Friend of mine in Concord, California has an incredibly bizarre job – he's a coordinator for Disabled Student services at a district junior college. He's actually a pretty nice guy, like a lot of other cops, soldiers, firefighters, social workers, hospice workers and so on, but the clients drive him crazy. Fat people, blind people, crazy people, mildly retarded people, crippled people, deaf people and on and on and on and on. Lots of people in the college administration have great ideas about how to save money, how to take care of students, how to do just about everything but no one has the money to do any of it, including saving money. A student who had never approached his office for assistance is suing the college for lack of access to some classes; a Dean decides to sell a perfectly good van and replace it with some extended golf carts that do not have the ground clearance for the easy navigation of the myriad speed bumps; cuts in staff have everyone on edge. He is saved from madness by being a cancer survivor, which is a fairly consuming hobby of course and by being interested in a lot of strange stuff. He announced today that some new study shows that the proton is even SMALLER than previously thought, by about 4%. How exciting, as Doc Holliday might say apropos of Kate's non-utilization of the bustle, how lewd. Well, not really.
Instead of celebration, however, the result has caused consternation. Such a big discrepancy, say the physicists, led by Randolf Pohl of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, could mean that the most accurate theory in the history of physics, quantum electrodynamics, which describes how light and matter interact, is in trouble.
"What you have is a result that actually shocked us," said Paul Rabinowitz, a chemist from Princeton University, who was a member of Dr. Pohl's team.
The results were published in Nature. Protons, of course, have not shrunk. They have been whatever size they are ever since they congealed out of a primordial soup of energy and even smaller particles — quarks and gluons — in the early moments of the Big Bang. Determining how big they are, however, is both important to fundamental physics and extremely difficult.
At the risk of being cynical, duh! Most theories are resolved as proven or unproven or wrong when a new fact – the existence of gravity, the non-monadial construction of the universe, the estimation of the area under a curve, the utility of bread mold in treatment of disease, the size of protons – becomes known and screws the theories up. The Author points out that everything is still the same, but the calculations will probably come out significantly different. By, oh, some factor of 4%. But, the universe will still move.
Should have heard him about Higgs Boson. By the way, he was a theatre major. Go figure.
My thought when I read the note and article was that well, that just means there is maybe more nothing that everything is made of. In the general understanding of nuclear physics as a model for the universe, most of the atom is empty space through which electrons zing and zip and zig and zag. They now have four percent more space to do it in. There's even more nothing; and, you take all that nothing, and suddenly you have something. What that something is may be surprising, or not. But sometimes, there is just too much of nothing to make something of… Which, of course, leads to current events, non-events, imaginary happenings and so on.
Fiscal Cliff/Debt Ceiling/ Budgeting Kerfluffle
If there was any great doubt as to the wholly owned subsidiary nature of the Republicans in Congress to the Big Money, well, those results were made abundantly clear through out this. Not good news in terms of liberty, of course, but you'd think that the House could be quickly brought to heel. Nope, not likely. John Boehner has a coalition party up against Pelosi and her coalition party. However, Nancy Pelosi has built a pretty strong framework, a pretty strong bond of loyalty and we're all Democrats while allowing room for conscience. Since the idiocy and hyper-partisanship of the Hastert rule, the Republicans have pretty much emasculated the speaker. For those of you who don't know what the Hastert rule may be, don't be surprised. It's more Capital Hill gobbledegook, Gingrichian-Rovian madness that discourages compromise and working across the aisle. For the Speaker to allow a bill to come to the floor, he must have a Majority of the Majority. In other words, with 233 Republicans, Boehner feels compelled by that non-rule rule to not bring a vote until his whips assure him he has at 162 solid, sure, no shit votes. There are times when he just can't get there; he could pass the legislation, but he'd need to go to Pelosi and Hoyer to get them to agree to give him enough Democrats to pass the bill. He doesn't want to do that because it makes him look weak. So, while there have been things done lately with some necessary Democratic support, Boehner knows that there are a lot of things he can't get done unless Nancy P agrees, and he's afraid of the price for her agreement.
