Wednesday, August 31, 2005

What Would Nero Do?

Sadly, my assessment on the state of flooding in New Orleans was premature. Two major levees were breached, and the waters continue to pour into the Big Easy. The situation is what the governor of Louisiana described as "untenable". The pictures of carnage coming out of Louisiana and Mississippi are absolutely surreal, and it will be some time before the residents in the affected areas can return to a state of normalcy if, in fact, they ever can.

It might be tacky to bring up politics in reference to a disaster of such magnitude, but there is a lesson to be learned about decisions made and their consequences. I'm not going to blame the Bush administration for a hurricane happening. But it is fair to question whether Bush's policies kept the affected areas in the highest state of preparedness for such an event. According to this article, funding that the Army Corps of Engineers required for shoring up levees on the Louisiana coast was cut in 2003. Because of tax cuts and the war in Iraq, there wasn't enough money to spend on the most vital kind of homeland security.

Meanwhile, what was Bush doing on Monday as New Orleans was sinking? Playing golf, of course. After all, he's George Watch this drive Bush, and golf is a way to cure everything that ails his country. But he was kind enough to sacrifice two days from his five week vacation and go back to work. On Tuesday Bush spoke at a California Naval base for 40 minutes, and wedged somewhere into his comparisons of the war in Iraq with WWII (!), he devoted less than two minutes of his speech toward the hurricane and its aftermath. Now go back and read that E.L. Doctorow essay again.

It's hard to say right now what the damage from this storm will amount to in monetary terms, especially what won't be covered by insurance. But it will likely be considerably less than the cost of conducting the war in Iraq. If 300 billion dollars can be found to fight a war and reconstruct Iraq, surely the federal government can come up with a way to provide for reconstruction and assistance for its own people. There will be few complaints about the profiteering that will arise out of this venture.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Katrina and the Waves

Hurricane Katrina hit land this morning, and the damage left behind was devastating. Fortunately, it veered just east of New Orleans before it could cause the kind of catastrophic flooding that was feared. But other areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were also hit hard. There were a significant number of deaths, billions of dollars in damage, and thousands of people will be homeless for months.

It's times like these when you realize how powerless we all are compared to the forces of nature. While not as devastating as the December tsunami, Katrina sent a message about the fragility of life and a way of life. It's also times like these when we rely on our news media to provide vital information, above and beyond. I have to say, for the most part, CNN and Fox did a pretty good job during the time I tuned them in. I have my pet peeves about their special titles and graphics for things like this (CNN tackily dubbed itself "Hurricane Headquarters", and Fox shamelessly displayed the title "Direct Hit"), and Fox's hosts sometimes made it seem they were happy to be covering a story this big, but I'll give them their props.

Not insignificantly, oil production and refinery off the Gulf Coast was ground to a halt. With already astronomical oil prices, this won't help. I realize that this isn't that important compared with what the coastal residents will have to go through. But this sidebar to the hurricane is just another alarm bell regarding our dependence on oil as a primary source of energy. It makes you wonder what it would be like if we could somehow harness some of the energy from these storms. Katrina probably had enough power to keep a large city lit for years. Whoever can find a way to do that will make a mint and save the planet. (Who says environmentalism and capitalism can't co-exist?)

I have no doubt that the people of North America will come through, as we always do, in helping the victims of this disaster and the rebuilding effort. I urge everybody to show your generosity toward these people in need. In these troubled, divided times, I know that's something that everybody can agree on.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

No Rest for the Wicked

If you read my previous entry, you could tell that I needed a little break from blogs. So yesterday I didn't read any, and I didn't write anything. And I got a great night's sleep. I haven't read any blogs today, and was perfectly content to write about the baseball pennant races. But tonight I received an e-mail from my mother with an essay written by E.L. Doctorow, titled "The Unfeeling President", which you can find online here. It was written a year ago, but I had not seen it until now. It was very sad to read. For one thing, it was sad to read a professional and realize I have no real skill at this. More importantly, it was sad to think about all the people who have been affected by what I believe to be the misdeeds of George W. Bush, and to realize that he doesn't care.

Doctorow, in the most eloquent way that I've yet seen, succeeds in laying out all of the areas in which people object to this President. You can pick them out of E.L.'s prose one by one:

  • intolerance toward dissent
  • insincerity
  • lack of earnestness
  • dishonesty

Perhaps most damning, even more than the way in which the U.S. went to war (and executed the occupation), is how Bush and his Republican Congress have rammed through damaging domestic legislation, much of which might not have had a chance in hell of passing if not for 9/11 and the war. Bush (aka Karl Rove's puppet) has never learned that there is a line between leadership and bullying. I think the American public, in larger numbers, is finally coming around to see Mr. Bush for what he is.

I really did want to have a relaxing, politics-free day. My biggest outrage was that San Diego is under .500 and leading their division by 5.5 games. Just when I thought I was out, they PULL ME BACK IN! Thanks Mom.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Can't We All Just Get Along?

In the interest of full disclosure, your humble blogger must make an admission that this is my second attempt at a blog entry tonight. I fell flat on my face in my first try. I wanted to formulate a point that tied together Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire last year, a column by Jonah Goldberg, and the old Warner Bros. cartoons with the sheepdog and the wolf who looked just like Wile E. Coyote. ("Good morning Ralph." "Good morning Sam".) Try as I did, my rhetorical skills failed me and I couldn't get a lucid argument into writing. Some might intuitively figure out where I was going with that, but I doubt it.

What is of note is that this is the second time in a week that I have (or would have) referenced a column by a Right Wing pundit in order to advance my point. That doesn't make me any less liberal, but it does say that I don't consider everybody with whom I disagree an extremist or void of rational ideas. And yet, if you read comments posted in the blogosphere, it appears that North America is divided into loonie Stalinists and evil fascists. Both sides agree that half the population is extremist and evil - they just disagree about which half it is. They only want to hear from naysayers for the purpose of ridiculing them. And they refer to their ideological opponents as "the enemy". There is nothing healthy about an attitude like that. And there's no doubt that a lot of it is fed by the Punditocracy and talk radio, as well as editorials in some of the trashier newspapers. But I submit that the internet has contributed significantly to our coarser society.

There are times when I absolutely marvel at the internet, with all the information available instantly and the ability for people from all over to communicate like we have never been able to before in human history. But every advance has a price. The blogosphere, and internet in general, is very polarizing. No matter how much of a smorgasbord of ideas is offered to you on demand, it's a lot easier to hang out where your beliefs are affirmed. The internet allows you to be insular, and anonymity allows you to be less inhibited with your hostilities. I have found myself cringing many times at what I have read from people with whom I agree on the issues. I have also been furious with what I have read from those with whom I disagree, but I understand they are just as powerless in this world as I am. I chalk it up to their being misguided in their thinking, and that everybody has the right to be wrong. But they are not my enemies. And if we stop dehumanizing each other, we will realize that everybody has something to contribute and that maybe our stagnant ideas have a little bit of wiggle room.

