What's All This Then?
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
THE SPECTRE OF SPECTER
What a hero! There he is all over our television screens saying what no other Republican elected official seems willing to say in such straightforward terms. That the President is not the sole "decider" of great issues. That the legislative branch of government is a co-equal branch. That Mr. Bush better think twice if he thinks he can do anything he wants to do.
Doesn’t that just give you a warm all over feeling? That the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee would challenge the dictatorial actions of his President and the leader of his party. What a guy!!
But wait a minute. He’s the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee. That means that before the power switch in the Senate - he was the Chairman of that committee. Yes - I distinctly remember him lecturing Ted Kennedy when the Massachusetts Senator was pushing for something during the Samuel Alito hearings and was threatening to call for "vote after vote." It went something like this.
"Well, Senator Kennedy, I'm not concerned about your threats to have votes again, again and again. And I'm the chairman of this committee and I have heard your request and I will consider it. And I'm not going to have you run this committee and decide when we're going to go into executive session."I don’t quote this to comment on the merits of what was going on between Mr. Specter and Mr. Kennedy - only to clarify what seemed to be the Pennsylvania Senator’s awareness of the degree of his power at that time. As the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
That was just a hair more than a year ago. Could it be that Specter was not yet aware of his president’s self appointed role of "the decider? As in I AM THE DECIDER!! As in "I decided to invade Iraq" or "I decided to tap the phones of the American people" or "I decided that we didn’t need habeas corpus" or "I decided that you can pass all the laws you want to but I’ll just pass out my signing statements!!"
And who’s that shaking hand with the President right after he signed the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 in March of last year - just 10 months ago? It sure looks like our hero of recent newscasts. Of course, just because he helped pass that piece of legislation and was all smiley face with Mr. Bush doesn’t mean that he wasn’t at the same time worried about the big man co-opting all the decision making of the nation.
But then you have to wonder - if it was of real concern to Mr. Specter, why didn’t he do what he had the power to do up until the election of last November? Why didn’t he or any of the Republican chairpersons of Senate and House committees - hold hearings on any actions of the Executive branch that they believed were co-opting the shared decision making rights and responsibilities of the two branches of government?
Now that Specter isn’t the one who controls the agenda of the Judicial Committee, he can make himself look brave and heroic by questioning his President’s right to be the only decision maker - albeit in a very polite manner. Not the passion of a Kennedy talking about the minimum wage bill on the Senate floor or Chuck Hagel challenging his fellow Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee to look into the eyes of their constituents and, speaking of the proposed "surge" in Iraq, telling them that "We better be damn sure we know what we're doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder."
My most lasting memory of Arlen Specter stems from his role in the Clarence Thomas hearings and of his treatment of law professor Anita Hill. who testified that Thomas had sexually harassed her when he was her boss at the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission - and had used specifically embarrassing sexual language. Specter not only treated her like a defendant on trial for murder but at one point accused her of perjury because one of the sexually explicit phrases that she said Thomas had used had been found in a book - and of course that’s where Ms Hill MUST have found the phrase - which proves that she’s a liar!!
How’s that for logic - and couldn’t you tell from that performance that here was a man who - if some day duty called - would even stand up to the President of the United States?
I’m not saying that I think Arlen Specter is being necessarily disingenuous when he lectures his president on the division of powers in government - but I’ll be more ready than some others seem to be to be impressed when he does something other than talk the talk. That would be when he joins with or maybe leads some of his colleagues in an appropriate condemnation of his president’s assault on the constitution that he twice swore to uphold.
Monday, January 29, 2007
MORE ON THE PROBLEMS OF THE NEW BLOGGER
I won’t say this as a definitive statement, but this blog may be leaving the comfort of it’s Blogger/Blogspot home and appear elsewhere in the future. It depends on a couple of things. Whether or not the "new" Blogger can sort out the bugs that are making blogging difficult for me - and whether or not I can find an appropriate host that doesn’t require me to be a computer geek.
That was one of the nice things about Blogger. You didn’t need much knowledge beyond some basic HTML. You still don’t - but it’s not the same host anymore. As I indicated below, there is a problem inserting links to past posts - something I do quite often. The link that I inserted on January 27, 2007 to a post of June 29, 2004, brought up the post of June 30, 2004. Sure, you could scroll down to the post below - but that’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
But then I went back into old posts that contained links to prior posts - and they worked properly - except for a couple that said they couldn’t be found, so I think the problem may be one that affects any new attempts to link to past posts - and as an experiment, I’m trying to do that right here with THIS link to a randomly selected post - one I wrote on November 14, 2005.
Ler's see what happens!!
Well, I saw what hapened. I tried it once and it linked to the right month - but to the last post of the month - November 30, 2005 - just as my attempt to link to a past post after switching to the "new" blogger did the other day.
I tried it a second time and it told me that the page could not be found. Maybe that's because instead of the correct address of this archive link which is
http://whatsallthisthen.blogspot.com/2005_11_01_if you look at the properties of the link - it has suddenly become
http://whatsallthisthen.blogspot.com/2005_11_01_archive.html%3Cbr%20/3E#113198329845830488#113198329845830488.How "%3Cbr%29/%3E" found its way into the address is anyone's guess!!
(UPDATE ON JANUARY 31, 2007)
A friendly member of the Blogger Help Group is trying to help me sort out all this confusion and pointed out that my archived posts have a double set of numbers in their address. - that is, the number portion of the address is repeated twice. How this happened I have no idea, but I played around with it and here’s an example of the additional confusion that I discovered.
