Monday, November 29, 2004
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Charles de Gaulle, War Memoirs (Vol. I, "The Call").
All my life I have cherished a certain idea of France, that is
inspired by feeling as well as by reason. . . My instinct tells me that
providence created her for triumphs and disasters. If, in spite of
this, France behaves in a mediocre fashion, I feel that there has been
an error, due to the mistakes of the French [people] rather than the
character of the nation. The positive side of my mind is convinced that France
is true to herself only when she stands in the first rank; that only great
enterprises can neutralize the ferment of disunity which her people carry in
their veins... France cannot be France for me without grandeur. France is
not France unless she is great...
Monday, November 22, 2004
The occasion for this thought was the elevator in El Jefe’s office building. Ever watched your fellow passengers in an elevator ? Of course you have, although it’s Bad Form to be caught doing it, (and like Captain Hook, El Jefe believes that Bad Form must be avoided above all things). However, in the building known by all Right-Thinking-People as the El Jefe Tower, (where, when he is not busy determining the destinies of men and nations, or otherwise making trouble, El Jefe goes for his day job), luck and good interior design are with the covert people-watcher, because the elevators walls are composed of some reflective substance that basically serves as a mirror. So one can observe without seeming to observe…
The Behavioral Scientists and other people who study what makes humans tick say that much if not most human communication is non-verbal. To El Jefe, this is why elevator rides are sometimes interesting. The passengers on an elevator are usually strangers or near-strangers forced into close proximity, and they are constantly communicating even when nothing is verbalized. Like all human activities, there are unwritten protocols for Big Building Elevator Riding. El Jefe guarantees that in some university someplace, there’s a doctorial thesis being written, or which has been written, involving Human Behavior and Interaction in Elevators.
Usually, persons who do not know each other do not converse, verbally at least, much in the mornings, although the rules are more relaxed in the afternoons. Probably the most important rules involve allocation of personal space. Very bad form to stand too close to the other riders. When a new person enters, without anything being said, all passengers carefully reposition. Similarly, when a person exits, the remaining riders adjust positions again. Of course, all of this is blindingly obvious, duh level stuff (these behaviors have been learned since childhood), but never consciously thought of. If human-looking Martians arrived, however, this would all probably drive them wacko.
The most diverting feature of Big Building Elevator Riding is figuring out Who’s Leaving Next. Play this game sometime. Without anything being said, when the elevator is closing in on its next stop, one can always tell who is next to leave. The departing rider almost invariably gives a non-verbal clue: eye movements, a minute shifting of the passenger’s briefcase, coffee cup or newspaper, a hand or head movement, shuffling of a foot, whatever. Of course, there are exceptions, and El Jefe finds such persons, who have superhuman control over their body language, most interesting of all. El Jefe should never like to play poker with them !
El Jefe’s point (and he does have one), is that body language and non-verbal cues very much operate even in something so casual as riding an elevator between floors in a building. How much smarter, more insightful and probably happier we would all be if we knew how to read these clues in other situations.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
Caesar’s clemency, as he knew, was familiar to all, and he did not fear that
severer action on his part might seem due to natural cruelty; at the same time
he could not see any successful issue to his plans if more of the enemy in
different districts engaged in designs of this sort [rebellion]. He
therefore considered that the rest must be deterred by an exemplary punishment;
and so, while granting them their lives, he cut off the hands of all who had
borne arms, to testify the more openly the penalty of
Gaius Julius Caesar, De Bellum Gallico, Book VIII.44.
El Jefe understands the sound military and political reasoning behind spending large sums on needful public works and relief in the context of pacification and quelling insurrection, for the purpose of establishing and supporting a friendly government. Moreover, El Jefe fully supports hefty appropriations, larger even then those currently planned, for same. Nevertheless, El Jefe is of the opinion that spending such sums on Falljuah is worse than a crime, and is in fact a mistake. By all means, spend aid money in Iraq, but, with certain exceptions, not one penny ought to be spent in Falljuah, or anyplace else in the Sunni Triangle. Send the money to places (Shia or Kurdish) where the population is apt to be more grateful.
