Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Do As I Say...

I apologize for re-visiting something relatively petty so soon after bringing it up the first time, but I couldn't resist because it's just priceless. There aren't many things I read online that make me literally laugh out loud, but tonight we had a winner. A few days ago I posted regarding Bill O'Reilly's war on the war on Christmas, his personal crusade against retailers who referred to Holidays instead of Christmas. Well, apparently he has to put his own employer on his target list. Look what we have here:

The Fox News online store is selling "holiday" ornaments! Three different ones, in fact, including a special O'Reilly Factor holiday ornament. "Put your holiday tree in 'The No Spin Zone' with this silver glass 'O'Reilly Factor' ornament." Holiday tree?!?!? ROFLMAO! You just can't make this stuff up! Who hates Christmas now? They can't blame the libs for this.

It's a good thing that Media Matters got a screen grab while they could. Not surprisingly, once the brainiacs at Fox caught wind of this (the power of the blogosphere strikes again) they made a few alterations to their catalogue, but they still couldn't get it quite right. Fox News now recognizes Christmas for ornaments, but you still have to put them on your holiday tree. It's all very silly, but it was O'Reilly who made such a major gedillah out of this, so he should have to answer for the copy associated with a product that bears his name. The most important thing about all this is that it made my day.

UPDATE: By the grace of God, they finally got it right.


Just so I can say I wrote about something more serious today, I offer this article about how the Bush administration's penchant for disguising propaganda as news has spread to the military and Iraqi newspapers. They are paying the newspapers to publish stories written by military personnel.

Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.

Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said.

In other words, these articles are "fake but accurate". This coming from the same people who condemned Dan Rather and Mary Mapes for allegedly engaging in that kind of reporting. Next thing you know, Armstrong Williams will be anchoring the 11 o'clock Baghdad news.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


A few months back I wrote about my experience in trying to participate in a Free Republic forum. Well, lately I've been facing similar hostility on a Right Wing Canadian blog. And though I haven't been banished, it has certainly been made clear to me that very few of the regular posters there are looking to hear from anybody who doesn't toe their party line.

The site is Small Dead Animals, a very popular blog put together by an ultra-conservative artist from Saskatchewan. (Beware of conservative artists. Think of the commercial with the guy diving into the fountain to get back the coin his girlfriend tossed in to make a wish. "When it's all about the money...") I actually admire her work on that site, because it is a good source of information on all of the Librano dirt that is underreported in the MSM. Some of it is over-the-top, but I have no problems with the hacks getting their red meat. However, I get a kick out of anybody, Right or Left, who complains about the state of democracy while discouraging it within their own domain.

I'll give you a couple of examples. My favorite was this post, with an excerpt from Mark Helprin about how he sees liberals as being unsympathetic toward victims of terrorism, and universally opposed to the War on Terror. After the excerpt was the remark: "This is not an invitation to debate the premise - it's an opportunity for you to see yourselves as we do - and to understand why we fight tooth and nail to resist your ideology." She and her monolithic readers weren't even interested in hearing the argument that the premise was false to begin with.

The most recent exhibit is from Monday when I commented on an item regarding Michael Ignatieff's parachuting into Etobicoke-Lakeshore to run for the Liberals. I don't like it much either. The remark I posted was: "Pro-war. Pro-torture. I'd say he picked the wrong party to run for." Yes, it was a bit snarky, but it raised a legitimate point that Ignatieff's foreign policy opinions more closely resemble those of the Conservatives than those of the Liberals. The reply I got from another commenter was very heartwarming: "Farck off, Jay! Showing people scary cartoons is torture to people like you, so long as the Americans are doing it. You're not welcome here! (evilprinceweasel)" First off, what does "Farck off" mean? Is that some kind of politically correct euphemism that these folks usually abhor? Secondly, is this person qualified to say where I'm not welcome? This "evilprinceweasel" is a regular commenter at SDA, so I imagine he has a good read on what his fellow readers want to see in the comments section. Other "dissenting" voices have met with similar hostility. There has really been only one person with whom I've ever been able to have a meaningful exchange. (Not including North Bay Trapper, of course.)

I can understand why the proprietor and readership of SDA are so revved up right now. They are so close to having their party get into power that they can practically taste it. But it would be nice, once in a while, to see a word or two criticizing the Conservatives. One thing that sets the Canadian Right apart from the Canadian Left, and both the Left and Right in the U.S., is that they have no cynicism or beefs at all with their party. Stephen Harper and his henchmen apparently all walk on water. I guess I'm reading things that way because we've bascially been in campaign mode for a long time now. But there must be some warts there. Nobody's perfect, and you know what they say about things that seem too good to be true. Maybe if the Conservatives win the election, the honeymoon will subside and we'll see what the reasonable Righties really think of them. On the other hand, if the Liberals win again, that site will be a lot more fun.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Get Fitted For Snowshoes

With tonight's non-confidence vote in the House of Commons, Canada's 38th Parliament is no more. The vote will go into the books as 171-133, and while expected, it is still historically significant. Paul Martin's government is the fifth in Canada to be defeated on a vote of no confidence, but the first on a motion presented by the opposition. Congratulations, Paul.

The whole spectacle was somewhat surreal. Procedurally, it was anti-climactic. After the opposition parties registered their Yea votes and the resolution had passed, we got to see the Liberals go through the motions of standing up to be counted for their Nays. And they tried to milk every second out of it, paying special tribute to their MP's who won't be running this time around. The loudest ovation was for Jean Augustine, the first black woman ever elected to the Canadian Parliament, who is stepping aside to allow Michael Ignatieff to run in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. (That's a curious move from the party of multi-culturalism, unless they consider it ethnically diverse to have American, anti-Ukranian, pro-torture war hawks in their caucus.) Then, after the vote, both of the major party leaders addressed their caucuses in scenes that resembled part post-election party, part Hitler Youth rally. (Relax, Tories. I'm referring to both parties.)

There will be lots of time to anticipate the election, analyze the campaign and ridicule the parties as they fall over each other to get an edge. But right now, I think it's important to note what happened immediately after tonight's vote in Parliament. Members of all parties crossed the floor to shake hands with their opponents. Even after all the harsh rhetoric leading up to this moment, and before it would continue as the campaign kicks off, there was still time for our politicians to recognize each others' humanity and commiserate over the tough campaign to come. Good night, Ralph. Good night, Sam. That should serve as a reminder of the kind of country we want, and of the minor miracle that it is.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Edmonton 38, Montreal 35 (OT)

This one was painful.

One of the best Grey Cup games ever played is in the books, and my Alouettes have fallen just short. The Grey Cup has been played 93 times, and this was just the second to go to overtime. If ever a game could be called a "heartbreaker", this was it. Still, it was a joy to watch.

In a game like this, there are so many plays you can look back on that could have made a difference. The most glaring one, the play that ultimately cost the Als a chance to win, was Anthony Calvillo's brain cramp in overtime. He threw a pass that was blocked at the line, ended up back in his hands and, for some reason only known to him, he tried to pass the ball again - albeit to a wide open receiver. There is no excuse for him not to know the rules, and that penalty took the team out of field goal range. But I think the outcome of the game took shape at the end of the third quarter. Having just taken a 15-13 lead, and with all of the momentum on their side after a lacklustre first half, the Als recovered a fumble on the Eskimos' 12 yard line. A touchdown would have really given them control of the game, but they couldn't find the end zone and had to settle for a field goal. Edmonton then ran back the kickoff for a touchdown to regain the lead. The game stayed within one possession thereafter.

