Thursday, March 4, 2010

The March of Time

In response to news that the earthquake in Chile moved the Earth a few inches off its axis, a spokesman for President Obama said, “You have to understand that this trend began in the previous administration; all we can do is try and clean up the mess they made and minimize the damages.” This continues the administration's policy of attributing superhuman powers to George W. Bush and merely human powers to Barack Obama.

The recent killing of a Hamas official in Dubai has been met, predictably, by a wall of indifference virtually everywhere except the Arab/Moslem world, and even they aren't all that sure they want to pursue the matter. The reason is that the Mossad – Israel's equivalent of the CIA except with competence added – was supposedly behind it... and if Israel is untouchable, its world-class intelligence (including assassination) arm is doubly untouchable. It would be like messing with Al Capone in Chicago – it simply isn't done, if you know what's good for you. Thus we see – as if it were any surprise – who is truly at the top of the pecking order in at least half the world... and who can, basically, do anything they want in broad daylight and get away with it. Good thing they're our “allies” rather than our enemies, huh? That way we can volunteer ourselves as scapegoats for anything they choose to do.

Regarding the latest “suspicious substance” scare, this time in Utah – with the usual hysterics being hauled out on stretchers after having inhaled, come into contact with, seen, or only heard about some white stuff no more dangerous than baby power – less so, in fact. And these were IRS personnel, no less, renowned for their merciless thick-skinned-ness. My question is, why doesn't someone study the incidence of hysteria in government officials, especially ones in the "enforcement" business.  What I mean is, do hysterics tend to get into enforcement -- highly likely -- or does enforcement cause hysteria -- also arguable.  The connective tissue could include paranoia, e.g. Of course, this also further exposes a weak spot – an Achilles heel – in our increasingly totalitarian system; the people who are paid to keep an eye on everyone else have their own issues, and are, in fact, easily shaken by the slightest irregularity in their routine. Thus, the banality of evil, and a whole new category of potential mischief that real terrorists could take advantage of.

So let me get this straight. If the Haiti earthquake had struck Chile, it would have been no more than a minor inconvenience... and if the Chile earthquake had struck Haiti, the whole place would have, basically, sunk beneath the waters of the Caribbean. Now tell me why the people who supposedly engineered this whole thing (George W. Bush and his superpowers again) didn't think of that?

Here's an idea. Put some obnoxious kid in a chair behind Obama's in the Oval Office. His only job will be to say, over and over again, “Are we there yet?”

And how about those Hawaiians, huh? And here I thought there was no trouble in Paradise. But no, it turns out that “Native Hawaiians” have, for decades, considered themselves second-class citizens. But that is about to change, thanks to the House of Representatives' decision to turn the entire state into an Indian reservation (kind of like West Virginia, except for Hawaiians rather than white people). So now Hawaii will be a “sovereign nation” instead of a mere state... and we can expect the casinos to spring up overnight as a result (unless they're already there). But what happens then? Do non-Hawaiians become second-class citizens, in what would be just the latest spasm of affirmative action-style payback? And will the “business climate” be enhanced (for anything but casinos, that is)? I mean, we know that Hawaii minus tourism is, basically, a pineapple plantation. So – if you drive the tourists away, the way many countries in the West Indies managed to do after achieving independence, what's left? Frankly, I think a better idea would be to simply rescind Hawaii's statehood status and liberate it entirely – let it become an independent nation, as in days of old. It's what we should have done with Texas; so let's try and get it right this time.

Well, at least the Marines – arguably the only truly military component left out of the “military” -- are holding out for “don't ask, don't tell” -- and thus bucking against the combined forces of the administration, the other services, and all the various assorted political hacks who occupy that gray area between the two. So will this pushback be a “career ender” for Gen. James Conway, Marine Corps commandant? Probably not – because the Marines have, traditionally, been allowed to do things their own way and even express the occasional opinion, as long as they don't interfere with the politicization and watering-down of the other services. I mean, after all, once in a while we really do need a bunch of guys who are ready to storm the beaches without worrying about all the pregnant servicewomen they're leaving behind on the boats offshore. In other words, even the politically correct need the politically incorrect at times, to do their dirty work. The real crisis would come if the Marines ever tried to withhold their services until the rest of the military got its collective head out of its collective butt. But that would be too demeaning – much better to just put that dagger in your teeth and charge, and let the rest of them crap their pants.

I guess it had to happen. There is now a significant movement of “Clinton nostalgia”, and leading the charge is none other than – Hillary Clinton! Ah yes, for those glory days of budget surpluses... for the naïve, pre-9/11 air of freedom, marred only by the occasional “wag the dog” bombings of foreign countries, incidents of government terrorism against the citizenry, election-buying by China, and the ongoing soap opera in the White House. Suddenly Hillary has become an expert in economics as well as statecraft... but hey, she became an overnight expert in health care, so what's the problem? Her manifest brilliance is such that she could walk into any particle physics laboratory in the land and immediately put them years ahead in theoretical development, the way Elena Ceausescu used to do on a regular basis. She has more brains in her little finger than George W. Bush has in his entire head... but then again, who doesn't? The main thing Hillary seems to be worrying about these days – although she never says it in so many words – is that her old allies in China are pretty much fixin' to take over the American economy, or at least to exert undue influence on foreign policy, e.g. And she should know! My theory is, she doesn't really care one way or the other what happens, as long as she's in charge. And if being in charge involves answering to a higher power – namely China – I'm sure she could weather that ethical crisis with barely a hair out of place.

