Miscellaneous musings from the perspective of a lefty (both senses) atheist with a warped sense of humor.

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Location: Madison, WI, United States

I am a geek, but I do have some redeeming social skills. I love other people's dogs, cats, and kids. Snow sucks, but I'm willing to put up with it just to live in Madison.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Republicans Whack Day 1

Didja hear that the Republicans decided to cancel almost all of Monday's activities for their convention in Saint Paul? The ostensible reason was out of some kind of, I dunno, respect I guess you'd call it, for the folx in the path of Hurricane Gustav.

I bet that pisses off the networks, which were all geared up for full-bore coverage of the convention and now have all of their major equipment and big names there, twiddling their thumbs.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee and Obama will be center stage.

This seemed like a remarkably media-obtuse move on the part of the GOP, voluntarily giving up 1 day's coverage out of the 4 available to them, and I couldn't at 1st figure out why they'd do it.

Then I saw a list of the events that would be cancelled, front and foremost of which were speeches by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. That's when the light bulb went off.

Hurricane, Louisiana, Bush. I'm sure they figured "Better dead air than THAT!".

Palin's Qualifications

After spending some time researching the GOP surprise VP pick, I conclude that Sarah Palin's primary qualification for the position is a set of high-functioning ovaries.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Adieu, "For Better or for Worse"

I've been reading the funny papers for nigh onto 6 decades now and have seen a whole lot of different strips and panels come and go, from "Our Boarding House" with Major Hoople to "The Katzenjammer Kids" to "Gasoline Alley" to "Alley Oop" to "Peanuts" to the incomparable Hal Foster "Prince Valiant"s to "Doonesbury" to the logophile's fave "Frank and Ernest" to "Steve Canyon" to "Priscilla's Pop" to "Mark Trail" to "Girl Genius" to "Calvin and Hobbes", and on and on.

So I speak with some standards of comparison at my beck and call when I say that, for my money, the best of them all has been Lynn Johnston's "For Better or for Worse", in which we follow 3 generations of the Patterson family of Canada thru life's everyday ups and downs. Unlike most strips, the Pattersons age in real time, so we see them thru all the stages of life, including death.

And now we have evidently reached the death of the strip itself. This is what appears to be the final one:

Adieu, FBorFW. You were so gentle, so kind, so sweet, so lovely, so human. Gone but not forgotten.

And thank you, Lynn Johnston, for letting the rest of us grow up along with the wonderful family of your imagination.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Conventional Political Wisdom

Conventional political wisdom says that a major consideration in picking a VP candidate is how much that candidate's state will help bring in lots of votes you wouldn't normally expect to get in the Electoral College.

So we have Joe Biden of Delaware, whose 3 electoral votes went to Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004 and would surely have gone for Obama anyway in 2008.

And now we have Sarah Palin of Alaska, whose 3 electoral votes went to Bush in 2000 and 2004 and would surely have gone for McCain anyway in 2008.

Hmmm, no help in either case.

Geographical balance: Obama (IL central), Biden (DE east): check. McCain (AZ south), Palin (AK north): check.

Experience factor: McCain (72 today! HB, John) elected to Senate in 1986, Biden (65) in 1973. Old white guys balance out.

Diversity factor: Obama 47, Palin 44. Non-old, non-white, non-guys balance out.

Attack-dog factor: Biden known to be able to appeal to working-class voters and rip the lungs out of political opponents. Anti-abortion Palin probably has an uphill battle reaching out to women but got started in politics by railing against political corruption in Alaska; remains to be seen if she can bite the heads off donkeys on the national stage. VP debate should be interesting.

Novelty factor: Obama #1 person of color on major-party ticket; Palin #2 woman.

Excitement factor: Obama clearly the rock star of this bunch. (Someone said Palin looks like a cross between Laverne and Shirley; if so, she may strike a resposive chord in Milwaukee; we'll see.)

Flag-waving factor: McCain dominant, others watching from afar.

Cute kids: Haven't seen Palin's offspring yet, but they'd better be DAMN cute to offset Obama's girls. Of course, #5 is only 2, and how can you NOT have a cute 2-year-old?

All in all, looks like conventional political wisdom is batting about .500.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Happy 45th, Dream

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force. The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. They have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom. We cannot walk alone.

As we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back. There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied, as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the Negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating "For Whites Only". We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

[This was the end of King's prepared remarks, distributed in advance to the press. At this point, his eyes rose from the papers before him and never thereafter left the audience.]

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

And if America is to be a great nation this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania!

Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado!

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California!

But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia!

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee!

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, "Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

[The last quotation appears on the tombstone of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968), who delivered this speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on 1963 August 28, the centennial year of the Emancipation Proclamation.]

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Massive Monstrous Muslim Menace

The Massive Monstrous Muslim Menace
by Richard S. Russell

It Started Out Looking like Ordinary Spam

None of us has much control over the stuff that comes IN to our e-mail in-boxes. I get all sorts of spam promising to enlarge my penis or help me save those fugitive millions from the bank accounts of deposed Nigerian patriots. And I get my share of political crapola, too. Most of it gets deleted unread. Life is too short. Why waste my time?

But I do take the time to read things that have been forwarded to me by friends and relatives. Now, because of something one of my cousins sent me last week, I’m starting to rethink that practice.

The subject line alone should have been the 1st tip-off:
“Fw: It speaks for itself .. Thanks John. Thats why I am so scared about O bama. I am still not convinced he is not a Muslim. Chuck”

Key word: “scared”. Clearly this Chuck person is not firmly connected to the reality the rest of us inhabit. I suspect that, 5 minutes after he mindlessly hit “Send” to forward this item off to the next batch of unlucky recipients, he was railing on about Obama’s loony pastor. His loony CHRISTIAN pastor. Somehow or other, these self-contradictory points never seem to get a line drawn between them in the fantasy-prone mind.

So this diatribe arrived in my cousin’s in-box. And he too was confronted with the “please spawn me” closing lines that all these propagandistic chain letters seem obliged to include:
“I sincerely think that anyone who rejects this as just another political rant, or doubts the seriousness of this issue, or just deletes it without sending it on, is part of the problem.”

At this point, my cousin could have chosen to recognize the screed for what is was and just shit-canned it. (I would have.) Or he could have chosen to hit “Forward” and added a header something like this:
“Look at this crap. Can you BELIEVE what these idiots are saying now?”

But no. Instead he sent it along with these sentiments:
“This is one of the best I've read. Scary. I hope it wakes up a lot of people.”

So, not a shake-of-the-head, rolling-of-the-eyes statement of amazement at continued human folly and propensity for nonsense, but a hearty, enthusiastic endorsement of the original essay.

Contemptible Religious Bigotry

Let me be crystal clear about my own opinion on the matter. I am embarrassed and ashamed to be related to someone who would perpetuate this kind of bald-faced religious bigotry. The essay itself is scurrilous, repugnant, despicable, loathsome, and contemptible.

Make no mistake about it. The central message of Gen. Vernon Chong’s article, entitled “This WAR Is REAL”, is this and this alone:

The Muslims are comin’ to getcha!

Where have we heard this before? Let me see. [Here picture gets wavy and fuzzy as I stroke my beard.]

The Jews are comin’ to getcha!

The niggers are comin’ to getcha!

The honkies are comin’ to getcha!

The Japs are comin’ to getcha!

The queers are comin’ to getcha!

The beaners are comin’ to getcha!

The teenage thugs and gangbangers are comin’ to getcha!

The junkies are comin’ to getcha!

The bra-burning emasculators are comin’ to getcha!

The Catholics are comin’ to getcha! Especially the micks, spics, wops, and polacks, who talk funny and smell funny, too.

The commies and their pinko fellow travelers are comin’ to getcha!

The secular humanists are comin’ to getcha!

The Serbs are comin’ to getcha!

I sure hope that you aren’t bigoted or stupid enuf to fall for any of the above insults, epithets, slurs, and trigger words, but I also hope you’re astute enuf to recognize that each and every one of them has been used effectively to rile up unthinking, easily gulled people thruout our nation’s history. Each and every one of them is based on blatant stereotyping of a racial, religious, ethnic, or other minority. Each and every one of them is designed to inspire fear and loathing. Each and every one of them is dead wrong.

Fear leads to suspicion leads to intolerance leads to hatred leads to violence. It’s the old, sad story, and here it comes for its 3 zillionth sequel.

Oh yeah, I can see the objection coming from a mile away: “But he wasn’t indicting Muslims in general. He only mentioned Muslim TERRORISTS! There’s a difference.”

Well, yes, there surely IS a difference, but notice how fast that difference gets covered up as Gen. Chong pulls the ol’ switcheroo: “France is already 20% Muslim and fading fast. Without our support, Great Britain will go, also. Recently, I read that there are more mosques in England than churches.”

