New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has taken some lumps here, but today, a little praise. Friedman weighed in on the ground zero Islamic center/mosque controversy on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” the other day. While stressing the right for the center to be built a couple of blocks from where the Twin Towers stood, he added the real place tolerance needs to grow is in the Middle East — pointing to strife between differing Muslim sects. Friedman didn’t call for greater tolerance of Christians and Jews in the Muslim world. But still, he rightly redirected attention to a part of the world that’s distinctly intolerant, as far as most Americans can tell. Bottom line: Americans who’re lectured on tolerance quite often would feel a lot better about it if they felt it was a two-way street.
Folks in Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C., complain all the time about traffic. They can just stop it right now. Chinese officials report a 62-mile traffic jam on the outskirts of Beijing that makes snarls on the I-5 in LA and the Capital Beltway look like joy rides. Road construction is being blamed for hanging up all those Chinese cars and trucks. The jam began Aug. 13, and one official said things might not be normal until Sept. 17, when the road work is scheduled to be finished. As much as it may disappoint The New York Times’ Tom Friedman, who has opined on the Chinese government’s efficiency in dealing with problems, even a dictatorship apparently is no match for one of the byproducts of last year’s globe-leading 13.6 million auto sales to Chinese buyers.
Likening Michelle Obama to Marie Antoinette seems harsh, yet there’s no question there’s some political danger to the first lady in her current Spanish vacation with 9-year-old daughter Sasha. Exhibit A is a New York Daily News article comparing Mrs. O to the ill-fated French queen. The White House calls the trip “private,” which suggests the Obamas are paying for all of the reported $375,000 cost, including travel on a government 757, meals, accommodations at a swank hotel — perhaps even the Spanish cops who cordoned off about 100 yards of beach for Michelle, Sasha and their entourage. But, hey, it’s their money, right? Even so, the political backwash is a perception of extravagance at a time millions of Americans are out of work — and especially after the first family already has vacationed in Maine, Massachusetts, Hawaii and other venues during the past year and a half. Again, they’re entitled to spend their dough however they want, but that won’t shield them from criticism — and comparisons with President Bush, whose general idea of good downtime was whacking brush at his Texas ranch and turning in before 9.
From the “What the Heck Was He Thinking?” Dept.: NASA Administrator Charles Bolden recently told Al Jazeera his “foremost” mission from President Obama is to “find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations, to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and engineering.” Curious. Lots of Americans probably assumed NASA is about space exploration — maybe a mission to Mars. Nope. It’s Muslim outreach, Muslim validation. Fox News’ Brit Hume said Bolden’s revelation sounded like what you say when your agency is broke and needs outside partners. Maybe that’s it. And maybe, too, Bolden’s remarks were playing to the Al Jazeera audience. But for the naysayers among us, there’s a sneaking feeling the comments are part of Team Obama’s “we are the world” strategy, where mutual interest trumps all things and everyone gets a juice box after the game — a far cry from when President Kennedy started a full-court press to beat the Russians to the moon.
OK, we’ll play the ugly Americans for a minute. Soccer’s World Cup is into its second week, and while it’s truly a spectacle, the play-by-play broadcasts and their odd British grammar is getting annoying. We know: The verb in that last phrase is wrong. It should be “the play-by-play broadcasts and their odd British grammar ARE getting annoying” — because the subject is plural. That’s the beef with these WC broadcasters, who’re constantly telling us “England ARE lucky to still be alive” or “the United States ARE gearing up for a big match against Algeria.” In both cases Americans use the verb “is” — because that’s just the way it is in the Colonies. But not in World Cup. We can handle British-isms like calling the playing field a “pitch,” a team practice “training” and soccer “football,” but this grammar deal is fingernails on a blackboard. Worse, color man John Harkes, of Kearny, N.J., apparently is along for the ride, echoing the subject/verb quirkiness of his British booth-mate. Blimey! Now, about the on-screen graphics showing distances in meters …
Globalization refers to the interconnectivity of the world through various means including trade and communications. And oil spills. The Gulf of Mexico gusher isn’t just an American concern. While the British no doubt care about environmental damage to the U.S. Gulf Coast, they’re really exercised about the plunging value of British Petroleum stock, currently at a 13-year low. The London Evening Standard reports the Brits think President Obama is partly to blame for billions of dollars in lost stock value. The newspaper says a number of leading Conservative Party members wish Obama would just knock if off already with criticism of BP. One Tory called Obama’s conduct “despicable,” and London Mayor Boris Johnson demanded an end to “anti-British rhetoric, buck-passing and name-calling.” They can save their breath. So far, BP hasn’t generating much sympathy in the colonies and besides — no matter what the sign on the president’s desk says — the oil spill buck is too large for Obama not to send BP’s way.
