Tag Archives: Military

Imaginary Action Heroes, Real Wars, and Failing to Show Up for the Bechdel Test

The cold and snow has moved my running to a treadmill lately. To break up the monotony of watching numbers tick slowly higher, I’ve been watching action movies on Netflix while I run. So far, I’ve enjoyed such classics as Jack Reacher, Olympus Has Fallen, The Expendables 2, The Last Stand and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. They’re fast paced, don’t require close attention, and I can view them in 35 minute pieces over a period of days without having to keep track of an intricate plot. Good idea, huh?

I’m finding them kind of upsetting.

It’s not the obvious things, like the racial stereotypes. Yes, very few of the East Asian men I’ve met have genius level intelligence, martial arts mastery and a unbearable grudge against the United States. Usually it’s just one of those. I’ve found, too, that East Asian women are also not martial arts masters, nor are they leather clad dominatrices with ice in their veins. I suppose it’s possible that I’m meeting the wrong sorts of Asians. But I didn’t marry the wrong sort of woman – my wife has agency, an identity free of mine, and common sense. That is, my wife would be a terrible action movie wife. But I think I’m used to the gender problems in action movies. Let’s face it: these films not only fail the Bechdel test, they don’t even sit for the exam.

The graphic violence isn’t helping, both the violence itself and violence packaged as entertainment.  I don’t think that movies or video games motivate violent behavior.  I recognize that these movies aren’t supposed to be taken seriously. They’re entertainment for 15 year old boys. But there’s some evidence that if movies don’t shape our behavior, they do seem to shape our view of the real world. The films show violence as a means to an end, and I can think of at least two examples where that’s impacted actual events. First, an an actual general publicly worried about the influence that 24 was having on troops respect for the rule of law and the usefulness of torture. Second, intelligent, rational people – and Alan Dershowitz – believe in a ripped-from-the-screen “ticking time bomb” scenario to justify torture, in spite of the fact that both the likelihood of the scenario occurring and the likelihood of the torture working are both pretty close to nil.

Is it entertainment to watch innocent people get blown to bits in a film world that’s supposed to plausibly resemble our own?In Olympus Has Fallen, terrorists fly a gunship over Washington, indiscriminately firing on pedestrians and motorists prior to attacking the White House. This sequence was incredibly difficult to watch. If I were the 15 year old target audience, scenes of national monuments under attack and planes crashing into DC wouldn’t trigger any memories of 9/11. But I’m not, and I wondered what sort of nutjob would make a movie that resonates 9/11 so much.

Olympus Has Fallen

Olympus Has Fallen

Then I realized: that’s the point.

In action movies like Olympus Has Fallen and Jack Ryan, Americans – really, American men – are the smartest, strongest, and most clever beings in the world. The heroes are free of lingering doubts from the recent wars America hasn’t won and the terrorist plots we haven’t stopped. In the movies, the North Koreans and Iranian regimes are bumbling ideologues, undone by their monomaniacal fixation on revenge. In the real world, North Korea and Iran developed sophisticated nuclear programs right under our noses, undermine regional stability and threaten our allies. The fictional Jack Ryan figures out an elaborate Russian scheme to bring the US economy to its knees, but his real world CIA counterparts couldn’t forecast Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year or his ability to pull the rug out from under Obama on Syria the year before that. The closest reality came to action movies in the last few years was the raid on Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden. As a movie, this would have been the climax. As history, it will be a footnote in describing the declining role of al Qaeda and the metastatic spread of the uberviolent nihilists of ISIS and Boko Haram.

These movies are escapist fantasies, perpetuating an illusion of America that’s faded precipitously over the last 15 years. I suppose I could’ve figured this all out on my own. As fate would have it, though, while I was incrementally watching these movies on the treadmill, I was incrementally reading James Fallows’ piece, The Tragedy of the American Military, in the bathroom. Fallows describes an American public and their elected officials tragically detached from and uncritical of their military. In his words, the military benefits from “(O)verblown, limitless praise, absent the caveats or public skepticism we would apply to other American institutions, especially ones that run on taxpayer money.”

Are the movies really useful in sustaining a myth of American might, righteousness, and indestructibility? The Pentagon hopes so, carefully checking scripts for maximum PR value before deciding whether to cooperate. A quick search of the IMDB page of the Hollywood liaison during the Bush Administration shows the kind of movies that passed muster: The Day After Tomorrow, War of the Worlds, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Among the Pentagon-approved films was also Saving Jessica Lynch, based on the “true story” of the 19-year old private captured in Iraq in 2003. Yes, the Pentagon prefers to have the military fight in cartoonish disaster films and, when possible, cartoonish “true” stories in which the truth is something it engineered in the first place.

Easier to deal with than IEDs

Easier to deal with than IEDs

One could argue that the Pentagon could have made actual great strides for American might and indestructibility if they had put more effort into providing adequate body armor, supplying properly equpped Humvees, and a ensuring a functional Veterans Administration. But there wouldn’t be any glamor, giant robots, or aliens in that.

Since the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been plenty of action movies – some more successful than others. There have also been movies about the wars, almost all of them unsuccessful (the exception is The Hurt Locker). That is, until now, with the success of American Sniper. We now have a movie that takes the action movie highlights – the stoic, driven, supremely talented tough guy hero and purports to place him in a “true” story. People focused on pre-beatification Chris Kyle see the film as heavy handed propaganda. The population that is already inclined to unconditionally celebrate the American military finally gets the lightly fictionalized war movie they wanted, with the rough edges of the Iraq war and Kyle sanded away.   I haven’t seen the movie myself, and I don’t think I want to. I much prefer to get my propaganda wholly fictionalized.

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We Suck At Wars in the Middle East

The US Congress has authorized arming Syrian rebels in the fight against the Islamic State, and the US has started its bombing campaign. It’s about time. I mean, it’s about time for an election so of course Congress had to look like it was doing something. And they had to do something because there were two American journalists who suffered gruesome, horrible deaths. Americans by and large supported this doing of something, because after three years of the Syrian Civil War, they finally discovered what much of the world already knew: there was a civil war in Syria.

Americans paid attention to the execution of the journalists more than any other story of the past five years. That’s to be expected: James Foley and Steven Sotloff died horribly, whereas the 191,000 Syrians who met their demise before them presumably did so in a wacky, lighthearted, and utterly charming way. Chemical weapons and cluster munitions are well known as the Laverne & Shirley of ways to die. Strategy suggestion to the ten million Syrian refugees: have you thought about dumping buckets of ice water on your heads? Also, being Arab isn’t helping.

