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Thursday, June 24, 2010

THE SPARTAN AND THE PRESIDENT: SECOND THOUGHTS











--Sweetheart, you’re talking to yourself again.
--I was dressing myself down. I was taking myself out to the woodshed.
--Please don’t tell me you forgot to turn off the coffee maker again. We don’t need any more caffeinated tar.
--Nope, on top of the coffee maker.
--But you needed dressing down. Discipline.
--That’s it, I lack discipline. Toughness and grit. Those are the qualities in short supply with me. But not with General Stanley McChrystal. I just read his discipline level allows him only one meal a day.
--Well, he’ll have lots more time for the gym now. Maybe he can add a snack.
--He will, that’s true. Although they run a pretty tight ship at these cable networks. I imagine he’ll be spending lots of time there soon.
--You see him doing color commentary on the war in Afghanistan?
--Almost certainly. After all, TV has welcomed back Elliot Spitzer. Notice how they’ve been rehabilitating him lately? He has his own show now. I see the same thing figuring for McChrystal.
--Ah well. Life goes on. But I don’t see how this calls for you to dress yourself down.
--I commented on a blogger’s posting yesterday. Mature Landscaping, very astute, very capable. She’d read the article in Rolling Stone that got the general fired. She thought the journalist Michael Hastings had no business publishing such a piece in wartime. And she thought McChrystal was wrong to talk to the guy.
--I can’t agree about not publishing. How about [Mayor Kwame] Kilpatrick? If the Free Press hadn’t published those text messages to his lover, he’d still be in office instead of prison.
--True. I was going to say that’s different because Kilpatrick’s a civilian, but it’s not. McChrystal’s most certainly a politician, too. That’s why I’ve been beating up on myself.
--I see there’s more. Let me get my coffee.

--OK. You needed to give yourself a good talking-to because you failed to realize McChrystal’s a politician.
--Exactly. In my comment to Mature Landscaping, I lamented the level of stupidity being demonstrated by our leaders. By Bush getting us into a pointless war in Iraq. By Governor Sanford from the great state of South Carolina imagining he could conceal a visit to his South American mistress by claiming he was going camping. By the CEO of BP making every possible public-relations mistake possible—and now by McChrystal being stupid enough to talk to a Rolling Stone journalist.
--You think he did it on purpose? To get himself cashiered?
--Thanks to Brian Dickerson’s column in today’s Free Press, yes I do. He set me straight. Whereas I thought it depressing as hell to see a four-star general being stupid, Dickerson sees a four-star general as someone who can’t get where he is without being night-and-day vigilant regarding the chain of command. This has to be true, don’t you think? Unless Old Boy ties and nepotism are rampant in the military, I think you have to assume people don’t achieve that level of professional success without being fine-tuned in political terms. Without always knowing who’s boss, and what needs to be said or left unsaid.
--My experience at the UAW pretty much fits with what you say.
--Mine as a professor as well. No one gets a promotion simply on the basis of scholarship, or good teaching. You can serve on all committees you like, but it's always important to keep happy those who make such decisions. Department chairs, deans, the provost. In other words, the chain of command.
--If I understand this, you now think McChrystal gamed the system. You think he played the journalist, and organized his inner circle to do the same. It was orchestrated.
--Thanks to Brian Dickerson, yes I do. “McChrystal spent five years as chief of the Pentagon’s elite secret operations unit.” And this guy spills his guts to a journalist from Rolling Stone inadvertently? In a moment of inattention? After dinner, I’ll be down in the basement with my flagellum, pounding some sense into me.
--Fine, but don’t forget tomorrow’s junk day, don’t hurt yourself. You need to get those barrels out for pickup.
--I’ll remember. Jokes aside, I am ashamed of myself for being so na├»ve.
--You know? In a way, it means you still have some little piece of idealism left. It didn’t automatically occur to you that deviousness and skullduggery was at work with the general.
--That’s true, but it’s no comfort. McChrystal is the one who designed the current counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. He seems to have arranged a leak last year that would make it much more difficult for Obama & Co to not raise troop levels and expand the war. Now, McChrystal must see his plan isn’t going to work. Time to bail. Time to offer ramrod-stiff “analysis” between commercials. And explain why someone else has failed in Afghanistan.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A DAY AT THE RACES


















