Saturday, March 19, 2011

One Man Cannot Change the World, Or Can He?

There have been rumblings and debates, even books discussing the likelihood that the Middle East was a tinderbox needing only a spark to erupt into rebellion, civil war, and worse, large numbers of people protesting oppressive regimes that would be willing to open fire in the town square.

Mohammed Bouazizi became the spark, quite literally when, after being forced to pay high bribes and then having his fruit stand closed down arbitrarily, he found himself so frustrated with the corrupt and oppressive regime in Tunisia that he doused himself with gasoline and set himself ablaze in the city of Sidi Bouzid.

From this single act, by a frustrated man who simply wanted to feed his family and educate his sisters, set off the blaze that is yet burning out of control in the Middle East.  Beginning in Tunisia, protests toppled a corrupt leader.  Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, even Iran and more have seen protests, violence by governments against protestors and now a situation in Libya where a dictator and his mercenaries fully intend to "cleanse" the country.

One man, no vote.  Simple goals: feed and educate his family.  Constant theft, bribe demands equating to everything he earned on some days, and even closing his fruit stand or denying him a stall from which to sell on other days.  An amazing, and likely world-changing act - setting himself afire - the rippling effects of which will spread outward steadily, bringing with it the desire for freedom.  Even the smallest freedom, such as being left alone to sell his fruit, might well have satisfied him,  This article is worth reading:

Tunisian-fruit-seller-Mohammed-Bouazizi and the rippling effect of his martyrdom 


Interesting Short Documentary about Near Death Experiences

Cost of Living Hits Record High - CNBC

Friday, March 18, 2011

Europe Baffled - Foreign Policy Magazine

The President has joked about it twice now - at the annual big media Gridiron dinner  (Gridiron dinner - Washington Post), and in response to a shouted question, which he almost always ignores.  His Secretary of State has been so forcefully pushing the President to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, that it has lead to the President joking about the Secretary's  persistent advocacy, even as the President and his inner circle thought about the matter and what to do.  Ultimately, after thirty-one days of crisis, the US agreed to a French proposal for a no-fly zone.  Rebels had taken much of the country until the President made his statement last week that he wanted Gad gone but then made no mention and took no action to assist the people trying to make that happen.  Even in the face of an unprecedented agreement with military action of any sort by the Arab League, the White House pondered.  And Uganda was unleashed, using air strikes and artillery to escalate his attacks.  He began to kill indiscriminately - rebels, innocents, women, children and elderly people were killed if they were in the line of his advance.

A Hug for Gaddafi when the President met him gave many diplomatic and intelligence sources a very worrisome sign to the world. 

European diplomats meeting with Secretary of State Clinton pressed her to clarify US policy on Libya, but the best she could do - and I am not being sarcastic - was to say 'There are difficulties'.  The problem is that the President eschewed any leadership role in achieving his stated  goal - getting Uganda out - while the dictator and his sons killed and bombed both rebel forces and civilians.  The man even used the word "cleansing", a word with such evil context in political and diplomatic circles that it probably served as the catalyst that has lead to the "no-fly zone', which will initially be made up of British, French and Canadian fighter aircraft.

I'm not being partisan here.  A lot of former Clinton and Bush advisors and commentators began to be concerned when the White House gave the world such mixed signals that the protestor group snubbed Secretary Clinton when she visited.  People began to fear that with the US on the sidelines, and indicating that the White House was uncertain and ill-informed about the nature of the events unfolding in Egypt would create a frightening impression in an exploding Arab world:  Mubarak did not order the army to fire upon the people and he was driven out of power; Uganda was killing rebels and civilians with no distinction, and it looked (and maybe still looks) like he would hang on to power.

Secretary Clinton has the experience of having been in the White House for eight years, and by virtue of being the First Lady AND an important advisor to President Clinton.  I think her answers to Wolfe Blitzer earlier this week give a good indication of how difficult it really is to implement, or even explain the President's policy in crisis situations.  When asked if she would continue as Secretary of State, should the President win re-election, Mrs. Clinton said, "No."  When asked if she might serve in a different post in a second Obama administration, her answer was that same simple "No."  She repeated the answer twice more and did not elucidate her meaning.

Foreign Policy Magazine - What does the US want in Libya?

I have been reading Brit newspapers a lot, and there are a lot of articles and opinion pieces about the perception that the President doesn't seem to want to engage on any issues except getting re-elected.  From the right-leaning Daily Express: Barrack-Obama-The-Weakest-President-in-history?  And even the sturdily left-leaning Guardian quotes a former staff member from the Reagan and George HW Bush White Houses and ends the piece saying that while the reasons are a bit more complicated than the presumably right-leaning blog writer has expressed them, but "I would like disagree with this post more than I do".  It seems to me that the President is increasingly being seen overseas as weak, unwilling or unable to engage, with a staff that can't set or maintain an agenda.  It seems that,  as one Guardian article put it, he has lost his Mojo.  He is in a tough spot, I think, because his liberal base is growing angry because he has been less "Yes we can!" seems to have become "Oops, can't do that (Guantanamo, tribunals)" and "Maybe we can do that later..."

