Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Where is she? Where is she?

[Posted by reader_iam]

Roderick! Roderick!

... etc. ... so forth ... .


Let her die ... .


What place love, in a place of twisted love?

What is the worst evil, if not that birthed from love which over time twists into love perverted, not so much beyond recognition--because most can turn from that--but far more that which is still within both sight and recognition?

All Hallows' Eve. Ancient in its reference. Formerly universal in its ability to bring up at least the emanations of the shared ancient meaning. Eternal in its acknowledgment of the darkness of human ... what? What? What?

NOTE: This post carries over from the previous one of mine: "Certain Peculiarities of Temperament.

"Certain peculiarities of temperament"

[Posted by reader_iam]

Forget Halloween I-"x". Forget Scream I-"x". Forget, please, Elm Street anytownwherever. (Heck, I'd prefer to forget about Halloween altogether if I didn't have a young kid, and if it weren't for ... well, I'm getting there ... and a couple of others, like-minded.)

You want the perfect usher for the fears, both inchoate and choate, embodied in All Hallows' Eve--with a fine old dash of camp thrown in? I want to say one word to you--just one word.


See to the crypt, will you?

Update: Love, love V.P. listing (stage direction: think portentous) the sins of his fathers.

And, honestly, I'm thinking that the very first time I heard the phrase "drug addict" in a movie context might have been when I first saw this film--way, way too early, no doubt.

Boring Postcards

[posted by Callimachus]

Queen's Hotel, Montreal

Le Manoir, Riviere du Loup, Quebec

I can find very little interesting to say about either of these places.

The Queen's Hotel obviously is not the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in the same city, where John and Yoko took to their beds in 1969 and therefore set of a worldwide media frenzy for some reason.

It was once one of Montreal's best hotels, but in the way of hotels it fell on hard times before it was demolished in 1988. I learned that date via this loving reminiscence of a grandfather.

Whixh is what is really interesting about this exercise of post card-chasing. You plunge your hand in the muddy stream of the Internet toward some random object, and you come up with a fistful of mud and pebbles. You meet mundane family letters of obscure stage actresses who stayed at the hotel.

You also discover that there's an online button museum in which you can take a tour of the finest museums in the world, if by "tour" you mean a picture of their staff uniform buttons.


Bert's Bad Rap

[posted by Callimachus]

As a soon-to-be parent again, with a lag of 15 years in between, I'll have to reacquaint myself with the ugly ins and outs of preschool pop culture. The one thing I expect to recognize the second time around is Sesame Street. I said I expect to "recognize" it. Not "learn to like" it.

Our friend Bill here rises, brilliant and Darrow-like, to defend much-maligned Bert:

If Bert is evil, it's because his asshole roommate drove him over the edge and he finally snapped. You might be able to make the case for a worse roommate than Ernie -- and I'll discuss a few -- but he is definately the most unpleasant person/monster on Sesame Street. He's a vindictive, mean-spirited cheat with no morals or scruples. His modus operandi is ruthless badgering, with no regards for the feelings of his victim, until that victim finally cracks and agrees to go along with Ernie. At that point, Ernie changes the rules or decides he's finished and disappears, leaving the victim in a homicidal rage. And for some reason we're supposed to think that Ernie is the funny one and Bert is the one with the stick up his fabric ass. Again, I say bullshit.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Where Have All the Liberals Gone?

[posted by Callimachus]

John Lewis Gaddis, whose history of the Cold War is a necessary book, asks why principled Democrats abandoned one of their own old and cherished ideals as soon as Bush II laid his oily, fumbling hands on it.

So when Bush, in the aftermath of September 11, evoked the Jeffersonian idea of a world free from tyranny and the Wilsonian idea of a world safe for democracy, he was doing nothing radical or unprecedented: he was well within the tradition of American two-party politics.

It's strange, then, that so many Democrats today are outside this tradition. They have responded to the first Republican president to have become a liberal interventionist by quivering--and blogging--with rage. They have offered no plan for building on the Bush Doctrine and moving on. It's as if they're imitating the Republicans of the 1930s, who quivered with rage at Roosevelt (blogging had not been invented yet) while neglecting his warnings about tyrants, as well as his vision of what a world without them might be.

Night of the Grim Milestone

[posted by Callimachus]

Just in time for Halloween, the dreaded grim milestone image is back. This time it's 100 American soldiers killed in a month of war. This time it's Harry Reid using it, not the AP and the national media, though you could be forgiven for being unable to tell one of their writings from the another without a Geiger counter and litmus paper.

One question, though. What the fuck is a grim milestone?

This is a milestone. Is it grim? Is it merry? How can you tell? What sort of milestone is 90 soldiers killed? Or 2,000? Or 10? Or 1?


Nowhere to Put the Trash

[posted by Callimachus]

Europe has a 'White Trash' problem.

But the main thing that sets the modern poor apart from the industrial age pauper is a sheer lack of interest in education. Today's proletariat has little education and no interest in obtaining more. Back in the early days of industrialization, the poor joined worker associations that often doubled as educational associations. The modern member of the underclass, by contrast, has completely shunned personal betterment.

He likewise makes little effort to open the door to the future for his own children. Their language skills are as bad as their ability to concentrate. The rising rate of illiteracy is matched by the shrinking opportunities to integrate the underclass. The Americans, not ones to mince words, call them "white trash."

That's the word from"World War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity," a current best-seller in Germany written by Der Spiegel editor Gabor Steingart.

Of course, Europe being Europe, its historical view of itself conveniently overlooks inconvenient facts. Like the fact that millions of the poor of Germany and other lands back in the industrial age had the option of going to America and making something of themselves. [Or not: Our "white trash" is the ethnological effluvia of old Europe's agrarian poor.]

And millions took it, and did. "Worker associations" weren't the only or most successful answer. There's this thing called "opportunity." Now, nestled in the mouldy easy chair of a welfare state, what's the point of immigrating?

Questions of fundamental importance are forcing their way to the foreground: Can a democracy tolerate having part of its populace continuously shut out from the rising quality of life? And if that is accepted, will this decision come back to haunt us in our lifetimes?

Will nations again face off against one another because boiling anger seeks an outlet? Or perhaps the underclasses will revolt? Both scenarios are possible. The only outcome hard to imagine is that nothing happens at all.

I can imagine that. As long as the Germans, of all classes, decline to reproduce themselves by having children, there will be no replay of the Spartacists or of World War II. There won't even be enough young Germans left to get up a reasonable weekend battle re-enactment.


Boring Postcards

[posted by Callimachus]

Simms Restaurant

Back when dining out was not considered to be a private experience for most people. Coatracks, hard chairs, small tables, and radiators spread around in a big open space.


Roman Holiday

[posted by Callimachus]

Allan Massie wonders at our modern fictional obsession with ancient Greece and Rome.

He gets at the right idea, I think:

However dimly or unconsciously, there persists the idea that Greece and Rome matter, that they are part of our inheritance. Salvatore Settis quotes John Stuart Mill writing in 1859: "The battle of Marathon, even as an event in English history, is more important than the battle of Hastings. If the issue of that day had been different … the Britons and Saxons might still be wandering in the woods."

That's an English perspective, of course. For Americans, the ancients are less immediate, but more crucial. Our Founders were obsessed with them (so far as to give the new American government a Roman "Capitol" building). The classical nations gave us both our models and our anti-models. The establishment of a "capitol" in the swamps of the Potomac could be hubris, and it could be a standing warning.

And for us, the heirs of the Founders, the classical stories tell how a republic (Rome) and a democracy (Athens) can thicken into empire, oligarchy and totalitarianism. Gradually, or in a rush of glory; on the wings of a calamity or in an avalanche of catastrophic success.

To swing back to the European view, however, I think a rising historical interest in Rome -- with a strong skepticism about Rome itself and its accomplishments -- mainly reflects modern concerns.

The What did the Romans ever do for us? speech from Monty Python's "Life of Brian" is one of cinema's juiciest skewerings of cushy anti-imperialism:

Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Attendee: Brought peace?
Reg: Oh, peace - shut up!

At least one of the Pythons now seems to be interested in walking it back. Terry Jones seems to enjoy historical iconoclasm for its own sake, which is fine. But it's hard not to mentally swap a few ancient proper names for some modern ones in this press release regarding his latest work, Terry Jones' Barbarians, and arrive at a Euro-elite view of modern America and its struggles in the world:

So you think you know everything about the Romans? They gave us sophisticated road systems, chariots and the modern-day calendar. And of course they had to contend with barbarian hordes who continually threatened the peace, safety and prosperity of their Empire. Didn't they?

Terry Jones' Barbarians takes a completely fresh approach to Roman history. Not only does it offer us the chance to see the Romans from a non-Roman perspective, it also reveals that most of the people written off by the Romans as uncivilized, savage and barbaric were in fact organized, motivated and intelligent groups of people, with no intentions of overthrowing Rome and plundering its Empire.

