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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

There I was, looking for THE GOOGLE on the INTERNETS because I wanted to check on international news, when I came upon international interest in our new approach to international and domestic diplomacy. It’s the "I didn’t say what I said" doctrine of calculated confusion. First it was the President saying that we’ve never been about "Stay The Course." Now it’s the Vice-President saying that he’s all for waterboarding to get information out of detainees who we think are bad guys - right before saying that he never said that!!

Well - the Guardian sure believed that he said that - and they believed it from way on the other side of the Atlantic. And if they believed it, what must the world’s terrorist population be thinking? First the President says we’re not about what we’ve been about for three and a half years and then his number two man says waterbaording’s a no brainer to get information from the bad guys but we - and he - do not approve of torture.

What should the terrorist believe of this new phase in the semantic war. Antics with Semantics I call it. Well, for one thing, they might take heart in what the President said the other day about winning!! He said we were winning the war against terrorists. But under the newly introduced doctrine of "I never said that" - or, if you want to put it another way - as Harry Reid said on the Ed Schultz show some time ago - whatever the President says, believe the opposite - they might assume that he was admitting defeat. "We’re winning" could be code for "we’re cutting and running."

As for MRS Cheney, I have no idea what to make of her contribution to this confusing new policy. In her interview with Wolf Blitzer the other night, she was asked about books she had written and whether or not they contained any sexually explicit passages. The context was the Virginia Senate race and George Allen’s campaign trying to smear Jim Webb because of works of fiction that he wrote years ago that included sexual material. (What a shock. Sex in a book? What next? Kids as wizards?)

Anyway, here’s Mrs. Cheney’s response - taken from the transcript linked above.

Jim Webb is full of baloney. I have never written anything sexually explicit. His novels are full of sexual explicit references to incest, sexually explicit references — well, you know, I just don't
want my grandchildren to turn on the television set. This morning, Imus was reading from the novels, and it — it's triple-X rated
She of course was speaking in the Bush administration "new speak." The descriptions of sexual activities that are in her book may not have been "explicit" - but you can read what she did write right here. There’s 125 pages to wade through, so maybe it would be easier just to click on this review.

I tell you folks, you just never know where you might end up when you start looking for THE GOOGLE on the INTERNETS.

Or in other media!!

When I opened my paper yesterday, I was reminded of the reason why there is no way that I would ever become or allow myself to be classified as a registered Democrat or Republican.

I was reminded by a picture of our senior Senator, Dick Durbin - and my Representative, Jan Schakowski - both all smiles - standing next to and presumably campaigning for - one Todd Stroger for President of the Cook County Board.

For anyone not familiar with Cook County, Illinois politics, the link above will provide a background for these comments - and this one - though not as current, gives - pardon the mixed metaphor - a flavor of the smell of this particular political race.

Through secrecy and back room dealings, the son of the severely disabled - and now retired President of the Board, John Stroger - was installed as the Democratic candidate for the job. In Cook County, that’s virtually the equivalent of an assured election - but may not be this time around.

Forest Claypool, a member of the County Board who ran against John Stroger in a Democratic primary and came within a whisper of defeating him - in a logical world should have been selected by the back room boys who picked young Todd as the Democratic candidate for County Board President in the general election next week. To his credit, Claypool has declined to endorse the interloper - but the rest of the Democratic hierarchy - the above mentioned Senator and Representative - and a whole flock of other elected Democratic officials, including Chicago mayor Richard M Daley, who is making sounds like a man ready to run for a sixth term and needs the support of the black vote against one or more likely black challengers - are falling over each other to endorse the illegitimate candidacy of the son of the father in a quid pro quo frenzy of political partisanship.

Congressman Bill Lipinski did something similar a couple of years ago - winning a Democratic primary and then stepping aside so that the Democratic party could the name his son Dan as the candidate to replace him on the ticket. But the Stroger case is worse. He has been nominated to inherit his father’s kingdom - the Illinois County of Cook with a three billion dollar budget - a population bigger than 30 states and 80 countries - and a patronage army big enough to go to war and defeat some of those 80 countries!!!

The whole affair is a disgrace. I’m not saying that the Democrats are any worse than the Republicans when it comes to blind partisan endorsement of a fellow party member - but this one is particularly egregious - and the sort of thing that’s high on the list of reasons why I could never be an acknowledged "member" of any political party. I have already voted - absentee this time around - for Democrats, for Republicans and for one Green Party candidate.

Needless to say, Mr. Stroger was not among my selections for political office.

Friday, October 27, 2006
With Apologies to John Milton….

Could this have been the week? Could this have been the moment when all thinking Americans, whether they be Republican, Democrat or Independent finally arrived at the same conclusion? That there is no credibility left in the Bush White House?

Probably not. Some supporters of this President - died-in-the-wool Republicans and others, will continue to support him out of blind dedication to their political ideals. To them, it wouldn’t matter if he stood before the nation and admitted that he played hooky when he was supposed to be performing military service for his country - and threw in an apology to Dan Rather along the way.

But ask the question this way. What would you think of a President who professed to be a born again Christian and who laced speech after speech with Biblical references and ended each speech with an appeal for the Almighty to bless all within earshot - and then, when asked one day if he thought he was doing God’s will, answered that he didn’t believe in God? That he’d never believed in God. Whatever made you think that he believed in God? He never said any such a thing.

You’d think he had lost his marbles - or was drunk - or had just revealed himself as a bald faced liar.

Well, that’s what Mr. Bush did last Sunday on This Week with George Stephanopoulos . As far as I could tell, he wasn’t drunk. He seemed to be about as sane as usual. So one has to conclude that when he spoke those immortal words about our Iraq strategy - "We’ve never been stay the course George" - he had made a calculated decision to lie in front of the nation. . To deny that he had ever said, over and over ad nauseum - that the very core of our Iraq strategy was to "stay the course!!" Even though the words are everywhere. On film. On videotape. On audio tape. On thousands of pages of print. Stay the course. Stay the course. If you caught MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann a couple of nights ago, you saw maybe thirty clips of the President in different settings saying just those words.

It is truly astonishing. Anyone who has been watching and listening to Mr. Bush speak of the Iraq disaster for the past three and a half years knows that - at least as far as this one issue is concerned - the man lives in a fantasy world - and pulls others into it with him. He believes what he wants to believe - or tries to convince us to believe what he wants us to believe. And now he wants us to believe that there has never been the strategy that he has articulated over and over again for months on end that we will "stay the course" until we have achieved "victory."

Speaking of which, at Wednesday’s press conference, the President provided us with another Orwellian moment by assuring us that we are "winning." Winning what and against whom wasn’t clear to me - but if he was talking about the Herculean task of pacifying Iraq and persuading the diverse groups there to form and live in a democracy - he is truly living in La La Land.

But then, as George Costanza (Jason Alexander) once said to Jerry Seinfeld , who was about to take a lie detector exam - "Remember Jerry, if you believe it, it isn’t a lie!!"

Hopefully, the Democrats will achieve a majority in the House and perhaps the Senate on November 7 and be able to provide some balance to the nonsense that the President continues to spout - but that doesn’t detract from the very scary prospect of him remaining in office for two more years of telling us that black is white, good is bad and whatever he says is no longer operative once he says that never said it. And this is the leader of the free world.

