Friday, August 19, 2005

DS's Inferno

Well, I've been away for a while... but now I'm back.

I'm going to ease back into the swing of things with this somewhat light-hearted, though dourly serious rewriting of Dante's Commedia: Inferno. No, I'm not going to rewrite the book. I'm just going to tinker with the levels of the Inferno and its punishments, crimes, and residents. Here we go:


Gate:

Welcome to the land of suffering. Through me is the way to the eternal pain. Through me is the interstate of those forever lost. Justice urged on my architect; My creator was the Top Power, the Wisest of All, and the First Love. Before I was built only the Eternal existed, and I'm ALWAYS open. Fughettabout hope, y'all who gotta be here."

Vestibule:

This is for those suckas who never took a stand in their entire sorry existences. In fact, these folks ain't even remembered no more. Their names are lost to all.

River Acheron:

Charon the ferry pilot picks up lost souls here and shuttles them across to the other side, where they get to stand and face Minos, the hellish judge of the lost. Think of Judge Judy on crack! (Of course, some folks get to just move in a little from the bank to hang around in the best part of that town; Limbo Acres.

Limbo Acres:

Blah suburban living. Really, this is outside the metropolitan area, and out in the country. By far the best neighborhood one can live in here. Mostly these are unbaptized babies, virtuous pagans, and a few of the nicer infidels who, by virtue of their magnanimity and kindness, didn't get sent into the city or into its near suburbs. Here you can chill out and talk with Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Saladin, among other notables. The Old Testament prophets and good kings used to live here, but once Jesus was crucified and resurrected, they got to move on up to the deluxe apartments in the sky.

Minos:

He listens to each lost sinner and decides where they get to suffer forever. He used to wrap a tail around him once for each circle of descent into Hell the sinner had to pass to get to where he or she would be stuck. However, with the 21st century, he's upgraded his style... now he just pimp-slaps the sinner once for each level of descent said person must make. Then he punches the info into his desktop PC, gets a routing map and sends the sinner on his or her not-so-merry way.

Circle 2: Lustful

This is the place for all the unrepentant horndogs. Since they couldn't keep it in their pants (or couldn't keep their panties on) for long, and because they let their sex drive rule them in life, the poor saps here get to ride the tornadoes and fierce winds that blow throughout the level. Two 13th Century lovers, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta are stuck here, as is Cleopatra, Paris, and several porn stars who have passed on unrepentant. *Some speculate that Bill Clinton is going to be sent here upon his death, as well.*

Circle 3: Gluttonous

$3.99 for all you can eat sound good to you? Would you rather pig out than get laid? Do you prefer eating and drinking to everything else? Well, keep it up, and you'll get to spend eternity here, wallowing in slushy, muddy sleet and ice. Yeah, this gives meaning to the term "cold turkey." (This actually isn't too bad, because as you'll see later, there are MUCH colder places) You can bet that there are many "competitive eaters" in this place... it's worse than the last level we visited, for certain. Of course, it doesn't help that you get this nasty three-headed dog clawing and biting ya every so often, either. Oh, and one more thing... you don't get to close ya mouth here. You gotta eat this stuff... forever.

Circle 4: Avaricious

Are you a tightwad? Are you one of those folks who likes to accumulate loads of cash, but then doesn't want to spend ANY of it for ANY reason? Or, are you one of those folks who gets money and then blows it on useless stuff? If these fit you, welcome to Circle 4. Here the tightwads and the big spenders get to roll boulders toward each other. When the two crash, the big spenders ask the tightwads, "Why do you hoard?" and the tightwads ask the big spenders "Why do you waste?" Definintely not a place for one to stay out of shape for long.

Circle 5: Hotheads and Sad Sacks

This circle holds those easily angered folks. You know the type... they get mad at the least little thing. They just CAN'T seem to stay calm and peaceful. Of course, this place also holds those mopey people who are NEVER happy with ANYTHING. The anger management group members fight each other all the time, while the morosely depressed people get to lie under the mud on the banks of the Styx and gurgle like swamp gas.


River Styx:
Getting across is something of a task. Phlegyas figures he's got more souls to torment, but instead, he's only got our tourists long enough to shuttle them across the Styx. Of course, once ya reach the other bank, the demons are gonna want to deny you entry. They'll even try to bring the head of Medusa out to turn you to stone. Of course, if you're on this tour as a living person, it means you could die here. Don't fear too much, however, because God's sending help. An angel will come and force open the gate and rebuke and chastise the naysyers. Now, ya get to the City itself: Dis!


