Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Did Dubya think he was doing the right thing?

Why does it matter if Dubya thought he was doing the right thing? It's possible that Dubya thought he was doing the right thing. So did the Son of Sam serial killer. Whether or not Dubya thought he was doing the right thing misses the crucial point that Dubya and his cronies lied to the world to convince us that we needed to invade Iraq. Tens of thousands of Iraqis, and almost two thousand American soldiers, have so far died as a consequence, and the killing seems to be far from over.

I don't know how one could calculate the value of human life against the value of political stability in the Middle East, even supposing that stability can be attained by waging war. This calculation is particularly difficult when I take into account the small problem that by political stability we (the USA, certainly, but other countries as well) have meant in the past that the interests of the powerful and wealthy were protected by conserving the current state of affairs. I see no sign that these priorities have changed.

I know that Saddam Hussein and his cronies were very bad people, and perhaps their removal means that they'll have no more opportunities to create misery. However, the war and the way Dubya and his cronies are chosing to fight it have created an endless opportunity for people who as a group are just as awful as Saddam Hussein to come and make at least as many people miserable. I don't believe there is any way for our military to stop them, not because our military can't fight effectively, but because terrorism is not a problem that can be solved by military force.

If everything goes well, then the Iraqi government will remain stable and will eventually, in one or two years, be able to invite the last of our soldiers to leave the country. This was the scenario that Dubya hoped for, back in May 2003, when he declared "Mission Accomplished." Nothing that has happened in Iraq since then has justified that optimism. Instead, it's likely that our military will be stuck there for the next two years, until our position has become politically so unpopular that we're forced to pull out. After that all hell is likely to break loose.

Some of Dubya's fanboys want us to compare Iraq to WWII. "We spent four years fighting Jerry and the Japs," they say. "We lost over 100,000 soldiers in that war. Compared to that, Iraq is a walk in the park!" We're told that German Nazi insurgence during the occupation was just as deadly as the terrorism and insurgence in Iraq, but that's an awfully thin stretch. The postwar insurgence in Germany barely rates a footnote against a backdrop of a country completely devastated by war and at the verge of mass starvation, and was pretty much over by the end of 1946. When they write the history books on Dubya's little war, the terrorists won't be a footnote. (Well, this is the War on Terror, you say. I say, suppose we fought the War on Drugs by handing out free samples of crystal meth?)

Of course, the chicken hawks who were beating the war drums back in 2001, and who have been cheering on the current state of affairs, will then loudly proclaim that it was the liberals who lost the war on terrorism. If all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Father's Day is upon us, and I still don't know what to get my dads.

It's a sorry world, I know. Check the ads for Father's Day, and apparently dads love ties and golf balls. Well, both my dads are retired, so they don't wear ties much anymore, and they don't play golf. The pressure is on.

Kathleen Parker doesn't help. Each year about this time she saddles up her Father's Day clydesdale, a horse about twelve feet tall at the shoulders, to drag a fair dozen strawmen around the block a couple times. To hear her tell it, fathers are an endangered species, and we should all worship the few men who condescend to this most maligned post.

"... the diminution of Father in our culture may be the single stupidest turn in human history yet," she writes in her editorial. That fathers have been diminished in our culture came as a surprise to me. I considered the possibility that this is Parker's personal problem, but then I realized that this drivel was yet another example of the Orwellian poison that conservatives have been spewing for the past few years. It's a remarkably effective technique, and consists of about four steps.

First, you declare a social ill. It doesn't matter if it exists or not, nor if it really is an ill. In Parker's case, she's suggesting that fatherhood and fathers no longer matter in our society. Others will lament the lack of patriotism, the demise of marriage, the loss of our children's innocence, or declining test scores.

Second, trot out the evidence. Typically these are mere bald assertions, but, as does Parker, you might toss out some numbers and imply that they mean something, like "40 percent of children live in homes without their fathers," or "studies show that women file the majority of divorces." Note that actual citations are pretty rare, though you can make your bald assertions sound supportable by adding that "studies show."

Third, leave the reasoning that connects the evidence to your argument to your reader, because if you try to put it in words it'll just sound specious. For example, 40 percent of children live in homes without their fathers is evidence that our society does not value fathers because, um, well we have to assume that there are no fathers in those homes, and that the father's absence is the fault of society, and not of, say, the father's misbehavior, or of the father's demise in some ill-advised military adventure, or perhaps in a traffic accident, or of a family torn apart by the stress of job loss to globalization, etc. (There are lots more like this in Parker's editorial.) Conservatives call this "getting picky." Ronald Reagan blazed the way when his response to a difficult question was, "there you go again."

