Archive for March, 2006

If you happened to be in the Commuter Lounge early yesterday afternoon, then you had the pleasure of discussing current events with Dr. Kent, director of the MPA business program here at Marist College, while enjoying his eccentric personality and sense of humor.

It is sometimes frightening to hear someone else speak aloud the very thoughts that are in your head, thoughts you had always presumed were yours and treasured as your own. Dr. Kent is a highly educated professor but is also extremely ethically grounded. I wish the word ‘but’ was the improper conjunction in that context but unfortunately, our world has proven otherwise.

Although I showed up a little late, I was able to catch up with the group and participate. Their discussion focused on the role of government in our economic system, if even it should have one at all, and to what extent it should impose restrictions on Corporate America; I’m sorry, the individual citizens that comprise Corporate America. One student at Marist College is of the belief that opportunity to prosper should be left completely unregulated because any regulations on one’s potential to succeed would encompass an infringement on our God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms. This student went into great detail describing his vision of ideal government: one that doesn’t involve itself or “intrude” on private business affairs because it has no jurisdiction therein. An interesting perspective, I think; on paper, it makes perfect sense.

On paper. Add to this two-dimensional theory a third dimension, that of reality, and include everything history has taught us. There are numerous social and societal designs that seem to work perfectly when drafted on the drawing board, but as soon as they are put into practice, they founder; why is that? I ascribe the pattern of failure to the fundamental complexity of man. While you may have contrived a utopia enjoyed by ink and parchment, it is likely not to succeed in the hands of people. The very idea that human interaction can, in exhaustive doctrinal texts, be sufficiently outlined to allow for governing not overseen, I believe, is very presumptuous, condescending even. Human nature is vastly complex and needs proper government, one transcendent of theory, in order for all those so stricken to get along as a civil society. But what is proper government?

The proper government. The role of government, more aptly put, raises all the questions that have no objective correct answers and could lead to perpetual dialogue. The previously mentioned Maristeer is a fan of limited government, a government that imposes as few limitations on the rights of the individual as is absolutely necessary. In the interest of freedom and justified by the idea that, while probabilities vary, everyone has the opportunity to prosper, he says the government should not redistribute wealth. I comprehend his argument and respect its merits because it makes logical sense.

This design however, while certainly aesthetic and attractive, seems flawed to me because it is an extreme, one of the goal posts on the spectrum of conceivable government/economic systemic infrastructure, so to speak. Socialism, the other goal post, has proven dysfunctional when promoted from theory and practically applied, and I’m fairly certain this goal post would not function well either. What, then, is the answer? Simple, the answer is the same for society as for the soccer player: kick it between the goal posts. I’m thinking a design of compromise, one respecting the profound depth and intricacy of the interpersonal and intrapersonal components of human spirit. Before I allow myself to delve too deeply into the abstract, dragging you all into the annals of my mind, I must redirect my blog (my mind’s quite messy at the moment, you may not enjoy it in there!)

I propose a design that integrates the interests of the individual with the interests of the whole, striking a balance between community and individuality. Focusing exclusively on either one is ill-advised (the other one feels neglected and gets pissed). Socialism proved to us its imperfections through the collapse of the USSR; likewise, this ideation of unrestricted free-choice would prove undesirable through the lens of the masses because of wealth’s natural tendency to become concentrated in some areas while sparse in others. This tendency is not by nature problematic or undesirable in a culture provided it is a culture of equality, but if equality exists in this design, it does so because it is naturally occurring. Remember, it cannot be imparted by the state because the state would have to overstep its bounds to impose it. So, is equality naturally occurring?

Ignore, tentatively, the issues of inequality our history has contrived (treat them collectively as a separate issue, but some other time, and we’ll assume for now that the social/civil inequality of society in which we live is unnatural) My question asks, is everybody born with the same capacity for achievement and prosperity? In nature, the answer is no. Not all families have the same resources; their children are born into distinctly varied microcosms of society which, themselves, are not equal. This disparity in wealth distribution is, by society’s interference, enhanced. Because of the design of current government, a wedge is being driven to further divide the socio-economic classes whereas a responsible government would function to tighten the gap.

