Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Friday, June 30, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Fourth of July Fears - Republican Style

"The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing them."
--George Orwell

This Fourth of July politicians will copiously quote the scripture of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence; someone will submit an angry letter to a small city newspaper about the billions being pounded into a hole in the sand that is Iraq; and a serious few who have long agonized about the death and self-destruction meted upon this country by lies, arrogance and incompetence, will stage twenty-four hour “Troops Home Fast” fasts across the country.

These acts of citizenship are protected, most would argue encouraged, by the Bill of Rights.

Why is it so easy to predict that these actions will send so many conservatives over the wall of reason and into the weed strewn fields of hyperbola, character assassination, and vitriolic contempt?

After all, Republicans control all three branches of the federal government. (Seven of the nine Supreme Court Justices are Republican appointees. Conservatives are uneasy. They want nine out of nine.) The Democrats are in disarray. Redistricting and voting shenanigans tip the whole structure of representative democracy to the right.

And of course there is the money. And Republicans are the acknowledged masters of money (despite what the accountants keep telling us about Iraq and Katrina). Warren Buffett may speak and act against what he calls the “dynasty of wealth,” but your run of the mill millionaires, your outsourcing corporations and your oily, pill pushing lobbyists all make certain their moola finds its way into the dynasty that is the RNC.

So I ask again, why are the veins standing out on Ann Coulter’s bared neck? Why does Limbaugh flash his teeth and send out daily signals about distress and doom stalking the land? Why does the fevered brain and tireless tongue of O’Reilly extrude an endless stream of contempt through the Tube of Fox night after night?

Uneasy sits the crown.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a gnawing fear eating at the worthies of the right. Do they fear that synthetic war drum patriotism, a heroic saving of the flag from the hordes of pyromaniacs roaming the land and the gallant defense of the sacred bond of marriage, not from adultery, materialism and domestic violence, but from the matrimonial dreams of human beings who are in love, will not do the trick this year? Perhaps their cellophane wrapped “values” issues will not be candy enough for the voters this election. Perhaps the votes of those who are uninsured, those cruelly tethered to a minimum wage written in Republican granite, and those workers, desperate for a job that will support a family, who are dismissed with a sniff and a sneer as “they won’t do this kind of work,” will demand substance not dueling sound bites from the candidates.

Sensing this, fearing this, the Republicans come on strong with a new bogey man, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. But he’s in custody. And he’s the chauffeur! Not the evil TV star Osama! You remember Osama, right? The guy we let get away right after 9/11.

Venom sounds pour out of the right wing's blog machine, out of W’s dusty hideout in west Texas, from Cheney’s Jackson Haliburton Hole redoubt. They all hit the same notes. But they all are sounding ever more shrill. Painfully shrill.

Katha Pollitt, the source and inspiration for this post, says it best (as she always does):

“Politicians can win votes for a long time by wrapping themselves in God and Flag and Family Values, but eventually they have to deliver something to their constituents, even if it’s one of those bridges to nowhere in Alaska.”

It appears the Bush Gang is not quite ready to face the “eventually” in Pollitt's truth. One can hope that the Democrats are ready to do so. But Evan Bayh’s (D-Senator, Indiana) spineless vote in support of the flag burning amendment does not bode well. We shall see.

Read Pollitt’s Virginity or Death!, the latest collection of her “Subject of Debate” columns from The Nation. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book.

Monday, June 26, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Vigo County Waves Goodbye

[Published in the Terre Haute Tribune-Star, June 26, 2006]

Flashpoint: Health Department chief, county commissioners failed Vigo residents

There’s a cynical old line about “doing the right thing.” It goes: I love doing the right thing. I wave to it every time it goes by. The Vigo County Commissioners did a lot of waving Tuesday morning at the County Commissioner’s meeting. The meeting was an unmitigated health defeat for the people of Vigo County and a big victory for the tavern lobby.

Dr. Garcia’s letter, “Clean Air Ordinance — a challenge of changing times” has it right. A clean air ordinance for Vigo County is necessary for these changing times.
Unfortunately, neither he nor the commissioners, Anderson, Mason and Bryan, seem ready to take on this challenge.

