Monday, June 28, 2004

On Carol Coleman, my other babydaddy

Okay, so I don't have much so say on this topic that hasn't been better said elsewhere. But I would like to address an open letter to Carol Coleman, owner of a great big pair of cast-iron cojones:

Carol. Girlfriend.

As you probably know, your interview with President Bush has been spreading wildfire-esque across the Internet and is the talk of the liberal blog community. I wanted to add my thoughts to the barrage of e-mail I'm sure you're getting -- thank you. Thank you for asking the questions that no American journalist has the guts to say; thank you for calling him on his attempts to change the subject and out-and-out lie. Your interview was fun to watch and, for those of us used to nothing but American quasi-journalistic softballs, even a bit exciting. It's really too bad that you got your hand slapped for your "impertinence", because it really was refreshing to see.

Nothin' but love,
Citizen of Blogovia

On Madeleine Albright, my babydaddy

Okay, so anyone watching “Meet the Press” on Sunday might have rightly assumed that I was communicating with Madeleine Albright via a tiny, tiny radio secreted in her left ear. I thought that my ideas would have a lot more credibility, and reach a much larger audience, coming out of her mouth. Here are some of the thoughts that we were able to share with the world:
I never did believe that there was a connection between al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and 9/11. But I now do think that Iraq has become a magnet and a gathering ground for terrorists.
Well, of course it is. You’ve got a bunch hyper-religious sociopaths who have been waiting for the hyper-secular tyrannical dictator of Iraq to get out so they could get in. It’s like mice swarming the house once the cat is gone. it doesn’t mean that the cat and the mice were collaborating; it means that when the cat’s away, the mice will have free reign to kidnap and murder in the name of Allah.
I think we clearly do not understand Islam completely and we have to figure out distinctions between those who also are victims of extremism and Islamic fundamentalism, jihadism.
To be sure. As simple as it would be for us to just see this as evil Muslims trying to corrupt our way of life and eventually take over the world and rape our wives and enslave our children and burn our churches to the ground, life just isn’t that easy. We’re dealing with a group of bad, bad people perverting a religion that, if you actually take the time to read the damn book, actually encourages peace and tolerance. Al Qaeda doesn’t represent Islam any more than Eric Rudolph represents Christianity, so let’s jump off the religious intolerance bandwagon.
And I'm very glad to see Saddam Hussein gone. That is good. But I'm not sure we're safer today than we were before. … I would say that the situation emanating from Iraq is more dangerous in terms of the number of terrorists that are out there and Afghanistan is half-finished job. We diverted our attention from Afghanistan to do a war of choice, not of necessity, in Iraq. The thing is now it is a necessity and not a choice to get it right in Iraq.
Absolutely. The people of Iraq, along with the rest of the world, are certainly better off without Saddam Hussein in power, but their lives don’t improve much when their country is overrun with terrorists and when the provisional government can’t even provide them with electricity on a regular basis. We had a thing going in Afghanistan, and when we got frustrated and bored, we turned our attentions elsewhere. But anyone who has seen “Fatal Attraction” knows that just ‘cause al Qaeda is under the water doesn’t mean they’re not coming back.
I wish the interim government of Iraq the very best, and we need to support it in every way we can because they are the hope and the future here.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

On my inadequate thought process

Okay, so I found myself in an, er, enthusiastic discussion with a certain retired Marine with about a thousand kids currently in the Corps and a huge chip on his shoulder. And I really have come to terms with the fact that, in the eyes of the Republican party, I am the embodiment of evil. Now, anyone who knows me has heard me rant about what it truly means to love America – I’ll post on that at some point for those who haven’t heard it but, for some reason, want to. Obviously, the Right doesn’t see patriotism the same way I do, and there are definitely a few other areas where our thought processes just don’t meet. The retired jarhead in question found himself staring down the business end of the following rant:
My problem is only that I've honestly and sincerely tried to think the way you do, and I can't. I’ve tried so very, very hard to understand your perspective, but it's just not working.

I'm so truly jealous of your thought process. It must be so easy and comforting to see in such absolute shades of black and white. I can't, and I guess that's just a sin of the Left. I don't understand how you can know who to hate and fear just on the basis of their religion. I don't understand how you can take a religion that's 95% good people and 5% bad and call it evil and hateful; I don't understand how you can read the Koran, with all those passages about charity and a forgiving God and the wisdom of Jesus and the way your religion doesn't matter as long as you love God and do good deeds, and from that gather a religion of hatred and intolerance.

I don't understand how you can ascribe nothing but wicked motives to the leadership of the Left but assume that the motives of the Right are absolutely pure and without blemish. I don't understand how you can think that a human being, a person with a soul, can actually want to see a person die just to further a political agenda. I don't understand how you can automatically assume that the media are lying and/or biased just because you don't like their coverage. I don't understand how you can say that Democrats hate Christianity just because they want each person to make that decision on their own, and because the first amendment says that the government can't like Christians more than anyone else.

