Tuesday, May 25, 2010

More Danger

Before proceeding to this week's possibly gloomy prediction, here are a few "micro-news" items that are certain to generate blank looks from those on the receiving end. First, try to name the two TV drama series with the longest on-air tenure. If you are old enough to remember "Gun Smoke", well, that's one. The other is just wrapping up. If you guessed "Law and Order" you'd be right, but you've probably also spent too much time on front of the telly. I think I could do a whole blog on this, but it might be, ah, boring. What's unique about next month's FIFA World Cup competition? It's the first to be played in Africa. Good luck to the Republic of South Africa, the event's official host. What member of the Warren Commission (which investigated the Kennedy assassination) is finally set to leave his current job? Senator Arlen Specter, whose ploy of switching to become a Democrat didn't pay off in the recent primary. The guy's now 80 years old, so it's not as though he's been cheated. Have you acquired the old guy habit of monitoring precipitation? I have, and we have now topped 40 inches since last July. That's a lot of emptying the rain gauge. Finally. The Fab One (Italy's own coolly-named tennis player Fabio Fognini) won his first round match at the French Open. No predictions about the second round.

Bill Clinton once said that the DMZ dividing North and South Korea was the scariest place he had ever been. I haven't been there, but I find Clinton's statement easy to believe. It's not just a holdover from the Cold War. It's a place in which real soldiers in real uniforms strap on real weapons to prepare for real war EVERY day. And the fact that war hasn't resumed yet after over fifty years doesn't make it any more amicable. Both sides look for guards tall and nasty enough to intimidate their potential foes.
Sure, the PRK (the North) is a financial weakling incapable of carrying out any lengthy conflict, but that's not the whole story. A geographical quirk puts the other side's capital, Seoul, within range of the North's conventional artillery, to say nothing of their small nuclear weapons collection. What's more scary is that no one in the West has much first hand knowledge of the country's Stalinist-style dictator, Kim Jong Il. We do know that the North has no qualms about shorting their own people on things as basic as food. Refugees are willing to risk a long, dangerous route that ends in China. If that's your destination, you must want to get out pretty badly.
Given this setup, it's a little hard to see just how the West can effectively punish the north for sinking a ROK (the South) ship with 46 sailors aboard using a mini-submarine earlier this year. As I write, the North has broken all ties to the South in retaliation for the South cutting all commercial ties.
It's a small peninsula, and no one wants to be seen backing down. Perhaps this is the time we thank Richard Nixon for opening the doors to China, who, though not really our friends, nevertheless have an interest in avoiding being dragged into another Korean Conflict. I can hear the knocks at diplomatic back doors all over the world as we seek to keep the Koreans alive even if they don't care so much about themselves. This is where the expenses that go into the State Department seem like nickels IF they can keep the peace.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gripin' isn't Changin'

To gripe is as American as apple pie. It's right there in the Constitution, though not under the word "gripe". Griping is easy, it's fun, it might even be truthful, though it might not be entertaining to every audience every time it's done. It relieves stress, and is no doubt part of the reason behind the existence of griping blogs out there in cyberspace, including, sometimes, this one.
But we can all agree, too, that griping alone gets little or nothing accomplished except perhaps to call needed attention to a problem.
Take, for example, our relationship to Iran. These two societies, it seems, are almost meant to misunderstand one another. We gripe about their country's militarization, especially the nuclear weapons we can't help but think they are intent on getting. They, in turn, don't trust us because of past meddling in their governments, toppling some while supporting others, and failing to see them as the heirs of the old Persian Empire, a term which still sounds good to them.
But war with Iran still seems like a bad idea, and so we gripe, getting other countries to join in the griping to the extent that new economic sanctions against Iran will probably be
enacted soon. Of course, the last fifty years of history teach us that such sanctions don't work, at least not in the way intended. The average Cuban, for instance, is so accustomed to economic sanctions that it seems to him like normal life. If a third-rate country like Cuba can muddle through with sanctions, certainly Iran can. The results? THEIR gripes against us unite them behind a bad (and getting worse) government, positions harden and war becomes more likely.
We gripe like crazy about people who appear to be working scams that hurt us, but never seem to be held accountable for it. Executives get called before Congress, but are well-versed in finger pointing that lead the gripes, they hope, to go against someone else. The underlings are just following the company "Mission Statement", while the top people had no knowledge of what was happening "on the ground". Now that they ARE made aware of lower level disasters, the bosses are determined - to make sure that as little as possible is paid out to provide any kind of remedy. Otherwise their stock options lose value. The profits get kept, but the losses are shared with taxpayers. Taxes? Only paid by the little people. So our gripes get ignored in the interest of deregulation, a multi-decade failure to anyone who's been paying attention.
When you watch TV from long-gone times, you understand what the guy meant who called it a "vast wasteland". That would apply to most other entertainment and news media as well. At any rate, we're still griping, though our gripes have bifurcated. Republicans sneer at the "liberal media", while Democrats call it the "corporate media". Nobody's happy. Personally I think it's better, and glory in the choice of 2-3oo channels. Of course, we don't actually get them, being determined to live humble, thrifty lives from here on in. And that's another thing I'd like to gripe about, but on another day.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lefty Gives in to Vanity

I've been missing for a week, traveling North on another grandchild inspection trip. The two little boys we saw are doing fine, and so is our baby, a young wife, but on her way, with her almost-as-young husband, to worldly success. Among other things, we went to the Aquarium in Seattle, now the home of every fish featured in "Finding Nemo".