A second person who surely lost all credibility this past week - if indeed he ever had any, is the leading right wing radio ranter and raver, Rush Limbaigh. And again, as with the devout supporters of Mr. Bush, I have to acknowledge the reality that many of Limbaugh’s devout listeners will listen to his most outrageous lies and invented facts - and accept them as truth, even in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary

But his comments about Michael J Fox either "faking" his Parkinson’s Disease or being "off his medication" while recording a commercial in support of a political candidate who agrees with him on the need to conduct embryonic stem cell research, was beyond being beyond the pale.

Limbaugh the egotist isn’t satisfied with being on the radio. He insists on having a "web cam" so that his ditto-head fans can watch him perform on the Internet. And perform he did while making his astonishing attack on Fox - doing an imitation of a Parkinson patient with uncontrollable facial and body movements - typical of a medicated and very likely over medicated Parkinson patient. Limbaugh, as usual, didn’t bother to obtain any factual information about the disease. Like Mr. Bush, he makes up his own facts. He’s been doing it for years. Go to google and type in "Limbaugh Lies" and take your pick from the links that pop up. And those are sites of people who bother to record some of his outlandish fabrications.

If this excuse for a human being had bothered to think for a few seconds before launching his attack against Mr. Fox and asked one of his lackeys to do something as simple as a quick search on the Internet, he might have found this site - and scrolling down the page would have found what any doctor could have told him - maybe the doctors who prescribe Viagra for Limbaugh but have their own names on the prescription to "protect his privacy."
Long-term use of levodopa in PD often leads to dyskinesias, or unwanted and uncontrolled movements. Dyskinesias appear as writhing, shaking, or twitching movements that may involve a small or large part of the body. Early in the disease, lowering the dose of levopoda can help control dyskinesias, but later on, the lower dose leads to significant loss of movement. Balancing the control of symptoms with the control of dyskinesias is a difficult and frustrating challenge for both patient and physician.
On only my second post on this blog back in April, 2003, after I’d posted a brief "hello" to the blogosphere, I wrote a short piece titled Shut Up Limbaugh!! Three years ago I’d had enough of this moron. You can imagine how I feel today. I can only hope that one day he will end up being exposed for what he is before the entire nation as was Joseph McCarthy on June 9, 1954 when Joseph Welch destroyed the Wisconsin Senator with words that I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me paraphrasing here, substituting "Limbaugh" for "Senator" - because if he was alive and had the opportunity, I’m sure he wouldn’t hesitate to use them again.
"Until this moment Mr. Limbaugh I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness" and . "Let us not assassinate this lad further, Mr. Limbaugh. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency."?
I doubt it Mr. Welch. Not now. Not ever.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
A Letter From Thom Hartmann….

The other day, writing about Air America’s filing of chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, I referred to a past prediction of mine that it would fail - and said that I hoped I was wrong.

That prompted a response from am old colleague of minE, a rock-ribbed conservative, who said that those sentiments proved that I was an avowed lefty rather than the independent voter and thinker that I’ve been for most of my adult years. This is someone who thinks that Air America represents some kind of liberal lunatic fringe. There’s nothing I could say that would convince him otherwise, so I don’t try. I would imagine he thinks that Rush Limbaugh represents mainstream America.

But maybe he’ll read the following. It’s an e-mail that Thom Hartmann sent to people like me - and he expresses the meaning and the need for Air America far better than I could, so I’m sitting back and letting him write my blog for me today:

There are times when doing the profitable thing is also doing the right thing.

That's certainly what Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch thought when they lost an average of $90 million a year for about five years before the Fox News Channel became profitable. It's what Reverend Moon believes, as his Washington Times newspaper lost hundreds of millions of dollars and, according to some reports, even today continues to lose money. And its what the people who have made Air America Radio possible - names you probably wouldn't recognize because they've invested millions of their own money but don't seek the limelight - believe.

Each of these endeavors hit nail-biting times.

In Murdoch's early days building News Corp. (which then helped fund Fox News), as The Hollywood Reporter noted in a 2005 article;
Corporate expansion and the stock market crash of 1987 conspired to create a financial crisis for Murdoch in 1990, when News Corp. reported revenue of $6.7 billion and saw more than $7 billion in debt come due. With News Corp. shares plummeting from $24 to $8 as a result of the Black Monday crash and Murdoch's buying sprees continuing unabated, creditors became nervous. A refinancing plan was put in place, but at the last minute, one small bank in Pittsburgh refused to go along with the scheme, demanding repayment of a $10 million loan.

That $10 million loan nearly caused the entire collapse of News Corp.: An extraordinary race against time ensued in which Murdoch and his financial advisers struggled to convince the company's 100-plus creditors to agree to a deal by which they would all be paid at the same time. Only at the eleventh hour did the Pittsburgh bank capitulate, to Murdoch's great relief.

The mogul managed to get through the ordeal without parting with substantial blocks of stock, which likely would have forced him to lose control of the company he created (a fate that befell his rival, Turner). At one point, though, Murdoch reportedly did have to sign over as security personal assets, including his New York penthouse.

There was, however, a happy ending (for Murdoch), which helped fund the money-losing Fox News Network:
Today, the studio and the Fox owned-and-operated stations are News Corp.'s cash machines.

Brit Hume noted, in a 1999 interview with PBS;
This operation loses money. It doesn't lose nearly as much as it did at first, and it's -- well, it's hit all its projections in terms of, you know, turning a profit, but it's - it will lose money now, and we expect for a couple more years. I think it's losing about $80 million to $90 million a year.

This is not, of course, to celebrate losing money. It's just a demonstration of the old truism that sometimes "it takes money to make money." And sometimes it takes money to make a difference in the world, as well.

While Fox News and The Washington Times have devoted themselves to promoting the interests of America's most wealthy, most of the programming of Air America Radio has been committed to discussions of labor, the middle class, and holding up the founding ideals of this nation. These were best expressed by America's first liberal president, George Washington, when he said: "As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality."

Liberal or conservative, the nation has often moved as its media has moved.

Rupert Murdoch's investment in Fox News not only produced profits for him, it changed America. As Richard Morin noted in The Washington Post on May 4, 2006, in an article titled: "The Fox News Effect"
"Fox News convinced 3 to 8 percent of its audience to shift its voting behavior towards the Republican Party, a sizable media persuasion effect,' said Stefano DellaVigna of the University of California at Berkely and Ethan Kaplan of Stockholm University.

In Florida alone, they estimate, the Fox effect may have produced more than 10,000 additional votes for Bush -- clearly a decisive factor in a state he carried by fewer than 600 votes."
Similarly, Air America Radio may have had a significant effect in awakening people across the United States to positive liberal alternatives to the conservative vision of Fox and Bush. In a democracy, which depends on a vital and ongoing exchange of free ideas for its survival, this is essential.
It's a tragedy that for the lack of an investor the size of Rupert Murdoch Air America is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. But its existence and ongoing presence in the marketplace is an essential part of the dialogue that is known as democracy.

