Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Two Minutes of Hate

As the debate about the war in Iraq limps along and as the mission seems even less accomplisheder than it did three years ago, all eyes of have turned to Columbia University, where fanatic, jew-hater, and terrorist extraordinaire, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave a speech at the request of the University as part of their "World Leaders" forum. In his opening remarks, University President Lee Bollinger, ultimately responsible for inviting Ahmadinejad, took the tough-minded position of opposing cruel dictators (Ahmadinejad was elected, but that is beside the point) and made it clear that he didn't care for Ahmadinejad--not one bit (you are off the hook, Lee!).

So what is Ahmadinejad's crime? Well he's from Iran which is an Arab country (oops no it isn't, they are Persian)--well, he was good friends with Saddam Hussein (oops, Iran was one of Hussein's victims and its most bitter enemy), well at least all the hijackers of Sept. 11 were Shia Muslims (oops, they were Sunnis and hate Shias almost as much as the American infidels). But hey, he has nuclear weapons, right? (not according to IAEA inspectors, but what do they know about weapons of mass destruction anyway?) Well at least it's true that the US has officially hated Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis (except for the whole Iran-Contra thing, but we'll just pretend like that didn't happen.)

This is not to say that there aren't many legitimate reasons to dislike Ahmadinejad--there are. He definitely panders to the right wing extremists of his own country and the Arab world, his theocratic government is repressive to women and homosexuals, and Iran is hardly a bastion of free thought. Of course the US may have had something to do with this (remember the cruel dictator known as the Shah? Where were all the University Presidents then?), but again that is water under the bridge. Making things worse, he is prone to making bombastic statements on controversial subjects, which make him regular cannon fodder for the American news media. Everyone already knows that they are supposed to hate him, so it is a lot easier to hate him on cue. So why is it necessary to hate him for reasons that don't make sense when their are so many reasons that do?

It gets to the complexities of American political culture and the need to populate the world with "mad men" who "must be stopped." The American intellegentia's united crescendo of moral outrage and denunciations of Ahmadinejad could not have been scripted better by a Russian Comissar during Stalin's heydey. Lee Bollinger, NY State assemblymen, NYC city council members, all taking "courageous" moral stands against Ahmadinejad because he said that he wanted to "wipe Israel off the map" (he didn't) and because his visit is an affront to the victims of 9/11 (huh?) makes one wonder about America's intellectual culture. It is the exact same mentality that got us into war in Iraq--the 9/11 hijackers are from the Middle East, Iraq is a country in the Middle East.....enough said.

Which, of course, is the point--the US has been grasping for reasons to attack Iran for over a year now. And as the situation in Iraq continues to raise questions among the American public, as US depends more on more on mercenery and unaccountable contractors, as the Taliban continues to regenerate in Afghanistan, and Pakistan becomes further destabilized by the war next door, there has to be a solution--find a new enemy, a new "Hitler," a new country to bomb, and just in time for the elections.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Spy vs. Spy in the NFL

The most recent controversy in athletics is the accusation of cheating against the New England Patriots. According to the NFL, the New England Patriots used spies to video tape the New York Jets’ signals during their September 9th football game. The Pats used the tape to steal the Jets’ play-calls and thus provide an unfair advantage to themselves. Apparently, after years of complaints against the Pats, the NFL’s crack team of investigators pretty much caught the Patriots red-handed, took their tapes and confirmed that the illegal act occurred. Additionally, former foes have suggested that the Patriots may also have used non-NFL radio frequencies during the game, interfered with opponents’ radio transmissions, sent spies into opposing teams’ locker rooms to acquire information, and used other forms of technological espionage. And yes, I am still talking about football, not the overthrow of a small third world government.

