Cincinnati & national politics -- movies -- music -- law

Friday, April 30, 2004

Names and Pictures

By now we've all heard about how Nightline is going to spend tonight's telecast reading the names of those U.S. soldiers who have died from enemy fire in Iraq, along with a photograph of each solider. Some news outlets are banning this broadcast from their ABC affiliates, including one in nearby Columbus, Ohio. This move also has caused some to question whether it is merely a ratings ploy by ABC to get more people to watch during the all-important sweeps month of May.

I find the whole thing fascinating.

There appear to be a couple of issues at play here. I'll deal with the easy one first. Is this a ratings ploy? Maybe, but it strikes me as a phenomenally bad one if it is. I may be disproven by the numbers, but I suspect that not a lot of people are going to tune in for an hour to listen to Ted Koppel read over five hundred names and look at the pictures of more than five hundred casualties of war. To do so would exceed the tolerance of all but the most masochistic among us.

Of course, people enjoy some amount of solemnity. I couldn't stop reading the little biographies that the NYT ran of those who died on September 11. I even bought the book. But then I always could stop, and there were always touching moments to leaven the sadness somewhat. Not so here. Again, though, I could be wrong.

The second issue is more difficult and fascinating--is what Nightline doing "journalism?" Is it political? Is it politically-motivated? If so, is that okay?

Two assumptions I'm going to make: (1) The fact of these soldiers' deaths is "news" in the sense that it is a report on at least somewhat recent events--no one argues that these men and women did not die; and (2) the act of reading the names and showing the pictures is politically neutral on its face--I do not take into account any musical accompaniment or background graphic or particularly stylized vocalization. These obviously could remove the broadcast's neutrality, but we'll assume they won't.

It seems that the supporters and critics of the broadcast view it in two lights: as a memorial honoring these soldiers' sacrifices for their country or an indictment of those whose decisions led to their deaths. Personally, I think most will come away with a nuanced view somewhere in between.

However, the critics appear to contend without proof that the broadcast is meant to be seen merely as an indictment and to concede without argument that it will be.

I think the contention is irrelevant and the concession is revealing. Ted Koppel may mean to make people question the war, but he may not. And when you get down to it, I think what he and the Nightline producers mean to do is irrelevant, because as long as the act itself remains politically-neutral, people will view it both ways. Specifically, those who have already made up their mind about Iraq will see whatever they want to see: heroes, victims, courage, and/or tragedy.

However, for those who haven't made up their mind, it is simply a reminder of the truth: these men and women have died in United States uniforms, killed in the line of duty. Each person can draw his or her own conclusion. It is not an indictment, and it is not a memorial. It is merely a display of facts: pictures and names. We each bring our own context to that act, and that context colors our viewing.

But those who oppose the broadcast seem afraid that it will only foment dissent; but why are they so sure it will? Are they so insecure in their position in support of the war that they can't believe that others, when faced with facts, will agree with them? Are they elitist, believing that the weak-willed masses lack the character or moral fiber necessary to continue to support of war when they appreciate its toll? What is it? What are they afraid of?

Maybe they realize that, at the heart of it, war is a sometimes necessary evil, but one that most people will not support when faced with its true costs. Or maybe they are insecure about whether it really is necessary this time.

UPDATE: Drudge has a letter from Sen. McCain protesting the decision of the Sinclair Broadcast Group not to air Nightline: "Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves."

More Photo Stuff

This website contains photographs apparently taken in Iraq. The juxtaposition of the pictures of destruction, human injury, and, yet, beauty, is startling. Though not necessarily "artistic," these photographs provoke a visceral reaction, but probably are not for the faint-hearted.


Of course, the humiliation and degradation of Iraqi prisoners engenders, in Bush's words, "deep disgust." I can think of few things that could be worse for the future of the Iraqi occupation than this. But one item in the Yahoo! article to which I linked makes me a little curious. Scott McClellan said that Bush has "known about it (the charges) for a while." I wonder for how long. I say this not because I think that this sort of abuse is something that should have been made public immediately. I ask just because it makes me curious what Bush knew, how long he's known, and what led to the public disclosure of the photographs. I probably will never get the answers to these questions, but I do wonder.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

"One Nation . . . Indivisible"

Yesterday, Rep. James McDermott of Washington omitted the words "under God" when it was his turn to the lead the House in the Pledge of Allegiance. McDermott's spokesman claims it was a mistake, resulting from the fact that when he originally learned the Pledge in the 1940's, "under God" had not been added yet. Some thoughts:

1) Republican uproar is swift, with Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas accusing McDermott of "embarrassing the House and disparaging the majority of Americans who share the values expressed in the pledge." I think the only embarrassment here is that, assuming that his alleged "mistake" was not in fact a slip-up, McDermott hasn't had the guts to stand by what he did.

