Defending the Invested Policy

Without the slightest doubt, the U.S. invasion of Iraq is a failure. Even if you give the most generous room for interpretation and the most optimistic spin on the future, nobody who advocated this strategy believed that 3,000 people a month would by dying by now in sectarian violence.

The lamest argument in defense of Bush’s Iraq strategy is that, if even more people die and more things are blown up, eventually, there might be a moderately stable democracy. Might. Moderately stable. Like who? Like what? How deeply will the families of dead Iraqi’s appreciate the blessings of their new democracy? Will they ask themselves, what is the point?

So, it is difficult to defend the strategy, if you want to confine the discussion to actual facts and issues. The solution is to describe the brutal sacrifices’ made by individual U.S. soldiers and then argue that it would not be honorable to not sacrifice more in order to ensure that George W. Bush never has to go on TV and say, “our policy on Iraq was foolish and it failed and we have made a bad situation much worse. We are now faced with making very difficult decisions. I am responsible for the wasted deaths of thousands of U.S. servicemen. Life sucks. I suck. I resign.”

Eventually, it Won’t be a Mistake

How the debate has shifted. It should tell you something very important about Iraq policy when the argument for staying is that, if we leave now, it will be an even bigger disaster.

The miracle is that George Bush gets to make this argument while casually skipping over the intermediate step, the one in between “piece of cake” and “cut and run”, and that step is, “we failed”.

The deck here is stacked against prudence. If the strategy of invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein was stupid, the only way to not have to admit it is to argue that if we keep making the same mistake over and over again, eventually it won’t be a mistake.

On an Unimaginable Scale

Paul Stephenson, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police in London, said the goal of the people suspected of plotting the attack was “mass murder on an unimaginable scale.”  New York Times, August 28, 2006

I guess now we know why the scale was “unimaginable”. It was unimaginable because only the police involved in this case could look at the evidence they had gathered and come to the conclusion that a major terrorist plot was actually in the making.

As always, over and over and over again, the headlines screamed TERROR! UNIMAGINABLE SCALE! BOMB FACTORY! HIJACKINGS! 10 or more planes!!! and so forth and so forth. It’s almost as if the police were desperately trying to convince you that all of the infringements of your civil liberties, all the excessive new police powers, all of that sold-out, smug, superciliousness on Tony Blair’s face– all of it was justified. Here they are– Al Qaeda plotting again!

Well, it could be Al Qaeda. They admitted right away that there was no real evidence of a link. Oddly, they admitted that there was no evidence at all, of a link to Al Qaeda, but they understood the media: every article I saw on the story included the phrase “Al Qaeda” mostly to acknowledge that no link to AL QAEDA!!! was found.

The paranoid reader immediately understands: of course it was Al Qaeda. They just haven’t found the proof yet.

As it turns out, there is not much evidence of anything else either, other than the usual story of young, devout and foolish Islamic fundamentalist boys plotting and bragging and conducting rather laughable experiments to see if they might actually be able to blow up a disposable camera. The “bomb factory” turns out to be an apartment where they stripped batteries and emptied sport-juice containers. One of them had a copy of a schedule of flights on his memory stick. There was no date. They had not even discussed possible dates.

There had not been a single successful explosion of anything. They had no weapons. They had no passports.

In one of their homes, they found a copy of a book– they have noted this, for the judge to consider as something material to the question of whether these people should be locked up indefinitely– they found a book called “Defense of the Muslim Lands.” Oh the horror!

They also found “jihadist” literature. Suppose that we Christians were suddenly under suspicion of plotting to attack Muslims around the world. Suppose they searched your house. Would they find any “Christian militant” literature? Would they find a link to James Dobson’s website which advocates defiance of the courts? Ah ha!

The security commissioner of the European Union, pleasantly named Franco Frattini, said the British decided to proceed with arrests because they had intercepted a message from Pakistan saying “go now”. A “senior British official” admitted that the message was not quite that clear.

