April 18, 2007

"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tried to pressure Bush to sign the legislation. 'We believe he must search his soul, his conscience and find out what is the right thing for the American people,' Reid said, standing outside the White House. 'I believe signing this bill will do that.'" McClatchy News Service, April 18, 2007.

This is another indication that Mr. Mumbles is unclear on the concept. All that Bush does is search his soul and conscience to find out "what is the right thing for the American people" (ugh, what lousy syntax). That has been the pattern since before the beginning. Reid might say instead, for example, Bush needs to read a book, or consult that Lancet study on Iraqi deaths. At this point, there are many books available, autopsies on the failed American mission in Iraq. I've read most of them; why can't Bush? Harry Reid is encouraging the worst tendencies in American public life, this resort to hocus-pocus and mumbo-jumbo instead of doing the homework. The answers don't lie in "Bush's soul." The origin of the war lies in Bush's soul.

Indeed, if I were to posit the single best reason for an orderly and quick exit from Iraq, it would take this form: if we cannot, with at least semi-scientific precision, reach a reasonable consensus and agreement on the fundamental facts of the situation in Iraq, then we cannot "in good conscience" continue to dedicate lives and enormous amounts of money to the mission. I never hear La Diva and Mr. Mumbles say anything like this. All of their criticism takes the "soft social science" approach of liberal dissent. The war is "lost." The President must be held "accountable" for the war. (The word "accountable" must, by general acclamation, be held accountable and retired from public use at the end of the Bush Presidency. What's wrong with "held responsible?" Is everyone in America now a C.P.A.?)

Anyone who has ever witnessed first-hand an actual newsworthy event knows that the press descriptions often vary substantially from our direct observations. What happens when a war is so violent and dangerous that no accurate reporting is even possible? Thus, at this twice-removed distance from reality, I think most of us, including Bush, cannot actually describe, or conceive of, the true situation in Iraq. That is why I think the scientific efforts to spell out the demographics of murder and mayhem in Iraq are indispensable.

It is astounding that so little is said about this study, by Johns Hopkins and an Iraqi university as peer-reviewed and published in the Lancet, by anyone in public office. I think the Democrats never say anything about it because the number is so big. It seems incredible. It's also true the sun is 93 million miles away and yet its light reaches us in about 8 minutes. That seems incredible too. But it's still true. So: 650,000 deaths over and above baseline expectations, as the high-end estimate, since the invasion of March, 2003, as of July, 2006, with about 200,000 Iraqi deaths directly attributable to American forces. Let us say that these estimates cover a period of 40 months. The average monthly death rate (above baseline) for Iraqis, therefore, may be as high as 16,250, with a daily rate of 540. Extrapolating these averages through the 49 months of the Iraqi war yields total deaths of 796,250 above normal mortality, with approximately 249,000 deaths attributable to U.S. forces. Is it reasonable to extrapolate thusly? Consider this latest report from the New York Times:

"Over the past six months, American troops have died in Iraq at the highest rate since the war began, an indication that the conflict is becoming increasingly dangerous for U.S. forces even after more than four years of fighting."

The violence is increasing. Therefore, the figure for Iraqi deaths may be understated, although it approaches 800,000 (as the high estimate) at this point through straight extrapolation. Note that this is not a fanciful number useful only for polemics-by-exaggeration. It is the best scientific estimate available. Therefore, one way to "complete" the mission might be to kill every man, woman and child in Iraq, or at least in Baghdad and the Sunni strongholds in the "Triangle," where most of the violence occurs. We're well on our way. The current figure equals about 16% of Baghdad's total population before the war, and that's before we consider the huge migrations of Iraqis to Syria, Jordan and Iran, estimated at another 800,000. Extinction or flight of the indigenous population was essentially the end game in Viet Nam and Cambodia. It is the usual end game in wars which descend into mindless carnage with no clear and achievable goals. Is that what we want to keep doing?

Virginia Tech, the latest national Rohrschach test

Around 1921 Hermann Rohrschach, a Swiss psychiatrist, devised a method of emotional and mental evaluation by asking his patients what they saw in a series of ten "pictures" which he had created by dribbling ink on pieces of paper and folding them over. Along with the Minnesota Multiphasic, the Rohrschach is still the most widely used test to figure out when someone has seriously slipped a cog.

