Friday, June 30, 2006

Thanks Drek

This is just a heart-felt shout-out to Drek at Total Drek for introducing my little blog to his massive and discriminating audience. Drek is my blogging inspiration, and if he thinks I'm worth a look, then I conclude I must be doing something right. I'll try to keep it up.

If anyone is reading that isn't a fan of Drek, I urge you.... nay, I command you to get yourself to Total Drek and once and for all learn how to unmuddy your thinking and arrive at the hosed-off facts. Well, to be fair, only half the posts do help you do this... some just talk about hooters.

And if my site name seems inexplicable, let me show you the inspiration. He's a local bird here and a rarity in the U.S. I'm not sure why his face is red, but it might have something to do with the Bush administration.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Free speech and media consolidation

Speaking of speech---

I've long been dismayed by the increasing consolidation of media. And now it's apparently about to get worse.

Currently nearly all our news and entertainment is provided by a tiny group of megalopolies:

I bring this up today because I just received a call to the barracades by I reproduce their important statement of the issue below:

The Federal Communications Commission is once again taking up the issue of media ownership and deciding how media ownership rules should be changed. As FCC Commissioner Michael Copps has warned: "They screwed it up once. Believe me, they're 100 percent capable of screwing it up again."
That's why it's crucial for the public to weigh in now. Here's what's at stake:
Big Media stifle viewpoints: If a corporation like News Corp. can buy multiple media outlets in a single city or town, it gains immense influence over what information is available. Consolidated corporations strip local newsrooms of staff, while pushing aside competing points of view. That means less diversity of voices and a narrower range of debate.
Big Media don't serve local communities: In exchange for their free and exclusive use of the public airwaves, broadcasters such as Sinclair are supposed to serve the public interest. Yet they frequently ignore important local issues, pander to sensationalism, provide biased coverage of elections, and stifle diverse viewpoints.
Big Media ignore diversity: Corporate media conglomerates like Tribune Company are more concerned with profits than responsible programming. Coverage of issues important to people of color, the working class and rural citizens are squelched or ignored because these people aren't advertisers' target audiences.
Without ownership limits, giant national corporations can buy up local stations and newspapers, eliminate diverse, local and independent programming. If the FCC is serious about fostering localism and diversity, it must enact protections against consolidated corporate ownership.
For decades, the biggest media companies have had the ear of the FCC and Congress, while the public has been ignored. As the FCC rewrites is ownership rules and Congress debates legislation that will shape the entire media system for years to come, it's time our policymakers listened to the public, not just the corporate lobbyists.

I would add another problem to this trend, recalling the freedom of speech issues in my last post: Big Media is destructive to democracy itself.

Big media has become a two-headed monster (democrat vs. republican?), but is really only a single subculture. Though the two heads are opposed on many issues (appearing to exhibit diversity) they agree on more things than not. Both are centered in New York and Washington and run by a relatively small group of people who know each other. Both are run by huge corporations with corporate and conservative interests. This is why they present all arguments as between the democrats and the republicans, why third parties are always dead before they start, and why populist movements are a thing of the past.

As do all subcultures, they quickly come to a consensus view of events and of the world. It’s astounding how quickly all the channels agree on “the story” --how they choose what to cover and how to present it-- each by following the others.

Certain things become true; some things are presented as important, or as good, or as scary…and others not. Remember Howard Dean’s “scream”. I was watching the news that day – people didn’t know what to make of it at first: no one had in memory seen a politician that energetic and forceful. But a few folks who were already anti-Dean said it was embarrassing, and those on the fence were swayed to that view, and within the day, the story was “Dean’s craziness”. No one took polls of the community – no one asked how it played at the event itself, or what the people in Ohio or Colorado thought of it. By the end of the day though, Dean’s presidential hopes were over, and the rest of the country – who might have had a different view in another context – had taken their cue from the media, and were laughing at him.

It is clear that when a single subculture has that kind of power over politics, democracy is at risk. Further, it becomes a target for cynical manipulation. Enter Fox News, influencing all media with their hard right-wing spin. (Remember how they all followed Fox in calling the 2004 election for Bush?)

The minority views – the voices of dissent, the new ideas, the regional perspectives, the third parties, the unknown stories -- are increasingly marginal, creating a public that is less and less aware of the complexities of the world and further disillusioned, impotent, and apathetic about politics. This is indeed a recipe for democratic disaster.