And what is this flurry of indignation about hot dogs all of a sudden being declared unsafe for consumption by kids? Sheesh, where have these people been? As far back as I can remember, hot dogs have been considered thinly-disguised death traps by conscientious parents. And this it not to say they have been relegated to the outer darkness, where there will be wailing but no gnashing of teeth. No, the hot dog remains a staple of the Americhild diet, right up there with peanut butter, jelly, and Cheerios. And the reason for this is simple. For a substantial minority of American children, hot dogs – or, at least, things shaped like hot dogs – are virtually the only solid food they will eat between toddlerhood and the teen years. This is, of course, an abiding mystery, since the human race did not – as far as we know – evolve in a hot dog-rich environment. Where did this obsessive interest in that particular form... in that fine-grained, somewhat squeaky texture... in the savor of preservatives and artificial coloring... where did this come from? And to add to the perversity, now it turns out that what kids love the most is the worst thing for them – a good operational definition of addiction, in fact. And can they be blamed for childhood obesity? Not when you consider the fact that hot dogs have been a dietary mainstay for much longer than childhood obesity has been a plague upon the land. Or – maybe it's because in my day the formula was “hot dogs + exercise” whereas now it's “hot dogs + more hot dogs”. In any event, as a case in culinary and social history, the hot dog fetish has few peers... and if it's kids we're talking about, it has none. I imagine that both hot dogs and the kids who love them will survive this latest round of do-gooder scolding.

Oh, for the glory days of interstellar travel at “warp speed” -- when every boy (and a few kind of tough girls) could imagine being able – within his lifetime! -- to voyage to distant planets, solar systems, and galaxies. And look what we've come to. Now NASA is, like a desperate, losing poker player at 3 in the morning, trying to bargain for a few scraps... things like lunar orbits (again), lunar landings (again), orbiting Mars, landing on Mars, landing on a Martian moon... landing on the Moon and mooning Mars... and so on. Pretty sorry, pathetic stuff compared to the “Every Boy's Book of Space Travel” hopes and dreams of old. Turns out that gravity has a pesky way of asserting itself, time and time again. You'd think Obama, for example, could figure out a way to suspend the laws of gravity now and then – the way he's suspending the laws of economics. But apparently gravity is a tougher nut to crack than even economics... and besides, people – including those in Congress – are starting, more and more, to see the space program as mainly the world's biggest sandbox. What I say is, send all those geeks with the buzz cuts and the skinny black ties who have lived in Houston, Huntsville, and Cape Canaveral all their lives back to the TV repair shops they crawled up out of. Let them earn an honest living for once, and leave space travel to those who do it best – science fiction writers.

And I'm not sure I quite understand the problem people seem to be having with this “full body scanner” technology in airports. Something about violation of privacy? And these are the same people who think nothing of parading around public pools and beaches in the summer with less material on their bodies than it would take to hold a dollar in change. Maybe what they're worried about is that TSA personnel will notice how they've failed to stick to their diets – or, in the case of Pittsburghers, how they've failed to ever consider dieting in the first place. Frankly, it's not the passengers I feel sorry for, but the TSA personnel. I mean, seriously, what percentage of the American populace would you really ever want to see nude? Be honest now. For every Playboy bunny or Chippendale guy you'd have about a hundred people who make the Michelin Man look like Twiggy. There really are some doors – or windows, or screens – that were never meant to be opened.

Anyone remember “war gaming”? There was a time when it was “the” thing to figure out what would happen “if” various actions were taken, or various scenarios evolved. All way too eggheady for the likes of George W. Bush et al – much better to shoot first and ask questions later (if ever). But now – or so it appears – war gaming is back, and the scenario is question is – surprise! -- what would happen if Israel attacked Iran's (alleged) nuclear facilities. It seems the outcome might not be as surgically clean as those of similar missions in the past. For example it's actually proposed that an Israeli action of this sort might “sour” U.S.-Israeli relations – an eventuality which I consider wildly unlikely since, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “U.S.-Israeli relations”. There is only “Israeli relations”, with us as a passive subset. But in any case, the war game goes on and what happens next is that “Iran attacks Israel, both directly and through its proxies in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip”. This seems more likely, though far from inevitable – I mean, no one retaliated in the previous two known cases, did they? And this, in turn, is because everyone in the Near East knows that Israel has more nukes than Mao had backyard iron smelters – and that, unlike Mao, they know how to use them. Did the war gamers take this into account? And did they take into account the fact that those supposed Iranian “proxies” have already done battle with Israel on a number of occasions, and lost? And did they take into account that probably some of the same geniuses were the ones who predicted a “cake walk” in Iraq? Frankly, I'm not inclined to take any of this very seriously – but it is good to hear that at least a few people in Washington are thinking – or trying to – before they act.

And why hasn't “spell check” added “Obama” to the list of OK words yet? Clearly there's a subversive somewhere in the bowels of Microsoft.

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