Friday, June 30, 2006

Happy Birthday Marley!

He's Marley, he's Marley,
He's awesome and he's gnarly!
He's black and white and cute;
He wears a furry birthday suit.
He's Marley!

One year ago, our lovely new foundling, an unwed mother-to-be that Son Three named Maisy, ducked into my closet and gave birth to these precious little wet pom-pons. She'd been so quiet about it, and when my friend Jade and I opened the door, she had just delivered the last and was turning around in circles, completely disoriented. One marmalade kitten was curled behind a flip-flop; others were scattered around the fallen hangers and shoeboxes; a tiny black one had landed in one of my gigantic fuzzy slippers: Marley.

Jade and I promptly searched the area and counted six. We retrieved the cat bed from the boys' closet, in which Maisy had expressed interest the previous day, and placed the incredibly small babies along her abdomen. We checked on her an hour later and were amazed to find a spotlessly clean mother with six fluffy and well-groomed kittens enjoying their first meal.

Robert and I found good homes for five of the offspring. All were gorgeous, and though Marley was not the prettiest by any definition--until recently, his disproportionately big ears made him look like a fruit bat (shhhh!)--we knew almost right away that he would be our Special Boy and then some. A cat who knows when you need a friend; a cat with piercing eyes that look straight into your soul. A cat who thinks nothing of clearing a desk of each and every project and piece of paperwork, leaving footprints on your laptop just to let you know he was there.

Marley has no problem stretching out in (and shedding all over) a basket of warm white towels fresh from the dryer or helping himself to the yogurt you just opened. If I set out a full bowl of chow for Maisy and him because I am going to be out for the day, he considers it an invitation to start pounding every bit of food right then and there; thus, we've recently started giving him Iams Weight Control in a lame human attempt to stave off the middle-age-spread that's already taken hold of his barely-out-of-kittenhood frame.

All our animal companions wind up getting theme songs. The melody of Marley's (lyrics above) is something like that of Rain, Rain, Go Away, in case you felt like singing it.

Cheers to Marley, warm and ever-purring contributor of yet more testosterone to our overflowing Boys' Club.

Luca il Magnifico

Luca Toni adds two amazing goals to Gianluca Zambrotta's early one and secures Italy's place in the semi-final

Viva Italia! The Azzuri have been called all sorts of nasty names; they've been accused of being defensive players that can't score goals.

All I can say is: 3-0, Tomasi nel dubbio.

On Defending Italy

Alessandro Nesta promises to be back for the World Cup semi-final

Bravo Alessandro, and well said:

(ANSA) - Duisburg, June 28 - Injured Italy stopper Alessandro Nesta hit back Wednesday at offensive jibes a German weekly published following the Azzurri's last-gasp World Cup win over Australia .

On Tuesday the online version of Der Spiegel featured a supposedly humorous opinion piece that described Italian men as "greasy", "parasitic", "cheats" and "mummy's boys" .

"We are a people of hard-workers," responded Nesta .

"Italians have taken their fashion and food all over the world. They criticize us for the way we are, but then they want to dress and eat like us".


The AC Milan star, considered the world's best defender by many, also rejected criticism of the way Italy are performing in Germany 2006 .

"If everyone attacks us, it means they fear us," the 30-year-old continued. "We are indifferent to these things; the words are carried away by the wind. It has become fashionable to attack Italian soccer, but we are playing more offensively at this World Cup than usual". Nesta confirmed that a groin injury which flared up during Italy's 2-0 group-phase win over the Czech Republic will keep him out of Friday's quarter-final with the Ukraine of former club-mate Andriy Shevchenko .

"You have to be 100% to contain him," he explained. "You have to make the least possible number of mistakes. "He has no weak spots and you can't let him go for the whole 90 minutes" .

But Nesta promised that he "will do everything to be in the semi-final", if Italy go through.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Supreme Court: Bush Went Too Far at Gitmo


The Supreme Court has just ruled that President Bush went too far in creating war tribunals and denying so-called detainees access to the U.S. courts (bolds mine):

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that President Bush overstepped his authority in creating military war crimes trials for Guantanamo Bay detainees, a rebuke to the administration and its aggressive anti-terror policies.

Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion, which said the proposed trials were illegal under U.S. law and the Geneva Convention.

