Bugs Hurtling Through Space
I had a great weekend. I visited a friend’s farm in the Central Valley, think “farmland” and “flatter than piss on a plate” and you have a good idea of the local terrain. My friend has a little observation deck atop his pool house, and I climb up there with my cup of coffee just before the sun rises. To the east the Sierras are just a hint on the horizon, to the west is the Berryessa Gap, but it’s about 15 miles away. Not a cloud in the sky, the horizon completely pink everywhere (the Belt of Venus as it is called) and to the west the big dark smudge on the horizon was still visible, the Earth’s shadow.
I just stood there for awhile and soaked it all in, I just love stuff like this. In the city it’s hard to find vantages where one can actually see that we are just tiny bugs riding a big sphere careening through the heavens. It’s not that it’s pretty, it’s that it’s so real that it almost hurts to look at. It makes me feel alive and rejuvenated, but even that’s not the half of it. That’s me, 50 years old, and standing on a cold windy tower at 6 AM to watch the sky still fills me with wonder. Granted the typical female response to this is usually something along the lines of “Are you insane? Get back in bed.” Which may explain why I don’t get many dates.
Anyhow, back to reality. Lots of news this week, most of it not good. There’s an election campaign going on in the US. And an appalling one at that, only two of the candidates appear to have even a shred of personal integrity, that would be Kucinich and Ron Paul. The rest appear to be corporate shills, religious extremists, or dyed-in-the-wool politicians. The campaign consists of mudslinging and posturing, little mention (if any) is actually made of the issues. In fact most of the candidates involved have gone to great lengths to avoid having any firm opinions on the issues facing America, which bodes ill for the country. What happens in an election if both sides run an unwinnable candidate? Stay tuned.
There’s been some unfortunate shooting incidents in the USA. Aside from expressing my sorrow for the victims and their families there’s not much else to say. The causes of these sorts of things are complex. Mix poor public mental health services, easy availability of guns, and a media culture condoning violent revenge with a few hundred million people and the occasional twig is going to snap. I think it’s a shame that the name and images of these shooters get published in the media, that’s the one thing I think would make these less frequent, since so many of them are indeed seeking fame and notoriety. They do succeed, even though I don’t see the appeal of having the world know what a pathetic loser you are. Another thought is that we should encourage people who are consdering the murder-suicide route to do the suicide part first. From their perspective the end result is the same, and saves the rest of us a lot of fuss and bother. I know, I’m an idealist.
Speaking of suicidal fuss and bother, here’s a lovely little article on the history of nation building. Basically in the last 150 years the USA and Britain have invaded 51 nations in an effort to establish democracy. In only 14 cases has the effort worked, a 27% “success” rate. Call me a pessimist, but going to war when the chances of winning is less than one in three strikes me as pretty insane. And this also shows that the idea that we can democratize the world by force is at best hopelessly optimistic. Especially when the success rate in some parts of the world has been zero. Iraq was invaded and occupied twice before this century, and nothing resembling an enduring democracy emerged from the ruins either time.
In Afghanistan the seizure of a town in central Afghanistan from Taliban forces is hailed as a major victory. In reality this is either meaningless, or worse. The Taliban do not need to hold towns to win, they just need to stay alive to fight again another day. Which is why they simply slipped away when NATO arrived. Now NATO has to dig in and defend a remote town in the middle of nowhere, which may have been the Taliban’s plan all along. Unfortunately, in counterinsurgency warfare, the insurgents always move first. That is to say, the insurgents are almost the ones choosing when and where to fight, what the occupier is doing is usually of little consequent to them, since they are not tied to bases and cities.
This is why when insurgent violence drops in a region, it is usually because the insurgents are regrouping for a future attack. In fact when insurgent violence drops in a region, it is often a bad sign since it means the insurgents are so confident that things are going their way that they can let up the pressure and strike when the conditions are ripe. And yes, I’m not talking about Afghanistan here.
Have a great week everything. Coming up: blogs on Lincoln and how to do your Christmas shopping in under 15 minutes.
(The above image is pretty much the same as the one from the tower above, but it was drawn in 1879 by Emanuel Wyttenbach. Thus it is public domain under US copyright law. I am claiming it as Fair Use here since I am using just a small portion of the original image, it is not being used for profit, and it is central to illustrating the post. The original and complete image can be seen at the fine Davis Rumsey Map Collection.)