Thursday, September 14, 2006

September 13, 2006

Except that no one cares

Former Georgetown society head pom-pom girl and current Washington ubermatron Sally Quinn made one of her mercifully rare appearances in yesterday’s Washington Post – in the Style section, natch – to offer her learned opinion on the leading issue of the day among Washington’s political-media establishment. And that is, of course, the outrageous double-standard to which Katie Couric has been subjected since taking over the lead anchor duties on the CBS evening news. Forget the fact that almost no one gets their news from the three major networks anymore; by 6.30 in the evening, most people know what they want or need to know from the Internet. Is it fair, Quinn wants to know, that Couric’s critics are focusing on her wardrobe and hair when they never do such a thing to a male anchor? In the absolute sense, looks shouldn’t matter; experience, journalistic skill and analytic brevity should. Quinn discusses her own experience as a journalistic hottie and concludes that she, too, was chased from the airwaves by the mean boys when she deliberately “dowdified” her looks so that she would be seen as a great mind and not just a lovely pair of legs. There is much more discussion of this weighty topic, with much of it centered on Quinn, on how life isn’t fair for women who are smart and hot. And that still, of course, includes her.

For $15 million a year to read 20 minutes a news a night from a teleprompter, I would put my less-than-Hollywood looks on HDTV and allow anyone who wanted to see every one of my cosmetic flaws in the highest detail possible. I admit I have never seen Katie Couric for more than 30 seconds or so on television. I have never watched the Today show and I don’t watch the evening news, and I don’t plan to start now. All I know about her is what I’ve gleaned from the magazines in the grocery store checkout line. The evening news that my parent’s generation knew – Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley, John Chancellor, Tom Brokaw and, yes, even Dan Rather – is a dinosaur. If you want to know who watches the contemporary news programs, check out the ads.

Unlike her predecessors, Couric – like Brian Williams – takes over a job that is largely irrelevant to the formation of public opinion. In a different world – one with three channels and two daily newspapers – Cronkite’s opinion was the gold standard. His skepticism towards the Vietnam War – made possible in part by great reporting from Dan Rather – although late in the game, had a demonstrable influence on middle-class America. Does anyone believe that Katie Couric’s opinion, should she have one, on Iraq will change anyone’s mind? Niche networks make it possible for a viewer to hear or see anything he or she wants, regardless of the facts. Don’t like what you’re hearing about Iraq? Turn on Fox. Don’t get a good reception from Fox? There’s MSNBC and crazy Chris Matthews. In a medium dominated by an establishment media loathe to question official opinion and buffet of right-wing voices to blast all reason to hell, where does the concerned truth-seeker turn to for the truth?

The Daily Show, of course.

Found: the fifth dentist

Jews are not known for their accomplishments in professional sports or their ability to take news about their health in stride (“You mean that little wart below my big toe is not cancer? Thank God! Let’s eat!”), so it should come as no surprise that, given my track record of dental ailments, I have always kept an eye on what the American Dental Association approves for an oral hygiene regimen. In fact, one of the greatest mysteries to me as a kid, other than the true identity of the Masked Assassin from Georgia Championship Wrestling, was who in their right mind visited the “fifth dentist” from the old Trident gum and Colgate toothpaste commercials. Who can forget: four out of five dentists recommend Trident for their patients who chew gum; and four out of five dentists recommend brushing with fluoride toothpaste such as Colgate. This is startling enough – twenty percent of the dental profession was down with sugared gum and non-fluoride treated toothpaste. For a Jew with a propensity towards hypochondria, that is the equivalent of telling a Gentile that his new firearm only had an eighty percent chance of maiming or killing its intended target. Serious stuff.

But now I know who visited that lonely fifth dentist back then, and perhaps still does: Dick Cheney and George Bush. Cheney’s performance on Meet the Press this past Sunday (I read the transcripts but didn’t watch the show) and Bush’s prime time 9.11 speech (ditto) just make the mind reel. Wouldn’t do anything different? The world is safer? Iraq is turning the corner? Peter Angelos hasn’t ruined the Orioles? Crusty is coming?

