Somewhere along the line we seem to have confused comfort with happiness. I’ve now come to believe that quite the opposite is the case. Dostoevsky had it right: “Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness.” Never are my senses more engaged than when the pain sets in. There is magic in misery. Just ask any runner.
This gets at the idea that I usually try to explain to friends, acquaintances, girls when they ask why I live my life the way I do. I don’t watch TV, I don’t go to parties / bars, I rarely drink (though when I do, I drink like a champion). Things that most people consider “comfortable” or “relaxing” don’t make me happy. If I’m not challenging myself mentally and physically, it’s not just not worth doing, it’s simply not fun for me. I enjoy relaxing, sleeping not as an activity in itself but as preparation for difficult tasks ahead. Similarly, I seek balance in my life only in as much as it helps me be most consistently productive for long periods of time.
I used to be more apologetic about these values, but then I realized that apologizing for such things is absurd.
Raw Story report talks about an ICOS survey’s conclusion that 92 percent of Afghanis have never heard of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. To me, this is a shocking statistic.
There are others:
40% believe that US is on their soil in order to “destroy Islam or occupy Afghanistan”
43% could not name one positive aspect of democracy
61% said they didn’t think Afghan forces would be able to keep up the fight against the Taliban when Western forces withdrew.
Why is there such a lack of information? Because Afghanistan is one of the poorest nations on Earth. We cannot hope to progress in the “war on terror” (I hate that term) when most of the Middle East either doesn’t know our motivation or sees us as an occupying, greedy, power-hungry force.
Do our politicians, or the citizenry, comprehend the state of misinformation and poverty in Afghanistan? I don’t think so, because if they did, they would not sit idly by as our soldiers are shipped off to the graveyard of empires.
I’m calling my congressman. Here is the main number for Congress – the Senate and House – in Washington, DC: 202 225-3121
I overheard today on the radio that some poll says that Americans are at an all time high of 60% disapproval of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here are some basic information that Thom Hartmann outlines in his book Rebooting the American Dream about the results of our occupation of Iraq:
1+ million dead in Iraq (civilians, soldiers, all nationalities)
4.5 million Iraqi refugees
5 million Iraqi orphans
I say “occupation” purposefully because that is how the Iraqis now see it.
Thom also lists things like torture of Iraqi prisoners, child prostitution resulting from children loosing their parents, aerial bombardment of wedding parties, etc.
It all sounds horribly grim, because (I believe) it is. And looking at these statistics and facts, we have to ask ourselves, even if you feel they help prevent future terrorist attacks, were these wars worth it? This question does not dishonor the sacrifice of our troops. There are still troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. We have to talk about these growing body counts, because if we don’t, the two wars may stretch out beyond 2011 into the indefinite future.
PS: I refuse to accept President Obama’s declaration that the war in Iraq is over. As long as we have troops patrolling the streets there, the war is not over.
The article talks about how to increase your chances of surviving a nuclear attack. It also addresses the fact that, as a society, we consider a nuclear attack too horrific to think about. The result is that we are not prepared to deal with it on a personal level or a national level. The article covers the personal response, and that it’s best to not “flee” for a period of 24 hours, and instead recommends that you hide in the basement or other such shelter.
The subject of personal or city-wide response to a nuclear attack is important, but what to me seems significantly more important is the discussion of our government’s response. Given how we rushed into war in Afghanistan and Iraq without much discussion, I think NOW is a good time to talk about what happens if such an attack is executed by a terrorist organization on our homeland. What should the military response be? If we don’t talk about it now, I fear that the response would be too drastic and only escalate the conflict, potentially leading to millions more deaths.
Such an event is almost too horrible to talk about, but perhaps we should, so that the people that do survive can use their head and prevent the government from loosing theirs in a rash widespread military response on suspected “host” nations.
If you think that such an attack is extremely unlikely, unfortunately, I disagree with you. The strategy and technology of destruction is always one step ahead of an effective defense. In my mind, major terrorist attacks in the world are inevitable as long as there are people living in financial and moral poverty somewhere on Earth.
The fact that the risk exists is enough of a motivation to deliberate on a effective policy of a political and military response in the case of such a tragedy.
I’ve had a lot of arguments with people about taxes in the past several days. What surprised me is how sure everyone is of their position. There are three broad options I hear:
Increase taxes on just the very rich (with some dollar amount defining the threshold for the “very rich” label)
Increase taxes on everyone
Decrease taxes on everyone
And everyone provides basic arguments in support of each of these policies that boil down to the trade-off between freedom and equality.
What I think is missing is the question of absolute values. There are optimal tax policies for each basic political view. It’s impossible to know exactly what that policy is, but it’s probably not either of the extremes of (1) tax 100% of all income or (2) tax 0% of all income. So the question when someone wants to decrease taxes is not just “Why?” but “How much and why?”. It seems that few people have a good answer for “how much” except by referencing a historical value along with a questionable claim that this value led to some positive outcome.
People complain about the “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” case and how it allows corporations to “buy” candidates. While this is true, perhaps that’s a tiny problem compared to the fact that uneducated people don’t vote. They are therefore under-represented. It makes perfect sense then that politicians would be more concerned about tax cuts for the very rich as opposed to extending unemployment insurance.
Who is to blame here? It’s hard to say and still sound remotely objective. But I think everyone likes to blame the media. Why is the mainstream media feeding bullshit to the people? Partly because the very rich pull the strings to achieve specific goals that benefit them, but mostly because the general public for the most part lacks intellectually curiosity. I don’t like to make such sweeping generalizations, but from my limited experience of the world, it’s an empirically-reasonable one.
* The title is the first line of a powerful Stephen Crane poem.
I have been thinking about war a lot lately. Some people have said to me in the past that I can’t possibly “understand war” or that my opinion is worthless because I have not joined the military and seen action on the “front lines”. Let me just say on that point, that I support the draft, just like Thomas Jefferson did. I believe that everyone should experience military service and thus be able to make more qualified judgement as a citizen when congress decides to declare war against another nation. My belief is that, in that case, many more citizens will speak out against (and prevent) wars of questionable intent and justification such as the current two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the lack of a civilly-educated citizenry and the dominance of a culture which looks down upon those that speak out against a war creates a foreign policy of constant escalation. John F. Kennedy said it beautifully:
“War will exist until the distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige as the warrior does today.”