January 26, 2003


The internet is a wonderful place. I almost wrote 'invention,' but it is, in fact, a landscape, a space to explore. We have, at our fingertips, all of the combined wisdom (and idiocy) of our species throughout our long struggle up towards enlightenment.

The internet is also a horrible place, for there are dark rooms and hidden sewers where all of the festering evil we humans commit upon each other are exposed for those with the stomach to witness it.

I have spent much time in these disgusting realms in the days since September 11th, 2001. I have forced myself to endure many videotaped nightmares. I have seen Africans hacked to pieces with machetes, watched mere boys shot in the street and left there like dogs by other Kalashnikov-wielding children. I've seen a mass execution by firing squad, men tied to poles set against a gorgeous beach while picnickers cheered and danced. I've seen a man's hands cut off in front of his very eyes.

I've seen photos of blackened lumps in a morgue in Bali, the charred and twisted remains of happy young men and women in the prime of their lives. I've seen the unimaginable carnage in the few seconds after a suicide bombing in Israel, dead and dying old men and women looking down at their shattered bodies in disbelief, and yonder the head of the perpetrator smiling joyously on the sidewalk. I've seen the rage and joy of pre-teen children as they throw stones at their murdered neighbors accused of collaboration in Palestine.

I've seen emergency workers with shovels cleaning up what's left of people after a Serb mortar attack on a marketplace. I've seen the almost unimaginable cruelty of Chechens screaming Allahu Ackbar! as they decapitate a Russian civilian with a small axe in a forest clearing, and I have watched them cut the throat of a Russian boy soldier with such horror and disgust that I was sick for the rest of the day. I have seen these things, and more.

There are two images I will never forget, and I expect I will think of them often in the days and weeks to come. For in the front row of this parade of horror and depravity, I have watched a fundamentalist Islamic crowd stone two women to death. They were covered head to toe in shockingly white linen ' the better to see the bloodstains. Taken into a field and buried up to their waists, they looked like odd white sails on a sand horizon, until the stones began to fly, leaving red carnations where they landed. One of the women just crumpled, bent at the waist, and I still pray that this person was knocked unconscious within the first minute or so. The other did not go peacefully into that good night. She died fighting and struggling, enduring the most sickening lurches as the unseen stones fell on her, twisting under that now-scarlet hood, trying to protect her face as best she could, as hundreds of her friends and relatives vented their rage, calling out the name of their god as we would cheer on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Allahu Ackbar! Allahu Ackbar! Allahu Ackbar!

I will not forget that image.

And I will not forget another one, either. As long as I draw breath, I swear I will never forget the sight of two people holding hands, and leaping from 108 stories above the hard concrete sidewalks that I myself have walked, gawking skyward at one of the wonders of the world. I will not forget them. I will not forget their fall, the spin that finally tore their hands apart as they fell forever, forever down that quarter-mile. I will never stop wondering what they said to each other in that last moment, or their cries to each other as they launched themselves to their deaths, having watched their friends take the same leap a few moments before. I will never forget what an unimaginable hell that their cozy office, full of coffee mugs and pictures of grandchildren, had become in order for them to make that choice, with the ruins of their friends visible on the streets so far below them.

Now let me explain why I have sought out such despair and horror, endured again and again the rising bile, the nausea, the sickening unclean sense that is cured only by a long, hot shower.

I do it because I want to see what is, not what has been fed to me. I have worked as a scientist and a television editor, and both of these professions have driven me to seek out the reality, the raw data, the source footage. I want my worldview and my opinions to reflect facts, not wishes ' no matter how unpleasant the facts, or how comforting the wishes.

One of the reasons that September 11th remains so shocking and clear to us today was that it was all raw and unedited during those first few hours. Bland, chatty newsmen were rendered speechless, a tough-as-nails mayor broke down and wept, congressmen spontaneously broke into God Bless America because they didn't know what else to do, and people sent in video of jets flying into buildings, broadcast unedited as their friends screamed Jesus F------g Christ!! on network television. It was raw. It was real. It stayed that way for perhaps 48 hours, until people like me (but not me) got a hold of it and turned it into America Mourns with slow-mo flags snapping and moving dissolves of weeping bystanders superimposed over somber musical chords.

Now that awful, enraging footage is being held back, so as not to inflame public opinion. We are about to launch a war in which people will die at our hand, and we have done a dreadful job of making the case for such an action. No cold-blooded, clear-eyed look at what we oppose in this conflict could do anything but inflame public opinion.

Those who criticize the United States from within clearly have not seen any of these horrors I have mentioned, for if they had it could not but mitigate their rhetoric, and put some perspective into their arrogant and affluent lives. Those who actually endure such daily horror as can be found in the world want one thing and one thing only: they want to come here. They want to come here NOW.

We never see these grotesque realities on US television, and yet our news media has not been shy about reporting the effects of US bombing campaigns, never missed a chance to show us the weeping civilians wailing over children lost in US air attacks, never blanched at showing charred Iraqi soldiers hanging out of tanks destroyed by our weapons.

However, by showing only our actions, by showing only what we did to Iraqis without presenting the horrors they inflicted on Kuwait, we have made an editorial decision, that being: The US is the cause of, and not the remedy to, much of the suffering in the world.

That said, in a democracy we are responsible for the actions of our military. Reporting on the consequences of our actions is disturbing and demoralizing, and yet it is well and proper that they do this. We cannot turn our backs on the actual consequences of our actions as Americans. We need to see and hear the result of our military operations, for if we do not we will lose the shock and outrage, the human compassion and decency that so often stays our hand. We, as a nation, learned in Vietnam that war is not jingoistic glory. It is also not a videogame. It is concentrated, unleashed pain, agony, grief and horror, and real people, people who love their children as much as we do, are going to suffer and die because of the actions we are about to take.

Unlike our political opponents both here and abroad, we need to fully and completely understand and accept the consequences of our position. And those consequences, when making war, are the most solemn and heavy responsibilities we can bear as a people.

Those protesting this war do not seem to get this at all. Not only have they failed to make an argument based on fact and historical precedent, they have stooped to the most childish and infantile posturing and rhetoric imaginable. Their chanting has all the mindlessness and cruelty of a kindergarten cabal; their slogans and slanders and taunts seemingly exclusively ad hominem. Watching them on C'Span for as long as you can bear, you rapidly become convinced that they have no point to make at all, other than that the United States is, by definition, the source of all evil and injustice in the world. Conscientious liberals admit in private, and indeed, more frequently in public, to the paucity of thought, the irrationality and sheer lunacy of those who march in our streets in opposition to war with Iraq. I see the absurd posturing of these suburban socialists, listen to the inane chanting from these mall Marxists, watch them return to their Lexuses and their minivans and their SUVs and find myself stuck with Life During Wartime running over and over in my head:

This ain't no party
This ain't no disco
This ain't no foolin' around

This ain't no Mud Club
I ain't got time for that now

As we enter the eve of this war, I am myself torn by a paradox in human nature that has confused and baffled minds far greater and more refined than mine. How can human beings be both so good and so bad? How can the SS and the Salvation Army be staffed by the same species? What exactly is our nature, anyway?

This has been debated for ages, but to me the most cursory look at the world can quickly and clearly provide a powerful clue. The single definitive trait of Homo Sapiens, our greatest ' indeed, only -- strength as a species, is our limitless adaptability. No other creature before or since can live anywhere, (or eat anything) and thrive. From the bleached sands of the Sahara to the ice floes of the pole, we can adapt and prosper. We can be found in every latitude, in the far reaches of space, and at the bottom of the ocean. We appear to be infinitely programmable, and so we adapt to anything.

In societies where cruelty and domination rule, we are capable of the most unspeakable acts of torture, repression and murder. In the streets of revolution-torn Africa, in torture chambers in South America, in the killing fields of Asia, the Gulags of the steppes, the European death camps and the Confederacy's cotton plantations we see refined and perfected barbarism and inhumanity.

Some say this is just human nature. And yet, and yet, in those few historical moments where freedom and prosperity and democracy are allowed to flourish and grow, we are startled by the near total absence of such plagues. No democracy has ever declared war on another. They may have endured hunger, but no true democracy has ever faced actual famine. Individual crime and atrocity have sadly not been banished, but bloodshed and massacre in the streets day after day are unimaginable. Entire communities and nations have been built and survive on deeply cherished ideals of liberty and freedom.

Where the people rule, soldiers do not come jackbooted in the night. Decency, trust, respect and cooperation are the coin of such a realm, and their by-products are equality, prosperity, and happiness. And by any measure, the most free and prosperous and inventive of these societies may be found in the United States of America.

