Cybernetics in the 3rd Millennium (C3M) --- Volume 5 Number 3, May 2006
Alan B. Scrivener --- www.well.com/~abs --- mailto:email@example.com
The Eastern Question
Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night
Every gal in Constantinople
Lives in Istanbul, not Constantinople
So if you've a date in Constantinople
She'll be waiting in Istanbul
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks.
-- They Might Be Giants, 1990
"Flood" (music CD)
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002H7V/hip-20 )
This issue of Cybernetics in the Third Millennium expands upon ideas
from volume 2 number 11, Nov. 2002, "War Games, Money Games, New Games
and Meta Games,"
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/c3m_0211.txt )
especially the section called "War Games" which begins:
War games have been with us for a long time. The Olympics began
as a kind of war game, bolstering the strength of Athens' youth
in peacetime through competition. The familiar carousel of wooden
horses and a brass ring to grab began as a military simulator, to
teach knights to hit a target (the ring) with a lance while riding
a galloping horse.
When I began a stint of consulting on visualizing bio-terrorism
threats in the fall of 2001, I felt a need to learn more about
the antecedent events that created a world in which suicide bombers
could and would threaten the only remaining superpower with the largest
slaying of citizens (military or civilian) in its history. I first
went to the Middle East history, rereading the encyclopedic but
brief "Near East: 10,0000 Years of History" (1968) by Isaac Asimov.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0395065623/hip-20 )
It reminded me that parts of this conflict go back to before there
were people that we now identify ethnically as either Arabs or Semites,
let alone religiously as Moslems or Jews.
Then I got to thinking, and remembered that a roommate of mine
once suggested, that since I was a "smart guy" and liked complicated
things, I might enjoy researching the so-called "Eastern Question"
in British foreign policy in the 1870s. Almost 30 years later
I decided to take that advice. (Another roommate offered an identical
argument when he recommended I read "Finnegan's Wake" by James Joyce;
it's advice I also decided to take almost 30 years later, but that's
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0141181265/hip-20 )
I also remember watching a movie -- I think it was the Peter Sellers
comedy classic "The Mouse That Roared" (1959) --
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00009MEKJ/hip-20 )
with the same "Eastern Question" roommate and there being a scene
in which a group of diplomats is waiting outside a Duchess' castle
for an audience, and they amuse themselves in their chauffeur-driven
car by playing the board game "Diplomacy."
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B00005EBA0/hip-20 )
In this game exactly seven players, representing the nations
England, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Austria-Hungary and
Turkey, re-negotiate the volatile conditions leading up to World
War One in Europe, and then set to fighting. Unlike the similar
board game "Risk" about global war, this game incorporates
diplomatic strategy into the play of an otherwise military war
game. My roommate laughed, and told me the game dealt with the
"Eastern Question" he'd mentioned.
More recently I've learned that this "Eastern Question" dealt with
the planned division of the Middle East and the Balkans among European
powers following the anticipated breakup of the Ottoman Empire of
Turkey, which had ruled those regions for a millennium. At last I
have dived into the subject matter, begin a read of the turgid
history "Disraeli, Gladstone, and the Eastern Question; A Study in
Diplomacy and Party Politics" (1935) by Robert William Seton-Watson.
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0393005941/hip-20 )
The author looks back with the hindsight gained from having personal
papers from leaders of the several sides available for study.
One thing I am learning is that in London, Disraeli believed
that keeping Turkey strong and Serbia in the hands of the Turks
(along with the rest of the Balkans) would prevent Russia from
overrunning the region (and gaining a Mediterranean military port),
while his political rival Gladstone believed that the Serbs and
other Balkan nations could defend themselves from Russia (with
the help of British allies) if they became self-governing, and
would be loyal and stable allies as well. Nearly everyone in
British foreign policy underestimated the loyalty and aid (by
way of espionage) given to Russia by Christians in the Ottoman
Empire, who were persecuted by the Turks and often helped by the
Tzar of Russia, sometimes at a great sacrifice. This all came
to a head in 1875, when the Serbs revolted and later that year
a Sultan sold to Britain his minority stake in the otherwise-
French-owned Suez canal in Egypt, which connected the Persian
Gulf to the Mediterranean Sea. (When the text gets too dense
for me to bear, I imagine it being read aloud by Colonel
( www.well.com/~abs/Cyb/4.669211660910299067185320382047/031123_06.jpg )
And that's as far as I've read. My roommate was right, it is
Since writing the above I finished reading "Disraeli, Gladstone, and
the Eastern Question; A Study in Diplomacy and Party Politics" (1935)
by Robert William Seton-Watson. I tried to talk to people about it.
