Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Media: How Now Dow Jones?

If I had picked up my morning newspaper a few years ago and read that Rupert Murdoch had bought Dow Jones & Company, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, I would have sneezed coffee through my nose and then collapsed to the floor with heart spasms.
But times have changed, and while it still is a bit off putting that a conservative media mogul who has built his empire on sleaze and scandal is buying the owner of one of the most respected brands in mainstream media for a cool $5 billion, that transaction simply does not deliver the shock value it would have even five years ago.
But have times changed for the better?

I certainly should be able to provide a definitive answer as an ink-stained wretch who toiled in the trenches of daily journalism for over 35 years and looked on in horror as my last paper become a shell of its former self because the owners were much more concerned about their company’s share price than the quality of the product.

Alas, I cannot say things are better or worse.
What I can say is that from a market perspective, the shakeout in the MSM is long overdue, and editors long oblivious to market forces – including the advent of the Internet and later the blogosphere — are getting their comeuppance from sea to shining sea.

What I also can say is that from a content perspective, the shakeout has made some MSM outlets better but others not so. While there is substantially more variety for readers and viewers, much of it is the celebrity-driven piffle that is Murdoch’s coin of the realm, while the MSM has not exactly covered itself in glory in covering the biggest story of the young millennium – the Iraq war.
What I also can say is the acquisition of The Journal, along with the planned launch of the Fox business news channel by Murdoch's News Corporation, makes him the most formidable figure in business news in the country, and that is scary. Very scary, given the unapologetically conservative spin the Fox News channel puts on everything it touches.


Photo by Mark Lenihan/The Associated Press

Dear America: Your Cold Shower Is Ready

A New York Times op-ed piece this week by Michael E. O’Hanlon and Kenneth M. Pollack stating that the U.S. is finally making progress militarily in Iraq has gotten enormous coverage – and deservedly so.

I offer two overarching and interrelated observations pertaining to it:

First, the response to the piece by the Brookings Institution braniacs puts the lie to the notion flogged by conservatives and right-wingers that many liberal and left-wing commentators want the U.S. to be humiliated in Iraq.

While there is always the lunatic fringe, this assessment couldn’t be more wrong.

As someone who initially supported the war, I believe that I speak for many people in saying that I feel great enmity for President Bush and his harem of dangerous hacks – Cheney, Rove, Gonzo and Condi come easily to mind, and Rummy and Wolfie will not be soon forgotten. My heart breaks anew with every American death in Iraq, which easily is the most disastrous foreign policy blunder in U.S. history.

These harsh views do not translate into wishing ill for the troops. Quite the contrary. Which is why I briefly felt a surge (pardon the term) of optimism as I read the O’Hanlon-Pollack piece.

But that feeling quickly passed because, secondly and ultimately most importantly, the piece exhibited a rather shocking myopia.

While there does seem to be some movement on the battlefield, that situation is not playing out in an hermetically sealed environment, and there was but one passing reference in the entire piece to the other major conflict in Iraq – a deeply dysfunctional central government obdurately unwilling to work for sectarian reconciliation.

As even General Petraeus, the architect of the modest battlefield successes, has said, there cannot be a military victory without a political victory. The former remains highly unlikely; there is zero chance of the latter.

Photograph by Agence France Presse

Can Soccer Bring Peace to Iraq?

The mainstream media is all fuzzy wuzzy over
Iraq beating Saudi Arabia 1-0 in Jakarta to win the Asian Cup.
While any good news coming out of Mesopotamia is welcome, I’m having just a wee problem translating an on-the-field sports victory into a watershed moment for a country whose off-the-field problems border on catastrophe.
Besides which, the Saudis are Sunnis, a fact not lost on the majority Shiites.

By way of reference, remember the Ivory Coast's thrilling – if brief -- run in the 2006 World Cup? Did things begin to turn around in that hardscrabble nation?
Well, there's still a civil war, but a ceasefire has held for five months.

Northern Ireland: End of an Error

The British army’s longest continuous military operation comes to an end at midnight tonight when responsibility for security in Northern Ireland passes to the police.

Operation Banner lasted 38 years and involved 300,000 personnel, of which 763 were killed by paramilitaries. The last soldier to die was Lance Bombardier Stephen Restorick, who was shot at a vehicle checkpoint in 1997.

From tomorrow there will still be a garrison of 5,000 troops in Ulster, but they will not be on active operations and will be available for deployment anywhere in the world.

More here.

Pan's Labyrinth: Better Late Than Never

I'm typically a few months if not years behind the Next Big Thing, so it was only this past weekend that the DF&C and I got up with Pan's Labyrinth, the 2007 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film.
If you haven't seen it, the movie itself is phenomenal and we'll be watching it again. But the second DVD in the Patinum Edition boxed set -- the one that I'd imagine few people ever watch -- is a marvelous bookend as brilliant director Guillermo del Toro muses at length on the movie's fairy tale antecedents.
More here.

Cartoon du Jour

Signe Wilkinson/Philadelphia Daily News

If This Isn't Flag Desecration . . .

