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  • Archive for November, 2006

    Golden Lessons

    Posted by Shannon Love on 15th November 2006 (All posts by )

    If you stop and think about it for a moment, the human preoccupation with gold seems very odd.

    We are so used to gold being, well, Gold, that we don’t stop to think about it. Since the dawn of history, gold has served as a universal trade good. Every human culture, from the simplest hunter-gathers to space-faring modern industrial, trades for gold. In the arts of every culture, gold symbolizes the best, the purest and the most desired. Lust for gold has driven exploration, technology, war and individual murder. An alien anthropologist studying human history might easily conclude that humans need gold for some critical function. The alien would reason that gold must be a vital nutrient, a medicine or serve a central role in our technology.

    Yet the alien would be wrong. Gold serves next to no functional purpose. Prior to the electronic age, people made only sparing use of gold’s corrosion resistance to line drinking vessels and such. Many cultures used gold to make monetary tokens but that use evolved out of gold’s existing role as a universal trade good. Coins were merely standardized chunks of a universal trade good. People didn’t covet gold so they could make coins from it, they accepted gold coins in trade because they valued the gold in the coins. People murdered for gold long before anyone thought to make money out of it.

    So the human lust for gold presents us with a riddle. Why do we so universally value gold? What function does gold serve that makes it so sought after?

    The answer is simple:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Science | 25 Comments »


    Posted by Jonathan on 14th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Red Sails in the Sunset

    Posted in Photos | 3 Comments »

    We wuz robbed!

    Posted by Steven Den Beste on 11th November 2006 (All posts by )

    2000, Democrats: "We wuz robbed!"
    2002, Democrats: "We wuz robbed again!"
    2004, Democrats: "We wuz robbed yet again!"
    2006, Republicans: "Bummer. Oh, well, we’ll do better next time."

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics | 7 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Lexington Green on 11th November 2006 (All posts by )

    [Somalia] [s]tarted off as a humanitarian mission and it changed into a nation-building mission, and that’s where the mission went wrong. The mission was changed. And as a result, our nation paid a price. And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win war. I think our troops ought to be used to help overthrow the dictator when it’s in our best interests. But in this case it was a nation-building exercise, and same with Haiti. I wouldn’t have supported either.

    George W. Bush, October 11, 2000

    Posted in Middle East, USA, War and Peace | 3 Comments »

    Grass Writes a Letter

    Posted by Ginny on 11th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Most of us were once young and stupid. What if we were branded by the worst we have done? What if anyone, listening to us, couldn’t avoid seeing that brand? Then, how effective would we be? How difficult would it have been for us to speak with authority, to do the best that we could do when we were no longer quite so stupid? Clearly, Dimmesdale is tempted by Chillingworth to justify his hypocrisy by the good that his sermons do. (The temptation how many politicians’ handlers set before their bosses?)

    So, we see the artful Gunter Grass letter. I am struck by how this aged man notes he will bear the mark of Cain – he has lived a long life without it. It will, needless to say, be a part of every obituary when he dies, but it was not a part of a lifetime’s work nor a factor in others’ responses. He won’t be around for the obituaries; he was around for the Nobel prize.

    The lessons Tom Segev finds have the truth of clichés but also their simplification:

    Two main lessons arise from the letter: Be skeptical, young man, especially in a time of war. Ask what should be asked. If you have a terrible secret, come out with it before you become a person whom the whole world recognizes, and the sooner you do so the better off you’ll be.

    Skepticism in the midst of a mob is necessary for integrity, its detachment lets us analyze when faced with the overwhelming passions of a society on the wrong track. But unresolved skepticism – skepticism that doesn’t have a “for” as well as an “against” – leads to cynicism, to nihilism and disengagement. Skepticism inspired by rational assessment should be followed by engaged action (often counteraction). Skepticism in itself is barren.

