Upside-Down World

First, Glenn Greenwald discusses a recently-released video of the U.S. killing some civilians in Iraq:


Then he posts on it again:


In that second post, he links to an Andrew Sullivan post (quoting an active duty U.S. soldier):


It's that post that I found enlightening, yet profoundly disturbing.  Just the assumptions that go into some of these quotes -- they reflect a completely warped sense of reality where conditions under which we would find living nearly impossible somehow seem normal to this person:

I'm currently deployed to a region in southeast Baghdad, near where this incident took place, and the Rules of Engagement that dictate the use of lethal force state 51% certainty that the individual represent a threat to you or another US Soldier.  (To my knowledge, it always has been.)

So it's standard operating procedure to run a 50/50 chance that the people you are about to slaughter represent no threat to you or any other U.S. soldier.  Is this policy publicly known among the people we're supposedly protecting?

these journalists were operating completely independent of any ability of the US to track them, or even know they were present somewhere.  This is incredibly dangerous, even now in 2010.  Back in 2007, that sort of thing would have been damn near suicidal.

In other words: It's dangerous (or suicidal) to operate as a journalist in a foreign country without notifying the U.S. (4-7 years after the U.S. first invaded that country) because the U.S. military might accidentally kill you.

If you look at graphics representing the positioning of these journalists from a Bradley convoy only a few blocks away, I think that it is entirely reasonable that the pilots would consider them a threat - particularly after mistaking a massive zoom lens peaking out from behind cover on the very street that an American patrol was taking place for an RPG.  Complex ambushes with 8-12 men with AK-47s and RPGs were very common back in early 2007.  I can't speak as to why the two Reuters journalists were walking around with men carrying AK-47s trying to sneak pictures of an unaware American combat patrol, and I certainly do not assume that the reason was nefarious.

I don't really get the point of having these patrols in the first place, if the military is also going to have helicopters circling the area eliminating anyone who might (as in, is at least 51% likely to) represent any threat to the patrol.  While this person doesn't assume nefarious intentions, the people in the helicopters went ahead and made that assumption... to the point where they felt justified in wiping the whole group out.

Keep in mind also that an Apache cockpit has two Soldiers - a pilot and a gunner, and while you are seeing the gunner's IR footage, it is not necessarily conveying what the pilot saw on his monitors or with his own eyes.

This whole post seems meant to justify the actions of the individual soldiers by placing them in the (supposedly understandable) context in which they operate.  But in doing so, the author simply illustrates how absurdly fucked up the whole thing is.  If the guy making the decision to shoot is getting a worse impression of the situation than the guy doing the shooting, then why is he the one making decisions???

As far as the language of the pilots, the emotional status of the guys pulling the trigger... more than anything else, the outrage surrounding that is what I find the most absurd.  Who are you to tell men at war how to react to being in a position that demands they take human life?

Here's where he starts really going off the rails.  Who am I to judge?  A human being who happens to have a view on what it means to take a life, that's who!

Just hearing the pilot towards the end try and justify (to himself, more than anyone) why the children he had no idea were present were present is more heartbreaking than all the "Oh God, no's" in the world to me.

Yes, it's heartbreaking, but more because it's tragic how the soldier's sense of right and wrong has become totally fucked up.  It's like the soldier's heart can't be broken in that situation, so we have to break our own on his behalf.  Sure, it's necessary for someone to ignore the magnitude of death if they need to kill someone as soon as they're ordered to, but how in God's name does that make it right?

There is no script for how one is supposed to react to systematically killing another person.  Many laugh, many make macabre jokes during and after the fact and, in general, line troops revel in the death an destruction of their enemy.  It's how they deal with the enormity of what they're doing.  And if you or any of your readers assume for even a moment that things like that mean that they or the other hundreds of thousands of Soldiers who embrace dark humor and excess to cope with what they're doing are somehow depraved, then you need to be re-introduced to the reality.

Honestly, if that is not depraved, then what is?  It's like he's only working with a very limited definition of "depraved" in which it means someone who is crazier than all of his peers.  If everyone in the military revels in the death and destruction of their enemy -- especially in a war where the "enemy" often (maybe 50% of the time?) ends up being the people we're supposed to protect -- then everyone in the military is fucking depraved.

