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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Throw Iraq Back?

So what would happen if the Americans just left Iraq? Would all hell break loose? Folks are saying increasingly now that Iraq is on the brink of civil war…

Iraq might indeed collapse into civil war. But I wonder why, if this is something that’s inevitable, it did not happen under Saddam or his predecessors? Iraq has held together as a nation for some time, since 1932, even if you do not count the time spent as an Ottoman province or British protectorate. So why should it fall apart now?

I think what is happening is a fairly transitory phenomenon. Under Saddam, a small minority of Sunnis were in control o9f the country, and they oppressed the Shias and the Kurds brutally. But the Shias and Kurds are the majority, and under democracy, they will run things. The Sunnis are understandably afraid of payback as a result; their resistance now is simply a measure of how oppressive the Saddam regime actually was. It’s rather like the Ulster Protestants resisting joining an independent Ireland.

But that means that what they fear most is for the Americans to leave and leave the Shiites in control. This becomes an argument, in the end, for the US getting out as quickly as possible. If the US gets out, leaving power in the hands of a majority Shia government, the Shiites will either establish control, or they will not. The odds are overwhelming that they will—otherwise the Sunnis would not be as afraid of the possibility as they evidently are.

If they do, they will either behave well or they will not. In either case, the worst will have happened, and this may be enough to end the Sunni insurgency. If they behave badly, something further may have to be done by the world community. But if they act magnanimously, things could settle down soon.

If they cannot maintain control, again, the international community may have to re-involve itself. But it seems worth it to get out and give them a chance as the first best bet to end the conflict.

Might powerful neighbours take advantage of any Iraqi weakness to move in?

On paper, this looks like a real danger. It’s a tough neighbourhood. The Turks might want to prevent the Kurds from establishing an independent state, and to end terrorist incursions from Iraqi Kurdistan. They might even want to annex the Iraqi Turkish minority. Iran, I have heard it said, might move in to take over Shia areas. Saudi Arabia might move in to defend the Sunnis.

But I doubt it. Let’s look at each case.

Turkey wants to preserve a reputation of being a good international citizen. This is especially true with its drive to join the EU. If they tried to annex Turkish areas, this would involve moving right through Kurdistan. This would look like aggression to the rest of the world; it would sever Turkish relations with both Europe and America, completely destroying Turkish foreign polity for generations past. The more so if they moved in to suppress Kurdish independence.

The most they might do, I expect is a temporary Israel-like incursion to suppress terrorist activity. Bad enough, but not the end of Iraq.

And this in turn argues strongly against the Iraqi Kurds pushing for independence, thus tending to hold Iraq together. They might well prefer the protection of the rest of Iraq against any Turkish incursions, as Lebanon sought Syrian protection from Israel.

Iran has religious ties with the Shia Arabs; but they are ethnically distinct. They speak a different language. It is unlikely that Iranian interference would be very popular with the Iraqi Shiites themselves, and the Shiite Arabs should be strong enough in a democratic Iraq to protect their own interests. Since they are a majority, Iran would have little excuse to move in to “protect” them. Nor did Iran show any inclination to move in to protect them in the past, when Saddam was trying to exterminate them and had been considerably weakened by sanctions. If not then, why now, when it would be much riskier?

In any case, want to believe it or not, Iran has really been a pretty responsible international citizen. It has not injected itself into Afghanistan or into Central Asia, in a time when both these regions have been weak and vulnerable. Why would it behave differently toward Iraq?

Then what about Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs? With their strong business and trade ties with the west, it does not seem to be in their interests to do anything to destabilize Iraq. They are innately conservative regimes—if only because they are doing so well as things stand, they are naturally averse to change or to risk. So they are unlikely to do anything that tends towards either, change or risk. I can see them getting involved only to counter an Iranian incursion. Which doesn’t seem likely to happen.

Who’s left? Only Syria, really. Syria might be interested, but it would be like a chicken trying to swallow a camel: Syria is much smaller and poorer than Iraq. Its capabilities are limited.

I have thought from the beginning that the US and Britain should have just overthrown Saddam, handed power quickly to anyone strong enough to hold the country together, and gotten out. Never mind this “democracy” business.

I suppose admirably, they have been more ambitious for the future of Iraq than that. But it still makes sense, I think, to hand things over to the first democratic regime that seems strong enough to be able to hold the country, and leave.

I don’t think we’re far from that point.

Monday, August 28, 2006

McCartney vs. McCartney

Speaking of willing executioners, which we were a few weeks ago…why is there no outrage over the news that Heather Mills McCartney has rejected 30 million pounds as a divorce settlement, and stands a good chance of getting a court to give her instead 200 million pounds, of Paul McCartney’s worldly goods?

After all, what has she done to earn this money? Nothing; had he not married her, Sir Paul would still surely be worth the same amount, or, more likely, somewhat more. She has devoted her time to her “charity work,” her pet causes.

It is Mr. McCartney’s unique genius, his hard work, and his risk taking in investments, that has earned that money. That the British government proposes to seize up to half of it and give it to someone else, against his will, is a clear violation of his fundamental right to the possession and enjoyment of property.

But this is an injustice that goes on many times every day, now, in North America and Europe; and nobody raises a voice against it. What, by the same token, has a doctor’s wife done to make her contribution more valuable than a butcher’s wife? What could be more hypocritical of the “women’s movement” than not to object to this obvious violation of their stated principle of “equal pay for equal work”? Indeed, in the general run of things, the butcher’s wife has probably contributed substantially more to the wealth of her family, and worked harder, than has the doctor’s wife. Why does she get far less?

No, the only fair settlement in a divorce, given the current freedom of women to work, and indeed their special privileges in the world of work, is this: each party takes out of a dissolved marriage everything they took into it; plus a portion of the remainder corresponding to their financial contribution. That is, their income during the marriage relative to the income of the other partner.

Only this can protect citizens from marriage by fraud and divorce for gain.

The one problem with this proposal is that it means a woman who stays at home during the marriage gets nothing other than what she brought into the marriage. In one way this is fair enough: given the current social and employment climate, her decision not to work can be assumed to be entirely voluntary; and the rest of us do not get paid for staying home either. Moreover, her husband has been penalized by this decision, in terms of a lower standard of living, and the greater responsibilities of being sole breadwinner; it is manifestly unjust to expect him to pay more again now for his wife’s having asserting this privilege.

But on the other hand, it is in the interests of children to have a mother stay at home. Therefore, there is perhaps a case for the state to step in at this point, and award the stay-at-home mom some compensation from government funds, if there were children in the marriage. This might amount to a reasonable income for a fixed period, giving her time to retrain. It might be financed from a general divorce tax, which would also serve the useful purpose of discouraging divorces.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Ancient Throne of Ephesus



Continuing our new policy of "all minds in the sewer, all the time," here is the remarkably well-preserved public lavatory of the ancient city of Ephesus.

Privacy was apparently not a major issue to the Romans and Greeks. It was rigged out to deliver fresh water at your feet, though.

Film at eleven.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Native Rights and Wrongs

Dear Abbot:

Regarding what is currently going on at Caledonia: do native people deserve rights the rest of us do not have?

An American in Paris, Ontario


Dear American:

No. This violates the principle of equality before the law on which both the US and Canada were founded.

