THE ISIS WARS—MEDIA EDITION

isis

With apologies to Oscar Hammerstein, “How do you solve a problem like ISIS?”

That is not an easy question to answer. A popular suggestion is akin to the militant cry often expressed in identical or similar terms, “Bomb ‘em back to the Stone Age!” The difficulty with that position vis a vis ISIS is that there is a salient argument that the organization has never really left the Stone Age.

But strategic and tactical and practical solutions cannot exist without an understanding of what…precisely…ISIS is. (And please do not invoke the common pro athlete’s cop out, “It ISIS what it is”)

I’m not really sure I trust the government…ours or any other nation’s…to determine and act on this forthrightly. To do so would be to delve into self-interest, self-righteousness, and self-delusion.

On the other hand we have many honest, hard-working journalists with apparently vast amounts of time on their hands. If they did not we would not have witnessed a plethora and effusion of stories about Brian Williams’s war lies, and now Bill O’Reilly’s emulation of Williams which, curiously, took place much more than a decade prior to the foggy mind of war Williams experienced in Iraq.

Just today I have read a friend’s praise for a well-researched essay in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood which, beneath the story’s title, What  ISIS Really Wants, summarizes Wood’s findings as “The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.”

http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2015/02/what-isis-really-wants/384980/?fb_ref=Default

That immediately called to mind a headline I had read on Salon titled “The Atlantic’s Big Muslim Lie: What Muslims Really Believe About ISIS”. Obviously a negative critique of Wood’s work, it was written by American Muslim scholar and frequent contributor to many media outlets, Haroon Moghul. (For more background on him visit this: http://www.loonwatch.com/2012/12/exclusive-loonwatch-interview-with-haroon-moghul/)

Moghul attacks Wood for his over-reliance on learning what ISIS is  from ISIS members and supporters themselves.

Imagine a group of people who rape.  Enslave.  Maim.  Murder.  Ethnically cleanse.  Extort.  Burn.  Behead.  But then imagine this—they don’t lie?  Can’t lie.  Won’t lie. That’s what Graeme Wood…really wants us to believe.

That a movement that has earned the world’s nearly universal opprobrium for its grotesque violence and wickedness is nevertheless honest in describing why it does what it does.  I beg to differ.  The only Muslims who think ISIS represents Islam, or even Muslims, are ISIS themselves.

http://www.salon.com/2015/02/19/the_atlantics_big_islam_lie_what_muslims_really_believe_about_isis/

But is Moghul’s piece in any way definitive?

Well, the common response to perceived Islamaphobia is to deny that it is a hateful violent religion but is at heart a peaceful one, and that the Jihadists are outliers.

Then along comes President Barack Obama, at the National Prayer Breakfast, making note of the overall peacefulness of Islam, with very notable exceptions. In that manner Obama likened it to Christianity while highlighting that faith’s iown violent past both distant—the Crusades and the Inquisition—and more recently in America supporting slavery, Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan. All that in stressing that his approach to ISIS, among other issues, is that we are fighting extremists and their religious background is of relative unimportance.

“But not so fast there, Mr. President”, Jeffrey Tayler seems to be saying in his criticism of Obama’s speech, very different from the other criticism Obama generated.

The chief impetus for all this bloodshed and mayhem is, obviously, religion – the commonality Obama conveniently skirted. Had religion not existed, had it waned by our time, all this violence would just not have happened. If some of these people would have found other reasons to fight, the religious aspect of the conflicts renders them intractable, even insoluble.

and adds later regarding Christianity

Straightaway, remember that both the Old Testament and the New sanction and even sanctify slavery, as well as proffer helpful advice to slave masters. The Catholic Church embarked on the Holy Inquisition not to do inexplicable violence “in the name of Christ,” but to rid its “flock” of unclean “sheep” – most notably “secret Muslims” and Jews, heretics and witches.

http://www.salon.com/2015/02/15/faith_fueled_forces_of_hatred_obamas_religion_speech_was_troubling_but_not_for_

And, of course, for the “lighter side” of attacks on Islam as a religion per se, we always have Bill Maher.

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/09/bill-maher-doubles-down-on-islam-terrorists-and-the-mainstream-share-a-lot-of-these-bad-ideas.html

Are any of these opinions 100% correct? Is there any sense attempting to make religious sense of ISIS?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

This piece appeared in Slate recently

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/02/20/might_isis_collapse_before_america_can_destroy_it.html?wpsrc=fol_fb

Here Joshua Keating posits that the funding mechanisms for ISIS have been interrupted severely enough that it may possibly collapse or implode of its own accord before the United States or any other power can dispose of it through force.

I posted that story on Facebook together with my own brief commentary.

