Sunday, February 27, 2005

Transmission of information

There are a number of “memes” or ideas that are propagated by the right-wing, one common one being this idea that the mainstream media (daily newspapers, most notably the New York Times; network television) is “liberal”.

A syndicated column by John Leo, which was carried by my local paper, has the columnist once more trotting out the tired rhetoric about the medias bias, and of course, it tilts leftward. While I wish that this was true (tilted left, particular towards progressive thought and ideas), the fact remains that the media that Leo is talking about—the mainstream variety—is biased in a direction befitting corporations and big-business. Because most media is owned by large corporations whose primary objective is maximization of profit—furthering their own bottom line by whatever means necessary—the needs of common, everyday, working-class Americans goes wanting in the press and other media coverage.

Columnists like Leo are transmitters—spokespeople whose job is to send or transmit information for consumption by the masses to determine how much traction these ideas garner. Over the past decade, those on the right—Leo, Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Hannity and others—have been disseminating ideas like this one—“the media is liberal”—and these “memes” have gained traction to where unsophisticated people repeat that mantra without giving it any thought, whatsoever. It’s an accepted fact, even though a casual analysis of much of what is accepted as “liberal” media, rarely, if ever, promotes ideas that are left of center, or progressive in ideology.

When these ideas become entrenched and internalized by the masses, it becomes difficult to refute the lies and misinformation. As often happens, those most likely to succumb to this subtle form of propaganda, are those most often hurt by this very propaganda. This is what makes it so insidious and effective.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

This is where your information ends up

Day after day, all of us are asked for sensitive and personal information, just to keep our foot in the door and maintain an economic beachhead in our capitalist economy.

All of us have qualms about sharing so much info--social security drivers license numbers, addresses, income level, the list goes on. We always receive assurances that our information is safe and protected, but its possible that someone is using that information for less than benign purposes.

Here's an emerging story that shows what can happen to some of our information that we divulge.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

HST leaves the room

Hunter Thompson shot himself. I guess that sentence isn't as odd as it originally seemed when I contemplated writing it. Actually, when you view his life, you understand that obviously Thompson figured that it was time to leave this planet and so he took the initiative to do so.

There are always certain figures that are larger than life and there will never be another Hunter S. Thompson. San Francisco Bay Guardian writer, Tim Redmond, does a good job with a tough assignment--capturing the iconic Thompson in 1,000+ words.

The LA Weekly's Marc Cooper also weighs in on Thompson's death by suicide.

In a day and age of manufactured and plastic celebrities, journalistic hacks and wannabes, Thompson's shoes will likely go without filling, and the writing profession, as well as American culture will be the worse for it.

Steroids and the younger athlete

Since the Jose Canseco interview on 60 Minutes about his steroid usage detailed in his recently released book, the topic has been all over sports call-in shows and bantered about by the hosts of these programs.

While there have been those who have unequivocally condemned Canseco and his condoning the usage of a banned and potentially hazardous substance, many have actually taken to defending this blight on baseball. Adding to the entire circus is the lack of accountability coming from athletes, afforded the privilege of million dollar salaries and national prominence. It's from that stage where professional players could begin sending a message that steroid usage isn't ok. Of course, that's not going to happen, so those covering sports should take the lead of ESPN and continue to call upon these role models (yes, they are role models--good or bad) to be accountable for their actions. It's also about time that major league baseball owners started exhibiting some courage and call for league-wide monitoring of the athletes, since they seem incapable of doing it themselves.

As I wrote in an earlier post, the biggest concern I have about the entire issue, is the message that it sends to high school and college athletes, seeking an advantage in their own sports performance.

As a father of a college athlete, as well as a coach of college players, I’m aware of the potential magnitude of widespread steroid usage moving into high school and as reported this morning on ESPN, middle school athletes.

While ESPN occasionally crosses the line in its self-promotion, they are one of the few sports media venues that are willing to address serious issues confronting the world of sports. This week, they’ve been running a series on steroid usage. It was obvious to me from watching this morning’s segment that steroid usage among amateur athletes has the potential to explode unless parent, coaches and other officials recognize the danger and become proactive in addressing the issue.

A parent who lost a son to steroid abuse, Don Hooten, has started a foundation that has as its goal, “to raise awareness among the general population of the United States about the dangers of steroid abuse for the purpose of minimizing the abuse of this drug by adolescents and young adults.”

I’d encourage all parents and coaches, as well as others connected with student-athletes, to begin educating themselves about steroids, the signs of usage and the potential harm they can cause. This issue is not going away soon, and responsible adults need to prepare ourselves to face up to the possible effects and consequences, rather than pretending they don’t exist.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hurting children

Americans posture and puff about their commitment to children. From the lip service we pay about education, to our indignation we exhibit if anyone dares to question our inadequate parenting skills, Americans talk a good game about children. Rarely however, do we back it up. A good case in point is how our schools continue to fail large numbers of children, leaving them ill-prepared for life after school, yet little is done to bring about any substantive reforms that benefit all children, not just a handful.

From the government we choose, to the services that are taken away, our nation cares very little about our children. If we in fact did care, we'd address the issues that plague children during childhood and adequately care for them, rather than engaging in moral posturing.

A good anecdote for this is the specter of seeing a parent physically abuse their children in public and being foolish enough to intervene (been there, done that); this is a good illustration of disconnect I'm talking about between what we say and what we do. Anyone who's been in that unenviable position has heard some parent, whose just beat the crap out of their defenseless kid in public, utter the refrain, "Don't tell me how to raise my kids,"; yeah, just go right on beating the crap out of them, because as a parent, it's your right.

Molly Ivins latest column is a case in point concerning the Bush administration's utter lack of concern for children. I know conservatives, the enablers that they are, will justify whatever this administration does and doesn't take kindly to anyone who points out there shortcomings; remember "Don't tell me how to raise my kids....."? As Ivins points out, the budget shenanigans and the funding for the empire's expansion is being done on the backs of one group in particular; our children.

As Ivins writes, "Budgets are the guts of government. That's where you find the answer to the first of the three important questions about who runs a society: Who's getting screwed? Who's doing the screwing? And what the hell will they do to us next?

There was a time when reporters actually read budgets to find out what was going on, but the things are so humongous these days, we've given up on that. Consequently, there's usually a bit of a pause after a budget comes out, while we wait to hear from the various special interest groups that study their own section of a budget in minute detail. Then, the screaming from injured parties commences, and the press presumably sits up and takes note of who's screaming loudest.

With President Bush's proposed budget, may it die in committee, no pause is necessary. Read any overview of the proposal, and you can see exactly who's getting screwed: children."

I'd encourage you to read Ivin's latest; it's a good one!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Best blogs don't like criticism

While many awards for best band, best pizza, and even best blog, mean little or nothing, I am a bit put off by the constant trawling for votes many bloggers have been promoting via their weblogs.

A blog that received Time Magazine's "blog of the year" award for their right-wing cheerleading, apparently doesn't take kindly to the criticism of other bloggers.

Minnesota Politics recounts a recent email and the virulent response from the folks at Powerline to being called on their lack of objectivity regarding all things conservative.

I guess this is a pretty good indication that being named the "best of" doesn't mean much when it comes to a grasp on the issues and facts surrounding them.

I'm off to the northern hinterlands of Maine to cover some basketball, and welcoming the downtime from politics and other national matters.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Perspective and our seat assignment

How often our perspective informs, or better yet, clouds our ability to see an issue or an event in an objective way. Possibly, objectivity is in the eye of the beholder, or based upon one’s perspective at the time.

