Sunday, May 31, 2009

Radio Memories: Laughter Through Tears

I’ve often wondered at the discomfiting relationship between comedy and tragedy. It used to be that the funniest comedians were those with the saddest life stories; I wonder if it’s still so.

It's an interest that's led me over the years to reading many biographies about the classic comedians whose work has me laugh the most. I’ve been startled to find a pattern repeated with such alarming frequency that I have come to understand it as the price for being funny... and a heavy cost it seems indeed.

Losing fathers to drink, losing mothers to madness, losing childhood friends to disease, losing all friends by constantly being on the move, the despairing childhoods alone would have brought their share of tears, but more suffering would follow many comedians into adulthood. Just off the top of my head: silent comedy giant Charlie Chaplin’s first child died three days after birth; Lou Costello lost his son Lou Jr just a few days short of his baby’s first birthday, on the day of a big radio broadcast no less; and a memory closer to our own time, Red Skelton’s son died of leukemia at the height of that comedian’s television career.

Is it some rite of passage for comedians that they must suffer, so that they can more clearly understand how desperately the world would benefit from their ability to cheer us on through our own personal heart-aches and tragedies? What happens if they don't suffer; is that what accounts for the cynical style we seem accursed with in our comedians today... is it because they've been spared the kind of pain that a large segment of humanity must contend with, day following depressing day... the cost of being human? And so instead of raising us all up, they seem so intent on bringing us all down?

Red Skelton’s father died shortly before he was born, and as a young boy he staggered under the loaded burden that life had dealt him, as he tried to do his share in supporting the rest of his family through their hard, hard times. One day that little boy simply sat on the front steps and cried the kind of tears that we would wish only on our worst enemies. (or so I remember the anecdote from Arthur Marx's bio of Red that I found back in the early 80s)

My wife tells me that Red’s old TV comedy series was a childhood favorite for her and many of her friends, but such reruns were unknown to me in Eastern Canada; I first came to know Red through re-broadcasts of the radio work he did before television. One rainy summer night after the last of his friends had moved away, a child who was terribly upset at the passing of his grandfather sat alone on his bed, tuned in to a far-away Philadelphia radio station, and by luck the static parted long enough for him to chance upon a new voice: Red Skelton, and a new philosophy for facing life: laughing at yourself. By the time the program was over, the youngster was sad no longer, his self-pity stilled by the self-deprecating comedy style that I’ve enjoyed, and embraced, ever since. To this day when life gets particularly rough, and I start again to feel sorry for myself, I turn to Red Skelton so as to teach myself how to laugh at myself, or at least how to look at my silly life and smile.

Every Sunday we pause in blogging about the ups and downs of life to take a moment to listen to some Radio Memories, echoes of days gone by, and the lessons we may learn from them through the magic of the theater of the imagination, radio drama. This week’s Radio Memories post is fondly dedicated to one of my favorite clowns: Red Skelton, who carried such burdensome memories of sad times, and yet still persevered to bring a special kind of joy into the world.

Red’s radio stardom may seem strange when we consider how renowned he later became for his pantomime skills; what a perfect clown he would be for the visual medium of television. He had to rely on different muscles to lift himself through his earlier successes in radio, even though the bare bones of his comedy style would remain in place at every stage of his career: a keen eye for the absurdities that are such a large part of human experience, and a healthy enough sense of humor that allowed him to keep channeling them, come what may.

He was going to need strength of yet another sort in the late 1950s when he learned of his only son’s fatal leukemia, and a decade later when his sick wife took her own life on the same date, ten years to the day of the death of their son. “The reason I chose this day, is so that you won’t feel bad twice in one year”, she explained in a note left behind in the wake of her suicide.

He was still going strong in the early 1990s when I used to see him performing in Toronto at the O'Keefe Center; delightfully, his visits would coincide with my birthday, a wonderful present I treasured at the time, for the renewal of memories that his visits would bring, and renewed inspiration that would accompany them.

I wish I had known at the time about this hour-long television interview, taped in advance of his 1992 concert appearance in Toronto. After being so fortunate to see him live a few times, it comes as no surprise that a guy so devoted to giving appreciative fans like me our money's worth would create a daily ritual that saw him start each day writing a love letter to his last wife.

How to pick just one radio show from Red's several years on the air, that can persuade a modern audience to fall in love with his self-kidding approach to comedy, as readily as I did those many years ago? His shows probably added years to my life, he's cheered me up so regularly over the decades, so it's a task I approached in the spirit I think Red would have approved:
I picked at random.

This episode was originally broadcast on June 6th, 1946, marking the end of Red's first season on the air after getting out of the army; his draft in 1944 had put his radio work on hold "for the duration", and there's a typical moment of humility at the end of this broadcast as Red shows his appreciation for the many listeners that welcomed his show back in their homes. But who could resist inviting a guest so ready to poke fun at himself, on the wings of theme music promising "It's Gonna Be A Great Day", making it just a little easier to laugh through our tears:

Sara: You’re a moron!
Red: And it’s getting so it’s nothing to be proud of… there’s so many of us now, y’know.

Previous Radio Memories posts:

Frontier Gentleman: Gambling Lady
Information Please: Guests Walter Duranty and John Gunther
The Aldrich Family: Cleaning The Furnace
Tom Mix, Terry and the Pirates VE Day broadcasts from May 8 1945
You Are There: The Capture Of John Wilkes Booth
Fort Laramie: War Correspondent
CBS Radio Workshop: Son Of Man
Great Gildersleeve: Easter Rabbits
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Genealogists do the darnedest things

People who have spent time in public archives have probably noticed that some of the busiest bees in keeping parts of our historical record alive are the genealogists. Following a link, I just came across a page where genealogists transcribe (with a few typos: they're not simply scanning articles!) newspaper stories from the Brooklyn Standard Union of May 1931.

This is a little window into a time when ordinary people were willing to go first in exploring or renewing (covenantal) models of human reciprocity, and punishing those who weren't. In other words, 1930s New Yorkers were not, like us, so fearful that they might come to be seen as guilty for negatively affecting some representative of a designated or potential victim group by taking the lead in modeling or inflecting some new state of affairs that might create some (temporary) inequity, and hence "victim", with which the more privileged or first-on-scene might be charged with guilt. Rather, instead of looking to some big man saviour to dictate or recognize the terms of history's inevitable flow, in the name of imposing equality for all, they practiced more promising ways of hope and change in the cause of a shared freedom, and so they looked for humble leadership in the difficult times of the Depression. Instead of replacing god with the victim-group identity, they were not afraid to love the normal and the sacred but ordinary individuals on whose acts of creation and seconding the coming into being of the normal always first depends...
Once a Copy Always a Copy, Says Capturer of Gunmen
"Once a policeman always a policeman, whether or not you are in the department"

This was the comment of Salvatore L. FRANZES today. He is out of the department after a four months probation period. But he is waging a warfare, all his own, against gunmen.

After successfully passing the examination and making the list, he was sent to the Police academy. It was while there he was dropped because of some flaws discovered in his application. He was let out on May 5.

Last Friday while in the vicinity of Metropolitan avenue and Rodney street he saw three men acting in a suspicious manner. He saw Patrolman James FERRARA, of Central Park station, who was on his way home and in civilian clothes. He told FERRARA of the action of the three men. FRANZES and FERRARA got Police Sergeant Francie GILL, of Bedford avenue station. The three men were arrested. Two of hem had guns.

They were charged with violating the Sullivan law and attempted robbery. A payroll of $1,200, it was learned, was to be delivered at a nearby factory. It is said the three men were waiting for it.

"This shows that FRANZES was alert, prevented a holdup and probably saved the life of some policeman or one of those carrying the payroll," said Ernest GILMORE GARDINER, who heads a committee of FRANZES neighbors who will make an effort to have him reinstated in the department.
Mr. and Mrs. Frank Borie DU VALL were honeymooning somewhere in New York to-day - the first television bridal couple ever to have their wedding both heard and seen over the air.
Miss Grayce Lillian JONES, a 21-year-old secretary, and DU VALL, 25, a television engineer, stood before the flickering lights of the television while thousands of persons listened and as many as are equipped with the sight device watched the Rev. Dr. A. Edwin KELGWIN pronounce them man and wife.
Astoria police are watching a cave in the New York Connecting Railroad embankment at Twenty-fifth avenue and Forty-eighth street, Astoria, to see that John FLECKENSTEIN, an old hermit,oes not return to it.

