Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Crazy as a Clockwork Orange


orange is the "in" color in fashion these days. couture shops display orange handbags, sandals, even lipstick. tom ridge, fashion plate, has noticed. the administration trotted him and his silly rainbow out two weeks ago to announce that the country was now on orange, or "high," alert.

me, i'm color blind. i only see terrorism in black and white. the administration upped the color-code to orange only "after weeks of internal debate," which if true is evidence of their own sight problem. i say they have myopia. they don't want to see the big picture, that this is a war with islam not with one terrorist group or with one man.

the real reason for the color change was another of al jazeer's journalistic coups--it is journalism right? not that they're in cahoots with al qaeda?--the release of the latest taped communication from osama bin laden. each time a tape is released this image comes to mind, of nervous gulps, of wingtips and sensible pumps scurrying down the "corridors of power" to the nearest bathroom, of a quick evacuation and then a flush and of depleted stocks of immodium in all the stores around d.c., because this administration knows that the success of its "war" on terrorism and its own survival rests on one fragile, albeit significant, reed, that there have been no attacks on the "homeland" since 9-11-01.

they say it's a war but of course it's not to them, it's just a police action. hyperbole is an affliction that allows small people to dream big thoughts when they're too small to act big. they cannot conceive this as a real war because that is too big, too awful and they are psychologially unprepared for it. so they treat it as a police action. the goal of operation "defend freedom," or whatever the hell it was called, was to rout al qaeda and "get" bin laden "dead or alive." but even the boots of the old west sheriff proved too big for bush to fill. seventeen months after the fact the tall bearded one is alive, he walks among us, he is not in custody.

they know they've failed. not having a strategy to succeed they adopted a strategy to cope with failure. a new cabinet department, color codes, talking heads who are dispatched to the important media outlets to solemnly intone that a new attack might be in the works. they try to prepare us for it because they are unprepared for it.

they know it's all a house of cards that could collapse at any moment. when the first bin laden tape surfaced they thought that might be it. i remember the look, looks, on bush's face--fear, concern, embarrasment, perplexity. he didn't know what to do. bin laden was alive. they had failed even at that minimalist conception of success. and he's the president, the leader. but what to expect of someone who inherited his father's birth defect, being born without "the vision thing?" the intestinal discomfort was made more acute by tommy franks, their military leader of whatever this is, who almost contemporaneous with the tape's release, declared in a public speech his personal belief that bin laden was dead.

intelligence? military or brain, there's no there, there. we haven't a CLUE what's going to happen next or where it's going to happen. we have no idea of the enemy's capabilities. a "dirty bomb? ricin? some other chemo/bio agent? who knows? maybe the mother-of-all computer hacking jobs causing the pentagon to launch icbms or the hoover dam to release? they have no idea. they sit around thinking what could be done with no idea of what might be done.

all that experience; the foreign policy "dream team." meant to comfort that bush will never be allowed to bump his head on his intellectual ceiling. a pathetic substitute for leadership. foreign policy incoherence. cheney the hawk, no rumsfeld, powell the dove, no powell the hawk making the case for war to the u.n. the "axis of evil." remember that? supposed to be bush's "iron curtain" speech, to define the struggle before us. north korea included as if by an affirmative action program to ensure that we didn't have all muslim countries. no more thought given to it than that. the war isn't with islam, see? we got north korea in there. some of our best friends are muslims.

they're running tv ads showing "good" muslims expressing fealty to the founding fathers ideals. see, here's muhammad jones, autoworker. he's just like us. and there's north korea, just as bad as those bad muslim countries. some ink-stained wretch even wrote "thank god for north korea." be careful what you wish for. the crisis with north korea is now a more serious threat than iraq and completely of this administration's making. before that speech north korea was a psych ward patient but it was isolated in its padded room and sedated. you don't give a paranoid schizophrenic cause to be paranoid and that's what that speech did. now the whole peninsula could blow. rumsfeld keeps running his mouth. "we can fight two wars at the same time," as if that was the preferred option. ahh, the dream team.

