what we need is another revolution

angryprofI can’t even listen to the news this morning. All they’re talking about is my shitty government.

Here’s what’s going to happen:

1. Congress will come together in the 11th hour and reach some kind of agreement that is sure to leave Republicans and Democrats somewhat pleased with themselves & each claiming victory for their side. In the process, the American people will get fucked, but Congress will too busy patting themselves on the back to notice.

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2. Congress will not come together in the 11th hour and something bad/catastrophic will happen, causing the American people to hate them even more.

That’s it. Those are the only two things that will happen. How do I know this? BECAUSE THOSE ARE THE ONLY TWO THINGS THAT EVER HAPPEN. The names change, the issues change, but Congress’ behavior NEVER CHANGES. Seriously, when’s the last time you can think of that Congress did something that benefitted a large number of Americans? The Civil Rights Act of 1964? That’s the last thing *I* can think of, and I wasn’t even born yet.

All those slippery bastards care about is lining their own pockets & staying in office. They don’t give a shit about the common American in any way, shape or form.

Every time John Boehner or Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi opens their muck-ridden mouths, all I can think of is “Dammit, we need a revolution.”

If/when the government shuts down, here’s what’s going to happen:

  • All national parks & monuments will be closed – including the Smithsonian museums, National Zoo, Statue of Liberty, Alcatraz Island & the Washington Monument.
  • The FDA suspends routine safety inspections, but still addresses emergency issues.
  • The IRS will not perform audits (though you still have to pay your taxes, of course).
  • The FHA (Federal Housing Administration) stops underwriting/approving home loans. This affects mostly low- and middle-income homebuyers, as well as first-time homebuyers.
  • The SBA (Small Business Administration) stops processing loans.
  • The USGS (US Geological Survey) shuts down.
  • All US military paychecks will be delayed – but the troops are required to remain on duty. About 50% of civilian employees go on immediate furlough (unpaid leave).
  • The VA (Dept of Veterans Affairs) stops hearing/processing appeals in cases where benefits are denied.
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) stops performing routine workplace inspections, only responding to emergencies.
  • The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) mostly shuts down, responding only to emergencies.

Here’s what else happens:

  • Members of Congress and the president continue to draw their full paychecks and receive all the benefits to which they are entitled, such as health care coverage, housing allowances, etc.
  • DHS (Dept of Homeland Security) continues to operate more or less as normal; this includes most (if not all) of its subsidiary organizations, such as ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement).
  • NASA continues to support Americans on the Int’l Space Station.
  • Federally-backed school breakfast/lunch programs continue more or less as normal.
  • Food stamps continue to be issued as normal.
  • Federal prisons remain operational.
  • Federal courts remain open at least through mid-October.
  • Mail continues to be delivered, as the USPS generates its own revenue … mostly.
  • Social Security & Medicare payments continue, but new applications are significantly delayed.
  • Unemployment benefits continue to be paid.
  • The TSA continues its work to secure airports.
  • Overseas embassies & consulates continue to provide services for American citizens abroad; they also continue processing visas & passport applications, as those services are fee-based & more or less support themselves.
  • Many (if not most) federal employees deemed “non-essential” are furloughed – sent home without pay.

As you can see, a “shut down” isn’t a complete stoppage, it’s just a pissing match between political parties that has the effect of screwing Americans.

iconic (movie) spaceships

millenniumfalconstardestroyerThere’s a lot of iconic spaceships in film, here’s some of my favorites.

I’ll start with Star Wars, or at least the first two films, which were really the only good ones.  A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back introduce us to some pretty bad-ass spaceships and topping that list is the Millennium Falcon, a speedy smuggler’s vessel piloted by the irascible Han Solo and his trusty sidekick, Chewbacca.  The Falcon wasn’t the only cool spaceship in the movie, though – that first film introduced us to Star Destroyers, TIE fighters and X-Wing fighters, too.  The second movie brings in the Executor, Darth Vader’s personal flagship, and Boba Fett’s Slave 1.  Just beautiful, awe-inspiring spaceships. The thing that I always thought was the coolest about the Falcon and Slave 1 was that they looked lived in – they weren’t pristine, spotless ships. You could tell they’d been through the wringer more than once.