In recent days, BP CEO Tony Hayward has taken what few rational Americans would begrudge him—a break back in England from the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Except Mr. Hayward has a gift for getting it wrong. He took his break in a way guaranteed to dig his Stateside public relations hole even deeper: racing his 52-foot yacht Bob. From the position of average Americans, the most telling feature of this latest gaffe, and others by BP’s Swedish board chairman, is simply this: it underscores that in the new millenium, class distinctions in the Old World remain firmly rooted. So much so as to blind corporate plutocrats to any idea of how their words and deeds are perceived by those who don't belong to their "set." If any of us thinks European society no longer maintains sharp divisions based on privilege, the toffs at BP have set us straight.

--Tony! My God, what a surprise.
--Trevor! When was it last, Ascot? Boxing Day? I hope not, I was rather in my cups, I should think.
--No, actually, it was the day you sacked me. Last year. We were reviewing those Deepwater Horizon schematics, remember?
--Ah. Well, given what’s happened lately, I suppose you feel vindicated. Even though, as you well know, I was never in the same room with those diagrams.
--No, of course not. And, yes, I confess there was a schadenfreude moment or two in the last couple months. Golden parachute or not, no one likes getting sacked. Makes for awkwrd moments at one’s club. But then I got to thinking of you over there on the other side of the pond, having to muck about that way—
--Hold on… Damned binoculars… Yes, that’s my boat. Bob seems to be doing rather well, don’t you think? Look at that. Carry on, Bob!
--Pretty audacious, coming home this way. But given what you’ve been through, I should think you’d be at the helm yourself, not watching from shore.
--Would it were possible, Trev. Home for just these few precious days to see my boy. Certainly we should be out there together.
--New spinnaker?
--Could be. One of the crew takes care of all that. God, it’s great being here, breathing English air.
--Still, old salt, it does seem a bit odd. Flying back just to watch your boat.
--It’s the digital age, isn’t it, Trev? Phones that takes pictures and all. Telecommunications satellites. A bit ironic, that. Chairman Svanberg was CEO of phone maker Ericsson before giving us the nod. No, let them take all the pictures they like. Let them make something out of my just standing here. Not even wearing a blazer, or holding a proper drink. Being at the helm, though, that would get them pulling out their Photoshop manuals, I can tell you. They’d have me and Junior sailing over a glossy sea of BP oil. Lighting cigars from a burnoff. Plastering JPMorgan Asset Management all over my new spinnaker. They hate investment banks, too, you know. It would be great fun for them to make something out of the race’s sponsor. Oh, they’d do a smashing job with that.
--I see what you mean. Even so, old man, a little respite. Some shore leave, if you will. The stench must be something awful.
--The oil, you mean. Only on outings with the press. But that aside, yes, it is a nasty business. Rotting vegetation and oil-covered shore birds. Creepy crawlies everywhere you turn. Absolutely permeates your clothes. I’ve thrown out four pair of new wellies just this past week.
--Yes, well, I’m sure it must be horrific. Actually, though, I was thinking more in shall we say human terms.
--Ahh.
--No, Tony. Thinking of you over there these past weeks, day after day having to look as though you’re taking such people seriously. Whatever resentment I might have felt when you sacked me for bringing up those safety issues—
--I hope you know I had no choice.
--Of course I do, it’s how the game is played. That’s why I lost all sense of resentment several weeks ago. Knowing what hell you must be going through. And then the way they savaged Chairman Svanberg for calling them just what they are, small people. My God, bait-shop owners and shrimp fishermen. If they aren’t small, what else do you call them? Mr. and Mrs. Everyman, I suppose.
--Yes, nothing but tabloid press over there. They are quite clever at turning one into the upper-class toad for speaking what’s obviously true. I give them that.
--Worse than wogs, I would think.
--Wogs, frogs. Worse than the whole lot. Wait, she’s at the turn… Spot on, my beautiful Bob! Good show.

