Thursday, January 31, 2008

War Made New

Retired U.S. general in Iraq says, let my soldiers blog. Without further ado, Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV:

The public may have an appetite for the sensational, but when it comes to their men and women in uniform, they also have a very strong desire to hear their personal stories. They want to know what it is like, what the Soldiers are experiencing, and how the Soldiers feel about their mission. That is why we must encourage our Soldiers to interact with the media, to get onto blogs and to send their YouTube videos to their friends and family. When our Soldiers tell/share their stories, it has an overwhelmingly positive effect.

... A suggestion for consideration might be equipping unit leaders with camcorders to document operations but also daily life. The enemy video tapes operations and then distorts and twists the information and images to misinform the world. What if we had documented video footage of the same operations which refuted what our enemies say? By the way, that is not enough, we have to get our images out FIRST! The first images broadcast become reality to viewers. If we wait until we see the enemy’s images, we are being reactive and we have already squandered the opportunity.

Crimes Against the Young

Garrison Keillor on politics and public schools.

Reading is the key to everything. Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society. That 27 percent are at serious risk of crippling illiteracy is an outrageous scandal.

This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. Face it, the schools are not run by Republican oligarchs in top hats and spats but by perfectly nice, caring, sharing people, with a smattering of yoga/raga/tofu/mojo/mantra folks like my old confreres. Nice people are failing these kids, but when they are called on it, they get very huffy. When the grand poobah Ph.D.s of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out.

There is much evidence that teaching phonics really works, especially with kids with learning disabilities, a growing constituency. But because phonics is associated with behaviorism and with conservatives, and because the Current Occupant has spoken on the subject, my fellow liberals are opposed.

Liberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to. This was true of my grandson; it is demonstrably not true of many kids, including my sandy-haired, gap-toothed daughter. The No Child Left Behind initiative has plenty of flaws, but the Democrats who are trashing it should take another look at the Reading First program. It is morally disgusting if Democrats throw out Republican programs that are good for children. Life is not a scrimmage. Grown-ups who stick with dogma even though it condemns children to second-class lives should be put on buses and sent to North Dakota to hoe wheat for a year.

A Short Hitch

[no one's ever going to read this all. But what the hell.]

I so often agree with Christopher Hitchens -- moreso perhaps than any other modern commentator -- that I overlook our occasional differences. I've been aware all along that we have a major one over the role of Confederate symbols in America, and Hitchens recently revisited his passions on the topic in this column criticizing Huckabee for allegedly rallying around the wrong flag.

Some people asked me privately what I thought about that. I told them, whether Huckabee is pandering or not is a question I can't answer. But what he's addressing is a real and complicated issue for a lot of people. He was trying to tap into the vague resentment of more than a few people among the native white population of the South, that they have been short-shrifted and disrespected by the rest of America.

And I have come to agree with them over time, though I'm of the class that typically shortens the shrift.

And frankly I understand how, after seeing themselves so often blamed for every other wrong turn in American history, so many of the old Scots-Irish stock in the South have come to embrace the label of "rebels" and to revel in their orneriness, and to cling the more fiercely to symbols the more other people try to wrench them out of their hands.

Hitchens is seeing America as an Englishman. The regional differences among us don't matter so much to him. That allows him to see certain unpleasant qualities in the American DNA as mere quirks or malignant moles that can be isolated and purged.

He also writes as a convert to Americanism, and a fairly recent one. And may the gods bless him as a fearless defender of America in dens where it has few friends. But that, combined with his Englishness, makes him committed to the America of the present. And modern America, structurally and fundamentally, is a product of the North's victory in the Civil War.

The Confederates strove mightily against it and tried to break up the Union rather than see it become what it has. Thus I suspect Hitchens is inclined to lump them in with the rest of the modern-day anti-Americans and dismiss them as mere traitors. In the words of his column, they are "those who attempted to destroy the Union by force, and those who solicited the help of foreign powers in order to do so."

[In a way, he's right: The Southern critique of Northern mercantile capitalism anticipates every basic charge of the modern anti-globalization movement, and was written with more verve and skill than anything of the kind today.]

But to those of us born and raised and rooted here in the U.S., the past matters. We have to live in the mansion, with the ghosts and the mortgage as well as the silverware and the pride.

We know what America is today, and has been in the last century. And we can look at what America was in the generation of the founders, and we can read their vision for it. And we can see the wrenching turn in the nation's destiny that stands between us and them.

Before the seats vacated in 1861 by the Southern congressmen were cold, the economic order of the United States had been turned on its head: the tariff had taken off on an upward trajectory that would leave even industrialists breathless. The nation's resources were thrown open to private profit; and the whole banking and monetary system was revamped to suit investors and creditors. A tax scheme was created that weighed against the small consumers, the North's factories (and even its army) were thrown open to immigrant contract labor, and the federal government was using the U.S. military to put down labor strikes. Congress and the President gave another 100 million acres to various railroads, free of charge.

After the war, Reconstruction had far more to do with reordering the South as a section and reducing it to the status of a financial-industrial colony than with black people. Fear, vengeance, love of union, and interest in civil rights may have played a part in Reconstruction, but it seems clear, especially after the 1876 election, that what the South suffered had much more to do with the establishment of permanent Republican party control, tariff protection, and rigging the nation's financial arrangements to suit bankers, creditors, and New England industrialists.

Midwestern farmers, the same men who swelled Sherman's army that broke the South, bore the brunt of the new order and soon found themselves being herded into the same colonial status the South had resisted, in vain. By the time William Jennings Bryan and others rose up to defend them, in rhetoric reminiscent of John C. Calhoun, it was too late. The country had been turned over to foreclosing banks and greedy railroads so thoroughly that Missourians were ready by 1880 to make a hero of a murderous ex-Confederate named Jesse James.

After the war, state legislatures trying to protect their people against predatory trusts and capitalists were thwarted by the Supreme Court, which swept away state laws to regulate corporations (230 in 1886 alone), using the argument that corporations were "persons," and thus protected by the due process clause of the 14th amendment. Between 1890 and 1910, of all the 14th amendment cases brought before the Supreme Court, 19 dealt with black people, and 228 with corporations.

That's what America bought with four years of hell and 10 years of civil enslavement of the South. Even in New York City in the 1850s a respectable fortune was a few hundred thousand dollars. In the next generation, of "Robber Barons," of big fortunes and big depressions, men like Rockefeller and Carnegie were able to amass countless millions. The culture that gave birth to Washington and Jefferson was branded as backwards and immoral. The sectional balance cherished in the vision of Madison and Hamilton was swept away in the name of greed.

Having written books about the Civil War, I've spent a fair amount of time debating the question of Confederate symbolism in modern America (usually from the minority bench). Hitchens in his column goes even further than most American battle-flag-opponents when he asserts the Battle Flag -- the Southern soldiers' flag -- is somehow more racist and offensive than the political flag of the CSA ("Stars and Bars," also known as the "First National") in a Civil War context. The slaveholders were the political leaders of the South; three-fourths of the Southern army never owned a slave (and there were a handful of blacks who actually fought in it). Most people who consider the thing historically, even those hostile to modern use of the Battle Flag, would reverse his judgement.

This matter of scraps of colored cloth and the soldiers who carried them and died with them is almost too complex to be understood by anyone who wasn't there. I write that as someone who has spent a great deal of time trying to understand it.

Consider the corporal who was color-bearer for a Pennsylvania regiment preparing to charge toward the Peach Orchard at Gettysburg on the second day. His brigadier, on horseback, wanted to take that flag to lead the charge, to hold it up as a necessary rallying point for the thousand men ranked behind him in the smoke and brush.

The corporal would not let go. He knew this was his commanding officer. He knew it was a direct order. But his mind had vowed he would hold that staff or die in the attempt. They actually argued about it for a while as the shells fell and the bullets pinged, and in the end the general did carry the flag -- but the corporal clung to his pants leg the whole way. Both somehow survived. So did the horse, I think.

I remember reading about a veteran's encounter, long after the war, with an old chap who had once commanded a brigade in the Union's 2nd Corps -- Hancock's Corps. The old general pulled out a red flannel trefoil, the kind the 2nd Corps soldiers had worn on their caps, and said, "When I feel homesick and downhearted, I take this out and look at it, and it cheers me up."

Walt Whitman, who got to watch the war from close range, was a strong partisan for the North's cause. He as much as any man helped elevate Lincoln to sainthood in the national memory. And, like anyone who stood close enough to the war to really see it, he knew that "The grand soldiers are not comprised in those of one side any more than the other."

At the War Department a few days ago I witnessed a presentation of captured flags to the Secretary. Among others, a soldier named Gant, of the 104th Ohio Volunteers, presented a Rebel battle flag, which one of the officers stated to me was borne to the mouth of our cannon and planted there by a boy but seventeen years of age, who actually endeavored to stop the muzzle of the gun with fence rails. He was killed in the effort, and the flagstaff was severed by a shot from one of our men ....

