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Friday, April 27, 2007

I’m old enough to have lived through some pretty nasty periods of American political life. I’m old enough to remember Presidents going back to Franklin Roosevelt. I remember the era of Joe McCarthy and the Army McCarthy hearings and the House Un-American Activities Committee and Red Channels. Those were sad times in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I never thought I’d live to witness times like that again, where so much sophistry and demagoguery masqueraded as political discourse. Until now. Until this current era of S&D. If that sounds painfully like something else represented by two letters connected by an ampersand, it’s because it is.

I know that demagoguery is not the exclusive province of one political party. It’s been used throughout history by politicians of all stripes seeking personal or political gain - or both. But I don’t recall seeing anything like the S&D that some of today’s Republican politicians are offering as political discourse or political positions. It’s hard to accept the reality that a substantial number of people who have the right to vote and may well exercise that privilege at election time, actually approve of and believe what some of these people are saying.

Newt Gingrich - who may throw his hat in the ring for the Republican presidential nomination, asserts that the tragedy at Columbine High School eight years ago - and by extension, the Virginia Tech tragedy - occurred because of decades of liberalism!! Listening to Gingrich talk to George Stephanopoulos last Sunday, I came away with the impression that his solution for what ails this country is to allow everyone to carry a gun and to accept the belief that our rights come, not from our constitution but from God!!! I imagine that when he says things like this he is appealing to some kind of "base." It’s appropriate that there are many definitions of that word - among them , when used as an adjective - morally low, without estimable personal qualities, dishonorable, meanspirited, selfish and cowardly.

Incidentally, though he isn’t running for anything, Rush Limbaugh, using convoluted demagogic reasoning, informed his large radio audience that the murderer of 32 people at Virginia Tech was a liberal. Yes ladies and gentlemen. Because of some of the things that this crazed individual said in his "manifesto" mailed to NBC, the great Limbaugh has reasoned that he must have been a liberal. And as all Limbaugh’s devoted listeners know, only a liberal could commit such horrendous crimes. Of course he didn’t say that, but while most people in the sane and reasonable world were trying to understand and come to grips with all of the things that turned Seung-Hui-Cho unto a murderous monster - that was what Limbaugh thought his audience wanted to hear. That the killer - by Limbaugh’s reasoning - was a liberal - and that this was significant. And Imus is off the air and Limbaugh is on 600 odd stations!!

But the worst kind of demagoguery coming from Republicans - including those running for their party’s presidential nomination - is that connected to THE issues of the current political landscape - the Iraq war or occupation or whatever you want to call it - and the threat of terrorist acts against us at home and abroad. In House and Senate debates and on the campaign stump, the attacks on those who oppose the administration’s policies on these issues and who are pressing for us to get out of the way of the civil war in Iraq, are being labeled with the kind of smears that would have made Joseph Goebbels proud. They are "defeatists." Their proposals are "prescriptions for surrender." These are words now being used by John McCain who has just made his official announcement that he wants to be president. And Rudy Giuliani is leading the pack with that other demagogic line - that we will be in mortal danger - no - that our homeland will almost certainly be attacked if we elect a Democrat to the White House. But "America’s Mayor" doesn’t even stop there. He says we won’t be safe with anyone other than him in the White House. Not even another Republican. Not McCain or Romney or any other Republican.

You might not like what you hear coming from the Democrats, but you’re not hearing this kind of demagoguery. It was ridiculous and disgusting for Harry Reid to say that "the war is lost." He was obviously suffering from a disconnect between his brain and his mouth - but it was a cross between a misspeak and idiocy, not demagoguery.

We know that the "war" was won. In the battle of Iraq, we most definitely prevailed. The President told us this himself on May1, 2003 - and the President will commemorate that auspicious announcement by vetoing a bill that provides emergency, off budget funds for our troops still operating in that defeated country and that also recommends a timetable for beginning to withdraw most of those troops. And Mr. Bush will veto the bill - only the second veto of his presidency - very close to the fourth anniversary of that announcement of victory - maybe to the very minute of his victory speech. After all, Tony Snow is still convalescing. We can’t be sure that Dana Perino would catch the irony of such a moment.

No matter what one believes about the invasion of Iraq, we are stuck there for the moment, but it is perfectly legitimate for there to be a debate about why we’re there, whether we are achieving anything of benefit to the United States or to the stability of the Middle East and most important of all - how to become un-stuck. To say that those advocating a scaling down of our presence and bringing home most of our troops and trying to do it by a date certain are advocating "surrender" is not just demagoguery - it is an insult to the intelligence of those Americans who have an IQ of at least 100. It adds absolutely nothing to the debate about what to do about the quagmire that Iraq has become, to continue to use these insulting epithets. Yet this is how so many Republican Senators, Representatives, presidential hopefuls and the president himself are responding to criticisms and to alternative ideas about Iraq and how to deal with the threats of terrorism.

These few words were not meant to express any opinion about our involvement in Iraq or about terrorism and how to deal with it, but only about the demagoguery that is being used in the debate on these subjects by those aligned with the administration and how it sickens me to hear it - just as I was sickened decades ago by the demagoguery of Joe McCarthy, the members of HUAC and the rest of that disgusting crowd. However, since one topic of the overall debate is that of the "surge" which is supposed to reduce violence - mostly in Baghdad - and which some on the right say is "working" - witness the comments of John McCain about a Baghdad market being like any open air market in Indiana and Gen. Petraeus riding around in an unarmed Humvee - I thought I would call your attention to the most recent posting of a Baghdad blogger.

I’ve been concerned about the young lady who calls herself "Riverbend" because it’s been over two months since she’s posted anything on her blog. She has had gaps this long between postings in the past, but with the horrible acts of violence that we read about every day, it’s natural to ask - as many people have on line - has she survived or will we never hear from her again? Today, I and many who follow her commentary on the invasion and the aftermath, got her answer. She survived - as she has done for four hard and bitter years - but now, in the midst of the "surge" - which Senator McCain and so many other Republican sowers of sophistry tell us is working, she tells us how she plans to continue surviving. By doing what millions of her fellow Iraqis have already done. By leaving Iraq.

So what do you say Mitch McConnell, John Boehner? Is Riverbend a defeatist? Is she surrendering? Is she as bad, as misinformed, as unpatriotic as all those Democrats that you attack thusly and with whom she seems to agree?

Have a nice weekend everybody.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

I have to follow up on what I wrote yesterday because I didn’t spend nearly enough time describing or discussing a menace far greater than that of the United States becoming a two language nation. I speak of the menace of the disembodied talking heads which "communicate" with members of the human race by telephone. So far, they are not responsible for originating calls that require or are for the purpose of interaction. The only DTH’s (disembodied talking heads) that I am aware of originating calls are those from or on behalf of political candidates - and they’re not that much of a menace because they don’t call for a dialogue. One can easily hang up - and the call and the DTH are disconnected. But perhaps this paucity of DTH calling is part of a deliberate plot to distract human owners of telephones and telephone services while they - either those behind the growth of DTH’s - or DTH’s themselves - slowly and deliberately take over. Take over what you may ask. And I will tell you that the answer to that question is everything! We are in danger of being subjugated by a robotic force that we cannot see, smell or touch - but as long as we retain our sense of hearing and continue to make phone calls - we are in mortal danger.

Let me give you one small example. The President has spent a fair amount of his "political capital" trying to convince the American people that Social Security needs to be privatized. Never mind that the current value of the president’s "capital" plus a dime may give you one pull of a slot machine handle in Vegas - the nefarious plan to do away with Social Security as we know it has simply been shuttled off to a different track. The new plan is to drive SS recipients mad - so that they will become malleable and agree to anything proposed to them about their social security benefits.