Friday, June 18, 2010

LEARN AND EARN + DENIABLE CREDIBILITY











--What are you reading?
--A Free Press story about Samantha Ivory, fifteen, of Detroit.
--Let me see. Nice picture. Samantha is hard at work at her computer.
--She’s going to Cass Tech.
--I know Cass, my dad went there. What’s this? The Freep for May 25. Today is June 18.
--So?
--Well, honey, we’ve talked about your memory “issue.” I don’t actually think there’s a problem, but seeing you reading a three-week-old paper…
--Leads you to conclude my issue has finally set sail for real.
--Not necessarily. I’m sure you have your reasons. The Freep’s not much of a paper anymore, and June 25 might have been a good issue. You could be saving good ones to reread on rainy days.
--Nice catch. If it will ease concerns about needing to tether me before letting me outside, please understand I set this aside to look at later. Intentionally, on purpose. I promise I am not reading a three-week-old paper for the second or third first time.
--Good. And what’s Samantha’s claim to fame… “Searching for a fix: should we pay kids to excel in school?” Oh boy. I bet that one pushed Professor Knister’s button.
--Only at first, when my blood pressure blew off the cuff. But then I became reflective. I thought about the world Republicans want us to live in. Government small enough to drown in a bathtub, pay-as-you-go budgets, Ayn Rand and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein as role models for our young people. You know, an “I’ll keep my guns, money and freedom, you keep the change” type world.
--And paying Samantha to do well in school will help bring us that world?
--Hard to say. But think about it. Quarters in our day, I suppose C-notes now, under the pillow for each tooth a child loses. Payment for something falling out of the mouth. Then money to cut the grass, cash on the barrelhead for each A grade, making the honor role, making first string at tackle. Getting accepted to State, being paroled.
--But this is different, don’t you think?
--That’s the question. Is it wrong for institutions to do what parents do when they reward their kids with money for succeeding? Samantha here says paying her would make her not only work harder, but want to go to school more often.
--More often. I would draw the line at paying someone to go to school.
--Still, you could call it the first condition of employment. Woody Allen says ninety percent of success is showing up. My university is about to make it a condition of employment for faculty to offer online courses.
--I don’t see the connection.
--It will mean showing up is no longer required. Students will be able to spend months at a time in their pajamas, just like Hugh Hefner. That will mean thousands of square feet of classroom space will be freed up for conversion to administrative offices.
--If that happens in high schools, I suppose we’ll pay students to log on.
--Sure, whenever they feel like it, or come to.
--The accounting might be tricky.
--Oh I don’t know. Somewhere, there’s a record of everything I ever did or failed to do on computers. But you’re right. The more clever students will find a way to automatically log on when they’re at the bar, or playing Wii. They’ll set it up so boilerplate responses to, say, Moby Dick will be sent to online chat sessions the prof is running.
--You have grown very cynical. I know you stayed up to watch C-span last night.
--I wanted to see whether our politicians would come up with any good material when questioning Tony Hayward.
--The BP guy.
--The one who wants his life back. The one whose board chairman promised to take care of all the small people.
--And?
--Nothing. Every politician played the sober Joe. Not a trace of wit in the room, just more boilerplate outrage and finger wagging.
--Well, what did you expect in the middle of the worst man-made ecological disaster ever in this country? No politician is going to make jokes about it.
--I know, but after two months, I expected more. I expected someone to make Tony squirm. Which after all this time would require blind-siding Tony. None of them did.
--I bet you wish Alan Grayson was on the panel.
--Oh yes. Would to God Congressman Grayson had been there. He’s my hero.
--So Hayward never lost his cool.
--Since nothing unexpected came his way, no. He lawyered up long ago, and with a Valium or two he was ready to go. According to ruddy-cheeked Tony, he is not a cement engineer or an oil rig engineer, nor does he have any other kind of technical expertise. He was never a party to any discussion or sign-off process involved in construction of the rig that blew up, about which he’s devastated, even though he was in the men’s room the whole time.
--How fortunate for him.
--I think so. Because, since he wasn't in on any discussion or “decision-making process,” he’s not culpable or even responsible. It means he has credible deniability on this or any other disaster that may occur on any of BP’s many oil rigs.
--That’s nice. I would think it won’t be long before old Tony gets his life back.
--Yes, and to help him enjoy it, how about a complimentary silk robe and PJs from Hef?