To the men who fought under it, or against it, the Confederate battle flag wasn't a symbol of some abstract idea -- slavery or racism (a word not even invented in the 19th century) or some fine point of constitutional law. That was not their flag. Their flag was a square of real cotton, stained in real colors, that stood for nothing more than what this group of young men meant to one another. It was a square of cloth perforated by the same bullets that had punched through the bodies of their friends. That's the soldier's flag. It doesn't belong to the senator or the race baiter or the armchair historian or the war profiteer.

I suspect the Northern soldiers, if any were alive to tell us, would vehemently agree that honor should be shown to the rebel fighting men. And that the flag that the Southern soldiers, living, upheld in battle should not be surrendered to ignorant, hateful, selfish people.

I think Whitman would agree, too:

I am very warmly disposed toward the South; I must admit that my instinct of friendship towards the South is almost more than I like to confess. I have very dear friends there -- sacred, precious memories; the people there should be considered, even deferred to, instead of browbeaten. I feel sore, I feel some pain, almost indignation, when I think that yesterday keeps the old brutal idea of subjugation on top.

I would be the last to confuse moral values -- to imagine the South impeccable. I don't condone the South, where it has gone wrong -- its Negro slavery, I don't condone that -- far from it -- I hate it. I have always said so, South and North; but there is another spirit dormant there which it must be the purpose of our civilization to bring forth; it cannot, it must not, be killed.

People who support the validity of the Confederate battle flag as a regional icon, and who are capable of articulating their reasons, often do so because the flag stands legitimately for the soldiers and common folk of the CSA, who were by anyone's measure a valiant and determined people embodying much of the best of America, North or South.

They may also see it as representing many of the qualities that the Southern soldiers fought for (as historians have determined them from contemporary writings), such as resistance to tyranny, regional distinctiveness, honor, and republican virtues. This approach sees the flag as a historic symbol, rooted in the Civil War experience of Southern people.

The Battle Flag was run up by the segregationist and proudly racist "Dixiecrats" at their convention in Birmingham in 1948. But the Battle Flag's use as a modern symbol of defiance to the federal government goes back no further than that. For the previous 80-some years, it had been the veterans' flag, used almost exclusively at CSA commemorations. Frankly, the Dixiecrats got the wrong flag. The First National would have better suited their purpose. But they at least recognized what Johnston and Beauregard saw in the Battle Flag: it was a colorful and stirring cloth to rally around.

The Dixiecrat convention did not invent a symbol; they took one that had existed for decades, and gave it their purpose. Just like the Klan did when it marched under the Stars and Stripes. A whole lot of trouble could have been avoided if, in 1948 or 1956, the many Southern white people who felt a strong sense of regional heritage and historical pride had objected to this hijacking of their flag. If it had been kept as the soldiers' flag, and not the politicians', the case for keeping it today would be obvious. But the mistake was made; partly, I think, because the Dixiecrat pitch to the voters was put in terms of defending the state from Northern hegemony, rather than as pure race-baiting.

[If I would agree on banning the Battle Flag at any level, it would be on the bumpers and windows of Northern idiots who take it, again, and twist it to suit their personal psychodrama. Whenever I see it up here, I just think, "bad attitude." It's an insult to the flag for wanna-be Rebels with not an ounce of Southern blood, and not a scrap of dignity about anything, to be wrapping it around their license plates.]

If you want to see real integration in America, go to Southern cities. If you want to see meaningful integration, leave the North and go to states where the black population is 40 or 50 percent, not 4 or 5 percent. American diversity is down there, and it's a legacy of the civil rights movement, which, in the South at least, ultimately realized that you can't just push all the "crackers" into a hole somewhere and put the lid on them. They're part of the landscape, too.

And they get blamed for too much. I have seen many non-Southerners who gloss right over the fact that slavery, racism, and segregation were national experiences. To them, nothing done outside the South really counts as racism since, well, it wasn't the South. A lot of them live in comfortable suburban neighborhood up North where there's not a black face for 10 miles in any direction.

Too many people shift the blame for America's modern race mess, and its violent past, onto that one-third of the nation that lies below the Mason-Dixon Line. This psychological shell game absolves the whole by cheating a part. Scapegoating the South trains the mind to think the race problem is one that happens somewhere else, in someone else's town. Particularly, it encourages those of us outside the South to overlook our own communities. It ignores the oft-told truth -- told by Frederick Douglass and Alexis de Tocqueville and Martin Luther King Jr. -- that racism in the Northern cities has always been far more virulent than that in the Southern countryside.

Trash-talking the South also incidentally sanctifies a New England-based political and moral culture that is the root of much that is wrong in modern America. The North was a great deal more than just abolitionists and Freedom Riders, just as the South was more than the slave auction block and the lynch mob. Manichaean history does no justice to America's complexity.

Those who make the mistake of treating modern American racism as some perverse peculiarity of Southern white culture often make the same mistake about slavery. Slavery originally existed in all the colonies (as well as European, Middle Eastern, and African nations). In the United States, it took root in one region and not the other; an accident of climate and geographical economics having nothing to do with inherent moral qualities. Slavery was profitable, and its profits enriched all sections of late 18th and early 19th century America. The South was stripped and plundered and impoverished after 1865, but Northern communities and institutions still enjoy the legacy of their wealth.

Consider the usual story of desegregation in America. May 17, 1954, is supposed to be the day everything changed in the South. That's when Earl Warren delivered the unanimous opinion in Oliver Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas, and destroyed all the legal foundations of segregation.

In fact, it changed nothing. The court took its time in writing the decree of implementation, which did not come until May 31, 1955. And that decree set no deadlines for compliance, was sympathetic to local issues, placed responsibility on local school authorities, and put federal district courts in charge of assuring "good faith implementation."

Segregationists rejoiced, because those district court judges were in many cases home-grown men who might easily decide a "reasonable time" for desegregation was 200 years.

But they didn't. By January 1956, in 19 decisions, the lower courts upheld the end of segregation and stressed the need for a "prompt and reasonable" beginning to the process. In Louisiana, for example, J. Skelly Wright, New Orleans born and bred, shot down the state legislature's plan to circumvent Brown and save segregation. And the work of desegregation began in ernest in school districts in many place.

That's when the mass segregationist backlash began: After the white Southern courts and white Southern school boards began to work (without a National Guardsman in sight and Ike all but publicly saying he wouldn't use them), not after the Brown decision itself. All that's left out, along with the fact that more than 1,000 black students were admitted to formerly all-white colleges and universities in the South without a hint of violence before the University of Alabama riot of Feb. 6, 1956.

Yet as the story is told now, the entire white South was dragged into the Civil Rights movement by the Freedom Riders, the Supreme Court, the NAACP, and federal bayonets.

A while ago I had the honor to work with the family of one of the central, if relatively unsung, heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Frances Freeborn Pauley, whose lifework was mostly done in Georgia, happened to die up here, where her daughter lives. I helped them put together the obituary notice for the local newspaper. I confess, I had not heard of her before.

Her daughter gave me a copy of Pauley's autobiography, and it's delightful reading: direct, positive, determined. Pauley grew up in segregated Georgia and became a champion of civil rights. Friend of Martin Luther King Jr., consummate political organizer and activist. She had already been at it for more than a decade by the time Julian Bond, former NAACP head, got to know her. Bond was the source of the quip that became the title of her autobiography: "Everybody's Grandmother & Nobody's Fool."

Among the things that impressed me about Pauley: after desegregation was achieved, she didn't go to work dragging down Confederate symbols wherever she found them; she devoted the last decades of her life to battling poverty, AIDS, and the other real scourges of the families of poor Southerners.

I picked a passage from her book, literally at random, to show you the Civil Rights movement through her eyes. It is in the chapter where the struggle to integrate schools has moved from Georgia to Mississippi.

I always used to say they had three Mississippis. They had one Mississippi in the Delta, and they had another Mississippi on the coast, and another Mississippi around Jackson. You can't summarize something as being typically Mississippi, and I had cases throughout the state. There were various kinds of superintendents and various kinds of school boards.

The coast was always the easiest place. They were the most tolerant of each other, and you'd find real desegregation. You'd find some places where blacks and whites would really be living on the same street. It seemed to me that the southern part of the state was much less rigid and much less prejudiced than the Delta. The Jackson area was a lot more like Georgia; it was pretty much the same as integration in Georgia -- some powerfully mean segregationists, and also some other people that were trying really hard to have the situation smooth and that weren't really prejudiced.

I found Mississippi better than Georgia, by the way. Usually they didn't want conflict; they wanted everything to be smooth. It wasn't that they weren't dedicated to integration or segregation; they just wanted a good school system and they wanted it to move smoothly. In Mississippi I found fewer of what I call the armchair liberals. Very liberal in their talk, but they weren't going to get out of their chair and do anything. In Mississippi it seems to me that more people, if they felt that way, were apt to try to put it into motion. It was easier to work with white people in Mississippi, because you knew what side they were on.