. . . then what the fork is?
Hat tip to Zuzu at Kindly Póg Mo Thóin

Guest Blog: Country Castles


We have a system in our household by which we get ready far too early for forthcoming events. This has both benefits and drawbacks. The benefits (or at least the main one) have to do with not suffering stomach cramps and constantly having to wipe the sweat off our hands. The drawbacks (or at least the main one) have to do with our relations and friends thinking we’re crazy.

Sticks and stones may break my bones . . .

This is a rather florid way of telling you that our trip to Europe is pretty much organised. There remain a few minor details, but the whole project has been simplified enormously by the fact that our daughter and her family will house-sit for the six weeks we’re away; our son has changed jobs and thus has a space in his Wellington garage where our car can be housed and collected when we come off the plane on 27 September; and barring a few simple matters . . .

I hope.

As always, a few things have changed. We won’t be able to link up with our grandson, who will be in Poland around the time we depart Berlin but we have nevertheless changed our itinerary to include Salzburg, Vienna and Prague although these are not places which feature in my wife’s or my history. But it is unthinkable to travel all that way without sampling a slice of the real Sachertorte. Expect further news of this. After Prague we’ll swing back into Germany in a counter-clockwise loop across the centre, finishing at Frankfurt Airport on 25 September. (On my birthday, we will spend the night in a splendid 800-year old castle not far from Neheim where my father was born. This is a bit unfair because my wife turns 70 this year on 23 September . . . (And hold the jokes about birthdays and 800-year old castles, if you don’t mind!)

Instead of making the journey directly from Wellington to Berlin to be followed immediately the next day by the start of the Berlin Senat’s programme, we will stop in London for a few days and get our eyeballs restored to their sockets.

The memory card in my camera has been upgraded and is now capable (if you can believe the little meter) of taking and storing over 500 photos, which I reckon is enough to get us through a 44-day tour. These days, if anyone offends me, I counter-attack by threatening to send them the whole lot by email if they don’t make nice. That brings them up short.

Since I last wrote winter finally arrived, and for a week or three in June the cold was the deepest we’ve experienced in these parts. Dowagers in the supermarket commented to my wife that they were wearing gloves for the first time in years. It wasn’t as if the temperature recordings were exceptional, but there was something about the feel of the air that cut to the bone. And it rained, not too heavily, for weeks which put paid to any thought of working in the garden to make it ready for the new season. But things have improved — it’s warmer, and the garden essentials have been done.

I should add that our acquisition late last winter of a heat pump has transformed our lives. There has been a steep reduction in our consumption of expensive (manuka) firewood, which we only have to use if we wish to heat the whole house, as when we are entertaining company. There has obviously been a blip in our power bills, but these are outweighed by the savings and to those of you who have been asking me about heat pumps I can now say with high confidence that you should certainly go out and buy one. The technology is advancing too, so our year-old system will not be as good as the one you can install now.

Doesn’t beating the power company make you feel all warm?

* * * * *
Country Bumpkin is a bibliophile and man of the world who lives in New Zealand. Among his other guest blogs are Country Planning, Country Travel, Country Polikarpovs, Country History, The Country Way of All Flesh, Country Images, Country Winter and Country Ice.

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Ever since the slow-mo aerial chase of O.J. Simpson and his white Bronco in 1996, news directors have dispatched their copter crews on costly missions to provide live footage of all manner of un-newsworthy traffic jams, fires and car chases.

How costly? Very.

Apart from the lives of the newsmen lost in helicopter crashes over the years, it costs no less than $1 million a year to operate a modest-sized news chopper carrying a crew of two, according calculations based on information published at Helinews.Com. That’s enough money to hire 10 to 15 journalists to develop real stories.

If this latest accident finally causes the industry to wise up and ground its extravagant fleet of noisy and air-polluting helicopters, then the grieving families of the Phoenix newsmen would have the modest comfort of knowing their loss wasn’t in vain.


As a country founded on the principle of majority rule, most of us have yet to accept that a small cabal of extremists infiltrated and wrested control of our government. Despite Bush & Co.’s violations of our trust, we remain incapable of believing they’d commit an act as "befuddling," according to the title of the incomparable Gareth Porter's latest article, as attack Iran.


We are in half-full-or-half-empty terrain here. Those of us who love our country but hate the war and see it through the glass darkly can only hope some of this is true.

But it will take a lot more to persuade us to bear the continuing loss of American lives because, as the Brookings Institution warriors put it, “there is enough good happening on the battlefields of Iraq today that Congress should plan on sustaining the effort at least into 2008.”

Bush, Cheney et al have begun their Battle of the Bulge, but Congress should have the good sense and guts to see a last-gasp counterattack for what it is.


I know readers of this blog understand this, but it's amazing that the rather obvious fact that for years the entire "Iraq policy" has simply been to postpone leaving until after Bush leaves office has managed not to penetrate the skulls of some of our very smart pundits.


Young people react with hostility to the Republicans on almost every measure and Republicans and younger voters disagree on almost every major issue of the day. The range of the issue disagreements range from the most prominent issues of the day (Iraq, immigration) to burning social issues (gay marriage, abortion) to fundamental ideological disagreements over the size and scope of government. This leaves both potential Democratic nominees with substantial leads over Rudy Giuliani, but importantly, both Democrats still have room to grow their support among younger voters. The current problems with the Republican brand are not fully reflected in young people’s preferences for President.


