something you hope never happens

This is something you hope never happens in your own community, in the place that you call home.” That’s from Vince Niski, the Chief of Police in Colorado Springs, following the mass murder of six people (and the suicide of the shooter) in the early hours of Mother’s Day.

Something you hope never happens in your own community. As if this was the first mass murder in Colorado Springs in Vince Niski’s experience. As if Matthew John Murray hadn’t killed five and wounded five others in a pair of church shootings (one in Colorado Springs, one in Arvada) in 2007 when Niski was just a lieutenant in the Colorado Springs PD. As if Noah Harpham hadn’t killed three random people in the streets of Colorado Springs in October of 2015, when Niski was the Deputy Chief of Operations. As if only a month later, in November of 2015, Robert Lewis Dear hadn’t killed three and wounded ten at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic. I’m sure each time Vince Niski hoped it was something that would never happen again in his community.

Colorado Springs Chief of Police Vince Niski

At this point, they police aren’t releasing the name of Colorado Springs’ newest mass murderer. The Colorado Springs police describe him as ‘the boyfriend of one of the female victims.” Former boyfriend is more likely. Or a boyfriend in the process of becoming a former boyfriend. Or just another angry man who doesn’t feel he’s getting the respect he deserves as a man. Regardless, he drove to the party, walked inside, and began shooting people–including his supposed girlfriend. Then, as happens routinely in these man-angry-at-a-woman mass murders, he killed himself.

As Chief Niski says, this is something you hope never happens in your community. Except it does, all the damned time. Maybe not with such a high butcher’s bill, but it happens all the time in every state in the US. You can hope your fucking heart out, but angry men with access to firearms are going to continue to make it happen. If your community is Colorado Springs–if your community is in a state that doesn’t require a permit to purchase a firearm, it’s more likely that this will happen. If your community is in a state that doesn’t require firearm registration, it’s more likely it’ll happen. If your community is in a “shall issue” state–meaning local sheriffs MUST issue a concealed weapons permit if an applicant meets certain criteria**–it’s more likely it’ll happen. If your community allows people to openly carry weapons without a permit, it’s more likely it’ll happen. If your community allows you to make, possess, or own a ghost gun–a handmade firearm without a serial number–it’s more likely it’ll happen. If you live in a state that has actually banned local communities (with the exception of Denver) from enacting their own stricter firearm safety laws, then it’s more likely it’ll happen.

It’s not Chief Vince Niski’s fault that Matthew John Murray was able to assemble a small arsenal in preparation for his angry man murders–a Bushmaster XM-15 semi-automatic rifle and three semi-auto pistols (a Beretta .22-caliber, a Beretta .40-caliber, and a Springfield Armory 9mm). Or that Noah Harpham was able to buy a DPMS Classic 16 semi-automatic rifle and two handguns (a Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum revolver and a Springfield Armory XD-M 9mm pistol). Or that Robert Lewis Dear bought an SKS semi-automatic rifle (and the multiple propane tanks he’d brought to the Planned Parenthood clinic with the intent to turn them into explosives). Niski had nothing to do with it. But he’s been around the block long enough to know that if those three angry men could find the means to kill sixteen people and wound about that same number, it’s no surprise another angry man could find the means to murder half a dozen people at a birthday party. Which, according to Chief Niski, is something you hope never happens in your community.

But if it’s happened four times in the last decade and a half, it’ll probably happen again. It’ll probably happen again because the people of Colorado LET IT HAPPEN. Because they’ve elected people who have refused to take any step to reduce the likelihood that it’ll happen again. Chief Niski’s hope is fucking worthless unless somebody takes action to implement actual reasons for hope.

What happened on Mother’s Day is NOT Chief Niski’s fault. He’s only guilty of voicing the stupid platitudes that chiefs of police are expected to repeat every time something you hope never happens in your own community happens in your own community.