In his new book and the accompanying four-part BBC Two television series Terry Jones argues that we have been sold a false history of Rome that has twisted our entire understanding of our own history. Terry asks what did the Romans ever do for us?

This is the story of Roman history as seen by the Britons, Gauls, Germans, Greeks, Persians and Africans. The Vandals didn't vandalize - the Romans did. The Goths didn't sack Rome - the Romans did. Attila the Hun didn't go to Constantinople to destroy it, but because the Emperor's daughter wanted to marry him. And far from civilizing the societies they conquered the Romans often destroyed much of what they found.

And so forth. A description of one part of the mini-series states, "In Greece and Iran, Jones argues that far from being a godless rabble of swarthy bruisers in tiny skirts, it seems the barbarians of Greece and Persia were peaceable boffins whose innate humanity saw them develop what were, in essence, welfare states."

Particular moments of the present echo the past, and historians (especially amateurs with a nose for the market) react accordingly. They will rediscover old neglected topics, or find new angles into familiar ones, for the sake of comparison to modern times.

A small flurry of new books on Robespierre makes much of the common thread of "terror" and of a state under attack going to extremes in the name of homeland security. In their introductions they often make the explicit connection to contemporary America. Make it clumsily and ignortantly, I might add.

In Civil War historiography, for instance, the defining study of desertion dates from the 1920s, and was expressly written with a view to the problem and the responses to it as they had roiled America during World War I. Nothing of a similar significance has been done since, despite whole masses of new information and ways of analyzing them. The topic will have to wait till it becomes relevant again.

Meanwhile, a new and long-overdue history of the anti-war Democrats in the North (known affectionately as "copperheads") has just hit the shelves, very much in key with contemporary debates over the role of dissent in times of danger.

[Both these topics might have been raised, and been relevant, in the 1960s, but they weren't, and I suspect the young generation of historians then working simply was far removed from this old way of doing things and was seeking out entirely new paradigms rather than revisiting the -- as they would have seen it -- exhausted mines worked by their peers.]

So now the Romans will take their lumps, the barbarians will get their due, and the little bit of truth in that will get run over from the other direction as the pendulum swings for reasons that have nothing to do with Claudius or Vercingetorix.


[posted by Callimachus]

Worth it for the title alone, GOP and Man at Yale, but also worth it for the read:

The young men and women of the Right aren’t reading much Richard Weaver these days—nor much Robert Nisbet or Russell Kirk, to name two other seminal conservative thinkers critical of modern warfare. The time when Young Americans for Freedom wore badges blazoned with the slogan “Don’t Immanentize the Eschaton” has long passed. Now College Republicans parade in shirts proclaiming “George W. Bush Is My Homeboy.” The campus Right has almost always been more activist than intellectual, just as the wider movement has been more political than cultural. But where once students were at least familiar with the names Kirk and Weaver, or Mises and Nock, today they look to Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter for guidance. They’re little acquainted with the wisdom of the contemporary Right’s founding generation, and it shows.


Goose Step

Christian Cotroneo's search for the roots of the goose step takes him back past George Orwell's quip about it, which he elides. Here's the full:

The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is "Yes, I am ugly, and you daren't laugh at me," like the bully who makes faces at his victim.

Probably he didn't give the full quote because if he had, he could have stopped writing right there. Except for noting its recent appearance in Iran and North Korea, Cotroneo, or anyone else for that matter, can't add much to Orwell's accomplishment in cooking the goose step. He does, however, find an expert with a delicious name:

"(The goose-stepping) says that here we can train all these men to do something that is completely unnatural," says author David Schimmelpenninck, who chairs Brock University's history department. "When you see men goose-stepping, that is much more ominous and much more impressive in a perverse sort of way than when you see men marching as they normally would in most NATO armies.

"In a militarized society, like Nazi Germany, like the Soviet army, like North Korea, the message is, `We are a society that will follow the dictator's whim.'"

It seems to be the metaphor of the story I read long ago of some 19th century Bolivian caudillo who, to impress a visiting Prussian dignitary, ordered an elite company of his own guards to march out an upper story window.

The curious thing that nobody seems to question is, why is it called the "goose step?" Geese waddle, sway from side to side as they move on their feet on land. It looks nothing like a "goose step."

Turns out, the original goose step (it dates back to the Napoleonic era, naturally) was a military drill to teach balance. You stood on each leg alternately and swung the other back and forth. This at least looks vaguely like a goose's way of walking. It must have acquired a general sense of "militaristic way of marching" by the time it was applied to "marching without bending the knees." That seems to first have happened in 1916. Like much of the horrible ugliness of the 20th century, it seems to have its roots in WW1.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Boring Postcards

[posted by Callimachus]

Now with air conditioning! And radio! And boxing!



[posted by Callimachus]

A hawk sailed over me today, right overhead, drifting west, somehow into the wind. I might have missed him but for the "chirrrr" he let go just then and made me look up (it was a red-tail, the sound the one they dub over the weak-throated bald eagle in the car commercials). White hawk-body against the blue. Hawks are Robinson Jeffers' birds, and as such seem to belong at the end of a long, scourging trail scrambled over boulders, in the last, wracked, fog-bound place on earth. But here was one cruising the hood. Fat hunting, no doubt. "Corruption never has been compulsory," Jeffers wrote; "when the cities lie at the monster's feet there are left the mountains." But the poet knows what the hawk makes him think. The hawk knows where the small, tasty birds that migrate are gathering.

Greetings from Thailand

[posted by Callimachus]

Here is your language back. Some settling of content may have occurred during transit.

Sent by our friend Kat as part of an explanation for why she sometimes slips out of idiomatic English when she goes back to Thailand.

Labels: , ,

What the

[posted by Callimachus]


In reading older books on Islamic history I gleaned among the footnotes that there was a notable 19th century German scholar with the name "Johannes Fück." Saved by an umlaut, I guess, but the above-cited corporation, in the beautiful city of Koblenz, headed by a Herr Johannes Fuck, goes naked and shameless without it.

I'm not sure where the German name comes from. Perhaps it was manhandled from fuchs "fox," also common as a surname, and, as in English, probably originally applied to red-haired or cunning people. Some of the German or German-Jewish Fuchses who emigrated to America never anglicized the name. Which oversight had occasionally embarrassing consequences for their daughters, at least in my high school.

Or, more likely by my guess, it is some derivation of the common Germanic stem represented by English and German folk. An old Germanic *folc-here, literally "people-army," seems to have been productive of names on the Continent. Fulcher was a given name (the chronicle of the cleric Fulcher of Chartres is one of our chief sources for the Christian view of the First Crusade). Fuch was a pet-form of the name in medieval England, and I'll bet that is the source of the German surname in which the "-ch" has a harder sound.

Fulcher also passed into use as a surname in its full form, though with some sound modifications. It is the likely source of most of the Folgers and Fulchers in English, the Dutch Volkers and perhaps the Fuggers, the renowned 16th century family of merchants and financiers of Augsburg.

In medieval English, this someties turns up as Fucker, as in the Nicholas Fuker who is recorded on the rolls for 1234 in Devonshire. The John le Fucker cited in 1278, however, may have been named for the verb.

A German "V" would sound like our "F." The German equivalent copulation-verb, ficken, has a common form that sounds an awful lot in English like "Vicks," which our West German exchange students always got a good laugh out of when they went down the U.S. grocery store aisle with the cough medicine. [ed. - This paragraph re-writtren after a factual error was pointed out by a commenter.]

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Religion of Peace

[posted by Callimachus]

Talking about "Islamic fundamentalism" is a dangerous business for one outside the religion. Many Islamic things that to us look alike on the surface (and have the same effect on our lives as non-Muslims) come from different sources.

Is Bin Laden a Wahhabist? How would you know whether he is or is not? Is he a disciple of Sayyid Qutb? Often they write alike. But that is not the same thing. Again, how would you know that?

Something that ought to have been obvious all along struck me while reading "Basic Principles of the Islamic Worldview" by Sayyid Qutb.

Even the furiously defensive preface by Hamid Algar (who is of the Israel=Nazi Germany school) notes the "curious and paradoxical" quality of Qutb's writing, that while he announces his intention to expound on Islam, he spends most of his time condemning and refuting everyone else's beliefs and systems -- Christians, Buddhists, Jews, philosophers, Marxists, secularists. "In some cases," Algar writes, "they receive greater analytical attention than the characteristics of Islam that form the subject matter of each chapter."

Of course, Algar goes on to excuse this by blaming it on the West -- specifically on the "censorious Westerner peering over the shoulder of the writer." But invoking that fictional specter, which many Islamic writers beside Qutb seem to fear, begs a question. After all, apologists for Western liberalism don't seem to feel a censorious Qutb peering over their shoulders.