Attention Flat-Earth Society: you have two new members for your mailing list. Just address it to the fifth dentist – it will get there.

September 11, 2006

9.11.01 – “the day that changed everything” – five years later

What has the Bush administration learned since the Day That Changed Everything? The short answer to this question is . . . nothing. Absolutely nothing. Is it really possible to overstate how incompetent, thoughtless and just downright wrong this administration has been about everything, whether in promoting a foreign policy that is completely and without exception counter-productive to the goals of American security or in pushing an irresponsible and morally indefensible set of domestic policies? Go down the parade of horribles in American presidential history, and you can at least find one – just one – positive accomplishment in almost every administration dating back to the turn of the 20th century. Reagan understood that Gorbachev cared about the survival and modernization of the Soviet Union, and set-aside the Hollywood tough-guy rhetoric and negotiated with the most threatening enemy that United States has ever had. Nixon opened the door to China and encouraged a policy of détente with the Soviet Union . . . and even created the Environmental Protection Agency. Herbert Hoover might forever be remembered for the Crash of 1929, but he was a smart man who encouraged interior management.
But the Decider? Name one . . . just one accomplishment. And, no, successful Supreme Court nominations do not count – those are freebees, especially when you control the Senate.

Rather than a long, meandering essay on squandered opportunities since September 11, 2001, I will offer some passing thoughts on where we are now, and whether there is anyway out.

Five years later, the United States has spent billions of dollars in pursuit of Osama Bin Laden and failed to apprehend or kill him. The war in Afghanistan is all but forgotten by the American public, which, for over two years, tragically bought into the Bush administration’s tale of deception about Iraq (with recent polling data indicating that the public is gradually wiping the sand from its eyes). Five years later, the administration has no coherent position on the al-Qaeda-Saddam connection that it promoted in the period after the 9/11 attacks and its decision to invade Iraq. The Vice-Chicken-Hawk-in-Chief, Dick Cheney, continues to repeat the same lies, deceptions and just flat out bullshit about the administration’s Iraq war plans and preparation to pacify and rebuild the country. Despite multiple government-commissioned reports (the 9/11 Commission) and government investigations (the Senate report just released, in part, to the public last week) that refute every single bogus claim put forth by the administration, and more recent CIA reports describing how the administration ignored intelligence estimates about the difficulties that democratization would face in Iraq, Cheney still offers the same truckload of lies. And, true to form, he accuses anyone who criticizes the Iraq war as aiding and abetting the “terrorists.” Blah, blah, blah . . . does this man ever stop?

Five years later, the administration continues to hold to the illusion that the world is safer as a result of deposing Saddam Hussein. Saddam was a rat bastard who did awful things to innocent people . . . really, who even argues that point? But the world is full of despicable tyrants, and a cold, hard fact of American foreign policy is that we always been selected about who we keep in power, who we believe we should depose, and who we should just ignore. Using force in foreign policy is much like buying a house – what you choose to do and how to choose to value your decision has everything to do with location. Why Iraq, which was contained quite well by the United Nations sanctions (that we insisted upon) and weapons inspections, and not Darfur? Oil, proximity to resources, what? Does anyone believe our intervention in regional conflicts or the internal affairs of another country is based on a merit-system?

Five years later, not one of the 5,000 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay and in other secret prisons run by the CIA has stood trial for crimes related to 9/11. Not one. All we have is the Decider’s dramatic, election year-driven speech of last week announcing that 14 suspected terrorists are being transferred from secret prisons to the Git while they prepare to stand trial. And what is really going to happen? Read David Cole’s analysis in Slate and try to convince yourself that anything meaningful will come of the Decider’s empty rhetoric.