** What are the criteria for being automatically issued a concealed weapon carry permit in Colorado? You have to be a Colorado resident, age 21 or older. You have to attest that you’re not a felon or mentally incompetent. You have to attest that you don’t chronically or habitually abuse alcohol, and that you don’t use (or are addicted to) controlled substances. You have to be free of a civil or criminal restraining order. You have demonstrate ‘competence’ with a handgun. How do you do that? By 1) having an honorable discharge from the Armed Forces within past three years, 2) having proof of pistol qualification in Armed Forces within past ten years, 3) being a retired law enforcement officer with pistol qualification within past ten years, OR 4) completing four-hour handgun training class within the past ten years.

loyalty test

I started to read an article about the evolution of the ‘core ideological principles’ of the modern Republican Party. I stopped reading after the first paragraph, because I remembered this simple fact: the modern Republican Party doesn’t have any core ideological principles. They don’t have any ideology; they don’t have any principles. They don’t have any fucking core.

The only thing the modern Republican Party has is a loyalty test. That’s it. Are you loyal to Comrade Donald J. Trump? It’s a simple yes or no test. If the answer is ‘no’ then you’re not a Republican anymore. If the answer is ‘yes’ then you still have to be measured by another metric. HOW loyal are you to Comrade Donald J. Trump?

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Comrade Trump — loyalty test.

Will you give him money? If he lies, will you cover for him? Will you shade the truth for him? Will you tell a direct lie for him? Will you let him kiss you? Will you kiss him? Will you cover for him if he commits a crime? Will you commit a crime for him? Will you commit a misdemeanor? Will you commit a felony? Will you commit a crime for him if he promises to pardon you? Will you commit a crime for him knowing he won’t or can’t pardon you? Will you cover for him if his children commit a crime? Will you refuse a vaccine for him? Will you consider injecting some sort of ‘disinfectant’ if he suggests it’s good for you? Will you eat a live cricket if he tells you to? Will you eat a dead cricket? Will you cover for him if he cheats on his wife? Will you cover for him if he cheats on his wife with the wife of a friend? Will you consider giving him a blow job? Will you destroy evidence against him? Will you cover for him if he collaborates with people considered to be enemies of the United States? Will you cover for him if he gives national security secrets to nations considered to be enemies of the United States? Will you assault the Capitol Building and disrupt the Electoral College if he asks you to? Will you cover for him if he shoots somebody on Fifth Avenue?

It’s an uncertain dynamic metric. How loyal are you to Comrade Trump? It’s a variable standard of measurement — inconsistent, volatile, wildly mutable. It changes moment to moment. If it was consistent, it wouldn’t require blind faith and obedience to be loyal. It can only be measured by what Trump wants when he wants it.

Just HOW loyal are you to Comrade Trump?

Loyalty to Comrade Trump is the only metric that matters. In the modern Republican Party you don’t have to have any strong personal feelings about how the government should act. You don’t have to bother with cobbling together some sort of consistent political position on the environment or policing or race relations or whether trans teens should participate in high school sports or the value of tariffs or immigration or education or firearm safety or regulation of wetlands or food safety or freedom of the press. Comrade Trump will do all that for you. You just have to agree with him.

What are core ideological principles, anyway? How do they help you? Are they useful? Can you make money with them? What exactly is the point of core ideological principles?

liz cheney? really? fuck.

See, I assumed that when Comrade Trump lost the election, a lot of Republicans in Congress would be secretly relieved to be rid of him. I thought they’d be glad to see the back of an ignorant, petulant, vindictive, corrupt, serial liar who was completely lacking in self-discipline, decency, and honesty, and who had absolutely no sense of loyalty to others.

That was before the January 6 insurrection. After Trump supporters stormed the US Capitol, eager to disrupt the Electoral College vote, and apparently willing to assassinate Trump’s vice president, I believed a lot of Republicans would be openly relieved to be rid of him.

