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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

It was bound to happen of course. When the Chicago Tribune published an op-ed piece by Gary Tobin, calling Northwestern University’s disavowal of their Holocaust denier professor, Arthur Butz, as having absolutely no value, defenders of the freedom of expression granted by tenure wrote to the paper and sure enough they found a Jew who was ready to defend the anti-Semite and the University and put that letter in a prominent spot - at the top of the letters to the editor page on a shaded background!!

And reading it, I got a vision of Capos working in the concentration camp - doing the bidding of their Nazi masters!!

I say this because the writer of this letter, one Elyse Miller - claims to be the niece and granddaughter of Holocaust victims and says that while she can emotionally identify with Tobin’s distress - he doesn’t understand the purpose of academia.. "Universities exist in order to expand people’s minds," she says - "to open them up to new ideas - to challenge established concepts - to get people to think."

And that’s why Butz should be protected?? He is one of those who challenges established concepts or gets people to think? Does Ms Miller really think that that is what Butz is doing rather than using the prestige of Northwestern University to call attention to his hateful anti-Semitic attempts to rewrite history - including her's?

If he wasn’t a tenured professor at a distinguished university - would his views be noticed or cared about by anyone other than fellow anti-Semites and assorted thick headed numskulls? Of course not. Butz has revealed himself as someone whose views harm the university whether or not he expresses them in the classroom. Does Ms Miller believe that his colleagues at Northwestern University would vote for tenure were Butz applying for it today? I guarantee they would not. They would strongly disagree with the ideas she expresses and with her understanding of the "purpose of academia." They might even find it repugnant - as do I - that a descendent of Holocaust victims would think that she is doing something noble defending someone who alleges that the Holocaust never took place!!

People like Elyse Miller would go to the ends of the earth defending the rights of philosophical descendants of her grandparent’s murderers to spout their message of hate without interference - in or out of academia.

But there are limits to freedom of speech and there are limits to the kind of behavior that is protected by tenure. Butz has violated both and should be fired. He should have been fired long ago - and it is disgraceful that Northwestern University refuses to fire him because of some misguided interpretation of what is protected by tenure. I’m not even sure that that’s why the University refuses to fire Butz. It’s more likely fear of a messy lawsuit if they did what just about all of his colleagues - tenured and untenured - think they should do. And that is a prime example of what universities should not be teaching.


Sometimes I feel sorry for super hawk, knee jerk Bush supporter Charles Krauthammer when he finds himself caught between whatever substitutes in his clouded world for "between a rock and a hard place." That’s where he finds himself today having had to write a column defending the Dubai port management deal that we’re now learning could encompass way more than six ports.

Krauthammer of course - in addition to being a knee jerk supporter of Mr. Bush - is an even greater knee jerk supporter of Israel. No matter what Israel does or says, I have never known Krauthammer to be critical of that country. If I missed any past criticisms, I apologize - but somehow I doubt there are any.

On the port management deal, Krauthammer says that it should have been stopped at an earlier stage but concludes that now the best thing we can do to avoid worsening our relations with the Arab world, is to let it go through and to give it close scrutiny for a number of years with some American agents working inside the Dubai company.

Nowhere in the article does Krauthammer mention Israel - that the United Arab Emirates does not recognize our major ally in the Middle East. That we had put our stamp of approval on the concept of a foreign country that is an avowed enemy of one of our major allies, being in charge of some of our major ports.

If war was to break out between Israel and her Arab neighbors and with other Arab countries that are not neighbors and that the war was such that we dispatched military personnel to fight alongside the Israelis - would our Dubai friends allow us to use the airport facilities we allegedly are now allowed to use - to launch military strikes against Israel’s Arab enemies? Or allow our warships bound for Israel to re-fuel in Dubai??

Small wonder that there seemed to be only one knee jerking as Krauthammer penned his defense of a deal that he knows smells to high heaven. That seems to be a major problem with the columnists and broadcast pundits of the right. They cannot find it in themselves to control their jerking knees and be critical of something that is wrong for America - even if it means agreeing with Democrats and Liberals. Specially if it agrees with those hated people on the left.

The current column by Charles Krauthammer is about as close as you’re going to get to being critical of the Dubai port management deal. Israel’s major supporter in the American press holding his nose so that he can find a way not to disagree with his beloved President.

How sad that as more and more Americans are discovering that their president is little more than an unclothed emperor - his knee jerk supporters continue to put party before country and continued to defend all of his actions - no matter how indefensible they may be.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Seems like just about everyone in the blogosphere has something to say about the Dubai/United Arab Emirates/ Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. deal - so why not me? I must admit that most of it pretty confusing to me. Until the other day, I had never heard of Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation and I had no idea that there were companies that "ran" sea ports. My vision of how ports operate extends to the movie "On The Waterfront" and not much further. I would imagine that I have a great deal of company among my fellow citizens. And even though the news of the impending "takeover" is all over the place, I’m still not sure just what it is that would be "taken over" - other than terminal leases at the involved ports. Sort of like gates at major airports.

We are getting a great number of assurances from various people in the administration that there is no security risk involved with a foreign government running operations at American ports. The Dubai company is owned by the Dubai government - so in effect the deal for those terminal leases would be between a private company - Peninsular et al - and the government of Dubai. As part of those assurances, we are being told that nothing will really change at these ports. The Coast Guard will still be patrolling the waters. The union stevedores who are working on the docks will continue to work there. So it seems to me that what’s mostly involved is that the British company is picking up $6.8 billion and the Dubai government will be reaping whatever future profits are generated from "managing" six American ports.

Some of the people defending the deal are saying that no one was complaining about a British company running these ports but that objections only arose when an Arab company became involved. And some are calling the objections racism. Well - as Steve Martin used to say - excuse me!!! How many people in this country had ever heard of Peninsular et al until the other day? How many people in this country knew that a British company "ran" our major ports? How many people knew that there were such things as private companies that "ran" ports? I don’t know the answer to these questions - but I would venture a guess that outside of people who actually work on the docks or who are in the shipping business - the number of people who would know the answer wouldn’t fill all the seats at Yankee Stadium. It’s all news to us - and from what I’ve been reading, it’s news to the President as well. I don’t know whether or not he knew how port management worked but it seems that he didn’t know about the Dubai take over any earlier than I did!!

