Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Birth of Infamy

I've held off commenting on the events in Newtown, Connecticut because I wanted to see if anything new under the sun presented itself in the way of reactions. But it seems that it's, by and large, the usual litanies by the usual people, albeit with some variations here and there. The overall theme – again, as usual – is helplessness and mystification, and the eternal question “why”? Now, a cynic, or a strict existentialist, might say that if there's no solution, there's no problem – in other words, since there is no answer to the “why” question we ought to just quit asking it every time these things come up. But what is the alternative? The same parties will say that one just has to accept the absurdity and randomness of life; this is the “life sucks, then you die” point of view. In former times, this attitude was identified as fatalism – and Fate, with a capital F, was considered -- along with Fortune, also with a capital F -- to be a major determinant of existence, for weal or woe. (Interestingly enough, this attitude seems to have reached its highest development at the same time the Catholic Church was in its intellectual glory – in the late Middle Ages. It would be great if someone would come up with an analysis of this apparent paradox.)

So yes, we have the absurdity/fatalistic argument, which certainly reflects a mind set common among the lower ranks. “What can you do?” with a shrug. So it's an answer that's a non-answer, if you will... but it does seem to satisfy some people. Most everyone else, however, is not satisfied with that level of metaphysical anarchy, and they search desperately for cause and effect. We have the police tinkering with Adam Lanza's computer, as if somewhere in that magic box is a gleaming gem that will provide the answer. His mother is being psychoanalyzed, post-mortem – a job no respectable psychiatrist will undertake, but the press is eager to rush in. His entire life is being scanned and searched for clues – but as to what? Some connection between the existence of one solitary human being and an outbreak of random violence? We think we know what motivates people – the advertising industry certainly does, as do political parties – but when it comes to cases like this we are as strange and inscrutable to one another as aliens from another planet would be. The mental health industry claims to understand insanity – which they kind of do, but only in retrospect. I challenge any psychiatrist in the land to go out and find the next Adam Lanza before he cracks; it can't be done. Even the normal human mind is a deep, dark secret from all others – to say nothing of a mind that was, apparently, highly warped, disturbed, and gap-filled.

With that introduction, let's have a look at some of the common themes that have emerged from all this, as reflected in the press and on the Internet. The one I've already discussed, the absurdity/fatalistic theme, is actually not much in evidence; possibly those who adopt this model are also too apathetic to broadcast it. Or – maybe the implication that they should apply it more consistently to their own lives is too troubling. There are many forms of aloofness from the human condition, but in the long run they violate so many basic instincts that the person either comes back to earth or retreats into even more intense coldness and sterility.

Gun Control?

The most predictable theme – and the one that took the least time to appear – was, of course, the gun control theme – with all the obligatory comparisons of the “gun-loving, violent” U.S. with peaceful, humanistic Europe, etc. Well... aside from the tendency to forget that Europe has been in a state of war throughout most of its history, at least in some places... these comparisons are tiresome, because they assume that the U.S. is just like Europe, or ought to be, when in fact everyone who came here did so because they thought this was better than Europe in some way – more adventure, more opportunity, more freedom, a chance to escape the hangman... whatever. This country was settled by adventurers, opportunists, religious fanatics, ne'er-do-wells looking for a new start, convicts (escaped and otherwise), pirates, gangsters, sociopaths, Utopians, outright lunatics, refugees from war, famine, persecution, and pogroms... and so on. And we are their descendants; it's in our blood. So let's have no more idle talk about why we're not like Europe; I say praise be (in most instances)! Heaven knows, the Europeans have done themselves enough damage with their respective culturally-coherent, smug, complacent societies – what do they expect of us, being a crazy-quilt of wild and incompatible beliefs, habits, customs, races, ethnic groups, cuisines, languages, etc.? It's amazing we get along with each other as well as we do (the plus side of what I usually criticize as an “ideational” society).

I think the question that needs to be asked (and is, once in a while) when things like this happen is, would any level of gun control short of the most radical have prevented it? In this case, these were legal guns owned by a law-abiding person who happened to have a demented son, who stole the guns, and what followed followed. So in this case, only outright confiscation of all guns would have made a difference – and even then, when you confiscate all guns from all law-abiding (and sane) citizens, is that going to include all guns from criminals and crazies? Um... I think not. They could smuggle guns in from other countries. They could make guns.  (You can even print guns now -- how messed up is that?)  An underground gun manufacturing, distribution, and sales network would spring up. And so on. A disarmed populace is not really disarmed; only the people who can be trusted with guns are. The rest aren't. 


