Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A few points about the Long War

There are a few short points I'd like to make here in answer to two thoughtful comments on the previous post. I was writing a reply in the comments section when it ran too long.

Joseph Sixpack (cool handle Joe!) wrote:

"I found it interesting that the traveler used the term "Long War". That is actually a term also used by those who view this as a global insurgency. The reason that many refer to the Long War as a global insurgency is that an insurgency is a struggle for control of a population. It rests on the assumption (which I believe to be true) that militant radical Islam is not mainstream Islam; that it is a fringe element. The militant radical Islamic movement is a fringe element seeking to obtain control of the Islamic world."

I don't believe it matters if jihadism is "mainstream" Islam or not.

(Though I do believe that yes, the Koran tends to encourage it. Maybe that doesn't matter on balance either though, you can make religious scriptures mean pretty much whatever you want them to.)

Some guerilla theory I read years ago, I think by General Georges Grivas though I can't find the reference now.

As I recall the estimate was something like: If 2% of the population are hard-core committed, and 20-30% are sympathetic at the minimal level of not informing to the authorites and supplying aid-in-kind, then the rest can be terrorized into cooperation.

And as Eric Hoffer pointed out about forced conversion, that cooperation won't be any less fanatical. The cowed majority will work themselves into passionate committment so they don't have to face the fact of their own cowardice.

Note that point, it's important to the development of the argument about Europe later.

Brandon W asked:

"Are you saying that it is not within our (the people's) power to avoid a war, or are you saying that it is not within our (the United States government's) power to avoid a war?"

I do indeed mean we the people of the United States.

It is beginning to strike me as kind of weird, that folks on the libertarian Right who know all about envy as a motivation on the Left for socialism, class warfare and regular old warfare warfare, don't apply it to their understanding of foreign relations.

Why do people in third-world countries, failed civilizations, and increasingly in a decling Europe hate us?

When have the rich, successful, powerful, and generally happy ever been liked by those who were not?

Does anyone think that hatred and resentment won't motivate attacks on us?

Some on the Left seem to realize something like this and come up with the solution, "We'll abase ourselves in abject apology, make them rich too and then they'll love us."

Oh yeah?

So people who inherit fortunes or are supported by rich relatives are always and forever grateful to their benefactors? They never regard self-deprecation as a wee bit patronizing?

And what does liberal guilt-tripping really say?

"Oh I'm so terribly ashamed of what my people have done to yours!"

Could it be that the inferred message is, "Don't ever forget what we are capable of doing to you."

More later.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Predicting the future of a civilization

"It never pays a prophet to be too specific" - Robert A. Heinlein

First of all, for those of you who are interested in the issues raised in the previous post, and a lot of others previously, I want to draw your attention to a listserv, Fight for Liberty! run by a friend of mine.


Description: Fight for Liberty! is a place where libertarian supporters of the War on Terror can share info, discuss aspects of the War on Terror and how best to support it. We generally support the U.S.-led efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, but not U.S. imperialism or the unnecessary reduction of civil liberties in the name of fighting the War on Terror.

Criticism is welcome, so long as it is constructive, but this is not a place for debates between supporters and opponents of the War on Terror.

Secondly, I'd like to draw your attention to this chilling little short story by SF author Dan Simmons, available online here:


I'd like to get some discussion going about this. I might also recommend that you hop over to NRO Online to the Uncommon Knowledge video archives to have a look at the series of interviews with Bruce Thornton, author of 'The Decline and Fall of Europe.' here:


They've also got a series of interviews with Thomas Sowell, who I've written about here:


And Victor Davis Hanson, who I wrote about here:


Posting here has been a bit slow these days. My apologies, when you read and write for a living it leaves you precious little time to read and write!

In the near future I'm going to explore some ideas about courage, cowardice, demography and why the third is related to the first two.

In these, I'm going to say some pretty awful things about specific people (names redacted of course) some of whom I generally like very much, and about a certain continent, the birthplace of my civilization.


Well among other things, because the suspicion has been growing in me that the previously unthinkable may be in our future. Another generation of Americans, maybe the next one, my children's, will be fighting in a European war.

What kind? Dunno.

Covert black ops? Urban guerilla? Conventional battlefield? Nuclear (God help us all)? I don't know. (Though if I had to guess, I'd say the second. Like Baghdad except in the streets of London and Paris. Joy forever unconfined.)

"You're mad, you're insane, you're a monster!" I think I hear.

Perhaps. Or perhaps I'll wind up as all three. None of which necessarily makes me wrong.

And believe me, I desperately want to be wrong.

Now please try and maintain this distinction in your mind. As in the present phase of the "War on Terror" (and see that Dan Simmons story for an elegant explanation of why that's an incredibly stupid term) it is NOT a question of being "pro-war."

Pro-war? Nobody but a Nietzchean lunatic is "for" war. My point is not that war is somehow desirable, but that it is not within our power to avoid it.

Pleasant dreams.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Whither Europe?

Please look here:

This is an English comedian commenting very seriously on Muslims in England.


(Sorry if you have to cut-and-paste, this site doesn’t seem to be linking anymore.)