It flew through the air with the greatest of ease/The daring young meme in the fine claptrapese.


Can Hillary Clinton actually lose a campaign scuffle? Before this weekend most reporters (and Republicans) would have said no: Mrs Clinton's a brutal campaigner whose two serious rivals for the Democratic nomination are—to be uncharitable about it—handsome, inexperienced ciphers. Barack Obama had been running for sixth months without really engaging Mrs Clinton, and John Edwards couldn't throw a punch if you shoved the target at his fist.

But the evidence suggests that Mrs Clinton actually lost ground in a fight with Barack Obama.


Good news readers! I’ve gone mad! I don’t know what it was that tipped me over the edge but I’m now a signed up 27%er and I’ve decided to start applying my new grasp of the scientific method! After all, our scientific institutions are being destroyed by the leftist politicised science of global warming and the Lancet study, and that’s just not on. Luckily my cheerful attitude and can-do approach to statistics survived my trip to the dark side so I’ve been hard at work all morning applying the sort of tenacious scientific critique that my new status as a crazy person allows me to carry out with no qualifications whatever.


Pool Photograph by Pat Shannahan/The Associated Press

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Pat Tillman Saga: What Makes a Hero?

Well they say time loves a hero
but only time will tell
If he's real, he's a legend from heaven
If he ain't he was sent here from hell

Coming off of the news that Pat Tillman, the pro football player turned Army Ranger, may have been murdered and was not a victim of friendly fire in Afghanistan, there has been discussion anew of what constitutes a hero soldier.
Does a soldier have to perform Audie Murphy-like feats to be a hero? Does someone like Tillman (at left in photo with brother Kevin), who walked away from a multi-million dollar contract with the Phoenix Cardinals to enlist in the Army in the wake of 9/11, qualify as a hero? What about No Name soldiers who are killed with nary a shred of publicity, their passing barely noticed?
These questions are even more pungent because the White House has worked assiduously to try to insulate a public increasingly sour on the Iraq war from the realities of combat. And obscenely, the Pentagon has tried to downplay the carnage to such an extent that the service branches have been stingy in awarding medals because they call attention to those realities. (See the following post for more on this.)

I'll get to my answer as to who is a hero in a moment, but first the story of the journey that I took to get to that answer.

* * * * *
The dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington in 1982 was an enormous leap forward from the accumulated guilt over another unpopular war and a way for Americans to finally recognize the men and women who gave their lives in a fitting way. This is turn led to the construction of city and state Viet vet memorials.

Early in 1986, I was tasked by my editor at the Philadelphia Daily News to look into what the newspaper could do in connection with the Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Fundraising was just getting underway for the project, which was expected to be completed by late 1987 if enough money could be raised.

In December of 1985, I had dinner with Ron Castille, a Marine Corps vet who lost a leg in Vietnam and had spent many months recovering at the Naval Hospital in South Philadelphia. Ron was a California boy, but fell in love with Philadelphia and decided to stay. He went to law school, joined the District Attorney's Office and eventually became District Attorney. Today he is a Pennsylvania State Supreme Court justice.

I told Ron that my boss and I had been kicking around the idea of putting together a special supplement that would be tucked into the Daily News on the day the memorial was dedicated. It would have biographies of all of the Philadelphians killed in the war.

Could he help us by getting one of his Viet vet organization contacts to ask the Pentagon to do a computer run of all KIAs, MIAs and POWs with Philadelphia as their place of birth or hometown of record? Ron not only provided a list, which became the template for the names on the Philadelphia wall, but he was able to access certain other information that made my subsequent efforts to obtain service records from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, the central repository of military records dating back to the Revolutionary War, considerably easier.

The list contained 630 names, a dauntingly high number. But then Philadelphia more than did its part in the war.

Some 55 students from inner-city Edison High School, many draftees or young men who saw the military as their only way out of the ghetto, died in the war. This was the largest number of any public school in America.

Some 29 students from Cardinal Dougherty High School, where military recruiters were as ubiquitous as parents on graduation day, died in the war. This was the largest number of any parochial school.
In February 1986, I was assigned two researchers. While they set about trying to locate next of kin of the 630 through obituaries and telephone and city directories, I began the process of filing 630 Freedom of Information Act requests with the NPRC to obtain military records. The cooperation that I received was terrific once word of our endeavor trickled up to the headquarters commandant. It was a pattern that was to continue throughout the project. "Nos" became "yesses" once people understood what we were up to and how special and our undertaking was.

By the spring of 1987, we had compiled enough information to write about 575 bios. We also had obtained about 450 photographs.

POWs and MIAs were a special problem because the NPRS would not allow access to their records because of next-of-kin privacy concerns. With Castille's help, we opened up a line of communication with a POW-MIA group and eventually got these records.

The fundraising for the memorial continued apace, mostly through T-shirt sales, a march from the Washington memorial to Philadelphia, softball tournaments and whatnot. Dedication was set for October 27, 1987.

By October 20, we had obtained information for 627 bios through various means, but when possible through what we called "house-ends," interviews with next of kin in their homes. I believed that it was extremely important to try meet face-to-face with people. At this point we also had about 540 photos. But we were three bios short of the entire 630.