Media-event tragedies in the United States, such as the recent horrific mass killing at Virginia Tech, seem to have a Rohrschach quality for America's legions of talking-head pundits. The one thing infotainment and the expert & analyst industry can never do is simply leave something to its grim basics. True, that would be dignified, respectful, humble and appropriate. You know, all those things America never is anymore. Even while the barrel of the gun is still smoking, we've got people blaming the Virginia Tech administration for not extrapolating from one morning homicide to a nut case on a rampage killing 32 more. This gives the news a "narrative," a dramatic structure which produces someone to "hold responsible." Besides the gunman, that is, but he's useless because he's dead. If this produces pain and distress for people in the school's administration, if it's grossly unfair to impute after-the-fact clarity to an ambiguous reality which preexisted the horror, tough luck. We need an angle and we're going with it.

So that was the hook, and the networks and cable news can thank the homicidal wacko for spacing things out the way he did and providing a story line. Otherwise, the thing is simply what it is: another mentally disturbed, quiet loner who fantasizes about massive revenge on the world, and then makes it all come terribly true. And because America makes it easy for civilians to get their hands on guns which fire off rounds at a rapid clip and can be reloaded quickly, the quiet loner can do a lot of damage in a hurry.

The NRA and President George Bush were quick to reassure the deceased killer that he was exercising a Constitutional right in bearing arms. In what should have been an amazing display of insensitivity and obtuseness, that was almost the first thing Bush had his spokeswoman Dana Perino say. The President believes in the right to bear arms. It was not amazing, although it was grossly insensitive and obtuse, because we're completely used to his style by now. Bush just has a genius for being on the wrong side of everything.

Other viewpoints reflected the post-Columbine sensibility that we live in an alienated and lonely society; that we have become so inured to daily death tolls by the Iraq war that we no longer react as we once did to reports of mass killing; and that America is a uniquely violent culture. While these are "correct" readings of the blots, which in this case are the oozing blood stains of dead students, there was no need to say any of it now. Except as a way of avoiding a genuine emotional reaction, if indeed we're capable of that anymore.

I think it's very sad that all of us, including the networks, the cable shows, and the reporters, don't take the time simply to reflect on the real tragedy, to connect as humans to what happened before rushing in with a media story line. Thirty-two people, mostly young men and women but including one Holocaust survivor who died trying to protect others, had their lives cut short by a mentally ill person. That could happen anywhere. If there is a narrative, it is simply that life is a gift precariously bestowed upon us. We would do more to retain our tattered humanity if we left it at that.

April 17, 2007

Blooging Past Bush-Bashing

A remarkable feature of the blogging world is the unprecedented (as far as I'm aware) marriage of modern pop psychology to political analysis, particularly as it applies to that singular creature in the White House, George Walker Bush. I don't argue with the trend, and I've done it myself, though I'm careful to cite my betters such as the learned psychoanalyst (and Bush-Basher extraordinaire) Justin Frank, M.D. In essence, these analyses, or diatribes, or screaming rants usually conclude with a summary description of Bush that makes him psychologically indistinguishable from a serial killer. His ascribed attributes almost always include sadism and a more-or-less complete lack of empathy. For recent example, I offer Robert Foster Altschul, an instructor in literature at Stanford, who blogged on the Huffpost under the subtle title, "You're a Monster, Mr. President" (which a lit major would term "foreshadowing"): "[i]t is now undeniable that our country is being led by a soulless, self-adoring crook who cares nothing about average citizens, American history, or the rule of law."

The "soulless" part is the key. Mr. Altschul is a novelist and probably wanted to avoid clunkers like "empathy-deprived," but that's the drift. The idea is that Bush doesn't feel any sympathy whatsoever for the consequences of his actions, including pain and suffering. By now I think everyone but the The Thirty Percent (by the way, I think that's a better name for Pat Robertson's TV show than "The 700 Club," which, while very End-Days and everything, is a little obscure) would agree with that. The Thirty Percent are Bush's hard core, the True Believers, the Evangelicals, who don't care about the consequences of Bush's actions here on Earth because Earth doesn't matter. In fact, many of them probably believe that Bush is empathy-deficient (certainly not "soulless," however; Mr. Altschul, please: everyone has a soul). One of the great ironies is that our soulless leader is empowered here at home by the same kind of religious zealot who straps on C-4 and walks into a Baghdad market and self-detonates. Maybe it's not a giant leap from self-adoration to self-detonation. I'm just boogeying here, while blogging. Maybe that could be called "blooging." I hereby claim copyright, trademark and exclusive use for the term "blooging," although anyone may use it from now on through a free license, granted by me in perpetuity.

