Thursday, January 26, 2006

Truth No Longer Matters, - Aaron Brown.

"Truth no longer matters in the context of politics and, sadly, in the context of cable news," said Aaron Brown, whose four-year period as anchor of CNN's NewsNight ended in November, when network executives gave his job to Anderson Cooper in a bid to push the show's ratings closer to front-runner Fox News.

Brown said he tried to give viewers a balanced diet of light and serious news with NewsNight. "But I always knew when I got to the Brussels sprouts, I was on thin ice," he said.

When NewsNight spent four hours covering the arrest of actor Robert Blake for the murder of his wife, Brown received thousands of e-mails criticizing the amount of time the show spent on the story. Nevertheless, that show, which aired in April 2002, received the highest ratings of any program since NewsNight's coverage of the November 2001 crash of American Airlines flight 587.

"Television is the most perfect democracy," Brown said. "You sit there with your remote control and vote." The remotes click to another channel when serious news airs, but when the media covers the scandals surrounding Laci Peterson, the Runaway Bride or Michael Jackson, "there are no clicks then," the journalist said.

With the departure from the screen of the "titans" — Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather — who "resisted the temptations of their bosses to go for the ratings grab, it will be years before an anchorman or anchorwoman will have the clout to fight these battles," he said.

Brown has spent most of his 30-year career in television news. He's covered everything from the Columbine High School murders to the aftermath of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. But viewers may remember best his on-the-spot coverage of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

He's shocked "by how unkind our world has become," he said. E-mail and talk radio appear to have given people the license to say anything, regardless of how cruel or false it may be, he said.

He cited the example of an e-mail faulting what the sender considered to be NewsNight's inadequate coverage of an anti-war protest in Washington, D.C. The note ended with, "I hope the violence visited on the people of Iraq will someday be visited on your children."

Those on the opposite side of the political spectrum are no more tolerant, Brown said. "Any criticism of the administration is regarded as hatred of the president and hatred of the country itself," he said.

Important issues, such as the prosecution of the war in Iraq at home and abroad, are being clouded over by "mud-wrestling" that skirts substance, he said. Consider what he called "the swift-boating of John Murtha," the Democratic congressman whose war record was smeared when he called for an exit strategy in Iraq. "Cable didn't search for the truth, but engaged in mock debates pitting those making the charges against Murtha's defenders," he said.

Many Americans on the left and the right aren't interested in the truth, but simply want news that confirms their viewpoints, he said. "You'd think that it's no more complex than good vs. evil," he said.

Journalists have fallen short in presenting important news in ways that allow viewers to see how it matters in their lives. But viewers must take up the battle as well, he said. "It's not enough to say you want serious news. You have to watch it. It isn't enough to say you want serious debate. You have to engage in it."

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Why We Fight, film, rating PG-13, Interview with Director, Eugene Jarecki

Why We Fight Rating PG-13
A Q&A With 'Why We Fight' Director Eugene Jarecki by Kevin Polowy

Though his riveting new documentary 'Why We Fight' takes an uncompromising look at the Iraq War, filmmaker Eugene Jarecki wanted to distance himself -- and his film -- from the constituency of unabashedly left-leaning works meant to rally the electorate in 2004 ('Fahrenheit 9/11,' anyone?). Debuting at last year's Sundance Film Festival, where it won the documentary competition's Grand Jury Prize, the film has since taken a buzz-generating tour of the 2005 fest circuit. The passing of time has made it no less topical, given America's increasing ambivalence about the Iraq quagmire. Looking at Dwight Eisenhower's prophetic farewell speech in which he warned that continuing to pump up U.S. defense funds without the American people's vigilance would result in the military-industrial complex running rampant, Jarecki ('The Trials of Henry Kissinger') examines the current war by canvassing politicians, pundits, bomb-dropping pilots and everyday people for answers to a fundamental question: Why does America go to war? We enlisted Jarecki for a few questions of our own, as 'Why We Fight' invades theaters.

Moviefone: Have you long been fascinated with war and peace and the fact that our country is so often involved in the former?

Eugene Jarecki: Yeah, I think it's natural for any artist living in a time of war to ask himself why we're doing what we're doing in any given time, and the movie takes its title from films made by Frank Capra during World War II. Capra was asked by the military at that time to make a series of films exploring America's reasons for entering World War II. And I thought it was natural, given that we're living in a new time of war, to ask that same question, understanding that to a very large extent the reasons may have changed. And the reasons that everyday Americans perceive for why we fight wars have shifted. The waters I think have become far muddier.