Now look at the response I got immediately from a correspondent in Europe. He's a young (20s), well-educated Englishman who ought to be the poster boy for the New Europe since he has a Polish father, lives in Poland and married there.

Full disclosure: The response is genuine and quoted without alteration, but I knew I was going to get something like this when I sent it.

That is to say, this is ambush journalism, a practice I ordinarily don't like. I may regret this tomorrow morning - and then again I may not. I spent yesterday covering the change-of-plea hearing for a couple who starved a baby to death, and I'm in a very bad mood.

To quote from a further response of mine (it went on for a few more) "Though not Jewish myself, I have Jewish relatives and I think I'd have a lot more if more people in Europe had spoken up when speaking up might have made a difference."

So how typical is this attitude? Loathing ones own country to the point of magnifying it's faults, while forgiving those of a culture entirely antithetical to it, anti-semitism, etc.

I don't know. I fear it's probably more common than we'd like.

In a future post I'll take up what I think this means for Europe. For now, I'd like some feedback.

And BTW, I'll also probably review Jonah Goldberg's "Liberal Fascism" and quote the Fascist party platform.

“Oh please Steven - don't tell me that you're taking the rants of this cockney fascist seriously. Not only does he not distinguish between Muslims, Saudis, terrorists and the British Asian in the street, he gives no details of the substance of the alleged human rights violation mentioned earlier. His answer to the complaint, in keeping with the values of free speech he so eloquently defends, is to shout them down and throw abuse at the speaker. He goes on to make spurious arguements to support his claims that we are somehow being very fair to Muslims. Well, sorry the police smashed your door in looking for non-existent bomb-making materials, Abdul, but we have built a nice mosque for you down the road so everything's OK.

Typical Daily Mail-inspired nonsense for suburbial white trash. This loser does not speak for me and I find it vaguely offensive that he repeatedly asserts that he does.”


Note that this begins with a class insult ("cockney", not necessarily an insult but in this context pretty clearly one), and a general insult for "political position I don't like" devoid of any other meaning ("fascist"), and ends with with an insult both classist and racist ("Daily-mail inspired... suburbial white trash".)

I replied:

First: define Facist - as in name a single plank on the "Fascist" platform. Musollinni's or the present-day Italian Fascist Party will do.

You had to Google it. You used a label that meant nothing to you, only an insult that reassured you "I don't have to think about that one."

Are you referring to the non-existent bomb-making material that materialized on your 7/7? Or perhaps the honor killings, forced marriages, car torchings, riots etc that have become so much a feature of the west European landscape that your media doesn't seem to notice anymore.

Jyllands Posten anyone? How many men was it they arrested in a plot to murder a 72-year-old cartoonist last month? And where was the Muslim outrage and the cries that they don't represent true Islam?

Sorry guy, you had a nice little civilization going, but you're losing it because you don't have the guts to stand up for it.



Fascist as in Pat Robertson the BNP's pin-up boy. If it looks like a fascist and quacks like a fascist to me it's a fascist. When I speak of non-existant bomb making materials, if we forget for a moment about all those weapons of mass destruction that were stored by the muslims in Iraq, I'm talking about the incidents where the police raid a house for suspects and then quietly release them when no evidence is found. Remember the ricin gang? Of course you don't. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/01/10/nbio210.xml

You know as well as I do the British government have a long history of this behaviour in Northern Ireland and so putting it to use on non-whites comes quite naturally.

"And where was the Muslim outrage and the cries that they don't represent true Islam?"

And where is the outrage with this story? Pat's on a loser because he knows very well there's no story here.

And there's nothing wrong with our civilisation, thank you. If there really is a threat to it then, if anything, it will become stronger because of it. Anyway, European culture has been under threat for decades from commercialisation of traditions such as halloween and the subtle rewriting of histrory by the predominantly Jewish film industry in hollywood (300 is a classic example)

No, I'll need more than ill-informed rants from Pat Goebbles to convince me to ethnically cleanse Europe of Mohammedans thank you very much.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Obama should have been Catholic

Well, at any rate he should have had a Christian-classical education. Then he'd have known about the Donatist heresy.

Donatism was a heresy that had a brief, intense life from about 311 to 411. I don't know how they date it to the year, but see http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/1994/9404hotm.asp

It stemmed from the persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, where Christian priests and laypeople were forced by threat of torture and execution to renounce Christianity, produce holy scripture to be burned and to inform on fellow-Christians.

After the end of the persecution, Christians who had renounced, burned and informed were taken back into communion under various conditions of penance. The Donatists held that those who had done so weren't fit to administer holy rites, and that any rites they performed were invalid.

Basically, the Donatists declared that any rite or sacrament was invalid when performed by a priest who was in a state of sin.

To Catholics, this would be worrying. To priests the idea that their parishoners had a strong self-interet in the probity of their lives...

A livable difference of opinion you might think, but the Donatists were obnoxious in ways you couldn't ignore. Practices such as forced conversion and literally forcing people to kill them so they could be martyred, for example.

Yes, yes, we all know that the history of the Catholic Church surpressing heresy was always and forever a Bad Thing, but just between us, these jerks needed surpressing. It's in the books, you can look it up.

So what the #$%& does this have to do with Obama? I hear you say.