Friday, June 11, 2010

RETHINKING THE BABY SUBSTITUTE


















Today’s post focuses on dog fanciers and their object of interest. Or, from the FBI and the dog’s point of view, person of interest.

Often, dogs and cats are thought of as baby substitutes. Those of us suffering from one or more of the diagnosed disorders related to dog obsession would be more comfortable with children classed as puppy substitutes, but it’s best not to go there. Not if the writer wants to avoid harsh email from parents and grandparents.

What might serve everyone better is to dump the substitute idea and replace it with marriage. Or, in the case of those actually hitched, with extra-marital relations. If you own a dog or cat, you can ponder this idea in terms to your own experience. If not, please consider the writer a fairly reliable source.

Honest people know that the concept of 50/50 marriage is nonsense. It’s the sort of thing dreamed up by counselors, encouraging couples to believe that a few dozen more sessions will ultimately lead to a finely tuned, symmetrical equality. We know better. However, for those without human mates, dogs can serve very well in this regard. If you are a passive person, a carefully chosen dog will provide the sort of leadership and authority your style of neurosis calls for; if you are a take-charge type, the dog—properly trained—will serve in the role of docile, appreciative spouse, the kind traditionalists grow wistful thinking about. And none of this 50/50 business, either.

If you are already married, the Platonic ideal of equality has long ago been dismissed as so much hokum. The various grievances large and small that so often lead to waywardness, and ultimately to bitter sessions in a law office are known to you. If they aren’t, and if you are not among the handful of couples blessed by the gods, then you probably live a life of quiet desperation, keeping the lid on to avoid alimony and child support. Even so, you almost certainly hold out hope for some magic elixir, some incantation that will make the road smoother.

You hope, in fact, for a dog mistress/lover.

And here’s another plus: with dogs, there’s no need to sort out all the knotty “gender issues” that so often come into play these days regarding marriage. The life companion can be your sex or not, and there’s never any need to anguish over lifestyle options. Whether you are a hard-charging leader or fawning helpmeet, a dog can work either way.

So, employing the marriage/extra-marital concept, what can we say about the two couples pictured above? What’s your response to them? I am a dog person, and would be interested in what other dog nuts think. But people like us are pretty predictable in the unconditional nature of our love, so I am actually more interested in what less crazy persons have to offer.

To get the ball rolling, though, in my view the couple on the right appear pretty much to have agreed on an open marriage of equals. They are together but free to pursue separate interests outside their marriage. The young man is texting, or picking lint out of his navel, maybe even meditating. Possibly, something has made him remember his 401k, or the size of the monthly interest nut he carries on his credit card. Understandably, this has made him oblivious to all else, including his companion.

The dog? As with his spouse we can’t be sure, but it’s evident he is nicely composed, even though interested in something off to his right. Almost certainly it’s another dog, since this picture was taken at a Bark in the Park sponsored by the Humane Society of Naples, Florida. I like the casual naturalness of the dog’s shoulders better than I do the more defeated quality of the man’s. It suggests a tolerant, patient kind of companion, the sort that gives you your space, isn’t too needy, isn’t always dropping balls or food bowls at your feet, demanding to be let in the bathroom while you’re taking a shower, etc.

