Friday, August 31, 2007

Turning point - Vietnam and Iraq

Robert Kaplan writes about the warrior mentality with many examples that I, and most civilians, will never have heard of. Reading this at the end of August, 2007 what hit me was this paragraph about Vietnam. Bush's analogy is looking better by the day.

While historians cite 1968 as a turning point because of the home front's reaction to the Tet offensive, the My Lai massacre, and the protests at the Democratic party convention in Chicago, on the ground in Vietnam, 1968 marked a different trend: William Westmoreland was replaced by Creighton Abrams, population security rather than enemy body counts became the measure of merit, "clear and hold" territory replaced the dictum of "search and destroy," and building up the South Vietnamese Army became the top priority. "There came a time when the war was won," even if the "fighting wasn't over," writes Lewis Sorley, a West Point graduate and career Army officer, in A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam (1999). By the end of 1972, Sorley goes on, one could travel almost anywhere in South Vietnam in relative security, even as American ground forces were almost gone. Retirees I know in the armed forces affirm how much more benign an environment South Vietnam was during this period than the Iraq of today.
[My emphasis] 

God, that is frightening. I don't mean the way it demonstrates how short our memory is and how we keep having to learn the same lessons. No, I mean the way we don't learn.

(via PMJ)

Whoops! We didn't mean to

At the moment on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the Waqf, the Muslim authority with responsibility for the site, is digging a hole to carry a small pipe containing electrical cables. On one of the most valuable archeological sites in the world, they are using a large digger to do it.

You will remember the fuss they created about the carefully monitored Israeli work to build a new bridge to the Western Wall. According to the Arab press, that was a case of "Zionist thugs...finishing up the job of ethnic cleansing and eating up the remains of the Palestinian homeland". Here's a bigger sample of some of the language used.

Among many others, the Palestinian Chronicle asserted this:

This represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict as Jews claim that their alleged Haykal (Temple of Solomon) exists underneath Al-Haram Al-Sharif.

Well, guess what. Gateway Pundit, who also has photos of the dig and the digger, reports that

Remains of the Jewish second temple may have been found during work to lay pipes at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in east Jerusalem, Israeli television reported Thursday.

Israeli television broadcast footage of a mechanical digger at the site which Israeli archaeologists visited on Thursday.

Gaby Barkai, an archaeologist from Bar Ilan University, urged the Israeli government to stop the pipework after the discovery of what he said is "a massive seven metre-long wall."

It may not be Solomon's Temple, but I think it's time to get those angry masses on the streets again. A Jewish temple on the Noble Sanctuary? Uncovered by the Waqf. Zionist cunning knows no limits.

More on that seven metre-long wall

(via PJM)

Brian de Palma, American soldiers and rape

Brian de Palma has shown a film called Redacted in Venice. It is based on the case of the young Iraqi woman raped and then murdered with her family in March 2006 by a group of American soldiers. Standing ovation and 5 minutes of applause.

Why this film now?

"The movie is an attempt to bring the reality of what is happening in Iraq to the American people," he told reporters after a press screening.

"The pictures are what will stop the war. One only hopes that these images will get the public incensed enough to motivate their Congressmen to vote against this war," he said.

Now I wasn't invited to Venice this year so I haven't seen the film. However, you do wonder about the logic of his case and his hopes.

As Roger Simon notes, does de Palma believe that this sort of thing is unique? Did American soldiers not rape during WW2? What does he think the Russians did? Does a rape make a case against a war?

Undoubtedly, he would reply that the rape is an individual case that not only stands for many, but metaphorically points towards the coalition's behaviour in Iraq. Showing it makes an emotional impact which will lead to an intellectual response, which in turn will galvanise opinion against the war.

Except that Iraqis don't need metaphors, and who are they turning against? And why? Because of acts far worse and far more numerous than anything done by Americans. What happens to terrorists who commit these acts? They are lauded among their fellows. What happened to the American soldiers? They were charged and received sentences of between 5 and 110 years. So what reality is he trying to bring home?

"The pictures are what will stop the war." This makes me want to cry. The brave anti-establishment artist makes a stand against the super-power and brings down their genocidal policies. Art that makes a difference. Pushes the people onto the streets to Stop The War. The man is 66 and he talks like an under-graduate. He'll be so upset when, Lo! the war doesn't stop and he'll whine about how he wasn't listened to and how Art doesn't count for anything any more.

And what is it with de Palma, American soldiers and gang-rape? In his Casualties of War, he has a young Vietnamese girl raped and killed by 4 American soldiers. (Some people never change, huh?) That was in 1989. It stopped the Vietnam War. Retroactively.

Punish success

From Spiegel Online.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday proposed the idea of basing a nation's carbon emissions allowance on population size.

What about basing it on what a nation produces, what it makes that the rest of the world wants? Merkel's suggestion basically punishes the creative and productive. Or is that the idea?

Principles are higher than reality

I've never read VS Naipaul, but I think I'll have to.

His nonfiction does the same walking-around trick to devastating effect. Notably in Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, published in 1981, simply by letting people speak, he exposed the delusions, anger and fanaticism that would lead, 20 years later, to 9/11. That book was a phenomenally prescient document, but it seemed to isolate Naipaul. He realised the extent of this isolation when, after publication, he was invited to Harvard.

“They wanted to have a discussion with me – that’s what they said. They wanted no such thing. They wanted the fellows of their institute to all say their piece of rage and criticism. It was such a shocking occasion. I think that’s what happens when people believe their principles are higher than reality... Now, if someone says they are from Harvard, I feel they are condemning themselves out of their own mouth.”

That episode is important, not becuase it is about Islam, but for what it says about the Academy and its attitude to truth.

Naipaul is obviously another case of a colonial going 'home' to save the Mother Country from itself.

Full churches in Dubai

Christians make up more than 35% of the population of the United Arab Emirates. The resident population, not the citizens, which are almost 100% Muslim. The Christians are part of the floating mass of cheap labour that comes from other Arab countries, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and whose presence there is bound by the work contracts that are little more than a form of bonded labour. This is the case also in Saudi Arabia where it is estimated that there are 1 million Catholics.

There's an article about the UAE here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


The third part of Michael Yon's Ghosts of Anbar is about nothing very much happening. But there are the photos of American and Iraqi soldiers (Cowboy stands out), gardens and fields. He explains why the Marines are better at counterinsurgency. The excerpts from the COIN Manual are excellent. for example;

Ultimate success in COIN is gained by protecting the populace, not the COIN force. If military forces remain in their compounds, they lose touch with the people, appear to be running scared, and cede the initiative to the insurgents.

Yon is recording the outbreak of peace. Disconcerting for some soldiers, but


Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.

What’s wrong with these people

A friend of mine from Australia was on an extended visit to Derby earlier this year. He recounts:

I, myself, still retain a rather schizophrenic impression of England on the whole. The flip-side of that Izaak Walton world and the gracious culture that surrounds is the dog-poor bitter terrace house chlostrophobia - I ran into it late one night in Derby - a place called Normanton - good grief, how close and depressed it was..and bitterly cold...whores begging for fags in their thin cardigans with their shoulders scrunched upwards.

I counter recounted with a snippet of my own. We lived in Italy for a few years and returned to the UK in the late Nineties. I remember in the indeterminate days after we arrived back in England, I took my daughter, who was 10 at the time, for a drive in North Manchester (that explorer's urge of mine - where will it take me next?). At one point she turned to me and said, “What’s wrong with these people? Why don’t they care?”

