Monthly Archives: April 2011

Selected Images and Sound Bites

For the first time in history, war was brought into our living rooms on a daily basis during the Vietnam War. Whatever our political perceptions of that war might have been, we were all haunted by the daily papers and nightly TV newscasts.

Television journalists and commentators reflected the deep split in public opinion about that war. In effect, Americans experienced a bloodless civil war. Arguments were intense and hard feelings cut deep. The basic argument for the war was the ‘Domino Effect,’ a term coined by Dwight Eisenhower meaning that the adoption of communism by one nation, precipitates the spread of communism to its neighboring nations. The basic argument against the war was that America’s entanglement in Southeast Asia to prevent the spread of communism demanded too high a price, or that a communist Vietnam was not a threat to us, or even that the expansion of communism was a good thing.

In sharp contrast to World War ll, the fog of war was thick during the Vietnam War and its immediate aftermath. The chaos of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos is well documented and requires no additional exposition from me. But I’d like to draw a parallel between the Vietnam War and current events in the Middle East and North Africa.

Enveloped in the fog of the Vietnam War, there was a newspaper photo and caption that epitomized the bias of purportedly objective reporters. The photo vividly depicted a Vietnamese man at the instant he was shot in the head, execution style. Absent were any details of the personal events that led to that execution. We were led to believe that the execution was part of a military action. When I saw the photo, I couldn’t help thinking that this was not the way to treat any human being whatever his political affiliations.

Years later and entirely by chance, I learned that just moments before the man was executed he had killed an entire family except its father. It was the father of that family that killed the man. The original caption made no mention that he was killed by a distraught father in the heat of extreme rage. I doubt that the reporter had been unaware of the whole story behind an incident that transcended the expected horrors of military conflict. It is very likely that he deliberately omitted details in order to characterize the incident as the mindless act of a man who executed an innocent civilian only because he was a communist sympathizer.

Time erodes the impact of events that happened long ago. But I haven’t resurrected this ghastly memory to impugn either of the two men caught up in the fog of war or, for that matter, the reporter who may not have known the ‘whole’ story, as unlikely as that may be.

What disturbed me then was not the media’s opposition to the war but rather its partisan bias. I believe that the depersonalization of the event was designed to lead us to believe that the murdered man was brutally killed because he was a communist.

Biased reports affected critical military decisions, especially during the Tet offensive. Perhaps worse was its effect on American soldiers who didn’t wear their uniforms on leave and were at best ignored when they came home from that war. Fifteen years of an ‘unpopular’ war stigmatized soldiers who, after all, don’t choose the wars they are required to fight. The same is true of the Gulf Wars. A select few ‘anchormen’ became superstars during the Vietnam War because of their less than objective commentaries. Does that sound familiar? It does to me.

History repeats itself. Current technology provides us with 24/7 sound bites and images at a global level. There is a constant flow of military and political news. There is an unprecedented proliferation of radio and television commentators. But the fog is as thick as ever in reports of the conflicts in the Middle East, in Southwest Asia, in Indonesia, and wherever ideologies clash. A tsunami of hastily mounted newscasts and verbal dogfights are no substitutes for political information.

Yet, despite the amazing technology of the Information Age, major media continue to slant global events. To a significant extent this is the result of journalists and commentators who are overworked, underinformed, too old to shed bias or too young to know any better. I can’t help but notice that what is being said receives far less attention than the grooming and makeup of the newscasters and commentators. I realize that my assessment of the news business seems like a rant, but I recognize exceptional journalists and commentators who are in a distinct minority but a credit to their profession. Rants and a balanced view are a contradiction in terms.

I have learned to see through the fog ever since I experienced the execution story and hundreds of others like it through the years that followed and continue to this day. I have learned that the flow of sound bites and flash images mislead listeners who are without an ideological base to make judgments about what is being said. I have learned that hosts and guests on talk shows are basically peddling each other’s careers. I have learned that ‘debates’ are designed to be full of ‘sound and fury, signifying nothing.’ They are staged for entertainment, not information. I have learned that the pen and the tube are mightier than the truth.

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The Terrorist and the Infidel

TIME: Now

PLACE: The Middle East

CAST:

I, The Infidel

A Terrorist

A Global Citizen

An Indian

I. It is one thing to be a soldier, but terrorists—

TERRORIST. Hold on! Hold on! What do you mean terrorists? We are freedom fighters!

