Book Review: In the Garden of Beasts

This is not so much a compendium of the experiences of those Americans present in Germany when the Third Reich began it’s ascent to power, but a character study of a particular family. There were a fair number Americans resident in Germany at that time, or just passing through; diplomatic personnel and their families, scholars, newspaper and radio reporters, travelers, businessmen, expatriates of all sorts, or even German-Americans paying extended visits to kin. The family of Ambassador William Dodd falls into the first category and Dodd himself into the second as well. He was an academic, a historian who earned his PhD at the University of Leipzig at the turn of the turn of the century, where he picked up fluency in the language and a deep affection for the country. He was a friend of Woodrow Wilson and when FDR’s administration was stuck to name an ambassador (when their first two choices declined) Dodd was tasked with the honor, which he took up from 1933-1937. Dodd was not a professional diplomat, and it soon emerged that those whom he had to work with at State Department didn’t think all that much of him. For one – he was not particularly wealthy and vowed to live in modest fashion while carrying out his assignment, which lasted from 1933 to 1937. This was rather a strike against him in the circles that he was expected to move; if the professionals had to put up with a patronage appointment, a rich one who would spend lavishly from his or her own purse while in pursuit of diplomatic objectives would make up in some fashion for the bother of conducting business with the host nation through an amateur.
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My City (Country) Was Gone

“The propaganda had a certain purpose: to wipe the past out of our consciousness. We should forget that it had ever existed. We really should doubt our own memories. The revisionists of history had usurped the preferential right of interpretation, and we had silently let it happen. We were not supposed to remember the country that we were part of, and it made us deeply sad and furious. Without a rear-view mirror we had no yardstick for the present time. But that wasn’t the intention, either.”

Read the whole thing, at Gates of Vienna. The author is writing about Sweden – but it can very well apply here in the US, too.

Maybe That Day Has Come

A day may come when the courage of men fails,
when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day.
An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down,
but it is not this day!
This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth,
I bid you stand, Men of the West!
– Aragorn’s speech, before the Black Gates

It always comes back to Tolkien, doesn’t it? A man who lived through the hell of the WWI trenches, who recalled from first hand a time when you could use the term ‘Great Britain’ without ironical quotes around it, a time when there were very real social issues and pathologies to criticize and to try and deal fairly with – but also a time when the common people took enormous pride and confidence in what they were, in their country, in themselves, in their institutions – and in turn, the various institutions looked toward the general welfare of the commonality. I like the 19th century for that very reason, both the British and American versions. It’s a kind of mental refuge to me, these days. For all its pathologies and shortcomings – citizens of both countries had cultural self-confidence. In the main, a self-confidence based on real accomplishment is a hell of a lot more attractive than a pitiful, helpless and apologetic bleating about ones’ societal and cultural shortcomings.

Really, whom would you look to; someone like Isaac Kingdom Brunel, or Lord Gordon … or a cringing and eternally self-abasing creature like Uriah Heep? Never mind that the first two are real, the third a literary creation; there are plenty of vicious, ostentatiously humble Uriah Heeps now active in political life, and plenty of them – a sufficiency of them, actually – infiltrated into academia and in the media. They’ve been doing their destructive work for decades, always with the best intentions, and ostentatiously for the good of us all. They preen themselves on this, and make good careers out of it.

Only, somehow and mysteriously, it has had such malign results as the vicious and very well documented murder of a British soldier by Islamic jihadi muppets in front of a large crowd, in the capital city of what was once a proud empire. Wrap your mind about that. A public street adjacent to a military base; they bash him with a car first, and then carve him up with knives, swagger about the street declaiming on their purpose, shouting Islamic slogans … and wait for the armed officers of the law to appear. Who did arrived, twenty minutes later, when the victim had doubtless bled out – some news reports have it that his head was cut off, which would certainly remove any urgency in responding with medical aid. Meanwhile the murders, with bloody hands swagger about, explaining why they did it. Three women come forward, and I accept that this took enormous courage on their part – given that this horrible event took place out of the clear blue. I also accept that the initial witnesses to this atrocity were shocked, disbelieving … but that any impulse on the part of members of the public to intervene in any meaningfully effective way was likely squelched on the instant of being considered. The duty of any good British citizen these days, or so I have gathered, is to to be passive, and never to resist being robbed, raped or murdered, since such resistance is likely to injure or inconvenience the robber, rapist or murderer. This precept of non-resistance has been enforced over the last few decades by prosecution and convictions obtained against those who actually did resist outrages against their own or others’ property and persons. The end result was what we saw this week in Woolwich; no resistance, no rescue. Thus are a free people reduced to serfitude. Pity, that – but I am certain that the ruling classes like it very much that way.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

April Follies and Misdemeanors

This is has been one of those weeks where – in the words of the late Molly Ivins – sitting down and powering up the internet of a morning was kind of like opening the refrigerator and seeing Fidel Castro sitting inside. You can’t help thinking there was something mighty strange going on.
The current round of “Korean Motherland Unity Game of Repeated Chicken” (as another blogger on Open Salon used to call it) continues, as Li’l Pudgy establishes his dominance. Still no rain of fire on Austin, Texas, Tokyo, Seoul or anywhere else, but Li’l Pudgy ramps up the rhetoric regardless; the Norks have played this game I think every six months for the last sixty years, and he has to get louder and more threatening to even get the old Korea hands to even pay attention, let alone take the threat seriously. Say, all his generals have gaudy sprockets and decorations hung all over their uniforms – and what military action did they earn all those in? Seriously, I can only hope the Chinese are getting as tired of Li’l Pudgy as we all are. I do wonder, though – how many more Korean Motherland Unity Games of Repeated Chicken will we endure until the Kim régime implodes of itself?

Following, in a desultory fashion the horrors revealed in the trial of the Philadelphia abortion clinic doctor, Kermit Gosnell – who among other things, specialized in late-term abortions. Very late term abortions, and in horrifically unsanitary conditions, or so it would appear from the trial testimony. I’m not following it very closely because I have a very low gross-out threshold, and accounts of the the good doctor’s fetus foot collection is enough to make me upchuck. Wait – I thought that legalizing abortion would keep women safe from quacks in filthy backstreet abortion mills. Guess I was misinformed. I blame the media, of course – most of whom have been remarkably restrained in their coverage of Dr. Gosnell’s contributions to women’s rights.

And finally – the not entirely-unexpected passing of Margaret Thatcher … as I say, not unexpected, but I am still boggled by the public vitriol uncorked on the occasion by certain elements in once-Great Britain. Good lord, I thought Sarah Palin had roused a s**tstorm of hatred among self-nominated media, political and intellectual elite in this country, but it’s but a fart to a tornado in comparison. Good lord, be a bright, ambitious and successful woman politician, achieving high office without the benefit of a husband or father having gotten there first, and do so as a conservative, and the knives will come out for sure. Just as a rhetorical aside directed to all the Maggie haters out there; people, do you realize how tacky, warped and insane this makes you appear to outsiders? For one, it makes it look like the Queen and the Duchess of Cambridge are about the only adults left in the room.

