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(February 20, 2003 // link)

Osama bin Who? It appears that public enemy number one is still at large and he is still a threat despite our efforts in Afghanistan. We are still in Afghanistan and he is apparently not. While we have heard a lot about plans for the invasion and conquest of Iraq, we have not heard a lot about how long we plan to stay or how we are going to extricate ourselves. This lack of an exit strategy in Afghanistan and Iraq shows me that our president and his administration continue to shoot from the hip with little thought for the long term consequences.

(February 19, 2003 // link)

Check out the Department of Homeland Security’s new website, www.ready.gov. The site contains useful advice (finally) about what we can do to be ready for a possible terror attack. After last week’s media feeding frenzy about plastic sheeting and duct tape, it is a relief to hear some sensible advice from this agency. In conjunction with the Ad Council, the department is launching an ad campaign aimed at terror attack disaster preparedness. This private sector funding will at least partially cover the cost of the campaign. Since Americans still seem to get most of their news and information from the television, a TV ad campaign seems like the most effective way to get the word out. The website advises us all to make a kit with food, water, medicines and first aid supplies, flashlights, radios and batteries, to create a family plan, and urges us all to pay attention.

Last week the Department of Homeland Security raised the nation’s “terror alert” level to orange. The agency also suggested that, in preparation of any type of disaster, we prepare “kits” containing some common sense items aimed at surviving an event, whether it be a terror attack or natural disaster. There was a lot of useful information contained in the DHS briefing, but what the press seized on was duct tape and plastic sheeting. The briefing suggested that we go out and buy duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal up our homes to protect against terror attacks, and many people went out and did just that. After millions of people obligingly emptied the shelves at hardware stores and began shrink wrapping their homes, and the press ridiculed them for doing so, someone at Homeland Security issued another statement and said that they did not mean for us to do all that stuff now (and “oh, by the way, that terror thing we thought was going to happen last week – well, maybe we got that one wrong”).

The first reaction of the press is often to ridicule the government. Rather than paying attention to what was being said, the press seized on a single aspect of the DHS briefing to sensationalize what was possibly sound advice. It is our responsibility to pay attention and make our own judgment about how to protect ourselves in the event of an attack or disaster. The press, however, needs to be responsible in reporting, and in the dissemination of useful information.

This week’s Homeland Security announcement of a media campaign to educate the public on the terror threat includes advice on how to prepare for terror attacks and create “kits” for protection against such attacks. These ads are intended to raise awareness. I fear that unless the DHS is careful to get their message out in a careful and accurate way, the message will be lost and the ad campaign will only foster apathy, complacency and numbness. If we are going to pay billions of dollars to operate this mega-bureaucracy, surely we should expect them to get it right, not to repeatedly terrorize people with inaccurate or incomplete information.

CNN’s Jack Rafferty suggested this morning that the millions in ad dollars being spent on this information campaign might be better spent on the frontlines of the fight financing the efforts of local law enforcement in spotting and eradicating terror threats on the street. Sorry Jack, the Ad Council money being spent on the new ads is private, not public, money from the same source used to fund other campaigns such as the anti-drug and anti-drunk driving messages we see regularly on TV.

(February 18, 2003 // link)

There is real international drama unfolding in the Hauraki Gulf off Auckland, New Zealand. A team of sailors representing Switzerland is leading the defending champion Kiwis, three races to nil, and the locals are not happy. This unhappiness stems as much from the makeup of the Swiss team as it does from the fact that the local boys are faced with elimination in the world’s oldest and most prestigious sailing event for the first time since they wrestled the “Auld Mug” from the hands of Dennis Connor and the San Diego yacht club in 1995. The problem is that 6 key players on the Swiss Alinghi team are from New Zealand.

The Americas Cup, named for the yacht America which won the 100 Guinea Cup in 1851, is the cherished Holy Grail to sailors worldwide. It s the oldest trophy in sport and yet the Quest for the Cup has become a marvel of technological development, engineering know-how and athletic prowess. Few sailors will ever get to race for the cup in their lifetime, though we all dream of what it would be like.

For 132 years, the longest winning streak in any sport in history, the Cup resided in the hallowed halls of the New York Yacht Club. It was unceremoniously ripped from its pedestal by the brash nationalistic Australians and their innovative winged keel Ben Lexen design, Australia II. The feeling at the Cup’s home in New York was captured by Melissa H. Harrington, writing in the official 150-year history of the NYYC:

"The endless journey of the spectator fleet back to Newport from the 88th race for the America's Cup was, in reality, a funeral procession complete with grim faces and a sick feeling in the pit of the collective stomachs of members truly and deeply shocked by what had happened. No living person had ever known the world of the New York Yacht Club without the America's Cup; how could we act and feel now that it was gone except saddened and stunned?"

