Thursday, July 27, 2006

Agenda in Ads?

Sometimes I think I am one of the few people that watches advertisements closely and critically. For at least ten years I have been saying (although not on these pixels) that the people that create advertisements in this country have a liberal agenda. Over the next two or three days, do a little, informal experiment. See how many times you notice the following things:

  • Fathers are optional.
  • Men, and especially white men, are portrayed like idiots (when they are portrayed at all).
  • When showing groups of more than three people who are not family, it is always a mixed race group (except when it is a group comprised exclusively of minorites, which seems to be permissible).
  • Minorities are presented in disproportional numbers.
  • Really young boys have to have cool, "punk-rock" hair-styles. (This doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the blog. It just pisses me off.)
You can interpret these trends however you like. Me, I happen to have a bit of a problem with the first two, and no problem with the second two. I'll explain why in a minute. First I want to tell you about the ad that I just saw.

This is the first time I've seen this spot; I have no idea how long it has been running. The ad is for the Ford Freestyle Crossover sport utility vehicle. It shows a seemingly happy family. Dad, Mom (Mom is driving - I am watching a replay of this on TiVO as I describe the ad and I didn't notice this the first time), two kids (one of each, natch ) and a dog. They are obviously on a weekend outing. They stop at a fruit stand. Parents are bonding with children. They arrive at the beach. Then the drive home. Pulling into the driveway. Home, sweet home! Then the ad cuts to Dad taking out bags from the back of the Freestyle (500 miles on a tank of gas!).

Wait, what's this? Dad is hugging little sis, and there, blurry and indistinct but undeniably there, is Mom still behind the wheel. Cut to shot of Dad hugging both kids.

"Thanks for inviting me this weekend."


"All right, guys. I'll see you next week."

"Bye, Dad."

Cue graphic: BOLD reaches out. Voice over: "Bold moves. They happen every day."

This ad, to me, gets to the heart of one of the things that popular entertainment has lost: its aspirational mission.

Sure, when we watch old movies today, they seem corny. There's no foul language. No sex or nudity. Barely any kissing. No drug use. No violence or gore. It's not as if the writers, directors, producers and actors of the day didn't know about such things. Of course, they did. Many of them lived lurid off-screen lives. But they also seemed to feel an obligation to provide better fare.

Critics will argue that such entertainment doesn't "keep it real" (O how I loathe that phrase!). I would argue, so what? What's so great about "real"? Real is coarse and harsh. Real doesn't inspire you to be better. Sure, brutal and harsh entertainment can remind you of the behavior to which you can aspire, but that's negative reinforcement. Heroin is bad. I get it. You won't catch me watching Requiem for a Dream twice (my burning love for Jennifer Connelly notwithstanding - I fell for her hard in Labryinth).

I wouldn't be surprised if, when the Clios (the Oscars of advertisements) roll around, this ad were nominated. I can just imagine some breathy critic proclaiming it's "daring" and how it shows a family that looks more like an American family of 2006.

That's all well and good. Really. It is. But what's so bad about entertainment that reminds us that we can be and do better?

The travesty that is Hamdam v. Rumsfeld

Another thing I have been meaning to comment on was the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld decision handed down by the Supreme Court. There have been plenty of legal analysts who have commented on the details of the opinion and the correctness of the decision. Obviously I don't have the same level of expertise so I am going to comment in a more general way.

Hamdan has already had some disastrous effects, chief among them being the Pentagon's decision to extend the Geneva Convention's Common Article 3 protections to illegal combatants. The experience of the farcical Moussaoui trial should have been warning enough to the Bush administration and the Pentagon as to the unsuitability of treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem.

That trial took four years and cost many millions of taxpayer dollars and the result was that we couldn't even sentence to death a person who, by his own admission, wanted to fly a jet into some structure full of people and was trying to achieve that end. And, why was his life spared? His father was abusive. And some people in France treated him badly because of his race. And, so for that, the American taxpayers can pay to feed and clothe him for the rest of his life. Wonderful.

(As an aside, I will just state that I don't think Moussaoui was the "20th hijacker". I think he was a wanna-be and a stooge and executing him would have granted him his fervent desire to become a martyr. That being said, I can understand and sympathize with the desire to execute him.)

And, now the Pentagon, rather than interpreting the decision as narrowly as possible has ruled that these illegal combatants are entitled to many of the same protections as our soldiers.

