.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day

I would be very surprised if there aren't lots of American military men who secretly wish that they could point to an operation to match 9/11 in their own careers, or in anyone's career recently. Naturally I don't mean in terms of hijacking airliners and bringing multiple skyscrapers crashing to the ground and killing several thousand innocents and creating mountains of rubble and body parts and giving unscrupulous and incompetent politicians excuses to try to move the U.S. closer to being the Big Bully of the World. Instead I mean in tactical terms of coordinating several teams of men and with the correct timing and every one managing to do what they're supposed to do, and without unexpected circumstances and events playing too much of a role.

Maybe the CIA can point to many comparable successes, though it would say that to reveal them would endanger national security. But the U.S. military, a more forthright and less ridiculous group, might decide that there is no need to mess around, and they might go back to World War II and one of their feats that went beyond being merely comparable and was in fact far superior to 9/11 in every conceivable way -- except one. Unlike Mohammed Atta, Colonel Jimmy Doolittle of the U.S. Army Air Corps didn't have to accomplish the big job of keeping together a bunch of scrubs over a long period. He could rely on a team of disciplined volunteers who already knew all about flying planes, and were ready to go in a short span of time.

On April 18, 1941, little more than four months after Pearl Harbor, Doolittle and his men did what few thought could be done. Without mishap they took off in 16 twin-engined B-25 Army bombers from an aircraft carrier, the "Hornet" -- an outstanding accomplishment all by itself because those large planes hadn't been built for such short runway space.

(One of Doolittle's B-25's leaves the "Hornet," headed for glory. Photo from the National Archives.)

They flew 500 miles over the Japanese-dominated ocean and dropped bombs on five of Japan's cities, including Tokyo, just to show Tojo and his accomplices that they were not out of reach of the American military, even with the U.S. Pacific Fleet temporarily decimated.

The raid had the desired effect. The Japanese were deeply shocked and indignant. Sputtering with rage and forgetting all about Pearl Harbor, they called the raid "wholly illegal."

That verged on being a suicide mission, too, because it was out of the question to go back to the carrier, and in any case the "Hornet" was already returning to safer waters, and all the airfields that were close enough were in the hands of the Japanese, who were not likely to congratulate them. So the fliers had to keep heading west, with how they would get back safely to the ground very much up in the air.

The plan had been for the Chinese to have some fields ready, in spite of the Japanese, but a Japanese fishing boat had spotted the carrier, and Doolittle's men had had to launch the raid a day early, or else the bombers would have had to be pushed off the side, so as to bring up the fighters to defend the carrier. Word of that early launch never reached the Chinese, and the 75 crewmen from 15 of the 16 planes ended up scattered all over the place after bailing out or crash landing, with a number of them being injured. Risking death themselves at the hands of the furious Japanese occupiers, the Chinese nevertheless rescued most of the Americans.

Only three airmen died from their dramatic entry into China. Eight others were captured, and of those, four died later, three by execution. One of the five-man crews chose to land in the nearby Soviet Union, and there they were interned, sitting out the rest of the war before finally escaping to Iran.

No real damage was done to the Japanese, except to their pretensions. Part of their pique can be explained by the fact that Emperor Hirohito lived in Tokyo, and the press hastened to assure the public that the Emperor was "quite safe." The real destruction was to rain down on them later.

Doolittle thought the raid was a failure, because, in addition to the loss of some of his men, he had also lost all of his planes. He didn't even get back that only intact B-25 from the Russians. They just loved getting their hands on advanced American planes, and when a few years later a much bigger prize, a B-29 Superfortress, fell into their laps, they didn't give that back either. Instead they copied it, right down to the last rivet and twist of safety wire, and the result became an important part of their air fleet, in case they saw a need to attack the people who had designed the plane -- a weird prefiguring of sorts of 9/11.

But it turned out that, coming so soon after the catastrophe of Pearl Harbor, this raid boosted American morale tremendously and quickly entered the annals of legend. That was helped along by the movie "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo," released three years later, in 1944, and starring Van Johnson, Robert Walker, and Spencer Tracy -- a film as well-done as the deeds that it portrayed.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Hedging a Bet

You could say that I am neither a religious believer nor an atheist. I would have to be called an agnostic instead. That strikes me as being the only approach that makes sense, because the evidence in any form that is convincing to me -- pro as well as con -- regarding the existence of an all-powerful, all-seeing deity, seems determined to keep eluding our most dedicated searchers.

I don't know exactly how the renowned journalist of yesteryear, the "Sage of Baltimore," H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) would've described himself, but I do know that he struck a chord with me when he said that, should he find himself suddenly standing in front of the Pearly Gates and seeing the archangels waiting with the powers of admittance in hand, he was fully prepared to shake hands and say, "Gentlemen, I was wrong."

The Devout might call this rank opportunism if not outright hypocrisy. I would call it a sensible recognition of the need to hedge a longer-than-life bet.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

The Contestants in the Sandbox -- Osama Bin Laden

There was a moneyman in 1930's Germany that few would have heard of. His name was Hjalmar Schacht, and he wound up in the dock at Nuremberg with Goering and the others. Yet, instead of being hanged, he was acquitted, quite possibly because he had given Hitler a bit of sass ...such as desiring to see his death. Yet, without Schacht the Nazis would have had a tough time starting the Second World War, because he was the man who came up with all sorts of tricks to finance German rearmament. Have you ever wondered, following their incredible inflation of the 1920's, when Germans had to lug along a whole suitcase of cash just to buy a quart of milk, how they got the money to build such a tremendous war machine just a few years later? Well, I don't know how they did that either, but there it is ...was.

My feeling is that Osama Bin Laden was mainly a latterday Schacht. He was the principal al-Quaida patron, and as such, his desires carried great weight, but he was not the strategist who picked out the targets and drew up the plan, or the man who carried out the plan. But -- provided that he is still alive -- he is undoubtedly pleased to be getting all the discredit that angry Americans have bestowed on him.

The search for him goes on, though, unfortunately for our ego and our sense of retribution, there is really nothing that can be done to Osama Bin Laden that can begin to compensate for the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks. We may take some satisfaction if he is at last apprehended, but the very cold and painful fact is that even if he were to be shot tomorrow he would die deliriously happy, because from his point of view, his victory, besides having been declared to be largely his alone, was complete long ago. And that's not all.

The twin towers were brought down, accompanied by a huge loss of life, with a thoroughness that neither he nor his co-conspirators could have foreseen, and at not that much cost in money or lives to him. But additionally Bin Laden can feel that the current U.S. leaders have augmented "his" victory. He can think that they've used "his" act to set the U.S. well on the way to imprisoning its own self inside walls erected against the rest of a formerly friendly world. They've done this by such means as the repressive Patriot Act, maintaining concentration camps overseas, hardening its borders against its harmless neighbors, and invading, threatening, or bullying a long series of other countries. Weirdly, even the capture of Saddam Hussein served Bin Laden's purposes, because he saw Saddam as being a traitor to Islam.

It is good for our health and our outlook that the obsession with Bin Laden has lightened some, because, by some strange aberration in the way that events have arranged themselves, as set into motion by the types in the Oval Office, the harder we've tried to take away from him -- mainly his life -- the more we've given him, and there is absolutely nothing that he can or will give us in return, except added grief.

People like to think that 9/11 created an epoch that is unique in history, and that's true, though not because of the scale of the disaster. More people died and more destruction was caused in a single day or night by a number of bombing raids in the Second World War. But no event -- in particular the situation of Osama Bin Laden -- has ever so clearly shown the essential emptiness and perils of revenge.

Friday, May 28, 2004

In a Sandbox

If they build a sandbox themselves, chances are that parents will make it from four to six feet square and about a foot deep. They will fit it with a narrow ledge with the edges rounded off, and they will fill it with the cleanest sand they can find, to a depth of eight or nine inches. At a toy store they will buy some small, colorful shovels and some small, colorful buckets.

Few things are installed with greater optimism and a purer love than sandboxes. Parents expect their sandboxes to be places where their children can play joyfully, harmlessly, and safely, usually with their friends.

But small children haven't been around long enough to pick up all the behaviors that later will allow them to disguise the natural savage state of our species. Soon enough squabbles may set in, and a little later the kiddies begin to fight, climaxing that by making a very unintended use of the sand that brings on the most hellish screams of outrage. Apparently, judging by this, one unpublicized property of sand is that it must be thrown into a playmate's eyes.

If there is enough of that behavior, the parents take up the sandbox and use the materials for other purposes, while wondering why they ever thought that providing the sandbox was such a good idea.

If a presiding deity is likewise still in or around the Solar System, instead of in a distant galaxy where it would be more relaxed, it most likely thinks exactly the same thing about a certain well-known area on this planet with lots of sand, stretching from Pakistan to the Mediterranean and Red Seas -- the region where it was tricked into allowing the first instances of what humans to this day disingenuously call "civilization."

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Let Freedom Ring (From a Cracked Bell)

When the U.S.'s supposed leaders finally climbed out of their bunkers following the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings, after having left the country's citizens to deal with that catastrophe, each on his own, for a number of hours, the first statement that gushed out of their mouths involved condemning the disasters as attacks on the country's freedom.

I wondered what they were talking about.

