Monday, August 29, 2011

After seeing “Restrepo” last night...

On the Atlantic site, regular contributor Jeffrey Goldberg posts this incontrovertible evidence of the wickedness of America’s foes in “The Real Meaning of 9/11.” Money quote:

Imagine, for a moment, you are Marwan al-Shehhi, the lead hijacker of Flight 175. You see Christine Hanson among the passengers on the plane you had just hijacked — a two-year-old child, seated on her father's lap — and you fly the plane carrying this child into the South Tower of the World Trade Center anyway.

A precious lisping little toddler, slain by a murderous Islamist who has determined to carry out an act of war (as Marwan al-Shehhi certainly perceived it—specialists in international law may certainly contend the question)…is that not just dreadful? And he actually might have seen her precious little pudgy cheeks, pictured above, and still gone ahead and killed scores of scores of innocents.

Christine Hanson’s face serves as well to represent the many hundreds of children done to death by American ordnance in Afghanistan and Iraq in the ten years since “Nine-Eleven.” They were as beloved by their parents; they deserved as little to die; they were wept over by their surviving kin; they were murdered as cold-bloodedly as Christine, little as our cheerleading polyester proletariat cares to acknowledge this.

As moral counterweight to the pitiless character of Marwan al-Shehhi we have Brad Broadshoulders, who pilots a Stealth bomber, Peter Pureheart, who controls a Predator drone from Langley, Steve Strongsinew, who programs cruise missiles, and Dirk Granite, who calls in airstrikes upon suspected Taliban positions in the Korangal Valley. Not a single one of these sterling characters has ever knowingly slain a toddler. But guess what: the toll of children killed by the 9/11 hijackers is negligible measured against the number exterminated or maimed by our brave technocrats during the past ten years, deaths that have sown dragons' seeds of bitter foes. Can anyone really imagine that, just because our side kills infants wholesale without actually seeing them first, we are somehow rendered more virtuous than the monsters who might have glimpsed the darling little visages of our wee bairn? Cripes.

Asymmetrical warfare always looks unfair to the side that has the cruise missiles.

This has long been a sore point with me, how the good old U S of A imagines that it can kill any number of children and noncombatants without any moral obloquy attending these murders because, of course, they’re merely collateral damage and not intended, and accordingly a hundred brown children killed by a cruise missile count as nothing beside the truncated life of an American infant vaporized by a bestial hijacker, which crime by contrast cries to heaven. Give me a fucking break.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rocky the Dying Squirrel

He has known sin at last, my gentle dog. Ravi has slain his first squirrel.

I had him at the corner park on Wednesday, and a squirrel that had been taunting him from relatively safe perches went scampering now and again dangerously close to the jaws of a dog who was feeling some rather primal impulses. At a certain point the creature scrambled up the trunk of a tall palm tree from the base of which Ravi has vainly attempted times past to reach scores of squirrels securely chattering indignation and abuse anywhere from six to thirty feet beyond his reach. He runs round and round the tree, frantic with bloodlust, and the squirrels dart down the trunk until they’re nearly within reach and then streak skyward to the fronds.

Late that afternoon, alas, the creature made an ill-judged attempt to quit the palm for another tree, and the moment the poor beastie hit the ground Ravi was on it like stupid on Sarah Palin, seizing it between his formidable jaws.

“NO!” I yelled, using my best Zeus-on-his-throne (and really pissed off) voice, and for a wonder this actually overrode about fifty million years of Canoidea evolution, the thin overlay of reflexive obedience imposed by just a few thousand years of Canis lupus familiaris genetics combining with the social conditioning to which our domestic dogs are subject sufficing to cause him to drop the doomed rodent from his mighty mandibles. The squirrel was stunned, no longer in a taunting mood, and Ravi, only momentarily ensorcelled by His Master’s Voice, lunged agin. “NO!!” I repeated, adding anabolic steroids, crystal meth, a Peet’s double espresso, 20 CCs of pharmaceutical epinephrine and a fifteen-hundred watt amplifier channeled through vintage “Voice of the Theatre” monitors the size of steamer trunks to the mix. He hesitated for long enough for the squirrel to scramble up the tree, where it was met, at about the 18-foot mark, by another squirrel that assaulted it cruelly and knocked it to the ground, a long fall. The poor creature was even more dazed this time, and Ravi, by this time berserk with bloodlust, lunged forward for the kill. I fear that even Master’s moral suasion, however loudly conveyed, might have fallen short of its desired effect at this point, and so had recourse to grimly seizing his sturdy collar, planting my heels in the sod and growling “This far and no farther” as my dog gave crazed way to the murderous impulses of his ancestors. The squirrel once more escaped to safer altitudes and was this time not assaulted by its fellow.

Alas, yesterday evening we returned to the scene of the crime to find a squirrel corpse lying by the base of the palm. I suspect that the first encounter, from which I thought my roared reprimand to have spared the creature’s life, may have proved fatal, possibly by means of internal injuries or bleeding, after all, although I'd prefer to imagine that it was the entire sum of its traumas, including the long fall administered by its fellow, that did it in. I regret the whole episode, while acknowledging that had Ravi killed a rat instead (we’ve had rat issues here in the Crumbling Manse now and again, and are notably unsentimental on the subject) I would likely have shrugged it off.