And that’s my week. By the way, I brought out Our Grandpa Was an Alien on Kindle, since I didn’t carry over the print version to Watercress Press when I reissued everything else. Enjoy – all the old romps and essays about my family, growing up in the 1950s and 1960s.

Council House and Violent

Such has been the sad state of our very own dear media creatures in these United States lately that I have begun again to read the English newspapers, or their on-line iteration – mostly the Telegraph and the Daily Mail, and mostly because the worthy reporters for those establishments don’t seem to give a damn or not if they are ever invited to interview members of the Obama administration or not and thus have no inclination to soft-ball their coverage of American political matters as regards the present occupant of the White House and his administrative flunkies. Frankly, this is rather refreshing, although the Daily Mail site seems to be regularly curated by people who can’t spell, are innocently unscathed by knowledge of the customary rules of grammar and have a penchant for semi-weekly stories about well-trodden aspects of WWII posted as if they were the latest word, evah!

Anyway, one of the regular tropes on the Daily Mail are stories about neighbors from hell; sometimes about spectacular neighborhood feuds between people whom you thought might have known better (some of whom seem at best to be deranged), but most reliably about another kind of neighbor; the ‘council house and violent’ kind having it out with their hapless neighbors. I presume, from the context of the Mail, and from various other sources (movies and popular genre novels like this one, and this one) that ‘council house’ equates to the American version of public housing, or more especially ‘Section 8’ houses … and the presence of certain clients of social services in public or Section 8 are not particularly welcome among their neighbors. Not that I wish to be particularly snotty about this; but any fool can tell you that in a working-class neighborhood of house-proud home owners, the sudden presence of a family moving in with their rent paid by public funds is not often a very often a good or a welcome thing, with or without any racial element attached. Especially if the new neighbors are inconsiderate, destructive and hostile (or oughtright criminal) – and if it turns out that nothing much can be done to dislodge them, as seems to often be the case in once-great Britain. (Unlike the landlord in this story – who has a fine appreciation for a responsible kind of tenant-mix in his properties.)

One of the most recent of these stories – and one of the most depressing is this one; of a career welfare recipient with pink-dyed hair who has never, ever held a paying job or apparently a legal marriage, but who has still managed to birth and raise at government expense, no less than eleven offspring. One of her current neighbors had the most viciously accurate comment; describing her uterus as a clown-car. At any rate, this woman seems to have gotten the local council to place her and her spawn at some considerable expense in a custom-renovated house. Why Ms Heather Frost is to be deserving of this is a question unanswered or perhaps better yet, unasked by the council housing authorities, although I’ll bet a lot of her prospective neighbors are demanding to know. She doesn’t seem to have any particular qualities which would justify this tender consideration, other than being warm, breathing, indiscriminant with her favors and embarrassingly fertile. And it also appears that she and her offspring made life such a hell for one of their unlucky neighbors – an elderly widow – that the poor woman couldn’t even turn up the sound on her television without inviting regular, sustained abuse and vandalism. This wasn’t the only account of this kind of situation, oh, no – a couple of months ago, another such neighbor, this time a well-educated and relatively young university lecturer was driven to commit suicide by a similarly feral lot of neighbors. (Can’t find the link – but remember reading it.)

What a hell the local housing authorities create for working-class good neighbors, I must say; it’s almost as if they revel in assigning the hellish, destructive and improvident to live among them – as if cutting loose people like Ms Frost and her brood are a punishment for responsible homeowners who don’t have the wherewithal to respond by moving away, or hiring effective legal help. It’s purely a pity that hellish council house tenants and Section 8 recipients with form can’t all be sent to live in a neighborhood all together, where all they can do is make each other miserable, instead of blameless and quiet-loving working-class homeowners. Or better yet – right next door to those housing authorities

This and That – Jubilee Edition

We were distracted Sunday morning by the Jubilee procession of the boats on the Thames, as covered by BBC America. Blondie noticed that none of her various friends in Britain were on-line Sunday morning; presumably they were all off at various street parties, celebrating Her Majesty’s sixtieth year on the throne. She turned on the television and we were glued to it for an hour and a half: yep, the Brits really do know how to pull off a spectacle, although the dogs were increasingly distraught because it was time for walkies, dammit, and we never watch TV during the day, so there was their tiny domestic universe being rocked. The various long shots did look like Canaletto’s views of the Thames; the parties, the people, the banners, the displays along the riverbank buildings … and above all, the boats. What a feat of organization that must have been – to get them there at the start, to keep them together for the convoy up the river … and then, of course, to disperse them all afterwards.

I looked it up – the last Jubilee was Queen Victoria’s, in 1897. There probably isn’t anyone alive now who remembers that one, unless they were a drooling infant at the time and have lived to be over 110 years old. You have to go back to Louis the XIV and the 17th century to find a monarch who lasted longer. There won’t be another Jubilee for a British monarch in our lifetime, so you really can’t blame them for going all hands on deck for the Jubilee. It looks as if it is all a fantastic celebration … and I hope, more than anything that it gives ordinary Brits a kind of sense of self, and of national pride again. They were a great nation, with a glorious past, who did fantastic things all during the 19th century … and I hope against hope that something – anything can arrest the horrible downward slide, which everyone who visits Britain or lives there has noted. My grandparents and great-aunt all recollected Britain fondly; it was once a rather pleasant, industrious, sober and polite place, full of small pleasures and quiet beauties; eccentric perhaps, and definitely class-ridden, and certainly not devoid of snobbery and injustice, but still… All of Britain’s nicer qualities are now comprehensively wrecked, seemingly – unless you are very, very rich.

I can’t help seeing that when one of the British papers that we read online; whenever they run a photo-feature of times of yore – there was one just this week, of pictures taken of British life the year when Elizabeth came to the throne – the comment sections fill up with nostalgic memories from readers; It wasn’t all that bad, back then, and there is this pervasive feeling that the best of Britain’s gifts and capabilities have been shamefully squandered, and the working and middle classes beaten constantly over the head about all those things they should be ashamed of by the intellectual class. The past is not just a foreign place, but a better one and a more honest one, even with the defects noted. I wonder if this doesn’t account for the popularity of all those TV series and movies set in the 19th and early 20th century. Even with economic disparities, painfully ugly industrialization and poisonously suffocating snobbery – that past was a confident, optimistic place, a successful and a safer place for individuals, with wider horizons than are presently available.

Anyway – Long may Elizabeth II reign; so do we all wish, especially when considering Prince Charles. Oddly enough, in pictures of the Thames flotilla, he looks every bit as old as his father.

