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Since I finished Moby-Dick I’ve been reading All The Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror by Stephen Kinzer. This is the story of how the CIA and MI6 overthrew Iran’s democratic government in 1953 to install a tyrannical monarchist government that wouldn’t oppose British control of Iran’s oil. Ever wonder why Iranians hate the US? That coup was why. Before that, they hated the Brits and the Russians, but they liked the US. Just the thing to read if you’re under the impression that fucking over Middle Eastern countries, and fucking ourselves over in the process, is something we just started doing recently.

(Best name in the book: Nader Batmanqelich, masked crimefighter Iranian general. Second-best: Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA agent in charge of the operation. Third place goes to Shaban the Brainless, mob organizer in the CIA’s pay.)

This has me in the mood to read more non-fiction for a while. Also to smack the hell out of anyone who thinks Americans know anything about running things in other countries. But I’m more likely to do the reading. So even though I’ve got copies of Ross Thomas’s Missionary Stew and James Tiptree Jr’s Her Smoke Rose Up Forever sitting here waiting for me, I stopped off at Borders on the way home and picked up Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan Jacoby.

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Kevin Baker’s “Stabbed in the Back!” from last month’s Harper’s Magazine (thank to PNH for pointing it out) makes a good sequel to Richard Hofstadter’s “The Paranoid Style in American Politics”, published in Harper’s more than 40 years ago. And it’s convinced me to add the Harpers.org RSS feed to my regular trawl. I should have long ago, since I’m a fan of Paul Ford, who designed the Harpers.org site and writes their weekly roundup of the world’s news.
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It was mashup night at the Pigeon Factory, and I was playing tracks from American Edit and A Night at the Hip-Hopera for [livejournal.com profile] ladymondegreen and [livejournal.com profile] akawil, and we somehow got around to the idea that Hitler would have really liked Queen (till he found out about the whole gay thing), what with their grand, operatic, Wagnerian over-the-top flair, and, y’know, if Freddy Mercury were still alive, they’d be the perfect choice for doing the soundtrack of a hypothetical movie version of Lord of the Swastika, or you could even use Queen songs as soundtrack for Leni Riefenstahl movies, only you’d get very, very sued, and hey, they didn’t film any of the Beerhall Putsch, did they, ’cause “We Will Rock You” would work perfectly for that, and sort of like that, conversation wise, just seeing how far we could push the idea.

Only, once you’re thinking along those lines, the lyrics to “A Kind of Magic” and “One Vision” suddenly become extremely creepy. “’39” too, a little, mostly because LadyM had, when she was younger, thought it was about WW2.

It was at that point that Wil discovered that the 1992 memorial concert in memory of Freddy Mercury was held on April 20th, Hitler’s birthday, and we figured that we’d better just drop the subject before anything else turned up.

Steamboy

Mar. 22nd, 2005 01:46 pm
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I saw Steamboy with [livejournal.com profile] bugsybanana last night. The subtitled director’s cut playing at the Landmark Cinema, not the dubbed and trimmed-down version showing at the AMC. Not that I knew that going in; I chose the venue because I felt like having some Katz’s Deli matzo ball soup.

It’s a Katsuhiro Otomo movie, so plenty of impressive visuals and lots of the old explodo. And it’s steampunk, so you get your FDA recommended allowance for the year of pipes, gears, and other industrial goodies. I had a bit of trouble figuring out what most of the character’s motivations were. Not the protagonist, young Ray Steam himself, the movie does a good enough job of dangling obvious plot carrots in front of him, and swapping them out as needed. And one set of bad guys, the O’Hara Corporation, American arms dealers, yeah, they want to make money by showing off their new weapons to various nations of the world, and so they want to, um, destroy The Great Exhibition. OK, pretty straightforward, but then we’ve got a host of associate enemy/allies. Robert Stephenson, who seems to be representing state power over corporate power. And Ray’s father and grandfather, who spend an unfortunate amount of time in naïve philosophical arguments about the purpose of science.

