Thursday, September 29, 2005

No easy answers

Sometimes in life there are no easy answers. Take for instance, Iraq. It's clear in hindsight (and for some foresight) that invading and occupying Iraq has been a disappointment. However pulling up stakes now will cause even more chaos and blowback. Yet, it may be inevitable at this point so we might as well take our medicine like aduls and not waste more effort trying to save the unsalvageable.

But knowing that, having in one's head played out the logical conclusion of the chess board, is not the same as the country being ready to do it. The time to oppose the war, to vote against it, or to at least abstain voting for it, would have been at the onset. Getting up and screaming and getting red-faced on a podium won't bring troops home sooner, and might indeed get one blamed for undermining the war effort.

It is not outrage that will end this war, but fatigue and irony. Comedy and the ludricuousness of the situation are the true anti-war weapons. Where are the WMD? Where are the flowers and candy? Some cakewalk, right? Are the troops going to be home some year soon? Wonderful care Rumsfeld is taking of our boys, still denying them reimbursement for body armor a year after the Congressional act mandating that the Pentagon do so. So we gonna win this war some decade soon please?

People are slow on the uptake sometimes, not because they are stupid, but because they are as all of us loathe to admit that they were wrong. So Iraq will not fall apart in some politically panicky cut & run, but it will fall apart and die a cut of a thousand deaths. When the occupation has become a feature in American living rooms and a thousand jokes have been told and retold and repeated around water coolers and the people who were gung ho for the war are not red-faced but just quiet and tired and give up well then and only then will the war end. It is not a bang we are looking for but a long drawn out whimper.

Having failed to stop the war when it was launched and having failed to prevent its creation, it must run its course. It must run its course until every delusion and every rationale and every rosy-light-at-the-end-of-tunnel has not just failed but mocked to a restless grave. When the supporters of the war have nothing left to say, when Bush is out of office, when the next President exhausts his own political capital trying to save American face by tip-toeing out and then we get smacked on the rear by the door getting slammed on us on the way out then it will end.

It must end that way because people still aren't ready to force the leaders desperately wasting lives to try to keep themselves from being embaressed to walk away. That's the way a democracy works. We get the leaders that we allow to take power. They stay there and do what they want until we force them, by statuatory term limit or by electoral ballot box revolt, to leave. It's not the most romantic view of Democracy but it is the one that most comports with the facts on the ground.

So Bush will continue to try to make Iraq work while looking for a way out where he doesn't have to admit he was wrong. He won't find either, and so we'll be stuck while he holds out for a way not to be ridiculed as a failed war leader. Iraq will continue to get worse no matter what is done at this point and it will degrade us, it will drag us down, and when we leave it will blow up in our faces. And we will put up with it and shuffle on because that's how this sort of thing works.

Trying to hurry it along won't earn you any thanks, it will end when the next President tries to disentangle himself from it without getting too much mud on his face. And yes, all the words written about not having enough supplies and not enough troops and not enough brains to make this war work right are true and they matter. It's just that they matter mostly to the people in Iraq getting screwed over by this, our soldiers and the Iraqis. It also matters to the nation's greatness, because each day that slips by we lose a bit of our national greatness. A not inexhaustible amount, a possibly renewable, but presently declining greatness frittered away by weak liberals and wrong conservatives.

It is the doom of our generation to see Vietnam, part II, the remake on steroids. What we learn from it and how we take care of business at home to clean up all the abuses and failures of the system that produced this monstrousity, that is our work. That is where we can make a difference. That is where we should focus our efforts. Never again, but never again what? Never again a 5-4 Supreme court split deciding the electoral winner of the Executive of the United States of America? Never again fuzzy electoral results producing an unfit leader? Never again a corrupt party politics and an insanely pandering grassroots machinery that produces ineffectual and wasteful government in the name of trying to reform it? We have a lot of things to do, there is much that can be done, but first the Vietnam and only then when it's clear beyond the shadow of a doubt that it all went wrong and there is no defending it, then we move on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

As many of you here know, I have from the beginning asserted that the incompetence of GWB and his team were going to ruin Iraq. However something happened today which made me think that matters were worse than even I had considered. What happened is that today marked Iraq's first known female suicide bomber.

:01 p.m. September 28, 2005

BAGHDAD, Iraq – The woman slipped into the town, passing checkpoints where women are not searched. Then, donning a man's "dishdasha" – a traditional white robe – and kaffiya headscarf, she blended in with the men waiting in line to join the Iraqi army.

She then set off the explosives strapped to her body, killing six would be recruits and wounding 35 – and sparking worries over a potentially dangerous new insurgent tactic.

