Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Old Europe is Heard from Again...
I have a friend, an American, who has found himself living in Britain for the last eight years or so. Since his wife never wanted to leave England after they were married, he never bothered to make a case for returning to America. In the last few weeks, he's begun to change his mind.

The thing that is causing this change of heart is the war. Not that he doesn't feel safe in Britain, or that he has visions of the Islamic horde marching up Watford High Street, guns blazing and chanting "Allahu Akbar! (God is Great). It's just that, to him, Britain has become an unbearable place to live if you're an American.

It started innocently enough. There were jokes about President Bush, not that he minded, he's not political. The, of course, came the obligatory lectures from friends and acquaintances about how unsophisticated Americans are and how simplistic our world-view is. Mind you, your typical Englishman/woman in the street, to my experience, has always been charmed to meet Americans and is genuinely interested in us, even if only to be polite. But now, they're getting openly hostile.

My buddy cannot, for example, go to work without being reminded that his nation is killing children, led by an idiot, or has an exagerrated sense of righteousnous. We've gone from being the quirky, but loveable, eccentric cousins to the fur-breasted Hitlerian legions in British public opinion. It's almost as if he, personally, started the whole thing.

His "favorite" argument (always made when not solicited, by the way) is that Europe, and Britain in particular, know how to deal with terrorism, and we (Americans) should learn from their example. Europe, for example, does not invade hostile countries when threatened by a terrorist act (conveneniently forgetting the England has been in possession of Northern Ireland for 900 years, which is the instigating cause of IRA terrorism, of course). Europe does not go about toppling "legitimately elected governments" in response to an act of terrorism, apparently forgetting that the First World War occured after the assassination of the Austrian heir-apparent. If that ain't terrorism, I don't know what is. of course, Europeans are more restrained and pragmatic when it comes to things like terror bombings. You bomb Coventry and we burn down Berlin, nothing like that great English sense of fairness, is there?

But, there is hostility. Almost, as if, being 3,000 miles from home, but still an American, my friend is somehow responsible for starting a war that your typical Englishman doesn't have the guts to fight for himself. Notwithstanding the English troops in Afghanistan and Iraq right now, but then again, they aren't typical.

I can only guess at why they think this way.

Guess Number 1 - Britain is a hollow shell of what it used to be. The great power conferred by the Royal Navy, the statesmanship of a Lloyd-George or Churchill, the engine of a great manufacturing economy, are all gone. They belong to the past as much as Stonehenge and ruins of Bath. They are a by-gone era that will never return because no one remembers what it was like then. The English have lost touch with what it is that made them English, what has made them unique in the history of the world. The "Great" has gone out of Great Britain, the pomp and majesty has been chipped away at for so long that it is no longer recognizable. Englishmen today must live under a cloud that is reminiscent of the last days of Rome. Only they're content to live under it.

Guess Number 2 - After nearly 100 years of IRA bombings and plots, and the comparatively little loss of life (more people were killed on 9/11 than in all the IRA bombings on record), the English have come to look at terrorism as a minor inconvenience. Of course, this is a people who have withstood the Nazi blitz, so perhaps they're jaded somewhat. They forget, however, that the IRA is fighting for a limited, political goal (England out of Ireland) and is not fighting to gather the entire world under Catholic rule. Islamic terrorists, on the other hand, are fighting for what God has told them is right -- the entire world under the Islamic tent -- and under rules in which killing the unbeliever is just as good as converting him. The IRA would (probably) never slam an airliner into the Houses of Parliament, for example.

Guess Number 3 - Britain, and Europe as a whole, are secretly jealous of the United States. It's a case of penis envy writ large. The United States defeated Nazi and Japanese militarism with a combination of zeal, guts and an industrial capacity second to none. The United States stared down a major nuclear power for 50 years, playing a game of chicken that threatened the destruction of the world, until that power fell flat on it's back, a victim of it's own excesses and failures, rather than by outright conquest. They wish they still could do that, but they can't. While Americans were defending them from the ravages of Communism, Europeans were busy losing their empires and implementing the less-pernicious virus of socialism. They've decided that they would rather be mollycoddled than fight for their own freedom and safety. This sense of security, however, does not extend beyond any individual's own nose.

To my friend across the pond, I say, chin up, old boy! You're always welcome to come home, and we'll take you just as you are and not how others would wish you to be. And because we're such good folks, we'll take your wife too (okay, I do adore her), no questions asked.

To the idiots who haven't figured out that the United States has once again taken up the gauntlet that will enable what's left of their civilization to continue, I quote Geroge Orwell, as great an Englishman as there ever was, speaking of the dangers of his own day: "to be anti-war is to be objectively pro-Nazi". Substitute Islamic-suicide- bombing-fanatic in place of Nazi.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Martha Stweart Redux...
Okay, best as I can tell, Martha was convicted of lying about something that normally would not have been a crime in the first place? Does this make sense to anyone out there?

Let's see, her broker gets some information that another client is dumping his/her stock in his/her own company. He passes that information along to Martha. So far, so good. There ain't nothing illegal going on yet.

Martha then dumps the same stock after making a telephone call to the guy who owns the company. SHe makes a grand total of about $45,000 on it. Wow, big whoops. I'm sure Dennis Kozlowski spent more on underwear in a week.

