Thursday, September 20, 2007

Gray Lady Down

Not that anyone else probably cares, but I am rather pissed at the New York Times because someone within that vaunted news organization has decided the Capital Region (Albany and environs) isn't deserving of regular delivery and/or availability. Twice in the past 30 days, including this week, there were no copies available here in southern Saratoga County. It's not like we're a thousand miles away. Hey, New York City is a little over two hours by car.

The last time this happened, I spent a couple of hours driving around looking for a copy. I finally found a vendor who gave me the phone number for the local distributor. A call to them gave me the information I had been looking for: the drivers from the Times were late getting papers to the distributor in Albany. By the time the Times truck arrived, the distributor's drivers already had left with other newspapers. A sympathetic secretary sold me my own (exclusive?) copy, telling me all the while that hundreds of copies would simply sit in her warehouse because she wouldn't be calling back the trucks to pick them up.

Now I know some will say, "Hey, just read it online." Well, until Tuesday, the Times wasn't available online except by subscription. Besides, I am one of the few who still enjoys holding a real newspaper in my hands. And if you can believe all the latest research about electromagnetic radiation via computers and electric clock radios, well, I feel infinitely safer with a paper copy in hand.

I did write a terse note both times to the president of the New York Times Company. I haven't received a reply from either e-mail, so my guess is Mr. Heekin-Canedy simply doesn't care that his newspaper isn't often available in the capital of New York State. And yet I read all the time how newspaper executives are worried about the future of their business. Maybe all the doom and gloom is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rendering Surrendering

In his testimony before Congress this week, Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee, and specifically Sen. John Warner (R-VA), that he isn't sure America is any safer after all the money and lives sacrificed in the name of national security. It's been suggested that Petraeus's answer was a momentary gaffe. But I think it was his honest opinion because how can it be otherwise?

The general stammered that all he knows is how to guide "the mission." So far, no one has explained to me satisfactorily what that mission is. John McCain, who has completely lost his mind, and much of his support, has decided now to tie his political fortunes to a new slogan, "No Surrender." It's painted on his campaign bus and is the new focus of his sputtering presidential campaign. So in McCain's view, the mission is not to surrender. Surrender to whom?

My best guess is, no one in the ranks of the GOP wants to surrender to public opinion. There's that little mess we call "Vietnam" that some point to as the era when America lost its political will and "surrendered" to the Communist North. I happen to see it instead as a brave acceptance of the geopolitical reality of the region as it existed in 1975.

So here we are, 32 years later, trying again to extricate ourselves from an unwinnable "war" and again the hawks are saying we must not "surrender." The surge is working, they say. Parts of Iraq are safer. But the PR spin, as artful as ever, can't hide the fact that we are digging deeper into a regional conflict that has a religious component we demonstrate almost daily we do not understand.

I agree that Islamic fundamentalism is a very scary entity. And by remaining in Iraq we are stoking the fires of a religious fervor that will take ages to tamp down. It seems inevitable to me that whenever the U.S. decides to remove itself from Iraq that there will be major chaos, not to mention factional killing on a massive scale. Everything we have seen so far will be simply prologue.

But in the absence of a serious drawdown of troops, we are condemned to losing at least 60 young men and women, not to mention $8 billion, each and every month. All the public appeals and photo ops by the president do nothing to change the reality on the ground in a desert country halfway around the world. It's the mathematics of madness. And it doesn't add up.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Smoke & Mirrors

While I have long been one to eagerly anticipate the new "Fall Season" of network television (once gloriously heralded by the once-proud TV Guide), I no longer look to the networks to provide compelling or even interesting TV fare. The heyday of the "Big 3" TV sitcoms like "Frasier," "Everybody Loves Raymond," and "Will & Grace" (the early years) is long gone. Only "Two and a Half Men" seems a worthy successor, and sometimes that's debatable, given the show's grating tendency to push raunch over repartee a little too often. I also enjoyed "Becker," which I consider, like its cast, cruelly underrated.

Yes, there are some good dramatic hours. ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" comes to mind. And "CSI: Miami" is almost always an hour of dependable craftsmanship. Never have been a fan of the Law & Order franchises or of "Lost" or "24." Maybe I'll catch up one day on DVD.

For my money, the best stuff on TV these days is on cable. It's a real shame, too, that the off-network shows I've admired all summer are about to end. I'm speaking here of AMC's "Mad Men," a truly superior piece of acting set in 1960 at a Manhattan ad agency. How refreshing that the producers, for the most part, went about casting ordinary-looking actors and not just eye candy for the MTV set. Jon Hamm, movie-star handsome as the lead, plays a mysterious and enigmatic womanizer when he's not the go-to guy at Sterling & Cooper. The art direction deserves a mention, too, for it sets a new standard in TV drama. The women are tightly corseted, the men sleek and the surfaces shiny. It's Brylcreem and Betty Crocker, wrapped in a fog of eye-burning and unfiltered cigarette smoke.