Lawdy, was I ever wrong. I mean, sure, I knew there’d be some weasels–unprincipled hacks like Gym Jordan and Matt Gaetz and…what’s the name of that Republican weasel from California? (Okay, I google ‘Republican weasel from California and Devin Nunes was the third result.) But I guess I believed that even the worst Republicans would still support the concept of the peaceful transition of power.

And hey, I was right about that. Sorta kinda. I mean, Liz Cheney IS one of the worst Republicans. She’s awful on just about any political metric you could name. Despite the fact that her sister Mary is a married lesbian, Liz opposed marriage equality. Like her daddy, the former vice president, Liz DOES support torture (yeah, okay, she calls it ‘enhanced interrogation’ but that shit is torture). She’s opposed to expanding voting rights, and supports most of the new state GOP anti-voting legislation. She voted to end the protection of grey wolves in the Endangered Species Act. She suggested the texts between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page were evidence of a coup and they should be investigated for treason. She voted WITH Trump 93% of the time. She is completely fucking awful.

And yet, Liz Cheney is being hailed as something of a hero. Why? Because she’s one of the few principled conservatives left in public office. Yes, her principles are appalling and backward and short-sighted–but she’s consistent with them. She did, after all, publicly condemn Trump when he abandoned our Kurdish allies when it was politically convenient for him (and for Russia). But at the same time, she suggested Trump’s decision was possible influenced by the Democrat’s attempt to impeach Trump (you know…that first time he was impeached).

This is the state of the modern Republican Party. One of the most horrible GOP politicians is also one of the few who holds consistent principles, and is the only real hope they have of remaining a viable (if selfish and amoral) political party rather than a loosely-affiliated collective of white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, religious bigots, and rabid fucking whackos (or is it ‘whackoes’?).

Next week the House Republicans will likely vote Liz Cheney out of any position of power. The week after that, there’s a better than average chance they’ll toss her in a stream to see if she floats (while chanting ‘Burn the witch!’). In the meantime, Republicans in Arizona are re-re-recounting presidential ballots, only this time they’re looking for evidence of bamboo, because somebody somewhere said it was possible that forty thousand fraudulent ballots were flown into Arizona from China, and that’s where bamboo grows. Jesus suffering fuck I am NOT MAKING THAT UP.

Help us, Cheney-wan Kenobi, you’re the GOP’s only hope.

cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting and depraved

We know this to be true: Wayne LaPierre, the face of the National Rifle Association, is, by any measure on any scale, a corrupt, cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting, depraved liar. I’m not going to discuss his corruption or lying. I’m just going to focus on his cruelty, callousness, immorality, self-promotion, and depravity. He’s also, it turns out, an astonishingly bad shot.

In 2013, Wayne went with a film crew to the Okavango Delta in Botswana to kill an elephant. That in itself falls squarely into the cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting and depraved category. Why would anybody want to kill an elephant? I mean, sure, maybe you’d want to kill one in self-defense. Or maybe if the elephant was about to trample a nun, you’d want to take a shot at it. But basically there’s absolutely no point whatsoever to kill an elephant except to prove you’re cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting and depraved.

Wayne LaPierre cosplay as a hunter.

But that’s Wayne, and he wanted a film crew to record him killing an elephant. So he hired some professional elephant-killing guides. Men who make a living knowing where to find elephants to kill, and taking cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting, depraved, rich assholes there to kill them.

One of the guides finds an elephant, just standing around in the bush, minding its own business, and he points it out to Wayne. He tells Wayne NOT to shoot just yet, to hold fire because the elephant is partially hidden by the tree and brush. But Wayne is wearing earplugs…you know, to protect his tender ears from the noise made by the rifle…and doesn’t hear the guide. So he does what rich, cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting, depraved assholes do. He shot anyway.

And hey, the elephant collapsed. Wayne is delighted. He’s a happy cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting, depraved asshole. Until the guide points out the elephant isn’t dead. It’s just lying there, bleeding out, suffering. He brings Wayne to within a few feet of the elephant and tells him, “I’m going to show you where to shoot.” He points to a spot on the elephant’s head that will put the poor creature out of its misery.

