Archive for September 2011
I’m a white guy and I don’t claim to understand what it means to be black in the United States although I try. I grew up in a house with a father who worked with black people and spoke about them using an assortment of epithets. When I referred to my late father as a bigot, my elderly mother was shocked and defended him saying that he didn’t have a problem with black people just those he worked with. I grew up in a different era after the Civil Rights struggle had been won, raised by a mother who cultivated a conscience within me, one based on the morality of her strong Roman Catholic faith mixed with egalitarianism arising from her German work ethic. My political heroes were men like Martin Luther King Jr., FDR and Abraham Lincoln. My favorite baseball player electrified the diamond whenever he made it to base: Lou Brock. And the music I listened to with my friends as we explored the woods surrounding our suburban neighborhoods: rap pioneers Grandmaster Flash, the Gap Band and Kurtis Blow.
But appreciating black culture doesn’t mean that I understand what it means to be black. Living in Japan I was regularly discriminated against because I was a foreigner, and that gave me an insight into what it must be like. I’d walk into a store and the clerk behind the counter would watch me suspiciously afraid that I would steal something (and afraid I’d speak English to him). Newspapers regularly insinuated that foreigners were behind all crime even though statistically 95% was carried out by native Japanese. Restaurants with empty seats that I entered suddenly became “full.” Landlords refused to rent an apartment to my wife and I, so the rental agent who assisted us resorted to calling prospective landlords and asking them flat out, “Are you willing to rent to Americans?” After 25 or 30 we found one willing to take the $8,000 bribe known euphemistically as “key money” (reikin) and rented to us. At the English Language school I taught at one of the teachers had been warned not to date a Japanese girl. A few days after that warning he was assaulted by a biker gang and nearly killed, spending 3 weeks in the hospital. For four years there I was a subject of scorn and fascination wherever I went, and it took several years after leaving Japan for me to regain my perspective and love of the Japanese and their culture. But escape from that racist environment was only a plane ticket away, and for a variety of reasons I chose to live there. I recognize that isn’t an option for black Americans.
I lived in a very isolated place in Tanzania for a year and that showed me the limits of skin color. The people I associated with shared the same skin color but were very different. The Tongwe tribe that I lived with had avoided Arab slavers during the 15th-19th centuries by hiding in the mountains. They had been forced off the mountains and their small villages into large towns of mixed tribes during President Nyerere’s socialist collectivization experiment known as Ujamaa. They were very poor and viewed as backward by the other tribes, especially the Chagga, the tribe making up most of Tanzania’s ruling elite. I noticed these differences whenever I traveled up Lake Tanganyika from our research site to Kigoma with some Tongwe I hired as guides and helpers. They were quite uncomfortable in town, and acted in the way you would expect someone from Iowa might after stepping foot for the first time in Manhattan, and relied upon me to deal with government officials and merchants even though my command of Swahili was rudimentary. At the time I was noticing the differences between tribes in Tanzania, I was also exposed to the aftermath of the greatest genocide since the Killing Fields in Cambodia. Outside of Kigoma refugee camps had been set up for the Hutus who escaped to northern Tanzania after the Tutsi took over of Rwanda, ending the Hutu’s slaughter there. There was no difference in skin color between Hutu and Tutsi – but like the Tongwe and Chagga they came from cultures different enough to cause trouble. To the Tongwe that meant a lower standard of living and subservience to the Chagga; to the Tutsis it meant slaughter on a horrific scale.
Skin color hasn’t mattered in other conflicts either. Consider the Troubles in Ireland. There is not a spot of difference in skin tone between the Irish Republicans and the Irish Unionists. You could take DNA from both and find that the two had the same genetic makeup. But that didn’t stop them from killing each other for almost a thousand years. The two groups are culturally distinct however, and that is what matters most to them. The two groups even pronounce the letter “H” differently; simply reciting the alphabet would betray one’s unionist or republican sympathies, a tactic used by the paramilitaries on suspected spies.
So if skin color doesn’t matter in places like Africa, why should it be valued so highly by African-Americans in the United States?
Barack Obama has skin the same color as African-Americans, but he does not share their culture. Obama was raised by white women and attended schools that weren’t available to most African-Americans. He has lived in a predominantly white culture over his entire professional career, that of liberal white academia, which is why when he tries to sound “black” he sounds as phony as a white guy talking “street.” Obama grew up in Hawaii and Indonesa, not Detroit and Philadelphia. The only streets he knew were the quiet suburban ones that his grandmother lived on – not the streets alive with the scent of ethnic cooking, rap music and occasional police sirens.
In 2008 Barack Obama was black and his election to the presidency was a milestone in our history because it was the first time America elected a president having black skin. But America didn’t elect an African-American. It elected a liberal Democrat that happened to have black skin.
To Barack Obama that should be enough to placate the African-American community. He garnered 90+% of the community’s vote in 2008, and expects the same support in 2012. For the past 3 years he has done nothing more for the community. In fact he has put in place policies that make black unemployment worse such as his administration’s refusal to close the border with Mexico. Illegal immigrants don’t compete for jobs held by white people in investment banks; they compete with jobs held by African-Americans at factories and construction sites.
Why? He believes he has the African-American vote in his pocket be he has to compete with the Republicans for the Hispanic vote.
Until the 1960’s Democratic Party was a bastion of unreconstructed racists. Today the party practices the racism of low expectations and the assumption that African-Americans are best served by the culture of liberal whites and too stupid to learn otherwise. Republicans, the party of emancipation, once received the lion-share of the black vote. It receives only a few percent and has written off even attempting to garner support from the community.
That is a shame for both Republicans and African-Americans. Columnist John Hall gives 5 good reasons why African-Americans should reconsider their knee-jerk support of the Democratic Party, including the one I mention above: they are taken for granted. GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain has gone so far as to claim that the Democrats have brainwashed black Americans into voting for them. If true, it’s time for African-Americans to wake up and wield the power they have to control their destiny.
