Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Odometer of Time Rolls Over ...

... at least, in an extremely minor way. I'm sitting here, nursing a Diet Coke and typing up some problem solutions for my class, and it's about midnight. It's the beginning of AD 2007, more or less.

I wish I could predict some sort of wonderful upcoming year, here in the land of my birth. But I see no reason to think we'll have one, nor any particular reason why we deserve one. What we do deserve hardly bears talking about. So, I'll be hoping for some kind of chastening that might have the effect of waking us up and making us see what we have become, and what our situation really is. May the sun set on the American Empire very, very soon. May we all turn from our "culture" of death and idiocy even sooner.

Not going to happen, is it?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Here's an Idea, George ...

I see where your Mesopotamian puppet regime has dusted our former Iraqi employee. So here's what you do, George, you pathetic and vainglorious pup. You declare "mission accomplished" once again (better think of a new phrase, though), and you immediately withdraw the legions -- every last one.

Hey, now you can say you won and everything! You can be SO much more of a man than your old Dad, and settle up that Oedipal scenario that's been playing itself out in what's left of your coked-out and booze-rotted mind.

But act fast! The glorious moment won't last ... wait until next week, and attention will only tend to return to the blood-soaked chaos you've made out of the former Iraq. Get out while the gettin's good, boy!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Progress Death Is Our Most Important Product"

I see in the news where Our Glorious Wartime President will soon be able to trumpet yet another Imperial success: another death. Sometime in the next few weeks, Saddam Hussein will be hanged.

What for? Well:
His lawyers, who released the message, said it was written on 5 November, the day an Iraqi tribunal sentenced him to death for ordering the killings of scores of Shias Muslims in Dujail.
Hmmmm. "Scores." Let's see, a "score" is an archaic way of saying "twenty." So, someone who ordered the killing of "scores" must presumably have ordered the deaths of, say, two to ten twenties. Forty to two hundred people.

This, it seems to me, establishes -- or at least reminds us of -- a potentially-useful precedent. Any reasonable estimate of the numbers of Iraqi civilians killed in Bush's war is in the hundreds of thousands (or in the five thousands of "scores"). So: how many times does Il Duce deserve to be hanged for his misdeeds? How about his British lap-poodle, Tony Blair?

If only this precedent could be generally applied! What a peaceful world we might have.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chimpy's Bedside Manner

OK, it's Christmas time. You're a soldier, and you've been wounded in what is now nearly universally acknowledged as a raw face-saving exercise on behalf of the draft-dodger who currently infests the White House. (That's as opposed to that other draft-dodger who was the previous tenant. Is there a theme here?)

Can you think of anything that would make you feel any better than to receive Official Comfort™ from the Chimp-in-Chief himself?

You have to wonder what the pre-Official Comfort™ screenings and briefings must have been like. After all, it wouldn't do for The Exalted to visit some ungrateful wretch's bedside and get some kind of dissent talk. I wonder what the pre-screeners and briefers say to those wounded folks? I wonder how explicitly the threats are made.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Democrats for Peace?

We can probably take for granted that no Republican who takes a principled stance against aggressive wars is likely to seek the GOP presidential nomination. After all, the only (quasi-)Republican officeholder that I know of who meets that standard is Ron Paul, the libertarian/Republican congressman from the 14th district in Texas, and he's not seeking the presidency. So that leaves the Other Major Brand. The Democratic Party "swept" its way into razor-thin working majorities in both houses of Congress a couple of months ago, propelled by some form of national disgust over the blood-soaked fiasco that is Iraq. Which Democrats seeking the presidency are actually anti-war?

Well, there's Sen. Hillary Clinton. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh. Driven by a need (unfortunately, a realistic one, I don't doubt) to seem even more manly than the men, her public statements have rivalled Bush for bellicosity.

What about everyone's cuddly-clean non-racial / post-racial diversity celebrity, Sen. Barack Obama? He's condemned the war as "dumb." However, he's sure he can do it lots better. Nope -- no change there.

Really, I think Dennis Kucinich is about as good as it gets on the Democratic Party side; and that's not very good. His campaign web site suggests that his primary critique of the war is that it isn't being prosecuted by the United Nations. I'd need something a good bit more explicitly-principled from him before developing any enthusiasm.

