Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"Just Like Being in Baghdad"

We're seeing news reports about widespread looting, carjackings, and other bad behavior along the Gulf Coast. Of course, some people are thugs even under normal conditions, and conditions are certainly far from "normal" in places like New Orleans. It's flooded, it's hot, there's no electricity, there's no clean water to drink; none of the "little things" we all take for granted are available. Buildings are devastated, wreckage and debris are lying around everywhere. It is, perhaps, not surprising that many, many people -- over and above the small number whom you would classify as your "regular" thugs -- are behaving thuggishly.

I heard -- read, actually, in closed-captioning while exercising this morning -- one of the teevee news talkers saying, "It's like being in Baghdad." It got me to thinking.

There are the obvious parallels: widespread devastation, lack of basic amenities such as running water and electrical power, massive dislocation from anything that could be thought of as "normal" life. But let's suppose that the people of New Orleans were experiencing their city in this sort of condition not as a result of the impersonal forces of nature, but because of military action: massive bombardment from the air and invasion over the land. Now let's suppose that instead of police officers on the streets, these Southern Louisianans found soldiers of the same invading power who'd done the deed in the first place. Let's further suppose that these soldiers were conducting house-to-house searches for rebellious natives, and might burst into any remaining home at any time, throw the occupants down to the floor, hold them there, and handcuff them with those oversized plastic cable ties, screaming curses at them all the while. All official news sources would be making happy-talk about how the invaders were actually liberators, there to plant the seeds of some unfamiliar form of government -- let's call it "syndicalist mercantilism" or some such -- but in real life, all these Louisianans would see were more checkpoints, more arbitrary arrests and indefinite detentions, more ordinary civilians being machine-gunned at checkpoints in alleged "accidents," and so on.

We could go on, and add grinding poverty even before the invasion as a result of a decade-and-a-half of a crippling "sanctions" regime and so forth, but you get the idea.

My question, O American Reader: if you were a resident of that New Orleans under those conditions, is there any chance that you might become an "insurgent?" Any chance you might sneak out and plant an IED beside the invaders' military convoy routes? D'you think?

"Like being in Baghdad," indeed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Idle Musings

Every now and then, you see something that makes you wonder. I just did.

I walked through a room in which the satan-box (or "television set," as it is usually rendered in the Common Speech) was playing. What was on, as so often happens, was a commercial advertisement. It was intended to get the viewer to purchase hardware and services from the ... well, why should I help them by repeating their name? It was one of the several outfits that can fix you up with an 18-inch satellite dish receiver.

Anyway, in the commercial, two suburban ladies are talking in what is evidently the home of one of them. Some small household object suddenly flies past them, hits the TV, and is apparently plastered up against it. "What was that?" asks the guest lady. The homeowner lady's reply: "Oh, it's just my TV. My TV sucks."

Over the next few seconds, more and more items, including a baby stroller with the baby on board, are added to the picture-tube collection. One of the ladies observes, "It sucks really hard."

Well, it turns out that the guest lady's TV, at her home, does not suck. This is because she has the correct dish provider, instead of an incorrect one, or cable, or whatever.

This got me to thinking. How and when, exactly, did the "sucks" formulation become mainstream-acceptable?

I calculate that I was a fifth-grade engineer in the year 1965, and I remember that as the year in which I and my classmates learned to use the word "suck." It was clearly understood by all to refer to the oral-genital stimulation of a male. It wasn't anything you said, if there was a chance you'd be overheard by an adult "authority figure" (which, at the time, meant pretty much any adult). To be told that "you suck" was a fairly serious insult, likely to lead to hand-to-hand combat.

So I wonder: do the people who use the suck-word so freely today know what the original meaning was? Perhaps they do know, but maybe the practice is taken for granted as a normal activity these days. I wonder. But not for very long. After all, I'm still waiting breathlessly for the real and important news of the day: any break in the Aruba missing-party-girl case? How are T.O. and Donovan getting along these days? You know ... the important things.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Supporting the Troops

One of the two local newspapers in my area ran this letter last week:

I had just finished talking to my son, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Iraq, when I read the article on the “peace vigil” (Aug. 18). I was, at first, angry that these protesters would dishonor not only my son, but my sister, my nephew and his wife, who are in the military, with their one-sided view of the job being accomplished in Iraq.

