The 2003 Blue Jays

Here’s the starting lineup for the Toronto Blue Jays as of June 24, and their batting averages (from a game against the Expos– hence Halladay):

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I’ve been following the Blue Jays since about 1983 and I doubt they have ever had as formidable a hitting line-up as they do now. Five batters over .300, six, if you include Shannon Stewart, who is currently on the DL. Average, of course, is not the most important number. Wells and Delgado lead the league in RBI; Delgado leads in homers, and Wells is fourth or fifth. The Blue Jays hit for average and power and they take a lot of pitches. They lead in almost all offensive categories: average, on-base percentage, hits, runs, etc., except home runs. They are third, currently, with 97, about ten behind the leaders, the Yankees and Texas.

Baseball is game of streaks, so it pays to be careful before making judgments about how good a team is. The Jays have periodically shown flashes of inspiration in the past decade, but seem to always end up in third place, behind Boston and New York.

Are the 2003 Jays the real thing? Do they have the horses to make the wild card, or perhaps even over take the Yankees?

The most obvious weakness of this team is the pitching. For the first month, Jays pitchers were as horrible as any Blue Jays staff has ever been going back to 1982. The fact that they are still near the bottom of the league in pitching stats, however, is more indicative of that horrible month, during which they went 8-18, than of the quality of their current staff.  Roy Halladay, Kelvim Escobar, and Mark Hendrickson have pitched very well in the past week or so, and Corey Lidle pitches well enough to win, usually. But the bullpen is unusually week, and Cliff Politte has not yet shown that he has solved their closer problem. I watched Politte today, one day after he gave up a home-run to lose a game the Jays should have won to the Expos. His off-speed stuff was well off the plate and his fast balls were high in the strike-zone and didn’t fool anybody. He gave up a single, and two fly ball outs within inches of the outfield wall. The Jays won, but it was a white-knuckle victory, especially after Halladay had given them 8 innings of two-hit ball.

For all the deficiencies of their bullpen, the Blue Jays have been playing terrific ball for the past month and a half. Only the Mariners have been equal to them over that period. That’s long enough to justify the opinion that the 2003 Jays will be competitive. They have closed steadily on the Yankees and Boston and currently sit 2 games back of New York, .5 games up on Boston. It is fair to say that almost no baseball pundits picked them to play this well. Of course, we’re not half way through the season yet.

The Blue Jays virtually never sacrifice bunt or steal. If you believe in the sacrifice bunt and the steal as offensive weapons, it’s hard to explain why the Jays lead the league in almost all offensive categories.

It also appears that baseball writers, while noting the spectacular offense, haven’t generally noticed that the starting pitching has improved dramatically. Halladay has 11 consecutive wins, and the rest of the staff — except for the bullpen– has pitched well enough to win most nights.

The Up Side: This team can score runs! Look at the averages above. The Blue Jays lead the league in most offensive categories, including batting average with runners in scoring position, and in scoring position with two outs.

Both Hinske and Stewart are due to return from the disabled list soon and Hinske, last year’s rookie of the year, at least, will be an improvement at third over Mike Bordick (.260, 2 hrs.). The Blue Jays lead all of baseball in runs scored, and Delgado and Wells lead both leagues in RBI. Delgado theoretically could drive in 160 runs this year, though it’s not altogether likely he’ll maintain this pace through the second half. Delgado should be a shoe-in for first base on the all-star team and Wells should be starting centre field, but he is not well-known outside of Toronto and the baseball writers association. Greg Myers is having a career year at 38 years old. Catalanotto had an off year last year with injuries, but his performance this year is not a fluke. Even the subs, Howie Clark and Reed Johnson, have hit remarkably well. In fact, the Jays would obviously like to find a way to keep Reed Johnson in the line-up after Stewart returns, but this is now a tough line-up to crack.

Pitching has been up and down, but has improved significantly since May 1. Halladay, Escobar, and Hedrickson have pitched very well in the past four weeks. Escobar has always had dominating stuff, but the story was that he occasionally lost focus and was prone to giving up the big inning. Hedrickson pitched poorly for a while but improved when manager Tosca made it clear his job was on the line.

The best indicator of all is the relative youth of the Blue Jays line-up. Young players are cheap, and they tend to improve. That may sound like common sense, but it’s surprising how many baseball teams (like the New York Mets) ignore that simple axiom. Vernon Wells, Orlando Hudson, Eric Hinske, Josh Phelps, Chris Woodward, Howie Clark, and Reed Johnson are already performing well and will likely get better in the next few years. In fact, their performances this year, so far, are somewhat extraordinary, which raises the suspicion that some of them will cool off later in the season. Is Hudson really a .300 hitter? Can Josh Phelps handle the slop pitchers will start to throw at him once they realize what he can do to a fast ball up in the strike zone? Will Hinske continue to improve defensively at 3rd base? If Catalanotto slumps, will Wells start to see more junk pitches?

