The World is Safe, Thanks to Sen Klobuchar

July 11, 2007

Forget the Global War On Terror (GWOT).  Of course, my advice isn’t needed, since the entire Dem caucus, along with Republican senators Warner, Domenici, Alexander, Lugar, and Hagel already have.  They propose to substitute regional “diplomacy”, which seems to mean asking Iran and Syria to help provide political cover as we flee and leave the cradle of civilization to their civilized control.  That makes the new name the “Global Talk On Terror”, or “GTOT”.

 Ironically, Minnesota’s junior senator, Barbara-Mikulski-clone Amy Klobuchar, who has been casting about looking for Her Signature Issue, seems to have been inspired by that “Gee, Tot!” acronym, and she has unveiled her Global War On Toys as the only appropriate use of American power.  And she has been joined by the distinguished Sen. Durbin in being Outraged.

 This perfectly mirrors 21st century America, as we strive to emulate the glorious 20th century military and diplomatic record of France.  After all, It’s For The Children.

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New home for Kurmudge

July 9, 2007

The archives for this blog are at: mnkurmudge.blogspot.com

How Iraq Is Like Reconstructive Knee Surgery

October 31, 2006

I think I understand the deeply-rooted dreams of my fellow citizens, and the vision is not encouraging. The only acceptable military goal today seems to be the Powell Doctrine of military engagement: take a sledgehammer (“overwhelming force”) to the international problem, but only provided that-

a) no one anywhere in the world objects, and
b) you can be assured of “total clean victory”, complete with dancing in the streets and V-E celebrations, in less than a year.

That’s a great strategy- it avoids all the tough problems associated with those enemies who simply refuse to cooperate. As in, well, they fight back. Or refuse to surrender. Or, pretend to surrender, but also covertly fight an on-going guerrilla war.

Unfortunately, the bad guys in Iraq have decided to be obstreperous and resist. This has led to the usual American reaction- if the millennium doesn’t come by the day after tomorrow (we aren’t so bad as to expect the millennium in the morning; we’ll give it at least two days), we quit!

Our time horizon is measured in biennial terms- every election cycle brings out another occasion to find excuses to declare victory and go home. Sort of the way the Russians did in Afghanistan after a decade of fighting the mujahideen. And these are the same people who (correctly) criticize corporate CEO’s for making strategic decisions based on quarterly financial reports and the associated effects on the company’s stock price.

Look past the fact that a lot of the “more (American) troops” fervor is fueled by some members of the careerist general officer class of the US Army (not the Kaplanesque “Imperial Grunts”, but the high-ranking heavy armor bureaucrats who got passed over for promotion), in its ongoing war against Rumsfeld to prevent military transformation (that is, a shift from 1975 European warfare doctrine and force structure to something a bit more useful in today’s world); the logic simply doesn’t hold.

Read all the arguments of those who are supposedly in favor of the GWOT- from Lowry to Kristol and beyond, and note that almost every proposed “new” strategy is based on wishful thinking in the attempt to speed up the clock by turning up the heat. Win now, so we can declare the war over and get back to border security and reducing government spending (fat chance). Or, understandably, focus on Iran, as though that were somehow a severable issue. Or made easier when you don’t have a few airfields and divisions right next door ready to pounce if needed.

I have a secret for everyone: if you want to bake bread, it takes 30 to 45 minutes at 350 degrees. Running the oven at 600 degrees doesn’t bake the same bread faster, it simply produces something very different. Something inedible.

A better analogy is recovery from an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear of the knee, the dreaded “reconstructive knee surgery” you hear about so often in football. In this case, a small bundle of collagen fibers woven together sort of like a guy wire cable, runs from the back of your thigh bone (femur) to the front of your shin bone (tibia). It is small, but has a very important job- when you straighten out your leg, it prevents the quadriceps muscle (the big “one”- actually four- on top of your thigh) from pulling the shin bone forward and locking the joint as the kneecap serves as the lever fulcrum for the contraction. The hinge joints for the knee are on the side- the medial and lateral collateral ligaments. For a variety of reasons, they can get injured, but they heal very nicely by themselves simply left alone for about six weeks. The ACL is the Big One; God simply didn’t make it to deal with some of the stresses applied by modern athletics.

When the injury occurs, the time scale is unforgiving. The good news is that we can come back and be about as strong as we were before getting hurt. The bad news is- it takes a year to get all the way back. Period.

No matter who your doctor is, no matter what you do, you won’t be yourself athletically for just about 12 months. There are some few freaks of nature who may come back sooner, taking a big risk on revision surgery (check the story of Rod Woodson), but for all of us “normal people”, we are looking at a year of recovery to get back to what we did before the injury in the same way.