So when Dr. Garcia, writing as the commissioner of the Vigo County Health Department, and remember, he is the person in charge of securing the fullest, most effective health standards possible for the people he serves, what is to be made of the position he takes when he states:
“The belated appeal of the local Tobacco Cessation coalition to adopt a more stringent ordinance, although ideal, is not practical at this time. It will only tend to disrupt the progress of what we have endeavored to achieve for the past three years.”

I am not a member of the local Tobacco Cessation Coalition. But why did the chief health officer of the county, a man fully apprised and knowledgeable (as indicated by the facts he lays out in his own letter) on the health hazards of secondhand smoke, accept what he erroneously calls a “compromise” ordinance? Why didn’t he fight for an ordinance he calls “ideal”? Why would he call any of this “progress”?

Whose health is being “compromised” within the guidelines of the ordinance just passed? Why would he or any doctor accept the compromising of any portion of the public’s health?

This is not a case of battlefield triage. This is supposed to be thought-out legislation.

Time for study was given to this ordinance, the facts were in, the course was clear based on medical scientific findings. It was past the time for polls. And the commissioners should not have turned this health issue over to politics, over to the lobbying clout of the Tavern Owner’s Association.

If the recent poll on the smoking ban had shown that a vast majority was in favor of allowing smoking to continue unabated in public places (And it did not. It showed just the opposite.), Dr. Garcia and the commissioners would still have been required by their positions and their scientific expertise to stand up and support a total ban.

A total smoking ban in workplaces, restaurants and bars is not an issue subject to “compromise” based on polls, influenced by personal contacts, or rigged by a political pressure group. Purely and simply, a fair and effective clean air ordinance is a health issue based on the findings of medical science. Enrico I. Garcia, M.D., Commissioner, Vigo County Health Department, should have been the first and the last to stand up for an ordinance that fully achieves this goal. Commissioners Anderson, Mason and Bryan should have been ready to lead and educate the public on the benefits that would be derived from a full ban on smoking in work places and public venues.

This didn’t happen on Tuesday and so Vigo County is left behind on still another front — and this is a front that touches every breathing citizen in the Wabash Valley. Get ready to keep coughing. And get ready to vote.

— Gary W. Daily
Vigo County, Terre Haute, Indiana
Since this was published many people, including some of those in favor of a full smoking ban, have spoken to me about "playing the political game," compromise and the wisdom of half-a-loaf necessities. This is exasperating and patronizing. I'll write a fuller response soon. In the meantime, I offer the following for those who think political realism and effective tactics is always about compromise.

"What do we want? When do we want it?"

I hasten to add that local smoking bans are not the moral equivalent of the civil rights issues of the sixties, only that another of the great legacies of King and that movement is about the power, theoretically and practically, of pursuing the ideal.

Friday, June 23, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Global Warming Heats Up Nuance, and That's a Good Thing

Jim Hansen is Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Adjunct Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University's Earth Institute.

I quote Hansen at length. His comments indicate why so many people are in denial when it comes to global warming science . His complete essay is at:

“Why are the same scientists and political forces that succeeded in controlling the threat to the ozone layer now failing miserably to deal with the global warming crisis? . . . The Government appears to be strongly influenced by special interests, or otherwise confused and distracted, and it has failed to provide leadership. The public is understandably confused or uninterested.”

And there is little or no help coming from fourth estate. Just tonight on CNN, Wolf Blitzer, following the well worn path of all TV news-as-entertainment production practices [see Neil Postman’s Entertaining Ourselves to Death], presents a story on global warming and ends it with a bland, unsupported, statement about these findings “being part of a debate that will probably be going on for a long time.”

Here’s Hansen on this kind irresponsible mindlessness:

“I used to spread the blame uniformly until, when I was about to appear on public television, the producer informed me that the program "must" also include a "contrarian" who would take issue with claims of global warming. Presenting such a view, he told me, was a common practice in commercial television as well as radio and newspapers. Supporters of public TV or advertisers, with their own special interests, require "balance" as a price for their continued financial support. Gore's book reveals that while more than half of the recent newspaper articles on climate change have given equal weight to such contrarian views, virtually none of the scientific articles in peer-reviewed journals have questioned the consensus that emissions from human activities cause global warming. As a result, even when the scientific evidence is clear, technical nit-picking by contrarians leaves the public with the false impression that there is still great scientific uncertainty about the reality and causes of climate change.”