We have managed, as a nation, to build and maintain what might best be thought of as a bubble of freedom, safety and opportunity. We have paid for this privilege through two and a half centuries by wars that have taken the best of our sons and fathers, and now our mothers and daughters as well. We have for two hundred and fifty years found our voice and our memories intact, and now stand at the doorstep of a new millennium facing a world that has once again largely chosen to ignore the lessons of history.

We and two or three other nations, old and true friends who have stood by each other in the presence of such enemies before, now face an adversary in the full bloom of romance with death and destruction; an enemy willing ' eager -- to spray our cities with a virus it has taken armies of scientists and doctors, working diligently through centuries of research and learning, to eradicate from the blood-soaked rolls of history. We face fanatics who would bring down the entire world, themselves included, in a radioactive Armageddon, secure in their own twisted souls of the heavenly rewards of sexual gratification and revenge for their many abject failures. We face people such as this, people who are so far beyond the pale of human mercy and so corrupted by black and bitter rage that they must be killed, for nothing else will stop them, nothing ' as they tell us at every opportunity.

We have blithely ignored them for many years, turned a deaf ear to their warnings and fatwahs, turned an even more blinded eye to their procession of assassinations, massacres, bombings and attacks. Despite our recent and proven record of aiding and defending innocent Muslims in Kuwait, the Balkans, and elsewhere, we have been singled out as a Satan, a nation of sub-human infidels, and been the target of slander and incitement to murder that would have shamed the most fanatical Jesuit in the Spanish Inquisition.

There are those of us who have the courage to actually listen to their unedited rhetoric, view the video records of their atrocities, and face the fact that these people are sworn to kill as many innocent civilians as they possibly can. Some of us, in the months since September 11th, 2001, have chosen to take them at their word.

So let us gather the moral courage to take a factual, cold-hearted look at the reasons why this war with Iraq is the necessary next step in this conflict; one that needs to be undertaken without delay.

First, and most importantly, we can plainly state the prima facie cause that makes up our first argument in favor of invasion:

1. The impending military action is not the pre-emptive opening of hostilities against a sovereign nation, but rather the continuation of hostilities begun by Iraq in 1990 with their invasion of Kuwait; said resumption being a direct result of repeated and flagrant violations of the ceasefire signed by Iraq in 1991.

So much for the 'pre-emptive' attack criticism. This upcoming military action is indeed the product of a pre-emptive attack on a sovereign nation'that nation being Kuwait. Saddam Hussein took his country to war in a naked grab for oil and glory. He was handed the worst military defeat in modern history, a defeat so complete and total that US forces began to hesitate to fire on Iraqi units that were so spectacularly and completely routed.

The United States acquiesced to international law in the form of the UN resolution limiting military action to the removal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. The Iraqi leader, facing complete and total defeat, entered into agreements as a condition of ceasefire, and has failed at every turn to honor those agreements, bringing his country to ruin and starvation by doing so.

It's really just that simple.

Second, the current resolution is clearly worded so that the burden of proof regarding disarmament is on Iraq, and not on the success of the weapons inspectors. UN 1441 makes it clear that anything less than full and complete cooperation ' this means things like meeting us at the airport and handing over the uranium-enrichment centrifuges that we know they have ' is a material breach of UN1441 and will be met by 'serious consequences' (and we should perhaps rename the Nimitz the USS Serious Consequences.)


2. Failure to turn over known WMD components, and not the failure of UN Inspectors to find them, puts Iraq in material breach of UN Resolution 1441 and authorizes the US and her allies to enforce previous UN resolutions by means of military force.

So much for the legal niceties. Now let's get down to brass tacks.

On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by forces of Islamic extremism in an act of barbarity that stunned the world.

In order to grasp the full meaning of that attack, we would do well to change our terminology to better reflect the reality we face. We should be thinking and discussing the upcoming conflict not as the War on Iraq, but as the Battle of Iraq. For it is indeed that: a major ' hopefully, the major ' battle against Islamic fundamentalism and the tactic of terrorism that they have employed against the US and others in their rage and shame at their own manifest failures.

Let us then examine the evidence and motivation that firmly places Iraq as the key component in an alliance of terror directed against the West in general and the United States in particular.

We should begin by having the honesty and integrity to admit that the direct connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda prior to the events of 9/11 are tenuous and murky at best. We should also acknowledge that despite feverish claims to the contrary, Saddam Hussein is a totalitarian dictator exclusively concerned with his own power and in no way is he the Muslim Saladin he makes himself out to be. It does indeed seem likely that Osama bin laden and Saddam Hussein detest each other (and soon we shall be able to refer to both of them in the past tense.) But to say that this is enough to prevent them from allying themselves against the United States is self-delusion of the highest order.

For the full horror of a terrorist nuclear attack upon the United States to come to fruition, our enemies need both the means to produce an atomic bomb and a delivery system for it.

Anyone who doubts the willingness and ability of Al Qaeda to deploy and use such a weapon has frankly not been paying attention and is unworthy of this debate. They have, in public statements, on web sites, in training videos and operations manuals, shown a persistent and desperate attempt to obtain such a weapon. We have only to look back to that clear blue morning should we have any doubt whatsoever that such people would do everything in their power to kill as many of us as possible. Let us not forget that without the heroism and professionalism of our police and firemen, and the most well-managed, successful emergency evacuation in history, that death toll that day could have easily reached twenty or thirty thousand. There is a great deal of evidence that other terrorist teams, both here and abroad, were thwarted by the quick grounding of the commercial fleet by the FAA. Who knows how many others might have been killed that day, and where? Or how many unsung victories we have won in the months since that terrible day?

A small nuclear device can be fit into a suitcase. We need to face the stark, brutal fact that in a free society there is no defense against such a weapon. This war cannot be won, and our cities and people saved from nuclear annihilation, by playing defense.

Fortunately, constructing a nuclear weapon is not easy. In fact, it took the United States the better part of several years and billions of 1940's dollars to construct an operational nuclear device, using the full resources of the world's richest nation and the best theoretical and practical minds on the planet.

Not only must the bomb maker get his or her hands on large quantities of a rare and tightly controlled substance ' uranium or plutonium ' they must also overcome huge engineering problems in terms of hardened materials and exquisitely timed explosions needed to implode the fissile material to critical mass.

A finished nuke can fit in a suitcase, but to build one takes a factory, indeed, takes a nation: money, massive equipment, large work areas, armies of scientists. These things, unlike suitcases, can be found, targeted and destroyed.

There can be no question whatsoever that Saddam Hussein has been desperately seeking the means to build such a weapon. Let's make sure everyone heard that: There can be no question whatsoever that Saddam Hussein has been desperately seeking the means to build such a weapon. Really astonishing piles of independent records and sources confirm this without question. From Iraqi defectors who actually had hands-on experience with the programs, to intelligence reports of the import of the required equipment and raw materials, to the reams of evidence that prior inspectors discovered in their seven years of investigations, to the unabashed statements of Saddam Hussein himself' Saddam has brought his country to ruin for no other reason that his obsession with owning a nuclear bomb.

Had the Israelis not bombed the Osirak reactor in 1981 (and endured world condemnation for it at the time), then without question Iraq would have had a nuclear weapon during the 1991 Gulf War. It is impossible to imagine a man such as Saddam not using such a weapon when faced with the greatest defeat in military history. Whether he used it in a Scud attack on US troops, to contaminate Kuwaiti or Saudi oilfields, or, more likely, to use against Tel Aviv to ignite a holy war against the hated Jews, the result would have been catastrophic, indeed, in the likely case of a nuclear response from Israel, unimaginable.

We can therefore sum up the next argument for attacking Iraq as follows:

3. Saddam Hussein has the means and the motivation to develop nuclear weapons, and there is irrefutable evidence that he has tried to do so. He has shown staggering errors in judgment and a belief in his own personal infallibility by attacking Iran, Kuwait, and Israel. Iraq attaining nuclear capability therefore provides a potent and immediate threat to our allies in the region and the vital interests of the United States.

Like all dictators, Saddam runs a state apparatus ruled by fear. There is no one in his military command structure, or indeed among his party or even his sons, who are willing to give him real information, because most of that information will be bad news. This, coupled with his clinical paranoia and narcissism, have led him to absolutely appalling errors in judgment, such as assuming that the Iranian people would join him in his war with Iran, the miscalculation over Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequent evasion of his obligations in the years since.

