Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waugh's War Trilogy

As I started the first of three volumes, I was relieved that I had forgotten quite a bit. With Waugh, there are so few books, and really so few words, there is always a sense that they are so familiar, you almost have them memorized.

The three make up a sad and beautiful work (Sword of Honour consisting of Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and Unconditional Surrender). The protagonist, Guy Crouchback, is a bit like Waugh; he enlists in the British Army as World War II begins, in a regular regiment, even though he is old for the infantry. His simple patriotic duty; and yet: Crouchback has had a long dry spell in his life since his wife left him, and he is counting on the war to bring him back to life. The trilogy is his story of self-discovery, of realizing that he had got into a bad place before the war by his own decisions, and he had foolish notions of the war making everything better.

Towards the end he hears from a Jewish refugee, a woman named Mme Kanyi. "It seems to me there was a will to war, a death wish, everywhere. Even good men thought their private honour would be satisfied by war. They could assert their manhood by killing and being killed. They would accept hardships in recompense for having been selfish and lazy. Danger justified privilege. I knew Italians--not very many perhaps--who felt this. Were there none in England?" Crouchback replies: "God forgive me ... I was one of them."

For many pages, very little seems to happen. After the British Army was driven out of France at Dunkirk, there was little opportunity to fight for many years. Crouchback gets a bit more than a glimpse of the coast of Africa, some time later he gets to Crete in time for a horrifying retreat, and then he is in Croatia, practically in the middle of nowhere as the Communists take over, getting plenty of aid from the U.S. and Britain, and begin the ruthless disposal of their enemies. Much of war is ludicrous and cruel, yet it matters who is brave and who is not, and who is on what side. A golden aristocratic type named Ivor Claire escapes from Crete by abandoning his men and hiding. Crouchback's departure is similar, except that he asks if any of his men want to take one of two places on a hopeless small boat; when none of them speak up, Crouchback embarks, and although he nearly dies before they are rescued, he both survives and avoids prison camp. Claire knows that there is gossip that he was a deserter and a coward. Crouchback, while still blaming Claire (being unable to remain his friend) has a somewhat different perspective.

Unconditional Surrender, p. 127: 'Ivor doesn't believe in sacrifice. Who does nowadays? But he had the will to win.'

This causes Crouchback to reflect that he may be the opposite: lots of quiet, suffering sacrifice--becoming lonelier and lonelier--but not much will to win. Is one really better than the other? Well, the willingness to sacrifice is related to moral virtue, and even to ancient Greek virtue.

Monday, August 22, 2011

LIbya and Iraq

The obvious contrast: U.S. intervention in Libya more restrained than in Iraq in 2003, but also vastly more effective. Partly this is luck; one could say neither Obama nor Bush knew that much about what they were getting into--despite the daily intelligence briefing, access to more info than anyone has ever had, etc.

But: Obama did a lot better than Bush. First, he intervened when an actual armed rebellion was underway, with the rebels showing great courage and determination, and some success. Bush was hoping to start a rebellion from scratch--or else he believed Ahmed Chalabi's lies about people just waiting for the U.S.,etc. Secondly, Obama didn't make vast promises about regime change or making the world a better place; he simply took practical steps to help the rebels, and cooperate with NATO. Finally, he's not pulling a "Mission Accomplished" stunt.

So Glenn Reynolds, who has been singing Hallelujah over Iraq for 8 years, is very restrained, and finally links to a rather snarky piece in the LA Times. Not very classy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Nice 26K Run

From the Running Room store in Newmarket: north on Yonge then "old" Yonge (there are three generations of Yonge Street up there), to Holland Landing, all the way to Doane Road, East across 2nd Concession to Leslie. Much of Doane is a real country road--rough asphalt, very narrow, thick trees on both sides, lots of views of beautiful country, quite hilly.

South on Leslie to Mount Albert Road, south on Grist Mill, cutting through a couple of paths to the river, river trail to 2nd Concession, a short jog to continued trail, all the way to Davis Dr. in Newmarket. Lots of nice things to see.

Davis West to Main, North to Bristol, West to Yonge, back to store adding a bit to make sure I made 26K. Beautiful weather, some scenery I have not seen before, some scenery I was glad to see again.

On Leslie, a funny ad for a dentist that says "We Cater to Cowards."

On Mount Albert Road, one of the few remaining Drive-In theatres within miles of Toronto.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Aussie sea level


Professor Tim Flannery owns two pieces of seafront property, and lacks compelling answers as to how to reconcile this with his public statements.

Flannery on Wikipedia.

Judy Curry on the whole sea level issue: "I have a hard time finding much empirical rationale for a relationship between global average surface temperature and global sea level that makes sense over the range of sea level for the past several thousand years."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The End of the Official Warming Dogma?

A perfectly reputable climate scientist named Murry Selby has a paper coming out soon. Summaries have circulated.

He will apparently argue:

1. 96% of the C02 increase that has been observed results from natural causes, which are "only marginally predictable and not controllable."
2. C02 increases have little if any effect in increasing temperatures; but conversely, increasing temperatures cause an increase in C02 (as Gore's famous graph actually indicates).
3. It is difficult to detect any effect of human activity in global temperature or climate.

h/t Anthony Watts and Judy Curry.