Tag: film

The Hawkmen’s Sky City Runs on Radium

Posted by – September 3, 2014

and now for something completely different

Depictions of Radioactivity Fears in 1936 Flash Gordon Serial

Defining my terms: Up until at least the mid-1950s, newsreels, cartoon shorts like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, and this week’s chapter of your favorite movie serials were shown before or between the feature(s)—the full-length movies—and the afternoon at the movies was the main audio-visual mass media form people consumed, the core method industrialized societies used to spread images, information and propaganda.  Before being supplanted by TV shows, movie serials were hugely popular.

Lest I sugarcoat, I say this up front: the problematic aspects of the old serials are… well, glaring and intensely pre-civil-rights in content and tone. “Talkie” film serials are part of American culture in the 1930s and ’40s mostly, so they’re a time window showing a very different country… in the Flash Gordon serial, the first ever space adventure on the silver screen, the supervillain Ming the Merciless is obviously in the mold of the Fu Manchu evil genius.  The imperial court, the costumes and sets, the official state cult of Tao, and high concentration of non-Earth humanoid races give the series a definite otherworldly—even bizarro world—look and feel, and that mitigates the Fu Manchuness of Ming.  At its worst the Ming depiction is tame compared to the WW2-fueled anti-Asian hate that pervaded later serials¹, but this early Flash Gordon has no shortage of very Earth-like sexism (despite the uber-strong Princess Aura²).

I dig movie serials because their story structure is really prominent, clear, and crucial, the story mechanics are visible like exposed wooden planks and beams.  Serials also offer a bounty of delicious cultural tropes and images: fresh, raw, not adulterated or distilled, as they originate here or appear for the first time in this new visual form, the picture show.  For example, most subsequent space operas imitate, derive from, or refer to Flash Gordon, since it invented the opening crawl, and, along with the comic strip it sprung from, created the first visual depictions of sci-fi elements—themselves mainly borrowed from pulp writer and space opera originator E.E. Smith—including the space fleet, the tractor beam/gravity beams, the Evil Interplanetary Overlord, the planet of crystal spires and togas (proto version) and more…

Even The Sky City Has an Energy Crisis

Spoilers ahead: The hawkmen’s sky city, and it is truly the “city of the hawkmen,” with not a hawkwoman or hawkchild ever seen, and no women in the city at all excepting visitors Princess Aura and Dale Arden and background servant-girls who don’t wear hawk gear.  The spire-laden city

The hawkmen’s sky city in the Flash Gordon serial (1936), held aloft by gravity beams powered by the atom furnaces.

is ruled by Vultan, King of the Hawkmen, who is like a Viking warlord of the skies complete with Beard of Barbarism, big hammy laugh, big ambitions, and big appetites for babes, beer and beasts (always om-nomming a leg of roast beast).

The sky city feels both medieval and high tech, great lumber doors like a castle and moody candlelit walls, for example, the mega technology backgrounded (as befitting a civilization of togas and crystal spires).  The underlying technology is abruptly foregrounded, however, when King Vultan sentences Flash and his bros to feed the steampunk-looking atom furnaces piles o’ radium with the other prisoners (apparently we’ll use manual labor, slaves doing rote grunt work in the space age).

Flash Gordon and his bros enslaved by the hawkmen and made to shovel “radium” into the “atom furnaces”… hawkman overseer(s) are always present to whip the slaves. We Will Use Manual Labor in the Future?

 

Most of what I’m talking about appears in Chapter 6 of the Flash Gordon serial:

The sky city is featured in Chapters 5-8…

 

the moving, setting, re-setting of the “hands” on this clock is essential to the atom furnaces’ operation …somehow. The clock, which a hawkman worker mans at all times, moves in rhythm with the gears, the fires… industry as performance art.

 

The atom furnaces look and feel like relics of the bygone days of steam power, Vultan’s prisoners seemingly shoveling coal just like in an old steamboat engine room, but the narratives around these “atom furnaces” are unambiguously modern.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that his friends will continue sentenced to shovel radium into the atom furnaces until he finds a “new force” to hold up the sky city.