The American Jewish community is waking up to the damage their support has done to one of their most important causes: Israel. The Republican Party supports Israel in such a big way that it scares liberals who believe that peace in the Middle East can only be achieved by Israel giving up more land for Palestinians – to launch rockets and mortars from judging by the Israeli experience after its withdrawal from Gaza. American Jews are questioning whether their socialist economic policies that are anathema to the GOP are more important to them then unwavering GOP support for Israel. Simply by questioning whether they should continue to allow themselves to be taken for granted by a party that appeases Israel’s enemies they improve their status as viewed by both parties. The Jews are now in play for the 2012 whereas the African-American community is not. Yet.
Blacks need to put their votes in play for the 2012 election. They need to honestly reevaluate the GOP and see whether the party will give them more for their support than the Democrats. Merely by doing so they will force the Democrats to respond and improve their status within the political sphere.
African-Americans need to recognize that skin color is shallow, and it is time in the immortal words of Martin Luther King jr. for politicians to “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The GOP has also been reconsidering its relationship to the black community. Two of its rising stars are Herman Cain and Congressman Alan West. Both men happen to be black, but you wouldn’t know it judging by the support they garner among whites. They symbolize the demise of racism even as white liberals call them racists.
Liberals want to keep black Americans down. They want them to remain dependent on government programs that the liberals can control. The moment African-Americans like Cain, West or even Bill Cosby question this control, the liberals slap the word racist on them. That is the liberal way of dealing with “uppity n———” just as their Democratic forefathers in the South resorted to the lash.
UPDATE: Lloyd Marcus takes O’Donnell to task, “Arrogant White Liberal Tells Cain How To Be Black.”
It is an undeniable fact of life that mountains are always beautiful. Dr. Wife’s beeper had gone off at the Waffle House so she made a quick cell phone call. Instead of leisurely finishing off our breakfast served by a harried elderly waitress, we headed up the two lane state highway through the foothills and up the Blue Ridge mountains to the hamlet of Sparta where a woman’s death certificate waited to be signed.
She had been a woman in her early 60’s from France who had met a GI and returned with him to the county in North Carolina where he had been born. There she settled down to raise her children and later, her grandchildren. Her husband had passed away years ago, leaving her alone in her small cottage nestled in a mountain valley. After the decades spent living in the United States she had never managed to rid herself of her French accent, which, when added to the southern accent she naturally became accustomed to through the years, made her speak English with an Acadian or Cajun-sounding accent. Dr. Wife loved the way she spoke.
Dr. Wife met her patient for the first time in July after she came to her with back pain in her tailbone. While talking with the woman, Dr. Wife became suspicious that the pain was more than a bruise or muscle strain as had been diagnosed elsewhere. Such pain doesn’t linger or worsen over a period of months as the pain had for her patient, so she ordered a CT scan. At first the woman’s insurance company refused to cover the procedure, forcing Dr. Wife to justify the procedure in a lengthy phone call with the insurance company. It relented and the procedure was done.
The CT scan was clear: her body was filled with cancer. It cancer had begun in the lung and metastasized to the liver and later to the bottom of the spine. In fact it had eaten away a large hole in the woman’s coccyx, and the Wife was furious because the woman must have been in terrible pain. People in the mountains are different, she says; they don’t come to the doctor unless they are extremely sick and they never ask for medication even when they are in pain. Life in the mountains is beautiful, but it is far from easy, so the people that remain there are hardier than most. They are extremely tough mountain folk that have lived there for generations, and even though her patient had been born in Europe, she had arrived and over time gradually become one of them.
After signing the death certificate at the funeral home, we stopped by her home. A “Slow – Funeral” sign greeted us as we neared it, and a large cross made from white carnations hung on the porch. There a few weeks ago the woman had stood with the Wife, telling her “I am going to beat this.” But Dr. Wife knew that this cancer wasn’t beatable. I pulled up, parking alongside several other cars parked on the grass off the road. I stayed in the car with our dogs as the Wife went inside. Over the past few weeks she had grown close to the family, giving the eldest son our home phone number so that he could call with any question or concerns about his mother.
Bird feeders the woman had bought and filled hung empty of seed beneath trees losing their leaves. Little kitschy figurines of a smiling panda and fat frog stood in a garden that she had once tended, with the first weeds that had taken advantage of her weakness from chemo appearing in soil she would never touch again. Several wind chimes hung from the roof of the porch, motionless in the unusually still mountain air.
From diagnosis to death? 8 weeks.
Like many living in the mountains, she was a heavy smoker and it no doubt contributed to if not outright caused her cancer. Some might be tempted to blame the woman for her own death. After all she chose to smoke. But she didn’t choose to die. I often wonder if the excuses we make blaming the victims for their own deaths aren’t just emotional survival mechanisms to keep us from feeling. A woman is killed by her ex-husband? She should have divorced him sooner or gotten a restraining order. A cop is shot during a routine traffic stop? He knew the risks. I suppose it’s natural to develop this inner voice to keep Death at arms length and avoid being overwhelmed by emotions, but I question whether over time that distancing is healthy. Perhaps a little empathy in our lives isn’t a bad thing. If we feel we can motivate ourselves into action which in turn can lead to Death being cheated every once in a while.
With a hug from the eldest son, the Wife arrives back in the car. She raises a long strand of a wind chime with handmade brass chimes and carved wooden clappers. “She wanted me to have this,” she says, explaining that the woman knew we had once lived in Japan where the wind chime was made. It hangs on our front porch, and I hear it lightly singing in the wind that comes off the mountains the French woman called home.
Congratulations to this week’s winners.
Council: The Colossus of Rhodey–-Let me tell ‘ya something
Full voting here.
Sometimes I’m a little slow about these things, so please ignore this post if you are already familiar with Google Reader . Up until last week I wasn’t familiar with that little app from Google, and as an avid blogger I did things the old fashioned way: I typed out or bookmarked the URLs of my favorite websites. Inevitably I would focus more on the aggregators like Instapundit or Drudge, but I wanted something more personal – like an opinion section of my own newspaper. I also wanted to expand my universe of the blogs I followed. I’ve been writing this journal for almost 10 years and during that time I’ve found some very good blogs – but inevitably something new and shiny distracts me and I forget them. The Internet fat-tail enough, and I’ve gotten tired of the usual suspects quoted by Glenn Reynolds. After searching around for RSS readers, I discovered Google Reader – and it’s exactly what I needed.