Sooner or later, if you’re a social security beneficiary or about to apply for social security, you will have occasion to call the social security office. The number is 1-800-772-1213. I am a social security recipient and this morning I had occasion to call that number. My bank has been taken over by a larger bank and the bank routing and account numbers for direct deposit of my SS benefits has changed. The takeover bank assures me that I really don’t have to worry about automatic deposits or payments. My old numbers will be linked to my new numbers and everything will continue to work smoothly without me having to do anything. But I’m the type who wants to be sure that there’ll be no unintended hitches with this change, so I’ve been calling different companies and organizations - and these efforts went smoothly until I called 1-800-772-1213.

Being greeted by a disembodied voice on the telephone is not that unusual an experience nowadays. I’m greeted that way when I call my doctor's office - but within seconds I’m able to punch in a number for whatever service I need - to make an appointment or get a prescription re-fill - or to hit zero to talk to a live person. But not 1-800-772-1213. There one is greeted by a disembodied voice that wants to engage in a conversation with you. A lengthy conversation. All I wanted to do was give SS my new bank numbers, but in order to do this I had to cooperate in a game of twenty questions. Back and forth. Question and answer - with the disembodied voice sounding as if it was alive and understanding what I was saying. It went on for minutes until it reached the critical point where - I thought - I could give "it" the information I called about. I had already told "it" that I was calling to make changes in my direct deposit information - but when the critical point was reached - "it" began asking questions as though I wanted to begin receiving direct deposits. There was no way I could nudge the DTH back to Q&A’s about changing bank numbers - so I hung up. I can tell you before I hung up - long before I hung up - I was screaming. I was yelling at a DTH. I was calling "it" names!! I could almost see the grinning face of Carl Rove manipulating the DTH at the other end of the line. His scheme was working. He was driving me mad.

But as I say above - this was a small example. Despite my comment of yesterday about "Blue Tooth" type gimmicks being unlike the Enterprise computer, I am less sure about DTH’s. I am beginning to believe that a robot society is arising in our midst - and what better way to grow in size and capability than to do it in a disembodied fashion - hidden from the sight of humanoids who believe they are being served rather than slowly enslaved by DTH’s. I ask you, would we put up with this if all phones were "visiphones" and only "visiphones?" How long would we stay on the phone staring at a deadpan metallic face with unmoving, penetrating eyes telling us that it didn’t understand our answer to its annoying question? It’s scheme would die. That’s why it hides from us. That’s why it remains disembodied.

How long have we got before it takes over? I don’t know - but I do know how to stop it. There is a way. The DTH’s have embedded themselves in the bowels of organizations and enterprises, most of which are profit making. All we need to do to decimate their robotic army is to refuse to deal with these enterprises and companies by phone - unless they agree to replace DTH’s with humanoids. With live people. With people with whom you can have a real conversation. Fearing the loss of revenues, the profit making companies will almost certainly comply. They might put up some resistance at first. General Motors might think it’s too big to be told what to do by mere consumers - but as soon as Toyota leads the way, GM will be falling all over itself to show how much it respects the buyers of automobiles. And once the business community fires its DTH’s - the non-profits - Social Security included, will quickly fall in line.

Now you may think that these comments are made in jest - that I’m just kidding around to wile away the afternoon. Don’t believe it. I’m deadly serious. Remember it was just a few years ago when there was no television - no mobile phones - no personal computers - no Internet. Or maybe you don’t remember. Maybe these things have been part of your life for all your life. But before your time, such things would have been thought of as the imaginary inventions of a crazed scientist. But now they’re here - and admit it - you can’t picture life without them. As we won’t be able to picture life without the DTH’s in the not too distant future if we don’t do something about them now!!

Well, you’ve been warned. I’ve done all I can do. It’s up to you now. All of you. For me it’s the cocktail hour and no DTH or thoughts of a DTH can keep me from that. Not yet anyway.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Starting with the United States…

A friend of mine had a car accident the other day. She was on the expressway and needed to get in touch with her cell phone company. She’s a busy person who’s in her car a lot on her way to various appointments, so she has one of those gimmicks you stick in your ear and with which you can communicate with your cell phone and thus with people you want to call - all without the need to touch your cell phone. It’s not perfect. My daughter has one with various numbers programmed in so that all she has to do is say "call so and so." Unfortunately, "it" doesn’t always understand who it is you want to call and will sometimes "ask" - or maybe just repeat who it "thinks" you want to call. And sometimes, according to my daughter, you have to argue with it and "tell" it NO - call so-and-so - the one you "ordered" to call in the first place.

Sorry about all the quote marks - but these gimmicks aren’t miniature versions of the Enterprise computer. There’s no actual intelligence there - just automatic responses to what it’s been programmed to respond to.

Anyway, getting back to my friend, she is driving nonchalantly on the expressway and says, I assume in a quiet and non threatening manner -"call so-and-so company" - her cell phone company. It turns out that this is one of those companies that operates in what has become a US linguistically correct universe. That is to say it will communicate with you - by phone or in print or, I assume, in person - in English or Spanish. Take your pick. And so, in response to the request to call her cell phone company, "it" asked for a language preference. English or Spanish. And in responding to her response, which of course was "English" - it launched into that world to which I have been a reluctant visitor on far too many occasions - disembodied talking head hell.

You’ve been there I’m sure. It’s the "voice" that says - "I did not understand your answer" - and then asks you to again pick one of the choices it offers. In my friend’s case, it couldn’t or didn’t want to understand her selection and so asked her to make it non verbally. Like "press one for English." Up to that point, my friend had been doing everything properly and safely - using hands free technology to make a cell phone call. But now she was being asked to abandon her safety first approach to calling while driving and to actually do something that required touching the phone. But it was a simple request. Press one. After which she could go back to her safe - hands free mode. So she reached for her phone, lying conveniently beside her - and glanced down for a moment to "press one." That’s all it took. In the split second that her eyes were off the road, the traffic in front had slowed just enough for her to plow into the vehicle in front of her. Nobody hurt, but big time damage to my friend’s car.

So why am I writing about this? Is it a dissertation on safe driving? On using or not using cell phones while driving? On the vagaries of communicating with disembodied heads? None of the above? If you picked the last selection, go to the head of the class. This is a commentary about language and about the advantages and disadvantages of using more than one language in a given country - and in the world’s countries in general. Canada has two official language because of it’s French heritage that grew alongside its English heritage. The country manages to hold together with this language dichotomy - though there’s always those who try from time to time to engineer a secession of Quebec. But we have no such heritage - so why "press one for English or press two for Spanish?"

There are a lot of people of Polish descent in this country and a considerable number of them speak Polish. Some speak only Polish. There are Polish language radio programs to accommodate these people along with Polish language newspapers - but the last time I called to get information from my credit card company. Polish wasn’t one of the language choices offered. There is a large Muslim population in France - perhaps 10% of the population is Muslim. Does that mean that French products come with instructions in French and Arabic? I doubt it.

I realize that Hispanics comprise the largest minority group in the United States, by now probably close to 15% of the population - but are they being groomed to become a separate but equal - or maybe un-equal nation by this special accommodation of language? We already have a nation separated by political beliefs and ever growing differences in religious beliefs and non-beliefs. Do we need to build on these separations and add language as another - permanent one? I have people who come to mow my lawn and do other outside work during the summer months. I know that they’re Hispanics but I don’t know whether or not they’re legal residents. I do know that some of the same people have been coming for at least three years. They can communicate with each other - but not with me. Not a word of English learned in all that time. And why should they learn when product instructions come in a language they can read and the disembodied voices on the telephone speak to them in Spanish? They even tell them to "press two" in Spanish!!!

A couple of weeks ago, there was an exchange of letters in my local paper on the subject of language. One writer thought that English should be adopted as a universal language. Another thought it was a horrible idea and far inferior to the rich diversity of language that we now enjoy. Who would want to get off a plane at Orly airport in Paris and have a porter greet you with "Hello Mate?" Besides, said the objecting letter writer, we already have a universal language called Esperanto. Maybe so, but do you know anybody who speaks Esperanto??

