Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Foobars of the Presidents

Ohio claims they are due a president as they haven't had one since Taft. Look at the United States, they have not had one since Lincoln. ~Will Rogers
By way of “celebrating” Presidents Day, a group of scholars has determined the top 10 Presidential Goof-ups of all time. I'm not sure how this enhances Presidents Day, but it is an interesting list. There are items that I quibble with, ones I don't really understand, ones that are inarguable and one that's just silly. As is typical, I have a few thoughts on the subject (ain't blogs swell?).
It's easy to agree with these:
-Lyndon Johnson's allowing the VietNam war to intensify;
-Nixon's involvement in the Watergate cover-up;
-Kennedy's Bay of Pigs invasion;
-Reagan, Iran-Contra and financing rebels in Nicaraugua.
Here are the ones I don't understand (because I don't remember my history well enough):
-Madison's failure to keep the U.S out of the War of 1812 (what could he have done?)
-Jefferson's Embargo Act of 1807 (embargoes are generally a bad idea, but what was so bad about this one, I'm not sure).
Now let's get to the quibbles.
-James Buchanan's failure to avert the Civil War – Even though Buchanan was far from being a great president, expecting him to fix the mess that led to the Civil War is a stretch. Presidents dating back to George Washington avoided the issue, leaving it to Congress, which made a mess of things with the Missouri Compromise, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act moved the nation almost inexorably toward conflict.
-Andrew Johnson's decision to side with Southern whites and oppose improvements for blacks – Again, Johnson was not a great president. But, it was Congress that forced the policies. When Johnson opposed them, he was impeached and came within a vote of conviction. Instead of Lincoln's policies of reconciliation, Congress gave us the Reconstruction Act, geared to disenfranchise Southerners while lining the pockets of Northern interests. Perhaps Johnson could have done more, but, following the impeachment, he could not have felt that he could swim upstream against an antagonistic legislative branch.
-Woodrow Wilson's refusal to compromise on the Treaty of Versailles – Wilson was an idealist, to be sure, but he recognized that the brutal reparations called for by the treaty could only lead to further conflict. The real problem was the U.S. Senate, which refused to ratify the treaty, wanting to return to isolationist policies. The refusal to join the League of Nations had a major impact on the ability of that body to perform any useful actions. Wilson himself was not in much of a position to carry the fight once the Senate spoke, and once he had his stroke, he was unable to do much more.
And then there's the one I disagree with, namely Bill Clinton's carrying on with Monica Lewinsky. It's not that I don't think this is a blunder. It was monumentally stupid and gave Republicans the chance to do what they wanted to do the moment they got control of Congress: Impeach a Democratic president. The Republicans were still trying to get back at the Democrats for the Nixon resignation, and I suspect they'd have attempted to impeach God if they thought He was a Democrat.
No, I'd have several other goofs ahead of Clinton, like these:
-Carter's inept rescue attempt of the Iranian hostages, which stemmed from his poor decisions about defense spending;
-Franklin Roosevelt attempting to pack the Supreme Court;
-Gerald Ford's preemptive pardon of Richard Nixon, which cost Ford any chance of reelection;
-Andrew Jackson and the National Bank;
-Hoover's miscalculation of the severity of the Depression.
I could go on, but when it comes to listing Presidential Mistakes, the only list that would be longer is Congressional mistakes. Typing that list would give me carpal tunnel syndrome.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Free Utzi, er, Otzi, um, Oetzi, oh, heck, The Iceman!

Never say, "oops." Always say, "Ah, interesting." ~Author Unknown

Before launching into this important topic, I must give credit to a columnist over at Wired who has succinctly distilled the whole Internet commentary scene down to its essentials. I’m presuming he had long experience on the Usenet, whence these forms originated.

Okay, back to the subject at hand. Back in 1991, hikers in the Alps between Italy and Austria found a body frozen in the snow. Police were called in to investigate, but, after digging the body out (and inadvertently destroying some of his stuff) the goods they found convinced them they were on to something considerably more interesting than tourist-cicle. Scientists were called in, and the final exhumation of the Ice Man was done with considerably more care.

