Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Eisenhower, the sage

By Don Klein

The United States is a debtor nation, yet it sustains the most portentous and feared military force in human history. Oddly this phenomenon exists when it is not challenged by any enemy of comparable awesome power – not by a long shot (pardon the pun). Further there is no nation anywhere threatening it or on bad terms with the US. Not the Russians, not the Chinese, none at all.

To add to the absurdity of the scenario, the US is broke and owes hundreds of billions of dollars to other nations. It also suffers the burden of a crushing deficit which must be reduced.

Is there something in this package of facts that makes sense?

How can such an economically bereft nation maintain such a military monster for virtually no reason at all? Strangely enough President Dwight D. Eisenhower spelled out the reason more than a half century ago. The United States is afflicted with what may be a fatal malady. Ike warned us about it in his farewell speech. He described it as "the military-industrial complex."

Eisenhower was not a great president, but he was an honest man who knew all about war. During World War II he was the commanding general of millions of Allied forces in the European Theater. He might not have known much about social issues or other civilian matters, but he was an incontrovertible expert on the military.

This dichotomy reminded me of the fact that my whole life has been spent under the cloud of war. I was barely 10 years old when wars broke out in Asia and Europe and I was happy after WWII that there was no one left to fight. I was wrong.

There was the Korean War soon afterward, in which I served, then the tense near war over the Cuba missile threat, then Vietnam and Cambodia campaigns, the aborted war with Iran over the hostage situation, and the Reagan invasion of Grenada, the Lebanese Marine barracks debacle, the air attack on Libya, the Iran-Contra affair and deploying defensive missiles to Europe, followed by the Bosnian war and now for more than a decade, the Iraq and Afghan wars.

Almost every post-WWII president during the last six decades sent US forces into harms way on questionable missions. They seemed to act on the premise that we are the superpower, and have to demonstrate it by flexing our might.

I don't believe there has been a similar period of history that has had more wars affecting a single nation. War is an awful waste of humanity, of resources, of industrial clout, of intellectual potential. It is interesting how history seems to write its story despite all else.

Suddenly, after all these decades, Eisenhower, a bourgeois military man, comes away appearing to be a farsighted political sage. This country's future has already been derailed by the false belief that overwhelming military superiority will keep us safe from attack. Remember, it didn’t stop 9/11?

There is no major military power threatening us, yet we spend more on arms and military operations than all other nations combined. And if anyone suggests we slowdown we get the usual fear-peddling nonsense about being soft on security. The nation's gullible voters buy it hook, line and sinker and we continue casting ourself as the most well-armed pauper in the world.

In all fairness the US was not the only nation afflicted by wars. There were dozens of hostilities in Africa, Asia, Central and South America during what became the bloodiest century of all time. And that’s not even counting the two most lethal European conflicts – World War I and World War II.

In too many of these wars the US has played a part – if only as a materiel supporter of one side or another and, in others, like Iraq, WWI and WWII, as the principal adversary.

But with the decline of the Soviet Union in the last decade of the 20th century there is no substantial military power facing the country, and none are on the horizon. So why do we maintain such an awesome, and expensive, military force?

Eisenhower warned about it. Big industry makes tons of profits selling arms and other military supplies. The arms makers influence Congress with donations and high ranking professional warriors parrot fearful consequences to keep up the spending for wars that are not at all likely. Members of Congress in turn sell their warlike programs employing large doses of frightful dire consequences to the public and tamp down all political opposition by branding them "soft on security."

So the carousel keeps twirling with the US screwing itself into the ground. The thought of reducing the immense military drain on the budget to ease the economic crisis now facing the country is hardly ever mentioned, and when it is it is, it is couched in modest terms.

At the current rate we will be nation no different than a larger version of many third world countries which have a well-financed military supported by an undernourished, unskilled populace controlled by a puppet government owned by the biggest of all industrial claques, whose top executives live in pure luxury.

What we need to do is break the cycle. The first fiscal cuts should come out of an over-bloated military budget, cutting it back to the size a little bit larger than the tradition peacetime force maintained for centuries by the US. Cuts in other programs affecting civilians can follow once we correct the military-industrial imbalance.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sex and the old man

By Don Klein

They were back at KFC-Taco Bell, the winter haunt of retired men at seaside. Sam munching on the usual chicken breast, original recipe, and Mario enjoying his bean burritos with the enthusiasm of an epicurean dining at a Waldorf feast prepared for gourmands.