So, I urge everyone to make their voices heard on this issue. At the least, go to this website and send their letter to the FCC:

Monday, June 26, 2006

Free speech and expensive speech

Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, and Sclalia. Get used to this bunch. The'll be making all the decisions from now on. Per their habit, the Supreme court conservatives interpreted the Constitution differently than the liberals yesterday. And, as usual, it’s in a way that seems to dampen democracy. Yesterday's decision was that a Vermont law that limited campaign spending unconstitutionally restricted freedom of speech. This supports and expands the fundamental finding of an earlier case (Buckley v. Valeo), which stands for the principle that the government cannot limit by law how much someone may spend in a campaign. The logic is that spending money is necessary to speak, so limiting the amount of money spent will limit speech. There is more to this idea than is immediately apparent, but ultimately it fails.

Of all the types of speech protected by the first amendment, the most important is - and ought to be - political speech. Political speech is the essential ingredient of democracy: the exchange of political ideas and information upon which the electorate can judge candidates and policies. Political speech has long been considered a specially protected class of speech, and this makes the Vermont law is potentially problematic.

But the Vermont law does not truly impede free speech. There are three important points to make about this.

First, the spending caps are not content based. Inhibiting certain ideas (like the image of a burning flag, e.g., or the policy of drug legalization) is clearly a ruinous path that the Constitution does not (yet) allow. This law does not do this. Even if a candidate reaches his or her spending limit, he or she can still talk about anything he or she wants. The government of Vermont cannot prefer one candidate to another or apply the law selectively based upon what is being said.

Second, the proposed law does not actually limit what the candidates can say or where or how long they say it. It is a cap on spending, not on speech itself. Given the platform, the candidate can continue to be quoted in the press and continue to shout from the rooftops.

Of course, freedom of speech implies more than the absence of a hand over one's mouth. Clearly, freedom of speech would be useless if the government could control the ability of others to hear it. Certainly, we do not want to allow governments to have access to a mute button. Is capping someone's spending akin to using a mute button? No, it’s volume control.

Certainly, the more money you spend, the more people will "hear" you. But the volume of speech isn't the same as speech itself. Imagine a city park in which two candidates are bellowing into bullhorns. Who will be heard? The one with the biggest bullhorn. And thus, candidates become locked into an arms race for the best means of amplifying their speech, until they are drowning out all others. Certainly, for their own peace of mind, the community has a right to tell them to keep the noise below a certain level, even if that means fewer people will "hear" them. By doing so, too, the community allows other voices to be heard, voices that don't have such powerful megaphones. As I see it, that's what the Vermont law does - decrease the size of bullhorns. Having freedom of speech has never implied freedom to drown others out. This is why airwaves with finite bandwidths are parsed and allocated by the government. If done in a fair way, limiting speech volume actually allows more speech.

But there is a third, more fundamentally disturbing issue here for democracy. In this sense, the Vermont law is actually a boon to free speech. The Supreme Court here ignores the problematic effects of income inequality. If we truly regard money as speech, we are acknowledging a system where some people have more ("free") speech than others. Is this democracy? In the market of goods and services, capitalism assumes that the more you want or need something, the more you’ll pay for it. The more something is desired, the higher its price. Thus the cost of something is a measure of its value to the buyer, ostensibly allowing goods and services to be allocated where most wanted. As we know, this isn’t actually the result; the cost of something to you is always relative to your wealth.

So, is this how we should allocate speech? The more you want to speak, the more you’ll spend; thus, in a world of finite ears for each message, those who spend the most should obtain access to the most ears. Is it contrary to the First Amendment to spread speech around to those without money? Are poor people simply less interested in exercising their rights to free speech?

I say no. Just as poll taxes prevent the democratic process, so does tying speech to wealth. For the very reason that political speech is a special class of speech protected from government meddling, it should also be protected from the vagaries of the market and the monopolization of the rich. Free speech must not give way to fee speech.

Of course, that's not the way the Supreme Court's new majority sees it.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Gay marriage, politics, and meaning

Here we are again near an election, and thus here we are talking about the issue of gay marriage. Republican rabble rousers in congress view this as their ace in the hole. People tend to get pretty emotionally involved in the issue, and this draws more prudes out to the polls. And, of course, prudes vote republican.

