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Published: Wednesday, 2/8/2006

Reflecting on what's right with the world

Simpson Simpson
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PITTSBURGH - Consistent with the heady spirit of this city in the wake of the Steelers' satisfying victory on Sunday, I thought it a good moment to note some of what I see as positive developments elsewhere in the current overall picture.

1. In international politics and sports, President Bush intervened last month to enable Cuba to participate in the World Baseball Classic games in the United States. Whether he did it just to please his former fellow team owners doesn't matter: It was an act of sportsmanship. America would have looked truly foolish trying to exclude longtime baseball power Cuba from next month's games.

2. In the women-in-politics category, a woman, Tarja Halonen, won the presidency of Finland in a runoff election held late last month. The new president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, followed through on her promise to name women to 10 of 20 posts in her cabinet, including the key defense, economic, and mining ministries. The world is likely to be made better by greater participation of women in high politics.

3. There are clear indications that the Department of Defense is making preparations to draw the number of American servicemen and women in Iraq down from the current 140,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year. President Bush isn't saying so himself, but so what, as long as it is done.

4. Whatever political finance seediness there may be in the background of the new House majority leader, Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, there is no question but that he represents a step up in ethical standards from his predecessor, the indicted Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas. Mr. DeLay was noteworthy for having crudely gerrymandered Texas' congressional districts and for having been king of Capitol Hill in crooked campaign financing.

5. One last non-local plus before getting into the really controversial stuff: The Palestinians elected a new government that will be dominated by Hamas, an organization with a clear terrorist past, in place of Yasser Arafat's old crowd, Fatah.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice unintentionally warmed my heart when she said that almost no one had predicted that Hamas would beat Fatah: I did, weeks before, working from Hamas' success and the reasons for it in the Palestinians' December municipal elections. They challenged Fatah successfully in those elections because they were seen by Palestinians as relatively honest, religiously austere, and militant on Israel.

Hamas' victory represents a step forward in two senses, in my view. First, the Palestinians should get better, more honest, and efficient government. Second, in spite of Hamas' appalling approach to Israel and its past acts of terrorism, it is better that everyone see just how exactly the Palestinians really see things. A vote is a good way to get that perception straight. Fatah, after all, were no more than the Palestinian equivalent of America's own entrenched politicians of both parties in Washington, for the most part content, smug, and corrupt.

6. And now for the real coffee-spilling stuff: Pittsburghers like me, who sometimes pretend to be intellectuals, can be to some degree apologetic about the fact that our city is both obsessed with, and known for, its sports teams.

So, let's follow up on the Steelers' magnificent victory in Detroit by reflection on what else is going well, and proceed - after the endless yakking - to build ourselves a new hockey arena for the Penguins. We need to have something to look forward to until baseball's opening day in April.

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.



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