Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Happy New Year

Here in New York we have less than five hours left before 2003 is history. I hereby give you both an amusing and serious look at ringing in 2004. You may have to register to see the articles, but registration is free.

Stay safe and healthy.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Preacher Bashing on Christmas Day

Who would diss a reverend on Christmas? The Freedom Rider would, if the reverend in question is Henry Lyons. Check out my Black Commentator column.

Speaking of BC, I hope you read "White Terror." If you are a regular reader of this column you know that white supremacists armed with cyanide bombs, among other weapons, were arrested in Texas way back in May. You probably haven't seen any mention of it in the mainstream, read corporate, media. But don't worry. You have Black Commentator.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Track Santa Claus

How could I have forgotten. In case you want to know where Santa is, check here. Merry Christmas, peace on earth and good will to all.
Lee Boyd Malvo

I am glad that common sense prevailed and a Virginia jury spared the life of Lee Boyd Malvo. I wrote about the case in my Black Commentator column.
Anthrax Vaccine

It is too late to save the lives of two young soldiers, Rachael Lucy and Zeferino Colunga, but a federal judge has ruled that the government can no longer force soldiers to take the anthrax vaccine. Read more about the Lucey and Colunga tragedies. Too add insult to injury to a grieving family, Colunga's father was deported back to Mexico after his son died.

The anthrax vaccines may be responsible for the conditions that cause Gulf War Syndrome, yet the military insisted that all soldiers going to Iraq take them. Of course, with no WMDs found, the risk to soldiers lives was unnecessary. Now perhaps there will be some justice from an administration that claims to support the troops. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Republican Hypocrisy

Christmas Comes to Iraq

I love the Onion. Read here and you will see why.

Saddam's Capture, Conspiracy Theory #2

A British newspaper is reporting that Saddam Hussein was in Kurdish hands before being captured by U.S. troops. In a December 15th post I asked why a member of Congress claimed to know that a capture was imminent more than two weeks before it took place. The Bush administration is going to leave more conspiracy theories in its wake than any other. The JFK assassination is nothing compared to the unsolved mysteries we now have on our hands.

The chair of the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks, former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, said that 9/11 "didn't have to happen" and asked why certain officials who should have lost their jobs did not. Of course he has back tracked and watered down his remarks. I guess he got a talking to from Karl Rove.

Once again Americans are forced to rely on European news agencies to find out what is happening in the world. Wll the New York Times and Washington Post report on this new Saddam capture story? Don't bet on it.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Shame of the Thurmond Family

"For the first time in my life, I felt shame."
Mary T. Thompkins Freeman, niece of Strom Thurmond

Strom Thurmond's family feel awkward and embarassed. Essie Mae Washington-Williams give us the money quote, "Well that's just too bad." I'm with you Essie Mae. If Ms. Washington-Williams can endure a life of shame then the rest of the family can deal with Jay Leno's jokes.

None of the people quoted in the article express shame for the right reason. Nieces and nephews proclaimed their relationship with Strom Thurmond when his own daughter could not. To add insult to injury they question her motives. That really is too bad.

More Freedom Rider

See my column in Black Commentator. I tackle the thorny issue of the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby on members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Be Careful What You Ask For

For months we have been told that capturing Saddam would solve all of our problems in Iraq. But of course our ignorance and/or dismissal of Iraqi culture has once again undermined our own efforts.

Seeing Saddam humiliated via tongue depressor has caused deep ambivalence among Iraqis, even for those who hated him. Some refuse to believe he has been caught. The capture has caused tensions between Sunnis and Shiites and culminated in violence. Read about it here.

This student chant was heard in the city of Mosul.

Ba`thiyyah, Ba`thiyyah
Wa la naqbal al-`ar

Baathists, Baathists,
and we do not accept humiliation!

Na`m, na`m
li'l-Qa'id Saddam

Yes, yes, to the Leader Saddam!

Ma natanazzal `an ithnayn:
al-`Iraq wa Saddam Husayn

We will not back down from two things:
Iraq and Saddam Hussein!

