Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Affair to Remember

General David Petraeus, to hear tell, is one of the finest military
men to serve this country since Washington crossed the Delaware.

To underscore that claim, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff, once compared Petraeus to Ulysses S. Grant,
John J. Pershing, George Marshall and Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of
the great battle captains of American history.

Unfortunately for his country and his family, you can add infidelity
to his resume.

Recently named to head the CIA, the Petraeus was forced to resign
when it was discovered that he was having an extra-marital affair
with a woman who wrote a fawning biography about him.

He thus joins Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas
MacArthur, John Kennedy, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Newt Gingrich,
Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Arnold
Schwarzenegger and untold thousands of other men, known and unknown,
whose zipper failure caused a fall from grace.

In Petraeus case, we all are the worse for it. This West Point grad
who holds a Ph.D. in international relations from Princeton saw
extensive combat and command duty in the Mideast for which he was
universally praised. Indeed, in a sort of bizarre tribute, documents
captured during the raid on Osama bin Laden revealed that the
terrorist leader had targeted Petraues for death.

Now a respected and revered soldier will spend the rest of his days
dealing with the fallout from a sex scandal that is as tawdry as
anything you’d find on the Jerry Springer show. It can only get worse
if security concerns come into play.

So why does a good man do bad things?

According to Dr. Ronald E, Riggio, a Claremont McKenna professor,
“Powerful people, including famous leaders, will take risks - sexual
affairs, engaging in illegal or unethical behavior - simply because
they can. Being powerful and famous means that others are willing to
do almost anything for them. They become "intoxicated" by their
power. They believe that the rules that govern other people simply
don't apply to them.”

OK, but “intoxicated” enough to trash an entire career just for some
sack time? Could it be that the General is just a helpless victim of
powerful biological urges?

For humans, monogamy does not come naturally, and biology predisposes
us to seek multiple sex partners. That's what zoologist David Barash,
PhD, and psychiatrist Judith Lipton, MD, claim in their book, “The
Myth of Monogamy: Fidelity and Infidelity in Animals and People.”
Virtually all animals, they say in an article on Web MD, are far from
being 100% monogamous 100% of the time.

“The only completely, fatalistically monogamous animal we've been
able to identify is a tapeworm found in the intestines of fish,"
Lipton said. That's because the male and female worms fuse together
at the abdomen and never separate afterward.

If that’s the case, maybe we should be get off our moral high horse
and wink at infidelity. Should we restore General Petraeus to his CIA
post? Should we forgive President Clinton? Should we excuse Gov.

In some cultures, we would do just that. The French, for example, are
amused by our sexual scandals. Matthew Fraser, writing in the
Washington Post, said that it’s impossible to imagine a French
political leader resigning because of an extramarital indiscretion.
If this rule were observed, the French parliament would be nearly

The past five French presidents, Fraser says, are known to have had
at least one -- and in some cases, many more -- mistresses throughout
their political career.

Well and good, but personally I have trouble embracing the views of
people who eat snails. And I prefer my leaders to demonstrate some
moral backbone.

Lipton and Barash don't say that sexual fidelity is impossible or
wrong because it is not natural, only that it takes some effort. "We
human beings spend a large part of our lives learning to do unnatural
things, like play the violin or type on a computer," Lipton explains.

Aha. So fidelity requires the same kind of discipline it takes to
play Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D. Or command an army.

Professor Riggio believes the antidote to infidelity is humility.
If that’s the case, General Petraeus has received of massive dose of
the required medicine.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Election Is Over But Not Our Problems

I voted for Barack Obama this past week.

So my guy won. I should be deliriously happy. But I’m not.

I’m not happy that the better man won, not the best man. There was no
best man.

Let’s face it, Mitt Romney was the least ugly participant in a
Republican beauty contest that featured a sorry cast of characters.

He was hardly a dream candidate. While cultivating his image as a
decent, God-fearing family man, Romney was unable to shake his
portrayal as an outsourcing Daddy Warbucks who believed 47 per cent
of Americans were government freeloaders who lack personal

His base was older white males, a voting group which has declined
steadily since 1992, according to one estimate. He did little to
remedy it. That left young voters, minorities and women to support
Obama. Which they did in considerable numbers.

Perhaps most damning of all, while Romney got close at the end, he
couldn’t convince voters he was preferable to a vulnerable opponent.

Barack Obama was elected to his first term on a platform of hope and
change. After four years, there didn’t seem to be an abundance of
either. He heroically rescued a failing economy, but then failed at
job creation. He killed the world’s most hunted terrorist but
terrorism remains our greatest threat. His foreign policy seems

Now, whatever else he accomplishes, he will be judged on his economic
successes or failures. If he doesn’t lead us away from the brink of
the fiscal cliff that looms on the horizon, the country could be
plunged into a recession much like the one he inherited from
President Bush. It may make his first term look like a walk in the

I’m not happy that the two campaigns spent an estimated $6 billion
dollars to engage in what was essentially an exercise in mudslinging
while never clearly defining their respective positions.

And what did $6 billion buy? Absolutely nothing. The President held the White
House, the GOP held the House and the Democrats held the Senate.

I’m not happy that the Republican Party has been left in disarray. I
am not a Republican but I do not wish to see the GOP become
irrelevant. The two-party system best represents the checks and
balances that our Founding Fathers wisely embraced.

The party needs new leadership. It won’t be Mitt Romney, a one-hit
wonder who will quickly disappear from the stage. It won’t be the Tea
Party which is more divisive than unifying.

It needs to be someone who understands that the demographic in this
country has changed and to exclude meaningful participation by young
people, women and minorities over time will reduce the GOP to a
political afterthought.

That point was underscored by this telling quote by a GOP fundraiser
that appeared on CNN: "Latinos were disillusioned with Barack Obama,
but they are absolutely terrified by the idea of Mitt Romney."

I’m not happy that many Republicans are blaming an act of God for
their political setbacks. Some point to Hurricane Sandy which they
say hindered Romney’s momentum in the final week of the campaign.
Which is stretching the truth. Romney’s momentum was already slowing
before the storm struck.

Still others blame Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey
for lavishing praise on the President for his assistance following
Sandy’s destructive path through his state. Apparently honesty is not
always the best policy.

I’m not happy with Democrats who feel they scored a major political
victory. Obama’s win, specifically the slim margin in the popular
vote, was hardly a mandate.

I’m not happy that some conservatives continue to treat Obama’s
presidency as though it was an Old Testament plague.
Journalist and blogger Robert Stacy McCain wrote in The American
Spectator that "The cretins and dimwits have become an effective
governing majority, and the question for conservatives at this point
is perhaps not, 'What does it mean?' but rather, 'Why should we
bother ourselves resisting it any longer?'"

“Today was Pearl Harbor. Tomorrow we begin planning for Normandy,”
wrote radio talk show host Bryan Fisher.

And of course there was Donald Trump who tweeted, “We can't let this
happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty. Our
nation is totally divided!”

I’m not happy that this country, at a time it needs to unite, seems
poised to continue to stumble down the same path it has followed for
the last four years where civility and a sense of duty is trampled by
political warfare and hostility.

I would be happy if we all remembered the phrase on the Seal of the
United States. E Pluribus Unum. Out of Many, One.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Storm Warnings

In time of disaster, Americans have historically come together as
one, reaching out to those in need.

Throw a hurricane, a fire, an earthquake, an oil spill, a terrorist
attack at us and we embrace the “united” in United States.

No one asks what political party you belong to, what nationality you
are or which God you worship when people’s lives are on the line.
It’s time to tackle the task at hand.

All of which underscores one of the absolutes that makes this country
great: our ability to be a caring and benevolent people.

At least most of us.

Disasters can bring out the worst in us as well, witness the looter,
the con artist, the coward. We can now add to that list the
conspiracy theorists and/or rumor mongers who use social networking
to spread their distorted world view.

As an example, no sooner had Hurricane Sandy slammed into the Eastern
Seaboard this past week, then an electronic subculture emerged like
bats out of hell.

Consider these entries taken from various Internet sites:

William Koenig, billed as a “journalist and White House
correspondent,” claims that when we “put pressure on Israel to divide
their land, we have enormous, record-setting events, often within 24
hours.” Because both American political parties have endorsed a
two-state solution with regard to Israel, he says, an angry God
produced Hurricane Sandy.”

Kurt Nimmo of the InfoWars website suggested that President Obama
would benefit by looking like a strong leader in the face of a major
storm — so he ordered one up.

He cites another website’s claim that there have been “unprecedented
levels” of ionospheric phenomena in the upper atmosphere, supposedly
created by the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program
(HAARP), managed by the U.S. Navy and Air Force to monitor the upper
atmosphere to aid communications and navigation systems. But
conspiracy theorists claim that the government uses HAARP to
manipulate weather (and exert mind control) using electromagnetic

Preacher John McTernan warned his online following that God was
“systematically destroying America” for failing to heed His wishes on
issues such as gay marriage, and that the hurricane was part of His
punishment for the two “pro-homosexual” candidates from America’s two
main political parties. The Almighty, McTernan said, smote the
country with a “huge bucket of vomit.”

An anonymous poster writes: “I smell the Big O using this to suspend
the election by executive orders as so many people are in a state of
emergency. He’ll do anything to get re-elected.”

Yet another: “The liberal smug bastion of New York City will again be
receiving a warning from God.”

From this assortment of paranoia we can draw the following
conclusions: The Hurricane was the doing of a Barack Obama who is as
cunningly powerful and evil as Darth Vader. Or it was the design of
an angry God whose vengeance has rained down upon us because we have
committed the sin of believing in equality for all His children.

Of course, these folks have the absolute right to express their
deeply held feelings. I have the absolute right to dismiss them as
deeply misguided souls.

Fortunately, there are some positives to take away from all this,
such as the mutual admiration and respect that was demonstrated
between President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, whose
state was nearly eradicated by the storm.

It’s been a good long while since we’ve seen bipartisan cooperation
and good will. Even in the face of disaster, it felt good.

“The federal government’s response has been great. I was on the phone
at midnight again last night with the President, personally, and he
has expedited the designation of New Jersey as a major disaster
area,”Christie said.

“The President has been all over this and he deserves great credit, “
Christie continued. “He told me to call him if I needed anything and
he absolutely means it, and it’s been very good working with the
President and his administration.”

This from a man who once criticized the President as “a bystander in
the Oval Office...what the hell are we paying you for?”

Not everyone basked in the warm glow of bipartisanship, however. GOP
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, for example, called on the
governors of those states damaged by the hurricane --- but only those
governors who were Republicans.

For the most part, however, for one fleeting moment, we put our
political differences aside for the good of the country, a simple act
that we have yearned for, that we have demanded, that would solve
many if not most of our country’s problems.

It is an absolute travesty that it took a major catastrophe to make
it happen.