If recognized native groups deserve extra privileges for being here before others, do I deserve extra privileges, since my relatives arrived in 1789, over those whose ancestors arrived more recently? We could have several different grades of citizenship on that basis.

The dividing line seems more arbitrary when you consider that the current Inuit culture seems to be no older than 600 years; while there have been Europeans in Canada for at least a thousand years. And, as has been noted, most of the Mohawks in Canada—some of my own ancestors, incidentally—moved here from what is now the US, most of them since the Revolution. So are they natives of Canada, or immigrants like the Europeans? After all, Europeans are similarly "native" in whatever countries they came from. Is a Salish Indian from the BC Coast really "native" in Newfoundland? If so, why aren't the Irish-descended Newfoundlanders?

All told, it seems to me that "native" or "aboriginal" status is purely a legal construct.

Don't get me wrong. Treaties are legal agreements and should be enforced. Hence Metis, too, have special rights in Canada: on the basis of the deals under which they sold their lands, on which they were already settled, to the government. But there are no residual or intrinsic rights involved in being a "native," in my mind, beyond the negotiated rights bestowed by treaty. It was a question of a certain group selling their title to a certain piece of land for certain considerations.

It is incumbent on the present government to honour the deal made. A deal is a deal.

On the other hand, what about "native" groups who have not formally sold their claim? That's a tough one. I suppose if they are still using the land in some way, they have some claim to title.

Abbot


Dear Abbot:

Is it really length of tenure that matters? Isn’t it rather the lousy way we treated the natives, taking their land and culture, that we are atoning for?

An American in Paris, Ontario


Dear American:

If the latter, then I submit that nothing is owed. After all, besides paying for the land, “we” (?-the early European settlers) brought the tribes with whom we/they first traded great wealth. These native groups were able to make a lot of money acting as go-betweens with tribes further into the interior. Not to mention getting firearms before their enemies did. They surely welcomed the first Europeans—it was like striking oil.

Remember too, the North American natives were in the Stone Age when the Europeans arrived. So they benefited massively from new technology: the wheel, metals and metal tools of all sorts, all the techniques of settled farming, wool, cotton, weaving, the horse, modern weaponry, writing, printing, settled government, and on and on. Their lives are infinitely wealthier materially now thanks to what the Europeans brought.

How about this thought: should the descendants of those Indians now retroactively be obliged to pay for all this?

No, surely at this late date that would be unjust.

Abbot


Dear Abbot:

I have some trouble with your claim that Europeans have been in Canada for a thousand years. I take it you are referring to the Norse in L’Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland. But there is no evidence that anyone stayed.

An American in Paris, Ontario


Dear American:

It would of course be fairly easy to demonstrate with DNA testing that some of the current residents of Canada still have Danish or Norwegian blood. The Europeans might have been absent for some period, but they showed up again on the Grand Banks. In all likelihood, though, you are right, settlement was not continuous.

But neither was Indian settlement, in Newfoundland, where the Norse settled—was it? Should Newfoundland, at least, then be exempt from any payments to natives, since the present European inhabitants have demonstrably been there longer even continuously than any native group? Remembering too that Newfoundland only signed on to Canada in 1949?

You may argue that this is obviously unfair—Indian settlement in Newfoundland was not continuous largely because the European settlers killed many of the Beothuks.

But the comparison is still apt: according to the Norse sagas, the Norse abandoned Newfoundland largely because of attacks from another people they found living there, whom they called Skraelings.

You may argue that, if a person’s ancestors lived continuously anywhere in Canada for longer than the earliest Europeans lived here, they should still have special status. They needn’t be in the same province. But Canada's present boundaries had no significance in Indian terms. Moreover, the Indians and the Inuit were almost all nomadic; it is fairly unlikely that none of their ancestors ever crossed the border into what is now the US, or indeed across to Russia, for a generation or ten, and pretty impossible for any of them to prove this.

Remember, too, for what it's worth, a Salish Indian in Newfoundland is a fair bit further away from his “ancestral homeland” than a Newfoundlander of Irish extraction.

Abbot


Dear Abbot:

So might is right? If they got pushed off, tough luck?

An American in Paris, Ontario



Dear American:

There is an obvious problem with going back in the past and seeking to restore lands taken from one people by another—there would be no end to it. Not least, logically, Mohawks who pushed Hurons and Algonquins off land within historical times would be equally liable to pay reparations. Cree who pushed Athabaskans off land would have to pay. And on and on forever. Not to mention trying to apply the principle in Europe or Asia!

And remember, in the relatively rare instances in Canada when Indians were “pushed off” a given tract of land, the Indian population had generally declined dramatically over recently preceding years—some historians estimate that the Indian population dropped by about ninety percent during the first few centuries of contact, because of exposure to new European diseases. So even in Indian terms, the land was largely abandoned and unused. And in terms of the new technologies introduced by the Europeans, the same tract of land could now support many times more inhabitants than it had at the height of Indian population. So it is doubtful that letting Europeans settle on the land caused the Indians, on balance, any sort of deprivation. It was probably a win-win situation at the time.

Abbot



Dear Abbot:

It is not just the question of the land. Haven’t we been beastly to the Indians since? What, for example, of the residential schools? What about denying the Indians rights to hunt and fish on land promised to them in the treaties?

An American in Paris, Ontario


Dear American:

Of course I have heard of the residential schools. They were all the rage in the Sixties, when enlightened thought called for desegregation. Who would have guessed then that Indians would have ended up preferring segregation?

But in any case, surely reparations are not called for. After all, wouldn’t the British and Canadian governments then also have to pay reparations to their own upper classes, who have always favoured residential schools for their offspring? Harrow, Eton, Rugby, Upper Canada College, and so forth…

As to rights to hunt and fish, this is a simple matter. We need to go back to the texts of the actual treaties and see what was agreed. As I said, the government has a duty to honour the treaties.

Here, for example, is what Treaty Six actually says about hunting and fishing rights: the natives would “have right to pursue their avocations of hunting and fishing throughout the tract surrendered as hereinbefore described, subject to such regulations as may from time to time be made by Her Government of Her Dominion of Canada, and saving and excepting such tracts as may from time to time be required or taken up for settlement, mining, lumbering or other purposes by Her said Government of the Dominion of Canada, or by any of the subjects thereof duly authorized therefor by the said Government.”

In other words, their right to continue to hunt and fish was limited to crown land not being used for any other purpose, and only so long as it was not being otherwise used. And subject to any laws or regulations the government saw fit.

I suspect this has been honoured.

Abbot


Dear Abbot:

But did the natives really enter into these treaties freely? Weren’t they acting under duress, facing the threat of extinction from the rapacious British? The British, for example, had purposefully introduced devastating diseases, and encouraged the Indians to war with each other.

An American in Paris, Ontario


Dear American:

Wait a minute. Do you have solid evidence of that? That Europeans deliberately introduced diseases to Indians in Ontario? I know it is a claim often heard, but when I tried to track it down myself once, the only instance I could find was one in Fort Pitt, in what became the US, in the seventeenth century, and it was a scandal at the time. Hardly European policy; although atrocities can happen in any army.

