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Friday, December 29, 2017

America vs. Europe on Iraq

Did you know I had a blog before there were such things as blogs? Neither did I, yet before I became a reluctant blogger I tried two brief stints as an enthusiastic one. My first attempt was at the end of the last century (I’ve waited all my life to say that phrase) and was merely a column on my personal Web site (remember when people had personal Web pages in the days before Facebook and MySpace?). It was entitled “rAnts and Raves” because it had these cool JavaScript ants crawling across the Web page. I know, but it was 90s and the Internet was new.

I ran across several of these posts locked in stasis in a time capsule and I thought I would share them with you over the next few weeks. Think of it as summer reruns in the fall. My first thought as I reread these words I penned so long-ago was, Wow, the more things change the more they stay the same. My second thought was, Cool, I don’t have to write a blog this week.

America vs. Europe on Iraq


An old college friend living overseas contacted me for the first time since our college days, and we began a series of correspondence on our different cultures and societies, as well as world events. As a result of my friend’s attempts to encourage me to return to my journalistic roots, I am going to try to write more frequent columns for this site, and while I doubt there will be a wide audience, at least in this medium I know my words will not end up as fishwrap. What follows are excerpts from some of those letters.

March 18, 2003

I believe the war will begin sometime this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday but no later than Saturday. I am shocked at the actions of France. I have always known France is anti-Semitic, anti-American, and deeply involved financially with Iraq, but I never believed it would go so far as to destroy the transatlantic alliance. There is a great deal of anti-French sentiment here now, and even “French Fries” are being renamed “Freedom Fries.” People have gone so far as to suggest that we return the Statue of Liberty to France! Of course that won’t happen, and eventually, probably, France and the U.S. will mend fences, but it will not happen as long as Jacques Chirac is in power.

As for your questions on Bush and the variance with Europe… I did not vote for Bush and like many, I feel he was not properly elected as president of the United States. In fact, Al Gore received more votes than Bush did, but Bush won more votes in the Electoral College, and then only because he “won” Florida’s electoral votes. The ballot was confusing and as many as 10,000 votes were not counted. Bush had a victory of 424 votes, so who knows what the outcome would have been had those 10,000 votes been counted. He basically became president because of a decision by a Republican-backed Supreme Court. As such, with no moral or legal mandate, Bush was set to be the weakest American president since the last unelected American president, Gerald Ford. The country was more deeply divided than at any time since the Civil War 150 years ago, and quite frankly I think we were headed toward a major political breakup of the country. But all of that changed on September 11. The attacks unified the country and bestowed upon Bush a legitimacy he would otherwise never have achieved. He now has the support of the American people and a mandate to do whatever is necessary to secure the security of the nation. And it is a broad mandate, which ironically could mean he will go down as one of the strongest U.S. presidents in history.

I think underneath, the American people are still deeply divided into the red and the blue states (based on the colors used on election maps in 2000 to show Bush and Gore states). Bush has the support of the red states, about 50 percent of the country on domestic issues. Most Americans think he is doing a horrible job on the economy but a good job on terrorism. And at present, safety means more than money. I believe he will be re-elected and the economic troubles will continue. I have always found Bush to be a very likable man. I never thought he was qualified to be president, but he is there now, he is trying his best, and frankly, in these dangerous times, the learning curve is too great to contemplate any potential replacement.

As for the variance with Europe, most Americans cannot comprehend Europe’s isolationist attitude. The European people seem to feel we should all just leave the evil regimes alone. What they should have learned from WWII is that by leaving the evil regimes alone, as Europe did with Germany from 1933 to 1938, they develop into more powerful evil regimes that eventually threaten other states. The world cannot afford to give Iraq, Iran, and North Korea time to develop an arsenal of nuclear weapons. Iraq already has a large arsenal of chemical and biological weapons, which it has used in the past and threatens to use again. North Korea sells much of the arsenal it already produces. Even if these states do not use the weapons of mass destruction themselves, can we allow them to create and sell them to terrorists like Al Queda, Hezbollah, or the PLO? When Europe is threatened by assorted terrorists wielding nuclear bombs, anthrax, smallpox, sarin gas, and other biological and chemical weapons, we Americans believe the average Europeans will finally realize the true threat posed today, but by then it will be too late. It is easier to disarm a few weapon-producing countries now than to disarm 100,000 terrorists wielding weapons of mass destruction later.

