Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Am I Not Surprised?

Republicans didn’t like Obama’s speech on Libya.

Both sides are blaming the other for not taking action to avert a government shutdown soon.

In Egypt, the military is still running things and the Muslim Brotherhood is getting stronger.

In Syria, Assad is shooting protesters.

In Iowa, likely Republican presidential candidates are paying more attention to social

issues than the economy.

More priests are reported to have abused children, been found out and gone unpunished.

Israel continues to build more settlements.

The California legislature can’t agree – again – on how to balance the budget.

Civilians are being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan ‘by accident.’

The Japanese are unwilling to face up to their nuclear reactor failures.

The Germans don’t agree with the rest of Europe about economic and other issues.

Shias are killing Sunnis. Sunnis are killing Shias.

We show no sign we have the will to wean ourselves from oil and coal dependence.

So, you might ask, what else is new?

Have a nice day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The Bonds trial has begun – finally.

The whole thing is a waste of time and money. Here’s the way it is for me:

n Bonds lied. Who cares?

n The government cares. It gets in the way of their witch hunt.

n The witch hunt is misguided prosecutorial zeal – unneeded and of no consequence.

n Bonds should be acquitted on all counts.

n Bonds will be acquitted on all counts.

In the meantime this farce will give the media something to obsess about. And when it is over they can move on to some other useless obsession.


Let’s see if I’ve got this right:

The U.S. is bombing Libya, but only for a few days.

No one knows who is in charge of this war.

There is disagreement among the Europeans about who should be doing what.

The Arab League, which asked for a no-fly zone, is having second thoughts.

There is no stated goal for what is to be accomplished by this war.

The rebels are one or more or none of the following:

--With or without decent weapons

--Without clear leadership

--A motley bunch of inexperienced kids

--Motivated by tribal, not national, loyalties

--Expecting the Americans to fight their battle


--Have no idea what they want if Gaddafi leaves

Maybe a stalemate is an acceptable result, maybe not.

There is no consensus in the U.S. about our involvement.

Statements by U.S. politicians are more about political posturing than substance.

I’m confused.

Monday, March 21, 2011

In Case You Were Wondering

A local resident of Papua New Guinea, when interviewed for the new National Geographic TV show, “Eating With Cannibals,” expressed the following opinion:

“I have eaten two humans – one was a man, the other a woman. They taste the same.”

It's good to hear that sexual equality is alive and well down under.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blood Money

Raymond Allen Davis, the CIA contractor who killed two Pakistanis in Lahore on Jan. 27, is on his way home. The families of the dead men were paid $2.34 million in exchange for agreeing to accept Davis’ apology and allowing him to go free.

So a difficult situation is resolved. The U.S. had maintained that Davis had diplomatic immunity. The Pakistanis weren’t so sure. In the face of a public outcry that he be tried and executed, the parties kept the lid on until they could invoke an honorable and traditional way of handling such things – using a bribe to appease the injured feelings of the victim’s families.

My theory:

1. Davis did indeed work for the CIA.

2. Davis’ actions were covered by diplomatic immunity.

3. He was targeted to be killed by one of the many anti-American groups in Pakistan.

4. The two men who died attacked him.

5. They bungled the job, gave him a chance to protect himself, and he killed them.

My comment:

Given the dangers associated with being an American in Pakistan, to have a CIA cowboy driving around Lahore armed and alone is not a brilliant move. On the other hand just being in Pakistan, no matter who you are, is extremely risky. No easy answers here.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Ides of March

The uprising in Libya is a disturbing dilemma. Qaddafi is kicking the shit out of the rebels and the world is ringing its hands, unable to make a decision about what, if anything, to do about it. Sanctions won’t accomplish much. Resolutions are worthless. A no-fly zone may or may not change the dynamics on the ground and would not likely be decisive. And after no-fly, what next? Should weapons and equipment be provided? Who will the suppliers be? And finally, if Qaddafi leaves who will be in charge?

There are no easy answers. Obama’s strategy is to dither. He won’t take unilateral action, nor should he. What will he do if the Arab League, the Africans and NATO give him cover? Then, probably, he’ll get on board, but he isn’t going to lead the way. I would like to see somebody do something before it’s too late. I fear it will not happen.

Japan dominates the news, as it should. No matter what we do, in the end man is helpless in the face of implacable natural phenomena.

The Saudis have moved forces into Bahrain to prop up the King. It’s not about the ruler, it’s a Sunni/Shia fight. The Saudis are concerned about Iran gaining influence if the Shia rebels in Bahrain take over. This battle has been going on for well over a thousand years. It won’t end soon.

I hope the impasse between the NFL owners and players continues for a very long time. The longer it goes the more money both sides will lose. It’s about power and greed, not football.

