Saturday, February 24, 2007

muddle

Where have I been? What have I been up to? I could concoct a story, and believe me, it would be a hell of a story. But I'm tired. I can't think straight.
Can't think straight. How apt an expression. Thoughts refuse to proceed in orderly straight lines but curl back and founder in the murky sea from which they emerged, or they spiral off in little curlicue patterns, useless. Others merely float away in woeful silence on some invisible flux, like astronauts cut adrift in space.

Every thought that attempts to assert itself is instantly engaged by its contradiction; they grapple in a death embrace and are sucked into a vortex of wasted energy. I attempt concentration, but my mind drifts into pointless reverie no matter how hard I try; a mind with a mind of its own. My intellect is beyond repair. Weeds are growing up amongst its rusting parts. Cobwebs adorn its engine compartment.

Doubt is the tyrant of the realm of my mind. His operatives are everywhere; he is everywhere. A truly effective tyranny is one that a population foists upon itself and deems enlightenment. This is how I too have kept myself in line all of these years. I have been oh so proud of my doubt and skepticism. Of my remove. Here, even now, this conceit reveals itself. But egoism is evasion. The anti-social person is the highest order of megalomaniac; he doesn't even deign to find others worthy of influencing.
To what end my remove? To no end; no end is the end. Those who remove themselves from the fray secretly believe they will live forever. They are misers, hoarding what they think is eternity.

I am exhausted, in the truest sense of the word. Spent. And how little there was to give. What paltry production.
But what about the war? What about immigration? The presidential race? For the love of God man, what about Anna Nicole? Britney's depilation? The world revolves.
I don't care anymore; I have used up my supply of concern. My tank battalions are stranded in the desert; there is no fuel, the war is lost.
What does it matter, the concerns of the world? What sort of man toils in that arena, the world-stage? What sort of vanity is this, to want to influence the world? My world is that which is before me.
My self-fulfilling conceit is that there is nothing true and real beyond my senses. And she, who I have never known, who I will never know, who I've passed without a word countless times while staring down at my feet, at myself; she who has appeared in thousands of immortal guises, nearly all lost to memory but still existing somewhere (where do they go?) in the muddle that is my history, she is not there, and never will be.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

...

You don’t know how long you've been laying here in the park. You only know you can’t move. Outwardly, you are as inanimate as a piece of lead. Within, however, is all churning motion. You can’t believe she rejected you. You started the day in love’s vise grip; you lay here now, crushed.
Endlessly, compulsively, you turn over in your mind memories of her, progress you thought you had made, moments at once soaring passion and earthbound embrace, now endless freefall into an abyss within and the hard ground without.
You attempt to escape your thoughts, but every contemplative path circles back slyly and lands you before her cruel, indifferent image. Unable to distract yourself and not really wanting to, you torture yourself with images of her with him; as if you can make the reality of the two of them together vanish by turning and twisting the image about in your mind until it wears away. Instead it only fades and recurs over and over in endless variation.

Something draws your attention out of the corner of your eye: a small bird has landed within arm's reach. You have been motionless for so long it must not realize you’re there, you think with grim humor, picturing yourself in a time-lapse film, molding over and decomposing into the earth. The bird turns its head about with short, abbreviated movements that make it appear as if it is projected by an old, flickering film.

You've never before found yourself engaged by the beauty of something commonplace, of anything really, but in your weakened state this creature you would never have noticed before, with its fine, intricate markings and exquisite fragility, with the novel grace of its movement, appears to you as something divinely transcendant.
It is just then you realize you will survive, even as you know the ache is not nearly over. You will pass out of oblivion, leaving the pain behind. You are still in the darkened wood, but a peak above the treetops marks your way out: the journey before you is still long, cold, and tiring, but now it has a destination. You have been released.
The bird flies off. Free as a bird, you think, watching it flit away.
You rise and lean forward, slapping the grass from your pant legs. You hear a small airplane not far overhead. You look up. Squinting up at the plane obscured by a brilliant sun, you see it is trailing a banner. Putting your hand up to shade your eyes you read:
Untethered.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Big Brass Balls

No doubt there will be better analysis offered elsewhere of the curious example of double-speak and logical dysfunction displayed in Douglas Feith's op-ed in today's Washington Post, but this stands out for sheer nerve:
In evaluating our policy toward Iraq after Sept. 11, 2001, my office realized that CIA analysts were suppressing some of their information. They excluded reports conflicting with their favored theory: that the secular Iraqi Baathist regime would not cooperate with al-Qaeda jihadists. (We now face a strategic alliance of jihadists and former Baathists in Iraq.)
Feith wants you to believe that the present Ba'athist/jihadist alliance in Iraq, created entirely by the invasion, confirms his previous, wholly inaccurate (some would say deliberately misleading) assertion of such an alliance, a proposition directly counter to the CIA's "favored theory" ("favored theory" being an attempt at dissembling what someone with a clear conscience would call duly vetted intelligence).

