Sunday, January 31, 2010

How Many Voices Are Louder Than Yours?

I've noticed, of course, that all progressive folk -- including Prexy -- are pretty upset about the Supremes' recent ruling knocking down campaign finance laws against corporate "persons" buying campaign-specific ads at election time. About which, a few things.

First, I'm not an enthusiast for the whole notion of a corporate person in the first place, and I regard their influence on American politics as, generally, a baleful thing. But people hear about "corporate" buying of ads and think automatically of Wal-mart and Eli Lilly and Citicorp, while the entities being muzzled included actual non-commercial political organizations. Sure, I also lack enthusiasm for the protection of Pfizer's "political speech." But is that really the same thing as the Sierra Club's, or the National Rifle Association's, or's, or the American Life League's?

Yes, it is unjust that these cash-fueled mega-loudspeakers wield the sort of influence that they do. But in our concern for keeping unelected organizations from being able to buy themselves big chunks-o-government, why neglect the real big boy: AIPAC and the rest of the Israel lobby? Anyone read Walt and Mearsheimer's book? They lay out a ton of evidence showing that what the Lobby wants, the Lobby gets -- in spades. And they do it with money: money that they'll shower on compliant incumbents, or on the opponents of noncompliant ones. Does that bother anybody except me?

Finally, whose protection is the motivation for campaign-finance laws in general? Obvious answer: those who make such laws -- the incumbents. With the general cooperation of lapdog "journalists," and with the power (and paid staffs) of their offices, they blast the would-be upstarts who feebly attempt to buck a Congressional re-election rate that would do credit to the old Soviet Communist Party. Who's going to clip their their wings?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Somehow, You Just Knew There Was a Formula

You know, a template for every teevee news story you've ever seen. Here 'tis. Note: a British obscenity shows up here and there, but it's funny.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Word for Friday, January 29

And now you see my cunning plan -- to hijack this meme! "Captain akaGaGa, you weel fly thees plane meme to Havana Fridays!"

No, not really. I'm not nearly ambitious enough to even contemplate a meme-jacking. Don't know how I'd go about it -- except that it generally involves weapons, and I'm not at all sure that I'm permitted weapons. And in any case, it surely sounds like a lot of work.

Anyway. In Matthew 26, Judas has betrayed Jesus, and He is being seized by the minions of the Jewish authorities. Verses 47 - 56:
And while He was still speaking, behold, Judas, one of the twelve, came up , accompanied by a great multitude with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, "Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him." And immediately he went to Jesus and said, "Hail, Rabbi!" and kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for." Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and seized Him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus reached and drew out his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way?" At that time Jesus said to the multitudes, "Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled." Then all the disciples left Him and fled.
Concerning the question I'm trying to look into -- whether a Christian is permitted armed resistance in particular, and violent physical resistance in general, to wrongdoers -- I'm thinking that what this passage doesn't say might be as significant as what it does say.

First and most obviously: when Jesus is seized by the agents of the religious authorities, He does not resist them. He does not resist violently; neither does He resist even passively. He doesn't run away; He doesn't "go limp" so they will have to carry Him. When a disciple fights to defend Him, Jesus stops that disciple. In His words, though, it seems to me that He does not lay down a general principle; rather He tells His disciple that He could easily avoid being arrested or interfered with in any way, but that to be arrested (and abused, and finally executed by torture) is why He came incarnate into this world; to physically defeat the authorities would also defeat that purpose. And that reasoning really doesn't apply to me, or to you. We are not the lamb without blemish, offered to take away the sins of all who accept the cleansing. Only He is.