Simon Heffer has an idea.

Has anybody noticed that the more we spend on the underclass, the bigger it gets and the worse it behaves?

Has anyone noticed, either, that what we used to call the working class has shrunk? Not merely because, as surveys tell us, so many now think of themselves as "middle-class", but because something called the respectable working class has almost died out. What sociologists used to call the working class does not now usually work at all, but is sustained by the welfare state. Its supposed family units are not as the rest of us might define the term. It lapses routinely into criminality and lives in largely self-inflicited squalor. It has low educational attainment and is bereft of ambition. It is what we now call the underclass.

Janet Daley has another, not unrelated idea.

What has happened to working-class parents, and to the communities they inhabit, is that they have had the concept of "respectability" itself - the notions of discipline, adult authority, and even the most basic principles of "right" and "wrong" - pulled out from under them.

When the great progressive movement for personal liberation took hold of our public institutions - when the concept of authority itself was trashed by the education system, the media and the mainstream culture, and the idea of individual guilt was replaced by the assumption that all crime and bad behaviour had a socially determined "cause" - it was not the educated, affluent classes who were cut adrift...

[Working-class parents] could expect the schools to encourage outer discipline and the inner self-discipline of structured learning. They could expect the State to attempt to deter single girls from having babies on their own. They could expect the police and the courts to side unfailingly with the law-abiding rather than offer excuses for the criminal.

They could, in other words, count on the idea that all of the forces of adult life were joined together to uphold the structure of civilised life: that we all had pretty much the same conception of right and wrong, and the will to enforce it.

The British elites persuaded themselves that their great crime was to impose bourgeois values on everyone. In fact, it is the undermining of those values that is destroying the lives of the poor.

(Thank you to Ninme for both articles.)

And there's more. (Is it the time of year?)

Boris Johnson on the adventure of Phillips of Sudbury in the County of Suffolk, who did what so few adults now do and intervened against some 10-year-old boys. For so doing, he was chastised by the police.

The implication is that there can only be two figures of authority on the streets - the thugs and the cops.

This is the point that Anthony Andrews was making a few days ago, and it is the same point as those made above. The absence (physical, psychological and as authority) of adults. No law, no number of police or CCTV cameras can ever make up for that absence.

Sick of it all?

I think this is good news.

Just one day after major clashes between Iraqi security forces and the Mahdi Army during a Shia religious celebration in Najaf, Muqtada al Sadr has ordered the Mahdi Army to halt all attacks in Iraq, including attacks against Coalition forces.

"We declare the freezing of the Mahdi Army without exception in order to rehabilitate it in a way that will safeguard its ideological image within a maximum period of six months starting from the day this statement is issued," said Sheik Hazim al-Araji, an aide of Sadr, while reading a statement from Sadr on Iraqi state television.

Bill Roggio then does a breakdown of the Mahdi Army into its various elements, all of which is enough to make you want to request an entire meltdown after the freezing. He then adds

The fighting in Karbala, the violent opposition to the Shia-led government, the criminal activity, and the assassinations of Shia governors are causes of great concern for Sadr. These activities are no longer being tolerated by the greater Shia community.

Is this the Shi'a version of the Sunni's "We are sick of your crap", only directed at Sadr as opposed to al-Queda? To be devoutly hoped.

Mostly harmless

Mark Steyn looks at how people look at Vietnam, or rather, at the way the Americans abandoned Vietnam.

American victory in the Cold War looks inevitable in hindsight. It didn't seem that way in the Seventies. And, as Iran reminds us, the enduring legacy of the retreat from Vietnam was the emboldening of other enemies. The forces loosed in the Middle East bedevil to this day, in Iran, and in Lebanon, which Syria invaded shortly after the fall of Saigon and after its dictator had sneeringly told Henry Kissinger, "You've betrayed Vietnam. Someday you're going to sell out Taiwan. And we're going to be around when you get tired of Israel."

President Assad understood something that too many Americans didn't. Then as now, the anti-war debate is conducted as if it's only about the place you're fighting in: Vietnam is a quagmire, Iraq is a quagmire, so get out of the quagmire. Wrong. The " Vietnam war" was about Vietnam if you had the misfortune to live in Saigon. But if you lived in Damascus and Moscow and Havana, the Vietnam war was about America: American credibility, American purpose, American will. For our enemies today, it still is.

He ends with Bernard Lewis' reading of what lesson everyone else took from Vietnam.

America is harmless as an enemy and treacherous as a friend.

(via Tim Blair)

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Castle

Further to the post below. A poem.

Wedding Poem
by Sophie Hannah
(First of the Last Chances, Carcanet) For Rachel and Ian

Marriage’s rather grand accommodation
Can make a budding love succeed or fail.
We stumble in and ask for information
Regarding all the properties for sale
And marriage is the price-on-application
Castle with grounds, moat, lake and nature trail.

Some kid themselves and think they can afford it
And when their love runs out it’s repossessed
While others, who do better in love’s audit
And whose allegiances deserve the best
Because they are the best, those ones can lord it
Over the squabbling and half-hearted rest.

Today the castle has its rightful buyer,
Its asking price, and it will not be trumped
Because the bidding can’t go any higher;
This is a love that will not be gazumped
By any other applicant, hard-trier
Or any living heart that ever thumped.

Marriage is love’s new house. Love has invested
Its savings wisely, bought the place outright.
It has had several flats, and it has rested
Its head in many a hotel and campsite.
This is the best of all the homes it’s tested.
This is where it will sleep now, every night.

(Thank you, Norm)

It's bad. Yet, ...

Michael Totten gets to visit Mushadah, a village north of Baghdad where the Anbar Effect really hasn't arrived. The people he talks to are, despite their current reality, optimistic, which may be an indication that things are on the up, or merely another instance of that old adage that hope is the last thing to die.

On the way, we learn about the unfairness of Life: the Shia militia get the superior EFPs (Explosively Formed Penetrators) from Iran whereas the Sunni/al-Queda only have IEDs.

We get instruction in sophisticated emergency survival techniques.

“Everybody remember what to do if someone throws a grenade in the truck?”

No, I did not remember. It is not something anyone ever taught me.

“Yell grenade grenade grenade and get the hell out as quickly as possible. If you don’t have time to get out, turn your back to the blast and hope for the best.”

We get yet another instance of the obvious, a theme today. Some things don't require cultural sensitivity as much as attentiveness at the movies.

Civilians cooperate as much as security on the streets will permit them. The dynamic here isn’t all that hard to understand, or even that foreign. If you want to see how this has played out in America, watch Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront, the classic film from 1954 starring Marlon Brando about the mafia’s infiltration of a longshoreman’s union. No one in that story wanted to cooperate with the police in their murder investigations against the mob because they were terrified of being “next” if they did.

And see why the Americans are starting to get somewhere in Iraq: they're working for basic human needs instead of against them. Colonel John Steele, from Dover, New Hampshire.

“I am optimistic,” he said. “But only for one single reason. Because I talk to the average Joe in Iraq. I meet the children and parents. Iraqi parents love their children as much as I love mine.”

I knew what he meant. Counterintuitive and contradictory as it may seem, I never felt more optimistic in Iraq than I did when I walked the streets and interacted with average Iraqis. Iraq looks more doomed from inside the base than it does outside on the street, and it looks more doomed from across the Atlantic than it does from inside the base.