Five years later, our transportation systems are full of security holes. Testers routinely walk on to planes with objects they shouldn’t have; there is no comprehensive system to screen cargo coming in and out of the country, whether by land, sea or air. And Amtrak? You can walk on board with VX rockets and the only comment you’ll get from am Amtrak official is that the café car is the third car down and is now serving breakfast.

Five years later, the FBI has no idea who wrote the Anthrax letters that killed and sickened dozens during October and November 2001. The reporting that has been done on the Anthrax scare strongly suggests that this was some homegrown nut or disgruntled federal employee, not a foreign terrorist.

Five years later, the administration has still not adequately addressed the mental and physical health needs of persons associated with September 11, whether as victims or as emergency responders.

Five years later, our major cities are woefully unprepared to deal with any sort of terrorist attack, regardless of whether that attack comes in the form of explosives or a chemical, biological or nuclear weapon. Katrina demonstrated that last year – a major city ravaged by a natural disaster, with thousands displaced, sickened and abandoned while the Decider and his crack team sat on their hands and did nothing for almost a whole week. New Orleans and lower Mississippi are still in need of urgent care and support. And as much as we would like to believe our own national mythology of people-helping-people-when-in-need, the fact remains that a few concerts and celebrity appeals will not bring that region back to life. Katrina was our first response to the emergency planning we had all been urged to undertake after 9/11. Unless the official response is to evacuate people into a decrepit indoor sports facility, bus them to the closest town that will take them and appeal to churches to feed and house them, by any standard the administration failed.

Five years later, we should have expected exactly the response Katrina got from an administration that told people to buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect themselves from terrorist attacks. I can still remember walking into hardware stores and seeing signs that said, “No returns on duct tape and plastic sheeting.” I still remember witnessing a well-dressed, black-bowed, blonde-haired woman (who had parked her Yukon with window stickers telling all who were lucky enough to read the pedigree of her children’s education next to me in the Giant parking lot) screaming at the manager to go find “more Goddamn bottled water in the back . . . now.” She stood next to a shopping cart full of Nutri-Grain Bars, peanuts, granola snacks and bananas. Nowhere did I see any toilet paper. I guess she never thought to question the wisdom of a high-fiber diet while sealed inside a duct-taped secured safe house constructed with plastic sheeting. I can think of a million other places I’d rather be when the Big Day comes, like on my deck with a cocktail, than trapped in that Bowhead’s plastic room without toilet paper.

Five years later, the Decider still cannot explain why the United States is in Iraq or what the “job” he insists “we must finish” actually is.

Five years later, I wonder how many pundits, commentators, government bureaucrats, college students and other citizen-boosters of the Iraq war have spent time in Iraq under the same conditions as the Iraqi people. Every time I read a column by some conservative Pollyanna on how conditions in Iraq “are much better than we are being led to believe,” I wonder if he (or she) has actually thought about packing the family up for a year abroad. I wonder how quickly our metropolitan sophisticates who believe that Iraq is the cornerstone of a new Middle East would last in a country with a near stone-age infrastructure. I wonder how long an American college student would last living under the same conditions as their Iraqi peers. Everyone I know who has been to Iraq for an extended period of time, whether civilian or military, has said the place is hell hole beyond their description. Everyone I know who insists we are not being told the good news hasn’t stepped foot in Iraq. Better yet, most of them haven’t stepped foot out of their comfortable professional offices or remodeled homes.

Five years later, over 2,660 American soldiers have been killed and over 19,900 have been wounded in Iraq. Over 130 American civilians working as contractors have been killed. As for the Iraqis themselves, estimates project that somewhere around 45,000 civilians have died since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003. This is leaving aside the validity of a Johns Hopkins study concluding that the Iraqi civilian death toll was closer to 100,000. And for what?

Five years later, the Decider’s argument for continuing the Iraq war still centers on protecting “our way of life,” “engaging the terrorists over there before they come at us over here,” and other such comic book-level nonsense. Here’s a question to think about: exactly what is that “way of life” the Decider is talking about? Seriously, is your daily life linked to success or failure in Iraq? Does anyone honestly believe that their morning Venti from Starbucks is in jeopardy unless we remake Iraq in our image? Unless you have a friend or loved one serving in the armed forces, do you even think about this war on anything less than an abstract level? What sacrifices have Americans made to fund the war or to make life easier for military families?

