Thursday, April 01, 2004

Love in the time of anarchy, a prelude to Easter

Events in the past few days have impressed a strange feeling on me. I won't go into detail about the horrifics, others have covered that particularly well from all angles. These men were as some have said mercenaries: "Blackwater Security Consulting, a company based in Moyock, N.C., said in a statement Thursday that the four victims were its employees. The company, which hires former military members from the United States and other countries to provide security training and guard services, was hired by the Defense Department to provide security for convoys that delivered food in the Fallujah area."

However, they were also soldiers serving our nation. That they were paid many times the going rate of regular soldiers in one of the bizaare "money saving" privatization schemes of Rumsfeld (how can you save money, even on overhead and benefits, by paying a mercenary $100k-$150k a year for a job that a regular soldier does for less than $25k?) makes no difference in the end. They were there in an official capacity executing the policies of our nation, and they had families.

***

The news is generally more depressing than usual. In Russia, authoritarian rule takes another lurch back from its untimely passing as the Duma passes a law making illegal large gatherings - such as say like protests. Everyone here in the States is subdued since the Fallujah incident, even sparking a brief moment of unity among the top political actors. In Iraq, they watch the images but there hasn't been a large outcry over it. Maybe they're ashamed of it, or maybe they thought we had it coming. I'm not sure.

Meanwhile, the Administration shockingly enough can't find anyone to volunteer to take over Iraq. My offer to do so to the White House still stands, if they can't find anybody else. I may be the last American or conservative willing to take this job, ironically enough. I'm sure they'll find somebody to hold the bag. In the last week, Friedman wrote a column saying how tired he was and how much he wanted someone to surprise him in a pleasant way. For someone to rise above themselves and give hope to a world drenched in bad news.

Meanwhile we approve the sale of long range radars to Taiwan. Coming on the heels of the election there, that can't be making the Chinese happy. Also depressing is the seeming blindness of many liberals and Democrats I've talked to about how much trouble Kerry is in politically. Last night I had dinner with a Democratic friend of mine and her "Old European" boyfriend, and they both acknowledged that right now that it's no better than a 50-50 shot either way.

In my more depressed moments while I see Kerry fritter away his advantages and cede ground to Bush, I wonder if the electoral college advantage with Kerry's lack of aggressive campaigning has already practically for all intents and purposes foreordained a Bush victory in November.

The 911 committee for all the efforts of the widows has gotten almost nowhere, and Clarke lost a golden moment. He could have laid out in an even handed manner the real state of American unreadiness in the War on Terror, and could have spurred our nation to ask what we need to do to truly improve things. Bush would have almost certainly been swept away once people realized that he was an impediment to safety. Instead, by trying to pin everything personally on Bush Clarke opened himself to charges and the appearance of partisanship.

Conservatives in the base still beholden to the religious right or the "neo-cons", instead of the "real-cons" that oldman is part of, then simply rallied to their guy: ole GW. Same old story, new faces.

***

So yeah, I'm pretty depressed and I haven't even seen Fog of War yet. It'll be coming to town tomorrow. I'd like to see it, but at this point it might drive me into a deep depression. The similarities between Iraq and Afghanistan or Vietnam are just becoming too overwhelming. By similarities I mean the general cluelessness, blindness, arrogance, and disconnection of our leaders as they puzzle why they can't make Iraq seem to work. It's said that the definition of madness is to do something over and over again and expect a different outcome than what preceded all the other attempts.

This year Easter falls on April-11th, that's 4-11 for everyone out there. Of course it makes no sense to strike on this date, except in the sort of weird numerological free association of a religious nut kind of way. This is why the oldman is not certain but suspicious of that date. In Britain they seem to have figured out that the 4-11 date is of sufficiently alarming nature, that they've increased their alert status and gone to stand-by for a terrorist attack through Easter Sunday. Here in the States though, not a peep. So much for those supposedly brilliant people protecting us.

This kind of massive incompetency is partly what makes me want to fall in love. All possibility of common sense or political progress seems if not hopeless than bogged down in quibbling and accusations at the moment. The powers that be are locked into their own incestuous feedback where they are blind to anything except the strokes and purrs of their own miniature world there in DC. When things feel that way, it makes me just want to do something that would give me a little hope that there's something pleasant and good and worth caring about in this world that's not poisoned by the stupidity and mendacity going around in spades.

So I think I'd like to fall in love. I have no candidates in particular, though some women in my acquaintance have sent some signals that it might not be a fate worse than death to fall into my arms. I'm not sure if it will be them, or one, or more than one, or anybody I currently know. What I do know is that I'm sick to my soul with the poison of grey futility that seems to ooze outwards from every news channel and every politician and every corporation around me.

***

I met someone cool today. He was an older "non-traditional" student, about two decades older than your typical college student. He was a baker, had been a baker for most of his life. He'd been a marine as well in the Reserves. They'd called him up for Desert Shield. He showed me one of his letters of commendation. It was impressive. He'd been a sniper / forward observer / spotter. That's one of the most elite fields there is. Oh and he was an Eagle Scout too. Is that great or what?

