Monday, March 25, 2013

Ten Years After

I'm not sure how I feel about the History's TV production of The Bible, because while I can see some shortcomings in it, there are other moments that at least surpass what's on most of the other channels. Anyway, I'm trying to see all of it at least once.
Some of the characters don't match the pictures I have of them in my mind, but that's OK. But why, except for Jesus, do they all speak with British accents? And who decided to depict John the Baptist as a rather husky fellow (Didn't he live in the wilderness?) with...dreadlocks? Well, I liked the young Mary and Joseph, so I guess it all balances out.  

Now, with regard to events a bit closer to today. News media during March have used the anniversary to rehash the 2003 invasion of Iraq and its effect on our country and the rest of the world. I think Republicans would have stopped time rather than having to go through this again, but let's give them credit for trying to muddy the waters of history by using arguments such as:
1. We really thought the Iraqis had WMDs, and that they intended to use them against us, or at least the Israelis. That's why we kept repeating the line about the smoking  gun and the "mushroom cloud".
2. We took out a bad, bad, bad dictator by attacking Iraq. In fact, our attack saved lives.
3. German intelligence convinced us we had to attack Iraq.
4. Congress voted for it, including lots of Democrats, so it was their fault, not ours.
5. We liberated the Iraqis. That's why they should be thanking us today. See also #2.
6. You Dems just claimed we lied in order to try to win the next election.
7. I was a good idea then, and it still was a good idea, although we aren't saying just why because the Iraqi oil market is not up to speed, which is understandable after a war. They'll pay us back, too - some day.
8. #1 again. No, really, all the WMDs were shipped to Syria before we could find them, and they're going to be used in Syria any day now. Then you guys will be sorry you ever brought it up. So there!

Maybe it shows, but I find these contentions lacking in, ah, believability. What's more, I have concluded that deciding to attack Iraq is one of the worst decisions ever made by a US president. If we were truly convinced of Saddam's WMDs, then we wouldn't have had to thrash the CIA spooks over and over to somehow cook up data supporting the idea. No, Saddam was no angel, but plenty of countries had and still have thugs-in-chief that we didn't go after either then or later. If by "German intelligence we mean the former Iraqi code named "Curve ball", then why did we never sit down and talk to the guy to try and guess if  he actually knew anything? Yes, some Democrats went along with the war wagon, and many of them have since paid a political price for it. But let's not pretend that Congress somehow forced the war. That's ridiculous. The GOP neocons get spots on talk shows to wail that they were right all along. Pathetic. And as for WMDs finding  a new home in Syria, certainly if that were the case then something would have turned up in the current war pitting Syria's army against its own people. And finally, notice that the list above contains no mention of our reputation changing from "the nation that cares" to "the nation that tortures".
I haven't said a word about the cost of this war, all done off the books by special legislation, or its effect on thousands of wounded, the effect on families of both sides, the destruction of homes or the loss of national credibility, each of these at least a small disaster.
Good manners require that I refrain from discussing this stuff with people I don't know well, and even some whom I  know all too well. But I can now count among my faults the tendency to quickly judge the knowledge level of someone who pipes up in favor of the decision to begin and continue this wasteful war. It's hard for me to envision a worse decision (assuming it wasn't deliberately built on the basis of lies), at least in my lifetime.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Plenty 'O Spin

According to my little desktop wizard, there are now 350 entries on this blog, compiled over almost seven years. Think I'm good for another 350? I'm not sure, either.

A series of events have resulted in an open seat in the House delegation of South Carolina. State law requires party primaries to determine the seat's final competitors. Democrats have offered up two candidates, both women, but the Republicans, for reasons only they could say, have jammed their primary with sixteen congressional wannabes.
Here's where it becomes worth looking at. South Carolina (the Palmetto State) naturally has its share of women, but only one of the Gang of Sixteen is a female. The S.C. governor, in fairness, is a woman, the controversial Nikki Haley.
Then there's the question of African Americans, who make up fully 28% of the state's population. If you were to guess the number of African Americans among those same sixteen, you'd be correct if your guess was - zero. I guess the party message needs a little tweaking in order to broaden its appeal to those folks, assuming the GOP wants them at all.

I read something once which seemed surprising, and which I cannot confirm in any objective way. Most people who labor in the field of journalism, I read, do not really aspire to be the next Bob Woodward or David Halberstam. Instead, they wish to cross over to the field of Public Relations, mainly because the money is much better, and the influence on the public is more direct.
As an illustration or two, have you ever wondered how you came to feel a certain way about something, perhaps something far away, totally disconnected to your normal life? Let me guess. You are deeply suspicious of anyone named Kim who wields authority in North Korea. They're crazy. And you didn't shed any tears over the passing of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's "communist dictator". And don't even bring up that no-tie guy from Iran, Mr. Ahmadinijab, or however it's spelled. He's a terrorist, a dictator and someone who is incapable of telling the truth, right?   
I don't doubt the possibility of all these characterizations being spot-on correct. Let's also admit that the hand of the public relations pro, or an entire company of image spinners, working perhaps for someone completely out of the limelight, also plays a role in forming what we thought was strictly our own opinion. I don't doubt why, for instance, those who oppose sensible gun and ammunition regulation tend to speak as if quoting a bumper sticker. Even they don't know it.
Here's one more example. What's your impression of the new pope, Francis? Does he seem like a humble person with a deep interest in serving the poor? Does he seem less concerned than former popes with the trappings of his office? Would you describe him as a conservative, dedicated to promoting the Christian message (with some Catholic doctrine mixed in) to all the people of the world? Again, all these first impressions might be correct, but there is no question that written and spoken words on the subject have been aimed precisely at the goal of promoting them. They didn't come from nowhere, any more than one leader arises spontaneously from the College of Cardinals to take over the church.
My own church, and my political party, former employers and organizations I have affiliated myself with over the years have no doubt also employed the Spin industry during good times, and perhaps even more so, in handling bad news. How is it done? Well, that's why they get paid so much more than the journalists/reporters who merely sit back and collect the "news" spoon fed into their laptops.    

