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The Stanford Prison Experiment at...
In 1971, researchers set up a prison in the basement of Stanford University's Psychology Department. The idea was to observe how 24 undergraduate students would behave when divided into two groups – "prisoners" and "guards" – and allowed to play out their roles over two weeks. But within 6 days, the simulation had to be stopped. Students playing "guards" became sadistic, while "prisoners" evinced severe anxiety and distress. Scientific criticisms of the Stanford experiment notwithstanding, the elemental message lingers: It is human nature to abuse authority; and the fewer checks on that authority, the more obscene the abuse becomes. With that in mind, let's have a gander at America's airports and see how the TSA's new virtual strip-search, busy-fingered pat-down policy is going. To re-cap, government agents have been empowered to subject airline travelers to nude, full-body scans and/or highly invasive hand searches. TSA officers may choose anyone for such scrutiny, without explanation, and if the selected person attempts to avoid whatever search methods the officer decrees – even by opting not to fly – he or she will be detained, prosecuted, and subject to massive fines. Even without the empirical evidence of eggheads from Stanford, most folks instinctively understand you cannot give people, no matter how well-adjusted, this level of unaccountable authority over others. Take the example of former Baywatch star Donna D’Errico, who claims a male TSA officer grabbed her out of line at Los Angeles International Airport and forced her to undergo a naked scan. When the fetching Ms. D’Errico asked the officer why she was the only person chosen, he replied, “You caught my eye.” For good measure – and plausibly, to obscure his true motives – the officer also scanned Ms. D’Errico’s young son, and subjected him to an extensive pat-down. Afterward, Ms. D’Errico reports seeing the officer and a male colleague – possibly the one who was privileged to see her naked image on the scanner – smirking and watching her walk on. Much has been made of the fact that Ms. D’Errico has appeared in Playboy, suggesting nudity ought not to trouble her. That is relevant only insofar as it seems the same assets that got her into the magazine also got her into the scanner. The point is that she was violated with no recourse, escape, or appeal. Reached for comment, a TSA spokeswoman called the incident “funny.” Really, now? Ms. D’Errico does not find it “funny,” nor does her son, nor do millions of women and families who face the prospect of government-sanctioned sexual violation as the price of travel. Indeed, the word I have read and heard most from females anticipating a flight is, “Dread.” Consider the case of Stacey Armato, the young mother who was shoved into a glass cage by TSA officers at Phoenix Airport for refusing to allow her breast milk to go through an x-ray machine. She was held for an hour in full view of other passengers, subjected to a thorough hand-search, and told to, “Be quiet if you know what’s good for you.” No one thought for a second that the breast milk was a matter of national security. I admit I wasn’t there, but I’ll say it again: The breast milk was never a threat. You know it, I know it, and the TSA thugs who abused this woman knew it. But the “guards” were in control. As the system now stands, stories like these will multiply. Unfortunately, TSA Chief John Pistole and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano show little interest in making changes. Some have suggested the TSA’s methods are part and parcel with the war on terror, and these are small sacrifices for civilians to make while our troops are overseas, fighting for freedom. That’s half-right – our troops are fighting to preserve a free country, not one where husbands and fathers stand helplessly aside while the government takes naked pictures of their wives and children. Indeed, how might a soldier hunkered down in Iraq or Afghanistan feel, being told that at that very moment back home, a TSA officer was ogling his wife’s naked image, or thrusting his hands into his child’s crotch, ostensibly in the name of the freedom he signed up to defend? Stop it. Just stop now. Call it whatever you like – a re-evaluation period, a budget cutback, a legal opinion. But turn off your naked scanners, wheel them out, and tell your officers to keep their hands in the sunlight. Learn the lesson from Stanford some 40 years ago and wrap this one up early. Pistole and Napolitano do not appear to be listening. They imagine we will become inured to scans and gropes, and some day look back, in Virgil’s supposition, to laugh at how prudish we once were. That, I believe, is a miscalculation. America eventually does the right thing. The scanners will disappear from our airports and the blue gloves will retreat from our inseams. I believe that because I believe in the people of this country. Stick with it, keep at it, and let’s end this together. theo@theocaldwell.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.12.08
Hands Off America