British Home Secretary John Reid, at the time, told the media that attacks were “highly likely” and would be on an “unprecedented scale”.

If you can find some indication anywhere that this idiot was not making statements of unimaginable stupidity and unprecedented hysteria, please show me. Reid himself had to back down quickly once he realized, apparently, that he was about to destroy the tourism industry.

Are the Islamic boys guilty of something? I don’t know. If I was in a mood to be really, really generously broad-minded about what they were actually up to I suppose you could charge them with…. well, get serious. With what? Talking about conspiring to plot? Hating America?

The truth is– check the news stories– buried on page 5 or so– if you don’t believe me— the truth is this: they had no weapons, no bombs, no tickets, no actual date, no specific plan to commit any terrorist act. They just talked about how they hated America and Britain because of their decadence, and because of their foreign policies. That’s about it.

I understand– you don’t believe me. It’s too silly to be true. I won’t be offended if you go and check some newspapers first. Even the paranoid ones do generally repeat the official facts. So back to my point– I don’t think I would convict them of anything.

It doesn’t matter. The headlines did their work. More than ever more and more people are convinced that there are thousands of Muslim youths out there planning right now to blow up airplanes and drop anthrax on you and build nuclear bombs and kill you all. We must kill them first.

And more and more people think I’m crazy for actually insisting that even terror suspects are entitled to due process and a fair trial under the laws that have existed for years and years before there ever was a 9/11.

Iwo Jima – the Monument

There is a statue in Washington D.C. based on Joe Rosenthal image of the men raising the flag atop Mount Suribachi. In the statue, the men are 32 feet tall. The guns are 18 feet long. The flag pole is 60 feet.

I’m sure someone thought this was a compliment to the men. More probably, that someone thought it was a compliment to war: these men are surreal, figments of fantasy, and war itself is an epic adventure of unreal proportions. That’s probably right– that’s how they sell young people– who actually have to go fight the war– on war. You will be bigger than life. You will be unreal.

The monument is an insult. The men were our size. They were us. What they accomplished was not epic or magical or unreal: they sacrificed their lives based on a perception of integrity in their leaders.

I’m pretty sure that the men who actually raised the flag on Iwo Jima would not be pleased with this monument. This monument is what we think they think we think of them. I’m not kidding. It’s a monument to the people who put up the monument, the guilty adulation of the those who did not have to actually set foot themselves on a battle field.

I haven’t seen it yet, but it sounds like “Flags of Our Fathers” is about this discrepancy too. It’s not an argument against the possibility of the necessity of war. It’s an argument against the idea that there is something noble and glorious about killing fellow human beings, for whatever reason.

But those who adore the culture of war must always retell the story so that military actions seem purposeful, honorable, and rational.

In fact, a good deal of war is the collision of failed strategies.


Iwo Jima

When Hollywood decided to make a picture to honor native American marine, Ira Hayes, who helped raise the flag on the blood-drenched slopes of Mount Suribachi on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima, to portray Hayes, they chose…. Tony Curtis.

Well, heavens, you didn’t think they would actually have a native person portray Ira Hayes, did you? After all, don’t you want as many people as possible to see the movie? No one would finance it if you had an unknown native person playing a famous native person.  And of course he would be unknown: Hollywood did not have any “known” native American actors.

This was a weird era in Hollywood. It was quite common to have famous American actors portray famous or infamous native peoples, or Japanese, or Greeks, or Arabs. I don’t know if they figured most of us wouldn’t be able to tell the difference… or wouldn’t care. Shirley MacLaine played “Princess Aouda” in “Around the World in 80 Days”. Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, and James McArthur, among others, portrayed North American Native Peoples. Didn’t Brando even play a Japanese guy once? Sammy Davis Jr.  played a black guy once.

Things haven’t changed all that much: Renee Zellweger with a wobbly accent as Brigit Jones? In heaven’s name, is there not a single actress in all of Britain who could have played the part? Not one?

