Monday, January 08, 2007

Same Stuff, Different Year

By: UnrepentantNewDealer


So, Happy New Year and New Blog Formatting. Well, it's once again been a while since I last posted. What can I say, I've been busy. But it doesn't mean I haven't thought of things to blog about. Starting with my own New Year's resolutions, of sorts.

I've never been a big fan of New Year's resolutions. Honestly, the question to ask yourself is not whether you kept last year's New Year's resolutions, but whether you even still remember them. Far better to not even bother. My standby for years has been, "My New Year's resolution is to not make any more New Year's resolutions."

That being said, I do have certain... goals, for the new year. First off, lose a little weight. I've been eating healthier and even started going to the gym towards the end of last semester (which, as those who know me can attest, is little short of a miracle).

I also have come to realize recently how long it has been since I last sat down to write--not a blog post or a school paper, but writing creatively for fun, writing short stories, plays, poems, sonnets, even long stream-of-consciousness ramblings. In middle and high school, I spent a fair amount of time doing just this kind of writing, and I have always enjoyed doing it. I even fancy I'm not half-bad at it either. Somehow since I went off to college, I have virtually stopped writing for fun. I tell myself I don't have time right now, I have so many other things to do, and I'll do it later, but later somehow never comes. And I have plenty of ideas of things I want to write, whole scenes, and stories, and sagas, and plot lines all laid out. So, it really comes down to just taking the time to transfer them down onto paper (I'm somewhat old-fashioned that way, particularly with poems).

This past fall, I went to a poetry reading in Greensboro and after listening to five minutes worth of wooden and uncreative "poetry," declared (very softly to myself) "I can write poems better than they can." I spent the rest of the evening silently critiquing their poetry and devising better poems on the same subjects. Those efforts at one-up-manship (believe me, it wasn't hard) as well as some other poems and a short play that's been incubating in my brain for over a year will all appear on this blog this year. That's my New Year's promise to you, oh legions of loyal readers (and I'm talking to both of you!)


Well, I've not been posting much, but there's been no let up in the news: the usual, people dying or making fools of themselves. The big story has been death of Gerald Ford, which has sent the MSM into a veritable orgy of eulogizing and rhapsodizing about the Great Gerald Ford. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't think he was a bad man or a bad president (nor an especially good one, either), but I fail to see what he did that he deserves such accolades and lionization.

The standard narrative, which is taught to us all in school and has been forced down our throats ad nauseum for years is that Ford, Nixon's VP and successor after he resigned, courageously chose to pardon Nixon, a decision which cost Ford election in his own right in 1976 but which is now universally seen to have been the right decision. Honestly, Ford wasn't in office all that long, so eulogizers of Ford have little else to eulogize, so they play this "noble pardon" bit to the hilt. From all the worshipful praise heaped upon this man by the MSM, you'd almost think Ford was one of our greatest presidents. The always-overrated Peggy Noonan outdid herself this time: "When he pardoned Richard Nixon, he threw himself on a grenade to protect the country from shame, from going too far. It was an act of deep political courage."

Yet what was so noble or courageous about the pardon? How would trying the former president in a court of law have been a "shameful" act? How would treating the president as being subject to the law, rather than above it, have been "going too far?" Didn't Nixon himself bring shame upon the country, didn't he go too far, when he decided that, in his own words, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal,"?

What kind of twisted logic is this? Christopher Hitchins for once has it right: "By the standards of 'healing' celebrated this week, one could argue that O.J. Simpson should have been spared indictment lest the vexing questions of race be unleashed to trouble us again... Fine, if you don't mind living in a banana republic."

Implicit in the praise of Ford is the assumption that it would have been a horrible thing for a president who broke the law to be prosecuted for it. Yet, would it? Supposedly, Americans were in such a fragile state after Nixon resigned that it would have been unnessarily socially divisive to have allowed Nixon to stand trial and Americans just wanted to put it all behind them and "move on." Yet, in fact, Americans tuned in in droves to watch the televised Watergate hearings and were overwhelmingly furious when Ford pardoned Nixon, judging by Ford's approval rating falling from 71% to 49% in the week after the pardon. Contrast this with the 2/3 of Americans who told pollsters they thought the Clinton impeachment hearings were a farce and wanted to "move on"-- at a time when the Republican party and the MSM didn't seem so concerned with the delicate emotional state--or even the clear wishes--of the American people. Besides, it certainly isn't the government's job to look out for our fragile national psyche by shielding criminals from punishment.