London Burning

Another night, another night of riots, arson and casual lootery, relatively untrammeled by the efforts of law enforcement, and perhaps slightly slowed down by the efforts of massed local residents and business owners. After three or four nights of this destruction, which leaves the internet plastered with pictures that look like the aftermath of the WWII Blitz, I would have hoped that the local residents were beginning to assemble and barricade their streets, rather than leave them open for the ‘hoodies’ to do their worst. I’d have also hoped that the police were starting to think about responding to the mob hoodlum element with more than sandbags and rubber bullets, but hey – I’m just one of those terroristic Tea partiers, presently resident in the state of Texas. Of which many and sometimes justifiable criticisms might be made, and usually are, by superior Euroweenies having a fit of lefty vapors over the relative déclassé-ness of it all – but one of the good points about living here is that the incidents of home-invasion robberies are refreshingly few in number.

Not a claim that can be made in once-Great Britain for the past few years, alas – where those who uphold Her Majesty’s laws of late seem to be more inclined to prosecute those who use any kind of weapon at hand to defend themselves in a robbery or home-invasion situation. Nope – not the case around these parts: it’s very likely that a canvass of my immediate neighborhood might turn up more weapons than the standing army of many small-to-micro European states. Law-enforcement is also rather refreshingly understanding with regard to the plight of those citizens who – under fairly strictly defined circumstances and in legitimate fear of their lives or the lives of their family – have defended their homes and castles with deadly force and dropped a miscreant stone cold on the hearth-rug, or as was the case a couple of years ago, on the doormat. (Elderly woman, living alone, local scumbag energetically trying to force open her front door. She warned him three times that she had a gun, local scumbag ignored the warning, and she drilled him straight through the front door.) Usually in these cases, the homeowner has the subdued congratulations of the local police for taking out the trash. To your average superior Euroweenie this is just the same exactly as Old West gunfights in the street practically, and an excuse for a bit of hyperventilating. Eh – whatever. It might also be the case that – depending on the year and location – communities in the Old West could just have been a good bit safer than certain of the big cities in the Old East, but that’s a discussion for another day.

No, I started on London. Ancient. Historic. The cynosure of an Empire, the great queen city of the Anglosphere. I knew it before I even set foot in it, so marinated in it for having read two thousand years worth of history and literature, in which it was the center – or near to the center – of all things. Built and rebuilt again, from Roman to Anglo-Saxon, to Norman, Elizabethan, Georgian, re-engineered by the great Victorian builders, rebuilt after the Great Fire, and again after the Blitz, and so many other relatively minor disasters . . . eternal, grand, sometimes scruffy around the edges, but comfortable and welcoming to my younger brother and sister and I, when we arrived in the early summer of 1970. We stayed in a tiny B & B in Clapham Common, one of those miniscule late Victorian brick row houses, just wide enough for a single room and a hallway alongside, and a walled garden out in back. The owner who confirmed our reservation included in his letter exhaustive, detailed and step-by-step instructions for reaching his place from the airport where our student charter flight landed. We were to take a certain train, which we would find upon walking out the front of the airport, get off at a particular stop, then walk down so many feet on a certain street to a bus stop, which we would find opposite a certain shop (he included a detailed street map for this) take a specific bus, which we would exit on Clapham High Street at another stop (which he instructed us to tell the bus conductor that we were to exit the bus at, and this part included another segment of street map), thereupon to walk so many feet on a particular direction, before turning left . . . and his establishment would be so many houses down that street on the right.

And so we did – and we stayed for three days, before relocating to the Youth Hostel just around the corner from St. Pauls’ on Ludgate Hill. In the six days of our wandering summer, we saw all the sights, to include the Tower of London, I bought books at Foyles, and explored Westminster Abbey . . . and one of the ancient established street markets – was it Golder’s Green? – where I bought a length of wool for Mom to make a bespoke pair of pants for Dad – which I don’t think she ever did. Fleet Street, and Downing Street, Trafalgar Square and Regent’s Park, and all these little hidden-away neighborhoods; we met nothing but nice people. And now that town is burning again. Is this the way that civilization ends, at the hands of insolent and brutal looters, while the populace and the government stands helpless against them? Is that little side street in Clapham one of those threatened? Are the little, old-fashioned Victorian store fronts along Clapham High Street among those smashed and looted, while the owners of those small businesses wait for a sure defense, or perhaps take matters into their own hands at last?

Interesting times. Interesting times.

(cross-posted at Chicago Boyz)

Something Happening Here

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…

Exploding cars, and a Beslan-like massacre of teenaged campers, plus a claim of responsibility from the usual suspects (until the full horror perhaps persuaded the be-turbanned goons that perhaps they’d better walk back from that one) nothing says long hot summer and interesting times more than what happened last week in Norway.

I visited there once, in 1970 – Oslo, Bergen and Stavanger, as a Girl Scout doing that youth hostel and backpack thing. Lovely country, very wet and rainy, even in summer it seemed to drizzle about forty-five minutes out of every hour, and it was a miracle to me that anything but moss and lichen had enough sunlight to grow along the coastal rocks. We stayed in a sailboat, which had been converted to a Youth Hostel, ate fish pudding for dinner once (it’s white, gelatinacious and completely without taste), had wonderful smorgasbord breakfasts and saw Edvard Grieg’s home – being raised on classical music, I very much fear I was the only one of our group to really appreciate it. And we took a long train ride to Stockholm, sharing a long open rail car with a touring chorus from an international music camp on the US/Canada border. It was about a three-hour trip, and we sang all the way, having between the chorus and our group, several guitars and a considerable repertoire of folk songs, summer-camp songs and other musical arcana. I have no idea what the regular passengers thought of all this, by the way. That was then – this is now, and sometimes the summer of 1970 seems as far away . . . well, another time-space continuum. The horror of last week on Utoya Island would have been inconceivable, then – in Norway or anywhere else in the Western World.

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…

So, on past form, just about everyone over the sentience level of a mollusk assumed it was one of those horrible, unexpected outrages perpetuated by an unrepresentative member of the religion of peace who hadn’t gotten the word about being an adherent of the religion of peace or given any consideration to the backlash such an act would ignite against innocent coreligionists. Hey, it’s not cynicism, it’s just good pattern recognition – when something goes boom among noncombatants in a fairly major way of late, usually there’s someone named Mohammed involved, no matter if the venue is Afghanistan Thailand, Bali, Somalia, Iraq, Spain, Britain, India or Israel. It’s just how this has worked out. And flog that line about the IRA, Tim McVeigh or assorted small abortion-clinic bombers as hard as you like – the sheer quantity of the occurrences of kabooms involving gentlemen named Mohammed (as well as the numbers of victims involved) are kind of overwhelming.

So here – as it turns out – we have another freelance nutter, supposedly from the conservative and supposedly anti-Islamic immigrant side of the political aisle, going all mad-dog and deciding that his particular mission is to slaughter teenagers and young twenty-somethings at a political party-sponsored summer camp . . . careless of the fact that by this particularly vile act, he will have alienated just about every potential ally and sympathizer towards his particular concerns – which might (or might not) have had a chance of a fair hearing, up until July 22. Strange days, indeed – strange and brutal days.