I. Exactly what freedom is it that you’re fighting for?

TERRORIST. We are fighting against the freedom practiced by the Great Satan.

I. Does that include freedom of speech and religion?

TERRORIST. Especially, freedom of speech and religion! Observe the evils that your way of life have unleashed upon the world.

I. Well, at least we don’t expect seventy-two virgins to pamper us in paradise.

TERRORIST. Infidel, you mock our revered beliefs!

I. Some beliefs don’t wear well with time. And don’t tell me that the belief in seventy-two virgins is no more or less taken literally by Moslems than is its Christian counterpart of swirling angels plucking harps. I know that.

TERRORIST. Your arrogance is the reason why Americans are hated throughout the world. You disrespect cultures far older than yours. You have much to learn.

I. For instance?

GLOBAL CITIZEN. (Interrupting) The freedom fighter doesn’t mean ‘learning’ literally. He means understanding. As a global citizen I fully empathize with him. You Americans have a way of not understanding—let alone being derisive of— cultures that differ from yours. You think your culture is the best thing since the Industrial Revolution.

I. It is. …One of the best, anyway. And don’t get me wrong. I respect all great cultures. The Arab-Islamic culture resuscitated and preserved the unprecedented genius of the Classic Age as a source for the Renaissance. Islamic scholars picked up the torch of civilization before it might have been extinguished. In addition, were it not for their introduction of the number ‘zero’ into European–

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, I didn’t know Arabians invented the zero.

I. Well, no, they didn’t invent it. Long before the Islamic golden age, Mayan and Asian Indians had discovered the zero separately and at different times. But when Arabian traders brought the concept of zero home from India and consequently into Europe, they made a momentous contribution to civilization. Modern commerce and industry is inconceivable without the Hindu-Arabic number system.

INDIAN. Score one for India!

I. Yeah. Along with the Caste System. What’s there to ‘understand’ about that?

INDIAN. Hypocrite! Don’t you reward your doctors, educators, and other professionals according to their occupations? So few of you understand the Indian Caste System. You are newcomers in the community of civilizations. Indian wisdom has assigned pre-ordained occupations to the unborn in accordance with a cosmic plan. What is your cultural equivalent to place people into their proper occupations?

I. Classified ads.

TERRORIST. (furiously) Again, you mock the serenity and certitude of Eastern Civilizations. Your insolence is—

INDIAN. (to the TERRORIST) Wait… (to me) We Indians are a patient people. I’m open to see Indian culture through an American’s eyes.

I. No. Look through an untouchable’s single, remaining eye. You can find that unforgettable, haunting eye on Page 28 of National Geographic, June 2003.

INDIAN. A Bhangi, I suppose?

I. He has a name. It’s Ramprasad. Having a picture taken of his disfigured face by a National Geographic photographer must have been the highlight of his invisible life. His remaining eye speaks eloquently of India’s revered shame. He had acid thrown in his face by an outraged mob that discovered him fishing in a pond belonging to upper-caste villagers. As you must know, throwing acid on untouchables is the punishment of choice among upper-cast Indians, and raping an untouchable woman in the presence of her husband is another. What kind of system condones punishment as perverse as that?

INDIAN. Don’t you Americans have similar methods of keeping your ‘untouchables’ in their place?

I. No.

INDIAN. How simplistic you are.

I. All Americans are simplistic. We think of depraved people who commit punitive atrocities as ‘nut jobs,’ their religious fervor notwithstanding. We feel the same about Islamic Jurisprudence.

TERRORIST. Again you are insolent! And hypocritical. Your fledgling culture has been rich in injustice from its very beginning. Genocide against Native Americans, the ultimate injustice of slavery—your culture is blemished by hundreds of injustices.

I. Oh, yes…and then some.

INDIAN. Then how do you differ from us?

I. We strive to abolish our injustices, we don’t revere them!

TERRORIST. You also force your brand of justice on others. The arrogance of democracy!