Why? It is simple- tissue healing is all biochemistry, which simply requires the chemical elements, and the time, in order to work.

When the knee is first injured, everything is swelled and inflamed. You almost cannot see the injury because of all the extra fluid and blood, so you wait a few weeks before surgery to get the knee to “calm down”. When all of the trauma except for the torn ligament has subsided, you can have the procedure, usually by replacing the ACL with tissue from a cadaver, or from the middle third of your patellar ligament (often wrongly called the patellar tendon), or a piece of the hamstring muscle folded over to get to the right length. At each end, a little plug of bone is cut out and left on the new graft, because the easiest way to heal it is to drill a little hole in the bone of your femur and tibia, and tap the graft bone plug into the hole, fastened further by a titanium screw, rather than try to heal “new”collagen onto bone.

When you wake up and the anaesthesia wears off, it hurts, but at that point the graft is about as strong as it will ever be- theoretically, if you could forget pain, and the inflammation was gone, you could go do almost anything at that point, provided the screw holds.

However, the body also immediately starts to tear down the new ligament, literally dissolving it biochemically and turning it into a different type of collagen (sound like Iraqi society yet?). After about 6 weeks to three months, it is very weak, as the tissue breakdown process is almost done, but the conversion to the right version of type 1 collagen is still in process, and that goes on for about a year to get to 90% and much longer for more.

This doesn’t change or speed up, no matter what you do. The National Football League has lots of money ready for the genius who figures out how to heal and rehab an ACL repair in six weeks. But you can apply heat, ultrasound, prednisone and other antiinflammatories, hyaluronic acid, glycous amino glycans, insulin, alkaline phosphatases, TGF beta, HGH, you name the growth or metabolic factor.

You can hire the world’s best physical therapists, bring in the best exercise machines. But if you overdo the rehab exercises, you actually damage the repaired joint.

No matter what you do, there is a natural process that only plays out at its own pace. Just like baking bread.

So, throw money at Iraq (or not- Speaker Pelosi would owe a lot to a lot of constituencies). Some added cash might help somewhat in some places, or it might also cause more corruption opportunities, create a colonial-style addiction, and permanent dependency.

Go ahead, send “More Troops! More Troops!” Fine, add more US targets to shoot at; but the US military believes that what they need are more Iraqi troops- who are not infiltrators or beholden to bad guys. Cleaning that group out and training more and more takes… time.

The government? After several decades of direct ethnic and religious subjugation, building trust and believing in the democratic process while fighting against the agendas of the bad guys (Sadr’s Mahdi Army, Iranian-linked SCIRI, former Baathists, etc.) takes… time.

The message is that everything here that needs to be done to produce something in the end that is better, takes time. At least another five years, more likely ten.

And, as we see frpom the polls, America may not be ready to pay that price. We may not believe that it is necessary- we forget now, but we weren’t ready in late 1944, or 1864, either.

And looking at home front today, it is clear that the price in blood and cash is nothing like it has been in any prior war, but we are still whining, louder than ever. As the sainted Dr. Sowell said, “frivolous politics”. I have news for you- if you really believe that fighting back against the fundamentalist Salafist and Wahabi terrormasters causes more terrorism long run, you also believe that the NutRoots only oppose Bush because of Iraq.

It is times like this that you can be happy to be 50 rather than 20, so you have a better shot at avoiding dealing with the long term consequences of failing to seriously address terrorism, social security reform, and the like. Just remember- I told you so.

Time.

Song of the Disenfranchised

September 13, 2006

If you enjoy cheering for an underdog – for the sort of pathetic soul that doesn’t have a chance in hell of coming out on top – then join the Washington, D.C. Republican Party. I don’t think anyone from their headquarters would take offense at that – they pretty much admitted in their letters soliciting volunteers and financial contributions this fall that they had no real hope of victory, and therefore wouldn’t be making any promises.

Of the voting population of the 550,000 or so residents of the nation’s capital, about three-quarters are registered Democrats. This means that the outcome of yesterday’s Democratic primary elections actually decided all the races. (The Republicans held a primary yesterday as well, but as none of the candidates were in contested races, nor do they have any hope of winning, it received little attention and little press.)

What this means for me, a registered Republican and resident of Washington, is that I’ve never had a say in the election of my city’s leadership. All the races are decided before I ever get to vote.

Of course, I’m likely not getting much sympathy on this point from registered Republicans living in other heavily Democratic districts, but my situation is different for one very important reason: local government is all we’ve got. There’s no turning one’s hopes to the Senate or the Gubernatorial races, which even in the most solidly Democratic or Republican states can still be turned after a few years of electoral discontent. Remarkably, D.C. government has never been vulnerable. No matter how many times our schools fail, we top the charts in murder rates, or our leaders get arrested, this city is safe for the Democratic Party. It boggles the mind.