In a letter about Shay's Rebellion, which some argued was incited by newspapers, Thomas Jefferson wrote:
"The people are the only censors of their governors; and even their errors will tend to keep them to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs, through the channel of public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people.

The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide, whether we should have a government without newspapers, ore newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers, and be capable of reading them."

Had radio existed in 1783, Jefferson would have probably expressed similar sentiments about it. As Jefferson wrote in 1786 to his close friend Dr. James Currie, "Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost."

But ever since Ronald Reagan stopped enforcing the Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1881, leading to an explosion of acquisitions and mergers, and Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996, leading to an even more startling concentration of media in a very few hands, freedom of the press in America has become as much a economic as a political issue. This is problematic, because no democracy can survive with only one voice in the media.

Back in the years when I often visited Russia, the well-work joke that everybody knew had to do with the names of the two biggest newspapers, Pravda and Izvestia. "Pravda" is a Russian word that translates as "truth" and "Izvestia" means "news." The joke every Russian can recite from memory is: "There’s no news in Pravda, and no truth in Izvestia."

As Russians well learned, single-party-news is corrosive to democracy. Jefferson made his comment about newspapers being vital to America just at the time he was being most viciously attacked in the newspapers. The core requisite of democracy is debate. When there's only a single predominant voice in the media, American democracy itself is at greatest risk.

Losing the voices of Air America would harm this nation, just as much as would losing the voices of conservative talk radio.

We need them all to really be America

Monday, October 23, 2006

Mike Malloy was back on the air the other day, filling in for Jerry Springer while Jerry continued to make a fool of himself on "Dancing With The Stars." As I wrote here on August 21, 2006, I am no fan of Mr. Malloy. I consider him a left wing doppelganger of any one of the right wing radio ranters and ravers.

However, he did say something during his fill-in time with which I can agree. Speaking of the problems in Iraq and elsewhere that have a basis in religion, he spoke of these situations as being crazy and. going a little further - opined that all religion is crazy.

Although I would concede that religion at times serves a useful purpose - for example it brings, for believers - a sense of order to what is essentially the chaos of existence. But as a brief historical review reveals, it causes far more damage than good.

As a small example, witness the chaos that religion has brought to what was once one of the most civilized countries on earth - the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales.

England - the land of my birth - is a nation that has an official religion - as I have noted here before. The reigning monarch is always - among other titles - "defender of the faith." Despite this hint of theocratic governance, it has been, in the modern era - a nation that is tolerant of minority views and minority religions. The Jews were kicked out by Edward 1 in 1290 and it took more than three centuries before Oliver Cromwell let them start coming back - but no religious persecution of that magnitude - wholesale expulsion - has taken place in that country for the last four hundred years.

In recent times, England has been one of the most open societies on earth. Their homogenous society - unlike our "nation of immigrants" - opened its borders to people of all races and religions. People flocked to England precisely because of the freedoms the country offered to them. They came by the millions to settle in

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,--
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England
Sorry about that. From Shakespeare’s King Richard the Second, Act 2, Scene 1. I just like to read the words. They remind me of the England that was.

Unfortunately, many of the millions who came to "this earth of majesty," weren’t similarly moved. To them, England represented no more than a land to which they could transfer themselves, their culture and their religion - but continue to live as though they had never left their countries of origin. And to its shame - and now, more and more to its regret - England went along with it.

I’ve written about it from time to time in this blog. Probably the first time was when I commented - almost, but not quite tongue-in-cheek - on "Bobbies in Turbans." It’s there on the left of the screen if you want to click on it. And it’s been going downhill in the mother country ever since - culminating of course with the British born Pakistani descendants attacking their fellow citizens on England’s "9/11" - July 7, 2005.

I don’t know whether or not the current case of "in your face" expressions of religious defiance of normally accepted behavior will be any kind of a turning point in the way this kind of thing is handled - by various authorities and by the public in general - but I sure hope so. If it’s smoothed over - if the incident passes without establishing some standards to which all citizens must be held - then there may be no turning back from the slippery slope on which England is descending into a parody of what it once was.

When I attended school in England - at one of its prestigious "public" (very private) schools, there was a dress code. I had to wear a black jacket and striped pants. Teachers were also appropriately dressed. Anyone showing up like this -

covered from head to foot with only the eyes visible to identify the vision as a humanoid - probably wouldn’t have been allowed to set foot on the premises.

Now we have someone working as a teacher of young children who thinks it’s perfectly all right to impose an "in-your-face" aspect of her religion on the kids in her classroom and on everyone else at her place of employment. By covering her face and every other part of her body.

This is beyond ridiculous and has nothing to do with "religious freedom." What next? The right to sacrifice a goat in the middle of the street at 6 o’clock every Friday? How about religious courts condemning women to death by stoning for committing adultery? Hey, why not? If it’s a religious custom. Shouldn’t that be protected?

I’m glad to see members of Parliament beginning to take a stand on this sort of thing. I just hope that they persists and take a strong enough stand before the trend becomes irreversible.

Since Cromwell gave the O.K for Jews to come back to England after centuries of exile, they’ve lived in harmony with the Christian population - hardly noticed at all. Oh, occasionally you might see an ultra-orthodox Jew wearing a yalmuke in public - but that’s about it. No more intrusive than the same sort of headdress worn by catholic bishops. And there aren’t many of them. With a history that goes back centuries, there are still less than 300,000 Jews in Britain. But with its open border policies, this once homogenous nation has acquired a Muslim population in excess of one and a half million - and growing!!

There’s nothing wrong with that statistic per se. People should be allowed to practice any religion they feel comfortable with - whether people like me think religious belief is crazy or not. I’m sure they think I’M the crazy one. But religion is something that should be practiced in private and/or with ones co-religionists. Freedom to practice a religion of ones choice should not include the right of its practitioners to impose it on the rest of the society in which they live.

The powers that be in the U.K. made the mistake of allowing just that to happen in the name of tolerance and religious freedom. They allowed it to eat away at the very fabric of what it meant to be English - and now they suddenly realize the danger in the increasing audacity and the creeping influence of Islamic life and Islamic practices on the British body politic. I’m not sure what they can do about it without looking too much like the thirteenth century realm that persecuted British Jews. But if they back away from confronting this problem - as they have done so many times in the past - then the battle will be lost - as will the meaning of the old refrain - "There’ll Always Be an England."

Friday, October 20, 2006

It’s that season of the year again - when we celebrate our democracy and when, for many of us, our emotions are torn in two directions. Pride at our way of life and our system of government - and disgust, at the manner in which candidates vying with each other to be part of that government, try to persuade we the voters to elect them

The disgust is in reaction to what has become probably the number one campaign weapon of the modern age - the "attack ad." Rather than trying to explain to voters why they should vote for a candidate, these are the ads that tell you why you should never ever vote for the candidate’s opponent. Do so at your peril. This a candidate who would open our borders and let anyone in - and who would immediately extend full citizenship rights to all undocumented aliens already here. This is a candidate who voted him/herself huge raises and pensions while voting against increasing the minimum wage and protecting workers pensions. This is a cut and run candidate. This is a lie and die candidate. This candidate is pro torture and for disbanding habeas corpus for ever. This candidate is for extending full rights to terrorists caught in the act of destroying all of us in a single blow. And on and on ad nauseum.