The hermit was ordered to keep away from his underground retreat when police received complaints from neighbors who said his un-kempt appearance frightened the children. He was ordered to clean himself up and to get a room when Lieut. August COOK and Patrolman STEFANIA discovered that he carried three bank books which listed aggregate deposits of $9,000.
Swarm Hums "Something to Remember Us By"
An air fleet - and not the Army's - mobilized over East Fourth Street and Avenue C this afternoon and picked on "enemies" far from theoretical.

The general impression was that from 5,000 to 5,000,000 bees had taken a dislike to the neighborhood because it was between seasons and there were no buttercups.

At 2:30 they attacked the residents, sparing neither the rich nor the poor, stinging right and left and in several cases the rear, so that within fifteen minutes the telegraph bureau at Brooklyn Police Headquarters was flooded with calls for assistance.

Sixteen calls came in together to Acting Captain Michael GLEASON during the distress peak. "They're stingin' little children now," one of the scouts pleaded. "They're flyin' in and outa windows looking for families. Nothin' seems to satisfy 'em. Could you send some detectives?"

Acting Captain Michael GLEASON tried to reassure his callers, but admitted privately he was in something of a dilemma. Detectives do not have training in catching bees, and although the department was recently equipped with extra machine guns, armored motorcycles and tear bombs to war on gang-sters, none of these were regarded as particularly effective against bees. It is not known which way tear gas bothers bees most. What if it made the bees madder, said Captain GLEASON.

Where the bees came from no one off the scene could guess, and those on the scene were too busy to think.
Seaman, Jobless, Broke, Returns $11 He Found
The lobby of the Seamen's Church Institute, at 25 South street,Manhattan, is filled these days with hundreds of merchant seamen looking for jobs. They were willing to go on tankers, oilers, coastwise vessels, even to take land jobs in order to keep body and soul together. Such a seaman is Anton KONDORE, Italian, who, in more prosperous times, worked on transatlantic ships as a fireman, but who has been out of work for the past five months. KONDORE was waiting in the lobby, just outside the free shipping office, his eyes alert for notices of jobs to be posted. Chancing a glance on the floor he was a ten dollar and a one dollar bill.
Stooping to pick up the money, he hurried to the officer on duty at the main entrance and turned in the eleven dollars.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Has Bernanke's bluff been called?

The Canadian government is posting its first deficit (and a big one) in thirteen years and still our currency is on a free flight upwards against the US dollar. What's going on? The markets seem to be losing faith in the US currency and debt and, among other things, flocking to buy into oil and gas as a hedge.

Like the rest of humanity, a government can only borrow against collateral, perceived or real. While a government has some ordinary assets, like buildings and real estate, its main asset is its ability to command the taxpayer to pay. However, there are even limits, somewhere, to the value of this asset. The US taxpayer, long the most favored by bond buyers, because deemed most reliable (at least in the long term) of all taxpayers is currently being saddled with unprecedented debt and at the same time, with the economy in decline, tax revenues going into government coffers are plummeting. This week the market has responded by pushing up interest rates, despite Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's attempts to keep interest rates down by flooding money into the bond market. If this continues, the cost of borrowing for both the US government and consumer goes up and the government has to either print more money and risk an inflationary spiral or stop borrowing and face the music of cutting spending and paying down debt and letting banks and others who have made bad loans into the housing bubble go bankrupt. Either scenario suggests further economic collapse and decline in government revenues (in hard money).

Still, we see much talk out there of "green shoots" in the economy as people look for positive signs in the economy, and in bank balance sheets, engendered by the first surge of government spending and money printing. How real are these "shoots", and not just just a short-term artefact of an increased money supply? Can the supposedly independent Bernanke pull back on the money supply once the economy shows signs of growth and not be countermanded by an Obama government bent on expanding government spending according to Keynesian theories and political demands from the left?

Fear of inflation, which could lead to either hyperinflation and hence a destroyed economy, or to a collapse in government borrowing and hence massive cuts in government spending leading to deflation,  seem to be on the rise in money markets as the US dollar tumbles. Are we heading towards another depression? Some think so: Bernanke: How's The Vise Feel? - The Market Ticker

In any case, we will probably have to learn again that our desire for great men to provide us with magical solutions, or free money, to our economic stumbling blocks is misplaced. Real growth has to be built on a trust and faith in the covenants that structure the economic system. Credit and bankruptcy need to be seen to be given where credit and bankruptcy are due, at least a good part of the time.

Friday Shadows

Unearthing a few small stories lurking in the shadows of bigger news on a sunny Friday morning.

Feral: The rise of an alarming new trend in the UK, as dogs are increasingly being used as weapons by Britain's new generation of thugs.
It's been obvious to those working in animal welfare that this has been an increasing trend, and recent statistics produced by the RSPCA put an objective slant on the issue. Sixty-six per cent of all calls to the RSPCA about dog fighting last year involved youths fighting their animals in public places. This compares with 37 per cent in 2007.
... The figures tie in with the increasing trend amongst teenagers and young males for using stereotypically macho-type dogs as weapons of intimidation in urban areas of England and Wales.
The problem isn't limited to London. Areas including Merseyside, West Yorkshire, and the West Midlands have also seen a trend for young people using dogs to intimidate or attack other people and animals.

Initiative: The case for private solutions to the public problem of Somali piracy.
The international effort to combat piracy involves many navies operating in separate alliances, working with different rules of engagement in poorly coordinated operations. As governments fail, private security companies move to fill the void.
One such company, US-based Phoenix Intelligence Support, initiated a private sector conference in Cairo this week to discuss what it calls "real solutions" to the piracy threat. Speaking on phone from Cairo, Phoenix managing director William Fielding said so far a group of companies operating almost 1,000 ships have expressed interest in his protection services.
"The ideal situation would be to never have a pirate come on board a ship at all," Mr. Fielding said. "We are looking at the most humane ways to deter anyone from getting on board the ship, but we need to be true to our customers as well."
Mr Fielding said his company plans to install teams on board vessels, armed with high pressure hoses, long range acoustical devices and, as a last resort, conventional weaponry. The company also intends to employ airplanes to spot pirates at sea.
"We want our philosophy to be, just keep them off board the ship the gentlest way possible."
Mr Fielding argues the private sector can thwart pirates in a simple and cost-effective manner, while navies lack the resources to patrol enough ocean.

Synaesthesia: Hearing shapes? Tasting sounds? Just how separate do our senses remain as we navigate our way through life's challenges? Interesting article studying our capacity to blend sensory experiences together when we try and figure out what's going on around us.
It seems our brains may use these synaesthetic associations, says Professor Spence, "to combine all of the different sensory cues that are hitting our receptors at any one time".
"If there are lots of other visual events at the same time, for example, if I'm at a noisy party, how do I know which face goes with which voice?" he asked.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thursday Revelations

Two stories this morning that reveal how we should be taking the news we receive through our media with far less than automatic acceptance.

