Letter to a Pro-War friend

I have a friend who is rather conservative. We have a lot in common, but we do occasionally engage in a knock-down, drag-down battle over politics. Before the George W. Bush led America into war, we had a really big fight. On the war. I warned him that what is happening today, would happen. Recently he sent me something of an explanation. That he feared that America needed to do this or retreat into isolationism. He feels that America must be engaged if we are to build a better world. And that Iraq posed a danger that could not be ignored.

This was my reply to him:

My opposition to the war were never arguments for isolationism or withdrawal. Liberal is a political group that includes both pacifists and isolationists, but neither group occupies the liberal mainstream. A quick review of the history of the cold war indicates that Democratic congresses and presidents pursued the policy of containment with the same steadfastness as conservatives. Nor were they unwilling to use force. Jimmy Carter practiced containment and the rearmament of America actually began during the Carter Administration, when Defense Secretary Harold Brown convinced the President that America's conventional miltary faced severe challenges against an immense Soviet military and a then robust Soviet Union. Reagan may have greatly expanded the buildup, but it began under the 'mealy' Carter.

The issue for me was never isolationism, but rather, which fight shall we pick? I've studied a fair amount of wars, and the days leading up to them. From that study I can say with some authority that more people have screwed up starting a war than in trying to avoid one.

The problem America faced in 2002 was primarily an issue of terrorism. No conceivable alliance of nations could pose a signficant conventional military threat to the United States, and our nuclear deterrent ensures that any country threatening nuclear war would commit national suicide.

So the real problem for us is a very small group of disaffected people, who hate and fear Western Civilization with a fanaticism that defies explanation. America too produces such fanatics: ( e.g. Timothy McVeigh and Theodore Kascinsky}, whose rationality has left the building and been replaced with hatred. These evil ones live among others who while they many not love America, do not hate us.

That makes the battle against terrorism primarily an intelligence battle. The best information comes from the people who sit at the other end of Bin Laden's favorite coffee shop. Or the person who shines his shoes, sells him mutton. These people will not co-operate with people they hate. Sympathy is critical in gaining information. Good information allows action: you can interfere with their finances, you can seize their arms. You can even kill or capture them before they act. There is a role for military power, but it must be used, carefully, selectively and where possible, invisibly.

I agree with your engineering analogy, that to solve a problem first you have to know what you want. I want those people extinct, without spawning new terrorists.

The Bush Administration is quite correct in its diagnosis that much of the unrest in the Middle East comes from the fact that the governments and economies there by and large stink. Daresay no one would disagree on that point. I have no problem, and never did, with the proposition that removing Saddam and replacing him with a real, modern, democratic state would be a Good Thing. I even see why some think it might set off a landslide of change in the region.

What I never believed was that we could pull it off.

It is useful to read Col. Harry Summers book On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War One of the primary reasons Summers gives for our defeat in Vietnam is that the United States never fully prepared its people for the coming struggle, that we would have to stay there for years, and sacrifice many of our sons. We were never fully prepared as a people for the price we would eventually have to pay. America didn't wimp out on Vietnam. Any country that fought for nine years and gave tens of thousands of lives to that cause cannot be called wimpy. But in the end the Vietnamese cared more about their country than we did.

But in the end, we weren't willing to pay the full price necessary.

We aren't now either. We aren't a tenth as willing to pay that price as we were in Vietnam.

The truth is we began this war with totally unrealistic expectations. The theoretical basis for this war was laid by two Soviet specialists, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. They seemed to assume the Middle East would be like Eastern Europe, that we would be welcomed as liberators, that people would assume because we were Americans, we were the Good Guys.

Okay, we are the Good Guys. But we have an oilman for a president and an insatiable appetite for the one commodity Iraq has in spades. We're really good friends with Israel, and that friendship has grown even closer under the fundamentalist Bush administration. Iraq has a long colonial history. The Brits too told them that they would bring civilization, democracy and prosperity. That didn't work out, so why should the Iraqis believe us?

Iraq had no opposition figure with legitimacy spread throughout all of iraq's ethnic groups. Even Winnie Mandela would have been a huge improvement over Ahmed Chalabi.