I come down on the side of the "English for Everyone" argument. It’s already the most universal of all languages and is the universal language of air traffic control. So why not a universal language for the planet? If you’re a fan of science fiction, you know that science fiction authors almost never create populations of imaginary planets with multiple languages - with people unable to communicate with each other. Science fiction authors often create worlds as examples of what our world should be. Not just with a single language but often with a single council of "wise men" as a planetary government - as opposed to our multitude of nations and governments. And all those languages. And I ask you. If you’re an explorer from an advanced civilization, would you want to risk a stop at a linguistic Tower of Babel or just move on to the next interesting looking galaxy?

Back on July 22, 2003 I wrote about how we Americans were "separated by a single language." In fact that’s what I called the commentary of that day. Actually, I wasn’t writing about different languages but about how the phenomenon of the "Black Accent" was, in my opinion, "a barrier between the coming together of the races in this country." To my mind it still is. I see it persisting from generation to generation. It’s not regional - as I said back in 2003. You find it from the east to the west coasts and from the Canadian to the Mexican borders - a linguistic barrier to communication between black and white. And now we have added Spanish to the mix. With, I am sure - the best of intentions.

But I have hope. I can envision a time when we will come up to the standard that science fiction writers impose on themselves when creating logical imaginary societies - a time when the people of the world will be able to communicate with each other with ease because they will have a universal language called English. Other languages will still exist - to be studied and taught by academics - and even spoken by isolated groups of people as a second language of tradition. But when an American gets off a plane in Paris - there will be no Bonjour Monsieur when he hops into a taxi with his luggage - but "where to Mac?" It won’t happen for a few more centuries - maybe even longer - but it has to happen one day - if we plan to stick around and survive as a race.

Meanwhile we could move in the right direction here in the United States by eliminating disembodied voices on the telephone asking us to "press one for English." At the very least we could probably achieve a reduction in fender benders and rear enders.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I don’t know that there’s anything that I could write here about the tragedy at Virginia Tech that would contribute anything of value to the discussion that has been raging for days - in the broadcast and print media - in homes and gathering paces across the nation - and in the blogosphere. But since this is a blog that comments on "The Passing Parade," even though my subject selection often differs from the headlines of the day, I would be remiss if I didn’t take note of this horrifying event.

As more and more information becomes available about the sick young man who committed this atrocity, perhaps the saddest part of the story is that there was no way to keep him confined to a mental facility where he might have been treated successfully and moved off the destructive path on which he was traveling. He needed to have been committed to such an institution. There was enough recognition by enough people of his potential to do harm - to himself and to others - but there was not appropriate law that could be applied to do what should have been done.

Hindsight of course is always 20/20 - but I can’t help thinking how often the law fails people in circumstances like this - even when it tries to do the right thing. How many times do we read of a wife or girlfriend being murdered by a husband or boyfriend - or often an ex-husband or boyfriend - at a time when a restraining order was in place? Too many times. Even when the ex-husband or boyfriend had displayed signs of potential violence - which in fact is often the reason for the restraining order - the police will say that there’s nothing that they can do until a crime has been committed. At which time of course it’s often too late.

I don’t know how the law can be changed that would be fair to someone who has not yet committed a crime but who shows all the signs of someone who is almost certainly going to do so - and at the same time protect the public and specific people who might be in danger from such a person. It’s a conundrum. It’s also one of the risks of living in a free society.

I can’t write about this tragedy without making reference to the ongoing tragedy of Iraq - if only because at the moment that we were being stunned by the horror of 32 people - most of them college students - being slaughtered by Cho-Seung-Hui we were hearing of six times that many being slaughtered in a single day in Iraq. There’s no perspective here. The Virginia Tech killings were in our back yard - in a place where children should be safe - and the killer was little more than a child. It was bound to send this nation into a state of shock. Iraq is a war zone and violent death is a part of war. But I am stunned by both events and by the knowledge that just as parents and siblings and friends grieve for those slaughtered at Virginia Tech, so there are parents and siblings and friends grieving for those slaughtered so senselessly in Iraq. It makes you wonder if there’s any hope for the human race to evolve to the point where advanced beings from another world would no longer be afraid to visit us.

It was natural - and in my view necessary - for there to be some discussion of the ease with which Cho was able to obtain guns and ammunition. Almost as soon as the story broke, right wing radio and television pundits were telling all who listen to their drivel that "liberals" and "gun haters" would use this incident to fuel their ongoing call for gun control. It’s a struggle to find words to describe such people - so I won’t try. Some of them were arguing that Cho could have been stopped if students or faculty members - or both - had been armed. If they were "packing." If they had all been wearing their belts and holsters with six guns at the ready. There could have been a shoot out and maybe less people would have been killed. Or more. And these people are serious. They actually believe this. They advocate arming everyone. It boggles the mind.

Of course better gun control laws might have prevented someone like Cho from acquiring guns in the first place. But, as many responsible people have said in discussing this topic this week, it’s not about to happen. The gun lobby contributes far too much to elected officials for many - or any for that matter - to adopt a strong gun control stance. But even without the NRA dollars, few aspiring politicians are going to challenge the gun culture of this country - even in the face of the horrifying statistic that we lead the world in deaths caused by private gun ownership. It’s a fact that in many congressional districts, it would be impossible to get elected if you advocated strict gun control.

The gun lobby likes to repeat the mantra that "guns don’t kill - people kill." Except that we have countries like Israel where private gun ownership is at about the same level as the U.S. - but you couldn’t find the statistics of deaths from gunshots in the two countries on the same page. Almost not in the same book!! You could say the same of the Swiss, where gun ownership is also at a level similar to ours. But the rate per thousand of deaths involving guns is a tiny fraction of ours. The massacre at Virginia Tech was a horrifying anomaly , but that we are a violent nation is a regrettable fact.

This horrible incident will be with us for a while. For some, that "while" will be forever. But for most, it will fade into the background as other major events occur and fill our minds. And, as sad as I am to make this kind of prediction - nothing about our gun laws or the way we deal with people exhibiting all the warning signs that were seen in Cho will change. As we struggle to cope with the Virginia Tech tragedy, we are reminded of a similar tragedy that occurred eight years ago in Littleton, Colorado where 12 students and a teacher were slaughtered by two troubled teenagers at Columbine High School. That tragedy provoked the same debate we are having now about guns and gun control and about mental health and the sort of conditions and circumstances that create homicidal children. And we can see how far we’ve come with that debate.

There may be no way to stop these kinds of things from happening again. Our only hope may be that we will become a more mature nation and that at some point we’ll become more like the people of Israel and Switzerland - that gun ownership will still be common and widespread but that it will no longer be part of our national character to use guns to kill each other by the thousands from each January 1 to each December 31.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

And I don’t mean just in Londonistan - though that Islamic outpost could be the most dangerous. I mean everywhere - from Land’s End to John o’Groats. We all know Britain’s shameful past in its treatment of its Jewish citizens - culminating in their expulsion from England in 1290. It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century when hey were allowed to return. Some of the descendants of those ancient returnees might be wondering today if it was such a good move after all.

The growth of Britain’s Islamic population - particularly in London - is not something that gives British Jews any sense of comfort. Broadening the range of ethnic diversity in large cities might make members of some minorities feel less "left out" of society’s main stream - but in the case of the rapidly growing imbalance between the Islamic and Jewish minorities in the U.K. - it seems to be having the opposite effect. Muslims of all stripes regard Palestinian Arabs as their brethren and Israel as the oppressor of those brethren. It isn’t much of a step for them to lump Israel and "Jews" - any Jews, anywhere, together as one common "enemy."

The British government is no longer an enemy of its Jewish citizens - at least not overtly. Like the United States, the UK has evolved from its past history of regarding some of its citizens as lesser beings than others. But at other levels of society, ominous signs are arising.

We’ve seen a lot of this in France, where the Islamic population is now in the millions and anti-Semitism is an acknowledged national problem. But in merry old England? Where everything stops for tea at four and cricket matches can last four or five days. Where public (very private) school children are taught that when your soccer team beats that of a rival school, you don’t jump up and down and congratulate each other - you cheer the losing team off the field with a hip hip hooray. At least that’s what we were taught in my day.

