30 October 2006

Medieval ethnic stereotypes

In describing the great variety of Europeans who left to go to Jerusalem during the First Crusade, an English writer, William of Malmesbury, wrote:

Then the Welshman abandoned his forests and neglected his hunting; the Scotchman deserted the fleas with which he is so familiar; the Dane ceased to swallow his intoxicating draughts; and the Norwegian turned is back upon his raw fish.
Garrison Keillor would understand.

29 October 2006

"Kingdom of Heaven" and Religion

I commented earlier on "The Kingdom of Heaven" and how it would have been a better movie if it had risked offending someone. This is especially true of how it handles Christianity and Islam. Scott, I think, was trying to make a movie about the dangers of religious violence, but then got mired in the cynicism about faith that is so common in our era (alas, too often for good reason). It threatens to fall into "The Scarlet Letter" syndrome, but is a much better movie in general. The antidote to "Scarlet Letter" fever is Mel Gibson’s willingness to take chances in offending everyone - which earned "Passion of the Christ" about $600 million. No chance of that in KOH.

The problem in KOH, however, is a bit deeper than mere religious cynicism. Scott is a bit too earnest, and a bit too serious, for that. Having made the movie with scenes showing the fanaticism of both Muslims and Christians, he then thought to have Muslim critics view it to point out scenes they had problems with. Those scenes were deleted, which, of course, left all the scenes of Christians behaving badly intact. Which unintentionally leaves the point of the film unbalanced. This becomes more pronounced everytime Ghassan Massoud as Saladin comes on the screen. He and his chief lieutenant are attractive, engaging characters. The only fanatical Muslim is one handsome young man with intense dark eyes who, at least in what is left of his role, merely seems intent on getting Jerusalem back. A credible point of view under the circumstances. Apparently it was scenes with him that were cut.

And what of the Christian side? The Patriarch of Jerusalem is pictured as a snob, a bigot and a coward. Well, perhaps he was. Balian’s father is stern, strong, and almost as smart as his horse. The Knights Templars are all barely controlled fanatics simply waiting for a chance to start a war and to kill. And so it goes. Balian is the only one who looks good (other than the Leper King and Tiberias) and he is an unbeliever who loses his faith when his wife committs suicide, has her head cut off and her corpse robbed by the village priest (Balian does manage to get even by dumping the priest into his blacksmith’s furnace).

Balian’s character is that of a modern rather than a medieval man. He loses his faith, and never finds it. In the end he has a brief fling with the Queen of Jerusalem, who in real life was madly in love with Guy de Lusingnan, who is pictured as a thoroughly nasty piece of work (which he was, btw). Balian ends up fighting off the Muslims because... well, that’s the problem. There is no real ‘because.’ He is in love with the Queen, but turned down the chance to have her and the kingdom too, if only he would agree to the assassination of Guy the Nasty. He will not do it because... well... again, no particular reason. As an embittered, cynical man without faith, he just thinks it would be a bad thing to marry the woman he loves and become king at the price of murdering his worst enemy at the behest of every sane person left in the kingdom.

How much stronger would the movie have been if the Christians were shown being a bit more firm in their faith, and bit more nuanced in character? As an example, Balian goes up to the spot where Christ was killed, and in a genuinely moving scene spends the whole night there, clutching his wife’s crucifix that he had killed a man for. When morning arrives, he buries it in the dirt and moves on. What if that scene was used to reaffirm his faith? Than his refusal to murder his lover’s husband would make some sense, as would his fanatical last ditch effort to fight Saladin to a standstill. An effort, by the way, that Muslim sources agree was the only reason Saladin agreed to a settlement that allowed the Christians to walk out alive.

Add the curious imbalance brought on by Scott’s otherwise commendable attempt to be fair to the Muslims, and you have a movie that does indeed suffer from Scarlet Letter fever. And it is a shame because it is a much better historical epic than we usually see, one that was struggling to say something important about a fascinating period of history.

Maybe crazy ol' Mel Gibson will give it a try.

Noonan once again.

A few posts back I have a post called "Noonan on the Republicans' Chances." I think that I thought it was significant because if even Peggy Noonan saw the flaws of the administration, then the Republicans were in trouble. For a much more caustic look at the same column, check out Glenn Greenwald here. The title of the post is "Peggy Noonan and the Rotting Pundit Class," which gives you an idea of the tone of the piece.

