Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Impotence of the Serial Killer

In the United States, our official mythology is heroic individuality, but we actually live highly cooperative lives in our families, neighborhoods, at work, and when we go shopping.

In serial killing, the killers try to make the myth a reality for the rest of us. The story is the serial killer against everyone else--their revenge, their rage, and their destructive sexuality against the ordinary lives of other people. Serial killers think of themselves as one or two person "tipping points" that will change the way other people live. In Phoenix, the two "Serial Shooters" who were just caught terrorized an area of "aging strip malls and older homes" for a year keeping the business people and residents of the area in fear as they did their jobs, pumped gas, walked dogs, and did other ordinary things.

But group life in the United States is stronger than the serial killers. That's why serial killers never win. Serial killers can escape detection for years. They can thumb their nose at the cops. They can be romanticized in film and television. But serial killers can never bring the ordinary lives of people to a halt. The Serial Shooter could never make people stop coming to the aging strip malls of the neighborhood they targeted in Phoenix and the Son of Sam could never stop kids from making out in New York. Serial killers can never make the people in the rest of their towns and cities stay to themselves. They can never succeed in opposing their will.

What the Bush administration, the neo-conservative policy elite, and the activist right needs to learn is that they cannot impose their vision on Middle Eastern Arabs any more than serial killers can impose themselves on ordinary Americans or any more than bin Laden can impose his vision of a new caliphate through terror. The U. S. has had an outstanding army in Iraq for almost 3 1/2 years and the American army has disrupted Iraqi life in ways that serial killers and terrorists can only dream of. Nevertheless, the U. S. has not achieved any more control over the currents of Iraqi society than the Serial Shooter achieved in Phoenix. The rise of the insurgency, the blossoming of the Shiite militias, the new religious fervor, and the Taliban-like religious supervision have all been much more profound than the elections and the forming of a new government and have all been shaped by the Iraqis against the will of the occupiers.

The Bush administration and the American public need to rethink what we're doing in Iraq in the most profound way, to ask ourselves what shape Iraqi society is taking, what impact our initiatives have had, and how we can change directions. The American invasion was a tipping point. It tipped Iraq to a point somewhere between civil war and complete breakdown and it tipped the American military into a position of fruitless impotence. If we're going to change directions, we need to start now.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Meet the New Middle East

I'm already nostalgic for the relative stability of the Middle East before the U. S. invasion of Iraq. The status quo ante where the war on terrorism meant the war on bin Laden was bliss compared to what's emerging as a result of the American invasion of Iraq and Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Iraq: Another 3,000 American troops have been moved into Baghdad to deal with the sectarian violence. But the earth has shifted under the feet of the occupying troops in Baghdad and the Shiite areas to the Southeast. Shiite militias have essentially taken control of Basra from the British and the fight between Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents has displaced the resistance against occupation as the main arena of conflict in Baghdad. The American occupation army is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

The general picture in Iraq is extremely grim from the perspective of American interests. As the statements from Prime Minister Maliki and the Mahdi Army demonstration in Sadr City indicate, Iraqi Shiites are lining up behind Hezbollah. There's also the extreme danger that Anbar province could become even more of a haven for global terrorism in the future now that the American grip on cities like Ramadi and Hit is slipping.

Iraq is increasingly beginning to look like an ungovernable country where one of the dominant factions is lining up with our enemies Iran and Hezbollah and another faction will be playing host to bin Laden wannabes.

The reality of Lebanon is that Hezbollah is going to come out ahead as a result of the current conflict. The Israelis are not going to disarm Hezbollah, marginalize Hezbollah, or eviscerate Hezbollah. Instead, they're going to see a stronger, more confident, and probably better armed Hezbollah in the future.

What's happening in Lebanon is that the myth of Israeli invincibility is being shattered. The Israelis look indecisive. They thought that an intense air campaign would force the Lebanese government to dislodge Hezbollah in the South quickly. When that that didn't work, the Israelis were stuck. They didn't want to occupy Southern Lebanon again, but they didn't want to leave Southern Lebanon alone either. So the Israelis have been launching pinprick strikes into Hezbollah territory to take out Hezbollah infrastructure.

But Hezbollah has proven to be a much more formidable force than anyone anticipated and Israeli IDF has been taking its lumps in these operations. Following the lead of their Bush administration friends, the Israelis keep announcing success, but don't appear to have gained anything.