So the short answer is, Americans feel they are saving the world and cannot understand why the European people do not support and join them. The Europeans (aside from the French and the Russians, who have major financial ties with Iraq – not just oil, but the French also sell the Iraqis many component parts for their weapons systems), fear American hegemony and have a sincere aversion to war, having fought so many on their own soil in the past century. As a child and as a young man, I was a pacifist, because I believed rational men should be able to resolve their differences intellectually, without resorting to violence. I still believe that, however, I would add this codicil: sometimes your adversary is not rational, and then violence becomes the only resort. I don’t believe the Europeans have grasped that yet, with the exception of the East Europeans and Tony Blair, who may lose his position as prime minister, but has secured his position in history as a principled statesman.

April 30, 2003

As I write this, the war in Iraq is now over; at least officially. Obviously, the U.S. will be present there for some time, and as snipers and armed civilians abound, the war may be over but the peace is not yet secured.

I do not think Europe realizes how much September 11 changed the American psyche and the U.S. government’s approach to international affairs. Just as the Japanese did in WWII, the Islamic terrorists have awakened a “sleeping giant.” I think you will see a much more militaristic America, willing to take preemptive action where it deems necessary. I expect you will also see a realignment of American troops away from Germany and into the Middle East.

Personally, I would like to see the United States wipe out the terrorist regimes in Syria and Iran, but I do not think they will go that far. American foreign policy is historically incremental.

June 3, 2003

I think Europe is divided. I believe Britain, Spain, Italy, and Eastern Europe are leaning toward the U.S. position. Russia, France, and Germany appear to form a troika in opposition. Frankly, I think there is too much at stake for us to worry how popular we are and with whom. America and its allies will have to do whatever is necessary, and if certain individuals or governments don’t like it, that’s too bad. Actually, Russia and France are mainly siding against us because they have strong financial interests and dependencies in that region (oil and weapons contracts). Chirac also has delusions of grandeur, but I think the French people are beginning to see through him. As for what Americans think of Europe, you must recall Americans are generally quite insular, self-absorbed, and poorly educated. Most do not think of Europe at all. I think they are
positively disposed toward Britain and against France as a result of Blair and Chirac’s actions leading up to the war, but otherwise, I do not think they follow European affairs.

July 13, 2003

I think the reason 911 made such a huge impact on Americans is we has never been attacked on our own soil before, and being surrounded by two oceans and two peaceful nations (Canada and Mexico) we felt insulated and safe. The reaction was like that of a rape victim who feels violated, no longer safe and insulated, vulnerable, shocked, and then ultimately angry. And unfortunately, the news media are fanning the flames, creating fear and paranoia amongst the people. For example, today there was a news story that Al Queda is planning to start multiple forest fires in America. I believe the TV media (which are more politically-conservative than the mainstream print media) are purposely creating a climate of fear which allows the conservative Republican government to exercise authoritarian powers it could never otherwise use.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Back to the Future

Did you know I had a blog before there were such things as blogs? Neither did I, yet before I became a reluctant blogger I tried two brief stints as an enthusiastic one. My first attempt was at the end of the last century (I’ve waited all my life to say that phrase) and was merely a column on my personal Web site (remember when people had personal Web pages in the days before Facebook and MySpace?). It was entitled “rAnts and Raves” because it had these cool JavaScript ants crawling across the Web page. I know, but it was 90s and the Internet was new.

I ran across several of these posts locked in stasis in a time capsule and I thought I would share them with you over the next few weeks. Think of it as summer reruns in the fall. My first thought as I reread these words I penned so long-ago was, Wow, the more things change the more they stay the same. My second thought was, Cool, I don’t have to write a blog this week.

Back to the Future


An old college friend living overseas contacted me for the first time since our college days, and we began a series of correspondence on our different cultures and societies, as well as world events. As a result of my friend’s attempts to encourage me to return to my journalistic roots, I am going to try to write more frequent columns for this site, and while I doubt there will be a wide audience, at least in this medium I know my words will not end up as fishwrap. What follows is an excerpt from one of those letters.