Among Americans, I was met with total ignorance and disinterest.
When I tried to explain my reading to a dear relation at a family
dinner, she said, "You remember that guy in the movie 'Airplane'
[(1980) directed by Jim Abrahams and David Zucker]
( www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000B5XOWA/hip-20 )
who kept telling people his life story until they each tried to
kill themselves? Well, that's how people will react if you try
to tell them about that book."
About the only thing I've ben able to get U.S.-educated folk to sit
still for is a comparison of the traditional British coat of arms,
including the lion and the unicorn,
with the unicorn and lion in the "Alice" books,
and how they in turn resemble the politicians Disraeli and Gladstone,
especially as caricatured in "Punch" magazine,
which isn't that all surprising when we realize that both the "Alice"
illustrations and "Punch" cartoons were drawn by John Tenniel.
Martin Gardner elaborates on this in the footnotes of "The Annotated
Alice" (book, 1960).
But as by chance I talked to immigrants from Serbia, Russia, Turkey,
and Persia (Iran), products of those country's educational systems,
they all knew about the war between Russia and Turkey that began in
1877, and the Treaty of San Stephano which ended it in 1878,
followed by the Treaty of Berlin in which the rest of the European
powers got concessions for not making trouble with the whole deal.
(This is how Britain ended up with Cyprus, for example.) They had
been taught much more detail about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire
and its effect on the European balance of power, because the way
this phase of history played out impacted their own fortunes, both
national and personal.
As I explored this disparity in educations I pondered whether this
would make the so-called "Eastern Question" a great or a terrible
topic for this 'Zine.
JINGOISM THEN AND NOW
We don't want to fight,
But by Jingo if we do,
We've got the ships,
We've got the men,
And got the money too.
-- Irish music-hall singer G. H. MacDermott, 1878
(at the London Pavilion during the diplomatic crisis)
Originally the term "Jingoism" meant a British attitude that they
were the greatest of the Great Powers and so should be able to work
their will, with "gunboat diplomacy" if necessary. It arose, of
course, during the first pinnacle of crisis events surrounding the
"Eastern Question" -- the end of the Tenth Russo-Turkish War in 1878.
(The second pinnacle was the start of World War One, also known as
the Eleventh Russo-Turkish War.)
And Jingoism is what some have called the United States' latest
adventures in the Middle East, but few have known about the
historical parallels they were invoking.
As I pondered the events of 1877-78 in contrast to 2001 and since,
I noticed lessons we might learn from the errors of the Russians
and the British.
The conflicts were precipitated by atrocities against Christians
in Serbia, Bosnia, Bulgaria and other territories "controlled" by
the Ottoman Turks. (Part of the problem was than the Ottomans didn't
really have much control of the Circassian irregulars who were
the actual "troops on the ground" and had their own agendas and
loyalties.) With apparent delusions of Russian support, several
of these territories revolted, only to be crushed in counterattacks
and massacres. Russia invaded Turkey with the proclaimed motive of
rescuing these Christian civilians.
The Tzar had a big problem. As far as I could tell, he was a good
man, and really was acting to protect innocents, under severe pressure
from his wife and mother as well as Russian Orthodox religious leaders.
But all the other European Powers knew Russia wanted a port in the
Mediterranean, and part of their containment strategy was to prevent
this. So they doubted the Tzar's motives and assumed the whole thing
was a land grab. (The Tzar's other problem was he ran out of money
to pay troops just as they were approaching the Turkish capital
of Constantinople, also known as Istanbul and Byzantium.)
Queen Victoria and her minister Disraeli had a far different problem.
Britain's long term strategy in containing Russia continued to involve
support for the Turkish government. So they felt obliged to claim
the atrocities in the Balkans were faked. This outraged their
political opponents, whose moral leader was Gladstone, and led to even
more missions to investigate massacres and even more embarrassment for the
So Disraeli's dilemma was that by placing the continued survival of
the democratic government first in his priorities, he was lead to
the conclusion that a Turkish alliance was vital. But in a democracy
he was subject to criticism because of the "moral side effects," if
you will, of the policy, and that entire debate was held publicly.
As a consequence there were almost no surprises for the Tzar from
the British side.
Nevertheless, by the sheer might of the British Navy Britain still
had leverage, and Disraeli convinced the Tzar to retreat from Bulgaria,
restoring it and Macedonia to Ottoman rule, and the massacres resumed.
