The Art of Diplomacy/The Diplomacy of Art

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Diplomacy is a buttoned-down profession — carefully-crafted talking points for the Ambassador’s meeting with the Foreign Minister; well-scrubbed reports to Washington; exquisite cimagesourtesy toward esteemed counterparts.

With all this on-the-job self-control, diplomats need a chance to unbutton.  Extra-curricular activities take many forms.  Mine were music and acting:

Kuwait:  After a small role in Man of La Mancha, I signed up for Gogol’s Inspector General, a send-up of bureaucratic stupidity.  A couple weeks into rehearsals, our director quit.  We couldn’t find a replacement, so we decided on a Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland-ish Let’s put on a show in the old barn!!

We thought we all knew our lines and blocking, but, in performance, that turned out to be an illusion.  It was emphatically not a success, though we may have inadvertently mirrored exactly the bureaucratic stupidity we thought we were satirizing.  What in the world were you/we thinking?!

Abu Dhabi:  I joined a chorale, led by a mild-mannered Sri Lankan with a surprising Scottish accent.  He was a good musician, but too nice.  Rehearsals were convivial but undisciplined.  Every sub-group or soloist who wanted a concert spot got it, including the madrigal group I was part of.

I knew our concerts were not great, but I thought we were ok.  That is, until a few years ago when, in a fit of madness, I listened to a tape of one of our Christmas concerts.  What in the world …?! 

The madrigal group was a bit more disciplined and of slightly higher quality, with one indisputable success when we were roving choristers in straw-hats at the Ambassador’s 4th of July reception.  The guests seemed to enjoy it, possibly with the help of alcohol.  Most important, the Ambassador was pleased.

Israel:  I didn’t sing or act in Israel, but music was more vital to me there than in any other posting.

When the Gulf War broke out, the family was evacuated.  We who stayed, when we weren’t working, were instructed to stay home.  If we had to be out, we were always to carry a gas mask.  It was a desperately scary, lonely time.

To keep myself sane, I turned to our long-neglected piano.  By war’s end, I could playUnknown-2 Turkey in the Straw and Onward Christian Soldiers almost completely from memory.  I knew exactly What in the world …?! I was thinking.

Singapore:  I sang in a choral group there, but it was two solo gigs that stood out.

One was at the Embassy’s annual karaoke competition, the first of which was won by a guy who, honestly, couldn’t sing as well as me.  But he had a prop and a schtick.  Ah, I realized, acting and singing.  I can do that!

The following year, I threw everything I had into Heartbreak Hotel, and won it.  Afterwards, one of the Embassy’s local employees came up to me and gushed, I didn’t know political officers could do that kind of thing!  Plus, I got a radio.

As gratifying as that was, my most notable artistic contribution to diplomacy came more informally:

A few of us at the Embassy occasionally had lunch with Chinese Embassy counterparts, taking turns hosting.  At one gathering, idly conversing with the woman next to me, I asked if she knew what a kazoo was.  She didn’t.  Too bad, I said, I could have demonstrated.

Our Deputy Chief of Mission overheard and called my bluff.  He had a comb and was sure that the waiter could get the flimsy of a credit card receipt, which he did.

I couldn’t back out, but what to play?  One of our luncheon guests had studied in the States, at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn., so I played Way Down Upon the Swanee River on my makeshift kazoo.  

Not long after that, U.S.-China relations seemed to warm.  Draw your own conclusions.

China:  I’ve already recounted my Pirates of Penzance experience (The Pirates of Mischance; Feb 4, 2014), which was the entree to working with the play’s music director, Nick Smith, in his choral group.

Our first, and most gratifying, performance was singing Mozart’s Requiem in the Concert Hall of the Forbidden City, reportedly its first performance in China since the Cultural Revolution.

The second was Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand, to open the 2003 Beijing Music Festival.  Our chorus joined about five hundred other voices from a variety of Chinese choruses, plus a chlidren’s choir, and a group flying in from New York.  We had two rehearsals together.

Putting into the mix all these singers, who may or may not have prepared well, who didn’t know each other or our conductor, on an enormous stage where those in back couldn’t hear those in front, nor those on the left those on the right, all singing at the top of their lungs one of the most exhausting choral pieces ever composed, may not have been the best path to artistic excellence.

Our performance merited a stern What in the world …?! but, at least, not from the Chinese government and Communist party luminaries, most of whom slept soundly in their front-row seats.

