Friday, February 22, 2002

A Gruesome Reminder
Since 9.11, I have worried that some Americans just didn't "get it" regarding the nature of the evil trying to kill them. As if we needed a reminder --
the brutal murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Islamic extremists is yet another example of the wanton savagery that permeates the world today. Pearl leaves behind a beautiful wife who is 7 months' pregnant with a child he will never have the chance to play with. Yesterday as I watched the marathon coverage on both Fox News Channel and CNN, I thought that perhaps now these journalists will realize that the thugs on the other side of the line don't care who we are or what we believe. Pearl, from what I gathered on CNN last night, was critical of American foreign policy, and that maybe he thought that would make him safe in the arena he was in. ZoMother Victoria Vergara told me last night that on Oprah's Wednesday show, Christianne Amanpour lamented on how journalists are treated by extremists even though they are trying to be objective. She shouldn't be so surprised.
These terrorist murdering scions of evil need to be crushed and relegated to the dungeon of history. Why do some of our "intelligent" types still not understand? Take Jimmy Carter, for example. His claptrap about "progress" with Iraq and North Korea is misguided. Here was the progress, and it was one-sided in favor of our enemies: as their capacity to field weapons of mass destruction increased exponentially, our willpower to do anything about it waned. All of this goes to the basic premise -- do you prefer a peaceful society or a free one? If your goal is peace at all costs, then you end up compromising freedom and legitimizing forced servitude. It's the ghost of Chamberlain, of Lindberg, of Vichy, of defeatism. In order to live in a free society, peace is desired but it isn't the highest standard by which you base your livelihood. You cannot just negotiate away your freedom and your security just for peace.

It was another busy night on the ice last night as 16-year old Sarah Hughes leapt from 4th to the gold medal last night in the women's figure skating . I myself was rooting for American Sasha Cohen, but both she and heavy favorite Michelle Kwan fell down during the freestyle program. The James Bond-ishly named Irina Slutskaya aced her way to the silver, but her program was lacking in difficulty.
The U.S. women's hockey team lost to the Canadians 3-2 in the gold medal game. Still, I'm happy that a North American team won the tournament. Tonight, unless the Russians follow through with their threat to pull out of the Games entirely, the men's U.S. hockey team will face off with the Russians. That would actually be such a letdown, because the Russkies have a really good shot at a gold medal. (On a brief fashion note, the Russians also have some aesthetically cool jerseys, designed by who else but Nike! And their red-white-blue combo is so much more lively than the old dank red of the USSR). Plus, I want the U.S.(who also have happenin' threads) to earn a gold medal game slot, not default its way into it. Of course, either way this is a Cold War replay, because if the game takes place it reprises the 1980 Miracle on Ice, and if it doesn't, then it reprises the Cold War tradition of simply not showing up (the Soviets' removal of the nukes from Cuba in 1962, the Americans not showing up in Moscow for the '80 Summer Games after Afghanistan, the Soviets leaving the negotiating table in Geneva back in 1983, the Soviets returning the Americans' favor in the 1984 LA games, etc).

Sometime this weekend I am going to trek all the way across the street to the Hoyts theater to catch the movie adaptation of Anne Rice's Queen of the Damned. Vampire flicks are my favorite horror movies, except for all the biting and blood.

Today's wordplay is provided by Fernando Cortes, one of my uncles and an Human Resources guru at Nike's facility in Memphis, TN:
"We judge ourselves by what we feel we are capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done!"

Thursday, February 21, 2002

ZoNotes: Straight Outta Compton
Okay, maybe not, but sometimes you gotta show attitude!

Do You Believe in Miracles, Da!
It was a busy day on the ice and in the snow, as the Americans put together the most productive day in its Winter Olympics history. With the U.S. picking up gold medals in both men and women's skeleton, and Apolo Ohno's odd ending to his 1500 meter short-track race , we are having our finest Winter Games ever. However, the big moment of the day was Belarus' stunning 4-3 win over Sweden in men's hockey. And tonight, the Russians and the Americans face off 22 years to the day of the famed Miracle on Ice, when a young and scrappy U.S. team shocked the world by defeating the vaunted Soviet machine. Of course, the stakes are far less than that, but nothing gets the excitement of Olympic-level hockey. I actually like this version as opposed to the NHL variety. It seems faster and has more scoring.