I picked a random post date - July 5, 2005 and clicked on a link to a previous post of May 7, 2003. It came up just as it’s always done in the past and its address in the tool bar included only one set of numbers.. But if I clicked on the date at the bottom of this post, a double set of numbers appeared in the address and my screen jumped from the May 7 post to the last post of May - the 29th. I tried the same thing a second time and the same double set of numbers appeared - but this time it didn’t jump to the last day of the month. The part of the post that was visible just sat there staring at me.
One other thing I discovered was that if I went into the tool bar of any such double numbered post address and removed the second set of numbers and hit "enter" - the post would fill my screen from the post title and date on down.
Maybe I won’t insert any links to past posts for a while. That’s one way to avoid confusion but a little bit like throwing out the baby with the bath water. Maybe if someone can figure out why my post addresses have two sets of identical numbers and how to get rid of the second set, Blogger might act as normally as it did before I made the mistake of switching to the new version.
In the meantime - so much for improvements. Blogger giveth and Blogger taketh away- and it's my feeling that there's more taking than giving for bloggers like me
Saturday, January 27, 2007
BEWARE THE BETA GOOGLE BLOGGER
Two and a half yeas ago, I wrote a piece here titled Beware the Google Juggernaut. (If you want to read it, you'll have to scroll to the second item on the page that pops up. I'll explain in a minute.) I’ve written about Google on several occasions, but that particular title from June 29, 2004 seems an appropriate one to recall as I once again make some comments concerning the Internet’s leading search engine.
A while back - I don’t recall the exact date - Google acquired Blogger - mine host for this and very likely millions of bloggers world wide. I guess they made a few changes - but none of them affected me and the service remained free of charge. That was all true until last Friday. On that day I decided to take advantage of the new "beta" Blogger service, to which I was urged to change every time I signed in to this blog site. I finally decided to do it because I learned that all Blogger blogs would eventually be converted to the new system and because the information being presented about the new service assured bloggers that nothing about our blogs would be changed except that there would be all kinds of neat features that we’d be able use.
Switching was easy. Just a few clicks and there it was - this blog in beta format - whatever that’s supposed to mean. Except that it didn’t look quite the same. Not with four plus years of archives gone. The layout was the same. My current blog posts were the same. But my long list of archived posts had disappeared.
I immediately went to the Blogger help pages and spent a frustrating hour or so trying to find out how to revert to the old Blogger format or how to retrieve my lost archives. It was the kind of experience that could drive a teetotaler to drink. There is no place on any of the many pages devoted to "help" that allows one to send a question to Blogger or to Google about a problem. Instead, one is presented with a dizzying variety of frequently asked questions and "known issues" and specific problems with suggested answers or remedies on screen. If none of this array of on screen material covers the problem you’re trying to solve - you’re out of luck.
In desperation, I sent an e-mail to email@example.com hoping that kind of address might reach someone. And indeed I received a reply from firstname.lastname@example.org as follows:
Thank you for writing to Google. We'd like to assist you, but we only respond to messages submitted through our online contact form. Please visit http://www.google.com/support/ to submit your message, and we'll get back to you soon. We apologize for any inconvenience, and we look forward to hearing from you.But of course http://www.google.com/support only leads one to another page filled with topics from which I selected "Blogger" which led me back to the aforementioned pages of FAQ’s, Known Issues and the like - with no way to submit any message to which anyone from the Google Team could respond. With an earlier version of Blogger, there was a way to submit a question directly to the Blogger or Google "Team" if none of the information on their help pages answered your question. But not with the "improved" version. If you can’t find an answer on any of the help pages, you’re on your own!!
Fortunately, I was able to find a discussion of this problem on line - and one computer savvy person, faced with the same problem - had solved it - as I was then able to do by putting a particular script on my template where my archives used to be. And as you can see, my archives are right there to the left of the screen - somewhat different looking from the way they looked before they disappeared - but available to read - with one drawback. I can no longer link to a particular day's post. If I insert a link to June 1 - any year - what will pop up will be the last post from the month of June. In other words, the month will pop up but not the specific post to which I've inserted a link
But at least there's a way to have the archives available and if you’ve run into the same problem, maybe this will help you. I got it from this site. It’s from a Blogger Help Group - made up of individual Blogger users.
I guess we have to be thankful for these people - struggling to help each other in the absence from any needed help from the Blogger or Google Teams. But maybe that’s what we have to expect from a Juggernaut - too busy gobbling up chunks of the Internet to actually have to the time to receive and reply to e-mails from bloggers with problems.
Friday, January 26, 2007
OBAMA BASHING PICKING UP STEAM
O.K. Let’s get the real "bad" Obama stuff out of the way. He is perhaps overly committed to the Democratic party. Along with Dick Durbin, he signed a letter urging Cook County Illinois voters to support one Todd Stroger to "inherit" his disabled father’s position as President of the Cook County Board. Take a look at what I wrote about the Stroger affair - although not the Durbin/Obama letter - I hadn’t received it when wrote this piece on October 31, 2006 - second item. And he has just endorsed Rich Daley to become Chicago’s mayor for a sixth term. Daley is supporting Obama over Hillary, so despite what Obama says about the wonderful accomplishments of the long time mayor - and all the effort he is making to root out city hall corruption, currently under investigation by the Feds, with convictions under their belt and indictments piling up - there’s an obvious quid pro quo at work here. And another local embarrassment concerns a Democratic fund raiser with whom Obama was friendly, who owns a lot next to Obama’s house and who is now under indictment for allegedly getting kick backs from investment firms seeking state business.