Josh Phelps is the only hitter in the current line-up who still swings at bad pitches. It’s a scary thought– what if he gets some plate discipline? What if Hinske comes back and hits .300 with power?

The Blue Jays don’t seem to be intimidated by strong, power pitchers. They hammered a finesse pitcher, like Andy Pettite, and they hammered Vasquez in Montreal and scored five runs against Wood in Chicago. The only team that has given them trouble in the last month has been St. Louis.

The Blue Jays swept both Boston and New York in 3 and 4 game sets, the last time they played their divisional rivals.

The Down Side: relief pitching remains a major problem. Politte has given up far too many home runs, and Sturtze and Tam have been ineffective. This is the one area of the line-up Ricciardi might be thinking of improving. Any teams out there with a good strong, durable reliever to trade for a premiere lead-off hitter? Shannon Stewart is a terrific player, but the Jays are awash in good hitters and outfielders right now. Stewart becomes a free agent next year. It would not be a dumb idea to trade him now for a good relief arm or two.

The question of depth is often raised with young, over-achieving teams like the Blue Jays. Often they ride career years by a few key players, disguising their weaknesses with astute management and a bit of good luck. Delgado and Wells are indeed having outstanding years, but when Delgado recently drove in only one run in six games, the Blue Jays still went 5-1. The two bench players called up to replace Stewart and Hinske are batting .325 and .450, with power. Woodward and Hudson, shortstop and second base, are batting a respectable .265 and .298. In their last two starts, Hendrickson, Halladay, and Escobar have each allowed two runs or less each.

The Blue Jays are not a fluke.

This is a remarkable team. It is unknown, except for Delgado and maybe Halladay, but likely to overtake the Yankees within the next two weeks.

Fistfull of Dollars: Blue Jays Payroll is about $80 million, solidly in the middle of the pack, and well below the Yankees’ $175 million.  Below is what the Yankees get for their $175 million:

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Blue Jays Pitchers –


Roy Halladay
Mark Hendrickson
Cory Lidle
Doug Davis
Kelvim Escobar


Cliff Politte
Tanyon Sturtze
Pete Walker
Jeff Tam
Aurilio Lopez
Doug Creek

In their 25 year history, the Blue Jays have had three great offensive line-ups.

The first, roughly 1983-1987, featured George Bell, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield, Tony Fernandez, Damaso Garcia, Rance Mulliniks, and Ernie Whitt. Willie Upshaw holds the team record for longest period of coming out of his slump. In fact, he’s still coming out of his slump.

The second, roughly 1992-1994, featured Roberto Alomar, Devon White, Kelly Gruber, Ed Sprague, Pat Borders, John Olerud, and Joe Carter with trade-deadline guests, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, and Rickey Henderson. I suspect both Winfield’s and Henderson’s contributions were minimal, but Molitor joined Olerud and Alomar as three of the best hitters in the league in 1993. The Blue Jays won two World Series with this team, including the infamous 15-14 victory over Philadelphia in game 5, and, of course, Joe Carter’s walk-off series-winning home-run off Mitch Williams..

Joe Carter and George Bell were dominating for brief periods. Olerud was an outstanding hitter at times, and extremely consistent, if unspectacular. He’ll have a 3,000 hit career but won’t make the Hall of Fame. Delgado is probably the greatest offensive threat to ever wear a Blue Jays uniform.

But of the entire pack of them, Roberto Alomar was, in his prime, the best all-round player the Blue Jays ever had, and the most likely to be the first Blue Jay to go into the Hall of Fame (as a Blue Jay)..


Television: “24”

Okay, this show is supposed to take place in real-time, over a 24-hour period. Kiefer Sutherland plays Jack something, some kind of anti-terrorist squad leader. A black presidential candidate in Los Angeles on the eve of the primary is allegedly the target of an assassination plot. Off we go.

Is the black senator Republican or Democrat? Unlike “West Wing”, “24” doesn’t have the guts to risk alienating the other 50%, so we have the ludicrous scenario of politicians who never once talk about any politics. Even more ludicrous is the idea of a black Senator. That is science fiction.

We find out that Jack turned in some of his own people for bribery. That’s why some of his own staff don’t like him. This firmly establishes one of the most prevalent and ludicrous precepts of American public mythology: only an annoying and self-righteous individual can ever effect any good in society. Teams suck. Cooperation is bad. Collaboration doesn’t work.

He is called in by his boss because one of their agents in some foreign country found out about the assassination plot.