My mind just doesn't work that way, and when I try, I get so incredibly frustrated and so incredibly upset. And that's why I'm giving up, because I'm not so stupid that I don't recognize when something just isn't working. I apologize for wasting your time; it won't happen again.
Anyone who might be able to help me out on any of those is welcome to give it the ol’ college try. I’d really like to understand, because I feel that understanding is the key to not thinking that these people are freaking lunatics. Feel free to shoot me some suggestions under Comments. Anyone. Please. I'm begging.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

On beating a guy up on national TV

Okay, so maybe some people just don’t understand what a fishbowl the world has become. It’s hard to ignore the fact that “reality” TV is taking over the airwaves and that the most popular TV shows are the ones that either put “real” people in “real” situations or follow “real” people around with cameras. Screenwriters might want to start looking for a fast-food job, because if it ain’t voyeurism, we ain’t interested.

Still, as evidenced by this, it’s apparent that some folks just haven’t realized that someone is always watching, and that the news helicopter with its million-candlepower spotlight isn’t just making sure you don’t trip in the dark.

Let’s get this out of the way first: police brutality is a bad, bad thing whether someone sees it or not. I’m not talking about a little additional but necessary force, an extra-special smackdown for the guy you’re arresting who happens to have a razor blade hidden under his tongue. I’m talking about having someone fully in custody and under control and still feeling that it’s okay to smack him around, take out a little bit of frustration. If you’re having stress-management issues, there are classes you can take and people you can talk to. Taking it out on someone else is just asking for trouble.

That having been said, please don’t be stupid enough to do it in front of a camera. And, just a hint, if you’ve been involved in a police chase, you can guess that someone has a camera on you. There’s a whole TV show devoted to that very activity. And even if TV cameras are nowhere to be found, there’s always some guy with a handicam waiting for something exciting to happen. Remember, if you’re in any position of authority at all, someone is watching and waiting for you to screw up.

We thought we might have figured this all out with Rodney King; if not that, “Cops” and “America’s Wildest Police Chases” should have straightened us out. But as Abu Ghraib, America’s Funniest Videos and this most recent incident have shown us, some people just can’t act right when the camera is on them. So it looks like we need a review.

Lesson the first: always behave yourself if someone’s watching. Lesson the second: someone’s always watching.

Monday, June 21, 2004

On being better than that

Okay, so this kind of drives me nuts. Particularly this part:

I guess they are going to strip him, put women's panties on his head, let dogs bark at him and then set him free.

And this one:
I wonder if Nick Berg got to choose between being in a pile of naked people or being beheaded.
Do people not realize that it was more than just some junior high panty raid? That in addition to the underpants and the naked man piles, these folks were beaten and raped and sodomized and attacked by dogs? That people actually died from the abuses at Abu Ghraib?

Actually, I’m going to have to go with no, they don’t realize, because folks are too full-on lazy to actually read beyond the front page of the paper and the sports section.

And yet, folks act like this whole abuse scandal is okay, because hey, we’re still not as bad as Saddam. Apparently, that’s where we’ve gone with this, those are our standards of morality, we’ve got to be better than Saddam. The fact that our guys, the guys wearing our flag on their uniforms, behaved like absolute soulless animals is perfectly okay because Saddam Hussein was worse. Jesus Christ on a crutch.

I know it feels like it’s been months already, but it looks like we’ve got to go over this again: We went in as liberators. That was our only justification for going in. No matter how many innocent people were murdered under Saddam’s regime – and no matter how many are murdered by al Qaeda – nothing can justify the behavior of those contractors, MPs, and interrogators. Nothing. Nothing.

We are Americans. We are better than that. That’s really all there is to it. That’s the point of the Geneva Conventions – we can’t torture their guys because we don’t want our guys tortured.

And of course folks will argue that they’ve already done horrible things to our troops and contractors and that it justifies what has happened in a couple of prisons, actually, not just Abu Ghraib. But you know what? It really doesn’t. Because we’re Americans, and we’re better than that.

I think that the reason conservatives aren’t freaking out more about this is that they had no problem going in there in the first place. To them, we’re liberators, we’re saviors, we’ve rescued them from the tyranny of an evil dictator, and if a couple of guys get mauled by dogs or raped by guards while they’re in the pokey, well, that’s just the cost of doing business, they were probably terrorists anyway.

Liberals see it differently. From our end, we see that the US got bored with Afghanistan and blew off Osama bin Laden so that we could go after someone a little bit sexier. In the process, we decimated global policy, made a mockery of diplomacy, and seriously cheesed off a good number of former allies. Why do we have to adhere to the Geneva Accords and hold off on the torture? Because we have nothing left. We’re clinging desperately to the moral high road like a mountain climber watching that one last piton quiver in the rock wall and hoping to God it’s not going to slip. Not torturing people, not raping people, not threatening people with dogs or with the murder of their families, that is the only thing that we have left. Saddam Hussein, al Qaeda, they don’t have that left. We have it. And that’s all.