    And, many a terrible secret is never known in our lifetimes – indeed, ever. Our lives are various & confused, our pasts mingle with our present but are unseen – ignored by us, shadows others can’t see. And how would Grass’s words have been interpreted if the brand had been public his whole active, intellectual life? He was playing the odds and he had a chance of winning. Pragmatism – it will eventually come out – is not the best argument here. Of course, while others don’t know, we do. Such duplicity harms us even if no one else finds out.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Morality and Philosphy | Comments Off on Grass Writes a Letter

    Electronic Illiteracy

    Posted by Ginny on 11th November 2006 (All posts by )

    OK, all you guys are younger than we are, but even most of you grew up with records for a while.

    Does anyone know of a machine that will play & record old records? There is one I found on google – and it is sold by a variety of sellers. When the first one proved a bit slippery (leave a phone message, send us an e-mail), I began to think it was pretty weird. When I googled some more and a really bad review of the merchandise showed up, I was quite ready to believe it. The seller I had been trying to get probably erected all those devices to distance himself from complainers. (That is the Songwriter which does seem not widely available but available.)

    So, we still have the problem. I’m tired of having old players sitting around our living room & gather yet more dust; my husband has not used them in literally years (I suspect literally decades). But he doesn’t want to part with his collection nor the capacity to play them. (Well, you might want to suggest counseling for such things and I’m not going to argue with you.)

    Thanks in advance if any one has a bright idea.

    Posted in Music | 8 Comments »

    When it’s time to head for the hills. . .

    Posted by Jonathan on 10th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Make sure your bugout pack has room for the most important necessities.

    Posted in Humor | 5 Comments »

    Now what?

    Posted by ken on 10th November 2006 (All posts by )

    1. When the party that seeks to nationalize health care and put the pharmaceutical companies in their place can convincingly bring out Michael J. Fox and sell themselves as our best hope for medical technology advancement, that’s a good sign that the other party has screwed up bigtime.

    Embryos are not people. They have no brains, which are the essential source of our personhood. Without a brain, an embryo has no more rights than a houseplant. And the moral issue becomes simple: it is profoundly immoral to obstruct experimentation on things that are not people if such experimentation might save lots of actual people. Too many Republican candidates had that moral issue exactly backwards, and they suffered for it.

    Does that mean there’s definitely a miracle cure tucked away in embryonic stem cells? Of course not. Not to mention that there’s still the small matter that you won’t get any 100% compatible spare parts from an embryo that isn’t cloned from you, another step that’s yet to be taken with unknown difficulty and cost. But unless you’re going for the abolishment of all Federal research grants, singling out embryonic stem cell research for grant restrictions makes no moral or practical sense.

    The Democrats are full of ideas to take our problematic health care system and make it worse. This issue should have been a slam-dunk for the Republicans.

    2. I’m not sure what could have been done to convince people who believe, for instance, that having a lot of troops in Iraq puts us in a worse position to deal with Iran than having a lesser number of troops in Kuwait with Saddam still ruling Iraq would have. Could the point have been more forcefully made that the dead Iraqi civilians have mainly been killed by the bad guys, who are willing to kill the people they supposedly fight for rather than let them enjoy some of the rights we take for granted? Or that resistance to an occupation is sometimes evil, particularly when it takes the form of deliberate attacks on civilians? Maybe if we had mentioned that the bad guys are doing pretty much the same thing that the KKK and other ex-Confederates and Confederate symphatizers were doing during and after Reconstruction, only with better weapons?

    3. If Republican lawmakers are going to try and defile the sacred temple of Social Security, or Medicare, or public education, they might as well bring a blowtorch and see if they can burn it to the ground. It would make absolutely no difference in the opposition they get from the left (massive and unrelenting), but it would make a big difference in whether their supporters consider it worth their while to go vote for them. If they’re going to pretend to tinker around the edges and back down when the minority party squawks, then what’s the point of keeping them around?

    They had their big chance to clear out a lot of the crap we’ve been putting up with for 70+ years, and they squandered it. And no, “replacing” social security with a forced savings program where the Feds get to pick which investments are acceptable is not going to cut it.

    4. This isn’t the end of the world. Hezbollah still isn’t going to blow up shopping malls, schools, and offices in the Great Satan until Iran gets nuclear weapons and (thinks it) is immune to invasion. I’d say we’ve got a couple of years before that happens. And an actual nuke going off in the Great Satan shouldn’t happen for at least 10 years… there’ll need to be enough nuclear powers in the world that one of them thinks they can get away with it, and then it has to find a group that it can trust to hit the Great Satan and not some hated faction in the Middle East or even the home country. Plenty of time to get a cabin and stock the hell out of it.

