Doug's Darkworld

War, Science, and Philosophy in a Fractured World.

Posts Tagged ‘afghanistan

“To you I’m an atheist; to God, I’m the Loyal Opposition.”

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I’ve had some interesting comments made by a certain Joshua on an old post. Interesting might not be quite the word, but close enough. As the persons in question took the time to criticize my posts at length, I feel the need to reply. For one thing I think I expressed some of my points poorly so I’m going to clarify myself. And I disagree with some of the points raised in the comments. However, rather than try to make some sort of point by point reply, which usually just further confuses a debate, I am simply going to restate various aspects of my argument. Including how they relate to some of the comments.

First of all, dissent is not unpatriotic, it’s OK for someone to argue that the war in Afghanistan is a mistake and that we should pull out. This is not disrespecting the troops or encouraging the enemy, it is simply the sort of healthy dissent that exemplifies the principles our nation was founded on. And if our troops are “defending our freedoms,” isn’t the freedom of speech one of the most important freedoms? And no, I’m not advocating surrender, exercising my freedom of speech is proof that we are still a free country. Frankly our troops should be proud that Americans can and do openly disagree with our government’s policies, doesn’t that make us better than the Taliban?

Secondly, supporting the troops is not the same thing as supporting the war. One can support the troops and be opposed to the war. In fact I maintain that my desire to bring the troops home  is supporting the troops. I don’t want to see a single American killed or maimed in a pointless overseas war.  And pointless the war is, as Yoda would say. The Taliban are no threat to the United States. This was a war we chose, not them. The last time a foreign power seriously threatened American’s freedoms was 1781. George Washington took care of that shit, see illustration above.

Certain allegations were made regarding my understanding of the exact nature of the war the USA is pursuing in Afghanistan. Mea culpa, I was using figurative language to describe events, and the meaning may have been lost. I don’t want to get into the nuts and bolts of what our troops are doing in Afghanistan. Because it doesn’t matter. Two administrations have had more than ten years, and whatever they wanted from Congress, to do whatever it is they are doing in Afghanistan. Ten years later, the Taliban is still unvanquished. The longest war in American history, and we appear to be no closer to “victory,” whatever that means, than when we started. I don’t have to go to Afghanistan to see that what we are doing there isn’t working.

Afghanistan is a war we started, with a poor nation on the far side of the world that posed no threat to the USA, not some epic struggle against global powers like World War Two. I’m also a little unclear on exactly what we are trying to accomplish. What is the goal? If the idea is to defeat the Taliban, well, they seem no closer to defeat than ever. Establish a modern secular regime that can hold its own against the Taliban? That doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon either. In fact the warlords we put back in power in Afghanistan were the same warlords whose corruption and violence created the Taliban in the first place. Giving them modern weapons will no more ensure their survival than arming the South Vietnamese government to the teeth ensured its survival.

Lastly I think it’s funny that someone says I should go to Afghanistan since I oppose our war there. Gee, I thought that it was people who approve of our foreign wars that should be forced to participate in them? I should also point out that someone who is in the midst of a war has powerful psychological reasons to agree with what they are doing. The bandwagon effect for one. Nonetheless, anyone who interprets my writing as somehow being insulting to the military personnel who are serving has clearly missed my point. And frankly it’s an attitude very close to “If you aren’t with us, you are against us.” That’s not an attitude that people of a free country should be taking, in fact it’s kind of the opposite.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”
                                                                                                                        — Voltaire
 
(The above image is public domain under US copyright law, having been painted in 1820. It’s titled “The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis.” The artist was John Trumbull, 1756-1843. The title was a quote by Woody Allen. Another favourite quote by him: “My draft classification is 4f. That means that in the event of war, I’m a hostage.” One can only hope America isn’t going that route.)
 

 

Written by unitedcats

August 29, 2012 at 8:49 am

Green on blue, interior lines, liberation fever, history repeating itself, and why popular insurgencies are so hard to defeat

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Well, more ugly news from Afghanistan. The latest green on blue attack killed three British soldiers. A green on blue attack is when Afghan soldiers or policemen, or men wearing Afghan soldier or police uniforms, open fire on NATO troops in Afghanistan. In most cases it is Taliban who have infiltrated into the NATO aligned Afghan forces, sometimes it’s the result of personal quarrels. It’s definitely been on the rise though, and is accounting for a significant percentage of the NATO casualties this year. This latest attack was particularly disturbing in that the Afghan in question was a member of an elite unit, supposedly more carefully vetted for loyalty than most. And there is no question that the Taliban are using this type of attack with increasing frequency. This is very very bad news. It’s also fucking brilliant, and an excellent example of how an insurgency’s evolving tactics can be so hard to counter.

Why is it brilliant? Because it is simultaneously devastating to the morale of the occupation forces, and fantastically complicates efforts to train Afghan security forces to take over when NATO supposedly pulls out in 2014. Even worse, attempts to counter this strategy are just going to increase tension between NATO and its putative allies. American for example has adopted a “cocked and loaded” policy in response to this. This means that whenever Americans meet with their Afghan “allies,” American troops with guns ready to fire keep watch on them. That’s right, we are so confident of our “allies” in Afghanistan, that we keep guns pointed at them just in case. I’m pretty sure this just fills them with confidence.

