Sunday, February 27, 2011

My Name Is Called Disturbance

There's a story told that Richard M. Nixon, upon meeting Mao Zedong after ending decades of silent hostility between the People's Republic of Chine and the United States of America explained to the Chairman how the US was the original revolutionary society. Oh, the Chairman replied, and how do you know one revolution was enough?

My family and I were still living in Germany (West; a distinction that hasn't been made for decades) when the Warsaw Pact, a fact of life and force of nature since the end of the Second World War, wheezed its last and gave up its ghost. I drove one day from home in Offenbach am Main to see colleagues outside of Kaiserslautern, and everywhere on the A3 und A6 were Trabants and Wartburgs as streams of zukunftiger ehemaliger Ossis inhaled their first Wessi Luft. It didn't take long for euphoria at reunification to sour.

The Revolution that engulfed most of Eastern Europe as the Eighties ended and the Nineties began was peaceful (notable exception was Romania) though the aftermath, to include the disintegration of Yugoslavia into pus pockets of ethnic hatred, has sometimes been less than pacific.

As various forms of communication, cell phone, text, computer, video, and any and all combinations thereof, have continued to converge, the rate and pace of change their convergence creates and its impact on political systems can best be seen in recent weeks across the Middle East where decades, and more, of imposed government are ending, some more rapidly and acrimoniously than others (yes, Libya, we're all talking about you). Turns out the Revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal. Who knew?

Getting gas yesterday at the local Shell station I was treated to a fellow-motorist vocalizing his unhappiness at what he was paying for high-test now as opposed to two weeks earlier. He had a Denali (?) I think, one of the extremely large SUV's big enough to have its own zip code with no one else in the vehicle. Once health insurance starts to cover penile enhancements, sales for these vehicles will drop off precipitously.

The SUV owner was quick to see the unrest in Libya reflected in the price per gallon at the pump in Norwich, CT, and not very happy about it. Not sure he knows anything about the torment of Abu Mohammed in Benghazi who fired on those demonstrating against the regime and its leader who had been his employer until he turned himself in. But all of us use our own experiences and our place in the world as we see it to process events by listening to WIIFM, What's In It For Me?

Insulated by thousands of miles of land and water from ideology and cultures unlike anything we know or have ever known, it's easy for us to fall in love sitting at our TV and computer screens with the bravery of the revolutionary fervor sweeping across the Arab World. I can dimly recall a lot of us following along in the Stars and Stripes newspaper and on the AP teletype machines back in the news department (such was the technology then; are there still news tickers now?) when Iranian students toppled "The Shah."

We went from hui to phooey when the US Embassy in Teheran was seized so I've already started to brace myself for more of the same as the weeks and months of the post-revolutionary spring stretch into the summer. I imagine all this regime change is hard on the folks in Foggy Bottom who have to sort out the good guys from the bad guys as part of their State Department jobs.

How they measure the world and the intentions of those with whom we share the planet are as different from one another as they are from the very people who are judging us even as we judge them. Reaching a conclusion on who to bless and who to blame isn't nearly as scary as acting on it, especially when a compromise solution proves to be neither.
-bill kenny

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