Saturday, May 28, 2005

This is as close to a reasonable solution that I have seen

However, any solution that creates a weak federal Iraq is basically creating a situation where either the United States itself has to stay in the region to balance the Iranians or the Iranians become the undisputed regional power in the Gulf.

Friday, May 27, 2005

The New Shiite Iraq aka Up Shit Creek Without a Paddle.

Iraq was traditionally the counterweight to Iran in the Middle East. Since its creation by the British, Iraq has been a base for pan-Arab nationalism - the idea that the ideal situation for the Arabs is to have one state from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf. This ideology has traditionally been followed by the Sunni Arabs in the Middle East and is the intellectual source of much of the region's rhetoric. The Arab League was the institution that was created to execute the goals of pan-Arabism and its avowed purpose is to bring the Arabs closer together until a pan-Arab state can be created. Fortunately however there has never been a single Arab leader who has had the power to create such a unified state over the objections of the others, though Nasser came close in the early 1960s with the creation of the United Arab Republic. Under Saddam this rhetoric was even more pronounced and most propaganda that came out of Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war was fitted with the message that Iraq was leading the Arab nation in its struggle with its Persian Shiite enemies. The reason why the government in Iraq has followed this ideology was because it has always been ruled by Sunnis strongmen and the Shiites had little voice in the formulation of the country's identity. Many Shiites bought into the rhetoric and during the Iraq-Iran war, the mass defections that the Shiite Iranians expected from the Iraqi side did not take place (though isolated cases did take place). It would seem then, that Saddam succeeded in educating the Shiites to be more attached to their Arabism than to their Shiism.

When we invaded Iraq in 2003, the only way of maintaining Iraq's traditional role was to leave it in the hands of the Sunni Arabs. Ideological constraints forced the United States into pursuing a democratic experiment in that country. This included the dismantling of the Sunni army, the de-Baathication of the government and the bringing into the power structure of the Shiite parties. The elections of 2005 pushed this trend further along when the Shiite coalition - the United Iraqi Alliance took more than half the seats in the National Assembly. With the amount of airtime given to the Iraq election it is very surprising that very little research was done into the make-up of the UIA. If anybody had done the research they would have noticed that the biggest parties in the coalition were the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the al-Dawa party, and the party of Moqtada al-Sadr. The last seems to be more of a party based around a temporarily popular young firebrand. The other two are entities of long-standing.

Both SCIRI and al-Dawa have their origins in the religious seminaries of the holy Shiite city of Najaf. In the 1950s and the 1960s the clerics there devised an ideology to counter the left-wing ideologies that were gaining ground in the Shiite community. The mostly young clerics, rather than following the traditional Shiite theology of abandoning the world to its ills until the return of the 12th Imam (think Messiah), became convinced that all the answers for proper Islamic government were already in the Islamic teachings and that it was their job to create a state based on Islam and to rule it in its name. They believed that such a state would need to be ruled by a hierarchy of clerics answering to the all-powerful head of state who as the supreme source on the interpretation of the Koran would hold all authority, both secular and religious. The most prominent Iraqi founders of this ideology were Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and Mohammed Baqir al-Sadr. The most widely known scholar who adopted this ideology was the Ayatollah Khomeini. This ideology gained notoriety when it was implemented in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. During the reign of the Baath and of Saddam in Iraq leaders of the al-Dawa took refuge abroad, mostly in Iran. SCIRI was formed in Iran out of some al-Dawa activists and some Iraqi POWs and fought on the side of the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war. SCIRI maintains a close relationship with the clerical establishment there, including cooperation between the SCIRI's armed wing - the Badr Brigades and the Islamic republic's hard-core parallel army - the Revolutionary Guards. The al-Dawa as an organization does not have as close relations to the Iranians as SCIRI. This stems from a basic theological difference between SCIRI and al-Dawa. SCIRI believes that the supreme authority for the institution of an Islamic state is the Supreme Religious Ruler of the State of Iran. al-Dawa never accepted Khomeini's claims to supreme authority in the Shiite world. It is more interested in an independent supreme Iraqi Shiite cleric. Their relations with the Iranians are nonetheless warm.

Clerics from the al-Dawa movement were also prominent in the creation of another notorious organization. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the new Baath government in Iraq started throwing out the firebrand clerics who preached this ideology. Many of the clerics were Lebanese and made their way back to that country where they soon created several organization that after 1979 would merge to become the Hezbollah.

Another aspect of this ideology relates to the grand view of the relations between the world and Islam. Strangely enough the Shiite clerics of Najaf came to essentially the same conclusion as the Egyptian Islamist Sayyid Qutb, whose ideology forms the basis for much of the beliefs of Sunni Islamists. Their conclusion was that Islam is fighting a war against the ideologies and forces of the West. They did not differentiate much between Communism, Capitalism and Democracy, pointing out that all these ideologies are secular in their base formulation, whereby they are not derived from an absolute source. The capricious and non-absolutist nature of these ideologies, according to these scholars, make them unsuitable for the world of Islam, which already has a ready constitution, economic system and form of government in the form of the Islamic system. The attempts by the West to hold up their ideologies as models for imitation put the West into conflict with the Muslims, creating a need for the Muslims to fight back.