Redistribution of wealth is essential if equality is ever to be achieved, and equality is an integral component of prosperity. The highest level of success is well-rounded success; even at the individual level, the scope of prosperity’s strength is narrowed if those in its peripherals are bereft and weak. Is the ideal landscape a small, idyllic, but barely discernable feature surrounded by a charred, destitute wasteland? Isn’t toast much better when the butter is spread evenly over the top, even improving that one bite that could otherwise be smothered underneath the entire stick? Don’t allow yourself to be fooled by two-dimensional illusions and lust for unbridled freedom. If, through the withdrawal of government, you are confined to a corrupt and indifferent will, surrounded by lifeless possessions that only function to imprison you and distance you from society, then you don’t know freedom; you know slavery and isolation.

— Dan Black

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My paternal grandmother Dorothy died ten years ago today; my memory reminded me this during Child Development Psychology class in the early AM. I reflected for a moment and then wrote into my little black book:

“Many things less than perfect, not a tragedy or cause for sorrow. The limitations of life are integral parts to its design. Grandma died ten years ago today; I wonder if anyone else remembers…”

Those ellipses appear in the book; I didn’t discontinue the quote. It appears in its entirety, as do I where I appear. I was confident my family hadn’t forgotten, but I was a little worried that our fast-pace living might have made it difficult to discern subtle but serene landscape features as we whizzed by. I am happy that it hasn’t: many Emails I received today prove we have not forgotten.

— Dan Black

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Welcome Home!

This goes out to Anthony Jacobson, Michael Steen, Amoncio DaCruz, Justin Glass, Joshua Conklin, Brett Gavlak, Kenneth Butler, Ryan Gould, Jeffery Miller, and the numerous other Marines who are now, finally, back in the United States where they belong. May all the rest of the serviceman still there follow you, and be not too far behind.

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A few Comments about Comments

After receiving a comment on yesterday’s blog entry, “That Person I Thought You Were…”, I realized that comments, while all are certainly welcome, some are not necessarily appropriate to be published. I appreciate the feedback I received from the individual who did not disclose to me his name yesterday, but for the future, all of you, please send me comments that are immature/vulgar/insensitive or offensive to others via Email only. Those comments that include socially derisive words I will remove from my blog, as I did the comment of yesterday. If you post something, please ensure it is respectful and intellectually insightful, otherwise I will delete it.

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That Person I Thought You Were…

I saw you today; my heart jumped at first, but my mind soon regained its composure. My peripheral vision couldn’t help but observe you and my ears heard you speak. Though I am still disgusted by your existence, you reminded me of someone. You reminded me of that person I thought you were. Months ago, I got to know you and therefore now know better; I know your true identity and am sickened by it. I liked you when I was wrong about you, misled, blissfully believing you were good, and I miss thinking that way about you. I wish you were someone other than who you are, but I am powerless to change that and presumptuous to think I have the right to.

Continue on your life’s pursuit is my advice to you. Ignore my pleas to change/improve because you, no doubt, are focused on your own objectives, and so you should be, as well.

But if you go to Seton Hall, know that you’re attending grad school in the town that I grew up in, just as I attend Marist in the town that you grew up in. Funny coincidences like these appear now and again in our pasts. Just like how you fought for my life at the same time I fought for your life, years before we had ever met, we stood back-to-back against the world; I will always marvel at that. That case exemplifies, I think, the best medium for our relationship: fighting for a common cause, a noble cause, miles apart, non-interactive, because we do not get along. Good luck in your endeavors; perhaps we shall cross paths again, years from now, near the campus of SHU in South Orange, NJ
…and avert our eyes.

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The news that isn’t news echoes through the streets of the U.S. and the Middle East in remembrance of what occurred three years ago today: the United States invaded Iraq. The reasoning our leaders have offered us for instigating this conflict has changed many times since March 19, 2003, and it is always abstract and unclear. I deduce from this pattern of deceitful detail-variance that we can safely assume they have no honest reasons of which they are not too ashamed to share with their own citizenry.

