Wrapped in the Flag and Carrying a Cross.

18 06 2016

That headline is from a quote by Sinclair Lewis which seems more and more to be chillingly prescient. Here’s another quote appropriate to the topic at hand:

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.”- George Santayana

You may be curious about where I’m going with these quotes. I’m going to post a link to a news article here that will make my meaning crystal clear:


Is everyone all through vomiting at the idea? Good. Let us continue.

For those who may have been living in a cave for the past few decades, there is an election approaching. This country has been mired in an election campaign for what seems like six or seven squintillion years. A campaign where the presumed nominee of one of the two major political parties has been openly espousing fascist ideology and overt racism to throngs of cheering supporters. Those same supporters who appear to be just fine with physically attacking anyone who vaguely hints at disagreement with their Leader or anyone with a less than lilly white skin tone. Supporters who have openly warned they would resort to violence if their Leader doesn’t win.

That’s bad enough, but now we have a retired politician from that same major political party saying- on camera- to a news organization that the country needs to return to the halcyon days of yesteryear in the form of the House Un-American Activities Commission. If you aren’t familiar with HUAC, go look it up. I’ll wait.

Here’s a bit of background for those unwilling to learn from history. In the 1950’s, a US Congressman names Joseph McCarthy claimed that he was in possession of a list of communists who had “infiltrated” the US government. He gleefully exploited public fear over the “Red Menace” (OMFG- the eebil rooshians are gonna come pollute our precious bodily fluids!) to establish the House Un-American Activities Commission in order to search out these communist infiltrators, wherever they might be- presumably including under your bed.

And so, the witch hunt was on. American citizens were accused to being communists or communist sympathizers, and the resulting public furor meant most of them lost their jobs and couldn’t get hired anywhere else. People were exhorted to inform on their friends, neighbors, and relatives if there was even a vague hint of “un-American activities”. Fear and prejudice and panic ensued, resulting in the director of the FBI investigating thousands of government employees to determine if they were sufficiently loyal to the United States- essentially based upon whether or not J Edgar Hoover agreed with their politics. Actors, writers, journalists, and publishers joined government workers in the endless search for the evil commies.

Please note that there was no burden of proof involved. Merely being accused was enough to destroy someone’s life and livelihood, and even successfully avoiding getting convicted in court wasn’t enough to undo the damage caused by being denounced.

This is what “the smartest man in the GOP” has publicly called for. On camera.

Never mind that HUAC was a cynically successful ploy by a small number of senior government officials and congressmen to gather more power for themselves. All these few people had to do was continually warn everyone they were in danger from godless communism and should therefore allow the power of the US government to be turned upon US citizens without check or hindrance. And the American people fell for it.

And a large number of Americans are being led down the same path to Hell today by their Leader.

Ooga booga! The evil moose limbs are coming to kill your children. Only we can protect you from this existential threat, but you gotta let us throw out that pesky Constitution in order to keep you safe. We pinky swear these powers will only be used against “them“. Them. The “others“. The people who don’t worship your god the same way you do. The people possessed of insufficiently white skin pigmentation. People who speak other languages. People who disagree with you politically. “Them“.

Shockingly, this message of xenophobia and bigotry is finding eager listeners among people who aren’t willing to use their brains much. Thinking is hard, and so is remembering lessons learned from long ago. Sure, it turns out that locking up tens of thousands of Americans who happened to be descended from Nipponese immigrants was stupid, expensive, wrong, and totally ineffective. Never mind that. This time is different, because … uh … because reasons.

Actually, there is a reason why dumb white people are buying into this line of thinking. There’s a reason why they have so much trouble articulating the source of their ignorant fear, and that reason is demographics. It turns out that white people will soon be less than half of the population. Oh, the horror! Rather than learning to treat other people equally, these dim-as-five-feet-up-a-pig’s-ass yokels are willing to destroy the very thing that made this country great: our non-homogenous society.

Every group of immigrants has made America richer. They bring in new ideas, new foods and drink, new attitudes, new beliefs, and America gets better and stronger from adopting the globe-spanning range of new stuff brought here by immigrants. And every single one of those immigrant groups is treated like shit by the descendants of previous immigrants. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the Irish being vilified by descendants of English and Dutch immigrants.When Italians began arriving on our shores, the descendants of those Irish immigrants who been the subject of bigotry treated the Italians the same way. Asians, Africans, and Jews have been perennial victims of American xenophobia, along with anyone from any cultural background who doesn’t belong to the right religious group. They’re different, and therefore suspicious- if not outright evil.

Here’s a clue chit for the small-minded bigots among us: Different does not equal evil. Stranger does not mean enemy. Those “foreigners” you’re wetting your panties about aren’t foreigners anymore- they’re Americans. What are you imbeciles afraid of?

