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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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Saturday, 17 January 2004

Topic: Iraq

In Defense of Humiliating Others. Hey, it works!

Yesterday one of the key conservative scholars, in William Buckley?s flagship magazine, laid out the logical defense of our current policy. He argues we can learn much from William Tecumseh Sherman. Perhaps so.

See Our Primordial World
Pride and Envy are what make this war go 'round.
Victor Davis Hanson. The National Review, January 16, 2004

Key Points

The situation:
Where Americans see skill and subtlety in taking out Saddam Hussein and a costly effort to liberate a people, many Iraqis, even as they taste freedom, drive new cars, and see things improve, talk instead of humiliation, hurt pride, or anger at their own impotence - whether whining over the morticians' make-up work on Qusay, or ashamed about Saddam's pathetic televised dental examination. Iraqis scream on camera that we should not stay another minute, but even more often whisper that we better not leave yet. Too often they seem to be mostly angry that we, not they, took out Saddam Hussein. While the tyrant's departure was a "good" thing, it would have been even better had he killed a few thousand Americans in the process - if only to restore the sort of braggadocio lost by the Baathist flight and antics of a mendacious Baghdad Bob.

Israel suffers from the same dilemma of dealing with others' hurt pride as we do. It created a relatively humane society throughout the West Bank from 1967-1993 - and raised the standard of living, and promoted individual freedom for Palestinians in way impossible elsewhere in the Arab world. But all that won no gratitude; instead, it stoked the fury arising from Arabs' sense of weakness and self-contempt. In the world of the Palestinian lobster bucket, Israel's great sin is not bellicosity or aggression, but succeeding beyond the wildest dreams of its neighbors. How humiliating it must be to be incapable of even muttering the word "Israel" (hence the need for "Zionist entity"), but nevertheless preferring an Israeli to a Palestinian ID card.
I?m not sure I agree with this analysis. There is, no doubt, some humiliation involved in having you life disrupted by, and perhaps your children killed, even if by accident with appropriate apologies, by an occupying military force. Here Hanson may be confusing hurt pride caused by envy - as he asserts ? with hurt pride being caused by powerlessness and death. They might be different.

But this is his premise. The Iraqis feel humiliated that they are not as powerful and effective as us, and the Palestinians feel humiliated because Israel is so economically successful and all that. It?s not that anyone has actually been wronged, only that they wish they were as wonderful as the Israelis or us.

The same goes for the Europeans.
We are puzzled, too, at the fury of the "old" Europeans. We think, somehow, that such sophisticated Westerners have surely transcended Middle Eastern tribal chauvinism, and must have other legitimate grounds for their strange new religion of anti-Americanism. But is their venom any surprise, really? Has a Germany or France really left its past behind? The Cold War was merely a tranquilizer that suppressed all the old human urges and appetites, a sort of forced unity brought on by the shared fear of nuclear annihilation ? one that disappeared the minute Soviet divisions creaked on home.

The old truth that resurfaced was that the United States destroyed the Spanish empire in 1898, and was pivotal in derailing the Prussian imperial dream in 1918 and in annihilating the Third Reich. It inherited by default much of the role of the British dominion, did nothing in Suez, Algeria, or Southeast Asia to rescue the tottering French Empire, and almost alone bankrupted and dismantled the Soviet imperium. In other words, past notions of European grandeur are no more ? and somewhere in that equation of ruin were the mongrel, tasteless Americans, who are now at it again, ending rather easily the fascistic cabals of Milosevic, Mullah Omar, and Saddam Hussein.

Reasonable people might suggest that Europeans and Russians would welcome these events, as no sane person could be fond of today's megalomaniacs, or even the legacy of monsters like Napoleon, Hitler, or Stalin. But then Dominique de Villepin wrote a hagiography of the little emperor, and Russians talk grandly of the old days when Soviets were feared and respected, not denizens of a motley conglomeration of squabbling, corrupt republics from Chechnya to Georgia.

So even our dealings with a more sophisticated Europe are not exempt from such awakened reptilian instincts.
Everyone envies us, thus feels humiliated.