A point that I have tried to make in the past about the Bush administration is this: they can't repeat can't win over their critics. No matter how hard the Bush administration tries (see No Child Left Behind, Medicare prescription drug benefit, out of control federal spending), they get crucified for it anyway. How much goodwill have these kinds of policies won them from the Krugmans and Dowds and the crowd? None. Zilch. Zip. Why not govern your principles and slough off the rhetorical slings and arrows?

I don't know why not. I do know that our enemies are not stupid and these kind of decisions are what emboldened them to attack us in the first place. Combine the Hamdan decision with the equally misguided McCain anti-torture amendment and one can see that we are rapidly painting ourselves into a corner in which we will find that our forces are hamstrung in their ability to find, fix and kill the enemy, while the enemy will find himself free to commit any and all atrocities.

Think about it: every day you hear and read stories about an enemy that targets women and children and there is little or no outrage. Conversely, some terrorist cretin gets a hangnail and there are hundreds of stories and editorials decrying the American "evil empire". This is the same attitude which has clouded the reporting on the Israeli incursion into Lebanon and it's despicable.

Well at least she's at the right school

On this blog, I crib from the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal's Best of the Web. I try not to do it too much, but some things are just too priceless to let pass.

Like this example. Taranto excerpts a few lines from a poem that a graduate student at UC-Berkeley wrote. Now, this woman's love poem to Hezbullah is bad enough. However, more than making up for her frightening poetry is the rebuttal poem from blogger "Iowahawk". Read on:

Hezbollah Groupie

One Cecilia Lucas, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, has penned a "love poem for Hizbullah." We kid you not. Here's a sample:

You were born out of death to a life in a cage
Where bombs are not the only reason people die
Fed by the violence of hunger and homelessness
Raised by colonialism
Your heart and your will still grew strong

You scare me
Not just because they tell me to be scared
Not just because they repeat, repeat, repeat
The story of 1983
Begging me to understand
Americans are worth more than Lebanese

We suppose a certain romanticization of nihilistic political violence is a common enough form of adolescent rebellion, though one suspects young Miss Lucas is getting egged on by her professors, many of whom no doubt are liberal baby boomers who never outgrew their own adolescence.

Ah well, the best way to respond to this sort of thing is with mockery, as blogger "Iowahawk," writing under the nom de plume "Omar Walid Muhammed, Chairman, Hezbollah Poetry Club," devastatingly does, in a poem called "I Love You Too, Cecilia Lucas":

You were born in the Valley to a life in a suburban cage
Encino, where mean girls and cheerleaders
Drop bombs of hate on the unpopular girls
Shy poetry club chicks like you
With 1480 SATs and early admission to Berkeley
Fed by the violence and lookism of the dance squad
Raised in a four bedroom colonial
They wouldn't let you wear your Che T-shirt to prom
But your heart and your armpit hair still grew proud and strong

You scare me too
Not just because you have that Code Pink Manson girl freak-vibe
Not just because you repeat, repeat, repeat
All those quotes from your dog-eared volumes of Chomsky
and Zinn
and Edward Said
Begging me to understand
Can't we just hold each other
Instead of talking, talking, talking
About your Masters thesis?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Benefit of the Doubt?

While I was in Libya, there were a lot of "stories" in the news about the "massacre" in Haditha, Iraq. For those of you who have spent the last six months in a cave, Haditha is a city in the al Anbar province in eastern Iraq. U.S. Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, are accused of killing 24 Iraqi civilians in an apparent reprisal for the killing of a Marine by a roadside IED.

As I read these stories, and the related stories about the torture and killings of Privates Kristian Menchaca and Thomas Tucker. A rather obvious question occurred to me. In fact, it was so obvious that I wondered that I hadn't asked it before.

Why does our media give the terrorists the benefit of the doubt?

Think about it: the overwhelming majority of our men and women in uniform behave with admirable restraint and are good ambassadors of our country. On those rare occasions when members of our armed services commit crimes it's our own military that uncovers the abuse and prosecutes the offenders. (Think Abu Ghraib.) Either that, or the press uncovers the wrongdoing and the military then prosecutes the accused. (Think My Lai.)

The terrorists on the other hand can be - and are - characterized by their lack of restraint. They target civilians. They use hospitals, schools and mosques to hide fighters and store weapons, essentially turning their populace into human shields. Rather than treat captives humanely, they torture and murder them. In short, they inflict terror.

It seems pretty obvious to me that our fighting forces are the mirror image of theirs. Let's face it: if we wanted to go in and murder, rape and pillage, we could. But we haven't. Part of the credit for that goes to the restraining influence of the Fourth Estate. Part, but not all. A large part of the credit goes to the culture of the services themselves.

