Thursday, August 24, 2006

Pluto Gets Downsized

Pluto is no longer a planet. And I’m trying to develop an opinion on the matter. I mean, what can one say? Woe is Pluto who dreamed he was a planet only to awaken and discover he was just a rock?

Perhaps the pressure is off him now. No more fretting about whether school kids will remember his name. No more teasing from the other planets calling him shrimpy and laughing at him for taking so long to circle the sun. He’s just a smaller solar system body. One of many. There’s comfort in that.

Still, must be a little despairing to be kicked out of the cool kids club.

So, for Pluto, a Haiku:

Once, we were assured
A solar system with nine.
Lies. There are but eight.

Monday, August 21, 2006

They're Watching You.

There’s an old joke I know:

Car manufacturers have started testing out recording devices in cars that function like the black boxes in airplanes. The first data has come back and researchers have discovered that in 95% of the wrecks, the only words recorded before the crash were “oh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

The other 5% of wrecks, interestingly enough, all occurred in Texas. Here, the last words before an accident were always “hey, hold my beer and watch this.”

I always thought the “black box in cars” was still a thing of the future. But it turns out that 65% of cars released in 2005 are equipped with what they call Event Data Recorders. These EDRs don’t record sounds but do record what a car is doing in the moments before and after an accident—and they exist primarily for the use of law enforcement officers and attorneys investigating car crashes.

Most surprisingly, until the Highway Traffic Safety Administration passed a new regulation this morning, car manufacturers didn’t have to disclose to buyers whether or not their car contained an EDR. The new regulation requires auto dealers to start informing customers but it’s surprising how pervasive this technology has become without most drivers even being aware it existed.

Privacy advocates are clearly concerned but, as with most new monitoring systems, we’re told not to worry because the data will only be used against us if we break the law. Still, I’m continually amazed by how much data is collected on each and every one of us. I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the ramifications of such massive data collection.

We could very well be headed for a time when all our daily actions will be at least be partially monitored and recorded. Of course, as everyone keeps saying, as long as we obey the law, we’ll have nothing with which to concern ourselves. My only question is: will it really be so benign? I doubt it. But I also doubt we can do much to prevent such a future from arriving. The tipping point has passed.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Why I'm Not a Neo-Con

After my two most-recent posts, I found myself labeled by commentors on other blogs as a “neo-con.” Of course, these critics used the word as a pejorative meaning “war-monger and fool.” But even had they used the label in its fuller, more accurate meaning, they’d still be wrong. I’m no neo-con.

That’s not to say I don’t agree with certain neoconservative philosophies. For one, I believe the U.S. has an obligation to its own citizens and to the international community to stay engaged in events outside our borders and promote our better values throughout the world. And I also support the use of military might when such action is the best recourse—the tragedies of not going to war can sometimes outweigh the tragedies of war.

Yet neo-cons and I depart ways once we get into more specific beliefs. First and foremost, I did not support the invasion of Iraq (which may come as a surprise to some readers). I was unconvinced that Iraq’s assumed weapons of mass destruction posed any real threat to us or to global stability. But more importantly, I simply could not buy that we could, through war, instill a robust democracy in Iraq.

In my mind, our biggest philosophical mistake in Iraq, which was a direct result of neo-con thinking, was acting like we were liberating the nation. This was not France in 1944. The Iraqis were not a conquered people yearning to throw out their foreign masters. As brutal and evil as Saddam Hussein was, he was still an Iraqi leading a government of Iraqis.

To claim our invasion was a “liberation” was to believe that the Iraqi people were natural, freedom-loving folk who would eagerly embrace democracy if not for the oppressiveness of Saddam. We ignored the possibility that Iraq was a dictatorship not simply because Saddam was so awfully powerful but because authoritarianism was the state in which Iraqis were most comfortable.

I do not mean to belittle the Iraqi people or suggest they are incapable of democracy. But we were wrong to believe that all we had to do was plant the democracy seed and freedom would flourish. Many, many Iraqis had no desire (and continue to have no desire) to live in a democracy. They want a Muslim theocracy. They want a Baathist dictatorship. They want authoritarianism and they’re fighting very hard to achieve it.

Our war philosophy failed to take into account how hard certain Iraqi’s would resist democracy. Because of neoconservative thought, we wrongly believed that the natural state of modern man is democracy. Democracy is and always has been a beautiful aberration in human nature. It is, as far as I’m concerned, the best societal system ever created. But it is not natural. It is learned. And the lessons are often harsh.

In 1945, we occupied Japan and turned that formerly authoritarian nation into a Democracy. But never once did we call ourselves liberators. We were occupiers, we knew it and we wielded a kind of control that today’s Americans would likely never accept. But it worked and Japan has been our ally ever since.

