Friday, October 01, 2004

The Debate

The media has once again displayed its bias, declaring John Kerry the winner of the first debate. I just don’t see it. Of course, since I am in Australia, I didn’t get to watch the debate. Instead, I read the transcript. Maybe you had to see it. Maybe Kerry’s hair looked particularly presidential.

Oh, sure. Kerry says nice sounding things. He claims to have a plan for everything. While Kerry has plans, Bush can point to achievements. 50 million people freed from despotism with at least a chance at freedom. The Taliban has been deposed. The Hussein regime destroyed. Libya chastened.

I still find Kerry’s charge of “unilateralism” and "going it alone" infuriatingly arrogant. What about Britain, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Japan, Korea, et al.? Don’t they exist? Don’t their contributions mean anything? And yet, in that famously consistent way of his, Kerry favors unilateral action towards North Korea. Well, which is it, Senator? Are you a unilateralist or a multilateralist?

When John Kerry talks of unilateralism, he is basically talking about France and the UN. Can’t John Kerry understand that France is not our ally? France actually withdrew from NATO in the 1966, cynically so, since they still enjoyed the protection of US and German troops from the main threat of the Soviet Union. Recall also how our “allies”, the French, denied our warplanes the right to fly over their air space during the raid on Libya in 1986.

They don’t have our best wishes at heart. For more than 40 years, France has dedicated itself to engaging itself in the Middle East. What has been the result? Has there been an decrease in terrorism, either against Israel or other Western nations? Well, yes, in one country. France. Has there been less war? No. Instead there have been three wars between Arab countries and Israel, a war between Iran and Iraq and an Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Basically, France’s track record in the Middle East has resulted in increased sales of French arms and contracts for French oil companies.

There would be nothing wrong with this – if we were in France. But, we’re not in France.

Look at France’s track record in Algeria or French Indo-China (a.k.a. Vietnam). They lost Vietnam and Algeria in two bloody insurgencies. Unlike the US, which lost Vietnam in the media and on the streets of the US, France lost Vietnam militarily, in Vietnam.

The UN? Where to start? First off, let’s dismiss this notion that the UN is somehow legitimate. The UN is a collection of governments. It doesn’t represent people. I think UN endorsement of a policy might mean something if that endorsement didn’t mean approval by such regimes as Cuba, Sudan, Vietnam, Libya, China, or North Korea. Does Senator Kerry seriously suggest that we supplant our own government’s judgment with the UN’s, when the UN is composed of mostly unrepresentative, often brutally oppressive, governments?

Then there is the UN’s track record – or rather lack thereof. I defy anyone to point to a single instance where the UN has successfully intervened to avoid or contain an international crisis. If there is one, I’m missing it.

Let’s not forget, the UN fiddled while Rwanda burned. And before the angry e-mails start, I know the US played a role in not intervening – but let’s not forget who was president then. It was the same guy who had only recently turned tail in Somalia.

Let’s consider the UN’s weapons inspection regime in Iraq. What a rousing success that was, huh? The UN had twelve years to try and disarm Saddam Hussein. Instead Saddam Hussein played Hans Blix and UNSCOM like a tourist at a game of three-card monty. During that time, Hussein’s regime assembled an apparatus of 20,000 people whose sole purpose was to obstruct the work being done by the weapons inspectors. Hardly the behavior of someone with nothing to hide.

The UN refused to act in the Balkans in the face of ethnic cleansing. Oddly enough, though, our European “allies” didn’t have a problem when we (I know it was NATO, but NATO is a shell without the US military) went to war in Bosnia. How’s that for consistency? The UN is also the same body that is, at this very moment, dithering while millions face death at the hands of (surprise, surprise) Muslim fanatics in Sudan.

My own view is that, given the UN’s lack of effectiveness, we ought to start them on a smaller project. Let’s let the UN prove they can re-build a nation and install representative government in Haiti.

Lastly, let me leave you with three words on the UN: Oil. For. Food. Anyone still feel like letting the UN take control in Iraq?

Kerry is so disingenuous and wrong, I don’t know if I could possibly cover all the examples. Still, I’ll try:

Before I get to all the ways in which Kerry is wrong, let me make this overarching statement. Every time Kerry says he has a “plan” for something, he never discusses the specifics of his so-called plans. So, bear that in mind every time Kerry talks about a “plan”. These aren’t plans. They’re wishes.

He says he has a plan to bring together the leaders of the Middle East. To what end? So they can pay lip service to democratic ideals and then go home to their own countries? Countries without a free press. No representative governments. No respect for freedom of religion or for the rights of minorities or women. What makes him think that getting Bashar Assad’s or Hosni Mubarak’s signature on a piece of paper will change anything?

During the debate, he said he has a “better plan for homeland security”. He then went on to say, “I have a better plan to be able to fight the war on terror by strengthening our military…” This is rich. John Kerry has compiled an abysmal record on defense in the Senate by voting against nearly every major weapons system of the last twenty years. I won’t try to list them all. It’s a long list. Plus, Zell Miller already did a masterful job of illuminating this glaring weakness of Kerry’s.

