Thursday, April 24, 2008, 8:29pm
The war between the Handa clan and the Ombal clan began many years ago; how many, Daniel didn't say, and perhaps didn't know. It could easily have been several decades ago, or even in an earlier generation. Among Highland clans, each killing demands a revenge killing, so that a war goes on and on, unless political considerations cause it to be settled, or unless one clan is wiped out or flees. When I asked Daniel how the war that claimed his uncle's life began, he answered, "The original cause of the wars between the Handa and Ombal clans was a pig that ruined a garden." Surprisingly to outsiders, most Highland wars start ostensibly as a dispute over either pigs or women. Anthropologists debate whether the wars really arise from some deeperlying ultimate cause, such as land or population pressure, but the participants, when they are asked to name a cause, usually point to a woman or a pig. Any Westerner who knows the story of Helen and the Trojan War will not be surprised to hear women named as a casus belli, but the equal importance of pigs is less obvious. However, New Guinea Highlanders, whose main food staples are starchy root crops like sweet potato and taro, are chronically starved for protein, of which the island's dark, bristly pigs traditionally furnished the only large source. As a result, pigs are prized symbols of prestige and wealth. Peaceful competition and ostentatious displays involve pigs, and they are also used as currency for buying women. Pigs are individually owned and named, and, as piglets, they are sometimes nursed at one breast by a woman nursing an infant at her other breast.
Monday, February 11, 2008, 2:19pm
One reason â€” not even the most important â€” is the military's endemic inability to win hearts and minds. Early in the war, the Guardian sounded the alarm:
"Senior British military officers on the ground are making it clear they are dismayed by the failure of US troops to try to fight the battle for hearts and minds. They also made plain they are appalled by reports over the weekend that US marines killed Iraqi civilians, including women and children, as they seized bridges outside Nassiriya in southern Iraq."
The emphasis on force protection is a far cry from past imperial practices. The Romans, Spaniards, British, French, and conquerors of yore seldom agonized over their own casualties. To their credit, Americans do. But this comes at a moral cost: US soldiers are brave but the casualty-averse military doctrine of their commanders is cowardly. That, in essence, is what Susan Sontag, Arundhati Roy, and Bill Maher saidâ€”right before the lynching began. In a similar show of disgust diplomatically stripped of the C-word, this British officer echoed the sentiment:
"US troops have the attitude of shoot first and ask questions later. They simply won't take any risk... Unfortunately, when we explained our rules of engagement which are based around the principle of minimum force, the US troops just laughed."
Lebanon and Somalia notwithstanding, the United States rarely cuts and runs. It did not in Vietnam. It fought to the deathâ€”of the other guyâ€”and then cut and walked when victory proved elusive. Iraq is too central to US hegemonic fantasies to allow a speedy retreat: it'll be done cut-and-crawl style, with enough pit stops to admire the fireworks over Iran. Bush's playbook: (1) run out the clock; (2) anoint successor as "the dope who snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory and handed Iran the victor's crown"; (3) let the etching in the history books begin.
The entire piece is really well written and I do think that the failure that is the war on terror in Iraq is going to be blamed on the next president. Everything was fine until Obama\Hillary\whomever comes along.
Friday, February 1, 2008, 10:21am
Four months after announcing troop reductions in Iraq, President Bush is now sending signals that the cuts may not continue past this summer, a development likely to infuriate Democrats and renew concerns among military planners about strains on the force.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008, 8:45am
"I do not believe one U.S. soldier being killed every day is success," said Dave Tiffany, who described himself as a full-time anti-war activist. He demanded to know from McCain "how long you want us to be there."
The two went back and forth several times, with McCain insisting that what matters most is ending American casualties, not their presence in Iraq. He said he would be fine with keeping troops in Iraq for decades as long as they weren't being harmed, similar to the arrangements that exist in South Korea, Japan and other countries.