Wayne shoots the elephant again. And misses the spot. The guide tells Wayne to reload. He physically moves Wayne to a position where it’s almost impossible to miss. He tells Wayne to stay there, tells him again exactly where to shoot the elephant. Wayne says, “Same spot?” And he shoots the elephant for the third time. And again, fails to kill the poor animal.

At this point the guide walks up to the elephant, points directly at the spot that will end its misery. Wayne says, “Okay, alright, I can shoot there.” And he shoots the elephant for the fourth time. Misses. The poor elephant is still alive.

The guide tells one of Wayne’s companions to kill the elephant, and he does. The companion then turns to Wayne and says, “You dropped him like no tomorrow.” Wayne is pleased by the praise. He laughs modestly, like a cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting, depraved asshole, and says, “Maybe I had a little luck.”

Wayne LaPierre holding a prop.

Wayne’s wife–also rich and cruel and callous and immoral and depraved, but less self-promoting although still an asshole–also killed an elephant that day. Only took her two shots.

The film of the LaPierre’s elephant-slaughtering expedition was never shown. Not because it depicted them as rich, cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting, depraved assholes. But because it showed Wayne as an incompetent rich, cruel, callous, immoral, self-promoting, depraved asshole. Guy has an image to maintain, after all.

The front feet of the two elephants were later made into stools to decorate the LaPierre home.

EDITORIAL NOTE: I’m not going to link to the video of Wayne LaPierre trying and failing to kill an elephant because it’s awful. If you want to see it, you can find it on YouTube.

and he tried

Sometimes you have to say it like it’s three separate words. Not motherfucker, but muh thur fucker. Because it’s that bad. I’m talking about Kevin McCarthy here. We all know McCarthy is a sniveling coward entirely lacking in integrity, a pathetic soulless wretch with the moral fortitude of a runny blancmange. But even so, his conversation with Chris Wallace this morning was an embarrassing, humiliating display of spinelessness.

Wallace asked McCarthy about a phone call he’d made to Comrade Trump while the January 6th insurrection was in full swing. He asked Trump to call off the rioters, to help stop the violence. During the impeachment hearing–wait, sorry, I mean Trump’s second impeachment hearing–a GOP member of Congress testified under oath that McCarthy had told her Trump responded to his request for help by saying, “Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are.” Wallace asked if that was in fact what Trump said.

McCarthy tried to dodge the question, but didn’t deny it. First he said Trump ended the call by saying he’d put something out to ‘stop’ the rioting. Asked again, he refused to directly answer the question by saying, “My conversations with the president are my conversations with the president.” Which, let’s face it, is pretty much an admission that Trump said exactly that.

But let’s look at the transcript of the video Trump DID eventually release.

I know your pain, I know you’re hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side.

“I know your pain.”

But you have to go home now. We have to have peace. We have to have law and order. We have to respect our great people in law and order. We don’t want anybody hurt.

“We don’t want anybody hurt.”

It’s a very tough period of time. There’s never been a time like this where such a thing happened where they could take it away from all of us — from me, from you, from our country. This was a fraudulent election…

“There’s never been a time like this…”

…but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace. So go home. We love you. 

“We love you.”

You’re very special.

“You’re very special.”

You’ve seen what happens. You see the way others are treated that are so bad and so evil. I know how you feel.

“You see the way others are treated, that are so bad and so evil.”

But go home, and go home in peace.

“Go home in peace.”

In his interview with Wallace, McCarthy also said this: “I engaged in the idea of making sure we could stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time and the president said he would help.”

For once, I’m willing to take McCarthy at his word. I believe Comrade Trump DID want to help “stop what was going on inside the Capitol at that moment in time.” I believe that because what was going on in the Capitol at that moment in time was a GOP attempt to stop the Electoral College from confirming that Joe Biden had won the election. It was an attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer or power–an attempt made violently by the insurrectionists and bureaucratically by Republican members of Congress. They both had the same goal in mind.