See any references to terrorism there? No, of course you didn’t, because this asshole is out to trash Muslims IN GENERAL, and he’s just using terrorism as an excuse to cover his religious prejudices.

“But”, it may be objected, “maybe there’s something to that. After all, Muslims believe all sorts of weird, oddball things. Maybe that makes them dangerous.”

The Weird Beliefs of Muslims

Well, DO Muslims believe a lot of screwy things? Of course they do! Islam is a religion. Believing in screwy things is practically the DEFINITION of a religion. But Muslims are hardly unique in the bizarreness of their dogma. Consider:

Catholics pray to statues and engage in ritual cannibalism. Need we fear them chowing down on our kids?

Protestants believe in talking snakes and the world being entirely covered with water as recently as a few thousand years ago. (Wonder where it all went?) Many of them are vitally concerned about YOUR sex life. Wanna let them install video cameras in your bedroom?

Mormons have their magic underwear and the expectation that they’ll all be gods in the afterlife. Would you like to live in their very nice, very neat, very sanitary, very bland world?

Scientologists think they’re the intellectual heirs of the space aliens who founded the human race. Would you like your job to be dependent on your e-meter reading, as interpreted by a church-certified “auditor”?

Christian Scientists think you can pray your cancer away. Wanna give up your doctor?

Jehovah’s Witnesses and 7th Day Adventists are convinced that Jesus is due back next year — a position they’ve held EVERY year since 1846. They really, really, really want you to spend all your remaining time reading your Bible and helping them annoy the nabors.

Orthodox churches use their stinky incense to fend off evil spirits. Various Caribbean religions, OTOH, are all too happy to welcome those spirits, and pretend they can summon them like zombies and control them with voodoo dolls.

Rastafarians … well ...

American Indian religions, too, go for the talking animals. They also are big on chanting, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and peyote, which probably explains all those visions.

Shintoism and Confucianism feature a whole flock of your deceased ancestors kibitzing over your every move. Placate them by burning paper money at the ancestral shrine.

Buddhism goes in for reincarnation and thinks everything we can actually see, hear, smell, taste, and touch is just an illusion.

For Hindus, pretty much any entity that you think SHOULD be a god is considered to actually BE a god, no license required. They also take literally the maxim “What goes around comes around.” No, really: literally!

And every one of these religions contends that it, and it alone, has a 100% lock on the truth, and all the others are nuts.

Nor does religion have a monopoly on the wacko ideas. Here are some free-floating ones that haven’t yet accumulated enuf barnacles to be deemed religious:

Conspiracy theorists, with their tinfoil helmets, black helicopters, and UN paranoia.

Deniers of everything from the Holocaust to evolution to the Moon landing to global warming.

Believers in every kind of superstition, including 4-leaf clovers, horseshoes, ladders, mirrors, black cats, 13, not stepping on sidewalk cracks, and so on.

Folx who are convinced that space aliens hip-o-tized them, abducted them, and subjected them to anal probes aboard their UFOs.

Ardent devotees of various pseudosciences, such as ESP, water dowsing, precognition, fortune telling, remote viewing, and “free energy” scams.

Suckers for quackeries like homeopathic medicine, therapeutic “touch”, the idea that you can cure cancer thru laetrile or chiropractic, magnet therapy, aromatherapy, and so much, much more.

And I myself am not immune to flaky notions, either. Here are 2 that I freely admit to:

I firmly believe that the Green Bay Packers are the greatest sports team ever, despite abundant evidence to the contrary.

I’ve conned myself into believing that dairy products are good for me (probably because they’re so delicious), despite the fact that the cholesterol they’re packing into my arteries will probably kill me.

So the Muslims have a lot of loony ideas. So what? So does EVERYONE. We ALL have loony ideas, including each and every person who subscribes to ANY religion.

What does that make us? Dangerous? No, human.

Americans vs. Muslims

But the fact that someone half a world away does things differently than you do is a ripe opportunity for political manipulation. Sam Davis, living in his trailer park in Kansas, will never meet Hassan al-Aboodi, living in his tent in the Sahara. So Machiavellian, opportunistic, fear-mongering politicians and con artists will set to work on each of them, trying to paint the other one as the devil incarnate. Sam hears from Dear Leader and Faux News how he has to worry more about a terrorist attack from Hassan than having his trailer hit by a tornado. In Kansas. Hassan, meanwhile, learns in his Wahhabist madrassa that Sam, agent of the Great Satan America, is a latter-day Christian Crusader, coming to kill him, rape his wife, and force his children to eat bacon and pee on the Koran.