He has two prices to weigh; he can expect Pelosi to negotiate for something in return, and she's a far more skilled operator than either Boehner or Cantor or Ryan. However, one of the reasons she's a canny operator is that she understands what's necessary, what's possible, and what's ridiculous to even ask for. If she can trust the speaker, she'll go for reasonable bargaining positions. If not, well, she either won't bargain or if she does she'll make the terms so odious that Boehner will withdraw from the room, muttering the Serenity prayer and singing the Naval Anthem. But, the other price is the one that troubles him the most and that's the continuous flow of ignorant bullshit coming from his own caucus. "Blow off the debt limit—of course, it doesn't matter, we need to show that Kenyan Socialist Communist Hitler guy that he can't do this to red blooded Americans. Hillary Clinton and the Ayatollah are in kahoots about Benghazi and she's faking the concussion and the blood clot and everything! The deficit is sapping our vital bodily fluids. Bo the dog was given to the Obamas not by Ted Kennedy but by Ted Kozinscki. Eighty members of the Democrats are card-carrying members of the Communist party…and, Mr. Speaker, if you tell us that we can't have it our way, all the time, we're going to hold our breath until we turn blue! Err, Vermillion, because turning us blue would make us Democrats or maybe even French!"
Now, when the Koch Bros tell you to put a schnizzle on that konizzel, so to speak, about deficits and spending cuts and debt limits, you're pretty far out there into tinfoil hat conspiracy country. Yet, despite the fact to which I will stipulate – most congressional Republicans are not teriary stage syphilitic madmen and women babbling this nonsense at home and in their sleep, most of them know it's all insane and they just went along with this, you know, out of poltics and foolin' around and now, Jesus Christ, what have we done! – they have to worry about the majority of their majority. How many of their base voters in their gerrymandered districts are this crazy? Do they have to worry about a primary challenge in their safe little home? Well, yeah – if Mitch Turtle McConnell is worried about a Tea Party challenge, then they need to worry in the house if Representative Katey "I'm conservative not crazy" Kracker might get opposed by someone who confuses World Net Daily with the Daily News and thinks they can channel Adam Smith and Joe McCarthy through their smart phone. A World Nut Daily type, who may win the nomination and then the seat unless they're able to do the whole Christine O'Donnell and the Democrat wins…and the former incumbent has to get a real job. How many lobbyists can K street accommodate?
So, the R's will continue to do stupid shit – retire the deficit without massive new revenue in ten years? Violate the constitution? Hold their breath and turn blue? Recite the Constitution but this time on helium? – that will be meaningless, and if they are in danger of actually hurting the economy as opposed to just not helping it, the big money dogs will pull them to heel. Nothing much to see here – intellectual and moral bankruptcy is more of a void than a spectacle.
Women in Combat – Ever Hear Boudicca? Joan of Arc?
Possibly apocryphal, but the story goes that for years, the Ranger Training Regiment has never outright refused a woman candidate. Come on in and join the fun; so far, no one has wanted to hang around too long. I can understand that – it takes a certain degree of testosterone charged madness to want to go through twelve weeks of deprivation, exhaustion, bullying and macho mind games. For the record, I'm in favor of all of that, by the way.
Anyway, I find the opening of combat roles to women being a large yawn. Whether excited leftists or batshit crazed religious nut rightists like General Boynkin, these people are getting excited about something as new and revolutionary as…the leisure suit. Literally. Going back to the cold war in the 70s, for example, there was no secret that in a Soviet invasion, the primary initial targets would be the suppression of air defense systems – both aircraft and missile. Women were accepted into Hawk and Hercules systems in the mid-70s. These were isolated tactical sites, for the most part. Between Eastern Block special operations forces, strike air craft and missiles, those sites were going to be hit hard and often early on. Conditions were pretty austere. Guess what – women in combat.