King Vultan tells Dr. Zarkov that the sky city is held aloft with gravity beams run on radium-fueled atom furnaces, but there are fears of running out of radium. Like concerns today around peak oil, peak coal, peak uranium, and increasingly, peak water, King Vultan is—between bursts of boisterous laughter—worried about “peak radium,” having neared or passed that point of no return or peak where the depletion of a finite resource is only a matter of time thereafter, raising the possibility of the hawkmen’s sky city crashing to the ground and bringing an ugly, apocalyptic end to hawk-civilization.

Vultan wants Zarkov to discover a “new force” to hold up the sky city, which sounds funky, but it is 1936. Einstein had published Special Relativity just 20 years previous, electromagnetism as one invisible force was being translated into radio and other magic things, new theories of physics droppin’ right and left, and amidst all that a “new force” or new field being discovered didn’t seem so implausible. Sci-fi stories and novels of the ’20s and ’30s—I’m particularly thinking of E.E. Smith “the father of space opera”—often draw on a hypothetical fifth force of nature³ being discovered and harnessed to propel space adventurers through the solar system and used to beam at foes.

Dr. Zarkov replies to Vultan with concerns that Flash and friends will get lethal doses of radiation from shoveling radium. The subtext is our fear as we enter “the atomic age.”

Vultan answers “it’s a pleasant death! LOL!” and that they’ll indeed be radiated until Zarkov invents a new alternative energy source. Dr. Zarkov does eventually discover a new force of physics to beam the city aloft. He turns on the new beam, powered by an unexplained new infinite force, just in the nick of time, right after Flash Gordon + super-bros explode the atom furnace. No word on what happened with the deadly radioactive fallout from all that radium goin’ up like a roman candle.

Lots of implications here, lots of subtext…

 

“Will Radium Restore Youth?” Article in Popular Science Monthly, June 1923 (copy of the issue). Not only was radium injected and chugged as an “elixir of life,” it was used in all types of cosmetics, and there were even radium condoms for superpowered radioactive wangs; read more at the excellent blog post Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin

My last post on radium in fracking wastewater was written in part to lay the groundwork for this post… RADIUM: it’s not just for Marie Curie anymore.
RADIUM: coming to an aquifer near you!

there are some disturbing (mildly disturbing, depending on your perspective) themes, images and subtexts in the Flash Gordon serial… pretty sure that I would want to give younger or more sheltered teens an explainer/guided watching… and most of the more disturbing aspects aren’t about radiation…

I understand that the writers want to set up King Vultan and the hawkmen as formidable opponents, so when they turn to aid Flash Gordon against Ming the Merciless, it is a really high stakes event, Vultan and Flash shaking on a Fire Forged Friendship that really matters.  In all Flash Gordon incarnations, Vultan ends up friends with Flash Gordon on an “enemy of my enemy” basis, and in the 1979 animated series Flash goes from forced labor at the atom furnaces to Fire Forged Friends in the course of one episode—view it free on Hulu—and his threatening turn feels more like a Challenge of the Week.  But here, King Vultan is closer to a serious villain.  Though he has some human moments, like trying to get Dale to eat her roast beast, Vultan electric-tortures, radiates, and almost executes Flash!

And then there’s this…

A hawkman guard aggressively greets Dr. Zarkov (unfortunately still in the mandatory hot pants of Ming’s Go-Go Enslavement) with a heil salute. The hawkmen use the heil again and again. Given that these serials were shown before/after newsreels of the Nazis (1936) how would audiences have reacted?

Thank you for reading!  Hope I gave some nutritious food for thought…

The hawkmen continue to echo down the decades, not just in the many subsequent and new Flash Gordon works, but in the DC universe, the Justice League and related content… since the DC Comics heroes Hawkman, Hawkwoman, Hawkgirl, et al were inspired by the Hawkmen in Alex Raymond’s founding Flash Gordon comic strip.  Hawkman creator Dennis Neville said that he modeled his Hawkman design on the hawkmen of the sky city on planet Mongo.  I feel that the Silver Age Hawkman, Hawkgirl and other Hawk-characters, hailing from crystal spiresque high towers (sky city-like) on the distant planet Thanagar, are an even more direct homage to the old Raymond comic strips

Recommended Resources:
Tropes in Flash Gordon serial – TVtropes.org – listing some of the cultural tropes invented or employed by the Flash Gordon serial
Know Thy History: Flash Gordon – from the excellent comics review blog The Webcomic Overlook

Bizarre Beauty Bazaar 1: How To Be Truly Radiant – Nonfiction Skin
9 Ways People Used Radium Before We Understood the Risks | Mental Floss

E. E. Smith novels – public domain audiobooks @ LibraVox

 

Tip of the hat to the wondiferous disability-in-moving-pictures blogger spaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaacecrip for inspiring me to blog about film again.