Circle 6: Heretics

These are folks who have twisted the Gospel, come up with doctrinal falsehoods, and generally led folks astray by teaching lies! The folks here get buried alive in VERY HOT graves. What really sucks about this is that you don't even get to have a PRIVATE grave.... they just throw new folks on top of ya. You can also forget about air conditioning or even the joy of bathing...

Circle 7: Violent People

Now, this isn't the place where those who need anger management classes are sent. NO, this is for those deliberately violent and cruel folks. It's divided into three sections: One for those who were violent and abusive to neighbors (Look for folks like Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Stalin, and maybe some of your neighbors in life.); one for those folks who were violent or abusive to themselves (suicides generally come here); and a section for those who were violent or abusive to God, nature and art (though Dante places counterfeiters here, I would also include Hitler, Lenin, Marx, and a couple of folks I knew growing up).

Now, for beating up and abusing your fellow humans, you will get to live in a river of clotting, putrefying, hot blood. Some are only up to their ankles, while others are further submerged, with a few (Alexander the Great, Al Capone, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Josef Mengele, Idi Amin, Stalin, and Pol Pot come to mind in particular) are nearly drowned in the stuff. Trying to escape will be useless, as Centaurs patrol the banks with submachine guns to shoot down anyone trying to flee. Chiron will come up and talk to ya, then get you an escort so that the other centaurs don't molest ya while you're touring the place.

Those who overly abuse themselves or commit suicide *without a very good reason, I will modify* are bereft of their bodies, and tossed willy-nilly to the circle, where they get to become gnarled trees and bushes. Of course, there are others who commit suicide by forcing others to kill them (suicide by cop, charging into battle simply to get killed, banzai charges) for no other reason than that they want to be dead. They get to be chased through the forest by wild ferocious animals.

Now, for those whose violence was against nature *abuse of natural resources simply because they're there*, art *making fakes and passing them off as real*, or God Himself *really a stupid thing to do* get to run across burning sand that's laid over electically-heated steel (note that I am modifying the punishment somewhat) while fire rains down on them. Here stay the loan sharks, homosexuals/lesbians, and counterfieters. Also those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit get to spend eternity here.

Circle 8: Fraudulent

This wonderful spot is divided into nine separate areas, each with its own punishments. Horned demons whip the seducers and pimps and ho's; hypocrites get flashy-looking suits to walk around in. However, these are lined with lead... very heavy lead. This makes it hard to move, and you gotta keep on walking forever round and round.

Grifters, corrupt accountants, lawyers *evil ones, anyway*, and the like get to swim in boiling tar. Don't even think of raising yourself up above the level you are sentenced to be inundated up to, because some very upset and very sadistic demons will come and snatch ya up and do all kinds of nasty things to ya.

People who try to buy their way into Heaven, or sell entry to heaven, (Simonists) are dropped upside down into holes in the ground where oil and flame "baptises" their feet, so they spend a lot of time kicking and screaming. Of course, when they decide to drop a new sinner in, you get pushed into the cracks of the hole lining. No stretching out here!

If you think these other folks have it bad, wait until you get to see what you brown-nosers, fortune tellers, and "psychics" get to do. Thieves get attacked by snakes that bite them. This turns the theif into a snake, while the snake becomes a human. This is a very PAINFUL process.

Brown-nosers get to wallow in human excrement *that's right, piss and shit and snot*; others will get sores and scabs and leprosy and scabies and all those fun things that make ya scratch yourself always.

Of course, there are some who sow political and religious discord. These get hacked by a demon with a sword. Muhammad and Ali are among that sad lot. This sword-carrying tormentor hacks sinners in various creative ways, so that some look like a dissected cadaver, while others look like medieval battle injuries. It ain't pretty folks.

Circle 9: Traitors

Now to the bottom of the matter. If the others above ya seem to have it bad, and they do, wait until what awaits tratiors! There are four types kept here:

Traitors to family are in the outermost part, called Caina (for Cain, the first to betray a family member by murdering Abel, his brother). This lovely place has the lost souls frozen up to various regions of the body in ice. Talk about cold storage! The wind whips across the place and keeps everyone frozen in place.