28 October 2006

El Prez and Iraq according to NRO

As I have said before, I enjoy reading National Review Online, partly for enlightenment, partly for entertainment, and sometimes for the giddy breathless feeling you get when you watch the intellectual equivalent of someone hitting themselves in the head with a hammer. Here is a paragraph from their most recent roundup of the weeks news with their unique spin. The emphasis and snide [comments] are strickly my own.
The White House has now completed a repudiation of its "stay the course" rhetoric — a repudiation that began, fitfully, months ago. Since no one — not even hawks — has much interest in staying the course if that means continuing to do exactly the same things we have been doing in Iraq, [NOW they tell us!] the administration's rhetorical adjustment is shrewd [hmm. Too bad it's not an actual adjustment]. Bush also gave a frank press conference [is this also a change of course?], acknowledging the disappointments and failures in Iraq and vowing to find new ways to address them. Since people had begun to suspect that his optimism on Iraq was detached from reality [suspect?], this adjustment too was necessary. But, as ever, the most important events are on the ground. The Baghdad security plan has, predictably, failed. General Casey says he's considering asking for more troops for Baghdad, and he should [about time, but the Gen'l could have used better timing, from the Bushies point of view]. Meanwhile, we are creating benchmarks for Iraqi political performance as a way of pressuring Prime Minister Maliki to make the difficult choice to confront the Shia militias that are helping drive Iraq into the abyss. It is often said that there isn't a purely military solution to Iraq's problems. But neither is there a purely political one. We need to try to do a better job on the security front so that the Iraqi government has the breathing room it needs to do the work that is necessary on the political front [it took us three and a half years to figure this out?!]. This will take time, and we hope the White House has bought itself some with this repositioning.

Yes, but time is about all it may have bought. As long as the architects of this fiasco are still at the helm, I don't see how much can change. If you read this paragraph carefully, you will realize that it is a more telling indictment of the war in Iraq than anything put out by people like Andrew Sullivan or Moveon.org. After all, the editors of NRO have always tried to present the best case for the Bush administration, and now it is reduced to crowing about a little extra bought time and, after more than three years, calling for more troops.

Whatever the Bushies try, let's hope it works.

27 October 2006

A Clemen's comedy break!

Medieval Madness! The worst of the '80s - the 1280's.

What were they thinking?

Noonan on the Republicans' chances

Peggy Noonan latest in the Wall Street Journal is interesting, if true. Here's a taste of it.

"In the Republican base, that huge and amorphous thing, judgments are less tough, more forgiving. But there too things have changed.

There remains a broad, reflexive, and very Republican kind of loyalty to George Bush. He is a war president with troops in the field. You can see his heart. He led us in a very human way through 9/11, from the early missteps to the later surefootedness. He was literally surefooted on the rubble that day he threw his arm around the retired fireman and said the people who did this will hear from all of us soon.

Images like that fix themselves in the heart. They're why Mr. Bush's popularity is at 38%. Without them it wouldn't be so high.

But there's unease in the base too, again for many reasons. One is that it's clear now to everyone in the Republican Party that Mr. Bush has changed the modern governing definition of 'conservative.' "

That would be the change in the definition that for the last year I have been hearing doesn't exist from soi-disant conservatives (as opposed to real conservatives).

BTW, I think the cartoon says it all. Now we'll just have to wait and see if this means anything in terms of election results.

23 October 2006

Desperate times call for desperate measures, but...

In the annals of lamebrained campaign literature, this one is simply incredible. It almost doesn't matter what your take is on the war in Iraq to be left breathless by this one.

See what you think.

Why the Qara Khitai might be important

To us, at any rate. Aside from being simply fascinating in their own right.

They were Buddhists, or at least their ruling clans were. And yet they ruled over a multi-ethnic empire whose inhabitants included large numbers of shamanists, Buddhists and Christians, within a majority Muslim population. For decades they were able to pull this off. Of particular importance is the simple question: how could a non-Muslim elite rule a Muslim empire?

The answer, at least for Michal Biran in The Qara Khitai in Eurasian History, is a reliance on a Chinese heritage of divine rulership, military prowess, and perhaps most important of all, justice.

Here is what she has to say about the Qara Khitai's reputation for just rule:
This was not only helpful in attracting their subjects' support, but also had religious meaning, since it could have legitimized Qara Khitai rule even if they did not embrace Islam. In medieval Muslim political theory, justice was the foundation of righteous government ... One of the literary means to stress the importance of justice for the Muslim government was the maxim "Kingship remains with the unbelievers but not with injustice," known also in a variant, "A just infidel is preferable to an unjust Muslim ruler." which from the eleventh century onward was often quoted in Muslim adab works and even attributed to the Prophet.

Why is this relevant today? Well, aside from the increasing number of Muslims who live under non-Muslim governments, consider this quote from Fouad Ajami's 2006 book about the American occupation of Iraq, The Foreigner's Gift:
A shopkeeper of Baghdad quoted in the Saudi-owned Pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat, one Mahdi Mansour, provided the kind of verdict the Anglo-American force could hope for: "A just ruler from among the infidels," he said, "is better than a tyrannical ruler from among the Muslims." ... There had to be more Mahdi Mansours if the Americans were to succeed.

