Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Helen Thomas Resignation and What it Tells us about Ourselves

Helen Thomas, the dean of White House reporters, has resigned amid controversy over her statements about Israel. Thomas has been covering the White House for fifty years. CNN reported the comments like this:

Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, made the comments to Rabbi David Nesenoff of Rabbilive.com, who told CNN his hand-held camera was in plain sight on May 27 when he asked her for "Any comments on Israel?"

"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she responded.

"Any better comments on Israel?" Nesenoff asked.

Thomas replied, "Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land, it's not German. It's not Poland."

Nesenoff asked where the Jews should go, and Thomas responded, "They should go home," which the White House reporter identified as "Poland, Germany ... and America and everywhere else."

Thomas has had a long and storied career which has now come to an end at the age of 89. However, the situation should give us some pause and highlight some things we might want to think about. Before I start, this is not intended to be a defense of her remarks, but rather an understanding of some things they bring to light in our society.

First, we should remember that Thomas' statements are not factually inaccurate. The lands owned by Israel currently were taken over from Palestine through terrorism and civil conflict. Yes, the conflict has dated back for millenia, but the current conflict is over Israel taking this land and the fight for control of religious sites that both religions find meaning in.

Before you have some knee-jerk reaction, this is how many states are formed. Israel's efforts are not that unusual in terms of history. I have always wondered why people have to believe in some fairytale about the origins of their nation instead of dealing with the truth. I guess it has something to do with their roles in the narratives of good versus evil.

Killing a bunch of people to take over a nation probably doesn't make one feel very "good" when told without the spin of "rising up" or "manifest destiny." Such is the problem when dealing with feelings versus the reality of situations. After all, we celebrate Columbus Day in America, when Columbus was a pretty brutal guy, and the Spaniards were pretty brutal compared to many civilizations.

That history does not undermine the great things that America has done, the greatness of the Hispanic and Latin cultures throughout the Americas and their influence around the world, it simply explains some of our origins.

In the case of Thomas and Israel, it does something else: It exposes a real thread throughout America in regards to the state of Israel. Whether it is World War II guilt, the number of people of Jewish origins in America, or some other factor; in America, it is almost impossible to make an honest and fair assessment of Israel without getting attacked.

Books about Israel or the Israeli lobby in America have been attacked and shunned. Articles and authors who speak critically of Israel, whether right or wrong, have been painted with a broad stroke of "anti-Semite," whether it applied or not. Don't get me wrong, there are some people who are real anti-Semites, just as there are people who are true racists. However, the parallel of overuse of the terms racist and anti-Semites is probably more true than either group would like to admit.

Thomas was Lebanese born, and as a result, she would potentially have strong anti-Israeli feelings. That shouldn't be a surprise to anyone anymore than an Israeli born person might have anti-Palestinian or anti-Muslim feelings.

In her case, it was not something that was said in her writings and no one has found anything anti-Semitic in her work. I guess that begs a third point: Do people with strong feelings deserve to have a job? Especially if they do it well enough to be thought as highly of as Thomas was for so long?

Conservatives really have a bad taste in their mouths from Thomas' remarks and dealings with President G.W. Bush; and her harsh questioning of President Obama recently over the Iraq war probably didn't give anyone an incentive to step up for her.

Isn't that what a White House reporter is supposed to do? Shouldn't they put the President's feet to the fire for the people a little? In today's age where reporters look to make politicians look good in trade for perceived access, Thomas' "toughness" was a breathe of fresh air.

In an age where partisanship rules the day of pundit journalism, Thomas held both a Democrat and a Republican's feet to the fire over key issues like going to war. That isn't to say Thomas didn't have opinions because reporters are human and have them too. But she wasn't attacking to score political points, she wasn't sucking up to get an interview with the President, and she actually had built up sources to issues outside the "staged" insider "leaks" that most live on today.

Helen Thomas was no saint, but she was no devil either. What she will be is missed, most by those who don't even realize her impact, though her impact probably impacted them most. She was old school. In the end, that may have been what got her pushed out the door.

It should leave us with pause and questions about how we look at history (as Texas tries to re-write history to make it sound "better" and add a partisan spin to it), how we look at our politicians (as we hold up icons like Sarah Palin who is more dog and pony show than substance), and how we look at our assumptions about the world around us (as we refuse to allow questions of our actions, of Israel's actions, and we ignore serious discussion of our assumptions of good and bad).

