Sunday, August 7, 2011

Notes, quotes and anecdotes on a dreary summer Sunday morning ...

I don't believe in term limits. I believe it's my constitutional right, as a U.S. citizen, to vote for whomever I want and however many times I want. If I like the person doing the job, why should not have the right to keep her/her there.

All that said, however, I also believe that when the system is broken, it is my duty to fix it -- or, at least, do my part to fix it. And after this debt ceiling debacle in Washington, I urge everyone to take part in your next election, whenever it is, and take a long, hard look at the choices. We need to be more demanding, and we need to stop voting for people just because they're there, and because we're afraid how the change will affect us.

To me, in 2012, nobody is sacred. Not Obama (whom I basically like), and definitely not my Congressman (John Tierney) and either of my two U.S. Senators (Scott Brown and John Kerry).

We need to be more demanding not only of who actually serves, but of who runs. I cannot tell you how to base your vote, but if you want one man's opinion, here's mine: I will not vote for a zealot, liberal or conservative. I will not vote for anyone whose general posture leads to refusal to compromise, or to single-mindedness on any one issue, even if I agree with the issue.

It's clear, after this fiasco, that yours and my bests interests are the last thing on these people's minds. Well, let's start asserting ourselves here. Let's educate ourselves on these issues instead of relying on charlatans and demagogues to warp our perceptions.

And for heaven's sake, let's start electing people who are actually interested in governing.


Between Standard & Poor's lack of foresight in calling out the thieves who helped precipitate the 2008 economic meltdown and its eagerness, now, to pile on and lower the U.S. rating to AA-plus, you have to wonder how much politics comes into play.

What a sorry, sorry world we live in. All the more reason to blow it all up and start over while there's still a system to save.


Switching gears, it's been a while since we've had a good, old-fashioned Red Sox-Yankees pennant race. And I say hallelujah we have one this year.

The rest of the baseball world can go pound sand if they don't like it. Any fan who can see beyond his front nose knows that baseball's more interesting when the Yankees and Red Sox are staring at each other from across the bow; that football's an entirely more interesting game if the Dallas Cowboys are winning; that the NBA is much more fun to follow the Lakers, Celtics and/or Knicks are doing well; and that hockey is likewise more electrifying if the Montreal Canadiens are contending for the Stanley Cup.

All these teams elicit strong emotions. You either love them or hate them. And that's great. Passion drives the sports bus, and it doesn't really matter whether it's positive or negative passion. Sports are about heroes and villains. You need a good amount of both to create the spark that ignites passion.

I was happy as hell that LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined Dwayne Wade in Miami last year. Gave me a team to despise, just in case the Lakers came up short in their pursuit for their third straight NBA title.

Because of the Lakers and the Heat, and my strong desire to see them lose, I followed the NBA playoffs through to the end whereas otherwise I wouldn't have cared. I got to appreciate Dirk Nowitzki a bit more. Not that I wasn't aware of who he was, but he plays for the Dallas Mavericks, which is a team that elicits nothing from me except boredom. The only time I even know, or care, the Mavs exist is when they play the Celtics.

But I was in their corner when they played the Lakers and the Heat ... but only because I wanted to see their opponents lose.

I always pay attention when the Canadiens are in the playoffs, most of the time because I want them to lose too. It's somehow less fun when they're not a factor. And for all those old-timers (like myself) who suffered for years as the Canadiens knocked the Bruins around even harder than the Yankees bashed the Red Sox, I will also tell you that the best part of this year's Stanley Cup championship, for me, was seeing the Bruins beat the Habs, in overtime, in Game 7.


Switching gears back, I cannot being to tell you how complicated my feelings are about what happened in Afghanistan Friday (when the U.S. helicopter full of Navy SEALS was shot down).

First, one of the (many) reasons I'm so anti-war is that these things don't go as planned. Human beings are hard-wired to win (or, at least try to), and also hard-wired to go down fighting to the death if the issue is saving face.

There's a new book out that says the Japanese knew they were defeated before we dropped two atomic bombs on them in August of 1945. Their hesitancy to surrender had more to do with them saving face than anything else.

You could probably go back to every, single armed conflict in the history of the world -- especially the ones that were protracted for years (can anyone say "Vietnam?") -- and see that the major issues of disengagement dealt almost exclusively with saving face.

Now, of course, we have so many different terms for that, since no one's going to get far telling the American people "we can't get out of there until we find a way to save face." So, we use terms like "just peace," which is what Richard Nixon used in Vietnam. As if there's an "unjust peace." Here's something to take to the bank: if it's unjust, then it ain't peace.