But anarchy, the absence of all law and order, is in its own way a tyranny.

There is also a deep message here for America - Biran points out that when the Qara Khitai turned from justice, their Muslim population turned from them and left them to the mercy of the Mongols. Justice for all we pride ourselves on. Why toss it out in an excess of fear and despair?

Making light of Foley

Foley, I suppose we must point out, seems to have committed no crime, and unlike some who did had the good sense to immediately resign and leave town once the news broke of his 'indiscretion.'

Yet it is hard not to think that the bright lights over at National Review might be making a bit too light of the Affair Foley if you read this.

Algerians in Iraq

In The Foreigner's Gift Fouad Ajami points out that of the foreign jihadists who had come to Iraq to fight the Americans, "The forensic evidence disclosed that up to 20 percent of the suicide car bombers came from Algeria. That North African country, worlds away, was now spilling into Iraq. It had had its own terrible war between the secular autocrats in the saddle and the Islamists. The rulers had won in a scorched-earth war. Now the thwarted Islamists had found a new battleground." [p 48].

Yet who, here in America, knows anything about Algeria or its troubles? Or cares?

For that matter, who in France?

Beware the curse of history.

19 October 2006

Mortimer's view on Iraq

Mortimer B. Zuckerman is the editor-in-chief of US News & World Report. I have been getting his mag for the last year or so (hey, it was free with my subscription to Salon.com) and have always thought he leaned way over to the conservative Republican view of the world. Imagine my surprise when I got the latest issue tonight and read that he has bought into the new narrative that the Bushites have done nothing right in Iraq (a POV best shown on Front Line's The Lost Year last Tuesday on PBS).

Here's a sample of Mortimer's new take:
Alas, whatever chances we may have had to overcome these difficulties have been torpedoed by the breathtaking incompetence of the Bush administration in managing postwar Iraq. Senior officials from the president on down ignored warnings that we might win the war and lose the peace. Gen. Tommy Franks won the battle for Baghdad but seemed to feel that planning for the postwar period was someone else's job. But whose? We sent an inept group of operatives to run Iraq, often appointed because of their political leanings. Whatever support we originally enjoyed there we began to lose when we allowed criminals to rampage. Then the Americans, fabled for their can-do efficiency, failed again and again to deliver electricity, water, and, most critically, security.

Upbeat on Iraq

Dick Cheney is a fan of Rush Limbaugh. Yesterday he even called Rush up and spoke to him about, among other things, the Iraqi government. Here's the assesment, from a man who is in a position to know:

"If you look at the general overall situation, they're doing remarkably well."

Compared to who? The town council of Carthage?*

An homage to the novel Starship Troopers, for you sci-fi fans.

16 October 2006

Women Among the Qara Khitai

Who were the Qara Khitai? A tribe of nomads originally from Manchuria who conquered North China, incorporating it into an empire which lasted from 907 til 1125 when it was overthrown by a new wave of Manchurian invaders called the Jurchens.

One of the Khitan princes fled into Central Asia where he created a conquest state called the Qara Khitai, the Black Khiitai. Most of his subjects were sedentary Muslims who accepted Khitan rule even though their new rulers refused to convert to Islam. Their name, the Khitai, became the name China was called in medieval Europe - Cathay. One thing that seems to have irritated both the Chinese and the Muslims was the amount of power females had among them. Here are a few examples.

When Abaoji, the founder of the first Khitan empire in China died, his wife Yingtian refused to accompany him to the grave as custom required. Instead, she cut off her own right hand and threw it into the coffin. She survived to be the powerful regent of the new empire. Talk about a Nietzchian 'will to power'!

Female rulers of the Qara Khitai were so powerful that their husbands often received only the title of fuma (originally 'imperial son-in-law'). Usually he functioned as the chief military officer while the Empress held all real power.

At the end of the dynasty a Mongol chieftain fleeing from Genghis Khan sought refuge at the Qara Khitan court where he was received by the Empress rather than the ruling Emperor. Her daughter took one look at him, fell in love, and married him three days later. Not only was she strong-willed, she had the power to determine her own husband.

The wife of the Muslim Kwarazm Shah, a Khitan princess named Terkish Khatun, discovering that her husband was having an affair with a slave girl, tracked him to the bath and attacked him so violently that he lost an eye.

Ah yes. Central Asia, where all the women are strong and the men are very nervous.

Clemens' notebook: Facts: Fun and Otherwise

Found these while flipping through back issues of Wired magazine (while supposedly setting them aside for recycling).