I remember one man who was on a school board who helped us work out a plan for his district. He had sent his children to some kind of integrated summer program with black and white teachers. His son had some words, got into some trouble, and came back. This man took his son back to find out what happened. He found out his son had been rude to a black teacher. He went back home, and he said, "We're teaching our children to lie, and we're not teaching our children the truth. My child is going to apologize to that teacher and my child is going to the integrated school." This man's whole sense of values was good and honest. Lots of people were like that, and some of them were brave enough to stand up, like he did, and work for it. And his community desegregated schools smoothly.

You see, everyone had been brought up under "separate but equal," and that was the law. If you were a law-abiding citizen, you'd been taught that the blacks eat here, and sit there, and drink out of this fountain. You didn't think about it in any moral, or immoral, way. At least I didn't as I came up. You just hunt for the restroom that says, "White Women," just like you hunt for something that says, "Restroom." It doesn't have any moral effect on you until you begin to think about it and work on it. And then you see how crushing it was. The man who was just a good citizen obeying the law, going along, and then all of a sudden he saw, with a flash maybe, that segregation was wrong. A lot of them helped to change it.

Now, this woman is no apologist for anything. She went toe-to-toe with Herman Talmage and the hardest of the hard-core racists, and she didn't flinch. But so much of this book is stories just like those told above. Native-born Southern white woman working with native-born Southerners, black and white, reasoning together with a shared sense of decency to accomplishing the work of desegregation. Not a Freedom Rider in sight. Not a bullhorn or a German shepherd or a firehose water cannon in the chapter.

Where is this side of the story in the textbooks? Where is it told in the museums or the PBS specials? How many times did it happen like that, for every time it exploded in bombs and blood?

This is the same Mississippi, mind you, that was dragged back and forth through the mud a few months ago over its popular vote to keep the Battle Flag element in its state flag.

In the interest of historical truth, I'm for telling Pauley's stories of thousands of decent, average white folks in the South who did they part in the transition from segregation to integration. Just like I'm for telling more about the role of blacks in the Underground Railroad, which has been historically over-weighted on the side of the white folks of the North (including at least one of my ancestors) who took a hand in it.

Bond says this in his introduction to the book: "She will indignantly deny it, but she is the best of Southern Ladyhood -- that combination of sweetness and steel, magnolias and muscle that melts opposition with a smile and reasoned argument -- not a crinolined Scarlett O'Hara facsimile, but an iron-willed amazon in pantsuit and sneakers. If we'd had more Frances Pauleys, who can dream of where we would all be now?"

We love stories that put unity above conflict. No unity, no America. You'll never sell this picture of American history that paints millions of Southern whites as either dupes of scoundrels, or racist pissants. It's an even worse sell than the old patronizing history that left out the blacks (and the Indians, and the women, and the children, and the fruitbats). For one, it's worse-written; for another, it has no heroes; and worst of all, it doesn't just ignore, it demonizes. It might work in the teacher's lounges and in the seminars, but it won't play in Peoria.

If the first synthesis/reconciliation built from Civil War history -- the "Lost Cause" that forged common ground for northern whites and southern whites and excluded blacks -- was wrong and evil, why is the current synthesis/reconciliation -- the "Martyr President/Wicked Rebellion" that aligns northern whites and southern blacks to the exclusion of southern whites -- such a noble, true and helpful idea?

And why the determination to stamp out the mere suggestion of a third synthesis -- the "we're all Southerners on this bus" view that finds southern blacks and southern whites recognizing commonality in their heritage?

Maybe it's because of who gets excluded in that one.

Labels: ,

Blue Moon

Hey! Some nation is furious at some other nation for being crude and insensitive, and neither of them is the U.S.!

The Germans are so scatological? Who knew? < /irony >


Schwarzenegger to protect McCain in California.

That's good, and just in time. Because not only does he have Chuck Norris on his tail, Hillary's got Mecha-Streisand:

Look for this to get very, very ugly.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Labyrinth of Forgetting


Because before it was disbanded, the Stasi shredded or ripped up about 5 percent of its files. That might not sound like much, but the agency had generated perhaps more paper than any other bureaucracy in history — possibly a billion pages of surveillance records, informant accounting, reports on espionage, analyses of foreign press, personnel records, and useless minutiae. There's a record for every time anyone drove across the border.

In the chaos of the days leading up to the actual destruction of the wall and the fall of East Germany's communist government, frantic Stasi agents sent trucks full of documents to the Papierwolfs and Reisswolfs — literally "paper-wolves" and "rip-wolves," German for shredders. As pressure mounted, agents turned to office shredders, and when the motors burned out, they started tearing pages by hand — 45 million of them, ripped into approximately 600 million scraps of paper.


As the enforcement arm of the German Democratic Republic's Communist Party, the Stasi at its height in 1989 employed 91,000 people to watch a country of 16.4 million. A sprawling bureaucracy almost three times the size of Hitler's Gestapo was spying on a population a quarter that of Nazi Germany.

Unlike the prison camps of the Gestapo or the summary executions of the Soviet Union's KGB, the Stasi strove for subtlety. "They offered incentives, made it clear people should cooperate, recruited informal helpers to infiltrate the entire society," says Konrad Jarausch, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "They beat people up less often, sure, but they psychologically trampled people. Which is worse depends on what you prefer."

That finesse helped the Stasi quell dissent, but it also fostered a pervasive and justified paranoia. And it generated an almost inconceivable amount of paper, enough to fill more than 100 miles of shelves. The agency indexed and cross-referenced 5.6 million names in its central card catalog alone. Hundreds of thousands of "unofficial employees" snitched on friends, coworkers, and their own spouses, sometimes because they'd been extorted and sometimes in exchange for money, promotions, or permission to travel abroad.


The truth is, for Poppe the reconstructed documents haven't contained bombshells that are any bigger than the information in the rest of her file. She chooses a black binder and sets it down on the glass coffee table in her living room. After lighting a Virginia Slim, she flips to a page-long list of snitches who spied on her. She was able to match codenames like Carlos, Heinz, and Rita to friends, coworkers, and even colleagues in the peace movement. She even tracked down the Stasi officer who managed her case, and after she set up a sort of ambush for him at a bar — he thought he was there for a job interview — they continued to get together. Over the course of half a dozen meetings, they talked about what she found in her files, why the Stasi was watching her, what they thought she was doing. For months, it turned out, an agent was assigned to steal her baby stroller and covertly let the air out of her bicycle tires when she went grocery shopping with her two toddlers. "If I had told anyone at the time that the Stasi was giving me flat tires, they would have laughed at me," she says. "It was a way to discredit people, make them seem crazy. I doubted my own sanity sometimes." Eventually, the officer broke off contact, but continued to telephone Poppe — often drunk, often late at night, sometimes complaining about his failing marriage. He eventually committed suicide.


Maple Leaf Stasi

Via a tip from Reader, I've been reading the indictment of Mark Steyn, and the magazine that published him, in Canada for "Islamophobia." The story's been fairly well documented in the blogs, but if you haven't read the actual allegation, take the time to do so.

I especially wish our neo-progressive friends could read it, all the while changing, say, "Muslim" to "Christian" in their minds every time they encounter the word. I doubt many will. But perhaps even a bigoted partisan can feel the ice from an attempt to silence a magazine because a writer seems to believe "Oriana Fallaci is really a fearless and heroic figure who is being harassed by law enforcement for no good reason."

This is a woman who took up a gun and fought fascists in her teens; worked as a war correspondent in Vietnam; and was shot, dragged down stairs by the hair, and left for dead by Mexican armed forces during the 1968 riots. She was one of the only journalists of any gender who ever busted Henry Kissinger's balls in an interview. So go and dismiss her bravery and earn my further contempt. Not that you care. As a writer and an infidel, I already am your sworn enemy, as you are mine.

I don't care who you vote for, reader. I don't care what faith you have, or none. If you are a "reader," that is common ground enough between us. Read this report, and take a stand.

I never want to hear from a Canadian again about America's "fascism" and "repression." Just like I never want to hear from a European about our support of Israel (a nation made necessary by Europe's incurable taste for pogroms).

Here's the short list of the transgressions:

It is submitted that Macleans’ publications vis-à-vis the Muslim community are: (1) promoting Islamophobia and fear of Muslims; (2) representing Muslims as violent people who are prone to engage in violence and are incapable of living peacefully in their host societies; (3) casting suspicion on Muslims at large as potential terrorists, extremists, and radicals; (4) representing the presence and growth of Muslims in Western societies as a threat to the Western values of democracy, freedom, and human rights; (5) Attempting to import a racist discourse and language into mainstream discourse in Canadian society; (6) Attacking multiculturalism and religious freedoms; (7) attacking laws that provide protection to identifiable communities from the type of discriminatory journalism that Macleans is engaging in; (8) condemning any and all efforts by politicians, law enforcement, media and other institutions to reach out to Muslim communities and to exercise sensitivity.