The avowed intention of the US military authorities and the Iraqi government to spend millions on Fallujah shows that these decision-makers are hopelessly naïve, and that they do not understand the nature of the current rebellion, because they do not take the Sunni Arab rebels seriously.
$100 million dollars on reconstruction of Fallujah is a stupid investment. No sum of money will ever reconcile Sunni Arabs to the overthrow of the Baathist state and the new dispensation in Iraq. The 25-30 percent of the Iraqi population that is Sunni Arab lorded-it over the remaining Shiite, Kurdish and Turkoman Iraqis from independence on. The fall of Saddam is a true disaster to Sunni Arabs, because it means the end of the Sunni monopoly on power, and a new Iraq dominated largely by the 60 percent of the population that is Shiite. From the Sunni Arab point of view, the only way to avoid retribution for 70 years of exploitation of the remainder of the population is by driving out the Americans and strangling the new Iraq in its crib. The Sunnis know full well that if Saddam’s victims consolidate their power, that there will be a reckoning.
Perhaps El Jefe is hard on the Sunnis, and in particular on the good citizens of Fallujah. True, he finds it hard to be kind to people who hacked American contractors to death and burned their bodies for television. Remember also the slaughterhouses for hostages, the bodies of the pro-American Iraqis, and the dead aid workers. Still, El Jefe is not as ruthless as some would be. El Jefe has been reading lots about the Romans lately – a people who knew more about dealing with rebels than Americans could even dream of learning. If the Romans were faced with Fallujah, they’d have killed everybody in the place, burnt it to the ground, leveled the ruins, and sowed the earth with salt. A little harsh for El Jefe, who is more amiable, but I bet that would end the nonsense in the Sunni Triangle.
Take the rebels seriously. They deserve that much. Yes, they are our enemies, and terrorist-bandit-thug murderers, but by their own lights they are patriots too. This war is everything to them, it is about power and existence; literally whether life as they have always known it is to be or not to be. The rebels are not children to be bought off with American aid money. They will gladly accept our cash today and gleefully return to shooting our soldiers and marines tomorrow. The rebels must be broken: that is convinced that their only choices are death or submission.
For now, spend the aid money elsewhere. A few more Fallujahs, and perhaps the Sunni population will get a clue, forget their stupid and murderous rebellion, and began to bargain with the Americans to protect them from the Shiites. Only then can we safely put aside the sword, and show clemency by sharing our food and ploughshares.
Tuesday, November 16, 2004
Okay, your host, El Jefe Maximo¸ undisputed ruler of the Kingdom of Chaos, would not make this up. It’s too crazy even for El Jefe on tequila. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have come up with (brace yourselves, be sitting down) – the (roll of drums)…
“Fish Empathy Project.”
Yes, you are reading correctly. The craziness does not lie with your screen. Well, maybe it does, but you know what I mean.
According to the AP, in a story dated today, the PETA ‘s “Fish Empathy Project” seeks to teach us philistines that fish “are intelligent, sensitive animals no more deserving of being eaten than a pet dog or cat.” PETA’s “Director of Vegan Outreach” tells us that “[o]nce people start to understand that fish, although they come in different packaging, are just as intelligent, they’ll stop eating them.”
Yes, we’re all alike you see. Start up the tambourines, sing “Kumbaya.” Smoke a joint, and maybe break into Billy Bragg’s “The Many Not the Few” (see last post).
To their credit, the PETA recognize that they face an uphill battle, says the AP story. “Fish are so misunderstood because they’re so far removed from our daily lives” says the Empathy Project manager. “They’re such interesting, fascinating individuals, yet they’re so incredibly abused.”
Hmmmm, maybe they have a point. Maybe Fish Empathy, instead of Blackened Redfish with cayenne, lemon and garlic, and a decent chardonnay, is really the way to go.