Well, everybody is aware of Obama's pastor, the Rev. Wright, a hateful, over-the-top, racist demagogue. It was bound to come out sooner or later and now it has.

Obama has as usual, been masterful at saying basically nothing in the most inspiring way imaginable.

Too bad he didn't have this small package of factoids about the Donatists.

What the Roman church's answer to them was that what is importent in the sacrament, is not the priest, but God's actions through him and it.

"The Water of Life can flow through the jaws of a dead dog," is the pithy way they put it.

Perhaps he can't be blamed. Even very Catholic Lech Walesa didn't reach for that one after he got caught by surprise at a mass in Gdansk some years back, when the priest burst into a vile anti-semitic harangue. Caught like a deer in the headlights, he didn't realize that what he was supposed to do was walk out.

But at any rate, there it is. Remember you read it here first.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Somebody got it

Further comments from the Objectivist website on the 'Hugh Hefner, Living Large' post:

J (male)

RATING: 2.5 Stars

COMMENTS: Not quite sure what the overall point of this article really
was. Are we for or against this situation? Or was this just to comment on
leggy blondes?

I am a bit confused.

L (female)

RATING: 1 Star

COMMENTS: What is the point? This is all over the place. I'm not sure if
you are in favor of Hefner, opposed, maybe a touch jealous. The ideas are
very poorly strung together.

But now, at last:
W (male)

RATING: 4 Stars

COMMENTS: I agree, and I enjoy your analysis. The fantasy sounds fun, but
eventually one has to become a man.

Folks, when a teacher's class, or a writer's audience isn't getting it, it's generally the teacher or writer's fault. He's talking over their heads or being unnecessarily obscure.

When some do and some don't, well he's probably got what we used to call in English language schools, a homogeneity problem.

In this case the essay, and subsequent one, was a musing on what it is to be a man. Not an original point to be sure:

“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things”

We'll speculate later about what this means about the audience, and perhaps I'll tell the story of the one university class I ever had (in philosophy) where I thought it was the class that failed the teacher.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Macho Musings

A comment on a recent column, referring to my “macho, sexist statements” started me thinking about our notions of manliness and what it is to be manly.

Thanks, “We find comfort among those who agree with us, growth among those who don’t,” (Frank A. Clark.)

Am I a macho sexist kind of guy? Depends on whom you ask.

What are my thoughts on “sexism”? Well, to begin with, I observe that there are two sexes. I further observe that they are different in certain fundamental characteristics, chief of which is that only one of them can bear children.

This, I submit, is a non-trivial difference, although an awful lot of trees died to make it seem so lately.

I also believe that differences in various abilities are distributed differently between the sexes, i.e. that if you graphed certain characteristics according to gender you would find different, but overlapping distributions.

That’s the kind of thinking that got Larry Summers run out of his position as president of Harvard. “Epurr si muove!” (probably not Galileo.)

Macho? Depends on what you mean.

Early in the Left ascendancy, “macho” became an insult. However “macho,” in its lands of origin, means manly behavior. In the US it has come to mean an over-the-top parody of manly behavior and admittedly, Latin macho can be pretty self-parodying. But at bottom our western notion of manliness is about is individual strength; strength of character, will and mind and is totally alien to the collectivist ideal of strength through weight of numbers.

The cognate in Italian is “omerta,” from “uomo” – man.

The so-called “code of silence” understanding of the word is simply the Sicilian interpretation of the idea of manliness (again, pretty self-parodying at times) – you don’t save yourself or gain advantage by ratting out your partners.

And there’s the rub. The idea of what constitutes manhood and manly behavior is different in different cultures. For example my wife, who is from Eastern Europe, quite unselfconsciously says “He’s a man!” as the highest of compliments.

Notice that American women don’t do that much anymore.

In macho cultures appearances are most important, and manliness is about what anthropologists call “display.”

In our culture, manliness is, or at least was, less about appearances and more about one’s character expressed in action – even when the action goes unobserved and uncredited.

Yet at bottom, manliness is everywhere first and foremost about toughness. The notion that you have to be tough enough to protect that which you love in a dangerous world, and tough enough to stand up to what that world is going to throw at you for having the courage to love.

Ayn Rand once described the goal of her writing as the portrayal of the ideal man. She had no use for the “sensitive man” ideal of contemporary feminism and described the essence of femininity as hero-worship. This is anathema to modern feminism.

And yet, she married a sweet and gentle man; the kind of guy who as a boy brought wounded birds home to heal.

Is there a contradiction here?

Perhaps not as much as you might think.

I’ll have more to say about this in the future, but for me the essence of manhood was defined by Raymond Chandler.

In his last and greatest adventure, Phillip Marlowe is parting with a woman who he is likely never going to see again, with some wistful regret on both their parts.

She asks, “How can a man who is so tough, be so gentle?”

He replies, “If I weren’t tough, I wouldn’t be alive. If I couldn’t be gentle, I wouldn’t deserve to be alive.”

For more of Chandler on manhood, see: http://www.en.utexas.edu/amlit/amlitprivate/scans/chandlerart.html

Monday, March 10, 2008

A litmus test?

See my post below on Hugh Hefner. Lighthearted musing, so I thought.

