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Shaking my confidence daily.

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August 5, 2003

Boiling the frog. Jeanne D’Arc, whose weblog Body and Soul has a new URL, gets one of things I was trying to articulate here: namely, as she puts it, “the way you learn to pass over things that you would never have believed possible.” [03:32 PM]
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Comments on Boiling the frog.:

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 04:29 PM:

To say it simply and plainly, what Jeanne is describing are steps towards despair. I do not mean that as a criticism of anyone reading, least of all Jeanne. I wish I knew a good answer to it.

"'For myself, I would see the White Tree in flower again in the courts of the kings, and the Silver Crown return, and Minas Tirith in peace: Minas Anor again as of old, full of light, high and fair, beautiful as a queen among other queens; not as a mistress of many slaves, nay, not even a kind mistress of willing slaves.'"--JRRT

Sinboy (AKA J.Jasper) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 05:05 PM:

To the Sea, to the Sea! The white gulls are crying,
The wind is blowing, and the white foam is flying.
West, west away, the round sun is falling.
Grey ship, grey ship, do you hear them calling.
The voices of my people that have gone before me?
I will leave, I will leave the woods that bore me;
For our days are ending and our years failing.
I will pass the wide waters lonely sailing.
Long are the waves on the Last Shore falling,
Sweet are the voices in the Lost Isle calling,
In Eresseba, in Elvenhome that no man can discover,
Where the leaves fall not: land of my people for ever!'-- JRRT

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 05:21 PM:

Again with the ancient Roman stuff, this is something you can see very clearly reading Cicero's letters.

It's why I was delighted when, soon after we moved here, there was a scandal about government corruption -- goodness, to live somewhere it was a scandal, not just part of the noise over which one raises an ironic eyebrow!

It's strange to see outrage as finite and precious, but every time someone tells you not to be naive, this is how it's done, this isn't so different from anything, a freedom dies.

Raise your hands if you believe in freedom, boys and girls. Raise them and get them counted.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 05:24 PM:

Oh, and Randolph -- this might surprise you, it surprised me, but Jerry Pournelle was saying almost exactly that, in his own words, on his web log just before the war began.

Keith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 06:33 PM:

I think what disturbs me about the people in power right now has as much to do with the way they slowly make me immune to cruelty and cynicism as it does with the cruel and cynical things they do.

This is how a fascist state functions, by deadening its citizens to the pain of cruelty. I see it happening to myself and those around me. And it's disturbing. But how do you stop it?

Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 06:42 PM:

Jo: one of the things that I currently find most unnerving about the whole situation is the way that I find myself agreeing with a whole lot of the opinions Jerry Pournelle is currently coming out with.

I'm close to the opposite end of the political spectrum from him -- but it's the same spectrum, one where the value system seems to be informed by an awareness of the history of the rise and fall of empires and at least a general clue about the existence of the Enlightenment. And I'm not convinced that the current crop of hereditary rulers are participants in that value system.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2003, 08:39 PM:

I certainly understand the impulse. We humans normalize dysfunction, to get along and keep the peace. We do it with our friends and relatives and we do it with the world in general. Those who buck the flow pay -- and sometimes exact -- a great price. We owe them much.

But life is long and we all have important commitments of many kinds. To be unwilling to fight every battle does not make a person a coward. (1) Social harmony is a good in and of itself, and (2) even when we deem it worth it to interfere with others' comfort for the sake of our beliefs, we all have to pace ourselves and choose our battles. A human life spans fourscore years and not all of us can spend all of it fighting every minute.

On the third hand, while I'm a moderate by temperament, this administration's antics have convinced me that it's more than time to push back, hard. Both legal means -- finding common cause with everyone who sees the great danger to our democracy this administration poses -- and non-violent civil disobedience are called for. People like Jeanne and Patrick, who smell the dangers of complacency, are right to be concerned.


Barry ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 07:19 AM:

I guess I'll have to read Pournelle's weblog again. I read it shortly before the Iraq war, and almost puked. He was babbling (no other phrase) about the 'Senate and people of the United States', using that phrase again and again.

I figured that he'd finally lost whatever hold on reality that he had, and was living in his CoDominium world.

Personally, (and perhaps unfairly) I blame people like Pournelle, Stirling, Drake and the rest of the MilSciFi wave for part of our troubles. I feel that they helped condition readers to a world of constant war, helping them believe that a world like '1984' was reasonable.

