Back to previous post: Further religious tat

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Sorry, no.

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

April 21, 2003

Why it’s a bad idea to burn old libraries
Posted by Teresa at 10:00 AM *

Recently I was deeply vexed by the news that a professional author, who of all people should know better, has dismissed the burning of the National Library in Baghdad on the grounds that any book destroyed in the fire could simply be reprinted. There are moments when you find out more about someone’s scholarship and research habits than you’d ever want to know.

Apparently he was unaware that whereas reprinting might serve to reconstitute his high school library, substantial research libraries contain all sorts of odd things, possibly odd old things, some of which may be sole copies. This goes double for major research libraries, which are textual mathom-houses. Moreover, at the time that some of these odd things were catalogued, they may not have been properly recognized for what they were. (This is, incidentally, why I hate having to do research in closed-stack library systems: You have to take the cataloguer’s word on everything.) Anything can turn up there.

Just this year came the news that a big wodge of Tolkien manuscript had turned up in a carton in the Bodleian Library. It hadn’t been lost, exactly; but it hadn’t occurred to anyone who knew about the material’s existence that it might command enough general interest to warrant publication. It has now been published.

Then there’s the Didache, a.k.a. “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” an authentic document of the ancient church discovered in 1873 in an old library in Constantinople. It dates from around 70 CE; that is, from when people who knew Jesus personally were still alive:
The Didache (“The Teaching”) is one of the most fascinating yet perplexing documents to emerge from the early church. The title (in ancient times “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles”) was known from references to it by Athanasius, Didymus, and Eusebius, and Serapion of Thmuis (4th century) has a quotation from it in his Eucharistic prayer [Richardson] p. 163. But no copy was known until 1873, when Bryennios discovered the codex Hierosolymitanus, which contained the full text of the Didache which he published in 1883. Since then it has been the focus of scholarly attention to an extent quite out of proportion to its modest length. …

The document is composed of two parts: (1) instruction about the “Two Ways”, and (2) a manual of church order and practice. The “Two Ways” material appears to have been intended as a summary of basic instruction about the Christian life to be taught to those who were preparing for baptism and church membership. In its present form it represents the Christianization of a common Jewish form of moral instruction. …

The second part consists of instructions about food, baptism, fasting, prayer, the Eucharist, and various offices and positions of leadership. In addition to providing the earliest evidence of a mode of baptism other than immersion, it records the oldest known Christian Eucharist prayers and a form of the Lord’s Prayer quite similar to that found in the Gospel according to Matthew.

The document closes with a brief apocalyptic section that has much in common with the so-called Synoptic Apocalypse (Mark 13; Matthew 24-25; Luke 24). Which is sort of non-trivial, for those who are interested in such things.

Consider also this discussion of ancient imaging technology and the interesting bit of text, found in 1925 by the Catalan historian Pedro Ple1, which turned up in the regional library in Granada:
One of the most regrettable events in history was the destruction of the Library of Alexandria by order of the caliph Omar. It is supposed that this library contained marvelous secrets that, when lost, set back some aspects of human knowledge by centuries. Few things could be rescued. Among them was one related to our subject, which we will transcribe in part below. It was written in the VI century by an Arab doctor and alchemist called Abd-el-Kamir, on whom there is little data. The following is a fragment:
When silver is melted, some small lead-colored particles remain at the bottom of the recipient. If these particles are taken and mixed with animal resin, a thick solution will be obtained which must be poured into a recipient where light does not penetrate.
Then, in absolute darkness, a metallic plate can be impregnated with this solution and is then ready upon exposure to the sun’s rays to record the contours of any object that is placed upon it.
Then there’s the new work being done with palimpsests. These are parchments whose original texts were partially erased, then overwritten with another text. New forensic and imaging technology are enabling us to see the first version of the text, sometimes with startling results:
The announcement on July 11 of the availability of a tenth century manuscript of texts by the Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes offers an important opportunity to probe the works of one of the greatest thinkers of the ancient world. The document provides the oldest known source of Archimedes’ writings. … The original work lies hidden beneath an overlay of Greek prayers.

Scientists will be using the latest technology such as digital enhancement and ultra-violet and infra-red filters to discern the original text. Some of the inks used contain particles of iron and will be analyzed using delicate magnetic equipment. An RIT archaeologist, Robert Johnston said that “there is always a residual, traces of what was there. It’s amazing what can come out. Soon, nothing will be secret or hidden.94 …

The Palimpsest is the only copy of Archimedes’ important On the Method of Mechanical Theorems and the original Greek version of On Floating Bodies. It also contains copies of Archimedes’ On the Measurement of the Circle, On the Sphere and the Cylinder, On Spiral Lines, and On the Equilibrium of Planes, which had previously been known from much later sources.
The manuscript was first written in the tenth century, copied from an edition of Archimedes’ work then extant in Constantinople. Two hundred years later that text was scraped off, and the parchment was rewritten as a prayer book. Many of Constantinople’s books were burnt when the city was sacked by crusaders in 1204, but this prayer book survived. In the sixteenth century it turned up in the Monastery of St. Saba in what is now Israel. By 1846 it was back in Constantinople at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it was first identified as a palimpsest. In 1906, a Danish philologist named Johan Ludvig identified the original book as a mathematical text by Archimedes. And now we can read it.

What’s in old libraries? You don’t know until you find it. But in order for that to happen, you have to preserve the old holdings and original documents. You also have to keep the library from being burnt. Until last week, the holdings of the National Library in Baghdad were part of the common inheritance of human civilization. We know some of what was lost. We’ll never know all of it.

I’m sure there’ll continue to be some ignorant barbarians who’ll insist that the library was no great loss, and that Donald Rumsfeld isn’t a nyekulturniy lout as well as a profoundly incompetent Secretary of Defense. They’re nothing new in the history of the world. I just wish that so much of the work of civilization didn’t consist of trying to recover from their little sprees.

Comments on Why it's a bad idea to burn old libraries:
#1 ::: Kenneth G. Cavness ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 10:45 AM:

What was Abd-el-Kamir talking about? I can't figure it out.

#2 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 10:55 AM:

Kenneth: Silver iodide photography, if I'm not mistaken. In the sixth century CE.

#3 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 11:34 AM:

Looks like silver iodide photography to me, though I'm just a little bit dubious about it. If true, it's a wonderful datum; but so far I only have one source for it.

Photography is one of those technologies ... dang, this would make a great convention panel ... one of those technologies that could have been developed much earlier than it was. Lenses are nice, but a pinhole's all you need, if you've got a light-sensitive medium that can later be stabilized.

I've been thinking about mimeography lately. The highest-tech part of a mimeograph is the paper you run through it. The rest is within the tolerances of medieval fabrication. You'd have to hand-feed the sheets, unless you came up with a replacement material for the rubber feet on the paper feed. But that's nothing compared to hand-copying documents, or hand-setting metal type.

Hmm. This makes an unmanageably interesting alternate history. Printing presses were revolutionary. This gives you a printing mechanism that costs a fraction as much as movable metal type plus letterpress, can practically be made at home, is easy to hide, and reproduces illustrations as easily as it reproduces text.

I want to read Shakespeare's comic books.

Do I digress? I very nearly think I do.

#4 ::: Chuck Nolan ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 11:58 AM:

There isn't really a comment you can make that's adequate to describe the loss we all suffered. Suppose, for the "scholar" who recommended it, we arrange to have as much as possible of what was in that library reprinted AT HIS EXPENSE. Maybe this will drive home to him the value of what was lost.

#5 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 12:03 PM:

Science is filled with marvelous little scraps of knowledge like that.

I'm blanking on the name, but there was some ancient Arabic alchemist who, while trying to turn lead into gold, discovered electroplating and set himself up with a tidy business until the local ruler caught on, then got the alchemist to work for him so they could scam all the neighboring kingdoms. Once the others had caught on, they had more than enough real money to hire all the mercenaries they wanted.

I'm hoping with the libraries of Baghdad that all of the really old, interesting stuff was looted and it was just the main stacks that went up, but we're never going to know what was lost.

Recently they just discovered letters from Hans Christian Andersen to his mother, in the local public library.

#6 ::: --k. ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 12:40 PM:

Lenses: David Hockney has a theory about that, of course. (Me, while I have no idea if he's right or not--certainly seems plausible, but here I am in a layman's armchair--I still agree with Hockney over Sontag: if the Great Masters did use secret optic trickery, it doesn't diminish one whit what they did.) Also, John Crowley's Aegypt has a lovely little scene in the Fellowes Kraft novel-within-the-novel where John Dee takes Shakespeare's photograph with a pinhole camera. (Shakespeare's comics makes me think of Kupe's lighthouse in Hicksville, where all the comics that never were but ought to have been are kept--but I think Shakespeare's comics are pushing the bounds of what could conceivably be said to ought to have been. Within that particular context, anyway, and anyway, the digression's digressing.) --Cap it, then, with Theodore Roszak's engagingly cornball secret history of cinema (and loving tribute to Pauline Kael), with Cathars and the Maltese Cross in every movie projector and Orson Welles in a caftan.

#7 ::: Ray ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 01:04 PM:

And, of course, we are all discussing the burning of the intellectual heritage of Iraq as a tragedy, but I suspect there are those who think of the destruction of Iraqi culture, thought, and religious heritage as a GOAL.