I. You’ve got me there. I don’t know where we got the idea that everyone wants freedom—

TERRORIST. (interrupting) Please, spare me your lies about liberation. We all know that the wars in the Middle East are about oil, not freedom. I’ve heard all your clichés: ‘America was attacked on 911,’ ‘It’s cheaper to buy oil than fight for it,’ ‘America could not allow Sadam Hussein to harbor weapons of mass destruction,’ and so on. All excuses, all clichés.

I. There, we agree. There’s no point in exchanging clichés. So, let’s get back to the war itself.

TERRORIST. You mean, Israeli aggression.

I. We’re not going to get anywhere if you tell me what I mean. Remember, I’m an American, let’s keep it simple.

TERRORIST. Agreed. Our cause is simply this: to kill as many Israelis and Americans as possible.

I. Right. But, cultural differences aside, I’m sure you can understand why we’re not all that comfortable with your existence.

TERRORIST. Ah, is it your desire to kill as many Muslims as possible?

I. No. Just you. Isn’t suicide your MO anyway?

TERRORIST. The Israelis have made me so. They lust for our land, they continue to build settlements that—

I. Stop right there. There are many heated and complicated issues imbedded in Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am not taking sides on Israeli-Palestinian issues here. It’s the way you go about achieving your goals that disturbs me. Even if you are enraged by what you perceive to be gross injustices, that doesn’t justify acts of terrorism—

TERRORIST. Acts of war. The Israelis bomb us too, you know.

I. Not with stealthy homicide bombers that change a scene of peaceful civilian marketing into an aboveground graveyard filled with body parts in a matter of seconds.

TERRORIST. Ha! You must think I am a monster.

I. Don’t flatter yourself.

TERRORIST. What you call ‘homicide,’ suicide bombers know to be ‘justice.’

I. Whatever. But for your information and contrary to media hyperbole, millions of Americans make a sharp distinction between Muslims and religious fanatics. There are many communities in the United States in which Muslims, Christians, and Jews live side by side and enjoy their traditional diversities while embracing American assimilation.

TERRORIST. (laughing) Ah, now who is it that spouts hyperbole!

I. Sorry. You have to live here to believe it. Anyway, what Americans do find extremely objectionable about Islam is Sharia.

TERRORIST. Infidel, Islam is the true religion—

INDIAN. Oh, I must take issue with you there. Hinduism is the only religion that –

I. Let’s not go there…okay, guys? Let’s just stick to warfare itself. Let me ask you a question. Why do you suppose that women and children, hospitals, apartment houses, and mosques are often in the line of Israeli fire? The IDF has high resolution weapons, why do you claim that killing Palestinian civilians is deliberate?

TERRORIST. Killing my people is not just ‘collateral’ damage. Israelis are deliberately killing as many civilians as possible. So, we must retaliate.

I. Yeah, okay. Assuming that’s true. Why would coalition forces bomb hospitals? The ill and injured are no threat to anyone, let alone a military force. Why would Israelis, Americans, and other coalition forces target schools and mosques? Children ‘worshipers’ at mosques are even less a threat than hospitalized people (though, I suspect some children provide peripheral help to terrorists). And why are apartment houses bombed? Could it be that the mosques, hospitals, and residential buildings contain arms and shield ‘freedom fighters’?

TERRORIST. Assuming that is true. And I don’t believe coalition forces would hesitate to bomb innocent civilians—

I. You don’t believe it! Come on, how is it that time after time, civilians are killed in the midst of battles?

TERRORIST. They happen to be in the line of fire.

I. In a supermarket?

TERRORIST. As I tried to say before you interrupted: Assuming that civilians are deceitfully imbedded with freedom fighters, they are voluntarily committed to fight to the death along with freedom fighters, even if they serve only as shields.

I. Does that include two-year-olds?

TERRORIST. Are you implying that we are cowards?

I. No. I’m not implying that. I’m stating it as fact.

TERRORIST. We are not afraid to die!

I. So I’ve noticed. Suicide seems to be a way of life for many of you.

TERRORIST. Then why do you call us cowards?

I. Because you force civilized soldiers to fight you with one hand tied behind their backs. You hamstring them with human shields. You depend on their aversion to kill innocent civilians. You know Media are watching.

TERRORIST. Oh, be fair now. Our side has no choice in an asymmetrical war.

