Response from the Postcards to the Legislators

It's been almost exactly a year since I posted about sending postcards to the legislators. To briefly recap, I sent a postcard to every member of the House of Representatives, the Senate, to the President, Vice President, Governor of New York, and to my New York Assemblymember and Senator that said simply, "Killing people is always wrong."

Well in that time I got exactly one response: from Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky. He responded to my letter "regarding intervention by the United States in conflicts across the globe." He goes on to write about what I interpret as a largely isolationist policy. You can read the whole thing here. I'm mixed on my agreement with his policies: I agree with him in his strong belief in personal freedom and liberty, but I disagree with his fierce belief in the dog-eat-dog Capitalism.

My opposition to killing led me to attend a War Tax Resistance Workshop at the Flying Squirrel on February 7. There is a National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) which advises four methods of war tax resistance: file and refuse to pay your taxes, don't file your taxes, earn less than taxable income, or resist the local telephone excise tax. All the methods advised are forms of civil disobedience in that they are all illegal. While I support those methods entirely, at this time, I didn't feel willing to put everything at risk.

So as a workaround, I decided to donate the percentage of my income for active war—27%—to organizations that accept tax-deductible donations (The War Resisters League cites that 27% of taxes collected go to active wars and another 20% goes to pay for past wars). I mentioned this to my accountant who found it legal (some deductible donations are limited to 30% of income, and most are limited to 50%).

One of the ways war tax resisters use their civil disobedience is by keeping all their actions public. To reflect that, I'll try to make updates throughout the year, and certainly do at least one summary each year.

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Postcards for the Legislators

After the previous fiasco with trying to slow the juggernaut of war, I decided to go with a simpler message. A much simpler message.

I decided I'd simply say, "killing people is always wrong."

And then I decided I'd put the message on postcards to every member of the House of Representatives, the Senate, to the President, Vice President, Governor of New York, and to my New York Assemblymember and Senator.

So I went to the Post Office website and found four-up sheets of postcards preprinted with "Forever" postage — pretty much the cheapest option for a physical letter with each postcard costing barely more than postage. I figured fourteen 10-packs would be enough to have a few spare after printing up all 540 I'd need. I set up a mail-merge in OpenOffice (which is annoyingly difficult but I did get it to work.) (I made the template 4x normal size then printed it four-up to fit the postcard pages.) I collected the names and addresses from various government websites and made a spreadsheet (here's a tab-separated file that includes the vacancies in the House notated pretty well). Then I made a PDF and went back several times to fix errors before performing the final four-up output.

Then the fun began. It took a couple hours to split the sheets into individual postcards, and then another hour to sign each one in a 5-inch-tall stack. I did find two errors that I had to correct.

I could have simply sent a mass e-mail, but in the end I found it rather rewarding to read every person's name. Just people … like a graduation roster or a phone book … and me sending a thought to each one of them.

I don't know if my message will be read as I intend it, but I know for sure that by doing nothing and saying nothing, that nothing will change.

(If you want to follow progress of this, I set up a tag that's an acronym for the central message: KPiAW which I'll tag on any posts detailing any response I get.)

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A Picture from Gaza

Children killed by bombing in Gaza.

I have been haunted by this image of dead children. It appeared on Facebook on November 19. This site identifies them all as members of the Dalou family, killed in Gaza by Israeli bombs. Maybe the man to the left is their father. But whether these specific facts are absolutely true is not as important as believing that bombs kill people, and sometimes children.

What can an attacker say to that? "Oops"? This is not a natural disaster. It is not an accident. It is a direct action of human beings. People make guns and bombs to kill other people. People organize wars. People pull triggers. People kill people.

This is direct, purposeful action, and that makes me sick.

People working for peace are often accused of being foolishly idealistic. But isn't it more foolish to think that killing people is a step toward a greater good? Whether a child is killed or an adult man is killed doesn't matter: killing is wrong. Whether it's people flying a plane into a building or shooting a man and dumping him in the sea: killing is wrong.

Period.

The image also gave me perspective. I got to see what it looks like for a country to attack another country and kill people. This is what it looks like to others when America does that. And we do it often. Far too often.

But what to do about it? I pay taxes which predominantly fund military spending which cause the killing. It overwhelmingly pains my heart to be party to it, and someday I'll have the courage to not pay taxes because of that.

Until that day, I was going to try and get the War Powers Resolution of 1973 and all laws like it repealed, but after a discussion with a friend, I realize that's not the problem for it formalizes limits on Presidential power to run the military. United States military action has been a disaster worldwide with the virtually unchecked use of American killing power.

