Regions of Mind
Self-assured but self-questioning.
Geitner Simmons is an editorial writer with the Omaha World-Herald.
This weblog expresses his personal views only.
He is also
a husband, a father, a son. And always
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Saturday, August 31
The Mexican economy: safe from South America's economic turmoil (so far)
Succinct, useful piece in The Economist about the successes and challenges of the Mexican economy. (It's a single article, not an entire multi-article special section on Mexico.)
Due to NAFTA, no less than 89 percent of Mexico's exports now head north, to the United States, the article says.
Mexico's economy faces structural problems including ill-considered government encouragement of monopolies and a worrisome reliance on oil revenues (providing 35 percent of revenues for the country's federal government). Still, Mexico has made significant strides since the country's dramatic economic slide of the mid-1990s, in terms of economic reform as well as greater political openness. At a time of economic wobbliness in Brazil and outright meltdown in Argentina, Mexico's stability (at least for the moment) provides welcome reassurance.
Friday, August 30
Democracy and American history II:
Hypocrisy in the slaveholding South
I recently posted about how a central component of American democracy, confirmed in the aftermath of the Revolution, was the overturning of hierarchical thinking and the embrace of egalitarianism, at least as an ideal. That change opened the way, among other things, to a burst of commercial and entrepreneurial activity that the colonial system had blocked.
Matt Welch was kind enough to link to the post, and a reader comment at his site raised an interesting point: Maybe my thesis was correct, but what about the slavery system in the antebellum South -- didn’t its existence undermine my claim that America was stepping forward toward recognition of individual freedom?
It’s a great question. Antebellum South history is a particular interest of mine, and it is absolutely true that America did not advance uniformly toward the recognition of individual liberty. In fact, the apologists for Southern slavery tied themselves into rhetorical and philosophical knots trying to portray slaveholding as compatible with egalitarianism.
The slave system stood as one of the great obstacles to the advancement of freedom in this country. Removing it, through war, proved necessary not only to allow racial justice (realized only in the 1960s and afterward) but also to encourage the South’s belated embrace of entrepreneurship and industrialization (an attitudinal change that became widely noticeable in the 1890s).
William Freehling explored the contradictions of Southern slaverholders' political rhetoric in his classic historical study, “The Road to Disunion: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854.” Freehling vividly described the hypocrisy and nonsense that lay behind the rationalizations slaveholders deployed to depict slavery as a morally uplifting institution compatible with democracy.
Some slaveholders, however, did not even bother with voicing support for poor whites. The slaveholding elite in coastal South Carolina and eastern Virginia, Freehling notes, tended to be fiercely anti-democratic. (Many states ended onerous property restrictions against officeholding during the early 1800s, for example, but the aristocratic elite in South Carolina insisted on the retention of such measures right into the 1850s.) Freehling described the political thinking of such men this way:
Another useful passage:
In 1830, about 36 percent of Southern whites owned slaves. By 1860, the number was 26 percent.
Nathaniel Beverly Tucker, a hot-tempered instructor at the College of William and Mary, stood as one of the leading pro-slavery intellectuals of the antebellum era. His praise for slavery was matched by his contempt for democracy, which he derided as an ill-considered “tyranny of numbers.”
In 1836, U.S. Rep. James Henry Hammond of South Carolina delivered a speech on the House floor in which he praised the slave system for producing what he claimed was “the highest toned, the purest, best organization of society that has ever existed on the face of the Earth.” He strangely tried to sway Northern lawmakers by arguing that abolition of slavery would trigger class war within the white race in all sections of the country, with white aristocrats being targeted by “sans-culottes” proclaiming “equality to all mankind.”
Hammond, incidentally, is one of the most curious Southern figures of the era. His life provides a look into many facets of the slave system. To cite only one example: His wife left Hammond (one of the South’s most bombastic apologists for slavery) after she discovered that he had been having sexual liaisons with a female slave as well as her daughter.
Once Southern thinkers started down the path of concocting high-flown justifications for slavery and aristocratic elitism, they sometimes found themselves in peculiar intellectual territory indeed. George Fitzhugh, a Virginian, provides a good example. Declaring that “the doctrine of Human Equality is practically impossible,” he went on to estimate that 19 out of every 20 individuals, regardless of race, lacked the ability to care for themselves and therefore “have a natural and inalienable right to be slaves.” His peroration concluded, “Liberty for the few -- slavery, in every form, for the mass.”
Along the same lines, Thomas Dew, another instructor at William and Mary, actually claimed that because slavery was so demonstrably superior to wage labor, “at this very moment, in every densely populated country, hundreds would be willing to sell themselves” into bondage “if the laws would permit.”
The intellectual rationales behind Southern slavery involved a long line of hypocrisies and self-deceptions. Among the greatest of those was the outrageous claim that a system founded on radical inequality could simultaneously champion individual liberty. That lie fortunately perished in 1865, along with the Confederacy, both gone with the wind.
