May 24, 2003

Celts an Oppressed People

I thought this was a joke when it was first pointed out to me:

Celts claim to be oppressed by Ireland and its alcohol

Seems a UN conference on native rights is seating a delegation of Irish as an "indigenous people" like the Native Americans or Australia's Aborigines:

Speaking for Retrieve Foundation, Margaret Connolly said the Irish government had "neglected" Celts, who, for "2,000 years, had been forced to adapt to a culture that was foreign to them."
[...]
Irish government officials were equally perplexed. "Ireland's position is to respect the rights of minorities," said one.
"But in Ireland, I don't know whether you can class Celts as a minority."

I always wanted to be a part of a struggling, oppressed minority. Now I am one!

cf: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It by Arthur Herman
(Certainly "The Greatest Book Ever Written"™)

We Celts are a humble race, you see, we only created everything.

For a bit of background, Celt (pronounced Kelt, no matter what that Boston Basketball team says) likely comes from the Greek word Keltoi, referring to people who lived up in Central Europe around the Danube. They are also called Galatians, Gaels, Gauls and more generally "Barbarians". Virgil and Martial were Celts, as was Asterix.

One standard story of the migration comes out of Central Europe through France to the British Isles. Others suggest that the Irish came from the offshoot in Spain. By 400 BC, we Celts pretty much controlled everything in Western Europe North of Italy. Then came the Romans. I guess this is the "culture" we've been adapting to for so long. Damn.

My professor, the writer Hugh MacLennan (of course) liked to point out that Gaelic is the only remaining original European language, older than Latin.

The British Isles are the main holdouts for Celts in Europe (as defined linguistically, since there is little other way to define these people): Wales, Ireland and Scotland. Manx died off as a language last century, but the people are still ethnically the same.

My grandfather was an Irish immigrant who became a cowboy in Canada. The family legend is that we descended from those Campbells expelled from the Highlands in 1693 for slaughtering the MacDonalds at Glencoe. I'm sticking with that story, although there has always been Irish-Scottish cross emigration -- for the usual reasons (economic, religious and criminal).

My paternal grandmother was also a Celt: a Breton from the northwest of France. They are a people who could conceivably claim oppression more readily than the Irish, as they constitute a distinct ethnic minority in France. (The rest of my ancestry is all from Scotland: 100% Celtic.)

Finally (for completeness) whiskey is from the Gaelic:

Whiskey is a shortened form of usquebaugh, which English borrowed from Irish Gaelic uisce beatha and Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha. This compound descends from Old Irish uisce, "water," and bethad, "of life," and meaning literally "water of life."
—American Heritage Dictionary

Water of Life. We have so much to thank the Celts for. Let my people go.

For more on Celts, there are some interesting excerpts at this pagan-oriented site.

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You are here

Us. From Mars.

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May 23, 2003

Driven to Poetry

Dominique de Villepin has finished an 800 page book on poetry, essays and poets: In Praise of Those Who Stole the Fire.

This eulogy owes nothing to artifice or chance. It has ripened inside me since childhood. From the bottom of my pockets, stuck to the back of my smock, hidden in the corner of abacuses, poetry gushed out, scribbled on scraps of paper, anxiety drove my mother to stick poems everywhere, in verse or prose, quatrains or alexandrines.

{Paging Dr. Freud.}

I'm driven to poetry:

Monsieur de Villepin
reads all the poetry he can
And though he got stomped on by Powell
He didn't write Howl

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House, er, Senate of Pain

"Truth Crushed To Earth Shall Rise Again" is also the title of a CD by the white LA rap group House of Pain.

I think Byrd would have done well to quote some of the lyrics on that album.

Here's Everlast going straight up against Robert Byrd's speaking style:

Ya know my style's butter
Cause every word I utter
Rock's the sky's from the gutter
I make ya shudder

You can't tell me Byrd's stuff is good as this.