Secondly, there's the business of the sword. At first glance, this is more evidence that we're directed to defenselessness. But let's look again. "Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword." That's quite different from saying, "Where'd that sword come from? You know we don't do swords. Get rid of it, and never touch a sword again in your life." It seems to me that when Jesus tells the disciple to put his sword back "back into its place," that really implies that the sword has a place -- and that place is where it just came from, on the person of the disciple. "For all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword" is puzzling, and I'll be the first to say that one of the challenges involved in following Jesus is that He loved sayings that are paradoxical on the surface, or that take our habitual way of thinking and stand it on its head. I don't think this saying should be read in the obvious way (whoever takes or uses a weapon is killed by, or using, that weapon), because we can see that it often isn't so. Lots of people spend entire careers carrying, making, or even using guns, and still manage to die in their beds at an old age. But the context is interesting, because Jesus immediately went on to point out that He wasn't lacking in direct power with which to resist those who grabbed Him, being equipped with many angels who would eagerly do His bidding. In this context, it seems to me that the "perish by the sword" phrase is a warning that if violence is our first, default response to conflict, then we're "all about" violence, and it in some way dominates our lives. Obviously, I may very well be wrong about this, and stand ready for correction.

On the whole, I think this passage can be taken as support for the position that believers may indeed physically resist evildoing, even with weapons; but that this form of resistance should not be our first-default option.

Click here for more Words for Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

This Can't Help But End Well

O fortunate coalition citizens, your supervisors have taxed you -- or borrowed in your kids' and grandkids' names -- to finance the killing of plenty of those swarthy Af-Paks and a few other sorts of insignificant wogs. In some cases, they've killed or maimed your kin to accomplish ... well, whatever it was that they were supposedly trying to accomplish, and have manifestly failed at. Now, get ready to pony up some more cash credit. They're trying bribery:
Anders Fogh Rasmussen said it was necessary to "establish a trust to finance the reintegration programme" that would persuade the militants to lay down their weapons.

The Afghan president Hamid Karzai, who will pledge to tackle government corruption, will present a plan to reconcile senior Taliban leaders at tomorrow's meeting.

But the proposals will require huge amounts of money to pay for new jobs, pensions, land and even fund the relocation of senior militants abroad.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Rasmussen said: "This will have financial implications and without assistance from international community it will not be possible to accomplish that programme.

Asked if this was to raise millions of dollars to pay off the Taliban he said: "I will put it another way. We need funds to provide people with better alternatives for a fruitful occupation rather than fighting for the Taliban.

"Call it promotion of economic opportunity for people in Afghanistan, creation of new jobs."

His comments come the day after the commander in Afghanistan Gen Stanley McChrystal said it was "inevitable" that talks would open with the Taliban once the current surge of an extra 30,000 American troops and 7,000 other Nato personnel forced them to the negotiating table.

Chancellor Angela Merkel also announced that Germany would increase its troops by 500 as it moves to step up training of local security forces.
Hey, I've got an alternative to offer: how about we just get the hell out, post haste, leaving a sincere note of apology and a promise not to return?

Nah ... on second thought, let's just trust our Leaders. They're really smart, they know so many things that -- for good reason! -- they can't really share with us, and they're good, good people. I'm sure it'll all work out just fine.

Another Reason Not to Emigrate

You could end up in Europe:
PARIS — A French parliamentary panel recommended on Tuesday moves to curb the wearing of Muslim veils in certain public facilities and suggested that lawmakers should pass a resolution condemning the garments. But it stopped short of pressing for a total ban.

A report from the panel said that lawmakers were unable to unanimously agree to an outright ban “at this stage,” even though many favored one.

The report, however, called for legislation to ban the covering of the face in public services.

Presenting the report, members of the panel suggested that this could include hospitals, public transport, schools, post offices and even banks — areas where identification is important.

Instead of recommending a total ban of the veil, the report from the 32-member panel, which crossed party lines, said the Council of State, a body which provides the executive with legal advice and acts as a court of last resort, should examine whether legislation should be introduced.

Lionnel Luca, a lawmaker from the governing center-right party and a member of the panel, said the report was a “missed opportunity.”

“We’ll study the issue, we’ll have a resolution — that’s all great,” he said after the release of the 280-page document. “But what we really need is a clear text that outlaws the burqa.”

