Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fight for It

[posted by Callimachus]

The vultures are circling over Peter Cooper Village.

Residents of one of the last middle-class bastions in ever-more-expensive Manhattan say their new landlord is using Orwellian tactics in an attempt to drive them out and raise rents.

The complaints concern one of the country’s largest apartment complexes, the twin developments of Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, comprising 110 buildings in a campus-like East Side setting. It’s also one of the city’s largest stocks of rent-stabilized housing.

Tenants lucky enough to hold a lease on one of its 8,000 regulated units pay a fraction of the market rate. The savings allow a lifestyle unavailable to many middle-class New Yorkers, replete with vacation bungalows and kids in parochial school.

I dated a woman up there in the '90s; it really was a little middle-class paradise in the city. When you stepped off the city streets into that little world, it was like entering a different city. The open tree-shaded areas between the blocks were full of moms chatting and kids at play. I'd hate to think of New York without that oasis.

The girl? She was a writer and I was a writer, then, and we realized it wouldn't work when we discovered we were jockeying over everything we did or said or saw, for the right to use it as grist for our respective fiction mills.


[posted by Callimachus]

Reading about the slow sinking of Billy Graham tonight I was struck that, someday decades from now, my daughter, who was born in December, may look back and marvel that she and he shared the earth for some short space of time.

He seems to belong to such an earlier age than the one she will inhabit, which will be entirely in the 21st century. Who else will be on that list? Who else now living has his or her fame fixed in a year or decade long past, so that today's infants will astonish their own children someday by noting the overlap of lives? Here are a few that occur to me:

Ray Bradbury
Keely Smith
Lady Bird Johnson
Les Paul
Mickey Rooney

In my own life, the list of people who were very old and died shortly after I was born, and who I seemed to have no right to share a lifespan with, would include:

Mack Sennett
Carl Jung
Fritz Kreisler
Vita Sackville-West
G.M. Trevelyan
E. E. Cummings
Niels Bohr

Who are yours?

What He Said

[posted by Callimachus]

Forgive me for being late about this. I made a mental note to look into it when it happened. Giuliani Calls Ron Paul 'Absurd' on 9/11. I didn't watch, so I have to rely on news reports. According to this one, Paul got castigated for "implying U.S. policies in the Middle East had contributed to the attacks in New York and Washington."

According to news accounts, what he said was, "Have you ever read about the reasons they attacked us? They attack us because we've been over there. We've been bombing Iraq for 10 years."

Then, it sounds like, he changed the subject.

Asked by a moderator if he was suggesting the United States invited the attacks, Paul said: "I'm suggesting we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it. And they are delighted that we're over there because Osama bin Laden has said: I am glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier."

That's when Giuliani interrupted and said, "That's an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of September 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I've ever heard that before, and I've heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11th."

Well, he doesn't listen much, if that's true. Plenty of people have said that. Of course, a high percentage of them are odious Chomskyite myrmidons. But that doesn't make them automatically wrong about everything.

What do you suppose Ron Paul had in mind before he switched the subject to what Osama Bin Laden thinks about us now? This rambling article seems to hold a clue, buried in the text:

Unfortunately, the biggest failure of our government will be ignored. I'm sure the [9/11] Commission will not connect our foreign policy of interventionism – practiced by both major parties for over a hundred years – as an important reason 9/11 occurred. Instead, the claims will stand that the motivation behind 9/11 was our freedom, prosperity, and way of life. If this error persists, all the tinkering and money to improve the intelligence agencies will bear little fruit.

Over the years the entire psychology of national defense has been completely twisted. Very little attention had been directed toward protecting our national borders and providing homeland security.

Our attention, all too often, was and still is directed outward toward distant lands. Now a significant number of our troops are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. We've kept troops in Korea for over 50 years, and thousands of troops remain in Europe and in over 130 other countries. This twisted philosophy of ignoring national borders while pursuing an empire created a situation where Seoul, Korea, was better protected than Washington, DC, on 9/11. These priorities must change, but I'm certain the 9/11 Commission will not address this issue.

This misdirected policy has prompted the current protracted war in Iraq, which has gone on for 13 years with no end in sight. The al Qaeda attacks should not be used to justify more intervention; instead they should be seen as a guerrilla attacks against us for what the Arabs and Muslim world see as our invasion and interference in their homelands. This cycle of escalation is rapidly spreading the confrontation worldwide between the Christian West and the Muslim East. With each escalation, the world becomes more dangerous. It is especially made worse when we retaliate against Muslims and Arabs who had nothing to do with 9/11 – as we have in Iraq – further confirming the suspicions of the Muslim masses that our goals are more about oil and occupation than they are about punishing those responsible for 9/11.

So, if you strip out the ancillary libertarianism and clash of civilizations manichaeanism and overblown rhetoric about empire, I don't think it's that gob-smacking at all. Seems like pretty much common sense, considering the history of the U.S. since about 1940.

The Cold War changed us as nothing since the Civil War has done. It changed us in ways most of us never chose or considered, it forced us to make accommodations with very un-American people and ideas, and it allowed selfish individuals and entities to rewire the national culture. It seeped rot into institutions as diverse as the Ivy League and the Little League. It saddled us with a rogue CIA and a legacy of amateurish covert operations. A recent book on the Cold War and how it warped America has a title that sums it all up well: "The Fifty-Year Wound."

He's also correct about the suffering of Iraqi people under the post-1991 U.N. sanctions being one of the major grievances Osama listed in his screeds against America before 9/11. Paul overstated matters by describing this in an offhand way that made it seem to be the only reason for the attack. And he failed to adequately defend his assertion. But what he clumsily described certainly was in the mix that brought us 9/11. Giuliani, I would hope, knows this.

We ought to be able to talk like he did, to debate ideas and truths like this, in our national discourse. Paul may not be viable as a candidate, but this comment isn't the reason. He certainly shouldn't be hooted down for it.

It's difficult to put yourself in an enemy's place and try to see the world from his point of view. Even today, it's a very smelly feeling to admit Japan had arguable grievances against U.S. trade and military policies in 1941, or that the Roosevelt Administration was openly goading Hitler's Germany toward war and flouting America's official neutrality. To see and acknowledge these things doesn't make Pearl Harbor any less perfidious, or the Nazi regime any less evil.

Nowadays, it's mere historical scholarship to explore the other side's mind in Berlin and Tokyo. In a time of war, however, such cold-eyed understanding of the enemy's goals, fears, and motives could hold the key to victory -- or at least the avoidance of failure. A wise nation will allow itself to explore that, without relinquishing its own just anger and will to prevail.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Random Male Memory of Things that Made You Go, 'Hey, Now,' Even Though You were Like Only 9 Years Old Back Then

Caroline Munro

Forward into the Past

The future we now imagine we once envisioned.

An online group photo art exhibit. Fascinating.

The Question

[posted by Callimachus]

Again, I ask you, what will you tell them when you get your way and you "support the troops" all the way home?

Every time I suggest many Americans, including the media, ought not to be so brazen -- almost gleeful -- in proclaiming American "defeat" in Iraq, or rubbishing the war effort, or rubbing our own faces in a relentlessly negative narrative of the war, I get accused of promoting a "stab in the back" mentality.

Let me tell you, as someone who got into journalism when the fall of Saigon was still a fresh memory, you will have it, whether I notice it or not.

They will come home, and they will want to know. Certainly some were cynical about the war from the start, and more have been disillusioned by their particular experiences over there. But a great many -- I am willing to bet the vast majority -- believe in what they're doing, believe in its essential goodness and honest virtue, and they believe in their ability to do it.

To speak to the troops fighting in Iraq is to see a particularly stark difference between their mindset and that of most Americans today. I saw this when, a few weeks into the surge, I traveled to Baghdad to see what the change in tactics looked like on the ground.

... Of course, military opinion varies greatly, and the mindset of the 57th could be atypical. But other journalists have picked up similar sentiments. In early April, National Public Radio’s John McChesney visited National Guard troops in Arkansas and found that, “to a man, they were gung-ho for the mission.” One specialist told McChesney, “I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be a great opportunity for me.” And news accounts regularly carry reports of soldiers who are eager to go to Iraq, whether out of a sense of duty or a sense of adventure. (More grimly, many obituaries also mention such eagerness.)

Legal restrictions make it difficult to measure military opinion. Still, the best and most recent measure, the annual Military Times poll (which relies on self-selected responses to a mailed questionnaire and as such is nonscientific), found in December that 50 percent of active-duty respondents continued to believe success was likely—and that was even before the surge had begun. While that number represents a sharp decline from two years earlier, when 83 percent were optimistic, it still greatly exceeds that of stateside civilians, 60 percent of whom favor a pullout from Iraq in 2008, according to the most recent CNN poll. In fact, a plurality of military respondents said they believed that the war requires more troops.