Furthermore, the people who have had first-hand contact with Saddam Hussein all speak of his messianic complex. He cares not a whit about world opinion, and indeed seems preoccupied with how the people -- particularly the Arabs -- of 500 years hence will record him. Saddam, to put it plainly, plans to make a big splash on the pages of world history. In this he is no different than Hitler, Stalin or Pol Pot. There are no legal or behavioral inhibitions on totalitarians such as Saddam. He does whatever he wishes, and every action is met by terrified praise and false adulation from a population cowering in fear.

Therefore, it is not only likely but probable that Saddam will be tempted to use such weapons to strike back at those who have committed the unthinkable crime of embarrassing him before the world. And this is where Al Qaeda can provide him with not only the delivery mechanism, but also, to Saddam's irrational and misinformed mind, a form of plausible deniability. His success with The Big Lie these past 11 years has emboldened him to believe ' with ample justification ' that there are legions of useful idiots ready to rally to the defense of anyone who dares attack America.

So we may summarize our fourth cause as follows:

4. Saddam Hussein shows irrefutable signs of mental impairment in the form of Clinical Paranoia and Narcissistic Disorder. Given control of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction, his temptation to use them against the US on American soil is not mitigated by normal behavioral inhibitors, and indeed is amplified by his aberrant mental state. This poses a potent, immediate and intolerable threat to the safety and security of the people of the United States.

A close corollary to this argument can be made from the fact that Saddam routinely tortures, murders and gasses his own people. We may disagree violently with the Chinese, the Russians, the Pakistanis and the French, among others, but we do not unduly fear nuclear attack from such nations because each of them can be deterred by the unimaginable rain of destruction we would unleash upon them in return.

A self-absorbed Narcissist such as Saddam does not see people ' even his own people ' the way we do. They are objects to men like Saddam, props and extras that enhance the panoply and glory of their own lives. Brave German generals disobeyed Hitler's orders to destroy everything that remained intact in Germany during the final weeks of the Third Reich. Like all dictators, he saw the impending end of his own life as the final curtain on his nation's history'and what happened to the extras in his biopic was completely irrelevant.

Saddam has taken the cradle of civilization, one of the most enlightened and educated populations in the middle east, and driven it to utter ruin in the service of his own vainglorious ambitions. The money designated to feed and care for his people under the UN sanctions he has used to build mad palaces of sickening opulence under the noses of his starving children. And yet there are those that say the threat of reprisal against his nation is sufficient to keep him in line.

Nonsense. Saddam has to die someday. And when he goes, he clearly means to take whatever he can with him. Therefore:

5. Saddam has repeatedly shown his contempt and bitter disregard for the welfare of his own people. He has totally neglected all of the misery they have endured since his ascension to power, and is therefore undeterrable and immune to fear of reprisal against his nation and his people.

No one disputes that nuclear weapons are dangerous. No one disputes that Saddam is dangerous. So why do legions of people argue that Saddam with nuclear weapons is somehow not dangerous?

Those, as I see them, are our primary casus belli. Now let's deal with some of the reasons why people oppose this war.

Innocent people, innocent children will die in this war.

That is true. Innocent people will die at our hand. But let us never forget that action is visible and direct, but that inaction also bears consequences.

We will do everything in our power to limit civilian causalties in this war. In fact, during the days and weeks ahead, we will see something unheard of in military history: a campaign designed not only to minimize civilian casualties, but one aimed at killing as few enemy soldiers as possible. We have already dropped leaflets on Iraqi regular army units, telling them that if they remain in their positions they will not be harmed, but if they mass for a counterattack, we will destroy them. The Iraqi army has recent experience in this matter, both with our destructive capabilities and our generosity and kindness to prisoners of war.

Saddam's miserable, poorly-fed and disgracefully-led conscripts have no love for the man. That is why he consolidated what loyal soldiers he had into the Republican Guard. This body, too, became understandably unreliable after Saddam's bloodthirsty and paranoid purges, so he created the Special Republican Guard, a further decimated cadre that may in fact fight for him, since they are the predators at the top of this dictatorial food chain, and therefore have the most to lose and, certainly, the most to fear from an outraged and oppressed populace.

I fervently hope that Iraqi regular-army conscripts decide to sit this one out. No one who watched them surrender, kissing the garments of American sergeants, could feel anything but compassion and pity for these men. I do believe that those that do choose to fight will be the hard core element of Saddam's blood-stained police state, the sadists and executioners who have tortured and murdered their own people on Saddam Hussein's orders for decades. Don't forget that. Don't forget the number that have disappeared in the night during his monstrous reign of terror. Don't forget well-documented, disgustingly common accounts of the children tortured to death in front of their parents, of girls raped in front of their fathers, not to mention the roll-calls of horror that will emerge when that evil is finally swept away.

And finally, don't forget your friends and family, the good people you work and play with, the innocent men, women and children of New York or Los Angeles or Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Boston, or whichever city we may condemn to radioactive vapor because we were too cowardly and indecisive to act on what we knew to be a threat.

We have thousands of nuclear weapons'it's hypocritical to say Iraq can not have them also.

We have had nuclear weapons for almost sixty years now. They have been used, twice, within the first days of that ownership to end the most horrible war in history and prevent many times the number of casualties, on both sides, that would have been lost had the war continued through the invasion of Japan. Despite many provocations, they have not been used since then. We have had chemical weapons for even longer.

Saddam, on the other hand, used his chemical weapons the instant he got his hands on them: first on the Iranians and then on his own Kurds ' this after not once being used by any nation during all the desperate years of World War II. What does that tell you?

Many adults are given alcohol, credit cards, automobiles, guns and jet aircraft, once they have shown themselves worthy of the responsibility. We do not put these things in the hands of four year olds, and with very good reason. It may seem hypocritical to you; to me, the idea of keeping a drunken second-grader from waving around a loaded automatic while behind the controls of a hurtling 747 just makes sense.

This war is all about oil.

Demonstrably false for the reasons listed above. Nevertheless, let's grant the premise. Oil is the only power source currently available to meet the needs of our post-industrial society. Not only our automobiles depend on this oil: it is also a primary source of electrical energy in this country, and is essential to the plastics we use in everything from MRI machines to CD players.

To say this war is all about oil is factually identical to saying that this war is all about maintaining our society and lifestyle. If that is not worth fighting for, what is? One may find that offensive ideologically, but as I see it, to be true to such a philosophy you must either drive a solar-powered electric car, ride a horse or a bicycle, or walk. You must remove your home from the city power grid. You must discard all plastic items. You must also abandon television, radios and movies, all of which rely on electricity generated by oil. You must forgo modern medicine, surgery and dentistry, likewise driven by oil-fired electricity at many stages. You must grow your own food.

Do all of these things, and you will have my frank admiration for your dedication to a moral cause. Do anything less and you are a hypocrite mouthing an easy lie in an attempt to strike a pose of moral superiority.

Furthermore, people who apply this argument are usually accusing us of stealing the oil. Now I suppose it's theoretically possible that everyone else at the gas station gets a wink, a nod and a don't be silly hand gesture when they try to pay for their gas -- me, I'm shelling out $1.83 a gallon for the privilege.

There has been a river, a Mississippi of our fives and tens and twenty-dollar bills flowing into the middle east for decades now. The idea that most of this has been squandered on scores of madly extravagant palaces, solid-gold toilets and leggy hookers should only further direct all fair-minded people toward the cause of Invasion. One of the many reasons I support this action in Iraq is because the people of that nation are sitting on a significant hunk of loose change. It is indeed being stolen from them -- and I for one am convinced that once we deal with the thief that stole it, those revenues will be of enormous benefit to the people of Iraq, and aid them in the rebuilding of their country.

It is true we depend on oil for our lifestyle. However, if you look at it objectively, you might agree that oil does no one any good hundreds of feet below a barren desert. For us it helps power our society; for them it is a valuable commodity and a legitimate means of transferring a lot of our cash into their pockets. My car does not care where that oil comes from, but I do. And if my $1.83 / gallon can in the future go to the people of Iraq, I would find that both a blessing and a relief.

Still, the whole point is, as I mentioned, logically flawed -- fatally flawed. Gas is cheaper now, in adjusted dollars, than it has ever been. Evil Oil KKKorporations don't need more oil on the market: it depresses the price. More of something makes it cheaper; less of something makes it more expensive. Although I do understand why this confuses some people -- the whole supply / demand concept does seem to give the far left a great deal of trouble.

When gasoline is $13 dollars per gallon and lines stretch for miles around empty service stations, THEN will I begin to reasonably suspect this political decision has oil-based overtones.