In desperation, I put classified ads in all the major East Coast newspapers. We got calls almost immediately from people who knew of the whereabout of the families of numbers 628 and 629. Then, the day before publication, I received a call from the sister of number 630. Although she lived in Philadelphia, she had somehow not been on our radar.
The finished supplement, titled The Six Hundred and Thirty, was a labor of love. This extended throughout the Daily News family.

Philadelphia is a union town and the newsroom, composing room, press room, mail room and delivery truck drivers are unionized. They have rigorous work rules regarding breaks, lunch hours and so on. Philadelphia also is a town with a deep respect for the military, and in every instance my Daily News colleagues worked tirelessly as the production end of the supplement came together. Many tears were shed by these otherwise tough professionals as they pitched in.

We were given the best compositers to assemble the pages in the composing room. Many refused to go on break until each page was just right. A buzz about the project spread throughout the building, and people would stop by the composing room and walk down the aisles where the page galleys were coming together.

"Oh, I knew him, we went to grade school together."

"God, he was a great guy."

"I put flowers on his grave every Veterans Day."

And so on and so forth.

I was in the press room at 3 a.m. on October 27. The presses started right on time but were stopped almost immediately. The foreman was not happy with the first few copies of the supplement, especially the back cover, which was in color -- a rarity in those days. The presses were adjusted and started again, but again were stopped almost immediately. The foreman refused to let a single paper go until everything -- the inking, positioning and so on -- was exactly right. This process went on for nearly an hour. (I found out later that the foreman's nephew was one of the 630.)

The mail room foreman had called in extra handlers on overtime to hustle the papers off the conveyor belts from the pressroom and onto the trucks, so even though we got a late start, the delivery trucks went out almost on time.

We added 75,000 papers to our usual 300,000 copy run in anticipation that they would sell briskly throughout the city and along the route of a parade that morning to the memorial dedication ceremonies at Penns Landing, where William Penn had landed in 1683 to establish the city.

The press run was a sellout, so we ran another 25,000 copies of the supplement to give away in the succeeding days. They were all gobbled up.

At this point we had become fully aware of what The Six Hundred and Thirty meant. For many families, it was the first time that their loved ones had gotten the attention and respect that they deserved. For others, it was an opportunity to feel pride or grieve in a way they never had. More than a few readers called or wrote me to say they had taken their Daily News home and stayed up long into the night reading every word of every bio, their tears falling onto the paper.

One man, a lawyer from suburban Villanova, told me:

"My wife and kids had never seen me cry before. At first I felt ashamed. Then I explained that I had this huge hole in my heart because I came home and my buddy didn't. They understood. Then we all cried."
We decided to do a special 5,000-copy reprint on heavy paper stock to sell at cost since the supplement was a keepsake that would be left on a coffee table or bookshelf and reread over the years. This also gave us an opportunity to correct a (very) few errors, add some information to some bios and, best of all, locate another few dozen photographs. This reprint quickly sold out, and not a year went by in the next 14 that I worked at the Daily News that we didn't get request for copies. I finally exhausted my secret stash in 1995.

One result of The Six Hundred and Thirty is that Viet vets would contact me to see if I could help them get in touch with the family of a buddy who died, often because he took a round for him. It included intervening on the behalf of vets to try to get their disability status elevated, and as recently as last year I worked (unsuccessfully, as it turned out) to get the name of a B-52 bomber pilot added to the wall of the Washington memorial.

And it led to a moving interview with Kim Phuc, the little girl who is running down a highway after a napalm attack, her clothes burned off, in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken by Nick Ut, certainly the most famous image of the war. Ms. Phuc was a surprise guest of honor at the Washington memorial on Veterans Day 1996, and I had been tipped that she would be there. It was a very special day for another reason: It was the first time that it really felt like the South Vietnamese Army vets who had been showing up at the memorial for years were being treated with the respect they too deserved.
I had a long and fulfilling career in the newspaper business. My work or work that I supervised was nominated for five Pulitzers. I got to see the world and cover some of the major news events of the last 40 years. But nothing that I did or have done since approaches The Six Hundred and Thirty simply because of all of the good it did.

* * * * *
Which finally brings me back to my answer to the question as to who is a hero: They all are, all of the men and women who fought in our nation’s wars, including Vietnam and now Iraq and Afghanistan.

As The Six Hundred and Thirty came together, I was struck by how many of these people died not in combat, but in friendly fire incidents, whorehouse brawls, traffic accidents, and in some instances by drowning in rice paddies loaded down with heavy packs because many of these inner city kids had never learned to swim.

Each and everyone one of them died honorable deaths. And all are heroes.

Why So Few Medals of Honor in Iraq?

As noted in the previous post, another casualty of the Iraq war is that fewer medals and fewer medals of distinction for bravery are being awarded because they call attention to the war's bloody realities.

A veteran blogger who has spent considerable time in Iraq tells me that:
"Company commanders . . . complain that the awards they submit are constantly downgraded as they go up the chain of command."
Some 300,000-plus Americans have served in Iraq, and there also has been some criticism that the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, had only been awarded twice.

Here are the number of medal winners for major conflicts since the Civil War:

464 -- World War II

245 -- Vietnam War

131 -- Korean War

124 -- World War I

110 -- Spanish-American War

Perhaps in keeping with the Pentagon's overall policy, it would appear that there indeed have been a disproportionately low number of Iraq recipients, but having just pounded the military for its suppression policy, the Medal of Honor explanation is too simplistic.