So what follows if you accept this premise?
What are we to do? In fact, very little can be done. Perhaps all we can hope for is to understand rather than ameliorate these pathologies, and whenever possible combine tough love with magnanimity. We need to draw as many troops out of Europe as fast as we can within parameters of military sobriety. Only that way will so-called allies ever shoulder their own defense burdens and thereby regain a sense of national accomplishment. Until then we must respond twofold to every verbal assault on us, even as we praise every European minesweeper, canteen, or police contingent that is now in Afghanistan and Iraq - all the while expecting not much more than a grunt or two of appreciation that we are leading the way.
In short, we do what must be done because the rest of the world is consumed with pathological envy of us, and Israel, and will do nothing of any consequence in this world.

And in the mean time it is important that we humiliate all others:
As Mr. Bush has grasped, every time we have humiliated our enemies we have gained respect and won security. By the same token, on each occasion we have shown deference to a Mr. Karzai, the Iraqi interim government, and our Eastern European friends, we have helped to create security and stability. Apart from the model of our forefathers who crushed and then lifted up the Germans and Japanese, we could find no better guide in this war than William Tecumseh Sherman and Abraham Lincoln ? in that order. The former would remind us that our enemies traffic in pride and thus first must be disabused of it through defeat and humiliation. The latter (who turned Sherman and Grant lose) would maintain that we are a forgiving sort, who prefer restored rather than beaten people as our friends.
So that?s it.

Like William Tecumseh Sherman marching to the sea and burning Atlanta, we must humiliate all others and remind them of their powerlessness. Then, and only then, we should forgive them their foolishness and ask them to be friends ? just like Lincoln would have done had he not been assassinated. We should restore these beaten people as our friends, using our post Civil War reconstruction as a model? That went well?

Will that work?

The argument is that people envy us so the logical thing to do is humiliate them, then offer friendship once they know their place. Cool.

Posted by Alan at 13:09 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Friday, 16 January 2004

Topic: Bush

He's our guy! Notes on George Bush.

An infrequent feature on Slate Magazine is the Bushism of the Day. These are compiled by Jacob Weisberg. Here's what appeared today.
"I want to thank the astronauts who are with us, the courageous spacial entrepreneurs who set such a wonderful example for the young of our country."
Washington, D.C., Jan. 14, 2004
Well, "special" isn't exactly a word. But you know what he meant. Close enough.

His use of the word "entrepreneurs" is odd though - these guys started small businesses up there from 1969 through the early seventies? Who were their customers?


Last year on Martin Luther King Junior's birthday, George Bush celebrated by giving a speech in which he argued that the University of Michigan affirmative action program was wrong-headed and unnecessary and should be ended. Bad timing? An "in your face gesture" showing where he stands on such matters?

This year, on the day after, and after he was booed in Atlanta making a short stop at the memorial on his way to another fundraiser, he celebrated by installing Charles Pickering onto the bench.

Better timing. Wait a day.
Bush Installs Pickering on Appeals Court
The Associated Press Friday, January 16, 2004; 3:17 PM

WASHINGTON - President Bush installed Charles Pickering on a federal appeals court Friday, bypassing Democrats who had stalled his nomination for more than two years, sources said.

Bush appointed Pickering by a recess appointment which avoids the confirmation process. Such appointments are valid until the next Congress takes office, in this case in January 2005.

Pickering, a federal trial judge who Bush nominated for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, has been waiting for a confirmation vote in the Senate.

Democrats have accused him of supporting segregation as a young man, and pushing anti-abortion and anti-voting rights views as a state lawmaker. They also have said they wouldn't be able to trust Pickering to keep his conservative opinions out of his work on the federal appeals court.
Oh well. Martin Luther King Junior is dead. He won't make any trouble.

Posted by Alan at 14:42 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Thursday, 15 January 2004

Topic: Oddities

A day without political news and observations is like a day without...

Yep, enough said here recently. Today is a day without politics. Why?

Two observations:
Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
-John Kenneth Galbraith

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
- G.K. Chesterton
And as the famous Frenchman said of us in the middle of the eighteenth century:
Each person behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of all the others.... As for his transactions with his follow citizens, he may mix among them, but does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in his mind a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society.
Alex de Tocqueville in Democracy in America.
Yeah, well, so it goes.