Despite the result, this was one hell of a football game. The Grey Cup rarely disappoints when it comes to competitiveness and entertainment. While the NFL has the star power and gambling allure, the CFL offers a better brand of football. And the league has enjoyed a resurgence of late. I really believe that some of it has to do with the recent work stoppage in the NHL, and the relationship between players and fans. There is something old school about the way fans can relate to players in the CFL, because there are no millionaires playing in the league. There are maybe a handful of players on each team earning six figures, and the vast majority probably make less than I do. Many need to hold a second job to make ends meet. Eric Lapointe, the Montreal running back who is just coming into his own, will likely retire now to go back to his financial planning job. Don't get me wrong - I don't begrudge anybody who makes as much money as somebody is willing to pay them. But there is something rare and special about the connection between working class fans and working class athletes, especially in a league that is still regarded as major and important in most of Canada.

Congratulations to the Edmonton Eskimos and their coach, Montreal boy Danny Maciocia. And congratulations to the Als for a great effort. Now it's time to concentrate on the getting the Habs turned around.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Happy Holidays

What a beautiful day it was today. After a week of bitter cold and a fair dumping of snow for November, today was like a postcard. Just slightly below freezing, and gently falling snow. With the city already blanketed by the accumulation of snow, and the Christmas lights started to appear in earnest, it made for a perfect holiday scene. And though the temperature is supposed to rise over the next few days and all this snow will soon be gone, right now it looks a lot like Christmas.

Which bring me to one of the silliest manufactured "issues" that concerns dozens of people, particularly in the U.S. - the "War on Christmas". I confess that as a Jew, I'm not the most qualified to talk about people's sensitivities about this, but I think it's ridiculous. John Gibson, Fox News anchor, has written a book on the subject titled The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday Is Worse Than You Thought. (Fair & Balanced Faux News strikes again.) But he's not the loudest voice at Fox News on this topic. Bill O'Reilly is championing this cause. He is keeping track of all the major retailers who do not mention the word "Christmas" in their advertising, or who greet their customers with "Happy Holidays" or "Seasons Greetings" instead of "Merry Christmas".

Let's get real for a moment. I am not offended in the least when somebody wishes me a Merry Christmas. I realize that about 85% of North America is of Christian background, and it's part of the culture. I happen to like many aspects of the Christmas season, which were actually borrowed from various solstice celebrations pre-dating Jesus - it's the reason why Christmas is in December in the first place. (In some ways, it's unfortunate that they were usurped by Christmas and there isn't a secular Winter celebration, but that's a topic for another day.) I can't say I know of that many people who are greatly offended by Christmas greetings. But, honestly, how can anybody be offended by Happy Holidays? It might be bland and generic, but offensive? When there are trees and reindeer and Santas and red trim everywhere in a store, can you really say that they aren't recognizing Christmas or they're anti-Christian? I suppose there are a few people who won't shop at those stores. They'd rather shop where they are greeted by "Merry Christmas" and can buy goods that were made by 6-year-olds for ten cents a day.

There are some legitimate arguments about whether public displays of Christianity are suppressed where other religions are represented. I think that's wrong too, and have no problem with a nativity scene appearing alongside a Hannukah menorah. But to suggest a "War on Christmas", or that the holiday is somehow dying out, is more than a bit over the top. The fact that O'Reilly has taken up the cause is another indicator that it's a bogus issue. If anything, true Christians should be happy if retail stores don't exploit the word Christmas to encourage sales and commercialize the sacred holiday. I don't think there was anything capitalist about Jesus.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

And They're Off

The deed has finally been done. A real, honest-to-goodness non-confidence motion has been brought forward. It is believed to be the first such motion since 1963, although other governments have fallen over budgets. It is expected to be passed by the House of Commons on Monday. Let the holiday election season begin! The campaign is sure to have everything except peace on Earth and goodwill toward men. This will be one nasty campaign. The Swift Boat Mercenaries for Smear should sit by the phone and wait for the highest bidder, since they're not up to much these days.

All signs point to an election in mid-January, probably the 16th or 23rd. And if you listen to enough "expert" analysis, you really have no clue about how things will turn out. The recent polls show that the Liberals have bounced back a bit after taking an initial hit following the release of the Gomery Report. But you really have to wonder how solid their support is. When elections are close, it all comes down to turnout and motivation, and it remains to be seen how motivated the Liberal supporters will be to return them. There's no denying that the opposition is angry, and anger is a huge motivator come election time. That was true in the U.S. last year as well, but Karl Rove and the Republican machine were brilliant enough to make gay marriage a ballot issue in enough states to energize a deflated base. It remains to be seen if the Liberal strategists have a cause celebre up their sleeves to have the same effect.

We all know about Gomery and the issues of corruption and scandal. Many on the Right in this country are dismayed at the seeming lack of outrage from the general public, and on that point I am in agreement with them. But the Liberals ought to be highly concerned about a new poll that says a desire for change is a greater motivator than concern over scandals. And this is where the Conservatives have to tread carefully. Their campaign has to be the right balance between reminding Canadians about the ugliness of the Liberal government and enticing them with ideas for the future. If the polling data is to be believed, the majority of Canadians want to hear more of the latter. There is also great opportunity for the NDP to show that they are the right choice for the Left vote, because they are the party that truly represents "liberal" values.

How do I see this playing out? I have a feeling the Liberal support is too soft for them to hold onto power. While I am not a fan of the total Conservative agenda, I have resigned myself to the fact that their getting elected won't be the end of the world. Until the Liberals can purge themselves of all remnants of corruption and, indeed, the "culture of entitlement", they have worn out their welcome in power. Maybe a good ass-whipping is what they need, a la the 1993 Tories. If the Conservatives do win, I hope the NDP will pick up some seats and be a strong enough opposition to keep the government honest. The Conservatives might very well break through for some seats in 905 and gain a foothold in Ontario - but they will not be able to hold onto that foothold if they prove to be too extreme. Unless they govern from the centre, their power will be short-lived. A Conservative minority would probably be the best thing for their party, if not for the country. That's what I see happening, even if Ralph Klein doesn't. I wouldn't even be surprised to see them win a majority. But don't take that to the bank.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Red Zone: Montreal

Here's a sobering story that will cause a lot of concern for people in my hometown:

Montreal police are scrambling to reassure commuters after a Spanish newspaper said a man arrested in the wake of the 2004 Madrid bombings had detailed information about the Quebec city's subway system.

El Pais daily newspaper reported Tuesday that Spanish police found information about the Montreal subway system as well as data on Spanish trains and a map of the London system on Abdelhak Chergui's personal laptop computer.

This is disturbing when you consider that trains in Spain and London have already been successfully attacked. Will Montreal complete the trifecta?

What's even more disturbing is the pitiful communication between law enforcement agencies on this. (Have we learned nothing?)

