Saturday, February 27, 2010

The End of Idi Amin by Andrew Rice

Idi Amin lived in a villa in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, fat and unmolested, under the protection of the Islamic kingdom's monarchy. In 1989, he'd made a desultory attempt to fight his way back to Uganda from Congo, never making it out of the capital, Kinshasa, where he was identified and deported by the immigration authorities, but since then he seemed to have contented himself with living out a leisurely retirement. He studied the Koran and watched satellite television. He visited a masseur at the Intercontinental Hotel. He was sometimes glimpsed driving a white Chevrolet Caprice.

"Do you feel any remorse?" the Italian journalist Riccardo Orizo asked Amin, in a rare post ouster interview published in 2002.

"No," replied. "Only nostalgia"

Amin's lavish impunity provoked remarkably little outrage in Uganda. The majority of the population hadn't even been born in 1979. This generation wasn't even fully aware of the country's past. "Young people now don't know Amin," said one top government minister, a former resistance fighter. "And some can't believe that we could have a government of that deplorable quality. They don't believe."

One Sunday morning in August of 2003, however, Ugandans awoke to the newspaper headline: AMIN IN COMA. Far away, in a Saudi hospital, the exiled dictator was dying of kidney failure.

The news was an abrupt reminder of the past- a disruptive intrusion on the unsettled present. With Amin on his deathbed, his supporters felt emboldened to voice long stifled feelings of affection. Muslim politicians called on the government to allow the dictator to return from exile so he could die at home, or at the very least, to bring his body back for a state funeral once he had expired. Many ordinary Ugandans seemed ready to forgive the dying man or even to deny he had done anything requiring forgiveness. Newspapers canvassed Kampala's bars and street corners. "Every African leader makes mistakes," a salesman told the Monitor. "I would give him my vote if he recovers and wants to run for president," said a taxi driver. "People say he killed so many people, but I think there is no leader who has not killed," said a shop owner. Such sentiments were not universal, or even the majority opinion, but Amin's defenders spoke at a volume that tended to drown out more reasoned views.

The sympathetic response was not simply confined to the dictator's tribesmen or coreligionists. A great many Ugandans still thought of Amin as a nationalist who had kicked out the Asian merchants, proclaiming that he would redistribute economic power to black Africans. He symbolize a vanished era, one that, for all its horrors, still represented the one time in Uganda's history when the country had dared to challenge the world's great powers. President Museveni, who often derided his predecessor's "stupidity", was initially dismissive of valedictory sentiments. "I would not bury Amin", he told the newspapers. "I will never touch him. Never. Not even with a very long spoon." But such remarks sparked an extraordinary public outcry....The outrage was such that Museveni, who seldom conceded any points to his critics, was forced to retreat, calling a defensive press conference to announce that the dictator could be buried in Uganda.

As Amin remained in his coma for several weeks, the national newspapers devoted front-page headlines to the slightest updates on his health condition. He was on life support. His vital organs were failing. Fattened by years of easy living and frequent deliveries of his favorite Ugandan food, he was said to weigh more than four hundred pounds. His wives and children, dispersed around the world, rushed to Saudi Arabia to be by his bedside. Up in West Nile, the New Vision reported, some of the dictators- more distant relatives gathered at the family farm. They had recently completed a modestly scaled home, roofed with blue-tinted sheet metal and surrounded by a barbed-wire fence with money sent by Amin in expectation of his return. They marked out a burial plot and started to make preparations.

One sunny West Nile morning, I paid a visit to the dictator's retirement home. Out in the farmhouse's front yard, dozens of women in colorful finery were sitting in vigil, while a steady stream of well-wishers- the president's former chief of protocol, and ex-bodyguard- came ambling up the dirt path, seeking the latest news from the family spokesman, Captain Amule Amin, one of the dictator's brothers. "He is improving," Amule assured the visitors. "He is a fit and strong man."

When Amin ruled, Ugandans had called his people the mafuta mingi, a Swahili term that translates as "the very fat". The people of West Nile, always desperately poor and treated dismissively by the comparatively wealthy southern tribes, had gorged themselves on all they could acquire, confiscating homes and businesses, forming syndicates to smuggle coffee, cotton and other cash crops, enriching themselves even as the rest of the economy collapsed. Now it was all gone. "Now we survive by digging," Amule said. By digging, he meant farming.

When I met him, Amule had just come in from the fields, where he was erecting fence posts, and his hands and clothes were caked with mud. He offered a tour of the farm, proceeding past fields of corn, sweet potatoes, peanuts and cassava, to a collection of jagged brick pillars assembled around a patch of broken concrete and some skeletal walls flecked with turquoise paint. These were the ruins of President Amin's country estate, which had been looted and leveled long ago by the returned exiles of the liberation army.

"We understand those who talk bad about Amin, especially the authorities," Amule said. "They fear him because he is popular. If he comes back, he may change things upside-down here."

Over the course of my extensive journey's through the West Nile, I was to repeat the same macabre home tour many times. Amin's aged henchmen all wanted me to see the remnants of the fine residences they built during their time in power, not the new, more modest homes they had built close by. The former vice president, General Mustafa Adrisi- a man who had siphoned so much money from state coffers that he earned the nickname "Mr. Foreign Exchange"- sorrowfully recounted how his three-house complex near the Sudanese border had been dynamited by the liberators, and the asked for a donation to help rebuild it. Another general, living in a thatched hut next to a wrecked, weed-covered mansion, said, "This is what life is. Up to down".

The upended sentiment extended far beyond the small circle that benefited most from the dictatorship. Throughout West Nile, people felt that while Amin may have been a tyrant, at least he was their tyrant: a son of the soil, a kinsman. When he ruled they were fat; now they were thin. When he ruled they had jobs; now they had none. When he ruled they were strong; now they were weak. When he ruled they mattered; now they hardly counted at all. Tribe trumped truth, grievance obviated guilt. Nostalgia was all they had.

On August 16, 2003, Idi Amin Dada died. He never knew the exact date of his birth, but the best estimates say he was around eighty years old. Even from the grave, Amin continued to divide Ugandans. The front page of the New Vision newspaper featured a giant, glowering picture of the dictator and, under the stark headline AMIN IS DEAD , a quotation from Isaiah:

Now you are weak as we are! You are one of us! You used to be honored with the music of harps, but now you are in the world of the dead. You lie on a bed of maggots and are covered with a blanket of worms.

"I am not mourning at all," President Museveni said at a public even in Soroti, an eastern town. " What did he achieve? What did he do for Uganda? What will he be remembered for? the president asked the crowd.

"That he killed," his audience responded.

Meanwhile hundreds of mourners gathered at the main mosque in Kampala so say the traditional Muslim prayers for the dead. The weeks of public argument about Amin's funeral turned out to be moot. The Saudi government had swiftly buried the exiled dictator in Mecca, Islam's holiest city, a solution the mourners found appropriate.

"This is a sad moment not only for Muslims worldwide, but for Uganda," a member of Parliament from the West Nile said in an address to the prayer service. "We have lost a loving brother. How the world looks on Amin fulfills the saying that leadership is a dustbin. When you are gone, everything bad is heaped on you."

Friday, February 26, 2010

1688 by Steve Pincus

From the moment James II departed England, the English with almost united voice called for war against France. The majority of English men and women believed that James had not followed the national interest in pursuing alliance with France and war with the Dutch. Few called for a renewal of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century confessional strife. However, it would be a mistake to assume that though there was wide-spread enthusiasm for war, there was a popular consensus. Instead, from 1689 there were two distinct visions of the proper nature of English foreign policy. Both sides deployed passionate nationalist arguments.

The Tories argued for a blue-water foreign policy. Louis XIV needed to be fought only so long as he posed a real and immediate threat to the British Isles and could plausibly undo the events of 1688-89. England had no interest in financing a Continental war against France that would merely benefit weak and unreliable confederates. For the advocates of blue-water policy, England's future lay in overseas empire, not in European engagement.

Whigs, by contrast, argued that England needed to be strong both at sea and on land. The French threat was ideological as well as geopolitical. England could be safe only when European liberty was secure. As long as states continued to be seduced or compelled to adopt the absolutist political model, Europe and England would be dragged into a hopeless spiral of massive military expenditures and unending warfare. It was not enough to defend the British Isles; England needed to humble France and thereby halt the spread of absolutism.

Whig frustration with Tory blue-water foreign policy provides the context for the publication of Robert Molesworth's spectacularly successful Account of Denmark, a runaway best-seller from the moment it appeared in late 1693. By 1700 at least thirteen editions of Account had been published in French, Dutch, German and English, and spawned a variety of virulent attacks, and became the talk of diplomats all over Europe.

After taking up arms on the side of the revolutionaries in 1688, Molesworth had been posted to Denmark. He had witnessed first hand that Protestant monarchy's slow drift from active membership in the Grand Alliance into the French sphere of influence.

In Molesworth's view the Kingdom of Denmark provided a case study in the pernicious effects of French political ideology. Before 1660 the Danes had shared in the benefits of the Gothic constitution that had once prevailed "in most, if not all parts of Europe." It was to the Goths that Europe owed "the original of Parliaments," with "frequent meetings" in which "all matter relating to good government were transacted," the right to elect their kings, and the right to depose "cruel, vicious, tyrannical, covetous, or wasteful" rulers. Then, "at one instant the whole face of affairs was changed" in Denmark, and the kings became "absolute and arbitrary" with not the least remnant of liberty remaining to the subject."

Denmark's turn to absolutism was not unique. "The King of Denmark," like many monarchs in Europe, explained Molesworth, had become "a pupil" of Louis XIV.

According to Molesworth's Account, the turn to absolutism in Denmark, as was the case everywhere else, necessitated "frequent and arbitrary taxes" to support the enlarged military machine. This in turn impoverished the country," the value of estates in most parts of the kingdom is fallen by three fourths." The policies of the Danish kings had caused "poverty in the gentry, which necessarily causes extremity of misery in the peasants.. the constant effects of arbitrary rule in this and all other countries where it has prevailed." Those states "that consider soldiers as the only riches, never cease enlarging their numbers, till they are necessitated for their subsistence, either to come to blows with their neighbors, or to create animosities between others" that would necessitate employing their forces as mercenaries. Absolutism breeds endless arms races. No leader dared risk disarmament for fear that his neighbors were only waiting "for the opportunity to fall upon him that is worst provided to make resistance. " This, Molesworth concluded, was "none of the least calamities which the French tyranny has forced upon the world." His analysis generated a clear imperative for English foreign policy. The only way to block the spread of economic depredation and unending warfare was to block the spread of French absolutism. This implied, at a minimum, constant vigilance and involvement in Europe or, most likely, a full-scale invasion of France.

Molesworth's analysis made it clear that the age of confessional (religious) warfare had ended. The threat to the welfare of Europe was absolutism, not Roman Catholicism. Denmark, Molesworth reminded his readers, was a Protestant country. "Whoever takes the pains to visit the Protestant countries abroad will be convinced that it is not Popery as such, but the doctrine of blind obedience in what religion soever be found, that is the destruction of liberty,and consequently of the happiness of any nation." The spread of "slavery" in "most of the Protestant as well as Popish countries" was because "the spirits of the people" had been weakened by clergy who preached "that subjects should obey without reserve". The problem was not priests, but priests who depended on an absolutist state. The danger came not from the spread of the Catholic or Lutheran reformation but from the growing power of the absolutist states.

"I wish every Englishman could read the Account of Denmark, wrote the Lancashire Whig William Phillips to the Somerset Whig Edward Clarke, for then "they'll find a slave is the same thing be he a Papist or a Protestant".

William and Mary, as the king and queen of England, heeded their their subjects call for war against Louis XIV. The war the revolutionaries asked the English nation to fight was not, as some recent historians have claimed, a war of religion, it was and international struggle against Louis XIV, a tyrant and aspiring universal monarch who was equally threatening to Catholic and Protestant; a multi-confessional alliance of European nation against a 'global' dictator who threatened the existence of each and every one of them.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Playthings of the Gods


As flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods:
They kill us for their sport.


How should this be? Bad is the trade that must play fool to sorrow
Ang'ring itself and others..

(King Lear Act IV Scene 1)

We may imagine that each of us living creatures is a puppet made by the gods, possibly as a plaything, or possibly with some more serious purpose. That, indeed, is more than we can tell, but one thing is certain. These interior states of fear or confidence- the result of the unwise and conflicting counselors of pleasure and pain- are, so to say, the cords, or strings, by which we are worked; they are opposed to one another, and pull us in opposite directions, and therein lies the division of virtue from vice. A man must always yield to one of these tensions without resistance, but pull against all the other strings- ought to yield, that is, to that golden and hallowed drawing of judgment which goes by the name of the public law of the city. The others are hard and iron-like, it soft, as befits gold, whereas they resemble various substances. So a man must always cooperate with the noble drawing of the law, for judgment, though a noble thing, is as gentle and free from violence as noble, whence its drawing needs supporters, if the gold within us is to prevail over the other stuff. In this wise our moral fable of the human puppets will find its fulfillment.

( Plato. Laws 1 644d)

Search, for some thoughts, thine own suggesting mind
And others, dictated by heavenly powers,
Shall rise spontaneous in the needful hour.
For nought unprosperous shall thy ways attend,
Born with good omens, and with heaven thy friend.

(Odyssey, 3.26 sq.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beyond Denial by Linda Andre

There are signs that it is possible for professionals to move beyond denial of electro- convulsive therapy's (ECT) permanent adverse effects, toward not only acknowledgment of damage but help for ECT survivors. In 2006 and 2007, the British journal Advances in Psychiatric Treatment published two groundbreaking articles. The first, by Americans Harold Robertson and Robin Pryor, incorporates the voices of survivors (from FDA files and British studies) into a discussion of the different types of memory and cognitive disability caused by shock. The authors further discuss how best to assess these types of deficits with the type of neuropsychological tests used on persons who have experienced other types of brain injury. They criticize the tests commonly used by ECT proponents as much too simple and not relevant to ECT. Finally they propose a model of informed consent that describes rather than denies what we know:

"Patients can be told that permanent amnesia is one of the common or serious/frequently occurring effects of ECT and that it affects at least one third of the patients. Such amnesia may be presented as having multiple dimensions: the amount of life lost, the temporal gradient, the nature of what is lost, and the effect of memory erasure on the individual's life. The amount of life lost to amnesia cannot be predicted; patients should be warned that it has been known to extend to 10-20 years. It should be made clear that amnesia is not limited to information about discrete events or to facts that are easily regained, such as dates and telephone numbers, but that it encompasses all thoughts, feelings, personal interactions and relationships, learning and skills associated with the erased time period, and thus there is no simple or easy way to recapture what is lost. Since the temporal gradient of ECT amnesia is the opposite of normal forgetting, patients should be warned that the most recent months or years will be most effected."

"Patients should be clearly told that ECT may have serious and permanent effects on both memory ability and non-memory cognition. These are best described in everyday terms: 'the ability to plan and organize and get things done', rather than 'executive function'. Intact memory and intelligence are highly prized in our culture. The more valuable a possession, the more important it is to know about even a small chance that it may be permanently lost."

The next year, Maeve Mangaoang and Jim Lucy ( of Ireland) built on Robertson and Pryor's work in the first article ever published to address the issue of how best to help rehabilitate those who suffer memory and cognitive disability:

" Cognitive rehabilitation techniques that are used with brain-injured patients should also be considered for use with patients experiencing memory and/or cognitive disability following ECT."

"What is striking from the literature in this area is the lack of routine, formal assessment of patients' neuropsychological performance following a course of ECT, despite the long-known risk to memory function... All patients should undergo cognitive assessment before their first ECT session... Reassessment should be schedualed after a sufficiently long interval (more than six months after treatment) so that persistent cognitive and memory deficits can be identified... It should be clear that such documentation is not enough; a specific programme of cognitive rehabilitation should be designed and made available to all patients following ECT, and details of this treatment should be included with the information that patients receive prior to treatment..."

Denial of, and withholding help, for injuries caused by ECT is not only bad for patients, they argue, but ironically ends up subverting the ECT industry's Public Relations as well. "Failure to attempt to rehabilitate patients may reinforce the negative public image of ECT specifically and psychiatry in general."

Rather than draw the obvious logical conclusion- permanent memory loss and cognitive disability happens when you put electricity through the brain and it cannot be prevented- they borrow a page from the American PR book. The problem, they decided, must be that the ECT just wasn't done right. The solution is to raise standards, and teach everyone to do it correctly, and check up on them to see if they were doing so. It wasn't that ECT causes damage [ and only temporarily relieves the symptoms it tries to address, if at all], only that poorly performed ECT might do so.

The counter argument is quite simple. It's this book; it's history. As we have seen, such a claim has been made over and over since the very early days of ECT seventy years ago. And each so-called refinement or modification of the shock box or electrode placement or the accompanying drugs and anesthesia has failed to eradicate the serious, permanent adverse effects. The simple reality of biology and neuroanatomy won't be fooled.

If any other medical treatment had admittedly been done incorrectly for seventy years (while, at periodic junctures, the manufacturers and users of the equipment had proclaimed "Now we know how to to it!" and had been proven wrong)...

If manufacturers and users had admitted, after seven decades, that the still didn't know how to do it, and meanwhile seven decades of accumulated evidence showed that large numbers of patients had been harmed, permanently disabled, or killed...

What would we, as a society, do?

Would we say to doctors, "OK, keep trying everything that hasn't worked in the past. We'll be your guinea pigs"?

Would we say nothing and look away, betting our lives that the treatment will never be used on us but only on people who don't matter so much?

Would we let it be used for another lifetime?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

'China's Destiny' by Chiang Kai-shek

Near the end of 1943, Chiang and his undeclared ghostwriter, Tao Xisheng, completed China's Destiny , which embodied his views on China, its glorious culture and history, and its bright and shining future. It was Chiang's answer to Mao Zedong's major essay on the future of China, On The New Democracy. The book reflects Chiang's distinctly nationalist, highly anti-imperialist, and strictly authoritarian outlook, but on world affairs it struck a liberal, internationalist stance.

China's Destiny asserted that every Chinese had the right and 'the duty" to belong to the Kuomintang. Citizens, Chiang proclaimed, 'must pay special attention to and not neglect for a moment, the duty of obeying the state's policy." Discipline and loyalty were commanded. He quoted Sun Yat-sen's dictum that "we must free ourselves from the idea of 'individual liberty' and unite "into a strong cohesive body, like a solid mass formed by mixing cement with sand." Indeed, the political system that Chiang supported was openly authoritarian. He rejected liberalism as well as Communism and reaffirmed Sun Yat-sen's thesis that an indefinite period of political tutelage "must be followed to attain democracy." Like Sun, he made the disturbing assertion that the principle of nationalism "is the most meritorious of all human conditions," but this is as close to fascism as the book comes. He did make presumptuous but hardly malevolent claims that "the glories and scope of our ancient Chinese learning cannot be equaled in the history of any of the strong Western nations," and that the principles of the Chinese state were propriety, righteousness, modesty, and honor. But he also declared that "theories of superior civilizations and superior races,' must be forever eliminated.

Chiang's second book, Chinese Economic Theory, released about the same time as China's Destiny, was meant to be a textbook in the KMT's Central Political Training Institute. This work calls for a mixed, planned economy; a protectionist trade policy; an emphasis on national (state) ownership of large industries; and "control of private capital." Reflecting the book's strong socialist outlook, it calls on Western economists to abandon materialism and selfish individualism in favor of a "world of great harmony" where "human nature is developed to the highest one will be able to earn a living by sitting one will be unable to find work." The last paragraph in the first chapter of China's Destiny, after referring to the long struggle of Sun Yat-sen, boasts, "I, Chiang Kai-shek, have from the beginning been identified with restarting the Republic of China on the road to freedom and independence," and then follows with three innocuous uses of the word "I". After that, Chiang does not use the personal pronoun in the book or refer to his own political or historic role.

The Chinese government did not publish China's Destiny in English. Madame Chiang recommended against it, fearing that its prideful, socialist, anti-imperialist outlook- which did not distinguish among the foreign abusers of China- would antagonize Americans and especially the British. The only English edition of China's Destiny is apparently the one produced in New York by the leftist Amerasia magazine and its pro-Communist editor Philippe Jaffe. It could be argued that the book's extravagant moral tone and idealization of Chinese culture represented a high degree of naivete and self-delusion, but not a will to personal power- much less absolute power, ethnic cleansing, or territorial expansion. Never-the-less, Jaffe, John Service, and others in the so-called intelligence agencies of the American government equated China's Destiny with Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Chiang began is career as a revolutionary officer for Sun Yat-sen's Nationalist Revolution. After Sun's death, he assumed leadership of the movement and, against heavy odds, loosely united the most populous country in the world. He led the new Republic of China during a decade of endless rebellion, civil conflict, and economic depression while building key aspects of a modern civil government. Then, from a refuge above the gorges of the Yangtze, he commanded his army and the country in a prolonged and devastating eight-year war of resistance to Japan, the first half of which China fought virtually alone. With that war's end came four more bloody years, this time as the Nationalists and the Communists clashed in a traumatic civil war. Finally, defeated by Mao- the loyalty and discipline of whose cadres he always admired- he retreated to Taiwan, where he ruled as a dictator for another quarter century.

During all this time, Chiang's deep personal commitment to Chinese unity never wavered. Although he made compromises with the warlords to keep the country together, and he appeased the Japanese for five years while trying to build a modern army, he never surrendered China's sovereignty over any of its territory. His commitment to a unified China was probably one reason, after his defeat in Manchuria in 1948, that he made no real effort to hold on to the southern half of China. Instead, he chose to make his last stand on Taiwan, where he could at last take full dictatorial control, maintain the principle of one China *, and pursue his long-held dream of creating a modern state based on Confusion values.

Chiang stubbornly pursued hopeless defensive battles, but believed that displays of indomitable willpower and sacrifice were critical for rallying the Chinese people behind a long and painful conflict. His own courage in the face of physical danger was well known in China and at times he was widely popular. Once kidnapped, and often under fire at the front, he was also famous for visiting the camps of his enemies to parlay and for leaving besieged cities at the last hour.

At times, Chiang's actions sharply contradicted the Confusion and Christian teachings that he regularly turned to, as well as his belief in his own sincerity and moral virtue. On several occasions, he sanctioned extreme actions that amounted to moral blindness or turpitude. Among those were the killings he ordered or permitted in 1947 in Taiwan and the extensive executions during the first few years after his arrival on the island. These acts were an offense to humanity, and unnecessary even in terms of Chiang's own objectives of mass intimidation and control. The fact that Mao, Deng Xiaoping, and other Communist leaders were responsible for the deaths of innocent millions rather than thousands does not change that judgment.

But Chiang was not ruthless or violent by nature- in fact he was, as Mao thought, a naively earnest and conscientious man. Chiang never sought, in his diaries or elsewhere, to justify himself in regard to the extreme actions he took. If pressed he probably would have pointed to the savagery of the times- a massive war over the direction of world culture in which millions died, hundreds of millions suffered, and the survival of Chinese civilization seemed at stake. He once called himself a "man of war" and suggested that he bore a moral burden, the same burden that Truman and Churchill took on for their decisions on Hiroshima and Dresden. But of course, his most ruthless decisions also served to keep him in power, and to this he would likely argue that, as with his democratic allies, he had the mandate of his people to lead the national struggle for survival and unity and to do whatever was necessary to win.

During twenty-five years on Taiwan, operating in a microcosm of a stable and peaceful China, Chiang had his chance at nation-building, and in terms of social and economic indices ( and the principles outlined in China's Destiny) he laid the groundwork for Taiwan's leap into modernity ( the disparity of incomes in Taiwan is the least of any modern nation on the globe). Three decades after his death, he would be impressed with the island's success, but also with the emergence of the People's Republic as a great and respected nation. He would be especially pleased about the Peking regime's replacement of class struggle and world revolution with the ancient teachings of Confucius, once again drawing on China's great history as the cultural and moral center of Chinese civilization. He would see the new Chinese leaders as modern neo-Confucianists, dedicated to making China a harmonious, stable, and prosperous society, as well as a powerful and avowedly peaceful actor on the world stage. He would also certainly note with irony that both corruption and disparities in income in the new China are extremely high, probably higher than when he led the mainland, but certainly much higher than during his years on Taiwan. Soong Mayling, his wife, who in 2003 passed away in New York at the age of 105, would no doubt also appreciate Peking's efforts to stop spitting in the streets and other unhygienic customs. But most of all, if the Chiangs could see modern Shanghai and Beijing, they might well believe that their long planned "counterattack" had succeeded and their successors had recovered the mainland. Truly, it is their vision of modern China, not Mao's, that guides the People's Republic in the twenty-first century.

The End of Chiang Kai-shek by Jay Taylor

April 5, 1975, was the last night of the Tomb Sweeping (Qing Ming) Festival. Throughout Taiwan and traditionally in all of China, it was believed that on that night the ghosts of the ancestors milled about, preparing to go back into their newly cleaned chambers. Late that evening, Chiang's physician, Xiong Yuan, was in the garden of the Shilin residence admiring the endless scattering of stars in the clear night sky. Shortly after he returned indoors and retired for the night, the doctor on duty called him in a state of alarm. The President's heart had stopped. Xiong threw on a robe and rushed downstairs to Chiang's bedroom. He injected a stimulant into the President's heart and it resumed beating.

Soong Mayling arrived and was at the bedside when her husband's heart stopped again. The doctor administered another injection. Soon afterward, Ching-kuo rushed into the room just as his father suffered another attack. Xiong was preparing a third injection when Mayling touched his hand and sighed. "Just stop," she said. It was a few minutes before midnight, and just then a dramatic rainstorm with thunder and lightning swept over the island from Taipei to Gaoxiong. Even Harvard-educated officials in the city thought this was more than coincidence.

Two hours after the Generalissimo's death, the government released a political testament that he was said to have written a week earlier. "Just at this time when we are getting stronger, my comrades, and my countymen, you should not forget our sorrow and our hope because of my death. My spirit will always be with my comrades and my countrymen to fulfill the three people's principles*, to recover the mainland, and to restore our national culture." A thirty-day mourning period followed. The government required the closure of movie houses, nightclubs, bars, and other places of entertainment. No one was allowed to play golf, tennis, or baseball. Television and radio stations played only tributes and documentaries about the President, or scenes of public mourning with solemn music.

The two Chiang brothers, as required by custom, wrapped the body of their father in white cloth. Following Chiang's requests, his copies of the Bible, Streams in the Desert, and a collection of Tang poetry were placed in the casket. Someone realized the Generalissimo had forgotten to ask also to take along The Three People's Principles, and a copy was put at his side. For five days, the casket lay in state at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Chiang had presided over more than a thousand weekly ceremonies honoring the party founder who had set him on the road to leadership of the Kuomintang and China. Two and a half million people reportedly filed past the casket, including the journalist Lei Zhen, who Chiang had imprisoned for some years.

On April 15, while the Generalissimo was still lying in state, America's South Vietnamese ally collapsed just as he had foreseen. Saigon fell that day and American diplomats and marines at the U.S. Embassy fled ingloriously from the roof in helicopters.

The final service for the Generalissimo was held at Memorial Hall on April 16, 1975, a gray, cloudy Wednesday. The Guanyin Mountains were lost in mist. The open casket was surrounded by lilies of the valley, and at the foot stood a large white cross of chrysanthemums. Madame Chiang, wearing dark glasses, bowed three times before the metal casket, as did her two stepsons and Alex Chiang, who represented the third generation. Then the coffin was closed, the Christian minister Zhou Lianhua gave a Christian eulogy, a military band struck up a funeral march and ten pallbearers carried the coffin out of the building to a waiting float with white and yellow flowers in the shape of a church or chapel. Military cannons thundered a twenty-one-gun salute.

Mayling, assisted on either side by Ching-kuo and Wei-kuo, walked behind the float for a few hundred yards as it moved down the road. The family then boarded limousines, and the cortege moved slowly through the warm, humid city and then onto the highway and through smaller towns. Hundreds of thousands of people lined he way, Boy and Girl Scouts, mailmen, nurses, reservists, people in sack cloth, Buddhist monks wearing saffron, a group of women in yellow Confusian gowns with mortar boards on their heads, and musicians playing ancient string instruments. Many were wailing softly in the Chinese fashion. High school and military bands played dirges and occasionally "Auld Lang Syne."

In the countryside, the procession passed by hundreds of small workshops and in between green fields sprouting the first rice crop of the year. The motorcade wound through mountain passes and some sixty miles from Taipei turned into a small encalve by a quiet lake nestled among bamboo-covered hills. This was Chiang's favorite retreat, a place that reminded him of his home in the mountains of Zhejiang, where he hoped someday his body would be reburied- on Hole in the Snow Mountain near his mother's grave, just above the little town of Xikou.

On the day of Chiang's funeral, Mao, who knew his time was limited, spent the day in bed listening over and over to the same stirring funeral music set to a twelfth-century poem. The poet was bidding farewell to a patriotic high mandarin whose career, like that of Chiang Kai-shek, had ended tragically and unfulfilled, and who had been exiled to a remote part of China.

*San min zhu yi: nationalism, democracy and the people's livelihood.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Michel Houellebecq

He won the 1998 Prix Novembre for his second novel Les Particules √Čl√©mentaires (translated by Frank Wynne) and published as Atomised (Heinemann, UK) or, The Elementary Particles (Knopf, US). The novel became an instant "nihilistic classic". The New York Times, however, described it as "a deeply repugnant read." The novel won Houellebecq—along with his translator, Frank Wynne—the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in 2002.

His subsequent novel, Plateforme (2001), earned him a wider reputation. It is a romance, told mostly in the first-person by an aging male arts administrator, with many sex scenes and an approbation of prostitution and sex tourism. The novel's depiction of life and its explicit criticism of Islam, together with an interview its author gave to the magazine Lire, led to accusations against Houellebecq by several organisations, including France's Human Rights League, the Mecca-based World Islamic League and the mosques of Paris and Lyon. Charges were brought to trial, but a panel of three judges, delivering their verdict to a packed Paris courtroom, acquitted the author of having provoked 'racial' hatred, ascribing Houellebecq's opinions to the legitimate right of criticizing religions.

A recurrent theme in Houellebecq's novels is the intrusion of free-market economics into human relationships and sexuality. Whatever (Original title, Extension du domaine de la lutte), which literally translates as "extension of the domain of the struggle") alludes to economic competition extending into the search for relationships. As the book says, a free market has winners and losers, and the same applies to relationships in a society that does not enforce monogamy. Westerners of both sexes already seek exotic locations and climates by visiting developing countries in organized trips. In Platform, the logical conclusion is that they would respond positively to sex tourism organized and sold in a corporate and professional fashion.

Michel Houellebecq, France's most shocking novelist, made his name with tales of dysfunctional, estranged relationships. Now his own mother, portrayed as a sex-obsessed hippy in one of his books, has launched a devastating counter-attack in a new memoir. Here the foul-mouthed Lucie Ceccaldi, 83, grants her first British interview to Angelique Chrisafis:

"She calls her son an "evil, stupid little bastard" adding that "this individual, who alas came from my womb, is a liar, an imposter, a parasite and above all - above all - a petit arriviste ready to do absolutely anything for money and fame."

Here's his 1999 'Manifesto", To Stay Alive: A Method" : "Have no fear of happiness; it does not exist." etc.

I am wondering if he wrote "The Coming Insurrection" rather than "a Committee of Anonymous Academics."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Red Mosque by Nicholas Schmidle

Ghazi and Aziz's father, Maulana Abdullah, founded and ran the Red Mosque for decades. It was the first mosque in Islamabad after the new capital was created in the early 1960s. Abdullah mentored the mujahideen during the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Red Mosque became a way station for fighters transitioning in and out of combat. Ghazi was a clean-shaven college student at the time. "The concept of jihad was not so clear to me back then," he told me. Yet tales of ambush and intrigue tickled his imagination.

Ghazi grew grew close to Qari Saifullah Akhtar who commanded Pakistan's first jihadi group, Harakat ul-Jihadsi (HUJI). Ghazi craved a life of adventure for himself, and asked his father for permission to join Akhtar at a camp in Afghanistan. Abdullah deferred the decision to Ghazi's mother. Ghazi told her he was "going the way of Allah," and intentionally vague explanation.

Ghazi relished his time in Afghanistan, but the experience didn't make him a jihadi for life. Before 9/11, and the ultimatums of being "with us or against us", Ghazi flitted between two worlds: the one of madrassas and jihad, occupied by his father and brother, and a more modern one. He vacationed on the beaches in Thailand. In 1998, he worked at UNICEF. That same year Ghazi received an invitation from his father to accompany him on a trip to Kandahar. Akhtar, leader of HUJI, wanted to introduce Abdullah and his sons to Osama bin Laden. "My father was curious to know what his opinions were." Akhtar belonged to a small circle of non-Afghans close to Mullah Omar, the Taliban, and bin Laden, and said he could facilitate the meeting.

The day after they arrived, "from breakfast until late night:" Abdullah and bib Laden swapped ideas, while Ghazi, still beardless, listened. One day in the presence of bin Laden, Ghazi said, was enough for Abdullah. "He was convinced by Osama's ideas". In his weekly sermons Abdullah began to exalt bin Laden, his philosophy, and his new organization, al Qaeda. The intelligence agencies and authorities might have ignored Abdullah had he been preaching at a provincial mosque, but he attracted a flood of attention as imam of the largest mosque in Islamabad.

In October 1998, less than three months after his meeting with bin Laden, as he walked across the courtyard of the Red Mosque carrying a bag of fruit in either hand, an assassin popped out from behind a wall and emptied two magazines of ammunition into Abdullah.

The experience of meeting bin Laden, observing the Taliban regime in action, and then seeing his father killed had a severe effect on Ghazi. He left UNICEF and assumed control, with his brother, of the Red Mosque. Years later, when pressed to define his political and religious vision, Ghazi told me, "The ideal form of governance is Islamic governance...I don't like democracy. Islam is not about counting people. In democracy, the weight of one vote is the same for a man who is taking drugs and doesn't care about his country as it is for a man with a vision for the future. The majority of people are ignorant. This doesn't bring us a good system." The conversation had galvanized Ghazi's transformation. The death of his father changed him for good.

Over the year that I knew Ghazi, the last year of his life, I watched closely as he and his followers prepared. I wasn't exactly sure what they were preparing for, or from where they were getting their money but the worshipers who came to the Red Mosque tended to be middle-class, and with Pakistan's relative economic upturn during those years, many of them shared the wealth with Ghazi...

When the police and Rangers first surged around the Mosque in early February 2007, after girl student's from Ghazi's madrassa took over the public children's library on the grounds of the Mosque, hundreds of armed supporters- a combination of Pashtuns from the North-West Frontier Province and the tribal areas whose sisters and daughters studied at Jamia Hasa, and Ghazi's old students who had graduated from the men's madrassa and joined various jihadi groups- rushed to defend the mosque... President Musharraf admitted that a dangerous band of militants had surrounded Ghazi, including plenty of eager suicide bombers. "I am not a coward", he said, when asked in July 2007 why he hadn't besieged the Red Mosque and crushed Ghazi's movement.. "But the issue is that tomorrow you will say: 'What have you done?' There are women and children inside.

Why did they come? What was the appeal? I wanted to understand. And as the threats of government bombardment increased, the more I felt I could appreciate the motivations of the young men, anxious to do battle, who never left Ghazi's side. Why do young Americans join the army? The promise of a life of travel, adventure, and sense of purpose. The thought of fighting for something bigger than themselves, bravery and honor. But there was the added attraction of Ghazi himself. He played the classic role of the charismatic leader to an army of brainwashed youth. I knew why they flocked to be near him: I also felt safe in his presence.

Ghazi had done more than just lead an armed rebellion in the center of the capital. The more significant one was a social revolt. It took place in the hearts and minds of young jihadis. Ghazi harnessed their anger and emotions and split off from the traditional sources who had monopolized jihad in previous years. Ghazi's power grab represented a seismic shift in the leadership of religious politics in Pakistan. As Ghazi's followers harassed brothel owners and corrupt policemen around town, they drew widespread condemnation. The MMA, the hard-line coalition of Islamist parties, distanced itself. The examination board responsible for most madrassas in Pakistan canceled the Red Mosque's registration and Mufti Taqi Usmani, a scholar of immense repute who acted as the spiritual guide to Ghazi's brother Aziz, disowned his former pupil when the latter refused to order his students to vacate the children's library.

I asked Ghazi how he felt with the old guard turning against him. He looked unconcerned. "They are too rigid," he said, "Everywhere you look, you can see youngsters rejecting the old ones, because old people do not like change."

Explosions heralded the beginning of Operation Silence. Commandos detonated a series of small bombs to demolished the walls around the Red Mosque compound and paved the wave for their raid. Eventually, after more than eighteen hours of fighting, the government declared that they had killed Ghazi in the basement of the women's madrassa. He was shot in the leg, refused to surrender, and was finally killed. The government paraded his white, bloated corpse in front of television cameras. I paused when the images flashed on the screen. Then I turned off the TV and sat in the dark. Was I allowed to mourn someone who had just led a rebellion? On the other hand, if I didn't let myself feel sad, I would be cheating my dead friend. Ghazi had taken risks time and time again when he reached out to his colleagues and friends to introduce me to them. Having a reference from him was like having a backstage pass to the wild world of radical Islam. I owed it to Ghazi- and to myself- to feel remorse. It didn't mean I supported his views. But he was a friend.

How many people had really died? The government stated around one hundred militants had been killed, and that another ten soldiers had died. Independent estimates put the number who died inside the mosque closer to four of five hundred. But reporters were barred from visiting local hospitals. Hoping to stem the tide of criticisms and conspiracy theories surrounding what some were calling a government-approved "massacre", General Arshad led a few hundred journalists on a tour through the compound. Twenty-four hours had elapsed since the last shots were fired. Even as we searched long and hard for signs of death, we found hardly anything. When you did the math, however, starting roughly the three thousand people inside the mosque on July 3, and subtracting the approximately fifteen hundred to two thousand students who surrendered, you had to think there were at least five hundred still inside during the final push, if not a thousand. Where were they all?

One thing remained very clear: Ghazi's death, and the demolition of the Red Mosque, hadn't vanquished the Taliban. The episode had instead breathed further life into them. For years, the pro-Taliban fighters living in Pakistan, near the Afghan border, primarily focused on Afghanistan. Now they flipped their attention and initiated a ferocious campaign of suicide bombings, ambushes, and road-side bombings against military convoys traveling in the Tribal Areas and Frontier Provinces. By the end of the month, more than three hundred people had been killed. By the end of 2007, the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan jumped to an all-time high of more than fifty. Local Taliban took over the shrine of the nineteenth-century mujahid in the Mohammad Agency, and renamed it Lal Masjid. Like Ghazi, they showed little respect for tradition.

The government reopened the Red Mosque in late July. They had painted is a soft yellow, in hopes of starting anew. They appointed a compliant imam to lead weekly prayers. He was ushered, under heavy security cover, to the entrance of the mosque. Hundred of Ghazi's dedicated followers had beat the new imam there to block him from entering. The militants climbed onto the roof carrying buckets of paint, leaned tall, wooden ladders against the lemon chiffon-colored dome and began rolling brushes soaked in the signature Pepto-Bismol pink onto the walls. The imam turned back and refused to take the job.

Pandemonium swept through the neighborhood. Policemen watched, helplessly, as militants recaptured the mosque. Down the road, another crowd of policemen guarded a cluster of shops and tea stalls. In the melee, a suicide bomber slipped into the crowd of policemen. He detonated himself, sending detached body pats flying in every direction, and killing more than a dozen people. The militants hoisted the black flag with the crossed swords from the roof of the Red Mosque. The mosque was theirs again, and they bellowed for all those below to heart: "Gazi! Ghazi! From your blood the revolution will come!"

Friday, February 12, 2010

A Shocking Case from Dr. Henry C. Lee

Feb. 18, 2009

National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
Office of News and Public Information

'Badly Fragmented' Forensic Science System Needs Overhaul;

Evidence to Support Reliability of Many Techniques Is Lacking

WASHINGTON -- A congressionally mandated report from the National Research Council finds serious deficiencies in the nation's forensic science system and calls for major reforms and new research. Rigorous and mandatory certification programs for forensic scientists are currently lacking, the report says, as are strong standards and protocols for analyzing and reporting on evidence. And there is a dearth of peer-reviewed, published studies establishing the scientific bases and reliability of many forensic methods. Moreover, many forensic science labs are underfunded, understaffed, and have no effective oversight.

...with the exception of nuclear DNA analysis*, the report says, no forensic method has been rigorously shown able to consistently, and with a high degree of certainty, demonstrate a connection between evidence and a specific individual or source. Non-DNA forensic disciplines need substantial research to validate basic premises and techniques, assess limitations, and discern the sources and magnitude of error; there has been little rigorous research to investigate how accurately and reliably many forensic science disciplines can do what they purport to be able to do.

For example, there is some evidence that fingerprints are unique to each person, and it is plausible that careful analysis could accurately discern whether two prints have a common source, the report says. However, claims that these analyses have zero-error rates are not plausible; uniqueness does not guarantee that two individuals' prints are always sufficiently different that they could not be confused, for example. Studies should accumulate data on how much a person's fingerprints vary from impression to impression, as well as the degree to which fingerprints vary across a population. With this kind of research, examiners could begin to attach confidence limits to conclusions about whether a print is linked to a particular person. In addition, the committee found no evidence that microscopic hair analysis can reliably associate a hair with a specific individual, but noted that the technique may provide information that either includes or excludes a sub-population.

In addition to investigating the limits of the techniques themselves, studies should also examine sources and rates of human error, the report says. As part of this effort, more research should be done on "contextual bias," which occurs when the results of forensic analysis are influenced by an examiner's knowledge about the suspect's background or an investigator's knowledge of a case. One study found that fingerprint examiners did not always agree even with their own past conclusions when the same evidence was presented in a different context.

There are great disparities among existing forensic science operations in federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies. The disparities appear in funding, access to analytical instruments, and availability of skilled and well-trained personnel; and in certification, accreditation, and oversight. This has left the forensic science system fragmented and the quality of practice uneven. Except in a few states, forensic laboratories are not required to meet high standards for quality assurance, nor are practitioners required to be certified. These shortcomings pose a threat to the quality and credibility of forensic science practice and its service to the justice system, concluded the committee.

Existing data suggest that forensic laboratories are underfunded and understaffed, which contributes to case backlogs and makes it hard for laboratories to do as much as they could to inform investigations and avoid errors, the report says.

The committee was not asked to determine whether analysis from particular forensic science methods should be admissible in court, and did not do so. However, it concluded that the courts cannot cure the ills of the forensic science community. "The partisan adversarial system used in the courts to determine the admissibility of forensic science evidence is often inadequate to the task... And because the judicial system embodies a case-by-case adjudicatory approach, the courts are not well-suited to address the systemic problems in many of the forensic science disciplines."

The committee also concluded that two criteria should guide the law's admission of and reliance upon forensic evidence in criminal trials: the extent to which the forensic science discipline is founded on a reliable scientific methodology that lets it accurately analyze evidence and report findings; and the extent to which the discipline relies on human interpretation that could be tainted by error, bias, or the absence of sound procedures and performance standards.

The report points out the critical need to standardize and clarify the terms used by forensic science experts who testify in court about the results of investigations. The words commonly used -- such as "match," "consistent with," and "cannot be excluded as the source of" -- are not well-defined or used consistently, despite the great impact they have on how juries and judges perceive evidence. Currently, failure to acknowledge uncertainty in findings is common. The simple reality is that interpretation of forensic evidence is not infallible -- quite the contrary, said the committee. Exonerations from DNA testing have shown the potential danger of giving undue weight to evidence and testimony derived from imperfect testing and analysis.

Certification should be mandatory for forensic science professionals, the report says. Among the steps required for certification should be written examinations, supervised practice, proficiency testing, and adherence to a code of ethics. Accreditation for laboratories should be required as well. Labs should establish quality-control procedures designed to ensure that best practices are followed, confirm the continued validity and reliability of procedures, and identify mistakes, fraud, and bias, the report says.

Strong leadership is needed to adopt and promote an aggressive, long-term agenda to strengthen forensic science, the report says. To achieve this end, the report strongly urges Congress to establish a new, independent National Institute of Forensic Science to lead research efforts, establish and enforce standards for forensic science professionals and laboratories, and oversee education standards. To ensure the efficacy of the work done by forensic scientists and other practitioners in the field, public forensic science laboratories should be made independent from or autonomous within police departments and prosecutors' offices, the report says. This would allow labs to set their own budget priorities and resolve any cultural pressures caused by the differing missions of forensic science labs and law enforcement agencies.

The recommended new National Institute of Forensic Science could take on its tasks in a manner that is as objective and free of bias as possible -- one with the authority and resources to implement a fresh agenda designed to address the problems found by the committee. The institute should have a full-time administrator and an advisory board with expertise in research and education, the forensic science disciplines, physical and life sciences, and measurements and standards, among other fields. The committee carefully considered whether such a governing body could be established within an existing agency, and determined that it could not. There is little doubt that some existing federal entities are too wedded to the current forensic science community, which is deficient in too many respects. And existing agencies have failed to pursue a strong research agenda to confirm the evidentiary reliability of methodologies used in a number of forensic science disciplines.

The report was sponsored by the National Institute of Justice at the request of Congress. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not On eBay! by Allison Bartlett

Although theft has always been a threat to rare book dealers, in the past century, nothing has made it easier for thieves to sell their ill-gotten goods than the Internet. In all my conversations with Ken Sanders, the only subject that riled him as much as news of a recent theft was eBay. It's not only hot property that shows up on that website, but fraud of all sorts, he says. Even sellers with honorable intentions don't necessarily know a first edition from a book club edition.- some don't even know a first edition from a later edition. Others know perfectly well, but are out to swindle naive buyers.

"A woman here in the valley called me up," said Sanders, "and she says, 'I just purchased an autographed Catcher in the Rye on eBay for fifteen hundred.' And I stopped her right there. I said, 'Look, I don't want to see this book, I don't want you to bring it to my store. It's no good, it's a fake. You got taken. Go get your money back.' You cannot buy any kind of real J.D. Salinger-autographed book for ten times that, let alone The Catcher in the Rye. "Look", I said, "why do you think that of the hundreds of sophisticated collectors and booksellers out there, you would be the lucky one? It's one of the most desired and difficult twentieth-century autographs to get- on the most desired book. Of course its not a first edition! Because forgers aren't going to ruin a valuable first edition. They're going to pick a worthless edition and put an autograph on that."

"Any law enforcement person will tell you eBay is the largest legalized fence in the universe." Sanders said. I called a computer systems security analyst named Mark Seiden for a less impassioned opinion, but he echoed Sanders almost word for word, saying "eBay is the largest legalized fence of stolen property in the world" He said that eBay has avoided liability because they are not technically auctioneers, since there is no person hosting, no physical space where the auctions are held. They say they are a marketplace, period. But however legal that business is, the fact is that unscrupulous sellers flourish there.

Ironically, one of the reasons people are getting cheated on eBay, according to Sanders, is the practice of providing certificates of authenticity. "As far as I am concerned, no legit book dealer or autograph trader that I've ever known in my life would offer a certificate of authenticity. That's a a warning bell right there, the mere offering of one. It's what allows predators to be so successful and grow so large."

Sanders told me that several years ago he and his Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America colleague Ken Lopez met with representatives of eBay, suggesting strategies to combat fraud, to no avail, "We wasted nine months in negotiations with eBay. They never followed a single suggestion. They kept stringing us along, but never changed a single thing."

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Giuseppe Ungaretti by Mark Thompson

As the Sixth Battle peters out, a soldier on Mount San Michele makes his way over the boulders, through the foliage and insect-buzz down to the turquoise river. Off comes his woolen tunic, lousy, rank with sweat; he unwinds his puttees, unlaces his heavy boots. That night, back in his trench above the valley, he shelters near a tree stump. Moonlight in the river: silver in the distance. The artillery has thumped all day, somewhere to the east. The sector is quiet and his body, relaxing, remembers its sensations in the water. He finds a pencil, tears the corner of a cartridge box and scribbles on it:

This morning I lay back
in an urn of water
and like a relic
took my rest

The Isonzo's flow
smoothed me
like a stone of its own

I hauled myself, this
bonebag, up
and off I went
like an acrobat
on the water...

The writer is Giuseppe Ungaretti (1880-1970), a private in the 19th Infantry, Brescia Brigade. A dozen of his poems are still the best known Italian literature of the Great War. They broke the mould of poetry in his language, freeing it from late romantic rhetoric.

The poem, called "The Rivers" and dated 16 August 1916, has been an anthology piece for decades. After setting the scene, the poet tells how the water of the Isonzo restores him to himself, bearing him back to the other rivers of his life. He names the Serchio, a Tuscan river that watered the farmland where his ancestors lived. Then the Nile, from his birthplace in Egypt, and lastly the Seine, for it was Paris that awoke his vocation.

These are my rivers
summed up in the Isonzo.

The mood is blissful, almost anthemic. Rivers are ancient symbols of life, and Ungaretti feels his existence being affirmed. The rocks in the riverbed are no harder than his bones. His life is a river, the war is not strong enough to stop it. Why, he can walk on water.

This is the Isonzo
and here I best
recognize myself:
a yielding fiber of the universe

My torment's
when I
don't believe myself
in harmony

But those hidden
that soak and blend me
regale me with

Finally the poem circles back to the hillside, alights like a barn-owl on that 'mutilated tree', folds its wings and gazes at us:

now that it's night
and my life looks to me
a corolla
of darkness

In the trenches, Ungaretti grew immune to nationalist passion. "There is no trace in my poetry of hatred for the enemy, or anybody else.", he said later, truthfully. 'There's an awareness of the human condition, men's brotherhood in suffering, the extreme precariousness of their situation.' His prewar letters sometimes sound a Futurist note, he told a friend in 1913 that he was a Nietzschean, because he wanted 'a more heroic humanity' and a 'new aesthetic'. In his writings from the front, this note is no longer heard..he did not lapse into the ranting that poisons so much Italian wartime writing. In fact 'The Rivers' can be read as a humanist redemption of the nationalist motif- the Isonzo itself, named in a thousand bellicose speeches and articles. In May 1915, D'Annunzio told a crowd in Rome that Italian soldiers would soon turn the Isonzo red with barbarian blood. In Ungaretti's poem, by contrast, it is the uniform that is 'foul with war', not the river, which washes the squalor away...

Distrust of 'literature' was also a lesson of life in the trenches. For if he owed his comrades his education in humanity, he must also have been indebted to them for his plain idiom and staccato rhythm, as well as to his beloved friend Apollinaire, who showed him how to quit punctuation. His poems were written when Ungaretti's ears echoed day and night with the speech of peasants and labourers. To Papini he wrote: "My dear comrades have looked death in the face without knowing why.' Surely he wanted to write poetry that was true to the unquestioning acceptance that was, for him, the hallmark of his companions experience. While he shared their disgust at the politicking in Rome, he was no more inclined than they were to oppose the war. Ungaretti's artistic courage was not matched by independent thinking about the calculus that turned so much slaughter into so little gain. His nationalism was conventional. Healing immersion in the life of the troops was what he wanted, and got.

Life at the front encouraged modernist concision; for 'There was no time: the words you used had to be the decisive, absolute words, there was this necessity to express yourself in the fewest words, to cleanse yourself, not to say anything except what had to be said.' With their startling lack of connective tissue, his poems measure a duress that threatens to cancel individuality altogether, drowning out the personal voice- the voice of poetry. They imitate the posture of the infantry, crouching to minimise their exposure. The wondrous musicality of Italian has been internalized, driven inside the word or phrase. Rhythms lie low until the pulse of speech releases them. Syllables are cherished like comrades' lives, and spent reluctantly. These poems skirt the brink of silence: heroically minimal.

They might never have seen print. By chance, Ettore Serra, a lieutenant with literary interests, was strolling through Versa, 'a fly-bitten, dusty little village' where the 19th Infantry happened to be resting. His eye was caught by a ragged, insouciant soldier who was taking such pleasure in the sunshine that he failed to salute the passing officer. Serra wanted his name, which led to a conversation about a few early poems that Ungaretti had published in a magazine. Asked about his recent work, Ungaretti dug in his pockets for the scraps of paper. Serra took them away and turned them into a book that changed Italian poetry. Not that The Buried Harbor made much of an impact at the time, even on the poet's avant-garde friends in Florence and Rome, except Papini, who announced with relish that Ungaretti had 'strangled rhetoric'. Slipping onstage without benefit of manifestos, the implications of this debut would have been hard to see even without the distractions of war. The poet himself may not have grasped them at the time. For he was not having a quarrel with poetic tradition when he wrote his 'book of desolation', as he called it; he was just saving his sanity.

Ungaretti valued two kinds of calmness and found them both in the war. Away from the trenches, a receptive stillness of soul let him

to the drifting
of the limpid universe.

The reprieve from danger cast a halo around the sunlight on dewy grass, purple shadow thrown from the mountains, the carnal pink of a sunset, a green glade amid blitzed woodlands above the Isonzo. We hear the din of battle in the white silence of his words...

Then there was the endless resignation of the men in the trenches. The word that linked these states of being was docile: docile, meek, yielding. After Caporetto, he described the soldiers in retreat: 'They went in silence, meekly, as the Italians go, dying with a smile.'

Despite his ready grin, Ungaretti did not impress others as particularly docile himself. Explosive, rather; truculent; his own man. A friend was working at the Supreme Command when Ungaretti dropped by in June or July 1917. The poet was soon complaining loudly about the soldiers' condition and plummeting spirits. The friend told him to lower his voice: general Diaz was in the next office. But Ungaretti's nerves were shot after a year and a half on the Carso. "I'd like to know what's going on in your general's head,' he shouted. 'What's going on in all their heads, here? The soldiers are worn out, they're at the end of their tethers, and as for morale, that's been stagnant for a long time. Where's all this leading? Where?'

Three months later, the Twelfth Battle supplied the answer.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

PBS NewsHour Hits the Spot

Too much of the debate on Health Care reform this past year has been in the realm of propaganda- where gesture is substance and words are deeds- but last night (Feb.8) PBS Newshour had a stunning segment on the use of simple checklists in surgery to save lives and millions of dollars.

Similar results with checklists have been achieved in I.C.U.; Dartmouth College's Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice has been studying "unwarranted" variations in medical spending for years as has Oregon's Health & Science University*. Institute of Medicine's conservative estimate makes preventable hospital error the eighth leading cause of death annually, ahead of motor vehicle accidents (43,458), breast cancer (42,297) and AIDS (16,516).[1999]

InfoPOEMS, Patient Orientated Evidence that Matters, sorts through more than two thousand articles published each month in a hundred medical journals, looking for the few articles that could make a real difference in patient care. The research team, all of whom are experts in dissecting clinical trials, pick apart each article to make sure the results are credible. Only about one in forty studies makes the cut.

Although Dr.Arnold S. Relman (' Rescuing America's Health Care') says " the notion of an orderly and scientific rationing process, explicitly identified as such, and managed by experts who would be free of political and commercial influence and could persuade doctors and patients to accept their judgments, is unrealistic." all efforts in this direction should not be abandoned. They would be crucial to the success of any universal system.

Although statements like this do not make the sort of stirring, purple-tainted political stump speeches to which we have grown accustomed or focus much on the personal attraction and eloquence of those that make them, if Obama's "change" must go down in defeat (which is now virtually assured), this would be the best way to go about it.

Congratulations to PBSNewshour for their effort.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Free Spirit by Mark Thompson

Between the death of Verdi in 1901 and Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922, Gabriele D' Annunzio became the most famous Italian in the world. Born in 1863, he started publishing verse in his teens. By his thirties, he was the country's best-known poet, most acclaimed novelist and glittering dramatist. He had a matchless ear for the mellifluous, incantatory qualities of the language. Artistically bold and highly intelligent, he owned all the talents for a brilliant career. An exuberant, insatiably acquisitive personality, he lived in fine villas and had countless love affairs. Magnetized by his reputation, society ladies reserved rooms in hotels where he stayed, hoping to catch his eye. He was a committed dandy; his collars were the stiffest, his creases the sharpest, his buttonhole carnations the whitest. His greyhounds wore livery tailored by Hermes. His correspondence with his jeweller has been published as a separate volume. Even his debts were legendary.

His status was always controversial. Accusations of plagiarism were hard the shake off. In Rome, the Catholic Church placed his works- rife with decadent sensuality- on the Index of Prohibited Books. In Dublin, the student James Joyce claimed that D'Annuncio had broken new ground in fiction. (He would later call him one of the three greatest natural talents among nineteenth-century writers.) In London- where at least one of his plays was banned- Henry James reviewed his novels.. In short, he acquired fame, salted with notoriety, on a scale that Byron and Liszt had enjoyed: glamour of the kind now reserved to film stars, rock musicians or footballers.

If this glamour is hard to convey, it is partly because his work has become almost unreadable. Love lyrics, idylls on classical themes, patriotic dramas, and trashily plotted novels about superhuman figures who are transparently the author himself: D'Annuncio's output was formally varied, but the variety is skin-deep. Mummified at its centre lies an effigy of the poet himself. The hosts of characters in his collected works are, with few exceptions, shadows or silhouettes, denied individuation by the monotonous gaudiness of his language, styled to hypnotise and overmaster the reader. The historical themes and political ideas that he discusses are ciphers of himself, pretexts for rapture. Meanwhile the waves of swooning rhetoric roll on, rising to crescendos of alliteration before subsiding in cycles as incessant and oceanic as the poet's self-regard. It was an ideal style to promote a policy of 'sacred egoism'.

D'Annunzio was a spectacular case of arrested emotional development, arguably a natural fascist. The otherness of other people- a puzzle that haunts modern thought and art- could not fascinate him because other people existed as objects of appetite or will, research opportunities in a quest to investigate the effects of denying himself nothing. The lovers he venerated came to repel him when sex led to expectations that limited his freedom. The actress Eleonora Duse, herself an international celebrity, was lavish with inspiration an money for nine years. Among the surviving shreds of their correspondence is an exchange from the summer of 1904, when the relationship foundered. Reproached by Duse, who was driven to despair by his infidelities and excuses, D'Annunzio found nothing to regret: "The imperious needs of a violent, carnal life, of pleasure, of physical risk, of happiness, have kept me from you. And you...can cry shame on me for these needs of mine?"

Duse's reply still carries a charge:

"Do not speak to me of the imperious 'reason' of your 'carnal' life, of your thirst for 'joyous existence'. I am tired of hearing those words. I have heard you repeat them for years now: I can neither entirely go along with your philosophy nor entirely understand it. What love can you find which is worthy or profound if it lives only for pleasure?"

Her question would have made no sense to D'Annunzio, who found a philosophical alibi for egotism in a selective reading of Friedrich Nietzsche. He had no use for Nietzsche the prophet of radical uncertainty, unstitching the assumptions of Western philosophy, the mockery of 'profundity', the ironic psychologist, the teasing critic of repression by grammar. For D'Annunzio, as for the German and Italian fascists after him, Nietzsche was champion of the life of endless expression, the revaluer of good and evil, scorning normal experience, unmasking Christian 'slave morality', and the discoverer of the Will to Power as the wellspring of human motivation.

Above all, he was the author of the concept of the Superman. D'Annunzio's first book to show the impact of Nietzsche's ideas was The Triumph of Death (1894). The novel's hero is haunted by his search for someone who can be 'the strong and tyrannical master, free of the yoke of every false morality, secure in the feeling of his own power...determined to lift himself above Good and Evil through the sheer energy of his will, capable even of forcing life to keep its promises. The Virgin of the Rocks followed in 1895, replete with Nietzschean insights:

"The world is the representation of the sensibility and the thought of a few superior men, who have created and adorned it in the course of time and will go on adding to it and adorning in further into the future. The world as it appears today is a magnificent gift bestowed by the few on the many, by free men upon slaves: by those who think and feel upon those who must labour."

D'Annunzio detested socialism. For him the emancipation of the masses was an absurdity, if not a crime.

While the dust settled long ago on the incestuous and sado-masochistic traces of his work, his career in the First World War has gained the power to appal. The whiff of sulphur around his name has transferred from his sex life and steamy novels to his politico-military career. For he emerged in 1915 as the figurehead of the intervention campaign, and went on to become the country's most publicized and decorated soldiers. Daring exploits with aeroplanes and torpedo boats lifted his popularity to new heights; he became a full-blown national hero. The sordid aspects of his past- adulteries, illegitimate children, trails of creditors- were obscured by the blaze of glory conferred by the press, the military and politicians.

In March, 1915, D'Annunzio was invited to speak at the unveiling of a monument to Garibaldi at a spot near Genoa where the hero had set sail to conquer Sicily in 1860. The King and his ministers were to be present. At the same time he was contacted by the French government to lead a group of Italian volunteers residing in France being sent back to Italy to shout for intervention.. On 3 May, D'Annunzio boarded a train in Paris, raising funds by pawning emeralds that Duse had given him. His Italian biographers still see his arrival in Italy in the poet's own grandiose terms: cometh the hour, cometh the man. His speech the next morning was relentlessly purple. Churchill at his most orotund was prosy beside D'Annunzio in full flight. Citing the "holy bronze" of the monument as warrant for claiming Garibaldi's approval, he invoked the spirit of self-sacrifice, rising to a pastiche Sermon on the Mount, shot through with his hallmark prurience...

If that and subsequent speeches sounded ominous, it was mild beside remarks he made at dawn on the 25th, after celebrating the first day of war:

"Our vigil has ended. Our exaltation begins...the border has been crossed. The cannon roars. The earth smokes. The Adriadic is as grey at this hour as the torpedo boat that cuts across it.

"Companions, can it be true? We are fighting with arms, we are waging our war, the blood is spurting from the veins of Italy! We are at last to join this struggle and already the first are meeting with glory..the slaughter begins, the destruction begins. One of our people has died at sea, another on land. All these people, who yesterday thronged the streets and squares, loudly demanding war, are full of veins, full of blood; and that blood begins to flow..We have no other value but that of our blood to be shed."

The author of these psychotic remarks was a national hero. Has any artist played a more baleful part in decisions that led to violence and suffering on the largest scale? Yet, however clinical his obsessions now appear, there is a sense in which he truly was- as he claimed- a mouthpiece of the 'national will', defined as the preference of a minority with the power to shape policy. Some of the artists in the Futurist movement anticipated mass slaughter with equal relish, as we shall see, but none of them had D'Annuncio's rhetorical skill or the megaphone on international fame. Other interventionists could be withering about D'Annuncio as an artist and personality, yet they were all working to bring about his vision of smoking-blood. The decadent fantasist was more perceptive about the coming war than those who took pride in their lucid realism.

Among the crowds in Genoa on 5 May, 1915 was a lantern-jawed journalist. The fact that his report did not even mention D'Annunzio or his speech is not as odd a it seems, for Benito Mussolini still insisted he was a socialist. Beyond ideology, the omission may have also been intuitive, hinting at a rivalry that would develop after the war, when D'Annuncio was mooted in proto-fascist circles as a contender for national leadership, and before Mussolini rewarded him lavishly to stay out of politics. ( 'Two things can be done with a bad tooth", he quipped. ' Pull it out or fill it with gold'). Mussolini, too, had venerate Nietzsche, whose glorious ideals would only be understood by 'a new species of free spirits' who would be 'fortified in war.' Mussolini wrote that in 1908; in 1915 he was not ready to apply these concepts to the interventionist debate, and he balked at D'Annunzio's erotics of racial bloodletting.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Zero Hour by Richard Bessel

Germany was the first country in modern history to achieve total defeat. The Nazi regime did not surrender and German soldiers did not stop fighting, even when foreign armies were approaching the gardens of the Reich Chancellery in the center of Berlin. Never before in modern history had a nation reached the depths plumbed by Germany in 1945: its sovereignty was extinguished; its infrastructure was smashed; its economy was paralysed; its cities reduced to piles of rubble; much of the population was hungry and homeless; its armed forces were disbanded and their surviving members were in prisoner-of-war camps; its government had ceased to exist and the entire country had been occupied by foreign armies. Germany had become a land of death, the bombing and the fighting on the ground left a landscape littered with corpses.

Franz Scholz wrote in his diary about conditions in the parish of St. Bonifatius in the east of Gorlitz:

"The mortuary at the municipal cemetery is bursting at the seams, the dead can no longer be accommodated, only the countless corpses of children are brought there. The huge hall of the Nikolai Church is used for the corpses of adults. Some 100 corpses, place temporarily in boxes, await the main entrance one sees a pile of the dead, taller than a man and covered with sackcloth. At one end the tangle of naked feet, at the other hair and people's heads"

Georg Gottwald described the scene in his town of Grunberg:

"[...] in the first 14 days after the Russians arrived over 500 people (entire families, men, women and children) ended their lives by suicide, including doctors, senior court officials, factory owners and prosperous citizens. The corpses of those who had killed themselves remained in people's flats or were left on the pavement for two weeks."

Germans were confronted with the dead in the west also. In the first half of 1945 carrying out one's daily tasks meant encountering the dead on the streets- the corpses of soldiers and civilians, of strangers and acquaintances, of people who could no longer be recognized. As never before, dead became part of everyday life. This made a deep and lasting impression.

For the Germans, the ferocity of the last months of the war and the privations of the first months of peace pushed the experiences of the previous years of war and dictatorship, as well as the consciousness of what the Nazi regime had done to other peoples during the early phases of the conflict, into the background. Not Auschwitz but Dresden; not the battle for Warsaw in 1939 but the battle for Berlin in 1945; not the atrocities committed against civilian populations across Nazi-occupied Europe but the rape of hundreds of thousands of German women in the spring of 1945; not the expulsion of Poles from their homes in areas annexed by the 'Greater German Reich' in West Prussia and the 'Warthegau" but the expulsion of Germans from their homes in East Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia and the Sudetenland; not the creation of 'dead zones' in German occupied Belarus but the devastation of wide stretches of the countryside around Berlin during the battles in the spring of 1945- these were the experiences that the Germans came to regard as their Second World War. As a consequence of the terrible shock of 1945, the German people emerged from the war almost exclusively preoccupied with their own cares and concerns, as primarily victims rather than perpetrators of the war.

Conditions in Germany in 1945 did not appear to offer any grounds for optimism about the future. Yet the stark landscape of political, economic, social and moral devastation provided the unlikely base for a remarkable recovery: within a generation of 1945, Germans (at least those in the west) were enjoying unprecedented prosperity and stable parliamentary democracy.

One can identify five main features of the cataclysm of 1945 that paved the way to Germany's post war success. First was the completeness of the German defeat. It was total, unavoidable, unconditional and the sole responsibility of the regime which had launched a world war which could not be won. No continuity of government remained, no room for "stab-in-the-back" theories, no external source of support which might enable the Nazi regime to survive beyond the end of the war. The defeat represented a fundamental break with the past: a "zero hour".

Closely associated with the conclusive quality of the defeat was the complete and obvious bankruptcy of National Socialism. It had proved itself bankrupt in every conceivable sense, it had experienced defeat at the hands of its alleged inferiors and far from from showing themselves capable of leading the German people, most of the Nazis leadership either committed suicide or scrambled about trying to save their own skins. In the summer of 1945 there was little left of National Socialism that could provide heroic legends capable of inspiring a Nazi legend, least of all the horrific spectacles revealed at places like Dachau, Belsen and Auschwitz. The obvious bankruptcy of National Socialism also undermined the appeal of German nationalism generally, which the Nazi regime had hijacked with such disastrous results. This helps explain the helpful appeal of various forms of internationalism in Germany after the Second World War: the appeal of religion, the appeal of Socialism and even Communism. For the time being at least, German nationalism would have little allure for the German people.

The third main feature of 1945 that subsequently contributed to the surprising success of postwar Germany was the harshness with which the allies imposed their occupation. Although it was the Red Army that imposed the harshest regime, even the Americans were determined to impose order and to allow the defeated population to take no liberties. For tens of thousands of Germans, the arrival of the victors from the west meant not chewing gum but automatic arrest. No room was left for successful resistance. Nazi fantasies of an insurgency created by 'Werewolf' fanatics remained just that: fantasies. A battered and exhausted, disillusioned and impoverished German people faced the overwhelming might of millions of allied troops who were not prepared to tolerate any resistance to their rule.

The fourth important feature of the events of 1945 was the vast extent of the losses, both human and material, suffered by Germany and its people by the end of the war. During the Second World War military strategists sought to inflict maximum damage and cause maximum death. By the time that the Wehrmacht surrendered almost all German cities had been reduced to rubble, hundreds of thousands of people had been killed and millions of soldiers lay dead. The overwhelming scale of losses suffered by the Germans by the end of the war left them profoundly disorientated and without much energy for much more than a struggle for individual survival.

This brings us to the fifth major consequence of the catastrophe of 1945: the overwhelming focus of Germans on their day- to- day concerns. This had a number of causes: the destruction of transport and communications infrastructure which limited people to their immediate surroundings; catastrophic housing and food shortages, lack of fuel which made keeping warm a constant preoccupation, the pervasive threat of crime (robbery, looting, blackmarketeering, arson and rape) which required unceasing vigilance; and the absence of family members, especially of men who were either dead or languishing in POW camps. All this left Germans with little time or energy to deal with anything but survival and a return to at least a minimal sense of social stability. Here one could really speak of a 'zero hour'. The German people now had to start again from scratch.

As a result of the horrors they endured- particularly in the last months and weeks of the war- Germans emerged with a powerful sense of their own victimhood. They did so following a war launched by Germany which had invaded and conquered much of the European continent, enslaved millions of people, destroyed cities and towns from Rotterdam to Minsk, caused the deaths of millions of soldiers, and murdered innocent civilians on a hitherto unimaginable scale. But after the shock of their experiences during the last days of the Reich, Germans became preoccupied almost exclusively with their own problems and sorrows, and hardy possessed the mental energy to concern themselves with the problems and sorrows of others. This enabled them to emerge from war and Nazism with a belief in their own moral rectitude, despite the crimes that had been committed in their name and, in many cases, with their involvement, whether active or passive. Victim consciousness after mass death and total defeat, in Japan as well as Germany, profoundly shaped the manner in which people constructed their post war identities.