March 26, 2003

And Now For Something Completely Different...

We interrupt this weblog for a Monty Python moment:

WOMAN: Well, how did you become King, then?

ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake,... [angels sing] ...her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops] That is why I am your king!

DENNIS: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

ARTHUR: Be quiet!

DENNIS: Well, but you can't expect to wield supreme executive power just 'cause some watery [censored] threw a sword at you!

ARTHUR: Shut up!

DENNIS: I mean, if I went 'round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened [censored] had lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away!

ARTHUR: Shut up, will you? Shut up!

DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.

ARTHUR: Shut up!

DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I'm being repressed!

Posted by DeLong at March 26, 2003 07:12 PM | TrackBack


What brought this on? The diplomatic rat**** at the UN? Or are you going back to Nov. 2000, Florida? The firm conviction of the Bush adm. that it is right to nuke the government's long term debt outlook? Hmmm. I guess these must have been going through your head when the kids rented _Holy Grail_. ;-)

Posted by: andres on March 26, 2003 09:17 PM

Why the **censored**? Is this a family blog? Or has John Ashcroft had a word with you? Anyway, the terms (my memory has it as "tart" and "bint") aren't terribly offensive.

Posted by: derrida derider on March 27, 2003 03:59 AM

You missed the other clue:

"Who's that, then?"
"I don't know."
"Must be a king. "
"He hasn't got sh*t all over him."

Posted by: Kevin Marks on March 27, 2003 04:59 AM

It's the killer rabbit in that movie that always slays me.

But lest we not be serious for a moment, how about the implications of Monty Python for current world politics?

I recently had conversation with a Belgian in a sci.* group of usenet (it's high intellectual plane) that shows how real life trumps comedy groups (except in real life it's not entirely funny).

My Belgian friend started out by saying the sacrifice of American lives in WWII to free the Belgians from the Nazis "is now null and void" because Americans have become "totalitarians".

I said whatever the US's faults might be it is hardly a "totalitarian" state, and pointed to the meaning of the word as defined at He rejected that, saying he had "no business with the dictionary" and claiming the word means what it means to him. I inquired whether he was a deconstrucionist, perchance? But of course! he was, citing "the French-American philosopher René Girard, in his book 'La Route Antique des Hommes Pervers, 1985, chapter 16' as authority for his use of language. OK. So now we had to ask, what was his particular definition of "totalitarian"? Which lead to this exchange..

>>>> totalitarian not only applies to mass murderers, but also to the kind of people who bully other people ... by insults, ridicule and many other tactics.

>>> You know, if totalitarian just meant "make fun of" it would hardly be such a bad thing. Monty Python, the famous sketch comedy totalitarians!

>>But I didn't say it just meant making fun.

> Not *just* making fun! ;-)

And then I apologized for acting in such a totalitarian manner.

What did the late, great Daniel Patrick Moynihan say about "defining deviancy down"? This is what "totalitarian" now means to some in a nation that was within living memory occupied by Nazis.

My Belgian friend was also rather annoyed when I pointed out to him that the pacifism of Western Europeans' like him, that he was so proud of, had been made possible only by their residing behind the American military shield for half a century. As his own Prime Minister recently pointed out, if not in an entirely appreciative manner....

"As long as Soviet divisions could reach the Rhine in 48 hours, we obviously had a blood brotherhood with our cousins overseas. But now that the cold war is over, we can express more freely our differences of opinion."

... "blood brotherhood" apparently being a short-term thing of convenience in Belgium.

And when he didn't like that I warned him that if the Belgians got out of line the Brits would send over the Pirahna brothers -- and if the Belgians had thought the bullying ridicule and making fun of Himmler had been bad, they didn't know Doug Pirahna:

"They said ... I had to see Doug. (takes a drink)

"I was terrified. Everyone was terrified of Doug. I've seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than see Doug. Even Dinsdale was frightened of Doug."

Interviewer: "What did he do?"

"He used... sarcasm. He knew all the tricks: dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and... satire. He was vicious."

By a combination of violence and sarcasm, the Piranha brothers gained control of London and the Southeast of England ...