First problem. This is real time, right? So Jack’s daughter, Kimberly, says good night at about 1 minute into the first hour. About four minutes later, Jack and his wife Teri discover that Kimberly is missing. (She snuck out with friend Janet York to see some guys.) They logically assume that she ran out, but less than five minutes later Jack is already calling her former boyfriend to ask if she is there.

She travels fast, this girl.

Kimberly tells the guy, Rick, that her father is dead. (He’s not, yet.)

Hand-held camera. This is an affectation, not a style. It’s like mannerism, and exaggeration of technique for it’s own sake. It’s stupid. Do they hire incompetent camera men for this effect? Or do they train their camera men to wobble and wiggle with the camera?

At 12 minutes in, Jack is phoning a friend at the police department to ask if he could do Jack a favor and keep an eye out for his daughter. And the reasonable cop says, what, are you nuts? She’s been missing for 10 minutes! Of course not. He says, I’ll get right on it. Your daughter has been missing for ten minutes and I’ll drop what I’m doing and start prowling Los Angeles to see if I can find her.  Because I have nothing else to do at the moment.

Coincidentally, Jack’s commanding officer, ___ discovers that someone inside “the agency” may be involved in the plot. Rather, he discovers that he’d like to have Jack investigate the question at that particular moment.

District Director Mason is supposed to brief Jack about something. Jack finds out he’s lying, so he shoots him with a tranquilizer dart. I’m not kidding. Nina helps Jack because obviously she’s sexy and is in love with him. Jack relates that when some evil person named Phillip D’Arcee’ or something was “taken down”, $200,000 disappeared. He suspects Mason took it. Convention number 2: evil people never come from Indiana or Iowa or Kansas. They come from France.

Nina approaches Tony to hack into a bank account in Spain for Jack. Tony doesn’t like Jack, especially because he likes Nina and she is perversely in love with Jack.

Jack approaches Jamie and asks her if she can hack into all the passwords associated with a telephone number. She says, “if you have a warrant”. Jack doesn’t but in American television mythology all the heroic men break the rules all the time and, unlike the FBI or CIA, never for bad reasons and they never inadvertently invade the privacy of innocent people or cause sure-convictions to be thrown out because they violated the suspects’ rights.

In television land, these men are never wrong. We nod approvingly. Can’t let the law and civil rights get in the way of stopping crime, by golly. Here, “24” embraces the lamest, most boring television cliché.

Jamie is a genius because she has invented a way of jumping a signal through the phone lines onto a computer hard drive and then de-encrypting a user’s password. She doesn’t say, “maybe I can”, or “sometimes I can”, or “it depends on what kind of security they have and what kind of operating system and how they stored their passwords”. No, she can just do it. She does brain surgery as a hobby, on the side.

As it turns out, Jack wants the passwords because they belong to his daughter. She is out of the house for 27 minutes and her parents are already, successfully, breaking into her private e-mail.

The Presidential candidate, Palmer, takes a call from “Maureen”, a television reporter, after midnight. Do you think Presidential candidates– senators– take calls directly from someone identified as a reporter after midnight? It turns out the reporter has a juicy allegation to report– but Senator Palmer is not told this before he agrees to answer the phone. This is another example of how 24 doesn’t really achieve the look and feel of reality.

Kimberly checks her cell phone and sees that her mother has left five messages. She tells her friends, having not had sex yet with Rick, that she intends to go home. I can guess what’s coming. She is now being established as a “good” girl. She didn’t have sex. She is sensitive to her mother’s feelings. She is suddenly more prudent than she has been all evening, and even shows reluctance to accept a ride with the guys home. I smell victimization coming up, big time. We would be less sympathetic to her if she had sex with the boy, like her friend Janet did.  That would prepare the viewer for a dire fate: she deserved it.

The French photographer, Martin, and Andy try to join the mile-high club. Andy says why don’t we get together in LA. He says he’s going to be very busy. Upon leaving the bathroom, Andy says, “see ya” even though they sit beside each other and are likely to get reacquainted fairly soon.

Jack confronts Mason over the missing $200,000. Tony has traced the money to Mason’s account. Jack uses this information to blackmail Mason into telling him the source of the information about the hit on Senator Palmer. Unfortunately, since Jack has no way of verifying this information, it’s a little ridiculous for him to assume that Mason has given him accurate information.

Insanely, Jack asks Nina to “cover” for him. We are given to understand that an anti-terrorism squad, responding to a threat on a presidential candidate’s life, can spare a leading member for a while? And he can be “covered” for by a sympathetic co-worker? Well, after all, he hasn’t seen his daughter for 35 minutes now.

