David Brooks has an interesting speculation in the New York Times (March 29, 2005) about what it is that causes us to be loyal to a professional baseball team. It certainly can't be a particular group of players, as it tended to be in the past. Players now move from team to team so rapidly , your hero one year is going to be a villain the next. Is it an organization? What kind of loyalty is that? Fondness for cut-throat executives and owners can scarcely warm anybody's heart. Is it just a uniform? That seems trivial. I don't know what it is and the more I think about sports, the more it becomes a perplexity to me. The best I can offer is a loyalty to the game itself. And since an important part of the game is pulling for somebody, we have no option, if we're going to care about baseball, to get behind one team or another. Most people do that on a geographical basis, and root for the team that plays half its games in a local park. It's not logical, but it retains a kind of satisfaction. And, I suppose, that has to be enough, in this day and age.

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The Wall Street Journal's turn against Tom DeLay has brought murmurs of surprise to the lips of many pundits, including Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post (March 29, 2005). The Journal is supposed to be so predictably conservative no one can imagine its raising doubts about a big Republican leader. But people who take that stance forget something very important. The Wall Street Journal stands for greed, and greed alone. It has nothing else that it cares about. Tom DeLay, on the other hand, though he's acceptably greedy, has additional purposes. He's driven by hatred of anything he considers to be in any way critical of his provincial flatness. In DeLay's mind, the way they do it in Waco is the way the Lord wants it done. Anybody with tastes different from Texas parochialism has enrolled in the army of Satan. The Wall Street Journal has nothing against Satan, especially not if they could make a deal with him. This is the split the Republican Party has kept pasted over for a surprising number of years. But, it's bound to rip apart sometime. And when it does, it will be a great show.

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The shootings in Red Lake, Minnesota have thousands wringing their hands about security in the schools and how to head off distraught young men who get it in their heads that their only option is to run amok. But nothing I've heard blaring at me from my TV over the last few days is likely to do much good. That's because none of the experts are willing to dig to the core of the problem. Adolescents have always hated hypocrisy. And the leaders of society have always been hypocritical. So, what's different now? We now have a network of electronic exposure of political, educational, economic, and social leaders. When young people find out about them, as they do, they are not only angered and disgusted; they are nauseated. And nausea, more than anything else, is what drives young men to murder. I don't have a solution because I can't imagine that socially successful people will give up their hypocritical blather and begin to speak honestly about who they are and what problems we face. Even if they wanted to, they are sunk so deep in their modes of expression they would have a hard time changing. But at least we ought to face the truth that until we do move towards a less hypocritical culture the problem of youthful rage will continue to be acute.

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Jimmy Carter's op/ed piece in the Washington Post (March 28, 2005) on nuclear non-proliferation is a sensible plan for a world that has little good sense. There's a lot of lecturing and posturing going on from countries that have nuclear weapons towards countries that don't, telling the latter how evil it would be for them to try to get them. Anyone with even the tiniest grip on human nature knows that the only way for nations to give up lusting after nuclear capability is for the countries  that have it to announce they intend to rid themselves of these weapons, and begin to make real steps in that direction. It's quite clear, to the whole world now, that the only way a nation can insure itself against an attack by a nuclear power, and in particular by the United States, is to possess nuclear weapons itself. The lesson of North Korea is lost on no one. My best guess is that proliferation will continue until all middle-sized nations have some nuclear bombs and methods to deliver them. I would be wrong only if the United States changes its position about its right to threaten any country, anywhere. And that's not likely to happen any time soon.

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On the Sunday morning talk shows (March 27, 2005), I heard a good deal of speculation about why the Terry Schiavo story had sucked all the air from the other issues and about whether it would have any lasting effect on political behavior in the United States. The consensus was it will probably be forgotten within a few weeks. When you think about it, this is an astounding conclusion. A story comes and dominates the news for more than a week. But most commentators agree it doesn't mean much of anything. It's there, dominating. And, then, after a while, it just goes away. Is it a symbol of the news generally? One sensation after another and none of them meaning much of anything? I almost fear that's the case. Of course, some stories do have more significance than others. The invasion of Iraq, for example, would appear to have lasting implications. But even it will go away within a few years and not be much thought about. The news really is a tale of sound and fury told by an idiot. I just wish I knew who the idiot was.

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The big announcement from America's latest religious guru is that if you worry, you're trying to be God. And that's bad because the first thing you need to keep in mind is that God is God and you are you. This profundity comes from Rick Warren, the head of a humongous church and the author of the current bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life. The first sentence of this successful screed is "It's not about you." Exactly what the subject of the sentence is, I'm not sure. But sentiments of that sort seem to satisfy thousands of people because the book has been flying off the shelves. America, of course, is the land of snake oil salesmen and maybe that's what makes us so endearing. Even so, I'm a little suspicious about Mr. Warren. I've seen him on TV and everything I've heard him say has been so simplistic it gives me the creeps. Mr. Warren would doubtless say that I'm trying to make "it" about my critical mind. And, maybe he's right.