MF: Do you consider yourself a pacifist?

EJ: Wouldn't everybody consider themselves (pacifists)? Wouldn't everybody prefer peaceful resolutions of problems to violent resolutions of problems?

MF: But if everyone considered themselves pacifists then maybe we wouldn't be engaged in war in Iraq.

EJ: I don't know that that's true. I think that puts blame at the foot of people who probably think they're doing the best they can. Many of the people we talked to up and down the chain of command, they don't think, "I kill people for a living." They think, "I wield force because without that wielding of force worse things will happen." Now whether they're right or wrong may be a subject of debate, and whether they were right or wrong to think that the Iraq War was a worthwhile gamble, or that kind of thinking, is worthy of debate. But that's what their inner thinking is telling them. They're not going through life thinking "I like war." They're actually going through life thinking, "If I drop two bombs on a Monday it might prevent other bombs from blowing up on a Tuesday." And there have been times in history where that was probably a defensible way of thinking. I would say obviously all of those people, in a world where it's possible to be so, would be pacifists. The problem is that the world we're living in is very much through the looking glass. We are past the point of no return on a lot of ways that the world is run, and it is increasingly run by a smaller and smaller handful of figures and elite corporations who are making those decisions about when it's necessary to use force without democrat consensus and without a democratic process. And that's what I think the film is chiefly concerned with.

MF: There's also the belief that we're liberating people when we go to war.

EJ: There's two sides to this liberation thing. I think on the one side many of the people who say we're going over there to liberate those people probably believe it. And some of those people have traveled to those places and understand their inner workings, and some of those people haven't. And really these are all opinions that are welcome in a democratic process. The goal is not to replace one form of autocratic thinking with another; it's not the idea to say "All those people who think we fight for freedom are wrong and should be replaced by people who think we fight for money." No, there's a mix of things going on, and the problem is that Americans need to be more aware of what the mix is so that they themselves can be more engaged in the decision-making process, so that it isn't the case that fewer and fewer people are making these decisions.

MF: In the film it seems you've strived for bipartisan representation. How did you approach that? Was it a very conscious goal of yours?

EJ: I think what's happening in the world is of common concern to all of us, and a film would be inappropriate if it didn't recognize the viewpoints from a range of thinkers across the political spectrum, and people would leave the theater thinking, "That was kind of one-sided job. I feel a little conned." And so my job in making the film was to make sure that everyone in the audience sees their viewpoint not only represented, but represented responsibly and thoroughly. So they don't walk out thinking some part of the argument was left on the table and they wish they'd heard a rebuttal on that thing.

MF: Do you think the film is outwardly critical of the current war?

EJ: I think the film looks very carefully at American war-making since World War II, and does pay special attention to the current war as it's unfolding. It would be hard to look carefully at the current war without being led to be critical. Unfortunately that is the natural outcome of looking too carefully at this war.

MF: Have you received, or do you expect to receive, any criticism from the Right for that kind of approach?
EJ: I haven't received any criticism from the Right at the moment because I think the Right, like everybody else, is scratching its head about what to do about this obviously tragic event that's unfolded. The friends of this administration as well as its adversaries are now in agreement at least on the clear fact that the situation is grave, not as it was advertised, and we're in something far deeper than anybody expected. That's even been acknowledged by people within the administration. So I think what we tried to do is make sure that representatives of the policy that got us into this war, Richard Perle to William Kristol, to others within what you call the Right, are in the film, and that their viewpoints of why they thought this was a good idea are well represented. And they have the right to change their views. The tragedy of course is that while a number of them have started to sort of step back and ask second questions about this, so many have died. And we've found ourselves in such an unpredictable and now unfolding tragedy. So that's an internal debate within the Right among those who advocated the war. But there were people all over the political spectrum in the United States who advocated the war. The copyright on war is not owned by Republicans in America. We have had as many wars run by Democrats as by Republicans. Democrats and Republicans are recipients of benefits from the defense sector rather equally. And it's not my view that one administration or another is to be faulted for a particular inclination toward war-making. But any administration can be taken at a given point in time and used as a kind of picture to look at to think more deeply about just why we're doing what we're doing, what its doing to others, and ultimately, what that's doing to us.