Fun fact about poison:
Tetrodotoxin (ingested)
Found in the organs of puffer fish (the famous Japanese delicacy fugu), tetrodoxin persists even after the fish is cooked. If the toxin is consumed, paralysis and death can strike within six hours. Up to five Japanese die from badly prepared fugu every year.

Less fun fact about poison:
Anthrax (inhaled)
Cutaneous exposure can kill, but the most deadly, panic-inspiring form of anthrax is inhaled. It starts with flu that doesn’t get better - then your respiratory system collapses. [hmm - sort of like Lykesboro in the allergy season]

Least fun fact about poison:
Strychnine (ingested or inhaled)
A common pesticide, strychnine isn’t as toxic as other poisons on our list, but it gets style points for causing the most horrific deaths of all: Every muscle in your body spasms violently until you die from exhaustion.

[I don’t know why a high tech mag like Wired would do an article on poisons, but you have to admit that gives you a whole new respect for Mr Yuck]

Canada vindicated!
The breakdown that caused the 2003 East Coast blackout originated in Ohio, not Ontario ("The Worst: Engineering Mistakes," Start, issue 14.06)

Plane Incompetence:
[That’s the mag’s pun. I refuse all responsibility for it]
It took airlines 60-odd years and sophisticated computer modeling to figure out that it would be more efficient to seat aft windows first and forward aisles last ("Now Boarding, Fast," Start, issue 14.06). No wonder most of them can’t figure out how to make money. [from reader Andy Richards).

Best new product of the future:
A photo of a hypothetical hour class shaped Coke Burn can from the future. ‘ONE CAN BURNS 500 CALORIES’ it blares. ‘How it works: Coke Burn’s proprietary enzymes and proteins increase your mitochondrial activity, speed up the Krebs cycle and overclock ion transport channels to help you lose weight!’ [Don’t laugh - it’s only a matter of time.]

Favorite new name found while reading a magazine:
Elon Musk, PayPal cofounder.

[Think Elon would respond if I ask him why PayPal keeps sending me messages about my account, even though I don’t use PayPal?]

15 October 2006

Me and Clemens

You may have noticed that I have posted a picture of my namesake, the original Clemens himself, on my blog profile. Clovis my computer aide assisted me (i.e. he did all the work). We decided on the academic robes because... well, because! (Actually, it makes him look a bit more like me) We aren't doubles, or anywhere close, but with that picture you could probably pick me out of a crowd. At least if I am the only one wearing academic regalia.

Of course, there are a few people who have noted a similarity between me and Prof. Irwin Corey, my favorite academic. I just hope they mean I look like him, and not that my lectures sound like his. Well, one of my students did say on RateMy Professor that I looked like a mad scientist. Come do think of it, if I didn't have the Clemens moustache I would look a lot like Prof. Corey.

Confidence in the White House

The Washington Post has an interesting article about how the Bush administration remains optimistic about the cominig election and allows a spokesman for the White House explain why. Within the article is the following paragraph:

The question is whether this is a case of justified confidence -- based on Bush's and Rove's electoral record and knowledge of the money, technology and other assets at their command -- or of self-delusion. Even many Republicans suspect the latter. Three GOP strategists with close ties to the White House flatly predicted the loss of the House, though they would not do so on the record for fear of offending senior Bush aides. [Emphasis mine]

So three GOP strategists are afraid to state their views with their names attached because it might offend someone in the White House. Think about that for a moment. If this is the fear you inspire, then all you will ever hear is an echo chamber for your own views. Everything else is forbidden. This can be deadly, and may be one of the great failings of the Bush administration.

Which, I must point out, doesn't necessarily mean that the Bushites are wrong. Three weeks is a long time in a campaign and something may turn the race around. But I would feel a lot better about the Bush White House if it could actually tolerate honest advice from its friends.

12 October 2006

A Muslim view of the news

A useful blog I discovered today, thanks to Andrew Sullivan, is Altmuslim. It is a useful corrective in some ways to news by and about Muslims. A billion plus people can't have the same views about anything. As the site explains:
We've designed this website to be an interactive news and discussion forum that helps promote a critical (and self-critical) analysis of issues regarding the Muslim community. Our editors provide brief overviews of issues affecting the Muslim world, along with extended commentary and discussion on a variety of topics, all designed to foster a community of people who want to become more informed and involved in the world around them
Give it a try. It looks interesting.

11 October 2006

At the Movies: 'Kingdom of Heaven'

Shortly after ‘Kingdom of Heaven' came out I wrote this review of it for my Matins. I'll put it up here about as I wrote it, and then post a separate comment regarding the attitude it shows toward both Christianity and Islam. I review it here simply as a movie and do not get involved in telling you what really happened, though the truth was a lot more interesting than the script Scott used. If you want a professional review, click here.

