Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for March 20th, 2022

War sent America off the rails 19 years ago. Could another one bring it back?n

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Mission accomplished? Not quite. In this May 2003 photo, George W. Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard an aircraft carrier off the California coast. The war dragged on for many years after that. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The US invasion of Iraq was an act of hubris that killed hundreds of thousands and cost hundreds of billions of dollars and left a stain on the US that persists to this day. Jason Opal, Associate Professor of History and Chair, History and Classical Studies, McGill University, writes in The Conversation:

At the start of 2022, the right to vote, the rule of law and even the existence of facts seemed to be in grave peril in the United States.

Explanations for this crisis ranged from the decades-long decline of the American middle class to the more recent rise of social media and its unique capacity to spread lies.

In truth, many factors were at play, but the most direct cause of America’s harrowing descent — the one event that arguably set the others in motion — began 19 years ago.

War by choice

On March 19, 2003, George W. Bush and his neoconservative brain trust launched the Iraq war because of the alleged threat of Saddam Hussein’s mothballed weapons [and many pointed out that this threat was fictitious – LG]. Bush and his advisers believed in using military force to spread American political and economic might around the globe.

It was an ideology both foolish and fanatical, the pet project of a tiny circle of well-connected warmongers. Bush himself had lost the popular vote in 2000 and was slumping in the polls before Sept. 11, 2001.

But no one wanted to look weak after the terrorist attacks, and so, in one of the last bipartisan gestures of the past two decades, U.S. senators from Hillary Clinton to Mitch McConnell voted for war in the Middle East.

Having sold the invasion with bad faith and bluster, the neocons planned it with hubris and incompetence. Against the professional advice of the U.S. military, they sought to destroy Saddam Hussein’s regime with minimal ground forces, whereupon they would dismantle the Iraqi state and invite private contractors to somehow rebuild the place.

At first, their fantasies swept to victory. But by 2004, the country they had shattered began to lash out at both the invaders and itself, and by 2006 the singular disaster of our times began to spread.

Butterfly effects

Some two million Iraqis decamped to Syria and Jordan and even more fled to places within Iraq, where the ghoulish seeds of ISIS began to grow.

When ISIS spread following the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, a second wave of refugees sought shelter in Europe. This stoked nationalism and helped propel Brexit to a stunning win in the United Kingdom. . .

Continue reading. There’s more. 

The US started the sequence, and the dominoes continued to topple in turn. Karl Rove famously said that Bush administration created its own reality, but he failed to recognize what a slipshod job it was doing.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2022 at 2:15 pm

The death spiral of an American family

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Eli Saslow’s report in the Washington Post (gift link) describes a situation increasingly common in the US, to the extent that the question arises of the sustainability of the US. As inequality increases, the country becomes weaker and the bonds of community and common interest fray and break. One problem is that the solutions seem to be in the hands of the wealthy and powerful — citizens, corporations, and governments — that are focused on their own interests rather than the general welfare. And the problem is compounded by pervasive distrust, often well-earned, that prevents people working together.

Eliminating monopolies, restoring union power to counterbalance corporate power and electing politicians more beholden to constituents than to lobbyists would help, but doing those things will be fought tooth and nail — and all too often effectively — by the Republican party and by Democrats who follow corporate interests (Joe Manchin, for example).

At any rate, the report is worth reading because it describes an arc typical of America today. It begins:

LINCOLN PARK, Mich. — Dave Ramsey Jr. walked into the funeral home with $60 in cash, hoping to settle one more of his father’s outstanding debts. He followed an employee into a private bereavement room, where she took his final payment and said she’d look in the storage room for his father’s remains.

“It was just a basic cremation, right?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “The cheapest one.”

“And did you order any kind of urn, or a memory book, or —?”

“No. Sorry,” he said. “I know he deserved a lot better.”

It had been almost a month since Dave, 39, found his father lying unresponsive in bed next to his cellphone and a bill from a collections agency, having died of a heart attack at age 70, and ever since then Dave had been trying to make sense of what his father had left behind. He’d read through his father’s credit card statements and then talked to a banker, who concluded that the final estate of David Ramsey Sr. was of “inconsequential value.” Like a record 23 percent of Americans who’ve died in the past five years, the ultimate financial worth of his father’s life was nothing — a number somewhere below zero.

That meant that what Dave Jr. and his two daughters were inheriting during a time of accelerating inequality in the United States was the exact opposite of intergenerational wealth: his father’s end-of-life expenses, thousands of dollars in debts, a leftover bottle of anti-depressants, and the Ramsey family’s continued regression from the middle class into the expanding bottom of the American economy.

“Here’s Dad,” the funeral employee said, as she walked back into the room holding a small cloth bag.

“This is it?’” Dave asked.

“Our process is very efficient,” she said.

Dave picked up the bag and felt its weight. “He did a lot in his life. For it to end like this … it doesn’t make sense to me.”

“You can still have a service,” she told him. “You can still find a way to honor him.”

Now Dave looked up at the laminated menu of funeral home prices posted on the wall. “One-day visitation: $5300.” “Funeral service director: $1800.” “Limousine: $450.” His family couldn’t afford any of it, so Dave Sr.’s body had remained in a freezer at the funeral home for three weeks while Dave Jr. scrapped metal and raised money from friends. His 17-year-old daughter had worked extra shifts at A&W and his girlfriend had sold some of her electronics, until finally they’d come up with $1,400 for basic cremation.