    Bush still has two years left. And the horse still might learn to sing.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics | 15 Comments »

    Can This Guy Save the Pentagon?

    Posted by Ginny on 9th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Instapundit put up notice Gates was replacing Rumsfeld; I walked into class and, as an opening pleasantry, noted that fact. Everyone looked at me blankly. I explained it again – in these lit classes a good half are co-enrolled at the big school. I hadn’t needed to worry they’d try to figure out my position or want to talk politics. The only response was from a guy in the back: Why couldn’t they have taken Coach Fran to Washington instead? (The whole town appears down on him after last Saturday’s game.)

    Anyway, suspecting that Chicagoboyz readers have a more mature set of priorities, I am offering a hot-off-the-presses link already woefully out of date. The November Texas Monthlys are hitting the stands with this cover story: “Can This Guy Save the Aggies? Robert Gates to the Rescue.” For those of you not from Aggieland, Paul Burka explains the man and his mission – well his mission until/if he’s confirmed.

    Burka, their chief political writer, introduces the article with what now seems remarkable overstatement – after you’ve described Aggieland, what’s left to describe Iraq? But, then, the new chief’s previous tasks were’t small potatoes either.

    Robert Gates helped win the cold war as director of the CIA, but that assignment was a walk in the park compared with his current one: bringing Texas A&M university’s unique but not always admired culture into the modern era and remaking the way the world views Aggieland—and the way Aggieland views the world.

    Update: For those more serious, Mudville Gazette comments on potentially distracting hearings. He also links to Iran: Time for a New Approach from the committee Gates co-chaired with Zbigeniew Brzezinski for the Council on Foreign Relations in 2004. (Thanks Instapundit.)

    Further Update: Gates is a good deal more colorless than Rumsfeld, a good deal more opaque. Some discussion is clearly projection, but which time will tell. Here’s Kaplan, who sees Gates as Clark Clifford. (I think we have surrendered to analogies with Viet Nam – that appears to be the only way people can intellectually deal with Iraq.)

    Of course, the last to surrender is likely to be the always tough, Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson has read the Iran report and is not happy. He warns: “And we should remember a few things about the return of “realism” which is really just an academic veneer to the old isolationism.”

    Post-Thanksgiving Addendum: Barone on Gates’ book & his sense of continuity.

    Posted in Iraq | 5 Comments »

    Chua – World On Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability

    Posted by James McCormick on 8th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Chua, Amy, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, Doubleday (2003) 340 pp.

    In a post earlier this year, Jim Bennett outlined both his concerns and his appreciation for Amy Chua’s book “World on Fire.”

    Unlike Jim, I was less convinced that she was offering a “one size fits all” model but very much inspired by the utility of her model for understanding the relationship of the world to the United States and the Anglosphere. The US, and its occasional allies, are locked in a passionate love-hate relationship with the rest of the world — a discussion fought now on television that often appears deranged or infantile yet is driven by very real concerns and anxieties. There’s hypocrisy and cant aplenty on both sides of the argument as far as the eye can see. And it is the “do as I say, not as I do” conundrums facing the Anglosphere that will drive new and focused solutions — new legal structures, new ethical propositions, new responses to weapons of mass destruction and hyper-destructive individuals, new balances between individual and social rights, new clarity and, one assumes, a newly-minted sense of self-preservation.

    Much of the reading I’ve been doing over the last year has focused on national productivity figures (cf. Lewis’s The Power of Productivity) and on the EU’s response to the increasing GDP per capita gap between it and the US (The 2000 Lisbon Agenda). To summarize: the United States (with 300 million people) has roughly 30% greater GDP per capita (purchasing price parity) than all other nations over 10 million in size. Canada (at roughly 78% of the US standard and 30 million people) is the only exception. US GDP percentage growth also leads its large industrialized competitors. My reading focus has been on the solutions offered by serious people around the world to close the gap or find a way to accommodate the gap within a successful sustainable social model. At the same time, I’ve been watching the figures, and discussion, on higher education and the “scientific wealth of nations.” In many ways, however, the responses and strategies put forward to catching up with the US, by both the industrialized and industrializing world, have been eerily parallel to those documented in the past by Chua for nations who have struggled to cope with free markets and democracy over the last forty years. There’s a lot more finger-pointing and bad-mouthing than concrete progress.

