JAGged Little Pill

According to the New York Times (March 31, 2002), the television program “JAG” (I’ve never watched it) has become a mouthpiece for the Pentagon, lovingly rendering noble soldiers and officers wisely and bravely enacting foreign policy on behalf of an adoring citizenry.

Star David Elliot says, “we send our scripts to our liaison and they weigh in on it,” he said, referring to Paul Strub, the Pentagon’s liaison with the entertainment industry. Mr. Elliott said the show hesitated to anger its Pentagon contacts, “because they certainly lend a great deal of production value that we couldn’t buy.” That “production value” is government funded military installations and equipment that are used in the series.

“JAG” reflects the pro-military sensibility of Mr. Bellisario, 66, a former staff sergeant in the Marines. He said that he believed military tribunals, not an international court, were the best way to mete out justice to terrorists, and that he wanted to show that such tribunals would not be kangaroo courts.

“I want to show people that the tribunals are not what many people feared they would be, which is that they would be nothing more than a necktie party, that they would have no foundation in law, that this was a way of taking these people and killing them,” Mr. Bellisario said. “I wanted to show that we still have a system of justice.” Personally, though, he said he believed “they should all be taken out and blown up.”

The JAG episode thrills viewers with a tribunal lynching party of a real Qaeda implicated in the WTC bombing. In real life, we haven’t caught a single suspect yet. Not one. Most of them, apparently, escaped into Pakistan where General Musharraf (98% approval rating in the latest “poll”) pretends to be trying to round them up, while testing nuclear missiles to use on India.

At $62 billion, the most expensive fruitless prosecution in history.

But what really concerns me is this. Bush is the Republican President, a member of the party that believes that welfare is a corrosive handout that increases lassitude and dependency, and that the government should stay out of business let the free enterprise system work it’s magic unencumbered.

So why are they subsidizing Hollywood movies and television programs like JAG? It’s a bailout. It’s propaganda. It’s a government handout. It’s created dependencies and laziness and lassitude. Make those entertainment moguls get off their fat butts and build their own sets and special effects! Stop these massive government hand-outs and subsidies immediately, so that the taxpayer’s money can be used for legitimate purposes. Like building more prisons.

The Mission Statement

“The Company’s core purpose is to enhance society by creating, collecting and distributing high-quality news, information and entertainment.”

As you may or may not already know, I regard mission statements as the quintessential example of middle manager masturbation. A group of executives or managers or board members or whathaveyou meets with an expensive consultant who could not perform a single really useful task if his life depended on it and, with solemnity and reverence, gather around a table to ask themselves the question: what is it we do?

Remember– there are useful things that people do. Install an Oracle Server. Repair a defective furnace. Replace the battery in a car. And then there are consultants.

Now, if a company like McDonald’s came out with a mission statement like “we provide crappy, cheap, non-nutritious food to vulnerable and foolish customers to maximize return on shareholder’s investment in our company, regardless of the social, medical, or cultural cost”, I would be all in favor of mission statements. A mission statement like that could be regarded as a useful piece of information about a company.

Some other possible examples:

“We provide the public with sexually attractive women and men to read ridiculously facile and trivial accounts of news events while maximizing the public tolerance for incessant commercial interruption” (CNN)

“We do extensive research and promotion to find out exactly how to market expensive but dangerous mind-altering drugs to a credulous public that actually believes their problems can be cured with a little pill. If absolutely necessary, we will actually pay for research to develop drugs of dubious efficacy. It is imperative to foster the conviction that if one drug “fails” the solution is always another drug.” (Pharmaceutical Company).

“We sell the public glamourized images of unimportant people who are well-known for being well-known and whom the public aspire to emulate precisely because they can’t be them because they aren’t in the magazine.” (People Magazine)

“We will cheat and lie and defraud people in order to obtain the maximum amount of personal material benefit for our top executives” (Enron Corporation).

“We will attack and invade Iraq so that a plentiful supply of oil will be available for our future needs especially if those bozos in Saudi Arabia fail to keep the fanatic Moslem hoards in check”. (U.S. government).

But look at the New York Times mission statement. Can you believe they used the word “enhance” in their mission statement? That they said “enhance society”? What kind of vacuous tripe is this? Enhance Society? It sounds like something a Grade 10 student could improve upon. “Schools enhance society by providing something for young people to do when they are not on drugs or vandalizing schools.”

Then they use the phrase “high-quality”. “High-quality news, information, and entertainment”. At least someone realized that “quality news” is grammatically incorrect, even if almost everybody, including the Minister of Education in Ontario (“we wish to provide the children of Ontario with a quality education”).. Instead, they fell back upon the merely incomprehensible. What is “high-quality”? The mission statement doesn’t say. If it did say, then it would actually be specific. It would have content and meaning. But the goal of devising a mission statement is to emasculate language of all content and meaning so that everyone can sign on to it.