We’d like to have a presidential candidate who is above and doesn’t get involved in local or regional party politics - but that might be asking too much. Even Hillary, with all of the money that she’s expected to be able to raise, needs party support to win the states she would have to win - so as much as we’d like to have a candidate who can condemn as well as endorse members of his own party - it ain’t going to happen unless we’re talking about a convicted murderer or rapist or some other kind of felon.
Obama has yet to announce, but already his effort is being dismissed by people who wouldn’t vote for a Democrat for president if he was running unopposed!! I won’t bother with the Madrassa smear. It’s been appropriately debunked - as I’m sure will other smears that the Karl Rove clones will be dredging up from under their rock dwellings - if not by the Rovemeister himself!! But I will comment on the complaints about the man that are now appearing almost daily in letters to the editor of major newspapers. I won’t say that it’s a planned effort but there’s a sameness to the "challenges" being offered to his yet unannounced candidacy. More or less they consist of the following:
He doesn’t have enough experience.There are no answers that would satisfy the people who are criticizing his soon to be announced candidacy. They are already saying that they would not vote for him under any circumstances. But there is discussion among Democrats and independents who would like to know more about a man they most certainly would vote for if he becomes the Democratic candidate.
First of all everyone needs to take a step back and take a look at the growing field of candidates. This is our system folks. It’s a wide open horse race with no particular starting line and no breeding requirements. Be a native born American over 35 years of age and you’re a potential starter. Anyone with those qualifications can become the President of the United States. It is both the beauty and the bane of our system. So for those who are in so many words saying - how dare this Johnny-come-lately ask us to elect him to the highest office of the land - I say cool it. It’s his right and it’s our system.
But what about his lack of "experience?" Like that upstart Abe Lincoln? Like George W Bush??? Obama probably could claim more experience in international affairs before he was thirty than either of the aforementioned presidents. Legislative experience? Our last two presidents ascended to the White House with no national experience in any official capacity in their backgrounds -just state government experience. Just like Barack Obama.
You have to ask what kind of experience prepares someone for the duties of a president? There is no prescribed road. One can be an army career man or work for years as a B movie actor. Or a Senator or Governor or an engineer. Or anything else. No particular career of any particular length blesses a presidential candidate with knowledge or wisdom. If you listen to Senator Obama and read his books, you should be able to get the measure of the man’s wisdom and knowledge - and if you are not biased to begin with, you will surely find that he is blessed with a considerable measure of both. And you’ll get a better idea of the man and his ideas and abilities as the primary campaign unfolds.
Critics ask - what has he accomplished? I’m not sure what they’re looking for in an answer. What had Bill Clinton or George W Bush accomplished before they were elected to the White House other than win state elections? Obama won election to the Illinois Senate in 1996 and served there until running for and winning the open US Senate seat in 2004. He is a lawyer. He was president of the Harvard Law Review - the first African American to hold this position. He taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago law school - and oh yes - he has written two best selling books.
The most intriguing - and to me the most annoying criticism that is being leveled at Obama is this nonsense of "what he stands for." We don’t know what he stands for, the critics cry. My guess is that the people who ask such a question are either one issue voters or voters who give more weight to a single issue rather than the totality of a candidate’s positions. To those kinds of voters- a candidate could be blessed with the wisdom of a Solomon and have a lifetime of experience in national politics - but if he didn’t "stand for" their opinion of a particular push button issue - be it stem cell research, abortion, gay marriage, school prayer - and of course the "war" in Iraq - he wouldn’t get their vote. Perhaps what we need in a president is someone who "stands for" decency, fairness, respect for and defense of the laws of the land, working to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of our citizens - and for a foreign policy that serves our interests and that respects the interests of other nations.
I’m sorry that there are people who are sick of reading or hearing about Barack Obama. They’re probably sick of hearing or reading about Hillary Clinton too. But as long as Obama retains his blackness and Clinton her gender - they are going to be covered pretty much on a daily basis by the press and the broadcast media -including pundits and comics - until a candidate has been selected. And if you had a woman and an African American vying for the Republican candidacy, you’d be reading and hearing about them on a daily basis too - but I suspect that those who are complaining about Obama’s overexposure wouldn’t feel the same way about that coverage.
Wednesday, January 24, 2007
ON STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESSES AND DICTATORIAL PRESIDENTIAL POWERS
I had the television on throughout the State of the Union address - but I only occasionally looked in on what our great leader was saying. I knew the transcript would be available at the White House web site the next day - and even before the speech began, enough of it had been made available to the press to reveal its highlights to anyone watching a newscast or a news channel.
I know that there are traditions connected to the State of the Union address - presumably that began when it changed from Thomas Jefferson’s time - he being the President who began the tradition of the delivery of a written document - to Woodrow Wilson’s, who re-instated the tradition of giving an actual speech. One of those traditions is for all in attendance - or at least most all of those in attendance - to interrupt the speech with applause. Again and again. Often for no reason other than someone in the chamber deciding that it was a moment to clap his or her hands together, which then sets off a round of hand clapping in domino fashion. No one claps alone at these annual events.