From the description given of the main Shiite political parties it should seem clear that an Iraq that is run by SCIRI and al-Dawa is unlikely to confront a surging Iran, as it would be expected to do under pan-Arabist Sunni minority rule. Due to the ideological constraints of both parties (i.e. neither party is a big fan of democracy) it also seems unlikely that a secular Democratic government will last long in a United Islamic List governed Iraq. Because the new Shiite-led government will probably try to implement some aspects of Islamic rule, it is also unlikely that good relations can be maintained between the Sunni minority (both Arab and Kurd) and the Iraqi government.

All this leaves the US up shit creek without a paddle... I am still trying to come up with a good outcome scenario as far as the Iraqi situation goes.

Rhetoric and Resources

So, apparently the neo-cons have decided that a War on Terror means imposing Democracy on the Muslim world, starting with Iraq. This objective has been stated in speeches by the President and those around him.

Do we have the resources for such a project?

We have started our 'crusade for democracy' in Iraq, where things are definately not going well. We are pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into that country with seemingly little result. We are running a budget deficit of somewhere in the neighborhood of $450 billion dollars and our defense spending seems to be only growing. The US national debt has already reached $7.75 trillion, not including the bankrupt Social Security cookie jar.

We have stationed 150,000 US troops on the ground and brought in maybe another 15,000-20,000 allied forces. We have supposedly trained over 100,000 Iraqi police and national guard, even though according to most reports the only effective forces are several thousand Special Forces and what used to be the Kurdish peshmerga. Any dream of replacing US troops with allied forces is long forgotten after the withdrawal of the forces of 10 countries and the planned withdrawal or downsizing in 2005 of the forces of at least four others (Italy, Poland, Bulgaria, Ukraine). These withdrawals would leave only the Americans, Brits with sizable fighting forces facing the insurgency (the Koreans are sitting in the Kurdish zones, the Japs dont leave their compounds). The already stretched US forces are going to need to control even more territory once the withdrawing forces hand over command of their sectors to the US military.

The US Army is facing a recruiting crisis, and has not met its recruiting goals in at least three months. Even more alarming is the four month shortfall in the Marine Corps recruiting. The reason for the crisis is clear and it stems from the fact that during wartime fewer young people want to join the army to face the possibility of death in combat. This is especially true in a situation where the population is almost evenly split on the question of the need for the war in the first place. Where are the troops for this war going to come from? Are we facing a prelude to a new national draft?

The tens of billions of dollars spent on the ground in Iraq and the 1800+ US and coalition dead and 12,000+ wounded have not created a stable situation in the country with car bombings going off almost every day for the past month. The Pentagon and White House have made no statements on a time-table for a withdrawal or created any clear benchmarks for such a withdrawal.

If Iraq is only the first stage in a grand strategy of spreading democracy then the resources currently spent on the military will continue to be spent and the massive overseas deployments will also continue. With the federal budget deficit and national debt being what they are, where is the money for this grand plan for the world going to come from?

I ask again, do we have the resources for this grand project? And if not, then should we not be thinking up an alternative strategy to the 'crusade for democracy' being executed by our leaders right now?

Thursday, May 19, 2005


There seem to be a large number of people in this country that believe that the world should be run according to some principles, and if the world refuses then it is the world and not their principles that need to be fixed. The idea that some principles must be scrutinized as to whether or not they can be applied or not to the real world seems to be far from their thinking when they make their decisions.

Now bypassing the whole discussion of trying to impose freedom and liberty by force and to instill democratic values on tribal sectarian structures through imperialistic institutions there are some things that are just insane within the country itself.

In a situation where the US military is incapable of meeting its recruiting goals the US Senate and House of Representatives have passed a bill according to which the military would have to restructure their forces so that women are not put into combat support positions. These 'forward support companies' would usually be in charge of logistics and can be imagined as being involved in training, supply, repairs and administration. This comes after the realization that support companies stationed in Iraq are coming under fire from the insurgents and that there is no front-line with convoys getting attacked regardless of their passengers. Now the wise senators and representatives have decided that frail women are not ready for war and that they need to be protected from the Arabs by bureaucratic means if necessary. This is in spite of the fact that as a result of such legislation the US military will simply have to take men that would otherwise be sent to combat units and redirect them to plug holes. I suppose they will take the women out of these units and send them to be secretaries... Progress is made once again towards the American utopia of equality and justice for all regardless of gender, race, national origin, etc... Does anybody suppose that the next time the US tries to preach equality of the sexes they might get an opposing argument based on such US policies as this one?

This bill has also decided to increase the number of Army and Marines by 10,000 and 1,000 respectively - at a time when they can't meet their current recruiting goals! Talk about living in the clouds!

This comes on the heels of another brilliant policy in regards to the US intelligence community. The US military has recently made headlines for axing linguists proficient in Arabic and Farsi for being gay. Now, as people might be aware, there exist a major need within the US government for people that are fluent in several languages - Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashtun, Korean and Uzbekh to start with. These languages are useful for a very obvious reason - the TERRORISTS and INSANE PSYCHO DICTATORS speak them. And at least theoretically the purpose of an intelligence community is to understand the enemy and to provide the Vice President with
information about what the enemy is up to. Of course in America the purpose of the intelligence community is to create long analyses from which politicians can pick and choose sentences to justify irrational policies. I have ventured off-topic...

