The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Tuesday, April 27, 2004
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Although I consider myself a bookworm, I’m not much of a novel reader. I usually don’t pay any attention to the fads in that arena. But I’ve been reading articles lately about the cottage industry that’s grown up around Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, so maybe it’s time I give that book some attention, especially since Jesus is involved. Not that I’m gonna actually read the book. Hey, who needs to. With all the web sites set up to pick his book apart chapter by chapter, you don’t need to plunk down twelve bucks to know what goes on in The DaVinci Code.

As you probably know, The DaVinci Code has gained a lot of attention for implying that Jesus was not the Son of God, and furthermore, that Jesus had a thing going with Mary Magdalene (and had children through her). The DaVinci Code has been interpreted by many readers as going beyond fiction, into the realm of speculative (and even plausible) history. As a result, devout Catholics and fundamentalist Protestants (the unholy alliance of the 21st Century) have launched an attack on the Code’s many historical weak spots. From a quick surf on the net, I saw a phalanx of web sites devoted to intelligently blasting The DaVinci Code to pieces. And they seem to be doing a good job of it.

Here’s my two cents on the DaVinci situation. Brown’s plot is darn interesting, but it belongs solely in the land of fiction. Still, I must admit that just because Brown is wrong does not mean that the churchy people are right. The question of Jesus’ status as a lover and a parent remains an historical mystery. The New Testament doesn’t say anything about it one way or the other. It was quite unusual back then for a Jewish man to reach the age of 30 without having been married and having produced children. Unusual, but not impossible. Being an itinerant preacher always on the go from one village to the next, it wouldn’t be easy if you had a wife and kids. But then again, Peter had a wife, and the New Testament wasn’t embarrassed about admitting that.

So perhaps the absence in the Gospels of any mention of Jesus having obligations to a wife or kids was significant. Or maybe not. The earliest Gospel manuscripts that we have today were written at least 200 years after Jesus was crucified (about the time of the Council of Nicea, which is cited by Brown as the primary historical cover-up event). That leaves a lot of time for subtle editing by factions seeking to remember Jesus in a very Godly way. Brown cites the many “alternative Gospels” as evidence of an historic conspiracy to cover up Jesus’ true nature, given that one of them (the Gospel of Philip) talks of the jealousy that the Apostles had regarding the attention that Jesus was giving Mary of Magdala, including kissing her on the lips.

Well, my friends, most scholars agree that these alternative Gospels were mostly composed in the Second Century, well after Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were committed to papyrus. They are generally imaginative take-offs on the basic themes from the Fab Four. On the other hand, even conservative scholars like the late, great Raymond Brown admit that some of these writings might contain a memory of Jesus here and there that, for various reasons, just didn’t make the cut in the primary gospels. It’s not impossible that Jesus was remembered early on as having an interest in Mary M., that this unsettling interest was washed out of the accepted gospels by those inspired to honor Jesus as God’s true son, and that a later-composed backwater gospel somehow survived with that little tid-bit intact.

Not impossible — but not necessarily probable either. In the end, the whole thing remains a mystery, and probably always will. But one thing is for sure. Dan Brown really is a talented and creative novelist. He discovered and tapped into the occultist edge of pietistic European Catholicism and then twisted it around 180 degrees to support a modern secularist / feminist agenda. I can relate to what he’s playing with. I grew up in a Polish Catholic household just one generation removed from Europe, and I experienced the gray zone where populist Catholic spirituality slips over into superstition, into a world of ghosts and mystery rites and intricate symbols (e.g., dark and strange looking icons) and deep secrets about the end of the world (recall the three secrets of Fatima). Imagine the irony if those European ghosts and rites and symbols and secrets were real after all, but were protecting a very different kind of Holy Grail.

