Friday, February 29, 2008

Church and Estate

Churchgoing and divorce. A Michigan appellate judge counts one parent's churchgoing as a factor in favor of the parent's custody claim.

More here and here and, uh, here.


Economy Etymology

Because I'm too wrapped up in work crap to be creative, and for you people who like this stuff better anyhow:

For all its voodoo power, economy is a most humble word. It means nothing more, etymologically, than "household management." The lowly benedict trying to balance diapers and beer on one paycheck is participating in it as fully as -- and more accurately than -- the multinational corporation.

In fact, when the word first appeared in English, in Henry VIII's day, it meant just that: "household management."

It comes via Latin from Greek oikonomia. It's an abstract noun from oikonomos "manager, steward, superintendent."

In ancient Greece, an oikonomos usually was a freed-man or a slave. He was a sort of head servant in the family, and the master of the house (who often would be away on civic duties) entrusted him with day-to-day management, receipts and expenditures, and payments to other servants.

The sense of the word expanded in Hellenistic times to include superintendents of finances of the city-states and treasurers of kings. It also was used figuratively for "a preacher of the Gospel" in early Christian writing.

Economy in the sense of "manage the resources of a country" is short for political economy. The single word in that sense is attested in English from 1651. Economical (1780) retains the sense "characterized by thrift," but economic (1835) means "related to the science of economics."

Oikonomos is a compound of oikos "house" and nomos "managing," from the verb nemein "to manage."

Oikos comes from the ancient Proto-Indo-European word *weik- meaning "clan," which yielded the words for "house" or "village" in many languages, for instance Old English wic "dwelling, village," which is not much used nowadays in Standard English but forms an element in many place names. The same root perhaps provides the first element in viking, if, as some think, they were named for their temporary camps or habitations while out raiding.

Also in the family are Latin villa "country house, farm," vicus "district, village, group of houses;" Sanskrit vesah "house," vit "dwelling, house, settlement;" Avestan vis "house, village, clan;" Old Persian vitham "house, royal house;" Old Church Slavonic visi "village;" Gothic weihs "village;" and Lithuanian viešpats "master of the house."

A relative that has made its way into English, via the Latin line, is vicinity, from Latin vicinitas "of or pertaining to neighbors or a neighborhood," from vicinus "neighbor, neighboring," from vicus. Another, obviously, is village, from Old French village "houses and other buildings in a group" (usually smaller than a town), from Latin villaticum "farmstead" (with outbuildings), a noun use of the neuter singular of villaticus "having to do with a farmstead or villa."

Less obvious is villain, which meant "base or low-born rustic" when it got into English around 1300. The source, via Old French, is Medieval Latin villanus "farmhand," from villa. The sense evolution, as summarized by etymologist Ernest Klein, is "inhabitant of a farm; peasant; churl, boor; clown; miser; knave, scoundrel."

Less obvious still are some of the other descendants of Greek oikos that still crop up in English. Such as ecology (coined in German by zoologist Ernst Haeckel, taking Greek oikos in its broadest sense, as "habitation").

It also figures in Church words, such as ecumenical, formed in 16th century English from Greek oikoumenikos, from the phrase he oikoumene ge "the inhabited world (as known to the ancient Greeks); the Greeks and their neighbors considered as developed human society." This comes from oikoumenos, the present passive participle of oikein "to inhabit," from oikos.

And in diocese, from Late Latin diocesis "a governor's jurisdiction," later, "a bishop's jurisdiction," from Greek diokesis "province," originally "economy, housekeeping." This reflects both the elevation of the Greek word from household to governmental responsibilities, and its adoption by the Church. The first element is dia-, here meaning "thoroughly."

Another one is parish, from Old French paroisse, from Late Latin parochia "a diocese," an alteration of Late Greek paroikia "a diocese or parish," from paroikos, which in classical Greek meant "neighbor." It is a compound of para- "near" and oikos "house." The sense development here is not exactly clear, but early Christians adopted paroikos in the sense of "sojourner" as epithet for spiritual sojourners in the material world.

Parish as an import word replaced Anglo-Saxon preostscyr, literally "priest-shire."

The back half of economy is nomos "custom, law, usage," which comes from the Proto-Indo-European base *nem- "to divide, distribute, to allot, to take." This has far fewer relatives in English than the front half does, though in German it provides the everyday verb for "to take" (nehmen).

One is Nemesis, the name of the Greek goddess of vengeance, whose name is related to the verb nemein "to distribute, to allot, to apportion one's due." Another is numismatics "the study of coins," a modern word (coined in French in the late 18th century) based on Greek nomisma "current coin," literally "what has been sanctioned by custom or usage," from nomizein "have in use, adopt a custom."



I'm glad I'm not the only one who finds Obama's new posters slightly disturbing.

Council Winners

Watchers Council winners have been posted for the week of February 29.

First place in the council went to In A PC Nation, How Will The GOP Run? by Cheat Seeking Missiles.

Votes also went to Find the Adjectives, a worthwhile analysis of the writing in a news story, by Soccer Dad; Obama (with links) & McCain's Petard by Wolf Howling; and Unforced Errors by The Glittering Eye, a provocative look at America's recent history in the Balkans. "Provocative" because it effectively challenged some of my fuzzy attitudes toward that region and our relationship to it.

Outside the council, the winner was To Die in Jerusalem, Part II by My Shrapnel.

Votes also went to The Fierce Urgency of Lies at American Thinker; Guns in the Desert by Michael J. Totten; Bobby Kennedy and Why Obama Unnerves Me at Roger L. Simon's place; and Validating AGW Skepticism at The QandO Blog.


Food for Thought

From a book review:

The first freedom of the First Amendment reads like this: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Those 16 words were subject to only modest debate or litigation until the 1947 Everson decision when Justice Hugo Black, writing for the Court majority, held that they mean that "Neither a state nor the Federal Government ... can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another." This came as a great surprise to students of American history. In his magisterial 2004 study, "Separation of Church and State," Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger underscored the ways in which Black's long-standing animus toward Catholicism led him to turn the Religion Clause on its head. "Liberty of Conscience" is a determined defense of Black's stratagem.

In discussions of the Religion Clause, it is common practice to speak of an Establishment Clause and a Free Exercise Clause. In fact, both grammatically and in intent, there is one clause with two provisions — no establishment and free exercise. The first provision is in the service of the second: The reason the government must not establish a religion is that having an established religion would prejudice free exercise by those who do not belong to it. As numerous scholars have pointed out, however, the end of the Religion Clause, i.e., free exercise, has been subordinated since Everson to the means, i.e., no establishment. The result is that "the separation of church and state" (a phrase of Jefferson's that is not in the Constitution) has come to mean that wherever government advances, religion must retreat.

There is a school of constitutional law that holds that the entire fuss over the Religion Clause is misbegotten. The Founders intended nothing more, in this view, than to assure the states that the federal government would not interfere with the several state establishments of religion that existed at the time. The last state establishment (Massachusetts) was dismantled in 1833, so that's that, and the Religion Clause is no more than a historical artifact. This view is charmingly straightforward, but Ms. Nussbaum does not address it, and just as well, for, like it or not, the Religion Clause has, since Everson, been deeply and confusedly entangled in our law and politics.

The review may be more worth your while than the book itself, Martha Nussbaum's "Liberty of Conscience":

In contrast to "originalists," such as Justices Alito and Scalia, Ms. Nussbaum is an unapologetic defender of "the living Constitution." And, if you want to know what we now know about history, human behavior, and plausible accounts, you have only to ask Martha Nussbaum. There is an insouciant tone of being above partisanship in her distinctly partisan answers to all the aforementioned questions in the dispute. Her apodictic style aside, however, she has read broadly and imaginatively, with the result that there are more than occasional ideas of genuine interest.

More the pity, then, that for all her stressing the need for civility and mutual respect, she caricatures the views of those with whom she disagrees in a most unseemly manner. Again and again, they are described as acting out of fear, insecurity, ignorance, a theocratic desire to undo the Constitution, or all of these in combination. The chief villain, of course, is the hated "religious right." America is "under assault" and "facing a huge threat." "An organized, highly funded, and widespread political movement wants the values of a particular brand of conservative Christianity to define the United States." She ominously observes that "the current threat is not, or not yet, violent." Did someone mention fear and insecurity?

And then there's this, which is bound to raise blood-pressures, from the trouble-making Heather Mac Donald:

The campus rape industry’s central tenet is that one-quarter of all college girls will be raped or be the targets of attempted rape by the end of their college years (completed rapes outnumbering attempted rapes by a ratio of about three to two). The girls’ assailants are not terrifying strangers grabbing them in dark alleys but the guys sitting next to them in class or at the cafeteria.