Switzerland:  In Geneva, I sang with the choir of the European Center for Nuclear Research (the CERN Choir).  We were not great, but we were not awful.  What we were, at least, was polylingual — French for rehearsal directions, whatever language a particular piece was in for performance, and a virtual United Nations at break time.

Unknown-3We rehearsed, and sometimes performed, in the CERN headquarters complex, with sub-atomic particles whizzing soundlessly at unimaginable speeds in the tunnel beneath us.  They did not interrupt us, and, most notable, we had no What in (or beyond) the world …?! moments.

The Caliph Wears a Vest

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merlin_163885848_e635b8f5-bf95-48be-92f2-9d7132b276ca-superJumboYou may recall my insights into the challenges the leader of ISIS — Abubakr al-Baghdadi (aka the Khalifa/Caliph) — faced, trying to satisfy both the spiritual and the material needs of his flock (The Caliph Fills a Pothole; Sept 26, 2014).

He is now dead, allegedly at his own hand, by a suicide vest.

In light of my previous work, the Agency asked me to investigate the details of his demise.  Working with trusted sources, I have put together a rough but, I believe, accurate transcript of those final minutes:

(Doorbell):  Ring … Ring … Ring.

(Al-Baghdadi, from an inner room):  Someone get that.  It’s probably the postman.  I ordered a new vest.  Just sign for it.

(Servant):  But, sir, the postman always rings twice.  This was three rings.

(A-B):  Don’t be a nitwit!  (to himself) Why, in the name of Allah, did I include Turner Classic Movies in my TV package?!  (to Servant)  So, who is it?  What does he look like?

(Servant, looking through the keyhole and communicating through the closed door):  It is not a he, it is a they … three or four.  They have your vest.  They say you must sign for it.  But they do not look Arab; more like Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.”

(A-B, to himself):  Again, TCM!!!  But, far more serious, this could be the infidel Americans, may Allah curse them!  (to Servant)  Do not open the door!!  It must be the Americans!  Warn the rest of the household.  We must escape at once!

(A-B rushes to his bedroom):  Now, where did I put my old vest?  I had it on for our latest escape drill.  (to Second Servant):  Ismail, do you remember where I put my vest?

(Ismail): I believe you left it in the tunnel once our drill was completed.  You said it made more sense to have it there, ready, since that is our escape route.

(A-B): But I meant it to be washed and then returned there.  

(Ismail):  With respect, Khalifa, I believe I observed that to wash it would be to compromise its explosive potential.

(A-B): So, it’s still in the tunnel.  Well, I’m not going out in a dirty vest.  What would my followers say about a schmutzy Khalifa?

(Ismail): That he was an Israeli spy, perhaps?

(A-B): Don’t be smart with me.  

(Ismail): A thousand apologies, Khalifa.  But I have an idea.  Why not use the vest that the visitors at the door say they are here to deliver?!

(A-B): Are you a complete ninny?  They are the very ones who want me dead.  Why would I accept from them a vest that was designed to kill me?

(Ismail):  But, Khalifa, the vest that lies dirty in the escape tunnel is, itself, designed to kill you!  It is a suicide vest!

(A-B):  Yes, kill me, but in circumstances, and at a time, of my own choosing, if at all!

(Ismail):  Understood, Khalifa.  Ah, I have an idea!  That black vest you wear when you are sentencing violators to be stoned or burned or sliced into small pieces.  It is clean.  And we have a large store of dynamite that was to have been used to destroy what remained of Mosul as we retreated.  I could quickly fit that vest with dynamite.

(A-B):  An excellent plan.  Do it at once!

(Ismail packs the black vest with dynamite.  Al-Baghdadi dons it.  He and his family, with Ismail accompanying, climb down the ladder to the darkened basement and face the locked security door leading to the escape tunnel.)

(A-B):  I will do the combination.  We must be quick.  I hear their footsteps above.  Ismail, hand me the flashlight.

(Ismail):  Oh, my Allah, I have left it behind and they are right behind us.  But do not fear.  I Unknownhave  brought matches.  Yes, I have one now.  Let me light it so you can s……………………

End Note:  Yes, dead!  But apparently not quite by his own hand.  A small procedural detail with essentially the same practical result.

A Little Trick, A Little Treat

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One Halloween, when I was eight or so, I was an Indian.  I had a tomahawk, plus a feather on my head.  My breeches were old brown corduroys with patches.  And I had a really cool, mean-looking mask.