Iwo Jima is an island about 1200 kilometers from the coast of Japan. It is actually the top cone of a dormant volcano, and it’s about 8 square miles. Tiny, really. Actually, that “8” doesn’t sound right.

In 1945, the allies were able to send B-29 bombers all the way to Japan and back from the Marianas Islands, but no fighter planes could fly that far to accompany them. Iwo Jima could also provide a convenient landing zone for damaged planes, for repairs and refueling. The allied command felt they had to have Iwo Jima and it’s air fields. The Japanese generals knew what the American generals knew. They concluded that the Americans would want to take Iwo Jima.

According to Wikipedia, this rationale for the capture of Iwo Jima, was constructed after the island was captured, once the staggering scale of casualties became apparent. And there was no military consensus on the necessity of capturing Iwo Jima. In fact, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were split on the question of what the next phase of attack would be, and whether the navy or the army should be in charge.

Iwo Jima was not subsequently used, in any significant way, to provide fighter escorts for the B-29 bombers on their way to Japan, and it did not play a significant role in ensuring the safety of returning B-29s.

The Japanese built just about the most formidable defense imaginable for the island, consisting mostly of underground bunkers, caves, and tunnels. There were more than 22,000 soldiers hunkered down on the island, of which barely 1100 survived. Only 200 surrendered. They knew they were not there to live. The avowed goal of the defenders was to take 10 enemy for every one of their own. They fell far short of that: of 70,000 invading troops, 6,821 allied soldiers died and there were 26,000 casualties. I can’t tell from reading that if the 6,821 were included in the 26,000 or not. Either way, the Japanese did not remotely reach their goal.

The Americans invaded with a force of about 70,000, (though I see 90,000, and 110,000 elsewhere and here), which is a pretty overwhelming number. When you add in the technical and material superiority, there could not have been much doubt about who was going to win. Indeed, it appears the Japanese did not anticipate holding out for much longer than a few months– which, it turns out, was grossly optimistic.

I sometimes have a feeling that you could end all war if you could persuade all nations to agree that from now on, nobody under the age of 30 will be allowed to fight. What is it about 18-year-old males that makes them willing to die? I don’t think it’s just the belief in an afterlife– it happens in all cultures and religions. If I had been a Japanese youth in 1944, would I have agreed to defend Iwo Jima? Why? Pardon my disloyalty, Mr. Emperor, but life is good. Why should I throw it away? Here’s your uniform and gun.

They wouldn’t have liked that. Traitor. Yellow. Coward. That’s how they persuade you to throw your life away. But don’t worry: the movie will be out in a few years and you’re going to look glorious as you die.

There is an argument, from the American point of view, that it is right and good to serve in the army if it’s mission is self-defense, if you are fighting an aggressor. The argument holds up pretty well for World War II, but not so neatly for Viet Nam or Iraq.

And it doesn’t hold up as well when you consider that almost all wars are the result of the glorification of war, of the statues and the medals and the brass bands, and the culture that says you are truly a man if you are willing to kill and die for your country, and that threat must be met with threat, saber-rattling with saber-rattling, bravado and intimidation with bravado and intimidation

John Wayne, of course, did a film of the story of Iwo Jima. It does not seem to me a surprising thing that Wayne himself never served. How else could you make a film that finds war and the culture of war so really enchanting? This is not a film by someone who really, deep in his heart, hopes that there will never again be another war. This is a film by someone who believes no generation should miss out on the opportunity to make heroic “sacrifices”. Just me, thank you, and Dick Cheney and George Bush and pretty well everyone else in the current administration.

I believe it is possible to make a film that simultaneously argues for the necessity of a military, for a time of war, at least in self-defense, but, at the same time, acknowledges the howling horrific waste of lives, and the inevitable exploitation of young male testosterone-fueled bravado.