Bonfire of the Vanity Fair
When I was bumming around the Memphis airport waiting for my connecting flight to Pittsburgh, I picked up a copy of the March 2002 issue of Vanity Fair. Star Wars fans will be happy to see some really nice photos of the stars of the film, and I suggest for some of the more enthusiastic fans that you pick this up. Of course, the actual article doesn't reveal much about the upcoming Episode II itself, but the pics are worth it. Besides a revealing article on the opium trade in central Asia, there was a particularly banal piece on the new WB television show Smallville, which is a brand-spankin' new retelling of Superman's early years, you know, before Christopher Reeve and all that. I've only seen parts of episodes on the Frog, I usually keep my channel rotation locked between FX for Buffy reruns, ESPN for college football/basketball, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. The article then morphed from television review to pop-culture dissertation on how the character is back in style after 9.11. It was a messy and tangled analogy, one which I have many problems with. The first is clear -- the heroism displayed on 9.11 and the months after shows that heroes are made by deed, not by inherent power. The men and women who serve in the various police/fire departments and the military are heroes because of what they do, not because of what they are. They are myth come to life, so to speak. Secondly, if you want to continue with the comic hero analogy, the author of the article was using the wrong character to illustrate the point. This is not a Superman society. This is a Batman society. I'll dwell on that later.

I feel a slight Draft
I didn't get a chance to write on this because I've been tending to other things -- but the NFL expansion Houston Texans actually had a pretty good expansion draft on Monday. Texans GM Charlie Casserly really did his homework, picking up a solid offensive lineman (Jags' tackle Tony Boselli) and securing two lockdown cornerbacks in Aaron Glenn and Marco Coleman. There was also some blatant pandering to the hometown crowd, as Glenn is from Houston and starred at Texas A&M before moving on to the New York Jets, where he had Pro Bowl years in 1997 and '98. Coleman is from Dallas, and played at Texas Tech before joining the Jets. I'm a bit concerned about the Texans' QB prospects. I figure with the first pick in the April college draft that they will take Fresno State QB David Carr, but he will need some time to develop. Taking Danny Wuerfffel wasn't my first instinct. Perhaps Houston will play trade bait and secure a QB through a trade, somebody like Chris Chandler down at Atlanta.

"Fear is no reason to be scared."

Wednesday, February 20, 2002

HOYA METER: Ack. The primordial ooze of unsatisfying defeat litters the court at MCI Center. The slime of despair settles upon the Hilltop. Georgetown bungled an 8-point lead in the last 8 minutes of the game and lost to hated rival UConn, 75-74. With only 3 regular season games left until the Big East Tournament, we are in big trouble. It would take a miracle to win the Big East Tournament and secure an automatic bid, because GU will not get in with an at-large selection. I do NOT want the Hoyas to end up in the NIT again....