War is morally bankrupt, violently socially divisive, ecological disastrous, and economically destructive. We need to stop our country from engaging in this any longer.

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Paul Chappell at the Interfaith Chapel

I was inspired to see what Captain Paul K. Chappell will discuss had to say in a discussion titled Why Peace is Possible and How We Can Achieve It. I heard rumors that — as a graduate of West Point and having served in the army — he had concluded that it was possible to redirect the efforts of the U.S. military toward true peacekeeping rather than the delusion of using war. He spoke at The Interfaith Chapel at the University of Rochester (Wilson Blvd.) and the lecture was recorded by C-SPAN. (If I hear about a link to the recording I'll note it here.) I was quite inspired indeed.

Chappell grew up being taught that world peace is a "naïve idea". Central to the argument is that human beings are naturally violent. But is that true?

According to him, the greatest problem of every army is getting soldiers to be willing to die, and it's even hard to get people to fight. An effective technique is to instill the notion of a "band of brothers" so everything becomes self-defense. For instance, West Point teaches to treat your fellow soldiers as your family.

Second, no war has ever been fought for money or oil — at least not officially. In fact, people desire peace so much that every leader claims to be "fighting for peace". War is traumatizing because people are naturally peaceful.

An army study conducted in World War II (specifically Combat Neuroses: Development of Combat Exhaustion by Roy L. Swank, M.D.; Walter E. Marchand, M.D.) showed that after 60 days of sustained day and night combat, 98% of soldiers become psychiatric casualties (the 2% that can go on indefinitely already aggressive sociopaths).

Chappell spoke about how reading On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society gave him new hope for peace. Like other animals, humans have an innate aversion to killing one's own kind. All of military history supports this and uses three techniques to thwart this instinct:

  1. Create psychological distance such as derogatory name-calling — everything from "barbarian" (which comes from Greek interpretation of foreign language sounding like "bar bar bar") to a more subtle term like "illegal alien".
  2. Create a moral distance by declaring your enemy to be evil.
  3. Create mechanical distance (physical distance). For instance, the Nazis switched to gas chambers because shooting was too traumatic for the soldiers — they were protecting the executioner from psychological damage.

Chappell asks, "why would this be necessary if humans were naturally violent? If we are not naturally violent, why is there so much war?"

We're told we need war to stop war, violence to stop violence violence. Most soldiers want peace but that is not the means they are taught to use.

Chappell notes that at West Point he learned that the nature of war is drastically changing. It's now about "winning hearts and changing minds". This leads most directly from media coverage, since "collateral damage" is no longer acceptable: you can't kill any civilians. Yet, historically, the most people killed in past war were civilians.

So how do you win hearts and change minds? The masters of this were peaceful like Ghandi: someone able to transform an enemy into a friend; someone actively waging peace. This includes peace marches such as were used for civil rights or for attaining voting rights. (From Chappell's example, consider that prior to the 1830's, only a small percentage of tax paying people could actually vote, and it was through peaceful protest that we now take for granted that "no taxation without representation" is the bedrock of our country.) These peace movements of our country should be taught in schools as being at least as important as the wars.

Waging war or waging peace share many needs: people, strategy, unity, tactics, and winning hearts and changing minds. However, Chappell points out that there are tremendous differences as well:

  • Peace has truth on its side, war has myth.
  • War is about killing people versus peace which is about making a friend.
  • All war is based on deception. (He pointed out that in all cultures, the fundamental behavior of the "devil" is that of a deceiver.)
  • The people who perpetuate war control lots of wealth and power — just as the enemies of the civil rights did.

So what does being "pro-military but against war" look like? Well, pretty much like Star Trek in a lot of ways. For instance, what if the army was chartered with disaster relief and we had the worldwide reputation of arriving to help then leaving?

Chappell said that Eisenhower was the first to ask why the Middle East dislikes the U.S. He found it was because our policies block democracy and instead support or install dictatorships — they are angry that we don't live up to our ideals. As such, we need to hold our politicians accountable to change foreign policy so it is in line with the ideals we profess.

Chappell concluded by saying that war is not inevitable, and world peace is possible. Consider that 200 years ago, the only democracy in the world was America and even it was only fractionally so. And we don't need to convince everyone — for instance, the Civil Rights movement succeeded with only 1% of the population actively participating.