The various Star Trek films introduced us to many variations of the iconic Enterprise, perhaps the most recognizable spaceship in cinematic history. There are multiple versions because the equally iconic crew of the Enterprise keeps getting the damn thing blown up. Ignoring the long history of the various television programs, in the very first Star Trek film, we get not only VGER, but also the very sinister Klingon battle cruisers.  These ships are only out-cooled by the Birds of Prey that show up in later films.  The Borg Cube from First Contact is creepy and weird, of course.  The Scimitar is just about the only cool thing about Star Trek: Nemesis, but the Romulans come through again in the 2009 Star Trek reboot with a hugely destructive, but entirely common, mining vessel.  Spock’s little space cruiser in that film is pretty awesome as well.

For sheer size, it’s hard to ignore the Mother Ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the luxury liner Fhloston Paradise, and of course the massive civilization-sustaining ships from WALL-E. The Space Battleship Yamato should probably be lumped in with these giants, as should Discovery One from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

(“Why,” I hear you cry, “did you leave out the Battlestar Galactica?” Because BSG was a TV show, not a movie, and I’m focusing on movies here, that’s why. If I was going to throw in TV shows, the Eagles from Space: 1999 would definitely be in this post.)

Topping all those big ships, though, is the Cygnus from an obscure old Disney film, The Black Hole. If memory serves me correctly, that was Disney’s first-ever PG-rated film. Our heroes in that film fly in on the Palomino, which is a funky little ship, and out on the black hole probe ship, but for sheer impressiveness, neither of them holds a candle to the Cygnus.

The masters of all beat-up, broken-down, iconic spaceships, though, come from films that are a generation apart. The USCSS Nostromo is the primary locale for Alien, and Serenity from Serenity (as well as Firefly, the TV series that inspired the film) are the ultimate in functional spaceships, and for that reason they have to be taken seriously in any list that addresses spaceships.  They’re not as cool as a TIE fighter, as fast as the Enterprise, or as powerful as the Yamato, but perhaps that’s why they hold a dear place in my heart – like most of us, these two ships are just out there, every day, doing their jobs.

i, robot (the movie) and i, robot (the book)

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This comparative review contains spoilers of both the book and the movie. It’s not really a review, in the strictest sense; it’s more of a comparison of the book and the movie.

I, Robot, starring Will Smith, was released in 2004. I, Robot, written by Isaac Asimov, was published in 1950; it isn’t a traditional novel, but rather a collection of nine short stories that tie together with common themes and even characters. They share more than just the title, but it can be difficult to unravel Asimov’s contributions to the screenplay written by Jeff Vintar & Akiva Goldsman.

Before we get to the reviews, let’s look at the Three Laws of Robotics, as created by Asimov.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being, or through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

It’s important to remember that these laws are hierarchical – the First overrides the Second & Third, the Second overrides the Third.

I’m an unashamed Will Smith fan and I, Robot is one of his better summer sci-fi blockbusters. There’s plenty of action, but there’s also a good bit of character development, inner conflict and humor.

Detective Del Spooner (Will Smith, duh) is on the homicide detail & coming off – well, either a vacation, sick leave or a suspension, it’s not entirely clear which. He’s old fashioned & loves outdated technology, including his “vintage 2004” Converse sneakers. He’s also openly robophobic; better still, he’s racist against robots and immediately suspects them of … something. Anything. He even chases down a robot he suspects of purse-snatching.

Naturally, when the opportunity for him to blame a murder on a robot appears, he does exactly that, and this is what drives the plot. As a result, he encounters Dr. Susan Calvin, who works for US Robotics (USR) and tries to make robots “more human.” The film & book versions of Dr. Calvin are very similar – cold and intellectual.

The first crossover with Asimov’s intertwining collection of short stories happens early in the film. The robot (we later learn his name is Sonny) suspected of murder is wounded by Spooner, and he goes to a robot construction facility to repair himself. Spooner & Calvin are faced with a room of 1,001 robots – 1,000 NS-5s and Sonny. In “Little Lost Robot,” Calvin and another USR employee, Peter Bogert, find themselves faced with 63 seemingly identical “Nestor” (NS-2) robots; one of them, however, was given the order to “get lost” by another human & has done his best to do exactly that. Calvin & Bogert interview the robots over & over, finally ferreting out the “lost” robot. In the movie, Calvin quips that it would take 3 weeks to interview all 1,001 robots in order to find the one they’re looking for.