What Year Is This Again?
Here is today's promised assessment of the historical problems with the State Department and our love-hate-love European allies, an anecdotal account by Kenneth S. Davis in his book FDR: War President. St. Pierre and Miquelon are two islands about 20 or so miles away from Newfoundland. In the initial phases of the American involvement in World War II, these islands were controlled by a pro-Nazi Vichy government, and allegedly it was using the islands' strategic location to intercept Allied shipping or tap into wire cables. Charles DeGaulle, leading the Free French resistance, wanted to undertake a unilateral operation to liberate the islands, whose populations were sympathetic to the Allied cause. Washington, on the other hand, wanted to negotiate with Vichy, fearing that the remainder of the French fleet that had not been sunk by the British in 1940 would be brought into the Atlantic. FDR supported this policy, but it was none other than Secretary of State Cordell Hull that formulated it and kept it viable.
On 16 December 1941, DeGaulle sent Adm Emile Musieler to Ottawa, with orders to secretly use the meager Free French naval resources to liberate the island chain. Musieler, a "willful man who had far outranked deGaulle in the prewar French military establishment and now felt no personal loyalty to him," (p. 375) revealed his intentions and mission to the American representative in Canada. The State Department and Washington in general then told Musieler that the liberation would be undertaken by a joint Canadian-American force. When DeGaulle caught whiff of this, he angrily ordered Musieler to proceed directly to the islands instead of returning to London On 24 December, the puny French force arrived on St. Pierre and promptly subdued the Vichy government.
This was the only bit of good news for the Allies at a time when they were still realizing the implications of the 7 December Pearl Harbor attack, the fall of Wake Island and Guam, the debacle in the Philippines, the crucial damage to the HMS Queen Elizabeth and Valiant, etc., etc., (p. 376). So, what would you expect America to do? You would think that it would be to congratulate the Free French for removing the oily Vichy. But no, that would make too much sense. Secretary Hull, upon finding this out, angrily called Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King to order the Free French to leave the island and give it back to Vichy (p. 377). Here is the text of the actual State Department memo:
"three so-called Free French ships" had indeed taken "an arbitrary action contrary to the agreement of all parties concerned and certainly without the prior knowledge or consent in any sense of the U.S. government" (p. 377). Now here's the zinger -- "This government has inquired of the Canadian government as to the steps Canada is prepared to (my italics) take to restore the status quo of the islands.
Doesn't this sound awfully familiar? Remember during the Taliban affair in November 2001 when current SecState Colin Powell asked the victorious Northern Alliance to not occupy Kabul but instead "invest" it?
Jokes flew regarding the "so-called State Department" and the "so-called Secretary of State."
More juicy quotes, this from the New York Post: (p. 377) -- "The Department of State has tried cajolerie, corruption, self-delusion and stupidity in attempting to prop up Vichy against Hitler. Today it tries treason -- fore there is no other word to describe its sellout of the Free French at Saint Pierre and Miquelon and its attempt to restore Vichy to power there." Couldn't you easily see a line in a current editorial talking about State's efforts to prop up "PLO" against "Israel?"
Luckily for all involved, the Free French were allowed to keep the islands. But this incident shows us that State keeps talking in a way that is seemingly oblivious to wartime conditions. Colin Powell is no conservative along the lines of Hull, but they both represent a stability-at-all-costs mentailty that permeates State. So, this isn't an ideological problem. It's institutional. State is most content when it is doing nothing to maintain the facade of comity. Their preference for normalcy in times that are definitely not normal makes things difficult for countries when it is time for destabilizing and removal of hostile regimes. It's not that State wants to remove Saddam from Iraq slowly, it's that it just doesn't want to remove Saddam at all. They'd rather him be benign than gone, because removing him creates uncertainty in SW Asia. State can't stand unpredictability.
OK, now the Allies:
In every major confrontation since 1941, the Allies have guided American power -- we were influenced by the Brits to stress on Europe first in WWII, we entered consensus-imperative NATO, we held off in 1991 to acquiesce to coaliton desires, and we helped solve the Balkan problem in the 1990s when the Euros were getting embarrassed. Now, our strength is unmatched at the same time the Euros' weakness is unsurpassed. How can the Euros expect to conduct an allied policy when their militaries are either technologially deficient or numerically insignificant? That does not speak to their training -- many European forces do receive that out of their institutional tradition -- but it does point to the Euros' insistence on riding in the back seat of the car while they kick off their shoes and tell us what to drive, how fast we should go, and what interstates we can ride. It doesn't work that way anymore. For the first time in its history, the U.S. isn't bound by what others think. We can act unilaterally not only because we can, but because we must, because everybody else, even when they pool their resources together, cannot even match our singular power.

Medal Count
The U.S. Olympic Committee aimed for 20 medals at the Salt Lake Games. With world records falling in speed skating and the women's two-seater bobsled team picking up medals, we are smashing that projection. This is good not only for nationalistic chest-thumping (God Bless America), but it may also increase interest in the winter sports, and this is always good. As more good and motivated athletes suit up for the Winter Games, maybe we can surpass 25 medals at next Winter Games at Tourino, Italy in 2006. Hopefully as this week rolls on the men's and women's hockey teams, figure skater Michelle Kwan, and others will nail down gold for America. Janice Carswell emailed to remind me that the captain of the 4-man bobsled team is from nowhere else than Del Rio, TX. He played football before jumping on the team. You see? And we haven't won a male bobsled medal in like 46 years.