Then there is this. Karl Rove, perhaps the most powerful man in the world, as he leads George Bush to do what he thinks George Bush should do, dropped out of the University of Utah after two years to devote his life to conservative Republican politics. Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard after two years to devote himself to... something or other. Most CEO's - the folks who run America's corporations - are college dropouts or never even went. So there's this:
Intelligence appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without education. Education appears to be the thing that enables a man to get along without the use of his intelligence.
A. E. Wiggen

And then there is the press, and all the media that keeps us informed.
If you're not careful the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.
Malcolm X

Journalism consists largely in saying "Lord Jones died" to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.
G. K. Chesterton
Ah, too cynical.

These are for fun.
We are here on earth to do good to others. What the others are here for, I don't know.
W.H. Auden

I went to a restaurant that serves "breakfast at any time" so I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.
Steven Wright

Posted by Alan at 21:48 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 January 2004 21:50 PST home

Wednesday, 14 January 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Presidential Hopefuls - The Winnowing Fan

This coming Monday in Iowa they'll have those caucuses and the nomination for which of the nine Democrats gets to run against Bush will be up for grabs. I won't count the tenth nominal Democrat with ambitions - Lyndon LaRouche - as I've commented here on him. Not a player.

All the candidates have their strengths and weaknesses. But it seems now that, realistically, it will come down to Howard Dean or Wesley Clark. I really like that Edwards fellow, and Kucinich holds positions with which I do agree, and Sharpton is a good man. But matters are coming to a head. And it looks like Carol Moseley Braun will drop out and endorse Dean.

Dean has his fine endorsements - Gore, Harkin, Bradley and probably Jimmy Carter this week. Mainstream guys now behind Dean. Michael Moore of the "angry left" - from Bowling for Columbine to Stupid White Men - has endorsed Clark. What's with that?

This is probably a matter of character. Or of perceived character.

As a disclaimer, in June of 1990 I found myself at West Point, attending the graduation of my nephew Brian, and was surrounded by honorable young folks in uniform, excruciatingly polite and formal, but seriously idealistic. They took that "duty, honor, country" stuff seriously. And they were impressive. Good young men and women out to do their best for us all. Some of the best people our country has.

Maybe I'm not a good lefty - I'm a sucker for decency and honor. And I saw that.

And this is, I suspect, what people see in Clark, or hope to see.

And I suspect people find those traits, decency and honor, absent in George Bush.

Here's how one fellow sums it up.

See Karl Rove's Nightmare
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Thursday, January 15, 2004; Page A21
Of all the other Democratic presidential contenders, only John Kerry has the military credentials to challenge Bush. But being a wounded and decorated Vietnam vet is not the same as being both that and a retired four-star general. Anyway, Kerry is easily caricatured as a Massachusetts liberal.

Not so Clark. He is a "duty, honor, country" guy - the West Point mantra he recites constantly. His themes are patriotism and leadership, and his credentials are unimpeachable. He was wounded in Vietnam. He rose to command NATO and made war in the Balkans. Four invisible stars glitter from his shoulders.

Wes Clark does not like what George Bush has done with Wes Clark's Army. Make no mistake: It's his Army. He can hardly go a sentence without mentioning the military - and how, in his mind, Bush has abused it. He sent it to war precipitously and then used its men and women as "props," he says. Clark's sincerity on this point is patent. In a conversation on his campaign plane, he suddenly turned intense, a kind of growling, low-grade rage that lifted my nose from my note-taking. His Army has been abused.
Yes, there is something to this, and it has to do with honor, and loyalty to your fellows.

Cohen then makes an odd comparison to the former war prisoner and decorated flier:
In a way, Clark is this season's John McCain. ... His themes are similar, too, but where McCain ran to the left of Bush, Clark runs to the right of the Democratic field. That assessment has nothing to do with his actual positions, some of which are downright liberal - he has no problem with civil unions or marriage for gays, for instance - but rather with his military record and his Southern roots.
Ah yes, a new definition of the political right. Here right means something about doing the right thing.

So, does Clark have a chance? Maybe. Maybe not.
But Clark has a way to go. When he talks about patriotism, leadership, the military and his own remarkable life, he can be moving and persuasive. But when he gets into domestic programs, you hear a "voice mail" recitation - no passion, little inflection and often a comparison to some military program, as if the Army is just civilian life with worse food. He lacks the politician's ability to morph with his audience.