People like Helen Thomas will be missed because they weren't afraid to ask those questions and to search for those answers. Thank you for fifty good years Helen Thomas, you will be missed.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

FREE Three Step Plan to Becoming a "Good Cook"

I spent today experimenting in the kitchen for my wife to see if I could create buffalo wings that she likes. She has found that she likes buffalo wings from Wing Pit, but at close to $7 for ten split wings, it starts to add up. So I wanted to create wings at home where she can get 30 split wings or so for the same $7. After experimenting, we found success.

This isn't the first time we have done this. Usually, when I tell friends about it, they respond with some platitude of "I wish I could do that" or "you are really a talented cook." And while I have to admit the platitudes do make my ego feel good, the reality is I am no great cook. I am not someone who belongs in a culinary arts school or at some fancy restaurant or on Iron Chef.

The biggest difference between me and those people is my willingness to try to find a way to cook what I want to save money. Face it, I am cheap. Fortunately, so is my wife. But it brings me to the point where I want to share my "secret" for being a "good cook" in the eyes of all your friends. And yes, my friends generally think I am a very good cook. So I will share my secret three step plan that made me a good cook.

First, you have to have an idea of what you want to cook. So either you pick something you want to cook, you watch the Food Network for ideas, or you go to the Food Network Website.

Second, go to the Food Network Website and search the recipes for what you want to cook. Read the reviews on the recipes and pick one.

Third, follow the directions and cook the recipe until you get it right. Once you master the recipe, you can tweak it to the taste you are cooking for.

That's it. That is my secret to being a "good cook." You would be shocked at how many people tell me how good a cook I am, and no, the Food Network isn't paying me.

I have used similar approaches to learning how to cook Filipino food, though on other websites of Filipinas sharing their recipes. Sure, cooking is an art for the masters, but for most of the rest of us, it still isn't rocket science to be good, though we may never be a master.

In today's online reality, it isn't hard to become good at a lot of things if you know where to look, if you can follow directions, and if you have the will to try.

Good luck and enjoy the compliments at the next party you cook for.

Interracial Marriages on the Rise: Racism on the Decline?

I have always wondered why interracial dating was such an issue for people. Of all the things that make up a person in this world, race just seemed rather superficial. I remember walking with a friend in 1990 who had moved to California from Houston. He noticed an interracial couple from across the street and said to me, "ya'll allow that here?"

I was thrown back by the question. It never even occurred to me that I would care about an interracial couple, especially if it did not include me. Why would I care what two other people do, as long as they are consenting adults, in terms of their dating? At that point in my life, I had dated a couple of Hispanic females, a Black female, and a couple of Asian females, so I really didn't get why it would be an issue at all.

Today, I am happily married to a wonderful Filipino woman, and the interracial nature of our marriage does lead to some interesting moments, but it also broadens us both. Apparently, we aren't alone in those thoughts. CNN reported that the Pew Center did a study that found interracial marriages are at an all time high (for as long as they have tracked it).

Of course, there are regional and educational differences that aren't surprising. If you live in the Midwest or the South, you are less likely to interracially marry. If you have a college education, you are more likely to interracially marry than someone who doesn't have one. And each of those makes sense, especially when you see where the internet becomes pervasive in life (more educated, more economically prosperous communities).

The Pew study pointed to the internet as one possible explanation because it allows you to get to know someone, many times before you even know their racial background. With more and more people meeting on the internet and building relationships there, they may find their interests match up before they even realize the race.

The 21st century is finding technology is allowing us to broaden what we are exposed to in terms of culture and race in ways that we have never been exposed before. We can walk right into another racial or cultural area without feeling the physical threats we might have felt fifty years ago, and it is exposing how silly some of our old attitudes were.

The result may be the end to much of racism (though it may take time and may never completely be ended) because the only solution to racism may be upon us: Interracial reproduction. As we go through generations of interracial reproduction, someday we may not be able to tell what race someone is because they are heavily mixed. Imagine the day when race becomes irrelevant.

Sure, we will probably find other ways to become biased through different ways to evaluate status or create hierarchies, but at least one may well be on its way out. It is about time.

Conservatives Up in Arms over Google's Slight of D-Day

Apparently, Google has sparked a crisis among Conservatives. They weren't in crisis about the Gulf disaster which cost jobs, food, billions of dollars, and environmental damage. They weren't in crisis over the deficits, the massive government spending, or the state of the economy. They are in crisis about... Google's failure to mention D-Day today.

