Saturday, September 2, 2017

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • My whole life is just one big warning label.
  • Your mother was right:  "Always wear clean underwear  . . . in case you're in an accident . . . ."
  • Right.  Almost every week I read a news story that says, "The overdose victim comma who arrived at the ER in ragged underwear comma . . . ."
  • Why isn't there a Westminster Cat Show? (Actually, I just learned that there is one, but obviously the dog show is carrying the day.)
  • Mexico.  You can't drink the water . . . or the drinks. http://www.jsonline.com/story/news/mexico-blackouts/2017/08/24/mexico-resort-blackouts-what-we-know/598452001/ 
  • Plus (make that minus), buildings commonly collapse due to the world's worst building codes, and the U.S. State Department has warned its citizens about traveling to Cancun and Los Cabos after a spike in drug-cartel violence in those regions (deadly gun battles in downtown Cancun and Los Cabos).  So why is it still a prime tourist destination?  Discuss.
  • (And if you insist on going to a country that steadfastly refuses to extradite murderers and rapists to the U.S. just because "the prices are low," that tells me more about your intelligence, character and values system than you want me to know.  Doesn't San Diego have beaches and warm weather?)
  • Plato has been gone a long time but his words still ring oh so true, as in:  "One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors." 
  • Speaking of politics, what is your favorite memory of the Robert Scaramucci era?
  • I spotted Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper on the store shelves.  I guess the idea is to make it taste like anything but Dr. Pepper.
  • You know you're getting old when everything dries up or leaks!
  • I saw a recent documentary on Michael Jackson, and it's a good thing he wasn't convicted of those child molestation charges.  I mean, who was going to hold his umbrella  for him in prison.
  • And those outfits he wore.  He looked like one half of a Russian ice-dancing team.
  • Beef jerky is to adults what jawbreakers are to kids.  Hard to chew and not worth the effort.
  • Bygone images:  Test patterns on TV.  Three-quarters of the population probably has never seen one.  (They aren't really missing anything, but i'mjustsayin'.)
  • There will never be a Mitch McConnell lookalike contest.
  • As the debate about Afghanistan re-emerges, it's instructive to recall the words of H.L. Mencken: "For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong."
  • Why do freight trains that derail always seem to be carrying deadly cyanide gas?  Doesn't the Twinkies train ever derail?
  • Memo to all struggling dieters:  Hang in there.  There IS life after pork rinds!
  • Whatever happened to Tony Orlando?  (Real name: Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis)
  • I love it when you read or hear that "violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."  Reality:  "Violators will be offered a plea deal mainly for the convenience of the justice system."
  • Chicago Tribune headline:  "Iconic comedian Jerry Lewis dies at 91."
  • Memo to Tribune:  If someone is truly "iconic" (a word as overused as "expert" and "legend"), he or she doesn't need to be so labeled.   You wouldn't say "Iconic singer Frank Sinatra dies"! You'd say "Frank Sinatra dies."  Period!  
  • (Everything, it seems, is iconic, from Mickey Mouse to Wrigley Field to Lady Gaga (who performed in the hallowed Friendly Confines recently!!!), so if virtually everything is iconic, nothing is.  But the chances of the media ceasing to use the term are as likely as Roman Polanski getting an audience with the pope.
  • jimjustsaying's Newspaper Obituary Nicknames of the Month:  A tie between "Ma Tater" and "Ugly Bob."  As in, Sharon "Ma Tater" Erickson, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Aug. 18, 2017.  R.I.P., Mrs. Erickson; and Robert "Ugly Bob" Klimek, same newspaper, Aug. 24, 2017.  R.I.P., Mr. Klimek.
  • I'm liking Jerry Seinfeld's "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee" series and am wondering what his next "you can never have enough money" project will be.  Maybe . . . "Comedy Writers Doing Their Laundry in Other People's Basements."  
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that the largest temperature swing ever to occur in the United States in just a few minutes occurred at Spearfish, S.D., at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 22, 1943. The temperature was a frigid 4 degrees below zero, but within 2 minutes at 7:32 a.m., the reading had shot up to 45 degrees above zero--a breathtaking increase of 49 degrees in just 2 minutes!"
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Vos nunquam potest esse nimium aut tenuis aut dives aut etiam rei publicae forma coniungitur quam maxime. ("You can never be too thin or too rich or too politically connected.")

LAGNIAPPE

How do sanctions work?
They are a means of squeezing countries or individuals economically in order to coerce them into changing their behavior. Imposed by individual governments such as the U.S. and by multinational bodies like the United Nations and European Union, sanctions take several different forms, including travel bans, asset freezes, arms embargoes, foreign aid reductions, and trade restrictions.

They generally target rogue nations or individuals for destabilizing behavior: building a nuclear program (Iran, North Korea); invading a foreign country (Russia); or committing gross human rights abuses (Sudan). Countries or firms that violate these sanctions—by selling weapons to a nation under an arms embargo, for example—are fined or sometimes even sanctioned themselves. These diplomatic tools do cause significant economic damage to the targeted nation, especially to its citizens, but they rarely succeed in forcing authoritarian leaders to make lasting policy or behavior changes. “All too often,” says Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass, “the economic, humanitarian, and foreign policy costs of U.S. sanctions far outweigh any benefits.”

Do sanctions actually work?

Sometimes. U.N. and U.S. sanctions were definitely a factor in Libyan leader Moammar al-Qaddafi’s decision to dismantle his weapons of mass destruction program in 2003. More recently, the multilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the U.S., U.N., and EU helped bring Tehran to the negotiating table over the country’s nuclear program—albeit in conjunction with the overhanging threat of military action. But these relative successes have been the exception rather than the rule. Nicholas Burns, a senior diplomat under President George W. Bush, says that over the past 25 to 30 years there have been “very few examples where sanctions have actually succeeded”—that is, forced a country to change an objectionable policy.

Why is that?

In large part because sanctions rarely result in real personal pain for the targeted country’s leaders and top officials.

How do countries get around sanctions?

Primarily by taking their trade or assets elsewhere. When sanctions are imposed only by the U.S. or the EU—and not the U.N.—the targeted country or individual can still deal with other nations. North Korea has even found a number of ways to circumvent U.N. sanctions, such as using front companies to bypass arms embargoes, and exploiting a loophole to export coal to China. Besides, sanctions are only effective if they are rigorously enforced. For some of the U.N.’s more impoverished members, selling goods to sanctioned countries can be a risk worth taking; for developed nations, enforcement often butts up against other geopolitical considerations. The U.S. has fined European banks $12 billion for laundering money for Iran, for example, but hasn’t demanded a cent from Chinese institutions doing the same for North Korea. Despite the strategy’s shortcomings, diplomats still consider imposing sanctions better than doing nothing. “Military action is increasingly unpopular, and words don’t work with hard regimes,” says Sir Jeremy Greenstock, a former British ambassador to the U.N. “So something in between these is necessary. What else is there?”
--The Week