The Dubai company is a major player in the business of running port operations around the world, so they are probably well qualified to take over operations of ports anywhere. And I suppose their government ownership doesn’t present any particular security threat - though I would assume that management people from Dubai would have easy access to the ports that they manage here and that a Dubai native would more likely pose a security risk than an Englishman working for a privately owned British company. As critics of the deal are pointing out, Dubai was one of only three nations that recognized the Taliban, two of the 9/11 terrorists were United Arab Emirates citizens and there is evidence of money flowing through Dubai to terrorists bent on murdering US citizens.

But security issues notwithstanding - the approval and endorsement of the deal by the Bush administration - and his threat to veto any legislation that would have the effect of calling it off - is shaping up as a major political blunder. For once, leaders of his own party either didn’t get the talking points at the same time that the radio and TV Right Wing Ranters and Ravers got theirs - or they took a quick look at how it would play in Peoria and decided it was an issue they didn’t want to hand to the Democrats.

What I take away from this affair is the ridiculous inconsistency of the Bush political theme of war without end and issues of national security. According to the President, even discussing such things as the NSA monitoring communications of US citizens creates a security risk for the United States. Criticizing our operations in Iraq gives aid and comfort to the enemy and places our troops in harms way - as if they weren’t there already. Withdrawing from Iraq would increase security risks to the United States. And on and on. It’s the central theme of the Bush Presidency.

But not always.

Holding hands - literally -with a Saudi prince is perfectly O.K. That’s the prince of a country from which 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers came. That’s the country from which money flows to terrorists. But it’s also the country from which oil flows by the billions of barrels to feed our "addiction" and whose rulers have long time connections to the Bush family. And Dubai, a country that - as noted above - is hardly free of terrorist connections, also has a "hand holding" relationship with members of the Bush administration , including the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States - the committee that approved the US port take over!!

As far as I’m concerned, that would be enough to have the deal delayed for 45 days - or canceled altogether. That and the tentative approvals of Jimmy Carter and John McCain. Now there’s a pair for you!!

But after Homeland Security honcho Michael Chertoff went on television to assure Americans that they had nothing to fear from this deal, my instant and continuing instinct was to run - not walk - as far away from anything to do with Dubai as possible - and to keep running until the last of those 45 days was a distant memory.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

As I sat down to type these comments today, I had intended my opening line to be "by the time I post these comments, Michael Morales will be dead." Well of course he’s still alive. His execution, delayed from Monday, February 20 - was scheduled for 7.30 p.m. Pacific time yesterday but now delayed until further notice - and today, the citizens of countries where the death penalty has been long abandoned are shaking their heads in disbelief. And horror. Just as it did when the State of California executed a wheelchair bound, blind, 73 year old diabetic who had been on death row for 23 years. It’s one of those things that makes the United States - the planet’s only super power - seem like an oddity - a nation out of touch with the rest of the civilized world.

Morales was no saint. He was convicted and sentenced 23 years ago for a rape and murder committed 25 years ago. Despite the interminable delay in carrying out the sentence of death, there was little doubt that it would be carried out - that the courts, up to and including the Supreme Court would not overturn the original verdict and that the Governator of Caleeefornia would maintain his macho response to clemency appeals from death row inmates.

But on Monday night there was a last minute glitch in the planned finale of this quarter century drama. Doctors who had been recruited to ensure that Morales would not die a painful death decided that they could not participate ethically and withdrew their services, causing the execution itself to be postponed until Tuesday at 7.30 p.m. - and now indefinitely until the question of how to assure a non-painful death can be worked out,

Now I want to be clear that I’m not against killing a murderer under certain conditions. I remember when Michael Dukakis was blindsided by a question from correspondent Bernard Shaw asking if he would favor the death penalty if his wife had been raped and murdered. Dukakis responded;
"I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don't see any evidence that it's a deterrent, and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime."
He was probably going to lose the 1988 election anyway, but that response put the nail in the coffin of his presidential hopes.

Of course he should have said that if he walked in on that kind of a scene - if he came across someone who had just murdered his wife - he would probably kill the sub humanoid with his bare hands - but that after the murderer had been caught, tried and sentenced and had sat on death row for 20 or 25 years - he couldn’t see what would be gained by a ritual execution.

That’s about the way I feel about murderers and the death penalty. If they’ve been on death row for that many years - and in many cases if they’re then senior citizens and maybe in poor health - what would be the purpose of carrying out that ancient sentence?

What happened in the Morales case is that the state goofed in its effort to carry out the death sentence 23 years after it had been handed down - and now it has moved into the realm of dishing out cruel and unusual punishment. Morales I am sure had resigned himself to the fact that all appeals had been rejected and was ready to die at midnight on Monday. I don’t know how far the planned execution had progressed - whether or not he had been strapped onto the gurney - whether or not a syringe had been attached to a vein - before the ritual was suddenly stopped - but I can imagine the mental agony that struck him when he was told that he wasn’t going to be put to death at that moment.

Not now - later. There’s a glitch. Go back to your cell and think about things. Maybe order a second last meal. And maybe he got through the night with his sanity intact and was ready to die at 7.30 p.m. yesterday, But now it’s off until he’s told that it’s on again. It could be days, weeks or months.

To me, those two sudden - but very temporary postponements of his execution - isn’t that far removed from someone surviving the hangman’s noose with an unbroken neck and then being hauled onto the gallows for a second attempt. Or as many attempts as it might take to carry out the sentence of the courts. Or someone surviving minute after minute of electric shock before prison authorities decided that it must be due to a technical glitch and taking the condemned back to his cell until the glitch could be fixed - then bringing him back to try again. Or maybe being hauled in front of a firing squad, only to be told - after ready, aim, fire - that it was a rehearsal and that there may or may not be more rehearsals - but that the sentence of death by firing squad will be carried out eventually.

The essence of "cruel and unusual punishment."

I don’t agree with those who want to cut way back on the number of appeals that a condemned killer can submit to the courts and to carry out the death sentence as quickly as possible. Nor do I agree with the years - the decades of delay before we get around to carrying out these sentences. Both are wrong but killing a 45 year old man for a crime he committed and was sentenced to death for when he was 20 is more so. If we are that uncomfortable moving from sentence to execution - why are we doing it at all?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I’m glad to see that people in ever increasing numbers agree with my contention that "tenure" should no longer protect Holocaust denier Arthur Butz from getting his just desserts - which is to be summarily dismissed from the campus of Northwestern University.