And British relations with the Indians were very good at the time of the Revolution. Most Indians sided with the British, and the continuing Indian pro-British activity was cited by the Americans as an important cause of the War of 1812. A.k.a. “The British and Indian War.”
As to wars among Indians, I think it was more the reverse: that Europeans tended to get dragged into wars between Indian groups. Anthropologists calculate that casualties from war in Stone Age cultures are much higher proportionately than in modern states, even given the “total wars” of the last century. A typical Indian tribe before European contact was probably more or less constantly at war.

The chance for peace and a guarantee of their lives and lands against aggressors might have been reason enough for many tribes to welcome British suzerainty.

As to the general claim that “the Indians lost their land,” I would say, no, they did not. They are, by and large, still living on it; and they have, by and large, been generously compensated for any lands they have sold. By contrast, it is those who are of European descent who have largely lost their ancestral lands. I would guess that my Huguenot French ancestors would have preferred to remain on their lands in France. They were thrown off them. I imagine that my Irish Catholic ancestors, too, would have preferred to remain on their lands in Ireland. They were thrown off them. My US Loyalist ancestors would probably really prefer to still own large tracts of what is now Brooklyn, New York. They were thrown off them.

By contract, in fact, the native people largely still live where their ancestors have lived. For enjoying a privilege my own ancestors would have dearly loved, but were deprived of, should I now be obliged to pay money to the native people who did not have to move?


Abbot

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Newt, Salamander Like, Rises Again from the Ashes

Rumor has it that Newt Gingrich is lining up a schedule of appearances in Iowa. This presumably means a presidential run.

Good idea. Gingrich has not been in active politics for a while, but if he wants to get back in, this could be a real opportunity for him.

There is a very clear and empty lane on the right in the 2008 Republican presidential race. So far all the big names, confirmed and possible, seem to be running towards the left of the party—that is, the centre in terms of the general population. Looks like a possible traffic jam there: Giuliani, McCain, Pataki, Romney. All competing for the same Republican voters in the primaries. Huge opportunity for an established champion of the right.

On top of that, should Gingrich fall short, he would be ideally placed for the VP nomination. If Giuliani, McCain, Pataki, or Romney won, all of them would need a certain balance on the ticket: first, someone from the south, and second, someone with solid credentials in Congress. Only McCain has congressional experience, after all, and even he has a reputation as a maverick. He would need a good party man with connections and skills in dealmaking.

If Gingrich injects himself back into the public and the party consciousness, he may be the one indispensable man. If the race is close, he could also be the kingmaker, if not the nominee.
My choice right now for strongest Republican ticket in 2008: Giuliani – Gingrich.

More Bathroom Fun from Turkey


In Turkey, public restrooms are private enterprise. People open up WCs and charge for use. This leads to fun things like unique decor and WC advertising.

This one is on the grounds of the ancient city of Ephesus.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

More Bathroom Humour


Here is a glimpse of a traditional Turkish toilet, but with somewhat unusual decoration.

This is from the same rest station featured previously.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Toilets of the World



One of these days I want to do a book on toilets of the world. For example, in Schiphol Airport's men's, they have a fine collection of miniature toilets, plus perfect flies painted here and there on the white porcelain fixtures. Here in the Gulf, every home lavatory includes a bidet. My wife used to fill them with mothballs on the assumption they were urinals.

Seeing the toilets is an important part of any foreign trip. It's why God invented Montezuma's revenge.

Here's a lovely example on the highway between Canakkale and Izmir in Turkey, just around a mountain bend. It's even better with the sound effects: as you sit on the head, a little voice says "I love you."

Old Joseph and his Sons



Here we have an eleventh-century image, from the Church of the Blessed Saviour in Chora, Istanbul, of Mary and Joseph reporting for the preliminary census in Nazareth. Note Joseph's grey hair--re the immediate previous post. Mary was fourteen at the time.

And who are those three young men standing behind Joseph?

Those are his grown sons--from a previous marriage.

This explains another puzzle in the Bible: the apostle James is referred to as a "brother"of Jesus; and elsewhere reference is made to "brothers" of Jesus. Yet Mary is held to have remained a virgin throughout her life. Moreover, as he was dying on the cross, Jesus asked the apostle John to take care of Mary as if she were his own mother. It would have made no sense for him to have done this if she had any surviving sons.

So, according to this Orthodox tradition, Jesus had half-brothers, sons of Joseph by a different mother.

But it is also true that the same word is used in Aramaic for "brother"and "cousin"; so that James et al may only have been kinsmen of Jesus.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Scandal of Child Brides

The local paper, here in the Gulf, is in a crusading mood. It reports on a 20-year-old Indian woman marrying an 80-year-old Saudi sheikh, referring to it—in a news story, mind—as “an endless circle of exploitation.”

Really? Let’s look at historical precedents. Muhammad married Ayesha when she was about nine and he was around 54. That’s the Prophet Muhammad, founder of the Muslim faith.

Perhaps, however, Christians are inclined to scoff, that this showed earthly failings on his part. Then consider Mary and Joseph. Recently, I was in Turkey, and had the chance to see some of the earliest surviving Christian mosaics. They regularly show Joseph as an old man with grey beard and hair and grown sons, while, by tradition, Mary was fourteen when they married. It stands to reason: otherwise what happened to Joseph? For he disappears from the Bible account by the time Jesus has grown up.

Jews? Look up Abishag. Or note the following words of the Song of Songs, that is Solomon’s: We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?”

An endless circle of exploitation indeed.

The prejudice against age differences in marriage is apparently a modern one, and apparently just that, a prejudice. Is it any more creditable to be opposed to marriages that are intergenerational than against marriages that are interracial?

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Ton of Bricks Chorus

One thing that turns my crank in terms of music is what I call the “ton of bricks chorus”: a repeated simple phrase that becomes extremely powerful. It’s just an effect I love.

I guess because it hints at the possibility of perfection. Given Coleridge’s definition of poetry as “the best words in the best order,” a very simple short phrase could conceivably be absolutely perfect as a poem.

But it is also because extremely simple wording can somehow convey a great deal of emotion—just as music, completely non-representational, can.

Folk music generally is good at this. I like Leadbelly’s “Irene, goodnight. Irene, goodnight. Goodnight, Irene, Goodnight Irene, I’ll get you in my dreams.” (So the original, toned down by most singers to “see”). Makes you feel it; just those simple words.

Stan Rogers does it well. I love his “I’ll go to sea no more.” You got to love anyone with the nerve to rhyme “orange” with “born,” by the way.

Country and Western music is inclined to the same thing, to repeating quite simple phrases. But to my mind, it usually does not do it nearly so well. It lacks subtletly.

“Water—cool, clear, water.” This makes you feel the taste of water like perhaps nothing else ever written in English can. But thirst is not that much as an emotion.

“Ghost riders in the sky.” Nicely scary, but too obviously trying.

Ian Tyson has a good one: “Irving Berlin is a hundred years old today. The wind’s gone and blown my woman away.” A bit too complicated to be ideal, but pretty strong.

So does Jerry Jeff Walker: “Mr. Bojangles—dance.”

Johnny Cash had the touch. His best, to my mind, is “I still miss someone.” Kind of gets it across.

Creedence Clearwater Revival (John Fogerty) used to regularly try for this effect. “Who’ll stop the rain?” “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” “I put a spell on you—because you’re mine.” Not bad, but not the best. Again, too obviously trying.