This illustrates what I mean when I say popular insurgencies have the ultimate interior lines. Interior lines is military parlance for a situation where an enemy has another enemy partially or wholly surrounded and can attack from multiple directions, but because the defender is on the “inside” they can rush troops to defend in various directions faster than the attacker can move them to attack from various directions. It’s one of the biggest advantages a defender can have, and a good defender will take full advantage of it. In the case of an insurgency, it means the insurgency because of its smaller and more informal organization can make changes faster than the large military it is fighting. In Vietnam for example American troops sometimes captured manuals to weapons they hadn’t even been issued yet! Yes, the Viet Cong could get their guys informed about upcoming changes in American weaponry before the Americans. It’s a significant advantage, and one that small but professional insurgencies have regularly used to keep fighting effectively even when they were badly outnumbered. In the case of an insurgency it also means the insurgents can attack almost anywhere they want, leaving the defender the daunting task of defending everything. And now including apparently defending against our own allies!

So much for the Taliban being “no longer in existence.” More than ten years after the US intervention in Afghanistan, the Taliban are doing just fine and the regime we set up is as corrupt and ineffectual as it ever was. I do suspect the US will pull out one way or the other. The expense of keeping our forces there is staggering. And there’s no reason to keep them there. There wasn’t any reason to intervene in the first place, Afghanistan posed no threat to the USA and made at least two offers to turn OBL and his lieutenants over to the USA. Bush was having no doing, the American public wanted unconditional revenge for 9/11, and the Bush administration was all to happy to comply, having already ascertained that this was going to be the perfect casus belli for the glorious liberation of Iraq. Intervene we did though, on the side of warlords whose misogyny, corruption, and violence turned Afghanistan into a failed state … where the Afghans themselves for the most part supported the rise of the Taliban. This is where so many Americans are fuzzy in the head, they seem to think (if they even thought about it) that the Taliban were some foreign invader that conquered Afghanistan.

In fact this gets to another aspect of the interior lines meme. Not only does the outside or larger side have to defend more and take longer to react, in the case of large countries and their mind sets, they can get positively moribund. The USA, at least a  large part of American thinking, has been stuck in “liberation fever” since at least the war of 1812. This is the idea that American armies will be welcomed as the forces of good, I mean who wouldn’t want to be saved by the USA? In 1812 it was the fantasy that Canada was the “14th colony,” only kept in the British Empire by geographic isolation during the American Revolution. Since then countless wars have been launched with similar sentiments in mind. And since World War Two it’s become ever more entrenched. We “saved” the world from the Nazis, we “saved” the world from the Communists, and now we are going to “save” the world from terrorism. The first was more by accident than design, the second was more propaganda than reality on several levels, and the third has very little contact with reality at all. Keeps the generals happy and the war profiteers happier though, and the only people who pay the price are the American taxpayers, our soldiers, and the foreign recipients of our liberating zeal.

The thing most dismaying about it is that in some ways it hasn’t changed since the Roman era. Mind numbing hypocrisy and self-righteous conquest seem to be a particular weakness of the western soul, though it is by no means limited to the west. The west though is where it reached its apex though, the conquest of the world in so called age of exploration. Most westerners still think that European Christian armies colonizing the world was a good and natural thing. No, no it wasn’t. Just for starters it caused possibly the greatest, and still almost unknown, holocaust in human history. That however is a topic for another post.

Support the troops … bring them home.

(The above image is a picture of Boer Commandos at Sion Kopp, during the Second Boer War. It was taken in 1900, so it’s safely public domain. This was one of the world’s first modern wars, modern in that their weapons now fired smokeless gunpowder. It was a huge change in warfare, and made insurgencies vastly more dangerous. Like the Boers, the Taliban are a local force fighting a vastly more powerful foreign interloper; and like the Boers, the Taliban have many advantages and are going to be hard to defeat.)

Written by unitedcats

July 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm

American Foreign Policy: The Bull in the China Shop

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I’ve been writing less about world events lately because it has gotten so insane. And the insanity is driven by the USA. The specific insanity I refer to is the USA’s unwavering continuation of policies that are clearly fails. And fails in that they not only didn’t achieve what they were promised, they made things worse. It’s like Vietnam never happened, we just keep intervening in parts of the world for little or no reason, oblivious to the harm we are causing. And not only harm to other parts of the world, harm to the USA itself. In any event, a short case by case analysis:

Afghanistan: Ten years later and it’s still painfully apparent that the “government” we set up in Afghanistan is totally corrupt, extremely unpopular, just as misogynistic as the Taliban, and is only in power because western troops keep it in power. This isn’t nation building, it’s refusal to see that the Afghans aren’t ever going to accept rule by foreign imposed satraps. And of course this endless war has slowly and steadily destabilized Pakistan, a far more important country to the USA than Afghanistan.