But "prudery" is too simplistic an explanation for the majorities in states across the country that voted in 2004 to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. Gay marriage is a new idea for many people, one that challenges - perhaps even ‘attacks’ - some fundamental beliefs and values they hold. It is, thus, not surprising that they sometimes react emotionally with discomfort, disgust, fear, and even outrage. And they are entitled, I suppose. Emotional reactions, however, rarely make good policy, particularly in this cynical age.

Republican legislators (following the lead of George Bush and his Washington buddies) have recklessly fanned these phantom flames into political hoopla; in their attempts to pretend they have something in common with their constituents, they have declared their intention to “protect marriage.” To do so, they have gone to the extraordinary lengths of campaigning for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as man-woman, and specifically disallowing any legal similarities with non-married partnerships. Why a law? Because it is the only tool in their irrelevant toolbox. But even those who feel strongly that same-sex couples not marry should not support a law to ban it.

Amid all the posturing, grandstanding and exploiting of emotions, I have yet to hear anyone in power say anything practical about this issue. I ask this simple question of those of you who currently support these legislators: What, in concrete terms, would you ask the government to do in the name of the “protection” of marriage? As I see it, ‘marriage’ is three things, only one of which is any of the legislature’s business.

First, it’s a state of mind. By getting married, we proclaim our commitment to ourselves, our partner, and all our friends and family. It implies devotion, responsibility, and enduring love. Gay couples have been doing this for a long time, and their friends and family have long acknowledged their marriage. If you abhor the "idea" of gay marriage, you are, of course, individually free not to recognize someone's marriage, but the government simply has no jurisdiction over what a couple feels or believes. There are no legal means to outlaw this state of mind: no constitutional amendment or law can ever stop anyone from feeling or believing they are married and acting in accordance. Thus, if this is the point of friction, no legal or political solution is posible.

Second, it’s a religious institution. All churches typically sanctify some kinds of marriages, and abhor others. But, happily, in our country, the government does not prefer any one religion’s ideas to another’s. We all have the freedom to perform whatever religious rituals or ceremonies we want to, and that is a matter between our church, our God, and ourselves. There are today churches that will and that do sanctify marriages between homosexuals: they conduct ceremonies, bless intentions, and pronounce the participants married. The politicialns (and the rest of us) will not – should not - can not - prevent it. It’s Amendment #1 – the freedom of religion. So, obviously, this isn’t what gay marriage prohibitionists are talking about, either.

Third, and most germane to this discussion, marriage is a contract with the state. We get a marriage license from Arizona, and that entitles us to a legal status and a number of perks. Apparently, this is what the brouhaha is all about. When any “protection of marriage” legislation does pass, the result is not fewer gay couples, fewer loving commitments, or less gay sex; the result is only the withholding of certain concrete legal conveniences to gay couples.

So…I ask again: exactly which state-given benefit must be saved at all costs from the non-heterosexual? The right to visit a partner in the hospital? To file a joint tax return? To inherit without a will? To make medical decisions for each other? To jointly adopt? Which of these rights/privileges is at issue…which is the right you feel so deeply belongs, by nature, exclusively to heterosexuals? My guess is that none of these are really the issue in good people’s minds.

My own conclusion is that this ‘debate’ is really a social-linguistic debate, not a legal or political one - it isn’t about the legal reality of marriage at all. It’s a proprietary argument about the very word “marriage.” Conservatives are in essence saying, “It’s my word – it applies to my relationship - and you can’t use it!” But - it must be clear by now -such concerns can never be really addressed by governmental action. Congress simply has no power to legislate the meanings of living words. Partisans should be calling their local dictionary, not their local representatives. Why not a constitutional amendment to restrict the use of "uncle" to referring only to the brother of one's parent (or the husband of one's aunt), rather than just a family friend? Or a law that distinguishes between shoes and sandals? These are issues that are up to Webster and to each of us in our own lives and our own communities.

So, here we are. A proposal has been made to address a social concern with entirely inappropriate – and potentially extremely harmful – remedy. There’s lots of rhetoric and bombast, and plenty of hot air and smoke. People argue about what marriage "is", and try not to let their fear and disgust of homosexuality show through on tv. And nobody– not our pundits, not our state legislators, and not our president – is saying anything relevant to the actual proposed legislation. I wonder why that is. I guess you score more political points through simplistic, hot-button proclamations and mean-spirited, exclusionary lawmaking than by actually doing something.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

American Empire

I have an audacious question, and I hope someone will answer it and ease my mind. What is the essential difference between our unprovoked invasion of Iraq and Hitler’s invasion of Poland, or Russia’s of Afghanistan, or Saddam’s of Kuwait? For most Americans, it is that we invaded with good intensions: we wanted to help the Iraqi people, not dominate them. We wanted to remove a threat in Saddam and thereby let the Iraqis have their country back. We would liberate them, then we would go on our way. But what if this basic story is all a lie, like so many other things our government has told us? I still don’t want to believe that - it would mean that we are not, in fact, as I always proudly thought, a moral nation.