I then remembered something my young Marine said on the phone after arriving in Iraq: “Mom, those people don’t see the big picture. They have a very narrow outlook on life and are only concerned on how it affects their world.”

As a mother with a son overseas, I am saddened by the actions of Cindy Sheehan. I believe she dishonors her son and what he believed in. He had the strength and courage to stand up for those beliefs.

Those 100 or so people who came to this vigil should try to do as my son suggested and look outside their small world. Look to the good that is being done in Iraq. Look to the amazing progress that has been accomplished for and by a country that was held in tyranny and oppression for decades.

Progress is never easy and always comes with a price. Sheehan’s son paid the ultimate price. My son and other military personnel would pay that same price if they were called upon to do so. As a military mother, this is one of my most difficult jobs – to let him be one of the few, the proud, a Marine.

So go ahead and protest the war, the president, the military. They are all fighting to make sure you have every right to do so without retribution.

Every time I tell my son goodbye, I know that he may not ever talk to me again. So out of respect for all military parents, never presume that you can “relate” to a mother with a child serving overseas. You can’t.

Fort Wayne

This brings to my mind the whole question of whether one can coherently claim to "support the troops" while opposing the war -- and, indeed, just what it is that constitutes "support" for "the troops." We shouldn't assume that an opponent of a war can support the troops by just saying so. After all, the chickenhawk who preceded Mr. Bush in office told us, as recently as 1995, that it is idle to claim to love your country while opposing its government, so we shouldn't take anything for granted.

When the troops are conscripts, it seems clear that they're not to blame for their superiors' actions and orders. After all, disobedience to those orders might bring consequences ranging from imprisonment to being summarily shot, depending on the immediate circumstances.

However, as enthusiasts for Gulf War II are so fond of pointing out, the troops are all volunteers these days. That's what is supposed to make it all right that almost 1900 have been killed, and a much-higher number maimed; they volunteered. They wanted to be there. Those who were "stop-lossed" should have known, we are assured, that a soldier is a soldier for as long as it suits Uncle Sam to keep him; the enlistment contract gives the government the ultimate escape clause in time of war, and presumably in time of Global Struggle, too.

I tend to think that current American soldiers don't really fit into either of the "pure" categories. They clearly aren't conscripts. But I don't think they can justifiably be saddled with full responsibility for their situations, either. The government has, after all, spent many millions of dollars over the past few decades to advertise military careers to teenagers. I can't claim to have really opened my eyes to the reality of the warfare-welfare state until about fifteen years ago, and I was thirty-six then. How could I expect people half that age, educated in worse schools than mine, to be truly responsible for decisions made under the blandishments of recruiting officers who are both clever and highly motivated? Not a reasonable expectation.

The writer of the letter above suggests that opponents of the war should consider all the good done by Americans in Iraq of late. By all means, let us do so. The Iraqis who are still alive are no longer ruled by an autocratic strongman. Instead, they live in chaos and de facto civil war. That won't last long, though ... an Islamic Republic dominated by Iran is on its way. Some -- a quite small minority at that -- have, perhaps, been detained under the control of Specialist Charles Graner, Private Lynndie England, and their spiritual brothers and sisters. And quite a number don't have to concern themselves about being ruled by the Iranian-apprentice mullahs, because they're dead. We don't know what "quite a number" is, because Rumsfeld Inc. is proud not to count them. And, on the side, we're now looking at two and a half post-invasion years of not much electricity, rivers of sewage in the streets, and the ever-present chance of having your house broken into and your family brutalized by screaming, cursing Americans.

On the other hand, some schools have been painted. By all means, let's focus on the positives.

But, back to "supporting the troops." Having thought about it for a while, there isn't any one wish I have for all of the troops. It sort of depends on who we're talking about. For those who were deceived and stop-lossed into their situation, and who've just pretty much been keeping a low profile, I wish a quick and peaceful end to their Mesopotamian days, and a speedy return to a sane life in their own country. For those who've mistreated civilians, broken bottles over men's heads, and snarled rape threats at women -- may they be killed quickly. For the high-ranking and civilian leadership, I wish a short lifetime, filled with very bad dreams.

