NEWS explosion! Everyone stay calm. Before we get to politics and the sad news about Wilt, let's check on the latest possibility for thermonuclear war.
Pakistan's coup appears about as bloodless and efficient as such a thing could be. The citizenry is pleased. They've rallied behind the army. Schools and shops remain open today. This is a nation that has figured out a way to get around the onerous, time-consuming, freak show-inspiring "primary` battles that have hijacked our own political system. (If I have time, I'll call the Pentagon to see if they've considered such a move.)
As you know, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif yesterday fired Army chief of staff Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf, but Musharraf came up with the perfect retort - taking over the entire country. Sharif is now reportedly in "protective custody.` The Pakistani people applauded the move because Sharif was turning autocratic, and, worse, seemed insufficiently belligerent in the face-off with India over the disputed border region of Kashmir. He pulled militants out of the area this summer, staving off what might have been another war with India just months after both nations had conducted nuclear tests. So clearly he had to go.
At first, the U.S. State Department declined to call it a "coup,` preferring "political crisis,` echoing their preference for referring to the unpleasantness in the Balkans as a "conflict` and not a "war.` As always, American foreign policy is constructed around the idea of Strategic Euphemism.
They're not calling it a coup at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, either.
`I don't think it is a coup, because the military has moved in, of course, but the constitution is very much valid, the parliament is intact, the president of Pakistan is very much operational,` Malik Zahoor-Ahmad, the embassy's Minister of Information, told me this morning. "And there's no martial law. When there's a coup, there's martial law. I wouldn't say it's a coup.`
Gen. Musharraf, in his first remarks to the nation, fired off a veiled warning to arch-rival India: "We shall preserve the integrity and sovereignty of our country to the last drop of blood.`
It's never good when they mention blood in the inaugural address.
Normally, what we Americans do when we hear of an outbreak of mayhem and violence and political unrest in some other part of the world is to say how appalled we are, and how tragic it is, and then ask if anyone knows which continent that's on, precisely. But this is different. We're not in East Timor anymore. Pakistan has nuclear capability. It is probably at the moment the most important country in the world whose name ends in "stan.`
This morning, I asked my friend Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, to brief us on how we should feel about the Pakistan situation. How worrisome is this? O'Hanlon's report:
`On the one hand, the prime minister seemed a little bit more inclined to make peace with India, so we're unhappy to lose him for that reason. But on the other hand, Pakistan was a failing state. It's a mess. Tons of violence. Very poor economy. A lot of problems with Islamic fundamentalist militias and terrorism. If I could wish upon this land a 30-year period of benign, enlightened military rule, I probably would. But it's hard to get such a thing.`
He added a final caveat: "The military is not exactly a peace-loving group. If military rule leads to a war with India, I'll be regretting these words in a big way.`
Politics: Did you hear the clip of Al Gore at the AFL-CIO convention? At one point, he vowed to veto any anti-labor bill that crossed his desk - saying, "I guaran-damn-tee it!` The man is getting seriously Tennessean. Everyone be on alert for the first time he says "bodacious,` refers to a skunk as a "pole cat,` or bursts out with an exclamation of "great balls o' fire!`
Finally, Wilt. I interviewed him once and was struck by the fact that he didn't look 7' 1`. He looked 8 feet tall. (For an explanation, click here.) In basketball he was more dominating than any player in the game today. He had 122 games when he scored at least 50 points - more than three times as many 50-point games as Michael Jordan.
But you could see that it was not easy being the biggest of big men. Since the fourth grade he had been different from everyone else, a giant among a race of little people. He felt that many fans wouldn't root for him on the basketball court, because he was so huge - "nobody roots for Goliath.` Even in retirement, he was touchy about photographers trying to highlight his height. "It makes me feel like I'm ridiculous,` he said angrily. "They want to make you look like a freak.`
He noted that he didn't look as large horizontally as he did vertically, and demonstrated by lying on a bed. In his autobiography, he put this in the context of his much-publicized propensity for numerous, brief relationships with women. He wrote, "If we're lucky enough to lie down together, we almost seem to become the same size.`
Rest in peace, big guy.
Rough Draft appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m., except on national holidays and in cases of global nuclear conflagration.