I wondered if they had ever seen this country and had gotten any idea of its immense size and complexity. I wondered if they were just letting their built-in tape decks run, in lieu of having thought about what they were saying, as I couldn't see how the melting down of two and one-fifth of the millions of edifices in the country, along with the attendant deaths of little more than one one-hundred-thousandth of the country's population, could possibly be any sort of a threat to our freedom. Who across the seas had enough men and firepower -- much less the desire -- even to take over one bar in Midland, Texas?

Later, however, I saw what they unintentionally meant. (It is a mistake to assume that these characters have any talent for foresight.)

They meant the freedom that they themselves were going to curtail in the guise of doing something , after the fact, to counteract the terrorists.

We would've been much better served if they had all stayed in their bunkers, scratching their behinds, pigging out on pretzels, and looking at a game played on TV by millionaires with a conspicuous shortage of necks.

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Homage to Julius

On my mother's side I had a first cousin named Julius. Due to the long delays in the arrivals in this life first of my mother and later of myself, he had already long been an adult when I was born. After the early death of my own father, Julius was the closest thing I had to a father, and through the years I often journeyed to Harlem and later to Queens to see him and his wife Gertrude, and his three children, who were like other siblings for me and my sister. These nearly annual visits from D.C. to New York City -- for other reasons as well -- started in the mid-1930's, when it was still necessary to cross the Hudson River on a ferry, and lasted till nearly the 1980's, though Julius died in 1967.

Julius was a real character, and I thought he was totally great. A highly devoted family man, he worked for the IRS and liked to give the impression that he was a crook. In truth, largely due -- on our maternal side -- to our Scotch-Irish grandfather down in Louisiana, mixed with the African ancestry of our grandmother and who knows what other ethnic contributions on his father's side, Julius could easily have passed for one of those swarthy New York Mafia bosses that you see in the movies, except not as grotesque. I have often wondered if he fantasized about being one. Maybe he would have enjoyed "The Sopranos."

He told me that he was investigated under suspicion of taking a bribe or something, and he was called in for a hearing. They opened by asking, "Now, Mr. B., would you please raise your right hand and--" And he promptly popped to his feet and roared, "I DON'T KNOW WHO TOLD YOU THAT BUT IT'S A DAMN LIE!"

In 1963 I bought my first car, a black VW Bug, for the princely sum of $1,800. After the boat brought it over freshly assembled from the factory in Germany, the car sat in front of my house unused for nearly two weeks. This was because, although already 32, I had neglected to learn how to drive. That hadn't been necessary, with all the D.C. public transportation, plus my willingness to walk for long distances. Due to nervousness I failed the driving test twice before finally passing -- an intense private embarrassment because they were the first and still the only tests that I have ever failed. Nevertheless as soon as I got on the road I drove northward through all that East Coast congestion 200 miles to Jamaica in Queens to show Julius this great new development in my life. I thought I'd take him by surprise, but there he was, sitting on his front porch waiting, as if he knew I would be tooling up just at that moment in my shiny, brand new, great-smelling set of wheels.

One day a common city occurrence finally befell Julius. He was burglarized, I think for the first time. They took a bunch of stuff, including his big, beloved TV. Yet, when he told me about it, I was struck by how he seemed actually pleased. He didn't seem to have any of that usual feeling of having been violated.

"That's all right about the TV," he said, grinning and chuckling with great satisfaction while he shook another length of cigarette ash off into a tray. "I just went out and bought another one!"

Following the events of September 11, 2001, I thought it was too bad that Julius wasn't still in his old haunts and imbuing his fellow New Yorkers and beyond them his countrymen with that same attitude. It was my very unpopular opinion that, for all the many deaths and the enormous desolation, they would have been better off taking the time to think things through and not drinking so deeply from the cup of revenge.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

New Links

In my list of barfy sites on the sidebar, I have been linking to one called "Crymeariverbend." This site claimed that it existed only because "Baghdad Burning" and other Iraqi-run weblogs don't have comments systems. But its activities consisted purely of trying to refute each of the points of Riverbend and others, almost line by line.

Now "Crymeariverbend" is being shut down. Its unknown author claims that someone discovered his real name, and that meanwhile he has had to endure email abuse and even death threats.

But his cause has proliferated, and now you will see on my sidebar links to two new sites that have taken up his cry, "Up a River," and "Crymeariverbend 2." Despite her increased anger lately, Riverbend can't say that she lacks for admirers!

Meanwhile among the cool sites I also have a new link to a site called "The Panda's Thumb." The idea there is to keep a close eye on Intelligent Design, which, as nearly as I can tell, is an attempt to dress up the forever ongoing cause of Creationism. It will take you to some very full depots of food for thought, if you're at all interested in how we and other entities came to be this way.

Gallows Humor

This past winter, to my increasing consternation Riverbend didn't post on her "Baghdad Burning" site for two whole weeks. When she finally reappeared, she said that she hadn't touched her computer because she and her family had been put through some severe changes by a type of incident that has become a big part of the Iraqi scene ever since GWBush became their lord and savior.

After a family get-together the husband of one of her cousins was kidnapped, and a ransom of $15,000 was demanded. He is a small businessman

For the next two days his business partner and the family scrambled around like crazy until finally they came up with the 15 big ones. Still several more days of silence passed after the ransom had been paid. Finally, to the intense relief of River and the rest of her family, the relative showed up at home, a little banged up but otherwise okay.

He said that the kidnappers had originally wanted only $5,000, and, insulted that he would be valued so low, he had told them that he was worth five times that much. Finally they had arrived at the figure of 15 grand.

--Or at least I THOUGHT that that was what Riverbend wrote.

My reasoning has never been tied tight to the way other people think (therefore the name of this weblog), and time has loosened those moorings even more. That story grabbed me, and questions about what the released man had said kept bouncing around in my mind throughout the several months afterward.

First of all, after this man's family had rushed back and forth and deprived themselves digging up his ransom, I wanted to know from where did he get the chutzpah to tell them that he had actually hiked up the amount of the ransom, and three times over no less? I also wanted to know if anyone in his family criticized him for this.

--All right, all right. I know that sometimes I'm on the naive side, though that's not surprising in a person who has never placed much value on being sophisticated. But wait. One should never pass up a free meal of food-for-thought. I had seen an interesting possibility here, an out of the ordinary plotline!

So-o-o ...most of all I kept returning to the big point that would naturally occur to any real American such as myself, who has seen too many movies and who has tried to cook up a few diabolical scenarios himself for stage, screen, and TV.

Could it have been that the kidnapping was all a big scam that this guy and his business partner played on his family, most likely because their business was in trouble and they needed to scare up some serious cash in a hurry? They could've rationalized that his loving family would have seen the need and would have forgiven him in time.

That intriguing and desperate scenario was the only one in which, in my mind, all the pieces of this incident fell into any kind of logical pattern. But, aware of how Iraq has a very different culture from ours, that deeply cynical conjecture was as far as my thinking could go.

With putting a post here in mind, a few days ago I went back to "Baghdad Burning" to make sure that I recalled everything correctly.

Imagine my huge consternation when I saw that Riverbend had actually said that her relative had only spoken of upping the ransom as a part of his "cracking jokes," in his sheer relief that he was back at home safely. The ransom bravado had never happened. (Click the title of this post above and scroll down to Riverbend's post for 13 Feb 2004, "Family Crisis.")

And to think that, having taken his joke as good coin -- I don't put anything past macho pride, in Iraq or in Texas -- I had written her an email -- never answered, of course -- asking her about it, and I had also mentioned it in a comment on "Dohiyi Mir!"

In my intense embarrassment I wondered what had happened there. Had I completely overlooked her statement that her relative was only cracking a joke? Or had her normally impeccable grasp of the English language momentarily failed, causing her to state that jocularity in such a way that it read as fact, before, seeing her error, she had come back later and cleaned it up?

Because the latter possibility is very unlikely, I can only blame my grievous misperception on sloppy reading on my part.

Still, something of use can often be salvaged from even the worse of fiascoes. So this shows the great importance of careful reading .

Yet I'm wondering if this doesn't also say something about the perils of humor. I'm wondering if a joke like that was appropriate, after all that this man's kinfolk had endured while trying to extricate him from that mess. Riverbend made it clear that she and the rest of the family were really, really in the worst kind of anxiety about his kidnapping for days on end, on top of the numerous other aggravations that the occupation has brought them. In that light I'm trying to understand how funny that "joke" really was.

--Corr! (As the British would say.)

Just as I was about to post the above, I received a heavy jolt for the third time in this matter!

It suddenly occurred to me that I've already written another item, still unposted, in which I tell of how a very beloved member of my own family flung exactly the same kind of gallows humor into the face of adversity, though of a kind a million times less dire, and I had thought -- and still think --that it was admirable.

Stay tuned for my "Julius" bit.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Considerations of the Moon

The other day after I awakened in the pre-dawn, I noticed that the Moon's sliver of pale blue was suspended low over the southeastern horizon. And, before the light of the rapidly appearing Sun blotted it out, I had the impression that that subtle crescent was sliding still farther to the east.

I wondered, because I could've sworn that I had just recently read in a book that discusses such matters, Carl Sagan's "Cosmos," or Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything," that the Moon, like the Sun, always "rises" in the east and "sets" in the west. I recalled how indeed the Moon often does first appear in that direction, most dramatically in the first weeks of December, when, because my garden is set in an almost exact east-west line, the Moon hangs low and directly over the far, eastern end of the garden and looks larger than usual. So I had accepted that bit of info, while wondering vaguely if the "always" was actually correct. "Always" is one of the most dangerous words in our language, you know.