Okay, lets do a law school exercise, a hypothetical. Assume a fish pond. Assume this fish pond is on one of El Jefe’s numerous estates, lovingly and carefully maintained by his legions of diligent servants. El Jefe you see, is a beneficent master, and the fish on his estates are fed the finest natural organic fish food (no meat or dairy products for El Jefe’s fish !), bought only from independent distributors, and not from multi-national corporations. In any case, El Jefe, having enjoyed a Cosmo or four and a cigar and being convinced by one of his comely companions to “grow spiritually” and show empathy for the fish, repairs to the shores of the fish pond, and the following transpires:
El Jefe: “Hey fishes…”
El Jefe: “Yes, you, little bitty fishes. PETA tells me that you’re complex, fascinating, and misunderstood.”
El Jefe: “Ya know, I was just thinking. I’ve been wrong. Like that article said, I’ve been dismissing you as ‘dimwitted pea-brains.’ I know I’m wrong now. I know that, in the vastness of the universe, ya’ll are really quite interesting and misunderstood, and far removed from my daily life.”
El Jefe: “Just to show you I’ve turned over a new leaf, I’m gonna, like try to empathise with you more before I go fishing. In fact, I’m gonna sing the Barney song, or something equally nicey-nice, before I go fishing, from now on. How do you like that ?”
El Jefe: “Good. Glad we got that straight. I feel better now. I’m sure you do too.”
(El Jefe leaves, stage left, in a cloud of cigar smoke, singing “Kumbaya,” as the mist, or something, starts to get pretty thick).
I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above, Entire and whole and
perfect, the service of my love:the love that asks no questions, the love that
stands the test,That lays upon the altar, the dearest and the best;the love that
never falters, the love that pays the price,the love that makes undaunted the
final sacrifice. . .
The Spirit of McWorld gets around to everything, it seems, imposing dumbing-down, sameness, boredom and de-culturalization wherever it goes. I suppose it was inevitable that McWorld would get around to Sir Cecil Spring-Rice’s “I Vow to Thee My Country,” a poem written to honor the dead of the First World War, and, sung to a melody by Gustav Holtz, a staple of British Remembrance Day ceremonies, (see my “11/11/1918” post).
According to today’s Daily Telegraph (UK), the left wing songwriter Billy Bragg has written some new lyrics for Holst’s melody, dropping the retro-patriotism and the un-PC religious imagery. Mr. Bragg’s creation is called “The Many Not the Few.” (Hey, John Edwards – here’s your 2008 campaign song !).
The Telegraph piece quotes the first line: “We vow to build a country/Where all can live in health/Where no child need live in poverty/ Where we will all share our wealth.” Right, and a chicken in every pot, and two cars (hybrids of course) in every garage. Say, did Huey Long write this ?
Really original, but it gets better: “As democrats and socialists/ We hold this to be true / From each by their ability/ To everyone their due.” Paging Mr. Marx…Mr. Karl Marx. Please answer the Red Paging Telephone in the Red Concourse….
Finally the Telegraph tells us “[i]t ends with the optimism [???] of John Lennon’s 'Imagine.'” Actually, sounds more like banality: “For there is a simple principle/That no one shall displace/ We are all alike in humankind/ We are the human race.” This is optimism ? Sounds like valium in the water supply to me. Either that or the Aliens landed and turned us into Pod People. Yawneroos, wake me when it’s over, please.
All leftist music and thought sounds the same. Same old drivel, all the way back to the Internationale. Everyone is equal, everyone is alike, everybody's PC, nobody’s different, united in total boringness. Wait, I get it ! "Imagine all the people...." Nah.