UPDATE: Gary Haubold sent me a thoughtful, well-argued e-mail this morning pointing out that the founders generally were not enthusiastic about encouraging mass democracy and that the North was also guilty of egregious racial injustice. He's absolutely right on both counts. The push toward greater democracy and egalitarianism after the Revolution that I described was mainly spurred by popular demand. The general public, in other words, seized the opening provided by the founders and used it to enlarge the political opportunities available to themselves. The North's racial history during the 19th and early 20th century, examined by such historians as C. Vann Woodward and Leon Litwack, is a topic I intend to post on here sometime. It's fascinating.
Thursday, August 29
Singin' and bombin'
Humorist Mad Kane is at it again. She's crafted another song parody suitable for the times. Her latest, to be sung to the tune of "New York, New York" from the movie "On The Town," includes these lyrics:
The complete Mad Kane version is here.
As I told her today, the first time I read her lyrics, I kept imagining George W. singing them in a sailor suit: weird!
(If you haven't seen the movie and wonder about the sailor reference, you can look here.)
Misleading claim about the Electoral College
In a commentary piece for FindLaw, law professors/brothers Akhil Reed Amar and Vikram David Amar argue in favor of term limits for U.S. Supreme Court justices. At one point during the back-and-forth between the two brothers, Vikram Amar writes:
Not so fast! As I pointed out at this site on Aug. 1:
And of how American law professors should be wary of overstating their case.
UPDATE: Germans, in particular, should beware of criticizing the principles behind the Electoral College, John Tuttle e-mails me. The representative weight allocated to the individual states in Germany's Bundesrat varies, but it doesn't necessarily reflect actual demographic differentials, he notes. And the Bundesrat's 69 members, who represent the interests of the individual states, are not even elected. "This of course is similar to the original plan of the US Constitution," he notes, "where the States named their Senators to represent the States' interests in their Federal Government."
ANOTHER UPDATE: Rand Simberg offers cogent thoughts on the Electoral College topic.
Another kind of Euro-American divergence
The Economist's cover story this week is available only to subscribers, but Slate's summary of its thesis, already familiar to students of European affairs, is worth pondering:
I'm having to restrain, once again, my sense of American triumphalism.
Rad and ready to defend America
Observations from a recent column by the always-thoughtful James Pinkerton about, of all things, the movie "XXX":
His point ties in with the surge of patriotic music, in everything from Springsteen tunes to country music to even, in some cases, rap -- in the wake of 9/11.
Lyndon Johnson, opportunist
I initially planned for this post to start out something like this: "It is interesting that the U.S. ambassador post to the United Nations hasn't enjoyed a high public profile in this country for two decades. There was a time, in the mid-1960s, when the post was regarded as so important that the president of the United States actually asked a Supreme Court justice, Arthur Goldberg, to resign from the court to accept the ambassador's post."
In reading a bit more in detail, however, I found out that Johnson had asked Goldberg to resign -- actually, Johnson pressured him to do so -- not because the ambassador position was so important but because Johnson wanted to give a Supreme Court seat to his old buddy Abe Fortas.
Goldberg, who had great reservations about the war in Vietnam, resigned from the ambassador position in 1968. In 1970, he made an ignominious run for governor of New York, losing to Nelson Rockefeller. Goldberg privately lamented that he'd yielded to Johnson's pressure to step down from the high court.
Add one more item to the long list of incidents that reveal the depths of LBJ's opportunism and ruthlessness.
Southerners and stereotypes
I winced today when I saw a report in the Washington Post that CBS plans a reincarnation of the "Beverly Hillbillies" using an Osbournes-like approach: putting real poor-white Southerners into a millionaire mansion in Beverly Hills.
So they can be laughed at, of course.
I winced because -- well, a Southerner working in Hollywood and quoted anonymously in the Post said it well:
Such a show will signal that there is something uniquely unsophisticated and ignorant about the Southern character. In other words, it would seek to re-enforce a stereotype that a large segment of the American population rightly regards as offensive and elitist. After all, there are millions of people from all corners of the country who would be be culturally disoriented if relocated to a millionaire mansion. I know I would be.
Do I come off sounding like just one more ethnocentric whiner, in the fashion of Hispanic activists who grow hysterical at the prospect of televising Speedy Gonzalez? Maybe so, but I can't help how I feel. As I indicated in a recent post, a key American ideal is that we are each equally worthy of respect, regardless of our background.
Plans for the show don't make me angry. But they do leave me chagrined.
UPDATE: A good friend from North Carolina -- a fellow student of Southern culture and history -- notes something ironic:
He's right about the reaction. The cancellations, as I recall, also included the Red Skelton show. They were part of a CBS strategy to sweep aside a number of long-running shows and lay a new foundation of programming for the '70s.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Patrick Carver posts today at The Ole Miss Conservative that Fox is reportedly dreaming up a cockeyed show of its own -- a new, "reality" version of "Green Acres."
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Patrick Carver alerts me to the impassioned essay that Louisiana-born Rod Dreher has in today's NRO about this topic.
Wednesday, August 28
Will closer economic ties mean closer diplomatic relations?
