Monday, May 29, 2006


The heroes Americans love to hate

I'm sure you've heard the news by now that two CBS News crew members were killed yesterday when a nearby car loaded with explosives detonated in Baghdad. The explosion also left correspondent Kimberly Dozier critically injured. Our prayers should be with her as we don't know what her future holds.

Yesterday, I paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands of American service people who have died in war over the past 200-plus years. Perhaps these above-mentioned deaths yesterday provide us with an opportunity to pay tribute to some folks who put their necks on the line everyday, but receive little gratitude and a whole lot of scorn.

So far, 96 journalists have been killed in Iraq since the war began. They come from different backgrounds. Some were reporters. Some were photographers. Others were Iraqi guides and assistants. They came from a number of countries as varied as the U.S., Britain, Argentina, Spain and Australia. Their jobs were essentially the same: to get the wartime news out of Iraq and to the rest of the world so that we might know.

But unlike our soldiers, we haven't waved flags and memorialized these folks with holidays, Air Force flyovers or 21-gun salutes. At best, we've greeted their deaths with a headshake of momentary regret. Too often it's been with ingratitude and snotty attitudes about the a group of people we tend to despise for reasons we all know, some valid, many ridiculously overstated and overgeneralized. Yes, some of these folks are arrogant and ambitious, and we all know about Jayson Blair and his ilk who like to make things up. But mainly we can't stand to have someone tell us something we don't like to hear, so we conveniently assume bias, poor ethics and bicoastal arrogance. That sure beats having to look inward and question whether we have our own facts and understanding of the situation straight. (By the way, the left is getting to be about as bad as the right in this aspect.)

In the meantime, the press corps in Iraq is out on the line taking fire and assuming the risks of bombs, landmines and rockets, just as our soldiers are. The result has been that we on the homefront get to sit in our comfy living rooms every night and learn what is happening in Iraq. Sometimes we learn about things we wish we didn't have to learn, such as the disgrace of Abu Graib and last week's news of the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by Marines. But knowing gives us power as citizens. And that's when good things happen in America.

It's much the same for the thousands of journalists here in our own communities. While not facing the bombs and bullets of their colleagues in Iraq, they work everyday to let you know what's happening from your own school board to our nation's Congress. In essence they give you the information we need to make wise decisions as voters, taxpayers and citizens. Armed with that knowledge, we the people can do great things. Without the media, where would we receive this information? How much change would happen then?

Indeed, freedom isn't free. So, be sure to thank a journalist.


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Memorial Day Wishes

Let's put aside our differences on the war in Iraq for just one day, and salute those whose lives were taken in service to country. These men and women knew damn well what might happen to them when they enlisted, yet they chose to enlist anyway. Many of these folks died in the midst of extraordinary heroics, many others just doing their job, which itself is heroic. I watch the faces flash by every night on the "News Hour" on PBS of those killed in Iraq, and I don't know which is sadder, to see those 18- and 19-year-old kids whose lives were stolen fromthem just as they started or those folks in their 30s and 40s, who leave children fatherless or motherless.

A few postings back, I lamented that I could never be a pacifist, as badly as I wish I could be one. Sadly, in this deeply flawed world, we need good people with guns and bombs to protect us from the bad people with guns and bombs who wish us harm. I still consider myself an activist for peace, and I still believe that war is an incredible evil that should be avoided as much as possible. Yet, we have fought just wars in this nation's history, and some of these wars just couldn't be avoided.

The expression "Freedom isn't free," has unfortunately been co-opted by the pro-war activitsts as a cudgel of sorts, and yet those words hold some truth. We can enjoy our mundane lives, relatively free of fear, because some good people have been watching over us for over 200 years.

Just to look at the numbers of these good people who have made the ultimate sacrifice can be overwhelming. Therefore I have posted below the numbers of Americans battle deaths in each war in our nation's history:

Revolutionary War: 4,435
War of 1812: 2,260
Mexican-American War: 1,733
Civil War: 184, 594
Spanish-American War: 385
World War I: 53,583
World War II: 292,131
Korean War: 33,651
Vietnam War: 47,369
Gulf War: 148
Iraq War: 2,465 (As of today, 5/29/06)

These numbers don't include thousands of non-battle deaths, yet war-related deaths, which deserve as much respect as those deaths which occurred in the heat of fighting.

I don't want to get maudlin or overly sentimental. Such expressions elicit more eye-rolling than appreciation, so I'll stop here and ask you to pause if you haven't already and say a prayer of thanks for these hundreds of thousands of Americans who aren't here today so that you could be.

Friday, May 12, 2006


The World According to John Stossel

I remember a kinder, gentler time when John Stossel was a touchy, feely bleeding heart, warning 20/20 viewers of the dangers of exploding toasters and those orange Fiestaware plates. But ol' John was just one of countless bleeding heart reporters in the pantheon of liberal journalism. He didn't really stand out, and he was badly ithcin' for his own niche (like mediocre CBS guy Bernard Goldberg since turned born-again right-winger).