Smokey Robinson’s “My girl; my girl, my girl; talking ‘bout my girl,” is surely in the running.

Who’s the best? I have three nominations: John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen. Also close to the three best songwriters since the Sixties, interestingly enough.

Lennon regularly tried for this effect, and usually fell short. “All you need is love.” “Nothing’s going to change my world.” Too abstract, too philosophical. But it is hard to beat this one:

“A girl. A girl.”

Leonard Cohen, a poet before he was a songwriter, is a master. There are many examples: “It’s closing time.” “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”—but sung in a tired tone. But his best, in terms of plain impact, is perhaps his simplest:

“I’m your man.”

Can’t make it plainer than that.

Unless, perhaps, you’re Bob Dylan.

Again, many examples. I love “And I know one thing:/ nobody can sing/ the blues like Blind Willie McTell.” Or, more simply, “Inside the walls/ the walls of Red Wing.” Or “Any day now;/ any day now;/ I shall be released.”

But you and even he can’t ever beat:

“I want you
I want you
I want you
So bad.”

Or does anyone else have another nomination?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Government and No Government

On an email list to which I subscribe, the question has been raised: which is worse, bad government or no government?

I think, on reflection, any government at all, even Hitler, is better than no government.

There is an economic theory, by the great Mancur Olsen, that claims to explain why this would be so. Let’s imagine government is purely parasitic, purely a thief. Nevertheless, it is better for everyone else to have one big thief in control, than many little thieves. This is because thieves will act purely in their own self-interest. But if there are many little thieves, their self-interest is in taking as much as they can right away. Because if they do not, the next thief will get it. But if there is only one big thief, his own self interest limits how much he is going to take, because it is better for him not to kill his host: to ensure that there is still more to take tomorrow, or ten years from now.

Ergo, one government, even the worst, is better then none, and what Hobbes called “the war of all against all.”

Even a homicidal one. I read somewhere recently that, if the casualty rate in the wears of the Twentieth Century had been comparable to that in wars between “primitive” tribes, the death toll would have been ten times what it was. So that seems to say it all: no government is ten times worse than the worst government we can think of. The average person in Nazi Germany was a lot better off, and a lot safer, than the average person in, say, the pre-Columbian Amazon basin.

Now my thoughts start getting more speculative. Why is there nevertheless for many a nostalgia for the wild frontier? Why does a state of chaos seem to cause a creative ferment, and if it does, could it be worth the carnage?

First, it seems to me that any kind of standards constrain the bottom of the bell curve. But they also constrain the top. If one is, for example, significantly more moral than the average, laws designed to keep you moral are going to do no good, to you, and are only likely, however inadvertently, to limit you and prevent you from doing what you ought and otherwise would. Similarly, if you are significantly more intelligent than the average, laws designed to preserve some minimum standards are only going to constrain you from doing the best that you otherwise could, from being fully creative. This is why, for example, the great artists tend to hate the academy and the established rules of genre.

It follows that the most moral among us, and the brightest, will be drawn to situations in which there are the fewest rules. This once drew the best and the brightest to immigrant societies like the US, Alberta, or Singapore, and to the frontier. It also has always drawn many of the best and brightest to the expat life, where there are inevitably fewer social expectations placed on one’s behaviour. So also to the missionary enterprise. I have certainly found personally, again and again, that the sort who becomes an expat is generally exceptionally intelligent.

There is often also the illusion, in such groups, that they can do without rules: because this group also tends to be the exceptionally moral, the missionaries. Dylan said, “to live outside the law, you must be honest.” Conversely, if you are honest, you can live outside the law.

But this thesis, and this experience, always comes a cropper with time. Because situations of lawlessness also inevitably and necessarily draw the psychopath, the person who is seeking to avoid law for the opposite reason, because his abilities are below standard, or his morals are below standard. This tends to floods in as the second wave, the Charles Manson moment, the Stalin moment. Because this group is less intelligent, and so naturally slower to discover the new frontier.

As liberating as the first wave may feel, it is necessary not to get carried away. You had just better have proper law and order set up before the second wave hits, or things will not be pretty.

It seems to be a predictable cycle.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Boom and Bust

A few weeks ago, on an email list to which I subscribe, other Baby Boomers were lamenting how the revolution they had hoped for in the Sixties never came to pass.

And my response, at that time, was “What do you mean? Baby Boomers are in power everywhere. Necessarily, the world is just about as we wanted it. We have met the enemy, and they is us.

Basically, in my opinion, the entire counterculture screwed up almost from the beginning.

The problem was that our civilization, impressed by the accomplishments of science, had gone overboard and forgotten that there was anything else. Scientism, the elevation of science to an infallible explanation for all existence, had become a serious idolatry. Time magazine announced that God was dead. B.F. Skinner and psychology generally maintained that human beings were themselves no more than programmable machines. Architects were calling homes “machines to live in.” Urban planners were building vast suburbs with spaghetti roads on the same principle. Everyone seemed to have forgotten values like beauty, mystery, emotion, imagination, the heart, the soul. In a word, the spiritual.

Worse, the vast postwar move from the countryside into the suburbs had cut many people’s roots. Much traditional wisdom had been lost.

What was needed was a rediscovery, a revival, of the spiritual.

And this is almost what the counterculture seemed to be; it is almost what it thought it was doing.

But it manifestly turned into the opposite: into the “Me” decade of the Seventies, and the materialism of the yuppies of the 1980s. Only a few Jesus freaks and Moonies and Hare Krishnas seem to have passed through that door into the spiritual realm.

I think this is because the young people who started and first embraced the counterculture made a typical youthful error from the beginning. Perhaps misled by the devaluation of the spiritual in the society they received, they ultimately mistook the physical for the spiritual. Like a TV ad I saw once urging us to look after our “inner being”—and what is was promoting was regular physical exercise!

Isn’t this very like trying to find the spiritual world by taking a pill?

Perhaps it is telling that the two most important creators of the counterculture, Jack Kerouac and Ken Kesey, were both serious, national-caliber athletes: Kerouac a football player, and Kesey a wrestler. In The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe describes almost all the early male hippies as having “a hell of a build.” After all, as Wolfe suggests, it is athletes who are most familiar with the idea of taking drugs to enhance performance. The thing about athletes, though, is that their general focus is pretty skewed towards their bodies and their physical being.

Similarly, everyone in the Sixties seemed to be convinced that we, in modern Western society, were “out of touch with our bodies.” And we were “out of touch with nature.”

This always struck me as absurd. With out concern for our physical comforts, and our fascination with empirical science, I doubt there has been another culture in human history so thoroughly in touch with their bodies and with nature as we are.

To me, Marxism was always a part of the scientistic, mechanistic world view. It saw humans as no more than production facilities. Yet instead of rejecting it, the counterculture embraced it. The same with feminism, which seemed and seems to believe that no human being has any worth beyond what they could earn in the marketplace, denying all the beauty of the difference between the sexes. Denying love itself.

As did the so-called “free love” movement. Symptomatic of the whole, confusing sex with love. But the truth is that casual sex requires a suppression of the emotions, in particular of any emotional attachment to other human beings.

