Friday, April 11, 2008

Happy Birthday: Big Ben!

Here's a neat story- Big Ben, the bell inside Parliament's Saint Stephen's Tower, turns 150 this week!

I first remembering hearing the sound of Big Ben on an old Edward R. Murrow record, I Can Hear It Now, as it chimed on VE day in World War Two.

I had no idea, until I read this article, that Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were close cousins...but it seems appropriate, huh?

Happy Birthday, Old Friend.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

McCain Confused or Worse

If you are on Howard Dean's mass mailing list for the Democratic Party, then you got this message too. Still, I think it is worth repeating and thinking about. John McCain has repeated the same gaffe several times.

The Democrats wrote:

Today, as he was questioning Gen. David Petraeus, he again confused the difference between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

At least five times as a candidate John McCain has stated that Iran (a Shiite nation) is supporting Al-Qaeda (a Sunni group) in Iraq. This is not some minor mistake, but a significant gaffe. He clearly does not understand the sensitive political dynamics in that region of the world.

The website Media Matters has been tracking McCain's habit of misstatement, going back to the Middle Eastern Trip he took with Joe Lieberman in March.

Much of the mainstream media has been ignoring McCain's linking of Shiite Iran with Sunni Al Qaeda, treating it as a simple gaffe- but the fact is that McCain has made this mistake more than once.

In the face of McCain's repetitions, it is impossible for us not to remember the post 9/11 rhetoric of the Bush Administration, in which they cited Bin Ladin and Saddam in the same breath so many times that, for the American public, the two became linked, despite the overwhelming lack of evidence to support any conjecture that they acted together.

Is McCain displaying a severe case of absent mindedness? If so, we should think twice about his ability to act as commander in chief.

But if McCain is resorting to the same kind of rhetorical duplicity that got us into 9/11 in the first place, and set us back so far in the fight against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, then there is no need to think twice...he is unfit and unworthy to serve.

And if McCain is truly unable to see a difference, then he is guilty of the same tendency that Americans have often displayed in their world view: to see only a monolithic conspiracy, where there are, in fact, cracks and divisions to be exploited.

It was this tendency to treat the Communist Block as a monolith that brought America to grief in Vietnam, and it was the genius of Nixon and Kissinger to recognize that the seeming monolith of Communism actually masked a network of fissures and fault-lines which could be used against the enemy.

It has been America's tragedy (and Iraq's as well, perhaps) that the Bush Administration has fallen into the trap (out of mendacity or stupidity or a nefarious combination of both) of the Monolithic Block.

America will need, as her next President, a person who knows EXACTLY what the difference between a Shiite and a Sunni is....and how to exploit it to bring stability back to the world.

John McCain doesn't seem up to the job.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Return From Paris

Bobbi and I went to Paris over the weekend...I'll blog about the trip soon, but in the meantime, Bobbi has turned our former wedding blog into a site for pictures of the trip.

You can find it at: http://bobbi-n-alex.blogspot.com/

bonne chance.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sparring Partner: Hillary Toughens Obama

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd offers an interesting take on the Hillary/Obama Blood Bath- while the rest of us are waking up at night in a cold sweat, just having watched John McCain take the oath of office in a nightmare, Dowd says- don't worry...

...instead, thank Hillary for providing that experience Obama sorely lacked...letting him know what it's like to be trounced, kicked and hit below the belt...it's good training for the guy, and after a political career of simply reaching out and grasping what he wanted, it's a toughing-up he'll sorely need.

"It's 3:00 am. A phone is ringing in the White House. Can Obama handle the call?" Of course he can, once you've beaten Hillary Clinton...you can beat anybody!

I'm not sure I agree with Dowd's optimistic reading of the situation, but it makes for a few moments of escapist entertainment over morning coffee. Read it at the NYT.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

IT WILL MAKE YOU CRY: The American Embassy In London

FDR-WSCThere are many reminders in London that our two nations share a rich heritage, and enjoy an abiding friendship (however strained it may be from time to time). In front of the National Gallery is a small, but tasteful statue of George Washington, in Saint Paul's Cathedral, in the place of high honor behind the alter is the American Memorial Chapel, built by the people of the British nation as a gesture of thanks to those American service men who joined Britain in her fight against Nazi Germany, just off Parliament Square, a statue of Abraham Lincoln, erected at the behest of Queen Victoria, gazes across at the Mother of Parliaments. And, above the door at Westminster Abbey, you can see a statue of the Reverend Martin Luther King.mlk-westminster

So given this deep nature of the friendship between the nations I was anxious to see the official expression of that good will, our American Embassy.

The American diplomatic mission to London has a long history. Benjamin Franklin served as a agent for the colonies, searching for a way to reconcile our differences with the Mother Country...our first Ambassador to the Court of Saint James (following the establishment of our Republic) was John Adams- named by some the "Atlas of Independence", and our second President.

The embassy is located in Grosvener Square, one of London's most fashionable addresses. I've been waiting to get a chance to go see it, expecting, perhaps a burst of pride when I came upon this little piece of home so far from home.

I expected a building worthy of the deep friendship between the Untied States and the United Kingdom. I expected a building worthy of the memory of Franklin and Adams. I expected to see a building that somehow called to mind the promise inscribed on Liberty's Tablet- give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free....I expected something elegant, because it's Grosvener Square after all, but something too that proclaimed a certain respectable pride in what it means to be an AMERICAN.

But as I approached the square, I felt the bottom fall from my heart. "Surely," I thought, "that cannot be it....please, tell me...that this is not the...." and then I rounded the corner and saw my little home state flag of Vermont; open, friendly, freedom loving Vermont, TRAPPED with all the other State flags behind a barricade.

The barricades are rather new... and of course we can blame that on 9/11...

But the building itself is...it is....well, in short, it is the ugliest building I have ever seen. It is a blight. A smear upon the landscape...if an architect had set out to confirm the worst stereotypes about America, he could not have done a better job. As a piece of propaganda, this building is an eloquent argument for the "other side" (whoever they may be at the moment.)

In short, it is a giant monolith- a huge concrete bunker (one could easily envision Hitler and Eva Braun huddled in the middle of it, waiting for the end). It has no face, but looks out upon the world with cold contempt (and, I think, a little fear- now reinforced by the barricades.) It is flat and without soul. Mechanical and Corporate. The windows recessed behind deep ribs of concrete... The perimeters are patrolled by men with automatic weapons.

I've never had a building make me want to cry before, and I've never in my life felt ashamed of my country. But the day I saw our Embassy in London was a very sad day....

After all, what does it say when Dwight Eisenhower- the liberator of Europe- is imprisoned behind a fence?