"Failure is clearest when you choose to falter."

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

HOYA METER: Ssssssszzzzzzzzz. The thing keeps going up and down and up and down on me. After rallying back from 11 down against the hated Villanova Wildcats, the Hoyas lost again, dropping to 14-9, (6-6 Big East). With only 5 slots likely for the Big East in the NCAA Tournament, G-Town will have to win the conference tournament in New York to make the field of 64. Otherwise, it's off to the NIT. Well, at least Duke lost. But the Blue Devils lost to Maryland. I am not a Terpie fan. It was like when Duke played UCONN in the 1999 NCAA final. Who do you pull for when both teams irritate you to no end?

Memphis Recap
My journey to the mid-South was relaxing and enjoyable. Many thanks to my uncle "FERN!" and his family for hosting me on Saturday and Sunday. Highlights included eating at a surprisingly delicious Thai restaurant in Collierville and doing some shopping at the Nike Employee Store on the campus over yonder. My next trip down will be in late May-early June for the Livy Keithley (C'98)-Sharlene Sidhu (C'00) wedding.

I am currently reading the 5th installment of the late Kenneth S. Davis' herculean biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, FDR: The War President, 1940-1943: A History . The book is very revealing on many fronts, including relations with Winston Churchill, dealing with domestic political intrique, and other issues. Davis as a historian painstakingly documented this volume, and it reads rather quickly for a book nearing the 800-page mark. What is interesting is that the more things change, the more they stay the same -- namely a weak-kneed timid State Department. I think there also is a major pertinent lesson to take away from this book regarding our relationship with the European allies. Tomorrow I will detail both points.
Today though I will dwell on an important difference yet eventual similarity between the way liberals run wars and the way conservatives do. FDR's wartime budgetary philosophy rested on a set of the most confiscatory and stifling tax increases in American history, used to finance a war machine never before equalled. Yet at the same time, big business interests created the Arsenal of Democracy and profited quite well from the creation of tanks, guns, ships, and planes. Oddly enough, the wartime conversion and belligerent nature of the U.S. economy post-Pearl Harbor basically turned the leftist New Deal on its head. FDR wasn't a firerbrand liberal ideologue in terms of operational-level policymaking. He had a Republican Secretary of State and was dealing with a conservative media (can you believe a Democrat President from New York not having the slavish sycophantic love of the New York Times?)
Conversely, Bush's wartime program maintains a bedrock of modern conservative economic practice -- tax cuts and other pro-business incentives. Again, "big corporations" stand to profit as well --precision-guided munitions, satellite technology, ships, guns, and unmanned drones. How does a constitutional republic manage that?
There is also something inherently frictiticious about the way FDR governed. He seemed to revel in chaos and political intrique. This is true of all Presidents in some degree, but I was especially enthralled by the myriad of command and control apparatuses in the U.S. military that wasn't ironed out until 1942.
Tomorrow -- From reading Davis' book, the State Department's problem isn't ideological, it's institutional.
AND -- Why we really weren't all just getting along.

The Chair Ain't Hot Enough
Yesterday the 5-time childkiller Andrea Yates began her trial. I am going to admit something right off the bat -- I am not sympathetic towards Yates. If you want a manifestation of malevolent cruelty, Yates is your example. I don't consider her mental condition to be a mitigating factor. She killed her own flesh and blood. This is not the case that psychological advocates should be using for leniency. It seems that there is a lot of blame to go around in terms of Yates' family situation. The father seems disturbingly odd, and they kept having children. That said, it cannot excuse the egregious drownings of her children. Once they are born, it isn't their fault that they're around. And that's basically what I think her defenders are saying. Let's say she stopped having children after, say, #2. Does this mean that she wouldn't have dronwed the first two? No, of course not! Of course this homicidal maniac would have killed her children anyway. This is unthinkable, indefensible, right? Wrong. Let me dig up a piece of wisdom written last summer written by Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen, where she relates that women at a "forbidden level understand" what Yates did to her children. Conviction and the swift, merciless application of the death penalty are the only realistic options here.

"Justice witheld is the seed of regret."