Nick

 

Footnotes:
1. Especially during the War with Imperial Japan, racist depictions of Asians hit an all-time low. In the original Batman serial (1943) they refer to Japanese internment as “…the wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed japs” (view on youtube).  Though the concept of internment is inadvertently revealed as failed and ineffective moments later, when the evil genius and supervillain Dr. Daka, Hirohito’s baddest agent, is introduced as the antagonist, conspicuously non-imprisoned and unfettered in his evil-doing. I hate the sugarcoating and outright omitting of the ugly moments of our history, and I want my descriptions of the past to feel near as close to the real and biting reality of the people who lived it as possible in blag format.
2. Princess Aura is one badass woman, probably ahead of her time, but she is also really complicated. She can evil-rescue Flash, seem the heroine one moment, seem villainess the next…  In the animated series, done by the He-Man producers, she’s largely a copy/paste of their She-ra animations, but is more the Action Girl than in the old serial, where she’s daddy’s little villainess exemplified, but villainess wanting the hero always applies…
3. something akin to a fifth force of nature may still be possible, if physicists can figure out dark energy/matter.

Rain Man (1988) and Hollywood’s treatment of disability

Posted by – February 5, 2011

Hollywood Images of Disability (CHF EDIT) from salome chasnoff on Vimeo.

Everyone interested in disability rights should watch this 18min short “Hollywood Images of Disability,” about Hollywood’s terrible treatment of disability, which is normally depicted as something so deformed, so unspeakably terrifying that disabled characters have to be cured (Heidi, Monkey Shines, Avatar, and zillions of movies) put away forever (Rain Man) or euthanized (Of Mice and Men, Million Dollar Baby and countless other examples). Note: this short comments on clips from many different movies with R and PG-13 ratings, many of which contain sensationalist depictions of people with disabilities, exaggerated vulnerability of disabled women–Uma Thurmond playing a naked blind woman being vulnerable and threatened, extreme violence and murders of people with disabilities, male and female, and will be disturbing for anyone with a conscience.

I saw Rain Man (1988) on the big screen when it came out (I was 6 years old and I didn’t understand much beyond the beautiful imagery). When I saw it again as a young teenager it impacted me a lot. I really remember it vividly.

Rain Man is the autistic brother that was just discovered by cool dude Charlie (Tom Cruise, who back in the 80s, we all worshiped as the coolest guy ever and wanted to emulate, along with Michael J. Fox & Matthew Broderick–in 1990 I once made mom’s hairdresser make my hair like Michael J. Fox’s). Charlie removes Rain Man/Raymond from the nursing home and they go on an amazing adventure that as a teen I could only dream of. Ray is loosed from his cage! While most men in the audience are undoubtedly identifying with Charlie, the cool as ice, young business shark of the ’80s (see Gordon Gekko) and his struggles and interests, I’m identifying with Ray, and strongly. For the first time, Ray can move around and develop out in the real world: he’s experiencing life with all its thrills, very real dangers, wonderful strangeness, opportunities, fulfillment and sexual excitement. He gets to fail at driving the old Buick convertible, win fat stacks of cash at a beautiful Las Vegas casino. He’s able to really live, warts and all, unlike the nursing home where there is nothing but soulless routine and the dictatorial control of the facility’s staff who don’t really know or care for Ray.

The scene that caught my attention the most was when Ray ends up alone in the casino elevator with a beautiful woman, Charlie’s girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) who brakes the elevator and slow dances with him and kisses him. It is brief but an electrifyingly sexy moment. I’ll go into a great amount of detail so ya’ll can understand how a young disabled man saw these images. They used every camera and make-up trick to make the actress look like the perfect hot date of the 80s style. In this elevator Ray is confronted with a very powerful woman, empowered, living life; she dances with and kisses Ray maybe out of curiosity, maybe because it feels enormously powerful to initiate a man into the world of women. She is open to being inclusive. Possible T-Shirt: NOT A SLUT. INCLUSIVE. When you’re a young disabled man, you see her in the elevator and look at her like a vision of feminine power and inclusivity, a chance at entering the adult world. Not long into the scene, she restarts the elevator, looking a little sad and disappointed that Ray didn’t really kiss her back and touch her, and the moment was over. I was transfixed (nearly every male probably was–it immerses the audience in the ultimate fantasy of a woman actually wanting them).

