Monday, May 27, 2013

America's oldest war criminal

Today millions of Americans will pause from their barbecues and family gatherings to remember the American heroes who fought and died in the service of their country. This is altogether fitting, for even when the cause has not been just, they served, and risked all, on our behalf.

By coincidence, today is also the ninetieth birthday of a man who least deserves another day, not to speak of another year, of life. Unlike our fallen heroes, the life of Henry Kissinger is marked not by sacrifice but by self-aggrandizement, not by devotion to our founding ideals, but by their utter rejection.

Whether we speak of his direction of unrestrained bombing of civilian populations in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, his engineering of Pinochet's coup d'etat against the democratically elected president of Chile, of which he observed,  "I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go communist due to the irresponsibility of its people. The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves," or his support for Indonesia's genocidal invasion of East Timor, we are speaking of a man who has become wealthy and gained the regard of political elites, all the while escaping any accounting for his crimes.

Today, remember our fallen heroes, but also spare a moment for the victims of America's oldest and most vicious war criminal, Henry Kissinger.

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The sports page, again

Let's follow up on a theme we looked into a couple of months ago, only we'll shift from basketball to tennis.

Yes, tennis, the sport of white shorts, hushed crowds, and impeccable sportsmanship.

Wait, did I say sportsmanship? Well, I admit that that was a very long time ago, and before John McEnroe established his apparent lifetime lock on the title Biggest Asshole in Tennis, he had an important predecessor: Jimmy Connors.

Last week's release of Connors's autobiography should put to rest any question of whether his abominable behavior on the court was the result of an excess of competitiveness, a desire to put on a show for the fans, or just another example of a depraved character.

In the early 1970's the tennis world was dominated by two young Americans, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, who were not only linked in the public eye on the court, but were also together romantically off the court. It didn't last, but it was not until the memoir that we learn the details. Suffice it to say, the details do not look good for Connors.

As reported by The Atlantic, here's what he says about Evert:

“But now, 35 years later, Connors is releasing a biography this week titled The Outsider, in which he strongly hints that during their whirlwind affair in 1974, Evert got pregnant and had an abortion. He says that she did so without allowing him to be part of the decision-making, though he states that he ‘was perfectly happy to let nature take its course and accept responsibility for what was to come.’ He bitterly writes to Evert in the book, ‘Well, thanks for letting me know. Since I don't have a say in the matter, I guess I am just here to help.’”

What is there to say about this? That Chris Evert's decision was hers to make, not his. That the fact, and the decision to make it public, was hers and not his. Most of all, though, that his choice to make this public, and his attitude, that the choice was all about him, tells us all we need to know about his egocentric, entitled world view.

In the Biggest Asshole in Tennis competition, that is game, set, and match for Connors.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Thirteen MoonsThirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

At first I was a bit skeptical when Thirteen Moons was selected for my book group. After all, I had read the author's Cold Mountain and found it mediocre at best. Nevertheless, I got started and stuck with it, and I'm glad I did.

At the opening of the book we encounter an old man in the early part of the twentieth century, we sense his death is probably near, and he starts talking about his life history. In an appealing authorial voice the narrator, Will Cooper, traces his life from a twelve year old "bound boy", or indentured servant, to a prosperous trader, "white chief" of the Cherokee Nation, frontier lawyer, Washington lobbyist, and impecunious debtor. Set largely in western North Carolina, Thirteen Moons shows an appreciation of the hardships and possibilities of frontier life and a great empathy for the fate of the native Cherokee as they were forcibly driven from their homes.

As in Cold Mountain, the main character could be criticized for being a little too resourceful or invulnerable, with an almost Zelig-like ability to turn up at important junctures in the history of the nineteenth century, with the exception of his uncanny ability to avoid much serious action during the Civil War. Nevertheless, I don't think this is a terrible criticism: after all, our history is peopled with many remarkable characters, and they're the ones we're mostly interested in. In addition to Will Cooper, the other main characters were well drawn and believable, and the scenes in Indian country in particular demonstrate the author's affection for the land.

When Cold Mountain won the National Book Award for fiction I thought Don Delillo had been robbed. Thirteen Moons surpasses Cold Mountain in every respect.

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Friday, May 17, 2013


Do you watch baseball? I do. Not all the time, but I still watch a fair amount, and over the years I've seen a lot of changes.