Japan's trade relationship with China continues to deepen, according to the Nautilus Institute, a foreign policy research group:
U.S.-Japanese relations do seem to be strong these days. Still, another item from the Nautilus Institute isn't very reassuring:
Of course, if anyone could be expected to use impassioned rhetoric, understandably, against nuclear weapons, it would be the mayor of Nagasaki.
Excellent author, excellent topic
I just read that Edmund S. Morgan, one of the great authorities on early American history, has a new book out on Benjamin Franklin.
I know that Morgan has caught flak, justifiably, from conservatives for his anti-individual-rights arguments on Second Amendment issues. But that doesn't erase the fact that Morgan has amply demonstrated his abilities as a gifted historian over the past four decades. I have no doubt that one could gain much from his new book.
Term limits for Supreme Court justices?
That's the interesting topic of a post at Howard Bashman's ever-interesting legal-issues blog, How Appealing. I haven't had time to check out the opinion essays he cites on the topic, but I intend to.
Iran and al Qaida
I posted last week on a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty report that Iran has provided refuge to al Qaida members. An article in today's Washington Post says the same thing. The first three grafs:
Such actions by Iran are a direct provocation to this country. Sooner or later, they are bound to result in consequences.
Sorry, by the way, to use two different spellings ("al Qaida"and "al Qaeda") in the same post. But I use "al Qaida," after the style adopted by my newspaper, while the Post uses "al Qaeda."
Tuesday, August 27
A worthy journalistic project
Congratulations to The Daily Telegraph: It's starting a series about the erosion of individual freedom in Britain.
From the introduction to the series:
It will be fascinating to see where the series leads. A worthy cause, indeed.
Monday, August 26
First, let’s savor some of the recent language from James Lileks, then I’ll offer an observation about one of the reasons why he’s such a devastatingly effective writer.
As some of you probably know, Lileks’ writing career predates his blogging career. He’s been writing a syndicated column for a good while now; I used to run it in the ’90s, when I was editorial page editor of a North Carolina newspaper.
Lileks was a delight to read back in the Clinton years. He skated merrily from one political episode to another. Wonderful stuff.
I thought of Lileks recently in researching the debate over American Western art (a subject about which I’ll post here sometime soon). I read a quote from anthropologist Renato Rosaldo, who said one way to refute a line of argument is “to evoke it and thereby make it more and more fully present until it gradually collapses under the weight of its own inconsistencies.”
Yes -- that’s precisely what Lileks does so well.
He focuses on an ill-conceived political argument (say, the U.S.=Nazis thesis) and then uses wit to point out the many inane ramifications that would flow from it. In that way, he makes the idea he’s ridiculing “more and more fully present” until its wrongheadedness and absurdity are revealed so completely as to be undeniable.
Nobody does it better. And we are all blessed by what he accomplishes.
Foreign policy and sin
Very interesting letter to the editor in the Omaha World-Herald today. It reads:
There is an enormous amount that could be said in response to that line of argument. Let me make only one observation, about international relations. The basis for a sound foreign policy is a sober understanding of the world as it is, with all its moral limitations and dangers, rather than overwrought Wilsonian idealism and dreamy imagingings about how easily the world can be transformed.
Start of the week
People who haven't visited the site since Friday might be interested in particular in two weekend posts: one about troubling U.S. indifference toward a particular treaty obligation, and another about a new book on the Nazis' Einsatzgruppen.
Appreciating the full length of history
A history-related column I wrote last March might be of interest. The text is below. Elliott West, whose ideas I discuss here, is, in my opinion, the most skilled writer in the historical profession today. His writing is intellectually engaging, stylistically playful. It doesn’t get any better than that.
West talked about the need to conceive of history (in this case, Great Plains history) along its full length, rather than through what he termed a “false divide.”
He also pointed out that people driving across soporifically flat plains rarely notice the actual complexity of the landscapes. They could learn much, he says, if they would park and take a serious look at the land before them.
Benefits of blogging
David Hogberg recently posted worthwhile observations about how joining the blogging community has helped him in various ways. (He was responding to a provocative post from Eric Olsen of Tres Producers about the “dark side of blogging.”)
By the way, Dave has been away from blogging for the past few days -- and I think I know why. Party on, you crazy Iowan.
The tourism numbers
One little-noticed effect of 9/11: Because of the abrupt drop in tourism to the United States, the U.S. lost its traditional position as the world’s No. 2 travel destination, measured in arrivals. (France holds the No. 1 spot.) Last year, Spain, the long-running No. 3, moved past the U.S. to second place.
In terms of tourist revenues received, however, the United States remained No. 1, by far. It earned $72 billion from international tourism last year, a 12 percent drop from 2000 but still way ahead of No. 2 Spain, at $32 billion.
From January to August of 2001, international tourist arrivals worldwide were up nearly 3 percent over the same period a year earlier. During the September-to-December period last year, arrivals fell by more than 9 percent compared to the same period in 2000.