Iraq: The poster child for failed interventions. We removed a tin pot dictator who was no threat to anyone outside of Iraq, and replaced him with an Iranian aligned government that is looking more like a dictatorship every day. Not to mention the Iraqi people paid a terrible price for this act of beneficence on our part. And it’s never mentioned that while there was no terrorism in Iraq before our invasion, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia is now a powerful force launching attacks daily. And there’s numerous other insurgent groups killing people, and a horrible mess has been made of Kurdish Iraq to boot. Which is spilling over into Turkey. This invasion cost the USA trillions, made the situation far worse, and is basically considered one of the most disastrous foreign policy decisions in US history. And most Americans couldn’t find Iraq on a map.

Libya: Well, turns out that intervening in Libya has had the same effect it had in Afghanistan and Iraq, a country that was formerly relatively stable is now a bloody factionalized mess with violence spilling out into foreign lands. A coup and Civil War in Mali being the immediate aftermath, and no end in sight.

Somalia: 20 years on the Somalis are still refusing to accept as legitimate a foreign imposed government, no matter whose army tries to impose it! Why not let the Somalis form their own government? I guess it might give other countries ideas. Or more likely the people running Washington are so full of themselves that they can’t even contemplate the idea that people in other lands might not want the “benefits” of a foreign imposed colonial government.

And despite it all, the calls for foreign intervention and the foreign interventions themselves are never-ending. We are now involved in Kenya and Nigeria, and looks like we will get involved in Mali. Pundits and members of congress have even talked about the “threat” posed to the USA by events in Mali! Dear God, Mali is a tiny, impoverished country in the middle of the Sahara desert, if they are a “threat” to the USA then any country is a “threat” to the USA. This is crazy. And coming soon it seems, intervention in Syria. That will almost certainly cause problems elsewhere, Lebanon being the first example.

The second pillar of the USA’s failed policies is sanctions. Refusing to have diplomatic relationships with nations and hitting them with sanctions and international isolation almost never works. The last ten times it was tried, it worked once, in South Africa. And it only worked there because everyone in Africa knew that eventually a tiny white minority was going to have to share power with the rest of the citizens of the country. Other places it has been tried it has been a complete failure, in some cases for decades. Normalizing relations with China and Vietnam didn’t end the world, far from it. Yet somehow the idea that recognizing Iran, Cuba, or North Korea and actually having diplomatic relations with them is off the table? I’m getting really sick of hearing Obama (yeah, he’s a progressive, snort) claim that “all options are on the table.” What he means is “violence and threats are the only course of action we will pursue, diplomacy and peace are not on the table.”

And our corporate controlled media just regurgitates Washington’s propaganda and sound bites as if they were facts, while Americans watch American Idol and the beauty contest our election campaigns have turned into. At least there was debate about the invasion of Iraq, now it seems like almost every week the government launches some absurd new intervention overseas, and Americans couldn’t care less. Or worse, blame the victims of these policies, be they domestic or foreign. I think the final thing  recently that illustrated to me the psychotic inability of Washington to understand that it reaps what it sows, was Obama telling Mexico that the drug gang violence in their country was endangering relations with the USA. As if somehow the fact that the money, market, and weapons for all of the violent drug cartels on Mexico are primarily American. Basically, we are unable to stop Americans from funding and arming Mexican gangs … but it’s their problem? Jesus wept.

Or maybe it’s just me.

(The above image is claimed as Fair use under US copyright law. It’s from World of Tanks, a free online game that I waste a lot of time playing. So I recommend it. If one looks closely it does nicely illustrate the point of this post.)

Written by unitedcats

April 11, 2012 at 12:25 pm

The Kandahar Shootings: More Grim News from Afghanistan

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THREE VERSIONS

Version One, when I was 21:

A US soldier snapped under the pressure and went on a killing spree, gunning down at least 16 civilians in their homes as they slept. While this is a terrible thing, when it comes right down to it, the Afghans have only themselves to blame. It’s a primitive culture steeped in a  primitive religion, and despite being liberated from the Taliban and given a chance to be a modern democratic nation, many Afghans choose to blame their saviours and support the murderous Taliban. So it’s no surprise that the occasional American soldier, surrounded by a people who hate him and would kill him at the first opportunity, loses his cool. When the Afghans finally grow up and accept the gift of freedom and democracy, incidents like this won’t happen. .

Version Two, when I was 31:

A rogue American soldier, reportedly one who had had a mental breakdown, left his base in the middle of the night and killed at least 16 Afghan civilians in their homes. He was taken into custody when he returned to his base, and military officials have promised a full investigation. President Obama and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta phoned Afghan President Karzai to offer their condolences, Mr Obama said he would hold accountable anyone responsible for the “tragic and shocking” incident. Administration spokesmen took pains to point out that this was an isolated incident, and doesn’t reflect on the overall high quality of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, or the continuing success of their mission.