Meanwhile– everything in this show is “meanwhile”– Andy has planted a bomb, blown an escape hatch, and exited the 747. Now we know why she said “see yah”. A bomb she leaves behind blows it up. Tony alerts Jack: a 747 just exploded. In real life, I suspect that initial reports would be “a 747 disappeared”, and then, “a 747 crashed”, and then, after a few hours at least, “police suspect an explosion of some kind” or “some witnesses reported seeing a fireball” or something. A few days later: “police now suspect that a bomb may have exploded on board the 747”. But 24 is economical with it’s time: in just minutes, Tony is reporting to Jack that a 747 has crashed and we already know the cause.

I’m griping, sure. 24 is fairly compelling as drama because the principal characters are somewhat interesting and the story has laid out a large number of hooks: the lost daughter gone astray, the possibly corrupt senator, the senator’s suspicious wife, the honest cop, the crooked cop. Geez, now that I list them all– how many cliché’s exactly does it take to do “ground-breaking” drama?

All the makers of the show have to do is get you to care enough about these people to sit through 20 minutes of obscene commercials and tune in next week.

The most fun part of shows like this, and movies like “Gran Torino”, is the fantasy of having it both ways. You can be as stupid and rude and violent as you want, and within the fantasy of the show, you will still be loved.

[Update 2022-07-28]   I was way too generous here — I was afraid of hurting the feelings of some people I knew who were enamored of the show.  “24” really was pure dreck, and fascist to boot (by which I mean that it glorified violent, illegal police tactics, including torture).

Mr. Taxman

I sometimes think that if I were a rich man living in the United States, I would not pay any taxes. Why bother?

According to the I.R.S., about 80% of the individuals known to ignore their tax bills are never investigated, let alone prosecuted. The I.R.S. claims to know of about 80 businesses, for example, who have openly declared that they don’t believe tax law applies to them. Now, if a business declares that the tax law does not apply to them, and they are businesses, after all, wouldn’t you have one of your crack investigators at least have a look?

You might think this sounds rather silly. Doesn’t it, though? Ha ha. Billions of dollars in tax money is just sitting out there in private accounts, uncollected, while schmucks like you and I pay our fair share and make it possible for us to have roads and schools and armies and baseball stadiums and weapons of mass destruction.

And you would think that even an idiot can see that if the I.R.S. would hire a few more investigators, they could easily collect a good portion of the outstanding billions in tax liabilities just sitting out there. Enough to easily pay for the salaries of the additional inspectors and then some.

Not going to happen. Why not? Because though not a single Republican campaigns on the idea of eliminating taxes for those who don’t wish to pay them (nudge nudge, wink wink), they have been busy defunding the I.R.S. for years, cutting the numbers of investigators and reducing the I.R.S.’s ability to enforce the government’s own tax laws. They like it that way.

It’s just another facet of the war in America. The war of the rich upon the poor and middle class. The battle is over who pays for highways and police and armies and baseball stadiums. The rich shouldn’t have to pay. They can just live in their gated communities, and be driven to other gated communities, like the opera or ballet, in their chauffeur-driven Lincoln SUVs.

Dr. Sell – Are You Mad?

Not even mental health experts agree on this. The American Psychiatric Association, which supported the government, argued that mental illness is a physical disease that should be treated like any other. “The brain is an organ just like the liver is an organ and the heart is an organ,” said Dr. Renee Leslie Binder, a psychiatrist who advised the association on its court brief. “If someone has an infection, you don’t tell them to breathe deeply. You give them antibiotics to fight the infection. When someone has a brain disease, the main form of treatment is medication.” New York Times, June 21, 2003

Rather mechanistic view of the brain, don’t you think? All of your behaviours, your personality, your fantasies, your desires, your hopes and dreams– are all the result of chemical processes and physical properties. The brain is not really different from your liver or your heart. If this is true, somewhere in the distant future, we will be able to fix your brain.

How will you know if your brain needs fixing?

You don’t want your brain “fixed”?

Well, that is the issue, isn’t it. Who gets to decide? Who decides if your brain needs to be fixed?

Dr. Charles Thomas Sell was charged with Medicaid fraud five years ago. When he appeared at trial, he cursed, spat, and screamed, according to the New York Times. He was deemed “emotionally disturbed” by the judge and incarcerated in a hospital. Not fit to stand trial, mentally.

The government– the prosecution– asked the courts to allow it to force Dr. Sell to take medications for his illness. They believed that the medications would make him sane. They wanted to help Dr. Sell. After curing him, they could put him on trial and then imprison him for his crimes.

Of course, if Dr. Sell needs medications to make him sane, it raises the possibility that he was not sane when he committed his crimes. Is the prosecution willing to argue that he is sane enough to stand trail because we have cured the insanity that caused him to commit crimes? I somehow doubt it.

Is this a little like the police charging someone with a murder committed with a high-powered rifle. After discovering that he couldn’t shoot straight, they decide to send him out for fire-arms training before they put him on trial? Or an impotent man charged with rape. Can they require him to take Viagra before going on trial?