This is the only actual event-based crossover between the book and the movie.

Spooner & Calvin eventually discover that Alfred Lanning created Sonny differently; Sonny has the ability to ignore and even counter the Three Laws. It’s clear relatively early in the movie that Sonny killed Dr. Lanning; what is not clear, however, is why.

While “Lost Little Robot” contains the only event that translates directly into the movie, there are several concepts carried over from the short stories into the film.

In “Reason,” Asimov explores the idea that robots, given enough time and even some faulty logic, can develop their own thought processes and, through a logical (though mistaken) process extending past that, develop ideas that run counter to their original programming. As far as the movie is concerned, this appears in both Sonny and VIKI, the “robot” (see below) that controls the USR facility.

The contribution of “Liar!” to the movie is pretty simple – the idea that a robot can lie. Sonny lies – perhaps not maliciously, but enough to hide his motivations and even some of his actions. In the short story, the robot in question is actually telepathic and messes with Dr. Calvin’s mind, which is kind of fun and kind of sad at the same time.

“Escape!” introduces the concept that a robot doesn’t have to look like a traditional robot. When we think of robots, we think of humanoid robots like C-3P0, Gort, Asimo, Data, Ash, Twiki, Bender, the various Terminators, Robbie, Maximilan, and Cylons as well as non-humanoid robots like ED-209, R2-D2, Rosie, WALL-E & Eve, Number 5, and Dr. Theopolis.

Perhaps Dr. Theopolis – from the horrible TV series “Buck Rogers” that starred the effervescent Erin Gray – comes the closest to the “robot” in Escape!; it is simply a thinking machine called “The Brain” that latches onto an idea, runs with it, and seemingly surpasses its programming – or at least the intentions of its programmers.  In the movie, VIKI takes the role of “The Brain.”

Finally, in “The Evitable Conflict,” we reach the key idea from the book that moves across to and drives the movie. In the movie, VIKI embodies the plot of “The Evitable Conflict” by reasoning out that the biggest danger to the safety of humanity is, in fact, humanity itself; she therefore determines that the robots must protect humanity by preventing the humans from harming each other. In this manner, she is embodying the essence of “The Evitable Conflict,” interpreting the First Law in such a way that the robots – VIKI as the thinking machine & the NS-5s as her “army” – act to protect humanity from itself.

Of course, the bottom line there, and perhaps the message that the movie is driving home, is that man refuses to subordinate his freedom to his safety and will continue to endanger himself in the name of liberty despite the best intentions of anybody – or anything.

I will say that I dearly love I, Robot (the book) and greatly enjoy I, Robot (the movie) – but aside from some ideas & one specific event, one is not a detailed reflection of the other.

if world war 2 was a bar fight

( inspired by http://themetapicture.com/if-world-war-one-was-a-bar-fight/ )

030512_roadhouseJapan has already been in one fight tonight. Having sucker-punched China, Japan stole China’s girlfriend and is hanging out at the bar, looking smug.

The US is friends with the bartender and convinces him to serve Japan only non-alcoholic beers and to charge double for them, too.

Germany started drinking before they got to the pub, as did Italy, and they’re super excited to see each other. Italy tells the story about how he beat up Ethiopia at another pub across town.

Germany isn’t happy that the Soviet Union is at the pub, but after a brief conversation, they agree to just leave each other alone.

Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland are sitting at a table by themselves, talking quietly. Germany comes over and drags Austria over to his table, then comes back and drags Czechoslovakia over to his table, too.

England and France tell Germany to stop dragging people away from their own tables and look sympathetically at Poland, who is now sitting alone. Germany promises to stop and everybody shakes hands and buys another round.

Germany walks back over to the table and punches Poland. While Poland is trying to get up off the floor, the Soviet Union comes over and punches Poland, too, knocking him out cold.

Germany asks Belgium if he’s going to stay friends with France; when Belgium says he will, Germany punches him right in the nose. Holland accidentally gets in the way & Germany punches him, too.