Still, the Clark I saw in New Hampshire and Texas has come a long way from the Clark I saw months ago. At the earlier event, people fell asleep. No more. On his campaign plane, he seemed relaxed -- and so, importantly, did his staff. I could dig up only one story about him losing his temper, but it was not recent and not important. You and I should be as disciplined.
Yes, and he doesn't bad-mouth his fellow Democrats. He's got better things to do. Fix things.

Cohen ends with this image:
At the fundraiser here, Clark stood before a huge American flag like George C. Scott in "Patton." And when he talked about Bush and the war in Iraq, it was not as some Democrat who could be caricatured as a peacenik, but as a warrior who felt that the president had fought the wrong war at the wrong time - and then pranced all over a flight deck reserved for Clark's genuine heroes, "the men and women who serve."

Karl Rove, call your office.
Yep, this could get real interesting.

Bush shouldn't have gone AWOL back in those Vietnam days.

The general should ask about that: "Soldier, where were you?"


About the title? Think Homer. This from the Odyssey when Odysseus visits the underworld - the oar with which you row is really a winnowing fan:
'Anon came the soul of Theban Teiresias, with a golden sceptre in his hand, and he knew me and spake unto me: "Son of Laertes, of the seed of Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, what seekest thou NOW, wretched man, wherefore hast thou left the sunlight and come hither to behold the dead and a land desolate of joy? Nay, hold off from the ditch and draw back thy sharp sword, that I may drink of the blood and tell thee sooth."

'So spake he and I put up my silver-studded sword into the sheath, and when he had drunk the dark blood, even then did the noble seer speak unto me, saying: "Thou art asking of thy sweet returning, great Odysseus, but that will the god make hard for thee; for methinks thou shalt not pass unheeded by the Shaker of the Earth, who hath laid up wrath in his heart against thee, for rage at the blinding of his dear son. Yet even so, through many troubles, ye may come home, if thou wilt restrain thy spirit and the spirit of thy men so soon as thou shalt bring thy well-wrought ship nigh to the isle Thrinacia, fleeing the sea of violet blue, when ye find the herds of Helios grazing and his brave flocks, of Helios who overseeth all and overheareth all things. If thou doest these no hurt, being heedful of thy return, so may ye yet reach Ithaca, albeit in evil case. But if thou hurtest them, I foreshow ruin for thy ship and for thy men, and even though thou shalt thyself escape, late shalt thou return in evil plight, with the loss of all thy company, on board the ship of strangers, and thou shalt find sorrows in thy house, even proud men that devour thy living, while they woo thy godlike wife and offer the gifts of wooing. Yet I tell thee, on thy coming thou shalt avenge their violence. But when thou hast slain the wooers in thy halls, whether by guile, or openly with the edge of the sword, thereafter go thy way, taking with thee a shapen oar, till thou shalt come to such men as know not the sea, neither eat meat savoured with salt; yea, nor have they knowledge of ships of purple cheek, nor shapen oars which serve for wings to ships. And I will give thee a most manifest token, which cannot escape thee. In the day when another wayfarer shall meet thee and say that thou hast a winnowing fan on thy stout shoulder, even then make fast thy shapen oar in the earth and do goodly sacrifice to the lord Poseidon, even with a ram and a bull and a boar, the mate of swine, and depart for home and offer holy hecatombs to the deathless gods that keep the wide heaven, to each in order due. And from the sea shall thine own death come, the gentlest death that may be, which shall end thee foredone with smooth old age, and the folk shall dwell happily around thee. This that I say is sooth."
As seers go, Teiresias, can be a windbag. But winnowing fan is used to seperate the wheat from the chaff.

Posted by Alan at 22:18 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Thursday, 15 January 2004 08:25 PST home

Topic: Oddities

Just browsing today...

The Americans who are the most efficient people on earth... have invented so wide a range of pithy and hackneyed phrases that they can carry on a conversation without giving a moment's reflection to what they are saying and so leave their minds free to consider the more important matters of big business and fornication.
- Somerset Maugham

In America there is more space where nobody is than where anybody is. This is what makes America what it is.
- Gertrude Stein

There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land.
- Mark Twain

Posted by Alan at 11:26 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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