Simply sign in to your Gmail account, then type the URL of your favorite blog. It then does the rest. It even has an app for Android, so following your favorite blogger is easy – even if she only posts once in Blue Moon, come that day her post will appear in your own personalized “opinion section.” Welcome to the 2000’s! Now if we could only get Bush back into the White House somehow…
Courtesy: Monkey in the Middle
I have issues with Turkey. In the late 1990’s I used to write for a website and penned commentaries on the Turkish mistreatment of the Kurds. I remember getting into some pretty heated discussions with Turkish nationals over my support of a Kurdish homeland, and received a few threats thrown my way although nothing serious. I support the Kurdish cause which would could take a big bite of about a third from Turkey. The Kurdish state predates the modern Turkish state built by Kamal Ataturk in the 1920’s by a decade. The Kurds had been promised a state from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, but for various reasons (like the European powers colonizing the region) it wasn’t to be, and for nearly a century the Kurds have been ignored. Ignored everywhere except in Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran – states that have actively fought to stamp out Kurdish culture and history that can trace its roots back to Pharaonic Egypt. The Kurds are a distinct people with their own language and culture, unlike the “Palestinians” who have neither although they already have a state – 3 of them actually: Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan itself.
Over the past eight years or so the Turks have been getting their Islam on, becoming more pious and anti-Western in the process. A decade or so Turkey seemed likely to integrate with the EU and become a full-fledged western state, but the AKP took power in 2002 and has been undermining the secularist state built by Ataturk and the generals that followed him. This process has included reversing the growing economic and military relationship with Israel under the previous regimes, leading recently to the threat by the Turkish prime minister that Israel’s refusal to apologize for the deaths of 7 Turks at the hands of Israeli commandos aboard a Turkish ship challenging the blockade of Gaza was cause for war. Never mind that as soon as the Israelis left Gaza, Jewish holy sites were destroyed as were greenhouses that had provided jobs to Palestinians, and the state became a launching pad for rockets and mortars into Israeli. So much for trading land for peace...
If the Turkish Prime Minister wants to get his war on, why not clear out the festering cesspool that is Syria on his doorstep? The Syrians would welcome the relief, and the Turks might even be lauded by the West for its humanitarian mission – and by Sunni states for checking Iranian power. The AKP has lightened the iron fist on the Turkish Kurds, and the Kurds can wait because they are a patient people. Their time will come and they know it.
But challenging Israel risks unleashing forces that I doubt Prime Minister Erdogan comprehends. American policymakers haven’t forgotten Turkey’s refusal to allow coalition forces through Turkey to Iraq. Provoking Israel would pretty much end Turkey’s flirtation with the EU and result in its expulsion from NATO. American politicians including a US president seen as weak on Israel would leap at the chance to appear supportive of the Jewish state. The Armenian Genocide Resolution which has been dead in Congress for 4 years would likely be signed into law. It would be a purely symbolic act, but symbolic acts are what Turkey is all for – at least when it comes to the Gaza blockade. 70% of US aid to Iraq flows through Turkey, but the Americans are drawing down and the strategic importance of that route lessens by the day. Pakistan has learned the limits of using supply lines for political leverage; the US has contracted with Moscow to move material through Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union; shipping through the Suez Canal and Persian Gulf might add a few weeks to the delivery time, but the material would go through. The biggest card Turkey holds is the Incirlik airbase. Closing that would dent US logistical support in Iraq and Afghanistan – but would also end the hundreds of millions of dollars Turkey receives from Washington DC each year for leasing the base, as well as the loss of thousands of jobs in support personnel. Other nations have played similar games with the US over its bases; ask the Philippines how things are doing at Clark and Subic Bay these days compared to 30 years ago.
A report leaked that Israeli foreign minister Avi Lieberman was considering opening talks with the PKK which the PKK and Lieberman both denied – although Israel is very well versed in playing the Arab “enemy of my enemy is my friend” game. Expect them to announce a “new relationship” with Greece, and for pressure on the US administration to side with the Greeks on the Cyprus Issue. For Turkey Israel is a religious affront, but to Israel Turkey simply joins the long line of intolerant Muslims who want to follow Mohammed’s orders and kill the Jews wherever they are found. For Israel such matters are of life and death, and they will fight accordingly.
Turkey is playing a dangerous game but doesn’t appear to have fully thought through the outcome of its actions. The Turks may find that the game has become all too real and that they don’t want to play anymore – but by then it will be too late.
UPDATE: Joshuapundit weighs in and agrees that war with Israel is unlikely.
Here’s an idea.
Warren Buffett thinks he makes too much money – and I agree. He is a big supporter of Obama, and Barry has a big drag on his brand courtesy of a little green outfit called Solyndra. Solyndra took a half billion from taxpayers and promptly went belly-up. It’s CEO had visited the Obama White House 16 times, and was a big “bundler” of donations for the ‘08 Obama campaign yet the administration is pulling a Sargent Schultz.
So here’s Uncle Warren’s opportunity: Cut a check for half a billion pay to the order of the US Treasury. That way he can assuage his guilt for being a corporate rapist, Obama can continue to promote green jobs without choking on his arugula, and my taxes can go to worthwhile things – like smart bombs that send jihadis to virgin-land.
I’ve been keeping Dr. Wife abreast of the controversy raging among conservatives about Texas Governor Rick Perry’s mandate to vaccinate 12 year old girls against HPV. She is very supportive of the vaccine saying “It is one of the few weapons against cancer we have,” and believes that boys should get it as well since they can be carriers of the virus, and it is not known whether the virus contributes to other male urinary tract diseases such as prostate and bladder cancer. What is known is that it prevents cervical cancer in women, and may protect them against other cancers as well.
I have been an apologist for Michelle Bachmann, believing that she has been treated unfairly by a misogynistic press that hates conservatives. But her attempts to beat Perry down with this controversy have crossed the line from political theater into the absurd. By courting the anti-vaccine crowd she has shacked up with Ron Paul in Crazytown and shown that she may be just as loony as the left-wing press has made her out to be.