During the question-and-answer, some evocative questions were asked.

First off, can the world be united? Chappell noted that in the United States, we have moved from state-identity to national-identity. And consider Europe: can you imagine Germany declaring war on France today? This progress can be expanded to all nations.

I asked about how, prior to the Iraq war, 250,000 people marched to protest it yet it happened anyway, so is protesting dead? He said that people romanticized the past: while the Vietnam War was being debated, it was not uncommon for students to try and attack peace protesters. To my specific example, he said that the government learned how to defuse protest from what happened in Vietnam: to avoid risk of a draft, they censor the media by embedding journalists in military units, privatize the military, and by propagandizing "if you don't support the war you don't support the troops". As such, protest needs to evolve too.

In a later question, Chappell was asked what techniques should we use? He said we have lost our way to positive change. Consider how the Tea Party movement called attention to issues that were the same everyone cares about, but liberals were too busy calling them stupid. Remember to never demonize your opponent: identify with your opponent. In many cases the problem will boil down to hatred and ignorance. Remember that the government retains control of people by dividing them. So start with common ground and don't reinforce divisiveness.

In another question, someone asked, given that peace is an active task, what would non-violent passion look like? Chappell said it's easy today to isolate yourself today in peer groups and reinforce demonization of others. To be passionate is to defeat ignorance and to defeat hatred.

Another question had to do with conscientious objection: that by paying taxes, we are actively participating in and supporting war. To that, he said we should focus on how war makes us less safe, and how preparation for war is economically destructive. Consider Eisenhower's "Cross of Iron" speech where, in the central argument against "the way of fear and force", and what would be the worst- and best-case scenarios, he says:

The worst is atomic war.

The best would be this: a life of perpetual fear and tension; a burden of arms draining the wealth and the labor of all peoples; a wasting of strength that defies the American system or the Soviet system or any system to achieve true abundance and happiness for the peoples of this earth.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms in not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Chappell echoed this, reiterating that our infrastructure is hurting because of war. He suggested we seek out the works of Douglas MacArthur and President Eisenhower as he had.

The concluding question asked if peace is based in truth, yet battle and conflict is a fact of nature, how can we be truthful? Chappell said the language of "waging peace" is accurate. We are trying to defeat ignorance and hatred, but the person is not the enemy. So ask yourself: how can I most effectively attack ignorance and hatred without hurting the person?

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Waltz With Bashir at The Little

Ali and I went to The Little (240 East Ave.) to catch a couple movies. She had read the book and wanted to see the film The Reader, and I've been meaning to catch Vals Im Bashir (Waltz With Bashir). They both started about the same time — although the shorter Waltz started 10 minutes earlier, so I got out some 45 minutes earlier. I headed to Spot Coffee (200 East Ave.) but couldn't figure out how to get on the Internets with their wireless Internet [assuming "Spot on WIFI" was the SSID of their network.]

Anyway, Waltz With Bashir is a rather interesting movie. It's an animated film about a man who had fought in Israel's war with Lebanon 20 years ago. He can't remember anything of his involvement in the war until one of the people he fought with reveals a recurring dream. The man then seeks others who fought in the war by his side to help him get his memories back — particularly about a massacre he has the most trouble remembering.

The scenes of war were particularly surreal. Not because of the unreal aspects of the animation, though, but from the insanity inherent in war itself: particularly those aspects that bridge peaceful life with war life. The soldiers are expected to behave a certain way, but their humanity draws their attention to commonplace things: sounds and silence for example, or the benign apathy of plants to politics, borders, and war.

I look at this whole war thing like I must be crazy. I mean, I can't see how it makes anything any better. It's a deliberate act of malice that changes the course of people's lives, justified in future retrospect that it will have been seen as unavoidable and written in history as a good thing by the victors.

So I see these films that portray war as this absurd exercise and it seems true through the rich approximation of emotions. But then I'll talk with some guy returning from Iraq and they all say it was such a rewarding experience. On the one hand I feel like my fellow fairly-trade-coffee-chewing aristocracy, proud of our nuanced and clearly superior understanding of war. Yet it's a much more filtered view than those who are actually at war.

Unassailable logic dictates that to really get an answer, I'd need to go to war myself. But aside from gaining more knowledge about the world, I otherwise find the idea, well, bad.

I think I might just leave this one unknown.