The analogy to today is clear to me: in America's recent history
we've taken the strategy of Disraeli, by supporting cruel dictators
around the world who were pro-American, including the likes of
the Shah of Iran,
and ended up with a whole lot of baggage from the moral side-effects,
such as the 1979 Iran hostage crisis for starters.
But now, our man Bush has been invading countries while assuring the
world that we're only doing it to protect innocents, and like the
Tzar is faced with enemies who doubt his motives. But he also has
a democracy and a free press to contend with, so his political opponents
as well as his foreign opponents -- and even ex-allies -- accuse him
of a power grab.
I thought these ideas were relevant, but I didn't quite know where to
go with them, so I put the essay aside for, as it turned out, three
years. Only now do I feel like I have the answer to the question
"so what?" figured out.
LOOK BULLWINKLE, A MESSAGE FROM THE FUTURE!
San Diego -- Earth city destroyed by the first ever act of
nuclear terrorism [in 2157]. It is estimated that it will not be
inhabitable again until the mid 2300s.
-- "Babylon 5" Encyclopedia
My friend Bruce Webster sends me & some other folks a "link o'
the day" email quite frequently. Recently he sent a link
to what was in a fact a short-short science fiction story
about terrorism and time travel, by novelist Dan Simmons.
In introducing the material Bruce says:
I find this all the more interesting because I've been
studying the Peloponnesian War for the last few years
(two editions of Thucydides, Donald Kagen's book, and now
Victor Davis Hanson's book)...and, of course, I wrote a
book based on Sun Tzu.
I don't agree with all of his assessments and predictions --
but, like Simmons, I've studied enough history (and in
particular military history) to have grave concerns with
how the West is dealing (or failing to deal) with the
ongoing conflict of civilizations. "The Century War" is
an apt term--and something to ponder in light of those
who want us out of Iraq (and the Middle East) in six months.
The time traveller appears in 2005 and talks about the sci-fi
novel "Replay" (1998) by Kenneth Greenwood,
in which a time visitor from the late 1980s to the early 1960s
wonders if there are other like him, and so had:
taken out personal ads in major city newspapers around the
country. The ads were concise. "Do you remember Three Mile
Island, Challenger, Watergate, Reaganomics? If so, contact
me at . . ."
So then THIS time traveller, at the beginning of 2005, gives the list:
Terri Schiavo, Katrina, New Orleans under water, Ninth Ward,
Ray Nagin, Superdome, Judge John Roberts, White Sox sweep the
Astros in four to win the World Series, Pope Benedict XVI,
and then comes back a year later to say "told ya' so" and give a
new list, of future terror targets:
Galveston, the Space Needle, Bank of America Plaza in Dallas,
Renaissance Tower in Dallas, Bank One Center in Dallas, the
Indianapolis 500 -- one hour and twenty-three minutes into the
race. The Bell South Building in Atlanta. The TransAmerica
Pyramid in San Francisco . . . the Golden Gate Bridge, the
Guggenheim in Bilbao, the New Reichstag in Berlin, Albert Hall,
Saint Paul's Cathedral . . .
When the narrator complains that they can't ALL be destroyed in
the 21st century, the time traveller replies:
I'm talking about your next fifteen years. And I've barely begun.
Now I don't quite find this believable. I think since 2001 we've been
slowly ungalvanized into inaction by our declining level of fear.
One good direct hit on U.S. soil would turn that around, making us
once again united with resolve. But it was food for thought. He
taught me a new word: dhimmitude.
He drew some parallels with the Peloponnesian War and our Iraq War,
which made sense. (The Greeks didn't want it bad enough; the defender
always has a home field morale advantage.)
But the really intriguing question, to me at least, was "When did
America's war with radical Islamists begin?" Simmons had his time
traveler give the answer:
Historians in my time know that it began on June 5, 1968.
-- which was the assassination of Robert Kennedy -- and predicted
a 100-year conflict we would end up calling the Century War.
(More later on "When did America's war with radical Islamists begin?")
This got me to thinking about other science fiction commentary on
our current predicament, whether intended or not. The series by
George Alec Effinger that begins with "When Gravity Fails" (1987)
portrays a universe of planets colonized by humans ruled by dictatorships
under Islamic law. This implies that we are in the middle of a struggle
that will determine the culture of the cosmos.
I also thought of Robert Heinlein's politically radioactive novel
"Starship Troopers" (1960).