In the photo on the left, a woman is interacting with her companion in a very different way. Again the concept of marriage, a contract between two people who choose to be connected in legal and other ways should be applied. It isn’t true, of course: the dog is not allowed to agree to or cancel the deal, so think instead of the arranged marriages that are customary in much of the non-Western world.

The dog, a Yorkshire terrier, is not a male, so this too is a same-sex union, a common-law marriage involving a license, but fewer of the cumbersome legal issues that figure in human-to-human marriages.

However, this second duo cannot be called a union of equals. The dog is asserting her right to be “in your face” with her mistress (“mistress” in this instance being an obvious misnomer). Even so, the master/slave connection, usually thought of in terms of abusive men and denounced by feminists, is here being played out femo a femo. In her human marriage, the woman is in fact a strong, assertive person. With her dog lover, though, we see her happy to drop the burdens of command, free now to give herself over to the pleasures of being ruled.
I have more to say, but a person of interest has just entered my study. Seating herself before my desk, she begins working the magic of her one good eye. It’s noon, the eye says. Someone has to wear the watch in this family. Patiently she remains seated, displaying the quiet confidence of one who knows who will win, the one who always does, knowing it’s just a matter of seconds before this particular staff member gets up and follows her out the door.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN































Anyone not on life support will by now know what happened last Wednesday night at Comerica Park in Detroit. Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga was denied a perfect game when veteran umpire Jim Joyce mistakenly called the twenty-seventh batter safe at first.

Understandably surprised, Galarraga did not need to be restrained by his teammates as we have come to expect in such moments, struggling with vein-popping rage to get his hands on the ump. Instead, the pitcher reacted with a bemused half smile as the crowd went crazy. After seeing the instant replay umpire Joyce, obviously tormented by his mistake, apologized to the pitcher. Later, Tigers manager Jim Leyland said simply, “I make mistakes, players make mistakes, umpires make mistakes.”

This would be a big enough story in any case, but it has gone viral or nova or whatever current jargon applies. It has captured people’s imaginations. The reason I think must be understood in terms of those pictured above, people who represent so many others, and institutions, with names like Madoff, Enron, Worldcom.

The story has quickly captured public interest because of something like a moral or spiritual thirst for subjects worthy of admiration. When the mayor of an on-the-ropes city like Detroit goes to prison for thumbing his nose at the law (Kwame Kilpatrick); when the company responsible for what may well prove to be the worst ecological disaster since Chernobyl has a CEO who can be trusted to be untrustworthy; when the last president and his principal political guide are now known to have betrayed the public trust in numerous ways, and when sports “heroes” turn out to have trashed their families, and the record books through doping, the effect on the collective consciousness of a people can’t be quantified, but is probably hard to exaggerate.

It’s a kind of old fighter’s punch-drunk daze, a society belted around by bad news, lies, deception and greed for so many months stretching into so many years that its members have almost forgotten what “class act” means. And then it happens in all its mythic glory on a Wednesday night in Detroit, when every principal to the story does what he should, immediately, and does it without lawyers or press agents or flack catchers at his elbow.

Armando Galarraga may ultimately come to thank his lucky stars for Jim Joyce’s blunder. As Jeff Kuehn writing in the Oakland (Michigan) Press says, “Galarraga has a place in history for as long as the game is played. No other pitcher will throw a 28-out perfect game. Dads will use this to tell their sons and daughters how to respond when things don’t go your way.”

So cup your hands around this little pilot light of things gone right, and hope it stays lit.




Wednesday, June 2, 2010

RETHINKING THE BABY SUBSTITUTE






















Today’s post focuses on dog fanciers and their object of interest. Or, from the FBI and the dog’s point of view, person of interest.

Often, dogs and cats are thought of as baby substitutes. Those of us suffering from one or more of the diagnosed disorders related to dog obsession would be more comfortable with children classed as puppy substitutes, but it’s best not to go there. Not if the writer wants to avoid harsh email from parents and grandparents.