A better explanation is that beyond the invasion in the spring of 2003, two major battles in Fallujah and a small number of other battles, there (thankfully) has been little opportunity for soldiers to be in the kind of extreme situations that Medal of Honor winners have experienced in other wars.
Incidentally, the Iraq Medal of Honor recipients are Army Sergeant First Class Paul R. Smith (photo) and Marine Corporal Jason Dunham. Both received the medal postumously.

Cartoon du Jour

Pat Oliphant/Universal Press Syndicate

Beautiful Photograph du Jour

Lavender Field & Lone Tree, Provence, France
Photograph by Robert Weingarten
Hat Tip to Wood's Lot

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

The media melodrama is over. Apparently enough of the Bancroft family will accept Rupert Murdoch’s $5 billion Faustian bargain for the Wall Street Journal.

But give them credit for a struggle to save their souls. At a family meeting Monday night, the Journal reported, one of the matriarchs, 77-year-old Jane Cox MacElree, argued against making the deal with the Devil by invoking the martyrdom of Daniel Pearl (photo).

"He put his life on the line for the paper," Ms. MacElree said, citing the reporter who was kidnapped and killed by Al Qaeda in Pakistan.


The U.S. Air Force plans to deliver its newest and deadliest unmanned aircraft, the Reaper, to the theater of operations in Afghanistan.


As American troop levels are peaking in Baghdad, British force levels are heading in the opposite direction as the troops prepare to withdraw completely from the city center of Basra, 300 miles to the south.

. . . The scaling down by America’s largest coalition partner foreshadows many of the political and military challenges certain to face American commanders when their troops begin withdrawing.

Skepticism is widespread in Basra, as in Baghdad, about whether Iraqi forces are ready to take over. The British and the Americans will have to assuage the fears of Iraqis that they are being abandoned to gunmen and religious extremists. And each is likely to face intensified attacks from propaganda-conscious enemies trying to claim credit for driving out the Westerners.


Joe Biden’s so-called soft-partition plan, which calls for dividing Iraq into three semi-autonomous regions, seems to be gaining support as the best way out of a bad situation.


Cindy Sheehan, when all is said and done, is a sympathetic and pathetic figure.


The best diagnostic clues (to George Bush’s chauvinism) may come from the Freedom of Information Act. I have been reading de-classified documents from the CIA about Iraq this week. The docs reach back to before the time Saddam murdered his way into power . . .


We have reached a point where there is no such thing as a slow news week. It would be very easy to have spent the whole week paying attention to nothing more than Gonzovision and the escalating tension between Congress and the Bush Administration over subpoenas and such. But if you did that you would have missed the Senate calling for universal internet filtering and the House actually passing a Farm Bill that the President will likely veto . . . You would have missed the President asking for an overhaul of the FISA statute that he can't even be bothered to follow. And that's just the news from Capitol Hill!


Before the stupid gets too far out of hand, let us note one thing. There is a substantive difference between bloggers working with parties in regards to advocacy and pursuing electoral issues, and an administration issuing talking points to bloggers to assist in blocking investigations into alleged criminal wrongdoings.

Really, this isn’t rocket science. I have no problem with bloggers organizing and meeting with the RNC and the DNC and whoever else to pursue legitimate political goals. I frown on bloggers coordinating to engage in spin brigades to cover-up alleged wrongdoings. Pretending they are the same thing is hack-fu (to borrow a term) of the first order.


A funny thing is happening in American politics: The fiercest battle is no longer between the left and the right but between partisanship and bipartisanship. The Bush administration, which has been notorious for playing to its hard-right base, has started reaching across the aisle.


Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani called Democrats "the party of losers" for demanding a scheduled pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq.

"Democrats have already declared we’ve lost," the former New York mayor said during a campaign stop in Texas. "It’s really strange. The Democrats want to give our enemies a timetable. Never in history of war has a retreating army been asked to give a timetable.

"I’m for victory," Giuliani said. Democrats, he added, are "living in a world where they refuse to admit the existence of Islamic terrorism."


Cairo-based Heba Kotb tackles questions on desire, orgasms, vibrators and more — within the framework of Islam.

[Y]ou know, Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization. The goal is global carbon tax. The goal is the United Nations running the world. That is the goal. Back in the 1930s, the goal was get rid of all of the Jews and have one global government.

You got to have an enemy to fight. And when you have an enemy to fight, then you can unite the entire world behind you, and you seize power. That was Hitler's plan. His enemy: the Jew. Al Gore's enemy, the U.N.'s enemy: global warming. . . .

Then you get the scientists -- eugenics. You get the scientists -- global warming. Then you have to discredit the scientists that say, "That's not right." And you must silence all dissenting voices. That's what Hitler did.


The notion that Charlie Chaplin is putting on a show as he snoozes on the Hemingway Home and Museum veranda — well, that's enough to make a cat laugh.

But neither the fluffy feline, named for the Little Tramp because of his tuxedo-like markings, nor his 46 companions lazing around the late author's estate are likely to be amused if the U.S. government succeeds in designating them an animal act and restricts their freedom.