France puts his dukes up, but Germany kicks him in the balls and shoves England back against the wall.

Germany drags France’s table over next to their table and invites France to start drinking on his tab. France looks angry about it, but starts ordering German beer.

Germany starts throwing glasses, bottles and whatever else he can get his hands on at England. Luckily England is standing on the other side of the bathrooms.

Germany and the Soviet Union start punching each other repeatedly.

While everybody is watching Germany and the Soviet Union fight, Japan creeps up behind the US and kicks him right in the ass. Germany shouts “Way to go, Japan – I’ll be right there!”

Japan shoves the US away from the Philippines’ table and glares at Australia.

England and the US go over to talk to Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia & Egypt. Every time Germany interrupts, they punch Germany until he goes away again.

The US is running back & forth between both sides of the pub, alternately punching Germany & Japan. He manages to get in a few good hits on both of them.

Germany starts randomly punching innocent people throughout the pub, making them stand in the corner and then stabbing them.

The Soviet Union lands a giant roundhouse kick on Germany, knocking it halfway across the pub.

The US & England keep punching Germany, and manage to escort Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia & Egypt over to the restaurant, where they say they’ll pick up the tab for whatever they want to eat as long as they save them some of that delicious wine.

The US & England start punching Italy. Italy goes down quickly, but Germany comes over to Italy’s table & starts throwing punches.

India starts punching Japan over by Burma’s table.

The Soviet Union, the US & England huddle together, then break and resume punching Germany.

The US, England & Canada go over to France’s table, where Germany has been hanging out this whole time. They throw a drink in Germany’s face and start punching & kicking him.

Germany hits the US with a chair, but the US comes back with a leg sweep and pushes Germany away from France’s table, then drags it back to where it was before.

Germany goes back to its table only to find the Soviet Union standing right there. They start punching each other again, but Germany keeps having to turn around to punch the US and the Soviet Union doesn’t really seem like he’s getting tired. The Soviet Union calls his girlfriend over to punch Germany, too.  She does, but she punches the Soviet Union a couple times, too.

The US & the Soviet Union pick Germany up and throw him down on the table, breaking the table into four pieces. The US & the Soviet Union each pick up a piece of the table; England & France run over and grab pieces of the table as well.

The US & Japan have been steadily punching each other all this time, and the US eventually forces Japan to go sit back at the bar. The US thinks it sees Japan downing an energy drink.

The Soviet Union says it’s ready to start punching Japan. The US says “Nah, I got this.”

The US pulls a gun and shoots Japan. Twice.

Japan gives up and asks the US for help getting up from the floor.

The Soviet Union sulks and starts trying to figure out how to steal the gun from the US.

totalitarianism

FistFrom an operational standpoint, there’s not a lot of difference between totalitarianism of the left and totalitarianism of the right. The look, sound and function much the same. It’s the underlying ideology that’s different – and generally, how they come to power is different.

In general, a fascist government will rise from within – it will come up organically, working through established (and generally legal) methods to gain influence and positions of power, then act (again, through generally legal means) to change the system to reinforce its own power.

The typical socialist/communist government takes power with a revolution – it may start with a movement, but in general, the mechanism of control comes through a violent (and perhaps even popular) uprising that wipes out the old regime and replaces it completely. It then establishes a new system, one that is designed at reinforcing its own power and – ironically – preventing any new rebellion.

Let’s look at each of these systems/methods in turn, starting with fascism.

The ancient Greek philosopher Aesop gives us a parable that helps define the term fascism – his story The Bundle of Sticks. Gather up a bundle of sticks and tie them together. Now try to break them. Doesn’t work, does it? Untie the bundle and try breaking the sticks one at a time. Super easy to do, right? That idea carried through to Roman times, where that developed into something called a fasces, rods tied around an axe handle – a symbol of legal power in the Empire that represented punishment (being beaten with the rods or executed with the axe). Fasces –> fascismo –> fascism.

