I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.
Edgar Allen Poe
The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one's time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.
- H. L. Mencken
Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so
What I have been telling you, from alpha to omega, what is the one great thing the sigil taught me — that everything in life is miraculous. For the sigil taught me that it rests within the power of each of us to awaken at will from a dragging nightmare of life made up of unimportant tasks and tedious useless little habits, to see life as it really is, and to rejoice in its exquisite wonderfulness. If the sigil were proved to be the top of a tomato-can, it would not alter that big fact, nor my fixed faith. No Harrowby, the common names we call things by do not matter — except to show how very dull we are ...
-James Branch Cabell
October 07, 2016 - 1:03 p.m.
Second day on Neurontin and off hydroxyzine and second day not falling asleep as I write this. I'm not anxious either so far so good. As far as the anxiety now comes the hard part, breaking out of mental habits. I just had a twinge of anxiety as I wrote that. It's not easy. Neither was going to the moon but we did that.
Yesterday's entire adventure was going to my PO Box. As I make the trip I plan on writing about all the annoying people I encounter but then forget them by the time I get home. Oh wait, I remember two that followed in quick succession. I got off the back in the Bronx at the tail end of rush hour. There were a lot of people on that train. One guy thinks that walking down the stairs with a crowd of people on them is a good time to not take his eyes off his cell phone. Then I get to my bus stop and there's a car stopped in it. He was dropping someone off. The way the station is designed there's a block for dropping people off and for cabs and the other side is the bus stop. He couldn't be bothered going to the right side. But that's not the worst part. As the person he dropped off he, in this order, put his car in gear, took out his cell phone, started moving, started texting. Meanwhile a bus, not mine, had to stop in the middle of the street blocking traffic.
What I've been doing is avoiding behavior. Everything I want to write will get people mad. I'll look at it as I do my therapist, making people uncomfortable in the helpful way.
I'm going to talk about something unpleasant, Syria. It's the biggest human crisis happening now. As many as half a million people have died so far and many more have been displaced. It's painful to think about so people don't. Believe me I get that. It's exactly how I got into my personal crisis. Overcoming that is why I'm in therapy. It's not a moral failing. It is a problem. I'm going to ask you to read this column by Nicholas Kristoff, I'm Very Afraid I Will Die Tonight. Did you read it? Are you up to speed on what's going on in Syria now? Good, now it's my turn to pick up the baton from Kristoff.
War is a terrible thing. It's one of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse. There are always some that love war, for the most part they have never fought in one. My first exposures to war were my father talking to me about his experiences in WWII and watching the War in Vietnam on TV. I just realized this instant how important that juxtaposition was for forming my attitudes. My father told me stories of the just war, the war to save civilization. He didn't prettify it. He told me of terrible things that happened and the faults of our military. But that didn't stop the war from being right. Then there was Vietnam which he, my mother, and myself were all strongly against. I grew up protesting it. While there are subtleties I missed as a kid my attitudes are pretty much the same.
Vietnam was the bad war. We used the Vietnamese as proxies in our conflict with the Soviet Union. The way I always saw it there were no good guys, I didn't like the Communists but I didn't like the South Vietnamese government either. The North winning was preferable to the millions dying in the war.
In Syria today the Saudis and Iranians are acting like the US and USSR. They see the Shiites and Sunnis as proxies in their rivalry. They are fighting for their interests with the Syrians paying the price. But they are not the cause of the war. The blame falls clearly on one man, Bashar al-Assad. He reacted to the peaceful protests of the Arab spring with brutality. He even used chemical weapons on his own people. The government forces are responsible for the bulk of the civilian casualties. His strategy is to drop barrel bombs on Sunni civilians till they evacuate an area and his troops can go in. There is a clear villain in this piece. That doesn't mean there aren't other villains. They aren't killing as many people as they don't have an air force but the Islamic State is even more brutal. Their philosophy is a permanent reign of terror. It's live by their extreme idea of Islam or die. There are no such things as basic rights. Women are totally subservient to men and those they consider pagans are considered fair game for rape and sexual slavery. Right now we are taking action against ISIS, logistical and intelligence given to other rebels and air support.
There are good reasons for us to not intervene. It isn't clear that we can make things better. There is the possibility we can make things worse. There is very likely nothing we can do to make things whole. Success might be making things less terrible. But there is the clear danger of not intervening. There's those half a million dead and millions more displaced. That will continue. These are hard decisions and they should be based on what will give the best results. It isn't about projecting American power. It isn't about caring if we get our hands dirty. If doing nothing means half a million people die and intervening means 100,000 people die we should do it.
Part of the problem is that if we intervene everyone blames the president for the 100,000 but if we don't the president is not blamed for the half million. Bill Clinton's greatest foreign policy success was intervening in Bosnia. We were able to bring an end to the civil war and bring peace to area which had seen so much killing. Clinton says that his biggest failure was Rwanda where we did nothing and the result was genocide. The thing is that Clinton blames himself for that but hardly anyone else. He has been attacked by both right and left but that's rarely brought up. There is political safety in doing nothing. There is also conscience safety in doing nothing. You tell yourself, it wasn't me, it was them.
I am not trying to convince anyone that we should intervene in Syria. Frankly I don't know enough to make the judgement. I doubt very much that anyone without access to secret intelligence is. That's part of the burden of being president.
What I'm trying to convince you of is that being for intervention does not make someone bad. While there are some that want it for the wrong reasons most want it because they care about the people of Syria. They care about that little girl that is afraid she is going to die tonight. There are also those against intervention whose motives aren't pure, the America firsters. Those that say, lives of those that aren't Americans aren't important to us.
I have backed Obama in his actions and I'll back Hillary on hers even if they are different as I trust their judgement and motives. They may come to different conclusions as reasonable people often do. The answers can't be found in the back of the book. All I ask is that you acknowledge that. That you don't vilify those that disagree with you. Favoring intervention doesn’t make you a war monger any more than being against it means you don't value the lives of Syrians. The war has already been mongered. The goal is to end it by whatever means are most effective.
OK that was a heavy one. I could have written about Doctor Who today. I'm all excited about it as I finished Season 9 last night. I still have to catch the specials. I might write about that tomorrow. I'll let Jean Rohe bring this home with a song about the early days of the Syrian war, just as the government started cracking down on the protesters.
Sandy Koufax - October 12, 2016
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