For none of the troops do I wish "victory" -- whatever that might mean in this situation. So, I'm clearly not a supporter of the troops. So be it.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Whom the Gods Would Destroy, They First ...

Now, I know: many of us are thinking that Pat Robertson has simply gone 'round the bend, or that his flagship teevee program is going to change its title to "The 666 Club." But: did he say anything that many American evangelicals haven't already bought into?

He said it a little bluntly; a little crazily. He said it in an unusually graceless and ugly way. But the underlying thought -- that foreigners who are in the way of Imperial ambitions and appetites should be killed -- is quite mainstream among the car-antenna-flag and magnetic-ribbon masses in the U.S.

If he were just a trifle smoother, Mr. Robertson would have waited and helped build up a myth about the Venezuelan Weapons of Mass Destruction Program-Related Activities problem. He would have spread the word that Venezuelan Supervisor Hugo Chavez has sodomized, murdered, and cannibalized thousands of cute babies, puppy-dogs, and kitty-cats, every single day of every single week of every single year of his whole regrettable life. Oh, and he would have tossed in, just by the way, that Chavez must be an anti-Semite, too.

But he wasn't smooth ... and he showed the "oil" card right away, too.

It would be a mistake, though, to assume that Mr. Robertson is a painful embarrassment to the evangelical wing of the War Party. He serves a useful purpose for them. Mr. Robertson has voluntarily used himself to define the fringe, the extreme, the lunatic bleeding edge of the pro-war movement. Now all the rest of the neocon chorus can shelter in his lee, so to speak. Just by observing a few more of the proprieties, they can advocate substantially the same kinds of things, without being identified as crazies. We'll all know what a crazy is: that guy on "The 666 Club."

Friday, August 19, 2005

A Whole Lot Worse Than Sausage

By way of Matt Taibbi has written a lengthy-but-interesting piece for Rolling Stone in which he describes, in some detail, the doings of Vermont congressman Bernie Sanders over a period of several weeks. They say that if you enjoy sausage, you shouldn't see it being made. Well, if you have any enthusiasm for the doings of our supervisors and (for some reason) want to keep that enthusiasm, don't read Taibbi's story. If you're feeling strong, go right ahead.

One comment: the story, at one point, tells us that the House Rules Committee frequently makes wholesale changes in a bill just before it comes up for a floor vote. Our poor congressfolk supposedly have no choice but to vote on a bill without knowing what it says. Well ... at seems to me that there are a couple of things that our noble representatives could do, if they really wanted to. One would be to strip this despotic power from the Rules Committee. Or: each congresscritter could simply decide that, if he or she must vote yea-or-nay on a bill, without a proper opportunity to discover what's in it, that vote will always be "nay."

As my late mother used to say: don't hold your breath while you wait for that to happen.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I Got My Mind Right, Boss!

I work out early in the morning, at my local YMCA, where there's a bank of six televisions staring at you when you're using the rows of treadmills, elliptical trainers, bikes, and such. I don't hear the audio from the glass-fronted Satan-boxes, because I have my MP3 player on; but they all have the closed captioning turned on. And this morning, while thrashing away at the elliptical, I was seeing the silent-but-captioned "news" and suddenly thought of an old movie: Cool Hand Luke.

The news story was all about the traumatic Israeli pullout from (a little bit of) the occupied territories in Gaza. I saw lots and lots of housing, in the video, that had been gutted and largely destroyed by the outgoing "settlers." And it got me to thinking. Israel is our largest international welfare client, at the rate of about $3B per year, on the books; how much more there might be that's not included in that figure, I couldn't say. And all that settlement housing ... I wonder how much of it was paid for by us: the American taxpayer or serf. Whether directly or not doesn't matter, really; money is fungible, so any Israeli gummint project is substantially an American gummint project. The same applies to the eventual bulldozing cost, too. So we pay to build, and then we pay to tear down. And if the Palestinian Authority is at all smart, I expect we'll pay to rebuild, too.

Consider Iraq. We've paid, and are paying, tons of money and blood to bust the place up. And, more or less simultaneously, we're paying more tons of money and blood to rebuild. (So far, the busting-up seems to be well out in the lead.) Pay to tear down, pay to build. Ah, the wonders of the glorious State!