The information was apparently known to Spanish authorities six months ago, but both the RCMP and police forces in Montreal said they only found out about the information through the media on Wednesday. However, RCMP Insp. Tom O'Neill said Spanish authorities had passed the information on to RCMP liaison officers
in Europe.

Is that a joke or what? The RCMP didn't see fit to let their local force in on this tidbit? Or the Montreal police and the Surete du Quebec? And how could a Montreal police inspector insist that, "The information was analyzed and validated. There is no threat as we speak now." when they had only received the information that very day - through the media? That sounds like a PR statement if I ever heard one.

As we have seen from terrorists, any city in the free world is a potential target. But it's interesting to speculate on why Montreal would be on a par with Madrid and London, at least on Chergui's laptop. An attack on Montreal might dispel the idea that the Madrid bombing was to influence that country's Iraq war policy. The attack on London has already shattered the myth that "we have to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here." Could a Montreal attack be in response to the Canadian presence in Afghanistan? If Canada were attacked, I think that might result in more of a resolve among Canadians to be active on more fronts in the war on terror. There's a side of me that thinks that all of the conventional wisdom about recent terrorism is dead wrong. Could it be that all of these attacks weren't to discourage a fight, but to encourage it? I can't believe for a second that Al Qaeda actually believed the U.S. wouldn't fight back after 9/11. They might have wanted to embolden Spain and Britain. (Spain went the opposite way, but I think that's more complicated than the bombing itself.) Maybe if Canada were attacked, Canadians might want to engage the fight, and the Americans would have their will to fight reinforced. And other countries, out of fear they might be next, will join the fray. Maybe it's the terrorists who are playing the "flypaper" game. It's a theory worth considering. And if you follow along with that, we are in a dangerous time. Now that there's is serious political talk in the U.S. about timetables and re-deployments, this might be the time for terrorists to strike again and get everybody back in attack mode.

That's my bit of outside-the-box thinking for a Wednesday night. Or it's some kind of rationalization for Montreal being a terrorist target. Maybe it's because the bagels are too decadent. If only they could blow up the Olympic Stadium instead of the Metro.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

November 22nd

November 22nd is a monumental day in history, one of those days when those who were around remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the even took place. It's the 25th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah! All right, I don't mean to make light of the JFK assassination, but I couldn't resist patting myself on the back for all the studying and hard work that was put into one of the greatest Torah readings in modern history. Does that sound a bit hyperbolic and revisionist? Unfortunately, so is the image of President Kennedy.

It seems to be fashionable in some conservative circles these days to refer to JFK as the first Neo-Conservative president, and to draw parallels between him and George W. Bush. But, to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, Bush is no Jack Kennedy. The most cynical among us might claim that the only thing they have in common is that they both stole elections. Bush's speechwriters might have borrowed some of the thematic rhetoric from those of Kennedy, but his actions on those words have been quite different. Kennedy was a staunch anti-communist, just as Bush is purported to be the strong leader against terrorism (the heir to communism as the biggest enemy of the West.) But Kennedy recognized the importance of having allies and international partnerships, and bringing American goodwill throughout the world. He initiated the Alliance for Progress, established the Peace Corps and signed onto the first nuclear test ban treaty. The jewel in the Right's recent adoption of Kennedy as one of their own, tax cuts, doesn't hold water when one does a comparison of who benefited most. Another thing that distinguished JFK from GWB is the ability to take responsibility for a failure (Bay of Pigs). And it's curious how the new conservative fans, after years of admonishing Bill Clinton's indiscretions for how they tarnished the office, are willing to give Kennedy a pass for even more prolific philandering.

At the same time, the Left should not put Kennedy on too high a pedestal either. Whatever his personal beliefs, JFK was more a master of the political game than an ideologue, in much the same way that Clinton was later on. This was particularly true on Civil Rights. Even in 1960, before the Dixiecrats switched over to the Republican side, it was almost impossible for a northern Democrat to be elected president. So Kennedy hedged his official support for the movement. (It took a Nixon to go to China, and it took an LBJ to get the Civil Rights Act passed.) Plus, Kennedy helped get the ball rolling in Vietnam. Whether things would have escalated into the nightmare that ensued can only be speculation either way, despite what Oliver Stone might think.

History works in strange ways. I think JFK is rated high on the list of presidents because of his image and the sense of optimism he brought his country - contrasted with the years of turmoil that followed. On his own merits, he was probably a fair, moderate, middle-of-the-pack president. If George W. Bush could be that now, what a wonderful world it would be.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Willy Pete Goes To Fallujah

Interesting piece in Think Progress about recent revelations that the U.S. military used white phosphorous (WP) against insurgents in Fallujah in 2004. Despite the persistent and counter-intuitive claims by the Pentagon that WP is not a chemical weapon, it is referred to as such in at least one de-classified document detailing the illegal use of chemical weapons by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds. (See the links within the link.) The U.S. Army itself has acknowledged that they may be on shaky legal ground.

A section from an instruction manual used by the US Army Command and General Staff School (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, makes clear that white phosphorus (WP) can be used to produce a smoke screen. But it adds: "It is against the law of land warfare to employ WP against personnel targets."

I'm sure there will be explanations in legalese that will explain why there was nothing illegal about the American use of WP. That's almost beside the point. If you launch a pre-emptive war, and your reason is because you believe the enemy has chemical weapons and is willing to use them on you, you're not doing your cause any good by using chemical weapons yourself. If you are fighting a war to righteously lead the Middle East to a better future, you have to hold yourself up to a higher standard than just to say, "We're better than the guy who was here before." I've written before in this blog about how free democracies have to be held to a higher standard, because the people (theoretically) have the power to influence their leaders and hold them accountable. And in a war that's as much political as it is military, even the appearance of impropriety is a setback. Stories of the Americans using chemical weapons are all over the world, with only a weak rationalization put up.

To paraphrase President Bush, this isn’t a question about what is legal, it’s about what is right.

I'm shocked, SHOCKED, that the Bush administration would play fast and loose with international laws and conventions while, ostensibly, trying to enforce them on others.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Beatles Weekend

I mentioned a few days back that I was under the weather, and this cold has been dogging me all week. Up until yesterday I could hardly even talk, but I braved it out at work and maintained an ironman streak of sorts. I haven't taken a sick day since working for my current employer, and that's over twelve years. (I guess it proves that we liberals aren't as lazy as the others would have you believe.) But I spent the whole weekend just hanging out at home so I'd be nice and healthy for the start of the week. With all this time on my hands, I hung out at a couple of right wing blogs that I don't normally frequent and tried to engage those good folks in rational debate. They weren't interested in civil discourse, and I quickly grew tired of them. So I decided to dig into my DVD collection, and watched the last four episodes of the Beatles Anthology series.

As you may have gathered by some of my earlier posts, I'm very much into music of the 60's and 70's, and also have a keen interest in music trivia. But I have to say that I've kind of taken the Beatles for granted all these years, and never really had a full appreciation for how great they really were. I always thought they were great, but in the same way that I thought ice cream was great. Their music has been ubiquitous for over forty years, and sometimes the things that are most familiar to you are the ones you forget to marvel at. They really laid the groundwork for what followed them.