From my assessment of this war’s history and drawing from my own experience as a Marine who served within it, I believe this is a struggle that has so far only incurred costs; it has yielded no returns. The most precious of tangible things: the lives of loyal soldiers and nearby civilians, the material wealth of several countries, the irreplaceable natural resources we have expended en masse; along with the most precious of intangible things: the innocence and purity of cultures, the peace and acceptance they once shared, the stability of international ties; these have all been compromised or sacrificed, each to varying degrees, all to no avail. Whatever outcome we are seeking, we have not yet found. There is still no peace; there is now no Democracy. Resulting from an ironic sequence of events, the United States’s effort to spread its Democracy to Iraq resulted in the loss of the very democracy its own citizens once enjoyed. Now it is we who need liberation!

The Bush administration has, since even before it swindled the presidency in 2000, planned to invade Iraq and topple Saddam; this is no longer labeled as a belief of irrationally minded far-leftists, it is substantiated by material evidence as objective fact. The Conyers Report to congress details how several key players in the Defense Department in conjunction with our nation’s top republicans have carefully orchestrated the justification for Operation Iraqi Freedom and skillfully manipulated the fear and confusion engendered by the tragedies of 9/11 to achieve their agenda. Our own government has disgraced the memory of those that died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and “a field in Pennsylvania” by using their deaths as leverage to further corrupt policies, policies for which they could find no other justification.

The Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, issued a letter to those who serve in our armed forces this morning thanking them for their dedication. I have read the letter and it sickens me. If he believes the words he has written, Donald Rumsfeld is clearly not of a healthy mind. The thought-process employed by most Americans in evaluating Al Qaeda has resulted in their affixing the label of “terrorist” to its militants without much effort, but that same thought-process would struggle desperately to determine what exact mental disorder(s) Donald Rumsfeld is stricken with. As a student of psychology, I offer the naive diagnosis that he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia accompanied by grandiosity. It is also very likely the defense secretary has a grandiose type of delusional disorder, or perhaps a narcissistic personality disorder; the possibilities are potentially limitless*. His assessment of “progress on all fronts” testifies to the presence of some or all of these afflictions; “progress on all fronts” is a laughable conclusion, indicates he is delusional, and reminds us that he has never, himself, worn a uniform. He actually describes the beliefs of foreign peoples, beliefs that we have an admittedly narrow understanding of, as “twisted ideology”. That word choice alone guarantees the persistence of bloodshed, a persistence the Defense Secretary probably desires. He claims we will never forget those wounded in combat. He is probably right; they will never be forgotten because they will never stop tugging on the sleeves of politicians, begging for the continued medical care they so desperately need but cannot receive because V.A. programs endure funding cut after funding cut**, effectively denying the victims of Donald’s senseless war their necessary medical care. The casual and impersonal tone he undertakes in expressing his condolences for the fallen 2317 serviceman of this war to their surviving comrades is heavily laden with hackneyed words and phrases. That Donald Rumsfeld has never sustained a loss is transparent; his efforts to soothe veterans are artificial and betray that he feels nothing of compassion. Even worse and further proving his lack of humanitarian concern, he makes no effort to extend any form of sympathy or to even acknowledge the innocent Iraqis we have mistakenly slaughtered during our occupation; these losses mean nothing to him because the casualties are not American, they are Arab. The message he is sending through their omission from his letter is the bodies are not “Us”, they are “Them”, so to Donald Rumsfeld and his Defense Department, they do not matter. The number of “them” is, itself, unknown to us because, as expressed by General Tommy Franks, we consciously turn a blind eye.

