Sunday, April 4, 2004

A few things on my mind and heart

Again, it’s good to be back. Let me begin with a potpourri of issues that should give you an idea of where I’m coming from and hopefully provoke some thoughts from you.

“Pacify” – Now There’s a Word! There it was on the front page of Friday’s Vallejo Times–Herald, “General: U.S. will ‘pacify’ Fallujah.” When’s the last time you heard that word in such a context? Vietnam? What’s the last city we lost to an enemy? Hue? And make no mistake about it, Fallujah is lost…in more ways than one. We may fight our way back in, as we did in Hue. And, I pray we do, for what happened in Fallujah on Wednesday was, as Ambassador Bremer said, “despicable.” Such barbarism must be avenged, justice done, the city pacified. And, speaking of analogies, this is no time to pull a Mogadishiu and cut and run. We made a terrible mistake in invading Iraq, but, having done so, we must see it through – to pacification and true internationalization of the search for a political solution. “Iraqification” (another word that conjures up ghosts for my generation), the turning over of “sovereignty” to a puppet regime of unsavory exiles, and a declaration of “victory” on June 30 is not going to cut it. We cannot risk the lives of our young soldiers and “our” Iraqis, in order to adhere to some “Alice in Wonderland” election timetable. Let’s get real, for we’re about to tumble down a very big rabbit hole.

Rotation, Iraqi Style. That was a nice story on CNN Friday about the New York reservists replacing the Utah guardsmen for a year in hell. Is this what our “citizen soldiers” have to look forward to in Don Rumsfeld’s leaner, meaner Army? Let’s face it, we probably don’t have enough soldiers to do the job in Iraq and Afghanistan (Remember Osama?), much less growl convincingly at real rogue nuclear states like Iran and North Korea…without, that is, getting the UN and NATO into Iraq or instituting a draft. For, under the circumstances, I just don’t see enough “weekend warriors” re-upping to be an “Army of One.” New enlistments? Unfortunately, those of age are too busy defending their tax cuts and filling up their flag-flying Hummers at $3.00 a gallon to bother. “What can you do for your country?” has been replaced by “Bring ‘em on!” – against, that is, our fellow countrymen – citizen soldiers - unfortunate enough to find themselves in the line of fire far from home.

And, Now, Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan? Time to play “Where in the World Is Carmen San Diego?” If she’s in the capital of Uzbekistan, where is she? Tashkent, of course. This former Soviet republic borders Afghanistan and was a staging area for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Since late 2001, it has provided bases for our operations in Afghanistan and, as an ally, has benefited from our largesse. Trouble is, under its secular “former” communist dictator Karimov, that largesse has not trickled down to a dirt poor people. Result? The war in Afghanistan seems to be spilling over into Uzbekistan with the aid of an al Qaeda-connected Wahhabiist group known as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan or IMU. During just the last week, the IMU has been responsible for close to 50 deaths in this Central Asian backwater. Remember these exotic names. They’ll be popping up again.

And Don’t Forget Those Mothers in El Salvador. Lost in this weekend’s carnage (except perhaps by our tally-keeper in Benicia) were the four young El Salvadoran soldiers killed in Iraq. Pray for their mothers – wives and children – who woke up this Palm Sunday morning to ask Why?!” Why are El Salvadorans in Iraq? Please…no lectures about San Salvador’s dedication to democracy and making the world a safer place.

Samuel B. Huntington’s “Clashes of Culture:” Sam Huntington’s at it again. He planted the poisoned seed of the “Clash of Civilizations” a decade ago, setting the stage for a black-and-white, all-or-nothing, zero-sum conflict between Islam and “Western civilization.” Beware, he’s at it again in Foreign Policy, touting the apocalyptic clash between Latin Americans and - dare I say it – the white Anglo-Saxon Protestant defenders of our republic. Beware of know-nothingism in academic robes.

Chicken-Hawks. Another word from another war…kind of like John Wayne was to WWII. Here’s a very partial list of those who found a way to avoid their war, my war – Vietnam – and who today goad the enemies of our troops in the field to “Bring it on!” As you scroll down this “impressive” list, keep in mind that other word, “despicable.”

Eliot Abrams, White House Middle East advisor

Ken Adelman, Neo-Con drum beater for the Iraq war

Roger Ailes, Fox News’ “fair and balanced” CEO

John Ashcroft, Attorney General and patriot-in-chief

Bill Bennett, Fox News’ moral arbiter

John Bolton, Powell-watcher at State

George W. Bush, President of the United States of America

Jeb Bush, Governor of and chief election official in Florida

Andrew Card, White House Chief-of-Staff

Saxby Chamblis, Republican Senator from Georgia who savaged Vietnam para-palegic Max Cleland for being “soft on defense” during the last election campaign

Richard “Dick” Cheney, Vice President of the United States of America

Tom DeLay, House Majority Leader (aka the “Exterminator”)

Frank Gaffney, former deputy assistant secretary of Defense and now neo-con expert on wars everywhere

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and Fox “contributer

Lee Greenwood, patriot of song (“God Bless the USA”)

Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the House

Brit Hume, Fox News’ “fair and balanced” news anchor

William Kristol, Editor, Weekly Standard, Fox News’ “contributor,” and neo-con high priest

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States of America and neo-con high priest

Rush Limbaugh, high school grad and “professor of advanced conservative studies”

Trent Lott, former Leader of the U.S. Senate

Don Nickles, Senator (R-OK)

“Bill” O’Reilly, Spinning proprietor of Fox’s “No Spin Zone”

Richard Perle, advisor to Donald Rumsfeld and neo-cons’ “prince of darkness”

Dan Quayle, golfer and former Vice President of the United States of America

Mark Raskow, RNC Chairman

Karl Rove, high school grad and political director of George W. Bush

Clarence Thomas, Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States of America

Michael Savage, Dr. of Biology and leader of the “Savage Nation”

Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense, neo-con icon, and Iraq architect

Our Vast Wasteland – Television. I assure you there was a “golden age” of television – of opportunities, hopes, and honest efforts to enlighten and uplift. How I remember and revere such efforts as “Omnibus” with Alastair Cooke and Leonard Bernstein, the live productions of Hallmark’s Hall of Fame, Edward R. Murrow’s “See It Now,” and, yes, that “Greatest Football Game Ever Played,” Giants and Colts, black-and-white in Yankee Stadium, not a bare breast in sight.

Oh, how we’ve fallen in our pursuit of technique and titillation. How gross our “reality” TV to titillate those whose lives are devoid of real life. The downward spiral reminds me of the sight and sucking sound of a toilet bowl. Have you watched – for even a few minutes – the garbage offered up on such offerings as “The Swan,” “The Millionaire,” “The Bachelorette,” “Extreme Makeover,” and that nadir of vapidity, “Elimidate?”

Today, I read in Ann Lander’s columns of eighth graders – emulating “Survivor” - voting two of their friends off their lunch room table…and being mature enough to recognize the mistake of such stupidity.

When will we say “Enough?” Enough of endless trials on TV, where phony “judges” make ten times the salary of real judges. Enough of Jackson, Stewart, and, Kozlowski crowding out the deaths of our children and our morals. Enough of “soft” news crowding out real news on prime time “magazine” shows and crediting their air time in the public information column required by the FCC. Enough of such “infotainment,” now yielding to an even more perverse “infoganda.” Why today, I even heard a guest welcomed on CNN – to discuss the Jackson case – as a “Reputation Management Expert.” Huh? Not content with spinning the stories, we’re now spinning ourselves?

Those Campaign Ads. Not content with running its up-front negative ads as early as March, the Bush campaign, awash in its unprecedented $200 million war chest of campaign contributions, has been tapping your money – funds hijacked from your taxes – to run blatantly political infoganda by the President’s Department of Health and Human Services. The TV ads and the taxpayer-funded mailings to voters “inform” you what a good thing his prescription drug benefit is. And now the National Forestry Service has hired a public relations firm – again, on your tab – to “inform” you what a good deal its plan to triple logging in the 11.5 million acres of Sierra Nevada national forests. A few congressional representatives have objected that the U.S. Code prohibits such spending absent specific appropriations for such spending. Still we accept such overreach, while the drug companies and loggers laugh all the way to the bank.

Being There. That was the title of a wonderful book by Jerzsy Koszinski made into a yet more wonderful movie starring Peter Sellers. Remember Chance the Gardner – Chauncey Gardner – being in the “right place at the right time,” uttering delphic inanities, and becoming President…of the United States of America? The archetypes are there…Lt. Col. Ollie North, the Iran-Contra Gate fool, now a Fox News’ “expert;” Dr. Phil, a rural Texas jury selection “expert” elevated to national prominence by Oprah; George W. Bush, anointed four years ago by the Republican establishment and, later, by the Supreme Court of the United States of America.

Techno-Change and AADD. My take is anecdotal, but I firmly believe that the pace of technological change is a contributing factor to AADD – adult attention deficiency disorder. We just can’t stay focused on an issue for more than a few minutes. We are, moreover, absorbed with process and technique vice content and substance. Video games have taught this generation of Americans to react without thinking, to identify themselves by what they do rather than by who they are. Can’t we slow down, pause to think? As someone who just bought her first DVD player last week and still plays her LP albums on a Fischer turntable, I hope so. We have a lot to teach each other, learn from each other.

Names for Sale. Did you notice that San Francisco’s Pac Bell Park became SBC Park just in time for the season opener? Some “traditionalists” grieve the loss of the Pac Bell logo without ever having asked why the Camden Yards-look alike was never named Willie Mays Field or Giants Stadium.

Who cares? In today’s hyper-commercial America, everything’s for sale. Got a buck? Buy a bowl. Remember those year-end football extravaganzas – the Peach Bowl, Cotton Bowl and the like, invoking the pride of a community. Forget it! They’re now the Chick-Filet Bowl, the Alamo Bowl (rental cars, not Texas heroes), etc. Can the Tidy Bowl be far behind?

Why here in Vallejo we even sell our street names…or, more precisely, pay the predators to take them. And, so Columbus Parkway becomes Auto Mall Parkway. How long till Mare Island Way becomes State Farm Way? Unity Plaza, Triad Plaza? Why stop there? Why not sell the city’s name? What’s that turn-coat Mexican done for Vallejo recently? Aren’t we cash strapped? Let’s reflect reality. Doesn’t Lavisoville have a ring to it? Ka-ching! Ka-chiiing!

Identities for Sale. Speaking of selling things, how about our personal identities? Have you read those SF Chronicle articles about UCSF Hospital out-sourcing (Sp? Microsoft’s spell check hasn’t caught up yet to 21st century America.) patient accounts, resulting in an enterprising Pakistani threatening to spill patients’ medical records onto the web if not paid promptly the requested extortion? Reminds me of my attempt to pay my federal taxes on line. Seems the Feds have privatized such “services,” and the private service providers have out-sourced the mechanisms. Thus, after getting several false answers about my tax return from a quango (quasi-governmental) tax return service, I was told – not by IRS, but rather the profit-making quango – that I could not cancel nor retrieve the very personal info I had shot into the electronic ether. They would, I was curtly informed clear their files in October. Until then, tough! I expect, therefore, my identity is currently being peddled on some street corner in Bangalore. Not to worry. I’m sure Homeland Security’s on the case.

Some Social Sins. A good friend just sent me a list of Mohandas Gandhi’s “Seven Social Sins.” They are worth pondering this holy week.

Knowledge without character.
Science without humanity.
Wealth without work.
Commerce without morality.
Politics without principles.
Pleasure without conscience.
Worship without self-sacrifice.

To these I would add the sin of pointless busyness. Too many today put down quiet time for listening and rejuvenation as “unproductive.” They are, of course, dead wrong. Deepak Chopra is not one of my favorite gurus, but he once said something profound in response to a “Today Show” listener’s question: “What is the difference between prayer and meditation?” His answer? “Prayer is when we talk to God. Meditation is when we listen.” Won’t you take just a few minutes during this week of Passover and Easter busyness to seek a quiet spot and just listen?

On the Purity of Language. As you can tell, I’m in love with the word, spoken and written. There is a certain sanctity to the word. We use it to communicate our understanding of the truth. To misuse it, therefore, carelessly or, worse yet, deliberately, qualifies as sin…and you don’t need to be religious to understand the sin of dishonesty.

One of my allies in this reverence for the word is that arch-conservative William Safire, who writes for the New York Times and who, like me, believes in the concomitant sanctity of a truly free press. I think he would join me in decrying the coarsening of our dialogue, the cheapening of the meaning of words, and the development of 1984ish “New Speak.” To discuss the issues of the day in a meaningful manner, we must reverence the truth and not seek to obfuscate or excoriate. When, for example, a helicopter is shotdown in Iraq, let’s not say it “crashed.” Let’s not call our honorably wounded “injured.” Let’s not call someone else’s opinion a “screed” or “whining.”

Let’s start talking honestly with one another instead of shouting at one another. In that spirit, I look forward to a long and fruitful conversation. I especially look forward to your comments and questions, which I will try to address with respect and honesty on these pages. I can be reached at and look forward to hearing from you.

Happy Passover, Happy Easter, and

Viva Vallejo,