Postmodern classic?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Middle-Eastern architecture

This is part of a military memorial for those lost in the Iran-Iraq war, I have some others of the famous crossed sabers of Saddams military review parade ground but the lighting didn't work out. The underside of this roof is fascinating, all these tiny squares, forming sharp, angular corners. Makes you wonder about the psychology behind it, because these multidimensional square patterns were also in the Main Palace (current site of U.S. Embassy).

There's a lot written about the 'atomistic' perspective of the Islamic/Arabic Middle East. I think you can see that represented in some of the art. Reminds you that in the 11th and 12th century this area was the height of learning for philosophy, science and mathematics. The different sides and perspectives of these squares seem reminescent of this old time. Not smooth, like Asian, or rough like the Western. Maybe some of my more 'aesthetic-minded' friends and family will point me in the right direction.

Monday, October 24, 2005

City scenes, 2

Only can post one photo at a time, unfortunately. Here's another.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

City scenes

And a big welcome to 'my liberal relatives', haha... glad you could stop by. I do tend to criticize that perspective here often, but I'd like to think I'm open to both sides provided there is a good argument supporting it. And my present location, Baghdad, is at the center of one of these controversies that captures the interest of those concerned enough to care.

Things are interesting here, if I haven't said so before. The best way I could explain it would be to repeat what I said to another friend: the situation is both worse and better than you think it would be, but at the same time. I could get into the nitty-gritty of counterinsurgency operations as I did earlier in this blog, but the truth is there is not much else going on. There's way more than enough money being thrown around, the problem is there is not enough will to use it properly. We'll see.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Sand, concrete, palm trees and AK-47's

Well, here I am in the 'Sandbox' (general military slang for the Middle East, but usually meaning Iraq), looking at one of the many odd things to see in this sand-saturated ville. Quite an odd place from my first impressions. It's going to be an interesting time.

I don't want to place too much faith in my opinions and introspection at this time. My pet projects of interest in international issues and politics will take a definite secondary place for the duration of this work. The major focus will be on getting things done.

A lot of foreigners here. Here's a couple of articles on the Europeans for perspective- in recent years it's quite accurate the pacifism and idealism emanating from the dominant European political elites, but speculation on the past centuries of power leaves one to conclude that a permanent alteration of character is far too presumptuous. Tigerhawk excerpts from Ralph Peters new book (which I will soon order) that, in a Thucydidean affirmation of the darkness of human nature, we should not discount the human capacity for violence, no matter how pacifist it seems. An interesting article in TCS discusses the American/European connection and how we relate to them politically and economically, how we see the role of government. And The Daily Standard offers us a perspective of Winston Churchhill and his efforts to support empire, along with potential parallels in the US's current position. Here's another one, a little more political focus (knocking on Senator Boxer) on our lack of historical education here in the US. It is a bit embarrassing at times, something I'd attribute in part on the 'PC' culture of recent times.

Honesty, not politics, is what's needed in the future. That, not their accomplishments, is what is so impressive of the Greeks and Romans.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Hallmark of Civilization

You were expecting something else? What, if not Starbucks at the Queen Alia Airport in Amman, Jordan?

All is going well here, got to catch up on some sleep but besides that no worries. Have some training and admin to keep me busy. More to come!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

More in the news!

Haven't left yet, so what should I do... read some blogs, of course! Cartoon via Perry Bible Fellowship, check it out (ran across it at Coming Anarchy), there is some funny stuff there. I'll put some more up later.

Hubris has a hilarious look at what the Miers confirmation hearings might look like (check out his post on the Roberts confirmation), and Instapundit has been unusually active in discussion (even opening comments!). Kinda interesting. Bush brought it on himself; wonder if the Republicans will learn how to be a majority party before they lose it. Although I was a little relieved to read this Michael Barone article on Democratic political demographics... admittedly from a partisan perspective.