Our political ideology, class or status in society, level of education, and even willingness to entertain ideas and opinions that differ from our own causes our perspective and viewpoint about life to be skewered one way or another.

I was thinking about some of these issues as I reflected on the past two days of immersing myself into the midst of the boys and girls high school basketball tournaments in Maine.

My own perspective is vastly different than if my own son or daughter happened to be playing in the tournament. My objectivity would no longer be that of an interested “outsider”, trying to understand the tournament more as a cultural phenomenon, rather than as a fan of the team(s) playing on the floor.

Probably some who read my blog(s) recognize that I have anti-authoritarian leanings, although I wouldn’t say that I’m opposed to structure of all types. Some might even call it a “chip on my shoulder” towards those in charge. Of course, that would be your perspective concerning that matter. My preference would be to have flat a ladders of authority, or as little hierarchy as humanly possible. But of course, our perspective might influence what we would consider appropriate in just this one area. Hence, these leanings color my perspective in some of my recent dealings with an organization like the MPA. From their perspective, they obviously feel that structure of some sort is necessary, trying to coordinate disparate schools, communities and large numbers of people, at specific games sites like the Augusta Civic Center (Western Maine), as well as the Bangor Auditorium (Eastern Maine).

I had an interesting interview with a coach of one of the private Xian schools that were participating in the tournament. In speaking with this affable, and very likeable person, I recognized that probably, some of my attempts at being cute, such as my post on intriguing match up #1, could have been taken as offensive, not knowing that I was trying to deflect some of my anger and frustration that I carry around towards organized religion. Despite the best attempts to intellectualize so many issues, of which this is only one, it’s difficult to divorce emotion (and perspective?) from the equation. We were able to have an interesting dialogue on what coaching means to him, based upon his philosophy and trying to model a particular worldview (perspective?) to the young men entrusted to him in his role as a leader.

So, what does all this mean? I’m not trying to devolve all things into the swamp of post modernism, which says that there is no way of arriving at truth. I’m also not saying that thoughts and ideas aren’t worth fighting for, and that thought and analysis aren't valid pursuits, because everything is equal, anyhow. Great ideas, particularly those standing the test of time and the scrutiny of centuries are always good places to start, in any debate.

What I am saying is that life is complicated, and it could be a little less strident at times and human interactions a little more pleasant, if we would all realize that what we sometimes attempt to enforce as the truth, is only our own perspective or skewered version of life as we see it.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Communication breakdown

I am reminded almost daily how entrenched certain paradigms and cultures are in our way of doing things.

Take a simple thing (or so it seemed when I thought of it) like obtaining press credentials to cover a high school basketball tournament. Tonight begins the annual rite of winter in Maine, the boys and girls high school basketball tournaments, which will crown a high school team, state champion, in the various classifications. As I wrote about this morning, I plan on doing some coverage, maybe in a semi-conventional way, but with a few twists from the "normal" way that sports reporters cover these things.

Assuming that others are "tuned into" what new media is all about, I called the MPA to inquire about obtaining press credentials to cover the tournament.

Like any bureaucracy, the MPA does an excellent job of ensuring a standard product offering, maintaining order, and following rules of protocol, particularly as it benefits themselves. Not to demean what this governing body does, as it provides a certain organizational flow to the proceedings of the annual tournament.

The gatekeeper, a pleasant and efficient woman, informed me I'd need to talk to their executive director in charge of the tournament. Being that today is the start of the tourneys, it was no surprise that I was given his v/m, due to his being on the phone.

The gentleman, a taciturn and bureaucratic chap, typical of many in similar roles, called me back to inform me that I'd need a letter from a sports editor, from the newspaper I would be covering the event for, on stationary with a letterhead. I would then need to hand-deliver it to an official at the game site. I tried to explain freelancing and the nature of the beast, but he didn't seem able, or wanting to follow my explanation.

I didn't have the spunk at that point to explain blogging, new media, and the old paradigm thinking that he was exhibiting. I know the drill--as I've been subjected to it countless times before--any time you attempt to "educate" others serving in roles of authority, it's a battle with an uneven playing field and one that you are bound to lose. When you have the upper hand, there's no need to cede control.

I did tell him I might do some web-based coverage via my website and he was quick to point out that any pictures I posted could not be sold or downloaded for profit. He also wanted to make sure I wasn't going to pass out any flyers or distribute business cards.

You see, this tournament is first and foremost a money-maker for the MPA. My being given press credentials as a freelance journalist, would rob him of the $5 per pop that I'm sure I'll pay at each game. It may even be more, as I haven't been to a tournament game in four years. Any other opportunities for financial renumeration must be tightly controlled. I resented his intimation that I somehow might be trying to exploit high school athletes for my own personal gain, when that turf has already been divvied up long before I came along.

It amazes me that regardless of what endeavor you engage in, how often the financial well-being of those in charge is fervently protected.

Well, I'm going to do my best to try to cover a few games without being sanctioned by the powers that be. It will be interesting to see how it goes and whether I run afoul of the authorities.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Show some appreciation

I've been in the midst of a very busy and hectic week. Mind you, I enjoy being busy, but its been a challenge to do the increased writing I've been required to do in order to pay bills (don't you just love capitalism?), plus continue to grind out my chapters for When Towns Had Teams, and still find some time to post to my two blogs. From the press conference I attended on Tuesday at the State House (for an article I'm writing), to being on deadline for a couple of paying articles, plus a new development that just came in yesterday, I've found it hard to write much here, this week.

I think writing, like other vocations that tend to the creative ant the cerebral sides, is often thought of as less important and consequently, pay is sometimes not as readily available, like it would be for selling a more tangible item, such as a SUV, or a big-screen television.

Being a freelance writer, I've come to accept that some people (unfortunately, many of these are editors) devalue the contributions that many of us make. It always amazes me how often a query about an article doesn't even warrant the most basic response from many in editorial positions. Obviously, some of the more important and obviously busy editors frequently respond, both kindly and politely. Even a perfunctory response of "we'll pass on it", to an article pitch is better than being ignored. Some editors are kind enough to refuse an article, but will encourage continued pitches in the future. Occasionally, I've developed relationships that lead to regular or semi-regular assignments. Those editors are like gold.

Speaking of responses, I got a kind and thoughtful email yesterday from a very sweet person that I got to know a bit last summer, as a result of my involvement as the coach of a college-age baseball team. This communicant, a mother of one of my players, sent a personal note to say she's been following my writing adventures and gave me a great idea for a possible story idea to pitch to Yankee or Downeast magazines. Another email from a former player that I interviewed for my book gave me valuable information regarding the acquisition of photos for the book.

Both of these emails, particularly the former one, made me think about why we often neglect to compliment others, or even acknowledge what they do. Whether you are a writer, musician, web designer, or any other person performing a task or service that you hope makes people's lives better, it's uplifting to get some feedback, particularly of the positive variety.

Writing is a solitary and at times, difficult slog--the money isn't always there and the hours can be long and lonely. I'm not trying to be maudlin about any of this. I'm also not trolling for compliments. I appreciate every person who takes the time to indulge me by reading my writing. I particularly appreciate those who make the additional effort to leave comments from time to time (no, not the nasty anonymous kind).

For me, writing is the best thing I've ever embarked upon. I know I'm a writer, because when I'm not writing, I'm at a loss and don't feel anchored in the world.