60 faculty members of Northwestern University's Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science - which is almost the entire teaching staff - have signed a letter urging him to leave their department and the University. The student newspaper - the Daily Northwestern reported that there had been only one refusal and several faculty members had yet to respond to the invitation to sign

The student body has also created an organization to battle the idiocy of the University continuing to use the feeble excuse of "tenure" to protect Butz from being fired (read "reasoning behind the petition") - and Gary Tobin, president of the Institute of Jewish and Community Research in San Francisco, authored an op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune about NU President Henry Bienen’s response to the latest disgrace that Butz has brought to the institution, titled "A Disavowal of Absolutely No Value" - a description with which I totally agree. The University’s response to Butz has been the same for all of the years he has been there. Gutless!!

It’s interesting to note that while all this is going on, David Irving, the British Holocaust denier who lost big time in the British courts when he tried to sue someone for calling him a liar in print , has just pleaded guilty to the "crime" of preaching Holocaust denial in an Austrian court and consequently will be spending the next three years in one of that country’s jails.

I don’t know why he went to Austria in the first place, knowing that in effect, he was a "wanted" man in that country. Maybe he wanted to be remembered as a martyr - though it doesn’t seem that way considering his attempt to reverse himself, saying that he now accepted the existence of gas chambers and the "final solution" for Europe’s Jewish population. In the end, most of these people are cowards of one kind or another.

I personally do not approve of the German and Austrian laws that call for prison sentences for those found guilty of preaching Holocaust denial rubbish. I would be in favor of civil suits against those kinds of idiots instead of waiting for them to sue when they’re exposed as liars and history revisionists. I might even be in favor of a "three times and you’re out" criminal law - imposing fines for a first and second offense and jail if the idiots don’t get the message and continued to preach nonsense. And I certainly would be in favor of deporting someone like Irving or classifying him as an "undesirable" and not allowing him entry into European countries that have anti-Holocaust denial laws.

But if I had a choice between how these people are currently handled in Germany and Austria and how they continue to be allowed to flourish here under the protection of the first amendment - and, in academia - "tenure" - I think I might opt for the European approach. It is of course an extreme approach to the problem - but so is freedom of speech without limit - and if you think about it for a while, it isn’t hard to arrive at the conclusion that making a specific, clearly identified kind of hate speech a criminal offense is less dangerous to society at large than allowing anyone to say or publish anything they want to say or publish - no matter how untruthful it may be.

We’re in a period of history where hard choices have to be made, such as the new law introduced in the UK Parliament making "glorification of terrorism" a criminal offense. The law has flaws as many of its critics have pointed out - but the reasoning behind it is understandable. Decent people are saying "enough already" - and are trying to do something about it in as decent a way as possible.

Northwestern University is in a position to do something here of a much less stringent nature but that would say the same thing to the enemies of civilized society as the glorification of terrorism law. Fire Butz. Send the message.

Enough already!!!

Friday, February 17, 2006

I love dogs. My wife loves dogs. We’ve had dogs as part of our family for decades. My first dog - before I met my wife - was Waldo - a Manchester Terrier mutt who lived only ten short years. Then we adopted Poolie from a shelter - a Puli mix according to her papers, though she looked little like the Hungarian sheep dog of that name. We raised her together with Cassie a Sheltie mix, who we rescued after she was abandoned by a neighbor. Cassie died of cancer at the age of 10, and Poolie stayed with us to the ripe old age of 16 ½ . And then, after Poolie came Cody, a twice rescued dog, whose obituary you can read here.

We’ve been dogless since May 16, 2005 - except for looking after the dogs of a neighbor and an ex-neighbor when they have to leave town. We would never, ever allow a dog that we know spend time in a shelter as long as our house is still standing and we are here.

So as you can see, we are dog lovers. We love to ooh and aah when we see a good looking dog on the street.. We stop the car, roll down the window and say hi to them. We love to watch them on television - though my wife is more into the watching thing than I am. We sat together the other night, watching part of the first half of the Westminster Kennel Club Show. She would have watched the whole show to the bitter end and tuned in for the final judging on the next night - but I can only take so much of watching pure breds being walked and trotted and fondled by judges. I’m a mutt lover and while I have nothing against pure breds and some look as lovable as the best looking mutts - others don’t even look like dogs!!

When Cody was still well, I would often take her with me to pick up my wife from work - and on the way home we would sometimes see this guy walking a couple of strange looking four legged critters. Cody would stare at them - I swear trying to figure out what they were. If they might even be dogs. They were. They were Bedlington Terriers - actual dogs - but they looked more like something out of a science fiction movie to me - and very likely to Cody. Something along the lines of Orikian Orngobblers from the planet Ork.

Why I say all this is because I opened my paper on Wednesday, February 15 and learned that one of those "is that really a dog" dog had won best in show.

O.K. maybe Rufus looks more like a dog than a Bedlington Terrier or one of the other strange breeds of canine that were on display, looking just as un-dog as the Bedlington - but I have to ask you - Rufus?? Best in show?? What was judge James Reynolds thinking? Of course he’s a Canadian and who knows how the trip from Ottawa to New York might have affected his cognitive abilities?

I read some of the news reports after the show and one consistent theme that I gather shows up just about every year is that America’s favorite dogs - the dogs that you and I adopt and love - almost never win. It’s as though the dog show has nothing to do with dogs and has a lot to do with what dog "judges" think is "best" about man’s best friend.

It would be like having a James Reynolds judging the Miss America contest all by himself and watching one beautiful girl after another parade across the television screen - only to have him step off the stage, go into the audience - grab a Madeline Albright look alike - raise her arm and declare her to be the grand prize winner. His idea of the Best in Show!! (Sorry Madeline but Clinton didn’t pick you to be Secretary of State for your looks).