Hey, has there ever been a major steampunk work that really engaged with the fact that the 19th century was a hotbed of labor activity? Britain made labor unions legal in 1832, the Tolpuddle Martyrs were arrested in 1834, you had the Chartists (some of you may remember them from Freedom & Necessity by Steven Brust and Emma Bull), and in 1864 Marx organized what would later become the First International. Imagine a steampunk version of the fight over the Paris Commune of 1871. (Hm, maybe I need to reread The Difference Engine.)
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Last week [livejournal.com profile] ladymondegreen, [livejournal.com profile] akawil, and I went over to [livejournal.com profile] immlass’s and [livejournal.com profile] mcroft’s place to try out Vincent Baker’s hot new RPG Dogs in the Vineyard.

In Dogs you take up the roles of young traveling paladins of a faith based on early Mormonism. You travel around the frontier, from town to town, exposing sin and demons and setting things right. The game’s two really interesting features are the that the players get to decide what constitutes “setting things right”, rather than having this imposed by the GM or the game designer, and the clever dicing mechanic designed to escalate conflicts and generate consequences. But we didn’t really get to that in the first session.

What we did get to was character generation (or most of it). There’s a list of appropriate early-Mormon-style names, but since we’re playing pseudo-Mormons, not historical Mormons, I indulged my fondness for old Puritan-style phrase names and dubbed my character Pleasure-of-God Fletcher. That’s not an actual Puritan name either; it comes from a line in “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, a famous sermon from the mid-18th century: “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.”

Pleasure’s father is Armor-of-the-Righteous, and his mother is (I think) Charity, and I stopped there. Dogs encourages you to invent new family members in play, so I figured I’d google around for some actual Puritan names for inspiration. Check these out: Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith, Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes, No-merit, Fly-fornication, and my favorite: If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned!

That last guy was the son of a preacher and member of the British Parliament, Isaac Praise-God Barebone. His son got known as “Damned Barebone” for short, and eventually changed his name to Nicholas Barbon, became a doctor, economist, and writer, and founded the first insurance company.
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From Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence
Rev. Martin Luther King
4 April 1967, at Riverside Church in New York City
Somehow this madness must cease. We must stop now. I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam. I speak for those whose land is being laid waste, whose homes are being destroyed, whose culture is being subverted. I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam. I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop it must be ours.

This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words:
"Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism."

If we continue, there will be no doubt in my mind and in the mind of the world that we have no honorable intentions in Vietnam. It will become clear that our minimal expectation is to occupy it as an American colony and men will not refrain from thinking that our maximum hope is to goad China into a war so that we may bomb her nuclear installations. If we do not stop our war against the people of Vietnam immediately the world will be left with no other alternative than to see this as some horribly clumsy and deadly game we have decided to play.

The world now demands a maturity of America that we may not be able to achieve. It demands that we admit that we have been wrong from the beginning of our adventure in Vietnam, that we have been detrimental to the life of the Vietnamese people. The situation is one in which we must be ready to turn sharply from our present ways.
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‘The Salvador Option’:
What to do about the deepening quagmire of Iraq? The Pentagon’s latest approach is being called "the Salvador option"—and the fact that it is being discussed at all is a measure of just how worried Donald Rumsfeld really is. "What everyone agrees is that we can’t just go on as we are," one senior military officer told NEWSWEEK. "We have to find a way to take the offensive against the insurgents. Right now, we are playing defense. And we are losing." Last November’s operation in Fallujah, most analysts agree, succeeded less in breaking "the back" of the insurgency—as Marine Gen. John Sattler optimistically declared at the time—than in spreading it out.

Now, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Pentagon is intensively debating an option that dates back to a still-secret strategy in the Reagan administration’s battle against the leftist guerrilla insurgency in El Salvador in the early 1980s. Then, faced with a losing war against Salvadoran rebels, the U.S. government funded or supported "nationalist" forces that allegedly included so-called death squads directed to hunt down and kill rebel leaders and sympathizers. Eventually the insurgency was quelled, and many U.S. conservatives consider the policy to have been a success—despite the deaths of innocent civilians and the subsequent Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal. (Among the current administration officials who dealt with Central America back then is John Negroponte, who is today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Under Reagan, he was ambassador to Honduras.)

