Monday, September 29, 2008


September 29, 2008


John Chuckman

It is reliably reported (The Times, London) that the McCain camp is expecting a miracle, its expectations rather resembling those of a millenarianist group camping on a hillside awaiting The Second Coming.

The anticipated miracle is the shotgun marriage of Sarah Palin’s pregnant seventeen-year old and her eighteen-year old redneck (his description, not mine) boyfriend (aka, in polite Republican circles, as her “fiancé”) coming just in time to save a faltering political campaign.

For those who don’t know America well, big white weddings with all the trimmings remain - despite the social and sexual upheavals of the last half century, despite wars and threats of wars - an important part of popular culture.

A couple may have been living together for years, may even have had kids, but when “the guy” finally gets around to “popping the question,” the world suddenly reverts to 1953, Ike and Mamie are in the White House, and Spot the dog is every child’s favorite literary character.

The couple may not have a dime to spare after trips to Disneyland and a second air-conditioned SUV, but the parents are paying (an obligation often requiring a second mortgage), so who cares? Planning begins immediately on throwing away $20,000 or more in one afternoon. After all, marriage is once-in-a-lifetime, even though at least half of all American marriages end in divorce.

Well, it is by appealing to such boiled-frosting, satin-ribbon fantasies that Republicans hope to push John McCain over the campaign finish line and into the White House.

The last week or two of the campaign would be ideal timing, surrounding John McCain and Sarah Palin in a fluffy, sugar-sprinkled haze. Imagine voting against the distinguished-looking old man in a tuxedo on the front pew with the beneficent countenance of a proud grandfather? Or the mother, gowned rather than in mukluks and hunting gear, eyes moist, watching “her baby” march to the alter?

Clearly, this is not matter on which an election anywhere should rest, much less in the world’s most powerful country, one staggering through war and financial crisis. Indeed, the Republican campaign, as it well deserves, has faltered on the merits. McCain is a tired old man with a sour temperament and a narcissistic personality who picked as his sidekick a person who would have reached the limits of her talent as captain of a cheerleading squad. Although certainly not the limits of her ambitions, but isn’t that what America is about, your reach exceeding your talent?

The hope may not be without some basis. The event, if it happens and happens in time, will of course be exploited to the limits of broadcasting and publishing and advertising. Money will flow from the same immensely rich sources that accomplished such past miracles as a nose-job for a witness against Bill Clinton. Theirs will undoubtedly be the most publicized and costly wedding in Alaska’s history.

Imagine the glamor with heads of state attending, all those with whom Sarah Palin has recently had five-minute appointments? Perhaps we’ll see Henry Kissinger himself, hobbling to his seat, resembling nothing so much as Doctor Strangelove taking faltering steps from his wheelchair, declaring to his Fuehrer that he can walk.

Perhaps there’ll be the president of that wealthy narco-state, Columbia, surrounded by bodyguards and arriving in an armored limousine.

Perhaps, too, the Mayor of Kabul, better known in America as the President of Afghanistan, will be there, exotic in his flowing robes.

And I’m sure there will be a large delegation from across the Bering Sea, Russian officials familiar with Sarah Palin, her just-over-the-backyard-fence neighbors as it were.

The sight of the nervous young woman marching up the aisle will remind many of the young Princess Diana. The swollen tummy might detract from the fantasy, but that can be artfully disguised by a good dressmaker. In the haze of dewy-eyed sentimentality, few will ask about the judgment of a mother who pushes a seventeen-year old girl into marriage and motherhood, or of just how the sweet young Diana turned out.

And the same with the spiffed-up boyfriend who only wanted to play hockey and “hang-out” and find more girls like Sarah’s daughter at parties. He will look handsome and almost iconic, shaved and showered in his tuxedo. Few will reflect on the inappropriate pressure brought to bear on this young man by the governor of his state, or, indeed, what kind of a husband someone with his attitudes might be.