So here we are trying to remake this country that doesn't trust us, has not one natural leader to turn to, has nothing resembling a democratic tradition and the tradition it does have is for political violence and AK-47 in every family room.

This was, at best, a ten year job if we wanted to really accomplish the things we set out to do.

But did you hear any of that from the Bush Administration? Nope. Rumsfeld said we'd be pulling troops out within sixty days. He forced out General Shinseki for daring to disagree with their rosy pre-war predictions. Shinseki's numbers were telling because if true he was really warning the administration that the Army was not large enough to control Iraq if things went sour.

Not only that, the Bush Administration's actions in Afghanistan gave no indication the administration would take the job of nation building seriously. Their first aid offer was less than the cost of some buildings I've worked on. Then they 'forgot' Afghanistan in their very next budget request. How in the world do you forget a country you just made war on? This gave no reason for confidence that the administration would take the job of rebuilding Iraq seriously. The mess the politicos made of the post war has borne out my fears.

Ask yourself: was there EVER a single, solitary Middle Eastern specialist out in front of the administration? Instead, it was the old cold warriors, trying to apply cold war solutions to a very hot part of the world.

In truth, the administration isn't taking it the situation seriously. We have 8 of 10 Army divisions forward deployed right now. We've shot our bolt. If we are to stay there, the army has to grow. I have heard the number of 80,000 more troops bandied about, though I think that number low. Even so, if we want more troops, and we start drafting or recruiting them today it will be at least 18 months before the first new unit appears on the battlefield. Before that we will have to draw down the deployed units to create training cadres.

If we want more troops for Iraq in 2006 we have to start now. Today. But the Bush Administration isn't doing that, because the damned election is a lot more important to them than the soldiers they sent over there.

I knew this would happen. I knew that without a direct and clear link to the bombings of September 11 there was no way the American People were prepared to reinitiate the draft and lose their sons and daughters for a decade. No way. And I also knew that the conservative politicians pushing the war would never lay their political asses on the line in order to make this 'new Iraq' happen. They want re-election more than victory.

I knew we would win, and get rid of Saddam. That was good, no doubt about it. But I also knew that we would anger a lot of Muslims, which would work against the war on terror. And that we would leave before the job is done, which would make us look like a bunch of wimps.

If America is to make war, we need to agree to make war as a people. No show votes. No 'authorizations to potentially use force if something else doesn't happen', like happened in 2002. We don't need the Quakers and the Socialist party with us, but both mainstream Liberals and Conservatives both need to be in full agreement that this is something that really needs to be done, and that it is something worth paying a very high price for, and the assumptions they work on should be based on the worst case, not the best. We together need to face all that, then turn together and let the world we're coming.

We had that agreement in Afghanistan. We had it in 1991 when we fought the first Gulf War. Americans were ready to dig into their wallets and sacrifice their sons. We will come that that agreement again.

This wasn't isolationism. It was the wrong fight. Now I fear a much bigger, more serious fight is coming, one we will all agree on.

I fear the rehabilitation of genocide will come to pass.

And i feel like weeping.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three

The high pitched rhythmic purr of robotic actuators hum in the dimly lit corridor. The tiny metallic arms griping flesh, injecting serums, and stirring vats are a model of efficient creation. The arms work ceaselessly like the disembodied legs of insects ripped from their arthropodal abdomens, twitching mindlessly. The arms lift a chunk of organic matter out of a vat of a dark green liquid that glows with a pulsing light and drop it onto the conveyer. The belt lurches a half a meter and stops, the arms plopping down another mass of gray organic matter. The rows of glistening globs twitched discordantly.

The globs continued down the conveyer to the Nanoessence activator injection. Robotic arms equipped with syringe modules on the end position themselves above the quivering mass of organic matter and plunge their long needles into the glop. A small hiss is the only evidence of injection. The robotic arm extracts the needle and swings up out of the way awaiting its opportunity to thrust itself into the next specimen.