I somehow stumbled onto a message board recently where I saw real filth and hatred spewed. I don't even know what I was searching for, but I ended up there. The thread started with conspiracy theories about the London bombings, and somehow ended up being consumed by hate-filled arguments about Quebec nationalism. And interjecting his "expertise" on the Quebec question was a charming fellow from Virginia with the moniker "Non-Zionist", who constantly referred to America and Britain as U.S.I. and U.K.I. with I standing for Israel. (He was actually kind of funny in his ignorance, because it seemed like he thought Canada only consisted of Quebec and Ontario.) If most people would just read that stuff, they will realize who the real enemies are.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

At What Price?

I read a really good piece on the Huffington Post by Mark LeVine, Associate Professor of Middle Eastern History at UC Irvine. While LeVine himself is a controversial figure (as Leftist academics tend to be more than their Rightist counterparts), I just want to focus on this particular article. He charges the anti-war protesters in general (and academics in particular) of making no effort to actually go to Iraq, learn about the situation first-hand, and take meaningful action at a time when it might have made a difference. It's a very interesting read, and I hope you'll check it out.

I derive a larger issue than can be applied to both sides of the war debate. The question needs to be asked: Where is the sacrifice, apart from the soldiers fighting the war and their families? In WWII, everybody was involved in the war effort. Great heroes went to fight overseas, while Rosie the Riveter kept industry churning at home. Supplies were rationed, infrastructure and farms were used for the cause, and not a single citizen was unaffected in some way. Things were different in the Vietnam War, because there was far from unanimous acceptance. But there was still a draft, so most young men were subject to being called into action. However, exception were made for the most educated, privileged or well-connected, so a wartime dichotomy occurred for the first time where some people had to make real sacrifices, while others were happy to be cheerleaders for the war while tending to "other priorities". These were the formative years of the modern Chickenhawks. Now, the U.S. military is all-volunteer. And while there are plenty of recruits who truly want to serve their country, and while I don't doubt the patriotism of anybody who has enlisted, most are there as a means of achieving a better life. Overwhelmingly, it is young men and women from the lower end of the economic classes that enlist, and they are the ones making the ultimate sacrifice. In the meantime, the rest of the population goes on with their lives as if there is no war being fought. The wealthiest ones, who have the most to lose if the terrorists "win", are paying less taxes and losing no children. So I ask anybody who supports this war, what have you given up personally to ensure its success?

But this is the very question that LeVine is asking those opposed to the war. What are they willing to sacrifice in order to oppose this action? Are pro-peace professors willing to take a sabbatical from their cushy jobs in ivory towers to actually witness what's happening on the ground? Is the average anti-war citizen willing to engage in civil disobedience and put themselves at risk if the cause is so important to them? It is definitely a valid question.

I'll have to remember some time to expand on my own views about this war. But it's getting pretty late. This blog isn't important enough for me to sacrifice sleep over.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Law Of No Return

The unilateral Israeli disengagement of Jewish settlers from Gaza and parts of the West Bank is now complete. This is one of those events that cannot bring any real joy to Israelis. The sight of people being uprooted from their homes had to be heartbreaking, even to those who supported this move. It is almost impossible not to feel sadness for the children being displaced from the only homes they had ever known, even if you disagree with the motivations of their parents for having moved there.

The whole program of re-settling the occupied territories was a sham, because it wasn't practical for the purpose of achieving any acceptable conclusion to the Palestinian issue. There was never any way that these territories were going to become part of a "greater Israel", because that would mean a one state solution. And with the Arab population surpassing the Jewish population in greater Israel, that would mean Jews would either be an electoral minority or running an Apartheid state. The Jewish settlements were just a temporary land grab to be negotiated back for peace. The settlers who chose to go there probably believed they were fulfilling a biblical prophecy, but very few politicians looked at it that way. (Acting on pronouncements from God, no matter which religion, has never amounted to much good. Remember that this whole mess started with the Battle of Jericho, which was the world's first jihad.) And the settlers were just sacrificial lambs, first suffering the violence of their Palestinian neighbours, and then being sold out when the inevitable withdrawal occurred - their religious convictions not ever allowing them to believe that this day would come. They must feel even more betrayed by the fact that the disengagement happened without anything offered in return by the other side.

Was this the right thing to do? I really have no clue. My political leanings indicate that I should support this, but I have more than a hint of skepticism. There is a significant portion of the Palestinian population that will believe the propaganda that this is a capitulation to the Intifada. Even if that isn't the reality, the perception could lead to very real consequences. In addition, nobody really knows what Ariel Sharon's true agenda is with this decision, although it has been speculated on from all sides. We can only hope that the old hawk has morphed into an owl.

Finally, I realize that there aren't any tears being shed for the former settlers tonight in Palestine. There will never be a lasting peace until their people get a better grip on humanity. Prolonged treatment will be needed to eradicate the cancer from that culture. But, for now, Israel will accept a Band-Aid if it gets them through today without another child strapping on a bomb.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Rage After the Storm

Okay. No politics. No news. No links. Not a single luxury. Today, I just want to write about something that happened last Friday that really pissed me off.

There was a huge storm in the area. I'm talking HUGE! I was at work, but was watching with great interest through my office window, which has a view to the north. It was awesome! The sky was so dark, it almost looked like we were having a solar eclipse. The rain was coming down, not in buckets, but in lakes. There were lots of super lightning bolts. I just love watching thunderstorms. They are probably my favourite of the natural phenomena. They're very sexy too.

Of course, after the storm passes you get back to reality and understand that there might be consequences. Parts of town were blacked out. Trees were down in many areas. My boss's private golf club was severely damaged by storm for the second time this year, and will likely not re-open this year. A number of basements were flooded. And then there's the traffic.

Anybody driving in Toronto knows that whenever there's a little bit of rain, traffic slows to a crawl. I've never really understood this, but it's as predictable as the Leafs wilting in the spring. So when you get a whole lot of rain, you might as well bring a Tolstoy novel with you in your car. I'm lucky enough to live only a ten minute drive from work (in normal conditions), and I don't need to take a major highway. But I do drive up the Bayview extension, a good alternative to the Don Valley Parkway which was looking more like a tailgate party on Friday. To my surprise, the volume on Bayview wasn't that bad at all at the beginning. But the rain had left a massive lake in the road, so the two lanes merged into one to bypass it, and then traffic was joined by the people who decided to get off the DVP before they started to decompose. So it was a bit of a crawl after that, but not too bad. Then, after passing Pottery Rd. and getting to the most steep and winding stretch, I heard a siren. A fire engine had to get by. Cars were jammed like sardines in two lanes, with a median to the left and a ditch to the right, no shoulder. So those of us in the left lane had to somehow squeeze over the the right well enough to let the fire engine go by. Amazingly, we were able to do so, but the row of cars in the right lane looked like a disjointed mess.

And then came the thing that pissed me off.

After the fire engine passed, the cars that followed it just zipped right on behind it! Here the rest of us cars were packed together in the right lane, misaligned and looking a bit like the marching band scene in Animal House. And the people coming from behind us in the left lane, seeing this carnage, didn't let anyone in ahead of them. I think that was obnoxiously rude. It then took several minutes for us to straighten ourselves out and get back on our way.