PBS News has had a 5-part series on the Chinese economy this week, Tuesday's episode on investing in China was pretty good... today's interview with Cheng Siwei (link posted when available), Vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's National Congress. There were excerpts before, but this section has been quite instructive. 'Benefits of globalization and free-trade' being expounded upon by a high-standing communist Party official. The 21st century is amazing. However, there were some quite notable points that he brought up. The 'dual economic structure' of the PRC is quite a potential problem- the economic gap between the city and the rural areas, is a matter of considerable concern. The interview gets interesting and interesting, especially when currency reevaluation becomes the issue. Noting their 'modest' RMB evaluation (as in not noticeable and insignificant, IMHO) Vice-Chairman Cheng discusses their beliefs on RMB. He talks about the PRC's buying US Treasury Bonds as a benefit to us- stabilizing our deficit. Pressure from the US to appreciate or reevaluate is seen as a 'threat', an issue of 'sovereignty'. Prefer to solve the problem through dialogue. I'll have to discuss this some other time...

Okay. Maybe I should be doing something productive, like shooting or studying Arabic. I'll probably slow down on the blogposts when I get there. Later.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

On Coercion, or The Problem of Politics

The reason why human rights don't work is pretty much the same as every other utopian ideology; because everyone won't agree to get on board and do it. Upon reaching this obstacle, the rationalizations start to come in. If only we could get to a 'tipping point' to which everyone would be compelled to follow such-and-such way... but reality hasn't appeared to work like that. In the 20th century we look to what the communists did, forcing everyone to be 'brotherly' and share their efforts towards the achievement of their socialist utopia. Solidarity at the point of a gun and freedom by the threat of prison, of course! But that's the price of equality and fraternity. What do the human rights groups advocate to achieve their ideals of world peace?

This is the world of political science and how people work in groups. Every political organization seems to be focused on that problem, the problem of coercion. One must have power to coerce others to achieve their ends- the power of wealth, violence, temptation and persuasion. Yet in the context of history one commonly sees the clear result, where the process of coercion dramatically undermines the end result of 'cooperation'. How can you balance the two contradictory needs?

But don't let my sweeping generalizations persuade you. History is a fickle mistress, misread in many ways, here in particular to include my own ideological viewpoints. I have a belief in the idea of a free markets and their political component of representative democratic government that approaches an ideological faith. Perhaps, imperfect as these can be in their fluctuations, they might be a better platform for the achievement of practical living standards as well as lofty human goals. Especially in the midst of the constant and ongoing change we live in daily. While the ambitious yet absolutist ideologue, firm in their belief, would force others to conform to his ideal, I would prefer the progress of a respectful dialogue and a well-considered compromise. But if this dialogue is disturbed, these ill-defined concepts must be defended from those who would take what is not theirs. A major problem seems to be the definition of where does defending our traditions and ideals stop, and forcing someone to adopt foreign customs start? Shouldn't it be that, if another country does not share our beliefs, they should not be forced upon them since they don't choose it?

If people want socialism, communism, Islamism, etc.... they should have it. There would be nasty lessons to learn for them, yet they would be determining their own path- without the influence of nasty, globalizing, unfairly wealthy and powerful foreigners. But this sort of moral simplicity by compartmentation is impossible on 2 fundamental counts, 1) non-democratic states don't operate on the basis of their people, therefore it is unlikely that the popular will is knowable or definable, 2) in the global arena, the action of one nation cannot be restricted to themselves. Their neighbors are inevitably affected somehow, for better or for worse. There are always global reverberations.

To deal with the problems we stumble across in determining our own path, it seems we have to return to the nasty world of politics by coercion. If you want something done, you must exercise power to do so. Yet, among others, these human rights folks seem to reject this, with their claims likening the U.S. to the world largest terrorist organization. I would warn any who proclaim to be advocates for human rights must watch that they don't fall into these moral pitfalls- the Scylla and Charybdis of politics, if I may- the zeal of fanaticism or the impotence of passivity. Not that they'd listen to me, or if so, probably to the same degree I would consider their opinion (not much at all).