We need a 'smoking gun' from the UN inspectors.

The problem with a smoking gun is you can't find it until it's gone off.

It is clear from documented reports of bribery attempts on UN Inspectors on the part of the Iraqis, to French inspectors tipping off Saddam about team destinations, that to accept this argument we de facto lose the game. This is why it is so popular. It ignores reams of testimony from defecting scientists, and all of the other evidence stated above. In fact, it raises the question that ignoring such a mountain of existing evidence requires such a willful burying of one's head in the sand as to make any proof insufficient. To such people, the smoking gun they require is a pile of radioactive rubble where Tel Aviv once stood, or legions of dead commuters in the London Underground, or the wildfire spread of smallpox through greater Chicago and beyond. Scores of independent sources repeatedly and emphatically demonstrate that Iraq has massive quantities of biological and chemical weapons, and is working frantically to attain nuclear ones.

Those unconvinced by the existing evidence will be convinced by nothing less than their actual use against our military or civilians.

To hell with those people.

North Korea admits to having nuclear weapons and is threatening the region. They are a greater threat and must be dealt with first.

That a rogue nation can threaten the three most prosperous economies of Asia with nuclear blackmail (although, admittedly, China would not likely be as threatened as South Korea or Japan) does indeed raise a troubling question. And that question is, with such a clear example before our eyes, who can not believe that removing such a powerful lever from the hands of Saddam Hussein should not be job #1? North Korea already has these weapons. We cannot undo that. We can only prevent that from happening in the future.

Our options are dramatically reduced, and the consequences of miscalculation on either side astronomically raised, by such weapons in the hands of such an unbalanced, isolated and desperate regime. This is precisely why we must intervene in Iraq.

It is hypocritical and contradictory to negotiate with North Korea, which already has nuclear weapons, and advocate war on Iraq, which does not.

I will grant that it may appear so at first glance. But consider these two points:

First, we relied on negotiations, diplomacy and signed agreements in order to prevent North Korea from obtaining these weapons. They developed them despite these negotiations and in direct violation of these international agreements. There are those who oppose this war, who say we should try this spectacularly unsuccessful strategy with Iraq. I would like to sell these people their next automobile.

Second, North Korea thinks they can pressure us while we are preoccupied with Iraq. They are betting their empty, crop-free farm on this. They want us to become alarmed, right now. They hope to blackmail us before the last vestiges of their state collapses around them. That is a trap we have so far avoided.

There is a reason we treat Iraq in one fashion and North Korea in another. It is a very simple reason. In the case of North Korea, time is on our side; with Saddam, time works against us. This is not hypocrisy, it is sound and cogent strategic thinking.

And finally,

The United States has no right to launch a pre-emptive attack; we can only respond if we are attacked.

This is the most pernicious and dangerous argument of all, because it plays directly into our natural revulsion at being an aggressor and causing the deaths of innocent civilians.

As I mentioned, I see both Iraq's attack on Kuwait, and the Islamicist attacks on 9/11, as the pre-emptive attacks that started this pending conflict. But perhaps you do not buy that argument. Well, consider this:

We were attacked before, on December 7th, 1941, by a vast navy that had been assembling for years. We watched the Japanese build the Pearl Harbor fleet. We did nothing. We ' the French and English especially ' also did nothing as a bitter and vengeful Germany grew stronger and more daring. Appeasement was all the rage back then.

In the years following that naval sneak attack, and after a war in which unchecked militarism nearly brought civilization to ruin, it made sense to think that we could stay free by being strong enough to deter or repel any invasion. We would do ' indeed, we have done ' whatever it took to create a defense so formidable that the mere idea of defeating it has become unthinkable, and to willingly provoke it becomes an act of state suicide.

Those days are gone.

We face an enemy willing ' eager ' to carry a suitcase into Times Square, press a button, and in one millisecond inflict more casualties on the United States than we have seen in all the wars of our history, combined.

It is an image so horrible that many simply refuse to believe it.

Believe it.

We ignore September 11th at our mortal peril. We no longer have the luxury of watching an enemy build military and naval strength over years or decades. We no longer face uniformed divisions massing at the borders. We face instead a group of depraved murderers to whom nothing is off-limits, who fear no earthly retribution, who love and glorify death for its own end and who hate not only all that we do, but all that we are with a black bitterness that we cannot begin to imagine.

I believe we are standing at a doorway in history, squinting at forms we can barely make out in a dark room. We will, in the years to come, look at the confusion and doubt of the present hour as a turning point in the history, and indeed the identity, of our nation and ourselves.

For we are waking up to a simple reality. In a new millennium where a few diseased people can carry a suitcase with the power to kill millions, the lesson we must learn is simply this: the only way we will be safe, prosperous and free is when everyone is safe, prosperous and free.

Critics of this War on Terror call it 'eternal' and 'never-ending' as a means of discouraging us from fighting it at all.

But there can be an end to this war. It will end when all people are inside the bubble we have built for ourselves and our children ' warm, well-fed, free to pursue their dreams and ambitions, their minds and bodies and women liberated, racial and tribal hatreds put aside, and so on.

The quiet idealist that resides deep inside in me, on a speak-when-spoken-to basis, actually believes such things are possible. After all, it works -- pretty well -- for us, and we Americans are children of all the world. We know what such a society looks like, and we have documents of such stunning clarity and hope as to show anyone the way.

The conservative I have become, however, is certain that if it happens, it will happen because of the actions and sacrifice of US Marines and not because of middle-aged naked hippies spelling PEACE on a golf course. It will take decades. It may take centuries.

Can we force freedom and democracy on people? It seems, from the example of Germany and Japan, that indeed we can. These societies once harbored fanatics no less dedicated to our destruction than the ones we face today. Now they are our trading partners, and often our friends and allies. The point at which it becomes necessary to force such a regime change will be determined by how ugly the swamp has become. And can anyone seriously argue that the people left after the defeat of the Nazis, Japanese Imperialists or American Confederates are not far better off today than they would have been if they had won?

I am not an ideologue in this regard, and I certainly don't want to send our sons and daughters out to fight and die for anything less than our safety and survival. But that, to me, is looking like what it might come to. Each success makes the next case easier, and each triumph further shames and silences our critics.

Sixty years ago, we were willing to sacrifice millions of American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines to keep our homeland safe. Such a task may be before us today. With our soldiers' skill, training and professionalism, and our unparalleled technical innovation and creative genius, we will not need anything like millions of soldiers. But it will not be without cost ' it will only be necessary.

In this, I am guardedly optimistic due to our recent victory in Afghanistan. Not the military victory, magnificent though it was.

No, I am thinking of things like the reopening of their soccer stadium, the field where I have seen -- through the camera obscura of the internet -- women in burqas forced to kneel and then shot through the back of the head for the crime of adultery. Kids play football there again. That's a win, Noam Chomsky, you lying son of a bitch.

Little girls march to school in the morning, singing. That's a win, Robert Fisk. Old men wept as the Afghan national flag was carried by an actual Afghan army during their first free National Day in two generations. That is a win for the Good Guys, too, Harold Pinter. I hear of Special Forces sergeants organizing little league teams and I just smile like a little kid.

I'm smiling because, at last, we have dragged ourselves back from the mud and filth of the Cold War, from allying ourselves with what was only marginally the slightly lesser of two great evils in our proxy wars in Asia and South America and Africa. I'm smiling not just because of my bursting pride in the dedication and skill of our military, but in the essential kindness and compassion of these kids of ours who just want to do the right thing and come home. I'm smiling because I start to see before us an age where, in the words from the 1963 movie The Ugly American, we are no longer 'so busy telling people what we are against that we forget to tell them what we are for.'

We have a long and difficult road to travel in these coming years, and there will be ample opportunities for us to fall off the path. But I reflect on our own greatest peril, the dark days of our own Civil War, and I draw comfort from something not often remembered about that turning point in our history.

In the early days of that conflict, Abraham Lincoln saw one objective, and one only: he must save the Union. That was what marched the men in blue off to Bull Run: Save the Union. Lincoln said as much when contemplating the Emancipation Proclamation:

'My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.'

But as the war dragged on and victory continued to recede, Lincoln found a new voice. Southerners could be counted upon to fight because it was their homes and institutions under attack. One poor captured Rebel, when asked why he was fighting on behalf of the rich plantation owners' right to keep slaves, replied, 'I'm fighting because you're down here.' Lincoln needed something with that emotional imperative, and he found it.