But if Sarah and her daughter cannot set this event before the election date, its importance will decline considerably, the free nose-job donors fading away, the publicity evaporating, the international guests sending regrets, and the Palins in need of a second mortgage.

A romantic wedding cake "topper"

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


September 16, 2008


John Chuckman

Sarah Palin is not qualified for high office, and she has proved it in two interviews, if you were listening, but it was equally clear eight years ago that George Bush was not qualified for high office, and many Americans were not listening.

The excitement generated around Palin is just as though America were again embracing George Bush – a younger, prettier version of the most incompetent person ever to hold the office of president, a judgment based on his actual achievement and not just my exceedingly low opinion of him.

She is articulate, unlike Bush, but then so are vacuum-cleaner salesman and televangelists. Being articulate is tool of leadership, but it is not the same thing as leadership. The substance of what you say matters immensely more than how smoothly you say it, especially when you might lead a powerful nation which just happens to be the center of a vast international empire.

It seemed painfully clear during the 2000 election debates that Al Gore avoided attacking Bush. I don’t mean attacking him personally, I mean attacking lame statements and explanations which sounded as though they were coming from a not especially-bright eighth-grader repeating lines from an article in Senior Scholastic.

I just could not believe Gore never pounced, and I think he lost the election then (of course, Bush was not honestly elected, but it is only in close votes that fraud works, and the vote did not have to be close). I thought at the time Gore feared looking aggressive, perhaps owing to his assessment of public opinion following the ghastly circus of the Clinton impeachment. Clinton did not deserve to be impeached, but he proved to us all that he was both sleazy and a practiced liar, and there could have been no circus without his behavior first.

I don’t know, but we have something of a repeat performance coming up. Joe Biden is an aggressive (if insincere and inconsistent) arguer, and he is going to be put up against this physically-attractive super-mom who drags along her entire extended family to political events, lined up like the world’s largest set of Russian matryoshka dolls. Does anyone believe he will dare be aggressive? He will be in an untenable position: damned if does and damned if he doesn’t.

In one of her recent interviews, Palin bragged of being the Governor of a state that produces 20% of America's energy. Well, the fact is that Alaska is responsible for less than 4% of America's energy.

That is quite a considerable difference, and it is in a subject one might think she had at least a basic grasp of facts.

Palin, like George Bush, strongly advocates offshore drilling in the sensitive environment of the North and seems to hold her belief for no other reason than that Americans use lots of energy. It is the economic/environmental perspective of a good deal suburban America where middle-class couples both work, have two- and three-car garages, and commute considerable distances to jobs that often involve more than eight hours a day, but is it a view that is sustainable in a world steeply-rising oil prices, a rapidly changing climate, and the explosive growth of competitors like China and India? The simple answer is no.

On the world controversy of Iran’s nuclear program, after some furry-mouthed generalities, Palin said that we should not be second-guessing what Israel has to do for its defense, which is nothing more than a self-serving avoidance of the crucial, central issue involved here.

The fact is that if Israel attacks Iran – something which earlier had seemed settled by an American veto but which now is less clear, especially with the just announced sale of a thousand new “bunker-busting” bombs to Israel – Iran will respond, and it has a legitimate right to do so in its own defense, almost certainly with missiles. Iran’s missiles are not Saddam’s pathetic old SCUDS but pretty accurate medium-range ballistic missiles.

Would the U.S. be instantly sucked into a war with Iran, something which is entirely against the interests of the United States, and indeed against the interests of the entire world with Iran’s ability easily to choke off the Straits of Hormuz?

And is there no issue here over Israel’s self-declared right, by invoking some vaguely-defined need to protect its existence, to do whatever it wants concerning the internal affairs of other countries, even places a thousand miles away?

Acceptance of that as a working principle in international affairs truly means an endlessly chaotic world with no accepted rules. After all, every aggressor in history believed that he was protecting his country’s existence or some other vital interest. Hitler was very good at making such points, twisting the truth, and even using eloquent words about peace.