Research: Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt interviewed MSNBC journalist Lawrence O'Donnell in the first hour of his radio program. As O'Donnell started gearing up for his criticism of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Hugh got the network news analyst to make some startling admissions about the priorities on his reading list in this post-9/11 world...: [my transcript]

[22:43] Hugh Hewitt: Did you read The Nuclear Jihadist by Douglas Franz...
Laurence O'Donnell: No.
HH: ... and Kathleen Collins.
LO'D: No.
HH: He's John Kerry's senior investigator on the foreign affairs committee, does he sound reputable to you?
LO'D: Keep going.
HH: The AQ Khan network is gone.
LO'D: I know they're gone, I know... and that's a great thing. But let's just get a couple of things straight: Cheney did nothing about it, not one meeting. From the day he was sworn in, until September 10th, he did NOTHING about Al Qaeda, NOTHING about the AQ Khan network, NOTHING. The guy wants you to rate his job starting on Sept 12th; do you want to start rating the Obama presidency on September 12th 2009?
HH: Larry, that's a specious argument, but I want to get one more piece of data out there... Have you read The Looming Tower yet?
LO'D: No.
HH: What was the last book you read about terrorism?
LO'D: The last... I don't think I've read a book about terrorism.
HH: Ever??
LO'D: [thinking] N-n-n-no.
HH: About Al Qaeda?
LO'D: No.
HH: About... How about the Mullahs in Iran?
LO'D: No.
HH: [pause] I'm... I'm just stunned!
LO'D: Well, I'll tell you, I've read Bob Woodward's books about the accounts inside the Bush administration, from what they were doing, from the day they got sworn in. Okay?
HH: You've never read a book about terrorism??
LO'D: There is no, there is absolutely no evidence, and I defy you... I defy you to point to me...
HH: Larry, You've never read a book about terrorism?
LO'D: ...point to me a citation, of one memo, or one meeting, that Dick Cheney was having, where he said anything about Al Qaeda...
[bumper music starts, signaling the end of the segment and the approach to a commercial break]
HH: Larry, I've got to go lie down. I really do. Do you think you're well-informed MSNBC, by MSNBC standards? Do you think you're above the grade of people at that network?
LO'D: That's a trick question, Hugh.
Context: TV talk show host Bill O'Reilly is so internet-savvy that he doesn't know the technical difference between a blog post and a comment left at one, as he refers to commentors as "bloggers".

It's sad to see guest Amanda Carpenter's non-reaction to O'Reilly's sarcastic comments about Hot, the second conservative site whose comment threads were quoted from in the segment. Amanda Carpenter isn't just any Washington pundit, she also happens to be a frequent guest on Hot Air's Ed Morrissey's daily blog talk radio show. (In case Bill O'Reilly stops by to read this: this is a call-in show done over the internet) Come to think of it, it has been a while since she's made an appearance on Ed's shows; maybe her indifference to O'Reilly's smear comes from agreement, and she really believes that one of the blogosphere's most polite, fair-minded, and cheerful political bloggers could actually have written something as purile as what was quoted by O'Reilly. Maybe she had a tiring day, and out of exhaustion simply didn't hear what O'Reilly was actually saying. Either way, Amanda Carpenter owes Ed Morrissey a big apology.
With friends like these...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Useful Idiot

I asked Beattie what he did in that apartment with Van Der Windt. He said they'd sit around dreaming up ways for Beattie to get into the Toronto Star the next day. They'd hatch an idea -- Beattie was going to blitz City Hall! -- and call up the Star, which would breathlessly report this scandalous, if vague, "news" the next day. As the Star's letter-writer Greenberg could detect, it was all about getting press. What Greenberg didn't know was that Beattie's PR man, Van Der Windt, was a CJC spy.

Beattie wasn't an organizer. He wasn't a recruiter. He wasn't a fundraiser. He wasn't an orator of any skill. He wasn't a researcher. He wasn't a publisher or writer. His "Nazi Party" wasn't a party, didn't have a membership list or bank account, didn't have a constitution, didn't have a newsletter and didn't have a plan. It was a game for an immature 23-year-old, and the game was how to get himself in the newspapers. The fact that that game just happened to suit the Canadian Jewish Congress is the reason why we have "hate speech" laws in Canada today.

Three great editorial comments on censorship in Canada - Ezra Levant

Wednesday Tracks

Tracking some of the marginal moments in-between nuclear tests and supreme court appointments, in the ongoing ride through our modern world on a clouded Wednesday morning.

Helping: A 21st century updating of the parable of the Good Samaritan. Debt-ridden man on a bridge is threatening to jump to his death, when he is approached by a retired soldier, Mr. Lai, who was passing by; after shaking his nervous hand, the passer-by pushes the hesitating jumper off the bridge.

"I pushed him off because jumpers like Chen are very selfish," the newspaper quoted Mr Lai as saying.
"Their action violates a lot of public interests. They do not really dare to kill themselves. Instead, they just want to raise the relevant government authorities' attention to their appeals."
Mr Chen is said to have suffered spine and elbow injuries and is recovering in a Guangzhou hospital.
The bridge has gained a macabre reputation, attracting at least 12 would-be suicide jumpers since the start of April, according to the China Daily report.
None of the 12 has jumped, although each has held up traffic for several hours, it said.
Packing: Our neighboring state hits upon a novel way of cutting down on the cost of garbage clean-up: by cutting down on the number of garbage cans in its parks, hinting to park users to cost-effectively carry their garbage back home with them instead of tossing it out at the park.
Seattle is converting more parks to "pack it out" parks, with no trash cans, in a budget-cutting move the city hopes will morph into an all-out culture shift.
This year, in response to a midyear city budget crisis, the parks department planned to save about $160,000 by removing 400 more — some from well-used parks... Cutting down on trash cans is part of a larger effort to develop a more efficient maintenance program in the city parks system. It saves the city from having to send workers to empty cans.
"When you invite people through picnic tables and nice facilities ... I just don't think you can really expect them to pack out a lot of picnic supplies and dog waste and the like to take home and put in their own garbage cans," [local resident] Rovig said.

Mercurial: Here in Vancouver it seems that we get at least two different kinds of weather every day, so I can easily sympathize with the beleaguered British weather forecasters, who are under fire for the unpredictability of their island's climate changes:

Weathermen are being blamed for costing seaside towns millions of pounds a year by deliberately being too 'cautious and negative' with their forecasts.
'If they can't get it right, they should be honest enough to tell people that.' Debbie Payne, owner of a Bournemouth guesthouse, said: 'It's very frustrating when the forecasts say it's going to be raining and it turns out to be a really nice day.
'We lose a lot of business because people cancel their bookings and last-minute visitors are put off.
'It's going to be even more important if more people are taking holidays in Britain instead of abroad. We really need to get the weather right.
'They have thousands of pounds worth of equipment but we might as well just look out the window..."

Then and Now: How some mirror images never change

"We have found the enemy and they are ours."

Oliver Hazard Perry, commander of the American fleet, 10 September 1813 after defeating the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie.
Things have changed a bit.
"We have found the enemy and they are us."

Cartoonist Walt Kelly.
One of us, and too bad it ain't me, came up with a thought that keeps me awake at night. Till he reveals it, I can post this and some comments below on other Classics.

Some entirely smart and humorous writing, the point of this post:

I have notes piled high on my desk. Sometimes I recall what I have in them.
"A gentleman need not know Latin, but he should at least have forgotten it."

Brander Matthews.
Here's a medical man writing on Classical Languages:
"It is unfortunate that Greek is no longer taught in Queensland schools, and Latin only in a few. I believe that we are the poorer for this, and it shows in all sorts of ways, including a general decline in literacy even at the tertiary level. A classical grounding demands scholarship and precision. I have found that knowledge of both Greek and Latin has enriched my knowledge of English literature and Western philosophy, as well as French. Such a grounding also trains the mind in analytical and ordered thought and provides greater insight into the workings of syntax and grammar and a greater facility with words — the building blocks of our language, many of which are derived from Greek and Latin."
"The Greek playwright Sophocles wrote in Electra (c 409 B.C.), 'The end excuses any evil,' a thought later rendered by the Roman poet Ovid as 'The result justifies the deed' in 'Heroides' (c. 10 B.C.)."
From "Wise Words and Wives' Tales: The Origins, Meanings and Time-Honored Wisdom of Proverbs and Folk Sayings Olde and New" by Stuart Flexner and Doris Flexner (Avon Books, New York, 1993).

I'm a Conrad fan myself , but here Ovid rules.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tuesday Tides

I seem to have woken up on the cynical side of the bed this morning, my mood either due to the grey rainy day waiting outside or, more likely, because of some of the news drifting past us in the margins of bigger stories on a damp Tuesday morning.