The same survey that revealed Americans now know that Syria isn’t the thing you pour milk on for breakfast also showed we feel less safe. This makes sense: the Islamic State is a whole lot more frightening than Count Chocula, though possibly less anti-Semitic than that particular cereal. Speaking of Muslims, President Obama now has an approval rating lower than his forehead at Friday prayer (zing!). Thus we find ourselves with a weak President, a Republican party with its eyes on taking the Senate, ghastly deaths, and a sort of non-specific fear. Sounds like as good a time as any to get into a non-specific war in the Middle East.

blog on gwotWe’ve been here before. Charging into a troubled region to restore order when no one else has the will or the means. The only problem is this: the American military sucks at Middle East wars. Really, really sucks. You may remember something called the Global War on Terror, the official term for the various American overseas adventures of the 21st century. The GWOT cost $5 trillion in the first 10 years, or $16,000 for every American. That’s a staggering amount of money. We could have bought every American a new car, though if that car was a GM they might actually have felt safer fighting in Iraq. To be clear, President Obama changed the name of GWOT in 2009 and declared it over last year. Though he declared he’d close Gitmo at the same time. The guy makes a lot of declarations. It doesn’t change the fact that we suck at Middle East wars.

To be clear, I’m not criticizing our troops, or the men and women I prefer to call Future Neglected Veterans. I’m criticizing our military leadership, commonly called “the brass” because of their tendency to be tarnished by insubordination, poking their biographers, and covering up widespread sexual abuse. And I’m not just some weak-kneed liberal sitting on his couch banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen. I’m some weak-kneed liberal banging out a stupid blog while watching America’s Test Kitchen who can turn the Joint Chiefs of Staff words against them.

This is thanks to a document published eight years ago, “National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism.” This is the real deal. You can tell – it has a giant picture of an eagle on it. As the cover letter from General Peter Pace notes, the document was produced as the US was entering its 5th year of fighting the GWOT. The five year mark must have seemed like as good a time as any to finally come up with a strategy for the war (though we continued to fart around in Iraq until the “Surge” of the following year.) Here are the objectives for the GWOT, as described in the document:

1. “Deny Terrorists What They Need to Operate and Survive”
2. “Enable Partner Nations to Counter Terrorism”
3. “Deny WMD/E Proliferation, Recover and Eliminate Uncontrolled Materials…”
4. “Defeat Terrorists and Their Organizations/Counter State and Non-State Support for Terrorism…”
5. “Contribute to the Establishment of Conditions That Counter Ideological Support for Terrorism”

You know how members of Congress get themselves all hot and bothered about accountability and measurable results in public education? Wouldn’t it be great if they could find themselves in a comparable  froth about accountability from the military when it sets clear objectives and then clearly fails to meet any of them them? Look at that list. I don’t think that in the summer of 2014, ISIS felt particularly denied of their operational or survival needs. Iraq is a partner nation of ours, and countered ISIS by cleverly losing part of their country to them. North Korea still has nukes. Iran still has nukes. Syria has used at least two kinds of chemical weapons. States and non-states have supported terrorist groups without much hesitation. Why are we going into another war with the military and the military strategy that screwed up the last one?

buckner1No, really. Where we really, truly, and horribly Bill Bucknered the War on Terror is on #5. Because here’s the kicker: remember how we made sure there were no Ba’athists left in the Iraqi military in 2003? And then remember how after that al Qaeda was able to establish a foothold in Iraq because it took us four years to realize we weren’t being welcomed as liberators? Remember how how no one in America – not the president, not the military, and definitely not the public – wanted to get involved to stop the slaughter in Syria? It’s a historic joke: disgruntled ex-military men and radical Islamists walk into a rapidly destabilizing country.  The punchline: The Ba’athist and ISIS from an alliance to take over part of Iraq. Ha! Get it? The other funny part is that after the US decided not to take military action against the Syrian government, we now are giving the Syrian government — the one that is responsible for the deaths of almost 200,000 people – advanced warning that we will be bombing their country.

But the Syrian government shouldn’t worry, because we’ll be bombing the other party responsible for gruesome deaths and the suffering of thousands.

This will likely be over soon. In his address to the nation on ISIS, President Obama promised a limited effort. The President also claimed that “this is American leadership at its best: we stand with people who fight for their own freedom.” The President is right. We stood with the mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets, until we lost interest in 1989. We stood with the Shi’a and Kurdish rebellion against Saddam in Iraq, and then we didn’t. The United States stood with Sunni Arabs during the “Awakening” in 2007 until we pulled out of Iraq completely in 2011. We promised Syrian civilians the Assad government would face consequences for using chemical weapons, and they didn’t.

All of our previous efforts in the greater Middle East seem to lead to one conclusion: no matter how badly this war goes, the next one will probably be worse. Which is great, because we suck at wars in the Middle East.

 

 

 

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Death Comes to Us All – Faster if You’re Leading Iraq

The United States is a lousy friend to have. Take the case of Nuri al Maliki. The Bush Administration raised him from obscurity and installed him as Prime Minister because he was less corrupt, less incompetent, and less friendly with the Iranians than the other guys. We supported Maliki for years, even as he became as incompetent and friendly with Iran as the other guys, learning to be a ruthless authoritarian in the process. As a rule, we’re usually fine with authoritarians, until the other week, when it looked like Maliki  might lose control of Iraq to ruthless Islamists. The American public can tolerate a lot, but not the idea that we fought a fruitless war to liberate a country that will now be unliberated by the dread Islamists. So various people who should know better have called on Maliki to resign.

Disclaimer: I’ve never been the President or Prime Minister of Iraq. If Iraq were to reestablish a monarchy, I wouldn’t have a chance at being king. So I can’t really say what’s going on in Nuri al Maliki’s mind. But if I were him, there is no way that I would ever, ever, resign. Because I know what Maliki knows: terrible things happen to the leaders of Iraq when they lose power.

Saddam-Hussein-exe_2511167bYou probably think I mean Saddam. He got off relatively easy. Sure, he was taunted, then hanged, and then his dead body shown on TV.  And yes, cell phone footage of the hanging went viral. But he was spared the indignity of his half-brother’s execution a month later, which accidentally turned into a decapitation (oops). I wonder if Saddam ever wished he could have died in a firefight like his sons, who left marginally better looking corpses when they too were shown on TV (don’t click the link if you’re eating).

Here’s the thing Maliki must be thinking about: if I resign, I am going to die a painful death?  A painful death followed by the indignity of my mangled body being displayed on TV? There’s a strong precedent for this: Abd al-Karim Qasim, who led the revolution against the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 was executed by a firing squad following a coup in 1963. His body ended up in  a television studio, which broadcast footage of his body for hours. Here’s a fun fact: there’s pretty good evidence that the CIA supported Qasim’s overthrow, and wanted him assassinated as early as 1959 – when they enlisted the help of a bumbling thug named – you guessed it – Saddam Hussein. Saddam screwed it up, but he earned a “use chemical weapons free” card from the US, which he cashed in against Iran decades later.  Meanwhile, the US decided to support Qasim for awhile because he was anti-Nasser, and we hated Nasser even more in the early 1960s.

Maliki might find some relief in Qasim’s successor, Abd al Salam Arif. He wasn’t shot or hanged, and his body wasn’t displayed on TV. Arif was president for three whole years before he was killed in a plane crash in 1966, likely the result of sabotage by the Ba’athists. He was eventually replaced by his brother – who was President for two years before being overthrown in another CIA-backed coup. Oddly enough, Arif’s brother lived to be 91. Historians suspect he might have been a Highlander. Arif’s daughter and her family were killed in 2004, though it’s not clear if it was because of a 38-year grudge against Arif, or just because Iraq was a terrible place to be a year after the US invasion. Not that the current mess is in any way related to that invasion, of course.

