Saturday, July 02, 2005

Howard Fineman is a fine man as well as an astute political observer. I enjoy his Newsweek columns, though I can't really say I read Newsweek. I get it on

Here's a few choice nuggets from his latest column:

Every time I think the president has exhausted the possibilities of stark rhetoric, I am wrong: Like a preacher with Bible in hand, he keeps coming up with knew formulations of the struggle between good and evil. Strategically, we’re in a giant global game of Texas Hold ‘Em, and Bush, despite a hand that doesn’t look that strong, keeps shoving more chips into the pot.

Despite the fact that the situation in Iraq is nothing like a poker hand, it paints a picture of a stubborn dude committed to playing it out. Had Iraq been like poker, we should have folded before the flop, but too late now. We cannot and should not leave until the job is done.

Which is why I agree with this:

If Iraq risks becoming a failed state, critics say, it’s because we blew it to smithereens in the process of removing Saddam & Co. Our justification for staying now is that we went there to begin with.

I did not think it was wise to invade Iraq over trumped up charges of WMD and 9-11 connections. In fact, I think it was a blunder and I think that all of us, Americans of every stripe, will feel the consequences in the coming years. It may not matter in the long run, life does go on, but I supect very few of us will look back on these years with pride. But we have the opportunity to better our situation, to emerge from the murk and "make it work."

Therein lies the problem. How can you make a failed policy "work?"

Fineman has the same questions:

And what alternative are the Democrats really proposing? What would they have us do? Even the Germans don’t want us to leave Iraq, though they won’t pay much to help us stay. Does anyone think that announcing a timetable for withdrawal really is a good idea? Is Osama bin Laden going to see that as a peace gesture? Are the suicide bombers likely to stop strapping on their vests?

So what do we do now?

Here's a few of my own suggestions:

A) Restore Iraq's infrastructure to pre-invasion levels. Electricity, water, sewage, a free market that discourages the black market, TV, radio, amusement parks, the whole shebang. Give the Iraqi people a way to enjoy life again. This won't be easy, but it's doable with some iniative. And there hasn't been much iniative in that respect.

B) Increase troops levels. Yes, this will be hard too, but it's also doable. Diplomatic efforts should be directed towards getting other countries to contribute, so they don't have to be Americans. At this point, Iraq isn't just a strategic problem. It's a humanitarian one. American leaders should humble themselves, get on their knees and beg for help if they must. Yes, it's humiliating. But so is getting drunk at the office Christmas party and dirty dancing with the boss's wife. In both cases, the fault lies within ourselves, so the humiliation is hardly unearned.

C) DO NOT NEGOTIATE WITH TERRORISTS. Yes, that directive can be somewhat pigheaded, as the whole Israel-Palestine, UK-IRA, Russia-Chechnya episodes illustrate. But I think that in those cases, the continuing terrorist activity owes more to the hard-nosed responses of the governments: bulldozing homes, setting up barricades, targeted assasinations, etc. Terrorists use negotiation to justify their actions, and there is no justification for terrorism.

D) Shut the fuck up about 9-11. Yes, it was a horrible tragedy that changed the course of our country's history. But Bin Laden is still loose, still mentoring Zarqawi, still an inspiration for the like-minded. America is still a target and even more so because of Iraq. Our problems are different now. We are not a peaceful country wounded by an unprovoked and horrible attack. We are an occupying power in a foreign country half way across the world, attacked daily though our buildings are not brought down. (The bodies are still buried, though.) We are uncertain, skeptical, not sure what we're doing or exactly why. 9-11 provided the genesis for all this, but the world has moved on and we must let the past fade and the future proceed.

E) Throw the "liberals in Congress" a bone. A lot of them support the mission in Iraq and they could be allies instead of enemies, but nooooo. The political waters are so sour that even dogs won't drink it. Gay marriage, John Bolton, filibusters, tax cuts, social security, the Patriot Act. Give em something, fer Christ's sake. Maybe a Supreme Court justice? Doubt it.

F) Legalize marijuana. I'm not sure exactly how this would help the war effort, but I have a sinking suspicion that it would.

Friday, July 01, 2005

I finished reading the first Burke novel by Andrew Vachss, Flood. Written in 1985, it depicts a pre-Guiliani New York full of scum, trash, and crime. To be honest, it wasn't very plausible, but it was certainly interesting. Burke drives a tricked out Plymouth through a complex underground of strange characters. There's the Prophet, who seems homeless but isn't what he seems, and Max, a silent killer with a reputation that will make even the hardest crook squeeze his ass cheeks. There's Mama, who always gives him soup, and of course Flood, who can kick your ass and then make up for it with kisses. The book wasn't very focused, and it was somewhat mired in details. The dialogue didn't ring true in a lot of ways, either. But's only a book, right?

Next up, The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler. I love Philip Marlowe. I'm also thinking about rereading some Easy Rawlins books by Walter Mosely. Those two guys are providing some of the main literary inspiration for the Max Beatty series I'm working on.

Also reading The Answer is Never by Jocko Weyland as my nonfiction entry. Subtitled A Skateboarder's History of the World, it traces skateboarding's history as well as his own history with skateboarding. I was never really into skating when I was a kid and I'm too scared about my health now to pick it up, but what interests me is its effect on culture. I guess what I'm trying to say is, the generation before me had Vietnam and Civil Rights. My generation had skating. It's not as simple as that, of course, but skating's influence on our culture had a similiar effect.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Metallica. They're eerily prescient, you know. Way back in 81, they saw this Iraq war coming and wrote a song about it. It's called No Remorse.

