The 10 Biggest Scandals Today

1. That we permit corporations to advertise to children during children’s television programming. Someone is going to burn in hell for a long, long time, while trying to explain why he thought there was nothing wrong with trying to trick an eight-year-old into giving his money to General Foods or Nabisco or Hasbro. Then a host of other people will have to explain why they had a fit over Janet Jackson’s breast but didn’t mind at all that their children saw 25,000 commercials before they spent an hour in school.

2. Government subsidies (often in the form of tax breaks, which is nothing more than a disguised subsidy) to big business corporations while claiming that programs that benefit the poor create dependencies and constitute a “hand-out”. Some Republicans actually argue that an increase in the minimum wage will hurt the poor because it will force those strapped employers to lay off staff.

3. Free Trade. Free Trade is good. It absolutely astounds me that the press report, at face value, the government’s protestations that it is in favor of free trade when, in fact, it is wildly enmeshed in a host of protectionist measures, and the subsidization of agricultural and other industries.

4. Capital Punishment: there is no way to do it right because it always involves hatred and it always involves a conscious act by a government to take away life. How barbarian, really, are we?

5. The quality of television programming. I don’t think anybody even pretends, any more, that broadcasters will ever do any better than the load of crap they deliver to us every day. And it isn’t even enough that they deliberately produce utterly contemptible smut and call it “entertainment”: they also have to interrupt it every ten minutes to run ads which, unimaginably, are even more mind-numbing. Even worse, none of the major networks show any serious documentaries on anything.

6. Psychotropic drugs. Look around the room at any party. If you could ask all of the people on prescription medicines for depression or anxiety to put up their hands, you might be surprised. Surprised because you can’t remember when our society decided that instead of pursuing happiness and peace of mind we would just drug everyone. But that, in fact, is what we do. We never announced it. We never formally commenced a “program”. We did it quietly, circumspectly, discretely. The result is the same. All of us are on happy pills. We’re all on soma.

7. Third World Debt. You can argue as much as you want about teaching those people a little bit of responsibility– that’s like a 300 pound adult man beating up an eight-year-old kid in order to teach him some “responsibility”. The truth is, we are picking the pockets of the poor. The poor pay us. We wring our hands and send piddly little donations to make ourselves feel better, but the bottom line is that the poor send us more money than we send them because we are stronger and we can make them, and that’s the ugly truth.

8. The contracts the Recording Industry Association of America has been allowed to foist upon young talent.

9. Absurd awards for “pain and suffering” given out by American juries for victims of corporate malfeasance. The juries seem to be under the quaint illusion that stockholders of the recalcitrant corporations will reach into their own pockets to pay these awards. The big sub-scandal here: lawyers taking 30% or more of these awards even when they are in the millions or tens of millions.

10. Media concentration of ownership.

11. Government subsidy of professional sports stadiums.

Anne Murray Hanging Around With Disreputable People in LA

Anne, what on earth are you doing in this picture? Look at it!

anne.jpg (11758 bytes)

anne.jpg (11758 bytes)

Yes, that is Canada’s own beloved, virginal, Anne Murray carousing with John Lennon, Harry Nilson, Alice Cooper(!), and Mickey Dolenz of the Monkeys.

Well, good heavens– Mickey Dolenz in the same frame as Alice Cooper?  And John Lennon?!

George W. Bush’s “What is ‘is’?”

I never heard Bush use the word “wrong” yet. Or “sorry”. Conservatives can be assholes at times, just as liberals can, but they are never more assholeish than in the rank hypocrisy of their horrible outrage that Bill Clinton lied about Monica Lewinsky, while they blithely look the other way as Bush lies about Iraq.

Bush could argue that he was misinformed– so I would accept a simple “we were wrong” or “I was wrong” or “we were mistaken and we’ll try not to be mistaken the next time we talk you into invading a foreign country and killing 100,000 people”.

Not a chance. Bush acts as if he never claimed there were weapons of mass destruction, or that they were mere days away from deployment. He acts as if he never said that Saddam had something to do with 9/11. He acts as if his office never heaped scorn and ridicule upon those who believed that the UN inspection process was working reasonably well.

That is deceit. It is dishonest. It is as slimy as any “what is ‘is'” from the lips of Bill Clinton.

Thomas Friedman’s Bourgeois Militarism

The New York Times, you must remember, is probably one of the few actual media outlets that lives up to the conservative bugaboo of “liberal”. Maybe. William Safire, who is very conservative, writes OpEd pieces for them. But so does Thomas Friedman and Nicholas Kristof, who are polite liberals, which means that they are different from mainstream conservatism (it there is such a thing nowadays) but not too different.* Paul Krugman writes from more of a traditional liberal perspective. (Can you show me a conservative paper that gives equal prominence to a few liberals?)

