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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Thursday, 4 December 2003

Topic: World View

"Americans have become dangerous to the world lately not because they are evil, but because ..."

David Neiwert is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. His reporting for on domestic terrorism won the National Press Club Award for Distinguished Online Journalism in 2000. He is the author of In God's Country: The Patriot Movement and the Pacific Northwest (1999, WSU Press), as well as Death on the Fourth of July: Hate Crimes and the American Landscape (Palgrave/St. Martin's, summer 2004) and the forthcoming Strawberry Days: The Rise and Fall of the Bellevue Japanese-American Community (publisher pending). His freelance work can be found at, the Washington Post, MSNBC and various other publications.

On his site Orcinus he has published a letter from a fellow in Brazil that is quite good.

Below is a bit of it, which could be titled Power feels good, but happiness is better.

The emphases are mine.
As to the whole matter of liberals vs. conservatives, or whatever you may call it, I would like to point out that this whole discussion is just one more endogenous American game which makes no sense whatsoever to the rest of the world. No matter who wins next year or which trend prevails in the long run, Americans will continue to be Americans -- a race of mostly benign aliens who conquered the Earth with their superior technology but are still unable to understand what makes the rest of us tick. It is precisely this American alienness, previously a source of discreet and slightly envious amusement, which has become scary in recent times.

To us un-Americans, an American conservative is a guy who doesn't give a damn about you because you are a foreigner, whereas a liberal is a guy who makes an earnest effort to give a damn about you even though you are inferior. The first are offensive, the second are offensively condescending. Of course, it is very difficult to notice this when you are immersed in the culture, but it does happen all the time. Take, for instance, Mr Bush's visit to Iraq -- an apparently harmless stunt -- and try to look at it from the other side of the fence: this guy secretly flies into my country to celebrate an American national holiday at the time of the Eid, a very important Muslim date; he speaks of Thanksgiving as if we knew what it is about; he makes no mention whatsoever to Ramadan, which obviously means nothing to him; he issues advice and stern warnings to Iraqis; and he has the gall to call the Iraqis present at the dinner "our guests" in their own country.

What I am trying to drive at here is that underneath all this American meddling with world affairs there is never a premise of equality. The whole American debate, even at its most liberal -- just read the blogs -- is totally self-referential and usually takes for granted that everybody else ultimately just wants to become American (or else destroy "our freedoms" out of spite). In their innocence and single-mindedness, Americans are either blind to diversity or view it as threatening. I, a Brazilian, could walk on the streets of Baghdad and have a cup of coffee with an Iraqi; we could, in spite of our profound differences, exchange views and share our experiences. The average American can't, because for an American the ultimate experience is being American; all the rest is irrelevant. It is very hard to breach this wall. This would be inconsequential if we were able to just ignore the Americans and leave them to themselves, but can become quite worrisome when they aggressively try to shape the world to their own image.

Unfortunately, this is not a political issue that can be solved replacing Republicans with Democrats; it is rather a cultural matter which requires a great shift of perception. Americans have become dangerous to the world lately not because they are evil, but because they don't understand others and, therefore, fail to understand themselves or the way they are seen by others. It is my impression that what was particularly shocking for Americans on 9/11 was not the attack itself, but the realization that people could harbor such a murderous hatred of the United States. (Unfortunately, instead of increasing awareness, this led to greater denial, which is why the same mistakes are being repeated in Iraq.) There is a great book by Graham Greene, "The Quiet American," in which an American consul in Saigon (pre-Vietnam war), full of noble intentions, makes a great deal of damage without ever realizing it. That's precisely what is happening today.

Please forgive me for such a long rant. I am writing to you because I have been feeling quite worried lately with the way things are going. I have a young daughter and I want her to live a long and peaceful life. I do believe the United States run the risk of becoming a "soft" media-controlled totalitarian state or worse. On the other hand, I feel -- for the first time -- that there is a great deal of perplexity around, which is a positive sign. In my opinion, the only way to effect a lasting change is to take a step back from the self-centered inter-American debate and accept the fact that we're all in this together. Power feels good, but happiness is better.
You might want to read more via the link above. Scroll down to America: The global view.

Posted by Alan at 20:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:39 PST home

Topic: Iraq

One suspects this some sort of odd satire, misunderstood in translation.