The biggest, unsolvable mystery is whether the Anthology project would ever have been done if John Lennon were still alive at the time. He was quite an enigma. In all of his interviews in the last years of his life, he seemed to harbour great resentment over everything Beatles, but would turn around and exhibit pride in the next sentence. He used to contradict himself a lot. He'd certainly be the Beatle I'd most want to have dinner with. Luckily, Yoko allowed his footage to be used. I hadn't really had a great sense of the other Beatles' personalities before watching this. Paul seems like the Phil Mickelson of the Beatles - immensely talented and charismatic, but maybe more of an ego than he lets on for the cameras. Ringo is just laid back, friendly, and generally like his stage presence. The biggest revelation to me was George Harrison. He seemed the most cynical of the bunch , and yet he had a terrific sense of humour and humanity. He was taken far too soon. And yet, when you consider that he was just 26 when the Beatles recorded their last album, and with the great career he had afterward, he really had two or three lifetimes in his 58 years.

Having watched the documentary, I was very curious to hear the Anthology CD's. I think this kind of thing is unique to fans of Rock - the desire to hear studio outtakes and early versions of a song while it was still a work in progress. (I don't know of any opera fans who are scurrying for session tapes of the Three Tenors.) I listened to the second CD of Anthology 3, and it was incredible. It had gems from the recording sessions for the Let It Be and Abbey Road albums. I've got to say that for guys who weren't very happy and were about to break up the band, they seemed like they were still having fun in the studio. The highlight might have been during a take of "Oh Darling", when John started improvising lyrics about Yoko Ono's divorce being finalized. This CD also had tracks of a few songs that never made it onto Beatles albums. The saddest one to me was George doing an early version of "All Things Must Pass".

It isn't healthy to live in the past, but I enjoyed spending this time with the Beatles. For some people they defined their generation and helped shape the culture of the 60's, but to me it's all about the music. Do you think the day will come when there will be a Celine Dion Anthology or Limp Bizkit Anthology?

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Have They No Sense Of Decency?

In the past few days I've been using words like "projection" when talking about charges by conservatives that Democrats were shamefully politicizing the war in Iraq. Yesterday was the absolute worst kind of exploitation of the Iraq situation for political motives, and there is no doubting who is responsible.

Congressman John Murtha, a Democrat, a Marine of 37 years and decorated Vietnam War veteran who had previously supported the war in Iraq, has had a change of heart. If you want to call it a flip-flop, fine. The fact is that Mr. Murtha sees what is going on and feels that the situation for the troops in Iraq is untenable given the current direction of their mission. So he has proposed that they be re-deployed immediately, given six months for logistical preparation. This is not necessarily the course of action that the majority of Democrats subscribe to (sans timetables and objectives), but Murtha stood up for what he believes is right. And his credentials in supporting the military and the troops are unassailable.

So what do the Republicans do? They order an immediate vote on a ridiculous resolution calling for an "immediate withdrawal" of U.S. troops from Iraq. Not only did this resolution not in any way resemble Murtha's proposal, it also prescribed something that would be physically and logistically impossible. Not surprisingly, the resolution failed 403-3. So what was the point of voting on a resolution that had no chance of passing? The Republicans wanted to see if they could a. divide the Democrats on this resolution, which was a pipe dream (other than the three loonies), or b. claim that both parties are united in staying the course - and maybe bolster public opinion at a time when only 35% approve of the way Bush is handling the war. This is raising the Straw Man to new heights. Do they really think the American people are so dumb to believe that the issue comes down to this false choice of two extremes - stay the current course or pull out right now? If somebody can explain to me how the calling for this vote was anything but shameful politicking on the part of the Republicans, it would be greatly appreciated.

One thing that can be said about Mr. Murtha is that he is now in the good company of other war heroes who have been smeared by the Bush administration and their lackeys in Congress and the media. The words "surrender" and "abandonment" were bandied all about. Rep. Jean Schmidt even resorted to calling Murtha a coward in an indirect, weaselly way. Max Cleland, John Kerry, Paul Hackett and now John Murtha (and bet everything you have that Chuck Hagel will join the list shortly) have all now had their patriotism, commitment to the troops and/or war credentials shat upon by the Right Wing political machine - not to mention what the Bush campaign did to John McCain in South Carolina in 2000. Disgusting. It's a good thing he never ran against Dole or Eisenhower. Then again, his grandfather did all he could to defeat Ike in WWII. Yes, that's a cheap shot, but I'm upset about this. And I'm not sure Americans will be fooled again this time.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Give A Man A DISH...

Here is a sure sign of the apocalypse: A town in Texas has changed its name to DISH in order to receive free satellite TV from its namesake service provider for 10 years. I could go on about what this kind of thing says about our collective values, but it's the end of a long week so I'll take it all in fun. And they get DVR's so I guess that makes it worthwhile.

At least these people are getting something tangible for the name change. The recent passing of Ralph Edwards reminded us about the town of Truth or Consequences, NM. They changed the name of the town in 1950 just so Ralph would broadcast the radio show from there. No free radios, not even a lousy copy of the home game. After the broadcast, the name change was of no consequence. And that's the truth.

If other companies are in the spirit of giving, and other towns are willing to sell their souls, I've come up with some ideas that people might find appealing: Exxon, AK. Trojan, NV. Old Milwaukee, WI. Parissa, CA. Geritol, AZ. Kevlar, NJ. Tim Hortons, ON. Prestone, MB. Hooked-On-Phonics, NL. Speedo, FL. (On second thought...maybe not) I'll try to come up with more.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

They're No Orville & Wilbur

Are you ready for some quality entertainment? Check this out! You can listen to a sneak preview of the latest release from The Right Brothers, called "Bush Was Right!" It's actually not that bad, when you get past thinking that they borrowed a bit from Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire". I think the part that goes "France...Wrong! Zell Miller...Right!" is kind of funny. If you go their official site and click on Promo, you will see a video with excerpts from some of their greatest "hits". After seeing that, I wonder if they send any royalties to Tim Robbins, because a couple of those songs sound like they could have been lifted right out of Bob Roberts. In fact, the title of one song ("I Want To Live") WAS a Bob Roberts song title. Robbins has said that he never released a soundtrack album from the movie because he was afraid songs would be played on radio out of their satirical context. It looks like The Right Brothers have appropriated much of the spirit of Bob.

Being the good, red-blooded American capitalists that they are, The Right Brothers will only allow you to hear a small sample - you have to pay for the full download. And therein lies the problem. While some musicians and other artists incorporate a political message into some of their work, I don't think they start out with the ambition of making an entire career out of it. And the ones who do generally have their niche audience and don't make it into the mainstream. Michael Moore might be an exception, but in his wildest dreams he could never have imagined the commercial success he'd have with his films. Maybe The Right Brothers will have some success, but I doubt it. I wish them the best, though. While I'm sure that many of their fans are stuck in a double-standard and have complained about liberal entertainers sticking their noses into politics, I think artists and performers have every right to put out whatever message they want, and I give The Right Brothers credit for at least being entertaining.