Although the open contempt, even resentment, felt by modern educated western europeans like him for the "null and void" sacrifice of American lives on their behalf in WWII, and for the peace we provided them by keeping Soviet divisions away from the Rhine for 45 years afterward, also brought to mind the famous Python scene below. Very funny, except when considering the international implications in real life today.

REG: The Romans. They've taken everything we had ... And what have they ever given us in return?!

XERXES: The aqueduct?

REG: What?

XERXES: The aqueduct.

REG: Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that's true. Yeah.

COMMANDO #3: And the sanitation.

LORETTA: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?

REG: Yeah. All right. I'll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.

MATTHIAS: And the roads.

REG: Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads --

COMMANDO: Irrigation.

XERXES: Medicine.

COMMANDO #2: Education.

REG: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.

COMMANDO #1: And the wine.

FRANCIS: Yeah. Yeah, that's something we'd really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.

COMMANDO: Public baths.

LORETTA: And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.

FRANCIS: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it. They're the only ones who could in a place like this.

REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

XERXES: Brought peace.

REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!

Posted by: Jim Glass on March 27, 2003 09:53 AM

How are the Americans of 1940-45 ``We'' and how is their sacrifice somehow ours, as modern Americans. That implies that their failings are also ours, and that ``We'' still owe for any failings in the past. Never mind the fact that those who decided to fight were liberal internationalists. Or that what we are fighting for looks very little like the world they tried to create.

But that is really small beer. The real question is, if we accept the idea that a noation can be owed, and that nations, like individuals, have a past that matters, do we also own faults? Do we owe Africa for the slave trade. Reparations to the children of slaves. If we demand that the Europeans owe us for the protection of the last 50 years, then I can only presume that we owe Iran and Chile democracies, and we owe reparations to all the African-Americans in this country.

I applaud your moral forhrightness in this cause, Mr. Glass. It is nice to know that the liberalism of Roosevelt has found a home with you. Taking moral responsibility for all the failings of earlier americans is tough. And I really do respect a man who doesn't just take credit for all the good things Americans have done, and doesn't ignore all the wrongs. That takes real courage.

For me, I don't have that kind of moral clarity and courage. I can't really take credit for what America did well, because credit, to me, is a personal thing. If there is any credit to be taken, it is a small and minor thing after 50+ years. Same with blame. I like most Germans I have met, and I can't still call them morally culpable Nazis. I forgive, but I figure, good deeds fade just as much as bad.

Anyway, I am a sensitive guy, and it feels so gauche to go to Italy and ask for a free lunch 'cause my grandfather fought there.



Posted by: Brennan Peterson on March 27, 2003 10:46 AM

Americans think they deserve credit for defending people who WON'T defend themselves, forgetting that they CAN'T and that the reason for that in turn flows from US behaviour. Suez led to the end of the Baghdad Pact which led to the collapse of constitutional development which led to Qasim which led to Ba'ath which led to... oh dear. And needing the US in the Balkans was because every time European countries take an independent initiative the USA... oh dear. And so on.

US expectations of gratitude are an Indian giver thing. You have had your reward already, in the shape of hegemony and strategic financial leverage.

Posted by: P.M.Lawrence on March 27, 2003 02:57 PM

"US expectations of gratitude are an Indian giver thing...."

It's remarkable how a Belgian's statement that the sacrifice of many American lives on his peoples' behalf "is now null and void" because Americans are "totalitarians" somehow becomes transformed by you fellows into an unreasonable "expectation of gratitude" on the part of Americans.

I suppose if he called Americans "f*****g child molesting Nazis", and an American objected, you'd think, "Those Americans, endlessly demanding declarations of love, how unreasonable of them."

Posted by: Jim Glass on March 27, 2003 09:07 PM

"How are the Americans of 1940-45 'We' and how is their sacrifice somehow ours, as modern Americans...." etc. etc.

You must be young, I take it. ;-)

I really don't see what this has to do with today's Belgians saying the sacrifice of American lives for them in WWII now is "null and void" because Americans are "totalitarians". Nor with Monty Python either. Sounds rather more like a rhetorical switch of subject.

But since you asked the question....