The mass moves farther down the conveyer belt along with all the others in a continuous stream. Two robotic arms placed on either side dart into the now bubbling organic mass, lift it into the air and slop it into a waiting transparent plastic cube. It leaves a glistening trail of slime as it settles at the bottom. The cube is closed by yet another set of arms with a plastic lid formed with a grid of small round openings. The whole package is lifted into the air and grabbed by another arm passing overhead.

The arm and cage travel into the next room where the robotic ceiling arm enters a storage matrix and scanning the rows of containers finds an empty shelf on which it places the cage of organic matter that is now hissing and bubbling as it turns a deep purple. Gray blotches still remained where the activator has not yet spread. Next to the plastic cage are other cages that contain wildly colored organic masses in various states of transformation. The robotic arm pulls away from the storage rack and speeds back to the other room along the track hanging from the ceiling. The process continued like clockwork.

At the other end of the building another gray steel and black plastic robotic arm mounted next to a plodding conveyor belt slaps a sticker onto passing plastic cubes. In a highly stylized script reminiscent of late 20th century graffiti the stickers read: "NANO NINJA MONKEY". Inside the cubes lay individual monkeys of various bright colors curled up in little furry balls with all indications of being asleep.


I hear a door on the other side of the house slam. It's my roommate Rita the lesbian. She's a real man-hater. I don't know why she still lives here with me and not with one of her equally man-hating friends. Maybe it satisfies her sadistic quotas for the day to have an object of her hate so close at hand whenever she wants. I think they have secret meetings where they discuss their plans to disparage and torment men. All of our conversations are hemmed with rude gestures and the occasional "fuck you, pig" which suggests some serious brainwashing. She's nice. I like her.

She's standing in my doorway giving me a souring look. Like I just told her she should be washing the dishes or some equally sexist remark. "Are you still playing that stupid game? Zel something? You're such a typical male pig." She says. Suprisingly she doesn't mention the food stain on my orange shirt.

I don't let her weak attempt at distraction avert me. I stay glued to the game. I don't know why I play it. Probably just to piss her off. On the other hand I just can't stop collecting all the items. I'm about to power up my sword to the next level. A momentous occasion I assure you.

"Hey, fascist fuck-, I'm expecting a package today. Don't fucking open it, ok?"

I pause the game to stare at her. This is rare. Not the profanity, she's a regular stream of filth, but her communication with the outside is limited to her weekly hormone baths at the local girl bar and yelling at the talking heads on the video screen. I smile at her and tell her that I'll make sure no one touches it. She's really a nice girl. It's just she's got to project her retro-feminist image for the sake of posterity. Like those guys that parade around and pretend they're Elvis. As if they both didn't go out of style thirty years ago. It must get her laid.

I hear the door slam as she leaves for work. She works at a tattoo parlor. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention she's covered in LightInk tattoos. At night she looks like a fucking Christmas tree on acid. I think it has something to do with the nocturnal mating habits of her kind. I shrug to myself and lose myself back in the game.

A few hours later- I think; it's hard to keep track of time when you're plugged in - the visitor notification box pops up on my screen. I see it's the delivery man, he looks like a giant turd with legs in his brown jump suit.

"Just leave it on the stoop" I say to the video screen.

"No can do, I need a sig." He says, his voice booming out of my massive surround sound system.

I get up from the couch, leaving behind an impression of my body in the soft cushions. I rub my eyes as I stumble to the door. When you're plugged in, blinking becomes optional. I open the door and turd man is standing there holding out a video pad and a plastic pen to sign with. I scribble something illegible on the pad. I think I signed it turdman, you can't really read those things. The delivery guy hands me a medium sized brown box that says this end up and has holes cut into it. It's kind of heavy. The purple and orange label on the box begins playing the company jingle as the deliveryman turns and leaves. I peel half of it from the box, cutting it off in the middle of its song and go back inside.

Closing the door I notice that there's a musty smell emanating from the box. It's definitely an animal of some kind. A nasty little grin creeps onto my face. I give the box a good side to side shake. There's a soft bump as the weight inside the box shifts but nothing more. I shrug and leave the box in front of her door, not daring to venture into her den of iniquity.