#8 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 01:11 PM:

Teresa, cameras (as in camera oscura, a "little shaded room") were in use in art in the Renaissance (perhaps in medieval times). Some of the unbelievably accurate perspective paintings of the era were done by painters in tiny curtained boxes, with a plate with a pinhole facing the model. Some slightly later ones used prisms and lenses to project an image onto a drawing tablet, so the artist could then sketch the outlines.

You still have to know how to draw to make this work, of course. And they didn't have photographic film, in part because of the loss of Alexandria. (Another comment thread debunks the idea that it was done on purpose by the Caliph; I feel obliged to mention this since I've helped spread this false story in the past.)

#9 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 01:29 PM:

I've got a book with the complete woodcuts of Albrecht Durer and there are some which are diagrams of how to make a camera obscura and a perspective grid--likely for an early art instruction manual.

Since the photographic film notes survived to the present day, I don't think it's a case of the knowledge being lost with Alexandria so much as just being overlooked. Everyone knows the Chinese had gunpowder for years, but it was those whacky westerners who took the idea and made guns and cannons.

#10 ::: sennoma ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 01:38 PM:

Another comment thread debunks the idea that it was done on purpose by the Caliph; I feel obliged to mention this since I've helped spread this false story in the past.

As have I; could you link to the debunking please Xopher? I feel I owe it to Omar (for I have been wont to assail him with curses most vile) to get the story straight.

While I'm here: thank you to Teresa and readers for the entries and comments on the destruction of Iraqi culture and history. It has been extraordinarily comforting to read a sane and sensitive perspective.

#11 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 02:03 PM:

Would it be indiscreet of you to say which professional author? So, you know, I can be appalled in the specific as well as in the general.

#12 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 02:11 PM:

It is really, really depressing that Teresa had to explain why libraries full of unique, ancient documents are irreplaceable.

I was taught the Gibbon version of the destruction of the library at Alexandria at an early age and always believed it. Caesar is the prime suspect, eh? Very interesting.

#13 ::: Jaquandor ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 02:28 PM:

What professional author said this? I'd love to know, in hopes that (a) I don't own a lot of his or books and (b) I can avoid owning a lot of his books in the future.

BTW, the parts of Carl Sagan's Cosmos that deal with the tragedy of the burning of the Library at Alexandria are particularly moving.

#14 ::: Rupert ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 03:17 PM:

I know it's no panacea, but how much of everything everywhere has been digitised? Museums and national libraries are omniovaferous basket cases, and a strong campaign to get as much as possible into bits could only help matters.

I don't want some nutter letting off a dirty suitcase bomb in the British Library (and not only because it's a couple of miles upwind from me, as the SARS virus flies), but I couldn't say that I'd know how to stop someone from doing it if they really wanted. On the other hand, if every last thing in the place had been scanned and slapped into a modest database -- a few terabytes should do it -- then we could have copies everywhere *and* the curatorial hold on the stacks would be broken.

I vote for a robot repository on the Moon, with robust data links back home and as much redundancy as American Airways. Plus a few in various orbits, in deep mines, copies in every city in the world and one on my desk, please.

It wouldn't help when the objects would benefit from some new form of physical analysis (although I bet some sort of broad-spectrum scan of the things, including those areas we haven't found a use for yet, may be worthwhile in the future), and of course it doesn't compensate for the psychic sorrow of losing irreplaceable and often profoundly beautiful artifacts that link us to our ancestors.

But it would help.


#15 ::: Paul Riddell ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 03:51 PM:

Sigh. Double-sigh, tinged with a sudden loathing for humanity in general. I'm really craving a good Dalek invasion right about now.

(Back ten years ago, the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex became more of an international laughingstock than usual when two deejays at a local country radio station announced a unique competition. They claimed that they had hidden about $500 in books in the fiction section of the Fort Worth Public Library, and that the first listeners to find the money got to keep it. Naturally, the Library employees were not informed of this little game, so they were amazed at the numbers of Jukes and Kallikaks who came pouring through the front door, screamed "Where's the fiction section?", and started ripping books off the shelves in search of that money. All told, the last estimate I heard was that the looters had caused almost $50k in damages to the collection, but that may or may not be accurate. What WAS accurate was that the deejays and their boss didn't see why anyone was making such a big deal about the fiasco, and that they thought they wre doing the library a service by getting people who probably haven't picked up a book since high school to go to the library. Why they didn't suggest hunting for dollar bills in the Komodo Dragon cage at the Fort Worth Zoo and give the human genome some much-needed pruning is beyond me.

(When I see Rumsfeld smirk about the ongoing damage in Iraq, I keep seeing those idiot deejays. I also wonder how long Rummy would shut up if the only items burned in the Baghdad Library were copies of Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Aught To Be" and "The Turner Diaries."

(And to be a royal smartass, we've got our bookburnings. Now all we need in Iraq are crossburnings and brother-sister marriages, and you'd think it was Texas.)

#16 ::: nick sweeney ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 04:19 PM:

My doctoral thesis actually featured stuff on the camera obscura, which was, as others have mentioned, re-discovered by Kepler and della Porta via an Arab scholar known in the West as Alcazen. (Hockney's book was rather yawnworthy to anyone who's actually studied Renaissance optical technology, and only got the publicity that it did because of Hockney's own reputation.)

Anyway, Teresa's quite right about the tribulations of dealing with a closed-stack library such as the Bodleian: you're always wondering whether the important stuff is just beyond reach, simply because the cataloguer never thought it important to mention. Although the process of doing research in Bodley -- I spent a month with William Stukeley's manuscripts -- is like having Christmas every day: you never know quite what will turn up in those plain cardboard boxes.

But we see in the US an administration which doesn't particularly value scholarship, or history, or culture, or heritage. It embodies the worst (and usually least justifiable) cliche9s ascribed to Americans by the rest of the world: that a country without substantial history itself takes a fast-and-loose attitude to the history of other nations.

#17 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 04:34 PM:

Kate, Jaquandor, it wouldn't be proper for me to identify the author. It's enough to give him the opportunity to learn better.

I know that the Bodleian Library and the National Air and Space Museum have been digitizing stuff and putting it online, for which I honor them. Digitized versions probably won't help us see the future equivalent of computer-assisted image enhancement, but it's better than nothing. It's like having black and white photos of Cluny: Better than nothing, but nothing compared with the original.

If I had a time machine, I'd rescue the Cotton library. After that, I'd drop in on the Pacific Northwest to watch the draining of the great glacial lake and the formation of the scablands.

#18 ::: Stuart ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 05:06 PM:

Of course we cannot just print new versions even for very new libraries. Take the fire in the old town section of Edinburgh that destroyed the AI Library This is a new science and it destroyed "just" 40 years of work but a lot of it is now gone forever.

#19 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 05:29 PM:

"I'd drop in on the Pacific Northwest to watch the draining of the great glacial lake and the formation of the scablands."

You and ten thousand *other* time travelers. Good viewing spots are getting hard to find back then.

There's an entire contingent of Temporal Consistency Cops who scour the cliffs atop the Columbia Gorge, looking for 7,000 year old candy wrappers, ear plugs, and lost holoimagers exposed by erosion.

#20 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 07:03 PM:

The only way I can make sense of the author's statement is that the author's worldview was such that a country like Iraq couldn't possibly have a national library with, you know, historical documents and stuff like WE have; such things just aren't found in dusty little camel-infested Middle East dictatorships; didn't we take all their valuable things for *our* museums, anyway?

#21 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 09:50 PM:

One hopes you gave the unnamed author a virtual whack upside the head.

#22 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 10:44 PM:

Stefan, I see you understand. Jon, I think he didn't understand that real libraries have rare books and singular documents. Bruce, it'd be like kicking a three-legged dog -- too easy, and the dog neither appreciates it nor improves as a result of it.

#23 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: April 21, 2003, 11:45 PM:

Well, whoever this "professional author" may be, he was either not thinking very carefully when he or she said what s/he said, or s/he's a complete idiot. Since you know who s/he is and I don't, I'll leave you to be the judge. I mean, gee, I guess we don't need to save those Gutenberg bibles, when we can just pick up a Gideon edition anytime. Perhaps you could introduce this moron--er, I mean author to the works of Nicholson Baker.
As for those dj's, someone should start a rumor that one of them has $500 hidden up his ass, and that the first person who finds it gets to keep it.

#24 ::: Madeline ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 12:38 AM:

A sadly applicable quote from Roger Zelazny:

"I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows."

#25 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 12:58 AM:

A clarification: The burning of the Library of Alexandria by the caliph Omar seems to be historically doubtful.

Readers of your comments section may remember that Bob Devney and I got into a bit of back and forth on this last week in another thread. We took it offblog (into e-mail).

There were in fact several incidents centuries before Omar that apparently destroyed parts, perhaps large parts, of the Library -- which in fact was more than one library. Also, the source for the Omar story is a Christian writer of several hundred years after the alleged event, who had a Muslim-bashing agenda that will not be unfamiliar to residents of 2003, and so is an unreliable witness.

