First, a lament for a way of life that is rapidly disappearing:
It is almost noon, and Peter Taptuna is stuck behind his desk. He gets up to peer out the window. Outside, the Arctic stretches white and blue toward the horizon. He can trace the snowy shoreline as it tumbles into the waters of the Coronation Gulf. He can see spectral shapes of ice gathering just below the surface, soon to seize the water fast.
It is a mild day -- 17 degrees, with little wind. He should be out there, somewhere out there, on the land or on the water, he says.
Instead, he feels trapped by the office. "Some days I could just tear out my hair."
Taptuna is -- in his bones and his history -- a hunter and trapper. It is what he loves, he says. But the world he grew up in, a world of winter igloos and summer fishing camps and working the traplines, is changing. Now, like so many other native Inuit, he is confined, and sits in an office watching an ancient way of life slip away.
I'm sure most people think that long ago Native people were forced to give up their ancient ways of life, but this article is evidence that even now, 600 years after Columbus set foot in the New World, Natives still cling to old traditions that once defined...and that those old traditions are still vanishing. The portrait of this man, trapped in an office instead of living free as his ancestors did, is utterly heart-breaking.
In Syria, we see how the Iraq war has been used by the ruling party to silence political opposition, and stifle democracy. I don't think I need to draw the parallel for you.
But we have Robert Samuelson, on what happens when democracy works all too well:
The trouble is that public opinion is often ignorant, confused and contradictory; and so the policies it produces are often ignorant, confused and contradictory -- which means they're ineffective. The Catch-22 of American democracy is this: A government that mirrors public opinion offends public opinion by failing to do what it promises. People then conclude that the system has "failed."
The enduring significance of public opinion...reflects both national optimism and suspicion of power. Believing that all problems can be "solved" -- even if goals are inconsistent -- we blame government for not accomplishing the impossible. We won't acknowledge choices, contradictions, unpalatable facts. So, many problems persist for years. Throwing the bums out is a venerable tradition, but what if the ultimate bums are us?
The ultimate bums are us, for allowing the war in Iraq to happen, for being fooled by the promise of tax cuts, for being scared of terrorists all out of proportion to the threat they pose to use. Blame lies with the leaders who should've known better, but who put them there?
Speaking of those leaders, I highly recommend you watch the PBS Frontline special that came on a couple of weeks back, "The Lost Year in Iraq." I don't know if it's possible to be more bitter about the bungled occupation than I was after watching the special, even after what has become years of stories of incompetence, cluelessness and mismanagement. I know people think it's all water under the bridge because we can't go back and undo it, but the people who are directly responsible for what's happened in Iraq are still in power and so yes, it still matters. And while we threw away the opportunity to punish them for their failings, we still have a chance to punish the Republicans in Congress who aided and abetted the Bush administration in its bunglings.