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Archive for the ‘Global Affairs’ Category

Brussels …

Seeing or hearing children in pain or danger is something that has come to cause me physical pain since I’ve become a parent and I’m sure most people feel the same way and have to do something to overcome the feelings of base impotence. Turning your rage on Muslims (or giving power to those who tell you it’s OK to do so) is one of those things you would likely be tempted to do. It’s wrong. It shows an incapacity to understand your own place in the world. It narrates the innocent into guilt by association. And worst of all, it doesn’t even show comprehension of the nature of the attack today, which in Brussels specifically concerns a matter of assimilation of minority communities. Trying to recreate those conditions here does no favor to the living and does not honor the dead. My heart goes out to Brussels, as an American and as a person who has lived in a city targeted by terrorists.

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Je Suis Paris

scan0020I’m hurting for Paris right now. Though lots of people are, I think New Yorkers who lived through 9/11 (and maybe those in Madrid and Mumbai) are feeling it perhaps a bit more acutely. There’s something about living in a big city. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t just make you some jaded creep. You live every day as a certain trust exercise with people in very close proximity. You constantly meet people with different accents and languages and backgrounds and amazing life histories if you bother to ask them questions. To negotiate this kind of maze requires humility and respect and reserve. You are all sitting on top of each other in sometimes cramped conditions and you have to make it work, and that requires in many ways boundless optimism. Your body comes to know patience and forbearance and you marvel that something so big and complex can work at all. To be that close to people and to have members of a sick cult betray that trust, violently, is something that made me physically ill after Sept. 11. And I felt it a little bit again tonight after seeing the images from Paris, a beautiful city I once visited and hope to again.Eiffel Tower

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Is This A Joke?

I didn’t know Ignatius T. Reilly was a real person. But evidently he is and he’s writing for The New York Times now.

I’m still trying to decide whether this article is an elaborate joke played on the Times. In it, an apoplectic op-ed columnist opines that David Patraeus is a phony because he dresses well and sometimes rides around in a jet. A real general, we are reminded, eats nails for breakfast and kills people with their bare hands. Like Patton. Also, Patraeus did not conquer Iraq. The author does not explain what that would entail, exactly. It’s not occupying Iraq, evidently, nor purging its dictator. I guess it means we should have killed everybody there. I’m just guessing. But at the very least, it means you are not ever allowed to flirt with any woman, so I assume that warriors don’t have a sex drive or if they do it is completely sublimated into the act of vivid Normandy style ultraviolence at all times. Also, real men don’t floss.

Is this the rant of some guy from the local bowling alley? No. Evidently the writer was embedded with Patraeus in Iraq and is I guess still smarting that the general did not share his entire war strategy with him. The journalist certainly had the right to be offended. I’m sure he didn’t come across as pushy, choleric or passing strange. Not from what I can tell of his trenchant, and not remotely confused torrent of boy taunts. I don’t have a dog in the Petraeus fight. I don’t care whom he screwed or if he retires, nor blame him for the hopelessly politicized wars we’ve undertaken in the Muslim world. I would feel a bit protective of the general, however, if, say, a random homeless person approached him on the street wanting to Indian wrestle, which is kind of what this writer sounds like.

There are a lot of covetous journalists who would love to prize away precious New York Times white space and fill it up with their own kaleidoscopic musings. We are a jealous bunch, we writers. So I hope this does not sound catty when I say I am completely befuddled at how an unfocused pub rant without almost any facts in it somehow spilled like dark bitter onto the paper of record. Either the author knows somebody there, he filibustered a tired editor or (again, my favorite suspicion) this is an elaborate prank. If it’s not, it’s probably the the worst article I’ve ever read in the Times. Ever. And remember, I’ve read Judy Miller’s article where she said she saw a scientist off in the distance pointing at the ground where Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction components were buried. It’s so bad, I’m feeling a wee bit less jealous.

If you want a real story about Petraeus and are ready to leave go the lip-biting sex gossip and windy conspiracy theories, check out Robert Wright’s piece in The Atlantic. If you remember how awful the CIA was some 40 years ago, Wright reminds you that with a little human ingenuity and coalescing of power, it could indeed be awful again.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

This is a bit of an update to yesterday’s post. The cowards at “The Rumpus” didn’t post my comment. So you can officially file that site under the heading “Glib, small-dicked wussies masquerading as dissenters but secretly afraid of dissent.” Yes, a cumbersome file name, but I’m not much of a bureaucrat.