Thomas Friedman just wrote an editorial on Iraq that excoriated Howard Dean for having the temerity to suggest that it was wrong to make war on Iraq. At roughly the same time that George W. Bush was tacitly admitting that there never were any weapons of mass destruction (just, in his weasel words, “programs” of research for weapons of mass destruction). Thomas Friedman insists that Dean’s position against the war is not “serious” or “credible”. Not like his plan to reach out to our good friends in Syria and Iran for help in stabilizing Iraq. Not like Mr. Friedman’s very credible plan to bring peace to Israel by….. well, I don’t know. Why shouldn’t Bush get out there and join Israel and whack the Palestinians as well, if it is supposed to help?

Do you understand the state of diversity of public opinion in the United States? It is okay to think that Bush could be doing a better job at whacking Islamic militants where-ever they are, but it is not okay, even for a supposed liberal like Friedman, to question the very idea of aggressive pre-emptive militaristic tactics against America’s “enemies”. I think Friedman really believes that no reasonable person would think that there is ever any solution other than bombs and tanks.

Here’s Mr. Friedman’s concept of diversity on the subject of Iraq:

I define “serious” as one that connects with the gut middle-American feeling that the Islamist threat had to be confronted, but one that lays out a smarter approach than the Bush team’s

Okay, now I understand. “Serious” is middle-class. Middle-class people like war, because they usually don’t have to actually fight in person, and middle-class people understand the importance of maintaining an adequate supply of oil for their SUV’s.

I don’t mind Friedman saying that he supports the war on Iraq, which is as much as to say that Democrats and everybody else should agree with him. What pisses me off is his insistence that opinions other than his or George Bush’s, are not allowed to be taken seriously, and can’t be respectable, and should not be allowed as a political platform. How can you have serious political discourse in this country if members of the opposition have the temerity to actually disagree with the administration?

That is essentially what he is saying: it’s okay to have diversity of opinion, but not too much diversity.*

The generals in the Pentagon and the masters of intrigue and John Ashcroft would surely be happy to hear that the supposed flagship media outlet of the global liberal conspiracy thinks that pre-emptive war is okay and that it’s just plain silly to think otherwise.

The odd thing is, that Friedman may not even be right about the political viability of a pro-war position. Iraq is looking more and more like a dumb idea, like a quagmire that just might explode in a few years. We’ll never know** about it, because CNN and ABC will pull up their tent-pegs and disappear long before the consequences of it become apparent, just as they have deserted Afghanistan, and just as they deserted Nicaragua many years ago. But it just might. The average American believes in capital punishment (though less-so than they used to) but he also believes in minding your own business, generally, unless you really need to do something, and it’s looking more and more like we didn’t really have any more business in Iraq than we do in Libya, Syria, or Saudi Arabia or dozens of other countries.

* I am alluding, of course, to the hilarious scene in Woody Allen’s “Bananas” wherein Miss America is called to testify at the trial of Fielding Mellish (Allen) for treason, and asserts that, in America, it’s okay to be “different, but not too different”.

** 2022-04-30  Of course, in fact we do know, in spades, and the media have more or less acknowledged that Iraq was a massive blunder.

Michelle Shocked: Anchorage

Leroy got a better job, so we moved
Kevin lost a tooth, now he’s started school
I got a brand new 8-month old baby girl,
I sound like a housewife,
Hey ‘Chell, I think I’m a housewife

Michelle Shocked wrote Anchorage in 1988. It’s an upbeat country tune with a friendly old solo violin meandering around. The friendly backbeat is deceptive– it’s a sneaky little unsentimental but affecting update on friendship and the passage of time. Breaks your heart with those tiny unremarked details of everyday life– Leroy gets a better job, they move, Kevin loses a tooth. Then that remarkable line– “I think I am a housewife”. That’s what I mean by “sneaky”. There is a web of deep connections implied in that line, long discussions about roles in life, about marriage and love, and destiny, and the devotion of young friendships– all exploded with one little phrase: “I think I am a housewife”. It’s not angry or bitter, but maybe a little wistful. Is there a hint of regret? It doesn’t sound like it, in the cheery tone of Michelle Shock’s voice.

In a later verse, the narrator is impressed that “‘Chel” is living in New York City — “imagine that”. As if they both had those dreams but the narrator never once really imagined that either of them would fulfill those dreams. Imagine that. New York. Then:

Leroy says, send a picture
Leroy says ‘Hello’,
Leroy says, “keep on rockin’ girl…”

That’s a stroke of genius. Leroy is not the enemy, the male oppressor, or even a rival for her affections. Leroy is interested– he says “Hello”. He wants to see what Michelle, the skate-board punk-rocker, looks like now. Send a picture.