But no. In the end, Brown’s ghosts and rites and symbols and secrets are just as unreal as the ones that I heard and saw as a kid, despite the updated political correctness that Dan Brown infuses them with. I have decided to side with the scholars in my search for the real Jesus, or at least the realest one we can have. The academics have the better way of approaching and discussing the important questions about Jesus. One reason that you can put more trust in a scholarly book is that it will never be made into a movie. By contrast, Ron Howard is already working on a film version of The DaVinci Code. And good old Ron isn’t exactly noted for being a stickler about historical accuracy. The DaVinci Code is ultimately just an entertaining ghost story, a dead end on the search for the real(est) Jesus.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:35 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, April 25, 2004
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BEER REVIEW: It’s always nice to get back in touch with a friend who you haven’t seen for many years, a friend you weren’t even sure was still alive. I had that experience today. I stopped by one of the few liquor stores in my area that still has a good selection of microbrews, and there it was – Lancaster Milk Stout. Back in the late 90s when micros were in fashion, I fell in love with Lancaster Milk Stout. I would pick it up at the local Shop-Rite liquor store right after doing my food shopping. It was darn good stuff – a smooth combination of barley, hops, coffee and cocoa flavors with a rich, silky texture. Sure, there were (and still are) plenty of other great stouts out there, but this one was the crème de la crème.

But of course, by the time that George W. Bush took office, the big beer distributors started convincing the local stores to get all those independent micros out of the way to make more shelf space for new variations of Bud and Coors and Miller. These have fancy new names and labels and taste much like Bud and Coors and Miller. Because that’s what they are. The empire had struck back against the micro-insurrectionists, and the metro New York beer market was safely back in the hands of big business. My friends from Lancaster didn’t have a chance to hold on amidst the storm. I found a few stores where micros could still get a few yards of shelf in the refrigerator cabinets, but Lancaster didn’t seem to have made the lifeboat.

So you can imagine how I felt when my eyes focused on the six-pack with the cow head (MILK stout, get it?). Could it really be? Yes, it is! Lancaster, you’re back! I purchased it and opened one up with dinner tonight. Had it changed, like everything else in the world? Could it ever be the same?

I’m happy to report that despite some design changes to the label, the stuff in the bottle was still pure heaven on earth. It still poured out black as night, with a creamy head that refuses to fade. It still enraptured the mouth with the smooth feel of coffee and cream, with hints of chocolate mingling with malty sweetness and just enough hopping to remind you that this is beer, after all. It still finished easy, with just enough after-presence to keep you from gulping the bottle down like some fraternity rat at a kegger. Imagine finding out that your long-lost childhood sweetheart had somehow fought off the ravages of time and was still sweet.

There was a medical study released the other day that confirmed that beer drinking causes gout. It has something to do with a chemical in beer called purine. The study probably didn’t indicate whether stout can also cause gout. But no matter. So long as they’re making real beers like Lancaster, I’ll risk a bit of ankle pain. A man needs to have something to live and live dangerously for!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:50 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 24, 2004
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Another story about the people at my office: this one is about the clerical ladies, the ones who have been there since the 1970s. Some of them really scare me. Why? As an eternal student, I’d like to think that education changes lives. Some of our clericals grew up in blue collar circumstances but went to college and graduated, only to fall back into the working class. There are others who had highly educated parents but never went to college, despite having the chance …

Well, OK, the world is a tough place, and not every college grad is going to catch the brass ring, i.e. an interesting and fulfilling professional career. But these women have become indistinguishable from the ones who never got beyond high school. They talk and act and think pretty much like the world from whence they sprung. They don’t seem to analyze things too deeply, they don’t seem interested in world events, they don’t seem to read many books, they don’t seem to peruse the New York Times during their coffee breaks. It’s as if they were put into a rocket ship and were boosted up to about 70 or 80 miles altitude, where they saw the edge of space for a little while, but then got pulled right back down to earth, like those first Mercury missions in the early 60s.

One of them told me her story. She got her degree and had the chance to become a teacher. She also wanted to get a masters degree. But her parents got sick and she had to take care of them, so she put everything on hold. After that she took a lot of vacation trips. So she never got around to starting a professional career. Sure, I can sympathize with her situation. But darn, did she also have to put her mind back to sleep? Couldn’t she have stayed interested in being a learner and a thinker, even if it wasn’t part of her clerical duties? Couldn’t she have resisted the peer pressure to rejoin the “Just Another Manic Monday” mentality of her co-workers?