Magazine claims 1,700 US Soldiers have deserted
PARIS, Dec 04, 2003 (Kyodo via COMTEX) -- One thousand and seven hundred U.S. soldiers have deserted their posts in Iraq, with many of them failing to return to military duty after getting permission to go back to the United States, according to the French weekly magazine Le Canard Enchaine.

The magazine, known for its satires and exposes, said the French intelligence agency obtained the information from what it described an "American colleague."

Citing a senior French official posted in Washington, the magazine also said that 7,000 U.S. soldiers have left Iraq allegedly due to psychological troubles and other illnesses.

Some 2,200 others sustained serious injuries including the loss of limbs, it said.

2003 Kyodo News (c)
The source? Guess you have to buy a copy. Nothing is on the web, as their site is "under construction."
SITE OFFICIEL en cours d'installation

173 rue St-Honor?
75051 Paris Cedex 01
r?daction tel
abonnements tel
They carry this at the bookstore down on Sunset - Book Soup. My French neighbor across the courtyard, the woman from Toulouse, often has the latest copy. I'll check this out.

Posted by Alan at 19:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:40 PST home

Topic: Iraq

The Odd Couple: A Left-Wing Alarmist Speaks with a Fox News Military Guru

David Corn, the fellow who, a few posts below wonders about Bush being a pathological liar, or not, here interviews Major Bob Bevelacqua, a Fox News military analyst. Well, Corn has a best-selling book about Bush lying about this and that, and Corn appears on Fox News as a commentator for "the opposition."

This, though, is mighty odd. Fox News is the television cheerleading section for whatever Bush does. Off duty one of their "war guys" says some interesting things that aren't too nice. Fox enlisted Bevelacqua as a commentator eight days after 9/11. When not explaining developments in Iraq for Fox viewers, he works with William Cowan, another former military officer who is a Fox analyst, in a company trying to provide security assistance to the U.S. occupation authority and private enterprises in Iraq. And he did his time in the Special Forces. Bevelacqua supported going to war on the grounds that Saddam Hussein was a brutal tyrant and a threat to stability in the region but not a direct threat to the United States.

Perhaps Bevelacqua knows what he's talking about. You judge.

See: Fox News' Occupation Critic
The Nation - 12/03/2003 @ 9:36pm

Key excerpts:
Was it unforeseen that the invasion of Iraq would lead to a vicious insurgency? Was there no plan for that?

It was unforeseen by the politicos, but it was foreseen by the guys who had worked in and around the military. Some were looking down the road and thinkin [bad text] tion Provisional Authority (CPA) would look like and who some of the key players would be. They took questions, and I asked two questions. First, what are you going to do with the military? Then what are you going to do with the police? There was no answer. I got a shoulder shrug: "We don't know." So I got on my soap box for 30 seconds and went over what happened in Haiti and the lessons learned. We got the military to become police there. We changed their uniforms and changed their appearances. We gave them classes on human rights. We did not collapse them. The reaction was silence, "Thank you very much, next question." A few of us looked at each other and raised our eyebrows. After the meeting some of us huddled up in the hallway and said, "We don't have a plan." In the small circle that I run within, the Special. Forces, this way of doing business is known as a "guided discovery."

What does that mean?

Go over there and make it up as you go along. If it works, great. If it doesn't, we'll try something else. That's fine if you're making chocolate bars. In this context in the Middle East, it is a recipe for failure--which is what we have at the moment, though that can be changed.

It really was avoidable. Every administration does the exact same thing. You bring in your connected friends and allies, and you give them jobs, appoint them as Cabinet secretaries and other officials. Some do a good job. Some have no skills to do the job. As a prime example I would use [national security adviser] Condoleezza Rice. What does she have in her past experience to allow her to advise the president on all this? She's a Soviet Union expert.

There are a lot of smart guys in the Pentagon, and the ones with the ability to come up with a realistic plan are not going to be heard--especially if they challenge the ideology of the guys in charge. Now I think what we see in Iraq is a classic mission for the Army Special Forces--a mission heavy with civil affairs and psychological operations. It is all about working with the indigenous population of Iraq, period. The Army has doctrine on how to conduct these types of affairs. And it has flat-out been ignored.
Yipes! He said that about Condoleezza? And he thinks no one is planning, and that we're making this up as we go along? Well, it worked for Indiana Jones in that first movie, Major Bob. Maybe it will work for us.