Here are some of the details on #5, "Attempting to import a racist discourse and language into mainstream discourse in Canadian society." This consists of "the publication of alleged statements of facts and generalizations about Muslims which can only be described as racist and xenophobic" and of "an attempt to promote the work of writers and 'intellectuals' broadly recognized as promoting hatred and Islamophobia."

Among the evidences for this sin are these:

  • The assertion that Muslims utilize useful products imported from the West while providing only extremism and terrorism in return.

  • The assertion that Canadian Muslims have a culture and “community of religion” in which they hand over their children to radical imams so that they may be radicalized.

  • The assertion that Muslims are prone to going berserk, that a Muslim mob is one of the easiest things to ignite, and that Muslims are prone to rioting.

  • A recognized Islamophobe (Oriana Fallaci), broadly recognized by several European countries and global institutions as a promoter of hate and racism against European Muslims, is depicted as a heroic figure who is trying to save Europe from an impending Muslim takeover and whose views need to be paid attention to by Canadians.

  • Recognized Islamophobes such as Robert Ferrigno, Bruce Bawer, and Claire Berlinski are accorded broad coverage. The credentials and qualifications of these individuals are praised in order to convey their racist views as fact and truth and in order to provide them the guise of legitimacy.

In other words, if you should even suspect any of those statements may be broadly true, you had better zip your lip when you cross our northern border. Just nod politely and explain you have no opinions that are worthy of suspicion.

Note particularly the last two. Muslims went gunning for Fallaci in Europe's courts, while she died a Cassandra, defending the exceptional dignity of the West and decrying what she saw happening in Europe. Once they succeed in getting some spineless judge to affix the "Islamophobe" label to her there, they will carry that to Canada and used to muzzle anyone who praises her work.

With Bawer and the other two, the equation is reversed, since the muzzlers have got the label in place first, before most people have heard of these writers. There, they can play the defensive game. "We've called these people Islamophobes, therefore any attempt to promote their writing or define them as anything but Islamophobes is itself Islamophobia."

Here, by the way, is the latest from the "Islamophobe" Bawer:

One familiar response is: “Well, non-Muslims beat up gays, too!” Yep – indeed they do. Yet for a while there, in much of Western Europe, homosexuality was on its way to being a non-issue. In Amsterdam in the late 1990s, I was delightfully surprised to discover that when groups of straight teenage boys passed gay couples in the streets, they just walked past without any reaction whatsoever. The sight of gay people didn’t upset, threaten, amuse, or confuse them; the familiar, insecure urge to respond to open homosexuality with some kind of distancing, disdainful word or gesture – and thereby affirm to one another, and to themselves, their own heterosexual credentials – was simply not part of those kids’ makeup. For me, it was a remarkable experience. Amsterdam then seemed to me the leading edge of a new wave in the progress of human civilization.

Alas, it is now very clearly the opposite. The number of reported gay-bashings in Amsterdam now climbs steadily year by year. Nearly half Muslim, the city is a front in the struggle between democracy and sharia, under which, lest it be forgotten, homosexuality can be a capital offense. Things have gotten so bad there that even on the part of the exceedingly politically correct, there has been a degree of acknowledgment that something has changed, and is still changing. After a group of Amsterdam Muslims beat up Chris Crain, the six-foot-five editor of the gay newspaper The Washington Blade, in May 2005, the head of the Netherlands’ leading gay-rights organization admitted that tolerance of gay people in that city was “slipping away like sand through the fingers” and that “gays and lesbians are less willing to walk hand-in-hand because they might be beaten up.”

Does that sound like an Islamophobe? Or does it sound like a gay man who wishes to live in peace and security in Europe, where he's chosen to make his home amid traditionally tolerant peoples?

Indictment #6 particularly interests me: "Attacking multiculturalism and religious freedoms." Perhaps because I'm a knuckle-dragging American, I fail to see how a modern elitist social philosophy -- multiculturalism -- ranks as equal with a natural right. Canadians are so much more advanced than me, so maybe they can explain it.

Here is the alleged crime: "A central theme of these articles is the message that multiculturalism and its social impact is facilitating a Muslim takeover of Western societies and threatening national security and Western values."

Specifically, that includes:

  • The assertion that social democratic states are susceptible to being taken over by Muslims as a result of their social democratic policies. ...

  • The assertion that a policy of multiculturalism is incapable of making Muslims citizens in the West loyal to their countries of citizenship and that it encourages Muslims to join the “Jihad” being waged by Muslims to takeover the world including the West.

  • The allegation that a growing Muslim population in Western countries facilitates the propagation of the Muslim “Jihad” against the West.

  • The allegation that Western values are under threat due to the accommodation of the religious practices and rituals of Muslims at universities and other public places.

  • The allegation that the promotion of multiculturalism in Canadian schools and universities is permitting “propaganda” to be taught, and is facilitating the Muslim takeover of Canadian society.

"Asserting" and "alleging." None of these is a statement of an activist policy or an incitement to any specific action. It is the mere observing and recording of such statements about the world as it is, or as it seems to be, that is verboten.

Also on the list are allegedly Islamophobic statements that actually are plot elements of a book of speculative fiction by Ferrigno, reviewed by Steyn. Yes, retelling the plot of a novel in a book review is now not only lazy reviewing, it's a potentially costly thought crime.

But the capstone on the whole satanic temple has to be #7: "Attacking laws that provide protection to identifiable communities from discriminatory journalism."

A prominent feature of these articles is a consistent attack on human rights codes and other laws that are meant to protect Muslims and other identifiable groups from the kind of discriminatory material being published by Maclean’s and that provides Muslims and other groups the means to seek a legal remedy when they are subjected to such discriminatory publications.

If you object to being muzzled by the state, that defines you as an enemy of the state who deserves to be muzzled.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission, one of the government bureaucracies weighing Steyn's fate, has considerable, if vague powers:

The Commission investigates complaints, attempts to facilitate a resolution between the parties if appropriate and refers matters for which a resolution cannot be found to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal which holds hearings and hands down rulings. Where appropriate, the CHRC may a prosecutorial role in Canadian Human Rights Tribunal much like a Crown Attorney.

And as Ezra Levant, who is caught in its webs and for the same reasons, notes, the process is the punishment:

Even if I was eventually acquitted, I would still lose — hundreds of hours, and tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills. That's not an accident, that's one of the tools of these commissions. Every journalist in the country has been taught a lesson: Censor yourself now, or be put through a costly wringer.

Labels: , ,

Say Good-Night, Amanda

If you're not reading Dennis the Peasant's almost-daily droll riffs on Amanda Marcotte's solipsistic, syntax-shattering, prog-feminist blogging, you're missing one of the best comedy teams since Burns and Allen.

"When I went to college, my parents were trying to get me a middle class lifestyle that is, for all intents and purposes, out of reach."

That may be a fact, but I'll wager it's due more to with having a B.A. in English - and no highly marketable skills to sell in the economy - than to any structural defects in the economy itself.

In-House Must-Read

Please take the time to read through Icepick's critique of the Bobby Fischer piece I cited, which begins in the comments here. I hope he's compiling it for a post of his own somewhere, but meanwhile, you can learn a great deal in an enjoyable style by piecing it together out of the Haloscan chopper.

I'm glad he spent his fury on the article itself, and didn't have enough left for my inferences from it, which dealt with the nature of social eccentricity and artistic genius. But some of the additional material he brings to the discussion tends in that direction, too:

Almost none of Fischer’s transgressions even come close to Aron Nimzovitch leaping upon a table and screaming “Why must I lose to this idiot?!” in the middle of a tournament hall, with other games still being played.

Heh. But that reminds me of me playing Alliance in battlegrounds on "World of Warcraft." I know it's irrational to flip the bird to a computer screen, but, well .... Which brings up the obvious fact that there are a great many antisocial eccentrics without enough of genius in them to fill an eyedropper. But there does seem to be a higher concentration of them among the great artists than among the general population.

Coincidentally, one of the examples I mentioned, Ezra Pound, gets a good, short summary here.

William Carlos Williams, a few years ahead of him at the University of Pennsylvania, noticed right away. Pound “was often brilliant,” he wrote, “but an ass.”

Then there's this, which reminded me of Icepick's account of the Nimzo incident: "He challenged the poet Lascelles Abercrombie to a duel on grounds of 'stupidity' so great it amounted to 'public menace'...”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gaza Economics

Sandmonkey sheds a little insight on something I've been wondering about since following the recent news coverage from Gaza. The Palestinians live in squalor there. And they're cut off from the jobs they used to have in Israel? So where are they getting the Benjamins to buy flashy motorcycles and all that other stuff they're pushing back home? And why are the local Egyptians in some cases going over the border the other way in search of food for their families? SM:

The poor penniless people of Gaza don't seem to be really that Penniless. Between buying basic survival necessities such as Cement, Motorcycles, and Dish receivers, they have spent almost half a billion dollars there in less than 2 weeks: 480 million dollars to be exact.