I. Asymmetrical against whom? The wars may have begun that way decades ago when overwhelmingly outnumbered Israelis fought against seven Arab armies. There’s nothing asymmetrical about Middle East wars now. Israel and America are surrounded by a sea of global hostility, your greatest ally—including media bias within the United States.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. You’re paranoid.

I. You bet your ass, I am. What conflict are you watching?

GLOBAL CITIZEN. The Middle East war, of course.

I. I didn’t say war, I said conflict.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What’s the difference?

I. One is regional, the other is ideological.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What do you mean?

I. (pointing to theTERRORIST) Ask him. He knows. (to the TERRORIST) Tell her.

TERRORIST. The infidel knows that we are not fighting for just a scrap of land. This is Jihad. Surely you have repeatedly heard our message.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. What is that?

TERRORIST. We want total destruction of America and Israel.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, I don’t believe that.

I. He does.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. Oh, no. I’m sure he doesn’t mean it.

TERRORIST. I do. You’re not listening. Our leaders are clearly telling you that. Of course we mean it.

GLOBAL CITIZEN. But this is the age of Globalization.

TERRORIST. Exactly. That is why it is critical that the world be united under one god—the god of Islamic Law. The godless parade of evil civilizations must come to an end. The parade’s shameless march has led the world to the abomination known as Democracy. America and its whore, Israel, must be stoned to death.

I. Ah, yes…stoned. As I understand it, Sharia demands that the stones should not be too small because they might not finish the job, nor should they be too large because the job would be finished too soon.

TERRORIST. We don’t take punishment lightly. We are just. A woman is not convicted to death if she can produce four male witnesses to prove that she has not committed adultery.

I. I’m not familiar with your sexual customs, but I think I can safely assume that sexual engagements in your culture are pretty much the same as they are anywhere else, private. It follows that four male witnesses to adultery would have to be voyeurs. I understand that proof of rape also requires four male witnesses. That is even harder to come by since rape is extremely furtive. And, if a woman is gang-raped, the witnesses would almost certainly have to be her rapists.

TERRORIST. You simply do not understand us.

I. God forbid I ever should.

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To Sleep or Not to Sleep

There is a hot debate about lone Air Traffic Controllers falling asleep while on night duty. It has been suggested that a second controller should be hired at an annual salary of $163,000 as a safety precaution.

I have a question: Why hire an extra controller when it’s much cheaper to hire someone whose only function is to keep the sleepy ATC awake? 

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He or She/Him or Her/His or Hers

In his 2010 State of the Union speech, President Obama had only one significant occasion to use the third person singular. That was when he spoke of education. The sentence was structured so that the word /student/ required a pronoun in agreement with it. Fortunately, he did not use the cumbersome phrase /he or she/ but selected /she/ to ‘agree’ with /student/. I doubt that he (or his writers) are unaware of how to circumvent the awkward /he or she/ conundrum that impedes smoothly spoken (or written) English. It is also possible that the choice of /she/ was intended to play it safe with the politically correct crowd. Even presidents must answer to a higher authority.

I would have much preferred a change of the word /student/ to its plural, thereby achieving gender-free agreement between a plural subject and its corresponding third person plural pronoun. On the surface, my exception to the use of /she/ in this instance may appear to be sexist. It is not. On the contrary. I don’t believe that the time-honored exclusive use of the word /he/ would have been any better. But, if it’s sexist to use /he/ exclusively to stand for both sexes, why is it not sexist to use /she/ exclusively? In deference to unreasonable political correctness, President Obama fell into an avoidable trap.

I am not a grammarian, but there are sounds (and texts) that need not be jarring. Among the worst of these are sentences like, “When a student complains about grammatical rules, you might remind them that many rules’ reflect reality.”  The word /student/ describes an individual; /them/ describes two or more individuals. The clash between /student/ and /them/ is jarring. Yet, logic and basic grammar have been sacrificed to accommodate one of the many damaging notions imbedded in political correctness, i.e., reverse roles and you achieve equity.

Tiptoeing around the gender issue also creates logical havoc in a sentence like, “When a student complains about grammatical rules, you might remind them that many basic rules are in place for logical reasons.”