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It’s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…

Of course, the eventual truth about Anders Breivik will eventually out – although I fear, not before the meme/conventional wisdom will congeal about him. But there are so many contradictory notes, so many . . . not quite wrong, incomplete, contradictory or curious things about him, as he is being presented by the mainstream or even the new media. Businessman, well educated, plenty of guns (Hey, I live in Texas, supposed to be bristling with free-lance gun-slingers.) Supposed to be a Christian, supposed to be a freemason, supposed to be . . . well, a lot of things. A manifesto cribbed from Theodore Kacznski’s writings, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts that come and go. Nutter, stooge . . . or what? Definitely a stone-cold killer; for which he may serve 21 years in the Norwegian equivalent of the super-max; and if it doesn’t be violation of his civil rights and upon being formally found guilty, I hope that he serves a bit longer. The parents of the murdered campers may have hopes for even longer than that. But all I really know about this is what I read in the newspapers. Or on-line.

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down…

I can’t say that I really know Norway, after all – the closest I came were those nice people that I met in various Youth Hostels and train stations, and on a motor-boat ferry ride between Stavanger and Bergen, all those decades ago. And what I read in various venues, of course. It’s comfortable to assume –a nutcase with delusions of glory and Wagnerian grandeur, even perhaps a brain tumor, a la Charles Whiteman, the UT Austin sniper, or a Ted Kacznski wanna-be. But what if – just suppose – he is a kind of Nordic John Brown, frustrated beyond all patience, feeling marginalized and insulted by the ruling political elite with regard to his particular concern . . . and deciding that the perpetration of a horrific crime would be worth it, just for the opportunity to make an unmistakable and irrevocable gesture. What then, oh wolves?

Much more comforting, I suppose, for the transnational political ruling class to write this off as the act of a brilliant but unfortunately deranged actor. For the other consideration would be just too unbearable to contemplate.

A Sunday Morning – September 3rd

(this is a reprise of a post from five years ago, slightly re-worked, but still relevant, especially since probably no one but me could find it in the archives!)

A Sunday September morning, on one of those mild and gorgeous fall days, when the leaves are just starting to turn, but the last of the summer flowers still linger, and the days are warm, yet everyone grabs hold of those last few golden days, knowing how short they are of duration under the coming Doom of winter.

And there is another Doom besides the changing of the seasons on this morning, a Doom that has been building inescapable by treaty obligation for the last two days, clear to the politically savvy for the last two weeks— since the two old political opposites-and-enemies inexplicably signed an alliance— deferred by a humiliating stand-down and betrayal of the trusting two years since, a doom apparent to the far-sighted for nearly a decade. The armies are marching, the jackals bidden to follow after the conqueror, a country betrayed and dismembered, the crack cavalry troops of an army rated as superior to the American Army as it existed then charging against tanks, their ancient and historic cities reduced to rubble – and by obligation and treaty, the Allies are brought to face a brutal reality. That after two decades of peace, after four years of war that countenanced the slaughter of a significant portion of a generation, that left small towns across Europe and Great Britain decimated and plastered with sad memorials carved with endless lists of names, acres of crosses and desolation, sacrifice and grief, for which no one could afterwards give a really good reason, a decade of pledging Never Again – war is come upon them, however much they would wish and hope and pray otherwise. Reservists had been called to active duty, children had been evacuated en mass from the crowded city center, and Neville Chamberlain, who had been given a choice between war and dishonor, chosen dishonor and now had to go before the nation on radio and announce the coming of war:

“I am speaking to you from the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street. This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government an official note stating that unless we heard from them by eleven o’clock, that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and consequently this county is at war with Germany. You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more or anything different that I could have done and that would have been more successful…. We and France are to-day, in fullfrnlment of our obligations, going to the aid of Poland, so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her people. We have a clear conscience, we have done all that any country could do to establish peace. The situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted and no people or country could feel safe has become intolerable. Now we have resolved to finish it, I know you will all play your part with calmness and courage…

When I have finished speaking certain detailed announcements will be made on behalf of the Government. Give these ‘your closest attention. The Government have made plans under’ which It will be possible’ to carry on the work of the nation in the days of stress and strain which may be ahead of us. These plans need your help; you may be taking your part in the fighting Services or as a volunteer in one of the branches of civil defense. If so, you will report for duty in accordance with the instructions you have received. You may be engaged in work essential to the prosecution of war, or for the maintenance of the life of the people in factories in transport in public utility concerns, or in the supply of other necessaries of life. If so it is of vital importance that you should carry on with your job.

Now may God bless you all, and may he defend the right. For it is evil things that we shall be fighting, against brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution, and against them I am certain that Right will prevail.”

The filmmaker John Boorman in the movie “Hope and Glory” noted the queer occurrence of all the lawnmowers in the suburb suddenly falling silent, everyone listening to the sad speech of a man who has seen his worst fears realized followed by the sound of air raid sirens. It was a false alarm, that morning, but within a year the alarms would sound for real. The docklands would be reduced to rubble, historic churches would fall, the city would burn, but in the aftermath, defiantly humorous signs would appear “More Open Than Usual” and “I Have No Pane, Dear Mother Now.” It would be entirely possible for men who had served in the Western Front to see grim and tragic duty again as firemen and wardens in the streets where they lived in this new war. By the time the Blitz became a reality, most everyone had gotten more or less accustomed to the idea. My Grandpa Jim, though, would take the bombing of London as a personal insult, and be restrained from going downtown and assaulting the German Consulate in Los Angeles, while his son and namesake collected newspaper clippings about the war, and aviation for his scrapbook. I do not think the news of war that came to them on another Sunday morning, nearly two years later came entirely as a surprise, only the direction form which it came— east, and not west.

In any case, the news would have come, late on a Sunday morning, after the early service. I like to think this is a hymn that might have been sung in the last few quiet hours before the storm— as it was at the service I attended the day that the ground offensive began in the first Gulf War.

God of Grace and God of Glory, on your people pour Your Power;
Crown your ancient church’s story, Bring it’s bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, For the facing of this hour
For the facing of this hour.

Lo, the hosts of evil round us, Scorn the Christ, assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us, Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of these days,
For the facing of these days!

Cure your children’s warring madness, Bend our pride to your control;
Shame our wanton, selfish gladness, Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant is wisdom, grant us courage, Lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal
Lest we miss Your kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places, Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces, In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee

Save us from weak resignation, To the evils we deplore;
Let the gift of Your salvation, Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, Serving You whom we adore,
Serving you whom we adore.

Tune: Cwm Rhondda
Words: Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930


September 3, 1939: 70 years ago today.

Another Country Heard From

A send-up from Israel’s answer to “Saturday Night Live”, on BBC coverage of the current situation in Gaza

Link: the BBC coverage of Gaza - with subtitles

Found by degrees through Rantburg and Hot Air. Enjoy – it’s subtitled, which puts almost everyone in on the joke. Look, haven’t I been saying we ought to make fun of these guys … and this one makes fun of the Palestinians as well.