A friend commented:

Read your piece on hef. Hope that couch is comfy Steve ;)

I think he gets his pneumatic blondes from the moonlight bunny ranch though. A far cry from his long gone “no strippers allowed” rule. If I recall correctly Pam Anderson had to lie and pretend to be a limo driver to get her first (magazine) spread. The new girls just scream professionalism.

Tom the Impaler http://tom-the-impaler.livejournal.com/

Well, as it happens, an eFriend asked if he could reprint this over at an Objectivist website, the Atlasphere http://www.theatlasphere.com/myaccount/login.php?path=/members/index.php

By the afternoon of the morning it was put up, there was a whole series of comments. Check them out. The ratings run from one (terrible) to five (wonderful) stars. Names and addresses have been redacted, The Atlasphere is a member site with contact data and profiles available.


RATING: 4 Stars

COMMENTS: Hefner has somewhat mellowed, i.e. there are currently only 3
instead of 7 girlfriends (Holly, Bridgett and Kendra) and Bridgett (who I
actually think has the sweetest face) is over 30 years.

As I understand the arrangement, Holly is girlfriend #1, which perks (?)
sound similar (at least in theory if not legally) to those the first wife
you described had, i.e. she and Hef share a room, Hef has spoken of ending
his days with her and she seems to have some control over who goes/stays in
the harem (and in the reduction from 7 down to 3 girlfriends).

Anyway, the current girls actually all come across as very nice and
pleasant - almost like sorority sisters. Looks likes it's a job with
great perks and just like a job, all the girls know they have to get along
in order to keep the boss happy. At this point, I'm speculating there
might even be an orientation meeting when they join. Maybe they have to
sign all kinds of contracts agreeing not to disclose certain things
(probably sex related) and that as "reps" of Hugh Hefner, they can only
say/do certain things (i.e. a curfew clause, a promise to not date other
people clause or do anything that would have the appearance of
impropriety,,,, dang, I'm reminded of contracts the Dallas Cowboy
Cheerleader probably have to sign - obviously with some differences....)
Mind boggling but very entertaining ........ the possibilities are
endless!!!!!!!!! It is an industry and a community unto itself.

With regard to their looks, I think he's locked on women resembling those
platinum blonde black/white flim stars he grew up watching - kind of like
Nabokov's Lolita. God love him!

Thanks for a fun article! :)

H (female):

RATING: 1 Star

COMMENTS: I'm disgusted and disturbed by this nonsensical article. What a
waste of time it was to read it. It was full of macho, sexist statements. I
kept having a strong urge to stop, but continued reading in hopes of some
profound comments or meaningful purpose... only to come up empty handed. I
expect a lot more out of an Atlasphere article.


RATING: 4 Stars

COMMENTS: Mr. Browne: Well, finally a column more down to earth than
most. I have read reports of his later sexual prowess by some of the women
who have serviced him. Viagra of course, but the women do all the work, and
if their timing is off, it finishes it for him, which makes him somewhat
angry. They get no pleasure from the act, other than supposedly pleasing
him. He has a reputation to maintain. He also no longer gets any real
pleasure from formal masturbation. But he made a pile of dough out of his
particular predilection, so good luck to him. I wonder how happy, way down
deep inside, he really is. Or his children. Ah well, to each his own. We
purchase pain with all that joy can give, and die of nothing, but a rage to
live. A. Pope.


RATING: 4 Stars

COMMENTS: I wish I knew more of Charles Boyer

(Note: French Actor, famous as a romantic lead. see imdb.com)


RATING: 1 Star

COMMENTS: I don't think that the Atlasphere should lower itself to this
kind of articles. My personal observations as well as many psychological
studies show that people who are so concerned about others' private lives
are somewhat unsatisfied with their own and secretly long for what they are
trying to ridicule.

I am not trying to make any allegations about Stephen Browne's personal
life; after all he insists that he is perfectly happy with his life. I just
think that the Atlasphere column space should be occupied with more
thought-provoking material. We have enough ranting of that sort all over
mass media.


RATING: 5 Stars

COMMENTS: As my father used to say, "That's his way, this is my way."
So Hefner went his own way, and seems to be enjoying what he wrought.
Others might not want what he wanted, others might have wanted a little
more depth (no pun intended) in their lives. I met Hefner once when he was
young, and he was a very common sense, no nonsense kind of guy. He had his
eye on the prize, and he reeled it in. Good for him. May we all fulfill
our dreams in whatever manner we have chosen.


RATING: 1 Star

COMMENTS: If you don't understand polyamory or blondphilia, fine. But you
don't have to make fun of other people's consensual lifestyle choices just
because you don't understand them. Are people making fun of you for being
monoamorous and married? I don't think so. I'm not even sure whether this
is meant to be a humor column or serious.

Don't hassle the Hef!


RATING: 1 Star

COMMENTS: What is the point of this article? Steve does not mention the
Playboy interview with Ayn Rand, Karl Hess's 1969 article, or the
magazine's support for marijuana law reform. Instead, we are treated to
Steve's musings about his tastes in women, ending with a down note about
Charles Boyer's suicide. This type of personal exhibitionism has little
place in a journal of philosophy and liberty.