[] First, a surprising number of Americans who fought across Belgium evicting the Nazis in 1944 are still walking around today and voting in the US. My father for one. The literal "we".
(Then the many less lucky than my father who are buried in Western Europe left a large number of survivors -- spouses, children, etc. -- who have missed them their whole lives, and who are still walking around as well.)

[] Second, many more Americans paid the cost of defending Belgium for decades longer -- against those tanks that could have reached the Rhine in 48 hours, as the Belgium PM put it. I paid my share of that cost for some decades. That's a lot more literal "we".

[] Third, when a nasty fellow like Milosovic appears next door to the Europeans and they feel threatened, who do they *still* call on to militarily impose a regime change for *their* benefit? The UN? Well, no. When force is needed for their benefit, they still call on the US to use it to clean up their messes such as Bosnia.

And they *insist* that the US *avoid* going through the UN because they know the Russians and Chinese would veto what they want -- and they sure ain't having any of that!

Heck, why didn't the French just handle that little regime change for them? Well, you may remember the words of the Portuguese Foreign Minister about that, below, pretty much in answer to the Belgians.

So you see, "we" don't feel any need to assume personal responsibility for all the ills of the past to feel that "we" have, and are still, militarily protecting the Belgians of the present -- even as this protection enables these same Belgians to indulge themselves with some sort of deconstructionist pacifism that they bizarrely fantasize makes them morally superior to their protectors.

"I am a sensitive guy, and it feels so gauche to go to Italy and ask for a free lunch 'cause my grandfather fought there."

Good for you, you don't feel entitled to a free lunch! Though are you implying here that I was asking for something "free" from the Belgian -- 'cause, other than maybe not being called a "totalitarian", I missed what that was. Please do tell.

Anyhow, I submit that as far as "free lunches" and stands against hypocrisy go, the Belgians & friends are not nearly as sensitive as you. And that for them to rise to your high standards they'd have to do at least three things.

1) Develop their own militaries so that when the next Milosovic knocks on their door, they won't have to run the US and ask "Please, you damn greedy war-mongering Americans, come protect us by bombing someone into the ground for us. We don't know how anymore."

2) When they do develop their militaries and decide to use them to take on a genocidal tyrant next door whom they see as threatening them, they must go to the UN first about it to ask for approval. As we did just recently -- and as they insisted *not* be done re Bosnia.

3) When China or Russia vetoes their move against the genocidal tyrant whom they believe is threatening them, they must say, "OK, we won't do it, our opinion of our security needs comes second to theirs" and not do it. Which is hardly the way they think today, or they wouldn't have bailed out at step #2 re Bosnia.

Then Belgium & friends will be up to your standards by no longer accepting a free lunch from "we" in the US, and no longer being so hypocritical about it all as well. Fair?

Now, remember how Portuguese Foreign Minister Antonio Martins da Cruz recently explained why he's not with the Belgians?...

"If Portugal were attacked, it would be unlikely France and Germany would come to our rescue. Let us suppose Portugal, proper or its archipelagos, faced a threat, who would defend us? The European Commission, France, Germany?

"I think it would be NATO who would come to our rescue. In other words, it would be the U.S., no one else would defend us.

"For instance, during the 1996 mission in Bosnia, operations took place with the support of 20 satellites, of which only one was European. [The other 19 belonged to the U.S.] If we were attacked, is that what they would offer to defend us?

"How curious is this: in Bosnia, when we were called to send soldiers urgently to that region, the U.S. had C-17 and C-130 planes, and France leased ferry boats, which during the summer are employed in tourist services to Corsica."

You see, there's really a difference in world views here.

The Belgians say: the Cold War is over, there are no threats any more, goodbye America, we don't need you any more.

The Portuguese say: there is still danger in the world, and who comes to the aid of democracies that find themselves in danger? Only America, "no one else would defend us".

I wonder whom history will prove right?

ObMonty Python: "Now the result of last week's competition when we asked you to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Well, the response was enormous..." ;-)

Posted by: Jim Glass on March 27, 2003 10:21 PM

I wonder who would want to attack Portugal. They have nothing worth it. Maybe the USA?


Posted by: Antoni Jaume on March 28, 2003 02:17 PM
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