News from the Republic of Letters

Thoughts for the day

Will be updated every weekday if we can manage it.

Search This Blog

Monday, May 9, 2011

We Have Moved

Our new home is News From: the Republic of Letters.

Issue 22 has been posted

PB's notebook will be my new blog of sorts as well as my newly created facebook account.

This will be the last post here.

Friday, December 17, 2010

If Words Could Kill
Ever since WikiLeaks became a household name this past summer, following the release of 77,000 secret U.S. documents relating to the ongoing occupation and destruction of Afghanistan, many American politicians and pundits have been calling for blood. Despite then-top military commander General Stanley McChrystal’s own admission in March of this year, the U.S. military in Afghanistan has “shot an amazing number of people” even though “none has ever proven to be a threat,” the ire resulting from the activities of WikiLeaks is directed at the whistle-blowers themselves, rather than at those actually implicated in war crimes as shown by the leaked documents.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange
In their eternal allegiance to government secrecy, aggressive imperialism, and American exceptionalism, numerous WikiLeaks’ critics have been outraged over the publication of U.S. government documents. While accusing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange of everything from espionage to terrorism to treason (Assange isn’t a U.S. citizen), they hold him responsible for the deaths of both soldiers and civilians and have even publicly suggested and supported threats to assassinate him.

The U.S. State Department claimed that the release of classified cables would “at a minimum…place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals”, and Attorney General Eric Holder stated his belief that “national security of the United States has been put at risk. The lives of people who work for the American people have been put at risk. The American people themselves have been put at risk by these actions that I believe are arrogant, misguided and ultimately not helpful in any way.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described these hysterical reactions to WikiLeaks release as “fairly significantly overwrought” due to the continuing slow and calculated release of over 251,000 previously secret and classified U.S. diplomatic cables (fewer than 1,500 cables have been released so far). Still, there are increasing calls not only for Assange’s indictment, but also explicitly for his murder.

On November 29, Fox News‘s Bill O’Reilly declared on air that those responsible for the leaked documents are “traitors in America” and that they “should be executed,” adding “or put in prison for life,” as a dismissive afterthought.

The next day, Bill Kristol, in a The Weekly Standard article entitled “Whack WikiLeaks,” urged the United States government to “neutralize Julian Assange and his collaborators, wherever they are” and hoped for a glorious, unified bipartisan effort “to degrade, defeat, and destroy WikiLeaks.” One need only recall what Senator Lindsey Graham said in early November about “neutering” the Iranian government to get an idea of Kristol is talking about.

Sarah Palin chimed in on Facebook, writing that Assange “is an anti-American operative with blood on his hands” who should be “pursued with the same urgency we pursue al Qaeda and Taliban leaders.” This very urgency was mentioned in a presidential debate in October 2008 by Palin campaign opponent Barack Obama, who made the following promise to Americans: “We will kill bin Laden; we will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority.” One can assume that Palin meant that the WikiLeaks founder should be hunted with a similar kind of lethal force ...

On the same day, another 2012 Republican presidential hopeful wished for the assassination of Assange. Former Arkansas governor and Fox News host Mike Huckabee, speaking at The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library, told reporters, “Whoever in our government leaked that information is guilty of treason, and I think anything less than execution is too kind a penalty.” Huckabee, who was signing copies of his new children’s book, “Can’t Wait Till Christmas!” at the time, was presumably referring to U.S. Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning, who is accused of providing WikiLeaks with the classified documents and is currently being held in intense solitary confinement the brig at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. Manning has been locked up in Quantico or five months now, after spending two months detained in a military jail in Kuwait. Manning, like Assange, has not been convicted of any crime. Kids, Christmas, and Capital Punishment. Thanks, Mike!

Fox News national security analyst Kathleen McFarland urged the United States to declare WikiLeaks a terrorist organization, kidnap Assange, and try him in a military tribunal for espionage. Furthermore, McFarland, who served in the Pentagon under the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations and is currently a “Distinguished Adviser” at the Iran-hating/Israel-advocating think tank The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, agreed with Huckabee that Manning should be charged and tried as a traitor for exposing American war crimes, criminal negligence, and diplomatic duplicity. “If he’s found guilty,” she wrote, “he should be executed.”