Now, them having that kind of money isn't a shock really. The people who can smuggle in weapons can also smuggle in cash and food, and everyone knows that Iran is picking up that tab, so the entire Gaza diet no money thing, well, was never really logical from the get go. But let's ignore that for a second, shall we? Let's take a closer look at what's happening economically in Al Areesh right now. In case you didn't know, the prices there have skyrocketed to ridiculous heights, with the majority of major goods scarce and economically out of reach for the average egyptian living in Sinai or out of stock.

American Idolatry

The television columnist we run (who seems to get most of his political opinions from progressive blogs and is not shy about mixing them with his reviews of TV shows), is perplexed by "American Idol." Specifically, by the abrasive British judge, Simon Cowell, and, generally, by our national masochism in his presence.

Last week, a contestant and her sister confessed to be gushing fans and handed [Simon Cowell] a note saying he was a person they wanted to meet, along with "Oprah and Obama." When Cowell read the note, he pronounced the presidential candidate's name in a way that betrayed complete unfamiliarity. Talk about living in a bubble. He also seemed to be under the impression that South Carolina was on America's West Coast. Or perhaps he was joking.

It's interesting that a judge of American talent should be so contemptuously ignorant of the American scene. Or why Americans seem so eager to be treated like dim colonists by foreign-born arbiters of taste.

He should read fewer progressive blogs and more history books, if he's really curious about that. Since Americans forced the issue of our independence, many of us have tried to cozy up to the Mother Country. The historian Allan Nevins, studying 19th century authors, has noted that "the nervous interest of Americans in the impressions formed of them by visiting Europeans and their sensitiveness to British criticism in especial, were long regarded as constituting a salient national trait."

The British, for their part, regarded Americans as mere barbarous upstarts, and British publications, widely circulated across the Atlantic, poured out invective for generations on everything they deigned to notice from the United States.

Even friendly notices of American literary works contained that peculiarly British gift: the insult wrapped in a compliment (to the effect of, "he writes surprisingly well, for an American"). But friendly notices were far between, and only Englishmen already branded as iconoclasts or outcasts (e.g. Lord Byron) or those who never had been there (Elizabeth Gaskell) openly praised Americans for anything. One of the things that marked Lord Byron as a dangerous radical was that he actually liked America and Americans, and said so.

The usual practice of British authors was to take every slander of one American by another in a hot political campaign as an absolute truism, and to present the most degraded characters from the frontier or the slum as the typical inhabitant of the United States. Or to visit America itself, and go from town to town, letting the locals put on their best appearances and offer every hospitality to the aristocratic British, then go home and write up every deformed and blundering thing they saw as representative of the whole nation. Like Frederick Marryat and Frances Trollope, they resented democracy, and took it out on America.

"Both the travelers and the literary journalists of [England]," writes Timothy Dwight, the elder, defending America, "have, for reasons which it would be idle to inquire after and useless to allege, thought it proper to caricature the Americans. Their pens have been dipped in gall, and their representations have been, almost merely, a mixture of malevolence and falsehood."

Even after the Civil War, James Russell Lowell ran into it everywhere in Europe and concluded there was no end in sight, and Americans should just ignore it.

It will take England a great while to get over her airs of patronage toward us, or even passably to conceal them. She cannot help confounding the people with the country, and regarding us as lusty juveniles. She has a conviction that whatever good there is in us is wholly English, when the truth is that we are worth nothing except so far as we have disinfected ourselves of Anglicism.

But, as the persistent popularity of the inexplicable Mr. Cowell shows, we haven't gotten over it yet.

Imagine There's No Boomers

Another reason to like the idea of an Obama-McCain race: For the first time in 16 years, an election with no baby boomer baggage being slung around. No night-sweats of Camelot claustrophobia. No panic at living in a "Groundhog Day" hippies vs. squares flashback. I know Obama is technically a boomer by three years. But those of us born in 1960 and after are only statistically, not culturally, aligned with that generation. When Teddy Kennedy endorsed him, he talked about JFK's administration as something he knew by virtue of how older people talked about it.

On Snubs

Blaming Bobby

Yes, they once showed chess matches on TV in America. And I watched. So did Leonard Cassuto, who actually went on to get good at chess, unlike me. Reading Cassuto's appreciation of Bobby Fischer, and the brief history of chess theory encapsulated in it, I realize why I sucked:

The first era of organized tournament chess, beginning in the mid-19th century, was the game's romantic period. It featured lots of pyrotechnic sacrifices: giving the queen away, for example, in order to deliver an unexpected and aesthetically pleasing checkmate. Romantic chess, one might say, privileged the search for beauty in the game.

Priorities changed in the 20th century, overturned by a group of players who prized strategy and technique, and honed a set of principles to govern the play. They were the engineers of chess, disdaining flash in favor of direct, logical demonstration of the strengths and weaknesses of a position. In bringing empirical, scientific reasoning to chess, these players sought truth over beauty. Generations of theorists (yes, chess has theorists) have built on their findings.

Yes, I was a romantic born too late. I loved gambits where I gave away half a dozen pieces or some obvious positional advantage, in exchange for some unexpected sweeping pounce on the other player's king. But the other players were dull technicians who either declined the gambits or blocked the counter-moves. I played Napoleonic tactics in a game that had become trench warfare.

Which is why nobody wanted to watch me play chess on TV. Fischer, though ...

Bobby Fischer melded the phases of chess history into a universal style. He synthesized the romantic quest for beauty with the technical search for truth at the chessboard. Reviving discarded romantic concepts with added modern strategic nuances was one of many ways Fischer honored the game's past. He is exalted by chess players around the world because his play rendered intricately beautiful conceptions with elegant lucidity, combining the art and the science of chess like no one before him. The result was innovative, rigorously logical art on a 64-square canvas.

Cassuto finds that Fischer's "searching dedication to chess ideas, executed with supreme discipline, separated him from his peers and gave his best games a crystalline beauty and a majestic clarity." And it came at a price:

That is, Bobby Fischer's chess embodied qualities that he never showed anywhere else in his life. There lies the great irony of his life and work: This eccentric man showed a surpassing sanity when he sat down to play. His chess was not only uniquely creative, but also relentlessly clear and truth seeking. Bobby Fischer at the board was everything he wasn't when he was away from it: honest, deep, respectful, and even philosophical.

But that is not so strange to anyone who has loved any artist, either intimately or from afar. Pound, Eliot, Yeats, Mozart -- their personal lives were Vaudeville comical or tragically incompetent, but the art was a pure spring only occasionally troubled by the mass mess going on all around it.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Miss Education

I have tried to warm up to Hillary Clinton as a presidential candidate, and failed. And along the way, paying attention to her look and her tone, I realized that, while she might not reject my vote, she really has no interest in me. In fact, she probably wouldn't like me at all. I'm one of those dreadful pink men who ruin the world every day. As a non-progressive male, as a non-feminist male, as an American guy who likes being male and who has done most of the guy things in life. As a male who prefers Stendhal to Toni Morrison and women's prison movies to Al Gore movies. The more she'd know me, the less she'd like me.

And when I realize that, I realize almost at once that a great many Americans, including many women and racial and sexual minorities, have always only had choices of candidates about whom they felt that way. That the person running the country viscerally and personally disliked them, once you peeled off the political veneer.

Very well; call it an education then. It doesn't incline me any more to vote for her.

Local Gumption

A wonderful report is up at Michael J. Totten's place, on Fallujah. The story there is amazing, but as is typical of his best reporting, it is not just about Fallujah. It's about all Iraq, and about Americans and Iraqis, and how they change each other, and ultimately it's about the business of being human under pressure.

This bit I particularly enjoyed, given my long-time researches into the mentalities of the American Civil War:

One Texas MP used to be a Marine. “I decided I would rather defend my state than my country,” he said jokingly. “But here I am, back in Iraq.”

After I adjusted my embed to focus specifically on Police Transition Teams, I was nearly surrounded by young men from Texas. Many seemed to instinctively understand Fallujah's infamous provincial “nationalism.”

“Fallujah pride is like Texas pride,” I heard from several MPs who, unlike Iraqis from Baghdad, didn't think that was a bad thing.

Say, if you haven't spent all of that windfall "stimulus" check from the government yet, you might want to throw a few bucks Michael's way. It probably will do you more karmic good than that flat-screen TV anyhow.


Perhaps you heard about this inspiring story:

The writer: a Jew who had fled to the French countryside seeking refuge from occupied Paris, eventually deported to Auschwitz, where she would die in a typhus epidemic soon after her arrival. The book: scribbled in minuscule letters, so as to conserve paper and ink, in a leather-bound journal that would be carried into hiding by the writer's eldest daughter. She would survive the war and keep it as a memento of her mother, once a well-known novelist, daring to read its contents only sixty years later. As we all now know, she discovered it to be a novel, or rather the first two linked novellas of an unfinished project, portraying life in occupied France almost in real time. With a history like this, how could Irène Némirovsky's Suite Francaise not have been the sleeper hit of the decade?

