The world of lost causes
Passing through New York, Los Angeles and even Sydney, it's hard to believe that both the United States and Australia are at war – in fact, two wars.
You wouldn't know it from what makes news. In midtown Manhattan the bullshit artist formerly known as Puff Daddy – now formally known as P. Diddy but charged and acquitted for pistol possession as Sean Combs – was shooting a music video with his latest hip-hop hippity-hop group, the aptly named Dirty Money. There he was, slinging fake $100 notes into a rapt and raucous crowd of fans like a trailer park lotto winner. Cleverly he'd planted single dollar notes to encourage a real and cheap frenzy, when he accidentally slung his diamond-encrusted pinky ring off like a frisbee into what became a free for all – well, free for everyone except Ditty.
It was worth $US20,000 which, with parity, is about the same amount in Aussies. Suddenly the emperor had no pinky ring. He stopped miming immediately, looked at all his fingers, did the sums and, as if Edward Scissorhands had discovered he had normal digits, he stalked off the stage in a huff daddy. It was fling a bling and all hell broke loose. The metal detectors used by BET studios to check arrivals for weapons were running up and down fans for Ditty's pinky. Trusted gophers dismantled the set and studio but unless Frodo and Sam join the search for the pinky, it is lost to eBay for all of eternity.
Lighter of finger, he was able to muster enough strength to send a sulky tweet: "The craziest shit just happened to me. LOL. I guess it's shittin' on me season." A nation felt his grief. A little later, elated with good news from the insurer, he sent a more focused philosophical tweet: "You win some, you lose some. My loss is another's gain."
Meanwhile, on page 12A of The New York Times most days, the names of dead soldiers are listed under Iraq and Afghanistan. They are boys of 22, 23, 19, when I look at today's addition – four from the fourth engineer battalion, one with the Christian name of Jesus. A tragic way to get your name in the paper.
In Australia, Steve Irwin's dream has been kept alive by Terri as news spread like bushfire that Australia Zoo would be cloned lock, stock and barrel in Las Vegas with koalas, crocs and roos. It's an inspired creation in tandem with an adjoining children's hospital. So if the hand that feeds you is bitten, then it is only a hop, step and jump to outpatients – if you are insured. Steve knew the risks involved in zoos, so it is no surprise that his 20-20 vision encompassed the give-and-take, or an even-handed, approach. Australia Zoo in Vegas with kiddies hospital is one ticket for both shows. It is just the pick-me-up that the cash-starved casino capital needs during the GFC. And why not throw in the KFC? Captain Hook would have as many digits as Diddy if he smiled at a crocodile at Australia Zoo in Vegas, even if he had to lie about his age in order to get into emergency. There are however, no plans for an aquarium at this stage.
Back at the front; a recently released letter, dated May 10, 1988, from the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union addressed to all members, set out the party's growing concern with the invasion of Afghanistan. "The decision to invade was made when there was a lot of uncertainty in the balance of forces within Afghan society . . . we do not want to say it, but we should; at that time we did not have a correct assessment of the unique geographical features of that hard-to-enter country," it reads.
The letter continued to regret the disregard for important national and historical factors, the multiple forms of economic life and other characteristics such as tribal and religious customs. It noted 13,310 dead Russian soldiers in the country and 35,478 wounded.
"There is a reason people say that each person is a unique world, and when a person dies, that world disappears forever. The loss of every individual is very hard and irreparable . . . the Afghan losses naturally, were much heavier than ours, including the losses among the civilian population." The Soviet Union began the withdrawal from Afghanistan five days later.
So back to the modern war. This year the CIA has begun to fight a video game war using Predator drones high over Afghan skies. They beam back live video feed to headquarters in Langley, Virginia, from the flat poppy fields and hiding hills to operators who can then press the appropriate buttons to unleash Hellfire missiles into the homes of those harbouring militants, taking out all bystanding inhabitants. Osama Bin Laden's son was taken out this year by remote-control in this virtual and virtue-less war. There is no appeal if you are erased by mistaken identity.
Back in LA, in the Sports Club on Wilshire Boulevard, running and stairmaster machines came to a sudden halt as sportsmen and women became transfixed in mid-afternoon by the live feed on their individual screens of a runaway aluminum balloon believed to contain a six-year-old boy. At short notice experts in hot air were called in to provide commentary on the aerodynamics of this homemade flying saucer and the chances of survival of the boy at 2000 metres, without a pull-over or stewardess, in the cold and increasingly oxygen-less atmosphere.
Choppers hovered close by to keep the craft in view but far enough not to blow it away – the most interesting use of a helicopter since Kerry Packer used his to dry the wicket at the Sydney Cricket Ground during the World Series Cricket. Again the nation held its breath in order to give more to the balloon boy. The bubble burst and deflation set in as we realised we were watching a pitch for a reality show from the Heene family, using their youngest boy, presciently named Falcon, to hoodwink a gullible country. Children named after cars can grow up to be awkward and dangerous, Mercedes, Holden and Audi Murphy. The video game operators in Langley must have been surely tempted to send in a drone, lock in the balloon, and sic a Hellcat into it.
Sadly, half-hearted wars give rise to heartless followings. Australia has lost 11 soldiers in Afghanistan alone. A majority of Australians do not want to be militarily in Afghanistan according to the latest Lowy Institute poll. Everyone chokes at the sight of the mournful appearance of Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston as he announces the latest Australian victim of an IED – improvised explosive device – or insurgent attack, and flag-covered coffins never lose their chill. Young men leave young widows and children, and every father is a unique world now lost forever, carrying out a duty that few at home recognise. There is dignity in death but there is greater dignity in reversing a wrongful decision.