Like many forms of government, there are many types of fascism. We tend to associate fascism with Benito Mussolini/Italy & Adolf Hitler/Germany in the 1920s-40s, but the truth is nearly every western nation – including the United States – had fascist movements in that time period and many of them were politically powerful. Following the collapse of most fascist movements at the end of World War Two, Portugal & Spain managed to maintain their fascist governments into the 1970s under Antonio Salazar & Francisco Franco, respectively. (You could, however, argue that radical elements of the Catholic church co-opted Franco’s fascism, marginalizing it, but that would be a topic for a separate post.)

Fascism is easy to peg as radically right on the political spectrum. Fascism is socially very conservative and should be considered anti-egalitarian, as in “under fascism there is no such thing as equality”. It derives a lot of its inspiration from ultra-conservative ideologies such as nationalism and romanticism and as such, can be considered as a movement that wants to purge modernism and egalitarianism from all aspects of society. It is the ultimate backward-looking socio-political ideology and idealizes the “good old days” when we (whoever “we” are) all spoke the same language, practiced the same religion, celebrated the same heroes and obeyed the same leaders.

Because of its idealization of the “good old days” when we all followed the same rules, a fascist movement will not take the form of a traditional armed revolution. Instead, fascists will generally work from within the system to reach positions of power and influence, THEN change the system to better suit its ideology. Most fascist leaders – such as the aforementioned Mussolini and Hitler – achieve positions of power through completely legitimate (if unduly influenced) processes such as appointment (Hitler) or election (Mussolini). Once in power, though, the fascist leader will drop the pretense of democracy and start altering laws and processes to ensure that fascism is the only legal political system, thereby cementing its power and influence and marginalizing all other political ideas and practices. Look up the Acerbo Law (Italy) and the Enabling Act (Germany) to see how that works.

The point here is that fascism works from within to get power, then reorganizes the way power is held to ensure nobody else can have any power. That’s not a revolution.  It starts with people saying “Remember how things used to be? Everything was so much better then & we should go back to that simpler way of life” and ends with “Thanks for electing/appointing me President/Prime Minister/Chancellor, now do what I say or I’ll have you executed.”

Socialism, then, and its more sinister sister Communism, are ideologies of the left. To gain power, a true Socialist movement will foment a popular uprising, which we commonly refer to as a revolution. Many of these ideologies are based in Marxism. Marxism is a very complicated socio-political theory, but it can be distilled down to some basic points.

1. There are two types of people – Capitalists, who own everything, and Workers, who own nothing.
2. The economy functions due to the transaction between Capitalists and Workers – the Capitalist pays wages to the Worker in exchange for his time, which is spent laboring to produce something.
3. Products themselves have no inherent value; that value is attached through the labor of the Workers.
4. Profits made by Capitalists are an exploitation of the labor of the Workers.
5. Capitalists and Workers exist in a constant state of struggle because Capitalists always want higher profits while Workers always want higher wages. (This is called the Materialistic Dialectic and is where the term Class Struggle originates.)
6. The Class Struggle has driven past events and all economic systems can be described in similar terms.
7. Governments exist solely to enforce class differences.
8. To eliminate the Class Struggle and therefore the Capitalist/Worker conflict, the Workers must rise up in rebellion and destroy the Capitalists.
9. After the revolution, a temporary state/government must take over; this new government will enforce the will of the Workers over the will of the Capitalists. (Remember, all governments exist to enforce class differences!)
10. Once the Capitalists are destroyed, a classless society can exist – a society without social stratification, government or even nations.

It’s obviously more complicated than that, but those are the basics. As you can imagine, creating any kind of classless society would require great upheaval, as nearly the entire stretch of civilization has been constructed of class-based societies. This would necessitate a violent revolution, because the Capitalists will not willingly give up power.

It’s the stage between points 9 and 10 where most Communist governments exist, and they never move past it. The former Soviet Union was exactly this type of government – theoretically using its power to suppress the Capitalists by creating a series of nationalized industries that feed their profits to the state rather than to individual Capitalists. Yet they never managed to move on to step 10 and create a truly classless society – to its end, the USSR was a 2-class society – those with power and those without power.  Those with power grew rich and fat; those without power went hungry and drank vodka.

Many would say this is the true failing of China’s “Communist” government, because it embraces the power of profits and may never abandon the very system they claimed to have rebelled against. Chinese Communism is not true Socialism, but it is a system that exists as an totalitarian regime.  In the 21st century, China is every bit as capitalistic as the United States.

