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Futility in Afghanistan

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Kabul, First Anglo-Afghan War

[Lithograph from plate 5 of ‘Afghaunistan’ by Lieutenant James Rattray, showing the encampment of the troops led by General Sir William Nott.]

In mid-July, I wrote about William Dalrymple’s book Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India, newly released at the time here in the US, though out about a year ago in the UK. After reading the review online that night that would appear the next day in the NYT, I decided to buy it, proceeded immediately to download the electronic version from Amazon, and started it. I haven’t gotten far, but I’ll get back to it soon.

Meanwhile, Dalrymple is at work on his next book, due in two years, about the First Anglo-Afghan War, fought between 1839 and 1842. In studying the war (or so I imagine), Dalrymple observed parallels between it and the current war in Afghanistan that formed the basis for an article that appeared last June in the New Statesman. I downloaded an electronic copy at the time and set it aside to read later, but forgot about it until we were flying to JFK this past Saturday. During the flight, I scanned my collection of saved articles and realized this was one I had been eager to read. Now I’ve read it, and I urge you to do so as well.

Early in the article, Dalrymple observes:

It is difficult to imagine the current military adventure in Afghanistan ending quite as badly as the First Afghan War, an abortive experiment in Great Game colonialism that slowly descended into what is arguably the greatest military humiliation ever suffered by the west in the Middle East: an entire army of what was then the most powerful military nation in the world utterly routed and destroyed by poorly equipped tribesmen, at the cost of £15m (well over £1bn in modern currency) and more than 40,000 lives. But nearly ten years on from Nato’s invasion of Afghanistan, there are increasing signs that Britain’s fourth war in the country could end with as few political gains as the first three and, like them, terminate in an embarrassing withdrawal after a humiliating defeat, with Afghanistan yet again left in tribal chaos and quite possibly ruled by the same government that the war was launched to overthrow.

And then there’s this sobering passage: Read more…

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Categories: History, War

Nantucket Rosh Hoshana

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to me that if we keep coming to Nantucket on Labor Day, then one year we would find ourselves here during Rosh Hoshana. This is the year. When I realized that, I did a search on synagogues in Nantucket and immediately found the lone one, Congregation Shirat HaYam. They conduct their services at Nantucket’s historic South Church, also known as the Unitarian Meeting House, which serves as the home of the Nantucket Unitarian Congregation.

Last night, we took the shuttle into town from the inn, made the short walk to the church, and arrived just before the start of services. The church was a treat to see. A year from now, it will have been transformed, thanks to the funds raised in recent years in celebration of its 200th anniversary.

The congregation brings in a rabbi and a cantorial soloist from New York for the high holidays. The rabbi explained at the start of the service that this is their third year serving the island. They are accompanied by a clarinetist who is a member of the congregation. The service is intended to serve Jews of all types — the congregation describes itself as pluralistic — and I think it did so quite well. I certainly enjoyed it. I did, however, lose track of the logic of the rabbi’s sermon, perhaps because I lost consciousness near the end.

One highlight — many of the men were wearing special yarmulkes in the rusty reddish color I have come to associate with Nantucket, with a series of whales embroidered along the edge. When I got home last night, I discovered that that red is called Nantucket red, having been established as the unofficial island clothing color by Murray’s Toggery Shop in the 1940s. It is also, according to some of the things you might read online, the ultimate WASPy or preppy color.

Imagine that, Jews wearing WASP yarmulkes! I have to say, I love the color. I might just buy one of those yarmulkes myself, along with Nantucket red slacks, shorts, shirts, and hats.

Categories: Religion, Travel

Dunes

September 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I have mentioned in recent posts that we’re in Nantucket now, staying in Wauwinet, at the southern end of the small sliver of duneland that heads north for miles to Great Point, with Nantucket Harbor to one side and the Atlantic to the other. (Farther north, our sliver divides the Atlantic from Nantucket Sound, the open water between Nantucket and Cape Cod.) As also explained, our inn faces the quiet waters of the harbor, but it’s only a short walk up a tiny dune ridge and down to the beach and the ocean.

Late yesterday afternoon, just after high tide, I made the short walk, then headed up the beach a ways. There are maybe 20 houses to the north of the inn, after which the remaining miles of beach and dune are protected and there is no development. Equipped only with my iPhone, I took several photos to the north, and out over the ocean eastwards, but they are all way too dark. The one light photo can be seen above. I took it on returning to the inn, at the dune’s ridgeline, facing roughly south-southeast. You can see some of the homes neighboring the inn, which is about 200 feet off to the southwest. Beyond and blocked by the homes, some 6 miles south, is famed Sankaty Head Lighthouse in ‘Sconset.

We’ll go back later today, maybe at low tide.

Categories: Travel