Monday, March 11, 2013

Making Odds

We just got (as a gift) this thing that is supposed to allow you to walk indoors. Mona says to not talk about it. I presume she feels the same way about a blog entry on the subject, whatever it is. Guess I'll stick with tennis.

I know - no one has heard of the World Baseball Congress. It's actually a world tournament of the best ball playing nations being played in the warm regions of our desert. A few not-so-well-known baseball nations are also involved.
They're taking it pretty seriously, too. The Mexico/Canada game had a massive bench-clearing brawl. I'm not precisely sure what started the row, but it probably wasn't the question of which team has the best looking uniforms. Italy always has the big edge in appearance, if not in actual play. Too bad Joe DiMaggio isn't around to swing the lumber for old Italia. But then again, his playing days ended about sixty years ago and he was really an American by birth.
The USA team had to rally in their latest game in order to move on to round two of the competition. When they get the highlight film assembled for the whole event it will be filled with terrific plays by first-rate players, but, I know, no one has heard a thing about it. Regular major league baseball doesn't start for about three weeks, so you should check the cable listings. I'm not sure who the favorite is, but I'm guessing it isn't the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the week's major interest item centers in Rome, but not for baseball. The Convocation of the College of Roman Catholic Cardinals has the job of electing a new pontiff to replace the one who said "no mas" at an advanced age. Have a nice retirement, your Holiness.
I admit to knowing almost nothing about such things, and the convocation is in private, so we won't get any hourly updates from NPR or Fox News on the proceedings. I am prepared to think of the cardinals as being men who have transferred the normal male ambitions of wealth and family to some finely-honed political skills which they employ seeking higher office - all while appearing to not be seeking anything at all. I would not be surprised to learn that making and fleshing out the alliances which will deftly compete this week have required decades of Jedi-level give-and-take.
Nor am I a betting man, but can you imagine all the factors that go into creating the London betting line on this business? You'd have to be wicked smart (as New Englanders might say) just to know who all the viable contenders are. You might even have to bring back your old Latin dictionary to make sense of it all. And some of the syndicate leaders probably fall back on prayer to get the inside track on the next pontiff. But I wouldn't try to blame God if that strategy should fail when the collectors come to take the losses. No, sir.   

Monday, March 04, 2013

International Hoop-La

We were traveling in the great Northwest last week. Marla's old car (a 2006 Altima) served us well, but there are some times when you just have to stop. At one such moment, I looked at a sign at the edge of the strip mall we were parked at. Among the mall's attractions is a Japanese restaurant with a specialty. The name of the place (and it took me a second to catch on here) is "Sushi Kyu".

While at the LeBarons, we tried to be patient (or at least silent) as Allison and Scott dealt with our two little grandsons. At one point, Allison gave out some advice that everyone would do well to follow. Speaking a little sternly to five year-old Henry, she insisted "Don't use your whiny voice." Amen to that. Are you listening, Republicans?

There are always things in the news that leave you baffled, but the one from last week that just can't be ignored is the one about the diplomatic semi-breakthrough pulled off by - Dennis Rodman!!? For those who may not recall, Rodman was by trade a player in the NBA, famous for sporting dozens of bizarre hairstyles while distinguishing himself as a collector of rebounds. He did plenty of crazy things during his career, but he'd have to go a long way to top last week's trip to North Korea, accompanied by the Harlem Globetrotters, basketball's best known comedy team. No, he didn't seem to have State Department permission. The Department in fact distanced itself from the whole thing as completely as possible.
Still, we have no formal relations with the NK's, which is a little disconcerting given the fact that this little country has nuclear weapons and is working on ways to get them, so they say, to the US. What's more, their current leader Kim Jong-un is just in his twenties, the third Kim to step in as dictator, and is almost unknown in this country.
That leaves Rodman, by no means a diplomat, as the American who has spent the most time face to face with this potentially dangerous enemy. Sure, Rodman, at about 6'8", towered over Kim, but they actually seemed to get along pretty well, at least in public and especially while watching the 'Trotters dismantle a local team. This one uniting thing seemed to impress Rodman to the extent that he pledged lifelong friendship with the Kims, both living and dead. Upon returning to the US, he declared that, first, North Korea does not desire war with our country, and, second, that President Obama is invited to "call" Kim in order to hash out any differences.
I don't know if the State Department, now under new leadership, plans to follow up in any way, but it's hard to see how sending some low-level official to debrief Rodman could do us any harm. Just about anything he could have found out would be something we didn't know before. And if his information proves useless, what have we lost? Almost nothing.
In fact, maybe this calls for a little out-of-the-box thinking. Since the President himself is a hoopster kind of guy, we could arrange a one-on-one game between the two heads of state in the truce village of Panmunjong at the North/South border. If Obama wins, NK gives up all their nukes AND the capacity to make new ones. They also have to admit Mormon missionaries. But if Kim pulls off the upset, we have to hand over Guam, minus all the military gear kept there, of course. Rodman could  act as referee. In fact, Kim would probably insist on it. The Globetrotters could make snarky remarks from the sidelines.  I'm thinking the TV rights alone would probably solve our budget problem.