I know today, I'm going to send a note to someone who I haven't thanked or shown my appreciation for in a long time. All of us can do a better job of reaching out and putting a personal touch on our little corner of the world.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

They'll say anything, won't they?

I spend a few minutes each day, reading the misinformation coming from the right, all carefully designed to marginalize and even criminalize dissent in the U.S. Granted, if I wanted to, I could spend an entire day walking the corridors of right-wing thinking and not even begin to scratch the surface of this delusional universe, where up is down, murder is patriotism, and free speech means being subjected to their litmus test of approved topics.

Finding Kurt Nimmo's blog has freed me up to get some work done, as he spends time wading through the sewers of fascist group-think for me, like here and here.

While Kurt is on the left side of the fence, he doesn't subscribe to the usual "happy talk" that makes their side of the pasture as nauseating as the right's at times. He was one of a handful of bloggers who had a solid grasp on the right-wing campaign towards censoring Ward Churchill and he still is posting updated information regularly, keeping the issue (it's all about free speech, baby!) on the front burner where it belongs.

As he wrote Sunday:

"I have now reached the point where any of my minor disagreements with Ward Churchill are wholly insignificant. I don’t care about his “pedigree” (as he sarcastically termed it in his speech last Tuesday), or if he rubbed elbows with the Weather Underground, or visited Moammar in Libya, or was possibly a bit sloppy with his references and citations. For me, the only thing that matters is that he continues to tell the truth about the United States government: it has killed millions of people, violated numerous international laws, and as a citizen of this country—regardless of what Mike Weiner or Joe Scarborough say about treason and sedition—it is my right and duty to point this out."

Yeah, that about sums it up for me, also.

Monday, February 14, 2005

What support really means

[This morning's op ed in the Portland Press Herald by Dexter J. Kamilewicz was far superior to anything that I could write on the subject. I post it for others to ruminate on.-JB]

by, Dexter J. Kamilewicz

How dare some say, 'Support our troops'?
© 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

Someone recently informed me that they didn't know that my son was being deployed to Iraq and asked why I hadn't told them. I really didn't have an answer.

That is when I began to be annoyed by those ever-present, good-intentioned but mindless ribbons stuck on the back of cars and SUVs exhorting, "Support Our Troops."

I find those magnetic messages to be offensive when I think of parents and friends of National Guard soldiers who purchased expensive Kevlar armor for their soldiers while Donald Rumsfeld said they didn't have any in stock.

Those marketing messages seem so empty when soldiers are told to "up-armor" their Humvees because the Department of Defense had not asked the manufacturers if more could be done.
I am saddened when veterans wait over a year for appointments at veterans' hospitals and soldiers in Iraq, Afghanistan and places like Walter Reed Hospital are required to pay for phone calls and emails home. I bet Rumsfeld doesn't have to pay for calls and e-mails back home, and I find it unbelievable and unacceptable that Rumsfeld has not been fired while the troops have been treated so poorly. Support our troops?

I accept that there are justifications for going to war. However, I cannot find anyone who can give me a solid reason to justify our going to and continuing the war in Iraq.


There seems to be no question in America more avoided, particularly by elected officials, than a discussion of the war in Iraq. I asked Maine's members of Congress those questions.

U.S. Rep. Tom Allen said the war was not justified, but to abandon Iraq and its people now would be a mistake. Sen. Susan Collins said that going to war in Iraq was a problem of faulty intelligence, but the chaos in Iraq required us to stay.

Sen. Olympia Snowe blamed Saddam Hussein as the revised apparent rationale for invading Iraq, and she focused on the need for global support for the U.S efforts in Iraq. U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud agreed with Snowe.

Those answers translate that we got there by mistake, and we are staying there by mistake. There is no plan, there is no discussion and there is no leadership. Didn't we go into Iraq to protect ourselves from weapons of mass destruction and because of Iraq's connections with the terrorists, reasons that have been found to be utterly in error? Support our troops?

The pointless death and maiming of this war is pure insanity and probably even criminal. In this war, many times those who died in the World Trade Center have been wounded or killed. Over 1,400 American soldiers are dead, over 10,000 soldiers are physically wounded while uncounted others are psychologically wounded, and, by some estimates, over 100,000 Iraqis have been killed and maimed.

How can the killing be justified? Are we going to destroy a nation and kill its people to save it? We tried that once before. Support our troops?

I am afraid for my son. I certainly worry about his being killed, but I am also worried about his being placed in the position of killing, too. Most of all, I am angry that we are sending our soldiers to a war that nobody can justify.

Most Americans, especially members of Congress, do not have to worry about a loved one in the middle of this war, and they duck the tough questions.

Why do we permit a defacto back-door draft of the National Guard and recycle them, too? We were lied to once before, and we must avoid being lied to again. Will President Bush be this generation's Robert McNamara? I hope not. Will the Congress have the courage to ask the relevant questions? I hope so. Support our troops?


Now you know why I didn't go out of my way to tell people that my son is being deployed to Iraq, and please don't ask about him if you really don't want to know.

Instead, please know that you will be in my shoes or his shoes unless you ask questions and demand answers of those in power. In the meantime, please excuse me if I have a painful lump in my throat or tears brimming in my eyes and that I am so angry with this damned war and the people who declared it.

Support our troops. Ask tough questions. Bring them home now.

- Special to the Press Herald

[Dexter J. Kamilewicz (e-mail: is a resident of Orr's Island. ]

More O'Reilly fabrications

For a man who holds everyone else to such lofty standards, poor Bill O'Reilly has a difficult time coming clean when it comes to his own achievements, or lack thereof.

First it was his claim of winning a Peabody award while at Inside Edition (He won a Polk, which was considerably less prestigious) and the later revelation in Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, which got Franken sued, as well as screamed at during a joint appearance (O'Reilly tells Franken to "shut up" at the 48:53 mark) with the notoriously thin-skinned O'Reilly. Now, Keith Olbermann, the ascerbic former sportscaster, turned hard-hitting nightly talk show pundit for MSNBC reveals that Bill "No!! Not the Truth Serum" O'Reilly is at it again, this time exaggerating his skill and acumen for punting a football while at Marist College in New York.

From Obermann's Feb. 9 post at Bloggermann, we see him showing O'Reilly for the compulsive lying sociopath that he really is. If you read to the bottom of that day's blog, it gets truly weird when Olbermann talks about "the email".

You know what they say about throwing stones?

Juicing, baseball and Jose Canseco

I don’t know how many of you watched the 60 Minutes interview with former major league baseball player Jose Canseco. Canseco is the subject of a media flurry related to the release of his new book, Juiced : Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big delivered with aplomb by Regan Books, the publisher of other literary classics such as Jenna Jameson’s, How to Make Love Like a Porn Star.

First-of-all, it was no secret that Canseco used anabolic steroids. The interesting part to me, in his interview with Mike Wallace, was his revelation that he never would have been able to be a major league star without the banned substance.

Canseco hasn’t enamored himself to many former players since he left the game, as he has had a penchant for dropping names and other juicy tidbits to the press. It’s hard for me to have a lot of respect for a guy who violates the sacred trust of the clubhouse and writes a kiss-and-tell book, designed to make him some needed cake, while tearing down the reputations of other players, most notably Mark McGwire, as well as players like Rafael Palmeiro and Ivan Rodriguez, the latter two, teammates of Canseco’s in Texas. Interestingly, the owner of the Rangers at that time was none other than George W. Bush. Peter Vecsey, in his inimitable style, makes this little quip about that connection:

“According to Dr. Jose Canseco, then-Texas Rangers' owner George W. Bush had to know his team was a steroid factory in the early 1990's, sort of a "weapons of muscle-mass destruction." In his defense, the president said the documents may have crossed his desk, but were never authenticated by Dan Rather.”