Alright, that does it. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans have been willing to do their part for safety in the friendly skies. Indeed, citizens have generally been reasonable, even in the face of monumental unreasonableness, of the type only government can attain. But now, it has gone too far. The Transportation Security Administration has begun offering air travelers an abominable, binary choice between nude, full-body x-ray scans and groin-grabbingly invasive “pat-downs.” It is encouraging to read of danders rising all over the country, as people see this hideous overreach for what it is. It has occurred to me that this policy is in fact an elaborate prank, just to see if the nation still has any nerve at all. If, however, this federal initiative of naked pictures and government gropes is sincere, Americans’ response will determine their success or failure in the worldwide struggle with radical Islam. Preposterous as it seems to suggest the war on terror will be won or lost in the trousers of America, what is at stake is nothing less than the character of the country. Has the Land of the Free reverted to such docility that its citizens will meekly let anyone in a uniform get to third base simply because those are the rules? America has had a lot of rules in its time, some sinister and some asinine; segregation and prohibition come to mind, respectively. In each case, nonsensical or nasty regimes were overthrown when regular people, individually and en masse, said, “enough already.” This is, or should be, such a time. A nation that will not tell airport apparatchiks to keep their claws out of their crotch cannot vanquish al-Qaeda. Resistance to tyranny, petty or grand, is the spirit that created the country. If citizens cannot summon it now, even as twitchy, blue-gloved fingers creep below the equator, then America is simply living off the capital of previous generations as it whittles down to its inevitable demise. One tires of those who shrug and say, “Go ahead and scan me – I have nothing to hide.” To them I’d respond, it isn’t about you and whether you can sell that look. Kids, families, or even just people who don’t share your ease with revealing their nakedness or watching their spouses do the same should not be subject to this insanity. Your comfort with your own body is admirable, whether well-founded or not, but if you suppose that your personal decisions should be good enough for the rest of the country, you are either a White House czar or you’ve simply missed the point. The TSA and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have tried various tacks in responding to growing public outcry. Napolitano, in a USA Today column that reads like the copy of an automated complaint line, refers to this new system as “the evolution of our national security architecture.” Airport screeners who have received complaints from molested passengers have reportedly been parroting that, “The rules have always been the same.” Nice try, Charlie. I’m fairly certain we would have remembered that move, had you “always” been using it. We are reminded, of course, that these enhanced techniques come in response to would-be underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted Christmas Day attack in 2009. But Napolitano and her minions do not offer any counter to the argument that this new and invasive approach would not have stopped him. And anyway, these are the same geniuses who responded to Abdulmutallab’s attempt by decreeing people couldn’t have books in their laps for the final hour of flights. What crack team gamed that one out? Besides the obvious incongruity – some guy stuffs explosives into his y-fronts so you can’t finish your chapter of Johnny Tremain until safely inside the terminal – what did they think would happen? That terrorists would seize planes using the complete works of Dickens? Perhaps Orwell would be more appropriate. To be sure, nothing cracks a cockpit door like Leon Uris. But this is the way of bureaucrats. In lieu of doing the right thing, they must do something. The opportunity to stop Abdulmutallab came when his own father walked into the US Embassy in Nigeria and warned that the young man was a threat. For whatever reason – political correctness, overwork, under-interest – officials did nothing, so the first photos of your Disney vacation will be of you and your family without clothes. There are, however, reasons for hope. Wednesday, November 24, which portends to be the busiest travel date of the year, has been declared “National Opt-Out Day” by grassroots organizers who are encouraging Americans to refuse to submit to full-body scans, thereby requiring TSA agents to perform pat-downs on all fliers. The prospects for this approach are unclear, but at least it’s something. And that is what we need – people from all parts of the country finding ways to make their displeasure known. Moreover, folks must stick with it and keep up the pressure. Please do not get used to this nonsense. Stay outraged, America, and stay free. theo@theocaldwell.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.11.19
What does Victory Look Like?