While news analysis has focused on the "security hole" the cultural implications of this event could be drastic. Past studies of female suicide bombing indicate that they require in general a much higher degree of provocation to incite them than men. Either extreme hopelessness and oppression, rape by military/police units, or the provocative death of husbands/male relatives/lovers are generally required to incite women to suicide bombing. This could be a one time event, but if it comes more often it will be a damning sign that our occupation of Iraq has turned septic and has produced grevious wounds in the hearts of Iraqis.

Yes, I'll crosspost from now on from BOP

I have not yet personally come to a conclusion myself how I want to handle things. I tend to be slow to make up my mind, and then decisive in acting. Just a personal trait. For now I will be posting my work here as well sans graphs. That's a major advantage of the BOPnews site that I can upload graphics which I can't here. One of the ideas I've been exploring is setting up my own modest website and offering more in depth analysis and numerical crunching and graphics - for which I would pay the minimal requirements to get the bandwidth and storage to get it up and running.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Return of Spring in Fall

Even as the summer turns over into indian summer and begins the slow maturing into autumn I find myself at an unlikely regeneration in the midst of decay. Some art historians will tell you that depression can be a powerful creative force for artistic achievement. I'm here to tell you that they're right.

A lot of emotions have been going through me lately. Anger. Irritability. Anxiety. By lately I mean the last few months. I wanted to just do the normal thing. Which is to find another job, jump on that, immerse myself in the work. Instead I found myself deliberately passing by opportunities personal and professional. Sometimes spitefully.

I'll give you an example. There was this attractive woman who lived across the hallway. I briefly helped her move some stuff in one day from her car when it seemed like she needed a hand. Some weeks later, I heard a knock on my door. I asked who it was. She said she lived across the hall, and I recognized her voice. She said she needed some help. I asked what for. She said her car wouldn't start and she needed a jump. At that point, I quite spitefully told her I was going to go into work soon and couldn't help out. She tried asking again, and then stormed off saying in an exasperated tone of voice:

"Oh, never mind!!!"

What if she really needed help? I emerged a short time later that day to drive to work and her car was gone. Guess she didn't need help afterall. She was a good looking lady, with a nice car, and I'd seen her elderly parents and a glowering brother with a uni-brow visit her. Women like that call family or tow truck drivers out of the yellow pages or boyfriends to help them start their cars. Women like that are drowning in help and I don't need to waste my time "helping them".

So why didn't I do it for me? Well as much as I would like to say I would want to be in a relationship, I don't want to be in a relationship. I mean, really, it sounds nice to be approached like that ... but let me tell you something I have never ever helped a 'damsel in distress' and ever failed to have her take advantage of me. White knights in fairy tales rescue maidens in towers, in real life a woman who makes a practice of routinely getting into trouble and needing bailing out or worse decides to make a first impression on you by decieving you that she needs help and taking you as chump enough to fall for it has psycho-bitch written all over her.

Besides the particular dynamics of that particular situation though, I've been in a funk. I've been miserable. I've been irritable. I've been impossible to please. I also haven't called my mother as much as I should have. I've been AWOL on my friends and even on my public writing.

On the other hand, in the depths of my personal self-indulgent misery I've begun work on two novels. To put that in perspective I don't do fiction. After several disasterous attempts almost two decades ago, I realized that my forte was in non-fiction, technical, and analytical writing. However somewhere in the muddled mazes of my misery I had two brainstorms and the manuscripts are practically writing themselves, as living organic stories.

In addition, after an extended bout of self-doubt and self-recrimination for not being more powerful, ruthless, and utterly an asshole and blaming that for my life's problems I began to make some progress on other work I had put on the backburner a long time ago. A former professor and I are collaborating on a physics textbook and I really believe it could impact positively how physics is taught nationally since it is based on research methods and results I have been practicing for years in the classroom and have proven statistically to be useful. I've also been having some profound insights into mathematics and hard physics ideas which I've been toying with for years but are approaching publishable form for the first time. They could be submitted to a journal by X-mas, though that is optimistic. I say that only to convey the sense of intellectual excitement and momentum that I am seeing for the first time in years after a long stagnant and dry period of disastisfaction.

I suppose you could say that for a long time I was sad and sullen. Then I got mad. Then I decided to get even. But I just wanted to rush through all that. Sometimes in the pits of my self-loathing I truly questioned everything that I had done for the past two decades. There were to be fair a large number of in hindsight regrettable decisions.

The past two years for me have been extremely trying. Even before my father's passing over two years ago now, I had come to question and even betray by decisively moving against much of what I had politically supported and helped contribute to for the previous portion of my life. Philosophically I was in shambles and I had one gut wrenching moment after another where I decided to be a civilized human being and in return experienced mortifying humiliation and shame. I'm not sure which was worse, when I had it coming or when I didn't. When I had it coming, it forced me to recognize that sometimes I'm not the greatest human being and that some of my unhappiness is from my own base nature. When I didn't have it coming, it felt like I was getting screwed over but had to be noble in the face of injustice which let me tell you sucks.