We have the strongest possible evidence that Iran gave up its weapons program several years ago. Is Israel to be permitted to use American-supplied weapons to attack Iran (remembering these weapons come with supposedly iron-clad agreements that they are not to be used for aggression), a nation which has not engaged in any hostilities against Israel, just because Israel claims it does not believe that intelligence while not offering the world one scrap of proof for its doubt?

As to the business of Palin’s casually discussing the possible need for war with Russia, it is the stuff of nightmares. The woman has no idea what she is talking about. It very much reminded me of Dan Quayle blubbering about ICBM throw-weights, a term he memorized to toss around for impressing the weak-minded, but her talk, while equally stupid, was infinitely more dangerous.

It is not possible for anyone to take on Russia with conventional forces. Despite its relative decline, Russia still has awesome conventional armed forces, as it so clearly showed in Georgia after Georgia's foolish attack on its former province (which was conducted against confidential American advice). Russia mopped them up in a few days and could easily have rolled over the entire country despite Georgia’s American-supplied new armaments.

Even Russia’s navy, weak by American standards, nevertheless is equipped with weapons over which American admirals have nightmares: for example, the Sunfire sea-to-sea missiles against which there is no effective defense. These missiles spiral onto targets in an unpredictable fashion at speeds around Mach 3 to deliver a devastating punch. America’s entire fleet of aircraft carriers could be sunk in hours.

The Russians have also demonstrated new technologies for submarine warfare. A Chinese submarine, equipped with some of this, stunned the Pentagon not long ago, when it silently surfaced in the middle of a task force conducting exercises related to Taiwan. This was unprecedented because carrier task forces maintain electromagnetic “bubbles” around themselves with a battery of detection devices, extending far into the air and under the sea.

So what is the alternative to conventional war? It is the war in which the United States and Russia cease to exist. Russia has some of the most accurate and defense-evading capable missiles in the world. America’s primitive efforts at missile defense – not one successful test in which the incoming warhead was not marked by a strong radio homing beacon plus a number of unsuccessful tests - do not stand a chance under conditions of a full Russian attack. The sheer number and size of warheads, the many decoys, new stealth technology, plus other technologies of avoidance mean the certain destruction of the United States.

Does any clear-thinking and sane person want someone who casually talks of war with Russia anywhere near the White House?

And what of Palin’s references, more than once, to the fact that Russia is within view of some Alaskans? Is that supposed to mean she is familiar with Russian affairs? All eleven time zones of them? The observation literally is meaningless, a Dan Quayle-like observation, a complete non sequitur to any meaningful question about Russia and relations with that country.

Here's a colossally ignorant view of Palin’s: she believes in a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. Even Bush knows that is nonsense because he put forward the lies that made the war he wanted for other reasons possible.

Saddam, like all absolute rulers, had no use for terrorists or underground movements of any kind. The safest place to be with regard to terror or guerilla movements is in an absolute state, something George Bush even understands since he has greatly shifted the United States in that direction. The old Soviet Union had no problems with terrorists or guerillas, and neither did Saddam.

Saddam also was a secularist and had no use for extreme Muslims. He was known to intensely dislike Osama bin Laden. Incidentally, women were better off, freer of ancient restrictions, in Saddam’s Iraq than they were in any other part of the Arab world.

If there were even one shed of evidence of a connection between Iraq and 9/11 – not the stupidly forged documents we saw before the invasion – it would have been printed and broadcast in every corner of the earth by the Bush/Cheney government, which has spent immense amounts trying to convince people of many instances of nonsense.

After all, that’s how they were caught red-handed exposing the CIA wife of a distinguished Republican former ambassador who refused to give credibility to what he knew was forgery, Theirs was an utterly wrong act which only showed how far these ugly men would go to have their way.