For you lucky people still in school, what I’m saying is this: I really hope that you make it big and get a chance to use your mind to the fullest, and that you’re rewarded for it with lots of money and fame. But if things don’t quite work out and you don’t get such a career, don’t let your mind go to seed. Don’t let the fire of intellectual curiosity go out, even if everyone around you has become a zombie. Hey, I myself have a graduate education but my job could be done by most anyone with a 2-year associate degree. So I’m no great success story, but I’m not letting my mind fall back into the muck. It’s not that I believe that I’ll get my chance yet at the big time; it’s too late now for that. I just refuse to give up on the inherent goodness of mental enlightment, even if it doesn’t make me rich or famous. That’s the credo of an eternal student.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:59 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Thursday, April 22, 2004
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I was watching some NOVA reruns on PBS the other day, and I finally saw “The Elegant Universe”. That was a very nicely done series. Brian Greene really whets your appetite for superstring theory – he’s a very entertaining physicist. Of course, this is another popular presentation of what really is way beyond intuitive sense and everyday thinking. The only way you can really understand what superstrings are all about is to invest around 10 years of your life studying complex mathematics. Forget about tangible and emotional things, just totally soak your mind in Kahler manifolds and holomorphic functions and antisymmetric tensor fields and deRahm cohomology. And at some point, “M-theory” and 11 dimensional topology and 6-branes will make perfect sense to you.

And hey, if I were still 20 years old, I’d be awfully tempted to do just that. But it’s way too late for me; I can’t even hack vector multiplication or partial differentials anymore. So, I’m content to sit with the masses on the sidelines and listen to the high-brainpower people (like Dr. Greene) condescend by telling us something about what they’ve learned regarding the universe. But hey, I had a brief taste of the mathematical side of quantum mechanics and general relativity when I was in college, so I know just a little about what it feels to live within those huge mathematical abstractions. Actually, it’s kind of neat. Now I look back on those days and wonder why I didn’t become a physicist.

The Elegant Universe made a really interesting point about Albert Einstein and modern physics, a point that I’ve never heard anywhere else. Greene and some of the other physicists on the show said that during the last 10 or even 20 years of Einsteins life, his work was becoming increasingly outdated and irrelevant to physics. In the 1910s and 1920s, he rocked the world with general and special relativity. But by 1945, his approach to theoretical physics, of one man with a pad and pencil, just wasn’t hacking it anymore.

Einstein could never get himself straight with quantum theory, which stole the show from him by the 30’s. And quantum theory really has no “Einstein”. When you read the history of quantum mechanics, you read about Bohr and Pauli and Schrodinger and Heisenburg and other various people. There was no one guy who figured it all out. The quantum viewpoint accumulated over time based upon cross-pollination from a group of smart cookies. And that’s arguably what’s happening today with string theory. Sure, there’s Edward Witten, but he didn’t get the ball rolling, and despite his many breakthroughs, he doesn’t own the superstring picture like Einstein did with gravity and relativity.

It looks like the days of great physics revolutions caused by one person are over. Some people wonder who is “the next Einstein” and argue whether Hawking or someone else deserves the title. But the bottom line is that physics has changed drastically. There will still be extremely bright physicists, but the pictures that physics paint these days are way too big and complex for any one mind to own, even with the caliber of a Newton or an Einstein. From now on, it’s all going to be group effort.

It sort of makes me feel sorry for Albert Einstein. The poor guy just kept pushing the same buttons that shot him to the top of the heap in his youth, but the machine had stopped working. I guess that when you reach your 50s (like me!), that sort of thing becomes rather common. Or, should I dare to say that perhaps Einstein wasn’t so smart after all? Perhaps the truly smart old dogs are the ones that can still learn a few new tricks?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:47 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, April 18, 2004
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INTUITIVE INELEGANCE: I went with my brother today to visit an elderly aunt recovering from a heart attack at a physical rehabilitatin center. My aunt is doing fine, and should be going home in about a week or so. Like my brother, she’s a down-to-earth person, definitely a type “S” temperament as far as Myers-Briggs analysis goes. I’m much the opposite, out there in the spacey world of abstract “N”-ness. In a place like a rehab center, “N-ness” isn’t going to help you much. Two examples:

