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Saturday, June 30, 2007
(Not The Start of a Lewis Carroll Poem)

I would imagine that by now O.J. Simpson is fuming at the silence of his telephone - that Ben and Jennifer are thinking about getting back together - and that Tom Cruise is looking for a new P.R. agent. How else would they be reacting to the incarceration and subsequent release of Paris Hilton as one of the major news stories of the day? What, they must be asking themselves - has she done to deserve this kind of attention? To be mentioned - at one tine or another - on every network television news show. To have Larry King - he who calls Ringo Starr "George" - bounce Michael Moore so he could spend an hour with Ms Hilton. To have just about every other cable "news" or "views" or whatever you’d want to call those programs , devote most of their air time to discussion and/or film of the hotel heiress. She hasn’t committed or even been accused of committing a murder. She hasn’t joined with a male counterpart heir to some family fortune to become one half of a "couple." And she hasn’t borne the child of some quasi religious movie performer cultist.

I can imagine the frustration of these truly newsworthy icons at all of the media misuse about this silly little girl, while their "stories" have been thrust onto tabloid back burners. And I can imagine the millions of people from non-Americanized cultures - yet having access to CNN - watching this soap opera unfold with a mixture of horror, disbelief and an increasing mistrust and hatred of America, Americans and what they perceive as "American values." And most of all, I can imagine the intelligent beings of the cosmos chalking up yet another reason to be added to the quadrillions already noted for why they won’t come.

In a week when the Supreme Court was handing down far reaching decisions - when the vice-president of the United States was issuing his private interpretation of the constitution - when a constitutional crisis was brewing between Congress and the White House - Paris Hilton was the "story" on millions of American lips. Certainly on the lips of her "fans" - many of whom gathered outside of the California jail to celebrate her release after being incarcerated for 23days. I once served 28 days in an army prison for an AWOL offense. The long timers there called that "sentence" an SSH. "A shit, shave and a haircut." For Ms Hilton, it was apparently a new awakening - a prelude to a new way of life.

May it be one of blessed obscurity, Please!!

Still - it wasn’t as bad as it might have been for O.J. et al - because as annoying as the media obsession with Ms. Hilton’s comings and goings might have been, her spotlight had to be shared by the almost equally obsessive interest in the androgynous one who Keith Olbermann calls "Coultergeist."

I remember when I was nine or ten years old being introduced to "dirty jokes" - and their shock value when used under the right circumstances. The first I ever heard - and used - was the simple phrase - "if you see Kay, tell her I’m looking for her." Yes, I know it isn’t funny or dirty, but to a nine or ten year old, being able to say "F.U.C.K. tell her I’m looking for her" - particularly in front of a teacher and waiting for him or her to "get" it and be appropriately shocked - was touching the outskirts of nirvana.

I never thought of being able to make a living by saying things in public designed to do nothing more than shock people - but obviously it is a way to make a living in the Hilton, Lohan, Spears et al era - as the Coultergeist thing keeps demonstrating. I can understand the reason why the same broadcast media people who fawn over the idiocies of Paris Hilton give air time to the Coultergeist. They expect it to shock - and thus have people talk about whatever shocking thing it said. And draw attention to their programs.

I don’t blame Coultergeist for the results. For the hurt that it creates. It is, after all, how "it" makes "its" living. To blurt out - like a nine or ten year child - the most ridiculous thing that pops into its head. A presidential candidate is a homosexual. Widows or the 9/11 tragedy are enjoying their widowhood. But I have nothing but contempt for the people who give it air time, knowing that it will say something like this garbage. They are the ones who should be condemned for their recklessness.

But beyond the contempt that I have for the people who use the Coultergeist in this fashion , is the sadness I feel at the reaction of hundreds of thousands of people who apparently approve of this kind of behavior by buying its books and reading the drivel it writes in a handful of papers around the country that - perhaps for the same reason that television programs continue to provide a venue for its childish vitriol - carry its column.

Some people think that the Coultergeist is one scary dude. But it’s easy to ignore its shenanigans once you understand what it does - and why. What isn’t that easy to ignore is the fact that there are a great many people who believe and approve of what they perceive as the "substance" of what it says and writes - and are willing to defend it That my friends, is truly scary.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to a theater to see a movie - and I have no plans to do so in the near future, so I guess I’ll have to wait until a CD is available before I can see "Sicko" - Michael Moore’s latest effort. It’s one that I want to see because the subject matter deals with perhaps the most pressing domestic issue facing this nation - the need for all Americans to have access to affordable quality health care.

Among the developed nations of the world - we stick out like a sore thumb as the super power without a national health plan of any kind other than Medicare. But the mere mention of such a concept evokes cries of horror from conservative critics, prophesying our descent to third world status if we should ever enact into law that communistic evil known as socialized medicine!!!

Invariably, fingers are pointed at Canada and England - and we hear stories of patients waiting months or even years for needed operations - some even dying before the system was able to accommodate them. And Moore’s latest documentary has evoked those kinds of responses - including one from an English nurse that appeared by way of an op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune. The nurse, one Helen Evans - is no right wing rabble rouser or spokesperson for powerful medical combines - or at least doesn’t appear to be. She is however an advocate. She heads up an organization dedicated to improving health care systems in England and Europe.

In Moore’s film, a smiling desk attendant at a British hospital tells him that under the British National Health Service - "everything is free." That bugged Nurse Evans, who works in that system - and she took to her pen to explain the high price that Britons pay for this free service. It includes the usual litany - a million people waiting for treatment - even for emergency treatment - and of course some who die while waiting.

I will agree that the British and Canadian systems are far from perfect - but trotting out the usual scare tactics of "millions waiting for service" and "people dying before they can be seen" - is no argument against the need for and advantages of a national health plan. Quoting statistics can be scary. They conjure up visions of circumstances that don’t exist. I can assure you there is no crowd of a million desperately ill people lining the streets from London to Birmingham waiting to be admitted to a hospital. There are no accident victims left lying in the streets because hospitals are overcrowded and short of medical personnel.

Nurse Evans knows a lot more than me about the British system - but let me just make a few comments about what I do know. A few years ago, my wife had an accident on the streets of London. She tripped and suffered a large gash in her head. Passers by called for help - an ambulance appeared within minutes and we were whisked to a hospital where, after a very short wait in the emergency room, a doctor treated and sowed up her wound. No money changed hands. No money was asked for.

I have a brother who lives in England. My sister-in-law has serious medical problems for which she has had several major operations. Some of the dates for these operations had to be rescheduled - some more than once - because certain surgeons or operating rooms weren’t available - but all of the surgeries were completed and no money changed hands.

A while back, my brother had a mild stroke while on a local errand. Fortunately, someone was with him at the time and was able to drive him to a local hospital where he was immediately admitted and kept there until doctors concluded that he had recovered sufficiently to go home. No money changed hands for his hospitalization. There was no waiting for him to be admitted.

Both my brother and my sister-in-law are on multiple life sustaining medications. As seniors, under the British National Health Service, they pay nothing for their prescriptions.

