For most people the term "civil war" probably holds a very negative connotation, naming the concept of deadly infighting over issues that perhaps should be settled diplomatically. Civil war is a bit like a pitched battle for divorce, where two factions battle for control of the assets of the union. But just as a divorce can be completed without a legal battle, so can the breakup of a national union. The breakup of the Soviet Union is an example of such (except for the subsequent ethnic struggles within some of the separated Balkan states).
There is no doubt that the US is responsible for unseating Saddam Hussein, the dictator who kept order in Iraq only by means of force and fear. There is no doubt that religious factional infighting is now ablaze in Iraq. And it seems likely that having US troops in Iraq is keeping an all-out civil war from ensuing. So we find ourselves asking: Should we shirk our responsibility, and pull out of Iraq? But there are more important questions: Under the current circumstances with US troops standing guard over the tenuous union will Iraq ever reach a situation that will avoid civil war? And if so, how much longer will it take? To keep the Iraqi factions married, US troops are paying a price in blood, at the rate of about 700 lives per year. And US taxpayers are paying a price in tax dollars, at the rate of about $100 billion per year.
Is this really a marriage that should be saved? There are two factors to weigh that we should be able to agree on: Right now the union is in a terribly unstable situation. And if it is even possible to save that union it will require a long and costly process.
Perhaps a separation is in order. A civilly orchestrated partitioning of Iraq (into ethnic/sectarian states) might avoid the fight for power that seems so hard to suppress in the single nation.
Our current presidential administration equates the war in Iraq with the War on Terror, despite there being only weak circumstantial evidence to connect them. They tell us that if we lose the war in Iraq, it will constitute a victory for Al Qaeda, which will bolster the confidence of terrorists.
But a committee of intelligence community experts assembled by the Bush administration has leaked a report concluding that the Iraq invasion has been a great boon for terrorists, providing a cause around which terrorist groups have rallied many new recruits.
Let's assume the committee and the Bush administration are both correct. That would mean that if we keep troops in Iraq the terrorists will continue pointing to the US occupation as an attempt to impose western values on Arab people, and thereby gain recruits; and if we leave Iraq the terrorists will be able to declare victory, and thereby gain recruits. It seems that holding Iraq together is a bit like holding together a bad marriage for the sake of the children: damned if we do, damned if we don't.
Now another committee of foreign policy experts assembled by the Bush administration, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, has leaked a report recommending that keeping troops in Iraq for an extended period is probably the worst strategy. In other words they believe that "Stay the Course" is a poor policy.
There is no avoiding the fact that the US bears the largest part of the blame for placing Iraq in its current situation, and therefore will receive most of the blame from the international community if Iraq falls into civil war. But we have to consider that Iraq might not be able to avoid a civil war at this point if left as a single nation.
If divorce is the likeliest outcome, shouldn't we begin the proceedings for a nonviolent separation of territory now before further damage accrues and more lives are lost? On their Combat Rock album in 1982, The Clash sings their hit song Should I Stay or Should I Go? The lyrics at one point say, "If I go, there will be trouble. If I stay, it will be double." They are important words to consider.
President George W. Bush has accused the Democrats of wanting to "coddle terrorists." That certainly isn't true using the primary definition of "coddle," which is "to treat tenderly, to nurse, to indulge," which is clearly something that anyone would enjoy receiving. Bush would not be willing to submit himself to even the most liberal forms of "coddling" that the Democrats have put forward.
But his repeated use of that word made me wonder if he is covering for his own subconscious desires, similar to the way that some homosexuals are homophobic. A little investigation led me to see that is indeed the case: The secondary definition of "coddle" is "to cook in water that is just below the boiling point." And I believe that is one of the forms of torture that Bush is petitioning congress to make legal.
Come on, Mr. President, don't insult the intelligence of your constituents. Find a believable lie to tell about the Democrats.
Anyone can tell a lie. But in the world of politics the very best lies are told using truth, or at least plausibility. The process is known as the Fine Art of Mischaracterization.
The master artisans of this craft deserve recognition. And what better way could there be to celebrate their achievement than with the Miss Characterization Pageant? Because truth, like beauty, is very often only skin deep.
