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

My Photo
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.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Spoiler Alerts Continue

“Spoiler Alert!”

Thanks to pre-publication release hype and the hugeness of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Spoiler Alert!” warnings have bloomed like dandelions on an untreated lawn. That tempting phrase: “Spoiler Alert” is usually applied when a film reviewer is about to reveal a major plot twist or surprise ending in a movie. In my case, these alerts only push me to read the review a little faster.

But not all “Spoiler Alerts!” are created equal, protecting us from the disappointment of finding out before the last page of the book or scene in a movie that, sure, the butler did do it. Here are a few Spoiler Alerts of a different stripe and purpose. Perhaps they represent old, sad news to some; for others, maybe they will serve to disturb harbors of denial and signal agonizing truths too long resisted.

Spoiler Alert – The Iraq war is lost. It was never a war we could “win.” Driven by arrogance and ideology, the Iraq war was ill-planned and incompetently executed. It is a tragic fiasco from every angle. Now we are told we “surge” with purpose. (Strategy number four, or is it five?) Thrashing about chaotically better describes what’s going on in Iraq. Promised a fast blooming oasis of democracy, after four years we are left mired in a boiling quagmire.

Spoiler Alert– Bush’s personal adventure into defeat in Iraq will leave Iraq divided between Arab and Kurd states. The Arab part will be the site of a civil war. In other words, Iraq tomorrow and in the future will look much like what Iraq looks like today–whatever military steps we take for however long we take them. Blindness to facts preceded this mess and the egotistical myopia of Bush-Cheney keeps blood and treasure flowing into the bomb-pocked sands of Iraq.

Spoiler Alert – Desperate Iraqi politicians, jockeying for power before our armed forces finally withdraw, will continue to tell the Bush administration whatever it is they want to hear. This started with the self-aggrandizing Ahmed Chalabi who sold Rumsfeld and Cheney on the idea that an Arab Welcome Wagon would greet us following our invasion. It turned out that the wagon was filled with roadside bombs and suicide bombers.

Spoiler Alert – Bush will spend his remaining months in office reciting his Victory/Fear spiels that, courtesy of Karl Rove, are his prime propaganda tools. These guys work from the premise that the American people are cravenly gullible. We’ve seen hundreds of billions of dollars wasted and a blood stain spread across Iraq that can never be covered by the oil smear they lusted after. What is left for them to say?

Spoiler Alert – After leaving office, the war gang from Texas will sit smugly in penthouses and sky boxes, laughing about the good ’ol days and lying to each other. They will blame the tragedy of Iraq on Cindy Sheehan, Jane Fonda, and those Americans who carried "End This Endless War" signs for years. Right wing, Neo-Con think tanks will release a confetti blizzard of paper supporting this weird view. Forests of trees will die in service to propping up Pearle, Wolfowitz and Condi Rice’s shredded reputations.

Spoiler Alert – Representative Brad Ellsworth (8th Indiana) will come to Terre Haute, speak to the Chamber of Commerce and he will not say one word about his recent No vote on the “Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act.” He will not explain how it is he voted No with the Protect Bush party, the Republicans of Indiana, while the other four Democrats representing Indiana in the House voted Yes. Will anyone ask him to explain himself? The leadership of the Democratic Party of Vigo County will be all handshakes and smiles. The anti-war voters of Vigo County will do a lot of re-thinking about Mr. Ellsworth and this slavish support of the war.

Spoiler Alert -- Historians will not be kind to the Bush war gang. This gang rode into town with a fixed-purpose agenda; they chose to take a tragic, senseless gamble. A gamble! And we all lost big time. Because of their inept and doomed gamble the wounded of the war will suffer lives of pain and torment. The dead, 3,642 as I write this, will be remembered with wreaths that wither, not grow. Historians will conclude that these brave and courageous men and women deserved leaders to match their willingness to sacrifice so much.

Pass these Spoiler Alerts along to all who will listen, to anyone who will take action. Or forget about the Spoiler Alerts entirely. Instead, pass the following on to your political leaders:

The Department of Defense reported that Pfc. Ron J. Joshua Jr. was killed in Iraq on July 17, 2007, when a makeshift bomb exploded near his Military Police vehicle. The DOD release did not provide information as to whether or not Ron was a reader of the Harry Potter books. If he was, Ron J. Joshua Jr., age 19, will not have the opportunity to read the seventh and final novel in the series. Ron is one of 229 nineteen year olds who have died in Iraq.

These nineteen year olds died carrying out their duties. None will be reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. J. K. Rowlings’ epigraphs to that novel are what we of the living should understand and what they who gave everything most deserve to know that we now know:

"Oh, the torment bred in the race,/the grinding scream of death"--Aeschylus

"Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still"
--William Penn

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

CROSSROADS COMMENT -- Clean-air ordinance— in name only

[Terre Haute Tribune Star, Letter to the Editor, July 1, 2007]

Clean-air ordinance— in name only

The Vigo County (Not-So) Clean Air ordinance goes into effect on July 2, 2007.

On this first Monday in July, some eating establishments and drinking dens that serve food will be required by law to allow people to breathe while they enjoy a meal or a few cool ones.