I’m not saying we would have succeeded in Iraq had we treated this occupation the same way we treated the one in Japan. After all, the two cultures are quite different and we’re in a very different time. But I am saying that, once we decided that the democratization of Iraq was vital to our national security, we should have approached it with the cold-eyed realism we used in Japan rather than the flowers-and-candy idealism of the neo-cons.

I do not believe we needed to go into Iraq. But now we have no choice but to stay. Iraq may not have been a top-tier threat to us or to global stability in 2003, but it is now. How do we fix the situation after going so far off track? I don’t know. But we can start by expunging neo-con idealism from our rhetoric and our war philosophy. It’s time for some calculated realism.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A False Solution to Iraq

An e-mail I received from Senator Ted Kennedy caught my eye today because unlike most Democratic mailings of late which have focused on domestic policies, this one was all about Iraq. Here’s the meat (red and all):

The situation in Iraq demands an exit strategy, and it's essential for the President to explain to the nation what his exit strategy is.

No one should fall into the Republican trap of saying disengagement is defeat. The truth is the opposite: disengagement is part of the solution in Iraq. Our overwhelming military presence and our open-ended military commitment are part of the problem. They fuel the insurgency, offer a false crutch for the Iraqi government, undermine our respect in the world, and make the war on terrorism harder to win.

Yet President Bush is preparing to spend the month of August traveling throughout the United States, defending the war in cities and towns across the country. Despite what he'll say to handpicked GOP crowds at his "events," two simple facts remain: there were no WMD's in Iraq, and Saddam Hussein was not part of 9/11.

Enough is enough. The American people don't want our troops bogged down endlessly in Iraq, defending the same failed strategy. Help me send a clear message to President Bush: the Iraqi people have elected a democratic government, and it's time for American troops to begin to come home.

Kennedy was writing on behalf of The One America Committee not the Democratic Party, but I hardly think it’s a stretch to assume his words accurately represent the mainstream view within the party. And that’s a problem. Here’s two reasons why:

1) If believing we could create a vibrant, peaceful democracy in Iraq was a pie-in-the-sky idea, then believing that our withdrawal will solve most problems in Iraq is an even deeper vein of delusion. Our presence surely causes problems but our absence would clearly cause a great deal more problems. Plus, should we choose to leave, how long before we have to go back in? Or do Kennedy and others think that a highly unstable, terrorist-full nation sitting on a ridiculous amount of oil will never threaten our security again?

2) Regardless of how big a mistake going into Iraq was or how dishonest the selling of the war may have been, those are no longer the issues facing us. That’s not to say they are unimportant to the debate, just that they are unimportant to the solution. If a drunk driver smashes up your car, repeatedly pointing out that the driver was drunk is not going to fix your car.

In the end, the “let’s get out and to hell with Iraq” is not an honest solution. It’s pandering, both to America’s isolationist instincts and to a leftist base intent on ensuring the Iraq venture is a failure. Yes, there’s a lot of good reasons to believe going into Iraq was a colossal blunder, but there are very few reasons to actively seek our failure there.

Because, truth is, our failure is Iraq’s tragedy. There is no morally defensible argument for driving another nation into near chaos and then abandoning them before stability is restored. Whether or not we as individual Americans think going into Iraq was noble or foolish, we as a nation now have the collective moral duty to continue sacrificing our treasure and our blood for Iraq and its people.

Add to that the very significant possibility that abandoning Iraq would, in the long run, create greater security threats for our own people, and I don’t see how Kennedy and the majority of his party can see “get out” as the appropriate solution.

The question shouldn’t be stay or leave. The question should be, what’s the best way to achieve a stable, generally peaceful Iraq? Is it more troops? Is it prostrating ourselves in front of the international community, admitting our stupidity and then begging for help? Is it demanding more sacrifices on the home front? I don’t know. But any of those would be more acceptable to “get out now.”

Unfortunately, the Democrats seem intent on forcing the voters into choosing between their total retreat and Bush’s stubborn “stay the course, it’s going pretty well.” I really wish we had another choice.

Monday, August 14, 2006

How Hezbollah (Can Claim They) Won

In 1948, Israel repelled the attacks of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Transjordan. In the Six Days War Israel used military force to stop a planned Egyptian attack and then defeated Syria, Iraq and Jordan when those nations launched their own attacks. During the Yom Kippur War, Israel again repelled attacks by Egypt and Syria.

Every time Arab nations have attacked Israel, the Israeli’s have won.

But today, after nearly a month of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, it is Hezbollah who claims victory. And now we see the future. Weaker nations and peoples have learned that it is futile to directly attack stronger nations and peoples. Instead, they wage battle through the asymmetry of terrorism. But because a terrorist organization follows no international laws and has no boundaries or government, these groups never have to surrender. As long as one man with a camcorder claims to be the representative of the group, the group survives. And, in the new paradigm, survival is victory.

So Hezbollah wins because they wrote the rules—or, rather, the international community has permitted them to write the rules. By treating terrorist organizations more as criminal gangs (or, in more deluded corners, freedom fighters), rather than treating them as semi-nation states, we allow them to continue the asymmetry. We let them define the playing field.

