Saturday, June 06, 2009

Pity Party At A Funeral

Dana Milbank's column uses a funeral for investigative journalist John Wilkes as a jumping off point for a premature eulogy for journalism. All I can say is, like the old man on Monty Python and the Holy Grail who is being offered to the corpse cart traveling through a plague-ravaged village, "I'm not dead."

It is very true that newspapers are hurting, and Milbank is quite right, although misnaming the problem, that the business model for newspapers is no longer tenable (in the column, it's "economic model"). Yet, I really doubt that David Simon's jeremiad before a Senate panel will be an accurate prediction of the future:
At a Senate hearing last month on the decline of newspapers, David Simon, the reporter turned HBO producer, put it this way: "The next 10 or 15 years in this country are going to be a halcyon era for state and local political corruption. It is going to be one of the great times to be a corrupt politician."

So, because some newspapers have gone under, and others are hanging on mostly by main force, we will suffer through a whole series of corrupt localities? Like Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who is still getting away with pay for play in . . . oh, wait, that's right, he's gone.

There are very good, very hard working journalists doing the near-impossible task of ferreting out what is really going on behind the rhetoric and formal processes of government all over the country. There are also, to my mind, many target-rich environments, not the least of them my home county of Tioga County, NY. The County is run by convicted felon and former mayor of my hometown Andrew Quinlan.

The thing is, there will always be John Wilkes out there. There will always be issues and events and situations for John Wilkes to investigate, problems to ferret out, memos to read and put in context, conversations to report, and (obviously) secret bank accounts to discover. This kind of journalism feeds a desire, a need, a demand, and as such there will be a way to turn this demand in to a profitable business, as long as those who create the business model accept the changing times, and offer their product in a way that people not only accept, but are willing to pay for.

That's the trick, and most are still trying to figure it out. Doing so in the middle of a recession doesn't help, but all sorts of traditional business models collapse during such times, to be replaced by new, and different, and relevant ways of doing business. The practice of journalism, including local reporting and investigative journalism, will continue. The way it is offered as a product to be consumed will change. That's all.

Saturday Summer Rock Show

Now this takes me back to when I was, oh, my older daughter's age. The summer this song came out I heard it all the time, and this little celebration of summer love somewhere far away was appealing to a dreamy little kid. All that "In the sun with your dress undone" got me very, well, dreamy. While it was overproduced (as were most LA studio projects at the time), this live clip shows that, at its heart, it was a pretty rocking tune, although the slide guitar is a little gratuitous. Anyway, here's Jay Ferguson's "Thunder Island", making me feel twelve or thirteen or so.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Those Crazy Tobacco Companies And Their Kid's Products

This story put me in mind of this episode from The Simpsons.

65 Years On

The weather cleared just enough for the planes and gliders to make the trip, so the ships set sail. Hundreds of them. The 101st Airborne was supposed to drop far behind the beaches, operating as an advance force to keep the Germans from reinforcing. Apparently the Allies forgot about the German anti-aircraft guns, which forced many of their troop planes to veer way off course, the paratroopers jumping wherever they could. The gliders, which were supposed to carry commandos and supplies were also a bust.

When the troops arrived at Normandy, they managed, for the most part, to catch the Germans flat-footed. Not unprepared, not willing to defend, just stunned at the sheer mass of troops and supplies suddenly coming ashore. Of course, the Americans got off relatively easy; British landings were far more hotly contested, which not only slowed down the entire operation - retaking France - but induced in Field Marshall Montgomery a caution that hampered relations between the British and the Americans (it didn't help that Patton was quite vocal in his disdain for Monty).

Famously, the American beaches included some cliffs, and Army Rangers had trained to climb those cliffs. To this day, I have no idea if anyone told those Rangers the Germans had fortified right up to the lip, and were more than willing to rain fire down as they tried to climb. That the Rangers not only managed to make it to the top, but take and hold those cliffs is a wonder.

Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander of the European Theater of Operations, had written two statements for press release. Fortunately for us all, the one praising the heroism of the troops yet accepting responsibility for the dismal failure of the landing was never released. We tend to think of the landing, the march across northern France, and the collapse, less than a year later, as inevitable. Yet, nothing is inevitable. The Russians, bled white in their war with the Nazis were pushing hard on the eastern Front, yet the Germans still had enough manpower to stop the Allies cold for a while.

While the numbers of those still alive who participated in the D-Day landings dwindles ever faster, there are still a few left. If you know one, or know of one, thank them, because our world is a much better place because of them. My oldest sister's father-in-law is one such; while he was gravely injured - he was near the front of his Higgins Boat and took both machine gun and grenade fire - he nevertheless helped us save Europe, and perhaps the whole world from the destructive passions of the Nazis.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Good Question Deserves A Response

Guest poster Lee Stranahan at Bob Cesca's blog asks readers two questions in regard to the following section of Pres. Obama's speech in Cairo:
We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us, "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth. Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you.