As I’ve indicated, we’ve been dogless since May 16, 2005 - and there are lots of reasons for this gap in our family group - but it will be filled in the near future. And one thing is for certain. Our choice will not be influenced one iota by the experts who gather in New York each year to reveal their idea about what’s "best" about a dog. We’ll pick a mutt. A lovable mutt. And it will be our best dog because we have canine expertise that James Reynolds and his ilk couldn’t begin to understand.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

I’m having a lot of medical expenses lately - which makes me even more aware than usual of the convoluted state of our healthcare system compared to other western nations. Critics of national healthcare systems like to point out that those are "rationing" systems - that you can wait months for such things as needed surgeries or even for an appointment to see a specialist. But of course that could be highly descriptive of our healthcare system - and in those other countries of which we are so critical, when a patient does receive care - even lengthy and highly complicated care, he or she doesn’t have to worry about how to pay the medical bills with money he or she doesn’t have!!

There was a horror story in my local paper yesterday about an "undocumented" Filipino - someone who had a stroke while in this country and landed up in a nursing home where he slowly improved but also ran up a huge six figure bill that he couldn’t pay. The nursing home tried to get him to leave - even threatening to call the police to evict him. He didn’t qualify for Medicaid because of his undocumented status and finally the nursing home solved their problem by buying him a one way ticket back to the Philippines. He told his friends that he didn’t think he’d survive there - and sure enough his prediction came true. He’s no longer among the living.

I don’t know if he would have been treated the same way if he’d suffered his stroke in Canada or in England - but I doubt it. Their systems may be flawed but they’d have to work damned hard for years to come up with the kinds of complications we dream up to "improve" the delivery of healthcare to our citizens..

Fortunately, even though I’m a senior, I don’t have to try to understand the Rube Goldberg Medicare drug "assistance" bill that is currently sending seniors to psychiatric centers in droves where they very likely are being refused coverage because Federal Stupidity isn’t listed as a known disease. I have coverage through my wife’s employment. But for other seniors? Over 40 different "plans" - run by - and probably designed by insurance companies. With this secretive administration, you never know who is dictating what. Remember the closed door energy policy meeting run by that old lawyer shooter Dick Cheney?

The business of insurance companies isn’t healthcare or the delivery of healthcare - but to make money. So naturally the "plans" are virtually impossible to understand unless you are a graduate of the aforementioned Rube Goldberg graduate school of convoluted thinking. My brother, who - as I’ve noted before lives in England - takes any prescription his doctor writes for him down to the local pharmacist where, as I’ve also noted before - it gets filled without him having to have joined any "plan" and without him having to pay anything. No co-payment. No payment of any kind. He’s managed to live to a senior age and his government, with its national health plan so despised by our planners - takes care of his health needs. There’s nothing for him to try to understand. An idea that our bureaucracy couldn’t begin to understand.

I’ve written here before about the burden that the cost of prescription drugs places on all of our citizens. Seniors are probably hit the hardest - but unless you’re wealthy or lucky enough to have the kind of drug coverage that my wife’s employment provides for us - you could be faced with a choice between buying your medicines or one or more of life’s other necessities. Like food.

What sets me off on this day’s particular dissertation is not so much my personal increase in medical expenses that I mentioned with my opening words - but the coincidence of the introduction of Medicare’s cockeyed drug coverage plans for seniors and the rash of television commercials from pharmaceutical companies - not pushing their products - but telling you how much they care about you!! You’re what’s important to them - not making money. Finding the drugs that will keep you healthy. There’s even one company that says if you can’t afford their drugs, they have a program to provide them to you without cost. Sure. Can you imagine the demeaning means test you would have to go through to qualify for such largesse? It wouldn’t apply to the very poor who have been on Medicaid and getting their drugs paid for by that program which now will pay for the new Medicare coverage . Obviously it wouldn’t apply to the wealthy. So who is left? The middle class- people who probably would never qualify for any drug company’s benefit program and who most likely would never lower themselves to apply for any kind of welfare program anyway.

The drug companies could help - as could our government. The companies could help by quitting their self praising ads to the general public and their out of public sight costly P.R. campaigns to get doctors to prescribe their drugs - and stop the annual price increases they attach to medications that already cost patients one, two, three, four or more dollars per pill!! And government could help by allowing itself to negotiate the cost of drugs on behalf of Medicare enrollees - just as the Veteran’s Administration does for the people it services at VA Hospitals. Why do you think we don’t allow such negotiation? Why are insurance companies running the new Medicare drug program? The second question answers the first if you stop and think about it for a minute.

If you can think of anything more disingenuous than the current crop of self praising pharmaceutical ads or the government’s assertion that the Medicare drug program was designed just to help senior citizens and not pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies - please let me know .

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A personal note. I may be slowing down on blog production again for a while. It seems that the surgery I underwent on January 23, hoping to get relief from the chronic and debilitating sciatica that’s been bugging me for years, did not do the job - and though a follow up session with my surgeon is still two weeks away, I am certain that more spinal surgery is in my immediate future.

But apart from days when I’m flat on my back, I should be able to at least make a small collection of pithy comments for my adoring public. It’s often struck me that most newspaper columnists could make the point that their columns finish up making in no more than a sentence or two - but of course none do. Each of their columns take up about the same amount of space regardless of the subject matter. I don’t know the conditions under which they produce their words of wisdom but I have a feeling that an assigned number of words is part of the equation. Or at least an approximate assigned number of words

I guess I’m as guilty as any of them. Most of my single topic commentaries tend to run over a thousand words. Yesterday’s ran 1240. But I can do better. For example;

On the subject of Dick Cheney shooting his bird popping buddy. I’ve read enough about the way that our illustrious Vice-President "hunts" to know that I shouldn’t call what he was doing on that Texas ranch "hunting." I didn’t watch any television beyond ten p.m. yesterday - but I gather that Stewart and Letterman and Leno and the rest of the late night crowd had a field day with "Birdshotgate" - though I’m sure none of them called it that. But this morning, as I watched and listened to the story of what happened and how and why the news was released to the public unfold - one word came to mind. Chappaquiddick!! Not that the Republicans needed to learn anything about "handling" an awkward incident from Ted Kennedy. They’re masters in their own right. At least this particular crowd of Republicans. But even though the comedians will continue to work the veep over the coals for a while and the White house press corps will continue to evoke non-answers from Scott McLellan - unless the poor guy dies - this won’t be an incident that will forever be known the way that the Kennedy incident continues to be known.. Not because it isn’t a worthwhile embarrassment - worthy of bringing up at every possible opportunity by Democrats and Independents - and even by real Republicans.