Anyway, to gain their status, Communists must eliminate the old regimes completely. It is for this reason that we classify Socialist/Communist governments as left or Liberal (in the abstract sense), because Liberalism is predicated on massive change – exactly the opposite of classical Conservatism, or rightist ideology, which requires the maintenance of the status quo.

Totalitarian governments are easily identified by some common markers – a (sometimes highly) charismatic dictator as leader, claims that political power stems from the people when we can all clearly see that it doesn’t, a highly organized official ideology, low levels of official corruption, just one political party, a total monopoly on mass communication, strict control of the military, rule enforced by terror (secret police) and a near-complete nationalization of industry in order to meticulously plan out the economy.

When you look at it in that light, the fascist government of Adolf Hitler isn’t terribly different from the communist government of Josef Stalin.  One big difference was that Hitler didn’t nationalize industry – he did, however, force German industry to do his bidding.

What brought this up is the rule of Bashar al-Assad, who runs Syria. His government isn’t totalitarian, it’s authoritarian. What’s the difference? Simple. Authoritarian governments are usually led by “regular” guys that aren’t particularly charismatic, but ironically rely on the “cult of personality” concept to maintain power. The dictator (and it will be a dictator in charge) gains power through his own effort (sometimes a coup or other seizure of power) and while some authoritarian governments allow elections – feigning democracy – the dictators tend to win those elections by unrealistic margins (99.9% of the vote for Saddam Hussein, for example). Authoritarian regimes are cut through with corruption, much of which is tolerated by the dictator because the people benefitting from that corruption get rich and are therefore interested in keeping the dictator in power. Authoritarian governments also will have an iron grip on the military and a high level of control over the economy, though they don’t typically nationalize everything, because then nobody that supports them gets rich. Last but not least, authoritarian rule isn’t based on any cohesive ideology other than “I want to be rich and powerful! I am the dictator! OBEY AND WORSHIP ME!!!”

As a side point, totalitarianism is generally accepted, while authoritarianism is nearly universally reviled. Nobody says the USSR’s government wasn’t legitimate, but everybody says Saddam Hussein had to go. The communists are allowed to rule Venezuela without any outside intervention, but Robert Mugabe (leader of Zimbabwe) has had sanctions leveled against him by the US & EU for decades.

Totalitarian regimes, when they do disappear, are usually eliminated by war. Authoritarian regimes are usually ended by the death of the dictator.

use of chemical weapons since 1961

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1961-71: US uses 2,4,5-Trichlorophenoxyacetic acid & 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (collectively known as Agent Orange) in Vietnam.  While technically classified as an herbicide and used as a defoliant (to kill plants & vegetation in large quantities), its effects on humans is widely documented & was well known, even in the 1960s.

UN reaction: NONE
3 June 1963: South Vietnamese soldiers attack Buddhist monks in Hue with concentrated, liquid tear gas. 70 people are hospitalized.

UN reaction: NONE
US reaction: threat to reduce/withdraw support for ruling regime; subsequent reduction of financial support from the South Vietnamese ruling regime leads to a US-supported coup

1980-88: Iraq uses a variety of chemical weapons against Iran in their 8-year war.

UN reaction: condemnation, investigation(s)
US reaction: no public reaction; privately allegedly supports the use of chemical weapons against Iran – this support is partially confirmed by recently declassified CIA documents. The CIA is also suspected of actively suppressing information & hindering UN investigators

16 March 1988: Iraq massacres Kurds in Halabja, killing up to 5,000 people & injuring up to 10,000 immediately. While there’s no official confirmation, from eyewitness accounts, it is believed the attack used mustard, sarin, tabun & VX gasses, as well as hydrogen cyanide, delivered by artillery, rockets & bombs.

UN reaction: NONE
US reaction: accuses Iran of perpetrating the attack

March-April 1991: Iraq uses chemical weapons of an undetermined nature, most likely mustard gas, against a combined Shia/Kurd uprising. Numbers of dead & wounded are not known but are estimated as being near 100,000. US forces in the region informally (and unofficially) confirm use of chemical weapons.