The case, one of the most significant involving presidential war powers cases since World War II, was brought by Guantanamo prisoner Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was a driver for Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush established special war crimes tribunals for trying prisoners held at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Of about 450 prisoners at Guantanamo, only Hamdan and nine others face charges before a tribunal. Human rights groups have criticized the tribunals, formally called military commissions, for being fundamentally unfair.

The Big Gavel falls, and the pendulum of politics begins its swing away from the far reaches of absurdity where it has hovered for too many years. May it never revisit those frightening places.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Bravo Totti!

Such a beautiful...penalty kick.

When it comes to football, one might say the boys of Casa Litbrit are un poco pazzi. Crazy. And today's Italy-Australia match had Mama gnawing at her nails: the score would not budge from 0:0 and it went right down to the wire. It would be up to Francesco Totti, he of the recently-healed Bionic leg. Unlike many athletes who find themselves in the vice-grip of such pressure, Totti barely paused for a millisecond before delivering a heart-stopping penalty kick into the goal, securing Italy's place in the World Cup quarterfinals.

As for my three Italo-brits, an interesting conundrum--a conflict of DNA, if you will--may befall them should England and Italy face each other in the final. For whom will they cheer? Or will it be an authentic case of win-win?

Imagine: Beckham...Totti. Ah, it's all good.

Clean Air, Bush's Voluntary Compliance Policy, and The Supremes

STOP! In the name of Law...

Today, the highest court in the land announced it will begin debating the legality of the Bush Administration's decision to allow self-policing and voluntary compliance with federal clean air laws.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider whether the Bush administration must regulate carbon dioxide to combat global warming, setting up what could be one of the court's most important decisions on the environment.

The decision means the court will address whether the administration's decision to rely on voluntary measures to combat climate change are legal under federal clean air laws.

"This is the whole ball of wax. This will determine whether the Environmental Protection Agency is to regulate greenhouse gases from cars and whether EPA can regulate carbon dioxide from power plants," said David Bookbinder, an attorney for the Sierra Club.

Of course, this is meeting with plenty of resistance from the usual suspects:

"Fundamentally, we don't think carbon dioxide is a pollutant, and so we don't think these attempts are a good idea," said John Felmy, chief economist of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing oil and gas producers.

Yeah, yeah, we know. You call it life.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Palast in Tampa: "America Has Vote-Counting Apartheid", and More

Greg Palast signs books after an inspiring speech at the University of Tampa, June 24, 2006.

This Saturday evening, Roberto and I braved steam heat and a relentless summer downpour and headed to the University of Tampa's Fletcher Lounge for Greg Palast's final U.S. speaking engagement promoting his new book, Armed Madhouse. The event was sponsored by our local community radio station, the venerable (and wonderful) WMNF.

Introducing Mr. Palast was a famous Floridian whom many have called a true American hero: Ion Sancho, the Leon County, Florida elections supervisor who helped expose Diebold & DRE voting machine flaws. Sancho has been an outspoken proponent of verified voting; Saturday night he drew raucous applause with this statement:
We are born, and we're given a certificate to prove we exist. When we graduate, when we get married, when we buy a house or a car--there is a piece of paper that legally confirms these things. When we go to the grocery store and buy our lettuce and tomatoes and beef, we get a receipt that states what we purchased and how much it cost. Yet when we perform the most important duty as citizens--when we cast our votes--we do not have any way of knowing if our vote was recorded correctly or if it will be counted...ladies and gentlemen, I submit that our vote is more important than our lettuce and tomatoes.

And the energy simply grew from there. When Palast walked to the lecturn, wearing a bright tie and his signature fedora, the cheers and applause went on for minutes. Palast is well-known for his tenacious reporting and groundbreaking exposés, but he's also a man who embodies the spirit and ethos of the old-school reporter--beholden to no-one and nothing but the Truth; indeed, he was described by Sancho as "...fearless; a pitbull...the only reporter to show up in my office after the election and continually call me to follow up on stories."

Palast began by holding up a piece of paper with simple pie charts depicting the results of CNN's exit polls in Ohio, compiled at 1:05 am November 3rd 2004, just after voting ended. There were two black and white circles, one for male and one for female voters. Palast noted that if 51% of males voted for Kerry, and 47% of females didn't vote for Kerry (meaning 53% did), "...what was this Third Sex that put George W. Bush in the White House again?"