Sarah Palin seems made of just such stuff. She is uninformed combined with being a control-freak, something she has demonstrated many times already in a brief career, from trying to dismiss her brother-in-law from his state police job – the e-mails released show that much even if they prove nothing further - to dragging her daughter’s poor (self-described) redneck boyfriend to the convention, a boy who (again according to his own words) wanted nothing to do with babies but was scrubbed up, dumped into a new suit, and introduced to everyone as her daughter’s “fiancé.” Imagine the pressure placed on this young man by the governor of his state?

I think one of the most revealing aspects of Palin’s experience is her education. Here again there is a strong parallel with Bush, who only managed to be accepted and graduate because of his “legacy” status from a wealthy and influential family. No thinking person believes Bush could have been accepted by Ivy League institutions on his own merit, much less graduate from them.

Palin’s experience was different as to details but leads to similar reflections on her abilities. Palin took six years in five different universities in several states to earn a bachelor’s in communications, a considerably less than intellectually-taxing subject. Her records are confidential, and the various institutions will not even discuss the reasons for her many transfers.

Palin’s comparison of herself, during her convention speech, to Harry Truman was inaccurate and deceptive. Yes, they both came from small places, but Truman, before being called as FDR’s candidate for vice president, had spent ten years in the U.S. Senate, was associated with a powerful political machine in Missouri, and had taken a very prominent role in war-related Senate Committee work. Palin was briefly mayor of a town the size of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and has two years as Governor of a remote state whose entire population is almost identical to that of Charlotte, North Carolina.

Like Bush, Palin is a dangerous person – uninformed, poorly educated, aggressive, deeply ideological, and with extreme religious beliefs. She was placed where she is by a tired-looking man, one treated for cancer four times, who just desperately wants to cap his career with the title president, a man who has no ethical qualms about how he achieves what he wants.

Friday, September 12, 2008



Daniel, all true but rather beside the point.

Much of what you wrote could be written of other figures, including certainly George Bush.

There is symbolism in historical figures you miss entirely, and Malcolm actually struck fear into the American establishment.

That meant a great deal to blacks at the time, a time that saw the beginnings of the black-power movement.

I remember seeing him in a live interview, and his words sent a chill through you. He was both impressive and frightening at the same time.

That fact is why he has been called by American blacks their black prince.

I am surprised you don't appreciate that historical figures often do not achieve anything but psychological impact.

Remember, in America, Billy the Kid (a psychopathic killer), John Dillinger (a bank robber), and General Custer (a mass murderer and rotten general) are all historical figures of at least some note.

I could provide quite a list, but those make the point.



I've love the fundamentalist idea of heaven.

Imaging six trillion years of listening to the likes of Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggert, and Oral Roberts blubbering and throwing beads of sweat and saliva, pleading for higher collections?

Six trillion years of Tammy Faye Bakker warbling and trembling with her make-up running down her cheeks and pee running down her legs?

Six trillion years of George Bush droning in words that make a large number of eight-year olds seem remarkably articulate?

But six trillion years would mean, in the words of a rather beautiful old hymn, that "we'd only just begun."

By the way, Sarah Palin fans, did you see her impressive first interview on television or read it?

It was a disaster. The woman displayed only ignorance and belligerence.

It might be explained by a fact few may be aware of.

Sarah took six years, at five different colleges in several states, to get her bachelor's degree.

And newsmen have found the records at these institutions closed to examination.

The world needs this after eight years of a certified moron?



It just does not get sillier than this series of events.

"Lipstick on a pig" is an issue in the leadership race for the world's global power, a power currently engaged in two and a half wars and with elements of its economy failing?

I guess, yes, when you consider nonsense like whether or not you wear a flag pin having been an issue.

Even on its own absurdly trivial terms, this makes no sense.

Palin connected pit bulls and lipstick, but pigs and lipstick are somehow off-limits?

Did anyone see Palin's first interview, or read it?

No wonder they want to make an issue of pigs and lipstick. The woman is frighteningly uninformed.

Many of her supporters may not be aware that Sarah took six years at five different colleges in several states to a get a bachelor's degree.

Newsmen have discovered her academic records have been blocked from examination in all cases.

Now there is an issue, after eight years of government by a certified moron.

