Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jack Higgins Backdated to WWII

Political cartoonist Jack Higgins of the Chicago Sun-Times recently shared his view of the high price in US military casualties in Iraq.

If Jack Higgins had been doing political cartoons during WWII, he might have done a cartoon about its 291,000 US military deaths like this:

Thursday, September 14, 2006

TV Critics and Snoozeramas

Do you ever wonder about TV/film critics? Every once in awhile they seem to like something regular people like, but often they seem to delight in being contrary.

One thinks of famous errors in judgment. Like critics of the day panning Buster Keaton’s masterpiece, The General. (Film goers of the day also failed to appreciate it fully.)

The San Jose Mercury-Herald's critic, Josephine Hughston, dismissed the new film, writing that "it falls far below some of Keaton's other productions. . . .There is a feeble plot of a sort and considerable rather pointless comedy, although some of it is really funny."

I remember seeing a tv newscast with a review of one of Steve Martin’s movies. The reviewer ended by saying that the movie was too strong a dose of Martin and wasn’t funny. Then they played a clip from the film. It was funny, and you could hear people on the set laughing in the background as it ended. The reviewer sheepishly said something like, “Well, parts are funny, but a whole movie of it is not."

A review like the two above was recently published by Chicago Sun-Times TV critic, Doug Elfman, on The Path to 9/11. Here’s his opening:

I once sat in a car forever waiting for my mom to come out of a grocery store. I thought that was the definition of "interminable." I had no idea "The Path to 9/11" was in my future.

This is what happens during 4 1/2 lonnnng hours of "Path." Terrorists talk about killing Americans for Allah. FBI and other security officials try to track them but fail. 9/11 happens.

You don't say.

This is the most anticlimactic, tension-free movie in the history of terrorist TV.

Though other people found The Path to 9/11 "riveting", one wonders what sort of historical piece might keep Elfman’s attention. Probably nothing about a historical event that he happens to know the outcome of. One can imagine his reaction to a movie about D-Day.

Germans talk about killing Americans for Der Fuehrer. Soldiers land. Lots get killed. D-Day happens.

You don’t say.

Or his reaction to a movie about the Civil War.

Southern generals talk about killing Yankees. Battles take place. Yanks and Rebs get killed. Appomattox happens.

You don’t say.

I wouldn’t compare The Path to 9/11 to Keaton’s The General. But, I would compare Doug Elfman’s lapse in critical judgment to Josephine Hughston’s. Apparently ABC won it’s time slot on the two hour conclusion of The Path to 9/11. So, it wasn’t the snoozerama for most viewers that it was for Elfman.

It's one thing to point out flaws in the presentation, facts or logic of the docudrama. But, Elfman's need to claim it was 4-1/2 hours of boredom is not supported by millions of Americans who tuned in and kept watching for 2-1/2 hours one night and 2 hours the next night. Elfman's complaint of being bored says more about him than about The Path to 9/11.

Maybe he needs to deal with the scar he carries from waiting for his mom to come out of the grocery store.

Hat Tip: Always Right Usually Correct

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Path to 9/11 Update

Update: After watching both parts of The Path to 9/11, I still think it gave a good understanding of the Islamic terrorist threat facing the US and the world. It was also riveting entertainment.

But, its treatment of women was questionable. Though it showed border agent Diana Dean as very smart and competent, and insinuated that a woman policeman in the Philippines was the brains behind getting Yousef's computer (I can't find any factual evidence to corroborate that), it painted women at high levels in U.S. government as bull-headed and unable to understand wider issues (Madeline Albright), spiteful and arrogant (Ambassador Bodine), and looking to a man to make clear judgments and act in time of crisis (Condoleezza Rice). Whatever one thinks of the political views of these women, they are not the incompetents they were presented as being in this docudrama.

Judgment not strong suit for more than a few

I don’t usually comment on Steve Duin’s Oregonian column because he tends to present more of an emotional side to issues. But, his latest column raises important issues about sitting Oregon judges and judicial candidates.