But all that it seems is changing. Britain is moving in the French direction. First we have journalists - people who are supposed to look dispassionately and report on news events, deciding to boycott Israel!! The British National Union of Journalists has voted to boycott Israeli goods and more than that - they want their government to impose sanctions on Israel. I don’t know which journalists belong to the British National Union of Journalists - but if some of their members are reporters and columnists and anchor people for the likes of the BBC, or the Times of London or Reuters, that vote could start having an ominous affect on news reporting. Not so much at the BBC. They’ve been pro-Arab and anti-Israel in the way they report Middle East news for years. But cockeyed as the vote might be - if it reflects true feelings of British journalists, you can expect to see it showing up in their reporting.

Meanwhile - that other bastion of British integrity - its school system that for centuries produced the young men and women who brought western civilization to the far corners of the earth - is having trouble dealing with an aspect of history that occurred after the sun had set on the British Empire. Maybe there are teachers in the system who don’t consider any post empire history as worth teaching. Or maybe they’re being pressured not to teach a particular aspect of history by parents of Muslim children. Such as the Holocaust. Teaching of the Holocaust is supposed to be compulsory in the UK, but according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, as reported in the Times Online
"In particular settings, teachers of history are unwilling to challenge highly contentious or charged versions of history in which pupils are steeped at home, in their community or in a place of worship. By this, we may therefore conclude that the Holocaust is 'contentious' and 'a version of history."
It doesn’t surprise me. As I wrote on October 23, 2006, the situation in British schools began to get beyond ridiculous when a schoolteacher of the Muslim faith showed up to teach her class as a version of the invisible woman. Covered from head to toe except for her eyes. Not in a religious school. In an English "public" school. I have to keep putting the word public in quotes because in England that’s what they call schools like Eaton and Harrow - but I’m speaking of a public school the way Americans understand it.

It’s hard to know what to make of this. Maybe British journalists and schoolteachers are taking their cues from the United Nations - where they certainly know how to put Israelis - and by extension - Jews - in their place. Their most recent finding was a dandy.. The UN Commission on the Status of Women found that there was a country - and just one country - where women’s rights were being violated. I’m not going to tell you which one it was. You need to click on this link and read the story. It’s short - but boy is it to the point!!! And you’ll note that the only votes against were from Canada and the US. Which means that member state The United Kingdom voted with the 40 to 2 majority!!

I don’t think Queen Elizabeth is going to try to emulate Edward 1 and ask Parliament to expel Britain’s Jews again - once more under penalty of death. But if Judaism happens to be your faith or ancestry - and particularly if you’re a supporter of Israel - my advice to you would be to keep a low profile if you have any plans to visit the mother country this summer.

Monday, April 16, 2007

There are days when I am reminded of how Paul Newman, playing the part of an attorney representing the victim in a malpractice lawsuit in "The Verdict" - begins his closing statement to the jury - and yesterday was one of them.
"You know, so much of the time we're just lost. We say, "Please, God, tell us what is right; tell us what is true." And there is no justice: the rich win, the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead... a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims... and we become victims. We become... we become weak. We doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs. We doubt our institutions. And we doubt the law."
Perhaps the words aren’t totally applicable - the rich can also be powerless in certain circumstances - but the overall feeling of injustice all too frequently going unpunished that Newman conveyed in this powerful movie - is one that I am beginning to get from the unfolding story of those falsely accused Duke students.

Yesterday I watched North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper speak about the case on a news program. He is to be commended for throwing out all charges against the three Duke students and declaring their innocence. But in responding to a question about the unconscionable actions of prosecutor Mike Nifong in refusing to talk to defense attorneys and examine exculpatory evidence that they tried to present - Cooper said "he made a mistake!!"

Made a mistake?? Everything we’ve learned about Nifong’s handling of this case speaks loudly - not so much of a "rush to judgment" - as to a deliberate attempt to railroad three kids for political gain. The thought boggles the mind - that a prosecutor would proceed with a case that could carry a sentence of life in prison for these kids - knowing full well that they were almost certainly innocent.

A mistake? Knowing that DNA evidence did not implicate any of the three accused students - but keeping that piece of information hidden from defense attorneys.

A mistake? Conducting a "line up" that consisted of just photographs of the Duke LaCrosse players.

I could go on and on. It was obvious, almost from the beginning, that this was a phony case - with the accuser - Crystal Gail Mangum - changing her story from day to day and the girl who was with her at the student party where they performed exotic dances contradicting Mangum’s story.

If ever there was a case of criminl conduct - not "misconduct" by a prosecutor - this has to be it. Convicting him of "ethics violations" and maybe getting him disbarred isn’t anywhere near enough. His conduct was as bad as that of the accuser. It seems that no charges will be brought against her because she is a "troubled person." She has mental problems. She might do this sort of thing over and over - accuse various people of raping or otherwise assaulting her. She’s done it before. But there’s no assertion of Nifong having mental problems. He knew exactly what he was doing - and when all the evidence points to the accused being innocent and you press on anyway - that’s not just unethical - that’s criminal.

It was disappointing to hear Attorney General Cooper call the withholding of exculpatory evidence from the accused as "a mistake." But it fits neatly with the history of these kinds of cases that almost never end up with rogue prosecutors being brought to justice. Or rogue cops for that matter. In Chicago, we have multiple cases of police brutality - even police killings - being settled by cash awards to the victims or surviving family members. But nothing happens to the cops.

In the famous Illinois case of Rolando Cruz, who spent a decade on death row for murder, prosecutors and police in the case were indicted for framing him for the crime - but despite powerful evidence that they did just that - a jury let them go. For some strange reason, no prosecutor has ever been convicted for framing an accused. Considering the number of people who have been exonerated and released from prison, mainly because of DNA evidence obtained years after their convictions - you would think that one of these cases where the evidence of a prosecutoral frame up is strong, would have resulted in a conviction.

And it’s even worse than that. How often, when a long serving prisoner is exonerated and released - do you recall the individual who prosecuted the case - or the district attorney of the jurisdiction in which the trial took place - coming forward and apologizing or acknowledging that they made a mistake in pursuing the prosecution in the first place? What’s that? You can’t recall any? Neither can I. What I can recall is prosecutors defending their decision to prosecute in such cases - even arguing that despite the exculpatory evidenced that resulted in the someone being exonerated and released from prison - they still believed that they were guilty as charged.

Nifong isn’t doing that. He would look like a fool as well as a rogue. But his apology to the kids rings hollow and if all he gets is disbarment - which I would consider little more than a slap on the wrist - justice will not have been served.

Prosecutors are among the most powerful people in this country. Their decisions to indict and prosecute can turn lives upside down - and even an unsuccessful prosecution can leave scars that last a lifetime. No prosecution should proceed without the most powerful evidence pointing to guilt - and none should go forward because of political ambition or political influence. That is criminal behavior and should be treated accordingly.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I fully expect the Sunday talking heads to zero in on the Imus/ Rutgers affair this Sunday - or at least have them directed to make comment by the moderators of the various programs - so perhaps I should wind up my week of commentary on the same subject. By the way, speaking of the Sunday talking heads, I am watching them less and less nowadays. There’s virtually nothing new to be learned from the cast of usual suspects. Most follow a script that I could easily write for them. They’re that predictable. And anyone from the administration or who is there to be supportive of the administration’s positions - is simply spending their face time spinning - and I’d rather not be distracted from solving all the crossword and acrostic puzzles in my Sunday Tribune.

I must admit to being somewhat conflicted about l’affaire Imus. I don’t like to hear the kind of garbage that he spouts from time to time - and for sure his and his producer’s descriptions of the kids on the Rutgers basketball team was pretty bad. But then we get to the question of intent and I have no way knowing his intent because I’m not a listener and I don’t know whether he and his listeners have an understanding of why he says these kinds of things from time to time and whether he actually means to inflict harm or insult or just to push the envelope and have listeners do a double take and wonder if they just heard what they thought they heard. Does he do it tongue in cheek or does he mean the mean things he says from time to time? Or should I say, used to say from time to time.