Here are the rest of top 15 travel destinations, by country, for 2001:
I’d never given much thought to which countries might rank highly in tourist interest, but I was surprised that Russia placed that high; the same in regard to Poland.
Notice that the top 15 didn’t include Brazil, Japan or Australia.
Incidentally, I read that the World Tourism Organization, which compiled this data, is releasing a report this week at the U.N. poverty conference in Johannesburg. The organization calls for a new emphasis on promoting tourism as a way to boost the economies of poor countries.
My initial reaction was to snicker at the suggestion, especially since the organization refers to the idea as “eliminating poverty through sustainable tourism.” But on second thought, the idea seems worth pursuing, not as a panacea but as one more tool in trying to help LDCs -- well, at least those with genuine tourist potential. Cuba, for example, is poor, but it would be poorer still were it not for the country's tourist sector.
UPDATE: Statistics on international tourism have little value, a sensible e-mail from reader CK pointed out this morning. It's no wonder that Europeans vacation more in foreign countries compared to Americans, given the basic facts of geography, he notes:
Indeed. I should have given consideration to such points, since in July I had noted similar observations by my friend Craig Brelsford, a Pennsylvania native now living in the Netherlands:
Sunday, August 25
Lester Polfus, one of my heroes
He's actually better known by another name; you've probably heard of him. Here are a few of his accomplishments, from an item at Blogcritics:
All right, I'm talking about an American original: Les Paul. Here's the Blogcritics piece; pretty good. (I'm not a guitarist; I'm an (amateur) arranger. In fact, if I ever get an electronic keyboard again, expect to see my blog time suffer a big drop.)
On this issue, the EU is right: The U.S. is a hypocrite
The farm bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush last May was justifiably criticized on a number of scores. (The Omaha World-Herald, where I work, joined editorially in several of those criticisms.) One badly flawed aspect of the measure didn’t receive as much public attention domestically, but it did overseas. The issue: By passing the bill, the United States thumbed its nose at this country’s international treaty commitments on farm subsidies.
In the 1990s, the U.S. government expended great diplomatic energy to convince foreign governments to impose restrictions, through the World Trade Organization, on the specific ways in which farm subsidies are provided.
Under that agreement, the WTO places a ceiling on how much individual countries can spend on countercyclical programs, by which farmers receive additional money when prices drop. The current limit for the United States is around $18 billion.
It is precisely that type of assistance, through market loan assistance and crop insurance, that Congress deliberately boosted, in defiance of the spirit -- and probably the letter -- of the WTO agreement.
Two farm policy analysts at Iowa State University had pointed out in a report in 2001 that new farm support proposals being touted by Congress would violate WTO requirements. But ag-policy leaders in Congress ignored the warnings. Rep. Larry Combest, R-Texas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, in particular has made no secret that he is more than willing to boost subsidy levels regardless of WTO stipulations.
U.S. trade and agricultural officials defend the farm bill, but Franz Fischler, the EU commissioner for agricultural policy, had the facts on his side when he blasted the measure last spring. Here is part of what he said:
This isn’t to say that the Europeans and Japanese don’t engage in enormous subsidy efforts of their own. The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has long been notorious for its excess. Japan, of course, goes to great lengths to aid its rice farming sector.
The EU has been especially clever on the subsidy issue, reconfiguring a growing percentage of its aid payments into certain programs (“green box” programs, in trade jargon) permitted under the WTO requirements. The U.S., meanwhile, has displayed no such forethought. Instead, it has remained bullheaded and upped its spending on “amber box” subsidy programs frowned on by WTO rules -- rules the United States itself had pushed for only a few years ago.
This is one more example of how domestic politics can short-circuit American foreign policy. And in the process make the U.S. out to be a hypocrite, to boot.
Saturday, August 24
Heart of darkness
I have time for a quick item:
I just saw that Richard Rhodes has a new book on the Einsatzgruppen -- the infamous squads the Nazis used to target and obliterate Jews in Poland and the Soviet Union. Rhodes, of course, has demonstrated his skill in tackling big historical topics. "The Making of the Atomic Bomb" won a Pulitzer.
From an online description of the book:
A reviewer in the Boston Globe points out:
Rhodes has drawn on new material, using interviews, eyewitness accounts and records from the Nuremburg tribunals. The topic is too harrowing for me to want to read about in detail, but if someone of Rhodes' intellectual caliber thought it worth writing about, I can only imagine the book makes for a powerful reading experience.
Friday, August 23
More to come (but not immediately)
I intend to post this weekend, though only at night. Right now, the prospects for tonight seem iffy. Topics in the pipeline for sometime soon: the International Criminal Court; critiquing a set of online journal articles that made some accusations linking George W., Israel and Southern history; an aspect of American democracy; and how a debate over American Western art relates to a broader debate over the history of the American West.
Unfocused and unpromising
In grad school a bit over 20 years ago, I began to better appreciate the enormity of global poverty while studying development issues at Georgetown under an instructor from the World Bank. The problems seemed intractable then; I'm afraid they still do, even though the moral imperative to try to tackle them still remains. The Johannesburg conference, for example, seems destined to be one more multilateral boondoggle in that effort.