Read the lot. With Totten and Yon, you see an Iraq that the MSM never show.

Stating the obvious

Iain MacWhirter fesses up about what just can't be helped: the thrills they feed and we need.

The media is a machine that is sustained by shock and awe, and if there isn't much going on, then we manufacture it. Not generally by inventing stories, though that does go on, but by investing the stories that are around with a significance they may not warrant. It's principally a tabloid vice, but none of us is immune and the coming of 24-hour television has magnified it. I'm contributing to it here by writing this column.

Aside from the gratuitous self-consciousness of the last sentence, I think that's bang on.

The following is also right. [However, ...]

Now, I'm not saying that gangs of feral youths aren't a problem; or that we should ignore gun crime; or that family break-up is good for children. But the Liverpool killing, which has launched many thousands of words on these issues, tells us very little about any of them. Rhys Jones's murder was a tragic one-off, a unique event. Gun crime is actually going down (or up, depending on the statistics you look at). It wasn't a typical gang-land killing and his parents are white and happily married. Stuff happens.

He may be right that this killing is not significant, in the sense that it is not the sharp edge of a trend that needs to be debated, understood, resisted. He talks about the "black swan" phenomenon - the human tendency to look for meaning when there often isn't any. This may well be a prime case.

However, just as it is usually impossible to demonstrate a direct link between an individual case and a general tendency or 'law', so is it impossible to dismiss the link. Here, as in so many other areas, truths are statistical - it is the number of cases that makes the tendency, that builds the link to the general.

If this one case of a child murdering another child, whether with a gun or a knife, is one of an increasing number of such cases, then the basis of argument is made. Far more children are assaulting other children with deadly weapons. Far more children, inside gangs or not, are carrying weapons. Far more children are involved in violence.

Thus, we are beholden to make the links and to bear the burden of stating the obvious: father, mother, children - it works (statistically; on average). Subtract one - (statistically; on average) it doesn't work.

Definitely related.
The Death of the Grown-up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization by Diana West. Unfortunate sub-title, but, after years of resistance, of revolutionary fervour in ignoring the obvious, the obvious returns in whatever way it can. Haven't read the book. Probably never will. But I'm glad it's out there. (via Instapundit)

Partially related
This article charts that same path from ideological rectitude back to the bleeding (it had been) obvious, though in a different context. Mating. In China.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Ballistics training

The Dissident Frogman says a naughty word or two (but don't worry, it's in French, which is made for naughty words, so it doesn't matter), but (and this is important) also instructs AFP photographers in the difference between a cartridge and a bullet. So it's in a good cause. So the naughty words don't matter quite so much. So now we're all better off. (Except for the naughty words, which leave a stain in the air. A French stain. Is that worse?)

(via Hot Air)

Alms for Jihad (cont)

This is good news.

According to an email that we received today, Alms for Jihad authors Robert O. Collins and J. M. Burr have gotten the publishing rights to the book back from Cambridge University Press. They’re in negotiations with US publishers to have it published here in the US.

Khalid bin Mafouz loses again.

And if no-one takes them up? Publish online!

Misunderstanding the Middle East

This article by Moshe Ya'alon should be required reading by anyone who seeks to 'solve the problem of the Middle East'.

There are four main misconceptions that diplomats bring with them to Israel. Primary among them is the idea that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a prerequisite for stability in the Mideast. The truth is that the region is riven by clashes that have nothing to do with Israel. For instance, the Jewish state plays no role in the conflict between Shiites and Sunnis, between Persians and Arabs or between Arab nationalists and Arab Islamists.

The second misconception is that Israeli territorial concessions are the key to progress. The reality is that an ascendant jihadist Islam believes that it is leading the battle against Israel and the rest of the West. Given this dynamic, Israeli territorial or other concessions simply fill the jihadists' sails, reinforcing their belief that Israel and the West are weak and can be militarily defeated.

Emissaries also still believe that "the Occupation" blocks agreement between Israelis and Palestinians...
Instead, the heart of the problem is that many Palestinians -- Fatah and Hamas, in particular -- and even some Israeli Arabs use "Occupation" to refer to all Israel. They do not recognize the Jewish people's right to an independent state, a right affirmed again and again in the international arena.

Finally, the well-intentioned visiting diplomats believe that the Palestinians want -- and have the ability -- to establish a state that will live in peace alongside Israel...A corollary of this fourth misconception is the belief that economic development can neutralize extreme nationalism and religious fanaticism, thus clearing the way toward peace and security...Those who fit this description should demand that the Palestinians explain what they did with the $7 billion in international aid they received over the years. Seven billion reasons for economic progress -- and yet, why did Palestinian mobs destroy the Erez industrial zone, where Palestinians worked and ran businesses for decades, on the Gaza border? Why do they attack safe roads linking Gaza and the West Bank? Why is the Palestinian economy in shambles?

And to add a far more general and nebulous concept, one that affects the whole Middle East and of which the Palestinian Territories are but a prime example: the failure of a culture, one that sees itself as pre-eminent, but in fact contributes virtually nothing to the rest of the world. That is shameful and shaming, and there's not much we can do about it.

French philosophers, pedophilia and the Islamic Revolution

This is almost as funny as the item below. Michel Foucault besotted with Khomeini. It's based on a book called Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism, which, according to David Frum, is as much fun as it sounds. From Frum's summary.

Foucault, a man utterly devoid of religious feeling, a homosexual who reveled in the brutalities of San Francisco’s sado-masochistic bar scene, decided in 1978 that the Khomeini revolution offered mankind’s best hope for personal liberation.

Foucault perceptively perceived that communism was fading as a challenger to the western liberal order he despised. Perceptively (indeed presciently), he decided that radical Islam offered the only effective challenge to western liberalism. He welcomed this challenge and published more than a dozen essays celebrating the Iranian revolution, most of which have never been translated out of French.

Through his life, Foucault was fascinated by extreme experiences, experiences of torture, flagellation, mutilation and death...The spectacle of Shiite worshippers whipping themselves into religious frenzy on Ashura – or seeking death and martyrdom in hypnotic mass demonstrations – exquisitely appealed to Foucault, as blood, spittle, and delirium always did.

Afary and Anderson assign a deeper cause to Foucault’s persistent misreading of the Khomeini revolution: His deep disdain for women...Indeed, as Afary and Anderson point out, at the moment of his deepest engagement with the Iranian revolution, Foucault was at work upon the books he regarded as his masterwork, his History of Sexuality – a history that treats the emancipation of women in the later Graeco-Roman period as a catastrophe that put an end to the happy classical period when reproductive sex was regarded as an unpleasant duty, with pleasure to be sought between men and boys.

The Judaeo-Christian attempt to separate sex from cruelty was the poisoned apple in his Garden of Eden. He recognized that the Graeco-Roman world had departed forever. But some part of him seems to have hoped that the Islamic revolution might offer a return.

It's only true outsiders that can see the truth, isn't it?


Latest laugh from the laughably offended. Those culturally insensitive Americans have done it again. Football oppression! Its an S&M relationship complete with the leather.

LGF has the story of the Footballs-That-May-Not-Be-Kicked. Play the BBC News video to hear its correspondent announcing this latest example of oppression with the concerned, culturally sensitive tone of the truly superior that huffs and puffs like Concerned of Gloucester, "Oh, how could they?"