I have serious issues with Perry’s mandate. I believe the government has the right to interfere in parenting only in certain egregious cases of abuse. Being a libertarian-minded parent myself I have had my share of run-ins with ideologues who think they know better than I do what is best for my child. It is an issue that resonates in my family since my parents fought an effort in the 1950’s to force my brother to have an experimental open-heart surgery that most likely would have killed him. My father risked going to jail rather than see his son experimented on, and it was only after my brother’s pediatrician intervened on my father’s behalf that the state backed down.
So Perry’s open for some serious criticism on the mandate issue. Since the HPV virus is only sexually transmitted it’s not like he had to mandate the vaccine in order to prevent the disease easily spreading like measles or meningitis.
But what Bachmann has done is conflated the mandate issue with the vaccination issue – and here she has gone off the rails. There is no scientific evidence that the vaccine is dangerous. All vaccines have side effects and some may even cause deaths in a tiny fraction of recipients, but that risk is overwhelmed by the lives they have saved and the cases of diseases they have prevented.
I am a climate change skeptic because consensus shouldn’t mean squat in science and the data isn’t there to support the AGW theory. But I am at heart a scientist and the evidence that vaccines save lives is overwhelming. Anyone who doubts their power should visit the 3rd World and see children dying from diphtheria and mumps as I have; it’s not pretty and it’s completely preventable. Bachmann needs to walk back her statements on this controversy or risk losing the support of people like me who are Republicans AND scientifically-minded. The GOP shouldn’t become the party of ignorance, but it is well on its way if Bachmann continues this line of attack.
Lay the body in the shade of the tree and scan the ground for a place to begin digging. Two heavy roots dive into the clay soil at right angles, leaving an empty patch where there are likely no large roots (I don’t want to harm the tree, a tall and strong hickory). Scrape away the top layer of small stones and hickory nut husks with a steel rake, then set down my phone and sunglasses in the grass. Grasp the spade shovel, place it onto the hard pan and stomp on it – but it barely scratches the surface before hitting a rock underneath. Repeat the motion again and again as a begin to shovel out the general shape of the grave, north – south axis with the tree a few feet from its southern end.
Two inches and it’s the first root – about an inch thick that stops the spade shovel. Beads of sweat begin to form on my forehead as I throw down the shovel and grab the pick axe. The dogs have all settled around me after a few cursory sniffs of the body wrapped in a green towel in the red cat litter pan. Swing the pick ax and look at the body (will she be cool enough in the shade?) swing again, sever one side of the root, swing again miss and again before severing the other side of the root, I raise it high above my head for a final blow to loosen it from the soil and feel the clay crumble down on me, mixing with the sweat as I swing the ax down. The root is severed but there’s another, and plenty of rocky clay. I move her body into the cool basement and the dogs scatter, some following me but stopping at the door, no doubt afraid I’ll lock them in or remembering that it is a no-go zone for dogs (it’s where the cat’s litter box is).
Return to the grave, just a pit actually that seemed deeper when I left, I grab the spade shovel and begin to dig. I hit rocks and small roots that I place the shovel to slice through and stomp on it with both feet to send the blade home. The sweat’s coming down in rivulets now and I wipe my face on my shoulder, making my blue checked shirt orange with wet clay.
What Buddhists call the Monkey Mind runs amok in my thoughts. How deep do I have to dig? Will her decaying body contaminant our well? It’s odd knowing she will spend eternity here; that’s a long time. Is she too close to the house? One by one I answer as I continue kicking at the earth with shovel and alternating it with the pick axe. About 3 feet. No our water is separated by two hundred feet of rock and clay from her. Eternity is doubtful; her bones will probably be dug up in a few hundred years by accident. No – we want her close by because she was happy here and this was her home.
Swinging the axe I stumble, my lungs are already hurting and sweat is in my eyes (You are so out of shape – you middle aged failure, Monkey Mind interrupts). I stop and lean against the UTV, breathing heavy and wiping the sweat on my shirt tail. Graves should be hard, I consciously say to myself. They should be sweaty if not painful because they are the final act of love.
I swing the axe high and shower myself with more clay.
There were easier ways. “Do you want to drop her off?” the vet tech asked. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I suppose I could have dropped her off to die among strangers, and had her body burned with others, their ashes in a heap swept out and then forgotten like so much trash. But she wasn’t trash – she was a living breathing entity that lived a hard life of abuse, thrown out of a car on a long bridge over a shallow river in the middle of the night. As I crossed the bridge I saw a shadow huddled against the concrete wall in the dark and I knew what it was, I just knew. I stopped the car mid-span ran to her and without thinking scooped her up into my arms. Her belly was wet – had she been hit already? But when I got her into the pale overhead light in my car I saw the old beagle with open weeping tumors on her belly.
The grave is a foot deep now and the roots are gone. The clay is more uniform in color with a mix of small bits of quartz that shatter with blows from the axe. It is narrow and long enough for her body – but the roots are containing its shape and size so I can’t widen it to dig deeper. Instead I switch to the straight-edge shovel and continue. Sweat drops onto the sides of the hole as I struggle, fighting the earth to give me an inch of space, using my arms to chip away at the hard clay then the spade to clear out the rubble before moving on to the pick axe. Eventually it too can do no more because the hole is too deep for the handle, my hands banging into the side of the hole, singing with the pain.
Her nails were overgrown and had never been groomed. The first night she spent with us she soiled herself in the crate against her own instincts, meaning that she had probably been caged most of her life. We took her to the vet and had her tumors removed, her feet cleaned up and several of her rotten teeth removed. He said she had probably spent her life pregnant at a puppy mill, birthing scores of puppies that were trained as hunting dogs. Once they became too old to hunt, they would go out on their last hunt and never return from the fields. Her cowardly owner didn’t have the stones to pull the trigger on her himself, so he took her to the bridge to drown her – but didn’t have the balls for that either, so he just threw her out.
My heart is pounding in my chest and I am wet with sweat. I want this grave to be right but I cannot trust my own judgement so I walk inside, grab a tape measure and measure the depth of the grave. Two feet at the lowest point. I need six inches more. I snap the tape back into place and lay it in the bed of the UTV. I then walk to the patio table and find a hand shovel used for gardening and return to the grave. I kneel down, feeling the clay hard on my knees, then I lay down on my belly and reach into the grave with my hand holding the shovel. I begin to stab at the clay.
