Saturday, December 08, 2007

Memorial for Greg Goldey

The Memorial Service for Greg Goldey was at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Lexington today from 2-4:30pm. Bernadette Barton and John Henney gave very moving speeches and there was a lot of focus on Greg's family as well as his participation in Buddhism. Shelley Heinz of the Buddhist Center presided over the service while Greg's brother spoke from the point of view of a Christian minister. In general, there was an undercurrent of tension between the Buddhism of Greg's last years and the Baptist faith of Greg's family in Nicholasville. Greg's political radicalism also got a lot of mention. He was an impossible guy to capture in one bottle.

Greg's wife Connie spoke eloquently about the love of the people who had visited, cooked, and laughed at their house while Greg was ill in relation to the pain of losing him. That formulation almost precisely captured my own struggles during the service. What I found was that all of the love that the people in the church had for Greg made the pain of losing him even more severe. Not being a Buddhist, a Baptist, a Mormon, or even a Unitarian, I couldn't find a way to think my way toward a reconciliation of that dilemna.

And that will have to be good enough.

Friday, December 07, 2007

How We Know God Loves Hillary

According to a Newsweek poll, Mike Huckabee has surged to a 20 point lead over Mitt Romney in Iowa. Huckabee thinks that what explains his recent climb in the polls is the action of a "higher power"in the earthly sphere. For Huckabee, the bottom line in American democracy is not "we the people" as stated by the Constitution, it's the wishes of God.

Rejecting the rational human calculations of his own identification with Republican evangelicals, good-humored campaign style, and economic populism as explanations for his increased popularity, Huckabee believes that God is putting his chips squarely on the Huckabee square.

But why?

Huckabee has a very medieval and profoundly Catholic concept of how the world works. He believes that "literally thousands of people are praying" on behalf of his campaign and that their intercession with God has resulted in God favoring his campaign and supporting him.

What about the other Republican candidates like Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and Ron Paul?

It follows from Huckabee's views that God must not only be ignoring the candidacies of the other Republicans, God must actively be working against them. Perhaps Huckabee thinks that God hates most Republicans even though he favors Huckabee. There's nothing to object to in the first part of that statement. Given that the Christian god disdains wealth, insists that people love their enemies, and values the poor, depressed, and suffering over the happy and secure, it should be obvious that God hates the Republicans.

The only question is whether God is making an exception for Huckabee or not.

I don't think so myself. If God is doing anything, he's favoring Huckabee as the weakest and weirdest Republican candidate for the general election and thus ensuring that the Republican Party as a whole is going to lose.

In other words, Huckabee's rise is solid proof that God loves Hillary.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romney Looks So Presidential, he should

play one on television. In fact, that's all that Mitt's Romney's speech attempted to do today. It tried to make him look presidential. Here's an account from John Dickerson of Slate.
When Mitt Romney gave his speech on religion in American life Thursday in College Station, Texas, he brought everything but the presidential seal. Introduced by George Herbert Walker Bush, the last popular Republican president, he stood in front of a row of American flags and faced a bank of cameras worthy of a celebrity murder trial. Leading up to the address, his campaign had released pictures of his arduous speechwriting process, exactly as the White House does before the real president gives the State of the Union address.

What Dickerson doesn't grasp is that "looking like a president" was eighty percent of what Mitt Romney was trying to get out of the speech. Romney's argument for the Republican nomination boils down to urging Republicans to view Romney as the strongest candidate because he's not corrupt like Giuliani, not lazy like Thompson, not stupid enough to free a dangerous rapist like Huckabee, and not principled enough to buck the right like McCain. Besides, with his hair, smile, and fitness, Romney just looks like a Republican candidate for president. So forget that Mormon stuff and learn to appreciate flip-flopping. Romney is selling himself as the best looking Republican out there.

This blog dumps on Romney a lot and he's back in fifth place in the national polls. But Romney has a fighting chance to win the Republican nomination and he'd have to be considered the favorite if the battle goes to the convention.

If not, Romney has a future in front of the camera. Maybe he could do Planned Parenthood commercials.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Short Road to Mass Murderer

As is well known from the news reports, a 20 year old named Robert Hawkins opened fire on a mall outside Omaha, Nebraska and killed eight people while wounding five before killing himself.
My general reaction to mass murderers like Eric Harris and Cho Seung Hui is that they're assholes who express their assholeness through mass murder.