Once somebody has that mindset of Eternal War, they are better prepared to accept whatever actions Our Warleader declares necessary. Democracy and government openness have a lesser seat in a wartime state.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 07:41 AM:

Barry, I suspect you might be surprised to find out what several of the people often associated with "military science fiction" think of the war in Iraq. Or, for that matter, of this Administration.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 10:55 AM:

Jerry Pournelle has been writing for twenty years (at least) about how the imperial mechanisms created to fight the Cold War would destroy the traditions of freedom in the US.

David Drake is the most reliably anti-war author I can think of; one of the really rare cases of someone truly civilized coming back from a war and back into a state of civilized existence in a publically articulate way.

"The rest of the MilSF wave" tend to posit as good guys socities with implausibly strong traditions of personal freedom and the rule of law; even Steve Stirling's good guys are like that.

I don't think that's it.

The problem is a shift from seeing the mechanisms of society as a common inheritance, a means of adjudication and exchange, the creation of peace and the possibility of prosperity, to seeing those mechanisms as personal property to achieve personal objectives with.

If we were headed at the Peace of Dives this might be tolerable, but we're not; where headed at a state where a bunch of truly lousy human beings use the structures of society, the institutions of a former democracy, to ensure that no one ever tells them what to do every again.

If that means poverty, death by starvation, death by pollution, disenfranchisement, helplessness, lack of medical care, no social mobility, and the madness of despair for everyone else, well, that's fine with them.

Alan Bostick ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 12:21 PM:

Sometimes I wonder whether it's going to take French troops in New York and Chinese troops in San Francisco spearheading drives that eventually meet on the Missouri River to root these bastards out. I hope not.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2003, 12:53 PM:

That wouldn't be in either of their interests; a United States collapsing into irrelevance and impotence as its industries fail, its institutions are perverted, and its debts destroy it frees them to take up an active Great Power status again.

If you want to root those bastards out, you're going to have to do it yourselves.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 02:10 AM:

So . . . would killing Hitler have been okay? Idi Amin? Pol Pot? I'm trying to figure out the logic here.

So killing a mass murderer - a real one - triggers bouts of JRRT poetry about the Good Ole Days in Minas Tirith. Never mind that the context of this flowery poetry is lots of nasty guys killed in bloody war for a good cause.


rea ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 08:30 AM:

"So killing a mass murderer - a real one - triggers bouts of JRRT poetry about the Good Ole Days in Minas Tirith."

If you don't understand why we should try accused criminals rather than shooting them out of hand, you don't know much about civilization.


James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 12:16 PM:

The Israelis put Adolph Eichman on trial rather than shooting him on sight. The latter would have been easier, but would not have answered the call for justice or supported the rule of law.

The victorious allies put assorted high-level Nazis on trial at Nuremberg. Perhaps you've heard of them? Had Hitler been captured alive (rather than committing suicide) are you saying that all the others should have been tried but he should have been stood against a wall by the nearest squad of combat troops?

I'm in favor of justice and the rule of law. There's a name for those who aren't: a name made infamous by that same Hitler. Let's not go down that path. It diminishes us as a nation.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2003, 05:54 PM:

So killing a mass murderer - a real one - triggers bouts of JRRT poetry about the Good Ole Days in Minas Tirith.

Wow, have you ever misread the context here. If there's an award for grabbing the wrong end of the stick, this should win it.

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2003, 04:22 PM:

Jo, I'm not quite so surprised by Pournelle; he's a real conservative, I think, not one of these neo types. I wonder if there are comparable quotes from the fall of any of the Chinese dynasties? And Japan still mourns the end of the Heian era.

The quote I cited, though, is from a person who has something to look back to. The USA has never had a "golden age"--US conservatives must look to Rome or Greece, just as the Framers did. In the future, it may be that USers will look back to the middle and late 20th century as a golden age.

Which I think it the basis of our current problem. It takes great courage, imagination, and moral strength to look forward to a golden age, and yet be unwilling to attempt to achieve it by coercive means.

Yehudit ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 07:40 AM:

"If you don't understand why we should try accused criminals rather than shooting them out of hand, you don't know much about civilization."

They didn't do that in LOTR world either, so I still don't get what the quote is supposed to say.