The issue in the Army and Marines has been locations on the battlefield; the issue for the Navy has been largely types of ships to which women could be assigned. I don't expect to see a woman command Special Operations Command or the Combined Arms School at Fort Benning any time soon. I do, however, expect that any supposedly closed opportunities in logistics, maintenance, intelligence, aviation or missiles will be seriously evaluated and there will be some openings. As for the issue of women receiving recognition for the combat they have seen and supposedly have been denied, well, again I can only speak with some comfort for the Army but I suspect it's largely BS. Granted, the Army is the only service with the combat patch and the combat infantry badge. However, the initiation of the Close Combat Badge a few years ago was intended to address the problem of folks without infantry MOS who deserved some sort of recognition. I know a number of women soldiers who won that thing in Iraq and they tend to make light of it which generally means in Army culture that they're very, very proud of the award and earned it not to get the award but to get the job done. One of them, Captain Nastashia Faye (USAR) joked about being under fire under her desk…in Takrit. (Stash, by the way, is very heavily into Extreme Cross Fit to the point where she doesn't make my teeth hurt, she scares me…she gets mad at me, I'm rolling over on my back and whimpering. Incredibly fit, very smart, very focused and nastily subtle sense of evil humor. ) Combat patches for women started showing up very quickly after Desert Shield. There is no way to ignore the assignment of women to units in combat without willful blindness. Not, of course, that I deny the existence of willful blindness in the military, government or the world at large. That would require willful blindness…
I suspect we'll see a change in assignment trees and such. But, the nature of the modern battlefield makes all lines pretty arbitrary. Where, when a major offensive weapon for the other side is a vest full of explosives detonated in a crowded marketplace or movie theatre is the combat zone? You can't delineate it anymore with maps and signs. It's there…Even more obvious to me is the change in the nature of war. A friend of mine, someone I love and admire greatly is a retired Navy Nurse, Mary Kelly. A mustang, Mary was a First Class Petty Officer and realized that she was never going to get the sort of assignments that would let her make Chief; so, she went into a nursing education program at 12 years or so service. Mary was the first female Officer in Charge of the Independent Corpsman program for the Naval Training Center at San Diego. Navy Corpsman provide the medics for the Marines – independent corpsman provide service both to the Marines combat units as their medics and for smaller ships where no doctor is assigned. She had a bought with cancer and another one with bureaucracy and retired at 28 years as a Lieutenant Commander. Anyway, my main reason for mentioning this is in this shot…a Marine Sergeant, a Marine Lance Corporal, and a Navy Corpsman working Psyops and Community Relations in Afghanistan. You cross the border into Afghanistan and you're in combat. (It's been that way since Elphinstone led his Army into Pathan country back in Flashman days, by the way. Somethings never freaking change…) The photo above shows Women Marines coming back from a patrol with AFGHAN FORCES, unloading weapons. These warriors are extraordinary, not because they are women but because of the nature of what they are doing. Making a big deal of an administrative and clerical change is just silly.
A friend of mine, a radical Catholic Feminist theologian named Mary Hunt recently published an article comparing the opening of combat assignments to women to what she regards as the inevitable opening of ordination to women to the Catholic priesthood. To an interesting extent, she's not so sure that either is really a good idea but that's just the way life is. She points out that the original opening of the majority of military occupations to women was driven by demographic realities inherent in the volunteer force. With a huge amount of the American Catholic priesthood being over 70, she doesn't see anyway the Catholic Church can avoid this. She's just not sure that on the whole, that would work to the individual woman's or women in general's advantage. There's some really cogent thinking and argument here; Mary reminds me of George Will at times, but in a good way.
Like women in combat, non-ordained people do what needs to be done pastorally and argue the details later. This is how social change happens. Laws are made and changed in response to already existing situations, not to fantasies. (My emphasis)
There are plenty of differences between these two cases. Those who promote women in combat probably do not want to change the fundamental nature of the military. Women priests already exist through ordination processes that parallel the official one, and plenty of Catholic women minister in their own ways. But what feels so dismayingly familiar is that we who struggle for justice only live to see such a fraction of what we envision.
I am not persuaded by incrementalist arguments. I do not think that women entering combat will change the bellicose ways of the US military. If anything, I think it will reinforce the importance of the warrior, re-inscribe the role of the hero who risks death and kills the enemy. That seems to me an awfully high price for equality. For priests, the entrance of women into the Roman Catholic clerical caste will reinforce the status and role of clergy and re-inscribe the power of difference (they are not lay people anymore). What a steep tab for proving the simple point of gender equality.
I find that viewpoint interesting, on target but probably not particularly relevant. Tell a group of human beings that they can't do something, however awful the something might be, and there will be some who won't be able to resist demanding to try. The presence of women in combat will not alter the nature of combat; the presence of women in the priesthood will not alter the priesthood. Fundamental change requires fundamental change. A woman warrior is a warrior; a woman priest is a priest. A cup of coffee is a cup of coffee. Lots of space inside the atom for variations that don't really alter the atom; lots of places in the organism for variation without fundamentally changing the organism. Lots of emptiness out there, more than we can fill… (To be continued, with the Filibuster, al Jazeera and related madness)