According to the current Wikipedia article on the book,
Heinlein wrote the book at a time when he was responding to protests
over A-bomb tests by forming a counter-group to demand MORE nuclear
weapon testing. As I described in C3M Vol. 4 No. 5, "Cyberpunks
in Cyberspace" ~ or ~ "The Future of Science Fiction"
was written in the xenophobic and conformist fifties, and
even by the sixties seemed painfully reactionary and very
out of fashion. It described a society in constant warfare against
killer alien bugs that cannot be negotiated with. Society has
reorganized itself so that you can't vote unless you've served
in the military. When director Paul Verhoeven (who gave us "Robocop")
made the movie version in 1997
it was plainly a satire, done with a straight face but with tongue
in cheek. The society portrayed seemed absurd, and the killer
bugs they fought a dark, paranoid fantasy.
Of course, now, post 9/11 it's not so absurd. Most of the satire
seems to have drained away from this movie, and it has transformed
into a run-of-the-mill sci-fi action movie, like many war movies
before it. Its value as anti-war propaganda is now gone, and it
has seemingly become pro-war instead.
Indeed, Heinlein himself
has become a bit of a Patron Sci-Fi Saint to neo-cons, which annoys
those of us who knew him as a libertarian.
His novel "Beyond This Horizon" (1942)
contained another glaringly politically incorrect idea. It described
a future time in which the history of humans on Earth includes a past
attempt -- still in our own future -- to use selective breeding
to eliminate violence from the race. A "violence gene" was
identified and those with it were not allowed to bear children.
When the point was reached where most of humanity was nonviolent,
the remaining violent types revolted and slaughtered everybody
else. (Who could fight them?) All further humanity was descended
from this violent minority.
This kind of scenario used to sound far-fetched, until the recent
discovery using biotech that a large number of men in central Asia
share a Y chromosome which likely came from Genghis Khan, as reported
in "Adam's Curse: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Destiny"
(book, 2003) by Bryan Sykes.
BACK TO THE PAST
Babylon, the mud-brick city with the million-dollar name, has
paid the price of war. It has been ransacked, looted, torn up,
paved over, neglected and roughly occupied. Archaeologists said
American soldiers even used soil thick with priceless artifacts
to stuff sandbags.
-- Jeffrey Gettleman, 18 April 2006
"Ruined Treasures in Babylon Await an Iraq Without Fighting"
New York Times
My New Year's Resolution this year was to read "Moby Dick" (novel,
1851) by Herman Melville.
I keep a copy at work, and at the end of each workday I read at
least 3 pages; at this rate I should make my goal.
Early in this process I happened on this surprising passage:
...doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of
the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long
time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo
between more extensive performances. I take it that this part
of the bill must have run something like this:
"Grand Contested Election for the Presidency of the United States.
"WHALING VOYAGE BY ONE ISHMAEL."
"BLOODY BATTLE IN AFFGHANISTAN."
It was remarkable how his two sample headlines from 150 years ago
(between which he sandwiched his personal news) resembled those of
I was reminded of sci-fi author Neal Stephenson's latest three-
volume opus, "the Baroque Cycle" (2003 - 2005).
My wife has theorized that this work, written much like cyberpunk
sci-fi but set in the 16th and 17th centuries, was an attempt to
get geeks to pay more attention to history.
In any case, I decided that I needed to pay more attention to
history. I dusted off the "Eastern Question" material and took
a fresh look.
I finally broke down and bought a copy on eBay of the out-of-print
book "The Near East: 10,000 Years of History" (1968) by Isaac Asimov.
Years ago in the 1970s, and again in 2001, I checked it out
of the library and read it. I'd even made photocopies of the
maps, showing the ebb and flow of empires over the Fertile
Crescent. (The following link shows a map from a Bible study
web site which is a fairly close fit to Asimov's maps.)
In 1982 I attended my first World Game with Bucky Fuller,
and there I saw a short hand-animated movie of the growth
of world population over the centuries. To get an idea what
I'm talking about you can look at some more recent content
on on the internet, a still picture of U.S. population distribution,
and a short, small animation of world population growth,
but this particular animation was using a Dymaxion Projection Map
and had colored dots for quantities of people.
Inspired by this, I imagined an animated movie, showing the rise and
fall of empires. I figured each region being centrally taxed could
be in a different color, and the capitals where the tax money was
taken could be represented as cylinders of the same color, sized
to represent the annual income in units of grain. It would
like a little like an image my friend Jeff Sale produced
for Operation Desert Bloom (a somewhat unrelated project).