A similar case was ruled on in Ontario in June 2003. A 47-year-old gentleman named Scott Starson, who is regarded as something as whiz in physics, had asked for the right to refuse to take medication which, he claimed, prevented him from working on his physics. Starson wrote a paper on physics in 1991, with the collaboration of a Stanford physics professor. However, his doctors and his mother felt that he should be ordered to take medication for his mental illness. Starson believes that the medications his doctors want to forcibly inject him with slow down his brain. He says that that would be “worse than death”.

Here’s the clincher. At a hearing, Starson’s doctors admitted that none of the medications had helped him in the past, and that they could not be sure that any of the medications would help him in the future. Not only can we try to force you to let us mess with your mind, but we can even do experiments on it.

The courts in Ontario ruled otherwise. Mr. Starson, it ruled, has a right to think for himself.

What if we had a doctor of society who said that our society was sick? We engage in a mad pursuit of dubious gratifications. We exploit poor people and oppress the powerless. We sell tools of murder and destruction. We destroy the environment.

What we need is for a doctor of society to decide that our society is no longer capable of making rational decisions and, therefore, it should be fixed. All Third World Debt is forgiven, and we will move to a 30-hour work week, with six weeks guaranteed vacation every year. How do you like that? This doctor goes to court and asks a judge to give him the power to fix society.

So who gets to decide?

Phony Terrorist Convictions

It is utterly conspicuous to me that John Ashcroft’s Department of Justice can’t actually find and arrest any terrorists. Ah ha, you say, but he’s obtained numerous convictions. No, he hasn’t. He has obtained numerous plea bargains. Plea bargains are obtained by threatening a person, innocent or not, with severe sentences until he or she agrees to plead guilty to a slightly less severe sentence.

To give a plea bargain even the slightest credibility you have to believe that an honest-to-god all American jury might actually look for evidence and fail to convict someone for whom there is none even if the government tells them he’s guilty.  It will not happen: all you have to do to an average American jury is say “boo” and they will convict.

Making your persecutor look good is always part of the deal. You will sign a confession and you will not contradict them.

The advantage to Ashcroft is obvious. He doesn’t have to actually catch anybody! He gets to go on TV and claim– surely, this is an outright lie– that another suspect has admitted terrorist activities. Ashcroft knows full well that these suspects are not making free and clear admissions of guilty. They are making deals after being threatened.

Well, what do you expect? Take the latest case– Iyman Faris. Here’s what Ashcroft lets you know about Iyman: he is a truck driver. He traveled to Afghanistan. Someone he knows thought he was kind of weird and finked on him to the authorities.

In our current political climate, he was doomed at that very instant.

The FBI, convinced that anyone who is suspected of being a terrorist must be a terrorist, arrested him. By the time you are arrested, in this day and age, you are already 99% guilty.

He was charged not with conspiracy or with any actual crime– that would require evidence, you see (strange world, isn’t it). Oh no. He was charged with the ever-useful generic “providing material support to a terrorist organization”.

It is important to notice– if you even care about injustice– that he was not arrested with a truck load of explosives, a basement full of bomb parts, a suitcase filled with guns, or anything of the sort. No no– again, that would constitute evidence and then we would have an actual trial, and it might even be public (Faris is a naturalized American citizen). No, no, no. He was charged with providing support to a terrorist organization, which, as we learned from other cases, means that he traveled to suspicious-sounding places like Pakistan and Afghanistan and talked to suspicious-looking people and looks suspiciously Arabic (he was born in Kashmir).

Did you know that the U.S. government itself has, on numerous occasions, provided support to terrorist organizations? You don’t have to be particularly finicky about the definition of “terrorist organization” to include the Taliban, which the U.S. sponsored when they were the muhajadeen and they were fighting the government of Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980’s, but you could also include anti-Castro Cuban paramilitary organizations and the Contras in Nicaragua. I would include Pinochet and his generals in Chile but, for argument’s sake, let’s just stick to the obvious.

Ashcroft admits that Faris appeared to be a hard-working truck driver. Tell me, do you think Al Qaeda, with their enormous resources, can’t afford to put their operatives up for a few months while they assemble their devices of international terror? They have to get real jobs?

Mr. Faris drove back and forth across the country delivering things. The level of intelligence of this government is such that you envision top officials going “ah ha!” when they learned that. Next is, “so you deny being a witch?!” (As you might recall, during the height of the Spanish Inquisition, it was a crime to be a heretic, but it was a worse crime to deny being a heretic. If you were merely a heretic, you were strangled and then burned at the stake. If you denied being a heretic, you were burned alive.)