tv ads. and leaflets too. we're dropping leaflets on iraq telling the masses a better life is on the way, one where individual rights will be protected. sounds like the baghdad streets must be teeming with proponents of constitutional democracy. maybe there are federalist society sleeper cells? secret meetings of "iraqi's for democratic action"? do the leaflets tell them about seperation of church and state? maybe save that one for later. we could have jimmy carter preach a guest sermon in one of the mosques. "saddam, let's join hands and pray to our common god, the father of muhammad and jesus."

oh sure there'll be some cheering in the streets when we enter baghdad. hussein is a tyrant. they'll be glad to get rid of him but unless we're prepared to enforce a liberal democracy like we did in japan after wwII, any "regime change" will be cosmetic rather than substantive. the arab masses do not teem with liberal democrats.

individual intelligence. think of bush and ridge. bush the yalie legacy, the "gentleman's c" student, the cheerleader, and ridge the football player who, as tip o'neill said of gerry ford, played too many games without his helmet on, bush's favorite governor, bush's personal choice for veep except bush's brain power ceiling and lack of foreign policy bona fides militated against it. but gotta find a place for tom. like to be around him. real man's man. see his shoulders? big, square. i like that. cheered for guys like that. the look on bush's face at the first tape release, like the ernest but vacuous pupil sitting in class when he hasn't done the reading and the class is calculus. not a clue. ridge is put in charge of sifting the wheat from the chaff in intelligence reports. his previous experience as governor of pennsylvania in dealing with the complexity of snow removal and the issuance of hunting licenses preparing him perfectly for his new job.

and i say they have DELIBERATE myopia. the attack on the theater in moscow, the phillipines, the attack on the french tanker--ah, FRENCH tanker...uh, ok let's give them a pass on that one--bali, the killing of the american soldier in kuwait, bin laden's home in the lawless region of our "friend" pakistan, saudi, also our "friend," royal financing of al qaeda, public opinion polls in islamic countries, palestinians cheering in the streets at the collapse of the twin towers, "the protocols of the elders of zion," the hit of the season on egyptian tv. they do not "connect the dots" and the connection could only be missed by someone deliberately near-sighted. saying he cannot see the big picture, he presses his face up against the tv screen until he only sees the dots, because the big picture is too horrifying for him to see and he's scared of horror movies.

they haven't ended terrorism either but they've convniced us they have. americans are still being killed, but "over there," and so it doesn't penetrate consciousness. we are both blessed and cursed by our geography. in this case, as in many others historically, if it happened abroad, it just didn't happen. and so america sleeps, led by a somnambulent president.

arright, so we haven't got bin laden and we haven't broken up al qaeda, but we "degraded" them. yeah, that's what we did. we degraded them. military word, degraded. like military words. like degraded. we degraded them.

we have partners in this "war," don't you know. a regular coalition. gotta stroke 'em. keep 'em on board. like pakistan. yeah pakistan. i like musharraf. tough guy. guy's guy. lot like tom. loyal guy. like loyal guys. but the tough guy can't even control half his country. our daisy cutters just caused the evanescent one to change addresses, move across town really, from tora bora to western pakistan.

and saudi arabia. friendly saudi arabia. they understand us. they understand oil. and money. just like me. and dick. they're good muslims too. part of our "coalition." gotta stroke 'em.

nothing except our support for israel hurts us as much among the arab masses as our alliance, our dalliance, with saudi arabia. and a river of black gold runs through it, this relationship, this dalliance. talk of democracy and free elections is just that when you support one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. we have no more in common with that medieval kingdom, than with a medieval kingdom. it is only the river that connects us and has connected us for decades. the relationship was profitable, literally to both sides. but only in terms of money.

our hypocrisy is exposed. we are seen as being only about money. and the price we pay for that oil is an al qaeda factory. that's how the family maintains its hold on power. they provide a base for "the base" and a pulpit for the most hateful mullahs, like the one who was part of the official saudi delegation to visit bush in texas, who had given a sermon in riyadh in april calling for the enslavement of jewish women for the pleasure of muslim men. those are our friends and that's their pressure valve. they allow, encourage, such things to keep the street rage directed away from them. so the kingdom became an incubator for the 9/11 terrorists. something like 13 of the 19 hijackers were saudi. and then a couple of months ago the revelation that their princess had provided funds to the hijackers. "follow the money." but not in this case. they're our friends. part of our "coalition." gotta stroke 'em.

