Friday, August 15, 2008

The Minefield

Some Georgia articles today worth noting.

This time, it's definitely about oil.

Dreams of glory:

What should one make of the announcement from one of her chief admirals, Vladimir Vystosky, on the July 27 Navy Day holiday, that the Russian navy would add six carriers to its fleet--along with all of the necessary support ships that form a carrier battle group?

Above shabby realities:

Looking for an explanation that makes sense is to commit the error, as one Moscow colleague reminded me regularly, "of looking for logic inside Russian officialdom where none can possibly exist." The only explanation is more of the same irrationality that was the hallmark of the Soviet years. Announcing a robust presence with a high profile hides the basic structural defects of the Soviet military.

At the same time, the Russian government continues to shovel billions of dollars into the coffers of defense enterprises that are controlled by the inner circle of officials in the Kremlin. Which may be the ultimate explanation for an order to build carriers that cannot be built and which no one really needs. Just like arms sales to Venezuela, Algeria, and elsewhere, this aircraft carrier fantasy may end up being a wonderful mechanism for laundering money.

All in all not comforting in a nation that still has enough nuclear capacity to broil the world several times over.

Nor is this:

Perhaps the most telling illustration of what the Russians are doing in Georgia was something found found in the pocket of a Russian airman downed by the Georgian air defence: an obscene verse. The verse mocks the enemy - which is normal in wars. However, neither Georgians nor Ossetians are mentioned: the theme of this piece of doggerel was Russian troops humiliating Nato soldiers.

Whatever the humanitarian rhetoric, what Russia is really doing is a preventive strike against Nato, which happens to take place on Georgian territory. Moscow wants to teach Georgia a lesson for Tbilisi's open and defiant wish to become part of the west; it wants to send a message to the United States and Europe that it will not tolerate further encroachment on its zone of influence; and it wants to make clear to other countries in its neighbourhood (Ukraine first of all) that they are in Russia's backyard and should behave accordingly.

Which seems pretty clear to me: In Moscow, the spheres of influence still make music. Perhaps not in the exact ratios that Stalin and Churchill once agreed to. But Poland, as well as Ukraine, had best be thinking hard.

A senior Russian general warned Poland today that it was leaving itself open to retaliation - and possibly even a nuclear strike - by agreeing to host a US missile base.

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the Russian armed forces' deputy chief of staff, issued the extraordinary threat in an interview with Interfax, a Russian news agency.

“Poland, by deploying [the system] is exposing itself to a strike - 100 per cent,” he was quoted as saying, before explaining that Russian military doctrine sanctioned the use of nuclear weapons “against the allies of countries having nuclear weapons if they in some way help them."

Would it matter to that thinking that the Western European powers went to war in 1939 ostensibly because Poland was invaded and occupied, and then left it that way after the war was over?

Finally, remember the words of Solzhenitsyn in his last interview:

Q: Recently, relations between Russia and the West have got somewhat colder. What is the reason? What are the West's difficulties in understanding modern Russia?

Solzhenitsyn: The most interesting [reasons] are psychological, ie, the clash of illusory hopes against reality. This happened both in Russia and in West. When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. This was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.

This mood started changing with the cruel Nato bombings of Serbia. All layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when Nato started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.

So, the perception of the West as mostly a "knight of democracy" has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals. At the same time, the West was enjoying its victory after the Cold War, and observing the 15-year-long anarchy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a third world country and would remain so. When Russia started to regain some of its strength, the West's reaction – perhaps subconscious, based on erstwhile fears – was panic.

Friday Cat Blogging

Layla Isis


Thursday, August 14, 2008


"Georgia" and "Iraq" tend to get uttered in the same sentence a lot around here, usually in terms of complaining what a hypocrite George W. Bush is to complain about Putin's puppet's invasion of a sovereign state on phony pretexts.

Exactly the same!

E.g. here (in comments, but by the post's author):

For the record, to date, Russia has toppled ZERO governments in this decade, the US has toppled 2.

So where do we draw the line on the US?

Leaving aside the question of when progressives became so concerned with governmental stability and integrity of international borders, I'm trying to picture the Iraq venture if it had been done according to the Russian model. Some parallels do suggest themselves. You already had two separatist regions -- the Kurdish north and the Shiite south -- nominally under the protection of the U.S. (and its allies). You had any pretext you like for an attack based on infringement of that unhappy status quo -- no need to read the tea leaves on WMD when there were almost daily violations of the no-fly zone that one side never accepted.

You wouldn't have to trouble with nation-building or infrastructure reconstruction or keeping order while democracy goes through its romper room phase. No danger of being cheated by your friends in the new government, either.

Just calve off the parts you want, occupy them with full force, and turn lose the ethnicities and religions you favor to drive out the ones you don't. Take a few big bites out of the rump nation you leave behind, just to square off your fronts and make the point stick. Then let your enemy's friends figure out how to keep it alive.