I think now that I have engaged in another blatant misreading or a misunderstanding of something.

It looks as if I have to face the fact that, despite a lifelong interest in the Moon -- which every decent human being should have -- I have never had a good handle on just what the Moon thinks it is doing. I mean where I can expect it to be, from one night to the next or from one week to the next. Or even when I can expect to see it at all. But maybe most people are in the same boat. Otherwise there wouldn't be quite as much need for farmers' almanacs.

The Sun, by contrast, is very simple and straightforward. Early every morning without fail the continual twirl of the Earth renews our contact with the Sun in the general direction of the east and on the average of 12 hours later our western horizon increasingly gets in the way till we are left in a darkness that in my opinion lasts far too long. In the summer, thankfully, we see more of the sun than we do in the winter. And that's it.

With all its phases and its other shenanigans the Moon, so deceptively steady and innocent-looking, is a very different cup of tea, and I realize that I have paid so little of the attention that is due to it because I have just assumed that it pretty much shows up wherever it wants to in our night and sometimes in our day skies, too, and that it stays in sight for as long as it wants to, and, when it gets tired of that, it bids adieu whenever and wherever it pleases. But Ms Selene must follow some definite astronomical laws. I just don't know what they are, in detail.

I wonder if that would be nice to know, or whether I should just let the Moon continue in its delightful mystery dance of my ignorance?

One of these days I want to paint a pure moonlight picture. It is to be a woodland scene.

You would think that the Moon's stinginess with light would make that project easy, as I won't have to worry so much about detail. But most of the moon paintings that I have seen aren't convincing. Too much is visible, and the light is too warm. Moonlight isn't simply greatly reduced daylight, and in reality, with no other source of light and unless your eyesight is keener than mine, even in the brightest moonlight shapes are barely more than suggested, and what there is of color is on the cool side and is mainly only what your memory puts there.

Still such a project should be interesting. I plan to place a dragon making rapturous love to a woman, a la Leda and the Swan, among those trees. It will be up to your turn of mind as to whether you'll be able to see it.

Ha-ha! The Moon, like the Sun, is my friend!

Sunday, May 23, 2004

The Very Best of My Friends

"The Christians have screwed up Sundays."

This was a bon mot that one of my wouldbe-writer colleagues and friends, A. Aveilhe, tossed off one Sunday afternoon long ago, while several of us walked along the quiet D.C. streets. I don't know if it was original with him.

I think Art had in mind the traditional shutdown of various business establishments, and also the strong conformity indulged in on that day by the faithful, which they expected of infidels like us as well. Just a few years later, in the 1960's, I started blaming the crippling of our Sundays on the new national religion instead, pro football.

How many times must Art's statement have come out of the mouths of dozens of so-called pagan cultures in the Middle East and elsewhere, 1,600 years ago, when Constantine the Great, the Council at Nicea, and other forces began setting Christianity's feet in concrete. To many of these cultures, including, we are told, what survived of the Romans themselves by Constantine's time, Sunday was the Lord's day, and the Lord was the Sun. But the Christians took over that day for themselves, codifying it as their main day for worshipping their God and their Son of God, neither of which was a celestial body.

In the times when it is truly followed, Christianity is okay, but I think the numerous groups that worshipped the Sun in ancient times were in much closer touch with the source of our most essential blessings.

Whether we like it or not, and however hard we try to shield ourselves from its numerous rays, the Sun is the biggest factor in our lives. Always has been, always will be. It is the Bringer of Life in so many ways, and this suggests that the Sun is actually more deserving of being worshipped than anything or anybody else.

One thing is certain: the existence of the Sun is far beyond any shadow of a doubt.

With that said, I would never worship the Sun.

One reason is that I seem to have been born without a worship gene of any sort.

But more than that, worship involves prayer, and prayer assumes that a higher being somewhere is listening. I know that the Sun isn't listening -- to me or to anyone else. It isn't aware of my existence or of the existence of anyone else on this, one of its closest clients. The essence of the Sun is a huge atomic furnace buried deep within the glowing orb whose light and warmth bathes us, blindly pumping out heat and all sorts of tasty little nuclear particles. It doesn't do any speaking either, at least of the vocal sort.

Instead I satisfy myself with welcoming its reappearance each morning with the deepest gratitude.

I see the Sun as being the very best of my friends -- and I have the greatest confidence that it won't blow up while I'm here.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

You Can't Get Here From There

In the culture to which I ostensibly belonged, in their first years youths liked to stand on the corner and rap with each other. In the culture to which I was supposed to belong, in their midyears males liked to sit near their basement bars, their cars, or their barbeque grills and rap with each other. In the culture to which I was expected to belong, men in their concluding years liked to sit on their front porches and rap with each other.

My mother probably saw early on that I carried a mindset in which I would never do any of those things. In any case, consciously or unconsciously, she made sure of that forever afterward on the day that she escorted me, at about age 10, downtown in Washington D.C. to a curious, gleaming, white marble building in the center of Mt. Vernon Square and got me a library card.

The first books that I checked out from that wondrous building were from a child's series on the battles at Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, and other places. I read those books ravenously and for the next several decades I thought the Civil War was a glorious, endlessly absorbing event.

Now it makes my stomach turn. It took that long for the smell of the blood, the pus, the gunpowder, the blasted and sawn arm- and leg bones, the feces involuntarily expelled, and the fear to reach my nostrils.

As the fates would have it, I have ended up living in the heart of the state that bore the lion's share of the desperate battles in that war, Virginia.

During his final maneuver to get away from the pursuing Union forces, Lee was generally heading in this direction, but he finally surrendered to Grant in Appomattox County, which adjoins my county on the southeast.

I like to say that my county is so low key that you can't get here from there. One proof of this is that, with Appomattox on one side and the Shenandoah Valley on the other, and with Richmond and so many other battle sites little more than 100 miles away, not one Civil War engagement of any size whatever took place here.

In my current heavily pacifist state of mind, I must be in the right spot.

Friday, May 21, 2004

In the Stockade

During the time that I served in the U.S. Air Force (1952-1956), and I assume still now, the Air Force was thought of as the most genteel of our military arms. One of the reasons was that we weren't expected to get down and dirty up close and personal. Instead we did our damage by discreetly dropping huge amounts of explosives from thousands of feet up in the air, where we couldn't be seen. And when you looked at our working hours and the rigor of our duties, it was true that often we were little more than glorified civilians.

It was quite a carefree time, though sometimes dark but revelatory sinkholes awaited that we couldn't avoid.

One weekend at Lincoln AFB in Nebraska, I hung around the squadron dayroom a little too long , and the CQ (Charge of Quarters) asked around if anyone knew So-and-So. I said I did, what about him? And the CQ asked me to do a good turn by taking some food or something to So-and-So. "Where is he?" "Didn't you know? So-and-So's in the stockade, for going AWOL."

Very quickly I saw the mistake I had made.

I had never stepped inside a prison or come anywhere close to doing so, and from a very early age I had badly wanted to keep things that way. The Air Force called the prisons on its bases "stockades."

After they admitted me into the stockade at Lincoln I couldn't believe it. The atmosphere in there was entirely foreign to the easygoing, friendly air of the rest of the base and the rest of the Air Force as I had always experienced it. Instead the guards to a man were angry and mean and surly, and they looked it. And the prisoners were angry and mean and surly, and they looked it. They didn't speak normally, they barked. The level of anger was so high that I wondered if everyone in there had gone crazy.

Formerly So-and-So had been a light-hearted guy with a special facility for nonstop, creative patter. But now he looked and acted like a different man. If he had not been a criminal before, by being put into the stockade he had become a criminal, or at least his appearance and his manner suggested one. Resentment lay all over his face like a film of perspiration, and the carefree gleam had been entirely extinguished from his eyes and from his words. Ice coldness had infused him. No quick wise-cracks from him now!

And this wasn't in the raggedy, iron-ass Marines or the jackbooted Army or the uptight Navy. This was in the supposedly civilized, relaxed Air Force!

We didn't talk long. I was glad to turn over to So-and-so whatever it was that I had brought, and I hurried out of there, never to go anywhere near that place again.

Prisons invariably brutalize everyone connected with them.

I think I can safely throw out that sweeping generalization and see if it has any refutations. I definitely hope that it does. I have never seen any. I don't see how there can be any.

The freedom enjoyed by our hunter-gatherer predecessors eons ago hasn't evolved out of us anymore than have our eyes or the use of our legs. The human organism is constructed so that it takes very unkindly to being imprisoned, and so it reacts -- if it can -- in a very negative way. And to control that as best they can, the guards react even more negatively, if they can manage it. So in effect they become inmates themselves, and they likewise suffer the loss of various amounts of sanity or what we like to call humanity, no matter how much they try to give the appearance of hanging on to their self-control and innate decency.

Soldiers who have to boot prisoners overseas are in an even worse position than prison guards at home. The latter at least have families and friends to whom they can return each day after their shift is over and so give the appearance of rejoining the " human race" ...temporarily. The Military Police in Iraq and elsewhere don't have that release, and from where I stand only the perverse could call the work they do "good duty." And it takes a sizable dose of the perverse to be able to perform that duty.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Footfalls of Giants

Of the five symphonies by Alfred Schnittke that I've heard so far, I am most struck by his Symphony No. 4, written in 1984. It consists of a single movement 45 minutes long. In it Schnittke, by a constantly changing variety of means starting from the very first note, works up eventually to a pair of truly tremendous, extended crescendos.

