Saturday, August 01, 2009

Escalating in Afghanistan

Buried deep in the New York Times is an article reporting on the increasing level of civilian deaths in Afghanistan. According to the NYT 1013 civilians have died in the first six months of 2009. Alas how fleeting was the concern for the lives of Afghans so recently on exhibit as a good number of deaths are a direct result of U.S. air strikes. Though the Times divides up the causes of death into different categories attributing more civilian deaths to “Insurgents” all the deaths are directly or indirectly a result of our presence. In other words it’s really our fault these people are dead whether or not they were actually killed by Americans. The article also notes an increase in American deaths. There seems to be a lot of death, no shortage of it anywhere and the stench of it hangs heavy like a pall of smoke around Obama and his administration.

Reading the news I notice that the Afghan-Pakistan War is often seen through the lens of whether or not the war is going well or going badly. It is as if to say that if the war is going well then everything is actually okay. Even people who oppose the wars will frame their discussions within the boundaries of going well or going badly. It seems to me that as soon as you base an argument against the wars on the well or badly concept that you have already lost the argument. A small point I suppose yet what does it matter if the war is going well or badly if your point is that the war is wrong in the first place.

An example of this happened in mid-July when the U.S. became “very concerned” over the numerous civilian deaths resulting from U.S. airstrikes. It must have occurred to someone that people don’t enjoy being murdered no matter how glorious the goals or how illustrious and wise the president may be. It must have been quite the epiphany yet the main concern was not so much the deaths as it was over the effect the deaths were having on the war effort. Of course reading the more recent article telling of the increased levels of civilian deaths illustrates how quickly forgotten the civilians were. The idea that you can wage war without heavy civilian casualties is simply preposterous to begin with. Sometimes it is unbelievable the kind of garbage we are expected to swallow as long as it emanates from an authority figure. I expect the newfound and newly forgotten concern over civilian deaths was meant more as fodder for the liberal war hawks allowing them to feel noble more than anything else. It certainly had nothing to do with reality.

This is the age of reinvention where topics and things once thought to be understood have drifted off into an antiseptic fantasy world. Torture has been reinvented as harsh interrogation techniques or whatever, to make the gruesome more palatable. Naked aggression has been reinvented as “preemptive” that is to say any imagined danger can result in any nation being “liberated” another reinvention in its own right. Murder is called collateral damage. Call it what you will but never call it what it is, that’s the philosophy of the day. The neocons once said that we make our own reality and most scoffed at the idea yet I beg to differ as truer words were never spoken. Not only do we create our reality we also reinvent our own history through the things we read in the news and what we hear from our Dear leaders with their facile creativity for reinventing what already exists under different names. The mistake the neocons made was believing that they were somehow unique in this as we have always done this since time immemorial. Perhaps what some don’t realize or never considered is that a world view is a reality, literally. Our world view or reality is shaped by our own culture, it is a set of beliefs and assumptions often erroneous. And there are as many world views as there are different cultures. But there is one concrete item we can count on and that is that war is war no matter what you call it with its accompanying misery, needless death, and destruction.


At August 02, 2009 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice entry, Rob.

one thing that worries me is the notion that a worldview *is* a reality.

that's true in a certain sense... for example, if I am Barack Obama, my reality is that capitalism is the finest system on Earth, and that America needs to bully every other nation until it yields to American capitalist interests.

now, that is an operative reality for me as Obama, but whether the operative reality is true reality, that's a different question.

there's no proof that American capitalism is the finest system on Earth. while it may be a fine system for those lucky enough to be in the top classes wielding power and influence, it is far from the finest system for the underlings who labor for naught but the meagerest of survivals.

and while it may be true for Obama that other nations must yield to American capitalist interests, what proof is there that such a perspective is the only perspective, let alone the truth?

to me, reality is the world of facts, and not the world of interpretations. interpretations are the domain of spin, not of reality.

At August 02, 2009 4:09 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

When I went to listen to Ray McGovern talk last month, I wanted to ask him "why are we in Afghanistan?", but he mainly called on females and didn't call on me. That he referred to McNamara as a "tragic figure" only made me want to ask the question more, but I didn't get the chance.

Of course the press in general doesn't seem too concerned with asking that question of the president. Maybe it bores them.

At August 02, 2009 5:01 PM, Blogger Bob In Pacifica said...