From there, Palast launched into a detailed analysis of the dirty and astonishing tricks the RNC pulled in 2004, including the unprecedented challenge of more than three million voters which resulted in them having to cast provisional ballots because they were guilty of a "crime": Voting While Black. A million of these provisional ballots were never counted, and the vast majority of these were ballots cast by people of color. He pointed to statistics showing the chance that an African American's vote will be "spoiled"--not counted--is 900% higher than that of a white person's vote. The rate of spoilage is even higher for votes cast by Native Americans.

Shifting gears from outraged to instructive, Palast then discussed the realities behind the Iraq war, starting with some historical perspective. He talked about the origins of the oil-rich area that the politicians outlined and began calling Iraq in the late 1920's and the subsequent sale of its oil monopoly to British Petroleum and Exxon; then, he discussed how members of the Big Oil cartel controlled prices by capping or manipulating the supply of oil throughout the twentieth century; finally, he discussed George W. Bush's problem with addiction--not to drugs, but to Petrodollars, and explained how the ongoing suppression of Iraq's oil production was intended to keep prices in the stratosphere. From Palast's book, Armed Madhouse:

Iraq has 74 known fields and only 15 in production; 526 known "structures" (oil-speak for "pools of oil"), only 125 drilled. And they won't be drilled, not unless Iraq says "Mother, may I?" to Saudi Arabia, or, as the Baker (Bush crony and Saudi Arabia's attorney James Baker)/CFR paper says, "Saudi Arabia may punish Iraq." And believe me, Iraq wouldn't want that.

The decision to expand production has, for now, been kept out of Iraq's hands by the latest method of suppressing Iraq's oil flow--the 2003 invasion and resistance to invasion.


Whether by design or happenstance, this decline in output has resulted in tripling the profits of the five U.S. oil majors to $89 billion for a single year, 2005, compared to pre-invasion 2002.

That suggests an interesting arithmetic equation. Big Oil's profits are up $89 billion a year in the same period the oil industry boosted contributions to Mr. Bush's reelection campaign to roughly $40 million.

And there was more: Palast talked about Venezuela's vast oil reserves and the country's spread-the-wealth leader--Hugo Chavez--who is ever poised to throw a monkey wrench into Big Oil's works and whom BushCo dearly wishes would go away permanently (so much so, one of their favorite "spiritual advisors" actually called for this. No, really.)

Palast concluded by telling us how we could take arms against this oil-clotted and seemingly insurmountable sea of troubles: by voting. That's right. He wants us to not only get out and vote, but bring along as many new voters as we can, saying "If they're going to steal 5 million votes in the 2008 election, well, we'll just have to counter that with six million more votes. And to those who say But they're just going to steal my vote anyway, I say this: Make them. Let's make them steal your vote."

Finally, BBC's star American reporter said two things that were breathtaking in their originality, brilliance, and capacity to stir the collective soul of his audience. First, he held up a copy of Armed Madhouse and told us "I have not copyrighted this. I want you to take it all, reprint whatever you want--just get it out there." Then he left us with this, a quote from--of all people--George W. Bush:

"Do not fight for a dying regime. It is not worth your life."

Friday, June 23, 2006

GOP Launches Yet More Assaults on Minority (read: Democratic) Voters

Empty vessels ring deep, and empty and/or degraded seventeen-year-old mustard gas canisters make for some ear-splitting noise when a Republican on the way down decides it's time to Santorum.

[Santorum v.i. & t., i.e. to Santorum, Use national media to spew untrue, button-pushing and fearmongering assertions about WMD's in order to detract attention from the lousy job one is doing, from one's plummeting poll numbers, or both.]

Considering the racket that was going on, one could be forgiven for missing this unsavory little development: The Republican Party decided yesterday to delay the renewal of The Voting Rights Act. Writing for British newspaper The Guardian, Greg Palast reports:

This is a strategic stall — meant to de-criminalize the Republican Party’s new game of challenging voters of color by the hundreds of thousands.

In the 2004 Presidential race, the GOP ran a massive multi-state, multi-million-dollar operation to challenge the legitimacy of Black, Hispanic and Native-American voters. The methods used broke the law — the Voting Rights Act. And while the Bush Administration’s Civil Rights Division grinned and looked the other way, civil rights lawyers are circling, preparing to sue to stop the violations of the Act before the 2008 race.