UN reaction: after investigation, denies chemical weapons were used
US reaction: President Bush issues stern warning
Delayed reaction, 2008: “Chemical” Ali Hassan al-Majid gets a 2nd death sentence for his participation in chemical weapon use against civilians, including this event.

15 May 2007: Terrorists set off a chlorine gas bomb in Abu Sayda, Iraq, killing about 50 people & wounding about another 50.

UN reaction: NONE
US reaction: denies use of chlorine in attack

21 August 2013: Syrian gov’t uses sarin gas, a potent nerve agent, in a rocket attack against rebels near Damascus. 1,400 are reported dead, including several hundred children.

UN reaction: investigation, report not issued yet; UN officials say report will only determine IF chemical weapons were used, not who was responsible for their use
US reaction: calls for attacks against the ruling regime

What lesson can we learn from this?

When chemical weapons are used in a way that furthers US interests, it’s fine. If not, well, obviously we must bomb them.

The Americans I’ve talked to in the last week overwhelmingly do not support US military intervention in Syria, chemical weapon use or not. They say almost the same thing: “Aren’t we already fighting 2 wars?”  The ones that support US intervention also say nearly the same thing: “Assad must be punished for using chemical weapons.” Where was this desire for justice or punishment when it was Saddam Hussein killing Kurds & Iranians?  Nobody seemed to give a shit back then.

I find it very interesting that the same politicians (Obama, Pelosi, Kerry, Schakowsky) who not only opposed the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan but also contributed mightily to the budgetary clusterfuck that led to sequestration are the ones supporting the idea that we spend even more money & possibly more American lives by getting militarily involved in Syria.

We barely have enough money to run this country, but the president wants to start dumping a shitload of money into a THIRD war?

I’ve supported President Obama on some of the things he’s tried to accomplish in his time as our nation’s leader, but I’ve got to draw a red line on sending our troops after Syria. It might start with smart bombs and cruise missiles, but it’s not beyond the realm of imagination that those things can easily be followed by enforcing no-fly zones, advisors & later, troops on the ground.  It’s happened before.

I also find it very interesting & more than a little suspicious that many of the celebrities that have been quite outspoken against the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan haven’t said a goddam word about the prospect of war in Syria. I’m talking about Martin Sheen, Danny Glover, Madonna, Sean Penn, Martin Scorsese, Dustin Hoffman, George Clooney, Janeane Garofalo, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Tim Robbins, Andy Serkis, Kim Basinger, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman, Samuel L Jackson, Richard Gere, Jessica Lange, Natalie Maines, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen & more. They raised a hue & cry about going to war in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they’re keeping their mouths shut about going to war in Syria.

Maybe, like many Americans, they’re just sick & fucking tired of talking about war.

get in there and hurt somebody

I was just looking through a list of wars the US has been actively involved in, dating back to the 1st shots of the American Revolution in 1774. In those 239 years, we’ve been at war somewhere here or there for 176 years, including dozens of wars against native American Indian tribes throughout most of the 1800s. Even during the devastating Civil War, the US Army kept fighting the Indians.

I wonder what the stats are for other countries in their 1st 240 years of existence, or even the last 240 years of their existence.

Looking at the wars fought by the Roman Republic in the 239 years between 351*-112 BC, Rome was at war for a total of 99 years. In the last 239 years of the Roman Empire (155-394** AD), Rome was in an active state of war (or civil war) for 115 years. I think we can all agree that Rome certainly meddled in the affairs of the nations/tribes surrounding it, so, like the USA, there was certainly military action going on in other years, but I’m talking about active, publicly declared wars of some sort.

To recap: USA is 239 years old & has been at war for 176 of them. The beginning & ending 239 years of the Roman Republic/Empire, Rome was at war for 99/115 years respectively.

I suppose you can balance that out by looking at Napoleon, who reigned for 19 years (1796-1815, 1st as a member of the Directory & later as Emperor) & was only not at war during 1803, 1810-11 & during his exile on Elba from May 1814 to February 1815 – let’s call that 1 year. During 19 years of rule, then, Napoleon was actively at war with somebody for 15 years. That’s a mighty percentage.

