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Archive for July, 2006

DVD Review: Tristram Shandy

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I know, I know. I promised a review of the newly released DVDE of Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story days ago. Thank you, breathless readers, for not putting more pressure on me to produce same, for I am sure I could bear no more than I already do.

So here it is the review I promised. Well, most of it anyway. See, I was viewing the movie at home the other day (Thursday, July 26 to be precise) and taking notes for this review. Trouble was, every five minutes the phone would ring and I would have to answer it.

Here’s the thing; I am between contracts right now and the calls were from recruiters and prospective employers. I hope they did not detect the irritation I felt. They don’t know I was this close to screaming into the phone about priorities – “I’m watching a MOVIE goddammit!”

So anyway, about Tristram Shandy, I read the novel when I was in university, not as part of a course but because it was highly recommended and compared favorably to Gravity’s Rainbow, described as a post modern classic written 250 years before the term was invented.

So along comes Steve Coogan, British comic icon, I am told. Makes a movie about making a movie about the novel. Feels kind of like the original The Office, the Ricky Gervais vehicle, and even more like Extras, another Gervais effort which, like Tristram Shandy, has a bunch of recognizable actors playing themselves. Except, they are not themselves; they are characters with the same name as the actor playing them.

I need to sit down. I am growing dizzy.

Bottom line: I enjoyed Tristram Shandy, the movie. At least what I saw of it. Like I said, the phone kept ringing.

Written by slothropia

July 31st, 2006 at 9:48 am

Posted in Movies,World War II

Talkin Dust Bowl Redux Blues

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Holy crap!!! This is scary! And today’s drought might not end as quickly as Woody’s.

Written by slothropia

July 30th, 2006 at 6:17 pm

Peace and Democracy

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My blog hero Billmon wrote something the other day that got me thinking about the place of warfare in the contemporary world. He described an Israeli “almost obsessive reluctance to take casualties, which translates into extreme cautiousness, at both the strategic and tactical levels.

“The Israelis prefer to stay away from (some enemy) bunkers, the soldiers said, instead calling in coordinates so forces massed behind the border can hit them with guided missiles.”

He went on to say, “This is the kind of behavior that Max Hastings criticized in his books about the British and American armies in World War II — particularly when compared with the tactical speed, aggressiveness and resilience of the Wehrmacht and, in the later stages of the war, the Red Army. As Hastings points out, Nazi and the Soviet generals not only had more experience at maneuver warfare than their British and American counterparts, they could be infinitely more ruthless about spending the lives of their soldiers. They were, after all, totalitarian dictatorships, not middle-class democracies.”

The implication is that relatively democratic societies are less supportive of the ruthless tactics that have historically won wars. Not necessarily because the tactics are ruthless and kill too many enemy soldiers and civilians, but because they create too many casualties for the ‘home team’.

Even Rush has heard the news, and he’s not happy about it:

“But we’re fighting under different rules … Well, the media’s on scene every day showing the civilian casualties and showing the results of the military action, and that’s going to temper people because the world is going to say, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop this killing! Enough violence, enough is enough!” It was easier in the old days when nobody saw this stuff. Nobody saw 92,000 battle fatalities in the Pacific theater in World War II, and nobody saw the million and a half Japanese deaths so it was easier to do…You get caught up and worried about what other people think of you and world opinion and so forth and you’re going to get hamstrung, and we’re hamstrung, precisely where we are.”

Of course, what Limbaugh doesn’t like is the brake public opinion applies to the ability of military forces to kill enemy soldiers and do collateral damage (translation: kill civilians).

It’s agreed then; open societies where informed public opinion matters have a harder time waging war than authoritarian or totalitarian societies do. It turns out that most people do not want to see their sons and daughters killed or maimed and that those sons and daughters would similarly like to avoid that misfortune. It seems as well that most people do not like to see even enemy civilians blown up or burned. That is why the American right blames the loss in Vietnam on the media.

The public in this country and around the world saw several kinds of images in the television reports from Vietnam. On the one hand there were almost conventional battle pictures including explosions, bombs being dropped from aircraft, helicopters, soldiers firing weapons, wounded being evacuated from combat and so on.

