Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Who, me?

In reading dispatches from the phalanx of reporters covering the Scooter Libby trial, a theme has begun to emerge from the testimony of the witnesses so far called to the stand, in addition, of course, to previous statements made to the prosecutor by the defendant himself:

"I didn't do it."

To paraphrase Bill Clinton, the "it" in this case is something that no one wants to really define, much less touch with a ten, or even seventy foot pole. The "it" as best I can ascertain is whether Libby discovered the identity of Valerie Wilson through the media, as he claims he did, or whether Libby disclosed Wilson's name and background to several elite journalists from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time and NBC News, to name just a few media outlets. Libby says he didn't do it -- pass on Wilson's identity -- while the reporters called to testify so far all claim that he did. Even former W press spokesman Ari Fleischer, who perfected the Washington art of saying nothing on behalf of the president for almost three years, said that Libby told him about Wilson in a private lunch shortly before he left his position. Fleischer also testified that he never spoke with Libby one-on-one until the Wilson story broke in July 2003, when the noxious columnist Robert Novak identified Wilson is a column he wrote to discredit her husband, Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador who had written just a week before that the Bush administration had twisted intelligence to support its position that Iraq had attempted to acquire yellow cake uranium from Africa.

Okay . . . despite the usual assertion in the Washington press that the Libby trial is most spectacular political trial to rivet the capital in twenty years -- I can only assume that the twenty year gap refers to the trial of the various Iran-contra defendants in the late 1980s -- a more accurate assessment is that the Libby trial is only interesting to people who have a vested interest in the outcome -- the elite strata of Washington celebrity journalists and their high-level sources in the Bush administration. I live in Washington, but I don't live in Washington the way that the participants in the Libby-Wilson leak case do. And judging by the conversations I've had with friends over the past week or so, many of which have involved politics in one way or another, what Scooter Libby did or didn't do, and what will or won't happen to him doesn't rank up there on their list of matters pressing the nation. This isn't Watergate, and what Libby did is what Washington power players do all the time -- manipulate reporters to publish information that is more suited to palace intrigue than to enlighten the general interest. A real story would have been if Libby had confided to a reporter that the administration's case for war was bullshit. And Washington reporters live and prosper from political smoothies like Libby. From Judy Miller's "I don't remembers" to Matt Cooper's "illegible notes" and cell phone logs to the righteous First Amendment defense that forthcoming reporters will offer when called to testify, you are seeing how the relationship works between Washington reporters and their sources at the highest levels.

Scooter Libby is also going to learn a harsh truth, if he hasn't already, about loyalty in the Washington shark tank. Just as Paulie "Walnuts" told Christopher Moltisanti that even "made" guys are only as good as their last envelope, the political life of Washington players is only as long as their usefulness allows. If Libby thinks that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove are going to come forward and offer themselves up on his behalf, he is living in fantasyland, and not nearly as smart as the near-photographic memory so admired by his "friends" for his recall of all 49 Star Trek episodes -- but grogginess on the matter of who he talked to and when about Valerie Wilson -- suggests that he is.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Thelonious Monk


Going through some CDs the other day I came across a Thelonious Monk recording from 1965 called, "Monk in Paris: Live at the Olympia." The performance, as always, is something to behold. Monk's group from the 1960s doesn't always get the acclaim it deserves, since there has been a tendency among jazz critics to measure everything he did against the mid- and late 1950s, Monk's most prolific compositional period and when his bands featured musicians like Art Blakey and John Coltrane. But I know many Monk-o-philes who are quite content to listen to his CBS recordings featuring Charlie Rouse on tenor saxophone and Ben Riley on drums. Rouse, in particular, was a great interpreter of Monk's music and he shines on this recording.

I had forgotten, however, that the CD included a DVD featuring Monk performing three tunes from a separate concert in Oslo, Norway. And as the liner notes to the disc point out, you had to SEE Monk to really appreciate what he was doing, and just how incredible his compositions were. The band plays "Lulu's Back," "Blue Monk," and "Round Midnight," and all the musicians swing their asses off. Just watching Ben Riley is a humbling experience -- his kit consists of a kick drum, snare, hi-hat and a crash/ride, and he makes more music from these four instruments than most modern drummers make with an arsenal of toms, electronic enhancements, nine or ten cymbals, a double-bass drum, remote hi-hat and so on. And Monk, of course, is a trip: watching him play you get the impression that there is so much he could be doing but would rather toy with his listeners by leaving us to wonder what is going to happen next. His percussive, angular piano style always met with a mixed reception by critics who loved his compositions and his bands. Monk's piano playing has gotten a better reception over the years; I, for one, have always loved him. No pianist, not even Bill Evans, could infuse his playing with the wit and humor that Monk did; and no one has since.

For the Monk neophyte, this recording is a good place to start because you get the DVD along with a superb recorded live concert. But be careful. You'll get hooked, and before you know it you'll be spending a lot more time (and money) trying to figure out what this seminal American musician was all about.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blame the media? And that would be whom?

The other night I had the misfortune of stumbling across some crazy x (10) radio talk-show host on WTEM 570 AM here in Washington. The only explanation I have for such luck is that my radio was tuned to that station because I had been listening to the Capitals game the night before and had not visited the AM dial since.

I didn't catch this lunatic's entire name, other than his fandom kept calling him Lars. But a quick Google search later, after entering the term, "lars right-wing radio," I found out his whole name is Lars Larson. I admit I had never heard of him until then, but, boy, is this guy a piece of work.

And his callers? Even worse!

The topics, in the five minutes I listened, ranged from immigration (which, Larson's Scandanavian name not withstanding, is bad) to the Iraq War (which is good). But the four callers I heard sounded the same theme over and over:

"Lars, I'm sick of the media trying to portray (fill in right-wing cause de jour here) as bad." And on it goes.

Quickly, because this topic doesn't deserve very much attention: Isn't there something oddly ironic about right-wing nuts calling right-wing nuts on radio shows to complain about the media? Who do these right-wing nuts think dominate the contemporary media on radio and television?

Craziness. But what are you gonna do?

Dick Cheney is simply nuts

I am not a mental health professional by training. But I did grow up in the South, I am Jewish, I do have two children between the ages of 8 and 13, I coach youth sports (and that includes ice hockey!) and I have taught at the university level for almost 18 years.

In other words, I have seen my share of crazy people, and I know the difference between a charming eccentric and a first-class wall job. And Dick Cheney, who has been riding the scree into a personal hell at an alarmingly dizzy rate for the past six years, has finally reached the point where he is simply certifiable.

Not off-center. Not in denial. Not partisan. Not . . . not . . . not even delusional. The man is a 24-karat nutcase who should be locked in his undisclosed location and allowed to rub his hands as he plans to take over the world. Except this time, he should be talking to an interactive James Bond video game or conversing with the ghost of Dr. Evil from Austin Powers.

Earlier in the week, Cheney told Wolf Blitzer on CNN that the United States, not withstanding "some problems," has had "enormous successes" in Iraq and will continue to have "enormous successes" in Iraq . . . that is, unless the media continue to portray every tinsy, tiny little setback as some sort of major crisis that, when you add it up, amounts to failure.

Anyone, says Cheney, who doesn't support anything the administration wants to do is somehow aiding the terrorists' strategy and embracing defeat. "The pressure is from some quarters to get out of Iraq," Cheney told Blitzer. "If we were to do that, we would simply validate the terrorists' strategy that says the Americans will not stay to complete the task, that we don't have the stomach for the fight."

The fight against what? And whom? Dick Cheney didn't have the "stomach for the fight" against the Vietnamese forty years ago -- too busy was he at home getting student deferments and taking up those famous "priorities" of his while young men the same age of far lesser means were being drafted and sent to die for a war that even Republicans like John Warner acknowledge was a disaster.

Here's a suggestion for CNN and the Washington Post, which published an absolutely pointless op-ed screed by Liz Cheney directed against Hillary Clinton earlier in the same week: stop calling the Cheneys -- Dick, Liz and Lynne (who is absolutely horrendous in her own right) -- for their views on Iraq or anything else. Nothing so offends a public figure or public official as being ignored. Lyndon Johnson once said that no publicity is worse than bad publicity. And it's time that the Cheneys were just ignored.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

John Kerry says no . . .

John Kerry announced this morning on the Senate floor that he would not seek the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2008. Good. Kerry certainly would have been a better president than W; but that is not much of a bar to clear. Given Kerry's penchant for internal dialogue, the presidency was not the place for him to bare his agonistes in public. Kerry is a very smart man, courageous, as his Vietnam service demonstrated, and capable of listening to people who disagree with him -- traits nowhere found in W. But he also has no sense of personal style or ability to lead a nation that is much more diverse than the world in which he has travelled for the better part of his adult life. Put in even simpler terms, Kerry simply cannot relate to most of the people who are affected by the daily struggles of American life -- getting and keeping a good job; maintaining an effective school system; attempting to limit the reaches of cultural excess; transportation issues; and the working-class families most likely to have children, husbands or wives serving in the military, even though he served in Vietnam when, like W, Cheney, Rove and the rest of the Iraq hawks took a pass. He has always cared about what happens to people outside his social class. But there is a huge difference between caring about issues and leaving people with the impression that they should care about what you think.