Feith tries to disparage an accurate appraisal by calling it "theory" and mischaracterizing it as an assertion that Arab nationalists would never ally themselves with their jihadist enemies (this no doubt a clumsy attempt to grease his exit, using would not when in fact the intelligence conclusion was, more relevantly, that they were not).
But the invasion has only proven what we already knew: that when faced with a common enemy Arab nationalists and jihadists, among other regional players, will cooperate. We also know, by the same example of the Soveit occupation of Afghanistan, that in the absence of such a threat they will quickly resume internecine hostilities.

Feith is not merely trying to save his skin with this distortion; his arguments belie a perverse satisfaction and sense of opportunity realized by the persistent movement Feith represents. Now that they have clumsily created a reality of the illusion they fabricated, they use it to argue for a continuing presence in Iraq and even a wider war. It is in this context that we should also view the current narrative drive to generate outrage at the Iranian provocation of the U.S. in Iraq; something that might be more accurately characterized as Iranian reaction to U.S. provocation.

He further seeks to cover the tracks of his office's incompetence and lack of integrity by describing the proper rejection of compromised intelligence as "suppressing" information. By an illusory standard implied here, every shred of information offered warrants equal consideration, and being right counts for nothing, as the "suppressed" information Feith pines for has since been proven, to put it gently, hogwash.
There's no small hint of irony in this language; by promoting unsupported allegation and outright fraud over the objections of intelligence analysts and citing it as reliable intelligence Feith, not the intelligence community, effectively suppressed analysis.

And what of those "excluded reports"? Intelligence delivered to policymakers in Feith's office by the charlatan Ahmad Chalabi, which they in turn fed into the intelligence system to extract, by considerable effort, the same distorted picture of Iraq they now claim was the result of "failed intelligence." If not for the bloodshed it would be almost charmingly picaresque.
Why we would even humor such people, let alone spare them the widespread disgrace they deserve as they find comfortable sinecures in academia and elsewhere, while continuing to elect those who take them seriously, is beyond me.

ephemera

Shingle Fights.

You never knew when you might come under attack. The wind-searing sound of the tightly and rapidly spinning projectile slicing through the air gave no warning until it was too close to evade: a square piece of asphalt shingle, torn from the roof of one of the vacant houses and hurled like a boomerang.

The flight of the properly sized and dimensioned shingle, about four inches square, was remarkable. Thrown at a high trajectory the projectile would do a single, slow roll of 180 degrees as it made its way to its target. Once one became familiar with the particulars of the shingle's flight he could be deadly accurate within about fifty yards and could vary widely the trajectory to either rain down from above on its target or approach it at high speed in a harrowing, corkscrew spiraling line-drive. The natural bend in the shingle's flight, manipulated by a skilled and experienced thrower, could negotiate corners.

We were sitting in the shade of a tree in the middle of a wide field, located propitiously alongside a grade variance, that is the property line that once cut through this spot had separated a row of houses that were situated a few feet higher that those they backed up against. The block wall that separated the backyards had been leveled to the higher grade; this left a perfectly sized curb on which to sit, as if on a bench. The tree's shade protected the grass beneath if from the brutal summer sun that burned the unprotected grass into a brown, dirty scrub most of the year. A kid, I don't remember his name, was seated on this natural bench, resting his elbows on his knees with his hands clasped out before him. The shingle cut through our circle in an angry flash, the slicing sound of its flight terminating in a sickening sound of struck shallow bone, as it hacked a bloody gash across the back of his hand.

In the face of such an assault we would repair to a vacant house of our own and mount the roof, tearing off shingles and returning fire. Battles were quickly engaged, as two rooftop gangs exchanged fire across a street, the shingles turning like small black birds in graceful, varied arcs. Marksmen positioned themselves behind the peak of the roof, ducking out of the way of the shingles that careened and skidded past. Soon the ground was littered with these, the street and sidewalks scuffed with their impact marks, the houses pockmarked with their black commas. Motorists would happen through warily. Sometimes an outraged adult would chase us off. We melted back into the environment like urban guerillas.

Somehow no one was ever seriously injured.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Well Then, How Would You Undo This Voodoo That We Do?