Which, in the case of Iraq, would have been the governments and national oil companies of France and Russia.

For starters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Remember Iraq?

They do.


As it turns out, the July [Internet access] attack [against Web sites in the Republic of Georgia] may have been a dress rehearsal for an all-out cyberwar once the shooting started between Georgia and Russia. According to Internet technical experts, it was the first time a known cyberattack had coincided with a shooting war.

But it will likely not be the last, said Bill Woodcock, the research director of the Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit organization that tracks Internet traffic. He said cyberattacks are so inexpensive and easy to mount, with few fingerprints, they will almost certainly remain a feature of modern warfare.

“It costs about 4 cents per machine,” Mr. Woodcock said. “You could fund an entire cyberwarfare campaign for the cost of replacing a tank tread, so you would be foolish not to.”

Somehow the line got out quickly in the U.S. that Russia was just sitting there minding its own and watching the Olympics when those hot-headed Georgians, drunk on U.S. neocon rhetoric, mugged them. The closer you look at the long-simmering feud over these "breakaway regions," the more you see the hands twisting the oven dials under the pot. You need a lot more information than most opinionators have offered to judge who wanted this boil-over right now.

The Ancient 'Computer'

In words, pictures, and video. "Awesome" is the current most-overused word. But this is awesome.

Herbert Hoover

I meant to post something two days ago on his birthdate on Herbert Hoover, one of the great Americans of the 20th century.

You might know him as just a joke on conservatives in Norman Lear's theme song for Archie Bunker. He belongs in a class with Quincy Adams as the men who did great service to their country over long lives, with a failed term in the White House in the middle of it.

Even in Europe, which ought to remember him when we don't, he's a footnote, a "did you know?" story.

He believed in Americans, and appealed to the best in us. If even one tenth of the statistics are right, he saved the lives of millions of people. Think of that!

Someday, perhaps, I'll get a chance to write about him. Not tonight, though.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fear Itself

Paul Krugman thinks the Republicans are scaring me away from nationalized health care with the phrase "socialized medicine."

No, sir, they aren't. I like the idea, or ideal, of basic health care for everyone. But some things Americans just do not do well. What scares me off from the notion is not GOP sloganeering. It's the VA Hospitals. The public school system. The "Social Security is broke" crisis that comes up every two years. The Farm Bill. When I think of national health care in the U.S., I think of the Post Office, with scalpels.

Georgia War

Where it stands.

"Iraq" is the unspoken name in much of the public diplomacy -- which of course is not diplomacy at all but jockeying for world opinion. Bush framed his objection thus:

"Russia has invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatens a democratic government elected by its people. Such an action is unacceptable in the 21st century."

Key words being "neighboring" and "democratic." It's a nice try but he's clearly got a weaker hand here than he would have without the global ire over Iraq.

Meanwhile, in the first-linked piece, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says: "We have no plans to depose anyone, this is in general not in our political culture and not in the arsenal of our foreign policy. We do not depose, and we do not bring to the throne. Others do such things—as we know…"

No kewpie doll for figuring out which "others" he means there.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Echoes of 1956

Some aspects of the current tragedy in Georgia remind me of the Hungarian uprising in 1956, especially the role of the U.S. I think this blogger gets it right:

For the USA, though, the lesson of 1956 is clear: don't encourage the fantasies of small countries that we are in no position to help. It raises expectations that we can't fulfill, and pushes other people into bloody confrontations.

One difference is, we had only scant and secretive contact with the Hungarian people in 1956, much of it through Voice of America broadcasts by Hungarian exiles that weren't even well monitored by the U.S. government. In cases like Georgia, it ought to be explicit, if it wasn't, how far we agree to go in their defense.

More on Hungary 1956. Also, thoughts along these lines from Michelle Malkin, who, of course, would have done more in 1956.

Rebranding Cindy

Cindy Sheehan makes the ballot to oppose Nancy Pelosi.

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill says the speaker welcomes the challenge and has "the highest respect" for Sheehan.

I am sure. It's inside baseball to most of you, probably, but the AP slug on the story is BC-Pelosi-Sheehan Challenge

All through Sheehan's personal crusade against Bush, the AP slugs on her story were "PEACEMOM." AP keeps the same slugs on a story in a cycle; Supreme Court stories always are SCOTUS. Even if the story changes in nature, the slug generally stays the same for the sake of editors finding it again. If two children don't come home from school it will be MISSINGKIDS or something, even as the case evolves into a murder, a trial, a conviction. Even now, after almost seven years and many permutations in the news stories, the slug on any AP story on Sept. 11 begins with ATTACKS.

So the AP dubbed this woman "Peace Mom." Soon after, "Peace Mom" crept into AP's descriptions of Sheehan in, for instance, photo captions. Finally, it became her designation in the AP's headlines. 'Peace Mom' Cindy Sheehan returns to Texas for war protest. It was the Associated Press that gave her that name, then they quoted it, unattributed, in their headlines. They've also given her a much-airbrushed back story. Working overtime to nail down public perception where they believe it belongs.