You can fix a game, dope an athlete, bet on a dog’s carcass. But can you kill sports?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Tour de France: One Test Down, One to Go

Alberto Contador, a 24-year-old Spaniard and rider with the Discovery Channel team, has won the Tour de France. Given past experience, we must now await with baited breath whether Contador passes the drug test. More here.
Photograph by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Gonzo: The Never Ending Story

President Bush often insists he has to be the decider — ignoring Congress and the public when it comes to the tough matters on war, terrorism and torture, even deciding whether an ordinary man in Florida should be allowed to let his wife die with dignity. Apparently that burden does not apply to the functioning of one of the most vital government agencies, the Justice Department.

Americans have been waiting months for Mr. Bush to fire Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who long ago proved that he was incompetent and more recently has proved that he can’t tell the truth.

. . . Democratic lawmakers are asking for a special prosecutor to look into Mr. Gonzales’s words and deeds. Solicitor General Paul Clement has a last chance to show that the Justice Department is still minimally functional by fulfilling that request.

If that does not happen, Congress should impeach Mr. Gonzales.


Cartoon by Ben Sargent/Universal Press Syndicate

Sunday Kitty Blogging

Anyone who has been around cats for any length of time -- especially those of us who have a deep love and respect for them -- know that they can be uncannily prescient. As independent minded as they seem to be, say compared to dogs, they understand us in ways that those slavishly loyal canines usually cannot.

This brings us to the story of Oscar, a hospice cat at a nursing home who seems to have an uncanny ability to predict when patients are going to die.

Herewith the opening paragraphs of a New England Journal of Medicine article on this extraordinary feline:
Oscar the Cat awakens from his nap, opening a single eye to survey his kingdom. From atop the desk in the doctor's charting area, the cat peers down the two wings of the nursing home's advanced dementia unit. All quiet on the western and eastern fronts. Slowly, he rises and extravagantly stretches his 2-year-old frame, first backward and then forward. He sits up and considers his next move.

In the distance, a resident approaches. It is Mrs. P., who has been living on the dementia unit's third floor for 3 years now. She has long forgotten her family, even though they visit her almost daily. Moderately disheveled after eating her lunch, half of which she now wears on her shirt, Mrs. P. is taking one of her many aimless strolls to nowhere. She glides toward Oscar, pushing her walker and muttering to herself with complete disregard for her surroundings. Perturbed, Oscar watches her carefully and, as she walks by, lets out a gentle hiss, a rattlesnake-like warning that says "leave me alone." She passes him without a glance and continues down the hallway. Oscar is relieved. It is not yet Mrs. P.'s time, and he wants nothing to do with her.

Oscar jumps down off the desk, relieved to be once more alone and in control of his domain. He takes a few moments to drink from his water bowl and grab a quick bite. Satisfied, he enjoys another stretch and sets out on his rounds. Oscar decides to head down the west wing first, along the way sidestepping Mr. S., who is slumped over on a couch in the hallway. With lips slightly pursed, he snores peacefully — perhaps blissfully unaware of where he is now living. Oscar continues down the hallway until he reaches its end and Room 310. The door is closed, so Oscar sits and waits. He has important business here.

Click here for more.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

To Breast Or Not to Breast . . .

. . . That is the question.

Fuggedabout troop withdrawal timetables, tax cuts and universal health insurance. Can a woman political candidate be taken seriously if she shows cleavage?

This became an issue last fall in Alabama, when The Associated Press noted in a report on Loretta Nall, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor:

"[She is] campaigning on her cleavage and hoping that voters will eventually focus on her platform."
Now I'll be the first to admit that while my thoughts do occasionally turn to breasts, I do not lie awake at night pondering the issue, but there it was again the other day in the WaPo when fashion writer Robin Givhan wrote about the "interest" in Hillary Rodham Clinton’s neckline on the Senate floor:
"With Clinton, there was the sense that you were catching a surreptitious glimpse at something private. You were intruding — being a voyeur . . . Showing cleavage is a request to be engaged in a particular way."
I guess you had to have been there because whenever I have been in the same room with Hillary, including a meeting when I was right across the table from her, I can say in all honesty that I was not drawn to her breasts.

Without going off the deep end and examining whether any of the male presidential wannabes show any . . . well, I did notice a bit of a bulge in one candidate's pants during a recent debate . . . I gotta tell you that this cleavage thing is beyond silly, especially when someone like Givhan tries to get all weighty.
Cleavage is a matter of personal choice. Let's leave it at that, okay?

We're Back Off the Road Again. Again

We just walked in the door to Kiko's House after a week on the road -- aka Dial-Up Hell.

We'll resume posting after we unpack the car, take our hairball medication and catch a few winks.

It was good to be away, but it's great to be back.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Quotes From Around Yon Blogosphere

Southern Utes receive dividends from energy sector investments.

Many American Indian tribes count on money-losing casino gamblers to generate most of the income for their members. The Southern Ute tribe, whose 700,000-acre reservation in the San Juan Basin sits on one of the world’s richest deposits of methane found in coal seams, is a lot luckier.