(Note: I know this person - I fired him once. He's also an equipment/paraphenalia dealer who informed on his customers.)

J (male):

Your new piece is turning out to be a litmus test for tight-assed authoritarian repressors. Nice work!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Hugh Hefner living large

Saw a program of Hugh Hefner the other night. As you might expect, it focused on his harem of between three to seven babes between the ages of 18 and 28, his relationship with his separated-but-still-friends wife and two teenage sons.

The guy is 82!

I remember that when Playboy had its 25th anniversary issue, they thought it was appropriate to interview their founder Hef. He was asked what drove him to achieve his phenomenal success in building the Playboy empire.

Hef said that it all went back to when he was a boy with a simple childhood dream.

"And what was that?" they asked.

"To get laid a lot."

Hef is actually living the life a lot of guys - oh hell, probably all guys who aren't gay, fantasize about sometimes. He's a sultan in his palace, with every toy a guy could want and a harem of beautiful and willing babes. And oddly, the evidence kind of suggests that it's a small group of women who have worked out the arrangements and run things.*

Thanks bud, somebody has to live it for all the rest of us.**

Now don't get me wrong, I am perfectly happy with my chosen lifestyle: solid marriage to a woman I love passionately, with kids underfoot in a gloriously cluttered but cosy house.

I think that's really the most fulfilling ideal for most guys. But if most guys were really honest, they'd probably have to admit that the ideal life was solid marriage to a woman they loved - and a little on the side every year or so.

But of course, every guy with a lick of sense knows he'd destroy his own and his family's happiness that way. And when you come down to earth, a harem is probably closer to living hell than heaven, especially after kids start to arrive.

So I'm not going to look down my long nose at Hef, but there is one thing I really wonder about.

All of Hef's women are tall, leggy, hyperpneumatic platinum blondes. What the heck is the point? Doesn't they guy want any variety in his life?

My fantasy harem is stocked with tall Nordic blonds, raven-haired Chinese, petite Malays, slim Somalis, hawk-nosed American Indians, voluptuous sari-clad Hindus, redheaded Celts...


Excuse me. To get back to the point, I have nothing against tall, leggy, hyperpneumatic blondes, and count myself fortunate for the time I've spent in the company of some, but seven?

Isn't this like the proverbial difference between ten years experience, and a year's experience - ten times?

And, nothing against younger women either, but has Hef noticed yet that there are a fair number of women out there whose beauty really blooms in their 30s?

That's when in Heinlein's phrase, a woman of intelligence and character "has her own face."

And, doesn't he want to grow old with someone?

Some of us aren't going to have that experience either, but one wonders about those couples who grow old together. And when one dies, you know the other will follow quite soon after.***

Grow old along with me,
The best is yet to be,
The last of life for which the first was made.

-Robert Browning, Rabbi Ben Ezra

*BTW, not uncommon in polygynous societies. In some that I've studied, a man may have several wives, but not have chosen any of them himself. His parents find his first wife, and his senior wife choses the others.

**And even weirder, now that he's retired from running the empire, it's being managed by his attractive and highly intelligent daughter Christie, who gives the impression of being, if anything, kind of a straightlaced stick-in-the-mud.

***For those of us who remember the actor Charles Boyer. When his wife of many years died, he took a few weeks to put his affairs in order and then took a fatal dose of sleeping pills.

And after the murder of eight children...

In re post below, see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMxPUzEBWDU

This is an Israeli news re-broadcast taken from a Palestinian news broadcast. It shows the celebration and handing out of sweets after a gunman opened up in a Yeshiva, killing eight kids.

Do you think this will get shown on west European TV news?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Damn good question

I received this as a forward from a friend, so this is kind of a third-hand post. This is not my usual practice, but I'm putting it up on my blog because it's a damn good question.

I understand a lot about hate. It's been a motivating fact of history for quite some time after all. What I don't, cannot, understand is the kind of hate that would cause a people to immolate their own children for a chance at doing some harm to their enemy which is in no way decisive of the ultimate outcome.

What I do know is this: you cannot bargain with this kind of hate, cannot appease it, and cannot keep it at arms length and ignore it.

And just one caveat. I don't buy a two-thousand-year-old claim to territory. Sorry, but it's not like stepping out for a beer and coming home to find squatters in your home. During this length of time, whole nations have risen, fallen, and moved from one place to another. Putting it all back in place is neither possible nor desirable.

There was a time, back when it was still unpopular to do so, that I argued that Israel's claim to their present territory rested on spurious reasoning.

Now that anti-Semitism is again chic on the Left, I haven't changed my opinion. I just don't give a damn anymore.

Hi all,

For those of you who don't remember, my name is David Bryn, from
Israel, and I participated in the Erasmus exchange program on the
fall semester of 2005. As most of you probably know we have a war
going on in our area. The point of this email is not to open a
discussion about which side is right or wrong.

About two weeks ago, an Israeli publicist by the name of Yair Lapid
published his weekly column. After reading his column, I decided to
translate and send it to all my friends outside of Israel, since I
think it sheds a little light about our feelings here as Israelis
in the wild Middle East.

I would be more than thankful if you would forward this email to
everyone you know.