Of course, the problem is, some terrorists really are no more than criminal gangs, receiving orders from no higher power than their own personal delusions. But others are nation-states in everything but name or are obvious appendages of recognized nations. They have strong structure. They have global reach. And they have citizens—although we call them followers or believers.

In 2001, the international community recognized the reality of the situation when we collectively invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban, the bloodthirsty regime we rightly held responsible for al Qaeda’s attack on the United States. But then we became distracted. We misjudged the threat posed by Iraq and overestimated the benefit of ousting Saddam. And, at the same time, we lost the will to forcibly confront al Qaeda sponsors in the governments of nations outside of Afghanistan.

We seemed, not just as a nation but as an international community, unable to effectively balance law enforcement, diplomatic and militaristic solutions. Yes, such choices and judgments are far from easy. But this has been more than just an inability to plot the right course. This has been an inability to maintain the right vision.

President Bush has been much maligned for his “you are either with us or with the terrorists” statement. But he was right (in his own overly simplified way). Nations either support a stable world with recognized nation states conforming to a series of international standards OR they support the continued existence of terrorist groups. There’s no wiggle room there. Even though there is plenty of room to find new methods of confronting terrorists.

Somewhere in the blood, dust and confusion of Iraq (and perhaps also somewhere in the bright blindness of ivory towers), we have lost sight of the primary goal. And by “we,” I mean the international community. How else is it that the world failed to rally to the side of Israel and instead scrambled to find a way out for Hezbollah? Couldn’t we as a group of nations have worked together to eradicate Hezbollah while also saving Lebanon and the innocent Lebanese caught in the middle? Shouldn’t we have done this years ago?

Instead, Hezbollah survives and now claims victory. This is no way to solve the terrorist problem. This only gives it strength.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Off the Deep End

I didn't want to blog about this. I don't like taking one post from one blog and using it to cast aspersions on an entire group.

But this post by one of the leading leftist blogs is so far off the deep end that I just had to mention it.

I'm sure this one opinion does not mirror the opinions of everyone on the left wing, but this is one of the blogs that helped defeat Joe Lieberman, a blog turned to by Democrats when they want to reach out to their base. This is an important blog. And this opinion is so dangerously cynical, so willfully ignorant that I cannot help but question how far gone the leftists in this nation actually are.

So, feel free to criticize me for making too much of one post. And feel free to say "yes, but the right has a bunch of crazies too" (they do, it's true). But at least take a moment and ask yourself, if these are the kinds of people who support Ned Lamont and others like him, how can we ever afford to casually let them seize any semblance of power?

Thank God

Thank God that the latest terror plot was averted, that this time we knew our enemy's plans before they could attack. Thank God for the lives saved and the terror avoided. We will learn in the coming days how close we actually were to another horrible, horrible day. And we will learn, perhaps, of the men and women, the heroes, who caught these bastards before they acted. In a war so amorphous some deny its very existence, today we had a victory.

Thank God.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Lieberman Falls, Leftists Rise

After many failed attempts to knock off moderates in their own party, the leftwing Democrats finally succeeded in a purge as Joe Lieberman lost his primary to leftist Ned Lamont. Question is, what does all this mean?

While I would love to argue that Lieberman’s loss was due more to internal Connecticut politics than to the national movement to oust him, I don’t think such a claim would be honest. Hard-left websites, including the ever-obnoxious Daily Kos, worked overtime raising money for Ned Lamont and portraying Lieberman as Brutus and casting the Senator’s few disagreements with the party line as an unforgivable sin. Clearly this so-called netroots activism had an effect inside Connecticut.

And now, Lamont’s win will have an effect outside Connecticut. For one, the leftists finally have a feather in their cap and will be emboldened by the victory. Expect left voices to gain volume as November approaches and expect the Democratic hierarchy to listen more intently.

But, should this happen, expect the rest of us Americans to shy away from the Democrats even more. While I don’t know too many people, including myself, who have any great love for Lieberman, there’s something undeniably worrisome about a party so possessed with a need for conformity (and so overrun with a hatred of anything and anyone even remotely associated with President Bush) that it would cast out a man who only six years ago was deemed worthy of the Vice Presidential nomination.

The best course of action for the Democrats would be to kindly welcome Lamont to the party but avoid the leftist horde who opened the doors for him. The last thing the party should want is for Lamont to become a national figure. Let Connecticut have their man but please don’t inflict him or his supporters on the rest of us.

Sadly, I fully expect Lamont to gain national exposure and be branded by some as the new face of the Democratic Party. “Bold, decisive and pure of heart,” the left will say, as blindly sure of their own righteousness as the rightwing is blindly sure of their own. What we get with Lamont is a counterbalance to the growing number of ultra-conservative Senators from red states.

Two leaden weights creating the illusion of balance, even as our nation tilts more and more off center.