Merry: 21st century objective journalism blurs the line between being an entreprising businessman and a hardened criminal, in this report on the hard times ahead for Somali pirates, as a combination of bad weather and capitalist outrage at being looted puts a crimp in this 35-year old's "merry life":
[Mohamed Said] worries that the foreign navies might make the pirates' business impossible.
"If dozens of warships remain in our waters, our work will be as futile as a chameleon trying to catch a fly," he said.
Lighting an imported Benson & Hedges cigarette and unwrapping a roll of leafy khat, a mild narcotic popular in the Horn of Africa, he says he is holding out for his share in a $1.7 million ransom being demanded for a hijacked German ship.
At small cafes on Eyl's dusty, unpaved streets, pirates are also swapping gossip about negotiations in progress for the release of a Dutch ship. The buccaneers want $2.5 million, but the owners have only offered $1.5 million so far.
"If they give me some cash I will clear my debts. You know khat is expensive here," he said, chewing on a twig from the bunch wrapped in banana leaves, then puffing on his cigarette.
"I wish this merry life would last forever. But I'm afraid that circumstances may force me to give up piracy completely."
Candid: A Croatian mayoral candidate is admired for his refreshing honesty as he runs a campaign openly promising to be corrupt while in office:
Voters have flocked to the campaign, which runs under the slogan "All for me, nothing for you". Josko Risa polled 27.89 per cent of the vote in the first round of voting on Sunday, placing him second. Croatian newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija reports that he will now face Mate Lasic, the current incumbent from the Croatian Democratic Union, in a run-off on May 31.
"Whoever is in power, we know that they steal. At least he is honest," commented Ivan Vjisnic, a Prolozac resident. "He has said that if things get better for him then they will get better for us."
Fun: Teacher who had sex with her 12-year old student now hosting "Hot for Teacher" night at a Seattle bar. Former student, now her husband, acts as DJ; all in the name of fun on a Saturday night:

Fuel's owner, Mike Morris, said he realizes having Letourneau host a "Hot Teacher" night could be touchy and might rub some people the wrong way. But the way he figures it, "Mary's done her time. She's served her sentence. They're now married; they have kids together."
"It's turned into sort of a love story," he says. "I realize it had a sick twist at the beginning, but they're both adults now. They're both married by the state of Washington. So, it's just go and have fun on a Saturday night - and if people are looking to have some fun, just come check us out."
"It was sort of a joke but sort of real, and it was just something that we thought was a good name for it, and of course we got Mary's permission to do it," he says. "She's really trying to kick-start his career."
The couple first met when Fualaau was in the second grade. Their relationship became sexual when he was 12 and she was a 34-year-old married mother of four, a teacher at a suburban elementary school.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Monday

A couple of years ago an unbelievable encounter with towering ingratitude and astonishing ignorance left me in an extreme funk. Would that young man's cynical interpretation of World War II one day become the majority view? Is this really what our schools were teaching the next generation to believe? I couldn't sleep that night, so I got out of bed and made this video in order to channel energy that was being eaten up by depression into a more positive direction.

I wrote this introduction at the time: "As free citizens, one of our most important responsibilities is to know history. The plain truth is: we are in debt to those who have come before us.
Our current blessings have not sprung from the earth like a weed. They were planted, cultivated; toil, tears, blood and sweat nourished their soil. Being human, mistakes were made, yet being human, these were attended to, and the harvest was resumed.
We now live with the bounty of that harvest, and in our vanity and ingratitude we pretend that these treasures have always been a natural part of our existence, so natural indeed that we need do nothing for them to stand, unattended.
Yet the wind carries a whispering truth, that touches one soul here and one heart there, nudging us out of our reverie, and makes us not just look, but see, what we have to lose, should we grow to take our responsibilities too lightly."

Remembering: An aging D-Day veteran risks all in order to return to France despite his doctor's warnings that, in his condition, the trip with his wife, daughter and teenage grandson may be too arduous for him to survive:
"I have a heart condition so I may come back feet first," the 86-year-old Leesburg man said this week as he prepared to leave for Europe on Saturday, May 23. "But I told my doctor, 'It's inevitable. I have to go back.' What can you do? You live day to day."
"We go to schools over there [in France], and the little kids ask us: 'What did you do? What did you eat?' " Huebner said. "But over here, the kids say: 'World War II -- huh?' Even many teachers don't know about it."
That's why Huebner's 19-year-old grandson, Jeremy Huebner, plans to join his grandfather on the trip."I love history, and I thought this would be a chance of a lifetime, a life-changing experience," he said. "When he told me he was going back, I couldn't pass it up."
Remembering: Some Illinois high school students are also getting a first-hand view of history, through a classroom project that sees them create video interviews with WWII veterans:
Ollie Prouty, 83, a 1944 graduate of Rock Island High School, described his adventures as a Navy signalman aboard the USS Asheville as the patrol frigate hunted German submarines in the North Atlantic.
More than 60 years after he stood on deck and used the red and white flags to communicate with other ships, he demonstrated his memory of the semaphore alphabet.
He described how his ship dodged a German torpedo, the pain of being away from his family and lighter moments such as gin rummy games with fellow sailors and watching movies on the ship’s fantail.
Asked by Tekiah Banks, 17, if he had anything special to bring him good luck, he replied, “I prayed a lot.”
“Instead of reading about history, you get it one-on-one,” Banks said.
“It will give us a better understanding as we read more on the war, and I think it helped me appreciate what our veterans have done for us.”
Jerraco Johnson, 17, noted that Prouty injected humor into his reminiscences.
“It will stick with me much longer than if I had just read about it,” he said.
Kailee Steger, 16, said the project helps personalize the war. “It puts a face on what you read about,” she added.
Remembering: The charity organization Honor Flight Chicago brings 79 WWII veterans to see the National World War II Memorial, in Washington DC. Time is running out for individual acts of appreciation such as these, as almost 1,000 WWII veterans pass away each and every day.

God Bless all who gave so much for us, may we never forget our responsibility to prove worthy of their sacrifice.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Radio Memories: The Shadow Of War

This is Memorial Day weekend for our American neighbors, a day marked as a tribute to an ever-widening circle of individuals. At its inception, Memorial Day was intended as a day to remember the sacrifice of those servicemen who fought for the Union during America’s bloody War between the States, the US Civil War.

As other conflicts arose the day was expanded in meaning, to its present embrace of the memory of all who gave their lives for the noble cause of American freedom.

I think there’s another side to Memorial Day that emerges with a study of its history; it is a day to express not just gratitude, but forgiveness, as well. After all, the day started as an acknowledgment of Union troops who fell in battle against fellow Americans who fought for the Confederate States of America. What must the celebrations of Memorial Day have been like, for the first several decades of its existence?

Reading some of the ceremonial Memorial Day speeches given by US Presidents in the time before our own, we see that the attempts to live with the nation's past cast a difficult shadow for longer than we may think. When President Coolidge, for example, traveled to the decisive battlefield of Gettysburg to deliver his 1925 Memorial Day address there, 60 years after the end of the Civil War, he carefully invoked Theodore O’Hara’s mournful poem, “The Bivouac Of The Dead”, in his opening remarks, despite the wartime experience of its composer: an officer who fought for the Confederacy.

(The elegy is also quoted at Arlington National Cemetery, and as in Coolidge’s speech, the author goes uncredited, his wartime choices tactfully unacknowledged.)

On that May afternoon there were undoubtedly living veterans from both sides of the conflict in the audience. What must that day have meant to them?

13 years later, on the 75th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, an even larger-scale event took place, reuniting 2,000 surviving veterans of the blue and the gray. It’s said that at the planned re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge, the octogenarian (and older) rebs followed their cue and ceremoniously moved across the field, just as some of them had done all those years before. A different reaction greeted them this time: their former opponents in blue were so affected by the sight, and the memory, before them that a great cry arose from their souls and they spontaneously rushed towards the oncoming veterans to deliver an unplanned embrace. No choreographed gesture could more clearly establish that they were enemies no longer.

What happened between 1863 and that day in 1938? What happens between the heartbeats of history that teaches one soul to find forgiveness for that which has been done against it by another? Given the limitations of the human spirit, it seems hard enough to remember to express gratitude for the sacrifice of others; how much harder still is it to remember how to forgive those who cause us to mourn those sacrifices... and in so doing, keep faith in the possibility of peace.

This challenge is the theme we explore in today’s Radio Memories post.

Every Sunday we pause from listening to current events and instead lend an ear to the gone-but-not-forgotten echoes of radio drama, the dearly-departed theater of the mind.

On offer this week: a broadcast from the twilight years of radio drama, from a time when the medium's popularity had been completely eclipsed by the novelty of television. The series is called Frontier Gentleman, one of the last radio westerns; the episode is entitled “Gambling Lady”, originally aired Sunday afternoon, June 29, 1958.