There was probably little if anything left of the Library (-ies) in Omar's day, after (a) the incident in Julius Caesar's time, 47 B.C., (b) another sacking of the Library in A.D. 272 by the Emperor Aurelian, and (c and d) a couple more by Christian fanatics [1] in the 4th and 5th centuries; the latter is usually said to have involved the death of the philosopher Hypatia. All of those versions have questionable sources, though, since many of them depend on witnesses hostile to the persons or groups blamed, or who lived centuries later, or both.

Bob and I both concluded that the "true facts" -- as opposed to all those false ones -- may never completely be known, and there's plenty of blame to go around, but it may well be that Omar does not deserve to share in it.

The best single source for the decline and fall of the Library of Alexandria seems to be a book called The Vanished Library by Luciano Canfora. Bob also posted a link to this review of it in the previous thread. Canfora looks hard at the traditional sources, and among other things absolves Julius Caesar, claiming that the scrolls burned in his attack on Alexandria were warehoused near the harbor and intended to be shipped elsewhere, rather than being part of the Library.

[1] My last name being what it is, I dislike the word "fundies" (even if I do have a few relatives to whom the term fits). Besides, Orthodox/Catholic [2] fundamentalists of the 4th century Mediterranean region are not really equivalent to the usual mostly-Protestant fundamentalists of the U.S. in the 21st Century.

[2] The schism between the two branches of the Church did not become official until several centuries later. For most purposes, in the 4th and 5th centuries Catholic equalled Orthodox and v.v.

#26 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 01:46 AM:

In Sunday's Washington Post, Robert Darnton says, "Burn a Country's Past and You Torch Its Future". He compares the destruction of the Baghdad libraries not only to Alexandria, but to the destruction of the then-fledgling Library of Congress in 1814, and Pol Pot's destruction of the National Library in Phnom Penh. Not only were 80% of the books in the Cambodian library destroyed , but all but three of 60 librarians were killed. "Since the leaves decay in tropical humidity, they had to be recopied every few years by Buddhist monks. But the Khmer Rouge also destroyed the monks, so there was no one left to save what remained of the library."

Darnton continues, "Few people appreciate the fragility of civilizations and the fragmentary character of our knowledge about them. Most students believe that what they read in history books corresponds to what humanity lived through in the past, as if we have recovered all the facts and assembled them in the correct order, as if we have it under control, got it down in black on white, and packaged it securely between a textbook's covers. That illusion quickly dissipates for anyone who has worked in libraries and archives. ... How much has disappeared under char and rubble? We do not even know the extent of our ignorance.

"Imperfect as they are, therefore, libraries and archives, museums and excavations, scraps of paper and shards of pottery provide all we can consult in order to reconstruct the worlds we have lost. The loss of a library or a museum can mean the loss of contact with a vital strain of humanity. That is what has happened in Baghdad. ..."

#27 ::: Vancouverite ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 02:05 AM:

I am going to assume that the professional author's comments are not a matter of public which case we can but trust your discretion--but really, ignorance of libraries and their role is pretty widespread, even for authors. I recently heard the (perhaps apocryphal) tale of Margaret Atwood standing up to give the keynote at the CLA conference years ago, and basically casting a baleful eye out at a roomful of earnest librarians and calling them all dirty thieves for allowing people to read her work for free...

#28 ::: Glenn Hauman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 03:31 AM:

"Kate, Jaquandor, it wouldn't be proper for me to identify the author. It's enough to give him the opportunity to learn better."

Teresa, my poppet, my pet, I profoundly disagree, if he made such a statement publicly. Nothing teaches people about their errors than being forced to defend them in public. And as somebody who professes to make his living off of the publication of his ideas, he needs to get them exposed to light. How else is he going to learn without feedback?

#29 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 03:57 AM:

I seem to recall reading somewhere in one of the first four volumes of A Mediterranean Society (S. D. Goiten. UCLA Press. The first two volumes were out of print the last time I went looking for purchasable copies of first two volumes, and the fifth hadn't come out yet -- I have vols 3 & 4 -somewhere- in here, and have read some of at least the first volume.... the writing it EXTREMELY dense. The author was the recipient of the permanent MacArthur Fellowship stipends; he went through the scraps of paper from the Cairo Geniza, and wrote about the society of the Jews of Fustat (old Cairo) a thousand years ago, based on the contents of the thouands of discarded pages of paper, dumped in the Geniza by hundreds of years of synagogue members.... I rather suspect that the people who started that included one or more ancestors of mine, it just comes too close thinking-style-wise.

But anyway, IIRC somewhere in those volumes, the author wrote that the final disposition of the Library of Alexandria was that it contents were sold off, with a Jewish merchant being the person who was the agent doing the selling, commissioned to do so by the Islamic ruler who ruled over the area.

#30 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 04:05 AM:

The Archimedes palimpset proves that Archimedes actually did come up with integral calculus -- for hundreds of years people have wondered why he got infinitesmally close and didn't go the rest of the way.... turns out that he did, the problem was that he was 2000 years ahead of the rest of human civilization, and the rest of the world didn't/could comprehend/catch up until Newton and Leibniz "stood on the shoulders of giants" and invented modern calculus.

There's lots of stuff that there are bits and pieces sometimes found, that just don't fit in what "what we know" about the past -- there's that astronomical/navigation instrument found in the Aegean, which I can't think of the reference information for right now, with gearing and toothing and techniques/technology that quite obviously existed in ancient times -- otherwise the artifact couldn't exist, and it is NOT a modern fake -- but which we have no overt documentation for (there were some instruments mentioned in texts that people wonder, "what was that?" because there were no details, or not enough details, explaining what/how/where/why, but there were no clues that anything like that instrument existed, much less was in use such that it had had to have been repaired).

#31 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 04:05 AM:

The Archimedes palimpset proves that Archimedes actually did come up with integral calculus -- for hundreds of years people have wondered why he got infinitesmally close and didn't go the rest of the way.... turns out that he did, the problem was that he was 2000 years ahead of the rest of human civilization, and the rest of the world didn't/could comprehend/catch up until Newton and Leibniz "stood on the shoulders of giants" and invented modern calculus.

There's lots of stuff that there are bits and pieces sometimes found, that just don't fit in what "what we know" about the past -- there's that astronomical/navigation instrument found in the Aegean, which I can't think of the reference information for right now, with gearing and toothing and techniques/technology that quite obviously existed in ancient times -- otherwise the artifact couldn't exist, and it is NOT a modern fake -- but which we have no overt documentation for (there were some instruments mentioned in texts that people wonder, "what was that?" because there were no details, or not enough details, explaining what/how/where/why, but there were no clues that anything like that instrument existed, much less was in use such that it had had to have been repaired).

#32 ::: Kevin Marks ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 04:29 AM:

Does anyone have recent news on the texts recovered from the Villa of the Papyri? I was spellbound by the story, and have heard that they have recoverd some texts, but are still debating whether to excavate furtehr.

#33 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 07:17 AM:

As for the "administration" attitude to the burning, remember also the recent (two months ago?) news that Jeb Bush is closing the Florida State Library. That collection is being given to the University of Florida, which has no room for it, no budget to provide room for it, no redundant staff to catalog or even store it, and which had no desire for such an unexpected expansion of its holdings. We, of course, will never think ill thoughts of our Resident in a time of War and National Crisis, and supose that the archives of ballots from the 2000 election (a part of the state archives) could ever be compromised in any way. At least, no more than they already have been.

As his been pointed out, the Resident has declared that his interpretation of his religion puts blinders on what portions of science he can acknowledge. Once that attitude is present, it is a small step to regarding everything outside the "accepted limits" as unimportant. If it goes up in flames, who cares? No loss. After all--the direct words of Jesus are found in the King James version of the Bible. That and a good almanac are all any of us _really_ need, right?

#34 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 08:25 AM:

Guys, you wouldn't know anything more about the issue if you knew the name of the author in question. As for making him defend his statement: He made it in a public discussion forum. It didn't go unquestioned.

I've been thinking about the Library of Alexandria, and I don't see any reason why it shouldn't have been destroyed more than once. Imagine it in its pristine state, the greatest library of the ancient world. What's going to happen? A community of scholars will gradually accrete nearby, and they're going to have their own little collections of texts. If the library's destroyed, it's easier for concerned citizens to donate, send out orders for, and recopy books, than for all of them to move at once to wherever the second-largest library was.

Lost datum of history: The date of the first bake sale.

Later, if the library gets zapped again, they roll up their sleeves and say "We did it before, we'll do it again." This goes on. It takes centuries of deterioration and disappointment, and weakening public support, for the library to finally go away.

I don't know if it's true, but it makes sense to me as a story.

Elric, I have seen it asserted that there's close to zero extant writing by Dubya -- not even old term papers. If so, it's a peculiar absence.

#35 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 10:51 AM:

Have you guys seen Bush's new plan for restoring the Baghdad museum's collection?

#36 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 11:31 AM:

I believe Paula is thinking of the Antikythera mechanism, which is thought to have perhaps been an analogue computer for calculating various astronomical positions dating from circa 80 B.C.

#37 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 12:23 PM:

Digitising everything in sight is a nice idea, but it's expensive. Librarians and archivists are drastically underfunded as it is. Even cataloguing a big collection is a major production -- and, as others have noted, miscataloging something sends it straight to Limbo.