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If there is to be effective public interest in politics, there are two features which must grab the people's attention - the policies and the players. I don't think that just one will do it. There need to be fascinating figures who are pushing, or opposing, important policies. Thus we had George Washington and American independence, and Abraham Lincoln and the union, and Franklin Roosevelt and resistance to fascism. Each of these men lent something of his personality to the issue he promoted. And the issue, in history, is mixed up with the man in a way that colors its very nature. But what happens when we have politicians who can't color anything? Do the issues turn to dust in the mind of the public? I suspect so, to some extent, and that may be why we are having such difficulty coming to grips with the problems that beset us. We have insisted on producing such cautious, namby-pamby politicians, we can't find an effective handle for any of the major concerns that need to be addressed. As I run down in my mind the set of political figures who regularly appear on the Sunday morning talk shows, I can't think of a one with whom I would be willing to have lunch. They are, to be blunt, boring people with especially boring minds, and with vocabularies that are so boring they ought to be charged with crimes against the English language. And, yet, these are the people who purport to be running things. The more I think about politics, the more I think every school child ought to be required to memorize T. S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men."

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Katha Pollitt, who has been writing a bi-monthly column for The Nation since 1994, has jumped into the big fuss about why there are not more women opinion writers in the major newspapers and on the web (April 4, 2005). I think Ms. Pollitt is an intelligent writer who has said a lot of good things in The Nation over the past eleven years. But in this case she doesn't have much that's fresh. The reason she gives is an old-boy network that almost unconsciously favors white male newsmen. And, she may be right. But I think she would have done better to dig beneath favoritism for sociological and biological types to say more about the bigotry of content and style that grips modern journalism. To be fair, she does say a little about this, but she doesn't push it as hard as she should. Convention is always a problem because it leads to staleness and the only way to combat it is to probe the visions of reality that bring it forth. Absence of imagination is the weakness of our journals, just as it is in most other endeavors. I don't know whether there are more imaginative men than women, or vice versa. And I don't much care. To be more concerned about the category of gender (or race, or ethic background, or religion) than one is about imaginative reach strikes me as a big mistake. Bigotry against imagination is the problem that dwarfs all others. And if writers care genuinely about the quality of the commentary we get in the major media, that's the target they ought to be aiming at.

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Can we say with any confidence who was mainly responsible for turning what should have been a private affair into a news story that has dominated television broadcasts for the past week? Was it opportunist politicians? Was it yellow sheet journalism? Was it the bad taste of the American public? I guess all bear some responsibility and I don't know how to parcel it out among the participants. But, perhaps, we should be able to agree on one thing. It has been a national disgrace. A country with pressing problems like ours which will turn much of its attention to exploiting a woman whose conscious brain has been destroyed presents a picture to the world of a nation that will do anything. And we are supposed to be the exemplar, according to a president who has used Terri Schiavo as ruthlessly as anyone.

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In the annals of illogic it would be hard to find anyone who tops David Gibbs, the attorney for Terry Schiavo's parents. He says that the Florida courts, by their decision not to continue artificial feeding of Ms. Schiavo's body, are probably endangering her eternal soul. This is because Ms. Schiavo was a Catholic, and the Catholic church holds that it is immoral for anyone to refuse the sustenance necessary for life. But the very case that Gibbs is arguing depends on the uncertainty of Ms. Schiavo's intentions -- when she was conscious -- about keeping the body alive in the state she's now in. Only if she had not wanted to continue life would she, supposedly, be going against the Church's doctrines (a highly suspect interpretation in any case). And that's exactly what Mr. Gibbs's opponents are arguing -- that she would not have wanted to. That this case has generated the amount of gibberish it has shows how degraded our politics are. It would not be in the news now if certain politicians has not decided to exploit it for their own purposes. To use the anguish of a family for that kind of political advantage is worse than despicable.

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It's clear that the United States government perpetrates many tyrannies which, since they affect only a small percentage of the people, most of us are willing to ignore. Bob Herbert in the New York Times for March 21st lays out one of them. If you have close relatives in Cuba, the government will let you go see them only once every three years. There's no logic in the policy, it's merely vindictiveness supposedly directed at the government of Cuba but actually harmful to some citizens of the United States. There are many such policies which are outrageous but which don't have wide applicability. So we just turn our heads aside from them. My question is, how much of this sort of thing can be ignored before the totality of it comes to constitute the character of our own government? The national anthem proclaims the United States to be the land of the free and the home of the brave. But are we really either? Freedom can die as readily from nibbles as from big bites if the nibbles are frequent enough, and it seems to me we're experiencing more of them than intelligent people would allow.