But now that she's at war with the liberal Democrat from San Francisco -- for essentially the same reasons she warred on Bush, she's no longer a Peace Mom, I guess. The words "Peace Mom" appear nowhere in the Pelosi story.


Riots in Canada?

Oh, dear. Who is going to break the news to my co-workers. Who insist there is no crime, no violence, and no racism in Canada -- always in contrast to the horrible U.S.A. It's an idealized anti-America of the mind that I privately call Canarda. But of course they've lived there (in some cases while dodging the draft here back in the Vietnam Era) and I've only visited, so of course they know more about it than I do.

Here's the AP's description of things:

Montreal's mayor on Monday promised a swift inquiry into the shooting death of a Honduran teenager by police after the incident prompted violent clashes between angry youth and authorities in a heavily Haitian neighborhood.

A police officer was shot in the leg late Sunday, cars were set ablaze, stores were looted and firefighters were pelted with beer bottles in Montreal North, a multiethnic area referred to by local police as the Bronx of Montreal for its poverty and crime.

Several hundred officers in riot gear fanned out in the area, searching for a group of youths suspected of torching eight cars parked outside a fire station. Six people were arrested.

Crime, violence, and racism. Sounds a little less like perfection and a little more like everywhere else.

Little Things

Switching into Andy Rooney mode here ...

These are little things that piss me off, because they're typically written by people who profess to know more than I do and thus instruct me. OK, Andy Rooney wouldn't have said "piss me off."

Here's Cernig, a smart guy who always leaves me with the impression that, if you disagree with him, he thinks it's because you don't know as much as he does. Or else you have neocon, which is a sort of incurable disease. In my case, the answer is "both."

He writes, "war with Russia over a tiny disputed ethnic breakaway region in a small Eastern European country isn't going to happen." Which I agree with as an assessment. But Georgia is south of the Caucasus, and I've always thought the Caucasus was the boundary between Europe and Asia. My knowledge tends to become outdated, but I looked it up and Georgia still seems to be in Asia.

It's a little thing, but for someone whose weight of argument seems tilted toward "I'm right because I know more than you do," it sticks. Sort of like watching a ballet master take a tumble off a street curb.

He also, by the way, says:

Saakashvili has absolutely no evidence, of course, for his claim that Russia "ordered it's proxies" to carry out attacks (It might have, but he can't prove even word one of it) ....

And then later says:

... the Bush administration almost certainly knew what Georgia planned far enough in advance to stop it, but didnt ....

Which is basically making the same sort of talking-out-the-ass statement he accuses Saakashvili of making. The difference of course being that Cernig isn't president of anything (so far as I know) and can't send armies to war. Which is a big difference. But in terms of someone sifting through his arguments, I imagine it's not a point that inspires much confidence.

As for what the Bush Administration knew or didn't know, I thought one of the enduring lessons of the last 8 years is the fantastic amount of what goes on in the world that's news to Bush when it gets into the newspapers. I thought that was one of the hammering points of his opponents. Of course you can have it both ways, if you presume a marvelous Richelieu-esque duplicity on the part of the boob from Texas, that he only pretends to be surprised so he can further his agenda, which thrives on chaos and American blundering.

As for Georgia, it's painful to watch. I like Georgia and its people and government, and the Russians seem to be using this excuse to mojo up after a long spell of humiliation. Like the Grenada invasion looked to some people back in the '80s. If the Russians had popped the first shot, we'd be in a different situation. If the Georgians had gone in with more care and less artillery, things would look different too. Instead, it's like watching a good friend go Leroy Jenkins into a minefield. You just wait till it's over and hope there's enough of him left to patch back together.

I also am sticking with Demophilus' early observation that this ultimately is about Abkhasia, not South Ossetia.

* * *

The Associated Press, meanwhile, in writing about Radovan Karadzic has taken to calling the slaughter of 8,000 Muslims at Srebrenica Europe's worst slaughter since World War II. [Other accounts vary -- "massacre" and "atrocity" also appear.]

But it's the "since World War II" that sticks in my craw. Which is only possible for AP to write because it and the rest of us have so long blocked out the period 1945 to 1950 in Europe, when truly nasty things were done on a large scale to subject peoples, often by our then-allies, often with at least the passive cooperation of the U.S. occupiers, and often to peoples who were deemed to have taken the wrong side in the just-ended war.

The exact details of who did what to whom are the subject of furious debate and have become hopelessly entangled in cranks and conspiracy-mongers, mainly because the stories largely have been left to such people by the academics. But the numbers, even in the most conservative estimates for some specific cases, go beyond Srebrenica's 8,000.