Last year on June 6th Google celebrated the 25th birthday of Tetris:

On June 6th the year before that, Google recognized the birthday of Spanish painter Diego Velasquez:

But today, June 6, 2010… nothing:

Google is purposefully ignoring a big event, aren’t they? Don’t they know that this is the 77th anniversary of the opening of the first drive-in movie theater? For shame.


Today of course is the 66th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and we don’t need Google to salute all those who helped liberate Europe and keep the Nazis from their goal of global domination. The fight for freedom is ongoing, and we must never waiver so that the sacrifices of these heroes will never have been in vain.

Clearly, it was an obvious attempt by Google to slight the memory of veterans, right? After all, as they wrote, the Great Reagan spoke on this day:

Many websites and blogs you might look at today that mention D-Day will post Ronald Reagan’s 40th anniversary speech in Normandy, and in the spirit of conformity, I’m going to do the same. It was a great speech and from the heart and not the prompter:

Let's nevermind that Reagan used NOTES instead of a teleprompter many times because he had been giving speeches for a living for GE (omg, a professional speaker, but he can't fake it, right?), and they didn't have teleprompters in those days. So like many of us as we get older, we stick to the technology we are most comfortable with. For Reagan, that was note cards. Check the Reagan Library, there are lots of "note cards" from his speeches there.

Back to the point, apparently any company that doesn't tell you that today is D-Day must be unpatriotic and deliberately trying to slight our veterans (Today is D-Day, just to get in my obligatory mention of it so conservatives don't get upset with me).

Could it be that D-Day is not an actual holiday so it didn't get focus, AND that Google's point was to help people learn something they didn't already know?

Now, Conservatives could tell us one of two things: First, that people don't know about D-Day, and thus, this isn't a big deal and they are making much-to-do about nothing; or second, the people generally know about D-Day, thus it wouldn't fit the criteria that Google was using for being put up on its page.

After all, does anyone think Google was marking this day with the 25th birthday of Tetris because its purpose was to announce something everyone already knew?

Government's Role with "New Media": How about Net Neutrality?

I was skimming the media today, going through one of my favorite news sources, the Christian Science Monitor (@CSMNational on Twitter), when I stumbled upon this headline: "As 'new media' proliferate, does government have a role?"

I have to admit, I found myself wondering why anyone would ask this question. I realize the article says the FTC is looking at "information gathering" about what it could do to "help" new emerging medias, but really, what role does the FTC really have in media?

Now that we have eliminated the "fairness doctrine" for public radio waves, it isn't like anyone is focused on the role of journalism in society. Journalists are all but extinct. They have been replaced by i-reporters, pundits, Twitter, blogs, moderators, show producers, etc., all seeking ratings.

By the way, I have to admit this quote in the article made me laugh:
Adds Villanova University media expert, Leonard Shyles, “I’m not interested in having a state board decide who’s accurate. Let the marketplace decide, because I’m going to believe Joe Schmoe after I corroborate his story thru the mosaic of stories that are out there on the Internet now, not because a government agency says I should.”

I am not really sure that anyone really cares about what is accurate. Fox gets its ratings not for accuracy, but for conservativism. MSNBC takes a similar approach only to the left generally. CNN gets its ratings from creating drama and clash, not from accuracy. Let's face it, if we cared about accuracy, pundit journalism wouldn't rule the day. Having a person from the left and the right to define issues wouldn't be how we focused on reporting.

So to say the marketplace will determine journalism... that's just ignoring reality. The marketplace pays the most outspoken pundits the best, not the best journalists.

Maybe the answer is journalism is dead, for now. And what can government do for blogs? They really can't turn America into China, limiting content. Maybe the answer for government is ending Net Neutrality, that way Internet Corporations can insist that we pay to get on their network, and then charge people to get to us so they can get paid on both ends.

Instead of government controlling the "new media," it may well be corporations controlling them even more than they do today. How is that for one reason to support Net Neutrality?

National Director of Intelligence Appointed, Reaction: Do we NEED 16 Intelligence Agencies?

In my efforts to keep up with politics, I noticed the President announced his new Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper Jr. Some lawmakers seem to like him, others don't... but that isn't what struck me. Read the first part of the statement from the White House:

Today, I am proud to announce my choice for the next Director of National Intelligence —- James Clapper. With four decades of service to America, Jim is one of our nation’s most experienced and most respected intelligence professionals.

As Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, he has successfully overseen the military and civilian intelligence personnel and budgets that make up the bulk of our 16-agency intelligence community. He’s improved information sharing, increased intelligence support to our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, upheld civil liberties, and he played a key role in our effort to update and reorient our intelligence community to meet the threats of our time.

What strikes you when you read it? What strikes me is "our 16-agency intelligence community." Seriously. This guy was appointed as part of the new position created in the Bush Administration (Thank God they didn't call it a Czar or the right would have gone nuts with the title) "five years ago in response to the intelligence failings leading up to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when the aim was to coordinate often fractious agencies, including the CIA and the White House office of counterterrorism."

It would seem a smart move to have someone to coordinate the information from "our 16-agency intelligence community" but maybe someone should have asked a more obvious question: Why do we need 16 agencies in our intelligence community?

I realize the world is a large place. I realize we use a lot of different means of intelligence. I realize it might be nice to have a back up in case one agency fails. But do we really need 16? Maybe THAT was one of the problems leading up to 9/11 with intelligence confusion... TOO MANY AGENCIES!

Maybe I am overreacting, but if you wonder why our federal budget is so huge... sure, Social Security is big; sure Medicare is big; but it could also be partially due to such amazing redundancy and overreaction to things that we create 16 intelligence agencies to do the job that could be done by 1/4 that number if not 1/8 that number.

How about this: Foreign Intelligence, Domestic Intelligence, Space Intelligence, and Military Intelligence. Do we really need more than those four?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Filming Police Abuse: A Crime or an Obligation?

Three states have made it illegal to film a police officer, and more appear to be starting to follow suit:
In response to a flood of Facebook and YouTube videos that depict police abuse, a new trend in law enforcement is gaining popularity. In at least three states, it is now illegal to record any on-duty police officer.

Even if the encounter involves you and may be necessary to your defense, and even if the recording is on a public street where no expectation of privacy exists.

The legal justification for arresting the "shooter" rests on existing wiretapping or eavesdropping laws, with statutes against obstructing law enforcement sometimes cited. Illinois, Massachusetts, and Maryland are among the 12 states in which all parties must consent for a recording to be legal unless, as with TV news crews, it is obvious to all that recording is underway. Since the police do not consent, the camera-wielder can be arrested. Most all-party-consent states also include an exception for recording in public places where "no expectation of privacy exists" (Illinois does not) but in practice this exception is not being recognized.

While there are exceptions to the law, they are not being used in practice. Some of these may risk the public safety in various ways.

First, the denial of the ability to mount a defense by denying someone the ability to videotape their defense may well lead to the release of actual criminals who pose a threat to the public by simply creating the loophole. Constitutional rights trump people's desire not to be videotaped in a public place.

Second, given the times that abuse of people have been caught on videotape leading to the prosecution of police, and the deterrent for abuse that it creates, these "protections" for police officers may well give police officers greater license to use force. Especially given the presumption of innocence juries seem to carry for police, and the presumption of guilt juries seem to carry for the accused.

The idea that people cannot record and preserve evidence of a potential crime being committed in a public place ought to outrage both liberals wanting to protect civil liberties and conservatives wanting to protect freedoms of individuals against overbearing governments. The question is, why aren't these politicians living up to their core political beliefs?

GOP, Boehner need help Focusing on Americans instead of McCartney

How out of the public eye must you be to make a big deal out of this:
House Minority Leader John Boehner is demanding an apology from music legend Paul McCartney after the Beatle took a slap at President Bush during a recent White House ceremony.

President Obama on Wednesday awarded McCartney the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song – a lifetime achievement award given by the Library of Congress. Upon receiving the award, McCartney deadpanned, "After the last eight years, it's great to have a president who knows what a library is."

The comments generated laughter and cheers from the audience in the East Room, but Boehner said the remark showed a "lack of grace and respect."

The most pressing thing for the Minority Leader to talk about is a barely noticeable quip about President Bush that almost no one even heard about until Boehner said something about it?

Boehner didn't want to focus on jobs; didn't want to focus on the Gulf oil spill; didn't want to focus on the deficit; didn't want to focus on stopping terrorism or dealing with immigration; but instead thought this remark from Paul McCartney was the most pressing thing to focus his time on?

Maybe Boehner has a problem in that his focus seems to be more on issues than problem solving in a world where there are a lot of problems to address, regardless of how you see the role of government.