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Richard Meyers, four star general, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, must be the most positive man in America. On Face the Nation (March 20, 2005), he used the word "positive" so many times, I lost count. He just came back from a trip to Iraq that was particularly positive. American commanders in Mosul are all very positive about the situation there. In fact, all the trends in Iraq are strongly positive. And it's heartwarmingly positive to see how Iraqi security forces are advancing in their training and in their receipt of materials. Use your imagination as you will, it's almost impossible to imagine conditions General Meyers wouldn't find positive. That. evidently, is the American military way. I wonder if General Meyers is as positive around the house, or at a restaurant, as he is talking to somebody like Bob Schieffer. If so, let us pray for those who have to spend time with him.

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Scanning through the headlines in the Boston Globe (March 20, 2005), I discovered that Iraq is now "a daily hell that somehow still bristles with hope." I take it that's supposed to be, all in all, a good thing. You've gotta have hope, you know. But I suspect, if I were an Iraqi, and not an American newspaper reader, whose influential voices continue to tell me that my country, despite lies, murder, torture, and vast property damage, has somehow done a noble thing in Iraq, I would be a little more concentrated on the hell part than on the hope, and determined to get rid of the people who had brought the hell part on me. The repeated pronouncement that all America wants to do is make sure the Iraqi people can determine their own destiny is so obviously silly it's hard to believe it that people will, actually, get up and say it, barefaced, on TV. And yet I hear it all the time. Suppose the Iraqi people decided they want to have an A-bomb? Would, then, George Bush cheer them on as a great beacon of democracy? Obviously, governments want to control and influence other governments. If the American people could just get that clear in their heads, our foreign policy would take a big turn in the right direction.

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Michael Kinsley says that Maureen Dowd of the New York Times is the most innovative newspaper columnist since Walter Lippmann. He says a lot of other stuff too, in his piece in the Washington Post on March 20, 2005, but none of the rest of it is interesting. Why is she innovative? Because she speaks of political leaders as egomaniacs and points out that their various psychic quirks have a major influence on policy. In other words, statesmen are not just statesmen. I think we've all known that, but it has taken a writer like Dowd to be brave enough to treat presidents just like ordinary freaks. Many people lament the withering away of authority. We need, they say, to regard our leaders as larger than life so that we'll follow them in national initiatives. As far as I'm concerned, that's hogwash. I don't know why we need national initiatives. Why can't people be allowed to make up their own minds about what they want to do with their lives. Is there actually any good in regarding oneself as a creature of the state? I can't find it, if there is. So, I think I have to agree with Kinsley in this one instance. Ms. Dowd may go down as one of the important forces in liberating people from nationalistic claptrap, and I can think of no finer role one can play.

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A report written mainly by Hannah Bruckner, a sociology professor at Yale University, says that young people who take pledges of virginity get sexually transmitted diseases at about the same rate as those who don't. This is being reported as news, but it's news of the sort that proclaims the sky to be blue. Who is so naive as to believe a pledge of sexual abstinence is going to have much effect on one's sexual experience? The only people who could possibly think that are those who have never had sex at all, or, if they did, didn't like it. I'm not sure where the idea comes from that sexual activity is something one can pick up or lay down based on forced notions of right and wrong. but it is one of the more foolish theories ever advanced by supposedly serious people. And the misery imposed by it over the years puts it near the top of evil thoughts. If we could ever get clear in our minds what the genuine source of sexual puritanism is, we could achieve a much higher rate of physical health and dramatic decrease in neuroticism. But then, we have to remember the latter is one of the strongest vested interests in America.

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George Allen, the governor of Virginia, has pronounced that Terry Schiavo is conscious. How does he know? He saw pictures of her on TV. This is a man, by the way, who reportedly aspires to become the president of the United States. I wonder what would happen if you asked George Allen to define "consciousness"? I don't know anything, directly, about Ms. Schiavo's consciousness. It seems to be the case that every physician who has examined her says that she is not conscious and has no prospect of ever again becoming conscious. She is, according to them, in a permanently vegetative condition. The question becomes why the governor of a state that has no standing in determining Ms. Schiavo's consciousness should be pronouncing on it and taking a stand contrary to the best medical opinion. I guess it could be merely a humanitarian impulse. But, somehow, I don't think that's it.

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A judge in a Washington, D.C. court, after quoting Dylan Thomas's most famous lines, has told a defendant he does not have the right to rage against the dying of the light. I have no idea what the judge meant by that, or even if he meant anything. But it is, nonetheless, a symbolic statement. In our nation's capital, where police checkpoints have become a norm of everyday life, a courtroom pronouncement says the death of light cannot be protested. If this is indeed the case it constitutes a great shadow settling over our country. The pressing political issue of our time is whether we, in America, have the gumption to protect the light against the forces of darkness or whether we're content simply to huddle in our little corners and do as we're told by judges and other government officials. I wish I had more confidence than I do about the choice we'll make.