So yes, we are a violent society – it comes with the territory. It comes from the fact that we had to evict an entire race (the Native Americans) from most of the continent so that we could settle here. It comes from the phenomenon of slavery. Don't you think we're still paying for all of this, in the karmic sense? I certainly do. And our internal violence pales in comparison to what we inflict on other countries – in the name of ideas, as usual. What kind of debt, what kind of karma, do we build up by doing that? Did the attacks of 9/11 wipe the slate clean? I doubt it very much, and it only made our bad habits worse by launching us into a new era of empire-building. How many months did it take us to use up any – what I'll call -- “karmic credit” that we earned on 9/11? Not too many, thanks to George W. Bush & Co.

So no, we are far from innocent, as much as we fancy ourselves to be above reproach as a nation and a society. The neocon foreign policy program can be characterized as “Ideas Gone Wild” -- and I hardly need to mention that people elsewhere on the globe are unimpressed with those ideas and the way in which they are presented (via drone attacks, e.g.). So if 9/11 was push-back in the direct sense (which it may well not have been, but let that go for now), then Newtown may have been push-back in the karmic sense.

There, I said it. I'm not saying it's the only explanation, but that it might be a factor. After all, no less a personage than Michael Moore juxtaposed the Columbine shootings with the fact that a major piece of the economic base in Littleton, Colorado is a defense plant. To quote from the IMDb summary of “Bowling for Columbine” -- “Moore links the violent behavior of the Columbine shooters to the presence in Littleton of a large defense establishment, manufacturing rocket technology. It is implied that the presence of this facility within the community, and the acceptance of institutionalized violence as a solution to conflict, contributed to the mindset that led to the massacre. Moore conducts an interview with Evan McCollum, Director of Communications at a Lockheed Martin plant near Columbine, and asks him: 'So you don't think our kids say to themselves, “Dad goes off to the factory every day, he builds missiles of mass destruction. What's the difference between that mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?"' McCollum responded: 'I guess I don't see that specific connection because the missiles that you're talking about were built and designed to defend us from somebody else who would be aggressors against us.'”

But we don't believe in “karma” over here, do we? It's a foreign concept – mystical... weird... spooky. The American way is that everyone stands on their own two feet, and everyone is responsible for their own actions and not for those of anyone else. Individualism! That's the key. Except... we still blame the South (today's South) for slavery, we still blame Germany (today's Germany) for the Holocaust, we still blame each other for racism and the plight of Native Americans and Hispanics, we blame the middle class for the plight of the lower class, we blame men for the plight of women, parents for the plight of children, capital for the plight of labor, everyone for the plight of Mother Earth, the Church for the plight of... pretty much everyone, and so on. So collective guilt is alive and well, and is the most popular theme in political discussions and campaigns. Whether it's about payback, revenge, reparations, getting mine, getting a piece of the pie, “it's our turn”... whatever, it's all about one portion of the collective having its way with another portion of the collective, in return for past offenses and insults. So what is “karma” but simply a less-direct, more metaphysical, non-political version of the same idea? Do we really know what laws rule the universe? We pretend to, but do we – really?


But! -- you'll say – certainly the guilty should be tracked down, tried, and punished, and made to pay their debt to society. But these children were innocent! And yes, it is curious that they were all of an age, and grade, just prior to the usual age for First Confession and First Communion. I'm not claiming that any of them were Catholic; I don't know. But in God's eyes they were true innocents – lambs without blemish, not unlike the Holy Innocents whose martyrdom we commemorate on Friday.  And if you're going to make a sacrifice, what is required, according to the Bible? A lamb without blemish. So were these children sacrificed? And if so, to what god, and upon what altar?

And that brings us to another theme, which, in short, was: “When you push God out of the (public) schools, something, or someone, else will move in to take His place. Walk up to a public school and it's the Devil who opens the door. So why are we surprised when things like this happen – as they often do, in public schools? They are temples of godless liberalism and secular humanism – they are occupied territory. And the Devil presents himself as an angel of light (or enlightenment) but quickly reverts to chaos, death, and destruction.” And why, in particular, do deranged maniacs of all sorts gravitate to public schools when they set about to do their dirty deeds? What's the attraction? Innocence, children – yes. But something more? Do we not already sacrifice our children's minds and souls on the altar of secular humanism on a daily basis? Are there not abominations occurring at all times behind those bland brick facades? Is not bonafide education being sacrificed in the interests of turning out robot-like, unthinking citizens of a regimented, socialized world? And let's remember, every mass murderer was once a school student – and most likely a public school student. (When's the last time an incident of this sort happened in a private or parochial school? I can't think of even one.) What happened to them there? What are they pushing back against? Why all the rage? (We actually know the answers in at least one case, that of Columbine.)

