Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Kaplan's "The Revenge of Geography"


The above article appears in the May/June 2009 issue of Foreign Policy. It was written by Robert D. Kaplan and entitled “The Revenge of Geography.”

Reading this article gave me a headache. I should really read it twice before commenting, but my head can’t take it. I admire Kaplan. I read his The Arabists, The Romance of an American Elite back in June of 2004 and was impressed. One must call him a Journalist rather than an historian, I suppose – at least technically, but his grasp of American diplomacy impressed me when I read The Arabists and his grasp of geographical influences in the 21st century in this article is also impressive, albeit disjointed – or so it seems to me.

Many years ago, when I was in college, I took a course called “World Regional Geography” from a Professor Erickson. Kaplan reminds me of Erickson. Forget politics. Forget Religion. All you need to know is geography. Well, you do need to know demographics as well, but that can be seen as a subset of Geography. In order to graduate from his class you needed to know every major river, every major city, all the world’s borders and all the world’s natural resources. I recall his saying at the time that China could never compete as a great industrial power in the way that Germany did in WWII because “look here,” he would point to a map. Their Iron ore is here, but their coal is way over here and they have to get it up over these mountains. Now look at Germany and the Ruhr Valley. Everything is right there for them.

In this article Kaplan writes a lot about “natural borders,” and the only natural resources he writes about are water and oil. But there are gaps in his presentation. He writes about Braudel’s The Mediterranean which Braudel wrote in 1949 and Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783. He also invokes Nicholas Spykman who died in 1943. All that is good, by I miss mention of the more recent and influential Samuel P. Huntington who also considered geographical forces, which he called “fault zones” where Civilizations clash. Kaplan uses a similar term derived, I suppose, from an article Halford Mackinder wrote in 1904: “shatter zones.” All that is good, Mr. Kaplan, but bring it forward in time and integrate it with (or contrast it to) Huntington’s thesis.

I don’t mind that he doesn’t mention Fukuyama. Kaplan would not be sympathetic with Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis, but then Huntington wasn’t either. Fukuyama, following Kojeve who followed Hegel believed in deterministic historical forces that would produce an end of history, that is a Social and economic structure, Liberal Democracy, that would prevail throughout the world. Huntington would say “nonsense.” Liberal democracy is a characteristic of the “Western Civilization.” Kaplan says the same thing but doesn’t credit Huntington as having said it before him.

This article is provocative rather than satisfying. I ordered Kaplan’s Warrior Politics: Why leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, 2003. This sounds as though it fleshes out Kaplan’s ideas in a more coherent fashion than the subject article does, but it may just give me a larger headache.

The Marshal Plan -- no thanks due America for it?

In the current issue of the London Review of Books, 30 April 2009 is a review of two books: The Most Noble Adventure: The Marshall Plan and the Reconstruction of Postwar Europe by Greg Behrman and Winning the Peace: The Marshall Plan and America’s Coming of Age as a Superpower by Nicolaus Mills. The review is by Hugh Wilford and is entitled “Should We Say Thank You?

Wilford’s short answer is “no.” But that is not the answer you find in either of the two books being reviewed. Wilford takes a counterfactual view and thinks Europe could have refurbished itself without America’s ERP money and the Communists under Stalin would have contented themselves with Eastern Europe and not tried to commandeer Western Europe even without American presence. I thought at first Wilford was going to damn America with faint praise, but the hint of praise soon dwindles almost to non existence. Only when he compares the Marshall Plan to America’s [and the multinational force’s] efforts in Iraq does he praise the Marshall Plan – not the plan so much as its leadership.

There is no evidence on Wilford’s side, only speculation that Europe would have been fine without America’s aid. The Marshall Plan still sticks in the craw of European Anti-Americans. They seek new ways to punish this remarkably good deed.

He even takes a swipe at America’s efforts in Iraq referring to a statement Bush made, which most of us wouldn’t remember, comparing the aid America was going to give Iraq to the aid America gave Europe as part of the Marshall Plan. He concludes, “Post-Saddam Iraq is not post-Second World War Europe. The US is generally perceived as an invader rather than a liberator; its presence lacks international legitimacy; and the new authorities cannot draw on the historic traditions of democracy the Marshall Planners were able to harness in 1940s Europe. As so often with historical exemplars, the plan works better as a rhetorical device than a policy blueprint.”

Lacks international legitimacy? Tch, tch, Wilford. A great number of nations, an international force in fact, participated. Who were the big guns that refused participation and torpedoed UN approval? France and Russia which subsequent investigation has shown to have been receiving money from illicit trade with Saddam Hussein. The “rhetoric” describing America’s “unilateralism” is an anti-Americanism, Wilford.

But you British were part of this multi-national force liberating Iraq.

Hugh Wilford teaches history at California State University, Long Beach, but he was educated at Bristol and Exeter Universities, and from the fact that he entitles his article “Should we say thank you?” [for the Marshall Plan] and then in his article answers, in essence’ “no,” I take him to identify more with Europe than Long Beach California where he lives and teaches.

"Spy Mystery Solved -- Scott" was Arthur Wynn


The above article, written by John Earl Haynes, Harvey Klehr, & Alexander Vassiliev was published in the May 4, 2009 issue of The Weekly Standard as entitled “Spy Mystery Solved, His name was Wynn. Arthur Wynn.”

Some time ago I read Venona, Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, 1999, by Haynes & Klehr. In America since the Truman Administration there has been controversy over whether or not there were any Communist spies doing anything in the US. The Spy-Deniers were slow to give ground. They were incapable of taking the perspective that the poor Soviet Union needed to spy because it couldn’t afford to duplicate everything the US and Britain did. No, there was no spying. Russian scientists did everything on their own.

We had McCarthy and HUAC but they were demonized as witch hunts in which there were no witches. No one was guilty of anything beyond a little idealistic wool-gathering. McCarthy and HUAC were works of the devil.

But time marches on. KGB files were opened now and again, and Western scholars did their best to learn as much as possible. Haynes & Klehr were perhaps preeminent in this group of scholars. As a side effect of some of what they learned in Russia, they learned about the Venona project. American decoding experts decoded the code used for diplomatic correspondence between Moscow and diplomatic personnel in the US; so Hoover knew that certain individuals were indeed Communist spies. But he withheld this information because if it were known that the FBI knew, then Soviet Russia would know that their code had been compromised and change to something else.

One of the things Hoover did was pass information secretly to McCarthy, but McCarthy was warned that he couldn’t divulge where he got the information. Arthur Herman wrote a book taking the Venona Papers into consideration and reevaluated Joseph McCarthy in the light of them: Joseph McCarthy, Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator, 2000. But few were willing to take another look at McCarthy. He has been too thoroughly demonized for any rehabilitation to take place. I engaged in many discussions after reading Herman’s book and found no one who sympathized with Herman’s views. Even if what Herman said was true McCarthy was a bad bad man. There were lists of his sins. They didn’t like the way he talked. He was a bully. He made allegations without explaining where he got the information. He was an alcoholic. His right-hand man Roy Cohn was gay and McCarthy didn’t seem to care. His right-hand man tried to get his gay lover a military deferment.

I tried to say, yeah, yeah, yeah, but the allegations McCarthy made have turned out to be accurate. So those who criticized McCarthy for false allegations have been proved wrong. Shouldn’t the books be balanced? No, no, no, they said. I read an article about a scholar who read Herman’s books who said something similar. Even if we were wrong about McCarthy. Back then it was right to be wrong.

The above article, however, has to do with the Communist spies in Britain. We have long known about the Cambridge “ring” of communist spies which included Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess, and Donald Maclean, but there was never strong evidence of an equivalent Oxford “ring” until now. Scholars recently found in the KGB files “A memo from Pavel Fitin, head of the KGB’s counterintelligence service to Vsevolod Merkulov, head of the KGB in July 1941, noted: ‘Scott’ is Arthur Wynn, about 35 years old, member of the CP of England, graduated from Cambridge and Oxford univs., radio expert, design engineer for the Cossor Co. Recruited in Oct. 34 by ‘Stephan’ from ‘Edith’s’ lead.’”

“Scott” was the KGB code name for Arthur Wynn. “Scott’s” name cropped up time and time again as an important Communist recruiter, but British “spycatchers” never found out who he was until this memo was released. Arthur Wynn died on September 24, 2001 at the ripe old age of 91, successful to the end.

“Scott” was of more interest to British spy-catchers than American I would imagine; although Haynes & Klehr find him fascinating: “Intelligence agencies only reluctantly open their archives for researchers, and well-documented espionage histories are slow in coming. Nonetheless, one mystery, the identity of ‘Scott,’ the ambitious recruiter of British students, is now solved.’”

It is interesting that Leftists are still reluctant to let go of their partisan defenses of the Communist Party Line; which was, in this regard, that there were no spies. Capitalists lied about Communist spies. What need had the USSR of spies? Didn’t they defeat the Nazi Army? Didn’t they send up Sputnik? There were no spies. That is the comfortable view that even today is held by many in spite of these KGB-archive releases. Reference has been found in the archives that prove Julius Rosenberg was indeed a spy but die-hard Rosenberg fans refuse to believe the evidence. Read any modern defense of Julius Rosenberg and it will be filled with anti-American innuendo. Their arguments remind me a bit of Mukhin’s Katyn Detective in which he denies that the NKVD killed the Polish Officers at Katyn and elsewhere, but his defense is fraught with anti-Polish innuendo. Just as, if you believe Mukhin’s arguments, the Polish Officers deserved to be shot; so did Capitalist America deserve to be spied upon, but Soviet Russia is innocent of both acts – according to the die-hard deniers.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Soviet - Polish War of 1920

On March 29 (in http://www.lawrencehelm.com/2009/03/katyn-who-killed-polish-officers.html ) I discussed the article Katyn Massacre and the Polish Officer Corp, based on the book Katyn Detective by Y. I. Mukhin, 1995. Mukhin in a fascinating article argues that the Polish elitist officer corps was arrogant and opportunistic and entirely deserving of being shot and buried at Katyn; however it wasn’t Soviet Russia who gave these officers what they deserved, but Nazi Germany. One can read Mukhin’s article at http://www.geocities.com/redcomrades/katyn.html .

I want to revisit Mukhin’s article to take up one of his assertions, namely “As part of the all out imperialist assault against Soviet Russia, the newly created Polish state launched an unprovoked invasion into its neighboring countries in 1920. The new Soviet Russia was powerless against the Polish invaders . . .”

In Juggernaut, A History of Soviet Armed Forces, chapter 2, “Revolution for export: The Battle for Poland, 1920,” Malcolm Mackintosh takes a different view than Mukhin. It should come as a surprise to no one that years before the Neocon’s sought to export Liberal Democracy, the Communists sought to export Communism. On page 35 Mackintosh writes, “From the earliest days of the Soviet regime, Communist Party leaders had debated the possibilities of using the Red Army to bring revolution to other European countries. In spite of the severe pressures of the civil war at home, Lenin and his colleagues had seriously considered forming a Red Army contingent to cross the Carpathians and link up with the short-lived Communist regime in Hungary in 1919. It was natural, therefore, that as the Soviet Government’s internal foes weakened and the White armies were driven back across Siberia and the North Caucasus, the problems created by the appearance of a new Polish state on Russia’s western frontier increasingly occupied the attention of the Bolshevik leaders. Poland stood between revolutionary Russia and the heart of industrial Europe, where, according to classical Marxism, the real proletariat, whose adherence to the Revolution would give the Communist cause its worldwide victory, was to be found.”

In the meantime, and beside the Communist point, we see here two newly formed governments with an ill-defined border. [p. 36] “. . . the whole area from Estonia to the Black sea was in a state of confusion so great that its future seemed to depend on the ability of each contender for power to seize and hold the territory he thought was rightfully his. . . Polish troops did . . . capture Minsk in August, 1919, but thereafter they took up defensive positions along the Berezina River . . . on March 29 the Poles [said] they would be ready to talk only on the basis of the Russo-Polish frontier of 1772, which would give Poland most of the territory which her troops now occupied with further extensions into the Ukraine. When the Russians showed no inclination to accept the Polish conditions, Pilsudski resolved to strike hard at the Soviet Western Front while the military odds were in his favor.”

Soviet leadership wanted to engage in some Communist military evangelism in Europe; and they would have to go through Poland to get to Europe, but not everyone thought they were ready. A lot in Soviet leadership wanted to invade Poland, just not yet. Had they settled on the 1772 border that Poland wanted, they probably could have gotten around to conquering Poland at their leisure, but they weren’t willing to give up any territory. The Soviet regime was (stupidly) very like the Nazi regime in not wanting to surrender any territory. And so on March 11, 1920 Lenin authorized “some preliminary planning for operations against the Polish troops on the northern sector.”

The Polish War of 1920 was an ongoing hot topic in Soviet Russia, perhaps until the USSR fell, but not as Mukhin would have it. The Red Army, everyone believed, should have defeated the Polish Army and because it didn’t, this war held the attention of “all groups in the Red Army -- the cavalry commanders, the young Communist military leaders, the ex-colonels and –generals of the Imperial Army, and the professional staff officers at Supreme Headquarters. For ten years or more they argued about its failure, each placing the blame on other shoulders. Egorov and Voroshilov, with Stalin’s support, blamed Tukhachevski and Kamenev; Tukhachevski blamed Budenny, stalin, and Egorov; Shaposhnikov at Supreme Headquarters blamed Tukhachevski and Egorov; and, in fact, the Soviet military press is still arguing about it today [1967]. The only person whom no one could blame was Trotsky, who had opposed the campaign all along on the grounds that the Red Army was too weak and its resources were too strained to overthrow Poland, much less carry the revolution into central Europe.”


The Soviet Union’s desire to spread Communism into Europe militarily was quashed (until World War II) by Poland’s desire to have its 1772 borders. I don’t believe anyone in the Red Army would agree with Mukhin’s view that Imperialistic Poland took advantage of “powerless” Soviet Russia. According to Macintosh the Red Army could and perhaps should have won. The Red Army wasn’t powerless but it was disorganized and had too many political leaders who didn’t know what they were doing militarily. I know Stalin is much admired in Russia today, but I see no evidence that he knew very much about how to fight a war.

From a counterfactual standpoint I wonder how Liberal Democracy would have fared in the Cold War had Trotsky rather than Stalin become Lenin’s successor. Trotsky seems more competent in every respect except ruthlessness. We might still be involved in the Cold War if Trotsky had become premier of Russia – either that or we’d all be Communists.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Film Noir -- a few more thoughts

On page 126 of Crime Films by Thomas Leitch, 2002, as part of a series called “Genres in American Cinema,” we read “The term film noir was first coined by French reviewer Nino Frank when the end of the wartime embargo brought five 1944 Hollywood films – The Woman in the Window, Laura, Phantom Lady, Double Indemnity, and Murder, My Sweet – to Paris in the same week in 1946. All five films seemed to take place in a world marked by menace, violence, and crime . . . In christening the young genre, Frank was thinking not so much of earlier movies as of earlier novels. The label film noir was adapted from Marcel Duhamel’s Serie noire translations for Gallimard of British and American hard-boiled novels. The private-eye stories of Dashiell Hammett and of Raymond Chandler, whose gorgeously overwrought prose made him the most obviously stylistic patron of noir, had broken the decorum of the formal detective story from Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie. But even closer analogue was to be found in the breathless suspense novels of James M. Cain (The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1934; Double Indemnity, 1936) and Cornell Woolrich (The Bride Wore Black, 1940; Phantom Lady, 1942), which trapped their heroes in a nightmarishly claustrophobic world of evil.

“Except for their common breeding ground in anonymous, claustrophobic cities that dramatized postwar alienation and disillusionment, noir heroes could not have had less in common with their gangster forebears. The principals of this new breed of crime films were not promethean challengers, or even professional criminals, defying the repressive institutions of their worlds, but hapless, sensitive, often passive amateurs who typically were seduced into criminal conspiracies through their infatuations with the sultry treacherous heroines, femmes fatales who had no counterpart in the man’s world of Hollywood gangster films.”

One can sympathize with Nino Frank who lived through the Vichy period and the beginnings of its aftermath to be hit by 5 dark films with much in common all at once. There were other films being produced back in the States, but in France , when he saw these all in one week, they made an impression and seemed a genre and now we are stuck with this genre, like it or not – or are we? On page 127 Leitch writes, “Even its duration has been the subject of considerable dispute, although most critics have bracketed it by John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1948), and many more have defined the decade after Nino Frank’s list of 1944 films, ending with Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly (1955), as its heyday. As the quintet of films that first inspired Frank’s label suggests, the label of noir has often been invoked to constitute a tradition of films that seem to have little in common with each other except for the crimes their characters commit.”


How inconvenient for Baron to have created Blast of Silence in 1961 after the bracketed period the above referred to critics define as the Noir period. Can you do Noir after the period is over? Actually, Leitch seems a little confused here. If it is a period then you can’t, or shouldn’t do noir after the period is over, but if it is a genre then there is no reason that you can’t keep doing it indefinitely. Boorman’s Point Blank is in even more trouble from the bracketing standpoint because it was produced in 1967. But it is interesting that though Walker (Lee Marvin) begins as the typical noir hero-victim he doesn’t remain so. He is left for dead as Baron’s Nick Bono was, but Walker doesn’t die. He recovers, and then he leaves the noir pattern to become an unstoppable avenger. No one who participated in the robbing of him, associated with his being left for dead, will be left alive by the new – non-noir Walker.

If we move forward in time to the 1999 Mel Gibson remake of Point Blank called Payback, Porter (Gibson) is not a victim at all. He is betrayed by his wife and best friend, but there is nothing of the victim in Porter. He uses the skills and mindset he had before he was left for dead to kill those who participated in robbing him – much as Walker did but with more humor and with the Gibson wry grin. Lee Marvin’s Walker doesn’t grin. In fact he doesn’t seem human by the end of the movie. People who left the theater in 1967 might look into shadowy alleyways and shudder because a force like Walker might be watching them from there. But no one would worry about Porter. He and his girlfriend are off to spend Porter’s hard-earned money. Everything is bright and sunny for them.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Are Rhodesian Ridgebacks becoming too tall?

I think it is safe to say that Ridgeback breeders are breeding taller because judges are picking taller. We all know about the “famous sire syndrome” in regard to genetic disease. Well the same thing would hold true in regard to height. Whichever male wins the most prizes will be used the most as stud. If he is tall then his offspring will tend to be tall. One champion sire probably couldn’t do it, but if we are looking for culpability I nominate the judges. They’ve been up to this, so to speak, for a while.

But the egg (increased height) didn’t precede the chicken (judges picking increased height). It might seem to because the increased height had to be there for the judges to pick, but there has always been a range of size in Ridgebacks. I was in a discussion recently regarding “softening” in Ridgebacks and the consensus seemed to be that yes some are soft but, on the other hand, some – perhaps “most” aren’t and it has always been that way. Softness wouldn’t be seen by judges in the ring; so if it were becoming more prevalent then it had to be a breeder choice, and I suspect (despite the consensus) that the more aggressive dog that “should be able to do what it was originally bred for” is being bred out of the breed. It took some aggression to be a lion hunter. The original Lion Dog wasn’t a peaceful lapdog in all respects except lion hunting. He was a guard who kept hyenas, baboons and thieves out of the kraal. Would all of our soft Ridgebacks do that today? The consensus that didn’t quite convince me said yes.

As to height, we did touch on that a little – in a sense. I was considering “downsizing” the next time, meaning having just one Ridgeback and then a smaller breed rather than a second Ridgeback. I wasn’t thinking so much about height as about weight. One of my girls, Sage, is lean with rippling muscles. She probably would be good at coursing. I’ve seen Ginger chase her at the river and Sage can turn on a dime to get away. It is amazing to watch her. And yet at her last vet visit she weighed 87 pounds (and I'm guessing that the dancing Sage is about 26 inches at the withers and Ginger maybe an inch taller). I really can’t imagine a smaller Sage because Sage seems perfect just as she is. Anyway, walking my two girls is probably walking at least 180 pounds of Ridgeback. During that discussion, someone suggested that rather than get another smaller breed that I get a smaller Ridgeback. And by that she meant from a breeder that was breeding close to the original standard in size: 75 pound males and 65 pound females.

Now as to your taller dogs not doing well in a chase, I suspect that is more a question of conditioning (if there isn’t something structurally wrong with the “tall” dog). As soon as it cooled off last fall we began going down to the river almost every day. Sage would sometimes just stop when the larger Ginger would try to provoke her into a chase, but over time, when they had gotten days and days of running in, the situation changed. There was a time when the larger Ginger would tire before the end of our outing, but even that changed and they seemed equally confident, energetic and agile. If there was a lion down at the river, he couldn’t have caught them. Whether they would have chased him is another matter.

There was a time when more “size” was deliberately introduced into the breed according to a Canadian expert (whose name escapes me). The mastiff was used. Some British and Canadian judges prefer a more mastiffy look. Ginger has that a bit – not her head but her body. Although her head is much larger than Sage’s and she is “taller.” I don’t know what she weighs but surely more than Sage. But she is very quick and powerful. When she chases Sage at the river, she is quick enough to catch her unless Sage can get a head start and lengthens out. Would my two large females be able to chase lions? I would have said “no,” in the past because of their “softness,” but they chase coyotes and feral dogs at the river and have never shown fear, so maybe the consensus is right and I am wrong. It seems that way, but I’m still not convinced.

The question of size as a determining factor in regard to “what they were originally intended to do” is open to a little debate. The original Ridgeback standard was not created by a lion hunter. It was established by Francis Richard Barnes and some others in 1922: http://www.murenga.com/irr.htm The chief, if not the sole, credit of getting the breed standardised and recognised by the S. A. Kennel Union, is due to Mr. F. R. Barnes of Figtree - then resident in Bulawayo. I think it was in 1922 that Mr. Barnes circularized the many owners of "Ridgeback" or 'Lion Dog", as they were beginning to be known, and asked owners to bring their dogs to the meeting to be held on the second day of the Bulawayo Kennel Club Show to endeavour to formulate a standard with the object of later recognition by the S. A. Kennel Union. The response must have been gratifying to the convenor. A large number of owners attended and well over 20 dogs were paraded. I attended by invitation. These dogs were of all types and size, from what would be regarded as an undersized Great Dane to a small Bull Terrier; all colours were represented - Reds and Brindles predominating -. The convenor addressed the gathering and there was general agreement that a club to further the interests of the breed be formed. Mr. Barnes then asked for suggestions as to the standard to be adopted. Owners were reluctant to come forward, each naturally thinking his the correct type. Finally a spectator with some knowledge of the breed took a dog and suggested that that size and configuration be adopted, then chose another specimen for its head and neck, a third for legs and feet, and, making use of some five different dogs, built up what he considered to be aimed at. A few days later Mr. Barnes compiled the standard, a club was formed, Mr. Barnes' standard adopted and this, with some later amendments and alterations is the standard in use today.”

Van Rooyan died in 1915 and may never have been interested in a “breed standard.” At least not “breed standard” in the sense we would use it today: (http://www.lady-ridgeback.sk/historyengla.htm#helm )

After Van Rooyen "Nellis" had some dogs after Helms dogs, he had a great purpose to have a ridged dogs which could accompanied him and help him to hunt or guard and protect animals and people.

“First he used Pointers with the Khoikhoi crosses to improve speed and scenting power. Unsatisfied, he then used Airedales. According to Mrs. Wilde , nee van Rooyen, her father´s dogs were the colour of Irish Terriers. Given the large numbers of Fox Terriers in the region, they also may have been used, although probably not by Nellis because they were too small for his purposes. Certainly terriers of some sort were used at some point, given the well developed teeth of all Ridgebacks and instinctive ratting ability of some. Still not satisfied, van Rooyen then used Collies and finally got what he wanted- ridged dogs with courage, speed, endurance, scenting power, agility, cunning and instinctive hatred and respect of lions. As Halmi put it, the Collie crosses "could cold track... run like the wind, and to their ancestors´ intelligence had been added a subtle new cunning at rounding up grazing animals. They retained the Hottentot (Khoikhoi dogs´) instinct for hunting together in a silent pack." According to Wellings, Cornelius Jr. stated, that the best dog his father ever had was out of a Collie bitch.

“It seems that the principal crosses used with the Khoikhoi dogs were Greyhound, Bulldog and Pointer. But it´s known from Selous that in 1885 Nellis had a deerhound- like dog- in the other words a large, rough-coated Greyhound. The data also supports statements, that Nellis used Airedale and Irish Terriers and Collies. He also used the terriers and bulldogs -breeds which we know are certainly part of the Ridgeback gene pool. One might infer that Fox Terriers and Boarhounds (Great Danes) were also used at this time, but there is no direct evidence, that van Rooyen used those breeds.”

So what was the height and size of the dogs that did whatever it was they were “originally bred to do”? The answer is all sorts of heights and sizes. Height and size, and even “conformation” were not determining factors for Van Rooyan whose dogs did what “they were originally bred to do.” Barnes and others made all that up – at least in regard to size, height, and conformation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Boorman and Baron as Film Noir directors

After my note on Blast of Silence, someone voiced the opinion that “Film Noir” was overrated as an indicator of anything. It was all about someone trying to make a buck. Actually, if he had restricted his comment to Blast of Silence I’d be tempted to agree with him without reservation. In 1990 there was an attempt made to rediscover Blast of Silence that failed, but a short film was made involving an older Baron (but still not pudgy) walking about New York and speaking about his film, what he was thinking, what he wanted out of it. Baron didn’t have any deep artistic desires when he made the film. He had less than $20,000 and wanted to make a cheap, but still marketable film, to show that he had skills as a director. Blast of Silence was intended to be Baron’s stepping stone into the world of Hollywood Directing. And, according to the critic Sutpen, it should have been. It deserved more credit than it got, but not as a great work of art – at least Sutpen doesn’t emphasize that. Sutpen was thinking in terms of the competition. Blast of Silence was a better film than films that were more highly valued by Studios. As to the actual audience, that is ignored. According to Sutpen, and Baron himself as voiced in his 1990 narrative, the Studio could have “built” an audience if it had marketed Baron’s film properly.

Very well, nothing I saw in or read about Baron’s Blast of Silence contradicts the disparaging remark voiced by the academic critic – or perhaps it is better to call him a critic of an academy that wants to establish “Film Noir” as a legitimate field for artistic study. He wasn’t just downgrading Blast of Silence, he was downgrading the entire genre, “Film Noir.” So let’s pursue that a little.

On the one hand we might agree that any number of films are in the category of “nothing more than an attempt to make a buck.” For example, anyone watching the John Boorman Point Blank with Lee Marvin will know before getting very far into the film, that the glitzier film Payback, directed by Brian Heigeland and starring Mel Gibson, is a rip off. It takes the ideas of Point Blank and makes them more marketable, Hollywood Style, with more violence and less artistry. Anyone interested in film would agree that Point Blank is the better movie, but it never made any money and, knowing that, I veer slightly from the academic critic who is ready to dismiss most of “Film Noir” as that, someone’s attempt to make a buck. Perhaps that is what Point Blank was, John Boorman’s attempt to make a buck and perhaps he wasn’t really very good at it, and perhaps academics who are trying to create an academic genre merely scooped up Boorman’s film as fitting, but Boorman does seem to have had a successful career: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Boorman

On the other hand, in looking through the list of Boorman’s credits, I don’t find any other films that qualify as “Film Noir.” Deliverance is exceedingly ugly, but it more closely approaches Payback than it remains true to Point Blank’s Noir. So perhaps Boorman was just learning his trade. . . except that he didn’t. He made the movie Exorcist II in 1976 which was a disaster at the box office and panned by most critics. Wikepedia provides the following as Boorman’s response to this “failure”: “ . . . John Boorman confessed that “The sin I committed was not giving the audience what it wanted in terms of horror...There’s this wild beast out there which is the audience. I created this arena and I just didn’t throw enough Christians into it.. . .”

Boorman’s comment is interesting and perceptive. He does have skill as a director; so we can’t be sure whether he has a “message” in mind or whether he is simply trying to do artistic justice to the novel or screen play that he was working with – but probably the latter, and in putting “artistic justice” ahead of “box office success” he was committing a Hollywood sin.

So what we have (as far as I can tell) is two directors who created two “Film Noir” masterpieces who apparently weren’t attempting anything of the sort. . . or if they were, their attempts weren’t anything more than something suitable to the artistic moment. And here, perhaps I am bringing something I wrote in my previous note on Blast of Silence, namely that it represents a Nihilism which seems a despairing response to the failure, or fairlure-in-process, of the Communist experiment. But we could call Frankie Bono an example of an existentialist perspective and perhaps gain some “intellectual” credence. We can more easily compare Bono to Camus’ 1942 novel L’Etranger than we can demonstrate that he is a character of Film Noir – unless we want to argue as I intended to do in my previous note that Existentialism itself is to some extent a response to lost ideals. Camus wasn’t attracted to Communism but Sartre was. Sarte didn’t advocate Communism as a replacement for existentialism but as a suitable response to it. So existentialism was “out there” for Baron and for Boorman. It was probably easy for them to do films from existentialist perspectives; since the philosophy was so pervasive.

Backing away to gain a Right-Wing perspective, for the aforementioned critic of academia is on the Right Wing, as am I, how do we reconcile the artistic downgrading of “Film Noir” with our right-wing belief that Hollywood is one of the most potent American forces fostering the Left Wing point of view? If Hollywood is bent upon making a buck regardless, then it can’t have as its highest priority the fostering of Left-Wing causes and views. So are we wrong?

It is not a Left-Wing cause to throw more Christians to the Lions. But it is probably safe to say that many of the Studio people in Hollywood while encouraging the throwing of more Christians to the Lions are at heart in favor of gun control. Think of the famous Left-Wing movie stars, and are there any that haven’t participated in movies throwing scores of Christians to the Lions? Yes, Robert Redford did the Left Wing The Way we Were, which probably makes it more on its love story than its political message, but he also made Three Days of the Condor in which he gets to personally throw several Christians to the lions. And not just in that movie, but also in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and probably some others. Maybe Redford preferred movies with a Left-Wing message, but he wasn’t above making the kind that throws Christians to audience lions.

And perhaps Left-Wing Hollywood is rationalizing its throwing Christians to lions. Surely one of the most successful series of that type is the “Bourne” series. Bourne throws Christians to the lions in abundance, but notice, you inattentive right-wingers, that there is a Left-Wing message in the series. It is the CIA that did the bad things that resulted in the brain-washed Bourne. How many movies have we seen where Christianity, a Christian pastor, the CIA, the FBI, and now Homeland Security is up to something nefarious. But, Hollywood, we probably wouldn’t watch your Left-Wing movies if you weren’t also throwing lots of Christians to lots of Lions – and after we are done watching these movies, don’t count on our remembering your Left Wing message.

. . . I’m not really done talking about “Film Noir” and haven’t made the point I started out intending to make; so I’ll take that up again in a subsequent note.

Red Army executes Kolchak, 1920

This execution of Kolchak occurred near the end of the Russian revolution. Kolchak had been declared the supreme leader of the “Whites”; so when Irkutsk fell to the Red Army in March of 1920 and Admiral Kolchak was captured, the Red Army summarily executed him.

Was this a proper execution? Should he have been considered a prisoner of war? He was “investigated” but not tried. Should he have been tried?

I’ve been reading Juggernaut, The Russian Forces, 1918-1966, by Malcolm Mackintosh, published in 1967. Mackintosh seems more interested in the military events than the political implications although he does touch on them just enough to arouse interest if not to satisfy it. Was Kolchak executed because the Reds were barbaric or was this a proper thing to do? Mackintosh doesn’t offer his opinion, but I shall offer mine – as much as I am able, from what I can find.

We learn elsewhere that Kolchak had resigned and was attempting to go to Britain. From Wikipedia we learn: “It appears that Kolchak was then promised safe passage by the Czecho-Slovaks to the British military mission in Irkutsk. Instead, he was handed over to the leftist authorities in Irkutsk on January 14. On January 20 the government in Irkutsk gave power to a Bolshevik military committee. The White Army under command of Vladimir Kappel rushed toward Irkutsk while Kolchak was "investigated" before a commission of five men from January 21 to February 6. Following the arrival of an order from Moscow, he was summarily sentenced to death along with his Prime Minister, Viktor Pepelyayev. They were executed by firing squad in the early morning, and as it was freezing, digging graves would have been a monumentally inefficient task, so the bodies were disposed of in the Angara River[6]. When the White Army learned about his execution, the decision was made to withdraw farther east. The Great Siberian Ice March followed. The Red Army did not enter Irkutsk until March 7, and only then was the news of Kolchak's death officially released.”

If Kolchak were an active enemy attempting to destroy an established state, and if that established state captured him, and if his continued existence represented a rallying cry to the enemy; then he should have been executed.

But the Reds did not represent an established state. The Reds and the Whites fought a Civil War to see who was going to be the State, and while the Reds, by March of 1920, were almost there, they had not yet arrived. But even so, if Kolchak were an ongoing threat, then his execution was warranted. It doesn’t appear, however, that was the case. We aren’t told by Wikipedia what the “investigation” between January 21 and February 6 disclosed but it apparently was not sufficient for the death sentence to be issued at Irkutsk. Advice was asked from Moscow and Moscow issued the invariable sentence upon enemies, former enemies and suspected enemies: death. Assuming that Kolchak’s crime was to be in one of those three categories, was his execution justified?

Of course Lenin and Stalin could justify such executions for “the greater good of the Soviet Union,” But given the information before me, I do not think, from my Western point of view, that he should have been executed. This was a confused time and while he seems to have had personality problems of such a nature that almost no one liked him, he didn’t commit any real crimes.

So moving away from what “ought to have been done” from my Western perspective and given Lenin’s assumptions (of which I have a general understanding), was he justified in ordering the execution of Kolchak?

Probably. While Kolchak had not committed any crime, he was a vigorous and outspoken opponent of Communism. Had Lenin left him alive, he could have become a later thorn in his side. Let us not forget that Lenin and his cohorts were “feeling their way” with their revolution. They were probably being prudent (from their perspective) to leave no enemy, former, actual, or suspected, standing, for who could know what forces would be marshaled against them in the future? Who could know who might lead a new White Civil War against the Reds? So it wasn’t quite paranoid at this point in March of 1920 to eliminate Kolchak. The Red revolution had a great number of enemies in the world, especially in the West, but thanks to the enervating work of the First World War, no nation was in a position to oppose the Reds; so if they could just tie a tidy bow around the Civil War and declare it at an end, they would have all the time they needed to convert the Soviet Union into the Workers Paradise.

Or so Lenin and the others would have reasoned. So Kolchak had to go, but it is interesting that attempts are being made to rehabilitate his reputation: (from Wikipedia) “After decades of being vilified by the Soviet government, Kolchak is now a controversial historic figure in post-Soviet Russia. The "For Faith and Fatherland" movement has attempted to rehabilitate his reputation. However, two rehabilitation requests have been denied, by a regional military court in 1999 and by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation in 2001. In 2004, the Constitutional Court of Russia returned the Kolchak case to the military court for another hearing. Monuments dedicated to Kolchak were built in Saint Petersburg in 2002 and in Irkutsk in 2004, despite objections from some former Communist and left-wing politicians and former Soviet army veterans. There is also a Kolchak Island. A movie about his life, titled Admiral (Адмиралъ), was released in Russia on 9 October 2008 to honor the Admiral. According to popular, but unconfirmed version, Kolchak was the author of the Shine, Shine, My Star chanson.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

Blast of Silence -- film noir

I watched Allan Baron’s Blast of Silence last night. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054687 . Baron, with little experience, backing or money produced, directed and acted in this movie that some are now touting as the best example of film noir America has produced. Why haven’t we heard about it before? Tom Sutpen’s article provides some of the reasons: http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/48/blast.htm

This film has been rediscovered and will never again be hidden away as a result of studio neglect. Sutpen writes, “Looking at it from the studio's point of view, it's not difficult to see why the film was barely a priority at the time of its release, being a cheap distribution pick-up from a couple of executive producers in New York (one of whom, Dan Enright, had distinguished himself as an especially mendacious figure in the Quiz Show scandals that consumed America for several months in 1958). In fact, Blast of Silence must have seemed downright perverse to executives at U-I, given that its protagonist wasn't played by a Star, or anyone well-known to the public from either film or television, but by its writer/director; a pudgy, 26 year old non-actor whose prior directing credits had been a couple of Hawaiian Eye episodes and an assistant director gig on that piece of dreck, Cuban Rebel Girls (1959).”

Perhaps the executives at U-I had such thoughts, but I had some different ones. Physically Baron seemed suitable to the role. He wasn’t pudgy. He had a Robert De Niro look, but softer and more thoughtful. Baron’s birthday is listed as 1927 if we believe IMbd, but 1935 if we believe Sutpen. He may have been a 34 “year old non-actor.” In lieu of what Sutpen describes.

The narrator, Lionel Stander, detracted a bit from the movie. I wondered if the idea of the narrator didn’t derive from radio. I was reminded of some of the old radio thrillers – the equivalent of “film noirs” in the days when radio was still king. Sutpen’s article was written in May of 2005 and in 2006 Blast of Silence was reissued and rediscovered.

With Stander doing the narrating, I wondered if there wasn’t a Left-Wing influence. By that I mean, if we exclude the possibility of a Proletarian revolution, which McCarthy and HUAC seem to have precluded, then what is left if not Nihilism? Might as well go out and blow something up or shoot someone, e.g., Bill Ayers, Fugitive Days. And isn’t Nihilism behind Film Noir?

Baron’s hit-man, Frankie Bono, did well as long as he remained an alienated loner, but when he is assigned a hit in his home town he loses some self-confidence and tells his bosses he wants out. He is told he is in trouble for wanting out, but will be in even more trouble if he doesn’t carry out the hit; so he does. But I notice that he received the first half of his payment in a little envelope. Why would he think he needed to be walked out in a lonely place, an ideal place to be hit himself, to receive the second half of his payment? Surely he is experienced enough to see through that. And did he forget that he was in trouble?

Also, why wouldn’t he wait until after he had received the second half of his payment before throwing his gun away? Maybe it was his habit to throw the gun away as soon as possible, but now he had been warned that he was in trouble. Why wouldn’t he keep the gun in case he was to be shot and wanted the chance to shoot his way out of trouble? Well, film noir buffs might tell us, and indeed the narrator does tell us, Frankie Bono was really looking for a return to the womb, a return to silence, a permanent elimination of his angst.

And another thing, when Baron was checking out his 38, he took the powder out of a shell and then, I thought, fired the cap. That would make sense. How would he know the gun really worked unless he did something like that, but there was no sound of an exploding cap, and when he took the shell out, the cap had not been punctured? So why should we believe he is such a superb hit-man if he is willing to do a hit with an untried gun?

Some of the scenes reminded me of another Film Noir classic, Point Blank, made 6 years after Blast of Silence, starring Lee Marvin. Point Blank is more impressive and more memorable. There is nothing suicidal about Walker (Lee Marvin) lurking in the shadows waiting for Yost (Keenan Win) to Leave his money. Yost’s henchman (James Sikking) wants to take the money, but after having observed Walker kill all his enemies, Yost knows better than to add his own name to Walker’s list.

Rather than someone to be exterminated (Frankie Bono), the mob bosses try their hardest to kill Walker and fail. He has become something like an unstoppable force in the eyes of Yost who is the new head of the mob. Walker is alienated to the extent that he doesn’t care about people, but he is no victim; well he was once and left for dead, but now he is back. Of course, being film noir, “back” for Walker means lurking in the shadows and very effectively watching out for trouble.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Moscow affected by U.S. play for Iran


The above article was written by Fyodor Lukyanov for Russia in Global Affairs, April 15, 2009, and is entitled “High Stakes for Moscow in U.S. Play for Iran.” It is available at the above site in English, Russian, Czech and Polish.

Lukyanov believes that Iran was the only clear winner “following the U.S. invasion of Iraq.” That remains to be seen. Saddam Hussein, it is true, was Iran’s chief rival, but Hussein was a disruptive influence that has now been replaced by something else. That “something else,” i.e., what Iraq is becoming, may be another winner. It is too soon to tell. And Lukyanov’s assumption that Iraq and Iran, once the U.S. leaves, will be natural allies, isn’t something I would assume. Yes, the majority in Iraq are Shiites; so they Iraq may become an ally of Iran, but Arab Shiites have not traditionally been allies of Persian Shiites. The Arab Shiites had no qualms about supporting Saddam Hussein in an eight-year-long war against the Persian Shiites.

Lukyanov assumes another thing I wouldn’t, namely that the US is interested in reducing European dependence on Russian gas and oil. Russia needs to sell gas and oil as much as Europe needs to buy it. I don’t see a problem there. Does Lukyanov think the US is worried about a resurgent Russian Empire? Yes, I know Putin and the Sovereign Democrats are hinting at that, but I would be surprised if anyone in the US state department believed Russia could pull it off. Russia is a dwindling force in the world and needs (I would hope our State Department believes) to be encouraged rather than opposed. Five years ago the CIA voiced the opinion that the Russian Federation would break up within ten years: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/cia-angers-russia-by-predicting-breakup-of-state-within-10-years-561727.html I don’t know if the CIA still believes that, but plenty of people in Russia believed it. If Putin has a number of Russians now thinking they can become Tsarist Russia redivivus, then more power to them – well sort of. I wouldn’t want them invading Poland, Ukraine or anyone else, but a non-active myth of Tsarist Russia – sort of like the myths of the American cowboy and the Japanese Samurai, might do them some good.

Lukyanov doesn’t consider the possibility that Israel may take military action, merely that the US might, indeed might have to. Lukyanov is intrigued over the possibilities:Iran is a problem for Russia regardless of which direction Tehran goes. A nuclear-armed Iran would greatly destabilize the region. It is difficult to predict the extent and aim of Iran's ambitions. Any attempt by the United States to apply force against Iran would mean that the military conflict would be brought to Russia's southern border. Moreover, if Washington achieves its objectives in Iran, it would shift the strategic balance of power in favor of the United States and away from Moscow. But a failure by the United States to achieve its goals in Iran could undermine the existing balance of power.

“No matter how subsequent events develop, Moscow will play no more than a supporting role at best. One big risk for Russia is coming out the loser if it supports the wrong side in the struggle.”

I don’t agree with Lukyanov’s belief that a victory over Iran would result in a “strategic balance of power in favor of the United States.” The political advantage, wouldn’t represent a “shift in power” that I can see, and if we consider military action, then I would observe that Lukyanov doesn’t fully grasp how much the US wants not to engage in it. In the days of the British Empire, the British loved it that the sun never sat on its empire. Churchill regretted the loss of empire, I’m sure until the day he died. But the US has a different tradition. We have a tradition of not desiring to be embroiled in foreign wars. It does no good to observe that we have been embroiled in foreign wars aplenty, they are engaged in reluctantly. Critics see us cause a regime change in Iraq and say “ah ha,” the US is expanding its empire. Baloney. The longer we stayed in Iraq the louder the hue and cry for us to get out became. We can never have an empire. We can’t even dream of an old one the way Russia can.

What we can do, and this is more or less approved by both Democrats and Republicans is a seeking after “stability.” We don’t like “Rogue States” that can disrupt the stability of a region, for even though we aren’t an empire we have lots of allies, or “client states” if one prefers, and we don’t want them invaded or even threatened. If the threat is sufficient, we could rush half say around the world with our C-17s and smart bombs and “stabilize” a hitherto disruptive Rogue State. But be sure that after we do, assuming that we do, we shall load our C-17s back up and rush home – the sooner the better for congress, our media and all the folks at home wringing their hands.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Depopulation threatens Russia 10 Ways


The above article was written by Paul Goble and entitled “Depopulation Threatens Russia 10 Ways, Moscow Demographer Says.”

Goble tells us that a “leading Moscow demographer,” Olga Lebed of Moscow State University wrote an article entitled, “The Social Consequences of Russia.” In this article, Lebed tells us that “Russia’s population will continue to decline over the coming decades, threatening first some regions and then the country as a whole with depopulation, a trend whose consequences are both more immediate and more widespread than many now assume. . . the demographic situation which has arisen in Russia over the course of recent decades has achieved such a critical point that it is impossible not to pay attention to it’ ( www.contrtv.ru/common/3100 )

“At present, even with immigration, the population of the Russian Federation is declining by almost a million people a year . . . [also] differences in birthrates and survival rates among the indigenous ethnic groups of the country and among immigrant populations mean that depopulation will be accompanied by “a change in the nationality composition of Russia,” with the [100% white Russians] forming an ever smaller share.”

“Second, depopulation will threaten the foundations of the preservation of “the self-consciousness” of the [100% white Russians] . . . and entail ‘the loss of national traditions,’ . . .”

“Third, she writes, depopulation will threaten the ability of the country to maintain its territorial integrity and the well-being of the population. Already Russia is one of the least densely populated countries on earth, and it will soon lack the numbers of people needed to hold its current borders if they are challenged within or without.

“Fourth, the country will face an increasing shortage of workers, a trend that will make it ever more difficult for the population to maintain its standard of living . . .”

“Fifth, depopulation will mean, assuming that it is combined with an aging population, that every remaining worker will have to carry a greater burden in order to support the non-working segment of the population. . . .”

“Sixth, the depopulation of Russia is likely to be accompanied by a further exacerbation of the gender imbalance within the population. . . .”

“Seventh, current depopulation trends increase the likelihood that ever more parents will outlive their children. . . .”

“Eighth, that in turn will lead, Lebed says, to “the replacement of family relations by social ones,” with the family becoming ever less important as a socializing factor and other groups and institutions rather more. . . .”

“Ninth . . . the problems of socialization brought on by depopulation will lead to more . . . mental illness, more anti-social behavior, and the need for more institutions to cope with societal breakdown. . . .”

“And tenth . . . the depopulation of Russia is likely to produce a variety of demands, not now in evidence, to engage in such population-boosting but at present “fantastic” measures as state-supported “incubator” children, “hybridization of embryos,” cloning, and greater efforts to exten[d] life spans and working lives. Not all experts would agree with Lebed on this list, but many do – she cites numerous authorities in her 3,000-word article – and consequently, her list is useful as a way of going beyond the crude numbers concerning the decline in the population of the Russian Federation which is happening now and will accelerate to the consequences of that decline for all concerned.”


What a contrast between what Lebed is telling us and what Putin and the Sovereign Democrats are pushing as a resurgence of the Russian Empire. Lebed worries about Russia’s ability to hang onto what it has, not push outward into the near abroad nations with costly expenditures of people, materials and finances. Perhaps a war with Georgia is more attention-getting, but in few years, if Lebed is right, Russia will have more important things to worry about, like the diminishing number of men available to join (or be drafted into) the Russian army.

In a sense, the depopulation of Russia at the rate of 1,000,000 a year is an environmentally friendly occurrence. That same sort of thing is occurring throughout Europe and the rest of the world. With fewer people in the world, we will be applying a smaller environmental footprint on the world’s resources. But can we as a species tolerate a dwindling population.

What, in Lebed’s ten threats is more than fundamentally, as regards the human species, unacceptable? Yes, the 100% white Russians will chafe at being replaced by non-100% White Russians, but the species at large won’t be affected.

The most significant worry is probably economic. Our welfare programs are basically Ponzi schemes dependent upon growing populations. If populations no longer grow, some people who counted on receiving benefits aren’t going to get them, but worse things have happened in the course of human history, and at some point we need to face the fact that no Ponzi scheme can go on indefinitely.

As to the provocative idea that Russia (and if Russia then surely other European nations) will begin an industry of cloning, I wonder if that will be cost effective. Won’t it be cheaper and less traumatic to let the old and retired to have fewer benefits.

American illusions destroyed in Poland after WWII

I heard it said not so very long ago that Roosevelt was a great friend of the Soviet Union and that it was only after his death that America perfidiously and without cause turned against Stalin and the Soviet Union. Martin Walker in The Cold War presents a different perspective.

On page 17 he writes, “The next victims of Yalta were American illusions. Within days it became clear that Stalin’s promise of democracy and independence in Poland did not include any serious political role for the Polish government-in-exile which had spent the war in London. ‘We began to realize that Stalin’s language was somewhat different from ours: “Friendly neighbors” had an entirely different connotation to him,’ Harriman recalled. ‘I am outraged,’ he cabled back to the White House in March, when the Russians refused to let American medical teams into Poland to treat and evacuate American prisoners of war. On 3 April, Harriman reported that the Polish talks had degenerated to breaking point, and asked to come home. Harriman planned to take with him an eight-page memorandum drafted on 21 March, which could not have been more bluntly phrased: ‘Unless we wish to accept the 20th century barbarian invasion of Europe, with repercussions extending further and further in the East as well, we must find ways to arrest the Soviet domineering policy . . . If we don’t face these issues squarely now, history will record the period of the next generation as the Soviet age.’

“In the final days of his life, Roosevelt seemed to agree. At Warm Springs, receiving one of Harriman’s angry telegrams after lunch, Anna Hoffman reported that the dying President slammed his fists on his wheelchair and declared, ‘Averell is right. We can’t do business with Stalin.’ But Roosevelt’s last reply to the Moscow Embassy on 12 April called for more conciliation, and he died that day. His policy, however, of refusing finally to believe the worst of his Soviet comrade-in-arms would outlive him for some time.”


Most if not all of the major political representatives of the American government during World War II and immediately after were pragmatists. Yes, everyone was familiar with the theories, rumors, and arguments about “Communism,” but World War II involved people doing things, not just theory, and the Soviet Union was on the same side as America and Britain. Surely that overrode the negative things written by right-wing and fascist intellectuals.

It is an ancient dictum in war that you hope for the best but prepare for the worst, that is you “prepare for the worst” if you are sensible, something the U.S. and Britain could not lay claim to prior to World War II, but what about after the war? Despite Roosevelt’s well-known hoping-for-the-best from Stalin, was America preparing for the worst? Not exactly, but it really didn’t matter.

Tony Judt writes on page 104 of Postwar: A history of Europe since 1945, “Thanks to German aggression the United States was now, for the first time, a power in Europe. That the US had overwhelming strength was self-evident, even to those mesmerized by the achievements of the Red Army. US GNP had doubled in the course of the war, and by the spring of 1945 America accounted for half the world’s manufacturing capacity, most of its food surpluses and virtually all international financial reserves. The United States had put 12 million men under arms to fight Germany and its allies, and by the time Japan surrendered the American fleet was larger than all other fleets in the world combined. What would the US do with is power?” Judt asks.

Well, one thing it would not do is feel intimidated by the USSR, and so the Cold War began. I will probably have to read elsewhere to find out if the US was ever allowed by the Soviet Union to give medical aid to American prisoners of war, or to evacuate them back to America.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Timbo and Chris Gallucci

I watched “Tusks and Tattoos” on the Animal Channel yesterday, a story about two social misfits who in a touching way saved each other. Timbo was a large male elephant known as a trouble-maker. He was very much in danger of being euthanized. Chris Gallucci was a tattooed biker who was in and out of prison. It was during a movie being made with Tippi Hedren that he came in contact with Timbu. After the movie many of the animals could not be returned; so Hedren set up an animal preserve she called Shambala. Gallucci stayed on to take care of Timbo – and took care of him for the next 30 years.

I was interested in the way Galluci “walked” Timbo. He would let him go wherever he liked on the Shambala animal preserve. He would just follow along to see what Timbo did. That is pretty much what I do when I walk Sage and Ginger at the river. I love watching the way they relate, especially when they are chasing each other, chasing a rabbit or coyote, or encountering a feral dog. Gallucci said he would let Timbo do whatever he liked, but I noticed he told him when it was time to go back to the compound. I don’t actually tell Sage and Ginger when it is time to go back to the Jeep, I just head back myself and they follow, ranging about, left and right still on the lookout for rabbits.

One of Gallucci’s crises occurred when Timbo broke a tusk and Gallucci’s father died shortly thereafter. He quotes his sister as telling him he “must come to the funeral.” But the area around where Timbo’s tusk had broken was infected and Gallucci had to administer medicine in that area three times a day. Timbo wouldn’t let anyone else do it; so Gallucci stayed with his elephant and missed his father’s funeral. I gather he suffered socially for his decision.

I am reminded of something similar, if less dramatic that happened long ago. Trooper injured himself seriously on a hike. He too had an infection. The vet sewed him up and said it was critical that he not be allowed to lick his stitches. As it happened, that very night we were expected at a friend’s birthday party. His wife did not understand why I made the decision to stay with Trooper. “He is only a dog,” she said; which forever demoted her in my estimation to “only a human.”

Timbo died in 2005, shortly after “Tusks and Tattoos” was made. Gallucci is quoted as saying Timbo’s death was the worst and best thing that had happened in his life. I can understand why it might be the “worst,” but the best? His explanation didn’t adequately justify that term, but upon thinking about it I thought I could understand how he might feel a certain satisfaction. We, some of us, make a commitment to our animals, but we know we are fallible. Gallucci with his experience must have been especially conscious of his own fallibility. He knew how much Timbo depended upon him. Perhaps Timbo wouldn’t even survive if he abandoned him, but he was fallible and could only hope he wouldn’t in some moment of weakness do something that might put him back in prison. So in 2005 when Timbo died, he had to feel satisfaction and relief that he hadn’t let him down. He had stayed with Timbo until the end.

Abandonment is part of our relationships. We will abandon our dogs, cats or elephants, or they will abandon us. We will die first, or they will. Who is to say which will be the greater mourning?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Israel ready to destroy Iran's nuclear capability


In the April 14, Reuters article above, written by Louis Charbonneau, we learn again, that Israel is prepared to use military force against Iran if it refuses to give up its nuclear ambitions. Shimon Peres says that if “U.S. offers of dialogue failed to persuade Ahmadinejad to halt Tehran’s uranium enrichment program, ‘We’ll strike him.’”

The Iranian UN Ambassador’s response to Israel’s threat is interesting: "These outrageous threats of resorting to criminal and terrorist acts against a sovereign country and a member of the United Nations not only display the aggressive and warmongering nature of the Zionist regime, but also constitute blatant violations of international law," Iranian Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee wrote.”

Only in an “Authoritative Regime” can one make such absurd statements and expect anyone to believe them. Who would believe them? Why Iranian citizens and the citizens of the other authoritarian Middle Eastern nations. But the facts seem clear to me, Iran is a Rogue State threatening its neighbors through Hezbollah and swearing to destroy Israel. Common sense and ordinary prudence would suggest that Israel would be well served to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons – if it has the means to do so; and we believe that it does.

In 1981 Israel, under Menachem Begin, destroyed the Iraqi nuclear weapons development center at Osirak. Are Iran’s nuclear activities any less of a threat to Israel? Of course not. But perhaps not all Israeli presidents would have acted as Begin did; so we need to ask whether the current one, Shimon Peres, would. We have received our answer: Peres says, “We’ll strike him.”

Now it is up to Obama’s vaunted diplomacy to turn Iranian policy around. As we have guessed, the “military option” is not on Obama’s table, but we have also been fairly certain that it has never left Israel’s. Obama speaks well and can be very convincing. Will he convince Ahmadinejad and Iran’s religious leaders to abandon their nuclear ambitions? Obama hasn’t threatened to “strike him,” but he has threatened “sanctions.” Would sanctions satisfy Israel? We lived through years of sanctions not working against Saddam’s Iraq. Why would they be expected to work any better against Ahmadinejad’s Iran?

Against a nation who can send its Ambassador to the UN to voice the above quoted psychotic absurdities, the military option, should never be off the table.

Monday, April 13, 2009

On Putin vs. the Truth


In the current issue of the New York Review of Books is the article “Putin vs. the Truth” which is loosely built by Orlando Figes upon a review of Inside the Stalin Achieves: Discovering the new Russia.”

Notice Putin’s view of historians who won’t be taking up Putin’s partisan banner: “Oh, they will write, all right. You see, many textbooks are written by those who are paid in foreign grants. And naturally they are dancing the polka ordered by those who pay them. Do you understand? And unfortunately [such textbooks] find their way to schools and colleges.” There is no rough and tumble scholarly debate in Putin’s cosmology. If you discover something untoward in Soviet history then you are obviously dancing the polka ordered by some organization like Yale. Clever people those Yale administrators to know what they want even before researchers have discovered it.

And Putin takes a very different view from mine. I have argued that historians have been very soft on Stalin and Soviet history – well, not soft enough to suit Putin: “As to some problematic pages in our history—yes, we've had them. But what state hasn't? And we've had fewer of such pages than some other [states]. And ours were not as horrible as those of some others. Yes, we have had some terrible pages: let us remember the events beginning in 1937, let us not forget about them. But other countries have had no less, and even more. In any case, we did not pour chemicals over thousands of kilometers or drop on a small country seven times more bombs than during the entire World War II, as it was in Vietnam, for instance. Nor did we have other black pages, such as Nazism, for instance. All sorts of things happen in the history of every state. And we cannot allow ourselves to be saddled with guilt....

One of the most remarkable items in this article is in reference to a new teacher’s handbook that prescribes how to teach Russian history:

"The Modern History of Russia, 1945–2006: A Teacher's Handbook had been directly commissioned by the presidential administration itself, which had issued the following guidelines to the textbook's authors about how they should evaluate the leaders of the period:

"Stalin—good (strengthened vertical power but no private property); Khrushchev—bad (weakened vertical power); Brezhnev—good (for the same reasons as Stalin); Gorbachev and Yeltsin—bad (destroyed the country but under Yeltsin there was private property); Putin—the best ruler (strengthened vertical power and private property)."


Ah, Putin, you scoundrel you. You had better put my blog on your forbidden list.

Ukrainian Genocide -- 1932-1933

I feel uncomfortable using the term “genocide” when applied to the Soviet orchestrated Ukrainian famine of 1932-1933, and probably anyone approaching this subject will feel this way. “Genocide” has been applied too often to what Hitler did for it to be readily applied to what Stalin did as well. But they are equivalent. Hitler’s assumptions had to do with racial superiority and a conspiracy theory that blamed the Jews for all Germany’s problems. So he killed Jews in ovens.

Stalin’s assumptions had to do with class rather than race. The “Capitalist” class was to be exterminated. And since Stalin was concerned about the eventual conversion of all the world to Communism, he was more circumspect in his extermination methods. No ovens for Stalin. But the Soviet Union had something just as effective, the vast wilderness of Siberia and its gulags. Actually, had he shipped the Ukranian kurkul off to Siberia he could have covered his crime a bit better, and according to the Bilinsky article, he wanted to. Absent that first choice, he had to exterminate them in situ.

Now at this point any discussion is likely to break down in a series of quibbles, for the very reason I mention in the first paragraph above. “Genocide” has already been defined and what happened in Ukraine doesn’t meet that definition very well (although Bilinsky and Ukrainian intellectuals make if fit). I’m going to set that particular quibble aside by claiming that what Stalin did was equivalent to what Hitler did. Hitler’s motives were racial superiority. Stalin’s were class superiority. Hitler got rid of millions of racial “enemies” (using his assumptions). Stalin got rid of millions of class “enemies” (using the definitions Stalin inherited from Lenin). And I have used the term “Genocide” in my title because that term implies the most heinous of acts – any “equivalent” term had a connotation of being a lesser crime. No, what Stalin and his Soviets did in Ukraine was just as criminal as what Hitler did to the Jews – all quibbling aside.

Consider the article I’ve referred to before: http://windowoneurasia.blogspot.com/2009/02/window-on-eurasia-to-counter-ukraine.html having to do with Russia’s senior archivist quibbling with the Ukrainians who are charging that the 1932-33 famine was genocide. The Archivist said, “the famine was the result of the errors and miscalculations of the political course of the leadership of the country in the course of the realization of collectivization.” And he insisted that he and his researchers had not found “a single document” showing that Stalin planned “a terror famine” in Ukraine.” When I wrote about this before I was most interested in the fact that Stalin and his soviets killed all these people through experimentation and a belief in an untried system. I still hold by what I wrote, but that doesn’t prevent movement in the direction of Bilinsky and Robert Conquest by adding that what this experimentation involved was equivalent to what Hitler did to races he believed were inferior. Stalin eliminated his class enemies just as Hitler eliminated his race enemies. Since the laws were written around Hitler’s “genocide,” there may be years of quibbling remaining before Stalin’s crimes are appropriately defined, but that is for the lawyers. Here, we can ignore the quibbles – or perhaps I should better say that we can try to.

The following article by Yroslav Billinsky was written in 1999 for the Journal of Genocide Research. It is entitled “Was the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-1933 Genocide? http://www.faminegenocide.com/resources/bilinsky.html This is an interesting article on our subject. Bilinsky discusses the major writings on the Ukrainian Famine. I noted that he was disappointed when he looked at Conquest’s index in Harvest of Sorrow and didn’t find “genocide.” Conquest doesn’t have time for this quibble. Some other term would work just as well for him, but, of course, not for someone writing for the Journal of Genocide Research.

But Conquest wrote a whole book on this subject and doesn’t need Bilinsky to apologize for him. For example, on page 24 he wrote,

“A conversation took place in August 1917 in the Smolny Institute canteen between Dzerzhinsky (shortly to be Lenin’s Police Commissar) and Rafael Abramovich, the Menshevik leader. Dzerzhinsky said to Abramovich, “ . . . that a constitution is determined by the correlation of real forces in the country. How does such a correlation of political and social forces change?’

“’Oh well, through the process of economic and political development, the evolution of new forms of economy, the rise of different social classes, etc, as you know perfectly well yourself’.

“’But couldn’t this correlation be altered? Say, through the subjection or extermination of some class of society?’


Communist theory involves the “elimination” of Capitalism. Of course they didn’t call it “theory.” They invoked Marx who invoked Hegel on the philosophy of Historical Determinism. Consider the discussion above between the Communist Dzerzhinsky and the Menshevik Abramovich. We encountered this same sort of disagreement recently in the “Neocon” ranks. Fukuyama, invoking Hegel, said it was historically determined that Liberal Democracy would defeat all competitive systems. His followers didn’t want to wait for this to happen on its own. They wanted to hasten matters along. As Eric Hoffer would have said, Fukuyama was a “man of ideas” to be swept away by men of action. Of course the Neocon experiment was a tempest in a teapot compared to the Communist experiment. The Communist vanguard obtain control of a whole nation (unlike the Neocons) and hastened the process they believed in.

The “elimination of Capitalism” can sound almost clinical and abstract but when one moves away from “ideas” and engages in “action,” then elimination involves blood. Zinoviev is quoted in Bilinsky’s article as saying the enemies of Communism “must be annihilated.” What he said isn’t unusual or unique if one reads much Communist literature. Communist intellectuals thought of this annihilation as being akin to revenge: the Capitalists have ground the proletariat under its Iron Heel (the title of a pro-Communist novel by Jack London, btw). Now the Proletariat must rise up and throw off its chains. As the process developed, the revenge and the throwing off of the chains involved the killing of a wide variety of people in a wide variety of ways. The Ukrainian Kulak (called kurkul in Ukrainian) was not a Capitalist. He was not “rich” in any sense we would recognize – unless we applied the term to the very few who were actually rich, but that was not Stalin’s intent. As a “class,” independent farmers were opposed to State Control. It was their independence rather than their capitalistic nature that required their elimination. One only needs to think of Stalin’s purges to recognize his motivation. “Couldn’t this correlation be altered,” Dzerzhinsky is quoted as asking in1917 before the Soviets took power. Couldn’t the situation be altered by the “extermination of some class of society?”

Well, yes it could, Stalin could say in 1932 as he initiated the elimination of an offending “class” of independent people in the Ukraine.