Why is it that so many of the politicians who claim to be "Of Faith" put so much faith in Capitalism? Furthering the inconsistency, many of the same people who attack Evolution Theory are champions of Capitalism, which operates using the same mechanisms as Evolution. Companies innovate to adapt to the ever-changing economic environment (like Evolution's "differentiation"). Then they compete for limited resources, and the ones with the best survival strategies usually prosper (like Evolution's "survival of the fittest").
Should we put so much faith in the soulless part of the economic process? That's what we're doing when we try to improve the economic prosperity of the country by giving unconditional tax reductions to businesses. The presumption is that a growing business will employ more people, and the wealth will "trickle down" to the masses. But in practice the vast majority of the wealth lines the pockets of investors. Another problem is that growth will occur largely independent of consumer demand, leading to unsupported growth and subsequent failure unless economic supplements are maintained.
It's a bit like trying to boost the wildlife populations of the African plains by feeding the lions. You might hope that the increase in lion dung will trickle down to benefit plant growth and thereby work back up through the food chain. But the only thing you are certain to have is more fat cats.
Ecosystems grow by taking in resources at the base of the food chain. Plants take nutrients from the soil, air, and sun, becoming food for the herbivores, which in turn become food for the predators. If you artificially increase the population at the top of the chain, there are not sufficient resources lower down to go on supporting them.
Capitalistic systems grow normally from increases at the consumer level. Consumer spending for goods and services encourages growth in those businesses. If you artificially encourage growth of businesses, there is not sufficient consumer spending to go on supporting them all.
It's no wonder that the federal government has adopted supply side ("trickle down") economics as its preferred form of economic control: Although the United States was intended to be a government "by the people, for the people," today the government is treating corporations like people — people who receive special treatment — people who have more influence in the government. Corporate executives become politicians, and politicians become corporate lobbyists. The line between private and public sectors is now largely symbolic, and completely porous.
Attempts at lobbying reforms have fallen flat. That's not surprising since they were designed and implemented by the very people who need to be reformed. Corporate influence on politics is now bigger than it has ever been. But enough ordinary, mere mortal citizens are now disturbed by their government's performance that it might be possible to rally an ad hoc revolution to force a major revision in the federal approach to economics. Such a revision is not likely to occur without a Change of the Guard (major turnover of federal politicians).
It would be nice to see the U.S. restored to a government that is truly "by the people, for the people." Right now we have too many fat cats.
Yesterday, when I noticed that my driver's license had expired nine months ago, I heaved a massive sigh. I envisioned waiting in line for half an hour, and having a surly clerk tell me I have to fill out the other renewal form because I was more than 30 days late, and having a hefty just-cause-we-can fee added to the renewal. I envisioned all of that because I have had similar experiences with most of my prior visits to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).
But I was surprised ... in the good way ... not the "Surprise! You're being audited!" way. When I got to the DMV office, a clerk at the door immediately got me started with the correct form, and gave me a numbered ticket. I went into the waiting room, where there were chairs, by God, real chairs, and no people in line. I wondered briefly if I was in fact at the correct office. Then I proceeded to find a table and pen to do my paperwork. Before I even finished filling out my form, the automated system announced my number. I approached the counter, expecting to be sent back into the queue, but the clerk actually waited on me to finish the form. Waited on Me! the customer! what a novel notion.
Then she made a good-natured quip about how late I was with the renewal, but there was no brow-beating involved. I was all ready with my genuine excuse that I had not received a renewal notice, but I didn't need it. And there was no extra fee of any sort.
And the whole thing took about five minutes! And I'm looking at my new driver's license right now, so I'm sure that I didn't just dream it.
Kudos to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles!
Intuition is highly valuable when it inspires new ideas that begin an investigation. But intuition becomes a huge liability when we allow it to substitute for an investigation. Our society seems to put a great deal of trust in "gut feeling." There is a predominant belief that if something "feels right" it must really be right. But much that is intuitively obvious is simply wrong.
I can thank my sixth grade English teacher for her fine example of how unreliable intuition can be. One of the first days of school, a classmate sitting behind me jabbed me in the neck with his pencil. Naturally I turned around and whispered, "Quit it!" When I turned around forward again the teacher was staring at me. As I started to explain what had happened, she immediately stopped me and sent me to a separate table at the front of the class.