Maybe this story didn't have a great payoff, but I just needed to vent. You can let me know if I'm out of line for thinking that the following drivers should have let the displaced cars merge with them. This was the closest I've ever come to experiencing true road rage. Fortunately I wasn't in a position to do anything about it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

There Goes the Neighbourhood

I read an interesting article about how corporations are getting into the blog business. It seems that the blog will be the next powerful tool for marketing and corporate communication. We all know that nothing is sacred, and this is just another sign of that.

Blogs are already obsolete to a certain degree. There are just so darned many of them, and relatively few that are original. There are some that are specialized to a specific interest or hobby, and they have a lot of value to those who share that interest. Most are like this one, offering general musings and opinions about the issues of the day or life experiences, and get very few hits. (I keep my blog for personal reflection and posterity, but very much welcome readers and comments.) The most popular blogs are the ones that declare themselves to be "alternative media", because both the Left and Right complain that the mainstream media don't serve their interests. But those blogs have become just the opposite of what they purport to be. A lot of the big blogs generate ad revenue, so they are not much more independent than the corporate media. Many personalities from the MSM have their own blogs too. And according to the first article cited above, apparently there will be more and more bloggers who are nothing but corporate shills. The free flow of ideas is no longer free, but it was only a matter of time.

I will be self-critical for a moment. My blog has strayed away from how I envisioned it would be when I first started it. In the beginning, I expected to chime in occasionally on the news of the day and offer my lay insights, but not as often as it has turned out. I expected to have more posts about day-to-day experiences, or philosophical observations of the type I offered in my very first blog entry, as well as discussion about media. It has become much more current events driven than I had intended. Some of it is a reflection of the politically charged period in which we are living. Some of it is indicative of the reality that I need to get out more. Most of it has to do with the fact that it is very easy for anybody with an opinion to write about the stories that are out there and that others are writing about. I want to maintain a daily writing discipline, and drawing on the news means that I'll never be wanting for a topic. But I'm concerned about sounding like a broken record, falling back on the same polemics as most political blogs do. So I will make an effort to go back to offering more variety in my posts. And although I can't be balanced, I'll always try to be fair. Of course, everyone has their price...

Saturday, August 20, 2005

And My Verdict Is...

It has taken me a long time to figure out what I think of the whole Cindy Sheehan story. At various times I have been all over the map. There is no doubt that if you are willing to keep an open mind and you go to sites on the other side of the political spectrum (Free Republic, etc.), your perspective will be challenged sometimes. As a result, I've flip-flopped between thinking Sheehan is a great American hero and thinking she's either an exploited victim or a selfish manipulator. After considering all the facts as I understand them and the credibility of analysis on all sides, I've concluded that Sheehan is, on balance, a positive inspiration.

To be fair, both sides have been wrong on a number of things. Many of the more sympathetic souls on the Right believe that Sheehan has been exploited by some far Left groups (like CodePink and to push their agendas. The truth is that Sheehan has been involved with those groups for quite a while now, and there is no reason to believe that she isn't acting out of her own convictions. I also disagree with the Left's fawning over her, and attributing a higher "moral authority" to her because of her loss of a son in the war. In addition, many people on the Left talk as if Sheehan's camping out at the Crawford ranch was some spontaneous act from which a national movement sprouted. Clearly, all of this was calculated although, in my mind, that doesn't diminish its power and importance.

Then there are the personal attacks from the Right. Sheehan has been called everything from "nutty" to anti-Semitic. I don't think any of the critics who call her "nutty" have any credentials in the field of psychiatrics. The pundits are also out talking about how she is dishonouring the memory of her son, and how she just wants to milk the media attention for herself. The fact that they have made an issue of Cindy Sheehan means that they want to push the issues for which she stands to the background. This has been a common Right Wing tactic for dealing with people that dare to challenge the infallibility of the Bush administration, and especially regarding the war. Richard Clarke, Joseph Wilson, Scott Ritter and anybody else who turned out to be right was personally vilified by the Right and, subsequently, the media. They want nothing more than for the spotlight to go on the personality rather than the issues. The fact that the Right has, once again, employed that tactic with Sheehan indicates to me that they are fearful of what she might accomplish and what truths she might expose. (UPDATE: Check out Frank Rich's column in the Sunday New York Times on this topic.) There aren't too many saints walking around, and if you try hard enough you can find plenty of dirt on everybody. Cindy Sheehan is not a perfect human being, but that doesn't mean her questions of the President aren't valid.

As for the anti-Semitic charge, she has made statements in opposition to Israeli occupation, but most of them aren't necessarily anti-Semitic on their face. There was one troubling line attributed to her about her son joining the Army "to protect America, not Israel", implying that Israel was the reason for the war. She has to answer for that and, in fact, has denied that remark and sentiment. Some have inferred anti-Semitism from her criticism of the Neo-Cons and PNAC. I am in full agreement with her on that criticism, so I guess that makes me an anti-Semite too. But the bigger problem is that people like David Duke and other racists have jumped on the peace bandwagon by citing these statements. (Forgive me for not providing a link to David Duke. It's too repugnant.) I wrote in an earlier post about the strange bedfellows in politics, and people like David Duke are an albatross around the neck of the peace movement in general and the opposition to the war in Iraq in particular. But that doesn't make the opposition any less noble.

Even with all her warts, Cindy Sheehan asks an important question: What is the noble cause that her son died for? What was the real motivation for this war? She has followed through with her plan, and has stood up to what she knew would be a harrowing attack. It's hard not to admire her just for that. And her actions have inspired anti-war vigils to spring up all over America. While public support for the war has been steadily declining as people have become wise to the facts, it took a Cindy Sheehan to re-invigorate public displays of dissent. Only history will tell if she is making a difference for the better. Many call her heroic. It's hard to disagree.

Friday, August 19, 2005

The Name Remains the Same

A little while ago, the NCAA announced that it had instituted new rules restricting, and ultimately banning, the use of Native American mascots, logos and team nicknames in post-season play. That, effectively, eliminates those things entirely. (Nobody changes their uniforms just for the playoffs.) That decision almost immediately sparked a mixed reaction. Most on the politically correct side chimed in with, "It's about time!" Naturally, there was a lot of opposition from traditionalists, many of whom have no argument to fall back on except, "This is how it has always been done."

The fact is that too many people weighed in without stopping to ask the Native Americans. The issue is not as clear cut as one's sensibilities might lead one to believe. In a number of cases, the aboriginal tribes portrayed in mascots and nicknames actually approve of it. An example of that is with Florida State University. Not only does the Seminole tribe of Florida support the use of its name, it also participates in the design of the mascot's outfit and helps the school achieve a positive portrayal of its people. In fact, FSU doesn't refer to the Seminole as the mascot but as the "spirit" of the school.

With that in mind, the NCAA announced today that their new rule can be appealed on a school-by-school basis, with the decision based on whether the depicted tribe approves of its name and imagery being used. I personally think that this is a fair compromise. I'm not sure that it should be up to you or me to decide what is offensive to someone else without understanding the context.

