The Long View 2006-02-24: Future Teeth; The Golden Mosque; The Two Wicked Cities

Lind in 2016

Lind in 2016

John Reilly mentions William S. Lind in this post, because Lind repeatedly predicted defeat for the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan. John predicted victory, and some kind of friendly democratic government in both countries. What actually happened is somewhere in-between. Lind's predictions of defeat were too dire, but what we got wasn't exactly victory either.

Future Teeth; The Golden Mosque; The Two Wicked Cities


This science story got a remarkable amount of attention:

By making a few changes to the expression of certain molecules in the pathway, the researchers were able to induce tooth growth in normal developing chickens. These teeth also looked like reptilian teeth and shared many of the same genetic traits, supporting the scientists' hypothesis. None of these chickens were allowed to hatch.

The moral of the story is that the genes to guide the formation of the features of an organism remain in the genome even after the features are no longer expressed in the organism's lineage. Thus, for instance, snakes could be made to sprout legs like those of their ancestors, if we felt sufficiently strongly about it. Ah, but you ask: what about genes for future evolution? Are they there too, waiting to be switched on?

Some readers will no doubt recall the episode from the Outer Limits series of the 1960s, entitled The Sixth Finger. The sixth finger, of course, was what grew from the hand of the experimental subject after he was put in the Infernal Machine that advanced his evolution. His head also became photogenically distended as his brain expanded.

That was a very good episode. Actually, the whole series was so much better than the recent revival that the principle of historical progress is put in doubt, at least with regard to television. Nonetheless, the idea that later-evolving features are implicit in earlier features is one of the tenets of the model of evolution in Simon Conway Morris's Life's Solution.

* * *

Most of Congress and every elected official on the East Coast have denounced the plan by a company owned by the government of Dubai to acquire the British company that, among other things, manages much of the Port of New York. At this writing, the deal looks as if it will be delayed, and then probably scrapped. Still, I noted this item yesterday:

The Bush administration secretly required a company in the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with future U.S. investigations before approving its takeover of operations at six American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press. It chose not to impose other, routine restrictions.

I have no information about this deal. Still, I might note, simply as food for speculation, that the Middle East is where Western governments base activities that they would not dare do at home. A government-owned company would make a better front than a private one, but there is also a long history of using nominally private enterprises for these purposes. Does no one remember Air America?

* * *

Here is a culture clash where the clash is between European church-state relations and those of the United States:

DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - A German court on Thursday convicted a businessman of insulting Islam by printing the word "Koran" on toilet paper and offering it to mosques.

The 61-year-old man, identified only as Manfred van H., was given a one-year jail sentence, suspended for five years, and ordered to complete 300 hours of community service, a district court in the western German town of Luedinghausen ruled.

I would prefer to think that the court was just pandering to Muslim sentiment, but I have the disturbing feeling that this is how the legal system always works there. Look, religion is like the American flag: if you can't burn it, it is not worth saluting. Faith, like patriotism, thrives on invective.

* * *

Is the bombing of the Golden Mosque actually good news? That would seem to be the implication of Syed Saleem Shahzad's analysis at Asia Times:

Spring is only a month away, and preparations for Nauroz (the Persian new year) are well under way. In Iran this year, however, Nauroz was due to come with a deadly dimension: the start of a new phase of a broad-based anti-US resistance movement stretching from Afghanistan to Jerusalem.

Wednesday's attack on a revered shrine in Iraq could change all this.

There has been quite a lot of contact between Iran and al-Qaeda in recent years. Indeed, important al-Qaeda organizers are in Iran today:

The aim of these people in Iran is to establish a chain of anti-US resistance groups that will take the offensive before the West makes its expected move against Tehran.

Their mission, however, has now become nearly hopeless:

The anti-US resistance movement had wanted to use Shi'ite Iran as the final base to link the resistance groups of this whole region. If the current volatile situation results in Shi'ites sitting on one side, and Sunnis and al-Qaeda-linked groups on the other, this is unlikely to happen.

Instead, Iraq could become a new battlefield, not only against US-led forces, but between different factions. Iran, meanwhile, would be left to deal with the West on its own...