I should explain that until reading the column I had no knowledge of either candidate. My reaction is to the thinking of Duin and three Oregon judges he quotes.

Duin faults Leslie Roberts, candidate for circuit judge, for pointing out to the Elections Division that her opponent, Youlee Yim You, did not meet the statutory residency requirements for the position.

As a result, only one candidate remains for that seat on the bench, a woman who filed to run at the Aug. 29 deadline because she alone was privy to You's residency dilemma:

Leslie Roberts.

It's hard to know which is more troublesome, Roberts' decision to rat out her neighbor and gain the advantage in an unobstructed run to the bench, or her brusque lack of remorse.

"It's a competitive process. Everyone has to play by the rules," she said.

As cloak and dagger as Duin makes it sound, Roberts wasn't the only person "privy to You's residency dilemma". Duin admits that Roberts raised the residency issue with the governor’s office months prior.

Because they are neighbors, Roberts knew You wasn't living in Oregon in August 2003, moving back to the state only in early 2004. She said she tried to warn Gov. Ted Kulongoski's staff last spring when both she and You were interviewed as potential replacements after Judge Jan Wyers retired.

Since You was appointed rather than Roberts, Duin thinks is unseemly that Roberts considered a run for the position in an actual election.

But You, not Roberts, won the gubernatorial appointment, to considerable applause, leaving Roberts to plot her rev . . . uh, next move.

Is Duin for real? Isn’t politics, even judicial politics, about pointing out how you are best qualified for an office? And, if your opponent has a major disqualifier, why is it wrong to point that out? I guess Duin believes if you lose an appointment (or an election), you should never consider running for that office again. Otherwise it’s “revenge”. So much for Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.

What about the competency of the governor’s office? Not only do they not vet candidates they appoint, they don’t bother to worry about statutory requirements even when they’re advised. All that matters is that at the time of appointment lots of people applaud the appointee.

Duin is also upset by the fact that Roberts filed for You’s seat (rather than another seat with nine candidates) just after receiving solid proof that You did not meet residency requirements.

On Aug. 28, the day before the filing deadline, Roberts called elections officials in Los Angeles County and secured her "smoking gun": Youlee You voted in California's October 2003 elections, meaning You was still a resident of California at the time.

Roberts promptly filed for You's seat at the deadline, then challenged her opponent's qualifications in a 12-page complaint to the Elections Division.

In her earnest pursuit of a judicial position, Roberts could easily have filed for the open Circuit Court seat, as nine other candidates have. But she cheerfully admits, "If she (You) was unqualified, there was one seat for which no qualified candidate had filed, and a seat for which a great number of people had filed. That's a decision anyone would make the same way."

Apparently if a candidate points out a political opponent's flaws the least the candidate can do is be stupid about it and make sure to run against people other than the person who blundered.

Duin's recommendations seem to be that Roberts should either:

1. have gone public and filed a formal Elections Complaint before she had hard evidence in hand (not the best way to show either good judicial character or understanding) so that other candidates could have got in on the easy race too or

2. not have filed and just left an open seat with no candidate. (If a candidate believes that no one filling the position they seek is a better option than they, the candidate probably should not seek public office).

Duin also believes that a judge who can’t find, understand and apply an Oregon statute on a fairly simple issue (residency requirements) is better qualified to be a judge than someone who finds and understands what the law says.

Roberts apparently understood the rules -- particularly the rules of punctuation -- and the details of You's living arrangements better than her neighbor, the governor's office, and state and county elections' officials.

Residency requirements for candidates in Oregon vary widely depending on the office they're seeking. The statute for Circuit Court judges is clumsily worded and open to debate, but a key comma dictates the candidate must have maintained residence in the state for the three years "immediately prior" to filing for election.

If Judge You really had trouble finding and understanding the residency requirement for her position, it doesn’t give much hope for poor schmucks who find themselves in her court pleading a really complex case.

Duin noted the response to You’s forced resignation:

On Monday, You announced her resignation and said, "I am overwhelmed by the support I've received from colleagues, attorneys, judges and complete strangers," she said. "My phone is ringing off the hook."

