From Basra With Olje

September 2nd, 2009

Very interesting article in the Financial Times, about the Iraqi petro-geologist who helped shape Norway's oil policies, which have become the standard for how natural resource windfalls ought to be handled.

Be Sure to Notice the Hat

August 27th, 2009

Like many young Americans, I was always puzzled by the verse in 'Yankee Doodle' that states: "Stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni."

Why would Yankee Doodle call his hat, or possibly the feather, macaroni? What similarity to curled pasta tubes could it possibly have? Perhaps he was just dotty.

But no! Apparently he was not dotty, merely exceedingly rustic. For as I have learned, a 'Macaroni' was the late 18th century name for a proto-dandy, a man so enamored of fashion as to make a complete spectacle of himself.

From wikipedia:

Young men who had been to Italy on the Grand Tour adopted the Italian word maccherone — a boorish fool in Italian — and said that anything that was fashionable or à la mode was 'very maccaroni'.... the expression was particularly used to characterize fops who dressed in high fashion with tall, powdered wigs with a chapeau bras on top that could only be removed on the point of a sword.

But more importantly, they have a picture! Check this guy out! He could stalk deer from behind that corsage!

Anyway, Yankee Doodle, being an unsophisticated colonial, felt that a mere feather in the cap was enough to make him a macaroni. The British thought this was riotously funny; the Americans thought "yes, we are a simple, honest, no-frills sort of people" and adopted the song with gusto.

No pasta involved.

Also, Get Off My Lawn

August 26th, 2009

I discovered recently that a blogger whose writing I follow is only 31 years old. This surprised me, because he's a real source of knowledge and experience. Which means that I have slipped across another threshold of getting old:

People younger than I am may actually know what the hell they're talking about.

For most of my life, everyone who had experience was older than I was. Oh, sure, peers or youngsters may have done specific things I hadn't done, but in general everyone who was wiser than I was also older.

No longer. There's just too much to learn in this world, meaning that there are people younger than I am who know more about many different things. I can no longer blow them all off as callow or naive or having read just one book - when the thirty year old talks about oil prospecting or commodities trading or what it's like in rural Indonesia or the life of Henry VII, they may very well know better than I - and will always know better. I can't catch up to everyone.

I'm not talking about teenagers of course, they're teenagers. Nor college students, they don't know shit. Or anyone in their mid twenties. But the thirties... yeah, the thirties. There are people out there who never used a paper encyclopedia, don't remember Ronald Reagan, never licked a stamp or touched a typewriter or saw a leaded gasoline pump... and these people may very well be subject area experts whom I would be wise to heed.

It ain't natural.

Inglourious Indeed

August 25th, 2009

I have yet to see 'Inglourious Basterds', but the film's premise disturbs me.

I enjoy a good revenge film as much as anyone, probably more than most people; The Count of Monte Cristo is one of my favorite books, 'The Shawshank Redemption' a favorite film. I certainly have no sympathy for Nazis. Nor do I have anything against Quentin Tarantino films, although they tend to be a bit over the top; I quite enjoyed 'Pulp Fiction' and 'Kill Bill', although I have to say the Robert Rodriguez parts of 'From Dusk 'Til Dawn' were by far superior.

As for 'Inglourious Basterds' - if the rag-tag band of American GIs behind the lines in occupied France were actually the classic group of disparate individuals tossed together by fate and temperment, that would be fine, too.

But (apparently, as I say I have not seen the film yet) they're not. They're all Jews.

And that's what bugs me.

Some of it is just an annoyance at poor historical vision - no members of the general American public, including soldiers, had any idea of the truly genocidal extent of Nazi persecution until Germany was actually being occupied. So Jewish soldiers would have hated the Nazis, yes, but forming a kill squad is more than outlandish. Still, that's small potatoes, and I could accept a group of psychopathic Jewish soldiers taking it out on Nazis, whose pre-war brutality was well known.

Some of it is a distaste for retroactive revenge - we're going to make-believe that the Jews got some payback because it makes us feel better. That's cheap and ultimately unsatisfying. But that's not the crux of my distaste.

My main complaint is foreshadowed by my use of the word 'psychopaths', above. In war men kill each other because they have to (or think they have to, that's not a debate I will address here). Not because they really enjoy killing. And if, as everything I have so far seen leads me to believe, this band of Jewish GIs are getting a kick out of murdering as many Nazis as they can find... then they're really no better than the Nazis.

And that's wrong.

I'm not a Pollyanna. I know better than to subscribe to the opinion that native Americans were "noble savages", or that Indians were better off under the Mughals than the British, or that the Druids were somehow nobler than the Christian Church. People are, around the globe, just people. Jews are no more inherently moral than any other people - they are noble and brutal, kind and cruel, wise and foolish. Some small number of them are murderous goons, just as in any other population.

But the Holocaust was an aberration, was evil of such a scale, both in depth of evil and the breadth of the population that embraced it, that it reaches far past what we can accept within the realm of human behavior. Sadly, in practice genocide is only too common - Stalin's Russia, the Khmer Rouge's Cambodia, 1990s Rwanda, Turkey in the waning days of empire - but nonetheless the institutional murder of entire populations is something we cannot accept as normal and must never allow to be within the realm of average people or average nations. No one should ever say, "well, the Nazis did it, so I can too."

Of course you know that. But that's what this group of Nazi-slaughtering Jews says to me. Doing to them, what they would do to us. Proactive revenge. If only the Jews had held the upper hand, they could have given as good as they got.

They don't aspire to. No one should.

Killing Hitler? Stopping the Nazis? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. If only. Trials and justice (which is but revenge's civilized brother) and hangings? Absolutely. Revenge upon those who have done wrong? Yes.

But murdering as many of "them" as we can lay our hands on?

That's not punishing evil, that's doubling it.

Anyway, I could be way off base vis-a-vis the film. As I say, I haven't seen it. But the promotional material I have seen gives me that impression, and I don't like it.


August 24th, 2009

On the way back from SLO last night we stopped at the KFC drive-through in King City. The wife had a two piece meal and I had 6 chicken strips. I was pleased enough with them that I composed a little letter in my head.

"Dear Kentucky Fried Chicken,

I recently ate some chicken strips from your restaurant in King City, CA. I was entirely satisfied - they were thick and juicy and tasted excellent. This surprised me somewhat, as prior to this visit I had most recently (several months ago) visited the KFC in Pleasant Hill, CA, where the chicken strips were entirely different. They were tiny, barely larger than a finger, and quite dry. I hypothesized that you had changed the form factor of your chicken strips to save money by offering less product for the same price. I had been avoiding KFC since, only stopping at the King City location because my wife wanted to.

I am pleased to discover that it was only the franchise owner in Pleasant Hill who has opted for the "stingy" chicken strips. Apparently I do not need to remember to avoid KFC in general but merely that particular location.

You may wish to take steps to protect your brand."

I didn't actually write this letter, because at about two thirty that morning I found myself in the bathroom with a ferocious case of the trots.

It's a shame, because those chicken strips really were tasty.