Further in (and thus, farther from God) are the traitors to Country. You can bet Benedict Arnold, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and most of the Confederate leadership is here. (Look for Jefferson Davis to be cooling his heels in here). One particular pair is Count Ugolino and Archbishop Ruggieri. Ugolino is busy eating away at the skull and brain of Ruggieri, because Ruggieri, after getting Ugolino to betray his country, locked him and his family away in a dungeon, sealed it up, and let them starve to death. *Read the Commedia:Inferno for details on THAT little story*

Leaving Anternora (the second area of this frozen lake called Cocytus) we now tour Ptolomea. This area is reserved for those who betray their hosts and/or their guests. Hospitality is a very good thing, because one is putting their safety in the hands of another, either as a host or as a guest. Those who abuse that trust are sent here. Just about everyone is in the ice up to their necks as the cold wind freezes their tears to their faces, causing their eyes to shut. In fact, if you aren't careful while walking through here, you could easily end up kicking one of these sinners in the head *If you happen to be alive and taking the tour, you could really hurt someone*.

Now, we depart from Antenora to Judecca, where those who betray their masters for no good reason get to spend eternity. Everyone here is COMPLETELY frozen in ice, some laying prone, others standing up, and some bent in ways that a contortionist would envy. Oh, did I say EVERYONE was frozen completely in ice? Well, I spoke too soon, because there are FOUR traitors who are not completely frozen in ice, though three wish they were.

In the center of Hell, frozen up to his waist in the MIDDLE of the lake, is Satan! He, as the source of all sin and evil, is the center of gravity for the Dantean universe. He's got one head with three faces: One red, one yellow and one black. In each mouth he chews a sinner. The three unfortunate wretches are Brutus, Cassius (the two who led the assassination of Julius Caesar) and Judas Iscariot (the disciple who betrayed Jesus, and for whom this section is named. Judas is in head-first, and is being clawed by Satan as he's being chewed on. Brutus and Cassius hang from the other two faces, simply being chewed while their heads and shoulders hang outside.

Oh, about the wind that keeps this place frozen. Satan is to blame for this. He's furiously beating his batlike wings in order to try to escape. Ironically, it's the wind generated by this flapping of wings that keeps the lake frozen in the first place, and thus keeps him entrapped.

Congratulations! You've completed your tour of the Inferno. Just one problem: How are ya gonna get out? Well, if you're dead and haven't been called upon to lead a living sinner who is repentant through the place, you aren't getting out. You are stuck here forever.

If you are a living tourist, well, there are two ways out: You can go back the way you came *are you sure you wanna do that?* or you can take the express route. The express route: Climb down the furry body of Satan and then, once you've passed the centerpoint of gravity, turn around halfway through the climb down and start climbing up. You'll come to the side of the river Lethe, which flows down from the top of Purgatory, carrying away the washed away sins and impurities of those repentant sinners who have made it to Paradise through Purgatory. Follow the river upstream and you will soon find yourself on the side of an EXTREMELY tall mountain of Purgatory.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The New Cold War

Vast Right Wing NegroCon Zionist Conspiracy

Months past its due date, the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress on China's military power is a mix of sugary talk, grasping strategic musings, and sobering facts. This analytic confusion explains the divergent news accounts of the report when it was released on July 19. The New York Times, for example, reported that the Defense Department had concluded that "China has not yet built the military power to have full confidence it can achieve its political objectives regarding Taiwan." In contrast, the Washington Post led with "Chinese Buildup Seen as Threat to Region," and focused on China's expanded ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons.

The one thing that is clear is that publication of this year's Annual Report on the Military Power of the People's Republic of China was delayed while its more alarming conclusions about China's strategic intent were toned down. You have to think that some or all of the higher-ups in the Bush administration's foriegn policy team had a hand in glossing over the reality of the situation.

The resulting muddle is captured in the report's first substantive section ("Understanding China's Strategy"), which begins: "The EP-3 incident in April 2001 damaged U.S.-China relations. Thereafter, the United States developed a cooperative and constructive relationship with China in which the United States has stressed the values of candor and transparency."
That and two bucks and twenty cents might get you a gallon of gas, but it ain't gonna get shit in the way of strategic cooperation from the Chi-comms.
The report goes on to note China's role in the Six-Party talks with North Korea, its participation in talks to deal with its WTO compliance problems, the soon-to-begin, new "senior dialogue" between Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and China's vice foreign minister Dai Bingguo, and expanded military-to-military exchanges.

Putting aside for a moment the dubious choice of begining a discussion of China's larger strategic intentions with the forced downing of an American spy plane more than four years ago, the list of supposedly constructive developments is itself revealing. It shows how hard the administration has to search for good news, and even then, the list it comes up with is undenyably short.

