Friday, December 22, 2006

Rocky Balboa

The iconic underdog is back, but more accurately, he never left. Nobody alive today does not relate to Rocky somewhere deep in their soul. If you feel that Rocky is not part of you, then you are not tapping into your feeling center.

Critics will point out that the acting is coarse, the storyline is strained, the scenes are contrived and the dialogue is hazardous (“You're a fighter, Rocky, so... fight.”) The gloomy cold cityscapes of Philadelphia and the gloomy sweaty gym scenes are preambled with forty-five minutes of Rocky gloomily pining at Adrian's grave and gloomily bemoaning his poor relationship with his estranged son.

Rocky Balboa's miasmatic gloom serves as the motif of everyman's reticent suffering. The struggles of our imperfect relationships, our waning motivation, our losses, our physical aging. All beings suffer, and Rocky shows us how.

The worst thing to do would be to cogitate too much about Rocky Balboa-- it's a gut movie, a feeling movie. Intellect is great when trying to solve foreign policy crises, but for the 100 minutes of watching Rocky, turn off the brain and let the heart (or as Rocky would say, “the basement”) take wing. Be a gut player. It's the right time to do it.

The nuts and bolts of the movie are as sinewy as Stallone's ageless biceps: Rocky's wistful devotion to his deceased wife, his concern for his son and family, and the compassion he shows to strangers and former rivals as well as an unkempt stray dog. These gritty themes are necessary to see and feel once in a while.

Rocky traverses the valley of fear and survives the dark night of a ten round battle against the heavyweight champion. “I feel better than I thought,” the bloodied Rocky says at one point during the fight. In the end, the broken and bruised Rocky is again redeemed, the perpetual archetype of salvation.

Polishing Rocky Balboa, the man or the movie, would certainly be ruinous. The infrastructure is pure unvarnished granite, and it's beauty never gets old.

Quiet Please, Terrorists at Work

Keeping tabs on the Iraq war takes its toll, both in time and in soul-sucking anguish. The events that currently take place on a daily basis, from Baghdad car-bombs to verbal dissembling by our leaders, rise to a higher level of outrage with each passing day. I lack the available hours as well as the fortitude to dwell on these issues, but I feel compelled to add a few thoughts.

I'll just give a sample of the bullshit we endure. From the Wall Street Journal:

U.S. military officials and diplomats want Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and other Gulf states to recognize Maliki government, send ambassadors to Baghdad and forgive more than $40 billion in Iraqi debt. Among Sunni states, only Egypt has sent an ambassador, and he was assassinated.

The problem: Most Arab states, an official says, “see the current government as…an Iranian stooge.”

How can Condi Rice approach the Arab world with a straight face and ask for their economic aid in Iraq? Condi lecturing Arab states to “do the right thing” is like The Donald judging whether some beauty queen bimbo would make a good role model for our teens. On a human level I am embarrassed for Rice, but as a citizen who pays her salary, I am frothing in disgust.

Or, how about this tidbit? Washington Post:

Bush, who has always said that the United States is headed for victory in Iraq, conceded yesterday what Gates, Powell and most Americans in polls have already concluded. "An interesting construct that General Pace uses is: We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said, referring to Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs chairman, who was spotted near the Oval Office before the interview. "There's been some very positive developments. . . . [But] obviously the real problem we face is the sectarian violence that needs to be dealt with."

Asked yesterday about his "absolutely, we're winning" comment at an Oct. 24 news conference, the president recast it as a prediction rather than an assessment. "Yes, that was an indication of my belief we're going to win," he said.

An interesting construct” indeed. Friends and family of mine who voted for Bush never mention their thoughts on the president these days. I have made a point to refrain from talking politics on any level just to see if the subject will be broached. It never is. No intellectual discussion of nascent democracy, no talk of “just war” theory, no long diatribes on our vulnerability to terror. The constant drone of death in our names quietly continues. Honestly, I long for those care-free days when the nominal conservatives had the time and energy to fill my email box with Clinton blow-job jokes and Hillary cartoons.

Where is the outrage? New York Times:

First there was the “mission accomplished” banner. Then, last year, there was a “plan for victory” and, just this past October, the presidential assertion, “Absolutely, we’re winning.” Now that President Bush is seeking “a new way forward” in Iraq, he is embracing a new verbal construction to describe progress there: “We’re not winning. We’re not losing.”

We're not winning. We're not losing?” Somebody actually said this? The president actually said this? The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs actually said this? I wasn't quite conscious during the lies of Vietnam, but I cannot imagine that BS being any deeper than what we hear today.

The sad part is that over 30% of the American people still believe Bush is doing a good job as president. I'm not sure Bush even believes that anymore. The other sad part is that previous Bush supporters have checked out. Their attention has been diverted away from the insoluble problem of Iraq and onto other fatuous concerns, like whether to buy a Wii or a Playstation, which plasma TV is the best, or whether the stock market is too risky to add capital.

These past 70 months, my confidence in our nation and our political system has been rocked. Never would I have imagined that a meathead like Bush would be elected twice, and then his supporters completely ignore the disaster that has become his presidency.

The question, and one I'll never get an adequate answer to, is why anybody would have voted for Bush/ Cheney in the first place, but especially in 2004 when it had become abundantly clear that Bush is a pernicious imbecile and that Cheney is a psychopath. What possible motivation would compel someone to vote for these guys? What policy was so important that they needed to spend four more years in office? What fear was so great that Al Gore or John Kerry, both decent honorable and intelligent men, weren't satisfactory candidates? The Supreme Court? Tax cuts? Abortion? Gay marriage? Gun rights? What?

