Archive for category: Blog

The nationalist veil

24 Jul
July 24, 2014

Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin is a thug, a neo-Tsarist xenophobe and complicit in the chain of events that led to Ukranian separatist rebels mistakenly downing a civilian airliner.  He should reflect on his performance and its result, and he should begin to make what amends he can offer.   Nothing that follows mitigates against any of the above.


“….As of 1993, the United States had not apologized to Iran.  In 1996, the United States and Iran reached “an agreement in full and final settlement of all disputes, differences, claims, counterclaims” relating to the incident at the International Court of Justice, including a recognition of the incident in the form of “…the United States recognized the aerial incident of 3 July 1988 as a terrible human tragedy and expressed deep regret over the Loss of lives caused by the incident…” As part of the settlement, the United States did not admit legal liability but agreed to pay on an “ex gratia” basis US$61.8 million, amounting to $213,103.45 per passenger, in compensation to the families of the Iranian victims…”

That’s from the Wikipedia entry for the Iran Air civilian aircraft shot down over the Persian Gulf by a missle fired by the U.S.S. Vincennes in 1988.  Although the Gulf was certainly a tense environment in which the U.S. Navy and Iranian military forces were operating in close proximity, it was not by any means a region of actual armed conflict.  Yet  Vice President George H. Bush declared that he would “never apologize” for U.S. actions or the Iranian deaths that resulted from the tragedy.  While regreting the loss of life in the tragedy, as Mr. Putin has done, the U.S. refused to apologize to Iran for the incident and Presdient Reagan insisted that our warship  had fired the missle  “in a proper defensive action.”

By our own standards, Mr. Putin is not required to apologize or reflect seriously on a damn thing at present.  And Russia as a whole ought not to be expected to apologize anytime before 2022.  And compensation for the victims of the tragedy in the Ukraine should not be forthcoming until 2025.

This tired planet is at present still organized politically as a collection of nation-states, and with that as a given, it is inevitable and practical that those states will at times be overly competitive, uncooperative or engaged in outright conflict.  And so, the maintenance of military and intelligence capabilities remains, too, inevitable and practical.  That those capabilities will, in turn, be subject to sudden instances of grievous and horrifying miscalculation is also a certainty.  This is the world now.

But nationalism — everyone’s nationalism — is also the first and last refuge of dishonorable, hypocritical rogues.

Within the Acela cocoon

18 Jul
July 18, 2014

There is something about human beings compacted in a cylindrical tube, hurtling between cities at a high speed, unable to maneuver in any other manner than to, say, grab a beer from the cafe car or visit the rest room. It is lost time. And when you’ve made all your cell calls, and answered the last of your email, and you are still only in Wilmington and another forty minutes from home, the last distractions are the people sitting around you.

This fellow was at the four-top table immediately behind me. I clocked him as we left New York, but as he is a busy man, and as most of our previous encounters have been a little edgy, I told myself to let well enough alone. I answered a few more emails, looked at some casting tapes on the laptop, checked the headlines. And still, with all of that done, we were only just south of Philadelphia.

I texted my son: “On the southbound Acela. Marty O’Malley sitting just behind me,” then joking, “Do I set it off?”

A moment later, a 20-year-old diplomatic prodigy fired back a reply: “Buy him a beer.”

I waited until just after Wilmington, for fear that the Governor of Maryland and I would not be able to endure the requisite formalities of forced proximity for much longer than that. Then I stood up, noticed that Mr. O’Malley was sipping a Corona, and I walked to the cafe car to get another just like it. I came back, put it on the table next to its mate, and said, simply, “You’ve had a tough week.” My reference, of course, was to the governor’s dustup with the White House over the housing of juvenile immigrants in Maryland, which became something of a spitting contest by midweek.

Mr. O’Malley smiled, said thanks, and I went back to my seat to inform my son that the whole of the State Department could do no better than he. Several minutes later, the governor of my state called me out and smacked the seat next to him.

“Come on, Dave, ” he said, “we’re getting to be old men at this point.  Sit, talk.”

I joined him. He still hates “The Wire” with a taut fury. I suggested he might watch it some years from now, when there was less at stake. I am still no fan of some of his policies, especially with regard to the drug war and the use of mass arrest, but I held my tongue and told him instead that I thought he’d been misused this week by some White House aides who misrepresented his position on the immigration issue, which indeed, I believe is true. We searched for common ground and landed eventually on The Pogues, a band beloved to us both, as well as some mutual memories of the more farcical personages who once held court on the Baltimore City Council. At one point, we both lamented the death last year of Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron and  sang some lyrics to Chevron’s magnificent “Faithful Departed.” This no doubt brought a vague nausea to the aide traveling with the governor and anyone else still awake in our vicinity. More than that, I can’t say, as discussion of a few other matters was agreed to be off-the-record. I will honor that.

As the train neared Baltimore, the governor suggested that perhaps we both suffered from Irish — or as I know the joke, Jewish — Alzheimers. As he explained,  “That’s where you…”

“…only remember the grudges,” I finished.

We laughed, and the governor used his iPad for a photo. We shook hands, and I got off in Baltimore. He continued on to the BWI station, and, from there, I presume, to Annapolis.

Again, for the most part, I credit Amtrak, with an assist from my son. But Mr. O’Malley, who is now contemplating a presidential run, seemed last night to be as much at ease as I remember from his earliest days on the council. And me, I’m no longer trying to film a dark story in his political backyard. The two of us did okay, too, considering.


Fuss, bother, and then…quiet

15 Nov
November 15, 2012

Anyone who has stumbled here before knows that the emissions are only occasional, that weeks can pass between all of us venting and frothing and arguing over a post such as the previous few, after which the entire site seems to go into sleep mode.

Apologies.  As I explain elsewhere on the site, this is not the day job.

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Barack Obama And The Death Of Normal

07 Nov
November 7, 2012

I was on an airplane last night as the election was decided. As the plane landed after midnight on the East Coast, I confess that my hand was shaking as I turned on my phone for the news. I did not want to see dishonesty and divisiveness and raw political hackery rewarded. It is hard enough for anyone to actually address the problems, to move this country forward, to make the intransigent American ruling class yield even a yard of the past to the inevitable future. But going backwards last night would have been devastating. I read the returns in silent elation; a business trip had me traveling in business class and the gnashing of corporate teeth all around precluded a full-throated huzzah on my part. I abhor a gloat.

But the country is changing. And this may be the last election in which anyone but a fool tries to play — on a national level, at least — the cards of racial exclusion, of immigrant fear, of the patronization of women and hegemony over their bodies, of self-righteous discrimination against homosexuals. Some in the Republican party and among the teabagged fringe will continue to play such losing hands for some time to come; this shit worked well in its day and distracted many from addressing any of our essential national issues. But again, if they play that weak-ass game past this point, they are fools.

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Mitt Romney paid taxes at a rate of 13 percent and he’s proud to say so. Redux.

17 Sep
September 17, 2012

A month back I ventured a brief post on this site in which I expressed my astonishment at the spectacle of a multi-millionaire presidential candidate assuring Americans that he had paid no less than 13 percent taxes.  It generated some commentary back and forth.  But as a startling addendum, we must now consider Mr. Romney’s comments at a private fundraising event at which he didn’t know he was being surreptitiously videtaped, with the tape now leaked to Mother Jones magazine and hitting the internet on several sites:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what.  All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it. That, that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what.”

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