Likely the fixation with rejecting and refuting Western/Christian ideas reflects a silent acknowledgment of their powerful lure to the people in the Islamic world (and elsewhere) as well as an awareness of the poor performance turned in by Islamic societies in most of the measured achievements of modernity.

[Whether we ought to measure human achievement by the standards of Islam or modernity, of course, is the essential question between Qutb and us.]

That the Wahhabis, Qutb, Bin Laden, and to a certain degree Hamas, Hezbollah, and others tend to look the same to us is perhaps less a matter of "this begat that" or "this evolved from that" as it is an outcome of the nature of fundamentalism in religion, which is an attempt to turn back the clock as far as possible toward the zero-point of revelation. It seeks to purify the faith of the compromises and borrowings, the rust and "debris" (in Qutb's word) that accrue to it once it passes from divine hands into himan ones.

In Christian history, you have Christ preaching a way to live, and then 300 years later you have Constantine marching into battle under the banner of Christ. The gap between the two experiences is disturbing to many Christians, and attempts to turn Christianity back to its dynamic wellsprings generally bypass Constantine.

In Islam, Muhammad is both Christ and Constantine. Struggle -- jihad -- is integral to the roots of the faith. Islamic fundamentalism embraces the struggle for purity within the community and the aggressive engagement with outside powers, because both are prescribed in the revealed text.

As Algar puts it in his introduction, the "Islamic concept" is "dependent on engagement in struggle and effort to create the society mandated by revelation." Qutb's "urgent concern" was to "reconstitute, after a more than millennial lapse, the environment of struggle in which the revelation had first been received and to achieve thereby a new, exemplary era, mirroring the first."

And that struggle will naturally follow the path laid down in the original revelation: a call to establish a world founded on the justice of the faith, with other creeds tolerated, restricted, taxed, and protected under the virtuous rule of Islamic leaders.

Here Qutb shares his vision, rebuking those who deny the accusation Islam is the religion of the sword by the equally (to him) false assertion that it is a religion of peace:

Some Crusaders and Zionists, for example, doggedly accuse Islam of being the religion of the sword, claiming that it was spread by the edge of the sword. Consequently, some of us defend Islam and refute this accusation by invoking the idea of "defence." Thereby they lessen the value of jihad in Islam, narrow the scope, and apologise for each of its instances, claiming that they were undertaken only for the purpose of "defence," in its present shallow meaning.

These people forget that Islam, being the last divine path for humanity, has an essential right to establish its own system on earth so that all humanity can enjoy its blessing, while every individual enjoys the liberty to follow his chosen creed, for "there is no compulsion in religion." Establishing the "Islamic system" to have beneficial sway over all humanity, those who embrace Islam and those who do not, does indeed require Jihad as does the liberty of men to follow their own beliefs. This goal can only be accomplished with the establishment of a virtuous authority, a virtuous law and a virtuous system that calls to account whoever attempts to attack freedom of worship and belief.

[emphasis added]

Teed Off

[posted by Callimachus]

First Part

Second Part

Third Part

Fourth Part

Fifth Part

This is the final post in a six-part series of posts was written by our friend Kat, the contractor's employee who worked on reconstruction projects in and around Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Her story is told here and here among other places (listed in the sidebar at left).

As far as I know, the only anti-Administration blogger to really take up these pieces and accept then into his broader view of the war was Kevin Robinson's My Thinking Corner.

Kevin asked Kat some questions about her impressions and her experiences, which she answered, with elaborations, at his site. With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting her answers, lightly edited, as posts here, since they are interesting in their own right and they broaden and deepen the story she told in the series of posts last month.

Kevin's questions are in italics, and quotes. Emphasis added, in boldface, is by the editor.

October 18

I had one more thing to add. Cal chatted with me earlier and looked over my response. He seemed to like this one part especially.

“For example, it was not unusual to replace an obviously damaged valve on a water supply system only to find that once pressure was placed on the balance of the line, three other valves (not to be found anywhere in Iraq) promptly blew, or whole sections of pipe split, or leaks developed around hundreds of packing joints and gaskets.”

In thinking about it, just so you or anyone else reading can understand, the above represents a great deal of what was encountered in Iraq, and in many cases is still being dealt with. It also illustrates one of the reasons for things such as open-ended contracts. The U.S. knew Saddam had neglected his country to a fair extent, but we were not prepared for the level of dilapidation we encountered. As it worked out, Saddam had basically turned Iraq into his own oil company for himself and his friends, while turning the rest of the nation into his own at-gunpoint cheering section.

Ultimately somebody has to either pay for these additional problems to be fixed, or accept systems working at 20% capacity and rapidly becoming nonfunctional. Saddam didn’t have to worry about it as long as he could turn tricks for oil and keep his guns loaded. But the rest of the nation, the free Iraqi nation of today, requires functional systems for their future.

A lot of companies had to make hard decisions concerning what they were dealing with, including accepting the possibility that the systems or structures in question were simply too degraded to be salvaged. With repair parts already difficult and expensive to obtain, some repairs simply had to be abandoned in favor of total system redesigns and replacement. Band-Aids may be cheap, but it you have to use a hundred of them a day just to keep your systems running at 30% capacity, you’re not really saving anything.

And yes, in other cases Band-Aids were applied. Parts and pieces aren’t always easy to find, and in many cases with twenty-year-old equipment and older, they don’t exist. So when something has to be done NOW, you patch it up and hope it holds together until better replacements can be obtained. But this, too, costs money.

So again, somebody had to pay for this. In most of the open ended contracts seen early on, it was actually the contractors, including those big and evil ones, that were footing the bill. They were often working months, even over a year in some cases, ahead of contract approvals and payments. They also understand that arguments or discrepancies will ultimately become billing problems, so wherever possible they avoid them.

But when there are this many unknowns, this much neglect to so many systems, and this many difficulties in securing parts and qualified labor, you’re going to have additional expenses, period. And when you hand over money to a country with no tradition of handling money well, you’re going to have even more of them.

There is at least one writer currently making great political hay out of the reconstruction process in Iraq. Great emphasis has been placed on a missing $365 million out of some $60 billion in a land where bribery to tribal leaders is common, knowledge of proper government level accounting techniques is virtually unknown, security costs are ten times the those originally estimated, and parts and equipment are like gold. In my opinion, this man is a partisan deadheaded fool with no more business experience than my dog, yet he is a major writer for a major U.S. newspaper who hopes you will rush out and buy his new book – on business in Iraq.

Well, I did, and I read it, and it was a gory bunch of elementary school level garbage. The man cannot even understand the reports he has been fortunate enough to stumble upon. If you ever want an example of one side of a story being presented with as many attempts to camouflage the rest of the story as possible, maybe you’d like his book. If you want to do this while being led to his own predestined conclusion, you should buy it. But if you don’t want to pay for the book, relax. He’s already written most of it in his newspaper, the Los Angeles Times.


A Small Prediction

After the election (and especially after 2008, if it yields "D"-control in both Congress and the White House), we'll see quiet media mea culpas, acknowledging how they have been lulled into negativity in reporting on the government and American policies in the world. How they perhaps reacted too defensively to the Bush administration's "vicious attacks" on the press. How they have been too quick to find fault with us, too little focused on the broader challenges. How they have withheld the benefit of the doubt prematurely. How it is more in line with their duties as citizens to take a patient, realistic, and on the whole positive approach to government policies or American initiatives.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Amish School Shooter

[posted by Callimachus]

Well it looks like I'm not going to get an answer via the media to my question of whether Charles Roberts, who methodically shot 10 girls in an Amish school, then killed himself, left behind a stash of "pornography."

Scare quotes because in his case such a stash wouldn't necessarily have been recognizable even to Potter Stewart. It could be as innocent (or "innocent") as a stack of brochures advertising cheerleader camps.

So I can't test my theory to my satisfaction. I'll offer it now, without commitment to it, as one possible explanation to throw into the mix of theories and speculation (which includes some godawful stupid horseshit).

Roberts was a paedophile for little girls all his adult life. I don't want to get into the how and why of that, even though I have my theories. That tangent would go on for miles. Let's just say that back in the 1960s there was a very little boy and something when catastrophically wrong in his psychological, sexual mind and he ended up as a teenager who, without asking for it, had a twisted form of sexual desire that responded intensely to the idea of sex with pre-pubescent girls. Perhaps the use of non-consensual force was a component of his primary fantasy scene, perhaps not.

But he fought against these lusts and denied them all his life until the end. He had no context for such desires, no way to feel them as anything but the horrible sins and crimes they are in society. Yet they were in his head, day and night, hammering to get out. He fought to hold them in. But he had no other outlet to relieve the pressure. He repressed and repressed and repressed, then he literally exploded.

That's the very short version. I'm not trying to justify. Just explain.