My intuition told me that such an animation would lead to
new insights as well as increased public curiosity about
A few years later I found out that guerrilla educators
Charles and Ray Eames had done a hand-animated map of the perimeter
of the Roman Empire in 1979 that they called "Atlas" -- it is
now on DVD in the collection "The Films of Charles and Ray Eames."
This is a step in the right direction. This ancient history stuff
may seem far removed from the important issues of today, until
you look at a map of the Tigris and Euphrates river valleys
and how they define the region around Bagdad, where the news media
tell us American troops are being wounded and killed regularly.
AND THEN A BUNCH OF OTHER STUFF HAPPENED
The island of Cyprus, madame. World famous for beauty, and
long, tragic history. Been conquered many times, conquered by
Phoenicians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians; also conquered
by Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Turks. Purchased from Turkey by
your esteemed self, the British Empire.
-- opening lines from the movie "Exodus" (1960)
directed by Otto Preminger
When my wife read Asimov's history of the Near East, she said, "It's
like it's drenched in history and it keeps re-drenching." As the dialog
from "Exodus" highlights, wave after wave after wave of conquerors have
swept through the region. The history of the island of Cyprus,
just a few hundred miles from the Mediterranean shores of Syria,
Lebanon and Israel, serves as a microcosm of the history of the
as does the similar but different history of the island of Malta,
south of Sicily and north of Suez.
Both had prominent roles in the Crusades,
and served for a while as home bases for the Knights Hospitaller.
The Crusades offer much to ponder as we Americans ask the
rhetorical question about the Islamic Militants, "Why do
they hate us so much?"
Another thing worth pondering is the instructive story of
Hassan i Sabbah, the Old Man of the Mountain.
Some Middle East scholars consider him a bogey-man created by
Westerners, but if so then he is an instructive bogey-man.
As a blogger summarizes:
R. Anton Wilson reported that the sect founder Hassan i
Sabbah would use very strong cannabis & opium to drug
some of his converts; they would wake in a beautiful
garden with delicious food & drink, tended by gorgeous
maidens. After satiation in this paradise (which unbeknownst
to them was a secret cloistered garden in the middle of
Hassan's castle) they would again be drugged, to wake up
back in Hassan's halls. He would tell them they had
experienced a taste of the paradise that awaited them
after death, if they followed his Ismaili teachings.
In this way, they would become fanatically devoted to the
sect, acting as deep-cover agents, sometimes for decades,
in the courts of other rulers until such time as they got
their orders to kill such-an-one, which they did with
enthusiasm, looking forward to their joys in the afterlife!
For these reasons the words "hashish"" and "assassin" are reputed to
come from his name.
I've also heard tell that Hassan would send loyal adherents to
infiltrate the inner circles of other leaders, sometimes for
decades, awaiting the signal -- a inverted numeral 4 -- to
assassinate their lord. Every now and then some generals would
decide to eradicate Hassan from his desert fortress. Inevitably
on the first night of the march the general would find a flaming
dagger in his bed -- or several -- well-known sign of Hassan's
infiltration. The wise would turn back.
THE SHORES OF TRIPOLI
I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility
against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.
-- Thomas Jefferson, September 23, 1800
letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush
(inscribed in the rotunda of the
Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.)
Sometimes you find things in the weirdest places. I'm not even
going to tell you where I ran across the book "Jefferson's War:
America's First War On Terror 1801-1805" (2004) by Joseph Wheelan
during my travels, except to say it was in a store you would
only find in the American South. I didn't buy it then, but it's
subject matter gnawed at my brain and I ended up tracking it down.
I was astonished. Exactly 200 years before George W. Bush faced
the problem of Islamic Militants, U.S. president Thomas Jefferson had
created the country's first permanent navy to attempt to solve
the same problem.
As Wikipedia explains
in its "Barbary pirates" article:
Though at least a proportion of them are better described
as privateers, the Barbary pirates were pirates that operated
out of Tunis, Tripoli, Algiers, Sal and ports in Morocco
preying on shipping in the western Mediterranean Sea from
the time of the Crusades as well as on ships on their way
to Asia around Africa until the early 19th century. Their
stronghold was along the stretch of northern Africa known
as the Barbary Coast (a medieval term for the Maghreb after
its Berber inhabitants), although their predation was said
to extend as far north as Iceland, and south along West
Africa's Atlantic seaboard. As well as preying on shipping,
raids were often made on European coastal towns. The pirates
were responsible for capturing large numbers of Christian
slaves from Western Europe, who were sold in slave markets
in places such as Morocco. Sultan Moulay Ismail had a very
substantial fortified palace built almost entirely by
Christian slave labour obtained through the actions of
* * *
Barbary pirates and the U.S. Navy
When the U.S. became a country it had little in the way of a
navy to protect its merchant ships, so in 1784, Congress
appropriated $60,000 as tribute to the Barbary states. But
continued attacks prompted the building of the United States
Navy, ... Philadelphia, leading to a series of wars along the
North African coast, starting in 1801...