Why did she punish me instead of the other guy? As she explained it, "The guilty pig squeals first!" Thanks to that teacher's faith in that little intuitive gem, I spent the entire year on display at the front of the class as her example to the rest that she was serious about discipline. But the only lesson for those of my classmates who saw the whole thing was how to manipulate overzealous authority figures.
We know from many examples that people can die from touching exposed household wiring carrying 110 volts of electricity. So our intuition tells us that touching a source of 5000 volts of electricity will surely kill us.
But our intuition doesn't know the whole picture. As a matter of fact, people are often exposed to thousands of volts of electricity with no harm at all. If you walk across a dry, carpeted room, and touch a doorknob, the static shock can easily be thousands of volts, which might sting but is not lethal.
Why is that? Because if you only know about the voltage you do not know all the facts, and not even the most important of the facts. More important dimensions of electricity would be amps and watts, which express the quantity of electricity.
Being afraid of high voltage is like being afraid of fast-moving water. If you're a non-swimmer and have to choose between wading across a body of water that's moving at 40 miles per hour versus wading across a body of water that's moving at 5 miles per hour, which would you choose? If you've been following closely, your answer should be "I don't have enough information to make a decision." And a wise answer it is! Now I'll disclose that the body of water moving at 5 miles per hour is a river that is 20 feet deep, and the body of water moving at 40 miles per hour is a mountain creek that is 6 inches deep. Now you have a mental image of the relative dangers of electrical voltage versus electrical amperage or wattage.
What does it matter that your intuition might make you overly cautious about electricity? There is probably no harm to you personally.
But what happens if we apply that intuitive fear at a national level? Then we have a whole nation of people who are afraid to work on anything electrical, and therefore no electricians among us. That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? And it would be.
And that is exactly why it is ridiculous to use intuitive reasoning or "gut feelings" to make national policy or law. Now we have a whole nation of people who have surrendered their privacy and their rights because those steps seemed like they might prevent a terrorist attack. As a nation, we have unseated a dictator, but have killed thousands of people, and have had thousands of our people killed, because of someone's gut feeling that there must be dangerous weapons in Iraq.
I, for one, am ready for this nation to enter a new Age of Reason.
So, let me see if I understand the reasoning: It's insane to threaten someone for drawing a picture of your Messiah, but it's a good idea to put someone in jail for desecrating your flag.
I'm no authority on exactly WJWD, but it seems likely to me that he would not hide from the paparazzi, nor object to someone drawing his likeness. But he would object to anyone treating such a picture in a sacred way, as an object of reverence. We all know that's called "idolatry." The obvious problem with idolatry is that the worshipper places importance on the symbol instead of the concepts it embodies.
So what do you call it when we make the symbol of our country (our flag) more sacred than the freedoms and rights it embodies (like free speech)?
It might make you furious to see someone burning your flag. But remember that it makes some people furious to see someone picketing their factory. Should we outlaw all forms of protest that most of us don't like to see? Or do we act like the adults we are, and ignore the punks who stand in our face and chant "naanee naanee boo boo!"?
Perhaps Jesus would turn his other cheek.
I despise fear: not the kind that takes the form of reasoned respect for a real danger, but the kind that makes knees buckle, and evokes a panicked reaction.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated into the Presidency in 1933 amid the very depths of the Great Depression. In his inauguration address he eloquently stated that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." He perceived very clearly that negative global factors had only caused an economic downturn, and that downturn was then driven toward collapse by fear. Fear among the masses caused the stock market crash in 1929. Fear among the masses caused the bank failures in 1933.
Frank Herbert in his science fiction novel Dune composed the "Bene Gesserit Litany" which states in part, "I must not fear. Fear is the mind‑killer. Fear is the little‑death that brings total obliteration."
I detest fear for what I have allowed it to make me do ... and not do. Out of fear, I have rushed choices that should have been better deliberated, I have shrunk back from actions when timeliness was essential, I have backed away from justified fights, I have been silent when I should have risen in protest, and I have even provoked lesser enemies for sake of an easy victory.
Being frustrated by my own shortcomings that have been induced by fear, over the course of my life I have endeavored to counteract fear as I find it in myself. Spiders and snakes used to scare me. So I learned to identify the few that are actually dangerous, and now I can literally handle the others without fear. Public speaking used to make me squirm. So I forced myself to practice it and do it, and now I have become quite comfortable with it.