Sixty-five years ago today, World War II officially came to an end. On September 2, 1945, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu boarded the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and signed the Instrument of Surrender in front of American General Douglas MacArthur. It was a formal and solemn ceremony, coming weeks after atomic bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, concluding six years of warfare, with some 70 nations fighting on three continents. Today, we find ourselves in another global conflict, and it is broadly understood that there will be no such official declaration if and when we win. Who would sign the surrender, and where? Would Osama bin Laden apply his imprimatur to some document at Ground Zero, perhaps in the Great Hall of Faisal Abdul Rauf’s planned “community center”? In 1945, Japan’s leaders, like countless signatories to surrenders of centuries past, were agreeing on behalf of an entire population that hostilities would cease. In today’s war, where terrorist cells attack civilian and military targets all over the world, no leader is empowered to make that peace, even if he cared to. Without a surrender, how will we know when we have won? Victory will take years, if we can manage it, but what will it look like and how do we achieve it? Military might alone cannot win this war. And so, the adage goes, we will conquer by the strength of our ideas. Swell – but what’s that mean? Often, the delineation of “our ideas” takes one of two forms. First, there are people like me, banging on about “freedom,” whatever that might be. Or, we are told, standing up for “our ideas” means making some absurd concession to antagonistic forces, in hopes our good intentions and intellectual bio-diversity will green the souls and stay the hands of our enemies (Mayor Bloomberg, call your office). Political correctness is no match for radical Islam. The latter has shown its commitment, time and again in locations around the world, to winning this conflict. The former, meanwhile, is a tiresome modern reflex, whereby poseurs take a quick assessment of common sense, then put all their energy behind the contrary view. This tic can manifest itself in straightforward fashion – as in, when people aver it is offensive to erect a nativity display at Christmastime – or abstractly – such as, you demonstrate how a cut in capital gains tax rates spurs the economy, then someone calls you a racist. In either case, this is no way to win a war. That brings us back to freedom. But the question remains: Just what would the victory of “freedom” mean to us? Would we breathe a little easier? Would the Kabuki dance of airport security be curtailed? Most important, would the brave members of our armed forces be spared from injury and death on foreign soil? Intelligent and experienced people have struggled to define victory in Iraq, where the US combat mission has just ended, and Afghanistan, where human rights abuses abound and military casualties continue – to say nothing of the almost-nuclear, terror-sponsoring Iran. What does “freedom” look like for Afghans, Iraqis, Iranians, and others? There will be no top-hats and ceremonies when this war ends. And so I put the question to you, gentle readers – what does victory in the war on terror look like? theo@halfgreat.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.09.02
Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan...
A young couple died a cruel death last week. According to BBC News: “A man and a woman who allegedly had an adulterous affair have been stoned and killed in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz.” The pair, both in their 20’s, were hauled into a crowded marketplace and murdered. The woman, named Sadiqa, was brought out first. Taliban thugs threw rocks at her for half an hour, at which time the man, named Qayum, was pulled into the bazaar to suffer the same fate. Apparently, the couple had run away together. Sadiqa had been betrothed to someone else, while Qayum was already married. This dreadful story conjures a number of thoughts. First, there is the sheer horror of the scene. Consider, if you can, what it would be like for you and the person you love most to be in such a circumstance. Your own torturous death is compounded by the inability to protect someone you adore. Next, there is the frequency with which Taliban forces are inflicting brutality in areas of Afghanistan that fall under their control. I wrote recently of Aisha, an 18-year-old girl whose nose and ears were cut off on the order of Taliban authorities for the crime of running away from her husband. There are reports that the Taliban flogged and killed a pregnant widow in the western province of Badghis this month. In early August, ten medical aid workers were lined up and shot, one at a time, by Taliban terrorists in the northern province of Badakhshan. The chief crime for which these noble souls were tried and executed