So I conclude this treatise with the question, what would you do? Can you stay morally pure and get things done? Maybe, with some flexibility.

(more pretentious pseudo-intellectual banter to follow)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Just in the mail

A friend just sent me this T-shirt in the mail, wore it to my buddies breakfast this morning. We joked about it a lot when we were in school together, making fun of American political wishy-washiness, a quality her country seems to be lacking (thank god!). Which makes the shirt so funny. A bunch of fighter pilots and other veterans of the Washington DC scene, they appreciated the sentiment. It's a great T-shirt, I've had a few good ones over the past couple of weeks (others at Bureaucrash), but be warned they take forever to deliver.

Things are going well here, should be off to the UK tomorrow then soon after to the Middle East. I'm pretty pumped. It's an interesting job, putting me near where I'd be had I gone back into the military. Although the pay and training are a little better... it'll give me a great foundation to do whatever is I end up doing next. That could be going back to school. While interesting to plan for, not something I'm overly concerned with at the moment.

More pictures to come, and I'll be keeping you updated...

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sunday roundup

My pet subjects: social philosophy, International Relations, etc. Not much new in the world, but some interesting things to look at (picture from the Economist).

Some measured skepticism on China (via The Economist), regarding the upsurge in riots. It could be a nasty few years, what are the chances for democracy there? Some people have done the math and aren't so optimistic. Then there's the math of blood, not so nice but is important and must be considered with the different estimations of death by political violence in the PRC.

While China's future is of great significance, Iraq is the present focus of shifting power in the world. And of course many disagree on it- what about those who are there? LTG Petraeus is one of those whose experience gives him an unconventional but amazing opportunity into how the future might be. He spoke at Princeton this past week, luckily Tigerhawk was there to record it. Through that site I found Westhawk, who had a fascinating analysis on the New Middle East that we will be facing in the years to come. Iraqi empowerment is not popular in the other countries, to say the least.

And I conclude with an interview in Frontpage with Theodore Dalrymple. This is a very nice articulation of the problems we face as a society if we can't stand up for principle. I think it's important to see how certain policies that 'protect' people end up degrading them by taking away their responsibility and initiative. The devil is in the balance between government and individuals... choice quote on human nature below:

"I take it as given that man, having contradictory desires, is always subject to frustration, even when happy. For example, we want both adventure and safety, and when we have the one we long for the other. All forms of human happiness contain within themselves the seeds of their own decomposition.

Modern man particularly - or so it seems to me - is particularly bad at recognising that much of his unhappiness or discontent stems from this inevitable source. Rather, he blames the structure of society and thinks that a perfection that will resolve all contradictions and eliminate all frustrations can be achieved, if only we abolished private property or followed the example of the 7th century followers of Mohammed. The attempt to force people to do so gives meaning to their existence, and of course a lot of sadistic pleasure into the bargain."

Saturday, October 01, 2005

One Marine's View, differing with the status quo...

A friend sent me a link to this post, a very well-written glance at the difference between the military's and media's perspectives (via the New Libertarian site). I'm reproducing the whole thing here because it's so interesting, but go there to check it out yourself.

One Marine’s view
Posted by: McQ on Friday, September 30, 2005

Yes, it's anecdotal, but I also think it is representative of a great many within the military at large in terms of how they view the protests against the war, and why most are simply not very sympathetic or supportive of the anti-war view. The marine in question is a reservist and a colonel. He's recently returned from Iraq. His name is Jeff Vold. First some perspective which is sorely lacking from most news reports:

Vold puts the continuing sporadic violence in perspective. Most of Iraq, he says, is quiet. "Baghdad is a vibrant city, the size of Chicago's metro area. A bomb goes off—it's a bad thing, but it's like we're sitting in Eden Prairie and a bomb goes off in Andover. The police investigate, people go about their business. Rush hour is one big traffic jam."