But this blog is not really about grammar or logic. I have a nobler purpose for it. Consider the following sentence: “I’d like him or her to take out his or her book so that he or she might begin his or her lesson.” That is logically, grammatically, and politically correct, but it is also patently absurd. A simple change transforms that sentence to a smooth and reasonable one. Change /him or her/ to /them/; change his or her/ to /their/; change /book/ to /books/; change /he or she/ to /they/; change /his or her/ to /their/; and /lesson/ to /lessons/, and you have a perfectly reasonable sentence: “I’d like them to take out their books so that they might begin their lessons.” Or, if you prefer: “I’d like the students to take out their books so that they might begin their lessons.” The plural shall make you free!

Good speakers avoid the /he or she/ trap as much as possible, but even they struggle to keep up with communication taboos. Terrified by the possibility that they might offend someone as they tiptoe through the minefield of political correctness, they are on constant alert. They guard against members of their audiences who are also constantly alert in their search for a strident ‘gotcha!’ against a speaker who ‘slips.’ It’s enough to make a speaker stammer and stutter. I’ve seen panic in the eyes of speakers who abruptly double-back to correct a ‘slip’: “I wish that he would—er—or she would… .” The faster the pace of speech, the greater the danger of slipping.

Using the plural is one way to get around the awkward and dreaded /he or she/ trap. There is another. That tactic requires more skill than the one described above, but is very useful for sustained use. For example, you are speaking to an audience of men and women. Your concept requires hypothetical examples of what each of them will be required to do at work. You can completely avoid the /he or she/ challenge by ‘sprinkling’ your message with a ‘he’ or a ‘she’ from context to context. For example, “He may prefer to lunch in our cafeteria. She may prefer to lunch at a restaurant.”

However, there is a caveat to the use of this technique. Many politically correct people are consciously or unconsciously sexist. ‘Sprinkling’ a message with one pronoun at a time (he or she) requires skill in distribution. Even if you are a master at it, you can never be sure of the hostility you might spark in a sexist’s selective interpretation of what you are ‘implying’ by using /he/ in some instances but /she/ in others. Objectivity is not a characteristic of partisans. So, you must be sure to establish parity at the beginning of your speech. After a few /he/ and /she/ exchanges, your audience (and you) will relax about potential traps. The same holds true for a Q & A session that may follow.

Languages are largely idiomatic. When Spanish-speaking persons speak or hear the word /padres/, they think both /parents/, not ‘two fathers.’ In context, the plural /padres/ means father and mother. That concept is automatic, even when they are thinking in private.

I spoke a gender language (Sicilian) before I spoke English. That is how I know that Spanish-speaking people exclusively think /mother and father/ when the word padres is used in the context of parents. When I speak Sicilian, Italian, or a bit of Spanish or French, gender languages, I never even think that the words for chair, sky, or truth reflect literal gender or imply gender at all. That is because gender languages randomly and arbitrarily assign masculine, feminine, and (as in German) neuter forms to words. German even has a neuter definite article for the noun /woman/! In Italian slang, there are two principal words for male genitals: one is male, the other female! The word for /radio/ has a feminine definite article and a masculine noun attached to it. There is no reason for that. It just is what it is.

There are even rare instances in which the gender of a noun (and its modifiers) switch from ‘male’ to ‘female’ depending on whether the noun is singular or plural. One might ask, what is it that determines whether a word is masculine or feminine? The answer is: Nothing whatever. Language is a convention, not a social statement.

It is impossible to eradicate the centuries-old convention in gender languages that assign gender to every noun and its ‘agreeing’ gender modifiers. The speakers of those languages in no way think of chairs or apples or stars as male, female, or neuter. Neither did their ancestors. The ‘gender’ for their words, including words for concepts (!), is totally arbitrary and was established randomly as the language grew. In one gender language a specific object is ‘male,’ in another that same object is ‘female,’ in still another, it is ‘neuter.’

Having spoken Sicilian and Italian before I spoke English, I never once thought of objects or concepts as literally male or female. The same was and remains true when ‘he’—in English—is used in the general sense. Centuries ago, a single androgynous pronoun might have been coined for /he and she/. But it wasn’t. It’s a bit late for that now. Old, Middle, and Modern English happened. Modern English excludes virtually all the structural elements of gender languages. Our indeclinable single definite article and the exclusion of noun and adjective gender inflections assured us of an almost perfectly neuter language. In addition to that, current word adjustments occasioned by societal changes suit the language well, e.g., firefighter in place of fireman, salesperson in place of salesman, and so on.

