Hillary Being “Diplomatic”

I really can’t get enough of this video.  This is our nation’s top diplomat answering a poorly translated question while in Africa.  I’ve been on the butt end of plenty of poor translations; however, I haven’t acted like this.  Of course, I’m not married to Bill Clinton.  I can’t decide the emotion it makes me feel, schadenfreude, pity or shame.  All three, maybe?  Have a look:

UPDATE:  Wait!  There’s more!  Thanks for representing ALL of our country abroad, Madame Secretary.  OK, I’ve decided.  Now, it’s just shame.

Metro Culture Shock

You should be looking at a cool, panoramic picture of the inside of a sparsely-populated DC metro car right now.  But you’re not.  You’re not because I got served.  I got served on the metro tonight like I’ve never been served before.

I had a great dinner out and was just cruising home the final three metro stops to my hotel.  There was nothing going on, only a handfull of people were on the metro and I got on a peculiar car with no handicapped seats that left an awesome, panoramic view of the car that looked like the perfect headline photo for some post on culture shock, public transport, or orange astro-turf.  It was not to be, friends.  Not to be.

As I raised my phone to make it happen, I rethought my move and double checked that the <<ka-ching>> photo sound was turned off.  Good news, it was.  The bad news followed.  Upon seeing that my settings were correct, I looked up and saw a towering 5’3″ American woman in her 50’s shouting something at me.  I didn’t hear her.  My headphones were on.  I just saw her gesticulating.  Much of the gesticulation involved a pointed finger.  I pulled one of the noise-cancelling earbuds out of my ear and heard her shout, “Did you just take a picture of me?”  Wha?  “Did you just take a picture of me?”

In shock, stupefied, but not yet guilty, I said, “No, no.  I haven’t.”  I think my verb tense threw her off.  She dropped her finger and sat down – facing the other way.  Suddenly, the car seemed full of people.  Some were snickering and some were scowling.  They all knew I got served.  Geez.

I could turn this post into something analyzing the post 9/11 right to privacy, but I won’t.  Fact is, I don’t blame the lady too much.  I just saw a cool picture and wanted to save it.  Heck, 75% of the reason I wanted it was because there were so few people in it.  But, I guess it was her right.  Is there a law against it these days?  How should I know?

Hell, I’m just a tourist here.  These days, it seems I’m just a tourist everywhere.

I just remembered my password….

So by my count it has been about 10 months since I contributed anything here (I probably should ask permission again).   Since I just read that it was the 1-yr anniversary of the site, I guess I will contribute what may end up being the longest post to date as a birthday gift.

As NH knows, my wife and I are planning a trip to Europe in the fall and over the last few days have been discussing where we are going to go, how we are going to get there, etc.  As a result I have been thinking a lot about our last trip to ‘The Old World’, specifically a visit to Munich (This was in the Summer of 2005- pre-surge Iraq was at about it’s worst in terms of insurgent violence, Saddam was about to go on trial, and it was  just weeks after the terrorist attacks of 7/7 in London)  During that visit I, as well as NH and our wives, had an unforgettable encounter at the Hofbrau Haus.  As soon as I got home from the trip, I chronicled the event in an email so I would remember the specifics.  That email follows here–

My wife and I just got back from a 10-day visit to Prague to see her sister and her sister’s husband and this past weekend the four of us drove over to Germany and spent Friday night in Munich.  I have never visited Munich and as I am a big fan of beer halls, we of course had to go to the Hoffbrau Haus.  The table where we ended up sitting faced the majority of the crowd and at the next table over there were three men, one generic-looking ‘Anglo’-type and two really big guys that had a swarthy Middle-Eastern look.  Now, these guys were having a blast drinking, singing, etc. as were we and the rest of the crowd so–other than giving myself a brief mental reminder that we should be careful overseas and that (as the media continually tells us) the “Arab Street” hates Americans—this was no big deal in and of itself.  At one point late in the night however, the two big guys go the the restroom and the ‘Anglo’, who turned out to be a local Munich resident (I’ll call him ‘The German’), turned around and started talking to us.  He asked where we were from and I told him, “Texas” (in typical Texan fashion, not realizing until after the fact that he probably meant what country…).   In broken English he responds with something like “Oh, Bush huh?”–to which I gave a thumbs up and said yes the same place President Bush is from.  What he said next that gave us a little bit of concern:  He proceeded to tell us that he was just hanging out and ended up hooking up with these “Iraqis” and that he had been drinking with them all night.  Then, with a solemn look on his face he said:  “These guys are for Saddam.”  My brother-in-law and I looked at one other and then at him and then my brother-in-law said, “FOR Saddam???”  He confirmed yes they were for Saddam.  Then, after looking at the four of us staring at him in stunned silence, he said, “No, I mean they are for Saddam being gone.”  While being relieved that he corrected himself, we were still not quite sure if he actually corrected himself or just didn’t speak very good English and had it right the first time.  My brother in law said, “That’s good because Saddam is ‘nicht gut'”–which The German responded to with nervous laughter.  So the Iraqi guys come back and sit down and the three of them immediately kind of huddle and The German is clearly telling them about our conversation.  For the rest of the evening (really only about 20-30 minutes) the guy facing me stole a number of glances at me and each of our party, and the one with his back to us turned his head slightly to look at us a couple of times as well.  But, they did not make an effort to say hello or smile at us or anything and The German did not turn around or talk to us anymore.  Again, we were really not worried about anything happening, but at this point we were very aware they were there and that they seemed to have some interest in us.  About 5-10 minutes before the place closed I noticed the guy facing me get into what looked to be a serious discussion with The German, all the while looking periodically at me—and they were leaning over something and discussing something on the table.  All of a sudden (or at least it seemed that way to us), all three got up and the one with his back to us walked by and toward the exit as did the German- neither one looking at us at all.  The other Iraqi guy- the one who had been facing me- stopped and faced our table, laid a napkin in front of me and stuck out his hand to me.  As I stood up and reflexively shook his hand, I looked in his eyes and I cannot really describe the emotion that was there.  He was gripping my hand very firmly and the handshake lasted 4-5 beats longer than a normal handshake would.  He was smiling slightly but his look was more one of determination or seriousness than anything else.  My immediate thought was that this was something very emotional to him and it began to seem the same to me—even though no words were spoken.  As I sat back down and he walked out I looked at the napkin and written on it (with misspellings and letters scratched out) was “Thank you Texas.  From, A grateful Iraqi” 
My brother-in-law watched the whole thing and looked at the napkin and his immediate response was “That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen”.  I wish I would have taken the opportunity to try and talk to him, but it all kind of happened so quickly, he was gone before I really knew what happened. 