Go Giants!!

2,055 years ago today Julius Caesar met a seer who told him he would harmed no later than the Ides of March. Caesar replied, “Well, the Ides of March have come.” “Yes,” said the seer, “but they are not gone.” He was stabbed and killed later that day.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Libyan Trivia

I wasn’t sure how to spell the Libyan leader’s name. A quick check of several news sources gave me the following:

Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi

Col. Moammar Gadhafi

Moammar Kadafi

Col. Muammar Gaddafi

Moamer Gaddafi

Muammar Qadhafi

Moammar Gaddafi

Muammar Al Qathafi

Muamar Gaddafi

Muammar al-Qaddafi

I’m still not sure how to spell his name.

Monday, March 07, 2011


It’s hard to figure out what’s really going on in Libya. The reports are conflicting. Is Gadhafi winning or losing? The answer is probably both. American hawks are flying about urging that we take military action. Bad idea. Supply the rebels, yes. Provide diplomatic and economic support, yes. But send troops or planes in, no. Gadhafi is doing what I was afraid Mubarak would do in Egypt – fighting for survival with maximum brutal force. In the end the Libyan rebels will win, but it will be a bloody victory.

I’m surprised that polls show that a solid majority of Americans do not favor the Ohio and Wisconsin approach of getting rid of public employee unions or drastically cutting their worker benefits. I thought that the public had turned on unions, but it appears that isn’t the case. Very surprising. I favor having these workers pay the same for their benefits as di private sector employees, and limiting raises if their state is in financial trouble. I don’t favor eliminating their right to bargain.

I get pissed off every time I read something about Afghanistan. Pissed at Karzai for being a corrupt, opportunistic autocrat. Pissed at our people for killing civilians by mistake. Pissed at spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a treasure hunt for a group of terrorists who no longer pose a threat to us. And mostly, pissed at the unnecessary death and maiming of Americans who should be at home.

Good race in the Premier League. Arsenal and Manchester United in a virtual dead heat, with about nine games left to play. Liverpool is better than anyone at the moment. Kenny Dalglish has been brilliant since he took over. Still don’t like Manchester City for trying to buy their way to the top. Sorry they’re as high as third. Happy they’re no higher. Big disappointment this season – Chelsea. And in Italy – Juventus.

While I’m at it – very happy with Giants preseason so far. I have tickets lined up for six games this year, one a month, against some good teams – Atlanta, Philadelphia, Minnesota among them.

I’m really sorry to see the turmoil in Bangladesh relating to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank. I see it as a power play by the government to get rid of Yunus, denigrate him and the Bank, and gain control of the operation. Microcredit itself has come under critical scrutiny in recent times, sometimes for good reason. But the notion behind it is still valid and of great value to people. When greed and underhanded tactics come into play it is easy to conclude that the whole idea is wrong. Not true.

For two years – a long time ago when the world was very young, and so was I – I ran an American Cultural Center in the Indian state of Kerala. Our library, educational programs and outreach to students were very successful. Since then, with security issues and changing times, these Centers have been closed down. I figured they were all a thing of the past. I was surprised, therefore, to read about @america, a 21st century digital age cultural center in Indonesia. The NY Times had an article about it on March 5, which you can check out online if you’re interested. If there is any value to public diplomacy, and I think there is, the idea for @america is creative and worth trying.

Have a good day!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Message #11 - Listen Up!

You have five senses. You can see, smell, touch, taste and hear. (Sticklers for scientific accuracy will argue there are more than five, but these are the traditional ones and I’m stickin’ with ‘em.)

So you have five. Do you think you use them all equally well? Not likely. Which sense, then, is your weakest? Which one has much more potential than you use? No need to struggle; I’ll tell you. You don’t take full advantage of your sense of hearing.

It’s not that the sound waves don’t reach your ears and brain. You do fine taking in the noise. You hear. The problem is that you don’t listen.

Listen Up!

You are not alone in your listening deficiency. People are not very good listeners. If fact, we’re terrible listeners. Why? Because we are usually listening to ourselves. You’re either listening to the iPod in your head that talks to you continuously or you’re listening to yourself speak.

You’re trained to speak. You take classes in Public Speaking. You should take classes in Public Listening. Your attention is on your speaking, i.e, on yourself. Yet, how you listen and how others listen to you has more impact on real communication than speaking does.

I’ve already talked about how your preconceived ideas and subjective opinions shape how you see the world. This shows up big time in listening (or not really listening.) When you are in a conversation step back for a moment and observe what’s going on. What you’re hearing is being filtered through the prism of what you already think. You’re not listening to him. You’re listening to yourself opinionating about whether you agree or disagree with what’s being said.