Therefore, Republicans have promised to no longer break the law — not by going legit… but by eliminating the law.

That's right. The party in charge wants to de-criminalize actions they took in 2004, namely, challenging an unprecedented three million-plus voters at the polls by claiming their registrations had been removed or that their addresses were not legitimate, and then requiring these voters to submit "provisional" ballots. Over a million of these provisional ballots were never counted. And over 88% of them were cast by minority--read: Democratic--voters.

This isn’t a number dropped on me from a black helicopter. They come from the raw data of the US Election Assistance Commission in Washington, DC.

At the heart of the GOP’s mass challenge of voters were what the party’s top brass called, “caging lists” — secret files of hundreds of thousands of voters, almost every one from a Black-majority voting precinct.

When our investigations team, working for BBC TV, got our hands on these confidential files in October 2004, the Republicans told us the voters listed were their potential “donors.” Really? The sheets included pages of men from homeless shelters in Florida.

Donor lists, my ass. Every expert told us, these were “challenge lists,” meant to stop these Black voters from casting ballots.


Why didn’t the GOP honchos ‘fess up to challenging these allegedly illegal voters? Because targeting voters of color is AGAINST THE LAW. The law in question is the Voting Rights Act of 1965.


The Republicans target Black folk not because they don’t like the color of their skin. They don’t like the color of their vote: Democrat. For that reason, the GOP included on its hit list Jewish retirement homes in Florida. Apparently, the GOP was also gunning for the Elderly of Zion.

Again, if we don't have fair, transparent, and voter-verifiable elections, we have no democracy. I urge everyone to contact his Congresspersons and express his outrage. We can't rely on American mainstream media to report on this travesty; MSNBC's Keith Olbermann was the only newsperson who gave substantial airtime to reporting on the "irregularities" surrounding Ohio's part in the 2004 presidential election. It should alarm every single person in this country that the BBC and other European media have paid, and continue to pay, attention to the undermining of American democracy while our own media remain mute, or worse, ridicule anyone who speaks out on this (Robert Kennedy comes immediately to mind) by suggesting he is a tinfoil hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.

If you need further convincing as to the gravity of the situation, consider this:

Now that the GOP has been caught breaking the Voting Rights law, they have found a way to keep using their expensively obtained “caging” lists: let the law expire next year. If the Voting Rights Act dies in 2007, the 2008 race will be open season on dark-skinned voters. Only the renewal of the Voting Rights Act can prevent the planned racial wrecking of democracy.

UPDATE: Pam has also written an important post about the 17 states in the high-risk category for vote fraud because they use electronic voting machines (DRE's) with no paper trails.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

As The Dominoes Fall

This morning brings news of the first Abramoff-related conviction, specifically, four guilty counts for ex-Bush aide David Safavian.

WASHINGTON - A jury Tuesday convicted a former Bush administration official of four counts of lying and obstructing justice in the first trial to be held in connection with the influence-peddling scandal of lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

On the fifth day of deliberations, the jury found David Safavian — a former chief of staff at the General Services Administration — guilty of four of five counts of lying and obstructing justice.

Safavian was charged with lying about his relationship with Abramoff and his knowledge of the lobbyist’s interest in acquiring properties from GSA, the property managing agency for the federal government. He was also charged with obstructing investigators looking into a golf trip he took with Abramoff in 2002.

Please join me in raising your coffee mugs and toasting the fall of the first domino in what will surely be a long and twisted ribbon of tumbling black tiles. For at its knotted end, there stands--for the time being--that mass of powerful and corrupt leaders who have ruled the game for far too long. They are government's shameful gangrene, its heart of darkness.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Truly and Warmly: See This Movie

Paul the Spud, Mr. Shakes, and Litbrit at the Chicago Shakes Sis/An Inconvenient Truth Afterparty

[Note: Cities and opening dates for An Inconvenient Truth can be found here. Al Gore appears on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann tonight (Monday 6/19); he is also scheduled to appear on The Charlie Rose Show today (Monday 6/19); check your local listings for times.]

Although it has been a couple of weeks since I attended the Chicago screening of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, I wanted to remind everyone about this wonderful movie, which only just opened here (the Tampa Bay area) this weekend.