The Mystery of Hate by Yair Lapid

Hundreds of years of fighting, six and a half wars, billions of
dollars gone with the wind, tens of thousands of victims, not
including the boy who laid down next to me on the rocky beach of
lake Karon in

1982 and we both watched his guts spilling out. The helicopter took
him and until this day I do not know whether he is dead or
survived. All this, and one cannot figure it out.

And its not only what happened but all that did not happen -
hospitals that were never built, universities that were never
opened, roads that were never paved, the three years that were
taken from millions of teenagers for the sake of the army. And
despite all the above, we still do not have the beginning of a clue
to the mystery of where it all started:

Why do they hate us so much?

I am not talking about the Palestinians this time. Their dispute
with us is intimate, focused, and it has a direct effect on their
lives. Without getting into the "which side is right" question, it
is obvious that they have very personal reasons not to stand our
presence here. We all know that eventually this is how it will be
solved: in a personal way, between them and us, with blood sweat
and tears that will stain the pages of the agreement. Until then,
it is a war that could at least be understood, even if no sane
person is willing to accept the means that are used to run it by.

It is the others. Those I cannot understand. Why does Hassan
Nasralla, along with tens of thousands of his supporters, dedicate
his life, his visible talents, his country's destiny, to fight a
country he has never even seen, people he has never really met and
an army that he has no reason to fight?

Why do children in Iran, who can not even locate Israel on the map

(especially because it is so small), burn its flag in the city
center and offer to commit suicide for its elimination? Why do
Egyptian and Jordanian intellectuals agitate the innocent and
helpless against the peace agreements, even though they know that
their failure will push their countries 20 years back? Why are the
Syrians willing to stay a pathetic and depressed third world
country, for the dubious right to finance terror organizations that
will eventually threaten their own country's existence? Why do they
hate us so much in Saudi-Arabia? In Iraq? In Sudan? What have we
done to them? How are we even relevant to their lives? What do they
know about us? Why do they hate us so much in Afghanistan? They
don't have anything to eat there, where do they get the energy to

This question has so many answers and yet it is a mystery. It is
true that it is a religious matter but even religious people make
their choices. The Koran (along with the Shariaa - the Muslim
parallel to the Jewish Halacha) consists of thousands of laws, why
is it that we occupy them so much?

There are so many countries who gave them much better reasons to be
angry. We did not start the crusades, we did not rule them during
the colonial period, we never tried to convert them. The
Mongolians, the Seljuk, the Greeks, the Romans, the Crusaders, the
Ottomans, the British, they all conquered, ruined and plundered the
whole region. We did not even try, so how come we are the enemy?

And if it is identification with their Palestinians brothers then
where are the Saudi Arabian tractors building up the territories
that were evacuated? What happened to the Indonesian delegation
building a school in Gaza strip? Where are the Kuwaiti doctors with
their modern surgical equipment? There are so many ways to love
your brothers, why do they all prefer to help their brothers with

Is it something that we do? Fifteen hundreds years of anti-Semitism
taught us - in the most painful way possible - that there is
something about us that irritates the world. So, we did the thing
everyone wanted: we got up and left. We have established our own
tiny little country, where we can irritate ourselves without
interrupting others. We didn't even ask a lot for it. Israel is
spread on a smaller territory than 1% of the territory of Saudi- Arabia, with no oil, no minerals, without settling on another
existing state's territory. Most of the cities that were bombed
this week were not plundered from anyone. Nahariya, Afula, and
Karmiel did not even exist until we established them. The other
katyusas landed on territories over which no one ever questioned
our right with regards to them. In Haifa there were Jews already in
the 3rd century BC and Tiberias was the place where the last
Sanhedrin sat, so no one can claim we plundered them from anyone.

However, the hatred continues. As if no other destiny is possible.
Active hatred, poisoned, unstoppable. Last Saturday the president
of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called again "to act for the
vanishing of Israel"' as if we were bacteria. We got used to it so
much that we don't even ask why.

Israel does not hope and never did for Iran to vanish. As long as
they wanted, we had diplomatic relations with them. We do not have
a common border with them or even any bad memories. And still, they
are willing to confront the whole western world, to risk a
commercial boycott, to hurt their own quality of life, to crush
what's left of their economy and all that for the right to
passionately hate us.

I am trying to remember and cannot: have we ever done something to
them? When? How? Why did he say in his speech that "Israel is the
main problem of the Muslim world"? more than a billion people
living in the Muslim world, most of them in horrible conditions.
They suffer from hunger, poverty, ignorance, bloodshed that spreads
from Kashmir to Kurdistan, from dying Darfur to injured Bangladesh.
How come we are the main problem? How exactly are we in their way?

I refuse to accept the argument that claims "that is just the way
they are". They said it about us so many times that we have learned
to accept this _expression. There must be another reason, some dark
secret that because of it, the citizens of South Lebanon allow to
rouse the quiet border, to kidnap the soldiers of an army that has
already retreated from their territory, to turn their country into
a wasteland exactly at the time they finally escaped twenty years
of disasters.

We got used to telling ourselves worn expressions - "it's the
Iranian influence", or "Syria is stirring behind the scenes" - but
it is just too easy explanation. Because what about them?