The first of these slambang ascents up the multitonal stairs is the most dramatic of the two.

At precisely 16 minutes into the music, an assortment of strings and horns starts warning us that it's time to get really serious and fasten our seatbelts, a la the great car chase scene in Steve McQueen's "Bullitt." A few minutes later we start hearing a phrase of four notes sounded by bells, and that takes the ascent to another level. The bells repeat their urgent message. over and over, though sometimes their notes are almost completely buried under those of the other instruments, against a background in which seemingly the whole orchestra eventually joins, creating a whirring sound that gradually swells in volume with a somewhat frantic air, while many other things are in the meantime going on. And through it all you feel that you can hear the footfalls of giants, treading majestically across the bridge of sound that Schnittke has so ingeniously constructed.

This passage is so full of beauty, tension, and excitement that, when I first heard it, I immediately feared that something this good would end too quickly. Instead it went on at such length that a very unusual thing happened. I was actually relieved when Schnittke finally let it fall apart, per one of his characteristic stylistic "tricks."

After that comes a short section for a solo piano and another for a lone singer -- obviously intended to give the rest of the exhausted orchestra a much needed-break ...and also a period in which they can savor their triumph in having brought off that crescendo so ...er...resoundingly.

Because I enjoy that part of the symphony so much, with each rehearing it gets shorter, and that regretful situation is only relieved when that crescendo is repeated later in the piece, briefer and with a little less extravagance in its orchestration.

To appreciate this symphony fully -- that is, to hear everything that Schnittke is dropping on us here -- it is absolutely essential, first, to hustle all the non-Schnittke people out of your house, and then to start playing the CD with the volume turned up loud. I mean really loud, cranking out as many db's as your speakers and your eardrums can stand!

You may remember that a decade or so ago a symphony by a Polish composer, Henryk Gorecki, Schnittke's senior by one year, became a runaway best-seller among the listening public. It was Gorecki's Symphony No. 3, "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs." It features some of the most beautiful soprano singing ever, along with long and profound cello lines.

I am overjoyed that a modern symphony became so incredibly popular. I just recently bought that, too, and heard it in full for the first time. No doubt about it. It's a wonderful symphony -- yet I think that Schnittke's Fourth is superior in nearly every respect ...IF you play it LOUD and let his giants stomp all over your head!

I was surprised and somewhat upset when, after I had begun to collect his symphonies, I learned that Alfred Schnittke is dead and that that sad and absolutely permanent state of affairs has been in effect for some time, since 1998. I didn't recall hearing about his departure, and I had assumed that he was still around and cranking out lots of good things.

Also I just recently found out that Schnittke actually wrote not eight but nine symphonies, but apparently he penned the 9th while in the throes of battling the effects of a stroke, the kind of malady that eventually took him out of here for good, and the symphony has been judged to be unplayable.

Is it possible that Schnittke brought his fatal illness on himself? It must've been a considerable strain on the plumbing in his head, to come up with such a staggering number of musical ideas and then to make them all hang together.

I am certain that sooner or later, maybe when Schnittke is "rediscovered," some enterprising young composer is going to find a way to fill in the cracks -- if necessary -- and bring the 9th and last to the concert hall. That was done with Mahler's unfinished 10th Symphony. Whether or not convincingly is another matter. I am no sort of a musicologist.

But I wonder whether, far from the 9th being unplayable, Schnittke, even in his sickbed, had merely and finally gotten too far out there for anyone to feel up to dealing with it right then, especially because he personally was too far gone to be of much help. When listening to his music you definitely have to open your ears, wider than in the Gorecki, but it's well worth it, and the music becomes more accessible each time, as you gradually learn his language.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Who is Alfred Schnittke?

Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998) was an intense-looking fellow with a strange name who, to my listening, was the foremost composer of symphonic music in the latter half of the 20th century. His predecessor and countryman, Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975), was the greatest in the mid-century, and before them, the first in their exclusive fraternity of what I call the "stretch-out" composers because of the extended lengths of their symphonies, was the Austrian, Gustav Mahler, who straddled the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries (1860-1911). These guys didn't content themselves with hitting singles and doubles. Every time out they swung for the fences, and none more so than Schnittke.

Some would ask why I don't include Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) in this group. The answer is that I have never cared for Bruckner's works. To my ear they lack the powerful drama that I find in the symphonies of the other three.

I first became aware of Schnittke's music years ago when I heard two of his cantatas, one about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and the other about the legend of Faust, and I had liked both, as well as several sparely orchestrated concertos that I heard later. But until recently I had never heard any of his symphonies.

A few months ago, after I discovered that Schnittke had written no less than eight symphonies, I decided that it was necessary to collect CD's of all of them -- and to hear them for the first time while I was at it! Aside from justifying spending the money, it's been easy to do, because his music is considered to be difficult, what with his continual excursions into all manner of styles and tonalities, and only a few recordings of each symphony have been made, so it's not hard to choose.

I can remember when, in the early 1950's, the same could be said of Mahler. He was definitely ignored then, along with Bruckner, and when, despite my limited budget I started collecting all his symphonies, too, on the 33-1/3's, there was, generally speaking, only one recording of each symphony available, all on one label, Westminster, and performed by one orchestra, the Vienna State Opera Orchestra conducted by Hermann Scherchen. But it wasn't long afterward that the rest of the listening world suddenly saw the light, and now it's as if Gustav Mahler has always been a biggie, with many renditions of his compositions in print.

Getting back to Schnittke I've been going with the Russian orchestras whenever I can, though that's not always possible. Not only are their readings likely to be the best, but also Schnittke was a Soviet citizen.

That strikes me as being a little weird, because I see him as being more a German. His father was Jewish, a translator and journalist from Frankfurt, while his mother was a Volga German. In light of the events of World War 2, with the Holocaust and the fearful Russian-German campaign, which must have deeply colored his early life, there must be a tremendous story behind his origins and in his relationship with Soviet Russia. And maybe he gives us that story in the wide-ranging breadth, depth, and intensity of his music.

So far I'm on track. I now have the first five of Alfred Schnittke's symphonies, and I haven't been disappointed by any of them. In fact I've already placed at least one of them not only among the top symphonies in the 20th Century but also in all of classical music!

Meanwhile here is the conclusion of a short article written by Schnittke in 1981. I hope that it will give you a taste in words of the apparently contradictory but still harmonious statements that he makes with his myriad notes, chords, staves, and what-not.

I do not know whether or not the symphony will survive as a musical form. I very much hope that it will and I attempt to compose symphonies, although it is clear to me that logically it is pointless. The tensions of this form, which are based upon a tonal perception of space and on dynamic contrast, are paralysed by the present material-technical point of view. Nevertheless there is hope: in art, the impossible has a chance of success whilst the certain is always deceptive and hopeless.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Big Dog is God. Did You Know That?

"Big Dog" is a nickname used in an admiring way for William J. Clinton, the ex-President. I have often seen it used on Bartcop, though not so much anywhere else. I don't know if it's Bart's invention or not. I know that I like the term , and I will use it here. I don't like "Bill." For some reason the use of that name keeps stirring up in my mind the image of a part of a cap or of a bird.

I have been struck by how potent Big Dog is, not so much for his admirers as for his detractors. In fact, I'm certain that Big Dog's assailants have no idea how much that, with their numerous attacks, they're actually testifying to the enormous power that he, unnoticed by them, exerts upon them. And they bring him up so often, on nearly every issue, that soon you get the idea that in their heart of hearts, they feel that William J. Clinton is responsible for EVERYthing, the good and the bad, the old and the new, the large and the small. And in fact, that has furnished a kind of bittersweet sport for progressives. Whenever an issue flares up, old or new, progressives wait to see how long it will take for all blame for the negative aspects of it to be laid at Big Dog's feet -- or should I say paws? -- and what form that blame will take. And the right wing is so wedded to their Pavlov's dogs behavior that they readily oblige.

These people on the conservative end of things are in trouble. Their ideology guarantees difficulties for them, because their stands are so suggestive of the makeshift skin of thin concrete and what-not that the authorities at Chernobyl have thrown over their wayward reactor, hoping to contain its radiation. Just as that skin is far from impermeable and in fact contains numerous large holes and they have to keep thinking of repairing it, so the thinking of the right wing constantly develops drastic lesions. And that Hell-dipped end of the political spectrum is so dependent on Big Dog that when that happens, sooner or later (to grab another metaphor) they try to slice another sliver out of him and stuff it in the opening, to staunch the flow of their bilious blood.

The most comical thing about this is that these folk don't seem to be the least bit daunted by the steadily increasing number of years between the time that Big Dog left the Oval Office and the present, when you would think that he would have less and less of an effect on things. But he does.

The activities of God, too, are not thought to be limited by any restrictions of time. So I guess the righties know that they have merely slung an effigy in that office to replace Big Dog's actual presence, with their label stuck on that limp bundle of a suit and chickenwire for laughs, while their operatives like Card, Rice, Rove, and the others do their misguided stumblings elsewhere, engaging in the hypocrisies so often found in religious practices.

So the next inference easily follows. For the right wing Big Dog is God.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Wishful Thinking?

