Monday, June 26, 2006

Thunder, Near and Far

I do not like thunder. I do not like lightning. Like many dogs, I suffer from Weather-Related Panic Anxiety Disorder (or W-RPAD, since every syndrome needs an acronym). If humans were prone to a similar disorder, there would be dozens of medications to combat it and long, melodramatic television commercials depicting the pathetic victims in gory detail and enumerating the hideous side effects of the medications with equally gory precision. (Moose's current favorite disorder is Restless Leg Syndrome, which may be real for some people, but is also a major marketing opportunity for GlaxoSmithKline, makers of a drug called Requip. Requip was developed to treat Parkinson's disease, but Glaxo got permission last year to sell it as a treatment for RLS--then spent $27 million to advertise the drug for that purpose. And so we have that barrage of commercials of people with creepy-crawly feelings in their legs. And we also have a lot of people becoming obsessive pleasure seekers, engaging in high-risk compulsive behaviors as a result of taking dopamine-boosting drugs like Requip for conditions like RLS. They become gamblers, serial adulterers--but their legs don't feel creepy-crawly anymore! Hooray, says Moose, for the triumph of clever marketing over common sense!)

Back to me and my W-RPAD, which is not listed in the veterinarian's diagnostic manual but ought to be. Like I said, I hate thunder and lightning, the mere anticipation of which can send me into hysterical fits of trembling and hyperventilation. I can spend hours in an unremitting state of panic, no matter how much my moms try to comfort or distract me. They rub me, they snuggle me, they wrap me in blankets. They speak in their sweetest talk-to-the-dog voices. Moose even wrote me a song on the piano called "Don't Be Afraid of the Rain." It doesn't have any words, but I have to admit it's pretty, in a really simple, key-of-F, lullaby kind of way. Still, I am inconsolable, until the thunder stops and the awful lights are gone from the sky.

As you can imagine, the last few days here in the Washington area have been hard on me, what with my raging W-RPAD. Actually, I imagine the past few days have been tough on a lot of folks who aren't afflicted with W-RPAD. Mother Nature has dumped phenomenal amounts of rain on the national capital area in waves of storms that started on Thursday and have barely abated since then. The thunder rattles the windows while the lightning flickers like a strobe light in the yard. Moose says she's only seen storms like this in the movies, really scary ones. Goose says we shouldn't sit next to the windows. I say we should move into the basement for the duration. The noise unhinges me. I can't eat. I tremble even when I sleep. I love my moms, but I don't think they're scared enough.

Which of course makes me think of Afghanistan. I don't understand why people aren't more worried about Afghanistan, where U. S. combat deaths are up, a violent insurgency is taking hold, and confidence in the American-picked leader, Hamid Karzai, is fading as fast as you can say "Taliban redux." Have you ever noticed how little attention is paid to the situation in Afghanistan? That's where "the global war on terror" was officially launched, and yet we seem only dimly, fitfully aware that we still have troops there and that things aren't going particularly well. The media dutifully report the milestones of American combat fatalities in Iraq--1,000, 2,000, 2,500--but when was the last time you heard a comparable report on Afghanistan? (For the record, the Washington Post recently published a piece on this issue. As of June 26, 2006, 245 members of the U.S. military have died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001.)

Our forgetfulness is in part a tribute to the effectiveness of Bush administration propaganda. They assiduously avoid the topic, and so the media ignore it. They have plenty of dramatic video of the daily carnage in Irag, so there's no need to have a bureau in Kabul. Besides, everyone agrees that overthrowing the Taliban was good for the region and was justified by the clear evidence that the regime aided and abetted terrorism. (Everyone except for Goose. Goose is no fan of the Taliban, but she believes that the invasion of Afghanistan was, like most evils in this world, motivated by the desire for oil.) The consensus that the invasion of Afghanistan was justified and largely successful while the invasion of Iraq was dubious and fraught with complications is so strong that few bother to ask how the other war, the good little war we launched when the sympathies of the world were with us, is going. Perhaps we need to believe that the telegenic Karzai is an effective leader and that his people and the region are "better off" than they were five years ago. Perhaps that belief makes the daily carnage of Iraq easier to bear.

Off in the distance, though, the storm clouds are gathering. Karzai, in a clear acknowledgment of his limited control of the country, raises the possibility of creating local police forces to protect remote areas, which to some sounds disturbingly similar to the Islamic and tribal militias that once ruled pockets of Afghanistan. I put my ear to the ground. In my old dog's bones, I can already feel the thunder. My sensitive ears hear the crackle of lightning, and I am afraid.

Why aren't you?

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