In the first days she cowered whenever I raised my voice or made an unanticipated move towards her. But my soothing words and gestures calmed her and she took to following me on the tractor as I mowed the fields. At first I was afraid that she would run into the mower, but she knew what she was doing and stayed a respectful distance behind me as I made pass after pass in the field, leaving sweet smelling hay behind me that she ambled through, her ears and tongue flapping. When we come home she would announce our arrival with loud beagle bays. The other dogs didn’t have much to do with her; it was clear to them she was beyond issues of pack hierarchy although one would occasionally attack her to improve her own standing in the pack – and was often squirted by a hose for the effort.
My shirt is filthy, there is dirt in my hair and in my nose and I can taste it on my lips. I stop for a moment and lay face down on the cool ground marveling at the geological processes had taken the Appalachian mountains and turned them into this clay, this evil soil that resists my honest need. How many millions of years does it take to weather a mountain peak and send it to the plains below? Yet for all that violence, all that change, it fights me for every grain. My Monkey Mind flashes with the story of eternity told to us by the nuns in grade school, how a bird flies to the tallest peak imaginable, alights on it, then rubs its beak against the stone briefly before flying away. A thousand years another bird arrives at the spot and does the same. A thousand years passes before another, and another… On and on until eventually the mountain, after having been visited every thousand years by birds with itchy beaks, is worn down. That is eternity according to the nuns. My Monkey Mind added that erosion would take the magic out of that story, but I still find it rather beautiful.
I look into the hole and it feels like an eternity stares back at me. I don’t want to do this. I could go inside and have my son help me. Or better yet I could go out into the well-tilled fields and bury her in its soft, easily shoveled soil. But this isn’t about me. Isn’t it? My Monkey Mind shouts back. But I push it out of the way and thrust myself up on my hands and continue digging with the hand shovel. The clay absorbs the tip and then flakes off as I chip away at it.
She had never been house trained, probably had never spent any time in a house whatsoever, so when we let her in it became her favorite place. She would scramble into the living room and leap upon the soft cushions of the sofa where she would often lay for hours. It became her obsession, and it wasn’t easy to live with. She’d bully her way in at our feet as we opened the door, and then when we weren’t looking, she would shit or pee on the floor. She had never been trained, and after months of frustration trying all the techniques I had read about to break her, she would never be. Cleaning up her messes became a chore, multiple times a day. Walking barefoot in the house was a guaranteed way of finding them. Eventually we ripped out the carpet and laid hardwood – hickory of all species. And as she declined the messes were easier to clean up and didn’t seem to matter as much as they once did.
I scoop the clay out with my hands, feeling it slide beneath my fingernails. Hands can be washed I tell myself and I keep pulling handfuls of the clay chips out.
She was always happy – until the final weeks. She stopped following the tractor months ago and the barks announcing our return home ended soon after. I noticed that she had begun losing weight. She had fattened up after we found her and I nicknamed her “Fat Girl” not to offend her but because the more nicknames an animal has in this house the more it is loved. It’s our culture here. But then she slimmed down and I knew that while we had removed the worst tumors, the cancer was continuing its spread within her. We tested her urine and found blood in it, and there was blood in her stool as well, but she didn’t seem to be suffering so we continued caring for her. She couldn’t leap onto the couch so we picked her up and placed her there. When she quit eating the dried food we give our animals, I made her omelets from eggs laid by the chickens ranging in our front yard. Then a few days ago that was thrown up, and finally she had refused all foods including cooked chicken and ground beef. I had never had a dog refuse those before.
I push myself up and dust myself off but the dry clay clings to my clothes. Hands will be washed, clothes will be cleaned, but not now. I feel time pressing on me and I check the phone – soon it will be time to attend to other matters, but not now! I must finish this. I grab the tape measure and measure the depth of the grave. It is deep enough. I snap the tape back and throw it into the back of the UTV.
When she stopped drinking water I knew the end was near. I called the vet and made arrangements. “Do you want me to come?” the wife asked. I said no. I felt that I needed to do it myself because I had avoided Death so often in the past and allowed myself to be shielded from it. The last time I saw my father was through the backseat window of a car. His coffin was closed. When my childhood pet was dying I left her with my mother and got drunk on cheap wine, returning early in the morning to bury her in my shame, hungover in the dark. When our first dog died I had been at work and left the Wife alone to handle it. It was time for me to accept this as a part of my love of animals. If I was to cradle a kitten in the palm of my hand, I had to cradle a cat in my arms as it breathed its last.
I get into the UTV and drive into the field where I had mowed yesterday while she laid on the sofa. The cut hay is a mix of grasses and wildflowers, some with brushy soft seeds. It is soft and fragrant after laying all morning and afternoon in the sun. I feel the warmth of the hay drying and decaying as I plunge my hands into the pile and load an armful into a box in the back of the vehicle. I stop at the basement door and load her into the back. I pull up to the hole, set the brake and get out.
She didn’t struggle as she rode on the backseat of the car on the green towel. I caught her lifting her head once or twice but she seemed exhausted, too tired to resist. I passed a slow driver on the rural highway. Did I really need to rush to get to the appointment Monkey Mind asked? Her breathing is labored, I replied, and it is time to do this. We arrived at the vet’s office on time.
I make a bough of some hay at the bottom of the hole and pat it down gently, smelling the earthy clay and the warm hay as the dusty air rises up. I pick up her body, already cool and stiffening with a faint scent of decay, and place her on her belly, her paws at her sides as if ready to come when called, her head pointing north because that is tradition isn’t it? I place the coin with the year’s date by her side – a talisman (my own personal tradition), and then sprinkle hickory nuts and shells upon her brown fur – some which she may have cracked herself in better days, my final offering to her happiness as she lays in the soil of the land I love so much beneath the tree that she loved near the house that was her home all too briefly. I leave her collar and her tag on because when I found her she didn’t have one, and the collar and tag were the symbols that she was of my pack. I then lay some more of the freshly cut hay on top of her, a natural shroud in place of the old bath towel that held her body while she breathed her last and acted as her shroud until now.
I gently push the soil back with the steel rake until it is filled. She was a good dog and I miss her my Monkey Mind says. I quietly agree. I place the tools in the back of the UTV, start it and drive away.
