Tuesday, March 22, 2011

On A More Serious Note

I don't know what to make of the US's recent work in Libya.

First of all, please don't get me wrong.  From what I can tell Gaddafi is a complete nitwit.  He's dangerous and loony, I know.  Getting him out of power, should that happen, is likely to be a good thing.  And keeping him from killing innocents is definitely good as well.

But, where does it all end?

We're currently involved in three simultaneous wars, which has to be some kind of record.

And the costs of such things are staggering.  I hear so many politicians complaining about the budget these days.  The single fastest way to reduce the short term deficit would be to get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and (now) Libya.  The cruise missiles we're firing at Libya are awfully expensive things, not to mention planes and pilots.

More interesting to me than costs, though, is our reputation.  The US was already seen by far too many as a bully.  Some countries want us to continue in our role as "world policeman" while others are terrified of that very same thing.  I can't yet find a way that our involvement in Libya does much good for our reputation overall, even if in the end it benefits the Libyan people.  Just wait until there are a few confirmed civilian casualties as a result of coalition air strikes, for example, to see how badly things might go, even in Libya itself.

And we pick our battles so carefully.  We intervene in Iraq and Libya, but not in North Korea, nor China during the Tiananmen Square uprising?  Why or why not?  What about the other middle east countries currently seeing varying levels of protest?  Should we help the Yemenese people if things take an ugly turn there?  How about Bahrain?  Or Saudi Arabia, where recent descriptions of the overwhelming response to a possible protest astounded me.

I suspect we gave up the moral high ground a long, long time ago, and now all the decisions are simply pragmatic in nature.  We can intervene in Libya because we have cover from the UN, and the Arab League, but can't do anything against North Korea or China because they have nukes.  Libya has oil we want, by the way, as does Saudi Arabia.  The calculus around whether intervention helps or hinders our oil habit must be very interesting at the highest levels of power.

I'd rather we stepped back and honesty answered the questions: Should we be intervening?  Why or why not?

I don't claim to know the answers in any given case.  These are complicated issues, and there are arguments on all sides, but it appears to me as if the US is getting involved in far too many conflicts of late, to our own detriment in various ways.  It's like the default is to start shooting.

Something about that feels wrong.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Humans in Groups: not good

I went to a concert last night.  I do this regularly.  My wife plays in a symphony, you see, so I find myself in concert halls with several hundred - perhaps a couple thousand, I dunno - total strangers, trying to listen to music played by humans without amplification.  Not fun.

Last night was cough night.  The music would get quiet and an entirely different symphony of coughing would appear.  Why?  Maybe it's flu season.  Maybe the audience doesn't care.  They're mostly old enough that they might not even be capable of hearing each other cough.  Whatever, I found it annoying.

I also hate going to movies in theaters.  Even a small audience is distracting.  Someone will suddenly have an unimaginably difficult time opening some candy wrapper at exactly the wrong moment, for example.  And several times young, white, male individuals between the ages of 15 and 25 have been extremely disruptive - read "stupid" - at movies I have been at, even when the total audience numbered less than 20.

I am fast becoming a hermit where shared experiences are the goal.  As if that sentence made any sense.  If a bunch of people watch the same DVD separately, have they had a shared experience?  Maybe, but they definitely haven't been disturbed by the rest of the people in the theater (or whatever) while trying to enjoy it.

Recently I went to a Roger Waters concert, where he performed The Wall live.  It was an amazing show, with video to die for, sound to drown out everything, and so on.  It was, in fact, the best concert I have ever been to.  But guess what... I didn't get to lose myself in the show.  People around us were doing all kinds of distracting (and stupid) things, and the fact that the music was so loud I needed earplugs didn't mean I couldn't hear the idiots around me.

We've lost something, somewhere.  The idea that civility meant not bugging your neighbor seems to be gone.  And not even the oldest among us (who still get out and about, anyway) understand that.

Of course I probably bug those around me at concerts too.  I can't sit that still for that long - my limbs fall asleep - and I wind up having to shift around a bit.  I apologize to those who have had to sit near me.  At least I try to be quiet, though.

Anyway, there isn't anything to be done about this.  It's a shame, though.  If you'd only sit down, shut up, and pay attention you might learn something, or at least enjoy the show.  But that'll never happen.