The Free State
"Man, in a word, has no nature. What he has is - history."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

US military power

My friend Ellen, a reader of John Keegan’s excellent military histories, pointed out to me that we simply don’t fight pitched battles anymore. The Russians really let us down when they just collapsed like a stack of towels piled too high instead of duking it out on Battlefield Europe like we were gearing up for for fifty years. Now we’ve got all these cool toys and no one to play with. We’ve got radar-invisible planes and our enemies don’t have radar. We’ve got bombs that can vaporize cities and our enemies live in caves. We’ve got the best-trained army on earth and our enemies have got girls blowing themselves up on buses. Sucks, man.
From The Pain.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Could He have tried a bit harder?

In Faustian style, the dream is one of infinite achievement. There is an American hymn which praises God as "the greatest Achiever of all". (Glancing around the world He created, one wonders whether He couldn't have tried a bit harder.) Americans are encouraged to believe that you can crack it if only you put your mind to it: this takes too little account of the frailty of the flesh, but it also overlooks the human capacity for self-destruction - the fact that even the most robust of achievers may be secretly in love with failure.

- Terry Eagleton, in a review of America, America
At the risk of sounding like a modern-day Panglosse, if were on a Heavenly Earth, it would not be as pretty as things could be. Human determination in the face of adversity is far more beautiful than any snow-capped mountain or shimmering sea. One can be intelligent, successful, generous and handsome. Fine. If you were born with those qualities you hardly deserve any laurels. If you've been in the gutter, a wretch and a wreck, and risen, risen above the shit to a higher state... That struggle, in itself, is greater than the end state.

We are only as beautiful as we were wretched.

As to "the frailty of the flesh"... Human beings have their limits. To one's mind, other human beings can be reduced to statistics. An individual cannot live as a number however. He must live and act in the belief that he is free. Determinism, even if it is in some philosophical sense true, can subjectively only serve as an excuse for inaction. A reason to say, "I can do nothing, it is out of my hands."

There is no excuse for inaction. The fact is, and even ruthless pessimism can only support this thought, whatever you are trying to do you could be doing it better. The only question is knowing how to do it better. That only requires informing oneself, which we can all do: you can ask someone for advise, you can open a book, you can read a trade journal, you can phone an expert, you can try harder, try something different, experiment.

This doesn't mean buying into all that particularly American liberal bollocks about we all being self-made men, and we all bearing the horrific angst of personal responsibility for our failings and, almost as bad, the inane bourgeois belief that at bottom the inequalities and privilege in our society is due to the fact that that X is smarter/more industrious/better than Y. It is merely to say: something can, and must, always be done.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Why Foreign Reporting Sucks

What stories the world press publishes! I read many of the dispatches sent from Luanda in those days. I admired the opulence of human fantasy. But I also understood my colleagues' predicament. The editor sends a reporter to a country that is fascinating the world. Such a journey costs a lot money. The world is waiting for a great story, a scoop, a sensational narrative written under a hail of bullets. The special correspondent flies out to Luanda. He is taken to the hotel. He gets a room, shaves, and changes his shirt. He is ready and goes out immediately to look for the fighting.
After several hours he announces that he's beating his head against a wall -
He can't do anything.
Angola betrays no interest in his presence. The telephone doesn't answer, or if it does it answers in Portuguese, a language he doesn't understand. [...]
Asked about the situation, [the government spokesman] Felix answers tersely: Confusão.
Confusão is a good word, a synthesis word, an everything word. In Angola it has its own specific sense and is literally untranslatable. To simplify things: Confusão means confusion, a mess, a state of anarchy and disorder. Confusão is a situation created by people, but in the course of creating it they lose control and direction, becoming victims of confusão themselves. [...]
How to explain this to people who have been in Luanda only a few hours? So once again, as if they hadn't heard Felix, they ask:
"What's the situation?"
And Felix answers:
"Haven't I told you already? Confusão."
They go away shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders. And they are shaking their heads and shrugging their shoulders because Felix has sown Confusão among them.

- Ryszard Kapuscinsky, Another Day of Life

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Terrorist Fist Jab Used in US Army Ads

Watch the double-plus-wholesome intro video till the end.

"Bump, bro'."

Just saying.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Clark, Swiftboat, McCain

I don't think I've ever been more embarassed, to not say ashamed, to be an American than after watching this video.

Charlie Rose's Happy People

I find these interviews really heartening. Is there anything better, really, than working really really hard at doing what you love, loving what you do, with an infectious happiness?

Tim Russert.

Stephen Colbert. Very interesting stuff on his upbringing, personality (would read a book a day, but never do homework), aims with the Show and White House Press Conference Dinner.

Colin Powell
(1990s, saving the children).