Archive for May 2003

May 26, 2003 Memorial Day

The man in the lower left hand corner is my father. Legend has it that he got drunk one night in a tavern, and afraid to face my mother the next day, he enlisted. For two years he fought the Japanese in the Philippines and lived to tell me the tales that form the foundation of my childhood. He died just when I was 11 – when a boy needs the company of his father for the challenges that lay ahead. But he was there for me nevertheless – and still is.

To all the veterans – all of America’s citizen soldiers… Thank you.

For creating a land where I don’t have to fear punishment for what I write. Thank you.

For building a society where my children can achieve their dreams. Thank you.

For protecting our great country from those who would do us ill. Thank you.

For laying down your lives so that we might live ours in peace and prosperity. Thank you.

For giving up your dreams so that we can live ours. Thank you.

For becoming our heroes – the men and women who embody the ideals we all hold dear. Thank you.

Thank you every one of you.

Censorship Today

Two seemingly unrelated events: New York Times reporter Chris Hedges is booed off stage during his commencement speech at an Illinois university. A high school student is prevented from displaying a portrait depicting herself with an exposed breast. How are these two events related beyond being described in the same paragraph in this essay?

A liberal might argue that they are both instances of censorship and closed mindedness. In the first instance a speaker had the microphone unplugged and was prevented from expressing his views on the war in Iraq. In the second case, a high school girl could not show her artwork by her school principal – who decided that the work was inappropriate to display in a high school. Both are clear cases of censorship.

Since the McCarthy era, the term censorship has taken on another connotation: the prevention of an individual’s expression by a greater authority. In the case of the high school student, the greater authority is the principal of the school; in Hedges’ case – the greater authority was the administration of the university that killed the microphone.

“Bottom-up” vs “Top-down” censorship

Over the past two decades the liberals have decried this top-down censorship: the attempts of Republicans to kill the National Endowment for the Arts. The controversies in the 1980s over Robert Mapplethorpe exhibits. Attorney General Ed Meese’s crusade against pornography at the same time. Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to ban the display of “Piss Christ” in New York during the early 1990s. All these cases became notorious for the form of “top-down” censorship that liberals associate with oppression.

But things aren’t quite this simple. First, the principal has stated that he personally did not find the self-portrait offensive in the least and would not have objected to it in another setting. Secondly, the university administrators were fully aware of Hedges’ controversial views when they booked him for the commencement address. Evidently the school was founded by Jane Addams, an outspoken advocate for unpopular causes. The people who actually pulled the plug on Hedges were the same ones that turned their backs on him and booed him: the students themselves.

In essence the censorship against Hedges was “bottom-up” – and was directed against the authorities: the school administration. This is much more problematic for the liberal point of view since many of the liberals are now part of the establishment. During the recent Iraq War, liberals found themselves censoring pro-war viewpoints from their students in schools in universities nationwide. Similarly such formerly respected news sources as the New York Times, Reuters and the Los Angeles Times censored opinions which ran contrary to their editorial biases.

One big difference between the attempts by the Meese Commission of the 1980s and the censorship seen on campuses and in the headlines today is that the Commission called their actions censorship: the editors of the New York Times and the BBC continue to claim their biases are the Truth and that the events which don’t agree with their bias are falsehoods. Hence we have the extraordinary story from the LA Times and the BBC of the Jessica Lynch rescue being staged. Extraordinary claims deserve extraordinary proof – and the Beeb and the Times don’t have any. At least Meese was honest when he tried to ban porno movies.

The death of civility

There is a place for everything. Saying that having sex in public is not appropriate does not make one anti-sex. One can believe that sex is a private matter and should be done in an appropriate place and an appropriate time. The high school student’s artwork would be appropriate in an art gallery setting – but not in a public space such as in a high school hallway.

Meese failed in his efforts to ban pornographic videos because he could not convince Americans that their own homes were not an appropriate place to view pornography. It’s interesting to note that while mayors across the country have been successful at banning X rated theaters, they have had virtually no success at banning the rental and sale of pornographic movies.

Civil libertarians should be aware of all acts of censorship. However they also need to recognize the role of appropriateness to avoid unnecessary battles. While one might agree with the refusal of the principal to display the high student’s artwork at a high school, one should be prepared to fight against the censorship of the artist should she not be allowed to display her painting in a public art gallery.

As the cliche goes, there is a time and place for everything under the sun. Chris Hedges’ began his address by stating, “I’m here to talk about war and empire.” He should have been there to talk about the students that were graduating that day. Hedges was not subjected to censorship; his inappropriate choice of a speech subjected him to the exercise of the right to freedom of expression by his audience.

It is important in a society for people to follow the same code of behavior. Americans are notorious for being more unmannered and direct than many other nationalities. Recent events show the impact a slow-death of civility in our society has. It is why President Ford’s saying that “We can disagree without being disagreeable,” remains a shining example that allows us to protect our rights to free expression.