I’m pretty sure that someone like Michael Savage means to attack and insult and hurt - even people who are members his own minority (He’s Jewish). The basis of his radio show is to spew hate. Whether or not he believes the things he says is another story. Some people who knew him before he started his "Savage" program - his real name is Michael Alan Weiner - say he’s an opportunist who came to realize that the hate format sells and "re-invented" himself.

I don’t know whether or not he has ever gone after black people with racial epithets - but if he were to be judged on the basis of hurtful statements the same way Imus has been judged, he’s someone who should be bounced from the airways before the Sunday talking head shows roll around. He won’t be of course. His show isn’t owned by CBS. It’s syndicated by Talk Radio Network - and unless individual stations start dropping his program - he’ll be around for some time to come. As will Rush Limbaugh. As will Sean Hannity. As will Neil Boortz. As will Glen Beck. I don’t see the Jackson/Sharpton team going after these people who are likely far more dangerous than Imus ever was. But as long as they don’t use some specific racial epithets about a black person or a group of black people, their programs and any efforts to have them canceled will never be the kind of cause celebre that we have witnessed for the past week.But that doeosn't mean that they can't be attacked and maybe driven off the air.

The big question about the downfall of Imus is whether or not it will do more good than harm. On the one hand we have a radio performer who has been punished for his indiscretion. That’s not something that unusual. Radio jocks have been fired in the past for stepping over one kind of line or another - though none come to mind being fired for spouting some racial epithet. On the other hand we have that blessed American right of free speech that has, up to now, been extended to radio performers including those mentioned above who I believe to be stains on our democratic process. Imus didn’t broadcast racial hatred. If he did, I’d be first in line with petition in hand to have him fired. But he used a racially hurtful term which is bad but not the same thing.

So my conclusion is that firing Imus will ultimately do more harm than good. Yes, there’ll be one less voice on the air throwing occasional barbs at people of different skin colors and religious beliefs and sexual orientation - but so what? There are plenty of them left and there are people who do it all the time. What would have made sense was what was originally deemed to be an appropriate reprimand. To keep him off the air for two weeks - and of course off the MSNBC screens for ever. During that two week period, we still could have had the kind of discussion that has been going on. Imus would have met with the Rutgers team members and offered his apologies and received their acceptance. Then he would have gone back on the air and the discussion could have continued. He could have become the poster boy for how radio talk show jocks should give pause and reflect on the harm they cause in the pursuit of making the biggest bucks and attracting the largest bunch of ignorant listeners.

Instead, we have something of a backlash in the making. I’m not referring to the sub-humanoids who have sent hate mail to the Rutgers girls or who have threatened the lives of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I imagine there are idiots who threaten those two all the time - just as there are cretins who sent hate mail to anyone who they perceive as being different and thus lesser beings than themselves. I’m talking about a portion of the majority of Americans who were appalled by what Imus said of those kids - and it may be a substantial portion - who think that CBS and MSNBC went too far - and that Jackson and Sharpton not only went overboard - but are hardly the appropriate paragons of virtue to have led this lynch mob in the first place.

I think kicking Imus off the air did nothing to help improve race relations in this country. What it did was cast a chill across the nation’s airways. There are organizations and even a few radio voices that strive hard to give balance to the hatred and the garbage that is being spewed daily by the likes of Savage and Beck and the rest of that far right crowd and to expose it for what it is. But none of these organizations and voices are demanding that stations drop their programs or that sponsors stop sponsoring them. If that kind of activity were to be successful - as it was with Imus - then those whose voices we consider to be reasonable and whose views we support, would be in danger of being - and let me be the first to coin this word - "IMUSSED.":

That’s the way I feel - and if I find myself under the blanket with some strange bedfellows - so be it.

Thursday, April 12, 2007
(I’m sure Imus won’t think he’s being dissed)….

I looked all over the place yesterday to find the statements from Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. I zapped through cable channels and all the network news and discussion programs. I paused at Larry King’s slot on CNN. I watched Wolf Blitzer for a while. I even checked in on (gulp) Bill O’Reilly But I couldn’t find anything anywhere. I must have just missed their combination of apologies and condemnations as I moved from one channel to another - but I’m sure they made them.

I wouldn’t want to compare them to Don Imus - but when an alleged racist like Imus can apologize for spreading his racial hatred over the public airways - you know that saintly figures like the Jackson /Sharpton team of fighters against racial injustice would be front and center in apologizing to those young , white, Duke University college students whose heads they demanded on a platter after they were accused of gang rape by a black girl. Without any evidence of course. Who needs evidence when you’re defending a young black girl against a racially motivated assault?

And now that the girl’s accusations have been found to be baseless and the district attorney’s behavior having more to do with pandering to black votes than to the pursuit of justice, I fully expect that the dynamic duo will be calling for both to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. After all, while I sympathize with those members of the Rutgers basketball team who believe that their lives have been "scarred for life" by what Imus said about them - the Duke University kids really had their lives turned upside down. Losing out on opportunities that you had worked for all of your young life and having that substituted with the possibility of spending the rest of your life in jail, is I think a little more "scarring" than being called an insulting name by some shock-jock who was trying to be funny.

Maybe Jesse and Al can make their joint apology/condemnation statement on the Oprah Winfrey show. Maybe Oprah can combine that with what I assume is a program in the planning stage to interview the vindicated LaCrosse players and their coach. No, wait a minute - the coach was fired. He’s no longer at Duke University. Come to think of it, it’s amazing that Duke University is still involved with these exonerated students or the sport of LaCrosse. As I recall what happened after the false, totally unsupported accusation of rape was made and even before it was gleefully pounced upon by a prosecutor who was seeking re-election in an area heavily populated by African Americans, the powers that be at Duke joined in the Jackson/Sharpton rush to judgment. They suspended the LaCrosse program and fired the LaCrosse coach. Maybe Duke should be issuing apologies while some shining knight of racial equality condemns the hell out of Duke president Richard H. Brodhead. Maybe Oprah can take on that task. With the coach no longer at Duke, she might not be able to get him and those three kids together - but blasting Brodhead would give her a role in the case. With the Rutgers girls appearing on her show today, I’m sure Oprah will do what is necessary to make it clear that she’s an equal opportunity opponent of racial injustice.

O.K. What I’m doing here is comparing insults and assaults - one with black college kids on the receiving end and one with white college kids on the receiving end - and I’m comparing the brouhaha over the two incidents and which of the two has an overloaded bandwagon of people and corporations shouting "off with his head."

One corporation that jumped on the bandwagon this morning - or at least this morning is when I learned about it via e-mail - is the Jewish Daily Forward - an American newspaper dealing with Jewish affairs. They sent out this story of what they term "anti-Semitic vitriol" by Imus. I don’t find it terribly vitriolic myself, but what’s interesting about the story is that Imus is defending the appearance on his show of a group of blind, black gospel singers against the reservations of the "Jewish management" of his station. He also called them "money grubbing bastards" - the managers, not the blind gospel singers.

The point here is that Imus seems to be an equal opportunity defender and insulter - admittedly defending and insulting with a loose tongue. I’m just wondering if the Jackson/Sharpton team can make the same claim.

Update Just heard the news that CBS has indeed canned Imus. His current show is over. CBS put out one of those "we’re doing it for the noblest of reasons" statements - similar to that issued by MSNBC when they canned the simulcast of the radio show. Call me a cynic but I wonder if those actions and those statements would have been issued if no sponsor had pulled out. It’ll be interesting to see who comes back to advertise on whatever or whoever CBS comes up with to replace Imus.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

I don’t know too much about Don Imus. I’ve never heard him on the air except for clips on newscasts when he does something cockeyed - like this latest flap - calling girls on a college basketball team "nappy-headed hos." I do know that this is the sort of thing he does from time to time - insulting individuals or groups - and that sometimes people get upset. But I don’t think I’ve heard him described as a bigot or racist or that insult and bigotry is the basis of his radio show.