2) I usually try to give Fox News some amount of credit, since their pure news coverage doesn't always veer to the right as strongly as some claim, but its article on the subject is ridiculous, accusing McDermott of lying about being confused about the status of the Pledge (because he previously voted only "present" instead of joining his colleagues in "disapproving" of the Ninth Circuit's decision in Newdow) and of breaking the law.

3) Breaking the law? According to Fox News, the law requires that the Pledge be recited in toto and with the speaker's hand placed over her heart. It's can't be? But it is. The statue (4 U.S.C. section 4), to which I just linked, is an informative read, particularly for the notes, where the Congress gives a history lesson about "our religious heritage" and then quotes Justice O'Connor's language in Wallace v. Jaffree that "under God" in the Pledge serves "'legitimate secular purposes.'" That begs the question, of course, of why the "religious heritage" is relevant.

4) Not to mention that Congress also tries to spin out some absurd and distinguishable hypotheticals, like that the National Gallery would no longer be able to display famous paintings depicting religion events (like The Last Supper) or that the Constitution, which mentions the "Year of our Lord" would itself become unconstitutional. Oh, the Gordian Knot that the Ninth Circuit has woven! Whatever shall we do?!

Or, as Brian Griffin would say: fucking Theocrats.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

"Hysterical Ranting"

Sorry I'm a bit behind on my commenting (I've been on vacation). On my review of what I missed over on lawroark, I found a little nugget about the Saudi-Bush oil price thing. Lawroark astutely notes that there's not really much "there" there, pointing to Bob Woodward's explanation of this story on Larry King Live. Fine. But there are two parts of lawroark's story that deserve attention:

At the beginning of the post, lawroark quotes what he calls "Kerry's hysterical rantings" about the story as it was breaking at the time. What did Kerry say? Here it is, "If . . . it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied to the American election, tied to a secret White House deal, that is outrageous and unacceptable to the American people." That's hysterical? Did Kerry not qualify, "If . . . it is true that gas supplies and prices in America are tied . . . to a secret White House deal?" Wouldn't it indeed be outrageous and unacceptable for such a connection to exist? This does not sound either hysterical or like a "rant" -- it sounds like a candidate raising questions. Now, if Kerry continues to harp on this, that's different, but there's no "there" there for now. Too bad lawroark isn't as invested in clearing up misconceptions about John Kerry as about GWB.

Second, lawroark emphasizes a statement by the Saudi ambassador that Clinton asked the Saudis to keep oil prices down in 2000. This is the normal partisan ploy, heard often by the Bush administration now, of "don't criticize us, Clinton did it too." Interestingly, however, the fact that Clinton did something, does not make it right. After all, would it have been okay if the Clinton administration had sold arms to Nicaraguan contras and then claimed, "Well, Reagan did it?" No. Nor is a valid rebuttal of any criticism of Bush II that Clinton did something. That's just bad logic.

Monday, April 26, 2004

A Political Turnabout

Greg L. Mann over at NFGL has done a fine job covering the hullabaloo at City Hall over the new policy to ban people who use racial slurs from Council meetings. However, I had to point out a funny quote from today's Post article, where David Pepper -- an actual lawyer, even if he rarely recognizes that applying what he learned in law school might be helpful as a councilman -- says, "The bottom line is City Council has the right to set rules to make sure meetings are run well. . . . That's why it's different, for example, than acting up on Fountain Square." A funny thing from a man who just a year and a half ago supported banning all organized speech on Fountain Square for nearly two months around Christmas.

And I have to point out that Magistrate Judge Hogan's decision, which seems to focus at least somewhat on Judge Hogan's personal disagreement with Nathanial Livingston's tactics as an advocate for his position before Council, sounds pretty "misdirected" itself. The extent of one's First Amendment rights, after all, isn't based on how effective, or "obnoxious" or "uncivil," a particular judge thinks the speaker is. I would imagine that Livingston would appeal.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004


I love reading the various commentary on Kerry's repeated inability to correctly pronounce the last name of U.N. envoy Brahimi, such as in the kausfiles over at Slate (I can't find a permalink, sorry). I particularly like how Bush's misstatements have become merely an amusing quirk that shows his earnestness, while Kerry's apparently reveals some sort of nefarious psychological issue.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Theocracy, cont.