Ethnic insensitivity?  Cultural appropriation?  You could say so, but, after all, it was the early fifties, with insensitivity leaking from every Lone Ranger episode and every cowboys-and-Indians shoot-em-up movie.

What boy didn’t want to live in that world, at least for one night?  If I can’t be an Indian, I’ll hold my breath until I turn blue, or maybe I’ll run off and join the Apaches!

What parent could withstand that?  Look, he’s just a kid.  Let him get it out of his system.  And anyway, maybe it really is about the nobility of Indians, fighting for their land and their way of life!?

It wasn’t.  It was just the excitement of violence, without the reality.

All right.  Let him get it out of his system.

If there was at least a little bit of cosmic justice for my cultural myopia, it came from the mask.  It was rubber and, on a warm October evening, it retained heat and sweat like a sauna.  Halfway through my trick-or-treating rounds, I had to take it off.

Oh, look, it’s just Johnny from up the street.  And he’s got that cute rubber tomahawk.  Oooh, oooh!  Don’t chop me to pieces!!!  Just kidding.  So, how’s your Mom and Dad?  Say hi to them.  And don’t forget to take an apple.  Bye.

(An apple!!!  Everybody else is getting candy corn and Mars Bars and Bit-O-Honeys, and I get a goddam apple, and they know who I am so I can’t refuse!  What’s the point of Halloween if you can’t eat too much candy and throw up every once in a while!!??)

The following year, I made it clear I wasn’t going to wear any rubber mask.  No problem, my mother said, I’ve got an idea.  You know the movie we just saw downtown, “Alice in Wonderland”?  Well, I was thinking you could be The Ace of Hearts.

I couldn’t quite picture it, but Mom explained that we’d make my face up with white and a red circle on each cheek.  We’d get two squares of cardboard, paint them white, with a red heart in the middle, and strap them together like a sandwich-board.

I worried that the makeup might make me look girlish, but Mom assured me it wouldn’t, and I liked the playing-card part so we went ahead with it.

The results were mixed.  A lot of people commented on how clever my costume was, but they also fussed over how cute I looked, with my white face and red cheeks.

The real downer was the eyelashes.  Let me explain:  I had unusually long eyelashes (not a good thing for a growing boy).  With the white makeup, especially around my eyes, they stood out even more than usual.  It seemed like, at every house, it was:

Hmmmm, now who could this be?  Wait, I think I know.  It must be Johnny from up the street.  Of course!  I’d know those eyelashes anywhere, so beautiful!  So, how’s your Mom and Dad?  Say hi to them.  And don’t forget to take an apple.  In fact, for such a great costume and those beautiful eyelashes, take two.  Bye, and Happy Halloween.

Yeah, right!  The following year, I went back to a mask (not rubber) that hid my eyelashes.  From that anonymity, I could plead an apple allergy, beg for candy, and throw up when and where I wanted to.

Noah Gets a Call

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(God calls Noah, who is dozing in his rocking-chair)

Noah, it’s God.

Oh God!  I mean, Oh …… God!  You caught me by surprise.  What’s up?

I’ll get right to the point.  It’s the humans again.

You mean fornicating and idol-worshiping and all that?

Not exactly.  I’ve given up worrying about those kinds of things.  Actually, scientific studies suggest that fornication, in moderation, is an important part of healthy procreation, which is why I put them on Earth, though, considering what they’ve been up to lately — changing the climate and possibly killing off the life-forms I created — maybe letting them procreate wasn’t such a great idea.

But I thought I saw in some crazy blog that you solved the climate change problem a few months ago by showing them what the world would be like without a sky or trees or birds, or especially dogs.

Yeah, it worked for a little while, but it didn’t stick.  Now they’re back to their old “screw the environment, let’s party” ways.

So you’re planning to get rid of them?

Yep, and I’ll need help!

Tell me you’re not going to have me build another Ark, with all that monkey business and horseshit!  With my back, I just can’t shovel it anymore.

No … at least not precisely … but sort of.  Y’see, there are a lot more species of animals around than in the old days when you took your cruise …

It wasn’t a cruise, it was a business trip!

Just teasing you.  Anyway, a single little Ark won’t be enough.  We’re going to need a lot more space for the animals, and also for all the plant species we’ll have to save.  After all, plants are living things, and the animals will need them for food and shelter.

So, I’d need maybe three or four Arks?  I think I could manage that.  I’ve still got some timbers from before, out behind the garage, and the plans are somewhere in my desk, and, of course, with all the begetting, my family is much much larger, so they could help.