The final result is that the Israelis now look vulnerable and their enemies in the Palestinian territories certainly are taking notice. If the Israelis, Palestinians, and Hezbollah can't come to a workable settlement as a result of this round of fighting, the next round of armed conflict is going to be even worse.

Meet the new Middle East, even worse than the old Middle East.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Kansas Evolves, Progressives Devolve

Kansas Evolves: Yesterday in Kansas, "conservative" Republicans lost a couple of seats to Republican moderates on the State Board of Education. As a result, pro-intelligent design language is going to be taken out of state education guidelines. The campaign against intelligent design reflects some cultural/political bedrock. As right-wingers grow more powerful, moderates are drawn more toward the liberal positions of the Democrats. The liberalizing of moderates has been developing in the northern suburbs since Clinton's first campaign. Now, it's spreading to the wheat belt.

Progressives Devolve. The blackface picture of Joe Lieberman in the Huffington Post was much more disgusting than Mel Gibson's anti-semitic and woman hating rant. I hope Jane Hamsher gets a chance to reflect on her bedrock "latent racism" while she looks for another line of work. She certainly has no business writing about politics.

The "progressive" movement needs both to stop being so white and to start coming to grips with its own involvement in the history of American racism. Why are none of today's writers for Huffington Post black? Why is there no "progressive" agenda on American racial issues? Why don't "progressive" and African-American leaders cooperate very much in the anti-war movement? Why do I hear of so few left-wing African-American blogs? Progressive white Democrats talk a lot about the craven spinelessness of the Democratic political leadership. It's time they integrated the bedrock of their politics. Right now, they're clueless.

Iraq Really Devolves. Conditions in Iraq have deteriorated so much that top generals like Peter Pace and John Abizaid testify that civil war may be imminent. That's as good a sign as any that Iraq has gone beyond civil war. The question now isn't whether the Saddam leftovers or the al-Qaeda global terrorists can overthrow the Maliki government; the question is whether any government is sustainable without 130,000 and whether or not we have thrown the Iraqis into a Somali-like abyss. The best solution may be to just partition Iraq into three countries and admit that Iran was the big winner in the U. S. invasion.

A Miracle a Day in Iraq

According to the Gospel of John, turning water into wine was the first miracle of Jesus.

The United States needs these kinds of miracles every day now in Iraq.

The Bush administration thought that American power would miraculously turn Iraq into a secular democracy.

They were wrong and they've been wrong again and again.

When they invaded, Dick Cheney said the occupation would last six months. The occupation is into its fourth year and the situation keeps getting worse.

They hoped the capture of Saddam Hussein would end the insurgency. It didn't.

They hoped that elections and constitutions would bring Sunni politicians and tribal leaders around. They didn't.

They hoped that training Iraqi forces would make the government able to defend itself. But the Iraqi forces are the source of the death squads who make things worse.

They got one big miracle when they killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. But it wasn't enough.

If the situation in Iraq is going to turn around, we need a miracle every day. And run of the mill magic tricks like turning water into wine won't do. We need big, tipping point, miracles that change whole systems not just little facts.

That's how bad it is in Iraq.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Ann Coulter's Gay America

So, how's a girl like Ann Coulter to sell millions of books and justify her big fat advance?

Coulter's first launch of her book Godless was spiked by the death of the terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. That made Coulter the only person in America who was disappointed by Zarqawi's death.

Now, Coulter's second launch has to compete with the war in Lebanon?

Coulter responded to this marketing problem by falling back on her standard technique of dropping little "bigot bombs" on liberals, gays, Muslims, immigrants and just about every non-right wing thing that moves. This time Coulter called Bill Clinton a "latent homosexual" because he's "promiscuous" in the same way that gay men supposedly are promiscuous.

And she did it.

By being "outrageous" yet again, Coulter cut through the media clutter and got herself back on tv, back on right-wing radio, and back in the minds of millions of American consumers. Cha-ching!

And Ann deserves bonus points for revealing that she thinks of the U. S. as the greatest gay nation on earth.

If Bill Clinton is gay, so are tens of millions of other American men who used to think of themselves as heterosexual. What about guys who are looking to hook-up with the women they meet in bars, parties, and classrooms? Gay! Husbands who cheat on their wives? Gay! Those Wedding Crasher guys? Gay! Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh? Gay!

Are you a guy who's promiscuous in your heart whether you can get anyone to sleep with you or not? You're gay! Go to strip clubs? You're Gay Too! Fantasize about sleeping with swimsuit models, Jessica Alba, or Ann Coulter herself? According to Ann, you're gay! ALL GAY!