Now, if you identify with Sam, you know that YOU have no such evil intentions toward Hassan. But take the next step. Identify with Hassan, and realize that HE has no such evil intentions, either.

Stop and think about it. There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. That’s BILLION, with a “B”. That’s 5 times the population of the United States. Any group that large is incredibly diverse. Muslims come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. They’re tall, short, fat, thin, old, young, male, female, rich, poor, urban, rural, smart, dumb, capitalist, communist, fast, slow, athletic, sedentary, geeky, suave, and so on.

Hey, guess what? That’s just like Americans!

Muslims come with a standard-issue set of components: 2 eyes, 2 ears, a nose, a mouth, 2 arms, 2 legs, a heart, and a brain. Every Muslim has a mom and dad. Most have brothers and sisters. They’ll all love. They’ll all lose a job. They’ll all experience music, color, sunsets, heartache, and the common cold. Eventually, they’ll all die.

Hey, guess what? That’s just like Americans!

What does the average Muslim want? Not much, really. A roof overhead, 3 squares a day, reasonably good health, the comfort of friends and family, a decent living, good food (preferably including chocolate), plenty of chances to sing, dance, laff, and play, a little respect, and for everybody else to leave them the hell alone. That’s not much to ask, is it?

Hey, guess what? That’s just like Americans!

Did you know that there are 3 forms of communication that every single Muslim responds to? They are:
 • a smile
 • weeping in sorrow
 • reacting to the cry of an infant in distress

Hey, guess what? That’s just like Americans!

Muslims as much as Americans share these universal HUMAN traits.

And here I must really correct myself, because I’ve been speaking of Muslims and Americans as if they’re 2 entirely separate groups, but they’re not. 1.5 million Muslims ARE Americans. 1.5 million Americans ARE Muslims. (For those a little slow on the uptake with their Venn diagrams, it’s the same 1.5 million.)

So, Mr. or Ms. American, ask yourself: Do YOU spend all YOUR time trying to figure out ways to attack Muslims and make their lives miserable? No, of course not. You’ve got your own knitting to tend to.

So do the ginormously overwhelming majority of the world’s Muslims. Even if they DID for some reason have it in for America, they’re too busy “putting food on their families” (to quote George W. Bush) to do anything about it. And even if they could make the time, it’s not easy to come up with all the kablooie stuff and harder still to get it from there to here.

Think about Salman Rushdie and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Each of them has a fatwa out on their heads. Do you really think that, if all 1.5 BILLION Muslims were out to get them, they’d still be alive? Yet they walk around openly, making public appearances at conventions and book signings and TV shows that are publicized days ahead of time, with fewer bodyguards than your average SEC football coach.

You Call This a WAR?

So what about Gen. Chong’s claim that the Muslims really ARE coming to getcha? He starts off by citing a series of 10 terrorist incidents as evidence that (as he phrases it) “This is war!” (How like a general to see everything in terms of war.)

Now hang tight, because I’m going to take those 10 events he names and go him one better. I’m going to enumerate EACH AND EVERY TERRORIST ATTACK ON AMERICA FOR A FULL QUARTER OF A CENTURY. I’m going to start with the day Reagan was inaugurated in 1981 (not coincidentally, the very same day our 52 hostages were freed from their captivity in Iran, not a one of them having died in the intervening 444 days), and I’m going to run until the end of 2005 to bring us up to an even 25 years. And I’m going to count everything.

Unlike Gen. Chong, however, I will quote you the FULL picture, including the many, many years when NOTHING happened.

Ready? Here goes:

Deaths from Terrorist Attacks on America, 1981-2005

1981, 0
1982, 0
1983, 303 (2 attacks: 62 killed in suicide bombing of US embassy in Beirut, Lebanon; 241 died in Oct. 23 truck bombing of Marine barracks, also in Beirut)
1984, 0
1985, 1 (Unabomber killing of Hugh Scrutton in California)
1986, 0
1987, 0
1988, 270 (Dec. 21 Pan Am 103 bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, 259 on plane, 11 on ground)
1989, 0
1990, 0
1991, 0
1992, 3 (Aug. 21 FBI raid on Ruby Ridge, Idaho)
1993, 89 (2 attacks: 6 killed Feb. 26 in World Trade Center truck bombing organized by Ramzi Yousef, inspired by Omar Abdel-Rahman. 83 killed Apr. 19 by FBI/BATF raid on Branch Davidian compound in Waco TX)
1994, 1 (Unabomber killing of Thomas J. Mosser in New Jersey)
1995, 169 (2 attacks: Apr. 17 truck bombing of the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City carried out by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols plus Unabomber killing of Gilbert B. Murray in California)
1996, 20 (June 25 truck bombing of Khobar Towers military housing complex in Saudi Arabia)
1997, 0
1998, 258 (2 attacks: Aug. 7 al-Qaeda bombings of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania)
1999, 0
2000, 17 (Oct. 12 boat bombing of USS Cole in Aden harbor, Yemen)
2001, 2,997 in 8 attacks (Attacks 1–4: Sep. 11 al-Qaeda airline hijacking organized by Mohammad Atta, inspired by Osama bin Laden; 2,992 deaths include 246 innocent airline passengers and crew, 2,602 at World Trade Center, 125 at Pentagon, and 19 terrorists. Attacks 5–8: Sep.–Dec., anthrax envelopes, possibly originating from US Army bioweapons researcher Bruce Ivins, in DC, FL, NY, and CT; 5 dead)
2002, 0
2003, 0
2004, 0
2005, 0

Now, I stopped at 2005 to produce a nice, even quarter century and make the math easier, but for those who’d like to keep up to date, let me do what Gen. Chong did NOT do, and continue on with the full picture:

2006, 0
2007, 0
2008, 0

Contrast this with Gen. Chong’s comment “If they had just wanted us quiet, they would not have produced an INCREASING series of attacks against us over the past 18 years.” [emphasis added]

Lest anyone accuse me of lowballing these figures, please note that I’ve been as inclusive as possible. I’ve used the broadest possible definition of terrorism by including the FBI, BATF, and US Army among the “terrorists”. I’ve used the largest responsible figure for number of attacks, counting each of the 9/11 planes and anthrax envelopes as a separate attack. I’ve used the most generous imaginable definition of Americans, including all known deaths from each incident, even tho almost all of the victims of the various embassy bombings were local workers, 1/3 of the Lockerbie victims were Europeans, and a substantial fraction of the people who died in the aptly named World Trade Center were foreign nationals. (It’s a bit of an oddity that 9/11 produced the largest aviation death toll in Australian history.) But I’ve counted ’em all!

And what does it work out to? This:
 • Total Attacks: 22 in 25 years; average: 0.88 per year
 • Total Deaths: 4,128 in 25 years; average: 165 per year

Let’s examine number of attacks first, then move on to the death toll.

The NUMBER of Terrorist Attacks

While I certainly question Gen. Chong’s ANALYSIS of the numbers, I’ll assume that he’s at least in the right ballpark with the numbers themselves: “During the period from 1981 to 2001 [20 years] there were 7,581 terrorist attacks worldwide.”

So, what would be a good guess as to the percentage of these 7,581 terrorist attacks that SHOULD have been directed against the United States, given our standing in the world?

If attacks were proportional to our military spending, we’d get 46% of them. (Yes, we spend almost as much on the military as every other nation on Earth COMBINED.)

If attacks were based on envy of our wealth, our 25.5% share of the global gross economic product (GDP) would earn us 25.5% of the attacks.

If terrorist attacks were just randomly distributed over the planet’s land area, we’d get 6.3% of them.

If the attacks were proportional to our population, we’d get 4.5% of them.

So what DID we get? Dividing the above 25-year American figure of 22 by Gen. Chong’s 20-year worldwide total of 7,581 should, if anything, overstate the case.

It works out to 0.29%. About 1 terrorist attack out of every 345 hits America. At most.

If there’s a massive epidemic of terrorist assaults in the world, we in the US of A seem to have some kind of natural immunity to it. Hardly any of them are coming our way.

The BODY COUNT from Terrorist Attacks

Now let’s whip out some comparisons for the death toll. I’ll start with figures from ACTUAL wars (US casualties only, but note that for the Civil War it’s Americans on both sides):

Civil War: ~625,000 over 48 months (1861 Apr. 12 to 1865 Apr. 9), 13,021 per month
World War 1: 116,516 over 19 months (1917 Apr. 6 to 1918 Nov. 11), 6,132 per month
World War 2: 405,399 over 44 months (1941 Dec. 7 to 1945 Aug. 15), 9,214 per month
Korean War: 36,516 over 37 months (1950 June 25 to 1953 July 27), 987 per month
Vietnam War: 58,209 over 189 months (1959 July 8 to 1975 April 30), 308 per month
Terrorism: 4,128 over 300 months (1981 Jan. 20 to 2005 Dec. 31), 14 per month

As such things go, the “war” vs. terrorism is pretty puny, with a death rate clocking in at only 5% of Vietnam and a paltry 0.15% of WW2.