There are other signs that the military has a different view of how things are going: troops deployed to Iraq haven’t been voting with their feet. While National Guard units are having trouble meeting recruitment goals, and the active-duty forces are having similar difficulty with certain key specialties, reenlistment rates in the military in general remain surprisingly robust after four years of the war. The 4th Infantry Division and the 101st Airborne Division, both of which spent 2006 in Iraq for the second time, had post-deployment retention rates of 124 percent and 136 percent of their respective targets. Despite a significant rise in frustration inside the military as the war has dragged on, there remains a sizeable base of support for the mission.

Grousing about regulations and equipment and politicians doesn't change that: that's just the soldier exercising his time-honored reserved right. Half or more of the soldiers and marines we've got over there believe they're on a mission that is morally just and will benefit Iraq, America, and the world. And they believe they have the capability and the will to accomplish it.

This confidence is natural, in a sense. You don't last long in the U.S. military without a higher-than-average dose of "can-do" in your blood. You don't survive in hostile territory if you stop believing in yourself.

When the anti-war faction finally triumphs and they all come home again and all they've worked for in Iraq dissolves into blood and sand, some more will come around to the bitter conviction that it all was a blood-for-oil lie. Along with the realization that the rest of the world will consider these men and women spent the active and vigorous phase of their youth in a fool's errand. I don't envy them or those who love them.

But many will not see it like that. How many? Out of the half a million or so who have been there in the course of the war? You figure it out. What will they have in their eyes when they come home? They'll see:

  • That they were sent on a mission by their government and they fulfilled it to the best of their ability, often with stunning success, but their efforts were shown at home overwhelmingly in terms of failure and defeat.

  • That they were brilliant and brave under fire, but they were alternately mocked, pitied, and ignored by so many of their fellow citizens posturing at home.

  • That they were intensely proud of their comrades and their skills, but they were regarded as mercenaries or high school dropouts or poor victims suckered by slick recruiters; they were told they were incapable of winning a war unless a gaggle of unwilling draftees was sent in to do it.

  • That daily heroics they witnessed went untold, while a handful of criminals and bunglers among their ranks became household names and images of all of them. Few armies in our history have fought under more trying circumstances, and no army in our history has behaved better and more professionally, committed fewer crimes or veered less often into barbarity. Read about the suppression of the Philippines insurrection, if you can stomach it.

  • That the vile tortures* their enemies practiced at every opportunity on innocent victims -- and practiced on any American soldier unlucky enough to fall into their hands -- elicited mere shrugs among we, their countrymen, but we exercised ourselves into a mighty lather over the rare American lapses from the warrior's code of honor.

  • That they tried to do the incredibly difficult thing we told them to do, and in the middle of doing it, we told them to forget about it and come home. We, who had suffered so little, lost our will and our faith in them, who had done so much so well.

Now, you can excuse all these things, one by one, in the abstract. Of course we worry more about the atrocities we commit than the atrocities committed against us, because they touch our national soul, not just our flesh and bone. But you cannot deny their reality. We who only write about the war can turn away when it ends and just bury it in archives and forget it. They will live with it, always.

Do you fear "stab in the back" murmuring? You should. You may try to re-shape their narrative to focus their anger and frustration away from you and your party, toward the neo-cons in the White House, toward the "chickenhawks." You may find they reject that, and they will continue to insist on knowing what the rest of us were saying and doing while they were fighting. What will you tell them?

* I am not so sure this document is authentic, but no one disputes the tactics it illustrates.

Gettysburg monument photo by Jenny Goellnitz, an old buddy from my AOL Civil War roundtable days, and one of those indispensable learned amateurs honored, in passing, here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Cheney: Nunya


The Sept. 13, 2006, letter from Cheney's lawyer says logs for Cheney's residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory are subject to the Presidential Records Act.

Such a designation prevents the public from learning who visited the vice president.

Umm, Mr. Vice President? This belongs to us, not to you.

Memorial Day

[posted by Callimachus]

Memorial Day should have remained May 30, without reference to day of the week. I like the national end-of-May holiday weekend; I celebrate it like everyone else. But it's not Memorial Day.

If you want an example of how the holiday has gone fuzzy, read one of the many blog posts and even media columns on this Memorial Day devoted to honoring veterans and living servicemen. That's a proper thing to do, of course, and there is Veterans' Day, if you want only one day to do it. But that day is not Memorial Day.

Memorial Day should remain as it was in the beginning, at least in the places where I've studied it. The encyclopedia stories focus on the first civic celebrations, which paints a wrong picture. The old Decoration Day was a time for soldiers to gather in town and walk out to the gravesites of fallen comrades and remember them as they saw fit, and say fitting words among themselves, then come home again.

Once the civilians got involved, it became something else. We still lack the thing it once was. Few words are sure to fall more flat or miss the mark more widely than the florid oratory of a local politician at a Memorial Day event. After the 272-word Gettysburg Address, what more is left for a civilian to say?

Families of the fallen need no day set aside for remembrance. They have the birthday, the wedding day, the day the troop train left the station, the day the telegram from the War Department came -- they have every day they draw breath.

The rest of us should just stand back today and say little and try in some impossible way to understand what it was to be him, or her. And what it means to be those who shared the experience but lived.

This was a little heartwarmer for me today. A professional historian pays proper tribute to the amateur:

I don't think there's a good word for what Mr. Hall did: "researcher" is too dry, "historical investigator" carries hints of melodrama, and "archivist" suggests a dutiful drudge, which Mr. Hall was not. "Amateur historian" probably fits best, though it sounds vaguely derivative and second-tier. Following a career with the Labor Department--he retired in the early 1970s--Mr. Hall turned himself into the world's foremost authority on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Historians, pros and amateurs alike, sought him out for his knowledge and access to his exhaustive files. As one of them put it, James O. Hall knew more about Lincoln's murder than anyone who ever lived, including John Wilkes Booth.

I probably have too much education to be considered an "amateur," but certainly not enough to claim to be a "professional." What I do mostly is history with a little "h." It's not my primary source of income. Big "H" historians write biographies of generals. Little "h" historians publish correspondences of corporals.

Big "H" historians write about "why did the French Revolution happen" and try to come up with a different answer than the previous generation believed. Little "h" historians become experts in the eccentric script and shorthand of 18th century French parish clerks. The French Revolution will have a different cause 20 years from now, when the next generation of graduate students gets its grants lined up and its word processors plugged in. But those parish records will be there forever, and either you can read them properly or you can't. Those big names who tackle the French Revolution know well their debt to the man who can guide them through the archives, or can spot an obvious error in your thesis based on a minor but telling detail.

I know my debt to them; I acknowledge it in every book preface I write. But, like I said, I'm as often in the little "h" camp. You pick your specialties carefully, if you're a little "h" historian. You wouldn't bother staking out a turf that's already been claimed. I've got nothing so dramatic as the Lincoln assassination to my credit, but it's been worth the trouble of a BBC crew to cross the Atlantic to walk around the countryside with me and interview me on the topic of Welsh settlement in America in the 1600s, and I've discovered or proved some hitherto-unnoticed details about the role of the Know-Nothing Party in the rise of the Republicans in the 1850s.

It's small beer. Like growing the biggest pumpkins in your hometown or winning a blue ribbon in a goat-milking contest (like my prima donna princess-y Italian ex-girlfriend did once, to everyone's amazement). It won't get you into any clubs. But there are moments when you wouldn't trade it for anything.

For me, it comes when I manage to boost someone from my little "h" into big "H." After my young teen-age Bruce Catton enthusiasm, I never was much of a Civil War buff. I studied medieval and European history in college. But afterward, the blue and gray kept coming back to me. Partly because the place I settled and worked sat atop a trove of archival material that never had been published. So I started to dig, and when I had mastered it, I began to write it. I distilled that meticulous county-level record-keeping, and those packets of crumbling letters and diaries from the astoundingly literate Quaker lieutenants (and the semi-literate, but gloriously expressive, farm hand privates) into a book that told the war through their eyes, their stories.

My own books have never been on anyone's best-seller lists, and probably no more than a few thousand ever have read that one. But the book is in the libraries of research universities and on the shelves of professional historians whose names you know. I know that because they sometimes write to me, and I occasionally find myself footnoted in their big-selling tomes.