He found it after brave Negro soldiers -- like the men of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, immortalized in the movie Glory --showed to their northern skeptics that they were as gallant and effective soldiers as any in the Union Army. He found it in the words of Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth. He found it by turning the dirge 'John Brown's Body' into the inspirational 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.'

Lincoln turned the Northern cause into a crusade to set men free.

If we have the courage of our convictions, if we do indeed feel that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is worth fighting and dying for, then we may find that freeing the world is in our national interest, regardless of the cost.

So on the eve of this new tempest, let us remember, together, a final image ' to me, the most hopeful of all.

Let us remember Afghanistan.

Let us remember that the brutal Soviets we so sullied ourselves fighting during the Cold War had installed in their southern neighbor a puppet dictator, who ruled small enclaves at the point of a tank cannon and tore their nation into civil war that culminated in the atrocities of the Taliban. Let us remember the million Afghan civilians who died forcing off that yoke.

Let us remember an image from that ruin of a nation, in June of 2002, at a meeting hall in Kabul. Inside were all manner of warlords, refugees, opposition leaders, even their old king. Women demanding positions of power, wizened old tribal leaders opposing them at every turn, mullahs and warlords making veiled threats and all the rest of the unruly, loud, preposterous accoutrements of democracy that make up a Loya Jirga or a US Congress.

And let us remember the image of US soldiers, forming a cordon, a bubble of security around this howling, screaming catfight. Not inside. Not dictating terms. Not so much as laying a hand on a gavel. But rather outside, armed and powerful, seeing to it that the future of that tortured country rested in the hands of their own people, protecting this newborn, imperfect, and astonishingly fragile proto-democracy against the legions of Taliban, Al Qaeda and petty warlords who would like to see nothing so much as its failure. Remember them guarding the life and pure, undiluted courage of Hamid Karzai. And remember our soldiers giving them, day by painful day, another week, another month without torture and repression so that they in all their infinitely adaptable humanity have the time to come to find such things intolerable.

Remember that, and smile. Because that is America at war.

Posted by Proteus at 8:20 PM | Comments (200)

January 20, 2003


I have to confess that since I posted this essay I have been daily wrestling with the certainty that it is far too long, and worse, it wobbled quite a bit, like a loose sight on a rifle.

I realize now just how much I rushed to get this posted after my long absence. And while I try to use my limited time to keep moving forward, there was a lot of fat in this essay -- so I cut it. I cut 20% of it. You'll never miss it. I could probably wring an additional 20% out of it, but that would require more thought and time than I have to spend on it at the moment.

I am indebted to the many fine bloggers who linked to this "long, but ---" essay, and especially to reader Louis Wheeler, who gracefully and directly called me on what I knew to be true.

I find I usually have a lot to say about a subject, and I will continue to give an issue my full attention, but you have my promise that in the future you will not need to pack a lunch or take the day off in order to hear what I have to say...

When I first arrived in Los Angeles in 1988, I took a job with a temp agency for the two or three days it would take to make the studios aware of my presence and for the multi-picture deals to start flowing in. I was, after all, a Student Academy Award finalist ' how long could it take?

(Fifteen years and counting, apparently.)

They sent me to a rent-a-car agency in Beverly Hills, and within 48 hours of my arrival in LA, I was driving down Beverly Blvd., which we all know as the palm-lined street that Jed and Granny and Jethro and Ellie-May were gawking at on the way to the See-ment Pond. It was 73 degrees, 30% humidity, and I was in a brand-new convertible with the top down and life was looking good.

I knocked on the door of my very first client, and as he came out, I noticed a tour bus slowing down and stopping not far from the car. A tall, white haired man appeared at the window of the house across the street, pulled back the curtain, and waved jauntily. 'That's Jimmy Stewart,' said my passenger, no doubt impressed by the slack-jawed yokel look on the face of the Very Talented Unknown Boy Wonder. 'He used to come out sometimes and say hi, but he's slowing down a lot these days.'

Anyway, there he was, and there I was too ' watching Mr. Smith and George Bailey and Charles Lindbergh waving at the delighted tourists. I got in the car with a big ol' grin and thought to myself, Boy, you are in Hollywood now.

I'm still there. Things are a little different.

A few years ago, I heard from a friend about a different sort of celebrity sighting that they had experienced first-hand. A certain white-hot pop diva ' the Latin one ' had made an appearance on a morning show at a news station where a friend of mine worked. A memo went out to the staff of the station ' these being the seasoned, cynical professionals that make the star machine go round. The memo stated in no uncertain terms that said Latin diva had demanded that not only was no one allowed to speak to her'no one was allowed to look at her either. Presumably, should one be caught in the hallway during her transit, one could either cast out their own eyes with their car keys or ball-point pens, or drop to a knee, quivering, perhaps hoping that a glimpse of hemline from one who Used To Have A Little But Now Has A Lot would cure their children's leprosy and cause humpbacks to stand erect.

But that was the word in the studio: you will not speak to or look directly at The Pop Star ' she apparently does not enjoy the noose of obligation that making eye contact demands: It burns us, it burns!

I can clearly recall Jimmy Stewart on The Tonight Show telling Johnny Carson that everything he had -- all the money and fame and admiration and privilege -' he owed to the good people who were kind enough to come to the darkened theater and part with their hard-earned money. He said it was a privilege and a small price to pay to give back whatever he could to those fine, generous people. I believed him. Here was a man who gave all that up to fly bombers over Germany. He didn't talk about doing his part, he just went out and did it just like millions of other Americans. There was a man who earned his celebrity. The fact that he had real talent and was one heck of a nice guy made it all even better.

What the hell has happened to these people, anyway?

Now before we focus The Stark Telescope of Condemnation on this new dark galaxy of stars who have imploded under the weight of their supermassive egos, let's take a moment to be fair: many, perhaps even most of these people really are decent chaps, even today. Paul Newman has been married to the same woman for half a century (lucky bastard, too) and Newman's Own salad dressings make quite a lot of money '- all of which goes to charity. Good onya, Paul. Tom Hanks has repeatedly given time and money to honor WWII veterans and keep the memory of our Space Program alive. (And is there a sadder sentence for this Apollo kid to write than 'the memory of our Space Program?') Steven Spielberg has been instrumental in preserving the thousands of small, dying, personal histories of the Holocaust. Drew Carey, a former jarhead himself, went to cheer up the current crop in Afghanistan, Harrison Ford rescued a woman in his personal helicopter, Liz Taylor carried the torch for AIDS research long before the red ribbons became de rigueur, and the list goes on and on.

But lately, it seems, some of these celebrities have said things that prove conclusively what cosmologists have been saying for decades: namely, that certain stars, under extreme conditions, can produce a bubble around themselves that cuts them completely off from the universe we inhabit; a region of space-time where all reason and logic break down, where time runs backwards, effects precede their causes and entirely unique laws of nature apply.

If we could travel at the speed of imagination to the worlds they inhabit, what color would the sky be?

Let's ask Woody Harrelson. He's an interesting place to start because he embodies one of the great ironies of the America-bashing glitterati'he is one of those actors who became beloved by playing someone who, for all intents and purposes, is his polar opposite.

I call this the Lou Grant effect. The talented Ed Asner, the actor who played Lou Grant on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, is politically to the left of Mao. Put Ed Asner and Lou Grant in a steel cage, let them talk politics for five minutes, and Lou Grant would kick Ed Asner's ass. Even Murray Slaughter would be handing up folding chairs: 'Hit the bastard again Lou, he's still talking about income redistribution!' Dana Scully is a brilliant, courageous, skeptical physician who is handy with an automatic; Gillian Anderson is deep into crystals and has trouble with her shoelaces. Jack Ryan crawls through the bowels of a stolen Russian submarine fighting a dirty shadow war to keep America free, and Alec Baldwin'doesn't. He seems to find the whole idea of a Jack Ryan deeply embarrassing. This list, sadly, goes on too.

But back to lovable Woody, the sweet-natured bartender from Indiana who helps out on the farm and is as red, white and blue as a Harvard professor after the recent Republican victories.

Woody tells The Guardian, that Moral Bastion of Even-Handedness, of the argument he gets into with his British taxi driver, also named Woody. Cabbie Woody, poor dim working fellow, seems to favor intervention in Iraq ' perhaps due to his contact with the occasional Jihadist he may find in the back seat in modern London. This is the sad result of a celebrity-starved culture, but not to worry, the American Intellectual is on the case. Our Woody sails into the debate:

'This is a racist and imperialist war. The warmongers who stole the White House (you call them "hawks", but I would never disparage such a fine bird) have hijacked a nation's grief and turned it into a perpetual war on any non-white country they choose to describe as terrorist.'

