Thursday, September 16, 2021
Quite a few years ago I bought Jack Miles’ Christ: A Crisis in the Life of God. I finally took it up today to read it, but opening the book, I see the print is really too small. So I won’t read it.
With age, my eyesight is so dodgy I can hardly read my watch anymore. Plowing through Jack’s book would would only weaken it further.
Though Catholic, I’m usually patient with learned nonbelievers writing on biblical texts. One of my favorite pieces of literary criticism is Harold Bloom’s outrageous The Book of J. Miles’ book God: A Biography has much to recommend it in this vein. Still, based on reviews of this newer book, I don’t suspect I’ll be missing much by taking it to the secondhand store. Eyesight saved for more orthodox work.
Saturday, September 11, 2021
Leaked text of the speech the president plans to give:
“Today we come together as Americans to commemorate a sad day in our history. It was two years ago today, September 11, 2019, that a mysterious virus jumped from an animal to a person in a wet market. I won’t name the country where that wet market is located, because they’ve instructed me not to.
“But the thing is, that virus spread. And in two short years, it has changed the world. Though we still don’t know what kind of animal transmitted it, there’s one thing we’re certain of. That animal had been driven from its natural habitat by the ravages of climate change.
“How many have we lost to this scourge? The numbers are staggering. But it stops today. My administration has promised to leave no American behind, and we won’t. That’s why I’m strengthening our mask mandates and making vaccines mandatory for all federal workers and most workers in the private sector.
“These vaccines are safe, and they work. If you’re vaccinated, you are fully protected from getting the virus, unless you are around unvaccinated people, in which case they might spread it to you and you might spread it to others. Though of course, if you’re vaccinated you can’t spread it to others if they’re wearing a mask.
“We must not betray all those who’ve already sacrificed so much in this battle. Which is why I’ve chosen to announce these new policies today, a day that Americans will never forget.”
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Sunday, August 29, 2021
Friday, August 27, 2021
It’s hard to believe what we’re witnessing. It's hard to believe it’s even possible. I try to imagine what the planning meetings must have been like to lead to so avoidable a debacle. I try to imagine Joe Biden at these meetings, in his role as "president", pretending to fill that role, like a Pekingese posing as a Dobermann. Because all of this was, believe it or not, the result of planning.
Our generals may often be mendacious (the grotesque Milley) but they are not fools. The problem is this: How explain such military incompetence? What can account for it other than misguided political directives--our generals deferring, as they must, to the orders of an impatient, disconnected Commander-in-Chief? Go ahead. Try to make sense of it otherwise. You can't.
What I've been wondering is: What would such deference look like at the table, as it was taking place?
Below is my best shot at such a scenario. Yes, there are touches of satire, but actually--what if things really played out something like this? And again, if they didn’t, well, how else account for a planning process and chain of command that let so many glaring contingencies be ignored?
Of course my piece is only speculation. But taking into consideration 1) military realities vs. 2) Biden’s own political priorities and tetchy personality, something like this seems plausible. Whence the decision to withdraw all our troops before clearing the $80 billion of hardware from our bases or securing American civilians? Even a child could see that this is the opposite of a sane withdrawal.
I’m in my fifties. There’s nothing that’s happened in my lifetime that comes close to this. The Iran hostage crisis? That was a terrible event indeed, but not a strategic catastrophe. Biden's Afghan drawdown may well be the most inept policy manouver in our history. And it pains me at multiple levels. It pains me for the Americans left behind, now stranded, absurdly dependant on the Taliban (!) for their safety. It pains me for the Afghan civilians who worked with us and trusted us, and now face certain death. It pains me for the sheer shame of such incompetence. But it pains me also because I'm an American living in Taiwan, with loved ones here in Taiwan, an important US ally, and the totalitarian bullies in China are already using this Afghan walkout to threaten Taiwan's democracy.
"See?" the Chinese press now screams. "The Americans may have their Taiwan Relations Act, they may be your ally, but when push comes to shove, you see what they will do."
Many Taiwanese don't believe it. Others, however, are unsure. My point, however, is a wider one. The fallout of Biden's grave misadventure is global. It is already casting a long shadow over our alliances, one that won't be easy to dispel.
Conference table in White House Situation Room, sometime in July. Biden seated at the head with a glass of milk in front of him. Flanking him on the left, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and another general. To Biden’s right, VP Harris, the CIA Director, and Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.
BIDEN: Okay. So we’re ready to roll out of there. I called this meeting today just to be sure we’re all on the same page.
MILLEY: We’re prepared to implement withdrawal next month, Mr. President. Everything’s on schedule.
AUSTIN: We’re still coordinating some of the steps, as I told you yesterday, sir, but everything is nearly set.
GENERAL 2: I do see an issue we need to address, Mr. President. The Afghan troops have seen a delay in their salaries. It’s now been--
BIDEN: Well, I heard about that, from Lloyd. That’s up to the Afghan government now. We’re not going to be in charge.