What about their thoughts? What about their hopes, loves, ambitions
and their dreams? What about their children? When they send their
children to die, does it seem enough for them to say that it was
all worth while just because they hate us so much?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Even a broken clock...

In my post "Can you think?" http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/10/can-you-think.html
I asked:

5) How often have you listened to two sides of an issue and concluded that you agreed with someone you disliked and disagreed with someone you liked?

Perhaps I should have added a variation on that: How often have you had to admit that a point you agreed with was being made in a way you found highly offensive?

See also "AYERheads" http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/12/aeyrheads.html
Symptom of the Achingly Earnest Young Radical #4: 4) It is a betrayal of the Truth to fail to state it in any but the most offensive way possible.

Gloria Steinem has gone and pissed a lot of people off and forced the Hillary campaign to disavow her.

Apparently she commented on John McCain's ordeal in a North Vietnamese prison in a flippant, offensive and utterly uncalled-for way, as not qualifying him for the presidency.

First let me say, I have no respect for Steinem at all. I have always found her to be an intellectual lightweight, incredibly pretentious, self-serving and more than just a bit phony.

Furthermore, though I do not agree with McCain's politics and find him to be self-rightious and rather full of himself, I have the highest respect for his courage, fortitude and honor. (In the military context, I don't much respect some of the things he's done in the political arena - that's where the self-rightious thing comes in.)

So it pains me to say it, but Steinem's right.

Some years ago, during a time when one of the current slogans was "You're old enought to die for your country but not old enough to vote," John W. Campbell* pointed out that the virtues required for these two functions were different, and not much related.

Leadership on the highest levels requires mature judgement, something not often found in young men. Which is why young soldiers are put under the direction of old sergeants.

Surviving captivity and torture require courage, fortitude, stubborness and... virtues I cannot guess and hope never to have to.

But they are not necessarily congruent with the qualities of a civilian leader, which may be why we don't often see successful military men become successful statesmen.**

Hillary could have responded calmly and rationally, denouncing Stenem's rudeness while affirming the point in a dignified and respectful way. And that would have been a sign of good leadership qualities.

But that didn't happen. We don't have any candidate that is leadership material, period.

We'll be OK though. I hope.

"A strong people need no leaders." - Emiliano Zapata

(Of course, look what happen to him - and Mexico.)

*Editor of Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact magazine for decades and more than any other man, creator of modern SF.

**At the founding of our country we got lucky in having George Washington, who was competent at both. If it had been otherwise...

Labels: ,

Monday, March 03, 2008

What I'm doing these days

Note: This appeared on the editorial page of the (print) Valley-City Times-Record.

There is a story that when Alexis de Tocqueville was making his two-year tour of America in the 1840s, he attended a New England town meeting.

As you might expect, he saw a lot of petty bickering, nit-picking over not very important points, and of course long speeches by the kind of people who have to have their say on any subject, whether they actually have anything to say or not.

So he returned to his boarding house that evening and wrote a journal entry, full of Gallic scorn for these American rubes.

That night he awoke, sat bolt upright in bed and exclaimed, “Mon Dieu! They are governing themselves!”

That was the “Ah-ha!” moment that led to him writing Democracy in America, perhaps the most perceptive book on our country ever written by a foreigner.

As the new city reporter on a small town paper I have to attend a lot of meetings: City Commission, School Board, Development Corporation, etc.

I find it fascinating.

“Oh wow,” I hear you say, “he must be the kind of geek who uses Robert’s Rules of Order for bedtime reading - and doesn’t fall asleep.

Well, there was a time when I’d have thought the same. Civics classes in high school didn’t really grab me. I took the required poly sci course in college and no others, and though I’m sure I must have been exposed to The Federalist Papers at some time in my education, I probably forgot it as soon as I finished it. If I finished it.

Then in 1991 I moved to Eastern Europe.

My first years there were a series of “Ah-ha!” moments, “So that’s what they were talking about!”

Americans take for granted that our government powers are distributed right down to the local level. If we want a stop sign at an intersection, we don’t take our petition to congress, we take it to city hall.

In communist Eastern Europe, governments of the cities and towns functioned as bureaus of the national government. When I got there, they were building all of the structure of democracy from the ground up. Poland for example, has only recently instituted elected mayors and town councils.

Even in Western Europe, government is not nearly as local as in America. In England, for example, firemen are employees of the national government.

And about those Robert’s Rules of Order I mentioned? Nobody I knew in Poland had ever heard of them.

“You mean there’s a book you can go out and buy that tells you how to run a meeting so you don't have to write your own? Wow!”

On returning to America after thirteen years, I have found this country to be quite the most interesting foreign country I’ve lived in so far. And seeing my wife experience it for the first time has given me new eyes to see it with. She has enthusiastically plunged into that most characteristically American institution, the volunteer organization. Nowhere else in the world are there so many private, voluntary organizations as in this country.

“Oh yeah? Well wait until you’ve had your fill of all the bickering, pettiness and anger.”

Listen, I know all that.

“Those who love sausage and revere the law, should never watch either being made” as Bismark said.

Human being are, well human. And human institutions are not run by angels but by men and women remarkably like you and me.