My brother has private insurance in addition to his automatic access to the National Health Service - and is able to switch back and forth between private and public systems as needed. But overall, he and his wife are happy with and grateful for the British National Health Service. Without it, even with access to private insurance - he long ago would have been bankrupted. He is part of another statistic that Nurse Evans doesn’t mention - that with all of its frustrations and drawbacks - Britons are generally satisfied with the National Health Service - and for sure wouldn’t want to trade it for what we have here. Except maybe for the super rich who don’t care what system is in place as long as there are doctors and hospitals willing to fall over themselves to take their money.

The same applies to our neighbors to the north. You hear stories of Canadians coming here for services that they can’t get or have to wait too long for in Canada - but these are likely people who can afford to go anywhere. What you don’t hear are stories of Canadians losing their homes and going bankrupt because of overwhelming medical bills - or having to choose between putting food on the table or getting needed medical care.

We need a national health plan in the United States. We need a system where every citizen has access to affordable health care - not just the rich or those able to pay for comprehensive insurance coverage or who work for businesses that provide comprehensive health benefits.

What stands in the way is profit. The health business is big business. From hospital chains to pharmaceutical companies to the health insurance industry - huge profits stand in the way of extending the delivery of quality health care to all of our citizens.

Critics of any kind of national health plan say that if you remove the incentives that the free market supplies, our health system would begin to mirror the worst aspects of the British and Canadian systems - long lines, waiting lists etc. Of course we already have that as part of our system. Anyone living in the United States without health insurance or great wealth is in far worse shape than anyone in Canada or the UK. We do have people who have to choose between food on the table or paying for life sustaining drugs. Try to find them in countries with national health systems!!

We may not want to use the Canadian or British systems as models -but we can use our knowledge of their mistakes and difficulties to create a better system. There are a lot of plans being floated by presidential candidates. We need to look at them - take the best ideas from each - and from systems operating successfully in other countries - and start catching up with the rest of the civilized world.

What stands in the way of course is situations like this - with health insurance companies raking in obscene profits. And those delivering health care directly to patients such as HMO’s - raking in equally obscene profits. They don’t want to surrender those huge profits and CEO paychecks and they are a powerful lobbying force.

I don’t know what solutions, if any, Michael Moore offers in his film. But I believe the money is there to create a health care service that would leave no American out in the cold. All that is needed is for us to stop thinking about health care as a commodity instead of what it is considered in other countries - a benefit of citizenship - and start funneling those billions that now get consumed as profits - into providing direct care to all our citizens.

Monday, June 25, 2007

A little over a week ago, there was an op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune about the problems faced by rape victims and the dangers to society of the underreporting of rape attacks because of the fear of not being believed when they come forward.. The author, one Anne K Ream, used the Duke Lacrosse players case as the example to make her point - and was not sparing in her criticism of the behavior of the team members who she described as "drunken and leering men" as they "enjoyed" the performance of two hired exotic dancers. She also defended the discredited accuser in the case, saying that it wasn’t unusual for a rape victim to give conflicting statements to the police. "A victim's statements" she wrote, " particularly in the wake of a traumatic attack, can be confused and inconsistent. Memory is resolutely imperfect over time and under the duress of repeated questioning." And she called the "false report" of a rape - a myth!!

The argument that the underreporting of rape is a major problem and - as she put it - "the enemy of change" - is one that needs to be made and with which I cannot argue. I just thought it was unfortunate that in using the Duke case to make her point, she came pretty damned close to saying that the three exonerated Lacrosse players got away with rape - all of the evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. The article was followed by a flurry of letters to the editor - most praising it for criticizing the Duke players' behavior.

I wasn’t moved to make any comment after I read Ms. Ream’s op-ed piece, - even though I thought that she was way off base in the way she tackled the topic - but I am moved to do so after reading all of the positive reaction - because there was no acknowledgment - either by Ream or the letter writers - of what is as horrendous as rape - perhaps even more horrendous - and that is being falsely accused of any crime - be it rape or petty theft.

Let me make my views on rape clear before I proceed. I think rapists should be hung by their testicles until they are either dead or no longer physically capable of raping anyone. Ms. Ream says that "we may never know everything that occurred on the night of March 13, 2006" - even though the evidence is overwhelming that what did not occur was rape. I cannot for a moment imagine the pain and horror that a rape victim must feel - especially if she is brave enough to report the rape - and not be believed - even attacked for her "behavior." The thought sends shudders down my spine. But I can imagine the pain and horror of being accused of a crime that one did not commit - because it once happened to me.

I’ve written about it here before - I made a passing reference to it as recently as seven days ago - June 18. I wasn’t accused of committing any kind of violent crime - but that’s not the point. It matters little what the charges were. The pain and the horror comes with being arraigned before a judge and hearing a crime being described that you did not commit. To hear lie after lie tumbling from the mouth of a prosecuting attorney. You look at him in horror and amazement. You ask yourself what kind of man this person is - to be able to stand there and weave this work of fiction. You want to scream. You want to call the man a liar. You want to tell the judge that this is utter madness. But you can’t. The lawyer representing me and two other defendants cautioned me to say nothing. He knew my state of mind and the extent of my fury at what was happening. So I bit my tongue and sat there and listened to him explain to the judge that the charges had no merit. Fortunately, as I’ve written here before, the judge agreed and dismissed the case. Not at that moment, but days later - in a written opinion. He didn’t rule on the truthfulness of the accusations - only on the fact that even if true, they did not constitute a crime

But just think - if the false charges - made up entirely from whole cloth - had amounted to criminal behavior - the case may have preceded to trial. In the Duke case - the criminal actions of the prosecuting attorney came to light before a trial could get under way. Even so, the three accused student’s lives were turned upside down. And had they actually had to stand trial, the wounds that they would have suffered would have stayed with them for a lifetime - even if they had been found innocent by a jury.

Try to imagine if you can - the horror of being on trial for a violent crime that you did not commit - a crime for which - if found guilty - you could be sentenced to years in prison. Maybe for the rest of your natural life. You want to believe that the truth will prevail - but you sit there as witnesses tell one falsehood after another - and a prosecutor joins with and encourages them to lie. You think to yourself that the prosecutor must know that he’s lying - that he doesn’t care about guilt or innocence - just about getting a conviction and making his record look good. The desperation that such an innocent defendant must feel reminds me of a Harlan Ellison short science fiction story about an evil computer that rules the world and that hates and tortures humans - and about the last surviving human who wants to kill himself to escape the horror of his existence. The computer thwarts him by turning him into a gelatinous animal with no ability to do himself any harm - and who thus must live in torment for ever - unable even to cry out in pain. Hence the title of the story - I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM

Anne Ream may be right about the difficulties that women face when they claim to have been raped - and she has a point about the boorishness of the Duke students’ behavior on the night of March 13, 2006 - and that there is no justification for that kind of behavior. But to imply that there is no such thing as a false rape report - and in so doing imply that the Duke students might well have been guilty , that Crystal Gail Mangum was telling the truth - or believed that she was telling the truth - and that the legal vindication of the Duke students somehow does harm to the cause she advocates - in my mind puts her in the same category of prosecutors who bring false charges - and the people who wrote to the paper praising her analysis - at the very least confused.

