The Long View 2003-10-03: Unusual Views

John Reilly mentions Gen. Wesley Clark in passing here. Clark has dropped out of the public eye, but it is probably worth remembering that Clark probably helped bring about one of the great, but unheralded successes of the United States in the Balkans in the 1990s, Operation Storm. Others were involved of course, but this is the sort of thing that probably is in institutional memory of the Deep State still, encouraging us to bait the Russian bear.

On the subject of the Balkans, I have an upcoming review on the development of the Predator drone. The first combat deployment of that drone was in the Balkans in the 1990s as well, so it behooves us to think about what we did back then, and how it influences us now.

Unusual Views

I am pleased to see that even people, like Instapundit, who are inclined to view Wesley Clark's policy ideas skeptically have nonetheless warmed to his recent expressions of doubt about Special Relativity. Too few presidential candidates have any views about physics at all, so this sort of thing should be encouraged. One can only contrast Clark's pure curiosity to Al Gore's views about global warming. Gore may or may not be sincere, but it's hard not to notice that his ecological notions seem tailored for the electorate. This is much harder to do with cosmology.

Now that I come to think of it, presidents and major presidential candidates have been pretty good about keeping their exotic enthusiasms to themselves. There was Henry Wallace and his interest in astrology, of course, but I would not class that with Clark's remarks. The closest parallel I can think of is Theodore Roosevelt's promotion of spelling reform, which he actually managed to turn into a public controversy. Even Theodore Roosevelt did not mention the matter during his campaigns, however, at least as far as I know.

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Speaking of Wesley Clark, I have every intention of doing a review of his new book, Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire, as soon as it becomes available. A warning to people who also intend to read it, however. It should not be confused with Clark's other recent book, Waging Modern War: Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Future of Combat, which was released in August 2002. Waging Modern War was in the high 600s on Amazon's sales ranking this morning. Winning Modern Wars was in the mid-200s, despite the fact the book has not yet been released.

One point I would like to clarify is the publication history. Both books are published by "Public Affairs," an entity with no Web presence. All I could find was a distributor. So, both books are apparently self-published. Self-publishing is a laudable institution, even for people who are not running for public office.

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On the subject of unusual views, I recently bought my first copy of Weird New Jersey. This excellent semi-annual is best known for its paparazzi-like coverage of the Jersey Devil, and for printing with a straight face the sort of sex-and-death ghost stories beloved by teenagers. Weird New Jersey is not a tabloid: it's primary folklore research. If the lore sometimes seems a little tawdry, the explanation is that so are the folk.

Perhaps the most important feature of Weird New Jersey is the many articles they run on the abandoned commercial and military sites that litter New Jersey. New Jersey has been through two industrial revolutions and is working on a third. The obsolete facilities are often simply abandoned. They are also frequently located in out-of-the way places that quickly become reforested. The function and even the names of some of these structures pass out of local knowledge. Gruesome and improbable legends spring up.

I myself have a story that could have gone into Weird New Jersey. I recorded it in my journal for Saturday, September 8, 2001. Well, some of it:

Fort HannockI did not appreciate just how large a ruin it was until we walked around it along the beach. The fort had been built into a low cliff, but "low" is relative. Great slaps of creeper-covered concrete loomed to our left as we tried to make our way along the ever-narrowing beach. The way was blocked by stone slabs that had fallen or been dislodged into the water, so we had to climb over them. When we reached firm ground, we passed locked doors as high as four-story buildings. Sometimes, there were small, rusted signs, which threatened the most dire consequences to anyone attempting to enter.

Then we came to the Village. It looked like a film producer had wanted to build a set for a suburban neighborhood but had needed to economize on scale. All the buildings were variations on two or three models. The houses were brightly painted and generally two stories tall, but I can't see how anyone could have stood up straight in them. They were no more than ten feet apart. Each was set in a postage-stamp-size lawn, with grass as neatly trimmed as a crew cut. There were low white-picket fences, and narrow, flawless sidewalks.

The Village was deserted. Toys were scattered on some of the lawns. A tricycle waited in the street. One or two garages were opened and tools were set up in the driveway for some weekend project. Doors were open, and music played. Nobody was there.

Then there was the gargoyle. It was four feet high and black. Its eyes were made of some reflective material. The gargoyle stood on one of the perfect little lawns, at the side of one of the impeccable little houses.

This walk got more and more disconcerting, not just because we did not meet anyone, but because we were lost. The streets seemed laid out so as to lead us away from the lot where we had left our car. Still, there was a way out, and we found it.

We also found a few hundred people at a picnic, in a park adjacent to what was no doubt their neighborhood. We surmised that the tidy houses were for Coast Guard personnel. We were too embarrassed to ask.

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Speaking of requests, I see that The Perfection of the West is still selling a copy now and again: thank you very much. I wonder, though, whether anyone who read it might be interested in contributing a review to the Amazon page? This assumes you liked it, of course, or that you disliked it so much that you can make it sound hateful in an interesting way.

Copyright © 2003 by John J. Reilly

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