Even though the audiences were no longer there, the production quality of radio drama reached its peak right at its final curtain call. Series like The Frontier Gentleman saw a blend of vivid sound effects, stirring acting and nuanced writing that, for this listener, makes it hard to imagine it's merely a group of actors and hurried technicians huddled around a microphone... it's much easier to let ourselves get swept away by the sound cues, and conjure up dusty western towns, embittered and embattled frontiersmen, all trying to escape from the shadow of war.

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep shall here tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While fame her records keeps,
Or Honor points the hallowed spot
Where Valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel's voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished age hath flown,
The story how ye fell.
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter's blight,
Nor time's remorseless doom,
Shall dim one ray of glory's light
That gilds your deathless tomb.
__"Bivouac Of The Dead", Theodore O'Hara (1820-1873)

Previous Radio Memories posts:

Information Please: Guests Walter Duranty and John Gunther
The Aldrich Family: Cleaning The Furnace
Tom Mix, Terry and the Pirates VE Day broadcasts from May 8 1945
You Are There: The Capture Of John Wilkes Booth
Fort Laramie: War Correspondent
CBS Radio Workshop: Son Of Man
Great Gildersleeve: Easter Rabbits
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Welcome to the neighbourhood

My idea of reasonable accommodation is a place that's warm and dry, has plumbing and cooking faciilities. Beyond that, I want a neighbor who lives in fear for his life each time he sees me in the hallway. He'd better show me some sure signs of terror whenever I move my hand or turn my head toward him. I want him to sit up nights listening for my footsteps in his living-room....

One of these days, Alex! To the Moon-god!

From The National Post via Jihad Watch:

Toronto: Muslim files complaint after unbeliever says hello to his wife

The joys of multiculturalism in microcosm. Outrage over nothing, intimidation, cringing dhimmitude, naivete -- it's all here. "Hallway culture clash: In a Toronto apartment building, a feud has broken out over a neighbourly 'hello.' What hath multiculturalism wrought?," by Matthew Coutts in the National Post, May 22 (thanks to Stlreader):

When the landlady of my Toronto apartment building said an outraged neighbour had filed a complaint about me over an apparently inappropriate hallway interaction with his wife, my mind raced through the countless conversations I've had with fellow tenants, none of which seemed a possible source of offence.

It turns out, it wasn't a salacious transaction that had caused the complaint, but rather a neighbourly and -- to me -- entirely forgettable greeting, little more than a brief "good morning" as I passed my neighbours on the way to work.

Still, it was enough of an affront for the man -- once a doctor somewhere in the Middle East, my landlady clarified -- to feel I had broken a cultural taboo. The incident started an awkward feud which has involved warnings not to repeat my indiscretion and one face-to-face shouting match, which included allusions to my impending death.

I expect the battle will wage on, as we appear to be stuck at an impasse.

His Muslim upbringing has ingrained in him a sense of entitlement to demand I not speak directly to his wife; and my prairie upbringing has ingrained in me a duty to strive for polite cohesion with my neighbours.

My landlady, who has handled the complaint with tittering trepidation, hasn't helped dispel the friction. She has told me to adhere to the demands because the man "could be dangerous," directing me to literally turn my back to the couple as they pass, never make eye contact and never hold the elevator for them, no matter what.

Life among neighbours has become increasingly complicated by multiculturalism, in this case making even the most affable salutation or good Samaritan gesture a practice in walking on eggshells. But in trying to adapt to a patchwork of often conflicting cultures, has civility become the casualty of accommodation?...

The funny thing about this is that if this man did start ignoring his neighbors, never holding the elevator for them, never greeting them, etc., onlookers would think him "xenophobic" and say that his coldness was the kind of thing that made Muslim immigrants feel alienated and lash out in terrorist acts.

Saturday Sights

Whetting our appetite for news while fishing for items of interest on a sunny Saturday morning.

Booty: How Somali pirates spend their millions of ransom dollars in neighboring Kenya, buying up real estate and businesses, sometimes benefiting, sometimes hurting, the locals:

Kenya, with its large Somali population and lax authorities — who often are more enthusiastic about taking part in illicit dealings than they are about stamping them out — is a better place to blow through cash.
The sums involved are impossible to pinpoint because little of the money will ever be deposited in savings accounts or recorded by a bank.
[A]t the nearby al Habib shopping center, 28-year-old shopkeeper Hassan Said Abdullah said that more than a dozen local traders had been evicted recently when a Somali businessman bought up their stalls.
"Someone came to the owner of the building with a lot of cash, and suddenly the rent for those stalls went from $300 or $400 to $1,500," Abdullah said. "We'll all be flushed out, those of us with little money. This kind of big money brings problems."
Some pirates are paying top dollar for a piece of Nairobi's booming real-estate action. Osman Guyo, a veteran real-estate agent, recently took a Somali man to see an empty lot in Westlands, an upscale Nairobi suburb that expatriates favor. The seller wanted about $125,000, but was waiting on an assessor's estimate.
No matter, Guyo's client said. He offered $1 million on the spot...

Touch: Wish I could have had an experience like this when I was that age: Trucks Day in Silver Springs Maryland:

[A] group of children from the Spring Knolls Cooperative Learning Center in Silver Spring got a chance to climb all over the vehicles last week in a truck-touch event intended as an educational experience that builds relationships between youngsters and the county officials who drive the vehicles.
... "It's a great learning opportunity for the kids. It's one thing to see the trucks in a book, it's a whole lot different to be able to climb all over them."
Students were given the opportunity to explore the vehicles used by police, the fire department and other county service departments...
Spring Knolls, a cooperative, family-run nursery school for pre-kindergarteners, also arranged for an ice cream truck to supply students with dessert before the fire trucks arrived for the big finale, according to Sherry Russell, a parent volunteer at Spring Knolls.
"He was handing out ice cream faster than he could breathe," she said with a laugh, adding that the chance for kids to meet police and fire officials in a non-emergency setting was important to building positive relationships between students and county officials.
"In real life, it's not so fun when you see these people," she said...
Waves: Spain smells blood in the water as Great Britain's weakened economy and disgraced government put their bastion of Gibraltar at risk: "Royal Navy warships have forced heavily armed Spanish ships to retreat from British waters around Gibraltar."

Relations between the 30,000 residents of the British outpost and mainland Spain have become strained following what the Foreign Office described as 'a violation of British sovereignty'.
The warships were dispatched after Spanish ships sent boarding parties to inspect fishing boats in British waters, despite having no authority to do so.
The latest incident followed a day after Gibraltar's government vowed to block EU moves to give responsibility for the environment around the Rock to Spain.
A spokesman for Gibraltar's opposition GSLP/Liberal party said: 'The latest incident is far more serious than anything that has happened before. It represents a frontal challenge to British sovereignty, jurisdiction and control over Gibraltar's territorial sea.
'As such the UK must not only respond to Spain, but must also extract guarantees from Madrid that it will never happen again.'

Friday, May 22, 2009

The fundamental basis of antisemitism

Spengler — A First Things Blog » Blog Archive » “What will become of all the talk about the Chosen People?”
Envy of Israel’s election is at the foundation of Muslim antipathy to the State of Israel... Rosenzweig understated the significance of his insight, for the Gentile nations too often turned what he called the “festive costume” of ethnocentric election into a military uniform. With the hindsight of the twentieth century’s terrible events, we should look less benignly on the Gentile nations’ longing for divine election.

That is why there will be no peace between the State of Israel and political Islam, although there certainly can be peace between Israel and Muslim countries that act like nation-states first — Egypt and Jordan, for example. The way to suppress political Islam is to take its state sponsors down a notch, starting with Iran.
In thus qualifying his previously-stated objections to nationalism, it seems Spengler believes in the three- or four-(nation)state solution (among nations whose sense of covenant does not require them to seek world dominance or envious destruction of Jewish covenantal firstness): it's surely going to take some Arab nations effectively to confront the Utopian death cult preaching endless self-sacrifice and killing in the name of a global political Caliphate, and heavenly rewards for its "martyrs", that is the political Islam of Iran and the "Palestinians" (the latter being a name of convenience, in the game for the world's sympathies, that has its origins with a non-Arab, non-Muslim people; and so it will surely be cast aside should the Islamists ever succeed in pushing the Jews out of Israel's small piece of "Palestine", so that any pretense to the Palestinians being just another "post-colonial" movement for national liberation can eventually be dropped).