A more accurate picture would take note of China's dramatic increases in military expeditures, its noncompliance with its pledges to the World Trade Organization, its failure to use its leverage with North Korea to end Pyongyang's game of nuclear Russian roulette, its continuing refusal to abide by human rights and refugee conventions it has signed, its slightly-better-than-Hitler's nonproliferation record, its use of Chinese nationalism to browbeat Japan and demonize the US, its refusal to cooperate with the other great powers in the Proliferation Security Initiative, its obstructionist policies on Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe, and Burma, and of course its repeated threats to use military force to unify Taiwan with the mainland--and, if need be, let loose a hail of neclear missiles to prevent the US from intervening to stop a forcible reunification.
Strangely enough, these facts were not given the weight they deserved in the report.

What is new in this year’s report is the finding that China's military buildup has begun to have serious implications not only for the cross-strait balance of power but also for the region as a whole.

The People's Liberation Army possesses a growing fleet of nuclear and diesel submarines, has 650-730 mobile ballistic missiles, and is working on aerial refueling for a significant percentage of its 2,600 combat aircraft. Toss in new and improved command, control, and communication systems and over-the-horizon targeting capabilities, and the picture that emerges is a China with military capabilities that are not just geared toward Taiwan, or southeast Asia, for that matter. They have their sites set on superpower status and they're getting there quicker than anyone imagined they could.

The report suggests that these capabilities "could pose a credible threat to other modern militaries operating in the region . . . over the long term, if current trends persist," and blah blah blah. They're fucking communists! Not schoolyard bullies wadding up a particularly slimey spitball, they're commies and they have nukes aimed at us. Jebus.
They make it sound like China has gotten where it is purely on accident rather than through years of exponential spending increases on their military, spying on and in US facilities, and funding three successive democratic presidential candidates. That shit ain't cheap.
When Chinese ships and subs begin surfacing in Japanese home waters--as they have--the signal being sent to Japan and the region is as clear as the botox in John Kerry's face.

What's not new in the report is China's increasing military capacity to bring Taiwan to its knees. Last year's report judged that China could force Taiwan to accept unification with the mainland under certain conditions: "The campaign could succeed--barring third-party intervention--if Beijing were willing to accept the political, economic, diplomatic, and military costs that an invasion would produce." The point here is that Beijing does not believe a full-fledged invasion would be necessary to accomplish its goal. Rather, the PLA leadership, according to their own statements, think a combination of ballistic-missile, special-operation, and aerial strikes would be sufficient to shock Taiwan's population and leadership into accepting Beijing's version of "one China."

For similar reasons, China is working hard to develop the capacity to blockade Taiwan. The submarine modernization program that the report details is extensive. Chinese naval journals indicate a deep interest in blockading operations, and pay close attention to the vulnerabilities of Taiwan's island economy.

Such scenarios, of course, raise the question of what role the US would or would not want to play in turning back Chinese aggression. Here, too, the answer is clear as the nose on Michael Jackson's face: China's military knows that it must be able to prevent, or at least severely complicate, the US Navy's use of its aircraft carriers. To this end, China's antiship cruise missile force is growing by leaps and bounds. It has begun to field high-end, supersonic and subsonic cruise missiles on its new destroyers, attack boats, and submarines. The report alledges that China is in the mid to late stages of developing maneuverable, multiple-entry warheads, capable of eluding any anti-missile defense systems we currently employ, to hit our carrier battle groups.
9-11 was bad, but imagine losing an aircraft carrier and its crew of 3,000 to 6,000 sailors under enemy fire in a skirmish to defend Taiwan. 50% of Americans couldn't point Taiwan out on a map of Taiwan.


China still lags behind the American military's ability to project force on a global scale. But, in truth, when it comes to China's close-in waters, no serious American naval planner believes it would be safe sailing for American surface combatants, even as things stand today, much less at the end of yet another decade full of 12% annual military spending increases on the part of China. As one PLA general remarked: "We have the ability to deal with any US carriers that dare to get into our range of fire."
Well maybe they do and maybe they don't. The crux of the China problem is that we really don't know. The report is full of numbers, but they're all estimates or, even worse, they rely on what the Chinese are telling us. If they tell us they increased military spending by 12% it could have really been a 20% increase. They could be shoveling cash into the hungry mouths of genetically engineered superchinkers and we'd never know it thanks to Clinton's zeal for slashing the intelligence budget.

The report also details China's programs to upgrade its intercontinental ballistic missile force with new solid-fuel, road-mobile missiles and new sea-based, submarine-launched systems. Thanks again to Bill Clinton for selling China the super computers that enable Chinese warheads to be accurate enough to hit your front porch, but leave your noisy neighbor's house standing.
The net effect will be more survivable, more accurate, and more lethal nuclear and conventional capabilities--aimed primarily at the United States.
As General Zhu Chenghu, dean of China's National Defense University, not so subtly reminded American visitors last month: "Should the United States intervene in a conflict between China and Taiwan, the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of their cities will be destroyed by Chinese nuclear weapons."
Try finding that quote in your fortune cookie without shitting yourself.