What, exactly, is my point?  I don’t know, exactly, except to say that for the first time in a long time, I think it’s time that the US stop dropping bombs on the people of some other nation simply because we don’t like what they do to their own people. Yes, if it did indeed happen, it is reprehensible that Bashar al-Assad, the leader of Syria, used sarin gas on the rebels that have risen against him.

It was less than 100 years ago that many of the major civilized nations of the west – England, France, Germany, Austria, Russia and the United States – were using chemical weapons against each other with enthusiasm. Oh, it started innocently enough with tear gas, which police forces & militaries around the world continue to use to pacify crowds. It went on from there, though, to xylyl bromide, chlorine (produced by the German company BASF, which is still in manufacturing today), phosgene (invented by French scientists & responsible for most of the gas-related deaths in the war), a nifty blend of chlorine AND phosgene, and, of course, mustard gas, which wasn’t really meant to kill many people (and didn’t) but rather as a way to make the battlefield (or at least the enemy’s trenches) uninhabitable.

Chemical weapons, though universally recognized as horrific, remained in vogue in military circles worldwide throughout the 1920s, but haven’t really been used in large-scale combat since 1925, when most WW1 combatants (not the US, though) signed the first treaty banning the use of such weapons. The US didn’t sign the Geneva Protocol until the 1970s. Note that the GC only bans the USE of chemical weapons – not the creation or stockpiling of such weapons.  The last country to use chemical weapons during a war in a big way was Iraq, which used mustard & other gasses to kill or wound about 100,000 of Iran’s forces.

In between, of course, was Germany again, using Zyklon B to gas into oblivion millions of European Jews during WW2, but I think we can all agree that doesn’t really count as combat.

The USA is still the only nation in the world to have used the entire suite of NBC weapons – nuclear, biological & chemical – to kill its enemies. While our leaders have promised not to use chemical or biological weapons in the future, that doesn’t stop them from continuing to manufacture and stockpile them.  It takes a pretty sturdy soap box to support you in condemning any government from using chemical weapons when you yourself produce tons of them every year.

None of this makes it right for Assad to attack his own people with chemical weapons (if, indeed, he did) – but is it any more right for the US to drop bombs on Syria as “punishment” for his having done so?  My mother always told me that “two wrongs don’t make a right” (even though three lefts do), so I’m having a hard time reconciling that the USA is making plans to spank Syria for gassing its own people.

As many people have pointed out, the revolution in Syria has cost at least 100,000 lives so far. Why is the most recent 1,000 of them, though killed by sarin gas, the ones that finally “demand” action from anywhere else in the world?

I think it’s time for the US to stop acting like the world’s police force and stick to fixing things in its own back yard.  With an active war going on in Afghanistan (because, you know, previous wars involving Alexander the Great, the Mongols, the Mughals, the British & the Soviet Union all turned out so spectacularly) and another one in Iraq mostly winding down, is the US just so bored that it’s time to start another war that’s going to cost billions of dollars & possibly thousands of lives?  They SAY “no boots on the ground” now, but things hardly ever stay that way.

Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our health care costs are out of control. Our education system is in shambles.  Our leaders are corrupt.  Our businesses are robbing us blind.  Our borders are porous.  Our atmosphere is disintegrating.  Our power grid is being pushed to capacity.  We have 100s of 1000s of people in this country that are unemployed, hungry or homeless. How about instead of throwing expensive weapons at another nation, we dump some of that money into fixing problems here in the United States?

I think the underlying reason we don’t pay more attention to our own problems is because it’s easier to point the self-righteous finger of judgment at the actions and ideas of others than it is to examine the gaping holes in our own system.

* 351 BC saw the end of the war between the Roman Republic & the Tarquinii, Falerii & Caere – while it’s debatable as to when the Roman Republic can first be considered an empire, there is NO DOUBT that after 351 BC (the end of this 8-year war), the Romans were the dominant power in the region.

** 394 AD wasn’t the end-end of the Roman Empire, but with the end of the last of the real Roman Civil Wars in this year, it can easily be identified as a clear end-point for the Romans despite another 100+ years of the barbarian tribes of Europe, Asia Minor, the Middle East & Northern Africa picking apart the remnants of the empire.