Perhaps that will ultimately be the case with Robert Hawkins as well. But Hawkins formulated his determination to kill in a way that calls us to think about the particular pressures of our society.
Maruca-Kovac [a woman Hawkins had been staying with] found what the 20-year-old had left in the home: A suicide note, in which he said he was "going out in style," and that he'd never been anything in his life but after Wednesday he would be famous. Armed with a rifle, Hawkins went to the sprawling upscale Westroads Mall, filled with shoppers three weeks before Christmas. The Omaha World-Herald reported that he had a military-style haircut, a black backpack and wore a camouflage vest.
The problem is this. We live in a society where corporate CEO's on average make 375 times their lowest level employees creating a tremendous gulf between the extremely wealthy and the middle and lower-middle class. In many ways, the distance between the rich and the rest of us is best represented by the cult of celebrity in which the lifestyles of those who actors, actresses, and rock stars serve as embodiments for wealth and extravagance of the upper 1/2% in general. The other characteristic of the class system is that everyone who does not obtain wealth, status, or any of the other markers of "success" are pushed into thinking themselves to be "failures," "losers," "morons," and idiots.

This is where Robert Hawkins appeared to be. Having been kicked out of his parents' home and fired by McDonald's for stealing, Hawkins believed that "he'd never been anything." For the students at my university, that means that Hawkins was a "dumb-ass." At the same time, it's also clear that Hawkins measured himself against the celebrity system and ached to make up the gap between his own extremely humble status and the people "at the top." That's because Hawkins went on to claim that "after Wednesday he'd be famous." Who did Hawkins mean by "famous?" Evidently people like Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, Lindsey Lohan, and Brad Pitt. Evidently being "famous" was a lot better than being Robert Hawkins.

There have been an enormous number of hierarchical societies in human history and I doubt that any of them produced as many mass murderers as the United States is creating these days. One reason is that the United States has a rich iconography of violence-- Colombine, the police, the military, gangs, hip hop, and a dozen other genres--through which guys like Robert Hawkins can imagine themselves as filling the gap between not being "anything" and being "famous." If someone like Robert Hawkins can kill enough people, he can be as famous as Eric Harris or Timothy McVey and he dressed up in a military haircut and a camouflage vest to represent himself as an ersatz soldier on a mission.

So what do we do? From my point of view, if we want to have fewer mass murders like Robert Hawkins, our society will both reduce the gap between the super-wealthy and the middle and stop the relentless humilitation of those who fail. We could also stop being so excited by the violent imagery that people like Hawkins use to bridge the gap.

For better or worse, stopping mass murderers like Hawkins involves becoming a different and better society.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Did Bush Want To Attack Iran Because of the NIE

For those who don't know, the "NIE" is the National Intelligence Estimate and yesterday the Director of Intelligence released an NIE which revealed that Iran had stopped their efforts to develop nuclear weapons in 2003.

Today, the mainstream media and liberal blogs are filled with commentary on how the Bush administration knew about the NIE on Iran for at least six months and probably more than a year before it was published. The point of Wolf Blitzer and the liberals bloggers is that the Bush administration kept up the policy of threatening to attack Iran's nuclear facilities even though they knew that Iran was not attempting to develop nuclear weapons.

For the critics, it was the Iraq WMD issue all over again.

But I think it's worse than that. In fact, the Bush administration did not just maintain their previous policy in the face of the information in the NIE. Rather, President Bush, Dick Cheney, and others in the Bush administration significantly increased their pressure on Iran and seemed to be pushing for a military strike before the end of Bush's term.

In my opinion, it's pretty likely that Bush and especially Cheney were pushing for a military strike before the public release of the NIE made it clear that Iran was very unlikely to ever become a nuclear threat.

In this sense, Cheney would have been motivated to attack Iran as a way to preempt the NIE--in other words, preempt the truth. In my mind, that would be the war crime of a "crime against peace," the kind of war crime for which the Japanese leadership was prosecuted after WWII.

Iraq: From Collapsing to Failing

Concerning the current state in Iraq, Juan Cole writes "how much longer can Iraq limp along as a failing state before it really begins to collapse?" And he's basically right. The situation in Iraq is still tremendously fragile. The political situation has not improved at all and it's even doubtful that current military progress can be sustained after the surge ends in April.

Still, some added insight can be gained by reversing the terms "failure" and "collapse." By the time the surge started last January, Iraq in fact was "collapsing" into profound anarchy. The government was almost entirely dysfunctional with much of the Iraq military and all of the Iraqi police in the hands of militias. Sunni Anbar province in the west was characterized by a three corner brawl between tribal insurgents, global jihadis, and the Americans. The Shiite sector in the southeast was falling apart as Shiite militias made war on each other and the Americans with weapons imported from Iran. Making the situation even worse, the weakness of the central government and loose structures of the militias encouraged the development of criminal gangs which magnified the terror and insecurity of everyday life.

The situation was perhaps worst of all in Bagdad where all factions combined to create a Hobbesian nightmare where life was "poor, nasty, brutish, and short." American troops, American mercenaries the Iraqi government, Sunni militias, Shiite militias, global jihadis, and criminal gangs all operated with impunity and nobody dominated the action. It was the worst of all possible worlds.