When they still printed in the 90s I subscribed to Covert Action Information Bulletin and Lies Of Our Times (and contributed a little to the latter). They actually questioned what bullshit we were fed, and questioned the questioners who weren't asking the questions.

Back in the mid-nineties there was a story about Afghanistan. Back then Unocal was planning a pipeline running from the newly-independent "Stans" where all the oil is to the Indian Ocean. That's all you need to know about the basic premise of this war.

China is building a pipeline eastward? Trouble in Tibet and Xinjiang. Iran has plans for its own pipeline running parallel to the western oil companies? They are building nuclear weapons, they are against democracy, they are capturing our tourists and reporters!

I read long ago that Herbert Hoover owned the oilfields around Baku before the Russian Revolution and that the Cold War and the last ninety years of history could be seen as western oil companies trying to get back that oil.

Do execs at Shell particularly mind that America is going bankrupt fighting these wars? Hell no, they're making billions. Do execs at Exxon worry about all the civilian casualties? Ha!

While I've never been a believer in the peak oil business I do suspect we'll run out of air before we run out of carbon-based energy. The problem is that China and Iran can be very ruthless with their dissidents and the US is in no position to do more than to annoy those countries. That means whether or not the US manages to get that pipeline built there will other straws in that drink, and that's not counting the Russians who have a lead on all the others.

So these bloody wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, done to fill the coffers of Big Oil, may not even substantially increase oil company profits.

I don't worry for these corporations. Corporations are quite willing to abandon the US if there's another country whose military they can exploit.

At August 02, 2009 7:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan -- yep, Ray McGovern is a Democrat. That's all you need to know. A Democrat. A loyal Democrat.

Bob -- that's an interesting idea, that we won't run out of carbon-based energy. Were you being facetious? I hope you're aware that before dead organic matter can become oil or coal, it must be compressed and heated for millennia. Do you have a project in mind to speed things up?

What worries me most of all when we talk of natural resources is the sheer ignorance of most Americans. I attribute this to a paucity or utter absence of meaningful scientific education in American public schools, and a strange distortion of science at the college/university level. In the post-secondary world, science is taught and studied only as a servant to profiteering, to capitalism. It's like the field of "economics" -- if a profit can't be made off it, it's an "externality" and thus not worthy of anyone's formal educational attention. Sure there are exceptions at various smaller colleges around the country, but they are rarities.

I'm not sure how a post-oil world is going to come about, energy-wise. What will replace oil? Wind? The sun? Surely it won't be water -- humanity in America is trying desperately to be rid of all water. Americans water their lawns as if water appears magically from nowhere. Where I live rivers are dewatered terribly. For a more well-known example -- the Los Angeles River doesn't even exist any more! If not for impoundments behind dams, a lot of the west would be arid. Places like Palm Springs, Las Vegas, Phoenix... they wouldn't be what they are today. All this for man's arrogant desire to show off an emerald lawn. To what end? What purpose is served by having a lawn that looks like Augusta National Golf Club? It advances nothing!

As to oil, of course there is such a thing as peak oil. One would have to ignore reality to conclude otherwise.

Which brings me back to my prior post, responding to Rob. We can imagine that a spin-based "reality" is reality, or we can pay attention to facts.

I submit it's arrogant and cowardly at the same time to be a person who ignores factual evidence in favor of a comfortable assumption of eternal creature comforts and luxuries.

At August 02, 2009 8:24 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

Well let’s just say that one person’s world view is as real to them as your world view is to you. I think we are on the same wavelength but the problem is knowing what interpretation is and what solid fact is. Indeed we need to interpret in order to get to the facts, we can only interpret what we hear, see, feel, and experience which is where things get sticky. It’s sort of like quantum mechanics where it was found you cannot study a particle without changing it in some way thus creating a new reality at least for the particle.

McGovern I view with mixed feelings. I’ve read quite a few of his writings and though he points out things I can agree with he also says things I don’t agree with or cannot get behind. Anybody who works or has worked for the CIA has to be just a little bent.

I do agree that it’s the oil. There could be no other explanation for such intense interest in Afghanistan. That we are there to fight terrorism is a lot of nonsense. The Taliban aren’t al Qaida. Since oil companies need a somewhat stable situation in which to operate its kind of ironic that all the efforts have led to more destabilization than not.