Better Off?

There's another theme which I'll call (in, I guess, a crabby way) the “they're better off” theme. And it's not unrelated to the “innocent” theme. The idea is that these children were snatched out of life before their time (bad), but are now in the hands of a loving God (good). And since they were all innocent, they are all saved – not a one of them had to be tempted, or to take a chance on going down the wrong path and living a life of sin. Well... it's a comforting thought, no doubt, but I can't help thinking that it's a bit off base. The off-base part is that God put us here, on earth, in time and space, for a reason – that salvation is not automatic – i.e. it's not an entitlement – but we each have to work it out for ourselves. I did say “work it out”, not “earn it”, because that would imply that the day will come when we will fully deserve salvation through our own efforts – which is not true. That day will never come. But it cannot, for that reason, be a reason for despair or apathy. So yes, these children have gone to God, but at the same time they've been deprived of one of the core human experiences, namely that of applying their free will to the discernment of good vs. evil, choosing the good, helping others to choose the good, and thereby being able to respond in a fitting manner to God's grace.

Who hasn't read of some deranged parent (usually a mother) who chooses to kill her children because she doesn't want them growing up in this sinful and difficult world? (In which case, why did she have them in the first place – yeah, I know, that's a quibble.) Who hasn't heard of any number of people (typically liberals and secular humanists) who refuse to even bear children (or who abort the ones they conceive) for similar reasons? But this is a refusal to grapple with the reality that we do, indeed, live in a fallen world... that temptations and pitfalls are everywhere... and that salvation is far from guaranteed... but that we are, nonetheless, expected to go forth, be fruitful, and multiply. It sounds absurd, unreasonable... even cruel. And yes, it takes faith. But evidence is not lacking. There are always good people, and good deeds, to be found even in humanity's darkest hours – any Holocaust narrative will confirm that. I often think that evil is easy to explain; what's tough to explain is the good. Why doesn't the human race, and the planet it lives on, go down the drain once and for all? Isn't this the consummation so devoutly wished by many of these “end times” or “chastisement” or “end of the Mayan calendar” buffs? Just wipe the slate clean and start over – or maybe not. So if God keeps the world going, “warts and all”, for the sake of the righteous (both living and unborn), we have to assume there's a reason. Either that, or we're smarter than God – and what are the chances of that being the case?

Consequences of Being Human

Another objection – and a popular one – to any faith-based argument is, “OK, so if we're all a part of God's creation, and even if there is such a thing as Original Sin and we live in a fallen world, why doesn't God do something about all these terrible events? Why doesn't He step in and prevent them from happening? Don't these events cause scandal, in that they make some people question their very belief in God? Isn't that what happened during the Holocaust – that so many lost their faith because they couldn't believe that a loving God would allow such things... but they happened anyway, therefore God must not exist, or must not be a loving God?”

Now, I don't know the answers to all this, and books have been written on the subject (starting with the Book of Job)... but I think that in some way it hinges on free will. If we have free will, but never have to take the consequences of our actions, then we might as well not have free will at all. We might as well be God's pet animals, or robots of some kind. But in that case, would we even have souls? Aren't the soul and free will inextricably linked? And if we had no souls, then we would not be the hybrid spiritual/material creatures that we are. We'd be animals, with no need for morals or any sense of responsibility. Then, in the natural order of things, God would have to create real human beings, with souls and a spiritual nature and free will. So there's no escape. Either we're fully human or we're not, and people who choose not to be fully human are not only defying God but violating their own nature.

So because we're spiritual creatures with souls and, therefore, with free will, we have to be allowed to take (if not always accept) the consequences of our actions – the good as well as the bad. And this includes, again, not only person-to-person actions, but actions against society and against God. And because it's a fallen world, the consequences of bad actions will radiate out and the innocent will suffer. The world will be contaminated. And we can, if we have any sense at all, quite readily look upon our works and see that, although some are good, many are bad. For every “random act of human kindness” there are multiple beatings, muggings, shootings, bombings, thefts, and so on. Even if all the good people in the world completely cleaned up their act and became perfect, there would still be plenty of sin, and thus an abundance of consequences of sin. And the good would suffer, perhaps more than the guilty (at least in this life).