Back to the facts. Here is another fact: Americans suck at learning foreign languages. Go to any foreign non-English speaking university world-wide with a study-abroad section. I guarantee you that that the students who know the local language the worst will be American. This is in addition to the fact that Americans are not known world-wide as major travellers. They are more of the tourist bus people - off the bus at the Eiffel tower - quick Maggie take a picture - back on the bus - on to the Louvre - quick Joey take a picture - 'isn't Paris beautiful? its so much more beautiful than Bloomington.' (yeah, thats hard) - back to the States in 8 days. Paris, by the way, sucks.

Again I meander. What if I add to these facts another one: It takes 63 weeks for the US military to train a person to be proficient in Arabic or Farsi. In any case when you add up these facts you figure that the US must be doing everything possible to hire and keep the maximum number of these people at their jobs. See, here is another situation where logic doesn't lead you in the right direction. They are firing these people..

This country's moral standards are being set by a bunch of Southern Puritan white people for whom moral principles are more important than objective reality. These are the same people that believe that September 11 occured because of the 'pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America' (Jerry Falwell - September, 2004) Let me explain what the good reverend means. What he means is that Jesus is in person protecting and guiding the actions of the United States. As long as the US is a 'moral' country it will be protected by Jesus and will only be hit when the 'morality' of this country wanes. Why continue to explain? Let the honorable Dr. Falwell bury himself:

Falwell said he believes the ACLU and other organizations "which have attempted to secularize America, have removed our nation from its relationship with Christ on which it was founded."

"I therefore believe that that created an environment which possibly has caused God to lift the veil of protection which has allowed no one to attack America on our soil since 1812," he said.

(The veil of protection? I thought those were called oceans.)

And here is a serving of Pat Robertson, speaking right after Dr. Falwell.

"We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government, we've stuck our finger in your eye," said Robertson. "The Supreme Court has insulted you over and over again, Lord. They've taken your Bible away from the schools. They've forbidden little children to pray. They've taken the knowledge of God as best they can, and organizations have come into court to take the knowledge of God out of the public square of America."

Frankly, I think that this country needs a bit of relief from the forces of religious fundamentalism. Could somebody please invade? Or even better maybe we can divide the country along the Blue/Red state lines? They can have Bush, Jesus, Texas and Iraq. We'll take Clinton, Guilliani, Cali and Hawaii... They can have all the Jesus and decency they want.... We'll just take the meager godless left-overs...

Friday, May 13, 2005

History - Americanized away into fiction.

I am guessing that for every Hollywood quasi-historical movie one can write a couple of pages on the discrepancies between real history and the Hollywood kind. Now I fully understand that the objective of Hollywood is to write a good story, one that will sell to an American and to an international audience. I also understand that it is better to have a exciting and entertaining historical drama with some discrepancies than to have a lifeless documentary style boredomfest which is historically accurate. Nevertheless, the understanding of these facts of showbiz does not prevent me from seeing and being seriously annoyed by inconsistencies in the movie, especially when these errors have no impact on the fictitious storyline. It is especially worse when the events themselves are more dramatic and would probably play better on screen than the story as written by Hollywood!

So, I went to see the movie 'Kingdom of Heaven' and now that I have let it digest I am going to point out both the historical mistakes and the logical problems that plague this movie.

The story starts out roughly in the early 1180s with a blacksmith named Balian. He lives in a small French village and he is under great strain as his wife has just committed suicide and is thus barred from heaven by Catholic doctrine. A Crusader knight [Godfrey of Ibelin] with his multicultural posse (which very strangely includes a black crusader knight. In 1180 IN FRANCE!) on his way back to the Holy Land drives into town and declares himself to be his long-lost father who had a thing with his mother many years back. Due to what sounds like a rather painful wound he has since lost the ability to sire children. He proposes that Balian comes with him to the Holy Land. Balian initially rejects him but then in a moment of rage he kills a priest and so is stricken by spiritual depression. He leaves his village and after what appears to be many days on the road reaches Godfrey's posse. Quite soon a large group of archers and knights catch up to the Crusader posse and demand that Balian be handed over to them. When this is refused by the crusaders a well-planned set piece battle immediately starts. Through might and determination the crusaders overcome the attackers.

[problem - logical: the idea that a strong force can be instantly organized and sent to look for Balian seems unlikely with the communications infrustructre of the 12th century. It would take weeks for any message to leave the village, get to the bishop, be sent back to the feudal lord, and from the lord to his vassals to organize a search party of this size
problem - historical: the real Balian of Ibelin was born a lord in the Holy Land. He was married (to Sybille's step-mother) and had 2 children by the time of the loss of Jerusalem. There is something that the movie got right, and that is the fact that a simple blacksmith did actually have the chance to become a lord in the Holy Land. This was due to the extremely high mortality rate among Franks in the Holy Land and due to the fact that very few people wanted to stay in such a shithole. A good warrior was therefore quite hard to find. Most came, saw, fought a little and went home.]