we dithered. the meaningful "coalition" we now seek, the "multi-lateral" approach we're being forced into now, the u.n.-sanctioned use of force we grovel for, all of that we had in the immediate aftermath of sept. 11. timing may not be everything in life but it's a lot. it was lucky that so many of the west's leaders were in aspen that day in 1992 when hussein (why is he called by his first name, saddam?) invaded the 19th province. george the elder dithered then, another birth defect passed from father to son. but maggie thatcher was there and told him, "this is no time to go woolly in the knees, george." and so the first bush obeyed and said that that aggression "would not stand."

the one reed the administration clutches to is the lack of a follow-up attack on u.s. soil since 9/11. and it is a substantial reed. it is in fact what led to the (quickly withdrawn) july, 2002 post on this site retreating from previous advocacy of an expanded attack on the countries of the terror crescent. part of the reason for that post was acknowledgment of the political impossibility of such an action so long after the precipitating event. that was a consequence of bush's dithering and it is still the case today. now we are so constricted by the "entangling alliances" woodrow wilson warned against that we have not even attacked iraq yet. it is simply impossible to reasonably suggest a simultaneous, perhaps nuclear, attack on baghdad, tehran, tripoli, and damascus.

and then, admittedly, there was moral concern. it was estimated here that such a general war would take the lives of 2,000,000 muslim men, women and children. that IS a horror movie and anyone who does not recoil from it is either not being honest or not being human. the cost of such a war would also be staggering. we almost certainly do not have the manpower today to do the post-war policing and reconstruction that would need to be done. the draft would have to be reinstituted. the financial burden of all of this would be immense.

but the islamic threat has not dissipated. that "religion," that "tenth century penal code," in christopher hitchins words, still is nazism by another name. and that religion's "practitioners," the islamic masses, are still filled with the hate and call to violence and intolerance and scorn that that religion preaches. so secretary rumsfeld may get his wish for two simultaneous wars yet.

it is the fervent belief expressed many times here, that america is being "israel-ized," constrained and conditioned into accepting terrorist attacks as a part of life. it is also the belief, call it hubris or arrogance, that the administration and the american people do not understand something: we could lose this war. islam could defeat us. this is not understood because "war" is such a loaded term. we think of invading and occupying armies, of declarations and formal surrenders. that is not this war. that is not the kind of war generally fought in the two thousand year history of islam. rather, it is guerilla warfare, just the kind we face today.

we are conditioned to believe that guerilla warfare is the warfare of the weak. that may be true in other contexts. it is not the case with islam. that is their traditional method. so no, there is no fear of islamic hordes advancing on washington. they don't want to conquer our land. they want to conquer our culture. they can do that. the 9/11 attacks caused a mini-recession in our economy. a dirty nuclear bomb set off in manhattan would essentially render the island unhabitable for the foreseeable future. given the concentration there of so much that is vital to our economy, such a crude, guerrila attack would cripple the u.s. economy. it would spark a depression. that's what islam wants. our economy is the engine of our culture. destroy our economy and you destroy our culture.

they hate our culture on religious grounds. women in america have freedom to work where they wish and to vote. in islam they can do neither. our liberal sexual mores are anethma to islam's rigidity on sex and dress. interest--"usery" to them--the backbone of capitalism, is forbidden by islam. their religion teaches that followers of any other faith are "infidels." and these extreme philosophical differences are exacerbated by the humiliation of the west's success and islam's failure for so long. islam had a proud, rich intellectual, cultural and military history. but christianity defeated it during the crusades and as christianity modernized through a reformation period, islam never did. hence it remains a tenth century philosophy ten centuries later.

so what is to be done? a war with iraq will occur, apparently. washington fears a "destabilizing" effect on other islamic countries. that should not be feared. it should be planned for and is preferable to the israelization of america.

of all the other terror crescent countries, probably emeritic iran, so little in control of it's emotions and actions, would be the most likely country to involve itself. if in the slightest way that occurs, through acceptance of fleeing iraqi soldiers for example, we should immediately expand the war by attacking iran. if also, our embassies are attacked in other islamic countries, we should attack them. by international law after all, an embassy is considered the sovereign territory of the represented country.

if israel is attacked we should not discourage their retaliation. we should anticipate it and accept it. this site has previously suggested an american/english/israeli military alliance to replace outmoded and disgraced nato, to counter islam at least. (can anyone contest the wisdom of that now, of the irrelevant--and worse, obstructionist--north atlantic alliance, now that the miserable french have worked their mischief again?). in this way general civilizational war between judeo-christianity and islam could occur, not wished for, but not feared either, and infinitely preferable to living with continued terrorism or having our economy crippled. in such a war islam would be defeated and an overdue reformation imposed on it.

one by one, the islamic dominoes may fall in behind brother hussein when the american "riposte" comes.

let it be.

