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CABBAGES AND KINGS

The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things. of sailing ships and spools of yarn, of cabbages and kings.– Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass

What do these two have in common, cabbages and kings? They both smell pretty rank right from day one. Most things take a while to start rotting away and stinking up the joint, but not those two. Foul from day one. The funny thing is though, that cabbage can make some pretty tasty things, sauerkraut for your hot dogs, stuffed cabbage, cole slaw and other savories. Kings, on the other hand, not only smell rancid but can't be made into anything palatable.

The United Nations just wrapped up its big shindig this week where the leaders of the nations of this world get together here in my hometown to celebrate I really don't know what, maybe the fact that they exist. It's called the General Assembly and snarls traffic once a year in order to celebrate themselves, kind of like the Academy Awards for countries. Good for you, Sierra Leone! Congratulations, Macedonia! There's 192 member nations of the U.N. these days, and more coming every year. Not that there's any new real estate being discovered or created, mind you, it's just that countries are constantly breaking apart, renaming themselves or swallowing up their neighbors. Keeps the map-makers gainfully employed.

Here we are at the dawn of the twenty-first century celebrating our numerous nationhoods, all brotherhood and good will. Right? Not quite. There's a whole lot of disunity at the inaptly named United Nations. There's always a lot of friction between the haves and have-nots, what with the haves looking to hold on to what they have and the have-nots looking to have something. There's also a lot of countries claiming to be the rightful owners of some other country, no shortage of those. So is Tibet still Tibet or is it China's newest province?

What's the deal with that New Jersey-sized strip of the Balkans once called Yugoslavia? How many countries did they split into, five or six? Are they still at each other's throats now that they've got a border between themselves and the vile scum of the earth they fought for centuries who look just like them? I wonder about these things. How about all those Ikstans surrounding Russia that used to part of the Soviet Union, plus alternate Russias like Belorus, Ukraine and Georgia? Does anyone think that the borders in those parts of the world ought to be written in anything other than chalk? Let's see what next year's General Assembly brings. I'll give any odds you'd care to lay that somebody's borders somewhere will be different than they are at the moment.

Kings used to be great at that sort of thing, mobilizing the masses to take over the neighboring nation's farms, seaports or silver mines. Seems that nobody ever laid claim to the other guy's deserts, that is unless there was oil underneath the sand. Then that desert automatically became the rightful ancestral homeland of the neighboring kingdom that has no oil below them. And the strangest thing is that ordinary people bought into that whole deal, like it was their sacred honor at stake if their king didn't get to be viewed as the light of the world and the richest son-of-a-bitch since Midas, and I don't mean the muffler guy.

Even though the wars the kings started didn't put an extra crust of bread on their subjects' dinner tables they willingly and passionately took up arms against the people their king said they ought to hate. But then again, it could be said that these wars made it easier for mothers to feed their families since inevitably there were fewer of them at the dinner table once the war drums started pounding. And if they lost the war they just bided their time until they were able to mount a new attack on these neighbors who had the unmitigated gall to exist, and the hatred went on for generations stretching into centuries. Very few kings were slain in these campaigns, by the way.

Today there's not so many kings as there used to be, but there's still some. There is however, no shortage of dictators, guys with all the powers of a king without the impediment of having to pretend to care about the welfare of their own people. We've got some real beauts out there, deiusional psychopaths bent on killing a goodly portion of the people within their own borders as well as attacking their closest neighbors to steal whatever's not nailed down and maybe even carting off a bunch of their citizens into slavery. And I'm not talking history here, but current events.

A lot of them got their start as dictators by getting themselves elected and then immediately abolishing the right to vote and executing all their political rivals who weren't swift enough to flee the country. Some of these political rivals do manage to survive and gather an army across the border and eventually topple the savage dictator. Then they proceed to replace his whole government with their own bloodthirsty regime, the only difference being the targets of ethnic cleansing this time around. Looking around the globe at these sorts of things, getting myself born in America looks like one of the better ideas I've ever come up with.

Not that free elections guarantees you a good leader. We've had our share of incompetents and bozos (like now) but they eventually go away and a smart guy gets elected to clean up their mess. Not a shot gets fired in the transition between one president and the next. And none of them are allowed to kill and enslave a portion of our population, at least not anymore. I'm not claiming any moral high ground on the rest of humanity considering our own background as slave holders and traders and indigenous people slaughterers, I'm just thankful that the laws of the Constitution finally kicked in after a somewhat shaky start.