The Americans invaded with a force of about 70,000, (though I see 90,000, and 110,000 elsewhere and here),

My Brush with Death

In September 1977, I was headed back to Chicago from Calgary after working for the summer for United Grain Growers. I was driving a two-door 1965 Dodge Dart. It took about 37 hours to drive from Calgary to Chicago and, like any crazy teenager, I usually drove it straight through. Who could afford a motel?

I liked that Dart, with it’s reliable but noisy slant-6, and push-button transmission. I miss it. I painted it bright red with a big white maple leaf on the hood.

I can’t remember why, but in late summer 1977, I was driving alone.

In the previous year, by the way, 1976, I had driven back with a friend of mine, Sid Bakker, who owned a Chevy van, and another friend, Charles Kooger, who took turns sleeping in both vehicles. At one point, Charles took over driving for a bit while I snoozed in the van.

In the arid, hot summer sun, the Dodge overheated, the temperature rising ominously on the dashboard gauge. Rather than slow down and drive together, Sid and I went on ahead and Charles stopped for a while to let the Dodge Dart cool. Seems a tad unsociable now that I think about it, but it made sense at the time: why should both of us be held up? It wasn’t a serious problem with the Dodge: you just had to stop and let it cool down every so often.

Eventually, Charles discovered that if he removed the front grill, the engine cooled more efficiently. It wasn’t a flash out of the blue: I think someone in his family had previously owned a Dodge with the same problem.

Later on, we realized that you could also just turn on the heater (with the windows open). The heating system removed heat– of course– from the engine and channeled it into the cabin radiator through a rubber hose, dissipating it. You just had to keep the windows open, of course, to keep from suffocating. End of digression.

Next digression: in 1978, I drove back from Calgary with Karin Schat, who had her “beginner’s” license.

I believe that Sid was working in Ontario for the summer, to hang out near his girl-friend, Irene Vermeer.

Karin drove part of the way, but instead of letting me sleep, she insisted I had to stay awake to keep her company. At one point, somewhere in Montana, I believe, a number of police cars went flying past us with lights flashing– but no sirens. They were looking for an escaped prisoner, because they had a road-block set-up which we had to pass through. End of second digression.

Back to 1977.

1965 Dodge Dart
My 1965 Dodge Dart in Toronto.

I was cruising along, in 1977, south of Calgary, with very little traffic on the road. As I approached an intersection from the north, I saw a pickup truck approach from a side road, west, and come to a stop at the highway. I seem to remember that I thought there was something odd about the way he was just sitting there. And as I think that, I think I’m probably just projecting. There might have been something– the way he allowed the truck to roll forward slowly as if he didn’t anticipate having to actually come to a full stop– who knows?

Anyway, he didn’t just sit there. He waited until I was upon him, at 65 miles per hour, 120 kilometers an hour, and then he pulled out right in front of me.

I was pretty sure I was going to die. There was no time to swerve or stop. I slammed on my brakes and waited for the big, big crunch. My car went into a wild, clock-wise spin, and a few seconds later I seemed to “come to” at the side of the road, facing the wrong way, staring out at the peaceful highway. In the east, I noticed a cloud of dust on the gravel road down which the pickup truck was moving rapidly. There is no reasonable chance that he did not see what he almost did, and very little chance that he didn’t think he might have caused my death. Hit and run. Except we didn’t hit.

I have no idea how I missed him. He might have come to a sudden stop, and my car might have danced around him, in it’s clockwise spin, and swung by him. I doubt he could have gotten out of the way fast enough for me to have avoided him on the right, but it’s possible, but the car was into a clockwise motion, so it seemed unlikely to me.

Now, the car went into a clockwise spin for a reason. During the summer, the right front tire had blown. Being a cheap, poor student, I went to a junkyard to buy a used replacement tire. I saw a lovely one with very good tread and I do remember that the manager told me it was a radial tire and I shouldn’t use it unless all of my other tires were radials. I was stupid and assumed that this was one of those items of folk wisdom one could safely disregard and I bought the tire anyway and had it put on the rim and off I went.

