Monday, November 27, 2006

Ferret Border Poorly Enforced, Say Roommates

The border between ferret designated areas and ferret-free zones has been poorly enforced, roommates of a local apartment alleged this week. "Ferret crossings into our bedroom have increased dramatically over the past few weeks," said one roommate who wished to remain anonymous. "We have noticed on more than occasion the telltale signs of ferret activity, including chewed items, books and CD's off of shelves, and mussed up bedclothes. These ferrets have no legal right to be in our bedroom, and we will avail ourselves of any and all means to remove them." Others counseled patience. "The fact is that enforcement of any border is an extremely difficult prospect," one roommate responded. "No one can guarantee that one hundred percent of ferrets will be kept out. Anyone who's dealt with these little guys knows that as soon as your back is turned, they move in. Just the other day three ferrets smuggled themselves over the border in laundry baskets. What can anyone do about that?" Anti-ferret hardliners insisted that something be done about the problem, however. "If need be, we will take matters into our own hands. That could include restriction of the free movement of ferrets, curfews, or even a border fence. If we don't act now, we will all wake up someday and find ferrets licking our faces."

Starting Over

As I take a look back at what I've written on this blog thus far, I think that there is not only room for a great deal of improvement but also for a marked change in focus. I've used this forum to express what to me feels like a naked violation of the borders of my own emotional and political existence in the years since 2001, meaning, the trespass against my life as a citizen of this country, of what had always seemed most secure, of the basic conditions of trust and being provided for which most Americans, myself included, have always taken for granted. Thus these postings have taken the form of koans of rage, a sarcastic blurting out of the emotional pain that derives from having something taken away which was so precious that you never even knew you had it until it was gone. That, for me, has been the feeling of living in the post 9/11 world. It is a feeling of being under attack, constantly, from both within and without. That being said, I don't think that I have managed the post 9/11 world very effectively, and chief among those limitations has been my inability to express that pain in ways which would create communities: of sympathy, of justice, of determination, of reconciliation. Hence, the failure of this blog. Always a serial exaggerator, I have privileged moods of conspiracy, desperation, and frustration. I've conflated the political not only with the purely emotional, i.e. the pain which results from being oppressed by your government with the historical fact of its oppression, but with the theological as well - that tyranny in America would mean that God no longer loves the people living in this country and is in the midst of judging us harshly. The same could be said of my take on post 9/11 aesthetics. Does a bitch-fest between Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie really signal the onset of a permanent state of tabloid fascism (a face being stomped by a Manolo Blahnik, forever)? Is Dick Cheney really anything more than a bad man from Wyoming? I'm not foreclosing any of these questions, only beginning a new approach to answering them. There are creative ways of living even under less than ideal circumstances. I'd like to find some of them. And when I do I'll tell you what I learn.

How to End a War, Continued

In my last post I wrote that the only way to end a war is to stop fighting it. Our elected officials have speculated endlessly about what must happen before the war in Iraq can end. The answer to this is nothing. The war can end tomorrow, if we decide to end it. In offering this judgment I have in mind the President's recent trip to Vietnam (his first visit there, of course,) which came at such a strange time in American history and thus carried with it such odd and powerful symbolism. There is no war taking place in Vietnam right now. It is, more or less, a typical Communist country in the post-Soviet era, still repressive but not unbearably so, at peace with its neighbors, benefiting from and strategically adjusting to the rise of China as an economic power and to the rising tide of globalization. In other words, thirty years after western powers left it, fifty years after being invaded, Vietnam is back to what it always should have been, to what it mostly has been throughout its history. It is not the axis of any kind of evil. It is not a domino waiting to fall. It is just another country, a backwater to the western powers, but one with its own struggles and aspirations. How did this come about? How was Vietnam transformed from a country divided against itself, the site of a global war which killed millions, into one in which peace now prevails? The answer is, the war ended. The United States simply left Vietnam. In the end none of the elaborate scenarios or calculations which the U.S. had made to explain its presence there, its objectives, or the preconditions for its departure, proved to have any substance at all. If they haven't been already, they will all soon be forgotten by history. They were fictions, projections, prevarications. History will record only that the United States left, the war ended, and Vietnam was left to resolve its problems on its own. I am not saying that the end of the U.S. war against Vietnam made any of these problems easier. The civil war continued for many years, and its cost was enormous. But the problems could not begin to be solved until the United States had left. The healing could not begin until the cause of so much of the suffering was gone. Only then could the scope of the problem as a Vietnamese problem, as an episode in Vietnamese history, begin to be resolved. The Vietnamese had to reclaim that history for themselves before reaching for a solution. Many years from now, the civil war in Iraq will finally end. The cost in lives, already staggering, will be unfathomable. It will take decades before Iraqi society can begin to forgive its acts of violence against itself and to knit itself back together again. Then Iraq will finally be at peace again. But that journey will not begin and cannot begin until the last American soldier leaves Iraq. There will come a day when a future American president will visit Iraq (probably for the first time!) and look at it curiously as President Bush recently looked at Vietnam, as a site where so much violence and suffering once took place. But that day will not move any closer to now until the U.S. war in Iraq comes to an end. Which can happen tomorrow.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