Again, I’m not one for sad anniversaries, but I have noticed that I do commemorate 9/11 in a very special way. Every year, I seem to become a Republican for a day. This isn’t by design; it simply seems to be the nature of the arguments I have. When far leftists tend to discuss Sept. 11, they usually have one of two problems: 1) Even if they kindly acknowledge it as a mass murder (thanks, pinkos!), they still have to carefully couch their language so that it meets the prescriptive of their doctrinaire worldview (America’s behavior on the world stage means this action was understandable). Or 2) They deny we were attacked altogether and insist 9/11 was an inside job.

I tried to pulverize that first argument yesterday, though I left out a couple of side notes: If the writer for the Rump Ass considered his “compassionate celestial” view more carefully, he would have realized that a celestial view isn’t a compassionate one at all. It’s simply indifferent. I would challenge the writer to interview a family member of one of the 9/11 victims, to ask specifics of how their loved one died, and then dare ask the question: “Did you know, when your husband ran back into the building to save those last three people on the stairwell, who America was giving money to in El Salvador in 1983?” As it happens, I did interview family members after 9/11. It caused me great anguish because I felt their pain in many ways was none of my business. I should have known, however, that I was helping keep their memories alive. This clod at The Rump Ass, however, brags about his unfamiliarity with those who died, and therefore his Wittgenstein-like refusal to speak of things he knows not. It’s for a very simple reason. If he ever had to interview a family member or write a profile of somebody at Cantor Fitzgerald who died instantly and had never even heard the name Osama Bin Laden, he would go back and look at the horrible article he wrote for the Rump Ass and he would destroy it. He would print it out and dip it in kerosene and burn every word and bury the ashes in quicklime. And he would have wished to god he had not spoken with such glibness and vanity about compassion being selective. He would have realized he traded empathy for doctrine. This guy says, 150,000 people died around the planet on 9/11, so why are 2700 Americans special? Should I similarly disregard anybody who died in Rwanda in 1994 because each of those days saw thousands of deaths elsewhere? Does it not bear remarking that most people don’t die horrifically everyday for political reasons when they are struck down by machetes or trapped in buildings that have turned into ovens? The Rwandans just wanted to kill each other, so why should I care or hope my government should do anything about it? If the author chooses not to show compassion for political reasons on 9/11, then he would have to spread that dispassionate view equally to Rwandans. Can he? Would he?

But let’s look at No. 2, the 9/11 Truthers. I was once working with a filmmaker from Germany on a Long Island movie, and we hit it off. Then on the subway ride home he tried to convince me that no men in caves could have brought down the Twin Towers, and that it was obviously a controlled demolition. I was thoroughly disgusted. It was a bit like finding out you’ve hit it off with a racist or an anti-Semite or a cannibal. One of the first things any engineer, philosopher, writer, linguist, philologist or doctor would know in his respective field is the rule of simplicity. It’s called Occam’s Razor and it means you don’t overcomplicate simple insight to fit a theory. Engineers don’t try to improve on the Pythagoras theorem by changing the numbers in gravity. Writers don’t come up with a hundred jargon words to say “The dog walked down the street.” Doctors don’t triple check a broken arm by opening a person’s heart. And a real thinker doesn’t remove the plane from a plane crash. This is logic so simple that my infant son would know it. And yet every time I’m on this here CB radio called the Internet I must confront people who say that the Twin Towers were brought down in an inside job, theoretically because g-men had days and days and days to plan and ably overcame bureaucracies and witnesses not noticing the tons of explosives being placed around the complex. The smoking gun: George Bush wanted war in Iraq. Therefore he destroyed the towers. There. It’s proved.

The fact that so many Americans believe this is truly chilling. These people are also, we presume, driving cars and raising children and handling knives. If you point out the fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc, they have the easiest retort in the world–they simply add you to the plot. Dehumanize you and your argument. George Bush has programmed you. It doesn’t occur to them that if you simply agreed with them to avoid confrontation, you would be much more of an automaton, much more a tool of somebody else’s will.

Why do people complicate simple insights? Helplessness. When the world seems bigger than you are, when you personalize complex events and the world makes you feel small, vulnerable, feckless and inferior, a conspiracy theory is one of those things that gives you false sense of power. You are suddenly part of a group of people who know a secret. Having joined a group, having become a joiner in the worst sense of the word, you ironically enjoy a feeling of false emancipation. You think you are a free thinker, even though you haven’t done the work free thinking requires: due diligence, proving steps, finding chains of causality, finding the simplest explanations. Having your ideas put up to scrutiny.

It is doubly repulsive because the Truthers, I think, are the people who made the world safe for another detestable “-er,” the Birther movement. I see these two buds inextricably intertwined like roses on a trellis. It was the Truthers who created a toxic polemical environment where even proof of Barack Obama’s citizenship with a birth certificate was no longer proof. Witnesses were no longer witnesses. Hospitals are no longer hospitals. Hawaii is no longer a state.  The real insight is that Barack Obama is black, and so how could he be president, ask the Birthers, of “our” country. The same logic is at play with Truthers. “George Bush wanted a war, so how could 9/11 have really been plotted by the people like Islamist extremists who made categorical confessions of their own guilt?”