Also on November 30, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) – whose contradictory motto reads Securing America, Strengthening Israel – addressed the WikiLeaks release by musing whether the U.S. government would “try to hang Manning from the nearest tree?”

In a post on the right-wing website Red State on December 1, a commenter by the moniker “lexington_concord” fantasized about Julian Assange receiving the Abe Lincoln treatment. “Under the traditional rules of engagement he is thus subject to summary execution,” he writes, “and my preferred course of action would be for Assange to find a small caliber round in the back of his head.”

The following day, Washington Times columnist Jeffrey Kuhner published a vitriolic attack on Assange, whom he accused of being “an anti-American radical who wants to see the United States defeated by its Islamic fascist enemies.” Other goals Kuhner ascribed to Assange included the humiliation of America “on the world stage, to drain it of all moral and legal legitimacy – especially regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Kuhner wrote that Assange “is aiding and abetting terrorists in their war against America,” and suggested that the Obama administration “take care of the problem – effectively and permanently” by treating Assange as an “enemy combatant” and “the same way as other high-value terrorist targets.” It is no surprise, therefore, that Kuhner’s column was entitled “Assassinate Assange.”

Though it may seem strange that a Montreal native like Kuhner is disappointed that “America is no longer feared or respected,” he is not the only Canadian to harbor such violent visions of Assange’s murder. Tom Flanagan, a senior adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, said plainly on the Canadian TV station CBC, “I think Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think Obama should put out a contract and maybe use a drone or something.”

Speaking with Chris Wallace on Fox News, former House Speaker and paid Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich said on December 5 that “Julian Assange is engaged in warfare. Information terrorism, which leads to people getting killed is terrorism. And Julian Assange is engaged in terrorism.” As such, Gingrich suggested, “He should be treated as an enemy combatant and WikiLeaks should be closed down permanently and decisively.” If recent history is any indication, as an enemy combatant Assange would most likely be either murdered in his own country by U.S. soldiers and air strikes or kidnapped, tortured, and indefinitely imprisoned in inhumane conditions without charge or trial.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


One has to wonder how it feels to see one’s ineptitude or stupidity revealed in the world press. But if this whole episode is considered in the light of normal behavior, it is not what has been revealed but what still might be revealed that must frighten the good folks who govern us.

It’s like a Mob story. So, Sakvatore has snitched, says the Capo, so what’s next?

The importance of this or that leak is a matter of where you are and what you are hiding.

Take such juicy topics as the CIA budget for ‘covert actions’ in Pakistan. It would certainly be interest to read the memoranda (presidential and otherwise) that set out this ‘outsourcing’ of military action to our intelligence agency. Could that other shoe drop?

Or supposing that a-leak-to-come outlines all the links between Halliburton and the cabal headed by Dick Cheney?

The public (and even the government) absorbs the leaks we have already seen, but frantic must be those about which nothing is known. Yet. Imagine our embassy-bunker in Belgrade when the footloose Holebrook – de mortuis nil nisi bonum must prevail here – was acting as architect of a Balkan war that he so nobly later brought to Dayton and peace. Would there be indiscretions in the wrong hands about Austrians equipping the breakaway Slovenes? With weapons shipped via Portugal? Or is there a record of Elie Wiesel’s abortive ten limousine relief expedition to Sarajevo, subsequent to his visit to the CIA’s headquarters in Belgrade?

I am, of course, only speculating. But then so are those who anxiously await further revelations, and so is our government, which is doing all it can to prevent such information from being made public. Wikileaks differs from history only by its capacity to reveal documents for which historians have to wait decades, or even centuries. It is showing us history as it is being made and still hot stuff. The Dread factor is at work.