The United States Marine Corps actions in these wars led to the
line, "to the shores of Tripoli" in the opening of the Marine Hymn.
When Jefferson tried to negotiate with the Barbary states,
insisting that America had no quarrel with them, he was told that
the doctrine of "jihad" justified Islamic pirates preying on
"Jefferson's War" covered all this material in more detail.
It told the amazing tale of American adventurer John Eugene
Leitensdorfer, in turns a U.S. diplomat, businessman, Moslem
monk, soldier of fortune and street magician in the Islamic
world. He was involved in a rear action in which:
Marine Lt. Presley O'Bannon . . . planted the Stars and
Stripes atop the battlement at Derna, the first American
flag-raising on hostile soil.
It also told of initial setbacks, of the U.S. Navy not acting
with enough resolve, due to the illness of the fleet commander,
bad weather, and usurping of power by a junior officer who
preferred the social life of British Malta to actual warfare
against Barbary pirates in their home ports. The junior officer
was later court-martialed upon his return to the United States, but
the damage was done -- the Barbary states laughed at the U.S.
Navy and demanded more tribute.
Meanwhile Tripoli, one of the Barbary states, seized some British
citizens as a negotiating ploy, and Lord Nelson (yes, THAT Lord
Nelson, of Trafalgar fame) sailed in to the capitol's harbor and
began to shell the city with incendiaries. When the monarch, Yusuf
Qamaranli, sent negotiators in boats Nelson rebuked them, and continued
the shelling for a long afternoon. When Nelson finally agreed to
negotiate Yusuf had to return the hostages, apologize, pay a fine, and
promise never to do it again.
Apparently the Americans learned from the British example,
because when the U.S. ship Philadelphia was captured by
Tripoli the Americans refused to pay tribute. As a sidebar
to an article about the Barbary Berry
The critical point came in February of 1804 . . .
Lieutenant Stephen Decatur boldly sailed his ship Enterprise
into the harbor at Tripoli and burned the U.S. frigate
Philadelphia, to void its captors' demands for tribute,
incidentally avenging his own brother's death with the
blood of a few privateers. He carried off the whole
engagement at the cost of only one man wounded.
(It was Decatur who said later, at a banquet celebrating his
In matters of foreign affairs, my country may she ever be
right, but right or wrong, my country, my country.
which of course has been shortened to "my country right or wrong.")
Next the U.S. supported an attack by Yusuf's deposed brother Hamet,
which included the battle in the aforementioned Derna. When Hamet's
army was marching on the capital, U.S. warships attacked from the
harbor, and Yusuf was quick to sue for peace. At that point the U.S.
abandoned Hamet, surely a shameful chapter in the history of American
foreign relations, but it could have been worse. Hamet could have
triumphed and been installed as an American stooge. (More on stooges
and other toadies later.)
These events ultimately inspired:
the Tripoli Memorial, the oldest U.S. military monument
dedicated to the six naval officers killed during the Barbary
War. It stands behind Preble Hall at the U.S. Naval Academy
in Annapolis, Maryland.
As well as a song by Francis Scott Key written to the same tune as
"The Star-Spangled Banner" but nine years earlier:
In conflict resistless each toil they endur'd'
Till their foes shrunk dismay'd from the war's desolation:
And pale beam'd the Crescent, its splendor obscur'd
By the light of the star-spangled flag of our nation,
Where each flaming star gleam'd a meteor of war,
And the turban'd head bowed to the terrible glare.
Then mixt with olive the laurel shall wave,
And form a bright wreath for the bow of the brave.
I dare say it's a rare American who knows this. (But I'll
bet it's taught to school children in Iran, as further proof
the we are "Great Satan." For the Islamic Militants this
whole jihad must seem like a feud with an Alzheimer's patient:
"What quarrel do you have with us?" we keep asking.)
And that's when America's war with Islamic Militants began.
Ain't never gonna do it without the fez on, oh no.
-- Steely Dan, 1976
"The Fez" (song) on the album
"The Royal Scam"
And now for something completely different.