I'm not familiar with all the affected nicknames in the NCAA, but I know that most of them are of a specific tribe residing in the university's state, like the Fighting Illini. If the Illini nation approves of the use of its name and approves of the logo and mascot, as the Seminoles in Florida do, that's all that should matter. But one thing that I think all reasonable people can agree on is that catch-all nicknames of aboriginal people are offensive. Unlike adopting the name of a specific tribe and sharing its pride and history, names that portray an entire race or ethnicity are nothing but stereotypes. I don't know if there are any such nicknames in the NCAA, but there are a number of them in pro sports. For example, which tribe is referred to by the Braves or the Indians? It has certainly been expressed by many Native Americans that they find those names offensive. In Canada, many Inuit people would object to the Eskimos name. And what could be worse than naming a team the Redskins? Can you imagine a team called the Yellowskins, Blackskins or Whiteskins? I think that's self-evident.

An argument has been made that there are also ethnic names like the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame that are not objected to. I think the distinction here is with its origins. Notre Dame's early football teams were composed largely of Irish-Americans. In fact, very early on, the team was known as the Catholics! So it's a little different depicting your own ethnicity than having someone else do it for you. For example, if Brandeis University decided to start calling its basketball team the Wandering Jews, I'd find it much less offensive than if the nickname was adopted by, say, Wichita State. Once again, I think that's self-evident.

Ultimately, pressure needs to be applied to the individual schools for change to take effect, as it has with a number of schools who have voluntarily changed their Native American nicknames over the years. I think that the NCAA, after taking criticism, finally came around to the right decision after realizing that Native Americans are not one monolithic tribe. Now maybe they can put more energy into making sure that student comes before athlete in "student-athlete". Doubtful though. Chemistry labs just don't get the ratings.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Baghdad Melanie?

I had intended to write about the Cindy Sheehan story tonight. Aside from a funny bit that I posted the other day about the Right Wing talking heads, I haven't made any comment about this. I'll save it for the weekend, because it'll probably run long.

In the meantime, you have to check this out. It's radio talk show host Melanie Morgan being interviewed by Chris Matthews on Hardball. If you didn't know any better, you'd think this was a parody from Saturday Night Live. Morgan takes her turn in the role of the Right Wing blowhard and apologist for Bush and his war. And Matthews is hardly playing hardball as he allows her to get away with each outrageous statement without any strong challenge. Let's examine some of her better nuggets:

MORGAN: And, by the way, we're still going to find weapons of mass destruction.

She's joking, right? That's a statement Baghdad Bob would be proud of. I guess the WMD's are buried in the basement of the airport that the Iraqi army still controls. Melanie would have been slightly more credible if she had followed, "And, by the way" with, "they're real, and they're spectacular!" But that's just speculation.

MATTHEWS: Do you think that he made the case that adequately, do you think it was a fair case, a truthful case that the Iraqi people would greet with us celebration? That they would be happy to have us there? Is that a fair statement -- a full statement of the truth?

MORGAN: Do you not remember the video? Does America not remember the video of the statue of Saddam Hussein coming down and the cheering and the flowers?

Yes, we remember the video. It was a grossly misleading video of a staged event as part of the propaganda campaign to sell the war. The fact that Matthews didn't call her on this is inexcusable on his part. Maybe his show should be called "Tee-Ball".

MATTHEWS: What about the argument that was made that there was a connection to 9-11? At least some connection? Do you think that's been made? That case? Between Iraq and 9-11. Or between Iraq and Al Qaeda, I should say.

MORGAN: Oh, yes. Absolutely, there's been a connection made there. The reason why we are in Iraq is because those planes went flying into the World Trade towers...

Right. Although she framed this in a way in which she can later deny connecting Iraq with 9/11, this kind of ambiguous rhetoric has been a staple of the Bush administration and their noise machine in the media and has led millions of dittoheads to believe that Saddam himself packed a lunch for the 9/11 terrorists. Morgan went on to claim that 4000 Al Qaeda terrorists were operating in Iraq at the time, and the MMFA article demonstrated there is no documentation of that. But 4000 sounds like a good number. If it's good enough for Matthews...

My favourite part is when Matthews asked her about the (very well documented) claim by the Bushies that Iraqi oil revenues would pay for the reconstruction.

MORGAN: You know, I don't remember hearing that.


I never remember hearing that. And besides, the -- what the government has said as far as I'm concerned is that the Iraqi oil belongs to the people of Iraq.

First she pulled a Ronald Reagan. Then, she accurately repeated the administration's stating that the oil belongs to the people of Iraq. Which got me thinking: when did the Neo-Cons become socialists? The answer is that they haven't. Which means they believe the oil belongs to the Iraqi people about as much as a diamond mine belongs to the rats that live in it.

This is what it has come to, folks. These are the arguments for the war and, apparently, they never get old. Bush and his buddies better hope their media mouthpieces don't get bored of them. But if they do, is Baghdad Bob still available?

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Le Tricolore at Rideau Hall

We have a genuine outrage on our hands. Paul Martin's selection of Michaƫlle Jean as the next Governor General of Canada is just one more item to add to the Liberal government's record of irresponsible behaviour. That her political background, as well as the associations of her husband, were not considered disqualifying factors just boggles the mind. It is so much of an outrage, that I will link to and wholeheartedly endorse a column written by David Frum. (His August 16 National Post column.) I do so because to me this is not an issue of political ideology or partisanship, and I hope that this is also the spirit in which Frum wrote his column. To me, it is about patriotism.

Jean's life is a truly inspirational refugee story, and she might have been an excellent choice for the job under different circumstances. But there are too many issues surrounding her loyalty to Canada. Most troubling is the question of where Jean stood on the Quebec referendum of 1995. There are conflicting reports on whether Jean and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, were supporters of Quebec sovereignty. (Ironically, it is the Quebec separatists that are most pissed off by this appointment, because they are afraid Jean might swing immigrant francophone votes to the federalist side in the next referendum.) The fact that Jean has not come out with a definitive statement on this matter since the story broke does not instill confidence. And as with Rafael Palmeiro, the circumstantial evidence is not good. It turns out that Lafond was a friend and associate of several former FLQ terrorists, including Francis Simard and Jacques Rose, who were involved in the 1970 kidnapping and murder of Quebec Labour Minister Pierre Laporte. I don't know about you, but I can't picture Israel electing a President who's spouse was buddy-buddy with members of Hamas. On top of this, I'm sure I'm not the only person who's a wee bit uncomfortable with our head of state, representative of the monarchy and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, with REAL constitutional powers, being a dual citizen of France. Considering France's encouragement of Quebec sovereignty ever since de Gaulle's visit in 1967, this should have been a dealbreaker. Honestly, where else would something like this happen?