“I’m sorry. It’s embarrassing,” Dave said, as he got ready to leave. “This is the bare minimum.”

“Believe me, the bare minimum is normal,” the employee said.

“Yeah, but he was doing really good there for a while,” Dave Jr. said, and when she didn’t respond, he grabbed the small bag, labeled: “Remains No. 28,666.”

“You’re sure this is it?” he asked again. “I don’t understand how this can be it.”

His father had been a police officer, a restaurant manager, a real estate agent, a private investigator, a Mason and a Little League umpire. He had wanted a large funeral where his friends could share stories about him, a full viewing, a three-volley military salute. It had been a life modeled on middle-class aspirations, and now what was left of it was sitting in the back bedroom of a small rental house across from a sewage refinery on the outskirts of Detroit, where Dave Jr. had spent the past week trying to summon the courage to go through three boxes of artifacts.

Maybe, Dave thought, these boxes offered some clue as to how a life that began with so much promise and momentum became a case study in what economists called “backwards mobility” into the bottom 50 percent of Americans who now collectively have a negative net worth. Or maybe, Dave Jr. thought,

Continue reading. (Gift link)

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2022 at 1:37 pm

The Impatience of Job: An interesting reading

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In Slate Abraham Riesman has a very interesting article on the book of Job. It’s worth reading in its entirety (the payoff’s toward the end), and it begins:

No one has ever known quite what to make of Job.

The title character of the Book of Job is a confounding figure for Christians, Muslims, Jews, and those of any faith who have tried to incorporate the story over millennia. The tale goes like this: Job is a perfectly righteous and God-fearing man whose good deeds have brought him prosperity—children, an estate, good health. But then God enters a wager with a member of the Heavenly Host, haSatan (“the Adversary”), who claims he can make even goodly Job curse the deity. Soon, Job’s servants are killed. His children are killed. He is afflicted with painful boils, finding only mild relief when he gouges them with a potsherd. His life is a waking nightmare. But he refuses to curse God for what has befallen him.

That is, until he debates three of his pious friends, telling them that the logic of religion no longer makes sense to him. If God rewards good and punishes evil, how can one explain what’s happened to him, and to the countless others in creation who suffer for no discernible reason?

The friends say over and over that there must be some sin that Job or his family committed, for God is both morally good and fully omnipotent. With each passive-aggressive accusation from one of his ostensible comrades, Job inches closer and closer to outright blasphemy.

Then the story takes a strange and mysterious turn that consumes religious scholars still.

These days, countless people are experiencing agony on par with that of the biblical Job: An awful war is carrying with it a terrifying nuclear threat; a plague rages; liberal democracy seems to barely cling to life; and, as we corrupt the climate on which our species depends, legions die drowning, burning, or running. If there is a God who loves humanity, He’s showing it in the most mysterious of ways.

Religious people who wait for a messiah may soothe themselves by believing that divine intervention can bring about an end to mortal horrors, and that the pious will eventually ascend to a state of eternal existence. But for secular types—including agnostic Jews like me—who find themselves concerned about the state of the world, both reform and revolt seem impossible routes out of all of humanity’s messes. If it all keeps getting worse, what’s the point of anything? It’s hard to measure pessimism, but there are indications that it’s on the rise, at least in America: Polls suggest pessimistic views have exploded in the past 20 years, and, even before COVID, nearly a third of Americans believed an apocalyptic event would occur in their lifetime.

Lucky for us, there’s an ancient text that offers guidance on how to navigate the pain that lies before us, and how to start rebuilding in the ruins. It’s called the Book of Job. We just haven’t been reading it right.

The most vexing part of Job’s story . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2022 at 11:17 am

“Putin Lives in Historic Analogies and Metaphors”

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In Der Spiegel Lothar Gorris interviews political scientist Ivan Krastev:

DER SPIEGEL: Mr. Krastev, have you ever been to the Kremlin?

Krastev: No, but I once met Vladimir Putin in Sochi, on the sidelines of a conference shortly after the annexation of Crimea. The president was hosting a dinner. An American colleague of mine was there, but so too was the Austrian chancellor and the foreign ministers of France and Israel. It quickly became clear that Putin felt like he was completely misunderstood. He spoke about Western chauvinism and its hypocrisy. He said people didn’t understand that Crimea is Russian. They are the same arguments we are hearing today, but I wouldn’t say that Putin back then had this messianism.

DER SPIEGEL: Why is it there now?

Krastev: If you’ve been in power for 20 years in an authoritarian state, nobody dares to contradict you anymore. You have established a system, you have become the system yourself, and you can’t imagine that the entire country doesn’t reflect that. You also can’t imagine there being anybody who could be an adequate successor. So, you have to solve all problems yourself for as long as you are alive. For Putin, Russia has long since ceased being a country in the standard sense; it is a kind of historic, 1,000-year-old body.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2022 at 10:44 am

How Paul Thomas Anderson Shoots A Film At 3 Budget Levels

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Interesting little explainer that also prompted me to review some movies I’d forgotten about.

Written by Leisureguy

20 March 2022 at 8:33 am

Posted in Business, Movies & TV

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