It will surely take America another century to become a civilized, sensible place.

Thursday, September 11, 2008



This is shameful and idiotic.

America just regards the borders and laws of others as meaningless.

You have manipulated political affairs in Pakistan to get rid of Musharraf who stood in the way of this kind of thing.

Now you have a compliant leader, the third member of the Bhutto clan to rule (some democracy).

Has anyone ever just stopped and asked what you are even doing in Afghanistan, other than vengeance?

You cannot possibly re-make the customs and traditions of a country of 25 million and stuck in the 14th century. It's a mindless idea.

So now in the midst of your delusional quest - Don Quixote with cluster bombs - you are well on your way to creating another Cambodia by de-stabilizing Pakistan.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008



Well, Clive Crook, again you miss the mark, but you’ve said one definitely true thing:

“Obviously I am moving in the wrong circles, but the metropolitan liberal, in my experience, regards overt religious identity as vulgar, and evangelical Christianity as an infallible marker of mental retardation. Flag-waving patriotism is seen as a joke and an embarrassment.”

These things you regard as contemptuous views are simply truths.

But ask yourself, why is it necessary to say anything about religious beliefs in an election?

The answer is simple: because the Religious Right insists, over and over, on pushing these things before us.

Just like insisting that the brainless notion of creationism be taught in public schools. Or the old notion that the Ten Commandments should be on the walls of courthouses. Or the stuff about prayer in public schools.

There are lots of evangelical Christians in the U.S. who do not share with the fundamentalists their demands this way. There are very thoughtful ones, but we do not hear from them.

We hear from the folks who tell us homosexuals cause hurricanes. The people who say a bloody war is God’s will. The folks who just do not seem to understand that America is a pluralistic society - founded by worldly men to have freedom from religion - and that religion belongs in their tax-exempted churches, not in national politics.

The same goes for rah-rah, mindless patriotism which really is just another religion, a secular one, the American Civic Religion. Why in God’s name should a flag pin on a lapel matter? That is definitely not a good emphasis.

The American establishment likes to keep this rah-rah stuff ginned up because it makes it so easy to start new wars. It is also a form of emotional compensation for the unhappiness and anger so common on America’s streets. Having lived half my life in America, I know this is a fact.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008



Clive Crook, you are quite wide of the mark here.

First, if it's respect for the views of others that needs correcting, no clear-thinking observer can honestly say it is not Republicans who stand most in need.

For decades, Republicans - Delay, Gramm, Gingrich, Cheney, Thurmond, Robertson, Nixon, Agnew, and so many others - have specialized in quite vicious attacks on their opponents.

And was it Democrats or liberals who used to stalk the homes and offices of doctors who performed legal abortions? Or liberals who worked viciously to keep the poor boy, Elian, from being reunited with his loving father in his home were he had friends and relatives, indeed who vilified the father in front of the boy? What about the eight years of nastiness handed out to the Clintons when in the White House, a great deal of it highly personal? Was it liberals who hatefully blamed homosexuals for killer storms that were supposedly the wrath of God? Was it liberals who built entire careers calling people soft on communism?

Indeed, the basic tenet of Christian Fundamentalism that it has the only truth and if that you don’t embrace it, you are damned to hell forever, I think may fairly be characterized as a trifle vicious in nature. It is hard not to conclude only vicious people can embrace it.

I do not know the entire explanation for this phenomenon of the Right Wing. It could be that people on the Right are simply genetically mean-spirited. I do think a lot of politics is the result of basic temperament. It could be, at least in some cases, that negatives are used to overcome the inherently less popular tenets of Republicanism. Negative campaigning works, at least within limits. It’s all McCain has done so far, and it’s all Palin’s speech was. And it could be in part the need to build a coalition large enough for power requiring accommodating the most hateful and mean-spirited.

Surely, you do recognize that there are personal views or behaviors that genuinely deserve criticism?

Just one example in Sarah Palin’s case is her Creationism.