Two Words that End in 'O'

Being 'bingo,' and 'ditto'

This is a fight to the death for power and the distribution of wealth. It is about ideology only to the extent that ideologies are masks for interests. Of course each contender is going to do whatever it takes to win, within the vague and shifting limits set by public revulsion. ... There are times when I find myself liking one or the other or both candidates and being saddened by the unrelenting vitriol that's spat at and about them. And other times when I think, Good! We test our candidates like gladiators. Whichever one is left standing might just be tough enough for the job.

... So, to put it as crudely as possible: the rich don't want to be taxed; the poor want more handouts; and everybody in between is trying to figure out whether life is better for them (us) under the frankly powerful or under those whose power derives from purporting to represent the interests of the powerless.

Realm of the Coin

A direct hit, and a new, good word:

It is sometimes difficult when reading [linguist, progressive, and "Don't Think of an Elephant!" author George P.] Lakoff to know where his political advocacy ends and his cognitive-linguistics scholarship begins. When I ask him about that, he acknowledges that his political celebrity has put a strain on his scholarly work, but he insists that he has not abandoned linguistics for politics: "The work I do in politics is linguistics, it is linguistics about political subjects — it is advocacy linguistics." That means, he says, "I do a simple linguistic analysis, and then I say based on that analysis you should do this, this, and that. But it all rests on doing the linguistics."

Owen Flanagan, a professor of neurobiology at Duke University, is even more skeptical than [Steven] Pinker, declaring Lakoff a member of the "neuroenthusiasta," his term for cognitive scientists who overstate the implications of their research, and the journalists who breathlessly hype their findings. According to Flanagan, brain science is only helpful to the extent that it tells us something we don't already know. To illustrate his point, he offers an analogy: When children learn how to ride a bike, something changes in their brains. If a scientist offers parents a detailed description of that neurological transformation, it might be interesting, but it won't help children learn to ride a bike.

At one point, Lakoff makes Chomsky (an academic arch-rival) looks reasonable by comparison. He also wants to take credit for Obama. Take a number, George.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Caucasus War

This has been a good blog for keeping up with it.

Thank You, John Edwards

Thanks to you, men all across America -- guys who work hard and play by the rules -- will go home tonight to a little more bitterness, shorter fuzes, heightened suspicion. It's not much of a legacy. But it's what you've got.

Other than that, I don't think this story makes a damn bit of difference, unless you really thought this politician was somehow in a different category than the rest. If you want a different category, try Barney Frank. Who I'd vote for in a heartbeat if -- well -- straight talk and frankness were the sole considerations.

But think about it. There are tens of millions of Democrats out there with passionate beliefs, ideals, and thirst for change of one sort or another, and this man rode hard to be their standard-bearer, their sole knight in the crucial battle, knowing that his cardboard armor would crumple at the first hit.

Council Winners

The latest batch of Watchers Council winners have been posted.

First place in the council went to Winning in Afghanistan by Joshuapundit.

Votes also went to Why Exploit Our Domestic Resources by Wolf Howling; What is a Windfall Profit? by Rhymes with Right; and Marin County’s Hidden Conservatives by Bookworm Room.

The last post reminds me that many blogs are strongest when they hew most closely to the daily realities of the people who write them. That is the one topic about which you may be assured I know more than you do: What happens to me day in and day out. But it is not possible to write a daily blog on world affairs or politics in that vein unless you are one of the 300 or so people who move and shake those places. In which case you probably don't want to broadcast your daily life.

Outside the council, the winner was Obama Be by Classical Values, which was worthy for recalling in detail the program for radicals (what we now generally call "progressives") outlined circa 1970 by Saul Alinsky. It's impressive to see how deeply it has taken root, so deeply that many people who swim in it daily never heard of Alinsky or realized that someone first spelled it all out. Hillary Rodham wrote her senior honors thesis at Wellesley College on Alinsky. Obama certainly owes him a debt, in his community organizer phase. Wikipedia sums up Alinsky thus:

Alinsky was a critic of a passive and ineffective mainstream liberalism. In Rules for Radicals, he argued that the most effective means are whatever will achieve the desired ends, and that an intermediate end for radicals should be democracy because of its relative ease to work within to achieve other ends of social justice.

Votes also went to The Forgotten Christians of Lebanon by Sigmund, Carl and Alfred, a post remarkable because not only does it detail a distant problem, it suggesting things that the average American can do that might help relieve it.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Laid to Rest

I don't think we ever really understood Solzhenitsyn. When he came to America, we wanted him to like us and be one of us, which is generally how we treat foreign dignitaries.

Solzhenitsyn offers us the great lesson of a dissident who was a passionate nationalist. We don't see that type often here. Even more seldom do we grow them. Our dissidents tend to identify themselves as "citizens of the world" or of humanity, and to regard America, and especially American nationalism, as the world's great evil.