I skimmed through the transcript of the speech and counted 64 interruptions for applause. Some of them were perfectly appropriate. The introduction of Nancy Pelosi - the first female Speaker of the House. And at the end of his speech - when he introduced or spoke the names of Americans who were deserving of a round of applause. But that accounts for only four of the sixty four interruptions. Some of the other sixty may have been for a good reason - but most were not. They were more like bursts of sympathetic forced laughter at a failed delivery of a comedy routine. They simply didn’t belong. "We must balance the federal budget" - APPLAUSE!!! Here is a president who has created a budget deficit that could take generations to erase and he’s being applauded for saying that we need to balance the budget!! How more silly could our elected representatives get??
But beyond the inappropriate interruptions for applause, I was annoyed as I am every time I see any of these annual staged events - at the ridiculous way audience members deliver their applause. Leaping to their feet as though they had just witnessed an extraordinary dramatic or musical performance worthy of a standing ovation. But an uninspiring State of the Union speech? Sixty four standing ovations??
This morning I heard some discussion on the radio of how respectful the Democratic majority was to the President. No boos or hisses. No inappropriate shouting. But surely they could have shown respect without the need to bob up and down like jack-in-the-boxes every time they felt the need to join jack-in-the-box in chief Nancy Pelosi - who sometimes leapt to her feet ahead of Darth - I mean Dick Cheney. I made similar comments about the embarrassment of grown men and women acting like children at a circus the last time I paused to comment on a State of the Union address. That was February 3, 2005. At least I’m consistent.
In my post of the day before - February 2, 2005, you can see that some of my standard predictions for a State of the Union speech did not bear out this year. The obligatory mention of the strength of our union was not mentioned until the very end of the speech as opposed to its usual placement in the opening lines. And while "God" was there at the close, it was not in terms of evoking a blessing upon the United States of America as in years past - just a mere "God Bless."
On the substance of the speech I will not comment. It isn’t worth the effort. What I will comment on in this - my public personal diary of the history I am living - will be my concern over what this nation can or should do about a president who places himself above the laws of the land and continues to violate the constitution he is sworn to uphold. Nothing seems to stop this man and his cabinet members and spokespeople from continuing to act as though the position of president is also that of dictator. It is likely that a majority in congress agree that he is violating the constitution and continues to do so. But short of a bill of impeachment, which Nancy Pelosi says is off the table - how do you stop him?
As long as the military and law enforcement agencies of the country continue to obey his dictates, he can and will proceed to govern in the mode of a dictator. This is not a parliamentary system where a simple vote of no confidence can bring a government to a screaming halt. Congress can vote binding or non-binding resolutions to the wazoo - but if the President ignores them - and it is certain that he will - what can be done to stop him short of impeachment? And would even impeachment stop him if the military and law enforcement agencies continue to obey his orders?
There is a proposal pending in congress to require congressional approval for any attack on Iran. In the meantime, we have an aggressive naval build up in the Persian Gulf and the Eastern Mediterranean What would happen if an "incident" occurred and the President decided it warranted some military action against Iran or Syria? Would his order to strike be automatically obeyed or would he come to the congress and ask for its O.K? And if he doesn’t - if he ignores congress and gives the order to attack - what could be done to stop him? Are we not in a sense as helpless as in a dictatorship to prevent that sort of thing from happening? People in dictatorships who would like to act against their rulers are prevented from doing so by fear - fear of losing their lives. We may not have the same sort of fears but we seem to be just as helpless. We are now caught up in endless military action in Iraq without the benefit of a declaration of war - and short of some sort of coup that would remove him from office and power - President Bush could expand this action in size and scope from now until the end of his term of office.
Tony Blair could be stopped if need be - right there in the House of Commons. But I don’t see any way to stop Mr. Bush or anything coming out of congress that would suggest that they have the method and the will to stop him - and that scares me.
Monday, January 22, 2007
THE INTERNATIONAL ADVANTAGES OF A PRESIDENT OBAMA
The other day, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn wrote a column listing eight reasons why Barack Obama might click with voters. Apparently it was a re-run of a two year old column in which he said those reasons were why Obama would run for president in 2008!! Talk about being ahead of the pack. As Zorn says in his current column - at the time of its original publication two years ago - even Obama told him he was nuts!!
I’m a supporter of Barrack Obama. I think he brings a breath of fresh air to national politics. He’s bright. He’s straightforward. He’s not an ideologue. He’s not a religious fanatic. And I agree with all of the eight reasons that Zorn says are why he’ll click with voters.
It won’t be easy of course. He’ll be attacked from more directions than he could ever imagine possible. It’ll be like wading through the fourth through the sixth dimensions. How’s that for being unimaginable? But if he can win the Democratic nomination he should be able to win the presidency - and what a watershed moment that would be for this country and for the world!!
We have been waiting - it seems forever - for the fulfillment of the American dream to reach the White House. From its inception, this country had elected only white, Christian males to the highest office in the land. Other countries around the world are eons ahead of us in terms of electing leaders that are neither male nor from the majority population. We are long overdue to catch up with countries such as Greet Britain, Germany, India, Israel, Liberia and Chile.