ISIS is not another terrorist group a la Al Qaeda. It is not really a terrorist group at all but instead a form of rebel army with territorial aspirations seeking to establish its status as a true Caliphate. It mirrors the regular tactics of war while occasionally committing horrific acts of intimidation akin to the terrorism we know and hate. You know, like the KKK and Timothy McVeigh.
But that also makes it more vulnerable to traditional military opposition than have been Al Qaeda and other known terrorist organizations. If indeed its funding mechanisms have been interrupted, perhaps irreparably so, then the utterly misguided idealists flocking to join the “cause” from many corners of the Earth are going to be rapidly disillusioned when they learn they have left the comforts of home for near starvation and only a hole in the desert, not a pot, to piss in.

I’ll reconsider my remarks to this extent. I am not in total agreement with any of the assessments above regarding Islam as irredeemably violent or simply a peaceful ideology perverted beyond reason.

Rather I would offer this.

There are evil people in this world, some of whom only demonstrate those tendencies in a small way…one-on-one murders, spousal abuse, and certain professional sports come instantly to mind. Each of them has a distorted rationale as justification for their actions.

But those with more grandiose ambitions of achieving glory through mass annihilation or war often are not creative enough to develop these more mundane rationales and so revert to the teachings that were inherent in their upbringing or were fervently adopted at more mature stages of their lives, and those teachings are religious in nature.

Yet, in the end, evil is evil and ultimately is due to greed. Whether that greed manifests as financial, territorial, sexual, or religious is irrelevant as to determining motivation. It is relevant as to determining counter-measures.

In applying these counter-measures we must caution ourselves not to become who we deem evil. That has frequently not been too easy for us to accomplish.

t

KEEPING SCORE

attacks

The pie chart above depicts the percentage of terrorist attacks within the United States by groups representing various factions between 1980 and 2005 and was developed from an FBI data base. It was produced by Global Research: Centre for Research on Globalization and is dated May 1, 2013.

http://www.globalresearch.ca/non-muslims-carried-out-more-than-90-of-all-terrorist-attacks-in-america/5333619

Looks like my Jewish friends have been more active than my Arab ones though it would seem I have more to fear from my fellow lefties.

More from that report

U.S. News and World Report noted in February of this year:

Of the more than 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11, only 33 have come at the hands of Muslim-Americans, according to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. The Muslim-American suspects or perpetrators in these or other attempted attacks fit no demographic profile—only 51 of more than 200 are of Arabic ethnicity. In 2012, all but one of the nine Muslim-American terrorism plots uncovered were halted in early stages. That one, an attempted bombing of a Social Security office in Arizona, caused no casualties.

And just to be clear, although the Fort Hood murders were perpetrated by a Muslim, since that attack was against U.S. military personnel I would not designate that as an act of terrorism. As one of my frequent commenters so conveniently provided on my entry, Isis In America

Further, per wiki, 22 USC 38, says, in the context of State Department country reports: “[T]he term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

So those unfortunate victims were combatants and I maintain justifiable targets in the U.S. declared War on Terrorism, just as troops in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been killed by clandestine means rather than during an open firefight.

The purpose of all this?

The answer, my friends, is blowing in the reality that while terrorism of any nature is real and needs to be guarded against, it is far from the all-consuming danger portrayed by the rhetoric of countless politicians supported by mouth-breathing pundits whose livings depend on the number of readers/viewers they attract. And none of them will be earning their paychecks should they choose to report the truth that there is not a terrorist bomb lying in every dumpster and that every one of the 2.5 million Muslims in the United States is not intent on slitting their throat at the first opportunity.

Moreover, with over 1.5 BILLION Muslims in the world, if the adherents of that religion as a whole were consumed by the need to destroy Western Civilization, one would think that much greater increments in that destruction would have been achieved than has in fact been done by the Wolves of Wall Street.

Here within our boundaries we have our own home-grown terror groups finding comfort in their Second Amendment Rights to arm themselves to the teeth for protection against homosexuals, IRS agents, and blacks. They are not content to maintain an alert defensive posture but individuals and small groups of them have deemed it necessary to be pro-active.

That is why in 2013 Mother Jones could report that between 9/11 and the end of 2012 domestic right wing terrorists had killed 29 people across the nation as opposed to 17 fatalities from Muslim terrorists…and they are including the Fort Hood deaths which should be discounted for the reasons above.

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/04/charts-domestic-terrorism-jihadist-boston-tsarnaev

And perhaps potentially deadly attacks by Muslims have been thwarted? Fair enough, with a few notable instances of shoe and underwear bomber wanna-bes. Any others?

The jihadists’ record as bomb makers would probably be even worse if not for the FBI, which has reeled in dozens of would-be terrorists with its controversial informant program. Of the 203 jihadist terrorists counted by the New America Foundation, just 23 got their hands on explosives or materials to make a bomb; more than half of those obtained the components (often nonfunctioning) from federal informants or agents as part of a sting. Of the 174 nonjihadists, 51 right-wing terrorists and 5 anarchist terrorists tried making bombs. Only five of the right-wing terrorists got their bomb-making supplies via sting operations.