And when I track the footnotes back to the page references, there I find -- not me, but the boys born 120 years before me who never made it to 25, who rotted in the Virginia sun, whom I came to know while they lived, in the magical suspended time in a sterile county archive basement. Their names, their words, their stories. In the 200-somethingth retelling of the Battle of Fredericksburg, by one of the most famous living historians, their lives now take their place with the others that have been told in print. The camera pauses on their faces among the dense ranks. They are, somehow, less dead than they were yesterday. If that's all that comes of my research, that's enough.


The View

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, embedded with the 2nd Battalion, 32nd Field Artillery in western Baghdad, has a good, thorough, no-nonsense report on the situation on the ground there up at The Fourth Rail.

Virtually all the U.S. officials with whom I spoke feel that American strategy now boils down to a single goal: strategic disengagement. That is, the U.S. wants to strengthen the Iraqi government to the point that it is self-sustaining enough that the country will not collapse into chaos as U.S. troops are brought back home. It’s unclear how long this will take. One Army staff sergeant who has worked closely with the Iraqi army and police thinks that “several years” is the best estimate. (The Iraqi forces will be discussed further below.) A U.S. official told me that in the past, the line was always that the U.S. was “six months” away from turning the country over to the Iraqis. This was detrimental to overall planning, because strategy was geared toward maximizing results over the six-month period before the handover would allegedly take place. Now the military’s plans are more long-term: they are trying to look at what will be best for Iraq several years down the line, and placing less emphasis on when the U.S. commitment expires.

U.S. strategy is not just military in nature. Rather, it is designed to eliminate some of the underlying conditions that sap the average Iraqi’s faith in the country’s civil society. For example, in the districts that 2-32 patrols -- Yarmouk and Hateen -- there are four lines of operation: security, governance, economy, and essential services. According to Major Brynt Parmeter, who works at the brigade level, the overall goals are to reduce sectarian fighting, increase the Iraqi security forces’ capabilities, and improve local government to empower it to provide the services that Iraqis need. The Iraqis lack a number of essential services. Right now the U.S. focus is on food centers, financial institutions, fuel, and medical needs—but the Iraqis are also lacking in trash collection, reliable sewers, electricity, and other services. The effect of the lack of essential services on Iraqis should not be underestimated. Gas cost 5 cents a liter under Saddam Hussein; now the official price has skyrocketed to about 70 cents a liter. But in practice it is far higher than that: according to Lieutenant Patrick Henson, there is only one government-run gas station in the Yarmouk district. When the long lines around the station are coupled with security concerns, it should come as no surprise that many Iraqis buy their gas from the black market, where prices can reach $2 a liter. In other words, Iraqis may be paying more for their gas than Americans -- and the average Iraqi income is substantially lower than the average American income.

Other topics: The Surge, The Iraqi Security Forces, The Effect of Deployments on U.S. Soldiers, Insurgent Weapons and Tactics.

And, of course, our perceptions from half a world away, and how we're just not able to see the thing whole:

Right now our country is embroiled in a critical debate about setting a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Unfortunately, this is one of the most intellectually impoverished political debates that I have ever witnessed, with both sides often resorting to sloganeering and demagoguery rather than substantive argumentation. One thing that my time in Iraq underscored to me is that, in looking at the country, many people see what they want to see. I would often think about the stories that journalists might write if they went where I went and saw what I saw. For example, after my first night on patrol—when the civilians we saw were clearly happy to see U.S. troops and felt comfortable around them—a conservative journalist might write a piece countering the stories about Iraqis hating us and wanting us to leave. Fine—but what about polls indicating that a shockingly high percentage of Iraqis think it’s okay to kill American troops? What about neighborhoods where U.S. troops would encounter a very different reception? On the other hand, a liberal journalist could write a very funny piece about the Iraqi army’s sloth and trigger-happy approach to the world, and conclude that we need to leave immediately because the Iraqi security forces are hopeless and at least a withdrawal will put some fire in their belly. Fine—but what about Iraqi soldiers’ improvements? What about the likelihood that pulling out would guarantee the Iraqi army’s failure?

There is some truth to both the right-wing and left-wing narratives above. But policymakers and analysts need to do better than having some truth to their positions. The Iraq debate is so important that politicians and opinion-leaders shouldn’t simply latch onto evidence that supports their pre-existing view. My intention in this report is to provide an objective assessment of a number of critical strategic trends in Iraq—and in that way help to advance public debate beyond where it currently sits.

Monday, May 28, 2007


[Posted by reader_iam]


Friday, May 25, 2007

Council Winners

[posted by Callimachus]

Watchers Council winners have been posted for the week of May 25.

First place in the council went to Israel Faces Its Choices In Gaza by Joshuapundit. I have to admit, when I consider the problems and dilemmas America bickers about now -- immigration, Iraq, freedom vs. security -- they're pale and easy compared to what goes on in and around Israel every day. The most liberal alternatives seem certain to lead to carnage, and the harshest options are ... well, here's Joshuapundit:

[T]he Israelis have to realize the essential mistake they made at Oslo, understand that having a terrorist enclave on their borders is simply unacceptable, and that a second Arab Palestinian state is a recipe for continued war and turmoil in the region.

Either Israel would end up with an actual government that had shown its commitment to living next to Israel in peace, or they would have ended the threat to Israel once and for all, and simply dismantled the Palestinian Authority. At that point, real talks on where to resettle these people and where to draw final borders could be made with Egypt and Jordan.

Votes also went to Musings on a Late Spring Afternoon by Right Wing Nut House.

His musings are on the upcoming shift in power in Washington, D.C., and they're excellent. I'll breathe a sigh of relief when Bush leaves office -- as I did when Clinton did -- just because it will force everyone to start over in framing their arguments, which have run on ad hominem for years now. And it will force the party of opposition to grow into the party of leadership. Hopefully. Rick, however, reminds us that the world continues to spin and essential parts of it don't give a damn about any of that:

It would be comforting to think that a change in parties controlling Washington will have much of an effect on what is occurring on this planet. It won’t. It can’t. The liberal Democrats are as bereft of ideas on how to confront most of these problems as the clueless policy makers and stubborn, turf conscious bureaucrats who currently run things. It’s hard for us Americans to admit it but some problems are just not solvable. Change comes whether we like it or not. Sometimes that change is accompanied by rivers of blood. Sometimes not. Our ability to determine one outcome or the other is extremely limited. Military power, “soft power,” economic power, cultural dominance – all pale in comparison to the tidal forces that are moving various peoples toward a far distant and unknowing shore.

It reminds me of a reader comment that Andrew Sullivan saw fit to publish recently:

In old fashioned one-on-one confrontations with nation states (or schoolyard bullies) muscle power can be a leading asset, but when confronting a new era of wide-spread technological empowerment of disparate populations, unrestrained muscle power becomes self-defeating clumsiness. The musclehead approach of this administration and most of the Republican candidates will for now and for the future lead to Gulliver-esque results for this nation and those who align themselves with it. What's happening in Iraq is the future; they're learning from it, but we certainly don't seem to be doing the same.

All of which is likely true, but what's missing is the part that begins, "And the Democrats ...." Our only alternative, alas, is the party of John Edwards.

Votes also went to Why Are Liberals So Afraid of Their Own Ideas? by The Colossus of Rhodey, about the "Fairness Doctrine;" The Silent Iconoclasm by Soccer Dad, about Rachel Carson; Pressure Mounts for Clinton, Obama, Feingold, Biden, Reid to Resign From Senate by Big Lizards; and Stuck in Westphalia by Done With Mirrors.

Outside the council the winner was On Dehumanizing the Enemy In War and the Nature of Victory by TigerHawk, which, I'm pleased to say, was my nomination. My reaction to it is here.

Votes also went to The Inbetween War by Seraphic Secret, again about Israel's unpleasant dilemma; and In the Shadow of the Wolfowitz Wars -- the Melkert & Malloch Brown Dollars-for-Despots Program by The Rosett Report.

An interesting post that got votes was Poll: 26% of Young *American* Muslim Men Find Terrorism Sometimes Justified; 48% of All American Muslims Oppose War Against *Taliban* by Ace of Spades HQ.

Is there any way we can maybe induce more illegal Muslim immigrants and then put them on a pathway to citizenship?

They're definitely willing to do the jobs Americans won't do -- like blowing up innocent civilians in the name of Allah.

Um, seriously? Can we have a moritorium [sic] on immigration until it's clear the plusess [sic] of immigration outweight [sic] the rather-substantial minuses?

Not my style of post, frankly. Alternately bombastic and snarky. It was inspired, of course, by that recently released polling data which launched a thousand snarky posts on both sides of the political blogosphere. And really I think what set it all off was not so much the poll itself, but the way it was framed in the initial media coverage. I saw a lot of that from my seat at the wire desk.