Apparently some of the information used to implicate Faris came from captured Al Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Hmm. Certainly a reliable source. Mr. Mohammed convinced the Department of Justice that Faris was planning to cut the supports of the Brooklyn Bridge with a torch, causing the bridge to collapse. This from one of the men responsible for planning 9/11? Do you think he’s serious? I’ll bet he also offered them information on plots to take Mickey Mouse hostage, blow up a McDonalds’ in Paris, and assassinate John Ashcroft.

A Palestinian friend of Faris’ said that he was surprised at the guilty plea because Faris didn’t seem interested in politics at all. I’m surprised this gentleman would even admit he had ever known Iyman Faris. This Palestinian friend will be John Ashcroft’s next suspect… unless he agrees to testify against someone else, so the FBI can run up the count.

It is a scandal that Faris was not tried in open court so we could all see and evaluate the evidence against him. It is unbelievable that the American people tolerate and accept secret trials of American citizens for nebulous crimes of association and insinuation, and it is an even greater crime that Ashcroft, after striking a plea bargain with almost all of his targets, still claims to have proven that there are terrorists active on U.S. soil.

What he has proven is that the government of the United States employs thuggery and intimidation and bullying in the pursuit of political bullshit.

Update July 2005: by the way, if you do a search on Iyman Faris you may find an article or two like this.

By golly, sounds like a regular high level Al Qaeda plotter, doesn’t he? Now please take note that almost all of that information was supplied to the FBI by Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who now admits that he was making all this stuff up.

And who is this guy anyway?

And do you care about the fact that millions of voters might be misinformed about a witness of whom the authorities claim such monumental significance?

Does it worry you that your government may never wish to put this guy on trial for the same reason it might never really want to hear, in a court room, from Osama Bin Laden?

Updated July 2005.

The most important point: do you honestly think that this government would negotiate a plea-bargain with known terrorists if they really had the goods on any of them?

Come on– be serious.

They would love a public trial where they can introduce impressive documentation, video, or material evidence to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that someone is actually plotting terrorist acts against the United States and that the mighty U.S. government is skillfully protecting you and me against their evil designs.

It is the duty of every American to assume that the unfortunate victims of Ashcroft’s jihad are innocent until proven guilty the old-fashioned way: in publicly accountable courtrooms.

Kennedy vs George W. Bush

Did you ever think you might get nostalgic for Ronald Reagan?

Not that I have anything but contempt for the Reagan administration. It was the most Hooveresque of governments, conspicuous in it’s cheery optimism and fanfare, and utterly devoid of compelling policy or leadership. But there was one thing Reagan had that Bush does not have: a sense of getting there, or moving along, of seeing ahead to something brighter and more satisfying than what we have.

Neither of them, of course, can hold a light to John F. Kennedy, who started the space program, the Peace Corps, and, reluctantly, provided federal support for the nascent civil rights movement. I say “reluctantly” not because Kennedy hesitated to support the goals of the civil rights movement, but because he felt it may be too early to engage in confrontation with the racists citizens and governments of the deep south.

Kennedy put the screws to the mob in a way never seen before or since, through his brother, Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, who had to kick J. Edgar Hoover’s butt to get him moving on the issue. (The FBI famously denied that “organized crime” even existed.)

Kennedy articulated a vision of a future life that would be better for all Americans, more prosperous, but also richer and more satisfying. It was Kennedy that brought culture to the White House, inviting world-renowned artists, musicians, and writers. It was Kennedy who solidified American support for West Germany in the face of increasing belligerence from the Soviets. And it was clear that Kennedy was increasingly dubious of American involvement in Viet Nam at the time of his death– Johnson’s first official act was to rescind a Kennedy memorandum reducing the number of “advisors” there.

It’s not entirely an act of communal nostalgia when polls repeatedly show that Kennedy remains the most popular president of the 20th century. Conservatives sometimes like to claim that Kennedy’s policies were not all that “liberal”. That tells you how badly they wish he’d been one of “them”.

Now we have George W. Bush. Let’s compare.

First of all, Kennedy actually served in the military, on a PT boat, with obvious distinction. Bush didn’t even bother to serve out his National Guard deferment.

Both Kennedy and Bush were pushed into political careers and supported by their wealthy fathers.

When Kennedy screwed up. by permitting a weird CIA scheme to invade Cuba to go ahead (planned by the Eisenhower administration) — the Bay of Pigs disaster– he owned up to it immediately and apologized to the American public and took steps to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Bush still won’t release the official report on why intelligence agencies–including the CIA– weren’t able to prevent the WTC attacks.

When confronted by pervasive, organized criminal activity, Attorney-General Robert Kennedy was relentless. He used every means at his disposal to attack the Mafia head on, deporting many of their leaders, and making numerous arrests and getting convictions. When confronted with pervasive, organized criminal fraud, George Bush Jr. looked the other way, and appointed one of their own to the government body entrusted with regulating stocks and commodities trading.

