Monday, October 31, 2005

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My earlier-expressed concerns about the interrogations of our military are not exactly assuaged by this opinion piece. All the things that I generally associate with liberals trying to defend abortion or some other atrocity, are on display here - slippery English, ends-justify-means variety of argumentation, fighting the most moderate measures tooth-and-toenail because it would eventually lead to an outcome that...doesn't sound all that bad.

First, um, there's this little passage that should send off warning bells to anyone who knows anything about any military that ever existed:

"The proposition that the Pentagon threw out any rules is simply false. Regarding Abu Ghraib, no fewer than nine courts-martial were confident enough of the rules to hand out sentences of up to 10 years to soldiers who violated those rules."

The fact that the higher-ups in our military enforce the rules when everybody in the world is watching, as in fact they were when the Abu Ghraib story broke, is not really very impressive. I want to know what rules they follow when nobody is watching.

buses have occurred, and dozens have been punished. Overall, rates of reported detainee abuse by U.S. soldiers today are historically low compared with other conflicts, such as World War II."

That's very nice to know, but other than having a vaguely-reassuring sound, it doesn't speak to the question of how much torture is going on.

terror suspects cannot be aggressively interrogated at all. They cannot be held for more than several weeks after capture without charge. The insurgents know this, and thus know that they have little to fear if they fall into U.S. hands."

"Aggressively interrogated" is one of those phrases that worries me, because it can mean anything from asking questions in an impolite manner to practices that any reasonable person would describe as "torture". And...our enemies do not FEAR falling into our hands? The idea that we might "become what we fight" has been stated frequently during this war, but it's always been suggested that this is a bad thing. Here, instead, it is a good thing! Let us win the war on terror by terrorizing our enemies - oh, I'm sorry, they're only supposed to "fear" falling into our hands; "terror" is the bad kind of fear that only the enemy inflicts. My mistake.

"Far more impressive is the near-unanimous opposition to the McCain effort from commanders currently fighting the war on terror. They understand that the amendment will be interpreted as an unnecessary rebuke, and as a huge disincentive to push detainees hard when seeking information on "ticking bombs."

Or as Senator Pat Roberts explained his opposition in the Washington Post: "I know as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the information we get from interrogating terrorists is some of the most valuable information we get. It saves lives. . . . Passing a law that effectively telegraphs to the entire terrorist world what they can expect if they are caught is not only counterproductive, but could be downright dangerous.""

Again..."push detainees hard"? Just what does that mean? Is that like "aggressive interrogation"? Anyway, it's here that we start getting to "with ends like that, who cares about the means?" territory. We can stop "ticking bombs" from going off, "It saves lives"...well then, it has to be a good idea, doesn't it? And then there's that gem from Sen. Roberts: "Passing a law that effectively telegraphs to the entire terrorist world what they can expect if they are caught is not only counterproductive, but could be downright dangerous."

Right. Now silly, naive little me, I thought we were going into this with the idea that we are better than the terrorists. In which case "the entire terrorist world" and in fact "the entire world" certainly would know what to expect: that we would treat our enemies decently, and behave like civilized people no matter how eager we were to win; that we would willingly refrain from doing things that "save lives" because we accounted honor more important than survival. Look, you can't have your cake and eat it too: honorable conduct comes with a cost. In war, that means it will cost lives - maybe yours, and yes, probably somebody else's if you are in a position of authority...honor isn't there to make you popular, or make you feel good about yourself. And if you are willing to behave like a dog, you can probably succeed in places where an honorable man would fail. That is a choice you have to make - but there are always men who find, ever-so-conveniently, that morality and expediency never actually come into conflict, but always happen to make a happy alliance.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

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Cars are a good thing

Blogimus has learned this in the most reliable of ways, namely being carless.

