Archive for December, 2009
The real money is in copper. At least China seems to think so. As reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, Chinese workers are getting set to begin extracting some of the estimated $88 billion in copper deposits from Afghanistan on the site where al Qaeda operatives trained for the 9/11 attacks, the event which triggered the United States’ longterm presence in the region to begin with. The excavations are being prepared by the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation (the official site) in the Aynak valley district just south of Kabul.
As it turns out, Afghanistan isn’t the only region in which China is bolstering its own economy, while in turn, apparently creating jobs and opportunity for destitute regions of the Middle East. It’s investing in Iraqi, gas from Iran and its also putting money into Pakistan and parts of Africa, according to the article. In the Aynak valley,
M.C.C. will dig a new coal mine to feed the plant’s generators. It will build a smelter to refine copper ore, and a railroad to carry coal to the power plant and copper back to China. If the terms of its contract are to be believed, M.C.C. will also build schools, roads, even mosques for the Afghans. — The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2009
Further, though the Chinese are obviously a world leader economically, they also apparently turn the idiom of a bull in a china shop on its head, and wear a plain, common man demeanor and dress when dealing with the local Afghans, which flies in stark contrast to the Yahoo-nature of many an American on foreign soil.
“The Chinese are much wiser,” said Nurzaman Stanikzai, a former mujahedeen and currently a contractor for the MCC. “When we went to talk to the local people, they wore civilian clothing, and they were very friendly. The Americans — not as good. When they come there, they have their uniforms, their rifles and such, and they are not as friendly.”
With the U.S. rightly focusing much of its attention on ousting the Taliban in the hills of Afghanistan and along the Pakistani border and, with Afghanistan’s rich trove of resources,
All the ingredients are there to build a modern society.
said Stephen Peters, with the U.S. Geological Survey, in an report from The Times of London. The Chinese, indeed, may be onto something in helping developing countries take new steps toward modernism. As Ibrahim Adel, China’s Minister of Mines, tersely said in the London Times article:
This is one way to control extremism.
See this story for another discussion of this topic.
Note: For literary types, here’s a side project. Go back and study Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, comparing the Yahoos (possibly a predated picture of how some would come to view Americans in the modern world) with the Houyhnhnms (how many view Asian cultures, with their attention to detail, logic, cool-headed approach to life). I’m by no means implying that the analogies are rock solid — Swift was writing three centuries ago, after all — but it’s interesting to think about.
And yes, I’m aware that it’s been more than a week since I wrote anything. Hampered by a bout of bronchitis, I was down for the 10-count for a few days, mostly staring at the walls, pushing the dog away and eating chicken noodle soup. Then came the holidays and a much-needed respite from work and a return to frag-laden play in Counter Strike: Source. But I’m back and gnawing on multiple ideas for future topics.
I write things. And sometimes they make sense. If you got this far, I’ll send you a candy cane via parcel post. – js.
Within the last year or so, I decided that I wanted to try to read at least one book on each of the major wars this country has been involved in since the American Revolution. In recent months, I have undertaken David McCullough’s elegantly written “1776″ and James McPherson’s expansive “Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era”. After just finishing John Keegan’s 1999 book, “The First World War,” I will probably continue and read his other one, “The Second World War.”
On the back cover of Keegan’s account of WWI, a review by The Boston Globe reads,
Keegan has the rare ability to view his subject from a necessarily Olympian height, and then swoop down to engage the reader with just the right detail or just the right soldier’s voice…. In the field of military history, this is as good as it gets.
Other reviews have described the book as “magisterial,” “quietly heart-rending” and “a masterpiece.” The New York Times got it right when it called the book, “omniscient.”
As history books go, I sometimes find myself being frustrated by being supplied with vastly more detail than I often require. I stopped midway through The Diligent: A Voyage through the Worlds of the Slave Trade for this reason. And for another reason: it was pretty dryly written. I’m vastly interested in that particular subject, but on page after page, the reader is inundated with, for example, the number of pints of rum on board such-and-such ship or the record of how many bushels of corn, etc. The number of slaves on certain ships is important, for instance, but not how much liquor the crew had on board. At least I can’t imagine how that would be important information. I hope to try the book again in the future. Perhaps I’ll do some “smart” reading and sort of skim over the minutiae.