In any case, Spengler should now give attention to the kinds of covenants that responsible, modern nation-states will need that they do not repeat the deadly folly of the Nazis, nor their equally deadly counterparts in the bureaucratic destruction of political (covenantal) freedom that is the European Union or United Nations. If both imperialistic "nationalism" and post-nationalism or Islamism can be dangerous political religions, what is the sober alternative?

Friday Reactions

It can be said that our actions are really reactions, to circumstances, situations and people. Here are a handful of reactions noticed in the margins of the news on a brisk Friday morning.

Integrity: Last Friday we blogged about a poor single mom's reaction when she discovered that her banks' clerical error made her rich. She admitted to the temptation to steal the money but nevertheless contacted the bank about their mistake and returned the full amount.
Today, a different reaction to similar circumstances in New Zealand, where a bank error added extra zeroes to a line of credit, turning a gas station owner into an instant millionaire.
His response: take the money and run.

A businessman and his girlfriend, whose bank accidentally handed them a $6.1 million credit line, have managed to flee the country with more than a third of the cash, the bank said Friday.
An international search is under way for the couple, who are believed to have gone on the run, possibly to Hong Kong or China, to avoid having to give the money back.
Heroism: In Nebraska, a remarkable six-year old son is sitting in the back seat next to his 3-year old brother when he suddenly notices his dad had fainted while he was driving them. Realizing the danger, he leaps into the front seat in order to safely take over the wheel of their family car:

Police say a 6-year-old boy grabbed the wheel of their pickup after his dad passed out from low blood sugar and kept them from crashing until a North Platte police officer could bring the truck to a halt.
Tustin [Mains] hopped up from the back seat to his father’s lap so he could steer and see out the windshield.
His dad’s foot had slipped off the accelerator, but even at idle the Chevrolet Avalanche was going an estimated 10-15 mph.
Tustin remained at the wheel for several blocks, even turning around when he got into a neighborhood he didn’t recognize.
The young son was not the only one with quick-thinking initiative on the scene...:

Other drivers noticed the boy driving the truck. Some maneuvered their vehicles in front or behind the pickup and turned on their emergency blinkers.
When officer Roger Freeze noticed the child behind the wheel, he quickly sprang into action as well, managing to catch up to the truck on foot without getting run over, reaching in through the window and stopping the vehicle by grabbing the gearshift. Later, the father expressed his gratitude:

“To chase down a moving vehicle and get it stopped the way he did took a lot of nerve, and if it weren’t for him, things could have turned out much worse.”

Battle: Headline of the day: "Hero cruise ship Britons fight off armed Somali pirates with deckchairs and tables".
British pensioners on a cruise ship bravely fought off machine gun-armed Somali pirates by hurling deckchairs and tables at them.
The holidaymakers were enjoying a midnight Mozart concert onboard MSC Melody when pirates armed with Kalashnikovs attempted to board it using grappling hooks and ladders.
But passengers forced them back to their boats by throwing chairs and tables over the stern of the ship as Israeli security guards onboard the cruise liner fired warning shots.

On revelations and covenants

First Things comments on a journalists' question and answer dinner with Britain's Chief Rabbi:
The interesting question is: If we cannot derive morality from nature, then why is revelational morality not arbitrary? The answer, Rabbi Sacks said, is to be found in the concept of covenant: it is based on the bonds of mutual obligation. He cited Exodus 19, just before the giving of the Ten Commandments, in which the people of Israel agree to accept what YHWH offers. But because this covenant was offered to people wandering in the desert in desperate circumstances, it is renewed in Joshua 24, in which the next generation of Israel has the opportunity to freely choose to accept it.
First Things - Blog: Spengler

We can go a little further with this. Revelation is not arbitrary, or founded in but one person's desires, for it is founded in the minimal human (and sacred) nature that is common to all shared and memorable human events, of which our capacity to build or recognize covenants and reciprocity is but one aspect or stage of our experience of an event. Not only is revelation not arbitrary, but we recognize that any one individual's quest or desire for revelation is founded in a desire to know something that is ultimately shared. And it is because we can recognize the universality of human desire for the sacred that we can recognize that both desire (which is something supplementary to simple biological appetites) and revelation share a common origin in a foundational event.

Our experience of nature is not what we mean when we invoke the concept of "arbitrary". If I'm struck by a bolt of lightening, I am only prone to think this arbitrary if I attribute to some divine force the choice to cast this bolt. If I take a fully scientific view of the electrical storm, my apprehension of my random bad luck is not quite the same as my notion of the arbitrary.

What we usually mean by arbitrary is to be brought under the influence of another's desire in a way we find unexpected or unfair. And it is just such experiences that prompt our desire for, and facilitate, a further revelation of the sacred so that we may better recognize the shared covenants on which the successful, non-destructive, reciprocity-engendering articulation of any human desire depends. Even the master and slave must have some shared understanding of mutual obligations if they are to work together effectively, an understanding that will deepen as the unintended consequences of desires and demands are worked through.

It is when we come to an understanding of the nature of a human event or scene - of 1) its minimal preconditions which by no means determine or exhaust what can be realized in any particular instance; and 2) what is unique to any given scene/event - that we begin to achieve the means to think rigorously about the human condition. What all events or revelations share is a genetic relationship to the first event or scene, the first moment of human/divine creation that broke with the natural rhythms of the animal world by becoming a shared and memorable event or scene. As noted, this genetic relationship, linking the first event to all subsequent events, does not determine the nature or meaning of the scenes we live and share, but it makes them of a kind, recognizable as the uniquely human phenomena they are.

Serious thinking about the human focuses on the moral and ethical revelations that we derive, ultimately, from specific events and scenes, and so it does not get lost in abstract theories or grand ideological systems that have forgotten the primacy of the particular revelatory scene unfolding over time in a way that is not pre-ordained by some fundamental logical or systemic necessity. Necessity, flowing from the dangerous conflict of human desires, is the source of our freedom and reciprocity, and not an indicator of some hidden key we need to find to build a perfect model for understanding human systems. Yes, we inevitably need to build models, but we will find they are always in some way in error, unable to close off the eventful experience we are representing without various loose ends and uncertainties

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Sound Of Hope

A tale of two emails.

The first message is from a beloved friend who shares in confidence news of a tragic personal development. Terrible, terrible, terrible. Not for the first time, I close my eyes in despair as to how cruel life can be to the nicest of people.

Then, after a shocked moment spent coming to grips with the implications of her bad news, the next email in cue leads me to this video, providentially sent by a friend who thought I’d enjoy it.

"Enjoy" it? What an understatement..!

It’s medicine for the grieving soul. Maybe it's the timely circumstances, and coincidences, surrounding it's arrival, but I can’t help but hear within the video the very sound of Hope.

I hear the sound of faith fulfilled, the fruit of love directed outwards as well as inwards, the further reward that may come when we express our gratitude for the many blessings that fill our daily lives.

My faith teaches me that it’s by seeking the good that we may find happiness, and eventual peace. Most of the time this seems a false promise, an impossible burden, for the world is filled with such evil, and from it springs such eternal misery. Is there truly sufficient goodness out there, somewhere, that would make it worthwhile to remain positive in our thinking, optimistic in our attitude? Is there really a reason to believe that, ultimately, it’s rational to live in hope?

I watch the video and hear a reminder, just when I needed it the most, of how the search for good continues to be a habit worth cultivating. Indeed, all the more so: it renews my understanding of how our individual searches for inner peace may strengthen others, looking to us for encouragement in their time of deepest trouble, in their moments of gravest doubt.

And so I hope that through this video you can hear what I hear, a gentle re-affirmation of hope; that despite a life filled with despair, suffering, and injustice, alongside it can be found joy, wonder, and mercy. Watching the video, we pause to ask: is it really so impossible to find good in the world..?

Thursday Trails

Four-day work weeks are one of the smaller pleasures in life, but my, how they satisfy..! The weekend is already right around the corner, and it's hard to keep from thinking of its restful potential as we glance through the news on a warm Thursday morning.