Duin quotes Circuit Judge Jean Maurer, Judge Keith Meisenheimer, and Judge Michael McShane as being “appalled”, finding “character issues”, and “cruelty” in Roberts’ action.

One doesn’t necessarily expect clarity of thought from a newspaper columnist, but when sitting judges find presenting the truth (whether evidence is found on the final day of filing or not) and applying the law “appalling” and “cruel”, it’s pretty clear that judgment is not their strong suit. Boy are we in trouble if they are representative of the kind of judges sitting on Oregon benches.

Monday, September 11, 2006

ABC's The Path to 9/11

ABC’s The Path to 9/11 is a brilliant dramatization that blends documentary aspects with the kind of storytelling that makes complex events and movements understandable.

How does one tie together diverse attacks and events into an understanding of the 9/11 terrorist attack? The Path to 9/11 does it through the use of visual imagery, action and amazingly sparse dialogue to represent well known events and complicated issues underlying those events.

One sees brilliance and courageous dedication on the part of ordinary people.

Some like Ishtiak, the Pakistani informant who helped the CIA capture terrorist mastermind Ramzi Yousef, risk life and family because they believe that terrorist targeting of innocents is neither true to Islam or to Jihad. The divisions and struggle within Islam about whether moderates or terrorists best represent Islam is touched upon here.

Other "ordinary people" show insight and initiative just doing their job--like border patrol agent Diana Dean who spotted Ahmed Ressem on his way to blow up LAX.

One sees the dedication, courage and determination of many FBI, CIA and other security/police agents in tracking down terrorists and foiling their plans. FBI agent John O'Neill and Philippine police (who find Yousef's laptop) are representative.

One also sees the wavering at high levels of government by officials concerned both to protect civil liberties and to avoid costly political mistakes. Madeline Albright is shown explaining why Pakistani officials were tipped off on an attempt to take out Bin Laden in Afghanistan by the use of missile attack. The Clinton administration didn’t want Pakistan to think the missiles were coming from India and provoke a military response against India. The fallout was that someone in Pakistan tipped Bin Laden off, and he got away before the missiles hit.

Janet Reno’s Waco fiasco provoked a conservative response at high government levels to avoid risk taking in dealing with violent groups. President Clinton faced domestic criticism and foreign outrage for the bombing of the pharmaceutical plant in Sudan.

The lesson that high government officials learned was that action should only come when there was certainty--which all too often meant either not to act or to act too late.

The Path to 9/11 raises an immensely important political issue. If we only support those who make no mistakes, how will we ever encourage and sustain a generation of leaders who can take on and win the kinds of global challenges that the WWII generation faced and won or the Cold War generations faced and won?

The rise of unrelenting criticism and hatred of the other party’s leadership when they make mistakes is an infection in the body politic that will destroy initiative and intelligence in government service. Not to mention democracy itself as innovative thinking that does not immediately succeed is politically punished and snuffed out.

Thomas Anthony Casoria--Hero

Thomas Anthony Casoria was killed by Al-Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001.

Tommy was only 29. He was a firefighter with the New York Fire Department, Engine Company 22. He lived his life in direct opposition to the values of the terrorists. He died trying to save lives.

Tommy responded to the call for help in Tower One of the World Trade Center. Here's what one of his cousins, Jo-Ann Casoria, wrote:

Tommy absolutely loved his job and he loved sharing stories of his workdays with his older brother, Carlo, also a firefighter.


Tommy radioed in his location twice after Tower Two fell. He and two of his "brothers," Vinny Kane and Mike Elferis, were carrying a paraplegic down the stairwell, when a call came in that another firefighter needed aid. Tommy answered that call, as he did many others.

Tommy was engaged to be married. Though he never got the chance to spend those happy honeymoon years with his fiancee, Terri, or raise a family, he left a legacy of love and friendship along with his heroism.