I want you


The night is black
Without a moon
The air is thick and still
The vigilantes gather on
The lonely torch lit hill

Features distorted in the flickering light
The faces are twisted and grotesque
Silent and stern in the sweltering night
The mob moves like demons possessed
Quiet in conscience, calm in their right
Confident their ways are best

The righteous rise
With burning eyes
Of hatred and ill-will
Madmen fed on fear and lies
To beat and burn and kill

They say there are strangers who threaten us
In our immigrants and infidels
They say there is strangeness too dangerous
In our theaters and bookstore shelves
That those who know what’s best for us
Must rise and save us from ourselves

Quick to judge
Quick to anger
Slow to understand
Ignorance and prejudice
And fear walk hand in hand…

Current status: Appalled

Current music: We Belong by Pat Benatar


Enough is Enough!

6 10 2013

Key-riced! Just when you think Congress couldn’t get any more irrational, they go and pull this crap.

For those of you living in a cave, or who get all their news from a certain vulpine “news” network (essentially the same thing, I admit), a small faction of one party in one half of one third of the government have decided to stamp their little feet and hold their breath until they turn blue unless they get their own way. They’re also threatening to take their ball and go home, completely ignoring the fact that it isn’t their ball to begin with. What’s worse, the supposed leader of that portion of the government- the horribly misnamed House of Representatives- is playing along with these imbecilic spoilsports as they ride their bikes at full speed toward the edge of the Grand Canyon.

Let’s take a look at this “House of Representatives”. They do not appear to be very representative of the country at all. The median net worth of House members is just a skosh under a million dollars. This is something like twelve times the median net worth of Americans in general. Leaving aside net worth, members of the House are paid $176,000.00 per year. The median US income is $51,000.00 per year (less than 1/3 what a Congresscritter makes). Women and minorities are dramatically under-represented, making the so-called House of Representatives a misnomer unless we’re talking about representing the richer areas of Vermont or New Hampshire.

So a cabal of psychologically stunted rich white guys have decided that they’re going to shut down the government and are threatening to tank the world’s economy  unless they get their way. Why are we letting a small group of extremist pinheads hold the country (and possibly the world) hostage unless we agree to their petty demands? I thought we didn’t negotiate with terrorists.

That is what the current situation boils down to- a hostage situation. A few desperate extremists are threatening economic violence unless their unreasonable demands are met. Unlike every other hostage situation in history, the US media seems determined to avoid casting the hostage-takers in an unsympathetic light. There’s endless blather about stalemate, gridlock, and similar weasel-words, but none of the US “news” outlets are willing to call it a hostage situation. In fact, the only place you hear comparisons to hostage-taking is on late-night comedy shows and on a few blogs (or similar non-media web sources).

The really scary part of this is the fact that no one seems to have any idea how the hostage-takers plan to get out of this. They have publicly announced that they have no strategy or end game. They are clueless about how to avoid the consequences of their petulant actions. All of their options end up with the opposite of what they claim to have wanted at the start of the hostage-taking.

More rational actors- denizens of Bedlam, for example- might realize that they’ve publicly fornicated the canine on National TV, murmur something vaguely apologetic, and quickly retire to a corner pub in the hopes that they could avoid any further disgrace by keeping quiet and off the public radar. This particular batch of loons are incapable of shutting the fuck up- and damn the consequences. Every time one of these guanopsychotic suits gets his or her face in front of a microphone or camera, they are apparently psychologically compelled to blurt out whatever imbecilic ramblings that pass for thought in their minds. They can’t help being stupid in public, bless their poor, dear hearts.

Not too long ago, people like these would have been kept out of sight by relatives or State institutions. Even when allowed out in public, the words and actions of such people were dismissed with embarrassment by those who knew them. “I’m sorry about Uncle Edward. He just can’t control himself, bless his heart. Pay him no mind.”

Now, however, the loonies are running the asylum. And we are all in the rooms with mattress wallpaper wondering what the fuck happened.

Not everyone is aware of the consequences of a government shut-down yet. Here are a few low-lights:

– Close to a million government workers have been sent home without pay.

– Those government workers who are still at their jobs are also not getting paid, although they might get back pay whenever Congress gets its act together.

– A large number of contractors working for the government have been sent home- also without pay.

– All of those people not getting paid are tightening their belts and cutting back on expenditures to ride out this Congressional temper tantrum. This means that everyone who does business with those people is suddenly earning less money. So they cut back on their expenses- perhaps they order fewer replacement parts or supplies. All of their suppliers are suddenly going to see a drop in their revenue streams as well. Can you say ripple effect?

– After a week of furlough from the shut-down, Federal workers are all eligible for Unemployment benefits. Imagine what the October labor report will look like after a million or so Federal employees and contractors all sign up for Unemployment. Note that the states where these people live will have to pay out more than they had planned, resulting in state and local budget issues as well.

And all of this is yours, thanks to the actions of a few spoiled children in the inaptly-named House of Representatives.


Current status: Enraged

Current music: Toccata and Fugue in D by Johann Sebastian Bach

Missed Opportunities

11 09 2011

The past ten years have been a litany of botched opportunities and profoundly stupid mistakes. For one brief moment, a large part of the world was united in purpose. Such moments are more precious than diamonds, pearls of such rarity that they stand out like beacons in history books amid the clutter of dates and place names. For an instant, we had the chance to change the world and make it better for everyone. Instead, we tossed away the opportunity in favor of short-term political and economic gain for a privileged few.

