Thinking like a Kenyan

Newt Gingrich is at it again.

As notgruntled pointed out, Newt weighed in on the Ground Zero mosque (neither just a mosque nor at Ground Zero).

Now Newt is reading Obama's mind:

What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]?" Gingrich asks. "That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior."

"This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president," Gingrich tells us.

From Gawker

What, pray tell, Mr. Gingrich, is "Kenyan behavior?" Interesting choice of words from a Georgian white guy.

And what kind of spin is Newt imparting to "anti-colonial?" Is it a good thing or a bad thing, Newt? Again an interesting choice of words.

Then there is the Obama-conned-his-way-to-the-Presidency. This particular piece of finesse is pitched to the Birthers and the Obama-is-a-Nazi and Obama-is-a-socialist crowds without dirtying his hand with an actual endorsement or defense of that bag of crazies.

I like Newt, I really do.

He is one of the few conservatives who seem to believe that conservatism has some relationship to ideas, rather than pretending it is an immutable political philosophy that is directly descended from the Ten Commandments. At least it seems he can be engaged on some intellectual level and sometimes he would say things that are outside the conservative dogma.

But when it comes to down and dirty electoral tactics, Newt will say anything that will boost his political fortunes; witness the above.

Hope springs eternal and since Newt's 2008 bid never even smoldered, much less caught fire, Newt is looking at wooing the Palinites, tea baggers and assorted loonies. Good luck with that, Newt.

To quote notgruntled

Or is it possible that conservatives' alleged reverence for the Constitution takes a back seat to an emotional wedge issue in an election year? Fetch my smellin' salts.

Summer reading

Geez, I haven't written anything in a long time. Work and family life have monopolized my time. I have nothing earthshaking to report or profound to share so I will tell you what I am reading lately.

Dexter Filkins - "The Forever War"

"The Forever War" is the successor Michael Herr's "Dispatches." It's a ground level view of the war in Iraq from the invasion up to 2006 and also Afghanistan during the initial defeat of the Taliban.

The parallel between "The Forever War" and "Dispatches" is easy to draw: both are about failed, or at least not entirely successful, American wars. Like Herr, Filkins aspires to break out of his role as journalist and depict the war in more subjective prose. Filkins succeeds in this and to contrast his writing with Herr, avoids the Hunter S. Thompson-esque rock-and-roll journalism that ties "Dispatches" to its era.

Filkins ventures beyond the safety of the embedded reporter in TFW and spends much of his time with Iraqis over the years when Iraq slid into civil war. Unfortunately, Filkins was not reporting from Iraq when that civil war sputtered out, or at least faded to embers. I wish he was in Iraq to continue his reporting now that America seems poised to pull out.

TFW left me wondering too what Filkins would have made of present day Afghanistan, now that that war seems to be coming off the rails as Iraq did.

TFW's great strength is the attention it devotes to Iraqis. Filkins's portraits of the Iraqis he knows and meets are detailed and sympathetic.

It was jarring to discover that Filkins does not speak Arabic, something he reveals only well into TFW. Up to that point I had assumed that Filkins was fluent in Arabic so empathetic was his prose.

In his defense, I suppose that many if not most of his interviews and meetings were in English. But he makes no attempt to distinguish between those that were and those using a translator. As someone trapped on the wrong side of a language barrier so often, I am acutely aware of how baffling that divide can be. I am a little surprised that Filkins was not more of a journalist and point this out.

Roger Crowley - "Empires of the Sea"

I'm not done with this one yet but so far I am enjoying it.

Crowley traces the wars between the Turk and Christendom in the Mediterranean from the fall of Rhodes, the siege of Malta to Lepanto.

It is a chatty, vivid history, which usually makes me suspicious. The 1500s were a very different time to ours and authors writing chatty, vivid accounts may be skimping on the history part and playing up the juicier parts. Still it beats a dry slog through the history of different era (I am about halfway through "God's War: A New History of the Crusades" and have been so for a long time).

What strikes me about EotS is how Islam has been written out of much of European history. From the fall of Constantinople to the 1700's, the wars against the Turk were the great conflict in Europe, the pivot of history. Yet when I read "The Grand Strategy of Phillip II" a few years ago, I can recall no mention the Ottoman Empire, instead it was all about Phillip's wars against England and the Protestants in Northern Europe.

"Empires of the Sea" certainly is a corrective to an overly Anglo or Euro view of history but is a little too fluffy to be authoritative.

A generation passes

The past couple of months have been difficult.

My mother died November 4. My stepfather died November 23. My uncle died January 10.

I expected my mother's and uncle's deaths. She had lung cancer, caught far too late for much hope of effective treatment. But she did beat her initial prognosis of a couple of months and held out for over a year. The leukemia that killed my uncle was quicker, only 5 months.

I dislike the "fight" metaphor for cancer. It may help the sufferer cope with the awful treatments but it seems inapt when it is your own body trying to kill you.

The death of Bill, my stepfather, I did not expect. He had all the usual health problems of an 87 year old man but nothing imminently threatening. His mother and grandparents had lived into their 90s and I assumed he would too. After my mother died, he felt he did not have much to live for and so died. I was shocked by his death in a way I was not by the deaths of my mother and uncle. His death forced me to think about him and my life. Brady Bunch not withstanding, raising a an amalgamated family of six kids, putting them all through college and having them grow up into responsible adults is a challenge I can appreciate now but not when I was a feckless teenager or even when I was a feckless young adult.