I plug back into my game but it just can't hold my attention anymore. My mind keeps coming back to what might be in the box. She probably got a mail order cat or something. You can get them in any color you want now days. Our neighbor has a blue Norwegian Forest cat. I peel myself off the couch again and stick my head into the hall and look at the package sitting in front of her door. There are some rustling noises coming from it now. I must have woken up whatever was inside of it. My curiosity gets the better of me and I walk over and kneel in front of the box.

The pungent musky smell is stronger next to the box. I have to hold my breath; I really hope she doesn't plan on keeping this thing in the house. I rip the box open and see another slightly smaller plastic box inside. At the bottom of the plastic box is a big ball of fur. I reach my hand into the box to pet the ball and feel a tug at my wrist and a sharp pain that bolts up my arm. My jaw drops in astonishment as my hand slides off the end of my wrist and plops at the bottom of the box. The furball is no where to be seen.

A scream begins to bubble out of my throat as blood gushes from my bloody stump. The screeching mass of fur leaps onto my face and begins to stab my eyes with its tiny sword. The pain rockets through my skull with each sharp jab. A few weak movements are all I can manage now. My blood is pooling on the floor beneath me. I try to slap him off my face but it's no use. I can't see anything, and I don't have the energy. All I can hear is the little bastard screeching in my ear. My last thought as I fell on my back: "How can I warn Rita that her Nano Ninja Monkey is loose?"

Trust; I don't understand

An Itsy, Bitsy Spider,
waiting for it's doom,
natural, for all that, still no less cruel.
Why, oh why, you spider,
do you wait there in the spout,
even though you know
the rain will wash you out?
Oh spider, you must know
every time you start to go
the children anticipate with glee
the doom you do not seem to see.
So why do I still hope, just to see my trust be broken?
Am I a fatalist, or am I just human?

If hope is a thing with feathers,
it flies, yet it escapes,
but trust is just a rocket,
fighting gravity's embrace.
It seems so free, so powerful,
in it's flight to space,
but we know it's vulnerable;
because of what makes it real,
we see the perils of the venture.
Why it's worthwhile we cannot mention,
but we know, when we go,
it was worth it, just to know.
You could _not_ trust, to be honest,
but then how do you live?

Is it worth more,
if one day it will not be there?
Is it valuable,
if you know it will fail?
Why even care,
you can refuse to get involved.
Why live life,
you can retreat into yourself.
Do you want to know,
or just live in the ephemeral moment?
Do you want to wait,
or know you've already been betrayed?
And if I had answers that made sense to me,
would I ask?

If everyone understands, it's so simple
but I don't, should I even try?
If no-one understands, it's impossible,
then I won't, why should I try?

Last year (2003) I though a trust that I gave someone was betrayed. I am now confident that I was misled into this assumption by an assumption I made, and malicious action on the part of several individuals and organizations. I'm not sure if everyone really goes through this breaking of a trust, not in a romantic sense, but in a assumption shattering, re-defining way. The term mindfuck is used to describe when this happens as a result of a movie or book, but I'm not sure what to call it when it's just your life that causes you to re-evaluate everything you though you understood about the world. In a sense, I lost my innocence with this re-evaluation, but more than that, I became an adult.
Sorry for all this GTKY stuff, but it's a question of where I was when mentally I wrote the poems.
Feedback appreciated more than upvotes, and either is better than being ignored. (I don't really like downvotes, either.)

Life's Style.

Proofreading: Proofreading has turned out to be just as tedious and uninteresting as I expected. But, despite the pejorative connotations of those words, I find it rather satisfying. My 'job' (a job only in the barest monetary exchange sense of the term) is to read aloud, for approximately 3 hours at a time, various articles on semantics while another person 'checks' what I read against the copy to be corrected. That in itself sounds tedious, to be sure. But it goes further. I also have to read all the little formatting quirks. For example, I would read the above two sentences as follows:

capital bee but it goes further period capital eye also have read italics all end italics the little formatting quirks period
But, even further, I have to read extremely complicated semantics articles with a plethora of logical notation and some odd formatting peculiarities that belong to Montague grammar. But I still like it, and for the following reason. After reading like this for about a half an hour, you start to fall into a sort of trance, like reading the Torah, the meanings of the words just float away and you feel like a sort of automaton, or a medium of a sort. It's really rather pleasant to not think for such an extended period of time. Of course, there are interruptions: when a mistake is found, when a peculiar symbol has to be 'named', etc. Nevertheless, it pays well, the hours are perfect for my rather erratic sleeping schedule, and it is probably one of the few jobs I'll be able to get over the summer due to my lack of French.