It has great photography, cast of hundreds of thousands (real and virtual), some good acting, and some remarkable ham in it for a movie that is supposed to be ‘Islam-friendly'. Good things: it is a serious movie about the Crusades, with a huge investment that attempts to deal with the religious motivations of both sides. It is leagues ahead of any other movie about the crusades. Best of all, it may get some people into a library or on to the Internet to read up on them.

The actor who plays Saladin, Ghassan Massoud, is the single best thing in the movie. I was fascinated by all the scenes inside his command tent with the other Muslim leaders. Weapons and armor are convincing if not always accurate (some of Saladin's officers seem to be wearing 15th/16th century Ottoman gear). The Holy Land and Jerusalem are both gorgeous and convincing - in fact look like I always imagined they would. The shot of the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa in the evening during Baldwin's funeral is fantastic - almost ethereal in its beauty. The scene where Ibelin visits Calvary where Jesus was executed is also moving and ‘real', for lack of a better word.

The siege of Jerusalem by Saladin is the best siege I've seen since DW Griffith took Babylon in ‘Intolerance'. Jeremy Irons is good and soul weary, Liam Neeson ditto, although someone forgot to write a role for his character. Actually, he would have been better playing Balian who was actually a grizzled veteran when he defended Jerusalem.

So what's not to like? Orlando Bloom doesn't quite fit the role (although he is much better than some of the reviews lead you to believe). Worse, there is zero heat between him and Sybilla. This is odd because the actress is good enough to render her love for her brother more convincing in even fewer lines.

If the movie had the courage to risk offending someone, anyone, it would have some grit to it. As it is the ‘message' of the movie somehow renders the whole thing flat. Balian simply doesn't seem to be fighting for anything and resolves nothing by the film's end. The ham I mentioned is almost all on the part of terribly cartoonish villains – if they had been more realistically portrayed so that their motives made some sense, it might have been a more engaging film. Rainald de Chatillon, the villain of the movie, probably was crazy, but he had also been held captive by the Muslims for over a decade during which he learned to speak Arabic and, apparently, to hate Muslims. An artist, as opposed to a Hollywood screenwriter, could have done a lot with this. The reason Saladin had to execute Rainald was because he had attacked Arabia with a fleet, and said he would raid Mecca itself. Even a hint of this would have strengthened the movie.

Worse, in an effort to have a feel good ending that resolves some loose ends the movie runs on for about 10 wasted minutes: it should end when Saladin replaces the cross on a table with a wry look somewhere between respect and contempt.

So it adds up to a flawed movie, but one that is interesting, and for me, engaging, though nowhere near as engaging as it could have been. Everyone, however, should go out and see it if they are the least bit interested in the Crusades and they should drag all of their friends to see it so that they might get interested too.

Then they should get a good history book about the fall of Jerusalem and read them.

09 October 2006

Foley Fiasco: whose fault?

It's probably safe to say that the Democratic view of the Foley Fiasco is that it is not about homosexuatity, but about inept and dishonest Republican leadership. Needless to say, the Republican take is more nuanced. In fact, there are several explanations voiced in the last week by Republicans.

1. Bill Clinton is responsible (Clinton must be the single most influential ex-prez in our history).

2. The Dastardly Democrats failed to let the House leadership know what was going on in their House until it was too late!

3. The pages did it as a prank to entrap Foley.

And now we have a new one, as reported by John Fund in The Wall Steet Journal. The congressioinal staff system is responsible. There's simply too many of them, and they are unelected, and have their own agendas, and keep their elected bosses in the dark, and tied up in a broom closet while they run Congress. Ooops. I made that last part up. Sorry.

But it does bring up an interesting question: are Republicans like Danny Hastert capable of managing their own staffs? If Fund is right, than no.

Anyone else remember the Battle of Balls Bluff?

07 October 2006

Kudos to Claw of the Conciliator!

Mr Claw, aka Elliot, has earned a scholarship of $1000 for his return to school! I think he deserves it, and think the R. Fletcher Argue scholarship committee deserves congratulations for being smart enough to select him. What a great name for an academic scholarship!

My advice is that everyone who reads 'Sententiae' should go over to the Claw and congratulate Elliot, after first reading enough of 'Claw of the Conciliator' to see why I think the scholarship is well deserved.

Late Roman Empire and the Early Middle Ages

One of my favorite periods in history. This summer I spent a lot of time reading up on the "Fall of Rome." A well respected scholar, Chris Wickham, has come out now with Framing the Early Middle Ages. It should be on everybody's to-read list except for the price: US$175! As you might guess with a price like that it is from Oxford University Press. It may take awhile before I can get a copy to read, but I will as soon as possible. In the meantime, another scholar I know virtually, Steve Muhlberger of Nipissing University in Canada, has written a brief review of it. Check it out.

