Archives for December 2015

Conservatism’s Weird Blind Spot

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Watching the fifth Republican debate the other night, as the nine candidates — six of whom were all wearing the exact same suit, shirt, and tie, incidentally — accused each other of being insufficiently resolute about carpetbombing ISIS, killing ISIS’ friends and families, toppling Syria’s government, shoring up the failed Iraqi government, and abandoning diplomatic efforts with Iran, something struck me kind of funny.

I happen to know more than a few die-hard Republican voters, by virtue of having been born into a gun-loving Midwestern family, and that being the case, I try a little harder than a lot of my left-leaning friends to understand exactly what makes someone vote for a party that seems to be so diametrically opposed from my own beliefs. A lot of lefty types like to point the finger and assume that a Republican voter hates gays, hates women, hates minorities, hates the poor, and above all hates doing anything to assist any of the above.

While I’m sure that there are segments of the GOP electorate that fit that description, the Republicans I know don’t care about abortion or gay marriage or affirmative action. They don’t hate minorities and aren’t particularly hostile to the notion of helping those in need.

What they are is deeply, deeply skeptical of the ability of the government to successfully run a program like, say, food stamps without huge inefficiency, huge fraud, and huge waste of taxpayer dollars.  To some extent, this kind of cynicism is warranted; it doesn’t take more than a visit to the post office or the DMV to see where they’re coming from. During his unsuccessful 1976 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan was fod of telling the story of a woman in Chicago who was living on food stamps and driving a Cadillac, and the legend of the Welfare Queen — the symbol of the inefficiency and waste and fraud that inevitably follows any kind of effort to help the less fortunate — was born and persists to this day.

I can’t say I agree with this point of view, but at least there is a little bit of logic behind it. Cynicism about the effectiveness of large institutions is easier to understand than just cold-hearted indifference to the plight of your fellow man. And the people who feel this way are remarkably consistent in applying the same logic to nearly any spending initiative, no matter how well intentioned, that the government might propose: food stamps, healthcare, early education, higher education, gun control, you name it.

Which is why I find it so strange that this cynicism seems to evaporate like the morning dew any time the conversation turns to military adventure.

Nothing could be a bigger, more difficult endeavor with more moving parts or opportunities for failure than taking over another country, or removing a foreign leader, or swinging an election. It requires, above all, solid, reliable intelligence: the exact locations of enemy leaders, insight into their plans and strategies, accurate accounting of their weapons and assets. And yet despite the fact that the Unites States has an absolutely miserable track record in this area, starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor and including virtually every foreign military effort we have conducted since then. Either through corruption or plain old incompetence, nearly everything we have done overseas has either failed or made things demonstrably worse. Korea, Iran (’53), Cuba, Vietnam, Iran (’79), Afghanistan (’79), Grenada, Nicaragua, Iran-Contra, Iraq (’91), Afghanistan (’01), Iraq (’03)… failure after bungle after failure. (For far, far, far more depth and detail on each and every one of these debacles, I highly recommend Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes,” a comprehensive history of the CIA from its post-WWII formation up to 2005.)

So one story about a “welfare queen” means that government efforts to ease the burden on the less fortunate are so manifestly doomed to fail as to be not even worth attempting, but decades of abject failure abroad just means we need to throw more blood and more treasure at the problem.

Understand, I am not saying that ISIS is not a problem that needs to be solved by the military. I am not suggesting that we stick our head in the sand and just hope it all goes away. If our ratio of intelligence failures to successes was a little better than 20-to-1 over the last 50 years, I would be right there with all these Republicans urging Obama to dump 500,000 troops in there and get it sorted out before the start of Spring Training.

But it is not that black and white. You need to speak the language, you need to know the culture, you need to understand the history, you need reliable intelligence sources if you want to go into another country; if you don’t, you’ll only make it worse.

For example, during the debate, Ted Cruz promised to carpetbomb Raqqa, the city that ISIS has taken as its home base. When Wolf Blitzer pointed out that Raqqa is 90% civilians, unaffiliated with ISIS or terrorism, Cruz blithely promised that his carpetbombing campaign would kill only “the right people,” either unaware or unconcerned that the very definition of “carpetbombing” is to drop bombs all over, without regard to casualties. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that when you bomb a city where 90% of the people are civilians, 90% of the casualties are going to be civilians, and you are going to create as many or more new terrorists as you just killed.

I would hope that any commander-in-chief would follow the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm — in this case, do no harm to the delicate balance of power. Obama gets this, which is why although he has already ordered 9,000 airstrikes on ISIS targets, he is holding back on committing ground troops or toppling any foreign leaders. He’s showing that he understands the limits of our government’s power. I think they used to call that kind of thinking “conservative.”

The 2015 EnoughAlready Holiday Gift Guide!

