The Saint and the Despot

Religion, in addition to giving spiritual sustenance, has always given us good theater.  Take, for example, the beatification of Pope John Paul II.  Pope for most of my lifetime, he always struck me as a good guy.  I disagreed with most of his stances on moral issues, but, at least he was nowhere near as bizarre (or conservative) as Pope Josef Ratzinger (aka Benedikt XVI).

So, the reason that they’re sainting the old Pope?  A French nun claims that after praying to John Paul after his death, her case of Parkinson’s disease vanished.  Reports recently indicated that her illness has since returned, and that she may have been incorrectly diagnosed to begin with, but why let a little detail like that get in the way of the Roman Catholic Church?  It never has before, why start concerning oneself with such details now?

And it gets better.  Guess who’s going to be in attendance at the beatification ceremony.  If you guessed Robert Mugabe, bloodthirsty and nutso dictator of Zimbabwe (and devoted Catholic, apparently), you guessed right.  Despite the European Union’s ban on letting Mugabe enter any member state, the Vatican, which is not a part of the EU, has agreed to let him in.  Mugabe’s presence, even if comical for its self importance and hypocrisy, is highly inconsistent with the old Pope’s past political stances.  Were he alive, I doubt John Paul II would allow Mugabe through the door, and rightfully so.

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Jimmy Carter: Worse Ex-President than President

There’s the rather tired saying about Jimmy Carter that he was a better ex-President than he was President.  I doubt it though.  This is a man who presided over an economic malaise, a hostage crisis, a fuel crisis to boot, and managed to lose an election to Ronald Reagan.  I would hardly rate this the work of a political genius.  His work with Habitat for Humanity since then has been widely lauded, and rightfully so.  But that’s where I feel the accolades should stop.

Much of his political work, such as his recent mission to North Korea, has been less than constructive.  His most recent round of comments that the US and South Korea were committing human rights abuses as a result of withholding food aid is rather jaw dropping.  If Jimmy Carter wanted to highlight human rights abuses, he could have cited this example: North Korea.  It was the North Koreans themselves who abandoned the food aid program in 2009, having since continued with their attempts to develop their nuclear arsenal and sinking the South Korean naval vessel, the Cheonan, a bit over a year ago.  Putting blame at the feet of the US and South Koreans while making the batshit crazy North Koreans out to be the victims in this scenario is not only irresponsible, it’s dangerous.

If Carter really believes what he’s saying, then it’s time for him to start his long, long overdue retirement.  And even if he doesn’t, then he ought to cash in his chips, and take a cue from George W. Bush.  Be silent.

Let Them Eat Fruitcakes

In a second concession to the global wedding mania, a trend, I have to admit, that I find downright scary, let’s take a look at the wedding cake that the young royal couple picked out: a fruit cake.  Yum!  Not really.  But, this being England we’re talking about, for them to make the absolute worst choice possible regarding food should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

Naturally, Americans are busy aping our British friends.  Fruitcake makers in the United States report a noticeable uptick in the number of cakes being ordered for parties dedicated solely for wedding parties here.  Waking up at four in the morning to wear an ugly hat and eat fruitcake?  Throw in some self flagellation and what you have sounds like one of the various circles of hell.  I don’t understand the American obsession with the wedding and I understand the choice of cake even less.  Who has fruitcake at a wedding?  The Windsors do, that’s who.

Superman Plans to Renounce US Citizenship

In Action Comics No. 900, Superman announces his intention to renounce his US citizenship.  His reasoning?  After being accused of causing an international incident by  flying to a fictional demonstration in downtown Tehran, Superman, seen as a stooge of US policy, announces to a UN assembly that he wishes to become a citizen of the world, and renounce his American allegiance.

And while that’s all well and good, I want to know is what will he replace it with?  A passport from Krypton?  Superman has to replace it with something, he can’t just be a stateless refugee.  Also, he ought to be glad that he can fly on his own, because otherwise, there wouldn’t be a country in the world that would issue him an entry visa.  Being an American may have baggage that comes with it, but global travel is one thing that’s invariably easier with a US passport.

So, sorry to see you go Kal-El, I hope you have fun in Mexico, or Wales or Sri Lanka or wherever it is you end up after leaving Metropolis. Ta ta!

Terrifying and Tasteless Wedding Memorabilia

I have to admit, it’s not possible that I could have any less interest than I already have in the wedding of Kate Middleton and William Wales.  She’s pretty, and he’s a member of what is probably the most well known dysfunctional family in the world, with the possible exception of the Kims in North Korea.  End of story.

So, if you want to take a look at some truly awful souvenirs that are being manufactured for the wedding this week, follow the link.  There’s some truly tasteless, not to mention utterly bizarre things in there.  That’s about the extent of my interest in the story: the bad taste it exposes in people, and our continued obsession with accumulating crap.  Which, upon further reflection, sounds much like interest in the wedding itself.

Speaking in Code

People often say one thing when they mean another.  Call it nuance, call it subtlety.  Usually, I’m oblivious to it, except in cases where it’s so blatant, that you’d have to be Helen Keller not to pick up on it.  Of course, this phenomenon isn’t uncommon in politics.  But where it happens in politics, the instances tend to be far, far uglier than in everyday life.  Saying one thing when you mean another usually indicates that what you want to say is so ugly that you have to come up with a more palatable, more ambiguous, less offensive method of bashing your target.  What we’re seeing with Donald Trump’s comments and talk of Obama’s birth certificate fits this pattern precisely.

The President finally gave into the ‘birthers,’ and released a long form authenticated copy of his birth certificate.  Unsurprisingly, it didn’t persuade some of the President’s more vocal foes that he was indeed born in the United States.  Phil Berg, one of the most strident of the ‘birthers’ is now moving the goalposts on the President, now suddenly claiming that he believes that the President was legally adopted by his Indonesian stepfather when he was a child, thus stripping him of his American citizenship.  I can’t say it any better than the Daily Kos: ‘Birthers aren’t satisfied because no matter how many documents Barack Obama releases it will never be enough, because there isn’t a document in the world that will turn him white.’  Hear hear.

Now let us turn to that political wunderkind, Donald Trump.  In an interview Monday, Trump stated: ‘I heard he was a terrible student, terrible.  How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?  I’m thinking about it, I’m certainly looking into it.  Let him show his records.’  We could delve into the Donald’s psyche and try and see what precisely it is that he’s trying to say, but if we were to assume the absolute worst about him (probably the most accurate route), what would be patently clear in reading this is that he’s saying the President didn’t deserve to go to either school.  Never mind he was the editor of the Law Review at Harvard, or that he graduated magna cum laude from there.  In the Donald’s mind, just alluding to preferential treatment is tantamount to affirmative action, another bombshell statement for the press.  This argument is pretty shoddy, particularly given the President’s fairly groundbreaking academic record.

On the surface, be it Trump saying he thinks Obama got a break in terms of school admissions, or right wing wackos saying that they think the President is not really a citizen, they’re all speaking to the same, ugly fact.  As Jesse Jackson put it, discussion of this sort essentially amounts to ‘calls upon ancient racial fears.’  These are people, who, no matter how they say it, are pissed that the guy who lives in the White House isn’t white.

National Security Team Shakeup

Well, it’s near official.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates is likely leaving, to be replaced by CIA Director Leon Panetta, who in turn will be replaced by General David Petraeus.  Amidst two and a half wars, I don’t envy either of them.  Good luck gentlemen.  And hats off to Robert Gates, who served ably, as ably as one possibly could, under both Republican and Democratic administrations.  His was a rare gesture of genuine bipartisanship that’s likely to go unreplicated for some time to come.