A piece in the Toronto Globe and Mail today points out some of the problems:
This morning I ran across something I was completely unaware of: At the G-8 summit in 2000, the leaders of the major industrialized countries pledged to cut the number of people worldwide living in extreme poverty in half by 2015. As an abstract goal, of course.
I also learned that the death rate from malaria is on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa after a period of decline. It's an example of how progress in some areas of development in LDCs (improvements such as lower infant mortality and higher average span) is undercut by setbacks in other areas.
Great little item at Nick Denton's blog today about the difference in how Americans and Britons define themselves: "So the difference between the US and the UK boils down to this. American workers think of themselves as middle class; and the English middle class think of themselves as workers."
An unequal world
Which source should be believed?
A statistics-laden, super-wonkish article in The Economist, which argues that global economic inequality is increasing and that the trend needs remedying? Or a new report from the Cato Institute, which says not to worry -- the inequalities have been shrinking quite nicely in recent decades?
The analyses are especially relevant right now, since press attention is turning to the World Summit on Sustainable Development the U.N. will hold in Johannesburg next week.
I lack the expertise to say which report is correct about the income gap trend. But one thing seems clear: Free markets will always produce a significant income gap between rich and the poor. I well remember an Economist article about 20 years ago which pointed out that fact. It noted that very soon after China began free-market reforms of its agricultural sector in 1979, the first social effect was quite striking: A big income gap appeared within the farm population as the marketplace helped some families to acquire considerable wealth.
The goal, then, should not be to fixate on income gaps but to strive to alleviate outright poverty as much as possible.
The Economist article, however, directly rejects my thesis:
I’ll grant his point that the well-being of rich countries can be harmed by economic instability in less developed countries. And economic wobbliness in a place like Pakistan could affect U.S. security interests quite directly.
But, on his central point, I have to say: If the author believes it is so important to awaken people to the importance of alleviating the income gap, he should have written a genuinely cogent and compelling piece that offered convincing arguments, rather than what he in fact presented: an interminably long lump of jargon and methodological minutiae.
Thursday, August 22
The usefulness of compromise
A new Time magazine article takes environmental groups to task, rightly, for their hostility to compromise, the strains they needlessly place on their relations with business allies and their refusal to consider market-based remedies.
The piece also points out how the environmental movement undercuts its effectiveness by hyping exaggerations about ecological damage, with help from a sympathetic national press. Such needless hyperbole opened the door for a sharp-minded critic, Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, to write a book that knocked down the overwrought claims.
Environmentalists have considerable public support, and in individual cases the scientific arguments, to achieve sensible protections for society. But they will continue to meet frustration as long as they remain knee-jerk critics of capitalism and continue peddling scare stories that ultimately heighten public cynicism about their motives.
Britain foregoes the postwar welfare state for early Thatcherism
Since Glenn Reynolds has been kind enough to trigger an instavalanche at this blog, I'll plug this recent post of mine that might interest some first-time readers. It's a response to some counterfactual speculation about what the ramifications for Britain might have been had it chosen a radically different economic course at the end of World War II.
Dissent and patriotism
My post this week about Susan Sontag reminded me of something impressive I discovered recently about William Jennings Bryan, the one-time editor of the newspaper where I work and a three-time loser in presidential contests.
During the Spanish-American War, Bryan demonstrated something quite important: that it is possible to oppose the foreign policy of one’s government while still expressing a fervent love of country.
He spoke out strongly against the U.S. acquisition of territory in the Caribbean and Pacific as a result of the war with Spain. But at the same time, he stressed that his views were grounded in respect for what he called “American tradition, American history and American interests.”
Bryan ended one dissenting speech by proclaiming, “To American civilization, all hail!”
What a contrast to characters like Sontag and Chomsky, whose sour rhetoric seethes with contempt for their country and many of its popular ideals. Michael Walzer, co-editor of Dissent, summed things up well when he wrote not long after 9/11: “Many left intellectuals live in America like internal aliens, refusing to identify with their fellow citizens, regarding any hint of patriotic feeling as politically incorrect. That's why they had such difficulty responding emotionally to the attacks of September 11 or joining in the expressions of solidarity that followed.”
Philosopher Richard Rorty addressed the same point when he observed that many holding a left-liberal mindset err by acting as if “you have to be loyal to a dream country rather than to the one in which you wake up every morning.”
For me, the most effective antidote to such elitism and alienation can be found in the mindset of a particular group of artists: the Yiddish writers of the late 19th century.
These novelists and short story writers were fully awake to the flaws and idiosyncracies of their people -- the Jews of the Pale of Settlement and Russia proper, living under the pressures of constant oppression. These writers didn’t hesitate to point out the foibles and shortcomings of their fellow Jews. Yet, these artists were by no means alienated from them. On the contrary, they grounded their works in an unwavering love for the Jewish people -- even as they criticized and satirized them.