Under similar circumstances in the past, governments have mobilized their people to face an existential threat posed by power-hungry madmen ruling other countries. We face no such external threat to the very existence of our country and way of life today. Those who attacked us ten years ago were not particularly interested in the United States per se, but rather wanted to decrease our influence with their real target- the House of Saud. For all the hype about our enemies’ hatred of our liberties, the US was (and is) a side issue for our enemies. Our enemies wish to rule Mecca and Medina, and thereby gain control of all of Islam. The US government is closely tied to the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, and this influence was an obstacle to our enemies’ primary goal. In order to remove that obstacle, our enemies struck at what they saw as the heart of US power in the hope of provoking a general war between the west and Islam. In the ensuing chaos, our enemies could topple the House of Saud and become masters of “a billion muslims” already at war with the west.

When you buy into the media and political hype about remembering 9/11, think well on the facts listed above. The worst attack on US soil in history was basically a tactical sideshow in a larger strategic drama in which we were only bit players.

In response, we have endured a decade of increasing loss of essential liberties and a profound sense of dislocation between the general population and the US military. There used to be a sign posted in a Marine barracks which said, “America is not at war. The Marines are at war. America is at the mall.” If the US was truly facing a threat to our very existence as a nation, why were we not called upon to make sacrifices as was the case when previously threatened with destruction? Unless one was a member of the uniformed services or a relative of a service member, most of the US acted as if nothing had happened. The only sacrifices we (the People) were called upon to make were in our individual liberties. Under the fallacious guise of keeping Americans safe, ever-more intrusive government agents routinely violated the civil rights of millions of Americans to fight the “war on terror”. Legislation passed by our elected representatives to make this task easier was almost never used to arrest and convict terrorism suspects, but was used extensively to convict thousands of marijuana growers and users.

Aided and abetted by Congress, the administration at the time kept the costs of all this activity separate from the actual budget. Trillions of dollars and thousands of US servicemen were expended in the “war on terror” to what end? It’s been ten years- has terror been defeated yet?

Let us examine this “war on terror”. Terror is a tactic, a tool used to force one’s political adversaries into certain courses of action favorable to the terrorists. There is a way to fight terrorism, and that is the Russian method of demonstrating to the terrorists that the costs of using such tactics is too high. We, as a culture, are unwilling to employ the methods necessary to win such a war. I’m still naive enough to think that is a good thing, but where does that leave us? We are unwilling to become terrorists ourselves to dissuade others from committing terrorism, but we are in a war against terrorism. Can we win this “war on terror” without becoming what we fight against? I’m not sure we can.

Our military can handily defeat any number of enemies with guns, but classical use of military power is not what is needed here. A far better use of our overwhelmingly potent military force would be to isolate and destroy our enemies in detail (such as the methods used to drive the Taliban out of Afghanistan in 2001 and 2002) and long-term political action to deny our enemies bases from which to strike. Another way would be to decide whether or not supporting the House of Saud is worth the odd terror attack and its attendant civilian casualties, and make our national security policy based upon a rational appraisal of that question.

The ruling family of Saudi Arabia gets its power and prestige from two main sources: the oil they sell to Japan, China, and Europe and their control of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. As a country, Saudi Arabia exhibits the very worst traits of a theocratic monarchy. As an economy, they demonstrate the worst traits of monopolistic capitalism. The combination of these traits results in a profoundly poor and uneducated population ruled harshly by a political and religious elite.  Since such conditions are normally ripe for revolution, the House of Saud deflects popular unrest from the ruling family to outside forces by means of their support for the Wahabbi sect of Islam. The royal family funds Wahabbist schools throughout their country, providing a means of identifying and re-targeting disaffected youths. Those identified and re-purposed are used as purity police throughout the country when possible, or exported to other countries to become someone else’s problem. Note that 17 of the 19 attackers on 9/11 were Saudis, and you might start to understand why US support for the Saudi royal family is a big part of the problem. I fail to understand how allowing the House of Saud to fall could be any worse for American interests than the current state of affairs.

Why do we put up with the Saudis? Contrary to popular belief, it is only partially about oil. The US gets very little of its oil from Saudi Arabia. Our interest in Saudi oil is primarily in keeping the fuel taps open for our allies and trading partners elsewhere in the world. A larger part of the American backing of the Saudis is as a counterweight for Iran. Why is this important to US interests? I have no idea.

In a rational world, the US should be closely tied to Iran in lieu of Saudi Arabia. Iran has less oil than the Saudis, but more than triple the population. Furthermore, Iran’s Shi’a sect is philosophically better suited to a partnership with America than the Wahabbist butchers in Riyadh. Why, then, is America courting the Saudis?

We’re back at missed opportunities. Iran had a democratically elected government once, back in the 1950s. For reasons which (presumably) seemed good at the time, the US decided to help overthrow this democratically-elected government and replace it with a dictator presumed to be more amenable to American interests. The resulting tyranny and autocratic excesses of the Shah led inexorably to the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and the subsequent overthrow of the Shah. In lieu of welcoming the new rulers of Iran to the international community, the US government decided to cut them off from the Shah’s expatriated fortune and give weapons to Iran’s unpleasant neighbor- Iraq. Iran responded by taking a few dozen US citizens hostage and giving the US nose a very public tweaking for several years.