A few thoughts I had afterward, and which make it special to me: 
1) I am not in the military and never have been, and while I did vote for the President and I did/do support the the war effort in Iraq, I have never really contributed anything personally to it.  But to him I was just an “American”, and specifically a “Texan” like President Bush and was part of the country that liberated his people from tyranny.
2) Other than maybe my thumbs-up to his friend, he did not know my politics or how I felt about the war.  I wonder how someone who was against the war or one of the Bush-is-evil crowd would have reacted to that situation?  Would they tell him it was all a plot for oil?  Maybe they would have said there were no WMD so he really shouldn’t be grateful? 
3) My brother in law and I had earlier in the day been having a discussion about all of the bad news being reported out of Iraq—suicide bombing after suicide bombing, kidnapping, murder, etc–and how we were both starting to get somewhat of a pessimistic feel about it.  I’ll tell you–seeing the look on that guys face pulled us both out of that and put the big picture back into perspective.

No other commentary really, other than, upon re-reading that I am struck by how different things are today than in the Summer of 2005.

Lucky for us, President Obama and Sec. of State Clinton have seemingly apologized to each European citizen individually for anything and everything the US did that preceded them, so I expect open arms and hugs and kisses everywhere we go.

Edit-  here is a photo of the napkin…

 hhletter

You Say You Want A Revolution?

I’m not looking for crow recipes yet – but I’m not giving up all hope.

I’m still not getting tingles up my spine from what is going on in Iran, though.  Here’s why:  First, I’ve seen revolutions in Ukraine, Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia (among others) in my lifetime and I’ve seen what happens in the aftermath.  In the heat of the moment of those revolutions I got excited.  My heart shouts, “Liberty!  Freedom!  Democracy!”  But having traveled to all but one of these countries in the aftermath and dealt with people from all of them, it has become clear that liberal democracy does not take root as easily as one would hope.  In fact, in each of these cases, liberalization has failed and has been overtaken by corruption and oligarchy.

Much the same thing is happening now in Iran.  What we’re seeing there are two parts of the establishment fighting for power and using the third (English-speaking, twittering, liberal) segment of the society to gain an advantage over their adversary.  The folks at Stratfor agree and helped put into words what my gut was telling me last night when I watched extensive coverage of the “revolution” on television.

Ah, so this is how it feels to be a cynic.

Unrest in Iran

There’s a lot being made of the post-election unrest in Iran.  Some people are getting tingles up their spines and proclaiming it the beginning of the end for the Iranian theocracy.  I’m going to go on record and say that this is just wishful thinking.  Mousavi isn’t much better than Ahmadinejad and even if the whole thing explodes into civil war, the end result would be no better for the US.  Not to mention the fact that the sitting US President just sent a huge love note to the “Muslim world” and somehow aiding the opposition would greatly contradict that.  And, you know, Obama never contradicts himself.

There you go.  I’m on record.  Check back in a few weeks and see if I’m eating crow pot pie.

Euro-Trash

Before my European friends get all spun up about the title of this post, I’m not talking about human beings.  I’m talking about trash.  In Europe.  Lots of it.

All over on our travels through Europe garbage is omnipresent.  I first experienced it over 15 years ago during “huelgas de basura” (garbage strikes) in Madrid.  For weeks at a time sanitation workers would go on strike and garbage would pile up in the subways and the rats and mice would grow too fat to scurry away from cigarette butt flinging commuters.  Piles of garbage as high as my head piled in some corners of the metro.