For sure I wouldn’t want any of them sitting on a jury of any trial where I am the defendant. And I hope for her sake that Ms Ream isn’t ever accused and brought to trial for a crime that she did not commit. I think she would find that as devastating as being the victim of the sub-humanoid who really does commit the crime of rape.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Psychiatrists call it free association. I call it one thought about something silly leading to another thought about something equally silly..

It began a few days ago when I pulled up to a red light - next to an SUV parked at the curb with the door wide open on the driver’s side, inviting an accident. Half seated in the driver’s seat was a young lady with one hand holding a phone to her ear and the other holding a paper cup of coffee which she had obviously just purchased from the Starbucks store on the other side of the street. It was a scene that I see almost every day. Not the vehicle with the door dangerously open - but the occupant with a Starbucks coffee in hand. Buying and drinking Starbucks coffee has become a part of our conventional wisdom. Millions are buying and drinking - so it must not only be worthwhile - but the appropriate thing to do.

As is often the case, I gave fleeting thought to the utter ridiculousness of anyone stopping at a Starbucks store and paying a ridiculous amount of money for a cup of coffee to carry back to- and presumably drink in their car - when they could just as easily have made coffee at home for a fraction of the price - and carried it with them in a thermos flask - or - if they were in a hurry to drink while driving - in a paper cup. And that thought of course led to another about the gullibility of the human animal - and those, like Starbucks - who understand that gullibility and take advantage of it. I was going to say "gullibility of Americans" - but I’m sure it extends to just about every country in the world.

You’ll have to excuse the way my mind works - but the Starbucks thought reminded me of a "60 Minutes" piece that I watched several Sundays ago and which I had pigeonholed for future comment. It was the story of a retired lady truck driver who believed that a painting she had picked up in a thrift store for a couple of dollars - was a Jackson Pollock - worth millions!! 60 Minutes doesn’t do too many comedy pieces, but I found myself laughing almost throughout the length of this particular piece. The source of my laughter was conflicting "expert" opinion about the painting’s authenticity that 60 Minutes presented.

Pollock was a "painter" who created his works of art by throwing buckets of paint at a canvas and smearing them to create random shapes and patterns. He became celebrated as an abstract expressionist - and people who later had their chauffeurs drive them in limousines to buy cups of Starbucks coffee in the morning, paid millions to own them. Teri Horton - the retired truck driver - figured she could cash in big time on this nonsense after someone told her that her work of art may have been "painted" by Pollock. What set me laughing at the 60 Minutes piece was some of the things that the "experts" had to say about Horton’s painting. One so called expert didn’t think it was authentic. He said " This doesn’t look like a Pollock. Doesn't feel like a Pollock, doesn't sing like a Pollock." Another expert found a fingerprint on the back of the painting and was able to match it with fingerprints in Pollock’s studio - concluding that this was proof of a genuine "Pollock."

It was all done with straight faces - but it just as easily could have been a skit from Saturday Night Live or The Daily Show. Here was a gathering of "experts" attempting to differentiate between the paint tosses and smears of Jackson Pollock - and those of a five year old with a rambunctious dog. And on the basis of such "expertise" - millions of dollars could change hands - and indeed have changed hands for the years since Jackson Pollock "arrived" - and most certainly since his departure from life in 1958. We have been told by ‘experts" that the paint throwings of Pollock are works of great art - and like the appropriateness of overpaying for and drinking Starbucks coffee - that is now accepted conventional wisdom

Could it have been coincidence that about the same time as "experts" were consumed with authenticating or debunking the authorship of the truck driver’s "work of art" - the Creationist Museum opened in Petersburg, Kentucky? Here is a museum which presents the views of "experts" on the birth of our planet and the emergence of man and members of the animal kingdom, The exhibits at this museum depict the planet’s creation exactly as described in the bible. Everything came into being around six thousand years ago - and the museum’s exhibits show how it happened and what it looked like - the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve - the whole biblical story. The idea is to "prove" that evolutionary science is wrong - and before you laugh at the idea being just about the silliest thing you ever heard - think about how much of our lives are influenced by what is written in that self same bible - and by "expert" interpretation of those writings. Think about how much of what is written - from Genesis to Revelation - that is actually accepted as conventional wisdom - so much so that it dictates how millions of us in the Judeo-Christian world conduct our lives. And our wars.

Then - as if to provide a punctuation mark for my thought sequence of the last few days - the American Film Institute came out with its "100 YEARS - 100 MOVIES´ list - its idea of the best 100 movies of all time. I’m not sure of the significance of "100 years." I don’t think there were too many commercial movies in production in 1907. But the theme of these comments is strange things that have become conventional wisdom, - and the 100 best list is included because - of course - it was once again headed up by "Citizen Kane." Citizen Kane - best movie ever made. That’s conventional wisdom. No need to even consider other movies. Well, I’ve seen the movie - more than once. It’s interesting. It has a few innovative techniques. But they were techniques that were innovative for 1941. They don’t warrant it being named the greatest movie of all time every time a list of the "best movies" is drawn up. That’s a little like saying that the first person who ran a sub- four minute mile was the greatest miler of all time. I’m sure Roger Bannister wouldn’t mind being remembered that way - but it wouldn’t make sense.

But all the film "experts" tell us that Citizen Kane was the best movie of all time. That’s the conventional wisdom - and if hits you the wrong way - as it does me - and if it sets you to thinking about the silliness of some of the things that we accept without thinking about them too much because they’ve become part of the backdrop against which we live out our lives - beware - you could find yourself caught up in an endless sequence of one thought about a silly thing leading to another thought about a silly thing - a vortex of endless cogitation with no way to escape its powerful undertow.

I am only able to finish this piece because I found a way to break the sequence in which I found myself. I would share it with you , but I’m thinking you might find it of more value if you actually pay for it. I’m thinking of a retail marketing campaign. Maybe through some conveniently located stores. Next to Starbucks maybe.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I don’t like to get hung up on one topic for days on end, but it seems as though I’m somewhat stuck with a follow up - at least for today - on the subject of terrorism and the Muslim "culture of hate" that was mentioned yesterday. But at least - to quote a classic line from a character in the old television sitcom "Night Court" - I’ll be brief. (And if you recognize the line, the character and the set up, I bid you greetings my brother - or sister).

The angry, injured, insulted Muslims are at it again. They want Salman Rushdie hung, drawn and quartered - and this time as one half of a dual execution - the other half being Queen Elizabeth II - and if possible combined with the sinking of the British Isles into the Atlantic ocean. His crime this time - the first being the publication of The Satanic Verses - is being knighted by the aforementioned Queen as part of her birthday celebration.

According to some in the Muslim world - the awarding of such an honor to this UK citizen is an insult to the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims. It’s an attack on Islam. One of our "friends" in Pakistan said it would justify a suicide attack. On Buckingham Palace maybe? And the Iranians still have a fatwa on Salman’s head. Maybe they’ll up the bounty after this latest "insult." Even some British Muslims were upset - calling it a "provocation" and "insensitive."