For instance, I decided that I ought to attend a latin Mass some day, and since every day appears to be some day, including next Sunday, I decided to start making plans. First I looked up a list of "Indult parishes" in Minnesota. Now Minnesota is physically the size of a reasonably large country (222,000 sq. km), and in population terms...well, the size of a rather small country (4.9 mil). Hey, there's about 2.5 Minnesotans for every Slovenian; that's not bad. And a fairly large fraction of that 4.9 million is Catholic.

So naturally there are two parishes with a (licit) Tridentine Mass.

Oh well, I shouldn't gripe. But it does take about two and a half hours to reach the nearer parish by bus (I did a "test run" today after Mass). It's in a church district - really, I think there's some kind of zoning ordinance. Nearby is something with a name vaguely like "Iglesia Adventista Septa Dia" which I take to be a Seventh-Day Sheep-Stealer...I mean, Adventist Church. Sorry, I REALLY don't like Protestant "missions" to Latinos. And there's the "First Hmong Baptist Church", which for all I know could really be the first. There's a lot of Hmong in Minnesota; actually there were a lot of them in my high school. Their language is called "Hmoob" which is probably my favorite language name. And there are other churches in the area too.

Next Sunday I will bring back a report, hopefully sans gripes in re: enourmously long bus rides. In the meantime, must begin preparations to avoid massive confusion at unfamiliar Mass.

[incidentally, have now embarked on chess fast. Get thee gone, infernal time-consuming game!]

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

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Yes, I've been horribly remiss in updating. I've been a bit busy, but also - let's face it - playing too much chess. Maybe that Internet Chess Club membership wasn't such a good idea.

Probably doesn't help my addiction, either, that I beat an International Master in an online simultaneous game (with 32 other players). Yes, it's not that hard to win a simul...still, it was nice, especially since I didn't seem to make any real mistakes until after I had secured an excellent game with a nice tactical sequence - he had White in the so-called "Riga Variation" of the Ruy Lopez, a remarkable line which leads to an endgame where Black has exchanged bishop and knight for a rook and two pawns (White has other choices, but I think they are much worse than their reputations). White can make things a bit dicey for Black, and he tried to squish me very quickly in the endgame by penetrating with his king. But I "reminded" him that his king was not exactly safe in the middle of my position, and to defend himself he had to allow a really ingenious advance of my f-pawn. When I looked at the game afterwards with a computer, it seemed that my idea was quite sound, and he had to either give up his knight, or trade his bishop and knight for my rook, or else allow me a really lethal h-pawn. After that I made a slight blunder out of over-caution, then a horrible one that should have lost, but fortunately he was over-cautious himself (the tactics were tricky for both sides) and he resigned on his 34th move (a bit generous, as I'm not sure I really could've ground out the win).

Not bad! Except psychologically perhaps....

Now I know that while everyone comes to Blogimus for the flashy site layout and the breakneck, instapundit-like frequency of posting, they stay for the in-depth political commentary! Or...not really, but reading this and considering my own feelings as vaguely representative of "my" sector of The American Public (and this is what punditry is all about, right?) I'm thinking that Bush is losing his popularity/tolerance level among conservative Americans (for instance me) who are now whole world, I think, in disapproving of his presidency in some degree or another. Obviously the Bush=Hitler types are out to lunch, and I often feel some degree of sympathy for Bush the man (I mean, the whole world hates him - heck, I didn't even like being hated by just the whole second grade of my elementary school; imagine what this would be like), but Bush the president seems to be doing worse and worse.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

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Blogimus Re-Plugged!

Okay, I've got my Internet connection up and running, so you can finally expect a return to regular posting. It's a bit late for me to write anything extensive today, but there is something I wanted to write about.

A few days ago I saw a channel 2 documentary on Abu Graib and other incidents of torture employed, or condoned, by our government during the war against Iraq or "on terror".