In the old days we would lock people up who walked down the street having animated conversations with themselves. That’s not so easy to do now because they are probably actually talking with someone on a cell phone. But cell phone or not, you are in an unending conversation with yourself. To really listen to someone else you have to remove the prism and suspend your preconceived notions. You have to listen as if for the first time.

I know what comes next. You say, “OK, I’m willing to try. How do I do it?”

You do it by being aware of what’s happening when you’re not doing it. Just remember that your natural state is to not really listen. Be aware of the conversation you’re having with yourself. With that awareness you can choose to listen free of your opinion prism. Or not.

Now, a word to you men out there. The lady wants to be heard. That’s point #1, 2, and 3. If you agree with her, that’s fine, but that’s not her main objective. If you are willing to say yes to what she’s proposing, that’s fine, but that not what she wants most. She wants you to listen to her. She wants to be heard. That’s your job. Forget it at your peril, buddy.

Just Listen Up!

By now it should be clear to you that communication is more than just sending sound waves out into the ether in the hope that they’ll penetrate a receptive ear. That’s speaking, the easy part. Then there is listening, the important part. But that’s not the end of the story. There is also an aspect of communication that is neither speaking nor listening. It’s called silence.

Antoine de St. Exupery introduced me to silence:

One silence differs from another.

There is the tranquil silence when the tribes are at peace, when night brings coolness and one seems to be anchored with furled sails in a quiet harbor.

There is the midday silence when the sun suspends all thought and movement.

There is the deceptive silence when the north wind bears down, bringing insects borne like pollen from the oases of the interior and heralding the advent of a sandstorm from the east.

There is the silence of conspiracy when it is known that a distant tribe is preparing to revolt.

There is the silence of mystery when the Arabs are gathered together for one of their secret meetings.

There is the pregnant silence when the messenger is late in returning, the shrill silence when in the night one holds one’s breath in order to hear, the melancholy silence when one remembers one's beloved.

St. Exupery teaches us that non-traditional communication is both possible and powerful. Try it out. The next time you are sitting in the silence, instead of replacing it with your internal chatter, just listen. Listen to what the silence is telling you.

It should be obvious to you by now that communication is going on all the time. It never stops. It is coming at you non-stop. You are sending it out non-stop. You are a master at non-verbal communication.

Body language is more than whether you stiffen when challenged or whether you avert your gaze when telling a lie. It’s how you walk, how you sit, what you do with your hands. It’s eye contact or the lack of it. It’s how your facial muscles move when you look at someone and communicate without words while you’re both observing another person. It’s more than what you say, it’s how you say it. It’s non-stop, 24/7, 360°, so you can’t avoid it.

What you can do is be aware of the phenomenon. Being aware gives you the power of choice. You can’t change what’s coming at you, but you can choose how to respond to it. You have the power to choose to alter how you’re communicating.

These days you are besieged by written communication. There was a time, long ago in a galaxy far away, when people would sit down, pick up a pen, and thoughtfully express themselves to a friend or relative. Quaint, no? Many even had beautiful penmanship, so the words were lovely to look at.

In the 21st Century? No way. We’re drowning in an ocean of twitters, blogs, text messages, emails, Facebooks, ads, and more. On the one hand, our new technology facilitates communication; on the other hand it makes it more difficult. Words that are written and seen, especially words written in haste, can easily be misinterpreted and misunderstood. You’ve been on both the sending and receiving end of these communications.

So what to do? When sending out a blizzard of cryptic notes keep in my mind that people who don’t know what you meant to say will see them. They will only know what you did say. Put yourself in their knickers and ask if they’re going to understand accurately the message you’re trying to deliver.

And when receiving the same kind of cryptic notes, before you let something send you into orbit or plunge you into sadness, make sure you’re interpreting fairly what’s being said. Ask for clarification before you pour lighter fluid on the flame war you think is underway.

Don’t fall into the trap of interpreting ‘listening’ narrowly. It’s true that ‘to listen’ is an important action, a verb. But how you interpret what you’ve heard is even more important. It is who you are. It is the ‘listening’ you are, a noun. It’s the context for what you hear. I know this is grammatically awkward, but just follow what I’m saying.

Also, the listening you are is the context for your speaking. The listening you are determines what you’re going to say. It dictates what you’ll be thinking in the silence. It decides what twitter you’re going to send.

Think about it. How could it be otherwise? How can you be different than you are? Not possible. Wait, you say. Does that mean I’m cast in concrete and can’t change? Not at all. It’s like being aware of the communication that’s coming at you. Being aware gives you the power to alter who you’re being – or not. It’s your choice.

So Listen Up!