The two most effective leaders to hold presidential office since FDR have been Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. This doesn't mean they were the two most accomplished presidents. For me, Reagan's two terms did not leave the country in great shape; Clinton, on the merits, left the nation a healthier economy, more integrated into world affairs, more responsible financially and more socially engaged in the lives of people who experience the underside of America's fascination with markets as a distributor of social justice. Clinton, unlike Reagan, understood that markets cannot distribute social justice. And while Clinton had his faults, some serious, he also had to face an intense, organized opposition determined to impede his presidency, regardless of what that meant for the nation. In retrospect, is there anyone who believes that Ken Starr's witch hunt that revealed what most people had figured out -- that Bill Clinton had a consensual affair with Monica Lewinsky -- contributed to the public good?

Reagan, though, was a great leader. He inspired a generation of people -- young, middle-aged and old -- to take politics seriously. Young conservatives today, whether they realize it or not, have Ronald Reagan to thank for the birth of the modern conservative movement. He was a charismatic man who honed a modest gift for public speaking into an enviable skill as a political communicator. Almost twenty years after Reagan left office, people can still remember bits and pieces from his speeches and public statements. What will anyone remember about the Decider after he mercifully exits the world stage other than his "Axis of Evil" comment? "Bring it on . . . ?" "I am the Decider . . . ?" World class fuck-ups in all cases.

Conservatives like to attribute the fall of the Soviet Union to Reagan's arms build-up and his willingness to talk tough about containing Soviet "expansionism." Mmmmm . . . not quite. The Soviet Union died of natural causes, and was fortunate to have a charismatic leader of its own, Mikail Gorbachev, who saw the end and reached out to the United States, and Reagan, specifically, to negotiate a peaceful conclusion to the Cold War. And Reagan, to his everlasting credit, accepted Gorbachev's invitation, putting a career's worth of hard-line anti-Communist rhetoric aside to encourage the countries to become friends rather than intractable enemies. It doesn't really matter whether it was Reagan's idea or someone high-up or low-down on the civilian-military food chain of advisers. He followed his instincts and used his skills as a public communicator to do the right thing.

Reagan and Clinton both grew up in hard circumstances, circumstances that far more people can relate to than the worlds in which W and John Kerry grew up. Experiencing the tougher side of life in their formative years gave each of them a genuine understanding of what life was like for most people -- that it was hard, that families didn't always stay together, that a drunk could terrorize innocents, and that who ends up in positions of wealth, power and influence are as much a matter of who you know rather than what you know. Reagan ultimately abandoned his early commitment to the New Deal in favor of a stark conservatism that offered very little in the way of government intervention for the average and struggling American. But I never believed this his views were the result of prejudice or selfishness -- he just really believed in the American cultural mythology that individualism, determination and hard work can overcome entrenched social and economic barriers. Clinton had a more grounded view of how American social and economic class operates and formed his politics with his experience always fresh in his mind. Experience and how you use it count for much more than just economic advantages, social status or a blind allegiance to military solutions for problems that are rooted in politics, economics and culture. W lacks in every important category, and history will reward the disgraceful 2000 electoral outcome by placing him at the bottom of all American presidents. Kerry made a smart decision to stay out. That life, as Tony Soprano tries to remind A.J., is not for him.

Hillary, are you listening?

Back on campus, and so much has changed . . . not!

After a seventh month sabbatical, I have returned to teaching this semester. My friends with jobs that actually require them to go, more or less, to the same place everyday are happy that I can no longer completely come and go as I please. So would it make you feel any better to know that I can almost completely come and go as I please, and that your jobs, no matter how much you are making or how prestigious you think your job is, cannot nearly be as much fun as mine? You have to admit that there is something pretty cool about having a job at my age (which is older than my students, approximately the same age as most of my friends and younger than the two most recent presidents and Julio Franco) that permits you to say, "I'm not sure," when a colleague or student asks, "Will you be on campus tomorrow?"

The two most frequent questions I have been asked since the semester began last week have been:

1. "You're probably bummed out that you have to teach again, aren't you?"

2. "So much has changed since you were last here, hasn't it?"

Here are your answers:

1. No. Why would I be bummed? I love what I do; and, with an exception here and there, I like the people I teach and learn from them.

2. Yes and no. Some things have changed; most, however, have not. And because writing about the inanities of university life is almost as much fun as teaching my classes, I'll clue you in on what has and has not changed since last May. . . .

Ugg is now the official shoe/boot of the American University woman. The rise of the Ugg(h!) boot is one of the great sociological mysteries of our time. How could something so ugly be so popular and, worse, come in so many colors? The only fashion parallel is the Louis Vuitton line of purses, clatches, key chains, etc. Would anyone buy anything made by Vuitton is his stuff wasn't so outrageously expensive? Really, is there anything uglier? Put an Ugg-ed woman together with a Vuitton accessory and you have seriously toxic combination. Can the UN authorize sanctions against Ugg and Vuitton as fashion weapons of mass destruction? There should be a fallout shelter for anyone in Ward who sees one of these women coming so they can protect themselves from the visual debris. And, of course, the automatic exclamation, "Like, oh my God, I sooo totally have those same boots!"

Of course you do. That's the whole point -- to make a statement about how your fashion sensibilities are just like everybody's else's.

Students still don't read your course syllabus even after you tell them to and even after their previous claims to injustice are the reason you have written down your course policies. I have met all three of my classes at least once, and in each class at least one student has asked me a question that I have already answered on my course syllabus. Even better, at least one student in each class has asked me why I have established certain policies or if I was serious about requiring them to prepare for each class by doing written work.

Imagine these questions in other contexts:

Judge: "Mr. Student, I hereby sentence you to 15 years in prison without parole for your role in this terrible crime. Do you have anything you wish to say to the court?"

Student: "Are you serious? Dude, I have to work on the Hill Wednesdays and Fridays and my floor meetings are, like, on Thursdays at 10 p.m. So, like, if I don't serve my prison sentence will I, like, be able to make up the years some other time?"

Judge: "Are you serious?"
_____________

Dentist: "Ms. Student, based on my professional examination of your teeth and gums, you are going to have to stop eating sticky candy and drinking so much coffee, and start drinking more calcium or taking calcium supplements to improve your dental hygiene in addition to better brushing and flossing. Otherwise, your teeth will rot out."

Student: "Like, oh my God, why? Like, really? I'm really going to have to so, like, change, like, my hygiene habits or I'll get worse?"

Dentist: "I just said that, didn't I?"

Student: "But, like, why, because I, like, really don't want to."
____________________

Does this all make more sense now? Read your syllabus -- you'll find the answer you're looking for. If you don't, you shouldn't ask me the question.

Holding conversations at the top of your lungs in public places or in common areas is not a good idea, nor is saying, "Fuck this, fuck that, dude, like whatever, I was, like, so toasted or whatever and, like, what is your, like phone number, so, like we can hang out and chill because I'm, like, so tired after, like, getting hammered last night" in front of people who could very well be your professors.

Since last Thursday, I have overheard the following snippets of "conversation" or been shouted over by lunkheads with absolutely no sense of self-awareness:

"Like, I so can't believe that Anna, like, totally fucked that guy or whatever after they got together at TDR!" (Wagshals)

"Dude, is that same guy still selling hooch up in Tokyo Towers this semester because, like, he is really into some good shit." (Translated: is the same guy still selling high-quality marijuana in Anderson-Letts-Centennial this semester?") (Mary Graydon foyer)

"LIKE, DUDE, I'M NOT TRYING TO GO PRO OR ANYTHING I'M JUST LOOKING TO, LIKE, PLAY SOME HOOPS DURING LUNCH FOR, LIKE, EXERCISE. MAN, I AM LIKE SO FUCKING TIRED AND OUT OF SHAPE. LIKE, DO YOU WANT TO MEET HERE TOMORROW? LIKE, FUCK, MAN, I NEED TO GET MY ASS IN GEAR. LIKE, CAN I GET YOUR PHONE NUMBER?" (Men's locker room in Bender)

I was talking with a friend while getting dressed after working out the other morning, and these two law students just starting screaming at each other while we were quietly talking, as if we were not even there. We even started screaming at each other to make fun of them, drop a hint, whatever, they just kept going, as if we had figured out the proper norm for the conversation.

