Monday, September 04, 2006

Crikey, what a dumb way to die

Steve Irwin is dead.

He was snorkeling off the Great Barrier Reef, and a stingray stung him—through the heart. That's a freak thing, and unbelievably unlucky (a couple of inches in any direction, and he'd be alive). I don't believe in instant, painless death unless the first thing to go is the brain, but as deaths go this was quick.

I didn't really watch his show. But I saw commercials for it every now and then, and I thought he was pretty cool. Some of my friends are very upset right now.

I propose that in his memory we adopt 'Crikey!' as our expression of dismay, especially those of us who live in countries where it's not a common word.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Why Iraq Is Not a Quagmire

A quagmire, literally, is a swamp. Soft, marshy ground that gives when you walk on it.

Vietnam was a quagmire. Most of the country was a damn swamp. It was also an extremely difficult war situation, and it was difficult to get out of. We were stuck, literally and metaphorically, in a swamp filled with enemies, with no obvious path out.

Iraq is certainly an extremely difficult military situation, and it has no easy path out. But the literal aspects are notably absent; there's nothing wet or even damp about Iraq (well, in the north* south there were marshes but Saddam drained them to wipe out the Marsh Arabs). And exiting Iraq is not so much a difficult path to find as a situation where all exit strategies have hideous humanitarian cost.

I have an alternative to propose.

Iraq is a tar pit.

This is nicely resonant with the dusty-dry environment there, with the oil-rich nature of the area, and with the fact that the soldier slang for the deployment zone is 'the Sandbox'. A tar pit can look harmless at first: if it's covered with dust, it can resemble stable ground until too late. Also, in a tar pit everything you do, no matter what, makes you sink faster and faster. Unlike a quagmire, it's actually inescapable—unless you get outside help. Without that help, all your struggles, no matter how dramatic, are part of an inexorable process with only one possible conclusion: your unpleasant death.

Iraq isn't a quagmire. It's a tar pit. Spread the word.