But militant insistence that the generalized ‘he’ is sexist forces us to use the awkward /he or she/ construction or break the logical case consistency for singular and plural words. It hurts my ears when I hear, “If a person wishes to speak English well, they should study hard.” What a price to pay just to avoid the word he! Ironically, because of its emphasis on gender, /he or she/ defeats the very purpose for which it was created. For most of us it draws attention to gender.

It also hurts my ears to hear the word /housewife/. I wonder why dictionaries don’t label that word archaic. I also flinch when I hear chairman when the ‘chairman’ is a woman. Bad habits die hard. Unfortunately, /he or she/ has become a bad habit.

On the light side, it’s interesting to note that when crimes are committed by an unknown assailant, reporters (and others) drop the politically mandatory /he or she/ and virtually always describe the unknown assailant as ‘he.’ When that happens, no one blinks an ear! Most people (including me) don’t mind that at all and don’t ferret words out of context in order to make politically correct points. I don’t think that many people know that Eskimo means ‘eater of raw flesh,’ but neither is any slur intended when the word is used.

A relentlessly sharp eye for sexist words often blurs a partisan’s vision. On more than one occasion, I’ve heard “feminist” partisans assert that the word history is a composite of two words: his and story! I remember a discussion with a lady who told me that the word /history/ is a prime example of sexist bias in our language. She made that statement despite the fact that I had told her I was aware of gender-based words in English and had even provided her with examples of some of them that had never occurred to her.

Believing that the first syllable in the word /history/ is the possessive /his/ in English, she alleged that /history/ means ‘his story’!

As a courtesy to her I suggested that she no longer use the word history at all as an example of gender words in English. I politely explained that the word is derived from the Greek word /Historia/, and means investigation, research, not ‘his story,’ and that the study of history itself originated in Greece. The word /history/ has nothing whatever to do with gender—it never did. In the way of partisans, the lady didn’t believe me!

My seemingly pedantic details about language are as tedious to me as they almost certainly are to you. But since our language has been scrutinized as a significant agent of sexist bias, I think it’s important to recognize that many words considered sexist were once merely a reflection of reality when jobs and professions were exclusively practiced by men.

At the conceptual level, the word /mankind/ is a convention that distinguishes humans from all other species. I don’t think any of us exclude women from a concept that means men, women, and children. Humankind is an option, of course, and a very good one, but /he or she/ is hopelessly awkward.

In the absence of other instances requiring a single gender pronoun in his State of the Union speech, President Obama’s coerced use of the word /she/ is a sad commentary on the fear generated by rigid political correctness.

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Queen of the Hill

When I was a boy there was a very popular game titled King of the Hill. The title of that game implies all there is to know about it. Ideally, playing it required only a hill and a rush of testosterone. But hills are hard to come by in Brooklyn. So, boys would find a mound in an empty lotif possibleor simply designate a certain area on the pavement as ‘the hill.’ Sovereignty on the hill was maintained by its occupant until some other boy knocked him out of it. As far as I know, girls did not play that game.

When girls of my generation became women they were largely excluded from grown-up games. Virtually all TV commercials featuring competition between men and women reflected the prevalent sexist fantasies of the time. Males were depicted as better suited than women to make the right choice of products, including cars. In auto commercials, women had surrogate sex with sparkling new automobiles, usually lasciviously draping themselves around the body of the car, stroking and caressing its upholstery with fervent desire and tenderness. In commercials with a mate, her participation in choosing a car was limited to the selection of its color. At that time the female’s domain was the home. She reigned supreme only in the choice of appliances, detergents, food products, and disposable diapers.

That was then. Now, no one seems to noticelet alone criticizea sexist reversal in most (if not all) TV commercials featuring male-female competition. On the bright side, women are no longer portrayed as patriarchal helpmates. Good. However, male superiority has been replaced by another cliché wherein the gender roles are reversed.

One of many similar commercial scenarios that come to mind is that of two men frustrated, confused, and disappointed because they have not chosen Verizon as their telephone company. As they fumble and grumble with their cell phones, a woman in the foreground serenely manipulates her vastly superior cell phone, smugly smiling to herself and shaking her head in abject disbelief that men can be so stupid.