America is still in the process of becoming America, a little more each decade with a few steps backwards every so often along the road that we need to overcome, like the current attacks on our Bill of Rights and our foolish insistence on posing as the Roman Empire. We never were all that good at foreign affairs in this country, and at the moment we're really pathetic at it. The high esteem in which the rest of the world held America until recently was in spite of our leaders and diplomats, not because of them. Even now when it's open season in the world forum for condemning the United States the speaker almost always goes out of his way to separate our government from the American people as the target for their vitriol, giving us a pass as good eggs who made the mistake of electing a bunch of dickheads. I'll buy that.

Which is not to say that I agree with every tinhorn psycho who's taking potshots at America. Far from it. It's hard to take some of these people seriously when you look at their own sorry records and the state of their nations. There's a lot of clowns out there more than willing to cast the first stone. But there are a lot of critics who make a good point, many of whom are Americans themselves. Not that there was much of that sort of thing this week at the U.N. General Assembly. It was more of a love fest for people who hate each other. After all, the cameras were rolling. Even sworn enemies were making generic speeches mostly praising themselves and speaking vaguely of "certain rogue states" in veiled references to places they've threatened to annihilate in other forums.

Our own president barely mentioned Iraq and Iran, or anywhere else in the Middle East for that matter, a region that's sort of the huge focal point of a lot of trouble for our nation these days. Instead he informed the assembled nations of the world that America is outraged by the behavior of Burma, which came as a surprise to most Americans, especially since Burma has been named The Myanmar Republic for the past two decades and precious few of us really knew just how outraged we were at this nation of which we are only marginally aware. I suppose we ought to be thankful that Dubya didn't call Iran Persia or Zimbabwe Rhodesia. After all, the British didn't call us The Colonies or refer to Canada as The Dominion of Canada.

Well, sure enough, two days later the papers and newscasts are full of the news of Myanmar, complete with mass protests against the brutal regime there, the beatings of monks (!) and soldiers firing on unarmed crowds. So I guess we're supposed to be duly outraged by this mess and hate the Myanmar bosses and generally take the focus off the fact that the Dubya administration just did pretty much the same thing to Iraq minus the pummeling of the monks (Iraq doesn't have any). While it's true that our soldiers didn't fire on crowds of unarmed protesters demonstrating peacefully in the streets, we sure as hell blew up a whole lot of men, women and children non-combatants with our not-as-smart-as-they-tell-you-they-are bombs and other formidable ordnance, a lot more than the Myanmar government is capable of doing to their people, and a lot more than Sadam Hussein ever killed. Good thing we saved the Iraqis from him, eh?

But instead of distracting Americans from their own vicious foreign policy and myriad domestics failures, the Bush Administration's public relations blitz to make Myanmar the nation's new bogey man instead reminds this American of the things that they actually do, not what they say. What they have done about the situation in Myanmar is absolutely nothing. Myanmar has been a repressive nightmare for its citizens for a very long time, as have a dozen or more nations on this globe and the Bush government has been silent about some very heinous acts of genocide and brutal tyranny. It might take something earth-shalking to get our government to notice conditions in these nations, like having some of our movie stars start adopting their war orphans. That ought to show 'em! That's what we did in Africa, by God! And then we… then we…we, um… well… that's pretty much all we did about African genocide.

Saudi Arabia for one is quite the brutal and repressive regime. Anybody in this government rattling any sabers at that oil spigot? And Saudi Arabia is run by a king and around five thousand princes. Life's pretty good for those jokers, not so good for the rest of the people there. Public executions are their idea of popular entertainment. Women aren't even allowed to drive cars or leave their homes unescorted and anybody who practices a different religion from their particular brand of Islam is liable to be the star of next week's public entertainment. All in all, a pretty sick and evil bunch of thugs in charge over there.

So how does our president treat people like this? No, he doesn't encourage movie stars to adopt their children. Too obvious. Instead he invites their ambassador to his ranch in Texas and hugs and kisses the guy in public and then walks around with him holding hands like a couple of high school sweethearts. Pretty creepy and embarrassing to watch and a lesson not lost on other oil-rich nations also of a mind to brutalize their own populations.

But maybe Bush is just softening them up, lulling them into thinking they're our friends. Maybe he's trying to find out just who in Saudi Arabia sent 15 Saudis of the 19 hijackers of 9/11 to attack us, following the money trail like any good investigator. Just maybe he's a lot sharper than he seems to be. Maybe he's willing to appear to be in the Saudi's pocket in order to get to the bottom of the whole thing and any day now will announce the arrest of the people who paid for those men's training and their phony passports and their expenses in Germany and America while they prepared their attack. Yeah, that's probably it. You think?

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