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Duck, You Sucker at the Dryden

I headed out to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Giù la testa (A Fistful of Dynamite, or Duck, You Sucker). According to Michael Neault in his introduction of the movie, Sergio Leone — after having made several movies celebrating political revolution — Duck, You Sucker takes a much more cynical view of it.  It also happens to be that there are no fewer than four versions of the film, and the one we got to see was presumed to be the "original" director's cut.

I immediate thought that as much as The Bridge on the River Kwai is a testament to the rational insanity of war, Duck, You Sucker shows war as a black comedy. In the film, John — a former Irish Republican Army explosives expert — gets paired up with Juan — a poor thief in Mexico. That is, despite John's best efforts to avoid it. And to avoid getting roped into another revolution … sort of … it seems that getting involved in revolution is more of an addictive habit than anything. Juan, in the mean time, is also trying to avoid getting into the revolution. But he accidentally keeps saving people and making terriffic progress for the revolutionaries.

As revolutions are, there are advances made by each side, making it seem like no progress is made on either front overall until perhaps, one of the parties involved just gets too tired of fighting — or forgets what the point was in the first place.

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Just War

I woke up in the middle of the night, and as often happens, the demons in my head took hold and won't let me get back to sleep. This time it's that I'm trying to reconcile killing someone for my own convenience.

The United States is at war with Iraq. What that means is that there are people sent by the U.S. who are encouraged by us to stay. There are a lot of people in Iraq, on the other hand, who want those people to leave. We sent our people there with all sorts of weapons so they can kill the people who want us to leave — and likewise, the people who want us to leave try to kill the people who we sent.

This will continue until our President shakes hands with somebody and people sign some papers and then the people we sent will come back home.

So switching to the concrete, there is someone in Iraq right now whose direct relative has been killed by an American. That is, there is someone whose brother, sister, father, mother, husband, wife, son, or daughter has been killed by an American.

There is no way anyone can convince me that this is a good thing.

The reason that person was killed is because the U.S. sent someone there who killed them. If that American were never there, then that person would not have been killed.

I pay my taxes and I will continue to do so. If I don't, I'll go to jail. My life will be disrupted in an unfavorable way, but there is pretty much no risk that I'll die if I don't pay.

However, those taxes have been used to fund the war. If I had not spent that money, perhaps there would be one person who didn't go to Iraq. And because they wouldn't have been there, then some person in Iraq wouldn't be dead tonight. And their living relative would not have to experience the unbearable loss of their kin.

That's the nature of the faulty logic of my sleepless mind.

However what keeps me from going back to sleep is that someone is dead — and more importantly that someone is being killed right now, and tomorrow it will happen again. And again and again.

Think about the person you love the most in the whole world right now.

Now bang: they're dead.

Somewhere there's a person who knew this was going to happen. What he did to stop it was to write a couple letters to people telling them he thought it would be a bad idea. But he also sent those people money — a lot of money — knowing full-well that they intended to use it to kill your loved-one. To be completely fair, that person would have his life disrupted — he'd go to jail if he didn't pay the money.

So on the one hand, you've got the corpse of your loved-one. And on the other, you've got someone who wasn't willing to spend a couple years in prison to stop it. Both are cases of lost years, but in one case it's the absolute remainder of one's life and in the other, a few years of my life.

I can't figure out the morality of the whole thing, but I sure feel terrible that someone's loved-one is dead because I didn't want to stop it.

Now maybe I can shrug and go back to sleep.

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Happy Birthday, Wanda June at the Dryden

The Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) showed Happy Birthday, Wanda June and Ali and I got to see it, despite the terrible road conditions getting there. It was a film based on a play by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. with a very theatrical feel, giving it a bizarre edge. It was funny and poignant, making the point that war is really quite pointless and that there really isn't any value in the "heroism" of fighting and killing. Oh, and how incredibly silly and dangerous the idea of "heaven" is.

The plot of the film follows a woman and her son. Her husband has been out-of-contact for 8 years on some kind of heroic journey — wars, killing animals and the like. She gets a college degree and begins to piece her own life together by courting two men: a pacifist doctor and a hero-worshiping vacuum cleaner salesman. Her husband makes a surprise return and tries to retain his brazen, hero's status.

The point, in a way, is to ask, "what the fuck is so heroic about killing?" It really resonated with me. I had been asking more-or-less the same question for a while. For instance, it's common knowledge that you thank soldiers for defending the country. But given our eternal conflict in Iraq, it's become … unsatisfying … for me to do so. When you fundamentally disagree with the idea of war in the first place, and then add on that further fighting is only inciting existing enemies and creating more then how can you thank someone for making America less safe? It gets to the point of patronizing — like thanking the neighborhood cat-murdering idiot for keeping your house safe from cat infestation.