What happened when I slammed on the brakes when that truck pulled out in front of me was this: the front right tire grabbed the road with a good deal more traction than any of my other tires, which caused the car to jack-knife around the pick-up truck.

The radial tire saved my life.

Of course, in other circumstances, that radial tire might just as well have killed me.

I resumed my trip. I never really thought all that much about it until much, much later.

Yes, You Can be Too Careful

The Washington Post reports that United Flight 923 from London to Washington D.C. was diverted to Boston’s Logan airport because a female passenger became claustrophobic.  (The NY Times Account).

Well, she might have been a terrorist. How many times in the last week have you heard this phrase: you can’t be too careful. The answer, of course, is a resounding: YES YOU CAN. You can absolutely be “too careful”. It’s not even hard to think of an example: any time you enter a highway in a car, you take a notable risk of being killed or maimed in an accident. You could decide to never travel again. If you did, some reasonable people might reasonably conclude that you were being “too careful”.

Flight 923 landed at Logan where “State Police and federal agencies took control of the plane after it landed.” You can’t be too careful. But let’s not overlook the fact that Flight 923 was escorted to Logan by a pair of fighter jets. I wonder how old the pilots of those jets were? I wonder if either of those pilots could ever make a mistake.

What exactly did the fucking idiot– I use that word judiciously– who sent the fighter planes think they were going to do?  Shoot down the airliner?

You may recall — no, you probably don’t–that immediately after 9/11, there was some discussion about when a fighter plane would shoot down a civilian aircraft that was hijacked to prevent it from crashing into a building. There was some discussion of who makes that call. Lucky for us, it was Dick Cheney. Ha ha! Don’t be too sure I’m wrong about that.

Actually, the truth is that the air force was ordered to shoot down any plane that strayed into the air space above the White House without asking questions. After an actual airplane did stray into the air space over the White House and an actual jet fighter refused to actually shoot it down because, he could kind of tell that the guy was just lost and was waving at him– take note, Al Qaeda!– the policy was quietly rescinded.

Anyway, back to Flight 923. Two fighters escorted it to Logan where “State Police and Federal Agencies took control of the plane” (Washington Post). Well, well. Isn’t that reassuring. A woman complains of claustrophobia. OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE SHE’S A TERRORIST GOD HELP US SHE HAS A BOMB SHE’S CARRYING LIQUID SOMETHING IS THAT A SCREWDRIVER IN HER HAND, HELP!! HELP!!

And that’s just the pilot.

It’s a good thing I was not on that flight. You see the state and federal authorities decided that YOU CAN’T BE TOO CAREFUL so the passengers we’re all put on a bus, their luggage was scattered on the tarmac, and explosive sniffing dogs were brought out. Not “explosive dogs” but “explosive-sniffing” dogs, you see.

I would have objected.

What I want to know is, what if I was on that flight and I didn’t want to get on a bus… What do you think? Do you think a wise, mature, reasonable “state or federal official” would have said, well sir, you haven’t committed any crimes and are not reasonably suspected of having committed any crimes, so it’s entirely up to you what you do because we don’t live in a fascist police state governed by paranoid boot-licking cretins. So long…”

I rather think not. I think I probably would have been hand-cuffed and led away to be interrogated by “state and federal officials” and then probably charged with some catch-all offense like mischief or contributing material support to satire or something, just to show that you are not allowed, in Amerika, to not be paranoid.

Dick Cheney realizing that the laxative didn’t work.

They Are Not in Our Party

It’s nice to know that Dick Cheney and Karl Rove both phoned Mr. Joe Lieberman on the eve of his primary defeat in Vermont to wish him luck and offer encouragement.

Are the Democrats paying attention?

You should be asking Rove and Cheney who to nominate this fall for the Senate.


Sock Puppet Security

Britain claims it caught 20 terrorist plotting to blow up lots and lots of airplanes, therefore the invasion of Iraq was a great idea.