“We need to go further and we need the political will. At the moment I don’t see that,” he said.

[ ... ]

The center-right Danish prime minister, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, said last week that his government was also considering restricting the burqa and niqab. And in November, Swiss voters supported a referendum to ban the building of minarets on mosques.

The leader of Mr. Sarkozy’s rightist grouping in Parliament, Jean-Francois CopĂ©, has already presented a draft bill that would make it illegal, for reasons of security, for anyone to cover their faces in public. Violators would face fines, according to the draft, which is not due to be debated until after regional elections in March.
Oh, boy, once again the Europeans are way ahead of us colonials. When a U.S. Congresscreature wants to do something that's gratuitously stupid, he or she convenes hearings on naughty baseballers juicing themselves with steroids, or introduces a bill forbidding anyone to use the words "national championship" in connection with any college football activity not involving a playoff tournament. And, yes, these things are nauseating. But these Euros ... they combine their aggressive stupidity with a big dose of hatefulness.

No, my fellow Americans, if you still love the idea of liberty, it may indeed be time to run ... but in some other direction, I think.

Off topic, but a note for the we-must-be-in-the-last-days file: did you catch, toward the end of the excerpt, this: " ... illegal, for reasons of security, for anyone to cover their faces in public?" This story didn't come from the Waynedale Advertiser, or the Bluffton Tattler, or even the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette; it was from The New York Times. What, can't the Gray Lady afford to employ competent copy editors any more?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Friendly Advice for Our Great Leaders, January 25 Edition

Dear President Obama,

I see that you are fearlessly fighting:
"We are fighting every single day to put Americans back to work, create good jobs, and strengthen our economy for the long term," Obama said in the statement.

"The additional steps laid out today focus on easing the burdens on middle-class families who are struggling in this economy, and providing the help they need to get ahead."

Specifically, Obama will push to increase the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit rate from 20 to 35 percent for families making under $85,000 a year. Families making from $85,000 to $115,000 also would see an increase in their tax credit, the statement said.
But, although you are a mighty warrior, and are aiming to use your pugilistic skills to do great things, success is proving elusive:
Sales of previously-owned US homes fell 16.7% in December, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) has said.

Sales had risen from September to November as first-time buyers took advantage of tax credits.

The decline in December was expected as buyers rushed to complete deals before the original 30 November deadline.

The first-time buyer tax credit has since been extended until 30 April, and the NAR said there was likely to be another surge in sales in the spring.
For all that we supposedly-peaceloving Americans love fighting -- and that's quite a bit, by all available evidence -- I must tell you that I don't think most problems can be solved that way. And I'm highly skeptical that America's monumental economic ills can be cured, in the long term, by the artificial stimulation of demand, in the absence of any real way to finance the gratification of that demand. To put it a little differently: a prosperous nation whose people are uneducated, and whose principal exports are bombs, bullets, and mercantilism, thinly disguised as a nauseating moral pretension ... well, that's pretty much a contradiction in terms.

Yours very truly,

Free Advice Staff, The Chestnut Tree Cafe

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Word for Friday, January 22

What can I say -- between the day job and the home coordinates, I've been approximately as busy as your typical one-armed paperhanger. That's the way it happens sometimes.

Continuing: "Search for the Armed Christian." From Matthew chapter 10, verses 28 - 39, Jesus speaking, sending forth His disciples:
"And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever shall deny Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.

"Do not think that I come to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man's enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it."
This passage does not speak directly to the armed condition, but it does speak to what I take to be the usual motivation for being armed: personal security. And, as with the other passages I've looked at so far in this inquiry, it does not exactly forbid being armed. But I'd have to say that our Lord is directing us to have an attitude toward the issue of personal security that would make being armed irrelevant at best, and perhaps a source of difficulty as well. We're not to fear those who can physically kill us -- although, to be fair, this is in the context of possible belief-based persecution, and so does not speak directly to what we're supposed to do when our lives are threatened as part of rape, plunder, or other such mundane aggression.