American University Bookstore + 2(x) (efollett) = FUBAR. I think that about gets it.

Students come up with all kinds of bizarre theories about your life that have absolutely no basis in fact. Here are a few things I did not do while I was on sabbatical . . .

"Someone told me you started your own winery. Did you?" Uh, yes, I planted pinot noir and gamay grapes in my side yard because my house in Bethesda is on the same latitude as Burgundy, France. I drink wine, yes; but I do not operate a winery or have a vanity label.

"How was Italy? I heard you were there." I don't know how Italy was or ever has been because I have never visited that country or any other outside of North America. I did visit Annapolis in June, which is in Maryland.

"Did you really play with Branford Marsalis this summer?" Only because Wynton Marslis already booked Herman Riley as his drummer for the spring and summer, and I couldn't commit to both seasons. Truth: unless that was Branford playing the soprano sax at the Mayorga Coffee Factory or Music Cafe a few weeks ago and not Marty Hindel, the answer is no, I did not play with Branford this summer. I'd like to, though, so please forward this to him if you correspond with him on a regular basis.

"Did you and your wife have another baby?" Neither of us did. And if you knew my two kids you would know what a ridiculous question that really is.

"Does Alex Ovechkin really play on your adult hockey team when he's in town." Alex has improved his game since his rookie year and is no longer a C+/B- player, which is the "skill level" of the league in which I play. I did, however, really play in a pick-up game with Peter Bondra in Rockville. I also played with Lucas Karron. The name of my team is CCCP and we do have the old red jerseys with our names in Russian printed on the back. Our names are in Russian so that if anyone we know watches our games and sees how bad we are they cannot identify us by name.

"I heard the Supreme Court cited a brief you wrote in a case last term. That must have been so cool!" That would have been, like, sooooooooooooooo cool. But I have never written a brief of any sort, except during my junior year in college for a conlaw course. I am not a lawyer, do not play one on television and no aspirations at this point in my life to become one.

The default answer to every question you ask a student or a student asks another student includes the following words or phrases: "like" "dude" "oh, my God" "fuck" "fuckin' A!" "really?" "no way" "whatever" "you bitch" "you . . . . are . . such . . . a . . . whore" "on top". No, I don't get it either. Sometimes, these words and phrases all end up in the same sentence, such as the following:

"Like, dude, no fucking way are you, like, oh my God, going to hit that shit this weekend on top because, dude, that would, like, make you such a whore or whatever . . . like, you are such a bitch, fuckin' A right you are!"

But there is some good news in all this. AU SAT scores are up again. Doesn't that make you feel better?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Say, isn't that Dick Cheney's daughter?

Here I am, minding my own business, dragging my son out of bed at the un-Godly hour of 7.15 a.m. ("Dude, turn off the bright lights! You're just making it worse!" . . . boy, he was so much cuter when it was, "Daddy, I'm so glad to see you this morning!"), and about to pour my first cup of coffee when I see, right on the very top of the Washington Post Op-Ed page an article penned by one Liz Cheney called, "Retreat Isn't an Option." In the words of Homer Simpson, "Superman, what did I do to deserve this?"

But let's not make this about me. Instead, let's ask the following question: what the hell does Liz Cheney have to say that is so compelling, original and important that she can command the most prime piece of print media real estate in Washington -- a place on the Post Op-Ed page? Her position, that the United States should stay in Iraq and continue to put Americans to their death for a purposeless, futile war, is not the least bit distinguishable from that of her father, Vice-President and Chicken-Hawk-in-Chief Dick Cheney. She babbles on and on about how the United States really can win if the spinless Democrats and Republican Senator (and Vietnam-veteran Chuck Hegel) would only let it, and then concludes that . . .

"We must be in it to win."

We? Who is we? What in the world has Liz Cheney sacrificed in the name of what she, her father and the Decider have called the "most important ideological battle" of our time (so much for the Cold War, eh?)? Dick Cheney took every student deferment he could get in the 1960s to avoid serving in Vietnam. His response when asked why was, "In the 1960s, I had other priorities than military service." That was then, and this is now, and the vice-president believes that no one should any other priority than giving the Bush administration whatever it wants to bloody our nation in Iraq.

Liz Cheney's opinion doesn't matter because she doesn't matter. I can't imagine that anyone will read her piece and say, "Holy shit! She has a point. Let's conscript a half-million soldiers, send them to Iraq and kick the living shit out of anyone who stands in the way of winning this goddamn thing!" But what is frustrating is the Post's decision to publish such tripe. Like so much of what ends up on the Post Op-Ed page, Liz Cheney was published because she is the vice-president's daughter, not because she has anything worth saying, much less reading. For a paper of such influence, the Post Op-Ed page is remarkably unimaginative and conventional, opening itself up to contributors who have nothing more to say than to repeat the conventional wisdom. Regular op-ed columnists such as George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Cohen and the peerlessly moronic Robert Novak are beyond parody at this point in their careers. Only Eugene Robinson, Colbert King and E.J. Dionne keep the page from being a complete embarrassment.

I suppose the Post has to swallow its pride and publish the occasional musings of Sally Quinn, the venerable Georgetown matron, because she is Ben Bradlee's wife. But Liz Cheney? There is no excuse for that.

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Hillary-tanic sets sail

So Hillary Clinton ended all that breathless suspense this morning and officially "announced," via her website, that she is running for president in 2008. Oh, and by the way, somewhere in rural West Virginia there is a dog with rabies on the loose . . .

Naturally, the Washington Democratic Party Establishment is officially "thrilled" with Senator Clinton's announcement, citing all her great work in so many important areas of American public life over the last 20 years or so . . . her brilliance as an attorney, her tireless efforts on behalf of America's children, her distinguished and dignified service as First Spouse or Second President (First Lady doesn't really cut it in this case) during the Clinton administration and her successful campaign for the United States Senate, winning handily in a state where she and her husband had decided to base their respective post-presidency careers.

I do not put myself in the category of Democratic partisans who are "thrilled" that Clinton has announced her presidential intentions. The citizens of New York state believe she is a fine senator, and her record indicates that she has served her constituents well. Clinton has not introduced or sponsored any legislation of significance since coming to the Senate in 2000. She has not staked out a position on foreign or domestic policy that could be described as bold or against the grain. Her position on Iraq is indefensible, as she will discover once the presidential campaign season moves into high gear. Her hairsplitting on one position after another makes her husband look like a model of candor and independent thought (which, in fairness to Bill, were qualities he possessed in much greater abundance than his critics often gave him credit for. I have always thought that Bill's "bullshit quotient" was within the standard deviation of most politicians, and that criticism of him was based more on envy of his once-in-a-generation political skills, intelligence and facility than anything else.). Other than being Hillary Clinton and all that goes with it, I have no idea what sets her apart from any other public figure of her generation.

In April 1912, the Titanic set sail on its maiden -- and last -- voyage from England to New York. For its time, the Titanic was considered the most technologically advanced luxury ship ever built and thought, by its builders and engineers, to be "unsinkable." Four days after it left port, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic ocean and sank less than four hours later. To me, Hillary's bid will go down as the Titanic of modern presidential campaigns. Sure, she is accomplished, smart and able to withstand public pressure. But once she has to leave the parochial confines of the Washington-New York axis, Hillary will find a very different world out there. That world, in the South, Southwest and in the middle of the country, will be her iceberg. And she will sink just as quickly as the Titanic, leaving people to wonder, as they always do in Washington, why she did not see this shipwreck coming.

Friday, January 19, 2007

And in the department of unitended irony . . .

I can count on three things when I go to Jewish Community Center (the "J" for those familiar with this venerable American Jewish institution) for a workout :

1. I will hear all about the arthritic conditions and ailments of the alter kachers (which, loosely translated, means "cranky old fart.) that disproportionately occupy the men's locker room from the moment I arrive to change until I shower and leave. "You think a knee replacement is tough? Try your goddamn hip! That's an operation!"). And that includes listening to them carry on between reps during their workout ("So my son-in-law" . . . . [1 rep] . . . "and then she says to me, 'Hey, Morty, how do you look so good at your age? '". . . [1 rep] . . . "oh, who the hell knows what that schmuck will do next" . . . . [1 rep] " . . . if I was paying those pricks $4 million a year, I'd stick a needle in their ass and push them out to play, you can bet your ass I would!" . . . "that goddamn quack that did my shoulder . . . first-class putz . . . he should be in jail for he did to me!"

2. I will hear all about the missed investment opportunities of the above people. "Thirty years ago I could have bought that building up on Montrose Rd., the place where they just put that condominium. But my wife didn't want to take the risk. And now she complains that we don't have enough money to travel?!? If I had the energy I'd take a young girlfriend!"

Sure, Mr. Burns-body double; they're lining up for you right now.