Maliki is being rational in not wanting to die. You know who isn’t? The cousin of one of Iraq’s kings, who wants to restore the monarchy.  It’s true that the first king of Iraq,who was also briefly the first king of Syria, even though he was from neither place, (long story) didn’t go too horribly. Faysal I was only 48 when he died in 1933 of a heart attack in Switzerland, and there’s only some suspicion he was poisoned. Plus, history has treated him pretty well — he negotiated full independence from Britain and got a sympathetic portrayal by Alec Guinness in Lawrence of Arabia; Ewan McGregor will play him in the prequel. Faysal’s son Ghazi assumed the throne, leading to a period of political instability when only one defense minister was assassinated and tossed in a ditch. A couple of generals were assassinated, too – but one of them, Bakr Sidqi, was kind of big into massacres, so he probably deserved it. Sidqi also has the distinction of leading the first coup d’etat in a modern Arab country, in 1936, so he was something of a trendsetter – and he did it without the CIA, which didn’t exist yet.

King Ghazi was really into cars. Before he could legally drive, he raced cars on a track in England. Here’s an ethical quiz for you: if someone offers you a really sweet 1936 silver Mercedes Benz convertible, do you take it? Question two: do you take it if the car is from Adolf Hitler? Ghazi did.  So it probably served him right that he died in a suspicious car crash in 1939 when he lost control and hit an electric pole.

Chuck Dressen, Faisal II of Iraq, and Jackie Robinson

Ghazi’s son, Faisal II, was only four when his father died, so his uncle, Abd al Illah, was regent for fourteen years until Faysal II came of age in 1953 – the same year his cousin, King Hussein became king of Jordan (also a long story). At this point, you might be asking yourself, “did the young king of Iraq ever tour the US and hang out with Jackie Robinson?” The answer is yes! Now, you might say, “Ok. But did he also meet James Mason?” Guess what? The answer is also yes!

King_Faisal_II_and_Prince_AbdulIlah_visiting_with_Deborah_Kerr_and_James_MasonFaysal looks so happy in the pictures (at right), which is touching – because a few years later, he was going to die horribly. Really, really, horribly.  In 1958, when Abd al-Karim Qasim led the coup to overthrow the monarchy, Faysal and his family -his uncle, his mother, his sister, fiance, and 6 year old nephew –  were cornered in their palace in Baghdad. They tried to surrender, but instead were chased into a courtyard and shot. There’s conflicting reports on whether Faysal was beheaded – but his uncle, who was hated from his time as regent – was first hung in the street, then dismembered with his various parts paraded through the streets. Faysal’s Prime Minister, who served in the position fourteen times beginning in 1930, had a reputation for being a little too pro-Western, anti-democratic, and repressive. He initially escaped capture in Baghdad by disguising himself as a woman, but was eventually captured, shot, and disemboweled. He was buried, dug up, dismembered, and then run over by a car. This process is known in Arabic as being “itchied and scratchied,” hence the inspiration for The Simpsons.

One can see why the current pro-Western, anti-democratic, repressive Prime Minister of Iraq might be concerned about losing power. The only way he can avoid a terrible fate is through repression of any opposition, something he seems very willing to do – and which the United States seems generally happy to ignore. The trick for him now is to make it clear that ISIS is a huge threat (successful so far), and that’s he’s the person who can secure Iraq (less clear). If the ISIS threat were to somehow subside, the US might decide he’s bad for our image and let him fall. Or, if we decide that he’s not the person we want to secure Iraq, he might find himself going to pieces. Literally. Maliki has to be terrified of what will happen when the US turns on him. He might not be ready for his final TV appearance yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Day in Afghanistan

taliban-fighters“Trading five senior Taliban leaders from detention in Guantanamo Bay for Bergdahl’s release may have consequences for the rest of our forces and all Americans. Our terrorist adversaries now have a strong incentive to capture Americans…” Joint statement of House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. McKeon (R-CA) and  ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, James M. Inhofe (OK) – May 31, 2014.

***

Somewhere in Wardak province, Afghanistan. Dusk. Two Taliban scouts, Khaseb and Omar, are squatting behind a ridge overlooking a small US Army outpost. 

Khaseb: “…so she says to me, I don’t care if you go…Can you believe it? Like I’m no good to her after the poppies are harvested. Anyway, what are you going to do? Fighting season couldn’t come soon enough this year.”

Omar: “I know, right? I used to be like poppies first, jihad second. But now, I don’t know. The last three or four years, I’ve been thinking…”

Khaseb (interupting): “Hey! Look! The Americans are out on foot patrol again!”

Omar: “No shit! So close to dark?”

Khaseb: “Hey! Whaddya say we kidnap one?”

Omar: “Are you kidding? You know how much Americans eat? Keeping an American hostage is crazy expensive. Plus, the Americans will never negotiate with us to get one of their soldiers back.”

Khaseb: “DUDE! Haven’t you heard? The Americans are totally negotiating with us now!”

Omar: “No way! The Americans? They say they never negotiate with ‘terrorists’  (Both laugh). Plus, the American government’s words always match their deeds! Except for when they’re talking about torture, or spying on themselves, or how if you like your health care plan you can keep it.”

Khaseb: “What? What in the name of Allah the most merciful is health care?”

Omar: “I don’t know. Just something I heard. So wait, Obama will negotiate with us now?”

Khaseb: “Yes! He’s bargaining like a rug salesman in Kabul…Guess how many Talibs he traded for one Army sergeant?”

Omar: “Two.”

Khaseb: “Keep going.”

Omar: “Three.”

Khaseb: “Here’s a hint: how many Pillars of Islam?”

Omar: “Obama traded FIVE Talibs for ONE SERGEANT?”

Khaseb: “This is what I’m saying. Exciting, huh? Makes me feel all…what’s the word?”

Omar: “Emboldened?”

Khaseb: “Yeah! I’m totally emboldened. FIve talibs for one guy! It’s a huge emboldening! (throws his hands up excitedly) Whoo!”

Omar and Khaseb go to high five, then realize awkwardly that they are supposed to be hiding.

Khaseb: “So, what do you say? Should we nab one?”

Omar: “Yes! Kidnapping one of their soldiers will destroy American morale!”

Khaseb: “Well, I don’t know about that…”

Omar: “What do you mean? We will crush the American spirit with his ordeal! Americans love their soldiers! Don’t you ever listen to their ‘country music?'”

Khaseb: “What?! No!…Does HARAM mean anything to you? Anyway, this last one – most Americans had never heard of him until last week. We had him for five years and they didn’t even notice!”

Omar: “You’re kidding! Maybe he should have kicked Jay-Z’s ass in an elevator.. (Khaseb looks at him quizzically). Still, if we capture one, we could get five more of our brothers released. It will be glorious!”