Also, "real" historical research nowadays tends to ignore the Memoirs of General Whosis in favor of reams of receipts, notes, and general scratch paper. Just try to convince a nykulturni bureaucrat of the value of a ton of old scratch paper ...

I have friends who work at the National Archives in Washington DC. They barely have the resources to warehouse records. As to doing anything with them ... the last crisis I heard of there had to do with the Nixon tapes. They had a hideous problem finding 7-inch reel-to-reel tape machines.

#38 ::: S. M. Breen ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 02:17 PM:

Also, "real" historical research nowadays tends to ignore the Memoirs of General Whosis in favor of reams of receipts, notes, and general scratch paper. Just try to convince a nykulturni bureaucrat of the value of a ton of old scratch paper ...

You'd be shocked at what the US Army hangs on to for no apparent reason. My job in the great military-industrial complex is to enter database records for military environmental cleanup jobs. These people are the biggest packrats on Earth. I spent two weeks cataloguing and entering nothing but notes - from the 1970s! - with a complete, if illegible, record of DDT disposal at an ammo dump in east Oregon.

Trust me, when the time comes to put the Army's complete litany of sins in the historical record, there will be scratch paper to spare.

#39 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 02:41 PM:

Re: digitzation

NPR's April 1 gag this year on All Things Considered was a story describing how the Library of Congress (or maybe it was the Smithsonian) was taking drastic steps, workign around the clock to move its digital recording collection onto a lasting media: 78 rpm records, acoustically recorded (no electricity, just the big recording horn.) Someone was quoted saying that, in the future, the music could be played with just a nail.

It was pretty funny. They had tape of a woman yelling the track info for an Eminem song into the horn, and scratchy renditions of Celine Dion and Eminem. She later said the transfer was tedious, because a CD holds 74 minutes and a 78 holds 2 and a half minutes per side.

#40 ::: John Waters ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 02:46 PM:

Whee! Such fun. Burn them books! Lets all get back to the Dark Ages! Hoo-ah!

Where ever was it ever said that once a war starts, we must all shut up and "support our troops"? I thought it was precisely THAT. Why send them over for nothing? Why wasn't the Oil Ministry torched to the ground? Would Mr. Rumsfeld dismiss the whole looting issue if I helped myself to his den and his personal funds?

This is so sad. They are no different from those Taliban idiots who demolished countless items of priceless nature during their hold on Afghanistan and thus enfeebled an already raped nation and culture. Now it is the turn of the Iraqis. Soon Syrians, then Iran. Then Egypt. Perhaps after that we can teach those Indonesian and Pakistani bastards a lesson. Soon we'll be in position to max out Korea.

I wonder what's next.

#41 ::: Michael E. McNeil ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 04:51 PM:

I yield to no one in appreciating the losses from the Baghdad library, but let's not go overboard in allocating blame to the U.S. military. It was not coalition forces which burned the library and its works — it was Iraqis. If enough Iraqis had cared to protect their museum and library from looters, they could have organized to do so, just as they've organized to protect their own neighborhoods. Yes, the coalition should have paid more attention to protecting those institutions, but I believe that no one anticipated that Iraqis themselves (rather than bombs, which we were careful not to land on those buildings) would destroy their own heritage. (There's also increasing reason to think that the museum and perhaps the library was looted of some of its most valuable possessions before Baghdad fell, by the Saddam regime itself.)

As to why the oil ministry was protected, the reason ought to be obvious. One of the "nightmare" scenarious from this war was always that Saddam would torch the Iraqi oilfields and dump oil en masse into the Persian Gulf (as he did after Gulf War I). Since this danger was anticipated, specific measures were taken by coalition forces to forestall this. Part of the system of oil production is not only the oil wells and pipelines, but the method and records in the oil ministry. If it hadn't been protected, the task of protecting that system, whose wealth is needed to help rebuild the country for the Iraqi people, would have been, in part, a failure.

Frankly, I'm also a little appalled that no one here seems to care that the Iraqi people are no longer being terrorized and slaughtered on a massive scale. Listen to reporters who've been talking to people: virtually every family has multiple members who have been murdered by Saddam. Yes, libraries are important — but so too are people living here and now. A great good has been done in Baghdad and Iraq as a whole, in addition to the doses of bad which accompany every war.

#42 ::: Jennie ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 05:14 PM:

Mr. McNeil, the creeping ameboid nature of the "responsibility" for the destruction of the museums the libraries, and the hospotals has been discussed extensively in this and other threads, and I think you'd have a difficult time finding anyone here who blames the troops. A great many people here, while recognising that the Iraquis looted and pillaged, believe that those who ordered the troops, those who made the high-level decisions not to send enough troops to protect the muesums, the libraries, and the hospitals from the anticipated looting, pillaging, and civil violence (there's an oxymoron), those who were warned that this was likely to come to pass, and who decided to fund a cut-rate war, these men snug in their Washington offices bear a great portion of the responsibility.

#43 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 05:50 PM:

Frankly, I'm also a little appalled that no one here seems to care that the Iraqi people are no longer being terrorized and slaughtered on a massive scale.

Mr McNeil, I think you're missing the point. Yes, it's a positive thing that the Iraqi people are now only being terrorised and slaughtered on a small scale, rather than on a massive scale. But this thread is specifically discussing the burning of the libraries in Iraq: if you wish to discuss the merits and otherwise of the US/UK invasion and occupation of Iraq, there are other websites and discussion threads on which you can do this.

#44 ::: David Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 06:02 PM:

There's a good little essay on "Burning Libraries" in Steward Brand's The Clock of the Long Now.

Teresa, your essay is, as usual, brilliant, but perhaps overkill, at least in response to that particular comment. The single word "manuscripts" should be enough to remind the forgetful that a research library is not a high school library, without even getting into the relatively complex concept of "rare books."

Alas, your information on Tolkien is still not quite correct. The newly-announced wodge of Tolkien (his translation of Beowulf) will be published next year; it's not the same wodge that was recently published (additional texts of his essay on Beowulf). It's not true that "it hadn92t occurred to anyone who knew about the material92s existence that it might command enough general interest to warrant publication" -- it was the previous lack of a qualified and enthusiastic scholar to edit it. Christopher Tolkien has retired from the field; he's been subcontracting out work for years now; and there are other works of his father's that he'd like to see published, but other tasks are taking priority.

#45 ::: Michael E. McNeil ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 07:14 PM:

Nice to know all these things have been discussed so thoroughly.  I assume, therefore — once the 4th Infantry Division invading via a northern front was ruled out by the Turks — that the extreme logistical difficulties in supplying a larger force coming in the south were talked about, right?  I expect it was also mentioned that such a larger, necessarily slower force wouldn't have been ready to even start for weeks longer (until temperatures were rising dramatically — very difficult for troops wearing biochemical protection suits), and that rather than lasting just three weeks, the fighting would probably be going on for months yet, without the tactical surprise that was actually achived, and therefore with far greater casualties and chances for disaster.  Unless these things and more were talked about, I suggest your discussion was woefully incomplete.  Beyond that, who knows what would have happened to the library and museum in that scenario!  Facile answers are so easy and comforting....

I see comments are arriving so thick and fast I won't have a chance to post on other subjects before I need to reply again on this one, so I'll deal with a couple of other subjects here:

Another subject 1, to Teresa and Stefan Jones:  The time traveler stackup for the draining of Glacial Lake Missoula oughtn't to be as severe as Stefan made out, as the collapse happened many times.  Every 60-70 years over a period of 2,500 years or so, the glacial ice dam blocking the Clark Fork River would give way, releasing the 500 cubic miles of water contained in Glacial Lake Missoula.  Therefore, take your pick as to which "flush" you want to visit!  (And please let me know when you've got your time machine; I'd like to take a look at it.)

Another subject 2, to Teresa:  Your comments about the Archimedes palimpsest are incomplete.  Progress has been made since the article you point to on the World Socialist Web Site; moreover, that article appears to contain an error: it states the manuscript was in Paris from 1930 until the end of the century, whereas an article in the scientific journal Science states it was lost or stolen (looted?), disappearing from very early in the 20th century, soon after the manuscript was recognized as a palimpsest, until it reappeared at an auction house in 1998.  To bring you up to date since the year 2000, portions of the document that had not been read before now have, and it's been found that Archimedes went further in investigations of the infinite than was ever before realized.  See this article for a discussion of the recent results.

#46 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 07:18 PM:

Frankly, Michael E. McNeil, I'm a little appalled that you would generate the fantasy that no one here cares about the Iraqi people. Clearly, you haven't bothered to read the entries on this blog or electrolite or the comments attached to them...

But hey, if it's good for you--and you don't do it in front of young children, go for it, dude.

#47 ::: Jon h ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 08:09 PM:

McNeil writes: " the extreme logistical difficulties in supplying a larger force coming in the south were talked about, right?a0"

Uh, you mean like the much larger force that was involved in Gulf War I?

Logistics was never suggested as a reason why there wasn't a larger force to begin with. Logistics was, however, an issue that became problematic due to the forces being too small as they were deployed.