Other Great Michelle Shocked Songs:

  • Memories of East Texas
  • Come a Long Way*
  • Street Corner Ambassador

Michelle Shocked: One of the Longest Strangest Trips You Will Read About

Wedding Videos

Have you looked at a “cutting-edge” wedding video lately? It looks a bit like Tarantino crossed with Fellini. “My Wedding Day 1/2”.

What might be going on is the same process that happened to “art” at the end of the 19th century. For about 2000 years, the goal of painting seemed to be to replicate, as accurately as possible, the image of something. A lot of technical break-throughs, like the use of perspective, the development of different paints and mediums, were the result of artists struggling to unlock the secrets of making a painting look real. Popularly, art functioned like early photography, as record-keeping, information transmittal: here’s a portrait of the pope– in other words, this is what he looks like.

Once photography began to replace that function, artists began to change their styles, and the meaning of art changed. Van Gogh’s sunflowers don’t tell you about what sunflowers look like, but what he felt like looking at them. Monet’s famous pond got more and more abstract as he immersed himself more and more deeply into his backyard.

Professional artists had to find something new to distinguish themselves from hacks and photographers. The hacks continued to try to paint representational images, or, worse, narrative. They were regarded as uncool (like Norman Rockwell). Same with photography: now that anyone can take decent, well-lit, and auto-focused pictures, what’s cool? Out of focus, blurry, badly coloured prints. I can’t wait ’til they start selling instamatic cameras again– to professionals.

In the same way, now that almost anybody can buy a video camera and can master the basics of using a tripod, the “professionals” have to find something new to distinguish themselves from amateurs and hacks. So they imitate film journalists from war zones, and documentarists and Dogma95.

I’m not saying it can’t be used well. I would say, though, that when it is used “for effect”, when a tripod is perfectly available and appropriate, that it has gotten silly.

When a style gets carried too far, as in, arguably, modern art, it becomes ridiculous and irrelevant. The most absurd thing I saw in the last year was a wedding video that featured a wobbly camera, sepia-toned segments, dust and scratches, fast-cutting action sequences, out-of-focus zooms—– it was hilarious. All of these shots taken not in the heat of action, but in the bride’s backyard, and all the scenes were posed. They were phony. But the guy who made it thought he was a genius, and, if I remember correctly, so did the Association of Wedding Videographers which gave him a prize. Probably, so did the bride, whose friends probably took one look at it and — this is America, folks– promptly demanded that their wedding videos be out-of-focus, black and white, dirty, hairy, and wobbly. Why not just hire a drunk?

Anyone remember the sequence in “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” where that is exactly what happens? A film-maker is hired to do a bar mitzvah. He is an alcoholic, and seriously demented. He produces a bizarre montage of scenes from the holocaust, an actual circumcision, and various other weird shots– avant garde film-making at it’s “finest”– intercut with scenes of the actual bar mitzvah. At the end, the crowd of family members sit in stunned silence. Painful seconds tick by…. until a rabbi perks up: “I thought it was edifying”. Then they all leap up and applaud, and Duddy gets all the new customers he can handle.

I happen to think that most– not all, but most– current hand-held camera work is ridiculous and annoying. It’s a bad imitation of artists who might have had a good reason for using that style at the time, but those reasons don’t exist in someone’s backyard on their wedding day. Why not just go handheld, without deliberately shaking all over? In ten years, I think it will look damn silly.

By the way, Stanley Kubrick used it for action sequences in one of the greatest films ever made “Dr. Strangelove” (1963), and rarely used it again. That puts it well ahead of “Hill St. Blues” and “MTV”.

Skip Palenik: Microscoptist! Lies and Fake Evidence

In the May 2003 edition of mediocrity in verse, Reader’s Digest, tribute is paid to one Skip Palenik, “Micro Man”, a forensic microscoptist.

Listen carefully to that word: microscoptist. You are on a jury. True or False– a microscoptist is smarter than a lawyer?

True or false– “microscoptist” isn’t even a real word? My dictionary says no.

Judy Burgin was murdered in Alaska in April 1993. Her body was found in the woods, her head bashed in. She had a boyfriend named Carl Brown who allegedly dealt drugs. Police were stumped. Who could have murdered Judy Burgin? Who could have done it? Is there anybody out there we should investigate? Hmm. Anybody?

With the body, they found a strand of fibre.

That’s when Skip Palenik entered the picture. Skip analyzed the strand of fibre and then compared it to fragments of carpet found in Carl Brown’s house. He declared them a match. He told the jury: I am a microscoptist and with all the authority invested in that title, I proclaim that Brown is guilty. Brown was convicted.

His conviction was overturned on appeal because his lawyers had not been permitted to argue that other people had motivation and opportunity to murder Judy Burgin, who was, after all, a drug addict. In 1998, a second jury found him guilty after four days of deliberation.

