Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Random Thoughts From The Road

I'm on the road with my daughter during spring break visiting colleges she might attend in the fall of '12. We're having a good time together, despite the non-spring weather we're encountering (nothing makes a college campus seem more dreary than the wind whipping cold rain and snow into your face, particularly when we didn't pack gloves and hats).

Still, I can never be so out of the loop that the big news stories escape my view as the days pass. Some random thoughts on some of those items:

At a million dollars apiece, the cost of those 120+ cruise missiles the US launched into Libya would pay for every teacher in America for almost 20 years. And that doesn't count the cost of the fighter jet that crashed. In a nation that's so broke we have to cut the pensions and benefits of our public employees, we somehow keep finding the money to fund our military-industrial complex.

Somewhere in this nation, there's a social studies teacher trying to explain that there was once a time in this country when the President couldn't order the armed forces to attack another nation without the express approval of Congress. That must be a history class, because it sure isn't current events.

Two of the network newscasts this evening (CBS and ABC) led with the death of Elizabeth Taylor, while NBC had a riveting live report from Richard Engel in the midst of a rebel unit near Benghazi, Libya, that was taking fire from Qadaffi's forces. Yet another example of why Engel is arguably the greatest war correspondent of his generation (and kudos to his producer and videographer, who were with him when those mortars landed a mere 50 yards away).


I'm reminded of an interview I did a decade ago with Walter Cronkite in which he mourned the lack of foreign coverage by American news outlets, which instead were cutting back on their bureaus around the world:
"These are the days when a bonfire in a little country whose name we can't pronounce in a location on the globe we don't know, that bonfire can suddenly turn into a mushroom-shaped cloud. We'd damned well better know what's going on, and we don't!"
That was 3 months before 9/11, followed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The recent developments in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, and Bahrain, have shown how inadequate every US outlet besides CNN is in that regard -- not to mention the natural disasters in Japan, where if it weren't for their partnerships with overseas news agencies, many domestic networks wouldn't have had any idea what was going on after the earthquake and tsunami.

As for the story the other two networks led with, I'm one of those who never understood the fascination with Elizabeth Taylor. I was never all that impressed with her talent, and couldn't have cared less for about the attention she received from the tabloids. She always seemed more famous for who she was than for the movies she appeared in. There were a few classics ("National Velvet," "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"), but her legacy seems to survive more from the multiple marriages and emotional roller coasters of her life. There's one area in which she deserves every bit of praise and more -- as one of the earliest activists for people with AIDS, a cause she took up after her friend Rock Hudson died of the disease, for which she helped raise over $50 million in the last quarter-century.

Note: those movie links above will take you to Amazon Instant, where you can watch them on your PC via streaming media.