Stupid College Kids

Take a look at this picture (courtesy of Frontpage Magazine)

Courtesy of

FrontpageMag is ripping the bejesus out of the morons holding it up – but as an ex-teacher, writer and copyeditor I thought that I’d clean up the grammar and spelling a little bit before making any attempt to understand the message.

“We live in a country founded by cheats, murderers, rapists, thieVES and terrorists WHO captured, killed and enslaved millions of Africans. THEY ALSO killed more natives than the Nazis KILLED Jews. ALL THE WHILE the Catholic Church PROTECTS CHILD MOLESTING PRIESTS- God Bless America”

What is it with extremists and bad English? I recall seeing Klansmen holding signs saying “Nigers go home” at a rally in Greensboro – and there weren’t any citizens from that west African nation around. Recently much has been made in the press about the poor writing skills of young Americans. This is yet another example of the problem.

The purpose of this “sign” is to make an impression in order to convey a message. One way to do this would be to cover your naked skin with writing (see a discussion on naked protests here). Another way is to take a symbol and deface it in some way. The Cornell lads evidently chose this route – perhaps because their bodies aren’t as attractive as the Dixie Chicks – or because it was chilly that day. Because the flag has white in it, and because white displays black ink better, they can then combine the desecration of a symbol with the message.

However in this case, the first criteria seems to have been to fill up all the white stripes in the flag with “the Message”? Why?

Perhaps they are Visual Arts majors who couldn’t figure out how to balance the short message of say “America=Evil!” or “America sucks and so do we!” Or maybe they believed like children that more of a good thing is always better, so they decided to continue adding grievances without regard to the overall content of the sign. This of course is a blatant disregard for the writing dictum that one should never use three words when two will do.

That said, let’s take a look at the messages:

Message #1: America was founded by bad people and therefore American institutions are evil.

Message #2: The Catholic church protects bad priests. Because the Catholic Church is an institution within America, America is therefore responsible for controlling the Church.

Message #3: (implicit) Being patriotic about America is wrong.

According to author Stephen Jay Gould, the worst historical sin one makes is to judge our forebears by contemporary standards. Setting aside the fact that the vast majority of historians continue to recognize the positive contributions made by the Founding Fathers of the United States, the logic of the protesters is wrong. Good can come out of Evil acts – and does so all the time. The modern day integration of Europe, for example, is a direct consequence of Hitler’s conquest of Europe. The opposite is also true: good can beget evil – hence the old saw “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” (and one which the current administration is no doubt concerned about in Iraq).

Secondly, the connection between the USA and the Catholic Church has got to be a filler. Even those who rode the short-bus to school yet still made it into Cornell through the “Affirmative Action for Absolute Morons” program must recognize that the US government has no control whatsoever over the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is an international entity that frequently conflicts with the agenda of the American government. The US is no more responsible for pedophile priests than the Pope is the 2002 Farm Bill passed by Congress.

Finally, the students fail to recognize that we are, according to William James, imperfect beings living in an imperfect world – and the same can be said of the institutions these beings create. As such every modern nation state has a few genocides and atrocities in the closet. However that in no way justifies ignoring the atrocities of today – as these students seem to be arguing rather pathetically.

Germans have every right to speak out against inhumanity – even though Germans committed some of the most egregious acts of inhumanity ever seen on the planet. The Japanese are some of the most outspoken pacifists of today, yet were some of the most militaristic of nationalities just 58 years ago. History does not bind us by passing on the sins of the fathers to the sons. Thank god for that. I’m sure there’s a whole heap of sins buried in the past along with the moldering bones of my alcoholic Irish ancestors. I simply don’t want to know what those bog-dwelling bastards did to survive – but I’m sure it wasn’t all pleasant, legal, and proud. Still, in fairness to them and their memories, I’m here and managed to breed….

True patriotism comes from pride in national accomplishments and shame in national mistakes. I can still wave the flag proudly while knowing about America’s 19th century genocide against native Americans. Did the US shaft native Americans? You bet. Did America rebuild Europe and Japan after World War 2 without turning them into colonies? Uh-huh.

Instead of a clear message of dissent we get “We’re a bunch of university morons who should spend less time writing on flags in dorm rooms and more time reading and writing on paper in classrooms.” Do yourselves a favor and take remedial writing classes you freaking assholes…


A joke – given to me by The Mother-in-law

5 Surgeons

Five surgeons are discussing who makes the best patients to operate on. The first surgeon says, “I like to see accountants on my operating table, because when you open them up, everything inside is numbered.” The second responds, “Yeah, but you should try electricians. Everything inside them is color-coded.” The third surgeon says, “No, I really think librarians are the best; everything inside them is in alphabetical order.”