Version Three, today:

Look at the old fellow’s face. His grandfather fought the British. He and his father fought the Russians. He lost family both times. Now the Americans have taken more friends and family. I can’t imagine what he must be feeling. More innocent women and children murdered, slain by a soldier in an army that has no business being in Afghanistan in the first place. However much American war apologists want to wash their hands of this, we are all guilty of this crime. Our war with and occupation of Afghanistan are war crimes, because the USA and NATO control the UN and made this occupation “legal” doesn’t magically change right from wrong. In fact, it makes it even more wrong.

Conclusion:

War is sick and unnatural, and terrible things happen even in the most just of wars, which Afghanistan most definitely is not. There was a time during and after the Vietnam War when many Americans understood this, but war was way too profitable for the powers to be to let that continue. And here we are decades later, our “leaders” promising us war and more war … and delivering it. Will Americans wake up and stop this insanity before it descends into something that makes Vietnam look mild in comparison? Damned if I know, all I can do is be a voice for peace and hope for the best.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, is central to illustrating the post, and is arguably a historically important image. It’s use here in no conceivable way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and Copyright: AP or Reuters, I’ve seen it credited to both on different mainstream news web sites, even the big boys make mistakes sometimes.)

Written by unitedcats

March 12, 2012 at 8:56 am

JIEDDO, why we are losing the War on Terror in a nutshell

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I just found out about JIEDDO the other day. What is JIEDDO? It’s a government bureaucracy of course. Granted, that’s not very helpful. JIEDDO stands for Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization. It was created in 2006 and has a budget of about 3 billion dollars a year. What is JIEDDO’s mission? In their own words:

“The JIEDDO shall focus (lead, advocate, coordinate) all Department of Defense actions in support of the Combatant Commanders’ and their respective Joint task forces’ efforts to defeat IEDs as weapons of strategic influence.”

OK, they are tasked with doing something about IED deaths, which kill and maim American and coalition troops in Afghanistan in increasing numbers, they are insurgent’s weapon of choice against US forces.

So, why is this a problem? Why does this make me despair? I’ll try to explain. First off, this is what is called a downstream solution. And in this case, it’s about as downstream as it gets. A downstream solution is where one tries to fix a problem far away from the source by attacking the symptoms of the problem. It’s like fighting malaria by shooting mosquitoes instead of draining the swamp. No matter how effective a mosquito gun one develops, it’s unlikely to ever fully cope with the problem, and even if it does, the cost may outweigh the gain.

And IEDs are mosquitoes. IED means Improvised Explosive Device. Or as soldiers of old called them, booby traps. A booby trap runs the gamut from excrement smeared stakes in a pit to sophisticated pop-up aerial mines for downing helicopters … with a nearly infinite range of variation in between. And one gets booby traps wherever a significant local population doesn’t want foreign troops in their land. And we are getting huge numbers of them in Afghanistan, more every year in fact. Compared to the, well, zero, that were set for our troops in occupied Germany and Japan.

In other words, it’s like setting up an expensive government bureaucracy to find a solution for bullets. It’s really that silly. First of all, the military actually has people experienced with IEDs and dealing with them is part of their job. So why, exactly, is a huge bureaucracy in the United States going to enhance their efforts? It’s not of course, it’s just adding another layer of spending on top of the problem. Well, unless one believes in magic, which is basically what they are claiming. The idea is that they will be able to build some sort of high tech device that will eliminate or severely mitigate the threat. And if the people building IEDs were brain-dead sheep who never ever changed their designs no matter what, it might just work. Back in the real world, there are hundreds of different types of explosives, ways to detonate them, and ways to hide them. And when one mixes and matches to suit, one has an infinite variety of IEDs, with entirely new variations invented all the time.

And what has this over 20 billion dollar investment brought us so far? Well, nothing, really, unless one counts the fact that if anything they delayed US troops getting certain types of body armour. Yes, adding another layer of bureaucracy to an organization slows the organization’s response time. What they have accomplished is to carefully lay the groundwork for making sure they get budgeted forever. Not that it required much groundwork, since as I explained, as long as we are sending troops where the locals don’t want them, there will be booby traps.

This sadly is the kind of thinking that has permeated our entire government. “War profiteer” used to be a dirty word, when was the last time one heard it bandied about in the media? The war profiteers are now running our country, and things like the JIEDDO are a wonderful example of how they can spend huge amounts of money on nothing other than providing cover for endless war. Peace used to be a good thing, but war is apparently vastly more profitable. During World War Two when we had an actual enemy and an actual war, things like JIEDDO either got rooted out as wasteful during the war, or at died on the vine after the war. Well, at least some of them.

Or to put it in perspective, the USA has spent more on JIEDDO than it has spent on aid to Afghanistan, the country we ostensibly are trying to win the hearts and minds of. I do think it really does illustrate what the War on Terror’s priorities really are … making money off of war forever. I don’t think it’s going to end well, especially if Iraq is any indication. That blog is coming up.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law, and I think it’s public domain. I got it on a sharing site. It’s pretty self evident why I choose this picture, it made me laugh. Or at least chuckle slightly. JIEDDO also illustrates nicely how byzantine and self fulfilling our government has become, Kafka would have been proud.)