This claim, first published in Ms. magazine in 1987, took the universities by storm. By the early 1990s, campus rape centers and 24-hour hotlines were opening across the country, aided by tens of millions of dollars of federal funding. Victimhood rituals sprang up: first the Take Back the Night rallies, in which alleged rape victims reveal their stories to gathered crowds of candle-holding supporters; then the Clothesline Project, in which T-shirts made by self-proclaimed rape survivors are strung on campus, while recorded sounds of gongs and drums mark minute-by-minute casualties of the “rape culture.” A special rhetoric emerged: victims’ family and friends were “co-survivors”; “survivors” existed in a larger “community of survivors.”

An army of salesmen took to the road, selling advice to administrators on how to structure sexual-assault procedures, and lecturing freshmen on the “undetected rapists” in their midst. Rape bureaucrats exchanged notes at such gatherings as the Inter Ivy Sexual Assault Conferences and the New England College Sexual Assault Network. Organizations like One in Four and Men Can Stop Rape tried to persuade college boys to redefine their masculinity away from the “rape culture.” The college rape infrastructure shows no signs of a slowdown. In 2006, for example, Yale created a new Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center, despite numerous resources for rape victims already on campus.

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Friday Cat Blogging

Maya Székely


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Hard Time

The U.S. adult incarceration rate crept past 1 in 100 recently -- much higher than any comparable nation's (including those with much lower crime rates). Perhaps we as a people are more violent and criminal than other nations. Perhaps it is a result of our immigrant heritage, or our competitive culture, or our mixing of tribes.

Or perhaps we over-incarcerate people. There is, among the gush of statistics, this:

Simple drug possession convictions make up about 5% of the federal prison population and about 27% of the state prison population, according to the federal government's own figures. Other nonviolent drug offenders were charged with nothing more than "sale or intent to sell" illegal intoxicants to willing buyers.

[Hat tip: Megan McArdle]

I am not so naive as to think that everyone convicted on drug charges is otherwise law-abiding and would not have gotten to prison by some other, more direct, means had there been no drug laws. But the more things you make illegal, the more people you'll put in jail. And the more you'll create black markets for what is illegal, but desired. So, choose the society you want, and bear the consequences.

From "Contemplation of the Sword"

Dear God, who are the whole splendor of things and the sacred
stars, but also the cruelty and greed, the treacheries
And vileness, insanities and filth and anguish: now that this
thing comes near us again I am finding it hard
To praise you with a whole heart.
I know what pain is, but pain can shine. I know what death is,
I have sometimes
Longed for it. But cruelty and slavery and degredation,
pestilence, filth, the pitifulness
Of men like hurt little birds and animals . . . if you were
Waves beating rock, the wind and the iron-cored earth,
With what a heart I could praise your beauty.
You will not repent, nor cancel life, nor free man from anguish
For many ages to come. You are the one that tortures himself to
discover himself: I am
One that watches you and discovers you, and praises you in little
parables, idyl or tragedy, beautiful
Intolerable God.
The sword: that is:
I have two sons whom I love. They are twins, they were born
in nineteen sixteen, which seemed to us a dark year
Of a great war, and they are now of the age
That war prefers. The first-born is like his mother, he is so
That persons I hardly know have stopped me on the street to
speak of the grave beauty of the boy's face.
The second-born has strength for his beauty; when he strips
for swimming the hero shoulders and wrestler loins
Make him seem clothed. The sword: that is: loathsome disfigurements,
blindness, mutilation, locked lips of boys
Too proud to scream.
Reason will not decide at last: the sword will decide.

-Robinson Jeffers

I would send you to more of his, but the best of it is not online and the best of it can be very long, and what is printed online is at sites I do not entirely trust for either accuracy or security. Poetry is, in a final, feeble way, dangerous again!


The Difference

From this Talk Left post, comes a comment in which a woman quotes something she says her husband often repeats:

"I have an idea what to expect out of Clinton and she isn't perfect but she can say NO to people who are going to be mad at her for saying NO to them. Obama doesn't seem to know what the word No is and claims to be able to tell everyone YES ...."

(The rest of it is about Bush).

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Them Changes

Universal music

News You Can Use

Obama's Time Machine

Never mind the middle name and the costumes. This is not going to help Obama with me:

Obama said during the debate with Clinton that once he withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq, if al Qaeda were to form a base there, "then we will have to act in a way that secures the American homeland and our interests abroad."

"I have some news," McCain said. "Al Qaeda is in Iraq. It's called Al Qaeda in Iraq. My friends, if we left, they wouldn't be establishing a base, they'd be taking a country and I'm not going to allow that to happen."

Advantage McCain. Even with his war wounds, he still can hit the hanging curve ball, if he gets one. But this is odd, from the news service reporting it -- Reuters, naturally:

McCain was somewhat undermined by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, who told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday that Al Qaeda in Iraq had suffered major setbacks last year and although still "capable of mounting lethal attacks," the group had suffered hundreds of members killed or captured.

How does that "undermine" him? McCain, not Obama, backed the strategies that led, in essential ways, to this success against the enemy which, McConnell takes pains to say, is still deadly, and which, no doubt he would agree, would surge right back if the U.S. pulled out ASAP.

Even Obama didn't take this silly line of argument.

Obama hit back at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, saying McCain had joined President George W. Bush in supporting a war "that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged."

"I have some news for John McCain, and that is that there was no such thing as al Qaeda in Iraq until George Bush and John McCain decided to invade Iraq," he said to cheers.

He mocked McCain for his oft-repeated remark that he will get al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden if he has to follow him to the "gates of hell."

"So far all he's done is follow George Bush into a misguided war in Iraq," Obama said.

Which is about the only retreat option he has there, but it's a weak one. Nobody is voting for him to be president of 2003. If he's going to run on a platform of reversing the flow of time, then I want to see the paperwork on that. If he's going to present himself as someone who believes Saddam-in-charge was better for America than no Saddam, then please say that in so many words. If neither of those things, then he better talk more about the future, less about a past he can't change.


Feel Free to Market This

"Jug Band Hero." You get your own virtual washboard, complete with X-Box interface, which is the size and weight of a real washboard but has no ridges, and you compete against the scratch pattern that flies by on the screen while scantily dressed corn-fed farm wenches dance in front of you.

From the AP Obit

The good stuff, as usual, is buried at the end:

Buckley so loved a good argument — especially when he won — that he compiled a book of bickering in "Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription," published in 2007 and featuring correspondence with the famous (Nixon, Reagan) and the merely annoyed.

"Mr. Buckley," one non-fan wrote in 1967, "you are the mouthpiece of that evil rabble that depends on fraud, perjury, dirty tricks, anything at all that suits their purposes. I would trust a snake before I would trust you or anybody you support."

Responded Buckley: "What would you do if I supported the snake?"

[It reminds me of a local anecdote about Thaddeus Stevens. He and a bitter political rival turned a corner in town at the same time and came abruptly face to face on the sidewalk.

"I never step aside for a skunk," the other man hissed.

"I always do," Stevens cheerfully replied, and went around.]


The Excesses Of God

Is it not by his high superfluousness we know
Our God? For to be equal a need
Is natural, animal, mineral: but to fling
Rainbows over the rain
And beauty above the moon, and secret rainbows
On the domes of deep sea-shells,
And make the necessary embrace of breeding
Beautiful also as fire,
Not even the weeds to multiply without blossom
Nor the birds without music:
There is the great humaneness at the heart of things,
The extravagant kindness, the fountain
Humanity can understand, and would flow likewise
If power and desire were perch-mates.

-Robinson Jeffers

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Time of Disturbance

The best is, in war or faction or ordinary vindictive
life, not to take sides.
Leave it for children, and the emotional rabble of the
streets, to back their horse or support a brawler.

But if you are forced into it: remember that good and
evil are as common as air, and like air shared
By the panting belligerents; the moral indignation that
hoarsens orators is mostly a fool.

Hold your nose and compromise; keep a cold mind. Fight,
if needs must; hate no one. Do as God does,
Or the tragic poets: they crush their man without hating
him, their Lear or Hitler, and often save without

As for these quarrels, they are like the moon, recurrent
and fantastic. They have their beauty but night's
is better.
It is better to be silent than make a noise. It is better
to strike dead than strike often. It is better not
to strike.

-Robinson Jeffers

Unfortunately, I can't do his long lines properly in an online format like this one.

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Gray Cows

Russell Jacoby reviews Western academe's modern trend toward rigorously dulling every knife in the human mental drawer.

The new devotion to complexity gives carte blanche to even the most trivial scholarly enterprise. Any factoid can "complicate" our interpretation. The fashion elevates confusion from a transitional stage into an end goal. We celebrate the fact that everything can be "problematized." We rejoice in discarding "binary" approaches. We applaud ourselves for recognizing — once again — that everything varies by circumstances. We revel in complexity. To be sure, few claim that the truth is simple or singular, but we have moved far from believing that truth can be set out at all with any caution and clarity. We seem to believe that truth and falsehood is a discredited binary opposite. It varies according to time and place. "It depends," answer my students to virtually every question I ask. That notion permeates campus life.