He lived in Vermont, and his heart never left Mother Russia. His courtesy to us, his gift to us in exchange for our hospitality, was to look at America as a patriotic dissident would, and say the things about it a dissident nationalist would say about us, if we had one, if Solzhenitsyn had been an American. We are only beginning to appreciate the gift.

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The Coming Revanche

From a review of Robert Kagan's new book:

In his recent speech before an adoring crowd in Berlin, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama implored leaders in the United States and Western Europe to “reject the Cold War mindset of the past” in their dealings with Russia. This was an implicit rebuke to his Republican opponent, John McCain, who has talked tough on Russia, going so far as to raise the possibility of kicking it out of the G-8 for its domestically illiberal and externally aggressive behavior. Kagan, an informal advisor to McCain, even compares “the mood of recrimination in Russia today” to German anger after the supposed humiliations of the Versailles Treaty—and we’re all familiar with what followed after the signing of that punitive accord. Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism, no doubt to be continued by his handpicked successor, Dmitri Medvedev, has been buttressed by the country’s astounding economic growth under his leadership: between 1998 and 2006, Kagan writes, the Russian economy has grown by more than 50 percent. Remember all the stories about Russian decline, the endless reports of soaring alcoholism rates and grinding poverty? They’ve gone the way of Boris Yeltsin, along with whatever hopes there were of Russian liberalism.

From Solzhenitsyn's last interview:

Q: Recently, relations between Russia and the West have got somewhat colder. What is the reason? What are the West's difficulties in understanding modern Russia?

Solzhenitsyn: The most interesting [reasons] are psychological, ie, the clash of illusory hopes against reality. This happened both in Russia and in West. When I returned to Russia in 1994, the Western world and its states were practically being worshipped. This was caused not so much by real knowledge or a conscious choice, but by disgust with the Bolshevik regime and its anti-Western propaganda.

This mood started changing with the cruel Nato bombings of Serbia. All layers of Russian society were deeply and indelibly shocked by those bombings. The situation then became worse when Nato started to spread its influence and draw the ex-Soviet republics into its structure. This was especially painful in the case of Ukraine, a country whose closeness to Russia is defined by millions of family ties among our peoples, relatives living on different sides of the national border. At one stroke, these families could be torn apart by a new dividing line, the border of a military bloc.

So, the perception of the West as mostly a "knight of democracy" has been replaced with the disappointed belief that pragmatism, often cynical and selfish, lies at the core of Western policies. For many Russians it was a grave disillusion, a crushing of ideals. At the same time, the West was enjoying its victory after the Cold War, and observing the 15-year-long anarchy under Gorbachev and Yeltsin. It was easy to get accustomed to the idea that Russia had become almost a third world country and would remain so. When Russia started to regain some of its strength, the West's reaction – perhaps subconscious, based on erstwhile fears – was panic.

Aren't they describing the same thing, taking into account that they stand on opposite sides of it?

In the 1990s when Russia was down I longed for the West to give it a hand up, because it was the most self-interested thing we could have done. The Marshall Plan for a new millennium. Instead, the people I knew only salivated over a "peace dividend" they never saw anyhow.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

His Fanatic Heart

Live Not by Lies

That should be your motto. Write it on your heart. Suffer for it, and thank your God for that privilege.

It was the title of an essay he wrote, dated the day the secret police arrested him to ship him into exile. It circulated secretly among Moscow intellectuals, but was published in full light of day for the world to read in "The Washington Post" on Monday, February 18, 1974. And therein lies all the mistake his government made in thinking it had silenced him.

When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: "I am violence. Run away, make way for me -- I will crush you." But violence quickly grows old. And it has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally -- since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies -- all loyalty lies in that.

The final grim pun, alas, does not exist in the Russian. It only makes the essay more potent in its American voice. As Solzhenitsyn himself proved to be, though he knew he never belonged here, to us, in the West. He landed luckily in rural Vermont, where small town people know the virtues of doing, not speaking.

On Thursday, June 8, 1978, he spoke to Harvard's graduating class and to all the West that would listen.

The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

And he called us to our old standards:

"It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations. Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counter-balanced by the young people's right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil."

At that point, many turned away from him. He was not anti-Russian. He was not pro-American. It was a time that understood the world in those terms. But to pretend he was either would have been a lie, and that he would not do.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was born the year the communists under Lenin took control of Russia. In his youth he was a good patriotic son of Russia, who bought the government's stories, studied diligently, and served with distinction in the war against the Nazis. But he had a penchant for telling the truth, and when he wrote disparagingly of Stalin in a letter to a fellow officer, he was sent into the gulag. By the time he came out, he had almost died -- twice -- and become a Christian. The crucible had tempered him into a man who would not live for any lie.