GENERAL 2: Yes, but if you’ll allow me, Mr. President, we don’t want to have a situation where Afghan troops suddenly doubt they’ll be paid going forward. A lot of them live paycheck to paycheck.
BIDEN: Again, it’s not our business. I’ve spoken to the Afghan president, and he’s already taking care of that. They have to learn how to manage these things. [takes sip of milk]
CIA: Mr. President, it is true—
BIDEN: Excuse me a second. [rings buzzer; woman steps in] ... Susan, I wanted warm milk. This is room temperature.
SUSAN: Sorry, Mr. President. [takes glass]
BIDEN: You were saying?
CIA: I was saying that in our assessment, that a hiatus in pay for those soldiers, it could lead to desertions. And--
BIDEN: Aw, c’mon. They love their country just like you and I.
CIA: Well, Mr. President, something similar did happen in Iraq if you remember. When Paul Bremer went in, they made the mistake of discontinuing salary for regular Iraqi soldiers. It was a big mistake. It ended pushing a lot of them to ISIS.
BIDEN: Well, we’re not going to have that problem here. Because Karzai will take care of it.
GENERAL 2: Karzai?
BIDEN: Yes, I just talked to him two days ago. Good man.
LLOYD: You must mean Ghani, sir. Ghani is Afghan president now.
BIDEN: Yes, Ghani. Whatever. [laughs] I’ve been at this so long now, I sometimes mix up names.
CIA: So it’s your understanding, Mr. President, that we can trust President Ghani to get those salaries out to the soldiers before we withdraw. That he knows how crucial it is. You spoke with him about this personally?
BIDEN: He knows he has to. It’s his country.
GENERAL 2: Mr. President, I don’t mean to insist here, but we do need to keep an eye on this. We need to ensure Ghani is following through on this salary thing. We need to get it fixed, I’d say, before the end of July. We can’t have the Afghan army starting to doubt--
BIDEN: They won’t doubt. The Afghan army will be fine. [woman comes in and sets down warm milk] … Okay then. Back to business on other things. Mark, I expect all the troops to be moved out well before the middle of August. Will that be possible?
MILLEY: Um … We can certainly have many of the troops in the capital ready for departure.
BIDEN: I don’t want many. I want all. I want all our boys out. By mid-August.
MILLEY: There is still, Mr. President, the issue decommissioning the bases. We have a lot of hardware we need to move out, so there will be a certain troop presence needed to assist with that.
BIDEN: I don’t care about hardware. Listen to me. I want the boys out of there. Do you understand? The Afghan army can help us later with bringing the hardware out. The key is, I want the boys out first. I don’t want a single life lost during the withdrawal. That’s priority.
MILLEY: Yes, I understand, sir. I will take care of it.
CIA: Nonetheless, and of course I defer to the generals on this, but if I may say so, it’s not advisable to allow our bases, full of hardware, to just sit open like that. That’s what we call--
BIDEN: Listen. The bases won’t be open. Isn’t anyone hearing me here? We have the Afghan army to protect the bases. This isn’t Iraq. The Taliban has agreed not to move until we’re out, so we’ll have no problem getting out.
[pause; president looks around for confirmation]
CIA: But the only way the Taliban will honor that commitment, sir, I mean their commitment not to move, is if they know we are capable of striking them.
BIDEN: The Taliban won’t move. C’mon, man. They’re outnumbered by the Afghan army that we’ve been training for years. How are they gonna move? General Milley, you can speak for me here. The Afghan army is ready.
MILLEY: To the best of our knowledge, sir. They are a force to be reckoned with.
BIDEN: Good. Let these Taliban reckon with them. I want our American soldiers all back by the end of the month, nobody hurt, so that come September 11 we can celebrate finally ending this war. I want to use this to bring people together, to show them that we’re in control. [takes sip of milk; winces; hits buzzer with a smack; woman enters again] … Susan, what in the hell? Are you trying to burn my lips off here? I wanted warm milk. Do you people understand warm? [Susan apologizes, takes milk; leaves] … Ouch. That really was hot! … So, where were we now?
MILLEY: You were saying, Mr. President, that we need to do this withdrawal carefully and get it done on time. So. It can be done, and in terms of the bases--
BIDEN: It can be done. That’s what I’m saying. That’s all I’m saying here. I don’t want any casualties. And I don’t want you to think about the bases at all until our troops are out. I don’t want to hear any more about the bases. Got it? [looks at VP] … You’re quiet today.
HARRIS [breaks into Harris laugh]: Oh, I’m just waiting.
BIDEN: Waiting? For what?
HARRIS: I’m … I’m like you, Mr. President. I’m waiting for this to be over. [flashes glance at Milley] I mean, we’ve been there too long. I agree that we should get out by deadline, if it’s possible. And that the troops are priority.
BIDEN: Well, they are.