The Producers – Euro-Style

So my first reaction to this story was a jaw-dropped five minutes of boggle-eyed amazement. The second was to double check this wasnt an intricate send-up by the Onion, or Iowahawk? April Fools day was almost two weeks ago, admittedly but no, it appears to be a completely straight in the sense of being accurate, not in the sexual sense news story.

Third reaction wow, what a horrible thing to do to a poor unsuspecting little Verdi opera. That rumble you hear for south of the Alps? That must be the great maestro himself, revolving in his grave at a couple of thousand RPMs. Hook him up to an electric generator, you could probably power a couple of good-sized American suburbs, or maybe all of North Korea with the resulting output. This is just the latest manifestation of a depressing and currently fashionable penchant for staging operas and incorporating trappings and conventions taken cafeteria-style from an assortment of sources, to include gangster movies of all ages, S&M porn flicks and bloody violence a la Peckinpah or Tarantinono matter how unsuited the opera is to that sort of artistic vision, or how much violence it does to the plot, or the characters. (more here)

It seems to be the ultra-trendy thing in Europe, apparently; it doesnt seem to have caught on much in the States, where an opera house actually depends on appealing to the subscribers, season-ticket holders and the audience in general. Were umm, kind of traditional, that way. Generally the people who want to revel in gangster movies, S & M porn flicks or whatever, can get their fix somewhere else than the stage of the Met or the Houston Grand.

Youve got to hand it to the director of this 9/11 Masked Balls-up, though for sheer Teutonic thoroughness in including every single stupid, tired and overworked anti-American trope in the eu repertoire: ugly naked people in Mickey-Mouse masks, same old anti-capitalist political posturing, Uncle Sam and Elvis impersonators the whole ugly collection, calculated to demonstrate American vulgarity and European cultural superiority and creativity. Im imagining the creative types sitting around, brainstorming and shouting out their ideas for every element and laughing their asses off the whole time at the credulity of their audience. It would be reassuring to think this was some kind of Producers type scheme, to deliberately create a production guaranteed to go down in flames on opening night, but apparently not. According to the linked story, its sold out, or near to being so.

Ah, well the next time I read of some euro-snot looking down his artistic nose and condemning Americans for being crass and vulgar and generally uncaring of our artistic heritage, I shall think of this production and laugh, and laugh and laugh.

Fall and Rise, Part 2

The summer that I was sixteen and a half was the one spent in Britain and Europe, doing the Eurailpass/Youth Hostel/$5.00 a day adventure which upon reflection at a point nearly four decades later seems nearly as long ago as luxury steamship travel and the Grand Tour. I learned many useful and useless things during that summer, and acquired a certain sort of fearlessness about travel and new places, and strange people, as well as the ability to manage a 70-pound backpack in all situations, including the narrow confines of the little stairway to the top level of an English double-decker bus. Its an awkward thing to manage, of course, and sometimes total strangers were moved to be of assistance, especially when we were shedding our packs (which were our entire luggage) or taking them up again.

Its of enormous help, you see, for someone to grab the pack and hold it steady as you slip the straps off your shoulders. Then you turn around and thank them, and taking the pack by the frame, you stow it away in the overhead, or set it downor whatever. We came to know that there were two kinds of men who would instantly offer this assistance: the young ones were Boy Scouts and all the older ones had been soldiers.

My travel buddy, Esther Tutwyler and I struck up a conversation with one of those helpful older sorts in an English railway compartment who of course turned out to have been a soldier, and also confessed that he was always grateful to Americans because Pattons army had liberated him from a German POW camp. This was an instant bond, as Esthers father was a career Army warrant officer who had fought his way all across France and Germany and done his share of liberating various bits of personnel and real estate. But when I asked the Englishman where he had been captured, he answered with the name of his unit, and that he had been captured at Dunkirk as part of the British Expeditionary Force. I actually recognized the name of his unit, (I knew all sorts of useless trivia at this time) and remarked that they had been part of the defending force around the pocket where the British forces had been driven, upon the opening of the German drive into France,
Oh, yes, he said, with great good humor, But if I had known then it was the perimeter around the bloody place, I would have made Jesse Owens look like a turtle!

The German offensive of May, 1940 punched through the weak point— Belgium, Holland, and Luxemburg— and split the Allies in two. The bulk of the British Expeditionary Force fell back towards the flat sandy coast between Calais and the Belgian frontier towards Gravelines and La Panne, Nieuport and Bergues and Dunkirk, with its inner harbor and much of the town smashed to rubble and rendered useless by German air raid. Black smoke from burning oil stocks shrouded the town, and set up a column of black smoke that could be seen for miles. But the outer harbor was sheltered by a long jetty, or mole; wooden gangways spanning concrete plinths reaching out from the shore and sheltering the outer harbor. The moles were not intended as a means of landing or loading personnel, but in a pinch, ocean-going ships could tie up and take on troops but it was a tricky maneuver at best, and made even more of a hazard by constant German air raids. German artillery dominated most of the sea routes approaching the town but still, according to most accounts, more than three-quarters of those rescued from Dunkirk were taken off from the moles, by ships who packed in human cargo wherever there was room. It took about seven hours to load 1,000 men on a destroyer, for example and every minute of those hours, that ship and the men lined up on the mole, patiently waiting their turn to board would be a target of everything the Germans could throw at them. On the evening of 27 May, 1940 the Navy officer on station in Dunkirk sent a message to his superior, saying essentially that evacuating from the moles was too slow, too hazardous. He asked for ships to be sent towards the beaches, east of Dunkirk and for all available small craft to serve as ferries between the beach and the larger craft.

There were already hundreds of regular Naval and merchant-marine vessels at hand to serve in the evacuation, plus a number of requisitioned Dutch coastal transports, known as scoots but during the night of the 27th, Navy officers scoured boatyards, yacht-ports and wharves all through the south-eastern coast and rivers of England for small craft that could be of use. Fishing trawlers and tramps, tug boats, motor yachts and countless numbers of row-boats, fire-boats and cross-channel paddle-steamers were pressed into immediate service, with crews formed by a mix of reservists, regulars, volunteers, civilians and owners hastily equipped and fueled up, sketchily armed, formed into convoys or taken under tow, they all went straight into the thick of it to get their soldiers out.

The legend of the little boats was born out of Dunkirk, of civilian boat-owners sailing into hell even though it wasnt quite like that, theres enough truth in it to stir the blood of anyone inclined to step forward in a time of crisis. Though most of the BEF that escaped did so through the harbor, the image of shallow-draft little boats sailing close into the shore, and of columns of soldiers standing chest-deep in the water, waiting for their countrymen to come for them and bring them safe home oh, yes; there is the image imperishable, of nine days of glory in the midst of defeat. The British Army left their armor, their heavy artillery, their transport behind; with luck all of it spiked, scattered and burned all along the sandy dunes along the shore from Dunkirk to La Panne. They came away with what they carried, their weariness and pride, for they were still alive.