You may have noticed Robert S. Mueller III, of the FBI, carefully linking the plotters to Al Qaeda, though he admits no proof of their association with Al Qaeda has been advanced by anyone. Responsibility, anyone? It doesn’t matter. It works. The letter writers to the New York Times insisted that this was obviously an Al Qaeda plot.

And once again we have sensational charges, gloating security czars, and that bizarre Republican insistence that Iraq had something to do with 9/11 and Al Qaeda.

How easily the frightened are led.

As with almost all of the previous sensational thwartings of nefarious terrorist plots, there is no specific description of any particular actions by any individuals which actually took place. Yet. We might get such details. We might not. We might, in a few weeks or months or years, discover that we have another group of foolish Islamic would-be radicals shooting their mouths off in internet chat rooms, or getting informed on by dubious individuals with a vested interest in scoring with the cops.

The New York Times received numerous letters from pro-Bush people sneering at their editorialists and insisting that this proves that Bush is right to spy on Americans without warrants or congressional over-sight. These letters disturb me. They assume that the sensational charges are probably true. They seem to assume that confrontation and war-like militaristic gestures make us more secure. They definitely assume that we need to live in a police state because America is under siege by powerful enemies who stalk us at every turn, and that this was never the case before recently, and that the Soviets– are you ready for this?– were really a very mild threat compared to Al Qaeda.

They also buy into the absurd logic that no measure is too extreme if it there is even the most wildly improbable possibility that it might save one life. This is the ultimate in selective logic: it plays into the politics of the authorities, because they choose which absurdly improbable action they address, even if it saves only one life.

It makes me think we should have a “malaria alert”. Whenever there is a possibility of some child dying of malaria in Africa, we immediately embark on a host of bizarrely expensive and inconvenient measures. We spent tens of millions of dollars on pesticides and new hospital beds and vaccine development, and treatments. Don’t agree? Do you want to be the one responsible for a child dying of malaria when you could have prevented it? I suppose you believe there are no mosquitoes…

Women in Africa should form a committee and demand that their governments spend $1 billion erecting a giant, 3,000 foot tall mosquito, to commemorate all the children who died from malaria last year. You think that’s a strange idea? So you are in favor of children dying of malaria? It’s obvious that your child didn’t die of malaria, because you don’t understand. This is the right memorial. We must honor the memories of these children. This is a sacred bug. To question the need for this memorial is to buy into that defeatist attitude that somehow mosquitoes will just go away if we are only nice to them.

I suspect that we will find out that the plot was not quite as fully developed as we have been led to believe, especially since both Britain and the United States have more or less avowed that they will arrest, charge, and incarcerate people for even thinking about doing anything nasty. After all, do we wait for murderers and drug dealers to do their nasty deeds before we arrest them? Well, actually, we do.

It is striking also how many people seem to believe that, if there really were numerous people out there plotting to bomb and poison and disrupt our oil supplies, the government could be 100% successful at stopping these attacks. A reasonably astute statistician could prove to you with charts and graphs and mathematics that this just can’t be so. If there were 50 plots out there, and the police stopped 40 of them, they would be doing astoundingly well. But there would still be the ten.

The fact is, there hasn’t been a single attack on American soil since 9/11.

I’m not saying there couldn’t be an attack. In fact, I am a little surprised myself that there hasn’t. I am saying that we haven’t yet built a world in which terrorist attacks don’t take place: they always have and the probably always will. I simply take issue with this bizarre idea– and it really, absolutely is bizarre– that we suddenly live in a hugely dangerous world filled with grave threats to public safety. That this is different from the world we lived in in the 1960’s or 70’s.

Most people seem to believe it. That’s is why inland cities in the United States received homeland security grants for scuba gear.

(It is odd that anyone should undertake to “end terrorism” today at all. I don’t think anybody serious in the 1970’s would have proposed to “end” terrorism. I think that would have been perceived as a preposterous idea. It wouldn’t have been possible.)

