Why the troops think they're fighting

HuffPo has just posted a piece by John Zogby about a new poll of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. So do they know why they’re fighting in Iraq?

The wide-ranging poll also shows that 58% of those serving in country say the U.S. mission in Iraq is clear in their minds, while 42% said it is either somewhat or very unclear to them, that they have no understanding of it at all, or are unsure.

OK, so what’s the mission?

Nearly nine of every 10 – 85% – said the U.S. mission is “to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the 9-11 attacks,” while 77% said they believe the main or a major reason for the war was “to stop Saddam from protecting al Qaeda in Iraq.”

So how do you tell someone that s/he’s fighting for a lie?
Mind you, they don’t want to stay. When do the troops themselves think that they should be withdrawn?

  • 29% “immediately”
  • 22% “in the next 6 months”
  • 21% “between 6 and 12 months”
  • 23% “as long as they are needed”

That seems pretty clear.

The duel is finally over

The actor Dennis Weaver died last Friday. I’ll always remember him for one performance: his wonderful depiction of the confused and terrified driver in Spielberg’s 1971 masterpiece Duel. It’s quite brilliant – one of my personal top ten films, I think.
PS Interesting… I just looked up Duel in the IMDB, and I see that it was made for television: it was nominated for a Golden Globe for best TV movie. I’d always assumed that it had a theatrical release. I think I first saw it on TV in about 1982, soon after we’d moved to the USA. For some reason I’ve always associated it with another film that I encountered at about the same time: Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running. (I tried to think of a possible connection, but the results were depressingly pretentious!)

On being compelled to pick sides

Here’s an interesting perspective from the BBC’s John Simpson:

Looking back on the events of the past year, it is clear that the three different popular votes which were held in Iraq, two elections and one referendum, played a big part in whipping up the violence.
People who had tended to regard themselves primarily as Iraqis were suddenly forced to focus on the fact that they belonged to a particular group: Sunni, Shia, Kurdish, Christian or whatever.
The act of voting was as divisive as it was empowering, and the fact that it happened three times in 11 months added to the intensity of the problem.

David Hockney portraits

Just returned from the Members’ Opening of the David Hockney Portraits exhibition at the Boston MFA. Although the works in the exhibition go all the way back to his teenage years, and represent all of his major periods and styles, I was startled by just how many of the pictures were less than a year old. (In fact Hockney did a set of six large portraits especially for this event.)
This is only the second Hockney show I’ve seen at the MFA: the first was a small collection of recent English landscapes about 10(?) years ago. This is very different: it’s a huge exhibition, with many previously undisplayed pictures from the artist’s own collection. If there is a weakness, it is perhaps that there is too much here: the exhibition might be better if more thematically focussed. But that’s a nit: it’s a wonderful show. The portraits are extremely revealing of Hockney, as an artist and as a person in relation to others. Highly recommended.

Random 10

There’s a bias in these lists towards stuff I haven’t played in recent weeks. For example, I just picked up the Arctic Monkeys’ excellent new album, and since that’s currently in heavy rotation, it won’t show up here for a while. With that said, here’s today’s random 10 from iTunes:

  • “No Angel” by Sunscreem
  • “Love Comes Quickly” by the Pet Shop Boys
  • “Mer Girl” by Madonna
  • “Beginning of a Great Adventure” by Lou Reed
  • “Take Me Home” by Groove Armada
  • “Tokins” by the Steve Miller Band
  • “Housekeeping” by No-Man
  • “The Van der Graaf Generation” by Men Without Hats
  • “Irene” by Patrick O’Hearn
  • “Flying Sorcery” by Al Stewart

Dennett and Wieseltier links

Majikthise has posted a couple of pieces here and here providing useful links to discussions of Dan Dennett’s book and Wieseltier’s execrable review. She quotes from an email from Dennett to a physicist who had written to him about the review:

Look at it this way: I am running an experiment. The question is: can thoughtful religious people read my book without losing it? Some can; some can’t. That’s something worth knowing. I’m sure there will be many more data points in the coming months. It will be interesting to see what the pattern is. Ugly? Yes, but experimenters often have to endure gross things in order to get the evidence they need.