The questions are:
Does this violate your sense of church / state separation?

Or - Is this the way you think an American President should be talking?

To the first question I can answer, with ease, no. The First Amendment religious clauses deal with legal endorsement. Pres. Obama was only invoking certain religious ideals that lie deep within the Abrahamic faiths, offering a rhetorical call to arms against extremists in all three faiths who pose a danger to coexistence, mutual understanding, and peace. He was most definitely not saying that this was going to be codified as American law. If he had, there would most definitely be a problem - and I would be the first to shout loudest.

To the second, I can't see anything wrong with a President of the United States, speaking before an audience in a nation-state that, while officially secular, is majority Muslim, and invoked the Scriptures of all three Abrahamic faiths in a rhetorical plea for understanding. By appealing to the best angels of our beliefs, and without any denunciation of "terror", he offered to the Islamic people a view of an American President who not only understands what is best about our faiths, but that he will pursue these worthy goals as good ends in and for themselves. While it is certainly possible to do so without quoting the Bible or the Holy Q'uran, Obama is wise enough a speaker to understand his audience. That needs to be kept in mind as well.

No problems here.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Got Something!

Go Granite State!

If Illinois politics weren't so deadlocked and focused on our fiscal fail, I would hope it would take up the issue. Unfortunately, losing Gov. Potty Mouth Blagojevich and replacing him with the far better, far more liberal Pat Quinn hasn't changed the fact that our politics flows out of Chicago and its concerns (mostly having to do with Mayor Daley's ego).

But, at least most of New England has entered the 21st Century.

Got Nothing

Busy day. Not in the mood. Tired of nuts jobs and fake Christians. Anything strike your fancy?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Seeing God In Improbable Places - The Holy Spirit Listing From A Mediocre Pop Song

I haven't really done a whole lot of "theologizing" recently, and a fit of nostalgia has me thinking back to the summer of 1990. It was a transitional time in my life; I was about to enter Wesley Theological Seminary, living with my brother in Gaithersburg, MD; and was emerging from the smoldering wreckage of my life, said smoldering wreckage brought about by myself. As I spent the summer licking my wounds, looking around and asking the inevitable, "What the hell did I do?", and realizing that this wreckage had been quite plain for any observer for quite a while, and embarrassed by my own lead role in my own near self-immolation, I encountered the following song:

First - Taylor Danye? Holy God, but isn't she hot in this video? Any questions of the quality of her songs to one side, she seemed to me at the time - and still, nearly 20 years gone - to glow (and I don't mean due to whatever cinematic techniques were used). More to the point, the directness of the lyrics captured me the very first time I heard this song. Even more, the sentiment was something I not only needed to hear, but needed to believe in. Quite apart from the question of wanting or needing a woman in my life (in fact, I did not want, nor need, one such; there was quite a bit of damage control on my part to do before I attempted anything like that), it wasn't the desire for female companionship that I heard. No. I will be honest and say that from the very first hearing, right up to the present moment, as I listen to this song again, I hear and see the voice and face of a loving, prodigal God.

Which, I suppose, begs many questions, not the least of them being whether or not I was then or am now in my right mind. Yes, I am. To not only hear the whisper of the Holy Spirit in the promise to give "love when there seems to be not enough" is indeed as Christian can imagine. That God will shelter us when we need it most - like Jesus, praying over Jerusalem, how he longed to love it, like a mother hen taking her chicks under her wing. To be the only one to sit there in the watches of the night, when protection from one's own worst instincts is most needed - what is more like the God revealed in Jesus than that?

As for God being hot, beautiful beyond previous understanding? I don't think I should have to elaborate that point to much.

Anyway, this little biographical/theological tidbit is offered up for your consideration.


With a tip of the hat to Matt Yglesias for pointing the way, I wanted to take a moment to talk about the utter failure of so many people to understand Europe. Before I go too far in that direction, however, I would like to point out a smaller, "popular" version of the Martin Feldsteins of the world. George Will quite frequently writes about European politics, and in so doing reveals that he actually stopped reading or considering any history or politics of Europe after the First World War.

One would think a second Thirty Years War, brought on by many of the same social and political forces as the first 300 years previously - rising tensions brought on by burgeoning socio-political currents and ideologies; the transition from certain political organizations to the rise of others; populations pressures; ethnic and national animosities and long-standing grievances - might convince those who believe themselves intelligent observers of politics and history to think more clearly and offer more tentative views on the nature of current trends in European politics.