It should be evident, above all else, that the two party system with primaries and general elections has failed in DC. What we need instead is something more fluid, that allows all the candidates to run simultaneously and be judged on their merits, with no party monikers attached. A primary could narrow the field to a handful of candidates, then elected by plurality in a run-off election. This is the only way I can think of to get someone eminently qualified like Tony Williams, Republican candidate for Member of Council in Ward 6, his due consideration by the voters.

Running the local government doesn’t require a commitment to national party platforms: a stance on Iraq or musings on global warming. The solutions Washington needs actually don’t have much to do with the famous institutions we house – they’re much closer to home, and deal with things like getting kids to read, taking lead out of the water, and stopping the omnipresent violence. On security issues, we cooperate with the federal government anyway – it is, after all, their fault we’re such a hot target and their institutions that need protecting. What we don’t need is the two-party system restricting our voting, narrowing our choices, and preventing the (sadly vast) numbers of knee-jerk, party-line voters from thinking about what’s best for our city.

For the left, the solution to all of DC’s many and varied ailments is statehood. “Taxation without Representation” claim our license plates, co-opting the familiar revolutionary refrain for the cause to get two extra guaranteed Democratic seats in the Senate. I can’t imagine why else they would think statehood for an area so small – with portions of it necessarily the domain of the federal government – is a good idea. And speaking of taxes, I can’t even imagine what it would take to support a full “D.C. State” government, even in miniature. I already pay out to the district at almost the same rate as I do as the feds, and that’s just to support our cancerous city council.

In fact, statehood would solve none of our real problems and create plenty of new ones, but without that step, we are left with a conundrum: we in the district don’t have voting representation in Congress. And the rare District Republicans, well, we are likely among the most disenfranchised voters in this country. So little to vote for, and no choices to make.

What I’d like to propose in place of Statehood is the partial annexation of D.C. by the state of Maryland. Now, I couldn’t really blame them for not wanting to take us on, but ignoring that objection for a moment, consider how it might work. Historically, there’s a sound argument for such a move: the land that is D.C. now was carved out of Maryland. It was to be a perfect diamond-shape, but Arlington and Alexandria were never ceded (as they were promised to be) by the Commonwealth of Virginia. So in terms of our neighbors, Maryland makes more sense geographically. Politically, Maryland also tends to go Democratic. Sticking D.C. into politically more conservative Northern Virginia could only lead to resentment, as our population tried to vote the state out of the government of its natural inclinations. But our votes backing up the Senate races in Maryland would only serve to widen the margins, not change the outcome.

My plan is not for us to simply re-join Maryland. Instead, I would propose that we share her Senators (and perhaps her Governor as well, though this is by no means necessary): we would vote for them, and they would act on our behalf. We would then be given our own, voting member of the House – we would be “the District district.” Our local government would then continue to run our schools, city government, police force, etc. This way, we get a say in national issues, but we are not turned into a mini “city-state” (heh), with all the questionable repercussions that could entail.

Republicans would still be in the minority, of course, but even in Democratic strong-holds, things can happen that change the balance and lead to the occasional Republican senator. Consider Norm Coleman, for example: a Republican senator from the only state in the Union to vote for Mondale.

I see real solutions here – compromises that could take away the overwhelming sense of disenfranchisement felt by many of the people of D.C., of either party. What’s more, these two systems combined would give us Washington Republicans something that we haven’t ever had before: hope.

2996 Tribute: Billy Tselepis, Jr.- Cantor Fitzgerald

September 8, 2006

I never met Billy Tselepis. In fact, I never even knew his name until I got a frantic phone call on the morning of September 11, 2001, from my friend and his big brother, Peter Tselepis.


Billy worked as a trader for Cantor Fitzgerald (www.cantor.com) in the World Trade Center, just like Peter. He had moved to New York, just like Peter, from Chicago, where the big, warm, Greek family always welcomed them back for visits.

“Duane, pray like you have never prayed before! My little brother Billy works on the 101st floor of the World Trade Center and the building is on fire below him! There’s no way to get out, and we can’t get through to him!”

Foreign exchange options traders generally are not prone to panic. They like the action, the risk, and the intensity of the situation where millions of dollars can swing on one decision. Over the long run, you had to be right a lot more than you were wrong, and Peter thrived on the excitement. He relished the life, leaving it earlier than he had intended when his wife wanted to take a job in her hometown Minneapolis area. So Peter moved to the cold Northland, but still got back to New York whenever he could- to spend time with Billy.