Five years later, the Decider tells Katie Couric that one of the hardest parts of his job is explaining to the American public the relationship between the war in Iraq to the war on terror.

Well, no duh!

Five years later, we have two former White House officials, Condi Rice and Alberto Gonzales, promoted to cabinet-level positions despite their mutual display of stunning incompetence in their previous posts. One blew off repeated warnings of the al-Qaeda threat and helped engineer the sale of the Iraq war; the other authored memos justifying torture as an interrogation and detention method. Neither was particularly good at what they did. But competence isn’t a relevant skill in this administration. Blind loyalty to incompetence is the ticket up the ladder of power.

Five years later, the Decider and VCHIC stand rebuffed on their effort to create a unilateral, unaccountable electoral executive branch. By a Republican-dominated Supreme Court, no less.

Five years later, Paul Wolfowitz sits ensconced at the World Bank; Don Rumsfeld is still Secretary of Defense; the VCHIC still makes the appointed rounds on the network news programs to offer up his lies; the Decider continues to live in make-believe world, hoping that his appeal to America’s need to believe in its own “exceptionalism” – that somehow we are God’s chosen people destined to lead the world – will remain the fog that he so desperately needs to survive the next 2 ½ years of his presidency.

Five years later, as the president prepares to address the nation on the challenges that face us in the post-9/11 world, we stand less secure, less competent, less together, more afraid, more delusional about the dangers that face us from our own government and more isolated than ever from the rest of the world.

Earlier this evening, I read Jonathan Rauch’s lead comment in the October Atlantic, which asks the right question about Bush’s presidential legacy – not whether it will be good or bad, but how bad will it be? Although I disagree with Rauch’s comparison points – as bad as Nixon (fair) or only as bad as Carter (unfair) – he at least admits that his belief that Bush was the right man to lead the nation after September 11 was wrongly grounded. I never believed that Bush had somehow entered Churchillian territory when he picked up the bullhorn at the World Trade Center and put on his show of false machismo. Not only did I believe then that he was the wrong man for that job, I believed he was the most ill-equipped man for the presidency since . . . God, who knows?

Perhaps at some point the public will wake up and demand real accountability from their leaders. Perhaps at some point the establishment media will stop enabling the administration and demand real answers to the tough questions they should be asking. Perhaps, but . . . probably not. Many years ago, the great H.L. Mencken wrote that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public. That still seems like a safe bet today.

September 10, 2006

Celebrating John Coltrane

This week will mark the jazz community’s celebration of John Coltrane’s 80th birthday. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Program in New York has put together a marvelous tribute to this giant of modern music. For more information on this program, and a schedule of the musicians paying tribute to Trane at various clubs throughout the week, see Ben Ratcliff’s article in September 8th’s New York Times Arts Section.

And do not miss the latest treasure mined from the vaults of Impulse’s early 1960s recordings of the classic John Coltrane Quartet, One Up, One Down: Live at the Half Note. This two-disc set features four extended versions of One Down, One Up, Afro Blue, Song of Praise and My Favorite Things. A brief warning: do not listen to this CD while driving, operating heavy machinery, threading a needle or attempting to balance your checkbook.

And some Americans now even know where Iraq is

If you haven’t found Tom Tomorrow in your weekly alternative paper or visited his This Modern World website, you should. Visit his site and check out his latest cartoon.

September 7, 2006

0 for 5,000 and counting . . .

If you went to your dentist two or three thousand times and he or she failed to diagnose the cause of your toothache, might it occur to you that you ought to find another dentist?

If your car stopped running and you took it to a mechanic who kept it for five years without explaining what was wrong or letting you know when you could have it back, do you think you might need to take your car somewhere else?