In a poll like this, you know it's going to be read with different emphasis in different quarters. Some will say, "see, the majority are likely not a threat." Others will say "a significant minority could be a threat." [And some, like me, will say polls like this are not useful as a basis of policy-making.]

But the news organizations definitely tried to steer it in one direction, with an emphasis on the "moderate" angle in their prose and especially in their headlines.

In a case like this, you want to be as bland and down-the-middle as possible, and let people draw their own conclusions from the numbers. Because they're going to anyhow, and if they see you trying to lead them by the nose to one place or another, they're going to resent it. Write "Survey reveals attitudes of American Muslims" or something like that.

Not that Simple

[posted by Callimachus]

The developed world depends on a single substance that 1. has destructive consequences for the environment, 2. tends to put money in the pockets of some of the world's most unsavory characters, and 3. seems to leave most people too complacent to do anything about 1. and 2.

How to change that? A lot of people want to start with #3, and their answer often is "tax oil." Gas prices are too low, they say. The pain to consumers has to be sharper, so the pressure for change will be the greater. That's a free-market solution, on the one hand, and a government intervention solution on the other, which may explain why I see it promoted in certain quarters on both sides.

I'm willing to bet, too, when people imagine that "consumer" who needs to feel more pain at the pump, they're picturing the dimwitted fatcat's wife driving alone in her SUV.

This is why that's wrong.

In an index released this week, Oil Price Information Service, a source for petroleum pricing, broke down who's paying the most taking into account local gasoline prices and local monthly income.

The biggest losers are drivers living in Clay County, Ky., who shell out 14.78 percent of their monthly income to buy gasoline costing $3.156 a gallon. While the price there is far lower than the retail average in San Juan County, Wash., which is the highest in the country at $3.926 a gallon, Clay County's average monthly income of $1,423.67 is the lowest nationwide, making any increase in gasoline prices much more painful.

For their part, drivers in San Juan County use 6.78 percent of their monthly income on gas.

Rural poverty -- dispersed, inaccessible to public transportation, unable to affort hybrid technologies -- remember that?


[Posted by reader_iam]

Surely the votes of Sens. Obama and Clinton don't surprise.

I mean, really--no matter where you stand on those people or that issue--do they?

I'm put in mind of that whole prisoner's dilemma thing which has been catching people's attention, anew, lately, for whatever reasons.

Kids+Backpacks Can Be Hazardous ...

Posted by reader_iam

... to the health of parents (not to mention the kids). Individually and separately--meaning kids and backpacks--but more to the point, collectively.

Today (well, Thursday), an especially exuberant entry by my son into a vehicle at the end-of-day pick-up from school involved a tossing-off of a backpack, a strap of which, in a freakish incident, flew out and hit, full buckle, my husband's right eye.

Flash forward.

The eye is scratched, scraped, and bruised in multiple places, and slightly punctured, according to assessments late today (well, I guess yesterday). Late tomorrow (well, I guess that would be today), tests are scheduled to assess, 24 hours later, the situation "expressed more deeply in the eye" post certain swellings and so forth which have direct bearing on the outcome.

I could write a lot about a lot of stuff--including the little talks about whether and how not intending to do something or for something to happen doesn't mean it's not your fault or responsibility--but could ain't should, after all.

(Also, the "real-lifedness" of the situation is enough, thank you.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

No Friend Left Behind (Update)

Those who boast they warned the rest of us of the 'Pottery Barn rules' -- if we break it, we bought it -- now want to leave the store without paying.

[posted by Callimachus]

Congress finished work this week on a step toward remedying the injustice of Iraqi interpreters who have helped us but who are denied immigration rights into the U.S.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed legislation granting special immigration visas to hundreds of Iraqi and Afghan translators whose lives are endangered because they helped U.S. forces.

By a vote of 412-8, the House passed the legislation that was also embraced by the Senate earlier this year.

The measure, which President George W. Bush is expected to sign into law, would grant up to 500 special visas for the foreign translators and interpreters who have helped in the U.S. war effort.

"These translators and interpreters who serve bravely alongside our troops need our immediate assistance. Singled out as collaborators, many are now targets by death squads, militias, and al-Qaeda," said Rep. Howard Berman, a California Democrat.

... Lawmakers have complained that last year, the United States accepted only 202 Iraqis out of its 70,000 refugee slots worldwide, despite the worsening refugee crisis.

The House of Representatives bill was H.R.1790, a bill that would "amend the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006 to expand the provision of special immigrant status for certain aliens, including translators or interpreters, serving with Federal agencies in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska and co-sponsored by Berman. The Senate passed its version of the bill (S.1104 April 12 by unanimous consent). It got through the House with bipartisan support, on a vote of 412-8. The eight opposed, all Republicans, were Deal (Georgia), Gingrey, Goode, King (Iowa), Kingston, Paul, Tancredo, and Whitfield.

* * *

Britain's Channel 4 picks up on the plight of Iraqi translators who have worked for and with the British military. Not surprisingly, the threats they face now are similar to those the American terps live (and die) with. But their prospect of salvation is even weaker:

For less than £10 a day, hundreds of Iraqis are putting their lives on the line as interpreters for the British Army in Basra. Many have now fled, having received death threats.

They claim they're being systematically targeted and murdered. The militias, jostling for control of Basra, consider them traitors. At least two have been killed this month.

Unlike the American government, which has announced plans to resettle 7,000 particularly vulnerable Iraqi refugees, the British government has made no such commitment.

The story is tragic, and well-told in this article by Jonathan Miller:

Thousands of local Iraqis got jobs with the British in Basra; drivers, cleaners, cooks, but interpreters were the brightest and best.

A lot of them are young graduates, trusting and full of hope for the future. Four years on, with Iraq - and their dreams -- turned upside down, many are now on the run, dumped by the very people they'd trusted and had wanted so much to help.

* * *

Michael Moran of the Council on Foreign Relations puts the question directly to Democratic presidential contender John Edwards: "You’ve laid out a fairly detailed timetable for how you’d like to see the drawdown take place in Iraq and the eventual withdrawal. There’s some skepticism about the ability of the United States to affect things in Iraq once we do withdraw, and the possibility of a genocide is something you’ve made reference to. So, how does that change your figuring on what the United States would have to do if you did get out and then this happened?"

Edwards answers by not answering at all:

First of all, the long-term stability and chance for success in Iraq is dependent on the Iraqi leadership itself. My view is that until and when we shift the responsibility for Iraq to the Sunni and Shia leadership, it's unlikely based on history that they're going to reach any political reconciliation. And so we need to do that in a smart, orderly way by telling them we’re doing it, withdrawing troops over a period of ten to twelve months. We ought to engage in every effort we can to help bring them together, to encourage political compromise, and we ought to engage the Iranians, the Syrians, and other countries in the region into helping stabilize Iraq. The Iranians clearly have an interest in a stable Iraq. They don’t want refugees coming across their border, they don’t want the economic instability, and they don’t want a broader Middle East conflict between Shia and Sunni. The Syrians have a similar interest, although they’re Sunni, not Shia.

And then, the president has a responsibility beyond that. We have interest in the region, that’s obvious, we need to maintain a presence there, in Kuwait, in Afghanistan, maybe in Jordan, depending on what we can agree to there, and we definitely need to maintain a naval presence in the Persian Gulf. And the president has got to prepare for the two things that you raise. One is the possibility that the civil war becomes all-out, so that it can be contained, and the second is the possibility of genocide. My view is that this is something that’s crucial for America to plan for. In the case of the civil war, there are strategies for dealing with it, to contain it—buffer zones, moving away from population centers. And in the case of genocide, this is something we clearly need to be doing with the international community, not America doing this alone. We have to prepare for that. I’m not going to say now this far in advance exactly what the mechanism should be, but America has to have a plan for that.

In a little under 400 words, Half are devoted to suggesting Iraq will be more stable without the U.S. there than with it there. When he gets around to the "what if you're wrong about that" alternative, his answer is "America has to have a plan for that," but clearly he hasn't got one of his own. So what good is he? He punts it to "the international community," which, in the language of Darfur and Rwanda, translates into "let them die."

Labels: , ,


[posted by Callimachus]

That's the neologism of the day: the kind of gaudy, tacky mansions erected by drug lords who get flush with cash, whether in Miami or Afghanistan.

Check out that slide show. The good stuff starts about halfway through. What was it Little Richard said after touring Ike Turner's mansion? "Man, I didn't know you could spend a million dollars at Woolworth's." Something like that.