An Obama presidency I think would be an inspiration for most Americans. We have become too used to ‘political" politicians who we seem to accept as professional liars who say what they think they need to say to get themselves elected and re-elected. With Obama, we will expect and I think we will get - the most "straight talking " president in modern history. He’ll probably have to couch some of what he has to say in "politicospeak" - full of flowery and usually meaningless phrases - and indeed his candidacy or "pre"-candidacy announcement on his web site had a goodly sprinkling of that sort of phraseology. But behind it all, I think we have a plain talking man who will pursue a course for this country that I think a majority of us want - and will explain it in terms that most of us will understand - without trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
But above all I think an Obama presidency will do wonders for our standing in the community of nations and for our relations with other countries - particularly those that we currently view as "enemies" or that view US as "enemies." Whatever the rest of the world thought of us at the onset of the Bush presidency, it has gone way down hill since. In my lifetime, I can’t think of a time when we were held in such low regard. Of course there are those ultra right wing jingoists for whom such a condition is just fine. Their narrow minded attitude is "who cares what the rest of the world thinks" - and we can see where that attitude has led us.
With an Obama sitting in the White House, I can visualize a dramatic change in our foreign relations - not just because of what a President Obama might do - but because of who he is - and who he isn’t!! After eight years of a white patrician son of a white patrician ex-president, we would have an uncommon common man, with whom people in many countries now at odds with us could identify. Here is someone who is not unlike us they would say. Here is someone who perhaps can understand our needs and our suspicions more than any past American president. And while idiots like Rush Limbaugh might make fun of Obama’s middle name - to much of the world, having Hussein as part of his name will be a distinct advantage.
From Islamic countries to south American leftists governments, an Obama presidency would open opportunities for rapprochement. Could you imagine Hugo Chavez standing before a world audience and calling Barack Obama "the devil?" I can’t. Even Mahmoud - "the mouth" - Ahmadinejad would likely cut back on his nutty rhetoric with an American president who is respected around the world.
Bill Clinton was a popular figure on the world stage - but an African American president of the world’s only (at the moment) super power who is not a minister and who is not from the civil rights movement or era - would be a whole other kettle of fish. More so than a female president. More so than a non-Christian president. Obama can’t hype that plus for his candidacy himself - or at least he can’t do it directly. He can only lay out his foreign policy visions. But the rest of us who support him can hype it to the max in every way that we can - like through the blogosphere.
I just hope the voters in the Democratic primaries - and if he emerges victorious there - the voters in the ’08 general election -will think about the international plusses of an Obama presidency and how important they would be in navigating our country through the uncertain international waters through which we’ll be traveling for the years after the disastrous Bush presidency ends.
On the subject of my January 18 post below….
It seems that I have lots of company when it comes to being concerned about the content of American Idol. Flipping through cable channels last Thursday I found Keith Olbermann devoting quite a lengthy segment to some of the unfortunate "contestants" who were taped and shown to a vast television audience and Larry King who I believe devoted his whole show to a discussion of American Idol with some previous winners - though I’m not sure that either gave sufficient emphasis to the obvious cruelty involved in letting people make fools of themselves for the amusement of a voyeuristic audience. But there does seem to be concern by people in the television industry over the aspect of the show that I find objectionable even though - as a non viewer - I don’t actually get to see or hear any of the sorry creatures displayed like the cast of a circus freak show. But I did get to see some clips of the show on Countdown. It was almost worse than I had imagined.
Thursday, January 18, 2007
THE VAST WASTELAND - JUST AS VAST AS IT WAS 46 YEARS AGO
I don’t say this with any pride or sense of boastfulness - but I didn’t watch the Golden Globe awards that were on a few nights ago - and I have never watched American Idol, 24, Oprah Winfrey - or any of the "reality" shows - "Survivor" and the rest of that ilk - even though I’ve commented on them in the past.
That puts me in some kind of minority I guess - because these are the incredibly popular television shows that millions of my fellow Americans love to watch. The one that I thought worth a mention today is American Idol - which seems to have become an American Phenomenon. It’s back again for a new season. I don’t know on what channel or what time. The only reason I know it’s back is because the radio guy that I listen to when my alarm goes off was talking about it this morning. But what caught my interest and why I’m bothering to write about it is not the fact that it’s back on the air but that the part of the show that the radio host - and apparently a large portion of the audience - finds most interesting, is that part of the show where people with absolutely no talent are allowed to make fools of themselves and be ridiculed by the judges for the entertainment of the television audience.
I know that there are Japanese television shows where contestants subject themselves to all kinds of painful and humiliating conditions vying for one prize or another. I think the ridiculous "Fear Factor" show that played here was of a similar nature. Again, I’ve never seen any of these shows, nor could I ever be persuaded to watch them, but I’m aware of their existence. But with "Fear Factor" and the nutty Japanese shows there is a measure of equality. All of the contestants are subjected to the same difficulties and humiliations. It’s not just the odd looking contestants - the bald headed, the overweight. They all get the same treatment.
With American Idol however, there is unadorned cruelty heaped upon "contestants" who should never have been allowed to participate in programs that would be watched by millions of people. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to know that with an open audition approach, people who think they have talent but who have absolutely none - would show up along with the talented people. In a rational and orderly world, they would be swiftly - maybe even gently - eliminated from consideration - as for example would take place with a Broadway or London West End open audition. You’re not going to find a Broadway producer casting a tone deaf "singer" in a lead role in a musical production. Not unless the story line calls for a tone deaf singer.
But it seems obvious that the producers of American Idol celebrate the opportunity to "cast" someone like that to be humiliated by the program’s judges for the benefit of the television audience. That’s bad enough by itself - but what galls me to the extreme is that the gimmick works!! Millions of viewers apparently enjoy watching clueless people making fools of themselves. Especially if the clueless ones don’t know that they’re making fools of themselves.