If your building contractor told you to expect your addition or renovation, after tearing down some walls and digging a new foundation, to be ready in four months, only not to return for four years, do you stick with this guy or look for someone else?

I can answer all those questions pretty easily, if for no other reason that I’ve confronted those situations in my real-life – okay, perhaps I exaggerate a little – the mechanic only kept my car for four months. So it astounds me how patient the public and the establishment media have been with the absolute failure of the Bush administration to prosecute any of the 5,000 or so detainees being held at Guantanimo Bay and the other secret detention facilities that the Decider revealed yesterday – surprise, surprise, surprise!, as Gomer Pyle would have said – have been run by the CIA since 9/11. The Decider’s press conference to announce the transfer of 14 accused terrorists to the US Naval base so that they may be tried before military tribunals is way too little way too late. Why now? Justice for the 9/11 families. Really? Or perhaps is it that the Decider’s men believe that the public likes their boss best when he talks tough, and with many Republicans seeing once-secure seats in Congress now up for grabs, it’s time to play the fear-and-loathing card.

In my view, the Decider would have been happy with the status quo – to keep talking tough while letting the detainees linger indefinitely just so he could say that he has the evildoers away. But the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdan put an end to the fantasy of an executive branch gulag. The administration is now being forced by a court dominated by Republican nominees to do what it should have done from the very beginning – abide by the Geneva Convention, the rules of military justice and the appropriate processes of the federal courts. Had it done so, it might have had some success in putting some truly awful people away forever . . . and giving 9/11 families some of the justice that is way, way overdue.

And George Washington chopped down the cherry tree . . .

In this morning’s Washington Post, David Broder, affectionally known as “the dean of Washington journalists,” by the MSM, writes that journalists who believed Karl Rove had anything to do with the “outing” of CIA officer Valerie Plame have had their comeuppance as a result of former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage’s admission that he identified Plame’s status in “casual conversations” with reporters Robert Novak and Bob Woodward. Published reports and commentary suggesting that Rove might have had a more central and directive role in pushing the Plame story were working off “conspiracy theories,” according to Broder. The lesson here, writes Broder, is for journalists to “[c]an the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts.”

Uh, no. . . . that’s not the lesson.

Far, far too many Washington journalists already follow Broder’s instructions, which can be translated as, “stick to what Washington establishment figures tell you.” There is a huge difference between facts, truth and government-supplied information. Yesterday, I heard a wonderful interview with Myra McPherson, the author of a new biography on the great 20th century investigative journalist I.F. (“Izzy”) Stone. Comparing him to Walter Lippman, an icon of the Washington establishment whose career ran parallel to Stone’s, McPherson pointed out that Stone’s views were built around an indeterminate desire to find facts and truth, whereas Lippman relied on what his high-minded friends in official Washington told him. Izzy Stone understood that all governments lie, and, yes, that included the United States. Lippmann became the prototype of the modern Washington establishment journalist – the one that believes, at best, that he or she is part of the governing process, but, far more typically, that membership in the elite social strata of the political-media complex in the nation’s capital is an end in itself.

That might make the carpool line at St. Albans more civilized. But it doesn’t do anything to promote healthy democracy and government accountability.

September 5, 2006

Meanwhile, in the “other” war on terror

This morning’s Washington Post features a front page over-the-fold photo of three Canadian soldiers who had just learned that a fellow serviceman had been killed after U.S. war planes erroneously targeted a contingent of Canadian soldiers engaged in an offensive against the Taliban. To read the rest of the story, which didn’t merit Page 1 coverage, you had to turn to page A14. This is the second “friendly fire” incident involving the United States and Canada – the first one occurred in 2002 when an American war plane bombed Canadian soldiers as they were training for a mission – and did nothing to boost our northern neighbor’s rock-bottom opinion of us and its waning support for Canadian involvement in the Afghanistan theatre. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has seen popularity plummet down to W levels as a result of fulfilling his campaign promise to make his Conservative-led government more supportive of United States foreign policy, whether in Iraq, towards the Israel-pan-Arab conflict. Sadly, the only time the Afghanistan war makes the papers – and forget the front page . . . not, with JonBenet Ramsey’s killer still on the loose – is when something really bad happens. Otherwise, it’s outta sight, outta mind. And, yes, believe it or not, it is possible to support the mission of the United States and its NATO allies in Afghanistan and still believe that Iraq was and will remain the American foreign policy FUBAR of all-time.