Sexuality, especially paraphilic sexuality, is like the seed that won't be denied. You can bury it under boulders, and it will push out runners and creepers and eventially find the light. And all your vigilance against it can be undone in an instant, like Wordsworth's ancient tower that stood a thousand years and collapsed at once all in a heap at "the unimaginable touch of time."

People with sexual kinks wrap up a whole lot of psychology in their sexuality. With them, sexuality is more than just a drive for orgasm. It is an obsession, a fixation. It's life. They are not quite like other people. "Vampires" is an image that comes to mind, but it's hard to apply that comparison without seeming to insult. And I don't mean to. They are shaped by different forces, driven by different urges, and subject to different stresses and failures.

Sexuality is not destiny. It's not something you choose. It's something you receive, in one form or another, in one measure or another, early in life. How you cope with it, that is a different matter. Sexuality is the hand you've been dealt in life. How you play that hand is your character, your ethics.

A boy with a twisted life who grows up to be a man with endless intrusive sexual desires to, say, torture little girls, is not an evil man. If he lives a long life and manages to contain those urges and never hurts another soul out of them, he is, to me, among the greatest of the saints. Far moreso than someone who has only a vanilla sexuality and a low level of temptation.

This thoughtful article gets out the essentials in the 160-page "Child Molestation: A Behavioral Analysis," written by retired veteran FBI agent Ken Lanning, which is "the key modern tool for police officers" investigating paedophilia cases.

It outlines, in more mundane language, the distinction I hold as essential: a paedophile is not synonymous with a child molester. A paedophile "might have a sexual preference for children or fantasize about them, but 'if he does not act on that preference or those fantasies, he is not a child molester.' "

Basically, Mr. Lanning's new "typology" holds that all sex offenders fall somewhere along a motivational spectrum, from what are called "situational" offenders (these are opportunistic, tend to be less intelligent, are more likely to have a purely criminal history and, most important, don't have a true sexual preference for children) to "preferential" ones (genuine pedophiles, who prefer sex with youngsters; these fellows are primarily fantasy-driven).

The distiction of the two types is important. But so is the fact that it's not a true distinction; these are poles of a continuous spectrum.

The columnist then attempts to fit Roberts, the Amish schoolhouse killer, into the picture:

On the face of it, Mr. Roberts might appear to fall closer to the situational end of the spectrum, since such offenders tend to have fewer victims, and indeed for them, "sex with children may range from a once-in-a-lifetime act to a long-term pattern of behaviour."

But, because it appears from the evidence that he was fantasy-driven, it's more likely he preferred youngsters and was a preferential child molester who didn't act out very often -- or wasn't caught.

"Preferential sex offenders may be 'pillars of the community,' " Mr. Lanning writes, "and are often described as nice guys. They almost always have a means of access to children [e.g., marriage, neighbourhood, occupation]." Because, he says, the molestation of children is part of a long-term persistent pattern of behaviour, "preferential child molesters are like human evidence machines. During their lifetime they leave behind a string of victims and collection of child pornography and erotica."

Emphasis added. I read this article after I developed my theory of what happened in Roberts' head. But that last line is key.

Pornography to some people can be a spur to further exploration and exploitation. But to people such as I think this man was, it can be an outlet, a safety valve. Which is why I tried to test my theory on whether he had a lot of it or not.

If I'm right, he invested his whole conscious self and power and mental force to blocking these chthonic urges that tormented him. That is not unique to him. I imagine many people in the Catholic clergy, for instance, have that challenge. But he did not have a safe outlet for them, and he denied himself a support matrix. He went it alone, and he was too weak to survive.

When it broke, it broke catastrophically. He lost to it. Which meant it was going to flow out of him in an orgy (in the old Greek sense). He found the perfect target. He knew it was his death, but he was going to LIVE (in his own mind's perverted sense) before he died.

Even if this theory explain anything, it doesn't explain everything. There are repeated references, in Roberts' last messages, to a child he and his wife lost as an infant.

You also read, "He was angry with God." For what? For making him as he was? For giving him overwhelming urges and denying him the legitimate expression of them? For taking his daughter? For dangling temptation every time a little girl walked past him? For all that?

His sense of guilt and frustration, perhaps, got wrapped up in the loss of his own child. Was her death God's punishment for his urges? But who gave him those urges if not God? Hence, perhaps, his other repeated claim at the end, that he was "angry at God."

But why did he have to take the Amish girls with him when he killed himself?

There I can only guess. I think I can explain the sexual aspect and the suicide. I can only explain the massacre with reference to his complete psychological breakdown. The force that he relied on to keep him safe and sane had failed -- as he perceived it. One it fell, all restraints of morality and self-restraint fell with it. God was still real. But God now was his enemy. Killing himself wouldn't hurt God. Killing the girls would. Hence the "satanic" quality of this thing.

But I'm not sure about that. Or about any of this.

Blog Name of the Day

For a site devoted to news and views from southern Central Asia: Sticks and 'Stans. No, there isn't one (I think; I didn't Google). I just made it up. No charge if you want to steal it, though.

Free to Warp

[posted by Callimachus]

First Part

Second Part

Third Part

Fourth Part

This is the fifth of a six-part series of posts was written by our friend Kat, the contractor's employee who worked on reconstruction projects in and around Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Her story is told here and here among other places (listed in the sidebar at left).

As far as I know, the only anti-Administration blogger to really take up these pieces and accept then into his broader view of the war was Kevin Robinson's My Thinking Corner.

Kevin asked Kat some questions about her impressions and her experiences, which she answered, with elaborations, at his site. With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting her answers, lightly edited, as posts here, since they are interesting in their own right and they broaden and deepen the story she told in the series of posts last month.

Kevin's questions are in italics, and quotes. Emphasis added, in boldface, is by the editor.

October 17

"... I think Bush could have changed the game early on by actually admitting there was an insurgency and highlighting the efforts being made to stop it and to rebuild the country. By the time the Admin finally admitted this, it was past too late. The most effective propaganda is honesty or at least the cloak of honesty. Also, if you call people your enemies (unpatriotic press) often enough, they will become your enemies."

I’m probably poorly equipped to argue this point with you. I’m fairly ignorant of the media in general. But I believe the media in the U.S. is considered to be “free” in that the government cannot directly control what it airs on TV or prints in newspapers and magazines. The last time I heard, the media, major or otherwise, is privately owned, and unless seized under very unusual circumstances, fully controls its own content, free of government interference. And while the government may technically own public broadcasting, it cannot be used to advance any particular political position by government officials. If I am wrong about this, please correct me.

But if this is true, then it decisions concerning the direction content will take, or the degree of how much bias will be seen, rest squarely on the shoulders of the reporters, editors, and owners who control their various media outlets, not unlike you control your own website and the content therein.

They may point to the bad actions of politicians, but they cannot then point at those actions to validate their own. If they act dishonestly or allow their bias to unduly influence their decisions, it remains that they have made their own decisions. Anything else, anything beyond this, suggests a level of coercion in the government that in itself could not be maintained in a truly free and honest press. Somebody would speak, somewhere, some time, and the whole thing would come tumbling down.

Instead, I would suggest that the mainstream media is bought and paid for commercially, not by the government, and as such are free to bend and warp whatever tiny bit of news they pass along to any extent they desire as long as, A. They don’t offend their audience, and, B. They don’t get caught in BS so deep they cannot recover their audience. For most of the media, I believe “A” is a greater concern than “B.”

Even politicians have to live up to higher standards than that. Even politicians live under greater scrutiny than that. Even politicians have to accomplish more in real terms than that, if they expect to remain in office.

Hoping that I do not speed the creation of yet another monster, I will point out that everything you do as an individual is based upon what you know or think you know. Every decision is bound up in the knowledge you gain that you hope is complete or at least accurate. Every bit of that knowledge is subject to being presented in several different ways, and it is only the honesty of the situation or those who present it who can provide you with everything you need to know.

If I have control of what you know about Iraq, your subsequent view of it can be that Iraq is a complete failure or that Iraq is a resounding success. Because you can’t be there, and all you know about it comes from me. In a land with thousands of positives and negatives, if you hear a few positives by accident, I can slam those right down to the ground with a longer list of negatives. As long as you don’t know the whole story, I am in control. If I don’t tell it to you, it didn’t happen, and there’s nobody around you who has my power and can prove me wrong.

Eventually, you will be forced to make decisions that affect your future and those of others around you. Because you cannot know any different, you will base your decisions on what I have told you. If I have done my job well you will make the decision I want you to make.

That’s power. That’s a lot of power. If you don’t think anybody has ever realized this…? Puuuuleeezzze. Our greatest asset is our system of government. It also provides our enemies with our greatest weakness. Our best defenses are honesty and the desire to know the whole truth. We can remove dishonest politicians, but there is no formula or set of laws available to remove a dishonest media. So if we are content to be foolish, which is potentially more dangerous?