That’s why pop machines in U.S. airports were sealed off. These idiots thought, what if they put nitroglycerin in a Coke can, smuggle it into a Coke machine in an airport, manage to remove the right can just before getting onto an airplane…..

This is sock-puppet security. The biggest piece of bullshit in the world right now is the Republican claim that they are doing a good job of security, if the only thing they do well, because Democrats are “soft” on terrorism. It becomes more and more clear by the day that these people are not merely incompetent. They are dangerously unbalanced. They are prepared to shoot down civilian aircraft on a degree of suspicion, but don’t for one moment suspect that a world better than this one could come about through intelligent, prudent leadership.

In Case You Believe the Authorities That we Have Never Been as Threatened as we are Now:

  • Munich
  • The IRA
  • The Red Brigade
  • The PLO
  • Libya (Khadafy– now our “friend”)
  • The Black Panthers
  • The Mafia
  • Lockerbie
  • Oklahoma City

Or That the World was at Peace Back Then:

  • El Salvador
  • Nicaragua
  • Guatemala
  • Ethiopia
  • Iran
  • Algeria
  • The Congo
  • South Africa
  • Zimbabwe
  • Rwanda

But You Wanted to Increase the Minimum Wage!

You have to hand it to the Republicans some days– clever. They have finally decided to allow an increase to the minimum wage, the first one in seven years, because they must have done some polling and the mid-term elections are coming up. Then they combined it with a permanent tax break affecting a tiny percentage of the richest Americans, but which will result in a huge increase in the federal deficit. The tax break applies to estates over $5 million. This tax break is so attractive to the rich that their twit lobbyists, who normally fight every attempt to increase the minimum wage, have announced that they support this bill in exchange for it.

When they were opposed to the bill, their logic was this: when you increase wages for the poor, you make it more costly to employ them. So less of them will find work. So increasing the minimum wage hurts the working poor.

Gosh. They might be right. In that case, Congress should also place caps on the amount of interest credit card companies can charge their card-holders, or people will stop using credit.

The real sin of this contrivance is that the Republicans– the party of high principles and integrity, remember– have tucked the estate tax break into the minimum wage bill instead of letting each piece of legislation stand on it’s own as they should. This is sneaky, devious, deceitful, and immoral. When you hear people like Bill Frist explain why they are doing this, it sounds a lot like, “it depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

If the Democrats oppose the bill, the Republicans campaign as the friends of the working man, who tried so hard to raise the minimum wage but those damn Democrats– friends of those privileged, snobbish, educated, Eastern elitists– sabotaged it. If the Democrats vote in favor of it– even better. The Republicans can claim it was all their idea. In the meantime, their most ardent supporters get another massive tax break.

Watch the media the next few days. You will see numerous Republicans and their toadies popping up on the talk shows and newscasts using identical phrases and ideas to argue for the bill. This will be highly coordinated. It might work, if the Democrats don’t have the guts to trust the voters to spot a scam when they see one.

Oh joy — now we can turn Cuba into… Haiti. Those who celebrate Castro’s recent illness leave me with mixed feelings. Yes, he is a dictator and Cuba is essentially a one-party state, and yes he has jailed or executed some dissidents (though not as many as, say, Pinochet did in his prime). But if you compare Cuba to other similar nations in the region, it’s hard to argue that life for more Cubans would have been better if the CIA had deposed Castro in the 1960’s. It almost certainly would have been better if the U.S. had not imposed it’s embargo.

“That’s What You Get for Lovin’ Me”

…is a song by Gordon Lightfoot which falls into a kind of genre of “love ’em and leave ’em” songs. These are songs about (usually) a man who romances a woman, seduces her, hangs around for a short time, but then gets restless and can’t help it but hit the road again. The woman, of course, always wants him to stay. What fun would it be (for the man) if the woman said, “Okay. Well, I guess you feel the urge to go, you should go.  It was nice meeting you. ”

I’ve had a hundred more like you, so don’t be blue
I’ll have a thousand ‘fore I’m through.