My admiration for Mr. Gore is no big secret: I believe him to be an exquisitely intelligent and passionate man. But his subtle, reserved manner has resulted in these qualities being all too difficult for the casual observer to discern amid the blinding primary colors and deafening din of Pablum-slurping, mud slinging, and propaganda catapulting that were, and are, the nature of politics and political campaigns in this country.

By and large, however, this is not a movie about Al Gore. It is a ninety-minute wake-up call to the residents of Planet Earth--a carefully laid-out, thoroughly illustrated, and, oftentimes, humorously presented case for seizing the day and changing our atmosphere-damaging ways while we still have time (though not very much of it) to pull our civilization back from the brink of certain catastrophe.

And certain it is. As Gore points out, the scientists are unanimous, and there is no longer any question as to whether global warming is real. It's real, alright. As to the catastrophic events that await, if we do nothing, the only question we face is a sobering When?

Listen: I live in the bullseye. I'm tired of people saying "Oh, there have been previous years in our history when several hurricanes hit Florida and other Gulf states, one after the other." I will submit that those storms, as bad or as frequent as they were, were not as consistently, horrifically powerful as the ones we've been seeing lately. These are storms that float off the coast of Africa like puffy Pac-man ghosts, bounce their way across the Atlantic, building strength and wiping out a few Caribbean islands along the way, at which point an awful lot of them hit the golden jackpot: the bathwater-warm Gulf of Mexico, a body of water whose temperature has, in recent years, risen quite dramatically. One only need watch a couple of Weather Channel specials to know that warm water is to a storm what a nitrous boost is to a race car, namely, rocket fuel.

In 2004, the hurricane threats (and actual strikes) were so frequent, and so unrelenting, we simply left the plywood panels on the windows, turning our formerly light-filled house into a hot, dark, and horribly depressing mushroom cave. Our floor was a tangled snakepit of extension cords connecting the refrigerator, the television, and a handful of fans to the generator we were immeasurably grateful to own. No power meant no pump, which in turn meant no water. So in order to flush the toilet, one first had to go for a little walk, bucket in hand, and bring back some (hopefully) tadpole-free lake water with which to fill the tank. And consider 2005: not only was it the hottest year on record, but it marked the first time in history that there were so many hurricanes and named storms, we exhausted the very alphabet and began naming them after Greek letters, finally stopping at Zeta, the twenty-seventh of the year.

I've lived in Florida since 1974; prior to that I lived in Central America, and before that, the Caribbean--hurricane zones all. I've never seen anything like it.

Sadly, increasingly-fierce hurricanes are only part of the ugly picture that global warming paints. Ice caps and glaciers are melting. Rivers are drying up. Entire ecosystems are affected, and despite what the naysayers would have us believe, none of this is "a part of nature"; quite the opposite, in fact, as An Inconvenient Truth will show you again and again.

We can do something about it. We can understand why this is happening, and we can--we must--make vital and empowering changes if we, and our children and grandchildren, are to live in a world that even remotely resembles the one we knew as children.

Go see the movie.

Friday, June 16, 2006

African American Voters Scrubbed by Secret GOP Hit List

I was feeling quite despondent this morning, having recently written about my lack of faith in modern-day print and broadcast media, and I needed the journalistic equivalent of a triple espresso with four sugars. So I sat down at my desk, began scrolling through my cluttered IN box, and lo and behold, my hero Greg Palast is serving the very wake-up call (and restoration of my faith in True Journalism) that I'd hoped for:

The Republican National Committee has a special offer for African-American soldiers: Go to Baghdad, lose your vote.

A confidential campaign directed by GOP party chiefs in October 2004 sought to challenge the ballots of tens of thousands of voters in the last presidential election, virtually all of them cast by residents of Black-majority precincts.

Files from the secret vote-blocking campaign were obtained by BBC Television Newsnight, London. They were attached to emails accidentally sent by Republican operatives to a non-party website.

One group of voters wrongly identified by the Republicans as registering to vote from false addresses: servicemen and women sent overseas.

Here’s how the scheme worked: The RNC mailed these voters letters in envelopes marked, “Do not forward”, to be returned to the sender. These letters were mailed to servicemen and women, some stationed overseas, to their US home addresses. The letters then returned to the Bush-Cheney campaign as “undeliverable.”