    To quote Chua (p.6):

    This book is about a phenomenon – pervasive outside the West yet rarely acknowledged, indeed often viewed as taboo – that turns free market democracy into an engine of ethnic conflagration. The phenomenon I refer to is that of market-dominant minorities: ethnic minorities who, for widely varying reasons, tend under market conditions to dominate economically, often to a startling extent, the “indigenous” majorities around them.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes | 7 Comments »

    Post-Mortem (Where the Obvious is Said – And You Expect More on the Day After?)

    Posted by Ginny on 8th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Well, if the Democrats screw up the economy so I can’t retire & spend all my time surfing the net and watching old television shows, probably that will not be a bad thing. But if enough of those moderate Democrats actually think we are at war, actually think there are bigger issues than politics, America will continue on, finding its way, making mistakes, but eventually working out some of the problems. And it was the conservative Democrats who did best.

    So, we can hope, those who have believed we wage “Bush’s war” will have a broadened vision – power can do it, clearly Bush’s vision expanded in that first year in office. But if those elected remain fiercely myopic, fiercely partisan, we will have lost important gauges – indeed those of our Western liberal tradition – to guide us as we work our way through policies. We will lose it if we become isolationist; we will lose it if we dissolve into identity politics. We will lose it if we forget the long years that an egalitarian society, one that was highly literate and used to a large measure of self-reliance, took to move from the Revolution to the Constitution.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics | 6 Comments »

    Important Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 7th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Beryl Wajsman describes a discussion with a reporter who asked him if he was against peace. Then she asked him if he was a Jew.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Political Philosophy | 17 Comments »

    Women — Know Your Limits

    Posted by Lexington Green on 6th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Words of wisdom from a more sensible time.

    Posted in Humor | 13 Comments »

    The future doesn’t belong to Islam, thank you very much

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 6th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Mark Steyn is, as so often in the last years, claiming yet again that the future belongs to Islam.

    Point is, demographics aren’t quite as decisive as they used to be, and large, uneducted masses are mostly a danger to themselves nowadays. Not to mention the fact that there only are 15 million Muslims in all of Europe and that their birthrates also aren’t all that high in several countries. German Muslims have a birthrate below replacement level, at about 1.8 babies per woman, and it is rapidly declining even further. The danger of substantial Muslim immigration also is very slim. Our expulsion policies towards Third World immigrants already are inhumane in their draconian harshness, and they are only going to get harsher over time. ‘Our’ Muslims also aren’t a monolithic mass. Especially in Germany we have a lot of Alevites, whom ‘mainstream’ Muslims consider heretics. There is no way that the Alevites make common cause with the more conventional Muslims whom they in return see as a threat to themselves.

    As to age structure: The relative proportion of young people is higher than in the ‘native’ populations, but in absolute terms the ‘native’ still have hands down more young people of fighting age, as well as the weapons and all the other stuff that is needed to keep the barbarians at bay. And we will do that, and more, once we feel seriously threatened. Most Europeans so far simply don’t, and there is no concrete danger you could point to, except in some French and Belgian cities. And the Muslim ‘youths’ wouldn’t last more than 10 minutes if they ever tried that crap on French farmers, rather than the urban types, so those specific problems will stay localized.

    Mark Steyn is a smart fellow, but when he goes on and on about demographics he is reminding me of the statisticians who claimed in the 1850s that by 1910 the streets of New York would be covered with four feet of horse manure. They couldn’t have foreseen the motorcar. Steyn’s arguments aren’t quite like that, more like that of one of those statisticians who’d refuse to change his opinion even after the invention of the motorcar. He simply isn’t thinking outside of the box. Demographics isn’t what it used to be, the more populous country or ethic group doesn’t win automatically anymore, not for decades in fact. Such a large population would have to invest a lot of time and money into the education and training of its young, and as it happens Islam does exactly the opposite. If there ever are serious conflicts betwen ‘native’ Europeans and Muslim immigrants, the Muslims won’t have a chance.