Now I know everyone (American, that is) will say oh, those liberal channel 2 things, you can't trust a word they say. And I'll admit, at the outset, that a thing or two or three aroused my bias-anntenae...but when you see interview after interview with, you know, actual Army, CIA and FBI officers, it gets harder and harder to dismiss everything as Bill Moyers (or whoever) rounding up a bunch of disgruntled employees and spinning it all like crazy. Besides which a lot of this stuff - like the gutless, disgusting CIA practice of shipping detainees off to Morocco or something and...not wanting to know what happens to them, so long as they talk - I had heard about elsewhere.

I'm certainly not a liberal nor a pacifist, and I see nothing wrong with hunting terrorists, nor am I entirely sure it was even a bad idea to invade Iraq, though the execution was certainly horrible. But stuff like this makes me wonder, who are we to claim we're a whit better than our enemies? And while I could bring myself to ignore all this, maybe, as a few injustices in pursuit of a just cause...I looked for something today that I probably shouldn't have, because it leaves me just shaking with anger at our military - and if anyone gives me the line about "uniforms that guard me while I sleep" and tells me to shut the hell up, well they do, I admit it - and I'm ashamed to be guarded by that uniform.

This is an abomination.

No military that allows this deserves success in anything - and no country that uses such an army. I don't want to hear any excuses for it, any crap about "this is what they wanted; who are you to say that they can't be there" etc. etc. Anyone who says "well why didn't you join, so they didn't have to" can kindly go [reflexive verbal construction expunged by editor]. This is inexcusable.

Hmph. I'd better quit now before I get any more worked up.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

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Well, I still haven't been able to get my own Internet connection up and running, hence my continued silence. Fear not, nothing will keep my quiet for very long.

One thing I've always envied about other people, is that they have, you know, an ancestry, a homeland, etc. I know that a lot of St. Bloggers (mostly Americans) like a ruminate on their Irish, or German, or Italian ancestry. But I'm a southerner by blood, and unlike Americans from everywhere else, who are apparently legally obligated to have at least one immigrant grandparent, I suspect a lot of southerners have, at best, a vague idea that there is probably a good bit of Scotch-Irish in them (in my case it would be more French and Welsh); otherwise the family tree just melts into the hills of Tennessee or wherever. And since I was born in Minnesota, I can't really work up any profound loyalty to the South either. Bobby Lee is just another 19th century general so far as I'm concerned, and the name "Sherman" does not cause any boiling in my blood.

On the other hand, maybe it doesn't really matter. Irish grandmother or no Irish grandmother, a lot of other Americans seem to be just as rootless and disconnected. As if our ancestry is just a bit of interesting and irrelevant trivia. When people talk about individualism in America, they tend to talk about it in terms of community or lack thereof - but I think the real sine qua non of individualism is separation, not from some "community" at large, but from the past. Which means that it's not something you can fix just by saying "individualism is a bad idea, so let's get all social and whatnot. Whaddaya say we start a bowling league?" How do you just "connect" to your past? If you have way too much free time, you can make a hobby of it - trace your geneaology back to the Old Country, study its history, fly over there, write a book about it, and so forth. But I'm too busy doing important things like blogging and playing chess, and in any case, it strikes me as sort of contrived. Do I really have any real connection to la dulce France, after all? I don't actually feel very Gallican, to be honest.

Well, America is an unusual country.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

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The Return

For all those of you who were wondering, "when will Blogimus return?" it appears that the answer is, "right about now." This is quite unexpected on my part. It seems that I had been misled regarding certain details of my schedule, the upshot of which is that it was not really necessary for me to move out of town (to a place with no Internet connection and hence no Blogimus)...but that alone wasn't so much the decisive factor, as the fact that some of my new housemates began acting very strangely. That, and the fact that they were keeping loaded guns around the house led me to conclude that as Blogimus was not in need of any amateur, high-speed body-piercings, he would do best to return to civilization. So - I may be a bit busy the next few days, moving out and so forth, and Thursdays and Fridays will be bad blogging days...but otherwise, I'm here to stay!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

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Still out there

Have you ever lived in a place without a phone connection? Without a car? 3 miles from the nearest town? And not in the rosiest financial situation, if not exactly swimming in debt either. I don't recommend it...which is why I'm going to buy a beater when possible and solve at least one of those problems. The others are a bit trickier.