John Kennedy–reluctantly– federalized the National Guard and stood up for the civil rights of black students in segregationist schools and universities in the deep south. George Bush has been busy whittling away at our civil liberties from his first moment in office, but especially since 9/11. His administration has boldly asserted a policy of treating an entire race– Arabs– as criminal suspects.

John and Jackie Kennedy invited the leading lights of literature, poetry, painting, and music to the White House and celebrated achievements in the arts. When one of Laura Bush’s invited writers indicated he might not be in support of the war on Iraq, he was summarily uninvited.

Kennedy was articulate and smart and witty. George Bush Jr. can barely get through a single sentence without mangling a three-syllable word. You might have noticed he doesn’t seem as verbally clumsy lately as he used to be: his staff have learned to avoid three-syllable words.

When the Soviets began installing medium range offensive missiles in Cuba, Kennedy carefully and shrewdly managed to persuade the Soviets to withdraw them, without creating any new, simmering grievances. The confrontation was followed with the first negotiations for a nuclear test-ban treaty.

George Bush wants to put lasers in the sky to shoot down all the missiles that will come– and they will come, by god, in George’s world. In only three years, Bush has created or aggravated a thousand festering wounds.

Kennedy believed the role of government was to make life better for the average citizen. His space program reflected the dreams of Americans with vision, to initiate the exploration of space, the quest for new knowledge. George Bush Jr. wants the average American to be fearful, and he wants to require all students to pass standardized tests, that will reflect, of course, the lowest common denominator. And, of course, he sees space as a great location for those lasers.

Kennedy saw that the oil companies were receiving outlandish tax breaks on their oil revenues and tried to make the tax system fairer for the average American. George Bush wants to give the oil industry, and all big corporations, more of those tax breaks.

When confronted by terrorism, George Bush fled the White House in his private jet, until he could be sure he was safe, and then made macho speeches behind his bulletproof glass.

When confronted by threats of violence against him personally in the South, Kennedy traveled to Dallas to give a speech and tour the city in an open convertible.

Okay– well, we know how that ended.

Did you know that Richard Nixon was in Dallas on the day of the assassination?  And that Gerald Ford, future president, was on the Warren Commission that investigated the Kennedy Assassination?

Atwood Wins a Plaudit

The novelist will travel to Chicago Sunday to pick up the Harold Washington Literary Award, recognizing significant literary achievements. “Atwood was selected because we felt her work so acutely depicts relationships and human interactions in modern society,” said Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson, executive director of the New South Planning Board which has presented the award since 1989.” CBC, June 6, 2003

Yes indeedy, and you could add, Margaret Atwood is a quality writer.

All right– so you have an award. The Harold Washington Literary award, named for the former mayor of Chicago, and let’s hope the writers write better than the mayor governed. And let’s hope the writers write better than the executive director of the New South Planning Board speaks.

I’m sure Bonnie Sanchez-Carlson is not a writer. Or maybe she is. But no writer should ever be subjected to this kind of mealy-mouthed shlop: “relationships and human interactions in modern society”. As opposed to the writers who like to write about the wiper knob on the 1972 Datsun.

What writer doesn’t write about relationships, and what story is not about “human interactions”, and why would it be especially acute of Atwood to write about “modern” society as opposed to “ancient” society or society in 1931? Especially since she doesn’t, always– “Alias Grace” is set in the 19th century.

What this statement makes naked is how artists that become famous and successful because they wrote subversively are almost always cleverly co-opted by the very society they claimed to skewer. Atwood is known for her proto-feminism, her examinations of female identity in a world she considers hostile to women. Her heroes are edible women, murderers who defied their oppressive circumstances, or wholesome, wise women who suffer grievously at the hands of institutionalized male oppression (“Handmaid’s Tale”).

But you can’t say that at an awards ceremony, can you? So Ms. Sanchez-Carlson makes up some wimpy generalization that sounds vaguely laudatory and vaguely profound. Then they have a catered banquet and a ceremony and a little reading and Atwood gets her money and flies off to the next award show.

This is an award for being famous for writing– not for writing itself. I’ll the first question they asked when they contacted her was, “would you be willing to attend?”

Homeland Security Theatre

Boy you’ve got to hand it to John Ashcroft and the boys! When it comes to keeping America safe from terrorists, those Department of Justice aces are relentless pit-bulls of righteous vigilance! Already, they’ve succeeded in rounding up hoards of terrifying suspects and locking them up securely to prevent them from destroying Disneyland, Las Vegas, and elementary schools in Orland Park, Illinois!

Okay. Not “hoards” exactly. Four or five, to be more precise. But boy, are those four or five scary! If you care about civil rights in this country.