Friday, December 10, 2010


I remember first coming across Paul Scott’s ‘Raj Quartet’ in New City or Sneden’s landing back in the days when Mike Wallace was still a ferocious reporter and Burgess Meredith a semi-reired nice-guy actor. Everyone spoke well of Scott and – as I was an avid reader on matters Indian, from Louis Bromfield to Somerset Maugham, from the miraculously funny G. S. Desani to Narayan and Chaudhuri, not excluding Tagore of E.F. Forster – I too read him, and with pleasure.

More recently I watched the 14 episodes of Granada’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’, an account of the love-hatred relationship between the British and the Indians. Intermixed with newsreel footage from Movietone, it is focused on that very difficult task, understanding. To know a country, you have to understand it; the failure to do so (‘Only connect’, wrote Morgan Forster) cost European nations their colonies throughout the world. The films, which contain some marvelous character-parts by Eric Porter and Peggy Ashcroft, were an anatomy of that misunderstanding: seductive in their portrayal of a three-hundred-year-old cohabitation, rueful in the depiction of the disintegration of the India that had been

But what weighed principally in my mind was the role of memory in retaining both love and insult. It is something ingrained in all of us. A wife leaves citing three instances of brutality or disregard; every detail she can go through, and does, in detail. Ask her about the years of marital hapiness and its very every-dayness she cannot really recall. Grudges are lodged ,in the safety-box of the mind; the good is amorphous in its benevolence..

In nothing is this as true as in the relationship between colonizer and colonized.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Curious, isn’t it, that leaks such as the Woodward/Bernstein ‘Deep Throat’ ‘revelations’ are the stuff of which heroes are made, and others, because they reveal the extraordinary ineptitude of our government (and our political appointee diplomats, that is big Party givers), should incur the righteous wrath of the government?

Leaking is, after all, a time-honored occupation in American life, and Wikileaks is no more than a platform. The IRS will actually PAY you to leak info on your neighbor’s hidden income. There’s many a politician who’d still be riding high with illegal nannies without leaks. But as politicians consider that the sky is no limit, the leak is a last line of defense. Would you not really like a leak inside Halliburton? inside Dick Cheney’s machinations? Without leaks, would Ollie North still be fixing things in Central America?

I am not a Conspiracy Theorist, so I won’t go so far as to say that the CIA sent two bimbos out to compromise Mr. Assange. Sweden is a country with very advanced views on sexual equality, and I am not surprised by the charge, as yet unproven.

But I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that the moves against him by the government, via Amazon, PayPal, Mastercard & so on, can hardly be viewed as innocent. The free and open Web is a menace to all governments and these are but the first moves by states to curb freedom of information. All politics is about concealing the real reason why a bridge must be built, a war waged, or public enquiry be avoided. Open discussion based on information is anathema to Big Government.

As the Republican leader has been reported to have said, if the Patriot Act can’t stop Wikileaks, we’ll change the Patriot Act so that we can! The worrying element in this is that not just our government can do this, but that obviously the political class around the world also can. By co-ordinating their actions they can bring down Wikileaks, and anyone who thinks that they would not be happy, too, to control the Web, lives in Cloud Cuckoo land. Big pharma attacks and closes down foreign competition, copyright-holders track down and extinguish downloads. That is the real world we live in now.

It happens that WWW, for all its weaknesses, is one of the greatest advances in Information since the Renaissance. To keep politicians’ and governments’ hands off it is the first battleground of the 21st century. We should all be girt for the fight. My cheque is on its way to Wikileaks: if I can find out how to pay it in.

Friday, December 3, 2010


The trouble with the Past is that we have to invent it. If you’re a Cherokee (or a Creek or Seminole or any of the other Indian nations we have degraded and wiped out), your history needs to be re-staged by contemporaries dressed up in rags and tatters. The same would be true for the life of small-town America that was such a subject in my youth. Illustrated by Norman Rockwell and others, the foibles of the local dentist or the adventures of two boys and a dog – all of which pastoral fantasies were already in the middle decades of the last century memories of their creators’ own childhoods – no longer have any real existence beyond television or cinema re-creations. In my own youth, people would still say, ‘Now, old Joe was a real character!’, and relate to you what made Joe distinctive, or the event in which he was involved that forever defined him in the minds of his neighbors. It was called story-telling, and it too has vanished.