Khaseb: “No way! There’s going to be congressional hearings and investigations, and the mid-term elections coming up. Obama’s not going to do a deal like this again.”

There’s a long pause as the two men consider their options. The excitement has abated.

Omar: “So, what, Obama is just going to keep using those flying death robots on us now?”

Khaseb: “Probably. He LOVES those things. I guess he never had toy planes when he was a boy in Nairobi.”

Omar: “Hey — I have an idea! While the Americans are out on patrol, let’s go raid the base and steal their weapons! We will chase them out of our country once and for all!”

Khaseb: “I dunno. It’s pretty risky. Plus, the Americans already said they’re leaving. We can just wait and take their weapons when they’re gone. That’s what they did in Iraq. And in Libya. Even in Mali. Seems safer that way.”

Omar: “I don’t get it. The only place Americans DON’T want us to have their weapons is in Syria? They didn’t used to be so picky. My uncle still has the crate for a Stinger missile launcher in his garage.”

Khaseb: “Yeah, my dad used his as a coffee table. Nice green color. Went good with the rug…so, what should we do?”

Omar: “I’m feeling a whole lot less emboldened than I was a few minutes ago.”

Khaseb: “Yeah, I was feeling emboldened, too — but now I’m disemboldened. Or deemboldened. Whatever. It’s not worth it.”

Omar (sighs): “Hey, you got a cigarette?”

Khaseb: “Dude! HARAM!”

Omar: “You know, for Taliban, you’re not much fun.”

<scene>

 

 

 

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Wild World of Iranimals

Chicago finally thawed a few weeks ago. Why not take the dog for a walk? See some birds, maybe some crocuses. Nope.  All I saw was the staggering, disgusting amount of dog crap. The only time I didn’t notice the dog crap is when I was trying to save myself or my dog from some other dog free of its leash in the park near my house. As 90+ pounds of inbred stupidity, teeth, claws, and drool came bounding towards us, the owner would yell “don’t worry! he’s a good dog!” Dog owners never believe it’s going to be their dog that attacks someone, and they’re never the person who didn’t clean up after their dogs. Of course, if that were true, there wouldn’t be so much dog crap everywhere, or dogs biting children, pedestrians, and cyclists.

This is why we should ban dogs. I would happily give up my dog if it meant never having to deal with anyone else’s dog or dog crap again. I know this will never happen. We’re obsessed with our dogs. We spent fifty-five billion dollars on our pets last year, mostly on dogs, and probably on premium dog food for people who don’t understand they’re feeding dogs. I wish we lived in a more enlightened society. Like Iran.

In 2010, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi issued a religious ruling against dog ownership, noting that the animals are unclean. I can’t really argue with the Grand Ayatollah, and he hasn’t even been to the park near my house. He also viewed dog ownership as an import from the West, a place where some people love their dogs more than their wives or children. The Grand Ayatollah has a point. We have a lot of lonely, sick, depressed people in the West. People who refer to my eight year old mutt as “baby” or “puppy” and talk to him like he’s an infant, and not an animal that will happily eat the crap of other animals, but will throw up if he eats turkey.

I think America has a screwed up relationship with animals in general. I’ll tell you has the right attitude toward animals: Iran. While Americans are trying (and failing disastrously) to turn whales into entertainers at SeaWorld, Iran has recognized these vicious monsters for what they are: ideal weapons platforms. And the Iranians didn’t just limit themselves to whales. They’ve had weaponized dolphins, seals, and sea lions for well over a decade. These animals can attack enemies with harpoons strapped to their backs, or undertake kamikaze missions by carrying mines to enemy ships. I say it’s time we stop making sappy children’s movies where the orphan rescues the stranded whale, and start teaching our children about the dangers of homicidal kamikaze dolphins. I bet that that smile and those unblinking eyes don’t seem so adorable in the seconds before you’re impaled by a back-launched harpoon. Thank God for Vladimir Putin. If he hadn’t revealed Ukraine’s combat dolphins to be merciless traitors, we might never have known about Iran’s program at all.

Iran isn’t just after animal mastery in the aquatic dominion. They are sending their animal soldiers into space, as they develop ever more sophisticated rocket technology along with their nuclear program. You might know that in 1961, the US sent a chimp into low orbit for sixteen minutes. The chimp came back and lived the rest of his life at the zoo. Not a very exciting story. Compare that to Iran. Last year, they sent a monkey into space – and not long after, a different monkey came back. Just think: in what seemed like only fifteen minutes on earth, the original monkey entered into a wormhole and discovered a planet full of friendly aliens. He was able to establish an entire simian-alien civilization, which advanced to such a level that they were able to develop their own space program and send back an emissary to Earth. Sadly, they never developed the ability to speak Farsi, and the resultant episode was a PR disaster for Iran. Still, this was Iran’s most successful foray into space so far – no one knows what happened to the turtles, worm, and mouse they’d launched previously. Perhaps the cat they’re planning to send next will find them, though their whole space program is starting to resemble the Little Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly.

Iran has good reason to invest so heavily in animal-based defense technology. They are under constant threat from enemy animals in their region. And not all of them are as big or obvious as a harpoon-wielding kamikaze dolphins or transdimensional monkey astronauts.  Sometimes, the most lethal animals are those you’d least expect. I’m speaking of course of the fourteen spy squirrels that Iran arrested in 2007, no doubt under the direction of Iran’s mortal enemy, Israel. It’s not clear whether these were native Iranian squirrels turned to espionage by their Israeli handlers, or whether Israel was able to cleverly disguise their own Jewish squirrels and send them deep undercover. Either way, I’d love to see the video montage of their training.

Given the tensions in the region, it’s no surprise that Israel would try again to infiltrate Iran with highly trained rodents. As is the case with such things, Israel’s escalation led to a violent response from Iran. When the giant Zionist mutant rats invaded Tehran, the Iranian authorities showed them no mercy, deploying “ten teams of sharpshooters armed with rifles equipped with infra-red sights” in a “24/7 war” against the eleven pound rodents. Take that Israel! You’re just going to have to go back to ear poison, head-removing cell-phone bombs, or pretending to be Canadian.

If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that there’s no event so terrible that it can’t be featured on a memorial tote bag.  But if it taught us two things, the other was that we ignore events in the Middle East at our peril. It’s only a matter of time before the Iranians or another one of our enemies deploys animals capable of despoiling our land land, terrifying and attacking our children, and destroying our economy. We’ll be left to cry havoc as they let slip the dogs of war. And their crap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.theverge.com/2014/2/18/5421636/us-navy-hack-by-iran-lasted-for-four-months-say-officials

Fake monkey, fake missile launch

Iran Fatwa against dogs:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/iran/7966326/Iran-issues-fatwa-against-pets.html

 

US uses Sea Lions:

http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2012/01/26/will-sea-lion-terrorist-trackers-help-clear-waters-in-iran/

Iran Squirrels:

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=12131243

Iran Giant Mutant Rats:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/03/04/173426457/reports-snipers-deployed-to-kill-tehrans-cat-sized-rats

 

 

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Thoughts on Peace, Pizza, Unicorns, and Mumbo-Jumbo Bible Sauce

After I got a graduate degree in Middle East history, I taught and lectured for awhile. Eventually, I decided my skin was thick enough that I could speak publicly about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. If you do this, self-appointed experts and watchdogs will ask you about your “bias.” I learned that laughing off the question or rolling your eyes indicates bias. It’s a question you can’t answer, which is always followed by the next question, “what do you think will happen with the peace talks?” That’s a question I could answer, but didn’t.