Throughout the entire duration of the Iraqi war, the administration has been desperately trying to rationalize it. The fictitious tales they’ve offered us have undergone several overhauls through the years, often altering their core principles to such a severe extent that they become unrecognizable, but the only details that never change are the ones that make the least sense. An attempt to impart American lifestyles and build an American-sembling political structure in Iraq is, by its very nature, absurd. Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Anthony Shadid points this out in his book “Night Draws Near” when he illustrates that the Iraqi people were already like Americans prior to the American invasion. They were our Middle Eastern counterparts, having the most in common with us, but because of our government’s pig-headed bigotry, Iraq is now host to our Middle Eastern adversaries, having the most cause to hate us.

So, as concerned citizens from all over the world take to the streets and remind the rest of the world that this conflict is still here and is still gravely unjust, I propose we all reflect on the past three years of our lives and think about what our government has done. With our tax dollars and silent consent, they have crushed a nation, killed thousands, dissolved global tranquility, advanced ethnic-based hatred, alienated our European support, lied and covered their exposed lies with more complex lies, sullied America’s name and inverted America’s inner identity, exploited their own people and cultivated those people’s fear and anxiety, and their character and style alone in doing all this ensures continued unrest for the years, perhaps generations even, to come. What has this accomplished? We have Saddam. Ask yourself, after putting the costs I’ve listed beside the three words that precede this sentence, were we ripped off? Perhaps paid a bit too much? These questions, while important for consideration, should not occupy are minds nearly as much as the following questions, the centrally thematic and perhaps exclusively pivotal questions that conceivably own the only keys to our society’s redemptive-hope: What lies ahead? Where are we going to go from here? What are we, as Americans, going to do to mend what has been so seriously and catastrophically mangled? What will we demand of our government to recover what has been lost? Once men like Rumsfeld have been gathered up and disposed of, what will we do to prevent the recurrence of such sadomasochism rising to positions of geopolitical influence again? Is merely impeaching our current president going to be enough or do we have to go farther to procure for the world the justice it deserves? We must find answers to these questions if we hope to ever reestablish the United States as a country worthy of international trust and restore our image as deserving of the world’s real estate we now stand on.

* Donald’s Language skills are notably exceptional for an individual so afflicted; he is nonetheless symptomatic, especially seen in his profound severances of thought and emotion, and the gross disparity between the reality he perceives and the reality in which the rest of us live.

** These assessments of V.A. funding examine more than the single variable of the budget’s bottom line (which actually indicates increases, but those increases are insignificant). I’ve determined these marginal increases are actually funding cuts by taking several prevalent variables into account i.e., the significant increases in the number of veterans in need of those funds, the inflation of medical costs themselves, the increases in veterans’ out-of-pocket “co-payments” which are falsely represented by the government as “budget increases. All of these lead to a smaller per-veteran distribution of available benefits, essentially a complicated methodology of cutting funds.

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A Little Reminder for the Democrats

Senate Majority leader Bill Frist pulled a shady hat-trick and exposed the true colors of Democratic senators when he demanded a vote on Senator Feingold’s proposal to censure President Bush. The recent actions of these two men have caused an avalanche of political reflection, extrapolation, theorizing, and rationalizing, but they all equate to a simple conclusion: democratic senators have cold feet. They are more concerned with re-election than they are with doing the jobs they were elected to do in the first place.

I want my message to be clear – Rationalize all you want; do so until the expiration of your term. Let them be your dying words, extending from the day you failed your citizens until the day you draw your final breath; I don’t care. You failed your office and you failed your people. I want you to know I didn’t elect you merely so you could pursue re-election. I elected you to represent me and you defaulted on my expectations.

That’s all for now; I feel better.

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Slobodan Milosevic, son of successfully suicidal parents and acclaimed “Butcher of the Balkans”, dies of a heart attack at age 64. Tragic, I suppose; I never knew the man, and I don’t feel guilty for the fact that I haven’t shed any tears. There is however a public outcry because he will never face justice for the crimes he has committed as the former leader of Yugoslavia. On CNN today, people phoned in from all over the world blaming the Hague Tribunal for dragging their feet, even calling the tribunal itself a “farce” in more than one case. ‘Milosevic slipped through our hands’ is the echoing mantra.