I pile this onto the mountain of scientific facts every informed citizen on global warming should be aware of and is not. Bush’s resistance to the science of global warming is representative of how Bush has governed for six years. When the science does not fit the ideological, conservatives are quick to support their ideology with contrarian half-truths, specious exaggerations, and personal attacks. And then walk away from the fray with a haughty, “Case closed.”

Bush has set this style of public discourse as a template for his supporters to follow on issues ranging from consevation practices to tax cuts for the rich. Any and all opposition is dismissed because, as the Kings of Spin disparagingly say of them: Bush is direct, a leader (sic) who is ready to make the hard choices. His critics, those who study the issues and demonstrate that there are hard choices to be made, are characterized as being bogged down in nuance. It sounds good, but “direct” turns out to be narrow tunnel vision and “nuance,” the constructive recognition of complexity in this world of fallible human beings, is, to the nation’s detriment, deserted.

If there is one thing that is common to all narrow ideologues, left as well as right, it is in the phrase of the day: Staying on message. Karl Rove has made a career out of this simplistic tactic, Fox News has vaulted in the ratings using a slick version of it, and the Republican party plans to hold their majorities in Congress with the monotonous drumbeat of their echo chamber slogans: “Stay the course.” “When Iraq steps up, we will step down.” “Tax cuts.” “Save the flag.” "Protect marriage and the family."

But it may be that the American people are about to distinguish between style and substance. Unfortunately, six years of incompetence and arrogance have taken a toll that we as a nation will be paying for far into the future.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Full and Fair Smoking Ban Not to Be

[Statement made at meeting of Vigo County Commissioners, June 20, 2006]

Commissioner Anderson, Commissioner Bryant, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last. I thank for your many years of public service.

My name is Gary Daily. I’ve lived in Vigo County since 1970. I love this place.

Though I admire the work of many in this room, I speak this morning as an individual.

And it’s my hope that you, Commissioner Anderson, and you, Commissioner Bryant, when you vote on the ordinance before you today, will vote strictly as thinking and caring individuals.

The issues tied to the smoking ban you are considering this morning are important and will have consequences that will outlive all of us here today. This is a fact that cannot be escaped or ignored. You need to craft a smoking ban ordinance that first and foremost serves the health interests of the people of Vigo County. The people’s health is not something that can be played with, a little of this now, a little of this later. It’s of no value to play Solomon trying to find a fair compromise. There is no such thing in this case.

A Full and Fair Smoking Ban is what is needed.

To some this may sound overly dramatic. It isn’t. I know you have done your “homework” on the effects of secondhand smoke. I know you have read and you have listened to medical authorities. You know the medical science. You know of the established links between secondhand smoke and heart disease, lung disease and death rates. You know the economic costs in medical bills families have to bear individually and communities bear collectively.

There IS drama in all of this and that drama can be fairly called tragedy. But it is within your power to pull down the curtain on this ongoing tragedy.

I urge you to REJECT the ordinance you have before you. It is fatally flawed and grossly unfair to local businesses.

I urge you to recognize the sham of building walls that hold deadly smoke in and installing expensive ventilation systems that fail to transport carcinogens out.

I urge you to immediately re-write the ordinance in a form that bans smoking in all work places and public venues, including all bars and restaurants.

I urge you to recognize that the only ordinance that fully protects the health of your constituents AND creates a level playing field for all business interests affected by a smoking ban is a full ban.

I urge you to join the direction taken by progressive communities across the nation and give Vigo County what it deserves, a FULL AND FAIR BAN.

from The Tribune-Star, editorial June 21, 2006

"Compromise inherently leaves no one completely satisfied. And the countywide indoor clean-air ordinance passed by the Vigo County commissioners Tuesday fits that category. . . .

"Indeed, this new Vigo County law is more aptly labeled a “cleaner-air” ordinance than a “clean-air” ordinance. It will be among the least-stringent smoking laws in the country."

What can I say? Compromise in this case is like kissing your reportedly really hot sister who smokes; it means nothing and it's more than vaguely distasteful.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Reading the Resolution--Blank check and no end in sight

"The House endorsed the continued deployment of U. S. troops in Iraq but by a smaller, more partisan margin than the vote that first authorized the war almost four years ago.
" -- Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2006

HOUSE RESOLUTION: Declaring that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.