One of Tommy's friends, Richard Vitale, wrote:

Let me tell you about Tommy. This man was the funniest guy I ever worked with. It was always a blast. Tommy could simulate anyone's voice with great detail. I never worked with anyone like him. What a great guy! Tommy knew what was right and what was wrong. He never crackled under peer pressure. Even when he tried to work for me for Thanksgiving. He stood strong. That was some reaction we got from the Truck, wasnt it, Tom. Maguire got red as a tomato. I remember when he told me he was going to get married. He was so happy and in Love. What a big smile he had on his face. I teased him about "dont do it", however,I thought what a lucky man to be in love this much. Tommy was respected and loved by everyone.

The loss of Thomas Anthony Casoria is not only felt by his fiancee, family, friends and co-workers, but by his country. His heroism and willingness to sacrifice his life for others is an inspiration.

To honor other heros and victims go to we will never forget--2996: honoring the 9/11 victims.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Oops! My Bad. New info on vegetative state.

Scientists who assured us of the ethics of making life and death judgments on patients in a vegetative state are now not quite so sure.

AP starts out:

Advanced brain scanning uncovered startling signs of awareness in a woman in a vegetative state, British scientists reported Thursday - a finding that complicates one of medicine's ethical minefields.

It's an ethical minefield because lots of people in vegetative states have been treated as subhuman not capable of understanding or of feeling pain.

Slavery was an ethical minefield for those who thought the enslaved (barbarians, blacks, native populations) were not fully human.

Treatment of animals is an ethical minefield for those who believe animals don't feel pain in the same way as humans so it isn't real pain.

It's an ethical minefield for those who sat back and watched Terri Schiavo die of dehydration.

It's the first step towards an "Oops! My Bad." for those who are certain she and others like her are no longer there and feel no pain physically or emotionally.

A new study, using new techniques, has found that a woman in a vegetative state responds like you and me when given a task of imagining doing something.

Owen and colleagues contend their fMRI experiment showed the car-crash victim had some preserved conscious awareness despite her vegetative state.

How could they tell? First, they checked that she could process speech. Upon being told "there was milk and sugar in the coffee," the fMRI showed brain regions reacting the same in the woman and in healthy volunteers.

Then came the big test. Owen told the woman to perform a mental task - to imagine herself playing tennis and walking through her house. Motor-control regions of her brain lit up like they did in the healthy people he compared with her.

"There is no other explanation for this than that she has intentionally decided to involve herself in the study and do what we asked when we asked," Owen said in an interview.

But, until there is irrefutable evidence that all vegetative state patients respond in a similar way, some scientists don't want to give the benefit of the doubt to patients.

Other scientists say that's not clear-cut.

The results are "not totally convincing of consciousness," neuroscientist Lionel Naccache of INSERM, France's national science institute, wrote in a review in Science. He cautioned that the woman's injuries weren't as massive as those of most vegetative-state patients.

One wonders why Mr. Naccache is looking for "totally convincing" evidence. Maybe it's a scientist thing.

But one hopes that doctors, legislators (like our own Sen. Wyden who didn't take seriously the position of handicapped rights groups in the Terri Schiavo case) and judges (maybe even the Supreme Court) will take note. And maybe have the character to at least say, "Oops! My bad." for wrong decisions in the past.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Or would you rather be a shrew?

Sometimes sensitivity training has its funny moments. Take the Oregonian's editorial yesterday approving changing the name of Squaw Creek to the more "graceful" Sru Creek--pronounced "Shrew" Creek.

"Squaw," for instance, found on hundreds of streams, buttes, hills, meadows and other geographical features throughout the West (including, at one time, 89 creeks in Oregon) is one of those names that doesn't live up to contemporary standards of courtesy. Many Native American women see it as disrespectful, the equivalent of a stinging slap wherever it is found on the map.

We've argued for years that this derogatory word has to go, even at a cost of inconveniencing or disorienting many Oregonians. And, in 2001, the Oregon Legislature agreed it shouldn't be used in public place names. The U.S. Forest Service has worked painstakingly with tribes to find a range of graceful substitutes. After considerable back and forth, the Oregon Geographic Names Board recommended a host of changes to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.