OK, Everlast for Senate. Check it out (from different cuts on the album):

Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy
I got demons running through my slate
They like to creep when my thoughts get deep
Scheming, trying to find a place to fit in
And manifest itself in the form of a sin

Cause all that loud gun talk
Dont mean squat
If my tool gets hot
I'm a burst your knot
And give it all I got
Up in your wisdom slot

I be huntin down crews like Pacino in Heat
Puttin psychology in your biology
No scientology
Dianetic anesthetic

Here come the Don Dada
Makin' ghettos red hotter
I drop the boom bada
Like Jake LaMotta
I can single you out
And isolate you like Mato
I'm undefeated like Rocky Marciano
I hit you right below the belt
Now you singin' Soprano
Talk what ya talk
Still you dont know what I know

Greed lust envy sloth gluttony pride and wrath do the math
These seven deadly sins represent my jinn
You scheming on testing me kid where you been
I been told all my life I'm my only friend
There's a killer on the road money it's the end
And you might think that I'm a dummy
But while you're out at the spot I'm homes' chilling with your honey
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The Bard of West Virginny

The Bard of the Holler, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginny, has let loose another golden shower of Rhetoric, including this bit of verse:

"Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,—
    The eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
    And dies among his worshippers."

The verse is from Battle-Field by William Cullen Bryant, poet, lawyer, abolitionist, editor of the New York Post.

He seems to have written it in December, 1863. There was some general unpleasantness going on in the United States at that time, that Byrd himself later fell upon the wrong side of.

(Although I suspect Bryant may have read the poem to Byrd personally at the time.)

Ah, but context is a demanding bitch — the stanza after goes:

Yea, though thou lie upon the dust,
    When they who helped thee flee in fear,
Die full of hope and manly trust,
    Like those who fell in battle here.

Personally I like (from another Bryant verse):

But 'neath yon crimson tree
    Lover to listening maid might breathe his flame,
Nor mark, within its roseate canopy,
    Her blush of maiden shame.

For more on Bryant: http://www.wvu.edu/~lawfac/jelkins/lp-2001/bryant.html

For Bryant Park: http://www.bryantpark.org

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A Pardon for Lenny Bruce?

There is a movement afoot to get Lenny Bruce's a pardon for his New York conviction.

Fueling the campaign is research done by Ronald K. L. Collins and David M. Skover, who wrote a book last year called "The Trials of Lenny Bruce: The Fall and Rise of an American Icon" (Sourcebooks). The authors discovered, to their surprise, that the obscenity conviction still stood.
[...]
[Bruce's] supporters insist they are not retroactively applying today's more relaxed standards on language. "The Solomon decision indicates that even under the prevailing standards of the time, the Bruce conviction should never have taken place," Mr. Corn-Revere said. "The fact that the conviction remains on the books is an anomaly and a disgrace to the First Amendment."

In August of 1966, when Lenny Bruce died, I was working for the summer with my father at DuArt Film Labs on 55th Street.

There was a skilled maintenance worker there (one of the last of the classic "dese, dem, doze" Brooklynites) who could communicate a reasonably coherent sentence using little but variations on the word "F--k" — as a verb, adverb, adjective, noun in all its regular and irregular forms.

On the other hand, the Judge in Bruce's New York case claimed to have been in the Army for 4 years and never heard the word. That got as big a laugh in the court as anything Bruce said.

I got Lenny Bruce's album in 1968. It was definitely the funniest thing I'd ever heard. Pardon? He should get a formal apology.

(By the way, I'm not squeamish about the F word, just trying to keep from choking on the spam filters.)

For some more on Lenny, here's part of his FBI file:

http://www.fadetoblack.com/foi/lennybruce/index.html

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May 22, 2003

Are We Safer? Stephen Cohen Hasn't a Clue

Well, to contradict myself, here's another passing item to comment upon. In defense, I need to quote Walt Whitman "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

In this case, The Nation made me do it. You see, I get this email letter from them every so often, and the one about Stephen Cohen's Are We Safer? mentioned how "thoughtful" people opposed the war. Katrina van den Heuvel may be many things, but thoughtful ain't one of them. "Attack dog" and "peevish" spring to mind. And the implication that "thoughtful" people couldn't support the war just rubbed me the wrong way.