Here’s another comparison: murder statistics (almost entirely Americans vs. Americans), 2006, the 8 largest American metropolitan areas:

New York – 978
Los Angeles – 1,092
Chicago (city only) – 468
Dallas-Fort Worth – 336
Philadelphia – 554
Houston – 519
Miami – 419
Washington – 390
Terrorism – 165

So you’re more at risk of being murdered by one of your fellow citizens in ANY large American city than you are of being killed by terrorists in the entire country.

Now let’s look at the hazards of everyday living in this country. The following numbers are taken from Jeffrey Kluger’s article “Why we worry about the things we shouldn’t … and ignore the things we should” in the 2006 Dec. 4 issue of Time and are based on 2003 data:

44,757 – motor-vehicle accidents
11,212 – drug overdoses (most involving LEGAL drugs)
3,879 – choking
3,676 – motorcycle accidents
3,369 – fire
1,588 – falling down stairs
762 – bicycle accidents
594 – falling out of bed
515 – pool drowning
365 – falling off a ladder
332 – bathtub drowning
103 – slipping on ice or snow
66 – bee/wasp sting
47 – lightning strike
32 – dog attack
3 – playground-equipment accident
2 – snakebite
1 – marine-animal attack

From other sources, you can find the following death figures for recent years in the 21st Century:

32,637 – gun suicides
12,352 – gun murders
7,000+ – badly written prescriptions
789 – gun accidents
760 – pregnancy and childbirth
0 – mad-cow disease

So hark! Do you hear the great hue and cry arising from the general populace calling for the complete abolition of all of our beds, ladders, and bathtubs? They’re more dangerous than terrorists, as you can plainly see. Bicycles kill 5 times as many people as terrorists. Maybe we should get rid of all our medicines; that would save 68 times as many lives. And those cars and motorcycles! Lordy, lordy, let’s unload those, and save 294 times as many lives as we lose to terrorism.

What Must We Give Up?

Gen. Chong evidently is willing to ignore the terrible, terrible havoc being wreaked on the American population by our beds and swimming pools, but he DOES have a proposal for something we can give up to “save” us from terrorism: “For the duration, we are going to have to give up some of the civil rights to which we have become accustomed. We had better be prepared to lose some of our civil rights temporarily or we will most certainly lose all of them permanently.”

So this military man — who I’m willing to bet a million bucks is not about to surrender his own car, bed, ladder, or staircases (to say nothing of his guns) to save a thousand times as many lives — is perfectly willing to have YOU give up YOUR civilian liberties on the off chance that it MAY save us 165 lives a year (14 a month).

But only temporarily, surely. Doesn’t he say “for the duration”? Well, what IS the duration? How will we know when we’ve won the “war” on terror? When we’ve completely eliminated all evil from the world? What do you suppose the “duration” of THAT particular task is going to be? ’Cuz Gen. Chong wants you to hold off on that whole civil-rights thing until we get there.

At this point I call your attention to another line in Chong’s essay: “Why were we attacked? Envy of our position, our success, and our freedoms.”

Yes, it’s the old “they hate our freedoms” argument. But stop and think about THIS for awhile. Terrorists (whether Muslims or anyone else) may hate our freedoms, but they really can’t do squat to take them away. We can only do that to ourselves — either voluntarily (by cringing and cowering and declining to “go shopping”, as Pres. Bush advised right after 9/11) or involuntarily (by sitting back and doing nothing while our government does the job FOR the terrorists).

Osama bin Laden killed a lot of people, it’s true. He’s a mass-murdering, thuggish bastard and deserves no mercy, no sympathy, and no credit for being anything more. He took nearly 3000 completely innocent lives.

But he didn’t take anyone’s freedom. He didn’t invade anyone’s privacy by spying on us. He didn’t torture any of us. He didn’t revoke habeas corpus. He didn’t conduct warrantless searches. He didn’t imprison anyone for no visible cause. He didn’t force us to wait in long lines at airports. He didn’t ever say “show me your papers” or “prove your citizenship”. He didn’t force members of our military to keep endlessly cycling back and back and back again to a war zone, long past the end of their nominal tours of duty. He didn’t surveil our library records or internet activity. All he did was sit back and gloat as WE did this to OURSELVES.