So it appears that

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men. Gang aft agley

And many would have gone further aft agley had the FBI simply stayed away and not provided both the inspiration and the means for terror dreams to morph into civilian nightmares.

How about abroad? While some Americans have been targeted for well-publicized killings by ISIS, and we have the four American dead in the Benghazi consulate attack, the total number of fatalities from American targeted incidents is negligible. But thousands of Iraqis have been murdered by Muslim groups during and after the war there so it would be more accurate to say that Muslims have more to fear from Islamic terrorism than do non-Muslims.

For further references I would suggest these.

http://archive.adl.org/nr/exeres/faf397e9-96e6-4a7a-89d4-1968e1a44a15,db7611a2-02cd-43af-8147-649e26813571,frameless.html

http://www.visionofhumanity.org/#/page/our-gti-findings

If interested one can access any number of reports/analyses from both conservative and liberal organizations (Heritage Foundation included) that provide statistics about terror.

None may be exceptionally expansive and may duplicate  others’ work in some aspects. If they do not editorialize that Americans are pretty safe from that violence the facts presented easily support that conclusion. Too, there may be discrepancies in their numbers, most likely due to utilizing different sources with different time frames of reference and often with somewhat flexible definitions of terrorism.

What of ISIS or Boko Haram?

As much undeniable terror as they do spread, they are more akin to traditional armies than to Al Qaeda and consanguineous organizations. Indeed, ISIS has declared itself a state…without established borders to be sure… but truly embarking upon its version of Manifest Destiny.

Much as the threat from these foreign entities, especially Muslim centered ones, is palpable in their part of the world, it is equally impalpable in the United States or to American targets anywhere, save for rare instances.

Yet, Peter King, Lindsey Graham, and even President Obama, can be quite prone to hyperbole that exaggerates the danger in order to…when it comes right down to it…justify huge military and intelligence budgets, as well as severe security measures that protect us from the slightest of threats.

It is as if a hovering mother sends her adorable five year old outdoors to play in September wearing a complete snow suit because it once snowed on that date thirteen years ago…and mother and child reside in Phoenix.

There are numbers galore that reveal how little we have to fear from terror. The likelihood of death from driving without a seat belt or smoking cigarettes, jaywalking, owning a gun, or not having health insurance outranks your chances of dying from a terrorist attack, foreign or domestic. And these are issues of concern we address less drastically or not at all.

And you know something else? We have the same Arabs to thank for those revealing numbers that we now want to declare our enemies.

Isn’t it ironic?

THE COMEDIANS

comedians

Jamelle Bouie is a young writer for Slate. He covers policy, politics, and race. I have read many very interesting stories from his pen and our opinions are compatible more often than not.  I have quoted from his pieces and posted them on Facebook.

But I find myself at odds with him here. And it’s on a relatively simple matter. He believes Jon Stewart of The Daily Show on Comedy Central. Stewart has announced he is stepping down from his perch as host of the hit satirical cable program later this year.The liberal world that pays attention to such matters is in mourning. He has been our “spokesman” for over a decade and a half as he has torn down the facade so often erected by the right of political positions and absurdist societal ideals that are based on superstition, distortions and outright lies.

But he has not been hesitant to bring to our attention the sometimes hilarious, and, at times, equally ugly and disturbing faux pas of actual liberals and even of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, true liberals only in the worst nightmares of of those who oppose their every action or word.

But the primary function of Stewart is to make his audience laugh. And his audience mostly skews liberal. It may be the only two conservative viewers he has are Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, both digging for ammunition to maintain ongoing feuds, just as Stewart himself mines their programs for his own material, taking extra delight in tossing barbs their way.

And when Stewart is sometimes attacked for his mainly liberal take on things and notation is made of his show’s influence and higher credibility ratings than either most mainstream or conservative media, he is wont to protest that he is “merely a comedian”.

Bouie dissents.

More often however, Stewart’s stance is frustrating. His protests to the contrary, Stewart is a pundit, and like many pundits, he’s wed to a kind of anti-politics, where genuine difference doesn’t exist (or isn’t as relevant as we think) and political problem-solving is mostly a matter of will, knowledge, and technocratic know-how.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2015/02/jon_stewart_stepping_down_from_the_daily_show_he_was_bad_for_liberals.html

I like this writer but have to disagree with him here. But our differences may stem more from our age disparity and the perspectives our own life experiences represent. He graduated from college in 2008, I in 1969.

Perhaps his relative youth lends him more optimism that true engagement on the issues is possible. I, on the other hand, have been witness to the deterioration of the relationship between our two major national “sides”— conservative and liberal.

I have vivid memories of my (thankfully brief) embrace of Barry Goldwater in 1964 and voting for Richard Nixon in 1968 upon my first eligibility. And though today I would not support either of these legendary Republicans based on their platforms and accomplishments in their time, today I’m not sure many conservatives would either, were they to look more closely at what they, especially, Nixon did. And that is utterly apart from Watergate which really cannot eradicate his diplomatic overtures to China or establishment of the now frenetically hated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), or (GASP!) …as modern conservatives disparage the minimum wage itself…Nixon’s proposal of a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI) in 1969.