They hung out. They played golf. They spent time with Billy’s wife, Mary. They played with Billy’s toddler, Katie. Then Peter would go back to Prior Lake, Minnesota and wish that Billy lived in Minneapolis.

On September 11th, 2001, Mary Tselepis was about eight months pregnant with Will. And then she, Katie, Will, and, yes, Peter, were robbed of love, a lot of life, and a lot of happiness by a gang of kamikaze assassins carrying out their conviction that if you were not conforming to the nihilistic legal creed of Sayeed Qutb, you didn’t deserve to live.

The New York Times profile of Billy Tselepis is here, where photograph originated: http://www.legacy.com/Sept11.asp?Page=TributeStory&PersonId=94766

God loves you Billy, even though thugs robbed you of life, and robbed your loved ones of you, allegedly in His name. The best tribute is to put them all out of business before their successors can destroy other lives.

And God loves Mary, the kids, and Peter, as well. May His blessings soothe the pain and loss as you go on- but never, never forget.

For more on the 2996 project, go to http://www.dcroe.com/2996/ to see how each 9-11-2001 victim is being honored.

Floods, Fire, and Famine, Doom, Defeat and Despair, all because of Lebanon

August 18, 2006

This comment is cross-posted as a comment at Belmont Club, I believe it is #496 (two typos corrected).
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What all the post-Lebanon commentary reminds me of more than anything else is not Solzhenitsyn so much as Whittaker Chambers. Read “Witness” (again, if you already have) and see how dark and pessimistic the outlook is, one who knows he is in the right side, but also believes that it is the losing side for almost the exact same reasons as are constantly cited today by those who believe that our leaders in the current long war are not fighting it fast- or bluntly- enough.

Perhaps Condi has indeed been overcome by the DoS Realpolitik crowd. Perhaps W is indeed too tired or helpless to do anything else, and Rumsfeld has given in to the careerist generals who wish from this time forth only to fight Grenada-level actions (short, no opposition, combat stripes and rapid promotions, no hot war budget perturbations interfering with the multi-year procurement projects). Perhaps Bolton has indeed been seduced by Kofi into mainlining the Turtle Bay KoolAid and doesn’t really understand the threats and issues as well as do all of us hobbyist bloggers in pajamas.

Or, perhaps Norman Podhoretz is correct, and this is what Bush said it was five years ago- a long struggle. Perhaps he is doing the same thing he has done every time before, which is giving outlet to all of the alternatives (such as extended UN inspections) and then moving.

In the recent case, Israel was surprised and unable to be as effective as it was 30 years ago due to the concerns over civilian populations despite the fact that Bush gave them an open window to operate before pulling the plug. It still inflicted severe damage, and the inevitable collapse of the ceasefire will only be meaningless if that collapse is greeted by retreat and Hezbollah’s re-supply is not challenged.

But I have heard the same song over and over again, about Communism until Reagan confronted it, and about WWIV. The same people who today say that the Administration is backing away from the Iranian threat firmly predicted in 2002 that the UN inspection diversion meant that Saddam would never be deposed.

I take the words of Bush, Snow, et all at face value. They are not kicking the can down the road to leave our civilization to the Russ Feingolds of this world.

The Real Global Warming Problem

July 20, 2006

For the last few years, there has been something of a controversy about changes in the composition of the atmosphere. Rumor has it that “greenhouse gases” (GHG) have increased in concentration, in turn causing global temperatures to rise. You may have heard about it. The former Vice President mentions the topic occasionally.

Despite overwhelming evidence that bovine flatulence releasing tons of pre-warmed methane up into the sky is a primary cause (http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/kyoto/ewe.html), it is most often asserted that the real chief culprit among such greenhouse gases is carbon dioxide.

As the graph below shows, this evil gas has been increasing in atmospheric proportion since about 1855. Note the curve- roughly linear from 1855 to 1960, with an upward spike from then till the present (Michael Mann’s famous “hockey stick“). Speaking of which, what was Mann doing messing with these hockey sticks instead of “Miami Vice”, “Starsky and Hutch”, or “Last of the Mohicans”? But I digress.

Now, in search of the true causes, let us look at the critical elements of history over these last 150 years that have been characterized by the accelerating CO2 concentrations. People say it is cars and power plants. Perhaps those sources might contribute, as do six billion humans who insist on not only inhaling, but exhaling 20 times a minute.

But, from http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa091699.htm, we learn the sickening truth: ginger ale was invented in 1851. The term “pop”, to describe carbonated beverages such as “soda pop”, was coined in 1861. By 1876, root beer was being mass produced for sale.