He wrote at the end of the first volume of "The Gulag Archipelago" that his years in prison had been a moral gift:

"It was granted me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good. In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel. In the surfeit of power I was a murderer, and an oppressor. In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either - but right through every human heart - and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains . . . an uprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

And since that time I have come to understand the falsehood of all the revolutions in history: they destroy only those carriers of evil contemporary with them (and also fail, out of haste, to discriminate the carriers of good as well). And they then take to themselves as their heritage the actual evil itself, magnified still more."

This William F. Buckley Jr. column appeared in National Review in August 1975. He was amused by the then-MSM's attempt to paint Solzhenitsyn as a right-winger by disillusioned liberals:

If Solzhenitsyn is a far rightist who appeals to the far right, he goes at it in a most unorthodox way. Having declared that the Russian people are the natural allies of the American workers, he commented in one of his recent speeches about “another alliance — at first glance a strange one, a surprising one — but if you think about it, in fact one which is well-grounded and easy to understand: this is the alliance between our Communist leaders and your capitalists.”

“This alliance is not new,” Solzhenitsyn reminded his audience. “The very famous Armand Hammer, who is flourishing here today, laid the basis for this when he made the first exploratory trip into Russia, still in Lenin’s time, in the very first years of the Revolution. He was extremely successful in this intelligence mission and since that time for all these fifty years, we observe continuous and steady support by the businessmen of the west of the Soviet Communist leaders.” Doesn’t sound to me like a typical far right talk ….

Solzhenitsyn went on to discuss a recent exhibit of the Untied States anti-criminal technology which the Russians brought up with fascination. The difference being that we were selling our scientific paraphernalia not to the law abiding for use against criminals, but to criminals for use against the law abiding: rather like inventing a guillotine for the purpose of chopping meat, and then selling it to Robespierre for other uses ….

Give the last word to Roger Scruton:

It is fair to say that the three-volume The Gulag Archipelago did more than any other publication to cause the scales to fall from the eyes of those who had been tempted to believe that communism would have been fine, had it not been perverted from its true course by Stalin. Solzhenitsyn showed the way in which, once accountability has been set aside, as it was set aside by Lenin in 1918, and once society had as a result been conscripted to a single goal, with all institutions gathered up into the collective advance, it is not "corruption" that leads to the triumph of evil. The conditions are now in place for evil to prevail, since there is nothing to prevent it.

Yet this evil should not be seen as an impersonal thing. Solzhenitsyn was far from endorsing the thesis of the "banality of evil" as Hannah Arendt had expounded it. Nor did he see totalitarianism as the ultimate source of the evil that it promotes. Rather totalitarian government is the great mistake, made for whatever noble or ignoble purpose, of putting the final goal before the present dilemma. It is this which gives evil intentions the same chance as good ones, which enables the criminal and the psychopath to compete on a level with the saint and the hero. Yet even in totalitarianism the evil belongs to the human beings, and not to the system.


The Joker Smiles

The daily newspaper only looks like it's dying. In fact, it's already dead. Those 10 percent cuts in staff, those buyout offers for jobs that won't be re-filled: they're not the harbingers of the demise of print journalism. That's the death of it, right there.

Newspaper people know this. David Carr of the New York Times:

On Sunday, a fat-looking [Newark] Star-Ledger showed up, seemingly stuffed with inserts and ads, local sports and cultural coverage, prompting my wife to suggest, “It’s like a ham sandwich, it’s so thick, with lettuce, pickles and onions.”

It may still look like a sandwich, but some of the meat is about to go missing. Tom Moran, the political columnist of The Star-Ledger who retired earlier this year, shudders when he thinks about New Jersey, with its history of public corruption, without a fully-armed Star-Ledger looking over its shoulder.

“At least we could embarrass them and occasionally, the people would vote the bad guys out,” he said. “It’s a sad story not just for my friends who work at the paper. But for the state of New Jersey, if this continues, the bad guys will have a lot less to worry about.”

At the newspaper I know best, there no longer is an investigative reporter. There rarely if ever is more than one reporter working on a story, however big it sprawls. Whoever does the police beat is whoever isn't doing anything else that night.

At that rate, all you can do is keep up. Who in your town is going to smoke out the corruption, the scams, the bad business practices? Bloggers? Who gives any credence to what a blogger says? What blogger is going to spend a week going through a three-foot high stack of FOIA documents to find the 10 pages that matter? What blogger is going to call a first-amendment lawyer after sundown to shake loose an affidavit from a district magistrate who won't release it? How many will patiently schmooze the lunchcounter waitresses and bartenders who know where the bodies are buried in this town and cultivate them for the day you need to know what they know? And the ones with time, money, and will to do that work won't care about your state or county. They'll be busy making themselves players on the national scene.


Sunday, August 03, 2008


He outlived the USSR.

From the New York Times obituary:

"It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie! For in the struggle with lies art has always triumphed and shall always triumph! Visibly, irrefutably for all! Lies can prevail against much in this world, but never against art." He quoted a Russian proverb: "One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world."

