November 24, 2010

"Decision Points," a review

Before I start, let me be perfectly clear on one thing: I did not support the war in Iraq. Not going in and not now. It is, in my never humble opinion, the single biggest mistake any president has made in my lifetime. However, once there, President Bush stuck to his guns, kept out of the military's way, and let them get the job done as best they could. Assuming the right prevails, the Islamic Caliphate sought by Al Qaeda and its supporters fails, and somehow our world manages to overcome the insidious spread of Marxist utopian thinking that has come to dominate our intelligentsia, then this war will be remembered by historians both inside and outside Iraq as a war of liberation. However, sometimes even a necessary war is an immoral war. What makes the Iraq War immoral is not the existence of some secret conspiracy to destablize the region. While there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein's regime was brutal and needed to be destroyed, the timing of our entry into that war alongside the unforgivably bad intelligence used to justify it mean that in the end the war must be judged immoral. It was not the right time. The outside world did not have enough information about conditions inside Iraq until afterwards. In another decade the situation proably would have resolved itself, perhaps in two decades, but either way, it was the responsibility of the Iraqi people and not the United States. We never should have gone in there, but having gone in, it is good that we stayed until the job was finished. It would have been more immoral to walk away from the mess and leave the country a smoking ruin.

Okay, with that out of the way, let state straight up that "Decision Points" is quite possibly the single most important book written during my lifetime. There is a certain poetry in this, that the worst decision would create the most important book, and yet, it should not be surprising. The mark of an adult is that we learn from our mistakes and then we pass on that knowledge to the next generation. If you are a teacher of history, English, or literature at the high school or college level you need to immediately add this book to your required reading lists. Drop "Ulysses" by James Joyce, from literature classes in high school and college, it is boring and nihilistic in the extreme anyway, and add "Decision Points".

The book is not chronological, not is it entirely autobiographical in the traditional sense. President Bush has divided the book into fourteen sections, each corresponding to a critical decision made before or during his presidency. There is a treasure trove of historical information in these pages with quotes from staff meetings, reprints of key documents, and fond remembrances that would take decades to discover digging through the papers and personal items of a dead president. This is exactly the kind of book a former president needs to write as soon after he leaves office as possible, while the memories are still fresh and many of the policy decisions are still be debated in the public forum. There is nothing arrogant, egoistic, or narcissistic about writing a book like this. As President Bush points out in his introduction,
"In the final year of my presidency, I began to think seriously about writing my memoirs. On the recommendation of Karl Rove, I met with more than a dozen distinguished historians. To a person, they told me I had an obligation to write. They felt it was important that I record my perspective on the presidency, in my own words."

For what it's worth, Mr. President, I agree. "Decision Points" will be read, reread, argued over, debated, written about, analyzed, and reinterpreted for the next century, possibly for the next few centuries. It is that important, it is that complete, and it is that detailed. There is currently no finer portrait in existence of a president performing his role as the highest executive in the nation with all the powers and limits that office entails. This book is an inside look at how the United States really functions out here in the real world where a president is under constant public scrutiny and every decision has consequences no one can ever completely predict. Every teenager in America should read this book, every college student should be required to discuss it. This book holds within its pages a realistic and honest reflection on how decisions are reached both in times of crisis and in times of peace.

There are many important things left out, mind you. After all, even a book by a former president has page limits. Many important questions raised by conspiracy theorists who believe 9/11 was an inside job are not even mentioned on these pages. In my opinion, this is a good thing. Instead, the book focuses on what happened, who it happened to, how the president learned about it, how he felt about it, how he analyzed it, and how he responded to it. Even business majors could benefit from the intimate, often painful reflections of a man forced to make hard decisions and then live with the consequences. One of the most important lessons I as a reader took away from this book is a greater appreciation for the fog of war and how it impacts the decisions a president is often forced to make with limited or (as in the case of the Iraq War) flat-out wrong information.

Consider, for example, this little anecdote recounted from the days immediately following the fall of Baghdad when everyone throughout the country was feverishly searching for Saddam's WMD stockpiles,
"At one point, the CIA heard that large canisters had been spotted from a bridge over the Eurphrates River. Navy frogmen deployed to the scene. They found nothing. A high-ranking official from the United Arab Emirates brought drawings of tunnels he believed Saddam had used to hide weapons. We dug up the ground. Nothing materialized."

There are places where I nearly cried, places where I laughed out loud, places where I cringed in painful anticipation, and even a few places where suspense held me so tense my shoulders began to ache. It is that kind of book. Since it covers what will go down in history as one of the most controversial presidencies of the modern age, how could it be anything else?

November 21, 2010

The TSA has gone insane!

