Let us all broadcast a message of peace

Difficult choices face
United States in Iraq
resident Bush has delayed
until after the holidays a
planned speech to the country about Iraq. In it, he is expected to lay out a plan to change
course in a way that will enable
U.S. troops to begin pulling out
without leaving
Iraqis to face what could be an
even worse bloodbath than what’s
happening now.
Various ideas are being talked
about, none of which has yet led to
any apparent consensus.
The one most discussed is to
send tens of thousands more U.S.
troops into Baghdad, where there
are 17,000 now. More Americans
would be embedded with Iraqi
units and a program to train Iraqi
units would be expanded and accelerated in the hope that Iraqis
can assume control eventually.
We’d like to believe a U.S.
change of course could at least
help lower the level of violence.
But even modest progress presupposes not only rapid improvement in the performance of Iraqi
security units, but also an equally rapid purging of their ranks of
death squads whose actions are,
as much as anything, responsible
for the carnage. And that would
require decisive action by Iraqi
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki
to rein in militias run by fellow
Shiites, something he has shown
no sign of being able or willing to
In Washington, there is a
mood of widespread pessimism,
expressed most recently by Colin
Powell, former chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff and, during
Bush’s first term, secretary of
He sees a “surge” of U.S. troops
into Iraq as making little difference. So do American commanders on the ground, as well as
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter
Schoomaker, who said last week
that the Army “will break” unless
augmented by already stretched
National Guard and Reserve
units. Powell echoed that view
over the weekend.
This grim outlook appears to
strengthen the argument of those
who favor an early U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, whether or not
Iraq’s sectarian-ridden government overcomes its internal differences and Iraqi security forces
start performing better.
But the downside of that is
that, as most analysts predict,
even a gradual U.S. withdrawal
would provoke a simultaneous
surge in violence by all militant
Iraqi factions.
How desperate is the search
for a workable option? Here’s one
measure: The New York Times reports that one proposal floating
around Washington (so ill-considered that no one seems willing
to claim authorship) is to side
with Iraqi Shiites out of sheer expediency.
The Shiites control much of
Iraq’s oil, and, because they outnumber Sunnis three to one,
would likely win a civil war.
But apart from its staggering
cynicism, such a plan ignores the
fact that, while Shiites are a majority in Iraq (and in Iran), Sunnis
are dominant in most Islamic
countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, two key U.S. allies.
Indeed, Saudi officials have
warned that in the event of a U.S.
pullout and intensified fighting in
Iraq, they would provide support
on the side of the Sunnis, raising
ominous implications for the entire Middle East.
If there’s a silver lining anywhere in all of this, we don’t know
what it might be. Nor, more critically, does Bush. Whichever
course he chooses in the hope of
extricating this country — and
millions of Iraqis — from this
calamity, it’s hard to be optimistic
about the outcome. We can only
hope we’re wrong.
President criticized
for Iraq occupation
ne of the more disquieting aspects of the Iraqi occupation is that the president’s final rationale for it is a
cherished, though groundless, liberal belief about freedom.
As we now know, the war was
motivated less by any real evidence of Iraqi involvement with
terrorism than by the neoconservatives’ belief that they could stabilize the Middle East by spreading freedom there.
Their erroneous assumption
was a relic from the liberal past:
The doctrine that freedom is a natural part of the human condition.
A disastrously simple-minded
argument followed from this: that
because freedom is instinctively
“written in the hearts” of all peoples, all that is required for its
spontaneous flowering in a country that has known only tyranny
is the forceful removal of the
tyrant and his party.
Once President Bush was beguiled by this argument he began
to sound like a late-blooming
schoolboy who had just discovered John Locke, the 17th-century
founder of liberalism.
In his second inaugural
speech, Bush declared “complete
confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom because freedom is the permanent hope of
mankind, the hunger in dark
places, the longing of the soul.”
Later an Arab-American audience was told, “No matter what
your faith, freedom is God’s gift to
every person in every nation.”
Another speech more explicitly laid out the neoconservative
agenda: “We believe that freedom
can advance and change lives in
the greater Middle East.”
A basic flaw in the approach of
the president and his neoliberal
(aka neoconservative) advisers
was their failure to distinguish
Western beliefs about freedom
from those critical features of it
that non-Western peoples were
likely to embrace.
Those of us who cherish liberty hold as part of the rhetoric that
it is “written in our heart,” an essential part of our humanity. It is
among the first civic lessons that
we teach our children.
But such legitimizing rhetoric
should not blind us to the fact that
freedom is neither instinctive nor
universally desired, and that most
of the world’s peoples have found
so little need to express it that
their indigenous languages did
not even have a word for it before
Western contact.
It is, instead, a distinctive product of Western civilization, crafted through the centuries from its
contingent social and political
struggles and secular reflections,
as well as its religious doctrines
and conflicts.