But who didn't want to see justice done? Who had a vested interest in burying this whole mess? Why, the Republican party, of course. The sooner Nixon faded from the scene, the sooner voters would stop linking the party with its long-time leader and stop punishing Republican politicians at the polls. So, Ford had a vested interest in pardoning Nixon. He may have fallen on a grenade, but he took one for his team, not the American people.

Most obviously, of course, Nixon himself benefitted from the pardon. What is curious is how few people have wondered whether the pardon was part of a quid pro quo. Only a few days before Nixon stepped down, his chief of staff, Alexander Haig, stopped by Ford's office and told him Nixon was contemplating resigning and that his successor could pardon him. As if he wasn't sure he'd gotten the point across, Haig gave Ford two pieces of paper, one that detailed the President's power to pardon, the other a blank pardon form. Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. Say no more.

Nixon was a brilliant man. He knew he would face legal trouble down the road, so a presidential pardon would be a wise prerequisite for him stepping down in the first place. And surprise, surprise, a month after he stepped down, he got just the pardon he'd asked for from Ford. And all just a coincidence! Honestly, how stupid do they think we are?

Worse, Ford was hardly disinterested in the matter. Since Ford's death, it has come out, in a piece that Bob Woodward of Watergate fame, had been waiting to publish until after Ford's death, that Ford was close friends with Nixon since the late 1940s, long before Watergate. He called himself Nixon's "only real friend," and promised Nixon in 1973 after the Watergate scandal broke, "Anytime you want me to do anything, under any circumstances, you give me a call, Mr. President."

Most damning of all is this gem from his just-released 2005 interview with Woodward: "I looked upon him as my personal friend. And I always treasured our relationship. And I had no hesitancy about granting the pardon, because I felt that we had this relationship and that I didn't want to see my real friend have the stigma."

Got that? He pardoned Nixon because Nixon was his friend and he didn't want to see his friend suffer the consequences of his own actions. A stirring tribute to the enduring power of friendship over the rule of law.

There are other nagging problems with the standard narrative. First, Ford never consulted his own attorney general about the pardon. Second, the pardon was a blanket pardon covering every action Nixon had undertaken as president, a preemptive pardon issued before any charges had ever been filed against Nixon.

Third, Ford didn't just stop with pardoning Nixon. Three days after Nixon resigned, he called Ford demanding that he hand over all of his official documents and the Oval Office tapes he'd made- about 1,000 reels of tapes and 46 million pieces of paper--all potentially incriminating evidence. The same day he pardoned Nixon, Ford announced that he was going to give those documents and tapes to Nixon, "with the explicit understanding that Nixon was eventually going to destroy many of the unreleased tapes." An outraged Congress quickly passed a law placing all the evidence under government protection, evidence which proved invaluable to historians seeking to figure out just how much Nixon knew about Watergate. If Ford had given those tapes and papers to Nixon, we'd almost certainly never have found out the full truth.

The most damaging aspect of this whole sordid mess is that Nixon was allowed to escape justice, setting a dangerous precedent. George H.W. Bush, on his way out the door in 1992, pardoned a number of his associates who had been involved in the Iran-Contra scandal and were in danger of serious jail time. Bill Clinton did the same. Scooter Libby's defense strategy seems to be to try to drag things out long enough to get a pardon from George W. Bush before he leaves office in two years. And should any former president, now or in the future, be thought in danger of legal action, it would be political suicide for the sitting president not to pardon them. "Why can't you be more like Ford, why can't you be a healer like he was, you're just dragging out our 'long national nightmare.'"

The legacy of the pardon is merely to reaffirm Nixon's chilling philosophy: "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal." This kind of presidential immunity cannot help but lead to the futher corruption of our politics and the decay of our democratic institutions, as the principle of no man being above the law is tossed overboard--in the name of "healing" our polarized nation and "moving forward."

A final note: The MSM has found another reason to praise Ford since his death: he apparently also told Woodward in June 2004 that he would never have invaded Iraq and that it was a big mistake. So, Ford gets credit for having warned (more than a year after the invasion, mind you) that we should never have gone into Iraq. Ok, fine. Just one little problem: Ford told Woodward he could not publish or otherwise tell a soul about his true thoughts on the Iraq war until after Ford was dead. Had Ford spoken out publicly in June 2004, it could have made a real difference in the debate and perhaps the election, as well.