A major personal turning point occurred in the failure of my small business. Delinquencies on my part (no late payments, just late filing forms) resulted in major belligerent threats by the South Carolina Department of Revenue, which I allowed to scare me into inaction ("deer in the headlights"). The snowballing effect culminated in that agency's unjust seizure of my business assets, and the threat of additional action. I became so fear-stricken that I had a genuine nervous breakdown with a full-blown panic attack (that I thought was a heart attack). I believed I was about to die.
Facing death can be a very life-changing experience. The South Carolina Department of Revenue eventually returned those funds (minus significant banking fees), but I did not try to rebuild my business. The negative feelings were still far too strong. But in the process I stopped fearing my government. I have faced the fear of death. I have no reason to be afraid of my Big Brother, no matter how much of a bully he is.
The lesson I learned: If I had acted objectively instead of going where my fear pushed me, I could have straightened out the whole ugly mess very early in the process.
Society en masse has never dealt well with fear. It has always taken concerted effort and/or time to allow society to recover from any given fear. After World War II, proliferation of nuclear weapons was a source of justified fear, or at least justified caution. The result was the nuclear arms race and a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction. It took decades for international tensions to relax enough for the sides to realize that M.A.D. is a stupid way to live, and to begin disarming. And if the Soviet Union had not disintegrated, it probably would have taken decades more for the disarmament to progress significantly.
Our new societal terror is Terrorism itself. And that societal fear has gone beyond rationale. It has developed into the kind of fear that causes airport security to take away fingernail files, and to inspect shoes. It's the kind of fear that causes a whole people to submit to a loss of liberty and privacy in exchange for a perceived (and undemonstrated) improvement in safety. It's the kind of fear that causes a nation to dismantle in a few months a system of government power restrictions that has worked for centuries through challenges much greater than the current ones. It's the kind of fear that causes loyalists to turn a blind eye to abuse of power in their government, and to cast dissenters as purveyors of treason. It's the kind of fear that causes a person to point his finger in accusation at another who has a particular skin color, or name, or religion.
Terrorists use fear to accomplish their goals. On September 11, 2001, in a dramatic display of violence that resulted in death and destruction, a small group of terrorists was able to kill thousands of people in the World Trade Center, and thereby place millions in a state of mortal fear. About 3000 died in that incident, which is approximately the same number that died elsewhere in the United States that day and every other day. So in a cold statistical sense, the terrorists did not significantly raise the level of mortal risk to Americans as a whole. But the spectacle of that one act has propelled the fear of that group's power forward for nearly five years now. Not only individuals, but large corporations are afraid to defy their demands.
Terrorists are not the only ones to capitalize on fear. In the subsequent months and years, the Bush administration and Congress have propelled many initiatives forward that they could never have passed without the environment of fear. And of course many enterprising capitalists have taken advantage of new markets for products and services to offer the fear-stricken public. Indeed, ethically challenged members of both public and private sectors have perpetuated that fear in order to benefit their own goals.
In the United States there were about 3000 victims of Terrorism. The other 290,000,000 of us have been victims of our own terror.
The best antidote for fear is knowledge. We must read. We must question. We must seek out and evaluate different points of view, instead of huddling comfortably inside a small world of like‑thinkers. This is good advice for the general public and for political leaders alike.
Who commands that most patriotic war
is showered with accolades by his distant homeland.
Who obeys that general knows the smell of victory on the battlefield.
"Ignorance of the law excuses no man," is an often quoted and widely revered maxim penned by John Selden, a lawyer who lived in England, 1584-1654, centuries before the texts of US federal and state laws grew into the millions of pages.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse; rather, it's a fact of modern life.
And how can an average citizen, even with the best of intentions, possibly analyze the actions of their government representatives? The existing body of law is far too large for anyone to understand all of it. And the implications of current legislation and other legal activity are therefore often far too complex to see.
Transparent government is essential, but even that is not enough. You can get a computer with a nifty transparent chassis, but that doesn't give you an understanding of how the thing works.
How about a constitutional amendment imposing "sunset" (expiration) provisions on all federal laws? Wouldn't it be nice to weed out the laws that no one finds worth the effort to renew? I'm not the first to suggest this. But there is a huge amount of momentum to overcome to bring such an amendment into being. Career politicians are heavily invested in the status quo; and those who detest scrutiny enjoy the natural cover provided by the briar patch of our tangled legal code.