Bush, Bush, isma` zayn
kullna n'hibb Saddam Husayn

Bush, Bush, listen well:
We all love Saddam Hussein!

Namut, numut
wa yahya al-watan
Fa'l-tasqut Amirika

We'll die, we'll die,
but the Nation will live!
And America will fall!

Majlis al-Hukm, Ya Jaban
Ya `Amil al-Amrikan!

Governing Council, you cowards!
Agents of the Americans!

A Close Shave for Saddam

Queer eye for a straight guy.

A Raisin in the Sun, Starring P. Diddy

I am happy to hear that Lorraine Hansberry's groundbreaking play, A Raisin in the Sun, will be revived on Broadway. I am not happy that P. Diddy will be the star.

Diddy will sell tickets certainly. It is too bad that a rap mogul has to be the star in order to insure commercial success. I guess those black actors spending a fortune to attend Yale or Julliard need to save their money and get recording contracts instead.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Pain of Essie Mae Washington-Williams

Essie Mae Washington Williams, who this week acknowledged being Strom Thurmond's daughter, grew up without either of her parents. She was raised by an aunt and had little contact with her mother. Her mother introduced her to Thurmond when she was a teenager but neglected to tell her before hand that he was white. As she put it, "Then obviously I knew."

The Washington-Williams story is the story of black America in microcosm. The right of white men to sexually subjugate black women began in slavery and continued until very recently. We will never know the nature of the relationship between Thurmond and Mrs. Washington Williams mother. Apparently her mother was above the age of consent in South Carolina but I really don't care. Could a young black girl in South Carolina in the 1920s stop the advances of a white man? No. Many black women ended up on greyhound buses and trains headed north because that was the only escape from the Strom Thurmonds of the world. My maternal grandparents left Alabama for Ohio and never looked back. My mother says that they were never nostalgic for the south and never wanted to return, not even to visit. The terrors inflicted by Strom Thurmond and his ilk sent millions of people across the Mason-Dixon line, many like my grandparents never returned.

I don't know why Essie Mae Washington Williams didn't come forward sooner. His financial support of her was probably predicated on her continued silence. I respect her reasons for keeping quiet but I do wish this news had been revealed when Thurmond was still alive.
Paul Laurence Dunbar and the Wright Brothers

As you celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight, and I know you will, don't forget to make note of their connection to poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dunbar was a class mate of Orville Wright at Dayton, Ohio's Central High School. Dunbar was the only black student in the class.

The Wrights owned a printing press and bicycle shop. Orville helped Dunbar publish the Dayton Tattler, the town's first paper devoted to its black community. Unfortunately it only lasted three issues. The Wrights also built a bike for Dunbar. You can see it if you visit Dunbar's home in Dayton.

How does the Freedom Rider possess such great knowledge? Dayton, Ohio is my father's home town. (Are you happy Dad?) If you happen to visit that fair city I recommend a visit to Dunbar's home. You will be smarter for having done so.

As an aside, Dunbar's mother outlived him by many years. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 33. Mrs. Dunbar attended my family's church, Weyman AME. My grandmother still remembers her and told me that she attended her funeral.

Now my whole family is happy.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Show Biz Parents

It is bad news if your own parents won't defend you unless they get cash. Michael Jackson's mom and dad, Joe Jackson and Katherine Jackson, were paid for a recent interview.

Michael Jackson's parents have a lot to answer for. Like others before them they lived off their children and in the process ruined their lives. If I raised a child who mutilated his face and proclaimed his love for sleeping with kids I wouldn't give interviews at all.

I don't know if Michael is guilty of these current charges or not, but Joe and Katherine Jackson are guilty of lousy parenting. Dad was abusive and Mom was the enabler. When asked if he beat Michael his father replied that he never used a stick, he used a belt. Hence, no beating took place. I have some sympathy for Michael, he got stuck with a jackass of a father. If Michael goes to jail Mom and Dad should be put in the cell next to his. The same goes for the idiots who allowed Michael access to their kids.