In the meantime I should get started on Bryan Ward-Perkins The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (right after I finish Ilium, The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History, Haroun al-Rachid, several books on Cervantes and - well, Hell won't have frozen, but there will be frost warnings in Hades before I get to it)

The Century War Terminus: What does it all mean?

"It's just a short story. That's all it is. A short story."
John Lennon, commenting on the ‘Paul is Dead' hoax
WKBW Radio, 1966 (from my memory)

Simmons' Time Traveler says "I came back for my own purposes" and we may assume the same for Simmons' writing this piece. His purpose is clearly more than to merely entertain. He has a message to get across, one that can be pulled out of his "political" comments in the story.

He foresees a war against Islam and calls any other view a category error - i.e. "having stated a problem so poorly that it becomes impossible to solve." As part of his analysis of the true problem, the Time Traveler makes several observations.

1. "Athens failed in Syracuse – and doomed their democracy – not because they fought in the wrong place and at the wrong time, but because they weren't ruthless enough. They had grown soft since their slaughter of every combat-age man and boy on the island of Melos, the enslavement of every woman and girl there."

2. "In 2006, you'll be ripping and tearing at yourselves so fiercely that your nation – the only one on Earth actually fighting against resurgent caliphate Islam in this long struggle over the very future of civilization – will become so preoccupied with criticizing yourselves and trying to gain short-term political advantage, that you'll all forget that there's actually a war for your survival going on."

4. "Your enemies are they that wish you and your children and your grandchildren dead and who are willing to sacrifice themselves, or support those fanatics who will sacrifice themselves, to see you and your institutions destroyed."

5. Those who do not understand number 4 are "the majority of you fat, sleeping, smug, infinitely stupid Americans and Europeans." (Personally, I am miffed that he lets the Canadians and Australians off the hook, but that's just me)

6. "Civil liberties. In 2006 you still fear yourselves and your own institutions first, out of old habit. A not unworthy – if fatally misguided and terminally masochistic – paranoia."

7. "You peaceloving Europeans. You civil-liberties loving Americans? You Athenian invertebrates with your love of your own exalted sensibilities and your willingness to enter into a global war for civilizational survival even while you are too timid, too fearful . . . too decent . . . to match the ruthlessness of your enemies."

There you have it. The world according to the Time Traveler/Simmons. To cut it down to a political agenda:

1. War to the Death with Islam - a war for civilizational survival.

2. We must be absolutely ruthless - ruthless enough to slaughter the men and enslave the women and children.

3. Ignore civil liberties and our own institutions - to not do so is misguided and masochistic.

4. No dissent with the above program.

I hope you can recognize what you are seeing. A ruthless, militarized dictatorship allowing neither civil liberties nor dissent, bent on the absolutely ruthless defeat of the better part of a billion people. And if he is serious about imitating the ruthlessness of the Athenians, ethnic cleansing of the planet.

I have shown you why I think his predictions about the future make no sense. Now I must admit that I find his political agenda evil, and hope I have shown why. He is a man of talent and intellect and he represents the thinking of a great many people in America today. That is why I have taken so much time to refute it. This is much more than just a little short story.

House Leadership comes clean on Leadership!

From CNN:

Top GOP leaders -- including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Illinois, and Majority Leader John Boehner, of Ohio -- have accused the Democrats of knowing about Foley's correspondences with teen pages, and waiting to release them until it was politically advantageous.

In other words, the Republican leaders of the House are openingly admitting that they are dependent on the Democrats to inform them in a timely fashion of what is going on in the House!

Blame in the Foley Fiasco?

It was the pages fault.

This from Rep. Chris Cannon (R- Utah), who explains why:
"These kids are actually precocious kids," Cannon, R-Utah, told KSL Radio's Nightside. "It looks like uh, maybe this one email is a prank where you had a bunch of kids sitting [around] egging this guy on."

A day or so later, in an effort to explain exactly what he meant, the gentleman from Utah said:
"The point of what I said is that institutions can't protect kids in a day when you have instant messaging and cell phones that do texting but also take pictures.," Cannon said in an interview Friday. "Parents need to take some responsibility and teach their kids what to do."

He also said that "all kids are precocious."

So there you have it. Some good advice for you parents out there. If you have precocious children who are technologically advanced, it's your responsibility to prevent them from "egging on" a 52 year old man who might be foolish enough to fall for their wiles.

The people of Utah must be so proud.

(Memo to self: get back to your Spirit of Balls Bluff campaign, pronto).

06 October 2006

Who Said This?