Somehow, it seems to me it only could be a Russian proverb. An American would expect the truth to triumph in time to make a happy ending. Not after everything had been lost and crushed and ground down as fine as snow.

In the piece I quoted below, Madonna has this to say today about Michael Moore, on the day Solzhenitsyn died:

"There aren't a lot of role models for us in the world, or people we can look up to," she said. "People who are not afraid to stick their neck out, people who are not afraid to stand up for things and be unpopular, to go against the grain, think outside the box.

"And we need, and I need, Michael Moore in my life."

It's almost unfair of me to even mention the two truths at the same time. Almost. Moore: "I'm a millionaire, I'm a multi-millionaire. I'm filthy rich. You know why I'm a multi-millionaire? 'Cause multi-millions like what I do. That's pretty good, isn't it? There's millions that believe in what I do. Pretty cool, huh?"

The obituary:

By this time, Solzhenitsyn had completed his own massive attempt at truthfulness, "The Gulag Archipelago." In more than 300,000 words, he told the history of the Gulag prison camps, whose operations and rationale and even existence were subjects long considered taboo.

Publishers in Paris and New York had secretly received the manuscript on microfilm. But wanting the book to appear first in the Soviet Union, Solzhenitsyn asked them to put off publishing it. Then, in September 1973, he changed his mind. He had learned that the Soviet spy agency, the KGB, had unearthed a buried copy of the book after interrogating his typist, Elizaveta Voronyanskaya, and that she had died soon afterward in an apparent suicide by hanging.

And there isn't even a picture of Elizaveta Voronyanskaya on the Internet.



AP still reports in detail what women celebrities wear to celebrity events. With men, it tends not to. In some cases, that can make for odd reporting:

Hundreds of fans cheered from behind barricades as Madonna, wearing a black dress, high heels and sunglasses, stepped out of a black sport utility vehicle that pulled up in front of the State Theatre. She hugged a waiting Moore, who sported an orange baseball cap, and posed for photos with him.

One hopes he was wearing more than that. If not, they ought to have told us where he had the hat.

Too Bad We Won't Get One

I agree with this, but what do I know?:

The economic paradox we are facing is that we truly need an old-time Dem in office right now. We have got to change our policies enough to put some stimulus into the lower half of the income bracket, and we don't have too many options to do it. We don't have the money to send people checks all the time, and we haven't been saving for retirements so we can't cut taxes much or at all on the bottom two-thirds of the income distribution. Our tax pyramid is sharp enough that we can't afford to raise them too much on the next 20% of the income distribution either, and if you target just the top you are asking for flight. Ronald Reagan did more to raise the incomes of the bottom half of the distribution than the modern Dems, which should tell us all something.


Friday, August 01, 2008

Death of the Monster

Remember the monster album? It blasted out of the studio, or it crept up from under the charts. It came winged with anticipation, or it slithered into the playlists. Either way, it defined pop music. It was, for a time, inevitable, shooting out hit after hit like a Roman candle. Certain summers of my life are defined by certain albums, even if I never bought them or liked them. "The Wall." "Rumours." "Born in the USA." "The Joshua Tree." "Parallel Lines." "Tapestry." "Thriller." "Nevermind." "Frampton Comes Alive."

When did it die? And which hook-fest was the last? Off the top of my head I thought mid-1990s: Live (1994), Hootie and the Blowfish (1994), Alanis Morissette (1996). After that? Late '90s: Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, were they monsters? There was that one Linkin Park album.

Anything since 2000? Is it safe to say the monster rock album died with the millennium?


A Very Sad Book

This [Tim Tzouliadis's "The Forsaken"] is a very sad book, the story of thousands of Americans who, during the Depression, lured by sham Soviet propaganda and pro-Soviet falsehoods spread by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and the corrupt New York Times Moscow correspondent, Walter Duranty, migrated to the USSR in search of jobs and a role in the "building of socialism." It was, in the words of the author, "the least heralded migration in American history" and a period when "for the first time in her short history more people were leaving the United States than were arriving." Most of these expatriates, not intellectuals but simple working men, were quickly disenchanted and wanted to return home, only to find that Moscow considered them Soviet citizens and barred them from leaving. Ignored by the American government, many of them ended in the gulag.

The history we know is false. No matter how hard they try, historians when they write can't purge themselves of knowing how it turns out. Usually, I suspect, they don't even try. To understand why people did what they did, you have to stand in the past and blind yourself, so you cannot see ahead.

In the 1930s, capitalism and liberal democracy looked like dead ends. The Soviet Union, filtered through the supposedly reliable reporting of Western observers who actually went there, seemed to be charging ahead with inspired workers and full production, where the U.S. was a land of cold chimneys and breadlines. In Germany and Italy, other collectivisms made monumental strides, under dynamic leadership, amid popular enthusiasm. That a certain brutality accompanied all this was known, but it had not yet become monstrous and even then the full degree did not become apparent to most people till after the war.