Veteran journalist Helen Thomas abruptly retired Monday after treading into some deep doo-doo with recent remarks in which she said Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine.” Thomas, 89, a fixture in the White House briefing room for decades, apologized on her Web site on Friday but still faced fallout as the new week began. Her employer, Hearst Newspapers, announced her retirement soon after the White House called the Israel/Palestine remarks “indefensible.” Before the announcement the board of the White House Correspondents Association reportedly was considering action, and Thomas was dropped as commencement speaker at a suburban Washington high school. Thomas was a pioneer for women in journalism, working for UPI for 57 years before joining Hearst in 2000 as a columnist. During the Bush administration her liberal leanings increasingly showed in edgy questions put to the president and his representatives. National Review Online’s Jonah Goldberg writes Thomas’ comments weren’t surprising. “Can we do away with all of the shock and dismay at Thomas’ statement?” Goldberg wrote. “Everyone knows she is a nasty piece of work and has been a nasty piece of work for decades.” Nasty no more.
Wacky story of the day (maybe of the year): Former Philippine first lady Imelda Marcos using the refrigerated corpse of her husband, Ferdinand, dead 21 years, as a photo-prop in her current campaign for a congressional seat. According to The Washington Post, Mrs. Marcos, now 80, is letting herself be photographed with her husband’s glass-enclosed, chilled, remains in an effort to win a seat being vacated by her son, who is running for the national Senate. Voting is scheduled May 10.
Ferdinand Marcos was president of the Philippines more than 20 years before he was forced from office in 1986, accused of corruption and implicated in the slaying of political rival Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983. Marcos died in exile in Hawaii in 1989. Imelda had his body brought back to his home province in 1993, to a mausoleum next to the Marcos family home. “I see him as often as I can,” she told The Post. “He is right there next door.” One day she hopes to secure a state funeral and grand burial for her husband. For now, the top rung of the Creepy Quotient will have to do.
Ya gotta love Internet aggregator Matt Drudge. No one’s better at marrying up a sensational headline and the perfect “gotcha” photograph. Exhibit A: On Thursday, Drudge linked with a Washington Times story about the State Department’s booze bill, which at nearly $300,000 last year was about twice as much as the previous year. State buys Jack Daniel’s whiskey and other alcoholic beverages for its embassies and missions, which hold receptions and other events all over the world. The Times dutifully quoted a watchdog group that thinks the expense, though a tiny fraction of State’s overall budget, reflects badly on stewardship when so many Americans don’t have jobs, etc., etc., etc. Likewise, the paper quoted a State spokesman, who noted the department doesn’t serve alcohol at every single event. Phew!
Back to that marriage of headline and photo. For this story Drudge found a photo of a smiling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a glass of something in hand, rolling her head back in delight while standing in the aisle of her jet, steadying herself with the other hand on the overhead luggage bin. Who knows when the photo was shot, if Clinton was secretary of state then or if the beverage in her hand is Jack Daniel’s or lemonade? For Drudge it’s the perception that counts.
In the interests of fair and comment, if Pat Robertson gets an eye roll for blaming the Haiti earthquake on Let’s Make a Deal with the devil, then actor/activist Danny Glover gets one for blaming it on global warming. In an interview with an Australian news outlet Glover said the Haitian quake is linked to the lack of progress at the recent climate change conference in Denmark. “When we see what we did at the climate summit in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I’m sayin’?” Uh, no. Earthquakes are older than any conceivable human influence on the earth’s temperature. Tectonic plates and all that. Glover and Robertson prove the political spectrum has its fringe at both ends.