Godfrey is badly wounded. He is taken to a hospital in the Italian port of Messina. The hospital is surprisingly sanitary.

[problem: the crusaders had no idea about the causes of infections and believed that most sicknesses were the result of a spiritual curse. this contributed to the low survivability of crusader knights in the Holy Land. wounds were often fatal because of the conditions of the hospitals. thus the modern looking hospital you see in the movie is unlikely, not to mention the idea that Godfrey survived his previously mentioned quite unpleasant injury and lived to be wounded again. Here is a description of a visit of an Arab physician to the Crusaders and a description of what the Crusaders called medicine from the autobiography of Usama al-Munqidh who lived in the 12th century:

They brought before me a knight in whose leg an abscess had grown; and a woman afflicted with imbecility. To the knight I applied a small poultice until the abscess opened and became well; and the woman I put on diet and made her humor wet. Then a Frankish physician came to them and said, "This man knows nothing about treating them." He then said to the knight, "Which wouldst thou prefer, living with one leg or dying with two?" The latter replied, "Living with one leg." The physician said, "Bring me a strong knight and a sharp ax." A knight came with the ax. And I was standing by. Then the physician laid the leg of the patient on a block of wood and bade the knight strike his leg with the ax and chop it off at one blow. Accordingly he struck it-while I was looking on-one blow, but the leg was not severed. He dealt another blow, upon which the marrow of the leg flowed out and the patient died on the spot. He then examined the woman and said, "This is a woman in whose head there is a devil which has possessed her. Shave off her hair." Accordingly they shaved it off and the woman began once more to cat their ordinary diet-garlic and mustard. Her imbecility took a turn for the worse. The physician then said, "The devil has penetrated through her head." He therefore took a razor, made a deep cruciform incision on it, peeled off the skin at the middle of the incision until the bone of the skull was exposed and rubbed it with salt. The woman also expired instantly. Thereupon I asked them whether my services were needed any longer, and when they replied in the negative I returned home, having learned of their medicine what I knew not before.

Godfrey dies shortly after giving his sword and fiefdom to his newly found son Balian. Godfrey also imparts upon him the need for loyalty to the king and the directive to protect 'the people'. Balian then sets off on a ship towards the Holy Land. After an inconvenient storm, which wrecks the fleet he was on, he finds himself a lone survivor along with a very lucky horse that landed perfectly on a deserted sunny beach. On shore he meets 2 Arab men on horseback. They demand his horse and when he refuses they attack him. Balian kills one of them and takes the other as a hostage/guide.

[problem - logical: what language would a newly landed crusader and a Saracen talk to each other in? Much of the armies of the Muslims during the Crusaders consisted of Turkic tribesmen for whom Arabic would be a second language used as lingua franca in the Muslim world. Learning French to speak to the barbarians coming from Europe into the Arab world seems unlikely. It is the same reason why so few Americans or Europeans speak minor African dialects. For an uneducated crusader on the other hand to know any language other than his native French seems equally unlikely. Communications would probably take place on the level of grunts and jesticulation until either the crusader learned some Arabic or would employ a Christian Arab to work as a translator.]

The Saracen guide takes Balian to Jerusalem where Balian frees him in some vain attempt at modern political correctness and gives him a horse to boot.

[problem - logical: balian is in essence a modern man - he is tolerant of other religions, honest, forgiving and understanding. Where these traits would come from only the writers of the screenplay would know. The idea that some truths are self-evident is a quaint Americanism to put it politely or put bluntly: outworn bullshit. where would a poor [illiterate] blacksmith from France have any understanding of Islam or for that matter any understanding of basics of modern morality? If one searches the Crusader sources on Islam one would find a complete lack of understanding of that religion amid an atmosphere of disgust and contempt for it. Furthermore, the crusaders had no doubts about the truth of their religion, the falseness of all others and the justice of their crusades into the Holy Land.]

Jerusalem is portrayed as a city where all religions come to pray in peace and understanding.

[problem - historical: other than the complete lack of understanding that prevailed on both sides of the divide, the real problem is historical. Upon arrival in the Holy Land the crusaders proceeded to slaughter or expel the populations of all the major cities. The Jewish and Muslim populations of Jerusalem were almost uniformly slaughtered with very few survivors. The same fate met the populations of Haifa, Caesarea, Beirut and all other cities that fell without a negotiated settlement. Other cities - Ramle, Tiberias, Jaffa - were abandoned in fear prior to the arrival of the Crusaders and their populations went into exile in the Muslim lands. Yet other cities, such as Acre, Tripoli and Askelon, which fell after a negotiated settlement, the population was allowed to leave. In many cases the Crusader knights, seeing an opportunity for plunder, broke the terms of the settlement and slaughtered the populations anyway. Now where is this history lesson going? Well, it seems clear that some Muslims and Jews returned to some of these cities after the initial conquest. The problem for this movie is the fact that Jerusalem was a special case. Between 1099, when the Crusaders took Jerusalem, and 1187, when they lost it, no Jews or Muslims were allowed to settle in the city. (Joshua Prawer The History of the Jews in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988) p.46-47) This was a continuation of the Byzantine policy that had kept Jerusalem Jew-free until the Muslims took it in 638. There were Arabs in Jerusalem at this time, but they were all Christians and invited only because the Crusaders could barely populate even a quarter of the walled city of Jerusalem and also needed a skilled labor force which they themselves did not bring with them. ]

Balian is found by his father's peoples and is brought to his fief where he quickly makes the desert bloom by demonstrating to the moronic backwards savages the concept of a well and of an irrigation system.