Just out of curiosity, does anyone remember the Taliban? You know, the regime that hosted Osama Bin Laden after we, the United States, supported his resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan? The regime that enabled the al-Qaeda terrorist network to operate unobstructed for almost ten years until the United States and its allies, which then included countries other than Poland, Australia, the various Corruptistans of Eastern Europe and a few dozen other countries that no one has ever heard of? How Fox-news watching Americans could actually name the top three leaders of Afghanistan, the major regions of the country, where the real “coalition of the willing” is conducting military operations and the country’s form of government? Come to think of it, how many Americans who support the Iraq war, and yes, even the ones who say the war was a mistake but we need to stay until we “finish the job,” could name the country’s three major ethnic regions, the current president and prime minister (careful, that could be a trick question) and which parties, leaders and ethnic groups we back and which ones we do not.

I’m guessing, and I could be wrong . . . but not very many. Oh, well, never let facts get between an American and his nationalism.

Dude, like, I’m so, like, whatever, you know?

Overheard this morning as I was walking across the AU campus:

Cool dude 1: “Dude, like, what are doing up, like, so early, man?” (Note: it was 11.45 a.m.)

Cool dude 2: “Oh, man, I’m like so going to drop this, like, class I went to this morning because this teacher’s, like, insane.”

Cool dude 1:“’s up?”

Cool dude 2: “Like, I go there at the crack of dawn to hear this guy start wailing about ‘active class participation’ and shit like that. I’m like, whoa, hold on man, I’m doing anything at, like 10 o’clock in the morning. This guy’s like, I expect you to do the reading and participate, and I’m thinking, man, what are you crazy? I need to find some dude who is going to tone it down.”

Don’t worry; he will. This is college in the 21st century, and the purpose of college now is to give the students what they want, even if it’s not what they should have, not what they need or what is in their best interest.

September 1--3

Travelling. Back on Tuesday, September 5.

August 31, 2006

Summer snowjob

Has a press secretary to a Republican president ever received as many questions about a primary race between two Democratic candidates as Tony Snow has about the Ned Lamont-Joe Lieberman race? Could it be that Lamont’s supporters in Connecticut, as well as those supporting him outside the state, understood quite well that returning President Bush’s “favorite Democrat” to the Senate to continue supporting the Iraq disaster made no sense? And now the White House has openly backed Lieberman by refusing to endorse Lamont’s Republican opponent because, in Snow’s words, the “Connecticut Republican Party has asked us to stand down on it, so we will.”

“Stand down?” W-h-h-h-a-a-a-t? In there a military metaphor that this administration of chicken hawks has met that it doesn’t like?

The Vice-Chicken-Hawk-in-Chief had this priceless commentary on Lieberman’s defeat:
“The Dean Democrats have defeated Joe Lieberman. Their choice instead is a candidate whose explicit goal is to give up the fight against the terrorists in Iraq.”
The Dean Democrats? Weren’t they defeated TWO years ago in the 2004 presidential primary season? Oh, well . . . never let facts get in the way of a good story. But Snow had no problem with the VCHIC’s observations. “I think the Vice President was well within his rights, and I think correct, in making that analysis and assessment.”

Of course, there is the possibility that Lamont’s supporters didn’t want to endorse an administration whose one explicit accomplishment in Iraq has been to create a legion of terrorists to flail against.

