Saturday, January 29, 2005


The Iraqi elections won't make any practical difference in the lives of most Americans or Iraqis. The United States owns Iraq now. It's ours, for better or (usually) worse. We can let Iraqis choose new leaders, but these new leaders don't come with a new army or social services or schools. The Iraqis will still be stuck with what we Americans give them now, which isn't very good.

In my recent world travels I met a writer who just went to Iraq. I figured some of the bad press about Iraq was probably hyperbolic, so I asked him: Isn't there a silent majority, or at least minority, of Iraqis who just get up in the morning and go to work and manage to avoid all the carnage? He just started at me. "No," he said. "Everyone's afraid to go anywhere."

Raad al-Naqib, a Baghdad dentist as quoted recently in the The New York Times, said much the same thing:
"Every day, when you leave your home, you don't know what will happen - bombs, bullets, kidnapping," Dr. Naqib said as he braced himself against the near-freezing cold in the garden of the private sports club where he had taken his wife and three children for lunch, their first family outing in months. "You ask me about hope - there is no hope. On ordinary days, I cannot even allow my children to play in the garden. To them, a garden is something they only see through windows."
Will Iraq's new mystery leader make things any different? Of course not. He'll be a figurehead -- a new target for insurgents. It's almost cowardly of us to give Iraqis new leaders who will essentially be a decoy for the real people in power. The Iraqi leaders will be quarterbacks who can get sacked but can't run, throw, or call plays.

It reminds me of The Sopranos. Remember when Tony installed feeble, senile Uncle Junior as the titular head of the family? Tony knew what he was doing. He kept running the family business, but let Uncle Junior wear the target on his back. That's what we're doing to Iraq's new Uncle Juniors.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A Salute to Comedic Heroes

I didn't realize it until now, but the opening paragraph of my last post owes a debt to a snatch of dialogue in the highly underrated Whit Stillman film, Barcelona. I realized this today as I arrived in -- you guessed it -- Barcelona. In the exchange I'm thinking of, a pretty Spaniard attempts a compliment, telling an American naval officer, "You seem very intelligent for an American." Unsure whether to insult himself or his country, he responds, "Well, I'm not."

My last post also owes a debt, of course, to National Lampoon's European Vacation. Someday, I hope, Chevy Chase will be recognized for his masterful critique of the WASPish arrogance of the American male. His characters are never bad guys: they're just out for casual sex or easy money or nice vacations. The genius of his best characters, however, is that they have no idea how their small, simple goals hurt the world around them.

Clarke Griswold sees nothing insensitive about leading his family in a singalong of "Jim Crack Corn." He just wants them to have fun on their long drive. He doesn't realize that throwing Rusty's beret off the Eiffel Tower will result in the death of a small dog. And of course it never occurs to him that his ooh-la-la videotape of his wife will end up in the wrong hands. He is the perfect embodiment of the unintentionally dangerous American.

The other master of this type of role is Chris Eigeman, one of the stars of Barcelona. He's the one who gets to say "Well, I'm not." In Stillman's first movie, Metropolitan, his character hits on something very American when he accuses a new acquaintance of being "one of those public transportation snobs" who won't take taxis. In Barcelona, his character jumps from a cab to change graffiti that snipes at "Yankee pigs" to make it say "Yankee deer."

Unlike Chevy Chase's characters, Eigeman's are well aware that they are in a culture war. They just have no interest in settling it peacefully. Eigeman's characters know they aren't particularly intelligent -- even for Americans -- but they regard victory as their birthright. Remind you of anyone?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Laser Cub's European Vacation

So if you couldn't tell from my chat with the Ozzie, I am currently overseas. Specifically, I am roaming Europe, where many Ozzies and wolves go on holiday. My trip has exposed me to lots of fascinating viewpoints. The most common one is this: Wow, you sure are well-educated for an American.

Apparently most foreigners (Oops! I mean locals. Over here, I am the foreigner) have a low opinion of Americans' knowledge of foreign events. Maybe we got that reputation because of the Americans who didn't realize that Australia was doing some of our heavy lifting in the Middle East. Or maybe it was the Americans who told a German I encountered, "Sure, you speak in German. But you still write and think in English, right?" Or maybe it was the U.S. President who, according to the New York Times Magazine, once insisted that Sweden doesn't have an army.