Following that model, one Pentagon proposal would send Special Forces teams to advise, support and possibly train Iraqi squads, most likely hand-picked Kurdish Peshmerga fighters and Shiite militiamen, to target Sunni insurgents and their sympathizers, even across the border into Syria, according to military insiders familiar with the discussions. It remains unclear, however, whether this would be a policy of assassination or so-called "snatch" operations, in which the targets are sent to secret facilities for interrogation. The current thinking is that while U.S. Special Forces would lead operations in, say, Syria, activities inside Iraq itself would be carried out by Iraqi paramilitaries, officials tell NEWSWEEK.

(via The Poor Man)
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“The Old Issue”
October 9, 1899
(Outbreak of Boer War)
Rudyard Kipling

“Here is nothing new nor aught unproven,” say the Trumpets,
“Many feet have worn it and the road is old indeed.
“It is the King—the King we schooled aforetime !”
(Trumpets in the marshes—in the eyot at Runnymede!)

“Here is neither haste, nor hate, nor anger,” peal the Trumpets,
“Pardon for his penitence or pity for his fall.
“It is the King!”—inexorable Trumpets—
(Trumpets round the scaffold at the dawning by Whitehall!)

“He hath veiled the Crown and hid the Sceptre,” warn the Trumpets,
“He hath changed the fashion of the lies that cloak his will.
“Hard die the Kings—ah hard—dooms hard!” declare the Trumpets,
Trumpets at the gang-plank where the brawling troop-decks fill!

Ancient and Unteachable, abide—abide the Trumpets!
Once again the Trumpets, for the shuddering ground-swell brings
Clamour over ocean of the harsh, pursuing Trumpets—
Trumpets of the Vanguard that have sworn no truce with Kings!


All we have of freedom, all we use or know—
This our fathers bought for us long and long ago.

Ancient Right unnoticed as the breath we draw—
Leave to live by no man’s leave, underneath the Law.

Lance and torch and tumult, steel and grey-goose wing
Wrenched it, inch and ell and all, slowly from the King.

Till our fathers ’stablished, after bloody years,
How our King is one with us, first among his peers.

So they bought us freedom—not at little cost
Wherefore must we watch the King, lest our gain be lost,

Over all things certain, this is sure indeed,
Suffer not the old King: for we know the breed.

Give no ear to bondsmen bidding us endure.
Whining “He is weak and far”; crying “Time shall cure”.

(Time himself is witness, till the battle joins,
Deeper strikes the rottenness in the people’s loins.)

Give no heed to bondsmen masking war with peace.
Suffer not the old King here or overseas.

They that beg us barter—wait his yielding mood—
Pledge the years we hold in trust—pawn our brother’s blood—

Howso’ great their clamour, whatsoe’er their claim,
Suffer not the old King under any name!

Here is naught unproven—here is naught to learn.
It is written what shall fall if the King return.

He shall mark our goings, question whence we came,
Set his guards about us, as in Freedom’s name.

He shall take a tribute, toll of all our ware;
He shall change our gold for arms—arms we may not bear.

He shall break his judges if they cross his word;
He shall rule above the Law calling on the Lord.

He shall peep and mutter; and the night shall bring
Watchers ’neath our window, lest we mock the King

Hate and all division; hosts of hurrying spies;
Money poured in secret, carrion breeding flies.

Strangers of his counsel, hirelings of his pay,
These shall deal our Justice: selldenydelay.

We shall drink dishonour, we shall eat abuse
For the Land we look tofor the Tongue we use.

We shall take our station, dirt beneath his feet,
While his hired captains jeer us in the street.

Cruel in the shadow, crafty in the sun,
Far beyond his borders shall his teachings run.

Sloven, sullen, savage, secret, uncontrolled,
Laying on a new land evil of the old—

Long-forgotten bondage, dwarfing heart and brain—
All our fathers died to loose he shall bind again.

Here is naught at venture, random nor untrue—
Swings the wheel full-circle, brims the cup anew.