3. And I will see something really stupid on Fox News. The TVs in the gym used to be tuned to CNN, ESPN and ESPN2 until the recent Israeli-Hezbollah war. A bunch of people complained that CNN was biased because, presumably, it showed Israelis killing and displacing Lebanese civilians without showing enough Hezbollah fighters and rockets killing and displacing Israeli civilians. So Fox News, endorsing the Bush administration's support for the war, showed footage generally favorable to Israelis with graphics like, "Lebanese Civilians: Is There Such a Thing?"

Today's Fox headline that caught my eye was this one: "Hollywood Plot? New movies question the war." Over the graphic, some apoplectic "film" critic was carrying on, according to the close-caption text running over him, about actors, directors and other filmmakers encouraging people to speak out against the Iraq war at the Sundance Film Festival. Apparently, speaking out against the war is "biased," whereas speaking on behalf of the war is, well, "neutral" and "fair." Okay, this is stupid enough. But the idea of Fox News as the "values" police? Rupert Murdoch, whose network puts out more trash than any other? Puh-leeeeze!

And then there were the "person-in-the-street" interviews where individuals, stopped naturally at random, were asked the following question:

"Do you think Barack Obama is the new JFK?"

To a person, the respondents said either, "Hell, no!" "No way!" or just "No."

How about that for a Friday surprise?

The real Darth Vader

If you ever want to know why Washington is a place more concerned with who does what to whom rather than whether the policy decisions that our politics produces are good or bad, Exhibit A can be found in today's Washington Post in David Ignatius's column, "Cheney's Enigmatic Influence."

David Ignatius is a very smart guy. He writes well and knowledgeably on a range of subjects, with foreign policy his primary interest. But he also personifies the Variety Magazine -- the power barometer of Hollywood -- approach of the Washington Establishment journalist -- it is more important to know who is "in" or "out" within a decision-making circle, or whose star will rise or fall as a consequence of a policy failure (or success) than offer some critical analysis of a decision on the merits.

Ignatius begins his column this morning with the following query: "After six years, it remains one of Washington's enduring mysteries: How does Vice President [Dick] Cheney shape decisions in the tight inner circle of the Bush administration?"

Let's take a deep breath and ask the following question: "Is Cheney's influence really such a mystery?"

Dick Cheney and the small circle of advisors around him -- "Scooter" Libby (now on trial for perjury and other obstruction-of-justice counts), Douglas Feith and David Arrington -- have driven America's response to 9/11 from the first minutes after the nation learned that the attacks on New York and Washington were the work of terrorists. We know from reporting by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker and such books as Hubris, by Michael Issikopf and David Corn, State of Denial, by Bob Woodward and Fiasco, by Tom Ricks, to name just a few, that Cheney has been and remains the driving force behind the major decisions undertaken by the Bush administration on everything from planning the Iraq war before 9/11 to the detention policies in Eastern Europe and Guantanimo Bay to the domestic surveillance program created by the NSA to spy on American citizens to . . . really everything touching on intelligence gathering and analysis, war-planning and execution to . . . just . . . really . . . everything.

And Cheney's record is, uh, not good. Put in everyday terms, if Dick Cheney managed a Staples and turned in the record as a manager he has vice-president of the United States, he would have been fired long ago. Few people in the business world that Cheney so admires would tolerate such an inept performance, especially when his manipulation of intelligence, bullying of non-politically appointed professional staff, secretive decision-making and outright lying to pursue policies as fundamentally flawed as the Bush administration's make Ken Lay of Enron look like a model Rotary Club citizen.

Too often in Washington, opinion-makers of real power and influence -- not professors with blogs -- use their enviable perches to engage in parlor gossip rather than hold high-level government officials accountable for what they do. Close readers of the Post this week will note the less than critical coverage of the beginning of Scooter Libby's trial. The reason isn't complicated at all. Libby is the Washington insider that Washington insiders love to love, regardless of his ethical and legal transgressions. As I have mentioned before, there are two standards in the Washington Establishment: an exemption for the "insiders" from rules that apply to everyone else, or at least persons out-of-favor with the in-crowd.

If you loved high school and genuinely believed it was the best time of your life, then the rules of Washington make sense to you. If, like me, you viewed high school as a publicly-funded holding cell until you could go to college, you'll never get it. And today is one of those days.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Workin' hard in New Jersey




The 2006 "Not-my-Job" Award Goes to . . .
the New Jersey Department of Transportation

Really, what is there to say?

A special thanks to Dr. Joey Pierce, my great friend of 27 years and fellow Jersey afficionado.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, January 15th, is actually Martin Luther King's birthday, not just a Monday close enough to it to justify its celebration. King would have been 77 years old today, young enough to be the second oldest Supreme Court justice or among the older members of Congress. He was 39 years old when he met James Earl Ray's bullet on a hotel balcony in Memphis, and America lost its greatest public moral voice of the 20th century and, in my view, its most courageous advocate for social justice. Lost in the discussion of King's greatness is the fact that he swam upstream for most of his life, speaking on behalf of people on the outskirts of power while fending off efforts to discredit him by the J. Edgar Hoover-led Department of Justice. Hoover's effort to undermine King is one of the most sordid chapters in American political history, and why Hoover's name continues to remain on the Department of Justice building is a national disgrace.

King, of course, is most well-known to the public for his "I Have a Dream" speech and his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," which are actually taught in most high schools and colleges as examples of great American political rhetoric. Towards the end of King's life, however, he had become an impassioned opponent of the Vietnam War, viewing it as an example of how America's economic and racial caste system disproportionately called for the sacrifice of the poor and black to a war planned and carried out by an elite whose children would not be called to serve. Below, I have pasted in what many King scholars believe in his greatest speech. Read it and draw your own conclusions for its relationship to our contemporary mess in Iraq.

Happy Birthday, Reverend King.
__________________________________________________________________________________

Martin Luther King Jr.: "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam"

Sermon at the Ebenezer Baptist Church on April 30, 1967:


The sermon which I am preaching this morning in a sense is not the usual kind of sermon, but it is a sermon and an important subject, nevertheless, because the issue that I will be discussing today is one of the most controversial issues confronting our nation. I'm using as a subject from which to preach, "Why I Am Opposed to the War in Vietnam."

Now, let me make it clear in the beginning, that I see this war as an unjust, evil, and futile war. I preach to you today on the war in Vietnam because my conscience leaves me with no other choice. The time has come for America to hear the truth about this tragic war. In international conflicts, the truth is hard to come by because most nations are deceived about themselves. Rationalizations and the incessant search for scapegoats are the psychological cataracts that blind us to our sins. But the day has passed for superficial patriotism. He who lives with untruth lives in spiritual slavery. Freedom is still the bonus we receive for knowing the truth. "Ye shall know the truth," says Jesus, "and the truth shall set you free." Now, I've chosen to preach about the war in Vietnam because I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing, as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we're always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on. Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. But we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for in all our history there has never been such a monumental dissent during a war, by the American people.

Polls reveal that almost fifteen million Americans explicitly oppose the war in Vietnam. Additional millions cannot bring themselves around to support it. And even those millions who do support the war [are] half-hearted, confused, and doubt-ridden. This reveals that millions have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism, to the high grounds of firm dissent, based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Now, of course, one of the difficulties in speaking out today grows the fact that there are those who are seeking to equate dissent with disloyalty. It's a dark day in our nation when high-level authorities will seek to use every method to silence dissent. But something is happening, and people are not going to be silenced. The truth must be told, and I say that those who are seeking to make it appear that anyone who opposes the war in Vietnam is a fool or a traitor or an enemy of our soldiers is a person that has taken a stand against the best in our tradition.

Yes, we must stand, and we must speak. [tape skip]...have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam. Many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: "Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?" Peace and civil rights don't mix, they say. And so this morning, I speak to you on this issue, because I am determined to take the Gospel seriously. And I come this morning to my pulpit to make a passionate plea to my beloved nation.

This sermon is not addressed to Hanoi, or to the National Liberation Front. It is not addressed to China or to Russia. Nor is it an attempt to overlook the ambiguity of the total situation and the need for a collective solution to the tragedy of Vietnam. Nor is it an attempt to make North Vietnam or the National Liberation Front paragons of virtue, nor to overlook the role they must play in a successful resolution of the problem. This morning, however, I wish not to speak with Hanoi and the National Liberation Front, but rather to my fellow Americans, who bear the greatest responsibility, and entered a conflict that has exacted a heavy price on both continents.

Now, since I am a preacher by calling, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reasons for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision. There is...a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I and others have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed that there was a real promise of hope for the poor, both black and white, through the Poverty Program. There were experiments, hopes, and new beginnings. Then came the build-up in Vietnam. And I watched the program broken as if it was some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war. And I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money, like some demonic, destructive suction tube. And you may not know it, my friends, but it is estimated that we spend $500,000 to kill each enemy soldier, while we spend only fifty-three dollars for each person classified as poor, and much of that fifty-three dollars goes for salaries to people that are not poor. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor, and attack it as such.

Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hope of the poor at home. It was sending their sons, and their brothers, and their husbands to fight and die in extraordinarily high proportion relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in Southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with a cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same school room. So we watch them in brutal solidarity, burning the huts of a poor village. But we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago or Atlanta. Now, I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettos of the North over the last three years--especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action; for they ask and write me, "So what about Vietnam?" They ask if our nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without first having spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence I cannot be silent. Been a lot of applauding over the last few years. They applauded our total movement; they've applauded me. America and most of its newspapers applauded me in Montgomery. And I stood before thousands of Negroes getting ready to riot when my home was bombed and said, we can't do it this way. They applauded us in the sit-in movement--we non-violently decided to sit in at lunch counters. The applauded us on the Freedom Rides when we accepted blows without retaliation. They praised us in Albany and Birmingham and Selma, Alabama. Oh, the press was so noble in its applause, and so noble in its praise when I was saying, Be non-violent toward Bull Connor;when I was saying, Be non-violent toward [Selma, Alabama segregationist sheriff] Jim Clark. There's something strangely inconsistent about a nation and a press that will praise you when you say, Be non-violent toward Jim Clark, but will curse and damn you when you say, "Be non-violent toward little brown Vietnamese children. There's something wrong with that press!

As if the weight of such a commitment to the life and health of America were not enough, another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964. And I cannot forget that the Nobel Peace Prize was not just something taking place, but it was a commission--a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the brotherhood of Man. This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances. But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men, for communists and capitalists, for their children and ours, for black and white, for revolutionary and conservative. Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved His enemies so fully that he died for them? What, then, can I say to the Vietcong, or to Castro, or to Mao, as a faithful minister to Jesus Christ? Can I threaten them with death, or must I not share with them my life? Finally, I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be the son of the Living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. And because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come today to speak for them. And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond in compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak not now of the soldiers of each side, not of the military government of Saigon, but simply of the people who have been under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them, too, because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution until some attempt is made to know these people and hear their broken cries.

Now, let me tell you the truth about it. They must see Americans as strange liberators. Do you realize that the Vietnamese people proclaimed their own independence in 1945 after a combined French and Japanese occupation. And incidentally, this was before the Communist revolution in China. They were led by Ho Chi Minh. And this is a little-known fact, and these people declared themselves independent in 1945. They quoted our Declaration of Independence in their document of freedom, and yet our government refused to recognize them. President Truman said they were not ready for independence. So we fell victim as a nation at that time of the same deadly arrogance that has poisoned the international situation for all of these years. France then set out to reconquer its former colony. And they fought eight long, hard, brutal years trying to re-conquer Vietnam. You know who helped France? It was the United States of America. It came to the point that we were meeting more than eighty percent of the war costs. And even when France started despairing of its reckless action, we did not. And in 1954, a conference was called at Geneva, and an agreement was reached, because France had been defeated at Dien Bien Phu. But even after that, and after the Geneva Accord, we did not stop. We must face the sad fact that our government sought, in a real sense, to sabotage the Geneva Accord. Well, after the French were defeated, it looked as if independence and land reform would come through the Geneva agreement. But instead the United States came and started supporting a man named Diem who turned out to be one of the most ruthless dictators in the history of the world. He set out to silence all opposition. People were brutally murdered because they raised their voices against the brutal policies of Diem. And the peasants watched and cringed as Diem ruthlessly rooted out all opposition. The peasants watched as all this was presided over by United States influence and by increasing numbers of United States troops who came to help quell the insurgency that Diem's methods had aroused. When Diem was overthrown, they may have been happy, but the long line of military dictatorships seemed to offer no real change, especially in terms of their need for land and peace. And who are we supporting in Vietnam today? It's a man by the name of general Ky [Air Vice Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky] who fought with the French against his own people, and who said on one occasion that the greatest hero of his life is Hitler. This is who we are supporting in Vietnam today. Oh, our government and the press generally won't tell us these things, but God told me to tell you this morning. The truth must be told.

The only change came from America as we increased our troop commitments in support of governments which were singularly corrupt, inept, and without popular support and all the while the people read our leaflets and received regular promises of peace and democracy and land reform. Now they languish under our bombs and consider us, not their fellow Vietnamese, the real enemy. They move sadly and apathetically as we herd them off the land of their fathers into concentration camps, where minimal social needs are rarely met. They know they must move or be destroyed by our bombs. So they go, primarily women, and children and the aged. They watch as we poison their water, as we kill a million acres of their crops. They must weep as the bulldozers roar through their areas preparing to destroy the precious trees. They wander into the towns and see thousands of thousands of the children, homeless, without clothes, running in packs on the streets like animals. They see the children degraded by our soldiers as they beg for food. They see the children selling their sisters to our soldiers, soliciting for their mothers. We have destroyed their two most cherished institutions: the family and the village. We have destroyed their land and their crops. We have cooperated in the crushing of the nation's only noncommunist revolutionary political force, the United Buddhist Church. This is a role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolutions impossible but refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investments. I'm convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered.

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be changed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation. It will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, "This is not just." It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of Latin America and say, "This is not just." The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Oh, my friends, if there is any one thing that we must see today is that these are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born. The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light. They are saying, unconsciously, as we say in one of our freedom songs, "Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around!" It is a sad fact that because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries. This has driven many to feel that only Marxism has a revolutionary spirit. Therefore, communism is a judgment against our failure to make democracy real and follow through on the revolutions that we initiated. Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo, we shall boldly challenge unjust mores, and thereby speed up the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the rough places shall be made plain, and the crooked places straight. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies. This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing, unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of mankind. And when I speak of love I'm not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of John: "Let us love one another, for God is love. And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us."

Let me say finally that I oppose the war in Vietnam because I love America. I speak out against this war, not in anger, but with anxiety and sorrow in my heart, and, above all, with a passionate desire to see our beloved country stand as the moral example of the world. I speak out against this war because I am disappointed with America. And there can be no great disappointment where there is not great love. I am disappointed with our failure to deal positively and forthrightly with the triple evils of racism, economic exploitation, and militarism. We are presently moving down a dead-end road that can lead to national disaster. America has strayed to the far country of racism and militarism. The home that all too many Americans left was solidly structured idealistically; its pillars were solidly grounded in the insights of our Judeo-Christian heritage. All men are made in the image of God. All men are bothers. All men are created equal. Every man is an heir to a legacy of dignity and worth. Every man has rights that are neither conferred by, nor derived from the State--they are God-given. Out of one blood, God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth. What a marvelous foundation for any home! What a glorious and healthy place to inhabit. But America's strayed away, and this unnatural excursion has brought only confusion and bewilderment. It has left hearts aching with guilt and minds distorted with irrationality.

It is time for all people of conscience to call upon America to come back home. Come home, America. Omar Khayyam is right: "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on." I call on Washington today. I call on every man and woman of good will all over America today. I call on the young men of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late. The book may close. And don't let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, "You're too arrogant! And if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I'll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I'm God."

Now it isn't easy to stand up for truth and for justice. Sometimes it means being frustrated. When you tell the truth and take a stand, sometimes it means that you will walk the streets with a burdened heart. Sometimes it means losing a job...means being abused and scorned. It may mean having a seven, eight year old child asking a daddy, "Why do you have to go to jail so much?" And I've long since learned that to be a follower to the Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear. Let us bear it--bear it for truth, bear it for justice, and bear it for peace. Let us go out this morning with that determination. And I have not lost faith. I'm not in despair, because I know that there is a moral order. I haven't lost faith, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I can still sing "We Shall Overcome" because Carlyle was right: "No lie can live forever." We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant was right: "Truth pressed to earth will rise again." We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell was right: "Truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne." Yet, that scaffold sways the future. We shall overcome because the bible is right: "You shall reap what you sow." With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when the lion and the lamb will lie down together, and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid because the words of the Lord have spoken it. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when all over the world we will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we're free at last!" With this faith, we'll sing it as we're getting ready to sing it now. Men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore. And I don't know about you, I ain't gonna study war no more.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

War is over if you want it to be . . . and other thoughts on a Sunday morning

So here I sit in Booeymonger in downtown Bethesda, engaging in my Sunday mid-day ritual of reading the paper and keeping an eye on CNN in the background before I pick my children up from Hebrew school. . . . and hear how I have ruined their lives . . . again.