"What would you think of an 84-year-old, twice divorced, guy who is marrying a shapely 24-year-old blonde saying, 'This is it. This is a very, very special one. I expect to spend the rest of my life with her’?" Sam asked.

"I’d say the rest of his life is not going to be very long," Mario snapped back, adding after a pause, "Is this a hypothetical question or are you talking about someone you know?"

"This is not a fictional character. We all know him. You know him also." Sam started to chuckle as he considered the prospect. "Who do you know who would marry a gal 60 years his junior?"

"Most of the guys I know these days would consider marrying a woman 60 years of age as robbing the cradle." then challenging his friend, Mario asked, "You are almost as old as that guy you are talking about, would you marry someone that young?"

"I said you knew him, aren’t you interested in who he is?" Sam ignored the question about what he would do.

"Yeah, who is this nut who plans to end his life in the saddle earlier than otherwise?"

"Why none other than your good friend Hugh Hefner, the founder and recipient of the Playboy fortune."

"Hef’s no friend of mine."

"Sure he is. I guess you were a Playboy devotee in your wayward younger years, slobbering over those buxom young playmates month after month. We all were." Sam claimed.

"I’ll admit I read a few copies of the magazine, but I didn’t pay much attention to the Playmates in it. I spent my time in reality. I preferred real live women and will admit I was a bit of a ladies’ man in my day." Mario confessed.

"Yeah, you told me you were a bit on the wild side before you settled down with your wife for good. I suppose you didn’t have time for Playboy. Now it was different with me. I'm old fashion, I'm a one woman guy and have been married for over 50 years. But I was a regular Playboy reader for a couple of years."

"So Hef is getting married you say. And the bride to be is only 24 years old?" Mario noted.

"That’s correct. I thought Charlie Chaplin was stretching things when he hooked up with Oona O’Neill in 1943," Sam said, "He was 54 and she was only 18 when they were married. And despite the age duifference they had eight children."

"I don’t remember anything about that. I was just a child at the time, but I read somewhere that Oona’s father, Eugene O’Neill, the playwright, was not very happy about the union."

"He certainly was not -- in fact he disowned her and they never spoke to each other again."

"Well who is marrying Hef?" Mario asked.

"Her name is Crystal Harris," Sam said, "There was a picture of the two of them in The New York Times magazine a few weeks ago. He was seated on a throne-like chair in black silk pajamas and a red silk robe looking like an ancient potentate and she was standing next to him like a teen concubine dressed-up to look older, with long blond tresses and a too short skirt." Sam tried to be explicit.

"I thought it was laughable. I am younger than Hef by a few years and have a granddaughter almost as old as Crystal," Sam continued, "In fact Hef has a daughter who is 58 years old. She could be Crystal’s mother."

"Imagine a 58 year-old woman with a 24-year-old stepmother," Mario laughed,
"only in Hollywood."

"It sounds like you think Hef has never grown up and still thinks of himself as a young buck ready to sniff any female that comes by like a dog in heat," Mario suggested.

"Don’t get me wrong I give the guy all the credit. What other octogenarian do we know who can still command the interest of those young birds," Sam said, almost with admiration, "But I am not ready to concede that his appeal to the kitty crowd is sexual. He cannot be much of a partner there, but he pays well. He has to realize they wouldn’t be there if he didn’t. That must be his real allure."

"How do you know that?" Mario asked.

"Well the story said he pays the young things that agree to stay at his luxurious Hollywood mansion keeping him in a sensual Valhalla $1,000 a week and picks up virtually all their expense, like autos, clothes and so on. The mansion costs over $3 million a year to run."

"I sort of feel sorry for the old geezer," Mario became very thoughtful suddenly. "As they say there is a time in life for all things. Time to be born, to grow up, to get married, to raise a family – and a time to enjoy the autumn years relaxing and reviewing the vicissitudes of life."

Then he pondered, "Poor Hef he tries be appear debonair but never grew out of the teenage years. He still hangs out with chics. An old man, who will be 85 in two months, cannot find adult things to do with his life so he pays young women to parade around his bedroom without clothes on and occasionally join him in Viagra-buttressed sex."

"That’s an avocation reserved for young men." he declared wistfully.

"Dammit," they simultaneously agreed.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

What’s in a name after all?

By Don Klein

“Flozell, Crezdon, Atari, Diyral." It was Mario speaking before he carefully bit down on a plump bean burrito at the KFC-Taco Belle outlet. It had become one of the winter destinations when the Boardwalk was no longer fit for human hanging out for the weekly meeting with his retiree buddy, Sam.