Here is naught unproven, here is nothing hid:
Step for step and word for word—so the old Kings did!

Step by step, and word by word: who is ruled may read.
Suffer not the old Kings: for we know the breed—

All the right they promise—all the wrong they bring.
Stewards of the Judgment, suffer not this King!
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One of the more bizarre moments in last night’s debate was when Bush was asked if he had anyone in mind for appointing to the Supreme Court should the opportunity come up. He replied with this weird discourse about how he didn’t have anyone specific in mind, but he’d appoint a strict constructionist, the sort of person who’d disapprove of the Dred Scott decision.

All over America, liberals said “What the fuck? He’s gotta go back 150 years to find an example?” Dred Scott v Sandford, for who didn’t follow that Wikipedia link, was the 1856 case in which the US Supreme Court ruled that black people — even free blacks — were “beings of an inferior order”, were guaranteed no rights by the Constitution, and could never become citizens. (Here’s the full text in HTML, not annoying PDF.)

It turns out that at the same time, all over America, right-wingers were saying “Ah, he’ll appoint someone to overturn Roe v Wade!” It seems that abortion prohibitionists have been drawing parallels between the two decisions for a while now. They see a woman’s right over her own body (even at the expense of a fetus she’s carrying) as parallel to the slaveholder’s right to hold human beings as property.

Here, look at Bush’s actual words last night:
Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights.

That’s a personal opinion. That’s not what the Constitution says. The Constitution of the United States says we’re all — you know, it doesn’t say that. It doesn’t speak to the equality of America.

If you’ve been read enough abortion arguments, you can easily do the translation in your head: Another example would be Roe v Wade, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed abortion because of a right to privacy. The second paragraph doesn’t need changing at all.

(Thanks to the invaluable Kevin Drum for the initial link.)
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Published on April 1st, but the Times of London swears it isn’t an April Fools joke:
According to the plans, the seven-tonne Blue Peacock bomb, with half the explosive force of the device that destroyed Nagasaki, was designed to stop the Red Army advancing across West Germany during the height of the Cold War.

Wrestling with the problem of how to keep the landmine at the correct temperature when buried underground, nuclear physicists at the Aldermaston nuclear research station in Berkshire proposed that live chickens would generate enough heat to ensure that the device could remain operational when buried for seven days. The birds were to be placed inside the casing of the bomb, given seed to keep them alive and prevented from pecking at the wiring.
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Wow, remember what the Web was like forty years ago? (via Unqualified Offerings)
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I’ve been thinking about politics.

OK, I’ve been thinking about politics for, um, the past eight years or so, ever since I noticed the extreme right wing was attempting to— well, I can go into that some other time. Today I’ve been taking a longer view, trying to figure out what issues will seem important hundreds or thousands of years from now.

Think the burning issues of our day will still be burning? Think abortion and gun control will still be hot-button issues? Here are a couple of major political issues of the 19th century for comparison:

Slavery: You’ve heard of this one, and you’ve even got an opinion about it: It’s bad, right? If you grabbed a hundred random Americans and asked if any were in favor of slavery, the only raised hands would be from jokers or maybe a crazy person. Didn’t used to be that way, though. If you went back 150 years and grabbed a hundred random people and asked them the same question, you’d get arguments and fights, just like you do now over abortion and gun control. But here we are, seven generations later, and it’s glaringly obvious to all of us that one side was Just Plain Right and the other Just Plain Wrong.

Free Silver: I like this even better as an example. If you asked a hundred random Americans how they felt about bimetallism, I’m sure at least ninety of them would have no idea what you were talking about. But this was a big issue of the late 19th century, especially of the 1896 presidential race. A century later and most people have never even heard of the issue, need several paragraphs of explanation before they can even understand what it was about. (Debt, mostly. Inflation is good for debtors, bad for lenders. There’d been an economic collapse in 1873 that had left a lot of people in debt.)

As far as I can tell from some editorial cartoons of the era (scroll to the bottom of that Vassar page), it was also about antisemitism, at least on the Pro-Silver side.

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