Some Sunnis are saying that it was the Iranians themselves who blew up the mosque, to unite all Shia factions behind Moqtada al-Sadr, or possibly al-Sadr himself ordered the explosion. Or it might have been the Americans, to put pressure on the Sunnis to reach a deal about forming the new government. Or maybe it was the Israelis in order to...well, just because. The most economical explanation is that al-Qaeda and its affiliates realize that if a workable government forms, they will have essentially lost the war, and not just in Iraq. The mosque was blown up to delay that awful day.

Sometimes I think that these people learned the art of government in New Orleans.

* * *

Defeat is editorial policy for American Conservative. Consider this piece, War of the Worlds, by William S. Lind, who argues that there are two great evils today, the Jihad of Fourth Generation warfare and the Brave New World of the West:

The Fourth Generation of Modern War, warfare since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, is the greatest change in armed conflict since the modern era began. It is marked by the state’s loss of the monopoly on war it established with Westphalia and the rise of non-state elements that can fight states and win...Fourth Generation war is giving rise to new forms of social organization. It should not surprise us that al-Qaeda’s goal is not taking power within states but abolishing the state altogether and replacing it with an ummah...

The march toward Brave New World is led by the United States. The main characteristics of Huxley’s dystopia are all too evident in post-1960s America (and Europe). They include a culture where the summary of the law is “you must be happy,” happiness coming from a combination of materialism, consumerism, electronic entertainment, and sexual pleasure; globalism, the elites’ “one ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them” under de facto if not de jure world government; and endless psychological conditioning, especially through the government schools and the video-screen media. Religion is already relegated to the eccentric margins, at least among the elites, if not yet quite forbidden

Readers may amuse themselves by searching through Lind's writings to see how many times he has predicted, indeed reported, the defeat of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan during the past few years.

When Brave New World’s walls come a tumblin’ down—and they will—men of the West may have their opportunity. Bewildered, shocked, sometimes panicked societies will seek alternatives but not know where to turn.

They will, of course, turn to American Conservative's brand of tradition. It worked for Marshal Petain, didn't it?

There are confusions here. Yes, there is a Brave New World faction in the West, whose chief representatives are, perhaps, the transnationalists of the Davos type. It has little or nothing to do with the neocons. The Brave New Worlders have not prospered in recent years. Part of the story is the foundering of the European Union project; part of it is the defenestration of cultural and media elites in the US. The Brave New World is not fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, Brave New World not only could not fight a war; it could not survive in a world where war were possible.

Someone should write an AH story in which the the Draka invade Brave New World. That will teach them.

Copyright © 2006 by John J. Reilly

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The Long View 2003-03-15: The Great White Whale

The most interesting part of this post is John's characterization of statehood in the early twenty-first century:

Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.

Unfortunately, many of the states with which we have become involved in during the past 15 years are precisely this: arbitrary constructs that are granted statehood from the outside.