Victory: Gurkha veterans have won their battle to live in Britain, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government reversed its earlier roadblocks to Gurkha resettlement.
Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling said: 'This has been a great victory for Joanna Lumley and her well-run campaign that has publicly embarrassed Ministers and has reminded us all of the role that the Gurkhas have played in helping defend this country over the centuries.
'First and foremost this case was about basic decency. People from around the world have come to live in this country in the past decade.
'There was never a justification to deny that right to a group of people who have long lived in the nation's affections, and who have risked and often given their lives for its protection.
'It is just a shame that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming through the courts and then through the crowds of Gurkhas outside parliament before it finally did the right thing.'
Scandal: And speaking of the UK government... On his talk show yesterday Hugh Hewitt interviewed firebrand pundit Christopher Hitchens to get his perspective on the unbelievable expense scandal unraveling within Great Britain's parliament. Items as petty as tampons and porn film rentals, and as grand as chandeliers and castle moat-cleaning, were approved as appropriate expenses by an amoral bureaucracy. In his assessment Hitchens makes a drive-by comment that puts a shape to the half-formed thoughts I had been having while following the scandal's parade of daily outrages. From the transcript:
Christopher Hitchens: Do you remember A Man For All Seasons? It’s just occurred to me to ask you.
Hugh Hewitt: Yes, I do.
CH: Do you remember when the man sells out for Sir Thomas More?
HH: Yes, I do.
CH: And he does it for a small sinecure?
HH: Yes. He should have been a teacher.
CH: Yes. And the man does it for a small sinecure in Wales. And Thomas More, I can’t remember exactly how it goes, but he says to him, I can see, I can imagine selling your immortal soul and your friends and so on for, as it might be, a kingdom. But he said but for Wales?
HH: For Wales.
CH: For Wales. What’s amazing is how it’s always the same with corruption scandals, I find, how little people will settle for before their integrity is all gone.
Integrity: While far-reaching, Britain's "home allowance" expense scandal is not all-encompassing; there are a few members who did not break the rules, or exploit them, and the British national newspaper The Telegraph, which first broke the news on the scandal, has given credit where credit is due to the honest representatives.
Leadership: Mal Fletcher uses the expense scandal as a backdrop for an eloquent lesson on the difference between leadership and management. The distinguishing characteristic is... character:
[W]ithout moral leadership - leadership based on conviction rather than pragmatism - administration is left hopelessly at the mercy of expediency.
At the end of the week, the moral of the story is this: we have very few true leaders in government and a great many followers. There are few who will go against "standard practice" - that is, what the rest of the pack are doing - and set out on a righteous path.
The nature of modern government, built as it is around a labyrinth of complex committees and regulatory bodies, allows very little scope for real leadership to develop among the representatives of the people.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wednesday Steps

Off to the dentist this morning, so not much time to wander through the headlines in search of stories of interest that cross our paths at the start of another cold day.

Shlock: I felt like throwing my meerschaum pipe at my computer screen this morning after watching the trailer for the new Sherlock Holmes movie made by the director who married Madonna.

What do outracing fireballs, gladiatorial combat and sex bondage have to do with the cerebral Baker Street detective?? It's elementary, Watson: Hollywood thinks we're all illiterate idiots.

From the official movie site: "In a dynamic new portrayal of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous characters, 'Sherlock Holmes' sends Holmes and his stalwart partner Watson on their latest challenge. Revealing fighting skills as lethal as his legendary intellect, Holmes will battle as never before to bring down a new nemesis and a deadly plot that could destroy the country."

Justice: Walter Williams' latest column "Empathy vs Law", on President Obama's pledge to find a new Supreme Court judge with "empathy":

A referee's job, whether he is a football referee or a Supreme Court justice, is to know the rules of the game and make sure that they are evenly applied without bias. Do we want referees to allow empathy to influence their decisions? Let's look at it using this year's Super Bowl as an example.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six Super Bowl titles, seven AFC championships and hosted 10 conference games. No other AFC or NFC team can match this record. By contrast, the Arizona Cardinals' last championship victory was in 1947 when they were based in Chicago. In anyone's book, this is a gross disparity. Should the referees have the empathy to understand what it's like to be a perennial loser and what would you think of a referee whose decisions were guided by his empathy? Suppose a referee, in the name of compensatory justice, stringently applied pass interference or roughing the passer violations against the Steelers and less stringently against the Cardinals. Or, would you support a referee who refused to make offensive pass interference calls because he thought it was a silly rule? You'd probably remind him that the league makes the rules, not referees.

I'm betting that most people would agree that football justice requires that referees apply the rules blindly and independent of the records or any other characteristic of the two teams.

Absurd: Pennsylvania lawmakers try to rebalance the scales of justice for home-baked charity: "If church members can't prepare a home-cooked meal or dessert and take it to the church for fellow members or the local community to enjoy, what's next?"
An Agriculture Department inspector fired the first salvo in the baked goods battle during Lent after spotting home-baked pies in St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Rochester. The church was told it's against the law to sell pies, cookies and cakes baked at home.
"Food prepared in a private home can only be used if that facility is licensed/ registered and inspected by the department," state regulations say. The department adopted retail food rules in 2003 to keep pace with changing food science.
Some lawmakers say now is not to the time to raise the issue, and suggest their colleagues need to focus on more important tasks such as working out the state's budget.
Others say spending cuts could force state government to abandon some programs, and that allowing churches and other groups to sell home-baked goods could help them fill a funding gap.
The proposed legislation "seems frivolous, but it's probably not," Rep. Carl Walker Metzgar, R-Bedford/Somerset.
Churches and nonprofits that rely on homemade baked goods to raise money for schools and other programs were surprised by the little-known rule.
"It kind of hits you in the face that government oversteps its bounds sometimes," said the Rev. Michael Greb, pastor at St. Cecilia. "No one wants to be rebellious to the law, but the law is absurd."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Beautiful But Deadly... Again

Since my plans were to spend the first half of yesterday's Victoria Day holiday hiking through the mountain trails around Lynn Valley, I had to skip my daily morning habit of browsing through online newspapers over breakfast and coffee. If I had followed my usual routine, I would have learned of the park's tragic news from the day before:

A six-year-old boy has died after falling into North Vancouver's Lynn Creek, near the popular Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge. Corporal Marlene Morton of the North Vancouver RCMP said the boy fell in around 2 p.m. yesterday.
Cpl. Morton said it's not yet known exactly how the boy ended up in the water. By the time rescuers pulled him out, the boy had been in the creek for about an hour.
Cpl. Morton said the child was airlifted to BC Children's Hospital with his stepmother by his side. He was in cardiac arrest when taken to hospital.
He was only wearing beige pants when he was swept downstream toward the suspension bridge. North Shore Search and Rescue scoured the area by helicopter.
And so that rugged park claims another life; it seems like only yesterday, but it was last year that we blogged about another death at that river, further north from where this weekend's fatal accident occured. Every such death is a tragedy, but given the young age of this latest victim, and his being just a few weeks short of his next birthday... this news is grim indeed. I can't imagine the mother's pain right now, seeing her young son off for an awe-inspiring holiday adventure that morning, only to get a phone call later in the afternoon, explaining why the son would not be coming home.

There are a few memorials already at the park, tucked here and there, small tributes to many other young lives taken throughout the years by the unforgiving waters of Lynn Creek. They all break your heart to read, with their eloquent mixture of grief, regret and gratitude; gratitude for having had the blessing of their dearly missed loved ones in their family's lives, even if for so shortened a time. Their messages leave you in awe of the power of the terrain around you, and even more respectful of the power of the human heart; its capacity to grow strong enough in time to dare to continue its loving connection with those around it... despite the risk.

Godspeed to this young man's family, may they one day again come to know peace.

Tuesday Trek

After a refreshing day away from the computer, we take a brief hike through the headlines in search of interesting news stories lurking in the margins of history on a cold Tuesday morning.

Hood(lum): A Somali pirate being prosecuted in the Netherlands is compared to "Robin Hood" by his lawyer:
At a pretrial hearing in a heavily guarded court in Rotterdam, lawyer Willem Jan Ausma called his client, Ahmed Yusuf, a "Robin Hood." Speaking to reporters outside court, he said pirates "attack ships of rich countries to give the ransom to poor families."
He later told judges there were different types of pirates operating off Somalia's coast – those who gave ransom money to organised crime gangs and others "who just go to sea in the hope of getting something more than the fish that are no longer there."