Love: I'm certainly not qualified to expound on the intricacies of love qua love, no one is I'd wager. But lately I've started to realize that what I have actually is love, and not merely lip service. I can't imagine (read: I would prefer not to imagine) my life (in this regard at least) as any different than it is right now. It's unpleasant and difficult and it requires some decisions I'd rather not have to make, but I'd do it the same way again if I had to, perhaps I'd do a better job on my end in some ways, but nothing drastic. The prospect of being apart for yet another year, and perhaps more years even after that has made me incredibly unhappy, but I'll take unhappiness with her over some modicum of happiness without her. A certainty in my life. How novel! I have been worrying, however, about just what she thinks about the whole affair. I mean I know what we've discussed, infinitely and exhaustingly, but I say things I don't mean and I don't say things that I probably should; it must be similar for her. Although, I'm by nature rather more duplicitous and 'opaque' in a lot of ways than she is. So much the better (for both of us!). This is an aimless tangent, but one I've been thinking about a lot as of late. I hope things work out, I'm not very sure at all that they will.


Painting: Now that 'summer' is here (in Halifax, this sort of weather would be summer, not spring), painting will hopefully begin in earnest. Peru and I have been out a few times bombing and its been calm, relaxed and productive. I'm still amazed at how quiet this city is at night and how incredibly easy it is to get up because of the one-way streets. It really is ridiculous, though I'll probably change my tune the first time I get arrested. Drawing has been productive if a little repetitive lately: I'm having fun doing all the stupid drawings I do. The other day, last Thursday I believe, Peru and I painted some of the best pieces either of has painted in a while. I'm really quite pleased with mine, I thought after all the dry months of stagnant and repetitive bombing that my pieces would have suffered, but, in fact, I think this last piece is perhaps my favourite. Free paint is hilarious and lends itself easily to sharing, which also makes painting more pleasant than it can sometimes be. I'd ideally like to paint 3 times a week this summer, but I doubt that will happen unless I get over my unfounded insecurity about racking in Montreal. I should be confident in my abilities, but it seems to me (probably prudently) that I might be over-estimating my abilities and could very well end up with an idiotic shoplifting charge on my record, for no reason. We'll see how it goes; I might have to enter competitions or something to win paint, which seems like its easy to do here.


Philosophy: Not much in the way of philosophy this week, as I've just completed all my papers as well as my thesis proposal. In other words: I'm taking a little bit of a break in 'thinking' (not that I do much of it anyway). I have been reading a Foucault interview that I've either forgotten or have never read. It's in the Foucault Reader and it's about architecture and 'spaces' and so on. The bits I like most in it are when he is asked if there is a specifically 'free' or 'unfree' sort of architecture. He replies, roughly, that no architecture is in-itself (that is, by its very nature) 'free' or 'unfree' because freedom is a kind of practice. As my roommate put it, we can have a field full of gazebos that operates as a prison in the same way that, for instance, our current prisons could function otherwise than they do right now. (Which isn't to say that architecture plays no role and that architects shouldn't perk up their ears...quite the contrary!). I quite like the notion that freedom is a practice, and I think it connects up well with a lot of Wittgenstein's 'anti-essentialism' (I'd say 'non-essentialism' is a better term) about concepts and everything else. Which is to say that I'm noticing more and more that many of the people I read (here Wittgenstein and Foucault) are consistently, perhaps even 'programmatically' worried about assigning any final form to a particular topic. I like 'open-ended philosophy' like this is what I think I'm trying to say. I think I'd like to revisit, with more attention this time, a lot of philosophy of history, especially earlier stuff that I haven't read even. Maybe historiography rather than straight-up philosophy of history would be better and more interesting. I'd like to read some Greek and Roman historians talk about what they think history is about. Proofreading the semantics stuff also has me interested, against my instincts, in Grice again. More specifically with conversational implicature. Actually, I'd like to go a bit further into the present and read some relevance theory stuff, about which I know absolutely nothing other than it is a development regarding implicature that gets rid of Grice's worrisome commitment to the co-operation maxim (or whatever it 's called).