It is apparently more important to God to keep our free will free, come what may, than to swoop down every time anything goes wrong and fix it. It's almost as if He were saying, “This is the effect of your sin, for which Christ died.” If we fail to be impressed, or are impressed for the wrong reasons, that's a sign of our lack of discernment at best, and of outright rebellion at worst.           

Mental Health?

Moving on to another theme – and this has gotten more press than I would have expected – namely “mental health”, and here it gets tricky because, as far as I know, Adam Lanza was never diagnosed as being mentally ill, nor was he ever referred for treatment. It seems that his mother was about to undertake something along those lines, but it's too late now. But here we have a distinction, because if Lanza was autistic or somewhere on the Asperger's spectrum, then he had a “condition”, and was not officially mentally ill – at least not as far as anyone knew. Now, truly autistic people tend, as far as I know, to be non-violent and somewhat passive, because they are mentally, psychologically, and emotionally aloof and removed from reality. So it sounds like Lanza was an extreme Asperger's type – with a lot of pent-up rage added on... a deadly combination, as it turns out. And where did the rage come from? Possibly from the very fact of his social and emotional isolation – he was perceptive enough to know he was missing something, and wasn't happy about it. And wow, what better place than a public school to aggravate that sort of thing – a place where everyone has to be fully engaged, and popular, and conforming to the popular norm, or be labeled a geek/nerd/dweeb/spaz/loser/whatever? As it was then (in my day), so it is now and ever shall be, amen. Still another reason why public schools are part of the problem, and why they tend to get targeted.

So... assuming that whatever was wrong with Lanza was unfixable (likely), could it have been managed better? And if so, whose job was it to get the ball rolling? His parents? His teachers? Social workers? Barack Obama? I mean, you know, if government is going to be everybody's nanny, and everybody's source of jobs, income, and health care, than it should certainly be able to manage situations like this and take care of these people before something bad happens. So yes – another theme, or sub-theme, is “Why didn't someone do something before it was too late?” Or, what happened to the social safety net (not quite as in demand in an upscale place like Newtown)?

Well... what do you propose? Spotting asocial, or antisocial, elements early on and nipping them in the bud? How? Forced therapy? Private schools? Sanatoriums? Camps? The Nazis would have taken the Lanza types and treated them to a good dose of exhaust fumes before they ever started making trouble. We allow abortions for any and all discernible pre-natal conditions; are we smart enough to spot Lanzas in utero? Does their DNA look any different? See... we're very big on “mental health”, and fall all over ourselves when it comes to people – especially children – with “conditions” or “syndromes”... but there is still apparently something wrong with our model when things go wrong to this extent.

(And I find it grotesquely ironic that one of the adult victims, Rachel D'Avino, was a “behavioral therapist” who had, at one point, been assigned to an autistic boy in a public school. I could be wrong, but I suspect that this was an example of what is called “mainstreaming”. Now... make no mistake, I fully sympathize with anyone who has a “special needs” child... but I've also heard horror stories about the disruption and chaos that can result when one of these kids is “mainstreamed” into a regular classroom – with or without a full-time tutor/adult companion. (And one can only imagine the cost of this sort of program. Any questions about why public education is so expensive these days?) I talked, a while back, to a former public school teacher who quit the profession because of this; she just found it impossible as a “learning environment”. Did Adam Lanza have a full-time tutor/adult companion? Was he mainstreamed? Who else is even asking these questions?)

Gun Rights?

Then we have the other side of the gun argument, with all of its many variations, including the one the NRA offered. If everyone has a gun, are we all safer than if only a few people have guns and some of them are crazy? You might think so, but the arguments go far into the night with no resolution. One thing is for certain – the Obama administration is going to “make hay” of all of this for whatever reasons, and we will be closer than ever to that inevitable showdown between the government and the “cold, dead hands” crowd who populate our rural areas. I have no idea how it's going to come out. All I can guarantee is that with every new instance of this sort (and there have been a few just in the last week) there will be another hue and cry from the anti-gun forces and another rebuff from the pro-gun forces.