I want to thank you for the questions and the forum. I really do appreciate your patience and the thought you’ve given to what I have said. I may have a day, maybe two left in BKK and after that I’m pretty much out of touch.

Sixth Part


Thursday, October 26, 2006

What's This?

This is what your familiar Amazon delivery box looks like after it's been opened and inspected by Saudi morals police.

Check out all of Saudi Jeans' photos.

Council Winners Catch-Up

[posted by Callimachus]

Somehow I overlooked the Watcher's Council winners from Oct. 13.

First place in the Council went to "As Long As We're Talking, We're Not Shooting At Each Other" by Right Wing Nut House, which asks a pithy question:

In a very roundabout way I am questioning this paradigm that posits the notion that negotiations – even if they won’t accomplish anything – are always preferable to the alternatives (not necessarily military). If only one side in the negotiations is seeking agreement while the other side wishes to use the talks to achieve the goals that the negotiations are trying to forestall, isn’t it common sense to ask why bother?

Second place went to Changes by ShrinkWrapped, who wonders whether "the accelerating rate of change in our world" has outpaced the ability of national and international institutions to adapt to it. "If so, chaotic change is likely and that favors regression, not progression."

Outside the council, the overwhelming winner was Is Islam Waging War on the World? by Reconquista.

Second place went to The Ahmadinejad Code, a wickedly clever bit of cartoon trickery by Cox & Forkum.

Jonah and the Wail

[posted by Callimachus]

This one is sure to be talked-about. Jonah Goldberg at NRO says "The Iraq war was a mistake." For some reason, that's supposed to be a bombshell admission that changes everything.

I never get that. "[T]he Iraq war was a mistake by the most obvious criteria: If we had known then what we know now, we would never have gone to war with Iraq in 2003." Well, that's some bombshell, isn't it? Maybe I just don't think of it all in terms of red light/green light, mistake/not mistake.

Maybe Jimmy Cater was right and fighting the American Revolution instead of waiting for a peaceful evolution of separation was a mistake. Maybe not standing up to the Soviets in Hungary in 1956 was a mistake. Maybe standing up to them in 1950 in Korea was, too. Maybe not letting the Southern states separate in peace in 1861 was a mistake. Maybe putting a man on the Moon instead of investing in a space station was a mistake.

Maybe the alternatives would have been worse.

In my life, maybe not going to law school was a mistake. Maybe going into journalism instead of teaching was a mistake. Doesn't keep me awake at night. Here I am. The question that matters is, where from here?

Other than that, and I don't know if it's a quibble or a chasm, I think Goldberg makes some sense here:

The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is a side issue. The WMD fiasco was a global intelligence failure, but calling Saddam Hussein’s bluff after 9/11 was the right thing to do. Washington’s more important intelligence failure lay in underestimating what would be required to rebuild and restore post-Hussein Iraq. The White House did not anticipate a low-intensity civil war in Iraq, never planned for it and would not have deemed it in the U.S. interest to pay this high a price in prestige, treasure and, of course, lives.

According to the goofy parameters of the current debate, I’m now supposed to call for withdrawing from Iraq. If it was a mistake to go in, we should get out, some argue. But this is unpersuasive. A doctor will warn that if you see a man stabbed in the chest, you shouldn’t rush to pull the knife out. We are in Iraq for good reasons and for reasons that were well-intentioned but wrong. But we are there.

Those who say that it’s not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it’s the central front in the war on terror. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it’s also strong reason for seeing our Iraqi intervention through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened.

Bush’s critics claim that democracy promotion was an afterthought, a convenient rebranding of a war gone sour. I think that’s unfair, but even if true, it wouldn’t mean liberty isn’t at stake. It wouldn’t mean that promoting a liberal society in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world wouldn’t be in our interest and consistent with our ideals. In war, you sometimes end up having to defend ground you wouldn’t have chosen with perfect knowledge beforehand. That’s us in Iraq.

"According to the conventional script," he writes, "if I’m not saying 'bug out' of Iraq, I’m supposed to say 'stay the course.' " He rightly finds this manichaean duality ridiculous. He has a potential third option at his fingertips: "I think we should ask the Iraqis to vote on whether U.S. troops should stay."

Intriguing, but I'm not sure it doesn't set dangerous precedents. I'm not such a fan of the tyranny of King Numbers. What if it's 52-to-48? How do you hold a fair election that accurately samples public opinion when one result of the election is "the majority gets to slaughter the minority?" What if all the Kurds say "stay" and all the Shi'ites say "go?"

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Boring Postcards

[posted by Callimachus]

Now known as The Davis Building.


Bin There, Laden That

[posted by Callimachus]

I often urge people to read the writings of Bin Laden. In fact, I think it would be a valuable exercise to have the whole nation take a day off work and read what the man has said and written about us and what he plans to do to us and why.

But the next question is, where do I get them; and the answer to that is surprisingly difficult. There is one published collection in English that I am aware of, Messages to the World. It's a good collection, but it has problems.

The problems in the book are not so much in Bin Laden's words, but in the surrounding material. The introduction by Bruce Lawrence (a professor of religion at Duke) seems to bend over to present Bin Laden as an honorable man reacting to legitimate grievances with appropriate resistance that he perhaps takes a wee bit too far.

This is repulsive to me, but perhaps the editors thought they were counterbalancing the hyperbole that the demon evoked from us. Bin Laden certainly is not a madman, and he often uses reason in parts of his arguments and he has a highly developed sense of honor.

But was it necessary to present so many encomiums of praise to the architect of 9/11? If this introduction is merely an attempt to balance other writings, why not say so, and what exactly are those writings? He's also a liar and a mass-murderer and a racist and an implacable enemy of Americans. This is glossed over in the introduction, and at the top of the list of the "further reading" section at the end is Tariq Ali's "Bush in Babylon: The Recolonization of Iraq."

Not America, Americans. Just take the man at his word:

Every Muslim, from the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews, and hates Christians. This is a part of our belief and our religion. For as long as I can remember, I have felt tormented and at war, and have felt hatred and animosity for Americans.

That's from an interview aired on Al-Jazeera in December 1998. The quote is on page 87 of the book.

But, curiously, if you look in the index under "bin-Laden's anti-Americanism" or "Jews," both of which have separate headings in the index, there is no reference to page 87, either alone or in a sequence. The whole index is highly curious in this regard. Certainly if you wanted to know what Bin Laden has said about Jews and Americans, that quote is pertinent. But the compilers of his writings have seen fit to steer their readers away from it.

The footnotes are just as deceptive. The editors jump in with a footnote every time they find a chance to bolster one of Bin Laden's points. But on his errors, they are silent. Why have footnotes at all if all you wish to do with them is legitimatize Bin Laden?

Example: In the 1998 Al-Jazeera interview, Bin Laden says America dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki "after Japan had surrendered," a gross error that is allowed to stand without comment by the editors [p.67].

But in Bin Laden's more carefully crafted open letter to Americans (posted on the Internet on Oct. 14, 2002) he wrote "You dropped a nuclear bomb on Japan, even though Japan was ready to negotiate an end to the war" [p.168].

Here the editors jump in with comments from "several high-ranking US military commanders" and one post-war military report to support Bin Laden. Nowehere do they add that there are as many comments to the opposite effect, and the topic is hotly debated among historians even today, and that the whole business of speculative history is far from certain.


Catfish Farm

[posted by Callimachus]

First Part

Second Part

Third Part

This is the fourth of a six-part series of posts was written by our friend Kat, the contractor's employee who worked on reconstruction projects in and around Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Her story is told here and here among other places (listed in the sidebar at left).

As far as I know, the only anti-Administration blogger to really take up these pieces and accept then into his broader view of the war was Kevin Robinson's My Thinking Corner.

Kevin asked Kat some questions about her impressions and her experiences, which she answered, with elaborations, at his site. With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting her answers, lightly edited, as posts here, since they are interesting in their own right and they broaden and deepen the story she told in the series of posts last month.

Kevin's questions are in italics, and quotes. Emphasis added, in boldface, is by the editor.

October 17

"Third Question – I imagine most people, if they think of what we might be doing there at all, would think we’re rebuilding utilities and the oil industry. Is that an accurate assessment of the contracting effort? What other projects received attention?"

I mostly addressed this question in response to your second, but I think here I can provide a little more of what I think, based on what I’ve observed and know of our efforts.

Most people in the U.S. have no concept of either the operations or their requirements in Iraq. For that matter, most of the people in the world don’t, because the press of most nations has done a terrible job of passing on information. You can say what you will about the administration or politics, but this administration couldn’t sit down and explain much of this without the majority of the press treating it with cynicism or simply failing to print it.

Even if they did, most people in the U.S. or Europe wouldn’t pay much attention. To get that kind of attention you have to go to the Middle and Far East, where they actually care about things like that.