[This at a time when the biggest city in Europe probably had fewer than 15,000 people and Baghdad and Cairo both had populations in the hundreds of thousands, sewer systems and public baths.]

He soon meets Sybille, the wife of Guy de Lusignan. Somehow she instantly decides to start a relationship with him. In fact it almost seems that she decided to do so prior to meeting him. He also meets the ailing king and a man the movie called Tiberias. These three share some sort of understanding about the need to be moderate and to prevent such extremists as Guy and Reynald de Chautillon from causing a war.

[Tiberias is probably closest historically to Raymond of Tripoli, who was also the master of the city of Tiberias. Reynald did exist and he was basically an ass. He, along with Templars raided Muslim caravans going to Mecca and at one point even attempted a raid on Mecca itself.]

Soon Reynald causes a war and Balian rides to the defense of the fortress of Reynald de Chautillon, Kerac - Crac des Moabites - where Balian and his 40 knights attack Saladin's full army.

[This obviously didn't happen, but this also demonstrates that the Balian of the movie is a fucking moron]

Surprisingly almost all of his knights survive the idiotic attack and are released soon thereafter to the army of the leper king of Jerusalem who negotiates a truce with Saladin.

[In 1183 Baldwin IV (the leper king) became very sick and appointed Guy as regent. In the same year Kerak (with Guy inside for a wedding ceremony) was besieged by Saladin. Baldwin IV rode out with his army and lifted the siege. No truce signed.]

The differently abled handicapable king is however unfortunately dying. So now we have the problem of succession since Guy is married to Sybille and she is the sister of the leper king. A solution to this problem is proposed to Balian whereby Guy gets whacked and Balian marries Sybille and becomes king. Balian in a fit of righteousness refuses. The leper dies and Guy becomes king. [ahem.. prooving once again that the Balian of the movie is a fucking retard]

[Later in 1183 Guy proved to be a coward in dealing with Saladin and Baldwin IV made his young nephew (Sybille's son) his successor with Raymond of Tripoli as regent. By 1185 the leper king was dead. A truce was negotiated in that year by Raymond of Tripoli in the name of the new king - Baldwin V. Guy was disgraced and went to Ascelon with Sybil. By 1186 Baldwin V died and though the Crusader barons probably would have preferred Raymond of Tripoli [Tiberias] as king, in the absense of Raymond from Jerusalem, Sybil organized her own coronation and gave the crown over to Guy. Raymond tried to set up an alternative coronation in Nablus, but failed and asked for Saladin's help in obtaining peace with Guy. More dramatic than the movie's political games aint it?]

For some reason Guy sends only three metalheads to kill Balian. Not surprisingly they fail. About this time Reynald has raided a caravan and captured Saladin's sister. Saladin invades with his army and all the lords gather in Jerusalem to discuss what should be done. Under pressure from the military religious orders and from Reynald Guy decides to go to war. Raymond and Balian refuse and leave. The crusader army runs out of water and is crushed by Saladin.

