6,000 Americans died yesterday. 40 of them were murdered. 100 of them died in a car accident. 84 of them committed suicide (1,000 others tried to commit suicide and failed). Most of the rest died due to a long struggle with heart disease, cancer, stroke, etc.
There is no mystery in those statistics. It’s just a mass outpouring of simple tragedies of life. There is no narrative we can tell about these six thousand. There is no one culprit on whom we can focus our attention and in so doing attempt to find some kind of closure.
With these six thousand shadows in the background, the horrific bombing in Boston almost seems faint, like another ripple in an ocean of human suffering. I am overwhelmed by the immensity of it. My inclination has been to put the dramatic megaphone of the news on mute, and try to be a helpful hand in whatever small way I can in my little corner of the world.
For me, the attack of 9/11, 2001 did not arouse feelings of anger as it did in many of my fellow Americans. I was simply deeply saddened, the same as after the recent shooting in the Sandy Hook elementary school. Perhaps because of this feeling, the military response in the next 12 years (in my view) was at best flawed and at worst irrational. Many of my friends disagree. I think it boils down to how you see the world, the arc of history, and the best way to defend against and deter future violence.
These days, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to have lost any semblance of support among the majority of the American public. But I believe that support can be reignited in a single day of another tragedy. In the rare times when I tune into a video of a MSNBC/Fox/CNN take on a particular subject, I worry that the mechanism of popular media is equipped to stir and ride waves of hysteria. In a perfect world, the media would provide a calm voice of reason: the facts, the context, the several distinct ways to interpret the current events. But in this aspect, we do not live in a perfect world. I fear that any tragedy of the magnitude of 9/11 terrorist attacks will create another state of temporary insanity among the masses. I include myself in that obviously. Anger, sadness, fear can all be exploited intentionally or unintentionally (through institutionalized momentum).
It’s been said by many people in the last 10 years, but our government on many levels is lacking the mechanism to protect us against ourselves when we are in such states of “temporary insanity”. If another big terrorist attack happens on U.S. soil there should be a set of laws that tie the hands of Congress and the president to slow any drastic action and allow a cooling-off period allowing at least a brief chance for rationality and long-term interest of the public to prevail.
The “economy” has been widely hailed as the main concern on the minds of the American people. Unfortunately, the simple truth of the presidency (according to the constitution and according to modern reality) is that the president has very little power to affect the economy. His power in this domain almost exclusively rests with the bully pulpit: the persuasive power of the loudest megaphone in Washington DC.
The following are the powers and roles of the president as I see it, and how that effects who I’ll vote for tomorrow (Tuesday, November 6, 2012):
Nominate Supreme Court justices. To me, this is the biggest reason not to mess around with your vote and choose the party that best represents your views on policy, domestic and foreign. In the next four years, it’s possible that we will see 4 justices retire. Ginsburg is 79, Scalia is 76, Kennedy is 75, and Breyer is 74. Gibsburg and Breyer are left-leaning on most issues, Scalia is famously right-leaning, and Kennedy is often the swing vote.
Start wars without declaring them. On at least 125 occasions the president (throughout U.S. history) has deployed troops without authorization from Congress. In my book, this is where Obama’s cool and collected approach is very important. I hope, that if Romney wins, he has a similar approach. Even if I disagree with the decision, I hope the decision is made through a careful deliberation process that’s influenced by balanced reason and not blind ideology.
Bully pulpit: Really, most of the president’s power lies in the fact that we all pretend that he is important (because the media pretends he is important) and thus give him “power” by listening to him. He can use his giant megaphone to influence Congress, public opinion, and international relations. What’s very important to remember, however, is that this power of persuasion grows exponentially in a time of real crisis (such as a terrorist attack or a natural disaster). At those times, we tend to take off our partisan hats and follow the words of the commander and chief with loyalty and unwavering determination. Hence, we want to pick a president who is best in a time of crisis.
I have many friends who are voting for Obama and many who are voting for Romney (though I’m not speaking to them this week for fear of mutual destruction). I even have one friend who is voting for Gary Johnson, who despite being the goofiest politician I’ve ever heard, is quite brilliant. I’m personally voting for Obama, despite many of my objections to what I saw in the last four years, because:
I want to maintain a balance of left and right on the Supreme court.
I want less undeclared wars not more, even though both candidates I believe will be far more hawkish than I would like.
I want a president that the rest of the world likes, respects, and wants to work with. In poll after poll, Obama beats Romney about 80% to 20% in the rest of the World. The gap is biggest in countries that our close allies, except Israel which is one of the only countries where Romney leads (with a whopping 57% to 22%).
As a scientist, I am depressed at the blatant disrespect towards science in the Republican party. I’m not talking about global warming or stem cell research or evolution. I’m talking about fundamental scientific research. I wish this wasn’t so, but it certainly makes me lean heavily to the left on this issue, where science is rightful seen as the main force of progress and economic growth that made this country what it has come to be throughout the 20th century.
I try not to grow cynical about politics, but it’s damn hard… Please make sure you vote tomorrow, not for any reason, but because it may help spark a conversation with a friend about a political issue you both care about. Who knows, that spark might start a fire.
Recently, NPR’s Talk of the Nation did a program on the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. A female soldier (and trainer of Iraqi military) that just got back from Iraq called in and made a comment about the fact that most of the U.S. soldiers there believe that they’ve done all they could, and it’s time to go home. She finished with an analogy: “I can teach a runner how to run, but I can’t teach him the mentality needed to complete a marathon”.
I never know where to focus my criticism of the neocon foreign policy, because it’s fundamentally an emotional framework and thus doesn’t quite sit comfortably in the realm of reason. It lacks concrete goals and realistic plans of accomplishing those goals. ‘Eradicating terrorism” is not a concrete goal. “Establish democracy and freedom” is not a realistic plan. But most importantly it lacks the kind of empathy needed to understand the other side, the families in Iraq that are trying to live a peaceful existence day to day. What do they want? How do they see U.S.? Because we are only safe if they see us as the good guys: as a country that values the rights of every human being.
Bar fights (my own, and those I’ve watched) have taught me all I need to know about conflict. An eye for an eye escalates tension and transforms into generational hatred. There has to be room for “turning the other cheek”. Not always, but just often enough to give our animal instinct a chance to be pacified by reason.
I’m going to be brutally honest about my own flaws and lack of education here. After I read the page above, I did a quick experiment. I asked myself to write down the first 5 Muslims that came to mind. Here’s what I wrote:
Bassam (a friend of mine)
Osama bin Laden
2 of 5 of those are terrorists. That’s 40%. Obviously, I don’t believe there is a connection between the ideology of terrorism and the religion of Islam. However, as an American (with just a couple Muslim friends) that lived through the last 10 years, a not insignificant percent of Muslims I know and think about are terrorists. This is a big problem that the American media and politicians do not help. They exploit it. Famous Muslims is a good example of a website that tries to address this issue for people like me that have unacceptably little knowledge about the culture and people of Islam.
I have views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, about America’s war on terror, and many issues that involve the Middle East. However, what I am talking about in this post is outside all of that. It’s about my ignorance of other cultures. It worries me that on some subconscious level, it may effect the way I think about our foreign policy, about religion, and just about the line between good and evil in society. So, again, I have to thank James for reminding me of the things I need to learn before providing an opinion.
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
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.