Yes, we are rebuilding utilities and the oil industry. Those are major points in our efforts, and as such are major targets for insurgents. Simple fools look at our efforts and take the easy route, claiming it’s all about us getting cheap oil, while never understanding a thing about Iraq.

What else are you going to do to rebuild Iraq? Turn it into a catfish farm? Are you going to turn it into the tulip capital of the world, or develop it into a tourist Mecca? No way. Unless you’re insane, you’re going to redevelop the oil industry, because it’s Iraq’s life blood, just as it is Iran’s or Saudi Arabia’s. If you want Iraq to prosper, if you want Iraqis employed and enjoying life, you rebuild the oil industry. It’s as simple as that. After that, Iraq can make its own decisions, and if catfish or tulips or tourists are part of those decisions, then they’ll at least be in a position to attempt it.

Iraq can be a lot of things in the future. But for now, they require oil, they require electricity, and they require water. They require roads and basic care and security. Most of these are things that we in the U.S. cannot provide for ourselves individually, but instead must band together to do as townships, states, and a nation. It is not a sin or an abomination that one nation or group of nations attempt to help provide these things to another. It is also not foolish to believe that these efforts may produce a degree of trust, appreciation, and even cooperation in the future. If these things are not true, we might as well wall up our borders now, and cease our efforts to be a part of the rest of the world.

Fifth Part

Sixth Part


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Other Way of War

[posted by Callimachus]

The contractors' work in Iraq was a bid to wage war as it has never been waged before. And as, alas, now that it is failing, the attempt likely never will be made again.

It was a continuation of the war that began in April 2003 and did not end with the fall of Baghdad, only changed form.

It was a creative combat, a constructive war. It brought the best skills Americans have -- the ability to fix things, to make things, to build systematically -- into Iraq. Instead of bombing schools, we raised them up out of the dust. And bridges, and power plants, and pipelines, and sewage treatment plants, and docks. It was the tape reel of a modern war played in reverse. There is a broken building, then the U.S. comes, then there is a working factory.

Make no mistake, this was war. The contractors, my friend included, were soldiers on the front lines. The reconstruction of Iraq was a tactic for victory, and its goal was to crush and humiliate a deadly foe. As combat with bombs and bullets unleashes the darker sides of human nature, constrained by military codes, in service of a political end, so this employed the best qualities in people, including their sense of doing good, making the world better, to the same purpose.

Was it wasteful? Of course it was. Most bombs dropped miss their targets, most bullets fired fail to strike an enemy. Are these things considered wasted when the battle's won?

This was a war that ought to have rallied those who dislike militarism but haven't gone completely off their heads. It was a better way to win. It was consistent with America's values. It could have worked. It ought to have worked.

Those who deride it publicly now may be sorry, privately, when the next round comes, that it did not.

Because now we are all the more likely, after the next calamity, to fight back under Bin Laden's terms. To him, this all is a simple clash of civilizations, a total war, and a fight to the death.

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Without a Prayer

[posted by Callimachus]

And yet when it comes to giving our children a taste of Shakespeare and English at its most beautiful, then suddenly we're all terrified. Might, like turn off the kids… know wha' I mean. Instead they are offered alternative texts, issued by educational publishing houses, that supposedly make our greatest writer more palatable.

Here's a taste. Take a few original lines from Macbeth:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
the handle toward my hand?

Compare them to the guide version:

Oooh! Would you look at that.

Yes, I know it sounds as if I'm making it up, but you can check it for yourself.

I sure do hope he's making it up. That's John Humphrys writing on the state of English in England. Lots in there to moan about if you're one of us lonely sentinels guarding the ruins of grammar and punctuation.

Humphrys also notes "an erosion of formality" as an adjunct of the dumbing-down of language.

When, for example, did you last hear a public figure "send their condolences" to someone who'd been bereaved? Not recently, I suspect. Nowadays, if there has been a disaster of some sort, it tends to be: "Our thoughts go out to the loved ones…" Or even: "All our thoughts are with the families of those…"

It may be well meant, but it has the smack of insincerity, for the obvious reason that it's not true. "All" our thoughts do not "go out" to anyone. Of course all of us will feel a degree of sympathy, and it can actually be insensitive to the bereaved. It is the equivalent of that ghastly and much parodied "I feel your pain".

Hmmm. He's right, of course, and I always get a bad taste in my mouth when I hear or read "our thoughts are with ..." or "our thoughts go out to ...." Most recently I heard it in relation to the Amish school shooting.

But to me it's a secularist version of "Our prayers go out to ..." I can understand a secular person floundering around, groping for the right term in such a situation when you're blocked off from the word "prayer." I agree it's flabby and borderline insensitive. But what are you gonna do?

One business around here, after the shooting, came up with a sign: "Our hearts are breaking for our Amish neighbors." Which, if possible, is even worse.

'Dummies’ Guide to Faux Bravado'

[posted by Callimachus]

Do read Covering Iraq: The Modern Way of War Correspondence by Michael Fumento, a reporter who has been there as a three-time embed in Al-Anbar.

Would you trust a Hurricane Katrina report datelined “direct from Detroit”? Or coverage of the World Trade Center attack from Chicago? Why then should we believe a Time Magazine investigation of the Haditha killings that was reported not from Haditha but from Baghdad? Or a Los Angeles Times article on a purported Fallujah-like attack on Ramadi reported by four journalists in Baghdad and one in Washington? Yet we do, essentially because we have no choice.

Many myths get exploded. "The Highway of Death"? Only reporters call it “The Highway of Death.” "To everyone else it’s Route Irish, named after the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame." That notorious "steep corkscrew spiral plunge" landing into Baghdad International Airport?

“A C-130 deposits us onto the tarmac of Baghdad International Airport after a hair-raising corkscrew landing intended to elude incoming small arms and rocket fire,” a Greek freelance photojournalist boasted on his blog.

It’s not just experience that tells me that’s baloney. Look at a photo of a C-130; it’s a flying bathtub.

Chuck Yeager couldn’t throw it into a corkscrew and then pull out. I did ask a crewman on this last trip about deep-diving C-130s and he said that on a single flight (out of hundreds) the pilot had to plunge suddenly to avoid getting to close to another plane, but other than that “Landing in this plane is like landing in an airliner.”

Read the rest. There are American journalist heroes in Iraq. They're not the ones you see talking about it on your TV.


Which Came First

[posted by Callimachus]

We may never know the answer on the chicken-egg thing. But now we at least can answer who's got seniority, bees or yellow jackets?

Killjoy Was Here

[posted by Callimachus]

Dentists who already have enough money and some Christian fundamentalists have been waging war against Halloween for a long time. They should just sit back and leave it to the killjoys of science.

On Jan 1, 1600, the human population was 536,870,911. If the first vampire came into existence that day and bit one person a month, there would have been two vampires by Feb. 1, 1600. A month later there would have been four, and so on. In just two-and-a-half years the original human population would all have become vampires with nobody left to feed on.

If mortality rates were taken into consideration, the population would disappear much faster. Even an unrealistically high reproduction rate couldn't counteract this effect.

You Would Weep

[posted by Callimachus]

A little more than 200 years ago, a bombastic U.S. agent named William Eaton (today he would be special op) led a handful of U.S. Marines, several hundred foreign mercenaries scraped from the taverns and brothels of Alexandria, and a pack of hired bedouins in a march across a desert that hadn't been crossed in force since classical times. They captured Tripoli's second largest city, then defended it against counter-attack and won a tremendous victory.

The tyrant of Tripoli had captured a U.S. warship and enslaved its 300 sailors. When they died in captivity, the Bashaw Yussef threw their bodies to the dogs in the street. The Jefferson administration wanted them free. America in those days had not entirely forgotten what "honor" meant.

The White House approved Eaton's mission, but didn't expect it to succeed. Until then, the only thing the Marines had going for them was a Washington, D.C., marching band which the citizens loved but the violin-playing Jefferson despised. Instead, he trusted the wily diplomats, who played the game the European way. Headlines in the administration mouthpiece newspaper blared "Millions for Defense but not a Cent for Tribute," but secretly Jefferson authorized ransom for the sailors.

So with a rival for the Tripoli throne, Hamet Bashaw, in tow, Eaton and his rag-tag army surprised everyone, Jefferson included, and conquered the city of Derne. It provided a line for the Marine song every boy used to know:

From the halls of Montezuma
To the shores of Tripoli
We will fight our country's battles
on the land as on the sea.
First to fight for right and freedom ...

And so on. It also provided the curved Memeluke sword on the Marine dress uniform that still commemorates what was, no matter what else, a glorious and honorable victory.

But the Marines' victory, when it came, was almost an embarrassment to the administration, since the diplomats were working things out smoothly with the tyrant, agreeing in principle, haggling over prices. They made sure Eaton and his followers never had a chance. The administration not only paid ransom, it accepted a treaty with a clause that set a going ransom rate for U.S. prisoners, thus encouraging the pirates to try to take more of them.