"A thousand years. A million years. Ten million years," McCain said. "It depends on the arrangement we have with the Iraqi government."
Monday, October 8, 2007, 1:21pm
Economics professors have a standard game they use to demonstrate how apparently rational decisions can create a disastrous result. They call it a "dollar auction." The rules are simple. The professor offers a dollar for sale to the highest bidder, with only one wrinkle: the second-highest bidder has to pay up on their losing bid as well. Several students almost always get sucked in. The first bids a penny, looking to make 99 cents. The second bids 2 cents, the third 3 cents, and so on, each feeling they have a chance at something good on the cheap. The early stages are fun, and the bidders wonder what possessed the professor to be willing to lose some money.
The problem surfaces when the bidders get up close to a dollar. After 99 cents the last vestige of profitability disappears, but the bidding continues between the two highest players. They now realize that they stand to lose no matter what, but that they can still buffer their losses by winning the dollar. They just have to outlast the other player. Following this strategy, the two hapless students usually run the bid up several dollars, turning the apparent shot at easy money into a ghastly battle of spiraling disaster.
Theoretically, there is no stable outcome once the dynamic gets going. The only clear limit is the exhaustion of one of the player's total funds. In the classroom, the auction generally ends with the grudging decision of one player to "irrationally" accept the larger loss and get out of the terrible spiral. Economists call the dollar auction pattern an irrational escalation of commitment. We might also call it the war in Iraq.
Oh yes, there is one other way out of the spiral â€” in the classroom, if you allow some kind of negotiated settlement between the two sides, they can sometimes agree to split the dollar and halt the contest. Should we pursue this kind of thing in the Middle East? Of course not, we are told. That would involve talking to the enemy, and we all know that such dialogue would only serve to reward their evil actions. Victory is the only acceptable result. Back to the auction. Let the surge continue.
Monday, October 8, 2007, 1:04pm
All members of the Inner Party believe in this coming conquest as an article of faith. It is to be achieved either by gradually acquiring more and more territory and so building up an overwhelming preponderance of power, or by the discovery of some new and unanswerable weapon. The search for new weapons continues unceasingly, and is one of the very few remaining activities in which the inventive or speculative type of mind can find any outlet. In Oceania at the present day, Science, in the old sense, has almost ceased to exist. In Newspeak there is no word for 'Science'. The empirical method of thought, on which all the scientific achievements of the past were founded, is opposed to the most fundamental principles of Ingsoc. And even technological progress only happens when its products can in some way be used for the diminution of human liberty. In all the useful arts the world is either standing still or going backwards. The fields are cultivated with horse-ploughs while books are written by machinery. But in matters of vital importance--meaning, in effect, war and police espionage--the empirical approach is still encouraged, or at least tolerated. The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. There are therefore two great problems which the Party is concerned to solve. One is how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking, and the other is how to kill several hundred million people in a few seconds without giving warning beforehand. In so far as scientific research still continues, this is its subject matter. The scientist of today is either a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying with real ordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture; or he is chemist, physicist, or biologist concerned only with such branches of his special subject as are relevant to the taking of life. In the vast laboratories of the Ministry of Peace, and in the experimental stations hidden in the Brazilian forests, or in the Australian desert, or on lost islands of the Antarctic, the teams of experts are indefatigably at work. Some are concerned simply with planning the logistics of future wars; others devise larger and larger rocket bombs, more and more powerful explosives, and more and more impenetrable armour-plating; others search for new and deadlier gases, or for soluble poisons capable of being produced in such quantities as to destroy the vegetation of whole continents, or for breeds of disease germs immunized against all possible antibodies; others strive to produce a vehicle that shall bore its way under the soil like a submarine under the water, or an aeroplane as independent of its base as a sailing-ship; others explore even remoter possibilities such as focusing the sun's rays through lenses suspended thousands of kilometres away in space, or producing artificial earthquakes and tidal waves by tapping the heat at the earth's centre.