He'd been downsized though and he told me that after three interviews when they told him that he couldn't get a job without a college degree. So back to school he went, to specialize in Industrial Safety. I told him that it suited him well. Then I shook his hand, since it was an honor to meet a real war hero, though that's not what I called him. Too many of the poseurs and not enough of the real kind like him. Though he wasn't the most impressive one I've seen mind you, but rare enough.

I've known plenty of veterans. There doesn't seem to be an old veteran from Vietnam that can't wait to swap stories with me from the old days. This wasn't one of the braggerts. He was an nice guy, very intent, eyes straight forward, he'd look me in the eye. Most people won't look me in the eye, not unless I'm being especially nice to them, and even then the eye contact isn't for that long. People tell me that I tend to look straight through them, and it's unnerving. Life has taught me to assess people pretty well, and I can state candidly their short comings. This sort of critique hardly goes over well often.

This guy though, he looked me in the eye, and I knew he was bright eyed and bushy tailed and he was used to getting assessed down to the weights of his shoe laces. That didn't tell me he was ex-mil, but he was in good shape - nice iron hard well developed forearms.

I drew him out in the conversation because a girl in the physics helproom that I was manning as my office hours had begun talking about statistics that she was doing. I then shared in my usual philosophical musing my ideas about how physics was in the middle between the applied and abstract liberal arts. I could see the guy getting real eager to participate.

After I'd said that pure math was closer to philosophy than physics, and statistics was somewhere in between, he could hardly contain himself and broke in with his own ideas. He talked about how it was odd that the more perfect a philosophy became, the less useful it was. I agreed, because the main idea is that the world is not rational. The more rational you act, the more unworldly your ideas are, because the history of mankind is not the history of rationality. Then he mentioned how it was like you could describe everything with a dot or a line.

When the girl looked confused, I mentioned that he was just talking about geometrical philosophy - the same kind of thing that Plato and Socrates did about 2500 years ago. As an example I brought up Xeno's paradox, about how if you take half the distance in any interval with each step then theoretically you will never arrive at the destination. In real life you do arrive however, because you can't take exactly half the distance exactly in any given step.

The guy was nodding right along with that, and after that it wasn't hard to pull out his history from him, about how his job prospects and his new kid with his wife of only a few years had gotten him thinking he needed a new degree and a new career. I complimented him by telling him he'd broken my stereotype, that you don't think that often of Jarhead Philosophers. His nine plus months in the desert had certainly earned him the right to an education, was what I told him. He countered by saying that anybody who was in the Marines for nine months had earned an education. I let him have that one, since there wasn't much I could find to disagree with that.

Yes, I really did tell an ex-mil Marine Sniper to his face that he was a Jarhead Philosopher. I'm pretty confident, with good reason, and I call them like I see them and I've lived this long by keeping a big chip on my shoulder against all challengers. Including ex-mil guys. Especially them.

If anything however, he seemed quite pleased with the appellation. He talked about how you'd be surprised about how many individuals with such thoughts were in the Marines. He mentioned how if you spent a few months in a foxhole with some guys, they'd talk about all sorts of things. Of course, he mentioned that the Marines also had plenty of guys who were ditch diggers. The kind of guys he said that if you told them to go someplace, they'd do it eagerly and ask questions later.

The guy's name was Corporal Powell and I hope to run into him again sometime.

That was a small taste of hope. I'd like to have some more of it. To know someone who oozed decency the way Mr. Powell did and have a personal life of delightful sincerity. To be honest, I'm more the politician. I know how to survive, and when in a back alley fight to not only stick the knife in someone's back but how to get away with it. That's my life. I fight dirty because I fight to win.

Not with everyone. Decent people like Powell I won't screw. This whole teaching gig is some sort of idealistic crusade I think I dreamt up one day to ease my conscience for all the bad things I'd done. No money, no wealth, a life of pure contemplation. Almost monklike really. But deep down inside I know who I am, and what I've done. In the end, I really I belong with the bastards and when I'm among them there is no one better at burying people than I am. Really. If it makes a difference, they all had it coming.

It's one of the things I've struggled with my entire life. I'm a bad man, in my own way ruthless to the core. But I can't do any good without embracing the side of myself that makes people scared if they look me in the eye for too long. I just do what it takes to get things done. So I'm always caught, between being the ineffectual nice guy slaving away for the good of society, and the hard core guy that can call a Marine sniper a Jughead Philosopher to his face and not even have to worry about having to get away with it.

No, I won't screw a decent guy like Powell. They're just too rare to mess with. It wouldn't be so bad to have some decency in a pretty package or two to come to at night with though. My soul longs for something like that.

***

Love in the time of anarchy. I could use me a little of some of that right about now. Here's to hoping Alqueda doesn't have a sick sense of inter-religious humor and have a little surprise waiting for us on Easter Sunday. It'll be many years before Easter falls on the 11th again, and if that's their gig, this is their big chance. Maybe I should take a chance myself and ask one of those lovely ladies with hilights in their hair out.

Until next time,

Oldman

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