Friday, August 10, 2007

A Really Cold War

Last week, headlines were made when Russia dropped a weighted flag to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and claimed the home of Santa Claus - the North Pole, duh - for Tsar Vladimir Putin’s new Russian Empire.

This week, it’s Canada, already north of us, making news further up North. Prime Minister Steven Harper announced on Friday that a Canadian Forces naval port and army base would be constructed by the “Cold Dominion” (no, I’m not talking about a wintertime Virginia) in the area, so that Ottawa may be better situated to make a claim on the vast amounts of oil which are thought to be hidden right underneath where the elves make all those toys.

We already know the area is rich in coal; why else would Santa choose the North Pole over China as a production area for cheap toys, but for the vast free stores of that other black stuff to put in naughty childrens’ stockings?

Now, I know the news about Canadian claims probably came as a shock to many of you; after all, who knew Canada had a “real” military, right? Or territorial ambitions outside of the Realm of Hockey. Just kidding, any Canadians I know or don’t know who are reading this. But seriously, the dispute is real however you feel about Santa Claus or Elf Labor Rights, which probably aren’t, and of course, the United States are involved.

Washington contends that over the North Pole, no nation can claim sovereignty. I’m not sure whether or not this is true, as it is with Antarctica, over which no nation can claim sovereignty thanks to international agreements. The argument put forth by the Federal Government is that the shipping lanes criss-crossing the area in question are international shipping lanes.

Russia’s use of submarines to plant flags on the Arctic subsurface - and Russian officials comparing the act as momentous as the planting of the American flag on the Moon; this I’m not making up - and Canada’s announcement (which, admittedly, had been planned some time before “Ivan” made his move) stand in stark contrast to America’s if you needed to be told that.

Because I happen to think much more highly of Canada than I do of Russia these days, I’m inclined to support the Canadians’ claims over the Russians’, should it ever come to that. And what of the Canadian claims as compared to the assertions of the National Government of these United States?

Personally, I think we should support the Canadians in the building of their naval and army bases where they plan to do so, let the Canucks drill for oil, and if they strike it, we sign treaties with Ottawa that allow the Dominion of Canada to take on an even greater percentage of responsibility as supplier to Americans’ fuel-consuming habits than they already represent (it’s already nearly 20%). Since the U.S. Geological Survey notes that up to 25% of the Earth’s undiscovered gas and oil deposits may be up there, American participation in finding the oil would earn us our share of the profits.

Up where Canada is making a claim, at least, there would be no doubt as to who owns the land underwater, while above water ships could travel as freely as they can in such an environment. This literal sea change would free us up to criticize more openly the human rights record of a certain Arab-Islamic country in Arabia named after the House of Saud, without fear of losing the oil they supply us, because we’ll no longer need theirs.

It would not, by any means, preclude us from further exploring possibilities on our own with regard to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska; considering the portion under consideration for ANWR drilling is tiny compared to the overall land area of the refuge, the payment of close attention to environmental quality controls would make exploiting those suspected natural resources quite plausible. It’s something to think about.

No, wait - it’s something to act on, considering the debate on expanding oil exploration in Alaska has been ongoing since before Jimmy Carter capitulated to the Iranians.

Of course, there are countries other than the United States, Canada and the Russian Federation with political/economic interests in the North Pole; Denmark and Norway are also out to claim their plots of Arctic turf. But when you really think about it, if we can discredit the Russians’ claims while sitting on the sidelines in a not-so-sidelined-way behind Canada, it’ll only be Norway and Denmark against the Cold Dominion (I really like that nickname; I think I may have been the first American to think of, and then apply, it for Canada).

In a fight like that, the Norwegians and Danes don’t stand a chance.

Even against Canada.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A King of Shame Doesn’t Deserve the Hall of Fame

In my humble opinion, Barry Bonds didn’t shatter Hank Aaron’s home run mark of 755 homers yesterday with the attainment of home run # 756. All he did was help to shatter, once more, the illusion that in the baseball of today there can be truly reliable role models, or heroes. Bonds, McGwire, Canseco, Palmeiro...all these players have done is say to kids, in effect, “Hey, it’s okay to cheat if you want to succeed, at baseball or anything else in life.” They've called into question, perhaps quite justifiably, the integrity of America's national pastime.

In any case, Barry Bonds didn’t earn 756 home runs - he stole them, and not in the admirable way a runner steals a base. I’m quite convinced of that.

Were baseball as demanding a sport as cycling, maybe I’d understand the temptation to get “juiced”. Reaching this record is nothing like competing in the Tour de France, where you must deal with the highs and lows of a countryside, speed tests, and the like. Bonds’ job, at least insofar as hitting home runs is concerned, has consisted of him standing still waiting for a pitcher to throw a high-speed ball toward him. He runs to catch a ball when the other team is batting, and runs around relatively small, unmoving bases when he gets a base hit.