Better yet, you can just look at the rising suicide statistics of Soldiers over the past few years.  The number of PTSD cases.

Um, dude?  Aren't you trying to argue that these people aren't crazy?  Or maybe you're just trying to say they're not sadists.  Either way, I think you're missing the point.

Instead of being outraged about the words or tone of the pilot willing the man to pick up a weapon, to give him an excuse, why not think about the discipline necessary to remember his Rules of Engagement?  To recognize, as much hate as he may feel towards the enemy, he was not allowed to fire on the enemy unless he picked up a weapon?

Let's try this again, shall we? 

Instead of being outraged about the words or tone of the pilot willing the man to pick up a weapon, to give him an excuse, why not think about how horrible it is that a bunch of civilians got slaughtered by the very people supposed to be protecting them?  While you're thinking about that, you can ponder how the pilot's incredible discipline wasn't worth shit when it came to not killing innocent people. 

It's amazing how tiny one's perspective has to shrink in order for one not to be appalled by what happens in war.  So what if he killed that guy and taunted him while he lay injured on the ground?  Think about how disciplined he was in that moment to not shoot him again immediately after he shot him the first time!

This entire incident is an unbelievably sickening tragedy, and I don't mean for my tone to imply that the loss of Namir Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh was anything but.  But it was also a tragedy when it happened to Pat Tillman.  When it happened to any of the dozens, if not hundreds of Soldiers killed by fratricide in this war so far.

Um, yes.  And also when it happened to the thousands of Iraqi civilians who have been killed in a war that was supposed to be for their own fucking good. 

War is a disgusting, horrible thing.  As cliche as that excuse has become, for people to look at the natural heartbreaking nature of it and say that they're somehow anomalous just shows how far people who have not experienced war have to go to understanding it.  That doesn't justify failing to take every reasonable precaution necessary to avoid incidents like these.  However, a little humility, or a little desire to have a broader contextual understanding of why these pilots did what they did before condemning them as war criminals would be appreciated.

I guess I see what's motivating this guy, but it's still just so patently absurd.  Has he convinced me that the soldiers involved here are not sadistic monsters?  Yes, but I never thought that in the first place.  What I was horrified by was that these otherwise ordinary people have been put into a situation where they're allowed to (or forced to?) make mistakes like this that have horrible consequences.  It'd almost be better if these soldiers were unusually monstrous, because then we could maintain the illusion that this truly is a unique phenomenon.  I'm sure that's why Greenwald linked approvingly to this post, because despite his defensive tone, this guy really is supporting Greenwald's damning argument -- that stuff like this happens much more frequently than we're allowed to know.

Q: Who got Scott Brown elected?

A: Fox News, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Betsy McCaughey.

At least, that's the conclusion one might draw after reading some of the explanations given by people who voted for Brown:


Key quotes:

“My feeling is the Democrats have really screwed up since Barack Obama has been in office, and the sooner they lose their majority the better for our country. I think I’m just very disappointed in the direction this country is taking.” (Independent Man, Middlesex)

Your "feeling," eh?  I think we all learned the value of trusting your gut from the wise administration of George W. Bush.  And I've basically decided that "disappointed in the direction this country is taking" is code for "worried about a black man having so much power."

“To tell you the truth, I started out mainly for Coakley, but I’m fed up with the Democrats, I’m worried about this health bill they’re trying to get through, I’m just worried what it’s going to do to me.” (Independent Woman, Worcester)

I'll tell you what it's going to do to you, independent woman living in a state that already mandates people to buy insurance -- it's going to force your elderly mother to justify her existence to bureaucratic death panels!  It's going to take your hard-earned money and spend it on floozies who want to kill their babies!  Listen to people who ACTUALLY read the bill (like Betsy McCaughey) -- they know what they're talking about!!!