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=2194

Bouie sees Stewart as feeding into uncompromising dysfunction of the contemporary political dialogue (more accurately simultaneous monologues) and the seeming inability of Congress to pass anything other than the 3462nd attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and sponsoring bills to eliminate even more long-standing laws.

I see Stewart as providing a necessary counterpoint to…in  my own views… a far conservative right wing wanting to dismantle the great progressive improvements to America since…let’s say…the New Deal. And he makes me laugh, though much of that laughter is as attributable to his “correspondents” as it is to him.

And I need laughter. As much as I may be the beneficiary of confirmation and validation of my own opinions I am the receptor of material that tickles my funny bone. Comfort food, if you will.

In this very piece whether you agree with my views, individual or as a whole, that I express here, is irrelevant. I know some of you do not see things as I do. But this is about Stewart and what place he merits in our psyche.

As much as I admire Jon Stewart and would love to have a conversation with him over a few beers, in the end, though, whether you deem Stewart a comic or an acutely perceptive political pundit cum humor, he is simply one of the Comedians and I am not referring to characters in the Graham Greene novel of the same name.

Then again, it could be the Lords of FOX who take him much too seriously nail it, which would..I believe..make them the Tontons Macoutes 

ISIS IN AMERICA

atrocity

For the past eight months,or so,as ISIS/ISIL/The Islamic State has wreaked havoc in Iraq with both pure military action and pure craven horrific terrorism in the form of murders of civilians, especially public executions of journalists or other foreigners chosen to be examples of the power of ISIS. Those executions have notably included beheading and immolation.

And these actions have drawn the usual panic stricken outcry from the right for the most extreme, militaristic response possible. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) among others have warned the American people that if proper measures are not taken ISIS will be in America and “killing us all”.

http://www.mediaite.com/tv/sen-graham-obama-must-stop-isis-before-we-all-get-killed-here-at-home/

I’ve got news for you, Senator, ISIS has been present in America for well over one hundred years. Only it has been known by another name—the Ku Klux Klan.

What ISIS has done to its opponents of innocent victims ensnared by its sleazy tentacles is no different than the havoc wreaked by the Klan upon thousands of black people in the late 19th and the 20th centuries. While nooses were the lethal weapon of choice sometimes the criminals, many of who would have been described as productive upstanding citizens in their normal lives. acted out the motto “hangin’s too good for ‘em”. As you can see in the photo above this man was hanged AND burned.

Graham’s own state of South Carolina has its own ugly history of lynchings. Okay, some were in response to murders and the lynchees may have even been guilty of such crimes themselves, but they were not convicted in our courts in a trial of any kind though if they had been tried it’s doubtful the proceedings would have been fair.

Even more so, a great number of the lynchees were murdered for alleged offenses that would not have invoked the death penalty. You can find on the list linked to below the capital “crimes” were for “quarreling”, “seditious utterances” (whatever they are), “intimate with white woman” (presumably consensual since it is not listed as rape as are so many).

There was even one man summarily executed having “shot the sheriff”. Funny, neither Bob Marley nor Eric Clapton suffered that fate.

http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~sctttp/lynchings.htm

So while ISIS does pose a genuine threat to the areas where it operates, and in a none too gentle way, the possibility of ISIS being able to produce a physical presence within our borders is so remote as to be laughable. Not that a few stray sympathizers, home grown at that, may take it upon themselves to misguidedly emulate their heroes, but if they do it by acquiring some AK-47’s and blasting their way through the matinee showing of Fifty Shades of Gray at their local cineplex, the NRA will be staunch defenders of their right to do so.

In the meantime, until ISIS embarks upon a warship building frenzy or manages to procure military aircraft (Hey! A new market for American weapons dealers! Talk about increasing the export prowess of the United States!) my sleep is unlikely to be disturbed by anything more than the increased volume of commercials as I doze while enjoying the latest dramatic recreation of a murder story on Investigation Discovery.

The knocking on my door will be a neighbor complaining of noise, not some Muslim fanatic wielding a scimitar.

PARTS UNKNOWN? MAYBE THAT’S THE PROBLEM

peace

On Sunday, while millions spent their time cursing at their TV screens depending on the fortunes of their favorite NFL team, or at least the fortunes of the team they found less offensive, I was tuned elsewhere.

CNN had an Anthony Bourdain marathon playing of episodes of his travel/food show in its present iteration. I watched the ones from his travels in Libya and Iran with particular interest.

Tony has a talent for getting beyond the standard tourist kitsch and gaining insight from dealing with ordinary people.

He was in Libya in 2013 and that war torn country is shown with all the security issues you might imagine. A veteran of the revolution there took him to a museum of the movement after showing Bourdain the physical ruins of the Ghaddafi regime. In the museum the most striking exhibit is the display of photographs of Libyans who died in the conflict. There were hundreds if not thousands of them and the victims ranged from the very young to the very old. Extremely moving.

