Friday, August 07, 2009

Nobody Asked Me, But...

5) Denial can be a very sad thing. It's not like the medical examiner has an axe to grind with a woman who lives hundreds of miles away.
6) Do you remember how the nation banded together to help and support one another on September 12, 2001? Yea. Me neither.
7) I concur. The Bush and Obama teams could have made Herbert Hoover look like a genius if nothing had been done.
8) Political instability in the Republic of Georgia brought down Twitter, Facebook and nearly took down Google yesterday. I repeat: Twitter is for twits.
9) Only in Israel do you have a head on collision with a horse...AND LOSE!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Big Dawg!

Long time readers of this blog, and friends of Actor212, know that I am in the tank for former President Bill "Greatest. President. Ever." Clinton.
So it should come as no surprise that today's column will be about The Big Dog.

You'd need to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the sight of Laura Ling and Euna Lee coming off that plane yesterday.

During those moments, as the two journalists embraced their families for the first time in nearly five months, questions about diplomacy and politics seemed to vanish. They were two human beings, caught at the wrong time in the wrong place, spared 12 years of hard labor and back on their native soil. Laura Ling's choked-up words of gratitude just added to the drama.

Clinton was asked in by his former Vice President (and former friend, apparently) and Nobel Prize Winner Al Gore, the employer of the two captured and convicted journalists. This was in an unofficial capacity, to be sure, although one suspects that a former President and husband of the current Secretary of State would not lightly be sent into enemy territory without a full briefing by the White House and State Department, as well as a shopping list to present to Kim Jong Il.
So we'll call it a happy accident of circumstance and individual. If anyone could bring North Korea to the table, it had to be Bill Clinton.
It's been interesting over the past thirty years to see how ex-Presidents handle themselves in private life. Clinton (and now Obama) is a relatively young man and has one would hope a long retirement to assist the nation he lifted out of economic depression and turmoil-- apart from his own character flaws, of course. He's committed to his foundation, which is trying to bring smart solutions to intractable problems like malaria and hunger.
Jimmy Carter, of course, has his Habitat for Humanity, building homes for the poor, bringing onwership and a sense of community to people without hope and with despair.
Even George HW Bush has been committed to foreign policy solutions and to being a globe trotting goodwill ambassador for American interests and enterprise. No, not precisely a giving cause, but it promotes some of the good qualities America has: a can-do attitude, a willingness to step in and grab an opportunity to fix things.
Ronald Reagan rode a horse. George W Bush bought an apartment in Houston.
And now Bill Clinton is saving Americans. Whoda thunk?
It was done without threats, without sabre-rattling, without hectoring from the White House. It was done sotto voce, respecting that even a knuckleheaded moron like Kim deserves to be treated as the head of a sovereign nation, no matter how despicable we may perceive him or how much we would like to remove him from office.
Clinton, former President of the United States and ex-officio member of the State Department inner circle, apologized, or so it has been reported by the North Korean press agencies (the government, basically).
The diplomatic signals the trip sent-- for example, he was greeted at Pyongyang airport by North Korea's top negotiator on its nuclear program-- are intriguing and this mission does give the North a propaganda victory, to be sure. And an "apology" by a former President, however couched in vague generalizations and as subject to multiple interpretations as it may have been, is a small humiliation for a superpower.  
After all, if you were held in a hostile nation whether you earned it or not, you'd want to know that your government isn't worried about saving face in its efforts to return you safely, and given the eight years we've spent calling this nation "evil" and Satanic and who knows what else, however true it was, we sort of deserved to have the chip on our shoulders knocked off.
I think the way this will play out is a good one for America, for Barack Obama and for the Clintons. After all, who hasn't seen the video of Laura Ling talking about her reaction when she saw Bill Clinton standing there in the room where she was told of the release? Who hasn't imagined, even briefly, that powerful feeling that Clinton appeared as Superman, rescuing her?
And I think it signals a willingness on the part of the Obama administration to continue the Clinton doctrine of engagement, but not appeasement, which worked so well in Iraq, and Iran (where we actually saw moderate presidents elected!), and even in Korea, where we saw actual progress towards a working agreement on nukes, albeit one that Kim tested regularly.
Which is a good thing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Wow. Really?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Americans appear split over President Barack Obama's health care proposals, according to a new national poll.

Fifty percent of those questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey released Wednesday morning say they support the president's plans, with 45 percent opposed.

The results indicate a generational divide.

"Obama's plan is most popular among younger Americans and least popular among senior citizens," CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. "A majority of Americans over the age of 50 oppose Obama's plan; a majority of those under 50 support it."

