Monday, January 01, 2007

The Last Comic Standing

This is about events during the last week of 2006, though it starts out in 1959.

That’s so that I can make a point about tornados. In 1959 my family lived on the plains of South Dakota -- tornado country. Just to give you an idea of what I mean by “tornado country,” on one day in 2003, 54 tornados struck. Granted, that was 44 years after my family left. But my point is that when you live in tornado country you build a storm cellar before you build your house, because you’re going to need that cellar some day.

Now to the closing week of 2006: On Thursday of that week, tornados were in the sky near the Crawford, Texas home of George and Laura Bush. The Bushes waited out the storm in an armored car. Apparently, when they built their10,000 square foot vacation home in tornado-country Texas, they forgot to start with the cellar.

On Friday night of that week, a man of unmitigated evil was hanged. Inflicting terror had brought Saddam Hussein untold joy so I shed no tears for him. I do, however, think there were more politically astute ways than execution for us to reckon with him.

By the way, did you catch last summer’s NPR piece about the Anger Bar in Nanjing, China? Women pay about $8 for 60 seconds in which they beat up one of the male bar staff. One woman said it helped her work out her fury at her cruel boss. One member of the bar staff said that getting hit by a woman is better than getting hit by a man.

Saddam Hussein was no garden-variety cruel boss. Ruining as many lives as possible was what made him happy. But we didn’t need to kill Hussein in order to work out our fury at him. And even if we did, Iraq is not the Anger Bar.

It seems to me that, if the United States wants to regain face in world affairs, we should start behaving with exceptional decency. As a country we desperately need friends. Most religions -- indeed, most of our allies and potential allies -- condemn capital punishment. So what should we have done with Saddam Hussein?

Not what the man who forgot to start his house with a cellar did.

The problem of long-term arrangements for Saddam Hussein required much more deliberation than it (or the construction of the house in Crawford or even the invasion of Iraq) received. Because now, as we begin 2007, the wannabe high-toned United States of America has become the joke of civilized people.

Saddam Hussein: A bad idea, poorly executed. The United States: The last comic standing.

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