But to the hippies, wasn’t emotion of any kind a bad thing? Doesn’t being “cool” ultimately mean being emotionally cold? Wasn’t it largely emotion that they called being “hung up”?

And besides stripping life of all emotion, weren’t they also stripping it of thought? The whole idea was to be spontaneous: to “be here now,” as Baba Ram Dass put it, not to think of either the present or the future, or, as much as possible, of anything at all? It is as Ken Kesey reportedly said, admiringly, of Neal Cassidy, the idol of the entire movement: “he doesn’t have to think any more” (Wolfe, p. 159).

Far from urging nonconformity, the hippie movement was intensely conformist from the beginning. It was all about living together in constant close proximity, and everyone doing and thinking everything as a group. Nobody was supposed to think independently or go off on their own. “You’re either on the bus, or off the bus,” as Kesey’s slogan went. Read Kerouac’s On the Road and Dharma Bums, and marvel how every single hippie who ever lived was a carbon copy of either Dean Moriarty or Japhy Ryder. The idea was to be a two-dimensional character, and to see others as two-dimensional characters.

The same urge to live only in the here and now also wipes out imagination, of course; one could hardly be daydreaming if one must be forever alert to the moment.

So in the end, the whole point of the hippie movement was to intensify the dehumanization and rootlessness of modern life. To turn living men into machines.

People trekked through Islamic lands, Buddhist lands, Hindu lands, but they remained, for the most part, only tourists. Few seriously delved into what those religions taught, much less sincerely tried to practice them. They bought the handbags; then they went home.

Similarly, people took drugs, said “Oh wow, I have a soul,” and then drew none of the obvious conclusions. It all stayed hopelessly “recreational.” Just another alcohol. Most people went back to making money and gathering material things. Instead of filling up, the churches more rapidly emptied. Instead of rediscovering moral values, everyone took up random sex with random sexes. And killing babies.

The proper response should have been to sign up for one of the great world religions. Some few did, to their credit—but even many who thought they did, fudged it. They didn’t really take the path, they tried to make the path. They reinterpreted Buddhism or Islam or Hinduism or Christianity to suit their own tastes and desires. This does not work: trying to manipulate the spirit world is, at best, playing the sorcerer’s apprentice.


A man was looking carefully for something under a streetlamp. A passerby stopped and asked if he could help.

“What is it you’ve lost?”

“The key to my front door.”

“Exactly where did you lose it?”

“Over there, on my doorstep.”

“Then why are you searching for it here?”

“Because the light here is so much better."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Africville

Surviving former residents of Africville have recently held another reunion to demand compensation from the government for the leveling of that community back in 1964.

But the anger over Africville today seems odd to those of us who were around when it was demolished.

For we remember this as a triumph for civil rights. No more would Halifax’s negroes (as they called themselves then) live in a squalid ghetto, without electricity or running water. No, now we were enlightened; we understood that we were all one community. There would be no more separate and unequal. We believed in integration, in desegregation.

It seems that blacks, or African-Canadians (as they call themselves now) have changed their mind. Now they actually pine for the days of segregation and apartheid.

That is bad enough: a lot of government money and time and energy wasted.

But it is something else to be actually demanding compensation from their fellow citizens for doing as they asked back in the sixties. That is perpetual victimhood. That is scrounging for handouts. That ought to be beneath any man’s dignity.

Some argue that the $500 each of Africville’s 400 residents was given for resettlement was too little. And it does sound like a small sum today. But was it so small back in 1964? Remembering that the people in Africville were squatters, with no title to their homes? And their homes were shacks with no water or electricity, built on industrially-zoned land? Legally speaking, after all, they were entitled to nothing.

It is well to remember that the whole deal was overseen and approved at the time by a citizen’s panel with majority black representation.

I suppose what is fair, if there are some blacks who today think this was a raw deal, is for the government to build some shacks entirely equivalent to those of Africville, and give them to those former residents who will, in return, pay back the $500 plus accrued interest since 1964.

By my calculation, assuming ten percent interest per annum, they could pay just $27,381.85 to get back their tarpaper shack.

But of course, without a title deed.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Revelations

Every boy knows there is something magical about trains, and sailing ships, and airplanes, at least if you pilot them solo, and horses.

It is the mystery of the journey. It is the same thing that drives us to travel instead of stay at home for the perfect vacation. The same thing that makes the life of the cowboy or the sailor so attractive, or makes urban romantics pine for a cabin in the countryside.

It is the well-recognized urge to “get away from it all.”

To travel is to be yanked out of the everyday context of the world; to be pulled out of our daily lives.

It is a dress rehearsal for death. And the fact that it is essentially pleasurable for us promises us something about death itself.

So said, then the archetype of all travel is the pilgrimage. The pilgrimage up a mountain, perhaps, for a mountain too pulls us up and away from the world, in a literal way.

Today I climbed to the tomb of St. John the Evangelist, St. John the Divine.

Hence this revelation.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Challenge of Islam

On a tour of the ruins if Didymus, Miletus, and Priene, our Muslim guide took the opportunity to explain why he believed Islam, and not Christianity, was the true religion. First, he argued, Islam is the latest; so it sums up all the previous ones. Second, if you accept that God has a son, he said, that means two gods. If he has a mother, that means three gods.

Let me respond with the Christian view.

Islam is not the latest religion. If this is the test of truth, then the guide ought to convert to Sikhism, or Bahai, or Mormonism, all of which are later. Along with a thousand others.

He might argue, in response, that these are much smaller faiths than Islam. But then, if Islam’s claim to truth is founded on being larger than any succeeding religion, it must still stand aside—for Christianity, which has about twice as many adherents as Islam.

As to the problem of God being two—this arises only if you posit unity as superior to diversity. Is it? If it is, you have a whopping problem of evil: if God is all-good and all-powerful, how did diversity then come to exist? In creating creation, and man as an independent being, and so creating diversity, wasn’t God then himself preferring evil to good?

Consider this too: are you arguing that God cannot divide himself? If not, then he is not all-powerful, and so he is not God. Alternatively, are you arguing that he can, but he will not? But, in creating the universe, he did.

So it is logical to assert that God has chosen to divide himself into three distinct persons. As God, he can; and all creation shows he values such diversity.

This also neatly solves that old philosophical riddle of whether God can create a stone too heavy for him to lift. Yes he can: God the creator can make a stone that God incarnate as the Son cannot lift.

Now here is another philosophical riddle. By definition, God is both eternal and perfect, right? It seems to follow that he cannot change; for any change would be from one state to another, and both states would then be incomplete versions of God in themselves, hence imperfect.

But if this is so, how is creation possible? For before creation, God would not yet have been a creator, and hence incomplete in comparison to his later being. More broadly, if we say God cannot change, we are obviously limiting him, and he is not omnipotent.

To reconcile this, it actually seems absolutely necessary to posit two or more separate persons of God: both “before” and “after” in the above equation must eternally coexist. In other words, God has always had (at least) two persons or states, the one eternally begetting the other. If so, God has always been creator, and did not change in state or nature through the material creation. The one is the uncreated creative agent, and the other the eternally created logos, the essence of creation. The former does not change; the latter can.

Therefore, in insisting on the absolute unity of God, Islam seems to have here a philosophical problem which Christianity resolves.

So there.