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Call it weariness, call it lack of preparation, call it plain old laziness, but I have had an unusually difficult time getting my head into the Christmas game this year. In years past I have prided myself on how thoughtfully and, as importantly, how efficiently I plan and execute my Christmas shopping, but this year is different.

I won’t get into it, but I’ve had a lot going on and a lot on my mind the last few months. It’s been very difficult to focus on buying gifts. Normally what I like to do is think about each member of my family — my wife, my son, my brother and his wife and two kids, and my mom and dad — and think of something they would like. I’m proud that I have rarely had to resort to googling “gift ideas for dad” in order to come up with something thoughtful. But this year I’ve had some trouble getting the engine to turn over, and I had to search for outside inspiration to come up with great gifts.

The good news is, I pretty much nailed it. So if you’re in a similar quandary, having a hard time getting your head in the game, here are a few suggestions for great Christmas gifts for the people in your life that I found:

For the Perfect Wife: NFL Team Logo Wine Shoes

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Add a touch of class to your Sundays! Everyone knows wine is the classiest of all ways to get hammered, and everyone knows that high heels are the classiest shoes. There’s no classier place to keep your wine than in your shoe — everybody knows that. The NFL logo of your choice, embossed in leather and adorned with rare North Georgia Rhinestones® is just the cherry on the classy sundae! ($57.99)

For the ’90s Hip Hop Fan Who Has Everything: The Wu-Tang Clan, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin

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In a move as original and uncompromising as it was dumb and pointless, the Wu-Tang Clan reunited in 2014 to record their long-awaited reunion album, but then announced that only one copy would be created, and that copy would cost $2 million. So if someone you love likes Wu-Tang and you have $2 million dollars and a totally deranged sense of priorities, this is the kind of gift that really makes a statement. Oh wait, that asshole that jacked the price of AIDS drugs 2,000,000 percent already bought it. Although, there is a chance he won’t have it for long. ($2 million)

For the Fine-Motor-Skill-Impaired: Self-Twirling Spaghetti Fork

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We all have that person in the family who can’t seem to twirl their spaghetti without dropping the fork on the edge of their plate. (Full disclosure: Growing up, I was that person.) It makes an awful sound and the merciless teasing that fork-droppers suffer at the hands of their immediate families can scar them for decades, I bet. Spare everyone the therapy bills and get the Self-Twirling Spaghetti Fork; 100% twirling fun guaranteed!* ($9.95; 2 AA batteries not included.)

For the Untrustworthy Strumpet: GPS Lingerie

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Saddled with the kind of woman that refuses to tell you exactly what she’s doing and who she’s with every second of every day? Let her know you care a little too much with a fun, flirty lingerie set with red detailing and a mock negligée with a fully functioning GPS unit. It’s the gift that keeps on giving… her exact coordinates. ($800)

For the Good Guy With A Gun: Gun and Target Recordable Alarm Clock

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We all know the day is coming when we’ll all have to be ready to wake up shooting, and the Gun and Target Recordable Alarm Clock is a great way to prepare for that inevitable, eagerly awaited breakdown of society. Wake to whatever sound you choose to record into the target — maybe a frenzied cry of “Jihad,” the faint sound of your China cabinet being ransacked, or just the local NPR station — and fire a shot into the bullseye to turn off the alarm. The gun has recoil and sound effects for extra realism, as well as an option to play the anguished cries of an accidentally wounded family member when your shots go astray, to keep you vigilant. ($20.47)

For your creepy Uncle/Cousin/Nephew/Son/Father/Husband: The Fleshlight Lanchpad

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to hold your iPad and be intimate with yourself at the same time, right? Well, the geniuses at Fleshlight — the same people who invented the flashlight that feels like a lady — have solved that problem by making it possible to live the best of all possible worlds and just be intimate with your iPad! ($24.95, fake ladypart sold seperately)

For Everyone Reading This And Everyone In Your Immediate and Extended Families: “Relatively Merry” iTunes single

I mean, come on. It’s a dollar. Not even a dollar. You don’t have a dollar? You have a dollar. Buy the song on iTunes, willya? ($0.99)

Merry Christmas!

*Not guaranteed

Terrorism-ism

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In what’s fast becoming a more terrifying holiday tradition than the Elf on the Shelf, we rang in the Christmas season with a mass shooting — this one at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs — and then another at a holiday party in a social services facility in San Bernardino. It would be crazy at this point to say with any confidence that there won’t be another, or two or three or four, before the ball drops.

These came just two weeks after a coordinated massacre in Paris, in which three teams of ISIS assholes killed 128 people and wounded hundreds more.

Over the last, I don’t know, half dozen? of these incidents, we seem to have added a new wrinkle to our well-rehearsed post-shooting routine: after we offer thoughts and prayers, and before we start the next go-round of the endless, pointless debate over gun laws that to date has changed exactly zero minds ever, we start to speculate over whether the latest wholesale slaughter was or was not “terrorism.”

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