American observers of Europe operate with a serious handicap when it comes to commenting on affairs European. For most of our national life, one preoccupation among many has been our own sense of smug satisfaction that we have avoided the kinds of occasional bouts of intramural slaughter for which Europe was dubiously famous. Now, a counter to this observation could be a mention of, oh, our own Civil War. Another counter might be our abnormally high rate of violent crime, a kind of low-level conflict barely kept in check by law enforcement, that offers a high attrition rate for the lower classes. Be these inconvenient facts as they may serve as a counter to our own sense of smug superiority, the on-going belief that we are somehow better than Europe creates a mental block. For some reason, few American observers of European politics really believe that the path towards continental unity, still not complete and replete with opportunities for conflict, is anything other than the utopian dream of ivory tower bureaucrats. It is, in fact, a very tentative, drawn-out result of certain deliberate policies that began soon after the end of the Second World War, as the continent began to seek ways not only to avoid future near-self-destruction, but to rebuild their political, economic, industrial, and civil infrastructure in ways that would keep such another event from happening. These policies were helped by the wisdom of certain political leaders, including Labor leaders in Britain, and most assuredly West Germany's Konrad Adenauer (Gaullist France took a different course in many ways, but much of that tradition has been set aside).

I recently wrote a post commemorating the monumental events of 20 years ago, yet failed to mention some of my own failed predictions. One of those which did not come about, I am happy to say, is my own belief that the lifting of Soviet-imposed dictatorships would reawaken historic animosities - between Hungary and Romania over Transylvania, for example; Poland and Germany over territory ceded by East Germany east of the Elbe after the Second World War; even Greek and Macedonian conflict over the use of the name "Macedonia" - and spark mid-level conflict and even war. Except for various ethnic cleansing operations in southern Europe as Yugoslavia crumbled, horrible as they were, the rest of Europe dealt with the return of their banished Central European cousins with both caution and intelligence. The demise of Czechoslovakia as a viable state, while sad, was done peaceably, and various territorial disputes either continue to be negotiated or have been settled through diplomacy. In other words, while I congratulated myself on being a bit more wise and thoughtful than many observers, I got this stuff wrong.

The reason I got it wrong is simple. I forgot that Europe is peopled by adults, in many ways. Those who comport themselves as commentators on American television and in newspaper columns tend to be infantile, at least in having the dubious distinction of being both ignorant and violently reactive rather than informed and cautiously thoughtful. One of the benefits of the internet is the opportunity to read serious, thoughtful, informed opinion from countries other than the United States.

Europe is doing well and fine, defying most of the predictions of doom, death, destruction, that we periodically read about in American newspapers. I think it might be wise for some folks to pay attention to actual events - especially events that have occurred in the past hundred or so years - and rely far less on ideologies that care little for facts.

I Don't Heed A Warning

Atrios made it sound bad.

After all this time, I should have trusted his judgment.

I didn't.


I need to just stop reading nationally-syndicated columnists. As a class, they are dumber than a bag of hammers.

Making Hay While The Blood Runs

A terrible tragedy has occurred. A horrid crime committed against members of the American Armed Forces. So what do folks on the right do? Shout, "See? See!?! You're just as bad!!"

Except, of course, we're not.

Dr. George Tiller has been specifically targeted by anti-abortion groups for years, including figures in the national media, as a murderer, a Nazi, and a criminal. I am quite sure the young private at the recruiting center in Little Rock was relatively anonymous, going about the difficult but important task of selling service to young people while an unpopular occupation - said occupation still killing our young men and women - is going on.

I would offer a challenge. If anyone, anywhere, can find a piece of writing not only condemning military service in general but calling our service personnel, as a group, murderers, deserving of death, I will accept any comparison they would like to toss my way. If anyone can show me, with links, where folks on the "Left" - however you wish to define that - are insisting that, while tragic, this horrid act of violence was justified in any sense, and that the young man murdered is rotting in hell because of his crimes, I will publish it and link to it.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Some Thoughts On Friends, Facebook, And Time

I had a brief discussion via comments on Facebook with someone I knew in high school today. We reminisced about our Senior class play, about high school dances at a neighboring school, about being on the swim team. I kind of summed up by saying that I have enjoyed getting back in touch with people from high school.

One of the things I chose not to consider was that all the rest of the people I attended school with also carried on after high school. They, like I, have had both failures and successes, high points and low points, have traveled or staid put, and, of course, gotten older. We are now just past the threshold of middle age, and I believe that all of us, like me, look back on who we were with a mixture of fondness and embarrassment.