Courtesy of Registan, which approaches the situation with a mix of realism and optimism, and comes out about where I do: You don't have to fight the drug production and the Islamists all at once; you certainly shouldn't fight them both with the same tactics and armies, and in fact a little toleration of the former, in the right places, can help you win against the latter:

Outside the major enforcement zones, which just happen to be in the south—Uruzgan, Helmand, Kandahar, Zabol—opium is weirdly good for the local economy: like any other cash crop, it creates a new class of consumers, which can then drive demand and spark economic development. ... In other words, the opium problem isn’t quite as dire as it’s made out to be, apart from the areas of heavy fighting. While the other effects it has on the government—endemic corruption, mafia-style rule, unfortunate links to the strange new international blackmarket market/terrorism nexus—are there, they are much easier to deal with than the constant fighting, and don’t result in randomized, high-casualty violence.

So it is the Taliban, then, that need the greatest attention for eradication—not opium. By focusing so much on the drug trade, especially with such limited resources, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Westward, Look, the Land is Bright

[posted by Callimachus]

This post is a blessing, in a time when the nation's confidence in itself is at an all-time low. It involves the "Prisoner's Dilemma" logic problem, the "Silver Rule" (he calls it "tit for tat"), crime in London, and a resurrection of the undeservedly forgotten Albert Jay Nock. And it will inspire you to keep leaning toward the light.

No small chunk cut from it can do it justice, which is true of all the truly "written" blog posts (most blog posts are just typed conversation). Do read it.

Among the memories it brought back to me was the time I was staying in a hostel in London in the late '80s and in broad daylight a youth walked into the place and packed everyone's overnight bags into my suitcase and walked out and disappeared. Like the Canadians and Australians and ex-pats who were in the room with me, I was livid. But I, the American tourist, was the one who called the police. Big mistake. The young Bobby showed up and patiently listened to my story, didn't write anything down, and sympathized, but essentially said there was nothing they could do. Then he spent half an hour flirting with the pretty brunette who ran the place.

When you realize those are the conditions of the world you live in, you change your behavior and your interactions. You arrive at a different answer to the Prisoner's Dilemma.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Real Empires

Don't so dumb shit like this:

Al Hurra television, the U.S. government's $63 million-a-year effort at public diplomacy broadcasting in the Middle East, is run by executives and officials who cannot speak Arabic, according to a senior official who oversees the program.

That might explain why critics say the service has recently been caught broadcasting terrorist messages, including an hour-long tirade on the importance of anti-Jewish violence, among other questionable pieces.

Something to Expect

[posted by Callimachus]

As the British increase their forces in Afghanistan, they are drawing down in Iraq. Although the drawdown in Iraq is based on pragmatism, the enemy apparently is attempting to create the perception of a military rout. So while the British reduce their forces in southern Iraq, they are coming under heavier fire and the enemy makes claims of driving “the occupiers” out.

From Michael Yon's latest post. A tour de force. Do read the whole thing, and see the images. Another excerpt:

British and American commanders readily say that those who were previously seen as liberators are now increasingly perceived as occupiers. Some of the shift in perception follows merely from being here so long that our moves are increasingly likely to be interpreted negatively. Though I have seen British and American soldiers treating Iraqis with respect and kindness—often putting their own lives at risk to reduce danger to Iraqis—the simple act of moving from point A to point B often creates frictions, even when we are moving by means of the smallest possible footprint, in this instance by flying.

Could Lincoln Have Lived?

Some doctors say this:

If Ford's Theatre had been in Baltimore, if the patient had been taken to the city's Shock Trauma Center, and if 1865 were 2007 ... Abraham Lincoln might have survived the gunshot wound to his head.

... But not of John Wilkes Booth had been packing 2007-style heat.

This is Why We Have Scientists

There Is No 2007

[posted by Callimachus]

Future historians will judge that we simply had 24 months of the election year 2008. Like the ancient Romans during one of their periodic calendar corrections.

I surrender to the inevitable. Let's talk politics. "Obama probably isn't a hawk; he just wants to make sure no one mistakes him for a dove." How does he do that? By threatening Iran. If the Democrats are going to run (for office) away from Iraq, yet with an awareness that they risk being seen as the party of pushovers in a mean, mean world, the temptation is going to be to rattle sabres toward some other targets of opportunity on the map.

Not a good way to make policy. It's rather Bush-like, in fact. Which is what ought to give people on the right pause about the Bush-Rove-Cheney White House: Once they've done it, anyone can do it. I'm talking about the arrogation of presidential powers and the trend toward complete politicization of decision-making. This has developed slowly over time in American history -- since Lincoln, really, though by fits and starts. The skids for all this were greased in the 1930s-60s, by presidents bypassing sclerotic Supreme Court justices and mossback Congressmen to liberalize, progressive-ize, and desegregate America. It was a way to speed up the good things. And it was applauded and advocated by the best editorial writers in the liberal media.

Bush just took it to the next level, and used it to push rightward, but the door had been unlocked long ago. And he did it meanly, under guise of a Big War he really wasn't willing to fight like a Big War.

So what does the next president do, presuming he or she will be a Democrat? Make a deliberate effort to move away from that big fat dessert table of executive branch power? Hire only the best people for the jobs rather than trying to seed the future with ideological pod people armed with government experience? Step down from partisan trifling and pet cause promotion in the name of balanced government and non- or bipartisanship?

I'd vote for that. But the netroots would be after him with the tar barrel and the feather bag. And I don't see any way in the current political climate to unscrew the pooch.

Shelf Analysis

[posted by Callimachus]

I wish I had thought of that. Best headline of the day yesterday, though it's actually in the photo caption accompanying this column on books in pictures.

Perhaps it's a form of voyeurism, a lust to discover guilty secrets. What I really hope to discover is that someone like Roger Scruton has shelf upon shelf of chick lit; that Jeremy Clarkson can't get enough of the novels of Margaret Drabble; or that the dainty aesthete Roy Strong is harbouring a stack of books on motor-vehicle maintenance, one of which is a dog-eared volume entitled The Sump.

Right. When I want to know about someone, I look at his bookshelf. Oh, his library might be something a decorator ordered up by the crate, but chances are it's not. Especially if the books look shopworn. And there's no certainty that he's read them just because he has them. But often you can tell that, too, on suspicion.

Instead, if it's someone you've known for any length of time, when you see his library it's like an intellectual biography. You think, "aha; that's where he got that notion."

Like the Guardian writer, when I see pictures of prominent people posing in their libraries, I wish they'd move out of the way so I could see their books. I tend to look at such pictures with my head cocked to the side.

For my own part, I'd rather pose my library than my face or figure. Not that either of the latter is anything to look at. I have far more vanity about the bookshelves.

As I'm about to prove. I'm figuring most of our regulars here, like the two bloggers, are readers. These thumbnails link to larger versions in which, I think, you can read the titles on the spines. Maybe you'll have an "aha" moment out of it if you care to, or have the delightful experience of catching sight of an old friend in an unexpected place.

First, the essential stuff, As I sit at the computer, these are the books immediately at hand to my left:

And these to my right:

And about a step away is this shelf:

Already, have I confirmed your idea of this persona who posts here, or rattled it?

Across the room is the rest of the library:

I haven't included the shelves on the other walls, which are full of my wife's books, many of which are 19th century novels or books about fabric, clothing, and couture, since she is a fashion historian. To include them as though they were mine would give me an aura of sophistication I do not deserve.

This low-rise bookcase is where my fiction and poetry titled generally end up. It's between the two cushy chairs, so you can reach over and pluck something out to leaf through while drinking a beer or a glass of wine or scotch.

I have learned not to keep books in the bedroom and weaned myself from the habit of reading in bed. For me, a bedroom ought to be a defined space for certain activities that brook no distractions.

We keep four low bookcases downstairs, in the living room. Some of these are "better" bindings, but that doesn't mean they're only there for looks. Since we don't have a TV and cable, this is also a recreation room, and a place where you can pick up a title and kick back on the couch with it, if you're a guest. It's also where I keep some of the bigger picture books that wait to be discovered by our children.

If you want to make a game of it, In this collection of pictures you can see two (corrected: three, but two are the same book in different editions) books written by me and one by my best friend. Needless to say, my small-time name is not in big letters.

Shall we make this a meme? I'd invite my co-blogger and everyone among our blogfriends and regular visitors with sites of their own to post their own version of this -- especially Amba, who seems to have a bookshelf fetish.

UPDATE: Dave S. has taken up the challenge, head mugs and all.

The Maturian Candidate

[posted by Callimachus]

I found you a candidate for president. Too bad he's not running:

Some who have been critical of this effort from the beginning have consistently based their opposition on their preference for a dictator we can control or contain at a much lower cost. From the start they said the price tag for creating an environment where democracy could take root in Iraq would be high. Those critics can go to sleep at night knowing they were right.