McCarthy says Trump wanted to stop what was going on inside the Capitol. And he tried.

it’s just a volcano, what’s the fuss?

I read the news every morning. A variety of news from a variety of sources. A lot of news. World news, US news, weather news, technology news, science news, art news, historical news (which isn’t an oxymoron), an increasingly smaller bit of sports news (mostly cycling news IF it pertains to electric bikes), occasional religious news, and an eclectic smattering of entertainment news (movie/tv/fiction reviews, some gaming news, nothing that involves scandals or super hero/comic stuff or Kardashians–who I keep thinking are an alien species on an early Star Trek series, but apparently aren’t). I like the news. I like to keep up. Even when the news is frustrating.

This morning I read an Associated Press article about ‘vaccine hesitancy’. A lot of people–mostly in Republican-led states–aren’t just hesitant about getting the Covid vaccine; they’re actively resistant. And resistant for massively stupid reasons. For example, this woman from Mississippi:

“All of the strong Christians that I associate with are against it. Fear is what drives people to get the vaccine — plain and simple. The stronger someone’s trust is in the Lord, the least likely they are to want the vaccine or feel that it’s necessary.”

I dunno, but I think if I was a god, I wouldn’t want to be worshipped by intellectually lazy people. I mean, what’s the value of a worshiper who essentially says, “You know, I’m not gonna make any decisions that require me to think; I’ll just let god decide.” Folks who could gather information, make an informed decision and act on it, but choose not to? Fuck that; I’d want those fuckwits to worship some other god.

Put a band-aid on that cut.

You get a cut on your leg? “Fear is what drives people to get band-aids—plain and simple. The stronger someone’s trust is in the Lord, the least likely they are to want a band-aid or feel that it’s necessary.” You live downstream from a pig farm? “Fear is what drives people to purify their water—plain and simple. The stronger someone’s trust is in the Lord, the least likely they are to want clean water or feel that it’s necessary.” Volcano erupting? “Fear is what drives people to avoid lava and pyroclastic flow—plain and simple. The stronger someone’s trust is in the Lord, the least likely they are to leave town when an eruption is imminent or feel that it’s necessary.”

If I was a god, I wouldn’t force worshipers to put band-aids on cuts or get vaccinated against deadly diseases or leave Dodge if a volcano was getting frisky. But I like to think I’d let them know they idiots and maybe they’d be better off finding another god somewhere down the street.

Okay, I’m not a god. I don’t have a clue how gods think. I suppose there might be gods who are willing to be worshipped by any dunce that walks down the street. I suppose there are gods who don’t care about grammar, who hear their followers say ‘the least they are likely to’ and just give a celestial shrug. Maybe there are gods who actually want worshipers who can’t be bothered to slap a bandage on a cut or purify their water. Maybe they think that’s funny–the divine equivalent to prank television. Look at those rubes; the pigs shit in the water upstream and they’re just gonna drink it…hilarious! There’s no reason gods can’t be assholes too, I guess.

I TOLD you to put a band-aid on it, but did you listen?

Here’s the problem: all those folks refusing to use band-aid, refusing purify their water, refusing to evacuate when the volcano gets active–they’re only hurting themselves. But refusing to get vaccinated, that hurts other people. That’s selfish. I’m of the opinion that any god who wants selfish worshipers is an asshole god and doesn’t deserve any respect. I feel sorry for people who’d worship an asshole god. I feel sorry for them, but I want them (and their god) to stay away from me.

And would it hurt them to wear a mask?

the latest news is not the last

Bah, the latest news, the latest news is not the last.”

I wake up and before I finish making the bed, I hear there’s “a mass murder incident” in Indianapolis. A mass murder incident. You know how the meaning of some terms change over time? Like ‘cheater’ used to refer to an officer appointed to look after the king’s escheats — property that reverted to the State or the King when somebody died without a legal heir — and now means a person who cheats? Well, in terms of mass murder, the original definition of ‘incident’ still applies. An incident is ‘something which occurs casually in connection with something else.’