“Democrats’ liberal agenda is killing this country’s core beliefs and values and all the issues that our forefathers fought for.  We don’t need to be baby sat.  Despite what Washington’s opinion of the common person, we are completely capable of making own decisions.” (Independent Woman, Essex)

That's it!  It's that runaway liberal agenda again!  I'll let Andrew Sullivan respond to this one:

But if one had traveled to Mars and back this past year and read this statement [that Obama and the Democrats governed as if the median voter was a hard-core liberal], what would you assume had happened? I would assume that the banks had been nationalized, the stimulus was twice as large, that single-payer healthcare had been pushed through on narrow majority votes, that card-check had passed, that an immigration amnesty had been legislated, that prosecutions of Bush and Cheney for war crimes would be underway, that withdrawal from Afghanistan would be commencing, that no troops would be left in Iraq, that Larry Tribe was on the Supreme Court, that DADT and DOMA would be repealed, and so on.

I'm also sure that this independent woman has a very accurate notion of what exactly were those "issues that our forefathers fought for."

“I like what Scott Brown stands for and I feel that the Democrats cannot run the country anymore. That too many people that don’t have jobs are going hungry. They’re not taking care of business. They’re not doing their jobs. They’re caught up in this health care thing. I’m saying they’re not taking care of the people that are unemployed.” (Independent Man, Bristol)

See, this actually makes a lot of sense.  It's the old "throw the bums out" line -- the country's experiencing some rough times, so it's time to replace the ineffectual Democratic politicians and replace them with the ... Republican politicians who caused most of these problems in the first place and who haven't really bothered proposing any means of solving them whatsoever.  Throw the bums back in again!

In all of these cases, you can see the influence of fearmongerers and hucksters (see line 1) making grandiose, terrifying claims about "Washington" and "the liberal agenda" based on nothing but ... well, nothing at all. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  Democracy simply doesn't work.
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My Sixth Blog Post, In Which I Contemplate Death, Desire, and Ambiguity


If I could do just one near perfect thing I'd be happy.
They'd write it on my grave or when they scattered my ashes.
On second thought I'd rather hang around and be there with my best friend,
If she wants me.

                  -- Belle and Sebastian, "If She Wants Me"

Did a large procession wave their torches as my head fell in the basket,
And was everybody dancing on the casket?
Now it's over I'm dead and I haven't done anything that I want
Or, I'm still alive and there's nothing I want to do.

                  -- They Might Be Giants, "Dead"

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My Fifth Blog Post, In Which I Justify My Existence

Some people say that LiveJournals are essentially a waste of time and space.  Some say that the only people who maintain LiveJournals are narcissistic belly-lint-contemplators with huge egos, an overinflated sense of self-worth, and a penchant for repetition.

I know this because I say all of these things. Nevertheless, here I am with my own LiveJournal, which you are now reading.  Rank hypocrisy? I disagree, as I object on principle to the idea of judging people by their reading habits. But returning to the question of those who would post their thoughts in a semi-public forum such as this.  Is it true that only narcissistic people maintain LiveJournals?  I answer this question with another question: Is it not true that only narcissistic people should maintain LiveJournals?  After all, if you, the author, do not hold yourself in high esteem, then why should I, the reader, do likewise?  And if you, the reader, do not appreciate the contributions of me, the author, does that not reflect on your own failings as a reader/author?

That is a question that I will leave to the philosophers.

More to the point, I recently read a post in a blog that I admire, Not This God, that purported to explain what the blogger does and does not seek to accomplish with his daily musings.  It included this statement:

I do not want to spend all my time commenting on things I've read online. Fark has links to much more interesting articles than I could ever find.

Now, I am confident that my fellow non-Deity did not intend this as a personal slight against Nadingo, but it stung nonetheless.   Does he suppose that it is a simple matter to seek out provocative articles and to comment insightfully upon them?  Can Fark really do as Nadingo does? 

Suffice to say, if you seek an aggregation of eyebrow-raising stories, sorted conveniently into such categories as "Dumbass," "Florida," and "Boobies," then look no further than www.Fark.com.  Regular Nadingo readers know that they can find more refined material here.
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My Fourth Blog Post, In Which I Give Credit Where It Is Due

As someone who habitually rises far above my peers while making it look easy, I have only one thing to say to 100m Gold Medal Winner and World Record Setter Usain Bolt:

Welcome to the club.