At the same time, without acknowledging it, he illustrates the reason this sort of thinking, no matter how deeply injected into the student brain, drains out of him with every step he takes away from the auditorium stage on graduation day:

To defend binary thinking is to invite opprobrium. It is true that fixed oppositions between good and evil or male and female and a host of other contraries cannot be upheld, but this hardly means that binary logic is itself idiotic. Binary logic structures the very computers on which most attacks on binary logic are composed. Some binary distinctions are worth recognizing, if not celebrating: the distinction, let us say, between pregnant and not pregnant, or between life and death. Others are at least worth noticing — for example, that between a red and a green light. You either have $3.75 for a latte or you do not. Can that be "complicated"?

Academe will have to wrestle its way out of the intellectual chained box it has locked itself into. In spite of those who go directly from classroom seats to lectern positions and never breathe the free air and, in the end, don't want it.

My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:--even I
Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.

Meanwhile, real life goes on.


An Aimless Joy is a Pure Joy

Man of Yale Meets God*

This, from Buckley, is in print today. I doubt it's the last -- the man is said to have died at his desk. It tells of the Goldwater campaign and its advisers trying to figure out how to handle the powerful, crackpot conservative John Birch Society, and its founder, Robert Welch, who recently had declared "President Eisenhower had been a secret agent of the Communists."

I volunteered to go further. Unless Welch himself disowned his operative fallacy, National Review would oppose any support for the society.

"How would you define the Birch fallacy?" Jay Hall asked.

"The fallacy," I said, "is the assumption that you can infer subjective intention from objective consequence: we lost China to the Communists, therefore the President of the United States and the Secretary of State wished China to go to the Communists."

"I like that," Goldwater said.

What would Russell Kirk do? He was straightforward. "Me? I'll just say, if anybody gets around to asking me, that the guy is loony and should be put away."

"Put away in Alaska?" I asked, mock-seriously. The wisecrack traced to Robert Welch's expressed conviction, a year or so earlier, that the state of Alaska was being prepared to house anyone who doubted his doctrine that fluoridated water was a Communist-backed plot to weaken the minds of the American public.

Thr New York Times obit, which had to be corrected in print because it was written so long ago parts of it were outdated. Hugh Kenner is quoted!

Some of his earliest columns. If you don't think the modern conservative voice owes something to his style -- writing, I mean, not the famous sesquipedalian speaking voice -- read here.

*Headline suggested by patron at the coffee shop where I stop in the afternoon.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

General Statement

You know, the more this blogging thing goes on, the more it becomes about grudges and feuds and favors among the bloggers. Which doesn't advance anything. Least of all the relevance of the medium.

The Bunny Who Hated Denmark

One more reason Palestine will spend another generation in its gutter.

Amani [calling in]: "Finally, I'd like to apologize to the Messenger of Allah. May Allah curse these infidels, who have gone astray. We the soldiers of the pioneers of tomorrow, apologize to you, beloved Messenger of Allah. Denmark has spoken heresy, but you are a source of pride and mercy for Islam and the Muslims."

Assud [guy in bunny suit]: "The [American] cowboys have spoken heresy as well."


Amani: "Our brothers, the Americans, have affronted the Prophet Muhammad..."

Assud: "They are not our brothers, they are criminals."

Amani: "What?"

Assud: "They are infidels, not our brothers."

Amani: "They are enemies of Allah, and they have affronted the Prophet Muhammad."


Saraa [program host]: "How did these Danes have the audacity to affront the Messenger of Allah? Do you have an answer to that, Assud?"

Assud: "No, I don't. Maybe because the Arabs and Muslims keep silent, [the Danes] humiliated them and did these things to them."

"Allah Willing, the Soldiers of 'The Pioneers of Tomorrow' Will Redeem the Prophet Muhammad with All That They Possess - Even with Their Blood"..."We Will Kill Them"

Like a "Benny Hill" skit written by Stalin. These kids deserve better from the leaders their parents elected.


This is one of those news stories that trips people up:

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Gov. Joe Manchin and others took offense Tuesday to a planned scene from an upcoming film starring Julianne Moore that they say stereotypes West Virginians as inbreeds and carnival sideshows.

The horror thriller "Shelter" is recruiting extras with unusual physical features for a scene in a "West Virginia holler," according to Donna Belajac Casting of Pittsburgh.

The casting call said the film is looking for extras who are extraordinarily tall or short, those with unusual body shapes and unusual facial features, especially eyes, and even people with physical abnormalities as long as they have normal mobility.

"It's clear that they have no real understanding of who the people of West Virginia are," Manchin said. "And that's not only unfortunate, but in this case offensive. Certainly it doesn't sound like a movie worth watching."

The casting call also advertises for a 9- to 12-year-old white girl with an "other-worldly look ... could be an albino or something along those lines -- she's someone who is visually different and therefore has a closer contact to the gods and to magic. 'Regular-looking' children should not attend this open call."

And Hollywood wonders why people in the heartland think it looks down on them. This casting call seems to confirm the notion that, to Hollywood, hillbillies and white country folk default as freaks and people you don't want to run out of gas among, unless they're victims of sexism ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), U.S. military culture ("Deer Hunter"), or corporate greed ("Norma Rae").

Not just Hollywood, but liberal intelligentsia generally. A 2002 "New York Times" book review section ran a review of T.R. Pearson's latest novelistic journey down South to take his readers "inside the otherwise lackluster skulls of hillbillies and white trash" [reviewer's description].

Along about a third of the way through this generally glowing write-up, the reviewer opens a paragraph by noting, "Rednecks may compose the last minority that is still fair game for insult from almost any quarter." But he doesn't pick up this thread, and instead returns to the book's praise. You can almost hear the pause, the glimmer of doubt, and the "but who cares?" before he plunges on.

Some people who will defend this because there is no such thing as racism when it is directed against the white majority/patriarchy. But Appalachian whites represent a particular strain in the American mutt-mix -- largely Scots-Irish in ancestry -- and have been the butt of jokes and prejudices by the dominant white culture (see "New York Times" review above) since at least Mark Twain's day.

Here's what else you'll see as this plays out its 15 minutes of Internet fame: Somebody on the "right" will scold people on the "left" for hypocrisy for not speaking up about this when they have decried similar slurs against any other ethnicity/cultural identity.

Someone on the "left" will respond with a counter-charge of hypocrisy against the guy on the "right" for suddenly embracing a multi-culti position he has scorned in every other instance.

"Right" will shoot back that he is merely holding "left's" feet to his own fire. "Left" will reply that right is just an ignorant wingnut ...


One starts to wonder who the real freakshow is. "'Regular-looking' children should not attend this open call."



Apparently there's someone named Amy Sullivan who gets herself beat up every few years by coming out in public with the notion that Democrats could woo many evangelicals away from the GOP if they took the trouble to treat them as thinking persons, not living jokes.

Or something like that. But it seems to be more fun to treat them as jokes. Well, be permanent minoritarians, if that's your thing. Kevin Drum even professes to be mystified by her dislike for the label "pro-choice."

Now, I don't know why Amy rejects the "pro-choice" label, and it's pretty likely that I don't agree with her reasons — largely because I don't have any moral qualms about early and mid-term abortion in the first place. But then, I'm not an evangelical, am I?

No, but you are a writer, aren't you? And "pro-choice' and "pro-life" are terms that congealed over the course of three years in the jockeying for moral high ground after the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973.* They were chosen by the most activist ideologues on either side, with the intent of cornering the opposition into an unfavorable label while avoiding the same fate for themselves.

They have no other reason for existing, and no other validity. Neither is descriptive, either of the full range of opinions on each side or of the central thrust of each faction.

As such, they ought to be rejected by anyone who is interested in descriptive language. Like the deformed ideology-based rhetoric of fascists or racists or communists. Or else you can roll over and accept them both and let the language go to the dogs. But how do you justify using "pro-choice" because you "don't have any moral qualms about early and mid-term abortion"? The word "choice" doesn't even appear in that phrase.

I may be in favor of the same abortion allowances Kevin is. [I'd have to know what he thinks about things like consent.] But I'd hardly say I'm in favor of any choice anywhere. Calling yourself "pro-choice" because you "don't have any moral qualms about early and mid-term abortion" is a bit like calling yourself "anti-American" because you have qualms about certain U.S. foreign policies.

In one of my incarnations, I'm a dictionary editor, and I've had to devote too much time to explaining to people who I am not going to list "anti-choice" as the "correct" term for abortion opponents, or even merely an "alternate" term as opposed to a "hostile" one.

Back when I was a beat reporter, covering abortion protests and pro-life marches was the bane of my existence. No group of people were uglier to deal with. Not even criminals. There was no pleasing any of them (not that I tried) and it was the only sort of story you could write where both sides would call you on the same story with exactly the same accusations of personal bias (or sleeping with the other side -- literally), but in mirror image.

