Code of vengeance

McCarthy, Cormac. No Country for Old Men. 1st ed. New York: Knopf, 2005.

I saw the movie before I read the book, and it's a good thing: the violence and intensifying threat of more violence is even more stunning in the book than the film. The latter is very faithful to the book, but cuts some of the goriest details. In the movie the central villain (Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh) is more peculiar, like an alien (i.e., extraterrestrial) or robot programmed to kill, whereas a couple of dialogues in the book that don't make it into the film make it clear that he is a quite ordinary human who has reacted more extremely than most of us to traumas. Though not explicit, he is almost surely -- like two of his victims -- a Vietnam vet, which explains his (and their) comfort and familiarity with lethal weapons, and there is a strong hint in his farewell speech to Carson Wells (just before he shoots him) that he has a compulsion, a peculiar personal code, to kill anyone who offends his sense of dignity. I.e., the first murder we see/read of was the result of somebody's having insulted him in a bar.

See my summary & comment here.


Unsolicited opinions

This week's essay is not about Spain, but a couple of other conflicts that affect all of us. I probably don't know any more about them than you do, but we have to try to find out enough to orient our responses or we'll all fall prey to the demagogues. These opinions are not political positions but are tentative, hypotheses open to revision in the light of new information or a logical rebuttal.

Tibet, China and the West
Have the Chinese "invaded" Tibet and are they oppressing the Tibetans, somewhat like the Americans in Iraq? I've read claims that the Chinese population now greatly outnumbers the ethnic Tibetan population of Tibet due to deliberate population transfer by Peking. ("Chinese" in this context means mainly Chinese-speaking Han, though Mongol, Uighur or other non-Tibetan Chinese are also in the region.) First, I doubt that this is true; most sources state that over 90% of the region's overwhelmingly rural population is Tibetan, though Han may be more numerous in specific urban areas. Second, even if it were true, I don't see how uncoerced labor migration, whether or not encouraged by the government, could be offensive to human rights.

We've also seen calls for negotiation by Peking with the Dalai Lama, billed as the "spiritual leader" of the Tibetans. Anybody who allows anybody else to lead his or her "spirit" --Pope, Patriarch, Grand Rabbi, Ayatollah, Lama or shaman -- has to that extent given up a claim to personal, responsible citizenship. I have no way of knowing how many of the monks protesting in Lhasa have truly surrendered their will to that distant, exiled figure; I suspect that the ringleaders among them are just using him as they would a flag, to rally people around their own chosen cause.

My conclusions: I think what motivates the protests is panic in the face of inevitable and necessary social change. Tibet is being forced into the modern world, of which the Han immigrants are willy nilly representatives. And those adventurous Han, struggling to make a decent living (as they understand it) in a strange land, are the first victims. Probably -- almost certainly -- the police have overreacted to the protesters, because that's what frightened policemen do.

Boycotting the Olympics won't do anybody any good. And demanding Tibetan independence of China is just loony -- it can't happen now, or probably for a very long time, and wouldn't do the Tibetans any good. The only way even its advocates conceive it is as another state run by a religious institution, and we have enough of those to deal with. That's something people are still trying to get free of here in Spain.

Encouraging Peking authorities to negotiate with a committee of the protesters there in the country is probably a good idea -- not with the Dalai Lama or any other exile group claiming jurisdiction over people who never elected them.

Some sources I found helpful:
Tibet’s history, China’s power by George Fitzherbert, Open Democracy
Tibet's Population Put at 2.84 Mln in Gov't Survey, All-China Women's Federation
How many ethnic Chinese live in Tibet (population transfer)?, TULARC
Tibet's Economy Depends on Beijing, by Anthony Kuhn, NPR

Victory in Iraq?
The problem with Petraeus' promise of eventual victory in Iraq is that, as he conceives it, it is not a victory of American values and it certainly is not a victory for Iraq. What he's talking about is a victory for the American Armed Forces as an institution. He and Bush want to postpone the embarrassment of televised defeat, and are willing to sacrifice thousands more Iraqi and U.S. bodies so that the brass and pols can save face.

The only argument against U.S. withdrawal is that we would leave the country in a bloody chaos. As though that weren't what our troops have created. So they should stay there and be part of that horrible bloody chaos? Just get out! There is no good solution, no clear way to reduce the violence without killing all the potential killers, i.e., producing more violence. Our military presence is the defeat of American values -- “liberty and justice for all" -- and a costly delay of victory for and by Iraqis.