One of them is not a change to the rules; in fact, it doesn't change anything that the players or the managers or the coaches or the umpires do, but it's still made a difference to the baseball watching experience.

Take a look at something you might have seen in years past.

You never see this nowadays, because sometime back in the 1970's the people who run Major League Baseball decided that when idiots run out on the field the broadcasters won't show them on TV. They concluded, wisely, why give them what they're craving, attention?

Why don't we just do that with the Republicans? Today they voted for the thirty-seventh time to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

And, as with the previous thirty-six votes, this vote means nothing.

So my suggestion is, stop talking about it. Stop putting it on the news. Stop writing about it.

Because what baseball learned is that giving idiots publicity just encourages them.

And do you really have any more interest in watching this:

Than you did watching this?

Monday, May 06, 2013

Any change?

That would be a big no.

With Ratzinger's resignation there's a new pope (I was about to say "we have a new pope", but *I* don't actually have any kind of pope), and people are still watching to see if he will bring change to The 
World's Most Corrupt Organization (TM).

Early signs suggest not. Here are three recent news items suggesting it's business as usual with the Catholics.

He is planning on keeping up the war on women religious leaders. As reported in Slate:

Pope Francis announced Monday morning that he will stick to his predecessor's hard-line approach to reforming an umbrella group representing about 80 percent of U.S. nuns, an organization that Benedict XVI believed was promoting "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

And two items showing the church intends to stay firmly planted on the wrong side of history on gay rights:

That was a brief honeymoon, Rhode Island. Just hours before becoming the 10th state to approve marriage equality, the slim, pocket-sized state — which also happens to be the nation’s most Catholic — received a stern warning from the Bishop of Providence.In a seriously buzzkill message, Bishop Thomas Tobin issued a pastoral letter to his brothers and sisters in the Ocean State suggesting they might want to decline invitations once same-sex marriage becomes official in August. “It is important to affirm the teaching of the Church, based on God’s word, that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered,’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2357),” he writes, “and always sinful. And because ‘same-sex marriages’ are clearly contrary to God’s plan for the human family, and therefore objectively sinful, Catholics should examine their consciences very carefully before deciding whether or not to endorse same-sex relationships or attend same-sex ceremonies, realizing that to do so might harm their relationship with God and cause significant scandal to others.”

And in New York, not only are they telling Catholics not to go to same-sex weddings, they're actually threatening to arrest gays who have the temerity to show up at church:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan today used the NYPD to prohibit from Sunday worship services gay Catholics and their allies by barring their entry into NYC’s historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the iconic home of the Roman Catholic Church in New York.

The small group of silent Catholic protestors were threatened with arrest by a New York City Police detective — unless they first washed their hands.

Apparently the irony of the Catholic church accusing someone else of not having clean hands, after decades of covering up for child rape, was not obvious to Dolan or any of his advisors.

Change could come, but so far it looks like "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A personal note

Of course, as we learned years ago, the personal is political.

We've heard this a lot in the past few years, and even more in the days since basketball player Jason Collins came out to the world. "I don't care what anybody does, but why do they have to throw it in our face like that?"

Whenever I hear that it's a heterosexual saying it. And I know they're heterosexual, because for some reason heterosexuals don't have a problem with flaunting their heterosexuality.

I know I don't.

For instance, I wear a ring that my wife put on my finger almost thirty-seven years ago and has never been off, and it tells the world that I am married.

Whenever I meet someone it's rarely more than about five minutes before I mention my wife, or something my sons or their wives are doing, or what my wife and I did on the weekend, or some other way of flaunting my heterosexuality.

The federal government knows I'm heterosexual because I flaunt my heterosexuality every time I file an income tax return. So does the state government, and even my town government, because every time I've bought a piece of real estate I have proclaimed to the world that my wife and I have bought it "as husband and wife".

Even on Facebook if you look me up you'll see my marital status, pictures of me with my wife and our sons, wedding pictures. Lots of pictures of other heterosexuals doing what heterosexuals do.

Maybe they're right. Maybe we should have a law to prevent me from flaunting my heterosexuality.

Oh, and one last thing: if you want to be a bigot and proclaim it to the world, maybe you should think twice the next time you say that gay people you don't like should stop "shoving it down your throat".