    Posted in Europe, Islam, Predictions | 12 Comments »

    A wide-spread but brief blackout

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 6th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Glenn Reynolds and David Kaspar are making much of the European blackout from last weekend.

    Too much, really. Yes, 10 million people were affected, but depending on the specific area power came back on in 30 minutes to a couple of hours. If I hadn’t learned about it from TV, I would never have known that there was an outage at all. It was a different story when I was in Italy in 2003 and half the country lost power for quite some time. It was hard to miss that.

    There is an investigation on the causes of this latest blackout, so far nobody is sure what did it. It looks as if those areas that did have large power stations of their own were spared, while a lot of those that only have power lines running through them had blackouts. Maybe we need to decentralize power generation to help avoid outages in the future.

    Either way, more nuclear power won’t do the trick alone. This July was even hotter than the extremly hot July of 2003, some large rivers carried so little water that a number of nuclear power plants almost had to be shut down, due to a lack of cooling water. So decentralisation looks like the way to go, especially since there have been some reports that Islamists are thinking about hitting European and American power lines. Easy targets, and a lot of damage with relatively little effort.

    Posted in Europe | 2 Comments »

    Catatonic or Mellow?

    Posted by Ginny on 6th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Do we just not want to talk about tomorrow?

    Okay, so here are Crosby & Astaire in a dated but mellow moment.

    Mellow may require some medication in the next couple of days. Except, of course, being reality based we aren’t all that surprised. Tradespots has had the same message for months.

    I’d take more heart in the late-breaking polls if Bush hadn’t felt obliged to campaign for Tom Osborne. Not many miles from the village where I grew up is the Osborne highway. One of the first things I noticed in my brother’s living room was a collection of books by Osborne (for instance). If he’s weak something somewhere must be happening – and it probably isn’t good.

    Posted in Elections | 2 Comments »

    The Verdict: Death by Hanging

    Posted by Ginny on 5th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Saddam Hussein has been sentenced by an Iraqi Court. The coverage on this side of the blogosphere has shared in the pleasure of the Iraqis; they are celebrating in the street, feeling justice has been done. Some also put the moment into perspective. For comments & many links, see Austin Bay, Iraq the Model, Gateway Pundit, Pajamas Media and Instapundit.

    Perhaps the greater poignancy, though, is how the Iraqis are trying to find their way to the imperfect but relative order we have found in the rule of law. They have begun the difficult task of bringing order from disorder, the rule of law from the rule of blood. And we can reach back into our heritage and help them.

    Instead some of us reject that very heritage. That some see this as timed for our elections is a bit discouraging. But worse is Ramsay Clark, once our attorney general. And we may well be concerned for our own future if views such as his prevail.

    My students in American lit are reading in that great period of the American Renaissance and I am reminded again and again of the power of the vision that got us through April 1865. The vision that inspired the founders gave strength to those who saw something larger than themselves: elections were held in the midst of a civil war, a president was assassinated, that war ended. Lee’s surrender was treated with respect because Grant, Lee, & Lincoln acknowledged the value of democacy, law, respect for others.

    Lincoln’s great fear was that should they lose their way they risked democracy itself: that unique American government, proven too fragile to serve as model, would demonstrate not its strength but its weakness. He (and others of his time as well as those of “fourscore and seven” years before) had a great sense of purpose. This faith has been lost by those like Ramsay Clark, who believe Iraq should not try its own, should not attempt the rule of law. One reason they give is the violence but it is because of the eternal threat of violence that such order should be constructed. A man who should understand doesn’t, diminishing what our ancestors sacrificed to give us.

    That we have a history full of our mistakes is without question. If the founders had dealt with slavery, we might have been early rather than late comers to its abolition; slavery would not have destroyed generations of African-American lives nor would 650,000 men have been slaughtered in the Civil War. But we found our way out through the rule of law and a humility before the importance of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

    Posted in Iraq | 1 Comment »

    Good War Reporting From the NYT

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Go here and click on “Multimedia.” There are two slideshows with audio. The accompanying article is pretty good and adds some information to the slideshows.