Castro is Superman: Trudeau

A particularly chilling example of dictator worship by Sacha Trudeau in the Toronto Star today.

Excerpt:

"A few years later, when Michel was around 8 years old, I remember him complaining to my mother that my older brother and I both had more friends than he did. My mother told him that, unlike us, he had the greatest friend of all: he had Fidel."

Kind of makes you mist up, don't it?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Those Who Do Not Remember History

Current CBC headline:

Low aboriginal graduation rate a concern for all Canadians: Report.

Ten or twenty years from now, someone will come up with the solution: pull the young people off the reserve and put them in centralized residential schools, large enough to have full facilities and away from peer pressure not to perform.

Reparations will be paid.

Peace in Lebanon?

This looks promising: an Arab League proposal to have the Israelis withdraw from South Lebanon in favour of the Lebanese Army. The latter would then occupy and shut down any Hezbollah sites.

It looks great for Lebanon because they retain their full sovereignty and get the Israelis out.

It looks good for Israel because it gives then an exit strategy from a messy situation. And it fulfills their war aims. Presumably Israel will have taken out most of Hezbollah's current offensive capability already. And it makes Lebanon take responsibility for any future trouble.

It looks good for future peace also because it comes from the Arab League. This means the Arab world will back it. Their prestige is involved.

It looks good for the US because it gives the lead to the Arabs. This wıll ameliorate resentment over perceived US interference in the region. And it will be a triumph for the Arab moderates and the principle of negotiation.

Let's hope everyone sees their best interests and gets behind it.

Winning by Losing

Good news this week for Joe Lieberman - he lost the Connecticut Democratic primary.

Here's what happens next. He runs and wins as an independent. Then the Republicans eye him seriously as a vice-presidential candidate. It would advertise the proposition that the Democrats are veering off further left. That there is no more room for moderates in the Democratic Party. And that Democrats unhappy with this are welcome in the Republican party.

And Lieberman's reputation for honesty makes this even better: boosts the Republican "values" argument that he was rejected by the Democrats.

Lieberman also gets brownıe points from his new party if this happens for taking a seat from the Democrats.

I think the Democrats of Connecticut just shot themselves in the head.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

I Saw Satan's Throne

I saw Satan’s throne the other day.

The Book of Revelations describes ancient Pergamum, now a picturesque ruin, as the throne or seat of Satan.

Why?

I think I know. Pergamum was famous in the ancient world, among other things, for its enthusiastic cult of the emperor, originally the emperor Trajan. This was the main feature of its acropolis.

This makes sense. The Book of Revelation is no fan of earthly power—aka the Whore of Babylon. The civil power, elevated to the object of worship, becomes Satan himself; the anti-God. Satan is the “lord of this world,” in the New Testament. It follows that the lord of this world is Satan.

Deep breath: it follows that patriotism is idolatry. While it seems selfless, what else is nation really than ego written large? And what else was Nazism but nation elevated to the object of worship?

This makes the Byzantine Empire a profanity: it sought to combine the heavenly with the earthly power. I find it disturbing to see mosaics of Jesus or Mary flanked by the emperor and empress. Especially since most emperors seemed to gain the throne through treachery and murder.

Visitors to Constantinople in later days described it as a lawless place, a place where “crime is not punished by law and never entirely comes to light” (Odo of Deuil, writing during the Second Crusade), where “the worst always wins out” (Nicetas Choniates, 12th century).

I suspect this is a direct consequence of the confusion of earthly with heavenly power: the message is that might makes right.

The Population Bomb

My guide to the ancient city of Miletus, one of the places where European civilization began, observed that Turkey is growing by 1.5 million souls a year. He explains that Muslims believe children take you by the hand and pull you into paradise. Having children is a moral duty. There are no monks in Islam.

This has certain implications for Europe, because they have stopped making children there.

It is an amazing thing to watch a culture commit mass suicide. But that is what we have been watching in Europe over the last hundred years. First the fratricidal First World War. Then the deliberate holocaust of the Second. Now the culture wars and the holocaust of the next generation.

Meantime, fortunately or unfortunately, there is a growing tide on the fringes of Europe waiting to sweep in.

As it has been waiting for over a thousand years.

So much is obvious.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Death before Dishonour

It seems the Turkish government has just released a formal study of the problem of “honour killings”; something feminists have been raising a good deal of concern about.

And guess what? It turns out that 60 percent of all victims of honour killings are men (The New Anatolian, July 29-30, 2005). It is not a “women’s issue”—it is just that we never hear about it if it happens to a man.

It is also interesting to note that such killings are far more common in the modernized, Europeanized, relatively wealthy West of the country, and in the big cities of Istanbul and Izmir, than they are in the East or in poor rural areas.

Honour killings do not seem to be a standard feature of Turkish or of Muslim society, but a phenomenon of modernization. They are perhaps the result, firstly, of a clash between two value systems, and, secondly, of the relative anonymity, rootlessness, and lack of social support systems in the Westernized cities.

If so, the feminist call to “modernize” the laws of Islamic countries to change the traditional role of women might cause more deaths from honour killings, not fewer. In fact, that’s where I’d put my money.

Do feminists care?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Advice for Women

What can a woman do to attract the attention of men?

Geez, I’m so glad somebody finally asked. I’m 53 years old, long past it all myself, and no woman has ever asked me—until yesterday, when the editor of a small magazine did. And I have so much to say. For many years, it’s seemed to me that the average woman was doing just about everything wrong.

If women do not want men’s attention, that’s their business. But if they do, it would be pretty easy to stand out from the crowd and get all the male attention a girl could handle. The mere fact that no woman has asked me for advice on this in 53years suggests to me how little effort the average woman bothers to put into it—but then, I can’t recall ever asking a woman for similar advice myself. But since nobody seems to be going about the thing systematically, it would be dead easy for any woman who wanted to do it, to sweep the field.

I’ve known many women, too, beautiful women, good women, who could not get the interest of a man. And the reason for it seemed generally simple, obvious, and easy to fix, had they bothered to ask. One does not, after all, volunteer such information. One is liable to get a handbag across the chops.

First, forget having to be beautiful. Assuming you are not positively ugly, nose warts and moustache and all, you have all that you need. Actually, don’t even worry about the moustache. I hear bearded ladies from circus sideshows used to do quite well. Even an ugly girl, if she is charming, is likely to attract a man who will think of her as his very own hidden prize. But so long as you are pleasant to look at, I believe you can compete with any other woman for any other man. The prettier woman really has no advantage at all. Beyond that, it is personality; and the individual taste of the man.

First, avoid being fashionable. I imagine this is important to women as a matter of status with other women. But it is counterproductive in terms of the opposite sex. Simple principle: if you look like everyone else, you will not get noticed. If you dress distinctively, men are obviously more likely to notice you. And to see you as a human being. Men know nothing of fashion anyway, and care less.

Best not to dress too expensively. This lights up two warning signs for men: it suggests that you are relatively frivolous; and that you like to spend money, probably unwisely. Since he may be supplying some of that money in the future, this is unlikely to recommend you to a man. Even a man who has gobs of money, and would be eager to spend it on you, would like at least to believe that he can make your life better by doing this, not just keep you in the lifestyle to which you are accustomed.