The other show I admired all summer is USA's "Burn Notice," starring Jeffrey Donovan as a spy who gets tossed out of a domestic spy agency for reasons even he doesn't know. In the trade it's called getting "burned." So he's dumped in glittering Miami without money, credit cards or transportation. It's a carnival funhouse of death, with gunmen lurking behind the crazy mirrors. Fortunately for the writers, and the viewers, he was born there, can lean on his mom (the always-good Sharon Gless) and a former girlfriend (the darkly exotic Gabriel Anwar). Some critics have described it as a clone of "Magnum P.I.," but I think that's doing "Burn Notice" a disservice. A lot of the show is done in a noirish voiceover, and Donovan's character provides a running commentary on the tricks of the spy trade. Whether the how-to's are accurate is beside the point. They sound credible and make the show seem fresh. I'm really sad we have to wait another year to see Donovan light up the small screen again. And here's hoping the writers can find Gless more to do than scold her put-upon son.

A footnote: I read somewhere recently that the suits at HBO were given a chance to feature "Mad Men" and passed. Maybe that's why the once-formidable premium cable network has fallen on hard times. I'm not a programing executive, but even I could see the premise as the kind of innovative TV we need more of. I'm thankful, though, for their seeming stupidity, because I don't have to pay extra to watch it. Hallelujah! A fleeting example of the joy of "free" TV.

Friday, September 7, 2007


Okay, so now Osama bin-hittin'-the-sauce decides that he'll allow us all to live in peace and harmony if we simply convert to Islam. Of course, the Islam in his addled brain isn't the peace-loving, turn-the-other-cheek religion of the ages, but the oppressive, embrace-the-evil, new-age Third Reichian mindset of devil-worshippers. In short, the guy's nutso and so are his legions of dim-witted, Allah-praising acolytes who don't have the collective brain power of snails in a hundred of them. I don't care anymore. These people pretend to adhere to the tenets of historic Islam, and yet have abandoned its every tenet in favor of wreaking havoc in the vain hope of creating a worldwide caliphate.

In short, Osama, while better educated, is no improvement on history's evil-doers like Genghis Khan. His religion of hate is an embarrassment to good people of faith everywhere. The idea that Americans would listen to his ignorant ramblings, let alone adopt them, suggests he's the kind of despot who marvels at the sound of his own voice. In that respect, he's no better than Saddam.

Frankly, there's no form of death on earth yet invented that would satisfy my thirst for seeing him suffer. Although there are pretty good examples in any number of slasher films from the past couple of years. A bear trap to the throat comes to mind. Let it snap shut and cut his head clean off his body. And when he goes, wouldn't it be great if we could send the rest of his stinking, pea-brain followers with him?

Like the scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" when Nazi sympathizers have gathered around the Ark of the Covenant and dare to open the gilded vessel. A white light becomes a searing arc of pain and sucks the life right out of them. That's the reward I foresee for these animals. Because they have become less than human. They are dirt. They are germs. They are the lowest form of life God could invent and still call them life. On second thought, Allah himself is recognizing his mistake.

Monday, September 3, 2007

My War, My Timetable

So George Bush makes a secret stop in Iraq on his way to a summit in Australia. And, according to breathless news accounts, deliberately shuns Baghdad to send a message to the Iraqi leadership. Oh, and he lands at a remote base in Anbar province, so Al-Maliki, a Shiite, has to drive into dreaded Sunni territory. It certainly sounds like a page from the White House playbook we know so well.

What I found most laughable in the initial account is that the president asked a commander about morale. The answer--wait for it: "It's very high, sir." So you're an American military man being addressed by the president and he wants to know if his war is going well. What else are you going to say if you want to keep your job?

The supposition about this latest photo op is that the commander-in-chief wanted to see the situation for himself. Like that can ever happen unfiltered. Here's a guy surrounded by people who know he famously doesn't like to be challenged asking for their opinion. In that frame of reference, it's not an honest question in search of an honest answer. Mr. Bush is, after all, on a divine mission, being guided by the Almighty. And his God isn't as pissed as the American people.

His main man in Iraq, David Petraeus, is to give his long-awaited assessment next week in Washington. But the report is already a moot point. Everyone who knows George Bush knows he is sticking to his guns about Iraq and will keep our troops there as long as he's president. He is determined, in the face of a grim reality on the ground and intense opposition at home, to pursue victory, in whichever form works for him at the moment.

And now, with our military stretched beyond sustainable limits, he appears to be ready to open a third front, this time with Iran. More bombings, more outrage, more death and more of that winning wartalk from the grinning bastard who thinks he's on a mission from God. Heaven help us, and soon.