Written by unitedcats

March 7, 2012 at 8:57 am

Through Thick and Thin: Sure Happy It’s Thursday

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I was planning  posting a post about the Iraq War today, but alas it’s not finished. And it’s a post I want to be fairly polished before publishing, a war only ends once so I have to get it right. So … quick random burblings about whatever comes to mind in the hour before I have to head out into the rain to fix people’s plumbing. It’s going to be easy, becasue the world is going to hell in a hand basket, lots of bad news to choose from.

Things are going from bad to worse in Afghanistan. Hard to decide what is more disturbing, the media and government completely misrepresenting the situation, or the republicans almost gleefully using it to score political points against Obama. If chortling over American deaths can really be called scoring points, the republican party didn’t lose their moral compass, they are using it backwards. We may be forced to leave soon, it’s becoming clear that they all hate us, we didn’t have South Vietnamese troops turning their guns on Americans in Vietnam (not that I recall at least,) but it’s almost a daily occurrence in Afghanistan now.

Moving right along, the Republicans as part of their “abandon all morals ye who enter here campaign,” have more or less declared war on women, introducing new and increasingly misogynistic laws on almost a daily basis now. It’s about putting women back where they belong, in the homes breeding and raising children. Newt even just came out and said that women who use birth control are sluts. Same ol same ol, a guy who sleeps around is a stud, a gal who sleeps around is a slut. There’s even a holocaust denier and former American Nazi Party member trying to get on the Republican ticket in one state, though at least so far the Republicans aren’t going that far. Small comfort.

North Korea has agreed to stop enriching Uranium, allow international inspections of its nuclear facilities, and stop missile testing in exchange for food aid. It’s a good sign. I suspect the USA will put so many other preconditions on the deal that nothing will come of it, but who knows. I keep thinking that maybe somewhere in the primitive lizard brain that is now Washington is the dim perception that we can’t afford to police the whole world and that we need to actually dial back some of our overseas confrontations. What can I say, I’m the eternal optimist.

Syria is basically close to civil war at this point, peaceful demonstrations having given way to armed insurrection. Again as in Afghanistan, what a mess. Like all dictatorships in nations that don’t have a real national identity yet (it takes more than just drawing a line on a map to make a nation,) the rulers are very much all from the same religious and ethnic faction. So it’s as much a fight for the majority trying to get their share of the pie as it is a fight for freedom and democracy. I’m not even going to guess as to how it’s going to end, but I think it’s safe to say it isn’t going to be pretty.

And I’m pleased to end on a good note. All those bailouts and the stimulus plan have worked. Yes, the stock market is back to where it was before the crash! Isn’t that great, the people who destroyed the economy by accumulating ever higher piles of funny money at the top of the pyramid have all gotten their money back. And of course with the rich being super rich again, surely the trickle down theory will finally kick in and they will re-invest this wealth in America and we will all have good paying  jobs again soon! Yes, the American dream still lives.

(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s all over Facebook so I think I’m good. I don’t know who holds the copyright but the speaker is Anne Hathaway at the 2008 Human Rights Campaign Dinner. YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZuIdQVEVY0. I posted it because it illustrates a point about the gay marriage “debate” that numerous judges have now based their rulings on, the only objections people have to gay marriage are predicated on Biblical teachings. Prejudice is not a valid reason to deny people their rights. If gay weddings bother you, don’t go to them when invited.)

Through Thick and Thin

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Another week gone. The situation in the Middle East just gets worse. And I mean the greater Middle East when I say Middle East, including Iran and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the situation is acutely bad. Riots and demonstrations triggered by the burned Koran incident continue. And pathetically, many Americans simply regard this as “loony” rather than try to understand the far more difficult concept that  these people are reacting in a way that is entirely consistent with their cultural and historical context. If a hated decade long occupier in the USA  trashed some of America’s most sacred relics, Americans might riot too. In just a few weeks with just two brain dead incidents, the pissing on Taliban corpses and now this burned Koran thing,  the USA has given the Taliban a huge propaganda boost and undone much of whatever good we did in the country. Smooth move.

Syria is more or less in a civil war. And in the new world order, that means intervention, IE benevolent invasion. Somalia, same deal. More drone strikes, more interventions, more inability to grasp that there are problems you can’t kill your way out of. Well, at least without killing on a scale that hopefully even the most rabid pro-war American would blanch at. One can hope at least. I think wider war in the Middle East is inevitable at this point, has been really since the USA rolled into Baghdad.

And in the USA, the Republican race to see who gets eviscerated by Obama gets weirder all the time. The Republicans are doing what the Democrats did in 2004, they seem intent on running a candidate with zero crossover appeal. The more they pander to their extreme religious base, the more they guarantee Obama’s reelection. At least that’s my take on it at the moment, could be an interesting summer.