John Lennon pops up on my iPod, and tells me “war is over if [you] want it to be.” Someone needs to tell this to the Decider, his sycophants in the government and in the conservative think-tanks and right-wing media that dominate foreign policy-making in the United States. Mirrors in the Bush funhouse have gotten their share of work this week, with the Decider rolling out his plan to stabilize Iraq by adding 20,000 more troops. He repeated the tiresome and substantially meaningless phrases about the “importance” of “succeeding” in Iraq, as if there was a chance in hell of that happening. And 20,000 troops to stabilize a country where insurgents and militias have defeated the United States armed forces? Adding 20,000 troops at this point is like cutting back on a pizza topping to get out of a $100,000 credit card debt. Rationalization is an important element of avoidance behavior and outright denial. The Decider might feel better, assuming he feels anything at all about the people he has sent to die and apparently will continue to send to die for no reason. But it makes no difference in the real world. None.

On CNN, the ubiquitous Wolf Blitzer (how did he get famous anyway?) is interviewing a parade of Very Important People to ask them, I presume from the closed caption graphics on the TV, about their opinions of the Decider’s “New Plan for Iraq.” Underneath the headline is the question, “Will it Work?” First things first: the Decider’s “new plan” isn’t new. Same shit, different day. And second: no, his warmed over new-old “plan” will not work. The Iraq war is over and the United States lost and Iran, which was supposed to be one of the Middle Eastern countries inspired by the flowering democracy that was envisioned for Iraq, has won a war in which it did not fight. Iran, not Israel, is now the pre-eminent power in the region.

On the New York Times Op-Ed page this morning, Nick Kristof asks why the United States is so bad at foreign policy. Kristof can be frustrating: he has really good instincts on what is right and what is wrong, but he often pulls his punches – with the exception of his continuing expose of sexual slavery and child prostitution around the world – in the name of bi-partisanship and the need for “sensible solutions.” Give him credit today, though, for putting out the question that is really the back story to Iraq and so many other foreign policy blunders throughout American history. Kristof identifies two reasons the United States so often gets it wrong: (1) we mistake our military power and size for competence and (2) we do not have a leadership and population that genuinely understands the world, preferring to see everything through the eyes of American “values” rather than the culture and values of the countries we want to “reform.” There is something to that, but I would strip it down to something more fundamental: American foreign policy is driven by votes, economic interests and the egos of the participants involved in making foreign policy – primarily the Washington political-media establishment and the network of “experts” affiliated with think tanks who, rather than speaking truth to power, simply tell them what they want to hear in order to raise their own profiles. Live here long enough and you will see that policy-making of any sort is not really driven by reason and expertise. That a single person could even think there is some sort of chance to “succeed” in Iraq is so stunning that it defies a more articulate explanation. In the words of Bush I, "not gonna happen."

Ooh, the acoustic version of “Watching the Wheels.” I miss John Lennon.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Special kids all the way around

For reasons that I will take to my journey through life’s end, youth hockey seems to bring out the worst in parents and, unfortunately, too many of their kids. I have been involved with the sport now for four years and I have seen – and unfortunately experienced as a coach – behavior from adults and kids that is simply inexplicable. Once, after my team had finished a 6.45 a.m. game, a parent confronted me on the ice and threatened to “kick my ass” for not shaking his son’s hand after the game. There was, of course, the small matter of my having to suspend his son from the league the previous year for attacking other players on the ice with his stick, hitting me so severely with his stick during a game that I ended up with a welt on the back of my leg and repeatedly, at the ripe-old age of nine, telling me that I should “go [make love to] myself.” The rest of the story is so crazy that, even by my standards, you wouldn't believe it, so I'll spare you. Youth sports organizations, like universities, are businesses and they do not want to lose those big, fat checks that keep them operating. They are willing to tolerate an enormous amount of craziness that any sane business would not.

In fairness, the club that my son plays out of, Montgomery Youth Hockey Association, is better than most and has only a very small number of adult and juvenile delinquents. Youth sports, to me, should be inclusive, recreational and designed to build confidence in the kids who participate and spawn new friendships. My family has benefited enormously from our involvement in MYHA, and coaching kids who are, with only the rarest of exceptions, wonderful, interesting and respectful is a feeling that is hard to capture in words.

But here I am on a Saturday morning in a cold ice rink watching my son on the ice rather than skating with him and coaching. Why? My son, Max, decided to volunteer to assist a program that MYHA established this year for learning-challenged kids of all ages to learn hockey. Even better, I see several of his teammates and friends from other teams out there assisting kids who do not have the advantages they, at their ages, understandably take for granted. It takes an incredible amount of courage for kids with disabilities to learn a sport that is, without a doubt, the most difficult of all sports to play (and I say this as someone who still counts baseball as his favorite sport). Max and his friends could have stayed in bed this morning and lounged around playing video games, but they got up and made a trip they didn’t have to because they knew it was the right thing to do.

Congratulations to MYHA for sponsoring such a great program; congratulations to the kids I coach for getting out there to help, and, most of all, congratulations to the special hockey players for setting an example, through their courage and determination, for everyone.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Live and in person . . . again!

I will be joining my new bandmates Marty Hindel, Mark Caruso and Justin Parrott for another show with the jazz quartet, Ocio Jazz, at the Calvert House Inn near College Park next Wednesday, January 17th. We play from 8-10 p.m.

You can find directions here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Mark McGwire dilemma

Getting to vote for Cal Ripken and Tony Gwinn as first-ballot entries into the Baseball Hall of Fame must be for sportswriters lucky enough to participate the equivalent of a professor -- uh, me -- getting to that exam or paper in the stack that you know is going to absolutely perfect, or almost. Ripken and Gwinn played in different leagues and never really got to compete against each other. But that doesn't really matter. Baseball is different than most sports in that each player is competing against one player at a time. Hitters are competing against pitchers, and no pitcher approaches any two hitters the same way. Catchers compete against baserunners in addition to fielding their position and calling a game. Shortstops are generally considered the most skilled fielders on the team and play, with the exception of catcher, the most difficult and demanding position. What makes baseball so much different than football, basketball and hockey, is that players on opposing teams do not obstruct each other to score and defend. Gilbert Arenas, Steve Nash, Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin are so great that few opponents can stop them when they are at their best. In baseball, every batter starts out equal to every other batter. You face a pitcher who is giving up the ball so that you can score. No other sport does this. Pitchers, hitters and fielders all must test their skill against a moving object that is thrown anywhere from 75 to 90 miles per hour, batted over well over a hundred miles an hour to players standing anywhere from 60 to 90 to 100 feet away or requires a fielder to throw the ball accurately anywhere from 200 to 375 feet to beat a runner to a base.

Cal Ripken redefined how baseball professionals viewed shortstops. Ripken could hit for power and average, and his size made him very difficult to move off the base when trying to break up a double play. And do not forget what a superior fielder Ripken was: his lifetime fielding percentage is .977 as an infielder, and his fielding percentage as a shortstop exceeds Ozzie Smith, widely considered the greatest fielding shortstop ever. Ripken was consistently near or at the top in assists every year, which means not only did he usually make the fewest errors of any shortstop, he got to more balls than anyone else. And, of course, there is the Streak: Ripken played 2,632 consecutive games, an accomplishment that, in some ways, is even more impressive than any other statistic in the sport. Playing every day means that an opposing manager had to build a line-up around a great player. Sure, Ripken had his share of slumps. But when you have the skill of Cal Ripken, a pitcher cannot afford to assume that a slump will continue indefinitely.

Tony Gwynn, like Hank Aaron, will always remain the most underrated great player of his generation. Gwynn never hit for power -- Ripken hit three times as many homeruns as Gwynn, and Gwynn was an outfielder. Few major league teams carry outfielders who hit singles and the occasional doubles. But few players ever hit the ball as consistently as Gwynn did, and, unless Ichiro Suzuki plays for fifteen more years, we may never see anyone who does. Gwynn was perhaps the most intellectual of hitters after Ted Williams. He had it down to a science, and he could put the ball almost anywhere he wanted. So consistently excellent was Gwynn that he won eight batting titles, more so than any other player in the modern era and tying him with Honus Wagner. Ty Cobb had twelve titles, but both he and Wagner played in the pre-integration era of Major League Baseball, making a comparison with modern players much more difficult. Gwynn was also a great fielder who won five Gold Gloves and, like Ripken, possessed an knowledge of the game that made him the equivalent of a player-coach.

And then there is Mark McGwire.

Ten years ago, McGwire was on an ascent that would, within a year, make him perhaps the most popular player in the game. He hit home runs at a record clip and they seemed to travel for miles. He worked hard to improve his defensive game as a first baseman, chalking up a Gold Glove in 1990. By the early 1990s he had become a very good all-around player and a power force to be reckoned with. Few can forget the summer of 1998 when McGwire and Sammy Sosa, then with the Chicago Cubs, dueled it out to see who would break Roger Maris's single season homerun record of 61. McGwire got there first, and endeared himself further to the baseball establishment by going out of his way to praise Maris and show respect to Maris's family. Equally impressive was his modesty and willingness to share the stage with Sosa, who he praised as an ambassador for baseball. And on and on it goes.