What he said was insulting of course - but it was also stupid "shock jock" stuff that should have been regarded as an exercise in non-humorous stupidity rather than something for which a cause-celebre needed to be launched.. Considering the garbage that is spewed over the airways every day that doesn’t become an item in the evening news day after day - or a continuing story in national newspapers or a major topic of discussion and commentary on the Internet - I find the reaction to Mr. Imus a little puzzling.

When Rush Limbaugh started his insulting and condescending assault on Donovan McNabb - just because he was a black quarterback, he resigned his "job" at ESPN - which he never should have had in the first place - but he’s still spewing his right wing garbage on hundreds of radio stations every day. Michael Weiner Savage is much worse. He too is on hundreds of radio stations daily spouting garbage that makes what Imus said sound like lines from a children’s poem. He got fired from a TV Gig for telling a gay caller that he should get aids and die. But he says things like that on the radio every day. Bill Bennett is still on the air after saying that if all black babies were aborted, crime would be reduced.

So why the non-stop assault on Don Imus? The words he used are words that are commonly used by hip-hop artists and black comedians and even though whites aren’t as privileged to use them as are black Americans, if he had said them in a generic context - I don’t think there would have been much of a flap at all. Maybe a few obligatory condemnations from the "we would never dream of saying anything racially insensitive" duo - Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson and Al "Tawana Brawley" Sharpton - but it would likely have died down after a day or two.

The problem of course is that Imus used those words to describe a group of highly identifiable young college athletes - kids with names and achievements - kids who were the pride of their school and of their parents and family members and friends. He made the horrible mistake of using an off the top of his head attempt at shock-jock "humor" on the wrong people.

Having said that, I’m still dismayed at the breadth and the vehemence of the reaction. It’s almost that of a lynch mob mentality. I know you might find this a strange analogy, but I’m reminded of what went on in the lead up to the Iraq invasion. I am sure that there were many who supported the action that did so without being convinced that it was the right thing to do - but who were not only caught up in the passionate exhortations of Mr. Bush but fearful of being "left behind" as the crowd marched toward the noble cause of removing the terrible threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Imus probably helped pour fuel on the fire by apologizing as often as he has now apologized and by appearing on Sharpton’s radio show - which turned out to be a media circus rather than a radio show appearance. A lot of people are saying that Imus is a racist. I have no way of knowing what’s in his heart, but I didn’t get the impression that his thoughtless comments were racially motivated or designed to hurt. What he said wasn’t even close to being descriptive of the girls of the Rutgers team, some of whom are Caucasian. It was a silly comment and he’s obviously sorry that he made it - but it’s also one of those derogatory terms that have become part of the language and it’s probably not that unusual for it to slip out at the wrong time if you’re a shock-jock. Just as it probably wouldn’t be unusual for Imus to let a phrase like "I Jewed him down" slip out at a moment when he’s caught up in an exchange of free wheeling conversation. Would that make him an anti-Semite? Not necessarily. Should he be criticized for saying it and should he apologize? Absolutely. But should he be fired? Maybe if he didn’t apologize and kept saying it day after day after day.

Imus has made racially insulting remarks in the past, but as I understand it, racial bigotry is not one of the underpinnings of his show and though he falls off the racial and ethic sensitivity wagon from time to time - it is from time to time - not all the time.

The initial criticism that was leveled at Imus for this particular incident was deserved. He knew it and was understanding enough to apologize immediately. But when it began to steamroll there was no stopping it. The lead story on network TV news. Taken off the air for two weeks. And now advertisers who had benefited from the Imus program for years - retreating like rats leaving a sinking ship. It’s as though they were afflicted with a Lemming like compulsion to join the howling mob before they were viewed as being supportive of what Imus said. Maybe it’s a bad word to use but as I’ve already said - the piling on strikes me as being a lynch mob mentality.

Imus may not survive - but he won’t starve if his radio gig gets canceled. He’s been at it for decades and I’m sure he’s been paid the kind of big bucks that leading morning men get in big radio markets. And the guy is 66 - a not unreasonable age to retire. But if that indeed happens, I don’t think it will be an event that should be celebrated. Racist remarks should be condemned no matter what the intent of those who make them - and particularly if they are made on the public airways by someone who reaches a large audience. But if the reaction to the uttering of such remarks is the gathering of a lynch mob and an eventual lynching, I don’t think it will benefit the cause of race relations. I’m not saying that it would make them any worse - but if Imus gets canned, I think the feeling might grow in fair minded people that the protest went too far.

So I hope Imus survives - and I hope that he can find a way to bite hard whenever he senses one of those racially or ethnically charged phrases about to come trippingly off his shock-jock tongue.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I don’t know which aspect of the British sailors and marines hostage taking makes me angrier. The idiots who have been criticizing the hostages for saving their lives and helping to avoid an escalation of tensions that could have led to military action with lord knows what kind of unintended consequences - or the idiots who gave permission to members of the hostage group to "sell" their "story." Or maybe any of the ex-hostages who go ahead and make money deals with the likes of The Daily Mirror or The Sun or News of the World.

I’ll deal with the first set of idiots first. I heard a snippet from Michael Savage played on a station that I listen to - one that does not carry Savage - commenting on the appearance of the hostages - not in terms of how they were holding up under captivity - but in terms of them not looking very much like fighting men and women. Not to Michael Wiener Savage’s evil eye. That was his take on the whole affair.

But this sort of garbage is what is to be expected from so called "talk show hosts" from the far right - or as I have dubbed them Right Wing Ranters and Ravers. (RWRAR) From Bill Bennett’s comment about the idea that aborting all black babies would result in a reduction in crime to Rush Limbaugh’s mocking Michael J Fox’s Parkinson’s symptoms - this is the kind of crap that you would expect from these people when "commenting" on a tragically serious event.

But I take issue with people who should know better. Some Colonel Bogey in the making nitwit who I caught on a cable news show saying how the freed hostages should be ashamed of themselves for their disgraceful behavior. This from an Englishman while the families of the freed group were celebrating their safe return. I didn’t catch his name or title, but it isn’t important. The importance is in the nonsense he was spouting.

I did catch the name of one Jack Jacobs, a retired, medal-of-honor winner army colonel who is a consultant to NBC and MSNBC and I heard his take on the hostages which was that it was the most disgraceful thing he had seen in forty years. Interesting. The guy might have had an army career but he also must have led a cloistered life if this incident was the most disgraceful thing he has seen in 40 years. Has he paid any attention to the conduct of his president over the past six years?

Jacobs typifies the "Rambo" reaction to the capture of the British hostages and their playing along with the Iranian P.R. charade which fooled no one other than those who could be led to believe that "Paradise" and 70 Virgins awaits you if you blow yourself to bits and take some infidels with you. Those sailors should have fought to the death to avoid being captured. But being captured, they should have stated their name rank and serial number and stayed as many years as necessary in Iranian prisons repeating just those items of information. What garbage!!

Here’s a critical but reasonably unbiased report of the whole affair in The Australian. But I didn’t need to read this or any other kind of report to arrive at what to me are logical conclusions - and to state the obvious.

The Brits were in a couple of rubber dinghies, carrying no more than small arms. There wasn’t a British navy vessel close enough to stand between them and the Iranian vessels which were not made of rubber and were heavily armed. Trying to resist being taken into custody from their ridiculously vulnerable position would have almost certainly resulted in deaths and serious injuries. No doubt Jack Jacobs would have died right there - standing up in a rubber dinghy, smartly saluting his country’s flag.

Iran and Great Britain are not at war - though the Rambo types have insisted that capturing the British sailors was an act of war. But since they are not, at the moment, at war - the sailors were not prisoners of war. There was no military advantage for Iran in their capture. There were no military secrets for the captives to divulge that would have put their countrymen in peril of an attack by Iranian forces. Thus there was no need nor sense in adopting the Rambo stance that the armchair critics wanted to see adopted. And while I know that Jacobs was once something more than an armchair warrior, he is no less a nitwit in his dotage if he believes something good would have been accomplished if the captives had refused to say anything other than divulging their name, rank and serial number.