The rest is window dressing. Truthers pull out lots of meaningless specific heat capacity calculations to prove their theory that paper fires don’t melt steel. You try to tell them that steel doesn’t have to melt in order to stop doing its job, and for that you’ll get called a Manchurian candidate. Or they point out that falling debris can’t fall down on top of more debris with the speed of gravity because the building itself is “the path of least resistance.” In other words, the Twin Towers should have fallen over on their sides if they were destroyed by planes. Never mind that a house of cards wouldn’t fall over “on its side” if you knocked it down. Never mind that if you watch videos, the impact points of destruction start from the top and move down, where the falling floors cumulatively add new destructive weight, whereas controlled demolitions start from the bottom (using gravity as a weapon, perhaps the best weapon). Raise your hand if you saw the Twin Towers crumble from the bottom.

But again, by getting into these arguments, you remove the planes (some people actually try to do that too, by making 9/11 the world’s greatest advertisement for PhotoShop ever). To remove the planes makes you a non-thinker. A partisan who places himself at the center of a paranoid web of strange facts and non-facts. I’d feel better frankly, if many of these people just admitted they were lying. Then they would merely be scumbags. Instead, they poison the sort of thinking required of enlightened individuals to synthesize, dialectically, a better world. They’re making us all stupider.

I thought to further my contribution to a better world, I might offer some of the better Web sites debunking the Truthers. Here is one from a site called “Implosion World.” They say they are independent. So to Truthers, that means they’re probably part of the plot.

And then there’s this wonderful YouTube video that gives common sense descriptions of what happened when the planes hit the towers. If you are a non-Truther, I bid you a nice time enjoying your brain.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

It’s human nature to politicize things that ought not be politicized–even the weather. I have personally come to believe that politics is not evil incarnate or the instrument of the devil, as Bob Dylan once put it, but as natural a process as cell division in biology. Some day, a scientist will show the direct parallels between a cell’s meiosis and a polity dividing. It starts with memes, symbols, words, and codes. Soon, people are debating, disagreeing, self-identifying and self-segregating around those semions, just as surely as haploid cells divide in meiosis. Because I’m not a scientist, I had to content myself with writing a novel about this process. It’s called “The Ghost and the Hemispheres,” and I’m shopping it to agents now.

But we are political and we do seek out political differences, perhaps because of a genetic imperative to innovate. That’s why I should have expected a horrible, recrudescent strain of 9/11 backlash articles like this shitty one. Like a good leftist speaking in the codes of his faith, just like Michele Bachman does to her flock, the guy runs at the mouth with a lot of the same predictable schtick about the evils of American exceptionalism. Not stopping to figure out that it was outsiders who decided to single us out in 2001.

Maybe I should confess that I agree with 20% of the piece, specifically the idea of Sept. 11 as a dubious cultural rallying point. I have not been much enamored of the 10th year anniversary memorials for 9/11. The author calls it the “pornography of grief,” which is a nice touch. But mostly he slips into the kind of pedantic, “told-you-so” moralism that characterized the far-left writings after 9/11. Lest we forget, this kind of attitude smeared the entire left wing in 2002 and 2003 and allowed warmongers to launch their immoral war because they could easily con the political center into thinking everybody on the left was crazy. As a left-winger, I get pretty torn up when liberals are wrong, as many of them were when they said the United States deserved the attacks in New York and Washington for all of its sins. I’m sure there’s a folksy phrase for this fallacy: Maybe killing Peter to pay back Paul.  So I wrote this long tirade in the comments section of the Web site:

“This is an execrable piece. A piece that trades one fell morality for another like chips in a poker game, when in fact, as none of you can evidently see, the writer is willing to abdicate his morality altogether to settle petty political scores. He is unwilling to apply a simple categorical imperative that the murder of thousands of innocent people for religious reasons is wrong. If you think the Iraq war was wrong, as I do, for the simple reason that the United States wasn’t attacked by Iraq, then you must be willing to assert that the murder of thousands of Americans in for one man’s specious political calculation and religious chauvinism was wrong. The idea that “they hate us for our freedom” is stupid. The idea that Osama Bin Laden’s motive was the freedom of the Palestinians, whom most of the Arab world regularly spits on, is just as stupid. Bin Laden built himself up on American power and then turned on it. He decided to make thousands of Americans victim of an internecine squabble with his own government. To make him the moral voice of the oppressed Vietnamese or the Chileans is an act of stunning stupidity. But let’s talk about your celestial view. Isn’t Putting 9/11 into “perspective” a bit like putting the Manson murders into “perspective”? Yes, it was sad that a pretty pregnant lady got stabbed, but Charles Manson was right, the black people are oppressed, while rich white people are drinking champagne. This article offers the supreme intellectual dishonesty that anybody who lives in the United States and is willing to walk into a tall building, even to work, is worthy of being burned to death by jet fuel or defenestrated from the 87th floor for what has happened in Nicaragua, East Timor, Panama, Angola, El Salvador and Vietnam. There is no philosophy or ethics or morality that wouldn’t collapse under the weight of this viewpoint, and for the author to invoke unnamed children dying in huts is particularly pitiful; he’s not making the point that people should be equal but that misery should be. It’s anti-humanism at its worst. And if the author stops to think about it, it’s also an imperialist outlook. He’s not speaking FOR anybody. He’s just speaking against the United States as a sometime participant. And knee-jerk anti-patriotism is just as bad as knee-jerk patriotism. You all let that sink in. If you can. We all grieve in different ways; some of us get over it more quickly than others. I live in New York and did not choose to watch all the coverage tonight because I don’t want my grief to be preserved in amber. But if somebody else decides they want to be part of the grief–to give to charities, to comfort friends or to simply imagine that it could have been them (because if you’re an American, it could have been), then that’s his choice. If you decided that you did not belong to a country that day, that’s fine too. But be warned: you’re sounding a lot like a Tea Partier, who gets to pick and choose when he belongs to a commonwealth or the human race. The Tea Partier may decide to opt out when its time to help fund health care for everybody, but you, my friend, have decided to opt out when it comes time to show pain for 2700 people dying all at once. So today, you have made the Tea Party look good, the left look bad, and put your hatred on display for all to see. I only hope they can.”

I don’t normally read this site, and I don’t usually pick fights on bulletin boards, but usually keep my polemics to myself at this, your 24-hour Rasmussen station. But when my Facebook friends on the left started coughing up some of the old shit from their scarred lungs, I decided to go ahead and speak up. To lie down and do nothing while somebody is selling you a bill of goods is … un-American. And on certain occasions, I’m proud to be one.

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The 9/11 Tribute In Light

Here’s something I don’t post very often: A story I wrote almost ten years ago–five short bios of rescue workers who died at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. As I posted last year in a more personal account, the Sept. 11 attacks caused me, at the time a not-so-serious journalist, to confront a more serious world. One of the hardest things I was asked to do by editors at the time was call up bereaved families while the story was still in progress. For a long time, I shrank from that task. Chasing grief was not something I had ever wanted to do as a writer in New York City; all I had ever wanted to do was be creative. But with mayhem all around, with ashes of the iconic towers snowing down on my neighborhood and with no real idea of what I was doing, I had to finagle a subway ride into Manhattan and go interview people. I had to come to grips with my limited talents and see if there was something (anything?) I could offer the world as a writer to deal with something so monstrous and inhuman when I’d led my life before chasing whimsy. One wonders at a time like that how competent he is, how necessary in the vast scheme of things, when all around there is need and he hasn’t prepared himself. One wonders, I hate to say, about things he hoped he’d never have to, even about topics he’d shunned since his teen years. I wondered for a time what is masculinity, and would I have served the world better as a warrior or a burly firefighter rather than a cowering writer in my garret. These are the psychological wounds that 9/11 inflicted on some of us, too.

And as I confronted these problems, nearly wanting to collapse with heartache, instead, I made myself write something; I made myself be part of the world.I’d ask you to click the first link to see the brave men (and women!) who didn’t have to think about it, because they were too busy acting on instinct to save people, and for that died.

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On Tuesday, the United States’ East Coast was struck by a 5.8 earthquake centered in Virginia that sent tremors all the way up to New Hampshire and all the way down to South Carolina. It’s the worst earthquake the East Coast has seen in decades.

Is that an earthquake?
Or twenty secretaries
Coming back from lunch?

Thought I lived in the
New York City Area
Not San Francisco

I was in Red Bank.
My office mate thought I was
Kicking my desk hard

Is that an earthquake
Or do you always kick things
When you are thinking?

No dams have broken
But water sloshed in glasses
Says the New York Times

Buildings swoon, neighbors
hug; no wait, they are hugging
Cause the Dow Jones jumped

Day of infamy:
America mourns the loss
of prized knickknacks

If I die in Red
Bank, it won’t be the quakes but
crossing the damn street

FEMA probably
Stayed on vacation I guess.
What’s the point, really?

If you didn’t sleep
Through it, you are likely
Forever changed.

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