In science news, they seem to have discovered that the faster-than-light neutrinos measurement was due to an equipment malfunction. Seem to being the operative words here, testing continues. That they can’t pin it down precisely just yet is a great illustration of just how fine scientists are slicing reality these days, we are talking extremely thin slices. Sadly, a lot of media sites pounced on this to take cheap shots at science and scientists by making this seem like it was a simple as a loose VCR cable, reinforcing the worst negative stereotypes about scientists. And these days, with massive sophisticated organized efforts under way to deny science for both political and religious reasons, I find gratuitous attacks on scientists distressing.

The myth of eight hours sleep. This one is great. There seems to be a case to be made that it’s normal for humans to sleep for two periods at night with an activity period in between. Honestly, that’s pretty much my usual pattern. Many of these blogs are written between four and six in the morning, then I go back to bed for a few more hours. There’s probably a book that could be written about things that are commonly believed to be true, with little or no scientific basis. Dogs are mammals, apples are fruit, that sort of thing.

In a last little science tidbit, research is increasingly showing that humans are naturally cooperative, not competitive. There’s actually been a lot of research like this the past few decades. It gives me hope for the species, though organized government and religion loathe research like this, don’t expect it to be getting it into school curricula any time soon. Both organized government and organized religion are predicated on the meme that without them, people would do bad things. Can’t have people doubting that, they might actually start to wonder why organized government and religion get such a big slice of the pie.

Lastly, in local news, Berkeley had its second murder of the year. Basically a lunatic attacked a man who confronted him trespassing in the man’s yard. Infuriatingly, the Berkeley police didn’t respond to the first call because they were too busy “standing by” because an Occupy Oakland march was scheduled later that night. Yerp, a massive police presence has to “stand by” when a few hundred people engage in a  peaceful and legal protest, but actually protecting the public and doing their job, that gets short shrift. The media of course is having a field day blaming the protesters! That’s right folks, don’t dare engage in peaceful and legal protests, you might get someone killed!

The founding fathers are rolling in their graves at that sentiment. Have a great weekend everyone.

(The above image is believed to be Public Domain under US copyright law, but I will gladly amend if informed differently. The wild police over-reaction to OWS is a symptom of how far down the road to a police state this country has gone, if Washington had done their job the past few decades instead of selling the country out to the highest bidder, OWS wouldn’t be happening. Attacking protesters with riot police isn’t going to fix the problem.)

9/11 … The Maddened Elephant

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Just a few more hours and the tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be history. Of course in a  sense 9/11 will never be over, we have entire institutions and wars devoted to the memory of 9/11, and they aren’t going to slip quietly into the night. In a way, and not a good way, 9/11 is becoming a cult. I’m sick of it. 9/11 was like a rat biting an elephant on the snout. Yeah, it hurt like hell, and yeah it pissed us off. And we should have squashed the rat and carried on. Instead, we have spent ten years trumpeting and snorting wildly, wreaking havoc around us and wearing ourselves into exhaustion in the process. And even though a few months back we finally trampled on the rat that bit us, there’s no sign of an end to the madness.

Sigh. I’ve avoided most of the news today, but I did catch that Obama said that 9/11 “made us stronger.” No surprise there, this is the guy who claimed that Navy Seals gunning down an unarmed old man in his PJs was one of the “greatest military operations in US history.” Obama’s ability to utter the most egregious nonsense while appearing sober and presidential is what got him elected, and he’s clearly not lost his touch.

No, 9/11 did not make us stronger. Or to be more accurate, our response to 9/11 did not make us stronger, it made us weaker. The Bush administration and a compliant media encouraged the USA to hysterically over-react to 9/1, and we paid and are still paying a terrible price for it. A price in both treasure and blood, a price vastly greater than our losses on that day ten years ago. And the horrors we have inflicted on other lands in the name of 9/11, are these the actions of a Christian nation?

Our costs though. In treasure, it’s been enormous. Three trillion dollars at least for the cost of our wars and increased homeland “security.” And even if we ended the War on Terror tomorrow, there would still be trillions more to go in terms of veteran’s care in decades to come. This is money we didn’t have, it was borrowed from our grandchildren, plain and simple. There’s not any question that we got almost no economic benefit from this spending, aside from obscenely enriching the arms and security industry. This added debt is a huge part of why our economy is on the ropes, how the hell does piles of debt make a nation stronger?

Then there’s the cost in blood. Several tens of thousands of Americans have been killed and maimed in our wars, the actual numbers are muddy because the Pentagon works very hard to conceal and obfuscate them. And hundreds of thousands more veterans will have permanent psychological issues and trauma from their service, about one in three combat veterans never really get over it in one sense or another. This is a terrible cost by any measure, and for what? Propping up two of the world’s most corrupt field states? Sending Americans to die on the other side of the planet doesn’t make us stronger, it makes us weaker.

