Archive for March, 2008

Whooooo are you?

March 29, 2008

With so much talk about terrorists since 9/11, and with so many people making so many big decisions based on who terrorists are and what they want, Marc Sageman asked a strange question: what are we talking about? That is, who are terrorists? Does anybody know?

The answer to the last question was, “Frankly, no.” Everybody’s talking about terrorists as if they know what they’re talking about, but nobody actually does. So Sageman, a forensic psychiatrist and former CIA officer, decided to do a scientific study of known terrorists. I’m not in a position to critique his methodology, so consider that a large disclaimer. However, his last book seems to be highly regarded, and he seems to be generally considered a serious scholar on terrorism.

Taking his study as sound, then, since I have no reason to think it is not, what he found is pretty surprising. For instance:

  • Most current terrorists are not very religious.
  • Most current terrorists did not attend madrassas.
  • Most current terrorists do not know Arabic.
  • Most current terrorists are not poor or from backgrounds of poverty.
  • Most current terrorists have college degrees, mostly in scientific and technical disciplines.

The current generation of terrorists form what Sageman calls “Third Wave” terrorism. The first wave arose in the 1980s and includes people like Osama bin Laden. The number of First Wave terrorists still alive and on the loose is measured in dozens. The second wave arose in the early 90s, were extremely religious, and were trained directly by First Wave terrorists. There are roughly 100 Second Wave terrorists still active. Sageman says these 2 generations of terrorists are extremely dangerous, and should be pursued and locked away. (Most of them can be found, conveniently, in one place: the Waziristan province of Pakistan.)

Third Wave terrorists are, in Sageman’s words, “basically punks.” They act out of boredom, rebellion, and resentment, not religiosity or hatred of Western freedoms or a desire for a society governed by Sharia law.

Here’s a [long] presentation he did, which I saw on C-SPAN, and here’s the [short] book in which he presents his data. It’s fascinating stuff, and I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts.

It’s Always Friday in Malibu

March 28, 2008

Random notes.

1. I’ve got a killer tan going on these days. People comment on it. Those comments make me happy because I have low self-esteem and need to be noticed.

2. Little kids singing The Beatles make me happy. Here’s hoping it makes you happy, too.

3. In Las Vegas, it is now legal for brothels to advertise. But noone will buy their ads, apparently. People’ll buy ads for thinly disguised illegal prostitution-type things but not for legal prostitution.  

4. I’m still half-heartedly reading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and it’s more painful than I ever thought possible. I have to make myself read a page every now and then. I’m a trooper. I’ll finish it. But I’ll try never to speak of it again. In my life.

5. Counting Crows have a new album out. I’m a big fan. The album, Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings, is worth checking out. I know a lot of people don’t like Durtiz’s voice, but he’s a very good songwriter.

6. I just linked to Amazon for music. Does anyone still buy music from Amazon? Just curious. I can’t remember the last actual cd I bought. I either go the iTunes route or order from Amazon’s Mp3 store.

An Additional Note:

One of my favorite reads everyday is Mark Elrod’s Lame-O Weblog. He has a post on a Wal-Mart situation that I hadn’t heard about. It doesn’t make me like Wal-Mart any more or less than I already did or didn’t. But it’s a tad disturbing.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front (by Wendell Berry)

March 27, 2008

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything made.
Be afraid to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something that won’t compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand.
Praise ignorance,
for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion–put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn’t go.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Copyright Wendell Berry

Last Post on This, I Promise

March 25, 2008

But I just read an article I had to share because it expresses, better than I could, exactly why the entire Wright debacle has bothered me so much, not to mention the latest Clinton salvo.  It’s the patriotism thing.  I have posted on this before, you know, hating patriotism in general, believing that it inevitably entails an imagined superiority over all those not part of whatever it is we are patriotic to, and my not buying into that at all.  But Kamiya makes a good point that, in particular, our current national discourse on patriotism is absurdly constrained.   Perhaps it was always thus, even before 9/11, that you weren’t allowed to question anything America did, but certainly the national witch hunt reached a fever pitch in the few years following 9/11 (remember what happened to my girls).

Here’s a teaser:

The great shock so many people claim to be feeling over Wright’s sermons is preposterous. Anyone who is surprised and horrified that some black people feel anger at white people, and America, is living in a racial never-never land. Wright has called the U.S. “the United States of White America,” talks about the “oppression” of black people and says, “White America got their wake-up call after 9/11.” Gosh, who could have dreamed that angry racial grievances and left-wing political views are sometimes expressed in black churches?

It’s not surprising that the right is using Wright to paint Barack Obama as a closet Farrakhan, trying to let the air out of his trans-racial balloon by insinuating that he’s a dogmatic race man. But beyond the fake shock and the all-too-familiar racial politics, what the whole episode reveals is how narrow the range of acceptable discourse remains in this country. This is especially true of anything having to do with patriotism or 9/11 — which have become virtually interchangeable. Wright’s unforgivable sin was that he violated our rigid code of national etiquette. Instead of the requisite “God bless America,” he said “God damn America.” He said 9/11 was a case of chickens coming home to roost. Now we must all furrow our brows and agree that such dreadful words are anathema and that no presidential candidate can ever have been within earshot of them.