Now meet the seamy underside of it all:

[T]his accomplished but unexceptional novel, having acquired the dark frame of Auschwitz, posthumously capped the career of a writer who made her name by trafficking in the most sordid anti-Semitic stereotypes. As Weiss's important and prodigiously researched biography makes clear, Némirovsky was the very definition of a self-hating Jew. Does that sound too strong? Well, here is a Jewish writer who owed her success in France entre deux guerres in no small measure to her ability to pander to the forces of reaction, to the fascist right. Némirovsky's stories of corrupt Jews-- some of them even have hooked noses, no less!--appeared in right-wing periodicals and won her the friendship of her editors, many of whom held positions of power in extreme-right political circles. When the racial laws in 1940 and 1941 cut off her ability to publish, she turned to those connections to seek special favors for herself, and even went so far as to write a personal plea to Marshal Pétain. And after her arrest her husband, Michel Epstein, pleaded with the German ambassador for her release, arguing that "it seems ... unjust and illogical to me that the Germans would imprison a woman who, though originally Jewish, has no sympathy, and all her books show this ... for Judaism." About her books he was correct. But what seems even more unjust and illogical is that such a person should now be lionized as a significant writer of the Holocaust.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Suharto, Rest in _____

Suharto is dead; one of the Cold War's most confounding pro-Western dictators. The toll of his crimes was hideous. He was a fighter against national and international forces that probably would have killed as many, if not more. He allowed his country to steer from poverty to prosperity in a generation. He helped sow the seeds of deep corruption in that field of success that may yet ruin it all.

From the New York Times obituary:

Whether it was those forces or his timing, good fortune came to him. Just as the United States was becoming embroiled in Vietnam, he stood as a bulwark against Communism in Asia. The United States rewarded him with a foreign aid program that eventually amounted to more than $4 billion a year. In addition, a consortium of Western countries and Japan established an aid program that in 1994 alone totaled almost $5 billion.

In doing so, the United States, along with much of the rest of the world, showed a willingness to overlook the corruption, favoritism and violations of human rights, including the disappearance of opposition politicians, that came to characterize Mr. Suharto’s rule.

Dennis Perrin is unsparing:

From Ford to Carter to Reagan to Bush to Clinton. All averted their eyes, whistled random tunes while somehow, some way, the Indonesian state kept replenishing itself with U.S. weapons and continually found itself on the favorable end of failed diplomatic moves to end the repression and theft.

His view, like that of a good anti-Bush progressive of 2008, is limited to the U.S. As though everything wicked in the world can be laid at America's doorstep.

The Cold War featured a balanced, if divided, world. There was a limited hegemony for America in the West, but all its decisions in that time were warped by the power and designs of the other side. People who wish there were some "counterweight" to American power today somehow overlook the evidence of how destructive that situation was just a few decades ago.

Andrew Bartlett an Australian senator, prefers a world where the West doesn't have to make such demonic choices. So do I:

Without in any way ignoring the great difficulties faced in maintaining social stability in a country such as Indonesia, it is a false choice to suggest there has to be either economic development or respect for human rights. Increasing prosperity and helping people out of poverty is itself directly related to human rights.

It raises the question of just how large human rights abuses have to be before we express opposition to them. Or to put it another way, how severe do human rights abuses have to be before we cease turning a blind eye?

Suharto is linked directly to the deaths of over half a million people around the period when he first came to power in the mid-1960s. The number of East Timorese killed during the period of Indonesian occupation has been estimated at around 200 000 – around a third of the total population of the country. Major human rights abuses by sections of the Indonesian military also continued in many parts of the country – most notably in West Papua, where many more killings occurred.

Every country has failings in human rights, including Australia. However, I find it hard to accept that it is OK to just wave away massive human rights abuses as some sort of distasteful and unfortunate side-effect of maintaining political stability and economic development. Surely we can do better than that for our fellow humans, regardless of where they live.

But he seems to forget, or overlook, that there ever was such a thing as the Cold War. "Heywood J." notes a more recent candidate for consideration alongside Suharto:

Suharto was responsible for more deaths than even our modern Middle Eastern neo-Hitlerian hobgoblin himself, Saddam Hussein.

Whither the urgency, then, not to mention that Suharto received far more American weaponry and training over many years (yes, including from humanitarian demi-god Bill Clinton) than Saddam could ever have dreamed of. But then, Suharto managed to internalize most of his pathological aggression upon his own people, rather than scaring his neighbors every few years. And Saddam was merely sitting atop something we coveted, not assuring that it all passed safely through the Straits of Malacca. Priorities, people.

Or, one could go back to Bartlett's formulation and start noticing that in at least one case, for one opportunity and a matrix of reasons, the U.S., as agent of the anti-communist West, took great pains to correct its old mistake.

Meanwhile, Liberty Scott from New Zealand and not from the left, has one of the few frank and thoughtful posts I've seen on Suharto that is willing to wade into the hot sauce of ambivalence:

While speculation of what might have been may not be easy to justify, the aggressive suppression of rebellion, the military incursions into Malaysia tell that a pro-communist Indonesia was unlikely to be friendly towards an independent East Timor, and certainly not Singapore. A country led by a man supporting an axis that includes Maoist China, itself a state that had murdered and starved over 50 million, and totalitarian North Korea, was unlikely to remain peaceful, and was very likely to kill more than the thousands that already suffered under it. For saving Indonesia, south east Asia and maybe Australia from that, Suharto deserves at least some credit. Cold comfort to those caught up in the massacres, and is no excuse for the tyranny and corruption that followed.

So I wont be mourning Suharto - he was the last of Indonesia's bloody dictators. Sukarno was the one before, and oft ignored. He was better than Sukarno, for peace and for the economy, but he was only one step better. He was better as Park Chung Hee was better than Kim Il Sung - which is not an endorsement, but a realistic evaluation.

The obvious question is was he on balance good, or bad. The truth is that he was overwhelmingly bad, but had he changed after overthrowing Indonesia's emerging communism he would now be a hero. He may have saved (based on proportions killed in China) 10-20 million people by overthrowing communism, but he killed around a million doing so. Just as the string of South Korean dictators were all better than Kim Il Sung, it wasn't a high threshold to cross. A smaller positive to note is that he fought against the Japanese occupation in World War 2, and the Japanese treatment of the Dutch East Indies was far from honourable.

Bye Suharto, you dictator, murderer and thief, at least you were better than Sukarno and the inevitable communist dictatorship - but that one victory does not excuse decades of misrule.



Quick Hits

  • Michael J. has a contest for you: Are you smarter than a Reuters photo desk editor?

  • If Obama keeps winning, look for more of this. No sensible writer or editor would use a taboo race word. But there are plenty of words that fall into someone's gray area ("cakewalk"). And plenty of words that are perfectly clean, but have some fancied resemblance to taboo words ("niggardly") and thus land on some people's taboo list either because someone might use them suggestively, or because the list-compiler is just a dumbass who can't be bothered.

    So, whose list will prevail? If Obama is the agent of "change," the language is one of the likely objects.

    FWIW, it's not at all clear that the insulting word for black person that begins with jig- (and sometimes is abbreviated to just that) has any relation to the group of words that includes the verb jigger meaning "to shake up." The insult has not been traced back further than 1909. The verb comes from the old noun jig meaning "lively dance" (attested from c.1560), which is of obscure origin. This also is the source of jigsaw "vertical reciprocating saw" (1873), and thus jigsaw puzzle (1909), which was originally one with pieces cut by a jigsaw. Look for jigsaw puzzles to join the taboo list. Jigger "1.5-ounce shot glass" seems to be a different word entirely, and comes from a jigger that was an 18th century random alteration of chigger "tiny mite or flea."

  • Again with the fonts. I agree wholeheartedly with this critique.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Council Winners

Despite my confident predictions of defeat, my nominated post went down to victory in the Watchers Council voting for the week of January 25.

To be clear, it's not a book review, since I plainly state I haven't read the book. Rather it's a meditation on the themes and topics brought up by the discussion of the book, and on some of the author's comments about it. Fascism is profoundly anti-liberal, almost to the point of that being a defining statement of it. The brownshirts who brawled with communist thugs on the streets of Berlin in the '20s recognized they had more in common with each other than with the Jewish art collector or the young journalist, or any classical liberal. There is a modern political clustering in America that calls itself, and is called by its enemies, "liberal." It tends toward many ideas and notions that are antithetical to classical liberalism. This is not a fascism problem. This is a cladism problem. "Conservative" has the same difficulties nowadays, and you might as well write a book and call it "Conservative Bolshevism."