Kerry said that we had contained Saddam Hussein. Sure, contained him in one of his hundreds of palaces. I prefer George Bush’s idea of containing Saddam Hussein – in a cell.

Kerry claims that Bush “pushed our allies aside”. Wrong. Our allies abandoned us. We would have been glad of their support. They hypocritically refused to give it.

Kerry said, “Iraq is not even the center or the focus of the war on terror. The center is Afghanistan.” Wrong. Afghanistan used to be the center of the war on terror. Now the center of that war is Pakistan, a US ally that is working with the Bush administration to end this threat.

Kerry says that George Bush stripped Afghanistan of troops for the campaign in Iraq. Wrong. In fact, there are more troops in Afghanistan now than when the war in Iraq started.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. In the end, I am baffled that such an undistinguished politician could secure his party’s nomination for president. During the debate, Kerry didn’t tout even one accomplishment of his in the Senate. (Of course, he never misses a chance to mention his experience in Vietnam, and this was no exception.) Thank goodness that all the polls show Bush leading Kerry by anywhere from 3 to 16 per cent.

Personally, I can’t wait to watch Vice President Cheney clean John Edwards’ clock.

Reject Reality TV

It’s tempting all right. But, like most things in life, doing the right thing is hard. It’s like walking down the aisle in the supermarket with the ice cream case and not putting anything in your basket.

I’m not saying you should only watch The Learning Channel or PBS. I said you shouldn’t put any ice cream in the basket. I didn’t say you had to eat brussel sprouts.

I make a concerted effort to not watch any reality TV shows. And, while I strive to keep a humorous tone, I’m serious about encouraging you to do the same. There are three reasons why I don’t watch reality TV shows.

  1. Hello! IT’S NOT REAL! The term reality TV to denote this new breed of shows is a gross misnomer. First, while the outcome of a particular show may not be pre-ordained, don’t kid yourself that these shows aren’t heavily scripted. You can be sure that the producers of the shows are working furiously to tweak the dials to produce the highest ratings. To do this, they will often manipulate contestants, pitting them against one another. Hardly reality.
  2. The contestants aren’t real either. Most of daydream or fantasize about being a celebrity. However, most of us don’t dedicate ourselves to attaining celebrity. The same cannot be said of the average reality TV show contestant. For the most part, these people are supreme narcissists. Think about it. Are you so conceited so as to think that millions of people would be interested in the details, intimate, mundane or otherwise, of your life? Do you think that the average person is interested in your every feeling and opinion? (And, yes, I realize the hypocrisy inherent in making such an argument on a blog.) Worse, contestants are selected because they fit a demographic pigeon hole. The best example of this is the gay contestant. It all started with Pedro on “The Real World”. (In addition to being gay, Pedro also suffered from AIDS. Bonus! Two birds with one stone.) This trend really took off with the rise of “Survivor’s” Richard Hatch. (Mercifully, his descent back into obscurity was equally swift.) Now, the “gay one” is a reality TV staple.
  3. It’s bad for you. I say this in all seriousness. This was the kicker for me. I found that when I tuned in to these shows, I would end up disgusted by most, if not all, of the contestants. In some cases, I would end up literally yelling at my TV set. (Ok, I do the same thing with Eleanor Clift on “The McLaughlin Group. But I digress…) Sure, sure, some people tune in to “Big Brother” or “American Idol” to cheer on a particular contestant. But, I believe that most viewers tune in to see who gets “voted off”. There is a German word for this: schadenfreude. It means secret pleasure at the misfortune of others. This is malicious spite, pure and simple. And it’s not healthy.

Worse, the popularity of these shows has begun to snowball. Reality TV shows, as a rule, have much lower production costs. Instead of paying a cast of actors, producers only have to pay one contestant. And since the shows have no scripts, the producers don’t need to hire writers. The lack of professional writers and scripts, combined with the average contestant’s intellect (or lack thereof), translates into an appalling lack of intelligent discourse. Put simply, these are dumb shows.

However, their increasing popularity means that the networks can charge more for advertising blocks. Lower costs + higher revenues = more money for the networks. You’re just encouraging them, folks.

I know it seems that most networks’ lineup consists of either reality TV shows or gory cop dramas. But there are good shows out there. HBO is consistently responsible for excellent series and mini-series (“The Sopranos”, “Six Feet Under”, “From the Earth to the Moon", “Band of Brothers”). Tune in to A&E or BBC America. A&E turns out high-quality productions, many of which have a literary basis.

Speaking of a literary basis, try reading a book. Catch up on your correspondence. Start a blog. Get some exercise. Whatever you do, just please don’t feed the contestant’s egos or line the network’s and producer’s pockets.

Just say no to reality TV!