Monday, April 24, 2006

Neocons: The Dungeons & Dragons Warriors

By Bernie Quigley – for The Free Market News Network, April 24, 2006

Awhile back David Brooks at The New York Times waxed reminiscent about the old days before 9/11 when he worked at The Weekly Standard and they all sat around trying to decide which country they would invade first when their big moment arrived. What would it be? Iran? Iraq? Syria?

I found this to be troubling. Isn’t it against the law to sit around and plan to invade foreign countries? Probably not, just somewhat disturbed. But it is the beginning of the kind of thing which often ends in national televised hearings or war crimes trials. I just couldn’t imagine normal people doing such a thing unless they were assigned the responsibility to do so.

Here’s why. I have four kids. With four kids you spend a lot of time over the years at the mall in kid stores, and as they get a little older and particularly if they are boys, as three of mine are, you spend time at the arcade playing Space Invaders and in those most arcane and darkest of childhood places, game stores. The places where they sell playing cards and role-playing games.

There is a whole new and fascinating world out there in the last 20 years with games like Yu-Gi-Oh, Pokemon and Shaman King. Most are oriented toward complex conflict and resolution. My favorite is Magic: The Gathering. It is all Wizards and Warlocks kind of stuff, some of it very fierce and some quite creative.

But in each one of these stores – and they are all across the country – there is a table in the corner where it all goes too far. They dress darkly there like fledgling Draculas, and give themselves make believe warrior names like Githyanki and Grimlock. They have forked hair, sometimes blue. They have chipped black fingernail polish and short stubby nails. They have bad complexions because they eat compulsively. They are fat. They are Goth. They design their own costumes. They are unattractive. They are Dweebs. My kids call them Emos. It is a group of youngish teens who likely never had a date and probably never will. It is the Dungeons & Dragons crowd which got trapped in the inner vortex of adolescent imagination and can’t get out. And they have come to see themselves as Warlocks and Wizards instead of what they are.

But these kids will never really go to war. They will never grow up. They have a blockage. The thing they fear has already overwhelmed them.

That’s how I pictured the neocons who sat around and planned – conceptually, of course – mass murder on the grandest scale, as if it was an adolescent role-playing game.

Have you seen these guys on TV? Perle, Kristol, Krauthammer, Brooks, the whole crowd. You can’t miss them. I have never understood how they could command the public air waves all the time at least for the last ten years, and be on shows that should know better like Jim Lehrer’s The News Hour, but I stopped watching. And they were constantly there in tuxedos receiving awards and honorariums of one kind or another on C-Span shows at award-giving events hosted by some well-funded lobby group or another in the late ‘90s.

But dude, would you want one of these dinks in your fox hole? Dweebs all and Bush too. You know without asking, they have never fired a shot in anger and never will. Like the misbegotten Dungeons & Dragons crowd they only dream of warfare. They dream of being men.

There is a psychological name for this but I can’t remember what it is. I think it has to do with Introverts wanting to be Extroverts. That is, they are people who would make good or great psychiatrists, poets, artists or monks, but are afraid they’d look like Howie Mandel with a rubber surgery glove inflated over his head. (I watch him every night. I love that guy & his neat TV show, Deal or No Deal, helps return us from the dark pathological waters the neocons have led us to back to our own giddy and unpretentious American selves. He doesn’t wear that glove thing over his head anymore but I wish he’d do it one more time.)

Introvert and Extrovert is, if I remember correctly, derived from Eastern thinking which calls it ascending and returning force or weak force and strong force. We each have a weak force and a strong force. You know this yourself. If you are good at doing one set of things – a good quarterback, for example, you will probably not be a good monk or psychiatrist. And visa versa. We are psychologically conditioned thus and if you tried, you would come up with poor results. Like the wise Rabbi Loeb who tried to conjure a protector and came up instead with a Golem. The results are always caricatured; weak and artificial imitations of authenticity. The distinction is blaring, as it is when Richard Perle calls on the phrase “Why We Fight” – the title of Frank Capra’s great WW II movie produced for George Marshall’s war department to explain America’s war on Germany - for his own insidious pretensions to empire. It is perhaps the tragedy in our world that we don’t really value monks and art as much as we do quarterbacks, so maybe everybody wants to be the quarterback. Maybe that’s what causes the Dweeb Syndrome.

Those guys should talk to Dr. Krauthammer about this. As I vaguely recall, he started out as a psychiatrist, then just kind of drifted over to Warlock. I was suspicious about him from the first. 20-some years ago I enjoyed his columns as the Reagan era was rising and a fresh breeze blew across Washington. But I couldn’t understand why he made disparaging remarks about Canada. How could anyone not like Canada? I live near Canada. Canadians are noble. Canadians are temperate. Canadians are the most genuine English & French speaking people on earth. I guess he had different experience. But then The Boston Globe, like many big-city papers but not that big, has a guy who wants to be Charles Krauthammer when he grows up. He hates Canada too. I can’t imagine anyone but Dweebs, like the despicable and lowly creeps who write South Park, wanting to injure Canada.