Somehow the Feds get on her case. She panics. Although she hasn't done anything wrong, she goes ahead and conspires with her broker -- if anyone asks, we had a standing stop-loss order for when the stock hit $60 a share, okay? The Broker, knowing where his bread is buttered, does what his client asks him to do. After all, it's only 45 grand and it's not like the firm is going to punish him for it (compliance departments are mainly for show these days), and the Feds will probably only fine her if they get caught. The conspiracy is to cover the possibility that someone might raise an eyebrow. It's for show.

In come the Feds. They can't get Martha for anythig she's done. Her broker (or his assistant) made the first call after all, she was just acting on good information. No harm, no foul. However she still gets the shaft for committing perjury in a case that normally wouldn't even pass the smell test. Thank the jury for that.

So now it's a crime to lie about not committing a crime?

Prediction: Martha walks on appeal.
Why Vietnam Just Won't Go Away...
John Kerry, war hero. John McCain, war hero. Max Cleland, war hero. Bill Clinton, draft dodger. George W. Bush, alleged no-show.

I can expand on the list a bit, but I won't. The point of this screed is that the corpse of Vietnam has a risen from the grave again, like Freddy Kreuger or Jason, to poison the wells of politics. Then again, poisoning the wells of American politics was never all that difficult to begin with. Truth, apparently, does this from time to time.

In all seriousness, what is the deal with Vietnam? Apart from it being a very unpopular war (getting drafted cut into your acid and protest time, apparently), I can't see what all the fuss is about. Korea was an unpopular war. The Mexican-American War (such as it was) was unpopular too. I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who jumped for joy that Pear Harbor had fiunally gotten Roosevelt off his crippled behind to fight the nasty Hun and Sons of Nippon. No war is ever "popular", they are more or less, just the backdrop against which human drama is played out.

All wars are unpopular to some segment of the population or another. If you doubt that, just look at all the hue and cry about a three-week jaunt through the Iraqi desert to wrest the country from it's own citizens, who wouldn't even fight for their own country. But Vietnam, for some reason, holds a special place in the pantheon of wars for the people of this country, and the people of the Baby Boom generation.

On the one hand, the men and women who fought in or against that war are now the generation that "leads" us (to where or what is still up in the air). It is the defining moment of their entire lives, just as the Great Depression/WWII era was to the previous generation and how 9/11 and the fisrt episode of Survivor will be to mine. However, with all the chest-beating of who did what, when and who left limbs behind, and who burned flags in Moscow, etc, etc, you would believe that this one event was the end all and be all of human existance.

John Kerry jumped out of a boat to administer the coup de grace to a wounded Viet Cong, and somehow managed to get a chestful of medals for it, then came home crying that the war was unjust. Somehow he turned that into a Senate seat. War crimes are for other people, I guess.

John McCain managed to get himself shot down twice, and captured, and turned it into a Senate seat. Six years in the Hanoi Hilton notwithstanding, John McCain is probably the last person I would go to for military advice or knowledge. See? There is hope for fuck ups after all.

Max Cleland was a glorified telephone repair man with officer's bars on his collars, and he managed to blow himself up with his own grenade. Yep, I trust a guy who brings grenades to repair my telephones anyday to lead me.

Al Gore wrote for the Stars and Stripes, never heard a shot fired in anger, used his service when it suited his needs (i.e. getting elected), backed the troops when it suited his needs (i.e. getting face time on TV in return for a "Yes" vote on Gulf War I), and then spent the rest of the time decrying the "injustice" of the Vietnam war. I thank God those senior citizens in Miami couldn't muster the strength to punch a sharp piece of metal through a piece of cardboard.

Bill Clinton pretended to want to go, unless there was an anti-war chick hanging around, went throught the motions (almost) and then attended anti-war rallies in London and Moscow. Yet, he felt experienced enough in military matters to commit American troops to a multitude of conflicts where there was no American interest, and lob some missiles at an aspirin factory to cover his ass when it was convenient.

The point, simply, is this. Vietnam was a loss, through no fault of the men who actually fought it. Hailing your service in or actions against a lost cause doesn't seem to me to be a qualification for the job of President of the United States, or the Senate, the House of Representatives or local dog catcher, if you ask me. But Vietnam keeps poping up, especially when there is NOTHING else to talk about.
They can't help it, their entire lives, their identities, are wrapped up in it. Those that fought it and those who opposed it --- after all, the 1970's weren't exactly a dynamic period in American history, so I guess that's understandable.

However, we're not in 1968 anymore. The summer of love is well and truly over and we have people on the other side of the world that would gladly cut all of our throats because God told them it's okay to do so. At this point, Vietnam is irrelevant as pertains to what we do now and in the future in this regard.

But the Kerry's and Cleland's, Gore's and Clinton's of this world cannot let it go. They are the epitome of the "Me" generation, and naturally, even casual familiarity with anything Vietnam, anything 1960's, must naturally be worn as a badge of courage. A symbol of a time when American youth "spoke truth to power" (or so they think) and "stopped" an unjust conflict that kept them from enjoying all the sex without consequences they could handle.

If I have to remind anyone, the American involvement in Vietnam began under Eisenhower in 1954 and ended ignominiously with Ford in 1975, that's 21 years for anyone who wants to count them. So just what did Kerry and Co. actually stop? How many lives did they save with their protests? What did their politics and their icons (Kennedy and Johnson) actually achieve to be pround of? In the meantime, deadly communist regimes popped up and tortured, strangled and imprisoned their way through Cuba, South East Asia, Africa and South America. Untold millions died because the war was inconvenient for them, unless you were in a position to put yourself in for a shitload of medals to use as an election prop later in life.

If I were these guys, I'd keep my mouth shut about Vietnam.