I’m afraid it’s a lot more complicated.  There are millions of animal species and hundreds of thousands of kinds of normal plants, not to mention algae and mosses and liverworts and …

Liverwurst??!!  That far I will not go.  On a crowded Ark, that stuff smells worse than horseshit.

No, liverworts are a kind of plant.  Anyway, the point is we’re going to need many thousands of ships, each the size of … say … the QE2.

What’s a QE2?

It’s a sort of enormous cruise ship, with lots of parties and liquor and dancing girls and…

You’re back on that cruise ship thing again?  And now with sinfulness?!  No, I won’t have anything to do with it!

Take it easy.  That’s just what they’re like now.  We’d only use them because they’re big and we’d refit them … though, I admit, it’s pretty diverting to think of a ship’s ballroom filled with dancing lions and tigers and bears.

“Oh my!” I’m tempted to say, but I won’t.  So, I’d have to refit the ones that exist and then build thousands of these things that are God knows how many cubits bigger than the Ark?  But I’m not a QE2 person, I’m an Ark person. 

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging.  There are lots of shipbuilders.  They can work with you and your family, teach you, and help you build.  Once the work is finished, you and the family will take over, and, by the way, we’ll call all the ships “Arks” in your honor.

I guess that’s ok.  But I want to be sure that, whenever you plan to get the animals rounded up, I’ve still got my shipbuilders to make sure the ships are finished and ready for loading.  Last time, it was a complete balls-up!

Unknown-2You mean, this time, we really should put the Ark before the Horse?images

Ha ha, that’s a good one.

Yeah, these days, we need a few laughs!

True Lies

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English has over forty verbs, and a similar number of nouns, for telling an untruth.  Honestly!  Would I lie, or, for that matter, prevaricate, deceive, fib, falsify, or engage in invention, dissimulation, distortion, or obfuscation?

Even more striking, English has no single verb or noun for telling the truth.  There is no truthify or truthification.  Stephen Colbert has proposed truthiness to represent non-deception, but it hasn’t taken hold outside comedy circles.

imagesWhy this incredible disparity?  Are we forty-plus times more likely to lie than tell the truth?  Or is it simply that Truth is a pure and lofty state, as God is God, short of which anything else is untruth to some degree or other?

To get a sense of where we stand, truth-or-lying-wise, I looked at some of our most common statements to get a rough idea how often, and to what extent, each is true or untrue: 

I love you:  Spoken to a person, this is quite often untrue, especially when used for conflict-avoidance or sex.  Spoken to a cat, the balance is similar.  We may want to love our cat, but it seldom reciprocates, so we hedge our bets.  On the other hand, spoken to a dog, it’s almost always true.  Love a dog, and it will love you back. 

I didn’t see the red light in time:  Often ambiguous, but essentially untrue.  Radar records indicate that most drivers race when the light turns yellow and are long-gone when it turns red.  They may not actually have seen the red light, but they knew when they passed it what color it would be.  Of the minority who didn’t speed up to beat the light, but honestly didn’t see it, almost all were texting or reading their e-mail.

I have a stomach ache:  Rare, but usually true among adults who, as kids, got caught in that lie hundreds of times and learned their lesson.  One exception: it is a common lie among men who have to go shopping, with their wives, for new slacks or underwear.  Among kids, it’s almost always a lie, especially if there’s a spelling test or an oral book-report today.

This is delicious, darling:  This was a common untruth among husbands decades ago, in the lima beans, oleo-margarine, and mashed potatoes era.  Nowadays, thanks to Julia Child and other TV cooking programs, and a lot of pretty good frozen food options, it is usually true, except in families where husbands now cook and wives know that, if they’re honest about the fried chicken, they re-inherit the apron.

This term paper is entirely my own work:  What was once, among high-school and college students, about as often untrue as true, has become, with all kinds of cheating sites available online, increasingly false.  However, teacher access to on-line counter-plagiarism measures could produce a true-false standoff.

It’s not you, it’s me:  Surprisingly common, and usually untrue.  We all know that our boyfriend or girlfriend is the cause of the break-up.  So, why would we carry around an I’m guilty sign we know is untrue?  Probably because hell hath no fury like a partner scorned.  We don’t want our ex bad-mouthing us around town while we’re working on a new affair.

I didn’t do it; he (or she) did it:  Among kids, this is a reflex and almost always untrue.  Among adults, it’s usually true.  They know that, as kids, they were regularly caught in the lie, and the punishment for lying was worse than for the deed itself.  Besides, adults know that, these days, their every action is going to be captured on some kind of device, so what’s the point of lying?