At August 02, 2009 8:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rob, I think we are in agreement on the point that subjectivity is the reason for

worldview = reality

but I don't think it's as simple as

interpretation is everything

because what I find most often when friends are mistaken in their political observations is something much simpler. They simply do not pay attention to facts which make them feel uncomfortable. That's not interpretation. It's blind ignorance.

Discussing this in the abstract goes too far down Annoying Avenue, that road that Bernard Chazelle liked to travel when he had his series about torture. I suppose it feels sort of intellectual to count the angels dancing on pin-heads, but I prefer concrete example.

Let's choose something. Let's discuss a subject. Here's a simple one. A traffic accident.

Car A is traveling south-to-north.

Car B is traveling east-to-west.

Their roads meet in a traffic-light-controlled intersection.

Car A runs a red signal and hits Car B, which has the green signal.

No matter whether Driver A **thinks** he had the green, he did not.

At August 02, 2009 10:15 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Maybe much post-cold-war misbehavior is due to the perception that the light was still yellow.

At August 02, 2009 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jonathan -- HAH! Excellent!

One of the interesting thing about traffic accidents in red light vs green light situations is when they become lawsuits and various witnesses will testify (perjure) to a false color. I'm nowhere close to being a fan of increased police power, but I will say that intersection cameras make it pretty well impossible to win a red light / green light case merely by having a troop of lying witnesses.

Back to my prior scenario -- note I didn't provide for an intermediate yellow signal. I didn't mention it. I mentioned only red, and green. Of course I know where you get the yellow light, it's standard in America. Perhaps I could make it more concrete, less vulnerable to new interpretation.

Out where I live we have intersections that are controlled with flashing signals. The dominant traffic direction gets a yellow flashing light, the servient direction gets a red flashing light.

If you're not used to those signals, I'll interpret.

Flashing red is equivalent to a STOP sign.

Flashing yellow is equivalent to a YIELD sign.

Assume Driver A's direction was controlled by a Flashing Red, and he was nowhere to be seen when Driver B approached his Flashing Yellow signal, so Driver B moved right through the intersection. Since Driver A refused to obey the Flashing Red, he collided with Driver B.

All Driver A can say in his own defense here is that he didn't know what a Flashing Red meant.

At August 02, 2009 11:13 PM, Blogger rob payne said...

I think the thing about reality, whatever it is, is that no one person or one culture can claim to own the patent to it. Pre-Colombian Indians saw the world in a much different way than Western culture does, for them the world was populated with different spirits good, bad, and indifferent. They had a completely different sense of time than we do. The idea of meeting at Joe’s Café at 2 o’clock would not have made any sense to them and these are just a few examples. Our reality as Westerners is much different, not better or worse just different. And can you positively say for certain that the way Native Americans perceived the world was wrong while we as Westerners armed with science and technology perceive the world correctly?

For myself I’m more comfortable with science than I am with spiritualism. I’m not particularly religious yet that doesn’t mean I should scoff at someone who believes that Jesus was the son of god. For all I know Jesus was the son of god. I don’t think he was but that is my own interpretation of what I perceive. On the other hand though I am a fan of science I don’t particularly care for vibrating string theory or the idea that upon arriving at the solution for the grand unification theory that the explanation for the existence of space/time will be a simple and esthetically beautiful symmetrical one. I think that is pretty much pie in the sky and I don’t like the idea of constricting the search for knowledge to simple and beautiful explanations, it is too preconceived for my taste and doesn’t sound like good science to me.

I understand what you are getting at with your auto accident. I’m definitely not trying to say that because the Chinese see the world differently than us that the laws of physics don’t apply in China. Of course they do. Still it remains that someone raised in China will see things differently than a Westerner will. And who is more correct isn’t a good way to look at it if you wanted to understand the Chinese world view if you see what I mean. And I do agree with you on the political aspect of this that a lot of people just don’t see what a farce the Democrat versus Republican fiasco really is. And whatever is responsible for that situation it is part of their world view right or wrong.

At August 03, 2009 12:57 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Charles, what I meant was, the perception among elites that the US still has the "right of way"(the yellow), i.e. has just as much international clout as we did 40 years ago, and that the Europeans, Russia and China are still cowed by US primacy. Which I don't think they are.

US elites think we're still the big dog, blind to economic realities trumping the power of the US military machine. Or to mix the color metaphor further, they're oblivious to how the mighty greenback has faded.

I guess if one has to explain his one-liners so exhaustively he should just quit trying to be funny. Now it's time for my beauty rest. Maybe I'll be funnier in the morning.


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