First read this: Fight Attendant Ordered to Remove Prosthetic Breast

Now watch this:

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Where is the "probable cause"? What "Warrants" have been issued? Where has a federal judge approved in detail which individuals will be searched and what items will be seized? Who swore the "Oath" and made the "affirmation" that every single passenger who boards a commercial airliner is a terrorist, that uncooperative children must be strip-searched, that cancer survivors must surrender their prosthetics?

At what point do we as grown men and women responsible for our own lives take up arms and revolt? At what point do we as Americans remember our sacred duty to preserve the freedoms bought by 234 years of bloodshed? At what point do we demand the government go back to living within the constraints of the Constitution?

We are a hair's breadth from tyranny, a hair's breadth! How much longer will we allow this? This is NOT making us safer! These procedures do NOT discourage terrorists! The only thing these procedures accomplish is the humiliation and degradation of law-abiding citizens! You are NOT a criminal! Do NOT let them treat you like one!

This is how sexual predators treat their victims. Why has our government sanctioned it?

November 02, 2010

The Fool

John Titor: Time Traveller
The Turner Diaries at Wikipedia

Today, Brigit over at Home on the Range had this to say:
Do any of you recall reading of The Trojan Horse? No, not the computer term, the one known as the Wooden Horse, a device resorted to by the Greeks, after the death of Achilles, to capture Troy. The story is referred to in the Odyssey. Epēius, a skillful craftsman, constructed a very large wooden horse inside which picked Greek warriors, including Odysseus, were concealed. Then the Greek army sailed out of sight, leaving Sinon, one of their number, behind. He pretended to be a deserter and told the Trojans that the horse was an offering to Athena; if brought within the city it would render it impregnable. In spite of the warning given to the Trojans by Lāocǒon (a priest of Apollo) not to trust ‘Greek gifts’, the Trojans dragged the horse into the city. At night the Greeks came out of the horse and the city was taken. Virgil tells the tale of the horse in Aeneid 2.

Laocoon, follow'd by a num'rous crowd,
Ran from the fort, and cried, from far, aloud:
‘O wretched countrymen! What fury reigns
What more than madness has possess'd your brains
Think you the Grecians from your coasts are gone?
And are Ulysses' arts no better known?
This hollow fabric either must inclose,
Within its blind recess, our secret foes;
Or 't is an engine rais'd above the town,
T' o'erlook the walls, and then to batter down.
Somewhat is sure design'd, by fraud or force
Trust not their presents, nor admit the horse

In America, we either lift our prophets up on enormous pedestals or we ignore them completely. There does not seem to be any middle ground. We forget that the role of The Fool is still sacred and we ignore him to our own peril. Insanity and genius walk a razor's edge that Osama Bin Laden and Albert Einstein both share. To ignore either is to seal our own doom, and seal it quickly.

Today I am heading off to the polls to vote. A few of the votes I will cast scare me half to death because I am given a choice between two equally undesirable and potentially dangerous evils. A few of the votes are, at least to my mind, clear choices between Marxism and Freedom and those will be easy. Most of the choices are between good people sincere in their beliefs who happen to fall out on opposite sides of the ideological divide that tore through the United States with the election of Ronald Reagan and has continued unbroken and unabated to this day. That ideological divide is far more dangerous than either candidate, making my choice difficult without depriving me of hope that we as Americans can still find some way to bridge this division before it destroys us completely.

John Titor predicted a civil war between the haves and have nots. The Turner Diaries predicted a civil war between the whites and all other minorities. Many modern militia members don't believe either John Titor or Andrew Macdonald, but they see the division in American politics and they know that if it cannot be bridged, sooner or later revolution is inevitable. So I go to the polls today to cast my vote. I will not vote in complete compliance with the NRA, the Tea Party, the DNC, or the RNC. I will not vote in accordance with the teaching of Glenn Beck nor the satire of Bill Maher. I will not cast my votes on the basis of any single political ideology or platform. I will cast each vote for many different reasons, some economic, some cultural, and some personal, but behind each and every vote I cast today there will be this one common thread: will this vote move my homeland away from the abyss of violent confrontation between two irreconcilable radical agendas?

I look at John Titor and Andrew Macdonald and I see superimposed on both the tarot of The Fool, traditionally pictured as blissfully walking head first over a cliff or off a roof. The message of the fool is not that he is insane. The real message of the fool is that we are insane if we choose to follow him. Here today, November 2, 2010, that is the choice we each face as we walk into the polling booth and tap the electronic screen, punch our ballot card, or otherwise cast our vote. The real danger is not the socialist agenda of Barack Obama and George Soros nor the overt radicalism of men like Timothy McVeigh and Osama Bin Laden. The real danger is that we as a nation are poised on a precipice of full-scale civil war. If we do not change our entire cultural approach to conflict resolution then it will not matter who wins today and who loses. Either way, our nation will march merrily over that precipice, millions will die, and the nightmare scenarios of both John Titor and Andrew Macdonald will be realized right before our very eyes.

The only thing more dangerous than following The Fool is ignoring him.