[Historically Reynald raided a caravan and might have captured Saladin's sister. Though shortly after Saladin made a promise to kill Reynald, this did not start the real war. After some minor skirmishes Raymond was able to hammer out a truce with Saladin (at least for himself). Shortly later, a Saracen party led by Saladin's son was crossing, with permission, through Raymond's land near Tiberias. The Templars, not knowing that the Saracens had permission, attacked the numerically superior Muslim army near Nazareth and were slaughtered almost to a man. Soon thereafter the main body of the army under Saladin crosses into the Crusader lands and besieges Tiberias. By this time the Crusaders had called up all of their manpower and had mercenaries from Europe. The Crusaders encamped in Sepphoras [Tzipori], which is in the Gallilee sitting roughly halfway between Tiberias and the Mediterranean. Sepphoras sits on the major roads leading from Tiberias into the Crusader lands. It also sits on some of the most fertile lands in Israel with plentiful water for the huge army that the crusaders had. While they were sitting on this point their army was invincible. They are sitting on a big hill from which they never have to move out to fight. There are almost no other water resources suitable for a large army between Tiberias and Sepphoris. No army can besiege them for any amount of time without water resources. At this point the Crusader army gets word that the city of Tiberias has fallen with only the citadel still holding out, being personally defended by the wife of Raymond of Tripoli [Tiberias] and several knights. A meeting is called where a public argument takes place between the masters of the military religious orders and Raymond of Tripoli. The military orders and the newly arrived crusaders want a fight. Raymond and many native barons are against a battle because they understands that moving from Sepphoras is a bad strategic move and that the loss of this army is the end of Jerusalem. Raymond also understands that even if the citadel of Tiberias falls he would just ransom back his wife within a few months or years. This would not be the first time such a transaction took place. Raymond himself had spent many years in captivity. Fearing that he would be called a coward and wanting to use the already paid-for mercenaries King Guy decides to march to relieve the citadel of Tiberias. Had they not made this terrible mistake they could have held Jerusalem much longer. They marched out towards Tiberias but they were being constantly harrassed by the Muslim horse archers. They were marching very slowly at the speed of the infantry because they had to constantly march in formation and neither the cavalry nor the infantry could survive separately. The infantry would be cut down by cavalry charges, while the heavy cavalry would have their horses shot out from under them turning them into immobile infantry. For this reason the cavalry had to move with the infantry so that the infantry archers could protect them from the Muslim horse archers, while the infantry needed heavy cavalry protection from cavalry charges. After a day of marching in full armor under the hot July sun (temperature somewhere in the 90s) without water and with the Muslims starting fires in front of them, the crusaders camped in a plain with no water and no protection. By the next day Saladin had them surrounded in the plain near the Horns of Hattin and the Crusaders were finished. The terrain where this battle took place by itself deserved to be in the movie. It is in hilly country, from here you can see Tiberias and the landmark itself - the Horns of Hattin - is an extinct volcano. Some of the cavalry, led by Raymond (and including Balian of Ibelin), tried to break out and succeeded. The rest of the army, disorganized and tired was attacked by Saladin and defeated. The victorious Muslims sold the captured infantry and sergeants at arms into slavery. The prices of slaves in Damascus plumetted the next day. Saladin massacred all the captured members of the orders of the Hospital and the Temple. The basic idea is that Crusader armies can not fight without knights, so if you slaughter the orders you deprive the Crusaders of many of the best knights.]

Now Balian goes back to defend Jerusalem from the inevitable attack. He arrives there to find no defenders. The first thing he does is set up some high-tech siege warfare weapons and to calibrate the ballistas and the catapults. He then proceeds to energize the defenders of the city with an inspiring speech on the lack of justice of their cause and the sanctity of the city of Jerusalem to all three religions, not just their own. If ever there were words capable of inspiring men to sacrifice their lives for the defense of a holy city, these are not them. He then, in a fit of chronologically misplaced democratic values, knights the whole male population of the city. The newly emancipated knights then proceed to valiantly defend the meaningless barren rocks of what they had formerly thought as the holiest city of Christianity. After several successful defenses of the city Balian, after negotiations, surrenders the city to Saladin who lets everyone leave peacefully. Balian (a lord) and Sybille (queen of Jerusalem) are then seen back in a shitty village in France where they live happily ever after as blacksmith and wench.

[error overload.... reboot.... OK, So in reality Balian was one of the few knights to break out of the disaster of Hattin. Soon after Hattin Saladin set up a siege of Jerusalem. Balian went into Jerusalem with Saladin's permission in order to get his wife and children out of the city. Once he got there he was begged to organize the defense of the city. He supposedly asked for and received permission from Saladin to do so while his family was allowed safe passage out of Jerusalem. He organized the defense of the city, perhaps even knighting some youths who had not fully completed their training. That he knighted the whole population of the city is absurd as Balian like any other noble would think in hierarchies and bloodlines. That he would make any speech but to proclaim the sanctity of the city and to promise its defenders salvation is equally ludicrous. To believe that a 12th century knight would admit any element of guilt for the crusades - sanctioned by the Pope - is also out there. Anyways... after repelling several attacks Saladin enters into negotiations with Balian and makes an agreement whereby each Frank would be allowed to leave the city if he was able to pay a certain amount of gold. Those that paid would be given free passage to the coast. The patriarch and the servants of the Church were of course the first to leave taking with them the treasury of the city and not caring much for the poor of the city. The nobility and anyone who could afford to pay left peacefully. The rest of the Frankish population was sold into slavery. Essentially the terms of the surrender were reasonable for the time period.

Balian moved to Tripoli (in modern Lebanon) where he continued to be an influential lord though his lands had been conquered by Saladin. He was later given new lands by Richard [the lionhearted]. In 1192 he helped Richard negotiate a truce a treaty with Saladin. He died in 1193. His children continued to be prominent lords in the Crusader kingdoms.
After Guy was freed in 1188 Sybille and Guy went to Tyre (in modern Lebanon) , one of the few remaining Crusader cities, but were denied admission by Conrad, a competitor for the throne of Jerusalem. Guy soon joined the Third Crusade in sieging Acre. Sybille and her daughters died of an epidemic in 1190. The death of Sybille meant the Guy no longer had a credible claim on the throne of Jerusalem. However to compensate him for his 'loss' (of the kingdom) he was given the newly conquered kingdom of Cyprus which his descendants (he obviously remarried) continued to rule until the late 15th century. Seems to me he got a pretty sweet deal.]

Now there are a few historic inaccuracies of which the most annoying was not using the bit about Raymond of Tripoli's wife being held under siege in the citadel of Tiberias and him still being against committing the Crusader army to her rescue. Why not use this? Its drama at its best and allows a great actor like Jeremy Irons to make a dramatic speech and show the contrast between Raymond and Guy!! All you had to do was introduce the wife of 'Tiberias' in the beginning of the movie. She just needs to smile, look nice and say like 3 words. 'I wife Tiberias'.