*It's hard to track which came first. The first discovered reference to "pro choice" is in a Wall Street Journal article from March 20, 1975, according to William Safire. "Pro-life" turns up by Jan. 18, 1976, in the New York Times. "Anti-choice" was coined, as far as I can tell, in "Ms." magazine, in text printed Oct. 8, 1978: "What hypocrisy to call such anti-humanitarian people 'pro-life.' Call them what they are -- antichoice."


Council Winners

Council winners have been posted for the week of Feb. 22.

Appropriately for the date, the winner in the council was Make Washington's Birthday a National Holiday Again from Right Wing Nut House. I've been on board with that for a long time.

Also getting votes were Iraqi Political Progress Leaves Few Places For The Left To Move The Target at Wolf Howling. He rightly picks up on the importance of the CSIS Cordesman report (PDF). It's interesting to watch the reaction to this in the commentariat, as everyone seems to think it fulfills his own version of the Iraq narrative.

I'm cautious talking about the recent changes for the better in Iraq, in part because I have a superstition about bragging on things that are yet fragile. If you look at page 2 of the Cordesman report, you'll see the list of things that still need to be done. Which were the things that needed to be done in 2003, too. So, basically, we're where we were when the Saddam statue got pulled down. And with public patience in the war pretty well worn out. The last 5 years has been a diversion -- perhaps unavoidable, perhaps even necessary to long-term success (certain enemies had to prevail long enough to show their nature; certain people had to get the martyrdoms they sought; certain Americans in country had to learn more about Iraq). But it wasn't something anyone seems to have anticipated -- it doesn't fit either "quagmire" or "cakewalk" narratives. Reality has that quality.

Votes also went to Muslims and the Right Not To Be Offended by Joshuapundit; and Anti-Terror Fantasies by Soccer Dad.

Outside the council, the winner was Michael J. Totten's The Dungeon of Fallujah, an account of his visit to an Iraqi prison. If you want an essential read for determining the state of things in Iraq today, in the essential areas of police and military competence and Sunni confidence, you've got to read these.

Votes also went to How Rachel Corrie Really Died (Hint: Not Protecting a House) by Israel Matzav; Feels Like the First Time at Captain's Quarters; U.S. Rewarding Palestinian Terrorism at The Terror Finance Blog; and Dear Paperlicious -- Stamping and Politics at Paperlicious.


Monday, February 25, 2008

For, and From, the Left

A quick lesson in class and civility.

And an even quicker lesson in lack thereof.

A leftish blogger I like once asking me why I had a particular disgust for another leftish blogger who was being touted as a champion of "civility" online. She said he had always been courteous and helpful to her. I suggested the measure of civility might not be how you treat people you agree with, but those you don't.

As for John Cole, cited above in the counter-lesson, I cited him recently on another site as an example of a writer who changes his mind about who is right and who is wrong, and then turns around in place and starts firing the same flamethrower in the opposite direction. There's no shame, necessarily, in doing that. But the reaction of people on both sides of him is interesting to watch, especially if they ever criticized -- or praised -- his tactics when he was flaming from the right.

Yet no one got that. The left-siders all defended him as maybe a bit extreme, but essentially in the right and fair-minded. I wonder if they were saying that before his switch. No, I don't.

Sartorial Snark

Good heavens, we can't have a president who dresses like a foreigner, can we? Because if you dress like one, that means you are one. Just look!

George W. Bush really is Vietnamese!

And Silent Cal Coolidge was a Injun!

And Warren G. Harding was ... let's not go there.


The PM of AntiAmerica

If "AntiAmerica" were a place, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero could be the titular head of state. Ahmadinejad and Chavez would hold the real power, but he'd be usefully suave in diplomatic settings and reliably craven in the closed-door power meetings.

Like some other European leaders of recent memory, he boosted his chances by going out of his way to snub the United States. In October 2003, when he was still opposition leader, he endeared himself to Spaniards by being the only VIP and official on the crowded review stand to keep his seat when the U.S. Marine Corps honor guard passed by carrying the American flag at the annual Hispanic Day military parade in Madrid.

Since then, he has periodically declared "his willingness to follow the desires of the people of Spain and not meet up with President Bush ever." [They did meet once, briefly, at a NATO gathering in Istanbul.]

And while the sight of the American flag apparently makes him too ill to leave his chair, he's more than happy to pose with a big old grin while wearing a Palestinian scarf at an anti-war protest.

The attitude has been returned by the Bush Administration, for whom no foe is too low to be worth the trouble of grinding your heel on him. And while it initially made Zapatero a hero to antis everywhere, they seem to have forgotten him, and Spain, in the intervening years. So have most other Americans, it seems. So have a lot of people everywhere in the world, it seems.

In Spain, some say it wasn't worth it:

The flagship project of this Prime Minister’s foreign policy, namely his so-called “Alliance of Civilisations”, has been nothing other than a fiasco that has brought few or no benefits to Spain, and, to top it all, we are paying huge bills to the UN for the privilege. The leading role that Moratinos attributed to himself in the Middle East has been shown for what it is as a result of his inability to pull off any initiative in the Region. Furthermore, it was pathetic how he went begging to Washington in order to ensure that Spain was also invited to the recent Annapolis Summit. The pride Felipe González felt during the Madrid Summit in the early nineties is just a distant memory now. If the Zapatero-Moratinos duo ever dreamed of serving as privileged intermediaries vis-à-vis the Arab world, the Arabs themselves have turned their backs on them once again. They do not need either the Spanish Government or the Spanish Foreign Office to tackle the Palestinian question, nor do they need them in order to approach the United States and the EU. Spain simply does not count for anything.

And here:

During his term in office, Zapatero has been incapable of creating foreign ties with the countries most convenient for Spanish interests, in either Europe or the Americas. (In Asia we don’t even exist and in Africa only to contain the illegal immigration a little). We have wandered into no man’s land. Their international preferences have directed themselves too many times towards less than pleasant Latin American governments, and some other closer initiatives have not merited the reward of a solid and preferential alliance with European neighbors. Our foreign policy cannot pass the test when Spain, between clumsiness and irresponsibility, has stayed removed from the primary world power and suffered the indifference of its allies in the Old World.

As the last-quoted piece notes, Zapatero may have pleased his global fan base, the residents of AntiAmerica, by never having posed for a grip-and-grin shot with George W. Bush. But it has been a most expensive photograph for Spain.

The anti-American nonsense that the Left preaches has cost us a retreat of enormous proportions in the geostrategical global chessboard that a political change should amend as soon as possible.

Is it disturbing, then, that, as the L.A. Times reported recently, Zapatero's followers are enthusiastic about Obama?

In nearby Spain, commentators do not hesitate to compare Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to Obama, for good or bad.

"Zapatero a modo Obama" ("Zapatero, Obama-style") was the headline in a recent story in the Spanish daily El Mundo, which told of musical stars filming a campaign spot for Zapatero, much as of the Black Eyed Peas did for Obama.

These European politicians have very little to do with Obama; for one thing, they've been in office for many years. They do, however, represent the left wings of their nation's political spectrum and are relatively young, in the local context.

Not terribly disturbing, probably, but it disturbs me a bit more than the man's middle name or where he went to kindergarten.

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This is a 'Moderate Voice?'

Americans. How dare they speak to Cuba about democracy!

While the US administration’s priority in Pakistan seems to be to safeguard the position of President Pervez Musharraf (unmindful of the fact that the ex-military dictator has been humiliated in the recent polls), it delivers a homily to a country in its backyard (with whom it has been at the ‘original’ unending ‘war’ for the past 50 years) about the virtues of democracy. There has to be some limit to blatant hypocrisy.

And, of course, as is always the case when anyone gets a bee in his bonnet about something, the REAL QUESTION is, why doesn't the entire Big Media machine have the same revelation as I have just had, and write about it as single-mindedly as I intend to do?

Where is the great American tradition of responsible journalism? Is the media/blogosphere scared of presenting the facts? Who will harm them if they do? What happened to the famous tradition of investigative journalism? What else could be the reason? An interesting subject for research.

What set him off? This:

“As Fidel Castro’s 49-year-rule ended formally, the Bush Administration urged Cuba to move towards ‘peaceful, democratic change’ and let its 11 million citizens become ‘masters of their own lives’. ‘We urge the Cuban Government to begin a process of peaceful, democratic change by releasing all political prisoners, respecting human rights and creating a clear pathway toward free and fair elections,’ Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, said in a statement shortly before Raúl’s accession."

He's appalled that the world will think Rice and Bush speak for Americans! That any of us might agree with that. "Please remember that, for the world, President George W. Bush and Ms Condoleezza Rice speak on behalf of the American nation/people. Those, including the media/journalists, who maintain a silence and overlook their remarks, would appear to be in agreement with what their leaders have been saying/doing."

He'd be glad to know that at least some journalists in my newsroom found the end of Castro's long rule "sad." But he's right; they never got to actually say that in print.