You need a license to drive a car but not to have kids. If we had licensing for parents the Jackson family should have theirs revoked.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Conspiracy Theory #1

Did we know where Saddam was hiding before he was taken into custody on Saturday, December 13th? Did we have him in custody before December 13th? On December 1st, Illinois Republican Congressman Ray LaHood declared that Saddam's capture was imminent. Was LaHood blowing smoke or did he really know something?

I say this is the first theory because I know there are more to follow.

Who Will Try Saddam?

Iran wants to take part in any trial of Saddam Hussein. Saddam invaded Iran and caused over one million casualties. The Iranians want to know who provided Iraq with the chemical weapons that caused so many deaths in their country. Look out Rummy.

Blood is Thicker than Water

We should keep in mind that some Germans backed Hitler until the very end. If we remember that we won't be surprised that there are Iraqis holding pro-Saddam demonstrations. The evil tyrant is still the home town boy who made good. Some demonstrators are still pledging their lives to Saddam. Somehow I don't think that the shooting will stop because we have Saddam.

Be careful what you ask for. You may get it.

Corrected December 14th Post

Haste makes waste. Yesterday I said that Donald Rumsfeld attacked Iran with chemical weapons. He did not. Saddam Hussein did, albeit with Rumsfeld's blessing. Anyway, that and other corrections have been made. I didn't want to be the last kid on my block to comment on the capture, but I should have slowed down just a bit.
Strom Thurmond's Black Daughter

Strom Thurmond's family has avoided a PR disaster by acknowledging what everyone has known for a long time. Essie Mae Williams Washington is his daughter. I hope she goes through with her press conference scheduled for Wednesday, December 17th. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Iraqi Fashion Victim Has Bad Hair Day

A guy who has a different wardrobe every day of the week ends up living in a hole with rodents.

How the mighty have fallen.

But seriously folks, Saddam's capture is indeed big news. He should be put on trial for crimes against humanity committed both in Iraq and in other nations. Juan Cole gives a great summary of the atrocities committed by Hussein. He also points out that we should be careful what we ask for. Iraqis may become emboldened to do things we don't want, like demand a Shiite government. We did say we wanted them to have the government of their choosing. Now we will find out if Bush and company mean what they say.

Remember, when Hussein was committing some of those evil acts he was the friend of the United States. During the Reagan/Bush administration Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iran. He wasn't planning to use them, thinking about using them, or developing a plan to use them. He used them. He killed thousands of people with the blessings of the then U.S. envoy, Donald Rumsfeld. This photo is for those with selective amnesia.

Will Rumsfeld be a co-defendant when Hussein is tried? Ironically, the 20th anniversary of Rummy's visit with Saddam is approaching. On December 19th and 20th of 1983 Rumsfeld made it clear that an enemy of Iran was a friend of the U.S. Several months later Hussein used chemical weapons against Iranians.

By the way, when Hussein gassed the Kurds in 1988, he did so by using helicopters purchased from the U.S. The Senate passed legislation to prevent further arms sales to Iraq. The Reagan White House killed the measure.

So much bad karma, so little time.

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Fit to Print at Last

Just when I began to believe that printing the New York Times was tantamount to thrill killing of innocent trees, they finally came through. On December 4th I complained that the maninstream print media ignored the story of right wing extremists found with a cache of chemical weapons. But today's paper has an op-ed piece about the Texas case. Thank God for small favors.

One of the suspects in this case is a member of the New Jersey Militia. New Jersey? I think of Idaho when the subject of militias come up. Now we have a new reason for jokes about the Garden State.
The Freedom Rider on the Police Killing of Nathaniel Jones

You can read my weekly Black Commentator column here. Nathaniel Jones is now resting in peace, but his death is part of an all too familiar pattern where black people are concerned. Police across the country have a difficult time arresting black people without killing them. Jones is the latest statistic.
Strom Thurmond's Black Daughter

At last the truth is out. For decades it has been rumored that the late Senator Strom Thurmond had a daughter with a black woman. That woman, Essie Mae Washington Williams, is now 78 years of age and in an interview with the Washington Post confirmed that Strom Thurmond was in fact her father.