Also, your idea that guarding the oil ministry building somehow prevented the torching of oil fields is pretty amusingly bizarre. I suppose Saddam's people were
going to take papers and files and run to the oil fields,
sop up oil with the crumpled up papers, and fling
the soiled material at our troops? Thank god we
dispatched our troops to prevent such evil!

#48 ::: Michael E. McNeil ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 08:15 PM:

Well, Adam, I'm glad to hear you're (and everyone else here is) so concerned about the Iraqi people.  It certainly wasn't apparent in forty some odd comments posted here in response to Teresa's article.  And you're right, I'm not a regular reader of this blog (I came in by an external link 97 how newbie can you get!).  What I did see were dozens of comments blasting the American military as savages "no different from those Taliban."  The latter I note actually did deliberately and maliciously destroy irreplaceable artifacts.  By no stretch of the imagination can mistakes in allocating forces in the midst of a continuing battle be equated with this.  Such a massive distortion of the moral equation, in my view, required answering with some balance.  That you should regard this as unacceptable imbalance I can only regard as telling.

#49 ::: Michael E. McNeil ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 08:44 PM:

To Jon h:
The "much larger force" of Gulf War I had to go no farther than Basra.  The logistical problems getting a force of multiple divisions to Baghdad, several hundred miles away, are vastly greater.  If you never heard "logistics" as a major factor in the problems of getting a larger force to Baghdad just as fast, it's because you never looked very hard.

Concerning your comment, "Logistics was ... an issue that became problematic due to the forces being too small as they were deployed," this statement appears nonsensical.  Logistics becomes a greater problem when more forces are deployed not less.  If you're referring to the Fedayeen attacks on the supply lines, as the Pentagon has noted, those attacks were never militarily significant.

As far as your comment "your idea that guarding the oil ministry building somehow prevented the torching of oil fields is pretty amusingly bizarre," I never said anything of the kind.  What I said was that the information in the oil ministry building is part of the system which includes the oil wells and pipelines, and protecting the building along with the wells and pipelines is necessary to the safeguarding of the system.

#50 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 08:53 PM:

Mr. McNeil, please see

You are committing a logical fallacy. This blog entry and its comments are not about the Iraqi people and their so called liberation. It is about the destruction of their past. Furthermore it is not the soldiers on the ground who are being blamed, it is the people who set their policy and make the decisions.


#51 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 09:19 PM:

Michael McNeil said:

'What I did see were dozens of comments blasting the American military as savages "no different from those Taliban."a0'

I note that nowhere in the text of anyone's remarks in this comment thread, nor in Teresa's original post, did your US military = Taliban savages quote appear.

Can you say 'straw man?' How about 'paper tiger?'


#52 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 10:55 PM:

When you add in the other things that didn't get protected, like hospitals, banks, and Government offices, we're dealing with a major military blunder that makes it effectively impossible to complete at least one of our objectives in Iraq. I just put up a long post over at my blog on the subject.

#53 ::: Michael E. McNeil ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 11:01 PM:

To LauraJMixon,
Really?  What about this posting:  "They are no different from those Taliban idiots who demolished countless items of priceless nature during their hold on Afghanistan and thus enfeebled an already raped nation and culture. Now it is the turn of the Iraqis. Soon Syrians, then Iran. Then Egypt. Perhaps after that we can teach those Indonesian and Pakistani bastards a lesson. Soon we'll be in position to max out Korea."  Note that the phrase is exactly as I quoted it.

And what about this: "I suspect there are those who think of the destruction of Iraqi culture, thought, and religious heritage as a GOAL."  Who might those people be, hm?  Conspiracy theories, aren't they wonderful.

#54 ::: Michael E. McNeil ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 11:31 PM:

To Mary Kay,
Thanks for the link!  It's an interesting discussion, which perhaps I'll join separately.

Meanwhile, I'm committing no "logical fallacy" by remaining here for the moment.  This particular comments thread covers a variety of topics, from time travelers visiting a prehistoric lake, to the fabulous palimpsest of Archimedes' Method (both of which I've commented on elsewhere), to camera obscura and I don't know what all else, to (as you point out) what blame is due policy-makers in the Administration for the present war (which I've also been commenting on).

I did make one short mention of my surprise that nothing positive — such as the Iraqis' (scare-quoted, as you folks like to put it) "liberation" — seemingly could be mentioned by anyone (despite the horrific cultural loss), but beyond that I haven't been dwelling on the subject, except when one of you folks keeps bringing it up!

Since Mary Kay has pointed me at the other article, though, I will say one thing here about it.  Theresa contemptuously refers to any who might mention Iraqis' newly-acquired freedom from slaughter as "bleeding-heart freepers."  Now I've vaguely come across that term before, mostly used by far-left conspiracy-theory-wallowing political groups.  However, I assure you that I personally have never seen nor read a publication called "free republic" (which I take it is what is being referred to).  So much for your pet-expletive categorization!  (Moreover, I've been highly concerned about the Iraqi people and Saddam Hussein since way before Gulf War I, contrary to Teresa's characterization.)

The major problem with the military theorizing going on in either thread here, as I see it, is total ignorance (or a conscious ignoring) of the importance of surprise, maneuver and speed in warfare.  It's just assumed that the choice was either to go slow or go fast, and the consequences would have been the same either way.  There's a long list of "nightmare" scenarios which have not been fulfilled in this war as it actually panned out, and the assumption appears to be that since no great catastrophes (other than library and museum) have been realized in the war as it occurred, that we could now just change the initial conditions and fight a slow, ponderous war, and the same remarkable freedom from apocalypse would also have ensued.  EEEnnnnhhh!  Non sequitur alert!

This war, despite the months' long preparation, achieved tactical surprise.  It did that by starting the ground war before the air war (contrary to everyone's expectations), before the 4th Infantry Division arrived on the scene (also contrary to expectations), and after that by barreling forward at full speed, blasting through, bypassing or feigning attacks to get by obstacles, constantly moving to keep the enemy off balance.

On the other hand, if anyone wants a glimpse of what a slow war might have been like, consider the (bloody) Russian invasion of Chechnya and battles for Grozny.  Certainly, that's what both the Russians and Iraqis were expecting from us.  And now you all come back and confidently proclaim Rumsfeld and the general staff are idiots for winning a quick victory?  It's absurd.

I say that despite my own severe pain at the loss of the library.

#55 ::: Jon H ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 11:49 PM:

McNeil writes: "larger force to Baghdad just as fast"

It wouldn't have to get there all *at once*. The looting didn't start right after we entered Baghdad. It was several days later. Which was quite a while after troops entered Iraq from Kuwait.

I should think there was lots of time when additional troops could have gone into Iraq, travelling on roads controlled by US forces, and avoiding known trouble spots, and arrived in the environs of Baghdad early enough to have prevented the looting.

#56 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 22, 2003, 11:50 PM:

Does "you all" equate to "you folks?"

#57 ::: tracey ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 12:14 AM:

fyi, Jeb has not in fact managed to trash the fla state library just yet - the state legislature refused to fund the 'reallocation' plan (which had canged to having what i believe was a private univ. take the materials, since the univ. of fla declined), leaving it dead in the water.

#58 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 12:15 AM:

The "if only Turkey had allowed the 4th ID" anti-idea seems to be one of the new talking points of the pro-war brigade. Never mind that it makes no sense--the US Army could have spared a score of men to defend the National Museum if the directorate of that army had wished it. It's far more important that this paralogial attempts to divert the blame for the predictable and predicted consequences of the war to those who opposed the war because of the likely consequences.

"Look what mean old Mister Historical Inevitability done! We couldn't not invade, but it's Turkey's fault it went so badly!"

#59 ::: David Bratman ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 12:30 AM:

Teresa, I'm sorry, I meant to add at the end of my correction this note: that your basic point remains entirely correct -- if the Bodleian were to be burned, a lot of valuable Tolkien manuscripts would be lost (along with much else).

Michael McNeil's arguments I find very odd. I do not understand why discussion of the destruction of the library must be accompanied by continual ritual hosannas at the liberation of the Iraqi people in order to be deemed legitimate in his eyes. It seems to me that there are enough other people emitting such ritual hosannas for all of us, while at least some of them are brushing aside the loss of culture. (Have you read John Derbyshire's appalling NRO column on the subject?)

The two things aren't connected. It wasn't necessary to allow the libraries to be destroyed in order to depose Saddam; that's what's so tragic about it. The point about guarding the oil ministry was not to say that libraries are more important than oil ministries, but to show how little effort by the US military it would have taken to guard these buildings. It's not reasonable to expect the Iraqi staff of those buildings to have stopped the looting: they tried!

All this in a context of deepest scepticism as to how much the Bush administration cares about "liberating the Iraqi people," their justifications for this war having veered all over the map, and remembering how much scorn members of that administration poured on the humanitarian policies of the Carter and Clinton administrations.

I did not make the original Taliban comparison. And I do not know at what level of the military the decision was made not to allow US troops to guard the libraries and museums. Maybe the commanders who refused guards were acting under orders, or were thoughtless, or misestimated the danger, or genuinely were short of troops (though I doubt it).

But at least one person in the chain of command, Donald Rumsfeld himself, is on record as brushing aside the loss. So I will say this: Rumsfeld, and anybody else in a position of responsibility who actually thought the libraries not worth saving (as opposed to not being in a position to save them) is no better than the Taliban, at least in this respect.

