Friday, February 29, 2008

Turkey Gets Out, Afghanistan Falls Apart, a Canadian Guy and Spanking

So many stories I wanted to talk about today. In no particular order:

>> When last we left Turkey they were giving the US and Baghdad the middle finger by launching a huge ground invasion into Northern Iraq. This, everyone predicted, would throw Iraq's only stable region into chaos.

Now it's over.

Wow. Does this make the US look stupid, or what? Not because we predicted all kinds of chaos that didn't happen (I'll admit it, I was worried), but because this is how the war on terror should have been fought in the first place.

Facing the same problem we were (terrorism), but with an added problem (the terrorists were next door), Turkey went Powell Doctrine on them.

(The Powell Doctrine was, in an incredibly ironic twist, totally ignored by the Bush administration when it invaded Iraq, even though Colin Powell was at least nominally in the administration. The war in Iraq violates every single tenet of the Powell Doctrine.)

The point is, Turkey went in, killed their enemies, and got out. Here's the key part of their statement:
“There was no question of completely liquidating” the PKK, the military said, “but Turkey has shown the organization that northern Iraq is not a safe haven for them.”
Now, if Turkey were the US, the Republicans would be saying that this was code for, "We couldn't beat them, we surrendered, we're France." But the truth is, it's extremely difficult to wipe out any guerrilla movement entirely. Instead, Turkey had one specific goal: wipe out their enemy's infrastructure in Northern Iraq. They achieved their strategic objective, they left. Doesn't that sound really nice right about now?

This, incidentally, is exactly the kind of mission Barack Obama wants to run against Pakistan, and the situation is extremely similar. Obama has advocated tactical strikes on al Qaeda and Taliban forces in southern Pakistan. Everyone has equated this with an attack on our nominal ally Pakistan, but it's not. To be sure, Pakistan isn't crazy about the idea, just like Baghdad begged Turkey not to attack. But just as Baghdad had no control over northern Iraq, Pakistan's been completely ineffectual at fighting terrorists in southern Pakistan, when it's bothered trying at all. In the end, Baghdad gritted its teeth through the attack because Turkey is bigger, stronger, and oh yes, next door. Iraq does not want to piss Turkey off.

And if Iraq doesn't want to piss Turkey off, you think Pakistan wants to piss us off?

The point here is that military campaigns are a lot easier when you have a strategic objective, an exit strategy and, most importantly, don't try to play extreme makeover with another country. Speaking of which...


>> In case you hadn't heard, we're losing the war in Afghanistan.

Cliff notes version: America's Intelligence Chief joins the chorus of realists (which doesn't include, for example, Robert Gates) in saying the situation in Afghanistan is "deteriorating." By this he means, that Harmid Karzai's government controls maybe 30% of the country, while the Taliban controls about 10%. The remaining 60% is under "tribal" rule.

Shock and horror right? Very bad right?

I'm not so sure. Our enduring problem in the developing world is believing in maps. Maps tell us Afghanistan is one country, so goddamit it needs one government. Never mind that it's really made up of dozens of feuding tribes. Those can just be parties or something.

My point is, maybe we shouldn't give a shit how much of the country Bush's buddy Karzai (who the Afghans mockingly call "the Mayor of Kabul") controls. In fact, backing Karzai's government too strongly resembles nothing so much as the Soviet's attempt to prop up Afghanistan's government during the cold war. While the Soviet-backed government was nominally "in power," the truth was that the majority of the people were part of tribes, and those tribes could all unite on exactly two philosophical points: "God is great" and "Fuck the Soviets."

Replace "Soviets" with "Americans" and that starts to look a lot like our situation, right?

It should not be our military goal to turn Afghanistan into a united country with a strong central government. Our goal should be to make sure it's a lousy place to be a terrorist, and that's it. By occupying the country, we're giving the terrorists a target and the "tribes" a common enemy. Let the Afghans run the country however they want. This is not Iraq where, if we leave there will be a genocide. These people are used to living in tribes. Let them. Just blow the crap out of the Taliban and get out of there. You can't get all of it, so don't try. Just hurt them strategically, and then scram.