Now, the genuine stupidity of Creationism is calling it a viable theory. What possible tests or data collection could hope to disprove Creationism or even lead to serious adjustments in its statements? None, ever.

Creationism is not a theory, it is a belief, based on superstition and ancient traditions, and nothing more. You are certainly free, in a free society, to embrace it, but people like me are also free to make judgments about your attitudes and abilities if you do.

With a dozen nuclear carrier taskforces on the seas, I think it is mighty dangerous to have people with close-to delusional beliefs in positions of power. Moreover, embrace of this belief says something about flexible thinking and ability to adjust to new realities.

Creationism is a belief that goes back several thousand years, at least, and it has suffered no contradictions from testing because it cannot be tested.

Imagine going to a doctor whose knowledge reflected only and exactly what was contained in superstitious writings from 2,500 to 3,500 years ago. I believe it fair to say, if you saw a certificate framed on his office wall indicating just that qualification, you would run screaming from the office.

And just so, Creationism.


Another nasty personal behavior of Palin’s was dragging the boy - the one who fathered her daughter’s coming baby - to the convention.

I don’t care in the least about her daughter’s pregnancy. It’s certainly not an a campaign issue, although it nicely and humorously shows up the hypocrisy of Palin’s beliefs.

But dragging the boy - cleaned up and dumped in a new suit and introduced to everyone as her daughter’s “fiance” clearly displays a highly controlling and manipulative temperament.

The boy’s Internet site - now taken down - clearly showed what his own views were. No babies, pride in being a redneck, and packed with obscene and threatening language.

Truly nasty stuff.

But there he was, all polished up as though he were Jimmy Stewart dating Donna Reed.

Can you imagine the pressure brought to bear here? By the governor of his state? And he was even introduced to McCain.

That’s not my idea of acceptable behavior by a politician.


"Dear Clive, Please read John Chuckman’s post. Perhaps you could write your next article on the Canadian’s elitist view of America and why most American’s could care less what a Canadian thinks about our country or election."

Well, even on its own terms, it doesn't get more confused and muddled than that.

A column should be written, but on a subject Americans do not care about? Very sensible suggestion indeed.

And this confused writer appeals to a Brit to tell readers about Americans not caring about the views of Canadians?

And why should it matter from what country views come from? The views either have validity or not.

Putting it into that prejudiced, nationalistic context is revealing and one of the qualities which unavoidably make many Americans look so parochial and unpleasant abroad.

And indeed makes them so unfit to be leaders in world affairs.

I would be glad never to say another word about American politics were it the case that it did not so influence, and often hurt, the rest of the planet.

America is running a de facto aristocracy in which something like one or two percent of the planet's population - the rough percent to world population of Americans who vote - sets the rules and policies for everyone else.

So your government matters to others because its blundering and viciousness affect so many others, of course never raising so much as a fleeting thought from Americans of this writer's capacities.

Elitist view of America? Seems to me the only elitist views around are those who defend America's de facto aristocracy and right to do as it damn well pleases.


From his deep well of wisdom we have this from John Powers:

"Obama would still be a community organizer if he practiced clean politics."

That's just what I mean about the American Right. Always attacking, never any analysis or logic.

What an utterly ridiculous statement.

First, Mr. Powers would have us think he is possession of some convincing evidence around his flat-footed assertion.

But if that is the case, why isn't it turned over to election authorities?

The answer is simple. It exists nowhere but in Mr. Power's brain.

Second, the statement completely ignores Obama's remarkable talents.

This is the brightest, best educated, most thoughtful candidate to run for decades.

It doesn't even matter whether you agree with Obama. Recognition of his talent is essential to your being a credible commenter at all.

But the Right goes on making its extreme assertions, throwing mud, just hoping some of it will stick.

I do believe that was the technique of the late Dr. Goebbels.



“As our school is a prized asset in our neighbourhood, so is public education in general a gift to our whole society.”

Some gift, an almost broken system that no one can reform.