Reading: I haven't read much of anything in the past couple days except a few random Vice magainzes and The Counterlife by Philip Roth, which is excellent. In fact, I was thinking that I might use it for my thesis as a more down to earth (as compared to Kathy Acker) account of identity problems and their relationship with emotions and emotional perception. But we'll have to see if it stands the test of time. Roughly put, the book is an interesting exercise in alternate histories, though that sounds ridiculous if you've read it. Basically, the main character (a writer, as seems to be the usual case for Roth) writes and re-writes about people he knows, things that have happened to them, etc. There are a number of vignettes, sketches of a particular period, etc. But, interspersed with these vignettes are snippets of letters and little stories about the 'characters' of the book finding out that the main character wrote about them, and what he wrote about them. It sounds awful and pretentious, perhaps, but it really isn't, at all. It does stray into a sort of sustained meditation on the performative aspect of all writing (and even of all 'living' later on) but that meditation is, I think, balanced out by engaging characters and beautiful writing.

Life's got no Style.

Random Memories of Bad Breakups

I was still living in my old apartment, and a christian friend of mine stopped by with a friend of his, a girl from church. She wasn't the most attractive girl I've ever seen, but she seemed nice. I suggested we wander over to the pub next door and have a drink or something to eat. We spent about an hour just chatting about things, world events, computers, the usual.

She seemed very cool. One of those people you enjoy chatting to. Hell, she even enjoyed and appreciated X-Files, unlike some other christians I know who dismiss it as crap and un-godly or something like that. Course, a lot of that is really based on taste and the season that you are watching :)

Anyway, in a strange move, she gave me her number when we parted ways. I don't remember the excuse, but I thought "wow!" As a reclusive geek I don't get a lot of girls giving me their numbers.

I called her a couple of days later and I invited her out for a drink, or maybe a movie, or dinner, I don't remember. It was casual, and only a 'date' by a long stretch (IMHO). Again we had a good time just chatting. The evening ended and we parted ways.

That evening I came home and roomie-wife said that said girl had called, and asked her to turn down the volume on the answering machine before she left a message. When I listened to the message it said that she felt "too close" to me and she didn't like that, it could never work out between us, and please call her if I don't hate her for this. I did, and assured her that I wasn't planning marriage or anything like that, and that I had fun and enjoyed talking to her, and wondered why the heck she was freaking out (side note: She has never had a boyfriend or even kissed a boy before... a sheltered girl to be sure).

After finishing this conversation I invited her out to something (I think this time was the movie and the first time was drinks/dinner). After that (again, a good time was had by all) I walked her back home and said goodnight. This time I stepped up close and as she said something about "I've never kissed anyone before!" I gave her a peck on the cheek. After determining that I wasn't going to rape her right there on her back porch (as her eyes certainly said she thought I was), she scurried into the house.

The next day I came back to not one message on the answering machine but 3! She talked to the end of the time of message that the machine would take and then called back to continue on. The gist of the conversation was something like (with "..." representing conversation that served to fill up the answering machine memory but not have much other impact on my memory):

"I thought a lot about what happened last night and it would never work...
I think you're a great guy.
I don't think I can talk to you anymore. Please don't call me.
I don't think I can handle talking to you, so if you have any respect for me, you will not call me again.
Please, if you have any respect for me don't call me.
Please don't ever call me again."

Needless to say, I have not called her back, although technically speaking, through her disrespect for me and my feelings, I shouldn't respect her anymore, and I should have called her.

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