It shouldn't just be Americans who would be turned off by ties to both France and terrorists. There are many, many Canadians, and not just conservatives, who find this appointment to be one of the most cynical things that Martin has done while in office. It seems to follow a pattern of the Liberal government doing stuff to further their own political ends and then thinking the ugly underbelly will escape everyone's awareness. It's almost like something you'd read in one of those Stupid Criminals news stories. Do they really think the truth will never come out? Or, worse, do they not care because they realize they will always get away with it? It's amazing to me that this government, even in political peril, doesn't show an iota of recognition that they must clean up their act. This is the time for Canadians to step up and voice their outrage. If we are loud enough, Jean will have no choice but to resign her post. People of all races and creeds want a Governor General who is unquestionably committed to Canadian unity.

David Frum wrote, "It is, perhaps, just one outrage too many for Canadians to swallow from this prime minister and this government." I hope he's right. As much as I dislike the Conservatives under Stephen Harper, I'm beginning to think that only the pain of five years of Tory rule will have any hope of setting the Liberals straight. Canada needs good government right now, and we will not get it from the Liberals until they have had a bitter exile. Whether we can get it from Harper is an open question, but the devil we know has been given more than his due.

Monday, August 15, 2005


There are so many serious things too talk about. But I'm going to take a little break to talk about Raffy. Rafael Palmeiro returned from his drug suspension yesterday. Yes, Mr. "Wag-My-Finger-to-Congress-and-Deny-Using-Steriods" is back in the Orioles' lineup. I've got to say that on one level I feel a bit sorry for Raffy. I can't imagine how embarassing it must be for people to realize that not only have you been cheating at your profession, but you also told one whopper of a lie to the public and to Congress. Not to mention tarnishing your legacy.

Recall that Palmeiro was first accused of steroid use by Jose Canseco in the latter's much-ballyhooed book. Canseco also named Mark McGwire and a few other former teammates who he claimed to shoot-up. Given Canseco's troublesome history, he was hardly considered a credible source on the subject. (His admissions of drug use in the book were more matter-of-fact than they were a mea culpa.) And while there has been suspicion about McGwire for years, Palmeiro was not generally seen as having the body type of a steroid user. But a mention in Canseco's book was enough for both McGwire and Palmeiro to volunteer to go before a Congressional committee investigating the issue because, apparently, there wasn't anything more important to take care of last March. We all know what happenned next. The Bunyon-esque McGwire turned into a dithering fool in his unwillingness to address whether he had used steroids, his non-answers speaking volumes. Conversely, Palmeiro defiantly wagged his finger and Proclaimed, "I have NEVER used steroids. Period." After that confident and decisive display, many people believed him. After all, he's a good Republican from a Cuban immigrant family who professes strong love of country, works hard and plays by the rules. I was skeptical. Maybe it was the finger wag, after which I half-expected him to say, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." His statement was a little too emphatic for my liking. Nonetheless, he was regarded as the big winner of the proceedings, and McGwire the big loser.

Then, on August 1, it was revealed that Palmeiro had tested positive for anabolic steroids. He could be seen wiping pterodactyl egg from his face, and I felt vindicated in my assessment of him. In fact, Major League Baseball had been sitting on that positive test since May for whatever reason, but the time finally came for Palmeiro to face the music, and the mandatory ten game suspension. Naturally, he changed his tune when he spoke publicly on the matter, now saying that he never "knowingly" took steroids. Those were the exact words used by Ben Johnson in 1988. He also was caught using the same banned substance as Johnson, stanazolol, which doesn't enter your system through a spiked gatorade bottle. Palmeiro isn't saying a whole lot now, on the advice of his lawyer, because Congress is reviewing whether he perjured himself. O, what a tangled web we weave...

I do not trust Jose Canseco enough to buy into everything he says, but there is circumstantial evidence to back him up regarding Palmeiro. Canseco was traded to Texas (and became Palmeiro's teammate) during the 1992 season. If you check out Palmeiro's career Statistics and note the spike in home run numbers starting in 1993, this whole affair should not be so shocking a revelation.

Palmeiro came back yesterday, and there was the predictable mixed reaction when he came to bat. It was disappointing that so many people cheered, but it was to be expected. One of my pet peeves with sports fans is that they cheer a uniform more than the people in it, and they react to outcomes instead of performance. I caught the end of the game on TV. Sure enough, Raffy came to bat in the ninth inning with two out, two on and a run down. He had a chance to win the game, and now all the Baltimore fans were on their feet for him. He flied out to end the game. There was some poetic justice.

The reason why I mentioned above that Palmeiro is a Republican was not to imply that only Republicans cheat - although they do seem to be more self-righteous in their denials. But it is significant in the fact that President Bush was a key player in making the steroid issue an important matter to be dealt with, and is now Defending Palmeiro. I guess any Muslim swept off the street is a terrorist without evidence, but a positive steroid test proves nothing.

When all is said and done, Palmeiro will still make it into the Hall of Fame based on his numbers. Most of his accomplishments came at a time when there was no ban on steroids, the modern spit-ball era. But his case makes you wonder just how many players were using these substances - or still are. And did MLB turn a blind eye to it as long as people paid attention to the long balls and flocked back to the ballparks after their disillusionment following the 1994 strike? Perhaps the drop-off in performance of players like Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi and the mysterious status of Barry Bonds indicate that the testing is starting to affect change, and Palmeiro was one of the players who rolled the dice and got beaten by the House. Time will tell. But don't say I didn't tell you so.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I Will Choose a Path That's Clear...

Religious conservatism is something that baffles me. Well, let's be honest - conservatism is something that baffles me. But I'm especially having difficulty reconciling the fact that people of a religious bent would be on the right side of the political spectrum when it comes to the issue of government programs. I really can only talk about Judaism and Christianity, since I'm of Jewish background and I've lived all my life in a country of Christian majority. So if my take on this does not apply to other religions, I apologize.

I read a blog recently that had an entry about the Air France crash in Toronto earlier this month. The blogger (who is a conservative Christian) applauded the media for referring to the survival of all the passengers and crew as a "miracle". She went on:

I wish the media would take time to appropriately name other miracles. How about the possible news headlines:

Some High School Students Actually Say "No" to Drugs

Twenty percent of College Graduates Maintain Their Virginity

Despite Political, Cultural and Economic Pressure, Women Increasingly Stay Home with Family

and my favorite "miracle story": No Terrorist Activity in the US Since 9/11

May God give us eyes to see the miracles that surround us.

My initial reaction to reading this shows my reality-based bias. Aside from the dog-bites-man nature of the above items, I think that a statement like that either gives God too much credit, or gives people of free will too little. It basically said that all good things are as a result of divine intervention, and all bad things are either caused by fallible people, or just a function of the fact that "shit happens". It's reminiscent to me of the Passover seder when we sing "Dayenuh" to thank God for getting us out of all kinds of jackpots in ancient Egypt, forgetting that He got us into them in the first place. But in response to a reader's comment to that effect, the blogger said, "My hope is that it wouldn't require such a tragic event for any of us to be thankful and appreciative of the good things bestowed on us." I have no problem with that, and any source of gratitude and humility is a good thing. And I fully appreciate the sincerity of this blogger, and of the many people who share the belief in God's role in worldly matters.