>> Back on the homefront, did you know the coolest story ever is coming to light in Canada? It's about bribery and cancer and somehow it made my entire day anyway. Here's the story:

In 2005, Canada's parliament has a vote to oust the liberal prime minister. It's a tight race, and could hinge on one vote.

So two conservatives go and visit this independent MP* who has terminal cancer, and bribe him with a one million dollar life insurance plan.

He tells them to fuck off.

The resolution fails by one vote. His.

He dies a couple months later.

Sort of renews your faith in humanity, right? It's the kind of thing that's right out of the movies. A man about to die, the sleezy operatives, the moral stand... it's fantastic. I don't know anything else about Chuck Cadman, and last time I saluted a dead guy it didn't work out so well. But I'm going to go out on a limb and say the world could use more people like this guy.


>> And just to end on a weird outragey note, did you see this story about the evils of spanking?

In this case, I mean spanking in the sex-type sense AND the thing you do to snot-nosed little bastards sense. The upshot of the article is, well, just read this quote:
Straus, a longtime researcher in the field, analyzed four prior studies and found that teens or young adults whose parents used corporal punishment were more likely to coerce dating partners into having sex or to engage in risky or masochistic sex.
Wait, wait, wait. Surely one of these things is not like the other, right?

Nope. No sense of that. This is a study and article that lumps rape and fetish play into the same category of "things you sure don't want your kids to do someday."

I'm not saying I encourage or condone spanking. There's loads of evidence that it can all sorts of screw with you later in life, and also all sorts of people lining up to say, "It were done to me, and I turned out swell." Honestly, I tend to think it's a lousy thing to do to kids, because kids are people, and you wouldn't do it to a people right? I mean, unless they asked nicely.

But while it is interesting that the heavily spanked were almost twice as likely to find S&M arousing, it's also pretty significant that those totals were 75% to 40%. Forty percent! That's a pretty big number no? We could be talking about a substantial portion of the population here right?

I'm just saying that maybe we wouldn't be such a repressed country if we didn't toss rape, unsafe sex, and widespread sexual peccadilloes under the same big ol' "deviant" umbrella. Just a thought.

*That's Member of Parliament for those of you who don't read tons of foreign political news.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Pissing Off Some Concerned Local Citizens, also Abu Dhabi

Couple things today, including sorting out the surge! Ready for fun times! I thought so.

> Most people don't really understand our current strategy in Iraq, which is understandable given that we're fed nothing but a steady stream of bullshit about "the surge," which is basically a Bush administration marketing campaign. The idea, I guess, was to somehow convince normal Americans that we could "surge" our way to victory, as if the Iraq war were one of traditional offenses and operations, as if one more push would break the insurgency and we could all go home.

There's a really perverse irony in this. Bush essentially used deliberately misleading traditional warfare imagery to sell a campaign that's as unconventional as it gets.

Here is our current strategy in a nutshell: Arm the people who used to be shooting at us, give them $10 a day, and call them "Concerned Local Citizens."

Now, when you explain that to most people, they go all outrage on you. Me? I thought it was fucking brilliant.

What Petraeus understands full well is that the US job at this point has little to do with stopping insurgents. The job is to effectively referee a civil war.

The CLCs, also sometimes called "Awakening Councils" or some variation thereof, are nominally mixed, but in reality they are almost totally comprised of former Sunni militants. Now, the thing about Sunni militants, is that they mostly fall into three camps: 1). Former members of the army/police under Sadam, 2). Normal Sunnis who joined up with Sunni militants when the shit hit the fan and 3). Asshole motherfuckers from out of town. Also crazy people.

Group 3 is what the Bush folks like to call "al Qaeda" or if they're feeling slightly more honest "al Qaeda in Iraq" or AQI. They also call themselves al Qaeda, even though they are unaffiliated with the real al Qaeda, as a ploy to get more asshole motherfuckers from out of town to come join up.

But the thing about groups 1 and 2 is, they mostly had decent lives under Sadam, and what many of them want is those lives back. And most of them hate the asshole motherfuckers from out of town, who seem to fight for the sake of unending jihad.

So the US said to those guys, "Look, stop the warmonger motherfuckers, protect your neighborhoods like you want to anyway, and we'll pay you for it and buy you guns."