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Women have two X chromosomes, whereas men have only one. One of the X chromosomes in women was generally thought to be turned off. But, now, a new study reveals that it's not turned off all the way. Some of the genes in it continue to function, about 15% of them. And that consists of about 165 genes. It seems like a puny number, considering how many genes there are altogether. But, still, they could make a difference and some people think they may explain why women are different from men. Science is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to telling us why we behave as we do.

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When even right-wingers begin to turn against the brutality of government policies you can be sure conditions have become very bad. In the March 17th Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby, who I thought would defend almost anything the Bush administration did, says it's wrong for Republican Congressmen to resist an independent investigation of torture in Afghanistn and Iraq. And he also suggests what many other have already concluded, that the Church report is pretty much of a farce. Jacoby's shift tells me that the torture scandal will not go away. Nor should it. Despite the sort of excuses that continue to be shoveled up by pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, the treatment of prisoners in Afganistan and Iraq has disgraced the nation. And there are enough people who know that it has to keep bringing the story to light.

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An interesting question about American politics is the significance of ferocious battles among figures the average person never hears of. My guess is that only a tiny portion of the American public knows about David Horowitz, who heads a right-wing organization called "Students for Academic Freedom." Its ostensible purpose is to protect truth-seeking conservative students from the depredations of ferocious left-wing faculty members. As with many figures of his ilk, Horowitz's stock in trade is sensationalism. He accuses faculty members of all sorts of horrible deeds which then, never seem to get backed up by evidence. But, his purpose is achieved when other journalists report his charges as fact, which they do to a surprising extent. David Brock -- another name few Americans would recognize -- has taken on Horowitz's exaggerations as a pet project and blasts them excitedly on his web site, "Media Matters for America." Then Horowitz accuses Brock of slander, and so it goes. It seems pretty clear to me that Brock is more truthful than Horowitz, but my concern here is not to support either one of them but to ask whether their engagements mean anything. Obviously, they both preach to choirs who believe what they say before they actually say it. But does anyone else learn anything from them? I wish I could say they didn't but I suspect this kind of trench warfare has more influence than a sane person would wish. We seem to be in for a generation of nasty politics that makes for a nastiness of life. I wish it weren't so but the tribes of people like Brooks and Horowitz (and me, too, I guess) ensure that it's going to continue.

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Richard Cohen's column in the Washington Post for March 15th should get more attention than it will. In it, he points to a new principle of TV journalism which stated succinctly is that we achieve balance by countering every truth with a lie. The specific instance of this grand concept which draws Cohen's current attention is C-Span's decision not to broadcast a talk by Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar who has written on Nazi Germany, unless it can also include a presentation by David Irving, who has made a career out of saying that the Nazi government didn't do what it did. I'm not sure where the notion came from that knowledge is enhanced by showing equal respect for truth-tellers and liars but it seems to be firmly established among TV producers. Their excuse, of course, is that we can't be sure about the truth and, therefore, we need to let it emerge from debate. And that, indeed, is the case where there's genuine controversy. But in instances where fact has been firmly established, people who sponsor debates have a duty to say what the facts are. And that's a duty our TV journalists seem incapable of imagining. So, they continue to put liars on the same platform with those who tell the truth and to pretend there's no independent way to judge between them. This they call fairness, but intellectual cowardice is what it is.

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Here's a classified ad I just happened to read in a recent number of the New York Review: "Emotionally available, married intellectual, writer, consultant, mid-sixties, progressive, analyzed, political, seeks woman who cares about books, music, can feel deeply and is kind." Notices of this ilk are perfect material for satire but if one decides not to respond to them that way they raise all sorts of questions about what their actual nature is. What, for example, does "emotionally available" mean? Is it a code term? And what is this bookish, kind woman being sought for? That's not very clear. Perhaps they shouldn't, but items of this sort make me sad. Sure, I can imagine that they're just spoofs. But, supposing they aren't. Suppose, instead, that this self-revelation is sincerely offered. Does it tell us something about where the world is tending? It's a scary thought -- for me, at least.

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A big confusion in American now arises from failure to understand that "normal" and "good" are not synonyms. A normal practice is one that occurs among a majority of a population. It's normality says nothing about its moral character. It's a simple matter of definition which you'd think most people would grasp. Yet, we continue to have pubic furor over the morality of calling something normal -- even if it is normal. One such case broke out recently at Harvard, where actress Jada Pinkett Smith was invited to speak at an event sponsored by the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations. The foundation has been asked to apologize because some people thought Ms. Pinkett Smith's remarks were heteronormative. If you don't know what that means, you're probably in a majority. But, actually, all it means is that normally sexual relations occur between men and women. Evidently, some people who have sexual relations with members of their own gender were offended because they took the speech to say that their activities are not normal. It doesn't seem that Ms. Pinkett Smith had any such intention in mind, but even if she did she would not have been incorrect. Sexual relations between persons of the same sex are such a small minority of total sexual relations they fall outside normality. They may be wonderful, they may even be superior to what most people do. But they're not normal. Truth is, it's a curiosity why people should want to be thought of as normal, and, in most cases they don't. If you told Barry Bonds that he was a normal baseball player, he'd be insulted. But in some cases normality and morality have been conflated, producing much heartburn and indignation. We would do better to keep them apart.