Fourth, blame it all on liberals. This last step is essential, because by defining as a liberal anyone who does something bad or something silly, you create the dichotomous conclusion that conservatives are those people who don't do bad or silly things. Parker's editorial is clever in that she pretends to stay above the mudslinging of partisanism by hiding her accusations in codewords, like traditional marriage, or old-fashioned masculinity.

And that's all there's to it. Using this technique conservative commentators are currently busy blaming on liberals everything from global warming to ugly children. Even though it appears innocuous at first glance, Parker's editorial on fatherhood is just another example of this Orwellian tidal wave.

It's not that I don't appreciate both my step-dad and my father. Each man worked hard to support his family. Each man, in his way, has passed on to me qualities of which I'm proud. The point is that Parker's assertion that in our liberal society fatherhood no longer matters is just not true. Not only is American society one of the most conservative societies of all first-world nations, but fatherhood is by no means maligned or denigrated.

None of which gets me any closer to finding Father's Day presents for my dads, of course.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Newsweek reported that at Guantanamo Bay Muslim prisoners were subjected to some sort of mental torture by showing them the Koran, the Muslim holy scriptures, placed inside restrooms, or even flushed down the toilet. Nevermind that the reports may have been premature.

Now, that's pretty reprehensible. First, the USA is in a fairly precarious position as far as world-wide public opinion is concerned. Second, it's been well established for over fifty years that these methods of interrogation do not work. Not one bit. Nothing. So what's the point? But my diatribe against the idiots currently running the USAn government must wait for another time.

Muslim clerics and national leaders around the world protested and called upon the USA to respond. Cool. People around the world should call each other to account more frequently.

The USA said they'd investigate. Eh. It's not as if we hadn't known about garbage going on at Gitmo. It's not as if anyone in our administration seems to really care, or they wouldn't have promoted Alberto Gonzales to US Attorney General: Gonzales, who masterminded the USAn policy on torture. (Yes, I know that a lot of people are arguing that the policy didn't say torture was OK. Tell it to the Marines.)

The Muslim world erupted in riots. Dozens were killed.

My reaction?

Hey, Muslims! You're a bunch of assholes!

Yes, yes. That's not very conciliatory, and not very polite. And perhaps the riots involved a mere 1% of the Muslim world. If I were in a position where my opinion made any difference at all, I might not be quite so blunt. But here we have a bunch of people who seem to riot at the drop of a hat. How immature is that? Are we dealing with an entire culture composed of manic depressives? Instead of sending soldiers, perhaps we should dose them all with Prozac?

It's not as if Muslims have any sort of respect for non-Muslim religions. While it hasn't always been that way, most Muslim countries these days place little to no value on protecting the sensibilities of Christians or Buddhists. Hindus better keep their heads down, and let's not even talk of Jews. Not that any of these religions have the sort of rabid reaction to perceived disrespect as we've witnessed on the part of Muslims these past couple of days. (Perhaps devout Jews might get equally excited at reports about a Torah intentionally left in a bathroom.) Still, by and large Muslims' behavior strikes me as amazingly irrational.

It's not to say that there aren't irrational people in other religions. There are certainly lots of irrational Christians here in the USA. Lucky for the rest of the world they are comparatively few, so that their misbehavior is mostly limited to a few raped teenage girls and a Waco type situation about once a decade. It's not pretty, but it seems managable. It's certainly nothing compared to what passes for normalcy in Muslim contries.

My theory of the human mind says that all people (barring disease or debilitating environmental conditions) are pretty much alike when it comes to how we think, what our emotional responses are to stress, etc. It just seems to me that I can't explain what goes on in Muslim countries without resorting to unflattering stereotypes. Is it possible that the lack of education, borderline starvation, miserable healthcare, whatever, for the past few decades might have created entire generations of mentally unfit individuals in these countries? What bothers me about such a supposition is that it comes close to suggesting that countries like the USA should always intervene in other countries if it seems that their social institutions are likely to create populations of socially unfit individuals. (Not that the USA is likely to bother, unless our corporations smell a profit to be looted. Witness Iraq.)

So I'm wondering: can anyone explain this behavior, in terms other than what I've already used?