And the children shall lead them.
Instinctively, I would have expected the opposite. After all, a big portion of the population of un- and underinsured Americans is comprised of young adults who, in their arrogance of assumed immortality, simply decline health insurance since it would crimp their disposable income better utilized for drinking, smoking and driving fast on the highways.
And people over 50, like me, would be more inclined to want some form of relief from the burden of ever-increasing premiums to cover an ever shrinking pool of participants. Single payer or at least national health care reform seems to me to fit that bill nicely, if nowhere near perfectly.
There is a bright spot to the survey, one that bodes well for healthcare reform:

The poll indicates that only three in 10 of all Americans think the president's health care proposals will help their families. Another 44 percent feel they won't benefit but that other families will be helped by the president's plans, and one in five say no one will be helped.

So roughly 80% of Americans feel that the reform would assist someone who needs it, which means that the vast majority of Americans feel healthcare in this nation is out of whack.
Good. That's a good sign and it bodes better for the future that younger people are taking such a practical and pragmatic view about what a government owes its people.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Choices And Decisions

This is another of those wool-gathering thought pieces that I am compelled to write from time to time to straighten my own head out a little. Please forgive the indulgence.
We are, it is said, defined by our choices. But what are choices? Are they goals? Are they actions? Are they thoughts? Are they half-measures, items of convenience?
It's hard to say. One can spend a lot of time thinking about something, but never come to a choice about it. On the other hand, one can leap into action and make a choice. On the other other hand, one can make bad choices impetuously and leap into action. On the other other hand, one can deliberate for weeks and see an opportunity lost.
See what I do there? Where is my choice in that paragraph?
And I think that's the point behind choices. You can't think your way to what you want. You have to act. On the other hand, no one is more capable of deluding you than yourself. So how do you know when to act on a choice and when not to?
I think it comes down to this: you act upon those things you love. Sometimes that means setting priorities. If I love writing more than I love bike riding, then I will probably write rather than ride if I am confronted with that choice. And if my friend whom I love needs to talk with me, well, then I put the pen down and the bike away and talk, rather than edit or pedal.
After all, the book might make me rich, the bike might make me healthy, but ultimately, that person's friendship is more rewarding and if they choose to reflect that friendship and love, then it will have been worthwhile.

When one has a full life, one must make sacrifices. There are only so many hours in a day, so many weeks in a year, so many years left in life. You can't have your cake and eat it too, you can't make plans without shutting the door on other choices and opportunities.
Actions define choices. You can regret your choices, you can think about other choices, but bottom line is, you take action on those choices you deem most important, which means the other choices are unimportant.
Period. One must commit to one's choices fully, despite the regrets or reservations one has about them or lost opportunities.
And this, I think, is why the saying is we are defined by our choices, because it is those things we act upon where we reveal what our true feelings are.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Plagues And Pestilence

Well, when you weren't looking, yet another nasty bug pops up on the radar...

BEIJING — Officials have sealed off an isolated town of 10,000 people in rural west-central China after an outbreak of pneumonic plague killed two residents, the state-run Xinhua news service reported on Monday.

An official who answered the emergency line at Renmin Hospital in Ziketan, where the outbreak is centered, said that all roads into and out of the area had been closed off, but that residents remained free to move about within the town. The official, who refused to give his name, said it was unclear when the blockade would be lifted. Repeated calls to a plague emergency phone line produced only busy signals.

Pneumonc plague is airborne, as opposed to its cousin, the bubonic plague, which is transferred by flea bites. It usually occurs in rural areas (the US has about 15 cases a year) where bacteria forms in the dung of livestock and then is aerosolized in some fashion. Without the proper treatment, antibiotics within 24 hours of symptoms appearing, the disease is nearly 100% fatal.
So now we're tracking swine flu, avian flu, the plague and in addition to all these, there's a new form of HIV floating around, which will upend current scientific assumptions:

Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) -- A new strain of the virus that causes AIDS has been identified in an African woman and researchers say it appears to be the first to be transmitted to humans from gorillas instead of chimpanzees.

The 62-year-old woman infected with the new strain of the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, comes from the West African nation of Cameroon and now lives in Paris. She has no symptoms of AIDS, according to today's report in the journal Nature from researchers at the University of Rouen in France.

The new strain, known as HIV-1, group P, is different enough from three previously identified strains that it can't be detected by conventional laboratory tests, said Paul Sharp, a geneticist who studies AIDS at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. The new form of the virus is unlikely to spread to large numbers of people, he said.

Sharp goes onto say that he doesn't believe this strain will be widespread or highly infectious. Then again, in the early 1980s, scientists thought AIDS was some "gay plague" limited only to unprotected sex.
When even keeping your hands clean can promote getting sick, you know things are a bit scary.