I don't know if you've noticed, but there's a big time fad
gearing up, especially in Southern California, that is sometimes
called Tiki Culture.
Though it has its roots in the old Tiki fad of the 1940s and 50s,
it's an new thing. Some of the 20-somethings doing it seem like
the same people who were into lounge music, rockabilly, and Betty
Page when they were each trendy.
The old Tiki fad had its roots in all the G.I.s who got sent through
Hawaii to the South Pacific in World War Two. Some of them moved
to places like Long Beach and became aerospace workers after bringing
Hawaiian brides back with them. When I went to a few events put on by
the Kama'aina ["old timers"] Club of Orange County in the 1980s,
which keeps alive native Hawaiian traditions in Southern California,
I saw quite a few Haoles (Anglos) married to Hawaiians.
But aside from the old timers with their interest in authentic
Hawaiian culture, the casual fantasy-tiki fans moved on to other
things, and by the 1980s when I lived in the L.A. basin the old
tiki style buildings were being torn down. I actually lived in a
deteriorating Polynesian style complex called the Kona Garden
Apartments in Bellflower. I saw tiki style bowling alleys, motels
and liquor stores being torn down, and even dined a few times at
the legendary Kelbo's near Pico and Sepulveda,
before it was converted to a strip club.
There was a short-lived tiki revival in the mid 1990s
but it didn't really "take." Perhaps it was too soon
after the old tiki fad's demise.
But now in the "oughties" the Tikis are making a bigtime
comeback. Last year at a Disneyana convention (google
"Disneyana" if you're curious what that is) I stumbled on
"Tiki Magazine" and bought a copy.
From it I learned of an event in San Diego, my neck of the woods,
called "Tiki Oasis 6"
held at the classic Polynesia-themed Hanalei Hotel.
Thanks to the internet, this time the tiki fad is spreading very
With some friends and family I went to the afternoon vendor show at
"Tiki Oasis 6."
One of my friends found a booth publicizing a semi-covert, apparently
satirical "Cult of the Eye."
"How do I become a member?" my friend asked.
"First you have to get a Fez," and the directed him to their partners
in a nearby booth, Fez-O-Rama, who sold him a Fez.
This was a real "hmmm" moment for me. What is it about a man
in a Fez? Those mysterious Barbary states like Tripoli had --
and have -- men wearing Fezes all over the place.
And why does the search for the Tiki seem to lead to the man with
the Fez? Even that classic fake Hawaiian record "Exotica" (1957)
by Martin Denny
begins with Polynesian themes but eventually transitions to Arabian
Nights. The song "Caravan" -- famous for its use in magic acts --
is played with a traditional drum solo, sounding like camels carrying
rugs, and belly dancers at the oasis.
(Could it be the allure of the Island Orgy eventual leads to the
desire for the Harem?)
THE STAR AND THE CRESCENT
"Allah be praised, I've invented the zero."
-- "Why Man Creates" (short film, 1968)
Doubtless American culture is filled with stereotypes of Middle
Easterners, from Peter Lorre as Ugarte
in "Casablanca" (movie, 1942) directed by Michael Curtiz,
to cartoon character Morocco Mole,
to the comedy portrayal Libyan terrorists,
in "Back To the Future" (movie, 1985) directed by Robert Zemeckis.
Indeed, scholars have pointed out that many Westerners even have
anxieties about Christian nations that used to be under Moslem
rule until the last century or two, which includes most of the
Balkans. It's as if these countries have acquired some kind of
sinister influence from Ottoman rule. These anxieties manifest
in highbrow literature such as "Dracula" (novel, 1897) by Bram Stoker,
as well as lowbrow "B" movies such as "Cat People" (1942) and
"The Curse of the Cat People" (1944) directed by Robert Wise.
A number of so-called "lodges" or men's clubs in America seem
to have Middle Eastern roots, such as the Masons, Shriners and
Demolay, and there are secret societies such as the Rosicrucians
and the Golden Dawn, that all seem to harken back to spiritual
secrets (sometimes sinister) brought back to Europe by Crusaders.
Neal Wilgus' "The Illuminoids" (book, 1979) looks into the super-secret
"Illuminati" supposedly brought from African mystery religions
-- as well as Moslem mysticism -- by the Knights Templar and
others, and spread through the West as a sort of parasite on Freemasonry.
Alchemy is said to have similar roots. See "The Sufis" (book,
1964) by Idries Shah.