CIA: Mr. President, there will be many American civilians both in the capital and other areas. They will likely want out too. We should perhaps plan the security situation immediately following our initial troop withdrawal.
BIDEN: There will be time for that. Anyhow, people there will know we’re pulling out, so they’ll have to make that decision for themselves. Many Americans may want to stay.
[a faint cell phone beep is heard; everyone looks at Milley]
BIDEN: You’re looking at your phone. What is it?
MILLEY: Oh, nothing, sir. Instagram notification.
BIDEN: Insta…? What’s that? Military?
MILLEY: Uh, kind of. It’s related, sir.
[HARRIS tries to stifle laugh; General 2 looks glum; Susan comes in with warm milk]
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Wednesday, August 25, 2021
After widespread backlash for her claim that no Americans are “stranded” in Afghanistan, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki realized that she had a credibility problem on her hands.
“It actually seems some Americans don’t trust our negotiations with the Taliban,” Psaki wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post Tuesday. “As if the Biden administration is incompetent, or that we’re lying somehow. It’s so discouraging!”
To prove skeptics wrong and shore up confidence in the president, Psaki announced today that she will fly personally to Kabul to visit with Americans waiting to leave.
“They are not stranded,” Psaki reiterated in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon after the announcement. “They are not in any danger. I will be in Kabul within days, and plan to visit with as many Americans as I can. First I’ll be asking them if they want to leave or not. Of course many may just want to stay. Kabul is a happening city. In any case, I’m mainly doing this to prove there’s no danger from the Taliban, because--c'mon!--there isn’t.”
Psaki said the president had already approved her mission.
”He was so cute about it. He said: ‘Go to Karachi if you want. Have fun.’”
Asked about her personal security during the Afghan stay, Psaki was taken aback.
“Listen, Don, I’ve just said there’s no danger,” she said. “My security will be minimal. I’ll do some shopping around Kabul, visit Americans, see if they want to leave, and probably have some photo-ops with young Talibans. It’ll be no problem, because the president has this totally under control.”
“It seems like a fun trip,” Lemon said. “I almost would like to go.”
“Well, maybe you can,” Psaki said. “It would be helpful to have at least one serious journalist along to document just how safe Kabul is.”
During Psaki’s temporary absence, Cardi B and Kathy Griffin are slated to take turns covering for her as press secretary, according to a White House source.
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Sunday, August 22, 2021
So Biden is in charge of lunch, which is served at 1:00 p.m. He brings you a plate of fried eggs covered with swirls of toothpaste, then heads back into the kitchen. You call him out.
"This lunch is a disaster," you say.
"It’s not my fault," Biden says. "Trump is the one who decided lunch is served at 1:00."
“Huh? You put toothpaste on the eggs!”
“My advisors never told me not to put toothpaste on the eggs.”
Advisor appears in the door: “Sorry, Mr. President, but we’ve reminded you twice now that the toothpaste goes in the bathroom, next to the toothbrushes.”
“I don’t recall that,” Biden says. “And anyhow ... oral hygiene is an important goal. One we can all recognize and agree on. And I don’t know how you get clean teeth without toothpaste.”
“This lunch is a disaster,” you repeat.
“Well, I wouldn’t have made it any other way,” Biden says, straightening his apron. “I don't see how you can even eat lunch without teeth.”
“Where’s General Milley?” you ask.
Advisor, still in door: “He’s in a meeting with the Queer Americans of Color Alliance. Invited to speak on defeating white supremacy in the military.”
“But he’s supposed to be here.”
“It's an important meeting. It’s QACA.”
“Look," Biden says. "You just tell me how you get oral hygiene without toothpaste. Just tell me that!”
He shuffles defiantly back into the kitchen.
"I wouldn't drink that coffee," Advisor says, pointing to the cup in front of you.
"This is supposed to be coffee?"
"I get mine at Starbucks."
Advisor steps out.
Monday, August 16, 2021
Speaking at the University of Pittsburgh today, NIH Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said that Americans needn’t worry about the Taliban seizing power in Afghanistan.
“We’ve reviewed countless photos and other information,” Fauci said, “and it’s clear to me that the Taliban practices strict masking and social distance rules. In short, Americans needn’t worry about the Taliban infecting other nations.”
Dr. Fauci showed various images of Taliban fighters practicing good COVID safety as they conducted their reign of terror over newly seized Afghan territory.
"Given the careful safety practices we see there, honestly, I foresee future opportunities to collaborate with them on viral research," he went on.
Asked about photos from the Afghan Presidential Palace showing Taliban commanders gathered without masks, Fauci said that was different.
“The leadership is a more sophisticated crowd, and in our assessment there’s little risk of spread. What threatens us at present isn’t sophisticated crowds gathering for special events, but things like people who gather to, say, ride motorcycles or go to church. It’s things like that we really need to be watching.”
Also today, CNN’s Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo wore Taliban headgear during their reporting to show recognition for the “brave Taliban fighters who still heed dire health realities,” as Cuomo said.
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