I want to spend more time with my family:  Though this is a rare utterance, and made only by (or on behalf of) a prominent public figure, it is the biggest lie on the face of the earth.  No one has ever voluntarily left a high-profile, influential, high-paying position simply to stay at home doing the dishes, repainting the den, and changing diapers.  George Washington would have wept.

Conclusion: This was a small, random, rigorously unscientific sampling.  MoreUnknown research is needed.  Still, it does suggest that, as in our vocabulary, lying is more common than truth-telling, though probably not at a forty-to-one ratio.

Perhaps we should try to come up with more, and more forceful, words for being truthful so that untruth doesn’t dominate our speech, or our actions, quite so much.  Words reflect life, but they also shape it.  Just ask the teen-ager who accused his sister of denting the car fender although, as his father informed him, she was at a Girl Scout meeting when it happened.

The Boss Makes a Phone Call

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Hello.  Guido?

Yeah, this is Guido.  Who’s callin’?

It’s Vito, Guido.

Oh, Vito, yeah.  To what do I owe this honor?

Well, Guido, I gotta favor I wanna ask from you.

Sure, Vito, what’s up?

You know Zito, eh!?

Yeah, I know Zito.  So, what’s up with Zito?

Well, you know his son, Rico, eh!?

Yeah, I know Rico.  What’s up with Rico?

Well, it’s come to my attention that Rico may be runnin’ around wid  … uh … wid people he shouldn’t be  … uh … runnin’ around wid, if you get my meanin’ …

So, it’s Rico that’s the problem and, you wann us to … like … do the necessary?

No, no!  It ain’t mainly Rico we’re concerned about.  It’s Zito.  Y’see, he’s makin’ noises about leadership of the family, stirrin’ things up, if y’know what I mean, and this ain’t gonna be healthy for any of us.

Yeah, I getcha.  So, you wann us to do the necessary with Zito?

Naah!  Too dangerous.  But, if we could get the word around in the family that Rico’s got a … a … y’know, a “bad smell”  … and Zito’s protecting him … then Zito’s got a major bad-smell problem himself, and we could use that to keep a lid on things.

On things?

Y’know, on Zito!

Oh, yeah, I sorta see whatcha mean, but, y’know, “bad smell” don’t really … y’know, I mean, we all got it … so …

Yeah, but that’s only part of the whole picture.  I mean, Zito’s workin’ with other parties … if ya know what I mean … to, uhh … how can I put it? … to, uhh, deodorize the Rico thing.

Yeah, I see, so all this helps Zito make a power play!?

You got it!

So, maybe you and me should have a face-to-face to … like … discuss how we proceed?!

Naaah!  Too obvious.  Too dangerous.  I gotta keep myself above the … uhh … above the … uhh …

Law?

That goes without saying.  I mean above the … uhhh … oh yeah, above the fray, ‘cause we gotta lotta factions and, these days, ya gotta manage that, ya can’t just … uhh … how can I put it?  Let’s just say the cement-shoe-days are over … get my drift?

Yeah.  So whatta we do?

Well, I’m gonna have my consigliere … I think you know ‘im … Giulio … I’m gonna have him meet with you guys.  He knows how to deal.  He was in politics until he came over to our side …

Politics, eh?  Yeah, now that I think of it, I seen him on TV a few times.

Yeah, anyway, he knows how to handle things without the … y’know … without the rough stuff.

So, he could come over to my place and we could have a chat.

Aaah, too exposed.  We gotta be careful.  I got an idea.  Some of your guys have been to Spain, right?

Yeah.

So send somebody you trust, and they can meet Giulio there.

What?  Why not our place?  You don’t trust it.  You think maybe we’re bugged?

You can never be too careful!

Same applies to you, too, right!?  I mean, how do I know that this ain’t gonna show up on the front pages tomorrow?

Trust me.  I got this place locked up tighter than Sing Sing.

Yeah, Sing Sing.  I spent a week there one day.

I didn’t and I’m not gonna, and you’re gonna help make sure I don’t!

You’re the boss.

You got that right!

 

 

Sorry, P.E.T.A.

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(Note: When I published this piece, I was only vaguely aware of the youth-led global strike for action on climate change happening on the very same day. What I then saw and read brought me almost to tears (of hope, I should add). Fishers and hunters will have to march much faster to keep up.  And, we will have to work that much harder to persuade young women, where the leadership of this movement clearly lies, that we are allies and not foes.)