If everything goes right, they eventually become indispensable, and are welcomed into the Iraqi army and police forces, and suddenly we've turned all the fighting types into friendly types.

Of course, if it fails you have an organized Sunni army ready to fight a proper civil war.

Whoops.

You know, the reason this whole al Qaeda/Taliban thing happened in the first place is because we armed a bunch of crazy people in Afghanistan and never let them know that we were their friends. They were the enemies of our enemies, so we armed them, but we never made friends out of them.

These "Concerned Local Citizens"? They're supposed to be our friends, and they're supposed to know it. And we're not going to bat for them? We're killing their guys because we think they're terrorists? Huh?

Maybe it's all been blown out of whack, but at this point we've seen so much similar shit go down that I believe them when they tell stories like this:

In the village of Zaab, west of the northern city of Kirkuk, police officials and witnesses said U.S. forces on Feb. 14 killed six relatives of an Awakening leader, Issa Muhsin al-Jubouri, and detained him and others. In an interview last week, after his release, he said U.S. soldiers had "raised their weapons in my face and shouted at me, 'Confess or I will shoot you.'

"They beat me and cursed me and made me face the wall, saying to me, 'You have exploited the Awakening to support the terrorists,' " Jubouri said. "I kept saying, 'You are mistaken, because I and my family have been victims of terrorists.' "

[Snip]

When asked about Jubouri's allegations, Maj. Brad Leighton, a U.S. military spokesman, replied: "It's combat. I would not expect our guys to be gentle when conducting an operation on a place where we suspect there are terrorists."


See, I believe Jubouri here. And if I don't trust our troops, how the hell are the Iraqis supposed to?

> I got really pissed off today having to write up this story from the New York Times.

Upshot: Abu Dhabi is buying stock in US companies. Which has, apparently "raised concern that these investors will wield their wealth for political as well as financial reasons."

Whose concerns? Does not say. Why do they think that? Does not say. In fact, the facts give every indication that Abu Dhabi is doing nothing but trying to make money. That they are pumping money into the US economy while doing so ought to be a good thing.

Instead, the Times keeps mentioning how "secretive" they are, as though it is a sovereign country's duty to report to everyone else how much money they have. Never said, but lurking at the edge of the discussion is the real reason this piece has come to light: Abu Dhabi is Arab.

I know! My god! Letting Arabs buy the banks! Next we'll pull out of Iraq and become the next France.

It was this same xenophobia that killed the Dubai ports deal, a really ugly moment for this country.

Listen, the United Arab Emirates is one of the most diverse nations in the world. It's a modern, industrialized vacation destination. These are, in short, not the people who want to blow us up. These are the people who want our economy to remain healthy, both to keep oil demand high, and because their currency is tied to the freaking dollar.

If we want to build trust in the Arab world, we need to, at the very least, be unafraid of dealing with the parts of it that don't totally suck.

> Prophesy about the 2008 race most likely to come true:

“There will be times in this campaign where people do and say stupid things,” said a McCain spokeswoman.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Loving Johnny Mac, the Russian Soul, and Hating Johnny Mac

Back to the quick(ish) hit format for this one. Ready? Good:

> Every once in a while I'm reminded why I used to love John McCain. This was one of those moments.

To recap: Conservative talking head goes on to warm up the crowd before a McCain speech, and goes on a predictably low-brow and tactless tear against Obama, the media, and because he still couldn't resist, Hillary Clinton. Especially notable: this was the maiden voyage of the 'Hey his middle name is Hussein' tactic. It's always cute when slime campaigns are young. More on that later.

But first, let's focus on just how awesome it is that John McCain smacked the bastard down. Johnny Mac may be this generation's Bob Dole, he may be a dishonest superhawk psycho, but goddam it, if he's going to go down in flames behind an incredibly unpopular war, if he's going to go down having caved on nearly every issue where he disagreed with the conservative base ("The first thing we need to do is make the Bush tax cuts permanent!"), at least he's going to do it without lining up between right-wing shitheads who have always hated him anyway.