Regardless, Keegan’s book, as well as McPherson’s 800-page volume, while offering us some of those types of “omniscient” details that we may or may not want, suffer not from such tediousness. Keegan, in a masterfully written style, takes us through Austrian archduke and heir to the throne Franz Ferdinand’s assassination, Serbia’s “complicity,” the Austrian empire’s declaration of war, Germany’s entrance and straight to the trenches and no man’s land through four years of fighting that would eventually lead to revolution in the Soviet Union and Germany, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in Turkey, the formation of modern Europe and, of course, the end of 10 million lives.
WWI was called The Great War, in my view, because it not only was waged by all of the vast empires of the world at the time (the United States played a limited, but important part in 1918 by overwhelming the German military conscious with millions of fresh troops that would prove too much for the often underfed and tramped down Triple Alliance forces), but because it was a decisive moment in history that carved up what we know of Europe today and razed the very idea of vast and sprawling empires that had so gripped most of the world for thousands of years prior. Hitler, of course, would attempt to resurrect this idea two decades later.
In recounting all this in a masterful literary style, Keegan gives us maps of the major battlefields, photos of sinking ships and lumbering soldiers and head shots of some of the key players on both sides of the conflict that in the first sentence of the book, he dubs “tragic and unnecessary.” Ending with a chapter titled, “America and Armageddon,” he sums up that much of the commanders’ actions, particularly on the alliance’s side, was a mystery. For instance, the Kaiser’s attempt to contend with Britain, a clear naval superpower at the time, for seas between Norway and the United Kingdom. On the Kaiser, Keegan notes,
Had he not embarked on a strategically unnecessary attempt to match Britain’s maritime strength, fatal hostility between the two countries would have been avoided; so, too, in all possibility, might be been the neurotic climate of suspicion and insecurity from which the First World War was born.
He goes on to describe the mystery of Ludendorff and other German officials insisting on continued military operations despite troop conditions and being outnumbered as “selfish and ultimately pointless military ambition.”
The legacy of the war’s political outcome scarcely bears contemplation: Europe ruined as a centre of world civilisation, Christian kingdoms transformed through defeat into godless tyrannies, Bolshevik or Nazi, the superficial difference between their ideologies counting not at all in their cruelty to common and decent folk.
At 427 pages and with often challenging vocabulary, this is not an easy or quick read, but one well worth the effort. Of course, Keegan ends by looking forward to what would become another episode of egregious loss of life during World War II and backward to the trenches, in which he notes, with untold irony, soldiers existing where love and compassion were all-but vacant, the friendships that inevitably developed as soldiers fought with, and for, each other:
Comradership flourished in the earthwork cities of the Western and Eastern Fronts, bound strangers into the closest brotherhood, elevated the loyalties created with the ethos of temporary regimentality to the status of life-and-death blood ties.
Indeed, for many soldiers, their fellow men in arms would be the last family, and sometimes, only family they would know.
Men whom the trenches cast into intimacy entered into bonds of mutual dependency and sacrifice of self stronger than any of the friendships made in peace and better times. That is the ultimate mystery of the First World War.
When thinking of military history, or history at all, one often thinks of tedious and an uninspired presentation. And indeed, while readers may feel the need to re-read more than one sentence in this book because of sometimes complex structures, this is the anti-thesis to dry historical studies. If not for its obvious factual nature, I would be inclined call this historical-literature, the difference between literature and mere fiction being that literature is art. And that’s how I would describe this work.
So, out of sheer boredom and mostly for entertainment value, I watched about five minutes of Glenn Beck on FOX News tonight, for that’s about all I could stomach and, coincidentally, it only took Beck that long to begin quivering over some rags to riches tale of a fellow who was about to oust himself by overdosing on sleeping pills when, wouldn’t ya know, as he was walking into the drug store, the guy heard over the radio a quote from one of Beck’s books, The Christmas Sweater (available in fine bookstores everywhere).
According to a letter read from the man to Beck that he read on the air, the man immediately fell on his knees in tears and vowed to pull himself up and get his life together. He had fallen into drugs, lost his job, started living with his economically disadvantaged mother, you know the bit. First, and this isn’t what I sat down to write about (I’m getting to that in a minute), how egomaniacal does one have to be to shill your own book, of which he’s apparently performing some sort of stage show across the nation, at the expense of some poor sap’s tale of ascension, as if to say, “Sure, this man’s story is all about redemption, and that’s what the Christmas season is all about, but look who inspired him to turn things around? Me.” Also, Beck, most humbly, didn’t fail to mention that he plays eight different characters by himself. Viewers also saw clips from the production during this five minute segment. How many more self-advertisements viewers were forced to suffer through during the entire show is anyone’s guess. But, no matter. They probably think, ‘The more Beck the better’.”