After many years of struggling to gain control of its natural resources from big energy companies, the Southern Utes now control the distribution of roughly 1 percent of the nation’s natural gas supply. Thanks to high gas prices in recent years and lucrative investments in and beyond the energy sectors, this once-impoverished tribe is now worth about $4 billion. Each of its 1,400 members is a millionaire many times over, on paper anyway.

The Southern Utes are not just sitting on their wealth. They have become a model for other resource-based tribes and an energy powerhouse in Colorado. And as gas prices have softened, the tribe has recently sought to diversify by becoming a real estate investor, too, buying up swaths of valuable land and buildings in La Plata County and throughout the West.


The Iraq fiasco provides few opportunities for mirth. But one is watching Fred Hiatt, czar of the Washington Post editorial page, try to kick up enough dust to wriggle out of his own position on the war.

A necessary preliminary to this discussion is to realize that there is probably no editorial page in the United States that has advocated more influentially on behalf of the Iraq catastrophe at every stage in the unfolding disaster -- from the Iraq Liberation Act, the the WMD and al Qaeda bamboozlement, to the lauching of the war, to the longstanding denial of what was happening on the ground to the continuing refusal to brook any real change of course in policy. Other papers have been more hawkish, certainly. But because of its location in the nation's capital and even more because of its reputation as a non-conservative paper, the Post's fatuous and frequently mendacious editorializing has without doubt had a greater role in pushing the public debate into the war camp than any other editorial page in the nation.


There is no more urgent task than improving medical care for wounded veterans, whose shameful neglect is yet another failure of the shockingly mismanaged Iraq war. The warriors bear scars from physical and psychological trauma and a chaotic government bureaucracy.

A presidential commission hurriedly created in the wake of scandalous accounts of mistreated and forgotten veterans yesterday issued a series of sensible recommendations for repairing the damage, including a major overhaul of the way disability pay is awarded and providing more support for family members who must shoulder the long-term burden of caring for their wounded loved ones.

Making all the required improvements, the commission’s report said, would require "a sense of urgency and strong leadership." Unfortunately, there is no sign that the White House either grasps the urgency or is prepared to provide that leadership. All the more reason for Congress to force reform on the president.


Six years removed from 9/11, I'm appalled that no one seems to care whether we find and kill Osama bin Laden.

How else to explain that there have been seven presidential debates so far - four for the D's, three for the R's - and only one question has been asked that touched on the subject of finding bin Laden in Pakistan.

We're talking close to 15 hours of debate, covering everything from family values to favorite teachers, and only one question - from an audience member, mind you - that even broached the topic of Pakistan.

Monday night's CNN/YouTube experiment was just the latest setting where the issue was invisible. But it was no doubt the most shocking given recent news on the bin Laden/Pakistan front.


The "trial" of David Hicks, which took place in March 2007, was a charade.

A pre-trial agreement had been signed and the balance of the legal proceedings was entirely surplus to requirements, although designed to lay a veneer of due process over a political and pragmatic bargain. The veneer cracked immediately.

Ultimately, there has been no benefit from this process; only a corrosion of the rule of law.

No ground can be claimed to have been made in the so-called War on Terror. The Military Commission process at Guantanamo likewise has neither gained from it, nor shown any prospect of improvement.

Predictably, there has been no response from the Australian Government to the consistent and widespread criticism of the Military Commissions and Guantanamo Bay generally. Their support for this process has been shameful.


The instability in the Middle East has forced the hand of the moderate Arab states. They have realized, somewhat belatedly, that the greater threat to their fiefdoms comes not from Israel or the West but from the radicals they have nurtured as threats against both. . . .

These states need to tend to their own back yard. They never really cared about the Palestinian cause, using it as a strawman to channel the rage their populaces felt at their oppression. Now that rage threatens to swallow their regimes …reaching accommodation for the Palestinians will bring them a measure of peace, and hopefully marginalize the radical Islamists they have unleashed.

And Iran threatens to use that weapon against them . . .


When history looks back at the disgrace of the Bush presidency, the one celebrated quote that will help capture much of what went wrong will be John DiIulio’s. It was DiIulio, the first director of the president’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who told Ron Suskind, "What you’ve got is everything — and I mean everything — being run by the political arm. It’s the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

DiIulio wasn’t expressing disgust so much as disappointment. A conservative Dem and serious academic, DiIulio thought Bush’s White House would be a place where ideas and policy mattered. With the benefit of hindsight, it’s rather difficult not to laugh.

But DiIulio was taken in by the bogus pitch. He notes today in the Philadelphia Inquirer that it was eight years ago this week that Bush delivered his first campaign speech, which DiIulio helped write, titled "The Duty of Hope." Candidate Bush rejected as "destructive" the idea that "if only government would get out of the way, all our problems would be solved." Rather, "from North Central Philadelphia to South Central Los Angeles," government "must act in the common good, and that good is not common until it is shared by those in need." There are "some things the government should be doing, like Medicaid for poor children."

Forget what I said about laughing; with the benefit of hindsight, it’s rather difficult not to cry.


I love sports. Always have. I grew up playing all the usual sports and eagerly tried out a lot of others when I got older. I’ve always been a big spectator, too, watching everything from football, basketball and baseball to soccer, track, cycling, volleyball, water polo - whatever was on, you know?