Here’s my answer: nothing will happen. No one really wants peace.

Neither the Israel government, the Obama Administration, nor the Palestinian Authority stand to benefit from peace. Peace doesn’t pay. Put that on a t-shirt. Yes, you were in an inter-religious dialogue group/knit hat appreciation society in college and it seemed like if everyone focused on the Arab and Jewish fondness for falafel, things would be fine. You were duped. All I am saying: peace has no chance.

Sure, Israeli civilians would be better off if there were peace. Palestinian civilians would be better off. But if the 21st century has taught us nothing else so far, it’s that nobody really cares about civilians in the Middle East. Worse, the Palestinians are Arab civilians. Yes, we like to talk about what would be best for them, write big think pieces about their suffering, and show graphic images of their victimhood on the news. But when push comes to shove, we want to ignore the history of how they got into the situation they’re in and be glad they’re not near us. Arab civilians: they are to the world what young black men are to America.

The fact that none of the three parties will benefit from peace isn’t the same as saying that they won’t benefit from peace negotiations. Take the case of the Palestinian Authority (PA), an organization invented in previous negotiations so Israel could negotiate with something. The leadership of the PA will be yanked out of office by their ears if they negotiate peace and find themselves with a state. The lefties will want them out of office because they’re ineffective and comically corrupt, like Arab Blagojeviches. The hardliners will attack them with accusations that they were duped by Israel and the US. A Palestinian state means no more PA. If you were leading the PA, your best strategy would be to enter negotiations just to keep that sweet, sweet embezzleable aid money from the US and Israel coming. Meanwhile, you would look on the side for other other options, like pursuing Israel in international courts, getting your friend the UN involved, or playing off that whole black teenager thing to get foreign companies to turn the screws on Israel.

Which brings us to Israel. Imagine that you are the PA and you ordered a half pepperoni/half sausage pizza with Israel (in the Middle East, everyone secretly loves pork). It arrives, and you have to decide how to split it up. Pie cut or square cut? 50/50 or some other way? You can’t agree. John Kerry comes in to discuss with both of you. While you’re making your case, you notice something: Israel is already eating the pizza. Now imagine that instead of pizza, we’re talking about a wedge of desert with Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce and a topping of swarthy people. Israel’s eating that pie about as fast as it can.

Why wouldn’t they? No one said they couldn’t eat the pizza while figuring out what to do with the rest of it. If they just handed a bunch of pieces over to the Palestinians, they’d be attacked by their right wing for giving away their very special pizza with Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce. The best strategy is clearly to talk as long as possible while enjoying the holy Jesus out of that pizza. Anything else would result in a net loss of pizza. Plus, as long as you’re talking with the Mumbo-Jumbo Bible sauce trickling down your chin, America will give you diplomatic cover and lots of money so you can keep eating the pizza.

This might sound as if the US is a chump. A boring, pedantic, overly-chinned chump named John Kerry. But it’s not. We have to do this. We’re America, and we have to convince the world that we’re committed to peace. Then we can convince the world that unicorns are real, and finally create a market for our huge surplus of dwarf horses and toilet paper tubes. As long as there are photo-ops of giant Americans bringing the two sides together, the US can keep our other friends happy and enter pointless negotiations to end the war in Syria (see Arab civilians, lack of concern for, above).

The only problem would be if the US actually had to bring about a stable long-lasting peace. Back to the pizza. Peace means Israel would have to give up some of the pizza it loves so much. Lots of people in the US really, really, want Israel to keep on enjoying that pizza. Especially people who are fans of Mumbo Jumbo Bible sauce, like most Republicans and many Democrats in Congress. But not just them. There are people who think Israel is an important ally, find it an enjoyable vacation spot, or would simply rather side with Israel than with the young black men of the world. There are also people who think that Israel earned a free pizza with a coupon they found at the bottom of a box of Genocide. Whichever it is, If the Obama Administration looked like it was about to take take the pizza away from Israel, make it give some back, or close the box, Congress and the press would go nuts.

Clearly, the best strategy for everyone is to negotiate as long as possible with no intention of a resolution. How long can this go on? Forever. Here’s the secret: you don’t come to a negotiation about how the pizza is shared prepared to talk about pizza. First, you have to create a framework agreement to negotiate how you’ll negotiate over the pizza.

Confused? We have a disagreement about sharing pizza. The US says “we’re going to talk about pizza, ok? But just about the toppings and the crust. We’ll talk about the cheese, condiments and napkins later.” The Palestinians say “No. We want to talk about the pizza entirely. Right now.” The Israelis say, “Fine. We’ll talk about pizza. But first, we must agree we will never give up the delicious corner pieces, and you can’t have napkins.” The US responds with “Ok. Let’s come back to corner pieces and napkins later. Palestinians, you must agree you won’t throw a fit and spit on it or something. Israel, for CHRIST’S SAKE HOW CAN YOU FIT THAT MUCH PIZZA IN YOUR MOUTH?” And so on.

This sounds may sound insane.  It’s not. Consider: the current negotiations over framework talks are an attempt to move forward from the direct talks in Washington and Sharm al Sheikh in 2010. They’re a second attempt to relaunch talks held in Annapolis in 2007, which were a do-over of the Sharm al Sheikh conference in 2005. Those were based on the Road Map to Peace in 2003, which was an attempt to resuscitate talks in Taba in January, 2001, held to try and salvage the Camp David summit in 2000. Those followed negotiations at the Wye River Plantation in 1998, the Oslo II Agreement in 1995, and Oslo I in 1993, in which everyone agreed to a framework agreement in which this would all be worked out by May, 1999. Of course, Oslo was begun in secret after the failed Madrid talks in 1991 which were originally supposed to be part of the Camp David Accords in 1979. Those were a result of the separation of forces agreements negotiated after the October 1973 War, which was largely a result of failed negotiations following the June 1967 War.

Got that? Peace talks are a stalling tactic. The Palestinians hope that international pressure will come through. I don’t know what the Israelis are hoping for, but probably a combination of the Palestinians screwing up, and a new US administration to come and ignore them for a few years. Both things happen with alarming regularity. And the Obama administration just wants to get to January, 2017 looking like it tried.

As for real, lasting peace, we’ll be taping paper tubes to little horses’ heads and sending them out to deliver pizzas before anything that looks like peace happens.

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Almost 40 and I Still Hate Gym Class

Following my last post on bullying, I talked to some friends about their own experiences with bullying. I think men are always surprised by how much bullying girls endure, and that was certainly the case. But even more surprising was this: ask your friends where they were most often bullied and they will almost certainly tell you gym class.

