A little Nathan Hale…in you.

It has been remarked that “in times of war the national suicide rate goes down”, referring to the fact that the crazies are getting slaughtered by the enemy, rather than by themselves (if you’re asking who remarked this and when, take another look at the title of this post.)  Currently however, that trend has been further ridiculed by the fact that suicide rates for active-duty soldiers will probably exceed the national rate this year, an excess that has not occured in this country since Vietnam.

I would not necessarily consider myself a pacifist – I have too much of a temper – but I’m not a big fan of war.  I rather prefer countries to play nice with each other.  I would especially prefer not to be involved in a war that causes Americans to kill themselves, whether because of the severe conditions of the war itself, or from a lack of adequate support back home and between tours of duty.  It seriously makes me wonder what we’re doing as a nation.  What kind of warrior spends the time and money necessary to make a beautiful sword and then beats its keen blade against the ground until it breaks?  If you need to dig a hole, use a shovel.  What kind of military planners thought it would be a good idea to send soldiers back to war repeatedly, tearing them away from home and family, and not give additional financial and emotional support for that stress?  Let’s think a little here.

I dislike inefficiency.  I dislike rash or illogical action (perhaps more so because I am occasionally prone to both).  I dislike manipulative policy.  Current military practice seems to be all three.  Though the Veteran’s Association is attempting to address the issues facing active-duty personnel, I wish we had the ability to anticipate such problems more ably.  It would give me a little more confidence in the type of war my country is fighting.  Like Uncle Victor says, for very different reasons, let’s get back to “the kind of war this whole country can support.”

Which is more cool?

Place your votes now!

I was totally skimming CNN today for something awesome to blog about, and I came across not one, but TWO (Count ’em) TWO awesome news events.

The first involves the government and the past, both things that could be potentially interesting but most often are not.  OSS records are being released to the public, including specific instances of when and how people became involved and what their missions might have been.  That’s how we know Julia Child was a spy.  That’s right, she was cookin’ up some information retrieval on the sly at the same time she was telling you how to make fancy-pants dishes.  How cool is that?  I want to be a household name AND totally lead a second covert lifestyle.  It’s superhero stuff, or at least the stuff of legend.

The second is the winner of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.  Mr. Bulwer-Lytton wa the one who started his wonder-work ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’  The contest is all about the ridiculousness of bad fiction, and is judged on the badness of the first line of an imaginary novel.  Of course, bad beginnings are a dime a dozen, but to create something really deliberately horrible takes both skill and guts.  You could be marked for badness the rest of your life after something like that.  You can view a few of the really good ones here.  I, for one, am amused and potentially slightly disturbed.

So yeah, I request votes for which is cooler.  Post your vote.

The Rights of the Dead.

When someone says ‘dead body’ the resultant thought image could be gristly.  But death is the inevitable fate we all share.  While some types of death are perhaps more unfortunate than others, the end result is the same.  In considering this result, people all over the world have had different responses.  While some of them, such as the ancient Egyptian belief that the soul or ka returns to its bodily housing each night, regard the body as a necessary part of the afterlife, others count the husk immaterial after death.  Those beliefs should be given equal respect, despite the needs of those still living.

Take for example an untimely and suspicious death.  Autopsies are required, investigations must proceed, and the corpse or the soul of the departed might be materially harmed by such invasions according to some belief.  Should the needs of society in this case outweigh the individual’s need?  And what of disagreements on how a person should be buried, even within the remaining family?  Or what of the famous dead?  I doubt Mao wanted to be preserved and stared at for decades, or that Shakespeare wanted people to come stare at the spot in the floor where he was once placed.  But who can speak for the dead but living descendants or the public, and who knows that wishes are being fulfilled?