Then came the big ones- the first cola drink in 1881 was succeeded by the invention of Dr. Pepper in 1885, closely lagged by the upstart Coca Cola in 1886, and then Pepsi-Cola in 1898. The “crown bottle cap” moved these poisonous beverages from the drugstore soda fountains into bottles kept in peoples’ homes, available to drink at any time, prompting unlimited growth in consumption. The barn door had now officially been blown off its strap hinges.

In accordance with the best current standards of scientific proof (that is, if you can find some piece of data somewhere to support your “deeply held beliefs”), the new statistical reality is that “correlation equals causation”. We thus hereby claim that irrefutable proof, even better than the evidence that drove the Alar scare or magnetic fields from cell phones causing brain cancer. We now KNOW the anthropogenic causes of global warming.

It is obvious that the fundamental reason for the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere is not humans burning fossil fuels, cow flatulence, or any similar phenomenon. It is the event that occurs millions of times each day, and mostly in the evil, cowboy, capitalistic world of George Bush’s “poisonous water and poisonous air” America: the “pffft” sound we hear every time another can top is popped or bottle cap is unscrewed.

Each time we pop open another can, that poison gas and pollutant, carbon dioxide, is carelessly and thoughtlessly released into the atmosphere to do its evil work, work such as melting the polar ice caps so that sea levels in Tuvalu drown the desperate population, icebergs are calved off of Antarctic glaciers into the sea, and the formerly snow-capped mountains of Kilimanjaro turn in to hilly deserts, thereby screwing up the local economy.

The cause, humans, is YOU- you selfish American consumers of Coca Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and various brands of root beer, ginger ale, and so on.

Consider the data: at the beginning of this greenhouse gas tragedy in 1886, Coca Cola sold a total of 25 gallons of syrup to drugstores, and there were no real “bring home” sales because the stuff would go flat in those poorly sealed jugs. That 25 gallons made up about 200 gallons of (“old”, not “The New”) Coke, which, based on US population in 1890, equated to .0000031 gallons per person per year.

By 1999, according to Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), Americans were swilling 14,930 million gallons of the stuff (for the math-challenged among us, that is 15 billion gallons), which is about 55 gallons, per person, per year, an increase of umpty-ump times as much, a scientific-looking number with a big exponent- my calculator doesn’t have enough display capacity to actually show the number.

Sadly, BMC doesn’t have data that go back to 1855, and their reports, as far as far as I have been able to discern, only hit about the last 30 years. But we can derive the data if we look at US population history (data from http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ref/abouttx/census.html) and calculate a reasonable fit curve- we sort of make up the data points that are missing in between the two end points (interpolate, for you math types), which practice fits perfectly with the IPCC Executive Summary conclusions (not the detailed report). Remember, we are not only seeing increased numbers of people, but carbonated beverage consumption of each of the people has also been skyrocketing over the period of interest. That, friends, is your real “hockey stick”:

Now compare the US carbonated beverage consumption trend line with the proper section of the temperature changes over the same period:

How can you get a more persuasive cause and effect relation? I think that the Senate needs to clear the calendar and deal with this immediately. Forget unimportant stuff like war, budget earmarks, and Medicare solvency.

But What’s in a Name? The Failure of Panda Diplomacy

March 31, 2006

Taiwan has now officially rejected China’s offer of pandas, the much-famed “goodwill ambassadors” that represent a unique breed of zoological diplomacy in China’s recent past. DC’s National Zoo once boasted of its own, freely given representation of Sino-American friendship that was black and white and fuzzy all over. It is, perhaps, symbolic that Washington now leases its pandas from China, at a rate of $2 million a year for the pair (and a promise to send back any panda cubs once the initial, fund-generating cuddly childhood is behind them).

Taiwan says the problem was its ability to care and provide for the pandas. Having been to one of the candidate zoos in Taipei, I do understand their concerns – a certain sort of anarchy reigns there. I once found a lost zebra wandering about the antelope pen, dazed and clearly as confused as I as to how it got in there. In the heat of the August sun, animals would be lined up in the little shade provided, as if awaiting their commanding officer for inspection.

Then again, having seen panda habitats in China, I will say that Tuan-tuan and Yuan-yuan could do a lot worse than Taipei.

Beyond the Chen Shui-bian quest for Taiwanese identity, I suspect that the real problem with this pair was their names.

Yuan-yuan (圓圓) means round, implying roly-poly loveableness. Tuan-tuan (團團) on the other hand, means unite or reunite. The two were named during a national voting contest in China (see, the Chinese do vote… just not for anything that counts) that involved several newspapers and websites. Suggestions were taken and voters could weigh in on line or through telephone text messages.