I'm still convinced that this is the most breathtakingly bad music video ever produced. ("Amer-uh-ca!") Come on, conservative readers. Even the patriotic-est and flag-wavingest of you have to admit that it's ridiculous. The biggest joke of all is the disclaimer that the artist is not responsible for any spoofs of that video, so "DO NOT BE FOOLED BY IMITATIONS!" I have yet to see one of these spoof videos, but I can't imagine them being any funnier than the original.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monolithic Patriotism?

As I started to say yesterday, it looks like we're going back to the future. Everywhere you look these days, there's a spirited effort by agents of the Right (including their media mouthpieces and blogosphere echo chamber) to bring up the old charges about those opposed to the war being unpatriotic or "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." From the quotes I included in my last entry, you have a good idea on what I think about that. Did I forget to mention the charges of treason? That's another gift that keeps on giving.

The whole charade of crying "unpatriotic" is always suspicious. The people making the charge doth protest too much, methinks. It's like something right out of The Manchurian Candidate (the original). It started out as a simple message - you have to back your president, his decision to go to war and his execution of the war, or else you hate your country. The problem with that message is that people have been reminded that it wasn't really heeded by Republicans (including Bush himself) during the Clinton years. They were also reminded of Theodore Roosevelt's words: "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." So the message has been tweaked - healthy dissent of the war is okay (whatever that means), but those who claim that the administration lied or misrepresented intelligence in the leadup to the war are lying and politicizing the efforts of the brave fighting men and women. There's that projection thing again.

Look, there has been a lot of back and forth about what the Democrats who supported the war knew, and if they are going back on what they previously stated for political expediency - or maybe their original support for the war was for political expediency. I suspect that there are a few like that, and I hope Democrats hold them accountable. But the oft-repeated talking point that they "saw the same intelligence as the president" is sheer nonsense, as explained here and here. Plus, no matter what statements were made by Democratic politicians years ago, or what authority they gave the president to use force (for leverage), it was Bush's decision to actually go ahead and use that force. And it is on him if he misused intelligence, a charge for which there is ample evidence. I know people who supported the war and believe that the administration did indeed exaggerate the WMD threat, but that there were other good reasons to go to war and the ends justify the means. I suppose they also think that it's okay for police to plant evidence on their suspects in order to garner a conviction. I just don't buy any of that. As for the charge of politicizing the war, there is plenty of blame to go around on all sides, from the military and administration right to the Democrats. I'm not defending anybody who does it, but that seems to be the reality these days.

Since the deed has been done, it is vital to find the right way to complete the mission. I'm not a proponent of cut-and-run, but I do think that objectives need to be clearly defined. Sen. Russ Feingold had the right idea, in which you set those objectives in a timely manner. It seems to conform more with the respected Powell Doctrine than the chaos that is happening now. The point is, there is nothing unpatriotic or treasonous in saying that staying the current course in the war is wrong. And there's nothing unpatriotic or treasonous in questioning how the war was started. History might be the ultimate judge, but it will be too late for justice.

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Teaser

I'm a little under the weather this evening (the onset of a cold) so I'll be brief. But I'm a bit peeved at the renewed campaign to attack the "patriotism" of those who express dissent at how the Bush administration went to war - or even how it is being executed. Some have been more clever and have tried to distinguish between "good" and "bad" dissent, but their purpose is still to discredit those with whom they disagree. When I have a bit more strength I'll write more about it. For now I'll leave you with two quotes to ponder:

As a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that
criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of
democratic government ... Too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think it will give some comfort to the enemy ... If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and it will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur.
- Sen. Robert Taft, R-Ohio (a.k.a. "Mr. Republican"), December 1941

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." - Samuel Johnson

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Animal Tales

Once in a while you need to be reminded that no matter how bad things seem, they could be worse:

Wanted: Mate for lovesick giraffe in Mexico park

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Keepers of a small menagerie at a Mexican park are looking for a mate for a lovesick giraffe after the 15-foot-tall beast tried to make love to a tree and a garden shed.

The director of Central Park in Ciudad Juarez, south of the border from El Paso, Texas, said on Friday they have been looking since last month for a mate for the five-year-old giraffe, named Modesto.

"He's driving us crazy," Juan Aragones told Reuters in a telephone
interview. "He's mounted a tree, a fence and even a shed."

Aragones said Central Park had begun contacting animal dealers in
Mexico to find a mate for Modesto, who was born in captivity and has lived alone at the recreational park for three years. He has never had a sexual partner.

The park is home only to Modesto and a few ducks.

I can certainly empathize. But why use Lavalife when a shed will do?

And here's a story about a moose raising her offspring to be a delinquent:

Drunk Moose Invade Swedish Seniors Home

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) - They rarely have problems with drunks or rowdy animals, but residents of a retirement home in southern Sweden had to deal with both: A pair of intoxicated moose invaded the premises.

The moose — a cow and her calf — had become drunk over the weekend by eating fermented apples they found outside the home in Sibbhult, said employee Anna Karlsson.

Police managed to scare them off once, but the tipsy mammals returned to get more of the tempting fruits. This time the moose were drunk and aggressive, forcing police to send for a hunter with a dog to make them leave.

Police did not pursue the culprits, but made sure all apples were picked up from the area, police chief Bengt Hallberg said. No one was hurt.

What kind of example is the mother setting for her calf? Getting drunk, and showing no respect to the elderly? No wonder the new generation of moose is full of drunken hedonists with no manners. It goes to show you, moose can only be effectively raised in a two parent, heterosexual family.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Four Months

Today is my four month anniversary since the start of this blog. And despite all of my ambitions, I had no idea that I'd have enough ideas to keep this thing going on an almost daily basis for this long. I've certainly been helped along by events in the news, since this has been a tumultuous period. But I've had my good posts and weak posts (this one being among the latter), so I have great respect for those who are able to write something compelling each and every day.

When I started this I had pledged to post every day. This has evolved into a six day a week project, as I generally don't post on Friday nights. No, it's not because I'm observing Shabbat. I tend to hit the wall on Friday, and like to just crash (or is the modern word "chillax"?) if I'm not engaged in a leisure activity. My brain is half dead anyway, so I wouldn't have much to contribute. I usually write my posts late at night, so don't get a lot of sleep during the week. At first I would stay up until it was complete, whenever that was, but now I try to be reasonable and sometimes clean things up the next morning. Even still, I have sleep to catch up on Friday night. If anybody tells you that sleep doesn't work that way, I can vouch for the fact that it does.

While I've been writing here for four months, I had been reading the blogs of others for a few months prior to that. The mainstream media talks about blogs as hotbeds of political discussion, which indeed some are. But if you click on the "NEXT BLOG" button at the top of this page, and keep scrolling through other blogs, you'll see that most of them don't have to do with politics at all. You'll find blogs on everything from stamp collecting to relationship problems. That is why I encourage anybody with regular internet access to keep a blog, on whatever topic. I think that my blog's biggest strength, or biggest weakness, is that it has no theme. I've mentioned before that I have a great interest in politics, but I'm not a junkie. So I prefer to write about whatever I fancy on a particular day, and not get bogged down in the repetition that afflicts blogs that are strictly political. I hope I've been able to keep a civil tone here, and promise to continue the effort to be unbalanced but fair.

