Saturday, November 10, 2007


I'm watching the fourth quarter of the Cal-USC game. Not really much of a football fan, but being a spurts junkie means watching women's bowling if there's nothing else on when you need a fix. Certainly college football is a damned sight better than any form of bowling ... and when the noble California Golden Bears have a shot at crushing the profoundly evil USC Parthians or Persians or some ancient non-Greeks ... can't remember which ones just now ... well, just gotta watch. Of course, I have three degrees from Cal. Currently tied 17-17 with ten and a half to go in the fourth quarter.

I feel kind of guilty about my Pakistan post ... how can I say that any nation is "worst". Plenty of folks around the world would quickly chime in that the good ole U.S. of A. is the worst for various reasons. What I mean by worst is that a place is horrible to live in, contributing essentially nothing, and causing or at least threatening tremendous harm.

USC just had a big pass play wiped out by a holding penalty. Such is the lot of those in league with the devil. I smile. Some people take the devil seriously, and I daresay there are plenty of the religious in Pakistan who count themselves among that number. I consider the notion of the devil as a longstanding and hilarious, albeit rather cruel, joke. It is a notion that readily serves as handbag for assorted complaints and fears and disappointments and hurts ... like this one ... USC, in league with the devil, scores a touchdown after a 95+ yard drive.

So back to Pakistan. It was founded on an idea, or at least it had ideology at the forefront of a founding that certainly had plenty of other interests at work. I decided I should review Pakistan's history given my post and shortly I shall re-read Owen Bennett Jones' comprehensive survey of Pakistan's history, Pakistan: Eye of the Storm ... sort of a drag, because I have been enjoying a fabulous tour of the middle period of the middle part of Asia ... the Turkic, Mongol, Tatar invasions and conquests. But there is a relationship between those middle-middle-middle events, and the historical impasse in which middle-middle-middle Asia finds iitself.

Put briefly, I refer to the notion of the third rule of history ... that any force given long enough turns into its opposite. (You can see my three rules of history at the top of this blog.) Modern Western historians like to emphasize how backward Europe was in the middle periods of human history, and how advanced and spectacular and populated were China and the Middle East and the vast stretch of steppe between them. But in those long millennia where the nomads on horseback repeatedly beat back civilization either capturing it or destroying, they bequeathed historical predilections that continue to haunt that vast middle even when the power of horsemen is now confined to that most backward corner of human life, the Sudan.

In other words, the successes of Genghis Khan and Tamurlane and the Seljuk and late Ottoman Turks and the Mamluks had the effect of freezing political and social innovation. How that worked I do not yet have words to describe ... but it is that which motivates me in my current re-reading of middle-middle-middle Asian history. And I write out this predilection here to challenge myself to come up with some of those words.

[Nate Longshore, Cal QB, just threw another fourth-quarter interception, and the game is essentially gone. Cal's failure this year has hung on his bad right ankle, but you have to begin to wonder if he is the guy who can take us there. He is still a junior, but we have a keeper in young Kevin Riley ... we just might have to go with him next year.]

So the "worstness" of Pakistan the nation, as I see it, along with the seemingly permanent fracturing of Afghanistan not so much as a nation as in terms of its being a cultural zone, is the playing out of historical dymanics that are several millennia old combined with the peculiar horrors of 20th-century ideology. To counter the straw-man notion raised above that the U.S. is the "worst" nation, we have only to point to the fact that its dynamics are of much more recent genesis, and so the possibility of re-working them seems closer to the surface. And we can consider that the basic ideas of American democracy are 18th- and 19th-century, where the driving ideas of the founding of Pakistan are a hellish brew that conflates the superstitions of the 7th century with the worst megalomanias of the 20th.

USC just made a first down with a minute to go. We're dead. Woe.

No first downs in Pakistan. It has been fourth and long since 1947.