No, I guess what we really wanted Rice to say was, “As Fidel Castro’s 49-year-rule ended formally, the Bush Administration urged Cuba to stay exactly where it was, on the path to ‘heroic socialist utopia’ and let its 11 million citizens complete ‘the destruction of the Yankee empire’. ‘We urge the Cuban Government to persist in its struggle to thwart dissent and personal expression among its people, and to cooperate with anti-American governments and groups throughout the world. And build more political prisons, too,’ Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, said in a statement shortly before Raúl’s accession."

So what's the reason this blogger wants to damn Bush administration officials for urging democracy on Cuba?

The past record of the present US administration’s policies and actions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan does not inspire confidence that the motive was to allow democracy to flourish in those countries.

Pardon my ignorance, but is it not arguable that Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are enjoying more democracy now than they had in the summer of 2001? And that Bush Administration policies may have had something to do with that? For all the things you can blame on this administration, anti-democratic foreign policies seem the one thing they get credit for -- especially compared to every other American administration since the start of the Cold War.

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Republican D

So much for that vicious right-wing attack machine. The GOP campaigning wing is shaking in its shoes at the prospect of facing Hillary or Obama -- or worse, both -- in the fall.

Republicans will be told to “be sensitive to tone and stick to the substance of the discussion” and that “the key is that you have to be sensitive to the fact that you are running against historic firsts,” the strategist explained.

I'm sure they just know it's going to be a walk through the minefield. The Democratic primary so far has featured an almost daily eruption of race or gender insensitivity from some mid-level campaign flack or another in one of the two camps. And these are the people who practice scrupulous hypersensitivity to these issues as a lifestyle choice.

The Republicans? Let's face it, we know they all still enjoy the good old jokes when no one else is in the room. What are the odds that someone isn't going to embarrass them on a daily basis by praising "Huck Finn" or saying "girls" or "rhymes with witch" or "niggardly" or committing some hanging crime against multiculturalism? They have to know their people are going to be wandering off the reservation on a regular basis ...

... oops.

Eternal Vietnam, Cont'd.

Add another entry to the list of things "Vietnam" is to the American left (as represented by "The Nation"). Now it's also the fallen idol of an ageing Boomer "activist" and a rebuke to all the youthful folly he clung to till much too late in life:

The question is whether the future, aside from the obvious advantages of peace, will be worth the sacrifices of the past. Is the period of anticolonial revolution--which Vietnam symbolized and so dominated our thinking in the '60s and beyond--becoming an obsolete memory in the era of globalization? Has the promise of those inspiring revolutions faded with the decline of naked colonialism and the emergence of so many corrupt authoritarianisms in the Third World? Or are the supposedly scientific models of history long embraced by the left being replaced with a kind of chaos theory of unpredictability? Is this all that was ever possible?

And here, adopting the point of view of a older Vietnamese man of the war generation:

Look carefully now at the peace we have, painful, bitter, and sad. And look who won the war. To win, martyrs had sacrificed their lives in order that others might survive. Not a new phenomenon, true. But those still living to know that the kindest, most worthy people have all fallen away, or even been tortured, humiliated before being killed, or buried and wiped away by the machinery of war, then this beautiful landscape of calm and peace is an appalling paradox.

Isn't there some sort of "imperialism" in speaking from inside the head of the "other" that way? Especially when what you make him say reflects so much what you wish to be true?

So add "big disappointment" to the list that includes communist tyranny coddled by vicious American business interests; yet at the same time peaceful, happy, prosperous land that is an argument against the Iraq War; victim of dastardly American policies that were an argument against intervention in Kosovo; and proud high water mark of "that great antiwar movement by tens of millions of Americans."

"Vietnam" has been many things over the years to "The Nation." Always those things seem to have more to do with the attitude of "The Nation's" writers toward some contemporary American problem -- or toward themselves -- than with a country in Southeast Asia.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

What It Isn't

Here's a pretty common type of confusion about the media. You'll find this sort of thing on all sides of the blog world.

Major newswire service writes a story, which seems to indicate X is going to happen. But as the situation unfolds, X does not in fact happen. Y happens. Bloggers who remember the original story go back to link to it with an "aha/accusation of bias," but find the original story is no more and has been replaced by a story describing Y happening, often with the same byline as the old X story and whole chunks of identical background text.

This is not a conspiracy. This is the way journalism operates. It is intent on presenting the most up-to-date versions of a story, and if earlier versions of the stories are outdated or wrong, it no longer keeps them before the public. In many cases they are wrong because the journalists unconsciously let their biases shade their reporting. But that's not why you can't find the old version of the story anymore.

Big stories are constantly updated through the day. AP might move 6 or 8 write-throughs of its AM-IRAQ story over a 12-hour cycle; it might involve just minor changes, or it might be a complete re-write with a new top. Depends on the amount of news coming out of there.

Journalism lives in the eternal present tense. It doesn't think of itself as an accessory to blogging, even if some bloggers see it that way. It burns its dead and moves on, hour by hour.

Friday Cat Blogging

Drum and drummer edition! In both cases, I believe, the drummer is the incomparable Issam Houshan.

Bozenka, and

Jillina. (With Rachel Brice backing up Houshan in this one.)


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Your Media at Work, part 262

Iraq War veteran who spent a year there as an engineer and is now a professional anti-war agitator comes to town, and the newspaper falls all over itself to cover him. He gets a pre-appearance blurb. He gets a full interview article. He gets coverage when he speaks. Three different articles.

Meanwhile, local soldiers who serve quietly in Iraq and come home never even see their names in the paper. Nobody on staff here seemt to care what they did, what they saw, what they think. But it will let this paid agitator speak for all of them and be their face.

I listened to all this arranged on the phone, with the editor who is a regular at anti-Bush and anti-war protests taking orders from the head of the local anti-war group, with whom he is on first-name basis.

More Signs of the End Times

DMW Flashback: The Greatest March

I've been thinking about this since the Martin Luther King holiday. What was the greatest Civil Rights march of all time?

My pick is the hundred-thousand-strong March on Washington of July 1, 1941. It broke down more doors for black Americans than any single event in modern history, and it reversed two generations of hardening racism in the United States.

Because it never happened.

It all begins with Asa Philip Randolph (1889-1979), a Florida native who moved to New York in hopes of being a Shakespearean actor but ended up a full-time civil rights agitator. He paved the way for Martin Luther King Jr. in every important regard.

In 1925 Randolph was chosen to head the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and Maids, a union of Pullman car workers. If you're familiar with the America of those times, you'll realize that this was an all-black union. Randolph never worked on a Pullman car a day in his life. That's why he was chosen to head the union: He was someone the company couldn't punish by firing him.

In 1940, America was gearing up for war. People today tend to forget this; we have been taught to think of Pearl Harbor as a sneak attack against a nation slumbering in peace. But Roosevelt had already begun to build up the military, and he had instituted a draft. What made Pearl Harbor such a surprise is that the war we expected to fight was against Germany.

Yet pacifist and isolationist tendencies ran deep in America, as did antipathy to the British and the Soviets -- the two powers then in the field against Hitler. Roosevelt knew he would have a difficult time selling the coming war to the American people, as Wilson did in 1917. He would have to frame it as a moral crusade, a clash of civilizations, or rather, a contest between democracy and despotism (pay no attention to those Soviet purges).

Enter Asa Randolph. As the federal government began to spend millions on defense, in a nation still crippled by the Depression, Randolph went to work to end racial discrimination in the defense industry and the armed forces. Perhaps it was his theatrical background that led him to the notion of a mass march on Washington, D.C., which was booming in the build-up to war. He proposed such a tactic in December 1940. The NAACP and the New Negro Alliance and the black churches got behind it, and soon there was talk of 100,000 black Americans demonstrating in front of Congress and the White House against discrimination on government-financed jobs.

There never had been such an event in American history. It was the idea of it that sparked fear in Roosevelt and his cabinet. What would happen? One thing was certain; it would be reported around the world, at just the time America was building its case for being a society superior to the totalitarian Nazi order that Jesse Owens had humiliated in 1936.

"What will they think in Berlin?" government officials asked.

Randolph was summoned to White House and asked to call it off. He refused. Roosevelt called him back and asked him what it would take to change his mind. Randolph asked for an executive order prohibiting racial discrimination in defense plants. Roosevelt agreed, and the march was called off.

Executive Order 8802 was issued June 25, 1941. It forbid discrimination by race, creed, color, or national origin in any defense plant with federal contracts. "[I]t was the first presidential order protecting blacks since Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in 1863" [Gregor Dallas, "1945," p.217]. Roosevelt created a new agency -- the Fair Employment Practices Committee -- to see that it was enforced.

The defense jobs were open to black Americans. This helped spark the mass exodus of blacks out of the South that changed America. It not only directly led to the birth and growth of a black middle class, but it also sparked a severe white backlash in Northern and Western states that had till then kept their black populations small and dispersed. Within a few years, brutal race riots had broken out in Detroit, Los Angeles, and other cities. The Civil Rights Movement became a national crisis and a national cause.