It's worth remembering that at the time, there was pretty much no Republican on record as saying going to war was a mistake. Had Ford publicly expressed his opinion on the war, it would have broadened the discussion and made the position of war critic a bipartisan one, indeed, given Ford's stature, a position above politics. We will never know if his speaking out then would have changed anything or led to a change in course in Iraq. But by privately speaking out against the war, while remaining mum on the subject in public, Ford got to have it both ways: to posthumously get credit for opposing the war without having to withstand the barrage of criticism such a position would have earned him from his own party while he was still alive and his criticism could have done any good. There are many things one can call such shallow-minded opportunism, but courage is not one of them.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Maybe That's Why I'm Posting So Often

By: Michael Akerman


It might be because of the New Year.

You see, I've been on a sort of kick, if you will, of self-improvement. I've been practicing guitar (I suck) and trumpet (my embouchure sucks, but that's about it. I'm pretty good otherwise), and, oddly enough, I've been practicing art, which is something I've traditionally been very bad at, and rather dismissive toward. As I explain on one of my postings at the aforelinked site, while I'm quite skilled at describing an imagined scene, I'd like to be able to draw it.

I think people are far too content to maintain their own status quo. I've certainly been guilty of it for the past, oh, twenty years or so (and I'm sure I'll fall into that pattern again in the future, but I'll try to avoid it). After all, reaching too far is uncomfortable, even if it increases our flexibility.

But I think it is important to try new things and to learn new skills. I suppose it's a question of whether one wishes to be a Renaissance man or a specialist, but I still don't think that's really the case. After all, a specialist is focused in one area, but cannot study it all the time. It is possible, and maybe necessary, to have hobbies that are enjoyable and build new skills even if one is a specialist.

So, I've resolved to build my skills in the arts and music. I've been trying to push myself by drawing difficult subjects (faces, for instance, are bloody hard to draw), for instance, and I find I'm quite enjoying how quickly I've improved. I think I also need to push myself to exercise on some kind of regular schedule, especially since I no longer have a gym class, though I've never liked how slowly physical improvement happens.

Dear readers, treat yourself to something new. Pick up a guitar, or write a glowing description of a beautiful scene in excruciating detail, or craft as fine a poem as you can make, or make a difficult drawing as well as you can, or come up with puns about random words, or think of all the words that rhyme with a random word: all of these train several useful skills (especially musical training). You don't have to show anyone your work: tear the drawings to pieces if you're not proud of it, though you might want to think twice about that, because keeping past work is good way to see how much you've improved.

I think we really ought to learn something new every day.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Friday, January 05, 2007

You've Got a Friend in Me

By: Michael Akerman


I feel like making a post.

And something has bugged me since I first came to college, so I'll do that (especially since it's a short topic).

What on Earth possesses people to collude such digital collections as a network of 200 friends on a site such as Facebook?

For anyone to whom that statement seems to oddly resemble themselves, let me ask you something. If I were to show you pictures, randomly selected, of the people who are among your 200 friends, could you identify them? Even first name only? What do you know about those people, without looking? Do you know their majors, their hometowns, or at least why you know them?

Can you truly call even half of them friends?

I could understand it, to some extent, if the vast majority of the culprits were female. Humanity developed around a matriarchal home life, with the mother left to care for the children. It is reasonable that, due to the necessity of cooperation with a large number of people, women have a genetic tendency toward friendliness and a drive to build a large social network. However, while most of the offenders have a vagina, a very large number of the shadows that offend me are of the more penis-toting variety.

Even if it were the case that only women collected friends, it would still be highly illogical. A social network is only as useful as it is trustworthy, and a virtual stranger is only slightly more trustworthy than a veritable stranger.

I must admit that it's just a word, friend. It shouldn't bother me. So many other words in the English language are abused to a much larger degree, and "friend" is still at least retaining its basic meaning in the form of a social relationship.

But it does bother me.

Because "friend" is (or "was," but in both cases, "should be") a special word, ranking at the worst just barely below "love." Friendships are the very network that builds communities. Friendships provide the people that found and form a cohesive, effective country. In the pinnacle of friendship's many forms, it is the idea that forms families, once one is so lucky as to find his true best friend.

So, in some ways, friendship is love. Friends should be people that can be counted on to aid you when you need aid, to soothe you when you need soothing, and to save you when they can. Yet, we are flippant. Someone can so easily be "just a friend," people are somehow not able to find time for their friends, and now we steadfastly decay into accepting any minor acquaintance as a friend, when we will surely turn around and forget him.

