What's All This Then?

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

This may be one of the shortest comments I have written here.

I have written about the Google Juggernaut on a number of occasions - starting back in June of 2004 when I did a piece that I called BEWARE THE GOOGLE JUGGERNAUT. My comments about the great search engine have been on occasion critical and at other times positive. But whatever I might feel about Google on any given day, I can always rely on it to find whatever I am looking for - however obscure. For example I wasn’t quite sure that I could find any reference to a bawdy song that I learned in the army about a contest between Abdul Abullbull Amir and Ivan Skavinsky Skavar - but there it was - albeit with a euphemism for the actual subject of the contest and a number of other lines cleaned up.

I thought that Google would never fail me - but one day last week it happened.

For some reason - I can’t really remember why, I wanted to find the origin of a humorous ditty that I thought was well known by people who write for a living - particularly freelance writers - and consequently was sure I would find the answer on Google in a matter of seconds. With confidence I typed in "The Freelance Writer’s Lament." When nothing bearing any resemblance to the poem showed - I did the obvious. I typed in the lines as I remembered them and …….NOTHING!!! Google had never heard of it. There may never be another person searching for the same information - but on the chance that someone who knows the answer types in something that would result in Google referring him or her to this blog - here is THE FREELANCE WRITERS LAMENT - author unknown

Google take note!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

World War ll. ended in 1945 - 66 years ago with the defeat of the Axis powers. Today, Germany, Italy and Japan are our friends and allies. We maintain military bases there - not as occupiers but as friendly tenants. Their defeat was total. It was unconditional surrender. They started it and we finished it and there were no conditions demanded by the losers and none were considered by the victors. There may be a few from the former Axis countries that harbor resentment over the outcome - but there is no official resentment - no "days of catastrophe" celebrated on May 8 in Germany and Italy and August 15 in Japan.

Sixty Three years ago, the modern state of Israel came into being following the UN vote establishing a Jewish and an Arab state on a fraction of the British mandate of Palestine - the bulk of that territory having been used to create Transjordan - later Jordan. I don’t need to repeat the history here. The Jews accepted the partition. Arabs didn’t and five Arab nations attacked the Jewish state. They were driven back and armistice lines were established - but that didn’t end the hostilities. From the Arab point of view the war continued and would continue until there was no more Israel and Arabs would regain hegemony over the entire area. Sixty Three years later, Egypt and Jordan are no longer officially at war with Israel - yet the state of war exists and is marked annually by the Palestinian "Nabka" day - commemorating Arabs who were displaced during that original war and all of their descendants who are referred to as "refugees."

In the history of the world, there has never been a war where the losers insisted on conditions for the end of hostilities - not for peace mind you - just the absence of war and only a temporary absence at that. And in the history of war, there has never been a situation where those displaced by hostilities and their descendants - think of and call themselves "refugees" 63 years later. These beliefs and conditions are the background against which President Obama called upon the two sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to resume peace talks based on the 1967 borders - a euphemistic way of saying the 1949 Armistice Lines - the lines established after the FIRST Arab/Israeli war. He wants peace negotiations to start or to resume - if one believes there have been anything approaching peace negotiations in the past - from the state of affairs 63 years ago.

I don’t know what Obama thought could be gained by urging a non starter. He made the obligatory and useless comments about Israel’s need for secure borders and the difficulty of making peace with someone who doesn’t recognize your existence - but he also talked about the "fate of Palestinian refugees" as being something to be "resolved" later. If there is an Israeli non-starter greater than starting border negotiations from the 1949 Armistice lines, it is the Palestinian insistence in the "right of return."

So why the Israeli/Palestinian comments? Some are saying that the President is exhibiting naiveté - others that he is simply coming down on the side of the Palestinians - a position some say he has always held. I don’t think he’s naïve and I don’t think he favors the Palestinian position over that of Israel. I only know that his words did nothing to help move the decades long conflict one inch closer to being resolved - unless the reactions of both sides to the speech irritate them so much that they will agree to sit down and discuss how and how much they disagree with what he said. Or unless there was some secret hypnotic suggestion buried deep inside his urgings that will cause Hamas to announce tomorrow that they are ready to make peace and recognize Israel as a Jewish state - just as soon as they have fired off a few weeks of rockets to celebrate their decision.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Call me an old curmudgeon or a cynic or whatever name you want to come up with, but the all the hype about Oprah’s last show leaves me cold. It’s not an arrogant boast to say that I’ve never watched an Oprah show. It’s a matter of fact. I’ve never had any desire to watch - and even if I had, it played at a time when I wouldn’t watch television except for a major news story.

While never a viewer, I have of course been aware of her presence on the air and of her influence. She’s been hard to ignore because of the coverage she’s received in the print media and on television programs that I DO watch - such as NEWS programs. The coverage - and the reasons for the coverage - giving a car to each member of her audience or - (scroll down, it’s the second item) - publicizing a book that soars to the top of best seller lists - became topics for comments here - and not of a complimentary nature. And now that she’s leaving, there’s coverage to make coverage of past shows and show events - and they were BIG - pale by comparison.