This is not an isolated example of sexist commercials. Current commercials with male-female competitive behavior invariably depict women superior to men when in competition. Female characters have retained their superiority in choosing detergents, but they have also uncannily attained superior expertise when in competition with males whether it be choosing detergents, insurance policies, or painkillers. And cars? Just watch them out-race men as they burn rubber!

A PCMatic commercial depicts a married couple. The wife plays her scene as a PC wizard. She is articulate, well groomed, and condescending. The husband is a dodo. Grabbing car keys off a table, she turns to us confidentially and says, ‘girls night out.’ When she flurries out of the house, dodo looks out at us dumbfounded with an expression reminiscent of a Marx Brothers skit.


Women are still extensively seen in commercials that highlight sex as a selling point. But there is a double standard in the unspoken rules of engagement when men and women interact to make a sale. Although it is commercial suicide to depict women as ‘sex objects’ for men, advertisers have no fear of commercials depicting men as sex toys. Fine. But consider the following commercials:

Taking a break from climbing the corporal ladder, three women in an air-conditioned room ogle a male laborer stripped to his waste outdoors on a very hot day and sensually quenching his thirst with a Coke. Looking through their office window, they look forward to their next break.


Mind you, I wish I could be that guy, but as I understand it he is being exploited. (Would that I could so be exploited!)

Two women express their admiration for a man who is examining the wonders of his brand new car. One of the women delivers an unequivocally sexual line: “I wonder what he has under the hood.” Can you imagine the uproar from NOW if the genders of that commercial were reversed!

In the tradition of Irish folklore, a commercial for Irish Spring soap depicts a scantily clad male washing himself in a spring. Two or three women are surreptitiously admiring him. He spots them and flashes a charming smile in recognition of their admiration. (see: last line of Item 1 above)


As far as I know, there are neither individual celebrities nor male organizations that cry out about male sexual exploitation. That is not the case on the distaff side of gender.

Yet, despite myalas, unfulfilleddesire to be admired for my skin-deep attributes, objectivity demands that I thoroughly respect the perception of women who are offended by sexploitation. Objectivity also demands that the same standards apply to males. The sexual subtext of the commercials cited above doesn’t bother me. It’s the double standard that I find objectionable.

A skin-deep reversal of roles is one thing, an intellectual reversal is another. To whatever extent the former may adversely affect TV viewers, the latter carries far more serious consequences, especially to impressionable young minds. None of my grown-up friends have noticed the widespread reversal of roles in commercials just as they had not noticed the implied male superiority in commercials of our generation. As we know, children and teenagers unconsciously absorb societal attitudes, including those imbedded in commercials.

Laws are in place banning commercials from images of people drinking alcoholic beverages or smoking cigarettes. Perhaps it’s time for advertisers to be discouraged from intoxicating viewers with sexual fantasy and from inhaling sexist images.

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David and Goliath

History is packed with accounts of asymmetrical wars. Among those accounts is the war between the Persian Empire and Greece at the beginning of the fifth century BCE. The first pivotal battle took place in the narrow pass at Thermopylae. There, three hundred Spartans and a few thousand other Greeks stemmed the tide of twenty thousand ‘invincible’ Persian warriors intent on demolishing the fledgling Greek culture.

Asymmetrical wars are waged between severely disparate powers. The usual pattern of warfare for the weaker power is to develop tactics that are ideal for its terrain thereby partially or heavily diminishing the disparity. There are also times when the terrain is not at all a significant factor.

The popular belief is that current American wars are asymmetrical in favor of the United States. That is obviously true in terms of military power. But there are other factors that tell me otherwise.

Most of my generation thought of World War ll as a ‘good’ war. Americans were not polarized. The overwhelming majority of us knew exactly why we were on America’s side. That war was also viewed as necessary. Almost all of the remaining few of us still hold that view. Many young people agree with us. For others, young and old, ‘good and necessary’ are debatable. Being selfish, I’m glad the democracies and (ironically) the Soviet Union won over the dictatorships. I’m glad of that because I strongly suspect that I would not be able to write this blog if we had lost that war.

In any case, I believe that the one thing we can all agree on is the profound difference in American public opinion regarding every war we’ve fought since the end of World War ll, including the Cold War. The difference between public attitudes during those wars and World War ll is profound.