Congratulations to those establishments which went smoke free early. Patronize these eateries and bars and thank the management for their responsible decisions.

Only tepid applause should go to the timid, those who continued to offer deadly fumes along with the food and drink they serve to the public. Many waited until the very last day to do the right thing. Why?

And what can be said to those who run restaurants with bars and have gone to the useless expense of supposedly “sealing” in a smoking area and adding an equally useless ventilation system? Study after study shows that these measures are not effective. Doors swing open and shut, deadly, smoke-filled air escapes the vents. This is the (Not-So) Clean Air ordinance in action.

These establishments deserve neither praise nor tepid applause. Stay away from them if you want to breathe healthy and avoid that nose-curling stale smoke smell on your clothing. If you have to work in one of these places (go here for latest study on this), forced to inhale disease causing smoke pollution shift after shift, get a baseline health exam on your lung capacity now. It will come in handy when a class action suit is brought against businesses that ignore health standards in the work place.

And then we have the local bars and semi-posh watering holes around the community. They were fully and disproportionately represented by the Tavern Owners Association lobby when the (Not-So) Clean Air ordinance was being passed with a wink and a nudge. A “compromise” that compromised nothing but the public’s health.

So the cave-in compromise engineered by this good ol’ boy lobby leaves us with many smoke-filled, health threatening, establishments. These will continue to provide ashtrays for the few while the many cough in the background, ignored and abused.

To the many, I say, vote with your feet. Walk out. Take a big breath of fresh air. Head for a bar that shows sense and consideration in regard to their patrons and employees. Enjoy a smoke-free establishment where you can offer a toast to someone’s health and not feel like you’re being stupid or a hypocrite.

For earlier posts on Vigo County Indiana's heads up a cloud of smoke stance, go to:

Vigo Count Waves Goodbye

Full and Fair Smoking Ban Not to Be

Property has its duties as well as its rights

Smoke Free Bars and Hockey Helmets

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


[In a recent podcast on Slate, Jody Rosen asked: “Starbucks Music--Why do wimpy indie balladeers sound good with a tall latte?” I’ve added scare quotation marks to snippets from the podcast discussion. This response was originally posted on the Slate discussion board, The Fray.]

“Tyranny of good taste” in Starbucks’ albums!? “Good taste!” Oh my god! What’s this world coming to? And to underline the underlying worries in their review of the Starbucks’ music style (whatever that turns out to be is never made entirely clear in this podcast), Rosen and friend threaten listeners with the revival of Bubblegum music. This sounds very bad to me, but being almost 70 years old I haven’t the slightest idea what “Bubblegum music" might be. Something by “The Bazooka’s”? I accept that whatever it is it would probably really screw up the needle on my turntable.

Turntable! Yeah, right. So many of the “straight down the center” choices on Starbucks CDs are indeed old favorites of old guys, like me. Only now this Best Of stuff is on CD or played through the endless tape of digital radio. Great. If I can afford to pay the outlandish prices Starbucks charges for a cup of coffee, I can afford to finally cover some of the best I have on tape and vinyl by buying a shiny CD from them. But I’m going on record here: one more price increase on that cup of Joe and I’m outta there.


Just about every cultural commentator I read or listen to these days slips into (if I may coin an ugly term) “generationalese.” Whether they slice and dice people by decades or date them by music styles or categories, little chunks of time often stand-in for true analysis for what’s being heard, seen or read. Is this valid?

I don’t know. Here’s my shot at it.

Everyone is deserving to live in a time context of their own making. Take Starbucks music. I tend to give it an OK, or at least a pass, because the vocalists are generally respectful in regard to the lyrics they are singing. Is this just the yearnings of an old guy (me) looking for, hoping for, dreaming of a more coherent, understandable world? When rap, or the next new thing branching off of rap, comes on whatever box I’m listening to it seems to provide word sounds that are so self-consciously stylized and over produced that these musicians might as well be playing a Beatles song backward in an echo chamber. Almost always without success, I heave mightily to find content and meaning in the repetitious rhymes that march to an incessant, rarely innovative, beat.

Rap-ola does move young people. I look around and see plenty of head-bobbing. I tap my toe, you head-bob, and so it goes. I can’t think clearly when my brain case is physically pistoning. But that’s just me.

So the smooth singers of contemporary ditties and standards from the past may not have much in the way of “edge” or “danger” or be “out there” and "in your face," but they do honor a lyric, enunciate and give the listener a chance to Think-- about the poetry in the song or Sink into a reverie. Hey, when you’re old and you’re angry about Bush and the insanity of war, you Think and Sink a lot. Rap and its progeny just doesn’t seem to speak to issues of real concern, or if/when it does: I’m listening but it’s just not communicating.

So, how’s that for “generationalese.”?

I know, I know, this generational spiel makes me officially a part of the sometimes despised, always ignored, “they.” That’s “they,” as in “they” just don’t understand me. I know the line and the type well. “They” just didn’t understand me either back in the fifties when I was tuning into Al Benson on WGES-AM in Chicago, listening to Muddy Waters and paying a thin dime for a cup of Joe.