At some point during this time, it became US policy to dislike Iran. In order to “punish” Iran for giving us the finger back in the late 1970s, we gave Iraq the go-ahead to start a long and bloody war with Iran. After nearly ten years of increasingly bloody fighting, both sides were too exhausted to continue- particularly Iran, which relied heavily on “human wave” assaults. Iran lost a generation of young men in the war, which has created an enormous philosophical and cultural gap between the survivors of that war and the generations which followed. Iraq, by contrast, ended up with a moderately well-trained military increasingly under the thumb of the often unstable Saddam Hussein.

During all this time, Saudi Arabia was relatively stable, and was therefore increasingly seen as a useful tool to use against Iran. The US sucked up to the House of Saud to help “contain” Iran, when it should have been the other way around. Because the US was increasingly involved in helping maintain the theocratic rulers of Saudi Arabia, we became a target of those who wish to tear down the Saudi royal family and install themselves in their place. The end result of that was four hijacked airliners and more than three thousand dead US civilians.

So let us take this opportunity to take a long, hard look at exactly what US policy is and why. Short of becoming as ruthless as our enemies, there is little prospect of a military solution to the “war on terror”. The long-term solution would be to remove the root causes of the conflict, which is less about religion and more about the monopoly on power and economic might enjoyed by a handful of despots and their courtiers throughout the middle east. Let us concentrate on taking out the bad guys when we find them while working on loosening the bonds of the massive underclasses in north Africa and the middle east.

We’re Americans. We should start acting like it.

Big Brother

8 11 2010

I imagine that there are a lot of people who think the title of this post refers to a relentlessly lame TV program. Everyone else should be aware of its more sinister meaning from George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother was the manifestation of the omnipresent and despotic government in the novel, who was watching you … forever. We’re a few decades late, but the fine folks at the Pennsylvania Office of Homey Scrutiny Homeland Security (OHS) are doing their best to make Orwell’s dystopian imaginary world become a real-life nightmare.

It seems that the OHS in Pennsylvania contracted a local company to gather intelligence on potential terrorists. Problems arose when it turned out that the definition of “potential terrorist” was amazingly broad. For example, anyone participating in a political protest could be investigated because the protests might cause disruptions for businesses. Oddly enough, this same contractor provided intelligence-gathering services for several large companies across the country. This is probably how that exceedingly loose definition of a terrorist event came to be.

Worse still, these supposed “terrorists” were identified as such to local law enforcement agencies throughout Pennsylvania- and presumably also to those companies who made up the bulk of this contractor’s customers. For the alleged crime of protesting for or against gay rights (one example of the so-called “terrorist” activities tracked during this domestic surveillance program), a citizen could be denied employment at one of the large corporations receiving these intelligence services. Yes, Virginia. Participating in a peaceful, legal protest (the protection of which is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the US Constitution) could result in getting put on a terrorist watch list. Remember when top law enforcement and government officials kept telling us, “If you’ve done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear“? It turns out they were lying. Who woulda thunk it? Aside from anybody with an IQ above room temperature, that is.

As soon as the story broke in a local paper, the outgoing Governor of Pennsylvania immediately canceled the project and ordered that the contract not be renewed. Fear not, fans of authoritarian imposition into people’s lives. The incoming Governor is on your side. He’s the lovely person who- in his capacity as Pennsylvania Attorney General– decided to use the power of the State to force Twitter to identify account-holders who were critical of him.

There is no justification under our laws for this sort of wide-ranging surveillance of US citizens. Exercising one’s right to peacefully protest or criticize political figures does not a terrorist make. Our freedoms are guaranteed by the US Constitution and the Amendments thereto. Fear of just this sort of Byzantine abuse of power is why those guarantees are in the Constitution. With all that, why are our elected officials (and the lackeys they appoint to positions of authority) think they can get away with these illegal and un-Constitutional actions?

Because you told them so. You continued to vote for these creatures despite their intrusions into the private lives of your fellow Americans. When these pompous slimewads screeched and squawked about how “turrists are gonna gitcha“, you willingly acceded to their demands for more power and less supervision. You obligingly trembled in fear whenever the magic words were spoken- terrorist, homosexual, immigrant, communist, socialist, liberal, Mexican, etc., and eagerly offered up your precious freedoms in exchange for imaginary security and safety. Even more, you berated and belittled those who warned against giving more power to the government. To their discredit, the people who loudly and passionately proclaim their mistrust of any government organization as part of their political philosophy were the loudest and shrillest voices calling for sacrificing our precious liberties in the vain hope of safety.

We, the People, are supposed to be better than this. We are supposed to be a shining beacon of liberty and independence for the rest of the world to emulate. Instead, we are emulating the worst excesses of our enemies. Our elected officials- the people you voted into office- are willfully complicit in this collective raping of American liberty, and people are cheering them on as they do so.