Conservatives in Ontario tried and failed, making many foolish blunders. Liberals have changed nothing of substance and now do nothing but throw money at the teachers to keep peace.

The really good teachers are such motivated individuals they survive despite the many barriers against them.

Our schools in general our behind the times in almost every respect.

Neighborhood schools themselves are largely obsolete, representing as they do a step up from the rural one-room schoolhouse of a century ago with the emergence of city neighborhoods.

If we are to offer all the courses and enrichments children should have, we need the equivalent of big-box stores in our schools, and the costs are prohibitive to do this in every neighbourhood. Teachers’ salaries and benefits alone make it so.

If you want a specialty item today, you go to a big-box store with the selection, not a corner store in the neighbourhood. That is just a fact of today’s world. And our population’s embrace of the car and suburbanization and urban sprawl only greatly increase the pressures in this direction. If you want music, art, libraries, and qualified teachers in subject areas, a neighbourhood school is not the way to go.

A major fraction of our teachers cannot even use a computer, let alone teach a child about computers.

Teachers at the elementary level often are assigned to subjects for which they have absolutely no competence, and the elementary level is the foundation for all that follows.

The curriculum - confused, bloated, and unfocused on important things - is the classic result of bureaucratic compromises, resembling the work of Soviet apparatchiks.

Teachers cling to the notion of being professionals, but if you examine what they study in their year of teacher education, it is half mumbo-jumbo and pseudo-science.

Teachers are not judged according to merit, just appointed for lifetime sinecures. They are allowed to pretty much govern themselves out of politicians’ fears of strikes. Bad teachers are almost never eliminated, even though everyone knows there are many of them.

Principals and many administrative officials are just former teachers who worked their way up in a pretty slack system. It is actually fairly rare to find a principal who is impressive and decisive.

We play games with stats, as with the silly literacy test. The test has no objectivity, and both its writing and marking may easily be adjusted – and are – to suit a changed political situation.

The current government of Ontario, for example, claims credit for improvements from such meaningless scores, but they have changed nothing of substance, except pay and extra benefits.

I think the perfect symbol of our public schools is the school library. Where it hasn’t become a thing of the past, it has become a nasty little corner of the school. The teachers’ union controls this in part through the fact that so-called teacher-librarians run them. They are mostly not even competent as librarians, and if we cared we see the libraries staffed by good library technicians who know something about books. The teacher-librarians mostly spend little time in the library, too, since they are valued by principals as fillers they can stuff into any classroom missing a teacher.

At the same time, vast new resources from the province are squandered on stuff like graded literacy series – these are quickie, over-priced paperbacks churned out by publishers to make a quick buck - and “literacy closets.” Our libraries, if we are going to have them, should have lots of good books and plenty of computers plus staff qualified for using them.

Intellectual rubbish like the literacy series are a response to one of the many fads that sweep through the teachers’ union and the school bureaucracy. How better to encourage literacy than with the vast richness of our actual English literature and things like book clubs, rather than the dreary rubbish of literacy quickie books?

Our schools, too, are not providing for the needs of many students. We do have a certain percent of people with limited natural capacities, but saying so is anathema in the teaching establishment. These people need schools and classes that teach them useful skills, taught by people who have the skills.

The resources thrown at the system actually are being thrown at a union everyone is afraid to take on. They have hours and benefits like no one else. Their pension fund is so fat they own the telephone company and, yes, the newspaper you are reading, a ridiculous and a waste of precious resources.

“That children from all classes and backgrounds attend the same building, get to know each other and learn from the same teachers is nothing short of a miracle.”

Now that is largely a good thing. If you could fix everything else, they might even get some valuable education too.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


September 4, 2008


John Chuckman

I’ve reassessed my view of Sarah Palin.

My first thought about her usefulness to John McCain was that she would be a draw for disaffected Hillary supporters in a close race, but then all I knew about Sarah was that she characterized herself as a soccer, or hockey, mom.