I thought abut calling this thread "The Lying MSM" but thought better of it. Sometimes adults say the darndest things. See if you can guess who said this about Bob Woodward's State of Denial. The writer has disliked most of Woodward's writings before now, and is a staunch supporter of Repbulican, no, make that Conservative, values.

I bought "State of Denial" thinking I might have a merry time bashing it and a satisfying time defending the innocent injured.

But it is a good book. It may be a great one. It is serious, densely, even exhaustively, reported, and a real contribution to history in that it gives history what it most requires, first-person testimony. (It is well documented, with copious notes.) What is most striking is that Mr. Woodward seems to try very hard to be fair, not in a phony "Armitage, however, denies it" way, but in a way that--it will seem too much to say this--reminded me of Jean Renoir: "The real hell of life is that everyone has his reasons."

Answer: Peggy Noonan, conservative wordsmith for the Wall Street Journal. If the link works, the whole column is worth a read.

05 October 2006

The Century War VII: Asia! China! uh... India?

"I give you an Asian world in chaos, a Pacific rim ruled by China after the vacuum of America's withdrawal”

Another frightening pronouncement from the Time Traveler. At least, it’s frightening until you think about it.

Why would the Asian world collapse into chaos? Especially if the Pacific rim were dominated by China? A nation of a billion and a quarter people with a huge army and an expanding economy could be expected to keep order, at the very least. Yes, it could fall apart. The government’s hold over the countryside is not complete, to put it mildly, but that isn’t what the Time Traveler claims. If there were a resurgent China ruling the Pacific rim it would be profoundly anti-Muslim. For an America fighting for its life, this would be just fine. China has its own Muslim minority, its own Muslim terrorists, and its own irredentist dreams of much of Muslim Asia. It currently has it’s own Muslim separatists terrorists in it’s far western Xinjiang province. It is hard to believe that in the scenario sketched by Simmons the Chinese would not end up in serious conflict with their Muslim neighbors: Kyrgystan, Kazakstan, and Pakistan. China has a political/military culture that no one in their right mind would accuse of lacking the necessary “ruthlessness” that Simmons believes is so lacking in us.

You will notice that the Time Traveler doesn’t get around to mentioning the other great Asian power: India. Again, over a billion people, a touchy situation with its own Muslim citizens, claims against Pakistan, and an explosive situation in Kashmir. Surely someone in a nation with the second largest army in the world and nuclear weapons might come up with the idea of using military and police power to “solve” several of these problems.

You might say the same thing about “a resurgent Russian Empire that has reclaimed its old dominated republics and more,” as the Time Traveler puts it. Have you looked at those “old dominated republics”? Most of them are Muslim with Russian minorities. If there were a resurgent Russian empire, it would be chewing up a huge chunk of the Islam world the old fashioned Russian way -- complete with ethnic cleansing. The people of Chechnya seem to offer sufficient proof that Russia, whatever it was doing, would not be a good friend of the Muslim powers during any ‘Century War.’

As far as I can cast my eye forward, I see a world radically different from the one Simmons sees.

The Party of Cut and Run

Not sure what this means, but it looks like Michael Rubin on the National Review 'Corner' has caught the party in power in full retreat on the question of Middle-Eastern democracy. It's sad because I never liked George Bush better than when he made his speech denouncing 60 years of truckling to dictators in the Middle East as a failed policy that had NOT given us security.

Here's the core of Rubin's post:
I just read the transcript of Condoleezza Rice’s remarks in Cairo. She didn’t mention Ayman Nour once. After he lost his unprecedented election challenge to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian regime arrested him. Arsonists burned down his party’s headquarters. He remains in prison. She didn’t mention the cancellation of municipal elections. Rice says, “Democracy is not something that … is for America to impose abroad. And certainly democracy will look — will take on different cultural tones, different forms, in every single country on earth.”

So why are we fighting in Iraq again? I keep forgetting the latest version.

01 October 2006

El Prez on the Turning Tide in Iraq

When asked back in June if the tide was turning in Iraq, Bush replied:
"I think -- tide turning -- see, as I remember, I was raised in the desert, but tides kind of, it's easy to see a tide turn -- did I say those words?"

Glad we got that straight.

The Odd Couple: Andrew Sullivan and Edward Gibbon

I am not the only one here in Blogland that thinks that Edward Gibbon has some lessons for the modern world. Andrew Sullivan has the following quote for the day:
"The influence of the clergy, in an age of superstition, might be usefully employed to assert the rights of mankind; but so intimate is the connection between the throne and the altar, that the banner of the church has very seldom been seen on the side of the people. A martial nobility and stubborn commons, possessed of arms, tenacious of property, and collected into constitutional ssemblies, form the only balance capable of preserving a free constitution against enterprises of an aspiring prince," - Edward Gibbon, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire."