I’m sure President Bush knew about the use of steroids, as well as much of the management and union brass that oversees the major league game. But like any corporate entity, it's easier to deny culpability, than to take the high road and admit that your overriding concern wasn’t the damage and potential affects that use of banned substances could have on the integrity of the national pastime, but the maximization of your profit from the product on the field, juiced, or not.

Former baseball writer, turned management consultant, Jeff Angus, has some interesting takes on the steroids flap at his blog, Management by Baseball. You can read one of them here.

Needless to say, Canseco’s revelations will be played down and major league baseball will try its damndest to continue to paint itself as purer than the driven snow.

Meanwhile, the use of sterioids will continue to be seen as ok by college players looking for a competititive edge, as well as high school players, seeking to emulate the major league players they see on their TV screens, making millions of dollars annually.

If you don’t think that’s a problem, then you probably haven’t been around the game very much in the capacity that I have. Steroid use is a problem even at the smaller college level and today’s 19, 20 and 21 year olds talk about them with a casual air of disregard. I know, because I coach college age players each summer and I’ve been around the game for the past 20 years, so I know a trend when I see one.

What I’d love to see is an honest addressing of the issue by major league baseball, with cooperation from the players association and the union. Until then, the problem will continue and it will tarnish what was once a wonderful game, that I enjoyed following.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Leave it to the experts

It’s been my experience that most people defer to so-called “experts” in most areas of their lives. For medical issues, we defer to doctors and other professionals, whose track records are dubious at best. For our finances, we rely upon the expertise and professional prowess that at times appears more like a Ponzi scheme than actual investment guidance. For information about the important matters concerning politics, policy and foreign relations, our trust in the media in its various forms; the papers, pontificating talk show hosts and nightly Fox News broadcasts, is legendary and somewhat unnerving.

The current administration has relied on this cult of gullibility and trust in the experts, to push war, tax cuts, and a rush to privatize anything and everything, down the throats of the American populace.

Take Social Security. The experts in Washington, particularly those of a right-leaning political ideology, have been able to take misinformation about Social Security—the fund is in trouble and going broke, which makes it highly likely it won’t be there when I retire—to push a plan resting on a smoke and mirrors approach to center stage. Journalists, who I assume were trained at their highfalutin schools of higher learning to do a bit of research on the people and subjects they write about, have graciously turned into transcriptionists, warmly taking the Bush Administration's press releases and turning them into their daily posts, masquerading as investigative reporting.

The best that could be said about much of what passes for privatization coming from Washington, is that it is a vague plan, short on specifics and details. Rather than question the Bush track record of failure, the timidly doting press corps obediently bleat their obeisance, without a whimper of contrariness toward the ruling junta.

While the war in Iraq was waged with very little preparation and almost no long-term strategic plan for an exit, little scrutiny has been given to this ill-fated plan. Once again, the same lack of scrutiny was turned upon the Bush tax cuts and the long-term economic ramifications (record deficits and a dangerously depleted federal treasury). Now, we are looking at a Bush plan for Social Security dismantling, and once more, this is again going forth without any real across-the-board investigation by the co-opted American press.

Needless to say, the slumbering masses hear rumblings coming from some quarters (namely the internet and the tireless work of policy wonks, think tanks and other bloggers, plus a handful of writers, like Paul Krugman and others who still practice journalism in its traditional definition), but its easier and less unsettling to heed any bad news—much easier to repeat the mantra; "war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength." We’ll just let the “experts” take care of us, trusting them to, like they always have.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Losing FACE

[For those of you from “away”, this rant won’t make a lot of sense. It may not make sense, even if you are from Maine. Feel free to follow along, however, if you like.]

I grew up reading great rock journalists. When I was coming of age and learning the cred and lingo of rock and roll, the legendary Lester Bangs, of Creem fame, was a constant read. Bangs, a freelancer after my own heart, went on to write for the Village Voice, Playboy, and New Musical Express, always writing about rock and roll in his inimitable, gonzo style.

Later, I would check out Dave Marsh and other stalwarts at Rolling Stone (Marsh, interestingly, also got his start at Creem). In later years, I gravitated to Spin, APress back before these became the trendy publications (filled with advertisements) they now are.

The Maine rock scene has always had a rock and roll publication, because Maine, despite being a rural state with a lack of population density, has produced some kick-ass rock over the last 30 years. When I was in high school, it was Sweet Potato, a free publication that spawned Jim Sullivan, who went on to bigger and better things at the Boston Globe, before falling off my radar screen.

Sweet Potato was a sought out publication for teens, as well as other fans of music, like myself, wanting to know what was new and who the up-and-coming bands were in and around Portland (the state’s rock and roll mecca then, as it is now).

With the demise of Sweet Potato, came FACE. I don’t know the exact date, but I do remember the years when FACE was Benny Green’s baby. Green was one of those guys, like a Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh, who truly never lost his love and fascination with the juvenilia of rock.

As happens so often with free publications, the hours are long and the pay (if there is any) is never sufficient. Green burnt out and he left. Other writers like Steve Curtis (Dr. Rock n’ Roll), S.D. Feeney and others, continued the FACE tradition of always respecting the music enough, not to become bigger than the bands or artists they were writing about. Now one could argue that my reference to Bangs, who did achieve a certain celebrity for his upbraiding and insulting of his subjects, invalidates my point of adulation for the reputation of FACE and its predecessor, Sweet Potato. I’d argue that despite Bangs’ ability to grandstand, he never lost sight of the basic essence of rock and roll.

That brings me back to FACE, or at least the last issue that was produced and distributed by the departed editor, Paul Woodfin. Woodfin, like Green, reached a point where he wanted to do something else.

My brief experience with Paul consisted of making an inquiry and then writing a couple of articles over the last few months of his editorship. From my perspective as a freelance writer, he respected writers and was a pleasure to deal with. I was sad to see him go, but never did I imagine that his departure would leave the FACE masthead in such a sorry state as its current manifestation.

FACE has been published under the auspices of The Portland Phoenix for some time. I don’t know the exact relationship, but if I had to use a business analogy, I’d liken the role of FACE to being a subsidiary of The Phoenix. That meant with Woodfin’s departure, the ship was left in the hands of The Phoenix’ editor, Sam Pfeifle.

I don’t know Pfeifle. I have my opinions of him based from my place of pitching occasional ideas to an editor. For whatever reason, he doesn’t think my writing measures up to The Phoenix’ post-modernistic, pregnant with the irony-style, so popular with their 20-something audience. Hey, it’s no biggy. I’ve figured it out with The Phoenix and I’m cool with that.

What has become a big deal, is that after writing a couple of well-recieved profiles on both Jose Ayerve and Spouse and Matt Newberg and the Hurricane, I had hoped that with the new situation at FACE, there would still be the occasional opportunity to write some music pieces, which I enjoyed and thought that my professionalism and knowledge of music made me a good fit to write. I also looked forward to writing about musicians who were more than just talented performers--they were also unique and interesting people, doing something beyond the usual self-indulgent and narcissistic gig that rock can become for some.

Pfiefle did inform me that the “new” FACE was going to be different and I should check it out to see what he meant. Well, I couldn’t find the new paper at all for January and I looked in all the usual places. I have always found it at Bullmoose locations, even in outlying towns like Lewiston. I don’t know if it went to press or not.