    If the NYT concentrated on this kind of straightforward war reporting it might be selling more papers.

    Posted in Iraq | Comments Off on Good War Reporting From the NYT

    “From Suez to Iraq: how to weaken the will of the West”

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th November 2006 (All posts by )

    An excellent piece by Charles Moore that takes the long view. Moore reminds us that the West’s backing down from Suez did not solve the problems the Suez invasion was designed to address. It will be no different if we withdraw from Iraq.

    (via RCP)

    Posted in War and Peace | Comments Off on “From Suez to Iraq: how to weaken the will of the West”

    Harrison — The Central Liberal Truth

    Posted by James McCormick on 4th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Harrison, Lawrence E., The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It from Itself, Oxford University Press, 2006, 272 pp.

    [cross-posted on Albion’s Seedlings]

    To my mind, the Anglosphere discussion is part and parcel of a resurgence in interest in cultural matters after both communism, and vast amounts of post-WW2 Western international aid, failed to provide dramatic economic successes in the poorest parts of the world. The events of 9/11 have highlighted the disparities across the planet, their seeming intractibility, and the view that the rich part of the planet should be solving the problem.

    Recently, I reposted a book review of Lewis’s Power of Productivity, which noted that only a single large nation has moved from relative per capita economic poverty to economic prosperity (“being rich”) in the twentieth century — Japan. And Japanese history in the 20th century was hardly without its tragedies. Accordingly to the current numbers, we aren’t likely to see another sizable country make the leap to notable GDP per capita prosperity any time soon. If the 20th century, despite a massive increase in global GDP, has essentially kept every nation running in place, what can be done to give nations with low or medium prosperity an effective boost?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anglosphere, Book Notes | 13 Comments »

    Political Dialogue

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th November 2006 (All posts by )

    What follows are the edited contents of an email exchange Lex and I had Friday.



    Republicans are in the mid-twenties on Intrade. The sour sentiment on the Internet is so thick you can cut it with a knife. Everyone on blogs seems to hate W and the Republicans, including Republicans. I think the sentiment is overdone. It is way beyond rational. Could be there is going to be a blowout favoring the Democrats. Sabato seems to think so. Or maybe there will be some opinion retracement favoring the Republicans, over the weekend, but that’s speculation on my part. Should be interesting. Not good for the country, I think. The Internet seems to help the Democrats as well as the Republicans, and the press have basically sold their souls for the Dems.


    That 20 only means that there is an 80% chance that the Ds will have a majority of one or more. That seems likely to me, too.

    The blogosphere is anything but representative of the normal world. It is a bunch of political junkies. And the “conservatives” are really politically unreasonable libertarians. The GOP base will turn out pretty well, and it will not be a blowout. There is only a blowout when the election is nationalized on some issue. The country may be mad about Iraq, but the Ds have offered no affirmative reason to vote for them. So, there may be some protest voting and sitting-it-out, but no groundswell for the Ds. I think they’ll end up with a majority of five or fewer seats.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics | Comments Off on Political Dialogue

    Books That Should Exist, But Don’t: The South African Military

    Posted by Lexington Green on 4th November 2006 (All posts by )

    Millions and millions of books. Even in the history field, thousands and thousands. Usually monographs on pretty narrow topics. But amidst all that, despite the numbers, you sometimes find that a book you want just does not exist.

    I got thinking about South Africa recently, due to a perusal of Ralph Peters’ remarkable essay The Lion and the Snake, hat tip Eddie. And it occurred to me that I knew less about the South African military than I’d like. It is a remote corner of the Anglosphere which I’d like to know more about, and being me, I wanted to start from the military angle. I went looking for something like Granatstein’s history of the Canadian Army, or this essay collection on the military history of Ireland. I found remarkably little. There are unit histories, and an official (or semi-official) history of South Africa in the Second World War, and some books about the South African Army from the 1980s, and a few other odds and ends, such as this short essay, and this interesting list of books (click on “literature”). So there is a fair amount of material out there, but nothing comprehensive. I want someone else to do the research, the heavy lifting, and put the whole thing together for me, with an nice annotated bibliography.