10 years ago America changed and so did I. Is it for the better? History will decide – but for the first time in 10 years I am optimistic about our future. Part of it is seeing the rebirth of Ground Zero, a project that I was initially opposed to. From what I’m seeing it is truly beautiful and a fitting memorial for those who died on what has become the most sacred ground in my country. Another part of my optimism is seeing interviews with the children of those who died. They symbolize hope for a future that didn’t exist 10 years ago today, and one that our enemies failed to destroy.
A constant theme in this journal is encapsulated in this post written after the birth of Adam Pearl, son of murdered journalist Daniel Pearl.
There are Destroyers among us – those who seek to destroy whatever we build. We create skyscrapers that caress the clouds, and they destroy them. We build peace between nations, and they destroy it. We nurture understanding between faiths – and they destroy it. And even in the ashes of despair we create hope – and they seek to destroy that as well.
They blow up children instead of educating and loving them. They kill and maim instead of healing and comforting. They speak hatred and lies instead of Love and Truth. They reap what other’s sow then burn the fields and plow salt into the land. They hide in darkness and pray to a disfigured god – twisted by their own ideas and horrific visions into something debased and foul.
Why do they do this one may wonder? No one knows. Perhaps it is because it is harder to create a life than to take it; it is much harder to negotiate a peace then to declare war; it is easier to send a skyscraper tumbling to the earth than build one to touch the sky. And in the end, their efforts are futile for one can never truly destroy anything. Sure they may take a man’s life, but like a tree that sprouts shoots from its stump, his dreams live on. They may send a building tumbling to earth, but it is not long before the efforts to rebuild begin. They may cause a war, but eventually the dust settles and peace covers the battlefield.
Destruction is futile and ephemeral. Creation is eternal. This is a Truth that the Destroyers cannot realize for if they did they would know their own madness and stop. It is something that Science has glimpsed when it discovers that energy can neither be created nor destroyed – only changed. Creation is energy: Life is energy. Within every destructive act their are the seeds of creation – and that is something that the Destroyers can never destroy.
The perpetrators of 9-11 sought to destroy us that day. They failed. We are still here and we are creating, building, and loving just as we always have – and God willing – always will.
Congratulations to this week’s winners.
Council: Joshuapundit–-The Secret Blue State Plan To Steal The 2012 Elections
Noncouncil: Christopher Hitchens- Simply Evil
Full voting here.
Back when I lived there I remember seeing bumper stickers that read “US Out of El Salvador.” Just for kicks I made one up that read “US Out of California.” I’m not sure what my point was or even if I had one, but I’m wondering if now might be a good time to consider one that reads “California Out of the US.”
I love California. I love its land, or rather the land that isn’t infested with strip malls and condos. Before Bono became an egomaniac U2 spent time in Joshua Tree and, inspired by its beauty and serenity, wrote the band’s best album. I’ve camped there too and felt a deep appreciation of the high desert – and without psychedelics no less. The waves of its beaches have calmed my restless young spirit and lulled me to sleep countless times, and the scenic beauty of Yosemite is beyond my skill to communicate properly except to mention that there is a reason Ansel Adams photographed the place so well.
I love the California dream. I love the idea of waking up in the Midwest one day, packing everything into the car and heading west, knowing that odds are 2 to 1 that the road will eventually run out in the Golden State. I love the idea that it doesn’t care where you are from, that as long as you have the talent and are willing to work hard, you can make it there. Or so it used to be.
I don’t love the reality of California. Overpriced homes sitting empty in tracts that spread concrete and stucco like a rash over valleys and mesas. Entire strip malls with “For Lease” signs in all the windows, as if San Clemente really needed another nail salon or dry cleaners. The feeling that unless one is young, super-rich or both you’ll never fit in and be accepted there.
Then there is the economic and political vacuum the state has been in for the past decade. Taxes soar along with the cost of living as jobs evaporate. A state that once prided itself on its self-sufficiency and can-do spirit has become a socialist paradise where everyone is a victim except the middle class, which isn’t rich enough to protect its wealth from the predatory state government. Joel Kotkin details the state’s growing nightmare in his piece The Golden State is Crumbling:
There is little chance that the jobs lost in these fields will ever be recovered under the current regime. As decent blue-collar and midlevel jobs disappear, California has gone from a rate of inequality about the national average in 1970, to among the most unequal in terms of income. The supposed solution to this—Gov. Jerry Brown’s promise of 500,000 “green jobs”—is being shown for what it really is, the kind of fantasy you tell young children so they will go to sleep.
It should come as no surprise to those of us who are suspicious of socialism in all its forms that the country’s most socialist state is now one of the most unequal in terms of income. Cuba, China, the former Soviet Union all have a thin layer of wealthy elite spouting Leninist and Maoist platitudes while the vast majority slaves away in poverty. That’s what happens when the smart money either co-opts the revolutionaries to maintain its wealth or flees abroad, leaving the reviled term “Bourgeoisie” to fall upon middle-class shoulders. The weight eventually crushes them until they are just as poor as everyone else that isn’t part of the elite. In that respect the Californian small businessman of today fighting losing battles against tax authorities and environmental regulation is no different from the kulaks shot by Stalin or the farmers starved by Mao.
I suppose Jerry Brown and his supporters will eventually learn what Mao’s successors have – that socialism is good in theory but capitalism pays the bills. But by then it will probably too late, and honestly, I don’t want to save the California voter’s butt for choosing as governor the same guy that wrecked the economy 35 years ago (although in fairness the Republicans didn’t offer much resistance – probably because they’ve fled the state.) To paraphrase my late mother-in-law, they chose this path. No one forced Californians to vote for Brown, create a defacto single-party state or accept over-regulation. They could have taken to the streets the same way they did in the 1970’s with Prop 13, creating a Tea Party-type revolt and driving out the taxation and regulation addicts in Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco and LA. But the Tea Party is weakest in California, the state that needs it the most – probably because the majority of Californians are either happy with the status quo or don’t understand that their actions have consequences.