Good housekeeping

Micheal Yon's advice on what to check before you go out with a unit.

If you are going on a combat mission and Soldiers have not cleaned all their windows to a sparkle (during times when it is possible to do so), do not go with them.

In addition, as at the start of any relationship...lubricant.

I also look at the state of their weapons and ammunition. Does the machine gunner have lubricant?

At the command level, again as with any relationship, it's communication skills.

Commanders who are afraid of the press or who cannot handle it cannot win this fight. They are often the same people who alienate Iraqis.

There's a lot more in this, the second in his series The Ghosts of Anbar. The first is here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Foundation stone

I've just come across this quote from Jürgen Habermas, but can find little about what he says to back it up.

Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. To this day, we have no other options [than Christianity]. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter.

It interests me because this notion has been with me for some time, but I do not know enough to delve any deeper. Put crudely, the concern is this: on fundamental questions such as the equal value of each individual, which derives from the Judeo-Christian vision of the immortal soul, will it be enough for a secular society to assert their truth in law? Or will that position be gradually and irretrievable undermined by technology? Lacking a metaphysical or transcendent anchor, will a secular society merely be able to reflect what can be done rather than impose what should be done?

I found another statement of Habermas's views here at Aimee Milburn's blog. She quotes Virgil Nemoianu, Professor of Literature and Philosophy at Catholic University of America, who has examined the transcripts of the Habermas-Ratzinger debate in 2004.

From the very beginning . . . Habermas admits the legitimacy of the question as to whether the secularized and rights-founded state is not nourished from normative premises that are alien to its own nature and antedate it. “This would raise some doubts as to the ability of the constitutional democratic state to renew its existential foundations from its own resources, rather than from philosophical and religious, or at least from a general ethical communal prior understanding.”

Let's have a heated debate!

What will happen at the next literary festival, by Andrew Bolt. (The festival in question is, in fact, Sydney's, but you could insert virtually any placename you wish.)

Three poets will agree they are against the war in Iraq; two writers will agree moral boundaries are gone; Leftist lawyers George Williams and Julian Burnside will agree our “human rights need defending more than ever” two critics will agree our relationship with the US is sick; two lawyers and a journalist will agree David Hicks was mistreated; a Muslim activist and an Age journalist will agree Muslims are misunderstood; and two Labor speechwriters and a Labor barracker will agree on the best speeches they ever heard.

By the way, Bolt links to Clive James' website, which is absolutely fantastic. Have a look.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Relics and savages

This matters to no-one else but me. I'm only putting it down here because I can.

One of the best features of this town I live in is parkland known as "The Carrs". It flanks the Bollin River as it wends its way north towards the Mersey with woods on both sides for the most part. Those on the western side cover a steep slope up to the houses of Wilmslow, which they hide. And hidden in one part of these woods is a ruined chapel. The sort of place that Sir Gawain or Sir Galahad would have come across between one damsel and another.

Except that it wasn't built until the 1890s. The man who commissioned it was Sir Henry Boddington of the brewing family and it must have been a casket of delights when it was finished. It was built with elaborately carved local stone, had a chancel and a tower that overlooked the valley.

The chapel was dedicated to St Olaf, who was actually King Olaf I of Norway, seen as an ideal of martial Christianity. (In other words, they didn't apologise.) More info about the chapel here.

St Olaf's Chapel is much reduced now, as you can see from the photograph below. Time, vandals, or, the time when vandals didn't have anything better to do, have brought it low.

This, I can accept. Well, I don't have much choice, do I? What I find more difficult to accept is this.

In case you can't make it out, that is the chapel heaped up with the lopped branches of one very large, or several smaller, rhododendron. Some householder, for want of a better word, has gone to the trouble to drag them to this rather inaccessible place and then attempted to burn them. In which attempt the idiot failed, and so has just left it like that. My feelings towards this householder are such to make me glad that I'll probably never know who he is.

But I wish him a visit from the pre-Christian Olaf.

Kill for a headline

Al-Queda want their CNN Moments to become a Tet Moment. The battle for blood-splattered headlines and opinion-making slaughter is on.

Bill Roggio

U.S. generals have warned that violence is very likely to rise as al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist groups attempt to sabotage General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker’s presentation on the state of progress in Iraq. Al Qaeda will attempt more spectacular attacks in an attempt to grab headlines and break the will of the American public and political elites.

The next several weeks will display both al Qaeda’s capacity for terror strikes as well as the short-term results of the counterinsurgency plan instituted just eight months ago. As the past few days show, al Qaeda can still pull off spectacular attacks. But it should be noted that only one of these five strikes occurred inside Baghdad, and two were retaliatory strikes for local Iraqis turning against al Qaeda. A failure by al Qaeda to maintain a sustained offensive would speak volumes about the terror group's current abilities.

I wish them the suicide bomber's version of ejaculatio praecox.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Russian enigma unfolds?

Soviet policy in the Middle East in the years just prior to the 1967 War has long been a puzzle. As I noted in a recent post, between May 1966 and May 1967, they warned the Syrians and/or the Egyptians no less than 5 times that the Israelis were massing to invade Syria. On no occasion was it true, though the last warning (made to Anwar Sadat in early May, 1967) played a big role in Nasser's decision to move troops into the Sinai, one of the key triggers for the war. All the time they were crying out in the UN about the need to preserve the peace.

Even with their primary Middle Eastern client, Syria, the Soviets seemed to be working in two directions at once. As Michael Oren notes in Six Days of War

At the exact time when Foreign Minister Andre Gromyko was impressing upon the Politburo the need to avoid further conflicts with the United States, particularly in the Middle East, the Soviet fleet was rapidly building up in the eastern Mediterranean. In Damascus, Soviet diplomats were urging the regime to tone down its bellicose rhetoric, while in the field, Red Army advisors were spurring the Syrian Army to activism. Ambitious to achieve its long-standing dream of isolating turkey and controlling strategic waterways of the East, of neutralizing the threat from the US Sixth Fleet, the Soviets were at the same time afraid of war, and afraid of the Arab radicalism that could trigger it. (p43)
Might they have had other, more sinister plans? Gideon Remez and Isabella Ginor, authors of the recent book Foxbats over Dimona, think so. They believe that Soviet machinations were concentrated on one point: Israel's growing nuclear capability and its reactor at Dimona.

According to Oren, as well, Israel's actions in May and June of 1967 had indeed a lot to do with Dimona, though the Israelis were preoccupied with Egypt's rather than Russsia's intentions towards the reactor. On the afternoon of May the 17th, two Migs overflew Dimona at very low altitude. They were identified as Mig 21s, belonging to the Egyptian Air Force, which sent alarm bells ringing throughout the Israeli military and government.

However, Remez and Ginor, relying on the testimony of Soviet military personnel, maintain that they were in fact new Mig 25s (Foxbats) from the Soviet Air Force. And it seems that their assertion has recently been backed up by the Soviets themselves on the official Web site of the Russian Defense Ministry. Why were the Soviets willing to be so involved? Remez and Ginor claim that the Soviets wanted to provoke Israel into attacking in order to have an excuse to knock out the reactor. Unfortunately, the war went so far and so fast against their client states that the plan had to be aborted.