The "sword" after the paragraph break is not, I am sure, meant as a physical weapon; rather, the Lord is saying that He's not there to unite us, but rather to divide sharply -- between those who accept Him for who and what He is, and those who reject Him (or who don't correctly identify Him as God). At the end of the passage, though, I think a fair reading would have to conclude that defense of our lives with our own power is at least being disparaged. In the balance of the evidence: another pebble on the "disarmed" side.

Hmmmmmm ... I might have a firearm or two for sale one of these days. I hope not, but one must follow the evidence wherever it leads.

Meanwhile, for more Words for (actual) Wednesday, click here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

After the Earthquake ...

... it seems quite bad that the Haitians should now be getting a big dose of the U.S. military.

Seriously -- if this must be done, surely there's someone who'd look and smell better doing it than us. Almost anybody, really.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Word for Wednesday, January 13

Continuing in Matthew, exploring the gun question. Actually, I think I can see already that it isn't going to be a "gun" question, specifically, at all (firearms having been unknown in the first century AD). I think it will have to be generalized to "weapons," at least. I'm hoping not to have to concern myself with whether it's OK if everybody's kung-fu fighting, as that bad 70s song used to sing. Anyway, chapter 5, starting with verse 38 to chapter's end, Jesus speaking:
"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise upon the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Not every verse in this passage relates directly to the question I'm looking at here; however, for context and flow and completeness, and mostly just because I'm reluctant to cut my Lord off when He's speaking, I've included all. And I'll have to say: so far, it's not looking good for any potential career change from "optical engineer / physicist" to "gunslinger" for me. But, then, the search has only begun; perhaps I'll find something to the contrary in Wyatt Earp's Epistle to the Tombstonians.

Today's passage doesn't call for a lot of comment from me; it seems very straightforward, and very difficult. It raises even more questions with me: OK, fighting back isn't an option; is it permissible even to run away? What does love for my enemies look like? (That's something that's been on my mind recently, what with "Tom" the Troll making some kind of object lesson of himself.) Surely it does not require the believer to render cooperation in an evil enterprise, simply because the malefactor demands it ... does it?

Well, you know, I'm thinking that this is going to end up being one of those "balance of Scripture" deals. But so far, the scriptures are pretty one-sided -- and not tilting toward the side my "common sense" wants. Let's continue next week.

As always, here is where to click for more Words for Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Our Well-Earned Reputation

Maybe neither Israel nor its client state, the U.S., did this. I certainly hope not, and there are other players who may have done it, for a variety of reasons.

But still, if anyone thinks it was a clandestine operation by either The Preciousssss or us, who can blame them? Who can call it ridiculous?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Troll Bin

It's my first troll, and boy, is this a dedicated one. After I trashed a couple more attempted comments yesterday, here's what shows up today:
Tom (anonymous) has left a new comment on your post "The Word for Wednesday, January 6":

Good morning there. In beautiful, cold, snowy Fonda, NY today. Might look up a mutual friend while I'm here. Someone calls me a liar and refuses to make an enumeration, it just kind of makes me want to know why.

Have a great weekend.

"Tom," you're an exemplary, grade-A creep. Come and visit me instead -- I'm not difficult to find at all. Or do you only threaten women?

Jerk. And yes, I'm explicitly refusing to enumerate that characterization, so I guess you'll have to try to intimidate me, too. Unless it's a matter of "I only pick on the girls."

Friday, January 08, 2010

Ah, the Temptation to Steal

I was just reading Will Grigg (a practice I recommend to everyone), when I came across a vivid and arresting distillation of an unpleasant truth:
By now, however, torture is firmly institutionalized as a routine interrogation-cum-punishment technique. For the post-Cheney GOP, noted Adam Serwer of The American Prospect, “torture is no longer a `necessary evil.’ It is a rally cry, a `values’ issue like same-sex marriage or abortion. They don’t “grudgingly” support torture, they applaud it. They celebrate it."