Here’s a list of some of them:

  • For Lovin’ Me (Gordon Lightfoot)
  • I’m Not Saying (Gordon Lightfoot)
  • Green Green (New Christy Minstrels)
  • Greenback Dollar (New Christy Minstrels)
  • We’ll Sing in the Sunshine (Gale Garnett – odd reversal: here the
    girl announces she will hang around for one year, and then leave)
  • Ramblin’ Man (Allman Brothers Band)
  • Freebird (Lynyrd Skynyrd, with pale imitation “Travelin’ Man”)*
  • Rose of Aberdeen (Ian Tyson)
  • Heard it in a Love Song (Jimmy Buffet)
  • Baby, the Rain Must Fall (Glen Yarborough)

That last one– after explaining why he must desert his girl, with a booming, incontrovertible voice:

Baby, the rain must fall
Baby, the wind must blow,
Where-ever my heart leads me,
Baby I must go,
Baby I must go.

This was a very popular song in it’s day, around 1965, and also gave it’s title (and theme) to a movie starring Steve McQueen as an aspiring singer. Wow. Weirdness prevails. Anyway, this guy, in the song, is telling his girlfriend– or maybe, in these enlightened times, his boyfriend– that he can’t stay. He has to go. He just has to. It’s not that he’s a no-account bum who exploited her, took advantage of her feelings, and is now setting out to cheat on her. Oh, no no no. He just, well, has to go. It’s a force of nature, the incontrovertible will of God, fate, destiny– all of that. Like the wind must blow. Like blowin’ in the wind, which is where the answer to the question, “did you know this before you seduced me” is.

It’s not that I’m unsympathetic. If some guy feels an utterly compelling urge to travel and see the world, hey, more power to him. And if he is able to convince some woman that he would be a fine, temporary lover– hey, go for it. It’s just that I suspect that most of these rambler-gamblers are probably a little less than forth-right about those facts at the start of a relationship.

Or maybe they’re just gay. Maybe I’m missing some code here. Maybe the whole thing fits better into the “Brokeback Mountain” sort of scenario. Can’t you just picture Jake Gyllenhaal singing, “Baby, the Rain Must Fall” as he gets back into his little pickup truck to head back to Texas? And Heath Ledger weeping in his trailer?

In that respect, the first song on the list, “For Lovin’ Me”, by Gordon Lightfoot, is refreshingly frank:

That’s what you get for lovin’ me,
Everything you had is gone, as you can see
That’s what you get for lovin’ me.

…I’ve had a hundred more like you,
So don’t be blue.
I’ll have a thousand ‘fore I’m through.

That’ a refreshing tone. It’s like 2:35 seconds of so long, sucker.

Dylan wrote a few, but they’re different. Try “It Aint Me Babe”. He doesn’t have that bitchy God told me to see the world tone that the other songs have, which may make you suspect that that God-told-me-to-see-the-world tone is largely bullshit.

You say you’re looking for someone
Who will promise never to part
Someone to close his eyes for you
Someone to close his heart
Someone who will die for you and more

How good of a lyricist is Bob Dylan exactly? “Someone who will die for you and more” is brilliant. So is “close his eyes” and then “close his heart”. He is unparalleled as a lyricist.

Not one of these other so-long-baby songs can hold a light to the greatest “I’m a-leavin’ yah” song of all time, also with one of the greatest put-downs in the history of popular music, also by, of course, Bob Dylan:

Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right (Bob Dylan)

Now I aint saying you treated me unkind
You could have done better,
I don’t mind.
You just kind of wasted my precious time,
Don’t think twice, it’s all right.

Whoa! Wasted his precious time! A line that makes Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” sound like Florence Nightingale, with her: “I’m disappointed in you…”

Love sucks.

* added 2014-04-20

SCTV’s brilliant “Gordon Lightfoot Sings Every Song Ever Written