Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Placating Bullies

Warning: this post is going to be a noisy and angry political rant. If you're tired of those this election season, come back tomorrow and I'll write about something else. I promise. Otherwise, read on.

I was enraged by this article I read a few days ago in the Washington Post: Ambassador Confirmed, the Backstory Emerges. Take a minute to read it, and then come back. I'll wait.

In brief, this is the story of how the new US Ambassador to Mexico, Roberta Jacobson, was confirmed for her position 11 months after being nominated by President Obama. Her nomination had been blocked by two senators: Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; the story is about what had to be promised to both of these "public servants" in order to get them to remove their objections to Ms Jacobson's nomination.

Spoiler: the objections had absolutely nothing to do with Ms Jacobson's qualifications for the position (she had been the Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs) or with the importance of the ambassadorship to a country which is - like it or not - critically important to our domestic affairs. It had to do with political grandstanding, pure and simple.

Senator Rubio opposed Ms Jacobson's nomination because he objected to the Obama administration's policies on relations with Cuba. Senator Cruz did not oppose her nomination per se, but as a result of a hold he put on authorizations for the State Department because of his opposition to the Obama administration's nuclear deal with Iran.

Here's what the odious horse trading looked like in the end:

Cruz got Rubio to support his effort to rename the street in front of the Chinese embassy in Washington in honor of Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned Nobel Prize-winning Chinese dissident ... a move calculated to embarrass and anger the Chinese government. And by dropping his opposition to the State Department appropriations bill, Cruz agreed to support Rubio's push to require the State Department to produce 40 new reports a year on issues ranging from the autonomy of Hong Kong to religious freedom* and anti-Semitism, and to extend the authority of an existing bill requiring sanctions on Venezuelan government officials accused of human rights violations.

There are other things, but you can read the article yourself.

We Americans are irate when other nations try to meddle in our affairs ... and yet these two grandstanding Senators are perfectly happy to meddle in the affairs of other nations - regardless of their rationale. Senator Cruz wishes deliberately to poke a finger in the eye of China - a prickly nation at best and one with which, like it or not, we need to maintain a constructive relationship. Senator Rubio commits the State Department to invest limited time and resources to churning out reports that serve no purpose** other than to highlight his name and embarrass other nations with whom we need to maintain constructive relationships.

Is China acting like an odious bully in Southeast Asia? Of course it is. And, unfortunately, so have we in many regions over the years. Both we and the Chinese believe we have the moral and historical authority to behave as we do. Do we need to find ways to live with each other for the greater good? Of course we do. Do we have political and economic issues with other nations? Naturally. But will dozens of reports solve those problems? No.

I have nothing but contempt for grandstanding buffoons like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, who place their political agendas above the good of the nation and who, in the particular case of Senator Cruz, delight in being the sand in the gears of good government. Or any government, given how things are going. We need adult leadership in Congress, and in this year - when so many Senate and House seats are in play - we owe it to ourselves and to the country to elect responsible leaders willing to work with each other to chart our path to an uncertain future.

Have a good day. Expect better. More thoughts tomorrow.


* In places other than the US, where many equate "religious freedom" to "observation of Christianity rather than other forms of religious belief."

** As a veteran of many years serving on the Air Staff at the Pentagon, I had experience with helping to churn out the dozens of reports Congress requires on various topics every year, most of which were driven by some political agenda or another and served no useful purpose for defense planning.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Musical Monday

And just for a little bit of fun on this first Monday in May, why not a clever, happy song from Postmodern Jukebox, with Morgan James on lead vocals ...

Come on Barbie, let's go, Barbie ... forward into the new week and the new month.

A quick, special note: yesterday afternoon I had the opportunity to talk with fellow blogger Amanda, who is spending a week in the US as a birthday gift from her husband (who has set the birthday gift bar rather high for the rest of us, considering that they live in Brisbane, Australia). Amanda was between flights at Dallas/Ft Worth airport, and fed the pay phone so that we could chat for a while. Sadly, she won't be coming through the NoVa area so that we could have met up in person, but it was a real treat to actually talk with someone I've known for years only through blog posts and letters. I told her I'd always been curious to know what the voice of a Chinese lady from Australia would sound like ... turns out it's soft, with the merest trace of a Chinese accent and only an occasional hint of "Stroyne." Welcome to America, Amanda ... I hope you enjoy your visit!