And as far as the Second Amendment goes – regardless of how one interprets “a well-regulated militia”, a muzzle-loading musket hanging from a nail above the door was, basically, all anyone had in mind at that point. But that was back when our enemies had muzzle-loading muskets too... or bows, arrows, and tomahawks. And as to our own government? More muskets. And a few cannons. What we have now – another theme – is the citizenry, no matter how heavily-armed, against an oppressive government that has the most powerful and destructive weapons on earth. I mean, what are you going to do, take out a tank with a minnie ball? So that argument has been overtaken by events. Self-defense of a citizen against other citizens, however, is alive and well – and this area (Southwestern Pennsylvania) in particular seems to offer regular examples of homeowners repelling home invasions with deadly force. So in that sense, it works. But this “militia” business? I think that was more about the need for citizens, and not only the professional military, to bear arms in order to fight off foreign invaders or insurrectionists. It's hard to see a direct application of that idea in these times, unless you're talking about the Reserves – but hey, I'm no expert.

So, to sum up – I don't think Newtown is a conclusive argument either for or against gun control. It may be an argument in favor of a new mental health model, or at least new methods of implementation. And no, it's not about spending a lot more money on the schools, or on mental health – just spending it differently.


But that's just on the material side; we're not finished with karma yet. Another very popular Internet theme (totally avoided by the mainstream media, of course) was: What towering hypocrisy for Obama to shed a tear about Newtown when he happily sends out drones every day to rain down death and destruction on the people of Afghanistan, including children. And a similar point goes as follows – what towering hypocrisy for Obama, and other liberals, to shed tears about Newtown when they happily support the killing of unborn children by the millions. But is it really hypocrisy? Aren't Obama and liberals, and many others besides, simply showing another of the signs of living in a fallen world – the refusal to see other people as fully human, and part of Creation, and loved by God? Aren't we engaged in the same old process of “thinging” other people – seeing them as less than whole, less than human... as lower life forms... vermin... cartoons... wallpaper? Isn't this the attitude behind all ethnic cleansing, genocide, pogroms, concentration camps? We claim that we're not guilty of such things, but, again, look at our heritage when it comes to Indians, blacks, Hispanics... and so on. Even Japanese-Americans. “But those kids in Newtown were innocent!” Yeah, well... so are the kids in Iraq and Afghanistan. So were the Indian and black kids, and so on. (But at least Adam Lanza was not a racist! Or a sexist! Or a homophobe! He was an equal-opportunity mass murderer. Yeah... that's small consolation.)

The point is this. How many of us see all human lives, and I mean ALL, as being of equal value? I don't. I wish I did, and I'm working on it, but I have to admit that I'm like most people when it comes to preferring “my own kind”, and devaluing everyone else. And the farther off they live, and the more strangely they dress, and the funkier their diet, and the weirder their language sounds, the easier it is to see them as accidents... annoyances... lower life forms. So Obama and the liberals are not hypocrites – they're just sadly typical human beings, despite all their pretenses. They're no more humane then General Custer and his men; they just have more firepower at their disposal. And it's only when someone like Adam Lanza “brings the war home” (by which I mean the spiritual war between light and darkness) that their complacency is disturbed. It is only then that they venture to utter that otherwise-forbidden word “evil”. But the strange thing about that is that they don't believe in Evil, any more than they believe in the Good. For these are moral concepts, and godless people cannot have morality. All they can have is custom, and – at best -- “ethics”. But ethics ultimately boils down to politics – at least in our time. What are the criteria, except for “the will of the people” (as interpreted by their betters)? And can politics yield up any objective ideas of good and evil? No, only expediency. And you wait – this flirtation with “evil” will soon pass, and we'll be back to the same old litany: “Who's to say?” “It's all relative.” “It depends.” And the usual flurry of objections to “dogmatism”, “superstition”, and “legislating morality”.

So these endless cries of “why” don't reflect the fact that there are no answers, but that the answers that are available are unacceptable. People would rather be groping in the dark than turn on a light. They make the public schools serve their political and philosophical ends, then wonder why those schools turn into killing fields. One can argue for gun ownership just based on the doctrine of Original Sin – but if you don't accept that doctrine you won't understand that we live in a fallen world, and that it's the lot of man to be at odds with other men and to have a need for self-protection.

And it's not that they don't have their own doctrine of the nature of man. To liberals and secular humanists, the human race is a cosmic mistake... a mutation... a festering boil on the face of an otherwise pristine world. To people of faith, it's just the opposite – Earth was created, in time and space, as a temporary home and as a platform upon which we can work out our salvation – as individuals and as a species. Our failures in this regard redound not only on us as individuals, but also on us in the aggregate... and that includes the innocents. The only way to prevent, or help alleviate, suffering, is not to cause it – and even if most of us do not actively oppress, persecute, or attack other people, we are part of a system that does. So when the consequences wind up on our doorstep, we can scarcely be surprised. And even if we were each “an island, entire of itself” we are still part of the human race, which is fallen – and our best efforts cannot make it whole, but can at least serve as reparation. We can, at the very least, offer up these lives in reparation... but then we must make ourselves worthy of their sacrifice.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Nine is the Loneliest Number

The U.N. vote on Palestine three weeks ago is memorable owing primarily (in my opinion) to that map – you know, the one that shows who voted for, who abstained, and who voted against. And what do you see? Well, there were 9 “against” votes – the U.S. of course, also Canada (our “mini-me” when it comes to foreign policy)... Israel, natch... the Czech Republic, for some unfathomable reason (Are they the only ones in Europe still on a guilt trip over the Holocaust? Seems unlikely... )... Panama (which, I guess, doesn't dare contradict us after we did that number on Noriega)... and that's about all you can see from looking at the world map. So where are the other four members of this loony-tunes coalition of the willing? Oh, right – those global powerhouses the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, and Palau. Wow, I'm quaking in my boots. (Must be something in the coconuts.)

And the rest of the world? Well... there were 41 abstentions, which I guess is the U.N. equivalent of “undecided” voters. Don't they have an opinion? What I think is that they don't want to offend either us or the Palestinians, figuring... well, they could get in hot water either way. I mean, we've attacked other countries for lesser offenses, and the Palestinians are no slouches when it comes to “bringing the war home”. So better to just cool it, be quiet, and stay safe. 

On the winning side (for the Palestinians) we have 138 votes, which, in a U.S. presidential election, would be called a crushing landslide, and a mandate – especially if it were a Democrat victory. But in the U.N., which we had everything to do with setting up, it's obviously just a bunch of short-sighted fools who are afraid of the terrorists, or anti-Semitic. Or something. It can't possibly have anything to do with a real concern for human rights, in other words. And of course, Susan Rice – that very exemplar of idealism, virtue, and competence – immediately launched into a tirade, louder and longer than anything Israel could come up with. It was, in short, a humiliating performance (for us) – but catch anyone in the administration seeing it as anything other than an annoyance. We're all for “democracy”, but when it gets down to cases, might makes right – and those clowns in the U.N. are deluded if they fancy otherwise (as George W. Bush established with the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq). 

As is usual in foreign affairs these days, ironies abound. The U.N. was set up, as we all know, after World War II as a place where the nations could sit down and reason together – and hopefully avoid World War III. And at least to that extent, it succeeded where the League of Nations failed. Or, if it did not clearly succeed, it at least didn't obviously fail. But the main point of the U.N., as with any international political/diplomatic organization, was to suppress, if not eliminate, the baleful influences of nationalism, religion, ethnicity, tribe, race, etc. -- all of those things, in short, that gave rise to nearly all armed conflicts throughout history. It was supposed to be the high temple of globalism... of that process of deracination which was supposedly the key to achieving, and maintaining, peace on Earth. So even if some of the delegates did show up in burnooses, dashikis, and turbans, they were expected to, eventually, all start to think alike about the same things. And thus peace and harmony would be achieved! And America's obsession with Utopia would extend beyond its own shores and encircle the globe! Because it was assumed – as a secular humanist axiom – that the things that made human beings different were also the things that caused them to fight with one another. So – eliminate, or at least neutralize, the differences, and there would be no more reason to fight. And this was not just about nation, religion, ethnicity, tribe, and race – it was also about social and economic leveling. No more class or caste systems, no more rich and poor... just all the peoples of the world, holding hands in a really big circle. The world of UNICEF greeting cards, in other words. The cornerstone of every U.N. agency should read “That all may be alike in every way”.

But a funny thing happened on the way to U.N. Utopia. Well, for starters, it was never about radical democracy; there was the Security Council, after all – AKA “the big dogs”. And guess what, a lot of those members were not independent states at all, but still colonies at that time – or parts of larger political entities. So yes, they were in the room and at the table, but still seated far below the salt.

Over time, these second-class world citizens became politically independent (at least officially), and started to develop not only their political structure, infrastructure, and economies, but – gasp! -- a sense of pride. Not pride based on that “It's a Small World After All” ride at Disney World, but nationalistic pride, based on things like – you guessed it – religion, ethnicity, tribe, and race. And funny thing, the farther they moved along from being colonies, second-class, third-world... the stronger these nationalistic urges became – even in cases where the “nations” were a complete fabrication on the part of the colonial powers, as was the case for most of Africa and the Middle East.

So there was a kind of general “oops!” heard among the first- and second-world powers, like – this isn't exactly what we hand in mind (kind of like the way the liberals reacted when they found that conservatives and libertarians had taken over big chunks of the Internet). These places were supposed to be homogenized by now, simply existing for administrative convenience (like states in the U.S.) -- they weren't supposed to have any identity, let alone pride, let alone nationalism! And then you combine this unfortunate trend with things like radical Islam, and you have a real mess on your hands... and the next thing you know, they're voting to recognize Palestine! Oy vey!

So, in sum, the organization that was supposed to be an extension of U.S. foreign policy... an instrument of globalism... a way to the triumph of secular humanism... has turned out to be anything but. It is, in a sense, a circus – and in the center ring are the 138 countries that, for whatever reason, are willing to stand up to the U.S. and Israel on the Palestine question. And, getting back to that map, the U.S. and Canada, as big as they are, look awfully lonely with just a few small specks elsewhere on the globe in the same color. And this feeling can only become more acute over time. It has apparently become obvious to most of the world that the establishment of the State of Israel, although it seemed like a good (or at least humane) idea at the time, was a political and diplomatic blunder of historic proportions. Looked at objectively – to establish a small, religion- and race-based state in the midst of its moral enemies... a state that would have to be defended forever (that's where the “eternal” comes in whenever our politicians are talking about Israel)... is this not the height of folly? And you can say what you like about Israel's “ancestral homeland” claims, but plenty of people claim plenty of places as their homeland, but that doesn't entitle them to anything. I mean, good grief, is there a racial, ethnic, or tribal group anywhere on the planet that doesn't claim they have a “homeland” somewhere besides where they are now? Migration, displacement, exile, ethnic cleansing – these are the human lot. They are part of the ebb and flow of history. Whoever wins any given war gets to tell the losers where they're permitted to live. I mean, if we're so convinced that Israel should exist based on the “homeland” argument, hadn't we all better hop on the next boat back to Europe and leave this country to the Indians, oops, I mean Native Americans? Yeah -- you get the picture. There are some arguments that only make sense when used in a political context, and it's the politics that make them make sense. Otherwise, it's nonsense.

And believe me, Israel was one of the places that was supposed to benefit the most from the world view that the U.N. was established to promote. You know, things like tolerance, anti-anti-Semitism, etc. So it's doubly ironic that its enemies have taken it over, or at least seem to have the upper hand in many of the debates. As usual, we have sown the wind and are reaping a whirlwind – but hey, we're used to that by now. The only question remaining is, what's the outcome of the next vote going to be? If 9 is a lonely number, how about 2? And what would happen if the rest of the world decided to become “eternal allies” with the Palestinians? Then we'd start to feel really lonely.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Pentagon Makes Its Move

As you may recall, around 3 weeks ago I put up a post dealing with the CIA's takeover of a major piece of the Army's mission (CIA 1, Army 0 – Nov. 28). More recently we received news that the Army is not just going to take this sort of thing lying down. An article entitled “Pentagon plans spy service to rival CIA's” from Dec. 3 makes this clear. Now... one could say that this proposal has nothing to do with the CIA's growing private (and secret) army... nothing to do with “turf wars” or push-back. But one would be wrong. Of course, it has everything to do with turf battles, and is obviously a case of major push-back. “Oh, so you want to take away the cream of the Army's military mission? Fine, then – we'll start pecking away at your spy mission.”

Let me self-quote from the previous post: “... the article quotes an Obama advisor: 'Should the [CIA] be looking to be the principal player in a global drone war versus its more traditional role as the principal collector and analyst of foreign intelligence?' Well – I think that question's already been answered. While the Army sits all alone and feeling blue, the CIA moves in and takes the best people and the best missions. I'm sure they'll continue to collect intelligence – but only enough to support their own military operations. And the Army will be left alone to do nation building, social and humanitarian work, and to continue being a lab for social experimentation.”

So yeah, the Army could have rolled over and played dead. But instead they played a card described as “an ambitious plan to assemble an espionage network that rivals the CIA in size”. The key player in all this would, naturally enough, be the Defense Intelligence Agency, which – now get this – would become “more closely aligned with the CIA and elite military commando units”. In other words, they would move in on the CIA's turf and take away a chunk of their mission, but remain friends, just like the farmer and the cowman in “Oklahoma”. Right. The CIA's really going to go for that. And as to elite military commando units – isn't military intelligence already closely aligned with them? Don't they talk? Apparently not, judging by some of what has happened over the last few years.