But here is what he sees on the ground:
The security situation as a whole is nonexistent. In certain areas and sectors, it is pretty good. But the first day I got there in October somebody parked a car bomb outside the gates of the compound where our offices are in Baghdad. That first night, mortar attacks were fired from the area I lived in, which is only a kilometer or so from where the 82nd Airborne is based. If they could get that close to the Americans and fire mortars, I don't know how anyone can argue that security is good.

The enemy has the ability to fire when and where they like. That's because the civilian population is allowing them to do that. And that's because we have not embraced that civilian population. We have isolated ourselves in Saddam castle behind concrete barriers. Think of the irony of this. We put ourselves in the castles from where he dominated and repressed that country. Who do we look like? The members of the interim council had to be searched before they would be allowed to enter their offices. It was a slap in the face, and they could see foreign subcontractors coming and going into the CAP offices just by flashing an ID card. This is totally unacceptable.
I suggest reading the whole thing. It's good. And it's not what you usually hear from the Fox News military guys.

Posted by Alan at 13:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:40 PST home

Topic: Oddities

"Ducks and chicks and geese better scurry..."

While surfing Le Figaro you'll also come across the French being, well... French.

See this:

Foie gras : la valse des etiquettes
Val?rie Sasportas, Le Figaro, 04 d?cembre 2003
A regarder passer les oies, le gourmet pense foie gras. Qu'il s'agisse de canards, et l'envie se fait plus souvent confit, magret. Pourtant, sur les march?s, le foie gras est bien plus souvent de canard que d'oie... [and so on]
Well, I prefer duck foie gras to the foie gras from geese (les oies). In one of the stalls at the Christmas fair at Les Halles a few years ago I came across some pigeon foie gras, but my French isn't very good so I might have been mistaken, or hallucinating. I passed on that.

Yes, you animal rights folks, it is wrong to like such stuff. But it's the season.

Posted by Alan at 12:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:41 PST home

Topic: Local Issues

First the fires, and now this? Even the French are worried about things out here!

So I'm glancing at the summary of the French press at RFI - Internet Press Review in English - and Michael Fitzpatrick in his daily review of what's in the papers there tells me this:
Just in case Californians thought the worst was over, now that Terminator has made it to the State House, there's serious bad news on the Science pages of today's LE FIGARO. The home of Hollywood is not simply threatened by bad acting and big earthquakes, California also faces the threat of being engulfed by a monstrous tidal wave.

According to new research by a team of geophysicists, the gradual grinding at the meeting-point of the American and Pacific Plates... those enormous chunks of the earth's crust which move past one another at the rate of three-and-a-half centimetres each year... is sometimes interrupted by a massive collapse which causes undersea earthquakes and sends out waves of up to five metres, travelling at around 850 kilometres per hour.

Things are tough enough. It's not just bad acting and big earthquakes out here.

So I look it up.

L'histoire d'une vague g?ante qui d?ferla de l'Am?rique au Japon
Yves Miserey, Le Figaro 04 d?cembre 2003
La faille San Andreas qui traverse San Francisco n'est pas la seule menace sismique pesant sur l'ouest des Etats-Unis. Tout le long de la c?te californienne jusqu'? la Colombie britannique (Canada), la plaque oc?anique Juan de Fuca glisse et descend sous la plaque continentale am?ricaine, ? raison de plus de 3,6 cm par an. L?-bas, chaque rupture brutale de la cro?te peut provoquer de redoutables tsunamis (1) car cette zone de subduction est situ?e sous la mer. Les vagues g?antes sont un danger pour toutes les r?gions c?ti?res du Pacifique. C'est ainsi que le 27 mars 1964, un tsunami provoqu? par un tremblement de terre au large de l'Alaska traversa l'oc?an Pacifique ? la vitesse de 830 km/h, atteignant les bords de l'Antarctique seize heures plus tard et faisant au passage 130 morts en Am?rique du Nord. [ and so on... ]
And I suppose I'll see this in the Los Angeles Times tomorrow.

Posted by Alan at 12:01 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 9 December 2003 13:33 PST home

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