The problem I have is with the intellectual inconsistency of religious conservatives. They engage in prayer, often with an objective. They pray for a loved one's health. They pray for the troops at war. They pray for personal strength. In other words, they appeal to a higher power to intervene and give them assistance in a dire situation. And yet, these same people object to government social programs. It's okay to call on God to heal the sick, but there shouldn't be a public health care system. It's okay to call on God to feed the hungry, but don't don't use my tax dollars for welfare programs. It's okay to pray to God for the well-being of our children, but tax dollars shouldn't go toward day care. Do you see what I'm getting at, folks? (I just slipped into Limbaugh for a moment.) I believe that anybody who believes that God is the source of all that's good in the world, or who has ever appealed to God to assist in a worldly matter, has forfeited the right to preach to others about "personal responsibility" and "self-sufficiency" when it comes to the merits of government programs. The only difference between the intervention of God and the intervention of government is that God doesn't send you a tax bill. If He did, I assure you there would be a lot less prayer going on.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Villification 101?

In reference to the recent developments surrounding Cindy Sheehan down at Bush's ranch, and the Right Wing reaction to it:

What Fox News Channel Would Have Done to Rosa Parks
How it would have been in the Civil Rights era if Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Matt Drudge and the rest of the gang were around back then:
O'Reilly: Rosa Parks claims she speaks for all of the African-Americans in the South, but in fact, we have found two African-Americans who say they disagree with her. They say she's just trying to gain publicity and doesn't speak for anyone in her race. They would know, they're black.

Hannity: Could Rosa Parks be angling for a Senate run? What does she have to gain from her public stand? Coming up next, the incredible story of how this woman might be deceiving the whole country!

Drudge: We have found three members of the Parks family who say that Rosa doesn't speak for them. That, in fact, they are very happy with the government of the state of Alabama. The uncle, step-brother-in-law and niece three-times removed all agree that the better route is a dignified, respectful silent deference to authority. Developing.

Limbaugh: We have just found information that before Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus, there were numerous times, she sat in the back of the bus! Ah ha! A flip-flopper!"

Drudge: More stories on Rosa Parks scandalous history of consistently sitting in the back of the bus before she changed her position and insisted she would only sit in the front of the bus. Developing.

Malkin: I think I speak for the entire Parks family, and especially her children, when I say that they are so embarrassed by their mother who is making a public spectacle of herself.

Hannity: Rosa Parks has turned this whole so-called civil rights issue into a public circus. We have information that Ted Kennedy might have put her up to this. That amazing story when we come back!

Colmes: You're right, Sean. I'm sorry.

O'Reilly: To question the government of Alabama and implicitly the entire United States government by defying the political order like this has to be considered treasonous. Civil disobedience is a code word for I hate America. These people are criminals, simple criminals. It's ridiculous that they think they don't have to live by the same rules as the rest of us.

Scarborough: Yeah, whatever they just said on Fox News Channel! Well I mostly agree with it.

Kaplan: Can we hire Shep Smith to cover this? Maybe give him his own show?

Limbaugh: What did I tell you folks? These libs like Parks would rather live in France where they can sit anywhere they want on the bus. They hate America. They want special privileges to be able to sit anywhere they want. They hide behind the color of their skin to try to undermine this country.

Coulter: Rosa Parks is a dyke!

Blitzer: Dr. King, is it true that you support the liberal agitator Rosa Parks in her defiance of America? Can you confirm whether she has in fact sat in the back of the bus before? Do you think this makes her a flip-flopper? If she has been so inconsistent on this, how can we trust her on anything?

Drudge: MY SOURCES TELL ME THAT THIS MIGHT BE THE FIRST TIME ROSA PARKS HAS EVER SAT IN THE FRONT OF THE BUS. A whole life of sitting in the back of the bus and now this woman claims all of a sudden she wants to sit in the front of the bus. Developing.

O'Reilly: Unbelievable, just unbelievable. Ridiculous!

Hannity: Incredible!

Scarborough: What did they just say?

In Unison: Flip-flopper! Flip-flopper! Flip-flopper!

Blitzer: Ms. Parks left the bus in disgrace today after it was confirmed that some members of her family did not agree with her, she had ruined her credibility by working for the NAACP before the bus incident, and she had in fact sat in the back of the bus on previous occasions. Now back to the emotionally wrenching story of the girl missing in...
Cenk Uygur

Friday, August 12, 2005

Remember What the Coal-Mouse Said

My posts have been running long lately, so tonight I'll just leave you with this gem. It should be heeded by anybody concerned about their country and the world, not only in powerful nations, but also in places where their neighbours might be growing up to be terrorists.

The Weight of a Snowflake

"Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a coal-mouse asked a wild dove.

"Nothing more than nothing," was the answer.

"In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story," the coal-mouse said.

"I was standing on a branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow - not heavily, not a raging blizzard - no, just like a dream, without any wind and without any violence. I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd snowflake dropped on the branch - nothing more than nothing, as you say - the branch broke off."

Having said that, the coal-mouse ran away.

The dove, since Noah's time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for awhile and finally said to himself, "Perhaps there is only one person's voice lacking for peace to come to the world."

- Source unknown

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Jeepers, FReepers Part Deux (or How I Was FReeped Out)

As a follow-up to last night's post, I would like to tell you about my own attempt at participation in a Free Republic forum. I'm not one to throw the political F-word around a lot, but I became more convinced that Free Republic is just slightly on this side of a fascist rally.

The original Article was titled "James Woods Explains Why Hollywood Movies Stink." I find Woods to be an intriguing character who isn't afraid to speak his mind and is never dull. Naturally, someone thought it suitable for posting on Free Republic because Woods' critique of Hollywood is political in nature. He spoke of nepotism and narcissism, as if liberals have a monopoly on them. And he complained about political correctness in the way certain demographics are portrayed. I certainly agree with Woods that Hollywood movies are putrid for the most part, but his reasons for why they are that way are laughably simplistic, as is often the case with conservatives.

In any event, I couldn't wait to read through the dittohead comments that followed, with a bottle of Advil close by. There were a few lucid remarks about the quality of movies in general, but most of the comments were typical of the Freepers. And I found one of them (comment #6) that said, "that's Hollywood in a nut shell. Talentless people who got thier (sic) jobs because of who they knew or were related too. Proof that Hollywood now lacks talent - Rent Stone's Alexander. Terrible everything." Well, I couldn't resist. I registered as DiamondDog13 and posted my own reply:

Talentless people who got thier jobs because of who they knew or were related too.

Kind of sounds like the Presidency of the United States.

I knew right then that I'd be booted for trolling, but at least I got a rise out of a few people in subsequent comments. I wish I could have stuck around long enough to have someone tell me something, anything, that George W. Bush accomplished independently to justify his getting to his current position, but my posting privileges were revoked. And "Comment #56 Removed by Moderator". I was crushed. (I got over it.)

But I saw a glimmer of encouragement by durasell who replied to me before my comment was removed. Comment #65 said, "I always give folks the benefit of the doubt. So, with that in mind -- do you have anything to add to this discussion?" I considered that an invitation to weigh in, and was determined to be civil and coherent. I registered a different e-mail address as DiamondDog14, and this is what I wrote:

I always give folks the benefit of the doubt. So, with that in mind -- do you have anything to add to this discussion?

