Monday, August 2, 2010

The Silly Season, Part II

To begin with, I must say that I'm disappointed. For a while there I thought NASA was actually going to start doing something useful, namely work to improve relations with the Muslim world. I mean, the payoff from that would be much bigger than the payoff from the space program, right? I could hardly wait for them to get started – especially since no other sector of the government seems to care about the Muslim world one way or the other, except how much of it they can bomb back to the stone age. But now it turns out that all of that hope and promise from the NASA director was in vain – his superiors in the White House have taken pains to reassure the citizenry that we are not, after all, about to do anything to improve our relationship with the Muslim world, and that this is not, nor has it ever been, a key element in NASA's mission. (And as far as taking a Muslim up in space, well... can you imagine? Floating prayer rugs? And how do you know whether you're facing Mecca if you're out in space?) Well... I still wish someone else would take up the challenge, even if NASA has more important things to do. Surely there must be some government agency somewhere that is living way past the expiration date of its original mission, and would gladly take up where NASA left off... or didn't, as the case may be.

News about the Gulf oil spill (“eruption” would be a better word) is starting to show signs of that most-feared phenomenon in the news business – I call it “page creep”. This is when a story outlives the news cycle but doesn't go away entirely (the way the Goldman Sachs story did – one day it was headline news, and the next day – nothing). So it moves off the front page (after first having dropped below the “fold”) and gradually morphs onto higher-numbered pages of the first section of the paper... eventually (depending on the paper in question) making a leap into the second section, and so on... until eventually it's tucked way in the back, somewhere in the vicinity of the “loser comics” -- you know, the black-and-white one-panel jobs like “Marmaduke”, “Grin and Bear It”, and “The Lockhorns”... the ones that might have been funny, oh, let's say 20 or 30 years ago before the cartoonists became senile. In any case, what's odd about it is that the oil spill is just as much of a disaster today as it was on Day One – if not worse. If you made a movie about some Dr. Evil type threatening to “kill the Gulf of Mexico” unless he was paid a fat ransom (or made CEO of AIG, which would be the equivalent), people would tell you it was far-fetched... and yet here it is, happening right before our eyes, and yet it too is suffering the effects of The Great American Short Attention Span. It seems that nothing is important enough, or catastrophic enough, to stay on our front pages for long... and hardly ever until the situation is resolved. We are, as a people, crisis-oriented... but we're just not solution-oriented. Solutions... follow-through... these are all just too boring and stuffy for the American personality. We are all about expansion and not at all about consolidation – ideas and not realism – and I suppose there are few current events that do not serve as illustrations of this. The oil spill is just the most prominent at the moment – but if you went back and took all the “top stories” -- all the life-threatening crises – from just, say, the past year... and asked yourself, have any of those things been fixed, or resolved? The answer would be no, not one – and yet they are no longer news. This is, truly, one of the marvels of our time.

And speaking of stories that are already history – how about that “spy trade” with the Russians? We managed to round up ten suburbanite airheads with delusions of grandeur and trade them for a handful of what appear to be serious people – which I would say means that we won this round, even thought the mocking MSM say the opposite. The mystery that remains, of course, is what on earth the Russians were thinking sending those doofuses over here and telling them to infiltrate... what? Organizations that just about anybody can listen in on, or read about, or visit, or even join, any time they want. I mean, these characters made Maxwell Smart look like Kim Philby. You know, in world affairs, even when someone does something stupid, there's usually a perfectly good reason. But this one has me baffled.

Every time a high-ranking military officer retires, or is transferred, it sets off a kind of domino effect – he has to be replaced, and his replacement has to be replaced, and so on... and the effect goes resonating through the system, sometimes for months. And this is for each case, and there are thousands of cases per year. It's what is euphemistically called “turbulence”, but a more appropriate word would be “chaos”. It's especially fun when it happens at the highest and most visible levels, because then it becomes a public spectacle – as witness the recent cashiering of Gen. McChrystal, who had been working for Gen. Petraeus, but was then replaced by Petraeus, who has now been replaced by Gen. Mattis. Now, Mattis is another one of those loose-cannon, non-diplomatic types that the military has tried so hard to eliminate from its ranks, but they keep on mysteriously cropping up, and usually at the most inconvenient times. What's wrong with Mattis, you say? Why, nothing, except that he has stated that it's “fun” to kill the enemy, and that a perfectly good, and sufficient, reason to kill someone in Southwest Asia is if he beats his wife or insists that she wear a veil. In other words, while these are not treated as capital offenses in this country, Gen. Mattis sees nothing wrong with treating them as such overseas – without benefit of judge or jury. Now, you might say, isn't this just a minor eccentricity, and surely he didn't mean it? But consider that the people of Iraq and Afghanistan – we call them “insurgents” and “terrorists” -- pay very close attention to what our leaders, both civilian and military, say, especially when it's like to have a direct impact on their well-being. And they tend not to have much of a sense of humor, or irony; they assume that we, in fact, mean what we say (imagine!). What if, for example, the U.S. was currently occupied by the Taliban.... or the Republican Guard... and what if the military commander overseeing the entire operation came out in public and said that killing Americans was fun, especially guys who do stuff like make their wives take jobs outside the home to earn extra money? Is there an American alive who would not seethe with white-hot rage at this, and vow to do everything in his power to kill as many of the occupation forces as possible, or die trying? See, this is what statements like that mean to the other side – and that's what counts, not what they mean to the average brain-dead American. And we wonder why we keep encountering “hostility and distrust” over there...