Thank you for reading, and I look forward to another four months of fun and frivolity, with the odd pithy insight. And by the end of the next four months, I'll have my links and blogroll up. I promise!

Thursday, November 10, 2005

This And That

First, a little housework from yesterday's post. Ha'aretz finally published a new report in which they acknowledge that they were the outlet of the erroneous report about Israelis having been evacuated from an Amman hotel prior to the suicide bombings. While the new story shed no light on who the sources of the bad information might have been, at least the author is claiming a degree of responsibility and acknowledging the previous false report, rather than covering it up. I can respect that, but the initial report is bound to cause a lot of damage. I've seen the wingnuts on all sides in the blogosphere, and they just eat this stuff up. Another day at the office, I suppose.

And now for something completely different. Here is a quintessential Canadian crime story. Ladies and gentlemen, there's a bankrobber on the loose, and he's...unarmed and polite. He's clean shaven, waits his turn in line, and presents his demands to the teller on a recipe card. I swear, even the creators of Dudley Do-Right couldn't come up with this stuff. It should be a source of pride that Canada produces a kinder, gentler type of criminal. We help little old ladies across the street before stealing their purses. We ladle out soup at the mission while embezzling its money. We advertise in Quebec for national unity before...well, you know the rest. Al Capone once said, "You can get a lot farther with a kind word and a gun than a kind word alone." The Recipe Card Bandit has proven him wrong.

UPDATE: I got an e-mail from my sister that seems to fit right in with the theme of this post, so I'll include it here:

GOOD: An Alberta policeman had a perfect spot to watch for speeders, but wasn't getting many. Then he discovered the problem - a 12-year-old boy was standing up the road with a hand painted sign, which read "RADAR TRAP AHEAD". The officer then found a young accomplice down the road with a sign reading "TIPS" and a bucket full of money. (And we used to just sell lemonade!)

BETTER: A motorist was mailed a picture of his car speeding through an automated radar post in Edmonton, AB. A $40 speeding ticket was included. Being cute, he sent the police department a picture of $40. The police responded with another mailed photo of handcuffs.

BEST: A young woman was pulled over for speeding. As the Saskatchewan R.C.M.P.Officer walked to her car window, flipping open his ticket book, she said, "I bet you are going to sell me a ticket to the R.C.M.P. Ball." "He replied, "Ma'am, Saskatchewan R.C.M.P. don't have balls."There was a moment of silence while she smiled, and he realized what he'd just said. He then closed his book, got back in his patrol car and drove off. She was laughing too hard to start her car.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Just Do It Already!

This is a very difficult blog entry for me to write. I've tried to start writing it several times, and have gotten nowhere. The reason is simple - I'm in a state of disbelief that's difficult to put into words. We finally have all three opposition parties on board to topple a corrupt government, with the full power to do so in Parliament, and they can't even get that right. Instead, they will present this half-assed scheme, proposed by the NDP to force a February election, which is neither a non-confidence motion nor constitutionally binding. Unreal!

Stephen Harper is the Opposition Leader and, therefore, should lead. The Conservatives have their Opposition Day on the 15th, and if they feel so strongly that the Liberal government must go down now, they should present a non-confidence motion. Period. If it means an election around Christmas, so be it - the exact date is up to Paul Martin to decide in any case. But Harper wants some wiggle room in case Jack Layton is making some kind of last minute deal. Even if that happened, a. there's a good chance the Liberals will still be a vote or two short, and b. there is no political downside for Harper. It will be Layton who will be seen as the villain for backing away from his declaration of non-support for the government. Harper just doesn't have the cojones to pull the trigger, to be seen as responsible for a Christmas election and as upsetting the first minister's meeting on aboriginals, or to vote against the budget estimates on December 8. You can't have your cake and eat it too. So what kind of a leader will he be for the country?

Layton will present his non-non-confidence motion on the 24th when the NDP has its Opposition Day. At some point in time, you have to decide whether you're going to shit or get off the pot. Layton said, "The NDP cannot and will not express confidence in a government that won't get things done on key issues." There are two glaring problems with the proposed motion. First, Parliament has no power to set the date of an election - only the Prime Minister and Governor General can settle that. And second, as I have emphasized several times, it is NOT a non-confidence motion. Between the date that this is voted on and the time of the proposed resignation of the government, Parliament will have passed a number of pieces of legislation, including the budget estimates on December 8 - in other words, Parliament will have expressed confidence in the government. This motion is constitutionally useless, and it remains to be seen if it has any political resonance. If Martin were smart, he'd quash all this by unilaterally announcing the government's resignation and calling an election on his own timetable. But I don't expect that to happen, because he's not so smart or courageous. Apparently none of them are.


I want to touch briefly on the terrible bombings yesterday in Amman, and where conspiracy theories are born. There is a published report in Ha'aretz that Israelis staying at one of the targeted hotels in were evacuated by Jordanian security forces hours before the bombings. This is the type of thing that was rumoured online after 7/7, and my initial reaction was to write it off as some wild conspiracy theory by people with an anti-Israel agenda. But now it's there, published on the website of an Israeli newspaper. What is one to think about that?

UPDATE: I have checked this morning (Thursday), and Ha'aretz has changed its story. The link I provided above now leads to a story that says, "There is no truth to reports that Israelis staying at the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman on Wednesday were evacuated by Jordanian security forces before the bombing that took place there." This story is by Yoav Stern, the same author of the original report. It's curious that this is now presented as a story to refute "reports", when it was Ha'aretz itself that published said report. It's also curious that instead of writing a retraction and apology, they decided just to overwrite what they had before, as if their original story never existed. Aside from Ha'aretz abdicating its journalistic responsibility, it is yet another bit of fuel for conspiracy nuts. I'll try to find a link to a cache of the original page. (I give you my word that I'm not making this up.)

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Initiative Blues

There's a lot happening in Canadian politics, with Jack Layton now insisting he will no longer prop up the Liberal government. I'll have more to say on that, but I want to take some time tonight to talk about the elections going on in the U.S., particularly the initiatives in California. This is for my blogging friend Lores, my favorite conservative blogger, who lives in California. Lores has been very kind in her comments here, but will mostly disagree with my take on this.

The premise of holding this special election in California seems cynical. Gov. Schwarzenegger, lest we forget, was swept into power in a recall election that came about largely under false pretenses. It turned out that the energy crisis in California was not as much a result of government mismanagement as it was from gouging and other shenanigans by Enron and other suppliers. Nonetheless, Arnold is now the duly elected governor and, as such, it is his responsibility to lead. And because he didn't feel like he could get enough of his agenda passed by an opposition legislature, he decided to take some issues to the people. But why now? If he had waited a year, he could have had all of these initiatives on the ballot at the same time he was up for re-election. And then if he had won, he would have his mandate clearly defined by the results of the initiative voting. Better yet (for him and his supporters), he could have decided to spend the next year emphasizing the importance of his platform, and making the case to get more Republicans elected to the legislature in order to enact it. Time and time again I have seen people from both parties, but mostly Republicans, going on about the virtues of representative democracy and how it works so much better than a direct vote on issues. I guess everybody has the right to flip-flop when it suits the ends they wish to achieve. So, the Governator has tried to sneak through legislation at a time when most of the electorate is sleeping. I'm not really sure how this will affect the outcome. It could be that the people who support these initiatives will be the most motivated to get out there and vote, or maybe those who wish to see Arnold defeated will be energized. Whatever happens, the vote probably won't be a representative sampling of the state, which is a shame.