Why do bloggers keep hammering away at this? It's the result of complete frustration, I think, but here's the thing: it is in the nature of empathy-deficiency that a psychopath cannot be dissuaded from his sadistic actions, or whatever, through any kind of emotional appeal. La Diva Pelosi keeps talking about extending the "hand of friendship" and cooperation to Bush in defiance of this psychological truth. You are not going to cajole, or shame, L'il Georgie into anything. It doesn't work that way. Tomorrow there will be another meeting in the Oval Office where Bush tells La Diva and Mr. Mumbles the way it's going to be - fund my war or else. And the Dynamic Duo will keep hoping, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Bush will offer them some sort of compromise that will give them a way to escape the awful burden of a difficult decision. He will never, ever do that, because he has the ultimate leverage in negotiations. He just flat-out doesn't give a fuck. That's the big upside of a complete lack of empathy, shame, remorse or ordinary human emotion. La Diva and Mr. Mumbles actually care if the U.S. Army and Marines are placed in yet more jeopardy. Bush doesn't, not at all. If they die, they die. That's how he looks at it. Maybe 650,000 Iraqis have died as a direct result of the invasion (scientifically speaking, that's the probable number). Bush doesn't care enough about them to figure out if it's true.

Interesting, isn't it, in a macabre, blood-curdling way? So you see, it's not that I disagree with the Bush-Bashing Amateur Psychologists. I think they're exactly right. I've just blooged beyond it. If they want to stop some of the worst effects of Bushitis, they can, but it's never going to happen by appeal to a better nature that simply isn't there.

April 15, 2007

While we contemplate our Iraqi navel: where are the bees?

One possible solution to global warming, viewed on a more cosmic scale and less anthropocentrically, is the massive die-off of the human race. Honeybees are currently demonstrating how this is done. About 70% of the bees have disappeared from their hives on the East Coast and about 60% on the West Coast. It is a global phenomenon, especially in advanced technological countries. Three-fourths of all the world's flowering plants and trees depend upon the honeybee for pollination. Among those who appreciated the hard and necessary work that bees do was Albert Einstein, who had this to say about them:

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

So here's the current deal: the bee is disappearing off the surface of the globe. The upside of this apian phenomenon is that it solves such long-term problems as the solvency of Social Security and Medicare, the national debt and whether you've got enough in your 401(k). The key question, in another year or two, might be whether you've got too much money to get rid of in the four years we all have left. To be very clear, there is absolutely no substitute for the honeybee. None whatsoever. This is not one of those situations where you convert your internal combustion engine from gasoline to ethanol. Bees own the patent for plant pollination as surely as Monsanto owns the genetic composition of most of agricultural nature.

No one is sure why it's happening, but we can reliably suspect we've got something to do with it. Whenever something delicate, natural, and essential gets completely fucked up, the usual culprit is homo sapiens and his endless, stupid-ass tinkering with ecological cycles and balances. By now you'd think we would have learned the perilous lessons of unintended consequences. We barge into some enormously complicated latticework of natural interrelationships, dangerously armed with our half-wit ideas and cocky arrogance about how it all works, and completely screw it up. No matter how many times we do it, we remain convinced we're on top of the situation.

Maybe the bees can't find the hives because their intricate navigation systems are messed up by all the proliferating radiation from all the damn cell phones we're all addicted to (one theory). Maybe it's a resurgence of mite infestation secondary to global warming (another theory). Maybe it has something to do with genetically engineering plants to withstand herbicides that used to kill weeds until the weeds genetically modified themselves (using a controversial theory called "Evolution") to thrive alongside the GM plants owned, created and trademarked by Monsanto (yet another theory). Maybe the bees said, fuck these guys, let's die off for now and get rid of these assholes (my theory).

So having maybe five or six years left might seems like a big deal, except don't forget the critical importance of the fate of one Arab country where a bunch of religious zealots are hunkered down in a four mile square bunker working on ways to kill us while they spend our money. The 100% die-off thing, hey: these things happen. But Iraq...