And of course all of the ads are either outright lies or tortured distortions. Whether they’re from a Democratic or Republican candidate. The third party candidates seem able to stay away from such garbage. Maybe because they don’t have the funds to create such ads and buy the air time.

But the worst part of this onslaught of negativity is that it appears to work - or so we are told by political campaign experts. And this says a great deal more about the voting public than about the candidates and their advisors. It says that some of us - enough of us to affect the outcome of an election - are idiots. We can be persuaded to vote against someone because we are being fed lies about them over and over. Witness the defeat of Senator Max Cleland a Vietnam veteran - triple amputee - who was portrayed by his opponent as being "soft" on the war on terror and using television commercials linking his image to pictures of Osama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Joseph Goebbels would have been proud. Remember his philosophy?
"People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it."
Even worse than this aspect of election campaigns is what will happen on election day itself. On November 7, 2006, we - the nation that prides itself on being the world’s leading democracy - indeed the epitome of democratic governance - will demonstrate it by turning out in lesser numbers than 138 other nations where citizens are allowed to vote for their government. Togo has a better voter turn out than we do! So does St. Vincent and The Grenadines!!

Of course there may be some small advantage to the thought that the majority of eligible voters who do exercise their franchise are the most responsible of citizens who consider what candidates do and say very carefully before making their decision. But that hopeful thought soon goes out the window when one recalls the outcome of the last two presidential elections.

Speaking of Democracies - one country that is frequently linked to us because of our shared democratic values, is the nation of Israel - the only democracy in the Middle East. Some have described Israel as being almost a 51st state. Some have suggested that it become our 51st state!!

We could learn some things from Israeli politics - particularly what it is that persuades voters to turn out in proportionally larger numbers than us. They are the 35th highest on the list of voter turn out by country - as opposed to our 139th position.

On the other hand, it seems that Israel is learning from and beginning to emulate us in their politics. They may or may not have an Israeli version of Mark Foley or Bob Ney or Tom DeLay - but they have one politician who makes Bob Packwood look like a rank amateur.

If all the stories about him are true, Israeli President Moshe Katsav could be headed for the hoosegow for his illegal sexual dalliances. Now how much more American can you get than that??

For the moment, Moshe is denying everything - but if/as more information comes out and gets confirmed by more and more of his alleged victims, I wouldn’t be surprised if he checks in to a local rehab facility - to be followed by stories about being abused by a priest as a child. Hey - it could have happened. There are priests to be found in Israel. For sure in Jerusalem. Maybe one of them befriended him and screwed up his entire life - just the way it did for Foley.

All I can say is that he’d better not try for a Rabbi abuse excuse. I must have heard a thousand Rabbi jokes in my time - including jokes about the Rabbi, the Priest and the Protestant clergyman - and in none of them was the Rabbi a Gay Rabbi.

Speaking of gay anything - Michael Rogers, the openly gay reporter, is creating something of a sensation with his public "outing" of closet gay Republicans - his most recent victim being Senator Larry Craig of Idaho.

It occurred to me that someone needs to start a companion blog to out closet anti-Semites. My nomination for the first such bigot to be fully exposed would be Mel Gibson. Yes, yes, I know he’s already revealed himself, but he’s also traveling all over the map to find excuses and explanations for saying things that "he really didn’t believe."

It must be torture for the poor guy. How liberating would it be for an outing blog to reveal irrefutable evidence of his bigotry, so that he could come out an tell the world at the top of his voice - It’s true. I hate Jews. My father taught me to hate Jews. They are Christ killers. They killed my Lord. It’s a goddamned lie that my Lord was a Jew. He was the first Christian. The Jews are responsible for everything bad in the world. Osama Bin Ladin is a Jew. Saddam Hussein is a Jew. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a Jew.

There Mel. Tell the truth. Doesn’t that feel better?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Most of the time, I take pride in my uncanny ability to make accurate predictions about coming events. I’ve made many such predictions in this blog which you could find easily by going back to its beginnings and reading for a few hours. I’m too modest to point them out myself.

But I’m not terribly proud of my predictions about Air America Radio which have become at least partially true with its filing for bankruptcy protection last week. I say "partially" because by no means has Air America failed as I predicted it probably would back on October 15, 2003 - before it was ever launched - when it was still in the planning stage!!

Six months later, on April 16, 2004, I was asking the question - "Will Air America Survive?"

A year after that, on April 20, 2005, I speculated that Air America didn’t need to survive because Jon Stewart and The Daily Show was weapon enough to expose all the nonsense flowing from the Bush administration and from right wing punditry. I was only half serious. The Daily Show is on cable and not everyone has cable. On the other hand, Air America isn’t in every radio market - so there are people who probably aren’t capable of watching/listening to either one!!

And then on August 3, of this year, I wrote a general critique of "progressive" radio.

Air America of course has not "failed." It ran short of money to continue to finance the over ambitious attempt to create an all day network - currently 21 hours - which was probably doomed to failure and which indeed may fail in the long run as a way to program "progressive" talk radio around the country. The right RWRARS - right wing ranters and ravers - are having a field day over the news of the Chapter 11 filing. I haven’t listened to them but I did catch a few minutes (all I can stand) of Michael Savage while I was in my car on Friday. According to this cretin - Air America "failed" because its on-the-air cast of characters had no talent!! This is the same Michael Savage who says the Mark Foley scandal was because of the kids who pursued him!! This is the same Michael Savage who says that Madeline Albright should be hanged - very likely along with all dues paying members of the ACLU, which organization he more or less accuses of being America’s fifth column. That this is an organization that would go into court to defend Savage’s right to attack it in this way is an irony lost on this moron.

But while Savage is wrong about why Air America needed to file for the protection of Chapter 11 bankruptcy, he’s half right about an absence of radio talent among its offerings. I won’t bother to repeat my critiques of mainstays Franken and Rhodes. They’re there in my previous posts all linked above. But I have no idea what the network is/was trying to achieve with shows like "Eco Talk," "Workin It," "The Time is Now" and other strange sounding shows that it offers on week-ends and can be viewed here.

It may be too late for Air America to recover or to ever become financially viable with the business plan with which they began. You’ll note on their program page, they list two items under "syndication" - which of course is the way they should have gone from the beginning. Production and syndication of individual programs - not purchasing the full broadcast day of two bit, weak signal stations - which was what landed them in bankruptcy. They owed money to Multicultural Broadcasting for time purchased on its Chicago and Los Angeles outlets when the network first started - and they’ve never paid off the debt!!

I found it kind of amusing listening to Franken talking about the bankruptcy this morning and boasting that in 60% of the markets in which he goes head to head with one RWRAR or another, he wins the ratings battle - despite - he wanted his audience to know - being on many stations with lousy signals - such as the 2500 watt day-timer, 50 miles out of Chicago, claiming to be that city’s outlet!!