About the only consolation in this passing was the chance to see the family. We are scattered pretty widely now, with me falling the farthest from the tree so we don't have many opportunities to gather.

Lots of family stories were told, family mythology really, old standards like The Night the Tasti-Freeze caught fire in Kirkwood and How Uncle Richard broke his leg sledding down Suicide Hill.

There were some I did not remember: Uncle Tom registering black voters in Montgomery, Alabama before the Selma - Montgomery marches and having his phone tapped at OU when he was involved in counseling draft resisters. Or the time my father persuaded the police to let my uncles out of jail; they went free in exchange for the case of beer they got caught with which he promptly replaced. And how my mom lost [temporarily, fortunately] two prisoners out on furlough when working in prison ministry.

I will miss them and their stories. I miss the chance to tell them some of my own adventures living here in Not-The-USA.

Political news from a small country

Yesterday the Swiss voted. There is nothing surprising about this, the Swiss do it couple of months (think California ballot initiatives on speed) but this time they voted down minarets.

Amongst the raft of issues was a one line change to the Swiss constitution outlawing the building of minarets. The Swiss People's Party (Schweizerische Volkspartei for a bit of pseudo-Nazi frisson) chief wedge issue has been and continues to be furriners, especially Islamic furriners.

The SVP has tested the limits of propriety and legality in their campaign advertising. They have claimed that that Switzerland will become a majority Islamic country by 2025. On referenda on immigration policy the SVP made campaign posters showing hands of a decidedly non-pinkish color reaching for Swiss passports.

Aside: I was going to say non-Caucasian hands above but the SVP is not too fond even of caucasians if they come from the Balkans.

This time the SVP latched onto the issue was minarets. Switzerland is well known for the looming minarets of mosques that dominate the small villages nestled in picturesque Alpine valleys. And the SVP had had enough.

In spite of Switzerland having only four mosques with minarets (none of which broadcast calls to prayer, that would be UnSwiss, nevermind the blasted church bells marking Sunday mass at 6:30am in the quaint little village where I lived for years. It is all right now, we moved to another quaint village, thanks) the Swiss voted to ban the construction of minarets 57.5% to 42.5%.

It's not the end of tolerance in Switzerland (though Heaven help you if you jaywalk on the other side of the Rostigraben), it's probably just the opening round in several more rounds of referenda and court rulings.

Tipping point

There comes a time in every expatriate's life when he can't explain what the hell is going on with The Old Country.

That moment the last time out for me was when I failed to understand a Far Side cartoon. A cow orker (also a Merkin expat but basically grew up here) had a Far Side daily calendar. The lo cal cow orkers would peruse it each day and attempt to decipher it. I was often consulted in cases of non-comprehension. I was utterly unable to explain "The Life and Times of Baby Jessica" being unable to recall who Baby Jessica was and why her travails should be particularly funny.

So, who are Kate and Jon? And why does Gmail think I would be interested?

Lo cal news

I guess Lewis Hamilton has a get-out-jail-free card:

British expat and Formula One driving champion Lewis Hamilton reportedly runs a stop sign and crashes his Mercedes into a Peugeot driven by a woman, accompanied by her child, in the Geneva [Switzerland] suburb where he lives. The car struck is a write-off but Geneva police say they have no report of the incident, although a newspaper columnist says officers managed to obtain the McLaren driver’s autograph after investigating the case.

From Swisster

That poor woman is going to have a hell of time getting the insurance company to pay up with no ticket issued to Mr. "traffic laws are optional" Hamilton.

On this day in lo cal history...

From Martin Gilbert's "D-Day":

On April 7 [1944], German troops moved against French Resistance fighters in the hills around Gex and Oyonnax, in the Jura Mountains. Code-named Operation Spring, the sweep involved six German regiments and a regiment of Cossacks - Soviet citizens who, having been taken prisoner of war in southern Russia in 1941 and 1942, had volunteered to fight for the Germans.

On the first day of the sweep, five members of the Resistance were killed and thirteen captured.

Gex is about five miles from our house. We hike and ski in the mountains where Operation Spring was carried out. It is strange to think the border a couple of hundred yards from our home was so fraught, a dividing line between safety and mass murder, beyond which the distinction between soldier and civilian, combatant and non-combatant, traitor and patriot was so blurred.

Five dead is a minuscule toll in the tens of millions dead in World War II. But if you look around, you see small reminders of the guerrilla war in France that broke out in 1944: the war monuments in small towns that list the civilian dead of June 1944 in addition to the soldiers sacrificed in 1914 - 1918 and 1939 - 1945. You see it in a small monument commemorating an atrocity by the side of the road to a ski station. Do they still speak to us?

A voice in the wilderness

Sarah Palin is back in the news again.

After Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich called for Senator Mark Begich to step down and a special election be held for his (rightfully won - ed.) seat, Sarah Palin weighed in:

In an email to POLITICO, Palin spokeswoman Meg Stapleton confirmed the governor’s position. “She absolutely agrees that there should be a special election,” Stapleton wrote. “Stepping down to hold the special election would be the right thing to do.”

State party chairmen are supposed to be partisan attack dogs so I'd expect Ruedrich to throw bombs like this:

“A special election will allow Alaskans to have a real, non-biased, credible process where the most qualified person could win, without the manipulation of the Department of Justice,” he added.

But why would Governor Palin chime in?

Maybe she figures that getting a shot at clawing back another Senate seat will buy her some political cred with the Republican voters in 2012. Maybe she was upset at the Republican machine taking a hit. Maybe she is just a loony.