Saturday, November 13, 2004
1). Fragmentation and Conspiracies. Short term: the defeat means the fragmentation of the left, as the various components of the Democratic coalition indulge in recriminations over the defeat, blaming rival factions within their own coalition for the debacle; and alternatively lamenting the stupidity of the American people; and the skill at criminality of the Bush administration, whose legitimacy they shall continue to deny. This trend is already apparent in left-wing newspaper commentaries; a summary is presented in my 9 November post “Liberal Meltdown.”
Many will see their defeat as the result of a conspiracy, of Bush/Karl Rove/Ashcroft efforts to suppress the vote, and hide the “true” results. Kerry’s quick concession, good for the country, was probably bad for the Left, contributing in the short run to the Democrats’ fragmentation, because party unity is built in part around the “victim” status of being ripped off, as they see it, by Bush in 2000. In the long run, Kerry’s quick concession will contribute to the demise of Kerry’s Washington insider faction as power brokers in the Democratic Party, and the rise of more radical/populist factions.
2). Rise of the anti-war Left. In the near term, the hard left will focus on its opposition to the war, particularly that part of it in Iraq. Most Democrats can agree to oppose the Iraqi war, and if the steady dribble of casualties continues, they can expect to attract some popular support. The administration has a limited amount of time to settle the Iraq business, probably no longer than six to eight months.
3). Rise of Economic Populism. Pay attention to John Edwards’ concession speech, and recall the last weeks of the Gore campaign of 2000. (the Bob Shrumish, Ted Kennedyesque “I’ll fight for working people” rhetoric). The Kerry campaign, rooted in the upper middle class, the Washington establishment and the universities, generally avoided direct appeals to any sort of populism, even of the economic variety.
4). Violence ? Some have warned about the violent tendencies of some parts of the left, in particular John O’Sullivan in National Review, and Todd Gitlin in the Washington Monthly. The possibility cannot be ignored. Consider that the Left made a truly unified, total effort to throw out Bush. The late campaign just concluded was the united project of the university Left, the big television media, the permanent government bureaucracy, the plaintiff's Bar, the non-governmental organization lobbies, the anti-globalization crowd, Hollywood and the cultural elite, and other chattering classes, plus the unions, and the civil-rights establishment.
All these diverse groups and individuals made an awesome, truly Herculean effort to cooperate, submerge their differences, and work together to beat Bush. The degree of agreement on the Left to ignore Nader and eschew the traditional Democratic sport of fragmentation and support John Kerry, an unsatisfactory candidate for many “progressives,” was amazing The result was the most formidable electoral coalition the Left has ever assembled, with an awesome GOTV effort – and it failed utterly, at every level.
The rage this defeat will produce is going to be both immense and terrible. Portions of the hard-Left will have less and less use for the constitutional republic as we understand it, and will move more towards open support of outright socialism and class warfare. Some small number of still more radical members of the Left will, quite probably, see no purpose whatever in continuing to pursue peaceful politics. Something like the old Weather Underground may appear, particularly if the war continues.
Tons of documents and arms have been taken. Slaughterhouses, where hostages were held, have been found in northern Fallujah, along with personal effects and documents belonging to some of the deceased hostages. US troops, again according to today’s New York Times, have evidently rescued a Syrian taxi driver who had been kidnapped in August.
Virtually the whole population of Fallujah has already fled anyway – anybody who is left almost certainly supports the rebels and ought to be behind barbed wire in some very uncomfortable place anyway. According to the Times piece today. Because “…the United States has refused to take part in the International Criminal Court”, it is unclear whether American troops could be held accountable” for the so-called war crimes. Thank God for small miracles.
Meanwhile, the rebels have launched an offensive in Mosul, in the north, and have overwhelmed the local police. Reinforcements have been brought up. 1/5th US Infantry (25th Inf. Div.) has pulled out of the Fallujah fight and been sent to Mosul. The Mosul governor says some of the police have defected. On the plus side, Orbat.com says that the Kurds (pro US) are setting up street patrols in Mosul. Clashes all over the Sunni triangle, in particular near Ramadi and Samarra.