Arms and transport, armor and artillery, they could be replaced at a cost, and in some little time; but in only a fraction of the time it takes to train an officer or an NCO, or to raise up an Army. And that was the victory of Dunkirk, delivered out of defeat and captivity at the hands of Hitlers marvelous war machine; an Army that would return. And that was the victory of the little boats, the volunteers, and the organization of everything that could float, and head towards the column of smoke in the skyand carry away a soldier or two. It must have been all the sweeter, a victory and an army, snatched from the wreck following on the defeat of an ally which had been until then thought stout and strong.

I couldnt resist this coda, found from one of my reference books: A very junior Navy officer on the destroyer HMS Grenade was later asked by his commanding officer to write an account of his experience, after the ship was fatally disabled by a bomb which went straight down the funnel and exploded in the boiler. He wrote

Dear Sir: there was a bloody great bang. I have the honor to be, Sir, Your Obedient servant.

THINGS I LIKE ABOUT EUROPE

Sgt. Moms post got me to thinking about some of my past experiences in Europe. I first started travelling there on business in 1987, when I spent quite a bit of time in Burnley, Lancashire in northern part of the UK. At that time, we had just entered into a joint venture with Lucas, aka The Prince of Darkness, to develop a multifunction column switch for a U.S. auto company. Despite the seemingly endless rains (the sun broke through only one day on my first visit, with the local weatherman reporting that the temperatures soared into the seventies this being July), it was quite a nice place with a small town feel to it. They serve a particular type of beer there called bitter, which, once one acquires a taste for it, is a pleasant way to end the workday. The locals were friendly and very welcoming of us Yanks to challenge them to a game of arrows (darts) at the local pubs. We had contracted some test equipment to a tool shop in nearby Nottingham, necessitating a trip to evaluate their progress. Accompanied by our hosts and some engineers from Chrysler, we took the motorway to Yorkshire, travelling by the Major Oak, which is alleged to have been used by Robin Hood as a hiding place. It turns out that the managing director of the tool shop had some sort of relationship (brother or something) with the curator of Nottingham castle, so after our business was concluded we enjoyed a personalized tour. What a neat place, whether or not you believe in the legend of Robin Hood. Afterwards we retreated to Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, a pub across the square from the castle that has been in continuous operation since 1189 with the name inspired by the start of the third crusade. At one point our host asked us what we thought of all that we had seen that day. The auto company engineer thought a moment, and replied (WARNING UGLY AMERICAN MOMENT AHEAD) Well, its all very nice, but what have you people done lately? My only beef with England is their aversion to ice water. If you ask for a glass, you will get one ice cube. Thats it.

Another of my favorite places is the Principality of Liechenstein and its capital city Vaduz, located in the heart of the Swiss Alps. The hotel where we stayed is about a bucolic setting as can be imagined. There was a cow pasture just outside my hotel window, with (sorry California) some of the happiest cows I have ever seen, each wearing a traditional cowbell and munching on the prolific wildflowers. As we were leaving the hotel in the mornings, we would pass groups of children in their neatly pressed uniforms heading to school, singing and playing stickball. While the locals seemed quite friendly, they viewed us with a little suspicion, as though wondering whether we truly were the barbaric Americans that had undoubtedly heard about. One night, our hosts took us to a fine restaurant located high up on a mountain in nearby Switzerland, overlooking the upper Rhine valley, with the river itself being little more that a creek at that location. On our return down the mountain (WARNING UGLY AMERICAN MOMENT AHEAD), I pressed our host to treat us to a yodeling performance. I was firmly informed in no uncertain terms that We do not yodel! I would like to return one day, although I am concerned about their national security.

Paris may be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but I find its residents to be among the most hostile toward Americans not in any specific way just a general distaste. I found Toulouse, on the other hand, to be quite the opposite. My last visit was on short notice, so the hotel where we stayed was an unknown quantity, though proving to be a hidden gem. The rooms were quite small the building dated to the eighteenth century though most of them opened into small interior courtyards. The owner made a general-purpose room available for us to work on our presentation. He had never seen the sort of hardware we had laptops, projectors, PowerPoint, etc. and was fascinated with the process. Each day, he would go to the market to buy fresh breads and pastries for us, serving them with the most wonderful espresso Ive had before or since. In exchange for showing him the finer points of creating a presentation, he responded to my curiosity about the espresso machine with a compete tutorial on its complicated operation. I remembered enough French to get the basics, but I suspect that, on my own, I would have blown it to smithereens.

In general, I have found that positive attitudes toward Americans are inversely proportional to the sophistication of the city in question. I suspect that much of this is because cities like London and Paris are not so different from cities like New York or Los Angeles, where cynism is the currency of the realm. American influence has shaped much of post-war Europe and, to the extent that things are not going well, Americans are getting the blame. The irony of all this is that, as I alluded in my comment to Sgt. Moms earlier post, many of the ideas imported from America by Europe are those held so dearly by the left in America secularization, liberal immigration policies, socialized (name the government program), etc. The further irony is that the fury of those attitudes is largely directed to those in the U.S. who are most likely to resist the very policies that have failed so miserably in Europe. I am looking forward to my upcoming first trip to Ia?i Romania. Their recent history suggests a more likely aversion to these far-left liberal influences.

One last point I would make is that the Europeans also blame crass commercialization, another bane of society, on Americans. It is, more accurately, a by-product of capitalism, and I would accept it over the alternatives any day. More than any other region, Europe should have learned this (anybody remember the Dark Ages?)

The Fantasy Country

With a bit of surprise, I tallied it up today, and realized it has been slightly over 20 years since I was in France, actually, driving across Europe in the VEV (Very Elderly Volvo) with a nearly-5-year old Blondie tucked up in the back seat with a couple of pillows, the tattered striped baby blanket that was her woobie for more years than she is comfortable admitting and a stock of Asterix and Obelix comics. I took a zig-zaggy course across Europe in the autumn of 1985; the car-ferry from Patras to Brindisi, then up the boot of Italy, over the Brenner Pass, across the narrow neck of Austria, west across Germany with a stop in the Rhineland and a charming small town along the Moselle – and because the major roads across France were toll-roads, and (to me) hideously expensive, I went across France entirely on secondary roads, guided by my invaluable road atlas, the Hallwag Euroguide.

I hit a couple of places in France that I had visited 15 years before, as a teen-aged Girl Scout on a sub-budget, Youth-Hostel & Eurail-Pass tour of Europe, and a great many more that I had not, thanks to a slightly higher expenditure allowance (the going rate for the Youth Hostel & Eurail Pass summer vacation trip in 1970, which now seems as far distant as the proud tower of pre-WW1 Europe, was $5.00 a day.)
England— halfway home, deja-vu familiar, Germany— slight distrust, being an enemy and the land of Mordor, metaphorically speaking, for two generations, but won over by overall tidiness and devotion to children .Italy— charming, slapdash and slightly grubby. But France—there was ambivalence.