The Great White Whale
Regular readers of The New York Times will know that the the illegitimacy of the Bush Administration has been columnist Paul Krugman's chief preoccupation since the Administration took office. Krugman has never been very particular about the content of his polemic against Bush. He went through a long period in which he argued that the Administration was a tool of the Enron corporation, until enough people pointed out that the Clinton Administration, and Krugman himself, had as much to do with Enron as Bush & Company did. Sometimes the bee in his bonnet buzzes to him about the president's Evangelical-Christian support, sometimes about the Administration's proposed tax cuts (where Krugman actually has a case). His most recent column, George W. Queeg, gives the impression that something in his head has finally snapped.
In a classic instance of psychological projection, he begins by asking:
"Aboard the U.S.S. Caine, it was the business with the strawberries that finally convinced the doubters that something was amiss with the captain. Is foreign policy George W. Bush's quart of strawberries?"
Well, no, but it is pretty clear that George W. Bush has become Krugman's White Whale. Krugman's obsession is impervious to experience. He is still asking why the president is not focusing on North Korea. A Baathist Iraq freed from sanctions, which would quickly follow if the Administration backs down now, would be North Korea's best nuclear customer. Additionally, the behavior of the US in the Mideast now will determine how seriously North Korea will regard US pressure later this year. Iraq and North Korea are the same crisis.
I gather that this "Queeg" business is going to be a key anti-Bush talking point. One of the talking heads on last night's Washington Week already gave a garbled account of the thesis. Krugman asserts: "There's a long list of pundits who previously supported Bush's policy on Iraq but have publicly changed their minds." He does not name these people. From other sources, though, I gather that the term is "Hawks Who Baulked." One might wonder what the point of these polemics at this point may be, but it's not simply malice. People like Krugman have moved on from trying to prevent the removal of Saddam's government. Now they are moving their attention to sabotaging the larger strategy of which the Iraq campaign is a part.
* * *
Moving from the ridiculous, let us consider the sublime, or at any rate some thing worth listening to. Thanks to Ian McCreath for bringing this essay to my attention: Our World Historical Gamble, by Lee Harris of Tech Central Station.
Coming from me, this is not a criticism, but the piece does wax a bit apocalyptic:
"The war with Iraq will constitute one of those momentous turning points of history in which one nation under the guidance of a strong-willed, self-confident leader undertakes to alter the fundamental state of the world. It is, to use the language of Hegel, an event that is world-historical in its significance and scope. And it will be world-historical, no matter what the outcome may be."
That could well be true, but even if it isn't, there is something to be said for any argument that links George W. Bush to Hegel.
Harris argues that the current (classical) Liberal order of sovereign states is essentially a subsidy system. The privileges of sovereignty were designed for polities that were economically viable, that could police their interiors, and that could defend themselves. Today, however, these privileges are distributed without distinction to entities that are "states" only in an honorific sense. The result is fantasy: cabals of tribal leaders who plot like mountain bandits under the protection of sovereign immunity.
The implication is that this subsidy of morbid fantasy has become too costly, in the sense of creating intolerable security risks. It will be replaced by something Harris calls "neo-sovereignty." He has not quite worked out what this will be, but then neither has anyone else.
* * *
When things settle down a bit, I will try to include more items about the paranormal and generally strange. In the meantime, though, you can satisfy your surrealism needs with this interview with Hans Blix. The chief UN weapons inspector thinks things like this:
"To me the question of the environment is more ominous than that of peace and war. We will have regional conflicts and use of force, but world conflicts I do not believe will happen any longer. But the environment, that is a creeping danger. I'm more worried about global warming than I am of any major military conflict."
A man's anxieties are his privilege, of course. Still, you can't help but wonder: why is he in his current line of work?
Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

Why post old articles?

Who was John J. Reilly?

All of John's posts here

An archive of John's site

Lone Survivor Book Review

Lone Survivor

The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10
by Marcus Luttrell and Patrick Robinson
ISBN 978-0316067607
$15.99; 392 pages

Badass is the only way to describe Marcus Luttrell and his teammates. Everyone should know this about SEALs already, but reading this first-hand account will drive it home. Anyone who is familiar with the SEAL ethos and training methods could probably skim or skip the first half of the book. Luttrell needed to honor his comrades by describing what made them special, but there are no surprises here.

However, what does become clear is just how effective the selection process is. Part of SEAL training is just that: training. Another part is weeding out those who do not have what it takes. And what it takes is an absolute refusal to quit. As Luttrell makes clear in his memories of BUD/S, the men who wash out are not necessarily weaker or slower than those who persevere, although some are. Those who remain are massively determined, even obstinant. They would rather die than quit, and in fact will remain alive on sheer willpower long after another man would lie down to die.

Operation Redwing demonstrated this. The other three SEALs on the ground with Luttrell, Michael P. Murphy, Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson continued to fight after being horrifically wounded when they were ambushed and enfiladed. Luttrell was saved by being blown off a cliff by an RPG, preventing his enemies from locating him.

The last third of the book has an excellent description of the reality of village life in the Hindu Kush, and the kind of ancient rights and privileges that persist in that part of the world.  Luttrell's life was saved by Lokhay Warkawa, which we might think of as sanctuary, granted by the headman of the village he stumbled into. Like the Clameur de Haro, it was impossible for the Taliban to ignore this protection. They did take the opportunity to abuse Luttrell further, but they could not take him as they wished.

I would have liked to know what the results of the final debriefing of this mission were. This was clearly a monumental Charlie Foxtrot, especially the ill-fated rescue attempt that cost the lives of the rest of the SEALs at his base, including their commanding officer. The SEALs have a principle that no man is left behind, but I am certain they are hard enough on themselves to see the rescue attempt cost more lives than it should have. If I find out what happened there, I will let you know.

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