My feeling is that anyone who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 may have been misguided, but anyone who voted for him 2004 did nothing less than commit "citizenship malpractice." They should think long and hard about why they cast their ballot; they should ask friends and families to help them work this through; they should perhaps seek counseling. Above all, anyone who voted for Bush in 2004 should refrain from casting any more ballots in any election for any office until they have figured out exactly how on earth they could have made such a huge blunder.

I'm not being too dramatic when I say that when I realize what my country has done in my name, it breaks my heart. No matter the stated intention-- to bring democracy, to save the Iraqis from Saddam, to protect us from WMD's and terrorism-- the Iraq war is a fool's errand perpetrated by a fool, a fool that we knowingly elected and re-elected. We are all responsible. We are all murderers. We are all incompetent. Blaming Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice is the easy way out; we all should have known better. Democrats should have been more skeptical, the media should have been more questioning, opponents should have been more vocal, I should have been more eloquent in my castigation.

The days that my blog remains empty are not to be construed as days that my conscience is not troubled by the virulence inflicted by my country. My heart aches daily.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Jimmy unleashes the fury

The newest book to land on the nightstand is former President Carter's Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his review and assessment of the Arab-Israel conflict beginning with his tenure up to the present day. I have perused the introduction but have not made much headway through the tome.

In today's Washington Post, Kenneth W. Stein, a professor at Emory University and former Carter Center scholar, offers the expected rebuke of Carter's conclusion about the occupation of Palestinian land by armed Israelis. Carter maintains that such occupation, a term that even Ariel Sharon has used, is not only counter-productive but unlawful. Stein voices the usual concerns about Israeli security, only he peppers his opinion with uncorroborated accusations about Carter's ethics and motivations. Criticism of Israel always demands a hefty toll and requires a thick skin.

The United Nation Security Council has issued no less than 65 resolutions, most of which have been been vetoed with the US' and Israel's sole dissenting votes, that take issue with Israel's handling of Palestine. To be sure, Palestinian leadership has been lacking, but their job has been made more impossible by the increasing bloodshed and economic strife these past six years. Material support of Mahmoud Abbas may do wonders for increasing Arab support of US interests elsewhere in the region.

We hear little of the US' role in the Levant these days, other than our Secretary of State cheering on the Israeli Army's push through southern Lebanon with some twisted reasoning that Iran backing Hezbollah somehow justifies the US' proxy military killing hundreds and displacing thousands of civilians and destroying a billion dollars worth of property. Other than that, we hear no serious movement, only passing presidential rhetoric, towards a two-state solution in Palestine and Israel.

Does this have relevance? You bet. No less pertinent body than the Iraq Study Group has re-iterated moderate Arab pleas for more positive intervention by the US to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. All rational quarters know that without peace and justice in Israel, there will never be hope for peace anywhere in the Arab or Persian spheres, and the geopolitical implications of an unstable southern Asia are indeed grave, to our economy and the welfare of the entire planet.

Predictable criticism will be forthcoming from Israel apologists who are concerned that justice in the Middle East is somehow zero-sum and who feel that any gains by the Palestinians will be at the expense of Israel's safety. Carter will certainly be vilified for his recent historical polemic, as he was as president for engaging the Palestinians and recognizing that severe injustices have been thrust upon them over the past 60 years. Carter's voice is a welcome respite from the inanities coming out of Washington these past six years, and arguably, it is in lockstep with the realist surmise of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

I'll finish Carter's tome one of these days in the not too distant future, and unfortunately I can wait because it's relevance is unlikely to wane anytime soon. I'm sure Carter suffers no delusion that he possesses the Rosetta stone to Middle East peace, but he certainly recognizes that stemming violence is always the first step to approaching reconciliation. Let's take the first step.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

BREAKING: Iraq is a mess

Well, the much awaited Iraq Study Group Report has come out. Seventy-nine recommendations for the president and congress.

“The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating.”- ISG Report, 2006

The conclusion of the ISG, as well as the newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is that the Bush policy has been a failure. No kidding.

I have one favor to ask. Can someone please explain to me what the point of electing Bush was?

Every single optimistic comment the president made these last two years has been shown to be pure bullshit.

I have to agree with Pat Buchanan that “the entire establishment of the federal government has failed this nation, just as they did in Vietnam.” The ISG recommendations are flawed because they 1) are too numerous to institute in a timely fashion and 2) are often unrealistic, such as expecting that a ragtag group of Iraqi police will be able to quell violence that the US military can't.

I agree with Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) who noted that the ISG is flawed because not one of the members of the group were opponents of the Iraq war from the beginning.

I agree with President Bush that there is "no easy exit." It may not be easy, but we do need to exit. It's useless to review all the "what ifs" of securing borders, training Iraqis, preventing looting, refraining from torture... We lost.

Whether we stay or go, we are screwed, and our allies will be killed. We can't stay because we are losing. We can't pull out because we'll leave chaos and even more death and destruction. We can't increase our troop numbers because we don't have enough soldiers, and even if we did, we don't have an endpoint.

“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” -- John Kerry, 1972.

It took 10 people from both parties a total of 8 months and over 200 interviews of generals, congresscritters and strategists to figure this out? Some of us knew this years ago.

Bush is a failure.

But then, Bush has been a failure his entire life, so who would expect something different this time?

Shame on Bush. Shame on anyone who voted for him-- you should have known better.