(It occurs to me that Facebook should add an "Acquaintance" designation, which would act like Friends, without watering down a word that so has past so wholly defined the deepest relationships of society)

So, stop it. Vow to only accept people whom you can actually count as true friends. Don't troll, as the kiddies say, for "friends" among random hot women or men. Because no one is impressed by the number of false friends you have acquired. No one is intrigued by a person who seems so desperately lonely that they have to surround themselves with a shroud of seeming popularity. The only man with true happiness is one who has true friends.

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman

Monday, January 01, 2007

New Years

By: Michael Akerman


Today is January 1st, 2007.

Today is a day for celebration and consideration, mourning and meditation.

We should celebrate the arrival of the new year, which, in keeping with traditions, is a blank slate for our achievements and skills. We have a fresh year in which to further perfect ourselves, and I hope you all do.

We should mourn those lost in the last year and celebrate what they gave in life. Each person grants unique traits and skills to the world, and every person, from a bishop to a murderer, is loved by at least one person. It is something to be thankful for: the human species is hard pressed to totally abandon someone. Even without families, there are millions of regular people who gladly help those in need, through organized charity or good old-fashioned pleasantness.

We should mourn the continued presence of evil in the world, which seemingly cannot be erased from human nature. We should do our part, though, to try to stop it in ourselves and our neighbors. We must try to consider the full consequences of our actions, and not let our baser instincts guide our actions. We must pay attention to the needs and actions of our neighbors, so that crimes cannot go unseen. Knowing of abuse or rape or any other heinous act and ignoring it is as criminal as carrying out the action yourself.

We should celebrate the strength of the American economy, which has only failed in any real sense once and is strong in boom or recession. However, we should mourn the state of the impoverished and unemployed, and consider what we can do to help our downtrodden neighbors. Perhaps this means government intervention or perhaps the ultimate solution is lower taxes to create jobs: either way, we can't truly effect that change. What we can do is provide our time, energy, and money to others. Donate to charities, bring a nice dinner to a family pressed into hard times, or volunteer to work at a church daycare, and always remember that those you are helping are dignified brothers and sisters in mankind who deserve not our pity, but our aide. Help others and others will help you: that is the only way mankind has ever survived.

We should celebrate our American republic. Even if you think our rights have been attacked, or that the administration seeks empirical power, know that the checks and balances still work. The Congress has been pushed back to the Democratic party, the Supreme Court stands stalwart, with no apparent bias (regarding the court as a whole, not individual justices). Even the fear and stupidity over terrorism has died down. We traveled by air over Christmas break, and only had to wait about 10 minutes or less after checking our luggage to get to the gate.

As the number of casualties hits 3000 today, we should mourn the soldiers lost in the continuing war in Iraq. In doing so, we should celebrate their bold sacrifice to our country (though not precisely in defense of it). Volunteers all, our soldiers knew of the risks of their profession yet still were willing to risk it all in service. That is the definition of bravery.

And we should celebrate that the war has incurred so few casualties. After nearly four years, only 3000 of our soldiers have died. In the approximately four years of US involvement in World War II, some 407,000 soldiers died. Though each death is tragic, this war has represented a triumph of technology and battle strategy that has prevented unnecessary military deaths.

That said, we should mourn the extended nature of the war and the failed post-war strategy. The Iraq War was an effective war that failed to stick the landing, with the war administration, from the President to the generals, failing to plan for the unique challenges of nation-building. We should consider why, and how to fix it. The problem, as I see it, is one of training and effort. Our generals, brilliant though they be, are not trained for nation-building. Though they are great at strategy, they aren't practiced in peace, and few people possess the kind of genius that allows them to tackle a problem effectively with no prior experience. While the government is in the unique position of knowing how to run a nation, very little effort was put forth to enact that knowledge in Iraq. I believe that the solution to the Iraq problem lies in our experience politicians: the governors, senators, and representatives who have proven themselves brilliant in the administration of government, in the provision of services, and in the maintenance of an economy.

These should be the overarching resolutions for our government and ourselves in 2007. Each American who cares for his country should try to meet these ideals, regardless of what his other resolutions be.

But most importantly this year, take some time to laugh. Find activities that you enjoy doing, and spend some time doing them. Don't kill yourself with work or worry, because life is short already, and all of our earthly achievements are distressingly fleeting. So, enjoy yourselves and let others do the same by having fun while avoiding causing grief to your fellow man.

And have a happy 2007, dear readers. Regardless of the quantity or frequency of posts, IVIC will still be here as long as I can maintain it. Let this be a year of learning and growth, of happiness and laughter, and of achievement and pride for each of you!

By my hand,
~Michael Akerman