Conclusion: we're screwed, again. As are a lot of foreigners who deserve being screwed again much less than we deserve it.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Supporting the Troops, Part N

The indispensable Fred Reed has a piece today at Lew Rockwell. As always, I'd recommend following the link; however, in case you'd rather not bother, here's the entire text:
Addendum to Clausewitz

by Fred Reed

It's all but official: The war in Iraq is lost. Report after leaked report says so. Everybody in Washington knows it except that draft-dodging ferret in the White House. Politicians scurry to avoid the blame. One day soon people will ask aloud: How did we let 3000 GIs die for the weak ego of a pampered liar and his desperate need to prove he's half the man his father was?

The troops from now on will die for a war that they already know is over. They are dying for politicians. They are dying for nothing. By now they must know it. It happened to us, too, long ago.

The talk among pols now is about finding an "exit strategy." This means a way of pulling out without risking too many seats in Congress. Screw the troops. We must look to the elections. Do we really want an exit strategy? A friend of mine, with two tours in heavy combat in another war, has devised a splendid exit strategy. It consists of five words: "OK. On the plane. Now." Bring your toothbrush. Everything else stays. We're outa here.

It is a workable exit strategy, one with teeth, and comprehensible to all. But we won't use it. We will continue killing our men, calculatedly, cynically, for the benefit of politicians. The important thing, you see, is the place in history of Bush Puppy. Screw the troops.

Face it. The soldiers are being used. They are being suckered. This isn't new. It happened to my generation. Long after we knew that the war in Vietnam was lost, Lyndon Johnson kept it going to fertilize his vanity, and then Nixon spoke of the need to "save face"—at two hundred dead GIs a week. But of course Johnson and Nixon weren't among the dead, or among the GIs.

I saw an interview on television long ago in which the reporter asked an infantryman near Danang, I think, what he thought of Nixon's plan to save face. "His face, our ass," was the reply. Just so, then, and just so now. Screw the troops. What the hell, they breed fast in Kansas anyway.

Soldiers are succinct and do not mince words. This makes them dangerous. We must keep them off-camera to the extent possible. A GI telling the truth could set recruiting back by years.

The truth is that the government doesn't care about its soldiers, and never has. If you think I am being unduly harsh, read the Washington Post. You will find story after story saying that the Democrats don't want to do anything drastic about the war. They fear seeming "soft on national security." In other words, they care more about their electoral prospects in 2008 than they do about the lives of GIs. It's no secret. For them it is a matter of tuning the spin, of covering tracks, of calculating the vector sum of the ardent-patriot vote which may be cooling, deciding which way the liberal wind blows, and staying poised to seem to have supported whoever wins. Screw the troops. Their fathers probably work in factories anyway.

Soldiers do not realize, until too late, the contempt in which they are held by their betters. Here is the psychological foundation of the hobbyist wars of bus-station presidents. If you are, say, a Lance Corporal in some miserable region of Iraq, I have a question for you: Would your commanding general let you date his daughter? I spent my high-school years on a naval base, Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground as it was then called. Dahlgren was heavy with officers, scientists, and engineers. Their daughters, my classmates, were not allowed to associate with sailors. Oh yes, we honor our fighting men. We hold them in endless respect. Yes we do.

For that matter, Lance Corporal, ask how many members of Congress have even served, much less been in combat. Ask how many have children in the armed services. Look around you. Do you see many (any) guys from Harvard? Yale? MIT? Cornell? Exactly. The smart, the well-off, the powerful are not about to risk their irreplaceable sit-parts in combat. Nor are they going to mix with mere high-school graduates, with kids from small towns in Tennessee, with blue-collar riffraff who bowl and drink Bud at places with names like Lenny's Rib Room. One simply doesn't. One has standards.

You are being suckered, gang, just as we were.

It is a science. The government hires slick PR firms and ad agencies in New York. These study what things make a young stud want to be A Soldier: a desire to prove himself, to get laid in foreign places, a craving for adventure, a desire to feel part of something big and powerful and respected, what have you. They know exactly what they are doing. They craft phrases, "Be a Man Among Men," or "A Few Good Men," or, since girls don't like those two, "The Few, The Proud." Join up and be Superman.

Then comes the calculated psychological conditioning. There is for example the sense of power and unity that comes of running to cadence with a platoon of other guys, thump, thump, thump, all shouting to the heady rhythm of boots, "If I die on the Russian front, bury me with a Russian c__t, Lef-rye-lef-rye-lef-rye-lef..." That was Parris Island, August of '66, and doubtless they say something else now, but the principle is the same.