on the spot was, “preaching Christianity.” Writer P.J. O’Rourke, having just returned from Afghanistan, quotes a female MP who says Taliban forces make a simple demand of villagers they subjugate: “Son or money.” The reaction of Afghanistan’s government to the stoning deaths of Sadiqa and Qayum is disconcerting. Waheed Omar, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, is quoted as saying, "Even in Islam this [stoning] has to be done through proper judicial systems.” While Omar suggests the government would condemn the incident, his comments imply that their chief objection would be that the Taliban did not complete Form Z-914B Rock-Hurling Requisition in triplicate before proceeding. This raises the much larger concern of the Karzai government in general. Western forces are forever picking the wrong allies in regions they don’t understand, then clinging to them like grim death. Finally, one wonders about the 150 or so people in that marketplace who watched as Sadiqa and Qayum were slowly killed. Those are 150 of the “hearts and minds” we hear so much about. Reports are that the Taliban did the actual stoning (they finished Qayum off with bullets), while villagers were made to observe and contemplate the fate of those who behave in “un-Islamic” ways. Those villagers have seen the face of evil. And as human beings, they must want something better for themselves and their families. One has to think that in this battle for hearts and minds, forces of freedom and dignity can outdo the stone-throwers, nose-cutters and son-snatchers. For the sake of those people – and for Sadiqa and Qayum and for every person in Afghanistan who does not share our good fortune – let us show them a better way. theo@halfgreat.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.08.31
Ashtiani Has Confessed
Sakineh Ashtiani has confessed. Ashtiani is the Iranian woman who was sentenced to death by stoning for the crime of “adultery,” and whose cause was championed by people around the globe. Owing to public outcry, Iran’s mullahs, in their mercy, commuted her sentence to death by hanging. But this week, Ashtiani appeared on Iranian television, where she confessed to various charges, including being an accessory to the murder of her husband. Ashtiani’s lawyer advises that she was tortured for two days before she appeared on television. This is not the first time Iranian authorities have broadcast a forced confession from someone they seek to condemn. And using history as a guide, fears are mounting that Ashtiani’s execution – by whatever method – could come at any time. The mullahs’ move, it seems, is to paint Ashtiani as a murderer – indeed, it was an investigation of her husband’s death that started Ashtiani’s ordeal back in 2006 – and execute her, just as other countries, including the United States, do to killers in their midst. The absurdity of the regime’s ploy is twofold – first, that they would attempt it; second, that they would expect anyone to believe it. Originally cleared of involvement in her husband’s death, that investigation uncovered Ashtiani’s apparent “adultery,” for which she received 99 lashes in front of her teenage son. A re-opening of the murder case led religious authorities to determine that penalty had been insufficient, and they decreed she should be stoned to death. Now, exposed as the fanatical monsters they are, Iran’s leaders want to tack the murder charge back on, and do away with this inconvenient person. This cannot be allowed to happen. Even Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – a sometime ally of Iran and no snuggly-bear on human rights – has offered to give Ashtiani asylum in his country. Iran has declined. To sweeten the deal, I’ll even take her place. No doubt, Ashtiani is a far finer person than I am, and I have shattered any number of God’s laws in my time. Come and get me, mullahs, and I will confess to any crime you care to name – adultery, regicide, coveting my neighbour’s ass – if you’ll let Ashtiani go free. But this isn’t about crime, or even a country. It is a perverse prescription for the entire planet. In the words of the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini: "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world." Given their druthers, Iran’s rulers would murder Ashtiani, and me, and you who are reading along, in order to realize their vision. This poor woman is one of countless thousands caught up in a twisted experiment. It bears mentioning that the Iranian people, 60 percent of whom are under age 30, are not on board with this madness. During and after their stolen elections of last year, the citizens of Iran did what they could to bring about change. It is to the shame of free nations that we did not do more to help them. But here, in the person of Sakineh Ashtiani, we have another chance. Let us keep her hope alive. theo@halfgreat.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.08.19
Where to from Here?