-benjamin harris.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Out of Step


there were protests against the war this weekend. there is no war yet but there were protests, preemptive protests against a preemptive war.

Michelle and i went to the new york public library on Saturday, oblivious. when we got there about 10 am there were a couple hand fulls of protesters on the steps. when we left about an hour later there were already about 100. as we walked down 5th avenue we passed multitudes, thousands, heading in the opposite direction toward the library, ground zero.

a surprisingly large number, way over a majority, carried signs. an unsurprising number were baby boomers, their hair gray, or is some cases white and curled also by the lack of melanin, their teeth yellowed, but on this occasion anyway, with still a spring in their step. there was a festive air among them. they looked excited and talked excitedly. "we're getting the band back together again," that's what came to my mind anyway.

down by the flatiron building there was a man in about his mid-forties with a younger male, perhaps his son. of a sudden the older man, carrying a placard, began high-skipping in the street beside the cars. i thought he was going to start blocking traffic or pounding on the hoods but that kind of thing came later. i was surprised at first by the harshness in the signs. "Cheney is Evil" with devils horns, similar ones about bush, the counterculture's iconic American flag with the swastika in place of the stars, "Down with American fascism." not harshness, hatred really. surprised at first but not when i thought about it. it had been that way over Vietnam.

the protests evacuated certain segments of the city. Chelsea has been the "in" arts section for the last few years and was where we were walking to Saturday when we stopped off at the library. the lady at the Whitney museum had given us a place to go to there so we turned right a couple blocks before the flatiron and walked in the cold.

the place was a building from the industrial age, which had been converted into 9 floors of artists studios and small galleries. we decided to take the elevator to the top and work our way down. Saturday is the big day of the week for the artists in Chelsea. all of the big dealers and collectors go there. but today 90% of the studios in this building were empty. we went to one and the proprietress told us everyone was at the protest. she was listening to it on the radio herself. a couple of others were open but we were finding only one or two per floor so we left. later we went back to the hotel and saw on tv that some of the protesters had turned violent.

Artists can see things others can't. maybe they can see this too. And the public too. a majority of Americans oppose an attack on Iraqi at this time. it's not a common coalition--the artists and the public. but i can't see it myself. that night when we left the ballet there was an anti-war sign on the ground and i went over and stepped on it.

-Benjamin Harris

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

A Good Walk Spoiled*


my dad was an energetic man--when he was younger. he had, really, two families. mike and don were the first family and then there was a gap of 10 years before me and tim. it's hard to raise children, but 4? and 4 boys? in two sets spanning a gap of 10 years? dad was supposedly a taskmaster with the older boys but they took a lot of the fight out of him and he was 10 years older by the time he got to us. age alone mellows you. the effort of getting yourself worked up to be mad and then yelling was just more trouble than it was worth.

dad was not a physically intimidating man. he had male pattern baldness bad. his hairline began just above his ears and he wore big elvis costello glasses. although he was 6' tall, he was skinny. and bony. he was like one of those creatures you see on the discovery channel that has evolved peculiar defense mechanisms, like a foul smell, or squirting a jet of inky fluid. dad's were his elbows. we would play-box, even in adulthood. he had no boxing skills whatsoever. he'd parry our jabs with his bony elbows and we'd jam our hands and wrists on them, which always infuriated us.

so physically he didn't cow you and he had a predictable set of mannerisms when he got mad that caused more mirth than intimidation. he would scrunch up his face and yell out of the corner of his mouth, "holy hell [object of anger]! "holy hell ben, i told you to mow the lawn this morning," like that.

