Saturday, December 30, 2017

EDUCATING THE AMBASSADOR

Americans have a stereotypical impression of the French: snooty, aloof, and condescending.

Well, it certainly applies to Parisian diplomats.

Earlier this month—on December 7th of all dates—the French ambassador to the United States reminded millions of Americans why the French are often so thoroughly unpopular Over Here.  Excepting the fabled Foreign Legion, you’ve probably seen the unkind sentiment: “French Army rifle for sale.  Only dropped once.”

However: Monseur Gerard Araud was rude/stupid enough to tweet, “In this Pearl Harbor day, we should remember that the US refused to side with France and UK to confront the fascist powers in the 30s.”

We shall examine the gross hypocrisy of that sentiment, but first, some background:

The fact is that both nations owe a tremendous debt to one another.  France’s aid during our revolution was essential to achieving independence from Britain.  Of course, that largess was not provided entirely from generosity.  France and England had clashed bitterly two decades before, contesting mastery of North America in the French and Indian War.  (I recommend your CD/VCR to rerun the superb 1992 remake Last of the Mohicans.)    

Paris extended diplomatic recognition to the nascent United States in February, 1778.  The alliance thus formed was massively unpopular in London, where King George III’s acolytes declared war on France six weeks later.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Admiral De Grasse pulled one out of the tricorn hat with a rare (nearly unique) French victory over the British Royal Navy off the Virginia coast in October 1781.  That in turn led to Lord Cornwallis’ surrender to General George Washington’s forces surrounding the limeys at Yorktown.  Washington’s staff included the youthfully competent Marquis de Lafayette, who became an icon on both sides of the Atlantic.

Then the alliance jumped the rails for two years, 1798-1800, during the French Revolutionary Wars.  America, perennially destitute at the time, exempted itself from repaying Paris’ loans and support because the royalist government had been cut short (by guillotine) and no longer existed.  The naval Quasi-War was resolved by another treaty in 1800.

Time passed.  In fact, 117 years.  Then in April 1917 Uncle Sam stuck his goatee where it had little justification by joining the Allies against Germany during World War I.  The plain fact is that the much-vilified “merchants of death” were not so much armament producers as bankers and financiers who were heavily invested in loans to Britain and France.  After all, when President Woodrow Wilson (“He kept us out of the war!”) sought a declaration of war, he cited sinking of the British liner Lusitania with 128 Yanks—two years before.  That the ship knowingly entered U-boat water amid a German quarantine was conveniently ignored.

It took time to muster two million doughboys and ship them to Europe, but the job was done with enthusiasm amid the spirit of “Lafayette, we are here!”  (Beyond that, a squadron of Americans was recruited to fight the Germans in the air in gross violation of U.S. neutrality.  But the over-hyped Lafayette Escadrille gained enormous publicity and generated more support for France when the French Army was riddled with mutiny.)

Well, the Yanks were a-coming, with drums tum-tumming, and they made a huge difference.  At Belleau Wood in June 1918 two Marine Corps regiments blunted a hunnish drive some 50 miles from Paris.

In the next war, the Yanks took longer to save France, but the sons of doughboys had to undo four years of Nazi victories and occupation.  The Normandy landings on June 6, 1944 were followed by “D-Day South” along the Riviera in August, with the City of Lights being liberated later that month. 

Nine cemeteries in France contain the graves of 43,404 Americans who lost their lives liberating the ambassador’s homeland in both world wars.  Additional cemeteries are the final resting place of 26,685 more in Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.  Those figures do not include thousands of soldiers and airmen still missing in action.

Now, addressing the odious ambassador’s absurd lecture to his nation’s liberators on Pearl Harbor Day:

Before the war America was isolationist with good reason. A main factor in U.S. reluctance to re-engage in Europe during the 30s was France’s (and the Allies’) bungling of the Versailles Treaty that imposed immense burdens on Germany.  That toxic environment spawned the rise of ultra nationalism that produced Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.  In 1939 a clear majority of Americans wanted no part of another European war, since “the war to end all wars” (!) only produced a bigger, worse calamity.

Furthermore, France and Britain appeased Hitler when he could have been stopped, first in the Rhineland in 1936 and then in Czechoslovakia in '38. In fact, Hitler had ordered his forces to withdraw if confronted by the Anglo-French.

Meanwhile, the ambassador pointedly omitted U.S. loans and lend lease.  In fact, the American-built Curtis Hawk was France’s most important fighter, scoring one-third of credited aerial victories in 1939-40.  And America’s role in the Battle of the Atlantic, which cost thousands of U.S. merchant sailors, began in September 1939. 

In 1939 the U.S. military counted 335,000 men—less than 3 percent of the total needed to win the war—and the 1940 draft act passed Congress by one vote.  Yet because of our non-neutral aid to the Allies, Hitler was eager to declare war on us after Pearl Harbor. 