The historian Howard Sachar described the sentiment well in his examination of Sholom Abramovich, the “grandfather” of modern Yiddish literature, who went by the pen name of Mendele Mocher Sforim:
Another example was the intellectual Yiddish writer Isaac Loeb Peretz. Sachar writes:
In short, such writers displayed moral seriousness. They had a keen sense of moral discernment, yet they had the maturity to temper their egoism with openness and generosity toward their fellow citizens for whom the life of the mind had little relevance.
Regrettably, such an acknowledgement of complexity, such an instinct for generosity, seem beyond the ability of many in the liberal-left camp to appreciate, let alone embrace, given their political temperament. For them, alienation from the mainstream is a source of pride.
More than a century ago, William Jennings Bryan earned respect by combining sincere dissent with sincere patriotism. Yiddish writers earned public affection by infusing their social criticisms with heartfelt expressions of social solidarity. Present-day dissidents can similarly add credibility to their arguments by grounding them in something more substantial than a reflexive contempt for America.
They can begin by appreciating that there should be more to life than alienation from one’s fellow citizens. The ideal of "one nation, indivisible" is something to be strived for, rather than sneered at.
Saudis, missiles, nukes
I posted not long about the Saudi government and a report of its possible interest in nuclear weapons, citing an article in a State Department journal as well as a Pakistani newspaper report.
As an addendum, here is a useful link to info, last updated in June 2000, at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, Calif. The center provides a chart showing specific ballistic and cruise missile technologies in Saudi possession. The center also provides an overview on Saudi Arabia's capabilities in regard to weapons of mass destruction.
Footnotes accompanying the chart say that allegations are so far unsubstantiated about a Saudi scientist’s claim that Saudi Arabia gave $5 billion to Iraq's nuclear program during the 1980s in exchange for a nuclear weapon, and that Saudi Arabia had two undeclared nuclear research reactors.
Also in the footnotes (these items are direct quotes):
Online links are provided by the center for many of the footnoted items.
It might be a good time for some fresh investigative reporting on this matter, given the gravity of recent developments on the terrorism front and in Israel.
Wednesday, August 21
Pentagon leaks and the military culture
Donald Sensing, who served three years as a public affairs officer at the Pentagon (and who consistently demonstrates sound judgment at his weblog), offers some fascinating thoughts today about leaks and the military establishment. As I tell him not infrequently in e-mails, I continue to learn from his blog.
Susan Sontag fired a barb at the Bush administration during a recent appearance at Lincoln Center after the performance of several Iranian plays, according to this piece from City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute. (I ran across that info this morning, but a Google search shows that the blog Media Minded actually posted on this on Aug. 13.)
City Journal reports:
I thought I'd read some comments from Sontag last fall that she had backtracked a smidgen from her initial anti-American snarkiness in the wake of the attacks. At any rate, her comments indicate that the antiwar left has regained its confidence, a point I elaborated on in a recent post.
UPDATE: Michael Tinkler, of Cranky Professor blogger fame, passes on these useful observations:
A great vacation, Martin?
I’ve been tardy in welcoming back Martin Devon from his vacation in the Caribbean. You know him -- he’s the blogger Patio Pundit, for pete sake! He's also been an important source of encouragement for me in regard to this weblog.
Looks he picked a wonderful place to spend some time. (Scroll down just a bit to see the picture of the bay.)
I also learned from Martin's site that, as he said, the “great character actor” Jeff Corey has died. (I well remember the episode of "Babylon 5" Martin mentions.)
I looked back in a recent post at the Atlee government’s creation of Britain’s modern welfare state in the late 1940s. Here are a few points from a recent critique of Britain’s National Health Service in an essay done for Civitas, a British think tank:
The writer argues that several countries in continental Europe have come far closer to achieving the NHS ideals. (No mention of the U.S., though.)
I just saw that Scott Rubush posted some good points in regard to my recent reference to the musical selections for the Voyager probes.
Scott mentions, among other things, Cuban music. That prompts me to heap praise on a particular Cuban group -- the marvelous big band Irakere. At one point just over a decade ago, the band included especially impressive members such as trumpeter Arturo Sandoval and saxophonist Paquito D'Rivera, both of whom subsequently left for the United States.
I have to disagree with the Irakere discographer I’ve linked to as far as his claim that D’Rivera’s soprano sax solo in “Misa Negra” (Black Mass) is “forced.” On the contrary, I’ve always found that solo to be nothing short of remarkable. It’s exuberant, masterful and merrily glides right across the musical palette, in a few short minutes, from Mozart to blues to Charlie Parker-style handsprings. I will never forget my reaction when I first heard it. A continuing inspiration.
Tuesday, August 20
Another problem for international trade: meddlesome state attorneys general
I did some poking around Tech Central Station’s European Web site today and ran across several items of interest. One was a short but pungent essay by Richard Miniter, formerly of the Wall Street Journal Europe and now a senior fellow at the Centre for the New Europe, a Brussels-based think tank.