Six years later, after the passage of the Selective Service Act of 1947, Randolph demanded that the government integrate the armed forces. He founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation and urged young men, both black and white, to "refuse to cooperate with a Jim Crow conscription service." Threatened with widespread civil disobedience and needing the black vote in his 1948 re-election campaign, President Harry Truman on July 26, 1948, ordered an end to military discrimination "as quickly as possible."

Eventually, threats were not enough, and the civil rights leaders began to march and protest in fact. At first, presidents like Kennedy panicked and tried to stop the marches. But eventually they realized they could survive them. The marches led by King were the high point of the movement, but it seems since then that each one has been less effective, less feared. They've become almost as toothless as annual holiday float parades.

The power of the threat turned out to be greater than the muscle of the reality. But the marches continue. Marching and protesting is a fixed fact, but to what end? Too many of the people who claim King's mantle seem to regard marches as goals, not tactics. Randolph never seems to have forgotten to keep his eyes on the prize, not the march.

The threat of a domestic civil rights protest was especially potent when America was on the brink of war, and was wrapped up in its sense of itself as a morally superior nation -- confronted with the Nazis under Roosevelt or the Soviet empire under Kennedy. In fact, the periods of history when America takes its virtues most seriously are those when it is most ripe for social justice movements to effect change. Progressives, rather than pooh-poohing Americans' sense of exceptionalism, ought to be encouraging it -- then encouraging us to live up to the ideal.

They would take a tip from Asa Randolph if they knew what was good for them or cared about results more than marches.

Housing Bubble Heads

I don't know where Ezra Klein lives. I live in an ungentrified urban neighborhood in a small Mid-Atlantic city that is old enough to have been, for a single day, capital of the United States while the Continental Congress was on the run from the redcoats. But he strikes me in this piece as someone glamored of city living but without sufficient practical experience in it. Sort of like the flip-side of the people who drive hundreds of miles to gawk at the Amish and spout about their superior "simplicity."

And denser areas are also more livable. They're more walkable, which is shown to make people healthier, and more social, which is shown to make them happier. But, of course, policy would need to undergo pretty significant changes to prize density. And we can't have these damn liberals using their social enginnering [sic] to take away our garages.

Which looks like an exercise in how many blanket statements you can throw over one sentence.

I'm in favor of people living in liveable cities, and I'm in favor of driving as little as possible. I happen to love city living and all it offers. But as a father with a family in the city, I'm not going to tell you it's paradise on earth.

For instance, there's a down side to "more social." In another life, I might have developed an appreciation for Puerto Rican music. I might even have bought and listened to some of it. But my entire experience of it for 18 years has been to have it blasted at me, at window-rattling volumes, from neighbors' stereos or cars when I was trying to sleep or read or think. I detest it the way Alex hates Beethoven's "Ninth" at the end of "A Clockwork Orange." You might say, in that case, city living has narrowed my cultural horizons, and socialization has been anything but a boon to my love for my fellow man.

I live six blocks from my job. I walk and bike more than most guys I know my age. I'm not notably healthier than they are, however.

And for years I tried to get to the point where I can live without a car. I have an environmental motive in that, but I'm not narcissistic enough to think that my consumption makes a damned bit of difference to the earth (if I thought it did, I'd just kill myself and solve all the problems). Mainly, it's a combination of orneriness, cheapness, and dislike for oil companies, oil sheiks, the DMV, and the insurance racket.

But you know what? Even living in a city, I can't do it. Not with a young family that needs to be fed by trips to market once a week or more. Not with family obligations in the next town over. Not with winter weather. Not with doctors' appointments. Not with little emergencies. We got it down to maybe 5 miles of driving per day, averaged over a week. But less than that I cannot go. Not without a horse.

As for a garage, frankly I'd love to have one. I don't know any city-dweller who wouldn't. Until you've spent enough chilly rainy nights driving around and around the block trying to find a parking space relatively close to the front door, so you can carry the sleeping baby into the house without jarring her awake with a face-full of sleet, you don't appreciate a garage. Or until you finally give up on that, park in a handy no-parking spot and take the kid inside, only to come out and find a $45 ticket on your windshield.

I'm in favor of village-style housing developments, walkable communities, and expanding the grids of existing cities rather than chewing up farmland for plywood palaces. I also think the cities have better odds than the suburbs for long-term stability (as outlined somewhat apocalyptically here).

But don't tell me it's going to turn us into shiny happy robots. Or that it will do away with the need for cars. You can't just change the way houses are built and call it progress. You still have to connect people and goods and services in a way at least as convenient and appealing as what they now enjoy. And that takes more than a village zoning overlay plan.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ambiguous Wars

The Iraq war has lasted longer than World War II.

The U.S. casualty toll for the Iraq war is half what the U.S. Army lost in World War II in traffic accidents.

Which fact matters, and which one doesn't? Depends what side you've already staked out in regards to Iraq in the domestic political game, I suppose. Unless you've got the perspective of the Marine sergeant who recently gave Michael J. Totten a tour of a notorious Fallujah prison:

“I prefer these small and morally ambiguous wars to the big morally black-and-white wars,” he said to me later. “It would be nice if we had more support back home like we did during World War II. But look at how many people were killed in World War II. If a bunch of unpopular small wars prevent another popular big war, I'll take ’em.”

And from the same piece, more evidence that "progress," like "lack of progress" is a slippery fish. Something that eludes press and punditry alike:

Every single person in that “cell” was a man. Was one of the six cells for women?

“They don’t arrest women,” said Sergeant Dehaan. “Ever. That just is not done in this country.”

That seemed right to me. Women are treated badly overall in Iraq. Their social roles are strictly proscribed. There are so many things they aren’t allowed to do in this culture. Crime is one of them.

Iraqi Arab culture is slowly reverting back to itself now that the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein has been replaced. His government arrested women every day. They were often raped and viciously tortured by his mukhabarat agents.

The good news is the bad news.

You're of a Certain Age

If news of tonight's attempted satellite shoot-down made you think, however briefly, of this:

Liveblogging the Lunar Eclipse

Sure is pretty, but fuck is it cold out there. I remember when I was a kid. We used to have lunar eclipses in the summer. What the hell happened to this country? Nothing's been the same since Carter. Look, people start putting up Christmas decorations before Halloween now, and the Stanley Cup playoffs run till friggin' July. Talk about the Decline of the West.

Color? Eh, it's sort of red. Reddish. Like Obama's politics reddish.

UPDATE: Ron Paul! Chernobyl!

Packer on Iraq

George Packer attempts to frame the America-Iraq marriage/wrestling match at the present moment, with reference to history. It's a good try, veering from personal tales to meta-narratives. Overarching it is the pain of missed chances and failed dreams:

The American invasion of Iraq was, above all else, a revolution in the lives of Iraqis. Their institutions, their everyday routines, their futures, their sense of order were all turned upside down. This revolution, which is still ongoing and will play out for years to come, was the opening of a prison. When they staggered out into the light, most Iraqis didn’t know where they were, what they wanted, even who they were, and the Americans who had so quickly and casually broken down the gate were standing around as if they had never even considered what to do next. The Americans were nominally in charge—the Iraqis expected them to be, and after the first few weeks of paralysis, the Americans flung themselves into a flurry of activities befitting an occupying power—but it was all illusion. No one was in charge. By the summer of 2003, when I first went to Iraq, it was clear that a void had opened up and the best-armed and most ruthless groups had moved in. Although it went through many phases and assumed a variety of forms, the process of mutual disenchantment between Iraqis and Americans began early. It was this process that interested me most about Iraq, because it went to the human heart of the matter: the experience of suffering, hope, illusion, need, violence, and disappointment that transformed both sides and made the war so painful for each.

Matt Yglesias, while seeming to agree with the essay overall, objects to the framing of it, at length:

Note that even in Packer's somewhat tendentious accounting, there's no actual parallelism here. War supporters, invested in the idea that they were right when they were, in fact, wrong blinded themselves to actual developments on the ground in Iraq. War opponents were, by contrast, what? It's hard to say. Not blinded by denial that terrible things were happening in Iraq. But, I guess, not affected by these terrible happenings in the way Packer thinks would have been appropriate? Insufficiently surprised that a war they'd always regarded as ill-advised turned out to be ill-advised? It's not clear.

As we go deeper, this continues to be the pattern.

I would say Packer's language is itself an artifact from the thing he is trying to describe. He has seen the elephant, and he is trying to describe it to the room-full of blind men. He knows what he is trying to say here is important, and he wants it to be heard. But he knows -- as he writes -- that the people he is trying to talk to have powerful filters already in place to shunt aside things that don't support their view of America in Iraq. And so he's got to quickly prove himself to both war supporters and anti-war folks by rattling off their passwords and shibboleths.

In hopes both won't tune him out. As Yglesias notes, Packer does better with one side than the other, when it comes to details, probably because that's the side he knows better and sympathizes with. Certainly it's the side Yglesias sympathizes with. But I think the effort Packer makes is more notable than the skill with which it's done.