This past week, when I came into town on Monday night, lo and behold, I had the good fortune of finding the “new and improved” FACE and boy, was I in for a fucking surprise!

The cover had a couple of trendy rock-wannabes gracing the cover, kissing, with the caption, “In Love With Rock and Roll”. The guy, of the leather jacket and flannel shirt look, and the girl, the indie rock, “I’m so hip it hurts” type of chick, cigarette in hand.

When I opened it up, I realized what Pfiefle had meant about changes. Apparently, the inmates are now running the asylum because the style, reeking of amateurism, is vintage zine, as in, the kind you run off on copiers at the local library. Replete with hand written info and oh-so-clever masthead, the creators outdid themselves with this one.

While former FACE columnist Shane Kinney keeps a column (regular readers already know about his writing and possibly why he stayed on board), the other "new" writers thought it important to list helpful, descriptive info in their bios like, "A high-school slut, she's the only known person to have slept with all four members of New Kids on the Block", and another one writes, "She was fired from Disney World for sexual harassment". I am so impressed with your tongue-in-cheek cleverness. How about you tell us what you've done, or who you've written for that might be germane to why you're qualified to be a writer of a publication that others read? Oh, right, I didn't think so.

Needless to say, from the gang that are now running the show, to the writing style and article selection, Portland no longer has a representative music magazine any longer.

Personally, when I pick up a music paper, I want to read about bands with talent, written by writers who know their music, not articles about tampons and proper care of one’s vagina (I kid you not!). I’m no prude, but my music publication is about music, not lifestyle anarchism and DIY culture. Hey, I’m down with DIY, but of the musical variety, not the culture of slack and the posers who have co-opted the original concept. Other well-written and very informative features were the one where three folks, pictures and all, are asked "What's The Best CD To Listen To While Having Sex" and the "Identify the Urinal" contest was a hoot. There were actually a couple of music-related articles, one on Bright Eyes (written by Boston Phoenix staffer, Camille Dodero), Pfiefle recycles some stuff for another Ray LaMontagne article (the guy's good, but aren't there other singer/songwriters to profile in Maine?), and an all-too-brief piece on books about Johnny Cash. Sadly, I'm not able to link to the newest version of FACE, so you could see the damage firsthand, because since Woodfin's departure, no one's bothered to update the website.

I don’t have a problem with changing the focus of a paper or magazine. If Pfeifle, as editor, wanted to gradually segue over to a new look and editorial slant, possibly explaining himself as he went, that could have worked. Possibly, he could have kept on regular columnists like the Wisdom Weasel, who's wit and and historical grounding in the rock world made his columns a regular read for many. Of course, that would have required some effort on Pfeifle's part, so he basically has given it over to a couple of writers who aren't very talented.

If Pfeifle and the others have such a low opinion of the previous style of journalism and music writing that FACE represented, then do the honorable thing and change the name, since the current rag has no connection to its predecessor. Do everyone a favor who actually cared about the old paper and change the name to something else (I could think of a couple of more descriptive names, but I'll refrain from foisting them on my readers), just don’t call it FACE!

Oh, and just a wee bit more advice, advice that comes from personal experience. One of the keys to the success of free publications is getting it distributed, which means that sometimes, you have to load up the car and take a day and slog it around the state (just like Paul and others used to). Yeah, and have a bit more content worth reading, also.

Debacle in Iraq

Arianna Huffington has a good point about governmental accountability in her latest syndicated column. She talks about Iraq being "an unmitigated disaster...a cornucopia of waste, fraud, ineptitude, cronyism, secret no-bid contracts, and profiteering cloaked in patriotism."

Couldn't have said it any better myself.

She's also got a blog.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

I write other things, also

It may come as a surprise to some who read words matter, but I write other things besides caustic op eds. It was somewhat humorous to have those who reacted negatively to my op ed in support of Ward Churchill calling me a “hack”, “elitist”, “ivory tower liberal”, and the best one of all--insinuating that the best place for “people like you”, was a solitary cell at Gitmo!

Actually, for the charge of “elitist”, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Anyone who knows me, knows how much I hate class divisions, particularly along economic lines and privilege.

Growing up in a small Maine town, being fortunate enough to have working-class roots, taught me early on that community mattered. I grew up during a time when neighbors still cared about one another. Growing up on a street where stickball was played in the road and if a ball hit someone’s house, no one threatened a lawsuit. Cars didn’t come screaming past our houses at 40-50 mph (in a 25mph zone) and you didn’t have to dive for the ditch to save your hide while riding your bike along the back roads of town.

Our Main Street had Roberts’ Pharmacy and Kennebec Fruit, where we could visit the old-fashioned soda fountain, or buy penny candy. We had Chuck’s Superette and the Kitty Korner Store, where I used to pick up my papers every afternoon for my afternoon Journal paper route. This was back in the day when the Lewiston Sun Journal still had morning and afternoon editions of its paper. I remember signing up the most new subscriptions for a contest the paper was having and scoring tix to go to the old Boston Garden for a Celtics game.

Recently, I had the good fortune of being able to freelance a feature article and even taking a few pictures of some middle school students, as they gathered local historical artifacts and put them online. This was part of a project of the Maine Historical Society, which has created Maine Memory Network, a website that gives technological access to historical groups all over the state, allowing anyone with an internet connection access to local history.

A middle school teacher who cares about actually teaching and is passionate about the rich historical and cultural heritage of the town where he teaches, had taken a group of gifted and talented seventh and eighth graders and gotten them excited about local history.

The Lisbon Historical Society in Lisbon Falls, the town where I grew up, is now housed in the former elementary school where I first attended kindergarten through third grade. Some forward-thinking members of the town have revived the abandoned structure and turned it into a community center that houses the historical society, local food bank and a Head Start program. While I was there, a former schoolmate who’s overseeing the center told me that some in the town are opposed to this concept. Apparently, they think the investment the town is making in providing community space to their citizens isn’t giving them a return their comfortable with. I guess they think that somehow, they’ll turn it into a money-making venture, charging the citizens of the town a fee for use. Personally, I think that’s the wrong direction for the town to be taking, so I may write an article on that at some point in the next month or two.

If there is one thing that I’m passionate about and informs much of what I write, is the belief that we are all in this life together—if we can just find some way to reach consensus, or find common ground, we could do so much more. Community has a way of building those bridges, bridges that ideology often destroys.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Fox and the Patriots

As a native New Englander, I watched with interest as the boys from Foxborough dispensed with the Philadelphia Eagles, by a 24-21 count. As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m not a huge football fan, but I have a certain interest in the team from the days when I watched them as a wee lad, when they went by the name of the Boston Patriots and played their games at Fenway Park in downtown Boston.

When I looked at the TV listings page in my local paper, I saw with horror that the game was being carried by Fox. My expectations were greatly reduced for enjoyment of the game, knowing just how much Fox manages to take the simple beauty of baseball and turn it into a bastardized spectacle that approaches what Hollywood does to your favorite novel. I imagined they would do the same with football, also. They didn’t let me down.

Now I don’t expect most sound bite aficionados to appreciate sports in their purity like I do. I mean, I was reading the late Susan Sontag bemoan the death of cinephilia with the TV sound down during commercials! But for the love of Christ, can they dispense with all the stupid graphics, weird camera angles and incessant chatter of the halftime analysts and just give us the game?

Despite my general disgust with what professional sports have become, there is something refreshing about the old-fashioned Bill Belichick and his lunch pail gang of players who are a throwback to the blue-collar teams of the 1960’s such as the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Colts and the run-and-gun days of the renegade AFL.