To think that the Soviets might have been directly, militarily involved in the Six-Day War seems incredible today, but the Israeli leaders of the time were obsessed with the possibility. Until circumstances made it either irresistible or inevitable, Dayan strenuously denied all requests for action against Syria or to take Jerusalem precisely because of the fear that the Soviets might get involved. For him and many others, it was not only possible, it was probable.

That involvement was indeed their intention would come as no great suprise, but the circumstances would have had to be very carefully calibrated. Obviously, the Sixth Fleet would have been the greatest factor to consider. But once again, things were very different then. The US was not Israel's automatic friend. It would not supply arms (most of Israel's weaponry was French) and looked with great disfavour on Dimona (built, once again, with French help). So it was not entirely inconceivable that, given the right international climate, the Americans might allow the Soviets to act.

According to this article, Remez and Ginor also accuse the Soviets of luring Israel to attack the USS Liberty, which does stretch credulity somewhat. But if their central claim about the Soviet overflight of Dimona is correct, then there is some explaining to do. I'll be interested to hear what Michael Oren has to say about it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Universe big

Remember Douglas Adams' Ultimate Perspective Vortex? Where you get to see just how big you are in relation to the universe? The short sharp shock of reality which, of course, results in madness.

I regard any attempt to visualise the size of the universe as the cornerstone of realism, or spirituality (take your choice). Some kind chap at sets out Spiritual Exercises for the 21st Century with a series of everyday analogies that only make it worse. Your chance to inwardly grow by attempting to understand what is beyond comprehension and picture what is beyond imagination. See you there!

Peace good, war bad

Bruce Bawer on what he calls the Peace Racket, aka Peace Studies.

The man he dubs as the founding father of Peace Studies is a 77-year-old Norwegian professor, Johan Galtung, who established the International Peace Research Institute in 1959 and the Journal of Peace Research five years later.

Bawer gives these samples of Galtung's approach to peace.

In 1973, he thundered that “our time’s grotesque reality” was—no, not the Gulag or the Cultural Revolution, but rather the West’s “structural fascism.” He’s called America a “killer country,” accused it of “neo-fascist state terrorism,” and gleefully prophesied that it will soon follow Britain “into the graveyard of empires.”

In 1973, explaining world politics in a children’s newspaper, he described the U.S. and Western Europe as “rich, Western, Christian countries” that make war to secure materials and markets: “Such an economic system is called capitalism, and when it’s spread in this way to other countries it’s called imperialism.”

[H]e’s long held up certain countries as worthy of emulation—among them Stalin’s USSR, whose economy, he predicted in 1953, would soon overtake the West’s. He’s also a fan of Castro’s Cuba, which he praised in 1972 for “break[ing] free of imperialism’s iron grip.”

Yes, it's all so predictable. And so old. The affection for Stalin is hardly accidental. Bawer mentions the fast footwork of the Communists in 1939 switching from anti-Fascism to Peace with Stalin's signature of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, and then back to anti-Fascism with Operation Barbarossa in 1941. But it goes back further still.

To 1928 in Brussels and the first congress of the League against Imperialism. The movement spread and morphed and culminated in the greatest gathering of all, in 1932: The Amsterdam-Pleyel World Congress against War. Over 2,000 delegates from all over the world representing progressives of every shade of red, trades unionists, pacifists, intellectuals and artists. America and Britain were attacked, Sacco and Vanzetti lionised, capitalism demonised. It was a feel-good fest of the righteous of unprecedented proportions.

And it was financed and run by the Comintern. Stalin, interested in peace? Well, yes. Stalin was afraid that the Western powers wanted nothing better than to attack and destroy the home of World Communism. What better way to forestall them than to range against the warmongers all the right-thinking opinion within their own societies? Adopt the high ambition of Peace and the appropriate tone of self-righteousness and the 'innocents' would follow. They did.

Hold on. What else was happening in August, 1932? A little something in Germany. Adolf Hitler was 5 months away from power. Pitched battles on the streets. A gang of thugs about to take control of the greatest power in Europe. What did the Peace Delegates have to say about the biggest threat to world peace of that decade? What righteous fulminations did they cast towards Berlin and Bavaria? None. At all.

Not until the Reichstag Fire were the innocents switched to anti-Fascism, only to be switched back to Peace in 1939, and once again to anti-Fascism in 1941.

A farce then. A farce now.

Addendum (from another article in the City Journal)

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things,” observed the British philosopher John Stuart Mill. “The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Reality hits his home

Andrew Anthony's article in The Observer this Sunday made the rounds of the blogs. Unsurprisingly really, considering that this was one of those 'paradigm shift' stories: 9/11 forcing a comfortable liberal to re-examine all his assumptions. Perhaps more surprising is that the article soon changes course, tacking away from the international focus of its first part to spend most of its words on something nearer to us and grittier: personal security in the streets of this country and in our homes.

It is also a personal thing. Not only has Anthony been burgled three times, but he intervened in a mugging in Maida Vale, London. A 16-year-old girl had been set upon by a gang of girls and stabbed in the face with a broken bottle. Not one of the many passers-by intervened, and when Anthony did, he was accused of being a "pompous prick", an opinion echoed more gently by his friends.

Most agreed that it was not the clever thing to do, if only because of the risks he ran of being stabbed himself. It was a job for the police, not for the 'citizen'. It's just good sense, isn't it? That's their job, not ours.

However, such a narrow conception of civic responsibility helps foster a sense of social detachment and places a heavy burden on already stretched police resources. And that has several negative consequences. For a start it fails to present a communal challenge to criminal attitudes and behaviour. Nor is it very effective in terms of policing or deterrence. The reason that those girls walked slowly away was because they knew from experience that it was unlikely the police would arrive quickly enough to apprehend them. Relying exclusively on the police is usually a means of guaranteeing that the culprit escapes capture.

Effectively it cedes the streets to the violent.

His segue from the international to the local puzzled me a little at first. But, though he doesn't make the link in this article, it is there for all to see. A vacuum has been left by the 'authorities', however you define them. The public space of our streets has been evacuated by the public, us. The international space was abandoned by the great powers.

We, the public, or, if you like, the middle classes, have been cowed by the charges of hypocrisy and class oppression into abolishing the difference between public and private and can no longer use shame to govern behaviour on our streets. The dress and behaviour code once imposed the moment you stepped outside was hounded and brought to bay by the liberal revolution of the Sixties and now lives the half-life of dissent on the letters pages of local newspapers. Sincerity and self-expression became the only public virtues. And if they sometimes tip over into intimidation and violence, then that was the fault of the society whose victim they were. As Anthony says, "Effectively it cedes the streets to the violent."

So, too, in the international sphere, the only force capable of keeping order was the Western democracies. But were they not delegitimised by imperialism and economic exploitation? Even the one Western country not tainted by that vice was cowed into passivity by the same charges. The United States, having won the Cold War, did not take on the part of international policeman, despite being the only power that could do so and despite terrorist attacks (the international version of the assault by the gang in Maida Vale) in 1993, 1996, 1998 and 2000. Europe was incapable; the US was unwilling. "Effectively it cedes the streets (Arab or otherwise) to the violent."

So in the UK, instead of the many eyes of the public, we have a multitude of CCTV cameras. Internationally, instead of the enforcement of the powerful, we have the random violence of the powerless. As the Irishman said,

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Bush surges

The speech that Bush gave today isn't half bad. I generally turn off after the first stumble or rhetorical flourish that doesn't, but here he speaks well and to the point. Not only that, but the examples of America defending and building democracy are apt. This is the sort of thing that is needed.

