hard to tell.

But a nagging feeling lingers in the wake of this affair. It is that if the government really wants to "get" you, they can and will.

The Morning After Flap

The refusal of some pharmacists to fill prescriptions for medications of which they do not approve on moral or religious grounds, has become the latest pile of fodder for conservative radio talk show hosts. With knee jerk precision, they have jumped on the issue as a right versus left argument - or to put it in language that is used to attract and direct the thinking of their core audience - conservative versus liberal!!

What’s wrong with it they ask? If a store doesn’t want to carry cigarettes any more, should they be compelled to stock them? Of course not. But if they do carry cigarettes and a non-owning store clerk who doesn’t approve of smoking refuses to sell a pack to an adult, there’s something very wrong and he should get his rear end booted from the establishment.

I don’t know for sure, but I would surmise that there are no laws that say that a pharmacy must stock every prescription drug on the market. I know that small pharmacies don’t. It’s not unusual to present them with a prescription and to be told that it can be filled the next day or the day after - as soon as it’s delivered to them by a drug wholesaler. And I would imagine that it isn’t that unusual to be told that they just don’t ever carry a particular drug - that you would have to get your prescription filled at a Walgreen’s or an Osco.

But to be told by whoever is behind the pharmacy counter - whether it’s an owner or an employee - that the drug is in stock - in plentiful supply - but your prescription for it can’t be filled by that individual because he or she disagrees with you for wanting it and your doctor for prescribing it, is opening the door to a world of madness.

I was surprised to learn that the big chains have a policy of not compelling their pharmacist employees to fill prescriptions if the act clashes with their religious beliefs. You’d have to hope that that sort of accommodating policy doesn’t extend to too many segments of civilized society. You wouldn’t want to own a medical building where doctors might perform or recommend abortions if the crew at the local fire house were known to be "pro-lifers."

Those who are expressing support for the conscience driven pharmacists are saying that it’s no big deal. Women can still get their morning after pills. Just from someone or somewhere else. Well, maybe it isn’t any big deal, but it sure can be a damned inconvenience. As long as the pharmacy stocks and dispenses the particular drug that your doctor has prescribed - why should you have to make an appointment to bring in your prescription when a pharmacist who doesn’t "disapprove" of it is on duty? Or go to another pharmacy,where you may run into the same cockeyed problem?

But there’s a problem here that goes beyond inconveniencing some pharmacy customers. There are strong efforts afoot to inject religion and religious belief into more and more areas of secular society - and the thought of allowing those beliefs to permeate the retail industry in general - beyond pharmacies - conjures up visions of transforming what we now think of as routine shopping into something akin to strategic military forays - pre-planned to accommodate all possible contingencies.

The answer to the pharmacy problem is simple. If you want to work for someone else as a pharmacist - as opposed to owning your own pharmacy - you dispense all prescriptions presented to you. If you can’t do that, go find some other kind of work. Preferably not as a fireman.

Baseball rule change still needed

Nobody paid any attention when I suggested it when I first started blogging in April, 2003 - but just look at the standings right at the start of this year’s baseball season and see how my new baseball rules would have changed things. The Cubs would likely be two and one instead of one and two and that alone would be justification for the change. Hey, I’m getting old. Heck, I am old. I don’t have time to wait around for a miracle. (Read: Cubs in World Series). We need to change the rules now!!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

It’s kind of juvenile to say "I told you so." It’s a little like ya,ya,ya,ya,ya,ya! Or is that Na,na,na,na,na,na?

Nonetheless, it was more than a year ago- on January 19, 2004, when I wrote a piece with the headline "Watch out for the Jackson Judge." My thesis was that Judge Rodney Melville was sending very strong signals that he was prepared to give the pop star a rough time - and some of the comments that he’s made from the bench since then have only reinforced the sinking feeling (if you’re Jackson or a Jackson lawyer or supporter) that he just doesn’t like Michael. Or maybe is repulsed by him and what he thinks he stands for.

I can’t read the judge’s mind and I’m a long way from the action. It’s just the impression I get from reading some of the things that the judge has said.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised when he made the ruling that allowed testimony from or about past alleged "victims" of sexual molestation. Under California law, such testimony is allowable. All you need is someone ready to "allege" that the misconduct took place. There doesn’t have to be any past indictments or convictions for the conduct. Just the allegations. The idea is to allow the prosecution to show a pattern of behavior.