Then there were the images of non-combatants caught and usually suffering in the conflict. Recall the naked Vietnamese girl, burned by napalm, running down a road toward the camera; American soldiers burning a village, and more, so much more.

Then too there were the images peculiar to the unique character of the war in Vietnam, like the Viet Cong guerilla, shot in the head by an Army of South Vietnam officer.

The Vietnamese people of course were for the most part shielded from the media presentation of the war in their country. Then again, they only had to go outside to see the reality of the war.

Eventually, the incremental effect of these images along with the cost in lives and treasure turned American opinion against U.S. involvement in the war; though not before the U.S. dropped more tons of explosives on Vietnam than it did in all of World War II.

Still, the military resented the ‘interference’ of the news media in the conduct of the war. The lesson the military chose to learn was that the public will not support a war if it knows what is going on. Hence the new secrecy rules in the two Iraq wars and all other U.S. military engagements since 1975.

Again, the question is whether an open and informed society is less likely to support war making on its behalf. The American right and the military say yes, and that is one of the reasons for the current drive to conceal military and other governmental information. I would argue that history also agrees.

In the twentieth century, two world wars consumed nearly all of Europe (save for the Swedes and the Swiss). With first hand knowledge of the reality of war, and at least in the West blessed with free flows of information and democratic government, Europe avoided war and its atrocities until the breakup of Yugoslavia (except for the odd rebellion in the Soviet bloc).

There is pushback of the kind described by Billmon above. Armies now look for ways to fight that do not involve taking heavy casualties. Furthermore, consider this observation by Tom Engelhardt from a post well worth reading in its entirety:

On our we/they planet, most groups don’t consider themselves barbarians. Nonetheless, we have largely achieved non-barbaric status in an interesting way — by removing the most essential aspect of the American (and, right now, Israeli) way of war from the category of the barbaric. I’m talking, of course, about air power, about raining destruction down on the earth from the skies, and about the belief — so common, so long-lasting, so deep-seated — that bombing others, including civilian populations, is a “strategic” thing to do; that air power can, in relatively swift measure, break the “will” not just of the enemy, but of that enemy’s society; and that such a way of war is the royal path to victory.

And later:

It may be that the human capacity for brutality, for barbarism, hasn’t changed much since the eighth century, but the industrial revolution — and in particular the rise of the airplane — opened up new landscapes to brutality; while the view from behind the gun-sight, then the bomb-sight, and finally the missile-sight slowly widened until all of humanity was taken in. From the lofty, godlike vantage point of the strategic as well as the literal heavens, the military and the civilian began to blur on the ground. Soldiers and citizens, conscripts and refugees alike, became nothing but tiny, indistinguishable hordes of ants, or nothing at all but the structures that housed them, or even just concepts, indistinguishable one from the other.

For many reasons, it should be a goal of all thinking humans to put an end to the institution of war. War is, after all, a relatively new human behavior, having only been invented along with civilization following the agricultural revolution (tribal level rock throwing disputes do not count as war). The question is how. It is a good thing that media exposure of war makes it more difficult to prosecute. Clearly, however, it is not enough.

Gore Vidal has some good news though, as is found in this excerpt from a recent interview

Q: Today the United States is fighting two wars, one in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, and is now threatening to launch a third one on Iran. What is it going to take to stop the Bush onslaught?

Vidal: Economic collapse. We are too deeply in debt. We can’t service the debt, or so my financial friends tell me, that’s paying the interest on the Treasury bonds, particularly to the foreign countries that have been financing us. I think the Chinese will say the hell with you and pull their money out of the United States. That’s the end of our wars.”

Sounds great! Can’t wait!

Written by slothropia

July 30th, 2006 at 9:03 am

Posted in Vietnam,World War II

Do Not Adjust Your Set

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I am having problem with WordPress and seem to have lost some posts. A pity that because the fate of all humankind depends on their very existence.

Sooo,  I will carry on with new posts and try to get the lost ones back.

Coming soon: Peace and Democracy, DVD review: Tristram Shandy.

Sorry for any inconvenience. Your refund is available at the box office.

