Sorry I’ve been away

I meant to post last night, then I noticed nobody had written a Wikipedia entry for Daniel Pearl. I had to jump on that one. We’re talking about a guy who wrote a feature story about Iranian pop music and got it published on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, folks. Who gets those kinds of ideas? And then gets them published in a venue like that?
OK, OK, getting it published on the front page of the WSJ isn’t quite the accomplishment it first seems–the WSJ seeks out stories like that to put on its front page to break up its notorious monotony. Still, this is one of the holy grails of journalism.

He also wrote a story about a Stradivarius violin being found on a highway on-ramp. That’s not something you hear about very often. The best story I ever heard like that was about someone finding a working Micron laptop on a highway on-ramp. The reason those things ended up on the on-ramp was the same: both of them allegedly were placed on top of a car before the driver absentmindedly forgot and drove off.

In the case of the Stradivarius, it’s also highly possible the thing was just stolen. In the case of the Micron laptop, it’s the theory of my coworkers that the guy who did it just wanted a new one and wasn’t quite as thrilled as everyone else when the laptop was returned to him in perfect working order. But, as usual, I digress.

There was a lot of drama surrounding the Daniel Pearl story. He was a highly-regarded WSJ bureau chief, chasing the trail of shoe bomber Richard Reid. He was kidnapped because he was an American Jew in a Muslim country. (Never mind that there’s every indication that to Pearl, being Jewish was just a label and he had no particular hatred of Arabs or Mohammedanism, and that Pearl was known at the WSJ for being one of its most outspoken critics of the U.S. government.) His loving wife was pregnant with their first child. That child was born several months later without a father. His grisly death was highly publicized because it was videotaped and released.

It’s easy to forget in all of that that Daniel Pearl was a human being, with a sense of humor and the unusual quirks you find and enjoy in your best friends.

So I had to jump at writing his story.

Time for some Pakistani justice

“Do you think Daniel Pearl is alive or dead?” my sister asked me last weekend.
“He’s probably dead,” I said. I’d read the reports that he’d been killed in late January trying to escape. To me, it sounded plausible. If he were still alive, wouldn’t his captors still be making demands? They had nothing to gain by staying silent, as long as they had him. Likewise, if they had killed him in accordance to their threats, they’d have said something too. They probably would have offered proof, and made another threat–such as to take another hostage. But they were silent.

Still, I held out hope. I like to be wrong about things like that.

Daniel Pearl was a high-profile case. There have been 11 other journalists killed since the undeclared war broke out. There have been a couple dozen military casualties on our side. I don’t think anybody knows how many Afghans–Taliban, al Queda, or innocent bystanders–have been killed. It’s just that a star reporter for a prominent newspaper with a wife pregnant with their first child makes for a dramatic story. And Daniel Pearl has come to symbolize everything that’s wrong with the present situation.

This isn’t a war. We have troops overseas, yes. We’re building weapons, yes. But the objective is vague. There is no declaration of war. Our way of life is undisturbed. That’s not how it needs to be. Our way of life needs to be disturbed. But temporarily.

What we have right now is a police operation. This is like us chasing Pancho Villa near the beginning of the last century. We talk about protecting American interests, protecting democracy, supporting our troops. That’s nice. What does it all mean? Ask your cubicle neighbor and post it here. I’ll bet your cubicle neighbor and my cubicle neighbor define all of those things differently.

Our presidents over the course of the last 60 years haven’t liked that constitutional provision that only Congress can declare war. It’s hard to get a majority of those 535 people to agree to something like that. So they use a loophole. That’s not a good thing. The Founding Fathers knew that it would be hard to get a large number of people to agree to drastic action, such as passing a law or waging war. That’s how it should be. But if a majority of those 535 people can agree to a set of objectives, it’s probably going to be something pretty worthwhile. We can be pretty certain that they won’t come back with something ridiculous like nuking the entire Middle East until it’s a big sheet of glass.

So. We need to figure out who we’re fighting. Can we wage war only on suspicion? Let Congress sort that out. We have to figure out what we want. We know we want Osama bin Laden’s head. Fine. Anything else? I’m sure there are lots of things. Let Congress sort those out too. Then our generals can come up with a plan to get what Congress decides it wants.

Most importantly, our current way of life, for all we know, is supporting our enemies. I’ve advocated buying more fuel-efficient cars in these pages before. I still stand by that. Do you think a formal statement like that coming from our leadership would rally some people to action? I think so.

The most important thing about figuring out what we want, declaring a war, then getting it over with is that at some point, it’s over. We can go back to something resembling how it was before. We don’t have that now. And we won’t.

All we’re doing now is sitting back, watching helplessly, hoping we’ll stumble across solutions one problem at a time. Sometimes we find three leaders standing outside a vehicle well within range of a missile. More often, we don’t find what we need on time. And someone we want dead gets away. Or someone we want to get away dies.

As long as our faceless enemy knows we’re not serious, nothing’s going to change.

They’ve disrupted our economic system. They’ve made us afraid to travel. We’ve voluntarily given up liberties we wouldn’t have thought of giving up a year ago. We’ve changed our way of life, permanently.

We gave them just what they wanted.

So, what about Danny Pearl?