But some of our stereotypes are positive. American school children
are taught that the Arab world produced excellent mathematics
as well as chemistry, medicine and navigation.
I have also noticed a number of spiritual paths that seem
both uplifting and beautiful which have grown up within
the Islamic tradition, such as the Dervishes,
the Sufis (though they might deny it),
and the followers of spiritual master Meher Baba.
FREE YOUR MIND AND YOU CAN DESIGN BETTER WEAPONS
The old man had left the laboratory a mess. What engaged my
attention at once was the quantity of cheap toys lying around.
There was a paper kite with a broken spine. There was a toy
gyroscope, wound with string, ready to whirr and balance itself.
There was a top. There was a bubble pipe. There was a fish
bowl with a castle and two turtles in it.
"He loved ten-cent stores," said Miss Faust.
"I can see he did."
"Some of his most famous experiments were performed with
equipment that cost less than a dollar."
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr, 1969
"Cat's Cradle" (novel)
One of the myths in the post-9/11 era is "They hate us because
we are free." A related myth is "our freedom of thought makes
us strong, because we end up doing the best science." In other words,
America invented the assembly line, the airplane, the transistor, the
laser, and the atom bomb because we don't have a state-sponsored
religion, like the Iranians, or a state-controlled definition of
our language, like the French, or state-censored communications,
like the Chinese. Might makes right, but science makes might,
and free minds make science. If this is really true, then any
attempt to restrict American's free thought is a threat to our
national security! But with both these myths I think the reality
is far more complex.
The Bush administration has bent over backwards to send the message
"we are not at war with Islam," but some of the American people have
not agreed. A question that is raised in the blogosphere is:
"Is Islam Itself a Threat?"
My own personal take on the "why do they hate us?" question
is that "they" (our enemies among the Islamic Fundamentalists)
recognize that they they are engaged in a centuries-old struggle
with "the West" for the hearts and minds of the people of Earth,
even if we don't. By "the West" I mean a package deal that includes
Christians, Jews, and Secular Humanists and the institutions of what
is usually called "Liberal Democracy," including the universal
near-support for a fundamental human right: The Right To Be Left Alone.
Why they hate us so fiercely, and are willing to use such desperate
tactics, is because we're winning so totally, with about a 1300-year
technical head start. Our superior technology forces them to use
the tactics of Asymmetric Warfare: terror and suicide.
This technical struggle predates Moslems, Christians and Jews,
predates Arabs and Israelis, and traces back to ancient empires
like the Sumerians, the Akkadians, the Amorites, and the Assyrians,
and mostly in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers
within 500 miles of modern Bagdad. The cycle of history frequently
followed this pattern: happy agrarians in the valleys use the
irrigation system to grow a surplus of food, allowing some citizens
to be defenders, others to advance agricultural knowledge, others to
just become lazy and self-indulgent. Over time the pressures to
defend and innovate and subside, until one day fierce nomads with
superior breeds of horses and superior alloys of metals in their
weapons sweep down and try to slaughter everyone. They move in,
figure our the irrigation system, start growing more than they
need to survive and soon become the new happy agrarians. Cycle
Much later this ongoing series of conquests leads to the Roman
Empire, and eventually the British Empire on the Western side,
and Turkish Empire in the East. The big puzzle is how the
Occident got so far ahead of the Orient after coming from behind
in the first Millennium. I found a book, "What Went Wrong?:
The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East"
(2003) by Bernard Lewis,
but it really didn't answer the question.
Jared Diamond, in "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies"
explains the even bigger technical advantage of the West over the
third world, like natives in the Americas, Oceania and Sub-Saharan
Africa, by a convoluted argument involving the domestication of
animals in Europe and Asia giving those peoples stronger immune systems.
My friend John Z. says the answer is in "Aristotle's Children: How
Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and
Illuminated the Middle Ages" (book, 2003) by Richard E. Rubenstein
and also recommends "Victory of Reason" (book, 2005) by Rodney Stark.
As he explains it to me, Rubenstein's thesis is that the church
in the early middle ages was faced with questions the scriptures
didn't answer, so they endorsed the known writings of Aristotle
which were few and seemed harmless. But during the Renaissance
many more of his writings were found, and the church was forced
to accept them as well, and this lead to a growth of "Natural
Philosophy," the search for knowledge of the Creator by studying
the created, which became Western science. Islam was better at
filtering our heresy, and so didn't mutate the way most of
Christendom did, into an interlinked industrial/capitalist society.
Next time: what all this has to do with cybernetics.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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