dad's mellowing was accelerated by the invention of the tranquilizer, adavan. i believe he started taking it when mike was in vietnam, cause enough for sure, but his usage outlasted mike's tour, and then the war itself, disco and the cold war. he always took it in moderation but he always took it. we called him "dadavan." his tolerance for aggravation was increased, his "holy hell" trigger harder to pull, his facial expression bemused. i once saw the same look on a somewhat goofily smiling, post-electroshock ernest hemingway.

dad's mellowing was not matched by a dimunition in pranks and juvenalia by his sons however. long into adulthood we were inflicting such as in-face flatulence, forced anus-viewing, throwing cold water on each other in the shower, all the pieces in the sophmore's repertoire. with mike and don when they were younger, these produced "holy hells." later, bemused, post-electroshock face.

after getting out of the navy, don got married and took a job in buffalo, new york. we vacationed there each summer when we were little and mum and dad continued to go there so dan bought a vacation home there.

one summer we all vacationed together for the first time since tim and i were little. i had just graduated from law school and tim was working in the mines back home, so we were about 25 and 23, full adults. dan was an even more "mature," 35 years old.

everyone in the family except me played golf regularly and if they were all going out i'd go along and take a few whiffs to be with them. they all decided to play a round of golf one day at the lake and so we went out. don brought a couple 6-packs along. as we played mum and don's wife chatted and we 4 "men" were constantly goofing on each other, clearing our throats on backswings, mocking each other's muffed shots and the like. really having a good time.

the course was a little hilly sowe rented one golf cart in case somebody got tired, and to store the beer. after they all hit their shots on one hole we started down the fairway which was bordered by slopes on either side. mum and billie sue walked together in the back, dadavan was riding in the golf cart with dan driving and each was drinking a beer. tim and i were walking ahead of the cart.

don began to drive the cart toward tim as if to run him over. tim jumped out of the way. dan chased after him. they settled into a routine a little bit like a bull and a matador. tim would stop and taunt. don would drive toward him and tim jump out of the way at the last minute. then tim began jogging in a zig-zag pattern and don trailed him. don, tim and i were laughing and dad sat cross-legged in the cart holding a beer, mellow hemingway look on his face.

then tim zigged and don zagged. the cart lurched sharply to the left and dad went out the cart to the right. head over tin cups. beer flew, glasses came off. he tumbled a bit down the slope. for a moment we were all mortified. he could have broken his neck. but he jumped up to his feet. and he was pissed.

"HOLY HELL DAN, I'LL DRIVE THAT THING!", he yelled out the side of his mouth. "LOOK, JOAN [mum}, I'M INJURED," and he rolled up his pantleg to show a minor cut on a bony, pale-white shin.

as with all good slapstick, the degree of laughter is directly proportinate to the degree of danger avoided. tim and dan and i were beside ourselves. don rested his head on the steering wheel, his shoulders shaking in laughter. i think tim and i were on the ground. but dad was understandably still a bit shaken up and got more pissed when he saw us laughing. and then mum got pissed and started yelling at us.

don surrendered the wheel to dad and mum got in beside him. don and tim and i got as far ahead of them as we could so they couldn't hear our laughter but it was uncontrollable.

like all good slapstick though, the laughter is uncontrollable

*Credit to John Feinstein and Mark Twain for the title.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

October, 1962


if the 1950's as a cultural era ended, as i hold, on nov. 22, 1963, then oct 1962 was the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of that era. youthful jfk had been elected president in 1960 promising "vigah" and to "get this country moving again" after the stolid years of the aged dwight d eisenhower. the contrast was typified on inauguaration day, kennedy, seemingly oblivious to the bitter cold delivering his vaulting speech while ike sat to the side wrapped like an infirm grandfather on an outing being pushed around in a wheelchair.

youthfulness can be misread as callowness however which is the way nikita khruschev, the peasant leader of the soviet union, read kennedy. they had met for the first time face to face in vienna and khruschev had sized jfk up as the weak, pretty-boy son fulfilling the ambitions of his strong-willed father. khruschev threatened war at that meeting over berlin. as the meeting ended kennedy said "mr. general secretary, it is going to be a long cold winter." the two men walked out together and posed for pictures, khruschev smiling at his bullying, kennedy, shaken and not smiling.