I can almost expect to see Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi and the rest of the Patriots in the old grainy black and white films from bygone days, produced by NFL films.

Congratulations to the Patriots—Super Bowl champions for three out of the past four years!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Ideology and the right to speak

In trying to wrap up the issues concerning Ward Churchill and the controversy swirling around what he said, his right to say it and the fallout that comes when ideological purity gets tossed into the mix, I ran across two articles from Counterpunch.

The first one, by Alexander Cockburn looks at the right to free expression, juxtaposed with ideology and worldview.

The second, by Kurt Nimmo, sums up nicely my thoughts and feelings as I come to the end (or beginning?) of a week.

My willingness to join the fray and express support for constitutionally protected free speech has given me a very small glimpse into the deranged minds of many that inhabit the world of neo-conservatism. While I've gotten some much appreciated civil and intelligent feedback from several folks that are at different places in how we view politics and world events, I've also been exposed to some personal attacks (all anonymous) that attempted to discredit what I wrote on the basis of 1) Churchill being a fraud, or 2) that what he wrote was so outside the pale of accepted dialogue, that it is rightfully being shut down. None of these sought to dialogue or even politely express disagreements. Instead, they immediately sought to dismiss the issue with the wave of a hand and the use of ad hominem tactics designed to marginalize my efforts to take a particular position.

One of the things I've learned about writing is that if no one comments on your writing, then you probably don't have much to say. When people start taking the time to send you attack mail, then you might possibly have hit a nerve. Hey, it's all good!

Despite the lies, innuendo and blatent attacks against Churchill, even from those who ought to be standing with him, I'd do it again, as I believe freedom of speech is one of the foundational freedoms in our country. If we lose that, then nothing else really matters.

Burn baby, burn!

"It wasn't a band of angry students who destroyed about two dozen copies of "Bless Me, Ultima," a novel selected for a Norwood High School English class - it was a group of parents. Norwood School Superintendent Bob Conder confiscated the books and released them to parents to be burned or otherwise purged."

So begins this story from Colorado, the state that burns books, attacks a professor's right to free speech and threatens him with dismissal and of course, the home of James Dobson and Focus on the Family ministries.

The book, Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolpho Anaya, explores the difficulty of reconciling conflicting cultural traditions. The main character, a young boy growing up in New Mexico during World War II, struggles with the complexities of his religion. He becomes increasingly frustrated by the failure of the Catholic Church to explain the most pressing questions about morality and human experience and is frustrated by his failure to find a forgiving god, and then finds an unlikely mentor in a local “healer” who comes to live with his family.

Anaya, a professor emeritus of English from the University of New Mexico, wrote the book in 1972.

Anaya, in a phone interview said, “Freedom of democracy is learned in our school systems.”

“Parents have the right to monitor what their children read, however they do not have the right to tell others what they can read. That is un-American, un-democratic and un-educational,” said Anaya.

The article goes on to say that these parents objected to some of the "nasty" words contained, so with the endorsement of the local administration, they built a bonfire in the parking lot of good 'ole Norwood High. According to School Superintendent Bob Condor, the book contained "filthy language".

"I'm not going to repeat the language. Our job is to protect kids from things that aren't good for kids," he said.

Hey, if it has bad words, just fire up the censorship pyre and be done with it!

The ALA has information about banned books at their website.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Op ed on Infoshop

In my rash of recent posts, I never got around to putting a link up to my own op ed that I penned concerning Ward Churchill, freedom of speech, and attacks from the right-wing limiting that freedom.

Chuck and the good folks over at Infoshop picked up the op ed that I wrote and shopped to several left-leaning websites. With the subject of free speech front and center in the controversy swirling around Churchill, I would have thought a few more websites and bloggers would have had something to say about it. With Bill O'Reilly's nightly character assasinations against Churchill, I kept waiting for someone with a national forum, like Al Franken and Air America to take up his defense. Apparently, free speech that crosses whatever line Churchill was deemed to have crossed by the liberal arbiters of good taste, warrants shunning.

Bloggers like Atrios, Daily Kos, and even David Brock over at Media Matters had nothing to say about calls for censor and demands for Churchill's job at the University of Colorado. Even David Neiwert, who's written extensively on the rise of fascist tendencies in the U.S. was silent about this. Common Dreams, a newswire that carries a wide spectrum of progressive thought and opinion chose to run an op ed criticising Churchill. The obvious clamping down on dissent certainly warranted more commentary from the left. Lord knows it's been all over Free Republic and other right-leaning sites.

I have my own thoughts as to why this is, but I'll save it for a later post. I've spent a good part of the past three days writing, sending emails and making phone calls in support of Churchill. I need some time away from my keyboard. With the temperature in the 50's outside, the spring thaw up here in the Northeast is upon us. I think I'll get out and enjoy the sunshine and maybe put on the x-country skis and take a buzz through the pines.

The saga continues...

The scenario often goes like this. Public, or semi-public figure makes comment that is deemed controversial. Routinely, the comment has been taken out of context. Media jumps on story, like proverbial pigs in shit, and figure is forced to defend. Backpeddling, figure most often retracts comment, issues apology, say they didn't make statement, or some variation on that scenario.

Ward Churchill is not backing down from his statements. In addition to having his life pried open like a dented sardine can, fellow activists and others that he has worked with and supported over the past 30+ years are running from him, tails tucked firmly between their legs. Here is a decent article (for mainstream reporting) in the Rocky Mountain News.

To Churchill's credit, he won't answer the mundane details of his life, such as, who is your mother, "It's absolutely indefensible," he said of probing questions into his family history. " 'Who's your mother and where does she live?' Yeah, she needs to be dealing with what I'm dealing with, at 85 years old.

"They're welcome to call my father. They can interview him." He says this because his father is deceased. (I love Brennan's snide editorializing in the midst of his "news" story)

Other related articles:

Free speech

Editorial on same subject

Essay on U.S. foreign policy, in light of Churchill's comments

Then there's this

Friday, February 04, 2005

Mr President: Honor your words!

Yesterday, President Bush was in Fargo, North Dakota, seeking to build support for his plan to dismantle Social Security. The fact that the president was out on the stump for another one of his policies designed to hurt and take away the future of working-class Americans, is not necessarily newsworthy. What was of interest to many free-speech advocates, was the blacklisting of dozens of Fargo citizens from attending his speech in that city. Included on the list of citizens denied access to this public event was a producer for the admittedly, left-leaning Ed Schultz program, as well as a local city commissioner, who has been an outspoken critic of the president.

This continues a familiar pattern of Bush events leading to the exclusion, or harassment of those who oppose our Fuhrer and his failed policies. Over the past year, we've seen several incidents of Bush appearances being tightly-controlled and choreographed, to avoid any appearance of dissent in proximity to the king.

--A man is arrested and charged for holding a small “No War” sign at the January Inaugural.

--The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq is ejected, arrested and charged while attending a rally for Laura Bush in September.

--Across the country, citizens are removed from public sidewalks because “the President had requested a federal protection zone."

--throughout the campaign season, opponents of Bush were routinely denied entrance to campaign events, from Maine to California.

My question for the President is this; in your coronation address, when you talked about freedom and liberty and the importance of democracy around the world, did you not include the same privileges for the citizens of your own country? Obviously you didn't, as your actions sir, speak volumes about just what kind of country you have in mind. I think your limited abilities at comprehension led you to mistake the meaning of democracy, with the definition of plutocracy. How else would anyone explain the wall of security and protection that you've erected around yourself?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Churchill redux

Alexander Cockburn, who is best known for his essays at Counterpunch, offers a cogent analysis of the entire Ward Churchill affair.