France meant so much to us, after all, and not just when it came to cooking, and an appreciation for fine food and wines. It meant marvelous architecture and interior decoration, translated into the American landscape, gallery after gallery of paintings, the Impressionists and Moderns and all. France was Monet’s Gardens, salons filled with witty conversation, the fountain of elegance in couture clothing, Madeline and the old House in Paris Covered in Vines, Chartres and the soaring galleries of the Louvre. France was the very last word in sophistication. It was where our aspiring artists and intellectuals went to acquire their training and polish, and American tourists tried for a bit of the same— although always with a feeling that such heights of worldly savoir-faire were well beyond them — and being pretty certain that the headwaiters were laughing at them anyway.

France was my collection of cookbooks, and Peter Mayle in Provence, Van Gogh’s fields of sunflowers, Chartres floating like a stone ship in a field of golden wheat, me negotiating country roads and traffic circles in tiny towns, and Blondie’s Asterix and Obelix comics. It was buying a copper pudding mold at Dillerhain, and carrying a heavy box packed full of porcelain cooking things on packed subway train car, and watching a street musician plug his electric guitar onto a portable amp, play some fast boogie-woogie, pass the hat and dash off at the next stop. France was also fields of lavender in Provence, and fields of crosses in Flanders and Normandy. We had a history with France, after all.

It’s been an on-again, off-again history at that, more troubled than most Francophiles like to admit. France is usually visualized— starting with Henry James– as the elusive and mercurial girlfriend, but it strikes me these days that France is more like an erratic and long-time occasional boyfriend. Most women have had a brush with that sort: the guy who swoops in and sweeps her off her feet, because he is attractive, and lots of fun, sometimes handsome, always cultured, at home in the world. It never lasts, because he starts to make her feel lumpish and homely by tactlessly criticizing her clothes, or preference in books and friends. Or he is denigrating her in front of his friends, laughing at her behind her back, even while he helps himself to anything he pleases of hers. And then he borrows a lot of money— never repaid— or throws a horrendous scene in a public place, and is off again for a good long time, leaving her furious and embarrassed, and wondering if he really some sort of sociopath after all. Eventually, after a couple of rounds of this, she deletes his phone number, and doesn’t answer his messages.

Which is by way of leading up to these essays written over the last half-decade or so, by an American medievalist, fluent in French, who visits often. They make depressing reading; and I look at my collection of cookbooks, and memoirs by people like Peter Mayle, and wonder if that France, of vineyards and old houses, and cafes full of charming people talking about art and history is now a fantasy itself.

Memo: It’s Just Business

To: Gary Busey, Billy Zane
From: Sgt Mom
Re: Your Next Career Move

1. I assume, of course, that you will still have one in movies catering to mainstream American audiences. You know, America that country of which you are both ostensibly citizens? The one where a decreasing number of people with disposable income and an inclination to be amused by well-crafted entertainment at the multiplex are in fact declining to report as commanded by the lords of the entertainment industry to be sliced, diced, insulted and lectured on the most recent cause du jour? Yeah, that country. Feel free, though, to cast your lot in with whoevers movie industry floats your personal boat this place is still, although you might get some argument among the entertainment wheelers and dealers, a free country.

2. So, guys, how do you feel, after having participated with apparent glee, in what looks like (from this admittedly distant perspective) the 21st Centurys version of that hateful Third Reich propaganda crap-fest The Eternal Jew? Full of that nice warm glow that comes of having stuck it to the man, I presume. How very daring of you. I do hope you were well paid, as that paycheck might have to last for a while.

3. So, as working actors
(Blondie, sweetie, have we ever seen a movie starring either one of these goofs?
Billy Zane was the baddie on Titanic, Mom.
I think he was in Memphis Belle, too. Maybe thats where he got to be a pacifist.
And Gary Busey whos he?
I think he played Buddy Holly, ages ago you do know who Buddy Holly is.?.
S**t, Mom, you were a DJ, you trained me well he was killed with Richie Valens wasnt he in Point Break, with Keanau Reeves? Oh-oh-oh-oh Billy Zane was the the Phantom he wore lavender spandex, for Ch****t sake!)
.
It looks like we shall in future be seeing rather less of you two than before one way or the other— either the free markets choice or ours, as consumers.

4. I would also venture a guess, that any future American big-screen production that you have a major role in will probably not show in an AAFES theater, not once word about this little movie escapade gets around. Its just a guess, mind you, but I do have an instinct about these things. Military members have a long, long memory about movie actors who either mouth off about the military, or play very prominent roles in movies which defame the military. I know lots of people who have been boycotting Jane Fonda for decades. Of course, that duty was made less onerous when she barely made any movies for decades— interesting coincidence, dont you think?

Sincerely,
Sgt Mom.

PS: Please dont do any interviews in which you lament the unflattering way in which Americans in general and the American military in particularly, are seen by foreigners seeing that you just now, and a couple of decades of Hollywood efforts before you have contributed so much to that state of affairs. We owe so much to you all, for generally portraying Americans as brutal, racist, crude, uncultured, ignorant and generally benighted. Thanks for all your sterling service in that regard.

PPSS: Rremember, make that paycheck last!

Memo: Free Press

To: Major Newspapers, Broadcast TV News Channels, NPR and especially (but not limited to) the ever lugubrious Daniel Schoor (What? He is still a practicing journalist? Whod have thought it?)
Re: “Free Press” & The Affair of the Danish Cartoons

1. As far as American newsprint and broadcast television is concerned, the phrase freedom of the press is from this day now enshrined in my favorite set of viciously skeptical quote-marks. The affair of the Danish Cartoons, and their non-appearance in all but a handful of newspapers has put the lie to every bit of lip-service ever paid to the notion that the American people had a right to know had an absolute right, enshrined in the foundations of our very Republic to know well, whatever it was that would goose the ratings, or boost circulation this week A right that every journalist would fearlessly defend, with every fiber of his principled, journalistic being. Oops, there seems to be a little contradiction there. Principled journalist now there is a concept worn to tatters by this little international imbroglio, especially after Eason-gate, Rather-Gate and all the other tedious-gates. Its pretty obvious that in this case, especially, mainstream media couldnt defend the concept of a free press against a troop of marauding Brownie Girl Scouts, not when the threat is something a little more substantial than a couple of rabid letters to the editor and maybe a dozen or two cancelled subscriptions, some yanked adverts and maybe… in the case of a really egregious offense… a consumer boycott.

2. Thanks for all the ringing endorsements of principle, though — they made inspiring reads when a journo went to jail to protect a source, or a loud-mouthed bully of a politician ran off at the mouth. And to be fair there were just enough brave, and risk taking journalists who lived up to it, and sometimes died for it. It does look like they were the exception; most of the journalistic crowd seems only able to cope with jail food for a couple of days, and go on the Today Show to bask in the warm glow of peer approval for weeks afterwards.

