Monday, March 24, 2014

RE: MH370 and US Lawmakers


Regardless of whether the Malaysian government is actually "bungling" the search, it is not the place of US personnel to comment on practice, policy or execution.  Shut up.

The citizens of Malaysia are embarrassed enough without ugly Americans wading into the already-roiled waters.  They have enough angry people shouting at them, why add to that?  This is yet another example of the hand being offered is a clenched fist instead of a helping grip.

When Steve Fossett's plane crashed in 2007, a gigantic array of seachers were fielded, including satellite coverage from Google, and they even had a good idea where to look.  Fossett's plane wasn't found for over a year.  Not only that but they were searching on land - none of the bits were likely to have sunk under the surface of the ground.  Searching the ocean is a whole different kettle of wide-open featureless space.

American deputy national security advisor Tony Blinken, however, went on record stating that the various countries working together for the search was praiseworthy.  Good!  At least somebody is finding something positive to say.

Can't we all do that?  How hard would it be for American Congressmen to say, "Hard luck, gents.  It happens to all of us!  How can we help?"  That's all that needs to be said.  I'm quite certain Malaysia in general and Malaysian air traffic officials in particular are feeling a bit under the gun right now, let's not be jerks and pile on in their time of crisis, okay?

I'm going to sound awfully cold and calculating in the next few lines, so just roll with it: The US could come out of this, an air disaster in which we have virtually no stake at all (three Americans out of over 230 people aboard) smelling like a rose with just a little careful management.  It goes like this:

1) No critical commentary from US at all unless specifically asked for by Malaysian authorities, and then only in private.  Malaysia discloses criticism at their own discretion.

2) Bend over backward, sideways and inside out with assistance.  Rally every vessel we have to search and recovery efforts, everything within a week's sailing.

3) Commit search submersibles now.  Send their support fleets steaming to the nearest port for immediate dispatch once the crash site has been determined.

4) Shut up about all of it.  Be humble, be gracious, be self-deprecating.  The very best marketing is the marketing that is believed, and shouting your own merits tends to sound hollow.  When some other nation, however, has nice things to say, words like that have a lot more merit.  It sounds expensive to send half the Pacific fleet churning toward the Indian Ocean, but we wouldn't be firing any guns.  This is how a nation wins hearts and minds, and we're missing the opportunity.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Death of a Hatemonger

When I heard that Fred Phelps, pastor of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church, had died a small, uncharitable part of me said, "Good.  It's about time."

I'm not proud of that.  I like to think that I don't actively hate anyone.  I don't preach hate, certainly not the way Phelps and his church did.  But I've thought more than once that Phelps is was one of those people the world would probably be better off without.  I didn't necessarily wish him dead, I just wished him gone.

I'm aware of how immature that is, how fantastical.  If the person is there, for him to be gone he has to die.  But can you believe me when I say there was no malice in that?

So now we have a world that is short one Fred Phelps, Sr.  Is the world a better place with Phelps gone?  I suspect it probably is.  It is only incrementally better, a very small increment.  But sometimes you have an incremental hurt like an ingrown hair or an infected eyelash.  Minor things, tiny things.  And yet they can be highly irritating and the instant they are gone you feel so much better.

Phelps' history is checkered.  As a Kansas lawyer he successfully fought for civil rights in many cases, but he also took on a personal vendetta against a court reporter, haranguing and defaming for his own reasons.  He was ultimately banned from practicing in Kansas courts but continued to represent cases in Federal courts, until another vendetta - against judges this time - got him disbarred from any kind of court.  That pretty much put an end to his legal career.

It's not really clear exactly what led him down this path of vitriol.  Several members of his family have quit both the church and the family.  Most of them cite both physical and emotional abuse.  Well, can't blame them for leaving.  The church's history of protesting military funerals and political activities in order to draw attention to "God's hatred of America" is pretty well known, unfortunately not just here in the US.  The church's reputation got Phelps and his wife placed on a permanent persona non grata list in the UK.

Ironically, in the last year or so Fred backed off his extremist views.  That put him on the outs with the WBC which, believe it or not, got him excommunicated from the church where he was the founding pastor.  Wow.  If you thought Phelps was intolerant, look at the intolerance he's inspired.

And now he's dead.  Ostensibly because members of the WBC do not "worship the dead" but possibly because they'd rather avoid any loud and unpleasant protests, there will be no funeral for Fred Phelps, Sr.

Rest in peace, Fred.  It isn't up to you to tell us who God hates, but for your own sake you'd better hope He forgives.