And so you come out in splendid physical shape and feeling no end manly and they tell you how noble it is to Fight for Your Country. This might be true if anyone were invading the country. But since Washington always invades somebody else, you are actually fighting for Big Oil, or Israel, or the defense industry, or the sexual ambiguities who staff National Review, or the vanity of that moral dwarf on Pennsylvania Avenue. You will figure this out years later.

Once you are in the war, you can't get out. We couldn't either. While your commander in chief eats steak in the White House and talks tough, just like a real president, you kill people you have no reason to kill, about whom you know next to nothing—which one day may weigh on your conscience. It does with a lot of guys, but that comes later.

You are being suckered, and so are the social classes that supply the military. Note that the Pentagon cracks down hard on troops who say the wrong things online, that the White House won't allow coffins to be photographed, that the networks never give soldiers a chance to talk unedited about what is happening. Oh no. It is crucial to keep morale up among the rubes. You are the rubes. So, once, were we.
As is often the case, Mr. Reed's gift for expression is such that to copy, paste, and post seems like the only thing to do.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Post-Surgical Blogging

It's been over a week, and I'm finally in front of the machine again. I keep my computer in my basement "office," currently an unattractive place for me for several reasons: first, because I'm uncomfortable in the chairs I have to choose from; secondly, because it's a little chilly down here, and there's no bathroom facilities; and thirdly, because a visit costs me a round trip on the stairs -- rather low-risk, but a tiresome effort.

My quad-tendon surgery was last Monday, and I got home late Tuesday (they retained me overnight -- turns out it isn't an automatic outpatient deal). First time I spent the night in a hospital since '02, when my mother died ... and the first night I've spent in a hospital as a patient since '72, when I had a 24 hours' observation for a minor head injury I collected in a car crash. Anyway, the claim is that the repair went as expected, and that I can look forward to a full recovery in about three months' time.

In case any of you have as little experience as I had in getting sliced, some miscellaneous data:

1. Operating rooms are amazingly cluttered, and amazingly cold. I assume the temperature is chosen to depress eee-villl microbes, and also to enhance the comfort of those who work therein, covered extensively by sterile garments. Once they had strapped me in place, however, they gave me a blanket that had clearly just been removed from a warmer: very pleasant.

2. Speaking of "strapped down," the table actually has some minor upholstery, and is quite narrow: just wide enough for your torso. Once that is belted in place, they swing out some supports for your arms, and belt those down, too. The "cruciformity" of the whole setup was striking, and would have been more appropriate to Holy Week than to Advent, but who's quibbling? All I know is, I'd have been even more scared than I already was if some joker had come in, dressed in a toga and carrying a hammer and three large, crude nails.

3. The anesthesiologist (in my case, a lady-type doctor with a little bit of Australia in her voice) did not do any corny "count backward from 100" stuff. In fact, she gave me no indication of when she was shooting the juice into my tubes. Or maybe she did all of those things, and I just don't remember. I mean, how would I know?

4. Post-operative: yeah, orthopedic surgery hurts like ... like ... well, I don't know, name your favorite thing that hurts a lot, and that's what it hurts like. The flesh just doesn't like being cut apart, even if it does get stapled back together, and it is not shy about reviewing your gross mismanagement in having allowed something like that to happen. Couldn't you have run away? Couldn't you have fought them off? Couldn't you at least have talked them out of it somehow? No, I couldn't, knee ... shut up and enjoy this little intravenous morphine bomb that I'm about to pickle off with my "patient-controlled anesthesia" pushbutton. I was assured that it was programmed to dispense the big "M" at intervals as short as 10 minutes. I didn't use it nearly that often, as a push would tend to send me to sleep, and it would be more than 10 minutes later when I woke up again. They didn't tell me it was morphine (and I didn't think to ask) until I was near discharge anyway, and I'll admit to being disappointed. As far as I could tell, its effects were limited to fairly modest pain relief and some drowsiness; I definitely didn't notice any getting-high effect. The generic vicodin that they sent me home with a script for: same deal, and I only used about a third of what was prescribed. All in all, I believe that for my embarrassingly small recreational-substance needs, I'll stick with the occasional cold beer: more fun, much better for washing down pizza, and with the side benefit of frequent urinal calls.