I don’t know how you’d describe this clinically. A form of voyeurism perhaps. But whatever it is, it doesn’t speak well of those who make up the American Idol audience - and that bothers me. I think including talentless people in a televised contest to find new talent - and then telling them in so many words and publicly - that they are talentless - is an act of cruelty. And the fact that millions of people who watch the show are not turned off by this - and in fact enjoy it as much if not more than the parts of the show where people with some reasonable amount of talent actually compete - says something about us as a people that I find hard to understand.
On the other hand, maybe I - along with the producers of such shows - understand what can become a successful television show as illustrated by what I wrote on August 2, 2003. I just have a hard time accepting why I’m probably right - and I find that vaguely disturbing.
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
MORE ON ‘PALESTINE - PEACE OR APARTHEID?"
I hadn’t planned on it, but this is a continuation of the comments about Jimmy Carter’s accusative book mentioned at the end of my January 15 comments - two days ago. I emphasize the one day gap to remind any and all readers - (and I was only kidding when I spoke of only three readers on December 28 - there’s at least four, maybe five) - that I’ve been slowed down due to medical problems. That and the conclusion reached a while ago that I don’t really need to burden myself with any self imposed five days a week commentary. Not when I’m not getting paid for it.
Anyway, returning to the subject at hand, I happened upon an article in Haaretz about the Carter book in which the author speculates that the former president’s beef may be more with organized American Jewry than with Israel. An interesting take, but I draw the article to your attention not so much for what it says but for what it provoked in the way of response.
The last time I looked there were 468 responses. Many of them are appropriately critical of the same things that Middle East experts have condemned about the book - the one sidedness and the factual errors and distortions. But there is also an outpouring of bigotry covering an astonishing range of ancient anti-Semitic canards. The Jews control the media. The Jews control American foreign policy. And more. And of course the pejorative use of the words Zionism or Zionist sprinkled generously throughout. Spat out - almost as a swear word.
When it comes to the unfortunate circumstance under which many Palestinian Arabs live, it becomes clear that many of the anti-Israel, pro-Carter respondents come to the discussion with a viewpoint fashioned in the post 1967 era - perhaps with an historical understanding based on a shorter time frame - maybe the last 20 years or so. There are Arab respondents of course but the majority are from the United States and the rest of the non-Arab world. I didn’t add to the discourse because it would have been a wasted effort. It was obvious that those with opposing views have no interest in listening to each other. They believe what they believe and that’s the end of the discussion.
When you read this stuff, you realize the difficulty the actual protagonists have in reaching any kind of agreement. Nowhere do you read "Yes, the Palestinians are suffering - but - or "Yes, Carter has a point - but!"
If I were to try to address the pro-Carter, anti-Israel people who commented on this article,I wouldn't argue with them as so many of the respondents to the Haaretz article did - but I would try to get them to put themselves in Israeli shoes. I would ask that before they post an opinion for all with access to the Internet to read - they first study the history of the region - let’s say beginning with the end of World War One - and then - provided that their current views are not based on the belief that modern day Israel should never have been created in the first place - ask themselves this question. If you were the prime minister of Israel, would you, ignoring the histories, statements and actions of past Palestinian leadership and the current Palestinian Hamas government, accept the responsibility of unilaterally retreating behind your 1967 borders and withdrawing all of your military forces and the people living in the hated "settlements" in an attempt to achieve "peace" between your country and the Arab communities of Gaza and the area known as the West Bank? And would you expect it to be the "peace" that existed between your country and those communities before 1967 or something else? And if it indeed resulted in the "peace" that existed prior to 1967 - what would you do??
Monday, January 15, 2007
THE IRAQ/ISRAELI "CONNECTION"
Everyone and his brother has weighed in on the President’s speech about his "new way forward" in Iraq, so I will spend very little time and space with my own views about the continuation of the horrendous mess that Mr. Bush has created and which he insists must be "won" - as though military might can persuade the disparate religious groups to put aside their differences and work together to build an American style democracy. And I guess those few words pretty much express my reaction to the thrust of his message from the White House library. You can count me among the huge majority of Americans that disapprove of what is a continuation of the same madness. We’re still "staying the course" - no matter how many lives need to be sacrificed to prove that the Iraqi invasion was the "right thing to do."
But I do have one observation to make on the topic of Iraq and how we got into the mess in the first place. It has to do with Israel. Almost from the moment we attacked Iraq - perhaps even before we attacked - there were those who insisted that it was being done at the behest and under the influence of the Israeli lobby. According to those with twisted views about Israel and the influence of Israeli lobbyists in this country, the invasion was less about WMD’s or the attempt on the life of Bush senior or any of the other excuses that the administration has put forward for the action - than it was to further the interests of the state of Israel.
It didn’t help last November when Ehud Olmert, in his ass kissing mode - insisted that the invasion of Iraq had brought STABILITY to the Middle East. My reaction to that comment was that maybe it was time for Olmert to look for another line of work!!
But I was pleased when a sliver of common sense became public two days after the "new way forward" speech, in the form of a an article in the Jewish Daily Forward. Citing inside sources, the author reveals for the first time that Ariel Sharon warned Bush not to occupy Iraq, not to go into Iraq without an exit strategy, to be ready with a counter insurgency strategy if the U.S. intended to occupy the country - and not to try to implant democracy in a culture that "isn’t built for democratization."
According to Danny Ayalon, who was Israel’s U.S. ambassador at the time of the invasion and who sat in on the Bush/Sharon talks, Sharon’s stance on the proposed military action was that Israel "wouldn’t push one way or another."