Really it was less a win than a matter of being a nose ahead of a crowded field. Seven other posts got "first place" votes, which, since you can't vote for yourself, attest to a very scattered council. They were:

  • Grim Choices Confront GOP by Right Wing Nut House, who at the time he wrote was facing the imminent withdrawal of his chosen candidate, Fred Thompson. Naturally, his view of the party's chances was a gloomy one: "The GOP is a broken party. If the next nominee could win through to victory, they would have the opportunity to place their imprint on the party for years to come. And the chances of a McCain or Romney getting that opportunity chills the bones of conservatives from all factions of the movement."

  • 'I Have A Dream' -- The Democrat's Version by Joshuapundit, which looks at the other party and delights in the train wreck of identity politics.

  • Hillanomix 101 by Wolf Howling, which is a well-versed discussion of what Hillary probably thinks about the economy of the U.S., and what ought to be done to it. It is likely right that, as Wolf concludes, she would prefer more of an EU approach to the economy. Whether she actually could accomplish her wish is another matter.

  • The Radicalization of American Politics by The Glittering Eye, a characrteristically thoughtful piece by Dave, which looks at the Democrats but really addresses both parties. His conclusion is that '60s-stype consciousness-raising about various issues or perceived threats has damaged our discourse, because "those whose consciousnesses have been raised see every event or statement through the prism of that raised consciousness. If you’ve been radicalized with respect to sexual orientation even the most innocent comment can be suspicious."

  • Di Caprio Lies and Hustles Bucks by Cheat Seeking Missiles. It's easy to pass off the humanitarian huckstering of vapid celebrities, and it is a waste of good anger to get too angry about jet-set posturing. But this post also notes the vast waste of materials likely involved in a single fund-raising campaign for what is supposed to be an organization decrying consumer waste and unsustainable practices.

  • Our Out of Control Borders: Who's Accountable? by The Education Wonks. EdWonk offers a perspective on this problem that most of us can't feel personally: "our family lives only ten miles north of the border and, for us, the consequences of our government's refusal to secure this broken down border isn't an abstraction, but an everyday fact of life as our schools, maternity wards, and hospital emergency rooms are overflowing with illegals aliens who are demanding (and getting) social services at taxpayers' expense."

  • What Is "Freedom"? by The Colossus of Rhodey, which succinctly ties together some of the recent debates about freedom -- specifically freedom of expression -- and notes the exceptions to general endorsements of freedom of expression that are made by entities as diverse as Muslim fundamentalists and the United Nations. Such as, "I believe that my freedom ends where the dignity and respect for all the prophets begins," and "Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others." [emphasis added]

Outside the council, voting was a little more coherent. The winner was Bylines of Brutality, a very funny and spot-on tu quoque from Iowahawk. It got my vote.

Votes also went to It's All Israel's Fault at Gates of Vienna; About the Anarcholibertarians at The QandO Blog, and Doctors and Death and Doctors Death, a particularly thoughtful post and a point of view not often heard, at The IgNoble Experiment.

Another vote went to The Navy's Failing China Policy at Pajamas Media. The U.S. Army and Marines have been honing and refining their tactics during the Iraq War, learning, however painfully, to discard what doesn't work and embrace what does. The Navy has had no such opportunities to test its theories in battle for a very long time. Arguably since World War II. It is well to worry that the fleets are getting rusty, and not in a literal sense.

At This Point

For me, Hillary vs. McCain probably is an R vote. Obama vs. Romney probably is a D vote. The "probably" is a hedge against future revelation, the difference between "agnostic" and "atheist." Hillary vs. Romney and Obama vs. McCain, I still have to think about.

Is It Just Me?

Or, if you walked into a house and unexpectedly found the occupant on the floor, writhing in the last throes of life, would you call:

1. A paramedic

2. A priest

3. An Olsen twin?

Friday Cat Blogging

I do not like remixes. A remix is when a guy with a digital editing program takes some dance footage and drops out the original soundtrack and substitutes one of his own. Usually a pop tune in place of the original music (which often is itself a Middle Eastern equivalent of a pop tune, but the beat values probably are more complex). I don't like the tunes they choose, and I don't like the way they treat a performance.

However, these guys often are diligent in tracking down wonderful footage that I can't find anywhere else online. Really good dancers you've never heard of. So, I pass along one such sampler, with a number of dancers in it, and I recommend you listen to it with the sound all the way down.

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Are you going to get a rebate? What will you do with it? We'll probably put it toward long-delayed home repairs. Which we've been trying to scrimp up enough money to do for more than a year now. A big set of interconnected jobs. How about you?

Tough Job of the Day

Is this guy. Caption reads:

An Egyptian border guard, right, tries to control Palestinians crossing the border after militants exploded the separated wall between Gaza Strip and Egypt early Wednesday, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008.

Tries to control? It looks like he's conducting. Then again, all they gave him is a twig, and chances are every man out there is armed with an AK or a missile.

"I'm talking to you, Hassam! Expect a phone call to your parents tonight. This will go on your permanent record. There will be no class trip to Williamsburg unless you all turn around, right now!"

Kucinich Quits

It's a shame. Every primary campaign needs a gadfly to torment the big bulls as they troop through the chutes. He was the right guy for it this year for the Democrats. As Ron Paul is for the GOP. It was shabby that the front-runners and the networks conspired to keep him out of debates, even though there was no good way to require them to do otherwise.

Someday his life will make a great movie: Rags to riches to rags to UFOs to progressive politics.

Storm Clouds

The bad news of the day is, even some of those who took the lead in arguing against Samuel Huntington's "clash of civilizations" thesis now are inclined to think he was more right than wrong. Such as Fouad Ajami: "Nearly 15 years on, Huntington’s thesis about a civilizational clash seems more compelling to me than the critique I provided at that time."

That's nothing to crow about for anyone who was convinced by Huntington the first time. His book is about the waning of the West, and about bitter hard times ahead. Ajami writes:

More ominously perhaps, there ran through Huntington’s pages an anxiety about the will and the coherence of the West — openly stated at times, made by allusions throughout. The ramparts of the West are not carefully monitored and defended, Huntington feared. Islam will remain Islam, he worried, but it is “dubious” whether the West will remain true to itself and its mission. Clearly, commerce has not delivered us out of history’s passions, the World Wide Web has not cast aside blood and kin and faith. It is no fault of Samuel Huntington’s that we have not heeded his darker, and possibly truer, vision.

Sounds About Right to Me

Saddam still wouldn't admit he had no weapons of mass destruction, even when it was obvious there would be military action against him because of the perception he did. Because, says [FBI agent George] Piro, "For him, it was critical that he was seen as still the strong, defiant Saddam. He thought that [faking having the weapons] would prevent the Iranians from reinvading Iraq," he tells [60 Minutes correspondent Scott] Pelley.

He also intended and had the wherewithal to restart the weapons program. "Saddam] still had the engineers. The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there," says Piro. "He wanted to pursue all of WMD ... to reconstitute his entire WMD program." This included chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, Piro says.

That according to the man who interrogated him after his capture. Saddam was caught in the trap of his own bluff. Had it been another time, America likely would have let him stay at the table, bluffing. Of course, sounding about right to me doesn't have to count for very much.

How precious that Saddam, who was hinted to be one of the plotters behind 9-11, seemed to in fact be the only world leader who didn't understand how it had changed all the rules in the America game, at least for a time.

Saddam Hussein initially didn't think the U.S. would invade Iraq to destroy weapons of mass destruction, so he kept the fact that he had none a secret to prevent an Iranian invasion he believed could happen.

... "He told me he initially miscalculated ... President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 ... a four-day aerial attack," says Piro. "He survived that one and he was willing to accept that type of attack."

The part about Saddam's intention all along being to revive his WMD program, and about how he clung to every component of it that he could in anticipation of that day, is hardly new and hardly worth commenting upon, except that it will astonish a great many people who will profess not to believe a word of it.

Let's Make an Ideal

Derek Chollet and Tod Lindberg lay out the case for an American foreign policy driven by our ideals; tempered by realpolitik, but not governed by it. This has been my consistent thread through the years.

The end of the Cold War made it possible as never before. Yet at the same time the end of the Cold War -- the very way the mighty Soviet Union evaporated in the face of tribal religious fanatics and spontaneous action by Polish dockworkers and East German church groups and worldwide TV cameras -- punctured the myth of the all-powerful state and the notion that military might is the sole measure of power. America's first real chance to live in the world on the strength of its ideals arrived just as the moment when America's power seemed more vulnerable than ever.

So I wonder if this dream has any hope, or if it will be stillborn. Iraq certainly set it back severely. But still it struggles to be born. Along the way, Chollet and Lindberg describe what a truly self-interested American foreign policy, bereft of ideals, would look like. It's not pretty. And it gives the lie to the many who claim we are doing such a thing already. Using "Acirema" ("America" spelled backwards), they show that such a policy would be very different from the one now pursued with regard to, say, Israel:

The policy of Acirema toward Israel is a specific case of what would be a more general revision in alliance policy. The essential question for Acirema with regard to any ally is whether Acireman security is improved, on net, as a result of the alliance. The notion of an alliance as an all-purpose mechanism for securing the cooperation of others in mutual pursuit of security objectives would need to be reassessed.