In the past year the progressive weblogists have engaged in a series of campaigns under the strong and completely justified urgency of rendering the GWBush administration null and void. One was the Valerie Plame affair. Another was Bush's service in the National Guard, and now we have Abu Ghraib and the accompanying calls for D. Rumsfeld to pack his bags. The progressives keep looking for the keystone that, when dislodged, will send the whole Bushian Arch of Infamy crashing to the ground.

The Plame and National Guard affairs have subsided to some extent, though they''re still present, sitting just under the surface of the current political waters and always having the potential to rise again and help bring about a long overdue reckoning for the Republicans.

Each time these campaigns have induced strong deja vu feelings in me, even though there has been such a solid string of bad events since the Bush people came into power that I have to keep reminding myself that those feelings most likely are nothing more than wishful thinking.


I was living in Washington, D.C. in the early '70's when our local newspaper, The Washington Post, suddenly started running all these articles about a break-in to the Democratic offices in the Watergate building downtown. I couldn't understand why the paper thought we should be interested, as at first it didn't seem to amount to much. It was quite an amazing experience to have lived through, to have observed how, day by day, that thing kept picking up more and more weight and momentum, until eventually it ballooned totally out of Republican control, and their President, R. Nixon, who had been elected in a landslide, was forced to resign from office before his term had ended, a first ever.

In spite of what George Santayana supposedly said, I have my doubts as to whether history ever really repeats itself, that is, in detail, and I'm glad. But an echo of sorts would be welcome any time that history is ready ...soon, that is.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

A Place for Devotions

(I have revised this post since the first two commentors posted.)

This post is about a painting that has the above title. To see it, click that title. Conveniently it is also a link to my gallery weblog, "Scenes and Statements."

I tried to post the picture here, but the image is so large that it stretches across the whole width of the page, and in so doing, the template opens up a huge amount of unnecessary blank space on the right side in all the rest of the weblog, which just doesn't work. The gallery weblog is a temporary solution till I figure out how to reduce the image, so that I can keep it here. But posting it in that larger size isn't all bad, the better to see the detail.

I painted "A Place for Devotions" four years ago, using as references photos that I had taken during two trips in the summer to Japan, once by myself on a college fellowship in 1959, and again in 1966 with my wife.

The building is from the 1966 photos. It is the Higashi-Honganji temple in Kyoto, the cultural center of Japan. Kyoto was one of the first candidates to be considered for atom bomb obliteration in the closing days of World War II, before cooler heads prevailed. And in fact, mercifully, it was never bombed at all, so that, unlike other major Japanese cities, it still had a large number of ancient wooden buildings like this. I especially liked the smooth, bluish sheen of the wood, so lovingly polished by the careful tread of the devout through the years.

I lifted the people from another place and another year, in photos taken in 1959 in the Itsukushima shrine on the island of Miyajima, 20 miles due south of Hiroshima, which as you know was bombed, and very drastically, too, though when I first visited it 14 years later, you would never have known, had they not deliberately left reminders, notably the Peace Park.

This painting was quite difficult to do, because of the enormous amount of detail in the temple, and even more because of the figures. It's not easy to lift people out of several other pictures and place them to the proper scale in a setting where they didn't originally occur, especially with as many as five. First you have to size them properly from the near to the distant planes of the painting, and that's a bear all by itself. But then you also have to do some heavy mulling over their placement in relation to each other and to the setting.

One of the main reasons I paint is just to see if I can do it, and "A Place for Devotions" is a special example of that.

I still have most of my paintings in my possession, though I do sell a few from time to time. As you may suspect just from looking at this one, I spend so much time and effort on them that eventually they become like offspring, making me reluctant to part with them.

This painting is acrylic on masonite. It measures about 1-1/2 by 2 feet. Usually I paint larger.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Elegia Arcticas

I do not regret the journey; we took chances, we know we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint.

The above very memorable and poignant lines were written by Robert Falcon Scott, an Englishman, just before he and his four comrades froze to death in the frigid wastes of the Antarctic, while trying and failing to be the first explorers to set foot on the South Pole. They had reached it but had found that the Norwegian, Roald Amundsen, had beat them to it by a month.

I wonder if the word "bummer" had been invented yet. Probably not.

It was 1912, the same year that quite a few degrees longitude to the north, the travelers on the "Titanic" likewise became victims of ice.

Notwithstanding his exploration exploits, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Scott is remembered longer for leaving us that thought while so aware of his imminent death in the utterly hopeless confines of his ice-doomed tent. His attitude can be applied to situations in our own lives, though there can't be many attended by so much desperation and frustration -- denied by his proverbial British upper lip.

I first became aware of those lines when the English composer Ralph Vaughn Williams used them and others to precede each of the movements in his stirring 7th Symphony, which he subtitled "Sinfonia Antarctica." On my particular recording of it, which has been one of my treasures for over 50 years now, the passages were spoken by the accomplished English actor John Gielgud.

How the fates love their sometimes cruel ironies!

Sixteen years later, in 1928, Amundsen found himself on the losing end of the same sort of incident, in the same kind of locale but this time in the Arctic, much closer to the recumbent "Titanic." He had been urged to come out of retirement to rescue Umberto Nobile, an Italian who earlier had been Amundsen's pilot while they were doing their exploring in a dirigible. They had met with the same kind of disappointment that Scott had suffered, having been beaten by two Americans -- and similarly by just a few days -- in being the first to fly over the North Pole.

But this joke was so bad that it wasn't finished with them yet.

A little later Nobile attempted to bring more honor to Italy by returning to the North Pole in a dirigible on his own, but it went down. During the attempted rescue, Amundsen and five others disappeared, never to be seen again. Nobile, however, was rescued by others.

By then all the multiple meanings of the word "cold" probably had been coined!

In 1969 the Italians and the Russians made an interesting film called "The Red Tent," in which the principals of that attempted rescue meet after death in a type of afterworld and discuss how things came apart. Sean Connery played Amundsen in a subsidiary sort of role, and Claudia Cardinale, still in possession of much of her amazing visual glory, could also be spotted. But Peter Finch dominated the movie. He played the main character, Nobile.

Getting back to Scott, in his journal he also said, "God, this is a horrible place!"

I think most of us, going purely on what we've always heard about the South Pole, would agree. Yet there was a news item just a couple of weeks ago, saying that the U.S. and other countries that jointly preside over the Antarctic while conducting scientific investigations and trying to preserve its original character, are getting very concerned about the damage being wrought by all the tourists who go there each year. I think the number is up to about 30,000 or so.

Things certainly do change! After claiming the lives of so many of those early voyagers, with the subsequent passage of not that many years both of the ice caps have started melting down, in more than one way.

Friday, May 14, 2004

What War?

I deny categorically that the thing going on in Iraq now is a war.

--But is that what I really meant to say? What exactly are we saying when we state that we deny or do anything else "categorically?"

We hear or read a word used in such a way that it impresses us, and we stow it away in our language locker, to trot it back out to good effect now and then. But much later, when the reality of things takes on a particular interest and urgency, we realize that we don't know or have forgotten what we are actually saying, if we ever really knew in the first place, and we have been too slothful and sure of ourselves to check up on it in a dictionary.

So I will do that right now, because I didn't have in mind filing something away in a particular box or category.

"Categorical." 1. Absolute; unqualified.

Sounds good to me!

--Most people, addicted to taking the easy way out and as usual using the language loosely -- which thereby causes them to run the strong risk of failing to gauge situations accurately -- would sneer at my assertion and say that there is indeed a war going on Iraq. What else would I call it?

My idea of war was shaped by being around and sentient (though thankfully oceans away from the battles) during a war that in many ways completely eclipsed all those that had come before and all those that have been waged since. The Second World War redefined what warfare could be, with its many large-scale battles conducted in many places around the globe. And I would have thought that we would have been extra careful thereafter, whenever we spoke of "war" again.

But since that time, whenever some effort is launched, such as trying to end the selling and taking of drugs, or in combating terrorists, the label "war" is taken down from the terrible shelf where it ought to stay, polished up, and quickly slapped on the campaign, to lend an air of commitment and to convey the seriousness of the perceived problem.

That's deceptive enough when used in those situations, which can never have the decisive endings that mercifully bring real wars to end. How can a War on Drugs or a War on Terror possibly end in a surrender, an armistice, when what is being fought against are not organized groups of people at all, but modes of human behavior instead?

But this misuse of the concept of war is equally misleading and in a way even more reprehensible when applied to efforts that involve actual military action, as in Iraq, because, if it is actually a war we ought to expect to see operations that approach what have come to be the classic definitions of warfare, that is, pitched battles, usually by large armies that are often nearly equal in strength.

Instead what we saw was a quick over-running of the Iraqi positions, a few skirmishes but an arrival of U.S. forces in Baghdad in a matter of days, with many Iraqi casualties due to the huge U.S. edge in firepower, but very few Anglo-American deaths. The Iraqi soldiers dispersed quickly, and a number of them hid their weapons and munitions in thousands of places across the country, to be used in another day ...which wasn't slow in arriving.

It has been, therefore, not a "war" at all but an "occupation" from the start, And now we have, on the one side, "just" a bunch of quick response teams, and on the other "only" bands of guerilla fighters and quite a few free-lancers.

So, since there is really no war in progress, the real question is not a win or lose proposition as in warfare. Instead it is: will the occupation be successful? Will the occupiers be able to stay in place and eventually subjugate those who resist them, or will they have to go home sooner or later with little to show for their actions?