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Is France a bad country? Answering yes is the theme of two recently published books: Denis Boyles's, Vile France and Richard Z. Chesnoff's The Arrogance of the French. To designate an entire country as being either bad or good strikes me as  the height of nationalistic dementia. When one considers the misery produced by such sentiments you'd think we would start learning to give them up. What is a nation, anyway? To say that it has a defining moral aspect is to assume that it is possessed by a homogenous moral character. And that's not true. There are forces within any nation that promote inhumanity and there are forces, also, that stand up for decency. Promoting the one and trying to damp down the other should be the goal of both foreign and domestic policy.  It's not a goal that can be advanced by sticking a facile tag on any country. Truth is, there's probably no greater sin in the world than the malevolence of simplistic labeling.

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The so-called "Church Report" has come and gone without making much of a splash, except on the O'Reilly Factor, where it has been placed on a level one rung below the voice of God. Evidently, most people don't seem to believe that an admiral in the direct chain of command is likely to report frankly on whether or not his superiors authorized criminal behavior. How can people be so cynical? Admiral Church's finding that no high ranking Pentagon officials had any idea that American forces were torturing prisoners was pronounced on March 10 at the Pentagon. He was accompanied at the press briefing by (forgive the length of this, but I think the titles are instructive) Matthew Waxman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Affairs, Thomas Gandy, Army Director for Human Intelligence, and Pete Champaign, Army Deputy Provost Marshal General. I'd love to be at the next table when that quartet goes to dinner together.

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In his Sunday column (March 13, 2005), David Broder of the Washington Post has this to say about the bankruptcy bill just passed by the Senate:  "This 'reform,' which parades as an effort to stop folks from spending lavishly and then stiffing creditors by filing for bankruptcy protection, is a perfect illustration of how the political money system tilts the law against average Americans." Corruption is defined in so many ways, it's impossible to know for sure what it is. But when money-hustlers spend money on legislators to get laws that benefit them, and then are successful, that's a pretty good definition for me. And that's what happens every day in the United States. I cannot imagine corruption going away. That would be un-American. But if we want to hold it below toxic levels, then the first step is to name it for what it is. The new bankruptcy bill is an exercise in political corruption. If that simple fact could become widely known among the American electorate, it might make a little difference.

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One of the really good things about America right now is that our economic doyens don't work merely to bilk ordinary people. They're as busy as they can be trying to cheat each other. You may not know it but the Federal Bureau of Investigation has a health fraud unit. And it has discovered that a network of doctors and clinics in California has been luring people from all over the nation to come there and get less-than-essential treatment for which their insurance companies pay hefty fees. Exactly why this is a crime, I'm not sure. But, I'd guess that somebody will find, or make up a crime, to fit the act. Supposedly, the network has received more than a billion dollars for these highly-elective procedures, and the insurance companies don't like it. They are in business to pay as few claims as possible while charging as much as they can for their services.  And they don't want other enterprising guys to be cutting into their profits. I don't know whose side I'm on in this little war. Should I love rapacious insurance executives more than I do rapacious heads of clinics? The puzzles America presents us are truly bewildering.

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Do you know what "strategic and radical transformation" is? How about "tactical adaptation"?  According to Edward P. Djerejian, who issued a report in the fall of 2003 about American relations with other countries, the former is what we need and the latter is not enough -- that is, with respect to how our government treats other nations. Now Karen Hughes has been appointed to do something about how we're viewed by the rest of the world. From what we've been told, it seems that she's going to take up tactical adaptation and leave strategic and radical transformation alone. The so-called leaders of our nation, whether political, commercial, educational, or military, are obsessed by the thought that if policies can be clothed in the right rhetoric, and spoofed up by the right pictures, then actions that once resulted in disgust and hatred will, all of sudden, begin to produce love and admiration. This is a religious faith. It may be the only religion operative in the United States right now. Thou shalt not put any other god before the god of PR. We fooled them once, didn't we? Then we can fool them forever. We can cheat them, and bully them, and kill a goodly number of them, and run roughshod over the things they care about, and make them think it's all, really, a heavenly dispensation. It's like the head of a corporation, or your local banker, telling you he's your friend. And causing you actually to believe it. Perhaps people are that dumb. But there seem to be, around the world, some signs of resistance.