It seems to me, that we've crossed some type of line of demarcation in America. There appears to exist some type of irrational need to embrace a belief in an American mythology of goodness. When someone like Churchill comes along and attempts to reexamine that, most Americans (not all, thankfully) react with a visceral response that borders on some type of survival reflex.

There is so much dishonesty wrapped up in the mythology of American triumphalism, which is so prevalent among the right-wing conservatives that are in power at the moment. I watch with great interest the developments that follow from our current dominant ideology.

The Bush master plan for your retirement

This is what Peter Orszag had to say about the Bush plan to dismantle Social Security. Orszag, btw, is a Social Security analyst at Brookings and a former Clinton White House economist:

Under the White House Social Security plan, workers who opt to divert some of their payroll taxes into individual accounts would ultimately get to keep only the investment returns that exceed the rate of return that the money would have accrued in the traditional system.

The mechanism, detailed by a senior administration official before President Bush's State of the Union address, would hold down the cost of Bush's plan to introduce personal accounts to the Social Security system. But it could come as a surprise to lawmakers and voters who have thought of these accounts as akin to an individual retirement account or a 401(k) that they could use fully upon retirement.

"You'll be able to pass along the money that accumulates in your personal account, if you wish, to your children . . . or grandchildren," Bush said last night. "And best of all, the money in the account is yours, and the government can never take it away."

The plan is more complicated. Under the proposal, workers could invest as much as 4 percent of their wages subject to Social Security taxation in a limited assortment of stock, bond and mixed-investment funds. But the government would keep and administer that money. Upon retirement, workers would then be given any money that exceeded inflation-adjusted gains over 3 percent.

That money would augment a guaranteed Social Security benefit that would be reduced by a still-undetermined amount from the currently promised benefit.In effect, the accounts would work more like a loan from the government, to be paid back upon retirement at an inflation-adjusted 3 percent interest rate -- the interest the money would have earned if it had been invested in Treasury bonds, said Peter R. Orszag, a Social Security analyst at the Brookings Institution and a former Clinton White House economist.

"I believe you should be able to set aside part of that money in your own retirement account so you can build a nest egg for your own future," Bush said in his speech.

Orszag retorted: "It's not a nest egg. It's a loan.

"Under the system, the gains may be minimal. The Social Security Administration, in projecting benefits under a partially privatized system, assumes a 4.6 percent rate of return above inflation. The Congressional Budget Office, Capitol Hill's official scorekeeper, assumes 3.3 percent gains.

If a worker sets aside $1,000 a year for 40 years, and earns 4 percent annually on investments, the account would grow to $99,800 in today's dollars, but the government would keep $78,700 -- or about 80 percent of the account. The remainder, $21,100, would be the worker's.

Read the full article.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A fair tax plan

Anyone who has been reading my blogging since last year knows that I've written extensively on the taxation issue. Being able to bring about true reform to our tax code, creating a progressive vs. the current regressive system, would go along way towards creating a more equitable society.

From the Center for American Progress is the following summary to their call for a plan for a tax code overhaul:

The current tax code is unfair, unnecessarily complex, and has failed to meet our national priorities. Today, we are faced with a fundamental choice for our tax structure: continue the policies that have failed the vast majority of taxpayers and our country for the benefit of a few, or reform the tax system consistent with progressive principles. It is time for a fairer and simpler tax system that reduces the massive deficits created over the last four years, strengthens the middle class while honoring their work, and creates opportunity for Americans of all income levels to succeed.

You can read the entire plan here.

College degree becomes more elusive

I have a son in college. He attends a private, liberal arts college. It's become increasingly difficult for my wife and I to meet the rising costs of his education. Fortunately, the combination of his being an outstanding athlete, combined with a strong academic performance in high school, allowed him to receive an adequate financial aid package. Yet, despite the help, my wife have had to take on a significant load of debt. Believe me, I'm not complaining. Hopefully, this opportunity won't require him to scratch and claw his way through life like his self-educated, public university father had to. I'm not sure however, if there will be better opportunities, despite a good school and above average abilities. Despite the indoctrination that we are given about achieving success, most people don't rise above the class of their fathers--sorry about that, son!

I have been following the various articles regarding the cost of education, the reductions in Pell Grants, as well as other forms of financial aid. Now comes this article.

One of the great equalizers within the last half century was the post-WWII access to higher education for not only the sons and daughters of the ruling class, but young men and women whose dad was a plumber, or a bricklayer. Alas, those days seem to have passed us by, as we are descending back into a meritocracy, where only the privileged can access the American Dream.

I was planning to write about the state of the union, but I just can't make myself write about the loathesome 30 minutes I watched (I bailed at 9:45 and have flicked on AirAmerica).

I'm listening to Malloy--I'm feeling better, because he at least is giving voice to the rage and disgust I'm feeling right now. I'm a bit rung out; it's been a long day from spending several hours trying to let as many people know about the Ward Churchill situation, as well as making some really good progress on the book. I think I'll go and grab that last Bud Light, because I may not be able to fall asleep otherwise.

Attacks continue

The attacks on Native professor, scholar and activist Ward Churchill continue from the right. While I can't say for sure where and why these attacks centered on an essay that Churchill penned over three years ago, it's curious to me why these attacks have come out of left field at this time.

I took some time to listen to Bill O'Reilly's nationally-syndicated radio show and he was doing what he does best--attacking those who he disagrees with and impugning their character and even sanity. He intimated that Churchill and others who don't run up and down Main Street waving a flag (or putting a magnetic yellow ribbon on their SUV) "hate America" and are "loons", even going so far as to make statements about Churchill's appearance.

As I wrote in an op ed that I hope to have published, these attacks are designed to discredit people like Churchill primarily because he is a direct threat to their failed, Eurocentric worldview. Rather than engage Churchill, it's easier to slander his reputation and discredit his scholarship.

This is also a free speech issue. It's a chilling example how those on the right can orchestrate a campaign that incites others to make threats and harass institutions like Hamilton College into having to cancel Churchill's appearance at their school.

I spent several hours sending emails, contacting the Colorado governor's office, as well as calling the president's office at Hamilton. I spoke to a very nice staff person, who told me that Hamilton has never experienced the level of vitriol and irrational outbursts that they've had to deal with the past few days. She told me that many at the school were distraught when the local police insisted that Churchill's appearance be cancelled because of death threats and other threats designed to intimidate and shut down free speech.

Progressives have got to formulate a plan to counter the rhetoric coming from the right, or there won't be any forums left for the dissemination of ideas that exist beyond the pale of right-wing orthodoxy.

In support of free speech

I would encouage anyone who is concerned about free speech to take some time and contact both Bill Owens, Colorado governor, as well as the President of Hamilton College, Joan Hinde Stewart.

Churchill is being targeted by proponents of censorship on the right, led by fascist propagandists, such as Bill O'Reilly. Both Owens, by calling for Churchill's resignation as a tenured professor at the University of Colorado, and Hinde Stewart by cancellling a speaking engagement by Churchill at Hamilton College, are caving in to craven attempts at silencing an articulate and powerful voice of dissent from the public square.

Take some time to read The Empire Strikes Back, which will give you the background on the issue. Churchill is an unapologetic voice in opposition to the American Empire. Not surprisingly, in speaking to power, attempts are being made to silence his voice.