Anything can happen, but all the pieces now in play say that this occupation will fail. It will fail because the guerillas are fighting on their own territory, and for the most part their cause -- to expel the foreign invaders -- is just. Meanwhile the American forces are not fighting on their home ground, but instead are thousands of miles from their own territory, and I am very sorry to say that for the most part their cause -- to take over the Iraqi oil fields and to impose their will on the Iraqis -- is not just.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

We Feed the World!

I have a close friend named H., who lives down the road and across the river, about half a mile away. This will most likely not be the only time that I will speak of him.

Out of respect for H.'s wishes I won't use his full first name, though there is about as much chance that he -- or the many enemies that he apparently dreams of having -- will read this weblog as there is for a dog to sing the National Anthem. In my opinion he is amazingly paranoid for a guy whose weaponry and stores of ammunition compare favorably with that of the 82nd Airborne Division. In short he's a stone gun-nut, and I have so informed him, in case no one else had. He likes to call himself a redneck.

You have already decided that our friendship is on the very unlikely side.

A few days ago our discussions turned from gardening, pickup truck repair, house repair, inconveniently closed bridges, amassing firewood, and our numerous other usual topics to the price of gasoline. H. was outraged about the recent rise in that price. In our area it is now a little over $1.80 per gallon for regular. I didn't think that qualified as being so obscene, but then I don't have an itch to hit the road every day as he does. I don't even hit it every week. And EVERYthing is a long drive from here. I pointed out that gas is probably higher in other states, like California, and it has been considerably more expensive in Europe for years now.

That didn't matter, and H. knew exactly what he would do about it.

"We feed the world!" he bellowed, "and if I were in charge I'd lay down the law to those Arabs! I'd tell them that if they don't straighten up on the price of gas, they had better get ready to go hungry. We feed the world, and we don't have to put up with this shit! Usually I don't care what those dipsticks in Washington or anywhere else do, but this is hitting me directly in the pocketbook, and I won't stand for it!"

I told him that I didn't think we exactly fed the world, and that instead, just off the top of my head I had the impression that large parts of the world get their food from other places as well. If pushed I might've brought up factors like the Green Revolution in India and elsewhere, and the fact that we run a very large trade deficit, and the decrease in recent decades of foreign aid -- a practice that H. bitterly opposes.

I was glad, however, that H. didn't threaten to hold one of his numerous guns to the heads of those greedy Arabs -- though that is exactly what GW Bush is doing at the present moment in Iraq --and that he settled for only cutting off their Ronald McDonald burgers.

Also I wondered where H. had gotten that info. Due to the huge number of categories in which food exports and imports break down, it's not easy to arrive through research at making any general statement, but it seems to me that the value of our food imports comes close to equaling that of our food exports. In any case I read a lot about international considerations and the various means that the U.S. might use to bend other nations to its will, but I have never read that a food weapon is one of them. If it was that simple, GWBush wouldn't have found it so necessary to cluster-bomb Iraq.

I would bet that H. is only one of numerous Americans who think that we do so much for the world, including feeding it, that the planet is just a bunch of wretches who are showing their extreme ingratitude when they balk at returning to us oil at dirt cheap prices, and that as long as we insist on driving our bloated vehicles, the sheikhs are obliged to keep those behemoths rolling.

My moral for this story: the arrogance that is induced by being fortunate and powerful is a terrible burden to bear, even when its crushing weight is not yet apparent to us.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Google It

Those wonderful search engines like Google have made things better in a lot of respects, but I have found one way in which they haven't, at least when writing posts for a weblog.

Now it is no longer easy to plead forgetfulness when you say something off the top of your head, usually simple little facts like names, dates, or quantities, and you don't feel like looking it up right then and there, so you try to get by by saying something like, "I can't exactly recall but...." Because there will always be someone who will quickly fire back: "Google it."

And so you have to stir yourself ahead of time and engage in those several keystrokes that will either cause the right info to pop up on your screen almost instantly, or will instead take you into a never-never land in which you will be appalled or dumbfounded or inexorably pulled into sailing through some curious side channel that you never knew existed, and sometimes for good reason.

Because almost everything can be carried too far, does the virtue of getting one's facts straight have to be one of those very rare exceptions?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Template Troubles

I still haven't finished bringing this weblog to the state that I would like. In his individuality the writer of Scribe, the brand new template that I'm using, didn't make it easy for rank amateurs like me to tweak things. He included no section for links in the sidebar, and, worse, some things like the fancy sidebar titles seem to consist of gif graphics files that are called up each time from a website called "blogblog/scribe" that I can't reach. And what if that site ever goes down? Or am I misapprehending things?

Also I'm wondering if Haloscan is usable with Scribe. I can't find the sections in the Scribe template where Haloscan says its codes must be inserted. In its redesign Blogger is now using its own comments system, but I think Haloscan's is still better. For one thing, unlike Haloscan, the Blogger comments are not retroactive and instead are only available for the posts made after Blogger installed its upgrade, yesterday.

Also I keep putting off getting a counter. But I am not really afraid to! Ha-ha.

From Abu Ghraib to Ionesco, and Beyond

During a recent brief exchange in the "Rook's Rant" weblog, I was informed by several people that I was badly uninformed about the horrors of the Inquisition.

The proprietor of that weblog had kicked off things. As a lot of people justifiably are -- except those on the side of Russ Limbaugh, who said that it was merely a case of some young Americans having "a good time" -- Rook was extremely disgusted by the extreme mistreatment of their Iraqi prisoners by the American military police at Saddam Hussein's old torture prison in Abu Ghraib. Rook said that it was as bad as the Inquisition, and his commentors mostly agreed with him.

But I said that I thought that, though I didn't excuse the actions of the MP's, the doings at Abu Ghraib fell far short of the misdeeds of the Inquisition, where sheer horror is concerned and in terms of the kinds of torture used, and in their capability for producing incredible pain, and in the number of deaths that had resulted, which I said had, over the several centuries, run up into the millions.

Not so, someone said. While the exact number is impossible to know, the total deaths in the Spanish Inquisition ran from 3,000 to 6,000 at most. And someone else set aside the concept of torture entirely and made it sound as if the prisoners were instead merely left to languish for various lengths of time in dark, dank dungeons to meditate on their sins.

I was surprised to hear that, and I am still suspicious that I fell afoul of a whitewash. I've been around long enough to have seen lots of cases where things that were taken as solid fact 50 years ago have, through careful scientific investigation or scholarly research, been shown to be mere myths. But those assertions just fly too much in the face of what I have always heard about the Inquisition.

I suppose I was prompted to take my point of view so quickly because I had just finished reading the current best-seller called "The Da Vinci Codes," by Dan Brown. Though it is fiction it contains hundreds of very interesting verifiable facts, such as the layout of Paris and the dimensions of the Louvre. But also it makes statements that the author passes off as fact that are in fact unverifiable, and some are just plain wrong, especially where Leonardo da Vinci is concerned, in my quite unhumble opinion in this matter.

As a painter, I have read a lot of stuff about Da Vinci, and I feel that I have a pretty good handle on where that bird was coming from. So I refuse to believe that he was the grand master for many years of a secret society pledged to protect the relics of the Holy Grail that the Knights Templar had dug up from under a temple in Jerusalem centuries earlier. I think of him as having been strictly a loner instead, concerned only with all his genius investigations into first one thing and then another.

Brown said that Da Vinci had had "hundreds" of commissions from the religious authorities, but it's my impression that a great number of those commissions came instead from varous noblemen and that he was often in trouble with those authorities -- one reason that he stayed on the road so much and eventually ended up dying not in his native Italy but in France.

Most egregious of all, Brown kept referring to "The Last Supper" as a fresco, when it is in fact -- or least was, before it had to be restored so many times due to floods, bombs, and what-not -- a tempera wall painting, done on a base of mastic and pitch, not on damp plaster that has to be applied fresh on the wall each and every day, as in fresco.

So I suppose it would be easy for one to similarly discount Brown's assertion a hundred or so pages into his bestseller that over its 300 years of existence, the Inquisition tortured and killed five million women accused of witchcraft.

I did a couple of quick searches on Google -- the Inquisition is too hard on my increasingly squeamish stomach for me to be interested into looking into it thoroughly -- and I found that it is indeed an indigestible can of worms. The wide range of estimates of the deaths from a few thousand to as much as 68 million is just one aspect of that.

It appears that the Inquisition has fallen into the center of an intense religious fight, with those of the side of the Catholics (who have good reason to be highly dissatisfied with Brown's book) struggling hard to refute the attacks from anti-Catholics who are using the Inquisition as a weapon against them.

I noticed that none of the people in "Rook's Rant" tried to deny the existence and use by the various Torquemadas of various unspeakable instruments of torture, such as the bastinado and the rack. But as to the number of deaths that ensued, it looks as if we have to resort to a line from Eugene Ionesco's "The Bald Soprano," a play from the Theatre of the Absurd that I much admired when it was first published, back in the 1950's. This line has the peculiar property of not sounding like much when taken by itself, but it is hilarious when you hear it during a performance of the play.

"The truth must lie somewhere between."

Monday, May 10, 2004

An Appreciation of the French

When I was young and trying to be a "serious" writer, Ernest Hemingway's terse and hard-boiled style amounted to a true drug of the mind. But luckily that didn't last long, and I don't think anything in my early writing reflects his influence, which is strange, because I quite definitely remember the enormous stylistic pull of his short stories. That didn't extend to his novels. I think in them he largely dropped the ball, except in "The Old Man and the Sea." I thought that "Death and the Afternoon" which was not a novel, was by far the best of his longer works.