February 11, 2003

I know I should return to journalism again. One day I will need to write some more, but these days I feel I shouldn’t write unless I have something important to say, or some audience interested in what I have to say. In that respect, I empathize with Rimbaud, who stopped writing at the age of 20 simply because he felt he had said all he had to say. On the other hand, my life has entered a period of hardship and difficulty, from which, if we are to believe accounts of the great writers and artists, the seeds of future literary endeavors may flourish.

Also, I look at the state of the world today, and it discourages me. Of course, I don’t see most of the world, just primarily American society, which is rather insular. I don’t know how the rest of the world views us, but I see our society continue to plummet to new depths. American students are ignorant of world history as well as American history, they are nearly illiterate, and cannot do simple mathematics. They have no appreciation for music, having substituted rap, with its offensive and misogynistic lyrics in its place. American culture, an oxymoron if ever there was, has elevated Ozzy Osbourne (an aging, drugged-out heavy metal rocker best known for having bitten the head off of a live bat) to male parental idol status. Our television news is packaged as entertainment; TV networks cover several “Big Stories,” such as the NASA situation and introduce them with theme music and snazzy titles, such as “Tragedy in Space.” It reminds me of when we were in Orlando and we saw the advanced preview screening of the movie Network (remember that? Bill Holden and Faye Dunaway). Everything satirized in that movie has come to pass.

So the generation that has grown up in this environment would probably not be receptive to anything I had to write about. But I will write again, I’m sure, because our words are one of the few things that outlast us after we are gone, and so in a way, enable us to achieve our own immortality. But enough philosophy for one night.

Pleasant dreams, my friend.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Fathers, Hide Your Daughters

Did you know I had a blog before there were such things as blogs? Neither did I, yet before I became a reluctant blogger I tried two brief stints as an enthusiastic one. My first attempt was at the end of the last century (I’ve waited all my life to say that phrase) and was merely a column on my personal Web site (remember when people had personal Web pages in the days before Facebook and MySpace?). It was entitled “rAnts and Raves” because it had these cool JavaScript ants crawling across the Web page. I know, but it was 90s and the Internet was new.

I ran across several of these posts locked in stasis in a time capsule and I thought I would share them with you over the next few weeks. Think of it as summer reruns in the fall. My first thought as I reread these words I penned so long-ago was, Wow, the more things change the more they stay the same. My second thought was, Cool, I don’t have to write a blog this week.

Fathers, Hide Your Daughters

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Two weeks ago, I had never heard of Kobe Bryant. Not being a basketball follower, I probably would still not know who he is, had he not been accused by a 19-year-old hotel concierge of raping her. So I have been able to approach the whole Kobe story with an open mind, with no favoritism predisposed toward the generally acknowledged “good boy” of the hoop world. To me, this alleged rape was no more or less important than any of the other 174,000 rapes that occur every year in America. In fact, I’m sure to the 174,000 women who were raped, or the 174,000 men whom they rightly or wrongly accused, the Kobe case is far less important. But since it involves a celebrity, it has become fodder for the TV talking heads, and a subject of national importance second only to the war in Iraq, if one is to judge by the airtime it has received.

So, while acknowledging the accused has a right of a presumption of innocence, I will go out on a limb and make two statements: I think Kobe Bryant is more likely than not a rapist and I think he will not be convicted.

Kobe won’t be convicted because he is a media darling and the public loves him. He apparently has a reputation as “a Nice Guy,” and “a Good Guy.” The phrases gush from the mouths of the TV reporters as they embarrassingly fawn over him. Kobe used his “Good Guy” reputation to his advantage in this case, going so far as to defend himself by stating “You guys know me; I wouldn’t do anything like this!” But what did he mean by this? That nothing happened? Oops, guess Kobe wasn’t paying attention when Bill found out Monica forgot to take the dress to the dry cleaner. Guys, pay attention this time: semen leaves traces, and it appears there was some trace of Kobe’s DNA on the girl. Once the defense was apprised of this in the legal discovery process, Kobe’s story changed. Well, something did happen. There was sexual intercourse, Kobe finally admitted.