In a climate where anybody who doubted the need for this war could be called "objectively pro-Saddam," this Taliban comparison does not seem to me to be out of line.

And the actual looters and burners, they're no better than the Taliban in this respect either.

#60 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 03:12 AM:

Mr McNeil: Obviously I was not clear enough. The logical fallacy is not remaining here in a wide ranging discussion. The fallacy is equating grief and fury over cultural destruction with 'not caring about the Iraqi people'. It's something Teresa discusses in that post I pointed you at. I thought perhaps you could see the applicability to your own error. I seemed to have erred on the side of generosity.


#61 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 03:18 AM:

Not caught up here, however, the US military had control of the airfield at Baghdad airport, and could have flown in, on -one- C5 or C17 flight, several HUNDRED military police, or rent-a-cops, in rather less than 24 hours of flight time. There could have been people put on notice to be ready to deploy as soon as the Baghdad Airport was secured. The policing forces could have been staged, for that matter, to somewhere closer to Iraq that the USA, ready for deployment to Baghdad, and anywhere else suitable for e.g. a C-130 to land -- and a C-130 can land on rather "umimproved" airstrips....

The US Government COULD have brought in people for security/protection against looting; it couldn't be BOTHERED with until after the worldwide screaming and political stink got to where even Bully Boy Bush and his Bunch of Believers started to notice.

Moving people around on transport planes in No Big Deal -- it;s one of the things that military transport planes are -designed- for, to haul not only equipment, but bunches of people, too. And people weigh less, and take up a whole lot less space than main battle tanks -- the C-5A upper deck, which is permanent, held 80 people in the original C-5a configuration.... regardless of what -else- the plane may be carrying. Configured for "pax" in on the main hold [I don't remember the correct technical terms anymore.... I used to know them] the plane, again, has a capacity in the low hundreds for passengers. The one I flew on years ago, was carrying cargo in the hold, and people on the permanent passenger deck. It was a lot more comfortable than flying in a C-130, which was NOISY, a lot slower, and full of vibration.... but the point was that it got equipment and people from point A to point B, and that's what counts.

#62 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 03:31 AM:

Black humor -- all the retconning from the Bush regime regarding why the war....

#63 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 03:41 AM:

It seems as if the ritual invocations need an update.

Since there were complaints of not ritually cursing Saddam before criticizing Rumsfeld or anyone else, I came up with the following:

(Saddam Hussein, exceptionally evil, nevertheless acknowledge...)

Since it seems we now must sing hosannas for the freedom of the Iraqi people as well, before criticizing little things like burning libraries, looted museums, Iraqi children getting cluster bombs as special toy surprises for Easter and so on, perhaps the following:

Sing Hosanna! Iraqi killing somewhat abated!

Perhaps that's not as enthusiastic as it should be, but being freed from the cruel yoke of Saddam only to participate in the cluster-bomb Easter egg hunt by the light of the burning libraries--Well, I don't think most Iraqis envisioned their freedom looking quite like that.



That said, on to the Taliban question. Or,

Taliban/Donald Rumsfeld--Incredible Coincidence or What?

Taliban: Destroyed artifacts to further their political goals, causing international outrage.
Donald Rumsfeld: Allowed artifacts to be destroyed to further his political goals, causing international outrage.
Donald Rumsfeld: Fond of quoting fairytales and myths, but gets them confused. ie. Confused "Henny Penny" (hen from "Chicken Little" fable who thought the sky was falling when it wasn't) with Cassandra (Greek seeress who foretold doom and destruction--accurately--but was not believed).
Taliban: Fond of quoting Koran, but has novel and bizarre interpretations of the work. (Other Koranic scholars are still trying to find the passage where the Prophet said that if a woman wears nailpolish, her fingernails are to be pulled out with pliers.)

Feel free to expand on this.

#64 ::: elric ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 08:44 AM:

I don't know whether it's required or not, but I'll begin by saying that a bullet behind Saddam Hussein's ear would have vastly improved the world. This was something I knew twenty years ago, just by reading the news. What a shame Rumsfeld didn't do that instead of shaking Hussein's hand back when Saddam was our friend because he wanted to fight those nasty Iranians. (See article with photo of the handshake:

Okay. So we went in. We kicked the Iraqi army's collective butt. Well, what we could find of it. We captured all those WMDs. Well, we're still trying to find those, and the administration has elements that have already accused Syria of hiding them. (We can ignore the Iraqi scientists who've turned themselves in and said there are no such weapons, because they're inherently unbelievable and deuced inconvenient, right?) We've restored a sense of order for the people of Iraq. Well...

Let's ignore for now the whole question of whether the attack and its timing were justifed. Once the victorious coalition forces were in place, a primary goal should have been preservation of order. Historically, curfews are established and notice is posted that looters will be shot. Sites of special interest are protected. That means, not only military sites, but also a wide range of government buildings, hospitals, and physical infrastructure.

As previous topic threads have noted, anarchic conditions and initial mob activity produces huge mob action. Usual practice is not to let it begin. Seeing members of the administration making comments about people blowing off steam in Iraq leads to obvious conclusions that no such practice was planned, or that it was deliberately ignored.

Yes, some material from the museums and libraries may have been stolen by Saddam and his loyalists. Some more may have been stolen by organized gangs. When the mobs arrived, there was no one present to provide protection in these places or at the hospitals and other critical sites. The one guard who had stayed at the national museum barricaded huimself in a small room, because he was unarmed and had no alternatives. It's disingenuous to supose that concerned Iraqi citizens, interested in preserving their cultural heritage, should have formed guard cadres to protect that heritage. The people with that kind of concern were also concerned with staying alive, and protecting their families, in cities teeming with mobs that looted and destroyed anything that wasn't occupied, including individual homes.

As a final note. The Oil Ministry and oil fields may have been saved. But I just heard an interview from Iraq. The offices that control the pipelines were apparently not on the save-at-any-cost list. The interviewee was an electrician who had worked for the Oil Ministry. He was describing how the mobs had gutted these offices in his part of the country. What was left was "only a shell--they even tore all the wiring from the walls."

An administration that creates a war, but that fails to prepare for winning that war, has created a situation that will make rebuilding very difficult. And very expensive. But maybe that last part doesn't matter, because all the contracts will be going to American companies.

Okay. Here endeth the rant.

#65 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 08:44 AM:

Oh man, I go off for a while to build some bookshelves, and just look what happens. On the other hand, you guys (hi, guys!) handled things just fine.

Kevin Murphy, why is it that when I say SHEENA SHIKSA, I find myself wanting to add "da dayenu"?

Adam, "you all" is indeed a recognized variant of "you folks" and "you people".

How do you do, Michael E. McNeil, and be welcome, even though you're being a bit of a blowhard, you might imaginably have read more backthread before you pitched in, and you could really stand to lose some of those Hamburger Helper canned arguments.

I do see one potential problem. I appreciate the fact that you know lots of things. That's a highly esteemed characteristic in these parts. But if you don't tone down that omnidirectional condescenscion, sooner or later someone here is going to bite you, just to be polite.

For instance: Yes, I do know about the flooding patterns of Lake Missoula. Pray consider the likelihood that someone who cherishes personal fantasies about a geological event knows more about it than will conveniently fit into a small fast-moving paragraph. And if I hear "not caring about the Iraqi people" or "blaming everything on our troops" one more time, the toothmarks on you are going to be mine.

Otherwise, pull up a chair. The beer's in the bathtub.

#66 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 08:52 AM:

Elric! Wel rantes thu.

#67 ::: Steve ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 11:19 AM:

My apologies if this has already been mentioned, but Jay Garner's "Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance" strongly warned that American troops should have been guarding the Iraqi National Museum. It was the #2 priority (out of 16) identified by ORHA. While many people, myself included, thought that Rumsfeld's troop-light plan was a mistake, it certainly got the job done militarily. But if the number two priority identified by the office of the man now running Iraq wasn't guarded, that suggests one of three things: a bureaucratic snafu, in which case I think the outrage some of Teresa's readers are expressing is perfectly justified; a failure of the top military planners
to get enough troops into Baghdad to prevent tremendous cultural loss (which, under the Geneva Conventions, was an American responsibility), in which case I think the outrage some of Teresa's readers are expressing is perfectly justified; or a genuine disinterest in protecting objects of priceless historical and cultural significance, in which case I think the outrage some of Teresa's readers are expressing is perfectly justified.

SHEENA, SHEENA, of course, and I'm not as worked up about this as a lot of people commenting. But something seems to have gone awry, even if it's limited to a confluence of understandable factors: someone's memo not getting read, the military's well-known (and justified) reluctance to function as police, an over-optimistic belief on the part of a number of the usual suspects about what would happen when Saddam Hussein's nightmarishly repressive state broke down. But a few dozen troops could have prevented the museum's looting, unless Michael E. McNeil and his ilk are willing to posit American incompetence, we're left with the possible explanation that people wanted the infrastructure of Baghdad torn apart by looters or that they didn't care. I think it's a small thing in comparison to torture and death, but it's real nonetheless.