So how should you dress? Simple formula, which has actually been scientifically proven. Men like women. So the more distinctly feminine, and un-masculine, you can make yourself look, all else being equal, the more attention you are going to get from men. That means skirts or dresses instead of pants. Frills and sheer fabrics and feminine colours. Long hair. Shaved legs and armpits. Shave the moustache, if you have to. Feminists may call you a sellout. But male hearts will melt.

Avoid expensive-looking jewelry—see note about spending money, above. But costume jewelry is fine, if it is to your own taste. I know a woman who makes quite an impression by wearing a brace of dangly bangles on her wrists.

My own advice is not to show skin. Cover up as much as possible. Sure, if you want quick sex, showing skin works. Men will understand that you want sex, and whom with does not really matter to you. Many men will be happy to oblige. They want to make you happy. If, however, you want a relationship, showing skin is counter-productive. It advertises to men that you lack commitment. Men who seek commitment will avoid you. (And those who have sex with you may be doing it out of pity.)

You are also forcing competition with all other women on the sheer basis of body shape. I leave it to you do decide whether that is wise in your particular case. But, since men are predisposed to like women, if you cover up more, men are inclined to fill in the gaps to your advantage.

This is the power of your feminine mystique. Bare too much, and you are waiving this powerful ally—the male imagination.

Don’t kill yourself trying to get and stay thin. Maybe being thin gains status with other women; but not with men. Some men like thin women, but it is not the general preference. Don’t believe me? Take a look at any men’s magazine. If anything, the figures men will apparently pay to look at are on the plump side.

Best not to be too fat or too thin, but within a fairly wide range, you will find some men who prefer all body types.

And don’t believe it when they—feminists—tell you men do not like intelligent women. In all times and places, the more intelligent and accomplished a woman has been, the more desirable she has been as a wife. This is perfectly predictable and more or less self-evident—an intelligent woman is likely to have intelligent children, and to be able to contribute more to her husband’s welfare. By no means should any woman try to hide her light under a bushel. She will get less, not more, attention, and such deception is only likely to produce a less desirable matchup. Always best to be yourself.

Don’t, on the other hand, compete with a man. Love is not a struggle for power. It is not a matter of master or mistress and slave. It is working together and helping each other. If the man has some special talent or ability, appreciate it, praise him for it, and benefit from it. As he should your special talents.

Before feminism this was easier, because men and women tended to focus on different spheres. Women’s accomplishments tended to be in the arts--music, painting, cooking, dancing, and so on—while men’s were usually in more practical areas—commerce, mechanics, engineering, and so forth. Today, it takes more care not to compete, because women have largely moved into traditional male fields.

Feminism may win you status among other women, but it is surely counterproductive if you want attention from men. Not surprisingly, men do not like being put down. Who would? Who would deliberately walk into an abusive relationship?

Anyway, feminism is female herd thinking. Accordingly, feminists do not strike the average man as very bright. Men are bound to be more impressed, and more likely to notice you, if you say something they have not heard before, than if you repeat the standard feminist line.

Another common mistake, which should be obvious, but apparently isn’t to most women. Do not talk too much about previous attachments. Especially, no bedroom gossip. If you speak favourably about previous boyfriends, the man you are with will feel less special. If you speak unfavourably, or reveal bedroom secrets, he will understand that one day you may talk of him similarly. Never kiss and tell. Answer questions if asked.

Similarly, why pry into his past affairs?

Avoid talking too much in general. Feminists will howl at this, and insist that studies show men talk more than women. I doubt this; but even if it is true, it does not matter. It is still true that women who talk a lot are a big problem for many men. Men crave peace and quiet. Too many women, otherwise good women, women I know personally, drive men away simply by talking too much. Most cultures are aware of this problem: in Korea, for example, traditionally, the bride was given as a wedding gift by her parents a carved duck with a ribbon tying its beak shut.

Part of the problem is no doubt that men are interested in talking about different things than women. Men are not interested in exchanging gossip. Men do not say things just for the sake of “being there for you.” This is the sort of thing God made other women for. Get a friend. A boyfriend is not the same thing.

So keep some things to yourself; but don’t tell lies. Be straight with a man. Be yourself. A real relationship is founded on trust and openness. You start out telling lies, and you begin by undermining the whole thing. You will be caught out, and everything will be lost.

I hope this helps someone. Perhaps some women will gag on one or another suggestion. But really, if you can see clear to doing just some of this, it is likely to improve your experience with the opposite sex.

I encourage male readers to add their own suggestions as comments. And female readers (do I have any?) to add their suggestions on how men can be more interesting to women.

On Hearing a Salvation Army Band

Faithful readers who wonder why I have not been posting more recently are advised that it is no easy thing to type English on a Turkish keyboard.


As I was listening to the Janissary Band in the grounds of Topkapi Palace the other day, I realized that military bands and military music are no insignificant thing. The janissaries, the Ottoman Empire’s elite soldiers, are long gone, but this band lingers on, their heart and soul. I could imagine being an Austrian soldier hearing that music approach, then seeing that band in its bright costumes, and finding it hard not to lose all courage. At the same time, I could imagine being a Turkish soldier, and being filled by this sound with confidence in my own invincibility. How could such strong and perfect music be defeated?

Military bands matter, and wise militaries spend some time on them: the Scots with their massed pipers, the Ulstermen with their fifes and drums; the Americans with their marching brass bands. The bugler, the piper, and the drummer boy: show me an army that gives them prominence, and I’ll show you a powerful army. At least before the din of the modern battlefield drowned out all such sound.

Why? Because any battle or war is conceptually a conflict between two competing visions of order—most obviously battle order, the discipline of the two armies, but by implication and extension the social order behind each army, and beyond that again ultimately even of cosmic order. As music is pure order, it is especially emblematic of this.

The Romans were so effective in battle, I am told, because every man was responsible for his fellow, striking not the man attacking him to the front, but the man attacking his neighbour to the side. Roman tactics were thus an impressive feat of military discipline and social solidarity, each man placing his life in the hands of a neighbour.

The Greek phalanx also required a good deal of discipline and coordinated movement. So did the famous British square.

So a state that has a more deeply ingrained sense of social solidarity is going to have a distinct advantage on the battlefield. Over time, this advantage is likely to prove decisive. The interesting result is liable to be that history becomes a progress from less to greater, or weak to stronger, social organization.

One of the great advantages of democracies, for example, is that they tend to be able to face adversity, and not crack. The social order holds. Tyrannies tend to collapse suddenly. So that, over the long run, democracies have tended to win out over tyrannies.

But what holds people together best is a strong ideal. Nowadays, most states are organized on the basis of ethnicity, so that they are essentially equal on this score. But this was perhaps clearer in the days of the great empires, like the Ottomans. For empires are not built on ethnicity, by and large, but on some ideal. Every empire carried in its vision the implicit or explicit assumption that it was the proper government for the entire world.

A competition between empires was therefore a competition between competing cosmologies, different visions of cosmic order. A competition in which, moreover, by the same logic explored above, the more perfect order normally won.

So the best organized band playing the most rousing music was part of the test, and some early indication of who was likely to win. If one side’s soldiery heard for themselves that the other side clearly had the better band, the better music and the more disciplined musicians, they had every reason to fear for their cause and their lives. Indeed, they had reason to believe that their cause was not just.