And what is the CIA supposedly going to get out of all this? I can tell you from direct experience that many Army personnel consider “Army intelligence” to be a contradiction in terms. This may not be a fair assessment, but there it is – and I don't think it's any different from any other age-old communications gap between fighters and thinkers. The fighters think the intel guys are all nerdy eggheads who never get their hands dirty and subsist mostly on guesswork... and the intellectoids in the military consider the fighters to be violent (duh), impulsive, no-neck jugheads. And the friendly rivalries that result – oh, my! Especially when it comes to “resourcing” -- another word for money. The point is that if this is what the Army thinks of its own intel types, you can only imagine what the “real, professional” intel types think of them. Are they just misunderstood, square pegs in round holes? No – what's more likely is that they're amateurs – and now they want to send out their own “surge” to do... what? Things the CIA can't, or won't, do? Surely that can't be allowed to stand. What is more likely is that in any given instance, the military intel guys will be second-class citizens and will have to subsist on scraps while the CIA feasts. That's just the way the dominant group treats its inferiors. Nothing personal, it's just about status and hierarchy.

Ah, but hope springs eternal. Some of these military intel types will be “clandestine operatives” and “will be trained by the CIA”. Sounds like someone never got over being non-selected for Boys State.  And get this: “Unlike the CIA, the Pentagon's spy agency is not authorized to conduct covert operations that go beyond intelligence gathering, such as drone strikes, political sabotage or arming militants.” In other words, the military intel types are not allowed to undertake military operations; that will still be left to the civilian intel types.

If this all sounds completely topsy-turvy and like something out of Lewis Carroll, that's because it is. Here's another gem: “Because of differences in legal authorities, the military isn't subject to the same congressional notification requirements as the CIA, leading to potential oversight gaps.” So the CIA is subject to “congressional notification requirements”? That's the first I've heard of it. As far as I know, they present their top-secret annual budget, get it rubber-stamped by Congress, and go on their merry way, enjoying maximum authority and zero accountability. I've never seen, or heard of, anything that would contradict this, and yet it's presented as a major consideration.

But wait! There's more! (as they say in Veg-o-Matic ads) – a week or so after the Pentagon played that card, the Senate – certainly no opponent of military expansionism – said “Whoa, there, pardner!” It seems they are concerned with costs (for once!) and with “management failures” in defense intelligence (as the CIA sits up in its tree with a Cheshire Cat grin – undoubtedly having furnished some of the evidence for said management failures). So... the Pentagon gambit seems to have been declined – at least for the time being. But it is fascinating to see this struggle acted out in such an overt manner. It's paradoxical, to say the least.

Hillary Tells Truth; Panic Ensues

Our sources tell us that the recent concussion suffered by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has had some unexpected consequences. Apparently, upon regaining consciousness, she -- according to her inner circle of medical personnel -- showed signs of having a lesion in the – as they euphemistically put it -- “portion of the verbal cortex that is in charge of editing”.  (I would prefer to call it "the spin zone".)  “We knew something was up when she sat up in bed and said 'Hey, I was never dodging sniper bullets in Bosnia!'”, a spokesman said. “It was at that point that we went into lock-down mode, and everything she's said from that point on has been preemptively classified top secret, on the chance that it too could be the truth.”

One commentator who has long-standing connections at the State Department offers this observation: “Imagine anyone in the diplomatic corps who cannot tell a lie. Imagine a secretary of state who cannot tell a lie. This is obviously a catastrophe of major proportions, not to mention which it violates one of the most hallowed principles of statecraft. Clearly, she is no longer qualified for that position, and, in fact, she cannot be allowed to remain in it for one more day, even though she has announced that she's leaving the post in the near future. National security is at stake.” The most immediate consequence was that she was unable to testify before Congress regarding the Benghazi attacks – but these developments make it quite certain that she never will.

And the problem extends far beyond the environs of Foggy Bottom. Panic has broken out among the “Arkansas Mafia” that populated her husband's administration, and rumor has it that Bill Clinton has gone into hiding with a bevy of lawyers. In the meantime, there are reports that hundreds of Bill Clinton's employees and associates when he was governor of Arkansas have purchased one-way tickets and flown out of Little Rock to parts unknown (suspected to be largely destinations in Central and South America). Surviving participants in the “Whitewater” scandal have also shown signs of heading out of town, as have some individuals involved with the failed "HillaryCare" program, which featured top-secret meetings. 

This is clearly a political event with far-reaching consequences, many of which, it may be assumed, are not yet imagined. Further updates will be provided as information becomes available.