In fact, as I've noted elsewhere, the GOP's "values" commissariat is willing to countenance all kinds of political and theological transgressions on the part of a candidate as long as he or she firmly supports torture. This is what remains of conservatism today: Fetid nihilism shrouded in high-gloss sanctimony.
Wish I'd said that.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Word for Wednesday, January 6

Having reached the end of the book of James last time, I found that my thoughts kept returning to this post from my friend akaGaGa, whose more-conventional name I know, but I'm not sure how freely she wants it used online, so we'll leave it at that. The post was concerned with the question of whether Christian believers have any business being armed in the "interpersonal" sense (i.e., apart from hunting, target-shooting, and such sporting purposes). In a comment, I claimed I had some thinking to do on the subject, as I was (and remain) in some doubt.

If one regards scripture as authoritative -- and I do -- then one starts, and perhaps ends, the thinking process by "searching the scriptures." So, for a while, that's what I'll be doing. Being Christian (rather than Jewish), my idea of how to do that is to start in the New Testament, specifically with the directly-quoted words of Jesus. From there, one branches out to the New Testament in general; and from there, to the Old.

So. In the first four chapters of Matthew, Jesus doesn't have a whole lot to say, although I'm tempted (that's almost a little Biblical pun, there, folks, "tempted," ha ha) to try to apply His colloquy with the Devil from chapter 4 to the idea of the armed Christian. But, for now at least, I think that's reaching a bit far, and I'll try to concentrate on His more directly-applicable sayings. Starting in chapter 5, He has a lot to say. Verse 5: "Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth." Verse 7: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." Verse 9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." And then verses 10 through 12: "Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

These verses, pulled from the Beatitudes, are certainly not a call to arms. Rather, they are a call to benevolence, and to the patient acceptance of suffering and endurance of wrongs. On the other hand, neither do they explicitly forbid the believer to bear arms; I don't suppose it's impossible, by any means, for an armed Christian to be gentle, and merciful, and a peacemaker, and to suffer being wronged passively. About that last, however: while it's possible for an armed person to accept being wronged, it surely has to be harder. I'm just sayin'.

To be continued. Meanwhile, click here for more Words for Wednesday.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Every Bird Needs Two Wings

Especially birds of prey -- they need both a left one and a right. Doug Newman has a nice short piece here on a very simple idea which, unfortunately, interferes with the simple, football-game sort of fun that we all seem to like so much. You know, where there's two colors of jerseys, and life's main business is just to hit everybody wearing the "other" color jersey.

It's a quick read; give it a look.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Al-Qaeda in Nevada

Uh-oh, insurgents are active on the "home front":
A gunman in a black trench coat opened fire Monday morning in the lobby of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Las Vegas, killing a court security officer and wounding a deputy United States marshal before fleeing. He was then shot in the head and killed nearby.

[ ... ]

There was no immediate word on the identity of the suspect, or whether the shooting was a random act of violence, a vendetta or something else. There was also no initial indication that terrorism was involved.
Ah, come on, security appartus, don't be coy. How long are you going to make us wait to find out that the shadowy terror-gunman is an Iranian, fresh from training in a camp in Yemen, and that his wallet was full of business cards identifying him as Jihadi-in-Chief of Al-Qaeda in Nevada? C'mon, tell us the straight story. We're tough, we can take it. We understand very well that our complete and absolute security requires that we show our papers whenever we're within 1000 meters of government property (which means anywhere in the U.S., pretty much). We're ready to voluntarily install surveillance video cameras in every room of our houses. Just give the word. We'll put the antenna flags and yellow-ribbon magnets on our cars anew, to show support for fresh invasions of Iran and Yemen and whomever else is vexing the Israelis this week. Command us, O Leaders!

And then, at the bottom of the story, evidence of how slow a news day it must be at the Times:
The courthouse — with its giant articulated column and circular atrium entrance shaded by a canopy in line with the roof — is architecturally significant, having received a citation for design excellence from the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on Architecture for Justice.