In fact, it's more about fear. I feel compelled to thank a soldier for the sake of not getting in trouble, yet my opinion of the situation is so bad that I want to tell them, "stop fucking volunteering!!!!" [With extra exclamation points, even.] Please.

And what scares me more is people who believe in an afterlife — especially those who think it's the promised land of 57 varieties of virgins. And before you think I'm bashing Islam alone, ask a Christian how much they're looking forward to meeting Jesus and how lucky people are whose miserable earthly existence is cut short. It's really quite scary. I really would like it if people believed like I did: that we get one shot at life and that we should make the best of it and help everyone else to make the best of theirs too.

But that makes me some kind of Godless monster, right? I mean, true evil in the world comes from the Others — the people who don't read the Bible and don't go to church and don't hate gays and don't believe women are just baby incubators.

Sorry … I digress …

The response from war hawks is always the same: "your pacifist beliefs are all well and good, but what happens when someone sticks a gun in your face?" Well then the rules change, don't they? If you believe in the value of life — especially that you only get one go around — then you'd better believe I'm going to try and avoid kisses from bullets rushing to show me the love.

The trick is this: "peace first". Or, if you must, "war last".

In other words, if you come upon people who say, "we hate America," figure out why first. At present, the only reaction is to blow the fuck out of them. You see, we can talk and understand and resolve for a long time — even have an ebb and flow about the whole thing — but you can't un-blow the fuck out of someone. So save that for last.

Then the response from the hawks and jingoists is, "what about 9/11?" Oh yeah — what about that? We need to get "them", right? And who are "they"? Why Osama bin Laden of course. Haven't heard that name in a while, have you? Of course not: if you watch 9/11 Press for Truth or read The Complete 911 Timeline or the related book, The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11—and America's Response, you'll find that the Bushies carefully herded bin Laden to safety in Pakistan.

You've been had, America.  Wake up!

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The Death of Hope

I started thinking about how it's the start of 2008 and what I can be hopeful for. And by "hope", I'm referring to a "belief that things will be better in the future". Not necessarily a specific time period, but I guess "in my lifetime" or "reasonably soon". Something like that.

I watched this video on YouTube called How It All Ends by a high-school science teacher named Greg. In it he outlines the response to the possibility of global warming in terms of risk-assessment. Either global warming is happening and caused by us, or it isn't, and either we do something about it or do nothing. His argument is that there are two positive outcomes: we do nothing and the threat of global warming was false, or we do something and it was true but we fix it. However, if we do something and global warming wasn't happening then — the worst case — is that we have a large economic hit; if we do nothing and global warming is happening, then — the worst case again — is that there are floods, droughts, and famines on a scale humanity has never seen. His bet, therefore, is to just take the economic hit and not worry about it.

But remember the last "catastrophic event" that was to happen?: the Y2K bug. And what happened? Nothing. And why? Because we took the economic hit of fixing everything we could find. And what did people believe? It was all a lie to start with.

So likewise with global warming, if I'm out there saying "travel less" and "use less energy" and that becomes forced upon people and then nothing bad happens, people will simply believe that global warming was a myth. They'll blame us "global warming freaks" for ruining their lives. And then if catastrophe does strike, they'll blame us "global warming freaks" for doing the wrong thing and not fixing everything for them. Therefore, my best bet is to quietly go off and figure out how to live in the catastrophic post-global-warming world without being seen. But that's not really hopeful at all — it's just surviving disaster.

The catalyst for this post, though, was in trying to do taxes. I wanted to get my taxes done early because I'm self-employed and need to hand over checks to the U.S. Government on a regular basis. If I don't estimate correctly, I get hit with a huge fine. But I can avoid it entirely if I file by January 31 and pay everything I owe. The only problem is that the forms I need from my bank and mortgage company won't arrive until after January 31, so it would be essentially illegal to file before January 31. So I've got my fingers crossed that I won't get in trouble.

I really wish taxes were simpler, but it's only me and other small business owners that even see it. I remember puzzling about how bad it really was in the 1990's — after all, the company I worked for handled all the hard stuff, and at the end of the year I'd fill out a few lines on a 1040EZ and get a check in the mail. Awesome! What's wrong with that system?

