Scroll down for Amygdala archives! You know you want to. [Temporarily rather borked, along with rest of template.]
Amygdala's endorsements are below my favorite quotations! Keep scrolling!
Amygdala will move to an entirely new and far better blog template ASAP, aka RSN, aka incrementally/badly punctuated evolution.
Tagging posts, posts by category, next/previous post indicators, and other post-2003 design innovations are incrementally being tweaked/kludged/melting.
Above email address currently deprecated! Use gary underscore farber at yahoodotcom, pliz! Sanely free of McCarthyite calling anyone a traitor since 2001!
Commenting Rules: Only comments that are courteous and respectful of other commenters will be allowed. Period.
You must either open a Google/Blogger.com/Gmail Account, or sign into comments at the bottom of any post with OpenID, LiveJournal, Typepad, Wordpress, AIM account, or whatever ID/handle available to use. Hey, I don't design Blogger's software: sorry!
Posting a spam-type URL will be grounds for deletion.
Comments on posts over 21 days old are now moderated, and it may take me a long while to notice and allow them.
I've a long record in editorial work in book and magazine publishing, starting 1974, a variety of other work experience, but have been, since 2001, recurringly housebound with insanely painful sporadic and unpredictably variable gout and edema, and in the past, other ailments; the future? The Great Unknown: isn't it for all of us?
I'm currently house/cat-sitting, not on any government aid yet (or mostly ever), often in major chronic pain from gout and edema, which variably can leave me unable to walk, including just standing, but sometimes is better, and is freaking unpredictable at present; I also have major chronic depression and anxiety disorders; I'm currently supported mostly by your blog donations/subscriptions; you can help me. I prefer to spread out the load, and lessen it from the few who have been doing more than their fair share for too long.
Thanks for any understanding and support. I know it's difficult to understand. And things will change. They always change.
I'm sometimes available to some degree as a paid writer, editor, researcher, or proofreader. I'm sometimes available as a fill-in Guest Blogger at mid-to-high-traffic blogs that fit my knowledge set.
If you like my blog, and would like to help me continue to afford food and prescriptions, or simply enjoy my blogging and writing, and would like to support it --
you are welcome to do so via the PayPal buttons.
"The brain is wider than the sky, For, put them side by side,
The one the other will include With ease, and you beside"
-- Emily Dickinson
"We will pursue peace as if there is no terrorism and fight terrorism as if there is no peace."
-- Yitzhak Rabin
"I have thought it my duty to exhibit things as they are, not as they ought to be."
-- Alexander Hamilton
"The stakes are too high for government to be a spectator sport."
-- Barbara Jordan
"Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to
trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule --
and both commonly succeed, and are right."
-- H. L. Mencken
"Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom.
It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves."
-- William Pitt
"The only completely consistent people are the dead."
-- Aldous Huxley
"I have had my solutions for a long time; but I do not yet know how I am to arrive at them."
-- Karl F. Gauss
"Whatever evils either reason or declamation have imputed to extensive empire,
the power of Rome was attended with some beneficial consequences to mankind;
and the same freedom of intercourse which extended the vices, diffused likewise
the improvements of social life."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Augustus was sensible that mankind is governed by names; nor was he deceived in his
expectation, that the senate and people would submit to slavery, provided they were
respectfully assured that they still enjoyed their ancient freedom."
-- Edward Gibbon
"There exists in human nature a strong propensity to depreciate the advantages, and to magnify
the evils, of the present times."
-- Edward Gibbon
"Our youth now loves luxuries. They have bad manners, contempt for authority.
They show disrespect for elders and they
love to chatter instead of exercise.
Children are now tyrants, not the servants, of their households. They
no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents,
chatter before company, gobble up their food, and tyrannize
"Before impugning an opponent's motives, even when they legitimately may be impugned, answer his arguments."
-- Sidney Hook
"Idealism, alas, does not protect one from ignorance, dogmatism, and foolishness."
-- Sidney Hook
"Let me never fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
"We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization.
We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect
disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about particular degrees of interest
and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimized."
-- Reinhold Niebuhr
"Faced with the choice of all the land without a Jewish state or a Jewish state without all the
land, we chose a Jewish state without all the land."
-- David Ben-Gurion
"...the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him
an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this
or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages
to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also
to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing,
with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess
and conform to it;[...] that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion
and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty....
-- Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Jefferson
"We don't live just by ideas. Ideas are part of the mixture of customs and practices,
intuitions and instincts that make human life a conscious activity susceptible to
improvement or debasement. A radical idea may be healthy as a provocation;
a temperate idea may be stultifying. It depends on the circumstances. One of the most
tiresome arguments against ideas is that their 'tendency' is to some dire condition --
to totalitarianism, or to moral relativism, or to a war of all against all."
-- Louis Menand
"The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis."
-- Dante Alighieri
"He too serves a certain purpose who only stands and cheers."
-- Henry B. Adams
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to beg in the streets, steal bread, or sleep under a bridge."
-- Anatole France
"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
-- Edmund Burke
"Education does not mean that we have become certified experts in business or mining or botany or journalism or epistemology;
it means that through the absorption of the moral, intellectual, and esthetic inheritance of the race we have come to
understand and control ourselves as well as the external world; that we have chosen the best as our associates both in spirit
and the flesh; that we have learned to add courtesy to culture, wisdom to knowledge, and forgiveness to understanding."
-- Will Durant
"Glimpses do ye seem to see of that mortally intolerable truth; that all deep, earnest thinking is
but the intrepid effort of the soul to keep the open independence of her sea; while the wildest
winds of heaven and earth conspire to cast her on the treacherous, slavish shore?"
-- Herman Melville
"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis D. Brandeis
"It is an error to suppose that books have no influence; it is a slow influence, like flowing water carving out a canyon,
but it tells more and more with every year; and no one can pass an hour a day in the society of sages and heroes without
being lifted up a notch or two by the company he has kept."
-- Will Durant
"When you write, you’re trying to transpose what you’re thinking into something that is less like an annoying drone and more like a piece of music."
-- Louis Menand
"Sex is a continuum."
-- Gore Vidal
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should
make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to the Baptists of Danbury, Connecticut, 1802.
"The sum of our religion is peace and unanimity, but these can scarcely stand unless we define as little as possible,
and in many things leave one free to follow his own judgment, because there is great obscurity in many matters, and
man suffers from this almost congenital disease that he will not give in when once a controversy is started, and
after he is heated he regards as absolutely true that which he began to sponsor quite casually...."
-- Desiderius Erasmus
"Are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule of what we are to read, and what we must disbelieve?"
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to N. G. Dufief, Philadelphia bookseller, 1814
"We are told that it is only people's objective actions that matter, and their subjective feelings are of no importance. Thus pacifists, by obstructing the war effort,
are 'objectively' aiding the Nazis; and therefore the fact that they may be personally hostile to Fascism is irrelevant. I have been guilty of saying this myself more than once. The same argument is applied to Trotskyism. Trotskyists are often credited, at any rate by Communists, with being active and conscious agents of Hitler; but when you point out the many and obvious reasons why this is unlikely to be true,
the 'objectively' line of talk is brought forward again. To criticize the Soviet Union helps Hitler: therefore 'Trotskyism is Fascism'. And when this has been established, the accusation of conscious treachery is usually repeated.
This is not only dishonest; it also carries a severe penalty with it. If you disregard people's motives, it becomes much harder to foresee their actions."
-- George Orwell, "As I Please," Tribune, 8 December 1944
"Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive? If 'needy' were a turn-on?"
-- "Aaron Altman," Broadcast News
"The great thing about human language is that it prevents us from sticking to the matter at hand."
-- Lewis Thomas
"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child. For what is man's lifetime unless the memory of past events is woven with those of earlier times?"
"Knowledge is of two kinds. We know a subject ourselves, or we know where we can find information upon it."
-- Samuel Johnson, Life Of Johnson
"Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
-- Socrates, via Plato, The Republic
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, represents, in the final analysis, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children."
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower
"The term, then, is obviously a relative one; my pedantry is your scholarship, his reasonable accuracy, her irreducible minimum of education, & someone else's ignorance."
-- H. W. Fowler
"Rules exist for good reasons, and in any art form the beginner must learn them and understand what they are for, then follow them for quite a while. A visual artist, pianist, dancer, fiction writer, all beginning artists are in the same boat here: learn the rules, understand them, follow them. It's called an apprenticeship. A mediocre artist never stops following the rules, slavishly follows guidelines, and seldom rises above mediocrity. An accomplished artist internalizes the rules to the point where they don't have to be consciously considered. After you've put in the time it takes to learn to swim, you never stop to think: now I move my arm, kick, raise my head, breathe. You just do it. The accomplished artist knows what the rules mean, how to use them, dodge them, ignore them altogether, or break them. This may be a wholly unconscious process of assimilation, one never articulated, but it has taken place."