And the worst thing of all:  I saw dozens of similar references in the press, such as: "Those fabled Chicago enforcers around the president turned out to be feckless Chihuahuas, didn't they?"; but the kicker is a number of references to Obama's Illinois State Senator days and the 130 times he voted "Present" to avoid taking a stand on tough issues.  Or maybe I should have said that the comparisons to Carter were the most troubling.  In any event, it is clear to me that in many European Capitols the President is coming to be seen as ineffective, non-committal and impossible to rely upon.

With his re-election campaign already in motion, a House controlled by the opposition, unpopular stimulus bills, a punted budget that does not address the astounding level of US debt...I think they're going to need a really good new campaign slogan.  Something like "Yes we Can!" but not that one, which has become a bit of an op-ed page one-liner.  I can't come up with one just now, all I can think up is  "Sure, we might"

I've always felt that winning the Presidency is really just a ticket to immediate gray hair, the most difficult on-the-job training in existence, and the built-in decline in job approval polls always shows up whether the President takes tough measures or chooses to sit back and simply see what the international community will drum up, and then maybe offer verbal support.

Newt Says Glad French Not Distracted by NCAA Tournament.  The former Speaker went on to refer to the President as the "Spectator in Chief".

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Events in Japan


I lived in a small apartment in Roppongi - which a crossing sign announced as a "high touch town" - for the best part of two years.  There were frequent quakes, and only one ever scared me.  I noticed while reading one night in my apartment, that the floor lamp was descending slowly toward the ground.  I simultaneously thought to grab it, and wondered what the hell would make a lamp fall that slowly?  Then the lamp was restored to its' upright position and I realized that an earthquake had occurred, then seconds later I realized that the earthquake WAS STILL occurring.  The building was older, with a long hallway to the stairs, and the doorways were a bit iffy so I stayed in my comfortable chair - it's not that I was either brave or indifferent - I thought that the building's corners might be the strongest place available.  That earthquake was a 6.2, and there was virtually no damage in Tokyo, the most prepared city in the world for preventing damage from quakes.

Now, seeing the Great Sendai Quake, and the tsunami which followed, and now the probable meltdown of reactors damaged by the tsunami, I feel a bit sickened.  Who doesn't?  I can't quite fathom that the only nation which has dealt with nuclear war, has now got to face a war with nature at the same time as it deals with one of the greatest natural disasters in memory.  I wonder about my friends in Japan, and the many people I met in office buildings all over the country.I fear for the consequences if the reactors meltdown and the plume reaches the area around Tokyo where over 39 million live.  Can 39 million people be evacuated?  I doubt it, which probably makes sup part off the reason that the Japanese are so prepared in their building codes, for earthquakes.

I hope that the radiation leaks are pushed out to sea by another, smaller divine wind, such as the one that drove the Chinese away many years ago (And I hope they settle quietly, neither reaching the winds aloft, of blowing as far as the US and Canada), and spare Tokyo dealing with radiation.

But, I must say as others have, that I cannot imagine another place on earth that the people would respond so brilliantly to Armageddon.  There has been no looting, no shoplifting of scarce rations.  Officials are being respected and though the lines are long, people are taking adversity calmly, and politely.  I suspect that the culture = likely the most nuanced, high-context culture in the world, is benefiting greatly from the respect for authority, calm and polite interaction...really, the zeitgeist that seems to value the person as an important part of an enormous organism (society), and as a result the first thought is all helping one another, versus "I'm gettin' mine."  Believe me, this trait can be very frustrating in business,  But I hope it brings out the resiliency it will take to rebuild and clean up.  I'm pretty sure it will.

Though it is not the New Year, I thought of the tradition, kadomatsu, consisting of a pine branch symbolizing longevity, a bamboo stalk symbolizing prosperity, and a plum blossom showing nobility.  The latter, there have been many examples of already.  The former two, in few words, I wish and hope for the people of Japan.

UK Army Dog May Have Died From Broken Heart -


In this undated image made available in London by the Ministry of Defence,  Lance Corporal Liam Tasker trains with his Military Working Dog, Theo,  in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. The body of Lance Corporal Tasker, a dog handler with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps who was killed in a firefight with insurgents in Helmand Province is to be repatriated to Britain, Thursday March 10, 2011, along with Theo, his bomb-sniffing springer spaniel, who suffered a fatal seizure hours later at a British army base

I find this sad, touching, and melancholy, and yet it really uplifted my heart.  It is worth reading.  Godspeed Theo and Liam.  You've done your work brilliantly and I hope you now find rest.

UK Army Dog May Have Died From Broken Heart -


Sunshine on Discovery Bay

Sunshine on Discovery Bay
As always, the photos we use are either my own, or in the public domain. Please let me know if there are any errors and I'll correct them immediately.