All this lack of education got me thinking: Someone should spend a little money sending Americans to Europe, where we could learn more about the world and our place in it. This seems important to me because the little decisions we make (Paper or plastic? Cowboy or flip-flopper?) have a huge impact on people outside of our own country. Our vote affects not only how we respond to attacks and financial crises, but also how our allies and dependents react. My travels have empirically proven to me that we really aren't ther only ones in the world. Maybe Kerry was right after all!

But then I rethought my idea about sending Americans abroad, especially red state Americans. The first problem is, they might come back. Also, while overseas, what if they actually talk to people? The ones who speak English, I mean. Our countrymen might ask why the toilets use so little water and why the cars are so much smaller and why there aren't any guns. And instead of listening and learning, they might see fit to defend the stupid ways of their own country. And their answers might not make the rest of us look good.

"But what if a big black dude is chasing you? Wouldn't you rather have an SUV than a Smart Car? And a big gun?"

"But why do the waiters take so long in Paris? Seriously, I'm not gonna tip. That'll show him."

"Seriously, where are the guns?"

So I have mixed feelings about whether we want our people sent abroad. Maybe just the young ones, who have an excuse for knowing so little.

Sunday, January 16, 2005


Recently I've decided to start branching out into gossip. As you may know, many gossip columnists use "blind items" when they have a juicy piece of gossip but can't directly identify the people involved. So here we go.

WHICH U.S. PRESIDENT allegedly told a group of his daughters' friends, by way of a Thanksgiving 2001 icebreaker, "Let's go around the table and say two of our favorite things. My name is ______ and two of my favorite things are potatoes and war"?

Call it tasteless if you want. But if he really said it, I think it demonstrates a pretty sophisticated sense of humor.

P.S. According to my source, the same president enjoys drinking O'Douls. Ewwww!

A Wolf and a Koala Walk Into a Bar...

Today I met an Australian in a bar. It would be easiest if you didn't question how a laser-powered baby wolf ended up in a bar, speaking with an Australian. Anyway.

This was no average Ozzie. He was actually an Australian naval officer on leave. The officer informed me that he had been in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Actually, he didn't call them by these, their official names.) He was surprised that I, an American, was not surprised that Australians had fought in these two wars.

Usually when he meets Americans, he explained, they're unaware of Austalians' involvement in their wars. Most Americans wrongly think Americans are doing all the work in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. "I just try to educate them," he said.

The Australian drank a little more. "Bush had so much respect when he went to Afghanistan," the Australian said. He had no objection to going -- America was in the right. He was in Afghanistan a year. And then he was sent to Iraq.

"I don't understand it," he said. "Why didn't Bush just say he wanted to get Saddam Hussein? Why all the stuff about weapons of mass destruction? He lost a lot of respect with that."

He also noted that when Australians were sent to Iraq and away from Afghanistan, he wondered if anyone was still looking for Osama bin Laden. He said it seemed like no one was. Whatever, he said. "It was just a job." Not a job he believed in or anything. Just a job.

I didn't know what to say. Should I apologize? I explained that Bush wasn't my guy, that I had never voted for him. I felt bad he had spent so much time fighting wars that Bush started, whether he supported the war or not. But what could I say? It wasn't my fault. It was like my drunk uncle had barfed on him. I regretted what had happened, but I hadn't chosen my uncle.

Mostly I just felt embarrassed, and told him so.

The Ozzie also taked about how our last president, the "Lewinsky guy," seemed nice. And he talked about guns and -- no kidding -- the threat posed by kangaroos. More on that soon.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Suicide Blog

If you're a laser-powered baby wolf who wants to kill his own blog, there are basically two ways to go about it: trip in the woods while in mid-optic blast, or promise that your next entry will be about something you don't really feel like writing about. That's how I killed this blog for the last few weeks. I promised I would soon write about idealists who are pursuing good causes for selfish reasons, like the good feeling they get from doing good.

But with all the people in the world who aren't doing good, I don't really feel up to criticizing the motives of those who are contributing. Sure, it's a little hypocritical to give money to tsunami victims and not all the other victims of calamities in the world. But who cares? I'm more worried about the people who are outright bad than the people who are inconsistently good. Every little bit of good helps.

Happy New Year.