I wonder about "for the first time in her short history more people were leaving the United States than were arriving." I don't have the right books on hand now, but it might be there were brief periods in the 1830s and perhaps 1850s, during severe economic downturns, when more people were leaving than arriving.


Memo to Campaign Journalists

Take a vacation. Please. You're more embarrassing than the candidates. Look, everything is about to go quiet for a while because the Olympics are going to blot out the spotlight. Then we'll have the party conventions, which will utterly rewrite the electoral landscape. Then it gets real. Right now, nothing matters. Nothing. And when you insist on writing like it does, you get puerilities like this:

But in a nation in which 66% of the voting-age population is overweight and 32% is obese, could Sen. Obama's skinniness be a liability? Despite his visits to waffle houses, ice-cream parlors and greasy-spoon diners around the country, his slim physique just might have some Americans wondering whether he is truly like them.

Well, duh. He is a smoker, or was until very recently. We may be a nation of uneducated lard-asses, but we generally recognize smokers tend to be skinnier than non-smokers. Hell, even the government knows this.

The same goes for political bloggers, who beclown themselves by shrieking that McCain was "fearmongering" back in October 2001 when he suggested Iraq was a suspect in the anthrax mailings.

As Atrios recalls, shortly after 9/11, conservatives were pinning the blame for the anthrax attacks on Iraq, laying the groundwork for a subsequent invasion. John McCain was part of this fearmongering effort.


He preyed on the public’s fear at the time by claiming that the anthrax “may have come from Iraq”

O, the tyranny of hindsight! Back then, we knew very little. Except that at least some of the anthrax was "weapons-grade," the messages were overtly Islamist (or written to sound that way) and when you went looking for an entity capable of crafting that quality of fatal spores, and with the historical track record of doing such things, and with an immediate beef with the U.S., Iraq was on the short list. McCain qualified what he said with warnings that little was known: "There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq."

That hardly counts as "pinning the blame" and it didn't require a subscription to The New Republic to pencil in that dot connection at that time, however wrong it turned out to be.


Council Winners

The latest Watchers Council winners are up. Thanks to Bookworm Room for hosting this week.

First place in the council went to Hating Israel more than loving palestinians by Soccer Dad.

Votes also went to “Ich Bin Ein Beginner!” by 2. Joshua Pundit; Nobody here but us biased chickens by Bookworm Room; and China by Hillbilly White Trash.

Outside the council, first place went to Barack Obama’s Stealth Socialism in Investor’s Business Daily.

Votes also went to On Obama’s Message by Jay Cost; Missing from that Berlin Speech by Jeff Jacoby; Will Obama Really Withdraw From Iraq? by Gregory Scoblete; Visiting Poland: A Warning by Maryland Conservative; and Anti-Patriot Act Poster Boy Kidnaps Own Kids by Patrick Poole.

Stating the Obvious

"You don't understand al Qaeda," 9/11 plotter says

"He was not a soldier, he was a driver," [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed said according to a redacted English translation of his Arabic.

He described Hamdan, who has a fourth-grade education, as a "more primitive (Bedouin) person" who did not share bin Laden's ideology but wanted his money and was "only searching for pleasure and money in this life."

"He was not fit to plan or execute. But he is fit to change trucks' tires, change oil filters, wash and clean cars and fasten cargo in pick up trucks," said Mohammed, who called himself the military official responsible for overseeing al Qaeda cells abroad and "the executive director of 9/11."

... Prosecutors contend [Hamdan] had been part of a broad al Qaeda conspiracy since traveling to Afghanistan in 1996, and therefore shared the blame for al Qaeda attacks, such as the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in east Africa, the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 and September 11.

Mohammed said those attacks succeeded precisely because they were kept secret from many members of bin Laden's inner circle, from other al Qaeda members and cells, from trainers at the camps and from what he termed "civilian employees" such as cooks, translators and computer engineers.

Referring to bin Laden, he said, "It is not logical that anyone who knew UBL or visited him or associated with al Qaeda (had) to be a terrorist trained to kill people as your bad media put it."

With the usual caveats about my ignorance and the risk of trusting the arguments of clever enemies, I'd say the mastermind killer's mocking makes more sense than the government's legal case.


This is About the Internet

This is not about the Internet:

Why inflict anguish on a helpless stranger? It’s tempting to blame technology, which increases the range of our communications while dehumanizing the recipients. Cases like An Hero and Megan Meier presumably wouldn’t happen if the perpetrators had to deliver their messages in person. But while technology reduces the social barriers that keep us from bedeviling strangers, it does not explain the initial trolling impulse. This seems to spring from something ugly — a destructive human urge that many feel but few act upon, the ambient misanthropy that’s a frequent ingredient of art, politics and, most of all, jokes. There’s a lot of hate out there, and a lot to hate as well.