If you wish to fully appreciate Bolt's greatness (and, by association, my own), this article is worth a read. Also see the comment by "You Can Call Me Ray" for a classic example of Nadingo's Law of the Internet.
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My Third Blog Post, In Which I Stake My Claim To Immortality

I like to think of myself as a "connoisseur" of the internet.  Some might even call me an "addict."  Part of what I like so much about the internet is how a thing can go from a complete unknown to a worldwide sensation in the blink of an eye.  This can also be the worst part of the internet, however.  Most internet memes, such as "pwned," "Rickrolled," and "I can has [insert thing here]?" are the internet's version of inside jokes that aren't worth learning about if you don't already know them. 

However, some internet phenomena are actually worthy of their fame, such as the hamster dance, the dancing baby, those guys dancing on treadmills, and the guy who danced all over the world.   Basically, if I can watch a video of somebody dancing humorously, then the internet has done its job.

But of course, the internet can offer more than just passing fads and hilarious dancing.  Given the right set of circumstances, it can offer immortality.  Without the internet, nobody ever would have heard of Michael Wayne Godwin, an unremarkable lawyer at the Electric Frontier Foundation.  But thanks entirely to the wonders of this new medium, any participant in an online debate eventually becomes familiar with "Godwin's Law," which states:

"As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."

and which in turn has given rise to numerous derivatives, such as "Quirk's Exception" and the "Maixner Fallacy"*

It should be obvious one does not have to be an Internet Lawyer to invent a Law of the Internet (get it?).  And really, can it really be so hard to coin an adage better than Godwin's tripe about Nazi hyperbole?  Of course it can't!  Which is why, without further adieu, I present to you:

Nadingo's Law of the Internet:

Responses to things tend to be more entertaining than things themselves.

I can already anticipate the critiques:  Too vague!  Too obvious!  Not even true!

In response, I submit to you, Exhibit 1.  Basically, a bunch of die-hard Hillary Clinton supporters have been bombarding DNC members and Democratic Superdelegates with emails requesting a roll call at the convention and other such nonsense.  I have no idea what their emails actually said, but it doesn't matter.  None of them could be remotely as entertaining as the responses they've been receiving, which include:

WA Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz: "Man, you have to chill. Try tennis."

and my favorite,

AZ superdelegate Carolyn Warner: “GOD WILL GUIDE THE HAND OF JUDGMENT THAT WILL STRIKE YOU DOWN! Do not email us again. Thank you."

If that example doesn't convince you, I present Exhibit 2.  Again, I'll summarize it for you, because that's just the kind of guy I am.

  • Blog post with a lame attempt at baseball-related humor? meh.
  • Blog comment insulting the author of the post? hilarious.

Nadingo's Law of the Internet
.  It's real.

* Only one of these is made up
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My Second Blog Post, In Which I Reference Something A Bit More Contemporary

In Paul Krugman's latest column, he talks about how the Republican party relies on a lack of knowledge to score political points. I guess that might be putting it a bit mildly. What he actually says is this:

Republicans, once hailed as the “party of ideas,” have become the party of stupid.

which is pretty cool, I think.

Anyway, Tom Tomorrow seems to think that Krugman's column was inspired by his latest cartoon, but I know better. The clue is in this paragraph:

Why were the elite so hawkish? Well, I heard a number of people express privately the argument that some influential commentators made publicly — that the war was a good idea, not because Iraq posed a real threat, but because beating up someone in the Middle East, never mind who, would show Muslims that we mean business. In other words, even alleged wise men bought into the idea of macho posturing as policy.
Hmm, "alleged wise men" advocating beating up an arbitrary target in the Middle East, just to show that we mean business?  Sound like anyone we know???  Krugman may or may not have been reading Tomorrow, but he certainly has been reading Nadingo.

I like reading Paul Krugman's columns.  They make me feel good about myself, because he talks about people I don't like, and he calls them all sorts of nasty names, like corrupt, incompetent, stupid, and malicious.  If I don't like people like that, then I must be the opposite of all of those things!  However, because I am a Complex and Self-Aware individual, I know not to trust something that panders to my previously-held beliefs.  If I read something that always makes me feel good about myself, chances are it's not exactly True.