Then came the steroid scandal, and the rest is history . . . Mark McGwire was called to testify before Congress, and, in the opinion of almost everyone who watched him, humiliated himself by refusing to answer directly any questions about his own steroid use. His non-answers told viewers everything they needed to know, and left no doubt about the role that steroids played in building McGwire's incredible strength and power. Ripken and Gwynn received near-unanimous votes from baseball writers, while McGwire appeared on only 23.5% of eligible ballots. Even if McGwire was not tainted by steroids, he was not an easy "yes" to get in the Hall on the first ballot. His lifetime batting average was .263, not Hall material, at least not without some subsequent consideration.

Like Pete Rose, Mark McGwire will only make it to Cooperstown as a tourist and steroids are to blame for that. But like Rose, McGwire's case is more complicated than it appears. Steroids were widely available and used during McGwire's prime, and he never denied using andro, keeping a supply in his locker. Baseball officials knew what McGwire did for the same reason everyone else -- players, writers and locker room attendants -- did: steroids were not illegal in Major League Baseball when McGwire played. Perhaps they should have been, as they are now. But they weren't. Moreover, MLB marketed McGwire as a loving father and sensitive man who just happened to hit a baseball a mile. The sport was still recovering from the 1994 strike, and McGwire, along with Cal Ripken, helped re-establish its popularity with the public. MLB could have stepped in at anytime and ordered McGwire (and the dozens of other players who used "supplements") to stop using steroids. It didn't for the simple reason that McGwire had become a cash cow.

Is it fair to judge McGwire's accomplishments in the post-steroid era? I am not so sure I know the answer to that. MLB has not ordered McGwire's records erased or insisted that an asterisk be inserted next to them. For now, I am willing to respect Mark McGwire's records because he did nothing illegal when he established them. And while I don't know if I would have voted him into the Hall if I had had a ballot, I am quite certain that McGwire deserves more than the mobster's death than MLB and the writers who once fawned over every homerun and his relatively modest demeanor have given him.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Ah-ha! New Jersey does so smell!

That "stench" over New York you heard reported yesterday. Guess where it came from?

Vindicated, at last!

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Monday, January 08, 2007

No, I am not a member

I am not one for nostalgia. I generally think that today is better than yesterday, and the future is better than the past. That does not make me an optimist -- I said better, not good.

But I do long for a time when I could buy toothpaste, a backpack, a t-shirt, chicken breasts, Oreos, a CD (or an album [boy, do I miss those!]), soap, wine glasses, light bulbs, a flashlight, a washing machine, a suit, books, colored paper, office supplies, magazines . . . really, almost anything, without someone asking me, "Are you a member of our [fill in the blank]" or "Would you like to save 15% today by becoming a member of our [fill in the blank])?"

My only theory is that whoever thought this up must have been excluded from something as a child -- a tree house, a fraternity or sorority, the Future Farmers of America or the travel select checkers team -- and made oodles of money doing something socially worthless -- like brokering lottery tickets -- and decided to get even with his tormentors by instituting the "club savings program" at almost every single retailer in the world.

I just went to buy my son a new backpack at Hudson Trail Outfitters, only because the Sports Authority was down to pink Nike backpacks and I did not want to drive anywhere else. I found what I wanted, yet had to explain to adolescent cashier that I was not a member of HTO's Wilderness Rebate Club and I had no desire to join.

"Look at me," I said. "Does it look like I have ever slept outdoors?" -- not to be confused with passing out on a lounge chair near a pool in college -- "or have some burning desire to go kayaking anytime soon?"

"You could save up to 5% on your future purchases," he responded. "It's a good deal."

"I have never been in your store before, and not needing any outdoor fire-starters, thermal genital protectors (yes, they really sell them) or anything else in here now or in the future, I do not anticipate any future purchases for which I will be eligible to save 5%."

Poor kid. I felt sorry for him. I know it's his job to ask me if I want to join the HTO Wilderness Rebate Club. So, retailers of the world reading this, I am putting you all on notice: I do not want to join HTO, Staples, The Body Shop, Bed, Bath and Body Works, Sports Authority, CVS (especially), REI, Pet Smart, Petco, Best Buy, Radio Shack (which stopped with the zip code business a while back after a public outcry for which I cannot, unfortunately, take credit.), Borders, Barnes & Noble or any other stores or business. Just let me buy my stuff and go.

"Surge" is to "escalation" as . . .

Given my dismal performance on standardized testing in my student days (which isn't much different than being a professor, except that we get paid to say things that may or may not be true, procrastinate, cancel class if we have something more pressing to do), it is a wonder I got into college, much less graduate school, much less got a Ph.D, much less got a position teaching students who had higher SAT scores than me, much less have written publishable books, much less got tenure and much less became a full professor at a (mostly) respectable university). I was one of those standardized test takers who would ask the proctor, as if he or she knew, whether I could circle B and D, or a write a comment in the margin on why none of the offered answers were truly correct. The year I took the LSAT was the first year that the LSAC added the logic "games" section to the test. I did not take a preparation course -- none existed at the time -- and I did not read any handbooks on how to take the test. So, the first time I was confronted with one of these kinds of questions:


Sally is a 37 year-old virgin who is determined to marry a competent non-Jewish male dentist. She has had 14 dates with 14 different men since graduating from college 15 years ago. In college, she had 6 dates with 5 different men, and one "experimental" encounter with her female roommate. Sally majored in art history and minored in cost accounting. On campus, she lived approximately 227 yards from the campus dining facility. In college, her body mass index was 16.5%, and she weighed 115 pounds and stood 5'3" tall. Her favorite band was The Motels, although she went through an 80s Pat Benatar phase. She is still 5'3" tall, but her body mass index is now 18.3%, and she has had hip replacement surgery.

The following, then, must be true:

A. Sally is a non-observant Jew, anorexic, an avid kintter but unrelated to Kate Moss.
B. The college that Sally attended has approximately 4,400 undergraduates and a graduate library science program.
C. Sally is a closeted lesbian.
D. If Sally had owned a Vespa in college, it would have taken her an average of four minutes to travel from her residence hall to the campus dining facility, assuming that she traveled a rate of 7 miles per hour.


. . . I went to the proctor and suggested that Sally consult a good therapist or relationship counselor, walk rather than Vespa to get some exercise and explore a larger campus where she might meet someone interesting. The proctor looked at me quizically, like most people do the first time, and told me to sit down and take the exam. That's when I knew that the LSAT and, yes, law school, was not for me.

But the one part of the SAT and GRE I could really handle was the word association and analogies section. Give me one word and offer me four choices on the proper analogy and, BOOM!, I got it right every time. Not so on the math section, where I stared in bewilderment at the different triangles offered without the slightest clue of what to call them or why.

So, when I see the Bush administration calling for a "surge" in troop levels to "pacify" the "troubled areas" of Iraq, I pick "escalation" as the proper analogy. Don't be fooled, people. Of all the decisions to come at exactly the wrong time, this one -- to increase troop levels to prop up a disastrous war that CANNOT BE WON -- marks a new low.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The minimum wage for Washington wisdom

I generally avoid reading a George Will column for the very same reason I generally avoid sticking my face in a fan or walking across Massachusetts Avenue blindfolded during rush hour -- no good can come of it, and I am old enough not to accept a dare without carefully considering the consequences. But a friend of mine who knows how to bait me sent me a quick email this morning saying, "Read your friend George Will in the Post today. You'll love it," knowing full well I would not love it.

So here's the news flash: George Will is against the minimum wage. He thinks it should be zero because labor is a commodity, and the price of commodities should be set by the market. Will is one of those "principled" conservatives who believes that markets exist in some natural state, rather than as a function of law. Markets are legal creations subject to the rules of politics, and the rules of politics are determined by people in positions of power. Sometimes -- shockingly -- powerful people have very different interests than the rest of us. The modern administrative state is not the product of a liberal conspiracy, as Will seems to believe (he does get in the usual shots against the New Deal and the Sixties), but the demands of the American people over time. If Will really believes that the decision of the Home Depot board to compensate its current CEO, Robert Nardelli, $230 million to leave his position is a function of the market, he is even more deluded than a Chicago Cubs fan can claim, within reason, to be without forcible commitment to a mental institution.

Will's take on the minimum wage is not really the subject of this little ditty. Rather, it's the willingness of some organization or major corporation to pay George Will anywhere from $25-50,000 to hear him give a one hour speech on why we should not have a minimum wage, or why the Sixties continue to ravage the country (despite nearly two decades of Republican political dominance), or why Nancy Pelosi is really an elitist masquerading as a populist -- wait, that is David Brooks' complaint in his New York Times column this morning -- or why the "uproar in Washington is almost always inverse to its actual significance," or . . . some other incredible nugget of social observation or political insight.