Given the horror of the situation, what the surge did was bring Iraq back from collapse. Leading elements in both the Sunni and Shiite populations decided to step back from the pit of anarchy. Tribal leaders in Anbar recoiled at the Taliban-like society that global jihadis were trying to implement and became allies with American troops. Likewise, Moqtada al-Sadr stood down his Mahdi Army. Even the Iranians seem to have pulled back a little. The Iraqi state was still failing but it was no longer in such a nightmare of collapse.

The presence of American troops allowed the tribal militias to gain a firm upper hand in Anbar. Likewise, the American military has also walled off a lot of the Sunni neighborhoods in Iraq so that car bombers can't get in. The price for so much "security" is tha residents from the neighborhoods can't get out and customers for local businesses can't get in. American forces have managed to impose security (quite a military accomplishment by the way) but haven't come close to creating the "stability" needed for the freedom of movement needed for real commerce. In fact, Iraq still seems closer to falling apart again than it is to establishing any kind of real stability or forward movement.

That's why it's very much legitimate for Cole to still refer to Iraq as a failing state.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Some Quick Thoughts on Greg Goldey

Solace. I've gotten a lot of solace from looking at what's written for the "In Loving Memory of Dr. Gregory Goldey" group on Facebook. Benji Conner, I believe, was the one who started it up. Thanks.

Buddhist Service. Mary and I went to a small service for Greg at the Buddhist temple in Lexington. Given that I have a bad cold, the fact that the Shambhaya Center was freezing and that we were expected to remove shoes was a very bad sign. And then they brought out the incense to get my allergies going. But I warmed up to the service because it was great. People told stories about Greg and got out their feelings about Greg's illness and death. In my own thinking about Greg, I was affectionately remembering how grouchy and complaining Greg could be while he was healthy. Knowing that Greg was kind of annoyed when I started wearing ties again, I wore a one of my brightly colored ties to the service--just to annoy him one more time for old times sake.

Not a Fan of Buddhism. I'm not a big fan of Buddhism and didn't know how important Buddhism had become to Greg over the last four years. But the people at the Temple were extremely nice and I was glad to learn a little bit about their rituals and chanting. Even though I'm not a Christian and have come to the conclusion that Christianity is weird, I value the lovingness and generosity of Christians like the lovely Mrs. RSI. I found the same to be the case at the Buddhist center.

New Experiences. As the coordinator of the government program, I presided over a moment of silence for Greg at our meeting this morning. Not being a religious person, I had never initiated such a thing before and I felt strange and incompetent--like I was floating in space--the whole 20 or 30 seconds I kept my eyes closed.

Hopefully, that gave Greg a good laugh wherever he is.

Let's Eliminate the Iranian threat

The big news for today was that the latest National Intelligence Estimate concludes that the Iranians decided to stop working on nuclear weapons in 2003.

Bush's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley believes that the Iranians stopped because American sanctions and other pressure worked. That seems unlikely. If American sanctions worked so well, the Iranians would have stopped working on enriching uranium.

But they clearly haven't even though the Iranians won't have enough enriched uranium for a bomb until at least 2010-2015.

It's more likely that the Iranians gave up the idea of nukes after American overthrow of Iranian enemies like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Why go to all that bother after the Americans had eliminated their two biggest enemies?

Which leads me to the following conclusion.

If Bush wanted to eliminate the Iranian "threat" altogether, he could invade Israel and overthrow the Olmert government. Even better, that might bring out the apocalypse that the right is looking for.

But would the Israelis welcome us as "liberators?"

Of course, the Iranians might have stopped working on nuclear weapons because they could see how badly the occupation of Iraq was going.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Fred Thompson Working Himself Down In Polls

People complain about Fred Thompson being lazy. But there's good reason to think he's over-doing it. When Fred was not doing any campaigning at all, he did a lot better in the pollls. From Aug. 7 to Aug. 26, Fred averaged 18% in the national polls and he was happy to tell everybody that that was without doing anything. Now that Fred is busting his butt and campaigning at least 2 or 3 days a week, his poll numbers have sagged down to 14.2.

Obviously, Fred's working too hard for his own good and needs to cut back on his campaigning. Addicted as they are to "Yankee Politics," the New York Times doesn't "get Fred."
Mr. Thompson’s performance at the debate capped a weeklong period in which he held only one retail campaign event: a “meet Fred” rally last Saturday in a small room at the back of Sticky Fingers, a barbecue restaurant in Summerville, S.C. There was no music or food. There were not even chairs, and so some 100 voters there to see him had to stand for three hours before he arrived.

Given that Fred's campaign had been "too busy" to set up music, food, and chairs, it should be evident that Fred shouldn't have scheduled the event at all. Perhaps Fred's sliding in the polls because he's "over-scheduled."

In fact, I believe that Fred should give up on this weekly campaigning altogether and limit himself to one appearance a month. That way, neither Fred nor his campaign organization will be overly taxed and they won't look so bad to voters.

With Fred, it's the less work the better.