Three decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into the Vietnam War and how we left. Whatever your position is on that debate, one unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of America's withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms, like 'boat people,' 'reeducation camps,' and 'killing fields'.


The enemy that attacked us despises and harbours resentment at the slights he believes American and Western nations have inflicted on his people. He fights to establish his rule over an entire region.

And over time, he turns to a strategy of suicide attacks, destined to create so much carnage that the American people will tire of the violence and give up the fight.

If the story sounds familiar, it is. Except for one thing: The enemy I just described is not Al-Qaeda and the attack is not 9/11, and the empire is not the radical caliphate envisioned by Osama bin Laden.

Instead, what I've described is the war machine of imperial Japan in the 1940s, its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and its attempt to impose its empire throughout East Asia.

Kerry's reaction is entirely predictable, and 8 months out of date.

As in Vietnam, we engaged militarily in Iraq based on official deception. As in Vietnam, more American soldiers are being sent to fight and die in a civil war we can't stop and an insurgency we cant bomb into submission, he said.

If the president wants to heed the lessons of Vietnam, he should change course and change course now.

Petreaus is not attempting to bomb the insurgency into submission. Quite the contrary. He has taken heed of the lessons of Vietnam, and is working to an entirely different strategy. Bush has changed course; he did so when he put Petreaus in charge. It is Kerry who should heed the lessons of Vietnam, particularly that of leaving it in the lurch.

Muslim on Muslim

From the Times of India

JERUSALEM: The delegation of the Indian Muslim leaders visiting Israel, witnessed rocket attacks from Gaza during their visit to the southern city of Sderot and had to be rushed to a shelter house.

"We heard a warning shot which was followed by a siren. We were immediately rushed to a shelter house where we heard the sound of a rocket attack," a member of the delegation said after the attack which took place on Monday.

But, of course, these are the sorts of people that Neil Clarke and his ilk describe as Quislings. So they undoubtedly deserve to be bombed by the Freedom-fighters of every land.

The Death of Pliny

From Pompeii by Robert Harris

Men mistook measurement for understanding. And they always put themselves at the centre on everything. That was their greatest conceit. The earth is becoming warmer - it must be our fault. The mountain is destroying us - we have not propitiated the gods. It rains too much, it rains too little - a comfort to think that these things are somehow connected to our behaviour, that if only we lived a little better, a little more frugally, our virtue would be rewarded. But here was Nature sweeping towards him - unknowable, all-conquering, indifferent - and he saw in her fires the futility of human pretensions.

Face it, don't give in.
Face it, like a Roman.

And he did.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Kouchner in Baghdad

The French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, is in Baghdad. It is the first visit there by a French Foreign Minister since Halabja in 1988, and by any French government official since the invasion.

According to this article (in Italian), he said, that it was

my priority since I entered the government [and] I would be lying if I said that the initiative didn't come from me.

From an AP article

"It was necessary to be here," Koucher said as he wrapped up his three-day trip. "Everyone knows that the Americans cannot bring this country out of difficulty all alone."

To which should be added, from the Il Foglio piece

It is our with to stand side by side with this great country, which is indispensable to the stability and to the birth of democracy in the region.
[My emphasis]

They sound like the right kind of noises to me.

BBC - More of the same

The Good Pastor's cuddle-up with Islam is out of the closet. After the Radio 5 Messageboard, there's another casualty of the BBC's doublespeak - Casualty.

[I]t emerged yesterday that the BBC has refused to allow Casualty to carry a storyline featuring a terrorist attack by a Muslim suicide bomber. The editorial guidelines department decreed that, instead, the terrorists should be animal rights extremists.

That's facing up to the issues of the day, isn't it?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

BBC - The Good Pastor's blind side

Do you remember that internal conference the BBC held last year to debate its out-of-touchness? They did a role-play.

Sacha Baron Cohen appears on Room 101 and chooses to divest us of kosher food, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bible and the Koran. What does the BBC do? The producer Alan Hayling: the first 3 OK, but refer the Koran up. Alan Yentob: all OK, except the Koran. Jana Bennet: the first two OK, but not the Bible and the Koran. Mark Damazer: replace the Bible and the Koran with a book called "organised religion".

Just in case you had got round to thinking that things had changed, consider this. The Radio 5 Live messageboard has its black sheep just like any other community. A couple of them regularly leave anti-semitic or anti-Christian diatribe for fellow readers, some of which complain, but the BBC, in the interest of open debate, declines to remove it. One reader decided to experiment with our Good Pastor.

He wrote: "No one can surpass the Muslims for denial of their role in Terrorism and Suicide bombing." The remarks were almost immediately deleted.

It was a good role-play they did at the conference, wasn't it?

See LGF and The Useful Idiot.

Repeated criticism repeatedly offends the offended

Another pesky female is fatwad.

While one prominent cleric said Nasreen had a month to leave, another said she had 15 days. Anyone who killed her would get a cash reward of 100,000 rupees ($2,400), they said.

"Anyone who executes the warrant will also be given additional rewards," said Nurur Rehman Barkati, a cleric of one of the biggest mosques in Kolkata [India].

The head with the price-tag belongs to Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen, who is a repeat offender of the greatly offended and who most grossly offended in 1994 with a novel called Shame about riots between Muslims and Hindus.

Cut, run and hide

This is shameful. The Americans are going to end up in Basra as well to fix the mess that we leave.

In Britain, Gordon Brown's government has tried to depict a quiet process of handover to Iraqi troops in Basra, which will see the remaining forces in the city withdraw to the airport in November.

What US generals see, however, is a close ally preparing to "cut and run", leaving behind a city in the grip of a power struggle between Shia militias that could determine the fate of the Iraqi government and the country as a whole. With signs of the surge yielding tentative progress in Baghdad, but at the cost of many American lives, there could scarcely be a worse time for a parting of the ways. Yet the US military has no doubt, despite what Gordon Brown claims, that the pullout is being driven by "the political situation at home in the UK".


For far too long senior commanders encouraged the view that the British Army, with its long experience of peace-keeping operations in Northern Ireland, had done a better job than the trigger-happy Americans in restoring law and order to the four Iraqi provinces they administered, following Saddam's overthrow.

By comparison [with the Surge operations], the British garrison in Basra, which for so long lorded it over its American coalition partners as Iraq's lone success story, finds itself at its most beleaguered, with an estimated 450 rockets being fired at the British airbase on the outskirts of Basra in the past three months alone.

While British commanders on the ground bitterly resent suggestions that their mission has failed - they point out that Basra, unlike the rest of the country, has adequate supplies of electricity and water - there is a growing belief among American commanders that the British have become casualty-averse and are only doing the bare minimum in terms of maintaining a military presence on the streets of Basra.

Power, Faith and Academe

An article about Middle Eastern Studies from an unusual viewpoint: The Philanthropy Roundtable. Its thrust is simply this: the academy cannot be trusted with the Middle East because, since Edward Said's Orientalism, it has been politicised and now attracts activists rather than scholars. Therefore philanthropy should step into the breach.

