SHOW AND YELL: Some decades, it’s not safe to get out of bed in the morning. This could well be one of them. I’m referring, of course, to the sad, sleazy implosion with which the ever stubble-jawed quarterback Brett Favre — yet another 14-year-old boy trapped in the body of a 41-year-old man — concluded his otherwise phenomenal 20-year career. Back in 2008, Favre was in the throes of the first of many out-of-retirement comebacks. That’s when he telephonically transmitted some still-life photos of his slim jim, au naturel, to a New York Jets “gameday host,” whose job qualifications included having posed nude for Playboy. Last summer, she threatened to go public unless the National Football League conducted a proper investigation. Not wanting to intrude on what would be the last season of its most consistently exciting marquee player — this year’s closest competition being a reformed dog killer — the league did a masterful job dragging out an inquiry that any high school newspaper intern could have concluded over lunch. Favre, as we all know, was given a $50,000 slap on the wrist for failing to cooperate. But by then, he’d already been safely knocked out of the starting lineup by opposing defensive players. Since then, two massage therapists subcontracting with the Jets have also sued, charging Favre insinuated an interest in having a threesome. He transmitted a text message stating he was feeling lonely and that he had “bad intentions.” For violating the NFL’s iron-clad rule of Omertà, the therapists claim, they were told they’d never work for the Jets again. Favre, likewise, will never again play professional football. At least probably not. Still, in his last and less than glorious year, he managed to collect $727,272 every time he was sacked and $1.45 million for every touchdown he threw. Not bad.
While counting all his dough, Favre might thank his lucky stars he doesn’t live in Pakistan, where a 45-year-old mother of five — Asia Bibi — has been sentenced to death by hanging for allegedly dissing the Prophet. In Pakistan, it’s a capital crime to impugn the Qur’an or Mohammed either by express word or “any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation.” Perhaps if Bibi — a Christian field hand unhappily employed by Muslim women — had had a cell phone with her at the time, we might have a more accurate picture of what actually transpired. We do know that two years ago, Bibi had been ordered to fetch water for her bosses. When one complained that Bibi — being an infidel — contaminated the water by touching it, words were exchanged. Bibi was rebuked for her beliefs. By way of rebuttal, Bibi noted that Jesus Christ had died for his believers and indelicately wondered just what Mohammed had ever done for his. Or something like that. If Pakistan didn’t have The Bomb, all this might just be weird and pathetic. But Pakistan is a card-carrying member of the A-bomb club, and whatever passes for civil government there appears poised to disintegrate. That’s more than nervous-making. When liberal, pro-Western politicians vaguely threatened to change the blasphemy law now threatening Bibi’s neck, hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets last week in support of the death penalty, bringing Pakistan to an utter standstill. Earlier this week, a prominent politician who’d been outspoken in his defense of Bibi — Salman Taseer — was shot to death by one of his elite bodyguards, who proudly confessed both his guilt and support for the blasphemy law.
Of course, the real reason the United States has been in Afghanistan — longer now than the Soviet Union — is to prop up some façade of stability in Pakistan. Not only have pro-Taliban forces in Afghanistan used Pakistan as a staging area, but they have increasingly turned their weapons on the Pakistani government, which, we have come to discover, has been funneling funds supplied by the United States to buy off the insurgents. In response, the United States has dispatched killer drones to Pakistan, where they are regarded by all political parties as a grievous affront to Pakistani national sovereignty. In the last month, the killer drones took out 45 people; the suicide bombers, 42. With that kind of math, it’s hard to see who’s winning. But when millions of people embrace an insane death-to-blasphemers law — which, by the way, has never actually been carried out — as a symbol of national independence, it’s easy to see who’s losing. Fueling all this has been the utter inability of the pro-Western coalition ruling Pakistan to care for the millions of people displaced by last year’s catastrophic floods or even provide a modicum of electricity for those still in their homes. When world oil prices surged two months ago in response to intense demand from China and India, the Pakistani government found itself incapable of buffering its people from harsh price increases with adequate subsidies. In response to this oil-induced economic pain, two opposition parties that had participated in the governing coalition withdrew. Given that Pakistan has the capacity for nuclear power, many Pakistanis are increasingly wondering why they must do without just because it makes the Western Powers edgy. And they’re edgy for good reason. After all, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear power program — Dr. A.Q. Khan — sold nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Now, it turns out — if investigative reporters Catherine Collins and Douglas Franz are to be believed — that the CIA had ample opportunity to stop Khan from letting the nuclear genie out of its bottle. The CIA had three Swiss engineers on it payroll who were working for Khan, and they’re the ones who provided Iran the capacity to make the gas centrifuges for its nuclear reactors. According to Collins and Franz — in their new book Fallout — the CIA was so interested in the stream of info the Swiss engineers could provide that the agency chose to do nothing useful with it. Because of that inaction, they charge, Khan was allowed to operate unfettered, and we have no choice but to care profoundly about what happens in Pakistan. Since then, they allege, the CIA has moved heaven and Earth to cover its ass and stop the Swiss government from prosecuting these engineers. Despite such efforts, it now appears criminal charges will be filed imminently. That, of course, will be deeply satisfying but utterly useless.
In the meantime, I’m rooting for Brett Favre to make another comeback. And in case I forgot to mention it, Happy New Year.