He also went to a BBQ where a sheep was shared (NO! Not in that way!). He talked with a woman who had been in medical school in America but returned to treat the wounded. Just remarkable stuff.

In Iran he was greeted warmly everywhere even as there were still public signs or some demonstrators calling for “Death to America”. But he had several meals in the homes of Iranians with entire families in attendance. What was of particular note was the conversations at these meals were full of warm or sometimes ironic humor and the people passed on the streets smiled and laughed at ease.

One scene was in a bowling alley where both men and women were having fun. He also took in a classic car meet similar to those held at drive-ins across America with Camaros, Firebirds or other American iron being displayed proudly and drivers doing burnouts to impress each other.

I was reminded of the early-mid-’80’s when I was married and my wife was in graduate school in the reading program. As a graduate assistant in the reading laboratory she encountered WVU students and their relatives seeking to hone their English skills.

She met people from all over the world. Thus we were invited to a quinceanera for a girl from Ecuador. Her family lived in a rental house in Morgantown’s South Park neighborhood on a hill overlooking downtown. There was a band, the grandmother had traveled from Ecuador and there was a happy blend of English and Spanish and good food and music and smiles and laughter.

We also were invited to a Chinese couple’s home during their New Year. Several women prepared their traditional dishes while the men told me they were nothing like the meals found in American Chinese restaurants.

My wife, like her mother before her, was the ultimate hostess, finding any excuse for a party of any size complete with family and/or good friends (or new friends), food, drink and plain good times.

At any time in our house one might meet people from five continents. I don’t recall any visitors from Australia or Antarctica. You might meet some Chinese or Iranians or Nigerians or folks from Spain or Colombia among others.

You know, maybe we shouldn’t leave our diplomacy to the government but have individuals meeting and conversing with other individuals instead. Perhaps we would not be so ever ready to kill each other.

THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN

globe

The past few years a number of media pundits have come to refer to members of The Republican Party, especially those seemingly with Presidential aspirations, collectively as a clown car. Mostly because so many of them make clownish statements or have clownish rhetoric that is very difficult to take seriously.

As of now the list of possible candidates has grown to the extent that not even a clown car could hold them all. Thus, I have come to rename that as the Clown C-17 Globemaster III, itself with barely the capacity to transport them all to the inevitable debates.

Last weekend in Des Moines, Iowa Congressman Steve King hosted the Iowa Freedom Summit which some pundits consider to be a precursor to the race for the Republican nomination for President for 2016.

As such the nationally known Republicans who attended and took advantage of an opportunity to speak to what they see as important issues for our nation gave us this roster.

  • Chris Christie——-The New Jersey Governor was late due to traffic jams on bridges as he wended his way Westward, WHOA!
  • Scott Walker——–The Wisconsin Governor likewise met delays, in this case due to his own intransigence. It seems not only were the employees of the airline he flew unionized, but they also earn more than the minimum wage. He refused to board until the flight attendants promised not to perform “Look For The Union Label”  as part of their pre-flight routine.
  • Carly Fiorina——-The former CEO of Hewlett-Packard is perhaps best known for her forced ouster from that post, at least partly due to the somewhat contentious merger of H-P and Compaq (one of which computers is processing this for your viewing pleasure). Her political experience consists of working for the campaign of John McCain in 2008, receiving the endorsement of Sarah Palin, during her primary run for the GOP nomination for Senator in California in 2010, and her subsequent election loss to Barbara Boxer by ten percentage points. If, by some chance she could get elected as President, expect her to emulate her idol end endorser and resign in 2018.
  • Mike Huckabee——The former Governor of Arkansas resigned from FOX (hey, if the White House won’t put news with their name, neither will I) to test the Presidential waters. He made headlines by calling Eastern/New York women “trashy” due to their constant cursing, among other faults. Were he to become the candidate and have to face a national audience of women, in light of his positions on many women’s issues, the resultant cursing from every corner of America will be deafening.
  • Rick Perry———-The former Governor of Texas is a repeat visitor to this lineup but essentially doomed his own campaign in 2012 when during one debate he forgot one-third of his platform for reorganizing the federal government. But were he to be elected, Perry may not be happy in office as he would have very few opportunities to sign death warrants for convicted felons.
  • Ted Cruz-———–The current Senator from Texas, as wild and crazy as he can be at times, may be the sanest member of his family if you look at him alongside his father. If elected one would fervently pray that the trickle down theory will not suddenly manifest itself by his father’s ravings trickling down to him.
  • Rick Santorum—–The former Senator from Pennsylvania might better represent his true self if he would don either the starched prim garb of a Puritan or the formal religious regalia of Torquemada with the appropriate tonsured head.
  • Ben Carson——-The renowned retired neurosurgeon to date has exhibited an extraordinary lack of understanding of Americans and what the country needs as well as characterizing what he finds wrong with our nation (and in some cases he has a point) as the most extreme and pointless and offensive analogies possible. Perhaps his own brain has suffered some damage in which case I would offer this admonition, “Physician, heal thyself.”
  • Donald Trump—–The renowned mogul…just ask him…( and is he a mogul as businessman or a mogul as in a series of bumps on a skiing trail, which merely delays a downhill trip?) keeps threatening to toss his wig in the ring. TV comedians are breathless with anticipation with the wealth of material his candidacy would provide.
  • Mitt Romney——The former (take your pick——money grubbing venture capitalist; job destroyer; promoter of a socialist health insurance plan; chauffeur of rooftop dog carriers on family cars) did not appear in Des Moines and has since announced that, coincidentally, he has realized that the percentage of Americans he excoriates equals the percentage of votes he received in 2012 and will not be running.
  • Jeb Bush——–The former Florida governor was another no-show, biding his time to announce until he has a firm rationale in place to uphold the Bush family legacy to justify an invasion of Iraq.
  • Sarah Palin—–The indescribable (at least in a blog intended for family reading) Palin did speak…sort of. One would assume she now knows how misplaced it was for her to mock President Obama’s use of a teleprompter. That assumption is almost itself certainly misplaced.