-- Kate Wilhelm
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
-- Albert Einstein
"The decisive moment in human evolution is perpetual."
-- Franz Kafka, Aphorisms
"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."
-- Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho
"First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you."
-- Nicholas Klein, May, 1919, to the Third Biennial Convention of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (misattributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, 1914 & variants).
"Our credulity is a part of the imperfection of our natures. It is inherent in us to desire to generalize, when we ought, on the contrary, to guard ourselves very carefully from this tendency."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The truth is, men are very hard to know, and yet, not to be deceived, we must judge them by their present actions, but for the present only."
-- Napoleon I of France.
"The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know."
-- On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in Correspondance Napoleon edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128
"All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible."
-- George Santayana, Dialogues in Limbo (1926)
"If you should put even a little on a little, and should do this often, soon this too would become big."
-- Hesiod, Work And Days
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."
-- Eugene V. Debs
"Reputation is what other people know about you. Honor is what you know about yourself."
-- Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Campaign
"All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written "al-Qaida," in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving for it anything of note other than some benefits for their private companies."
-- Osama bin Laden
"Remember, Robin: evil is a pretty bad thing."
Gary Farber is now a licensed Quintuple Super-Sekrit Multi-dimensional Master Pundit.
He does not always refer to himself in the third person.
He is presently single.
The gefilte fish is dead. Donate via the donation button on the top left or I'll shoot this cutepanda. Don't you lovepandas?
Current Total # of Donations Since 2002: 1181
Subscribers to date at $5/month: 100 sign-ups; 91 cancellations; Total= 9
Supporter subscribers to date at $25/month: 16 sign-ups; 10 cancellation; Total= 6
Patron subscribers to date at $50/month: 20 sign-ups; 13 cancellations; Total= 7
...writer[s] I find myself checking out repeatedly when I'm in the mood to play follow-the-links. They're not all people I agree with all the time, or even most of the time, but I've found them all to be thoughtful writers, and that's the important thing, or should be.
-- Tom Tomorrow
I bow before the shrillitudinousness of Gary Farber, who has been blogging like a fiend.
-- Ted Barlow, Crooked Timber
Favorite.... [...] ...all great stuff. [...] Gary Farber should never be without readers.
I usually read you and Patrick several times a day, and I always get something from them. You've got great links, intellectually honest commentary, and a sense of humor. What's not to like?
-- Ted Barlow
One of my issues with many poli-blogs is the dickhead tone so many bloggers affect to express their sense of righteous indignation. Gary Farber's thoughtful leftie takes on the world stand in sharp contrast with the usual rhetorical bullying. Plus, he likes "Pogo," which clearly attests to his unassaultable good taste.
Jaysus. I saw him do something like this before, on a thread about Israel. It was pretty brutal. It's like watching one of those old WWF wrestlers grab an opponent's
face and grind away until the guy starts crying. I mean that in a nice & admiring way, you know.
-- Fontana Labs, Unfogged
We read you Gary Farber! We read you all the time! Its just that we are lazy with our blogroll. We are so very very lazy. We are always the last ones to the party but we always have snazzy bow ties.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber you are a genius of mad scientist proportions. I will bet there are like huge brains growin in jars all over your house.
-- Fafnir, Fafblog!
Gary Farber is the hardest working man in show blog business. He's like a young Gene Hackman blogging with his hair on fire, or something.
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Gary Farber only has two blogging modes: not at all, and 20 billion interesting posts a day [...] someone on the interweb whose opinions I can trust....
-- Belle Waring, John & Belle Have A Blog
Isn't Gary a cracking blogger, apropos of nothing in particular?
-- Alison Scott
Gary Farber takes me to task, in a way befitting the gentleman he is.
-- Stephen Green, Vodkapundit
My friend Gary Farber at Amygdala is the sort of liberal for whom I happily give three cheers. [...] Damned incisive blogging....
-- Midwest Conservative Journal
If I ever start a paper, Clueless writes the foreign affairs column, Layne handles the city beat, Welch has the roving-reporter job, Tom Tomorrow runs the comic section (which carries Treacher, of course). MediaMinded runs the slots - that's the type of editor I want as the last line of defense. InstantMan runs the edit page - and you can forget about your Ivins and Wills and Friedmans and Teepens on the edit page - it's all Blair, VodkaP, C. Johnson, Aspara, Farber, Galt, and a dozen other worthies, with Justin 'I am smoking in such a provocative fashion' Raimondo tossed in for balance and comic relief.