According to the Sept 16, 2019 Denver Post, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey finds that the number of American hunters, especially younger ones, has declined substantially in the past quarter-century.

Observers suggest that increasing urbanization has alienated a younger generation from images-2the wild, and on-line distractions have diverted them from the outdoors.

A P.E.T.A. representative welcomes the change: Instead of trying to prop up their bloody pastime, hunters should acknowledge the writing on the wall.  

On the other hand, self-styled hunting personality, Jeff Dankers, laments the change, though his comment — Kids … we’re losing them.  If Grandpa don’t hunt or Dad don’t hunt, they ain’t hunting — perhaps should have been edited a bit to win over the eddicated cities and suburbs he most needs to persuade.

Word-choice aside, he’s right about me.  My Grandpa didn’t hunt, and so my Dad didn’t, and so didn’t I.  Once, I trudged along with a childhood friend and his father, hunting squirrels.  It was not fun.  And not since a brief round of target practice with a .22 at summer camp have I fired, let alone held, a rifle. 

My religion is fishing, and my temple, catch-and-release.  I don’t need or want to kill what I catch.  Harming a fish, sometimes inescapable, upsets me, and I can’t rule out the possibility that even an un-barbed fishhook, carefully removed, causes pain.

Still, I do it because I love it.

The purpose of hunting is killing.  If catch-and-release were a hunting option, that’s where my support would go.  But it isn’t and, I admit, I shudder at the thought of a glorious stag lying in a pool of blood or a blue-winged teal hanging from a retriever’s mouth.

Still, I support hunting.

Just as fisherpersons give important political and monetary backing to stream/river/lake/ocean conservation efforts, hunters give significant support to the protection of the forests and the prairies we share with them.

We need them as allies, as they need us.  And environmental protection needs both of us, especially now.

Defenders of hunting make the economic case for their role in environmental protection.  Hunting licenses and permits provide important funding for official conservation efforts.  So do some of the taxes outdoor-related businesses funnel to those efforts.  To the extent that these businesses protect their bottom-line by supporting hunting, and the conservation activities necessary to hunting, well and good.  Beyond that, their profits are irrelevant to the issue at hand.

There is another angle on fishing, and, I’d venture, on hunting, that’s a little more elusive.  For me, catching a fish, holding it, observing it briefly, and releasing it, is especially meaningful.  You could call it aesthetic; it might even be spiritual.  I can’t speak for hunters, but, as unsettling as the thought of killing is to me, I would imagine that many hunters see beauty in an elk or a duck, and honor them in their death.

Whether a hunter (or a fisherperson) is simply putting food on the table, or having an uplifting experience, it is the entire setting — the environment — that helps create that experience.

It would be foolishly counterproductive to alienate important allies in the fight to protectimages that environment.

I’d prefer a world where wild animals could live a natural span, but, in the meantime, I’ll wrap my romanticism in the blanket of pragmatism.

When Donald Met Boris

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The White House recently revealed that President Trump had canceled a secret Camp David meeting with the Taliban, ostensibly because of a Kabul car-bomb that killed an American soldier.  Rumor suggested that vicious infighting among Trump’s security advisors might have been the real reason.

Not so.  It was an administrative snafu.  Camp David had just become part of the Trump hotel empire and new staff confusedly booked the Taliban and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the same weekend.

Trump decided to dump the Taliban.  The thing that bugs me about them, he told an aide, they never take their hats off inside.  Not a problem with Boris.  With that hair, he doesn’t need a hat.  Gotta find out about that hair.

Here are a few key excerpts of their discussions:

(At The Front Door)

Boris, Boris.  Welcome to Camp Donald.  It is indeed a …

I thought this was Camp David.

It is … well … it was.  You see, I own it now and I figured it needed a new name.  Donald, everybody knows, but who’s David?  Maybe from David and Goliath?  But then, “Camp Goliath” would have been better than “David.” Majestic and powerful and …

Stupid, defeated, and dead!

What?  You mean Goliath was the loser?  To a Jew?  Big guys are always the winners.  I mean, look at me, I’m …

The point is, Donald, it was named by one of your great Republican predecessors, Dwight Eisenhower, for his grandson, David.

With respect, Boris, could you at least let me finish one sente …

Of course!  I’m listening.