You would think there is nothing funny about this. But read the White House transcripts of Snow’s press conferences and you’ll come away thinking that Robin Williams is doing lunch-time stand-up as a condition of his rehab. Notice all the (laughter) inserts into the text. By all accounts, Tony Snow is a bright, charming, courteous and nice-looking man. But he’s also bullshitting the public on the most important issues of our time. And the “liberal media” – does their treachery have no bounds? – giggles right along.

This is who leads us now.

Mom-tested, kid-approved, so let’s eat

After my seven year-old teenage daughter complained that our cereal choices were “disgusting” and that I “go to the store right now to get some new flavors,” I headed right up to our local Giant to straighten out this latest crisis before we pushed the level on our family drama chart to nuclear meltdown. But apparently, General Mills, Kellogg’s and the other members of the Cereal Mafia aren’t comfortable with Dads making these difficult choices on their own. No, no, no . . . not unless the cereals are “Mom-tested and kid-approved,” like Kix, which are to Trix what Hydrox are to Oreos, or “Fruity Fun that Moms and Kids Love!,” like Fruity Cheerios. Even though I do 104% of the grocery shopping in our house and even more of the food preparation and cooking, the tacit approval of Dad isn’t good enough. “Why can’t you stop buying the stuff that’s good for us and just buy the stuff we like,” pleads my earring-clad, mop-haired twelve year-old son.

Because, dear boy, none of the cereals, nor any other product in a grocery store pitched to kids, comes with the “Dad-tested, kid-approved” label. Come to think of it, have you ever seen a laundry commercial with a smiling father nodding approvingly over getting that nasty chocolate pudding stain out with new Tide, you know, the one with the “secret” stainfighters? Read Parents magazine, or any of the other publications designed to make well-educated mothers feel inadequate by featuring articles like, “Yes, you can have great sex with your husband, get dinner ready, Blackberry your boss and supervise a play-date of 3 year-olds without medication or Margaritas!,” and count the number of men you see in the ads. Women have the glass ceiling in the worlds of business and government, but men face a different set of challenges, limits, stereotypes and sometimes just ignorant behavior from women when they attempt to enter the domestic realm as an equal. More on this in later postings. For now, don’t miss the sale on water pistols in the seasonal aisle at CVS. They’re “Dad-approved,” just like the NASCAR stickers and remote-controlled golf balls.

The Decider faces his critics

With somewhere around 37% of the country saying, “You’re doing a heckuva job, Decider,” President Bush has decided to take his defense of the Iraq War directly to the people by facing down the . . . National Convention of the American Legion in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He offered the usual two-step: Iraq is the new front in the “war on terror”; Islamic terrorists and jihadists are the 21st century equivalent of Nazis and the Italian facists (note: how come Imperial Japan never gets lumped into the historical parade of evil regimes? That was the nation that actually attacked us, not Nazi Germany); and my perennial favorite: "If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities," he said.
Uh, Decider, we already have terrorists in the streets of our own cities. Except they’re Americans killing Americans for drug money, thrills, because they’re determined to “protect” their neighborhoods (ethnic warfare in the United States is as American as all the choices in a mall food court, where the only apple pie you’ll find is deep-fried at McDonalds), because they failed to pay extortion money, because they don’t want the victim of a sexual assault to identify them or . . . for any one of a number of reasons. More Americans die from gunshots than in any other Western nation. Simply because they’re not doing it for religious reasons or because they hate our foreign policy doesn’t mean they’re not terrorists.

August 30, 2006

So here we are, the first entry on the first day of my new blog. No smiling men and women in suits with shovels to celebrate the ground-breaking, no red tape, no 30% off sales for the first 100 readers or wannabe models handing out free bags of swag. All you get is my unfiltered opinion on . . .

Uh, hello, South Dakota, what are you thinking?

Since Timothy McVeigh, Jeffrey Dahmer and the Unabomber haven’t managed to puncture the Great American Myth of the Midwest as the bulwark of common sense and down-to-earth values in a destitute culture dominated by the Hollywood, the programmers at Comedy Central and liberal Establishment of Washington (which, if you live here, you know is really quite conservative), along comes the South Dakota legislature to give it one more shot.