So, what's that got to do with Cool Hand Luke? I'm sure you remember the scene in which the Paul Newman character is made to excavate a large hole by one "boss," only to be ordered to fill it in by another. The cycle repeats until he's broken. "Don't hit me no more, Boss ... I got my mind right!"

'Nuff said, I think.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Dulce et Decorum Est, Pro Imperia Mori

As I write this, I suppose Cindy Sheehan is still camped out at the Dear Leader's front gate. Cindy Sheehan, in case you didn't know, had a son killed in Iraq during the current Global Struggle Against Israel's Enemies. From the CNN news story:

The president -- who is spending a nearly five-week-long working vacation at his Texas ranch -- said in a speech Wednesday that the sacrifices of U.S. troops were "made in a noble cause."

Sheehan said she found little comfort in his comments.

"I want to ask the president, why did he kill my son?" Sheehan told reporters. "He said my son died in a noble cause, and I want to ask him what that noble cause is."

Sheehan said hers was one of a group of about 15 families who each met separately with the president one day last June.

"He wouldn't look at the pictures of Casey. He didn't even know Casey's name," she told CNN Sunday. "Every time we tried to talk about Casey and how much we missed him, he would change the subject."

Sheehan said she was so distraught at the time that she failed to ask the questions she now wants answered.

Not to worry about il Duce: his fully-robotic defenders are swinging into furious keyboard action, as can be seen from the output of some of the deepthinkers at the Freep cesspool. And, of course, by the time you're reading this, perhaps she'll have been hauled off to the hoosegow. After all, where she's sitting may not be a designated Free Speech Zone. And there's very little that's any worse than free speech, straying outside the Zone.

Yes, the Dear Leader certainly makes it sound noble and desirable -- making the ultimate sacrifice for the Empire. I still wonder, though: when do Jenna and Barbara report for basic training?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

No Rest For Our Great Leader

From the news: our Dear Leader, Senor El Supremo Jorge Bush, is working hard on his undoubtedly long-overdue and richly-deserved vacation. (Why, I believe it's been several weeks since I last heard about the Dear Leader taking any vacation! He needs to take at least five weeks. You know, it's hard work, strutting and talking tough all the time, and being a Wartime Dear Leader.)

Of course, the Leader is such a workaholic that even when vacationing at his synthetic Texas ranch, he finds time for some chesty talk. From the AP's story:

During a question and answer session with reporters, Bush was asked about al-Zawahri's videotaped warnings.

"The comments of the No. 2 man of al-Qaeda make it clear that Iraq is part of this war on terror, and we're at war," Bush said.

"As I have told the American people, people like Zawahri have an ideology that is dark, dim, backwards," the president said. "They don't trust, they don't appreciate women. If you don't agree to their narrow view of religion, you're whipped in the public square."

Bush said that al-Zawahri "was a part of the team that attacked us on September 11, 2001."

"Part of their goal is to drive us out of the broader Middle East: precisely what this Zawahiri said. He's threatening. They have come up against a nation that, one, will defend itself," Bush said.

"We will stay the course. We will complete the job in Iraq," he added.

When the Dear Leader -- who is said to have personally kept the skies over Texas free of Communist MiGs for at least several weeks during last century's Global War on Vietnam -- gives us that truculent, resentful, squinting, thin-lipped Look of Steely Resolve and declares that "we" will stay the course and complete the job and so forth, one has to wonder: who's "we?" Is the Dear Leader planning to pick up a rifle and be first in the charge, and last in the retreat? Have the Twin BushBabes enlisted? Or does "we" turn out to mean teenagers who aren't old enough yet to realize that Glorious Leaders are actually thieves and murderous liars, along with some older reservists who've been stop-lossed into unplanned careers?

Of course, it would be both unfair and blasphemous to suggest that the Dear Leader lacks compassion for his fallen torpedoes:

Bush also paid tribute to Marines who died over the past few days in bombings in Iraq, including a community from near Columbus, Ohio, which suffered heavy losses.

He said that the community of Brook Park "suffered mightily over the last couple of days."

"I hope they can take comfort in the fact that millions of their fellow citizens pray for them," he said.

I guess one of the important manifestations of the greatness of El Presidente is his complete immunity to shame.