(At Lunch)

So, now that we’ve agreed to disband NATO, deep-six the European Union, and withdraw from the UN, there’s one thing I’ve been dying to know.  How do you get your hair like that?  No offense, Boris, but it looks like you just got out of bed.

Curiously, my hair looks just like yours when I get up.  I think my silk pillow smooths it out.  It takes my stylist nearly an hour to get the just-woke-up look.

Interesting, but, if I can ask, why so scruffy?

Well, a parliamentary democracy is like an eternal boxing match.  You fight to keep the opposition off-balance and then you fight to keep your own party members in line.  I just had to dismiss 21 members of my own party for voting against my Brexit policy.  Really!  What a collection of wankers!

Wankers?  

I think you call them jerk-offs.  But back to the important question — my hair. I’ve got to look like I’m ready for battle any time and — no offense — the bouffant style would make me look like a poof.

Poof?

Pansy.  Faggot.  Queer.

Jeeeeez.  I never thought about that.  My base doesn’t go for the pansy thing.  What if they thought I was … but naaah, they know I love to grab pus …

Indeed, who doesn’t!  Power has its perks!

You bet your tush!

Tush?

Ass!

Ah!  Speaking of asses, wait until you hear what the Queen said in …

(At Dinner)

Y’know, Boris, I’ve been thinking about what you said about tossing 21 of your fellow Conservatives out of the party.  Maybe I should do that!  I mean, we’re a parliamentary democracy, so you’d think I could …

But you aren’t.

How can you say that?  We’re the greatest democracy on the face of the earth!

Of course, you’re a democracy, but not a parliamentary democracy.

But we have a House.  We have a Senate.  When they vote, it’s always against me, but mostly they just sit around playing with their own … come to think of it, they’re a bunch of wankers too!

I think you’ve got it!

So, anyway, how’s all this going to affect Brexit?

Well, it’s going to be tough, but we’ll leave without a deal.  Those European Union busybodies, those bloody …

Bloody?  You mean you’re literally going to fight them?

No, no, bloody just means … well, in your terms it would be goddam.

What’ll you do about Northern Ireland and Scotland.  Won’t there be trouble?

We’ll sort them out, the twits!

Twits?

Idiots.

Boy, you are something else, Boris!  How ’bout a toast.  To the wankers and poofs and bloody twits and their fat asses, may they rot in Hell.

Indeed, Donald.  To the jerk-offs and pansies and goddam idiots and their fat tushes, and ditto to their eternal damnation.

(Together) BY GEORGE, WE’VE GOT IT!

The Kids Are All Right

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A few years ago, on a beautiful fall day, I was out on my bike, pedaling up a blessedly gentle slope after a hill-climb that had nearly conquered me.

It was mid-afternoon, and, passing a local high-school, I watched at the red crossing light imagesas SUVs, new sedans, even a couple sports cars — most of them driven by students — came out of the school parking lot.

My mood darkened at the thought of spoiled kids, who would be better off — both for themselves and the planet — walking or running or cycling to and from school, as I had in my youth, uphill in both directions, often in a blizzard.

But my mood improved once I was past the school, into the neighboring state park, with Pied-Billed Grebes on the pond, Western Kingbirds in the tall grass, fearless Prairie Dogs, barking by the side of the path, and, just beyond them, a vale with a small creek and willow trees.

l pedaled up out of the vale, over the next hill, and coasted down to a small, green-roofed gazebo standing, anomalously, in the middle of a field.  In front of it was a sign: World Youth Summit Site, 1993.

The sign reminded me that, in the last few weeks of my first residence in Colorado, Pope John Paul II had attracted to the park tens of thousands of kids to celebrate being young and hopeful and (presumably most of them) Catholic.

Under the gazebo roof, plaques explained that this bit of prairie had been carefully protected from crowd damage and had emerged from the experience even healthier than before.  Whatever the reason — holy water? prayer? a Papal miracle? all of the above? — the boast was justified.

As I stood there, imbibing the beauty and sanctity of the spot, two runners — both girls — came down the hill path, then straight through the prairie grass up to the gazebo, kissed one of the pillars, turned, and, as they ran off back up the path, shouted Wish us luck in the race.

At first, I thought they were calling to me, but concluded they were probably asking the spirit of the late Pope to bless them.  After all, that was surely what kissing the post was about, next best to kissing his ring.

After they had vanished over the crest of the hill, I headed back on the same path, and met scores of other kids, running down the hill, toward the gazebo, also presumably to give the pillar a kiss, though I didn’t check.