This is absurd. . . . Wright isn’t the problem. Stupid patriotism is the problem.

I’m pretty sure Kamiya thinks there is a right way to do patriotism, just that we do it stupidly in this country at this moment.  Just so y’all don’t think he’s outside the American mainstream like yours truly.

Wanted: Enlightenment-era philosopher-statesman; must speak Arabic.

March 24, 2008

This is about as dispiriting an article on Iraq as I’ve read in a long, long time.

Regular readers know my feelings about that war have been mixed. I thought it was a mistake to start it in the first place, but once we were there, I thought we should make the full, national commitment to succeeding. After a few years, it became apparent to me that we simply didn’t have the political leadership to make that happen; that basically we had a choice between leaders who wanted to get out completely, and leaders who wanted to stay but without a full commitment or even much of a plan. That being the case, I concluded that the least bad thing to do was leave, and that’s pretty much where I’ve been, since.

Still, regardless of whether we stay or go, it’s disheartening to read these “return of the strongman” stories, even if they were expected.  To hear the chief of police in Fallujah say, in essence, “Saddam had it right, Saddam ruled this country the only way this country can be ruled, and once the Americans leave, we intend to go right back to it,” it really does leave one wondering what we’ve accomplished, or what we expect to accomplish going forward.  To hear the citizens of Fallujah say they can’t stand their chief of police, but he’s probably right, that doesn’t help.

If it leaves me feeling like the effort has been pointless, one wonders how it makes the troops on the ground feel, since they’re the ones doing the killing and dying — especially in a place like Fallujah, which seems to be sort of the Normandy of this war.

So while I don’t know of anything this blog can do that would make those soldiers feel any better about their mission, I am hoping someone here can at least make me feel better about it.  What’s the roadmap for success?  If Iraq is a place where “there are no Thomas Jeffersons,” how do we and they get it from where it is today, to where it is a self-sustaining nation-state that doesn’t look pretty much like it did before we went?

Those aren’t rhetorical questions.  I don’t see the way to get where we want to go, and I would like to.  So if someone sees the way, I’d very much appreciate being shown.

Bunnies For Jesus!

March 23, 2008

It was one year ago this weekend that will surely go down as the most bizarre Easter of my life. My bluegrass band had been hired to play at an Episcopalean church in Memphis. We thought this was some kind of community picnic, and we were there to provide entertainment.

After setting up, the priest asked what church songs we were going to play. Eh? It seems we were supposed to lead the congregation in singing. Oh, right. So nothing about moonshine, adultery, or coal mining, then. This could be tough. But we worked up a few verses of I’ll Fly Away and Will the Circle Be Unbroken. Crisis averted.

The afternoon played like this: Everyone would gather around the approximately 2 ft. square communion table for a short Bible lesson led by the priest speaking through an entirely unnecessary megaphone, after which the kids were let loose to search for Easter Eggs, then everyone would wander back around for a bluegrass song, and the process would repeat itself again. A little disjointed, yes, but nothing to write home about. Until this.

I was standing with my back to the priest when our mandolin player began whispering “Turn around, Turn around, Turn around!” And this is what I saw…

Yes, communion was served by a priest and the Easter Bunny. Best. Easter. Ever.

And the Hits Just Keep on Rolling

March 23, 2008

I have had just about enough of the Clintons.  At the end of all this when McCain is elected, I hope they’re happy, because they have (perhaps not only, but at least partly) themselves to blame.  Their egos are completely out of control.  James Carville calling Bill Richardson a traitor for backing Obama?  Give me an f-ing break.  I am sick to death of their sense of entitlement.

You know, I didn’t start off this primary season as a big Obama fan like a lot of people.  I originally supported Edwards, as I’ve mentioned previously.  But I’ve become more and more protective of Obama the more the Clintons (and others) attack him.  He is a politician, not a deity, as Frank Rich pointed out today, but I believe he is sincere in wanting to take a new, more inclusive, more positive direction in politics — something that most Americans profess to want and that I for one believe is high time we at least attempted.  I also believe that he’s smart and has good judgment.  What he lacks in experience can be supplied by well-chosen advisors.  The hatchet job everyone’s trying to do on him right now just goes to show that our political system is irretrievably broken and morally bankrupt.  I can’t believe I even have the energy to care anymore, I’m so sick of people tearing each other apart over trifles, lies, and distortions.

Sorry, Barack, no, we can’t.  It has become abundantly clear that the American people just don’t want to.

A One-Sentence Peace Treaty

March 20, 2008

Yesterday marked the five-year anniversary of the war in Iraq. President Bush marked the occasion with a “stay the course” speech. He admitted that the war has produced “a high cost in lives and treasure,” (approximately 4,000 US soldiers, 80,000 Iraqi civilians, and 500 billion dollars) then added that those costs “are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq.”