Brian Griffin provided a lengthy response to my post criticizing him for over-dramatizing what he perceives to be a push toward "theocracy." But Brian's post only demonstrates my point.

But first off, let me make sure my point is clear. I'm not saying that theocrats don't exist in America. What I'm saying is that by limiting any "discussion" of the issue of separation of church and state to bluster about "theocrats" and the admitted hyperbole that Ohio is starting to "sound like" Iran, you kill the possibility of an intelligent discussion of the underlying important issues. And, speaking as one who tends to agree with Brian on the underlying issues, you also marginalize yourself and your opinions. That isn't good.

And all of Brian's excited handwaving about the 2002 Texas Republic Party platform illustrates that point. Specifically, looking beyond the mention of "God" in that platform, which appears to be sufficient to send Brian off on an "anti-theocratic" crusade (pun intended), I don't get what's so offensive.

Essentially, all the platform does is assert a number of arguable propositions. They say that the U.S. was founded on Judeo-Christian principals. They say that "churches, synagogues and other places of worship, including home Bible study groups, should not be regulated, controlled, or taxed by any level of civil government, including the Social Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service." They declare that "human life is sacred because each person is created in the image of God, that life begins at the moment of conception and ends at the point of natural death, and that all innocent human life must be protected." They say that they think the Ten Commandments should be allowed to be posted on Government property. And finally, they state their belief that "the church is a God?ordained institution with a sphere of authority separate from that of civil government."

Gosh. So, here's what we've got: the Founding Fathers were Christians, no regulation or taxation of churches, no abortion, probably the death penalty, the Ten Commandments on school property, and church and government operating in separate spheres. I don't agree with these views, but the mere fact that a political party holds them does not raise in my mind the ghastly specter of religious oppression. I just think, "Okay, they're wrong."

And then all this stuff about feeling like an outcast because you're an atheist--well, from the tenor of it, it sounds like Brian is violating the Golden Rule. By painting religious people (and I can't seem to find a principled distinction in Brian's argument between one who is religious and a "theocrat") as idiots and close-minded, it sounds like his solution is making those who believe in God feel like the outcasts. I can't buy that as the solution.

So, what exactly is Brian's point? That religious people should just shut up about their religious beliefs? That we shouldn't even discuss religion in the context of public life? But isn't religion, or atheism, an important part of one's identity? It seems to be for Brian and for the Texas Republican party. Wouldn't we then be better off talking about it and discussing the important underlying issues instead of indulging in fear-mongering about some impending "culture war" between the "close-minded theocrats" and "godless atheists"?

And, unlike Brian, I believe that most people would prefer to talk rather than hurl epithets. Sure, there will always be close-minded idiots, but you can find those on both sides of the argument.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Pfc. Maupin

The unfolding events in Iraq hit close to home. My heart goes out to the Maupin family.

Theocracy? Come on.

I have tried to stay silent. I really have, because I know that this is a fight that's probably not worth fighting, but I can't keep quiet any more. I just can't. This has gone too far.

Brian Griffin over at Cincinnati Blog had the good fortune/opportunism to come first and snag a blog name and address that makes him the presumptive Cincinnati blogger. Generally, he's done fine with that mantle, discussing the relevant local news stories, etc.

But recently, he's gone off on this theocracy kick, arguing essentially that anyone who mentions anything having to do with religion in the public context is pushing this country toward a "theocracy." Today is just another example, as we are told that our country is beginning to "sound like Iran." Why? Because the Enquirer says that there are "religious centrists" at UC who "believe religion should play a larger role in government." According to Brian, those "kids" must be getting that kind of idea from "certain Religious Sects that advocate or are working towards a theocracy."

What? Which "Religious Sects" have the stated goal of a theocracy? Have we no sense of history? The question of how much religion ought to play a role in public and political life has been omnipresent throughout our country's history. Why the special concern now? What's the need for hysteria? I just don't get it.

I'm not advocate of religion intersecting with politics, but I think a reasoned discussion can be had on the topic. But when people on either side of the argument resort to base generalizations about the other side ("Theocrat!" "Godless heathen!"), all perspective is lost and only then do we head closer to bringing Brian's alarmist rhetoric about some kind of bloody culture war to fruition.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Anybody but Bush?

A colleague criticized me the other day, noting that I tend to get after Bush far more than Kerry, particularly on issues of factual accuracy. My initial response was that I've never claimed that I don't have an agenda or a blatent preference against Bush. But then I also realized that I just don't have a lot of thoughts about Kerry at all. I don't hear what he says and think, "I like him." It's not that I'm uncritical of him; it's that I find him to be somewhat irrelevant.