The critics who bother me the most are those who ordinarily would not be on the side of supporting dictatorships, who are arguing today that only military intervention can prevent the genocide of Darfur, or who argued yesterday for military intervention in Bosnia, Somalia and Rwanda to ease the sectarian violence that was tearing those places apart.

... American liberals need to face these truths: The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it. Al Qaeda in particular has targeted for abduction and murder those who are essential to a functioning democracy: school teachers, aid workers, private contractors working to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, police officers and anyone who cooperates with the Iraqi government. Much of Iraq's middle class has fled the country in fear.

With these facts on the scales, what does your conscience tell you to do? If the answer is nothing, that it is not our responsibility or that this is all about oil, then no wonder today we Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power. American lawmakers who are watching public opinion tell them to move away from Iraq as quickly as possible should remember this: Concessions will not work with either al Qaeda or other foreign fighters who will not rest until they have killed or driven into exile the last remaining Iraqi who favors democracy.

Bob Kerrey. Politically, he's no worse than the rest of the field this year, and the plea for calm sanity above is so much fresh air. But he's never really explained one night in his Vietnam experience and is thus, while a valuable voice in the national debate, unelectable.

Perhaps it was a terrible "fog of war" mistake. Perhaps it was something darker. The few sure facts just don't fit well. Which is a shame, too, because such experience, if it were war-is-hell and not war-crime, would give Kerrey a unique and pertinent perspective from which to lead the nation in the looming post-Iraq period, and in a time of not-quite-war-but-something-like-it. He once said: "I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you, and I don't think it is. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse."


Monday, May 21, 2007


You do have to admit that the proper person to judge whether George W. Bush is the worst president of all time is not the only other living candidate for the disgrace.

Suspicious Silence

[posted by Callimachus]

This comes from a criticism, by one Lila Rajiva, of a post parting ways with Chomsky by Ali Eteraz. First, an excerpt from what Ali wrote:

Yet, the fact is that today, globalization, which Chomsky always said was the handmaiden of neo-liberalism, and a construction of powerful Western governments, has an equally sordid evil twin, and this is the globalized monstrosity of extremely extreme extremist Islam. By the way, when I talk about extremists, I am not referring to terrorists alone. Would it were that this globalized undercurrent of violence was merely political! There exists today a form of globalized lifestyle and cultural extremism galvanized and organized and idealized by millions. This extremism, where it is not suffocating art, scholarship, freedom and love, it is murdering, killing, and beating to death. It must be identified and spoken out against with the same gusto reserved for neo-imperialism and corporatism. Dissent against all three is not inconsistent as they each mutually feed one another and leave vast numbers of human beings without a voice, without life.

... Given that neither [Chomsky], nor those who invoke him, have added extremist Islam (specifically in its cultural and lifestyle manifestation) to the list of things to dissent against, I have to part ways with him and look around for a place to stand. I will not cease to speak out against the unilateralism of the superpower, the predation of the executive, or the murderous arms dealers. These things matter. However, I have seen too many people - my people - living lives of shame, fear, and cowardice in the face of an unchecked global predator, and I cannot stay silent because the established dissenters have not said anything about it. The current discourse of dissent is not enough. There must be more dissent. I hope that when Professor Chomsky looks across the world at the dissent he inspired, he will recognize some of himself in the rest of us.

Now, from Lila Rajiva's response:

It’s also important to remember the extent to which Islamic extremism was brought to the center of the political stage by systematic policy decisions and covert actions taken by the United States. In that sense, it is a reaction, which is probably one of the reasons Noam Chomsky does not engage it in the same way as he does American foreign policy. One should not forget that there are very influential human rights organizations funded by the United States to one degree or other which are already engaged in evaluating and criticizing the human rights abuses which Ali speaks about. Chomsky ’s silence is intended only to balance those vociferous voices, which sometimes use human rights to bolster imperial policies.

Well, even though she is only guessing what Chomsky thinks and why he is so very selective in his contrarianism, evidently she agrees with this model, as I suppose a great many of his disciples would. There's a great deal of insight into the game plan in that one graph.

You can unpack it to suit yourself, but here's some things I notice. First, it purports to agree with Ali about the "human rights abuses" of the non-American actors -- the long list of terrible things done in the name of religion and opposition to American hegemony that Ali lists in his post. But the answer is effectively "silent" about them (and defends silence about them), and admits them into the conversation only for as long as it takes to deflect the focus from them to America as the root of evil. They are regarded not as truths, but as mirrors. This frankly does them no justice, nor does it honor the people who have to grapple with this stuff in their daily lives (such as this woman).

Yet even her silence is not silence; there is an unspoken back-current delegitimatization of critics of Islamist extremism. The only critics mentioned are "very influential human rights organizations funded by the United States." But as we've been told, the writer regards the U.S. as the prime cause of the problem. Therefore, under the terms she has set, all these U.S.-funded critics are delegitimatized and their work cast into suspicion.

If she wants to suggest that, should she not come out and say it, and name names, and prove it? Or if she really thinks there is a problem with Islamist extremism, and all the existing critics are simply shills for imperialism, shouldn't that make it even more imperative for there to be an untainted critic speaking out loud, rather than sitting in silence?

Why spend more time on the supposed imperialism lurking behind criticism of Islamist extremism than on the thing itself? And if you choose to do so, why pretend to be agreeing with Ali that it is a real problem for real people whom he knows and cares about?

I'm not going to dwell on the obsession with modern America as the root of all the world's ills. It takes a germ of truth and grows it into a beanstalk vine to Chomskyite heaven. The pathetic short-sighted awareness of history reminds me of the letters to the editor I used to get from social conservatives. After reading the letter, I could tell within 5 years the date they were born. The gist of the letter was, "Ever since X happened, the liberals have been running this country to hell." But X always was a different event -- Eleanor Roosevelt, rock 'n' roll, the end of school prayer, the legalization of abortion. And it always was the event that happened about the time the author turned 13. The personal loss of innocence got narcissistically conflated with the history of civilization.

Chomsky may have studied modern times well (though his critics, even on the left, often have caught him twisting the facts rather badly out of shape and cherry-picking the record). But when his writing ventures into earlier periods of history, the fuzzy, cartoonish images that pop up are frankly embarrassing to him. His fan base does not typically include serious historians.

So in this alternate universe, it's as though Harry Truman waved a magic wand and conjured the modern world into being, whole and spinning. You'd never guess that America inherited, partly unwillingly, a world already deformed by European domination and then set afire by the rapid cut-and-run of the imperial powers, from an artificially united Iraq to a falsely divided India (with such important power centers as Punjab and Bengal carved up incoherently). Or that American policies since 1945 largely were reactionary to Soviet imperialism, rather than a Death Star assault on an innocent and unsuspecting world of global Ewoks.

"The evil we call X only exists as a reaction to American foreign policy. Vocal opponents of X are based in and funded by the Americans. Therefore, to balance them, we say nothing about X."

How does silence balance anything except silence? As though awareness were a zero-sum commodity, and if you talk too much about something, and I talk too little about it, my silence drains off that much of your noise. Silence on something essential only unbalances yourself. It makes people suspect you of bad faith with reality and your own moral yardsticks.


It's Surprisingly Easy To Understand ...

[Posted by reader_iam]

... this if you're (willing to be) possessed of a certain generosity of mind, imagination of spirit--in the generic sense, folks; don't be obtuse, now--and intellectual ability to juggle more than one or two thoughts at a time, even (especially) if at least a couple of them are contradictory.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, May 20, 2007


[Posted by reader_iam]

While on a family walk yesterday, I saw this tree.


Right away, I thought of Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, mercilessly in the "news" again.

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday Night Video I

Into the Sunset

[posted by Callimachus]

A world without James Brown in it is bad enough. Now we face a world without "American Heritage".

American Heritage was founded in 1954 by James Parton, Oliver Jensen and Joseph J. Thorndike Jr., refugees from Life, who from the beginning broke most of the rules of magazine publishing. They determined not to accept ads, for example — on the ground that there was a “basic incompatibility between the tones of the voice of history and of advertising” — and instead charged a yearly subscription of $10, a figure so steep at the time that readers were allowed to pay it in installments. They also published in clothbound, hardback volumes with full-color paintings mounted on the front.

The format was an instant hit with readers, who instead of tossing back issues often shelved them in their bookcases, but it initially confounded the United States Post Office, which decreed that American Heritage could use neither the book rate nor the periodical one. That ruling was eventually overturned, but not until the magazine had almost bankrupted itself by paying for parcel post.