MF: Oftentimes you'll hear that the filmmakers of politically charged documentaries -- 'Fahrenheit 9/11' being a prime example -- are just "preaching to the choir." How do you combat that, and lure a broader audience?

EJ: Well, that's not the nature of the film. The film is quite dominated by Republicans, so there's been some concern that it will be seen as some center-Republican film. We didn't make it that way. We made it to be balanced, with people contributing from across the aisle, from across the political spectrum of the United States. So part of the way I hope the film will reach people is simply by reflecting people across the board and so nobody will feel excluded. Everybody feels that some part of their own experience, or their understanding, is represented on screen. And it may be set against understandings opposite to theirs, but that's healthy. That's part of a healthy dialogue we hope to see in an open society.

MF: Do you think the film answers its own question, "Why do we fight?"

EJ: I don't think the question is simple enough that a single film can answer it. And I think that if it did propose an answer people would leave the theater thinking, "That's a little too neatly tied up in a bow." So I think what it hopefully does is raise questions, propose a range of possible answers, all of which are probably partially true, but leave the viewer to come up with what mix of answers really seems like it reflects their sense of the world they're living in. Because what we're trying to do is inspire people to look at this question deeply on their own terms. Not on my terms, not on anybody in the film's turns. But as a kind of inspiration that this is desperately important to think about for all of us who share this common destiny.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Gov. Spying on Ordinary Americans

Spying on Ordinary Americans
The New York Times | Editorial

Wednesday 18 January 2005

In times of extreme fear, American leaders have sometimes scrapped civil liberties in the name of civil protection. It's only later that the country can see that the choice was a false one and that citizens' rights were sacrificed to carry out extreme measures that were at best useless and at worst counterproductive. There are enough examples of this in American history - the Alien and Sedition Acts and the World War II internment camps both come to mind - that the lesson should be woven into the nation's fabric. But it's hard to think of a more graphic example than President Bush's secret program of spying on Americans.

The White House has offered steadily weaker arguments to defend the decision to eavesdrop on Americans' telephone calls and e-mail without getting warrants. One argument is that the spying produced unique and highly valuable information. Vice President Dick Cheney, who never shrinks from trying to prey on Americans' deepest fears, said that the spying had saved "thousands of lives" and could have thwarted the 9/11 attacks had it existed then.

Given the lack of good, hard examples, that argument sounded dubious from the start. A chilling article in yesterday's Times confirmed our fears.

According to the article, the eavesdropping swept up vast quantities of Americans' private communications without any reasonable belief that they could be related to terrorism. The National Security Agency flooded the Federal Bureau of Investigation with thousands of names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers and other tips that virtually all led to dead ends or to innocent Americans.

About the only result the administration has been able to dredge up on behalf of the spying program is the claim that the information it gained helped disrupt two plots: one to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge and one to detonate fertilizer bombs in London. But officials in Washington and Britain disputed the connection. And that plot to cut down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch has been trotted out so many times that it would be comical if the issue were not so serious.

This was not just a tragic waste of the F.B.I.'s resources in dangerous times. It was an outrageous and pointless intrusion into individuals' privacy. Anyone who read the original reports on the spying operation and thought, "Well, so what, I have nothing to hide," should think about the uncounted innocent Americans who had F.B.I. officers knocking on their doors because of secret and possibly illegal surveillance. The National Security Agency was originally barred from domestic surveillance without court supervision to avoid just this sort of abuse.

The first lawsuits challenging the legality of the domestic spying operation were filed this week, and Congress plans hearings. We hope that lawmakers are more diligent about reining in Mr. Bush now than they have been about his other abuses of power in the name of fighting terrorism.

Oregon's Right to Die Victory does not end debate

Why Oregon's Right-to-Die Victory Doesn't End the Debate
The court decision boosts legislation in other states, but conservatives call for a national ban
Time Online, Jan 18, 2006

The U.S. Supreme Court's affirmation of Oregon's assisted suicide law was a victory for states' rights — but one that displeased many conservatives.

The High Court, by a 6-3 majority, ruled Tuesday that Attorney General John Ashcroft had been wrong in 2001 when he declared that he would prosecute doctors under the 1970 federal Controlled Substances Act if they prescribed lethal doses of medicine to terminally ill patients under Oregon's voter-approved Death with Dignity Act. Medical practice is traditionally regulated by the states, and Ashcroft's effort, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, amounted to "a radical shift of authority from states to the Federal government." The Oregon law, twice passed by statewide referenda, allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medicine under strict rules: patients must be mentally competent, able to self-administer the drugs, and certified by two physicians as having less than six months to live.