Yes, indeed! $50,000 for telling people what they already know and what they already believe. I get paid considerably less than that to tell my students something they don't know two or three times a week. If I teach 28 classes per semester per course, that comes out to $1,400,000. Since I will teach three classes this semester, that's $4,200,000 I stand to make if I don't cancel a class.

But George Will belongs to a club that I don't and never will, a club that is among the most elite in the country: the social fraternity of Washington commentators, reporters and pundits. A quick look over at Washington Speakers Bureau reveals some astonishing figures: $10,000 to hear Fred Barnes, $30,000 to hear Cokie Roberts, $30-50,000 to hear John Stossel (confession: I don't know who he is), $15-25,000 to hear Laura Ingraham . . . and the list goes on. This is truly astonishing, when you consider that not a single one of these individuals knows anything more about what is going to happen in the world of any real significance than you or I do.

Really, it's true. Take a look at the average performance of the Washington pundit after every election. Sometimes they're close, sometimes they're not and sometimes they get it really right. In other words, they are no different than you or me. What is truly mind-blowing is the willingness of the Washington pundit to pontificate on any topic put before them. Invade Iran? Abolish the designated hitter? Lower the drinking age? Mandate recycling? Make bike helmets mandatory regardless of age? Paper or plastic bags for yard waste? Ask any Washington pundit, and he or she will give an opinion. Why "ordinary" people are so fascinated by what the Washington pundit thinks is something I never have understood, nor will I ever.

No wonder George Will is against the minimum wage. When you can earn $50,000 an hour, who gives a damn what the rest of the world is earning?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Tom Tomorrow here

Click here to see the new Tom Tomorrow cartoon.

Average means average . . . and other thoughts in the New Year

Some random thoughts as we begin the New Year . . .

Average means average
: Before the NHL season began in October, just about every sports publication and major media outlet picked the Washington Capitals to finish with the fewest points of any team in the league. If the Caps weren't picked last, the Pittsburgh Penguins were. Halfway through the regular season, both teams have far exceeded their pre-season expectations, playing .500 hockey. Until Christmas, the Caps were actually four games over .500 until a series of injuries depleted their already thin line-up and set back their progress. The Penguins have come back to earth a bit after a fast start. Sidney Crosby leads the league in points and assists and Alex Ovechkin leads the league in goals and even has more assists than goals this season, a remarkable accomplishment considering he has no one to pass to.

So what does this have to do with anything?

I split season tickets to the Caps with a certain popular adjunct American University professor who teaches the CLEG seminar and who recently got married to a beautiful, brilliant and exceptionally tolerant woman (sorry girls!). He is a Penguins fan and I am a Caps fan. We both understand that our teams are rebuilding, are ahead of schedule and enjoy the games for what they are. Win or lose, a night at an NHL game is a pretty good way to spend an evening. For us, anyway.

But not for Mr. Cranky, our season ticket neighbor. Every night, he complains and complains until he is about to fall through his seat. "Clowns on ice," he calls it. "No work ethic," he complains. "Bums. Why do they even show up?" he wonders (it's called an employment contract, Warren.) And on and on it goes. Yesterday, he started in at the New Years day game after the Caps went down by a goal in the first 90 seconds.

"New Year, same shit, same crap, same bullshit, they don't even try," whined Mr. Cranky. "I don't even know why I come out here."

"Warren," I finally asked, "why do you come out here? You're never happy. You know the Caps are going to win as many as they lose, if even that. What are your expectations?"

He didn't know what to say. I don't think anyone had ever asked him that before.

Average means average, Warren. For the same reason you don't order a steak at the Outback Steakhouse and expect Morton's quality or put on a Kelly Clarkson album and expect Sarah Vaughn, you don't go to HOCKEY GAMES EXPECTING A TEAM THAT WAS PICKED TO BE THE WORST IN THE LEAGUE TO WIN EVERY TIME THEY PLAY. Deal with it.

What exactly is Midwestern sensibility? One phrase stands out among the many tributes to the recently deceased Gerald Ford, our 38th president -- "Midwestern sensibility." It seems like people from the Midwest, which, as I understand it, means those states west of West Virginia, north of Kentucky, east of Colorado and below South Dakota, which means also below North Dakota, which is below Canada, which is below the North Pole, which hasn't melted yet, possess some peculiar, yet wonderful, set of values that Coasters, Southerners, Plain Staters, Pacific Northwesterners, Whatever You Call People from Utah and Idaho and Desert People lack. Midwesterners know who they are, where they've been and where they're going. They have good manners, a welcoming disposition (sort of like a dog, I guess), open their homes to strangers, don't take more than they can eat and generally just operate on a stream of perpetual goodness. Despite spending 30 years of his professional life in Washington at the highest levels of government, Gerald Ford remained one of them.

So what do Jeffrey Dahmer, the Kansas Attorney General who wants to put abortion providers in jail, the South Dakota legislature that passed the country's most restrictive abortion law (overturned through referendum), Timothy McVeigh, the highest per capita rate of disgruntled employee gun deaths at work, "In Cold Blood," the highest per capita rate of mining deaths in the United States, highest rates of alcoholism per capita and the highest per capita out-of-wedlock birth rates all have in common?

They all claim the Midwest as their geographic home, that's what!

I have often wondered how these myths get started: Midwestern sensibility (I went to college at the University at Missouri, and people there were no more sensible than anywhere else I had been, and in some cases far less so than people in my home state of Georgia; Southern hospitality (I grew up in the South, and I knew plenty of people who were not very hospitable at all. In fact, a good many Southerners think the answer to every problem is to start a war, shoot someone, "kick some ass," smash a mailbox, do shots of Southern Comfort or Jack Daniels until you puke, challenge a friend to have sex with an animal to prove his manhood [yes, that is as weird as it sounds], gay-bash, all while paying homage to Jesus Christ; Northern efficiency (Drive through Manhattan, Boston or Philadelphia sometime, observe garbage collection in those fine cities sometime or ask directions from someone ("Find it yourself, asshole!") and then we'll talk about efficiency.

Fuck is still a bad word
. Okay, okay . . . so I use the f-bomb myself, and sometimes I even use it in the classes I teach . . . when I am trying to make a point on free speech or obscenity in connection with a Supreme Court decision that (gulp!) involves using the word. But I don't use drop the f-bomb while standing in line at Starbucks, Giant, looking for MIA sales help in department stores, coaching 11 and 12 year-olds in hockey and baseball, during conversations with people in public places when I know that I could be overheard, and so on. So, for what it's worth, tone down the language friends. About five or six years ago, I was on a night flight from Chicago to Washington -- not terribly long, about an hour and ten minutes in the air. I heard a buzzing sound from somewhere near me, and, turning to my right, noticed the woman sitting in the window seat "pleasuring" herself under a blanket while listening to music. On my left, the guy across the aisle was groovin' along to his headphones, singing along word for word to some "artist" whose lyrical prowess included "bitch," "fuck," "motherfucker," in frequent repetition. The cabin was dark, yes, but there is always someone that can still hear or see what's going on. One strange flight, that was.

Bi-partisanship is a cop out
. The Republican definition of bi-partisanship means that the Democrats should agree to do whatever the Republicans want, no matter how crazy, stupid or misguided. And the wimpy Democrats usually agree, and then spend their time criticizing the Republicans after the public realizes the error of the Republicans' ways. Democrats, listen up: you won the midterm elections. Give it your best shot and don't succumb to Republican demands for bi-partisanship. Trust me, they could care less about your opinions. To hell with them.

Let go of Hillary Clinton. This is a presidential campaign that will be the modern equivalent of the Titanic -- expensive, pretentious, falsely superior and doomed to failure. Hillary Clinton will not win a national election for reasons that have nothing to do with being a woman. She will not win a national election because she is Hillary Clinton.

Attention young Republicans: suit up or shut up
. If you are 18-26 years old (Selective Service Age) or otherwise eligible to volunteer for the armed services, think twice before throwing your false machismo behind the Iraq War. If you really believe that we are fighting a battle to save civilization from "Islamo-facism," then put your ass on the line. If school, your rec paintball team, fantasy football, college basketball, your girl/boyfriend or price-shopping for that new plasma flatscreen is getting in the way of your military service, then shut up.

And finally . . . Anyone who still has a celebrity crush on Britney Spears should buy a nailgun and put themselves out of their misery. Why any self-respecting straight guy would think about an evening with Britney and admit it is beyond comprehension . . .

. . . especially when you can pretend that Sandra Bullock is your girlfriend.

Happy New Year!