"Progressive" radio will survive no matter what happens to Air America - though admittedly it has a long way to go to catch up to the number of RWRAR’s on the air. It’ll be a struggle because the program offerings first have to hurdle the barrier of station ownership - which is unlikely to be sympathetic to liberal points of view. If you don’t think that’s a problem - why else would it be that in a market like Chicago and Cook County, Illinois - about as BLUE a part of the country as you can find, you can find stations carrying the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Medved, Michael Savage and Dennis Prager - but - apart from one time program repeats on a week-end by the local Air America station - not people like Stephanie Miller or Thom Hartmann. We get Ed Schultz - but again - on the weak signal daytime station that carries some of Air America’s offerings. It makes no sense - unless I was right when I said in my October 15, 2003 post:
I predict it will fail.

It will fail because although a majority of Americans are reasonably sane and reasonably fair minded, not enough of them are likely to want to listen to hour after hour of discussion daily that focuses on a liberal perspective of events.

Not that it wouldn’t be interesting or educational or amusing. But it would lack the ingredients that have catapulted right wing radio into the stratosphere.

Rabidity. Unreasonableness. Unrelenting, vicious, blind partisanship. And freely expressed contempt and loathing for those with opposing political or philosophical views.

And it would lack the audience to whom these essential ingredients appeal. Those who believe that millions of their fellow citizens are little more than blood sucking traitors to the true America and the true American dream. And never get tired of someone telling them that, day after day.
But much as I like to see my predictions come true, I fervently hope that I’m wrong in this case.

Friday, October 13, 2006

To paraphrase that venerable character of comic strips Pogo - I see that Friday the thirteenth falls on the thirteenth this month. Not quite sure what to make of that except perhaps that Friday the thirteenth might be an appropriate day to observe that I haven’t written anything about Israel for while. And I suppose the reason I haven’t is that the news from that country and from that part of the world in general has been so damned depressing that it’s almost a topic of discussion that I want to avoid.

I’m a big supporter of Israel. Anyone who reads this blog knows that. But I can also be a critic - and when I think Israel is in the wrong, I don’t hesitate to say so. Whether or not the Israeli response to the kidnapping of IDF soldiers by Palestinians in Gaza or by Hezbollah was appropriate or made any sense from a long term strategic point of view will be debated for some time to come. - and an internal inquiry into the conduct of the war against Hezbollah is already underway in Israel. But as of this moment, Gilad Shalit is still being held by Hamas terrorists and Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are still in the hands of Hezbollah.

The thirty three day battle with Hezbollah claimed 119 IDF lives with more than 400 injured and a loss of 44 civilian lives plus more than 1,350 injured. Despite claims that Hezbollah was weakened by the conflict, it continues to exist and refuses to give up its weapons. And rocket attacks are still being launched from Gaza.

Yet now - after so much blood has been shed, we are hearing talk of what I think we all knew we would be hearing - that of ‘prisoner swaps." Perhaps the three Israeli soldiers would be released from captivity in return for prisoners being held in Israeli jails. Perhaps dozens - perhaps even hundreds of prisoners - many with blood on their hands - in return for the lives of three Israeli soldiers.

I know that Israel values the lives of its citizens dearly - in contrast to Hamas and Hezbollah who embrace a culture of death and martyrdom. I know that the families of Shalit, Goldwasser and Regev are in torment and would be willing to give almost anything to save their lives. But releasing prisoners from its jails to secure the release of its three soldiers would be the worst thing Israel could do. It would make a mockery of the assault on Gaza and on Hezbollah and Lebanon and of the deaths, injuries and material destruction suffered by both sides.

A "prisoner swap" was probably what the kidnappers had in mind when they committed their terrorist acts. It had worked in the past. Israel had even been willing to release prisoners in return for the body of an Israeli. A limited military response and a negotiated "prisoner exchange" most likely could have been accomplished - but for whatever reason - it really doesn’t matter - the choice was made to respond by launching major offensives.

No leader of a democratic nation wants to make the choice to sacrifice the lives of any of its military personal - but if Olmert agrees to swap convicted felons for the three kidnapped soldiers instead of continuing to demand their unconditional release - the assault on Gaza and on Lebanon will go down as one of the darkest moments in Israeli history.

Turning to another area of Israeli-Arab conflict, it was a sad thing to open my paper the other day and read that there has been a 40% increase in west bank military check points over the past year - and that the Jordan Valley is entirely off limits to Palestinians other than residents of the area or people who have permits to work in Israeli settlements.

I know that Israel has security concerns that we in the west perhaps can’t begin to fully understand - and the incredible difficulty of trying to make peace with a people who elect a government that swears it will never recognize you. But when I read stories like this and try to put myself in the shoes of a Palestinian who just wants to live and not join a jihad to destroy Israel, I can understand how some people are driven to such extreme measures.

And when I read how the west bank has been carved into so many separate pieces - with travel between them becoming more and more difficult, I find myself wishing that Israel would just get the hell out of the west bank and leave it to the Palestinians - Hamas - Fatah and all the rest of the mixed up factions.

The problem of course is the settlements. Left unguarded, they would be vulnerable to attack from one or more of those self same crazed Palestinian factions. And of course removing the settlements would solve nothing. It would give the crazies one less thing to claim as the reason for their madness - but the madness would continue. Witness Gaza.

Perhaps that’s why I don’t write about Israel that often - even though I sometimes go back to my post of another Friday - three years ago - on October 10, 2003, to try to convince myself that sanity could one day overtake all of the characters in this long running tragedy. It’s too much like the blog equivalent of the old joke about the ultra orthodox man who is there day after day praying at the Western Wall and who is asked what it’s like to pray there and responds - "It’s like talking to a wall!!"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Will the real John McCain please stand up? And if he does, will anyone be able to recognize him? The real McCain that is. The one that you might find if you peel away the layers of the outer McCain. The highly indignant McCain when the dirtiest of tricks are played on him by the Bush camp during a presidential primary. McCain the Bush toady - constantly at his side as he (Bush) runs for the presidency. McCain the maverick - defying his President. Or McCain the presidential wannabe.

It’s still a couple of years away from the next presidential election, but it seems to be that all the McCains are getting ready to coalesce - or have already coalesced into that last one. McCain the presidential wannabe.

The clues have been around for a long time, but McCain has a way of throwing you off the track by seeming to be on all sides of an issue. No way was he going to allow the U.S. to use torture as a weapon in our alleged "war on terror." On the other hand, it was perfectly O.K. to let his toady master interpret what was and wasn’t allowed under the Geneva Convention. All by himself.

And before that we had "McCain the Maverick" to "McCain the Conservative" flip flop. Jerry Falwell was "an agent of intolerance" just a few years ago. But in the spring of this year, the evil agent wasn’t that bad as John and Jerry decided that they would be "moving forward" together!!

By the summer of this year, even staunch Republicans were aghast at McCain’s degree of flip-flopping - and were willing to stand up and say so!!

But now the McCain that we all knew was hiding there - has been for the last six years or more - has revealed himself in full GOP colors. It’s the I want to be the Republican candidate in 2008 McCain and what better way to announce that - other than to just come right out and say it of course - than to reach down into the 14 odd year bag of Republican tricks and pull out trick number one - it’s all Clinton’s fault. Everything is/was Clinton’s fault - but specifically, the Clinton fault of the moment is the fact that North Korea appears to have tested an atomic weapon.