The lists of soldiers of “undeliverable” letters were transmitted from state headquarters, in this case Florida, to the RNC in Washington. The party could then challenge the voters’ registration and thereby prevent their absentee ballots being counted.

One target list was comprised exclusively of voters registered at the Jacksonville, Florida, Naval Air Station. Jacksonville is third largest naval installation in the US, best known as home of the Blue Angels fighting squandron.

Palast continues (bolds mine):

Our team contacted the homes of several on the caging list, such as Randall Prausa, a serviceman, whose wife said he had been ordered overseas.

A soldier returning home in time to vote in November 2004 could also be challenged on the basis of the returned envelope. Soldiers challenged would be required to vote by “provisional” ballot.

Over one million provisional ballots cast in the 2004 race were never counted; over half a million absentee ballots were also rejected. The extraordinary rise in the number of rejected ballots was the result of the widespread multi-state voter challenge campaign by the Republican Party. The operation, of which the purge of Black soldiers was a small part, was the first mass challenge to voting America had seen in two decades.

The BBC obtained several dozen confidential emails sent by the Republican’s national Research Director and Deputy Communications chief, Tim Griffin to GOP Florida campaign chairman Brett Doster and other party leaders. Attached were spreadsheets marked, “Caging.xls.” Each of these contained several hundred to a few thousand voters and their addresses.

A check of the demographics of the addresses on the “caging lists,” as the GOP leaders called them indicated that most were in African-American majority zip codes.

Ion Sanco, the non-partisan elections supervisor of Leon County (Tallahassee) when shown the lists by this reporter said: “The only thing I can think of - African American voters listed like this - these might be individuals that will be challenged if they attempted to vote on Election Day.”

These GOP caging lists were obtained by the same BBC team that first exposed the wrongful purge of African-American “felon” voters in 2000 by then-Secretary of State Katherine Harris. Eliminating the voting rights of those voters — 94,000 were targeted — likely caused Al Gore’s defeat in that race.

I urge you to read the whole thing, entitled Massacre of the Buffalo Soldiers. Once the verbal caffeine has awakened you, as well it should, get busy and contact your Congresspersons immediately and demand they support real election reform, starting with the elimination of illegally-conducted "voter purges", and, among other vital changes, the implementation of uniform, transparent, and verifiable elections nationwide, with paper ballots and a voter-verified paper audit trail.

And if you need further convincing in order to recognize the importance of having fair and transparent elections, consider this: the advancement of every single cause you care about--be it universal health care, a fair minimum wage, education, immigration reform, anything--depends on your having representation in government. If those who control our cities, our states, and indeed, our country, are not fairly elected and therefore not representing us, but, rather, the interests of large corporations and other groups--Big Oil and Big Pharma immediately leap to mind--we no longer have a democracy, and we will have ceded the only power available to us: the Will of the People. And when all is said and done, this is the single most effective weapon with which to do battle against the mighty and shockingly wealthy Goliaths that are these interests.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What Happens When A Dream’s Interred

Once upon a time, in a small college town in Florida, there was a highly-regarded school full of young men and women who loved to write. They spent their days in rooms filled with long Formica banks upon which several dozen IBM Selectric typewriters were lined up. They thrilled to the ambient clickety-clicking and the soft whoosh of paper being pulled from the grip of the rubber roller, signaling another deadline met, another passing grade somehow fished from the swamp of frustration and impediment. And when it was nighttime, the young scribes gathered on various floors of the school’s mammoth library where they scrolled through microfilm or climbed through the stacks to find a certain journal, a particular article, or a special citation that would feed their work for another day.

Getting paid for doing what we loved? That was our Holy Grail. And the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications was our testing ground, our winding and sometimes grueling path.

In the late 70’s and early 80’s, I sought a degree in advertising. I believed I could shape the clever sentences that sell a box of cereal; I wanted to come up with charming names for lipstick colors and create the scripts for hilarious television advertisements, the kind that people talk about long after the Superbowl. As commercial as my chosen field was, however, I was required to take the same basic journalism classes as writers or reporters who aspired to positions with, say, The New York Times or CBS News.

The classes I remember best, the ones taught by professors whose voices I can still hear, included Journalism 101, the starting point for every dreamer able to master at least 40 words per minute on those aforementioned IBM typewriters.