This was kind of a key testing point. McCain is an avid Fox News watcher, so who knows where this is going in the long run, but at least for now it looks like he is not going to roll over, sit and beg so he can appease the Republican ranting class. If he hadn't apologized for last night's remarks, he's essentially handing his campaign over to those jackals. The Bill Cunningham's of the world would endorse the guy through gritted teeth and go back to the business-as-usual of calling Democrats traitors. Now, they know that they at least can't do it in the guy's name.

I won't even get into Cunningham's over-the-top reaction, which is predictably ridiculous. I look forward to seeing Mr. Cunningham and Ann Coulter team up and criss-cross the country stumping for Hillary Clinton. It could be like a buddy movie for despicable people.

But before we move on, we've got to take a look at Cunningham's masterful "Hussein" play. And by "masterful" I mean "underhanded as fuck."
"I have nothing but respect for my Muslim brothers and sisters," Cunningham said. "The ones who oppose that particular name, they're the ones with the problem, not me. His name is Barack Hussein Obama."

Riiiiiight. Let's see:

* Use the name as much as possible in a not-so-subtle attempt to make sure your idiot followers pick up on it? CHECK

*Defend yourself using smarmy faux-enlightenment that covers you with the small vaguelly reasonable portion of your audience? CHECK

* Be sure to mention that it's a "Muslim" name as often as possible to foster the misconception that Obama is Muslim? CHECK

Well played, Mr. Cunningham. Please go die in a fire.

> My favorite quote of the day came from this Der Spiegel piece on Russia:
"While Europeans may find the American election circus amusing, it unquestionably reflects a fundamentally democratic system."
That's an off-handed comment by the way, with the basic implication being: "We may find America's system ridiculous, petty and out-moded, but hey, it beats Russia!"

(The rest of the article is total crap by the way, the main points being that since Russians have always knocked off their opponents that clearly Medvedev and Putin can't share power. It's one of those pieces that talks about Russia's authoritarian soul and takes for granted that the Russian people are really happy with Putin. Gag. Write in Kasparov, comrades!)

> Hey remember how a second ago we were loving John McCain? Then there's this.

There is nothing more despicable than this al Qaeda in Iraq nonsense, and because I respect John McCain's intelligence, I have to imagine that he understands this. That or he's gone senile, one of the two.

For anyone confused, al Qaeda in Iraq, is NOT the al Qaeda that Osama Bin Laden runs and has nothing to do with it. As Obama says, the group existed in no way, shape or form before the invasion. And moreover, it's really not a big concern anymore because the Iraqi Sunnis turned on it and kicked the shit out of it, and it represents maybe 1% of the militants in Iraq. By saying things like "al Qaeda is in Iraq" or "We're fighting al Qaeda" every ten minutes, Bush and McCain are deliberately misleading the American people. So fuck them with a stick, really.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

No Real Differences, or Rational Reasons to Hate Hillary Clinton, Part 1

If there's one line I'm sick of hearing, it's how there's "no real difference between Hillary and Barack" so you should just "pick whoever you like better."

Um, no.

Yeah, this time picking who you like probably means picking the cool, smart black dude instead of the perhaps retarded cocaine Jesus cowboy, but it's still a bad way to pick a president, and moreover, it's intellectually lazy and untrue.

I draw your attention to the following article, in which Hillary Clinton literally, I shit you not, uttered the words, "Shame on You, Barack Obama!"

Now, I'm going to skip over the "OMG, she compared Obama to Rove!" stuff. Is anyone really surprised at this point about just how negative Hillary is willing to go? No, I'd rather focus on the part where she lies:
"Senator Obama knows it is not true that my plan forces people to buy insurance even if they can't afford it," Clinton said. "It is blatantly false and yet he continues to spend millions of dollars perpetuating falsehoods. It is not hopeful. It is destructive, particularly for a Democrat to be discrediting universal health care."
Actually, Hillary, your plan forces everyone to buy insurance. Now, the plan may be scaled based on income, and federally subsidized, and all that good stuff. But that just means that in your opinion people will be able to afford it. The people buying it? They get no say. You mean to tell me you're going to create such a perfect, bureaucracy-proof system that no one is going to be the exception to the rule, that no one is going to find this a burden? Really? That's a staggering amount of faith in government.