“What are you talking about?” Sam looked up from the fried split breast he was about to lift to his mouth and stared at his luncheon partner with a puzzled expression.

“My God, what strange, strange names.” Was all Mario said, appearing to be talking out loud to himself.

“Sounds like you know some of the rebels in the Cairo uprising? Or are you just overwhelmed by the aroma of those gaseous beans you’re eating?” Sam never missed an opportunity to slander his friend’s obsession for beans.

“Do you think I really give a damn about those Arabs rioting some 10,000 miles away? If it were not Egypt now, it would be Iran or Tunisia or Lebanon or some other God forsaken country in the Middle East in the past and probably in the future.” He growled, “After centuries of oppression they finally noticed they are living in the modern era.”

“If not the demonstrators in Egypt what did you mean by those strange words you just uttered?” Sam asked.

“It’s all about the Super Bowl. How those irritating Arabs managed to move the greatest sports event in America off the television screens and front pages of the country.” Virgil was fuming.

“You really think the Super Bowl is more important than the sudden overthrow of a dictator of a country of 80 million people?”

“Of course,” he answered, then added, “at least to us Americans.”

“I still don’t know what you were talking about when you blurted out those weirdo names,” a bewildered Sam said.

“See what the demonstrations did to you. You don’t even recognize the important names coming up in the news two days hence.”

Sam was now irritated, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“If the riots hadn’t distracted everyone you would know that Flozell Adams and Crezdon Butler play for the Steelers and Atari Bigby and Diyral Briggs play for the Packers.” Virgil explained.

“So what, I know there are lots of unusual names among professional football players. We all know about Haloti Ngata and Ladarius Webb of the Ravens, for example.” Sam added.

“Well that’s my point.” Virgil was near the end of his first bean burrito and was already eyeing the next one on the table lying passively on a wrapper in front of him.

“You know something? I can’t follow you.” Sam said, “What’s your point besides blaming the Egyptians for bumping the Super Bowl from the top news slot this week.”

“Well if they really wanted to change their government by massive demonstrations couldn’t they at least have waited until Monday afternoon so Americans would have time to relish the Super Bowl at least 24 hours before being brought back to the ugliness of international politics?,” Virgil moaned.

“Is that all you have to say about it?” his friend asked.

“Well I really wanted to talk about the weird names we gotten used to in football. Listen to these, for example. How about Maurkice Pouncey, the young center of the Steelers. He just started this year and will be around for a long time. What a crazy name!”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“To begin, the name seems to be a misspelling of M-a-u-r-i-c-e. Why is there a ‘k’ after the ‘r’?” Virgil emoted like an English teacher. “Then on the Packers there is Korey Hall. I’ve never seen that name spelled with a ‘K’ and Jarius Wynn. I heard of Darius, but never Jarius.

“Sadly the Packers have three players with no first or second names – they only have initials. Are you aware there is an A.J. Hawk, a linebacker; B. J. Raji a nose guard and C.J. Wilson a defensive end? Elsewhere there is a T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the Ravens. All I can conclude is ‘J’ is a very popular middle initial.”

“What’s in a name anyway,” Sam said, “How did Shakespeare put it? ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.”

“I doubt if any of these guys smell very sweet, certainly not at the end of a game. Getting back to my point. There is a Ziggy Hood on the Steelers. Sounds like he should be a jazz musician.”

“I know what you are talking about. During the regular season I noticed the Jets had a couple of strange sounding ones on their roster. LaDanian Tomlinson for one and the strangest of all was D’Brickashaw Ferguson,” Sam continued, “I couldn’t figure that one out. Not only is his last name Scotch and his first name has an apostrophe, but it sounds like his name is a phonetic description of a two-wheeled street cab pulled by a coolie in ancient China.”

"A couple of years ago there was Plexico Burris on the Giants. He is now serving time on gun charges," Sam interjected.

“Well when you get right down to it names shouldn’t matter that much. Do you have a favorite player?” Virgil asked.

“Yeah, I like Anquan Boldin of the Ravens, despite his name” Sam confessed, trying to be humorous. “Who do you like?” he asked.

“I don’t have a favorite football player, but I like Hosni Mubarak,” Virgil answered with a sardonic chuckle.

Sucking the last of the chicken off the breast bone Sam answered, “If we are now talking politics, I like Barack Obama.” He paused, “ Yeah, what’s in a name after all?”

“What happened to great athlete's names like Babe, Duke and Mickey?” said Virgil as he finished his final bean burrito and burped.