As this circus moves from town to town I just hope the Koch brothers can afford the jet fuel expended.

TRUTH NOT BE TOLD

american-sniper-posterselma

I have neither seen the movie American Sniper nor read the book upon which it is based, but nearly everything I have read about the movie seems to indicate the tortured self of Chris Kyle as portrayed by Bradley Cooper (very movingly depicted in promos on TV) is utterly false. Director Clint Eastwood has drawn much criticism for what he brought to the screen.

For instance here on Salon Sophia McClennen equates Eastwood’s product with the often misleading efforts of FOX News.

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/26/american_snipers_biggest_lie_clint_eastwood_has_a_delusional_fox_news_problem/

McClennen faults the film for both suggesting a non-existent link of the Iraq War to the 9/11 attacks and to the culture of violence she claims is part of the right wing agenda.

If the movie is meant as a metaphor for the torment suffered by many American troops, so be it, but taking a real person and ascribing such emotions to him when he did not exhibit them in real life leaves one wondering whether this is an exercise in a form of propaganda.

Eastwood, as is any filmmaker, is entitled to present his personal point of view, but the movie is a box office hit which means that viewers are left with a distorted opinion of an important figure, at least symbolically, in recent American history.

As one who prefers historical accuracy to white-washed reviews I find this more troubling than the supposed misrepresentation of LBJ’s role in the Civil Rights movement as portrayed in Selma. Johnson himself is bigger than life with many different interpretations possible and the crimes of omission here in the movie are more than atoned for in the historical record and do not affect the substance of the movie.

While it is popular among critics to nit pick the inaccuracies in movies about real events, one must always keep in mind neither of these films purports to be a documentary. Many directors among the Pantheon have produced legendary works of true stories while straying from the literal truth. The reasons for this diversion can be simply for dramatic effect and efficiency in story telling. It can be that the director’s vision is seen through his own unique lens that enables him to see elements of the story others cannot and he wants to provoke thought about his subject.

And it may be that he wants to make a political point no matter how much the tale he employs for that purpose does not justify that treatment.

Is that the situation with Eastwood here? I cannot even hazard a guess. Eastwood’s bona fides as a director are secure,  dovetailing from his acting career as often an iconoclastic loner on the edge of outlawry while being the hero, in a way tracks what the thrust of potshots at American Sniper entail.

What disturbs me aside from the deviance from fact itself—again it is not a documentary—is that it feeds into a certain mindset that has resulted in nothing but trouble for not only the nation itself but for the thousands of basically good Americans who, if they survived their deployments at all, survived them only at great physical and mental and emotional cost. Presenting Chris Kyle as one of the latter when it appears he was anything but emotionally damaged by his service is unfair to those who legitimately suffered and continue to do so.

On the other hand Selma’s fibs, if you will, are a minor distraction in the narrative of one of the great moral movements in American history.

The war in Iraq and morality are mutually exclusive.

MOST EVIL IS MOST EVIL

I confess I watch far too much Investigation Discovery but both my sister-in-law and daughter-in-law are also big fans and they are smart women so I don’t feel so bad.

One series I have not followed closely is “Most Evil“. On it three different cases are reviewed with profiles of killers and then the host (I believe some psychologist) picks the one who is “most evil”.

Couldn’t this series be turned into another sure fire viewer favorite competition a la American Idol or America’s Got Talent? The possibilities are endless.

The title to this new show comes trippingly off the tongue, America’s Got Serial Killers.

On American Idol the contestants perform a song of a different genre each week. On America’s Got Serial Killers that format can stay essentially the same but with the contestants each week displaying how they perform a different method of murder.