Don’t blame the tribunal; let the men do their jobs. In prosecuting international criminals, especially those as high profile as our Milosevic, let the record reflect that everything was covered and all procedures were performed and completed properly. For sure, on the issue of the Balkans, Milosevic shoulders responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands and the homelessness of millions. He is responsible for four senseless wars and furthered the intolerance several cultures have for one another that endures still today. A man that could not be reasoned with by our diplomats, he was described as pure evil, a monster. But I hope the international courts of justice will never sacrifice their integrity in the interest of expedience, not even extreme cases such as this. Bear in mind, numerous international criminals that appear before such tribunals will be perceived as monsters, but we must maintain the consistency and purity a court requires, even if it means the trial survives the defendant. If we allow courts to cut corners so that our thirst to punish criminals is quenched, the justice we sire may itself be unjust.

Take solace, those of you who feel that justice was denied on March 11th, and know that justice has been denied only in this world; it most surely awaits him in the next. Virtually every known faith denomination includes some form or other of “life audit” at life’s end. This is basically a review of one’s life and a measurement of how it stacks in comparison to the prescribed lifestyle outlined in the faith’s sacred texts. Very few are tolerant of genocide or of gross misinterpretation of their doctrine. Milosevic was Serbian Orthodox, which, because of missionary activity of generations past, shares significant overlap with the Christian faith. Succinctly put, Justice is headed Milosevic’s way, like so many judicial tsunamis; we can all relax. Look upon this world, and the world after this world, through the spiritual eyes of Milosevic, as I have in this poem I wrote. This is for you Slobodan, a bit of confidence for the next tribunals you shall face:

I ran till I was out of breath
Escaping disrepute.
The world, hot on my heels, gave chase
My life was their pursuit.

My crimes it knew; it ardently
endured to capture me.
But I, the quicker of us two,
Escaped, and am still free.

So now, the world, with teary eyes,
Accepts its shameful fall.
And I, the victor, laughingly,
know justice? not at all!

But years have passed, and redefined
The outcome of the chase,
And through their course, revealed to us
The truth behind the race.

The world and I, we had presumed
That I had got away.
My life, gone now, my spirit stands
Alone on Judgment Day.

The “afterlife tribunal” knows
The crimes from which I ran,
And swiftly, justice, they’ll impose
Through supernatural hands.

I am a Christian and I pass no judgment on him; he answers only to his creator for the deeds of his life. Through this entry I am merely trying to offer some perspective and hopefully closure to those who feel befuddled by the recent Milosevic-related events.

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Spring Break began Friday, March 10th and I was distributing flyers the following morning with my father and sister just outside the South Orange train station. We took part in an effort to spread information about peace-seeking events this upcoming weekend in Maplewood (neighboring town). From about 11am to noon, we had a table set up with buttons, pamphlets, a book my father has with World Trade Center photos, and a donation coffee can, all of which we stood around while engaging the passers-by and getting the word out. Beautiful weather and high foot-traffic helped us and we were very successful; the majority of those we interacted with happily accepting our flyers, making us feel in good company as far as political view points go.

The majority but not the entirety, there were a few who seemed apathetic, and one who actually seemed in strong opposition to the idea of peace. Sitting on a nearby park bench, he discussed his distaste for us with friends of his which I was able to overhear. It was typical pro-war talk, inclusive of all the quintessential cliches like “Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan… we should just kill them all; it will make the world safer.” We were slandered for loving peace (as though that were weakness) and, of course, were implied to be treasonous. He expressed a frightening and disheartening system of neo-imperial beliefs (thankfully a minority in this town), revealing a deeper, seldom recognized problem with day-to-day political dialogue.

Our beliefs were not in his conversational crosshairs, we were. Our interpretations of his words did not place his beliefs in our disrepute, they placed him there. We did not exchange any words but there was nonetheless a firmly established opinion owned by both sides, ours and his, concerning the other. These opinions were not purely focused on political beliefs, respecting that the other individual is a person first; they delved deeply into the personal realm, causing us to falsely perceive him (and probably him to perceive us) as the personification of the belief/perspective with which we disagree.