It's mind boggling in its subtlety. In dropping her little bigot bomb on Bill Clinton, Coulter has pronounced almost every male in America as gay. As a red-blooded American patriot, Coulter has to think of the U. S. as the greatest gay country on earth.

Ann Coulter: Transforming America, Changing the World

Monday, July 31, 2006

Sympathy for Mel Gibson

It's easy to dismiss Mel Gibson as a hypocrite, but I've walked in shoes his. So, I'd like to pause a minute to learn what I can from his situation.

Mel Gibson's father is a raving, anti-semitic holocaust denier. Mel has spent a fair part of his American life twisting and turning around the issue of anti-semitism while working in Hollywood. Until Mel started screaming Jew-hating profanities at the LA police, he had killed several trees telling interviewers that he was not anti-semitic without denying his father's bigotry or acknowledging the horrible truth about the Holocaust.

My father has been an aggressive racist and woman hater all his adult life. Unlike Mel, I haven't twisted around and dodged the issues. My father is a bigoted and destructive man and I haven't had any trouble acknowledging it since my early twenties. His bigotry is part of his pattern of violence that poisoned every aspect of family life for all eight of his children and I started turning away from the bigotry and violence at an early age.

And I've kept turning away throughout my adult life.

Nevertheless, rejecting the core beliefs of a powerful parent is not an easy thing. I know I haven't completely done so. Even though I've gradually begun to live a multi-racial life, I still hear the voice of racism inside me and know that the revolting voice of racism comes from the part of me that still loves my father.

Rejecting a demanding, aggressive, father or mother can be just as consuming and traumatic as meeting their insane demands. In my case, rejecting my father led to all kinds of physical symptoms, panic attacks, allergies, many delays in completing my graduate training, and continued traumas over writing. It's all been worth it and I wouldn't change a whole lot in my current life, but I paid a huge price for my moral independence.

Knowing exactly what that price is in my case makes me very cautious in feeling morally superior to those who weren't willing to pay.

For me, this is the situation that Mel Gibson was in. He could either follow the anti-semitic, woman-hating road laid out by his demanding father or he could reject his father and deal with the consequences. Or he could have taken the path of moral autonomy and paid whatever price he had to pay for that moral autonomy.

It's obvious now that Gibson has taken the wrong path in a life that has been very successful in some ways. Like his father and my father, Gibson deserves all the criticism that he's going to get even if he doesn't deserve the cruelty that's going to come with it. However, our humanity as critics demands that we understand that the right path might have been a very difficult one.

You Know Things Are Bad

When your football team claims moral victory after scoring 3 points.

When you're happy that your kid scores a 3 on her ACT or 300 on the SAT

When your dog only wakes you up 3 times at night

When the three roses you've grown are more than you expected.

When you're happy to see as many as three people in your congregation for Sunday Services.

You know things are bad for the Israelis when their army sends out a press release on the occasion of killing three enemy fighters.

CNN: "Troops have killed at least three Hezbollah militants and found stockpiles of rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank missiles, a cannon with shells and a machine gun, the IDF said."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Your Coach, Your God

It's still July and American football is out camping. Two-a-day practices! stifling heat! Wind sprints! Screaming coaches! Hit! Hit! Hit!

Football is the most powerful source of religion in the United States, with the COACH as the reigning deity. The coach is the animistic deity par excellence in America. When the team does well, the coaches screaming intensity, his ability to get into the face of players, and his non-stop workaholism are the most revered images of our towns, cities, and states.

Think Bill Parcells and the famous picture of him yelling at Phil Simms. That's what we love about Parcells and other coaches. Coaches have a freedom to abuse and intimidate that people have given up for themselves. That's why they serve as the chief totems of our villages, cities, and states when they're winning. That's also why coaches are reviled, disowned, and abused when they lose. Like a failing fetish, they are not using their precious freedom for the good of the community. When coach fails, he and his family are often treated like they're worse than murderers.

Although football is a more powerful source of religion than Christianity; football and Christianity do not conflict. Indeed, football is the animistic foundation on which the practice of evangelical Protestantism gains a lot of its current legitimacy. Of course, evangelical Protestants have their own preaching traditions, but the current legitimacy of the intense evangelical styles grows out of the deification of the intimidating coach.

The hyper-aggressive, authoritarian religion of right-wing Christianity stands on the shoulders of the hyper-aggressive, authoritarian coach of your favorite team.