"Had Hitler been captured alive (rather than committing suicide) are you saying that all the others should have been tried but he should have been stood against a wall by the nearest squad of combat troops?"

No, I am saying that I would not worry about the state of my soul if I didn't give a s**t if he wasn't captured alive. We did try to extract the two sons alive, we've carefully captured various Baathists, we are treating the folks in Guantanamo far better than they would get at home in prison or out, we are spending much time, money, thought to reconstructing Iraq so that Iraqis can run it without being overwhelmed by another terrorist dictatorship, so I simply don't see the trend toward callousness, and I don't buy the "don't embarrass the admin" angle.

I find it sickening that people are in "despair" about American values because we aren't wringing our hands over poor Saddam. Talk about misplaced priorities.

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 08:46 AM:

Try accused war criminals?

Sure they did; we get explicit mention of it, even from the Rohirrim who put the Dunlendings to work to mend the damage and then send them home.

The really good example there is what Frodo says to Saruman, though, continuing the presumption -of-lethal-judgement theme that started with Gandalf telling Frodo that yes, Gollum deserved death, and many die who deserve life.

The appropriate standard of conduct for American forces isn't "better than the brutal dictatorship we just overthrew", now is it?

Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 11:41 AM:

The appropriate standard is, clearly, "These crimes are so heinous that no trial is necessary."

If the subject under discussion were whether it would be regrettable if Saddam Hussein were to be shot repeatedly in the legs and arms and lower torso and a few shots across his scalp leading to him bleeding to death over the course of hours in the midst of a firefight between US troops and Baathist loyalists, I might conceivably after argumentation be convinced that wasn't such a bad thing. That's not, of course, at all like what was under discussion here; what was under discussion in the original article to which this thread is commentary is deliberate targetting of Saddam for death to avoid the embarrassment of a trial.

There are many names for the type of government which adopts policies like that. I don't want to live anywhere near any of them.

Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 01:21 PM:

Yehudit, is it just me, or do you have trouble separating actions and motivations? When someone says "I oppose Saddam Hussein, but I don't think a unilateral invasion by the US is the right way to get rid of him", you say "How can you support Hussein, don't you know how evil he is?" There we agree on motivation, but you treat our disagreement on actions as meaning we don't share your motivation.

Then, when we're talking about the US government considering killing Saddam Hussein to avoid the embarassment of a trial, you act like we are crying over his death, when it's not the action of killing him that bothers us so much, as the motivation behind that action. If he dies actually trying to avoid capture, probably none of us would shed a tear. However, if the motivation for shooting him is to cover up whatever embarassing information he could reveal, that _motivation_ makes the act criminal.

Is the distinction between an action and the motivation for that action really that hard to understand?

As for "We did try to extract the two sons alive", I admit I haven't done much digging, but the account I heard on the radio said US forces surrounded the house and spent over an hour firing machine guns into the house. The description was something like "saturating the house with machine gun fire". Then, they stopped firing, entered the house, and found the Hussein boys and one of their bodyguards dead. I heard no mention of any attempt to communicate with those inside the house. All this is from (unreliable) memory; do you have any backing for your claim that the US tried to get them out alive?

Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2003, 03:24 PM:

"I am saying that I would not worry about the state of my soul if I didn't give a s**t if he wasn't captured alive"

Nor I. But if he was killed, deliberately, to keep him from being heard in open court or to avoid the risk of losing in an honest court? If that is law, then there is no law, and no one is safe.

Including you and yours. Yehudit, the W. Bush administration is probably full of anti-Jewish bigots. (Which you can probably think of evidence for.) They support Israel for geopolitical strategic advantage, for domestic political advantage with US Jews, and because some of their strongest supporters believe that the creation of the state of Israel presages a second incarnation of their god. On a personal level, with the possible exception of Colin Powell they are also deeply anti-feminist. They are on your side for temporary strategic advantage and should they no longer see an advantage will not hesitate to harm Jews or Israelis, or leave them to other enemies, any more than they did the Iraqi. Think of what is happenning to women in Afghanistan, and the administration lifting not a finger to stop it.

And, if the standard of international justice is execution without trial, there is nothing to protect us except raw power.

The Tolkien quote? It is about preferring peace to war, and rejecting empire in favor of the freedom of the peoples of the world. Faramir, who spoke those words, was a loyal noble of Gondor, brother to the Steward's heir.