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September 19, 2006

ry's got a beef. And in praise of Brothers

(Endless post warning. You've been warned.)
As weíre finding out around here, a brotherís love is a wondrous thing.

Itís no secret that I like Thomas Barnett and his work. I think heís got a lot of the solutions to the current problems and some of the mid-term ones too in his Felix the Cat Bag of Tricks. I get the guy. I get what he says and why he says them. I get his motivations for his philosophy---as would Alan McLeod (definitely) and Trias (kinda sorta), but not Jack Grant (who would question it on many levels given what it calls for at times). Good guy. Good egg. Man with a heart of gold, most of the time, and the best interests of the world as his star to steer by.

But sometimes, only sometimes, Iíd like to take a newspaper and smack him in the back of the head. Why? Well, he supports the kind of thing his brother wrote about neo-cons (me being a neo-con) that is just the usual tawdry list of Ďreasons why conservatives/republican are the devilí with a neo stuck in front of it. I mean, itís great that your brother gets that thereís a difference, a slight difference in the stream of things, between neo-cons, real neo-cons and not those who just have the tag hurled at them as an epithet, and neo-libs. Thatís great. Having a brother have your back is great thing, and Iím happy for Dr. Barnett to have the backing of his brother. We all need that sometimes. And itís good that where the distinction between the two was attempted (Writers at the New Republic, call your office!) ButÖÖ

I wasnít always a neo-con. At one point I was a crazy anarchist Punk (like mohawks, leather jackets with tons of safety pins in them, and listening to loud dis-harmonic stuff played allegro with bad lyrics by Gello Biafra Punk---though I still attended Mass and school (lettering in track and cross country), never cut my hair all weird and didn't wear the clothes that were part of the scene, and really worried about my Mom being mad. So I wasnít really Punk. I just tried to be.). Then I woke up in my late teens. That chit just was not going to work and was the epitome of arrogance. Only we, the anointed few, who by listening to the same bands who hand fed us some really watered down philosophy, really knew what was going on and how to run the world? Baloney. We knew spit, less actually, and, worse, we knew it and just didnít care. Itís just, well, rebellion is cool (though I still didnít have my first date until I was a junior in HS while most of my punk buddies had lost their virginity by that age. Go figure.) and telling people they didnít know anything while we of course knew everything made us feel good about ourselves.

So then I stopped that stuff.

I moved onto something else.

Call it isolationist populism. The worldís problems are their own. We had more than enough problems here at home. People matter first, philosophy a distant second. Helping people out is a good thing and the first good thing. Whatever does the job best is the solution regardless of ideological reasons--- though this last bit got modified a bit as I got older and learned more, the process often does matter.

But I differed in a lot of my friends on how to fix those problems. I asked the question: does govít intervention really help? Sometimes it did. Lots of times it didnít. So I wasnít for reflexive Ďgovít solves it by throwing money at the problemí type solutions, like Hillary Care. Growing up on Welfare like I did taught me something hard and true: govít programs have to toe a bottom line, but Father Scanalís charity knew no bounds (and he could be viscous in getting the Parish to help us out); the govít would have to follow a schedule of payments regardless of our actual need, but the people my Aunt worked with at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station or The Strand could be counted on to take collections, loan money, or bring us food whenever we needed it ( Another sign of charity of the Navy: Once some officer brought Disneyland tickets on Armed Forces Day because the guy felt bad that a family that lived no more than 10 miles away had kids that had never been in their entire lives while his kids had been several times. Ociffers. Such a weird lot.).

[If you want the rest of this essay, just hit the "Flash Traffic/Extended Entry" button there and all will be revealed]

And the world still had problems. I pooh-poohed going to Somalia because it was not the USís fight. Ditto for Kosovo. That was what I thought at 22. Was not our fight and little real gain to be had by sending them thereólike Vietnam, right(wrong, as I was to learn much later, like so many others when we began to find out how terrible the Vietnamese were doing, and much of SE Asia for that matter after the communists had their way with the region.)? So why did we do it?

I was still arrogant at 22 and had little idea of how the world worked; and even less about how to get ahead in it. So this HS drop out went back to school. First I went to a junior college and then on to a four year to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry, where I met my Fair Jessica (not to be confused with the Blog Fatherís---mineís better, but Iím biased.).

At the junior college I ran into things that started to put other earlier experiences into context. My Cambodian born friend, who had a shrapnel scar of his calf and a chunk of meat missing where the scar was, gave me a little perspective. And the African students who spoke French better than they did English gave me an education about the world too. Seeing Vietnamese girls with the same scar on their throats Iíd seen ever since grade school started to make sense---a little boy doesnít understand rape and so canít connect the evidence to the crime.