The highlight of my own “physical education” was in my first year of high school, lined up outside the locker room. Tom, a thick, dull, brute got bored. A day earlier, he pushed a fully clothed kid into the pool, books and all. That day in 1988 it was my turn. Tom stepped out of line and gave me a “titty twister.” It hurt a lot. I punched him. He kicked the crap out of me.  The gym teacher, who my memory has warped into looking like an aged Spike the bulldog, didn’t care that Tom had assaulted half the other boys in class. I was suspended for fighting.

My school had a “zero tolerance” policy for this sort of thing. This was a genius plan for the school administrators: they could put on a good show of doing something by coming up with a tough-sounding policy rather than doing something difficult, like intervening in the maladjustment of thugs like Tom. (The only good thing about that day was that I asked the dean, a humorless refrigerator of a woman, what she would do if someone grabbed her breast and twisted. A minor joy of already being suspended.)

I already hated gym for years by that point. I hated it from the time I was little and was introduced to dodge ball.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that dodge ball was the official sport of the Khmer Rouge. Strong, fast kids launched high speed assaults on the faces and crotches of the less physically gifted with balls special designed to leave the largest red marks possible. I hated gym because I wasn’t particularly strong or especially fast, and the gym teachers seemed to enjoy watching the powerful prey on the weak. Maybe they thought PBS nature specials didn’t involve enough wildebeest taking blows to the crotch.

Gym class was required in Illinois. In high school, you didn’t have to take four years of English or Math, but you were required to take four years of gym. Mr. Harrison, my school’s vice principal, explained that this was because legislators wanted to make a good show of looking like they cared about kids’ health, and this was faster than doing something difficult, like revamping the cafeteria’s menu or turning down income from all of the vending machines. Teaching generations of kids to associate physical activity with pain, humiliation, and genital injury is probably a lot of the reason we all turned out to be so fat as adults.

I’ve been angry about being suspended for 25 years. Of course, I learned something about the world from gym class. And I don’t mean just the bullying world of professional sports, where the teams bully cities and states for new stadiums with specious arguments about economic benefits, and bully the fans by seizing on their nostalgia to squeeze more money out of them every year. The players bully each other, their wives, and girlfriends, and the fans bully other fans – but that’s allegedly part of the magic of Wrigley’s bleachers. We tolerate all of this because having sports teams is a very visible way to pretend you have civic pride and unity without actually doing anything difficult, like improving urban public education.

I was thinking about gym class in this season of the State of the Union, the Superbowl, and the Olympics.Gym class taught me that no matter what you did in the other seven periods, you were going to be put in your place by someone stronger than you. In the high school hierarchy, the physical kids were dominant. Who have we been celebrating as heroes for the last few weeks? : Soldiers and athletes. When we see America on TV, we see large people staring steely eyed into the middle distance. We see the flag wrapped around our corpulent middles. We see people sitting in  F-150s, the bed full of apple pies and AR-15s. And when we see  heroes, we see  those people possessed of exceptional physical strength: soldiers and athletes.

Surely there are other kinds of strength. Somewhere in America are people who have toughed it out against the odds with their ideas, their inventions, their presence of mind or exceptional emotional strength. Of course, they’re probably only featured on PBS in a non-prime time slot, and they’re crap for the quick and inane soundbites we get from football players.

Now that we’re adult citizens pretending we care about things like STEM subjects and K-12 education, perhaps NBC or Fox could dedicate an hour or two to the teachers, inventors, artists, doctors, and activists who show the triumph of the human spirit with something other than well toned arms and broad chests. But they’d rather look like they were celebrating heroism, while not actually doing anything difficult.

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Pragmatic Solutions for Today’s Problems

I have made a number of very promising proposals to Congress to bring down the federal budget. For example, my cost effective suggestion to eliminate the Air Force was ignored.  Even though al Qaeda has neither fighter planes nor cities to bomb, we still maintain a fleet of air superiority planes and strategic bombers. I noticed recently that the Army has planes, the Navy has planes, and the Marines – wait for it – also have planes. Remember how after 9/11 Congress formed the Department of Homeland Security to eliminate overlap and duplicated efforts among various agencies? Neither do they.

I’ve also gotten no response to my bold initiative to simultaneously raise funds and resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Consider: we have two parties fighting over a chunk of desert filled with immigrants, old Jews, and military fetishists. It’s exactly like Arizona. So sell the Palestinians Arizona for a few billion. Arizona is hot, has no water, and it won’t take the Palestinians long to find some scriptural reason for being there, the way everyone did with a wedge of rock and sand on the eastern Mediterranean. Everyone wins, and maybe we can just leave Jan Brewer and Joe Arpaio behind, the way you left a bunch of crap in the dorm closet after sophomore year.

Alas, ignoring my bold yet pragmatic proposals has come at high cost with this week’s government shutdown. Frankly, I don’t know how to bring the Republicans and Democrats together, but I do have a plan to prevent this sort of thing from happening again:

Refuse to allow members of congress or their staff access to the media.

None. News from Congress can be reported based on the congressional record, the way that NPR has Nina Totenberg cover the Supreme Court by reading the transcripts in her sexy, sexy, voice. Members of Congress would be left to the boring work of compromise, negotiation, and legislating and not have to worry about well crafted soundbites, staying on message, and holding their head just right so it looks like they have a chin. That last one only applies to Mitch McConnell.

We are a nation obsessed with two kinds of television: reality shows and sports. Combine them together, and you get our political coverage: the loudest, dumbest, most outrageous personalities competing in a zero sum game of absurdly inflated stakes. There would be no Ted Cruz if craven, attention starved half-wits weren’t guaranteed an audience. The only difference between Cruz and Snooki is…there is no difference. Before cable created a competitive marketplace for idiots, charlatans, and whack-a-dos, people like Cruz and Snooki would’ve been unknown outside of their grocery store parking lots.

Ok, Ted Cruz might still hold office — because Texas seems to hold Yosemite Sam as an ideal politician- but no one would care. It’s like Schroedinger’s Cat. Lock Cruz, Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Louie Gohmert, and their friends in a metal box and deny them mics and cameras and they would be alive and dead at the same time.

This is an experiment we can actually test. Fox let go of Sarah Palin in January of 2013. They hired her back six months later, but she is largely invisible to the public. Sure, you could actually seek her out on the Fox News website, but you won’t – because watching Fox means you’re an old white guy, and old white guys can’t use the internet for crap. Therefore, the act of seeking out Sarah Palin’s commentary on the web would negate the fact you were interested in her opinions the first place. It’s like Schroedinger’s Cat. Or not, but there are only so many quantum physics jokes I’m able to make.

I started to realize that sports and reality TV were shaping political coverage when even NPR started referring to the “optics” of a given legislative battle. In 1992 we fetishized the political consultants in Bill Clinton’s war room, and 20 years later, we’re all talking like them. Nous sommes tous James Carville. Even now, with the shutdown firmly in place, the news is less about the practical effects of a non-functioning government, but about who the voters will blame, aka “who’s going to win this thing?” And that’s what the news has been about for WEEKS.