Either way I don’t want them bailed out. Let them fend for themselves and if they can’t, perhaps we can sell California to the Chinese in exchange for wiping out our debt. Then California can become a Chinese province. Who knows, maybe Tom Friedman will be so happy that he’ll move there and write for Xinhua. We’ll just have to relocate a few Navy and Marine Corps bases (or perhaps leave them as sovereign US territories along the lines of Guantanamo after Castro took over Cuba). We can even make DC or Puerto Rico a state so that we don’t have to redo the flag.
Seriously though, I’d like to see California become a place worth going, a place where one doesn’t exist to serve the state or the environmental cause du jour. But elections have consequences and those consequences are falling fast upon the shoulders of Californians. They have it within their power to fix the mess they’ve put themselves in but will only do it if the Federal government doesn’t come to their rescue – and it won’t as long as Republicans control at least one part of the government.
People once traveled to California for a new start. Californians should stay put and do the same.
As the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks descend on us, I thought I would give my take on some lessons that the event presents. Some of these lessons will have been mentioned by commentators, others will not. Some may on the surface seem to have little to do with the event, but all would not have been possible without the attack that changed America on a beautiful late summer morning.
Isolationism is Dead
The biggest lesson 9-11 should have taught the United States and its allies is that it is impossible to raise the drawbridge on a world where people and cargo flow freely between continents and nations. The idea that the Cold War was over and America could return to its default state of isolation evaporated as covert CIA, SOCOM and NSA operations were launched everywhere threats were detected. 9-11 may have launched on American soil, but it was a true global conspiracy, originating from discussions within Afghanistan with operatives from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan, financing from the Persian Gulf and Europe, and support cells in Germany. The only way the United States could hope to disrupt future attacks was to spread its resources globally, and pursue and infiltrate terrorist groups whether they were in New Jersey, Frankfurt or the Philippines.
As the memories of 9-11 fade there is pressure from the Left and Right to pull back from this aggressive posture and take a more defensive stance, forgetting that it is much more difficult to kill wasps after they’ve left the nest and begun stinging you. Isolationism has been re-branded and repackaged as non-interventionism, ignoring the fact that it is impossible to conduct international relations without upsetting someone. The mere act of entering the world is viewed as a cause for belligerence because some view international relations as a zero-sum game whereby anyone’s gain is their loss. We will always have enemies, therefore it is to our benefit to have friends. While isolationists have made much about President Washington’s warning about entangling alliances, it isn’t 1796 anymore and besides, Washington would have been hung in the Tower had it not been for the help of America’s first allies the French.
Osama Bin Laden Was Wrong
Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda operation were surprised by the ferocity of the response as well as its global nature. Bin Laden had referred numerous times to the West and the US in particular as being a “weak horse,” a similar term to the “paper tiger” used by the Japanese. It was a logical and rational position to have in the 1990’s. Prior to 9-11 the United States had retreated from Southeast Asia in shame, left Lebanon after the 1983 Barracks bombing, fled Somalia after al-Qaeda sponsored resistance there, done nothing after the first WTC attacks that same year, and lobbed cruise missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan after the 1998 East African Embassy attacks and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Retreat was the common response to terrorist attacks, or cruise missile strikes on desert encampments that relied on old intel thereby making them ineffective. al Qaeda assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, solidifying Taliban control of Afghanistan and insuring its use as a base for al Qaeda operations there.
But like the Japanese had learned 60 years before them, al Qaeda was unprepared for the unprecedented American response. Within days of the 9-11 attacks special forces had been sent to aid the Northern Alliance and help the group return to the offensive. They also prepared the way for the coming American invasion that began less than a month later. By the end of the year al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters had been ousted from Afghanistan and driven into Pakistan. It is unclear to me whether OBL truly regretted 9-11. al Qaeda scored would score numerous propaganda victories against the West and the United States in particular but at the expense of strategic defeat of the organization. While the most religious among them might look forward to martyrdom by US forces, the most intelligent al Qaeda operatives did their best to avoid death by Hellfire missile or a 5.56 NATO round.
Bush and the NeoCons Were Wrong (and so was I)
The vision of a free Iraq and Afghanistan allied with the United States and the West has not come to be. After hundreds of billions of dollars and the deaths of thousands of American soldiers, it is not clear that either Iraq or Afghanistan will remain in America’s orbit or whether they will slip into becoming a satellite states of Iran and Pakistan. The NeoCons believed that at heart the Iraqis and other Islamic peoples were “like us” and that once they saw we would sacrifice ourselves for their future, they would become our allies just as the Germans, Italians and Japanese did after World War 2. Unfortunately they failed to understand or accept the nature of Islam or Arab culture which made such alliances unlikely. At best we can hope for independent states that do not harbor terrorists or attack their neighbors, but this is not the outcome supporters of the Iraq war such as myself wanted.
In retrospect I do not believe the war in Iraq was a mistake, nor the sacrifice of American blood and treasure a wasted one. For one thing the Iraq we are going to get is better than the one we had under Saddam. The likelihood of Iraq becoming like Syria is considerable enough to be a concern but remains small. The majority of Iraqis may be Shi’a, but they are not Persians and are culturally distinct even if they share the same religion. Persians have had a long history of looking down on Arabs and subjugating them, and the Arabs, especially the Iraqis, know this. The Kurds in the north are pro-American and autonomous. They will prevent too much slippage in Baghdad towards Tehran; if not we might end up with a pro-American Kurdish state in the north – not a bad thing in my book especially if Turkey continues its drift towards Islamicism. The American military has proven itself in the eyes of the regimes in the region as well as the Chinese. It has shown itself more than capable of quickly dispatching a large army, and adapted to the realities on the ground. While we may never know the extent to how much this has deterred other powers from attacking the US directly or aiding our enemies, the Chinese have paid very close attention to the quality of our military and its results. The Iraq War will prevent future wars, but to what extent will never be known.
Islam is Problematic And Our Ruling Elite Doesn’t Understand It
9-11 and the events over the past 10 years have taught us that Islam is different from all other world religions. It is not Christianity with different traditions unless the comparison is made to Christianity prior to the Renaissance. Then Christianity was a political and cultural defining force that determined all aspects of life for the lowliest peasant to the greatest emperor. It determined when each arose, what he did prior to work, his job, how he dressed, how he ate, and his relationship to his superiors (in the case of the emperor, to the Pope). There were no concepts of freedom in thought or deed at that time. The identify of “self” as inviolate would not become accepted until the Enlightenment in the 18th century. Tolerance of other cultures, ethnicities and especially religions simply did not exist at all.