It just made me think about this short essay from an old Tennessee farmer named Will D. Campbell (the inspiration for the comic strip character, Reverend Will B. Dunn), published way back in 1999 in his little book, “Soul Among Lions: Musings of a Bootleg Preacher.”

A few weeks ago I happened upon two middle-aged men fighting. Not a schoolyard scuffle, but a genuine ball-fisted, bloodletting kind of adult jawbreaker. Emergency room stuff. “What’s going on here?” I asked a bystander.

“A fight,” he shrugged, grinning at my dumb question.

I begged the men to stop. One yelled back for me to mind my own business unless I wanted a beating myself. I didn’t, so I chose his first suggestion and drove away.

Another war in the Persian Gulf seemed certain at the time. I thought of that and of the two men fighting. Neither made any sense to me. “But still they have weapons of mass destruction,” we are told. Really? We have enough such weapons to kill everyone on earth many times over.

A fistfight is about hurting someone. But war is about killing. Most sadly it is about killing children. That should bother everyone. For certain, our nation has done its share of killing children. From the Trail of Tears to Dresden to Hiroshima to My Lai to Waco. Ah, we have killed children, all right. I believe that taking human life at any age or stage of development is wrong. And please don’t tell me that’s none of my business.

Why can there not be a one-sentence peace treaty: “It shall be a violation of international law for any nation to kill a child of another nation.” What nation would not sign the treaty? And how would war then be waged?

I’d Be Remiss…

March 18, 2008

if I didn’t link to Obama’s major speech today on race in America. It’s the best thing I’ve read on the subject in . . . I don’t know when.

Particular highlights, for me, are after the jump.


Gated Communities

March 17, 2008

My fellow liberals sometimes tick me off.

It’s a commonplace in liberal circles that gated communities — you know, those suburban subdivisions with the brick streets that don’t lead anywhere and a few dozen brick and stone, ADT-equipped McMansions, all enclosed by brick walls and wrought-iron fences —  are bad.  They’ve come to stand for conspicuous consumption, unsustainable living, and, above all, hiding behind walls and locked gates from the nation’s (on a more personal scale, one’s own community’s) social problems, rather than addressing them.  Gated communities smack of pre-revolutionary French aristocrats, and worse: tacky, bourgeois pre-revolutionary French aristocrats.

Gated communities are, the conventional wisdom goes, the white, conservative, upper-middle class’s escape from reality.  It’s much easier to be conservative when you use your economic advantage to shut out the social problems created by conservative policies.  That’s how the theory goes.

Aside from the facile, self-congratulating tone with which it is said, the thing that ticks me off about all that is that most liberals live in gated communities.

Instead of “Wuthering Oaks” or “Shady Glen” or “Wickersham Heights,” the gated communities most liberals live in have names like “New York” or “San Francisco” or “Seattle.”  Coastal cities are liberals’ gated communities.  It’s where they collect and hide from the realities of the rest of the country — places with names like “Midwest” or “South” or “rural [fill in the blank].”

“Very clever, bucko,” they might say, “but there are no gates on New York or San Francisco or Seattle.”  Au contraire, sez I.  The gates are cultural and economic, rather than brick and iron, but they’re just as effective at excluding the riff-raff.  Given the cultural and economic realities of those places, the “riff-raff” is, primarily, anybody who isn’t highly educated; even better, anybody who isn’t both highly educated and the product of a highly educated family.  There are other mechanisms of exclusion in liberal gated communities, but most of them are related, to one degree or another, to those two.  Gated-community liberals, like people who live in literal gated communities — and, let’s face it, most people anywhere — want to be surrounded by people like themselves, and the cultural institutions people like themselves create.

Google “abolish the electoral college,” and the results will be almost entirely related to coastal liberals’ efforts to accomplish that deed.  Why?  Because they want their highly populous gated communities to not be penalized for being geographically tiny subdivisions of the nation.   They want to stay safely ensconced in their gated communities with other upper-middle-class liberals, and run the rest of the country from there.

How ’bout this, fellow liberals?  Instead of turning out the lights and cursing the darkness, how about helping to change the rest of the country?  Instead of holing up in a few locations at the continental margins, how about moving out here where the rest of us live, and making a commitment to a red-state community?  If you want to change the country, instead of taking the shortcut of monkeying with the electoral college, how about teaching at a rural high school in Mississippi, and being a liberal citizen of that community, a liberal friend of people in that community?  How about setting up your medical practice in suburban Kansas City or a small town in southern Illinois, and help bring a liberal voice to that community?  How about being a journalist for the Nashville Tennessean or the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, instead of writing for one of the New York-based fluff magazines?

If you’re not happy with the way the nation’s interior votes, try coming out here and changing it.  Instead of adding to the economic and educational divide between urban and rural America by being yet another highly educated coastal city-dweller, how about bringing your education and your cosmopolitan perspective where it’s needed?  You worked hard in school and got into a great college and maybe a top-notch graduate or professional school, and you worked hard there and succeeded.  That’s great.  Truly. However, the cold, hard fact is that until several generations of some critical mass of you decide to bring all that education and so forth out here where it’s rare, you’re not going to change the nation’s politics.