This was the first time in my life that I had seen a woman interested in giving that kind of attention and affection to a disabled man. It was like a fairy tale come true, Ray doesn’t have to be locked up in the gilded cage at the nursing home, he had a real CHANCE at life, opportunities to see and do amazing things and feel and love. To me, the opportunities to succeed were as important and thrilling, if not moreso, than actually success. At the time, 1994, I was entering puberty and very focused on all these issues, while living in an environment with the myriad barriers so common to the disability experience, plus being guarding by nurses 24/7 had already cut me off from girls, from kids my age entirely in middle school. This movie made me think I could one day escape the cage and talk to women in elevators.

But the movie closed with Tom Cruise putting Ray back in the cage, portrayed as the right thing, the courageous and hard thing to put him back in the nursing home, the more “appropriate” setting. How well Ray did in the real world evidently didn’t matter; he had 1 autistic meltdown (ONE) and accidentally broke the precious coffee maker, and that was the end of that. Charlie is depicted as a hero for doing this and ending Ray’s opportunities for a life, forever. It’s all about Charlie’s journey, the familiar Quest o’ Redemption trope that is as old as literature itself, and in the United States typically involve a journey by car across the American continent. Ultimately, as the short film “Hollywood Images of Disability” illustrates quite well, disabled characters in Rain Man and other Hollywood movies aren’t people as much as Oscar bait for a “difficult” portrayal (for the Raymond role, Dustin Hoffman won the Oscar for Best Actor; “The diseased/addicted/mentally impaired always get the Oscar.” — Hollywood Rule Book, Vanity Fair) and disabled characters are mainly used as plot devices to facilitate the hero’s development. In Rain Man, Ray, his struggles, his interests, aren’t considered at all; the point of the story is that Charlie starts off as a soulless corporate raider, grows to love Raymond, and at the end has evolved into a sensitive, mature adult able to make the “right” “mature” choices in life and love, and, grotesquely, the “mature” choice is to have the lawyer transfer custody of Raymond permanently to the nursing home. I thought it was particularly cruel to show Ray the world only to yank it away. To be expected, in a society where we aren’t wanted and barely accommodated enough to survive, but still a harsh introduction to reality for young teenaged Nick.

Read about the all-too-common “Bury Your Disabled” trope in popular culture, and try to raise awareness that it, along with other disability tropes that are harmful (and/or just ABSURD), are actually really wrong and awful, and should go away….

Nick

Review of animated movie “Delgo” (2008)

Posted by – January 9, 2011

Delgo
Rated PG
89 minutes long

I understand why this movie tanked at the box office and recouped the independent production only 700k of 40 million invested, it needed a major script overhaul to edit out about 40 minutes of what feels like filler, tighten the story, cut the ultra-forced comedy, and lighten the heavy handed *Jews vs. Palestinians intractable racial struggle over arable land* plotline.
“Trying WAY too hard” is the main problem with Delgo. I believe that in order to recoup the colossal, hemorrhaging costs from this on again, off again, shelved and unshelved 9 year production, the usual suspects (out of touch marketing gurus who always design movies for the lobotomized demographic) overstuffed the script with as many hackneyed Disney formulas as possible. The result (which probably has the guys who came up with the original concepts for Delgo crying in their beer every night) is humor so forced that you want to cringe and shield your face in parts. Delgo’s screechy, unbearable sidekick (Chris Kattan) is this movie’s worst mistake; the fact that not only does he screech *every* forced line at the highest pitches Kattan’s “Mango” character (from SNL) could hit, but enduring him is utterly superfluous to the story, has (I’m certain) made innumerable viewers stop a half-hour in. Mango just can’t be shoehorned into a Disney-style comic relief sidekick–let this serve as a cautionary tale to Hollywood! It feels like the producers compromised their vision, in exchange for adding comic relief “buddies,” they kept their overstated sermon on ethnic strife; including BOTH made the movie much too long.
Eric Idle is great as the villianess’ inept lizard henchman. If this thing had more Idle and NO Mango MAYBE it could have been in reach of 4 stars.