Combine the PLA's fascination with "carrier killing," its ability to degrade severely the operational utility of U.S. air bases in Japan through missile strikes, its aggressive pursuit of space and counterspace capabilities, and its upgraded nuclear arsenal, and you have a military that believes it has or is close to having the means to make any American president think twice before going to Taiwan's rescue. Especially a president presiding over a large US force in Iraq, enduring lackluster public support for his foreign policy, and dealing with a hostile media. Bush could fart in Taiwan's general direction and Ted Kennedy would be calling him a drunken murderer without a hint of irony.

Lazily, the U.S. government has accepted the Chinese propaganda line that these trends in Chinese military modernization are first designed to deter Taiwan "from moving toward defacto "independence.'" Never mind that only a small minority in Taiwan supports taking that step. China almost certainly would not be seeking these military capabilities to support a policy of mere deterrence. A few hundred missiles aimed at Tiawan could do that.
Obviously, China is interested in deterring Taiwan from declaring independence, but, more significantly, it is interested in pursuing its stated goal of "reuniting" Taiwan with the motherland--and it is in relation to this goal that the PLA's actions and plans make sense.

The Chinese communist leadership has made clear time and again that it will not tolerate a prolonged separation of Taiwan from the mainland, and it has tasked the PLA, as earlier Pentagon reports indicated, with providing real military options. As this year's report notes (and as China's recent adoption of the Anti-Secession law essentially codifies): "The Chinese communist party came to power on its credentials as a defender of Chinese sovereignty; its leaders appear to see progress--or perhaps, the absence of failure--on the Taiwan issue as affecting the legitimacy of their rule."

But rather than face the facts presented in the report about the character and scope of China's military buildup, the tendency among our elected leaders is to wash over them with sound bites about our relationship with China being "good but complex." Or worse, a "strategic partnership."

The day after the report was issued, in response to a question about the cross-strait military balance, Marine general Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said, "There's lots of countries in the world that have the capacity to wage war, but very few have the intent to do so. . . . There's absolutely no reason for us to believe there is any ill intent on China's part."
Absolutely? Positively? Once again: They're fucking communists! There's lots of bloated fatasses right here in this country that have the capacity to take a foul smelling shit...but do they intend to?
Lets all hang out in their toilet with a wait and see attitude, shall we?

For one thing, as these annual Pentagon reports have repeatedly pointed out, China shrouds its military plans and senior decision-making in secrecy. But what we can observe could hardly lead anyone with a working brain cell to think that we should be so confident about China's intentions. After all, this is the country that now ranks second in the world (behind the US) in overall defense spending, and the one that has increased its military budget fastest over the past two decades, with growth in military expenditures outpacing even China's own remarkable growth in GDP. General Pace had better hope his statement doesn't go down in history alongside George Tenet's now infamous, "It's a slam dunk, Mr. President."

One theme that was added to this year's report is that China is at a "strategic crossroads." It faces one path leading to peaceful integration with its region and the world, the other to competition with the other significant powers in the region and with the United States.
In one respect, this is quite true: Theoretically, any power, at any time, can choose to alter its relationships with the outside world. But the data at the heart of the Pentagon's report suggest that China is not at any crossroads; rather, it is already headed down a path previously taken by other autocratic, rapidly rising national powers.

In reality, it is more accurate to say that the United States is at a strategic crossroads when it comes to China. With our plate full around the globe, we are understandably reluctant to raise publicly the prospect of a new great power competition. Nevertheless, the administration is doing quite a bit to contain Chinese military power--our upgraded relations with India, Vietnam, Singapore, and Australia are cases in point as is our eagerness to see Japan rearm. But reluctance of our leaders in Washington to admit this publicly to us or to our allies, and their rosy rhetoric about our "constructive" relationship with Beijing, leave us at a disadvantage as China ratchets up the competition. As a practical matter, this attitude often leaves us a day late and a dollar short when it comes to facing down adversaries.

Nor is our position sustainable. Beijing is not blind to our reaching out to the powers in the region. For China, the competition began long ago. The Pentagon's report provides ample evidence that this is the case, but then ducks the obvious conclusion in favor of a sugarcoated version of reality.

This is the new cold war.

Okay.
I'm done.