There was pain in New York for sure, but the loss of the cup to Australia threw open the doors to the competition and nations challenged for the right to claim the cup in increasing numbers. It became a matter of national pride for the Americans to win it back and bring it home. This is where the problem started however. As the cost in technology, training and sponsor money increased the nationalistic aspect of the Cup challenge decreased. Billionaire businessmen have come to see the Cup Race as just another showcase for their entrepreneurial talent, and not as hallowed ground. The original deed of gift calls for the Cup Races to be a friendly challenge among nations, not among the best international teams money can buy. The inscription around the base of the cup records the battles that have been waged in its quest. But the main lobe of the Cup, in the original text reads:

"100 Guinea Cup Won August 22nd 1851 at Cowes, England by Yacht America at the Royal Yacht Squadron Regatta" and "Open to All Nations".

Neither the inscription nor the deed of gift suggests that it should be about anything but pride and sport and loyalty. That is what has New Zealanders upset. Team Alinghi is controlled by arguably the best sailors in the world, and they are racing against their own country, poised to carry the cup off to Europe. To some as yet undisclosed location where the next event will be held. Not to a specific country mind you, but to a “location”.

Olin J. Stephens II, the dean of America’s Cup yacht design, is a proponent of tightening the nationality rules for the America’s Cup. With six Cup-winning designs to his credit, no other living designer has credentials that come close. Starting with the J-boat Ranger, which he drew in partnership with Starling Burgess, his New York design firm Sparkman & Stephens dominated the 12-Metre period with such famous names as Columbia, Constellation, Intrepid, Courageous and Freedom. When Stephens (a resident of Hanover, New Hampshire, by the way) speaks, people should listen.

There are banners, armbands, and even songs all over the tiny island nation that slew Goliath and took home his silver. They all have to do with loyalty, and are aimed specifically at Alinghi Skipper Russell Coutts, Tactician Brad Butterworth and their fellow defectors. This is serious business in New Zealand, but it speaks to a change in fundamental values in sport and in politics. The world is truly getting smaller, and the blame should not be laid solely at the feet of a few individuals who no longer felt that they had no place on the only team their small country could support. Some of it has to fall on the rest of s for allowing the win-at-any-price mentality of the mega rich to permeate our culture.

Greed and self interest are becoming signs of the times. The proud New Zealanders are speaking out against it. Their team is comprised of New Zealanders, save one Australian who may never be permitted to return home. They may lose this Cup, but they will not lose themselves in the process. The French could learn a lot about loyalty from them.

(February 17, 2003 // link)

I wanted to find a great new topic for this week’s column, but everything the I saw or read kept bringing me back to the impending war with Iraq. Whether in newspapers, T.V. news or on the radio, there are stories from around the world that no longer question the inevitability of war, they only question the advisability.

Most noticeable is the talk about the defection of the French and the Germans from the NATO fold. France and Germany, while professing their love for all things American have decided to hold with the UN and advocate for more time to complete the work of Hans Blix and his team. This in and of itself is not problematic. What troubles me is that those countries, until a recent accord was reached, were blocking NATO attempts to strengthen Turkey’s defenses against possible attacks by Iraq.

Turkey is a full fledged, card carrying member of the NATO alliance. They share a border with a country that, like it or not, is about to be invaded by NATO’s big kahuna, and that puts Turkey on the front line and in harm’s way. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t that what NATO was created to protect its members from? It turns out that the reason why France, Belgium and Germany are turning their backs on their obligations is more political than ideological.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Richard Bernstein reported that much of the wrangling over Turkey was rooted in the domestic political concerns of the three dissenting countries. Jacques Chirac of France and Germany’s Chancellor Gerhard Schröder each face strong anti-war coalitions within their own countries. Likewise, Belgium faces an election soon and there is no popular support for the US position there either. Unfortunately, Turkey’s concerns for the safety of Turkish citizens are real and there should be a clear distinction between supporting the US war effort and supporting the defense of a NATO ally.

This is no different than the domestic political situation facing Bush here at home. His war is becoming less popular as time goes on. He also faces mounting worldwide anti-war sentiment. On Monday, Patrick Tyler of the New York Times points out that:

“In his campaign to disarm Iraq, by war if necessary, President Bush appears to be eyeball to eyeball with a tenacious new adversary: millions of people who flooded the streets of New York and dozens of other world cities to say they are against war based on the evidence at hand.”

It seems that our government could go a long way toward garnering support for its efforts by sharing some of the evidence it claims to have against Iraq. The first step, however, would need to be an acknowledgement that world opinion matters and I don’t see this administration going there.

Even in the face of mounting anti-war sentiment there are signs that the French and the Germans are looking for a way to support Turkey while still opposing the war. This is the larger geopolitical reality for those countries. If they don’t support NATO, they risk becoming marginalized. Without the cold war and strong ties to the US, Europe becomes a quaint vacation destination and not a major player on the world stage. European countries need to find a way to live up to their NATO obligations while speaking their minds and serving conscience in the UN.

As for the US, Patrick Tyler concludes in his Times article that “the fracturing of the Western alliance over Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” There were even large anti-war demonstrations and banners at the first two races for America’s Cup in Auckland this weekend, and security was extremely tight.

There is a difference between opposing the war and living up to your NATO obligations. It’s like being loyal to the country that allows you to criticize it.


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