#68 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 02:28 PM:

A semi-related comment:

I've pointed out earlier, that the funny thing about no WMD's showing up on TV by now is that, while it could take years to find *all*, finding *some* shouldn't take very long. Assuming that there were large stockpiles, and that we had intelligence worth going to war over (i.e., assuming that the Bush administration was truthful).

On another blog, somebody pointed out that one of the stated reasons for going to war was that Saddam might furnish these weapons to terrorists. The collapse of the Iraqi government has now left these large stockpiles of dangerous weapons unsecured, at risk of being given to/sold to terrorists.

This is far from unforseeable, and should have been a very high priority for US forces, the moment that the 'time of big battles' was over. Substantial forces should have been ready to be flown in from Kuwait, to check and sit on any suspected sites.
It shouldn't be the case that only some small unit is looking for these weapons, or that the US is relying on units stumbling across them by sheer luck, and eventually recognizing them.

Yet, nothing.....

#69 ::: Michael Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 04:21 PM:


Good point. Ask any archeologist what happens when a find is made, and then left unsecured.

But after all, looting is just 'high spirits'.

#70 ::: andrew b. ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 04:36 PM:

What you people are forgetting is that Saddam Hussein used to burn libraries, a couple a day, before breakfast. And we have it on good intelligence that he gassed HIS OWN museums. If we left it up to handwringers like you and the French, books would still be being tortured today.

#71 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 04:51 PM:

Michael McNeil: to extend Teresa's metaphor, you should check the condition of the cans your arguments come on; a lot of them are past the sell-by date, and some are sufficiently spoiled that I wouldn't care to be in the same room if you dropped one of them.

Specifically with regard to your claims of the necessity of surprise: what surprise? The troop buildup took months, the attempt to strong-arm the UN into a war resolution took weeks (not to mention the specific deadline that sank the resolution), and the UN inspectors were given days to get clear. The surprises had to do with exactly where, when, and how, not with the large-scale movements you point to. (OK, so attacking without the 4th Infantry may have been a surprise; Iraq may have underestimated Rumsfeld's stupidity. But how much more would Iraq have done -- how much more alert would its forces really have been -- if the main attack had waited for the 4th to get there?

The argument about weather is a particularly good demonstration of the ]other[ reasons for this war. The Bush ]administration[ admitted, shortly after starting the cry of "Iraq delenda est", that it had waited for the end of vacation season in order to get an approval bounce from voters. If the administration had had the wit to realize that starting a fight with no warning wouldn't fly, it could have started the whole process earlier to allow time for due consideration by the rest of the world -- or it could have kept a presence sufficient to back up the UN weapons inspectors until the weather in Iraq began to cool off again. But no, everything had to be done on the cheap, as if somebody were channeling the Court Jester: "Get in, get it over, get out." (Well, mostly; there seems to be some problem about "get out".)

And your points about the need for speed would have made much more sense if there hadn't been several holds on the way. For that matter, there are a lot of people who understand the exponential laws of logistics, including several on this list; working Worldcons does that for you. But logistics aren't glamorous, logistics aren't New Military, so anything that required more attention to logistics rather than a modern blitzkrieg probably got roundfiled even before it got to Rumsfeld's desk.

There are times when I think the worst effect of this war is not what it may cost the US in international good will but the inflated sense of superiority it gives the New Military crowd. Ghu help the US if it ever comes up against anything anywhere near its own weight class; "The boys will be home by Christmas" won't be a patch on what will happen against an enemy in better shape than Iraq turned out to be.

#72 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 06:34 PM:

Let's get back to the Didache.

While it's true, and interesting, that it contains a version of the Lord's Prayer, and apocalyptic comments similar to those found in several of the Gospels, that isn't its major importance.

First, the physical copy of Didache that we have is authentically, testably old. It dates from somewhere in the period 60-80 A.D. To give you an idea of what that means in terms of the living memories of men who knew Christ personally, St. Peter died sometime in the period 64-67 A.D., St. James the Less was undoubtedly still alive (and functioning as Bishop of Jerusalem) in 58 A.D. when St. Paul visited him there. St. Andrew died in 60 A.D., St. John died around the year 100, at a great age.

So, what is the important thing about this document?

There was a question about how many Persons made up God. As-you-know-Bob, Catholics believe in three Persons in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But there were some who claimed that this was a late development, and that the words in Matthew, in which Christ instructs folks to baptize "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost" (Matthew 28:19) were a spurious interpolation. Some scholars found it difficult to believe that the early Church was Trinitarian.

But along comes the Didache and there we read: "Now about baptism, baptize this way: after first uttering all of these things, baptize 'into the name of the Father and of the son and of the holy Spirit' in running water."

So there we have it, right there. Whether the Didache copied from Matthew, or Matthew copied from the Didache or they were independent accounts, is unimportant. The Church was Trinitarian from its earliest days, and no one can dispute it.

#73 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: April 23, 2003, 11:07 PM:

That is interesting, Jim!


#74 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 12:08 AM:

While the destruction of the library and museum are the most gut-wrenching part of the looting, other things were destroyed, too. Hospitals. Banks. Government records. Allowing these to be destroyed is a violation of military doctrine, and might be a war crime.

After all, how can you say you've "conquered" a city without securing the infrastructure (both "hardware" and "software") needed to run it? And if we'd done a proper job of securing the city, the extra effort to secure the library and museum would have been trivial.

I'm sure that at least some of the fires in Government buildings were set to destroy records of the arsonist's nasty doings.

I wrote up a longer version of this idea here.

#75 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 02:47 AM:

Jim, if you have evidence that the Constantinople copy of the Didache dates from the first century CE, you should probably publish your discovery.

In fact, the Constantinople version of the Didache was part of an eleventh-century CE manuscript (the "Codex Hierosolymitanus" of 1056). There are very old fragments of the Didache, in Coptic, from the third or fourth century. The Didache is well-attested in the literature of the second century, and it's pretty certain that the text was composed no later than 100 CE.

There are no surviving Christian manuscripts from before around 125 CE--there's a fragment of the Gospel of John in Greek from then. Within the last fifteen years, there was a major hullabaloo over a researcher who thought he had found a fragment of the Gospel of Matthew from the mid-first-century, but it turned out to be much later.

#76 ::: pi ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 02:50 AM:

You left out the possibility that the museum looting covered for the museum robbery. I wonder if the FBI is looking for rare books and manuscripts from the Library?

The burning Library and looted hospitals echo for me the ongoing criminal destruction of Iraq's marshes (scroll down to the 2000/02 maps) in a way that makes me a little queasy.

Too late for the smooth-coated otter, maybe a chance for the sacred ibis. What if the books were still slowing burning?

Prediction: the Bush admin announces a plan to "save" the marshes. Guess who gets the contract?

#77 ::: elric ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 07:06 AM:

And most of New England laughs at the news of every new Bechtel contract. Bechtel just ran up the "Big Dig" project in Boston to the tune of $1.1B. That is just the amount that can be tied to their idiot errors--not to understandable things that would be the equivalent of "no one knew we'd have to move the big rock buried under your proposed garden." The idiot errors are things like starting to build sections of the job before the plans were done, and making up those plans without noticing that the surveyors had forgotten to include existing structures that couldn't be torn down. Like the Fleet Center. And then, going back many years, there was the discovery, after they started tunneling, that Back Bay wasn't built on solid ground but on fill. They were shocked, shocked I say!, to discover something that any sixth-grader living within a hundred miles of Boston could have told them, and they had to send their engineers to Japan to learn new techniques before they could proceed.

But, hey, Bechtel made roughly $1.3M in political donations in the last four years, mostly to Republicans, so we can be sure they won't make these mistakes again. And if they do, well, Haliburton can come clean things up, right?

#78 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 11:03 AM:

James, I note it says "into running water" (emphasis added). Does that mean that all these "fonts" that are just really big bowls are invalid, or is pouring the water over the person's head sufficient?

I would think running water means a stream, or at least something that flows significantly.

#79 ::: Tuxedo Slack ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 01:53 PM:

Mary Kay Kare says to Michael McNeil:

I thought perhaps you could see the applicability to your own error. I seemed to have erred on the side of generosity.

Yes you did, but not in thinking he could. Your error was in thinking he would without a very compelling reason to continue his current failure to see it.

(I say this despite the fact that he seems to have gone and so probably won't see my comments or otherwise have to face them. My head would explode if I didn't say it.)

#80 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 02:13 PM:

There are none so blind as those who will not see. Or whose eyes are ideologically controlled.

#81 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 03:50 PM:

Flows, or flows quickly, unless covered by Army Corps of Engineers standards for wetlands, in which case one month dry in the average five years may remove its special status; see amendments.

#82 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 05:40 PM:

Xopher, a longer quote from the Didache might help:

Regarding baptism, baptize thus. After giving the foregoing instructions, 'Baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit' in running water. But, if you have no running water, baptize in any other; and if you cannot in cold water, then in warm. But, if the one is lacking, pour the other three times on the head 'in the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Spirit.

#83 ::: Keith Thompsonj ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 07:11 PM:

Conquering Iraq without planning to protect the museum, the library, and even the government offices is like removing a bullet without planning to stop the bleeding after it's removed. And to stretch the metaphor even further, the operation to remove the bullet was planned for months in advance, while numerous people were saying, "Um, shouldn't you be thinking about how to stop the bleeding once the bullet is out?"