The first editor of American Heritage was Bruce Catton, a Civil War historian who wrote in the inaugural issue in December 1954 that “the faith that moves us is, quite simply, the belief that our heritage is best understood by a study of the things that the ordinary folk of America have done and thought and dreamed since first they began to live here.” In the beginning, at least, that meant a fair amount of WASPy nostalgia and a steady ration of stories about the Civil War. That inaugural issue, for example, includes a piece about a Union general who was falsely accused of treason in 1862, as well as articles about the country store, the Fall River steamship line and a lament by Cleveland Amory about the decline of New York men’s clubs.

Circulation is as high as ever -- 350,000. They lost me, however, when they switched their focus to events of modern times in a bid to please baby boomers. I may technically be on the tail end of that wave, but I'm sick of it. So what's killing it? In part, you're looking at it:

“We’re really a general interest magazine,” [editor, Richard F. Snow] said. “We don’t play to a history buff in any narrow sense — like the Civil War re-enactors, for example. They can go on the Web and get thousands and thousands of hits.”

Even after they went to a softcover format, I still have them stashed away. One of the most unforgettable articles for me was a haunting 1992 piece by John Updike about the lost 19th century art of post-mortem photography.

If They're Smoking, There's Fire To Rid

[Posted by reader_iam]

OK, it's late, so I'm going to dash this one off, which means no "cites" for my impressions, but honest to goodness, if you've actually been around long enough, there ought to be no need.

When it comes to "the homeless" (me, I hate that nomenclature, and prefer "homeless people," as I have for, oh, 25-30 years or so, and that should telegraph something to the smart among you, meaning: watch your assumptions, because you're likely to be wrong, and also to be missing the point of this post, as I've framed it):

You can't get 'em off the streets for abusive language.

You can't get 'em off the streets if your intention is to ensure they get appropriate medical and mental treatment.

You can't get 'em off the streets if your intention is to ensure they take their meds.

You can't get 'em off the streets for threatening behavior, if that doesn't meet some sort of codified and clinical standard which may or may not correspond with how your average person might perceive or classify, or even experience--based on experience--"threat."

You can't get 'em off the streets if small children or elderly people are frightened.

You can't get 'em off the streets even if their own family members beg you for help, out of concern for their loved one.

You can't get 'em off the streets if property values are threatened.

You can't get 'em off the streets if such quality-of-life issues as being able to walk down a street without being accosted, whether belligerently or not, for money or whatever reason.

You can't get 'em off the streets if tourism is affected, even if that's a core industry.

You can't get 'em off the streets for public urination or defecation, or, in certain circumstances, flashing or other expressions of sexuality in the context of their "homes."

You can't get 'em off the streets for trespassing on personal property (i.e., doorsteps and vestibules).

You can't get 'em off the streets for making public property rather less publicly available, in any meaningful sense.

But ... but ... but ... BUT!

If you're Berkeley, California, for crying out loud, you may soon be able to get 'em off the streets for ... wait for it ... smoking (that is, tobacco, specifically--natch!), assuming a proposed ban goes through:
Berkeley figures it's found a way to get homeless people off the streets. Keep them from smoking there.

As Mayor Tom Bates sees it, the alcoholics, meth addicts and the like who make up a good portion of the homeless population on Shattuck Avenue downtown and Telegraph Avenue on the south side of the UC Berkeley campus "almost always smoke." And because smoking bans are the hot ticket these days for California cities, why not meld the two as part of a "comprehensive package" for dealing with the street problem that Bates says "has gone over the top"?

In this case, vagrants could be cited for taking a drag on the town's main drags.
Now, of course, the mayor is also proposing other measures, which touch upon--just touch upon--some of the other issues raised earlier in my list of "can'ts," which weren't so much intended as literals (though they, often enough, over the past few decades, have been), but as arguments rejected by certain sectors (not all) of the more "progressively minded" across the U.S. in a variety of cities at different times.

Surely I'm not the only one who sees this as high parody? I'm not much for "mocking" as a laudable, much the less highest, form of social comment, but this simply begs for it, and so I'm hoping that those gifted in the art catch the pitch, so to speak.


Lest you think I'm alone in my opprobrium (though they're not putting forth my take on it, which is fine), here are some others who are looking through this: TalkLeft and Reason Magazine's Hit & Run.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Too-Close Call Of A Blogfriend

[Posted by reader_iam]

I am oh-so-thankful (and in a cold sweat) that our blogfriend Ruth Anne Adams and her friends made it through an armed robbery last evening.

Words fail.

Labels: , , , ,

Musical Literacy

[Posted by reader_iam]

Here is an abbreviated list of authors who have written a novel or novels that have inspired songs, musical works and even albums:
Walker Percy, Saul Bellow, John Steinbeck, Paul Bowles, Paul Gallico, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut, Herman Melville, Lewis Carroll, JD Salinger, JRR Tolkein, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Joseph Conrad, William Faulkner, Tom Robbins, George Orwell, Robert Heinlein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Roger Kahn, Erich Maria Remarque, Miguel de Cervantes, Aldous Huxley, Umberto Eco, William Golding, Alistair Maclean, Thomas Pynchon, Federico Garcia Lorca, Patrick Suskind, Vladimir Nabakov, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Henry Fielding and ... .
Well, I'll cut that one off there. Note that for the purposes of this post, I'm referring specifically to novels, as opposed to works of nonfiction, poems, plays, Greek lit and so forth, though there's also a rich history attached to those, of course.

Here is an abbreviated list of musicians (and/or musical groups) who have been inspired by, specifically, novels:
Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Natalie Merchant, Al Stewart, Anthrax, Glenn Frey , Animal Logic, U2, Warren Zevon, Woody Guthrie, Yes, Iron Maiden, Yo La Tengo, Green Day, Jackson Brown, Jimmy Buffett, Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush, John Lennon (The Beatles), Radiohead, Roxy Music, Jefferson Airplane, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan, Steve Earle, Sting (and the Police), David Byrne, Don Henley, The Cure, The Doors, Eurythmics, Ambrosia, King Crimson, Leonard Cohen, Blue Oyster Cult, Bruce Springsteen, CSN&Y, Dan Fogelberg, Elton John, Emmylou Harris, Kenny Loggins, Laurie Anderson, Leon Russell, Nirvana, and ... .
The two lists aren't intended to match up, but rather to give a flavor of the diversity of authors who have inspired musicians and musicians who have been inspired by novels. This interplay between artists and art forms is a lifetime fascination of mine; well, why wouldn't it be? I'm a born reader raised by two professional musicians. You could say it's in my blood, and that I was bred to it.

Quite a while back, while researching a related topic, I discovered Artists for Literacy, a project which brings together a diverse group of musicians interested in using music to promote literacy and "literary and artistic" appreciation. These musicians have "donated" songs of theirs which have been inspired by written material--novels, poems, short stories, plays, and various works of nonfiction--to be used in classrooms and similar settings.

One of the handy tools on the site is the SIBL library, a searchable database of Songs Inspired By Literature, which I immediately bookmarked along with the main site URL, and I have referred to it a number of times since. If you're curious about some of the artists--musicians or writers--included in my lists, you can search for them there, since I deliberately restricted my choices to those you can find there. (The one exception is the group Camel, which produced an album "Music Inspired by the Snow Goose," a novel by Paul Gallico. There are videos available on YouTube.) Go play!


Speaking of inspiration, this post was provoked by these two rather extraordinary comments attached to a post here; the larger context is to be found in an earlier post and its lengthy comments section. Fascinating, those discussions, and the rather heavy amount of unconscious irony with which they're laced, don't you think?

There's a lot to be said for using more history and other nonfiction in earlier grades, including "reading" classes, though--given the problems and controversies surrounding text and textbook selection in the public schools--this would pose more of a challenge than I think Althouse is taking into consideration. But to exclude fiction altogether strikes me as a ridiculous proposition, on a number of grounds. Here are just a few of the questions that jumped immediately to mind:
Why either/or? Do we really think one size does, or should, fit all? Fiction has nothing to teach us about real life, the past, the human condition? Kids are going to be magically drawn to fiction if not introduced to it? Reading fiction well just comes naturally for all kids, with no skill set attached to that? Reading fiction has nothing to offer in terms of sharpening analytical skills, including the ability to choose which analytical tool fits a given situation? Cultural literacy has no place in developing minds? What about the fact that many historical artifacts, such as speeches, which certainly qualify as nonfiction in context, make references to literature? Can you truly understand them without a sense of the heritage that inspired them or to which they refer?