Cal Ripken, Jr. - still my favorite ballplayer of all time - didn’t need steroids to break the consecutive games played record previously held by Lou Gehrig. All he did was suit up each game day, and go out and play his game. When the Orioles had a losing streak, or he had a personal slump, he didn’t need to cheat to get back on his game. He just continued playing, up to and then well past 2,131 consecutive games - up to 2,632. If only I had the dedication to perseverance the all-time “Iron Man” demonstrated in his career, and his life. He earned his spot at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Barry Bonds, though...Barry Bonds, complete tool extraordinaire, cannot be said to have earned much of anything recently. He’s a coward, who instead of building up muscle the old fashioned way, artificially bulked up and set about selfishly pursuing the destruction of a record that, even today, should still stand. And if those eligible to vote Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown actually do so instead of letting him serve as an example - alongside Pete Rose - of what happens when you do something like this, I think the Hall of Fame would be morally obligated to remove from its motto, which is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations”, the middle part: “Honoring Excellence”.

Whatever his accomplishments before juicing up, in his likely ingesting of steroids Barry Bonds has become a Richard Nixon of baseball - he’s shamed himself. He is, as the NY Daily News declared this morning on their front page, “the King of Shame”. Were he a mensch, he would have stopped his run, or retired, and let someone achieve the breaking of Hank Aaron’s record the natural way - if that is even possible in the baseball business of the 21st Century. That would have been an example that, despite his personality and character, would have earned him some genuine praise and honor.

As far as I’m concerned, Barry Bonds’ “756” is much more deserving of qualification - a notation that the old record was earned one way, the new one a different way - than Roger Maris’s “61” single-season home run record ever was, before Mark McGwire “broke” that particular record with “70” home runs in 1998, itself a record “broken” by Bonds a few seasons later. Ideally, “756*” would, instead of representing the career home-run total to beat, represent the “career home-run total to beat for those thought to be on steroids”. If you’re going to have double-standards, might as well have them make sense, right?

How fitting is it for Barry Bonds to have graduated with a degree in criminology (from Arizona State University) and now be under investigation by federal prosecutors for allegedly committing a crime - perjury? Who knows: maybe one day, Barry Bonds will have essays written about him not just by sports writers, but by those studying crime as an individual phenomenon, or seeking a law degree. It could happen.

Were he indicted today, on charges of being unworthy of praise because he is Barry Bonds, and taken to trial, what would my verdict be?

Barry Bonds would have a lot going against him, if he were trying to save his reputation and challenge such charges. What offenses has, in my mind, he committed? He 1) probably lied under oath (about steroids); 2) he likely cheated to break a long-standing Hank Aaron record (by using steroids); and 3) he was and always will be an asshole. I know the principle is “innocent until proven guilty”, but I’m the judge and jury in the courtroom of my own opinion.

What say me? On those three counts, based on the evidence...hmmmm...lemme think for a minute.

Alright, I’m done deliberating.

He’s guilty, guilty, and...well, guilty by association.

He went to ASU, after all.

And now for something completely irreverent:

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What It's Really "Allah" About for Islamists

All around the world people are gathering in one place or another, with one goal in mind - to kill other human beings. Their reasons for doing this are myriad, but what cannot escape the notice of those who are being targeted is that, usually, it is because those who are being targeted are not Muslim. This is not, unfortunately for many Iraqis, the case in Iraq today. But even so, terrorists who fly the banner of Islam and quote from the Qu’ran to justify their acts of despicable carnage seek one thing and one thing in particular - domination over others.

The men who flew the planes into the World Trade Center were not poor. They were not uneducated. They were not even idealistic. They were, however, ideologues. Their dogma was not one guided by principles of justice and equity, but instead centered around instilling fear in the minds of “unbelievers” and subjugating non-Muslims to sharia law. Whether or not the cowards who sent those men to kill on their behalf innocent civilians in New York and the military protectors of the United States at the Pentagon actually believe the drivel they submit to a frightened world via Al Jazeera is another story.

I think, to a large degree, that people like Osama bin Laden are more like the leaders of the Soviet Union were than, say, die-hard believers in a cause. The cause is less about the religious aspect of the fight, though that is undoubtedly central to their aims. What they are after is, primarily, power over others. The leaders of the USSR enjoyed certain kinds of financial benefits denied to members of the proletariat unfortunate enough to not be in government or members of the Communist Party. This is not to say that many didn’t believe in the eventual victory of communism over capitalism.