Here are the relevant passages:

No mercy for what we are doing
No thought to even what we've done
We don't need to feel the sorrow
No remorse for the helpless one

War without end
No remorse, no repent
We don't care what it meant
Another day, another death
Another sorrow, another breath

If that doesn't describe elements of the Iraq war, I don't know what does.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

I got an e-mail from my Uncle Jim (a Marine, a Republican, a good guy) and it was one of those jokey ones that gets passed around until no one knows where it came from. Now, before you read it, you have to understand that Jim loves President Bush. He voted for him both times, and wouldn't even think about crossing party lines. He's a Marine, too, a vet of the Gulf War, so of course he favors a strong military and pays particularly close attention to military affairs. I, of course, am not a Marine, nor did I fight in a war, nor do I like President Bush. But I do favor a strong military, though I retain a healthy suspicion about its warmaking powers. Get a bunch of armed tough guys in a room and you never know what might happen, you know?

This is what he sent me:

Subject: Thought for the day

If you consider that there have been an average of 160,000 troops in the Iraq theater of operations during the last 22 months, that gives a firearm death rate of 60 per 100,000. The rate in Washington D.C. is 80.6 per 100 000. That means that you are 25% more likely to be shot and killed in our Nation's Capitol, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, than you are in Iraq.

Conclusion: We should immediately pull out of Washington, D.C.

And this, which I think succinctly states my views on the subject, was my reply:

Hey man, this is my thought for the day, inspired by this one:

If it wasn’t for body armor, DC would look like Disneyland. And what about car bombs and IED explosions?? Those don’t count???

Our troops aren’t over there on a harmless vacation! They’re in the crosshairs of some sick fucking people and they’re getting ripped to pieces on a daily basis. I bet any soldier on the front lines would LOVE to be in DC instead of Iraq (although probably not at Walter Reed). I think pulling out is a bad idea. (Colin Powell’s old “You break it, you buy it” philosophy is the way to go.) But I also think trivializing what our soldiers are doing is more dangerous. Pulling out should be discussed, not as a knee-jerk response to insurgent violence, but as a general long-term strategy. We should be asking ourselves, what do we have to do so that Iraq stabilizes and our troops can come home?

But I can agree with one sentiment expressed here. This cut and run shit is for the birds.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Look at this stupid ass survey question that was on

Yes, you read it right. "Do you support negotiating with insurgents if it means bringing the troops home?" If that's not a leading question, I don't know what is. That's like asking if you'll drink your own pee for $50. Come on. Dangle something you don't want (negotiating with insurgents) to get something you want (the troops to come home). And what if you want the troops to stay and finish the job? Well, obviously you're not going to support negotiating with the insurgents if that's the only means to do it. How reprehensible? Cut and run? No way, man! (Alarmingly, 57% said yes!)

This kind of survey gives you no useful information because you can't distinguish what's what and who's who. Do the respondents support bringing the troops home and will go to any lengths to achieve just that? Or do they think negotiating with the insurgents might produce a reduction in violence? And the people who said No, like me, what does it say about them? Do they think negotiating with insurgents is a bad idea? (Uh, yeah.) Or do they think the troops should stay and finish the job?
I saw the Aviator this weekend and later, after reviewing it in my head, I had an epiphany. Before I get to that, let me say a few words about the movie. I liked it. Scorsese can do no wrong in my mind (even his failures could be someone else's masterpiece) and so it was a given that I would admire the film-making skill. I'm also a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio, even when he is overacting, and I thought his brooding, grimacing Hughes was an excellent performance. It wasn't as jaunty as Titanic, wild-eyed as the Beach, or morose as Romeo and Juliet. I don't care what you say, DiCaprio is this generation's Brando, the new James Dean. With that said, I don't think the Aviator will ever become a classic. It definitely had it's moments, lots of them, but in the end it just didn't add up.

Anyway, back to the epiphany....

This is it in a nutshell. George W. Bush is like Howard Hughes. No, not the smooth Texas industrialist born with a silver spoon in his mouth and an extra dosage of luck that would take him far in this world. No, not the visionary who saw the future and went about creating it despite the nay-sayers. No, talk radio fans, that's not it either.

Bush is the germophobe Howard. The one who sees things that aren't there, things that he thinks can hurt him, and it drives him a little crazy.

Take Iraq, for instance. Bush saw the center of an Islamist conspiracy against the western world, with nuclear missiles and all sorts of other nasty WMD. Bush saw a threat, not only to the United States, but to the world.

And yet, what was there? A meglomaniac gangster who writes beach blanket novels and likes Doritos. Yes, he was a horrible person who did horrible things, but he's more of a joke than a scary bedtime story.

Bush on the other hand is a paranoid nut, and that's scary. What's scarier is that he thinks he is doing something good in Iraq. The measuring stick? The January elections, the first democratic elections in Iraq in over a generation.

That's great, George. My high school had elections and I don't think that qualifies it as the model of a functioning society. In fact, to this day whenever something really petty or stupid comes up, the phrase "What are we, in high school?" is uttered. To be sure, Iraqi elections are an accomplishment. But to quote Pulp Fiction, let's not start sucking each other's dicks just yet.

What about the power? Before the invasion, Iraq was a realtively modern country, with reliable electricity and clean water. Now, of course, Iraq is more third world than ever. Who can be blamed for this? Saddam Hussein, whose stupidity invited international wrath? The 9-11 attackers, who infected the US with evil after hijacking the planes? The insurgents, whose daily bombs kill a dozen people a day (and incidentally didn't start their insurgency until AFTER the invasion)? What about George W. Bush, who made the fateful decision to invade and delegated the job to underlings who proved to be too incompetent to handle it?

Who gets the blame for the mess in Iraq? Wait, I know. John Kerry, Dick Durbin, Hilary Clinton, Michael Moore, Al Franken, and gay people. Yeah, that's the ticket.

It sure as hell couldn't have been the man who started the war.......No way. He's the president, and a Christian. That means he can do no wrong. Right? Right.