If you face the cold, hard facts of the matter, Osama bin Laden may (arguably) HATE our freedoms more than anyone else, but the guy who’s done more than anyone else to RUIN our freedoms is George W. Bush. He has played directly into the hands of the nastiest America-haters of them all and far outstripped the very worst that bin Laden could possibly have imagined on his most wildly optimistic day.

So, to “keep America safe” from an average of 165 deaths per year (half as many as bathtub drownings or falling off ladders), Bush has shredded our civil liberties, completely reorganized the federal government (and deunionized a big chunk of it in the process), hassled airline passengers for upwards of an hour on each and every one of literally billions of trips, started 2 wars, provoked a national sense of paranoia and anxiety, and poured at least a trillion dollars down a black hole.

Historians a hundred years from now will compare this era to the Salem witch trials and wonder what OUR excuse could possibly have been.

Has the American Spirit Really Come to This?

But, instead of looking a hundred years forward, let’s pause for a bit and look a century in the OTHER direction, to the early 1900s, when my maternal grandfather, Stefan Smilanich, an ethnic Serb living in Croatia, crossed Europe, the Atlantic, and half of North America to go to work in the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota. After 4 years of 12-hour days in the open pits (plus staying away from the saloons on Saturday night), he’d saved enuf to send for his wife and dotter from the old country. In all, Stefan and Milosava gave birth to 9 children. Tho they themselves could barely speak English, all 5 of their children who lived to adulthood became college graduates.

Life was hard for these immigrants. Stefan faced a daily grind of hard, dirty, brutal, dangerous labor. Milosava, in addition to the endless chores of running a rooming house, faced the deadly hazards of childbirth. (Each year, for every 1000 live births, 6–9 women died of pregnancy-related complications. My grandparents dared those odds 9 times.) Merely growing up in that era had its perils, as evidenced by my mother’s 4 siblings who didn’t survive childhood.

It was for people like these that Hebrew coined the word “mensch”.

So how did they do it? Well, they just DID it. They endured. They persevered. They put their heads down and plowed ahead. They took their lumps and bumps and kept on chugging.

Nor were they alone in this. They typified what we are conceited to call the American Spirit, and it was that spirit that allowed my grandparents and their fellow pioneers to conquer a continent.

What has become of that spirit? What would our grandparents think of the American Spirit as typified by the reaction of today’s citizens to terrorism?

Pussies, they’d think. Pathetic fucking sniveling, cringing pussies. Quivering, shaking, jumping at shadows, cowering in fear, trembling in trepidation at the bogeymen of their imaginations. “Ooh, Mommy, Mommy, the big mean mans is coming to get us, boo hoo hoo hoo.”

Wimps! Cowards! Sissies!

What happened to the Americans who had the guts to stand up and say “Screw you, do your worst, you’ll never beat me, and you’ll never make me back down or shut up!”?

But noo-oo-ooo! We roll over placidly for every screwing our government wants to administer to us in the name of keeping us safe.

The Safest People EVER!

In a perverted sort of way, I can kind of understand this. Our government largely HAS kept us safe, so much so that we’ve come to take it for granted. We’ve got federal agencies looking after our food, drugs, occupational safety and health, consumer products, air traffic, weather, canals, levees, highways, savings accounts, stock trades, environment, disease control, and so on. Hell, NASA even has a project to watch out for big meteors like the one that got the dinosaurs. We’ve put so many bad guys in the slammer for so long that we’re the most imprisoned nation ever, with a full 1% of our population behind bars at any given moment.

And even when disaster strikes, we’ve got federal and state emergency management agencies ready to spring into action, alongside state troopers, the National Guard, local EMT teams and fire departments; civilian agencies like the Red Cross, homeless shelters, and food pantries; religious groups like the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and local congregations; private industry like the Miller Brewing Company and their truckloads of canned water; and endless streams of ordinary citizens who just show up saying “I want to help.”.

And it works! It’s worked successfully for decades. It’s worked so well that, by any reasonable standard you can possibly name, we Americans of 2008 are the

Let me cite just one salient statistic that kind of sums up all the rest: life expectancy. In 1900 it was 47.3 years. By 1950, it was 68.2. In 2003 (the most recent stat available), it was 77.4.

And that just looks at LENGTH of life. It says nothing about quality. By any conceivable measure, the standard of living of the average American in 2008 is fantastically, wildly, unimaginably superior to that of the richest, most powerful, most privileged monarchs the world had ever known prior to about 40 years ago.

And, to repeat, that’s in no small part because we have taken great pains to make ourselves the SAFEST society of all time. Ever. Anywhere.