To me, Packer's biggest vision problem is not that he's trying to write with a fairness he doesn't quite feel. It's that he's a journalist. Which lets him see the elephant, but not other elephants, so he doesn't know what kind of beast it is. And he mistakes the commonplace for the unique. Into his observations about Iraq, he mixes things that are true of all wars, such as the homefront's inability to really comprehend what soldiers are doing or enduring, or the phony logic and purpose of a war as it is presented in the media.

These may be clichés for anyone who has spent much time in Iraq, or in any country at war. And yet here at home they have been almost impossible to convey. In the United States, the war is an abstraction that routinely shades into caricature. For all the television news coverage, Americans have the slimmest sense of what the war actually feels and looks like — crumbling deserts, blasted buildings, angry crowds, random firefights. ... If you think of World War II or Vietnam, a dozen photographs immediately come to mind. But Iraq has not been a photographer’s war. What are its iconic images? Digital snapshots by military policemen in Abu Ghraib, footage of beheadings posted by jihadis on the Web. There was no shortage of superb photographers taking extraordinary risks in Iraq, and perhaps time will sort from their work a handful of images that will define this war in the same way that, for example, Robert Capa’s photographs of Omaha Beach and Nick Ut’s of children fleeing napalm defined earlier ones. But almost five years into this war, there is only blank space where America’s picture of Iraq should be.

But as veterans of those earlier wars will tell you, those earlier pictures weren't their war, either. To Packer, a handful of "Life" magazine photos = World War II, because he never was in World War II.

Packer's other short-sighted moment, I think, comes when he writes about "A falsely justified and poorly waged war," and describes Iraq as "a folly and a failure of the kind that happens once every few generations and leaves consequences for generations to come." That may be true. but it doesn't distinguish Iraq from any other war in American history. Every point about "folly and failure" that someone could choose to make today was made in the past, and with as much justification.

Just read Civil War soldiers' accounts of the clothes and weapons they were sent into battle with (not to mention the total absence of an ambulance service or military nursing staff); read about the bumbling military leadership, from corrupt Secretaries of War ("He wouldn't steal a hot stove ...") to glory-addled brigadiers who got their units shot to hell.

In World War I, former president Teddy Roosevelt blasted the White House for sending America's military to war without sufficient equipment, and for putting the nation in debt. "We paid the price later with broomstick rifles, log-wood cannon, soldiers without shoes, and epidemics of pneumonia in the camps. We are paying the price now in shortage of coal and congestion of transportation, and in the double cost of necessary war-supplies. We are paying the price and shall pay the price in the shape of taxes and a national debt at least twice as large as would have been the case if with forethought and wisdom we had prepared in advance. We have paid the price in the blood of tens of thousands of gallant men."

America has never gone into any war prepared for the war it thought it would be fighting, much less the one that actually happened. The average soldier or sailor always manages to jury-rig what he needs (Confederate cavalry wove saddle blankets out of Spanish moss) and partisans of the war-making administration praise "Yankee ingenuity," while opponents decry a "rush to war."

As for "falsely justified," the universality of that is something I've emphasized so often it's almost become a theme here. To many Americans, the defining feature of the Iraq War is that the explanation for it started out being about one thing and ended up having goals we never signed on to. To them, that is the horrifying and overriding fact.

I'm willing to bet, if you come back in 100 years and histories still are being written in the West, that fact will hardly be noticed.

Browsing through history books convinces me that the Bush Administration's publicly stated goals at the beginning of the Iraq War remain much more consistent with the post-war reality than typically is the case.

A quibble with the Mother Country over a petty tax of three pence a pound on tea becomes the birth of a nation. A boundary dispute with Mexico over a few square miles of Texas scrub becomes a land-grab of a third of a continent and keeps the valuable port of San Francisco from defaulting to British hands. A dispute with Germany over unrestricted submarine warfare becomes "making the world safe for democracy."

The reverse also is true. What seems, after the fact, to be the great justification for a war turns out to be something that did not figure among the stated reasons for starting it. Study World War II today and you'll get a big unit on the Holocaust. How odd, then, to discover it played no part in the justification for the war at the time. Lincoln freed the slaves. But the American Civil War began as an constitutional chess match and an attempt to enforce U.S. authority in certain forts and arsenals, and to collect the tariff in Southern ports. Lincoln publicly disavowed any intention to free a single slave.

By comparison, this was one of our more "honest" wars.

Of course, all these ultimate outcomes were in the minds of somebody somewhere in a place of power at the time the wars began. Certainly the more radical American revolutionaries were angling for independence from the first bullet. But to draw the bulk of the country they needed to hold John Dickinson and the other moderates on the platform by making a general appeal to the rights of British citizens (as most Americans still felt themselves to be). I have no doubt Lincoln desired to see slavery ended (and the free blacks shipped off to Santo Domingo), but he knew the average Northerner never would fight in that crusade, and in fact the Southern secession presented an immediate economic and political crisis that forced his hand in spite of his personal philosophy.

All wars are so much alike that to compare them in detail sheds but little light. Still, a little familiarity with history does disabuse one of the sort of sham shock some people seem to feel on entering a war down one hole and coming out another. What? You mean the causus belli wasn't ironclad?

Packer's piece is a good read, and a sobering one, no matter who you are. He describes the feeling of emptying his words into the chasm -- not only between the two realities of the war in the minds of the people at home who never see it, but between both of them and the actual experience of Americans and Iraqis in Iraq.

Once, after a trip to Iraq, I attended a dinner party in Los Angeles at which most of the other guests were movie types. They wanted to know what it was like “over there.” I began to describe a Shiite doctor I’d gotten to know, who felt torn between gratitude and fear that occupation and chaos were making Iraq less Islamic. A burst of invective interrupted my sketch: none of it mattered—the only thing that mattered was this immoral, criminal war. The guests had no interest in hearing what it was like over there. They already knew.

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Me Personally?

I think we're over-excited in alarm over the media and popular over-excitement about Obama's over-excited rhetorical flourishing.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Your Media at Work, part 261

Filling in extra space on the obituary page with a file of "soldiers in the news" military press releases about local men and women in the service. Laughing about the juxtaposition. [Mock stupid-guy voice] "Oh am I dead already? Gosh. I guess I won't get that college education!"

Time Marshes On

In yet another sign of the political End Times, right up there with Hugh Hewitt having to patiently explain to Republicans why they ought to vote for Republican candidates, Liberal firebrand Taylor Marsh writes a rousing patriotic hymn to America.

I like a good patriotic speech as well as anyone, and I like this one. Even if it expends most of its effort listing the reasons that do not make her love America and gives none of the ones that do. From the left, you take what you can get.

Marsh, let it be said, is not an intellectual snob liberal, she's the old-fashioned kind and I believe her patriotism is genuine. After 9/11, some people were more horrified by the bloom of American patriotic feelings than they were by the murder of 3,000 fellow citizens. She was not among them. As she explained in a note to her recent post, after it got a lot of attention:

I've lived in New York City and Los Angeles, traveled the country too (and beyond), but I'm from Harry Truman's Missouri. From where I come from, words like Mrs. Obama's are not only objectionable, but unacceptable. I'm also someone who would know that these words would offend people without having someone to explain it to me and clarify my comment afterwards. Where I come from people don't talk like this about your country. I'm not saying that America is perfect. But I'm proud of what we've done in the world for people everywhere, amidst our mistakes. You have to be terribly out of touch not to get it, or so hopelessly elitist is doesn't register.

Amen! Still, what's curious is that this pure patriotic wellspring never gushed forth from her since the post-9/11 spirit faded. If you read through her back catalogue, she talks a lot about American values, but only as things that have been destroyed by Bush's criminal fascist gang, or alternately, things that were destroyed by Reagan and his gang on the long road to fascism. Or sometimes Nixon. Or McCarthy. Or Ann Coulter.

Which means that for most of T.M.'s adult life, there's been something seriously wrong with the America she lives in, in her eyes. That is not an unpatriotic thing to think. Criticizing your homeland is a right, in a free country. At times, it rises to the level of a duty. But it is not the only right, and it is not the highest duty.

You love your homeland the way you love family: with quiet affection and admiration punctuated by shouting matches and slammed doors. You know their faults intimately. You piss and moan about them all day for a week, but when trouble comes calling, you know where you stand, without thinking about it. And you remember, often, to tell them you do love them. and why. And without needing a reason. That, and maybe a little more, is the difference most days between "parenting" and "abuse." Rabindranath Tagore put the thought succinctly: "He alone may chastise who loves."

America is our child. Ours to nourish, our responsibility when it breaks something. Ours to believe in, because if you raise a child and you believe in him, he might yet go bad, but if you don't believe in him, he almost certainly will. "Our country right or wrong" never bothered me. I guess because I know it's an immigrant's sentiment, and because I know the next line is, "When right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right."

It's a common complaint I have with people on the left. Nobody wants you to take a loyalty oath or anything, but your chastisements of the country will be better received if you show a little genuine love every once in a while, too. If you've got it.