So, here I am. I go back to see the surgeon on the 27th, at which time he's supposed to de-staple me and give me further instructions. I'm hoping those instructions will include at least occasional freedom from the knee immobilizer, which is what makes me uncomfortable at a desk: the accursed leg has to be as straight as a yardstick, and that's surprisingly hard to do unless you sit sideways on the very edge of the chair: not a viable long-term position. In fact ... I believe it's time for the end of this decreasingly-useful post. If I'm not back for another week, you'll know it's just because this is a little too much like work.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Something Different

Well, not something completely different, of course. That would be asking a little too much. I am feeling pretty uninspired to even complain about public affairs -- not that there isn't plenty to complain about, in the words and deeds of our current public nuisances -- and I've been sitting around brooding childishly about my upcoming surgery. It's a very minor surgery, as such things go, but I'm a horrible coward about needles. And apart from my tonsils being removed back in AD 1962 (I think barbers did that sort of work back then, using tame leeches and blacksmith tools), and getting vasectomy'd in late '85, I've been luxuriously surgery-free; so I'm nearly a rookie at this kind of thing. But I had e-mail yesterday from a woman who instructed me to post something about what I've been reading. I assume she means books, not online ephemera or paper periodicals.

I read less now than I once did. Anthony Burgess wrote somewhere (I think it was in 1985, but I'm too lazy to hobble over to the bookshelves and look it up) that reading is something you have to do when you're young, because the power to read seriously atrophies with age. I don't know if that's generally true, but it is something I've seen in myself. Not that I can't read "literature" any more -- just that I read less of it. In my case, I think it has something to do with the fact that, when I'm indoors in a comfortable chair in the usual reading setup, sleep tends to overtake me very quickly, no matter whether the book in hand is a good one or not.

Lots of them, regrettably, are not. (Good, that is.) The last book I read was a forgettable thing called Yes, We Have No Neutrons, which I picked up at the library because I'd browsed for a few minutes without seeing anything good, but I can't stand leaving emptyhanded. It was an exposé of several instances of bad science, by someone whose name I forget who appears regularly in "Scientific American." Before that was Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven -- flawed but worthwhile.

What I've been reading over the past few years have been the novels of a Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami. I was introduced to him by my son, who had been assigned Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World at Purdue. An off-putting title ... but, once I got past that, a narrative steeped in the kind of bottomless sadness that I've since found is Murakami's stock-in-trade. Since then, I've read most of his books (haven't caught up with Sputnik Sweetheart yet). Overall, I think The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is probably his best, although his most recent, Kafka on the Shore, is also a strong contender for that distinction. Norwegian Wood, Dance Dance Dance, A Wild Sheep Chase, South of the Border, West of the Sun -- all excellent, all recommended. There are a couple of volumes of his short stories also out, and I haven't read either of them yet, but I'll catch up with them, too, at some point or other. Murakami's books are probably often assigned in literature courses, because they're all liberally provided with subtexts and analogies and embedded commentaries on philosophical and linguistic subjects (one of the dangers in Hard-Boiled Wonderland came from some creatures called "Semiotecs," for heaven's sake). But they're also affecting, and he makes you care about his characters. And there's that ever-present semi-sweet melancholy and tragic sadness. Powerful stuff.

So, that's what I'm reading. What are you reading?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Truly Ridiculous Excuses ...

... for not blogging, that is.

Tuesday evening, I was chasing my cat down the stairs when, for some unknown reason, my right quadriceps tendon failed. This is the attachment of the large muscles at the front of the upper leg to the kneecap. The immediate results were a snapping noise that I could actually hear, a brilliant burst of pain quite unprecedented in my experience, followed by merciful unconciousness. I woke up when the EMS guys arrived. After a set of X-rays at Parkview North, I was informed that the subject tendon was "avulsed" (med-speak for "nuked") and was sent home on crutches and in an "immobilizer," with a referral to an orthopedic surgeon. So I went to see him yesterday, was MRI'ed, and scheduled for reparative surgery early Monday morning. It's an outpatient procedure.

I don't know whether this means I'll be posting (even) less than usual, or more. Sitting at the computer is uncomfortable; standing at it, even less so. On the other hand, I have a good bit more free time than usual right at the moment. So we'll see how it goes.