However, I think that rhetoric about communism and socialist propaganda were merely tools that, when manipulated at home and expanded around the globe, allowed Soviet leaders to use and abuse power that might’ve ordinarily been denied to them. And, for that matter, I also tend to think of “Communist” governments like Russia used to have and like China now possesses being less left-wing oriented than right-wing. Or, that is to say, when I think about Communist governments they are, whatever their “revolutionary” bullshit, conservative governments.

Take a look at governments that have or have had so-called “Communist” governments - countries like Russia, China, Cuba and North Korea spring to mind. These governments may have come into being, or been shepherded into being, by left-wing activists or movements. Even so, once constituted these Communist governments maintained quite belligerent, nationalist stances domestically and on the world stage. The race to the moon was less a contest between communism and capitalism, more a contest between America and Russia.

One of the fundamental principles guiding the “thugocracy” that is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea - a.k.a. North Korea - is the idea that North Koreans (or maybe it’s just Koreans in general) are racially and culturally superior to their enemies...namely, the United States. Nazi Germany was the same way, and few if any would call Hitler’s Reich left-wing, despite “Nazi” deriving from the “National SOCIALIST German Worker’s Party”. Nationalist it was...socialist it wasn’t. Fascist it was.

Just the other day, Cuban athletes participating in the Pan-American Games in Brazil were rushed out of the country after four athletes defected to our side. People like Michael Moore might make a big deal out of the wonderful healthcare system Havana has created and maintained over the years, but notice how there are no Cuban “Michael Moore”-types in the Republic of Cuba. You know why this is? It isn’t because El Presidente Castro is adhering to the state’s motto, “Patria y Liberta” - Homeland and Liberty.

No, it’s because Cuba is a Communist country, which ostensibly makes it left-wing but is quite fascist in its bellicosity toward America. For some reason there is a mistaken idea out there that left-wingers are more progressive than right-wing “conservatives”. If Communists are, rightly, supposed to be leftists, don’t you think in truly left-wing countries, the people would have more liberty, not less? Growing restrictions - in fact, an all-out assault - on freedom of the press in countries like Venezuela are not indicative of socialist progress, but rather point to fascistic tendencies in “leaders” like Hugo Chavez.

And as for China, well - the name of the Chinese military is generally known in English to be the People’s Liberation Army. China is known as the “People’s Republic of China”. But China doesn’t really belong to the people, and isn’t technically a Republic - in fact, it’s an insult to republicanism, just as Iran’s theocracy is despite Tehran being the capital of an “Islamic Republic”. China belongs to the privileged members of the Communist Party, and no one else.

Where am I going with this? What with the takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas terrorists, the unrest in Pakistan, homicidal bombings with mass casualties in Iraq, and Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons, we’re hearing more, not less, rhetoric today about Islamist hopes for the creation of a region-spanning Caliphate. Just as Soviet leaders once spoke of the inevitable victory of Communism over Capitalism, Islamist leaders are prematurely proclaiming the victory of Islam over us infidels, and fill their followers with delusions of grandeur on what their Islamic Caliphate will do for them.

But these Islamist leaders, men like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Osama bin Laden, are hardly what one could call true believers in their cause. Karl Marx is said to have called religion the opiate of the masses, and who better today understands that idea and by manipulating that commentary more or less successfully implement their plans for insurgency, terrorism, and nuclear holocaust than Islamist leaders?

I believe that if ordinary Muslims across the Middle East truly knew the power-hungry nature of their leaders, they’d see through the thin veil - ahem - behind which their true motives are hidden. But then, I also believe that in a region where the only true democracy is a Jewish-majority one, and the other semi-democracy (Turkey) is vulnerable to military overthrow when Islamists gain too much power (and where you can be thrown in jail for insulting Turkishness), Muslims in the Middle East want to believe that the terrorists, those “martyrs”, truly care about their welfare.

The Taliban cared not for the welfare of ordinary Afghanis. Hamas cares not for the welfare of ordinary Palestinians, of ordinary Gazans, otherwise they’d moderate and accept Israel’s existence and no longer challenge it and lead their people to believe that war is preferable to peace. Al Qaeda in Iraq, Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad...all are concerned about their power first, their money second, and their people last of all. And where does Islam fit in? Well - they'll thank Allah for the power He has granted them not to help others, but to rule iron-fistedly over them.

Unfortunately, it may be that the only way to help them see the light is by allowing the Islamists to gain power and take over governments. They may do some good for the people at first, but it’s only to ingratiate themselves with a populace that starts out eager for results but later gets lethargic over freedoms. Watch what happens in those situations when the people demand a say, or other political parties, or the right to dress a certain way or shave their beards, from their Islamist governments. It won’t be republicanism, or democracy, in action. That’s for sure.