I think it's safe to say that we kept the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan going much longer than we'd anticipated because we needed to find a way to extricate ourselves from them without looking as if we'd "cut and run," which -- of course -- was the George W. Bush term for "we have to save face."

We do this, it seems, with our own acquiescence. Otherwise, when Obama elected to step up the conflict in Afghanistan, there would have been same same type of rioting on the streets, and on college campuses, as there was during the Vietnam era.

So either we, as a nation, have grown alarmingly apathetic to the things we're doing in the world, or we approve of them. There is no No. 3. Either way, we're culpable.

I'd have welcomed such unrest. The problem is that we've been conditioned, thanks to a generation of two of brainwashing, to feel as if any dissent, and no matter how justified it is, is somehow unpatriotic.

SO here we are. We wake up Saturday morning to the news that one of our helicopters, loaded with special forces, has been shot down; and that they're all killed.

Immediately, status reports crop up on Facebook urging us to pray for the dead soliders. Just as Facebook statuses have been urging us, time and again, to thank our soldiers for all they do on our behalf.

Absolutely, we should appreciate our soldiers and we should let them know as much as possible. One of the things we did very badly in the 1960s was draw the distinction between a draftee fighting in Vietnam and the politics that forced him over there. Whatever we did due to our LACK of distinction between the two issues was grossly wrong.

Nobody gets more lumpy-throated than I do when I see clips of soldiers coming home into the welcoming arms of their families. Even the beer commercial that depicts a soldier coming home to a giant party thrown by his family makes me smile.

I get it. I really do. Soldiers willingly put themselves in harm's way on our behalf, and we owe them such a debt of gratitude for it that it's almost impossible to pay it back.

So maybe you'll understand it when I saw that my first, visceral, reaction to hearing Saturday's news was anger ... anger that we're still there, and that kids are still being placed in harm's way in a conflict that should have either ended years ago or wound down enough that these kinds of missions were no longer necessary.

The same thing happened in Iraq. And why? What was our mission there? Was it to oust Saddam? Find weapons? Convert the country to democracy? Send a message to countries protecting terrorists that this fate awaited them (though there is NO evidence that this actually happened under Saddam)? Take your pick. At one time or another, all of the aforementioned rationales were used.

And what's our mission in Afghanistan? Does anybody even know? Was it to go in and find Osama bin Laden (we've done that)? Drive out the Taliban (we did that; and then took our eyes off the ball to fight a war in Iraq that may not have been all that necessary to fight)? Are we still there, now, because of what we didn't do in the last decade? And have reached the point now where the only reason we're still there, and that we've escalated it, is because we can't leave until we can find a way NOT to look horribly ineffectual for having been there so long while accomplishing nothing?

I have to tell you -- and this is no joke -- I make it a point, when I see soldiers, to shake their hands (if they let me get close enough to do that) and thank them for what they do. Last month, I saw a group of Marines running up at Breakheart Reservation in Saugus while I was walking, and I stopped and saluted them as they went by, and thanked them. They laughed (I'm not sure whether that was because of my sorry salute, or just because they probably didn't expect such a reaction).

But I felt good afterward, because that's genuinely how I feel. They believe in what they're doing, and they're doing it for me, and for the people I love.

But this doesn't mean I can't get good and angry at the people who are sending them into harm's way merely so that we won't look bad backing out of a war that's gone on far too long. This I cannot accept. And it galls me that we, in this country, are so damn gullible that we sit there and take it when we're fed all these maudlin messages about thanking soldiers, and praying for them, when the caveat to all of this is the reinforcement that to oppose the reasons they're over there fighting is to somehow oppose and disrespect them.

No. You want to keep our helicopters from getting shot down by enemy rocket fire? Put pressure on your senators and congressmen to end this thing and get them the HELL out of there.

In 1968, Simon and Garfunkel sang the breathtaking "Scarborough Fair," which is, justifiably, one of their best-loved songs. Behind the melody was a piece, called "Canticle," that served as a counterpoint to the innocence of the main song. To say the juxtaposition of the two was jarring and haunting would be the very definition of stating the obvious.

Contained in that canticle (and you either have to listen closely to it or look up the words) are these lines: "War bellows blazing in scarlet battalions. Generals order their soldiers to kill.And to fight for a cause they've long ago forgotten."

I think we're getting to that point in Afghanistan, just as we reached it in Vietnam and Iraq.