A final note: do NOT do what I did. It don't feel good. (Of course, since I can't really tell you why it happened, that's not very useful advice, is it?)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Wrong? Or Just Stupid?

The conventional wisdom now has it that the eee-vill neocons are in full retreat, and the pragmatists and realists are fully dominant. The incoming Democratic congressional majorities and the Bipartisan Iraq Study Group (can't say the ISG without the B on the front!) are supposedly going to straighten out U.S. foreign policy. The grownups are taking charge, whether Little George likes it or not.

I think there's some truth to the conventional wisdom. I expect that the grownups are going to be involved, at least, in Imperial management. And the grownups are not nearly so gratingly stupid as is Dubya. They are nuanced. They are effective managers. They are somewhat efficient.

Regrettably, what they are not is, well ... principled.

Various grownups are prescribing substantial withdrawals of the legions from Iraq:
The debate roiling Washington cuts across partisan divides and has led to some odd bedfellows.

The troop reduction and pullback options suggested by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a Nov. 6 memo reflected a convergence between the White House and positions long-advocated by staunch critics of the administration's policy.

Rumsfeld's option to begin modest troop reductions to put pressure on the Iraqi government is very similar to an amendment sponsored by Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who will soon take over as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, although the defense secretary resisted the idea of setting a firm timeline.

The parallel between Rumsfeld's favored options and the Democratic agenda is so close that Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts senator and presidential prospect, has all but claimed credit for them. "Look, everything in the Rumsfeld memo is a summary of things that I and others laid out three years ago," Kerry said on CNN on Sunday. "This is rather extraordinary."
I recall hearing this from some of the Sunday teevee talking heads this week, too: withdrawals as a tactic for putting pressure on those accursed Eye-rackies. As the news article suggests, this realism encompasses what would seem to be some highly unlikely right-left combinations. This is golly-gee-whiz amazing -- always assuming that you think the "right" and "left" in modern America are really substantially different. If, however, you simply see two nearly-identical congregations in the Church of Statism, the amazement factor drops off very quickly.

Notice what we don't hear: anyone saying that we ought to get out of Iraq next week because we're wrong to be there. We don't hear anyone saying that what the Iraqis deserve from us is not pressure, but a sincere apology, delivered from over our shoulders while we march, double-time, out of their land.

Yes, everybody's against the war now. But the huge majority of the opponents are against it because it was stupidly mismanaged, or because we weren't sufficiently Klingonesque in prosecuting it (the "glassed-over Iraq" crowd), or because it temporarily made Republicans into a powerful, if befuddled, majority in Washington. For some, the lesson will be "keep the Democrats in power!" Others, remembering the post-Vietnam spin, will be busily preparing the Dolchstosslegende. All of which will pave the way for the next application of the Ledeen Doctrine: "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." There's no reason to expect the Democrats -- or the realist, grown-up Republicans -- to have any real problem with the application of that doctrine.

SCIRI George

Lo, how the mighty have fallen! Was it so long ago that Little George squinted and barked at the whole world that every government in the world would henceforth be required, at the point of U.S. arms, to toe the line of enlightenment? Liberal democracy, free elections, and a tender solicitude for the Rights of Wimmin: not optional, nosiree! But now, what the snuffing-out of 2900 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of turban-wearers could not do, the election of a few dozen Democrats has done: the Decider will apparently talk to just anyone:
US President George W Bush has told one of Iraq's most powerful Shia leaders, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, that he is "not satisfied" with conditions in Iraq.

[ ... ]

Mr Hakim heads the largest Shia party in Iraq's parliament, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri).

Sciri has ties to Iran, and its former military wing has been accused of fuelling sectarian violence.

Mr Hakim, a cleric, enjoys wide influence in Iraq because of his party's popularity among the country's majority Shia population.

He lived in exile in Iran in the years before the fall of Saddam Hussein, and retains strong links with Tehran.

His Sciri party joined forces with a host of other Shia groups to win a majority of seats in Iraq's parliament in elections last December.

The former armed wing of Sciri, the Badr Brigade, has merged with the army and police force, but it has been accused of taking part in the torture and killing of Sunnis.
Surely not even George W. Slow-Puppy imagines that the head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq is within shouting distance of an endorsement from Gloria Allred, or Kate Michelman, or even Laura Bush. So why does Dubya hate Amur'ka? He'll be a-cuttin' an' a-runnin', next thing you know.