The decision may have an impact on pending legislation in California, Vermont and other states where patients'-rights groups have called for compassionate choices laws. A California bill, passed by an Assembly committee last year, comes up for a Senate committee vote in March. "Now the doors are open for other states to go forth," Peg Sandeen, executive director of the Portland-based Death with Dignity National Center told TIME. But Wesley J. Smith, a Discovery Institute fellow was skeptical: "People are not exactly marching in the streets demanding the right to receive lethal prescriptions," he said.

The Family Research Council and other social conservative groups called on Congress Tuesday to enact a national ban against assisted suicide. But politicians may be reluctant to wade into the debate: Congressional efforts to intervene in the Terry Schiavo case were unpopular last spring. Moreover, a Harris poll last month found a 61% to 34% majority of Americans favoring a law similar to Oregon's in their state. In California, a Field poll last April found 70% of residents agreeing that "incurably ill patients have the right to ask for and get life-ending medication." Still, Tuesday's Supreme Court ruling is unlikely to end the debate.

Copyright © 2006 Time Inc.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Feminist Humbug

Guest Editorial: Feminist Humbug
or “Fighting Off the Feminist Assault”
by Jonah Goldberg, on NRO
Kate O’Beirne to the rescue.

Let me just say up front this column contains a riot of conflicts of interest. My friend and colleague Kate O'Beirne has written a new book. It's called, with no undue subtlety, Women Who Make the World Worse: and How Their Radical Feminist Assault Is Ruining Our Schools, Families, Military, and Sports. I think it's a great book, and I truly would not say so if I thought otherwise. Also, Kate praises my lovely wife as a woman who makes the world better, an opinion I could hardly quibble with save to say it's a grotesque understatement as far as I'm concerned.
And since we're in full-disclosure mode, let me upend the bucket completely.

I went to an all-women's college. Mine was the first "integrated" class at Goucher College, a fine, historically single-sex liberal arts college in Baltimore. As you might imagine, many of the young women there, some egged on by very ideological feminist professors, had opposed the decision to admit men. The fact that my freshman year was also the year Robert Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court and Glenn Close boiled a bunny in Fatal Attraction might give you a sense of the larger cultural climate as well.

While my undergraduate experience was not exactly the late-night Cinemax adventure some imagine when they hear that there was a roughly 30-to-1 female-to-male student ratio, I did find the experience rewarding on several fronts. One of them was that I learned quite a bit about feminism and feminists (I was certainly exposed to more feminist theory than I was to, say, the U.S. Constitution or the American Founding).

I discovered that there were many different kinds of feminism. For some, feminism is a heartfelt dedication to women's equality, variously defined. For others, it is a shabby form of identity politics that serves as a crutch to compensate for low self-esteem and lazy thinking. And some brands of feminism aren't really about women at all. They're about using the "feminist perspective" to smash the "socially constructed reality" or the "patriarchy" or "bourgeois capitalism" in order to sneak into the mainstream debate various Marxist and postmodern nostrums that would never survive without the aid of victim-politics guilt trips. After all, the attack on "dead white males" wasn't an explicitly feminist enterprise so much as a broader left-wing assault on a whole bunch of things.

But, most often, feminism is a mixture of all of these things. Moreover, many of the dedicated feminists I knew and befriended (and, yes, dated) sincerely believed in the cause. I have no doubt that there are literally no feminists anywhere who believe they are making the world worse. But that doesn't mean the title of Kate's book is inaccurate.

The great sin of feminism, like all identity politics, is its narcissism. Feminists honestly believe they are speaking for all women; I think this way, I am a woman, I must represent all women. This is, of course, nonsense. For example, you wouldn't know from the conventional public debate over abortion that roughly half of American women are generally opposed to abortion. A large majority of women oppose the NARAL party line of abortion on demand. John Kerry won the overall women's vote by 3 points but lost the white women's vote by 11 points. (This is particularly ironic since self-identified feminists are overwhelming white.)