The Fundamental Attribution Error, a psychological term identifying the tendency people have for attributing the causes of someone’s behavior to internal character flaws rather than environmental influences, has become pervasive in the arena of political debate. Admittedly, I am extrapolating this term’s meaning in applying it to beliefs, but the concept holds true. Consider the suppositions: he “is a bigot, a war-monger, a narrow-minded imbecile” just like I “am a scared kitten, an ally of Al Qaeda, suffering from 9/11 amnesia” rather than he “believes we belong in Iraq and that the war on terror is being fought properly” or I “think we need better justification for overseas military operations and that we must hold our politicians accountable.” What the second pair of quotes permits that the first forbids is the acceptance of one another, despite ideological differences, as loyal Americans who can potentially be united. In the case of “he is” or “I am”, such a compromise is hopeless.

It is important to acknowledge and respect the humanity and dignity of others prior to beginning any argument or discussion. What constructive outcomes can one hope for otherwise? The uncivil dialogue may ensue perpetually while the perspectives of the involved individuals remain stationary because they are not the subjects of the dialogue, the individuals themselves are. Argue passionately and persuasively, you may, but you will never convince him he is not a man or that he is evil or ignorant. You might smirk at the absurdity of that but this is what you are ardently pursuing though you fail to even realize it. Poke, prod, and ponder all you will; contemplate my words, formulate your own theories, and then challenge mine. Convince me I am incorrect, I invite you. I will advise you, however, that what I believe is the product of my experiences and what I have absorbed through listening, seeing, feeling and reading, and are always subject to change. What I am is that which I am and that I have always been; I am and you will never convince me otherwise.

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Turning our Backs on the Ghosts of Abu Ghraib

There are many symbols that owe their origin to the Global War on Terror, among the most prominent of which is a U.S. soldier, smiling at the camera, with a thumbs up sign at the end of one arm and an Iraqi detainee attached to the other by a leash. I will not name the soldier in the world famous picture because the soldier is actually us. In an abstract, but not overly convoluted interpretation of circumstances, The United States of America holds the Arab world on a leash, debasing their very humanity, and is smiling!

The 4500 detainees who are currently guests at Abu Ghraib are slated for transfer to a new facility in a matter of a few months. They will join 127 “high value” Arab trophies that America warehouses at her HQ near Baghdad’s airport, among them, Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s ousted dictator. Upon completion of transfer, the U.S. will turn the Abu Ghraib facilities over to the Iraqi Government and permanently close the books on our end. Abu Ghraib will cease to exist; the nightmare shall come to an end. I want pose the question, as this drama approaches completion: As we leave Abu Ghraib, what are we leaving behind? Imagine for a moment the crumbling, hell-resembling, freakish facility, surrounded by miles of impassable desert, isolated from the world. How will it look when it appears in the rear-view mirror, getting smaller and smaller? Will it eventually be lost from sight, lost from memory? Perhaps in time it shall; God willing, we will move on. One thing, however, cannot be argued: Ghosts never die.

The relocation of these detainees has been described by Lt. Col. Johnson, a Baghdad-based spokesman for the military, as an attempt to improve security and alleviate logistical complexity, a well-reasoned move, I believe. Caveat: what is lost? What will remain there after we have left? What might attempt to follow us? What are we running from? I am unsure of the precise answers to these questions, but I can feel it. It is in the air and it is between the words of the politicians, lurking in the pauses they take while addressing the press. They will never be completely gone, not even from the passage of time for they are ghosts. The ghosts of Abu Ghraib will haunt this society no matter how far away we haul their survivors. Logistics and security are futile excuses for attempting to escape the crimes of the past; we will always have to live with the remnants of what we buried at that ungodly place, knowing we caused their demise. Not the least of these tragic losses is the identity we once had as the “good guy” fighting against the evil of terrorism.

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