The fourth surgeon chimes in: “You know, I like construction workers. They always understand when you have a few parts left over at the end and when the job takes longer than you said it would.”

But the fifth surgeon, Dr. Morris Fishbein, shuts them all up when he observes: “The French are the easiest to operate on. There’s no guts, no heart, no balls and no spine. Plus the head and ass are interchangeable.”

Note: I’ve done a quick search of the net and found that the joke dates back to at least 1999, and has been directed at lawyers, politicians and engineers. Personally I think it works best with the French; I also like the nice touch of a Jew handing over the punch line.

Americans In The Garden

Sitting outside contemplating the garden, as the scent of the lilac nearby fills the air. It’s humid, and some butt-kicking storms are heading our way. The roses are lush and not yet victimized by aphids, black-spot and Japanese beetles (the Japanese call them “American Beetles” by the way). The color of the new leaves varies from plant to plant, from pale yellow to crimson. May is the month for roses. The foliage is almost as pretty as the first blooms, when the garden turns into a daytime fireworks show making its upkeep worthwhile the remaining 11 months of the year.

While puttering around I found a bag of Spider flower seeds dated “Summer ‘01”. Spider flowers (Cleome) are like the Americans of the garden. They sprout up in places where they aren’t always wanted and often threaten to take over. They are showy, borderline gaudy with their fat balls of blooms. They also smell rather pungent. But when everything else is wilting under the summer sun, they keep blooming and don’t stop until the plants are buried under the snow. I’ve always liked them and was happy to find the bag at this particular time when the garden is still being planted.

The seeds had been collected in the days after Sept 11, 2001 when the sky above our house was empty of anything – clouds and oddest of all, airliners. Honestly, I don’t remember much about the days immediately after September 11. The pall over the New York Skyline. Sounds of F-16s patrolling overhead in the morning. A sky so blue that it almost hurts to remember it.

Spider flowers

Americans in the garden…

When everything falls apart, when illusions that you’ve held for years crumble, when things you’ve taken for granted suddenly are gone, one is left with the Zen command to “chop wood, carry water”. For me that meant tending the Spider plants – pulling their long seed pods which split between my fingers and released their tiny brown seeds. Chop wood carry water. I placed the seeds into a baggie, labeled them, and then stowed them away.

Last year the Spider flowers appeared in my garden as they usually did, but were shredded by beetle. For the first year in many, none made it to the point where they went to seed – and so my garden this year is missing the carpet of green, club-shaped petals as the Spider flowers race with each other to the sky.

So I cleared part of the garden known as the “hospital” – a section reserved for ailing plants – and took fistfuls of the seeds and scattered them. A world without Americans would be a dull world, and my garden is a much sadder place without the Spider flowers competing with the fragile English roses and Japanese maples for attention. Spider flowers are tough – last year notwithstanding. They are often hated by formal gardeners for their uncontrolled appearance and pungent odor. But honestly, I hate formal gardens and look askance at people who don’t.

I raked in the seeds and then watered the garden, priming the earth for the rain.

Kiss the French

Appy-polly-logies for light posting while life is consumed with trying to leave the ranks of the unemployed. However this Media Echo must be commented upon. Read it before continuing…

All done? Good. If this is true, then it could be a hit below the waterline for US-France relations. This journal is devoted to Absolute Truth – and currently there has been no corroboration from other sources of this article. The unfortunate thing is that it fits a pattern of behavior that has been established by the French over the Iraq Issue. As such it is difficult to not believe it.

If true, why? What has the USA done to elicit such behavior? Are the French people and government “different” then the rest of us? Do they not respect our shared culture, values and history? France was with the USA at the time that it was forged. France protected the USA when it was still in its infancy and could easily have been recaptured by the British. It guided American relations with Europe during the 19th Century. While much has been said about how much France owes the USA for “saving” it in the 20th century, very little has been mentioned about how France was there for the USA like a big brother during the 18th and 19th centuries. Without French assistance during the first hundred years of the Republic, America would not have survived.

Neo-cons need to be reminded of this before they bitch-slap the French.

So why? Why have the French betrayed America? On Sept. 11, only one French national died but three months later Richard Reid attempted to blow up American Airlines flight 63 from Paris to Miami. Had he been successful 197 passengers and crew would have died, and the number of dead French would have been much higher.

Why can’t the French understand that they are viewed as infidels in the eyes of Muslim extremists just as Americans are, and that these forces cannot be pacified? America attacks its enemies and becomes safer for it. France collaborates with its enemies and increases the likelihood of attack against it.

France’s betrayal of America will not result in Americans planting car bombs in Paris or slamming airliners into Parisian skyscrapers. The French really have nothing to fear from America beyond the loss of our friendship and respect. But the French have lost something more important than that: they have lost their dignity.