Vote today or forfeit you’re hard-won and patience-trying right to whine about the result and its after-effects for the next four years. Really. You tell me you don’t vote, I don’t hear what you’ve got to say about the state of the world. The Cubs, “American Idol,” Angelina Jolie, “the technique of the young Picasso vs. that of the old,” that wild stock market, the latest developments in cosmology, genetics or subatomic physics–we can converse on all that and more (though I don’t promise I’ll understand most of the above). But no bitching about politicians, the system, activist judges, shady lobbyists, budget deficits, or any of the rest of that election-implicated stuff. You open your mouth on any of that, and, to quote the immortal former Chicago cop Jack Walsh, here come two words to you.
We’re all stocking up on beer and chips and cases of altar wine for next week’s conclave and celebratory smoke signals. How to while away the hours till the college of cardinals gets together Monday to pick a new pope? Well, you can dip into the beer and chips early, or you can place online bets on the outcome of the papal election. Or both.
Paddypower, an Ireland-based wagering site, is taking bets on which cardinal will become the next pope. The current favorite (now at 7-2, down from earlier quotes of 11-4 and 3-1) is Francis Cardinal Arinze (to use the traditional R.C. title) of Nigeria (he’d be the first pope from Africa in 15 centuries). Interesting that of the top 10 on the Paddypower list, just three are from Italy (and five of the top 13 listed candidates are Italian). The non-Italian betting favorites are from Honduras (No. 2 on the list), Germany (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, a conservative Vatican insider), Brazil, Argentina, France, and Portugal. Personally, I think the next pope will be Italian; the Vatican has had its fling with flamboyant outsiders for awhile. If you’re looking for a long-shot to fund the kids’ education, try Jean-Baptiste Pham Minh Man of Vietnam, one of several cardinals listed with the longest odds of 125-1. Hey, that’s better odds than the lottery, at least in California.
Paddypower also has some side propositions if you’re really determined to lose some money: what name the next pope will take, how many days the election will take, and — best of all — will the next pope fulfill a medieval Irish prophecy foretelling the end of the papacy?
Thank [your deity here], we’re done with the Iraq vote. Now we can back to the really important stuff: The 9 a.m. (Pacific) CBS radio news led with Michael Jackson arriving at the courthouse as jury selection began for his trial on child-molestation charges. In the correspondent’s breathless report, you could hear the throngs screaming in the background.
In San Francisco, meantime, people actually protested the Iraq vote and, I guess, the way it’s being portrayed. It’s all well and good to point out all the conditions that made the event less than the dawn of full-fledged democracy in Iraq: martial law, the heavy military presence, the polling places that didn’t open, et cetera. But it’s a losing proposition, in PR and human terms, to demonstrate against the vote. Regardless of all the flaws, regardless of the long-term meaning, regardless of our government’s untruths in leading us into the war and its calamitously misguided actions in conducting it, when given the opportunity, a group of people who have suffered a degree of oppression we glimpse only in nightmares got a chance to change their future and jumped at it (one view of the event from The New York Times’s John Burns; and another from Salon, hardly a friend of the Iraq project). In my mind, that’s something to be celebrated, no matter how angry I happen to be about what has led us to this point and how much doubt I entertain about the future course of events there.
And in Iraq today, things are going back to business as usual, too. The insurgency is still on. Several U.S. troops have been killed in combat. I’m sure that soon it will be apparent that, in terms of creating a new government and new political reality in Iraq, yesterday was the easy part.
You’d have to have a very hard heart not to be moved at least a little by the pictures of Iraqis going to the polls; going to the polls, moreover, with little idea what their votes will bring; just clear that whatever happens, it’s different from the past.
As to what the vote means, let’s wait a while and see. I’m amused/bemused to read Andrew Sullivan, who on Friday asked how we might judge the vote’s "success."
The amusement/bemusement is twofold. First, Sullivan throws out a set of blind metrics in his post: He suggests "over 50 percent turnout among the Shia and Kurds, and over 30 percent turnout for the Sunnis. No massive disruption of voting places; no theft of ballots. Fewer than 500 murdered." (I find that death figure appalling and outrageous on so many levels it’s hard to sit still and sort them out. Yes, that will be a great success if you’re not one of the 499 or one of their daughters, sons, wives, husbands, mothers or fathers. And: What’s 500 more lives on top of the tens of thousands spent already? And: The nerve of us Yanks, whether we support this war or not, to talk about these lives so casually).
But the thing that really kills me about Sullivan’s success metrics is the way they bounce around. Last week, Chris Matthew asked him to define success, and he said, "Success is 80 percent turnout in–in most of the regions, extremely enthusiastic voting among the Kurds and the Shias, and better than expected among the Sunnis." And today, after letting reality, or whatever it is, sink in a little, he offered this: "My revised criteria: 45 percent turnout for Kurds and Shia, 25 percent turnout for the Sunnis, under 200 murdered. No immediate call for U.S. withdrawal. Reasonable?"
No, not reasonable. But not because the numbers are off. Because they’re a sort of game we’ve all gotten used to watching the media and our leaders play. That game is both a cause and a symptom of the trouble we’re having understanding what’s happening in Iraq (and much of the rest of the world, including the United States, but that’s another post for another time). We’re so impatient for results that we have to know even before we’ve covered over the seed whether it’s growing yet.
When the media plays this way, it’s a game that’s nearly childish in its antsiness to be first to say what it all means. That’s a trait that leads to quick acceptance of announcements like "Iraq’s about to unleash weapons of mass destruction on the United States" or "the Iraqis will love us when we get there" to "major combat is over." Let’s just have a decent respect, for once, what we don’t know about all the dimensions of Iraqi reality and admit that some percentage figure won’t tell you a thing, by itself, about where this is all headed.
Of course, I do have my own opinion. I can’t imagine this working. I just don’t see how an alien power, especially one with as little credibility as we appear to have among Muslims in the Mideast, can both violently overthrow a government and impose a democratic replacement (much less one capable of creating the oasis of stability that Bush talks about).
I agree with Bush! And on any subject other than the danger of swallowing pretzels whole, I think that statement demands an exclamation point. During his press conference today, he said Iraq’s insurgents (he called them terrorists “do not have the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind. They have no positive agenda. They have no clear view of a better future. They’re afraid of a free society.”
I agree with part of this, anyway. Beyond wanting to thwart the will of Bush and the United States no matter what, beyond wanting to force the occupiers out, I don’t really get what the insurgents’ political program is. But that’s enough to keep them going. On the other hand — “having the best interests of the Iraqi people in mind” — that’s another breathtaking Bush conceit. As if he launched the war with the best interest of Iraqis (beyond Ahmad Chalabi) in mind. As if they were given a choice. And now that their country has been torn to pieces for their own good, what a choice we’ve given them. On one side, the insurgents. And on the other, a government that’s a sort of alien life form planted in the desert, one that owes its existence entirely to external life support (our cost, for 2005 alone, $105 billion).