Week 36

     Some coyotes have been raiding my dad’s old farm outside Ramona. So I went to buy long range .22 bullets.
     At the first place I tried, Turner’s on Arroyo Parkway in Pasadena, the woman at the counter shook her head. “You can try back Monday morning,” she said. “That’s when they deliver.”
     As I walked out, I heard a couple store employees near the counter advising a slight, middle-aged Asian man on where he could go to learn to shoot. I thought, a bad thought, that Asian folks learning to drive has been perhaps a sufficient threat to our relatively peaceful enclave in the lee of the San Gabriel mountains.
     Going into the store also reminded me of the time when a family bought the house next to ours close to where the Ninth Circuit courthouse now stands, and my French mom thought it a matter of some shame, she discussed it in a low voice, that the new neighbors owned a gun store on Arroyo.
     So on the way down to the farm that weekend I stopped at two Big Fives — no luck — and a Walmart. The beat-up, locked, white metal, case at the back of Glendora’s Walmart was bare except for a few odd-caliber rounds.
     I told the story of my quest at a family dinner that night in Carlsbad, and my nephew Alex answered with his story of going to Walmart on a recent Monday morning where he saw two men with arms crossed waiting for the attendant in the gun section.
     “Sorry guys, nothing today,” the attendant told them.
     “We’ll see you tomorrow,” they answered.
     Apparently there has been a shortage of ammunition for a couple years now. And my nephew, I was surprised to learn, is a bit of a survivalist and was himself at Walmart trying to stock up.
     He generously offered to stop by the farm the next day and drop off a couple boxes of long range .22 shells.
     The dinner discussion then turned to a bigger kind of bullet and a different type of coyote, drones and ISIS.
     Alex and his wife are both trained in the sciences, engineering and biology. She told the story of a friend, an engineer, who had quit his job working on weaponized drones out of moral concern for their purpose.
     But in looking for a new job, he found that nearly all current openings for engineers in San Diego are tied to government contracts for drone development.
     And the news over the last week confirms that drones have become our government’s preferred military option.
     They were used last month to stop the ISIS two-front advance on an ancient Christian sect that worships a peacock image and on the more modern and religiously diverse society of the Kurds.
     The strikes turned the ISIS fighters back towards the west where they promptly overran a Syrian air base and south towards Baghdad where American drones were again used over the Labor Day weekend, shoring up the spotty Iraq Army and Shiite militias supported by Iran.
     No wonder our president doesn’t have a good plan.
     There aren’t any.
     I had wondered where ISIS drew its organizational strength. A New York Times story last week answered that question, reporting that a big chunk of the leadership is made up of former military officials from Saddam Hussein’s army, radicalized by the U.S. invasion of Iraq and their subsequent time in U.S.-run prisons.
     With that story came floating into mind the image of an American who wore fine suits and silk ties and combat boots, the American governor of Iraq, Paul Bremer. I remember articles noting his decision to exclude from the new government anyone with ties to Hussein’s Ba’ath party, depriving the government of professionals and handing it to a klepocracy of incompetents.
     Like an evolving Ebola virus, ISIS is a strain of militancy developed through adaptation to its environment. Part of that environment is the political reality in America that nobody, not even John McCain or Lindsey Graham, advocates sending troops back over there.
     Which leaves only one choice. Missiles. From drones.
     But if the joysticks take the drones south, they protect a weak, squabbling, set of thieves who, one might be forgiven for saying, invited the serpent into their nest. They also support militias aligned with Iran where we have just increased sanctions.
     And if they take the drones west into Syria, they protect the Assad regime that we say we will not protect.
     Meanwhile, to the east of the cradle of civilization, Pakistanis are skirmishing with Indians, another conflict with incandescent roots, to the west, Egyptians are bombing the Libyans who are killing each other, to the north, Russians are invading Ukraine, and to the south, the Israelis are taking more land from Palestinians.
     We do love our guns. Our government loves its drones. But they will not get the world out of this mess.

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