I got to the center a few minutes before my brother did, so I went up to my aunt’s room. Lo and behold, she wasn’t there. Hmm, I felt a bit like the women at Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning. I went up front and asked the attendent if my aunt had gone home. No, she was still here. Just then my brother walked in, and after I told him what I had seen, he immediately sensed what had happened: her son was already there and had taken her out to the patio, given that it was a warm day. That turned out to be the case. But that scenario just didn’t occur to me … my mind was fishing for something more grandiose. And in this instance, grandiose was the wrong pond to fish in.

We then found my aunt along with my cousin and his wife out on the patio, and spent about an hour out in the hazy afternoon sun with them. Finally, my brother said that he had to get home to see how my own mother was doing, and the two of us pondered whether we needed to go back through the building or get past a closed gate in the patio fence, as a shortcut to the parking lot. I walked over to the fence gate, and since it was relatively low, I was able (with clumsy effort) to get my legs over it. My brother then elegantly lifted an iron latch, moved the gate, and strided easily through the door. Somehow he just sensed how that fence gate was arranged — and somehow I did not.

Well, that’s the difference between Sensibles and iNtuitives. In life, we all face many different types of situations, and sometimes the S’s have the easier time of it because of their down-to-earth common sense and their deep communion with the tangible. In other situations, type N’s use their abstract reasoning and analytical ability to figure out what to do, or at least what not to do. There’s obviously a need for both approaches here on this planet. But darn, we type N’s are always going to be klutzy with physical things — as I observed today in a physical rehabilitation center.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:49 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
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FASHIONABLE MONKEY BUSINESS: There was an interesting article in the NY Times the other day about baboon research. This is the kind of stuff done by adventurous academians who brave the jungles and highlands of Africa to observe and document the social habits of our biological cousins. The article focused on the social character of a particular baboon tribe and how it changed over the years, from a situation where aggression clearly dominates (much like America today), to a kinder and gentler nation where peace and respect are key values (something like the youthful idealism of the Sixties). Yea, these monkeys were definitely going retro. What caused the big change was an accident of fate; the most aggressive baboons had first dibs at meat scraps in the garbage cans at a local resort. However, some kind of epidemic had infected the local pigs and cattle, and the meat turned out to be deadly. The big, nasty baboons who shoved the weaklings aside on the way to the feed bin finally got their just desserts!

Anyway, there was an interesting sidenote in the article about the power of fashion amidst the baboons. I’ve been suspicious of fashion for many years now. When I was young, it was easy to accept the idea of wearing a certain kind of shirt or growing your hair to a certain length because everyone else was doing the same thing. And I’ll admit that even today I don’t go out of my way to contest popular fashion because so many people treat you like a weirdo if you go against the current. But when you think about it, so much of fashion is arbitrary; there’s no good reason for a particular trend other than the fact that it’s different from the trend before it. Take eyeglasses; I remember when aviator frames were the big thing. Then ovals became the hot ticket. Then, a few years ago, the trend went toward squarish, narrow frames. To me, oval glasses have the most practical value; they afforded the most viewing area and offer the eye the most protection from a stray projectile. So guess what kind of glasses that I currently wear? You’re right, I’m not exactly up to date as far as eyewear fashion goes.

But here’s what fashion comes down to: the baboon researchers noted in one particular year that a small group of young baboons developed a habit of holding their hands out and wiggling them to and fro while they walked. They didn’t pick this up from any other monkeys in the area; they just made it up amidst their little group. After a while, all the other young baboons started doing the “hand wiggle”, and even some of the adults “got hip” to it. A fashion trend had been born.

Hmm … wonder how a baboon would look in square narrow-frame glasses?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 6:50 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, April 11, 2004
Religion ... Spirituality ...