I used to laugh when I read articles about Thurmond stating that he didn't father children until his 60s. Actually, he didn't father any children with a white woman until he was in his 60s. I am glad that the story is being told, too bad it didn't happen when he was alive.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Michael Jackson Causes Car Accident!

The Freedom Rider has been telling her loyal readers that it is very dangerous to spend too much time thinking about celebrities. But even I didn't think that talking about Michael Jackson could cause a car accident.

A Long Island woman, Cheryl Picker, pulled on to a highway shoulder to call a talk radio show. I am a bit sympathetic only because she wanted to tell the hosts of the program that they spent too much time talking about Jacko. I agree with her but she ended up making her point in a way that she could not possibly have intended.

While parked on the highway shoulder another car rear ended hers and flipped it over. Fortunately Ms. Picker was wearing a seat belt and was not seriously hurt. However, given that as she put it, "The back of the car was in the front of the car," she was very lucky indeed. Of course Ms. Picker's misadventure was recorded for the entertainment of other listeners and the rest of us as well.

Let this be a lesson to you all. Paying too much attention to media drivel may be hazardous to your health.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Gore Endorses Dean and the Kerry Implosion Continues

Gore gets it. He learned the hard way that the inside the Beltway pundits can't be satisfied. They must be taken on and sometimes completely ignored. Already they are targeting Dean but Dean isn't having it. Check out this exchange with CNN's Judy Woodruff about Dean's change in denomination.

WOODRUFF: Was it just over a bike path that you left the Episcopal Church?

DEAN: Yes, as a matter of fact it was. I was fighting to have public access to the waterfront, and we were fighting very hard in the citizens group to allow the public to use it. And this particular diocese decided to join a property rights suit to close it down. I didn't think that was very public spirited.

One thing I feel about religion, you have to be very careful not to be a hypocrite if you're a religious person. It is really tough to preach one thing and do something else. And I don't think you can do that.

WOODRUFF: And you don't believe, Governor, the Republicans are going to have a field day with comments like these?

DEAN: The Republicans always have a field day with things like this. That's the reason Democrats lose, is because they're so afraid of the Republicans having a field day with comments like this or like that, that they never make any comments.

I don't know if Dean will beat Bush, but he certainly knows the right way to go about it. I don't think he will be another McGovern. Dean isn't as liberal as the pundits make him out to be and he is making an effort to expand votes beyond Gore's blue states. He is not only acting like his nomination is inevitable but he is acting like he is already president.

Dean will be the nominee. As I have said before, the other candidates who are in Congress blew it when they voted in support of war in Iraq. I am sorry they didn't have more courage because I would be happier if there were a real fight for the nomination instead of a blow out before any votes have been cast. Speaking of which, it really is time for Kerry to hang it up. As I said back on November 2nd he is only embarrassing himself.

Kerry's latest shot in the foot comes from a Rolling Stone interview. There isn't much he can say to justify supporting the war, but this now famous quote is just pathetic. "Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."

Pardon me Senator, but millions of people around the world knew this misadventure was just that. Without benefit of intelligence briefings I knew the reasons given for going to war were a lie and that the results would be catastrophic for the U.S. and to the world. Plenty of us knew that Bush would f_ _k it up and we didn't have to curse to make our points. Then again we weren't desperate to stay in a presidential race we should have won handily. Kerry looked less foolish shooting birds and riding motorcycles with Jay Leno.

I Miss Papi

I miss George H. W. Bush. Just think of it. He got Arab countries to help beat Saddam in the first Gulf War and he got Europe and Japan to pay for the effort. Pretty neat wasn't it? There was no request for $87 billion from the tax payers when dad was running things.

I am joking of course. You have to be pretty bad to make me nostalgic for the guy who waged war to get Manuel Noriega. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Daddy Bush got Arab support because he wasn't afraid to stand up to the Israelis. Here is an excerpt from Juan Cole's site.

The Bush senior administration had a big fight with then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in winter of 1991 because it would not share the "Identify Friend or Foe" codes in use over Iraq with the Israelis. Without broadcasting the right IFF codes, Israeli fighter planes that had tried to strike Iraq would have risked being misidentified as Iraqi hostiles and shot down by the US or other United Nations forces. Shamir was livid, but Bush senior refused to relent.