#84 ::: Keith Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 07:12 PM:

(I don't know how that 'j' got on the end of my name.)

#85 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2003, 10:31 PM:

It's difficult for me to properly express just how bogus I think that logistical argument is; moving up troops to consolidate the gains of the front line is extremely standard, not an exceptional strain.

There was clearly a decision not to worry about civil security; either because there was a belief that there would be no need -- which is well beyond incompetence into idiocy -- or because it isn't an actual objective, in which case the peace and prosperity part of the whole announced objectives aren't real.

If the objective is a peaceful, secure Iraq, and there weren't troops in place to consolidate behind the attack, the attack should not have taken place until those troops were in place. It's not like there was an actual compelling military haste in the information available to us.

#86 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 02:01 AM:

"There was clearly a decision not to worry about civil security; either because there was a belief that there would be no need -- which is well beyond incompetence into idiocy -- "

Substitute "delusion" for "idiocy" and I think you've got it. I think Rumsfeld, et al, expected the bulk of the Iraqi administration to kick Saddam's inner circle out on its ass, leaving the dirty work -- guarding the museums, keeping those pesky Shi'ites under control -- to the existing corps of cops and soldiers.

#87 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 09:12 AM:

I have to second Graydon's choice of word -- if the ruling junta's collective mental powers allowed them to plan based on such delusion and no contingency planning was done to protect intrinsically valuable sites (National Mueseum, Library, Hospitals, Power Plants, Record Dept. of Mukhabarat) -- idiocy fits.

But I can understand your reluctance to employ the appropriate term -- the implications are disturbing.

After all, if the junta can have been so witless in this case, granted this war on the ancient heart of the Caliphate is a small matter of little consequence, might more important policies and stratagems be similarly flawed? Could issues of minor, but real, import, like the Patriot Acts, conceal some unforseen defect? Might such mental failures extend to even the most critical matters? Is it possible that, heavens forfend, the tax cuts may not have been based on wholly rational calculation?

A fearsome prospect, indeed. Thank goodness we'll have moments of warmth and levity like this, this, this, or this to ease our passage through this time of darkness. We can be somewhat reassured to know that, however major their cognitive deficits, our leaders and protectors will keep their focus firmly on the right areas.

#88 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 09:26 AM:

Stefan -
I don't doubt that there's a fair bit of being delusional going on. What makes me say 'idiocy' is not the delusion, but planning an invasion as though all one's expectations are certainly true.

That is the behaviour of a certain class of insulated upper management; it's not the behaviour of statesmen, or even sensible politicians, and certainly not of a decent general staff. (The US has for the most part a very good general staff.)

#89 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 11:44 AM:

I just came across this (old news from looted artifacts playing card set. Too bad they can't play on the same idea for the libraries -- there's no eye-catching, card-ready imagery for undiscovered manuscripts, lost ideas, etc.

#90 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 12:13 PM:

I'll stick with thinking of them as delusional. Thinking of them as idiots sets you up for underestimating how dangerous they are. (Pardon my grammar, no coffee yet this morning.)

Case in point:

Adam asks:
"Is it possible that, heavens forfend, the tax cuts may not have been based on wholly rational calculation?"

Consider: They've sold a package of wildly unbalanced, deficit-growing tax cuts to a country using rationales that change to suit the circumstances. ("We've got a surplus, give the money back." / "We're in a recession, let's boost the economy." / "We're in a war, let's be sure their are job for our boys when they get back.")

Good for the country? Almost certainly not. But the tax cuts aren't for the good of the country, they're for the Administration's constituency.

This isn't stupidity, it's political genius! Cynical, manipulative, shameless genius. They know *exactly* what they're doing.

Now let's figure out how to send them back to the Rotary Club rubber chicken speech circuit.

#91 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 03:55 PM:


Well, I suppose the seeming idiocy of an attempt to throw the consumer economy into the toilet and then flush it away might be some kind of diabolical genius that will greatly benefit a group of priviledged insiders...

Then, again, the corporate honchos may stagger through the tattered remenants of their financial empires and quietly mutter, "this isn't the economic transformation we wargamed against."

A question for the physicists: How far offshore does a tax shelter need to be to survive the shockwaves and tsunami created by the implosion of the US economy? Is a steep volcanic offshore tax shelter safer than a nearly flat one?

#92 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 04:03 PM:

More relevant question: How far from Earth would they have to go to avoid the wrath of tens of millions of thoroughly pissed off and heavily armed 401(k) victims?

Administration Excuse de Jour:

Yeah, they'll really love us now.

#93 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 06:00 PM:

How far would they have to go to avoid the wrath of tens of millions...

That could explain the administrations sudden enthusiasm for nuclear power and propulsion systems for spacecraft

Hmmm... empirical evidence suggests that the speed of wrath exceeds the speed of thought... and the speed of thought (rather than the speed of the electrochemical systems that support thinking) can exceed the speed of light... factor in new cosmological data (NY Times, registration required)...

I don't think the universe is large enough. Wherever they go, they will find that the wrath wavefront has preceded them.

#94 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 06:05 PM:

Oh -- and about those heavily armed 401(k) victims?

I'm sure they can be expected to blow off a little steam and show high spirits. But that's what we expect of free people, no?

#95 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 06:12 PM:

Stefan -

I'm not a quaddie, but 'idiot' is -- in this sense of willful idiocy -- about the blackest name I can call anybody.

Sending them back to the Rotary Club isn't going to help; that is, in a real sense, their power base. What you-all will need to do comes down to 'make them poor or dead'.

Doing that in a way that doesn't also destory the public peace is challenging; not impossible, but certainly challenging.

The difficulty with the tax cuts, etc. is another one of these very basic things; there's a difference between a wealth concentration and a wealth creating economy, independent of what kind of market mechanisms it uses. The focus on the market mechanisms started as a dodge, a scam, what have you, to conceal the shift to a wealth concentrating economy. This generation of folks pushing these changes Believes; they are ignorant of the distinction, and are likely to be very publically outraged and betrayed when the economy collapses on them.

It will be interesting to see who they decide to blame for the smoking ruins of a financial system.

#96 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 25, 2003, 07:01 PM:

Who would these guys blame as they peer through the choking fumes and shattered supports that were once a mighty economy?

1) Arab terrorists, especially if a big attack happens sometime during the catastrophic collapse. Lots of emotional advantages to this one.

2) Euroweenies! The axis of weasels! Those yellow frogs and filthy krauts! More problematic. Lacks plausibility. See Sterling's "We See Things Differently" for a playable version. Maybe with enough work it could be spun up.

3) Rhymes with NEWS. The global banking conspiracy, Rothschilds, etc. A lot of folks believe this already, and it would be an easy sale to a lot more... Could be played in combination with 1 or 2 and by non-administration sources for teflon factor. FOX News could help with the right guests.

#97 ::: Barry ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2003, 08:41 AM:

Note that the wrath of the 401(k) voters didn't seem to hurt the GOP in the last US mid-term election. I figure that this administration will continue with the past methods, until those methods don't reward them. And they've been doing things like that, in an out of government, for quite a while, profiting quite a bit.

#98 ::: Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2003, 01:17 PM:

On a more optimistic note, there is the precedent of "it's the economy, stupid." Perhaps even the nefarious Rove can't overcome a replay.

On a more pessimistic note, history does suggest that when the methods that have been so rewarding are challenged or begin to fail, the beneficiaries of those practices will go to extraordinary lengths to maintain their advantages.

I'd hate to see a domestic version of Chile '73, but I'm not altogether sure it can't happen here.

#99 ::: Jim Bennett ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2003, 08:16 PM:

Stefan Jones wrote:

Adam asks: "Is it possible that, heavens forfend, the tax cuts may not have been based on wholly rational calculation?"

Consider: They've sold a package of wildly unbalanced, deficit-growing tax cuts to a country using rationales that change to suit the circumstances. ("We've got a surplus, give the money back." / "We're in a recession, let's boost the economy." / "We're in a war, let's be sure their are job for our boys when they get back.")

If not in a surplus, if not in a recession -- when is it a good time for a tax cut?

#100 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 26, 2003, 10:55 PM:

When there's a surplus, and you've paid off your debts. Or at least have a halfway rational plan to pay off the debt.

Ugh. 100th post. This is one damn long thread.

#101 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2003, 02:20 AM:

Jim Bennett wrote: "If not in a surplus, if not in a recession -- when is it a good time for a tax cut?"

Jim, I think the point is that while some _one_ of those times might be right for a tax cut, something's fishy when every event is met by "this particular situation calls for a tax cut". The latter statement is different than "a tax cut is a good idea regardless of the state of the economy", you understand. The "regardless" statement can be argued on its merits, but the "particular" statement, when over used in too many particular circumstances, suggests that the real reason is being avoided, and the "particular" statement is just a smokescreen.

Kind of like the reasons to invade Iraq. In the latter case, per Stephan's earlier post, it looks like one of the real reasons (to send a message about not messing with the US) is coming out from behind the smokescreens (WMD, free the Iraqis, Saddam's "ties" to al Qaeda, etc.).

Oh, hey, Jim, you aren't the Jim Bennett I knew at PDS in the late 70s, are you?

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.