Labels: , ,

The Culture of Outburst

[posted by Callimachus]

Here, I'm going to do an Instapundit at you and link to something interesting that I'm not entirely sure is right, or more right than wrong, without telling you what to think about it:

Of course, we should not simply legitimize offensive speech; surely by putting some comments beyond the pale of civility, we do make our society safer and more inclusive. But code-based legalism is diametrically opposed to evaluation of inner character — and combined, they lead to disaster. Our culture is so filled with dissemblance that when a public figure blurts a single epithet, we instantly see evidence of a corrupt and bigoted heart: “Aha! This is what he really thinks! This is who he really is!” We can’t help but look, because we ourselves are under the same yoke of repression as our celebrity heroes. Thus the repression of speech that led to the outburst in the first place is strengthened, and the deep causes of prejudice left unchecked.


[posted by Callimachus]

If you want something good to chew on, try this post by Tigerhawk.

He riffs on a post by Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club:

While people may not want to return to the methods of World War 2, it is dishonest to pretend, as it is now fashionable to do, that Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill conducted war according to some high moral standard that the Bush administration has somehow betrayed.

Yep. I've been trying to remind people of that, too. here and here and here and here and here, just to cite a few.

He goes on to a call to loose the hounds of war by New York Post columnist Ralph Peters:

Above all, we have to maintain a strength of will equal to that of our opponents. War demands consistency, and we're the most fickle great power in history. We must focus on defeating our enemies, brushing aside all other considerations.

At present, we let those other considerations rule our behavior: We overreact to media sensationalism (which our enemies exploit brilliantly); we torment ourselves over the least mistakes our troops make; we delude ourselves that mass murderers have rights; we take prisoners knowing they'll be freed to kill more Americans - and the politicians and Green Zone generals alike pretend that "it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."

That's the biggest lie ever told by a human being who wasn't a member of Congress.

Winning is everything. Fighting ruthlessly may not please the safe-at-home moralists, but it's losing that's immoral.

I agree with Peters' diagnosis, but I can't swallow his prescription for a cure. Yet his last line is essentially correct: War is a waste of lives in any case; wasting them when you don't intend to accomplish the stated goal of a war -- defeat of some enemy in the name of a better future or a safer present -- is the most immoral war of all.

Finally, Tigerhawk himself poses the central question:

We have gone from limiting the basis for war to constraining the conduct of war to the point where no law-abiding nation can be brutal within the terms of international law. If law-abiding nations cannot be brutal, will only unlawful nations succeed in breaking the enemy's will to fight?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Stuck in Westphalia

[posted by Callimachus]

As America does its slow dance of defeat in Iraq, we should attend to the lives of the people we have sent over there to do a job we bailed out on before they finished. We should attend to those who have come home already with wounds and crippling conditions, and to the survivors of the slain. We should attend to the Iraqi people who stood by us and cast their lot with the vision we dangled before them, then yanked away, of a free, strong, prosperous place to live.

I'm trying to do my part for all that. But, over my shoulder, I can't help but note some people who don't seem to care much about doing any of that are busying themselves writing history in advance: The anti-war people, who have the luxury of not really doing or saying anything positive while they toast retreat and wait for the big change in January 2009. Currently they're sorting out whether to write the story so that the entire adventure was a fool's errand, doomed from the start, or whether it was doomed by specific post-invasion decisions or indecisions by the criminal Bu$h gang.

Shrubbie & Co. are the cartoon villains of the piece. But when the official victors' history is written, I predict plenty of bile will be hosed at the turncoat liberals, the humanitarian and conscientious people who normally never would have found themselves taking the same side as a George W. Bush in anything so drastic as this.

Already it begins. Here, Scott Lemieux sneers at "one of the more bizarre manifestations of pro-Bush's-war liberalism, Paul Berman's attempt to fit Islamic terrorism seamlessly into the WWII and/or Cold War models of conflict, as a fight waged against totalitarianism."

Well, is it or isn't it totalitarianism? It seems that's something that can be persuasively argued down, and not merely dismissed with an ad hominem. Lemieux cites this 2005 "Nation" column by Stephen Holmes which attempts to bitch-slap Berman and his ilk.

His analogies, first of all, are tendentious to an extreme. Islamist murderousness resembles Bolshevik and Nazi murderousness. The planetary battle against terrorism (World War IV) resembles the planetary battle against communism. Baath dictatorship resembles Islamic militancy. The problem with such comparisons is not only that they are strained. They are also transparently calculated to serve a partisan political program.

Yet that assistance to other agendas need not be collusion and doesn't ipso facto make them false. Neither Lemieux nor Holmes seems interested in looking at this, however, only in dismissing it as idiocy.

If you read Qutb or Bin Laden, clearly their world-view is totalitarian. It happens to be rooted in religion, not in the essentially secular (but subversively spiritual) systems of communism and fascism -- Holmes notices this much. Yet it is just as totalitarian as they are. That the Islamist political worldview is hostile to atheist Soviet communism doesn't change their fundamental similarity as totalitarianisms. The individual is subsumed into the proposed system in a complete and total way in both.

It is totalitarian; I defy anyone to prove otherwise. And like the other great totalitarianisms of the 20th century, it insists it is the true and ultimate freedom of mankind. It sets itself in firm opposition to Western capitalism and decadent liberal democracy -- as did Hitler and Stalin.

You need not say, as some do, that the Islamists borrowed these grand, awful ideas from the West. They found them independently. Just as modern anti-globalists criticize the capitalist corporations in the same frame and terms (but with less rhetorical skill) that the Southern slaveholders of the 1850s used against the Yankee industrialists, without having any essential identity with them.

Islamism finds common cause with communism and fascism in having a common enemy -- us. Like fascism, it is full of yearning for a mythical past golden age, it despises and fears Jews as the authors of conspiracies. Like Soviet communism, it is deeply (if often hypocritically) collectivist, socialist. Both of those come from Islam itself. You need not posit a Western source, though the convergence does, perhaps, help explain the perverse fondness of certain fringes in our society for certain fringes in theirs.

What you're left with in considering the totalitarianism question -- and what some have said, though not Lemieux and Holmes, as far as I read them -- is that the difference is, both fascism and communism had control of powerful nation-states, while Islamists do not. Yet.

[Shortly after 9/11 the satirical newspaper site "The Onion" ran a story to the effect of George W. Bush offering to buy Osama a country and build him a capital -- so we could bomb it to the stone age.]

I suppose the reason Berman's critics don't go there is that it re-elevates Islamism to the level of the great 20th century mass killing ideologies -- where Berman has placed it. For there was a time when they, too, were not yet empowered.

Which is an interesting parallel path to consider. If you were the leader of America in the 1920s, and you foresaw the rise of Hitler and his party, how would you have stopped him? Invade Germany? Or do something to reverse the economic despair and political impotence felt by the German people? Or both? Could it have worked? Or do you have to wait for the dictator to complete his rise to power and reveal himself?

America and other powers did try to halt the rise of Soviet communism through military intervention. But, like Iraq today, the American people soon lost track of the point of what seemed an endless mission to nowhere, and they complained to Congress and Army morale suffered, and we gave it up.

The difference, of course, was that Iraq in 2003 was not at imminent threat of becoming the next Islamist nation. Saudi Arabia or Pakistan would have been high on that list. But Iraq seemed to be, as I've said, not a bad place to begin to do something to reverse the economic despair and political impotence felt by the Arab Muslim people. To this day, I have no idea exactly why George W. Bush went to war. But that was my reason -- that and the lesson that you have to clean up the messes you leave behind after wars (as we didn't do in the Civil War and World War I and the Cold War, and we paid and continue to pay the price).

One of the principal criticism leveled at Berman is that he insists on some sort of Saddam-9/11 connection. This is one of the most frustrating topics for me. Of course there was a connection. But it's nothing like people imagine, whether they insist on it or they mock the very idea of it. It was a clear, explicit connection, stated plainly time and time again by Bin Laden himself, both before and after the attack.

Here, for instance, in the interview he gave to Al-Jazeera correspondent Tayseer Alouni in October 2001:

When we kill their innocents, the entire world from east to west screams at us, and America rallies its allies, agents, and the sons of its agents. Who said that our blood is not blood, but theirs is? Who made this pronouncement? Who has been getting killed in our countries for decades? More than 1 million children, more than 1 million children died in Iraq and others are still dying. Why do we not hear someone screaming or condemning, or even someone's words of consolation or condolence?

The sufferings of the Iraqi people -- under the U.N. sanctions regime as a result of the Gulf War -- always figured high on his short list of specific grievances against the West. Whether he felt that sincerely or not, I can't say. But the suffering was real, Saddam's continuance in power was the cause of it, and the U.N. sanctions only hurt the innocent while the guilty prospered by bribing their way through them. Saddam most of all.

Somehow I suspect that won't make it into the histories, as written by the victors.

Labels: , ,