Yes, our bloody history is filled with fighting racist wars against WOG nations like Britain (1776), Britain, again (1812), Americans (1861), The Spanish (1898), the Germans (1917), the Germans again (1941), the Russian Soviets (1946-1991), the Serbs, etcetera, and so on ' people much whiter, as in racially Caucasian, than we are. Sure there are some un-cited Asians, Hispanics and Arabs thrown in there too. I see this as a blow for diversity, but why quibble? On to more in-depth factual analysis'

Asked what he would do in President Bush's shoes, he says he'd:

"'honor Kyoto. Join the world court. I'd stop subsidizing earth rapers like Monsanto, Dupont and Exxon... I'd revive the Chemurgy movement, which made the farmer the root of the economy, and make paper and fuel from wheat straw, rice straw and hemp. Not only would I attend, I'd sponsor the next Earth Summit. And, of course, I'd give myself a fat raise."

Woody, Woody, how we adored your lovable naivet' behind the bar, trading one-liners with Sam and Cliff and Norm and Frasier! Now all the lovable is gone, and look at what's left.

I mean, you do have to admire the vision of the man. Why take us from the Information Age back to the Industrial Age, when you can regress TWO entire civilizational leaps and make us all hemp farmers again?

It should also be noted that Woody Harrelson is a well-known Hemp Activist. Yes, when people come to their senses once again, and realize that they can get a rope of twice the weight at a quarter the strength of nylon for only three times the price, well, prepare for gridlock in the Home Depot parking lots across this fair republic. Perhaps he's advocating burlap and burlap accessories. Or perhaps it's the entire hemp family that he is advocating.

I briefly experimented with various hemp products while in college ' didn't inhale, though! ' thank God! My Presidential aspirations remain intact. But those of us who have spent any time around the most dedicated of Hemp Activists have noticed what might be called a degradation of critical analysis while actually engaged in the act of hemp advocacy. Reading the well-reasoned economic plan of the celebrity intellectual I have come to suspect that he might have had an advocacy session immediately before getting into the other Woody's cab. In fact, I suspect that Mr. Harrelson is often advocating hemp before breakfast, and continues his advocacy all day long and into the wee hours. This kind of thinking requires a lifetime of passionate hemp advocacy.

Is it too much to hope for that one of these days we'll see Advocacy Celebrities wearing a golden ribbon advocating intellectual rigor and well-researched, reason-based argumentation? Apparently it is. Are you shitting me, dude? That logical shit is hard! Let's advocate something a little less stressful and don't forget to bring the Doritos.

Not long ago, the director and some of the cast of The Two Towers appeared on The Charlie Rose Show. I saw a still picture of them taken after the taping. It's a memorable image: on the left, Peter Jackson, round and affable as a hobbit. Towering above him, Charlie Rose, a clean-shaven Gandalf in an expensive suit, wearing the pained expression of someone who has just sat in something wet and cold. Beside him, and seemingly half his height, grins Elijah Wood, his shaved head jarring and unsettling ' Frodo through the electrified fence at Dachau. And at right, the good king, Viggo Mortensen: workin' the frosted blond look ' Aragorn as baked Cali surfer dude. He's wearing a dark blazer and a white t-shirt, upon which he has hand-lettered NO MORE BLOOD FOR OIL -- but the letters are crammed high and tight around his neck, like some awful Topanga Canyon hippie necklace.

It seems clear to me that the upcoming action in Iraq is more about eliminating an immediate and potent threat to US and Western security than it is about the 3% of world oil contributed by Iraq. But even if this was about nothing but oil, what do Viggo and the other bearers of this message suggest? Did he walk from LA to New York to deliver this inane message? Do high-rise elevators, studio lights, cameras and transmitters run on solar power? Steven Den Beste spent many of his enlightening hours showing how no no other energy source begins to come close to meeting the needs of modern civilization. I'll paraphrase Winston Churchill: Oil is the worst possible source of energy, except for all the others.

Anyway, back to the group photo: you see them with their arms around each other, smiling, and suddenly Viggo's jarring, hand-lettered statement reminds you of something very personal. It's the Thanksgiving picture, the serious one mom begged you for, and there's your idiot older brother shooting a bird behind her head.

Viggo had a statement to make. Apparently, the poor fellow has had a rough year of it, being tarred by his association with the forces of Good and whatnot. That would be unacceptably pass' for actor, poet, artist Viggo ("The man you were/ For one short season/ Has been pruned/ Removed/ To a well-groomed graveyard/ That smells like popcorn" ) Mortensen.

So, lest anyone think that such a deep, deep man could possibly support military action against a murderous villain like Saddam Hussein, Viggo chalks it out in big letters for us: WE are the forces of Darkness. The President of the United States is Saruman. There are Orcs and Armies of the Undead in Viggo's world ' they're called 'Americans.'

Challenged on what the Good King would have done about the fall of the Two Towers, he replied:

"I would not have continually bombed innocent civilians from 30,000 feet with no possibility of being accurate and maiming and killing and destroying the lives of many more people than died at the World Trade Center. What does that do? Does bombing people make us safer? Does bombing people make us more loved or appreciated overseas? Will this be forgotten?"

Think what you will about Viggo being a lightweight; I contend that it takes a very fine mind indeed to pack so many inaccuracies, lies and false conclusions into such a tight sound byte.

We did not 'continually' bomb 'innocent civilians.' Superhuman efforts were made to strike at Taliban targets deliberately and cynically hidden in the middle of dense populations, by a regime with no qualms about using their own people as human shields. To say that we did so 'from 30,000 feet with no possibility of being accurate,' leaves me frothing for a rebate check for all the JDAM retrofits to our iron bombs. And if we're just gonna lob the things overboard, can't we save money by taking off the WWII fins as well? They've got to cost me 30-40 bucks a pop, minimum.

Next comes the obligatory misrepresentation of civilian casualties being higher than the 3,000 we lost on September 11th, rather than the 500 or so that is generally accepted. This too is an interesting peek into the mind of Viggo and many like him: the idea that once we exceed the number we lost on that horrible day the balance suddenly tips and now we are in the wrong. This is the kind of simplistic moral calculus that many people can comfortably wrap their minds around. It completely ignores the causal relationship, and equates a campaign bound by a strict moral imperative to avoid civilian casualties with the intentional murder of as many innocent civilians as possible. Apparently, this concept is a little too sophisticated to fit between the neckline and the top blazer button, even on a high-quality, all-cotton T.

Finally, we get the topper: 'Does bombing people make us safer? Does bombing people make us more loved or appreciated overseas? Will this be forgotten?' A trifecta of fact-free rhetorical questions! Magnificent!

Before we address those questions, let's remember that Viggo was invited to the show to talk about Lord of the Rings. He is, of course, entitled to his opinion, which seems to be: 'Does fighting and killing the Orc Armies make us any safer? Does slaughtering them make us more loved or appreciated in Mordor? Will this be forgotten?' In other words, won't all these swords and arrows just make the Orcs angrier than they already are?

Viggo, when you are bombing people publicly sworn to your violent death, then the answer to your first question -- Does bombing people make us safer? -- is, uh'YES. Does bombing make us more loved and appreciated overseas? No. Do we want to be loved and appreciated by those who stone women for the crime of being raped by a male relative? I don't. I'd be ashamed to be admired by the likes of them. Finally, Will this be forgotten? I hope not, Viggo. I really do. After eight years of ineffective, token responses to the murder and dismemberment of our people, I hope to God they do not forget what we did to them in Afghanistan.

People like Viggo Mortensen embolden people like Bin Laden, Saddam, and Kim Jong Il. America baffles them; dissent and debate gives them the same look as you see on a dog staring at a cartoon on TV. So they watch us like hawks, looking for what they know. Weakness. They know what weakness looks like. They can hear moral cowardice, lack of resolve, unwillingness to sacrifice, to get our hands dirty, or worse, to get our hands bloody. They can sense weakness like a shark senses weak and dying fish ' unerringly and from a long way away. The ability to accurately gauge an opponent's strength or weakness is THE survival skill for larval dictators.

It is painfully obvious that Viggo and his intellectual companions think that such people admire them for their outspoken support. These people admire nothing but strength and power: it is the only currency they can produce. For the likes of Viggo and his earnest companions they have only the scorn that such predators reserve for the slow and stupid.