Randy Rhoads was talking about U.S. plans in Iraq today on Air America, and her conclusions are devastating. She noted that U.S. presidents don't pay unannounced visits on truly sovereign foreign countries, and that this indicates that Iraq is not truly sovereign, nor, according to Randy, will it ever be. As evidence of this, Randy points to the enormous (bigger than the Vatican, she says), multibillion dollar embassy we're building in Baghdad, and the 12 "enduring" military bases we have built throughout the country.

Sadly, I think she's inescapably right. My best read of the facts is that the neocon-led administration planned long ago to attack, conquer, occupy and control Iraq as the first stage in their plan to politically and militarily dominate the middle east and create American hegemony. And, of course, they followed through with this plan (having conveniently been handed 9/11 as a spark), leaving sorrow, devastation, loss, and chaos in their wake for us and for Iraq. They do not mean to ever give up control over the country or, by extension, the region. None of the imperatives, the fears, or the reasons that have been made public to justify the action and offset the tremendous human and monetary costs were genuine, in the final analysis.

In fact, I think I was naïve to think that we ever were planning to leave. When, since the Mexican War, have we left a country we entered without being driven out forcibly? We’re still in Cuba, still in Japan and Germany, still in most of Europe, still in much of the Pacific, still in Korea. I’m not saying that our influence in these places is evil overall, but it is influence nonetheless - the implied threat of force if someone gets out of line. It is a silent occupation that is felt in many hidden ways (say, perhaps in pressure to allow “rendition” or hidden CIA sites when a country’s people oppose it).

You can bet this conclusion is what drives the insurgency in Iraq. In the initial months of the war, I couldn’t understand why an Iraqi insurgency developed at all when we were there to help them. It was their fighting paradoxically that was keeping us there. Were they crazy, or evil? Did they just “hate freedom”. A more reasonable interpretation is that they suspected what Bush’s plan was all along, and they didn’t want to have U.S. military might installing a puppet government and using their country to intimidate Iraqis and others. What if they were right to do so?

I'm livid and dejected when I think that Bush and his administration have turned the U.S. into an expansionist military empire in my name. I don't want to believe this is true, but I am at a loss to make the facts make sense otherwise. I am horrifyingly no longer sure that what our brave troops are fighting for is justifiable or noble, however noble the troops themselves are. The rest of the world is not so torn, though. Today millions of world citizens who had once thought of us as a power for good in the world now think this is not so. World opinion perceives that the U.S. is now the greatest current threat to world peace.

If we are really the nation we purport to be - that we hope to be - , we can’t ignore this. We must conclude our government has manipulated and taken advantage of our fear and our trust. It is our responsibility as moral, patriotic, idealistic Americans to make sure that those who have perverted our country’s image, and soul are stopped, exposed, and brought to account. Otherwise, I fear that this war will go down in history as the beginning of an era of American empire hostile to the principles it once stood for.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Bush and advice

Bush’s new leaf

How many of you were caught off guard by President Bush’s plan to gather his advisers to “review” the Iraq mess this week? If Bush and his team have shown anything during their term in office, it’s that they don’t listen to anybody but themselves (and ‘God’). On decision after decision, they have acted without listening to generals, scientists, advisers, history, democrats, the citizens, the world, and the facts. The Iraq invasion, our disaster policy, the social security and Medicare debacles, their appointments at nearly every government position, and numerous other policy decisions are directly attributable to a small group of Neocon advisers, oil & military corporations, and the religious right political machine. Their government is a cabal.

So what is going on? Have they realized the error of their ways? Is God not speaking to Bush anymore, and he has determined to rely on his own savvy? Has reason prevailed? Of course not. Don’t be naïve. I hoped that such a thing would happen, too -- but that’s how the con artists get you - by helping you believe what you want to believe anyway (“If you help me sequester $1,000,000, I’ll send you half. All you have to do is give me your bank account number.”). Snap out of it.