Week 1: The rivals can choose their firearms and take aim at unsuspecting targets. They are judged on accuracy as well as whether they are creative in how they surprise their victims. I can just envision a plethora of American Sniper imitators going for the elaborate emulating singers attempting to duplicate the vocal gymnastics of Mariah Carey.

Week 2: Manual strangulation is the test and extra points could be awarded, for instance, for borrowing a belt or scarf from an audience member. I just wonder if judge Randy Jackson will note, “hey dude, that woman’s scream was a little pitchy.”

Weeki 3: Poisoning is the focus with the judges looking for use of the most undetectable substance. There is, of course, the danger that one of the judges may keel over after imbibing from the huge cups of promotional Coca Cola they are provided.

Week 4: This will be a real test to see if the contestants can be successful without eliminating themselves with the explosives they are to employ. The producers of the show must be extremely careful in the selection process that a Muslim Jihadist is not on the show. It may end in Week 1.

Week 5: This is the ultimate in  terms both in being the finale when the champion is determined but also in potential viewer draw. It will be an All-American show to beat All-American shows.

Rather than the usual theme music the program will begin with the National Anthem being sung by a chorus consisting of all the past winners of all the singing competitions aired on any network. The auditorium will be draped with red white and blue bunting and American flags will grace the stage.

After a flyover by the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels flight team (gonna have to be a BIG studio) an abbreviated Super Bowl will be played between the Patriots and the Redskins.

Following a commercial featuring products once manufactured in America but now imported from Indonesia, China, and Vietnam, the two remaining competitors will take center stage.

The contestant having drawn the most votes to date will have first choice of the remaining weapons. One will be a Predator Drone and the other will be a B-52 carrying a laser guided smart bomb.The lower rated contestant will then use his weapon first.

The goal here is to kill as many of the audience designated as terrorists/undesirable foreigners as possible with the least collateral deaths among the other spectators around them.

Of course this finale will take place on July The Fourth.

Emmy here we come.

SOMETHING HERE IS UNBALANCED—AND IT AIN’T JUST THE BUDGET

budget

Ah, yes, the perennially unbalanced budget of the United States of America. Something to be cherished. Something for each faithful American to retain a copy of for his or her  grandchildren to explore in the attic on a rainy Saturday afternoon and voice the question, “Grandma, why did the Bureau of Land Management lose nearly half its funding between FY 2001 and FY 20007?” All civic minded children are dying to know the answers to questions like this.

Okay, that sounds a little flippant, I will grant you, but no more so than the latest iteration of a demand for a Balanced Budget Amendment by some Republican politicians.

Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky renewed this proposal as one of 543 Republican responses to the 2015  State of The Union address by President Barack Obama.

Here is how Paul prefaced his proposal.

Prevailing upon his background in medicine, Paul sketched out a governing vision that aligns with medical ethics. “As a physician, I was taught first, do no harm. To think before you act. To analyze the unintended consequences of your actions. I think America would be better off if all of our politicians took the same approach. First, do no harm.”

Not that Congress is capable of much in the way of pure ethical action these days, medical or otherwise. And the author, Simon Maloy, of the Salon article discussing Paul’s speech points out

And what’s the very first policy Paul recommends as part of this “do no harm” philosophy? A wildly destructive and needlessly harmful balanced budget amendment:

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/21/rand_pauls_budget_quackery_curing_americas_ills_with_stupid_dangerous_policy_prescriptions/

Maloy correctly cites evidence that having a balanced budget in times of national fiscal difficulties only worsens the problems due to its rigidity.

The reason a balanced budget amendment is such a bad idea is that it handcuffs the federal government, providing it little flexibility to respond to shifting economic conditions. With no option but to robotically seek a balanced budget, even in times of economic distress, such an amendment would force the government into a series of horrible economic policy decisions.

While that reasoning is clear the absurdist part of Paul’s rationale for a Balanced Budget Amendment is

It’s self-evident that the president and Congress are unable to do what every family in America must do: balance their budget. If Congress cannot, or will not, balance the budget, then we should amend the Constitution to make it mandatory.

It is obvious that Rand Paul does not watch the Suze Orman Show on Saturdays where the hostess is forever dealing with individuals and couples whose basic budgetary plan is to simply put all expenses on credit cards while failing to pay down student loans and, at the same time, carrying a huge monthly car payment for a vehicle that they bought when the first scheduled oil change and barely been completed on their previous car. Then they want to purchase some fancy designer clothing or accessories so they look good before the Bankruptcy judge at the same time their monthly expenses exceed their monthly net income even when that monthly net income is in five figures.

Then again maybe federal budgets are like family ones.

Realistically, families who do try to control and balance their budgets often find necessary expenses (housing, food, commuting costs, child care) are beyond modification. Yet they resist spending less on dining out, cell phone and internet and cable TV services.