“The design makes a bold statement in the scale of the canopy, monumental column and stairs at the building entry,” the committee said. “The scale and detailing of these elements serve to establish a signature identity for the courthouse.”
Ah, yes, just as the "scale and detailing" of Versailles served to establish the identity of the Sun King. Aren't you tickled that you're privileged to be taxed to pay for these bold statements on behalf of your supervisors? I know I am.

Infiltration Scandal, Part 2

Yes, yes, I know the day of the president of the republic being more or less a flesh-and-blood human being like the rest of us is long past. Yes, I know that it is vitally necessary for the Person of the Exalted to be absolutely secure against all threats, real and imagined (especially imagined), in order that the order of the heavens be serene and undisturbed. Yes, I get it.

What I don't get is this. If the praetorians of the Secret Service are supposed to be concerned about anybody potentially being able to ventilate El Presidente Supremo, surely the least important thing about the persons to be screened is whether they're on the "guest list." Isn't it more a matter of the presence or absence of guns, knives, razors, icepicks, bazookas, RPGs, "lasers," panty-bombs, tanks, helicopter gunships, jet fighters, death drones, attack submarines, undercooked chicken, howitzers, tactical nukes, strategic nukes, unsterilized needles, and the like? I mean, given this:
The Secret Service says someone traveling with the Indian delegation was allowed in. The service says this person was screened at the hotel with the rest of the Indian delegation who attended the state dinner.
it seems to me that, if the screened person is harmless, shouldn't the matter of whether they're on the guest list be of concern only to the Imperial Social Secretary or somebody? And if the person is carrying a platoon's worth of arms, does he or she become acceptable because of an invitation?

Eh, whatever. As long as the Son of Heaven is safe, all's right with the universe, I suppose.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Fred on Panty Terror

Don't deny yourself the New Year's Day pleasure of reading a Fred Reed column. Here's an excerpt:
Now, who is winning the War on Terror? They are. The United States spends ungodly amounts on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, killing people right and left in Pakistan and getting sucked in ever deeper, bombing Somalia, widening the war on Islam into Yemen, threatening Iran. From Al Quaeda’s point of view, this must be peaches. The US, already in a grave recession, bleeding jobs to Asia, having become the world’s foremost debtor nation, now spends itself to death in a widening gyre.

New York was genius. Evil, but brilliant. A few guys with box cutters, a bit of training, and voila! Thousands and thousands of GIs dead or ruined, America dives into a half dozen wars, and there is no end in sight. As strategy, the terrorists have been masterly. They have perfected induced suicide. We have been Kevorkianed.

Further, and implausibly, Al Quaeda has transformed America into exactly what it was intended not to be: a frightened police-and-surveillance state. Wars subvert freedoms, and subvert the desire for freedoms, and then the memory of them. If this is what bin Laden and the gang set out to bring about, they have succeeded splendidly.

The Bill of Rights is largely defunct. Americans now accept random searches in public places, and NSA monitors everyone’s email. So much for the Fourth Amendment.

Police powers grow. Cops increasingly are militarized, ninja-ed out, jackbooted and unaccountable. Habeas corpus is doubtful. American embassies abroad cower behind bars, afraid to allow women to enter with a lipstick. (The world’s hyperpower is afraid of lipstick.) The ever-present loudspeakers in airports and subways urge us to watch each other: We are to be a nation of snitches. Carry-on bags on airliners are being forbidden. The FBI can pull your library records, and the library can’t tell you. As the twilight deepens, journalists hesitate to criticize the government. (This latter, amigos, is happening.)

Ours is not the America it recently was, and it gets differenter by the month. Who would have thought that so little effort would be needed to wreak such internal havoc on the world’s hyperpower, fearful of gel deodorants? The success of the terrorists is deplorable, but in strategic terms it has been magnificent. Never have so few done so much to so many so easily.
Happy New Decade, y'all.