This reminds me of a well-done Cato Institute study that examined the legal excesses by state attorneys general. (In fact, I've had a copy of the report in my materials here at home for a while now, in order to quote a few items at this blog sometime.)
The report mentions several strategies for reining in attorneys general. One such strategy, however, deserves continued opposition: a bill introduced by Sen. Mitch McConnell that would use federal power to restrict the parameters for attorneys general.
Sorry, senator, but that kind of casual encroachment on state prerogatives ought to be opposed by anyone with a healthy respect for federalism, even if the legislation is for an ultimately worthy cause.
I just ran across an interesting NYT piece from last Saturday about how African immigrants are using linguistic contortions, in the form of slang known as Verlan, as a way to express their alienation from mainstream French society. In the same way that rap crossed cultural and racial boundaries in this country, Verlan had done the same in France:
As noted in the post below about the historical use of mendacity as a defensive tool, people who feel weighed down by injustice will often search for creative ways to register their protest.
A counterfactual Britain:
A road not taken -- the adoption of Thatcherism in the 1940s
Could Britain have maintained international clout and domestic economic vigor after World War II had it pursued a rigorous free-market approach?
Specifically, had the country refrained from adopting the extravagant Labor Party agenda of the late 1940s (far-ranging industrial nationalizations; broad, stepped-up government interventionism; socialized medicine), could Britain have found a viable alternative path? Ignore the historical reality (Clement Atlee's resounding political victory for the Laborites in 1945) and imagine that the Conservatives had won instead and then demonstrated imagination and resolution on the economic front. By laying a different postwar foundation, could they have set Britain on a different long-term course?
In such an alternate universe, could Britain have avoided the painful “sick man of Europe” experience that brought it to a bleak precipice in the winter of 1979, when economic stagnation, labor turmoil and political mismanagement combined to reveal the country as enfeebled and rudderless?
Martin Hutchinson, business and economics editor for United Press International, offers two counterfactual essays (Part 1 is here and Part 2, here) in which a hypothetical Britain indeed embraced a free-market path -- and reaped wondrous benefits as a result.
Hutchinson sets up a fascinating set of imagined events -- not just in economics but also in foreign policy and domestic politics. Among the economic highlights of this alternate Britain:
There’s much more -- imaginative scenarios involving India (actually, there is no India in this alternate universe), postwar Poland, the Jewish-Palestinian matter, Iran and South Africa.
After my first reading of Hutchinson’s columns, I reacted churlishly. He resolved so many knotty diplomatic and economic problems so neatly -- and with perfect hindsight. Preposterous!
On reflection, I was more charitable. If you’re going to dream up counterfactual history, you may as well make it fun and provocative. You know -- the whole, parallel-universe, evil bearded Spock kind of thing.
Even with such allowances, however, Hutchinson’s key point -- that Britons could have summoned the political will to embrace Thatcherism four decades early -- defies the actual historical circumstances in the extreme. The chances that Britain would have embraced a free-market revolution in the 1940s, at the very time government interventionism and planning were enjoying tremendous support in Britain and much of the Western world, were so remote the scenario really can’t be taken seriously.
Churchill indeed campaigned hard in 1945 against interventionist policies and welfarism. He used hard-edged rhetoric in radio appearances to link Labor-style socialism with Hitlerian totalitarianism. He made the choice clear. The British people listened and made up their minds -- and rejected Churchill’s domestic vision in spectacular fashion.
The Conservatives came out of that election with 189 seats in Parliament. The Liberals were down to 12.
The total number of Labor-controlled seats: 393.
Even the votes of British troops, exasperated over various grievances, went heavily against the Conservatives that year, scholars say.
Popular support for heavy government involvement in the private economy had been gathering momentum in Britain since the late 1930s, when even the young Conservative Harold MacMillan was writing essays in favor of partial nationalization.
(In the 1980s -- the actual 1980s -- the aged MacMillan would grump in the House of Lords about Thatcher’s economic policies, wearily chastising the government’s privatization efforts as ill-considered -- “selling the silverware,” he called it. Hutchinson’s inside-out version of history opens up a startlingly different political course for MacMillan, by the way.)
It was little wonder the British people became amenable to government activism. The government itself, going back into the ’30s, had repeatedly signaled that it was willing to tolerate interventionism. The government had encouraged a domestic steel cartel and a semi-monopoly in the road hauling business, nationalized coal royalties and brought the currency policy of the Bank of England under government control.
A key encapsulation of interventionist thought came to public attention in December 1940, with the publication of the Beveridge Report. It made a forceful call for social insurance. The document received great applause not just from the usual left-leaning intellectuals but also from the mainstream press and the general public.
The Times of London said that the report’s “central proposals must surely be accepted as the basis of government action.” The Economist called the report “one of the most remarkable state documents ever drafted” and said its propositions could help “set right what is so plainly wrong.” (When Churchill’s coalition government succeeded in blocking approval of the Beveridge Report in February 1943, The Economist fulminated that the government had precipitated nothing less than “a crisis of free government and democracy.”)