How to End a War

There has been much talk lately about the new course for the U.S. in Iraq, and everyone seems to agree on two things. One, the U.S. is not seeking to establish a permanent presence in Iraq. Two, there are certain conditions which must be met before the U.S. can leave Iraq. I would like to suggest that these are contradictory positions and that both cannot be true. My inclination is to believe that the first is a pretext - why invade a country if you don't plan to stay? - but let's proceed for a moment as if the first is true and focus on the second. Supposedly we are perfectly willing to leave Iraq but only after certain conditions are met, which alone would constitute a victorious withdrawal and not a defeat. The condition which is most often cited is an end to the violence in Iraq, which is always described as establishing security there in the form of an effective national government. This condition has always struck me as illogical. First, why would we want to train and equip a national Iraqi army, which would surely exact violent revenge against the Sunni insurgency and simply increase the violence? Secondly, why would we leave Iraq only after pacifying the insurgency? Once it's been crushed and Iraq has been restored to conditions conducive to our presence, why would we leave? If our real goal is to end the violence in Iraq, so that we can leave, why don't we just leave? Wouldn't that, eo ipso, end the violence, at least the part of the insurgency which is directed towards us? Imagine for a moment that a bouncer and a bar patron are fighting in a bar. The bouncer is trying to throw the patron out. The patron is trying to stay, all the while yelling at the bouncer that he is trying to leave and would have done so from the beginning if only the bouncer had not tried to throw him out. The incoherent position that the war must end before we can stop fighting it is a conceit worthy of Kubrick. There's only one way to end a war. And that's to stop fighting it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Filth Which is al-Qaeda

Every generational enemy has its own brand of propaganda: its characteristic rhetoric, iconic images, slogans, and phrases meant to inspire awe and fear. Sometimes this propaganda itself rises to a kind of greatness and outlives the regime which inspired it. Think of Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," or Eisenstein's "Battleship Potemkin." There is nothing grand, however, in the propaganda of al-Qaeda. On the contrary, it seems to reflect a particularly repulsive energy stirring at the bottom of global capitalism. It is a mixture of juvenile sarcasm and hyperbolic romance. It is a smirking kind of evil, deliberate in its universal disregard for human life, hinting at the depths of its own self-hatred, offering its own inflated martyrdom as the salve for the world's suffering masses. Take a look at today's press release from al-Qaeda in Iraq and you'll see what I mean. The way that al-Qaeda deliberately, smugly inserts itself into American political discourse is as predictable as it is repellent. What ought to be a celebration for Americans, a democratic election in which voters went to the polls to elect their chosen representatives, is twisted by al-Qaeda into signifying a victory for their own repugnant brand of evil. Their comments are intended to drive Americans apart, to thwart our collective purpose, to sow the seeds of political and social dysfunction. Knowing our weaknesses as a nation, they move to exploit them, and they do so with brazen confidence that they will succeed. Yes, tomorrow, we will see al-Qaeda's statements repeated endlessly in the conservative media and the conclusion will be as always to demonize the majority of Americans who stand firmly against the war in Iraq. But we don't have to stand for it. We don't have to listen to these agents of lies and calumny. On Tuesday Americans came together to proudly uphold our democratic traditions. That's something we should all be proud of. And al-Qaeda has nothing to do with it.