Moreover, Hillary has essentially said she'll probably go after the wages of anyone who doesn't buy in.
"We will have an enforcement mechanism, whether it's that or it's some other mechanism through the tax system or automatic enrollments," Clinton said
Now, I don't really think Hillary's healthcare plan will bring us to our knees. But I think it's here, at her most heartfelt issue, that we see some of Hillary's driving ideological differences with Obama.

First, and most obviously, Hillary holds a Utopian view of government as a positive force that can and should swoop in and fix your life. When she says, "it is not hopeful," I don't think it's just a jab at Obama's rhetoric, though it is that. Hillary genuinely believes the government can flawlessly execute such a system, without bureaucracy and corruption totally perverting it. That's pretty optimistic.

[Personal ideology sidebar: I think this view, optimistic as it is, ignores the truth: every law is a rule, an imposition on someone's freedom, usually for the good of someone else. The ugly truth that Hillary's plan is just that is visible in her need for an "enforcement measure," a delightfully accurate and vaguely Orwellian-sounding turn of phrase.]

But even as her plan shows us Clinton the idealist, it's showing us Clinton the realist. The thing you must understand about Clinton's plan is that it was devised entirely by and for the insurance companies.

Still bearing the battle scars from her first attempt at universal health care, Clinton decided to play good cop this time. She met with everyone from big employers to insurers to pharmaceutical companies before devising this plan. When she unveiled, one businessperson admired the approach, saying (and I'm paraphrasing here, because I can't find the article) "She understood everyone had to come away with a win."

Let's run down that win list shall we? Big business passes some of their health costs to the government. That's a win. Insurers wind up with everyone insured, including that juicy low-risk, high-yield young person demographic that is so distressingly under-insured. And you? You get health care for slightly cheaper, probably, depending on income. You lucky devil. Oh, and lest I forget, Hillary Clinton comes away with a win too: She gets more campaign contributions from the big pharmaceutical companies than anyone.

Hillary is a political operator. She realized her last plan died because the medical industry poured money into shooting it down. This time, she decided to get them on board, which depending on your point of view is either commendable business-savvy governance, or letting the fox into the hen house.

But that's Hillary. She's staked her life on the concept of changing the system from the inside. From this scathing Rolling Stone piece by the awesome Matt Taibbi:
Listen to what Hillary wrote back in the day, in her senior thesis at Wellesley, which looked at the work of a Chicago community organizer named Saul Alinsky, who had offered her a job. "I agreed with some of Alinsky's ideas," she wrote, "but we had a fundamental disagreement. He believed you could change the system only from the outside. I didn't."
(Alinsky's successor, incidentally? Barack Obama. You can't make this stuff up.)

Another line to note from that line up top. Hillary thinks it's especially lousy for "a democrat to to be discrediting universal health care."

Hillary's argument here is, literally, that she can't believe Barack would scribble outside the lines in the party's coloring book. 'Nuff said, really.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Is Aristocracy All Bad?

These days, everyone's talking about superdelegates.

Actually, it might be more accurate to say that everyone is complaining about superdelegates. You really don't see too many people (outside of the Hillary's sleepover buddies) extolling the wonders of the superdelegate system. It seems the nation, as ever pretty oblivious to how it is run, just figured out that these devious anti-democracy figures existed. Everyone is duly shocked, horrified, etc.

Honestly, I understand the impulse. But I think it's an impulse born of a fundamental dogmatism built into not just our culture, but most world culture: the unshakable belief that Democracy Is Good.

Now, I am not, in this humble blog post, going to delve into the entire philosophical case for or against democracy, because really, you don't want a post that long. So, lemme rustle up some anecdotal arguments:

Here are some actual quotes from stories I have read this election cycle:

"[Giuliani] has a chance, though personally I don't know what I'll do. I think he has to get his act together with all these marriages."

"Maybe Huckabee. I kind of like him. He's out there around people. Seems honest, friendly."

"I think [Obama's] a little glib for my liking," said Fiaza Haniffa, a Montessori teacher inFairfax, Va. "He's a little superior...He talks to this higher level. [Hillary] talks about the day-to-day level."