Written by slothropia

July 27th, 2006 at 5:02 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

There They Go Again

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Juan Cole names his blog Informed Comment, and he delivers big time. Go there if you want to understand events in the Middle East generally and the current crisis in particular.

Also recommended: Whiskey Bar for insightful analysis about this month’s insanity (and whatever comes down the pike, regularly).

This current Israel/Hezbollah/Hamas menage a trois reminds me that in modern warfafe, soldiers are relatively safe, while the largest number of casualties is invariably civilian. Children, of course, are eligible for inclusion among the dead and injured. The United States has suffered whatever number approaching 3000 of military casualties since it invaded Iraq for no good reason, but that number is dwarfed by the number of Iraqi civilian casualties since March, 2003. Now, of course, sectarian violence is adding to the number of Iraqi civilian dead under the American occupation.

Going back to the Spanish Civil War, civilians have generally fared poorly during modern, well orgainized wars.

Within a few years of Guernica, the world witnessed the Rape of Nanking, the Holocaust, Dresden and Hiroshimsa. Yes, many soldiers died during World War II, but so did milions of civilians from all sides.

The wars in Vietnam and Iraq have a number of things in common, but the most salient may be that civilians have been caught between the two sets of warriors and suffered greatly as a consequence.

And now, today, Hezbollah and the Israeli Defence Force take turns spilling innocent blood. Business as usual.

Written by slothropia

July 15th, 2006 at 11:59 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Good Economics = Good Politics

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More good economic news (snark). The trade deficit is up again. The price of imported oil is being blamed this month but the continuing deterioration of America’s manufacturing base – thanks in part to “liberalized” trade and agreements like NAFTA – also contributes to the dismal results.

I can understand why the Cheny/Bush administration and their congressional allies would not want to highlight this news, but wherefore the silence of the Dems? This is an issue that any opposition part would be delighted to scream about on an hourly basis. Maybe we need those Greens after all.

The good news is that at the state level, some Democrats have discovered an economic issue that is a winner.  The loathsome Mara Liasson tells me that Dems in a number of states are trying to organize ballot initiatives to raise the minimum wage. Meanwhile the congressional democrats are working on legislation (that is of course doomed to fail) to raise the federal minimum wage.

Somebody should link these two issues – so I will.

The trade deficit and loss of manufacturing jobs have a number of causes, but certainly a major one is the loss of purchasing power by the American consumer. Real wages in the U.S. have been falling since oh, I don’t know, maybe 1980ish (cough…Reaganomics). The trend continues according to that Marxist rag, the Financial Times.

I have an idea; let’s see what happens if we make sure that workers/consumers have more money to buy stuff with. Let’s raise the minimum wage and ensure that wage and salary increases at least match annual inflation.

Right now of course we are going in exactly the opposite direction. Wealth is being transferred upward at an astonishing rate – talk about your class warfare. And how is that working for the economy?

Written by slothropia

July 12th, 2006 at 8:31 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

We Don’t Need No Steenking Constitution

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Shorter Cal Thomas:

The reason we’re losing the War on Terror is that we haven’t video taped any beheadings of Al Jazeera journalists. The reason we are so unpopular in Muslim countries is that we haven’t killed enough civilians there. The Supreme Court should go back to deciding Presidential elections and stop harassing Caesar, er…the President.

Written by slothropia

July 12th, 2006 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Boycott Mordor – I Mean Wal Mart

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This sort of thing is why I will never enter another Wal Mart store until the corporate philosophy changes. It seeems they treat French Canadians as well as they do Mexicans.
“Managers at a local Wal-Mart forced employees to search the store after it received a bomb threat, Radio-Canada reported Monday.”

Some 40 nervous employees searched the store for an hour last Thursday, said Mailie Fournier, a former employee of the store. They were accompanied by six police officers.”

Several employees, whose jobs don’t include security, found the experience traumatic, said Mr. Fournier.”

St. Jean Sur Richilieu is a lovely little Quebec town, situated on the Richilieu River, about two hours southeast of Montreal. It’s a great place to visit and boast a couple of really good French (what else) restaurants.

I spent a week there in 1988 studying French at the military college (which I was able to do as an employee of the Canadian Parliament). Which has nothing to do with the Wal Mart mini atrocity above, but I really enjoyed myself.