Acknowledging the Western social origins of freedom in no way
implies that we abandon the effort
to make it universal. We do so, however, not at the point of a gun but by
persuasion — through diplomacy,
intercultural conversation and public reason, encouraged, where necessary, with material incentives.
From this can emerge a global
regime wherein freedom is embraced as the best norm and practice for private life and government.
Just such a conversation has
been under way since the first
signing, in 1948, of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights at
the United Nations. Several Asian
nations — some, like China, rather
cynically, and others, like Singapore, with more robust reasoning
— have vigorously contested elements of the culture of freedom,
especially its individualism, on
the grounds that it is inconsistent
with the more communal focus
of their own cultures.
The doctrine of freedom, however, with its own rich communitarian heritage, can easily disarm
and even co-opt such arguments.
The good news is that freedom
has been steadily carrying the
day: Nearly all nations now at
least proclaim universal human
rights as an ideal, though many
are yet to put their constitutional
commitments to practice.
Freedom House’s data show the
share of the world’s genuinely free
countries increasing from 25 to 46
percent between 1975 and 2005.
The bad news is Iraq. Apart
from the horrible toll in American
and Iraqi lives, two disastrous
consequences seem likely to follow from this debacle.
One is the possibility that, by
the time America extricates itself,
most Iraqis and other Middle
Easterners will have come to
identify freedom with chaos, deprivation and national humiliation.
Let us all broadcast a message of peace
was the night before
Christmas, 1906, when
something happened that
stirred the world and stirs it still.
On that dark evening, radio operators aboard ships off the
northern Atlantic coast heard a
whoosh of static issue from their
sets, followed by something altogether new: a human voice.
Until that moment 100 years
ago, all that had been heard coming out of “the wireless” were the
dots and dashes of Morse code.
Radio was simply a way for ships
at sea to use the telegraph technology that had revolutionized
land-based communications. It
was considered a utilitarian invention, a tool with very specific
A man named Reginald Fessenden changed all that. Few are
familiar with the name today, but
his was the voice that came
crackling over those shipboard
radios on that long-ago Christ-
mas Eve, transmitted from a
small tower on Brant Rock,
To the wonder of his small
group of listeners, he played “O
Holy Night” on violin and read
some biblical passages as part of
a short holiday program. It was
the first radio broadcast, the first
use of voice and music to entertain, inform and inspire listeners far away. And, despite its novelty, that history-making
broadcast was soon all but forgotten.
The technology that made it
possible endured, though it wasn’t until the 1920s that commercial radio as we know it truly got
under way.
By the end of that decade, television was in its earliest infancy,
though it would be another
decade before it even approached
a form we would recognize today. The rest of the story, it seems
safe to say, is one with which we
are all well familiar.
Looking back over a century
of such unprecedented innova-
tion, from the unlocking of the
atom to journeys into space, it is
hard if not foolhardy to try to
identify one that stands above the
The emergence of broadcast
media might not deserve pride of
place among the century’s momentous developments, but none
other has been in so many places,
at so many times. Broadcasts
from virtually every spot on
Earth to the surfaces of the moon
and Mars have taken us there,
Radio and the media that have
followed in its wake have not only
remade our world; they have also
fundamentally changed the ways
in which we humans relate to
one another. For better and for
worse, Reginald Fessenden’s lone
voice has been multiplied into a
seemingly infinite array of voices reaching us from all over the
At their best, these voices can
teach, illuminate and even enlighten us, to paraphrase Edward
R. Murrow, the father of broad-
cast journalism. And at their
worst, they can spread thoughts
of intolerance and even murderous hatred. They can convey
news of a moon landing or the
fall of the Berlin Wall, and they
carry incitements to commit
genocide, as they did in Rwanda
in 1994.
The media voices have become all but ubiquitous, and for
some, unfortunately, they can
seem more real than the voices of
the living, breathing people
around them.
There are places in America
where one is more likely to be
familiar with the Thursday night
TV lineup than the names of
one’s neighbors.
What started out as a simple
tool is still, 100 years later, only
as good or as bad as the uses to
which we put it. But as we mark
a century linked to one another
through broadcasting, we might
remember that it all began with a
solitary voice in the night, transmitting a message of peace on
Earth, good will toward men.
‘The future is yours’ isn’t for children
erry Christmas from
Manulife, a cutting-edge
child-care center run by
John Hancock Financial Services
- now owned by Manulife Financial Corp. of Toronto - could be
out of business in the new year.
Manulife bought Bostonbased John Hancock in 2003.
Now the new corporate owner is
reviewing several options for the
child-care center at 370 Stuart
St., including shutting it down. A
decision is expected sometime in
A company spokesman said
that declining enrollment
prompted this review.
Bottom line: it’s a way to cut
costs, as well as presence in the
Back Bay.
Manulife - which continues to
market the John Hancock brand
in the United States - contends
that fewer employees with young
children work for it in Boston.