I could go on, but I can't find the sources. Bill Maher does a whole segment on this on his show, which you should podcast.

The point is... people are stupid and easily mislead.

Now, it is not the electorate's fault that it is stupid and easily mislead. The electorate does not have someone paying them to read or write political news. Most people just have too much going on to give a damn about the election. Granted and granted.

But the fact is, we're about to decide a president, and all most people can tell you about Barack Obama is that he's "inspirational" and all anyone can tell you about Hillary Clinton is that she "sucks." And while at least one of those things is true, I cannot help but feel that our national dialog is not so robust as it maybe needs to be to reliably steer the entire fucking free world. In fact, if you've been paying attention, you've seen this dialog devolve into the pathetic pile of nothing it is now. Early in the cycle, the debates were wonderful on the Democratic side - people actually discussed their thoughts. By New Hampshire, there was none of that nonsense. In those debates we were fed nothing but bickerfests about "change," which have since devolved yet further, into soulless, empty campaign narratives repeated ad nauseum by candidates and pundit alike. How the hell do you expect people to make an informed choice when neither candidate seems particularly interested in information?

And then there are superdelegates.

Superdelegates are professional politicians. They, like most people voting in the Demcoratic primary, want a Democrat in the White House above all else. They, theoretically, have an exceptionally strong grasp on the issues right?

So I have to ask, is it so bad to give those people a bigger say than the lady who's backing Hillary because Barack Obama is "a little glib"?

Such a heretical statement is anti-democratic, but let's get one thing straight: we don't live in a democracy. We live in an aristocracy. We did not get to pick Hillary Clinton, and we did not get to pick Barack Obama. They picked themselves, and had enough powerful friends give them enough money and support to put them in this position. In the old days, said powerful people took it a step further and picked the candidates outright, by themselves.

I was really jamming on this argument, until I did this piece for Newser yesterday.

Some extra stuff from the source:

She talked about taking her two young daughters to dance lessons later that day. She shared a bit of campaign strategy, laying out how volunteers would be moved into Pennsylvania, which votes April 22, once Texas and Ohio hold their primaries March 4. And when Campbell mentioned that she uses a wheelchair, Obama spoke about her late father, who used a scooter to get around.

"She was talking to me like you would your girlfriend," said Campbell, a Philadelphia Democratic Party official who also heads the city's African American ward leaders. "Now, I'm old enough to be her mother, but I like what I heard. . . . I loved that those little girls going to dancing lessons were just as important to her as being out there campaigning. And she told me how her mom slammed her finger in the door the day before. No pretense. Just real."
Right. So, essentially this woman is giving Barack Obama her support because... his wife talked to her like they were girlfriends for an hour and a half? What?

And this is what derailed my whole argument: Superdelegates are people too. Many are smarter than the old fart who thinks Giuliani needs to "get his act together with all these wives," and hell, I'm sure many are smarter than Carol Campbell, party official from Philadelphia, but that doesn't mean they don't have other foibles. It doesn't mean they can't be bribed, bullied, flattered or whatever else. Those tactics work a lot better on superdelegates than they do on voters. You can't make a promise to all of Iowa in a smoky room without the rest of the country finding out.

I guess the real reason I want to defend the superdelegate system is that I want to believe that somewhere there is a mechanism for ensuring that the country is led by some wisdom greater than the moment's collective whim. I would like our country to be run by rational people making rational decisions, instead of the winner of a crazy, soulless duel between propaganda machines. I want someone to save us from platitude hell.

The superdelegates aren't those people. Really, they're the people who picked out the figureheads we have to choose between. For better or for worse, we have to trust the populous to get this one right.

Just remember, Barack is a really inspirational guy while Hillary, man does she get things done. And John McCain, well, he's a war hero.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Suicidal Times

Something has been bothering me lately. This is going to get into some pretty dark territory pretty fast, I suspect, so if you are here for the Blog Snark Spak (TM), you might want to try back later.