It’s the name. It’s that part of Texas where it took place. Armstrong Ranch?? How can that possibly compete as an instantly recognizable synonym for "managed news of what for ordinary mortals lacking sufficient clout would be a career destroying and maybe even a loss of liberty incident" - with Chappaquiddick? The comedians and the aggressive reporters can work it over as much as they like, but unless someone can come up with a catchy one word description that will forever connect Mr. Cheney mistaking a Republican lawyer for a bird, it’s just not going to catch on. Thirty years from now , Democrats running for office and comedians trying to break into the big time can say Armstron Ranch as many times and with as many inflections and accents as they like. It won’t mean a thing. Trust me.

On New York’s two plus feet of snow. Where is Pat Robertson? That much snow doesn’t just fall out of the sky on New York without a reason. It’s the most snow ever to fall on that city in a single storm since they started keeping records on such matters. So what happened? We need the reverend to tell us why God did that to New York. Was it a punishment - and if so, what did New York do to deserve such punishment? O.K. - the state elected Hillary Clinton as one of its two senators. But that’s more than New York City. And Hillary goes to church. She prays. She’s a believer. And if the God of Pat Robertson created everything - as he insists is the case - then he must have created all those Muslims who don’t accept Jesus Christ as their savior - and that has to be several levels below the sin of being a Democrat. And besides - the rest of the state didn’t get over two feet of snow.

So we are left with a mystery and we need to hear from the reverend Pat to clear it up. There are other big cities in the United States that get heavy snow falls most winters - and if New York was doing something to bring on their heaviest snow fall ever, we need to know what it is or was - so that we can avoid making their mistake before we too get buried beneath a mountain of holy white wrath!!

Seems like nothing can slow down Iran’s march to becoming a nuclear power. They’ve even told their buddies the Russians and the Chinese to go fly a couple of Asian kites

So what do we do about what we and other nations perceive to be a growing threat from this member of the "axis of evil?"

Newspapers in England and other parts of the world are trumpeting stories about plans that we have to attack Iranian nuclear targets with long range bombers. Before they attack us.

As we watch yet another potential military conflict unfold in the region that our brilliant strategists were certain could be democratized with a preemptive military strike and its inevitable consequence of cascading peace carrying dominoes bringing democracy to nation after nation, I wonder how many ordinary people are thinking what I am thinking about what might have been?

How much better or worse would the Iranian "threat" be if Saddam Hussein was still in power with his repressive but secular regime sitting across the border from the Ayatollahs and nutty Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?? And us not bogged down in Iraq, tying up our military and bleeding our treasury dry?

There you are. One thousand and eighty five words - and I could have devoted at least that many words to each of these three topical topics!!

Monday, February 13, 2006

There’s a lot of argument about what is good, bad, true or false about academic "tenure" - mostly I guess by academicians. Like this true/false dissertation found on the Internet. This one says that even though tenure is a lifetime appointment from which you can’t be fired - like that of a Federal Judge - about 2% of tenured faculty lose their jobs in a typical year. But among the reasons for such job losses are the closure of an academic department or a school in serious financial difficulty that simply doesn’t have the money to pay all the lifers. And I would imagine those reasons account for 99.9 % of that typical annual 2% of job losses, because the other reasons given - incompetence or unprofessional behavior, never seem to be a sufficient reason to get rid of a horse’s ass or an outright bigot. Certainly not at the academic institution close to where I make my home .

I’m speaking of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois where resides Arthur Butz - a tenured professor having the attributes I just described . Butz has been at Northwestern for a long time and every once in a while his anti-Semitic inspired ideas about the Holocaust being a "hoax" surface in newspapers around the country and in other parts of the world. The latest piece of Butz-Baloney was his statement praising the Iranian nut job of a president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for "agreeing" with him that the Holocaust never took place. On his disgusting web site which the curious can find if they are so inclined but which I will not reference here, he congratulated Ahmadinejad for his assertions and expressed regret that it wasn’t the head of a Western state who had revealed him or herself as a crazed anti-Semite.

What words are there to respond to such madness?

The Northwestern "response - as usual and as occurs with many universities when they find a crazy man in their midst - was to "deplore" the maniacal utterances of the sicko - and then to tell us how helpless they are to do anything about it as long as he doesn’t say that his views are those of Northwestern or as long as he doesn’t bring up the topic in his engineering class - assuming there are actually students at Northwestern who would be willing to be taught anything by this hate-filled maniac.

This is something that couldn’t happen anywhere else in our society. Can you imagine a CEO of a Fortune 500 Company holding on to his job if he published a book denying that the Holocaust ever took place and aligned himself with the views of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?? We have some people in Congress who don’t exactly have a kindly view of members of the Jewish faith - but can you imagine any of them winning an election with stump speeches praising the President of Iran being one of the wise men of the modern world?

But here we have this sinecure that exists nowhere else in our society other than in the Federal Judiciary, behind which institutes of learning continue to defend their alleged inability to fire someone like Butz because tenure protects their right to say and publish what they think, even when what they think and publish is repulsive, depraved, provably untruthful and a constant source of embarrassment to their employers.

I’m not going to bother to comment on this bigoted idiot’s claims. I had relatives who expired in the gas chambers that he says never existed. There was one member of my Jewish/French family who survived. His thoughts and memories can also be found at Northwestern in pamphlet form in the main library . The title is "Ashes and Remorse."

Doctor Rene Wolfin’s short work was that of personal remembrance - but those who perpetrated what Butz calls a "hoax" maintained impeccable records of the Holocaust and one need look no further to disprove his ravings and those of his fellow revisionists world wide. Indeed, if he was in Germany saying these things, he would be hauled into court and likely end up in jail. I don’t necessarily endorse the German laws making it a crime to claim that the Holocaust never took place - but I also don’t endorse the opposite of that - the concept of anyone being able to say anything they want to say about this historical horror without fear of any consequences. Maybe Butz says what he says and goes no further - hiding behind the protection that Northwestern gives him - because he’s concerned that what happened to a fellow sicko from the UK, could happen to him.

From what I have been able to learn about "tenure" - there are no hard and fast rules about what would constitute grounds for revoking the lifetime appointment it affords. One finds words or expressions like "unprofessional behavior" and "incompetence" and "moral turpitude." But one also finds that academic institutions are loath to cancel the tenure of someone they’d like to get rid of for fear of law suits that they’re likely to lose.