From 1936 to 1938 the French government was a Popular Front, led by the Communists who following the Soviet line.  And in 1939-40 the French and Russian Communist parties were still allied with Germany, preferring the Americans to mind their own damn business.  That only changed when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

Following Paris’ capitulation in 1940, half the country was “unoccupied” because the Vichy regime was formally allied with Berlin.  France’s compliance with the Axis extended to the Pacific where French Indochina was jointly occupied by Vichy and Japan.

That odor you detect wafting off the Seine is the stench of hypocrisy.

Yet Aurad, ambassador since 2014, retains his post as of this writing.  Obviously surprised by the outrage his…outrageous…message encountered, he deleted the tweet and tried to backtrack by saying “We are immensely grateful for what the US did for France in 1944…”

Not enough, you puke.  Not nearly enough, and way too late.


“Remember Pearl Harbor.  Oh, and Paris Liberation Day.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

BACKWARDS HATS



I’ve been sitting on this Rant for about two and a half years, keeping it until I ran out of time to publish my monthly blog.

That time is now.

Once upon a time there were a handful of people who justifiably wore their hats backwards.  They included submarine commanders looking through the periscope (but why oh why would anybody wear a hat in a submarine?); baseball catchers; and some snipers who need to get close to their rifle scope.

But no more.  If you get out much, you’ll see a procession of slack-jawed mouth breathers slouching through the mall--and presumably through life--with their ball caps on backwards.  By actual count it ran 40 percent in an Arizona outlet.  (That’s an indicator of how desperate I can get for blog topics some months.)

The situation persists wherever you go, with the possible exception of military bases though I’m not so confident anymore.

A few examples:

I saw a film clip showing a good-looking thirty-one year-old guy just married to a gorgeous twenty-eight year-old gal.  She looked happy.

He wore his ball cap backwards.  He was thirty-one, ferpetesake!  I was glad for his happiness but it seemed she’d married a dimwit.

One of my wife’s medical shows depicted a young couple in a birthing center.  He wore a hat indoors--in a hospital--and backwards.

He looked abnormal.  And he had just reproduced.

I enjoy Dancing With the Stars, partly in fond remembrance of the long-ago era when my classmate Ellen and I made the finals in an Elk Club dance contest.  (She was taller than I but being a good sport, she still let me drive.)  Yet time after time the TV celebrity dancers, including some females, wear baseball caps to practice—usually backwards.

What’s that about?

An email has been circulating for years showing a college kid at a football game (or something) shading his eyes with one hand.  While wearing his visored hat backwards.

I suspect he required tutoring in order to graduate.  (See a couple of the links below.)

For awhile I wondered if I were obsessing about a pet peeve that mattered little, if at all, to others.  After surfing the net I found that I had company.  Actually quite a bit of company.

This comment from a message board seems typical of many: “Today it’s semi-cheesy and semi old-school but not quite laughable.”




Apparently the phenomenon has been going on since the mid 90s.  If it were a passing fad it would’ve died out by now.

Meanwhile, the trend exists around the globe, though some wag asked: with a fez how would you know?

A South American correspondent reports, “In Chile I've seen youths with baseball hats on backwards.  I've also seen them wearing hats, jerseys and baggy long short pants from three teams in different sports or the same sports but bitter rivals.” 

So we’re left to ponder the basic question:

Why would anybody over sixteen want to look like a fourteen y/o gangsta?

1. Herd mentality?  

2. Mindless imitation?

Apparently the answer is All The Above.

I’ve worked up the nerve to ask a few kids why they wear their hats backwards.  Without exception I got two answers:

“Looks cool.”  (Though they couldn’t say why.)

And more often: “Idunno.”  (At least that’s an honest answer.)

I grew up in the rodeo environment, and you will never see anybody wearing a cowboy hat backwards because:

Cowboys are individualists, not herd creatures.

It would look REALLY retarded.

Besides, cowboys might spit a plug of tobacco on any offender in range.  (One bull rider, certainly a manly man, opined that sissies wear hats backwards.  I didn’t ask him about the absurd notion of wearing a reversed golf hat…)

So there you have it.  A ridiculous fashion trend, without the intellect of a fashion statement, at least twenty-five years and counting. 

See you next month, with something more substantial!


Saturday, September 30, 2017

A STANDING QUESTION


Full disclosure:

I am not a sports fan.  I have never been a sports fan.  The last football game I attended was in college (more from curiosity than Oregon Ducks loyalty) and my last baseball game was circa 1986 with a huge Padres fan.

So: with the current flail about NFL players breaking league rules about decorum, behavior, and patriotism—and the so-called leadership ignoring those rules—what might a flat-footed asthmatic have to add to the discussion?

Well, read on.

It’s always seemed peculiar that we Americans attach so much significance to anything as trivial as a ball game.  I assumed that it’s a residual of WW II when President Franklin Roosevelt decreed that The Boys of Summer would continue playing, though many baseballers entered the service, voluntarily or otherwise. 

Not true.

According to ESPN, the national anthem was inserted into the national pastime on an impromptu basis, during the seventh-inning stretch of Game One during the 1918 Cubs-Red Sox World Series.  Typical of those days, and maybe due to the Great War, a band it struck of The Star-Spangled Banner, prompting fans to render traditional honors. The Sox took the series in six games, but the greater significance endures. 
        