So when did the NFL become a game of spy vs. spy? It may be true that, as George Orwell once said, athletics is simply warfare without the bullets and such activity is a logical extension of this axiom. This may be particularly true for football. As my other favorite George (Carlin) humorously reminds us, the lexicon of football is pretty warlike-- QBs are field generals who avoid the blitz by using a shotgun to pepper defenses and throw bombs, the whole game revolves around ground acquisition and is ultimately won in the trenches, occasionally ending in “sudden death”-- as opposed to “pastimes” like baseball where the object is simply to be “safe at home." Maybe I’m just getting old, but seems to have gotten worse in recent years. Part of it is the advance of technology, with computer printouts, immediate ability to crunch data, digital photography and film, plus the ability transmit this information quickly and accurately. It seems like more and more of the game strategy occurs away from the field than on it. The other reason is the “win at all costs” attitude which so prevalent in our society, which professional sports has come to epitomize. This perspective is so prevalent that the prospect of a “forfeit” for cheating was never seriously discussed, as presumably, to enforce a loss on a team for cheating in a game is too severe to be even considered. In other words, to punish a winner by making them a loser apparently sends the wrong message. The worst thing that the NFL considered was a suspension of Coach Belichik. In actuality, the NFL fined Belichick and the Patriots and deprived them of a yet to be determined number of draft picks. Only the latter of the sanctions will have any impact on the team, and that impact will be impossible to measure and won’t be felt, if at all, for years to come.

I have never considered myself a Luddite or put much stock in past “Golden Ages” but I have to admit that this controversy has waxing nostalgic for the halcyon days of old. Isn’t the best way to analyze the opponent’s defense by sending a 230lb fullback up the middle and see who has fortitude to stop him? What is wrong with communicating with players and other coaches the old fashioned way, by yelling at them? What happened to sending in plays with messenger guards or through ridiculous looking hand signals on the sideline? I don’t have a problem with pre-game preparation, studying the opposition for tendencies and formations, but once the game starts all that should go out the window and the game should be decided on the field. If it was good enough for Vince Lombardi, it should be good enough for “geniuses” like Bill Belichik.

Therefore I propose these 10 changes in the NFL rules—

1. All coaches must be on the designated sideline for their team for the duration of the game (no coaches “in the booth”)
2. The NFL (and only the NFL) will film all games and those films will be provided to teams upon request (and of course with the express written consent of the NFL) when preparing for a future game, but the film will digitally edited, removing sideline communications
3. No transmitters/radio receivers of any kind on the sideline or in a helmet
4. There will be special officials designated to police the above rules. If teams are caught cheating, they lose the game and all statistics from the cheating team for that game are zeroed

—and while I’m at it--

5. No games on Astroturf or in a dome
6. No more challenging bad calls—bad calls are a part of the game, get used to it
7. Superbowls rotate so every city gets a chance to host (yes, even if it snows and is thirty below)
8. Put everyone in leather helmets and leather pads (should actually reduce injuries as players won’t be able to use their head as a weapon)
9. Bring back the drop kick
10. Each team has to have a player named “Bronco,” “Night Train,” or “Crazy Legs”—this player must play both offense and defense

Are you ready for some football?

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Friday, September 7, 2007

The Vietnam Syndrome and the Re-"Righting" of History

On Wednesday Aug. 22, in a speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, President Bush specifically drew parallels between Vietnam and Iraq, arguing that this was a good thing and America should firm its resolve in Iraq. This was a fascinating and flabbergasting statement. After years of deflecting Iraq and Vietnam comparisons because of the negative connotation, the Bush administration has embraced the comparison. This essay will offer some thoughts on why the Bush administration would do this and conclude my series of articles on the comparison between the wars.