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, May 01, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Now that I'm retired, Agnes and I have more time to travel ... and less money to do it with. Bummer. When you live in the environs of Washington, DC, and want to see the rest of the country, pretty much everything is to the west; hence today's poem:

Driving West 
by Linda Pastan 

Though the landscape subtly changes,
the mountains are marching in place.
The grasses take on the fading
yellows of the sun,
and cows with their sumptuous eyes
litter the fields as if they had grown there.
We have driven for hours
through bluing shadows,
as if the continent itself leaned west
and we had no choice but to follow the old ruts-
the wagons and horses, the iron snort
of a locomotive. We are the pioneers
of our own histories, drawn
to the horizon as if it waited just for us
the way the young are drawn
to the future, the old to the past.

I like the line about us being "the pioneers of our own histories." And I especially like the thought of our new ability to pick up and drive to where exciting things await ... like our grandchildren.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Musical Monday. More thoughts then.


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cartoon Saturday

Ready to kick April to the curb? ... here are a few reasons why:

GOP presidential wannabe Ted Cruz has picked Carly Fiorina as his running mate; at least 24 people have been killed and dozens more injured in a car bombing in Baghdad; eleven people were killed in a helicopter crash in Norway; North Korea has sentenced a South Korean-born US citizen to ten years at hard labor for "espionage and subversion;" the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals has upheld a lower court's dismissal of a forcible oral sodomy charge against a suspect because state law does not include intoxication or unconsciousness among the five criteria describing the crime.

If all that didn't get you ready for a few much-needed laughs, you have a problem. This week, I'm featuring cartoons about blogging because, well, why not? ...

There's always the danger of over-sharing ...

I don't think most bloggers are dangerous. Opinionated and stubborn, yes ...

Good point! ...

Sometimes it can be lonely out in the blogosphere. It was months before I received my first comment ...

Some habits are hard to break ...

In case you wondered where the term "blog" came from ...

Some comments hurt more than others ...

Worthy of an Ig Nobel prize ...

The dog has it right ... 

As it happens, I blog from upstairs - not from the basement ...

And that's Cartoon Saturday for this last Saturday in April. Agnes and I are on the road in Lynchburg, Virginia, watching our granddaughter Leya take part in another local climbing competition, the next step on her way to the regional championships coming up in a few weeks. I'm sure there's a mountain goat somewhere back in the family tree, but it's not me.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow, when we kick off May with Poetry Sunday. Be here.


Friday, April 29, 2016

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

We're down to the last Friday in April, and it's time to roll out another set of Great Moments in Editing and Signage. Yes, I've changed the name of this recurring post in order to make it more accurate. I don't need any truth-in-advertising lawsuits ...

As advertising tag lines go, I guess it's effective ...

Perhaps not the best choice of names for the restaurant on the right ...

I don't think I'd go out of my way to visit, but that's just me ...

I'm not sure this is necessarily the best angle for an ad, but ...

Accurate, yes. Unfortunate titling, also yes ...

Well, yes, I guess it's an all-American pastime ...

Perhaps she might have done better to object anonymously ...

No sense in wasting time, and in not maximizing ad space ...

As it happens, I have a close friend who is a forensic pathologist (yes, Bakr, it's you!) who actually does have a bookcase made out of a traditional wooden coffin. I think it's a better use than a picnic table, but I'm sure Dethany would approve of it ...

Now, that's truth in advertising ...

And there you have it - the last collection of editorial and signage gems for the fast-departing month of April. If you run across any others, send me a scan, a copy, or a photo and get a shout when I use it in the future!

Have a good day, and come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Thursday, April 28, 2016

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye*

Excuse me for engaging in a bit of morbidity, but it sure seems like a lot of famous people are dying lately.

The Grim Reaper seems to be racking up the overtime hours in 2016 with his harvest of the great and near-great: Alan Rickman, Merle Haggard, David Bowie, Nancy Reagan, Patty Duke, George Kennedy, Gary Shandling, Glenn Frye, Prince, and many others have passed away so far ... and we're only four months into the year. The Death List for 2016 - the annual list of the 50 celebrities considered most likely to die in the course of the year - is already well underway.

So what's going on? Is this an unusually deadly year or what?

According to this article from BBC News, there are several reasons for the surge in famous deaths, not the least of which is the fact that many people who became famous in the 60's and earlier are now in their 70's and - statistically - are more likely to shuffle off their mortal coils. Also (and this is my conjecture, not part of the referenced article), many celebrities are more likely to have abused their bodies with alcohol, drugs, and related high living, leading to an earlier-than-perhaps-expected demise.