As far as the battle and siege scenes in the movie, they are pretty good. The acting is nothing special and the characters are cut-outs. Everybody is good except for several evil lords and priests who are fueled by blind hate and are trying to disrupt the perfect harmony prevailing between the Muslims and Christians. This movie is about as PC as it gets.

Time for an anti-PC rant... So why can't we show the slaughter of the Templars or the enslavement of the remnants of the Crusaders at Hattin or of the poor of Jerusalem? If you want you can put in scenes of the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem in the beginning of the movie. Why must American movies shy away from moral complexity. Why can't we have a hero who is a man of his time? Why must he be some modern PC man transported back in time a thousand years? Is there no way to portray the past honestly and not portray what we would like to have happened rather than what actually did happen? Is it impossible to portray hate, not by a small minority, but hate and dislike as something endemic in a society? How can you fight hate and racism and bigotry if you refuse to believe that it can actually be the normal condition for human beings? If we can't even show hatred as being prevalent a thousand years ago how can we every conceive the fact that many societies are still based on hate? That children are taught that blind hate is normal? That reason itself is no protection against a hate-mongering education? That religion itself can be the source of blind hate? Did the Muslims hate the Christians during the Crusades? Yes. Did the Christians hate the Muslims during the Crusades? Yes. Were Catholics doctrinally taught to hate all Jews for killing Jesus until the 1960s? Yes.
Were the Germans as a people taught to hate the Jews during the Nazi Reich? Yes. Do the Palestinians hate the Israelis? Yes. Do the Arabs hate America? Yes. Were the Crusaders crusading because their religion taught them to do so? Yes. Are the Muslims fighting against the Americans because they believe their religion teaches them to do so? Yes. Are we allowed to actually portray these truths in cinema? No. Only if we are talking about small extremist minorities. Even if historically or statistically we can show that these were/are prevailing trends. To even consider that a whole population can hate irrationally is somehow against some American civil religion.

Is there any doubt that the actions and policies of countries not sharing American values can not be understood with such ideological constraints on the thinking of American decision-making organs?

OK, got carried away a bit.. Good Night..

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Bubba's Movie Review and Business Start-Up Essentials

Today I saw an Israeli movie called "Lalechet al haMayim" (Walk on Water). It was made by an American-Israeli or Israeli-American director (the name is Eitan Fox). It tries to deal with a bunch of topics. It brings in the holocaust, modern Germany, modern Israel, forgiveness, generational gaps among other things. Its not crap. Its relatively good in simply being a movie in which the point is not obvious, and it not forgiveness a la The Interpreter or other shitty Hollywood movies. I will have to think through the movie again to understand it, which can be either good or bad... In either case the mere fact that the movie requires thought is a refreshing change. In particular I am trying to figure out what walking on water means as a metaphor....

The movie deals with second and third generations of Israelis and Germans after the Holocaust. A Mossad agent/assassin, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, suffering major emotional trauma is sent on a mission where he has to get close to a German woman volunteering in Israel and her hippie brother. The objective is to find information on the whereabouts of their Nazi grandfather. The Nazi's grandchildren are deeply conflicted with their grandfather's famous role during the war. They are rebelling against their parents and their grandfather's Nazi ties. The sister is volunteering on a Kibbutz in Israel (relatively common to find German girls in Israel either studying in Unis, working on Kibbutzim or even more strangely converting to Judaism [often they will have Israeli boyfriends. when they break up with them they often get a Palestinian boyfriend and become deeply pro-Palestinian]). The brother is rebelling in other ways. The brother comes to visit his sister in Israel on a mission to bring her back to Germany for their father's 70th birthday party.

Anyways, the movie takes place in Israel and in Germany. Dialogue is conducted in German, English and Hebrew. Its a good movie and though it is a bit preachy at times (the part with the Arab guy) generally stays away from blatant preaching. The ending is good in surprising, a bit emotional in presenting. Overall its worth seeing.

The Israeli part of the movie seemingly takes place in the first few months of 2002 when I was in Israel and it reminded me of the events, the places and the general atmosphere. First it seemed that there was an attack almost every day until operation Defensive Shield. Second the fact that when a terrorist attack happens everybody's cell phone starts ringing and people just start calling everybody who could have been in the bombing. Israel is very small so many cell phones will ring. Or that every time after an attack on the radio they would start playing sad music, and that after a while, though depressed, people mostly just got used to the situation.