The Century War VI: America's full resources fail

Simmons' Time Traveler proceeds to tell the author what the 21rst century will be like after the Century War gets underway.

"I give you the continent of Europe cast back more than five hundred years into sad pools of warring civilizations" ... "I give you an Asian world in chaos, a Pacific rim ruled by China after the vacuum of America's withdrawal – this nation's full resources devoted to fighting, and possibly losing, the Century War – a South America and Mexico lost to corruption and appeasement, a resurgent Russian Empire that has reclaimed its old dominated republics and more, and a Canada split into three hateful nations."

"This nation's full resources devoted to fighting, and possibly losing, the Century War"?

Has he taken a look at the history of these United States over the last hundred years? If we exerted our full resources, what exactly would be left to fight? Those pathetic little countries he envisions in Europe? The Arab states, plus Iran and Pakistan?

Keep in mind what we have seen in the last five years. We bullied Pakistan into supporting us and destroyed the Taliban and Baathist regimes without any discernable drawdown of our resources. Losses in the low hundreds, no new taxes, no sacrifice at home (except for the president's request that Americans go out and spend money to plump up the economy). True, the war of occupation in Iraq has been more difficult, but we are still fighting it on the cheap. And in the war Simmons describes, there would be no need to occupy much of anything. So exactly what would be expending our full resources on?

The Century War V: Some scary stuff

There is scare talk here designed simply to frighten you. Such is the Time Traveler's description of dhimmitude, a new cant word to show the reader the way Muslims will treat non-Muslims. This is a serious enough problem, but here it seems just thrown in as a frightening flourish. The real fright stuff comes when this exchange takes place:

"Galveston," interrupted the Time Traveler. "The Space Needle. Bank of America Plaza in Dallas. Renaissance Tower in Dallas. Bank One Center in Dallas. The Indianapolis 500 – one hour and twenty-three minutes into the race. The Bell South Building in Atlanta. The TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco . . ."

After the Traveler intones this list, and more, he adds that these will all disappear in "your next fifteen years. And I've barely begun."

Let's skip over the usual question of "how" and "who" – you are simply left to imagine the answers, and like any good horror writer Simmons knows that what is unnamed and undescribed is the most terrifying. Not to say more difficult to criticize.

But let's do another kind of calculus, unpleasant as it is. In 2001 the US suffered a devastating attack that killed nearly 3000 people. In the five years since we have suffered no attacks in the US, unless you want to count Richard Reed's attempt to ignite his shoe or Jose Padillo's fantasy plot to set off a dirty bomb that does not yet exist (and for which no charges were filed). In the meantime the US reaction has destroyed the governments of two Muslim nation-states, killed thousands of al-Qaeda, disrupted its leadership and squeezed off part of its money pipeline. On this score we can thank the Bush administration, though they have since carried on our three wars with a maddening lack of seriousness and realism. Somewhere around the Renaissance Tower in Dallas being bombed, you might assume that any Muslim nation marred with the slightest evidence of complicity would be destroyed or occupied.

This, of course, would unleash hell (in the words of that neo-con darling, General Maximus Hispanicus). So years of war. This would be open warfare, designed to destroy nation-states, coupled with an ugly shadow war against terrorist cells.

So, what would be likely to happen in this ugly new world?

The Century War IV: The Great Shaitan - Iran

Iran is actually the great military, economic and cultural power in that part of the Muslim world. As Indo-European Shia Muslims, they are not likely to side with Semitic Sunni, no matter what Simmons' fantasies are. Yes, it is a dangerous country, but it is one country. I suspect that the recent war in Lebanon is its high water mark of popularity in the Arabic world. Read some of Fouad Ajami, a Shiite Lebanese American, when he talks about his reception among Sunni Arabs or Victor Hanson's comments on how unpopular Iranians are within the Arabic world. For the moment, you can see how likely a Shia/Sunni anti-west pact is by tracking the sectarian slaughter in Iraq.

Yet Iran is genuinely a threat, all by itself, especially if it gets nuclear weapons. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a frightening man, not because he has a delusional and irrational belief in the coming of the hidden Twelfth Imam, but because he is quite sane, quite rational, and clearly knows how to push all our buttons. But he does not rule Iran. The mullahs who do have become rich and comfortable. It hard to see them daring the US to a game of nuclear brinksmanship. This does not even bring up what Israel is likely to do on its own, with or without US approval. And if you think Iran has the capability to be more than a regional threat, let me know who they will accomplish this. The greatest threat Iran has to us right now is it oil threat. Seeing all this as a vast pan-Islamic death pact to take over western civilization may not be the best way of dealing with this problem.