What might serve everyone better is to dump the substitute idea and replace it with marriage. Or, in the case of those actually hitched, with extra-marital relations. If you own a dog or cat, you can ponder this idea in terms to your own experience. If not, please consider the writer a fairly reliable source.

Honest people know that the concept of 50/50 marriage is nonsense. It’s the sort of thing dreamed up by counselors, encouraging couples to believe that enough sessions will ultimately lead to a finely tuned, symmetrical equality. We know better. However, for those without human mates, dogs can serve very well in this regard. If you are essentially a passive person, a carefully chosen dog will provide the sort of leadership and authority your style of neurosis calls for; if you are a take-charge type, the dog—properly trained—can effectively serve in the role of a docile, appreciative spouse of the kind traditionalists grow wistful thinking about. And none of this 50/50 business, either.

If you are currently married, the Platonic ideal of equality has already been dismissed as so much hokum. The various grievances large and small that so often lead to waywardness, and ultimately to bitter sessions in a law office are known to you. If they aren’t, and if you are not among the handful of couples blessed by the gods, then you probably live a life of quiet desperation, keeping the lid on to avoid alimony and child support. Even so, you no doubt hold out hope for some magic elixir, some incantation that will make the road smoother.

You hope, in fact, for a dog mistress/lover.

And here’s another plus: with dogs, there’s no need to sort out all the knotty “gender issues” that so often come into play these days regarding marriage. The life companion can be your sex or not, and there’s never a need to anguish over lifestyle options. Take-charge prison guard or fawning helpmeet, a dog can work either way.

So, employing the marriage/extra-marital concept, what can we say about the two couples pictured above? What’s your response to them? I am a "dog person," and would be interested in what other dog nuts have to say. But people like us are pretty predictable in the unconditional nature of our love, so I am actually more interested in what less crazy persons have to say.

To get the ball rolling, though, in my view the couple on the left appear pretty much to have agreed on an open marriage of equals. They are together but free to pursue separate interests outside their marriage. The young man is texting, or picking lint out of his navel, maybe even meditating. Possibly something has made him remember his 401k, or the size of the monthly interest nut he carries on his credit card bill. Understandably, this has made him for the moment oblivious to all else, including his companion.

The dog? As with his spouse we can’t be sure, but it’s evident he is nicely composed, even though interested in something off to his right. Almost certainly it’s another dog, since this picture was taken at a Bark in the Park sponsored by the Humane Society of Naples, Florida. I like the casual naturalness of the dog’s shoulders better than I do the more defeated quality of the man’s. It suggests a tolerant, patient kind of companion, the sort that gives you your space, isn’t too needy, isn’t always dropping balls or food bowls at your feet, demanding to be let in the bathroom while you’re taking a shower, etc.

In the lower photo, a woman is interacting with her companion in a very different way. Again the concept of marriage, a contract between two people who choose to be connected in legal and other ways should be applied. It isn’t true, of course: the dog is not allowed to agree to or cancel the deal, so think instead of the arranged marriages that are customary in much of the non-Western world.

The dog, a Yorkshire terrier, is not a male, so this too is a same-sex union, a common-law marriage involving a license, but fewer of the cumbersome legal issues that figure in human-to-human marriages. And no need to travel out-of-state, either.

However, this second duo cannot be called a union of equals. The dog is asserting her right to be “in your face” with her mistress (“mistress” here obviously being a misnomer). Even so, the master/slave connection, usually thought of in terms of abusive men and denounced by feminists, is here being played out femo a femo. In fact, the woman is a strong, assertive person in her human marriage. Here, though, we see her happy to drop the burdens of maintaining domestic order, free now to give herself over to the pleasures of being ruled.

I have more to say on this, but a person of interest has just entered the room. Patiently seating herself before my desk as I type, she begins working the magic of her one good eye. Her calm demeanor comes from knowledge of who will win, the same one who always does, confident that it’s only a matter of seconds before this particular staff member will get up and follow her out the door.



























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