As far as business goes.. I spent some of the day reading the book 'e-myth revisited' which deals with how one should visualize the process of creating a business. Though I generally loath to admit lapses in understanding on my part, i must admit that the book has helped me greatly in better understanding the processes and concepts behind building a successful business. I initially thought of starting a business as simply doing actions A,B,C in order to make money, however if one were to do that then he would be stuck doing actions A,B,C indefinately because he hasn't built a business, he has created a new highly repetitive job for himself. He has also created a situation where he is stuck in his 'business' because he is the 'business' and without him there is nothing to sell. In essence a business must be visualized as a venture that can be formulated and systematized and then be capable of repetition without the involvement of the owner. This way it can be be run by remote or sold if so desired. In order to create such a business one must explicitly outline the roles, functions, power relations and interactions of the staff and the process for carrying out the financing, marketing, customer support, shipping, purchasing, and all other aspects required for running the business. Even though initially one person might fill all the roles within the company, once the company expands there is a need for understanding which roles are taken up by the new employees and which ones are maintained by the owner and how they interact between them. Additionally in order to have continuous operation of a business some redundancy may need to be built into the system in order to not allow the departure of one key employee or contract to fatally wound the hole system. So if I initially had thought of hiring one freelance graphics designer to do my graphics, it might be better to have 2 designers on a rotating basis so that if one is lost the other can pick up the slack while another designer is found. The same applies to other functions.

Because of this newly found understanding of how successful businesses are started I have also rethought the value of a business plan. I had previously put little value on it and thought of it as essentially a useless attempt at predicting things that can not be measured beforehand. Now I see that the value of a business plan is to outline a vision of both present and of the future and to conduct business in such a way as to work towards the future vision.

At the same time the book is full of American psychobabble... spirit, wild horses, the enterpreneur inside. Imagine your eulogy and work backwards, where do you want to be in 20 years? 50 years? Some of the greatest people I know are like mature businesses, they know how they got to where they are and where they are going. The difference between warriors and everybody else is that for warriors everything is a challenge, for everybody else it is either a blessing or a curse. blah blah blah.. blah blah... blah.... Self-fulfillment, setting personal goals and reaching them, setting a goal for your life, creating benchmarks, living a purposeful life... All that self-improvement qualities in people that we, as Americans, are supposed to respect and revere. What a bunch of crap. A pathetic attempt at substitution for a god, absolute benchmarks and a sense of community that we have sacrificed on the altar of personal control and self-aggrandizement. Since we no longer respect any old-fashioned absolute beliefs ([in a squimish voice] eeeuuuh you mean members of other religions will go to hell? eeeuuh you mean Jesus doesn't really love absolutely everybody? (btw, he f@$#*ng hates you) eeeeuuuh you mean Western civilization is better than [insert other civ here]? eeeuuuh you mean I don't have full control over my life?) we are forced into creating benchmarks for ourselves because the fact that we helped Mrs. Oldaswood cross the road does not give us any satisfaction because it doesn't help us reach our goal of $2 million, a perfect marriage and a 12 bedroom mansion half-way around the world. Is it any wonder that regardless of where we set our goals we are still going to be disappointed? If we succeed then we have nothing more to live for unless we can come up with new and even more grandiose arbitrary goals. If we fail then we have failed and there is no one to blame but ourselves because we are in full control of our lives, right? And though I use a moralizing tone, its not as if I am an external spectator...

Anyways, I have rambled on long enough. good night.

Monday, May 02, 2005

It would appear to me that the world economy is essentially based on American bullshit.

Now hear me out.

The major economies of Asia - Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan - survive by creating products that they can sell to the giant American consumer market. The factories that are currently in place in each of these countries count on their continued ability to market their wares to the vast American market and thus if The United States economy was to tank, theirs would contract significantly as well.

European economies - Germany, France, England - though they have a major market of their own, still [especially Germany] are impacted significantly by global trade and by the American and Asian markets. Their economies are also slowly being 'liberalized' and are opening up to the 'free market', which basically means that they are transitioning from countries that actually produce something concrete - cars, electronics, steel - to countries which import these products from Asia and produce something else instead, hint: its brown, thick and gushes. The value of this brown murky gold is however to a large extent based on its international exchange rate which is often established by the American consumer, thus connecting the European economies to the American one.

I am waiting for a time when bullshit becomes a commodity and you can buy it and trade it as you would be trading cotton or iron. In fact I suggest that we immediately create a bullshit index using which we can quantify the health of the American economy. Its time to introduce this index or bullshit commodity prices into our calculations of the way the world economy functions.

"The value of bullshit rose 1.7% over the past 3 months. Growing customer confidence and a cold spring season which caused many consumers to stay home and watch TV contributed to the rise of bullshit commodity prices. The Asian markets responded by rallying and the Nikkei closed up 3% on expected increases in exports to the United States. The markets were apparently not concerned with the recent Asian bullshit affair in which the Chinese and Japanese central banks were buying up blocs of American bullshit to keep its prices high in order to boost exports."

America is the world's biggest producer of bullshit (George Carlin). Were bullshit prices to decrease, many of the best paid Americans - the CEOs, the lawyers, the PR people, the marketing and sales people - would lose their jobs or take pay cuts. This trend would work its way down through the US economy, especially impacting the all important service sector, which is based on serving the same highly paid, but often bored and unfulfilled individuals. The American economy would thus suffer, as would the European and Asian economies from surplus production capacities for goods Americans can no longer afford. Bullshit-based industries and professions in these countries would follow their American mentors downards thus further cutting into the customer base for global manufacturing. The entire world's economy would thus be seriously damaged giving the Great Depression of the 1930s a numeral after its name.

I should be careful now as I don't want to rock the boat. It would really suck to fall overboard...