But, Kobe says, it was consensual and not rape. Quite possibly true, assuming the girl had agreed to the sex, but then why lie about it for two weeks until faced with the DNA evidence? Kobe’s answer was that he lied because he didn’t want to expose his adultery (Kobe is newly married to a young pregnant wife). Wait a minute, he lied to us, he lied to his wife, he lied to the police, he admits committing a crime (adultery), and he cheated on his pregnant wife with a 19 year-old girl. I thought he was a “Good Guy” who “wouldn’t do anything like this.”

Maybe he didn’t rape her, but Kobe Bryant, likable as he may be to some, is not a “Good Guy,” and it seems he has done many “things like this,” if by that he meant morally wrong things a “Good Guy” wouldn’t do.

But I was still on the fence about his guilt or innocence. Sure, I never bought his “Good Boy” image, and admittedly athletes have higher testosterone than the average male and would be more likely to engage in violent or aggressive behavior (what I’ve dubbed “O.J. Rage”) but what really tilted me to the prosecution side was the defense tactics (aided by the news media).

You can generally tell the defense does not have a defendable case when they use the “misdirection” tactic. Classic misdirection tactics call for the defense attorney to draw attention away from the facts of the case and to a red herring, such as focusing on a racist cop’s use of the word nigger in the O.J. Simpson case (so what if he is racist, that has no bearing on what O.J. did or did not do) or the “crazed cultists riding around in a van did it” defense in the Laci Peterson case (which was one step short of an alien abduction defense).

In rape cases, the usual misdirection tactic is “sully the victim”. Never mind what may have happened, let’s throw mud on the accuser and see how much sticks. The idea is to attack her credibility rather than focus on the physical evidence. The more mud being thrown, the more I start to question the strength of the defense’s case.

So far this week, thanks to anonymous(?) leaks to the TV media, we have learned the girl tried out for American Idol and, like millions of other girls her age, failed to be chosen for that TV talent show. This, we were told, shows us she is obsessed with celebrity and would do anything for her 15 minutes of fame, even tying her name to Kobe Bryant’s celebrity with a false rape accusation. We next learned the teenager had broken up with her boyfriend and taken some sleeping pills and her concerned family called 911. This, we were told, shows she is mentally unstable, a drug abuser, and the subject of “frequent 911 calls.” Now, every teenager who breaks up with a lover may be emotionally distraught (in fact, one might argue the teenage years are nothing but emotional turmoil amidst hormonal imbalance) but to label them with the pejorative term “mentally unstable” is misleading and slanderous, as is the pejorative label “drug abuser” to describe someone taking too many sleeping pills. And somehow a single 911 call morphed into “frequent” calls.

But that’s the whole point: technically accurate but pejorative phrases mixed with exaggeration and overstatement to cast aspersions on the character of the accuser. However, this approach overlooks one thing. For argument’s sake, let’s assume the worst is true: that the girl is unstable and has used drugs (and a lot of teenage girls fit this description); does that preclude her from being raped? Of course not. In Florida, a mentally retarded girl was recently raped and impregnated. Just because a girl has emotional or mental problems, or is a drug user, does not mean she cannot have been raped. The girl could be in a coma and still be raped. The only real issue is, Did the crime of rape occur?

In fact, if she really was an emotionally troubled teenage girl who, star-struck by his celebrity, was taken advantage of by a rich and famous man like Kobe, then the crime is even more heinous. Fathers, hide your daughters; there’s a basketball game tonight!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Why We Hate Lawyers

Saturday, June 8, 2002

The other day, I opened my mailbox, and mixed in between the ubiquitous junk mail (“You may have already won...”) and the recurrent pile of bills (which sparked a deja vu epiphany “Didn’t I just pay these?”), was a missive bearing the phrase “Important Legal Notice.”

Now, like most people, I lead a fairly nondescript life, and endeavor not to run afoul of the law, be it civil or criminal. So I was warily curious as to the circumstances that would warrant delivery of an “Important Legal Notice.” With subtle trepidation, I tore open the envelope and perused the contents.

It was a Notice of Pendancy of Class Action, which simply meant someone was suing someone else and I had been invited along for the ride. The someone of the first part was a Mr. Gerald D. Broder and the someone of the second part was MBNA, a large bank and issuer of credit cards (and ubiquitous junk mail).