I sure do:

1. I am in total agreement that Hollywood films are horrible. But they are all about the bottom line, not the statement that they make. The studios are owned by large multi-media conglomerates, and their shareholders are of all different political stripes. The movies from Fox suck just as much as those from any other Hollywood studio.

2. My comment that was deleted was no less cogent than the one I was responding to.

3. It's ironic that folks here are complaining about the lack of conservative voices in Hollywood, yet don't tolerate diversity of opinion right here.

Would you agree that was civil and on topic?

I'd have loved to get durasell's reply, but I never got the chance because within ten minutes my posting privileges were revoked. And "Comment #110 Removed by Moderator". Let me tell you, folks, that pissed me off. I could understand getting booted the first time, but I hardly think my second post contained any "repugnant and obnoxious propaganda". There was nothing particularly liberal in my remarks - they were just challenging the ideas of other posters.

I really don't understand the mentality of the Freepers. How can you develop as a human being without rational discussion and debate? The answer is that you can't. If you read comments by many posters about their impression of liberals and their ideas, it's quite clear that they've never actually talked with one. They get their distorted information from sources like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. I tried to reason with them, but they wouldn't have any of it. Independent thought will not be tolerated. Free Republic must keep its readers' minds protected from impurities of intellect. Sounds a lot like the F word to me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Jeepers, FReepers

I have a headache. That tends to happen to me whenever I visit Free Republic. I really shouldn't punish myself like that so often, but it's important to see what the other side is talking about. I'm relatively new to the blogging experience but, from what I can see, Free Republic seems to be more user-driven than other sites when it comes to the articles posted, as opposed to sites where the host posts articles and then encourages discussion. However, there is one trait that Free Republic shares with many Right Wing blogs - they do not take kindly to people who post dissenting opinions and, in fact, practice censorship in the name of defending American freedom of speech. Right out of the Statement by the founder of Free Republic:

We aggressively defend our God-given and first amendment guaranteed rights to free speech, free press, free religion, and freedom of association, as well as our constitutional right to control the use and content of our own personal private property. Despite the wailing of the liberal trolls and other doom & gloom naysayers, we feel no compelling need to allow them a platform to promote their repugnant and obnoxious propaganda from our forum. Free Republic is not a liberal debating society. We are conservative activists dedicated to defending our rights, defending our constitution, defending our republic and defending our traditional American way of life.

If I wanted to make something up to stereotype our Right Wing friends, I couldn't have done a better job than that. And, believe it or not, one of the replies in the comments section after that statement was, "FreeRepublic is the best free speech site on the web." But if you read the entire statement from the site's founder (Jim Robinson), you get an idea of what you're in for on that site. Despite all this, there are a number of thoughtful articles posted there that might otherwise lead to some valuable discourse if the site allowed for a "liberal debating society." But I defy anybody of rational thought to read through the comments after each post and not get a similar headache to what I am experiencing. Everybody toots the same horn and they fall back on the same bigotry of ideas. They mock liberal arguments without engaging in substantive debate. And anybody with a contrarian viewpoint is dismissed as a troll and/or banished, even if they are civil and provide points for rational discussion.

On the other hand, check out the discussion forums in Media Matters. You will see that there is some of the same trash coming from the left, but there are also some pretty civil debates going on. Actual paragraphs, not just smug one-liners. There are plenty of conservatives who post there regularly and provide good input. The only banishments I'm aware of from that site are for leading threads off topic. (Full disclosure: I occasionally post there as DiamondDog.) Another site in which the discussion is usually civil is Daily Kos. The hosts sometimes use spicy language - especially Armando - but the comments that follow are usually substantive. Unlike conservatives who steadfastly follow Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment (Thou shalt not speak ill of a fellow Republican), liberals have no qualms about debating amongst themselves. I'm not saying that there aren't any liberal blogs that are in the gutter - there are plenty of them. But I tend to frequent the ones that encourage free thought, and I've yet to come across a major conservative blog like that. Many on the Right disdain intricacy and nuance. There is a lot of irony in the name Free Republic.

In one of my earliest posts I mentioned that when you look at blogs from the Left and Right, it appears that we are living in two separate versions of reality. The only surefire fact is that the world is composed of six billion different realities. Any claim of absolute truth is arrogance of the highest degree, and people of all stripes need to realize that there is a lot to learn from each other, even if you have a God-given right to close your mind. I certainly provide no guarantees that anything I write here is gospel. But if I give you a headache, let me know and I'll send you some Advil.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Goodbye Mr. Jennings

Peter Jennings passed away on Sunday of lung cancer at age 67. There has been much written and said about this giant in broadcast journalism in the last few days, and all of it does Mr. Jennings much better justice than what I can offer here. But I feel it's important for me to note his passing in this blog because of my central concerns here about the failings of the corporate media. Jennings was a very big part of that machinery, but in many instances he was a voice of resistance as well.

I came across an interesting Piece on the Common Dreams site. It contains a compilation of "CyberAlerts" put out by the Media Research Center pertaining to Jennings' coverage of the Iraq war. (I should point out that MRC takes it upon itself to alert its readers to instances of what it perceives to be liberal bias in the media. It's important for me to emphasize the point that bias is everywhere, including in the perception of bias, but it is information and facts that are paramount in journalism. What sets Media Matters apart from such sites is that while it has a "More Clips" section that highlights conservative bias, its main mission is to point out conservative misinformation in the media.) If you read through this selected list of CyberAlerts, you'll see that most of Jennings' "bias" that MRC objected to turned out to be right on the mark.

There's no doubt that the route taken by Jennings in his career contributed to the qualities that set him apart from other anchors and leading broadcasters. Having dropped out of high school, education was a lifelong venture for him. While in his 20's, he was first given the job as ABC's lead news anchor long before he was ready. At that time he was the pretty boy on camera, reminiscent of William Hurt in Broadcast News. Then, he went out into the world, literally. First it was Vietnam, then establishing a permanent news bureau for ABC in Beirut. By the time he became ABC's chief foreign correspondent based in London, he was ready for the number one chair. But his experience of different cultures and his obsessive quest for knowledge made him more questioning and skeptical than his counterparts.

There are many in the Jewish community that are suspicious of his leanings on the Arab-Israeli conflict. I think that needs to be put into context. He was the first full-time correspondent in the Middle East for American television. He spent years living in Beirut, as opposed to other journalists who just parachuted in for the big stories or who were based in Israel. He was immersed in the culture of the region, and the people he interacted with on a daily basis were of that culture. It has also been reported that he was romantically involved at that time with Palestinian activist Hanan Ashrawi. It is impossible for all of those things not to affect one's perspective, and to cause one to be a little more in tune with the other side of the coin. As a result, his coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflicts has been either more even-handed or more pro-Arab, depending on your point of view. I have no doubt that he viewed it as balanced, without regard for moral equivalencies. I don't think there was any evidence of him having been an anti-Semite, as some have suggested. In the big picture, it was important to have him as a somewhat contrarian voice on that issue because his having lived in the region for a long time allowed him to view Arabs as real people and not caricatures. More importantly, he did not automatically buy into the mainstream media storyline on the issue. That same quality was the genesis for the CyberAlerts on Iraq in which he turned out to be right all along. Whether you appreciated where he stood or not, you have to respect the fact that he had the courage to challenge convention. (In the case of Iraq and WMD, better late than never.) In that same vein, he was instrumental in ABC putting greater emphasis on international news than the other networks. He almost singlehandedly took a lead role in reporting on the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. He understood long before 9/11 what kind of impact events on the other side of the world could have on Americans.