In last week’s column, I put out a call for proposals to solve the heretofore intractable Israel-Palestinian situation. Readers did not disappoint. I have tremendous respect for those who take the time to read this space – like a true Irishman, I admire the wisdom of those who seek my opinion – but even I was surprised by the strength of the responses. Some of the sagest suggestions began more or less like this: No matter your sentiments on this issue – whether you feel the creation of the State of Israel was fair or not, and whether you believe Israel has merely been defending itself against overwhelming odds or oppressing unfortunate people – both sides have suffered. Most important, the past is prologue and there’s no going back. So, we must stop being concerned with who was right or whom to blame, and focus on what to do next. There are myriad challenges about which we could ask similar questions. The war in Afghanistan was a necessary undertaking when it began, but what is our best move today, nine years on? The invasion of Iraq may not have yielded WMD, but what steps can be taken now to help that recovering country, comprised of three distinct groups, develop into a secular Middle Eastern ally? Western nations may have mishandled Iran for decades, but what should be done as its despotic regime nears nuclear capability? This week, Canada announced, in conjunction with other countries, it would stiffen sanctions against the Iranian government. Was that the right thing to do? (Hint: Yes, it was.) To find the future you want, you must put aside the past. Learn from it, certainly, but don’t allow your judgment to be clouded by injustices. In this way, forgiveness can be highly practical. It is difficult, nonetheless. But on the Israel-Palestinian matter, let us give one another substantial credit and assume we can take a purely objective, forward-looking stance. Now what? Several readers took issue with the premise of my original question – “What should Israel do?” – pointing out that the plight of the Palestinian people is not solely a responsibility of the Jewish State. Their Arab neighbours can also take steps to help. As columnist Khaled Abu Toameh recently observed, “Not only are Palestinians living in Lebanon denied the right to own property, but they also do not qualify for health care, and are banned by law from working in a large number of jobs,” adding, “Ironically, it is much easier for a Palestinian to acquire American and Canadian citizenship than a passport of an Arab country.” So if we want to help the Palestinian people – and as a matter of human decency, all good folks share that goal – perhaps the best approach is to spread the pressure. That is, rather than focus solely on, say, Israeli checkpoints and Jerusalem building projects, we might also find the dialing codes for Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, ring them up and ask, “Could you find a path to citizenship for the Palestinians in your midst?” We might add, “We’d love your help in achieving a peaceful Palestinian state and, in the meantime, would you please drop any restrictions on them working as journalists, pharmacists, physicians, what-have-you, so they can earn a living?” It’s not perfect or complete, but it’s a way forward.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.07.29
One Person Matters
Last week, I wrote about Sakineh Ashtiani, a woman who has been imprisoned, beaten, and sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for the crime of “adultery.” Recently, Iranian authorities announced they probably won’t stone Ms. Ashtiani after all. That’s tepid progress, inasmuch as she may yet be hanged and at least 15 other people await stoning deaths in that nation. Mine is one of many voices calling for Ashtiani’s release, and I am encouraged that her supporters include folks from various countries, cultures and backgrounds, spanning the political spectrum from right to left. I am fascinated, however, by those who insist on staying in the middle. For example, I participated in a BBC radio program about Ashtiani and the brutality of the Iranian regime. Bafflegab was thick on the ground, and at one point the host mused that Iran’s death penalty for homosexuals is a moral judgment akin to the United States banning gay marriage. Equating two obviously unequal situations is not clever or nuanced. It is idiotic and irresponsible. Similarly, asking the insipid modern question, “Who are we to decide?” only serves to evince moral vacuity but, if you must pose the query, let me help you with the answer. You are a human being, born with the capacity to determine right from wrong. Further, if you are reading this column, chances are you have the magnificent good fortune to live in a part of the world that allows freedom of thought and expression. If you grew up in Western society during the last generation or so, you have likely been browbeaten into believing there is no absolute right and wrong and even if there were, you have no business deciding which is which, since your ancestors probably owned slaves or didn’t recycle. There is evil in the world, uncomfortable as that is for people who yearn to reduce any situation to a contest of two extremes, placing themselves in the serene center. Certainly, there are issues where the line between right and wrong seems blurry, but bashing people’s brains out with rocks should not be one of them. If it is, though, on what other topics would you demur to pass judgment? Child slavery? The logical extension of this approach is that folks become open-minded imbeciles, incapable of making a decision. Or, people