Now if this much is true, it seems to follow that the progress of history, of the mind, will have been from less to greater order—as Aristotle indeed believed it was. Hypothetically ending eventually in perfect order, the celestial city, the New Jerusalem. Not just a will-o’-the –wisp, but something predictable as the end of history.

Offhand, it seems to be so. As a science article I read recently has pointed out, if the “total wars” of the last century had produced the same casualty rate as the wars of early hunter-gatherer societies, the death toll would not have been, as it was, in the tens of millions, but in the hundreds of millions. Over time, we really are seeing less bloodshed, which is to say, better social order. Much as I may rail at governments today, there is no question they are better than in the days of the Roman Empire, when power fell more or less by chance to the strongest and most ruthless hand, who was then commonly deposed in turn, in the midst of civil war, within a couple of years. And better than in the days of kings like Henry VIII, when each new accession to the throne meant a new bloodbath. There are terrible false steps along the way, but from the view of history as a whole, we seem to be going somewhere.

Democracy, similarly, supplants civil war. The candidate with the best organization still usually wins, but it is all done without blood in the streets or in the palace.

And this is all on top of the more obvious material progress we have made over time: even over my lifetime, from awkward electric typewriters and expensive paper publishing to this word processing software on the Internet.

And I believe there is progress in religion and philosophy too. The great world religions, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and so forth, are clearly intellectual and moral advances on the shamanism that went before. Things are less clear here, and real progress slower, but greater order seems to be emerging.

Partly, indeed, through this competition of cosmologies in war. It was war, after all, the killed the Fascist ideology, and it was war that killed slavery. The Ottoman Empire based its vision of order, and its right to rule the world, on Islam. The Sultan was also Caliph, head of the Muslim religion, and so the representative of God on earth. For the Ottoman Empire to control the world would, presumably, be the fulfillment of God’s great plan, perfect order: everyone around the world, at greater or at lesser distance, forever circumambulating Mecca.

The Byzantine Empire which preceded it in Istanbul, was similar in concept, but based on Christianity. The Byzantine Empire was consciously founded as the Empire of Christendom.

Which seems inherently blasphemous to this Christian—but the world largely bought it for a thousand years.

The decline of the idea of Empire, itself, marks a new plateau in the development of the world social order. It marks the transition from war as a means of demonstrating superior order, to commerce. Just so, the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English, and French “Empires” were essentially trading establishments. They had no pretensions to rule the world. They were not really empires at all, but ad hoc affairs to make trading safe.

And so since their rise, and the decline of true Empires, we have actually been seeing the slow decline of war. When we have had big wars since, it has generally been because some nation has experienced a throwback to the old idea of empire. The Soviet Empire was an Empire of the old school. It based its claim to world domination on Marxism. But it is gone now, with Nineveh and Tyre.

Hitler’s Reich, similarly, was a true empire—it implicitly intended world domination by the German “race.” Now it is gone. The Japanese Empire also always assumed its right to world domination.

So now the competition between organizations occurs primarily on the economic level, which is itself a great advance in order. Economies and businesses now duke it out, and the results should be to everyone’s long-term benefit. War is a very crude test of order, and order of a very crude sort. The same test of systems is managed more tidily and efficiently in economic rather than military competition—in free trade and in the free market. Here too, the most organized organization will normally win; the most efficient.

But there is a further possible stage already visible, isn’t there? The ultimate vision of order is really an artistic vision, and beyond that a religious and a philosophical vision.

This is already implicit in the military band. A perfected society, a society working in perfect order, would be a great work of art; one big military band, or one vast dance. If and when the New Jerusalem is ever accomplished, all human life will become art. And all art, in turn, is a making order of the world.

This awareness seems to inform the business of flags—national symbols, national designs, images meant to represent the state. Note that many of them are specifically visions of order or cosmos: the British double cross, which is interestingly a design found commonly in Byzantine churches. The Nazi swastika, or spinning cross, also commonly found in Byzantine churches. The Japanese rising sun, the Korean taeguk symbol, the Indian wheel, the Swiss cross, the common crescent moon, the common star motif; and so on.

And so the higher form of competition among cosmologies is in culture wars. These are not something new, but something that seems to be growing in importance. China, for example, with the strength of its culture, or Greece, or Israel, or Ireland, has historically been able to let waves of military conquest roll over it, yet win in the end by convincing the conquerors to adopt their culture, their organization, their vision of the cosmos. This is done by the pure strength of beauty and argumentation, and is the ultimate test of a cosmology. This is in a sense the message of the resurrection.

The Internet is perhaps the medium that makes this finally fully possible. The Internet introduces, for the first time, a truly free and global market in ideas. Now there is no longer the need for any sort of business organization to promote ideas—one no longer needs to worry about owning a printing press, for example, or a university, or an art gallery, and making it pay for itself. It has full worldwide reach already.

That’s what it should be, ultimately: a pure battle of the bands.

Bring on the podcasts of angel trumpets.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Peculiar Turkish Tic

An interesting insight into the news, thanks to a local carpetseller.

He says 240,000 Turkish troops are waiting on Turkey’s border with Iraq, eager to swarm in and suppress the Kurds. He says Kurdish incursions from Iraq have killed 60 Turkish soldiers. He says they almost went 8in last week, and could go in within days.

I can’t believe this; but he certainly believed it. I gather this is the story Turks are reading in their newspapers. He even pulled out the newspaper to show me. But I still had to take his word for it, as nothing was clear to me from looking at the Turkish.

But the I remembered watching Turkish TV at the hotel in Istanbul. Again, I could not understand what they were saying, but the visuals helped. Especially a map of Iraq showing a swath across the north-central portion coloured blue, but with the crescent moon and star of the Turkish flag. It looks as though Turkish TV is promoting the idea that there is a definite and fair-sized area, between the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs, which is ethnically Turkish.

This would make a delightful reason for an incursion, and an even better reason to stay put: in assimilating this loose bit of Turkish homeland, the Turkish army would also get to march through and occupy Iraqi Kurdistan.

Once an empire, always an Empire. Turkmenistan, in Central Asia, is also ethnically Turkish, and so it is understandable if Turkey is interested in reintegration with these cousins now that they are free from Russian domination. But I have also heard Turks insist that Uzbekis are Turks, and so are the inhabitants of "East Turkestan," which China insists is their province of Sinjiang.

My guess is that this is all patriotic breast-thumping, and not taken all that seriously. But who knows? Maybe the Turkish Empire will some day rise on the ashes of the Ottomans.

The carpetseller also showed me a piece in the paper reporting an infestation of genetically modified tics, sent here by Mossad to kill the Turks. This I could confirm with my own eyes: I cold make out "Israel" and "Mossad" on my own.

Perhaps other nations should be warned.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Tar Baby and Brer Mitt

Mitt Romney, governor of Massachusetts and Republican presidential hopeful, has run into a spot of trouble. It seems a lot of people are objecting to his description of a very difficult local highway project as a "tar baby." Apparently this is a slur against African Americans, according to many black spokesmen.

Odd, that, since the tar baby, best known from the Uncle Remus stories, is a standard figure in African folklore.

Ity is a sad state of affairs when one is so ashamed of one's own culture that any reference to it is construed as a slur.

But Mitt Roney can hardly be blamed for that.