Fool me once, shame on, shame on you, eh, fool me, uh--can't get fooled again.
--George W. Bush

The newest trend in conventional wisdom regarding Iraq, going as unexamined by the major media as every previous stage of denial masquerading as incontrovertible fact regarding this war, reads something like this: Iraq is certain to descend into greater chaos and potential genocide, become a terrorist haven, spark a regional war, and elevate Iran to a position of dominance in the Middle East if we leave now. This cannot be allowed to happen.

Forget that the case has by no means been made that this worst-case scenario will come to pass. That is irrelevant. The question is now, as it was before the war, of whether or not we have the right; the right to escalate the war in Iraq against the wishes of its people and government, or the right to expand the war by attacking Iran.

When the fabrications that were the flimsy justification for the invasion of Iraq were made plain to all by the stunning lack of WMD ( vindicating the assertions of the IAEA), and by the copious documentation of Dick Cheney’s manipulation of the intelligence reporting process until the CIA coughed up the disgrace that is the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, the nation faced a crisis. The war was revealed as unwarranted and unjustified.

Had we been paying attention to all the lofty talk about how the consent of the governed validate its leadership in a democracy being offered as the basis for supplanting Middle East dictatorships with democracies, indeed, if the neocon's who offer these arguments actually took them seriously, we, and they, would be forced to acknowledge that a democratic people therefore have a responsibility for the leaders they elect and the actions those leaders take. This one's on us, always was.

But when the veil fell from the Administration's connivance, we chose to avert our eyes. The other, ancillary justifications offered for deposing Saddam were all furtively moved up a spot. Like the disgraced subject of a Soviet show trial, the WMD/terrorist threat was erased from the offical history. It was never primarily about WMD became the line (and besides, everyone thought he had them, straight-faced). Such a blatant lie requires the complicity of its intended audience.
Why did we play along?
Holding our leaders accountable would have entailed acknowledging the thing for what it was: a national disgrace and a crime. Because there’s no entity more powerful than the United States, there is no one to hold its leadership accountable other than the sovereign American people.
When we took a pass we disgraced ourselves and damaged our republic in ways we won’t know for years to come.

By refusing to accept the consequences inherent in holding the White House accountable for the crime it committed against Iraq, not to mention against the American people, we leapt from a moral precipice. We were the world’s last line of defense against a criminal gang that had gained control of the most awesome military power the world has ever seen, and we deserted our post. The crisis passed with nary a whimper of protest from the vast majority of the public and the major media because at the moment the war had not yet revealed itself as the military and strategic failure that it is. Murderous aggression we can abide; losing, on the other hand, not so much. We should hang our heads in shame.

Now the vice president and his minions at Fox News, those in his ever loyal right-wing radio regiment, and of course the risibly oblivious-to-the-death (of others) war bloggers, have declared it is incumbent upon those who advocate a withdrawal to lay out what they would do to prevent the complete catastrophe that the vice president's actions now make inevitable. They can't see the absurdity of their argument for the audacity of their words.

I suppose it's too much asking that this at least be accompanied by the acknowledgment that this greater cataclysm would be a direct result of the war, and therefore those who lied repeatedly to provoke the war before executing it with fatal negligence should be held responsible. That this isn't the starting point of any debate on the now exigent question, what to do now, demonstrates how perverted public debate has become by party politics and our curious and durable pathology of triumphalism.
Our inability to acknowledge that we can do wrong as a nation now protects those who do wrong to the nation.
That this perversion of debate is allowed reveals a deeper, more fundamental crisis that goes beyond politics to the very condition of modern American society. We have to ask why we are letting them get away with it.

Dick Cheney makes an argument that is a direct condemnation of his actions, yet he makes it confident of its effectiveness. He's right, too; the ruse is working. Worse, this rhetorical assault is deployed not merely to, remarkably, put off the responsibility it implies, but to further his designs for the next strategic blunder, war with Iran.
It's as if the sheer surrealism of its amorality and audacity render us incapable of recognizing the logical madness of it. Some say Dick Cheney should be in jail; no, like a deranged serial killer, he should be confined for the purposes of psychological study for the rest of his distinctly unnatural existence. This man is not evil, he is a marvel.