But these days I watch less sports than at any point in my life, and it seems likely that this downward trend is going to continue. The why is pretty simple. I was raised old school by a grandfather who grew up playing through the Depression. People who knew him back then and saw him play said that under different circumstances he might have been good enough to play in the Bigs. Maybe. Hard to say, because the hard realities of life intruded on the dreams of many in his generation. So he wound up working for a few dollars a week and playing ball on the weekends.

There was a right way and a wrong way to play. Hard, but fair. Sportsmanship mattered.

A Broward (County, Florida) prisoner on trial on charges that he masturbated in his jail cell will face a jury of his peers. During jury selection in the case of inmate Terry Lee Alexander, all seven jurors admitted to attorneys that they have masturbated. The awkward questioning was posed by defense attorney Kathleen McHugh, who faced 17 prospective jurors and asked point-blank who among them had never masturbated. No hands went up. Then, she went one-by-one, asking each prospective juror if he or she had ever masturbated. All nine men said yes, two of the 10 women said no.

Photograph by Kevin Moloney for The New York Times

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Concert Un-Review: Lucinda Williams

No thanks to commercial radio, we live in a golden age of woman folk and rock singer-songwriters. They include, to name just a few of my favorites, Suzanne Vega, Nancy Griffith, Rosanne Cash, Sarah McLachlan, Feist, Tori Amos and Jonatha Brooke. All in one way or another owe an immense debt to Joni Mitchell.

With very few exceptions, don't expect to hear any of these women on commercial radio. You have to tune into the rare progressive rock station or college station, or go on the Internet for downloads.

Then there is singer-guitarist-songwriter Lucinda Williams, who has followed up her 1998 hit album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which followed a decade in which she labored in semi-obscurity, with one great disk after another, most recently West, which was released earlier this year.
Williams certainly leads that pack of signer-songwriter faves whom, as a crossover artist, you do get to hear on commercial radio, as well as unexpected venues such as my local stupidmarket. It was a bit of a shock to pick up a couple of cartons of O.J. the other day to the accompaniment of Williams singing “Drunken Angel,” one of the many fantastic songs on Car Wheels, in her distinctive quirky-warbley voice.
This was supposed to be the point in the article where I segued to Williams’ appearance earlier this week at the Mountain Laurel Center For the Performing Arts in the Poconos of Northeastern Pennsylvania, but things didn’t quite work out.
The Mountain Laurel Center is as undiluted an example of a taxpayer-funded boondoggle that I have encountered in many years.

The facility – a concert shed with stage and 2,500 seats that opens out onto a lawn – was advertised as a state-of-the-art entertainment venue that would draw visitors from as far away as New York City and Philadelphia with world-famous performers.

But from the outset, Mountain Laurel was a feedbag for area politicians. It sucked up $15 million in public money before it opened in 2004 and then didn’t have enough money to operate.

A big part of the problem was where Mountain Laurel was sited: Not close to Interstate 80 and the major population and tourism centers in the Poconos, but 20 miles away in Pike County. The facility can only be reached by two-lane highway, the last several miles of which are narrow, winding and dangerous even in good weather.

Despite further injections of taxpayer money and an increase in local hotel taxes, Mountain Laurel struggled through its first two seasons.

This included an attempted visit by the Dear Friend & Conscience, who was turned away at the box office because she did not have a photo ID. It seems that Mountain Laurel had been identified as a terrorist target or something and a security guard told her that an ID was mandatory in the post-9/11 world of rock concerts. Inane, but true.

Mountain Laurel was shuttered for the third season. Having been milked dry by those pols, it was sold to a private developer in 2006 who paid off $17 million in bonds and other debts, and concerts resumed. The developer then leased the center and 42 acres used for parking and lawn seating back to the center's board of directors. A win-win situation for the developer and a lose-lose situation for everyone else except those happy pols.

Then there is the facility itself.

This is the part of the movie where I brag that I have gone to concerts at outdoor facilities, include sheds with lawn seatings, in perhaps 50 locations on three continents, so I know what I'm talking about, okay?

On that basis Mountain Laurel is easily the worst of the bunch.
Despite its lush surroundings, the area around the concert shed – which is called the Tom Ridge Pavilion – looks like Vietnam jungle after being defoliated by Agent Orange. There are no plantings. As in none. The parking lot is a dustbowl and the shed itself has the ambiance of an aircraft hangar. Check that. I have been in aircraft hangars that are nicer.

The lawn above the shed is so steep as to be dangerous to all but the most athletically inclined. We parked our folding lawn chairs on the slope, but constantly felt like they were going to tip forward and topple us down onto the promenade connecting the shed to the lawn. Despite a no-smoking policy, we were downwind of a small man with a large cigar and a blonde on each arm and had to endure his smoke.

Then there are the acoustics.

In a word, they sucked. The sound projected through the speakers outside the shed was much too loud and extremely distorted. The sound in the shed was only slightly better and was not helped by the skimpy house, which was about one-third full.
As for Lucinda Williams and her band, they rocked. But after four or five songs, a violent thunderstorm broke and the DF&C and I were chased back to the car. A karmic thunderstorm if you will. Soaked to the bone, it was obvious once we navigated those dangerous roads through a thick fog and reached the main highway that the storm had been confined to the area immediately around Mountain Laurel.