Who wouldn't buy that paper? Who wouldn't want to read it? Who wouldn't climb over their mother to be in it?
-- James Lileks
I do appreciate your role and the role of Amygdala as a pioneering effort in the integration of fanwriters with social conscience into the larger blogosphere of social conscience.
-- Lenny Bailes
Every single post in that part of Amygdala visible on my screen is either funny or bracing or important. Is it always like this? -- Natalie Solent
People I've known and still miss include Isaac Asimov, rich brown, Charles Burbee, F. M. "Buzz" Busby, Terry Carr, A. Vincent Clarke, Bob Doyle, George Alec Effinger, Abi Frost,
Bill & Sherry Fesselmeyer, George Flynn, John Milo "Mike" Ford. John Foyster, Mike Glicksohn, Jay Haldeman, Neith Hammond (Asenath Katrina Hammond)/DominEditrix , Chuch Harris, Mike Hinge, Lee Hoffman, Terry Hughes, Damon Knight, Ross Pavlac, Bruce Pelz, Elmer Perdue, Tom Perry,
Larry Propp, Bill Rotsler, Art Saha, Bob Shaw, Martin Smith, Harry Stubbs, Bob Tucker, Harry Warner, Jr., Jack Williamson, Walter A. Willis, Susan Wood, Kate Worley, and Roger Zelazny.
It's just a start, it only gets longer, many are unintentionally left out.
And She of whom I must write someday.
Americans want to to, as a rule, be number one, and therefor we are at least as good at triumphalism as the next country. Unsurprisingly, we have a lot of these self-satisfied stories now, but many have their interesting bits and moments; more than not, we'll only find out more surely how accurate or not the reporting of the moment is after a year or three has passed, and multiple analysts and sources have been brought to bear on contemporary stories, of course. Meanwhile, this is a Karl Vick piece from the Washington Post on "Rout in Desert Marked Turning Point In War."
"You cast armies of orcs and elves for the film's many crowd scenes. But you must have had some deluded folks who told you they wanted a starring role.
Oh, yeah. You'd be amazed at
how many people thought that they
were Aragorn or that they were
Galadriel. We had to try to explain,
“Sorry, Cate Blanchett’s playing
that. We need someone who’s done
more than ‘Rocky Horror’ at their
local dramatic society.”
Obviously elves and Uruk-hais and hobbits are completely different, so you must have been looking for all kinds of body types.
Yes. You had to be 91
centimeters (36 inches) across in the
hips to fit the elf armor. You had to
be 5 foot 10 and over to be an
Uruk-hai. We had all these height
specifications. That’s the first thing
we looked for. Second, you had be a
decent person. You could pretty
much tell who was going to be a pain
and who wasn’t. What was most
interesting for me was that each
character started to take on
personality traits. People who were
cast as hobbits were chatterboxes.
You put 100 people who you’ve cast
as hobbits together and getting them
to be quiet is a major feat. You put a
bunch of elves together and you find
no one’s eating and there’s a lot of
whinging [complaining] and there’s a
lot of hair and makeup required. It
became a running joke with us. The
people who played Uruk-hai, which
are the mean 6-foot fighting
machines—they actually had this
rivalry on set with the elves. They’d
call them cupcakes. Because I can
guarantee you, if you put the
Uruk-hai out there, they’ll last all
night with no complaining. You put
the elves out there and within a
couple of hours they’ll be going,
“I’m too tired! And I need more
makeup!” Hobbits were cast by large
round eyes and big rosy cheeks. Our
favorite adjective became roundy.
“Are they roundy?” Round tummies,
round cheeks, round eyes.
[. . .]
You have no idea what I’ve
seen. People knew they had a very
short time to impress, so I had the
guy in the green tights playing the
bag pipes. I had the man with the
scroll talking to me only in elfish
when I only wanted to know his
name. I had the guy who sat at the
piano playing me all this music and
wouldn’t leave. I had the gothic with
the black hair and the full body
piercing trying to be just involved
somehow. I said, “Would you be
willing to take out your piercing?”
And they took offense at that. They
wanted to know, “Why?! What’s wrong with it? Why can’t I be who I am?!” I’m like, “This is Middle-earth.” I saw all types.
"The Israeli army says it has shot dead a suspected Palestinian suicide bomber in the Gaza Strip.
The militant Palestinian group Islamic Jihad - in a faxed statement to Associated Press news agency in Beirut - said the dead man was one of their members and was killed during an attempted ambush."