EASTER EDITION: I was browsing the magazine rack at a bookstore yesterday and glanced at the TIME Magazine cover story: Why Did Jesus Have To Die? From my thirty second scan of it, the article appeared to focus on alternate theological and historical interpretations of the Jesus story, ranging from the various Christian mythological interpretations (Jesus as Son of God) to modern “histo-critical” views (Jesus as a human being living in ancient Judea).

I guess you could say that I sympathize more these days with the scientific view of Jesus rather than the religious view (or at least the standard religious views). My first answer to the Time Magazine question would be: Jesus died because he was human, and all humans die. (If you are a really heavy-duty Christian, you might say that Jesus DIDN’T die; he rose again on the third day, body and all, and was swept up into heaven about fifty days later). My second answer would be: that’s just what the Romans did back then. As a dilettante student of the Roman Empire, I know that the Romans held on to their distant colonies through brute force. They responded to the tinyest little signs of rebellion with torture, humiliation and painful death. It was their way of keeping their subjects in line and thus maintaining their Empire.

Do I have a third answer? Well, when you zoom in on the Jesus Passover Incident of approx. 30 CE, the answers start turning into questions, sort of like ice melting into pools of water. Jesus seems to have been a pretty savvy dude. He must have known  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:59 am       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Saturday, April 10, 2004
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About 20 years ago, I discovered the New York Times and its op-ed columnists. Wow, those people writing those little articles every other day seemed to be so smart. They had plenty of insight and answers – or so it seemed. After about a decade of digesting their many words and thoughts, it finally struck me that they didn’t have any monopoly on political wisdom (even if they continue to think so). It was time for me to move on to other sources of thought and opinion (although I did regret leaving Russell Baker behind – I loved his humorous take-offs of Pentagon boondoggles, especially his fictional account of an over-loaded military blimp that dropped lime Jello on Belleville, NJ, which is just a few towns away from me!).

Since the Iraq invasion, I started reading some NYT op-ed pieces once more. Especially Tom Friedman, who seems to be the Times’ op-ed prima donna these days. And guess what? Once more, I found that that Friedman and company don’t have any lock on wisdom and insight.

The thing about Freidman that irks me just a bit is his assumption that he and his column can turn Mr. Bush’s misbegotten Iraqi adventure into a campaign for Arab reform and Middle Eastern democracy. Yea, they do have their egos over there at the NY Times. As though Tom Friedman’s magisterial forgiveness of Mr. Bush for his mistakes regarding weapons of mass destruction was going to inspire the Bush Administration into providing the resource commitments that might have stabilized Iraq, restarted its economy, and set it on the way to becoming an exemplary Arab state. As though Tom’s wise words were going to reform the impoverished breeding grounds of misunderstanding, hatred and terrorism in the Middle East and thus save the West from more Al Qaeda-style violence.

The other day, Friedman said that the current anti-American movement in Iraq could not be compared to the Vietcong situation in Vietnam back in the Sixties, because the Vietcong were a legitimate expression of nationalism, and the shadowy forces attacking our troops today are not.

Tom, I’ve got a hot flash for you. The Vietcong were never the people’s first choice in Southern Vietnam. There were (and still are) all kinds of ethnic and religious groups in Vietnam, and most of them did not buy into the Communist / totalitarian ideals that the Cong were trying to spread. But the alternatives that we, and the French before us, presented to them just seemed so much worse. The Ho Chi Minh movement was extremely well executed. Their philosophies of government were (and still are) awful, but their organizing skills and political strategies and military tactics were nothing short of brilliant. They were students of history, well in tune with thousands of years of experience under the domination of foreigners (especially the Chinese). The French were not very much in tune with that experience, and the Americans even less so.

We and our lackeys in Vietnam could never get our act together, despite millions of dollars and thousands of soldiers and jet planes and ships and all kinds of nation-building stuff. Yes, nationalism was ultimately involved in our defeat, but mainly as a choice that Vietnamese peasants made between two equally bad forms of government, one home-brewed, the other from some far-off world. In choosing between poisons, people usually take the home-brewed one.