Worst of all, it sold out every honest ally the U.S. had in Libya. All the North Africans and Bedouins who had cast their lot with the Americans, all the residents of Derne who had helped the Americans defend it, the Arab women who had slipped between the lines and warned Eaton of their enemies' plots and plans, were left to their fate. Everyone knew the town would be looted and the inhabitants massacred when the Americans left. Eaton wrote from Derne to a friend describing his feelings when he read the diplomatic order to withdraw the American forces and the details of the deal that had been cut:

You would weep, Sir, were you on the spot, to witness the unfounded confidence placed in the American character here, and to reflect that this confidence must shortly sink into contempt and immortal hatred; ... but if no further aid comes to our assistance and we are compelled to leave the place under its actual circumstances, humanity itself must weep: The whole city of Derne, together with numerous families of Arabs who attached themselves to Hamet Bashaw and who resisted Yussef's troops in expectation of succour from us, must be abandoned to their fate -- havoc & slaughter will be the inevitable consequence -- not a soul of them can escape the savage vengeance of the enemy.

When the Associated Press opens a "news" story with the clause, "In a somber, pre-election review of a long and brutal war ..." you know we're going to drop it, we're going to "leave the place under its actual circumstances." You know there's no power of influence in Bush's White House that can cut past that, even if he decided now, too late, it was worth really trying.

Thanks to a pusillanimous political class, an attention-deficit public, an inept administration, and a malice-blinded media, we are going to leave.

The good people of Iraq will have to stand and face the bad people of Iraq and many other lands, on their own. It always was going to have to be them who won this war, not us. We went to Iraq to lose, to be told to go home. It was the only way to make the place what we wanted it to be: A strong, free, prosperous, and law-abiding country ruled transparently by its people. The question was, whether we would stay long enough to help build that country and receive its orders to depart, or whether it would be jihadis and thugs -- sorry, "insurgents" -- who would force us to leave too soon.

That answer is becoming clear. There will be consequences. The Kurds will feel them. But so will we. Weakness displayed before a weaker enemy is an invitation to further disaster. Just read Bin Laden.

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Boring Postcards

[posted by Callimachus]

Looking like a French chateau lifted by alien gravity beams and dropped whimsically atop an insurance company's headquarters, Philadelphia's Bellevue-Stratford Hotel rules over Broad Street in 1904, the year it opened as the most glamorous hotel in the nation.

Two years later it became the home of the Philadelphia Assemblies, an annual social event that was like a debutante ball for grown-ups. According to Nathaniel Burt's Perennial Philadelphians, it is "of all Philadelphia's many institutions the most socially venerable and the most venerated, and combines in a fine bouquet almost everything characteristic of the city. It is both a club and a family occasion,and though a dance, involves food and drink, and a good deal of sitting."

The Assemblies date back to colonial times (though it was not founded by Ben Franklin), and early guests are said to have included an Indian chief who terrified the ladies with a war dance, and his wife, who offered herself sexually to the governor of Pennsylvania in a traditional gesture of hospitality.

Its exclusiveness is legendary, and the rules of who's on the list and who's not seem harsh and dates, but Burt (writing in the 1970s) found they served the purpose.

If a daughter marries out of the Assembly, she stays out. A son however can marry anybody and stay in. "A man can bring his cook, if she's his wife," is the usual way of putting it. He can't bring her if she has been divorced, however, or come himself if he has been. In older days this hard and fast rule was said to have kept many Philadelphia marriages together, but now it just means the continual weeding out of possible subscribers. Archaic as the rule seems to outsiders, in as tight a world as this, most divorced members of the Assembly immediately remarry other divorced members of the Assembly, and if they all got together in the same room it might be deuced awkward.

Needless to say, Mohawk maidens no longer were invited, though by the 20th century some of the debauched and eccentric Philadelphia gentry behaved little better. Nonetheless, in more recent times, as divorces and marriages out of class rose, some civic leaders from even the old families found they had to pull every wire in reach to get a daughter and her escort invited -- only to have them skip out early, finding the event insufferably stuffy. It seems likely (at least to me) the Assemblies are the source of the society slang phrase for "huge fashionable party where everyone knows everyone, characterized principally by socializing," said to have been coined by Averell Harriman's second wife: Philadelphia rat-fuck.

The hotel was well past its prime when it hosted an American Legion convention in the summer of 1976 and hundreds fell mysteriously ill with what subsequently came to be called Legionnaire's Disease. The hotel closed for a while, and it has been remodeled and reopened several times since, as part of various chains, but its glory days are over.

You can't get into the Assemblies, but you can get into the building and marvel at the marble stairs, hand-wrought iron railings, and gilt ceilings. But they sit awkwardly amid the upscale chain shops that now occupy the chopped-up and walled-up space of what used to be the large downstairs public areas. There was still an excellent and cozy bar on the top floor, last time I was there, where you can get nicely smashed in good old debauched Philadelphia style.


Nearer to Thee

"Sean Aqui," by way of a George Will review of a book about the religion (or lack of it) of the Founders, reopens the endless debate. Lincoln, as usual, gets thrown into the mix (in the comments). For once, he belongs there.

Two observations: We regard these men as gods or statues, and forget they lived in real time. Their views and their spiritual expeirence changed over their adult lives. Certainly the experience of the Revolution clarified Washington's ideas about god, as the Civil War turned Lincoln toward a faith he lacked as a young man. Jefferson's religious views got more secular and more confused after he left the White House. To write about "the Christianity of Abraham Lincoln" as a static thing would be a gross error.

Second, we children of the skeptical 20th century continually are dismayed to learn that the Founders held one opinion in private and another in public. From Will's review:

Allen’s challenge is to square the six founders’ often pious public words and behavior with her conviction that their real beliefs placed all six far from Christianity. Her conviction is well documented, exuberantly argued and quite persuasive.

Well of course. But there's no "a-ha" moment to it, even though we act like we've caught them in a fib. They all knew this about one another. They were not like we expect our politicians to be, hauling all their personal opinions and private faiths into public office as though what they thought about God or no-God ought to be the nation's governing principle.

They were more or less deists, by modern views, who tended to be two-faced about public religion, except to them it wasn't a deception so much as a recognition that they were leaders by virtuous example. What views they held themselves they did not urge on the nation. Instead, they sought to encourage the best of the people's tendencies. It's an elitist practice long since lost in America, and any politician we catch nowadays at it we ride into the ground as a hypocrite.

Jefferson certainly wasn't much different than Tom Paine in his religious views, but Paine published his and Jefferson mostly kept his private and went out of his way to pay respect to Christian views he did not share. That, as much as anything, may be why Paine, who did as much as anyone to set America free, generally is excluded from the pantheon of the Founders.

They were, as Gordon Wood says in "Revolutionary Characters" (the best book this year on the Founders) "self-fashioned performers in the theater of life."

Theirs was not character as we today are apt to understand it, as the inner personality that contains hidden contradictions and flaws. (This present-day view of character is what leads to the current bashing of the founders). Instead their idea of character was the outer life, the public person trying to show the world that he was living up to the values and duties that the best of the culture imposed on him. The founders were integrally connected to the society and never saw themselves as standing apart from the world in critical or scholarly isolation. Unlike intellectuals today, they had no sense of being in an adversarial relationship to the culture.

Second Question

[posted by Callimachus]

First part

Second Part

This is the third of a six-part series of posts was written by our friend Kat, the contractor's employee who worked on reconstruction projects in and around Iraq after the fall of Saddam. Her story is told here and here among other places (listed in the sidebar at left).

As far as I know, the only anti-Administration blogger to really take up these pieces and accept then into his broader view of the war was Kevin Robinson's My Thinking Corner.

Kevin asked Kat some questions about her impressions and her experiences, which she answered, with elaborations, at his site. With Kevin's permission, I'm reprinting her answers, lightly edited, as posts here, since they are interesting in their own right and they broaden and deepen the story she told in the series of posts last month.

Kevin's questions are in italics, and quotes. Emphasis added, in boldface, is by the editor.

October 17

“Second Question – Which projects appeared to have priority?”

In terms of answering the taxpayer's question, “What have I been paying for?” the first projects were primarily the establishment of U.S. military base requirements. These include the securing and establishment of the so-called Green Zone, but also a series of major bases, outposts, and forts scattered throughout the country.

Everything required to secure, feed, and bed soldiers and marines had to be either built or improved. Equipment required secure locations for storage and maintenance as well. Just as importantly, these facilities had to be constructed quickly, with all materials and equipment required for their construction obtained and placed on site, and construction completed ASAP, often under poor security conditions.

The infamous KBR convoy massacre is a fair example of what had to be dealt with during that process, with blame rightly being placed on both KBR and the military, but with little or no consideration of the actual mission or the map-reading mistake that ultimately set the scene for the disaster.