Why did the senior Bush behave this way? Because he wanted Egypt, Syria and other Arab states to continue to support the Gulf War. They were upset with Saddam because he had invaded Kuwait, a fellow Arab League member, and they were willing to join the US in a war to get the Iraqis back out of Kuwait. But they would not have been willing to fight another Arab country as direct allies of Israel, and if they had done so, they would have been so delegitimized at home that they might well have face revolutions. Bush senior knew this.

W. doesn't have his father's experience with the world, and is, frankly, an ignoramus. If he is letting the US effort in Iraq be tarred with the brush of Israeli occupation, he is actually acting as the world's most prominent recruiting agent for al-Qaeda in the Muslim world. Because that is al-Qaeda's message to angry young Muslim men who feel humiliated by US power and by Israeli brutality in the West Bank and Gaza. Al-Qaeda says, the Americans are not in Iraq to bring democracy. They are bringing Israeli hegemony to the Middle East.

Do you want more bad news? Israeli assassination teams are training U.S. soldiers. That's right. The actions that have made Israel a target of suicide bombers are being brought to Iraq. What's next, bulldozing homes, and arresting the family members of wanted Baathists? How forgetful of me. We are already doing that. Now we know why.
Civil Disobedience

The time has come for federal judges to go to jail. They should do so willingly if that is what we need to fight the latest right wing outrage. The far right wing in this country count on the fact that very few Americans have the inclination or the ability to pay attention to details. The media usually help by ignoring the news we need to know but occasionally even the New York Times does its job and gives us the news that is fit to print.

You probably have not heard of the Feeney Amendment. It allows Congress to have access to all of the supporting documents from federal sentencing decisions. As I recall from my school days in the last Ice Age, we have a separation of powers in this country. The legislative branch can't tell the judicial how to do their jobs. Our conservative friends are at it again. They change the rules as they go along.

By the way, the Feeney Amendment was sneaked into the Amber Alert bill. How did we get the Amber Alert bill? Once we were terrified about child abductions it was easy. You now see why I caution against being influenced by the latest media effort to scare us. The truly scary people always use these things to screw the rest of us later on.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Poster Art of the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

One of the most important issues in American politics is sadly one of the least discussed. Check out an online exhibition of Israeli and Palestinian poster art.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Child Snatchings! Shark Attacks! Influenza Pandemic!

The media is at it again. Of course they could give us useful information but noooooo. Celebrities are out this week but death and fear are in. The press aren't satisfied unless we are distracted by nonsense or in a state of fear.

Yes, the makers of flu vaccine have run out of this season's supply but your doctor probably has some on hand. But Freedom Rider, you ask, isn't the flu more dangerous this year? I'm glad you brought that up. In fact the flu is dangerous every single year. An average of 36,000 Americans die from influenza every year. Most of those who die are the elderly or others with serious health problems.

I get flu shots every fall because I have asthma. My suggestion for chicken littles across the land is this. Talk to your doctor. Ask if you are among those who need the vaccine.Follow his or her advice and then relax. When you finish relaxing send an email to the media outlets who told you the sky was falling. Ask them why they love to send you into a state of terror. If you get an answer let me know.

By the way, colds and flu are passed hand to mouth. So don't panic. Just wash your hands a lot.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun

Not with gum, but with Black Commentator. You get a double dose of the Freedom Rider and a great web site too.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

American Terrorists

The New York Times and the rest of the allegedly liberal media missed this story. White supremacists armed with 500,000 rounds of ammo, 100 bombs plus components, machine guns, chemical agents and a sodium cyanide gas bomb were seized by federal agents last May in Texas. I guess this news isn't fit to print. I had not seen this story reported until this week. Read about it here.
A Lynching in Minnesotata

One of many reasons I can't stomach Clarence Thomas is that he trivialized the word lynching. During his confirmation hearing he whined and complained about a "high tech lynching." From that day to this every black person with a gripe has complained about being lynched.