Anyway, Cohen presents an eminently debunkable thesis. He recites some questions post-Iraq that he calls "measurable" criteria. Apparently Cohen has already set up an "alternate" Earth in which the Iraq war didn't take place and that we can use as a control so we can "measure" the consequences.

Would that the world worked that way. In fact, what would have happened if we had or hadn't done some course of action is more unknowable than even predictions of what "will" happen given our chosen course of action, since history eventually gives us some perspective on what "did" happen. "If I had driven to work this morning instead of taking the subway, I would have paid $20 for parking." Sure. But "... I would have met Bill Clinton and joined his staff." Possible? Yes. Likely? Not remotely.

I'm surprised that a historian doesn't grasp this fundamental reality of the world when he talks about "measurable" criteria.

Just a couple of glosses:

(3) Will the war, and the long US occupation that is likely to ensue, reduce the recruitment of young Arabs by terrorist movements or will it inspire many new recruits? The subsequent suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia and Morocco suggest that the latter result will be the case.

How so? Anyone? You mean the crazies in the Arab world had all settled down to productive careers and have now dropped them to go on jihad? The problems in that part of the world seem to be fairly intractable and out of control of any world events.

(4) With or without more recruits, will the war decrease or increase the number of terrorist plots against the United States, whether at home or abroad?

Whaddaya mean "without"? I thought you just inferred that "with" was the case? I suppose that the previously "unknown" (and unknowable) number of plots against the US has now increased exponentially. Hence, x has now been raised to x^y, with y the "unknown" exponent. OK, so if x was 1, then any number of y is still 1. (Since Cohen holds out the possibility of a decrease in the number of plots, y may be negative.) Again, this is something that is far from a "measurable" outcome.

(7) Finally, considering the rampant anti-Americanism it has provoked, will the war result in more or fewer governments willing to cooperate with — individually or in multinational organizations like the United Nations — George W. Bush's stated top priority, the war against global terrorism? During the weeks since the military campaign ended, anti-American sentiments have continued to grow, from the Middle East to Western Europe, and the United Nations remains profoundly divided by the US war and its ugly aftermath in Iraq.

Anti-americanism was big before Iraq (and Bush), it will be big after Iraq (and Bush). Saying that the US has some responsibility to ignore its security needs to kowtow to world sentiment may verge on delusion. The United Nations, formed in the wake of the totalitarian ventures of the early 20th century seems singularly unadapted to dealing with the totalitarian ventures of the 21st.

You see, Steven, that's how institutions are supposed to evolve — by adapting to new situations on the ground. Maybe you spent so much time trying to shore up the old Marxists of Moscow and were so very surprised when their inflexible structure snapped and collapsed. You still haven't learned from that lesson.

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May 21, 2003

All Hedged About*

Unlike some bloggers, I don't comment on every passing news event (unless it's perfidious French behavior, of course), but this graf in Chris Hedges ill-fated (and ill-considered) graduation speech led me to a profound understanding of the man himself. He is, on the evidence of his speech and his behavior, a narcissistic egomaniac who cares for no one. He neither understands friendship or comradeship; he abandons all those who could provide him insight or understanding. Can't be much of a correspondent.

The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship; it creates comradeship. And those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why after war we fall into despair.

*I vaguely remembered a piece of sappy inspirational poetry with that phrase. Sure enough — the stuff of Sunday sermons — and there's the despair as well:

The town of Nogood is all hedged about
By the mountains of Despair.
No sentinel stands on its gloomy walls,
No trumpet to battle and triumph calls,
For cowards alone are there.
— W.E. Penny
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May 20, 2003

de Villepin Watch continues

I almost forgot. I invoked the great Superhero's name without providing the proper visuals.