I often wish that Krugman would occasionally say something nice about people I dislike, like how President Bush is really nice to his dog, or how John McCain makes fantastic barbecue ribs.  But alas, Krugman stubbornly refuses to praise any of the people I think are unworthy of praise, despite the fact that doing so would make him more credible in my eyes.  If Krugman were just a bit more even-handed with his praise and criticism, I would like him so much more!  But because he doesn't, I remain wary of him.  I can't help feeling a twinge of guilt every time I read his columns.  And because reading his columns causes me discomfort, I am confident -- as a Complex and Self-Aware individual -- that they must be True.
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My first Blog Post: Inspired by Glenn Greenwald's column on Tom Friedman ... several weeks ago

It's classic Greenwald.  Some might shy away from describing a political columnist with words like "depraved" and "sadistic" and comparing him unfavorably to a brutal third-world dictator,  but not him!


To be fair, though, the clip of Friedman's 2003 interview is truly disgusting.  It takes some real cognitive dissonance (at best) to say things like that and then profess confusion as to why the rest of the world no longer sees the US as a bastion of moral leadership.

Curious about Friedman's history of outrageous comments, I checked out his wikipedia page and found this very apt criticism:

The man has a plan for everything. That is what makes reading him so funny. He cannot seem to appreciate that the world is a product of many thousands of generations' worth of evolutionary adjustments, compromises, and innovations that he could not possibly hope to know about...nor can he imagine that there is any situation—no matter how remote or complex—that his own little mind cannot improve.

Unfortunately, this criticism, made by Bill Bonner, concludes with this:

Thus does he urge America's voters to insist upon a "Green Election" in 2008.
Which ... uh ... is not really what I was expecting.

Curious about that Bill Bonner guy, I googled him and found his website, which includes this essay about global warming.  It really doesn't take long when you're reading this essay to conclude that he's both an idiot and an asshole.  Indeed, he writes ten full paragraphs criticizing climate change activists before he gets to any discussion of the science behind the threat.  But the best part by far has to be this section (emphasis of the truly absurd parts mine):

Why are rising temperatures a threat, anyway? Practically everyone we know welcomes warm weather…and looks forward to the mosquito months more than a white Christmas. You'd think a few more days of sunny skies and outdoor barbecues would be to their liking.

Today, in Paris, we saw several groups of American tourists - dressed for summer, with their shorts and flip-flops. How they must wish Europe were more like Florida and not gray and chilly.

Rising temperatures would be good for tourism, and for more practical reasons too. Growing seasons would be longer. The well-fed complainers have fingered carbon dioxide as the culprit, but we know that plants are fond of CO2. Longer growing seasons plus higher levels of CO2 boost crop yields, say the experts. And that helps keep people from starving.

Nonetheless, for reasons never fully explained to us, global warming is viewed not as a boon to humanity but as the dawn of its doomsday.

Hmm, perhaps nobody has bothered explaining to him why any significant change in global climate could cause all sorts of catastrophes because they can tell right away that it would do no good because the man is a BLITHERING IDIOT.

Also great is this:

The science is anything but clear. Even some of the world's greatest scientists are scratching their heads. The idea of global warming rests on three major things: A series of observations - melting ice, rising temperatures in certain places; a guess about how the earth's climate works - the so-called greenhouse hypothesis; and a proof, of sorts, based on some further observations that suggest that as CO2 levels have risen over the last century or so, temperatures have, as well. The hypothesis further supposes that higher CO2 levels are caused by humans.

But a quick reading of the literature yields more questions than proof. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations have apparently risen 21% in the last century. But, during the Depression of the 1930s, when human CO2 emissions dropped 30%, CO2 in the atmosphere continued to rise. Maybe human activity really doesn't contribute that much to global CO2 levels. Even during the Eocene era, there was three to four times as much CO2 in the atmosphere, and that was 20 million years before the first SUV was built

And that, dear reader, is why a thorough understanding of a complex and serious problem requires a bit more than a "quick reading of the literature."
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