And then there’s the psychological cost. The hysteria mongering after 9/11 was among the most intense in history. The government left no stone unturned telling Americans that terrible monsters lurked everywhere, and that we had to give the government a blank check, including suspending some of our own freedoms, to fight this new menace or surely a falling airliner or a dirty bomb or germ warfare would be coming soon to a neighbourhood near them. And Americans, traumatized by the endlessly repeated sights of 9/11, fell for this twaddle by the tens of millions and gave the Bush administration the green light to seize control of the world’s oil. And it continues to this day, tens of millions of Americans dutifully regurgitate “our troops are fighting for our freedom” while the administration continues to weave tales of terror and death. Letting fear of a trivial enemy guide our national policy does not make us a stronger nation, it makes us a nation of cowards and sheep.

Lastly, I’m saddened and disgusted by what a narcissistic spectacle 9/11 and the “War on Terror” has become. It’s like when Commodus, the Emperor of Rome, took to fighting naked gladiatorial contests in the Colosseum. And charging the city staggering sums of money for the privilege. All right thinking Romans were horrified. The survivors and heroes of 9/11 should be mourning quietly and privately, not being paraded through the streets of Rome for the glory of the Empire.

It’s really that weird.

(The above image is claimed as Public Domain under US copyright law as it was painted in 1526. It’s a Painting titled “The Fall of the Rebel Angels” by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It’s just another way to articulate the situation we find ourselves in: America went mad on 9/11, and its going to get worse before it gets better.)

Written by unitedcats

September 11, 2011 at 10:09 pm

The myth of nation building, or why you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear

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Another Friday, another week of an all too fleeting life passed by, yadda yadda yadda.  And as is my wont, Friday is the day I burble about random or not so random nonsense that has crossed my mind or hurt my eyeballs the previous week. It’s been a pretty good week here in Berkeley, nice warm fall weather, but our plague of rodents continues. Never seen anything like it, one couple in my building has even been driven from their apartment by them. On the plus side, my orange cat is self feeding now. And immensely popular with the neighbours, I’ve literally heard people cheering him in the yard as he trots home with yet another rat or mouse in his jaws.

Moving right along, nation building. Now I’ve always known this was more propaganda than reality. People initially loved giving the analogy of Germany and Japan after World War two, and how they turned into modern nations under  US occupation. However, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, Germany and Japan were already modern nations, so the US occupation had nothing to do with them becoming nations. Iraq and Afghanistan are lines drawn on a map by nineteenth and early twentieth century colonial powers, and have little or no identity as nations. The idea that they would magically transform into modern (western compliant!) nations under US tutelage was at best insanely optimistic.

The best illustration of this is communism. Most people by now are aware that a centrally planned economy doesn’t work. The utter failure of the world’s communist nations during decades of communism attests to that quite nicely. So OK then, if a centrally planned economy doesn’t work, how does going one step higher and having a centrally planned nation going to work? It can’t of course, it’s even more absurd than trying to centrally plan an economy. In any event this article, Can a Nation be Built?, gives some nice background and context to this idea, it’s where I got it from.

In local news the American Tea Party movement and Republicans have announced a “Pledge to America” where they outline their party’s goals. I tried to read it but frankly it was pretty painful. All sorts of flowery stuff about getting back to the nation’s founding principles, followed by what appears to be basically a promise to completely re-institute every single policy of the Bush years. Yes, the party that brought us the greatest expansion in government in the history of the world is now going to make government smaller. When asked what actual programs or departments are going to be cut, it’s well, um, er, we’ll get back to you on that.

Americans have to be pretty stupid if they think the Republicans are going to cut government spending and make government smaller. I’m beginning to think actually that Americans are the stupidest people on earth, because every election both parties trot out the same old lies and broken promises … and people still swallow them and think they are voting for change. Nothing is going to change with either the Republicans or Democrats in power. Borrow and spend will continue, and our military juggernaut will continue to expand and build bases and buy weapons for wars that are never going to be fought. Till the whole edifice collapses under it’s own unsustainable weight.

I think one of the most incredible absurdities of all this is how the idea that cutting taxes for the rich is going to create jobs. This canard has been repeated so often that people actually seem to believe it. Listen very carefully, when rich people and rich executives get a  tax break, what do you think they are going to do with the money? They are going to keep it, not run out and hire people. If you give poor people money, they will run out and spend it and stimulate the economy. If you give rich people money, it goes in an offshore account. This isn’t rocket science, it’s just human nature. You can’t make America richer by transferring wealth upwards, but apparently the Republicans are going to keep on trying.

So yeah, I’ve become pretty disillusioned with what passes for politics in the USA. I’m with John Galt, frequent commenter, the whole nation and economy is such a gargantuan mess that it’s all going to collapse under its own weight. You can’t build a future or an economy by borrowing and spending endless amounts of money, but apparently we’re still trying. Then there’s the whole problem of trying to kill our way out of the mess we made in Iraq and particularly Afghanistan. History has not been kind to people who tried to kill their way out of the ridiculous situations their politicians got them into, but they sure can try. “War is Murder” is a nice overview of some of the folly this engenders.

On the plus side there hasn’t been another 9/11 yet. Boy, that’s gonna be fun when it happens. Have a great weekend everybody.