Bickering? Disagree is what free men do.

Pettiness? If our concerns seem small, perhaps it’s because free men tend to mind their own business.

Anger? Perhaps we ought to be thankful that there are public matters people feel strongly enough about to get angry about.

“But wouldn’t you rather be covering really important things?”

Important to whom? I assure you that how the local elementary school goes about getting a new roof is important to me. My son is under it several hours a day.

And, I’ve covered events in Congress and watched how a great republic works. It’s interesting too, but small towns are where democracy happens and watching how it works is fascinating, warts and all.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

The cantakerous clans

Note: see Salena Zito's reflections on the Scots-Irish here http://www.townhall.com/columnists/default.aspx

And the book she's talking about, James Webb's Born Fighting, is a fun read.

Who's British?

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Elizabeth and Raleigh deserve better

We rented Elizabeth, the Golden Age and watched it last night. It was, well... disappointing.

Cate Blanchett was a great choice for Elizbeth, and Clive Owen for Raleigh. The costumes were fine, the scenery wonderful, the effects really inspiring.

I just wish to hell they'd had something to work with.

For those of us who remember, Glenda Jackson in Elizabeth R is the gold standard. I realize that a movie-length treatment is not enough to portray an age so full of action as ER's reign, but did they have to spend so much time setting the mood that they dropped most of what made that age so fascinating?

Sir Francis Drake appears as a minor supporting character. Sir Phillip Sydney? Nowhere to be found. Edmund Spenser? Never heard of him.

Oh, but Dr. Dee the astrologer/wizard is in it.

OK, so it's only movie-length as I said. But this was about the defeat of the Spanish Armada for God's sake! You could have given Drake a little more screen time for that.

And of course, by focusing on Raleigh to the exclusion of Drake, they left out the marvelous anecdote of Drake steadfastly insisting on finishing the game of bowls with the Queen and her courtiers after the Armada was sighted off the coast.

Somewhere in the middle of the flick I realized that what I was missing was the language. They went out of their way to make a point that Raleigh (on the advice of Bess Throckmorton) was trying to avoid being a "flatterer" like everyone else around Elizabeth.

I think this misses an important point and leaves the movie poorer for it. Yes, the courtiers around Elizabeth addressed her in person and in letters in the most extravagant, worshipful way. Yes they wrote long eleagic poems to her. And yes, no doubt did so with hope of advancement.

We find that kind of effusive language embarrassing today, but this is now, that was then. And there's a lot of reason to believe that they genuinely adored their queen, indeed worshipped her with a near-idolatrous love.

Consider that this was a nation that had lately been Catholic, and had purged the worship of the Virgin Mary from their religion. Could it be that their Virgin Queen had largely replaced that figure in their hearts?

And what kind of men were these? Not crawling toadies by nature, but men who sailed into unknown seas in wooden ships. Men like Drake who "singed the beard of the King of Spain" not once, but three times.

(Check out the story of him sailing into the almost totally enclosed harbor at Cartagena with guns on all sides of him. And it is instructive to remember that navigation was still primitive, no means had then been found of determining longitude nor would be until the late 18th century.)

I could forgive a lot of this, just for the fantastic special effects in the battle with the Armada. But what really pissed me off was that they rewrote the speech at Tilbury dammit!

Was it Elizabeth's line about "I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman..."? Was that erased from history because they were afraid of offending feminist sentiment?

Who the heck knows, but just because it's one of the most magnificent pre-battle speeches in history, I'm going to give it to you here and as a bonus, On the Death of Sir Walter Raleigh by the great English poet Anon, who was a witness to his execution by King James. Nobody remembers the legalistic reason he was executed and it probably doesn't matter. I myself think James gave him the chop was because Raleigh was so conspicuously the better man.

Elizabeth I Address to Her Troops at Tilbury; 1588

In 1588 Spain attempted to invade England with a huge armada of ships. Though the Armada was defeated at sea, it was feared that the Duke of Parma would still attempt an invasion with his land forces. Despite fears for her safety, Queen Elizabeth I resolved to visit her troops at Tilbury. The Earl of Leicester, when informed secretly of her plans, wrote, "Good sweet Queen, alter not your purpose." On August 8, 'full of princely resolution and more than feminine courage ... she passed like an Amazonian empress through all her army.' 'Lord bless you all,' she cried, as the men fell on their knees before her praying. The next day she reviewed the army and watched a mock battle. Afterwards she addressed them:

My loving people, we have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery. But I assure you, I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live or die amongst you all, to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and for my people, my honor and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which, rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself shall take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know, already for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and we do assure you, in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you.

On the Death of Sir Walter Raleigh
(Some of the exotic punctuation and spelling modified)

Great Heart! Who taught thee to die?
Death yielding thee the victory.
Where tookst thou leave of life?
If here, how couldst thou be so far from fear?
For sure thou diedst and quitted the state,
Of flesh and blood before that fate.
Elst what a miracle were wrought, to triumph both in flesh and thought.
I saw in every stander-by, pale Death, life only in thine eye.
Farewell! Truth shall this story say,
We died. Thou only livest that day.

Note: Sorry, can't attribute the introduction. I have the text written down but not the author.