And why do I call attention to this story? Only because it emphasizes the point made in the op-ed piece by Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari to which I linked in yesterday’s comments. In case you don’t have the time or the inclination to read it, let me quote a few pertinent lines.
Hatred is a culture of prohibitions, and the result of our viewing the world as an enemy lying in wait [for us.] Many factors have played a part [in shaping this world view], including the religious messages anchored in fears of plots, the educational messages that have produced in young people alienation from the [modern] era, and a great number of publications by the Muslim Brotherhood and by the nationalists, which have, for the past 50 years, spread hatred of the other and conspiracy theories [against the Muslims].
I’m sure that there are deeply religious people of other faiths who react with alarm at perceived insults to their faith. We have Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. who believe that there is an ongoing "war" against Christianity in their own country - but for the moment at least, they’re not threatening to execute those who they perceive as waging this "war."

But, as Dr. Al-Ansari points out, too many Muslims world wide have been taught that non-Muslims are "enemies lying in wait" - and with such education and upbringing, it’s easy to interpret a nod, a wink or a slap on the back as a calculated effort to insult and inflame. The threat of Muslim extremism is one of the major issues of our time - if not the major issue. It’s a problem that the west has to deal with - one that we’ll have to wrestle with, probably for decades to come. But one thing is clear. It cannot be overcome by military means. What would we do - invade Pakistan and Iran and Saudi Arabia and Indonesia and hunt down all the Muslims with E and T emblazoned across their robes - E for Extremist and T for Terrorist?

It’s probably something that should be talked about during the current presidential campaign - because for sure the next president is going to have to wrestle with the problem - and most likely looked to by the rest of the world for leadership in how to move millions of Muslims away from extremist views. Of course just debating the issue publicly would be considered a gross insult by the same people who are calling for Salman Rushdie’s head. Which gives you an idea of the enormity of the problem.

On the other hand, I guess it’s simple if you’re vying for the Republican presidential nomination. Don’t actually talk about the problem as outlined by Dr. Al-Ansari - or represented by the world wide reaction to Salman Rushdie’s knighthood. Just be more convincing than the next guy about your willingness to use nuclear weapons to wipe out some of those crazies.

I’m not sure which is scarier. The obvious threat of world wide Muslim extremism - or the way some of the trigger happy presidential wannabes say they will deal with it. Maybe Dr. Al- Ansari should have included a message to the west in his op-ed piece. Be sure you elect a president who understands that the worst thing you can do is to try to combat our extremism with a western brand of extremism.

Monday, June 18, 2007

An interesting follow up to my comments of last Saturday about what might work as a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I don’t keep up with everything that everyone says in the Middle East, so I missed the apparent fact that King Abdullah brought up the idea of a federation style arrangement with the West Bank territory about a month ago. I got the information from the Mideast On Target newsletter which arrived in my mail box this morning. The author didn’t think it was a good idea because that would move Israel’s first line of defense more or less back to the 1967 border instead of the Jordan river - and if something went awry in Jordan - if Islamic militants were able to overthrow the government there - Israel would be in a more vulnerable position.

The problem with rejecting such an idea out of hand because bad things might happen - is that the alternative is to stay in and rule over the west bank forever - which - as we can see from 40 years of doing that - just about guarantees that bad things will continue to happen.

But having blasted Abdullah in my Saturday comments, I’m pleased to learn that he understands - or at least seems to understand - that there’s not much chance of an independent "West Bank State of Palestine" being viable - other than as a permanent charity case of the United Nations and the United States. And even less for a "Palestinian State of Gaza." And that some sort of affiliation with an adjacent Arab country would offer the best chance for viability.

Stay tuned.

Step One in the Nifong Case

By voting to disbar Mike Nifong - the North Carolina State Bar took an appropriate first step toward resolving the Durham County District Attorney’s attempt to ram a miscarriage of justice through the courts - and incarcerate three college students that he knew to be innocent - all to boost his reelection chances.

I am not the least bit impressed with his "acceptance" of the verdict and his pledge not to appeal. Or with his resignation. "It is my fervent hope that this action will spare this community the further anguish a removal hearing would entail and will allow the healing process to move forward" he wrote. Sure. He really wants healing to take place.

At this point, he is exercising the only option available to him - and that is an attempt at damage control. From the sounds that are coming from the vindicated student’s legal teams , it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to talk them out of civil suits. Shades of O.J. Simpson. But unlike the O.J. Simpson case, it’s beginning to look like Nifong may not be criminally charged for his criminal conduct. Not when phrases like "made mistakes" and "broke the rules" are being used by the authorities to describe his crimes.

Still, it may happen. At least one of the attorneys for the three students is pushing for it to happen. Then it will be a question of whether history will be made or if it will result in the same outcome that I described here on April 16, 2007. Sending a prosecutor to jail for using his office to prosecute and sometimes convict someone when he has evidence in hand that points to someone else - or that in some other way exonerates the accused - should be a slam dunk. But it doesn’t happen. Just as the City of Chicago pays out millions when someone is wrongfully killed by a cop - but the cop doesn’t go to jail. Doesn’t even go on trial.

As I said on April 16, prosecutors are among the most powerful people in this country. Their decisions to indict and prosecute can turn lives upside down. I know. It once happened to me. Not an accusation as devastating as rape or murder - but an accusation sufficient to turn my life upside down. It never went to trial. A judge threw the case out of court, saying that even if what was being alleged was true - (it wasn’t) - it wouldn’t amount to a crime. So the prosecutor in the case was chastised - maybe a little embarrassed. But he went on his merry way indicting and prosecuting - without any punishment for creating a phony indictment and all the pain that it caused.

People who do things like this are criminals. They should be treated as such. Nifong should be charged with criminal conduct - not just "ethics violations."

"War" Against "Terror"

One of my ultra conservative readers writes to me regularly about how we must do battle against the crazed Islamists or we’ll end up having to worship in Mosques and our women forced to wear burkas while they’re riding in the back seats of our cars. (Not allowed to drive you see). In other words, destroy them before they destroy and capture us.

It makes no sense of course. While military action is needed in specific cases, this is not a ‘war" that can be won militarily. "Terrorism" isn’t Nazi Germany or the Japanese Empire. I plan to make some observations about this whole issue of fighting a "war" against "terror" in the future. Meanwhile, here’s some worth while comments from Dr. Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, former dean of the shari'a and law faculty at Qatar University - translated from an op-ed piece in a Kuwait newspaper and published the other day in the Jerusalem Post.

The good doctor talks about a "culture of hatred" among Muslims that produces endless numbers of young men and women who are ready, willing and able to commit suicide to kill a few infidels. That’s something that can’t be countered with bombs and bullets. But what might be able to turn the situation around is people like him - not just speaking out - but rising to power in the Muslim nations that foster the culture of hatred and death. And that’s something we can’t accomplish with military might, no matter how many bombs we drop or bullets we fire in our hunt for "terrorists."