Time tricks us like that, I guess. It doesn't help that some of us really look the same (Steve and Beth. . .) and one or two have aged like wine (Kim and Chuck. . .). The rest of us? Well, let's just say that time has done well by those of us who have made it thus far (a few haven't, sad to say; one gone by suicide, one by chronic alcoholism, a third by some chronic health problem that had already emerged in HS). For the most part. It also tricks us by setting in concrete images and thoughts that are in fact fleeting, transitory, ephemeral. Growing up, moving one, getting educated, getting married, becoming parents - we have all done one or more or all of these things, and time has left its mark on our lives. We haven't yet, I think, started to rebel against us, although nostalgia is present - all those "Gifts From the Valley" requests, you know (if you have to ask what "the Valley" is, then you didn't grow up there, more's the pity).

All in all, getting back in touch, reminiscing, sharing stories about the past and the present, reminding us all that none of us have stood still in our lives - it's all good.

I am quite thankful, by the way, that there as yet does not exist any copy online of my senior photo. Now that would be embarrassing.

Music For Your Monday

Waylon Jennings is important in American music history for many reasons. He was the replacement drummer for Buddy Holly's Crickets on the last tour, and lost his seat on the plane that crashed on a flip of the coin. He was the first country music to demand, and receive, complete artistic freedom, from Nashville-based country music industry. He was the first country act to sell out stadiums on a pretty regular basis. Along with fellow musical rebels Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash, he defied the demands of Nashville and produced some truly wonderful music. You can call it country. I just call it great.

"Lonesome, Ornery, and Mean"


"Trouble Man"

You know who I forgot to mention as another "outlaw"? Kris Kristofferson. Sorry, Kris.

I Attempt Journalism

If I were a journalist (and ER is probably thanking God every day I don't represent his profession), here is the lede and follow-up I would write about the murder of Dr. George Tiller.


Doctor Gunned Down In Church (that's the headline I'd want)

Dr. George Tiller, 67, was murdered while serving as usher at Reformation Lutheran Church. According to eye witness accounts, the alleged shooter entered the church and confronted Tiller in the narthex, or entryway, where he was passing out bulletins to those entering Sunday morning services. Tiller, from Wichita, has been targeted for his active support for women's health, running a clinic that provides safe and legal procedures.

Now, these are the "facts" of the case. Every single article I have seen has used, at some point, the word "controversial" in relation to the services his clinic provides women. Not a single one has mentioned that they are legal. The "controversy" only exists because there are people out there who call people who provide safe, comprehensive health care for women "mass murder", "Nazi", that they have "blood on their hands." Quel surprise that someone has decided to end the "controversy" and save all those "innocent unborn babies" from our own version of Josef Mengele (Tiller was compared to Mengele by a commenter at

To my mind, that Dr. Tiller operated a clinic that complied completely with local, state, and federal public health guidelines, providing comprehensive medical care for women is far more honest than all the, "Controversial abortion doc killed," crap I've been reading.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Murder In The Name Of Life

I wonder if Neil and the rest of the pro-life folks will call this heinous crime by its name?
WICHITA - George Tiller, the Wichita doctor who became a national lightning rod in the debate over abortion, was shot to death this morning as he walked into church services.

[A]s he walked into church services." My guess is Neil will probably say he wasn't really a Christian, that Lutherans aren't really Christians, his church should have kicked him out.


Good Unintended Consequences Don't Make Evil Better

In a discussion yesterday, I tossed of the notion that while I was quite pleased the Panamanians were, for the part, quite happy with the results of our 1989 invasion, that doesn't mean the invasion was either justified or made better ex post facto. It was, I called, an unintended consequence, and while certainly a nice result, is irrelevant to any argument concerning the justice or goodness of the invasion itself.

One of the arguments one often hears from defenders of our Iraqi invasion is that Iraq is far better off than it was under Sadaam Hussein. I still wonder about that. First of all, right now, the anarchy and violence and general unease about the future in Iraq hardly bodes well. Yet, I do believe that in a decade or so Iraq will probably be relatively stable, and for the most part (unless another autocrat seizes power) be far better off than at any time under Hussein and the Ba'ath party.

So what.

We didn't invade Iraq to free them. Had we done so, there were far better candidates for national liberation than Iraq. The specifics for the invasion - all of which turned out to be false, either knowingly or not (another post is needed to cover that issue) - were our own national security. These are perfectly legitimate reasons to invade a country (in general; in this specific case, not so much). While I am quite happy that the Iraqi are free of Saddam Hussein, I also think that is of no consequence. It is, as the title says, an unintended consequence. It does not alter the fact that our invasion was illegal, sold with lies, and our ongoing occupation is making an already bad situation much, much worse.

Virtual Tin Cup

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