Thursday, March 27, 2008

Colonel 'Goose' Recalls Flying Hillary to Bosnia

Senator Hillary Clinton's mis-remembered account of her dramatic landing in Bosnia has already been contradicted by so many sources that to add one more at this point would be piling on. But why not?

The U.S. Air Force officer who was in command of the C-17 on which Hillary and her party flew into Air Base Eagle in 1996 has now given a radio interview. Colonel William 'Goose' Changose (retired) doesn't remember the day exactly the same way Hillary does (or did, until this week). There was no corkscrew approach, no ground fire, no dashing into vehicles, etc. And he never saw anyone siting on their flak jacket except in Apocalypse Now.

I particularly enjoyed this remark from the sardonic Colonel:

Audio recording of Hillary: “I was the first high profile American to go to Bosnia after the Dayton Peace Accords

Goose: "Well, except for the President and the Secretary of Defense, but yeah, besides those two..."

Like they say, fairy tales start with “once upon a time” and war stories start with “there I was.”

Monday, March 24, 2008

About That Olympic Torch Run ...

The "mother flame" of the 2008 Olympics torch was lit today in Olympia, Greece (see the website of the IOC for more on the torch run from Olympia to Beijing).

I can't resist pointing out that the ceremony of the torch run did not originate in antiquity, as so many seem to assume, but rather in the 1930s. As is the case with many of the atmospherics of the modern Olympic Games, it was thought up by the German organizers of the 1936 Berlin Games, aka "the Nazi Games," as the IOC website's info on the 1936 Games acknowledges.

The Berlin Games were organized in large part as a Nazi propaganda fest, culminating in the brilliant Leni Riefenstahl film "Olympia." Riefenstahl went to Olympia to personally stage and film the torch-lighting scenes for her movie, making her the true inventor of today's ceremony.

In fairness to the IOC, I must note that the Olympic Games are awarded to cities, not countries, and that the Nazi party did not take power in Germany until 1933, after the IOC had already awarded the 1936 games. However, the IOC did nothing to resist while the Nazis used their hosting of the Games to obtain the maximum value for themselves in world opinion.

The Nazis didn't do too badly at public diplomacy, considering how thoroughly they beat back calls in the U.S. and elsewhere for a boycott of the Games. Consider the below quote (courtesy of U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) from Avery Brundage, the great American athlete and philanthropist who headed the American Olympic Committee:

Responding to reports of the persecution of Jewish athletes in 1933, Avery Brundage, president of the American Olympic Committee, stated: "The very foundation of the modern Olympic revival will be undermined if individual countries are allowed to restrict participation by reason of class, creed, or race." Brundage, like many others in the Olympics movement, initially considered moving the Games from Germany. After a brief and tightly managed inspection of German sports facilities in 1934, Brundage stated publicly that Jewish athletes were being treated fairly and that the Games should go on, as planned.

Watch for lots more cave-ins just like Brundage's as the Olympic torch gets closer to Beijing and the calls get stronger for a boycott, or at least a snub of the opening ceremony.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pistol Cooks Off in Oven

Man charged after gun in oven goes off, injuring 2, according to the Chicago Daily Herald.

Chicago police say two children were injured when a loaded handgun hidden inside an oven discharged when the stove was heated for cooking. Twenty-four-year-old Anthony Smith of Chicago has been charged with two counts of endangering the life of a child. Police spokesman Marcel Bright says Smith apparently had hidden the gun in the oven. The injured children's sister was cooking Friday afternoon when the gun went off. A 4-year-old boy is in stable condition with a gunshot wound to the leg. His 12-year-old brother was struck on the forehead by a fragment from the gun. He has been treated and released.

Smith, a convicted felon on parole, also was charged with unlawful use of a weapon.

This is why I have a Glock. They're made of microwave-safe plastic.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Barack Obama Disses His Grandma

Maybe it's just me, but Obama never seemed less authentically black then when he trashed his grandmother in that "A More Perfect Union" speech yesterday (transcript courtesy of the Washington Post).