I am neither sad nor glad that her show is coming to an end but I find myself mildly irritated at the enthusiasm over the kind of show or shows that have been put together as her finale. Again, without ever watching but simply getting a sense of the woman from third party reports, I get the impression of someone absorbed with a sense of being larger than life and the importance of what she does. Maybe I’m totally wrong but reports of her final show tend to confirm that impression. It sounds overboard - a sort of a reverse car give away - with stars standing in line to applaud the talk show host and worship at her shrine. The opposite of what I would think of as a classy way to say goodbye at the end of what has been a very successful television career.

Maybe I'd feel differently if WLS (formerly WBKB) had been her flagship station in the years when I worked there decades ago, but I doubt it.

Johnny Carson was the host of the Tonight show for 30 years. Everyone who was anyone probably appeared on the show at one time or another.I was in the audience once as a Directors Guild of America member, courtesy of his brother, fellow director Dick. I remember his farewell shows. There was the penultimate show with Robin Williams and Bette Midler. It was a little teary but low key and dignified with Carson and Midler singing "Hers’s That Rainy Day" together and then a farewell "One For My Baby" sung to him by Midler. The look on Carson’s face as he watched and listened was priceless. That show - and those moments with Beth Midle, have lived in my memory and I would venture in the memories of millions who watched that night. And then on his last show, there were no guests - just Carson and clips from past show and a humble farewell. Class all the way for two nights of goodbye. I have to wonder how many viewers of Oprah’s final extravaganza of stars will remember it years from now with the same warmth that I feel for Johnny Carson’s farewell shows.

It’s kind of hard to believe that the head of them IMF would assault a maid in a New York $3000 a night hotel suite. He surely would have known that this was a crime and if reported could land him in jail. But the maid reported the alleged event almost immediately and didn’t seem to be part of some international conspiracy to smear his name and prevent him from becoming France’s next president. But my suspicions were somewhat aroused when her attorney showed up on a cable talk show I was watching on Tuesday night. Why does she have an attorney? Why would she need an attorney? She isn't being accused of anything. Yet here it was. The hotel maid has an attorney talking publicly about how her life has been ruined, she has been separated from her daughter, she doesn’t know where she will be able to live and if she can ever go back to her job as a maid.

No one asks him how he became her attorney or why. Has he been her attorney for months or years? I know I don't "have" an attorney. I have a cousin who's a lawyer and if some legal matter arose I might consult him but I also might have to find an attorney to handle the matter in question. But the accusing maid has an attorney who has been saying exactly the same thing about his client's woes to a variety of media outlets - print and electronic.

Out of curiosity, I looked him up. I just Googled the name Jeffrey Shapiro and he leapt out from the computer screen - complete with an audio pitch for anyone in need of a personal injury attorney - for anyone interested in getting paid big bucks for whatever injury they may have suffered.

I don't know what happened in that $3,000 a night hotel suite, though from some of the things Strauss-Kahn's lawer has been saying, he may not be denying sexual contact - just that it wasn't forced. But I do know why the maid has a lawyer who just happens to be a personal injury lawyer who works on a contingency basis. No recovery, no fee. She's looking for big bucks from Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Maybe she's entitled - but why doesn't any reporter worth his or her salt ask Mr. Shapiro how he came to represent her and why he thinks she needs "representation." . She may have been harmed but hooking up with a personal injury lawyer as quickly as she did makes her a less sympathetic figure.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

It could well be "Another Opening Another Show" because this is Illinois and it seems every time you look around there’s a prosecutor announcing "Another Governor Another Trial." And often as not, it looks more like a show than a trial. The second Blahojevich trial just underway may not be as much a show as the first because the judge has told the prosecution to tone down some it its hyperbole. Blago’s hair and how much he owes for clothing may not be presented as criminal behavior this time around. But it’ll still be a show and one of the starring roles will be that of Judge James Zabel.

As every right thinking American knows, we are a nation of laws - but when it comes to the courts the laws depend on the nature of the case and who is doing the judging. If we were a nation of laws and - the important qualifier - NOT of men, a majority of the Supreme Court opinions would be nine zip. After all the law is the law. But a lot more often the vote is 5-4 - as in Five "Conservative" and four "Liberal" judges. As in politically and philosophically Conservative and Liberal regardless of the legal issues before them. In Wisconsin we’ve just had an election for a seat on the Supreme Court of that State - an incumbent versus a challenger with a pre-ordained decision pending and dependent upon the outcome. If the apparent win of the incumbent holds - the likely illegal passage of a law curtailing the bargaining rights of State employees will be deemed legal. If the challenger wins, the current restraining order delaying the law’s implementation will likely become permanent. The law may be the law but more often than not, the law is what a judge says is the law - whether it is or not. Which brings me - again - to the Rod Blagojevich trial where politics shouldn’t have any bearing on the outcome - but the judge will.