Some would say, “I didn’t vote, so you can’t blame this on me!” Bullshit. Roughly 40% of the registered voters in this country voted in the last election. Those who did not vote- despite being registered- outnumbered those who did. This means that a vocal minority was permitted to shape the incoming government for at least the next two years. “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice“. By choosing not to vote, you allowed the whackjobs at the fringes of political discourse to dictate the nature and direction of that discourse. And now, we all have to live with the political consequences of your laziness. You must be so proud.

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: I Want You To Want Me by Cheap Trick

A Plethora of Pinheads

4 05 2010

Let us examine the Great American Pinhead (craniorectal-inversionus northamericanus). This odious creature has the outward appearance of a stable, adult homo sapiens of either gender, and is found in dense herds wandering the countryside and (especially) on internet forums.

Case in point: A laughably poor attempt to firebomb Times Square in New York City fails due to industrial-strength ineptitude and a lack of understanding of basic chemistry. The would-be bomber is obviously a pinhead in his own right, but the weapons-grade pinheads emerged on internet forums and chat rooms over the next couple of days. Those on the Left were practically wetting themselves in public, crowing that the failed bomber had to be a teabagger. All manner of spurious justifications for this theory were advanced, but- in reality- the leftish pinheads were desperately praying that someone associated with the tea party movements was responsible. They were more interested in fixing blame on their political rivals than in discovering the truth. When that truth finally emerged, the leftish pinheads pouted and sulked and said, in so many words, how much they really wanted it to be a teabagger.

Those on the right weathered the storm of criticisms from their political rivals until the police caught the Failbomber- who turned out to be a Pakistani-born muslim who was a naturalized US citizen. The rightish pinheads immediately began their usual frothing at the mouth about Islam supposedly being the root of all evils (isn’t money supposed to be the root of all evil?), and getting further incensed at the fact that the arrested Failbomber was given the benefit of the rights and privileges afforded all Americans, including- gasp!– being read his rights. Republican politicians began shrieking about stripping the Failbomber of his citizenship (and by extension, his rights to due process), completely forgetting not only what little sense they had ever possessed, but also their tiny store of knowledge about Constitutional law. Allow me to remind you, dear reader, that most politicians are lawyers. One would think that a lawyer would have at least a tentative grasp of the fundamentals of US law.

Speaking of lawyers (those paragons of morality and good sense), remember that Pennsylvania school district that issued to laptops to all their students and then remotely activated the built-in webcams to spy on those students at home? Police investigators discovered somewhere on the close order of sixty thousand webcam photos on the school’s servers. Still desperately clinging to the ludicrous belief that they had done nothing wrong, the district hired a pack of lawyers to conduct an “independent investigation”. Oddly enough, this independent investigation was conducted by the legal defense team and firm hired by the school district. Those worthies even released a report whose title announced how independent it was. To everyone’s surprise, the school district’s lawyers discovered that the school district hadn’t done anything wrong. Everyone immediately heaved a great sigh of relief and went back to more important matters laughed themselves sick and continued with the local, state, and federal criminal investigations- not to mention the various lawsuits.

Speaking of things which will not end well, Arizona is only now starting to discover the price of their recent decision to demand proof of legal residence of anyone at any time (You vill show me der papers!). The legislature and the governor were greatly taken aback by the storm of protests from just about everywhere. The White House condemned them, and (predictably) so did the the government of Mexico. What really started getting the attention of the tax-fattened hyenas inhabiting the Arizona legislature were the economic effects as governments and businesses from inside the US announced boycotts against Arizona. Oopsie! Didn’t think your cunning plan all the way through, did you? These minor (but potentially significant) economic hazards are likely to be dwarfed by the legal effects once this travesty of justice goes into effect in July. There are swarms of attorneys feverishly drafting lawsuits and amicus briefs in anticipation of the judicial bloodbath that will surely ensue as soon as the first US citizen gets arrested under this law.

While I’m on the subject of unintended consequences, the Master Pinheads in the Logic-Free Zone grew mightily wroth after the passage of the recent health-care reform legislation when several major companies announced that they would be taking significant hits to their next quarter’s earnings. The companies made these announcements in compliance with a Federal law requiring them to do so. What got the congressional pinheads so worked up was the reason for the charges against earnings: to pay for the increased costs of operating under the health-care reform legislation. Congressional hearings were swiftly convened for the purpose of smacking the collective peepees of those evil corporations. How dare they demonstrate that the Law of Unintended Consequences always makes it through Congress?

A weird thing happened before those hearings were held. Somebody whose brain cells weren’t dying of loneliness managed to convey to our legislative pinheads some actual facts. Little tidbits like the Federal requirement to announce charges against earnings and (more likely) the notion that those corporations had all contributed heavily to the election campaigns of most of the congressional idiots. That last particular bit of belated knowledge un-dudgeoned the congresscritters with the quickness, and those hearings somehow fell off the radar. Odd, that.

Thus concludes our latest ventures among the various examples of the Great American Pinhead. I have no doubt there will be further episodes, because the species is widely distributed and is immune to normal human reactions like shame.

Current status: nauseated

Current music: All I Want by Toad the Wet Sprocket

Lest We Forget

29 03 2010

With the US population essentially abandoning the rest of the world to its own devices in pursuit of domestic politics, it could be easy to forget that there are lots of people out there who don’t follow our rules of behavior. Or any rational rules of behavior, for that matter. These people are all too happy to blow up scads of innocent passers-by in the idiotic belief that this will somehow effect the ridiculous changes they seek to impose upon everyone around them.

Case in point: two women walked into a Moscow subway during rush hour this morning and blew themselves up, killing dozens of people and wounding dozens more. A similar atrocity took place in the UK a few years ago, as well as several attacks in various forms of public transportation over the past few years in Russia and Spain. For those of you not paying attention, let us examine the fact that these attackers deliberately targeted civilians. Innocent people going about their daily lives are considered legitimate targets by these animals. By contrast, the US military goes out of its way as a matter of policy- even to the point of sustaining avoidable casualties- to avoid targeting civilians. When the inevitable mistake happens, and civilians are nonetheless attacked by US forces, US public opinion and military doctrine mandates exhaustive investigations into the circumstances and the arrest and trial of those responsible.

While many of our enemies see this as evidence of American weakness, we’re really doing it for their benefit. We are all aware- at some level- of the violence lurking deep within us, and we take great pains to avoid letting it out. With the equipment and training available to the US military, our self-restraint is the only thing keeping large portions of planet in a habitable condition. We know this about ourselves, and try very hard- as a people- to prevent our killer instincts from getting loose … because we don’t much like what happens to others when we do let our darker natures free. I invite all and sundry to imagine what would happen if we- the People- ever told our military to take their gloves off. The last time that was permitted to happen, we ended up with the firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo, and the dawn of miniature suns over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The US military has no equal at this time. Our Navy can park several thousand troops and hundreds of aircraft off any coast on Earth and keep them there indefinitely. Our Air Force can strike literally anywhere on the planet from deep inside the continental US. Our eyes and ears in the sky and in space can listen in on almost every communication in the world. Our Army and Marines are superbly trained, equipped, and supported by all those other services, making them more than a match for any other military on Earth. US missiles can deliver deadly payloads- including nuclear warheads- anywhere in the world with unbelievable precision and on extremely short notice. Other militaries may be larger, and many countries boast military units of exceptional skill and professionalism, the US literally has no military equal.

And yet, in the face of horror and barbarism from our enemies, we refrain from unleashing our justified wrath upon those enemies- for their sakes. Our enemies once claimed to desire a war between the US and Islam, and many have asked if the US could possibly fight a billion Muslims. The answer is, yes. Were we to treat our enemies as they treat us, there would be death and carnage on a scale the world has never seen. Were we to unleash our might without restraint, there would no longer be a billion Muslims. That restraint is not for our benefit, it is for the benefit of our friends and allies and even our enemies.

For those among us who sneer derisively at the activities of our enemies and claim that we are somehow superior to them- guess again. From the upper midwest comes a tale of a Christian militia group which planned to murder a local police officer and then attack his funeral with improvised explosive devices. Sound familiar? These are exactly the same tactics used by our Islamic enemies. I’d link to the group’s website so you could see for yourself what sort of animals we’re dealing with, but it seems to be offline. Here’s the Wikipedia entry, for as long as it stays up.

These self-described “christian warriors” have decided that they’re perfectly fine with murdering innocents in the name of their “holy war”, and they come from right here in the USA. Tell me again why we’re different from our external enemies.

I’ve already told you the answer: we have resolved- as a people- to keep our killer instincts in check. We have resolved- as a people- that we are willing to expend the lives of our young men and women to fight our enemies on our terms, rather than stoop to their level. We are better than our enemies for these reasons.

But there are those among us who are willing to unleash terror on their fellow citizens in the name of their god. Remember always that our killer instinct is always with us, lying dormant beneath the civilized veneer. Remember, too, that our enemies are not muslims or christians or atheists or albigensians, but fundamentalists and fanatics. Never forget that extremism leads always to atrocities.

Time to re-visit McDonaough’s Song:

Whether the State can loose and bind
In Heaven as well as on Earth:
If it be wiser to kill mankind
Before or after the birth-
These are matters of high concern
Where State-kept schoolmen are;
But Holy State (we have lived to learn)
Endeth in Holy War.

Whether The People be led by The Lord,
Or lured by the loudest throat:
If it be quicker to die by the sword
Or cheaper to die by vote-
These are things we have dealt with once,
(And they will not rise from their grave)
For Holy People, however it runs,
Endeth in wholly Slave.

Whatsoever, for any cause,
Seeketh to take or give
Power above or beyond the Laws,
Suffer it not to live!
Holy State or Holy King-
Or Holy People’s Will-
Have no truck with the senseless thing.
Order the guns and kill!
Saying –after–me:–

Once there was The People- Terror gave it birth;
Once there was The People and it made a Hell of Earth
Earth arose and crushed it. Listen, 0 ye slain!
Once there was The People- it shall never be again!