Everyone is talking about the event and about Kim Jong Il and what we should or could do about this new member of atomic club. But not McCain. The good Senator from Arizona is telling the world that it’s all because of what Clinton did when he was President. Ostensibly, his remarks were aimed at Hillary Rodham Clinton who had criticized the Bush North Korea policy - but we all know who the real whipping boy is when Republicans are faced with the errors of their ways. Blame it on Bill.

Not the best idea nowadays if you saw Bill manhandle Chris Wallace when Mike’s wayward son tried to hit him with a "are you still beating your wife" zinger on GOP - I mean Fox "news."

Hillary responded pretty sharply to what many are saying was an opening salvo in a possible 2008 presidential campaign - "Everyman" McCain against Mrs. Bill. I hope the pundits are wrong. That’s not a campaign that I’d be looking forward to. Maybe Bush will get a law passed to repeal the two term restriction on Presidents and decide to run again. Then the male Clinton could climb back in the ring and show us what campaigning is all about. Also how refreshing it is to have a President or a candidate for the presidency with an intellect that brings smiles - not winces - to ones expression.

Just for the heck of it, I went to the big daddy of search engines to see how the two are stacking up nowadays. Way back in October of 2003, - almost three years into the Bush presidency, I checked Google with the request to reveal "Bush lies" and "Clinton Lies." At that time the Bush lies were ahead - 1,500,000 to 749,000 - a two to one lead.

Yesterday I asked Google the same question. Unfortunately, the search giant has been too busy gobbling up piece after piece of the Internet - including Blogspot which is temporarily OFFLINE as I type - to have progressed beyond the abacus stage of computer intelligence. Star Trek’s "computer" would take less than a nanosecond to explain the "why" of the difference between the numbers that Google spilled out three years ago and the current crop. As of yesterday the number of hits for "Bush lies" was 33,600,000 - and "Clinton lies" 14,300,500. More than a two to one lead for Bush over Clinton in the prevarication department - but what an increase in numbers for both of them!! Does this say something about increased awareness among the voting population or about Google? And why would Clinton, who has been busy doing good works, sometimes in partnership with Dubya’s father - show up as telling nineteen times more lies in 2006 than in 2003??

It begins to look like a thickening plot. Ask Google about McCain flip-flops and Google can only find 125,000 references. Ask about "McCain lies" and the number jumps to 3,070,000. Which begs a question. Is a "lie" worse than a "flip-flop" or is a "flip-flop" equal to a multiple of lies??

Of course none of this matters after you get the Google answer to the question that by now must be screaming at the top of your voice. Hillary lies!! Hillary lies!! How many? In the world of Google at 11.51 a.m. Central Time - 3,760,000!!!

And so it’s settled. It’s McCain versus Hillary Clinton in 2008 and Hillary wins by 690,000 negative Googles. McCain simply flip-flopped himself clear out of contention!!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006
As one of the "evils" rotates on its axis…..

It isn’t good news when a dictatorship sets off an atomic weapon as North Korea appears to have done yesterday - but I would imagine that it is at least somewhat good news for President Bush and some Republicans who are locked in tight re-election races that could swing either way. We’re less than thirty days away from Election Day and as someone said recently - 30 days can be an eternity in an election season. The implication of such a statement is in itself scary as all get out. It says that people can be swayed this late in an election campaign - by what? By an ad? By some national or international event? It says that there are voters who are that malleable - who can be manipulated into voting one way or another in the fading hours of an election race.

That if course doesn’t include voters who change their minds about a candidate because he’s suddenly revealed as someone who has betrayed their trust. For example, some Republican leaders who may have covered up the activities of Mark Foley because their desire to stay in power was stronger than their perceived obligation to protect Congressional pages from a sexual predator.

But today, the Foley affair is off the front pages of our newspapers and likely won’t be the lead story on tonight’s newscasts - as indeed it wasn’t last night. It was the North Korean atomic test yesterday and it will be the same story today and maybe for days to come. And the perception that Republicans will spread will be that this represents a specific threat to the United States and that the way to respond to such a threat is to elect Republicans to Congress who, as we all know, are the first line of defense against an attack by that Axis of Evil nation - just as they are against all kinds of terrorists who are plotting to murder us in our beds. The Democrats of course would want to dissuade them from attacking us with warm hugs and promises of free health care.

To his credit, Mr. Bush did not wear his full sized cowboy hat nor his favorite six guns when making his statement on the North Korean action yesterday. No mention of evil axis. He did say that the test was "unacceptable" but there was no overt threat of military action. Which is just as well - because at this late date it simply isn’t a reasonable option.

It seems to me that if we can use history as a guide - including recent history - it shouldn’t take too much brain power to arrive at the conclusion that military action isn’t a response that could hope to succeed against this perceived "threat." I seem to recall a time when we were deeply involved in trying to resolve problems of the Korean peninsula by military action - albeit military action that was actually sanctioned by the United Nations. The result was what we see today. The two Koreas that were created by us and the Soviets after World War Two remaining two countries - one becoming a democracy and the other an Axis of Evil dictatorship.

A few years later, we tried to solve the problems of another divided Asian nation by military means - and that became known as the Vietnam War. A war that we - as allies of South Vietnam - lost!!

And of course three years ago, we invaded Iraq - a nation in which we are bogged down militarily and which we eventually will be forced to leave without the achievement of any "victory" though we might do the save face thing and declare victory and go home.

One would think that by this time - sixty one years after the end of the last World War - we would have learned that the military option is one that you resort to only when you have to - when another military power attacks you or an ally or when there’s absolutely no doubt that he’s about to attack you. But in other circumstances - as we should have learned from the Korean and Vietnam wars - and as - for the sake of our children and grandchildren I hope we are learning from the Iraq debacle - it is simply not a solution..

I don’t know how we or the rest of the world should deal with North Korea and whatever threat we think it poses - but here’s one idea. Maybe we should find people other than politicians to come up with answers and to deal with them. I was inspired to come up with that thought this morning after reading about an unfolding local issue that I think is typical of the way politicians create chaos out of calm.

I’ve been writing about an impending increase in local electric rates after a Commerce Commission approved the end of a 10 year rate freeze and a new way to arrive at the cost of generating power. Generating companies came up with bids to supply the power - and contracts were concluded between them and Commonwealth Edison, our local electric distributing company. Now, some of the State’s politicians have decided that maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all and they are preparing to legislate a three year extension of the recently expired price freeze.

Commonwealth Edison is crying foul. The horse is already out of the barn. The cost for the electricity they are going to bring into our homes via their wires has been locked in by contract. It’s more than they’ve been paying. If they can’t pass that increase on to their customers, they’ll go bankrupt. To which the politicians say - too bad. We have to protect the consumers. Our voters!!

Well it’s a fine idea - but being suggested at the wrong time. The time to have taken some action to continue the freeze was before it expired - not after the process of signing new contracts for energy production was allowed to go forward and be concluded.