Now, I grant that Tuan-tuan is ever-so-slightly more subtle than some of the other suggested names I saw, like one proposal to name the two “Peaceful” (和平) and “Reunification” (統一). “There is only one China and Taiwan is a part of China” must have been deemed too long.

But by far the cleverest suggestion for panda names were “Zhi-ming” (志明) and “Chun-jiao” (春嬌). Beyond being common names in Taiwan, these two are the lead characters in a Taiwanese (Hokkien) language song by the band Mayday (五月天).

When “Zhi-ming and Chun-jiao” (in English, aptly titled “Peter and Mary,” as a recognition that these two names are common, everyman sort of names) first hit the airwaves in 1999, it turned Mayday into something of a sensation. The song was so very Taiwanese – not only because few popular artists sing in the local dialect, but because it spoke directly of the two lovers visiting Danshui (淡水), the northernmost point on the Taipei subway line that includes a boardwalk covered with restaurants and arcades and that is a favorite date spot for young couples.

(As one of the few artists in the world of Mandopop – Mandarin language pop music – to write their own music and play their own instruments – Mayday has since been dubbed by the press the “heavenly band.”)

Since that first major hit, Mayday has put out five albums, a compilation album, untold singles, music videos, concert DVDs – they even played two packed houses in California last year (we won’t discuss how many of these items I own. The number is not small). In short, even with a two year break in 2002-03 to fulfill their mandatory service in the Taiwan military, they are an international sensation. Like all Taiwanese artists courting mainland fans, they demonstrate a fair amount of diplomatic savvy, referring to China in the local term “nei di” (內地), or inland, instead of as a separate entity from Taiwan (but without saying anything to imply Taiwan is not separate). The band sings more songs in Mandarin lately, to reach out to that audience, and carefully refers to their “Taiwanese” songs on the mainland as using the Min-nan hua (閩南話), the language from south Fujian Province from which Taiwanese emerged.

There was a huge scandal a few years back with lead singer Ashin (full name Chen Xin-hong 陳信宏) was thought to be on the roll as a contributing member of the DPP, the party of Chen Shui-bian. As it turned out, his was merely a common name. The band’s bass player diffused the uproar on the mainland by noting than all of the band members take care to stay out of formal politics (though the band did contribute to an album about the President, it was not a campaign related item. President Chen did quite publicly attend the boys’ last concert before their military service), and anyway, every year someone named Chen Xin-hong tests into the National Taiwan University, and we can all have no doubts that it has never been Ashin.

In short, Mayday – like every Taiwanese act with Chinese fans – has to play to its home audience in Taiwan, but take great care not to alarm or offend anyone on the mainland, a bit of diplomacy the leadership in each government could do to study. (I admit, though I appreciate the freedom in the US to spout any political view you like, I sometimes wish my favorite bands would tone down their politicking, as I almost inevitably disagree with them and tire of their uninformed punditry.)

The proposal to make “Zhi-ming” and “Chun-jiao” the pandas’ names emerged no doubt from the whimsy of a fan-girl, but the campaign took off and they became the dark horse candidates. In the final vote, it came in second place – not bad, given the hundreds of millions of votes counted.

During the voting period, certain websites opened places for voters to make campaigns on behalf of their preferred names. The most common (and obviously fairly convincing) argument for Zhu-ming and Chun-jiao was that these names were familiar to the Taiwanese, they would feel local, make the pandas (and presumably, by extension China) feel like a part of Taiwan. Even the (probably twelve or so) people not familiar with the song would hear the names as being Taiwanese.

One Shanghai middle school student wrote her essay as an open letter to the Taiwanese on one of the websites, promoting the names as ones that her friends across the strait could appreciate and accept (from www.sina.com.cn, via forum.maydaymayday.net).

She entitled the essay, “You Over There,” and stressed what she felt were some of the similarities and differences between the two places. People on both sides of the Taiwan Strait work, go to school, see their families, buy snacks at the local convenience store, live in the beautiful nation of China – if separated by a tiny bit of water.

The people in Taiwan are, she suggested, particularly blessed, though. They are blessed because Mayday is from Taiwan. Ashin, Guaishou, Masa, Guanyou, and Shitou wander the streets of Taipei for all to see, they produce their music there, and the people of Taiwan get more concerts and public events with the fantastic five.

But the Taiwanese people are also to be pitied, she noted. Pitied because politics pull them in every direction. During elections, they cannot even hear themselves think for all the candidates yelling “elect me” at them, then they can only shout at their “representatives” that they should “stop causing trouble” (麥來亂 – cleverly, also a recent Mayday song title), but can’t do anything about it. Then, when they turn 20, the Taiwanese have to take the responsibility of voting onto themselves – deciding who will rule and with the wrong choice, suffering. How pitiable are the Taiwanese.

