Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Rhetoric & Costs of War - Make Love not Stress

As candidates for president parade for the cameras and conduct their first series of presidential debates, the war in Iraq is never far from the surface. No wonder. The entire country is reeling from the human and financial costs involved and our very reputation as a world power is being called into question.

In this scenario, the Bush White House is rushing to shape perceptions, control the message and frame events in a positive light - only to have reality on-the-ground lay waste to all their efforts. Can you say: poetic justice? Mark Danner, professor of journalism at UC Berkeley and author of a number of books on war and the war in Iraq recently delivered the commencement address at the University's "School of Rhetoric." In that address, reprinted in its entirety in the Asia Times, he holds forth on the rhetoric of war and how politicians manipulate language to their own ends. The upstart is, in this case, that reality has outpaced the administration's ability to frame events and control the message. It is a very long piece, but way worth the read.

One of my favorite online sources of opinion and news, the Asia Times also takes a much-needed look at "Financing the Imperial Armed Forces" of the US. The hard-hitting and fact-filled piece notes that we're going to spend $1 trillion this year alone, in the absence of any credible threat. Living in a county that has just closed all of its libraries due to cutbacks in federal timber subsidies (hey, we take care of the roads and steward the land), I can tell you that this kind of expense is hard to justify. The country is suffering financially, with millions of families and children without health insurance and a decaying transportation infrastructure, and we're sending this kind of money overseas. I recall Paul Bremer, the first Duke of Iraq, reporting that he gave away billions in unaccounted for cash that was literally loaded onto palates in bundles for distribution. A government investigative report issued in 2005 found that under Bremer's leadership, $9 billion in reconstruction funds (taxpayer $$) just plain disappeared. Uh huh.

What has this staggering investment bought us other than a host of deceased young men and women and countless misspent dollars? Certainly not the end of terrorism as we know it, which has fed on our folly. And if you believe as many do that Bush is on a crusade against Islam and you buy into the "Clash of Civilizations" scenario, consider this: Muhammad is now the most popular name for newborn boys in Great Britain, and maybe in the entire world. That's right. Check it out.

On a lighter note, Der Speigel reports today on the dangers of all work and no nookie. German scientists (bless their hearts) have finally established a direct link between a lack of sex and increased stress. Flip side: the more sex, the less stress. Like we didn't know that. But the study went further, indicating that postponing resolution of sexual frustration leads to more work - and even less sex. Read the study, there are some thought-provoking observations as well as a few wickedly clever lines.

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