A Mandate for Peace

When Republicans win elections, they announce their agenda, as in, "I earned political capital and now I'm going to spend it" (Bush in '04.) When Democrats win elections, they assure the voters that they will bend over backwards to work with the other party. Why is this? Nancy Pelosi's address accepting victory on behalf of House Democrats could have been a concession speech with a few changed words. Democrats plan to raise the minimum wage, to push for lowering the cost of prescription drugs, and to send a hallmark card to every grandmother in America on her birthday. Actually, I made that last part up, but could the Democrats' agenda be any meeker? "The Democrats: We Promise Not to Disturb You for the Next Two Years." On the key issue of Iraq, Pelosi said only that Americans voted for a "new direction," which is a little like describing the liberation of Normandy as a day at at the beach. Americans most emphatically did not vote for a new direction in Iraq. They voted for a direction out of Iraq. The Democrats should not mistake or deliberately mischaracterize the intent of the voters. Many of these voters were conservatives or moderates with deep misgivings about the Democratic Party, and yet they showed up and voted for it for one single reason: because they saw no other way to end the war. What little public support there remains for the war is politically and socially marginal. This means that the Democrats now have an opportunity to build something that hasn't been seen in this country in a long, long time: a national anti-war movement. Waiting for 2008 is too long. The opportunity for peace is now. The American people deserve to know that their voices have been heard, that the Democratic party stands united with them in their desire to end this war.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

taking a chance on God

The philosopher Jean-Luc Marion would have us believe that having faith in God means being radically open to possibility, which must mean, any and all possibilities. Taking his cue from the late medieval and early modern voluntarists (God could do anything, even make a square circle, even reverse the Ten Commandments!), he says more or less that our categories of good and evil, freedom and unfreedom, justice, truth, hospitality, et al, only apply to our world, and by no means do they apply to "God's world" which transcends being altogether. So, being open to possibility means being open to the possibility of something awful, something worse than I could ever imagine, as well as something infinitely greater than I could ever imagine. This means that all of us must roll the dice and take a chance on God, taking the risk that what we receive back will be much greater than what we sacrificed, being open to the possibility that it will not. This is simply another way of saying that we must be open to the possibility of our own deaths at all times, to live like there may be a future even when this belief is unwarranted by the evidence. Although Marion adds hastily that all possibilities are ultimately loving, this strikes me as more ominous than comforting. This could be taken to mean that even awful possibilities are in their essence really loving, possibilities such as being attacked or tortured. I am not allowed to have any presuppositions about these possibilities, according to Marion, I must simply be open to them. It strikes me that 9/11 was one such awful surprise, a moment of truly sublime evil. Are we willing to take a chance that the next revelatory event may be something as great as 9/11 was evil, even perhaps, infinitely greater than 9/11 was evil? After 9/11, are we still willing to be open to the future, whatever it may presage? What does it mean to show courage in the face of terror? Or to have faith?

Even I Can't Be Cynical Today

Ok, I was wrong about everything. I wrote America off as an already failed pseudo-empire, constantly wondered whether the average American knew the difference between Norm Coleman and Gary Coleman, and obsessively followed The (tabloid) Globe's dogged coverage of George and Laura's failing marriage. On many occasions, and for a long time, I wanted to tell everyone I saw to just quit what they were doing and have a good time because the end of civilization in North America was near and there was nothing anybody could do about it. I may yet turn out to be right about all of these things. But for today...ah, today! Not only did I wake up this morning dead tired from a night of gloating over npr but when I checked my email at work I found I had won Patriots tickets for this Sunday's game. Who could believe it? What is going on today? On the same day that Americans completely prove me wrong and vote the bums out, lo, God delivers a ram. I may have to completely alter my perspective on life. I may need a brand new personality, or at least, my old one back. Is it possible that God hasn't condemned me and everyone else in this country to live in a hellish eternal darkness presided over by Bush, Cheney, and all the minions of hell? Look, what my political theology may be lacking in subtlety, it possesses in intensity. It is hard-wired for victory. All I know today is that I woke up this morning with that same magical feeling I had after the red sox had won the world series. It's a different world. Something new is happening. Everything might be ok after all. Things might turn out normal. It feels like morning in America again.