Friday, June 15, 2007

In the four years that I have been posting comments on this blog, I have visited the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on many occasions. For the most part, I’ve tried to hang on to the idea that there could be an Israel and a sovereign "Palestinian" nation living side by side - or even intermingled - as I suggested, not entirely tongue-in-cheek, way back on October 10, 2003.

I’ve also had some dark moments when I despaired of there ever being a solution - in my lifetime - or for generations to come. I’m having one of those moments today - a glimpse of stark reality - because what is going on in Gaza is telling us something that many of us have believed for a long time - and that is that the idea of a "Palestinian state" comprised of land between Israel and the Jordan river - plus the Gaza strip - is and always was a bad idea.

I won’t dwell on the claims that there are no Palestinians - that there has never been a Palestinian state governed by Arabs - or a distinct Palestinian culture or language - whether those claims are by Jews or an Arab American. Claims and counter-claims like these get us nowhere.

But I think this latest debacle may inspire someone who could command the attention of Israelis, the sane elements of the Palestinian Arab population and the neighboring Arab countries - to say what I am saying here - that it is time to consider a "road map" that leads to neither two states living side by side - or, as some Arabs propose as a way of getting rid of Israel - a one state solution.. Someone of stature to give voice to the proposition that there never has been any viability for a "Palestinian state" and that the idea of "folding" the two separated territories into Jordan and Egypt, - a condition that more or less existed before 1967 even though only Great Britain and Pakistan recognized Jordan’s 1950 annexation of the west bank - stands the best chance - perhaps the only chance of bringing some measure of stability to the area.

And for sure there is less than a zero chance of there ever being a three state solution. Gaza ruled by sane people might have a slim chance of survival as a mini state . There are plenty of states almost as small and able to thrive - Singapore - Malta - tiny Liechtenstein - but there aren’t masked men holding machine guns over their heads and running around in the streets like stampeding cattle in those countries.

So what will happen now? Will there be any real leadership displayed by the Arab world? Will they offer any ideas that make sense for dealing with this crisis? Probably around the time when the Pope converts to Judaism.

I have to grimace every time I see and hear Jordan’s King Abdullah pontificate on what everyone but Jordan must do to bring a just and lasting peace to Israel and the Palestinians. Had his father heeded the pleas of Israel not to become involved in the 1967 war - there would be no Israeli "occupation" of the west bank - and by now, perhaps the rest of the world would have recognized Jordan’s annexation and the Arabs living there would perhaps be enjoying some measure of peace and prosperity as Jordanian citizens. After all, when the great powers chopped up the Ottoman empire after World War 1, they took most of "Palestine" to create Jordan. Why not throw in another 2200 odd square miles west of the Jordan river?

I can’t grimace at Nasser. He’s long gone. But had he not virtually declared war by closing the Gulf of Aqaba in 1967, Gaza might today be a prime piece of Egyptian territory - an alluring vacation destination for its citizens - and foreign visitors. But I don’t see Hosni Mubarak helping out his Palestinian neighbors And Sadat had the opportunity to regain Gaza during the Camp David accords - but politely declined. Or maybe not so politely.

After all these years , the prospect of a "two state solution" is as far away as its ever been. Before this latest collapse of any chance for civilization to take hold in Gaza, there were few people who held out hope for the quartet road map to succeed. Today, I wouldn’t be surprised for a poll to find that a majority of Americans have no faith that there will ever be a peaceful solution to the Israeli/ Arab conflict. That it will go on forever - like Tennyson’s Brook.

Unfortunately, in these days of ever increasing sophistication of weaponry and ever increasing radicalization of Islamic factions, "forever" isn’t a likely scenario. But I don’t look for anyone of stature - any major nation - to propose anything other than the "two state" idea. It’s not that far removed from a definition of madness. Proposing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result. Particularly when close to half of the people to whom the proposals are being made are certifiably mad themselves. Could you imagine a "one state solution" with such people?

Even more unfortunately - neither Jordan no Egypt want any part of these crazies and their troubles - so there’s no chance of them offering the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank an opportunity to affiliate with and become citizens of those two states - to more or less revert to a form of the pre 1967 war configuration.

What a mess!!

I don’t have any great words of wisdom with which to conclude these thoughts except to hope that we will stay out of it and let the Palestinians sort it out for themselves. If we can do that - if we can refrain from considering that what happens in Gaza not only directly affects us but - heaven forbid - requires us to intervene in some way, maybe, when I come back to write about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in the future - it will still exist as a conflict and not an area wide conflagration.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Let’s hope none of them ever lose their pants!!

I’m getting worried about the Supreme Court. Actually I’ve been worried for some time, starting with the appointment of Clarence Thomas. The Roberts appointment raised hackles on the back of my neck and started my left eye twitching - and by the time Alito took the oath of office, I could easily have been mistaken for a victim of early Parkinson’s.

Still, with great effort, I’ve been able to hold these symptoms in check while monitoring the race between the waning residue of the Bush presidency and the advancing age of John Paul Stevens. There are less than six hundred days left of the reign of Bush the GW - but during those six hundred days , Justice Stevens will turn 88. Of course today’s 88 is like yesterday’s 70 - but I don’t have an inside track on John Paul’s health or his state of mind - and if I was a Las Vegas or London bookie, I doubt that I would be offering odds on him outlasting the Bush presidency.

I figured things would get squirrely after Sandra Day went into retirement - but I had no idea how squirrely. It became pretty clear just how nutty things were when mild mannered Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt compelled to rant orally from the bench when five conservative justices decided that women couldn’t sue for wage discrimination unless they did it pretty much as soon as it began - within 180 days - even if it happened incrementally and they didn’t become aware of the pattern for months or years. Too bad said Roberts and Alito and Thomas and Scalia and Kennedy.

And just the other day there was a ruling that said that the Fair Labor Standards Act didn’t cover domestic workers. No minimum wage. No overtime pay. Too bad says the court majority. Go find some other kind of job if you want decent treatment.

Do you see a pattern here? Probably - but could you in your wildest dreams believe where it might be going? As John Paul Stevens gently descends the slippery slope toward the inevitable - retirement or disabling illness - or worse - along comes Roy L.Pearson,Jr - and George W has to be salivating in anticipation.

Could there be any greater example of strict constructionism than Judge Pearson’s multimillion dollar lawsuit against Jin Nam Chung and Soo Chung? These Korean owners of Custom Cleaners, a dry cleaning establishment in our nation’s capitol - promising same day service and satisfaction guaranteed - lost a pair of the judge’s pants. In some countries, the Chungs would by now be languishing in a dark and musty cell after the day’s application of torture for their act of criminal negligence - that is if they had somehow miraculously escaped execution. But this is the United States where we have civilized ways of dealing with such matters - and Judge Pearson is providing us with a demonstration of what the founders intended with the fourth and seventh amendment by suing the pants off of these foreign offenders.