At the heart of the issue is this thing called the "Vietnam Syndrome." In the wake of America's smashing victory over Iraq in 1991, George "Papa" Bush stated that the US had finally "kicked the Vietnam Syndrome once and for all." So what is this "Vietnam Syndrome" that was so important to kick? To put it
succinctly, it is the reluctance of the American public to accept facile and dubious justifications for invading another country, particularly when the goals of the war are unclear and open ended. This perfectly logical reluctance, which has a long history in the US that predates Vietnam, has been reduced to a "syndrome"--an irrational psychological condition caused by America's inability to subdue Vietnam. The US government has gone to great extents to break the American public of this syndrome. Namely, by eagerly searching for "madmen" who are militarily vulnerable and that the US can easily overthrow and thus reassure the American public that every time we invade another country, it won't turn into a quagmire, and that there are an endless amount of dictators which deserve the business end of a stinger missile. In practice what this has meant is the US has taken to picking on virtually defenseless countries, hoping to compile a series of "quick and easy wins" so Vietnam seems like a distant memory. The invasion of Grenada and Panama are case in point.

Bush Sr.'s Iraq gambit was the first major military operation that entailed some risk since Vietnam. Hussein did have a sizable conventional army, nothing that the international coalition created to stop him should not have easily handled, but it looked good on paper. Did the first Gulf War then prove that the Vietnam Syndrome was dead? Hardly. Although support for the war was high for the brief period of combat, anti-war protests emerged
pre-invasion--something almost unheard of in the annals of anti-war protests. Moreover, the limited nature of the war and that Bush could not capitalize politically upon the conflict suggest that support for a prolonged war was thin, and the Bush administration knew it.

Fast forward to 2003. In the wake of Sept. 11, the predictable rage militaire allowed the Bush Administration redux to "finish the job" that public and international opinion prevented Papa Bush from completing. Similarly, protests emerged pre-invasion, not just in the US but around the globe. The thin public support for the war has definitely affected war strategy and the rhetoric surrounding the war. The Bush Administration has tried to keep troop levels low, resisted any talk of a draft, and has tried to create the impression that this war is a genuine international effort (any examination of troop levels and casualty levels should dissuade anyone of this notion). Additionally, the Bush Administration has been in the uncomfortable position of reminding us that we are making progress ("mission accomplished" and "the surge is working") while also making sure that the public knows that the mission isn't really accomplished or that the surge isn't working sufficiently to withdraw. Again, the Vietnam Syndrome is with us.

Thus, Bush's attempt to
reframe the Vietnam War and to rewrite history to serve current political ends. Although much has been written on Bush's historical myopia, there are points that are worth highlighting. Central to Bush's argument is that the US withdraw from Vietnam produced a humanitarian disaster in South East Asia (the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese boat people); and the subsequent decline of US credibility allowing for later humiliations including the Iran hostage crisis. It is a classic example of the "correlation/causation fallacy," common among people who either don't know history, or among propagandists trying to use history to their own ends. The correlation/causation fallacy is basically that if the rooster crows at 5:30 and the sun comes up at 5:40, the rooster caused the sun to come up. Bush's fallacy goes much deeper, however, as the humanitarian disaster in SE Asia predates the US withdraw and was directly a result of US intervention. US carpet bombing of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos produced directly and indirectly millions of deaths, facilitated the rise of the Khmer Rouge, and prevented a non-military solution to the conflict in Vietnam. That the killing didn't stop after the US withdraw somehow proves that the US should not have withdrawn, belies basic logic, much less an understanding of cause and effect. In Vietnam, there was no "communist blood bath" that had been predicted (this is not to say that the Vietnamese communists did not engage in human rights violations, but there was no mass slaughter)--the blood bath that did occur was in Cambodia, a blood bath that the Vietnamese tried to stop by invading Cambodia to overthrow the Khmer Rouge, while America's new friend, China, invaded Vietnam and the US offered clandestine and indirect support to China's new ally, the Khmer Rouge, as a way to put Vietnam "in its place." Genocide sure makes strange bedfellows--but such facts are reserved to the memory hole.

Thus we return again to America's credibility in the world. That the respect the US earned following the liberation of Europe from Nazism and SE Asia from Japanese militarism has run out in a series of foreign policy blunders and imperial power grabs, this is the fault of the "Vietnam Syndrome?" Of left-wingers and peacenicks? Hardly. All I can say is I hope the American public remains insane enough to question every war and every leader that would drag us into one.

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