When presented with this sort of evidence, feminists trot out various arguments trying to demonstrate that conservative, or otherwise un-feminist, women don't understand their own interests. This is a vestigial Marxist argument known as "false consciousness." If women only understood the truth, the way feminists do, they would agree with feminists. If you doubt the persistence of nostalgic Marxist thinking in feminist rhetoric, check out the reader reviews of Kate's book at You'll learn that Kate is a self-hating woman and a fascist doing the work of her knuckle-dragging male paymasters. Anyone who's met Kate (or actually read her book) knows this is nonsense on stilts. A successful and independent-minded career woman and proud mom, she's equal parts Joan of Arc and mentoring den mother.

In the broad mainstream of American life, feminism has become an anachronism with as much relevance as, say, Fabian socialism. But, institutionally, feminists punch well above their weight. Like their brothers and sisters in the New Left, they succeeded in their long march through American institutions, transforming them in profound ways. Many of the changes wrought by the first generation of feminists were important and valuable. But those battles were won a long time ago, and yet the would-be revolutionaries won't lay down their weapons or change their very stale talking points, casting age-old progressive schemes, and newfangled feminist ones as essential tools in the battle against "discrimination." And women who don't get on board aren't "authentic" women, just as black conservatives aren't really black.

The tragic illiberalism of this perspective should be obvious. And it will be to anyone who reads this book.

— (c) 2006 Tribune Media Services

Paschal's comment: Where I find the most reactive and aggressive and anti-male feminists is in Academia, as well as among some gay males.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Mr. Bush (and his advisors, all) are simply wrong, and more, perhaps mad.

Letter in preparation for Herald - Leader Editorial page, January 11, 2006

“We can’t cut and run. . .” Bush and all his advisors agree?

Why? Because our prestige and honor as a country is at stake?

Because to do so would admit that the invasion was a mistake from the start?

Because we will contribute (even more) to the instability of the Middle East?

Because we would leave Iraq in chaos?

Exactly the same arguments were made regarding Vietnam, after we had lost some 25,000 men and women.

The arguments were not true then, and
none of these arguments are true now.
They are not only untrue, but mad in their arrogance, closedmindedness, and insanity for the future welfare and safety of our county.

What we really cannot give up is this adventure in American Imperialism, military bases and access to the oil reserves there, and the arrogance that first conceived the undertaking.

This fact is undeniable: to stay the course, to stay in Iraq means to create additional chaos, as suicide bombers multiply and will eventually persuade us.
Military power cannot prevail over an insurgency.
We should have learned that in Vietnam.
Israel and Sharon are finally learning it.

As long as we are in Irag, chaos and terror will remain.

Mr. Bush was simply wrong from the beginning
and he is wrong now. Furthermore so also are all
the advisors including those he assembled
recently to whom he gave one minute of voice.

Economists predict Iraq will cost one to
trillion dollars. Not to speak of the future lives, limbs
and blood of our proud military.

Does anyone remember that it took our leaders
years to face up to Vietnam, and the lives of
another 25,000 American men and women?

Mr. Bush said when running for President that he would never balance the budget on the backs of the poor. He lied. He has already done so, and will continue to do so.

It is the un-insured, the students, the handicapped, the needy as the recent budget cuts already demonstrated who will pay through the nose for this war.
Not Mr. Bush and his rich cronies.
He really doesn’t care about you and me and other like us.

How long will it take America to wake up to this fact?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

State of War, by Risen: Blockbuster book reveals how the CIA ignored numerous reports that Iraq had no WMDs.

New Book Reveals Secret War Operations

Mon Jan 2, 5:19 PM ET

A new book on the government's secret anti-terrorism operations describes how the CIA recruited an Iraqi-American anesthesiologist in 2002 to obtain information from her brother, who was a figure in Saddam Hussein's nuclear program.

Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad of Cleveland made the dangerous trip to Iraq on the CIA's behalf. The book said her brother was stunned by her questions about the nuclear program because — he said — it had been dead for a decade.

New York Times reporter James Risen uses the anecdote to illustrate how the CIA ignored information that Iraq no longer had weapons of mass destruction. His book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration" describes secret operations of the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The major revelation in the book has already been the subject of extensive reporting by Risen's newspaper: the National Security Agency's eavesdropping of Americans' conversations without obtaining warrants from a special court.

The book said Dr. Alhaddad flew home in mid-September 2002 and had a series of meetings with CIA analysts. She relayed her brother's information that there was no nuclear program.