It seems Mr. Broder had obtained a credit card through an MBNA offer of a special low interest rate on cash advances. The offer stated MBNA “may” allocate payments to cash advances before purchases. This, of course, means MBNA could, at its discretion, apply the payment toward the cash advance balance (at the lower interest rate) or the purchases balance (at the higher rate). Mr. Broder claims MBNA’s solicitation was misleading and should have used the word “will” instead of “may.” So he is suing MBNA for fraud and breach of contract.

Ignoring the obviously shaky legal merits of the case, ephemeral dollar signs danced like sugar plums before my eyes. A wave of good will flooded over me, as I imagined what a kind man Mr. Broder must be, to invite me, a complete stranger, to share in his good fortune, should he recover damages from the scoundrels! And how would I spend this windfall from Providence? Amidst the beckoning siren call of the beaches of Nice, I flipped the pages to ascertain an inkling of the amount of my pending good fortune.

Surely, over the years as a customer of MBNA, I too must have been victimized by this dastardly ploy, as evidenced by my unsolicited admission to the class of litigants. Then, on page four, preceding the caveat “assuming plaintiff were 100 percent successful at trial” (okay, so this is the high end of what we might recover), was the telltale phrase “A significant factor relied upon by plaintiff and Class Counsel is that the $3.57 made available to each member of the class under the terms of the proposed settlement represents a significant percentage of the maximum amount recoverable, assuming plaintiff were 100 percent successful at trial.” Quickly, my mind translated the legalease to everyday parlance: If we win all of what we are asking for, the most any class member gets is $3.57; but this amount may be reduced if we get less than what we are asking.

No, I thought. I must have misread it. I could not have wasted all that time reading four pages of legalease to discover that my angel of Providence was cheaper than the tooth fairy! Surely, Mr. Broder would not sue MBNA to recover $3.57? And surely, Mr. Broder’s lawyers would not take on such a case. No, this required continued reading, at least to page six.

Alas, it was on page six that the truth did out. While listing no exact size, the class consists of the potential millions of present and former MBNA cardholders, each entitled to $3.57 (or less) should we win, and Mr. Broder, who is named as “class representative.” You see, in a class action lawsuit with thousands (or millions) of plaintiffs, someone’s name has to go on the paperwork as what they call the “lead” plaintiff; otherwise the case title would be longer than the case. For lending his name to the case, Mr. Broder’s attorneys asked that he receive a little bit more than his other plaintiffs, sort of a “first among equals” position. Thus, they decided that an extra $9,996.43, just to round it out to an even $10,000, would help compensate Mr. Broder for the use of his name.

Of course, Mr. Broder’s attorneys, the law firm of Lowey, Dannenberg, Bemporad & Selinger. P.C., also asked the court to award it a modest amount in legal fees (after all, it is helping people like me get as much as $3.57 in damages) not to exceed $2.5 million, to be paid by MBNA.

I’m glad they put the “not to exceed” in their request; otherwise the court might have gone hog-wild and thrown $5 million at them. How considerate and responsible of Mr. Broder’s lawyers!

So, Mr. Broder stands to gain $10,000 for doing nothing, his lawyers stand to gain $2.5 million for doing considerably more than nothing, and I, and my fellow victimized consumers may get as much as $3.57. More than likely, MBNA will settle the suit , and those numbers may be discounted by 25 percent.

Is there something wrong with this picture? Is there something wrong with a legal system where lawyers can initiate a class action suit using a straw man (purchased for less than 1/2 of one percent of their profits) to compel a large corporation to settle a nuisance suit for millions of dollars?

And lawyers still wonder why we hate lawyers.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Rosalie’s World

I saw a photograph of a pretty, 13-year-old girl on my newsfeed followed by a headline stating she had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt. Rosalie Avila, 13, of Yucaipa, CA had been "severely" bullied for years by classmates, in school and on social media, who told her she wasn't pretty and her teeth were ugly. In her diary, she had written: “They told me I was ugly today. They were making fun of me today about my teeth.” She hanged herself in her bedroom on November 28 and was admitted to Loma Linda Children's Hospital.