Pakistan has said they’ll go after his captors. We should let them. Let them be subject to Pakistani justice. If Pakistan lets them go, then we can show them American justice. Our Special Forces are very good at quickly carrying out those kinds of things, without the need of a messy trial. The job of the State is to protect its citizens. Sometimes that means war. And sometimes that means deterring repeat events. So it’s very easy to justify such a position on moral grounds.

A couple of things.

Katelyn update. Katelyn came through surgery and the doctors were thrilled about how it went. They were able to repair the damage and rebuild a valve using some of her own tissue, which will be much lower-maintenance than an artificial valve.
The roller-coaster ride probably isn’t over yet, but one can hope.

Thanks for your prayers.

Daniel Pearl. As a professionally-trained journalist, you knew I’d talk about this at some point. This is a work hazard. I know about those. I’ve been on crime scenes before the suspect was apprehended. I’ve received telephone threats. When you cover such topics as crime, war, or terrorism, you take a certain amount of risk–risks that a sportswriter doesn’t. You accept those risks, or you get out.

I decided I didn’t love journalism enough to have to take those risks. I became a magazine feature writer (better suited for my talents anyway), then I took a job in another field.

Daniel Pearl took the other route, which left him chasing down people in Pakistan with ties to a known terrorist. He knew what he was getting into. But he smelled a story. I know that feeling. I’ve done it too. I once drove out to what I believed was a compound, hoping to talk to a militant separatist in person. But I didn’t go alone. And the reporter I went with happened to be an ex-Marine. I liked the odds and wanted the story.

You’ll notice there isn’t a mass exodus of journalists leaving Pakistan. Certainly some have left. But many have stayed behind. That’s where the stories are. Sure, it’s risky. Will there be more kidnappings? Absolutely. Is Daniel Pearl dead? Probably not yet. He’s not worth anything to them dead. Now if they take a second hostage and then give a 24-hour ultimatum, he’s finished.

The public outcry on this should be tremendous. I’ve lost a tremendous amount of respect for Pakistan. And I’m going to call a duck a duck. Islam is a cult. Yeah, like Jonestown. Meanwhile there are people talking about U.S. atrocities at Guantanamo Bay–the people there live under conditions our soldiers wish they could live under, so if the United States is mistreating anyone right now, it’s our own soldiers–and public school districts teaching proselytizing Islam in some parts of the country. That has to stop. It’s unconstitutional. Unfortunately, it’s also trendy. Don’t expect to hear a peep from the ACLU. Muslims don’t oppress. If you ask the politically correct, that is.

Daniel Pearl knew what he was getting into. That doesn’t justify his kidnapping. I don’t blame Geraldo Rivera for carrying a gun as he reports. I don’t blame the journalists who leave. I don’t blame the journalists who stay. I admire their courage.

There’s not much I can do. I’m not going back into reporting. I’m certainly not going over there. I don’t have the skills to be an effective soldier or reporter over there.

There’s one thing I can do. And I will. The lease on my car is up in just over a year. It’s a Dodge Neon, hardly a gas-guzzler. But it gets 26-35 miles to the gallon. There are cars out there that use less gas. Honda makes some. Toyota makes some. Volkswagen makes some.

Honda and Toyota make hybrid cars. Bill Maher bought one and advocates others do the same–why support our enemies? He surprised me. I have newfound respect for him. I weighed the pros and cons of doing the same. I concluded that a VW Jetta would actually be more economical for me, based on the amount I drive.

But I’m torn. I can pay more money to the Japanese, so I can avoid paying more money to the Middle East.

A month ago I’d have decided I was doing enough by buying a German car that got 30+ MPG in all conditions. Now I don’t think so. Now I’m mad enough to pay extra, just to avoid supporting people like the buttwipes who kidnapped Daniel Pearl.

It’s been said that economically, the Japanese never stopped fighting World War II. They rarely buy our products, and they flooded our marketplace with theirs, first making their stuff cheaper than ours, then making it cheaper and, in most cases, better. They couldn’t conquer us militarily, but if they didn’t conquer us economically, they sure changed us irreversibly.

It’s time we follow the Japanese lead and fight with our dollars. Where do terrorists get their money? Ultimately, it originates from oil. So if we stop buying their oil, they’ve got nothing to use to fight against us. The best way we can start is by trading in our SUVs for hybrid cars, even if that means swallowing hard and paying more for a hybrid than we would for a conventional car. And even if that means not buying American. (I never thought I’d say that.)

Sending our soldiers isn’t enough. This country didn’t win WWII by sending out soldiers and acting like nothing else happened, other than waving U.S. flags and checking a few times a day. We won WWII by fundamentally changing our way of life. Some of the changes were temporary. Some of them were permanent.

If we don’t want another Vietnam or Somalia, we’re going to have to remember what total warfare is, grit our teeth, and take it like men.

So don’t do it for the planet. Do it for our troops. Do it for hostages like Daniel Pearl. Do it because you can’t shoot Osama bin Laden or Richard Reid in the teeth. Do it for Todd Beamer and the rest of the people on those planes and in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Do it for the people they left behind. Do it for the countries that rallied to our side.

Use some of the money you save on gas and on car payments to pay down those credit cards. And rest easier knowing that airplane you see overhead isn’t going to explode, or crash into something important.

See you later. I’m going to war.