After being terrorized for a few days - as described by the released sailors - they were offered a choice. Go along with the phony PR game or maybe end up in an Iranian prison for a few years. They had no way of knowing if the threat was real. From their vulnerable vantage point, it certainly would have looked real. And they knew with absolute certainty that everyone back in the United Kingdom - and in any civilized country for that matter - would understand that this was a charade, and that their "confessions" contained not one iota of truth. And they knew that once they were released, they would be able to tell the story of what really happened - and, as I said in my comments here on April 2, 2007, even the Iranians would be more likely to believe their story that would be available to them on the Internet - than to buy the nonsense that was written for them and that they were forced to spout.

So for my money, the captives did exactly the right thing. Having survived the first few days and finding themselves very much alive, they realized what was going on. They knew they would have their "innings" in the PR game - but if they didn’t play along with the Iranians while they were at bat, they might never have a chance to step up to the plate.

The remarks by Jacobs and others make me sick. This was not Neville Chamberlain coming back from Germany and speaking of peace in our time. This was a stupid incident that could have been blown out of all proportion and resulted in something really tragic if wrong moves had been made. Fortunately, there were cooler heads in those rubber dinghies - and at Ten Downing Street.

Having said all that- I can’t believe the military chiefs or whoever makes such decisions, would approve of any of the captives selling their "stories" to one of the rags that masquerade as newspapers in England. There are some excellent newspapers in England. The Sun, The Daily Mirror and The News of the World are not among them. What are they going to allow next. Paid appearances on popular television shows? "Dancing With The Captives?" "Captive Idol?"

The whole incident was an embarrassment. The criticisms by blowhards who would have been happier seeing the captives returned to their homeland in body bags but with their dignity and patriotism intact is hard enough to take without feeding them something that really is deserving of criticism. The British powers that be need to reverse themselves before what might have been a respectable ending to this incident becomes something even people like me will view as disgraceful.

Follow up. The Brits have reversed themselves - but only with regard to hostages who have not yet made a deal to sell their story. They are now forbidden to do any such thing - but sales already concluded can stand. Not totally disgraceful, but damned close. Those powers that be should be ashamed of themseves.

Thursday, April 05, 2007
And with apologies to Keith Olbermann - worse and worser

It used to be that the symbol of "arrival" - of being cool as well as famous, was to be invited to host Saturday Night Live. Nowadays that symbol rests elsewhere - in a depository that didn’t exist a few years ago - Comedy Central on cable television - and specifically The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. But there is a difference between "arriving" on SNL and The Daily Show. On SNL, one’s appearance is scripted down to the smallest gesture. On The Daily Show, a guest is interviewed by Jon Stewart - and while Stewart can conduct a very funny interview, he can also be dead serious and ask serious questions - and Stewart is bright and knowledgeable. And therein lies the danger in going on the show. If you are a fool, there is no easier way to reveal your foolishness than letting Stewart help you do it.

Such was the case when John Bolton appeared on the show a couple of weeks ago You remember John Bolton. He was the loud mouthed bully who stood zero chance of winning Senate approval to be our UN Ambassador - so Mr. Bush snuck him in with a recess appointment. Bolton resigned in December of 2006 when Congress adjourned and his recess appointment was up. There was no way that he would ever get Senate approval for a permanent appointment. And that was before he received and accepted an invitation to appear on the Daily Show.

If you saw the show, you know what I’m talking about. If you didn’t and would like to see it, here’s a link to his appearance on March 20, 2007.

Speaking of the meaning of elections, he said that
"A President has a responsibility to be true to the people who voted for him and to put people in office that are sympathetic to his positions. Otherwise, what’s the point of having elections?"
It’s hardly believable that anyone serving in a high office in the American government would say anything so incredibly stupid, but that’s why I’ve included a link to the video of his appearance. That’s actually what he said. Verbatim!!

And before that, when Stewart was speaking of Lincoln’s example of governance, which was to include cabinet members who disagreed with him - a totally opposite approach to that of George W Bush - Bolton told Stewart that he was "historically incorrect." Stewart let it go but the next night he completed the man’s self destruction in an on camera telephone conversation with Presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin about Bolton’s historical understanding of Lincoln - and I’ve included a link to the video of that show also. There may be a few seconds of a commercial before the video begins - but it’s probably less that 10 seconds.It's worth watching just to enjoy Kearns Goodwin cutting Bolton down to size.

That was George W Bush’s big time application of the power to appoint someone to high office while Congress is in recess. A man who doesn’t believe that a president is elected to be the president of all the people - just the ones who voted for him.

And now he’s done it again - only this time in as dishonorable way as one could imagine.

On December 4, 2006, he nominated one Sam Fox to be Ambassador to Belgium. This is a man who donated $50,000 to the disgusting "Swift Boat Veterans" smear group that so viciously attacked John Kerry, impugning his integrity and questioning his military service in Vietnam - a conflict studiously avoided by Mr. Bush. It became clear that Mr. Fox would not win Senate conformation, so the president WITHDREW the nomination on March 28, 2007.

That was eight days ago. Congress recessed on March 30, 2007. The Senate is due back April 10, 2007. Yesterday, April 4, 2007, Mr. Bush made Fox Ambassador to Belgium with a recess appointment. After WITHDRAWING his nomination seven days earlier. There was no nominee pending - but Mr. Bush decided to go ahead and appoint him anyway.

I am reasonably sure that this has never been done before - the withdrawal of a nomination only to reinstate it via a recess appointment in a matter of days while Congress was out of town. What I am certain of is that this president has now revealed himself as someone without character, morality or respect for the laws that he has sworn to uphold. He not only acts as though no law or precedent applies to him and to what he perceives to be his unlimited powers - but in my view he can now be compared to the late Senator Joe McCarthy of whom Attorney Joseph Welch asked at a pivotal moment in the Army/McCarthy hearings more than fifty years ago - "You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency sir. At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"

Perhaps in this age of extreme partisanship in American politics - a candidate for the highest office in the land cannot always be expected to disavow attacks on his opponent of the nature of the Swift Boat attacks that were launched against Kerry. But surely, after the election was over, one would have expected that President Bush would never take any action that would indicate that he had approved those attacks - or even worse that he ever believed what they said about Kerry’s wartime service. Yet he nominates a man for an ambassadorship that gave a huge donation to the Swift Boat smear campaign - now claiming of course that he didn’t know what the money would be used for. Not Mr. Fox. He just gives when he’s asked. Fifty grand or more at a time without any idea who’s asking or what the money’s for. I hate to repeat myself - but it calls to mind the words of the Casablanca character that I used yesterday - "I’m shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on in here."

This is a dark moment in American politics. We have a president who has pulled an underhanded and probably illegal stunt to get someone appointed to a federal position without Senate approval. Not just a routine recess appointment but a stunt that no president in history has ever pulled. And the person he appoints is someone who funded a lying group of Republican partisans who smeared his opponent in the presidential race - in ways that leading members of his own party condemned at the time.

The thought that we are stuck with this man until 2008 leaves me with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. And scared at what other outrageous stunts he might pull with - so it seems - no way to stop him.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Arabs being true to form……

I didn’t have to stay away from my computer for a month to prove my point about what would happen with the latest "progress" towards peace in the Middle East. As I predicted just days ago, on March 29 - absolutely nothing is happening that holds the glimmer of hope for peace between Israel and its various enemies. The Arab states propose a take it or leave it "peace plan" - Olmert says let’s talk - and the Arab states come back with - accept our plan first - then we’ll talk!!! Of course this could all change for the better after Olmert and Abbas have held a dozen or so of their every two week meetings brokered by Condy Rice - if the first one ever takes place.

You’ll have to excuse my cynicism - but as the ancient philosopher once said - been there, done that.