"The Israeli army said the Palestinian was killed after approaching soldiers at the Netzarim junction in central Gaza.
He was carrying an assault rifle and an anti-tank missile and had explosives around his waist, according to army officials."
We also note that the the assertion of Islamic Jihad that he was one is not enough to gain the removal of those stigmatizing and doubting quotation marks, and neither is his curious fashion sense.
This opens the question of precisely what would pass the utterly respectable and eminently high standards of journalistic rigor practiced at the BBC to allow someone to be properly given the dignity of the title of "suicide bomber" without having the ignominy of those quotation marks to accompany the poor martyr into the grave.
I can only guess that a properly exploded body is necessary. Probably that of the bomber. That would leave clearcut and irrefutable evidence. Right?
Chris Chivers has an exceptionally well-written story here, playing off his experiences in reporting both from Ground Zero and Afghanistan. Check it out.
"New York. A tremendous platinum-and- gold flash where the jet disappeared into the tower, and then the explosion's roar and screams from a crowd breaking into a run. Mothers on a stairwell in the smoky Trinity Church day care center, cradling children and getting ready to step outside, unaware that the remaining tower was about to go. An old woman in a wheelchair being pushed down Greenwich Street, visible one moment and lost the next as another stampede began and the second wave of stinging dust swooshed through. A fire chief limping as he escorted out the bagged remains of one of his battalion's dead. A National Guard captain walking by flashlight through the lightless World Trade Center basement, his beam briefly illuminating the face of the Bugs Bunny doll at the ruined Warner Brothers store.
A word on an iron worker's helmet. "War."
Afghanistan. A teenager tossing a grenade into a brown river — ga- loomph, a geyser of spray — and then wading in to look for stunned fish. A haze of dust at sunset as the Northern Alliance infantry moved from Bangi to Khanabad, the restless soldiers hoping to claim the city in time to break the Ramadan fast. Two Taliban soldiers on their backs in the Kunduz bazaar, the dime-sized bullet holes in their foreheads showing the manner of execution hours before. A 10-year-old boy whose home was destroyed by American bombs describing pain in two limbs he no longer had. An alliance general, handsome enough for the cover of a fashion magazine, flossing his teeth after dinner, admitting he was confused.
[. . .]
Every tribe had its talkers, from Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to a one- legged Tajik car thief. Some were crazy. Others lied. Many were honest and got it right. There were few rules for dealing with each. But a former British infantryman, who knew the country and gamely shared his hidden Scotch, had one: whenever an Afghan soldier gives you a number, he said, always take away one of the zeros.
Many times it just about worked: an alliance commander said he had 100 men, but only 11 could be found. Sometimes it was not enough: tips about a Taliban massacre near Kunduz — "200 people slaughtered, maybe more," the Afghan soldiers said — led to a search that turned up one shepherd who knew of six dead.
Or maybe we missed things. Given the lack of sleep and language barriers, it was just as likely the case. We got lost almost every day. We were always headed somewhere else.
[. . .]
"The foreign Taliban were bad people," said one of the turncoats, Jawid Gaurd, 15 and peach-fuzzed, with an AK-47 on his back.
His father, Abdullah Gaurd, had been an Afghan Taliban commander, and the next day the father waited at the top of a staircase in his home while his bodyguards escorted visitors in. He spoke convincingly, touching points in the new party line — about peace, rights and democracy; about Afghanistan's allies in the West.
Only once did he slip, when recounting how many people he had killed. He was somewhere in the hundreds when he caught himself and stopped. "But never any civilians," he said, pointing his finger for emphasis. "Never. Not even one. You can ask all of the people in our city. They will tell you: Abdullah Gaurd is a great friend to Afghanistan's people."
Out in the city, people scowled when they heard his name.
[. . .]
These were the constants: Just when you thought you had figured something out, you were proved wrong. You always risked missing the most important moments, because you were looking for something else.
The snow crunched beneath the hikers' feet. It was during a rest break in the Hindu Kush, and the porters crowded in to ask where the two foreigners were from. "London? Germany? America?" one said.
We were trying to keep the group moving so we could make it to Kabul.
"New York," I answered, in a hurry, starting to walk away.
He stopped me by my elbow, making sure his eyes had mine. When he spoke again it was in the slow diction of a man on an excursion into an unfamiliar language, but who wanted to be heard. He nodded, deep enough to be a bow, before raising both hands to eye level and letting them flutter to his waist.
The meaning was obvious, even high in mountains in a distant corner of the earth. Towers falling down.
"New York," the Afghan porter said. "Very sorry us."