But already I’ve learned more about her than I ever would have wanted to know, and her simple, original description of herself proves disingenuous at best, and there is the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of her appealing to Hillary supporters.

A dizzying jumble of images and anecdotes now clutters the Internet. There’s a picture of her in a bikini, with an American flag motif no less, holding a rifle, with a loony grin, poolside. There’s another picture in a black leather mini-skirt, high platform shoes, satiny blouse with revealing décolletage, standing at a bar with a wine glass. There’s the head-shot of her looking through the sight of a military weapon, a la Thatcher in her tank. Then there are the many carefully-posed pictures of her dressed demurely in family groupings, sentimental pictures as familiar to me as her flat Midwestern accent, a holdover from Idaho in her case, which just happens to be America’s favourite refuge for survivalists, private militias, and Aryan lunatics.

Then there are her statements about the bloody, illegal invasion of Iraq being “God’s will.” How would she know that? Because George Bush told her? Or does God personally whisper in her ear? If it’s God, I wonder when He (Sarah being a fundamentalist, it could not possibly be a She) takes the opportunity of speaking to her? When she’s poolside in a bikini, toting a gun, or dressed and scurrying out the door with the clan for Sunday school?

She supported Pat Buchanan, poster boy for everything that is wrong with America, in his Junior Brown Shirt march for the presidency in 2000. Before that, she was a card-carrying member of the Alaska Independence party, not exactly in keeping with Stars-and-Stripes bikinis, but definitely consistent with erratic behavior. There were denials about the Independence party, but the records are there, as is her signature.

She has five children, including her most recent, sadly afflicted with Down syndrome. In this day of certainty through tests, it does seem irresponsible to have such a child, which likely will be dependent on family and society for its entire life. Yes, her behaviour is consistent with her views on abortion – about which she once claimed she would not have an abortion even for a raped daughter – but is it sensible? Does such a decision reflect sound, realistic judgment? Our world today is full of such complex situations and judgments, not a world of simplistic rights or wrongs.

She is against gay marriage, against abortion, and against just about anything else you can find in the “anti” repertoire of religious predators along the lines of Jimmy Swaggert or Jerry Falwell. If she accepts war and mass killing as God’s will, why does she not extend that thinking to gay marriage or tests which help us prevent tragic outcomes from pregnancy?

She’s not much more consistent in her other behaviour and thinking. She’s big on commandments and rules, but that did not stop her from trying to have her brother-in-law dismissed from his job in the state police. Nor did it prevent her hacking into an opponent’s computer to get information to secure her election as mayor. And respect for proper procedures did not cause her a moment’s concern when she used paid lobbyists to land pork-barrel projects for her town.

Sarah is almost an American cartoon character, Daffy Duck waving his wings and flapping his beak madly off in all directions.

Her acceptance speech at the convention was certainly competently delivered, but what did it say? It was literally a set of one-liners, Rush Limbaugh barking away on the radio, without any sense of purpose or direction stated other than winning the election and “serving the people.” God, I would hate to be tasked with listing all the monstrous crimes committed in the name of “serving the people,” almost as many, surely, as those covered by “God’s will” in history.

Actually, there’s very little that is new about Sarah Palin. I’ve seen this act before. In tone and substance and attitude, Sarah is Newt Gingrich in drag. But then Newt was almost as irreligious as John McCain. Sarah, though, has a big fat hunk of old Bob Jones tossed in – after all, in the heady ‘60s, the old man had guards with automatic weapons at the gates of Bob Jones’ University - and that brings us to one of her main purposes in this campaign.

Sarah is there to speak to the born-again crowd, people who do not actually trust John McCain as being sympathetic to their views, and with good reason. Born-agains are roughly a fifth of the American population, and the Republicans never can win without their support. So we’ve gone from having the nuttier class of fundamentalists burrowing into every corner of America’s government under George Bush, affecting even the language used in literature at the Grand Canyon, to having one of their own placed “a heartbeat away” from the presidency, and this by a man whose heartbeat just might not last his term.