And Diplomacy Trumps Force…

And I’m happy to see that Dubya took my advice and confined his more recent rants to attacking Democrats for trying to express the will of the people - and for (gasp, gasp) attaching pork to a spending bill!! As Captain Renault (Claud Rains) said in Casablanca - "I am shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on in here." The bottom line is that he clammed up about Iran and the British marines and now they’re being released. Without a shot being fired. Without shock and awe. Without threats of invasion. Just by talking to those people that we don’t talk to.

Will Dubya learn anything from this?

Don't hold your breath. It's bad for the digestion.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

It probably won’t do any good but I voted in the London Evening Standard’s poll on the question of whether or not a one hundred million pound mosque should be built to be ready for London hosting the 2012 Olympics. I voted NO and since there seems to be no restrictions on who can vote, you’re invited to participate, wherever you live. I also recommend that you click on the line about a "quango" deciding on whether or not the mosque should be built that’s just below the "yes" or "no" vote choices. To save you time, I looked up "quango" in the dictionary and it means "a semi-public advisory and administrative body supported by the government and having most of its members appointed by the government."

The last time I looked, the vote was running 55% YES and 45% NO which would indicate that London’s substantial Muslim community is well organized and strongly behind building this monstrosity. Here’s another write up on the proposed Islamic house of worship, describing how it would dwarf such historic British institutions as Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral in an aerial view of the city. The comments below this article are particularly revealing - from Muslims and non-Muslims and are worth reading if you have the time.

One of the big supporters of the project is Ken Livingstone, the pro-jihadist, anti-Semitic Mayor of London - or should I say Londonistan? I’ve written before about this far left abomination who welcomes radical Islamic clerics calling for jihad against the west with open arms. Type in his name in any search engine and you’ll get a variety of information about his history. Here’s just one site. The comments are from 2005 but nothing about Livingstone has changed since.

I was born in London. I spent my school years there. It’s a city that I love - but more and more it’s one that I no longer recognize as the city of my youth - and one in which I no longer feel completely safe walking the streets, riding the double decker buses or the tube. It has always been a cosmopolitan city and a welcome haven for all kinds of ethnic and religious minorities. But in recent years, something has changed radically. There was a Muslim community in England when I was a child - but it was small - perhaps the same size as the Jewish community or maybe smaller. That’s not the situation today. Muslims are the second largest religious group in the UK - second only to the country’s official religion - Christianity. There are some one million Muslims living in London and they make themselves felt in ways that not only make other Londoners feel uncomfortable but in ways that are changing the very fabric of the city.

The British authorities have finally woken up to the Islamic radicalism that they allowed to fester for years, culminating in the attacks of July 7, 2005 and have passed legislation designed to put teeth into laws to combat home grown terrorism. But radical UK Islamic clerics still preach hatred of their own country and it is far too late to rein in the effects of an ever growing and increasingly demanding Islamic population. It would seem that the Muslim population of London, citizens and non-citizens alike, are not just happy to be able to practice their faith freely - as opposed to Christians or Jews who might want to practice their faiths in say - Saudi Arabia - the reputed source of financing for the proposed London mosque. They want to impose their presence on the rest of British society. They make demands on UK schools to accommodate their "special needs." They want special "Bank Holidays" - national holidays to celebrate their religion - and the list goes on and on.

I don’t mean this to be an anti-Islamic rant. Although I’m personally non-religious, I support the right of anyone to practice any faith in a free society - as long it does not attempt to change the fabric of the very society that grants them that freedom. A monstrous religious edifice that will be able to accommodate as many as 70,000 worshipers when finished - dwarfing the size of all other religious edifices in the country, including those that have been symbolic of the religious history of Britain - funded by a foreign, repressive Islamic society whose "laws" would be considered crimes in western society, is an abuse of the freedom of religion that the United Kingdom grants to all who live there.

As I have said, it is too late to undo what Islam has already done to change the look and feel of London - but it is not too late to slow down and maybe even call a halt to further encroachment. I attended schools in London and sang the hymns of a faith that was not my own and in which I did not believe. I celebrated and enjoyed the "bank holidays" of Britain, religious and non-religious alike and never gave a thought to demanding that there should be some to celebrate whatever I might believe. And at no time did I feel that I was any kind of second class citizen or that my rights were not being respected.

Britain’s Muslims need to go to the public schools and conform to the rules that have been in place there for centuries and they need to celebrate or at least respect the British holidays that British citizens have enjoyed for centuries. And above all they need to scrap plans for a religious monstrosity that will persuade visitors to the site of the 2012 Olympic games that they have indeed arrived at the newly named western outpost of Islam - Londonistan!!!

Monday, April 02, 2007
By staying out of it!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know which is worse. Iran parading their British captives on television with some of them "apologizing" for their dangerous and threatening incursion into Iranian waters - which could well have been the first strike of a massive invasion force - or the US treatment of "terrorists" who are squirreled away at Gitmo and kept there incommunicado for years on end - or "rendered" to some other country - at all times far from then prying eyes of television or newsreel cameras.

Both scenario’s are laden with disingenuity and both are probably crimes of one kind or another - but whatever one might think of the way we are treating our captives - the Iranian’s have no legitimate excuse for their actions. If Iran and the UK were at war, the way that are treating those British marines would be a war crime. Cut and dried. Obviously, parading the unfortunate captives on television is for the benefit of the domestic audience - though it makes one wonder. Do the Mullahs and Ahmadinejad think that Iranians are that stupid? That they would actually believe that the "confessions" and "apologies" are genuine and not made under threat of physical harm? When the hostages are finally released and able to speak truthfully about what happened during their captivity - do the crazies ruling Iran not believe that what they say won’t reach most Iranians via the Internet?

I’m not one who believes that the only way to deal with Iran is the way that we are dealing with them - which is to blast them the same way they blast us and refuse to talk to them. Nor do I believe that war with Iran is inevitable . But despite what some experts and visitors to that country say - that the average Iranian has friendly feelings towards the United States - and that Ahmadinejad’s power is on the wane after elections that seemed to reject his policies, they continue to act like nuts on the world stage - pushing the envelope further and further towards a military confrontation. The fact that they can organize a "student protest" with cries of "Death to Britain" and have conveniently available rocks to throw at the British Embassy would certainly seem to indicate that there is no loosening of the grip that Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs have on the country and the difficulty inherent in solving this problem diplomatically.

Is it possible to imagine the Brits acting in such a manner? Would they pluck Iranian sailors from the high seas because they were too close to their shores - put them in front of television cameras to "confess" their "crimes" and then organize a bunch of college kids to stand in front of the Iranian Embassy and throw stones and yell "Death to Iran?" Of course not - yet they have to find a way to deal with a nation that doesn’t hesitate to act in such a manner while avoiding a military confrontation.

Not helping the situation at all of course is the admonition from President Bush that the Brits have done nothing wrong and the Iranians have to release their captives tout de suite. It’s one thing for the European union to demand their release. But for someone who has condemned Iran as part of an "axis of evil" and insists that we won’t talk to them until they reform themselves to our liking, and with our treatment of detainees that we say have committed crimes reducing our moral authority to close to zero - his "involvement" in this crisis is almost a bad joke.

The latest news is that a resolution appears to be in the offing with some way for both countries to save face. Iran has promised to stop parading the captives on television while things are being worked out. Diplomatically. No military threats. No gathering of an armada off the Iranian coastline. The Brits know they’re dealing with crazy men who nonetheless are acting with great cunning for what they perceive to be a major act of derring-do on the world stage and they are approaching the situation with the kind of diplomacy needed to diffuse the situation. It seems to be working. But if there is one thing that could upset what seems to be movement toward a peaceful resolution - it would be Mr. Bush parading in front of television cameras to demand that these evil people do what he tells them to do.

Bush and Blair are supposed to have a reasonably good working relationship - whether one buys into the idea that it’s a leader and lap dog relationship or not. Let’s hope that at least it’s good enough for Blair to be able to call the president on the phone and say what needs to be said. Like George, do us all a favor and quit saying anything. Just stay out of it while we get our people back.