Today, even more shocking news: Bush, instead of attending the meeting at Camp David takes a surprise dramatic trip to Baghdad! An on-the-ground “look ‘em in the eye” fact-finding mission. Right. Now he needs facts? The facts he can find only by personally taking an expensive, dangerous trip right into the heart of the storm.

There was an old Saturday Night Live sketch with Phil Hartman (a comedy god) as Reagan that comes to mind. Hartman shows Reagan as the doddering grandpa with the disarming quip that we all knew… but as soon as the press leaves, he springs into action - his real personality, we find, is aggressive and commanding. He explains his new “Iran-contra” plan to his aides like a general to misbehaving troops. But he’s interrupted by his press secretary - there’s a photo op with a girl scout now - Hartman curses and says “this is the part of the job I hate”, but dons his idiot persona again to do the picture, and makes a cute remark. Then he yells “back to work” and he screams his orders around some more. The skit was hysterical - because it was utterly unbelievable that he could have had that kind of command. On the other hand, there was a nugget of truth - he couldn’t possibly be as clueless as he played.

Bush is the same way, I think. But here, rather than have Bush show command and aggression, the skit would show him being supremely rational, inquisitive, subtle, and insightful - a modern day Sherlock Holmes. Imagine Bush with his magnifying glass. He’s having conversations with political leaders and judging the manner of their speech and the subtle way they bend forward or blink. Ah! He thinks. “Now I begin to understand this man! By the color of the dust on his robes, I can tell that he’s from the northern Tigris valley, a date producing region. As is well-known, the recent date crops have been decimated by a date fruit fly, which the growers have not been able to prevent because of their hibernation behavior. The pitch of this man’s voice and the age of his shoes tells me he’s under economic strain - probably from his family farm. Tell Condi to have her people slip an insecticide allotment to the power broker deal. I’ll signal this to him by remarking on the development of beta-lamadine X, the new fruit fly treatment they’re working on at M.I.T. Now, sir - it’s your move!”

What do you think? That must be what he’s doing there, right? Using his expertise to understand the political problems better and drag us out of this quicksand pit. Right?
Am I being too cynical to suggest that in fact, both these political events are just a show - a stunt? That, in fact, per usual, the administration already knows what they’re going to do, but that they find it useful to make people perceive they’re going through the motions of rationality and empiricism. Thus when they announce their move, however strange and pernicious it appears, it will be seen to have been arrived at after long and careful thought.

If I’m right (and I am), then some new development is near (perhaps they’re getting ready to stand down some portion of troops - perhaps to send more). And that move is just as ideologically based, just as wrong, and just as poorly planned as all their other moves.

If you weren’t careful, though, you might get the impression these event were a bold policy action. The talking heads on the news is portraying these events as genuine, rather than as staged. “Bush flew to Baghdad today to learn all he can and take advantage of the window that Zarqawi’s death has opened.” Why take this on faith? Is there any indication that the administration has changed its way of doing business? Is there any reason to believe that the president is really, finally, listening - and that his eventual policies will be drawn from the wisdom of the sources he has consulted? I just can’t see it.

No, what we have is a press that has devolved into a propaganda machine. They are so desperate for news - any news - to fill their 24-hour cable schedule, that they are glad to accept any compelling story, true or not, as long as they can say they didn’t know it was false at the time. So, the government feeds them - giving them something to talk about for a day. Just don’t look too deep. How can you fill a segment on “The Situation Room” with “a government spokesperson is fictionalizing again about the administration”. No - better just to play along. The government is really just another columnist today. Or more aptly, a reality show - and Karl Rove is a writer. It’s just entertainment. Bread and circuses, baby.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Baseball boring?

With the World Cup getting underway, a friend of mine posted this question on our fantasy baseball site:

For Discussion: Baseball More Boring than Soccerby: Gulf Plains Drifter
Jun 10 7:07am

In 1994 I went to some World Cup games in Dallas with a friend of mine from Senegal. We didn't have anything to do Saturday night so we went to a Texas Ranger game. My buddy fell asleep in the third inning and woke up only long enough to stand up and yell at the crowd behind us: "how can you watch such a boring game!" In 1997 I was roomates with a German student at UofA (I'll see him next week at the WC in Germany). He is a huge basketball fan and also a big soccer fan. We watched games all the time. I got him to sit down and watch a baseball game once. He got antsy with how slow the play was, couldn't believe that a game lasted 3 hours, and at one point when a player stepped out of the batter's box and the announcer said "the batter calls time" my roomie jumped out of his chair and shouted: "Time out! Time out from what!" Discuss.