But, she notes, we love you anyway.

Voting on panda names is all good fun, it seems, but voting for government is a miserable burden any true friend would never wish on another. This tells us, no doubt, a little something about the way the concept of representative government is taught in Shanghai. While living in China, people would always tell me that American-style democracy just doesn’t suit the Chinese. I would argue that it seems to suit the Chinese people in Taiwan just fine, and they’d inevitably give me a dark look and claim that Taiwan’s democracy is chaos and a misery for her people. Now, I guess, I know where they learned this idea.

Tuan-tuan and Yuan-yuan will not be heading over to Taiwan any time soon. Taiwan’s democratically elected leadership has ensured against that. Though I’m sure the reasons why are myriad and various, I would suggest that the next time the Chinese people vote to name a bit of public diplomacy, they study the more politic maneuvers of Mayday and opt for subtlety over symbolism.

The "Culpepper Rattled" Company

March 15, 2006

The recent bargain-basement trade of Minnesota Viking quarterback Daunte Culpepper for a second round draft choice has excited three different types of responses- those Minnesota football fans who are happy to see him leave, those who support him no matter what, and other average citizens who have been turned off by his behavior over the past few months.

The (Minneapolis) StarTribune’s best sports columnist, Patrick Reusse, has been praising Culpepper to the heavens for several years, his constant theme being that any criticism of his Daunte was a sign of racist attitudes on the parts of fans. In other words, those who had embraced Randall Cunningham during the almost-magic year of 1998 had suddenly developed the racialist mentality. Maybe some- but mostly nonsense.

Now, Mr. Reusse is an old line Hubert Humphrey Democrat, who rather instinctively, for understandable reasons, might be drawn to that explanation for why Culpepper’s departure is not being mourned in the same way Reusse is grieving:

It is still to be determined if he treated himself to a lap dance on a boat…… by Vikings standards established over the past 20 years, Culpepper was almost beatific in his public conduct. Thus, the source of this strange parting between Culpepper and the Vikings remains mysterious.We know that Culpepper’s long streak of being a stand-up guy came to an end on Oct. 12, when the reports of Sex Cruise had surfaced and he refused to comment in his weekly press conference. If he was that rattled by boat party questions from the media, one can only imagine how rattled he might have been by questions from Mrs. Culpepper……Then, in mid-December, he was among four Vikings charged with misdemeanors stemming from Sex Cruise.On Jan. 12, owner Zygi Wilf stiffed Culpepper at a scheduled meeting, and Culpepper responded by stiffing new coach Brad Childress for their scheduled meeting. Somehow in those three months, from his no comment to the media to his no comment to Childress, Culpepper’s relationship with the Vikings changed from franchise quarterback to persona non grata……Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a team that apparently plans to enter the season with a 38-year-old and a couple of nobodies at quarterback,…..the Vikings are headed into the great unknown with Childress. He’s a first-time head coach tying his wagon to Johnson, who graded out at C+ in nine starts for the Vikings last season, after flunking his way to the bench in four 2004 starts for Tampa Bay.

This is a not unreasonable take on the circumstances, but I think it is wrong in several significant ways.

First: I suspect that many out there shared my own own view of the infamous boat ride and subsequent allegations and charges- a bunch of undisciplined, overpaid fools went out without their chaperones, and we got the same result as we did from the snowmobile-hot tub Viking scandal of 2003 (http://www.stevesilver.net/mt/archives/003655.html )- this is something of a habit for Vikings players. Apparently the long winters make them unable to think of anything except sex. (come to think of it, we all tend to…. if you lived here, you would….. oh, never mind)

But outside of the camera-hungry publicity games of local prosecutors, who cares about the boat ride other than their wives and local TV news? It was easy to see how the easy-going Daunte could have been a relatively innocent victim of that event. Not an issue.

Second: The thing that bothered many of us was Culpepper’s behavior after he was injured. As soon as he was hurt, the Vikings started to win- and he began to pout. Instead of coming to the sidelines and cheering on his teammates and being happy for them, he holed up in Florida, and seemed almost to be upset that his replacement was winning with the same cast of characters that lost with him at the helm. That is not how you establish the old team spirit and leadership credentials.