R seemed disappointed and puzzled all the way home on Wednesday that I had thwarted him just when victory and vermin were a crushing bite and a vigorous neck-snapping shake away. I stopped at the Food Hole en route and purchased him a quarter-pound of beef stir-fry which, stuffed into a “Kong,” went a long way toward distracting him from those fruitless speculations.

As it should be. They ask for so little.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Once more with beehives

I reprint “Frances Among the Beehives: A Birthday Ode, 1980” to mark the birthday of my dearest friend. She lived, in those days, in Utah, a “black hat” among the “saints”:

Frances Fisher, drinking gin
and tonic as the Saints march in,
Waverly Fisher, whom Random knew when
Has turned twenty-nine. Rand starts over again,
Smites his forehead, pours a cup
Of Folgers hi-test, sobers up
Within another cup or two, or
(Muse invoked) another few,
Conveys from land of sin and surf
His greetings to Moroni’s turf,
Hopes Provo is pleasant, knows Mormons are not
All that bad save en masse
(but it’s en masse you’ve got—
Utah being the homeland of Wog and of Polly,
Salt Lake, Brigham Young and the Osmonds, by golly!).
This doggerel is pretty poor
Imitation Clement Moore
Which is, however, no excuse
Not to play it fast and loose
On Frances Fisher’s natal day.
Sin! Debauch! And by the way
Do not let Sainthood take its toll
On Franny’s hedonistic soul.
In Rome we do as Romans do
But are, in Zion, careful to
Stay decadent. Remain alert!
Party, drink, and don’t convert.
Cheek by jowl with Latter-Dates
Black hats discreetly congregate,
and slipping from the pious’ sight
Go Gentile into that good night.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Karma’s a bitch, is it not?

A US Chinook helicopter transport was shot down in Afghanistan a few days ago with the loss of thirty US military personnel and seven Afghans. Much has been made of this, and in particular a poignant plea on behalf of his dead father from Braydon Nichols, a Kansas City ten year-old, has been widely circulated on the internet.

It is difficult to remain unmoved reading or viewing these accounts. I can’t. My own father, who will turn ninety next month, is a US Marine veteran of the South Pacific war. He fought on Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, and came literally within an inch of losing his life while storming the beach at Guam eight years before I was born. Had he died in action, I would obviously not have an opinion on the subject. Had he died when I was ten, I would have been crazed with sorrow. I do not intend anything that follows to suggest that I deprecate Braydon Nichols’ grief.

May we step away, however, from Kansas City and 2011, to a hypothetical grieving family half a world away and a quarter of a century ago? As Braydon Nichols is bereaved today, so must Vitaly Chernakov have grieved in 1986 when he learned that the Soviet “Hind” helicopter transport his father piloted had been downed with the loss of all hands by Islamic fundamentalist insurgents armed by the United States. The Chernakovs would have been assured by Russian military representatives, as the Nichols have been by ours, that the husband/father died for a good cause. Both families, I daresay, took as much comfort from these bromides as grieving survivors generally do.

As we wail and rend our garments over the Chinook downing, though, is it altogether inappropriate to note in passing that very few Americans could be found to weep over the deaths of hundreds of Soviets lost in helicopter transports downed by means of armaments thoughtfully provided to the heroic Afghan resistance by Our Tax Dollars at Work? On the contrary, every report of an episode like this was greeted on these shores with lusty huzzahs (heroic freedom fighters smite wicked foreign invader!) and nary a tear for the children and widows of the Russian troops.

And yet, and yet. What were the beastly Russians doing there? Spreading their filthy socialistic doctrines into helpless Afghanistan as the next step in their ruthless plan of world domination. What did the Soviet soldiers imagine they were doing there? Fighting bands of savage seventh-century fanatics consumed with a primitive and inhumane vision of Islamic fundamentalism. What did the Afghan resistance think it was doing? Driving out foreign invaders.

And what are we doing there today? Fuck if I know. What do we imagine we're doing? Fighting bands of savage seventh-century fanatics consumed with a primitive and inhumane vision of Islamic fundamentalism. What does the Afghan resistance think it is doing? Driving out foreign invaders.

Frankly, I think we owe the Russians an apology. We could start by respecting their example and quitting the “graveyard of empires” sooner rather than later. Throughout the entire 1980s every Soviet soldier or airman who died by force of arms provided to these same fundamentalist loonies was lustily cheered by the entire American consensus as a blow for freedom. You’ll look in vain in the reporting of the time for anything like the weeping and wailing this Chinook crash has entailed. If we want to express compassion for 10 year-old Braydon, this might be a good time to regret that out of sheer jingoism we were absolutely indifferent to 10 year-old Vitaly when his helicopter pilot father was killed by an American-supplied Stinger missile in 1986. In a world less ignoble than this one, we as a nation might be capable, looking back on our role in that stage of the conflict and comparing it to the present day, of feeling a twinge of…shame? Remorse? But no, that will never happen. We Americans are a simple, generous, impulsive, forgetful, heavily armed people. And the morning and the evening were the eleventh hour.