UPDATE: In reading through some of the blogs comenting on the Wieseltier review, I came across this letter to the editor of the NYTBR by the philosopher Owen Flanagan. Beautifully concise and crystal clear.

"A offer I couldn't refuse…"

I’m heading over to England next Tuesday for a week. It’s mostly for family business, though I will be doing a few days work while I’m there. The reason is simple: United Airlines made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: round trip US-UK, no blackouts, ample capacity, Economy Plus seats, for just 35,000 frequent flier miles. OK, I have to pay $80 taxes and fees, and rent a car, but it’s still a great deal. Oxford (and London), here I come.
(Until just recently it seemed that whenever I tried to buy a ticket using frequent flier miles the system would always say “no seats available”, or “no Saver awards – full rate only”. It was bad for domestic flights; for international the chances were slim to none. Moreover there was no way to find out what seats were available: all you could do was guess a date, try it, and hope for the best. But in the last few months I’ve found that whatever I want seems to be available. And United has even started posting information about which routes and dates have good award ticket availability. What a concept!)

Reset to factory settings

I had a slightly disconcerting experience today. As I mentioned earlier, we’ve been having some electrical work done, and this morning the guys came by to finish up the last installation and then map out the new circuit breaker configuration. As you might expect, the latter involved a lengthy period of flipping breakers on and off to verify which breaker controlled which appliances, lights, outlets, etc.
At the end of the process, I had to hurry in to work for a meeting, but before leaving I wanted to check that Internet connectivity was OK. I logged in to one of the Macs (the one connected by Ethernet to the Belkin WiFi access point), brought up My!Yahoo!Page!, declared success, and headed off to the office.
This evening my wife asked if everything had gone OK with the electricians: she was unable to get to the Internet from either her PC or her Mac. (Don’t ask….) Both of these systems use WiFi (802.11G)… so what was going on.?
I tried to log in to the Belkin AP from the Ethernet-connected Mac. It failed – “bad password”. After a couple of retries, I found was able to log in without a password. It soon became apparent that somehow (presumably due to all the power cycling) the device had been reset to factory settings. No passwords, default ESSID, no wireless security, no specific MAC restrictions, PST TZ, and wide open to all comers… but unusable by my wife’s systems, because each was configured to use only my ESSID. (There are about 5 neighbours’ wireless networks reachable from different parts of our house, some with no security.)
I re-entered all of the configuration information (yes, I had a back-up copy!) and we’re now back to normal operation. However I’m distinctly uncomfortable with the idea that power cycling the access point could leave my wireless network wide open. That’s not my idea of fail-safe.
(Perhaps it’s an “NSA feature”.)

Why does the NYT do this?

Over at brainstorms, oz and I are discussing the sophomoric review [login required] of Dennett’s new book in yesterday’s NYT by a pompous lit-crit idiot called Leon Wieseltier. As someone commented on an NYT forum, “I am dismayed to see that the NYTimes is continuing to ask literary critics to review philosophical books about science. It’s like asking a ballerina to review an auto show.”. But a ballerina is unlikely to be as graceless as Wieseltier….
UPDATE: Not everybody at the NYT is so dismissive of Dennett’s book. In this piece [login required], Edward Rothstein quotes from Dennett to introduce his thoughts on the concept of iconoclasm (“History Illuminates the Rage of Muslims”). It’s a nice little piece, although it looks as if it was edited down a bit clumsily.
On the other hand, Andrew Sullivan hails Wieseltier’s piece as a “superb dissection of scientism”. Since Dennett’s supposed “scientism” is a product of Wieseltier’s deranged mind, I have to assume that Sully hasn’t actually read the book. Surely he should know better than to rely on a review….