The New York Times Magazine for today, 12/30/01, looks back at the lives of some who croaked this year. One is the former Premier of South Vietnam, as above. The story begins with a fact written about before:
"On the advice of an astrologer, Nguyen Van Thieu changed his birthday from a date in November 1924 to a more auspicious day, April 5, 1923."
One could note in melancholy fashion that this was consistent with the sea of lies that was the Vietnam War, and precisely as successful as almost all the rest.
A number of the other write-ups are worth reading, by the way, and I again say goodbye to Sir Fred Hoyle, astronomer, science fiction writer, and creative loon. Sir Fred Hoyle by Richard Powers
Polly Toynbee used one of my favorite, probably apocryphal, stories, in an article in the Grauniad, er, _Guardian_ on October 10th, in a piece which still holds up:
"A 19th-century general in India confronted an angry delegation complaining that the suppression of suttee was an attack on their national culture and customs. He replied: "It is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and hang them. Build your funeral pyre and beside it my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your national custom - then we shall follow ours." No moral or cultural relativism there: a burning widow feels the same pain whatever her culture.
Swirling about in the sea of debate on this war there is a fuzzy idea on the soft left of an Islamic cultural otherness that supersedes basic human rights. There is a plea that in respecting certain customs, beliefs and punishments in some Muslim countries, we should somehow overlook the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Some on these pages protest about "intolerant liberalism", calling for greater understanding of other cultures and accusing secular liberals of neo-colonial, cultural supremacist attitudes towards some Muslim countries. But that risks something worse - a patronising anthropological view of interesting natives who are not people like us, quaint in their time-honoured habits that must remain undisturbed by outside influence. This soft tolerance permits faraway peoples to persecute women, gays, free-thinkers or unbelievers as part of a way of life to be respected and preserved. Apologetic about the brute force of the west, those who themselves enjoy freedoms of every kind excuse the inexcusable in other cultures, romanticising them as more spiritual, less materialist. It is a kind of limp liberalism that will not defend its own most profound values.
Hard-headed liberals have no problem in opposing the Taliban, Bin Laden and equivocators who start with a cursory side-of-the-cigarette-pack homily that says September 11 was atrocious before piling on the "buts" that imply the US had it coming. Hard liberals have always been very tough on the moral failings of the USA at home and abroad - without blurring distinctions between the Taliban and America. Hard liberals hold basic human rights to be non-negotiable and worth fighting for. They do not turn the other cheek, understand the other guy's point of view or respect his culture when it comes to universal rights. Promoting liberal values everywhere from Burma to Saudi Arabia, Iraq to Chechnya is not neo-colonialism, but respect for a universal right to freedom from oppression. That was what Tony Blair's conference speech implied.
On Afghanistan, limp liberals only distinguish themselves from the old left by adding rather more hand-wringing. Limp liberals are always on the side of peace because it is more morally comfortable. They claim a monopoly of pity, castigating the other side as heartless armchair warriors. They hesitate because the outcome is uncertain: no one can guarantee things will end well. But they will never be to blame for anything, because they never stood up for anything, always seeking third way escapes from hard choices. "If only people would just sit down and talk...", though conversation with Bin Laden is not on offer. All sane people worry that this war may not be proportionate, may not stop terror attacks or make life in Afghanistan better. But the pacifist position this time is exceptionally odd. What would they do? When G2 asked a string of people recently, the alternatives were hopeless to non-existent. On these pages, there has been much flailing about, lack of alternatives hiding in anti-US bluster. A Gandhian response is a possibility - until you listen to Bin Laden. Understanding racial and cultural diversity is essential, but this time understand what?"
"For four nights running, ending Friday, the six Americans who described themselves as FBI agents patiently questioned the 139 Arab warriors jailed here, meeting them in batches of 25 or more in the women's ward before flying back the safety of Islamabad before dawn.
". . . who described themselves as. . . ."? So Edward Cody, the reporter (unless this change was made inhouse at WP) doesn't buy that they're FBI, apparently. Which leaves us to play guessing games: D-boys? CIA? Some other agency? Interesting.
An amusing line in the last 'graph of the story:
"Posters of bin Laden vie for attention with those of Arnold Schwarzenegger on Kohat's lampposts. 'Jihad until doomsday,' read one spray-painted sign."
Life is a dream in which movies and reality cross into each other.
"Critics say that America is a lie because its reality falls so far short of its ideals. They are wrong. America is not a lie; it is a disappointment. But it can be a disappointment only because it is also a hope."