Thursday, March 20, 2003

Blow This Up, Sonny, You'll Feel Better

As I write this it is the morning of March 17, the day George Bush has set as the last day for Saddam Hussein to do I know not what before bombing the hell out of the Iraqis and invading and conquering them. There are people looking forward to this, praying that Saddam doesn't do anything that even remotely resembles disarming for fear that a glorious opportunity to dominate with sheer violence will be missed.

It's times like this that writing an alleged humor column is like making balloon animals for a kid whose dog just got run over.

No, it's worse than that. It's like, I'm the kid whose dog just got run over, and here are these balloons, and I'm supposed to make animals out of them to cheer everyone else up.

It doesn't help that we're on a cusp and I have no idea what will have happened by the time you are reading this. All I can say is that if it isn't spring yet, it will be by tomorrow. The network news says the day and time to attack has already been set but only the generals know, of course.

What's a guy supposed to make fun of in a situation like this? How 'bout those Dixie Chicks?

I'm so slow when it comes to popular culture that I constantly find myself wanting to call them the Chicksie Dix. As a result I have difficulty retaining in my mind an accurate image of them. I forget whether they are a country-western girl group or some female punk group ridiculing and taunting sexually insecure males. I wish they were the latter but I'm afraid not.

The reason for bringing them up at this juncture is of course that one of them, Natalie Maines, said at a March 10th London show, "Just so you know, we're ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas." Subsequently radio stations all over the place have been boycotting their music and fans have been throwing out their CDs.

Since I don't have any Dixie Chick CDs to throw away I can view this whole situation with remote amusement. Our glorious leader is about to commit our country to the commission of what could very well be declared by an international war tribunal down the road as a war crime, and the Dixie Chicks are worried that people might think less well of Texas.

Come to think of it, didn't the Bushes originate from Maine? What do Maineites think of that? What kind of name is Maines? Why isn't Maines from Maine? My head hurts.

But there's more! To make matters worse, just four days later Maines apologized. She now says her remark was disrespectful to the office of the presidency. So in other words, she's evidently still ashamed that Bush is from Texas, but now in addition to that she's also ashamed of having said so. Maines goes on to say that she thinks whoever holds the office of presidency should be treated with the utmost respect. That should endear her to all her conservative fans, every last Clinton-bashing one of them.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I simply cannot regard William McKinley with the utmost respect, to name just one. I'm ashamed that McKinley came from my planet. I know, she means the current office-holder. But a president is a president, not a king, and he's not owed any more respect than he earns. There I said it.

While I'm here there's something else I want to say. I believe that justice happens. Justice happens eventually whether people speak for it or not. But if you don't speak for it you will be justly swept away when the universe finally rights itself. And I believe the people who speak for justice, wherever they are, are the ones who really deserve respect, not office-holders, certainly not office-thieves.

I respect Rachel Corrie.

Thursday, March 6, 2003

Opinions Shouldn't Come Easy

So I was thinking about my minor faults, and I thought of another one. I'm useless. I'm useless in so many ways, but one of my favorite ways of being useless is as an opinionated columnist.

An opinionated columnist is supposed to, above all, have opinions. But, oops, I hardly have any. In fact half the work of writing these things every two weeks is spending the nine or ten hours it takes each time to force myself to have one.

I've just called it a fault, but actually I'm so un-opinionated in my un-opinionated-ness that I can't really decide whether it's a fault or not. Maybe it's a cute quirk. Or maybe it means I could be the world's greatest jury member. "Mr. Browning, I'm sure you've read the hundreds of stories in the newspapers describing my client as a blood-thirsty murderer. What do you think of that?" "Duh, I don't know." "I have no objections to this juror, your honor."

I was reminded of all this Wednesday a week ago as I was reading the Seattle Times. I kept repeatedly running across stories that I felt I should have strong opinions about but I couldn't decide what they should be, just because I am so lame.

There was the story about 200 people from all over the world who have volunteered themselves to Iraq to serve as "human shields" in the event of a war. Now I have no problem figuring out what I think about Iraq's use of involuntary human shields. That's totally wrong. Iraq did that last time, they will probably do it this time, and it's wrong. But if people do it willingly, what can I say?

Sure, these people superficially resemble the suicidal bombers that we all hate for, uh, suicide bombing. They've got the suicide half down, and there's bomb-action involved. But WE'RE the ones about to be doing the bombing. How is that their fault?

Then, at the bottom of the same page, I got the privilege of reading for the first time about our military's latest computer-military advance, the new computer program called "Bugsplat."

Did I mention that I was preparing to see a psychiatrist as I was reading this? Here I found out that our military has a computer program that analyzes the potential for "collateral damage" that any given bombing might have, so that our commanders in the field can judge what size and kind of bombs to use in an attack. The program displays the potential collateral damage graphically as images of bugsplats on a computer screen, they say. So, I thought, why was I the one seeing the psychiatrist?

OK, the real name of the program is FAST-CD (Fast Assessment Strike Tool – Collateral Damage.) OK, if they're going to have a war and bomb people, I can see the benefit of having a computer program warn when a lot of civilians would be killed. I can see it on a practical, or what do you call it, logistical level. But it sickens me to think that the program has a built-in tolerance for a degree of civilian death and suffering. The idea isn't to avoid all "bugsplats" but to "minimize" them. We are building a definition of what that "minimizing" should be into a piece of software, so that our military commanders don't have to use their own consciences to make those sorts of decisions. Isn't that evil?

So then I moved on to the local news, thinking that I would be safe there. Nothing but familiar issues, issues I had long decided upon. Did I mention that I was seeing that psychiatrist to talk about child abuse that happened to me 40 years ago? So what do I read, but that there is now a move in DSHS and the state legislature to open up child abuse hearings to the public.

Ouch. I want people to know what goes on in these hearings. I want the extent of child abuse to be known. But I want the children to be protected from exposure. They need to be protected from the public.

Why can't the decision to have a hearing open or closed be made the hard way, in each individual case, by a judge or jury faced with the specific circumstances of that case? Do we have to have an opinion about everything in advance, no matter who could be hurt by it?