Butz is in his seventies and no doubt will be retiring in the not too distant future and obviously Northwestern University is content to wait him out. But what is so horribly wrong with this picture is that if he was in his forties, the University would be adopting the same attitude. After all, his Holocaust denial book was published in 1976 when he had already been at Northwestern for ten years and when he was indeed in his forties!!!

If ever there was an example of why there needs to be changes in the tenure system and what would constitute grounds for withdrawing a grant of tenure, it is the case of Arthur Butz.

Surely, under the heading of "incompetence" and "unprofessional behavior"- one could specify that making irrational claims that well documented historical events "never took place" or were a "hoax" would be examples of both incompetence and unprofessional behavior for which tenure could be withdrawn and the then non-tenured professor fired. The specifications could even include specific examples of incompetence and unprofessional behavior. Such as publishing a scholarly work "proving" that we never landed on the moon or that George W Bush is a secret agent of Al Quaida and is a third cousin of Osama Bin Laden.

O.K. So maybe letting a guy like Butz spout his garbage while being identified as a tenured professor at Northwestern University and thus protected to spout any garbage he wishes to spout outside of his classroom doesn’t quite reach the level of what Justice Robert Jackson was talking about in his 1949 dissent, or what others were talking about when the borrowed the phrase in later years - but I sure see a connection.

Incidentally, Northwestern University did fire someone for saying things about the Holocaust. It wasn’t a tenured employee - but what the heck. You can’t have everything. At least they had the balls to take action when there were no legal restrictions in their way. Quite a story of brave behavior - which you can read here - provided that you haven’t been experiencing any stomach troubles lately.

Friday, February 10, 2006

A number of columnists and other newspaper people - here and in other countries - including people who I respect, have been defending the publication of the riot causing cartoons depicting the "Prophet Mohammed" - pretty much on the basis of the need to maintain the absolute freedom of the press and for Muslims to accept being offended by caricatures of their prophet without losing their heads - and instead of wanting and threatening to decapitate the heads of the alleged offenders, to respond to them in kind. Words with words. Pictures with pictures. Caricature with caricature. Angry letters to the editor.

To which I respond in the words of the imaginary pre-teen who I quoted the other day - "Dah."

Of course that is how it should be. Of course newspapers should have the absolute right to publish cartoons that ridicule or condemn individuals or groups of individuals for whatever reason - political beliefs, religious practices, hair styles, wine preferences. - you name it. It’s the job of the cartoonist to do just that. If you look up "cartoon" in a dictionary, you’ll find descriptive words such as "satirical, caricature, oversimplified and comic." And of course, as I pointed out the other day, newspapers in Muslim countries have no qualms about publishing such cartoons, including cartoons that don’t stop at being oversimplified or satirical but that are deliberately designed to incite and to offend. Rabbis killing and eating Muslim babies. Uncle Sam as the Great Satan.

But with them it’s a one way street. They can do it. You can’t. That’s their religion. That’s their law. That’s their right - which you don’t have. This brouhaha has little to do with freedom of the press or the need for Muslims who have emigrated to non-Muslim countries to become part of their adopted societies rather than being enclaves in but not of those societies. This is about a major societal division among the populations of this earth that has the potential to erupt into mortal combat if it continues along its present path.

On Wednesday, our President condemned the violence and called for it to stop - which of course resulted in millions of Muslims around the world toasting his words of wisdom with their raised glasses of Arrack. But he also added a word or two about the responsibility of the press to use their freedom of expression wisely - with which I wholly agree. A red letter day. Me agreeing with the President.

I’ve said it again and again here - and others who are widely read and listened to have said it just as often. Whatever you may want to call it, there is a simmering discord between the cultures of the Muslim and the western worlds that is approaching a low boiling point. It’s something that can’t be ignored or appeased or overcome with military force. But it needs to be dealt with and certainly one way to deal with it is through the power of communication - through the spoken and written word - and through pictures.

Cartoons are powerful vehicles. They can convey powerful messages. They can sometimes make people think of issues in ways that they hadn’t considered before. They can sometimes teach through humor. And of course they can anger and arouse deeply passionate responses.

I think the people behind the idea of the twelve cartoons goofed. I don’t know if what they said they were trying to accomplish with them was a good or a bad idea - but in any event - it backfired. Badly. On the other hand, if part of the idea was to reach out to Muslims in their midst to test their reaction to press freedoms that likely never existed in their countries of origin - and in so doing perhaps establish a dialogue on that very topic , I think they might have been on the right track. A well thought out cartoon may indeed be worth more than the traditionally assigned thousand words. If the cartoonist and the editors who give the thumbs up or down to its publication can find a way to convey the right words. These cartoons obviously missed that mark by an immeasurable distance.

They surely knew the religious laws and traditions regarding the publication of an image of the Prophet Mohammed - so no matter in what context his caricature appeared in the cartoons it was bound to offend - and having knowledge of the passionate way many Muslims express love of and loyalty to their religion , a knowledge one would assume any sophisticated newspaper editor possessed - they might have guessed that some of the reaction could be violent.

So I am far from ready to defend any editor’s decision to publish these cartoons on the basis of the freedom of the press being inviolate. They should have rejected every last one of them out of hand and told the cartoonists to go back to the drawing board and come up with better ideas.

The brilliant cartoonists of the past and present have the extraordinary skill to portray messages with their visual images that - in some cases - no number of words could convey. If the editors who dreamed up the idea insisted on taking the bold step of using a caricature of the most revered figure in the world of Islam , why not at least try to offset the offense that you know his image will convey with some way to convey the idea that the western world and people who follow other religions - also view him with great respect? Even if they don’t.

I’ve looked at the cartoons. They can be found on line - here and elsewhere. They don’t look very sophisticated to me and none are particularly funny. Frankly, I don’t think any of them could win a top prize in an amateur cartoon contest. But if, as the Jyllands-Posten newspaper said, they printed the cartoons as a test of whether Muslim fundamentalists had begun to affect the freedom of expression in Denmark, why not try to do it with some ideas that reach out to the Muslim community rather than deliberately insult it?