As to whoever or whatever is fighting the US in Iraq these days, I won’t claim that they are comparable to the Vietcong, having brilliant strategies and deep historical groundings. But I think it can be said that by now, the people of Iraq have learned that the US troops are not a panacea for everything that ails them. After a year, they still see a lot of unemployment and disorder and lack of basic things like water and electricity and health care. They are starting to see Uncle Sam’s boys as another form of poison, and a very foreign one. Their local choices seem to be another nasty government run by a maniac strongman, or a fundamentalist Moslem regime. I.e., two alternative forms of poison. But home-brewed poison. And that’s where the Vietcong analogy gets its traction, despite Mr. Friedman’s hasty dismissal of it.

Should I give up on Times columnists once again? Maybe, but it is fun to occasionally debunk them in all their pomposity.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:45 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Friday, April 9, 2004
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GOOD FRIDAY BLUES: Here’s my biggest problem. Some people find a place in life where they fit in; things go their way, they achieve a good reputation, they make a contribution to the world, they work hard, they have collegues and friends, they find the right husband or wife (e.g., those married couples you sometimes hear about who are both professors in a given field, who write books together, like the Bergers in Sociology), etc. Even a garbageman who fits in will feel good and get promotions and find friends in his world and a wife who fits in with that world. The rest of us struggle and bungle and lose jobs and get divorces and sometimes get nasty and steal or cheat or whatever to get by, or hold it in and get sick or cancer or whatever.

We all want to give something to the world. I really do believe in the phrase “give to live”. But the problem is, often the world asks us for what we don’t have, and disregards what we do have to give. For most of my own insignificant life, in most of the work and social situations I’ve been in, I’ve been asked to be an extrovert, to be ambitious, to be good with kids, to be highly sociable, to get enthused about little things, and to provide leadership. But I’m just not that kind of person. I’m an analyst, an introvert, a seeker of wisdom, and a solitary person, although I still do care about people (don’t want to see anyone get hurt). I wanted to think and analyze, but I didn’t want to just be a scientist or professor or mathematician or computer programmer. I wanted some greater connection with the senitent side of humanity, but without getting overwhelmed by humans. And in looking for the best of both worlds, I got lost.

Oh well … Dem’s the breaks. A lot of other people have got it a lot tougher, I know. Just a little bit maudlin tonight, that’s all.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:28 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Sunday, April 4, 2004
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Lately I’ve been reading Stanley Karnow’s book “Vietnam A History”, looking back on the Vietnam War, the “big war” of my youth. It’s still hard to get a grasp on what that war was all about. But then again, probably no war is as simple at its proponents would like the world to believe. Still, Vietnam was especially complex. Back in 1969 or so, you seemed to have two popular ways of looking at the Vietnam War. According to way number one, the war was necessary to stop Communism from taking over the world and ending the good life that we’ve come to know here in America (or at least most of us have come to know – people living in urban ghettos or poor mountain villages might not feel quite as enthusiastic about the Land of Opportunity). Way number two was heard mostly from the younger generation, the long-haired, colorfully dressed college crowd chanting “peace, pot, microdot” and “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh” at impromptu campus demonstrations. According to this view, the Viet Cong were a people’s liberation army that was totally misunderstood by the over-30 crowd, the people that run this country. The problem wasn’t in Vietnam, it was here in the U.S., where the old fogies in charge were heartlessly sending thousands of young men to their deaths in Nam because of their political senility.

Well, even back then, I was somewhat suspicious of both of these popular viewpoints (I was never big on the Generation Gap, and I’m glad that the youth of today aren’t into it either, since I’m now an old fogie myself!). Unfortunately, amidst all the noise and shouting of the late 60’s, there wasn’t much opportunity for the truth about the Vietnam situation to be seen and heard. Over the past 30 years, it has become clearer and clearer that Vietnam could not and was not accurately being explained by the bigwigs such as McNamara, Rusk, Bundy and Kissinger when they stated that it was all about world Communism. Not that world Communism had nothing to do with it. But the historical, social and political situation in Vietnam was so complex and so tightly wound up, there was just no way that American firepower could build a new nation. We had lots of success in killing Viet Cong and North Vietnamese regulars; but we just didn’t understand what nation-building was about, especially in the context of that strange and far-off Asian land. We just didn’t realize that people there just don’t look at the world the same way that we do here in America.