I started to learn something cold, hard, disturbing, and utterly unforgiving: there are Wolves out there and if we let them have their way theyíd eventually spread their disease where ever they could; theyíd wreck things simply to make themselves big chits (even if being big chit didnít amount to much at all). So, I gave isolationism the deep six.

It just was not realistic. Particularly when I started studying how people around the world blamed us (The West, the US, and the Anglo-sphere. Take your pick.) for what ailed them (and to be honest, sometimes they were right as we did do wrong by them, but other times they were wrong). We couldnít pretend that if we just stayed home and left the world to themselves we wouldnít be placing a crosshairs on our chest. We already had one, sometimes earned and sometimes not. As Barnett himself would say: we canít just firewall them off. It just wasnít realistic anymore.

So we went to Somalia. It was a good thing (something hard to accept for those who lost loved oneís there and in light of recent events). So went go to Kosovo. It was a good thing ((except for those who had to go on those long, boring flights in the webbed chairs of Starfrogs, got hurt, or had to do the actual heavy lifting)). We were exporting security and connectivity to these parts of the world. We were making their lives better. We were giving them fewer reasons to reach for a gun and more incentive to reach for a lawyer to settle their problems, and thereby making ourselves safer. We were living up to our ideals, but it was costly. Oh so very costly to live up to them.

Vietnam started to make sense to me seeing as how I grew up around the thousands of refugees who came here, continue to come here, and I listened to the horror stories the old ladies with the black teeth, wore the black aoi dai, and had breath that smelled of hoc nam had to tell about how their oldest sons were slaughtered by the followers of Ho Chi Minh. How it was done long after the war was over. How the drug trade and human trafficking were the best ways to make a buck and get ahead in SE Asia became very real to me when I had to see it, and the even worse aftermath, up close and personal. It made sense to me why we went to that far of land then, even if others around here agree with David Drake that going there didnít do the Vietnamese, or those who went to fight, and damn good at all (You guys did do them some good. You really did, and those that were the people you were helping appreciate it---Iíve met them, I've eaten cross legged in their homes. Never let anyone steal that from you. Youíd be kings for a day if you werenít such humble bast-turds and contacted the folks in Westminster, CA.) Weíre idealists here in the US. Weíre the brother of the world, part of our multi-ethnic heritage. And a brotherís love is a wondrous thing. A brotherís love is something thatíll get a brother to fight in fights that really arenít his own or of his choosing; and make him fight harder than he probably should. Weíd done it before. We continue to do so. It costs us big. It ruins the lives of some of those very dear to many of us. But still we send them. Weíre idealists. We want a better world than we woke up to today. Making that world better costs mega, and not in dollars and cents. A future worth creating has an immense human cost, for us and for those we aim to help. Getting the killing over fast keeps the cost down, but it doesnít ever make the cost disappear.

My long, odd, and oft times unconventional education has also shown me that at times corporations werenít evil incarnate, most times actually. They have their moments of duplicity, but often times theyíre motivations are misunderstood because people use lenses and prisms to interpret what theyíre doing, a sort of circular logic game people play to justify hating Big Business regardless of the good they actually do (we on the right often do the same for NGOís). Does anyone actually think the guys in the lab at Pfizer just want to bilk joe avg? Does anyone think I went into chemistry because I had illusions of being a millionaire living in Malibu with a 40í yacht? I went into chemistry a) because I was pretty good at it and b) because when my grandmother died in my arms there werenít drugs cheap enough to prevent what happened to her (brain aneurysm) or pain meds to prevent her from suffering more than she should have, farkiní entropy. I sure wasnít going to find the next super cheap anti-clotting medication on my own in a garage lab (sorry, chemistry does not work like the tech industry does where decentralization is better or even preferred.). But with a contract at Pfizer, or Eli Lilly, or some other pharma firm I just might (unfortunately kerataconus reared its ugly head and put the end to that little plan). Corporations are peopled with individuals who arenít jackals by and large, even the executives (Not as sure about the marketing and accounting departments though. I think they really are jackals.). Unfortunately, the rules, govít implemented rules to protect people who have invested their pensions in these companies or to protect you from when we well intentioned scientist types make mistakes in the lab, prevent them at times from being charities. Like govít, businesses have a bottom line they have to toe. Thatís an angering but true little factoid.

So thatís how I got to be a neo-con, a living breathing neo-con with a conscience and a desire for a better world than I found. Not just some caricature of one. Not some nebulous thing you can demonize out of fear. Not something you can hate simply because you donít or wonít attempt to find out what my motivations really are and instead toss everything and the kitchen sink at.