Examples from the Academy

Much has been made about how the CIA's failure to penetrate al Qaeda -- a shortcoming in "human intelligence" -- paved the path to 9/11. Yet one of the greatest human intelligence failures occurred among scholars associated with Middle Eastern studies. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, as Kramer documents, they downplayed the threat of terrorism. John Esposito of Georgetown University even suggested that Islamic radicalism would lead to democracy and reform: "The nineties will prove to be a decade of new alliances and alignments in which the Islamic movements will challenge rather than threaten their societies and the West."

Esposito's colleague John Voll defended the Islamic government of Sudan: "It is not possible, even using exclusively Western political experience as a basis for definition, to state that if a system does not have two parties, it is not democratic," he said in Congressional testimony. Today, Sudan is one of five countries on the Department of State's list of terrorism sponsors -- and Esposito and Voll are director and associate director, respectively, of Georgetown's HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

[The Alwaleed Bin Talal Center was set up with a gift of $20 million by the eponymous Saudi prince, whose money set up a similar centre at Harvard, but whose gift of $10 million to New York in 2001 was refused by Giuliani because the prince accompanied it with requests that the US should adjust its foreign policy in response to the 9/11 attacks.]

Philanthropists are already doing this. One example is that of Michael Oren, whose Six Days of War: June 1967 I have just finished and recommend highly. Thanks to sponsorship to cover $5-600,000 in research costs, he has written Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present.

One of the book's key lessons is that U.S. involvement in the Middle East stretches back much further than the current Bush administration or even the Truman and FDR administrations -- all the way back, in fact, to the founding of the country. "The United States is often portrayed as an imperialist power, but Americans have worked for the independence of Middle Easterners for nearly 200 years -- Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Libya owe their independence largely to American support," says Oren. The first U.S. soldiers to die in combat overseas were the victims of Arabic-speaking hijackers.

Then there was the little matter of the Barbary slave trade.

Why does it cost so much to research a book on Middle Eastern history?

Unlike the Western world, with its open archives and free access to documents, similar materials in the Arab world must be bought. "If you want the war archives of the Jordanian and Syrian armies, you need money," says Oren. "It's cloak-and-dagger stuff, involving envelopes of cash and so on."

It is puzzling that George Bush has chosen to put money into Middle East Studies departments (why is any faculty whose name includes the word 'Studies' inevitably a purveyor of rad-chic cobblers?), when they can be so little use to him? Can such departments be reformed? Or must they just be left to wither on the vine with their sour fruit? Is this another case of the private sector coming to the rescue of the public?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Diversity and trust

A little while back, I posted Robert A. Heinlein's credo. As reported by John Derbyshire, it went like this:

Eschewing any religious or metaphysical affirmations, Heinlein laid out his social credo: “I believe in my neighbors... in my townspeople... in my fellow citizens.” He went on to write about his local priest, whose “goodness and charity and loving kindness shine in his daily actions. ... If I’m in trouble, I’ll go to him.” (Heinlein was an atheist, by the way.) Heinlein’s next-door neighbor, he tells us, was a veterinarian: “Doc will get out of bed after a hard day to help a stray cat — no fee, no prospect of a fee.”

Heinlein went on to praise the charity and conscientiousness of his fellow citizens: “For the one who says, ‘The heck with you, I've got mine,’ there are a hundred, a thousand, who will say, ‘Sure, pal, sit down.’ I know that despite all warnings against hitchhikers, I can step to the highway, thumb for a ride, and in a few minutes a car or a truck will stop and someone will say, ‘Climb in, Mack. How far you going?’ ... I believe in the honest craft of workmen. Take a look around you. There never were enough bosses to check up on all that work. From Independence Hall to the Grand Coulee Dam, these things were built level and square by craftsmen who were honest in their bones.”

Derbyshire went on to offer an explanation for the disappearance of this world. Firstly, the means by which we got rid of some unsatisfactory aspects of that world were such that, along with them, we lost "civilizational confidence". I had no trouble with that. His second reason struck me as both true and unpleasant. We had passed from social homogeneity to diversity. When I posted the Heinlein quote I said very little else, in part so as not to deal with that.

The other day, I came across a piece in the WSJ called "The Death of Diversity" by Daniel Henniger. In it, he reports the findings of Robert Putnam, a Harvard don, whose researchers did 30,000 interviews in 41 U.S. communities and whose conclusions were that "in areas of greater diversity, our respondents demonstrate:

Lower confidence in local government, local leaders and the local news media.
Lower political efficacy – that is, confidence in their own influence.
Lower frequency of registering to vote, but more interest and knowledge about politics and more participation in protest marches and social reform groups.
Less expectation that others will cooperate to solve dilemmas of collective action (e.g., voluntary conservation to ease a water or energy shortage).
Less likelihood of working on a community project.
Lower likelihood of giving to charity or volunteering.
Fewer close friends and confidants.
Less happiness and lower perceived quality of life.
More time spent watching television and more agreement that 'television is my most important form of entertainment."

[The above list is actually from this post, which Derbyshire had linked to, but which I didn't see originally.]

Putnam was not pleased by his results, and nor were his colleagues.

Prof. Putnam and his team re-ran the data every which way from Sunday and the result was always the same: Diverse communities may be yeasty and even creative, but trust, altruism and community cooperation fall. He calls it "hunkering down."

How does trust break down? Obviously, language difficulties would be play their part, but I suspect it's more to to do with less definable factors than the level of someone's English.

I saw one small example of this on a language teaching course in the 80s. Linguists had arranged that 2 people entered a post office, requested a form, then changed their minds and requested a different one. The first person was a native English speaker; the second a Pakistani whose English was structurally perfect. Both used the same words, both the same register: formal and polite. The reaction of the clerk serving them, however, was perceptibly different. He showed signs of impatience with the second speaker that were entirely absent before.

Many would jump to the conclusion that the clerk was racist. But there was another factor to consider: intonation. Its importance should not be underestimated.

Anyone who has learnt or taught another language will know that  intonation is even harder than pronunciation to get right. It may well be the first aspect of spoken language that we learn as babies, and it is incredibly difficult to acquire another language's pitch patterns. 

I discovered this in two ways. I taught English for a long time and can remember one or two adult learners out of thousands whose intonation was even close to a native speaker's. When I was learning Italian, it was the thing which gave me the most difficulty, and I would try to imitate Italians with a flatter, less expressive intonation just to get round that insuperable barrier.

Because it makes such a difference. Every teacher must have had students that made them feel violent just because of their tone of voice. Perfectly civil Germans would have me clenching my fists, and it was simply that they were speaking innocent English words with a German intonation, and sounded rude

In the case above, the Pakistani used an intonation that to a fellow Urdu speaker expressed politeness, but to English ears sounded very much like, "you idiot". He most definitely did not mean to 'say' that; he knew he was being filmed. But that is how he sounded.

A little thing, but one of many. Trust requires predictability in social relations, but that takes in whole worlds of behaviour, much of which is unconscious and all of which is very easily misinterpreted.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Make them secure

A review of Hitler’s Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State by Götz Aly. I linked to a July 24 post by Ilya Somin on this and another book last month.

Michael C. Moynihan points out that the point of view adopted in this book is a necessary addition to others in the effort to explain National Socialism, but it is not the golden bullet, which almost certainly does not exist.

“The Nazi leadership did not transform the majority of Germans into ideological fanatics who were convinced that they were the master race,” Aly concludes. “Instead it succeeded in making them well-fed parasites.”