Another point, and one that I found fascinating to consider, is that people had more opportunities to become famous after the middle of the 20th century. At one time, the big celebrities were the stage and big-screen movie stars, of whom there were relatively few. But then came television and the Internet, wild politics, and the vast range of musical styles, creating a lot more venues in which one could become a recognizable celebrity. And with more celebrities out there, the numbers that would pass away in any given year began to grow.

Obituary writing is a growth industry, and obituaries are usually easy to write for celebrities. But what about you and I, Dear Readers? We're not famous (unless I've got celebrity readers out there I don't know about) and most of us don't leave much of a record behind, so how will we be remembered? I wrote about this back in November of 2009, and it's still a valid question. I plan to write a lot more letters and keep up the blogging now that I'm retired, so I'll leave a pretty well documented history. What about you?

And while you're thinking about that, consider this: with all the celebrities dropping like flies this year, how is it that Keith Richards is still alive?

Have a good day. Take care of yourself ... the obituary writers have enough work to do. More thoughts tomorrow.


* With apologies to the Trapp Family children from The Sound of Music.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Next Time ...

Just a simple thought for today ...

That is all.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

And This Little Piggy Cried "Me, Me, Me!" All the Way Home

There was an interesting article in the Washington Post last week: Nine Things About the Tokyo Subway That Will Drive Washington Commuters Crazy.

For those of us used to the hit-or-miss, will-it-come-or-won't-it, hope-I-don't-get-robbed-or-murdered excitement of riding the DC Metro, the concept of trains that are clean and run on time is a novel one. But what makes Tokyo's trains a lot nicer than Washington's has to do with people and their behavior. Of the nine things the article discusses about the Tokyo subway, three in particular stand out:

#2: It's Totally Orderly. In Japan, people line up and wait for people to exit the train before trying to board. In DC, it's everyone for himself/herself in a mad scrum when the doors open ... God forbid someone should make way for anyone else or avoid blocking the doors.

#3: It's Super Clean. Japanese people take their trash with them and put it in proper receptacles. In DC, commuters dump their trash wherever they want, assuming that it's someone else's job to clean it up.

#6: No Noise Pollution. Japanese trains are quiet because people use earphones with their music, and do not feel compelled to carry on loud conversations on their cell phones. In DC, everyone believes they are surrounded by a cone of silence that keeps everyone else from hearing the story of their last date, their medical problems, and their dinner plans.

This reflects how today's Americans see the world. The average American tends to value individual freedom above all else, often at the expense of recognizing any responsibilities to the larger society of which he is a part. An example is the furor over "open carry" laws in many states, where those who reject any limits on their Second Amendment right to bear arms do not care about the chilling effect their actions might have on those who take a more nuanced view of public armament, and who can't tell whether that fellow walking down the street with a loaded AR-15 is a "good guy with a gun" or a "bad guy with a gun."

We object to the "Nanny State" issuing laws we believe inhibit our individual rights. What business is of the government whether I wear a helmet to ride a motorcycle? If I want to smoke anyplace, why shouldn't I be allowed to? The Second Amendment says my right to keep and bear arms won't be infringed, so back the hell off with your limits.

We tend always to think of rights and freedoms, and not of responsibilities. I don't particularly care if you wear a motorcycle helmet or not, but if you get injured and require hugely expensive medical care you can't afford, it becomes my problem when my medical costs go up to cover your freedom. I don't care if you smoke, but I do care if my health is endangered when you do it ... you don't need to smoke, but I need to breathe. And we won't discuss the gun issue any more, because there's no point.

Clean subways that run on time and are peaceful and orderly are nice. People who take the time to think about the effect of their actions on others are nice, too.

But you don't find many of them here.

Have a good day. Remember the Golden Rule*. More thoughts tomorrow.


* For those who may have forgotten, it is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is not "Screw you, I'm doing what I want."

Monday, April 25, 2016

Musical Monday

A little song by Ray Stevens that wasn't written about this year's presidential campaign, but applies nevertheless ...

Hum it to yourself as you hold your nose while voting.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

Poetry Sunday

Last week's poem dealt with the mysterious Miss Jones. This week, a short but weighty poem by Emily Dickinson deals with the fundamental issue that makes her mysterious ...

A Charm
by Emily Dickinson

A Charm invests a face
Imperfectly beheld –
The Lady dare not lift her Veil
For fear it be dispelled –

But peers beyond her mesh –
And wishes – and denies –
Lest Interview – annul a want
That Image – satisfies –

Sometimes, not knowing is better.

Have a good day. See you tomorrow for Musical Monday.