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Jay Rosen of PressThink says the time has come to discontinue the White House press corps, at least as a group of reporters who gather at the White House briefing room. Nothing ever happens there. No news is produced. Scott McClellan simply comes out and refuses to answer any questions. Rather he talks around every issue that arises. Rosen is sympathetic to a suggestion by Dan Weintraub of the Sacramento Bee, who says we need a pack of reporters, based it doesn't matter where, who work to check the truth of everything the president and his associates say. They should be considered the White House Press corps rather than the bored, cynical pack who sit idly everyday waiting to be treated contemptuously by the White House press secretary. The question of how government officials should respond to the press will, obviously never be fully settled. The relationship between government and reporters is clearly adversarial to some extent. But to take the stance that we need no press, which has been the position of the Bush administration, strikes me as stepping outside political responsibility and betraying the democratic spirit the president claims to support.

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A great contest is on to say just how weird Michael Jackson is. O'Reilly, of course, is leading the pack, suggesting on his program of March 10th that Jackson may need to be protected against himself because he's seriously disturbed -- the latter condition, in O'Reilly's mind, being anything different from his own. Tina Brown, in the Washington Post (March 10, 2005), hints that Jackson's weirdness could be an act. Still, she's not really sure. Celebrity trials have come to be a feature of our age and show something not very attractive about us. If justice involves being treated like everybody else, then celebrity trials are the antithesis of justice. They are carried out in the media far more than they are in the courtroom, and often, the "crimes" discovered or insinuated are far more heinous than if they had been committed by an ordinary person. The whole business stinks and the main reason is that the media like the smell of it.

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It seems that I discover, almost every day, a web site not known to me before which seems worthy of some scrutiny. I wish I had a fail safe way to sort out these findings and come to a conclusion about which ones I ought to read regularly. But, so far, a kind of fumbling around is all I've managed. Today (March 10, 2005), I found "Right Reason" which says it is "The weblog for philosophical conservatism." I scanned it for about thirty minutes and found a few interesting points. What I did not find, however, was an explanation of whether "philosophical conservatism" is the same thing that is regularly called "conservatism" in the major media. Is, for example, Rush Limbaugh a philosophical conservative? How about Michael Savage? How about Jerry Falwell? My general journalistic reading tells me that the term "conservative" is being used so widely one is hard put to say what it means. But, I would think that anyone who has an affinity for the thinking of someone like Russell Kirk would want to distinguish himself from many of the voices that pass as conservative today. I'll send this item to the web site and see if they offer an explanation of what sort of politics goes with their position. And, if they write back, I'll let you know.

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Harry Stonecipher has been fired as the CEO of Boeing because he had a romance. That's it, nothing else. He didn't give anyone special treatment. He didn't coerce anybody. He didn't harm his company's operations. But, the woman he is fond of happens to work for Boeing -- big surprise! -- and that's a no-no. Lew Platt, chairman of the board said, "Everyone should know that if we see any improper activities, we will take decisive action." And this is in the land of the free. The degree to which corporations believe they own their employees increases everyday. This is in accord with the principle that money can -- and should be able to -- buy everything, including the right to tell you who you can kiss and who you can't. And when money is god, it's heresy to put any other god before it. That's a violation of the first commandment, and, improper besides.

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We seem to be approaching a news glut so severe it's harder and harder for a sane person to pay attention. And that, I suspect, is what some people want. The Washington Post's editorial this morning (March 9. 2005) points out that the Bush administration has put out such a torrent of ridiculous numbers about its budget projections eyes are getting glassy. I've said for some time that the Bushites have discovered a new principle of politics -- regularly do things so self-serving that few people can believe they're actually happening and, then, when a small number of critics raise questions, lie not only incessantly but with such volubility that most people are forced to turn away. And insist that the gush of prevarication is the news. The only tactic I can think of to counter this new strategy is to encourage critical reading. But that's such a gradual project it's difficult for it to gather force enough to blunt the administration's assault. After all, one lie can be refuted. But what's to be done about dozens of lies, each following others so rapidly none of them receive the attention needed to see them for what they are? There are thousands of web sites working frantically to rip falsehood apart. But there are just as many pushing it along. And they all add to the glut. It's an ironic truth that too much volume is turning us into hollow men. Yet, it seems to be happening in a fashion that makes T.S. Eliot into a genuine prophet.

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Does anything ever happen to government officials who lie to the public? The question popped into my head while reading about Brad C. Blackner, a lieutenant colonel who functions as a spokesman for the detention center at Guantanamo Base in Cuba. Blackner says there have been no attempts by the authorities at Guantanamo to interfere with relations between the prisoners there and their lawyers. And yet, one lawyer, Thomas Wilner of Washington says that one of his clients was told not to trust his legal representation because Wilner is a Jew. If that were done by authorities at a prison in the United States, it would clearly be unconstitutional. At Guantanamo, who knows? But the first issue is truth. Did somebody tell the prisoner that? If it was done, then Blackner is lying. Will the New York Times, which reported on the dispute (March 8, 2005), follow up on Blackner's truthfulness? Will we ever hear Blackner's name again? The difficulty in determining what the government is actually doing comes from figures like Blackner, who pop into the news for a while, make claims about the government's honesty, and then disappear. If the claims are later disproved, then the new guy who has taken Blackner's place will say, well, that was in the past. I didn't do it. And where will Blackner be? We won't find out. This is a formula for a continued misleading of the public and consequently I would think that major news organization would want to stick with people like Blackner until it has been shown either that they're telling the truth or they're lying. But I have little faith that we'll see much about Blackner in the Times as the months roll by.