The lawyer did not explain how the seven turks and one Azeri aboard the freighter his client tried to hijack may fit into his "Robin Hood" analogy; maybe they were the Merry Men..?

And speaking of merry, it seems that the Somali pirate may disagree with the tact his defense lawyer is taking, because he clearly hopes to be found guilty:
"For the first time in his life he has access to a real toilet. For the first time in his life he is in a safe environment," Ausma says about his Somali 'pirate' client.
Sure, 24-year-old Yusuf hasn't seen his family in more than four months. "But he intends to send for his wife and children as soon as he is released from prison. He knows he cannot easily be sent back to Somalia. He loves it here in the Netherlands."

The five Somali pirates are being tried in the Netherlands because of a technicality: the ship they attacked may have been sailing in international waters, but it was registered in the Dutch Antilles. A legal technicality of another sort may make such vessels targets of opportunity for these pirates in the future:
Dutch foreign minister Verhagen wants Somali pirates to be tried by a regional UN tribunal to keep them from applying for asylum in Europe.
Verhagen said prosecution should deter pirates, not encourage them with the prospect of starting a new life in the country that prosecutes them.

Maybe this explains the mysterious actions of the Dutch navy captain last April. After having his marines board a vessel that had been hijacked by nine Somali pirates, he freed the captured Yemeni sailors and then promply freed the pirates, as well. Rather than being "idiotic", maybe he merely considered his decision to be the lesser of evils.

Heroism: A 12-year old didn't set out to be hero when his class took a field trip to the Congaree River in South Carolina, but his quick-thinking initiative made him one, as he risked his own life to save a classmate from drowning:
"I was trying to hold her above water so she's shorter than me," says Taylor. "I have to save her, so that's all I was thinking through anything, I have to save her.
With unknown dangers ahead and his body numbing up in the cold water, Anthony stretched out his 5'7" frame and wedged his foot in the river's rocky bottom. It worked.
"Somehow I got a foothold somewhere and I grabbed her up," he says.
"If he didn't save me I probably would have died," Taylor says.
They were friends before, but they're even better friends now "because he saved my life," says Taylor. "I feel so awesome, I love him."

Holes: Thomas Sowell points out some of the pitfalls involved in increasing the television coverage of government proceedings in his latest article, "Photographic Fraud":
Some might argue that, in the absence of the cameras, many people might not know what is going on in Congress or in the courts. But being uninformed is not nearly as bad as being misled.
For one thing, it is much easier to know that you are uninformed than to know that you are being misled.
The more complex the issue, the more likely that understanding the context is vastly more important than seeing a picture and hearing sound bites.
Wars are especially susceptible to being distorted on camera. A dramatic event with emotional impact need not tell you what its military significance is. The viewer is able only to react emotionally, in circumstances where rationality can be the difference between life and death, not only for the combatants, but also for the societies from which they come.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Radio Memories: The Sound Of Evil

We can see evil, but can it be said that human beings also possess an ability to sense evil? Does evil exude a stench, an aura, a feeling, detectable to a sixth sense seemingly combining many of the other five?

Roger L. Simon eloquently discussed how he felt he was in the presence of pure evil in his provocative “Talking Through My Hat” piece for PJTV last week, which I listened to this morning courtesy of the re-broadcast through Pajamas Media’s PJM Political podcast.

Roger’s piece reminded me of an occasion where I felt I was listening to evil, as I heard for the first and only time the cold, clinical voice of Stalin’s apologist, the nefarious New York Times Columnist Walter Duranty.

Every Sunday we take a break from current events in order to pull up a chair, dim the lights and partake of some Radio Memories, lingering echoes from a time before television, when radio was king.

In previous Radio Memories posts we’ve listened to many forms of radio drama, from situation comedy to western adventure, even news dramatizations. This week’s offering slides into game shows, as we feature the unique quiz program Information Please.

Panelist John Kieran, a sports columnist for several New York newspapers at the time, reviewed his long participation as the highly-rated program's resident sports expert in his 1964 memoir, “Not Under Oath”:

“Until [producer] Dan Golenpaul came along with his format for Information Please, the popular quiz shows on radio featured a glib master of ceremonies directing questions at volunteer victims on stage or persons picked at random from a studio audience. Anyone who answered correctly was suitably rewarded… But too often the exposure of the utter ignorance of the persons to whom comparatively simple questions were put was embarrassing. The Golenpaul scheme was to reverse that process. Have the public direct questions at persons who might be reasonably expected to give a good answer.” [chapter V, pgs 63-64]
There were two regular panelists on the quiz show: the aforementioned John Kieran, able to field questions on subjects as varied as Shakespeare, flowers, baseball, birds, and poetry; and literary giant Franklin P. Adams, to help fill in the gaps on theater, literature and songs. Infrequent panelist Oscar Levant handled musical questions, and was often requested to play his answer on his medium of choice, the piano.

The fourth seat on the panel was to be filled by a series of guests. Among the experts who made an appearance were Cabinet officials ("[W]e had Postmaster General James Farley who directed that his fee for appearing on the program be divided into three parts and turned over to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish charities and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes who did not", as Kieran puts it in his autobiography), state governors, US Senators and Congressmen (including future Vice President Alben Barkley); theatrical, literary and sports figures; novelists, columnists and famous-for-being-famous types such as energy spokesman Wendell Wilkie, who parlayed his memorable appearances on this and other radio programs of the period into an eventual (and unsuccessful) candidacy for US President on the Republican ticket in 1940.

It took a lot of perseverance for listeners to send in questions that could outwit the regulars in their areas of expertise. Clever fans took to low blows such as asking the panelists the names of their Congressional representatives (only Kieran got his right), quotes from poems or books the panelists themselves had written (often forgotten by their authors), even the date of a wife's birthday (which was answered incorrectly!). Every once in a while the listeners would get their facts wrong; they were expected to provide the correct answers to their questions as well as the difficult questions themselves, and producer Golenpaul's screening process let in an occasional mistake, much to the consternation of the frustrated panel, and to the embarrassment of host Clifton Fadiman.

Coincidentally, one such error produces some genuine tension and hurt feelings in this week’s episode, which was originally broadcast July 4th, 1941… two short weeks after Hitler launched the Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia on June 22.

Regulars Kieran and Adams are joined by noted world traveling journalist John Gunther, famous for his “Inside...” series of books chronicling global affairs continent by continent (my personal collection of them helpfully provides the "cover" for this week's embed); and the notorious Walter Duranty, at that time a well-respected foreign affairs columnist. It remained for later writers to expose Duranty’s perfidious dance with the truth in his reporting on Stalin’s embrace of mass starvation as government policy, and other malevolence enacted for "progressive" reasons.

The unscripted nature of the show gives us a rare oral history of the time period; not many discussion programs of that era have survived..! Sometimes guests would be asked for impromptu comments on current events, whether it was baiting baseball coach Leo Durocher to go on the record with his World Series predictions, or, as happens after the question at the 12:50 mark in this program, Walter Duranty's insider's opinion on the outcome of Operation Barbarossa.

If you’ve ever read about the fate of the kulaks, if you've heard about the ongoing controversy surrounding Duranty's reporting on it in the pages of the New York Times, you will probably be amazed to listen to the sound of Duranty's voice throughout this broadcast. It answers many of the questions you may have had, about what kind of a man could see all that he saw, know all that he knew, and yet still say what he did in his articles as a foreign correspondant writing about the "advances" of the Soviet system.

You can sense it in his voice: it is the sound of evil.

Previous Radio Memories posts:

The Aldrich Family: Cleaning The Furnace
Tom Mix, Terry and the Pirates VE Day broadcasts from May 8 1945
You Are There: The Capture Of John Wilkes Booth
Fort Laramie: War Correspondent
CBS Radio Workshop: Son Of Man
Great Gildersleeve: Easter Rabbits
Dimension X: Time And Time Again
An American In England: Women Of Britain
Cavalcade Of America: Bob Hope Reports
The March Of Time: Feb 10 1938 broadcast
Hear It Now: Coming Home From The Korean War
Escape: Vanishing Lady
Rogers Of The Gazette: Rewinding The Town Clock