In other words, Iraq doesn't grind to a halt everytime there's a bomb blast. And for a majority of Iraq, it isn't something they particularly worry about anymore since the majority of the country is, in relative terms, quiet.His view of the reporting about Iraq?

"When I got back from Iraq, I was disappointed—astounded, really—to read the news. The media was saying it's all a failure, while we saw successes around us every day."

This seems to be a predictable response now. Almost every veteran of Iraq I've seen interviewed seems to echo this theme. "That isn't what I've seen". His overall view of the anti-war protests?

Antiwar demonstrators sometimes claim that their prime motivation is concern for the safety of American troops. "Support the troops," the lawn signs say, "bring them home."But it doesn't work that way, says Vold. "I try not to take it personally. The reason I'm a Marine is to ensure this is a free country. But I don't think the protesters know the effect they're having on the soldiers. You're always tired, cold or hot, homesick. The last thing you need is a sense that people back home say your mission is doomed, when you see good things happening all the time."Vold adds that antiwar rhetoric sometimes implicitly portrays soldiers as dupes on a fool's errand. "We volunteered to go to Iraq. The guys over there, who know the situation best, are re-enlisting in great numbers. Most of the guys I served with think this is the best thing America has done in our careers."

Again, having deep connections with many still in the military, the two empasized lines are what I constantly hear from those serving today. They can't believe people are protesting against something they volunteered to do and, on the whole, think is the right thing to do.This is not Vietnam, this is not a draft army and this is not an unwinnable war. And the guys in the middle of it know that. So they're mystified and miffed about the growing lack of support for their mission.And how are the protests playing in Iraq?

How did the Sheehan protest play in Iraq? Yesterday, I asked Vold's friend, Lt. Col. James MacVarish, an adviser to Iraqi troops in Fallujah. He told me in an e-mail that the Iraqis he works with believe such protests and the press they generate "play directly to the strengths of our mutual enemy." Iraqis "are absolutely astounded," he adds, "that we 'allow' that to continue." A few days ago, he had to give his Iraqi colleagues an hourlong civics lesson on freedom of the press.MacVarish says that the terrorists can't win militarily. So their strategy is to make the U.S. and Iraqi people "bleed a little every day." They hope that the resulting media attention will turn the tide of American opinion against the war, and make the political cost of sustaining it too high. "The more play the press gives Cindy Sheehan," MacVarish concludes, "the better the terrorists' chances are of ultimately succeeding here."What would a terrorist victory mean? "If we leave before the new government is established and the Iraqi Army is ready," says Vold, "the people will be at the mercy of the bad guys"—beheaders and torturers, who blow up children. MacVarish minces no words: "If the terrorists win over here, stand by. There will be no stopping them anywhere in the world."

Now, we can argue till the cows come home as to whether the line I've highlighted is actually true or not. I certainly think it is. But we know for a fact that the terrorists have mentioned the protests and are using them for their propaganda value. And that plays into the perception bin Laden had, based on the Somolia debacle, that if he could inflict enough casualties, America would eventually turn tail and run. The anti-war crowd plays perfectly to that perception.The question remains: in what real and concrete way are the anti-war protesters positively supporting the troops they claim to be supporting?I, for one, see nothing in that regard which is positive, helpful or supportive. But I do see their protests as both helpful and supportive to the enemies of our troops.That's certainly something the Sheehan contingent of the extreme left will have to live with in the future. But frankly, they're so possessed with a hatred of George Bush, I don't really think they care one way or the other about the troops, as long as whatever happens in Iraq somehow hurts Bush. This isn't really a principled opposition which at heart has a real love of the troops. The troops are simply a cover for an "anti-war" movement which is more about the pure, unadulterated and unbridled hatred of a man than support of anything military.

A pretty sad state of affairs if you ask me.