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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

International and Domestic Idiocy

Russia has sent “military advisers” and a special “terrorism response team” into Syria to assist President Assad with his distressing domestic “terrorist” problem (which most everyone else on the planet understands as the Middle Eastern potentate’s deliberate effort to exterminate all who would oppose him, an effort amounting basically to a genocide).  The Russian government leases a naval base area from Assad, a tidbit that I had earlier overlooked, but relevant to the former armed assistance information in that there is an entire school of historians who attribute the last three centuries of Russo-Soviet expansionism as a geographical quest for a warm water port, while Cold Warriors would automatically recognize this southern interest as a continuation of the old bilateral brinksmanship which colored East-West relationships from the mid-1940s through 1990.  Perhaps the historians and the hawks both have a point.  Either way, it has led to Russia’s unerring support for almost every nasty tinpot rogue anti-statesman on the planet throughout the twentieth and now into the twenty-first century, from Hitler (until he turned on his old buddy Josef Djiugashvili) to Hugo (Chavez), and with it an obnoxiously predictable veto in each and every "we ought to say they're being bad" Security Council meeting. 

Nowadays, the international bugbear, formerly (and justifiably) the Fascist, is that vicious and universally-feared animal the Terrorist.  Unfortunately, the term “terrorist” is a deliciously easy one to apply to one’s opposition.  And so, in the last ten years, regimes of questionable moral character, who tend to derive their de facto domestic legitimacy from their ability to cow their citizenry, have readily adopted this vocabulary to their own strategic ends, leaving the many morally-questioning post-modern democracies (our own shamefully included), wondering if there is any reason, really, to get involved, since, after all, the people being suppressed by the dominant regime may indeed BE terrorists.  Who is to say?  We can’t judge.  Better to just sit on the sidelines and wring our hands about all this nasty violence, and talk in sad tones about the great tragedy it is.  The Russian Federation government, or more specifically the Putin and Putin-including governments of Russia, have themselves used the “terrorist” register of diction to justify their bloody handiwork in Chechnya, while handling real Chechen terror incidents (e.g. the Moscow theater and Beslan school hostage crises) with less than requisite finesse [What is the use of a “hostage rescue squad” that seems as likely to kill the hostages during its rescues as the hostage-takers themselves?].  Be that as it may, Assad recognizes an ally in the rough-and-ready rulers of the Russian Federation, which has spent so much energy “pacifying” its “breakaway southern republic".  And so, Russia maintains its Mediterranean naval presence, and Assad gets the fiscal and physical backing of a government which really does adhere to the mantra “kill them all, let God sort them out.” 

Much of the time lately I can’t bring myself to read the news, because I find myself grinding my teeth in frustration, thinking about all the stupidity abroad in the world.  And then I get stuck in traffic in Georgetown and have plenty of time to consider the stupidity available in my own town.  For months now, they have been tearing up the cobblestone streets that occupy blocks in the district between 37th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.  Running down the middle of these cobblestoned blocks are old trolley-car tracks, relics from the days when the city public transport system rolled around on rails.  Over the decades, the cobblestones have sunk at irregular depths (some quite deep) around the tracks, leaving these streets treacherous for pedestrian and car alike.  So, you’d think they’d pave the streets.  After all, the tracks aren’t in use, cobblestones have been superceded as conventional metropolitan pavement for a reason, and they'd just spent years and probably tons of money installing beautiful (but unnecessary) granite curbstones on many of the neighboring blocks.  But no, instead, they have carefully torn the cobblestones out, and the tracks, and then poured a new foundation, and RELAID BOTH THE TRACKS AND THE COBBLESTONES.  Mind you, the tracks have been out of service for decades.  They are not connected to any larger system.  In fact, they don’t even run through intersections, but stop and start on either side of the paved cross-streets.  And, as I said, cobblestones are one of the more labor-intensive road materials to maintain.  Of course, having said that, there is one paved block near Georgetown that waited for YEARS to be repaired—there were many potholes more than a foot in diameter, and it was taking one's alignment in one's hands to navigate the crater-full couple of hundred yards to the corner.  Well, they finally paved it.  And six months later they tore it up again to service one of the perpetually-temperamental sewer lines (before I moved to the city, manhole covers were blowing off because of pent-up gases in the area).  It’s still a mess, more than a year later.  I can say that even Moscow’s streets are better maintained.  The Washington, DC, roads department must truly be one of the worst-run in the United States.  It’s embarrassing.  But I can do as little about stopping this waste of taxpayer resources and human time as I can still the chaos around the world.  

I know I need always to be reminded that I am not God, but sometimes I just feel so darn helpless, even beneath what should be mere human ability!  I mean, if we as a country can’t solve international relations problems, at least one town, our wealth-riddled capitol city, should be able to grasp the wise use of resources to create and maintain basic infrastructure!  ARGH!

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