It probably won’t change the beliefs of the anti-Israel crowd - but to the rest of us it makes perfect sense. An expert on the region and its problems giving sound advice to someone without expertise and at the same time giving lie to the nonsensical idea that the one super power of this world does the bidding of the tiny Jewish state - including committing its young military personnel to war.
That anti-Israeli crowd can also be counted on to advance the theory that all of the problems of the Middle East would disappear in a New York minute if the Israeli/Palestinian problem could be solved. Translate that into meaning that Israel would have to retreat behind its 1967 borders - leaving gates wide open to accommodate the "return" of millions of Palestinian Arabs claiming that is their right. Or better yet, for Israel to agree to be absorbed into a one man one vote Palestinian State which would effectively surrender its sovereignty - and of course its Jewish nature. But that would be a small price to pay for the result - which would be to bring the Iraqi Sunnis, Shias and Kurds together in a Democratic LoveFest and persuade Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to become a born again Christian.
One of the leading voices in that anti-Israeli crowd is former president Jimmy Carter who has revealed himself as something very close to being an anti-Semite. His book, accusing Israel of practicing apartheid - has resulted in the
resignation of prominent members of the Carter Center and has evoked a variety of critical responses. Here are a couple that I found of interest.. One from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America , otherwise known as (CAMERA) - and one from Alan Dershowitz - who not only attacks the book but accuses Carter of being bought and paid for by Arab money!!
So there you have it. Two presidents with crazy ideas. I suppose we should be grateful that Carter no longer has the power to do any significant damage to the state of the world. Unfortunately Mr. Bush does - and it looks like - with his latest "way forward" - he’ll continue to do so unless Congress can find some way to stop him.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
ON LEGACIES AND PLAYOFFS
Tomorrow we’ll hear the details of the "new" Bush plan for dealing with the Iraqi debacle, which could also be thought of as the new Bush plan to shape his "legacy." I could sit at my computer and write page after page about this tragic time in our history. I could question the madness of the United States trying to achieve "victory" in Iraq - as though military force can bridge the gap between the disparate Iraqi factions. I could question the cynicism of this man who is willing to sacrifice countless more American lives and leave it to the next president to extricate us from the mess that he created - just so that history will not record that we "gave up" on this misadventure on his watch.
But I’ll leave it up to the hundreds of thousands of other bloggers and assorted pundits who doubtless will have much to say on this subject - before and after Mr. Bush’s speech. It isn’t the subject I had mind when I sat down to write this evening - even though it’s obliquely connected. I’ve been thinking over the past few days of the similarity between American presidents and professional American football teams in terms of their obsession with what happens when their "seasons" are over.
What I want from a president is for him to conduct the business of the nation in a practical and efficient manner - and when he is in his "lame duck" final year or two - to continue to do so and not to become obsessed with shaping a "legacy." And though I’m not a football fan - if I was one - that’s what I’d want from "my" team as well. But, as we all know, that’s not what we get.
Almost from the first game of the season - sometimes from the first game of the exhibition season, the language of sports punditry is replete with considerations of what will happen after the season is over. The playoffs!! Winning games is nice - but winning enough games to get into the The Playoffs is the ticket to the Elysian fields of football. And once a team has achieved that goal - once they’ve assured that they are in the playoffs - that’s when it becomes even more strange. The games that they play while waiting for the season to end and the post season to begin become "meaningless." A team that is expected to win easily over an opponent, instead gets badly beaten - and sports reporters and commentators shrug their collective shoulders and remind us that after all - the game is "meaningless."
Excuse me? Meaningless? To the thousands of people in the stands who have paid large bucks and struggled with snarled traffic and overpriced packed parking lots to attend the game? Is a ho hum performance because "their" team has a slot in the vaunted playoffs acceptable? I don’t think so. Someone who pays to attend a game - or even someone who watches it on television - doesn’t consider their interest or the time they spend watching "meaningless" because their team will continue playing beyond the regular season. People who attend the first or fifth or ninth game of the season don’t consider those games "meaningless" because there will be more games after the one they’ve spent time watching. They are there for the game of the moment and deserve to see the best efforts of the players on both sides of the field.
Imagine if this attitude was prevalent in other fields. You go to see a hit play that has just been nominated for a Tony award along with it’s star player - and the cast yawns its way through the show with a mediocre - almost amateurish performance. And the next day you read a review that confirms your disappointment - yet excuses it because, having already been nominated - the equivalent of "reaching the playoffs" - it was really a "meaningless" performance. You’d think the actors and the reviewer were nuts - and rightly so.
And you could extend this "post season" obsession to other situations and professions and they would all be considered ridiculous by reasonable men. No need to do well or pay close attention in class as long as you can pass the exams at the end of the school year. The academic post season. Great if you’re aiming for a career that consists of passing tests. Otherwise not so great.
How about business? No need to have a well run company that provides first class goods and services - as long as you can report an upbeat bottom line. Come to think of it, that may be the golden rule for a good many companies.
But where it is glaringly obvious and annoying is with professional sports - and particularly with football because of the shortness of the season and the paucity of regular games. At least in basketball, pundits can wait until maybe game forty or fifty before the concentration changes from current games to speculation about post season games.
My solution for doing away with this playoff obsession nonsense would be to outlaw the description of any professional football game as being "meaningless" because one or both teams has already qualified for post season play. You probably couldn’t stop sports columnists from using the expression and for sure you couldn’t stop the season long obsession with who will or won’t make the playoffs - but you could devise a penalty that would make the major culprits - football broadcasters - refrain from using the "M" word. Just have sponsors insist that their sponsorship agreement does not include having to pay for any segment of a broadcast where a game is so described.