In March 2006, the state legislature passed a law prohibiting women from obtaining an abortion for any reason except if the procedure was medically necessary to save the life of the mother. The law, which, of course, is patently unconstitutional, was so off-the-charts crazy that not even the nation’s largest anti-abortion rights groups, such as Americans United for Life, supported it. Now, pro-abortion rights activists have managed to get the law on the November 7 ballot as a referendum. Their thinking is that, given the chance to vote, and to think of the law, in the privacy of a ballot booth, as something that could affect them, their sister, their mother or their best friend, most South Dakotans will not support such an extreme measure.

I don’t know enough about South Dakota’s electoral landscape and political culture to make any kind of prediction about the law’s chances of being invalidated. But I do think this not-so-little battle illustrates the absurdity of discussing abortion in terms framed by the business of marketing and the categorical hazards of political rhetoric. The Washington Post reported on August 29 that a recent Maxon-Dixon poll showed that just 39% of respondents in South Dakota supported the ban as written, compared to the 59% that would support restrictive legislation that permitted exceptions for rape and incest.

So this means . . . what? Rather than compare the “pro-life with exceptions” respondents to the “pro-life-only-death-exception” respondents, we would do better do realize that most Americans, even those who describe themselves as “pro-life,” are really pro-choice. Once you established exceptions, you are pro-choice. This is really no different than opposing the death penalty except in cases involving terrorism or sex-related offenses. You either oppose the death penalty or you don’t. Limiting its application is not the same as opposing it.

And let’s not forget the small matter of making abortion a Class 5 felony under Nebraska law. A felony means someone has to go to jail, pay a fine or serve probation. Under the law’s current construction, the abortion provider is subject to the criminal sanction. But why not the pregnant woman? After all, she is a co-conspirator by any legal definition, seeking out, as she is, an illegal act. And so, arguably, is the person driving her to an abortion clinic. And so is the receptionist, the office manager and the staff nurses. And so is everyone, apparently, but the . . .

man responsible for contributing to the pregnancy, even if the act was consensual. Suppose a woman has an abortion because her husband doesn’t want to have the baby, or doesn’t want to have another baby, or doesn’t want to have another boy/girl? Suppose she has the abortion against her will? Do we go to the Patty Hearst defense here?

The answer is: no one knows, because no one has thought much beyond the rhetoric of electoral politics. Hopefully, South Dakota will wake up supporters of abortion rights, especially those “pro-choice Republicans” who, like any clear-thinking person, cannot possibly have any other reason to support President Bush anymore.

Et. Tu., Fatt Matt?

My friend Fat Matt Collette wanted me to include something about hockey on my blog. Done and done, buddy . . . we whipped you fair and square last night, 4-2. Enjoy the championship game from the stands.

John Scofield x Jack DeJohnette + Larry Goldings = What is there to say?

The immodest Buddy Rich, in an uncharacteristic utterance of modesty, once said that the best drummer in the world might be playing weddings in Des Moines, but he – Buddy – had just been lucky enough to catch a break. His point was that you should simply appreciate a musician for what he or she does, and not engage in endless arguments about who is better that whom.
Good advice . . . when it applies. On Saudades, the new release from John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette and Larry Goldings, some musicians are clearly better than others. Conceived as a tribute to the great drummer Tony Williams’ first band, Lifetime, Saudades smokes, rocks, swings, gets dirty, rubs a little grease and just keeps ya shakin’ for close to two hours. Sco and Jack are at the top of their games on this recording, illustrating quite well why their peers believe that they, well . . . have no real peers. Larry Goldings has long been an underrated organist. Having backed the likes of Michael Brecker, Goldings demonstrates that he an equal partner in high-level musical conversation. Not a dud or wasted note on this recording, with the cut Spectrum, taking honors, at least from me, as the most stunning display of musicianship.

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