This makes sense. The majority of people, for many reasons, are not ideological and will not become extremists. The most basic of those many reasons is that they have better things to do and just can't be bothered. Saint-Just recognised during the ur-Revolution that the greatest enemy of the radical was the indifferent. The nazis' approach to this problem was simple: make them secure. It does not give us the why of nazism, but it helps towards explaining the how.


Michael Yon meeting death in Bali and in his memories of Iraq at the same time that proud Freedom Fighters were sending four bombs among the Yezidis.

More than 200 people [perhaps 500] were murdered by suicide bombers. Like they had done in New York. Like they had done in London. Like they had done in Bali. Mass murder. I had visited a couple of Yezidi villages in Iraq in 2005, and written about them, and now was their turn to suffer again. Today while Komang’s parents suffer in Bali, there are probably Yezidi children with no parents. Children who are injured and afraid and suddenly alone. All for nothing. All because of savages.

Yon had been to a Yezdinar village in 2005.

Why this new variation on the al-Queda CNN Moment?

The bombings were a sign of al Qaeda's frustration, desperation and fear...The terrorist leaders realize now that the carnage they wrought on fellow Muslims backfired, turning once-sympathetic Sunni Arabs against them...But the second reason for those dramatic bombings was that al Qaeda needs to portray Iraq as a continuing failure of U.S. policy. Those dead and maimed Yazidis were just props: The intended audience was Congress.

Let's hope that Congress hears the right message.

Hamas: But they're not civilians anyway

I posted yesterday about Romano Prodi's call for dialogue with Hamas, and dismissed it as gesture politics to satisfy his left-wing coalition partners. I should have added, however, that the talk-with-everyone approach is not exclusive to the Left in Italy. The Catholic Right of the Christian Democrat days was also favourable to talking to Yasser Arafat, even before his 'legitimisation'.

But to stick with today's terrorists-we-should-be-talking-to, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, gave an interview on Lebanon's Al-Kawthar TV on August 6, 2007.

We are making the preparations for a confrontation. This is not because we need to be prepared for an Israeli act of aggression - after all, aggression is intrinsic to this entity - but because the final goal of the resistance is to wipe this entity off the face of the Earth. This goal necessitates the development of the capabilities of the resistance, until this entity is wiped out.

In addition, it is legitimate to target buses. Why?

Because they are the means of transport used by the soldiers as well. The Zionist soldiers, who go from their homes to their bases and back, use public transportation, because it is free or almost free. In my opinion, the occupation soldiers also have a security motive in using public transport: They shield themselves behind the so-called 'civilians' within the Zionist entity.

But the "so-called 'civilians'" are legitimate targets as well, because they are all from other countries, even if generations back.

[T]here were no Palestinian Jews. When the British Mandate began in 1917, there was only one settlement on Palestinian land, which included several dozen Jews, who were living there in violation of the law at the time ... Anyone who comes to live in a war zone is a combatant, regardless of whether he wears a uniform.

Note: A lower-end estimate of the Jewish population in 1912 put it at 40,000.

However, Hamdan's feelings are not by any means shared by all Muslims. These Indian visitors to Israel would be liable to execution if they lived in Bangladesh.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Helping Hamas to evolve

Italy, as so often before, is going soft. Romano Prodi, the Prime Minister, said last weekend that

"Hamas exists. It's a complex structure that we should help to evolve -- but this should be done with transparency," Prodi said at a conference in central Italy.

"One must push for dialogue so that it happens, and not shut anyone out of dialogue."

It should be said that Prodi heads a governing coalition whose life is on the knife edge and whose majority depends on some decidedly Leftist MPs. Every now and then he has to make noises to appease them. A favourite avenue of appeasement, because it consists mostly of gestures and does not affect Italians in the slightest, is the Middle East. He can strike the postures of the Moral High Ground and not have to do anything about it. He certainly doesn't have to suffer the consequences of his advice being followed.

An opposition Senator, Enrico Pianetta, reacted.

Helping Hamas to evolve is like helping the Red Brigades to evolve.

Exactly. We know how well that one went.

And speaking of the Red Brigades, newly active, if mostly arrested, there's a new book out in Italian about one of the founding mothers: Nom de guerre Mara - The life and death of Margherita Cagol, the first head of the Red Brigades. Here's a quote. The speaker the author, Stefania Podda, ex-Brigatista, now journaist for Liberazione.

Piú passano gli anni e piú ci rendiamo conto del caos che c'è in Italia, delle differenze di classe, delle ingiustizie infinite. Tutti i fanatismi sono terribili, ma arrivo a capire meglio quegli anni lontani, ormai dimenticati. Almeno allora c'era un ideale. Il resto è mafia, cocaina, potere assoluto.
[The more years pass, the more we realise what chaos there is in Italy, the class divisions, the infinite injustices. All fanaticism is terrible, but I'm getting to understand those distant years better. At least then there was an ideal. The rest is mafia, cocaine, absolute power.]

There you have it. That's the choice. One one side, mafia, cocaine and absolute power (what does that mean?); on the other, "idealism" [Killing one to educate a hundred, as the 'idealists' used to say]. It's the sort of choice kidnappers and terrorists give you. Injustices are infinite, power is absolute, and we must help Hamas (who want to kill rather more than one) to evolve.

(Article in Italian)

Hurled in anger

In Iraq, those desperate Americans are now throwing bullets at elderly ladies. I fear there is worse to come.

(via Instapundit)


Confederate Yankee looks into the portfolio of the photographer, and tries to ID the bullet.

Money makes the ...

Instapundit points to a survey that shows that contributions to election funds by academics go overwhelmingly to the Democrats. That's a shocker. And look at the group that occupies even more of our head space: TV/Movies/Music. The top three beneficiaries are all Democrats and they whistle up $3,229,093 between them. Numbers 4 and 5 are Republicans, who manage to scrape together $625,115. The next two in the rankings are Democrats.

I can see no entry for the media. Is that in the interests of transparency?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Liberators, occupiers, protectors

A very long, detailed and fair article about Iraq by Ullrich Fichtner in Der Speigel. It moves from achievement in Ramadi, to virtual despair in Baghdad and then north to hope in Mosul. It is rich in characters, American and Iraqi, and including Petraeus. How I admire the restraint of the man. His assessment has developed from [in January] "The situation is not satisfactory." to [in July] "it gives rise to hope".

Just a couple of theme quotes, but there's a lot else.

Ramadi is an irritating contradiction of almost everything the world thinks it knows about Iraq -- it is proof that the US military is more successful than the world wants to believe. Ramadi demonstrates that large parts of Iraq -- not just Anbar Province, but also many other rural areas along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers -- are essentially pacified today. This is news the world doesn't hear: Ramadi, long a hotbed of unrest, a city that once formed the southwestern tip of the notorious "Sunni Triangle," is now telling a different story, a story of Americans who came here as liberators, became hated occupiers and are now the protectors of Iraqi reconstruction.

The world has become deaf to the word "peace" -- at least when conversations turn to Iraq. It is as if the world were blind to the possibility that the situation in this country straddling the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers could be anything different from the constant stream of increasingly devastating films of the latest car bombings. For most people, Iraq has become nothing but a series of attacks, a collection of images of bombings and victims, a tale of failure, a book about historical guilt and a symbol of the moral decline of the United States of America.
The final words are
That's the situation in Iraq. A race is underway. Now every day on the calendar is historic. The future can be won or it can be gambled away.