He became known as “Oetzi” (which is the spelling I’m going with – deal with it) which was the name of the locale where he was found. Initially, I believe he ended up in Austria, but as interest grew in this mummified fellow, Italy decided they wanted him. So here’s this guy, 5300 years old, and the first thing that happens to him in the twentieth century is to become embroiled in a lawsuit.

Anthropologists were, of course, beside themselves with joy over the discovery. Not only did they have an ancient human corpse to investigate, they had Oetzi’s stuff: A beautiful bronze ax; some not-so-beautiful unfinished arrows; a bow, also not finished; a knife; a grass cape; grass socks (okay, shoes stuffed with grass for insulation, but my way was funnier); a pouch full of medicinal herbs; and so on. The guy was an advertisement for a Bronze Age L. L. Bean. He had tattoos, which always sets an anthropologist’s heart to fluttering.

Theories about who Oetzi was (since he neglected to bring his ID card), where he was going, what he was doing, and how he died were legion. He was a shepherd; he was a merchant; he was a shaman. Generally, though, it was agreed that this poor fellow had been caught in an unexpected storm and froze to death.

Perhaps it was because of the time Oetzi was tied up in court or just because scientists are human, but in 2001, 10 years after he was found, someone finally discovered a hole in his back. All right, it was a small hole, but you’d have thought someone would have stopped oogling hard-to-see tattoos long enough to notice that there was a puncture wound near his shoulder blade.

It took a CAT scan to find out what had come through the hole: An arrow head, which was still inside ol’ Oetzi’s shoulder. Oops, or rather, “ah, interesting,” said the anthropologists. Perhaps he didn’t just get caught in a storm and freeze to death. Maybe he had some unrequested assistance.

Well, now that it was a murder case, Discovery Channel saw considerably more potential in the Iceman, and promptly gave us CSI:Oetzi. Okay, they didn’t call it that, but they gathered up all manner of scientists, including, of course, a pathologist (the one, in fact, who had discovered the arrow). Don’t get me wrong, the show was pretty good, although they ran through all the theories about Oetzi, including ones that had been blown out of the water years ago. They then created fanciful scenarios, up to and including the obligatory raid on the village by totally evil outsiders wearing funny things on their heads and grunting a lot.

As I said, the show was good if you gleaned the real information that it offered and drew your own conclusions. It was sort of sad, though, to see Iceman’s life bent to fit TV’s soap opera mentality. But, I figured that they had gone as far as they could with that stuff, so Oetzi could rest peacefully from here on out, aside from the occasional poking from yet another anthropologist.

Poke they did, and, by golly, this time they’ve gone too far. Now they’re messing with Oetzi’s sex life. There is evidence that Oetzi was infertile.

Being infertile would not, of itself, prevent Oetzi from ...ah, er … having a good time on a Bronze Age Saturday Night (wasn't there a doo-wop song by that title?), but not producing children would make him odd man out in the tribe. People back then realized that having children was important if the tribe was going to hang on, so someone who didn’t seem to produce any little Oetzis wouldn’t be regarded very highly.

It’s bad enough that they demoted him from shaman to cast-off and got him murdered to boot, but now they’re besmirching his manhood. Next they’ll be saying he was gay. And, no, I don’t want to speculate on how they’ll come up with that one.

Not that there’s anything wrong with a gay Neolithic frozen guy, but maybe he’s not ready to come out of the closet. Then again, maybe 5000 years ago people were more broad-minded.

Nonetheless, I say it’s time to leave Oetzi alone, by golly. Let’s give him a nice display case in that South Tyrol museum and show a diorama of him in his grass-caped glory. Lay out all his tools and clothes with nice little explanations of what we think they might have been for. Talk about how he might have been mugged in that valley. But let’s not get so damnably personal.

There are some things that science was not meant to know.