After all, according to Roget’s Thesaurus, "meaningless" - among other things -could also be described as absurd, aimless, blank, empty, feckless, fustian, futile, hollow, inane, inconsequential, insignificant, insubstantial, nonsensical, nothing, nugatory, nutmeg, pointless, purportless, purposeless, senseless, trifling, trivial, unimportant, unmeaning, unpurposed, useless, vacant, vague, vain, valueless, vapid and worthless.
Maybe those are appropriate words to use for Mr. Bush’s effort to shape his "legacy" but they shouldn’t be used to insult those red blooded Americans to whom football is close to being a religion. It’ll be interesting to see what words will be used by the world of punditry to describe the President’s speech to the nation tomorrow night. Do you think any from the above list might be used?
Thursday, January 04, 2007
AN EXECUTION AND A SURGE. WHAT A WAY TO START THE YEAR!!
I guess in one sense we and the Iraqis are alike. We and they have the death penalty, though our executions are carried out in a more structured and less public manner than what we’ve just witnessed with the execution of Saddam Hussein.
But what we in the western world think about it is less important than what Iraqis think - and here are a couple of examples. The articulate young lady who writes the Riverbend blog calls it a lynching - and none of the people writing on the Healing Iraq blog are brimming with happiness.
If the trial, the verdict and the method in which the sentence was carried out is to be considered an example of Iraq’s new found democracy, the Iraqi people are in trouble. I though the trial was little more than a circus early on when the accused and the accusers were yelling at each other in court. When members of the defense team were murdered, I thought that even this kind of a circus event would have to be stopped and re-thought - maybe with a view to transferring it to The Hague and a more orderly process. But it swiftly became obvious that nothing was going to stop the drive to the foregone conclusion - not murders, not resignations and dismissal of judges.
The video of the execution which is all over the Internet, removed all doubts about the process. This was a revenge killing. The Shiites had suffered under Saddam and they avenged the suffering. If you scroll down at the "Healing Iraq" site, you’ll find a transcript of all that purportedly was said from the moment the noose was placed on his neck.
It seems that just about everyone has an opinion about the execution - columnists, broadcast anchors, reporters and commentators, bloggers and the entire range of left and right wing ranters and ravers. But I think it’s presumptuous of us to pontificate on this sad moment in Iraqi history. The Iraqis are the ones affected - and left with the task of surviving the mess that it created - as if there wasn’t mess enough to begin with.
What is not presumptuous for any of us Americans to pontificate about is our future involvement in this debacle. It’s anticipated that the president’s "new way forward" is to send more of our kids in harm’s way - the so called "surge." Why is it that we have to put a name to every stupid thing we do? Is it to try to mask the stupidity? When we started bombing Baghdad - what was the purpose of calling the operation "shock and awe?"
"Surge" of course is the selected title to cover the reality of what will be proposed. That more of out kids are being sent to try to police a foreign civil war. And if it wasn’t a civil war before the execution of Saddam Hussein, every report coming out of Iraq since the execution confirms that hatreds and tensions have been exacerbated to a boiling point that is not about to be cooled down by any actions of American troops and is more likely to increase in severity with an influx of even more American troops.
I have to admit that when we first invaded Iraq, I wasn’t convinced that it was the wrong thing to do. I’ve changed my mid since and I think I would have done so even if a wealth of evidence hadn’t surfaced that the attack was ordained almost from the moment Mr. Bush took the oath of office for the first time. Maybe even before he took the oath.
I pay little attention to what the President says about any "progress" that we’re making in Iraq. I’m similarly not impressed by what the generals and lesser officers have to say. They’re in the impossible position of "winning" something that’s unwinnable. I pay attention to the people of Iraq who write their opinions and observations on line. I’ve linked to two of them above. There are many more. Read them and then listen to the generals and the President. It’s like hearing the news from two different galaxies.
It’s becoming increasingly obvious that what we do from this point on - at least for the remainder of Mr. Bush’s term - unless the Democrats are able to find a way to put a stop to it - has little to do with reality and everything to do with the President trying to shape a "legacy" that at the moment is one of total disaster. He is willing to let more of our kids die in an effort to prove that our Iraqi debacle is "winnable" - that the invasion was the right thing to do - and that the cockeyed dream of spreading democracy throughout the middle east using a democratic Iraq as a shining catalyst, is achievable.
It’s pathetic and it’s despicable. There is no way that American military force can alter the schism between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis - and taking sides, as the Shia majority seems to want us to do, would only make matters worse. Substituting a Sunni dictatorship for a Shia - what - an Islamic theocracy? We have done all that we can do in Iraq with military force. We overthrew the dictator. We assured ourselves and the world that there were no weapons of mass destruction for Iraqis to use against its neighbors or anyone else. They have an elected government and a constitution. We have seen for months that there is little that we can do to improve matters and that more likely our presence is making matters worse. Instead of sending more troops, the honorable and statesmanlike thing to do is admit to that truism and start to reposition our forces to some place where they can be called on by the Iraqis to help in situations where we can help - and declare the operation to be a work in progress success.
If Mr. Bush did that, I suspect that history would take a more benign view of his presidency than it will if he continues on the present course - a not to subtle variation of stay the course. Which, sadly - I fully expect will be the story of the last two years of his presidency.