As for the initiatives themselves, I'll only talk about a couple of them. Prop 77 involves taking the responsibility of re-districting away from the legislature. I like the idea in principle, but the devil seems to be in the details. There has to be some level of accountability on those responsible for the re-districting, and hopefully a way of insuring political independence. Polls seem to indicate this will be defeated (although turnout will be the key.) If so, I hope this is tweaked and taken to the people again in the near future. This is one thing that the people need to vote on, because you can't expect the legislature to vote to relinquish power. Interestingly, Republicans support this initiative in California but oppose something similar in Ohio. See above regarding "when it suits the ends they wish to achieve." Prop 75 would require unions to get written consent from its members before using their dues for political activities or contributions. I can see why a lot of people would support this, and Lores wrote about her frustration with having to join a union to be a teacher and seeing her union dues being spent on political activity she didn't support. However, this initiative, on its face, seems to be there just to damage the Democratic Party in California. It should really be balanced with some similar provision for shareholders in corporations. That would level the playing field.

I'm not a Californian, so my opinions don't really mean squat. But I'll still take a consultant fee from anybody willing to pay it.

UPDATE: The results are in, and all of Arnold's initiatives have been defeated. It'll be interesting to see how many political obits will be written over the next few days.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The Greatest Gift

In a world with much evil and darkness, it is important to sometimes focus attention on a ray of light that breaks through. I saw this incredible story about a Palestinian boy who was mistakenly killed by Israeli soldiers, and his parents' decision to donate his organs - to Israelis. This is the kind of thing you see once in a while that restores your faith in humanity. That a family can suffer such a cruel blow and still resist the harboring of bitterness - while ensconced in a culture that encourages such bitterness - is absolutely remarkable. I wish nothing but the best for that family, as well as those of the children they saved.

Another aspect of the story is how organs are in short supply in Israel, because of a lack of donors. According to Jewish law, the sanctity of the human body must be preserved upon death and burial - Nivul Hamet. If there is one aspect of Jewish law that I am vehemently opposed to, this is it. For one thing, I don't see how a Jewish God would hold somebody in lower judgment for having done a good deed. Also, it is in conflict with two other important aspects of Judaism. The first is Tzedakah (charity), which is fundamental to Judaism. I can't think of a higher form of Tzedakah than granting someone else life itself. Which leads to Pikuah Nefesh (to save a life), which dictates that exceptions can be made to almost any Jewish law in order to preserve life. If you have been stranded in the desert for two weeks, and the only potential food around is a wild boar, Halacha says, "Bon appetit." Jewish ethicists are hesitant on the subject of organ donation because of issues regarding when the organs are taken out (if the body isn't dead yet, is the doctor actually killing it with the procedure?), as well as if the donated organs are for a specific recipient (who represents the Pikuah Nefesh reason for the procedure) as opposed to just going to an organ bank. In my mind, organ donation is a no-brainer, regardless of what Halacha says.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

But That's Not All...

Ever watch those infomercials for Time Life Music's compilations? To show you how little of a life I have, I actually sat through two of them, back to back. The first show was about the 70's collection, hosted by Barry Williams (Greg Brady), and the next one was about the Country music collection with Kenny Rogers. They are surprisingly compelling, even though there's no way I'll actually pony up the money to buy their product. The funny part is that the copy is almost word for word in each infomercial save for the names of the artists and songs. You know how it goes: "You'd have to spend many hours and hundreds of dollars trying to put together a collection like this on your own..."

I'm not what you'd call a huge Country music fan, but the Country collection looked a whole lot better than the 70's. It might take an infomercial to remind people that there were a whole lot of bad songs on the charts in the 70's! I believe that the 70's was the greatest decade for Rock, with groups like The Who, and Zeppelin, and Floyd and the Stones all in their prime. But Pop? Not so much. There was probably a lot of good music on the charts in the 70's, but the producers of this infomercial chose to highlight a lot of songs that would best be forgotten. All-time classic like Jigsaw's "Sky High", The Raspberries' "Go All the Way", and "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" (an awful song in its own right, but Cher performed it about as well as Sonny negotiated the tree line.) I'm sorry, but some of these songs should make people cringe in shame at the memory of having enjoyed them. Not to mention just about anything by Bobby Sherman or Tony Orlando & Dawn.

It's always fun to debate over which was the greatest decade for Rock/Pop. The 60's was a great Pop decade, but modern Rock (and Progressive Rock) was just in its infancy. 80's music was insidious like fast food. It was appetizing and very accessible, but homogeneous and lacking in nutritional or intellectual value. It was also a decade in which erstwhile great Rock bands were bitten by the synthesizer bug and went hopelessly commercial - the worst offender of all being the Moody Blues. That's why bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were so timely when they came around, and helped bring Rock back to what it should be, so the 90's were excellent years for music. I'd love to stay and talk more about this, but I have to go and learn more about the Ronco Showtime and flavour injector.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

When The Eye Was In Focus

I saw the movie Good Night, and Good Luck today. It is the story of Edward R. Murrow's (and his producer, Fred Friendly's) reporting that helped discredit Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt against alleged communists in the U.S. Government in the 1950's. This is still a contentious issue to this day among some hardliners, although I think most on this side of Ann Coulter would agree that McCarthy was little more than a demagogue.

There will be an automatic assumption among many that since this film was directed by George Clooney, it will have a certain slant. Many on the Right regard Clooney with disdain because of his overt political positions. As a liberal, I'm obviously biased about this, but I believe that Clooney deserves more respect than that. Unlike many Hollywood types who practice drive-by politicking, Clooney actually puts his money where his mouth is and actively participates in the causes he talks about. I think that makes him worthy of respect (whether you agree with him or not), and he shouldn't be lumped in with the Barbra Streisands of the world.

I think that the film was written in a way that, in addition to covering its own material, tried to make it an allegory for modern times - the idea that disagreement and dissent gets you labeled as unpatriotic and dangerous. Other than that, it looked like a faithful representation of the period it covered. Joe McCarthy was not portrayed by an actor, just by his own archival footage from his appearance on CBS and from Congressional hearings. In fact, Clooney has said that he went out of his way to make sure not to show any clips of when McCarthy was under alcoholic influence and made to look worse than the damage caused him by his own words. Clooney was not out to do a character assassination of McCarthy, but to tell a story about Murrow and his reporting on the topic.

One theme that was prevalent throughout the film, and still is in real life today, was the charge of liberal bias against CBS News (and extended today to all mainstream media except Fox.) This is something liberals and conservatives can debate until the cows come home, and is more complex than a simple yes or no. But in the case of Murrow, I really believe that he was just interested in exposing an injustice. If somebody is conservative and does misdeeds, is it liberal bias to call him out for those misdeeds? I don't think so. But it took a lot of courage to do so, and Murrow and Friendly both paid a personal price. Corporate influences have stifled hard journalism right from the earliest days of television, and it has gone downhill from there.