Apparently yes, accountability is too much to ask for, because too few near power are asking. Aside from their own complicity in the fiasco, the Democratic leadership remains more committed to attaining power than justice on behalf of a nation disgraced and betrayed, and are therefore content to pass non-binding resolutions against the "surge" and watch the Administration twist in the wind while what's left of its supporters fall one by one, like the soldiers and Marines who continue to be fed into the mill.
Make no mistake: for the next two years, and perhaps well beyond, many more American boys will be sacrificed not just for the purpose of Dick Cheney's delusional designs on the Middle East, but also for the Democrats' designs on the White House. But it goes beyond Iraq. Content to milk the catastrophe for maximum benefit, not unlike the Bush Administration's previous wringing of advantage from 9/11, the Democrats are now allowing the nation to drift sideways into an even greater mistake, an attack upon Iran.

Perhaps we can at least put the question back to the vice president, just once: the responsibility is on those who support the surge and an open ended commitment to the war to make the argument as to why ending this mistake is itself a greater mistake. Because if one was to rely on the evening news he wouldn't know that, like the case for Iranian arming of militias, the case that withdrawal will be catastrophic has not been made.

This bears repeating: there is no consensus that Iran is actively involved in arming the Shi'ite militias. Britain, having had responsibility for much of the southern, Shi'ite region of Iraq and its border with Iran, is not convinced. Furthermore, the idea that Iran is arming their enemies among those who directly target American forces, the Ba'athist/nationalist insurgency and al Qaeda,remains highly unlikely.

We can be certain that Iran is positioning itself for our departure and greater influence in Iraq precisely because this is in its national security interests. It is in fact such a predictable outcome of deposing Saddam that it's very difficult to believe that it was unexpected, even by this chronically inept Administration. Of course, they had sugar-plum visions of rose petals and parades, a quick end to combat and on to the next victim-er, liberation. Who do you suppose that would have been?

President Bush's hypocrisy in toying with an alliance with Iran's closest ally in Iraq, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, whose own militia, the Badr Brigade, has been every bit as brutal as al-Sadr's gang, while at the same time declaring Iran's interest in Iraq sinister should be all the evidence you need that he is, once again, leading the nation to war on false pretenses.
Al-Hakim's favor in our eyes, by the way, may stem from his willingness to allow permanent military bases and more generous terms regarding the development of Iraq's great untapped oil fields. One more thing you'll never learn from the evening news is that one of the primary concerns of Iraqis and their neighbors is the likelihood of a permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq. Many have called on president Bush to allay these fears by promising not to seek such a presence. He has not been forthcoming.

Lost still is the principle involved; we still make no effort to discern, much less respect, the wishes of the Iraqi people or their government. Those much bally-hooed elections that Cheney et al seem to think warranted the deaths of thousands and the irrevocable loss of American prestige, not to mention the possible extension of the terrorist threat into the next generation, have in fact given Iraq a democratically elected government that we continue to restrain from actually governing and whose sovereignty we refuse to recognize. Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki begged the U.S. today to refrain from making Iraq the battleground for its war with Iran.
His plea also points out the arrogance of one of the tertiary rationalizations for the war offered after the WMD ruse was exposed: that a major goal was to make Iraq “an ally in the war on terror.” Imagine, we crushed this nation to compel it to act as our proxy in war. Check out the balls on us.

We must finally accept the principle of war only as a last resort. This includes Iran which, despite the absurd comparisons to Nazi Germany, hasn't invaded any of its neighboring nations, and hasn't shown a particular ability or willingness to do so, President Ahmadinejad's demagoguery notwithstanding.
For us to paint Iran's involvement in Iraq as aggression, after having declared "regime change" our official policy toward Iran, after having declared it a member of the "axis of evil", after engaging in covert actions on its territory--in short, after having declared a state of war with that nation and quite possibly having engaged in acts of war against it--goes beyond arrogance into madness.

Of course Iran is positioning itself to influence Iraq; of course it is inserting itself into Iraqi politics and society. The fact is Iran would be derelict if they did not. Our arrogance, again, blinds us. Of the many brutal actions of Saddam Hussein, perhaps the most brutal was his war on Iran, encouraged and assisted by us. Iran, not the U.S., is threatened by a belligerent or chaotic Iraq and always has been, and there's no need to fix intelligence to make that argument.

The fact is Iranian activity in Iraq is just the sort of result of toppling Hussein that should have been accounted for--and probably was. Iranian involvement in Iraq was provoked by our, yes, illegal invasion of Iraq. Everything set in motion by that crime must be laid at the feet of those who committed it, not used as justification for the continuation or expansion of what, as the man said, is worse than a crime, a mistake. Nor should it be cause for more and greater mistakes. Enough.
Citing Iranian involvement in Iraq now as a casus belli is little different than declaring the resistance in Iraq as the reason for the continuing occupation; it is a twisted circular reasoning, citing the effects of an action as its cause.

Let's not let them get away with it again.