    Despite substantial searching, I am forced to conclude with regret that there is no one volume history of the South African armed forces, or military history of South Africa. I think we are too close to the transition from the apartheid regime to the successor regime. Old wounds are still open.

    Still, too bad. It would be a very fascinating story, told as a continuous narrative. Lots of military, political, cultural and racial drama. The Dutch settlement, the British capture of the Cape, the Zulu Wars, the Boer War, South African expeditionary forces in both world wars, the Cold War era struggles against guerillas in adjacent countries, The military’s involvement in sustaining the apartheid regime, the clandestine nuclear program, the current ambiguous situation, including the virtual privatization of important segments of the South African Army into mercenary bands for hire, and some predictions and guesses about what the future might hold. What a tale. Even if it covered only the 20th century, starting with independence, after the Boer War, it is a story which would certainly have a lot of interest and lessons. It belongs in one volume. I hope someone writes it.

    I close by opening the floor to our readers: Do you have any book recommendations about South Africa, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, etc., not necessarily limited to the military angle.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Military Affairs | 5 Comments »

    Small Hopes

    Posted by Ginny on 3rd November 2006 (All posts by )

    Taranto is generally entertaining and often merely partisan. Tonight he concludes with a fact that radiates. It comes amidst a time that has been compared to Tet by those of different opinions about both Tet & Iraq. Whatever optimism Iraqi elections had brought, the apparent chaos & increasing death toll seem a cold front moving in. But maybe we aren’t reading the clouds well. In his “Births of a Nation”, Taranto notes:

    “In the face of relentless violence, political chaos, economic uncertainty and nightly curfews, Iraq’s maternity wards are experiencing an unlikely baby boom,” the Washington Times reports from Baghdad:

    Despite the obstacles, the birthrate in Iraq actually has increased since the U.S.-led invasion 43 months ago, according to the country’s Health Ministry. The rate of births in the country has jumped from 29 births per 1,000 people in 2003 to 37 per 1,000 last year, according to government figures.

    In neighboring Iran, the birthrate is half that–21 per 1,000 population, while the average birthrate in the Middle East is 25, according to the World Bank.

    As the 19th-century Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore observed, “Every time a child is born, it brings with it the hope that God is not yet disappointed with man.” It seems the Man upstairs isn’t yet ready to cut and run from Iraq.

    As I think many of us find the failure of Europe to both reproduce and defend itself as deeply & sadly important; perhaps the Iraqis, otoh, are building a desire to defend as well as reproduce themselves.

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    Posted in Iraq | 13 Comments »


    Posted by Jonathan on 2nd November 2006 (All posts by )

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    Oopsie Dixit

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 2nd November 2006 (All posts by )

    This little piece is by someone who not only takes John Kerry’s side, but thinks he really may have had a point in the first place. Maybe it wasn’t a blooper.

    Troops With No Choice; An Opinion Piece From Air America on John Kerry’s Comments about Education and Serving in the Military; By JACKIE GUERRA [excerpt]

    Serving our country in the military is a great service, one which we all admire and revere, but it’s more than that. It’s also a job.

    And it’s a job that many Americans sign up for not only out of a sense of patriotic duty, but also because it often seems the best of few options.

    At high schools like these across the country, inner-city and rural students, often from communities of color but almost always poor, do not have many options in George Bush’s America.

    The Boston Globe, Kerry’s best buddies, didn’t even go as far as that; they characterized his efforts as dumb. This is the newspaper that helped Kerry finesse his promise to release his full military service records by letting one of their reporters look at them. The report on them was very carefully hedged; it made no mention, for example, of why his honorable discharge was granted by a review panel during the Carter administration, or whether his original discharge, which should have taken place years earlier, may not have been an honorable one, or whether he needed replacement medals in 1985 because he had been stripped of them.

    Kerry is sort of a hothouse flower. He grew and bloomed in the controlled environment of Massachusetts. Kerry may thrive in a micro-climate designed to maintain his ideal growing conditions, but not in the harsh world outside; this was despite the efforts of the friendly national media to shelter him. The real mistake was when the Democrats decided to nominate him.

    Posted in Politics | 7 Comments »