Six-Thousand Pages of Torture Porn (Or: America is Awesome!)

Day Six, The Torture Report: So the hottest whips ‘n’ chains story since Fifty Shades came out last week, and all anyone’s doing is griping about it. You just can’t trust those market trends, can you?

Turns out that the U.S.A., God-appointed bearer of the gleaming sword of liberty, has been committing war crimes for the last ten years: torturing detainees, both guilty and innocent, in some mighty creative ways. Seriously, Christian Grey’s got nothing on our boys in uniform. I wonder how Dick Cheney must feel. After all his sales pitching about how we’re the “good guys,” this has to be embarrassing.

Oh wait, I forgot: Dick Cheney doesn’t get embarrassed. Like the rest of his buddies, he never apologizes, never pauses to say “Hmm, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” never evinces any sign of soul-searching whatsoever. Nope, after this report came out, his reaction was to call it a load of hooey, and to paint the monstrous behavior described therein as completely justified, even though the report flat out states that torture does about jack-shit at the job of extracting information.

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Gosh, what a kind and loving man. I can see why people worship and defend him. He puts me in mind of a disingenuous huckster who sells you a used car but doesn’t tell you about the engine until after it’s set you on fire.

Big Dick: “Trust me, we’ll be greeted as liberators. It’ll all be over in six months. Everyone will be safe, terrorist attacks will stop, chocolate will rain from the sky, it’ll be great.”

Us: “Fuck yeah! Let’s do it…hey! You didn’t tell me we’d be hated by the rest of the world!”

Big Dick: “Yeah, you’re going to get that when you go into a long occupation like this. Sorry, no refunds.”

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell gave the usual tired spiel about how revealing crimes the US commits somehow makes the terrorists stronger, makes Americans less safe, blah blah blah etc etc etc. He was also heard muttering through his false teeth, “I remember the days when old white men could do whatever they wanted and nobody would dare to complain!” Then he went back to ranting about how gay Mexicans stealing our health care are the REAL problem.

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Droves of angry people ran to the airwaves to denounce the report as well, saying that its writers hate America, and are determined to besmirch the nation’s image. I find this troubling, because it tells me that some folks just can’t stand the idea that their government might do something bad. They don’t want to hear it, they don’t want to look at it. They’d rather willfully delude themselves into thinking America is “awesome,” and shout down anyone who would point out a flaw. These are the same people who send you family photos full of perfect shining smiles, and whose kids win all the school awards and sports trophies and never seem to have any problems. Does anyone like being around people like that?

Just when the excuses and deflection were getting embarrassing, John McCain stepped up and showed the rest of those cowards in the Senate what a human being sounds like. I won’t paraphrase him, because I can’t do it justice:

Where the hell was this guy hiding? I hope he shows up more often.

Here’s the thing, though: I don’t entirely agree with him. I don’t think the US can burnish its image just by changing interrogation techniques. The stains run too deep. You do know why these atrocities were committed, right? The news doesn’t seem all that interested these days (Taylor Swift just released an album after all), but there’s a freaking WAR going on. It’s not supposed to be pretty. Nobody plays nice in war; torture is GOING TO HAPPEN. It is a symptom of a greater disease, a disease that we, the citizens of the United States, are responsible for. You can’t pump your fist, slap a yellow ribbon sticker on the back of your SUV, and then lower your head and cover your eyes when things get ugly. Instead of whining about how hideous the sores make you look, why don’t you take steps to kill the infection?

Ending torture won’t restore our honor anyway. So long as this foolish “War on Terror” continues, more horrible things will crop up. Supporters of the war (read: investors) don’t want their dirty dealings to end, so they’re trying to keep the focus on the crimes themselves, rather than the cause. Don’t listen to them. The fictional WMDs, the return of the Taliban, the shame of Abu Ghraib, the Unknown Knowns, and the hundreds of young Americans coming back dead or paralyzed: they’re all branches grown of the same root. The day we regain our status and become worthy of the world’s goodwill again is the day this war stops.

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Five-Yard Penalty for Beating

Day Five, NFL Controversy: A recent survey showed that fifty-percent of Americans wouldn’t want their sons to play professional football.

WHERE’S OUR COUNTRY GOING?!

I kid. Football could vanish from the face of the earth, along with all the other pointless distractions we call sports, and it wouldn’t bother my ass. But what’s going on with everyone else? Are the reports of blown knees, painkiller addiction, and long-term brain damage finally getting through? Nope, it’s because the NFL is full of very naughty boys. Who knew?

To me, sports are no more than the continued buying and selling of steroid-chomping alpha males who spend their Sundays beating the shit out of each other. In a society where the hairiest, angriest guys are no longer guaranteed success, the locker room is their last gathering place. So it confused me when people saw the Ray Rice elevator video and got all shocked over it. Here’s a twenty-something who’s paid millions of dollars to crush, pound, and grunt, and it bothers you that he’s a little aggressive? What were you expecting?