But worse is that I actually write a check to the government. If I don't, I'd go to prison which I don't want to do. I don't want the government to kill more people in Iraq, but my voice is not represented in the U.S. Government — I still have to pay taxes, though. [And here I thought that's why we fought that big war 230 some-odd years ago against England.] My big lament, though, is that I voluntarily sign the check to pay fund the war. If I were just a regular working person, I could claim that I don't get a choice — that taxes automatically come out of my paycheck.

And it's not like we're getting out of Iraq any time soon. It's a question of "how many Iraqis do we need to kill before they believe in freedom?" The real answer is, "we are the problem," but W. doesn't believe in being wrong. By the way, what ever happened to Osama bin Laden? We apparently failed to hang him, so I can only imagine he's planning another 9/11. I don't see any hope at all on that whole situation.

It used to be fashionable to help the poor — to ensure they have food, shelter, and water. Somewhere along the way "shelter" got eliminated, so it was just to feed the poor, but lately it's food stamps and welfare that are crippling the country. And water? Well if you can't afford to buy the clean stuff in the bottles you deserve what you get. What's next, air?

What about providing youth programs to keep kids off the street? Nah: just get more police to shoot them when they form gangs and start killing people. Health care? Hopeless. Public education? Hopeless.

The other day I was riding home from the Public Market — I took my bike with the trailer to get stuff — and I went to turn onto my street. I had to get into the left lane and I didn't see anyone behind me. As I turned into the turn-lane, someone tried passing me just at that moment and broke off the mirror on my bike. I was less than an inch away from getting knocked off the bike, and barely a foot away from being killed.

But did they stop? Hell no. I was just an obstacle in their way — a nuisance. Probably some worthless beggar who'd be better off dead than alive. I mean, can you believe that I thought I was permitted to ride on the street? That's for cars, moron!

And so goes the last shred of human decency: that nearly killing someone else is okay — in fact, it was my fault anyway for making them decide whether they needed to touch their brakes.

With that goes the last of hope.

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Dr. Strangelove and Bridge on the River Kwai at the Dryden

I rushed to get to the Dryden Theater at George Eastman House (900 East Ave.) to see Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It turned out to be quite the popular movie and it wouldn't have mattered if I hurried or not for I just ended up at the end of a long line. I also ran into Rebecca and her boyfriend, so the three of us got together for the film.

I've long enjoyed it as the blackest of the black comedies — I mean, it really doesn't get funnier than "mutually assured destruction" [perhaps save for "mutually assured self-destruction"]. The very idea that one erroneous step in the arms race and kaboom: life would be far different now than it turned out to be.

Last Wednesday I headed there (the Dryden, not nuclear apocalypse) to see The Bridge on the River Kwai. I hadn't seen it before, but Stanley Kubrick blurs the line even further between black comedy, satire, and drama. I mean, can you really do a serious movie about war — or more particularly, the logic of war? It just doesn't make any sense outside its absurd context, as if the rules of life were completely dumped topsy-turvy.

But both films really dismantle the idea of the romantic view of war as some kind of beautiful peak experience. The reality is it's bat-shit fucking crazy. It really gives me, well, strange feelings toward our troops in Iraq.

On the one hand, I genuinely dish out gratitude for their actions. I get confused as to why, exactly. I mean, I'm not glad that they're killing people. And I don't believe that what we're doing is making anything better — short-term unquestionably worse, and long-term unlikely better — at least from my broad, detached, ill-informed [thanks media, government!] view. But then for what? Perhaps that they believe — they believe so much in America that they're willing to go to a far away place where people want to kill them and stand up and say "I'm an American" and shoot anyone who tries to shoot them.

I kind of envy that kind of thinking, for it's not so simple for me. I think the Constitution was a fantastic architecture for a government, and the Bill of Rights is a stupefyingly excellent invention. But the constant attempts to leverage power — oy!, enough already! Maybe it's inevitable human behavior to abuse power, but if so, then why permit authority in the first place?

So then the jingoist asks, "so are you for America or against it?" Let me answer this way: "I am all for my version of America." The one that puts the individual at the head of the pack — not the judge or the President, but the individual. I mean, imagine the difference it would make to hear, "I'm your representative: how can I help you?" rather than "I'm your leader: do what I tell you."

I'm kind of an idealist about the whole thing. I mean, I believe that, given freedom, that people will behave well toward one another. Unfortunately, I'm up against people who believe so strongly otherwise that they will demonstrate behavior counter to my ideal for the purpose of proving it false.

But hey, that's the nature of war.

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