The main observation that I wanted to make was that immediately following all the quivering and Beck nearly tearing up over the man’s story came a commercial about Beck’s often touted sponsor, Goldline International, Inc, and another shorter spot about U.S. Gold. So, essentially, if you are Beck, you are on the air telling all these stories of folks in need, some people just plain worried about the economy and others who have managed to pull themselves out of the gutter, what better way to tell people you are rooting for the common man by encouraging folks to stockpile gold, a la, a pirate on the high seas. The oxymoron of all this was so stunning that I nearly tossed my weiner dog through the window. But, of course, it’s only an oxymoron when you look at the content of Beck’s show. When you look at the viewership, yeah, it’s folks who have sipped the FOX News Kool-Aid from Day One, but it’s also the Reagan trickle down economic crowd, who somehow think that the upper 99 percent of the population’s wealth is going to flow like a graceful, cooling stream down to the proletariat masses.
But, of course, Beck’s obsession with the gold industry won’t be news to regular viewers. He’s been talking up gold for quite some time now, while framing it in the context that the American dollar might be on the verge of a collapse. After all, he’s got to make up some frame of reference. Here’s a full piece on this by Think Progress. To read this article is to see just how pathetic, and desperate, Beck has become after losing the lion share of his sponsors with his fringe notions that, contrary to what he contends, are quite at odds with that of the real Thomas Paine, who was a progressive if he was nothing else. It’s entertaining that so many on the fringe right, the Tea Party crowd, and the like, summon Paine every chance they get while forgetting, or probably without knowing in the first place, that Paine was a deist and certainly not a Christian. Further, he was most likely against nearly everything for which they stand. Again, he was one of the most progressive men of his day. Any serious student of history knows this.
Here’s a comparison of Beck to Paine by Chris Kelly, in the piece, “Glenn Beck is Thomas Paine, Except for Everything“:
Do you like estate taxes? Paine was pitching them in 1791.
How about progressive taxation? Paine wasn’t just for it, he made charts and graphs.
Government make-work programs? Yep. Pay for them with the estate tax.
Public education? Yes, please.
International organizations? Paine said we needed them. Thought they might be useful for preventing wars after we disarmed.
If a woman were to defend the cause of her sex, she might address him in the following manner … If we have an equal right with you to virtue, why should we not have an equal right to praise? … Our duties are different from yours, but they are not therefore less difficult to fulfill, or of less consequence to society … You cannot be ignorant that we have need of courage not less than you … Permit our names to be sometimes pronounced beyond the narrow circle in which we live. Permit friendship, or at least love, to inscribe its emblem on the tomb where our ashes repose; and deny us not that public esteem which, after the esteem of one’s self, is the sweetest reward of well doing. — T. Paine
Compare and contrast:
OK, so anyway, I was talking about ugly people. Ugly people, if you’re a guy, you can get past it. I don’t think you can as an ugly woman. I don’t — no, I don’t. If you’re an ugly woman, I apologize. Oh, you’ve got a double cross, because if you’re an ugly woman, you’re probably a progressive as well. –G. Beck
Animal Rights Nuts?
Everything of cruelty to animals is a violation of moral duty. — T. Paine
Religion is under attack! — G. Beck
Priests and conjurors are of the same trade. — T. Paine
Thus, it’s quite a sideshow at this point that Beck and others know so little about the history they so often summon, or spin the Founders’ words to bolster their own ill-conceived arguments. But if they actually knew a wit about the Founders, they would realize that the Founders could take intellectual backstrokes around the current lot of fringe-crowd conservatives who are only attempting to elevate themselves, unjustifiably so, by calling up Paine or Jefferson or whichever Founder is, unbeknownst to them, their intellectual superior.
But, I was talking about gold wasn’t I? As noted, it’s sad and pathetic that Beck has so few sponsors left. It’s contemptible how he got to this point. He does have National Review, but wait, that’s a conservative outfit too, isn’t it? Real companies, like General Mills, AT&T, Walmart and Bank of America have all flown the coop. No matter. Beck still has his fringe crowd and others to ride the gold-colored Kool-Aid machine through some mythical history and future of their own making. Which makes me wonder. Did the aforementioned beneficiary of Beck’s sweater book become a client of Goldline as well? I’m willing to bet so. That would have been an entertaining twist to the story, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.