There was a mass murder incident in Indianapolis this morning — the murder of at least eight people occurring casually in connection with…well, with going to work in a nation that has a small but powerful minority who worship firearms. The incident was described as “the country’s deadliest shooting since ten people were killed on March 22.” That was less than a month ago.

Last night in Indianapolis more people were murdered while casually going to work than were murdered three and a half weeks ago while casually shopping for groceries at a supermarket in Colorado. This is how we measure mass murder incidents now.

The authorities have said the mass murder “wasn’t precipitated by any kind of a disturbance or an argument.” As if ‘a disturbance or an argument’ would actually explain in any way why eight people were shot and killed. The authorities are also trying to “understand the motives” of the shooter. Because if we understood the murderer’s motives, we’d be able to…to what? Do something about it? Nobody, it seems, is bothering to understand the motives of legislators who continue to weaken and erode firearm safety legislation. That might be something we could actually do something about.

It could be anyplace. It could be everyplace.

This is just the latest news, and as Samuel Beckett says, it’s not the last. We’ll make the effort to pretend what happened is explainable, that it’s understandable — but it’s not. It never really is. People call it a tragedy — and it is, and it isn’t. It’s an incidental tragedy, a casual tragedy, a temporary tragedy that will eventually become a passing reference in a news story — ‘the country’s deadliest shooting since eight people were killed at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.’

“I know my eyes are open,” Beckett wrote, “because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly.” But the problem with unceasing tears is that after a while, they no longer indicate grief. It’s just crying. Some families and friends in Indianapolis will be grieving, but as a nation we’ll go on today and tomorrow as if this is all normal. Which it is. Our boy Beckett understood too.

To go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.

I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always. A FedEx facility in Indianapolis, a supermarket in Boulder, Asian spas in Atlanta, a brewery in Milwaukee — the same place as always. Murmuring the same stories as if it were the first time. The latest news is not the last.

forget it joe, it’s afghanistan

There are things you can fix, and things you can’t. There are things you have a moral obligation to try to fix even if you can’t possibly fix them. There are things you believe need to be fixed, but aren’t actually broken. There are fixable things you believe you understand, but you’re wrong. There are fixable things that are none of your fucking business regardless of what you think about them. And when you’re in the middle of things, it’s hard–probably impossible–to know which things are which.

There’s a movie about that. Chinatown. Released in 1974. (I’m going to ignore the legitimate issues about the director, Roman Polanski, because for once I’m going to try to stay tangent-free.) Here’s the backstory of one of the main characters, and a short precis of the film’s plot (and yes, that means there are spoilers).

The backstory–Jake Gittes has a small private investigator business in Los Angeles. He’s a former police detective who worked in the notoriously corrupt Chinatown neighborhood. He became disillusioned (all movie PIs are disillusioned; it’s the law) partly because he was working in a culture whose norms and rules he didn’t understand, partly because of the endemic corruption, and partly because the actions and motivations of the Powers That Be (in both the Chinese and political communities) were concealed from him and inscrutable to him. When his client, Evelyn Mulwray learns he’d been a detective in Chinatown, she asks:

Evelyn Mulwray: What were you doing there?
Jake Gittes: Working for the District Attorney.
Evelyn: Doing what?
Jake: As little as possible.
Evelyn: The District Attorney gives his men advice like that?
Jake: They do in Chinatown.

As little as possible. Jake’s disillusionment was compounded when he attempted to help a Chinese woman. He says, “I thought I was keeping someone from being hurt and actually I ended up making sure she was hurt.” That same scenario plays out in the main plot, much of which is taken up with a long, brilliant McGuffin. It draws Jake into a situation in which he feels an obligation to rescue his client, Evelyn, and her daughter from an ugly situation involving Evelyn’s father–a multimillionaire developer. Once again, Jake finds himself in a situation in which the rules/laws aren’t clear to him, in which he doesn’t understand the motives or actions of the people involved, and where his attempts to help result in more harm. Had he done ‘as little as possible’ things may have worked out better, even if the situation itself remained awful.

In the final scene, his client is dead, the bad guys win, and Jake is not only helpless, he’s also partly responsible. He sees her body, mutters “…as little as possible” and is ordered away from the scene by his former Chinatown detective partner. As he’s being led away, one of Jake’s current employees tells him, “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

This scenario is being played out with President Uncle Joe and the decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan. It’s a culture–actually, a number of inter-related ancient tribal cultures–we don’t understand, cultures that operate on traditional rules and norms unknown to us, with values and ethics that are often alien to us, with goals that are foreign to us. The US and our Western allies have been attempting to resolve our involvement relying on OUR cultural norms and OUR values to achieve OUR goals. Forget it, Joe. It’s Afghanistan.

We had a valid reason (at least in my opinion) to intrude militarily in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda had used that nation as a training ground and recruitment center for the 9/11 attacks. We had a legit reason to go after al Qaeda. After that, things got…loose.

The fact is, no foreign adventure has ever succeeded in Afghanistan. Alexander the Great, whose Macedonian army basically walked over every army they’d fought, got caught up in a long guerrilla-style war in Afghanistan. He never fully succeeded in pacifying the various Afghan tribes. Before he died, Alexander said, “May God keep you away from the venom of the cobra, the teeth of the tiger, and the revenge of the Afghans.” Various Muslim invasions succeeded in converting most Afghan tribes to Islam, but never completely controlled the area. The Mongols, under Genghis Khan, occupied much of the area for quite a long time, but their empire also fell apart. Nobody held the area as long as Timur the Great–but it’s worth noting that Timur was known as Timur the Lame (or ‘Tamerlane’ as he was called by Europeans) because of wounds he received fighting Afghan tribes. After Timur’s empire failed, the Sikhs attempt to invade Afghan territories several times without much success. The British invaded three times in the 19th and early 20th centuries–and got their asses kicked each time. Russia invaded three times–in 1929, 1930, and finally in 1979–and got their asses kicked each time.

And, of course, the US (and NATO) invaded in 2001. We know how that worked out.

But here’s the thing the Afghan tribes have always known and the thing foreign invaders never seem to figure out: the Afghans don’t have to win any wars; they only have to keep fighting at some level, and eventually the invaders–no matter who they are, or where they’re from, and how powerful they are–will leave. The various Afghan tribes are unconcerned about foreign military deadlines or the domestic political necessities of foreign powers or the costs those powers incur; they’re operating on God’s time, and they measure cost on a different scale.

President Uncle Joe’s decision to pull out troops is just an acknowledgment that Afghanistan is Chinatown. Doesn’t matter if we had a legit reason for being there, doesn’t matter if our long low-level war of occupation was a genuine attempt to help the Afghan peoples (and I’m not convinced it was), doesn’t matter what our motives were. Like every other invasion force in Afghan history, we’ve almost certainly done more harm than good.

There’s a scene in Chinatown in which Jake Gittes speaks with Noah Cross, the millionaire developer behind all the misery that’s taking place. Cross inhabits a world where laws and rules of ordinary decency don’t seem to apply–a world that’s as ambiguous and perplexing to Jake as that of Chinatown, a world that’s just as baffling and complex as our involvement in Afghanistan.

Jake Gittes: How much are you worth?
Noah Cross: I have no idea. How much do you want?
Jake: I just wanna know what you’re worth. More than 10 million?
Noah: Oh my, yes!
Jake: Why are you doing it? How much better can you eat? What could you buy that you can’t already afford?
Noah: The future, Mr. Gittes! The future.

That’s why we’re in Afghanistan. The future. Their future, our future–we think we can make it better. We think we have the means and the power and the right to make it better. We think we know what ‘better’ means.

We don’t. We just don’t.

Forget it, Joe. It’s Afghanistan.