Meanwhile, the Boston-based
operation is now split between
two sites: some 1,500 Hancock
employees were relocated to
Manulife’s new headquarters on
Congress Street in South Boston.
Only a few floors in the iconic
Hancock Tower are occupied by
Hancock employees, who now
number about 2,500.
The cloudy future that now
looms for a much-praised childcare center signals a major shift
in what management believes is
necessary to attract long-term,
quality workers.
The center, which opened in
1990, helped Hancock promote
itself as a family-friendly workplace, and a company that works
for women. It won the company
national recognition in publications such as Working Mother
Back when I was a business
page columnist, then-chairman
Stephen L. Brown invited me to
lunch in his Hancock Tower
aerie. Afterward, he took me on a
tour of the day-care center. Message to the media: this is an important piece of Hancock’s appeal as a career destination for
working mothers and fathers.
Hancock spokesman Roy V.
Anderson denied that the center
will shut down by August 2007.
No final decision has been made,
he said, but added that, “Declining interest among our employees in using the child-care center
gives us an opportunity to consider changes in how this benefit
is offered to our employees.”
Manulife executives are considering opening the center to
other companies; outsourcing the
business; or closing it entirely.
If the center closes, it would
be a sign of changing times on
two fronts: demographic and
Back when they were juggling
jobs and toddlers, baby boomers
pushed the workplace day-care
issue with mixed results. Many
companies shied away from the
cost and liability. But in Boston, a
few corporate leaders at Stride
Rite, Hill Holiday Connors Cosmopulos and John Hancock, took
on the challenge.
Today, the women who once
prodded companies to provide
day care are thinking more about
elder care than kinder care. Today, the idea of expecting an employer to add benefits rather than
subtract them is a quaint vestige
of 20th century corporate values.
Generally speaking, today’s employees are grateful to receive a
paycheck instead of a pink slip.
Today, out of town owners are
much less concerned about employee happiness. Also today, a
young, transient work force is
less concerned about what is necessary in the future for an optimum work-family balance.
Hancock has some 200 job
openings listed on its Web site.
But the company is finding it
more difficult to attract employees beyond the pool of recent college graduates — in other words,
mothers and fathers of young
children. The high cost of living
in the Boston metropolitan area
is one factor.
But perhaps the John Han-
cock of the 21st century is a less
welcome environment for that
age and family demographic?
The John Hancock acquisition
turned out to be a good business
deal for Manulife. Since the
merger, the Toronto insurance giant has enjoyed record earnings.
It recently announced plans
to spend $25 million to $35 million on an ad campaign by Hill
Holiday to reshape its image
among baby boomers, called
“The Future is Yours.”
Obviously, cost-trimming is
not a dire necessity; and in this
instance, the expense to be
trimmed is nominal in the large
scheme of Manulife’s financial
It reportedly cost John Hancock between $500,000 and $1
million annually to operate the
center, which can handle 200
children. Fees are calculated
based on employee income. Enrollment now is around 100.
Children of Hill Holiday employees already have access to
the day-care center. It’s hard to
believe outreach to other companies in the Back Bay could not
yield 100 more children whose
parents would welcome entree
to this facility.
Tis the season to trim trees,
not employee benefits, especially
at the expense of those who still
believe in Santa Claus — the children.
Eau de TO: Coming to a store near you
allas Cowboys wide receiver Terrell Owens sure
jacked up the value of spit
this week when he got fined
$35,000 by the NFL for spitting in
the face of Atlanta Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall during a game.
I’ve got a bottle of Giorgio Armani Acqua Di Gio cologne in
my bathroom that says it has 17
fluid ounces in it.
I’m no expert on this, because I
rarely use the stuff unless I’m going someplace fancy, like a Bastrop County chicken fight or the
Poodle Dog Lounge. But from eyeballing the size of this bottle, I’d estimate you would have to hawk
about five good loogies to fill up
one-17th of this bottle. Which
would amount to one ounce of spit.
Do the math. What this means
is that Owens’ bad behavior has
raised the value of spit to right at
$175,000 per fluid ounce. Which
makes the expression “ain’t
worth spit” quaintly outdated.
The most expensive perfume
in the world that I could find
through my research is a fragrance called Imperial Majesty, a
limited edition Clive Christian
signature scent that goes for
$2,150 an ounce. That’s a mere
pittance (maybe I should say spittance) of what Owens’ spit would
go for, even without markup.
Of course, Imperial Majesty,
which runs $215,000 a bottle,
comes in a Baccarat crystal container with a five-carat diamond.
I suppose it’s time to get a bit
serious here and point out that
Terrell Owens’ behavior is childish. What do you do with a grown
man who behaves like a 4-yearold in a sandbox? Hey, they have
time out in football, right?
Put Terrell Owens in time out.
Right there on national TV, have
him go stand with his head in the
corner and think about what he’s