And by the way, Gen. Petraeus has already decided that one of our biggest foes in Afghanistan is “corruption”. Now... I know, I've harped on this before, but... the first thing you have to understand is that there is no word for “corruption” in most third-world languages. It's simply known as “the way things are done”. But then we show up with our grandiose idealism, and language to boot, and start busting everyone's chops about “corruption”. It's kind of talking about “child prostitution” in cultures where girls commonly get married at age 12. It's not that we're necessarily wrong, or that we're even wrong to bring it up, but we have to understand that we're introducing a whole new concept, and one that is unlikely to win friends or influence people (which we, presumably, want to do... at least with a select subset of the populace). At any rate, Petraeus is – just like Eliot Ness – going after “pervasive theft, graft, and bribery”... in which case, why doesn't he start right here at home? With places like Illinois, Louisiana, and New Jersey, for example? But get a load of this: “... anger at corruption is the top reason Afghans support the Taliban over the government.” So in that sense, we and the Taliban are on the same side. Who knew? Maybe what we ought to do is join forces with the Taliban to get rid of the Afghan government; wouldn't that make everybody happy?

And, speaking of winning hearts and minds – a recent survey showed that “most Pakistanis view U.S. as an enemy.” After all we've done for these people, I swear. I mean... just because we're trying to annex their next-door neighbor, with whom they share plenty of fine qualities, religion being just one of them. Of course, they helped us get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but I'll bet it was for their own selfish reasons. And now they're being asked for help in getting a radical Islamic group out of an Islamic country, when they're Islamic as well, and... we usually pay a whole lot more attention to India than to them. Ah yes... when the third world awakens from its slumbers, the masters of the West give an involuntary shudder...

And along the same lines, Senator John Kerry (remember him?) asked recently, “why the Taliban, with fewer resources and smaller numbers, can field fighters who are more committed to winning than are Afghan soldiers. 'What's going on here?' he asked with exasperation.” Well... time to get un-exasperated, Senator... it's the same old thing I've talked about a lot lately, but the flip side. I recently said that the spate of military suicides might just have something to do with the absurdity – the lack of meaning – of the whole occupation/empire experience from the troops' point of view. “Theirs not to reason why”, etc. the Taliban, on the other hand – as revolting, fanatical, and malodorous as they may be – actually believe in something, and this is what keeps them going... what keeps them “more committed to winning”. After all, if a U.S. troop “wins”, what does he win? A ticket back home at best, and then he has to pick up where he left off. And if an Afgan Army troop "wins", he's probably bought himself a ticket to a beheading (his own) in the event the Taliban regains control. But for the Taliban it's a matter of faith... of blood and soil. They are defending their homeland against the invader, plain and simple (whereas the Afghan Army is defending the invaders -- now there's a real moral-builder!). The Taliban are also defending Islam – particularly the militant kind – against invasion, conquest, maltreatment, and defamation by us and Israel (and by anyone else who cares to join us on any given day – a diminishing number, to be sure). See, we don't have to like them to see where they're coming from... but the administration simply refuses to see any of this as important. (No one understood kamikaze pilots either; we just assumed they were suicidal.) As far as we're concerned, they hate us because of McDonald's and indoor plumbing. Of course, this misunderstanding is at least partly willful... it provides a better rationale than saying, “We're fighting against people who are defending their homeland and their faith.” That would make it seem just a bit too symmetrical or something... like something _we_ might even do (or might have done at some past time).

And on the lighter side (but also related to the Senator), I wish the local paper would make up its mind. Half the time it refers to Teresa Heinz Kerry as “the pickle heiress”, and other other half of the time as “the ketchup heiress”. The truth is, it's both, and then some. How about just calling her “the 57 Varieties heiress”? It would also be a good shout-out to diversity...

On the even lighter side, I can't resist providing a quote from a somewhat unusual source – the July 29 issue of The Wanderer, and a story about the environmental impact of birth control pills. Seems that in Britain, “odd-looking fish have been found in waterways, especially below sewage outlets. The fish are neither male nor female, but have characteristics of both, and are unable to breed.” Gee, that sounds like a perfect description of a lot of American liberals.

1 comment:

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