I don’t know Rod Blagojevich. I’ve never met him. If you read everything that he’s accused of - he appears to be guilty - if what he is accused of can be considered crimes. But though I don’t know the ex-Governor, I can sympathize with his problems because I have been in a position similar to the one in which he finds himself . I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it here before - that many years ago I too was indicted by the Federal Prosecutor in the Northern District of Illinois. The allegations in the indictment sure sounded criminal - suggesting that I and two others "unlawfully, willingly, knowingly and feloniously devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud" etec, etc.. on and on for page after page Except for two things. It consisted of a pack of lies - yes, our Government can and does lie. They even listed a bunch of people who they alleged had been defrauded and who presumably they would call as witnesses at a trial. But - as a wise judge of that era said in tossing the case out of court - even if everything in it was true - how did it add up to a crime? But it still sends shivers down my spine to think about what might have happened if that first judge had just rubber stamped the indictment and allowed it to go to trial with a different judge. Government lies might have prevailed over truth and I could be writing this as en ex-felon .

The jury in Rod’s second trial will be asked to believe that what the prosecution alleges adds up to criminal activity - if what they allege actually took place the way they will be describing it. And it’s beginning to look like they and the prosecutors will be getting help from Judge James Zagel. Blago has repeatedly asked to have phone recordings other than those that make him look bad be played in court and he has repeatedly been turned down. What could be more fair than to allow the defense to play recordings that are on the same topic as the ones the prosecution will be playing but giving a totally different spin? But the only phone calls the jury is likely to hear are those with the ex-Governor cursing and asserting that the ability to appoint someone to fill the balance of President Obama’s Senate term is "Z#$@*&!! GOLDEN" - and not a subsequent conversation where Blago say "I’m gonna pick the best man for the job" or "I was just hoping they might be impressed with my pick and make me an Ambassador or something after I retire." Would you convict him of "trying to sell a Senate seat" after hearing a conversation like that?

Added to the phone call show this time around - if Judge Zabel allows it, will be a snippet of an interview that Blago gave to Rachel Maddow in which she asked if it would have been wrong if appointing someone to the Senate resulted in personal gain to him - and of course he sad yes - it would be very wrong - or words to that effect. Blago’s no Bill Clinton. There was no "it depends what "is" is in his answer - in other words, no "it depends what one means by personal gain." Maybe he’ll try it at trial - if Judge Zabel allows the tape of the interview. But unless he allows some counter recordings to be played - and unless Blago does decide to testify himself, what Zabel allows and disallows could decide the outcome - evidence or lack thereof notwithstanding. And now I read that Blago’s lawyers won’t be able to tell the jury that he didn’t withhold anything from those that he or his brother pressured for campaign contributions without success because the "non-withholding" took place after he had been indicted. I’m surprised that Zabel didn’t stop Blag’s attorney from making the point - during his opening statement - that there’s no bribe or quid pro quo money to be found. If Blago sold anything, he got peanuts for it because there’s not even left over shells in his bank account.

What emerges from this - and perhaps other trial of a similar nature - is that the outcome can hinge on what the judge in the case "allows" or "disallows." Zagel has been quoted as saying that he gave the defense "a long leash" in the first trial because he expected Blagojevich to testify - the implication being that he might exercise a "shorter leash" this time around. Just try to picture yourself in Blago’s position and try to refrain from assuming that the man is guilty jury because he’s been charged. He’s on trial for his life. Not in the sense that it’s a capital case- but his freedom is at stake. If found guilty he could be spending years in a Federal penitentiary. You would think that the court would automatically extend the longest possible "leash" to a defendant in such a situation. But unlike the description I gave above of law giving way to politics in cases of a political nature - criminal trials can be more like board games with judges deciding rules within rules. If I was Blago’s attorney, I would try to make a big deal out if his brother’s absence - an issue that I wrote about on March 25, but again, I’ll be surprised if the Judge allows it. "Rod Blagojevcich is not on trial here" the prosecutors will say - and Zabel will agree. And if the jurors aren’t smart enough to see that there is something terribly wrong about a judge telling them that they can’t even have the question asked - Blago could suffer because of it. As I said in my prior comments about brother Rob - I hope the jurors ask themselves the question when they retire to the jury room.

I don’t really follow criminal cases and the conduct of judges in local State or Federal courts - just the ones that get a load of publicity - ex and sitting Governors and ex-cops accused of murder or torture - but I don’t recall reading of indictments of those kinds of defendants being tossed out of court before they get even close to becoming a trial. I have a feeling the judge who quashed the indictment against me and two colleagues decades ago would at least have entertained a motion to do the same for Blagojevitch. Right now, the best that Blago can hope for is that Judge Zabel decides that the search for truth is more important than the rules of the game governing that search. Perhaps even that he will ask himself and then prosecutors the questions that the wise judge who shall remain nameless asked of my prosecutors. Even if everything that is alleged in the indictment is true - and, in Blago's case - if it was all talk and no action - how does it add up to crime and how has any individual or the State of Illinois been harmed?