***How about fighting smart? Picking the battles and shoring up the regimes that will give the “Global War on Terror” the full bang for our buck and will make precious lives lost in this worthy pursuit fully meaningful in terms of their sacrifice.

Whereas the United States and its allies are engaged in a Global War on Terror, a long and demanding struggle against an adversary that is driven by hatred of American values and that is committed to imposing, by the use of terror, its repressive ideology throughout the world;

***We all get it, we all know it, there are bad guys out there. So there is nothing to argue with here--accept to note the inadequacy and misleading nature of the term "War" in this context. We should also be much more realistic in regard to talking in the present about "allies" and "Coalition partners." Ask Republican supporters to tell you who our "allies" are in Iraq and after Great Britain their expressions of secure righteousness go slack, their minds blank.

Whereas it is essential to the security of the American people and to world security that the United States, together with its allies, take the battle to the terrorists and to those who provide them assistance;

***Again, it's not a question of goals, it's a question of the choice of strategy and tactics. The current administration has failed miserably on both scores.

Whereas ….

Whereas the United States and its Coalition partners will continue to support Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives—

***“. . . continue to support Iraq as part of the Global War on Terror” Slipping this in only serves to move this resolution from a statement of Resolve into a self-serving area of domestic politics. Iraq is the sadly failed part of the fight against terrorism. It is a drain and a distraction from concentrating on security at home and blunting the machine of terror abroad where we can be effective. It says: We [the Republican administration] have failed, join us in this failure or . . .

(1) honors all those Americans who have taken an active part in the Global War on Terror;

(2) honors the sacrifices of the United States Armed Forces and of partners in the Coalition, and of the Iraqis and Afghans who fight alongside them, especially those who have fallen or been wounded in the struggle, and honors as well the sacrifices of their families and of others who risk their lives to help defend freedom;

***if you're running for office in opposition to our failed interventionist Iraq war, you will be branded by Karl Rove and his puppets as indifferent to the sacrifices of our fighting men and women.

(3) declares that it is not in the national security interest of the United States to set an arbitrary date for the withdrawal or redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq;

***This line supports a blank check that will be paid at some unspecified date in precious lives and American tax dollars.

(4) declares that the United States is committed to the completion of the mission to create a sovereign, free, secure, and united Iraq;

***Here we have support for a mission whose objective has changed several times in the past (WMDs, Saddam, democratization, oil) and has now become an "Elect Republicans Or You Are Against Dreamy Hopes Based On Wishful Thinking" campaign slogan.

(5) congratulates Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki and the Iraqi people on the courage they have shown;

*** And of course our congratulations are in order. This looks better on the campaign trail than the apologies for the nightmare our leaders have created in Iraq through their flawed and failed war policies.

(6) calls upon the nations of the world to promote global peace and security by standing with the United States and other Coalition partners; and

***Talk about plagiarism, isn’t this what we hear every year from the Miss America contestants?

(7) declares that the United States will prevail in the Global War on Terror, the noble struggle to protect freedom from the terrorist adversary.

***And who can possibly be against “prevailing” and “nobility” and “protecting”? Unfortunately the achievement of these good things by our nation requires competent leaders, leaders with vision equal to the complexities of the serious task at hand. Our current leaders in Congress and in the White House do not give us the promise of a vision implemented with competency. They give us a hollow resolution playing to emotion and intended to achieve nothing more than create an effective sound bite in the upcoming election.

Will the American people see through this squalid and demeaning Resolution ruse? Will the Democratic Party step up and confront this shallow political tactic with reason and courage? Let's hope so. 2,500 Americans have died in Iraq--this Republican cover-up resolution tells us that for this administration there is no end in sight to the death and waste that is this insane war.

Friday, June 09, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Zarqawi Is Dead--Denial Lives

Zarqawi is dead.

At Camp David with the boys, Bush is probably strutting his Banty rooster walk. “We got him. We got the S.O.B..” He’ll probably rein himself in from crowing “Mission Accomplished” again. Maybe not. He is George Bush.

Zarqawi is dead. And so are how many more Iraqis, ages unknown--lives, beliefs and dreams a mystery to Americans?