Then, of course, there was Ethics in Journalism, a serious and provocative class that, above all else, drilled into our heads the role of the journalist as it was in times past, and as it continues to be in the modern age; which is to say, to serve as the keeper of that crucial safeguard, that very last membrane between the truth and whatever embodiment of power might seek to distort it. And further, that the journalist must not himself become the story; that he must resist the human tendency to agree with one side or the other and shape his words accordingly; and that--as affected or precious as this might sound--the master he served above all others was the Truth, and his only meaningful duty was to make that truth known.

And finally, there was Journalism Law, in which we learned that malice has no role in our work, that there is an enormous difference between a private person and a public figure--not the least of which is the breadth of information one can and should reasonably report about said figure without fear of reprisal--and that in matters of slander and libel, truth will always be an absolute defense.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about those classes a great deal. I watch a White House press conference during which a journalist asks a straightforward question about the ongoing war in which our country is engaged, and then, for his effort, receives a reply constructed of circular sentences, words that are little more than semantic repetitions and that double back on themselves, running rings around the original query just long enough for the Press Secretary to locate another raised hand and change the subject.

I regard the news before me, watching and reading the reports that tell us, in their ever-shifting and elliptical ways, why we barged into Iraq with guns blazing, and in so doing, racked up a breathtaking and unprecedented debt; and most importantly, why the blood of Americans, Britons, soldiers of other nations, and indeed, Iraqi citizens is being spilled day after day, year after year. I reflect on the fact that these reports are written by people like my former classmates and me; in fact, it’s likely that many actually are being written by some of my former classmates. And at the risk of upsetting my Journalism 101 professor, I will invoke the passive voice one more time and say, The reports are written by reporters. Reporters who surely, somewhere in their collective youth or childhood, must have believed that telling the truth was their moral imperative. Who must have believed, Once Upon a Time, that as powerful as an enterprise built of fiction or fallacy might be, it cannot surmount the truth.

And yet. My questioning, scribbling colleagues, those writers who once wished only to be paid for doing what they loved, are suddenly unrecognizable. They’re gloss-painted and coiffed; they dabble in the facile arts of gossip and line-delivery; they condescend to their numb audience, filling their columns and airtime with strangely infantile instructions on how to get dressed in the morning, how to feed oneself properly, how to have it all.


I watch, I read, and it’s my abject conclusion that, in large measure, journalism itself has passed through the fragile membrane between truth and theatre, reality and illusion, fact and foe.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The (Republican) Party's Over

In typically wise and witty prose, Garrison Keillor chronicles the GOP's latest giant step downward as it continues on its merry way to Hell in a bigot-filled handbasket:

I see by the papers that the Republicans want to make an issue of Nancy Pelosi in the congressional races this fall: Would you want a San Francisco woman to be speaker of the House?

Will the podium be repainted in lavender stripes with a disco ball overhead? Will she be borne into the chamber by male dancers with glistening torsos and wearing pink tutus? After all, in the unique worldview of old elephants, "San Francisco" is a code word for "g-a-y," and after assembling a record of government lies, incompetence and disaster, the party in power hopes that the fear of g-a-y-s will pull it through in November.

Running against Ms. Pelosi, a woman who comes from a district where there are known gay persons, is a nice trick, but it does draw attention to the large shambling galoot who is speaker now, Tom DeLay's enabler for years, a man who, judging by his public mutterances, is about as smart as most high school wrestling coaches.

For the past year, Dennis Hastert has been two heartbeats from the presidency. He is a man who seems content just to have a car and driver and three square meals a day. He has no apparent vision beyond the urge to hang onto power. He has succeeded in turning Congress into a branch of the executive branch. If Mr. Hastert becomes the poster boy for the Republican Party, this does not speak well for them as the Party of Ideas.


The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous.

Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling. I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.

Meanwhile, the Current Occupant goes on impersonating a president. Somewhere in the quiet leafy recesses of the Bush family, somebody is thinking, "Wrong son. Should've tried the smart one."

A note to Mr. Keillor's many fans: A Prairie Home Companion, the Robert Altman movie written by and starring Garrison Keillor himself, along with Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, and Virginia Madsen, is now showing nationwide.

(Hat tip to Lisa in Baltimore)