There is almost no other information about this case on the Internet.

Now, I can’t swear to it, but I kind of doubt that there exists a sense of definitive standards and procedures that have been thoroughly researched and developed for the positive forensic identification of particular microfibres. That is, though we know there are all kinds of scientific procedures out there that can be applied to the analysis of microfibres and to the science of “comparison”, there probably is no text book that, for example, that lists almost every type of fibre, how they were manufactured, who made them, where they were sold, how many are in circulation, how they react to substances in the environment, how unique they are, etc., etc., etc.

I don’t believe such a body of knowledge exists.

Instead, we have Skip. Skip is given some material by the police and probably is aware of the fact that they need to match. The police don’t go to Skip and say, golly, we have no idea of who could possibly have committed this crime. Here are ten fibres and ten samples of carpets belonging to suspects. Can you match any of them?

We do know that that is not what happens. Skip will receive a couple of samples. Do they match, yes or no? I’ll bet that Skip knows which sample came from a suspect. I’ll bet Skip knows that the police think this is the guy who did it but need some evidence to show in court. It doesn’t matter.

And I’ll bet that there is no scientific definition of what a “match” is, in terms of synthetic fibres.

I don’t think Skip thinks he is giving the jury a distorted picture of the reliability of the evidence because the police seem sure that Mr. Brown did it. I don’t think the police feel that they are manipulating evidence because Skip doesn’t have to manipulate anything. He just has to present some “true” but relatively meaningless “scientific” evidence in a selective and suggestive manner. He never has to lie at any point, because the jury doesn’t understand science. They just understand the word “matches” and “same” and “microscoptist”.

I don’t know how compelling the other evidence was, but I fear that the carpet sample was the decisive evidence in this case. I don’t know if Brown killed Judy Burgin or not, but if the carpet was the most important piece of evidence at the trial and I had been on the jury, I know I wouldn’t have voted for ‘guilty’..

Wrong About Being Wrong About Afghanistan

I’m trying not to forget, by the way, that I was wrong about Afghanistan.

February 2007: Wow. If you actually look up what I said about Afghanistan… well, here it is:

There are good reasons why the U.S. would not want to invade or occupy Afghanistan or Iraq or Yemen or whoever. It would take a long time, and there would be an enormous cost in lives. It would likely introduce instability into a potentially volatile region. It would create a large pool of new, future terrorists. It would create alarm and concern in China and Russia and Pakistan. If the U.S. occupied the nation, it would have to constantly contend with terrorists and insurrectionists.

It would result in disaster.

How about that? I was wrong.

I was wrong when I thought I had been wrong about Afghanistan.


Libya and Dubbya

Bush toots Libya as a model of how a bit of forthright action can impress other countries and achieve American foreign policy goals without further expenditures of men and materiel.

The trouble is, exactly what have we got from Libya? Libya says that they will no longer pursue weapons of mass destruction. Libya, however, is still under the rule of Muamar Qadhafi and his secret police and terror squads. Now, Bush is telling us, all is okay?

There is a problem, isn’t there? Bush said he was going to invade Iraq because it had weapons of mass destruction. They didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction, but that’s okay: we invaded because Saddam Hussein is a cruel tyrant with an appalling disregard for human rights. He imprisons and murders his own people. He has crushed all political opposition and thrown his political opponents into prison. He has suppressed a free press and he has destroyed his nation’s economy.

Just like Qadhafi.

Does anyone realize that Bush has been out-snookered by Qadhafi, who appears to be making a few smart movies. Qadhafi seems to have guessed that Bush doesn’t really care about democracy or human rights or torture or murder. Give Bush a public relations gift, announce that you are no longer pursuing weapons of mass destruction, and maybe he’ll leave you alone.

Bush, so far, has played along. Or is he really that dumb?

Is Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia paying attention? Some kind of public obeisance, especially in this election year, is certainly called for. Get the horn to Karl Rove and ask for a sample text and a knee pad. You have no idea of what you have to gain. Play hardball. Demand some trade concessions while you’re at it– this is an election year, dammit!

In January 2003, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights elected Libya to the rotating chairmanship.

This really is like putting a McDonald’s cook in charge of the Gourmet Diners Association. Is there something I don’t get about this process? Is there some strategic thinking here that I don’t understand, like giving the Olympics to China in 2008? Will Libya try to set an example for the world by releasing all their own prisoners of conscience?

Who is in charge of this? Someone should be sacked.

“Over the past three decades, Libya’s human rights record has been appalling. It has included the abduction, forced disappearance or assassination of political opponents; torture and mistreatment of detainees; and long-term detention without charge or trial or after grossly unfair trials.”  Human Rights Watch