I don’t have the skills of a political cartoonist, but I can see one simple way that a couple of the cartoons could have been changed that might have tested precisely what the newspaper wanted to test while perhaps evoking a very different reaction. There’s a cartoon of Mohammed wearing a bomb as a turban and another - supposedly funny - of him turning away recently deceased suicide bombers because "paradise" had run out of virgins. How about the same suicide bombers arriving in "paradise" looking perplexed - and no caption but a big blow up of Mohammed with tears streaming down his face? Or better yet, how about a scene of utter and obvious post-suicide bomber devastation, perhaps with body parts identifiable - and again, a weeping Prophet Mohammed!! A Prophet dedicated to peace and firmly against violence.

Just defending the right of the free press to print anything they want and admonishing the Muslim world to "get with it" and to learn how to accept the occasional perceived insult that they might run across in a western newspaper is a poor way to think about or deal with the mess that has ensued. The two cultures have to communicate in non-violent ways if they don’t want to finish up trying to destroy each other. The western news media are one vehicle that can be used to at least attempt to reach out and establish some level of understanding between them.

Our papers aren’t controlled by government nor do they have any obligation to publish or not publish what our government think is in its best interest. But we do have an obligation to think carefully about what it is we put in our newspapers when the main target audience is the Muslim world. You know damned well that Jyllands-Posten wasn’t worried about upsetting the average Danish man-in-the-street. They wanted the reaction of their domestic Muslim population. Now they’ve got it - and that of Muslims around the globe. In spades!!

Maybe it would have been the same no matter what cartoon they published with the image of Mohammed as the central figure - and I think they had every right and owe no apologies for using caricatures of Mohammed. But in my view, the editors of Jyllands-Posten showed about as much editorial judgment using this particular group of amateurishly insulting cartoons as one might expect from a ten year old editor of a grade school house organ. Maybe less. And that goes for the other western newspapers that re-published the same junk.

Just one man’s opinion who looked at this entire brouhaha and asked himself - what’s (expletive deleted) all this then???

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

These current hearings about monitoring American citizens by virtue of the sole authority of the President compel me to record something on this commentary blog that I’ve been thinking for many months. It’s simply this. I do not accept or subscribe to the meaning of the word "war" when used in the phrase "war on terror." There is no "war" in the sense that it has been used by President Bush and his administration since maybe half way into his first term and freely and repetitiously since his re-election. That use has been political - a phrase dragged out as a stock response to any criticism of any kind of our Iraq policy or of any foreign or domestic policy that the President wants us to believe is justified by the alleged "war" on terror. And regrettably, people have been buying it, allowing the administration to get away with murder - so far.

There is of course a war in which we are engaged if what is happening in Iraq can still be called a war. It’s more like an occupation of a country in a state of chaos and unable to bring the chaos to a halt or even slow it down. And all the time suffering casualties. That "war" - in which we were most certainly engaged from the moment we invaded Iraq, has long been over.

So why do I disagree when the administration keeps saying that we are engaged in a "war on terror" and the Democrats keep complaining about tax cuts for the rich "in a time of war" - something they say has never been done before?

There’s no question that there is an ongoing threat from terrorists who wish to do us harm. Terrorists of all stripes have been around for a long time - in the Middle East, in Japan, in the UK, in Russia and in many other places around the world. When I say "of all stripes" I mean that some terrorist groups and individuals engage in acts of terrorism in support of what they perceive to be a noble cause. Others do it out of pure hatred - for a country or a religion or perceived exploiters or what have you. And some do it for reasons that are virtually imposible to understand - if indeed they exist in the tortured minds of the perpetrators. But no country or any other body has declared that they are in a state of war with "terrorism" or "terror" and that it is a war without end!! Just us. And that’s just about what we’ve been told.

It’s a "war" that of course can’t be won in any true sense of the word - something that even President Bush himself once acknowledged - but who nonetheless continues to say we’re going to fight until we achieve "victory." Which I have to assume means when every living "terrorist" on earth has been identified and captured or otherwise neutralized. So that we can sling a banner across the deck of a battleship that says MISSION ACCOMPLISHED in front of which the President will make the Chamberlainesque announcement to the world that we have achieved "Peace In Our Time."

And it’s under the guise of this "war on terror" that we have the current brouhaha about the legality or illegality of monitoring communications of US citizens without court approval or Congressional oversight. Some of the statements coming from the administration in support of these secret monitoring activities have been so ludicrous that one is left wondering if we have a condition not unlike that of inmates running an insane asylum.

"If someone from Al Quaida is calling someone in the United States, we want to know about it" says our illustrious leader. " Dah" - as any pre-teen taking a break from his iPod might say. Of course we want to know about it, but that assumes that we are able to identify any kind if communication as being originated by an Al Quaida operative bent on conducting an act of terrorism or that anything said or communicated would be understood. And it also asumes that only those kinds of communications are being monitored - which is hardly consistent with what we're finding out about the monitoring operation.

Remember the days when we used to hear about " increased chatter" as a warning of possible Al Quaida activity? It sounded good. It sounded like our intelligence people were on the ball. No one was worrying about possible illegal phone taps of American citizens. We were doing what needed to be done to find and combat terrorists. And remember the days when we discovered that while we might have been able to collect reams of "chatter" items, most of them were never read or understood because we had so few people who spoke the languages involved and understood their nuances?

The argument that is ongoing about what the NSA has been doing isn’t between Republicans and Democrats or Conservatives and Liberals on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Both sides seemed equally skeptical of the answers they were getting to questions posed to Attorney General Gonzales last Monday - and if it continues that way, the hearings, like many Congressional hearings, will be an exercise in futility.

The argument as I - and I think many people on both sides of the aisle in Congress see it - is between the idea of following the Constitution of the United States or of putting unlimited power in the hands of a President who says "trust me - I’m protecting the American people."

If we were at war with a defined enemy - a war like World War One or World War Two or even the Cold War - we wouldn’t be questioning the activities of our intelligence communities monitoring communications going in and coming out of the involved nations. But without a defined enemy - other than by a devised sobriquet - we have no idea who or what is being monitored under the self acclaimed authority of "trust me."

