Archive for the 'History' Category

18
Dec
11

Sic semper tyrannis.

Kim Jong Il is dead. Here’s hoping the Korean Peninsula doesn’t burn.

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18
Dec
11

Quote of the day: Vaclav Havel, R.I.P.

A passage from Havel’s 1978 essay, “The Power of the Powerless,” published while Havel was in prison for dissident activities:

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.

The system, through its alienating presence ín people, will punish him for his rebellion. It must do so because the logic of its automatism and self-defense dictate it. The greengrocer has not committed a simple, individual offense, isolated in its own uniqueness, but something incomparably more serious. By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co-exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety.

Havel, Czech dissident, last president of Czechoslovakia and first president of the Czech Republic, died today at age 75.

04
Apr
11

Quote of the day: Dr. Ruth will fuck you up

“When I was in my routine training for the Israeli army as a teenager, they discovered completely by chance that I was a lethal sniper. I could hit the target smack in the center further away than anyone could believe. Not just that, even though I was tiny and not even much of an athlete, I was incredibly accurate throwing hand grenades too. Even today I can load a Sten automatic rifle in a single minute, blindfolded.”

Dr. Ruth. No, seriously. Dr. Ruth is hardcore.

07
Mar
11

A Fitting Tribute

As the Space Shuttle Discovery left the International Space Station for the last time today, the crew and the ship received a tribute from William Shatner:

“Space, the final frontier,” Shatner said in a prerecorded message. “These have been the voyages of the space shuttle Discovery. Her 30-year mission: to seek out new science, to build new outposts, to bring nations together on the final frontier, to boldly go and do what no spacecraft has done before.”

Damn right.

27
Feb
11

RIP Frank Buckles

The last surviving American veteran of the First World War died today. According to Wikipedia, there are only 2 veterans from the war left — both British — as well as a Polish soldier who fought against the Red Army’s invasion of Poland in 1919.

I sincerely hope someone has been able to interview these men before they pass on. As time passes, even the number of Second World War is beginning to dwindle. The more of their memories and experiences we can document, the better.

17
Feb
11

Musing on Geography

Glancing through the statistics for Guns, Germs, and Blogs, I noticed something strange. We got a visitor from St. Petersburg, Russia (здравствуйте!) recently, and this locational information was included in the logs:

Location
Continent : Asia
Country : Russian Federation
State/Region : Saint Petersburg City
City : Saint Petersburg
Lat/Long : 59.8944, 30.2642

What struck me was the entry on the “continent” line: Asia.

Continue reading ‘Musing on Geography’

30
Jan
11

So Much for “Promoting Democracy”

Now, I’m usually fairly skeptical about people talking about “revolution.” For starters, “revolutionaries,” at least here in the US, are all too often a bunch of posers hanging out in academia and pretending to speak on behalf of the “working class,” through whom they hope to vicariously live out violent fantasies they themselves are too comfy and bourgeois to get involved with. Revolutionaries also too frequently seem to view history as a unilinear march toward some ultimate goal. “The Revolution” is always assumed to be bringing about something that will be better than what is being overthrown. Unfortunately, there are countless cases where this is not the case, where the revolutionaries, upon assuming control, made things incomparably worse.

It doesn’t always happen that way — the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989 were all models of peaceful and popular transitions away from authoritarianism to something at least resembling democracy and all of them, Romania aside, were bloodless. Most of the governments that replaced Communism in Eastern Europe have not necessarily been staggeringly successful and have often remained mired in corruption and stagnation. But it’s all far cry from what happened in Russia in 1917 or in China in 1949.

It’s hard to say what’s happening in Egypt right now — revolution is in the air, that much is sure — but what it really means is still fairly obscure. How it will end is equally obscure: Will Mubarak survive? If so, what happens next? If not, who takes control? And then what?

I certainly don’t have any answers to these questions. On one hand, I would shed no tears if Hosni Mubarak were strung up by the Egyptian people. On the other, there is a great deal of speculation that the Muslim Brotherhood is behind a lot of the unrest. They would certainly stand to gain significantly if Mubarak were ousted, in any case. This is worrisome because the Muslim Brotherhood is not an organization that has clean hands, by any stretch of the imagination. That being said, my inclination is to let Mubarak hang and support the Egyptian people. If the Muslim Brotherhood comes to power, then we can deal with it and cross our fingers that events in Egypt don’t turn out like they did in Iran.

The problem is that the case of Iran has clouded a lot of people’s judgment. That Iran was “destined” to become a retrograde theocracy the moment Carter turned against the Shah is taken for granted by people who should know better. The conventional wisdom among American conservatives is now apparently that, since Ayatollah Khomeini took over Iran, President Obama should not turn against Hosni Mubarak. Flawed logic, to say the least:

Three decades ago, Iran — after being saved from Soviet dominance by the U.S. in 1953 — traded in the flawed autocratic rule of the Shah for the bloodthirsty Islamist fanaticism of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

At the time, Jimmy Carter’s presidency was, in the name of “human rights,” on the side of the Islamists — with U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young going so far as to call Khomeini “some kind of saint.”

Does the Obama administration realize the difference between freedom-based revolutions and violent overthrows that will help jihadists?

[…]

…should Mubarak fall, there is real danger of the Islamic Brotherhood imperiling this U.S. ally. Barack Obama sure picked a foolish place to give a community-organizing speech.

Since when are American conservatives so squeamish about democracy? A few ago, no one on the right had any problems with overthrowing Saddam Hussein, despite the fact that there was every bit as much of a chance that an Islamist government might come to power in Iraq. The civil war that broke out in Iraq in the aftermath of the American invasion was taken to be a regrettable side-effect of bringing democracy to the Middle East. But now that there’s a whiff of a chance that the Muslim Brotherhood might take power in Egypt, suddenly the idea of people exercising their right to free speech in the “Arab World” is too much to tolerate.

It doesn’t stop with warning Obama from following in Carter’s footsteps, though. Get a load of this asshole on Pajamas Media:

The scene is all too reminiscent of the Iranian revolution of 1979. Then, President Jimmy Carter not only demanded restraint but also had his administration work behind the scenes to bring down the shah. Carter believed he was watching a democratic revolution unfold, one led by Mehdi Bazargan, Sadegh Ghotbzadeh and Abulhassan Banisadr. Neither Carter nor his advisers understood that this democratic-centrist revolution, like those in Europe, would be short-lived. Bazargan resigned from the government over its authoritarian turn; Ghotbzadeh was shot by a firing squad; and Banisadr fled to France, where he currently lives under heavy police protection.

[…]

Studies of revolution, including the Russian Revolution, show that the loyalty of several companies of armed, disciplined, and well-led soldiers willing to continually fire into the mobs would crush any revolution. Such an observation sounds barbaric until you consider the millions of lives that are needlessly wasted in a revolution and its aftermath. Imagine if the second Russian Revolution, the October Revolution, the one the Communists made, had been stopped in its tracks: no Lenin, no Civil War, no Stalin, no Gulags, no invasion of Poland, no totalitarian dictatorship. The taking of a few hundred or thousand lives in the streets of St. Petersburg would have saved the lives of countless millions.

[…]

Those who join the mob to demand more liberty will ultimately create a regime that extinguishes all liberty. [emphasis added]

So apparently sending out the military to shoot protesters down in the streets is a better way to guarantee liberty than letting people have actual liberty. And this coming from a guy who apparently spent much of his career studying political representation in post-Communist societies in Eastern Europe.

“Several companies of armed, disciplined, and well-led soldiers willing to continually fire into the mobs?” That’s the solution? Seriously?

I honestly can’t believe I’m reading this shit.

Fucking sickening.