Are there any lessons for our involvement today in Iraq? Do we understand the subtleties of “nation-building” any better three decades later? I have my doubts, and the horrible incident this past week in Fallujah only reinforces my view that the whole Iraq thing is not going to come out as our leaders had plannned (i.e., formation of a stable Arabic – Moslem democracy). We’re involved in a situation that we don’t understand. The boys in the Pentagon (and Ms. Rice) did a great job with the military tasks. They did the world a great favor by capturing Sadaam Hussein and taking out the remnant of his threatening military machine. But their “phase two” assumptions are not working out very well thus far. They told us that the people of Iraq would respond wonderfully once the evil shadow over their lives was gone. The Iraqis have lots of resources, not least of which includes their oilfields, and given a little bit of direction, they’d have stable, democratic institutions in place in no time. They will see us as saviors, not as invaders, and will cooperate fully in our efforts to set them on the road to peace and progress.

I’m obviously setting up a straw man here, ready to knock him down with the brazen anti-American attitudes that were evident in Fallujah this past week. But admittedly, perhaps I am being hasty. There is still a chance that a workable social compromise may emerge that will allow a better form of government in Iraq. Perhaps not a vigorous democracy as in India, but something much better than Sadaam, maybe something like Jordan or Egypt — imperfect, but better.

But the problem is, we’re in the middle of a situation where we don’t fully understand all the forces and motives involved. There seem to be powerful religious and ethnic undercurrents such that the people of Iraq may not be ready to share one nation. The Shiites and the Sunnis have long histories and contentious memories that aren’t going to go away overnight. And do the Kurds really want to share a Parliament and a Prime Minister with the Arabs to the south?

If we had the power and guts to just sit there in Iraq for a decade or two and run the place as an American colony (while absorbing continuing loss of life), a sense of nationhood might start emerging. The opposing factions would then have a common enemy, us, and might over time build up a tradition of cooperation that would carry on once we finally left. But I doubt if that’s going to happen. One way or another, the US is gonna cut and run within a year or two (at most). The Fallujah incident says to me that there are still deep fears and hatreds that will take years and years to overcome. I honestly don’t think that the crowds involved in that riot hate America for being America. As Sunnis, the favored minority in Iraq over the past 30 years, they know that our democratic institutions will shift power to the Shiites, the unfavored majority. And they’re scared as hell of that – payback is a bitch. So they’re trying to scare us out before we open the polls. I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve read thus far, the Shiites aren’t being entirely gracious about sharing their newly-realized power either. Whether or not you sympathize with them, the Sunnis probably have good reasons to be fearful. And most everyone else is distracted with shortages of basic things like power, water, jobs and education. It may still be a long time until we have all of that back in working order. Would there really a good time for elections in the next five years?

So just what is the solution? Well, this is the kind of thing that the United Nations was supposedly made for. Unfortunately, over the past few years the USA has taken a lot of air out of the UN’s tires. I agree that committees usually don’t do good jobs of designing things, and nations are probably no exception. But at least the UN would have more moral authority for a long-term oversight and peace-keeping mission in Iraq until the people there were a bit more ready for democracy, until the basic infrastructure could be fully restored, until the religious and ethnic wounds had more time to heal, until people could learn to trust in government. The UN is far from perfect, but it still seems to me like a better option than some quickie election and US pullout, followed by who-knows-what kind of instability, maybe even civil war.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 12:06 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
To blog is human, to read someone's blog, divine
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Church of the Churchless
Clear Mountain Zendo, Montclair
Fr. James S. Behrens, Monastery Photoblog
Of Particular Significance, Dr. Strassler's Physics Blog
My Cousin's 'Third Generation Family'
Weather Willy, NY Metro Area Weather Analysis
Spunkykitty's new Bunny Hopscotch; an indefatigable Aspie artist and now scolar!

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