Another example: with the exception of the two men involved and a few party hacks, who really cares about a possible challenger to John Boehner for Speaker, or that Mitch McConnell may face a primary opponent to his right? Yet there is non-stop coverage of these stories. Because one man looks like an Oompa Loompa after 20 years of making Gobstoppers, and the other looks like Lonesome George’s lost brother and one of them might LOSE. But for a couple of breast implants, the low stakes drama of their struggle to stay in office could be on Bravo.

Of course, I don’t deny that there is a general hunger for political drama. That’s why I’m proposing the Fox News Fiction channel.  It seems like a natural fit for them after their great efforts in fantastical storytelling during the 2012 election. Just in time for the 2014 midterms Fox could now launch an entire channel devoted to viewer-submitted scripts for political fan fiction

I’ve taken the liberty of writing a script based in a fantasy world where Barack Obama is a great president with instinctive leadership skills and a commitment to the liberal causes he was elected on. I know, completely unrealistic, but here’s an excerpt:

*****

Scene: The West Wing of the White House. Evening.  We hear someone slowly whistling “The Farmer in the Dell.” President Obama (Al Pacino) slowly descends a staircase from the residence. Waiting for him at the bottom is Speaker of the House John Boehner (Paul Giamatti).

President Obama(descending the stairs): “John! Johnny! The Speaker in my house. Well, well.”

Boehner: “Good evening, Mr. President. Thank you for seeing me to negotiate this budget shutdown.”

President Obama reaches the bottom of the stairs, but remains one step above Boehner. He reaches to gently brush some imaginary lint off Boehner’s shoulder.

President Obama: “I got terms now, Johnny. You’re gonna love ’em”

Boehner “B-b-but, Mr. President, I’m here because we were going to talk about my party’s terms.. (smiles uncomfortably)”

President Obama: “Things change Johnny. Change you can believe in and all that… We’re going to add a carbon tax amendment to the budget. A federal gay marriage amendment. Assault weapons ban, too. Guns, gays, and greenhouse gas. How’s that sound, Johnny?”

Boehner “Mr President! That’s outrage– ridiculous. My caucus will never agree. I came here to talk about defunding Obamacare.”

The President is now level with Boehner, and leans in closely. His nose is almost touching the Speaker’s. He places both hands on Boehner’s shoulders. He is whispering now, teeth clenched,eyes wild. Droplets of spit are landing on Boehner’s face. Boehner is terrified.

Obama: “It’s the law, Johnny. Three and a half years ago. The Supreme Court upheld it. A year ago. I was re-elected. Last year. So now: carbon tax. The gays marry. Guns gone. And you and the Tea Party can take your defunding AND SHOVE IT UP YOUR ASS!”

With this, the President shoves Boehner backwards. The Speaker stumbles, and finds himself up on one knee. The President reaches into this pocket.

Boehner: “Mr. P-P-President…”

Obama (bellowing): “You want to play games? You think ’cause I’m Kenyan I’m going to run? You think you can stop me?  SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND! (We see that the President is holding his Nobel Peace Prize in his palm, now raised above his head)

President Obama hits John Boehner in the head with his Peace Prize, sending the Speaker of the House to the floor in a spray of blood.

****

Well, it’s no dumber than what’s actually happened.

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God, What a Jerk

Both of my sons are too young to have The Talk with. They know that babies come from a mommy and a daddy, but it hasn’t yet occurred to them to ask about the mechanism by which this happens. Unfortunately, they are around and alert enough to know when a tragedy has struck a member of our family or that of a friend’s. Given that they are still scarred by the pre-credits scene in “Finding Nemo,” it’s not easy to find something to say that will give them comfort or make any positive impact in their understanding of the universe.

I can’t say that I have or will ever figure out what to say to the kids when confronted with tragedy. But I know what I’m not going to say. I will absolutely never, ever, say “God has a plan for all of us.” This is a TERRIFYING thing to say. There’s some omnipotent all-knowing entity in the universe that has plans for me and I have no way of knowing what they are? I’m sure my sons will sleep much better at night if I tell them that God might have a plan to have my wife and me sucked through the roof in a tornado that night. Who can know his plans? Anyway, go to bed. Have good dreams!  Now I’m going to stay up all night wondering if God’s plan is to have me sit at a sports bar watching amateur improv in between innings of a never ending MLB game? Screw that God.

Why is God making plans for me anyway? I don’t make plans for Him. I don’t say, “Hey God, you’re going to go watch an evening of experimental gamelan/bluegrass music and there’s nothing you can do about it because I am an all powerful plans maker! ” I bet God would’ve appreciated it if I told Him of my plan. Or maybe God would’ve prefered I keep my nose out of His business and let Him make His own plans. Hey, God, ever hear of do unto others as you’d have done onto you? I read that in a massage parlor once. Why on earth would I pray to a God who can’t follow the golden rule? Screw that God.

“God has a plan” is of a piece with the other terrible thing people say, “the Lord Works in Mysterious Ways.” So I’m supposed to spend hours every weekend praying my head off to an eccentric and erratic deity? Would you be friends with someone who gave you a beautiful house and a beautiful wife, but also was really into genocide, massacres, famine, disease and Fleetwood Mac? You wouldn’t, because friends don’t let friends listen to Fleetwood Mac. More importantly, you’d probably realize you could have had the beautiful house and the beautiful wife on your own. And you wouldn’t have to wonder what kind of friend would give you stuff while so clearly getting off on human suffering. Screw that friend, and definitely screw that God.

When God closes a door, he opens a window. God could be playing with nebulae, quasars, mountain ranges, and He’s messing with the entry points to my house? Why? Why not leave the door and the window open? I’m not aware of anyone ever being made to feel better by telling them that God wants them to climb out of a window. I just lost my job and I’ve got a mortgage and a family, but all I’ve got to do is find which damned window God opened. Thanks., Maybe the Almighty could’ve brought down the vacuous and small minded sycophant that shut the door to my employment in the first place. You ever think of that, God? So now I’ve got to figure out if you opened a window to a different job? Screw you, God.

If I ever become God, I’m going to be a whole lot nicer. As a higher being, I’m not going to dole out favorable treatment only to the lower beings that suck up to me. I try to be kind to animals, not because they wear symbols of my earthly demise around their necks (though a squirrel with a little CTA bus charm would be cute), but because I recognize that I have the power to make decisions and an ethical background that rejects cruelty. Are we to believe that somewhere in the universe there’s a God that can’t be kind because he never got the basic behavioral rules for kindergarten? We’re praying to an emotional five year old? This is a God, after all, who after creating the world, decided he didn’t like it and flooded the whole thing. My sons do the same thing with sand castles and Lego forts. Ahh! I messed up! I’m just going to destroy it! My sons will grow up, but God doesn’t? Screw that God.