Recently, the national board approved the re-naming of Squaw Creek, two of its tributaries and Squaw Lake in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. These will now be known as Sru Creek and Sru Lake, meaning "grandmother" in one Native American language. Even though the word is usually pronounced "shrew," which could give this switch a different cast in English, this appears to be a good fit.

If popular meaning of a pronunciation doesn't matter, why not change the name to Skuah Creek--a possible graceful variation on the name for the beautiful arctic bird?

I think it's fine to change a name that is offensive, but it's laughable to change it to a name that's sure to be taken as more offensive than the original. I mean would you rather be called a shrew or a squaw?

The Oregonian not only thinks sru/shrew graceful, but a "good fit".

Most times one doesn't know whether to laugh or cry at the contortions in reasoning the editorial staff goes through to get to the desired end. This time it's just clearer which to do.

Along the same line: Ken at Upper Left Coast recently published a good post on Oregonian contortions bemoaning partisanship in state decisions (especially by Democrat Bill Bradbury), but pedestaling judges as a bastian of nonpartisanship.

Friday, September 01, 2006

PEW Poll--Demos Face "God problem"

Hat Tip: Alamo Nation

A recent Pew Research Center Poll on religion and politics in American life shows that Liberals and Democrats have poor press on their "friendliness" toward religion.

69% of those polled thought Liberals had gone too far in tyring to keep religion out of government and schools. Only 26% thought the Democratic Party was "friendly" toward religion.

Not only do Liberals and Democrats have bad press on this issue, the press sometimes actively helps ramp up sentiment against religion. A recent Oregonian editorial God and the ballot box is a case in point. Speaking of the Senatorial campaign of Florida Republican Katherine Harris the editorial opines as to why she "is having a tough time running for the U.S. Senate":

She has shown why in increasingly erratic behavior, including some impolitic comments that came out in a religious journal last week. She told it that separation of church and state is "a lie" and that "if you're not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin" -- a position not likely to play well with Florida's many Jewish voters.

The Oregonian apparently doesn't know there is some debate about whether forbidding the making of any law "respecting an establishment of religion" (First Amendment) and separation of church and state (an old line Anabaptist and Baptist theological position before it was a political position) are coterminus.

What's more interesting is that the Oregonian is shocked--SHOCKED!--that someone might say that electing religiously affiliated people could have an effect on moral values in legislation.

Let's run the sentiment again but substitute some other groups.

How about a Muslim candidate saying to his constituency, "if you're not electing Muslims, then in essence you are going to legislate sin". Sound completely off the wall?

Or how about an "off the wall" group in which 50% believe the Bible should be more important than the People's will in influencing U.S. Laws. That was Blacks in the latest Pew poll.

Crazy Muslims. Crazy Blacks. Crazy Katherine Harris.

Not that I think Harris' statement is problem free. Lots of Christians in the past were elected and allowed slavery to persist--as did Liberal icons like Thomas Jefferson. There is still slavery among Muslims in Africa (e.g., currently in Sudan). Lots of Christians have been elected and abortion is still going strong in the U.S. I didn't see a major policy difference when Jimmy Carter (a self-described "born again" Christian) was elected president.

But, all things being equal, I think a person's religious commitment does say something about moral commitment. And on basic moral issues like concern for the unborn, the widow and orphan, and those dying of malnutrition and disease in nooks and crannies all around the world, it's amazing how much work is done by religious people and organizations in comparision to their secular counterparts. Catholic charities probably have the longest and broadest continuing history. But other major religious groups have made a real contribution. Religious commitment does count for something.

The fact that the Oregonian thought Katherine Harris' statements were so far out that they needed to write an editorial on a race that has no national implications (unlike the Lieberman/Lamont race), plays right into the Pew poll findings that Liberals and Democrats (and Liberals and Democrats in the Mainstream Press) have a tough time relating to religious commitment as it effects public life.

The people polled get the problem. Unfortunately, Oregonian editors don't--not yet.