Frederick Turner on dubious judgement

Frederick Turner, classicist, poet, teacher, and polymath, is one of our most important and unfortunately least known intellectuals and philosophers. His remarkable body of work transcends genres and easy political categories. He is a biologically and scientifically literate humanist and a poet who writes epics and metered lyrics. A quick view of his work can be seen at the invaluable 2Blowhards here, and his own website is here.

His best prose may be in The Culture of Hope, linked to in the Blowhards site. But my favorite of all his books is Genesis, a novel in the form of an epic poem, in various meters, about the colonization of Mars. There is nothing like it, and everyone I have ever given it to loves it, even if they dislike science fiction.

Recently Fred wrote a post in Tech Central Station on what he believes was a severe lapse in judgement, to say the very least, in the New York Times: “A recent article by Scott Shane, Stephen Grey and Margot Williams in the New York Times revealed the use of aircraft charter companies by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, together with specific aircraft markings, bases, routes, and other information helpful to identification of such flights.”

One doesn’t have to believe in the Iraq war to think that this is just plain wrong (for the record, I am comfortable with the Afghan invasion, and think Iraq was at least partly the result of faulty intelligence, though not malice. But I don’t know that the best way to deal with the insurgents is to cut and run immediately –a LOT too much to go into here!

Fred says it well: “A fourth motivation could be that the patriotic authors believed that the US is making a huge mistake in the current war, and any hindrance to its use of secret intelligence and covert action will help prevent the continuance of this mistake. Two problems present themselves here. The first is that if this were the motivation, their proper role would be to say so in an opinion piece, in which citation of specific secrets would be unnecessary, since America already accepts and has voted for covert services that employ private companies.”

He, like so many of us, knows someone well who is being deployed there: “If my friend dies in his tour of duty I shall be thinking very specifically about Mr. Scott, Mr. Grey, and Ms. Williams. Quite likely they would have had nothing particularly to do with this misfortune. However, human nature being what it is, I know that I would not be able to exclude them from my meditations. If the authors were just publishing their article to get a chance at a Pulitzer, I really have no moral quarrel with them at all, any more than I would have with a crocodile that eats a child or a raccoon that raids my larder. However, if they do have a moral identity as human beings, they should know that, if a certain civilian plane comes down over an unnamed Middle Eastern country, and all the US personnel aboard are killed, there is one compatriot who will regard them as murderers. “

Amen. Could you have imagined such harebrained idiocy in WW II?

Africa’s Pol Pot?

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has begun to burn the houses of thousands of urban poor people and drive them into the already-starving countryside. One of Africa’s rare food exporters has been turned into something resembling a subtropical North Korea.

I was in Zimbabwe shortly before the current troubles began and fell in love with it. Even then, the eerie “Big Brother” porteaits of Mugabe in every public room struck an ominous note. I wonder if I could ever go back knowing what we do now. A village council elder in a southwestern village we visited to see their (then) excellent “Campfire” conservation program has since been beheaded. I believe I shook his hand.

From Winds of Change the whole story, which has made at least one Canadian rethink his position on the right to bear arms.

Thanks to Chas of Nature Blog.

Am I in the wrong trade?

Jonathan Hanson of Alpha Environmentalist and I have a long history of trying to one- up each other with the worst and always hilarious excesses of postmodern academic– i. e., art school– “art”. This is not actually the worst, but will do as a contender.

“In May, at the annual spring auction at Christie’s in New York City, Massachusetts artist Tom Friedman managed to sell a piece consisting of an ink squiggle on a 12-by-18-inch piece of white paper (described in the Christie’s catalog as “starting an old dry pen on a piece of paper”). It was sold for $26,400, according to a Washington Post report. Friedman was less successful in offering a 2-foot white cube that contained, on one surface, a tiny speck of his own feces, for which he expected an opening bid of $45,000, but got no takers.”

Imagine how many trips to Kazakhstan, fine shotguns etc. those prices would soon buy me. I mean, it’s pretty easy to be prolific…

Fashion Week in Almaty

Sometimes it is very hard to convey the realities of Central Asia. People can just about get the idea of what remote parts of Mongolia are like– they like the idea of “primitive”.

But what about Almaty? It is a huge modern city with tree- lined boulevards and excellent restaurants and cyber- cafes, situated in the green foothills beween 14,000 foot peaks and steppes like the plains of Wyoming. It is inhabited by Kazakhs and Russians living in enviable harmony (and often intermarrying), Germans, Moslems, Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews. What’s more, as a Russian friend says, “you can take public transport to snow leopards”.

And the town is inhabited, thronged, by incredibly beautiful and stylish women. Everyone in the US seems to think Central Asian women look like East German Athletes or Stalinist WW II vets– it ain’t so! Renato Sala, an irreverent Italian archaeologist based in Almaty, once said to us through clouds of Gauloise smoke that ” Kazakhstan has the MOST beautiful women– Stalin or Chingizz or somebody must have killed all the ugly ones!” Only an Italian.

Dress is interesting too. Libby thought to bring “Cover Up” clothes in deference to both what we thought were local mores and to the season, but it was still hot (early September) and the local women were dressed in bare midriffs and slit skirts and very high heels.

So, catching up on the usually serious Registan, I was delighted to see this hilarious post from Nathan last month. I think that the one that he describes as owing something to pre- teen D & D players– the one with the tall covered headress and the less modest “body”– might owe something to the Golden “Man”. (Doctor Jeannine Davis- Kimball says he is a she).

Sorry for the image quality of the G. M.— the only photo available wouldn’t load, and this one is a Kazakh kid’s drawing.

Nasyma Raybayevna
(Above image: Our friend Nasyma Raybayevna, who is studying business in Almaty and has lived in London, with a berkut. Photo by Wolfgang Regar– or, as he is known in Almaty, “Regarbayev”.)

Parrot Reality Check

Parrot trainer, falconer, and writer Rebecca O’Connor of Operation Desert Dove gently rebukes me for the “crap” implied in the bbc article below: “Please please remind all to refrain from calling what parrots do language. They are excellent labelers, excelling at using learned noises at appropriate moments. They cannot however, understand the abstract concepts involved in language. This is one of the very things that gets so many parrot owners in trouble. They think of their speaking parrots as two year old children (Like Dr. Irene Pepperberg, the premier grey parrot researcher advices us.) Children they are NOT! Like you said, Steve their brain works entirely differently. They are incredibly intelligent but deserve to have their behaviors translated through the lens of what a wild parrots would do naturally.”

She suggests this article as a corrective.

Bird Brains?

I have always been fairly unimpessed with the “linguistic” exploits of our closest genetic relatives, the great apes– the communications chasm seems wider than that between us and our dogs, despite their having been trained to manipulate some symbols.

Which is why recent developments in bird speech and cognition are so mind-boggling, especially as the avian brain is physically extremely different in
its structure. There is a lot of info out there, but check out this BBC
story for a good example of the most talented talking bird, the African gray
parrot.

Yup!

A good line from contrarian blogger- evolutionist- film critic Steve Sailer: “One conservative element I like about “Lord of the Rings” is Tolkien’s arch-Tory / proto-hippie conservationism. Here in the U.S., conservatives tend to assume that the essence of conservatism is to bulldoze a forest and build a Costco. Tolkien would have shuddered.”