So my colleague then scoffed, saying essentially that I'm just anti-Bush. And that's pretty much true. I want Bush to lose. In the regular lefty-righty shouting match, that probably would get me labelled as some kind of pessimistic nihilist, like everyone on the left. But that's pretty reductive. I'm not a nihilist; I just think our country is heading in the wrong direction in a lot of ways. I have hope for the future, but I think we need a change.

And I also found myself coming full-circle back to a position I've held for a number of years that our country seems to work best when those in power are forced to compromise. My ideal was the Clinton White House and Republican Congress. Not all that much happened. Now that's not to say that I don't have a laundry list of pie in the sky ideas that I wish could get through Congress and signed by the President, but my ideal political landscape is a recognition of the reality. At least right now, neither party has shown the ability to rise above partisan bickering and pork-barrel politics to stay true to ideology.

So, instead of supporting that the Democrats get control of the whole henhouse, on a structural level I think it's better to have roadblocks. Vetos and filibusters and all that dirty stuff that makes people sit down and talk and reach agreements.

So I think it's okay to be for Kerry simply because he's anybody but Bush. I don't trust the Republicans. They haven't shown in four years that their agenda works. I'd be happier with a little more deadlock. And I don't think that Democrats will retake Congress, so I'm all for Kerry, just to throw a wrench into things if nothing else.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Throw Them All In Jail?

I just want to go on the (ephemeral Internet) record as saying that the decision (read about it here) to charge Audrey Seiler, a clearly confused and troubled college student, with a crime carrying the possibility of nine months in jail is ridiculous. I understand that the hoax resulted in a lot of wasted manpower, but is that really ameliorated by wasting further manpower on a prosecution that inevitably will end in a guilty plea and, at most, some community service? Aren't there better ways to deal with people who have serious emotional issues than prosecuting them?

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I have often privately fumed at the "Hot Air" column in the Enquirer, where Ray Cooklis time and again seems to be engaged in a rather partisan attempt to return truth to the political debate. I say that his quest appears partisan because his targets are generally Democrats. Of course, one could say that this reflects the political landscape, but I think a more honest view is that deception is a tactic employed by both parties. And so I thought I'd put Cooklis to the test by sending him a couple of leads to some Bush administration misstatements, figuring that when he failed to follow through on them but instead attacked Ted Kennedy or something, I could shake my finger and proclaim, "Aha! You are just a partisan hack!"

Well, with equal parts chagrin and pleasure, I point you to today's "Hot Air" column, where Cooklis takes Bush to task for the claim, which I have mentioned previously, that Kerry voted to raise taxes 350 times in the Senate. Whether this is the result of one of my leads, I'll never know for sure. Nevertheless, I applaud Mr. Cooklis and hope that he continues to stay the nonpartisan course.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Touching Earnestness

Great "editorial" in the NYT today by Thurston Moore, one of the founders of Sonic Youth, a band that I've always respected but never really loved. But that's not the point. The point is that I marvel at his astoundingly earnest take on "alternative" music and Kurt Cobain. Not because his insights are earth-shattering or particularly artfully conveyed (though far more artful than I imagine, in my jaded, late-twenties kind of way, that the lead guitarist of Hoobastank would be), but because they reveal the perspective of someone who lives music in an immediate way that I rarely enjoy nowadays.

I talked with a friend the other day about that--the sad fact that so little of the new music I listen to moves me viscerally like music did ten, or even five, years ago. My knee-jerk way of thinking is that it's because the music just isn't as good anymore, but I don't really think that's it, at least not entirely. I've changed. I've lost the time to just sit and let music wash over me. And I've lost that touching earnestness that allowed me to believe that music did change the world.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Bush Ad

Sorry to be away. Been under the weather.

Anyway, I was glad to catch a Bush ad (appropriately called, "Troubling") on Kerry's economic policies this morning on CNN and see that it continues to perpetrate the lie that Kerry voted to raise taxes 350 times while he was in the Senate.

Of course, it appears that the debunking of this lie has had some effect. Instead of saying that Kerry voted to raise taxes, the ad now says that Kerry "supported higher taxes" 350 times. Still misleading, particularly in light of the graphic, which reads "Kerry supported increasing taxes."

To those who might say that this is an election ad and Bush is not responsible if there's some untruth in it, yada yada yada, I would like to point to the fact that Bush puts his image and voice at the beginning of the ad. He's responsible.