The leaders of the Anglican Church consistently pushed the ideals of the social insurance mentality throughout the 1940s.
The unprecedented wartime experience, of course, only acclimated the British public further to values of social leveling and government activism. Tax rates on upper-income Britons were sky-high. One historian understandably concluded that “most Englishmen took it for granted that this war would bring fundamental social and economic change.”
Churchill’s own government itself (a coalition entity, to be sure) routinely indicated that its adherence to free-market thinking was quite malleable. The last Address from the Throne before the 1945 election came in November 1944. Among its (albeit vague) recommendations: a comprehensive health service, an enlarged system of social insurance, compensation for industrial injuries, family allowances, government intervention on housing policy, and “maintenance of employment.”
The bottom line:
Hutchinson’s musings rest on correct conclusions about Britain’s wide-ranging failures in judgment on the economic front. Yes, the elite failed the country. But the failure of vision was hardly confined to the narrow circle of politicians, government mandarins, public policy intellectuals and journalists.
The failure extended to the assumptions of the British people themselves -- understandable assumptions given the circumstances of the 1940s, but in many cases unrealistic and unworkable ones over the long haul.
Hutchinson’s creation of an Ur-Thatcherite economic order in the era before television is a marvelous pipe dream. But it is only that and nothing more.
Monday, August 19
Mendacity as a weapon
The use of deceit as a tool against foes and oppressors is a theme that crops up throughout history.
Last May, I put together a column on that topic for my newspaper, the Omaha World-Herald, stringing together examples from various times and places. The text isn't online any longer, but I thought I would post it here.
The column mentions two of my favorite historians: journalist Michael Barone and the academician William Freehling, who is a brilliant writer on top of being one of the foremost scholars of the factors leading to the American Civil War. The column:
Iran and al-Qaeda
From the latest Iran report by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (I was unable to link directly to the report, but here is the main URL for RFE/RL):
Iran's religious obscurantists and Revolutionary Guard firebrands are playing a dangerous game. They're not only strangling economic opportunities for their countrymen but are foolishly alienating the U.S. government, with the potential for dire consequences.
AN IMPORTANT LITTLE WAR: Students of military history who are arriving here today via InstaPundit might be interested in this bit of historical analysis I posted here on July 4. I talked about a military conflict that seems a mere footnote to most Americans today but which actually had great long-term importance for the United States in a variety of ways.
I believe I'm mentioned before that the Democratic Leadership Council (actually, a DLC affiliate called the Progressive Policy Institute) issues a consistently useful and often provocative item called its Trade Fact of the Week. A recent example: U.S. manufacturers have invested more in Ireland than they have in China and Hong Kong combined. Some details and analysis.
Problems with Kyoto
I ran out of time last night working up an analysis reacting to some counterfactual ruminations about British history I'd recently read. I'll complete and post my thoughts tonight. At any rate, here are some familiar but still useful points about the Kyoto accord, raised by Martin Walker in an analysis for UPI:
He also conveys a good sense of the magnitude of harm from the forest fires in Indonesia as well as the "Asian brown cloud." A legitimate, complicated issue. Unfortunately, NGOs and other do-gooders are trying to use honest concerns over pollution as a way to trample roughshod over national economic sovereignty -- though only that of the major industrialized nations, not that of LDCs or the in-betweens such as China and India.
Saturday, August 17
Coming soon to a blog near you ...
I intend to resume blogging late tonight.
Among the topics I aim to address in coming days:
UPDATE: My resumption of blogging will have to wait till sometime Sunday. Real life can be a difficult obstacle to move when trying to free up time for a hobby like blogging.
Thursday, August 15
Pressing the pause button
No blogging for the time being (meaning till Friday night or the weekend). Juggling too much right now. Thanks, by the way, to David Hogberg for his link today.
Wednesday, August 14
Music of the spheres
It had been a while since I had seen the list of the musical selections on the two Voyager spacecraft. Here is it.
My favorites: a piece by Louis Armstrong and the Hot Seven (what glorious music the young Armstrong created!) and a Glenn Gould rendition of some Bach.
I suppose it sounds grumpy and chauvinist, but I can't help thinking that if the music selections were being decided today, several of the dead white males (Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Stravinsky) wouldn't have made the cut in order to make more room for the world music stuff. (Not I have a problem with a well-tempered panpipe, mind you.)
I posted on Tuesday about the Millennium Challenge 2002 exercise. A military analysis in National Review Online mentions the concept behind the exercise in talking about the many complications of urban warfare in Iraq:
... this assumes that the Allies will just walk right into the cities and commence house-to-house fighting. Lessons learned from the urban scraps of the 1990s would argue against such a direct and unimaginative game plan. Army Major General (Ret.) Robert Scales, former Commandant of the Army War College, has described an alternative approach in which forces attacking cities would "use the inherent instability of the urban structure as a means for it to defeat itself."
The writer, James S. Robbins, notes the disdain that Patton expressed for reliance on fixed fortifications, which he called "monuments to man's stupidity."