We should all remember that nobody is perfect, and nobody has a perfect set of ideas. The quicker we accept where we have erred in our thoughts or judgments, the quicker we can move on and grow as people. Back in Murrow's day, the liberals were wrong about Alger Hiss and the conservatives were wrong about Joe McCarthy. And guess what: We're all wrong about things now too. The question is whether we have any more courageous journalists like Edward R. Murrow to set us straight, or any William Paleys to let them be heard when the heat is on. Good luck, indeed.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Alice Is Wonderland

I was channel surfing tonight, which can be a dangerous thing to do. Like a moth drawn to light, I found myself stopping on Bill O'Reilly, and ridiculing him can be fodder on any night when I don't have a blog topic in mind. But there was only so much of his schtick I could take on this night, so I moved along. I stopped at CNN for about five minutes to check out the BS that they were spouting, and moved along again. Then, I landed on BBC World. First I heard the prim and proper newsreader giving a summary of the top stories. This was followed by an international weather report delivered by a guy named Matt Taylor, who looked and sounded like he couldn't be a day over 14. But after that came something truly worth the hunt: An interview with Alice Cooper.

I wouldn't classify myself as a huge Alice fan. I think his music is okay, although "Hello Hooray" is a favorite song of mine. I've never had the opportunity to see one of his live shows, which is really his bread and butter. But Alice is one of the most thoughtful and articulate people in the rock music industry, and listening to him speak is always compelling. He talked about how the Alice on stage is just a character he created, and how he is able to totally separate himself from the character except for those two hours when he's performing. He believes that people like Jim Morrison and Keith Moon and John Belushi died young because they felt they had to live up to their stage image all the time, and could not handle that kind of pressure 24/7. He also talked about his Christian faith. He said that he was raised a good Christian, and then got away from it for many years, but after doing anything and everything to be "the poster boy for sin", he thought there was "nothing left to do but commit suicide," so he went back to his roots.

I thought the most interesting thing he said was that he can't shock anybody anymore. Recall that this is a guy whose performances were banned in a number of cities back in the 70's because it was thought that he was promoting pure evil. Alice always considered his shows nothing more than high-tech burlesque, but a lot of community "elders" didn't understand the concept of performing art. Nonetheless, people were shocked and awed when he would have himself electrocuted and decapitated, or decapitate someone else. But Alice made the point that nowadays it is terrorists who cut people's heads off for real, and the video is shown on television, so what he and Marilyn Manson do should be put in their proper perspective as just theatre.

The interview got me thinking about how common perception changes over time. When the Beatles first came to America in 1964, they were considered threatening. If you look back at the footage of them from that time, playing innocent music stiffly and wearing suits, it's hard to imagine why they were seen as a bad influence on youth. Some things that are taken for granted one day are ridiculed generations later. Remember the old Rosie the Riveter documentaries from WWII that talked about women operating factory machines as if they were washing machines? Or all of those educational films from the 50's that are considered laughable today. ("Duck and cover!") We can laugh now, but there's no doubt that some of what we think is conventional wisdom now will be ridiculed in the future. And that's why we must always strive to move forward, and not fall back on dated ideas and prejudices.

As for Alice, it's too bad he didn't get to talk about golf during this interview, or at least in what was shown. He took up golf to do something to fill time on the road instead of drinking, and he has turned into an absolute nut. The guy apparently plays about 300 rounds a year. That places him very high in my books. Alice, if you're out there, how about a round some time? I'll even let your political leanings slide.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Release The Hounds

The Gomery Report is now out for the world to see. Given all of the public testimony, there weren't any real surprises. Paul Martin has turned the report over to the RCMP, and hopefully this will lead to some criminal investigations. But aside from offering up Chuck Guite's head on a platter, there is a stunning absence of accountability coming from the past and present leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

With regards to the treatment of Paul Martin in this report, it has all of the trappings of a whitewash. It's hard to imagine that as Finance Minister and Vice President of the Treasury Board - not to mention a senior member of the Quebec caucus - he didn't have any kind of clue about where the money was going. No matter what is in the report ("Exonerated from any blame"), and no matter what Martin and his supporters say about him, he will forever be seen by most Canadians as tarnished by this scandal. He would do the best service to both his country and his party by resigning, but I realize that's not going to happen. The Liberals need to purge themselves of everybody, from Leader right down to janitor, who was anywhere within a sniff of this scandal when it was happening. Unless they do that, there is no chance that they can regain the trust of the people.

What I find most disgusting is the refusal of anybody to step up and say, "Yes, I share in the responsibility of what happened, and I apologize for my failings." Jean Chretien would rather take Gomery to court than admit that the very position he occupied requires him to concede that the buck stopped with him. All the golf balls in the world won't blind us to the fact that the main players in the scandal were his cronies. The in-fighting between the Chretien and Martin camps is a national joke that has ceased to be funny, and will continue to be a cancer on the government as the Gomery saga goes on.

I have to confess that I have flip-flopped on my opinion of Jack Layton and the NDP in the midst of all of this. (Mustard Man will probably claim credit for this.) While I abhor the fact that they are willing to prop up a corrupt government and shield it from the Canadian voters, I accept the fact that they really have no choice. The NDP will never be a governing party in this country, nor will they be anything more than a fourth party in Parliament for the foreseeable future. It is understandable that they are willing to be the kingmakers while the Liberals have a minority government, so that they may have some of their agenda advanced. That's good, hard politicking. They are exploiting the Liberals' weakness, controlling the guillotine cord, while trying to make themselves an attractive alternative to the Liberals for the Canadian Left. (Not that the Liberals really governed from the Left, but that's another discussion.)

The Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to be on a hunt for power. They could just as easily cut a deal with the Liberals to pull the government to the Right, but instead chose to be confrontational to the end and align themselves with the Bloc Quebecois. They have every right to voice the fury that we all feel about what happened, but there's still a country to be run. To try to bring the nation's business to a halt in order to squeeze out an election a few months early is irresponsible. They will have their time to campaign pretty soon.

I've mentioned before that I feel like I'm a voter without a party to choose. The NDP are to the Left of me, but not pragmatic enough for my taste. The Conservatives are prohibitively to my Right. The Liberals, while to my Right, are close enough that I could tolerate them when clean of scandal. I haven't voted for them since 1997. Perpetual one party rule is killing us. If, by an unfortunate series of events, Stephen Harper were to step down as Conservative leader and be replaced by Peter McKay, I might consider writing my X in the CPC box. I can deal with a Red Tory - my first ever federal vote was for Brian Mulroney. That I should have fond memories of casting a vote for Mulroney tells you how bad things are now.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Gomery Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

The Gomery Report came out today, and I very much want to comment on that. But I didn't have time to absorb much about it today, I went to play basketball tonight, and I'm too exhausted to stay up reading and writing about it. I promise to give my take on it tomorrow. Let me just say that it won't be a glowing endorsement of the government.

For your viewing pleasure, I leave you with this card that you might want to pass along to family and friends for Thanksgiving. Enjoy. I'm off to bed.