I wanted, and still want, the same world Dr. Barnett and Andy Barnett want. A just, fair, and free one full of plenty for all and little need for people to wage wars over things. I just disagreed, and continue to disagree, on how to get there. That meant there was only one party for me. The GOP since the Dems really werenít that interested in this kind of thing when I was getting started. They were still bashing Reagan for trying to bring down the Sov Union---that jerk who was upstaged by a monkey, war-mad cowboy who, and dolt . They were still calling the Ďbuy Americaní plan jingoism and fascism (only now they use that very same thing, in a modified form, to bash off shoring---except Dr. Barnett. He sees how this pushes us toward the end zone.). They were making fun of a man whoíd had his arm shattered by machine gun fire fighting real fascist bast-turds in Italy over his infirmity. They were pushing platforms that called for the worst, least efficient, least actionable on the personal level and operational level plans Iíd ever heard for helping the greatest number of people. Father Scanalís plans worked and he wasnít buying their plans. Their plans couldnít and wouldnít work as Iíd seen from the wormís eye view. They were for interventionism only when their guy sat below Damoclesí Sword, but called anyone else doing it the worst names imaginable. They thought Vietnam was the worst thing possible and a stain on our national honor; but Iíd seen, first hand, that the real horrors of Vietnam were living next door to me and in Westminster, with broken bodies, stolen virtue, ravaged minds, broken hearts, and a home they could never go back to. I had no choice but to become a Republican. The Dems had no freakiní clue (welfare reformís done pretty good, even if there are problems with it, ainít it? And Clinton was forced into that.), even if they won back then.

Odd that I'm a neo-con since I wouldíve voted for JFK had I the chance to do so.

So, I sit here wondering, why is Dr. Barnettís brother calling me Beelzebub? I mean, I want the same things (90% homology) as he and Dr. Barnett do. So what gives?

Largely, itís an election year. Hyperbole is bound to happen. Thatís what happens during silly season. As Chick Hearn used to say, ĎNo harm, no foul.í

Then thereís that Andy Barnett has two sons serving in the Gulf and a third seems to have retired from the Reserves of one of the Services (May they come home sound of mind, body, and spirit. May the Lord protect and guide them home to you soon, sir.). Hey, worrying about your kids is a fine reason to be mad at any president by me. I just wish he understood our, we neo-cons, motivations a little better before he hauled out his rhetorical claymore. Or had better aim.

But, man, donít insult my intentions or my intelligence. Donít pretend you and yours alone hold the keys to virtuousness. Donít pretend you alone have our nation and worldís wellbeing at heart. Donít pretend that you alone have the fair treatment of our retired or injured service people as an imperative. Donít do that just so you can climb up on a soap box to bash us with a Nerf hammer for political gain. Mostly, donít do that because it is not true, not by a long shot. We're willing to work with you and not against you on quite a few things if you'd stop to find out who we are and what we're about.

Particularly donít dis me and all the other neo-cons with the same slander that the left has hurled at the right when weíre on the same side for all intents and purposes of working for a future worth creating; and with that future looking very, very similar. Thereís so much more that could be accomplished if neo-libs didnít see domestic political profit in taking a pound of flesh out of us moderate conservatives or neo-cons. RINOís and neo-cons really arenít that much different than neo-libs. If you really look at the nuts and bolts of what weíre about we really arenít that different than Tom, even if there is a need, which I donít deny, for you to show where such difference lays.

But you know what? I prollíy could get along with you Andy Barnett. He sounds like a good man, really. Kind of like Johnís sister the liberal teacher. Good people with their hearts in the right place but different ideas of where the end zone is and how to get there. Seeing as how Mom grew up in backwoods Wisconsin and raised her two boys as if it was 1964 and a healthy diet of sports (well, for my flesh and blood older brother it really the Sixties. For me it was the 1980ís.) I think I could get along with the guy just fine as he and Tom are Wisconsinites from a middling sized town and raised on sports. Right up until he pisses in my soup, insults me, and tells me that Iím the closest thing to Satan there is on this planet (which he would prollíy say if I was a paleo-con, or any other con for that matter) weíd get along great. But hey, we get you Andy. We get the anger. We get the why of it. We get you and your brother both on an intellectual level. We get what it is youíre trying to create and the reasons behind it. We here at Castle Argghhh! by and large want the same things, just disagree about how to get there or where the there is.

So, just try not to stick that knife so deep into the back of those of us who you really should consider your allies instead of political hacks like Kos whoíd drop you the instant they saw political advantage doing so in the future, okay?

But yeah, as weíre learning around here, a brotherís love is a wondrous thing. To all the Big Brothers out there: salut! The worldís on its way to becoming a great place thanks to you guys.