The ‘blood, sweat, and tears’ are still there, so are spies and lies. But we no longer have clear territorial and ideological boundaries. Western civilization put religious wars to rest a long time ago. Contrary to the opinion of millions of people in both hemispheres, the United States is not engaged in a religious war. We are mired in tribal and theocratic regions for reasons that have nothing to do with religion on our part.

[Shiites and Sunnis are still at it! The Middle Ages have come back to haunt us. Like a dog that will not give up a bone, theocratic leaders are still badgering us with talk of the Crusades. It’s bad enough to have masses of Muslims influenced by regurgitated issues, but worse is the expectation by some Americans that American Muslims should be permitted to observe Sharia Law.

Burqas? The Lady in the Harbor welcomes ‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free;’ she says nothing about faceless people. Freedom of religion does not include persons who are in effect disguised. Our way of life (despite its expansive diversity) requires faces to be seen in public, even those of Muslim women who prefer to wear burqas. There are heated parliamentary debates about immanent or already legislated laws in European countries with significant Muslim populations. Basic secular arguments include: a) Observance of extreme religious custom vs. Danger to society, and b) Freedom of choice in dress vs. Objection to what burqas represent: a rejection of Western Civilization and the Suppression of women.

Ironically, Muslim women are on the spot whichever argument is being spotlighted! Yet, it is good to know that democratic governments are sensitive to the plight of women under the domination of their husbands and fathers. For example, one of the European countries has (or is considering) legislation to protect Muslim women. Although Muslim women wearing burqas in public may be fined, it is the husband (or, I suppose, father) who will be heavily fined and/or imprisoned if he forces his wife (or daughter) to wear a burqa in public. Perhaps brothers, guardians, uncles, etc…can also coerce women to wear veils in public. I suppose there are all kinds of variations and details about Sharia Law in different countries. I haven’t researched those niceties because I avoid unnecessary ‘scholarship.’

Besides, the essential part of the burqa issue is whether or not burqas constitute a danger to society. Personally, I enjoy the diversity of dress in my hometown, New York City. Indian dress is particularly beautiful. But I’m depressed by the sight of fully covered women with only hands and niqabs to reveal that there is a woman behind a tomb of cloth. On the other hand, I’ve seen women whose Muslim-based garments are exquisite—they do not include burqas, of course.

Although I hear lots of immigrants (as well as native citizens) tell me what they don’t like about America, I don’t tell members of either group to go to some other country if they don’t like the ‘American Way.’ However, Muslims (among others) must realize that if a religious conviction irreconcilably clashes with jurisprudence in America, they do have to leave the country. Some convictions demand a price.

Stoning a woman to death? What is considered justice by extremely religious Muslims, is considered murder according to our law.]

Of all the tactics employed by the weaker military powers of the Middle East and Southwest Asia, there are two at the top of the list that are gravely immoral.

There is no justification for the use of civilians as shields in order to balance asymmetrical warfare. That practice is not only barbaric, it belies the terrorists’ fervent claims of honor. Knowing that civilized soldiers will neither kill human shields nor bomb hospitals and mosques, terrorists take advantage of inviolate human values.

Suicide bombers’ also cannot be justified as a tactic designed to reduce asymmetrical warfare. “Ah,” one might exclaim, “what of the loyalty to Islam that prompts a man to voluntarily become a suicide bomber?” Consider this: a homicide bomber has the guarantee that he will die instantly and go directly to paradise where all sorts of delights await him, including seventy-two virgins. Yes, most Muslims do not take this belief any more seriously than their Christian counterparts’ notion that heaven offers winged angels; and yes, the houri are often interpreted in ways that are not sexual in the way we know sex in this world. But innocent people must not be maimed or killed to satisfy the religious ardor and sexual desires of men who interpret the Qoran literally.

Many politically correct people object to the use of the word ‘terrorist.’ Some prefer the words, ‘freedom fighter.’ They make no distinction between soldiers in battle and terrorists. War itself is terrible, of course, but terrifying civilians is nothing more than a cowardly act designed to balance military asymmetry at the expense of innocent people. So far, terrorists are doing their bit to raise a question as to which adversary has the better end of these allegedly asymmetrical wars.

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