Current status: Annoyed

Current music: Meet Me On the Equinox by Death Cab for Cutie

Unintended Consequences

1 12 2008

There used to be a very good show on BBC called Connections. I highly recommend this series (actually three separate seasons) for anyone curious about how things happened in just the way they happened. In one episode, James Burke (the host) explained how an Indian prince suffering from a headache in the 8th Century led more-or-less directly to the US space program. Fascinating stuff- especially if you’re interested in the unintended consequences of various actions and/or inactions.

For example, Henry the VIIIth of England was tired of his wife, which has led more-or-less directly to the real possibility of a nuclear war in south Asia. Bear with me, here. I’m not nearly as good at this as James Burke, and I don’t have a BBC research team backing me up. I’m operating solely on remembered history, some fast Google searches, and a healthy dose of W.A.G.s (Wild-Ass Guesses).

Let us begin, Hank the 8th was tired of the lovely young thing he’d married, and wanted to bed a different lovely young thing. Since he was officially a Catholic, he couldn’t get a divorce. Since he was King, he figured he ought to be able to get rid of the wife and marry the new girl, so he drop-kicked the Catholic church and started the Church of England (basically the same except for that pesky no-divorce thingie). Unfortunately, England was now a Protestant country at a time when the superpowers of the era were very cognizant of the political benefits of being on the Pope’s side. When the Pope excommunicated Henry, the King of Spain was all too willing to enhance his public perception of piety by doing his best to undermine the English monarchy.

As a result of this long-term enmity between England and the Catholic monarchs of Europe, England was cut off from a lot of raw materials and manufactured goods from the Continent- and later from the Americas. The Brits did what they could by fighting the odd war at sea, making fast voyages to Protestant ports in Europe, and generally learning how to build and maintain a recognizably modern Navy (a wonderful asset for any island nation). When the Spanish and French tried to keep England out of the treasure troves of MesoAmerica, the English turned to piracy (improving their nautical abilities) and colonizing marginal areas in the Caribbean and in North America (giving them strongholds, supply ports, raw materials, and someplace to plant surplus population).

This simultaneous expansion of naval capabilities and overseas territories led England into multiple conflicts with the European powers. When the MesoAmerican plunder-fest finally died out with the last of the easily-accessible Incan and Aztec gold, the three major European powers (England, France, and Spain) found themselves increasingly locking horns over North American territories. Defeating near-equal military powers is expensive, so England started increasing the taxes on their North American colonists. When those colonists complained that they were getting excluded from the political process used to raise or lower taxes, England decided to spank their impudent behinds to remind them that mama knows best.

The colonists were understandably miffed, and foolishly decided to rebel against the most powerful nation on Earth at that time- hoping mainly to stay alive long enough to coax at least one other European power into the fight on their side. Luckily for the colonists, the French decided to play, and England lost their biggest and most prosperous overseas colony. Even handily spanking the fledgling country in another war two decades later couldn’t bring the Americans back into the fold, so the English and Americans eventually started doing business together. The British still had extensive colonies elsewhere overseas, and managed to hang onto many of them- partly as a result of lessons learned during the American affairs.

A century later, the new country even joined their British cousins and French former allies in a massive cluster-fuck of a war in mainland Europe. This was so successful that they decided to do it again thirty years later. By this time, the British Empire was huge- stretching across half the planet and including a significant percentage of the world’s population. One of the jewels in the British crown was India. Another was the area we now call the Middle East.

After WWII, Britain started to slowly divest itself of its various colonies. The vast tribal areas of the Middle East were divided into a patchwork of “nations” based on almost no ground research, a great deal of wishful thinking, and a modest amount of biblical misinformation. Thus the arbitrary lines on maps in Europe divided tribes and clans in Arabia, and their rulers were all propped up by British guns- so long as the rulers behaved themselves. Worse still, those arbitrary lines on the maps left clans and tribes which had been historical enemies in the new “nations”.

India managed to convince the British that trying to hold such a large country with the few thousand (at best) troops available was a losing proposition, and became their own country. The British managed one last attempt at guiding the future of the sub-continent by spinning off the easternmost and westernmost provinces into independent nations, using the high-quality decision-making processes that worked so well in the Middle East. Thus were Pakistan and Bangladesh created.

India had a huge population which was deeply stratified along caste and religious lines. The well-thought-out British partition of the sub-continent left millions of Muslims in the predominantly Hindu nation of India (and thousands of Hindus in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of Pakistan.) Indian society (and human nature) being what it was, these minority groups immediately suffered the fate of most minority groups throughout history. Violence escalating to war was the result. Repeatedly.

In the Middle East, things were going beautifully. Everything was puppies and rainbows and unicorns. Wherever the population was overwhelmingly Muslim, sectarian violence flared up. Wherever large non-Muslim minority groups were present, the infidels often suffered from pogroms and violence. The only preventive measure against large-scale ethnic cleansing was the existence (or creation) of powerful dictators, who would keep order through overt military might. The presence of vast reserves of petroleum under the area drew the new power-brokers to the regional and sectarian conflicts. In the typically benevolent manner of such interactions, the two superpowers made things worse by adding ideological reasons for violence and hatred.