And yet there are people who seek to reclaim what they can from loss, not only for those left behind, but for the rights of the dead themselves.  Take the work of forensic anthropologists in Peru recently.  A massacre site that may (or may not) contain bodies of Shining Path rebels was uncovered that certainly has bodies of children.  DNA testing is being used to identify which bodies might be from families who escaped complete slaughter.  Those remaining will then have time to grieve, knowing for certain the fate of their lost ones.  But what is most telling for me in this article is fear that they will not be able to identify those whose entire families were killed in the slaughter.  To me, that says these people have rights, even in death: a right to justice, and to have the crimes perpetrated against them known.

It reminds me of Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje.  There is a way that people become enveloped in the past that the book illuminates, both against their will and better judgment and as a matter or curiosity or morals or any of the other forces that spurs us to action.  Still, within this work as well there is a sense among several characters of the right of loss, the right of those dead who have no one else to speak for themselves.  It’s haunting, in a way, this ultimate fairness we can’t seem to extend to the people we live next to.

Let’s all learn to relax, and trust the robot.

Despite what we once thought our future would be, and despite consistent technological advances, one area that remains largely blurry is that of robotics.  There are the sophisticated automated machines that do a variety of originally manual factory jobs.  There are the tiny bots build in backyards and beaten against each other for sport on shows like Robot Wars.  There are medical devices and prosthetics that remain attachments, rather than turning us into weird cyborgs.  There are computers capable of running a dozen complex systems and programs.  Yet there is nothing approaching the human world we have envisioned.

There’s no Robocop, no Terminator, no Transformers, no Batman, no Iron Man.  There’s no AIs, no incomprehensible combinations of machine and flesh, no superheroes with technology or even radioactivity to support them, just man, a little more advanced maybe than he once was.  And yet…we still hope.  We hope for something outside our current situation that will reinforce the dignity of man.

The army has for years been searching for a robotic suit that will increase the muscle strength and power of a man.  Can you imagine the impact of shock troops that can lift 500 lbs with average or even skimpy muscle mass?  Most designs have met with complications dealing with reaction times and power drains, but they think they may have come up with something.  The new suit does the appropriate tricks – even letting you recover from stumbling without dying or being incapacitated – and can run on power from a generator, tank, or helicopter.  Despite the political and moral implications of whether or not we should be designing something like this for use in war, there are some potential advantages.  It could be used to help factory workers move goods, or help firefighters carry gear.  Heck, it may even address the current lack of women firefighters – if they can use a suit to lift a ladder, carry people out (or even break through walls?), they don’t need to have the upper body strength of men.  But still, I’m not sure I trust the reasons for the original research.  Sure, it would be useful for toting weapons or repairing fragments of a tank, but visions of angry berserkers in suits leaves me a little cold.

Why?

I am usually not a follower of current events for a few reasons.  First, most news is bad news.  It’s depressing and enraging.  It frustrates me to watch the world beat people down yet again and be powerless to stop it.  Second, the stories don’t often change.  I can read a book written in 2003 and it tells last year’s story of a crisis in Burma.  I can read a book written in 1950 and it tells the story of the agony of African nations like Sudan.  Currently I’m reading The Map of Love, which is primarily about Egypt and was written in 1999.  it also was a Booker Prize finalist.  It’s totally applicable to the issues of the day – the hubris and double standards of the West, the Jewish stance on Palestine and Arab anger at it, our own interests in Iraq reflected somewhat in Egypt’s relationship with Britain.

It makes me wonder if we can ever make any progress forward at all.  I feel accountable.  Why can’t we commit to taking our troops out of Iraq.  Even if it’s slow, even if we need to be reasonable about this untenable situation we’ve gotten our country into, why can’t we at least offer an olive branch of not dominating the rest of the world?  I am proud to be an American, but at times I am also embarrassed to be one.  The fighting is getting heavier in Iraq, and now we’re withdrawing troops.  Why?  Because people are so angry here that they’re willing to overthrow their political leaders?  Because ‘progress has been made’, and by that nebulous definition of progress we can bow out without losing too much face?  Come on, smarmy politicians – you’ve already lost.

It’s just upsetting.  I would like to live in a world where we did not have to be surprised by the accepting Muslim fundamentalist or the broad-minded Christian or the honest politican.  IS that really so difficult to achieve?