Modern Islam is most similar to this pre-Enlightenment Christianity. Separating the political aspects from the religious aspects of Islam is impossible just as it was in Christianity before the Renaissance. The two are intertwined in ways that has taken centuries after the Enlightenment to disentangle, something that we in the US continue to do today with our controversies about crosses on mountains and creches on public property. There are some sects of Islam that separate sacred religion from the profane tasks of politics, and the vast majority of the Muslim umma or faithful may not be politically active, but these facts cannot deny the basis of the religion as dictated by its founder Mohammed. Mohammed was warrior king like Charlemagne as well as a religious prophet – but to forget the former and recall only the latter does a disservice to Jesus Christ and Siddhartha Gautama. Jesus didn’t order villages razed and their inhabitants slaughtered, nor did Buddha order the assassination of poets. Apologists have said that Mohammed was a man of his time, which is true – but only serves to point out the extraordinary lives of Christ and Buddha who also lived in brutal times yet eschewed power and violence to preach peace.
Islam poses unique challenges that the ruling elites simply don’t get. The vast majority of Muslims may not have any difficulty being good citizens of a country while being good Muslims, but there are passages within the Koran that directly challenge this separation. The majority of Muslims may be tolerant of other faiths, but Mohammed’s word and deeds as well as passages within the Koran and the Hadith are intolerant of all other religions. The majority of Muslims may abhor attacks on civilians, but the tenets of Islam say otherwise – including the definition of what constitutes a civilian (non-believers do not qualify). Faithful Muslims have served and died for America – yet faithful Muslims have also beheaded Americans on video.
How do we separate the peaceful believers from an aggressive and intolerant faith? That is the question our leaders should be arguing – not whether Islam is a religion of peace.
The Military Understands Asymmetric Warfare and the Need to Work Closely Together
After facing the insurgencies in Vietnam, Latin America and elsewhere during the Cold War, the American military has finally proven that it can adapt and deploy effective counter-insurgency strategies. Over the past 10 years recruits have been trained on how to recognize and assess threats from guerrillas, training that had previously been limited to special forces or other specialized details within the military. As a consequence tactics have been developed and deployed that limit civilian casualties even when they are used as human shields by the enemy, while at the same time avoiding casualties of their own.
Branches have worked closer together with each other as well as intelligence specialists from the CIA to a degree that would have been unheard of in World War 2 and Vietnam. There has been more sharing of resources and intel and fewer”turf wars” than in previous wars leading to situations where CIA intel leads to a Navy Seal team dispatched to dispatch a high value target while Air Force gunships and Army Rangers provide covering fire. This level of coordination could not have been achieved without leaders within the military and intelligence communities setting aside their differences and working closely together for a greater goal.
The TSA Does Not Make Us Safe
This is one of those lessons that only travelers who watch little old ladies get patted down and the diapers of infants taken off and examined as if they contained enriched uranium understand. Pass through the civil liberty-free zone that pretends to be Security, and take your shoes off, display the your quart sized baggie with your 3oz mouthwash bottle and trial-size toothpaste, then add your belt and anything else metallic, pass through a scanner which the feds state won’t harm you (“Really. Trust us on it.”), then get patted down by someone who either loves his job because he has a fetish for touching annoyed people’s private parts or hates it and ended up doing it because she couldn’t pass a Devry entrance exam. Take a few moments after you’ve pulled on your shoes and collected your belongings and ask yourself if the charade is really effective.
Hassling the mother over her kid’s formula bottle “Was this formula purchased here?” “It’s breast milk. Wanna taste it?” as she struggles to corral her other two kids while her husband gets sent through the metal detector numerous times “I’ve taken everything off that I can.” “Do you have a plate or any medical devices in your body sir?” Does this make us safe? Or how about the old man who shuffles along the metal tables leading to the X-Ray machine, a veteran wearing a cap with a World War 2 naval ship embroidered on it, struggling to keep his balance in his stocking feet as his shoes and his wallet trundle away in front of him. Did he bury his friends at sea for this a half century ago?
Are people in the TSA stupid? Do they think this crap works and keeps the planes arriving at airports instead of plowing into skyscrapers or cornfields? It’s possible although doubtful. We know what works: ask an Israeli. Israel is surrounded by neighbors who want to see it wiped off the face of the Earth and desire nothing to more than to finish what the Third Reich started. It has more enemies than friends in the world – yet it has airports and airliners full of people travel to and from its cities without shoe or underwear bombers. Why?
PC Is Still With Us and Stronger Than Ever
9-11 was a powerful, life changing event for most if not all Americans, but it wasn’t powerful enough to end the muddy-headed thinking of political correctness. PC is stronger than ever. It keeps Homeland Security from deploying behavioral profiling which has a proven track record of keeping safe not only air travelers but shoppers and anyone else who ventures out in public. It clouds the minds of our political leaders who call the Saudis our friends while they export extremism, and the Pakistanis our allies as they shelter Bin Laden and most likely his deputy al Zawahiri and his band of merry goat sodomizers. It causes them to parrot sayings like “Islam is a religion of peace,” at a time when no other religion on the world has a higher body count and inspires more killing of believer and non-believer alike. It turns campuses into zones of hatred of Jews and calls anyone who questions Islam’s terror-fetish “islamophobes.” Islamophobia is an irrational fear of Islam.
Fearing what we witnessed on a brilliant blue day, a day with a color of sky that others have called “9-11 Blue” because its beauty hasn’t been seen since, fearing a religion that teaches hatred of women, non-believers and of gays – that is not irrational. That is sensible. Perhaps that’s not a lesson but one of the many tragedies of 9-11 – we have yet to accept the threat that there are people out there who want to kill us for who we are, not what we have done. They may be fewer, thanks to the lessons learned described above, but they are still out there. Waiting for us to forget and drop our guard, and when we do…
Congratulations to this week’s winners.
Council: Joshuapundit–-Do Blacks Realize They’ve Been Played By Obama?
Noncouncil: Via Media- New Blue Nightmare: Clarence Thomas and the Amendment of Doom
Full voting here.