I thought the animation was excellent, very creative, with brilliant use of shadows and highlights. Just because it doesn’t aim to copy Disney and Pixar’s emotive, heavily expressive style DOESN’T mean it sucks; just because the production dysfunctions delayed this 2001 animation’s release until the end of 2008 (so it was animation from CGI technology of another era) doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Delgo has amazing epic battle sequences (though big parts of them seem nearly identical to the arena battle scene with winged Geonosian warriors vs. force-wielding Jedi in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones; one even looks like Yoda).

I gave it 3 stars. One for the great casting apart from Kattan, one for the artwork, and one for the awesome, imaginative original elements you’ve never seen before: a steampunk flying buggy, a dramatic swordfight between two winged generals in mid air! Had Delgo been released in late summer instead of lost amid the shuffle of holiday blockbusters, and had its half hearted, under-resourced promotional campaign depicted it as the swashbuckling romantic epic it aims to be vs. the bad Direct-to-Video cheapquel the posters made it look like, I think Delgo could have easily turned a profit. I’ve seen much worse clear $100 million.

Nick

Donald Duck As A Nazi. Really.

Posted by – August 8, 2009

The media was once controlled by the government. During WWII, the Walt Disney Co. was under U.S. government contract for 32 short propaganda films at $4,500 each, which would save the studio after they spent four times their budget on Fantasia, which had pushed them close to bankruptcy. The films did their best to boost support for the war effort, increase military recruitment and morale, and counter Nazi propaganda.

Donald Duck starred in at least eight of these government-sponsored shorts and his popularity boomed. The most bizarre film was Der Fuehrer’s Face, based around the popular Spike Jones parody song “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” which reached #3 on the charts. In this film, Donald Duck is a

Screenshot from Der Fuehrers Face (1943)

Screenshot from Der Fuehrer's Face (1943)

Nazi. Yeah, you didn’t misread me; in this short, Donald Duck wears a Nazi uniform, does the “Heil Hitler” salute dozens of times, and helps build shells for the German Army. The point of the film is to show that “Nutzi Land” (Nazi Germany) is no Aryan paradise; it’s a totalitarian nightmare characterized by forced worship and dronish obedience to authority (hence Donald must give the “Heil” salute every time he sees a picture of the Führer (Adolf Hitler), harsh wartime rationing meaning little food, and grueling 48-hour work days on an assembly line no one can keep up with (think of Lucy and Ethel failing at packaging candy on a faster and faster conveyor belt). It’s also an actual nightmare that Donald wakes up from at the end. I totally get the purpose of this cartoon, and Disney gets the message across with some classic animation, but it’s still unsettling to see a Nazi Donald Duck heiling Hitler so much. It’s definitely jarring, especially completely outside the context of 1943 media.

Disclaimer: in the opening sequence, Japanese emperor Hirohito is playing a Sousaphone, and is depicted in an exaggeratedly ethnic and buffoonish way, typical of wartime cartoons, and today may be offensive.

Here is Der Fuehrer’s Face in high definition, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Animated Short and was later named #22 on the 50 Greatest Cartoons of All-Time list.

More videos of Donald Duck’s WWII shorts:

An Inconvenient Blob

Posted by – August 29, 2007

Will The Blob Devour Us All?

From this charming piece in Slate, Dispatch from Blob Fest:

Though Phillips might not have intended The Blob to have a political message, she did accidentally insert an environmental warning, which was reflected in the Blob Fest’s 2007 theme: “An Inconvenient Blob.” I thought it was just an attempt to ride the green bandwagon until I finally caught one of the three weekend screenings of the movie. At the end of the film, the Blob is imprisoned in the Arctic, where, as the narrator menacingly intones, it would remain as long as the North Pole stayed cold. Green activists should add the return of the Blob to the long list of global-warming-related dangers.

That’s right, folks.

In the bad 1958 sci-fi film The Blob, the monster was finally defeated by encasing it in the polar ice cap. The narrator says that this will stop the Blob as long as the arctic stays frozen.

With global warming melting the ice caps, the Blob may be unleashed, and start eating people again.

RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!!!!