My belief is that boring-ness isn't a quality of any thing, in itself. We call something boring when we don't see the significance of events and we thus aren't invested in the outcome, simple as that. The game of baseball is a series of "situations", that allow an informed, invested person to anticipate, worry and hope. If you're not a fan of baseball, you don't percieve the nuances of each situation: you don't know,e.g., that Player x, who is in a slump and was last night's goat and is mostly known for his miraculous ninth inning home run in a playoff game two years ago, is up against the opponent's dominant power closer, batting lefty, which is his good side. None of that is apparent. So it's just another batter facing just another pitcher. Same as the last one. How boring. And if you're not invested in the story that's being played out - if you don't have a team you're rooting for and characters that you care about, who cares if the guy gets a hit or get's struck out. You don't have to have constant activity to hold your interest. In fact, we can span long gaps in activity with anticipation. (Ever see "Deal or No Deal"? There's literally NOTHING to that game objectively except for anticipation - but it can keep people "interested" for an hour!). In fact, soccer, with it's constant play, is thought to be boring by many Americans new to the game. Ironically, they say "nothing happens", meaning that they don't perceive the importance of the events in the game up until the rare goal. To their unpracticed eye, this constant activity is no activity. So, my answer to the question is neither game is boring - Drifter's friends are.

Women and children first

Five times this week, when describing one of this world’s many atrocities, I learned that some number of innocent people were unfairly killed - “including women and children”. The idea is, I guess, to underline the amount of indignation to be felt - the level of the atrocity. This wasn’t an ordinary atrocity: this one was worse - it harmed the women and children.

Now the death of a child is particularly sad. By definition, children have had too little time in this world, and their death robs them of more of their lives than killing an adult does. Further they are more innocent and, so, more good in a sense, which offends our sense of justice: that good things should happen to good people. “Including children” makes sense to me.

But why mention the sex of the victims? What is the importance of noting that among the dead were some that had ovaries? This addition assumes and proclaims something about the essential qualities of men and women. It suggests that, relative to women, the men either deserved their fate more (they were not as good or pure) or were more able or responsible to endure it (they were not as weak). This belief - given we have no real information about the actual victims - relies on some problematic stereotypes.

It presumes, apparently, that women, like children, lack the moral independence to be partisan or malicious and lack the strength to endure the hardships of the world. Both these assumptions are categorically false. Women love and fight for their lives, their families, and their countries, although they are culturally sometimes limited in their ability to act. Women, too, are no less physically or mentally tough than men; this fact is often noted when we stereotypically describe their endurance during childbirth and their tenacity in fighting for their children. And it must be noted that there is no amount of human strength that is relevant against a bomb blast or a shower of bullets. What’s the difference between men and women in this context?

If I were female, I’d be livid every time I hear “including women and children”. It categorizes women essentially as children. The presumption behind this is that women, like children, are dismissable- that they would not fight for their rights or their countries. Women, like cattle, will serve any master. Is this true? It is so long as women believe it is.

It also demands male role expectation. Men are expected to be fighters, and thus they apparently must be prepared to accept harm. This is part of “being a man”. Given this, when harm comes to them, our conscience is not as shocked. In other words, maleness makes one a more natural target of violence. Crime statistics, by the way, confirm this: men are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime. These sentiments are spurious and pernicious. They simulateously approve of violence to men and dismiss the power and greatness of women.

Men, seen in this way, even when they are non-partisan "innocents", are potential future enemies. In other words, we are, at least relatively, justified to take the life of a man. In a Macchiavellian sense, when we're not sure who to kill, first kill the men. By taking this view, we devalue the humanity, goodness, and potential of a man, drafting him as an unwilling participant in the war of all against all. By repeating the phrase, we remind our listeners that - for a man - it's kill or be killed.

Imagine saying "24 died in the resultant fire, 16 of which were men who hoped for a better future for their families."

The better solution, of courfse, is to ignore sex altogether. How about "12 bystanders were killed by the blast, including 4 teachers and a firefighter." or "Of the 105 slaughtered innocents, 60 were parents, and 11 grandparents." Strange, perhaps, but these comments would at least have relevance, and they might cause us to remember that these people were part of a community, a family, a fabric of life.

We should all be upset by these news reports who think to play on and reaffirm our stereotypes - including women and children.