More recently, while vacationing in Crete, I decided to go snorkeling on one of the famous “black beaches.”  What did I see at the bottom?  Tires, typewriters, bottles, cans and debris of gosh knows what else.  I spent about 60 seconds in that water.

Graffiti adorns every block of historical Prague.  Churches, museums, even the castle is not immune.  I’m not talking the Lennon wall here either, folks.

Everyone in Europe talks green but my personal experience is that most of it is out of ignorance or plain old bluster.  To put it to the test, I tried to recycle some electronics one Saturday last year and found myself taking a 40 minute drive to the other side of town to the only sanctioned junk yard only to be told that they wouldn’t accept and old stereo.  They didn’t like my Czech ID and told me no.  I eventually forced it on them.  No wonder people leave so much crap on the side of the road.

When my generation grew up in America, we were repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with “don’t litter” campaigns, Woodsie the Owl saying, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute,” and even some ill fated kangaroo that tried reverse psychology in personal responsibility by proclaiming, “Let George do it!”  However, it worked.  I don’t do it.  Not even a tapa napkin.  On the other hand it’s quite obvious that Europeans have had none of that in their daily lives.  Or, if so, they didn’t pay attention.

I can go on about European hypocrisy.  They say the American lifestyle is unhealthy?  OK, compare them to infamous European smokers – not only the French.  Americans are fat?  Have one look at an Italian beach and you’ll believe that all American tourists have traveled to Italy,  are tanned and speak Italian while gesturing wildly.  Loud, ugly Americans?  Have you ever been in a beerhall in any of these countries?  Obnoxious?  Have you ever stood next to an unshowered French smoker?  Pushy?  Have you ever stood in a Czech excuse for a “line?”  Rude?  Have you experienced what passes for customer service in Europe?  Vulgar?  Ever seen a British stag party?

Having lived here over five years tends to strip away a portion of the romanticism of the idealized Europe.  Don’t get me wrong, living here is still great.  I just don’t think the Europeans have a leg to stand on when the claim superiority in so many different ways.  I’m not saying that America isn’t without problems of its own.  I’m just saying we’re not the only ones.

McMafia by Misha Glenny

McMafia by Misha Glenny
McMafia by Misha Glenny

I don’t read as many books as I’d like to.  But I just finished one of the biggest and best that I’ve read in a very long time.  It’s left me cynical, angry and nearly hopeless – but naive no more.  The book is McMafia by Misha Glenny and it’s a global view on the shadow economy that parallels and, in many cases, dwarfs the “licit” economy that everyone is hemming and hawing about these days.

Anyone interested in the way the world works would be wise to read McMafia.  It reads like an entertaining briefing paper.  It only briefly lost my interest in the section covering the Far East mafia – an area in which I have no knowledge.  However, Glenny’s coverage of Latin America, Western Europe, the Balkans, Russia and the Middle East is riveting.  I’ll never look at a pack of cigarettes, DVD or call girl in a hotel lobby the same way again.

For those in McMafia, it’s not commerce, it’s “bizness.”

CNN International Shills for Putin

CNN International’s “Eye on Russia” is a farce.  It’s a 5 minute (several times a day) ad for the great things that Russia is doing.  You get to see the Sochi Olympic development through the eyes of a skiing Matthew Chance.  Guess what, he’s not a good skier! So he falls!  Funny stuff and hard hitting.  Makes me long for Eiffel Tower birthday coverage.

We’re worlds away from Bernard Shaw, folks.

Obamisms

Here’s what I have so far, and I’m not even trying…

He tried to walk through the window of the Oval Office;
Considers the Special Olympics a punchline;
To our closest ally – a box of region 1 DVD’s;
To the Queen of England – no curtsy but an iPod full of his speeches;
Considered by a clepto-petro-oligarch as his “comrade”;
To the King of Sharia Law, a deep bow;
And, who knew, the leader of the free world speaks Austrian:

At a news conference afterward, Obama said his debut on the international stage had convinced him that “political interaction in Europe is not that different from the United States Senate,” where he served before entering the White House.

“There’s a lot of — I don’t know what the term is in Austrian — wheeling and dealing, and people are pursuing their interests, and everybody has their own particular issues and their own particular politics,” he said in response to an Austrian reporter’s question.

Stunning start.  Simply stunning.  Thank goodness he’s cosmopolitan.  Uh, where’s Letterman when you need him?

Clinton Pushes the Red Button on Russia

No, not the red phone.  The red button.  The poorly translated red button. (Be sure to watch the video for the cackle.)  Sheesh.

Keep telling yourself, “Bush was an idiot and Condi Rice was a lightweight, Bush was an idiot and Condi Rice was a lightweight, Bush was an idiot and Condi Rice was a lightweight…”

Or, just have the media do it for you.

Clinton just lost all respect in Russia.  They love this kind of stuff.  Anything that they can hang their hat on to make them look smarter is HUGE.  This will make them feel good about Mother Russia for weeks.  And Lavrov may be made king.

This diplomacy stuff is a kick in the pantsuit, innit, Madame Secretary?