😀

What The U.S. Can Learn From “Lawrence of Arabia”

Posted by – April 11, 2007

In my post, Why did they create the new nation of Iraq? I discussed T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) and his vision of the Middle East’s borders after WWI, which would’ve amounted to the Shias getting their own state in the Mesopotamian Basin, a single state for most of the Sunnis of what are now the fake nations of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, and the whole region transitioning to Arab self-rule. The British shot down Lawrence’s proposal, because they were imperialists in the purest sense, and wanted an Empire of “civilized” and orderly Western governments sending them resources and profits.


The real T.E. Lawrence

It should almost go without saying that America is failing in Iraq today mainly due to our woeful ignorance of history and the nature of the region and its people.

We can learn a lot from the British Empire’s mistakes in their Mandate of Mesopotamia.

1) There is a natural tissue rejection of any foreign body. The Iraqis in 1919 and 1920 revolted against British rule. The Ayatollahs in Karbala and Najaf declared jihad against the English. The Kurds resisted as well. The area was only controlled with heavy bombing from the Royal Air Force and use of poison gas.

2) Subjugating people who don’t want to be subjugated is ugly. It was ugly when Saddam did it, it was ugly when the British did it, and it is ugly with our new version Subjugation 2.0 that we’re attempting today. It is immoral, and lends itself to atrocities. Facing the 1920 rebellion in Iraq, Winston Churchill wrote, “I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favour of using poison gas against uncivilised tribes.” And use gas on tribes they did. “gas was used against the Iraqi rebels with excellent morale effect,” Churchill said. Phosphorus bombs were also employed. The West today acts outraged that Saddam gassed the Kurds, but had no problem selling Saddam said gas, nor with gassing rebellious tribes themselves decades earlier.

3) Iraq, and Arabs, are not what people think.
Iraq is a fake construct, and though Iraqis are now attached to the current territory, the borders were drawn by the British in such a way to engender instability and dependence on foreigners.

Everyone should watch Lawrence of Arabia. While it is flawed, it did win seven Oscars (including Best Picture) and it gives real insight into the turbulent birth of modern “Arabism” and the struggles with it today.

What struck me most in Lawrence of Arabia was that the concept of “Arab” is also a new construct, and an identity, to an extent, also imposed by outsiders. The line in the movie when the Bedouin chieftain Auda abu Tayi says “what’s an Arab? I am Howitat!” says it all. Not only did he not have a unified Arab national identity, he did not know what an Arab was!!! He knew only a tribal identity.

Then after Lawrence and the chieftains seized Damascus from the Ottoman Turks, the Howitat and the Harith tribes can’t agree who will control what city services. Water is offline because the Howitat who control electricity won’t coordinate with the Harith who control water and need power to run the pumps (or visa versa). “Being an Arab will be thornier than you suppose, Harith!” Auda abu Tayi says. They blame each other and despise each other. I don’t know what happens, I think they end up giving the British the water duties and eventually the Imperialists play the tribes off each other as further pretext for foreign rule, but Lawrence says “There may be honor among thieves, but there’s none in politicians” and leaves Damascus.

The Damascus situation and the failure of the independent Arab state post-WWI seems like an eerily similar forerunner of the disturbing reports coming out of Baghdad lately, with tribes in gridlock and some areas devoid of basic government services like water and trash collection because sectarians will attack anyone working for the government as a “collaborator.” One of the most powerful quotes in the movie that hits home today is when Lawrence says, “So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people – greedy, barbarous, and cruel…” and while this statement had plenty of imperialism behind it, it’s hard not to see insight in it given the current tribal bloodbath in Iraq.

Though decades of nationalist rule created a strong Iraqi identity (check out Hometown Baghdad for a great vlog by ordinary Iraqis) and many Iraqis demand the old borders and stability be maintained, much of the population seems to have reverted to the same kind of pre-national tribalism and sectarian infighting seen in Lawrence of Arabia. Once tyranny is removed, whether it be Saddam or the Ottomans toppled, Arab society seems to inexorably revert to the more basic tribal forms. When in crisis, you go with what you know.

WWI created the outlines for all the disasters that we have in the Mideast today. The British stacked up the House of Cards that was Iraq. Now the U.S. has toppled it, but doesn’t know what the cards and identities even mean as they try to stack something back up, and are probably just making it worse.

We would do well to heed the lessons of history, and abandon our fruitless quest to pacify and remake the Middle East. It’s 2007, and we should know better than to retrace British blunders.

Leave Iraq to Iraqis; it’s the only way.

“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — George Santayana.

Nick