But even though the law allows it, it is up to the judge to decide whether the probative value outweighs the prejudicial effect of such testimony. You figure out how the judge looked at his two choices.

Prejudicial effect?? The judge allowed testimony from or about five alleged victims. In effect, the ruling turns the trial into a series of trials within a trial. Unless Jackson’s lawyers can destroy the credibility of all of the witnesses testifying about those five cases, Michael’s goose could very easily be cooked, cut up and consumed!

On the other side of the coin - the probative value. You would have to be from Mars not to be familiar with the stories about Jackson and his Neverland Ranch that have been floating around for years. Particularly if you’re sitting on the jury for his case. Those jurors must know that there have been cash settlements in the past with youngsters who claimed that he had molested them sexually. So why the need to bring those young people into court to repeat their well known allegations?

Whatever Jackson is, he’s not your everyday predatory pedophile . To him, certain behavior that most people would think of as beyond the pale, is not only normal but praiseworthy. Hundreds, maybe thousands of youngsters have passed through his fantasy ranch , yet only a handful have seen fit to accuse him of sexual molestation and only a couple have managed to squeeze money out of him to keep quiet.

He has never been accused of rape or of forcing young boys to perform deviant sexual acts. The accusations are all about "inappropriate touching" and in the case for which he is currently on trial, of masturbating the alleged victim

I don’t know why he "paid off" a couple of accusers, but it is not unreasonable to assume that his lawyers told him the cost of defending in court could run as high as an amount that would make the problems go away - and that there always a chance of losing a civil case that could result in an astronomical award. And of course the publicity surrounding such trials could have a ruinous affect on his career.

But now the damage has been done and his lawyers have the Herculean task of defending against six accusers, five of whom he has never been charged harming in any way. It’s a gift to the prosecutor who has wanted to nail Jackson for years. Courtesy of the Judge who issued an arrest warrant for Jackson when he was hospitalized for an injury and was late getting to court.

They should have known what else was coming. I did - and I told you so!!

Another porno "criminal"

Speaking of matters pornographic, I find it difficult to understand the law that could send an individual to jail for decades for what goes on in his innermost thoughts.

Douglas Smith worked for the Boy Scouts of America for nearly 40 years, Unlike Michael Jackson, he has never been accused of "inappropriately touching" any young boy. No Boy Scouts have come forward to say that he molested them. He has no criminal record. He’s married. He has grown kids.

But in the dark corners of his mind, he apparently gets some pleasure from looking at pictures of juveniles engaging in sexual acts of various kinds. He looks at them on the Internet. He downloads them from various sites. I have looked at pornographic sites on occasion. Out of curiosity. There must be thousands of them on line. I would never download anything from any of them.. And I wouldn’t spend two seconds looking at any site that showed children having sex. It would disgust me. But apparently not Douglas Smith. He downloaded those kinds of images to his computer and shared them with other people - presumably via the Internet - who had similar interests. He did all of this in the privacy of his home, as far as I can tell, harming absolutely no one. Yet he has now pleaded guilty to a crime for which he might be sentenced to as much as 20 years in the hoosegow!!

O.K. It’s not exactly the thought police. He actually has electronic pictures of the images that give him some kind of perverted pleasure - presumably sexual pleasure. But the man is 61 years old. He’s a family man. He’s worked with kids most of his life. He’s never assaulted any of them. It’s a private fetish. Yes, he might share the images of that fetish with people who share his particular weakness - if you want to call it that. But we’re talking about his own private, imaginary world.

The only difference between Douglas Smith and those who have a vicarious interest and collect images of sado-masochism, bestiality, necrophilia and other things that I can’t even think of that might provide some people with sexual pleasure, is that his images involved kids.

I can understand the need to protect young people from pedophiles or potential pedophiles - and people who collect and share child pornography over the Internet may well be pedophiles. But if all they ever do is collect and share pictures to look at and nothing more, I find the idea of that being a crime that can send you away for 20 years just a little bit scary.

It’s not that much unlike the RICO Statute, where you can lose your property without ever being charged with a crime. Or being held indefinitely as a terrorist threat - also without ever having been charged with a crime.

In some jurisdictions, repeat sexual offenders are offered the choice of chemical castration instead of jail time.

Maybe the court can offer Mr. Smith a deal. Go to jail or let us screw with your eyes. Not total blindness. Just enough damage so that you really can’t make out what’s in all those dirty pictures.