So it does seem a little jarring when T.M. bursts out in "It's a Grand Old Flag" in February 2008. There's a reason, of course. She's reacting to Michelle Obama's lamentable phrase:

"For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change."

And, lo and behold. T.M. is a staunch Hillary supporter. And has taken considerable shit for it from the radical left of the Democratic Party. Which also may add to her pleasure in unleashing the kind of patriotic rhetoric that will make them hurt like the Wicked Witch on a waterslide.

Michelle Obama does not speak for me.

Proud to be an American, after forty plus years, because of some "change" that's promised, but not described?

I've been proud to be an American my whole life. It doesn't depend on some personal attachment to someone I'm trying to elevate to leader, through some word that he has not yet defined.

Still, though I gladly affirm and applaud T.M.'s patriotism, I wonder if her scorn for Michelle Obama isn't more about the politics than the patria. M.O.'s issue here is race. T.M.'s, traditionally, is feminism:

What I'm already looking forward to is the State of the Union speech by Bush where the camera closes in on a picture never before seen in American history. A woman Speaker sitting behind the president keeping watch for the rest of us. A woman is third in line to the presidency. It's a moment I've been waiting for all my life. It has the potential of changing America for good.

She and Michelle Obama don't sound so far apart after all. Same thoughts, different proper nouns.

Here's a couple more:

Walk in my underpaid shoes and those of every other woman who is earning less than her male counterparts, or getting less air time to talk about issues that matter to us all. Look at "Meet the Press" and count the women, as I've done over the years. Count the women talking about foreign policy and national security on the cable shows. Count the liberal women who represent freedom of choice, no matte [sic] what it is, on cable and radio. Now count the majority of all political sides, which is women. Having the first viable female candidate, which doesn't mean anyone should vote for her unless she earns it, is the very definition of change in America. Anyone saying it isn't equal to other change represented, whether it's Edwards's policies, or Barack Obama's presence as well as Bill Richardson, is ignoring the obvious.


The Reagan years were the period when America went ‘Back to The Future’ in pursuit of that mythical period of greatness and nostalgia that Kevin Phillips wrote about in his Post Conservative America. It was a time where a nation wounded by the twin betrayals of Vietnam and Watergate failed the test and rather than gathering together to shape a future that would prevent the amoral interest of a greedy ruling class and their corrupt system from ever again resulting in such disaster we as a nation looked into the mirror and were horrified at the monster glimpsing back, we were in denial and in desperate need of a return to better days.


Information and Knowledge

Christine Rosen reviews Lee Siegel's "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob," which seems to be almost a jeremiad against the Internet.

Mr. Siegel's animus toward the "electronic mob" and his excesses of tone are forgivable when viewed against the overheated techno-enthusiasm of contemporary culture. By reminding us of Spinoza's insight — "All things excellent are both difficult and rare" — Mr. Siegel challenges us to consider the great costs to our culture and our humanity when we embrace a technology that instead makes everything merely easy and common.

She writes that, to Siegel, Wikipedia is an example of how "amateur insights offer us enormous convenience and heterogeneity of opinion; but these often come at the expense of reliability and objectivity." That "heterogeneity" is opposed to "objectivity" might be jarring if you're a lifelong believer in democracy. But knowledge is not democratic. If you were to construct a science by committee, and take the American population as the base for achieving heterogeneity, you'd build in an awful lot of Creationism into the final product.

Enthusiasts of Wikipedia claim they are "democratizing knowledge." Mr. Siegel argues that in fact their work is an example of the broad confusion of information with knowledge — a confusion that characterizes much of online culture.

"Information is not knowledge." Engrave that in stone, if you have the tools.

I wonder how future historians will deal with this explosion of information. Whole centuries of ancient history are based on a few potshards and faded passages from a single moth-gnawed papyrus. Historians of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 have a large, but not infinite, library of material, from Madison's notes to the "Federalists" to the private letters and diaries of participants to the minutes of the state ratification conventions.

A frustrating amount of the private letters and papers of the Founders still are not in print, however. And of course, not everything important made it on to paper in the first place. But a historian isn't telling you what really happened; he or she is telling you what the surviving record about a time or place adds up to. People often forget this, and a lot of bad history writing forgets it, too.

By the time you get to the mid-20th century, a historian of the Cold War has a huge mass of information to sift through. But probably 90 percent of it can be overlooked. It is not difficult to discover which newspapers and magazines were relevant, which books were influential, which speeches were seminal. Opinion polls begin to become reliable indicators of popular sentiment.

How will historians approach the Iraq War? The amount of words in publication (principally online) about it undoubtedly is greater than that for any single incident in human history. In an average 2 minutes on the Internet probably more words are published about the fighting in Iraq than are contained in all of Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides.

How will they determine what matters? Simply by the blogospheric mass of the site? So all anti-war positions will be represented by MyDD and Daily Kos? All supporting positions will boil down to NRO and LGF? How will they sift through the millions of milblogger posts to get a sense of the soldier's war? There's simply too much information to cram into one brain and grind out the objective knowledge.

"For the first time in my adult lifetime ..."

Haditha Revisited

Those of you with television access might want to take note of Frontline’s Haditha: “Rules of Engagement” airing tonight on PBS. Jules Crittenden writes:

I just finished watching a review copy. If you want to know the basics on this political football, see principal participants and witnesses interviewed — Marines, Haditha survivors, reporters and lawyers — and see extensive private and military video footage and stills of 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3/1 Marines in Haditha before, during and after the Nov. 19, 2005 incident, you’ll want to watch this.

It was a big story when it broke, and when it looked like the My Lai of this war. And a lot of people who knew better shott their mouths off prematurely. Then the wheels fell off, and the story sank. Good on PBS for not forgetting.

Voices of Our Neglected Allies

According to "two key architects of Ankara’s Iraq policy":

All this suggests that the critically low point in Turkey's relationship with its southern neighbor, and the United States which still has a role in the latter's destiny, has passed. Since the “surge” Iraq is doing better, and Turkey is happy about it — something that the next U.S. president, whomever he or she will be, must be aware of.

But will "the next U.S. president" be listening?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Soul of the U.N.

I read this book review more out of interest in the author, Francis Fukuyama, than in the subject, Sergio Vieira de Mello, the U.N. bureaucrat killed in a 2003 al Qaida attack in Baghdad.

But I became more interested in Vieira de Mello as I read. And, if Fukuyama is painting him in accurate tones, he could stand as a platonic ideal of the whole type of international bureaucrats since the day of Dag Hammarskjöld. "More than anyone else at the United Nations," Fukuyama writes, "he embodied the organization’s idealism, as well as its limitations."

Vieira de Mello was born in 1948. The son of a Brazilian diplomat, he was a prototypical global cosmopolitan who grew up in Europe and, as a student, manned the barricades during the événements of 1968 in Paris while studying Marxist philosophy. The young Vieira de Mello was instinctively anti-American and cringed when he heard an American accent. After earning his degree, he found work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, traveling to southern Sudan, Mozambique and Vietnam, and passionately embracing the United Nations and international law as the embodiments of global justice.

Emphasis added, for the sake of those who cling to the silly notion that America only "lost the respect of the world" in the time of the current incumbent. There is no indication from Fukuyama that Vieira de Mello ever lost that tic. Or his other propensities.

Samantha Power argues that Vieira de Mello underwent a personal evolution that tracked the United Nations’ experiences. In his early days he carried the United Nations habit of being nonjudgmental to an extreme: he dined with the bloody Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary; he cultivated a friendship with Slobodan Milosevic (which earned him the nickname “Serbio”). “Chasing the Flame” is critical of Vieira de Mello for, in the words of one of his colleagues, “siding with power” when he helped organize forced returns of refugees to Vietnam and Rwanda. But the book is not entirely convincing in its claim that by the end of the 1990s, Vieira de Mello had concluded that the United Nations needed to shift from peacekeeping to peace enforcement as part of a new, global “responsibility to protect.” If he believed such a thing, he never articulated the view or disavowed the earlier United Nations posture as fundamentally broken, as Kofi Annan was eventually to do.

I'm sure Fukuyama will not take it amiss if, after reading all this I am more convinced that the U.N.'s "idealism" and its "limitations" are flip sides of the same coin.

“Chasing the Flame” argues, as Vieira de Mello himself once did, that the United Nations is often unfairly blamed for failures to protect the vulnerable or deter aggression, when the real failure is that of the great powers standing behind it. Those powers are seldom willing to give it sufficient resources, attention and boots on the ground to accomplish the ambitious mandates they set for it. At present, the United Nations is involved in eight separate peacekeeping operations in Africa alone; failure in a high-profile case like Darfur (which seems likely) will once again discredit the organization. Power (who has been a foreign policy adviser to Barack Obama) makes the case for powerful countries like the United States putting much greater effort into making the institution work.

Emphasis added, again, this time for the sake of those trying to peer into the hypothetical futures of the possible next administrations.

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