3. My own hometown newspaper has a rather schizo take on it all: the two local cartoonists are riled and indignant, and very much in favor of publishing the original twelve Danish cartoons, but the paper has also rolled out two members of the local Muslim community to lecture us all about sensitivity and insult to Islam and otherwise wrap us in the inoffensive warm swaddling quilt of the whole multi-cultural experience. Dear no, the great unwashed general public must never be offended or upset, never given a chance to look at the facts and make up their own mind, and the ever-seething Muslim Street must never be given an excuse to torch another street full of cars, or a handy embassy. Not even if enough people without internet access are now curious about what in heck the fuss is all about. No, no, no; the cartoons are too vile, to insulting. Mustnt be seen, musnt have the delicate sensibilities be offended just take our word that the 12 cartoons are that horrible!

4. 4. Funny, that: the tender sensibilities of Muslims taking offense at something or other, twice a day and three times on Fridays over matters that run the gamut from the real, through the exaggerated and terminating in the completely imaginary. However, this well known and often demonstrated propensity for over-the-top outrage didnt stop any Western newspaper from publishing the Abu Graib pictures, or the bogus Koran-flushing story. All that sent the Muslim Street onto high seeth mode for simply months, without shaking a particle of our mainstream media’s devotion towards the general public’s right to know. Repercussions from this adherence to principle landed on everyone else but the gentlemen of the press. One might be forgiven at this point for suspecting that press deference to Muslim sensibilities in this case is directly proportional to a well-established tendency for the offended to directly underline their unhappiness with sharp knives, exploding garments, creative arson, and fatwas, along with the more customary threats of lawsuits and consumer boycotts. It all depends, as my mother used to say, upon whose ox has been gored, and on this occasion, the major medias ox has been well and truly gored.

5. Myself, I have begun to wonder if major medias almost hysterical insistence on the original 12 Danish Cartoons being so vile, so insulting and hurtful as to be unworthy of print space or airtime isnt a trifle self-serving. I have seen them, (and linked to them and put up one on this website) as has practically anyone who has internet access, a bit of curiosity and the ability to do a simple search. Itll be very hard for an old-line news organization who has stuck to the party line about the offensive nature of them to actually put them out there, in print or on the air, and have all those people who still take them seriously realize in actuality, they are pretty mild about one half step more cutting than Family Circle or Dagwood & Blondie. There would be a great many people reading the morning paper, or watching prime time news in that case, scratching their heads and thinking That is what they got so upset about? A dozen bland little sketches, only two of which had any satiric bite at all— all the fuss was about that? Oh, no best keep the cover locked into place after all, the public doesnt have to know everything. Best let them go on believing that main line media does really believe in freedom of the press.

6. Unless believing in it really means a bit of real danger and risk. Myself, the next time I hear someone pontificating away on the awesome responsibilities involved in upholding the freedom of the press and they are from a newspaper which refused to run the Danish Cartoons, or a television station which refused to air them, citing community sensitivities or deference to religious feelings or whatever the sad excuse du jour is. I shall laugh and laugh and laugh.

Sincerely
Sgt. Mom

Kinda, Sorta 9/11ish

All this last week I have been returning, almost obsessively to certain blogs for continuing updates on the Danish cartoon story. It is a marvel of jaw-dropping proportions of how a dozen fairly innocuous sketches, published in a comparatively small national newspaper, in a small European country have gotten the goat, so to speak, of seething mobs a good few countries or continents away. I rather suspect some of the rioters are only vaguely aware, in a kind of trivial pursuit/jeopardy question obscure factoid sort of way that there is a Denmark, and even fewer could find it on a map, but there they are, howling away and waving weapons and signs— invariably neatly lettered in English, how curious is that?!… and burning flags again where the heck did they get all those Danish flags— is there some sort of Flags R US big box chain store serving Damascus, Jakarta and Gaza with all their banner barbeque needs?

Its the fabled Muslim Street again, at a full roiling, furiously bubbling seeth, parked in front of an embassy, intimidating and threatening diplomatic staff, business interests and free-lance do-gooders, all alike. For more than two decades America (AKA “The Great Satan”) pretty much had a lock on that gig, as a focus for the Muslim ire, and it is initially passing strange and going into Outer Limits territory to see it happening to some other national interest, especially to a tidy, comfortably inoffensive little country like Denmark. The original action is so minor in comparison to the snowballing reaction—its rather like seeing the Animal Regulation people backed up by a tactical SWAT team go after the neighbor down the street on account of a unlicensed and unleashed teacup Chihuahua. You just keep scratching your head and wondering what the f**k brought all that on? Or alternately, what the f**k doesnt set off the seething Muslim Street?Or daringly, even Since anything and everything sets off the seething Muslim Street, may as well publish and be damned!

I personally confess to a great deal of appalled sympathy for the Danes, and the Norwegians, and all those other Europeans and Britons who see this issue clearly, just now. The whole issue of intellectual and press freedom, and open discussion of anything and everything, won for us with such great struggle and with so many setbacks, is a central value. All the previous little kerfuffles, all those spats about artist-poseurs smearing themselves with chocolate, or a canvas with elephant dung, or some tiresome leftist with a captive university audience, or some writer-pseud striking a daring pose by sticking it to the bourgeoisie; All that before was just a pose, a trivial and momentary diversion; this now, this is for real. Are we now willing to publish, or write about, or talk about an issue that might have permanent and fatal consequences, over a principle that we have had so long been accustomed to? Now that a threat has been issued that we must perforce obey the dictates of a religion, a religion alien to most of us? A dictate backed up by threats of murder and violence?
Nice little country you got here, be a shame if anything happened to it.

The demand, couched as a seemingly reasonable request to be respectful and understanding of a particularly belief is put reasonably, counting on us to be reasonable, courteous but the implications are huge and only just dawning on those who have been not been following this, admittedly in a desultory way, for the last four months.

If we value the soul of Western democracies, of a free press, of being able do discuss anything at all in the media, old and new, print and TV, in the halls of universities and governments, in coffee shops and around office water coolers, without fear or favor, we cannot yield on this. Because being once constrained by Moslems, under threat, there is no reason to deny it to any other special party that may raise a complaint, backed by a similar threat. Once debate can be shut down on the grounds of being respectful to one belief, once criticism can be howled down on that ground, it can be done on behalf of any other religion or party, or group and then what you have is no longer free. It may be something but it is no longer free. Once the exception is made, we are pretty much lost, as much as the media outlets in the Mexican border towns are, when it comes to publishing anything about narco-trafficking , or independent Russian media is, about anything to do with the oligarchy.

And this is the realization that suddenly, and with a great deal of horror, that a lot of people in Britain and in Continental Europe may have come to this week, of how close they stand to the abyss, and how easily they may be struck a near-mortal blow, a blow at the intellectual heart, rather than the physical one struck on 9/11 to the US, for nothing more than being who they are in the eyes of Moslem extremists, rather than anything particular that they might have done.