In the last two weeks six U.S. Generals have spoken out in opposition to U.S. policy in Iraq and called for the removal of Donald Rumsfeld. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, General Wesley Clark and a rash of Fighting Dems running for political office have also spoken out and so now are some younger officers, combat veterans all, beginning to speak out. These are men of war who go there naturally, confidently and without inhibition. They do not speak in the rhetoric of dress up, like Richard Perle and Charles Krauthammer, nor do they look like their mother dressed them up as Rambo for a masquerade at the Heritage Foundation when they put on the uniform of their country.

“From the Kyoto accords to the International Criminal Court, from torture and cruel and unusual treatment of prisoners to rendition of innocent civilians, from illegal domestic surveillance to lies about leaking, from energy ineptitude to denial of global warming, from cherry-picking intelligence to appointing a martinet and a tyrant to run the Defense Department, the Bush administration, in the name of fighting terrorism, has put America on the radical path to ruin,” Col. Wilkerson wrote yesterday in an brilliant and powerful essay in the Baltimore Sun.

And furthermore: “ . . . it was Mr. Perle and people such as he who put us where we are today, not the terrorists of 9/11. A somnolent Congress assisted - a Congress that, as Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia said as the Senate failed to debate in the run-up to the Iraq war, was ‘ominously, ominously, dreadfully silent.’"

I have been watching the faces of the six Generals to see what I could find there. They look to be happy, ordinary, rational and dispassionate men. Men like my father. These are the men that the neocons wanted to be.

Tammy Duckworth, who had both her legs shot off in a Blackhawk helicopter in Iraq, recently won an important Illinois primary. Major Duckworth as well looks happy, peaceful, gentle and strong, with the gift of joy in her eyes. I hope she wins her election in November. Her rise to courage could bring us with her. I look at these faces and I cannot picture any of these people dreaming the horrors of warfare or huddling secretively in the corner and conjuring madness like the Dungeon and Dragon warriors.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Service for Barr Ashcraft, Vietnam Photographer

John Bunn, an old photographer friend of Barr Ashcraft, has passed along this thought about how he met Barr. For people who knew him this is characteristic Barr. I can hear his voice in this letter. If anyone else has any stories they would like to pass along I will post them on this blog. There will be a service for Barr at Northfield Mount Herman, Barr's high school in northern Massachusetts, on April 29 at the chapel at 3 pm. Details should be check with Winnie Ganshaw at the school (

John wrote: We met in Luang Probang, the royal capital of Laos, in the summer of 1973. As I recollect, we met on the street, where he asked me if I knew of a reasonably-priced place to stay. Barr had left Vietnam a few months earlier, but carried a rather nasty bout of hepatitis with him, from which he was still recovering. (For a while he had been bedridden, stomach swollen, either in southern Laos or Thailand.) Of course, he couldn't drink any alcoholic beverages and probably didn't trust the water, so he was drinking only bottled soda. He stayed at the same "hotel" (flophouse) as I, but in a slightly better room.

I too had recently been in Vietnam and would be returning. When I discovered that he was a photographer, I expressed interest in doing some stringing in Vietnam. He said, "Let me ask you a question. If you were doing combat photography and had to choose just one lens to use, which would it be?" Facetiously, I replied, "500, 1000 millimeter, maybe even larger." He said I was going in the wrong direction and that a 35mm would be best. Then he explained how he often likes to frame his subject up close and then bring the rest of the picture into focus so that the result takes on a third dimension. He went on to explain that one of his best combat shots was of an ARVN firing from behind the corner of a building. Barr got right up behind him so he was looking down the barrel of the soldier's M-16 out toward the enemy. From that moment on, I had a better understanding of "depth of field" and an appreciation of its importance.

Later in our travels together he told me about a photo he took that graced the cover of Life (or was it Look?). During the Easter Offensive of 1972, Barr and a number of other photographers were shooting a wrecked ARVN tank in Quang Tri Province. They all took the same picture, but it was his that was selected for a cover. Why? Because he dropped down low, possibly on his belly, and composed the picture from a slightly different perspective. In passing on the tips of a professional, he suggested that I always be looking for better ways to frame a picture: shoot it higher or lower than eye level; get closer or, occasionally, farther away; determine whether the subject is better suited for a horizontal or vertical take; and usually bring your landscape pictures to life by iincluding people in them.

We flew from Luang Probang to a border town on the MeKong River, crossed over, and made our way to Chiang Mai, Thailand. This was a homecoming of sorts for Barr. He returned to the site of his first published photograph: a shot of a Thai youngster in mid-air, just after he'd let go of a still-swinging rope and just before he plunged into a pond. During the days we wandered about taking pictures and enjoying our carefree days. In the evenings we retired to the outdoor food stalls and, while conversing and observing our fellow travelers and the locals, lingered for hours over scrumptious Thai fare. I believe that it was during this time that he told me of his encounter with the recently-departed Bruce Lee.