For the last couple of millennia, people of Abrahamic faiths have been praying, pleading, and hoping that God would speak to them. And who does he speak to? George W. Bush. Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, and Michelle Bachmann. Michael Vick. With all of the terminally ill people in the world, the starving, the refugees, the people at Fleetwood Mac concerts, God talks to these bozos. And he didn’t even give them good guidance. He talked to Rick Santorum, but didn’t tell him that sweater vests and meddling in people’s sex lives are both passe. He didn’t tell Herman Cain not to molest women. And he didn’t give Michelle Bachmann a functional frontal lobe. God told George W. Bush to run for president and told him to invade Iraq, but never mentioned in any of their chats that Iraq had no WMDs and Dick Cheney was actually the devil? Seems like that would have been good information to have before all the dying and destruction. Screw you, God.

I know that some people during trying times in their lives have felt like someone is watching over them. I think that’s less reassuring than it is very, very, creepy. What if the feeling that a higher power was always watching you wasn’t God, but the NSA? What if the warm feeling you get inside after praying isn’t His love, but the gas you didn’t want to release during the quiet parts? I’d say that the NSA and gas are certainly the more likely answers, what with Obama’s national security state and the popularity of Jamie Lee Curtis’ colon-blowing yogurt.

Then there’s dream you had, where during the most difficult times of your life you only saw one set of footprints in the sand? Was that God carrying you, or some creep who just slipped you a roofie and is carrying your limp body off?

I don’t find any of this comforting at all.

 

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Are You Ready for Some Bombing?

We’re going to bomb Syria! This is great! Not because it might stem the violence that has already killed 100,000 people and sent many, many more to live in squalid refugee camps. Because it won’t. And certainly not because we need to demonstrate that the US won’t tolerate the use of chemical weapons, because we’ve been totally cool on the use of chemical weapons in the Middle East when it suited us. Worse, we’ve made it clear that you can kill 100,000 people by conventional means, and we’ll look the other way – as long as the other way is towards Miley Cyrus, and not at a crisis elsewhere in the Middle East. Say, in a place that enjoys kushary and just had a non-coup.

From an economic point of view, I figure we might as well bomb Syria. Wouldn’t it be a waste if we spent 20% of the federal budget on defense and didn’t bomb the crap out of somewhere every so often? The only thing we spend more on is healthcare, and I’m personally committed to getting fatter and less active so that I get my taxes’ worth (I’m writing this on my phone, sitting on my Rascal in the drive through line at Taco Bell).

The only thing I love more than the US bombing the crap out of stuff is news coverage of the US bombing the crap out of stuff. So many cool videos, graphics, and analysis. But for lack of a theme song, it’s like a less gay Monday Night Football. Sports and war are great for American television – there’s winners and losers, good guys and bad guys, underdogs,and heaps of human interest. All you really need is a side to cheer for.

Usually, I root for the United States. Because it’s where I live, and it’s the country where the faithful have most closely realized Jesus’ vision of preserving wealth for the wealthy. If the US isn’t fighting, then I cheer for whatever English-speaking country has skin in the game, because English is the language of the Bible. Sometimes I honor the debt of gratitude incurred by the Greatest Generation and root for our former allies in World War II. But not the French, Russians, or Chinese. Because the French are from France, Putin is a jerk, and they never taught us about the Pacific theater in high school.

Every so often, though, I like to root for the smaller teams. Like when no one I care about is playing, or when there’s nothing on and I just want to see some destruction. Among the great things about the War on Terror – and there are many – are the number of teams. It’s like the World Cup! And that’s what got me into thinking about my favorite terrorist groups.

Oh sure, you’ve got your fan favorites, the big franchises like al Qaeda or underdog champions like Hezbollah, who beat league powerhouse Israel in the Lebanon Games in 2000 and again in 2006. I’ve also get Hezbollah in my office pool for the upcoming Syria Finals. Go Green!

Sometimes, you just love a team for it’s name, like the way I loved the Pittsburgh Pirates when I was a kid because their uniforms were so cool.  This is why I always follow the MILF. Sure, I’m not particularly interested in Islamist militants fighting for independence in the southern Philippines, but they’re called MILF! I imagine them running through the jungle in form fitting tank tops and capri pants taut over their shapely legs, their long hair no less lustrous for having just a hint of gray.

What if a group that has killed 2,000 people since 1999 in Nigeria was also responsible for one of the great anthems of the Summer of Love in 1967? It wasn’t, but Boko Haram is so close to Procol Harum it makes me turn a whiter shade of pale. Boko Haram actually means “Western Education is Sinful” in Hausa but that doesn’t mean  that they can’t skip a light fandango and turn cartwheels across the floor. Though they should probably take the Ak-47s off their shoulders first.

But if you’re really into the Global War on Terror, there’s no better team than the Mujahedeen e Khalq. The MEK is the true fan’s terrorist group. If you’re new to this, you might think they have to choose between nationalist, Islamist, Marxists, or messianic personality cults. What if you could have all four? That’s right, a quadruple threat – they’re like the Bo Jackson times two of terrorists, if Bo Jackson had attacked American servicemen, sided with Khomeini, turned against Khomeini, been part of the case for war against Iraq, and then become an ally of the US in the fight to thwart Iran’s nuclear program? Bo Jackson looks like kind of uninteresting now, doesn’t he? The guy could catch and throw an oblong piece of pigskin or a round piece of cowhide. Big whoop. You get your own Nike commercial for that?

As I’m sure you’ll remember, President Bush made a well-reasoned and air-tight case for war in Iraq. Among the many charges against Saddam was that he supported terrorist groups. One of the two groups the White House cited was the MEK. The MEK killed six Americans in Iran in the early 1970s. Once the Shah was gone the MEK spent 30 years targeting Iranians. You read that right, sports fans. We invaded Iraq because Saddam supported a group that was attacking Iran. Iran, our enemy that actually had nuclear weapons. Unlike Saddam, who turned out to be only stockpiling facial hair.

When was the last time you said “are you f$%king kidding me?” You feel like saying it now? Good. Because the terrorist group that was a motivation for the US invasion of Iraq then tipped off the US that Iran had restarted uranium enrichment in Natanz in 2002. We were so happy to find this out that we brought militants from the group to Nevada in 2005 for training. Actual training in combat, weapons and tactics. And the sauce on this bullshit barbecue sandwich? They were still on the State Department terrorist watch list at the time. Sure, they were a nationalist Islamist Marxist cult of personality that killed thousands of people. But then they started working with the Mossad to kill Iranian nuclear scientists. After all, you’re an Islamist terrorist group, it’s only natural that you would work with ISRAEL. This is a nationalist Islamist Marxist cult of personality that knows how to play big time ball! They leave it all on the field and other sports cliches, too!

The MEK got themselves off the terrorist watch list last year. Unlike your AAA league terrorist groups, the MEK could maim and kill AND hire high powered DC insiders to lobby on their behalf. They paid the former governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell, $150,000 to speak on their behalf. And then they got Newt Gingrich on their side. The man who looks like an angry baby’s face was stuck on the front of a giant horndog marshmallow was caught on video bowing to the leader of the group. The MEK had lots of other help getting off the terrorism list, but Newt is the only one who is also a tireless advocate for space sex.

I wonder if he knows about the MILF. He’d be totally into them as long as they didn’t get cancer.

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