In Duluth, Minnesota in 1920 three young black men accused of assaulting a white woman were dragged from jail and hung from a lamp post. A crowd of 10,000 watched. That is a lynching, not Michael Jackson being arrested, not black conservative judges being denied confirmation. Now as they say, everyone has gotten in on the act. White conservatives are now calling their black colleagues lynching victims.

I wish Americans did want to talk about lynchings. A monument to the Duluth, Minnesota lynching victims has recently been erected and everyone is not happy about it. In the Times article I linked to above, one citizen opines that, ". . . those men wouldn't have been killed if they hadn't done nothing, would they?"

From the end of the Civil War until the 1950s the lynching of more than 3,400 black men, women and children were documented. Victims who were hanged were the luckiest. Some were mutilated, burned alive and castrated. Lynchings were announced in the newspaper and drew thousands of onlookers.

The shame of lynching still haunts this nation. I am often amused when Americans criticize Germans for not acknowledging the Jewish holocaust or the Japanese who won't apologize for the rape of Nanking, China. Americans are no better at owning up to the many wrongs committed in this country.

How many of us are really ready to talk about lynching? White people are in denial or ashamed, black people often find the subject too painful or ignore it out of fear. If we talk about lynching we have to talk about how white supremacy still oppresses us. We have to talk about living with the anger that arises when we acknowledge our past.

I for one am more than ready to talk about lynching and the other chapters in the often sordid history of America. But if all we want to do is engender sympathy or score political points we need to come up with a different word.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Et tu Julian Bond?

I have a friend who is always in a snit because black ministers have been ordained, pun intended, by the media as the most important and prominent of those constituting black leadership. When Jesse Jackson first ran for president she would fume, "What about Julian Bond? Why doesn't someone like him run?" I agreed with her that Bond has one of the most dynamic, charismatic and articulate personas of all those given the title Civil Rights Leader. Needless to say I am writing this post because I have a few questions for Bond, the president of the University of Virginia and God only knows whom else.

Bond is a history professor at the University of Virginia. According to this account from UVA, several staff members were discussing the names of sports teams. One participant in the conversation used the Washington Redskins as an example of a team with an offensive name. The individual added that the word redskin is as offensive as the word nigger. Assuming this account is correct I see no reason for anyone to be upset. Julian Bond received an email from another black faculty member about the incident and suggested that the misspeaker in question be fired or at least be heavily sensitized. The president agreed that the word is insulting and recommended that the offender get a very strong talking to.

I hate to use the term political correctness. Whatever meaning it ever had has been discredited by conservatives who pine for the good old days when they could be as hateful as they liked without fear of reprimand. But this incident gives credence to some complaints about the era of correctness. I don't know what Bond was told or how the administration at UVA initially responded, but a person of Bond's experience should have had the facts on hand before making any comments. I am giving him the benefit of the doubt. I assume he was told a different version of events.

But suppose he was given the official UVA account? I don't even want to think about that possibility. I now know why we are stuck with the hated term "N word." I always wondered why people wouldn't say nigger, even if they were quoting someone else or acknowledging the term's offensiveness. Poor white America. They just can't win.

Because I am doing so well as a prognosticator, see yesterday's post, I will go out on a limb with another prediction. Julian Bond has a long and illustrious careeer but is largely self-educated. He is a poet and author but he dropped out of Morehouse College to pursue his passion as an activist in the movement. Bond should get a lot of credit for life experience, but I am certain that before the week is out the right wing will ask why he is a history professor at all and use the mantra of political correctness to discredit him. That will be very sad indeed. Julian Bond and many others like him have quite a lot to offer the world of academia. UVA students could do worse than be taught by him.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Imitation is the Most Sincere Form of Flattery

The New York Times has finally caught up with the Freedom Rider. On November 14th I said that the electoral college map favors Bush. Population shifts in America continue to favor the south and the west, you know, the red states. If he only wins the states he won in 2000 he will receive seven additional electoral votes. Yikes.

Just remember that the Freedom Rider scooped the Times.