A CIA operative later told Dr. Alhaddad's husband that the agency believed her brother was lying. In all, the book says, some 30 family members of Iraqis made trips to their native country to contact Iraqi weapons scientists, and all of them reported that the programs had been abandoned.

In October 2002, a month after the doctor's trip to Baghdad, the U.S intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate that concluded Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

In the book, which quotes extensively from anonymous sources, Risen said the NSA spying program was launched in 2002 after the CIA began to capture high-ranking al-Qaida operatives overseas, and took their computers, cell phones and personal phone directories.

The CIA turned the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses from the material over to the NSA, which then began monitoring the phone numbers — in addition to anyone in contact with the telephone subscribers, the book said, saying this led to an expansion of the monitoring, both overseas and in the United States.

The book said the NSA does not need approval from the White House, the Justice Department or anyone else in the Bush administration before it begins eavesdropping on a specific phone line in the United States.

In another chapter on a "rogue operation," the book said a CIA officer mistakenly sent one of its Iranian agents information that could be used to identify virtually every spy the agency had in Iran. The book said the Iranian was a double agent who turned over the data to Iranian security officials.

The book said the information severely damaged the CIA's Iranian network, and quoted CIA sources as saying several of the U.S. agents were arrested and jailed.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Fed Minimum Wage still stuck (9th year straight)

Opinion, Molly Irvins.

AUSTIN, Texas -- 2006 makes the ninth year in a row the federal minimum wage has been stuck at $5.15 an hour. It's bad economics, it's bad policy, it's stupid, it's unfair, and it's high damn time to do something about it. It is also, as Sen. Edward Kennedy says, a moral issue.

The Democrats have a new strategy that may finally get the Republicans off the pot. They're working to get a minimum wage increase on state ballots, including Ohio, Michigan, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Arkansas and Montana. The theory is that putting a minimum-wage increase on the ballot does for Democrats what putting on an anti-gay marriage proposition does for Republicans -- it gets out the base.

Of the seven states with the best chance to have minimum wage ballot initiatives, five were decided by less that 10 percentage points in the most recent presidential election. In theory, this should scare the happy pappy out of the Republicans, who will then vote to increase the minimum wage the first chance they get in Congress, thus assuring an increase either way. Clever, eh?

The last minimum wage increase dates to September 1997, and inflation has since eroded the wage's buying power to its second-lowest level since 1955, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Republican opposition to an increase is based entirely on ideological grounds. Many Republicans keep saying increasing the minimum wage will hurt small business, for which there is no evidence, and cause people making the minimum wage to be laid off. But again, there is no evidence. Time after time, round after round, these same arguments, which are demonstrably false, keep getting repeated. It is really quite painful, since the economic effects of a minimum wage increase have been documented so often.

If the minimum wage had kept pace with inflation since 1968, when it was $1.60 an hour, it would be $7.60 an hour today, according to the AFL-CIO. A year-round, full-time worker would have to make $7.74 an hour just to be at the poverty level for a family of three -- $2.59 above the current minimum wage. The gap between middle-class workers and those making the minimum wage is the largest on record.

Of course, we all enjoy reading about the record Christmas bonuses various CEOs, top executives and board members have voted themselves lately. The business pages are just a jolly recap -- no one ever gets coals and switches when they set their own salary. Here's to starting 2006 off with this simple bit of fairness.

Well, nothing like getting to the end of the year to give us occasion to pause in wonder that we have once again survived even in the face of fresh heights of human stupidity. From the day Sen. Bill Frist, M.D., successfully diagnosed Terri Schiavo by watching her on videotape ("She certainly seems to respond to visual stimuli," he said. Her autopsy later revealed she was blind) to the happy day Veeper Cheney told us the Iraqi insurgency was in its last throes, it's been just one delightful episode after another. Truly, I do not understand how people can become discouraged about our national life, when players like Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay and Ralph Reed face just deserts.

For a new standard in graciousness, who can forget Barbara Bush speaking of refugees from Hurricane Katrina stashed in the Astrodome: "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality. And so many people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this working very well for them."

Sure, Katrina was awful, but it brought Michael heckuva-job-Brownie Brown to our attention, so we got to read his inspiring e-mails -- such as, "I am a fashion god."

For those who have been wondering where all the heroes are, let me recommend Russ Feingold, John Murtha and Cindy Sheehan. Isn't it amazing how often all you have to do to be a hero to is to stand up and tell the truth?