But What If We Lose?

I hope that by now I’ve made it crystal clear that the War on Terror is called a “war” only because George W. Bush is incapable of telling us anything but the most egregious whoppers. It’s a “war” in name only. As wars go, it’s so inconsequential as to be comparable to the rounding error in our murder statistics. It’s a “war” with one enormously effective visual image (you know which one) and nothing else at all. It’s a “war” solely for the PR purposes of scaring the living daylights out of American citizens so they can be more easily led, manipulated, and bilked.

So what’s the worst that can possibly happen if we “lose” this virtually non-existent “war”? Let’s hear once again from the estimable Gen. Vernon Chong: “What does losing mean? It would appear that a great many of us think that losing the war means hanging our heads, bringing the troops home, and going on about our business, like post-Vietnam. This is as far from the truth as one can get. What losing really means is: We would no longer be the premier country in the world.”

Ooooooh, scary! This means we’ll no longer be able to wave around the big foam-rubber hands with the extended index fingers and scream “USA! USA! We’re #1!” at the top of our lungs.

Really? That’s it? That’s the best you’ve got, general?

What To Do? What To Do?

Let’s face facts, folx. Nobody can keep you perfectly safe. We’ve engineered the living daylights out of our cars and highways, and we still lose 45,000 people a year to traffic fatalities. Nobody blinks. Mention it, and the biggest reaction you’re likely to get is a shrug. Oh, we’re not happy about it, but we don’t overturn every aspect of our whole society to do anything about it, either. We don’t fret and stew every time we take the car out for a spin. We don’t practically pee our pants over the dread prospect of death on the open road. We don’t forward terrified e-mails headed “scared” to all our friends, the way we do with something that is 300 times LESS likely to kill us. We can predict pretty closely how many lives would be saved by lowering the speed limit to 55 MPH, and it’s WAY more than the death toll from terrorism. Wanna lay odds that it’s ever gonna happen?

Traffic fatalities are the price we have to pay — and that we’re WILLING to pay — to live in a highly mobile society where everyone is free to come and go pretty much as, where, and any time they please.

And terrorist deaths are the price we have to pay for living in a free and open society. By any reasonable standard, it’s a ridiculously SMALL price, especially compared to the alternative, which is for 300,000,000 people to give up their time, money, and liberty in HOPES (doomed hopes, I would contend) that it might possibly make some kind of difference.

Gen. Chong tries to paint the Muslim threat in apocalyptic terms: “If we don't recognize this [threat], our nation, as we know it, will not survive, and no other free country in the world will survive if we are defeated. And, finally, name any Muslim countries throughout the world that allow freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, equal rights for anyone — let alone everyone — equal status or any status for women, or that have been productive in one single way that contributes to the good of the world.”

Again, this demonstrates that Gen. Chong doesn’t have it in for terrorists only but for Muslims in general, every Muslim everywhere, since he can’t find one single thing that any Muslim has ever done that’s been “productive in one single way that contributes to the good of the world”. If you had any lingering doubts whatsoever that this guy is a religious bigot of the first water, this should put them to rest forever.

As to all the civic virtues that he cites as good and pure and true and holy, who’s doing the most today to wreck the “equality of women”, the “freedom of thought”, “equal rights”, and so on? Osama bin Laden? Or George W. Bush? Many Muslim societies are abysmal places for freedom, it’s true, but at least they aren’t marching steadily backward.

Historians will of course provide their own answer about who’s the greatest threat to America’s heritage of freedom, but you yourself, reading this here and now, don’t have to wait for history to deliver its verdict. You can listen to the lies and bullshit and calumny and slander and appeals to the worst side of your timid, wussy, unthinking nature and let the liars like Bush, the control freaks like Cheney, and the warmongers like Chong play you like a cheap fiddle.*

Or you can do your own thinking, face the ACTUAL FACTS, recognize that terrorism is a paltry, puny, empty threat, suck up your guts like our grandparents did, and demand our country back.

* To see exactly HOW they’re doing this, I recommend the excellent book The Science of Fear, by Daniel Gardner. It shows not only where all your DNA-encoded and culturally encouraged strings are, but also how easily they can be pulled. (Hint: This has everything to do with stories, pictures, and feelings and almost nothing to do with evidence, statistics, and reason, which gives you a clue as to who’s likeliest to forward THIS e-mail.) Forewarned is forearmed. Once you know how the would-be puppet masters are jerking your strings, you’ll be better prepared to resist them.

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Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana, American philosopher, 1863–1953