Settling in for a drink and interesting talk a few years ago — it would be the last session we had, unhappily — with Ed Seidensticker, the best of America's World War II Japan scholars, the conversation took a serious turn. As we dissolved into that witlessness that overtakes one in Hawaii, Ed said suddenly with ultimate exasperation, "You know, when I look around, everything seems to me to be bizarre! Bizarre! BIZARRE!" Looking around, that episode has come flooding back.
But before you write off all this as the "Old F" Syndrome, take a look:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, before she turned state's evidence (and then walked it back) on the White House's leaking problems, a few months back committed another big intelligence boo-boo: She allowed as how Pakistani military bases were being used for U.S. drones. It was one more nail in the coffin of U.S.-Pakistani relations because Islamabad publicly denounces the unpopular flights. Now the senior senator from California has hit the sawdust trail of heightened security. Bizarre!
There's the big hoo-ha about Mitt Romney's still locked-up tax reports. Meanwhile, President Obama's fuzzy birth certificate and his records on his Indonesian school, prep school, Occidental College, Columbia University, Harvard Law School and travels to Pakistan -- all remain under lock and key. Bizarre!
Young friends — though old enough to know better — have waged missionary efforts to get me on Facebook. When I suggested I was already more than enough affiche, as the French say, they couldn't understand it. But after putting all their personal "facts" on the Web, including details of their underwear, many are complaining of invasion of privacy. Bizarre!
The White House, the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies quite rightly were proud that their pursuit of Osama bin Laden had been kept secret. Fair dinkum, as the Aussies say. But then, is it not logical to assume dangerous leaks about the mission came from the White House staff? By the way, the operations room photo of all those VIPs could not have been luminaries watching the raid in real time, since the leakers have revealed there was no direct online surveillance. So what were they watching? Nickelodeon reruns? Bizarre!
In the prehistoric past, we were taught at Missou J-School that truth was the ultimate pursuit of journalism, a defense even in libel if "malicious intent" could not be proved. How come ABC News could make three gross factual errors in its Aurora "massacre" reporting and no one gets fired? True, the chief honcho did do a mea culpa, but he didn't quit. Obviously, "taking responsibility" has new meaning. Bizarre!
Then there was that group of Spanish scientists who, examining more than 400,000 Western popular tunes since 1955, surprisingly have discovered a growing sameness, chordal illiteracy, electrification wiping out instrumental differentiation, fewer harmonic and timbre complexities, etc., etc. Not to mention, of course, a growing and unforgivable volume assault on the eardrums. But PC critics — led by NPR's pop music goddess Terry Gross and her hot air — bang our china closet with endless pseudo-intellectual attempts to mask this backward motion. Bizarre!
The Obama administration and Congress have put billions, if not trillions, of dollars into subsidies for "green" energy. But the several million dollars it might take to put the nation's fleets on to natural gas, wiping out a larger part of our imports, are not even being considered. Bizarre!
Germany, the diminishing if still relatively well-heeled fat cat among the Euros, has depended for its prosperity on exports — highly leveraged sales of its manufactured goods, with 60 percent going to other Euro markets. But those spendthrift Greeks can't pay for the Mercedeses anymore. They are crying in their cups. And the Germans are giving Lutheran lectures on saving and proper conduct. Bizarre!
Feminine wiles are as old as Samson and Delilah, at least. But picture this: A rather fading, middle-aged Chinese lady, Gu Kailai, wife of an up-and-coming Chinese "princeling," is now said by the government to have stood around nude and pushed a cyanide capsule into the mouth of her British lover and business partner while he was held down by a "butler." She had to reinsert it, according to the blogs, because he was reluctant to swallow. And the British Embassy never questioned his sudden demise. Bizarre!
Ed, wherever you are, nothing has changed!
• Sol Sanders, a veteran international correspondent, writes weekly on the intersection of politics, business and economics. He can be reached at email@example.com and blogs at www.yeoldecrabb.wordpress.com.