All their hardy exercising and good spirits raised mine, though I did give a thought to the possible health effects of too many lips on the same pillar, and hoped that their coach at least carried a bottle of disinfectant.

Once again, I passed the devil-may-care Prairie Dogs, and saw other birds — Killdeers skreeing, a Kingfisher on a limb over the pond, and a Kestrel surveying the grasshopper population.

Beyond the school, by now emptied, I passed sports fields where football players were beginning to trudge back to the locker room, girls were practicing softball, and, further on, little boys were kicking little footballs through little goal posts.

I was contented, left only with the minor puzzle of what the Kissing-Pillar signified.

About a year later, when I was interviewing college applicants, I got the answer.  Myimages-4 interviewee was a young woman, from that very high school, and a long-distance runner.  I asked her if she knew anything about the curious practice of gazebo-pillar-kissing.

Oh yes, she said, we always do it.  It’s at the half-way mark of our training run, and it means ‘Thank God.  We’re headed home.’

Buying Greenland

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(President Trump places a long-distance call to the Office of the Prime Minister of Denmark)

Unknown

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Hello, hello, is this Marty Fredricks?

Mette Frederiksen, and who is this?

It’s Donald Trump.

Ah, yes, Donald, how nice to hear from you.  To what do I owe the pleasure of this auspicious occasion?

Pardon?

What’s up?

Oh yeah, right, well, to keep it simple from this end, Marty …

Mette

Yep, sorry, these Scandinavian names are confusing … and shouldn’t your last name end in something like “… dottir” since you’re a daughter and not a “… son”?

Well, technically, I’m a “… sen” but that gender distinction is no longer relevant, and we should 

Women’s lib, eh?

You could say we’re way ahead of you, but, no matter, what is the reason for your call?

Yes, of course, to get right to the point, for which I’m exceptionally famous:  I want to buy Greenland!

You WHAT!?

Want to buy Greenland.

Uhhhh … what in the world for?  A hotel?  A golf course?  Both?

Hmmm … that’s an interesting idea … but, no, it’s not really for me, it’s for the incredibly wonderful people of the United States.

So, you really mean, “We, America, would like to buy Greenland.”

Hey, you’re sharp.  You got it in one.

Of course I’m sharp.  I got elected without any help from Russia.

No need to be nasty.

Anyway, why would America like to buy Greenland?

Well, y’know, with that polar ice-thing melting, the whole strategic situation up there in the … in the …

Arctic …

I thought it was “Artic,” like in “Article” …

No, it’s Arctic, as in Noah’s Ark.

Oh, yeah, as a matter of fact, you could say the situation’s pretty much the same as the Ark, with water rising and all that stuff.

So, your objective in buying Greenland is to save its animals?

No.  What’s a few polar bears?  Actually, what I’m worried about is the Russians, and maybe even the Chinese, taking advantage of new sea routes opening up, up there, and maybe using Greenland as a base of operations, and threatening us.

By “us,” I presume you’re including all of your NATO allies, and other like-minded countries.  

Ummm … that’s an interesting point … I … uhhh …

So, what you’re saying is that you haven’t given any thought to your NATO allies, including Denmark, and that you don’t trust us, whose soldiers have fought and died alongside yours, to help defend Greenland on our mutual behalf?

But you don’t really spend very much on NATO …

Have you recently checked the percentage of our GDP spent on NATO compared to yours?

Well, our economy is growing so amazingly fast that our percentage, naturally, goes down temporarily, though …

… Though the recession you’re facing will solve that?  Good luck!  But, never mind. More important, are you telling me that, after years of poo-pooing climate change, you actually believe it’s a reality?

Well, you know, a businessman’s gotta protect his interests against all possibilities …

But you’re not a businessman now.  You’re the President … the President of the United States!

Yeah, but it isn’t forever

(God bless America!)

… and I gotta think about my investments.

So, it really is about golf courses and hotels on Greenland once all the ice has melted and submerged Mar a Lago and your other resorts.

Look, Marty, just between you and I …

Damn it, it’s Mette, and, by the way, it’s “you and me!”

(Christ, she really is nasty!)  Anyway, METTE, between you and me, if you sell it to us, you’ll always have a penthouse suite and a place to play golf.  But, I gotta get goin’ to the G-7 meeting.  I think it’s in France.  Oh, and I don’t think I’ll be able to fit in that visit to Denmark.  But do think it over.  Bye …

(And this is the leader of the Free World!?)