Can you imagine what President Bush must be thinking at this very minute? His dream of being a dictator ( "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator" G.W. Bush, December 18, 2000) is no more than a single Supreme Court appointment away - and Pearson is the perfect appointee. How more conservative could any judge be than one who is willing to utilize every possible aspect of law available to him - and at great personal sacrifice - to assure the men of this nation - not to mention a large slice of the female population - that there is a price to pay for those who would illegally and with malice aforethought, deprive them of their pants? Why, the man is so emotionally devoted to the cause - he broke down and cried on the witness stand.

O.K. I’m kidding. Even Bush wouldn’t suggest this nitwit for a seat on any federal bench - but if something were to happen to Stevens - and there was time enough left in the Bush presidency for him to nominate and get a new justice confirmed - the Supreme Court could become a menacing branch of government for years to come. The conservative majority has already made it clear that they are unlikely to rule for the individual against the corporate establishment. How far removed is that from ruling against the individual and for any claim of government? Mr. Bush may not be winning at the appeals court level in his desire to be supreme ruler and lock up anyone he designates as an enemy - for as long as he likes and without an indictment or trial or access to legal representation - but if and when such cases wind their way to the Supreme Court and are greeted with a six to three line up - the six being those who believe that "life" begins when a young man first winks at the object of his affection - the transition from a democracy to at least some form of Mr. Bush’s desired dictatorship - may well take place.

The power of a president to nominate Supreme Court justices is mentioned just about every four years as a major issue to consider when deciding who to vote for - but on a scale of one to ten - most voters won’t give it more than a three or four when making their selection for president. Yet we are at this moment being presented with a vision of a frightening scenario - a President run amok - a Congress without the will or the numbers to stop him - and a Supreme Court that finds something in the constitution that allows that president to turn that document on its head!!

I’m not saying it is happening. I am saying that if the Supreme Court gets an even larger conservative majority than it currently holds - who knows what could happen? So hang in there John Paul. At least until January, 2009.

Monday, June 11, 2007

* Rick to Ilsa in Casablanca - "We’ll always have Paris."

There’s nothing that will focus your mind more clearly than the anticipation of undergoing a scary sounding medical test. The problem is that it focuses your mind on the test and distracts you from focusing on just about everything else - including the recording of commentary on the passing parade. That’s what it did to me for two or three days last week. But having survived a bout with lumbar discography - all five discs - which may or may not clear the way to another attempt at spine surgery - I am free to refocus my mind on more important things - things that the rest of world is watching and talking about - things like the legend of Paris Hilton.

Of course those organizations that zero in with laser like precision on big stories like the legend of Paris Hilton - soon I’m sure to be immortalized in song - The Ballad of Paris Hilton - have kept the world updated. Larry King. Bill O’Reilly. Glenn Beck. Everyone at MSNBC. And for those across the pond - the Daily Mirror. But I’m sure there are those who have been waiting with bated breath to see what this blog will say about l’affaire Hilton - so I’ll try not to disappoint.

Serious folks in media have decried the over the top attention that Ms Hilton and her troubles have received. It’s ridiculous they say. Serious things are going on in the world and we’re pandering to the American public with this drivel? Heck - I listened to one such self proclaimed serious radio pundit rant about this for close to an hour just the other day. That shows you how disgusted serious media types are about all the attention being lavished on this silly little girl. They wouldn’t spend a minute of precious air time or print space in such a non-story. Except to condemn those who do. Every day. For as long as it takes to issue a proper condemnation. You have to admire serious media folks for taking such a strong stand.

As silly as all this is, I suppose you could say that in some ways, Ms Hilton and her story serve a useful purpose.

To begin with - we are fully immersed in the primary season - and if ever the public needed a distraction from the "serious" issues of the day - this is the time. And Paris Hilton is one mighty distraction. To most of us, she and her life are unreal - almost fictional- and the daily reporting of her travails are like a comic strip - even attracting the casual interest of some of us who never read the comic strips. And after hearing Joe Lieberman push for an armed incursion into Iran yesterday, we need all the distractions that we can get - and the more comic strip they are - the better. Where’s Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan when we need them?

As I’ve already noted - the cable pundits have a "story" that they are able to use in serial fashion. For as long as Paris pops in and out of jail - and as long as someone at the jailhouse is willing to relay her words of wisdom to anyone who wants to hear them - there’s material for weeks to come. And of course the amount of fodder being generated for the late night comedians, could feed a herd of heifers for a month! Even legitimate news programs have deigned to take note of Hilton’s comings and goings. Perhaps not for more than 30 seconds or so - but the fact that they feel compelled to mention it at all as part of a network newscast tells us something about what really concerns Americans at this moment in our history.

In the Islamic world - the story - if it’s being reported at all - must have even greater value. What better example can there be of western degeneracy? Here’s a useless female who is not only allowed to DRIVE - but to do so without a license and without a male companion. And is looked upon with admiration by millions of western infidels - and not just those who live in America!!

Eventually, even a story as fascinating as this one will fade from public interest. Larry King will get back to who might replace Rosie O’Donnell - and Leno and Letterman will get back to joking about their fellow comedians - the nation’s politicians, especially those vying for their respective party’s candidacy for president. And indeed it might have already begun to take up less space on our television screens and newspaper pages. Except for one thing. The Paris Hilton arena has been entered by a new protagonist. Al Sharpton has decided to pontificate. Which of course casts a blanket of darkness across the comic book aspect of the reality soap opera.

Now we’re going to hear about social injustice. About different standards for the rich and the poor. For white Americans and black Americans. Why the poor black girl who put those Duke students through a year of hell is really a victim. And why the Reverend Sharpton would have been the Democratic candidate for president in 2004 if it wasn’t for those different standards. And the same people who have been salivating over the daily utterances and grimaces of the Hilton girl will be reporting on the utterances and grimaces of the Reverend Al.

The irony of Mr. Sharpton’s entry into the foray - which likely is lost on him and those who report on him - is that he long ago became a yin to Paris Hilton’s yang. He is, if you’ll pardon the coinage of an expression - a black "Parishiltonian." He began going downhill with his insistence on the legitimacy of Tawana Brawley’s 1987 claim that she was assaulted by six white men. And now here he is - twenty years later - with the embarrassment of his insistence that the Duke LaCrosse players be hung and quartered for the latest version of "Twanabrawleygate" hanging over his head - making a bigger fool of himself over what is essentially a non-issue. Like Hilton, the man is irrelevant - but as with Hilton, the media will pay attention to what he does or says. How much more Parishiltonian could that be??

And with Al Sharpton on the case - can Jesse Jackson be far behind? I sure hope not. With my interest in the Hilton story, I’ve begun to make sense of all these other names of "in" people that have been bandied about for so long without having the slightest idea who or what they were. Heck - I’ve only just learned the who and what of Elizabeth Hasselbeck. If Jesse gets involved and this whole thing turns really dark and serious - it may never go away and I’ll probably lose interest and never find out where Bennifer is. I think it’s somewhere in South East Asia - not far from Brangelina.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

There has to a better way to choose who will be the next President of the United States. When we get down to the final candidates of the parties and the election next November, most of us will feel pretty good about how we do it. We could reform the electoral college - or do away with it altogether - but even without reforms , we pretty much elect our leaders in an orderly and non-violent way. There may be some fraud in some states - but we manage to survive even when we elect the "wrong" president. Heck - Chicago has lasted since 1833 with people voting from the grave. More than once when needed.