Jon Stewart said it in his block rocking commencement address at William & Mary:

But here’s the good news. You fix this thing, you’re the next greatest generation, people. You do this—and I believe you can—you win this war on terror, and Tom Brokaw’s kissing your ass from here to Tikrit, let me tell ya. And even if you don’t, you’re not gonna have much trouble surpassing my generation. If you end up getting your picture taken next to a naked guy pile of enemy prisoners and don’t give the thumbs up you’ve outdid us.
It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.

On Deep South antebellum agrarian society, circa 1991

Okay, so I’m not actually a military brat. In fact, it could be argued that military brats have it all over me. ‘Cause when a military kid gets uprooted from Fort SomeGuy to Fort SomeOtherGuy, she finds herself surrounded by hundreds of uprootees her own age, kids who have been shuffled around and who might not have a lot of old friends but are pretty damn good at making new ones. There aren’t a lot of kids on military bases who have known each other since infancy; at some point, they’ve all been moved, sometimes several times. So if you need a friend and you’re looking for someone who needs a friend, you’re likely to find one. Maybe a couple.

It never worked out like that for me. My first move was at age five, from BFVirginia to BFTennessee, and then again at age ten to BFGeorgia, not because of the military but because of… well, that part I haven’t quite figured out yet. But by age ten I was a champ at making friends. I had the system down, I practically had the steps on a little laminated card in my lunchbox, and life was pretty good.

The second move was pretty hard on me. That’s a hard age, anyway, to uproot a kid, but I had a particularly tough time because when I hit elementary school in Georgia, everyone already had friends. I mean that quite literally; every child in my school had at least one friend already and had little to no interest in making any more. Some of them said so in so many words. As a person who could never have enough friends, I was completely baffled.

It didn’t seem to be something that kids grew out of, either. Kids left elementary school and went to middle school together (which was a fresh hell all its own), then left middle school together and went to high school together. In 2003, a good half of UGA’s student population came just from metro Atlanta. There are kids who were born next door to each other, went through grade school together, sat next door to each other at their college graduation, and then lived together when they moved back to Atlanta to get jobs. Jealous? You bet your sweet ass I am.

Looking back on things with the perspective of thirteen years, hours of psychotherapy and not a little bit of hard liquor, I’ve developed a theory on this; it hinges on the fact that the Deep South is resistant to change. You can see this in the “fergit hell” attitude of rebel-flag-waving Sons of the Confederacy who swear that Stonewall Jackson is going to leap bodily from the side of Stone Mountain and ride again victorious, and in the insistence that macaroni and cheese is a vegetable.

The antebellum south was a wholly agrarian society. That’s what they did all the time; hell, that’s part of the reason they started the war. If you didn’t have your own farm of any significance, you worked on someone else’s farm. When a kid grew up, he either went to work on his daddy’s farm or went to college, graduated, and came back to work on his daddy’s farm. In the industrial north, families moved as necessary to follow the work; in the south, they stayed put. A southern kid who misbehaved could anticipate a butt-whupping not only from his father but also from both uncles, his grandfather, and possibly his great-grandfather, ‘cause they all lived just a short buggy ride away, if that.

Fast forward a hundred and fifty years, give or take, and things haven’t much changed. Kids grow up and fly the nest, only to marry and return and start popping out kids right down the street from Mom and Dad. It’s not a bad thing; kids have the opportunity to develop close and meaningful friendships, and they get to really know their grandparents, which is harder to do when they live in the next state. A kid who can put down roots is guaranteed a familiar place to live and family close by.

At the same time, though, these kids are missing out on a lot. They never get the opportunity to really explore what’s out there to be explored. They never get to compare grits and cream of wheat, or hear Coke referred to as “pop”, or stretch their friend-making muscles to meet that kid with the funny accent. They never learn what it’s like to be an outsider, which can teach them sympathy to other outsiders, and they never get to make friends who look and sound different than they are. They aren’t blessed with diverse social groups of kids who speak different languages and carry lunchboxes full of weird and different foods. And if you don’t start ‘em young, sheltered kids can grow into xenophobic adults who never have the chance to enjoy a really fantastic plate of pad thai.

Parents need to give their kids the world, even if they never leave their hometowns. Six years old is not too young for your first calamari – tell the kid it’s squid, and he cleans his plate. Korean food is great for babies who eat with their hands anyway. That new kid with the weird flag on his backpack should be the most popular guy at school, because, hey, I’ve never been to Kenya. A kid who can look at weird and see cool, who doesn’t see a weird accent or a lunchbox full of weird food as an impediment to friendship, can be the most popular kid in school.