Contact info:

Governor Bill Owens, Colorado
phone: (303)866-2471
fax: (303) 866-2003

President Joan Hinde Steward
email: none available
phone: (315) 859-4105
fax: not posted

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The Empire Strikes Back

It's ironic that a right-wing apologist and former Nixon speechwriter, can sit in judgement of of anyone. Yet, that's exactly what Pat Buchanan does, as a commentator on MSNBC. During a segment on Indian scholar Ward Churchill, about the controversy involving an essay that Churchill wrote back in 2002, Buchanan portrayed Churchill as un-American and joined the bloviating chorus line coming from the right-wing fascist choir, calling for his dismissal as a professor at the University of Colorado. It's shameful when an intellectual and principalled activist like Churchill (who also happens to be Native American and a member of AIM) isn't allowed to challenge any of the presuppositions concerning America and it's glorification of violence and the hypocrisy of its foreign policy. Here is a synopsis of the issue involving Churchill, followed by a press release from Churchill himself, with some additional links in order to present the issue fairly. Churchill is one of a handful of American writers and activists that should be essential reading for the dwindling troupe of truthseekers that are interested in an honest rendering of information about America and its foreign policy. Churchill's cogent and concise analysis cuts through so much of the bullshit that plagues America and keeps our country in the throes of imperialist propaganda.

AK Press Author, Ward Churchill, Under Attack

After finding himself at the center of a media firestorm--and receiving a barrage of death threats--AK Press author, Ward Churchill, has stepped down from his position as Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at the University of Colorado. Not satisfied with this, Colorado Governor Bill Owens is demanding that Ward resign his position as a tenured professor as well.The controversy is based on an essay Ward wrote soon after 9-11, which he later expanded into an AK Press book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality. Conservative protestors used the essay to force Hamilton College in New York to cancel a speaking engagement Ward had scheduled there. The mainstream media (including Bill O'Reilly and Fox News) has picked up the story, distorting and misrepresenting the facts, as usual. AK Press wishes to voice our support for Ward in this struggle--in terms of both his well-researched analysis of factors that contributed to the 9-11 attacks and his right to express that analysis in public without having his life and livelihood threatened. Below, we've provided some links to articles describing the controversy, followed by the press release Ward issued. We also recommend that you read On the Justice of Roosting Chickens yourself, rather than relying on the media's version on it. Individuals can order it here:

Churchill's statement to the press:

January 31, 2005

In the last few days there has been widespread and grossly inaccurate media coverage concerning my analysis of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, coverage that has resulted in defamation of my character and threats against my life. What I actually said has been lost, indeed turned into the opposite of itself, and I hope the following facts will be reported at least to the same extent that the fabrications have been.

* The piece circulating on the internet was developed into a book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens. Most of the book is a detailed chronology of U.S. military interventions since 1776 and U.S. violations of international law since World War II. My point is that we cannot allow the U.S. government, acting in our name, to engage in massive violations of international law and fundamental human rights and not expect to reap the consequences. (BTW, none of these points were addressed by Buchanan or either of the two right-wing blowhards that he had on as guests)

* I am not a "defender"of the September 11 attacks, but simply pointing out that if U.S. foreign policy results in massive death and destruction abroad, we cannot feign innocence when some of that destruction is returned. I have never said that people "should" engage in armed attacks on the United States, but that such attacks are a natural and unavoidable consequence of unlawful U.S. policy. As Martin Luther King, quoting Robert F. Kennedy, said, "Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable."

* This is not to say that I advocate violence; as a U.S. soldier in Vietnam (interestingly, Churchill actually served a tour of duty in Vietnam, unlike most of the chickenhawks that make up the current administration, and includes Buchanan himself) I witnessed and participated in more violence than I ever wish to see. What I am saying is that if we want an end to violence, especially that perpetrated against civilians, we must take the responsibility for halting the slaughter perpetrated by the United States around the world. My feelings are reflected in Dr. King's April 1967 Riverside speech, where, when asked about the wave of urban rebellions in U.S. cities, he said, "I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed . . . without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today - my own government."

* In 1996 Madeleine Albright, then Ambassador to the UN and soon to be U.S. Secretary of State, did not dispute that 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of economic sanctions, but stated on national television that "we" had decided it was "worth the cost." I mourn the victims of the September 11 attacks, just as I mourn the deaths of those Iraqi children, the more than 3 million people killed in the war in Indochina, those who died in the U.S. invasions of Grenada, Panama and elsewhere in Central America, the victims of the transatlantic slave trade, and the indigenous peoples still subjected to genocidal policies. If we respond with callous disregard to the deaths of others, we can only expect equal callousness to American deaths.

* Finally, I have never characterized all the September 11 victims as "Nazis." What I said was that the "technocrats of empire" working in the World Trade Center were the equivalent of "little Eichmanns." Adolf Eichmann was not charged with direct killing but with ensuring the smooth running of the infrastructure that enabled the Nazi genocide. Similarly, German industrialists were legitimately targeted by the Allies.

* It is not disputed that the Pentagon was a military target, or that a CIA office was situated in the World Trade Center. Following the logic by which U.S. Defense Department spokespersons have consistently sought to justify target selection in places like Baghdad, this placement of an element of the American "command and control infrastructure" in an ostensibly civilian facility converted the Trade Center itself into a "legitimate" target. Again following U.S. military doctrine, as announced in briefing after briefing, those who did not work for the CIA but were nonetheless killed in the attack amounted to no more than "collateral damage." If the U.S. public is prepared to accept these "standards" when the are routinely applied to other people, they should be not be surprised when the same standards are applied to them.

* It should be emphasized that I applied the "little Eichmanns" characterization only to those described as "technicians." Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack. According to Pentagon logic, were simply part of the collateral damage. Ugly? Yes. Hurtful? Yes. And that's my point. It's no less ugly, painful or dehumanizing a description when applied to Iraqis, Palestinians, or anyone else. If we ourselves do not want to be treated in this fashion, we must refuse to allow others to be similarly devalued and dehumanized in our name.

* The bottom line of my argument is that the best and perhaps only way to prevent 9-1-1-style attacks on the U.S. is for American citizens to compel their government to comply with the rule of law. The lesson of Nuremberg is that this is not only our right, but our obligation. To the extent we shirk this responsibility, we, like the "Good Germans" of the 1930s and '40s, are complicit in its actions and have no legitimate basis for complaint when we suffer the consequences. This, of course, includes me, personally, as well as my family, no less than anyone else.

* These points are clearly stated and documented in my book, On the Justice of Roosting Chickens, which recently won Honorary Mention for the Gustavus Myer Human Rights Award. for best writing on human rights. Some people will, of course, disagree with my analysis, but it presents questions that must be addressed in academic and public debate if we are to find a real solution to the violence that pervades today's world. The gross distortions of what I actually said can only be viewed as an attempt to distract the public from the real issues at hand and to further stifle freedom of speech and academic debate in this country.

Ward Churchill
Boulder, Colorado
January 31, 2005

Additional links on the issue:
Rocky Mountain News #1
Rocky Mountain News #2
Denver Channel 7 News

Come down from your Ivy tower

Yale has Skull and Bones and Columbia has animal torture. I guess an Ivy League education 'ain't all it's cracked up to be.

There seems to be a direct correlation between privilege and inability to empathize with others pain and suffering. Since most of these sadistic bastards end up being our rulers, maybe that's why the U.S. is so messed up after all.

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