But when I say there has to be a better way to choose our next president, I’m not talking about the November, 2008 election. I’m talking about the way we arrive at who will be the candidates of the two major parties. The primaries and all that leads up to them. Anyone who has the qualification of being an over 35 native born US citizen can get in the race to become a presidential candidate - and the result of that is what we see this year - as we see every four years.

No doubt some of the people vying for their party’s nomination among ten Republicans and eight Democrats are capable of being president. There’s also no doubt in my mind that these are far from being the 18 men and women most capable of being the president of the United States. The problem is that our selection system scares off the kind of people who we should be considering for president. People of brilliance. People of understanding. People who know the world. People able to speak more than one language. People not necessarily political office holders or ex-office holders. People who wouldn’t waste their time and energy on "issues" that seem to consume a majority of candidates that are running. People who would tell you that if you want to select a leader based on his or her views on abortion or religion or sexual orientation - then you need to support some other candidate - and you will likely get what you deserve.

One of the ways that voters are asked to evaluate and make up their minds about the vying candidates is by holding televised "debates." We’ve now had four such "debates" among the eighteen candidates - and in each post debate period, political pundits of all stripes have stroked their collective beards and pontificated on the significance and depth of understanding of each candidate’s answer to the important questions of our times. And of course whether there were any "winners" or "losers" and whether anyone "hit the ball out of the park."

Except that the "debates" are more like reality quiz shows than true debates - with quizmasters throwing question after question at the candidates - some hypothetical - and some calling - not for answers but for a show of hands. Like in grade school. "How many of you think Sadam Hussein was a bad man ? Raise your hand." "How many of you believe God knows everything you do or say? Raise your hand."

O.K. Those questions weren’t asked but they might just as well have been for all the value a voter gets watching these performances. To begin with, everyone knows that some of the candidates are there for entertainment value only. If everyone but them dropped out of the race, they still wouldn’t get the nomination. Not that it wouldn’t be interesting - a couple of Mikes for instance - Huckabee versus Gravel.

There is no way to judge what kind of wisdom a candidate would bring to the White House by listening to him fashion an answer designed to impress - to be quoted and repeated by the post debate pundits What are you to make of a candidate who says he wouldn’t hesitate to "nuke" Iran if he thought they were on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon? Or of any candidate who actually answers a hypothetical question about a doomsday scenario with a straight face.. I applaud Hillary Clinton for pretty much saying that a hypothetical question about a doomsday scenario was inappropriate in the last Democratic debate.

During these quiz shows, the Democratic candidates play to their "base" and emphasize what we already know - that they’d like to disentangle us from the Iraq debacle. The Republicans play to theirs - each trying to out bellicose the other in their willingness to fight wars - anywhere - against anybody and anytime. Not personally of course. Only McCain has actually experienced war.

There was a time when candidates were selected by party leaders in so called "smoke filled rooms." The public wasn’t involved in a series of popularity contests and you didn’t get the kind of results that came from the 2000 Republican Michigan primary where John McCain won but Bush got two thirds of the Republican vote. The "entertainment" candidates might have pitched their qualities to the party movers and shakers - but it was done outside of the public view and what emerged was a candidate unscathed by the rigors of making one joint appearance after another in gatherings not that much unlike a spelling bee - without the risk of stumbling by having to ask the question master for a definition.

Personally, I prefer the English system where everyone knows who the challenger for the top job is long before an election takes place - and where the party out of power has a complete "shadow" government ready to take over if their party wins the next election.

That can only work in a parliamentary system where party majority decides national leadership, but here, we’d need something creative to get past the mad scramble for power that is our primary season and system. I don’t have any creative suggestion myself , but what could change everything is if, by pure accident, life actually imitated art and someone - perhaps not exactly like a real life Chauncey Gardiner - but equally unequipped to be the leader of the free world - emerged as one party’s candidate - and - heaven forbid, went on to win the presidency. If that didn’t change the way we pick our presidents, I don’t know what would.

Wait a minute. Hasn’t something like that already happened?

Oh well. Back to the drawing board.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Looking back over four years of blogging, I see that I have returned with some frequency to a discussion similar to that of last Saturday’s comments - the subject of letters to the editor. And today I am adding some thoughts on that same subject - albeit with a slight twist.

One of the pillars on which true democracy rests is a free press. It’s where we go to find out what is going on - in the world and in our neighborhood. We average citizens don’t have personal access to news sources, so we have to rely on those who do. We look to our established news media to bring us information that is as accurate as possible. We expect that when information is presented as fact - it has been thoroughly checked - like Santa Claus’ list - at least twice.

Of course in the computer age there are multiple sources available for information - and dis-information. But if something doesn’t ring true when you read it in your local newspaper - or hear it on an evening newscast - you can always go to some of those on line sources to see if the suspect news item is being reported the same way - or differently. After which you have to make up your own mind about what rings true and what doesn’t.

Letters to the editor don’t come under the heading of "news" - but many published letters include assertions of fact which may or may not be true but which may be absorbed by the casual reader as being true - as news items or items of historical accuracy. In a sense, the writers are like bloggers - or people who post comments on web sites in response to what they see and read there. The only difference between what you might read on line and in your local newspaper - is that someone at the newspaper selects which letters will be published - a handful each day - probably out of hundreds or thousands that are received. That makes those letters very important - supposedly representative of ideas and opinions of the community of newspaper readers at large - so you would expect them to be chosen with great care.

I have speculated in the past about what goes into the selection process at a major newspaper - and what may be behind the selection of an individual letter for publication. As an example, way back when I first started this blog - on May 7, 2003, I suggested - only partially tongue-in-cheek - that one way a newspaper editor could put ridiculous items in a newspaper for which he or she would rightly be hauled over the coals if it was published as a news story or an editorial - would be to do it by way of publishing a letter that included such ridiculous items. I gave as an example an editor’s belief that Neil Armstrong and his colleagues never got to the moon - and that while he couldn’t say that in the paper himself, he could accomplish the goal of "getting the truth out" by publishing a letter from a reader with the same cockeyed belief. If you have the time, click on the link. It’s worth reading.

But after years of reading similar letters - not necessarily nonsensical - but containing inaccuracies, I have to wonder whether or not - on the letters page - newspapers simply turn a blind eye to the same standards that I would assume they apply to the rest of the paper - that is to avoid the deliberate publication of inaccurate information. I don’t know this to be a fact but I have to conclude it to be so because letters with factually incorrect content appear again and again.

If this is indeed the case, then I think newspapers do their readers an immense disservice. Not all readers are familiar with the facts on all subjects of letters published in newspapers. I’m certainly not - and when I read a letter on a subject with which I’m not familiar - and I don’t have the time or the interest to check the accuracy of things that are asserted as fact - it’s possible that I will absorb what is asserted - perhaps subconsciously - and indeed retain it as fact.