I suppose in  many ways those features might be somewhat analogous to mandatory parts of the federal budget such as Social Security and interest on the Public Debt. Of course the optional spending in the federal budget that is the most egregiously budget busting is what is allocated to the military. But while a family may have a light go on that prompts them to take their lunch to work, have more family dinners at home instead of at even fast food restaurants, Rand Paul and his fellow Republicans…and many Democrats…refuse to lower the military budget even as the Pentagon insists it does not need and will barely use the next fleet of bi-planes manufactured in the district of some powerful Congressman.

Too, couples facing financial challenges may realize one or both of them needs to bring in more income through a second (or third) job or working longer hours. The equivalent in our government would be to raise revenues via various tax devices—closing loopholes, increasing rates, halting subsidies, etc. But Paul and his merry band of balanced budget advocates will have none of that.

The sole means of balancing the federal budget as advocated seems to be at times to underfund or eliminate entirely programs that benefit the very families who already have the most difficulty balancing their own budgets.

The irony is deafening.

SHEEP, WOLF, OR SHEEPDOG?—-NONE OF THE ABOVE

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If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath—a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.     

This from the website Killology Research Group (A Warrior Science Group Partner) from the pen of Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman, excerpted from his own book, On Combat, a 2004 publication. This was paraphrased and abbreviated in the film, American Sniper, in a scene where Chris Kyle’s father tells him that there are three kinds of people in the world, “wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs”.

Brothers Michael and Eric Cummings, Michael having been deployed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, explore this in a piece for Slate.  http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2015/01/21/american_sniper_s_wolves_sheep_and_sheepdogs_speech_has_a_surprising_history.html

They share an unfavorable opinion of this advice/analogy.

Because the analogy is simplistic, and in its simplicity, dangerous. It divides the world into black and white, into a good-versus-evil struggle that the real world doesn’t match. We aren’t divided into sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves. We are all humans.

My own view is that everything you need to know about the analogy should be evident from looking at the name of Grossman’s website KILLOLOGY. 

I am more frightened of learning more about that website than I am for my own safety on the streets of America that is apparently in unrelenting danger, beset on all sides by any permutations of thugs, goons, rapists, terrorists, and plain bad people.

This world view is utterly disturbing to me. Recently I had a Facebook exchange on a friend’s post on some story related to concealed carry of firearms. Another commenter was beside himself in promoting the notion that one should always have protection in the form of a gun.

How sad!

I have gone through life and experienced being sucker punched in a bar, having three guys beat me for yelling at them for nearly running me down as I crossed a street, and one incident in which some idiot kept cutting my car off on the interstate in North Carolina and then blocking the road.

In none of these cases did I wish I had a gun with me and, in none of them…as it turned out…was my life in actual peril. Having a gun I may have been tempted to brandish it, and having brandished it would have been further tempted to fire it and possibly a life would have been lost…a life of a person who was mean and/or misguided but who did not deserve to die.

The Cummings Brothers rightly note that this analogy or defense philosophy applies not only in wartime but domestically. They note the apparently unjustified shootings of unarmed young black men by the presumed sheepdogs. They further note:

After leaving his service as a Navy SEAL and publishing his memoir, Chris Kyle started mentoring other veterans with PTSD. As the movie mentions in its conclusion, Chris Kyle was killed by another veteran, a Marine. Are Marines not sheepdogs? Or did Kyle’s killer turn into a wolf? Most importantly, as the analogy goes, why couldn’t Kyle tell the difference?

These facts as well as the behavior of Kyle himself in Iraq belie the analogy and reveal how utterly facile it is.

An examination of the analogy itself is also revealing. Sheep are healthy productive citizens but only the sheepdogs have a love of fellow citizens? As the Brothers Cummings also point out there is no psychological basis for the delineation between the three designations.

Our nations own history suggests that under the right circumstances, especially in war, those with absolutely no inner tendency towards violence, even on the level of pacifism, can kill. Medal of Honor Awardee Sergeant Alvin York, for instance, is the epitome of such a person.

I recall a story several years ago about a woman whose estranged husband hired a man to kill her. She was an otherwise typical middle-aged housewife and managed to kill her assailant instead of the other way around. That was very much a matter of the survival instinct kicking in, not innate violence erupting.

I, too, believe it is dangerous to accept this analogy of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs and regard it as anything more than an intriguing but plainly flawed theory.

We are not animals. Members of the lower species may indeed have an evolutionary capacity to resort to violence more so in one species or family than others. But humans were granted the capacity to not only react purely violently to perceived dangers but to use their mental faculties to employ other methods to escape danger and keep them safe.

In the end, were one to accept that sheepdogs are potential heroes, their heroism stems from necessity to save the flock they are charged with protecting.

Men like Chris Kyle, for whatever reason, seek to be violent within the context of their environment and are not sheepdogs…gentle but protective when need be.

They are their own breed of predator, many would claim necessary predators for a just cause. That is an argument for another time.

But their battle cries are exuded as lupine howls, not canine barking.

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