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I often wonder about the picture of reality in the heads of people who get their news from headlines and introductory leads. Here, for example, is something I just read on Google News: "Front man of Irish U2, rock idol and social activist Bono may become the next to head World Bank, U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow has said on ABC's "This Week." I saw John Snow's interview with George Stephanopoulos, and the Treasury Secretary said no such thing. Clearly, he took the suggestion as a joke and then said some pleasantly complimentary things about Bono. The idea that John Snow would consider Bono as a serious candidate for the president of the World Bank is beyond fantastic. But, here it is, reported on a major news outlet. I've seen reports that most people never read beyond the first few lines of a news story -- that is, among people who look at news stories at all. Is it any wonder that public opinion is as wildly off the mark as it generally seems to be?

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It's very hard to establish the facts of a shooting like the one that killed Nicola Calipari and wounded Giuliana Sgrena on the road to the Baghdad airport. Accounts of who did what vary widely, and it's impossible to know what was in the minds of the soldiers. There are, however, a few things we do know. There is a lot of lying about such incidents, and the U.S. military lies as much as anybody else. This killing is like many other killings of civilians, and allies in Iraq. There was nothing freakish or unusual about it. Common sense tells us that if non-combatant drivers of cars know they're being signalled to stop by American authorities they will stop. The evidence is overwhelming that if they don't, they'll be slaughtered. What possible motive could they have for continuing? There can be little doubt that the driver of the car carrying Sgrena and Calipari did not know he was being signalled to stop. So what does that tell us about the efforts to signal? And, then, we have the famous rules of engagement, which naturally are classified, but which strike the rest of the world as being gun happy. And since the rest of the world already thinks the American government is gun happy, there's little question of what the rest of the world is going to think about this killing.

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The right-wing is up in arms over the Supreme Court's decision that government can't kill people to punish them for crimes they committed before they were eighteen years old. Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe says that even if a majority of people now think it's cruel to kill youthful offenders, it's wrong for the Court to ban the practice because, in the future, opinions may change and a majority may want to go back to killing them. George Will in the Washington Post says that Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority decision in Roper v. Simmons, is just a dilettante sociologist. Besides, what people think is cruel shouldn't have anything to do with whether it's constitutional. These arguments leave one wondering just how bloodthirsty some people can get. I know, the pro-state-killing folks say they're really just standing up for law and constitutionalism. But, they generally give away their true sentiments, as Will did by pointing out that the kid saved immediately by the decision was really a bad boy. Will wants him strapped on a gurney and poisoned. I don't know how long it will take, but I'm fairly sure that sometime in the future, the people cheering on state killing will be put in the same category as those who so avidly, Biblically, and morally defended slavery. The only question is how many more snuff scenes they'll get to revel in before their predilections are cast into history's garbage can.

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William Poole, a student at George Rogers Clark High School in Winchester, Kentucky, has been thrown in jail, evidently because he wrote a short story about zombies. This was taken by the Winchester Police Department to be a terrorist threat. Stories of this sort go flashing over the internet and are likely to be blown out of context. There are features of this one, though, that cause one to suspect that the truth  is exactly what's being reported. Chief among them is the statement of Steven Caudill, the detective who arrested Poole:

"Anytime you make any threat or possess matter involving a school or function
  it's a felony in the state of Kentucky."

Think of it. Anytime you possess matter involving a function, you've committed a crime, that, is, if you're in Kentucky. That's throwing a pretty wide net. But, then, we have to remember. We are at war.

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If anybody in the journalistic community deserves to be cheered on, it's Amy Sullivan, who is on a tear about how the media throws around terms like "morals" and "values." Writing in the Washington Monthly (online) on March 4th, 2005, she had this to say:

I don't want to read "evangelical" when what you mean is "conservative evangelical." And I don't want
to read "moral values" when what you're really referring to are hot-button, right-wing sexual morality
issues. The conflation of those terms with those specific definitions is NOT a neutral decision; it's part
of a very conscious strategy. It's understandable that some news outlets have been taken in by the spin.
Repeating the spin, however, is irresponsible.

The fawning of the media over right-wing zealots who call themselves Christians is the biggest journalistic scandal of the past several years. And, it needs to be stopped. I hope more of us will join Ms. Sullivan in her efforts.