Things are holding together, for now, but I can't say that I see good times ahead - for me, or for my country; good news on any front has become a sort of precious resource. I don't know whether to call it a blessing or not that I'm now pretty much cut off from the news, the Internet, civlization, etc. right now.

But life still has its pleasures - I've just finished reading all the good parts to Gulliver's Travels (i.e. pre-Houhynym - in your hearts you know I'm right, Swift-worshippers). Surely the high point was the section on the floating island and the "Academy" below - some of the most biting, imaginative satire in English. It is truly immortal; it could have been written yesterday - except that there is no longer anyone like Swift to write it.

People have said that satire is dead, simply because there is such a preponderance of evil in the world that it can scarcely be parodied. But if it were only that, I would say that this is a matter of poor workmen blaming their tools - as if evil were a sort of piddling little thing back in Swift's day. Yet I wonder if satire really is dead, or hibernating, for another reason: that the deadliest accusations of a satirist are at worst left-handed compliments today. It is hard to find a vice that actually bothers people besides the corruption of public officials (and even this may be dismissed with the realistic but apathetic lament that "they all do it") - and while Swift certainly had fun with that one, it is hard to make a whole literary career of that alone. The passage where Swift refers to atheists renowned for piety and sodomites for chastity is a perfect illustration of what I mean - in his day these were bitter words; the modern reader only feels a sort of distaste, for anyone so gauche as to think atheism or sodomy are something to be condemned.

One could still write satire today, but who would want to read it? Swift remarked that no one took offense at his works (perhaps an exaggeration), since anyone gazing at the looking-glass of satire will "see every image but his own". Yet if someone were to write a serious satire of modern America - even ignoring the sheer enormity of this task - the barbs would be too obvious for anyone to fail to recognize himself as the target. And foreigners would like it little better, as many of the barbs would sting them no less.

And the world chess championship in Argentina has just finished round 4 of 14. Rustam Kasimzhanov beat Vishy Anand, which was a huge upset - I like Anand's style, but I'm glad to see Kasim kicking around one of the top seeds; he doesn't get any respect (despite being sort of the world champion), and people may have to take him a bit more seriously if he can chalk up a few more wins. Alas, Peter Leko beat his countrywoman Judit Polgar (they are Hungarian) - of course any gentleman should cheer for the lady in the tournament, but she is also the most daring player of the eight...possibly excepting Veselin Topalov of Bulgaria, who is now leading the tournament with +3 (yes, 3 wins out of 4 games, plus a draw with Anand - who barely managed to escape defeat). He beat Michael Adams today...every American spectator apparently roots for Adams, Topalov or both, possibly because Topalov is a firebrand and is having a superb year, and Adams is the only Anglo-Saxon in the top circle of Grandmasters. I suppose they had mixed feelings about this round...Svidler beat Morozevich...Moro hasn't been doing so hot lately, while Svidler is really on a roll here. For me, these are the only "world events" I keep abreast of...anything else is just too gloomy.

Anyway, I certainly miss blogging; lots of people complain that blogging eats up too much of their time, gets them involved in all sorts of stupid arguments, gets their blood pressure up etc., and end up bailing out of it for "theraputic reasons"...for me it's been the opposite; I'm not a particularly steady or well-balanced individual, normally, and blogging helped me keep a sort of equilibrium...unfortunately without Internet access (I'm at my mom's place right now, which is why I'm here) it's not something I can do. Maybe at some time or another I'll be able to rectify that - I hope so. While my month-long absence (with more to follow) has no doubt conducted another "readership purge"...well, when I'm finally able to start up again, I may as well just come back here. Anyway, it doesn't matter to me that a lot of people read my blog - if the occasional web-surfing visitor comes and finds something to his interest, then I've done enough; I'm not ambitious. So we'll see what happens.