I warned last week that I might give in to pure vanity this week by marking two hundred blog entries and picking out a few personal favorites. This would not have been possible without George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, my chief inspirational villains, along with some of the Bush administration Cabinet members, who've made the past four years, or at least the first three of those years, to be so great. Really, fellas. It couldn't have happened without you.

I searched through the record and decided to divide my favorites into three categories. The first is, no surprise, political:
"Could it Happen?" - The Texas Board of Education shows who's in charge of what the kids will hear in school about a great many subjects.
"SCOTUS Reveals Itself" - The meaning of the Court's latest ruling on corporate "persons" and their "right" to free speech in an election campaign.
"Big Guys Collide" - Senate Republicans make clear the price for allowing Obama's choice for Attorney General to take office.
"The Party Party" - An unusual conversation following certain visitors' call on the US Department of the Interior in Denver.
"There They Go Again!" - Republicans ponder making a change in how electoral votes are counted in the Golden State.
"I Surprise Myself" - I write an angry letter in support of - Mitt Romney?
"The Speech No One Gave" - Words NOT said by the Bush (or, thus far, the Obama) administration.
"In Baghdad" - Two Al Qaeda foot soldiers try to fix an American election.

The second category is - local observations:
"Ask the Right Questions" - Lessons learned in teaching a group of elderly men.
"On a Role" - I get a chance to be St. Nicholas at a church dinner.
"Dialogue With the Demented" - A man in his nineties reaches some conclusions about life.
"Let's Put on a Show" - Starts out describing a group of children, but somehow ends up on the subject of neckties.
"My Day as an Old Guy" - I'm recruited into a barbershop quartet.
"An Oval Adventure" - I witness the breaking of a world endurance record.

Here's the last category, in which I lose all originality and label - "other":
"Good Luck, Your Majesty" - A regular fellow in Pennsylvania turns out to be African royalty.
"Big Guy Comes up Short of His Dream" - Money can't buy everything, even for Rush.
"We Get Together" - What happens when the family meets in an overcrowded house.
"Three Olympic Snapshots" - The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat.
"Flying Over the Fair" - The closest I'll ever get to the Human Cannonball.
"Street Ball" - We succeed in leading an activity by not being TOO organized.
"A Driveway Moment" - A new skill set is acquired by necessity.
"Caucus Night" - Where I've been that most others haven't.
"The Museum Trip" - The obvious message isn't the only one on display with all the vintage aircraft.

No one's required to read any one of these, and I probably picked too many. But I'll send you the date it appeared to help follow up on any you can't find. It sure was fun writing them, and I hope you've enjoyed reading them, too.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Underwater Uncomfort

The tiny little man inside the computer tells me that this blog now has 200 entries. They got there in just under four years, so it works out to once a week during that time. I was a little behind this week and was thinking of shamelessly pointing to some personal favorites from the 200 for those who'd rather not go through ALL of them. Maybe I'll do it next week.

THIS week it's a target-rich environment, as the bomber pilots used to say about Iraq. There's the destruction of the Gulf of Mexico underway courtesy of a sunken BP oil drilling platform, the almost-repeated NY mass bombing that didn't happen, and the ruination of Boston's drinking water, which did. All worthy subjects.

Do you recall a few weeks ago when I talked about a conversation I'd had with a teenage girl, mostly about basketball? I concluded at the time that it was very dangerous to forget that the two genders (two MAJOR genders, anyway) frequently see things differently. This week I read that the US Navy is preparing to begin training women for duty on submarines. This has me, ah, concerned.
I'm not prepared to turn in my liberal credentials yet, and I have no doubt that the Navy has plenty of women who can measure up to this assignment. I'll even bet that they've been thinking about this little change for awhile and can rattle off ten problems, complete with solutions, for every one I could timidly raise. But I'm still concerned.
I think life in a submarine is about as unnatural as anything you can imagine. Spend weeks at a time below the waves living in quarters so tight that you can probably identify your shipmates by the sound of their footsteps, or even by smell. Add to that the fact that you're a young adult in the prime of your natural mating life. Plus, you could endanger lives with a single on board foul-up. My head swims considering all the ways these things change by adding ambitious, capable, physically fit women to the mix. With all due respect, we're not talking mixed doubles here, but a billion dollar weapons/espionage system surrounded by salt water, sharks, killer whales and a potential enemy or two.
It doesn't prove anything, but I'm not the only one to look at this and think "Yikes!" Groups of submariner spouses have also raised similar concerns, using terms that are less nuanced. Heck, I even wonder if they're asking the right question. Instead of preparing for mixed gender crews, I wonder if we can't in fact get all the information we need from around the globe and leave the subs in port. I know that building them employs lots of people who no doubt all vote, as do all the families of all the potential submarine service women. I understand that war's here to stay, but just can't help asking, "Does it have to be this way?"