That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore

 

Image result for emmanuel mensah

 

A few years back I lived across the street from a Ghanaian man. One day I expressed to him my condolences on the death of Ghana’s president, whose obituary I’d just read. Kind of weird, yes, but it seemed the neighborly thing to do.

In that neighborly spirit, I offer condolences to all of us on the passing of Pfc. Emmanuel Mensah.

***

Some of my ancestors are from Norway, and I spend my weekdays with many students from other countries our president recently discussed.

I will concede that what’s most important in all of this is not my feelings, but I also wish to record it was crummy to feel the urgent need to assure my kids that America values them.

(Fine, I should be doing that anyway. I’d prefer to be otherwise inspired, though.)

 

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During college I went to see Senator Paul Tsongas, then running for president, give a speech. He told a story about his Peace Corps days in Ethiopia, and seeing on the wall of a villager’s home a photo of JFK. He asked if we should expect the same with our current president. There was much wry laughter, including mine.

His question bears repeating, but not amusement.

 

Signal Values

Every once in a while you see a sign that takes you quite aback.

Maybe that last one on the list wouldn’t sound so ominous if it weren’t in a building that looks like this:

I was going to write something smart-alecky about how I hoped the Commission could see its way to concluding that women are citizens too, but after looking it up I hereby endorse it: http://www.mass.gov/women/

Note: This ghastly building is into the bargain called the Government Service Center, a name whose tripartite blandness worryingly recalls Idi Amin’s State Research Bureau.

 

***

The above sign made me think of one of the more disturbing signs I’ve ever seen. I saw it seven summers ago driving from Seattle to Boston. These were the happy days before a smartphone established permanent residency in my pocket, so it’s recorded in my notebook:

 

Continue reading “Signal Values”

House Rules

 

“Show me a man who’s good at pool,” my mother would say, “and I’ll show you a man who’s wasted his life.”

In my youth I played a lot of pool, and got to be pretty good. Maybe not Minnesota Fats good, but there were games in which I sank two and even three shots in a row.

Part of my youth was also spent – and this, I believe, qualifies as wasted life – studying economics. Try as I might, I never could make heads or tails of that stuff.

One of the terms I remember, however, is “odious debt.” It came to mind as I read two recent articles in the New York Times.

Now, before I get to them, I should say that last spring I cancelled my subscription to the New York Times. Not out of indignance, but rather conviction that reading news daily was deleterious to the soul.

The thing is, my habit was such that each day I’d wind up having to go to the store to buy a newspaper. Finally, through rigorous economic analysis, I determined that it would be cheaper to re-subscribe.

It’s [stuff] like this, however, that makes me want to re-cancel:

 

The US is trying to collect a half-billion dollars from the Cambodian government for a loan made before the Khmer Rouge took power.

The loan was issued under the Food for Peace program. I don’t know if this was during Operation Menu or Operation Freedom Deal; either way, I’d have to fetch my Cray to calculate the irony.

 

Other schools require cafeteria workers to take a child’s hot food and throw it in the trash if he doesn’t have the money to pay for it.

If you want to throw your computer against the wall, read this article.

Maybe a deal could be worked out whereby we forgive Cambodia’s debt if they pay for our kids to eat lunch.

 

Over Here

In a few months, more than 53,000 men died on the front, more than in the Korean or Vietnam Wars… the months of September and October were the deadliest in American military history, including the Civil War and World War II.

 

I read the above in Le Monde and thought: That’s incorrect.

A commenter said the same, but the author replied to confirm the statements. I haven’t the stomach to investigate tallies of combat vs non-combat deaths, so I’ll take his word for it.

 

 

A few years back, suspecting that my high school grasp of World War One (roughly: Somme & Verdun & etc / Lusitania / AEF / Versailles) was perhaps insufficient, I read Hew Strachan’s The First World War. Turns out I was right. Golly, it was complicated.

But what struck me most about the book is that it contained very little mention of the United States. And I didn’t get the sense this was limey insolence on the author’s part; my fear is that – alas – a plausible concise history of the Great War can be written thusly.

Ah, Hew! Ah, Humanity!

 

 

The United States World War I Centennial Commission conceived it as a “heads of state” event and invited foreign leaders from Europe to Australia, said commission member Monique Seefried.

France’s president didn’t show up to Thursday’s ceremony, nor did any other heads of state. Apparently ours didn’t even RSVP.

I know America is not now best placed to instruct others on diplomacy – and that if it weren’t for France we’d be drinking tea, curtsying, and speaking English –  but it’s a shame this is the state of affaires.

 

PS speaking of matters lamentable, I didn’t know about Karl Muck, or that twenty-nine members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra were interned. Plus ça change…

The Southern Affront

 

A famous Australian children’s author was detained upon arrival at Los Angeles recently. She described the experience:

I have never in my life been spoken to with such insolence, treated with such disdain, with so many insults and with so much gratuitous impoliteness.

I haven’t read her books, but even if they’re that bad, this is no way to greet a visitor.

 

We Have Always Been At War With Australia

In 1942, the Allies slipped off their axis at the Battle of Brisbane.

(There was also an unfriendly match next door at the Battle of Manners Street. Gotta go with the Kiwis on this one.)

 

Strategic Mercy

When the world knows our fury, no worries, Australia fair:

We’ll save Australia
Don’t want to hurt no kangaroo
We’ll build an all-American amusement park there
They’ve got surfing, too.

 

Tactical Brilliance

American munition, Australian delivery:

 

(Paul Auster on Foster’s would be the converse, I guess.)

 

Man and Zimmerman

 

Recent news – and that’s “recent” in both the hebdomadal and geological sense – recalls this exchange:

Cliff: I’m ashamed God made me a man.

Carla: I don’t think God’s doing a lot of bragging about it either.

 

I haven’t heard all men talk, but I’m inclined to take a Menckenist view: No one ever went broke underestimating the decency of men.

Other recent news has been poetry for the ear.

Granted, when it comes to Bob Dylan, I take a Remnickist view: “I will concede that there are imperfections on the Christmas album.” But as far as I’m concerned, He could be awarded the Stanley Cup and all objection would be idiot wind.