want to make a case like Ashtiani’s about something else. Let’s suppose, for example, you strongly disagree with the State of Israel and consider their treatment of Palestinians to be criminal. That does not mean everything happening in the world, or even the Middle East, pertains to that issue. Ashtiani’s predicament has nothing to do with Jerusalem settlements, and even if a peaceful two-state solution were achieved in Gaza and the West Bank today, she could still be killed tomorrow. One person matters. It is easier to love mankind than to love your neighbor, as author Eric Hoffer opined, but if you remember that each person is the most important in the world to someone, it becomes less difficult. As you read this, Ms. Ashtiani is sitting in a cell, not knowing if she is about to die. You have the privilege to be as philosophical as you like, but if you care about what’s right, this woman’s fate really ought to be enough. theo@halfgreat.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.07.15
A One-Term Wonder
Watching Barack Obama speak from the Oval Office Tuesday evening, I was reminded of a remark he made back in January: “I’d rather be a really good one-term president than a mediocre two-term president.” At the moment, he is on track to be neither, but I have often wondered just what he meant. Does Obama believe he has been really good thus far? If so, in what area? Certainly not the Gulf Coast oil spill, which occasioned his Tuesday speech (if Obama wants that second term, it’s a good thing pelicans don’t vote). Health care? He forced a trillion-dollar overhaul through Congress, which 63 percent of the American people want to see repealed. The economy? He is adding more to America’s national debt than all 43 previous presidents combined. Foreign policy? He laid down fewer conditions for meeting with the president of Iran than with the CEO of British Petroleum, and both oil-rich entities remain troublesome. After taking office, Obama’s approval rating fell faster than any first-year president in the history of modern polling. When they voted for him in 2008, Americans wanted to believe they were electing a moderate, outcome-oriented, problem-solver. Instead, Obama has turned out to be what those knuckle-dragging, book-burning, typical white people who opposed him warned: a garden-variety leftist. Like it or lump it, America is a centre-right country, and Obama’s prescription of stern lectures and statism is incompatible with the public mood. But those are just facts and opinions. Truth be told, I think Obama does feel he’s been successful. The oil spill is not his fault and, unpopular as the new health care law and enormous debt may be, I expect Obama genuinely believes his policies are in America’s best interests. To give the man his due, he is loyal to his convictions. Fundamentally, though, Obama does not seem to be enjoying his job. Like many liberals, he sees government as central to all human endeavours, which makes the American presidency the grand prize in the game of life. Now that he has the pressures and problems of that portfolio, however, he appears nonplussed. Which leads us back to that one-term business. If I had to guess, I’d say Obama will not run for re-election in 2012. The last two presidents who were eligible to run for re-election and chose not to do so, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson, were also Democrats who had grown unpopular with the American people. Johnson, in particular, faced opposition from within his own party, as Senators Eugene McCarthy and Robert Kennedy mounted primary challenges. How does this history apply to Obama? Does anyone remember Hillary Clinton? There were, and are, about a zillion excellent reasons why she should not be president, but not in Newt Gingrich’s wildest dreams could she have done worse than Obama. She may run for the Democratic nomination again, perhaps under the slogan, “Told ya so.” Who will run for the Republicans? Gingrich? Mitt Romney? Mitch Daniels? We don’t know, and at the moment, it doesn’t much matter. As the adage goes, elections are referenda on the party in power and, although Obama may not be on the ticket, the Democrats will be holding the White House. In 2008, Americans wanted fresh ideas and a new start. In 2012, they may actually get it. theo@halfgreat.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.06.21
Obama and The Beatles
It takes character to withstand the rigours of adulation. Two men who know what it is to receive the worship of the world met in Washington recently, and the outcome was intriguing. Last week, President Barack Obama welcomed Sir Paul McCartney, the most prolific of the Beatles, to the White House and awarded him with the Gershwin Prize, commemorating his magnificent musical career. The presentation was the culmination of a star-studded event, wherein Obama helped McCartney croon his old ballad, “Michelle” to the First Lady. Unless you happen to be a Gulf Coast resident who wishes Obama would call a halt to White House parties until the massive oil leak has been capped, I’m sure it was a touching moment. Maybe McCartney should have included “Fixing a Hole” in his playlist. But Sir Paul couldn’t just “Let it Be.” After thanking Obama and the award’s sponsor, the Library of Congress, McCartney added, “After the last eight years, it’s great to have a president who knows what a library is.” This little dig was, of course, the one-millionth instance of some bien-pensant coming up with a new way to call George W. Bush stupid. As it happens, Bush’s wife was a librarian, so one assumes that as a young