Zarqawi is dead. And so are Gary T. Rovinski, 44, Chief Petty Officer First Class, Navy, from Roseville, Illinois and Michael D. Stover, 43, Major, Marines, from Mansfield, Ohio. Two Americans in the prime of life. They died doing their duty. They are deaths 2,471 and 2,472 since the start of the Iraq war.

Zarqawi is dead. The war goes on. On the home front, we honor the dead with a brief nod and go on with our lives. Most of us have not been asked to sacrifice a thing in support of this ill conceived and ineptly conducted war.

Zarqawi is dead. The Iraqi people live within a nightmare. The American people live in denial.

And just before Zaraqawi and Rovinski and Stover and all of those unknown Iraqis died , David Brooks (NYT, June 8, 2006) writes this:

“One of the paradoxes of this war is that when U.S. forces commit atrocities, we regard it as a defeat for us because we have betrayed our ideals. When insurgents commit atrocities, it is also a defeat for us because of our ineffectiveness in the face of the enemy. Either way, morale suffers and the fighting spirit withers away.”

This is not a paradox. Hopefully “our ideals” have not been defeated though they most certainly have been betrayed. “Our ideals” are not about war and mechanized violence in service to false and deluded goals–-preemption, regime change, oil, democratization delivered out of the barrel of a gun. And insurgent atrocities do not represent defeats or the cold “ineffectiveness” Brooks laments. They represent the fruits of a failed, ideologically driven policy.

Brooks should review the meanings of paradox. [see “liar paradox”]

David Brooks wants us to see paradox in the atrocities, theirs and ours, in Iraq. He is hiding behind the falsity in this supposed paradox; he too is in denial as to what we have created in Iraq and how it is playing out.

Monday, June 05, 2006

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Golden or Gilded?

Kevin Kelly (“Scan This Book!,” _NYT Magazine_ , May 14, 2006) has seen the future and it is Golden!

But the future, at least in the visions of techno-futurists, is almost always bright with promise. The sun rising on a new day; night shadows slowly engulfing the old.

What Kelly sees coming over the horizon this time is The Universal Library. Here’s his "this is high-tech," we can do anything, vision:

“The dream is an old one: to have in one place all knowledge, past and present. All books, all documents, all conceptual works, in all languages. . . . The great library at Alexandria, constructed around 300 B.C., was designed to hold all the scrolls circulating in the known world. . . . Since then, the constant expansion of information has overwhelmed our capacity to contain it. For 2,000 years, the universal library, together with other perennial longings like invisibility cloaks, antigravity shoes and paperless offices, has been a mythical dream that kept receding further into the infinite future.

“Until now.”

I’ll say this for Kelly’s technology, it can count the paragraphs in his essay in a blink. A “Properties” search counts sixty-five. Place your cursor on any one of these and chances are you will find two points endlessly turning base metal into gold. The two are that books between covers are inert objects, they are only “copies” that “don’t count any more” and the second, equally clueless point, “search” equals creativity.

Trying not to sound like some grump scribe copyist who lived down the street when Johnny Gutenberg started clicking movable type into rows, it has to be noted that “search” is what is more commonly called research by those who write books. And no matter how tricked out the “search” feature may be, when the dross, dregs and dreams your drift net catches is “linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted," (big breath now, plunge on into the bright sunlight) “bookmarked, translated, enlivened, . . . sewn together,” it still adds up to research and only research, not creativity. And that “sewn together” that causes Kelly to jump up and down like a kid at her first rock concert, doesn’t that sound a lot like what others call a “scissors and paste” job? You know, that Frankenstein genre that gives high school term papers a special flair.

But Kelly is betting on the winning side if books are truly in a struggle with screens. Television sealed this outcome even before Steve and Bill started puttering around in their now mythic garages. I live in Terre Haute, Indiana, and though this is “The Crossroads of America,” my sample size is small, so when I ask every person I know who is computer savvy if she or he has ever read an entire book on-line, you know, cover-to-cover, can’t-put- it- down kind of reading, I have yet to receive an affirmative response. However, these same people are giving mucho face time to the screens in their lives. Plenty is happening on those screens. Most of it on the surface.

Maybe the Kevin Kelly future isn’t Golden. Maybe it’s Gilded.

On the decline of reading in the U. S. of A. and our ineffectual response see:

"Reading at Risk" --NEA Report DOA

Libraries On-Line Getting Out of Line