And ultimately, this is how we allow celebrities to break our hearts. In the end, the disappointment we feel from hearing such silly sentiments is not Viggo's fault, but our own. On the screen in the darkness, his is the noble face of a pure-hearted king, battered and humiliated by shame and destruction, yet a man Tolkein entrusted with the moral vision, clarity of purpose, the ability to tell right from wrong and the will and courage to fight the good fight against all odds in the darkest of midnights. In our hearts, we desperately want to believe that such people exist; we need them in times like these. And they do exist, scattered throughout our great and good society in the most unlikely of places, the vast, unseen, interwoven root system of decency and kindness and strength that holds this volatile, rambunctious nation together. Unfortunately for our easy hopes, this pampered, self-absorbed actor is not one of them. From now on, I'll always see that T-shirt under the armor. It's a damn shame, really.

War with Iraq is coming, but before he can sign off on it, Sean Penn needs to get on the ground in Baghdad and get all the facts ' otherwise it's a non-starter. Now, to realistically assess Saddam's military and WMD capabilities, talk to various and sundry dissidents, interview the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south, fully digest the Iraqi 12,000 page UN declaration of dual-use technologies, scan for radioactive, chemical and biological trace contaminants, run up a balanced psych profile of Saddam, Uday and Husay, get familiar with the creation of Iraq by the British in 1932 and the subsequent rise of the Ba'ath party, determine the intricate tribal structure of Tikrit and its effect on Saddam's rise to power ' well, this will take some time, natch. Sean impetuously thought this could be done in two days, but wiser heads prevailed and pushed it out to three.

Determining compliance in such complex matters is not a job for some lightweight like Toby McGuire or Ben Affleck. No, a mission this serious requires the most serious actor we have in our arsenal. We're not screwing around this time. We mean business.

I expect Sean's inspection notebook to read something like this:

Toured Iraqi orphanage. Wanted to interview some of the children. Uday tells me that exposure to depleted Uranium suppressed immune systems to the point where chronic laryngitis has infected the entire ward. G.D. my fascist country!

Questioned U. about man manipulating dark grey metallic discs with robotic arms through thick green glass. Turns out he was making pet ID tags to help reunite families with their puppies and kitties when US bombing begins. Criminal sanctions of pet medication from GD! Sanctions means kittens in Iraq all have AIDS!! THANKS GWB!!!!! Hence the sterile precautions.

Shocking fact: questioned man in reflective silver suit holding long metallic cylinder. Man could not speak -- face was hidden by reflective hood and dark welder's glass faceplate. U says man was local baker, mutilated while delivering bread to orphans during F-16 strike. That explains the dark faceplate. US has bombed all the bakeries in the area, so man has to stuff raw dough in metal mold and stand in only remaining oven until bread is baked. Other men in area sweating profusely when I asked to confirm ' must have just come out of bakery themselves. I throw stale top slice of bread away at home ' never again!!

Strange coincidence! Went on tour of local mosque, and The Princess Bride was on TV screens behind Imam!! Turns out PB is their favorite movie! Starring my own Robin! Who knew!

Embargo tough on Muslims though. Iraqi DVD player is 1973 model: huge metal cylinder at back of mosque, emits low whoosh-whoosh-whoosh sound as if spinning. Tomorrow we tour baby formula factory. Have already been issued blue suit with faceplate and contained air supply so as not to sneeze and contaminate milk supplies'

Prior to his visit, Mr. Penn took out a $56,000 full-page ad in The New York Times condemning his nation for lying and deception. Immediately upon his return from Baghdad, the Iraqis issued a statement saying Sean Penn stated Iraq was free of Weapons of Mass Destruction. Turns out he did no such thing. Mr. Penn was rumored to have been furious. I have been searching the Times for another full-page ad condemning Iraq for lying and deception. Still no sign'maybe that ad is in turnaround.

And the beat goes on. Geopolitical analyst Sheryl Crow recently appeared at the American Music Awards with a sequined t-shirt message (hat tip: Viggo Mortenson) that read 'War is not the Answer' What was the question, again? Deep Thought? Hello?

Sheryl then drew a gasp from the assembled audience, as she cut through untold millennia of human strife and misery with a solution so simple you wonder why you didn't see it before:

"I think war is based in greed and there are huge karmic retributions that will follow. I think war is never the answer to solving any problems. The best way to solve problems is to not have enemies."

Yeah, okay, now how can you NOT see it? See, this was the problem with Hitler and the Nazis: they made enemies. And the tanks'did they have to be so loud? 'Hey, Adolph, a little consideration for those of us trying to sleep in?'

Now that we know the best way to solve problems is not to have any enemies, let's see what fences we can mend with our Islamicist 'Friends We Haven't Met Yet.' All they are asking is a little respect for their different ' but equally valid! ' cultural preferences. We can clear up this little misunderstanding by making a few small compromises. All we have to do is abandon the Bill of Rights, convert to Islam, adopt Sharia, or Islamic law, imprison our women in mobile tents, remove their clitoris without anesthesia so that they don't get any ideas while we are out stoning rape victims, use our young male relatives for sexual domination since premarital sex with women is a mortal sin, kill anyone who writes anything disrespectful of our government or religion, throw away science, technology and modern medicine, murder all homosexuals and Jews, eliminate music, dancing, beer drinking, sports, television, movies and other vices, throw acid on our daughters if they are seen in public with a male non-relative, and swear unwavering loyalty to whatever the half-blind, one-armed raving lunatic spews at us during our five-times-a-day prayer sessions.

In exchange, they promise not to fly any more of our airplanes into our buildings.

Problem solved! Who knew international relations could be so simple! Kissinger has been ripping someone off but good!

And of, course, The Grey Burqa Formally Known As Sheryl Crow will lead this crusade against having enemies by doing all of the above. I mean, of course she will. Right? Sheryl? Sheryl, come on, they're staring right at us. You don't want to insult them, do you? Don't just drive off in your limousine! Sheryl! Respect Diversity! YOU'RE STARTING TO LOOK A LITTLE HYPOCRITICAL IS ALL!! SHERYL? CALL ME, WE'LL DO LUNCH!

Sheryl Crow's inane comment about not having any enemies was undoubtedly meant to build bridges and mend fences. Make friends. Unfortunately, it has caused in me a rising rage. It makes me want to shake my fist at her from a mountaintop, in the middle of a lightning storm, at the exact moment of a total solar eclipse: 'Eternal Enemies, you and I, Crow! ETERNAL! ENEMIES!'

Wait, this is tougher than I first thought. Maybe the only way not to have any enemies is to not have any thoughts or opinions. To be a stone, or a rock.

Nah, that doesn't work either. I hate goddam rocks. Grind 'em all up into gravel, that's what I say.

So many celebrities, and so few electrons. We're out of time. But what tour of this wonderful galaxy would be complete without a stop at the Trantor of self-absorption: ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Barbra Streisand!

Babs' ultrafabulous (award-winning!) website features the latest political views and analysis on the tastefully understated TRUTH PAGE. Here you can read the latest on Iranian Dictator Saddam Hussein, learn how to misspell the names of former Democratic party leaders, talk about the ravenous oil appetite of Big Lumber and many other useful facts essential to comment intelligently in the modern arena.

But the real charm of Miss Streisand's web pages is a chance to see just how many opportunities you have to buy Barbra records, pay to go see Barbra concerts, buy Barbra DVD's and VHS tapes, own tastefully understated Barbra event T-shirts, sweaters, embroidered T-shirts, sweat shirts, baseball caps, baby-doll T's, white soup mugs, photo mugs, key chains, Director's Silhouette mugs, money clips, champagne flutes, children's watches, champagne candles, playing cards, black rose coffee mugs, scented candles, stuffed animals, golf balls, CD cases, and 1994 Barbra tour posters.

Oh, and you can also purchase the 1994 concert poster, Barbra Streisand gold records, Director's Silhouette tunics, photo T-shirts, canvas drawstring jackets, logo caps, logo bags, varsity jackets, canvas bag and silk photo scarf.

Or perhaps you'd care for one of her top quality ' sleeve swing T-shirts, white slim T-shirts, black photo t-shirts, wool jackets, hooded sweatshirts, black embroidered T-shirts, white embroidered sweatshirts, black varsity jackets, 'white square rose design' T-shirts, black embroidered Millennium concert T's, or the new, non-denominational holiday ornaments with Barbra's officially authorized photo on the front!

And what loving parent could resist buying one (or several!) children's faux fur capes, complete with the Barbra logo (and what child is really dressed without a fur cape?)

Babs, I know you like to view yourself as the tower of decency, compassion and social generosity. You have not been shy about telling us how much you do for the poor and the needy. So I will bet you a weeks salary (mine vs. yours) that a church-going single mother of two drawn at random from Boise, Idaho, gives more time and money, as a percentage of income, to help needy people than you do.