"I can no more disown [Rev. Dr. Wright] than I can disown the black
community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

The anecdote about his grandmother can be found on pages 88 and 89 of Obama's autobiography (Dreams of My Father) and it consists of this: one day when Obama was about 16, his grandmother, who was the main income earner for his family, and who rode the bus to her job at a bank, complained to her husband that she was being harassed by a bum at the bus stop. Obama's grandfather, an Old School lefty, chastised his wife for her presumed racial prejudice (since the bum was black) and refused to drive her to her job.

Judge for yourself whether that story qualifies as cringe-making racial or ethnic stereotyping. Or whether it doesn't really tell you more about his lazy and judgmental grandfather than it does about his grandmother.

Personally, I don't know any black man who would diss his mother or grandmother as Obama has done in his books and speeches. That simply is not typical behavior of an American black man. It is, however, typical behavior of privileged white yuppies, a social description that is a much better fit to Obama's cultural background of prep schools, Columbia University, and Harvard Law School.

Monday, March 17, 2008

More Lyrical Wisdom from Merle Hazard

The Motley Fool has a scathing reaction today to Fed Chairman Bernanke's bail-out of Bear Sterns.

"If Bernanke, Hank Paulson, and the rest of our government's Wall Street Super Friends really believe in free markets, they'll make sure that companies are allowed to fail, especially when they richly deserve it, as Bear did. And if they need to step in and prop up certain, select businesses to shore up the system, they should make sure that the people doing the bailout -- we taxpayers -- get a potential payoff for their largess. Why should JPMorgan get such a sweet deal with the rest of us holding the bag on the risk?"

"Privatizing profits and socializing losses is no way to run an economy. I wonder whether Bernanke learned that in grad school."

Forget grad school - why didn't he learn better from Merle Hazard? This is just what Merle was warning him about - by name! - in his tongue-in-cheek country song "In the Hamptons:"

Ben Bernanke can’t you understand
Wall Street needs a helping hand
Or there’s gonna be a nasty recession some day
Fed gov’nors don’t you see?
We’ll lose three points of GDP!
The working man gets hurt the worst
If you don’t save…the rich ones first

Cancel the Beijing Olympics? Not a Chance.

Lots of activists seem to be hoping to use the occasion of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing to dissuade the Chinese regime from cracking down further on unrest in Tibet. Here's a typical report from today's Washington Post:

"The large-scale arrests and official promises of tough reprisals suggested the Chinese government has decided to move decisively to crush the protests despite calls for restraint from abroad and warnings that heavy-handed repression could taint next summer's Olympic Games in Beijing."

"Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, has opposed efforts by human rights advocates, including Tibetans, to use the Olympics as a way to pressure Beijing for concessions. He told reporters over the weekend that he rejected the idea of an Olympic boycott because of Tibet but was concerned by the reports of violence in Lhasa."

I hope those human rights advocates don't expect the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to do something drastic, like threaten to cancel the summer games, if the Chinese massacre a few hundred Tibetans between now and the opening ceremony. Let's not forget the IOC has been in that situation before - in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics - and it failed to even seriously consider canceling those games.

Here's a refresher on the Mexico City massacre that preceded by a few days the 1968 summer games, courtesy of the National Security Archives of the George Washington University.

And how did the IOC respond in 1968 to widespread calls for cancelling the Olympic Games in order to punish the Mexican government? They dismissed the idea out of hand. Lord Exeter, British vice-president of the International Olympic Committee back then, broke it down for the news media: "The riots have nothing to do with the Olympic Games. The students are not protesting against the games but against the Mexican government." [Quote from the BBC.]

Right you are, Lord Exeter. A few hundred Mexican students weren't gunned down because they were protesting the games, they were gunned down because they were protesting their government, and their government was merely hosting the games. There's nothing there that would harsh the IOC's mellow.

I expect the IOC is no more susceptible to embarrassment today than it was in 1968. They'll let the games go on, no matter how heavy-handed the Chinese regime gets. After all, the Chinese massacre people all the time, but it's only once every four years that the nations of the world can come together to celebrate synchronized swimming.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Roadtrip Across America: a Few Impressions

We finished our 3,102-mile road trip from Sacramento, California, to the Washington DC suburbs of Northern Virginia yesterday. Here are a few impressions:

The Nissan Sentra 2.0 S with continuously variable transmission (CVT) is an excellent vehicle! Very smooth ride, quick acceleration, and it can cruise at 80 MPH with no problem whatsoever. The CVT also results in mileage on a par with a hybrid engine; we got around 37 miles per gallon despite the car being loaded with luggage and two adults.