Take the case of Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud. These monsters were caught red-handed with travelogues, sketches of potential terrorist targets, and, and, and…. well, they were definitely thinking of acquiring deadly weapons like guns, except that would have been quite legal, and airplane tickets, and they almost could have been thinking about trying to buy some gas masks, which surely would have been extremely suspicious!

Elmardoudi was at least “found with a cache of identification documents” (New York Times, June 2, 2003) and a lot of cash. Ah ha! Of course, he has a history of committing credit card fraud, along with the only witness against him, Youssef Hmimssa. That proves he was up to no good! Unfortunately, he was arrested and imprisoned before federal investigators could actually find any evidence of any kind of terrorist activity. But don’t tell me that any Arab with a lot of cash isn’t obviously a terrorist!

Elmardoudi is alleged to be part of a “shadowy unidentified Muslim terrorist group” (New York Times). Think about that. A “shadowy unidentified” group of TERRORISTS! I bet I made you jump out of your chair. Do you think that you could belong to a “shadowy unidentified group”? What would make someone think that you belong to a “shadowy unidentified” group? Someone who really badly wants you to belong to a “shadowy unidentified” group because they caught you, and it’s very hard to actually catch someone who really belongs to a “shadowy unidentified” group. It’s much easier to attach a group to a suspect you already have than to actually find a “shadowy unidentified” group and arrest someone in it. But that’s the kind of Homeland Security provided to us by John Ashcroft. Arrest somebody, anybody, and make the right noises and then give speeches about how America is now safer thanks to you.

How did they prove Elmardoudi was a member of this shadowy unidentifiable group? Unfortunately, once again, there wasn’t actually any evidence (that’s how shadowy this group was) so we’ll just round up the usual shadowy unidentifiable witness (only one could be rounded up on short notice) to give vague evidence about thinking that he heard them once say something vaguely terroristy. And so Youssef Hmimssa, himself facing charges of visa and immigration fraud– could there be a deal in the works here?– gives his earnest suspicions.

Now as anybody who reads the news already knows, one of the hallmarks of a false conviction (as shown with subsequent DNA testing) is the ubiquitous jailhouse informant who invariably testifies as to something he heard but didn’t happen to record. These informants never seem to provide the government with evidence about, say, the location of the murder weapon, or bloodstains, or the names of real witnesses who might corroborate their stories or have independent evidence to offer. Oh no. They invariably provide only a first-hand account of something they heard but didn’t happen to record or remember until just recently when it was convenient for them, and the prosecutors, to remember it.

It is not even concealed from the public that Judge Gerald Rosen, who is hearing Hmimssa’s case, can lighten his sentence depending on how “forthcoming” he is about the terrorists suspects. Now come on– do you really think the Judge would consider it “forthcoming” of Hmimssa if he were to assert that they were just a bunch of Arabs trying to make a better life for themselves in America? Come on! Seriously?

Ah ha! But then there was the tape! Audio tapes found in their apartment, of someone Arabic that sounded vaguely Salafist and used words like terrorism and war and America! Except that the tape was actually critical of terrorism and Islamic extremism. But why would they have a tape that even mentioned extremism if they weren’t planning to blow something up!

Ah ha! But they had airport badges! Eureka– they must have been planning to hijack airplanes and crash them into Disneyland and Las Vegas! Except that, of course, two of the men worked at a catering company, SkyChef DTW, at the airport. Those insidious terrorists! How sneaky– actually taking jobs as dishwashers at the very location terrorists would be least welcome!

These unfortunate young men just happen to be Arabic and just happen to have been indulging in some shady immigration practices, and just happen to have been caught in a highly politicized witch hunt. They were held without bail for over a year.

The government has to show the public that they are actually doing something about terrorism, and seeing as they haven’t been able to even catch Saddam Hussein, and haven’t even come close to showing that he had anything to do with 9/11 in the first place, and still haven’t caught Osama Bin Laden…. well, these poor boys will have to do for now.

The story is that if the judge in the Zacarias Moussaoui trial actually has the audacity to require the prosecution to provide evidence, the Department of Justice will transfer the case to a military tribunal. (The government wants to deny the defense access to the only witness against Moussaoui on the basis– of course– of “national security”. The question is, what individual in the United States could be safe from prosecution and conviction under those terms? Not a soul. For a judge to allow this travesty to proceed would be more than a mockery of justice– it would be utterly repugnant to the idea of constitutional government.)

Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi, 37, and Karim Koubriti, 24, both Moroccans, were convicted of providing material support or resources to terrorists and conspiracy to engage in fraud and misuse of visas, permits and other documents.” NY Times, June 2, 2003.

As you can see from the actual charges, there is no “smoking gun”. In other words, prosecutors did not have evidence that any of the men actually engaged in any “terrorist” activity.

Just a lot of smoke and mirrors, and national public hysteria.