After a few decades of coups, revolutions, wars, counter-coups, counter-revolutions, and more wars, one of the superpowers went home to nurse their wounds while the other started strutting about the planet like we owned the place. The fact that there was no longer a realistic military counter to American power made the covert and overt meddling in everyone’s business even more galling. Everybody started disliking American policy- not just American citizens and the French.

Mix loads of oil-created wealth in historically unstable nation-states created whole cloth from the remnants of the British Empire with swaggering American boorishness. Add in a healthy dose of longing for the mythical “good old days” of the Caliphate and several liberal helpings of Superpower guilt. Cook vigorously for years in a stew of extreme poverty, deliberate ignorance, and despotic ruthlessness. Sprinkle with plenty of religious whackjobs. Et voila! A feast of knives ensues.

The loons who planned and committed the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were hoping that the resulting American counterstrike would cause the Islamic world to rise up against American domination and return to the purity and glory of the early Islamic world, but with AK-47s and (hopefully) nuclear weapons. Instead of vaporizing Riyadh, Mecca, and Medina, however, the US struck first at the home bases of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Since Al Qaeda was allied with the fundamentalist ass-hats who ruled Afghanistan, they had to go. The US overtly aided the Taliban’s enemies with air power and special forces teams. With that kind of backing, the Northern Alliance eventually drove the Taliban (and their Al Qaeda allies) out of Afghanistan.

Into Pakistan.

Like the arbitrary and artificial “nations” created by the British in the Middle East, Pakistan was a hodge-podge of tribes and clans and long histories of mutual antipathy. Parts of Pakistan were not even nominally under the control of Pakistan’s “government”. Pakistan’s military was only nominally under the control of the government- and often it was the other way around. The Pakistani military was legitimately obsessed with the threat from India, and the military intelligence services had a history of using religious fundamentalist whackjobs to carry out proxy wars with India to help even out the conventional military disparity between the two rivals.

The Americans told Pakistan that they could either join in the Global War on Terror or the US would immediately and totally support India against Pakistan. Joining the GWOT would get Pakistan some international street cred (something the military dictatorship in power needed desperately), access to US military intelligence assets, and wads of US dollars. The Americans would even put pressure on India to warm relations with Pakistan, allowing the Pakistani military to devote time and assets to dealing with the obstreperous hill folk in the so-called “tribal areas”.  Giving aid and comfort to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, on the other hand, would earn Pakistan a sky full of hostile aircraft loaded with precision weaponry.

Unwillingly, and with plenty of private caveats, reservations, and dark thoughts, Pakistan agreed to join the GWOT. This proved to be a serious mistake for the military dictatorship, since American public opinion loathes dictatorships. Political pressure in the US caused the State Department and the White House to put increasing pressure on Pakistan’s ruler to open up his political processes. Dictatorships rarely last once the dictator stops applying the lash, and Pakistan was no different. Out with the latest in a long line of military overlords and in with a weak (but more-or-less democratically-elected) civilian government which was automatically at odds with the military and intelligence organizations. These groups chafed under US pressures to handle the increasingly-violent tribal areas and were in no mood to help the civilian government out with a Muslim population also unhappy with infidel troops occasionally raiding across the border from Afghanistan in pursuit of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters.

With all of this nonsense going on, a lot of Pakistani militant groups got to thinking about ways to further reduce the military pressure from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that starting a new face-off with India would do the job nicely. The last time an Islamic terror group from Pakistan had operated in India, a six-month bout of troop maneuvers and other saber-rattling had ensued, diverting Pakistani military attention away from the Tribal areas and toward the Indian border. So a group of local nutjobs trained hard for a few months while gathering intelligence on politically-worthwhile targets inside India, then they viciously and publicly murdered a couple of hundred people in Mumbai this past weekend. To make damned sure the blame would land on Pakistan, these terrorists broke most of the counter-intelligence rules and left obvious clues behind everywhere they went- such as a satellite phone with lots of calls to known Kashmir- based terrorist groups.

Now, public opinion in India is demanding an energetic response from their government. The US is trying very hard to keep the two nuclear-armed countries from going for each others’ throats, and so are the civilian governments of both India and Pakistan. If another blatant Pakistan-based terrorist attack occurs in the near future, India’s government might be forced to respond militarily- such as by mobilizing reserves and moving troops to the Pakistani border. Pakistan would be forced to respond in kind. A few more atrocities by hot-heads on either side of the border could easily precipitate a shooting war. India could crush Pakistan in a conventional fight, and both countries know it. Pakistan could very easily end up using nuclear weapons to defeat India’s vastly superior conventional military. This could very easily result in a full-scale nuclear exchange. Here’s an excellent article on the probabilities and possible consequences.

A bit long-winded, full of plausible historical notions and some guesswork on my part (along with a great many egregious shortcuts with history), but that is why Henry VIIIth’s inability to keep his codpiece at home could lead to a nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

Current status: Exhausted

Current music: War Pigs by Black Sabbath