You can’t get there from here, or from anywhere you’re at

“Colonial administrations may have been racist and exploitative, but they did at least work seriously at the business of understanding the people they were governing.  They recruited people prepared to spend their entire careers in dangerous provinces of a single alien nation.  They invested in teaching administrators and military officers the local language.  They established effective departments of state, trained a local elite, and continued the countless academic studies of their subjects through institutes and museums, royal geographical societies, and royal botanical gardens.  They balanced the local budget and generated fiscal revenue because if they didn’t their home government would rarely bail them out.  If they failed to govern fairly, the population would mutiny.

“Postconflict experts have got the prestige without the effort or stigma of imperialism.  Their implicit denial of the difference between cultures is the new mass brand of international intervention.  Their policy fails but no one notices.  There are no credible monitoring bodies and there is no one to take formal responsibility.  Individual officers are never in any one place and rarely in any one organization long enough to be adequately assessed.  The colonial enterprise could be judged by the security or revenue it delivered, but neocolonialists have no such performance criteria.  In fact their very uselessness benefits them.  By avoiding any serious action or judgment they, unlike their colonial predecessors, are able to escape accusations of racism, exploitation, and oppression.

“Perhaps it is because no one requires more than a charming illusion of action in the developing world.  If the policy makers know little about the Afghans, the public knows even less, and few care about policy failure when the effects are felt only in Afghanistan.”

— Rory Stewart, The Places in Between, pp. 247-248

Keeping things balanced

“Patriotism is a curious passion. It does not seem possible to love one’s own country except by hating some other country.” — Archibald MacMechan (from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XVI, Book II, Ch. 10)

Make it maybe not so new

“Of all the criticisms that have been passed upon the Declaration of Independence, the least to the point is that it is not original. The material was at hand, the argument had been elaborated, the conclusions had been drawn. For originality there was as little opportunity as there was need. What was required now was a concise summing up of the whole matter, full enough to give a clear impression of completeness, vigorous and bold enough to serve as a national manifesto, and polished, dignified, and incisive enough to catch the ear, to linger in the memory, and to bear endless repetition.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 8

Mutatis mutandis

“No history of the American Revolution, or of the political literature to which it gave birth, would be complete without consideration of the loyalists. That independence was in fact the work of a minority, and that the methods by which the loyal majority was overawed and, in part, expelled were as high-handed and cruel as they were active and vigorous, must be freely conceded. Weighty as was the colonial argument, force and violence were freely employed to give effect to it.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 8

You can depend on it

“If a people is to be judged solely by its crimes and its sins, all the people of this planet are utterly damned.  Such judgments can produce only the deepest kind of anarchy.  The civilized judgment, on which depends all the possibilities of a decent human life, requires that men, while condemning and resisting evil deeds, should be unfaltering in their faith in and their response to the healing impulses of their fellow men.” — Walter Lippmann, 1933

Is this why American schools are a dysfunctional mess?

“In every State it should be a fundamental maxim that the education of youth should be particularly formed and adapted to the nature and end of its government.” — Thomas Sheridan, 1756 (from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. 14)

Job security

“The history of diplomacy is the history of relations among rival powers, which did not enjoy political intimacy, and did not respond to appeals to common purposes.  Nevertheless, there have been settlements.  Some of them did not last very long.  Some of them did.  For a diplomat to think that rival and unfriendly powers cannot be brought to a settlement is to forget what diplomacy is all about.  There would be little for diplomats to do if the world consisted of partners, enjoying political intimacy, and responding to common appeals.” — Lippmann, The Cold War

Oh, come on, let them eat cake

“Laissez-faire is dead and the modern state has become responsible for the modern economy as a whole.  The task of insuring the continuity of the standard of life for its people is now as much the fundamental duty of the state as the preservation of national independence.” — Walter Lippmann, Godkin Lectures, 1934.

Bargain prices in the Potemkin village

“In an earlier era men like John Milton and John Stuart Mill had argued that liberty depended on a press free from censorship and intimidation.  They were concerned primarily with freedom of belief and expression.  But in modern democracies the problem was different.  The press could be ‘free’ and still fail to do its job.  Without accurate and unbiased information the public could not form intelligent decisions.  Democracy would be either a failure or a sham.” — Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century

Or about anything, for that matter?

“Most political theory assumed that the average man could, if presented with the facts, make reasonable decisions.  But what if access to the facts was blocked by propaganda, ignorance and willful distortion?  How would this affect the assumption that the average man could make intelligent decisions about public issues?” — Steel, Walter Lippmann and the American Century

Once we’re all ill, think how rich we’ll be

“There is no sufficiency principle, no ability to say ‘enough.’ Every last scrap of material, every last inch of earth, every last iota of human attention and experience, must become a commodity in order to feed the market maw. There is no other option. A system that supposedly embodies ‘choice’ in the end doesn’t give us any. The mechanism grinds on, out of synch with both the natural systems that sustain it and the needs of the humans who comprise it. ‘Prosperity’ becomes another word for ecological and social dysfunction, and a staggering increase in illth.  This dysfunction is a daily experience for most of us. Yet for most economists it does not exist. In their view an increase of expenditure is by definition an increase in well-being, so there is no need to inquire further. To the contrary, problems make the GDP go up. Cancer begets costly cancer treatments; stress leads to the consumption of prescription drugs, and on and on.” — Bollier and Rowe, “The ‘Illth’ of Nations” (


Words don’t often fail me.  More often, I fail them.  This week, I’m posting to this site a work of poetry I wrote six years ago, called The Book of Lamentations.  I had previously published it to my Yahoo website in 2006, where I took it down after a week or two, and to my Joomla site last year, where I took it down after one day.  It is a work which causes me discomfort.  It will not leave me alone.

My background is military.  I am an American.  It is not my intention to make this website into an overtly political or topical site, but there were aspects of the American government’s invasion and occupation of Iraq which I found appalling.  When George W. Bush and Richard Cheney were re-elected in 2004, I was moved to write what I thought would be a three- or four-page poem about the American servicemen and servicewomen, volunteers all, who were giving their lives in the conflict.  I thought it would take, at most, a few weeks to write.  It ended up taking nine months and going on for scores of pages.  I stopped when I didn’t know what else to do.

Broke and losing the war

“If any ventured to rise in opposition, he was presently put to death in some convenient way, and there was neither search for the murderers nor justice to be had against them if suspected; but the people remained motionless, being so thoroughly cowed that men thought themselves lucky to escape violence, even when they held their tongues…. it was impossible for any one to open his grief to a neighbour and to concert measures to defend himself, as he would have had to speak either to one whom he did not know, or whom he knew but did not trust.” — Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, Ch. XXVI (trans. Crawley), regarding the overthrow of Athenian democracy

Regarding Words of Manipulative Dissimulation

“We should never underestimate our predisposition to believe whatever is presented under the guise of an authoritative report and is also consistent with the mythological structure of a society from which we derive comfort, and which it may be uncomfortable to dispute.” — Kermode, “What Precisely Are the Facts?”, The Genesis of Secrecy

Plus ca change

“In the family, schools and churches, tyrannies have been set up which have vested interests in mental stupor and convention, and which permeate the atmosphere with cant and hypocrisy convenient to themselves.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, regarding the targets of George Meredith’s writings (most notably, Erewhon) in the late 19th century