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Ted Stevens, Republican senator from Alaska, wants the federal government to censor what can be shown and said on cable television, this in the interests of decency. I don't suppose a bill of that sort has much chance of passing, but that it can be seriously proposed is a creepy development. More and more we're finding that what goes on in the minds of some of our national legislators is intensely grotesque. Representative Johnson of Texas, for example, wants to drop nuclear bombs on Syria and kill virtually everyone there. He's even volunteered to deliver the bombs himself. I've generally found that what people are willing to say in public represents only the surface layer of what they actually think. If we could probe the minds of Stevens, Johnson, Tom DeLay and others of their persuasion I suspect we'd find opinions that would make the Taliban look like an ally of the ACLU.

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In perhaps the best column from Ricard Cohen I've seen (Washington Post, March 3, 2005), he explains why Mr. Bush's plan to revamp Social Security isn't going well, and in the process includes this quotation from Calvin Coolidge: "It is difficult for men in high office to avoid the malady of self-delusion. They are always surrounded by worshipers. They are constantly, and for the most part sincerely, assured of their greatness. They live in an artificial atmosphere of adulation and exaltation which sooner or later impairs their judgment."  That's true. The condition has afflicted Bush since the beginning of his presidency and has been made worse by his unwillingness to hear from anyone other than sycophants. But the social security explanation, though cogent, is less significant than this sentence on a secondary issue:  "Suffice it to say that if a president wants war, he will get it." That may be as true as President Coolidge's observation, and if it is it points to the most serious flaw in American democracy. If a president, using media manipulation and false information, can whip up the dogs of war, and if nobody else in government has the courage to call him out, then we don't have a democracy. We have, instead, a series of four or eight year dictatorships. If presidents know they can always increase their hold on power by driving the country to war, then we will have wars incessantly. And incessant war is not a prescription for genuine democratic government.

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The Supreme Court's decision on March 1st to abolish killing as punishment for those who committed crimes before they were eighteen years old may be a step towards doing away with the vile practice altogether. But, we can't be sure. Since a majority of Americans like to have state killing there will continue to be politicians who will feed the prejudice in favor of it. A interesting feature of the recent decision  appears to be the court's awareness of how disgusting our propensity for state killing is in the eyes of the rest of the world. There's no legal requirement that we take account of civilized opinion but awareness that our country is increasingly regarded as a slaughter pen, particularly by Europeans, must work somewhere in the backs of the justices' minds. I recall being at a conference in Yorkshire a couple years ago, talking to a man from Holland, when the subject of so-called capital punishment arose. I can't forget the look on his face when I told him that a majority of Americans favor it. And even though he knew that I didn't, he still stared at me as though I were tainted. And, he was right. All Americans are tainted by that association.

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"Because the meatloaf world of the old nation state will remain feisty for a few decades yet, Fox has hit a gold mine." That's what Robert Kaplan said recently, writing in Policy Review Online, a publication of the Hoover Institute. He's right about Fox. There's no question that the network plays to the sentiments of provincial nationalists and does it quite well. But if you read Kaplan's whole article, titled "The Media and Medievalism," you'll discover that the meatloaf world of nationalism is the best world he can imagine. If that's the case, so be it. But the rest of us have the right to ask whether it is, indeed, our best world or whether we can think of something better. The metaphor, itself, is instructive. Meatloaf is satisfying. It conveys a comfortable feeling. And, if you make it a staple of your diet, you'll find yourself buying bigger pants sizes and you'll die about twenty-five years earlier than if you had eaten broccoli and spinach. It's your choice, of course. To sink into our Americanism and tell ourselves that, unexamined, it ensures our  superiority and heroism, is about as comforting as meatloaf, and will produce similar results. It's not that some kind of life can't be sustained that way. But the question has to do with the quality of that life. Mr. Kaplan is down on cosmopolitanism. And I am too if all he's talking about is it's snottiness. But if he thinks there's something effete about setting one's humanity over one's military patriotism, then he trying to lead us down a path that goes nowhere but to the garbage dump.

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One of the better web sites I've discovered lately is PressThink, written by Jay Rosen. In his article for March 1st, titled "The Abyss of Observation Alone," Mr. Rosen questions the morality of standing above the fray and pretending, as journalists generally do, simply to report what's going on. Any report has power, and therefore reporters are exercising power while assuming no responsibility for what it causes. That's not right says Rosen. It's an important point and it raises the issue of the nature of journalistic integrity. For too long we have assumed that a good journalist is impartial. But, that's nonsense. Nobody can be impartial for the simple reason that every human wants something and his wants will affect his perception. I don't know why we shouldn't admit this. On the other hand, I do think people can be fair-minded and they can care about accuracy. That's what we should expect of journalists, and any other commentators for that matter. When I write, I make no secret of the truth that I don't want to live in the world that George Bush  is trying to fashion. That world would be odious to me. But that doesn't mean I have the right to lie about Mr. Bush. If all of us were open about our proclivities, we would have a much better chance of being fair and telling the truth. And journalism would be less cruel than it is now.

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