Written by slothropia

July 12th, 2006 at 9:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Mexican Standoff?

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Either Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or AMLO as he is often referred to in Mexico) is a democratic hero or a dangerous demagogue. He is either fighting to ensure that the democratic will of the Mexican voters is expressed and enforced, or he is using his supporters to force himself into an office to which he was not elected and does not deserve.

At this time it is impossible to say with certainty who won the election in Mexico on July 2. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) has declared Lopez Obrador’s right wing opponent, Felipe Calderon, to be the winner, but AMLO has demanded a full recount, rather than just a tally of the district results that was conducted by the IFE last week.

To support his demand for a full recount, Lopez Obrador peacefully led hundreds of thousands of his supporters into the streets of the capitol yesterday.

Several commentators have already noted the similarities between this year’s Mexican election and the U.S. presidential election of 2000, but that is at least one tactics Al Gore refused to use during the uncertain period between the November election and the December Supreme Court decision. Indeed, the Gore reaction to the Supreme Court decision that made George W President was responsible to a fault. He and his supporters decided to follow the Constitution, even if the Supreme Court and the Republicans did not.

So why is AMLO being so obstreperous? Perhaps he has considered the fate of the United States under a not quite legitimately elected regime and determined that he would do all he could to prevent something similar or worse from happening to Mexico.

From where I sit it appears that there are unresolved questions about the legitimacy of the election and López Obrador and the Mexican left is correct to pursue any avenue of redress available to them. But they are not fighting for power for its own sake. AMLO and the PDR presented Mexico with a different (but not too different) way forward, and a good chunk of the electorate agreed with them.

By all accounts, the two leading parties in Mexico are class based. The right wing Parti Aciion National (PAN) is supported by the business and professional classes, especially in the north of the country where the maquilladoras flourish. López Obrador’s Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD) is supported mainly in the south and by rural peasants, and the urban working class (especially in Mexico City) and the jobless.

The Bush administration has not been outspoken in its support for PAN, but there is no doubt that they would prefer a right wing result. The American right has provided material support by way of polling and strategic advice and apparently, advice on how to prevent the wrong voters from voting.

I would argue that, as in so many foreign policy portfolios, the Bush/Cheney crowd is acting against the best interests of the United States. If López Obrador and PDR win, they will implement policies aimed at raising living standards for lower income Mexicans. PAN would continue its business oriented policies, such as support for NAFTA and privatization. But it is these policies (a continuation really of those followed by PRI) that have given the U.S. its current immigration problem. Millions of Mexicans have become desperately poor over the last decade or so, thanks in part to the right wing policies of PAN and PRI. Its simple really; reduce poverty in Mexico and reduce illegal immigration to the U.S. Continue the policies of PAN (and the American right) and expect more of the same. A rational American government would therefore tilt left in this instance.

Written by slothropia

July 10th, 2006 at 6:58 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Again, What’s That Definition of Insanity?

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Hands up: Who’s sick of hearing and reading about Iraelis versus Palestinians? Yankees versus Red Sox is bad enough, but at least their fans don’t blow each other to smitereens – not too often anyway.

It is a rare day that goes by without print and/or electronic media letting us know that inocent civilians (so often children) on one or the other side have been killed – blown up as a rule.

Right now Israel has invaded the Gaza strip, nominally because an Israeli soldier has been captured by Plesatinian militants but also in response to shelling of Isreal by Palestinians.

But here’s the thing according the Daily Star of Lebanon:

“Israelis, many of whom directly or indirectly endured the horrors of the Holocaust, are suffering from a feeling of existential insecurity. But the use of strong-arm tactics will not win them the sense of security that they desire. True, Israel can control northern Gaza and stamp out the militants who have recently launched rockets into Israeli territory. But each aggressive Israeli military action will ensure that new militants will emerge to take the place of those killed or jailed by Israeli troops. Just as the Palestinians will never gain statehood through the use of violence, Israelis will never gain security and recognition through military means.”

Cycle of violence, yadda, yadda. And thanks to the rest of the world for being so helpful in untying this very Gordian knot – not.

Written by slothropia

July 7th, 2006 at 12:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized