Category : Commentary

2004 November 3

Moral values

I fell asleep listening to NPR; woke up to it around 5:30 am. It was like I was having a nerd nightmare. Yesterday everything seemed to be going so well. Obviously, I know nothing.

I will never understand anyone who can vote for the party running an extrajudicial torture colony, and claim it was for "moral reasons". Today I am not fond of my fellow man, and particularly not the American version.

I have more and darker thoughts, but no one will be edified by me sharing.

2004 October 27

There was this baseball game

I just got back from the Burren, where I went on the theory that the whole point of something like this is to watch it in the middle of as many people as possible. Game Four of the 2004 World Series -- it doesn't sound right. Since when do the Red Sox win anything in less than seven games?

It was nuts.

It started at the end of the eighth inning, which seemed bold for Sox fans, but people couldn't help themselves. Through the ninth, every St Louis strike, every out, was met with louder and louder reactions, and after the final one it took five minutes at least before people slowed their screaming enough to hear the person standing next to you. I don't think I've ever been in a happier room. There must be a couple thousand people just in Davis Sq, wandering around cheering at random, high-fiving strangers and pointing at the moon. The eclipse floated overhead like a god-for-truth sign of Divine favour.

More people were flowing in as I left, I think faster than people are going home. Cars are cruising around honking rhythmically, and the cops have closed off Elm St. Every third person is on a cell phone, either crouched over with it jammed against one ear and a finger in the other, or with it held up just to hear the noise. I can't figure out if having a winning sports team actually means any damned thing at all, but I can't stop grinning.

It's a good night to be a Bostonian.

2004 October 25

"When can their glory fade?"

One hundred and fifty years ago today, October 25, 1854, into the valley of Death rode the six hundred. At the battle of Balaclava in the Crimean war, the 13th Hussars of the British Army under Lord Cardigan made perhaps the last famous cavalry charge in history, along a suicidal mile length of valley defended by not one but three Russian artillery batteries. The intended order was for them to attack a different target, but the general was on high ground, and did not realize that down in the valley, Cardigan could not see the one he meant. Cardigan queried the order, but when it was confirmed, he mounted and bravely rode. This was the Charge of the Light Brigade.

NPR had a bit on it when I was in the car heading up to New Hampshire (went hiking in Franconia Notch, and it was a gorgeous day), which was interesting both from a military-history and a literary perspective. It turns out that while the Light Brigade itself was more than decimated -- 1-2 hundred out of 600 killed, plus almost all the horses -- they actually succeeded at capturing the guns they went after, and their suicidal bravery so impressed the Russians that apparently you couldn't get Russian troops to stand against British cavalry for six months after. Literarily, NPR had an actor read Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade", and then played a hundred-year old recording of the actual brigade trumpeter playing the actual trumpet he'd sounded that morning at Balaclava. It was so ridiculously glorious I nearly cried. I'm not entirely sure I understand it, but this sort of voice from the past always chokes me up. "Flanders Fields" often does the same thing.


Half a league, half a league,
    Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.


"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
    Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
    Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
    Rode the six hundred.


Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
    All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
    Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
    Not the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
    Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
    Left of six hundred.


When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
    All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred.

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson

They haven't faded quite yet.

2004 October 21

That unfamiliar feeling is . . . VICTORY

I have a question for the Red Sox Nation. I can't really count myself as a real Sox fan, considering I've hardly watched more than a few Sox games ever, have never been a baseball fan, have only lived in Boston for a couple years, have never been to Fenway, and basically am Canadian. I got swept up in the ALCS somewhat to my surprise, so I can hardly imagine my own reactions can be representative.

So my question is: Are the Sox still doomed to choke next week? When you contemplate the Red Sox winning the Series, do you still have that lump of lead in your belly that knows they will crush your hopes? Or does a historic ass-pounding dished out on the Yankees -- the Evil Empire of lore -- does that mean that all bets are off? Is anything possible in this brave new world, or are the Sox only finding new ways to float you up off the ground while lining up a pulverizing boot to the nads?

Do you even care about the World Series at this point?

An article today on Sox celebrations in the Dominican Republic pointed out that David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, and Sammy Sosa are all from that country. I will have to remember to point this out next time somebody tells me that a World Cup of Baseball wouldn't be viable.

2003 December 15


Yesterday was plainly a Good Day in the adventure in Iraq. Congratulations to the US Army for hunting down Saddam Hussein, and more congratulations for doing the right thing and capturing him for trial rather than shooting him 'while resisting' -- this marks an important way the Americans are distinguishable from their enemies.[*] Hussein is an evil man, and will deserve whatever fate comes to him.

One can say all of the above without believing that the Adventure in Iraq was justified, or that this benefit (which I think is likely to be by far the biggest one to result from the war) necessarily exceeds the costs to be borne from fighting it. I remain un-sanguine about the prospects of decent government in Iraq lasting for more than a few years. If it turns out I'm wrong, I will apologize to anyone who was polite in disagreeing with me.

[* It would be nice not to need reassurance, but meanwhile we have a US Army Lt Colonel quoted in the NY Times saying, "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them," while overseeing an operation wrapping an Iraqi village in razor wire. Do you need to destroy the village to save it, Colonel?]

Update (12/16): 'Photodude' has said what needed to be said, much better than I managed. What I said up there remains true, but somewhat aside of the real point:

Cranky Americans: ... They had just seen the Long Reigning Demon of their Nightmares, flashed on the screen, reduced to a disheveled derelict who clearly posed no threat to anyone. In the wake of that visual shock, many probably next saw the face of someone lost flashing through their mind. Or simply the faceless thousands. Decades of pent up emotion, released in a second.


Anger. Joy. Vengeance. Relief. Condescending disgust. Even humiliation. This harsh mixture of emotions must be very tough, especially coming in such a sudden torrent, and it will take some time for them to be internally resolved. Decades of hard impressions were shattered yesterday for millions of people.

Yes. That's more like it. It was a Good Day for Iraq.

[Meanwhile, I find I have a curious resistance to using the alias 'Photodude' without quotes. Logically it's no different than Atrios or Tacitus, which I'm happy to treat as plain names. Apparently I'm a snob on this point.]


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