In the end it made me a much more self-deprecating and ultimately hard individual. It made me rethink how I treated those close to me, and made me ask how I could be better to them. It also made me rethink my former attitudes toward competitivenes and ruthlessness when it comes to real assholes. Winning I think is a lot more important to me now, because I have seen first hand the consequences of what happens when I am not all-out 110% trying to win. It is in part the vacuum created by my underachievement that lets in creeps who game the system. The failure to take the number one spot is to watch others ignoble take it instead.

To be better to my friends and less merciful to my enemies and to do both by just winning whenever I could was my resolution.

No more underachieving.

But no fear, I'm not going to run out and try something over-ambitious either. There are no shortcuts in life, and all things take their time. I had a lot of doubts about letting myself stew in my own feircely self-reproachful depression, but it shook a lot of cobwebs out of my head. The truth is that I hadn't been happy with what I was doing for a long time, not because it was not fun in and of itself, but life is a complete package. For too long I tried to live life ala carte' and the result was that I just wasn't able to maintain my motivation, and I just wouldn't be able to do what I had to do to make things right when they were wrong.

In all things we have to acknowledge personal responsibility, and by failing to do my best all the time I was creating an opening for the worst to move on in. I helped create this situation in my life, heck I helped create in my own special way the situation in the world today. I thought about that long and hard, and a lot of attitudes of mine had to fall hard, and I had to question if I was worth a damn before I found that answer for myself.

Just running off and doing something else before I had worked through all that would have just been a form of escapism. Every day I would get up and kick my own ass for not running out and just getting another job, but there was so much unfinished business personally and emotionally. I had to acknowledge that, work through that at my own pace.

At the present moment I live securely and without fear on my savings. I haven't needed to tap unemployment yet. And the local spot market for temp jobs looks good. So I'm not worried.

I feel myself moving toward something though. At first it was just all misery and cantankerous self-argument. Then there were blinking moments of inspiration. Then I actually started figuring out things would actually work, had to work if they needed to get done. It was and is still a long and tortuous process. But I feel it, inside, I feel it now. I have the desire, I got the hunger, it's coming back to me. Instead of burned out like I thought I would feel, I feel ... like a toothy smile.

For a long time I ignored what I wanted, and I guess what I wanted was not to do something different but to do it for the right reasons. When I failed to acknowledge that inner dimension of life, my ambition and limbido and creativity dried up on me. Now it's making a come back. Perversely, refusing to walk to anything but my own drummer has not made my outward circumstance one bit easier. But it's made me whole again on the inside, and each day wholer, though it took many days of long empty self-doubt before it began coming back.

It's not that my situation has improved, it's that I look at it in a different way now. But it's not something that came out of a self-help book, ten tips to turning around your life - shaken not stirred. It came out of my unhappiness and disatisfaction and seeming stagnation, because these things were a signal to me that I wasn't happy with how things were going and I needed a change. It took a lot of time to process that, to rework my thinking, come to peace with the past at least partly - I've lived a lot longer than my years though I don't talk about it a lot and that's how I got the nickname 'oldman'. I had some nightmares in there, wrestled with my demons, bad dreams, old deeds, skeletons buried in my closet, crazy shit. I had to work through that too.

A lot of 'working through that' consisted of saying "Gee even though I was sure I was right, now I feel like I'm wrong. I suck."

Surprisingly the admission of the "I suck part" was liberating. Acknowledging failure let me learn from it. I love my family better now. I'm trying to be a better friend. Even though I didn't mean to, I hurt some people in past and I want to do better by them in the future. Admitting I was wrong, even if just to myself, also brought back a mischevious sense of adventure that had been missing for a long time. It was like the burden of old mistakes unacknowledged had been snuffing the fun and inventiveness out of how I did things. And ironically, after I had been like that for a while, I came up with better ways to do things - technically and personally.

I'm still not perfect, but I'm better and I feel better. I can't say that I will immediately spring back into action. I don't want to rush into restarting "my life". There's something original and mysterious about how all this intellectual good is coming out of the emotional sewers I'd been bathing in that I don't want to screw up by moving too suddenly. I want to keep the sense of discovery or perhaps I should say rediscovery back in my life, the sense of to hell with the world I'll do it my way and the odd sense of humbleness that I feel now toward those close to me - as if it were a fragile privilege to love them as well as I can.

There's something very nice about that I can't put into words, an innocence that I thought I'd lost a long time ago, and a peace of a time when I slept without bad dreams.