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I’m not saying the guy’s innocent, or that what he did was okay. I mean, there’s a freaking video and all. I just don’t understand the sudden public freak-out. You give a kid money, performance-enhancing drugs, and the ego that comes with unjustified idolatry, and these things are going to happen. Besides, his gal Janay refused to press charges. She realized she probably deserved to be socked out of her shoes and dragged like a cavewoman, and then married the guy. See? Love conquers all. Can we focus on real issues now?

But no, Adrian Peterson had to go and smack his kid with a stick, and back we went to square one.Adrian Peterson

Obviously, there was something wrong with the NFL, and commissioner Roger Goodell was solely responsible for not keeping his boys in line. What was he thinking, anyway? This is America, man! If we can’t count on hopped-up meatheads to be the paragons of our culture, who can we count on? Men who knock heads, crash into each other, and throw balls around for a living can’t just go acting like savages! Even the president expressed his disappointment and gave Goodell a stern finger-wagging. The league clearly wasn’t doing enough to control its players’ personal lives.

So Goodell announced some stern new rules designed to discourage his players from taking their work home with them. Suspension (with pay of course), private investigations, that sort of thing. Everyone felt a lot better about themselves, knowing that domestic violence would never soil their beloved sport again. And on Thanksgiving night, Americans showed their gratitude for the fine society they lived in by watching their overpaid idols get back to slowly killing each other.

Four Ebola Cases

Day Four, E-B-O-L-A in the U.S.A.: We’re all gonna die! Ah, nothing sets the news world on fire like an African plague, eh? In a kind of Rambo IV situation, starry-eyed US missionaries walked face-first into the Ebola virus in Sierra Leone. One of them came back to Nebraska in a plastic bag, and the next thing you know, it’s the downfall of the West.

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The TV went crazy as three more people contracted the disease, and news networks trotted out a series of doomsayers. Extinction-level events are nothing new on the news: killer bees, Y2K, and SARS are just three recent “disasters” that were heavily advertised but didn’t deliver. I always thought the news was about reporting things that happened, not guessing what might happen, but that didn’t stop our intrepid free press from broadcasting their biblical predictions, and generally scaring the hell out of everyone.

And so it went with Ebola in the US. Flights were canceled, death tolls were projected, and fingers were pointed. Where did this Ebola thing come from? Why didn’t we stop it? Why didn’t the nurses cover their necks? That cute little dog isn’t going to die, is it?! This is all Obama’s fault!

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The ignorance quickly spread to social media, that bastion of truth and accuracy, and disinformation flourished. People were convinced you could get Ebola by inhaling it, and that it made you bleed from the eyes — it actually can make you bleed from the ass, which is just as bad in my opinion. They also presumed (and the news didn’t help to ease this) that Ebola was certain death. Maybe so in West Africa, where it’s a battle to get a drink of clean water, let alone competent medical care. Here in the States, you have a bit more of a fighting chance. Ironically, the one voice of reason shouting against the winds of fear-mongering came from Fox News. Shep Smith, who gained my respect by apologizing for an accidentally broadcast suicide, boosted his credibility even further with this famous diatribe against idiocy:

A man on television urging calm? Maybe it really is the end of the world.

A few weeks later, it became clear that the disease was pretty much contained, and although one of the infected didn’t make it, the other three got magic hugs from the president and turned out fine. The American public breathed an Ebola-free sigh of relief before returning its attention to the topics that REALLY matter: the personal lives of athletes.

Three Stupid Kids

Day Three, The ISIS Gals: It’s the ultimate rebellion. Three teenaged Colorado girls, lured by the call of moral high ground (as advertised on Facebook), attempted to fly to Turkey to join ISIS. I can imagine the conversations they had about it:

“God, the United States is so phony.”

“Yeah, they’re such hypocrites. It’s cray-cray.”

“We should like totally join ISIS just to spite them.”

“Awesome! I’ll swipe the money from my dad’s wallet and text you when I’ve got my burka packed.”

I mean, I get it. Teens are ignorant, idealistic, and impressionable. You give them a cause that will piss off their parents, they’ll join it. But fighting for ISIS? How could that possibly sound like a good idea? They don’t have iPhones and XBoxes waiting over there, you know. All you get are bullets, bombs, and beheadings. It’s in the name of God, though, so it’s okay. Now that’s honesty!

Get real — ISIS isn’t some clan of holy soldiers out to cleanse the earth of sin. They’re a gang of thugs using religion to hide their violent, expansionist ambitions. So, in that way, they’re really not all that different from the US. Morally speaking, defecting to ISIS is a lateral move at best.

Do you think ISIS has what it takes to turn things around, to wash the western scourge away? The war for the Middle East has been fought for centuries, and it will continue for centuries. If it’s not the US bumbling around there, it’s going to be Russia. If it’s not Russia, it’s going to be China. It doesn’t matter if they say they have God on their side either. This war has never had anything to do with religion, freedom, democracy, or any other noble-sounding institution. Anyone who says so is on the make. It’s all just resources, man. You know how in a game of StarCraft, every player converges on the minerals and gases in the center of the map? That’s what’s going on here. Oil, natural gas, pipelines…everyone wants a piece of the Middle East, but nobody wants to lose face, so you wind up with an endless hurricane of power plays that leaves the broken bodies of misguided young people behind.

Yeah, the US government lies. Yeah, the US military tortures. And yeah, US businesses outsource and put US citizens out of work. BUT IT’S STILL BETTER HERE than in most places in the world. The toilets flush, bombs aren’t going off in the malls, and we can say whatever we want without fear of being stoned. I’m pretty big on that.

Youngsters these days. Always ready to throw their lives away for some upstart terrorist group. I will kill and die to protect my loved ones, my home, and my freedom to live as I choose, but don’t ever tell me to kill and die for God. The God I know wants us to live, to fulfill our potentials, to express ourselves as richly and joyfully as we can. The USA may be held together by lies and illusions, but that’s no reason to sign your life over to the first guy who preaches against it. If more youngsters stopped listening to the power-mad and started trusting the God within themselves, I believe that we’d actually start to see the end of war.

Two Fallen Idols

Day Two, Robin Williams…: Twice as bright, half as long. When will we accept anxiety and depression as common afflictions that affect us all?

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…and Bill Cosby: Williams committed suicide, and Cosby committed career suicide. Or, at least, the cyanide pill he took long ago is finally taking effect.

thIESMC0DVCosby’s rape accusations have turned into a very scary subject, and not just because of the disillusionment. The sheer number of women involved has me thinking the guy is guilty, but there’s a part of me that feels like I’m not being fair. Is it okay for me to judge this man based on what I see on television? Isn’t that the job of the judicial system? Isn’t that why it exists? I know, the system sucks. It’s shitty that we can’t have a trial now just because some time has passed. Truth and justice don’t give a shit about time; let’s take this to court!

Now here’s what’s scary: if you say things like that, people leap to the conclusion that you’re part of the problem. They claim that calling for due process is tantamount to victim-blaming. Well, hey, what if I was accused of rape, and I knew I didn’t do it? Does that mean I should just give up? If it’s on TV, it’s game over for me?

Sexual assault charges can be difficult to prove, and yes, the system is rigged to protect the rich and popular, but saying “let’s reserve judgment” is not the same as saying, “bitch lied through her teeth.” I don’t think that victims should shut up. In fact, I think they should shout as loud as they can, but in a case like this, where I have no stake or knowledge, I can’t just automatically take their side. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE CRIME DID NOT OCCUR, OR THAT THE VICTIMS DON’T DESERVE COMPASSION.

Now I don’t say this because I give a crap about Cosby. He knew the risks of being a celebrity, and no matter what happens, he’s going to live the rest of his life in comfort, so fuck him. No, I say this because I fear for the future of the rights of the accused. I always believed the presumption of innocence to be a good thing, but now I’m worried that defending it makes me a chauvinist, a monster, a victim-blamer, a MAN. Heaven help me if I ever become one of those.

A Riot in a Pear Tree

What a rotten year. Riots, decapitations, sickness, suicide…it felt like the earth went through a three-hundred-day bowel movement. I feel like talking about twelve of these tribulations, so get ready for a little random reflection.

Day One, Ferguson: Michael Brown was not a good person, but he didn’t deserve to die for his sins. The riots in Ferguson aren’t just about Michael, though. They’re about the degrading image of the police force, which has turned from Andy Griffith to the OCP in just a few decades. Do you feel safe with trigger-happy, heavily armed soldiers in your streets?

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Many of the fires in Ferguson are misdirected and opportunistic, sure, but that doesn’t mean the spark that lit them wasn’t righteous. The folks complaining about it don’t seem to understand it. They see this shit on television and wish these protesters would shut up and get back in line. The cops shoot people everyday, black and white, so what? I think that attitude, that resignation about our state of affairs, is what Ferguson is really about.

Years of watching the news, and the TV series COPS, taught me that starting a fight with the police is a big no-no. They aren’t afraid to whip out the taser, the pepper spray, the truncheon, or the freaking pistol if they decide you’re a threat. I know I’d get no support if a cop beat me senseless, because everyone watches those programs, and everyone knows the same lesson.

The media has trained us to gradually accept this immutable law: if you make a cop mad, you deserve whatever you get. I don’t know if I want to live like that.

UCDavis_pepperspray[1]My experiences with police have all been pretty cordial. Even my encounter with the cop who gave me a speeding ticket left me thinking, “Gee, what a nice guy.” Of course, I’m a middle-class white person with blonde hair and blue eyes. Still, if I ever do have a problem with an officer, I’d like to expect that it won’t end in my death. If it takes a riot to keep the watchmen watched, I say riot on.