What, specifically, is the value of “cooperation”? Needless to say, Acirema will harbor no prejudice in favor of cooperation or multilateralism, instead asking whether cooperative or multilateral means would bring a benefit that Acirema cannot obtain on its own. Acirema need not be especially concerned with the opinions of states that lack the capacity to make a difference. There will be no free-riding on the provision of security, because Acirema will not enter into alliance relationships except with partners whose tangible assets improve Acireman security.

In fact, it looks a lot like the policy most nations have with regard to America -- including some of our allies in Western Europe. And in the Middle East.

Their conclusion about ideals-driven foreign policy is more upbeat than mine. But it ought to be, since they just wrote a big-assed article advocating it:

The conclusion we come to is that while an idealistic foreign policy has become harder to defend politically, it is possible to construct a forward-looking, values-based agenda that both liberals and conservatives can support. In fact, such an approach should garner more than just passive support — the policies presented above can actually serve as part of the foundation for U.S. foreign policy in the years ahead. Neither sentimental nor coldly aloof, these values comprise the core of the rules-based, liberal international order that the United States should aspire to achieve. This is about more than what we want; it is about who we are.

Yet because the political incentives against an approach to foreign policy that promotes American values remain so powerful, as we described at the outset, such a policy will not emerge on its own. Even with greater clarity about what values we want to uphold and promote, difficult questions will remain about how to do so. There will always be debates about acceptable costs and the trade-offs involved. So success will require sustained attention and steadfast leadership. With both, the American people will rise to the challenge.

I'd love to believe they're right. Which is what believing is.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I've written before about being baffled and belligerent about the tendency to blur the lines of gender.

Not sexuality; anyone who studies human history for longer than the last 120 years or so comes to realize that the division of people into "gay" and "straight" is not so rigid as we've chosen to make it.

But gender is biology. Except in cases of extreme deformity or mutilation, it is one thing or another, in a way that sexuality or race never can be.

Yet some people persist in trying to use laws to change biologies. I'm perplexed. So is Eric at Classical Values, who attempts to get behind a conservative scare campaign and finds much, in fact, to be disturbed about:

This leads to another, much more disturbing question. If I can be whatever gender I want without regard to my present anatomy, the anatomy of my birth, or my biological sex, then why do these biological limitations apply only to sex?

What about race? Is that determined biologically, or by birth? Or can that be a state of mind too?


I'd written about it from the view of language precision and common sense. The ripple effect in a culture increasingly defined by pigeonholes is one I hadn't taken up, but he has.

Labels: ,

965 Varieties

You probably didn't need me to tell you that the supposedly independent study that found 965 "false statements" by Bush officials leading up to the Iraq war found no such thing.

If you scroll through the list of "False Statements" you'll see many guesses that turned out to be wrong, and many statements about possible future events that never happened.

But you'll find many like this:

Well, my message is, is that if you harbor a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you feed a terrorist, you're a terrorist. If you develop weapons of mass destruction that you want to terrorize the world, you'll be held accountable.

That's "my message." It might be over-the-top, or illogical, but can't be "false" unless it's not, in fact, his message.

Or this:

And that can mean only one thing: It remains a dangerous regime, and it remains a regime determined to acquire these terrible weapons.

As with so many statements on the list, this is a statement about Saddam Hussein's intent with regard to dangerous weapons. And as far as I know, nobody maintains Saddam had some dramatic change of heart about them and swore never to seek them again. Instead, all the reports I have seen, including those the anti-war voices love to tout as affirming their view of the thing, state unequivocally that Saddam lusted after WMD and was going to go back to building or buying them as soon as he could worm out from under the sanctions:

Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities.

Here's another statement that somehow is characterized as "false":

And our terrorists—and the threats to America not only are from the terrorist organizations that hate freedom and kill in the name of religion; our mission also includes countries which develop weapons of mass destruction, nations with a history of brutality. If they're ever able to mate up with terrorist organizations, the free world will be threatened. And this president is not going to allow regimes such as Iran, Iraq, and North Korea to threaten our way of life.

It is a statement of what the president intends to do. It is a statement of potential threats. Where is the "falsehood" in it?

Or this one:

[Saddam] is to be concerned about, because we know that he continues to try to find the means to develop weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear programs, chemical programs, biological programs, that's what concerns us, and that's what the vice president was speaking of in his speech the other day.

We cannot pretend that this regime is one that can be trusted not to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is a problem that the world had better get serious about very soon.

Again, statements about Saddam's intentions, which are not in dispute.

Some statements on the list seem to be false. Assertions that "we have evidence" of this or that, where no such evidence has ever been produced, or where evidence produced turned out to be bad evidence, can be called false. But a great many -- a third to a half -- of the statements I read while skimming the list were like those above.

It doesn't matter. "Nine hundred sixty five" will join the list of numbers on the banners and signs of the anti-war protesters. Like "600,000." No doubt, too, "false statements" -- a carefully chosen phrase -- will morph into simple "lies."

Wish I could find a video clip of it, but here:

Mrs. Iselin: [at meal time] I'm sorry, hon'. Would it really make it easier for you if we settled on just one number?

Sen. John Yerkes Iselin: Yeah. Just one, real, simple number that'd be easy for me to remember.

[Mrs. Iselin watches her husband thump a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup onto his plate]

Sen. John Yerkes Iselin: [addressing the Senate] There are exactly 57 card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the Department of Defense at this time!

UPDATE: As predicted.

Labels: , ,

The Snowy Day

Honor student wonders why there's no snow day when it snows, calls school official to talk about it, gets an icy blast of a reply from official's wife, posts said response on line where it goes viral.

Welcome to the 21st century.

Snow days, kids and school officials have always been a delicate mix.

But a phone call to a Fairfax County public school administrator's home last week about a snow day -- or lack of one -- has taken on a life of its own. Through the ubiquity of Facebook and YouTube, the call has become a rallying cry for students' First Amendment rights, and it shows that the generation gap has become a technological chasm.

It started with Thursday's snowfall, estimated at about three inches near Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. On his lunch break, Lake Braddock senior Devraj "Dave" S. Kori, 17, used a listed home phone number to call Dean Tistadt, chief operating officer for the county system, to ask why he had not closed the schools. Kori left his name and phone number and got a message later in the day from Tistadt's wife.

"How dare you call us at home! If you have a problem with going to school, you do not call somebody's house and complain about it," Candy Tistadt's minute-long message began. At one point, she uttered the phrase "snotty-nosed little brats," and near the end, she said, "Get over it, kid, and go to school!"

Not so long ago, that might have been the end of it -- a few choice words by an agitated administrator (or spouse). But with the frenetic pace of students' online networking, it's harder for grown-ups to have the last word. Kori's call and Tistadt's response sparked online debate among area students about whether the student's actions constituted harassment and whether the response was warranted.

And so forth. Supposedly you can hear the rant here. Candy Tistadt is in horrified seclusion, having "learned a hard lesson about the long reach of the Internet."

But my favorite quote in the story is this one, from Fairfax County schools spokesman Paul Regnier, who blamed Kori, not Candy Tistadt, for having a "civility gap."

"It's really an issue of kids learning what is acceptable and not acceptable.Any call to a public servant's house is harassment," Regnier said in an interview.

[Emphasis added]

Ahem. Once upon a time, receiving the public and answering its questions about your work was an essential definition of the job of an American public servant. Even the president had to do it. Now, evidently, democracy is harassment.

Huff, Puff, and Blow

Or, not all wolves are big and bad. Some are small-minded and smug and work in educational bureaucracies in Britain.

A story based on the Three Little Pigs has been turned down from a government agency's annual awards because the subject matter could offend Muslims.

The digital book, re-telling the classic fairy tale, was rejected by judges who warned that "the use of pigs raises cultural issues".

Becta, the government's educational technology agency, is a leading partner in the annual schools award.

The judges also attacked Three Little Cowboy Builders for offending builders.

The book's creative director, Anne Curtis, said that the idea that including pigs in a story could be interpreted as racism was "like a slap in the face".

The CD-Rom digital version of the traditional story of the three little pigs, called Three Little Cowboy Builders, is aimed at primary school children.

But judges at this year's Bett Award said that they had "concerns about the Asian community and the use of pigs raises cultural issues".

... The feedback from the judges explaining why they had rejected the CD-Rom highlighted that they "could not recommend this product to the Muslim community".

They also warned that the story might "alienate parts of the workforce (building trade)".

The judges criticised the stereotyping in the story of the unfortunate pigs: "Is it true that all builders are cowboys, builders get their work blown down, and builders are like pigs?"

Labels: ,