But Albert Payton Terhune (in a Pompton Lakes ‘comment’, a reader notes sadly that Terhune ‘gave pleasure to three or four generations of readers’), Marilynne Robinson, and for that matter Wright Morris, Edgar Lee Masters and many others are the ball of wool from which most of us can imaginatively recover the small-town America that was. It is probably as much a lie as Fennimore Cooper’s tales, but it survives because it takes the place of what once was. It is, therefore, very much a part of the way in which America defines itself. Ike and Harry knew that world, but Richard Nixon was probably a manga comic imposed on us. Foreigners are always fascinated by the fenceless yards of New England houses, and no one builds Keep Out walls like the French. In England, a man’s home is his castle. Americans have had more space. Murder takes place ‘on the road’, not where butlers roam and Poirot sniffs.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Back from my slumber


The Editor regret to inform subscribers, contributors to #22 and others that TroL itself is suspended for at least a few weeks more. The Editor is temporarily unable to perform his usual duties as other matters, of a personal nature, compel his entire attention.


Like much of Europe, where the air has turned bitterly cold and the general economy is in a state of crisis, Ireland is suffering. As in London, Lisbon, Madrid, Rome, Paris, Athens and Brussels, civil servants, students, farmers, unions are demonstrating with the usual folderol: overturned buses, burning cars, placards, breakings-and-entries and so on. The police is reacting firmly and the Euro-Wallahs are meeting hither and yon.

The sources of the trouble are, however, quite evident. Most of us know that we should not spend more than we earn or what we have in the bank, in investments, etc.. The European Union, like the United States, does not seem to recognize this odd little fact.

On the same day in which all the above hullaballoo was going on, the BBC showed us the spanking new headquarters of the EU’s Diplomatic Services, and through it walked the absurd figure of Lady A, a professional Nobody appointed to the post of Foreign Minister of the E.U.. Explaining how useful and necessary it was for the EU to have a Foreign Ministry was a little man from Malta, a little country most of us probably had not often thought of as a member of the Union. He said, with a shrug, that his country couldn’t afford to maintain too many embassies abroad. That is understandable, as Malta does not have a pool of experienced diplomats. Or a pool of much else. It is a lovely place, but its population is only slightly over 400,000.

If we turn our minds back to Eire, those of us who follow such things will remember that Ireland is the country that regularly coaxed enormous subventions for an agriculture largely based on pigs, whether or not those pigs existed except on paper – rather like the olive trees in Italy that turned out to be imaginary. Germans, who like their Schwein, had bought up much of Ireland’s old estates; international companies had stepped in with spanking headquarters to exploit cheap native labor, the banks had a heyday lending left, right and center, the government couldn’t do enough for its people, so it employed civil servants by the hundred thousands. And now that the vultures are hovering overhead, there are protests. The basic sales tax (a regressive tax if there ever has one) is to rise to 27%. Hell, I would protest myself.

All of Europe overspends, as we do. Households are perforce thrifty in bad times, but Lady A. is not a housewife. She can afford to be as profligate as are members of the European Parliament or any of Sepp Blatter’s buddies at FIFA or, for that matter, our own members of Congress, or any bank you care to name. The 89 Greeks who use a notorious rail line with 600 civil servant jobs attached to it, may now have to walk. Such is Austerity. But will the civil servants be disappeared? Will the endless meetings of our World Leaders be curtailed? Where will the Photo-Ops come from? What will all those colorful troops who parade for and are inspected by our leaders do in their spare time? Back and forth doth Hillary Clinton scurry making her pronouncements; the Vice of the Maltese Turtle must be heard in the land.

And British students protest at having to pay ten grand for Oxford and Cambridge, while paying forty Big Ones for a high school education at American universities too many to name?

So queries Candide.