To see the whole comic book cover, just cliquez ici.

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May 19, 2003

Hard and Soft Anti-Americanism

I have noted before that anti-Americanism springs from the same totalitarian sources that so tormented the 20th century. This is only in part because it arose initially in the antiwar movements of the 50s through 80s, orchestrated as an arm of Soviet foreign policy. Because the message was putatively peace, there was papering over of a deep anti-democratic force.

These days, the peace/antiwar movement has spent whatever force it had left, despite its rapid inflation and just-as-rapid deflation in the run up to the Iraq war. Barring another situation like Iraq, I don't foresee it mustering another call to arms.

The true anti-democratic force these days is the anti-globalization movement, with globalization being seen as almost exclusively a function of American business and American culture. Like the totalitarian movements of the last century, this movement has an attraction almost exclusively to the intellectual elites. The masses in most countries are indifferent to the antagonism that the educated feel toward the US; they openly consume and lust for the products of US business and media.

Alain Madelin, a free-market classical liberal French MP who has been a minister in past Chirac governments, characterizes it in a speech to the Heritage Foundation:

Behind the anti-Americanism lies the rejection of open societies, the rule of law, free market, and free trade, and that is why it must be fought.

How is this different from the vision of Al Qaeda, as articulated by a left commentator, Peter Beaumont in The Observer?

Strip away the millenarian agenda and its language of apocalyptic struggle - the Great Satans, the enemies of God, references to the Crusaders. Strip away, just for a moment, its extreme religious aspects and what you are left with is a non-negotiable political agenda. That aim is to remove - or neutralise - American and Western influence from large areas of the globe, including states that are not exclusively Islamist.

Bin Laden represents the "hard" form of a worldwide desire to suppress freedom and gain a retraction of Western influence, with an anti-globalization movement that desires much the same — in a "softer" form.

In the 70s, it was the Red Brigades (although it is hard to recall what exact demands they had, apart from freedom for comrades held in prison for prior actions) and the Weather Underground whose violence provided them with credibility as a political force among the idealistic New Left. The destabilization of the Western countries in which they operated was the only true intent of their movements.

The dangerous difference today that the brakes on the totalitarian movements of the late 20th Century no longer exist in the same fashion. The identifiable nation-states like the Soviet Union had much to lose if the radical agenda was pushed too hard. In the 21st Century, the shock troops of the "hard" forces live instead in failed nation-states like Chechnya and Sudan. The "hard" forces don't particularly care if their hosts, like the Afghanis or the Chechens, get pulverized. Unlike true guerilla movements, they sit astride the people rather than swimming among them.

And those in the West who provide the "soft" support — through glib anti-Western, anti-democratic, anti-Semitic attitudes — are just greasing the skids for the "hard" side.

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French Diplomacy: "Irresponsiblity, Futility, Vanity"

Françoise Thom, lecturer at the Sorbonne, on The choices French diplomacy made. English translation available here.

The first explanation for the behavior of our leaders is irresponsibility — they believe that they will not have to answer to anyone.

This irresponsibility is driven so far that they seem to be surprised at the consequences of their acts: thus they were not expecting the flare-up of francophobia in the United States, convinced they could persist in their provocations of Washington without risking retaliation. The habit of impunity in internal politics ended up giving rise to a disastrous foreign policy, as was exactly the case for the late USSR.

In the case of France, one must add futility and vanity, permanent factors in our diplomacy.
[...]
We declare that France does not believe in the "clash of civilizations," as if denial were enough to erase it. For greater security, we go as far as abolishing the idea of civilization. This is why we seek to deny at all costs the fact that France shares the same civilization as the United States, by cultivating with some fanfare our overflow into extra-legal zones. Anti-Americanism plays a central role in this mechanism.

Thom equates the foreign policy of the French with the determined obstructionism of the Soviet Union. Worth reading.

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