Wind power is definitely on the rise. Tahatchapi, California, has so many wind turbines (around 4,000) and generates so much electricity from them that it bills itself the Wind Power Capitol of the world. We also saw more huge wind farms along Interstate 40 in northern Texas. I was fascinated by those majestic high-tech windmills. Click on the video below for an example of what they look like.

The average length of beard on a Grand Canyon Park Ranger must be somewhere between 12 and 18 inches. Really. My son asked me whether ZZ Top had broken up and gotten government jobs. I loved everything I saw at the Canyon. My next vacation will be there, when I'll have the time to hike the trails.

The plains in northern Texas / southern Oklahoma are spectacularly vast and flat. I knew that before driving there, but the sight of the landscape - flat as a tabletop from horizon to horizon - still left me awe-struck.

GPS navigation devices are great for giving audible turn-by-turn directions, but they're less than 100% when in comes to picking the best routes. They invariably seek the most direct routing, but you also need to take into consideration things like traffic flow, which means the "Garmin Lady" will announce she is "recalculating" the route when you deviate from her set course. If you've used a Garmin you know that note of disgust she puts into the word "re-CALC-ulating." I got tired of the Garmin Lady's attitude long before we crossed the Mississippi.

There was a certain symmetry in starting our trip by driving down California's Central Valley and ending it by driving up Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, two agricultural corridors that bracket the country.

Now that I'm home, I've got a week's worth of newspapers to plow through.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Roadtrip Across America

I'll be out of the net for a week while I fly to California and then drive back to Virginia (helping one of my kids move). Driving a four-cylinder compact car, I figure the trip will take five days, assuming that the Garmin doesn't break and that I don't get distracted by too many roadside attractions (Graceland!!).

Monday, March 3, 2008

Recommended Reading

This is a great article from Foreign Affairs on one of my favorite topics, nationalism.

If I could assign reading to the world, it would be this article plus the ground-breaking Nationalism Reframed by sociologist Rogers Brubaker, and, for good measure, that classic by the longshoreman-philosopher Erik Hofer, The True Believer.

Additional Charges for Former FSO Gons G. Nachman

The Washington Times had a brief update today (here) about Gons G. Nachman, that Samba-dancing videographer who until last September served as Vice Consul at the U.S. embassy in Brazil. See this post for background.

"Prosecutors are planning to bring additional child-pornography charges against a U.S. diplomat charged with pressuring visa applicants for sex while stationed in Brazil ...... In court papers, prosecutor Ron Walutes said he expects a superseding indictment early this month that will add charges of producing child pornography — charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, unlike simple possession charges, which have a maximum of 10 years and no statutory minimum. Mr. Nachman has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his defense attorney, public defender Geremy Kamens, has questioned aspects of the government's case."

Interesting that Nachman is using a public defender. Also, the Times had a tidbit that I hadn't seen before, and which explains why Nachman is being held in jail without bond pending his trial: Nachman is a dual-national with citizenship in both the U.S. and Costa Rica, making him a presumed flight risk.

Dual citizenship isn't a bar to being commissioned as a Foreign Service Officer?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Origins of "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt"

A new book by James Whitman, professor of criminal law and legal history at Yale Law School, explains the origins of that English Common Law eccentricity of finding a defendant guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt.” The reasonable doubt test arose from theological, not legal, concerns. As Whitman said in the History News Network article (linked above):

"The reasonable doubt formula seems mystifying today because we have lost sight of its original purpose. At its origins the rule was not intended to perform the function we ask it to perform today: It was not primarily intended to protect the accused. Instead, strange as it may sound, the reasonable doubt formula was originally concerned with protecting the souls of the jurors against damnation."

I find this a fascinating bit of social history. Truly, there is nothing about a society that is not the product of its history and culture, and that is even more true when we're unconscious of those origins. That taken-for-granted background cultural knowledge shapes our values and creates a shared sense of right or wrong, good or bad, and fair or unfair.