An ideofact is an artifact imbued with meanings other than its technical function.
Friday, March 08, 2002
Milosevic’s newest amen corner
Here’s a couple of graphs from a quasi-journalistic article on Slobodan Milosevic. By way of background, the article previously refers to a prosecution witness who’d testified about Serbian thugs making him flee Kosovo:
As to that darker face:
But wait, it gets better. Apparently, according to the article, in the Balkan Wars, it was only the Serbs who were victims:
Too bad. I guess Srebrnica wasn’t reported with enough context, and no one pointed out that all those corpses were actually Serbs.
So what’s the source of this article, which is headlined “Manufacturing another great Satan”? Well, I won’t keep you in suspense. The source is Al-Ahram’s weekly online Web magazine. Al-Ahram is an Egyptian newspaper. You can find the article itself here. Al-Ahram, of course, isn’t exactly the equivalent of the Nation; it’s a government-controlled news outlet.
So let’s get this straight. An official Egyptian paper is saying in its English language edition that Milosevic is largely innocent of the crimes of which he’s been accused, and that the U.S. set up the KLA for the sole purpose of destabilizing the former Yugoslavia. Understand, this article isn’t claiming that the international tribunal is incompetent, or of dubious legality, rather, it’s insisting that Milosevic is being demonized, and that the photos of corpses from Bosnia and Kosovo were actually dead Serbs. Take these paragraphs, for example:
Ah, so it was the Croats who were the killers. I wonder what Natalija Radic would say to that?
I'm somewhat at a loss to comment on all this. For years during the 1990s, the Muslim world quite properly complained that slaughter of European Muslims by Serbs was ignored by the West. It wasn't until the Croats started winning battles and the U.S. started bombing that something resembling peace was imposed. Now we learn from an Egyptian paper that they had it wrong all along, and that Milosevic is actually innocent, and all those dead Bosnians and Kosovars are merely figments of our imagination.
I'm really speechless at this point.
Thursday, March 07, 2002
The barbarity and cruelty of Sherman
I've found it useful and soothing to read military histories these past few months. The week of Sept. 11, I bought Churchill's History of the Second World War. I'm in the middle of the third volume and can hardly wait to see how it all it turns out. The other night I started skimming through Sherman's memoirs, and I haven't been able to put it down since. Here's Sherman on his decision to evacuate the civilian population of Atlanta after he took the city in Sept. 1864:
Sherman explains his logic, which actually is quite relevant to our situation today:
Sherman exchanged an angry series of letters with his Confederate counterpart in the battle of Atlanta, J.B. Hood. Hood implored God to prevent Sherman from carrying out his plan to evacuate Atlanta and turn the city into a military garrison. Sherman, who was a bit of an agnostic, nonetheless responded with a fury worthy of the Old Testament:
Sherman's ruthlessness, his cruelty, was intentional. Personally, I have little patience for people who complain about how he terrorized the South: Sherman's taking of Atlanta ensured Lincoln's reelection, and the march to the sea broke the back of the South. Sherman fought to win and made no apologies for his actions. As he said, "war is war."
An evening walk…
After a few days of what my Bosnian wife calls shaving weather (bitterly cold and windy), last night was mild. Our three year old son, eager to subject his brand new shoes to the rigors of sidewalk, street, and off-road testing, suggested that he and I go for a walk. We decided to head for Pentagon Row, a new apartment complex with street-level shops that's a few blocks from our house. On the way, we discussed the relative merits of Pink Panther and Mr. Bean, why I drive a car instead of (his preference) a big truck, and rats. Of late, Arlington County has put some rat traps in the park near our house; on our way, we had to take a small detour to avoid the body of a dead one lying in the middle of the sidewalk. I don’t like rats dead or alive, and I couldn’t help involuntarily shuddering at the site of the thing.
He opted to go to the World Market, which has a nice selection of international candies, instead of the grocery store, which of course has a wide selection of the domestic variety. He ended up choosing a bag of spicy pretzels. While we were walking back home, I noticed a couple helicopters flying overhead, towards the Pentagon. Then an Arlington County police car drove by quickly. Then another and another. And a fourth one, this one going slowly, its searchlight aimed into the park across the street from us.
For the first time, I felt emotionally, rather than intellectually, the fear of Islamofascists setting off a dirty bomb near the Pentagon (we live near the Pentagon, after all). Sure, I know that Arlington County police most likely aren’t the first line of defense against such an attack (no offense to them: the few officers I’ve met have been courteous and competent, and one officer even gave my son an honorary policeman’s badge, which filled him with no end of pride), and military helicopters flying around the Pentagon have been fairly common over the past few months. Still, the danger seemed to hit me with all the immediacy of that dead rat. My first instinct was to pick up my little boy and run like hell for home, but then the a more disturbing thought hit me: even home wouldn't be safe. Still, I let him at least enjoy the rest of our walk. A few more police cars drove by, and one was parked at the end of our street. I never found out what was going on.
I keep thinking of Churchill’s line, that nothing is so invigorating as being shot at and missed. I keep wondering to what extent the American character has changed since Sept. 11. And I'm grateful as Hell that our response to this is a lot closer to Sherman's March than McClellan's Idleness.
Wednesday, March 06, 2002
Again, from his memoirs (page 758 in my Penguin edition):
Great line from W.T. Sherman on the purpose of his march to the sea:
This puts me in mind of one of the Civil War songs I have on a tape that I play for my three year old in the car. (He sings along to them, including the ever-popular Battle Cry of Freedom, which was a recruiting song.)
I’ve read Grant’s memoirs and most of Sherman’s. I think I would have liked Grant just fine, but Sherman was a nasty bastard. Of course, I’d still want him on my side.