I did two stories today about shootings. One of them was actually pretty ridiculous. Quick version: The good people of Tempe, Arizona won't let this poor guy start his castle-themed bar, so, he concludes, the only answer is to take an assault rifle to the Super Bowl and open fire. In his mind, this has something to do with the revolution, class warfare, and quite possibly Hitler. Beforehand, he mails threatening shit to the news networks. In the end he decides not to do it though, so it's okay to laugh.

Other story? Less funny. We know virtually nothing yet, but the short version is that a nursing student walked into a full college classroom, shot exactly two women dead, and then turned the gun on herself.

The thing about that story? It's not that shocking. You'd like to be shocked, and maybe the details (Woman! Nurse!) intrigue, but ultimately, the series of events is just too common. Too scripted.

I don't know if the Columbine kids wrote this script, but they certainly popularized it. Ever since we've had a steady diet of psychopathic egomaniacs going on killing sprees with no intention of living through them.

And, if we're being honest, there's some comfort in this script. There is the shocking senselessness of it, of course, but there is also instant closure. There is no killer loose. He (or, yes, in this case, she) has in effect given himself the death penalty, but without sullying the conscience of those of us who aren't crazy about the death penalty.

This is, of course, a trick of story telling. Few, I'm sure, have the same reaction to suicide bombings, even though they are the exact same thing. The shooting allows the comfort of narrative - evil act followed by self destruction, as though one was caused by the other, instead of being part and parcel as they always were. Suicide bombings, with their single moment of mutual destruction, tell the true story. The suicide and the killing are in both cases one act, and in both, the killer is triumphant.

But I digress. The point is that somewhere in the last, say 20 years, suicide became the preferred escape route for killers everywhere, particularly those who projected their anger on large societal groups or forces. It's an astonishingly bleak development, and one that we haven't yet wrapped our societal consciousness around.

School shooters and terrorists are astonishingly similar phenomenons, happening at the same time, despite radically different breeding grounds. There are differences - the terrorists, of course, believe some ridiculous reward awaits them, something I'm sure the school shooting crowd has few illusions about. But both acts reveal a deep overriding hopelessness and aimlessness. In both cases, the rage so overpowers that some unrelated persons can be held accountable for your ills. In both cases, the culprits want to spill what the would-be Super Bowl killer so lucidly called "the blood of innocents," because they are perceived as representative of some larger societal enemy.

Is there something about our age that is fundamentally hopeless? Or, rather, breeds hopelessness? Perhaps.

In the US, so many are doing so well that all social ills are background noise, problems, maybe, but not ones to be dealt with on a serious level. Our political discourse, when it verges on substantive issues at all, focuses on shuffling around half percentage points in complicated appropriations bills. Gone are the days of FDR, when the country could move and respond to the world. There are no new deals coming. Gone too are the days of Kennedy, when the sky seemed to be the limit, when science seemed to be accomplishing ever greater things. Now, technology has been reduced to hand held gadgets, and no one is seriously dreaming about flying cars, jet packs and life in outer space. Mass media has made us fully aware of how hollow all our heroes are, how corrupt our government is. We live in an age without legends or heroes.

In the rest of the developing world, US power is unbreakable and unreachable. An enemy so distant as to be unreal seems daily to be behind some evil (real or perceived), all while its people revel in total ignorant bliss, lapping up the pleasures of the world, and, of course, listening to the devil music and letting their kids walk around half naked.

Maybe it has always been this hopeless, but again, in the past, it was probably harder to know. And, you know, society has gotten steadily better over the last few hundred years, at least in our neck of the woods, so at some point, people had to feel some kind of overriding optimism, right?

And maybe it's wrong to attribute all this to societal forces, because surely, psychopaths of all stripes are moved most by the winds of their own lives, the private bubbles of desperation they build for themselves.

But I think the rash of suicide killings cannot be a coincidence. Enemies of society generally romanticize themselves, but in ages past they have tended to strive to escape, live to fight another day, because intrinsic in this was the hope that another day would bring victory. Today's unabombers don't see a point in dealing with the mail - they see no hope for survival, and no hope for victory.

And okay, maybe it's a little weird to sit here wondering how to give hope to killers and psychopaths and terrorists. Maybe that is the other comfort in the suicide bombing: killers knowing they can't win.

Why doesn't that feel like comfort?

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