Well, the same sort of thing has happened with North Korea. The time to have dome something about its march toward the production of atomic weapons was before it got there!! It doesn’t do a damned bit of good to stand up and say that testing atomic weaponry is "unacceptable." And it won’t do a damned bit of good to impose sanctions on what is already the most isolated country in the world. It won’t remove the atomic weapons and you can be damned sure that it won’t persuade KIM Jong IL to destroy any of them.

There is a glimmer of light coming from Bush senior’s Secretary of State James Baker, to whom Dubya may be listening or to whom he may be persuaded to listen . Baker has always said and is once again saying very publicly that it doesn’t hurt to talk to your enemies - the exact opposite of the Bush approach to foreign affairs.

For the eight years of the Clinton presidency, we talked to North Korea and they did not separate plutonium and they did not produce and test an atomic weapon. Since Bush ascended to the White House and declared his new foreign policy, they moved forward in leaps and bounds - arriving to where we are today.

We have more than two years left of the Bush presidency - two years in which to change or "stay" the Bush course of foreign policy. Towards North Korea. Towards Iran. And towards Iraq. We know that it will change when Dubya, Laura and Barney leave the White House. The only unanswered question is - how much of the world will be left toward which our changed approach to world affairs can be directed?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Here it is the end of a week of scandals and the Sunday before Columbus Day and up to now I’ve resisted the urge to say anything about Representative Mark Foley. I figured that bloggers by the thousands would be weighing in with their opinions - from the left, the right and - with apologies to Star Trek - from the neutral zone - and me adding my thoughts would just add to Blogosphere clutter. But after listening to some of the nonsensical defenses and excuses being put out by Republican politicians, right wing pundits and Foley himself, I’m afraid my resistance has been overcome.

As for the Foley excuses or inferred excuses - that he is an alcoholic and was sexually abused as a child - if the matter wasn’t as serious as it is, you might think he’s auditioning to be a writer on the Daily Show. As a matter of fact, I think they may have used a version of his "pity me" defense in one of their skits last week. The power of alcohol is truly amazing. It turned Mel Gibson into a temporary anti-Semite - and Mark Foley into a writer of - according to Tony Snow - "naughty e-mails." It boggles the mind. Incidentally, when Gibson put out his booze excuse, I couldn’t help wondering - does it mean that when Jews get drunk , they turn on themselves and each other??

But back to Foley. The guy’s a creep - there’s little argument about that. He can’t help being homosexual but he can certainly exercise judgment when it comes to sending sexually suggestive messages over the Internet. You don’t do it to kids. That’s what makes him a creep. Not using the Internet to send out sexually suggestive messages. The age of the recipients of those messages.

He did the necessary thing when he resigned. Unless the Republican voters of his district were the kind who subjugate all other considerations to party loyalty - and there are people like that - there was no way they would re-elect him once they found out what he was. If House Republican leaders knew about his activities and did nothing about it, they should have their butts kicked too. It’ll boil down to a version of Howard Baker’s bottom line about Nixon and Watergate. What did these leaders know and when did they know it?

If I’m a Democrat, I’m hoping that the stink this man has caused will help to elect Democrats in the upcoming mid-term elections. I would see no reason to crow about it and throw out accusations. An all out attack could backfire - and from what I’ve been hearing and reading from the rabid right - that’s exactly the spin they’d like to see catch on.

Since I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve tried to be objective when I make comments about politics and politicians. I do not align myself with liberal, conservative or in between bloggers - which is one of the reasons why I don’t have a column full of links to other bloggers. There are good and bad people on the left and on the right and no one party has a lock on truth or compassion or decency or patriotism. But the outgrowth of this Foley matter has shown me a difference between Republicans and Democrats that has me shaking my head in disbelief and disgust.

Perhaps you can’t blame the Republican members of Congress for scrambling to get their stories straight while they try to protect their rear ends and their re-election chances. If indeed the Republican House leaders knew about this guy and what he was doing and kept it quiet for strictly political purposes - then as I’ve said, they should get their butts kicked. But if the shoe was on the other foot - if Foley had been a Democrat - his fellow Democrats very likely would have done the same thing. Sadly, such is the nature of American politics today.

But when it comes to the business of trying to defend and excuse the behavior of one of their own, I simply cannot imagine the Democrats - politicians or pundits - acting with the same degree of reprehensibility as Republicans - to their eternal shame - are demonstrating.

First it was Hastert who, in almost the same breath, said that "the buck stops here" - but that it was the people at ABC and people funded by George Soros who wanted to see this scandal blow up!! In other words - blame Democrats!!

And of course the right wing pundits - in print, on the radio and on television have launched a frontal attack on Democrats!!! How convenient that this scandal erupts just weeks before an election, they say. The Democrats must have leaked it. The Democrats must have known about this for months - maybe years - and held back the story until now!! Of course, no Republican member of the house knew anything about it until a day or two -er, maybe a week or so - er, certainly not a month ago !!

And if that isn’t good enough for all you Republican voters out there - Foley is to be excused because Democrats have also engaged in reprehensibly sexual behavior in the past!! That makes as much sense as someone on trial for murder pleading that he should be found innocent because lots of people commit murder - but it doesn’t stop the pundits from using it to make the Foley scandal less scandalous than it is.

Democrats may have rallied around Bill Clinton during his Monica Lewinsky troubles - but I don’t recall anyone trying to defend him by reaching back to find Republican elected officials who had similar problems. I may have missed it, but I don’t recall the names of Bob Packwood or Dan Crane being raised as reasons why Clinton should be given a pass.

But all of these defenses seem mild compared to the one being used by radio hate-monger Michael Savage and others. It was the kid’s fault!!! It was all the fault of all the pages who Foley may have pursued. They were the sexual predators. They lured the gray haired Congressman on. Why before he met them - Congressman Foley was as straight as a steel plated yardstick!!

As I’ve said above, since I began writing this blog, I’ve tried to be objective in my discussions of matters political. I consider myself an independent and I will vote for whoever I think is the best candidate for a political office. In the November election for example, though I will vote to re-elect my Democratic Representative I will be voting with hope in my heart for a particular Republican candidate at the county level against a Democrat who I do not believe to be qualified.

Nonetheless, the reason that I decided to record a few thoughts on the Foley matter is because it has demonstrated to me that despite cynical observations to the contrary - there are differences between the two parties - and one of them is that when it comes to hypocrisy, Republicans can concede cards and spades (Casino) to the Democrats - and still win the hypocrites race by a country mile.

Thursday, October 05, 2006
Or just plain wrong

As readers of this blog might gather - my September 29, 2006 comments being a prime example - I don’t have much faith in beliefs that are based on blind faith. I’m much more comfortable with scientific evidence and in what is indicated by the lack of scientific evidence.

Nonetheless, I have always viewed the views of the Amazing Randi with a jaundiced eye. Randi is a professional magician who is also a self-appointed "debunker" of claims of the paranormal. He has an existing "million dollar challenge" to anyone who, subject to a set of conditions that he imposes - can prove that he or she has some paranormal power. Since he sets the rules, I guess he’ll never give away the million dollars - unless there’s a second coming of Jesus in need of a fast buck.

Probably his most famous "debunking" case was that of duplicating the spoon bending feat of Uri Geller. Geller claimed he could bend spoons through the power of mind only - I guess what you might call a paranormal power. Randi bent spoons using a simple magic trick. Well good for Randi. But did his trick debunk Geller’s claims?

I remember hearing Randi guest on a local radio talk show in Chicago and waiting for the program host to ask the obvious question. Does the fact that you can duplicate an effect that someone claims is paranormal - such as Geller’s spoon bending - prove that it is not? In other words, just because you can make water boil - or create the illusion of water boiling - through some elaborately created and performed magic trick - does that disprove anyone’s claim who does the same "trick" - that they do it through the power of their mind?

Randi and his efforts to remove all sense of mystery from our lives comes to mind because of a newspaper item I read the other day - headline - Out-of-body experiences traced to brain zaps. To me, nothing is more intriguing or mysterious than the concept of being able to "leave" ones body - thus offering some measure of proof that ones "self" can exist as a separate entity from ones body. This of course is a concept that is essential to those who believe in a "life" after death.

Now we have a bunch of party pooper scientists saying hey - it’s just some zapping going on in your brain that makes you think you’re out of your body. They’re following in the tradition of other party pooping scientists who say that people who have near death experiences - the white light and all the other trappings - are just having a spring shower going on in their brain.

I’m all for the advance of scientific knowledge and I think it’s great that doctors can zap someone’s brain and make them think that they’ve left their body - maybe floating up near the ceiling and looking down on themselves. What I think would be an even greater achievement would be if they could ask the person they’re zapping if he or she could go down to the men’s room and then come back and tell them who was there and what conversation, if any, was going on. I haven’t heard about that kind of experiment but I am aware that there are countless anecdotal stories of people having out of body experiences without the benefit of being zapped - and being able to report on happenings beyond the range of the senses of their physical bodies. Of course those are occurrences that can’t be examined by conducting double blind studies. They’re anecdotal. But that doesn’t mean they’re not true.

So I do not consider that any balloons have been burst by the findings of medical brain zappers. Like The Amazing Randi, they may have been able to duplicate a version of what humans have been experiencing and reporting anecdotally for centuries, but that doesn’t mean that the anecdotally reported experiences are not real or cannot occur without the aid of brain zapping.

While I’m not one who believes in a deity who is responsible for all that is and all that happens, I am one who believes that the totality of our knowledge about anything could perhaps fill a postage stamp size page in a set of cosmic encyclopedias - and that the number of volumes that would be required to list our ignorance cannot be expressed in understandable mathematical terms.

This year, the Nobel Prize in physics was shared by two scientists "for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation". Apparently, their "discovery" boosted understanding of and belief in the "Big Bang" theory of the origin of the cosmos.

And whenever I read of such leaps of scientific understanding, I smile, click on this link that I keep in a handy spot on my desk top, sit back, close my eyes and give thanks that in this age of party pooping medical brain zappers trying to use science to do away with the beauty of mystery, we have Eric Idle to remind us of just how wrong they most probably are.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Well I didn’t get any information about the existence of a deity on Yom Kippur - verifiable or unverifiable - so I guess I don’t have a crack at the biggest news scoop in history. Of course that could be because I didn’t confess any sins or ask anyone for forgiveness. Maybe next year.

On to more earthbound matters.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, there’s a role reversal in my house. My wife is the football fan - a serious football fan. I like to see the teams she supports win - the Northwestern Wildcats and the Chicago Bears - but that’s pretty much the extent of my interest.

Thus it was that she was watching the Bears play last Sunday while I was watching a recording of Tony Blair’s farewell speech at the Labour party’s 2006 Conference. It’s worth reading the speech - even if it doesn’t have the same impact as the way he delivered it.

The annual conferences of Britain’s political parties aren’t like our conventions - unless it’s at a time when a new party leader is being chosen and there is competition for the role. Then I would imagine there’s a similar kind of politicking and speechmaking going on. This year’s Labour Conference was a little different because it was Blair’s official swan song. Some time next year he’ll step down as leader of his party and Gordon Brown will take over as Prime Minister - assuming there hasn’t been a call for a general election before then with Labour losing it’s majority. The British system is very different from ours. The next general election must take place by 2010 - five years from the last election - but the ruling party can call for an election before that time - and probably will.

And I can’t let that last paragraph go by without wondering if the future Bush greeting to his British counterpart will change from "Yo Blair" to "You’re a heck of a Prime Minster Brownie."

Sorry, I couldn’t resists that. But it does lead into some observation I wanted to make here about some basic differences between Blair - who I’ve sometimes referred to as Bush’s lap dog - and Dubya himself - and they certainly showed up in this speech. For example, during his term in office, the Labour party legalized the right of gay people to enter into civil unions. An accomplishment that Blair referred to as "allowing something that should never have been banned." Contrast that with the convoluted way the issue is being handled in this country.

And Blair, who is reputed to be a religious man, said something guaranteed to evoke something other than a "yo" from Mr. Bush. He spoke of his desire for the U.K. to be "the world's number one place of choice for bio-science" in the next ten years, and added - "if America does not want stem-cell research - we do.

What a difference!! A man whose faith is at least as genuine as Dubya’s, not allowing it to interfere with scientific progress!! But then, Blair has no "religious right" to whom he has to pander to get him or his party members elected. Astonishing really. A country that has an official religion and a monarch who has the title of "Defender of the Faith," not having to worry about the influence of religion on political and social decisions..

I suppose it was to be expected that Blair would echo the Bush line about the so called "war on terrorism" and particularly the need to "stay the course" in Iraq - even if he didn’t use that phrase. But at least his comments about world wide terrorism were devoid of threats and overt fear-mongering. And it occurred to me that that aspect of the Bush approach to politicizing the "war on terror," is something that wouldn’t work too well in England, because unlike our political situation, Blair can’t count on having his party in lock step with him. In fact, despite the absence of a system that divides power between equal branches of government, at the moment there seems to be more diversity in government in England than there is here.

In some ways, the English system mirrors the current political situation here. All three branches of our government are under the control of the Republican party. In England, Labour is in the majority and so is in total control of the government there. But the comparison ends at that point. While Republican members of Congress have rubber stamped anything and everything that Bush does or asks for - the alleged Republican trio rebellion against legitimizing torture as an addendum to our constitution notwithstanding - Labour members of Parliament can and do hand Blair his hat when they disagree with him on a key issue. And of course he has now been handed his hat, coat and walking stick, pressuring him to step aside in favor of Gordon Brown in 2007.

Now there’s an aspect of the British system that I would like to see adopted here. No need for high crimes and misdemeanors. No need for a bill of impeachment. No peeking under White House beds to see if there are any stained blue dresses hiding under the bed boards. Just enough of your own party members to let you know that’s it’s time for you to step aside and let your number two take the reins of power for a while.

Wait a minute. In our case that would be Darth the Dick Vader. And if not him - Defender of the Pages Hastert. What am I thinking? I must be suffering from CSPAN over exposure. Maybe I should watch the Bears next time around.