Finally: In contrast to Pat Reusse’s cheerfully snarky comments about the immobile 38-year-old Brad Johnson playing quarterback at a “C-plus” level, that was far better than Culpepper’s “D-minus” performance, and I think there is a very good reason for the difference. Culpepper is a prodigious athlete, an excellent physical talent. Those racists out there (I do agree that there are a few) who, whenever Culpepper made a series fo mistakes, immediately began to suggest that the big guy was too dumb to play QB in the NFL. I think that the ease with which this meme is embraced by some does reflect an attitude that I deplore. Daunte Culpepper is as smart as most successful NFL quarterbacks, and he has shown that for at least 5 years in the league.

But he has an Achilles’ heel, and it is one shared by the majority of NFL signal callers: he is not cool under fire, making sound decisions. When the going gets tough, he gets nervous- and this has nothing to do with brains or courage. Staying cool in the last 2 minutes trying to drive downfield with the game on the line is a rare characteristic, and highly prized when found. There are only a few QBs who exhibit that trait- Brady, Favre, Hasselbeck, Rothlisberger, DelHomme, (yes) Johnson, and the damaged Carson Palmer come to mind, with honorable mention to McNabb and Pennington, and the jury still out on Grossman and Chris Simms. Most of the rest have composure flaws- both Mannings get nervous, Plummer gets trigger-happy, Joey Harrington throws it up for grabs, go down the list.

If you look at the record, it is hard to find games where Culpepper took the team down the field in the last possession to pull it out. The bigger the stakes- such as the first major test, being shut out in the NFC championship game in 2000- the worse Culpepper played, and the easier it was to see his happy feet and sprayed throws. He is a talented player with a fatal flaw- he is afraid to have the ball when it all depends on him. Incidentally, that trait is shared by Minnesota’s best basketball player, who averages less than 5 points in the 4th quarter of games, and would rather pass the ball than shoot with the game on the line.

Brad Johnson played behind the same leaky O-line, with far less running ability, the same lack of a running game, the same receivers, and with the same marginal defense- all he did different was not give the game away, and stepped it up a notch at crunch time. That is a solid pro, and can play for my team any day. I wish he was 28.

Here is the prediction: Culpepper will rehab from his knee injuries, and play well for Miami, because Saban is no fool- he will design the ultimate low-risk, non-QB-dependent offense. But when the division championship is on the line up in New England, Brady will throw the winning pass, and Culpepper will have an “uncharacteristically” bad game. He’ll fumble at least twice, and throw it up for grabs for all the marbles. Too bad- he has all the other tools.

You saw it here first.

Cartoons and Icons

February 6, 2006

Hugh Hewitt makes note of the fact that sometimes we can do things that are within our rights, but are not smart. Such is the case with the current European controversy over newspapers publications of a series of cartoons that depict the founder of Islam in different forms.
No matter what your Christian practice- be it evangelical protestant (like me), Catholic, old-line mainstream denominations, or even what I consider to be off-shoot cults of Christianity that profess some allegiance to Christian scriptures, the Pauline epistles are part of your guide for life. And Saint Paul (don’t get him mixed up with this fellow) admonished us in 1 Corinthians 10: 23: “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” The publication of cartoons that are likely to be insulting to many devout people is not “edifying” in any way.

That doesn’t meant that there is not a real inconsistency here. The reason that cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad are deemed to be wrong is that portraying his image is tantamount to blasphemy, and could lead to quasi-canonization and temptations to worship him in the same manner as the Catholic saints have spawned virtual iconic cults. The backstory to the “no image depictions” is that Muhammad is the founder to whom the final truth was revealed, but still a man, one of 22 veryial prophets (including Moses, Aesop, Jesus, etc.) who had particular honor of transmitting Allah’s words and instructions to earthly types.

In practice, this appears to be handled very differently. According to the prescribed mode of behavior, to avoid temptations to idolatry, Jesus, and any of the others on the list of 22, is to be treated as an equal to Muhammad. Yet, you get a strong impression to the contrary, because in standard discourse, a Muslim friend would not refer to the prophet without immediately adding “PBUH” (“Peace be unto him”) after reciting the name; I don’t see that done with other supposedly equivalent prophets. Here is an example in the title of an historical piece:
“*** THE PROPHET’S (PBUH) MARRIAGE TO KHADIJAH ***”

If there were ever a case where something is definitely and absolutely legal, and persons are well within their rights to do what they do, it is where papers publish illustrations as the Danish, Norwegian, and French newspapers have done. But, as much as we can point out the inconsistencies and our view of the double standards we believe we see regarding the usual handling of these issues, we have a lot of rights that we routinely surrender in favor of wisdom, or kindness. You don’t tell your wife that you hate the way she looks in her new jeans even though you might be right about the unflattering effect. And you have the absolute right to speak. Sometimes it is wise to find a different subject.