Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bowe Bergdahl and... Slender Man?

In the strange thought-association orchestra which constantly plays inside my brain, a pair of chords often gets struck which seems, at first, to be rather dissonant, but upon further hearing, resolves itself into the onset of what becomes a lovely symphony of juxtaposition.

Translation: I've once again tied together two unrelated news items brilliantly.

True, the primary reason I do this is because I'm limited in my blogging time, and so wish to discuss more than one news event simultaneously. That doesn't mean what you're about to read isn't both true and fun.  I promise you, it's both.

Here at the Sacred Cow Wursthaus, the drum is often beat again and again that belief continually leads to bad events.  This itself is not a belief, it's a proven fact, and it has recently been proven so yet again in the sad city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, where traditional faith in Jesus Christ is lionized, and politicians repeatedly win on platforms of promoting old world superstitions. Well, my friends, faith kills, and it has struck once again. This time with two little girls who believed that the "Slender Man" would come and take them away to another world if they offered up the life of another little girl. Well, the Slender Man did not come. But these two are headed for another world - one of steel and concrete, where other female inmates await during mealtimes with sharpened spoons. At least the girl didn't die.

It's not enough to emphasize how belief nearly killed an innocent girl. It's not even enough to emphasize that this poor girl did not, herself, necessarily believe this crap - one doesn't have to be a participant within a particular faith to be a victim of it. No, it's necessary to also point out the urgency needed in the promotion of skepticism in this day and age.

My own generation, raised in the poor special effects of the 1970's and transported to musical Eden with MTV in the 1980's (oh where, oh where has the music gone?), struggled mightily with coming to grips with reality against such a fantastical riptide.  Every minute of every day, we were blasted with man-made magical realism, and not just on television and the commercials which made our favorite shows financially solvent. No, we were immersed every day with lies that encouraged us toward credulity, from zodiacal horoscopes to the Sunday School sessions which told us so many ghastly lies. This was the era which saw the rise to prominence of phony spoon-bender Uri Geller, of fake psychic Sylvia Browne, and the National Enquirer at the grocery store checkout aisle. None other than Leonard Nimoy led us In Search Of... well, bullshit, to be perfectly honest. I remember my own mother epitomized this trend by getting me a pet rock for Christmas in 1976. I really didn't know what to make of it. My dad, I seem to now recall, looked decidedly smug at my skeptical reaction. In retrospect, it was quite a father-son moment.

But today's children have so much more to overcome than we did. We believed in UFO's when all the evidence ever consisted of was a few grainy photographs of what looked to be hubcaps or aluminum-foil-covered frisbees thrown into the air.  Imagine what kids must feel when they see the amazing videos showing aliens flying over Haiti, put together by a special effects artist for free? (And that having been done seven years ago!) We believed in dragons and dinosaurs when all we had for special effects was Sid and Marty Krofft's production of The Land of The Lost.  But what must today's children think when they see something as amazing as the dragons on the HBO series Game of Thrones? Hell, I remember being scared shitless by the witch on The Wizard of Oz at age six, and not fully realizing that the movie, Jesus of Nazareth, was not filmed on location by time-traveling cameramen. Can today's kids truly cope with a world where any sort of magic can be made real by any nerd on a computer?

I'm not sure. But I know this: This is not the age where skepticism can afford to slack off. People need real resources to find the truth.  Tendency towards believing the irrational runs deep in our species. We need to root it out before it does even greater damage.

Which oddly enough leads me to Bowe Bergdahl. The U.S. Government has secured his release in exchange for five P.O.W.'s held at Guantanomo Bay, Cuba. Republicans are up in arms that we traded away five for one, and are even more outraged that we let terrorists go free. Yes, these people we released from Gitmo could become active in terrorism again, and probably will. But why did we do it? And what does it have to do with belief and two girls turning murderous in Waukesha?

The answer has to do with belief systems again, this time in politics - where such systems are much more pernicious than the ones found in religion. You may recall that, shortly after Obama's first election, the first thing he tried to do was close Guantanomo Bay as a prison for suspected terrorists. But it didn't quite work. Howls of outrage were heard all over the nation at the thought of housing terrorists in prisons which were inside the borders of the United States. Never mind that this is exactly the same thing we did with other terrorists who were even worse, such as Charles Manson, Timothy McVeigh, and the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Never mind that due process of law, even for suspected terrorists, is one of the fundamental traits which makes America the Land of the Free (as opposed to the Land of the Enslaved). And never mind that any terrorist would find the prospect of being in a prison filled with Christian inmates, surrounded on all sides by the Bible-thumping Midwest heartland and subject to all the prejudices such a region has to offer, much more terrifying that Gitmo ever was. No, apparently it was determined that we mustn't soil our, well, soil with such people. It was imperative to the Republican Party that the terrorists not be brought into America.

This was a belief, pure and simple, without logical basis or merit. It had no evidence or empiricism to support its claims, nor did it even bother with such trivialities.  This belief won. The detainees at Guantanomo were left there to rot.

And now the result of that belief has come back to haunt us.

You see, because this belief prevented Gitmo from being emptied, it created a problem. To close the base, everyone had to be transported out of it. But where? America was the only option, and it got ruled out by petty politics! No other nation has stepped forward as willing to house these people, guilty until proven innocent. And they have to go somewhere, don't they?

The unfortunate solution is, if we can't house them in American jails, we simply have no other choice but to get rid of them some other way. Perhaps a bullet to the head, except that would violate international law. We could let them die naturally, which would be even worse. Or, we could simply release them, which would be anathema.

This time, Our Trophy President has opted for the latter.  He has let five detainees go.

An outrage? Very likely. Soft on terrorism? Certainly. But if we have to let them go, and thanks to Republican shenanagins, we do, then we could at least get something back for them. Which we did. We got a shell-shocked and badly abused P.O.W. out of the clutches of the Taliban.

It looks like a bad trade, and it is. But better to get something rather than nothing, and Republicans left us with no option but to get nothing. We could have housed the terrorists here, making legally almost impossible to trade them away for one P.O.W.  But once again, belief was the problem, not the solution.

So what now? Can we prevent these released terrorists from acting out again? Probably not. It's silly to hope that they've grown too old in our unconstitutional prison to go back to their old tricks. But then again, perhaps we broke them. Maybe twelve years of waterboarding has convinced them that they're better off spending the rest of their lives smoking cigarettes and watching television. We can hope so.

And if not, maybe we can convince two little girls that they'll get to meet the Slender Man if they go find them and stab them to death.



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