(The above image, The Tower of Babel, was painted by Pieter Bruegel in 1563 and is thus safely Public Domain under US copyright law. I chose if for obvious reasons, it’s a nice analogy for both nation building in general, and the incredible government/military structure the US is ever expanding in hopes of achieving world domination, whatever that’s supposed to mean. I’ll be using more Pieter Bruegel images, I like his style. Next week, an unsolved historical carpentry mystery and other random nonsense.)

Written by unitedcats

September 24, 2010 at 9:07 am

USMC General Warns Obama that Pulling Troops out of Afghanistan is Encouraging the Taliban

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Yes, that’s right, the head of the USMC, general James Conway, has warned that President Obama’s deadline to begin pulling troops out of Afghanistan is encouraging the Taliban. Anyone who knows anything about how the military works should be worried right now. What this general has done is called insubordination, his job is to implement the orders he receives from the commander in chief. For him to publicly criticize the commander-in-chief’s orders is not in any way implementing them. He should be immediately reprimanded, if not cashiered. That he can get away with this, and sadly since at least Clinton America’s generals have been more and more publicly critical of the president, is a scary sign for the republic and our democracy. This isn’t a freedom of speech issue. When someone joins the military they take an oath to follow the military’s rules. And the military is a totally hierarchal organization where one of the primary rules is that if a superior gives an order, your response is expected to be “Right away, sir.” If a subordinate has an issue with an order he is given, or the policies of his superior, he is expected to bring it up in private. To publicly criticize the president is what got General’s Macarthur and McCrystal fired, General Conway should be no different.

Sadly, the military seems to be more and more calling the shots in the USA, and it’s gotten worse under Obama. The framers of the Constitution made the President the Commander-in-Chief of the military for very good reason, they knew damn well that the more power one gives the military, the more likely one is to be involved in endless wars. Not to mention the dangers of the military meddling in politics. We’ve forgotten that one of the inspirations for independence even was staying out of the endless wars that wracked Europe at the time. And more on point, despite all sorts of patriotic nonsense, the military is a gang. And gang members are loyal to the gang first, not the country.  There are exceptions, but when it comes to high ranking military officers, the exceptions are few and far between. And when it comes to the utterly politicized modern US military, as far as I can tell our general officer corps is devoted to their careers and the military above all else.

Sigh. The fact that people aren’t frightened by this, or other recent incidents, is also scary. General Petraeus has been for all practical purposes giving Obama orders lately. This sort of crap started under Clinton. (A lot of our imperial excesses started under Clinton actually.) Shortly after he got into office Colin Powell gave a press conference where he publicly criticized Clinton’s promise to integrate gays into the military. He should have been cashiered, or at the very least publicly reprimanded. Instead we got the horrific “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. Horrific because it resulted in a huge increase of people being kicked out of the military for being gay. Oddly enough the Fundamental Christianization of the military seems to have really started to get traction around then, a scary process that continues to this day. Why is is scary? Because armies are supposed to defend the country, not the faith.

Lastly, what gets me about General Conway’s comments, is that they are divorced from reality. The Taliban isn’t scouring the western media and basing their morale on what Obama says. They are fighting to get a foreign invader out of their homeland, they don’t give a rat’s ass about our morale or motivations. They will keep fighting until they achieve their aim, one way of the other. This isn’t a goddamn football game, we aren’t going to win by talking tough and sticking it out. That never works in a war. It does sometimes work in politics though, and this is more proof of just how much our policies, both internal and external, are now driven entirely by domestic politics. Americans are dying in Afghanistan and all our leaders do is jockey for political positioning about same.

What’s gonna be interesting is sooner or later there’s likely to be some terrible catastrophe that brings the whole house of cards down. And I pray that if there is such an event, it’s a fall of Saigon type of event as opposed to a 9/11 event. The former with any luck will lead to a more restrained foreign policy that is about defending the USA, not maintaining a world wide Empire. The later could lead to a police state and very possibly a pogrom against millions of Americans as our leaders blame their failure to prevent disaster on imagined internal enemies, not their own incompetence and foreign adventures.

Maybe I’m being a pessimist, but I think at this point it’s safe to say that the neocon wet dream of America’s crusades abroad leading to grateful natives sweeping away their governments and installing western style “democratic” governments … is dead in the water.  Or dead on the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan. It was, basically, an almost infantile fantasy to begin with. I’m beginning to wonder if that’s all politics is, children who never got tired of playing with toy soldiers, and never really grew up.

Strange days.

(The above image was produced by the US State Department and is thus Public Domain under US copyright law. It’s General Macarthur and President Truman in happier days. It was a hell of a thing for Truman to fire Macarthur, he was a hero of two wars. I don’t know if it was a bad thing or a good thing, but that fact that it was possible is a good thing. Still, times change. Petraeus is no Macarthur, and sure as hell Obama is no Truman.)

Written by unitedcats

August 25, 2010 at 7:02 am

Posted in History, Obama, Politics

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