From all that I have heard and read, Peter Jennings was as much a class act off-camera as he was on the air. He didn't take himself too seriously, and didn't bask in the celebrity of his position. But he was the consummate example of the consummate professional. He was the closest thing to a voice of reason on TV news since Walter Cronkite. He left us far too early, and at a time when we needed him most. May he rest in peace. We won't likely see his kind again.

Monday, August 08, 2005

I'm Baaaaack

After a week of sun, rain, relaxation and plenty of driving, it's back to the grind. For a good part of the week I was not at all tuned into the news, so I'm still in catch up mode. And though I can't resist including a link to Bob Novak's Meltdown, I want to talk about a couple of things that struck me at the beginning and end of my trip.

When you're driving through the U.S., the radio dial is a wasteland of hateful venom. As I've mentioned before, there's a lot anger on the airwaves and most of it is directed at liberals who are not in power. Out of morbid curiosity, I flipped around from station to station on the AM dial and heard voices who sounded different but who were using the same rhetoric. The usual schtick - liberals hate America, the ACLU is a terrorist organization, yada, yada, yada. If you listen to this for a little bit, you can't help but wonder how this kind of radio is so successful. It's the same message over and over again, day after day, and in a mean-spirited way. Okay, I'll admit that some of it was actually amusing, and I can imagine that people of that political bent would find that programming entertaining and a release for their frustrations. But what is it that is causing them to be frustrated? Considering that the country is run by Republicans, slagging the Democrats and liberals seems like a monumental waste of energy. Thomas Frank wrote about the lingering backlash against 60's counterculture that helped shape the modern conservative movement, but there aren't too many tie-dyed hippies out on the streets these days. On top of that, many things about the current Republican leadership should be a huge turn-off to traditional conservatives, yet the so-called "dittoheads" continue to trumpet their fearless leader and figuratively lynch anyone who suggests that he is less than perfect. It was toward the end of my trip that I saw the connection.

On my last night in New Jersey, watching TV to try to forget about my sunburn from the beach, I saw Easy Rider for the first time. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I wasn't disappointed. There's a lot I can say about that movie, but I'm not a film critic and that isn't the point of my mentioning it. I bring it up because after my initial reaction of it as a representation of the time in which it was made, I had a sort of epiphany. It suddenly occured to me that Easy Rider was an (unknownigly) prescient allegory for our own time. Recall that in the film, the "straightlaced" people in each town the bikers passed were intolerant and violent toward anyone with hair or clothes they didn't like, and local authorities turned a blind eye to such intolerance and violence. The violence portrayed was obviously an exaggeration in all but extreme cases, but it's safe to say that just being "different" was seen as a crime in many parts of the country. Jack Nicholson's character explained that what they really feared was expression of freedom.

Oh yeah, they're gonna talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom, but they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em.

Fast forward to today. Think about the war in Iraq. How many times have you heard people representing the Right say, "our troops are fighting to protect our freedoms," but then brand those who exercise their freedom of dissent as "anti-American"? Recall that a White House press secretary once took it upon himself to advise that, "People should be careful what they say." Dissent is equated with treason. The President himself doesn't tolerate anybody but yes-men around him. It is now ideas and speech that are under attack rather than long hair and leather jackets. Instead of homogeneous look and dress, it is homogeneous thought that a significant segment of the Right would like to enforce. Ironically, the Nicholson character was regarded as a friend by the cops who regularly busted him for his drunkenness and loathed anybody anti-establishment. I guess back then it wasn't yet considered treasonous to be a lawyer working for the ACLU. But the connection to Thomas Frank and the 60's "backlash" became more clear. I'm being simplistic about this now, because religious factors play a key role too, but I'll leave that for another post. (It's also kind of ironic that most bikers today are Righties. Then again, the Fonda and Hopper characters didn't seem like idealogues of any kind, and actually sold their own souls, causing Fonda's crisis of conscience. Wait, I forgot that I wasn't going to talk about the movie...)

Personally, I don't share the same kind of fatalism that was expressed in Easy Rider. I don't think society as a whole is intolerant to truth, even if the loudest and most powerful segments are. Recent poll numbers indicate that people are starting to see through the smoke and mirrors and propaganda machines. The internet is a wonderful thing.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Water and Sand Traps and Rough, Oh My

There are a number of things to talk about, like CAFTA, the John Bolton recess appointment, my I-told-you-so about Rafael Palmeiro or environmental peril. But I'm on vacation this week, and I need a break from these things. I think I'll talk about my golf outing today.

I got to play Kleinburg Golf Club today for the first time. It's a beautiful course, with a well-earned reputation. And great value at $40 after 3:00pm. RM and I decided to play this course both today and tomorrow, and hopefully improve our games the second time around. At least for my part, improvement tomorrow won't be so hard.

Tee to green, this was my worst round of the year. Every so often I totally lose my swing and can't hit anything solidly, and today was one of those days. Shanks, pulls, tops, chunks, pop-ups - I had them all, which is a lot scarier than making the same mistake every time. I could easily have shot over 120 if not for my short game. But golf is the kind of game that even if you do nothing else right the whole day, there will always be one shot you hit that you will remember and will keep you coming back. In my case, it was two shots. I holed not one, but TWO pitch shots, and both from a pretty good distance away. The first one was from a drop area on a par 3 after shanking my first shot badly into the trees. It was probably a 40 yard shot, and might have rolled off the green, but it hit the pin squarely and dropped right in. That was the strangest par I ever had. The other one came on a par 5. After really butchering the hole, my fifth shot was a lob wedge that I pulled badly right of the green, about 25 yards away from the hole but in the short grass. Then came a really sweet chip, and it didn't require help from the flagstick. I also had a couple of good up-and-downs and made a few good two-putts from long distance. But don't ask about my long game. The result was five lost balls and an ugly 111. Did I mention how much I hate this game?

RM, on the other hand, went along beautifully. She recently purchased the Perfect Driver (as advertised on The Golf Channel) to go along with her Perfect Club, and she was really swinging well. She ended up shooting 98, which was really good considering the difficulty of the course and that she had a 9 on one hole. Even with her old driver, she always managed to hit drives that seemed to roll out there forever, and the same thing was happening with her Perfect Driver. She has a very consistent game, and it's always a pleasure to watch her play. She also provided the ride up to Kleinburg and the Gatorade, both of which were greatly appreciated.

So it's off to Kleinburg again tomorrow, and then to Montreal Wednesday and New Jersey on Thursday. I likely won't be writing my next entry until next week. I'm sure there will be lots to say at that time.