Some intriguing facts have emerged from the shadows of the politically-induced protests among multi-millionaires who think that a sporting event has any relevance to national policy.  The results reveal feckless management, owners and coaches, to industrial-grade hypocrisy.

What does the national anthem have to do with the NFL's alleged motivation of protesting police brutality?

Nothing.

However, the NFL knows a lot about both the police and brutality.  On average one player is arrested a week, on charges including murder, assault and battery (women feature prominently), substance abuse, and weapons charges.

Where’s the outrage?

The players and coaches who “take a knee” blather out of both sides of their mouths, insisting that their disrespectful (and prohibited) behavior represents some sort of social-justice statement while claiming to Support The Troops.

Batguano.

If in fact the NFL ath-a-letes (as a high school coache pronounced it) need to get their own house in order before presuming to instruct the rest of us on anything.

Here’s info from the FBI Uniform Crime Statistics:

The leading cause of death among young black males is…young black males, around 90 percent.  Two years ago blacks killed about 6,000 other blacks.  Police killed 258, and it’s certain that not all of those were racially motivated.

Drug use and sales, addiction, casual violence (remember The Knockout Game?), criminal career paths, all are part of the African-American environment.  And guess what: neither the police nor The Man are instigators.  Black America has self-selected for endemic crime and cultural disintegration.  As black economist Thomas Sowell noted, before the 1960s most black children grew up in two-parent families.  In this decade, nearly three-fourths of black babies are born to single mothers, versus about 15 percent for whites.  Absent male parents and guidance, young blacks are set adrift in the urban jungle.

However, looking for white guilt produces at least one significant hit: Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society.”  Whether due to na├»ve optimism or calculated cynicism (LBJ feared that Republicans would get “the nigger vote”), white liberals created the welfare state that plagues millions of black citizens trying to create a life amid chaos.

Where from here?

It turns out that the National Basketball Association also has requirements for decent behavior during pregame ceremonies.  More than that, the NBA (which has even more black players than the NFL) enforces its rules.  Evidently there’s little if any tendency among basketball players or coaches to “take a knee.”

That’s because the NBA, unlike the NFL, has mature, principled leadership.

NFL’s hypocrisy is eye-watering.  Players are prohibited from professing their religiosity; from showing support for slain police officers; and even from dancing-prancing in the end zone.  But Colin Kaepernick was famously photographed in a scrimmage wearing cops-are-pigs socks.  Nothing happened.

Kapernick was born to an unmarried nineteen-year-old, never knew his biological father, and grew up amid White Privilege as an adoptive third son.

Radio host Dennis Praeger has a description for such people:

Ingrates.

How the flail may affect game attendance remains to be seen.  But for now, many fans are fed up.  Facebook pages contain ads for cut-rate prices on remaining season tickets, and others show fans burning team banners and jerseys.

According to a Rasmussen poll this month, one-third of American adults are less likely to watch professional football.  Meanwhile, 12 percent say they’re more likely, leaving half unaffected.

Final analysis: the NFL’s 1,500 or so players are blessed with physical gifts that few of us will ever know.
But professional football is among the worst organizations to tell the rest of us how to think or behave.  Aside from decades of accepting routine criminality, many of its members lack the emotional equivalency of their on-field prowess, and I’ll go so far as to say that the ath-a-letes in my college dorm seemed to wear their IQs on their jerseys.  Some of them had no business in college—they were in essence professional players supported by the alumni, since the football program paid off big time.  Want womens’ sports?  Want new band uniforms?  Want a new chemistry lab?

Football, baby, football.

Meanwhile, consider the all-time college and NFL poster child:

Orenthal James Simpson.

Meanwhile, this month by far the best-selling NFL jersey is Steelers lineman Alejandro Villaneuva’s.  He stood alone during last week’s national anthem because, unlike the huge majority of footballers, he’s not only an Army veteran but he survived three tours in Afghanistan.

Which reminds me:

Here in Arizona I’m still asked if I’m related to Cardinals player Pat Tillman, who left a lucrative career to become an Army Ranger.  He was killed in Afghanistan in 2004 under still-mysterious circumstances.  I don’t know that I’m related to Pat (we both had Ohio connections) but I certainly relate to his choice of nation over self, though he came to question the war. 
Another connection to football is much closer.  My late-great friend Joe Foss, a WW II Medal of Honor aviator, became governor of South Dakota and launched into other public arenas.  In 1959 he founded the American Football League, and remained until the dawn of the Super Bowl era in 1966.
Joe’s memoir was titled A Proud American, and as a combat veteran he would be appalled at what became of professional football.    

Despite what Joe brought to the NFL, the organization never returned the sentiment.  When Joe died in 2003 there was talk of dedicating the next Super Bowl halftime to his memory.

It never happened.


Which, considering the counter-culture emphasis of The Big Show, may be just as well.