Ever since then, which was quite a long time ago, I have thought that the most stylishly written books that I have read are "Hadrian's Memoirs," by Marguerite Yourcenar, and "The Myth of Sisyphus," by Albert Camus. And both authors are French. What is the cause of this? The French literary tradition? The nature of the language? The chance of a pair of great translators? Or just my particular taste?

I am puzzled about this, because, until GW Bush came along and tried to browbeat them into joining his badly- considered incursion into Iraq, my appreciation for the French culture wasn't all that it should have been. I agreed with Steve Martin, the humorist, who said that when you visited them, "you would think that they would have the common decency to speak English." Plus I had heard that they were rude, and as evidence of that they took other people's unfinished laundry out of the public driers and stuck their own stuff in there. That struck me as being major league gall.

But I have nothing but praise for the way that the French steadfastly resisted the enormous pressure exerted on them to join in the gang-ravishing of the oldest civilization in the world, that of Iraq. I thought the numerous jeers at the French for their lack of success in war were especially misplaced. I wondered where the ignoramuses who engaged in this were when their history classes were in session. Through the ages, the French had kicked plenty of butt. Ask the English, and ask practically any country in Europe when Napoleon was around.

In fact the French were in so many massive altercations that eventually they, unlike the U.S., Germany, and other countries, came to their senses and thought it was better to let a decent number of their citizens see something wonderful called old age.

This probably started with the first of three large-scale German invasions of their country in less than a century, in 1870, and came to a head during the horrible blood-letting of the First World War, the majority of which was fought on French soil. And those who sneer at the half of France that had the collaborationist Vichy government in the Second World War conveniently forgot or more likely were ignorant of the fact that French partisans operated against the Nazis throughout the Occupation and were helpful in the final liberation of their country.

After WW2 the French inconveniently found themselves in the same sort of tail-wagging-the-dog settler situation in Algeria and also in Vietnam as the Israelis are now facing in Palestine. But the majority of Frenchmen merely let those dying gasp tragedies run their course, while they stayed home, drank good wine and ate good bread and cheese, and listened to those hypnotic French women scold them in that very expressive, beautiful language of theirs.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


I thought I would try to see how this weblog would look using one of the other templates that Blogger offers. I knew I was taking a risk, and bad things did indeed happen. After trying "Bluebird" for just a few seconds at most, I went back to the original "Jellyfish," and now I have lost all my hard-typed-in links and my Haloscan comments.

Oh well.... I hope that in the process of trying to get my links and my comments back, I don't lose all my posts as well. That WOULD ruin my day -- and my week as well -- bigtime! But I won't tackle that till later. Right now I will go out to see how my garden grows, while pulling myself together.

Update: As it happened, today Blogger published a big update to its service. This included offering its own comments system and many new templates. I especially liked the new "Scribe" template and decided to switch to it. It looks much classier than Jellyfish, and, among other things, it solves the problem of capitalizing the weblog title. But it includes no provision for putting links in the sidebar. So I will have to work on that.

Religious Hour: The Backslider

For about 9 years of my childhood, from 1939 until 1948, I lived in Landover, Maryland. In those days, though just a few miles from D.C., that area was entirely rural, and our house was one of just a few that sat near the tiny station of that name, on the Pennsylvania Railroad tracks that ran between Washington and Baltimore and points beyond. Now only the name, Landover, remains, denoting part of an enormous sea of shopping malls and clover leaves.

I lived next door to a very down-to-earth minister who presided over one of the largest Baptist churches in D.C. He had a name that I liked, Tyler, because a movie cowboy had that same name. That was important. I think the actor was Tex Tyler, of whom I remember nothing, but his name was the main thing.

(I can only hope that, taking the easy way out and relying on euphonics, my memory has NOT appropriated part of the name of the much more famous Tex Ritter. Ritter was a singing cowboy, and I had absolutely no use for any cowboy who would break into song or brandish a guitar instead of a six-shooter.)

This church sported three large and ornate wooden chairs, set on small platforms high behind the pulpit, the middle one taller than the two on either side. They were too high for anyone to sit in and so no one ever did. I figured that they weren't for mere mortals anyway, though no one informed me what was going on with them.

I liked the majesty and the mystery of those chairs, and under the influence of this minister and his wife, I bought a Bible and read it copiously and got myself baptized at the age of 12. I didn't tell my mother that I would do it, but when she found out afterward she was pleased.

Four years later, I became what was called a "backslider." I stopped going to church, and I never went next door to visit that minister and his wife again. On my small, non-dynamic scale of things several earth-shaking, shattering things had happened.

I started playing chess instead.

My mother just shook her head.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

Incest at a Discreet Remove

Ever since I can remember I have been troubled by and very suspicious of the number of my ancestors, and of yours, too. Because if you keep doubling them back through each generation, you don't have to go far before you come up with some truly astronomical numbers. Of course I know that this means that there was a lot of duplication between your ancestors and mine. Still....

In the 26th chapter of his endlessly interesting book, "A Short History of Nearly Everything," published just last year, Bill Bryson attacked this problem, the first time I had seen or heard it dealt with outside of my own thoroughly boggled mind. He pointed out that--

"If you go back sixty-four generations, to the time of the Romans, the number of people on whose cooperative efforts your eventual existence depends has risen to approximately 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, which is several thousand times the total number of people who have ever lived."

And he goes on to say:

"Clearly something has gone wrong with our math here. The answer, it may interest you to learn, is that your line is not pure. You couldn't be here without a little incest -- actually quite a lot of incest -- albeit at a genetically discreet remove."

Ok. All right. Nevertheless, for me something still does not quite ring right.

It's been the sort of thing that has led me to wonder whether the answer is that the world and the whole of existence is just a figment of my imagination after all, and that when I'm gone for good, it will all vanish, too, in the same way that everything in a dream ceases to exist the moment that you awake.

All I know is that at this point it looks as if I will never get to see the Great Pyramids, or the Great Wall of China, or the great stuff in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, but if I ever do make it over, they had damn well better be there!

Friday, May 07, 2004

Snow Poetries

Now that once more Earth has moved into closer intimacy with the Sun and there should be no more really cold events until the outward journey is in full swing, about seven months from now, I can think of snow with more detachment. The winter here was severe, though not as tough as in many other parts of the country, and, as always, I was grateful for the amount of the white stuff we got, because, aside from its immediate insulating value, it is always good for the growing things later in the year, and for our own water supply.

I love snow -- although I'm glad I don't have to do much driving in it. One of the many reasons I moved to the woods in Virginia was so that I could see snow stay on the ground until it melted without first being turned into blackened, jumbled slush within hours, as in the city. Also I got tired of hearing all the baboonbutt outlanders -- those from anywhere else in the nation -- who move to D.C. and then promptly and smugly sneer at the troubles Washingtonians have with driving in the snow.

From motoring through the Canadian Maritimes in the early 1970's, I have an impression of a place where, some distance up a slight slope from a bay or a sound, houses stood a few hundred feet apart, with few outbuildings or other structures near them, and each had a long driveway leading straight as an arrow down to the water. Ever since then I have thought that I wouldn't mind being snowbound in such a place for a whole winter. I think it was in New Brunswick.

One of my favorite poems is "Snow-Bound," written by John Greenleaf Whittier. And one of my very biggest treasures is a booklet browned by age that consists entirely of that 600-line poem. The original owner, a lady, inscribed it with the date 1866, which was one year after Whittier wrote it. I chanced to find that gem when I was a young man, in one of those small, dusty, grimy, used book stores that used to line 9th Street in downtown D.C., just below the Public Library. Of course those wonderful places have long since disappeared.

A person occasionally has incredible days like that! The booklet cost me 99 cents.

Here is a big little poem that I chanced upon when I was a child. Funny how I have kept it in my mind for so long when I have no idea of the title, the author, or where I saw it.

These be three silent things...
The falling snow,
The hour before the dawn....
The mouth of one just dead.

--Unknown Author

When I was in junior high school, we were encouraged to submit poems in a competition. . After we had done so and then long since had forgotten about it, the teacher announced that only one person in the class had had a poem accepted and guess who. It took some time before someone suggested me. There was some surprise that I had it in me. I don't know what they thought I had in me. This winning poem was about the snow. I don't recall what title I used, and, though it was published, I don't know where. I know my verse doesn't compare with the poem above, and for some reason the lines below are the only ones that stuck in my head, most likely because they were the first verse.

The snow is falling, it's everywhere.
Low here but very deep there.
Falling softly in the night,
It has covered the world with a blanket of white.

I wonder how the other stanzas went. In those days posterity wasn't high on my list of concerns, and even now it's not something that I enjoy contemplating. But I know it exists because enough time has passed that I have at last managed to see its light glowing under that closed door.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Lamentations in Logic

Yesterday in a chatroom a woman chided me and the other progressives present, saying that we ought to be glad that the troops are in Iraq protecting our freedoms. I wanted to ask her exactly how the troops are doing that, because, just as before the occupation, I see absolutely nothing in Iraq that even remotely threatens our freedom. But I held my tongue.

I have to always keep in mind that, at the age of 20 she lost a brother in Vietnam. She became a nurse and volunteered to serve in Vietnam, in memory of her brother. She fell in love with a soldier there, and a short time later, he, too, was killed, and in the same year her father died (at home). And now she has a son-in-law who is serving in Iraq, and her daughter is apparently keeping everyone on the knife's edge, fretting endlessly. Also I never forget that this chatroom woman is the very dedicated head nurse in an intensive care unit.