Tuesday, March 05, 2002
The Washington Post ran a story by Barton Gellman and Susan Schmidt on March 1 headlined, “Shadow Government is at Work in Secret.” Apparently the Bush administration has implemented a Cold War plan, and is rotating between 75 and 150 government officials into secure locations, the idea being that if Washington, D.C. is catastrophically attacked, the continuity of government will be preserved by these officials from their safe offices outside of the capital.
The official story, and as someone who lives just outside of D.C. and works in the city I can certainly say I hope it’s true, is that while there’s no solid information to indicate such an attack—say, a suitcase nuclear weapon going off—is imminent, the dangers posed by al Qaeda warrant taking the extreme steps.
I don’t mean to quibble with the reporting of this story. It’s fairly important to know what the government is up to. I think it’s intellectually defensible to question the implementation of this plan, and to ask whether Congress was adequately notified. What disturbs me is calling these officials a “shadow government.” That’s a fairly loaded term, beloved of conspiracy theorists.
A shadow government (as opposed to a shadow cabinet, which my dictionary defines as the leaders of the opposition party who would be expected to make up the government if the electorate returned their party to power) suggests a cabal of men and women acting without Constitutional authority, but nevertheless pulling the strings of government. I searched using this engine for “shadow government,” and found sites employing the phrase here, here and here.
The usual suspects—the Council of Foreign Relations, the Trilateral Commission, the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, even the Illuminati of Bavaria turn up. The wealthy and powerful conspirators, who, one of the sites claims, have limited home ownership in the United States to a mere two percent (the actual number is in the 60 percent range, I’ll look it up later), stage manage the show elections and the public government that the foolish masses actually believe is in charge. Of course, these conspirators never have the best interests of humanity at heart.
What the Bush administration has done is far different. I think it’s legitimate to ask whether it’s an overreaction (I personally don’t think so, but then I live about a mile and a half from the Pentagon and heard both the jet fly over my roof and the ensuing explosion on the morning of Sept. 11), whether Congress should have been informed or better informed, but I don’t think this is much more than a worst case scenario plan. We don’t call Dick Cheney, or Dennis Hastert, or Colin Powell the “shadow presidents,” rather, they occupy offices in the direct line of succession to the Presidency should the worst happen. Along the same lines, parents of dependent children who specify a guardian in the event of their deaths are not creating shadow parents who rule in their stead, they're preparing for something they hope never occurs.
I think calling the 75 to 150 officials doing their jobs from remote locations a “shadow government” feeds the worst sort of paranoia at a time when we have plenty of other things -- real things -- to worry about. The sad thing is that the phrase seems to have stuck.
Monday, March 04, 2002
The advance of the Web
It's amazing what you can find online. I was interested in the trial of Wolfram Sievers, a Nazi anthropologist who ran the Ahnenerbe project for Himmler. Sievers' job, more or less, was to rewrite history, or prehistory, to support Himmler's ideas about Aryan superiority, the origins of Christianity (I think the prevailing wisdom was that Latinate Christianity was a bastardization of the Aryan spear and magic helmet mythology, although I'm a little sketchy on the details), and the necessity of genocide. If I recall correctly, Sievers -- or at least those who worked for him, but I think it's true of him as well -- was a well-thought-of anthropologist prior to his recruitment by Himmler, and continued to write in the idiom of the respected, academic anthropologist. He was eventually executed for war crimes.
While googling him, I came across The Mazal Library, which... well, let them speak for themselves:
They seem to have a lot of work left to do. Still, it's amazing that all this source material will be online.
Update:William Shirer, whose excellent work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich says Sievers was "a former bookseller" and the secretary of Ahnenerbe, not its head. It always amazes that Shirer's book didn't make any of the top 100 book lists in the last century, including the top 100 books of journalism. It also amazes me that I can remember the name of a relatively obscure figure from Nazi Germany, but not the one I was trying to remember.
The advance of culture
A friend writes:
I’m totally confused about this one: The Dark Ages weren’t entirely dark.
Well, I’m not sure I make any claims of superiority. It’s also difficult to generalize about roughly 800 years of history. (Try to sum up the 1980s in just one country, the United States, with a theme—the decade of greed? Maybe, but we also won the Cold War.) Europe had its Cathars, the Islamic world had its Isma’lis, both of which were sects that differed from orthodoxy and ultimately were pounded for it.
Two related observations: In Europe, by the 12th century and perhaps by the 11th, the institution of slavery had largely disappeared. In the Islamic world, the last kingdom to formally end slavery was Saudi Arabia, in 1962. In Europe, engineers strove to develop ever more efficient means of exploiting power. In the Islamic world, there was
little interest in such means of saving labor.
I have a vague theory, an updated variant on the Pirenne thesis, if you will: While Islam truly was the inheritor and vanguard of the classical world, Latin Europe was the vanguard of the modern world. In my own particularized reading of history, the Renaissance represents a major step backward: a bunch of Italian poseurs running around quoting Virgil, a bunch of university professors suppressing Galileo because he didn’t square with Aristotle.
As evidence, I offer Leonardo da Vinci, who is regarded as the paradigmatic Renaissance man. Yet Leonardo was rejected by his contemporaries because he didn’t speak Greek or Latin, and was merely an engineer. Let’s let Leo vent a bit:
If I have a point, it's merely this: history probably isn't what we think it is. The enlightened Islamic world, which, as I noted, was far ahead in science, lagged behind in technology. Leonardo, who would have felt perfectly at home among Medieval engineers and intellectuals, was rejected by his Renaissance contemporaries. Leonardo was the quintessential Medieval Man, the Dark Ages were an era of progress.
In any case, I’ll write more on slavery later. Frankly, I thought this was the most tenuous assertion I made, that the Medieval European economy eliminated slavery. After all, slavery is still with us, and certainly made a roaring comeback among Europeans in the 17th Century.