Whenever someone at one of these meetings actually proposes a specific statement against which any particular activities or achievements can be measured, the consultant, and other participants, are sure to have a panic attack. The danger of specific statements of quantifiable details, of course, is that it be revealed to people that either you haven’t fulfilled your mission, or that you have fulfilled your mission but your mission sucks, or is unimportant, or isn’t something remarkably useful in any case.

I’ll bet that none of the reporters at the New York Times had any hand in this mission statement. It’s too incomprehensibly dumb to believe that someone like Seymour Hersh could have signed on to it.

Your mission statement is usually created with the assistance of an outside consultant. The assumption is that nobody on your staff knows what the hell you do, so you better bring in someone who is unfamiliar with the organization to lead the effort.

Is that what the mighty New York Times did? I hope not. It’s something CNN or United States and World Report would do.

Lie Detectors Lie

If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard some prosecutor or detective or lawyer tell us that someone is a suspect for a particular crime because he failed a lie detector test, I’d be rich.

But the truth is, according to a panel appointed by National Research Council, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, lie detector tests are worthless. Actually, it’s worse than that. They are worse than worthless.

Just how useless are they? If you took a sample company or organization of 10,000 employees, of which 10 were spies or saboteurs, and you required every one of the them to take a lie-detector test, you would have 1,606 suspects.

That narrows it down considerably.

Two of the 10 spies will have escaped detection completely. There is no way to distinguish the 8 remaining genuine spies from the 1,598 innocent employees. Among the 2 would be the infamous mole Aldrich Ames who passed twice.

This study did not take into account the fact that when evil corporations or governments realize that all employees are being screened with a polygraph, they can actually do their own screening and train their spies to pass the polygraph.

The “lie detector”, of course, doesn’t actually detect lies. It records various bodily functions like respiration, blood pressure, and sweating. The “expert” polygraph administrator (like an “expert” witch doctor) calibrates the responses by comparing the results to those obtained from known factual truths.

As any amateur would guess, it is quite possible for a nervous, upset, or annoyed employee to “fail” the test simply because he is nervous, upset, or annoyed, as I would be if my employer demanded that I participate in this exercise of quackery.

There is no such thing as a lie detector. Polygraph examinations don’t work. Forget about it.

In Fort Jackson, N.C., your Department of Defense has a “Polygraph Institute”, where expensive and useless research is conducted into this joke.

I’ll bet you’d be really upset if those dollars ended up going to welfare mothers instead. The army would probably argue that some day the lie detector might work. As might the welfare mother, but I think her odds are better.

I believe the police understand that lie-detectors don’t work. They certainly know that you can’t use the results of a lie-detector test in court. So why do it? It seems obvious: to intimidate suspects. It is not all that unusual in cases of wrongful convictions to find that the police actually told the suspect that he might as well come clean because the lie-detector showed that he was lying.

It also seems likely that some suspects will be spooked enough by the process to simply confess.

And we also know that some suspects will actually believe the lie-detector over their own memory. They will actually make a false confession.


Jesus is Back

Suppose that Jesus returned tomorrow. He appeared somewhere and announced the end of time, judgment day, the rapture, whatever.

Where would he appear? If he appeared at Bob Jones University, a lot of us would have to rethink some of our value judgments. Maybe that’s where he would appear. He would arrive in a limo surrounded by Secret Service agents, wearing a nice suit, with a cell phone. He would shake hands with Pat Robertson and say, “blessed is he who preserves traditional family values, promotes deregulation, and cuts taxes for the rich.” Then he’d go golfing with Pat and Jerry at Augusta.

But what if he had a kind of funky sense of occasion and appeared in New York? He might drive his own Volvo, or a Prius. He might be dressed in black t-shirt and jeans, and preach in Central Park. He might hang out with beggars, welfare mothers, drug addicts and prostitutes. Mayor Bloomberg might elbow his way into one of these gatherings and try to give him the key to the city. He might say, “there is more love and beauty and truth among these panhandlers and homosexuals and prostitutes, than among your councils and your senators and your police.”

Some people would suggest Jerusalem. I have a hard time believing that Jerusalem has any special claim, especially lately. Does Jesus share our fuzzy conceptions about spiritual significance? I doubt it. Jerry Falwell thinks the anti-Christ is already in Israel. But that’s Jerry Falwell. Maybe Jerry Falwell is the antichrist. So what if Christ appeared in Jerusalem and stood in front of an Israeli tank, like that heroic student in Tiananmen Square, and said, “the endless cycle of violence and retribution can only be broken with an act of grace and love”. Do you think the tank would stop?

Our best guide to where Jesus will reappear is the bible, of course. In the bible, Jesus was born in a very small, insignificant little town. He carried on a lively ministry in several small towns in various areas of Palestine, and even ventured into Samaria. Then he went to Jerusalem where, of course, he was finally arrested and sentenced to death by the civil authorities, after a trial held by the Jewish authorities, the Sanhedrin.

Do I have this all right? I’ll check later. I’m going from memory.

Why would he reappear in Jerusalem? A lot of people believe that there is still a special tie between Jesus and the Jews. The Jews don’t believe that– a lot of born-again Christians do, especially those who buy into a lot of the silly “end-times” tripe being trotted out by guys like Tim Le Haye lately.

The biggest problem here is that some evangelical Christians think that they will do a lot better than the Jews in 0 A.D. They think they will know who Jesus is. They won’t call him a blasphemer and send him to the Romans to be executed. They will see this person who looks like any other man. They will hear him speak like any other man speaks, except for the content of his speech.

They think they will take one look and say, “it’s the Messiah! He has returned!”

Think about that. How will they know it’s really the Messiah? How do they know what Jesus will look like, or what he will say? Do they honestly think he will say “God bless America”? Will he carry a little American flag? Will he say, “you people in your suburban churches with the rock bands and the lighting effects, and the annual trip to Vegas, and the hummer, and clever tax dodges– yes, that is exactly what I meant.”

Or might he say something like, “Cursed be those who make weapons of death and destruction and sell them to tyrants and dictators. And cursed be those who pollute the earth, and rape her forests, and destroy all that lives beneath the sea. And cursed be those who cry ‘war, war’, while the hungry lament in silence. And cursed be those who seek status and wealth; and cursed be those who elect politicians and judges who allow the execution of people whose minds are so shattered they have no concept of right and wrong…”

And cursed be the tobacco companies, Enron, and the companies that make little plastic land mines.

Maybe he’ll tell a parable like the one Nathan told David about the rich man who stole the sheep from the poor shepherd, even though he had thousands of sheep of his own, and maybe he’ll mention the words “Citibank” and “Third World Debt”.

What if he said, “this nuclear bomb is a great evil. Men will make war, and men will die, and evil will be heaped upon evil, but let no man be received among you who has deliberately targeted civilians.”

And what if he said, “my father gave you a beautiful planet that lavishly provided everything you needed to prosper– how well have you taken care of it?” He might take one look at our abandoned open-pit mines, and our slums, and polluted rivers, and plastic islands, and say, “oh my God!”

We wouldn’t like that message. You know what we would do? We would say, “you’re not the real messiah. ”

The real messiah will look more like a gay Caucasian shepherd with a bunch of tiny lambs at his feet, carrying a spool of cotton candy. “That’s more like it, we’d say. Will there be ice cream in heaven?” Of course there will be. It’s melting right now.

And because you people all went to church almost every week and Christmas and Easter and because you gave money that one time to pay for Amy’s surgery after her gymnastics injury because it wasn’t covered by her parents’ health insurance, and because you once almost joined a protest march against abortion, and because you didn’t see any actual nudity in that stripper movie you went to see last year, and because you got married just as soon as you found out you were pregnant, you get to have some.


War With Iraq: Quagmire Awaits

Do you think George Bush is smart? No, you don’t. Even his conservative, Republican, oil executive supporters don’t think he is smart. But that’s okay. He is surrounded by smart people and he relies on their judgment.

That is logically ridiculous of course. Americans are suspicious of intellect– we know. They somehow think that a down-home country guy with a little cunning surrounded by competent managers is the ideal leader. He won’t get confused by details or messed up by the subtleties or ambiguities of complex realities. He’ll just go with his instincts. Instincts are always better than closely reasoned judgments. Aren’t they? They are in the movies.

Well, actually, less than 50% of the voters seemed to think that Bush was smart enough to be President. And, of course, a decisive majority of all the conservative Republicans on the Supreme Court, including the acute Clarence Thomas.

The trouble is, if you aren’t very smart yourself, how do you know your managers and advisors are smart? And when they give you conflicting advice, as surely Colin Powell and Donald Rumsveld and John Ashcroft have been doing, how do you sort out who is right? You kind of feel for it, right?

Is that good enough in 2002? Is that good enough for the world’s only remaining superpower, other than Europe, China, or India?

So you have this fixation on Iraq. Iraq is a crisis point for America right now because, well, George Bush Jr. decided Iraq is a dangerous threat. He seems to have made up his mind that he must invade Iraq and kill Saddam Hussein and set up a new government, so that oil can be extracted and sold by large American corporations, or democracy can be restored, or Americans can feel safe once again from all those Iraqi Scud missile attacks we’ve been experiencing lately.

Dick Cheney was so prescient about Iraq that while he was in charge of Halliburton, as recently as 1998-99, he did more than $23 million of business with Iraq. Didn’t he know that Saddam was a monster? Not until George Bush Jr. announced the “axis of evil”, apparently.

Do you think these men in charge of the White House have given thoughtful, intelligent consideration to these issues:

  • what if the Kurds, who are already itching to join the attack, decide, as they are likely to, to set up their own little country in Northern Iraq, right on the Turkish border? How would Turkey like that? Or Iran, which also has a substantial Kurd population that it is struggling to keep in check. Neither Turkey nor Iran would tolerate a breakaway Kurd republic on their borders.

Bush has extracted promises from the Kurds not to seek an independent state. And these guys are smart enough to believe them….

  • what if the hardline Moslems react to the war by tossing President Pervez Musharraf and setting up a hardline Islamic republic? With a bomb. And with an incendiary situation in Kashmir?
  • what if the same thing happens in Saudi Arabia or Yemen? What if hard-liners in Iran come to believe that the U.S. won’t be satisfied with deposing just one pole of the “axis of evil”?
  • what if the Shiite Moslems in the South of Iraq decide they would be happier united with their brethren in Iran than with Baghdad’s Sunni minority, whatever form that leadership might take in a post-Saddam Iraq?
  • what if the overthrow of Saddam doesn’t stop terrorism? (It won’t– it will probably increase it.) Who’s next?
  • can the officials of this administration name a single instance in which concerted military action (as opposed to negotiation and compromise) put an end to terrorist activities, anywhere in the world?

After Iraq, terrorists hiding out in Yemen, Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere will continue to target U.S. military installations, diplomatic buildings, and the U.S. itself.

Since the U.S. seems incapable of actually tracking down and capturing real terrorists, it will have to find someone else readily available for a good bashing. Iran? North Korea? Somalia?

The Golden SUV Medal for Conspicuous Valor and Consumption

Since the impending war on Iraq is really about one thing only, I propose that the U.S. armed services create a whole new series of medals to be awarded to soldiers who display conspicuous courage, determination, and consumption while battling the forces of Armageddon in Baghdad.

But first of all, why should the tax-payer get stuck with paying for these priceless trinkets? Let’s allow the people we’re really fighting for to put up the incentives: Exxon, Texaco, Mobil, and Amoco.

The Copper Gas Can – replica of a gas can in brass, for meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty.

The Victoria Pump – a little gas pump, to the soldier who displays resourcefulness and integrity under pressure.

The Silver Carburetor: for extreme diligence under threat of reduced consumption of material goods and trinkets.

The Golden SUV – the highest possible award, for extreme courage under fire and extensive media coverage while battling the forces of global conservation and oil supply.

Why is Britain, which has ratified the Kyoto protocol, along with the rest of the EU, and which is lobbying Canada to ratify it, not doing the same in the U.S.? Considering Blair’s support for the war on whoever it is out there that hates us because we’re free and not because we support Israel or overthrow unfriendly governments and install toadies, you would think he would bring it up a time or two in those intimate phone conversations with George Bush Jr., while they’re going over the latest intelligence reports showing that Osama and Saddam were spotted drinking together at a trendy Baghdad hot spot earlier this year. Enquiring minds want to know.

`I think the free world must realize that no one is safe — that if you embrace freedom, you’re not free from terrorism,” Bush said October 14, 2002.

So that’s what the terrorists hate about America — freedom.

If this were true, I rather think the citizens of Denmark might start feeling threatened about now too.

Dick Cheney’s Monkey Business

`This is the highlight of my trip, and I can’t think of a better way to spend this day,” Cheney told sailors Friday after watching jets roar off on bombing runs to Afghanistan.

The vice president was spotted Sunday carrying a Vietnam War novel, “Once an Eagle,” which an aide said was a favorite he was rereading. The book’s cover bore a blurb from U.S. Gulf war commander General Norman Schwarzkopf calling it “a classic novel of war and warriors.”

I keep thinking of Lon Chaney, playing the Wolfman. Why do Republicans always pick such ridiculous vice-presidents? From Nixon to Agnew to Ford to Quayle to Bush to Cheney– they are a regular gaggle of cold war gumshoes or bumbling functionaries.

What’s scary is that three of the four previous Republican vice-presidents (Ford, Bush, Nixon) went on to become president.