As I read this, in my mind I was composing a note to Rosalie. I would tell her she was, in fact, a very pretty girl and that she was prettier than most of the girls I had gone to school with when I was 13. I would tell her that the braces she wore would straighten her teeth and leave a beautiful, permanent smile on her face for years to come. I wanted to leave a positive, encouraging post on her Facebook page, knowing that others would also, and that this little girl would come home to literally 10,000 messages from strangers to counter the vicious venom of a handful of children. I wanted to provide a counterbalance to place the messages she was getting from these "mean girls" into perspective, which is sadly lacking at that age when we are most susceptible to peer pressure.

You're NOT ugly, Rosalie. You may not believe your parents when they tell you you're beautiful because parents have to say that, but strangers don't have to. So take it from a stranger, you are pretty. And 10,000 other strangers will agree with me.

But before I could write the first line my eyes scrolled down to the next headline. Rosalie was taken off life support on December 4. In three weeks, when other families are gathered around the Christmas tree celebrating the festive season, Rosalie’s parents, Freddie and Charlene Avila, and her five siblings will be gathered beside her grave in mourning. 

The more I learned about Rosalie, the more I felt a kinship. She “always got good grades,” and she wanted to be a writer and a lawyer “so she could make the world a better place.” Instead, the world – her world – destroyed her. It's a world filled with evil souls housed in bodies of varying ages. Despite their youth, I've no doubt Rosalie's tormentors are truly evil. They're not wayward children; or bad kids; or even mean girls. They're evil. Rosalie’s family got a small taste of what the 13-year-old had been experiencing when someone sent them a photograph of a bed on social media captioned: “Hey Mom. Next time don’t tuck me in this. Tuck me in THIS,” pointing to an image of an open grave with Rosalie’s face Photoshopped over it.


I was told it was a good thing I didn’t have the opportunity to leave my message for Rosalie because it would be “creepy” for a grown man to tell a 13-year-old she’s pretty. “You don’t even know her; people will think you’re a predator.” What a sad world we live in. Here in Rosalie’s World of 2017 that would be creepy and possibly expose me to legal jeopardy; I would have thought the messages sent to Rosalie – and now to her parents – were creepy and that the senders of those should be the ones subject to legal consequences. Rosalie’s World isn’t the world I grew up in. Sure, we had bullying, but not to this extreme or this degree of malevolence. As a society, we need to reevaluate how our world devolved into Rosalie’s World and what we must do to change it back.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Attack on America

I wrote this in the heat of the moment on September 11, 2001 as I watched the twin towers burn and crumble to the ground on my TV screen. It’s worth sharing again. The only thing I would add is that we must protect America from both foreign and domestic threats.

Attack on America

September 11, 2001 

Terrorists are parasites who thrive on the fear they create.

But we do not fear these men; for that is what they are. They have no extra-human powers. They breathe as we do. They bleed as we do. They die as we do.

We must not be intimidated by acts, no matter how violent, that we might be turned from the path that we know in our hearts to be right. We cannot allow our enemies to dictate our choice of friends and allies. We must realize that our enemies have taken up arms against us not merely because of their hatred toward those smaller nations with whom we have allied ourselves, but because they are fundamentally opposed to, and feel threatened by, our entire way of life.

Balanced between the twin towers of patriotism and jingoism is the thin veneer of common sense, which even the simplest animals comprehend. Those who are attacked must attack in kind, lest they be viewed as perpetual prey.

There are no civilians in war. Innocent people will die. Innocent people have died. The world, nation by nation, individual by individual, must stand declared to be our allies or, if not, then our enemies. And let them be judged not only by their present declarations, but by their past words and deeds or silence and inaction. There can be no question of neutrality when faced with the fate of civilization itself.

And make no mistake, that is what is at stake. We face nothing less than a battle between the forces of civilization and the forces of anarchy.

Our enemies are not cowards; they are, in fact, devoid of fear. They are not ignorant; they are, in fact, deviously shrewd and calculating. But while they may rationalize their actions, they themselves are not rational.

They are religious zealots, who believe their actions are divinely inspired, who believe their faith and customs and beliefs are the only valid ones, and who believe death in pursuit of their goal guarantees them an eternal afterlife.

Therefore, they cannot be reasoned with, for reason requires rationality. They cannot be negotiated with, for negotiation requires compromise and fanaticism knows no compromise. They cannot co-exist, for their fanaticism demands hegemony. They can only be annihilated, for the only alternative is our own eventual annihilation at their hands.