caveman, the future president would at least pop by the place to drag her home to cook the day’s hunt. But let’s say it’s true, and Bush is the most remarkable mouth-breather imaginable. So what? He will never hold political office again. Why sully a celebration by trashing a man who’s long gone? Obama has made a habit of blaming Bush for everything from economic collapse to vapour lock, but unlike McCartney, he has practical reasons for doing so. To wit, the longer Obama can blame Bush, the longer he can avoid criticism himself. Even so, in the whole history of humankind, scant few have ever been the objects of such global adoration as have Obama and Sir Paul. What, then, are they so cross about? Obama could be forgiven for being frustrated, as his presidency has not been the success folks expected. As leader of the hopey-changey crusade that swept the world in 2008, he had nowhere to go but down. McCartney referred to “the last eight years,” and it bears mentioning that Obama has been president for seventeen months. In that time, America’s budget deficit has tripled, unemployment has hovered around ten percent, and Obama’s approval ratings have plunged. The Beatles, too, began to crack at the height of their success, including the 1966 comment by McCartney’s song-writing partner, John Lennon, that they were, “more popular than Jesus” (Lennon claimed the remarks were misinterpreted; the Vatican posthumously pardoned him in 2008). Like many young people, I went through a “Beatles phase” (I have yet to experience an “Obama phase,” but anything’s possible), wherein I became a font of trivia about them. But one learns that everybody is fallible, celebrity notwithstanding. These men, Obama and McCartney, have had it all. They have been to the mountaintop, yet they are still capable of bitterness. How is that possible? Perhaps, to paraphrase another sensation, Shakespeare, the fault is not in our stars, but in ourselves. Maybe success and happiness are states of mind, no matter what the world thinks. theo@halfgreat.com Theo Caldwell is the author of Finn the half-Great.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.06.11
The Great Health Care Debate
WASHINGTON, DC – Would you rather get sick in the United States or in Canada? The answer depends, perhaps, on who you are, and how sick you get. If, for example, you are a third-generation Canadian with a family doctor and the connections to jump hospital queues for treatment, the Great White North might be where you’d prefer to feel under the weather. If, however, you lack inroads and require urgent attention, you may want to head south and pay for health care in the Land of the Free. On June 7, four celebrity doctors, including former Vermont Governor and US presidential candidate Howard Dean and former US Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, will argue the issue in Toronto as part of the semi-annual Munk Debates. Just prior to this event, four students from high schools in the area will tackle the same resolution. It says here that the students will present more cogent, circumspect cases than their older counterparts, but both debates will be streamed online so viewers across Canada and around the world can decide. Press bookings have been brisk, especially for the eminently quotable Dean, he of the literal and figurative primal scream. As you might expect, Dean favours a socialized, single-payer system like Canada’s, but he was refreshingly candid in explaining why meaningful tort reform – without which, lawsuits abound in the American system – was absent from the recently passed US health care legislation: “The people who wrote it did not want to take on the trial lawyers.” The fact that Dean is able to concede such a strong point augurs a robust debate. And one can be certain that the new American health regime, dubbed “Obamacare,” will get plenty of airtime on June 7. Munk Debate moderator Rudyard Griffiths has opined that it was "downright impressive" to see Americans “survive” the overhaul of their health care system over the course of a few months. Well, yes, "impressive" in the sense that an exploding star or massive earthquake might impress a person from a safe distance. As to whether the United States will survive, no one seriously suggested the Republic would crumble the moment President Obama took his Paper-Mate to the bill. Rather, it was the enormous and indefinite expense of the measure, combined with the spectre of rationing and the forcing of citizens to purchase health coverage under penalty of law that brought protests in cities across America. Indeed, that may be the most "impressive" part of the process – the way in which ordinary Americans rallied, peacefully, against a costly, freedom-squelching initiative for which they did not vote, and which members of Congress did not read. One of the most eye-catching signs at the health care protests read, “If Obamacare passes, where will Canadians go for their health care?” An interesting point, that. Perhaps a single-payer set-up like Canada’s can exist only in proximity to an open market, as in the US, where folks who have the means and cannot wait for treatment often go – as Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams did recently – thereby reducing strain on the socialized system. Canadians are proud to have universal health coverage – but “coverage” and “care” are rather different things. Whether Canada's health care system is superior to that of the United States is, at best, debatable – and debated, it shall be.
By Theo Caldwell on 2010.05.26
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