And in the Abu Ghraib and Haditha cases there seems to be an almost "Gotcha!" attitude. As if the reporters couldn't wait to pounce on the accusations of malfeasance by our military.

Oh, and lest we forget, even soldiers and Marines are entitled to a presumption of innocence.

Long time, no blog, Pt. II

Wow! I can't believe it's been three months since I've written anything. I go through peaks and valleys with the blogging thing. Some months I get on hot streaks and will jam out several posts a day. Lately, I've been in a valley.

For some reason I always feel compelled to post an update on what I have been doing in the interim (as if that is some kind of excuse). The truth is sometimes I get disheartened because I don't have very many readers and a lot of the times I think, "Why bother?"

And as I look back at my last "Long time, no blog" post, I can see that I already kind of recently did the "what-have-I-been-up-to" thing so I'll try to keep this short. Then I will get back to the real business of explaining how Democrites and liberals are ruining the world for the rest of us decent folk.

I spent almost all of May in Vietnam. It was a welcome respite from Saudi Arabia. I didn't really get out of Saigon. I basically just relaxed, shopped and enjoyed the pho and cheap massages.

After that I was home for about two weeks before my next assignment - Tripoli, Libya. Libya was pretty interesting in a challenging sort of way. I went there with another colleague to install the systems needed to process visas and American citizen services, and to train the staff to use the software and hardware. Unfortunately, my colleague developed a really bad cases of hives our second day there and she ended up leaving two days later. That left me with a lot of work to do and very little time to do it.

So what started as a two week trip turned into a four week trip. I worked most of the time since the embassy is located in the same hotel where I was staying. I did manage to get out and see some of the city. One Saturday, I did hire a car and went to ruins of Leptis Magna. Leptis Magna was the largest city the Romans founded in Africa. The ruins are large and very well preserved. Most of the statues and figures have been defaced but a lot of the inscriptions are still legible. There is also a very large ampitheater and several fora. It reminded me of the Roman ruins outside of Amman that we visited while we lived in Jordan in the 1980s.

Tripoli didn't make that much of a lasting impression on me. It reminded me a lot of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (not a good thing). It was really hot (regularly above 100 F) but not as humid. Similar to Jeddah and Beirut, it has a long Corniche (ocean-front road). I did trek out to one of the beaches in town to collect some sand for my roommate Jamie's father (who is a former Marine).

Tripoli reminded me of Saudi Arabia in other ways, too. For example, there is the prohibition against alcohol and the near ban on almost all forms of public entertainment. Most Libyan women wear the abaya and nijab (the head scarf and veil that together make up the hijab) but it is not required as in Saudi Arabia. Also, unlike Saudi Arabia, women are allowed to drive.

Where Libya differs from Saudi Arabia is in the socialist character of the government. Muammar Qadafi (mostly just called "the Leader") is essentially a Nasserite (i.e. a Pan-Arab socialist). He calls Libya the "Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya". Jamahiriya is an Arabic word that translates into "state of the masses". The word derives from the fact that Qaddafi claims Libya is a "direct democracy" governed by the people through local councils.

More properly, Libya is a Soviet- type "cult of personality" similar to what I saw in Turkmenistan. Everywhere you go there are posters and billboards celebrating the Leader. Last month, most of the signs seemed to be celebrating the Leader's 36th year in power. (I would have thought that he would have waited for a milestone year, but I guess he probably celebrates every year in power.)

After I had been there for three weeks I started hanging out with one of the guys that works in the Consular Section. Ali is a Libyan who grew up in Egypt. He is a commercial pilot by training but is understandably having trouble getting employment in the wake of 9/11. What I found is that in Libya, like Saudi Arabia, there is fun to be had you just have to know somebody. We went out to a birthday party of a friend of his one night and drank Libyan moonshine. I don't know what it was made from, but it tasted like aguardiente or venado or some other clear white liquor. Not a strong taste and you can mix it with anything.

He also took me to a place called al Hufra. It's a series of restaurants co-located with the fish market. What you do is stroll among the fish stalls and select your fish for dinner. Then you tell the guy which restaurant you are eating in and they bring your fish to you. It was very good and, as you might imagine, very fresh.

I got home from Libya on July 12th which almost brings us up to the present. Since I've been back I have been getting geared up to move (again). I just found out that I am assigned to go to Recife in September so I am going to get married at the end of the trip. After that I will be in Hamburg in October.