Monday, December 01, 2003

World AIDS Day

Today is World's AIDS Day. What does that mean anyway? Apparently it means that we need to send celebrities to South Africa. Beyonce, of the brigade of one-named R&B singers, visited Nelson Mandela's old cell on Robben Island, had lots of pictures taken and sang and danced her little heart out. She also gave sage advice. "There is nothing sexier than being confident and taking care of yourself. Protect yourself." Oprah was there too. We can't discuss a life and death issue for millions of people around the world unless Oprah is around and promoting her book club. Cry the Beloved Country, written 50 years ago, is the latest entry. I really should stop complaining that Oprah picked a well known but dated book for millions of her fans to read. Something post apartheid might have been nice, but after East of Eden all complaints should cease.

Whoever had the idea of using Mandela's prison ID number to market this event was a genius. It is a ploy that silences all but the most cynical, people like yours truly. I know I am a tough grader. Some say I am overly critical. I plead guilty. We first had celebrity self love charity events nearly 20 years ago to fight hunger. Wouldn't you know it, Bob Geldof of Live Aid has popped up again. I am not opposed to using celebrities to bring attention to important issues. But it is important to remember this World AIDS Day that our attention must be directed toward interests whose actions are responsible for the deaths of millions of AIDS sufferers. If we successfully fight those interests we won't need free concerts in South Africa to bring attention to AIDS because AIDS will be irrelevant.

One of those interests is the American pharmaceutical industry. American drug companies could end the majority of AIDS deaths tomorrow. But of course the same people who want to punish Canada for selling drugs more cheaply aren't going to give up profits to help sick, impoverished people around the world. The drug companies and their biggest ally, the U.S. government, are deliberately withholding cheap, life saving, generic AIDS medication from poor countries. A free concert is OK, admirable even, but if it isn't getting AIDS medicine to the poor, it is ultimately unimportant.

The other enemy interest in this fight is religious fundamentalism. The Catholic Church has said that condoms cause AIDS. You read correctly. The Catholic Church, which sways the thoughts and attitudes of millions of people around the world, is advising against condom use. Now that I think about it I should lay off Beyonce. At least she has common sense about condoms.

I know I have brought a skunk to the party. I am not against concerts and candle light vigils. It is important to do what we can to feel empowered and involved. But somewhere along the line we have to talk about what really counts. Celebrity charity concerts are 20 years old, but so is the discovery of the HIV virus. We know how to prevent AIDS, we know how to treat its victims. The only thing lacking is the willingness to confront powerful interests such as the United States government, drug companies and retrograde religious leadership. That will be a lot more difficult than having a concert.

Happy World AIDS Day.

"Why did they shoot a kindergarten with tank shells?�

Why indeed. News reports say that U.S. troops killed 54 Iraqi fighters who ambushed them in the town of Samarra. The residents of that town say that at most 8 fighters were killed. The remaining casualties were all civilians, some of whom took up arms after U.S. troops fired indiscriminately. The money quote, "They claim we are terrorists. So OK, we are terrorists. . ." Read it here.

Wife Swapping FDNY Style

After 9/11 firefighters were all but deified. I suspect that it was mostly the result of yuppie guilt. Too many Americans ignore or feel superior to blue collar workers. I recall one smarty pants New Yorker saying of firefighters, "I thought they just sat around with dalmatians all day." This gentleman and many like him realized that in fact their lives could be saved by people they thought little about. Some of the firefighters in the World Trade Center walked as far as the 80th floor before the buildings collapsed. Even though they were doing their jobs they still deserve our thanks. If the job paid six figures I still wouldn't do it. I shouldn't shrink from thanking those who do.

Of course, because Americans attack every issue with religious zeal that realization wasn't good enough. Firefighters were heroes, saints, angels. No amount of worship was sufficient. Well, it seems some of them are flesh and blood after all. According to the New York Post some of the surviving firefighters got a little too close to 9/11 widows and their children. Some have left their own wives and children to hold hands with the damsels in distress. Oops.

Apparently the same thing happened in Oklahoma City after the American led terror attack. The practice of sending married men to take care for lonely widows should go on the "don't" list after the next terror attack. Yes, I said next. We clearly aren't prepared and even more people around the world hate us. In all probability it will happen again. Hopefully we will have prevented the scourge of firefighting swingers.