And then John came up with "Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?" a one-hour special from about 10 years ago in which he made a pretty convincing case that we Americans allow ourselves to be frightened by sensational media types (like John himself until now) that we deny ourselves a great deal of enjoyment that should come with life. I think a great argument was made, but sadly, a libertarian wackjob was also born with the acclaim that followed this sepcial. Nowadays of course we know that John Stossel is a liberatarian contrarian extrordinaire, debunking all supposed conventional wisdom as the foolishness of nervous nellie liberals. DDT and asbestos are really good for you. Helmets are for sissies. It's only just and fair that more than a few little old grandmas get cheated out of their pensions every year. Thank God for Stossel. He's going to set the record straight with his homespun wisdom and expse these liberals for the ghouls and bloodsuckers they really are.

Of course, along John's road to Damascus, ABC has been more than happy to let this guy rant, considering that he has a right-wing following that always tunes in. So much for the liberal media, right?

Which brings me to tonight's "20/20" Stossel tour de force "Myths, Lies, and Outright Stupidity." Stossel brings us 10 myths to shock us and bring us around to his worldview that selfishness, greed and cold-heartedness really are virtues. Some of the myths he exposes are just silly and irrelevant (Red cars get pulled over more often. Elephants are afraid of mice) and of course they're designed to mask his ideology run amok. Of course, John encourages us frequently throughtout the presentation to buy his new book on just this very subject.

But others come with a true political agenda, and I'm sure Dick Cheney couldn't agree with ol' John more. Let's recap:

Myth No. 10: Americans are running out of oil.

In Stosselworld, we really have plenty of oil, and we can continue drilling our way to energy independence. But only as long as we annex Canada. You see, according to John, we have these "tar sands" in Alberta that John claims will supply us with oil for more than 100 years. That's the only solution he offers, so I'm assuming he believes tar sands to be the end-all, be-all of energy.

OK, so I'm not going to claim to be a geologist or oil expert. However, I have learned that two tons of sand equal one barrel of oil. So I ask you, how expensive does a barrel of oil have to get to make this cost effective? And is there some cheaper way of producing energy? I'm sure half of Houston will tell me how naive and foolish I am, but I truly wonder if John is oversimplifying things by telling us all how we've finally solved this problem of the past 35 years.

Myth No. 6: Radiation is bad

Did you know that people are actually exposed to high doses of radiation to cure cancer? Well,OK, yeah, I knew that too. But apparently this is a true revelation to John Stossel who breathlessly reports this as an argument for why exposure to high levels of radiation is a good thing. In fact, I guess we should all expose ourselves to high levels of plutonium and strontium. Stossel's main argument apparently is that initial reports of casualties related to Chernobyl were vastly overreported in the tens of thousands. In fact, the widely agreed death toll is 56, so far. Using a parallel logic, the 1,000 or so dead from Hurricane Katrina, compared with intitial estimates of 10,000 dead prove that Katrina wasn't really that big a deal and the liberal media overstated the seriousness of this minor seasonal squall.

If you don't believe Stossel and need further proof of the safety of radiation and foolishness of these liberal nervous nellies, just ask the 60,000 residents of Hiroshima who died within monts of the Enola Gay's visit. (I can't seem to find universal agreement on how many actually were killed by radiation poisoning, so I threw out the first number I found.)

Myth No. 5: Teachers are underpaid

Now, these are fightin' words.

First, let me say, for the record I make $36,000 a year teaching fifth grade. I didn't get into this for the money, and I knew up front I wouldn't make what I really ought to be making, considering the importance of this job and what I could be making doing any number of frivolous, hollow, and frankly stupid pursuits.

Still, the idea that we're not underpaid rings hollow and ridiculous. Stossel asserts that on average we teachers make more than firefighters, chemists and physical therapists. At a national average of about $45,000 per year, teachers do indeed make more than firefighters and chemists. However, chemists make an average of $61,000 per year according to

Putting that aside, this is really a question about what we really value as Americans. Apparently, we think lawyers, NBA players and TV newsmagazine correspondents do the world more good than those people who give your child an education. Stossel, ever disengenuous, points out that New York schoolteachers average $60,000 per year, as if one could enjoy any decent standard of living in New York on that kind of money. John's just mad because he got into a highly-visible pissing match with some New York teachers union.

Myth No. 4: Secondhand smoke isn't really dangerous.

Well, John likes to hedge his bets on this one. He admits that it really is dangerous over time. But it's not dangerous over the course of 20 minutes. As if the rest of the world didn't know this. But John likes to point to the rantings of some crackpot scientist who asserts just that to leave us with some vague picture that anyone who thinks cigarettes are dangerous is some sky-is-falling liberal fool, once again duped by the mainstream media's ongoing campaign of lies.

Myth No. 2: Price-gouging is bad.

You see, when Hurricane Katrina struck is was really a good thing that water was going for $2 a bottle or gas at $4.50 per gallon (I'm just making these numbers up.), it was really a good thing. This kept people from hoarding, and if they didn't have the money to buy these things, they should just evacuate themselves to the New Orleans Convention Center where ol' Brownie was sure to lend a hand.

You see, greed is good, and when you're looking out for No. 1 and taking advantage of the other guy, you truly are a shrewd businessman, which equates with moral certitude and godliness. And you certainly pass the WWJD test. That is, What Would John Do?

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