A so-called insurgent “official,” one Saif al-Deen al-Baghdadi is quoted in the AP as saying that “ridding Iraq of the occupation will not be done by ballots...Allawi’s government …represents the fundamentalist right-wing of the White House and not the Iraqi people.” “Fundamentalist right-wing” eh ? Is this guy reading Democratic Party press releases ? Hopefully a fundamentalist right-wing US Marine or GI shuts Mr. Saif up with a 5.56 mm “ballot” as soon as possible.
People disposed to panic will see the surge of violence in Mosul and the fighting in Fallujah and elsewhere as a sign that we cannot hope to win. I draw the opposite conclusion. Recall the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, so many years ago. We now know that the decision of the Vietcong leadership to bring such a high proportion of its political cadre and underground military organization out of hiding and into the cities of South Vietnam finished the VC as a military threat to the US and its Vietnamese allies. After the initial surprise, US and South Vietnamese troops annihilated the exposed VC. When South Vietnam ultimately fell, after the Congress made us abandon (er, excuse me, withdraw from) South Vietnam, it was to the North Vietnamese Army, and not the VC.
However, the military disaster to the communists was not made apparent to most Americans, who soon began to agree (wrongly), with the major television media, that Tet had been a defeat for America and its allies, and that the war could not be won.
Now, over 30 years later, the Iraq terrorist rebels (who are nowhere nearly as well organized, or trained as the VC, and have nothing like their scale of popular support) – have taken a similar risk, and it should be the end of them. The Saddamite/pro al Qaeda rebels have chosen, foolishly, to stand and fight the US forces and their Iraqi and other allies in the cities. The rebels have stupidly presented themselves for destruction, and the military is obliging, helping them to martyrdom as rapidly and as efficiently as possible.
Our military is doing its part. Our Iraqi allies, still trying to put together their own military, are trying to do theirs. Within days, US forces in Fallujah will be available for use in Mosul, Ramadi and elsewhere in the rebellious Sunni triangle. If the Sunni population wants to find itself ruled completely by Kurds and Shiites, and wishes to see the complete devastation of its portion of the country, let it keep supporting the rebels.
The political leadership must now step up to the plate, and not allow the anti-war elements in the media, the foreign policy establishment and elsewhere to portray what is happening as a US defeat. President Bush and his administration need to get in front of the television cameras, and conduct some public education.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.
Inscription, British War Memorial, Kohima, India.
(attributed to John Maxwell Edmonds, Times Literary Supplement
[London], 4 July 1918)
Today is Veterans Day in the USA. As our soldiers, sailors and aviators serve and struggle for us throughout the world, particularly today in Iraq and Afghanistan, pause in your business for a moment, and think of them, and of our veterans. Remember those who are not with us today, because they made the ultimate sacrifice. If you know a veteran, and have the opportunity, say “Thank you.”
Look down, and swear by the slain of the War that you’ll never forget.
Do you remember the dark months you held the sector at Mametz – The nights you watched and wired and dug...?
Do you ever stop and ask, ‘Is it all going to happen again ?’ . . .
Have you forgotten yet ?...
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.
Siegfried Sassoon “Aftermath, March 1919.”
Today is Veterans Day in America. Because the calendar is crowded with holidays, Veterans Day replaced an older holiday, called Armistice Day, which commemorated the end of the First World War, surely the most needless, tragic, but consequential war of modern times. Canada, and the British Commonwealth, very appropriately, call today “Remembrance Day.” World War I is ancient history to most of us, yet it is with us, always. Pause for a moment, and remember.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
Still, some of this introspection is hard to take. Jane Smiley, in “Why Americans Hate Democrats – A Dialogue” (Slate, 4 November 2004) blames Kerry’s loss on the “[i]gnorance and bloodlust [that] have a long tradition in the United States, especially in the red states.” Smiley’s relatives from Missouri, who voted Republican, are “…not ignorant, they are just greedy and full of classic Republican feelings of superiority.”