In closing, let me say this: I will happily forgive the Great Lady the spelling and factual errors, and even the rampant greed'but there are three things that I find unforgivable about people like her and Warren Beatty and Alec Baldwin, and those are these:

First: try, if you can, to disabuse yourselves of the pernicious idea that your lives are worth more than those of your fellow citizens, for it is the engine of your hypocrisy in many telling instances. Barbra Streisand lectures us about global warming, and yet spends much of her time in a 12 mpg limousine. Indeed, she is rumored to have traveled around LA in a Recreational Vehicle (to avoid germs in public restrooms, she helpfully points out). In other words, you commoners need to be warned about the environmental dangers of your SUV's, and I am willing to drive my RV or my private jet anywhere necessary to remind you of that fact. When Rosie O'Donnell ambushes Tom Selleck about gun ownership and proceeds to call for draconian gun control measures, her moral position would be immeasurably improved were it not for the fact that her personal bodyguard is, of course, armed to the teeth in order to protect the valuable celebrity entrusted to his care. In other words, you poor simple people cannot be allowed to defend your homes and children. You must let your personal bodyguards take care of that ' after all, they are professionals. And when Susan Sarandon says she opposes war in Iraq because she doesn't want her son fighting and dying some day, what she is really saying is that it's okay for someone else's sons and daughters to go and fight and die to keep us safe ' just don't take the little Sarandon kids; they have big careers ahead of them.

Second, remember that this is a complex nation with many different peoples from many backgrounds, most of whom are invisible from six miles high in your Gulfstream V as you fly from New York to LA. Say whatever you want when you want: that is your right. But when the likes of Barbra Streisand seriously expect to be included in national policy decisions, and Warren Beatty gets a whiff of presidential ambition, let me suggest that you might make fine policy makers: you may, in fact, be the solution to this nation's many grievous ills. And the way to find out is to get some names on a petition, get out of the limo, knock on some doors, and meet some real people for once in your pampered, isolated lives. Go to some cookouts, some ethnic celebrations, press the flesh, kiss some babies and do all the other messy, disgraceful, comical things that politicians have to do to get elected in this country.

I suspect you will find that life is somewhat more complicated than you might have guessed. If my pale and wafer-thin exposure to on-line 'celebrity' is any guide at all, you will find that hearing from people who both agree and disagree with you will make you a better person, and the hopes, compliments and criticisms they pin on you will raise you to a plane you never thought you would be able to exist on. Try it. It will do you good. But until then, stay out of the smoky rooms and leave policy to the tens of thousands of elected officials in this nation who have met and listened to the unruly public, endured the germs in a public restroom, and earned the right to govern.

Third, a personal favor: when you call for higher taxes so we all know what swell-hearted guys you are, could you please wait for a few weeks until some of the rest of us are sitting on a few hundred million? I know that you think it shows you're not being hypocrites ' I'm a millionaire! I'll pay even more! Problem is, those of us who aren't millionaires but who would like to be are still trying to slug it out down here, see? And while higher taxes may mean you only take home 2 million of the 13 million you make on a two-month shoot, it still seems like you could have the decency to hold off until some of the rest of us working stiffs get there too.

It's widely known that when something bad happens in the world, when something big goes south surprisingly fast, the first words out of the President's mouth are 'Where are the carriers?' It's not, 'Where are the celebrities?' 'Where are the carriers?"

An Aircraft Carrier is nothing more than a big piece of steel ' a really big piece of steel displacing 90,000 tons of water ' but an inanimate hunk of iron ore nonetheless.

What the President really wants to know is, 'Where are the nameless, unglamorous, 18, 19, 20 year-old ordnance specialists, where are the barely-shaving fueling technicians, where are the pimply-faced fire-fighting crews and the cooks and the medics and the engineers' that we pay a few thousand dollars a year for, people we pay less in a month for a hellish life of service in the hot bowels of a carrier than we do a movie star in one minute of their catered lunch break in their personal trailer, being waited on hand and foot by an army of sycophants? Where are the twenty- and thirty-something Lieutenants and Lt. Commanders, family men who left tearful wives and sons and daughters on a dock in San Diego or Norfolk so that they could sail into harm's way on behalf of spoiled, immature, Peter-Pan types like Warren Beatty whose God-given right to bed millions of starlets might be threatened by developments overseas? Where are the Commanders and Captains and the crusty old CPO's and Warrant Officers, men and women who have given a lifetime of service to their country; capable, good-hearted people who could have immeasurably increased their wealth and comfort had they chosen life in the private sector?

One of the many things we learned on September 11th, 2001 was that there are in fact real heroes in the world, and they are not, surprisingly, supermodels or dating Nicole Kidman. They are policemen and airline passengers and fire fighters like Mike Moran who have the guts to look terror in the eye, give out his home address, and tell Osama bin Laden to kiss his royal Irish ass. We pay these people nothing, chump change ' they are unsung, faceless and forgotten. Shame on us.

For a moment, for a few weeks or months, the reality of what these men and women do daily was there in front of us to see, and all of a sudden the glitterati seemed pale and ephemeral and really kind of silly. But, as usual, the unsung and unknown armies of soldiers and intelligence analysts and baggage screeners and all the rest have done their jobs with such quiet professionalism and skill that once again the undead, make-believe legions of the famous feel safe to expound on a reality many of them never have to face and lecture us all on morality.

Let me say this from the bottom of my heart: these people are entitled to their opinion. Anyone who thinks them traitors for disagreeing with the government has a lot to learn about what America really means, no matter how heartfelt their patriotism nor how loathsome the criticism. And, I suppose, they deserve respect for having the guts to speak their minds publicly, to go on record for what they obviously believe in.

The danger, as I see it, is that we live in a culture awash in celebrity, and this gives these people not only a voice, but influence over large numbers of people ' perhaps enough influence to significantly effect election results. One of the reasons that a person's ego can become so diseased that they feel they can order free people to avert their eyes in their presence is because they know full well the power they have. The inclusion of some of these names in a movie can be worth hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Just think about this for a moment: you could, in the space of eight weeks, generate more income than some nations do in the course of a year.

And so when and how is such power challenged? When do they ever have to defend themselves and their ideas against fact, reason and logic? Who do they ever meet that repeatedly and hotly disagrees with them? These are people who can afford to employ armies of willing Smithers' to ensure that this exact thing never happens.

Anyone who has seen a recent photo of Michael Jackson, must, if they have any compassion at all, feel a great pity for this man, because what he has done to himself only shows that he has never had a real friend in his entire life. Not one. He has reached a level of celebrity so advanced, that no one, anywhere, is willing or able to confront him, to challenge him, to pull him aside and take away the car keys, to get the poor man some help. You and I never deal with Michael Jackson ' we deal with Michael Jackson's people. And these are folks who are hired as a bulwark against the unpleasant realities the rest of us face on a daily basis. In the case of Michael Jackson, it is a perfect prison of his own construction, and almost every celebrity the average person could name has at least the beginnings of such a wall already in place.

As long as celebrity worship is about who's dating whom and what gown was worn at what self-congratulatory award show, there is really very little harm in all this. But when people with this degree of influence over the public step into the political arena, we might perhaps be a little concerned that all of the fact-checking, criticism and downright surveillance that the press correctly applies to political figures is completely lacking when it comes to celebrity proclamations. So they get to have things both ways. They have the influence without the responsibility. They can claim that they are just a citizen exercising their right to their opinion, and in this they are absolutely correct.

But is it too much to ask, that in return for all of the largesse and privilege and adulation that we lay at the feet of these idols, that perhaps they develop some cogent, defensible argument, something based on history and research and logic rather than on what feels good to them? Something worthy of the disproportionate weight their opinions are given? It is not uncommon to see actors, famous or otherwise, carrying dense tomes by Tolstoy (alongside tiny little thin ones by Harold Pinter), wearing round spectacles with no prescriptions on the thick lenses: the trappings of deep thinking, the props and costume work needed to convey to the audience in the coffee shop or the protest line the very profound and meaningful cogitation done by people who run from deep and meaningful thought like a rabid dog from a water hose.

And would it also be too much to ask, just as a common courtesy to those who pay for your mansions and limousines, to every once in a while assume that perhaps this freely elected, multi-racial, multi-cultural democracy is not automatically in the wrong when confronting dictators, murderers and terrorists? Will you abide by this reasonable request, or do we have to write it into your next contract?

Posted by Proteus at 1:24 AM | Comments (149)