Almost without exception, if we live long enough, sooner or later tragedy strikes each of us. For some it comes early, while others are not hit till much later in life, and I suppose that there are a few, a very few lucky ones that never experience it at all. With some it strikes multiple times, others just once or twice. But that's all it is, luck -- or more accurately stated, a lapse of good fortune, and when someone is spared tragedy nearly all of the time, it's not because they're smart or good-looking or virtuous or members of the ubermensch.

Still, no matter what degree of tragedy is present, we are obligated to follow our lines of reasoning to their logical ends, rather than to be satisfied with an abrupt disconnect just because an orthodoxy exists that one feels more obligated to follow.

And in this case, I think following the orthodoxy of supporting Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, no matter what, only leads to more and more tragedy. Thirty-five years isn't my idea of ancient history, and so we've recently seen how that operated in Vietnam, eventually resulting in millions of deaths, with the conclusion only being the exact result that the American leaders claimed to be trying to prevent. So it would appear that all those American war dead DID die in vain, or at least more so than in the case of the Vietnamese, because the latter were fighting to maintain control of their own lands.

Taking into account all the present mayhem in Iraq, what, then, is the inescapable conclusion of my line of reasoning here? Is it that this noble woman and millions of others like her, are, with their unquestioning support of the Bush misdeeds in Iraq, unwittingly allowing themselves to be cast into roles of accessories to murder?

I am not comfortable with that, but there it is.

...You begin to see more and more the great aptness of the name of this weblog.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Seriously Now

A while before John Kerry won all those Democratic primaries, NTodd of "Dohiyi Mir," a strong Howard Dean booster, was highly rankled by, among other things, the means by which Kerry financed his campaign. NTodd railed that, while Dean had had to use his (NTodd's) hard-earned dollars, Kerry mortgaged his "damn mansion."

NTodd's ire in that matter still puzzles me.

First off, Kerry's move suggests to me that he was trying to go as light as he could on his adherents' money. But even more interestingly, I think that it's possible that if Dean had gotten the mortgage idea first and acted on it, he would be the one riding high today instead of Kerry. Dean might be living in his car but at least he'd have the nomination.

Apparently Kerry had the good taste a while ago to marry a lady in the Heinz family, and that means he can expect to be lightly sprinkled at various times with a little of that ketchup money, and therefore his mortgage tactic was purely symbolic. But the point is, what powerful symbolism it was!

I don't know how familiar the other Kerry voters in the primaries were with Zen Buddhist lore, but I was reminded of the story in which a would-be disciple is trying hard to get the attention of the great teacher, the Bodhidharma, but to no avail. He hangs around outside the master's cave for seven years. Still no dice. Finally the guy cuts off one of his own arms and offers that. The Bodhidharma, convinced at last that the fellow is SERIOUS, accepts him as a student.

Thus when Kerry mortgaged his mansion, it conveyed the message that this time he was SERIOUS, because for most of us, mortgaging our house is a very big deal, and that had to be so even in Kerry's case. Well-off people are not known to be fond of throwing away dollars, symbolically or not, and trying to be chosen as a party's candidate for President, especially in a race like that one, which was so filled with able contenders, is a huge gamble. The odds are that you will fall short and your cash and a lot of other people's cash will disappear down a lot of little vole holes with little to show for it ...except the experience and the satisfaction of knowing that you tried.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

What Is To Be Done?

What is to be done in Iraq? The majority of the answers that I read rest on hope and little else. People speak of setting up a civilian government, but then promptly assign it a very short life. The utility of that escapes me.

Most likely it is impossible to imagine a more enduring fix at this moment, because of the large number of rambunctious characters in and around Iraq. We have the Shia, the Sunni, and the Kurds inside Iraq, plus the returned exiles and the various elements from countries other than Iraq who have come there to pursue their own interests, and I include among those the Al-Quedas and Bremer Inc. And then, waiting at Iraq's borders, are the Turks and also, though not with quite as much hunger, the Iranians. And far into the future these forces figure to still be there, stronger, more resolute, and as eager as ever to grab what they consider to be their rightful slice of the pie, once the U.S. military, having finally conceded that it hasn't won very many hearts and minds, finishes retreating inside its fortifications and around the wellheads and the pipelines -- or leaves.

A total U.S. withdrawal doesn't seem likely any time soon, because the oil was always the main reason the Bushies went in there, with the WMD, fears of terrorists, the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, and the plight of the Iraqi people being only straw men. Continuing to maintain that smokescreen must be the most comfortable way, though it's still strange to me to see how people these days usually talk about Iraq as if those huge pools of petroleum under its sands have suddenly volatized into nothing.

But, in addition to the oil, all those other groups in and around Iraq have many other axes to grind as well, and the fact that they're not our axes doesn't make them any the less real or less urgent. And so my very unpopular notion (except in Iraq, if a poll discussed by Juan Cole on 29 April is any indication) is that it would be best if Bush got out of the way NOW.

I can't see anybody cutting off the oil afterward. Money impresses even ayatollahs, and meanwhile no one knows how much more anarchy than is present now would ensue. Events have their surprises, and it's just as likely that things, prompted by exhaustion and relief, will quiet down.

In any case it looks to me like another of those situations in which early is better than late. Otherwise I expect that the resentments to which the U.S. occupation contributes will keep building, and the quagmire will deepen with each passing month and year. Quagmires have a way of doing that, you know, when they're well-watered by bullets and bombs. And let's remember what they say about the length of time that guests should stay, and Bush isn't even there by invitation.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Statements To Be Remembered For

The greatest American thinkers were Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President, and Samuel Clemens, an author. Today the most often quoted American philosopher is Lawrence "Yogi" Berra, a baseball player.

But here are some things that Berra didn't say and the acknowledgments:

A chicken ain't nothing but a bird. (A statement that bears endless repetition) (Thanks, Mr. Wood!)

There are two sandwiches in every beer. (Thanks, Pierce!)

Never trust a naked bus driver. (Thanks, Jack Douglas!)

The dog barks but the caravan passes. (Thanks "Moon Over Morocco"!)

The day you make a decision is a lucky day. (Okinawan saying)

May the amount that remains in your glass be an exact measure of your evil intentions. (A Russian toast, undoubtedly made by Boris Yeltsin)

Shakespeare means nothing whatever to a butterfly. (Thanks yours truly -- though this is a sanitized and therefore less effective version of my statement)

Sunday, May 02, 2004

This Sunday's Topic: Nonviolence as a Reality

When I was a child the flag salute didn't include the words "under God." At some point since then, when I wasn't looking, those words were slipped in. I wonder why, especially at times such as this, when Christian precepts have been quietly set aside.

Following the strikes on the Pentagon and the former World Trade Center, to this day I haven't heard anyone in high places use words like ...gulp! ..."turning the other cheek," and I wonder about that, too. For me that was one of the main precepts of the guy that gave that totally cool Sermon on the Mount, for me the high point of the New Testament.

(The story of Job is the high point of the Old Testament, though elsewhere King Solomon had quite a few good things to say, too. A considerable amount of the rest of the Old Testament, however, is the kind of thing that I suspect Solomon had in mind when, toward the end of Ecclesiastes he lamented that "Of the writing of many books there is no end." It's interesting that he would've thought that, so early in the enterprise. Or did the good scribes of James 1 stick that in, centuries later, in 1703?)

Instead of constantly screaming and raging, I think that after the collapse of the WTC towers the country should have calmly bound up its wounds and waited while the President sent envoys to Kandahar and called the Taliban's bluff by presenting the evidence of the guilt of Bin Laden and his associates. I think the results would have been surprising. There's at least a 50 percent chance that it would have worked, especially if this could have been done within the Pashtun codes.

If that had failed, then, as so often when we've set into motion a worthy plan that still falls short, it would have revealed to us the outlines of Plan B, and Plan B would have been a winner, a bold and imaginative stroke that would have brought the country all sorts of salutary benefits.

Instead, look where we are. Looks like not one but two cesspools to me!

The gospel in almost all quarters, progressive or not, seems to be that Bush's assault on Afghanistan was fully justified, and in one of his posts in "inanis et vacua" a couple of months ago, James said that even Mahatma Ghandi would also have sent in the troops. I buy quite a number of his views, but there I differ.

I think that Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, too, took their principles of non-violence far too seriously to have succumbed to the hysteria and the urge to "do something" that infected so many in the country immediately after 9/11 and still does. Instead I'm certain that they would have counseled something like the following:

"Now before we start launching ten-fold reprisals, let's think about this. After all, this may be the worst loss of life in an American city ever from a terrorist attack ...but it was only that. It wasn't a calculated attack by a foreign government, as Pearl Harbor was, and it wasn't even carried out by Afghani citizens, as not one was aboard those planes and very likely not one of their dollars went for a plane ticket or a box cutter. And it is far from the worse devastation that has ever been wrought from the air. The U.S. itself is in fact, history's world leader by far in inflicting enormous amounts of death and destruction on many cities in several countries by means of airpower. So, after all that, is the country really so righteous that it really expected its own cities to go untouched forever by the same sort of calamity, at the hands of some hostile government or by free-lancers such as these were?"

I have no guesses, however, about what they would have advised doing as a course of action. And meanwhile Iraq waited....