For all we know, candidates running against members of the current administration during the last election were having their phones tapped and their e-mails read. We don’t know because no court orders were sought for whatever monitoring was going on. Wouldn’t that be one hell of a reason for not wanting to reveal to anyone who is being monitored? Without court approval or Congressional oversight, we have no idea who is being watched or listened to. And to say that following the laws that have been established to assure that our power to monitor is being used for the proper reasons somehow weakens our ability to do so - is about as convoluted a piece of illogic as I’ve heard since this administration took over with its plans to democratize the world through preemptive military action.

We have three more years with Bush sitting in the White House - and unless there is a turn -around during the upcoming mid-term elections, there will be no way to check or balance his continued conduct of foreign and domestic policy dictated by the alleged state of "war" on terror.

And heaven help us - it could continue beyond 2008. The endless "war" that isn’t a war, but under the cover of which this President - and maybe future Presidents assert their right to assume dictatorial powers.

I don’t think that’s an America that most of us want to live in. Not even the most rabid of Republicans - if they pause long enough to think about it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

I’m not yet ready to resume both the chore and the joy of posting a daily commentary on the "passing parade" - but I am able to sort of keep up by using a favorite device of many widely read commentary bloggers - that of posting a link to what someone else is saying.

Today, it’s my pleasure to post a link to the comments of syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts on a particular piece of nonsense - but scary nonsense nonetheless - that took place during the State of the Union Address. Or maybe before it ever got started. I’m not sure of the sequence of events, but whatever they were, I wish I could have written about them as well as Mr. Pitts has.

But then I’m just an amateur having fun and he gets paid for his skills with the written word.

I have e-mailed him a "bravo" on the column to which I would like to attach my own badge of dishonor for the occurrences he describes.

It’s there at the top of these few words. I don't know about you but I think it’s well worthy of membership in the infamous "family" of "GATES."

Monday, February 06, 2006

For a moment there I thought there was something ominous about the date 266 - but then I realized that it’s posting, telephoning or thinking about anything on 666 that would guarantee me being on the list of citizens to be watched for subversive pro Al Quaida leanings. I actually asked my brother in England how he’d enjoyed his recent lunch with Osama Bin Laden during a birthday wish call to him yesterday, hoping to hear some telltale clicks in the back ground - but no luck.

I’m not yet ready to resume regular commentary. Still more concerned and concentrating more on post-op recovery and hoping that the end result will be what I set out to achieve. I may write about this somewhere down the road.

But I couldn’t help noting that with all that has taken place in the world since I began this short (I hope) break on January 20, 2006, I was still able to remain current. All I needed to do was look back at what I’d written over the past 35 months and I could have identified a post that was appropriate to current news. Such as the reaction that is taking place in the Muslim world to some cartoons that insult and upset people of that religious faith.

I am of the opinion - and I have expressed it here - that cartoonists sometimes submit work that is really beyond the pale - and even worse, that editors who should know better, decide to print them.. Typical was the brouhaha created by a clearly anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in the Chicago Tribune in June of 2003 about which I wrote several pieces beginning with one on June 3, 2003. And there have been others in other American papers that I have mentioned on this site. Cartoons that should never have appeared in the first place.

Having said all that , I am both appalled and yet not that surprised at the growing violent reaction to the use of the imagined countenance of the "Prophet Mohammed" in cartoons that have now appeared in a number of European newspapers. There probably were other ways that the cartoonist or cartoonists could have conveyed the stories they were trying to tell through their art, but now it seems that they selected precisely the right series of cartoons to tell their stories because the reactions of hundreds of thousands of madmen around the world have validated the truth of their selections.

These are people perfectly happy to open the pages of their Arabic and other Muslim newspapers and see cartoons depicting Israeli and non-Israeli Jews as every possible kind of devil responsible for every kind of evil that has ever befallen mankind. They see nothing wrong with it. Huge numbers of them probably believe that it’s all absolutely true. The Jewish reaction is virtually non-existent to these kinds of artistic canards that appear in the Islamic press. What would be the point? We’re dealing with madness here.

But there is strong reaction when any cartoon of this nature appears in any part of the western press. Angry letters - and blogs - are written. Calls are made. Official protests are launched. And often there are apologies offered. But can you imagine bands of Jews covering their faces with masks and gathering by the thousands in the streets of major world cities firing rounds into the air from their Uzis before they lose patience with that form of benign expression and take to setting foreign Embassies on fire? What a series of cartoons that would make!!

I’m sure that they didn’t plan to set the law of unintended consequences in motion, but the authors of the dozen offending cartoons have nonetheless achieved that result and in so doing may have done us all a favor. Through the reaction their work has elicited, they have brought into crystal clear focus the clash of Western and Islamic cultures, the outcome of which may well determine the future of the human race.

We have our fair share of religious nuts in the western world, but it’s only a handful of fundamentalist Christians who think it’s their duty to kill doctors who perform abortions and only a handful of Hassidic Jews who think it’s perfectly OK to open fire on a crowd of Arabs who are "intruding" on their "holy" land. So far, we don’t have any of these kinds of religious nuts running any of the western nations.

But in the world of Islam, we don’t even need to have countries ruled by a bunch of crazed Ayatollahs. We don’t need multiple Irans. The reaction of Muslims anywhere and everywhere to any kind of joke, criticism, mockery or disagreement with their entrenched religious beliefs is as you see it unfolding in country after country - from those with dominant Islamic populations - to western nations like France and England.

I have heard people calling in to radio talk shows who don’t think that the riots and the burning of buildings belonging to governments of "offending" nations represent a problem as serious as I and many others think they do because "there are more than a billion Muslims world wide, and only a "few thousand" are demonstrating and rioting and causing death." Well I don’t know if the number of crazed rioters is a few thousand or a few hundred thousand, but the fact that it may only be a small fraction of the world’s Muslim population doesn’t mean that it doesn’t represent the emergence of as serious a problem as the world has had to face in modern history. Playing the percentage numbers game to make it look like less of a problem than it is would be like saying that only a few hundred or maybe a few thousand people watched the super bowl because those are the numbers of people that ratings companies need to know for sure that watched in order to determine the actual number of viewers - estimated at over one hundred million.

The way I see it, these crazed reactions which have yet to show any signs of slowing down, are a wake up call - TO and not from a nightmare - and we’d better figure out how to manage or deal with it pretty damned quick - because it’s not going away and it’s getting more nightmarish every day.