Second in importance were vital services, such as electricity or repairs to damaged water and sewer systems. This proved to be substantially more difficult than initially expected, partially due to war damage but largely due to long-term neglect under Saddam. For example, it was not unusual to replace an obviously damaged valve on a water supply system only to find that once pressure was placed on the balance of the line, three other valves (not to be found anywhere in Iraq) promptly blew, or whole sections of pipe split, or leaks developed around hundreds of packing joints and gaskets.

Simultaneously, work began on the restoration of oil and natural gas production facilities and refineries. A great deal has been made over the U.S. decision to immediately begin these efforts, fueling the “We only did it for the oil” argument. But the idea behind it was actually quite simple and far from sinister.

Oil and gas production in Iraq is the primary source of that nation’s income. It is also a significant source of employment for Iraqis, both directly and indirectly. As such, it was felt that restoration and improvement of this industry would allow the nation to immediately begin to restore itself economically and thus reduce the immediate and future costs of restoration to the U.S. and other donor nations.

Additional projects included the restoration or construction of schools, hospitals, and government offices for basic services including police. Port facilities in Basra also required work.

Somewhat below this level is the restoration of facilities for the Iraqi military. Restoration of southern marshlands was also included within the scope of the original work being planned and funded.

The methods by which these projects have been completed has varied wildly, from volunteer activities carried out by members of the military to open-ended contracts initially held by U.S. corporations. The success levels have varied as well, as has the quality of the finished products. Some schools are on par with European examples, while others are little more than empty shells with doors and fresh paint.

Hospitals have been a major problem, but they actually bring us up to the latest efforts being made in Iraq. Hopefully you will understand the strategy.

In all of the above efforts, as well as in the efforts made to establish the base of a new Iraqi government, it was discovered that Iraqis, on the whole, were simply not sufficiently educated or experienced in higher level government, manual, and business skills to properly run their own government in an open type of society. Rules and organizational capabilities were remarkably absent, and highly skilled labor was almost unknown.

Iraqis are well educated in a general way, but few have had any cause to exercise their educations in real-world situations for the last twenty years. And where labor is concerned, skilled trades people such as millwrights or machinists are virtually nonexistent. That’s not because we killed them all, but because there was so little new construction or repair work done for almost a generation. So from the top down, Iraqis are simply not ready to handle their own government, their own services, or their own industries without first receiving advanced training and supervision. It’s not that they’re stupid, and not that they’re unwilling to learn or don’t want to do the work. It’s just that they don’t yet know how to.

As a result, a lot of expensive equipment has been left sitting idle, or worse, is now damaged from lack of skilled operation or repair. A lot of money has been wasted, and a lot of time has been lost. But we have begun to address this issue with new training programs. We have also backed off of certain projects until Iraqis are sufficiently trained to carry them out on their own.

As a result, reconstruction has slowed somewhat for the time being, but in the end projects should employ more Iraqis and allow them to fully understand what they have built and maintain them properly for themselves. That tends to develop their pride, and a desire to protect what has been built. With luck, these aspects will strengthen Iraqi will against those who wish to see their society in chaos.

You may ask the obvious question, “Why on earth did you let people who couldn’t manage things be in charge of expensive stuff?” Well, the world didn’t exactly throw itself into Iraq to help rebuild it, and in truth, the idea from the start was to let Iraqis take control of their own country. Additionally, Iraq, like many other places on the globe, has a culture wherein not knowing how to do something is considered bad, and lying about capabilities to save face is the norm. It takes a while for Americans to get used to this, whether we’re dealing with it in Iraq, India, or Thailand. When you have efforts this big, with cultural and educational differences this large, you’re going to make some mistakes. It happens.

Fourth Part

Fifth Part

Sixth Part


All Our Yesterdays

When the blood-on-your-hands accusation bites back, some folks won't be happy.

Confederate Yankee writes, plausibly:

If current U.S. political trends hold, Iraq may become another Darfur, and Darfur well may be on its way to becoming another Rwanda.

To which Blue Crab Boulevard adds:

And the blood will be on the hands of the ones who force a precipitous pullout. Not on someone else's hands. Their hands.

Welcome to the superpower throne. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

But of course, the counter-argument we'll hear will be, "if Shrubbie had only left well enough alone in Iraq," none of this would have happened. And if they shout it loud enough, perhaps it even will drown out the echoes, in their own heads, of "We think the price is worth it."

Such arguments always oppose the war against some presumed perpetual zero-violence condition. As though Saddam would be keeping the lid on things forever, as though, had Baghdad not been liberated in April 2003, it would be April 2003 forever.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


This article, by two authors of a recent book on the topic, offers a workable definition of "anti-Americanism." Peter J. Katzenstein and Robert O. Keohane write, "we define anti-Americanism as a psychological tendency to hold negative views of the United States and of American society in general."

I'll take that (with the addition of "and of Americans as individuals"). It's a label that gets thrown around too loosely. It needs a template. Katzenstein and Keohane write that "[b]oth left and right need to rethink their positions" on the roots and significance of anti-Americanism, and that "big explanations" that attempt to trace it to a single cause are doomed to fail.

Overall, it's an intelligent analysis. Here are a few highlights I liked:

Since liberal anti-Americanism feeds on perceptions of hypocrisy, a less hypocritical set of United States policies could presumably reduce it. Hypocrisy, however, is inherent in the situation of a superpower that professes universalistic ideals. It afflicted the Soviet Union even more than the United States. Furthermore, a prominent feature of pluralist democracy is that its leaders find it necessary to claim that they are acting consistently with democratic ideals while they have to respond to groups seeking to pursue their own self-interests, usually narrowly defined. When the interests of politically strong groups imply policies that do not reflect democratic ideals, the ideals are typically compromised. Hypocrisy routinely results. It is criticized not only in liberal but also in nonliberal states: for instance, Chinese public discourse overwhelmingly associates the United States with adherence to a double standard in its foreign policy in general and in its conduct of the war on terror specifically.

Hypocrisy in American foreign policy is not so much the result of the ethical failings of American leaders as a byproduct of the role played by the United States in world politics and of democratic politics at home. It will not, therefore, be eradicated. As long as political hypocrisy persists, abundant material will be available for liberal anti-Americanism.

Yes. The German theologian Reinhold Niebuhr noted the paradox 50 years ago: America cannot at the same time project its world power and maintain the image of an innocent, virtuous nation. Katzenstein and Keohane note correctly that America's domestic innocense was lost long ago, about the time the first election was held.

They also explain something about France that often is overlooked in the general American dismissal of that nation, based on years of hectoring.

Elitist anti-Americanism arises in countries in which the elite has a long history of looking down on American culture. In France, for example, discussions of anti-Americanism date back to the eighteenth century, when some European writers held that everything in the Americas was degenerate.2 The climate was enervating; plants and animals did not grow to the same size; people were uncouth. In France and in much of Western Europe, the tradition of disparaging America has continued ever since. Americans are often seen as uncultured materialists seeking individual personal advancement without concern for the arts, music, or other finer things of life. Or they are viewed as excessively religious and therefore insufficiently rational. French intellectuals are the European epicenter of anti-Americanism, and some of their disdain spills over to the public.

However, as our book shows, French anti-Americanism is largely an elite phenomenon. Indeed, polls of the French public between the 1960s and 2002 indicated majority pro-Americanism in France, with favorable ratings that were only somewhat lower than levels observed elsewhere in Europe.

Finally, they tackle the bogeyman of "Americanization:" An odd sort of defensive reaction against U.S. popular culture, often made by the same people who, out of the other side of their mouths, sneer that America has created nothing new in the world.

“Americanization,” therefore, does not describe a simple extension of American products and processes to other parts of the world. On the contrary, it refers to the selective appropriation of American symbols and values by individuals and groups in other societies — symbols and values that may well have had their origins elsewhere. Americanization thus is a profoundly interactive process between America and all parts of the world.

A few years ago an anti-war blogger sneered that Americans ought to give up claiming "I don't agree with what you say, but I'll die for your right to say it" was an expression of American ideals, since it was not said by an American. She attributed it to the French and to Voltaire -- a common error.

[The quote is first used in 1906, by a woman named Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1919), an Englishwoman who wrote a biography of Voltaire under the pseudonym S.G. Tallentyre. She said it was a paraphrase of Voltaire's words in his "Essay on Tolerance": "Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too." The quote is so often misattributed that one historical researcher has paraphrased it as, "I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to mis-attribute this quote to Voltaire."]

I wrote to her: "Really, very little of America is original, and almost none of the best of it is. We know that, and it doesn't bother us. Everyone here is from somewhere else, ultimately. Every idea that formed our Declaration of Independence and Constitution was first hatched in some European mind -- a considerable chunk of it from Voltaire, in fact. Doesn't bother us. Many of the men who led the colonies into independence were born overseas. ... Arnold Schwarzenegger is a famous American governor, but he wasn't born here."