Barr was an extra on a Bruce Lee movie set. During a break in the shooting, Bruce dropped down and did 150 push-ups. As soon as he finished, Barr dropped down and knocked out 200. Not to be upstaged, Bruce hit the floor and did 250 more. Barr stayed on his feet. He knew his limits.

During our few weeks together I learned more than I ever had about the art of taking decent pictures. Whenever I receive a compliment about my photography, invariably I'll say, "You know, once I traveled for a few weeks with this professional photographer and since then . . . ." Also, since our days of feasting and talking in Chiang Mai, I've been a slow eater, savouring the taste and texture of my food, enjoying and becoming more aware of my surroundings.
"I don't remember our parting in Chiang Mai or whether we saw each other again in Bangkok. I do know that we must have exchanged addresses and phone numbers, because years later we would get together again in Amherst. I'll save this story for another time, though.

Friday, April 07, 2006

John Kerry's Tactical Blunder
(for The Free Market News Network April 7, 2006)

John Kerry’s op-ed this week in the New York Times with a new plan for Iraq, calls for Iraq to form a new government by May 15 or America will pull out. It is a modified John Murtha plan. Rep. Murtha of Pennsylvania called for an American withdrawal from Iraq months back. But his plan seemed more an outburst; and act of honest frustration from a Democratic veteran who originally gave strong support to the troops and the war on terror. As I understand it, Rep. Murtha modified his position after discussion with Wesley Clark.

General Clark has come to the forefront of Democratic Party in recent days with a more comprehensive plan for the war on terror. He got a nice write up last week in the Boston Globe – Kerry’s hometown paper. It must have sent Kerry, who borrowed Clark’s salute and military manner for this keynote speech at the Democratic Party Convention, a chill, and posting his essay at the Times may have been a panic reaction to Clark’s progress on his home turf and as a figure in the Democratic Party.

Meanwhile, the Nantucket liberals, the Beautiful People of the Life-Long Vacation and Kerry’s core constituency in New England, seem to be wringing their hands about Iraq. They are actively imagining “What would JFK do?” These influential opinion makers who find their way to C Span special news events and public television opinion shows, seem to have come to the definitive position through clairvoyance and liaison with the dead that our own John Fitzgerald Kennedy surely would have pulled out of Vietnam had he not been taken for us, thus, his guiding spirit would pull us out of Iraq as well . . . with a fig leaf, and a decent interval before retreat.

Like avatars and idols, JFK is redesigned in death to meet the times. I have always doubted it. This is what we, the course and gnarly common people of the mountains call the Weak Sister point of view, and JFK was not, ever, the Weak Sister.

Tactically, this was a big mistake for Kerry. It will force the other major candidates now to take one of two positions, and there are only two positions available to the Democrats: 1) persist with reason and courage in Iraq in a sea of error and mistaken judgment from the beginning – this is the view of Wes Clark & the Fighting Dems, 2) retreat after a decent interval – John Kerry. All other major candidates will now have to choose one or the other.

Mark Warner, who wants to be President but does not want to speak of Iraq, early responded to the old Murtha position months back. He was then clearly in opposition to pulling out and setting a time table for removal of troops – a position similar to General Clark’s. But Kerry’s reactive tactic, in opposition to Wes Clark growing role in the Democratic Party, will now break the Northeastern Democratic Quarternity (Kennedy, Kerry, Howard and Hillary).

This could be the great moment of opportunity for Senator Clinton; her moment of authentication. Other issues aside, on Iraq, she hears from far better minds than those of the fair Nantucket set. Mainly the Cajun Cartel; her husband (who’s favorite professor at Georgetown was the mysterious and distinguished global Cold-War strategist Carroll Quigley) and James Carville, who see abroad with the eyes of Wesley Clark. Senator Clinton will need now to come public with a clear opinion on Iraq and it will be, my guess, in General Clark’s camp. This we expected in New England. New York will not be dictated to by New England. A fact of life since 1865.

Even party chief Howard Dean seems to be taking Clark's initiative. This week he teamed up with Col. Andrew Horne, an Iraq veteran running for office in Kentucky, and General Clark to help advance the Fighting Dems in upcoming races. Kerry will be left alone on the Magic Mountain.

When Bush won reelection my first thought was that he wouldn’t last the full term in office but would disintegrate in his sixth year. My thought then was that like Nixon in reelection as the war in Vietnam tore at the electorate, the people’s choice was fraught with uncertainty and conflict. The spirit felt patriotic and desired to do the right thing and support the troops and the country in a state of crisis, but the head said there is something fundamentally flawed about the situation.

The spirit always governs at the expense of the head we are finding out again, as the Bush administration descents daily into illegality, hubris and incompetence. My early prognosis now seems a less distant and now somewhat possible scenario.