I would think that newspapers could do one of two things. One would be to check "facts" asserted by letter writers and simply decline to publish letters that have their facts wrong. But that might eliminate too many howlers - so my suggestion would be to select a second option - that of a publishing a disclaimer.

Here’s some possible wording.
Letters to the editor are written by all kinds of people with all kinds of ideas and all levels of knowledge and intelligence. From some we are able to learn. Some make us angry. Some move us to tears. Some lift our spirits. And some are obviously silly. Any of the letters we publish, whether they make us laugh or cry or want to strangle the writers - might say things that are not true - for example that human and simian DNA is totally different. Publication of such letters does not imply that this newspaper in any way agrees with everything the writers assert as being factual. The views and the understanding of what is or isn’t fact is strictly that of the letter writers and this newspaper assumes no responsibility for any errors of fact contained in their letters. We don’t check them for accuracy. We put them in the paper because we think you might enjoy seeing how dumb some of your fellow readers are.
Of course that might not sit well with people whose letters are selected for publication - but wouldn’t you just love to see the raft of responses to that disclaimer the first time it appears?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Every time I see letters written to newspapers that condemn Israel for its "brutal occupation" of "Palestinian lands" from which Palestinians were "driven" from their homes and into refugee camps, I assume that they're from young folks who have latched on to recent events of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and have no interest or knowledge of history leading up to their starting observation and opinion forming points. So it was when I read two such letters in response to an editorial about Gaza which said that the chaotic situation that exists there is the result of a failure of Palestinian leadership. Not so said these letter writers. It's all Israel's fault.

Readers of this blog know what paper I read on a daily basis - but I’m not going to identify it or the letter writers because, out of curiosity, I used the tools available on the Internet to see just how young these pro-Palestinian protesters were. Children - compared to Methuselah - but in the way we calculate age in the modern era - assuming I was able to identify the letter writers correctly - senior citizens!!

I assumed they were young because they used the sort of language you might hear from the anti-Israel crowd on college campuses mimicking the Arab world PR machine. "The Palestinians were driven from their homes." "They live under apartheid conditions." (There you go Mr. Carter). "Forty years of illegal occupation." "No place of their own." And on and on. But when you’re in your seventies and you write that kind of drivel - it’s pretty clear that you’re coming at the topic driven by a heavy dose of bias.

On the other hand, there are people in Israel - Israeli citizens - Jewish Israeli citizens - citizens of all ages, who in many ways agree with these letter writers. Not with such strident language perhaps - and not blaming themselves for gun battles between Fatah and Hamas fighters - but with the same amount of empathy for Palestinians living under difficult conditions.

I understand their feelings. Readers of this blog know that while I am a supporter of Israel, I am far from a knee jerk supporter and I do not hesitate to criticize that nation when I think it acts badly - particularly towards the Palestinians. But there’s no way I can buy the drivel that Israel is responsible for rockets being fired from Gaza every day and for the murderous battles between Fatah and Hamas factions

Why is Israel responsible for the way Palestinians act in such self defeating ways? Our letter writers say they were "driven from their homes" But that was close to sixty years ago and because there was a war. That’s what happens in war. People get displaced. In 1948, five Arab armies attacked the fledgling state of Israel, vowing to destroy it before its statehood could be established. .War - launched by Arab countries, resulted in Palestinian Arabs being displaced - just as hundreds of thousands of Jews were displaced from their homes in Arab countries.

Of course if you are of the opinion that the modern state of Israel should not ever have been created on the tiny sliver of its biblical land that it was awarded in that UN partition proclamation - then from your point of view you are right. All of today’s Palestinian problems are the fault of Israel. But if you accept the right of the tiny state of Israel to exist, there of course is another point of view. The one that deals with facts and with sanity.

Most of the invective of these senior letter writers was reserved for the post 1967 era - for the forty years of "brutal, illegal occupation" of Palestinians and "Palestinian territory." But before the 1967 war, Jordan controlled the West Bank and Egypt controlled Gaza. No Palestinians were under Israel’s rule - other than those who remained in Israel and became Israeli citizens. No "Palestinian territory" was under Israeli occupation - except in the eyes of those who considered the state of Israel as existing on occupied Palestinian territory. Nonetheless - three years before that war, the Palestinian Liberation Organization was formed and was active in its goal to "liberate" ALL of Palestine..

In the 1967 war, Israel again prevailed - and after hostilities ended - a pattern was established that had never before occurred in the history of war between nations. The victorious nation - Israel - was ready and willing to negotiate a peace - but was rejected by the defeated enemies. The answer to any attempt to reach a peace agreement was greeted by the famous "three no’s" of the Khartoum conference - No Peace with Israel, No negotiations with Israel and No recognition of Israel. War forever was the answer. War until Israel is no more.

It was at that point that Israel got "stuck" with the West Bank and with Gaza and its Arab population. There was no way that Israel could just withdraw its forces behind its pre-war borders and sit and wait for the next war. Any nation that acted that way would be considered a nation that had lost its sanity. Israel wanted peace and an assurance that it could live in peace. But the Arab nations weren’t interested. And so the post 1967 era that the letter writers condemn, began.

There’s no question that Israel has made a lot of mistakes during the forty years that it has controlled the West Bank and Gaza. . I’m not going to list them or try to argue them from one point of view or another. But the way I read history, the blame for the difficult conditions under which Palestinian Arabs live today - rests with the 22 Arab nations that for years - before and after 1967 - refused to accept the legitimacy of Israel’s existence and that turned a blind eye on the needs of Palestinian Arabs - those living in the "occupied territories" - and refugees, living in Egypt and Jordan and Lebanon and Syria. Remember that from 1948 to 1967, there was no attempt by those nations to create a "Palestinian state."

And I blame the Palestinian Arabs for allowing themselves to be led into one blind alley after another by Yaser Arafat - and then, when a sliver of a chance for a meaningful dialog with Israel arose following Arafat’s death - for electing a group to represent them that echoed the response to an extended hand of friendship from 40 years ago - No Peace with Israel, No negotiations with Israel and No recognition of Israel

The people in Israel who advocate on behalf of Palestinian Arabs, do so out of a deep sense of sympathy toward fellow human beings - and outrage over the indignities heaped upon them by Israeli authorities. But unlike people who live in the Chicago area and write angry letters to the paper about "apartheid" and "illegal occupation" - they don’t blame themselves when - following the withdrawal of all Israelis from Gaza - the Palestinian living there battle among themselves and launch rockets into Israel every day. They blame the Palestinians - and rightly so.

One letter writer asks what should we expect of people who have suffered under restrictive conditions for so many years? I say that we should expect them take advantage of the ability to make decisions about their lives without any outside interference - and not fight a deadly war among themselves and against people who are no longer living among them. To show the world that their independence is the road to peaceful coexistence with Israel.

If what has become today’s Gaza after Israel withdrew all of its settlers and their military protectors can be seen as an example of what would happen if Israel withdrew from the West Bank territories in the same way - unilaterally - without a peace agreement with the Arabs who live there - and without renunciation of their vow to destroy you - it isn’t hard to understand why it hasn’t happened for forty years.