Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

U.S. regionalism,
foreign policy,
politics, life.

Geitner Simmons is an editorial writer with the Omaha World-Herald.
This weblog expresses his personal views only.
He is also
a Midwesterner,
a Southerner,
a husband, a father, a son. And always
a student.

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Monday, September 23
Why red-state residents are resentful

Tapped took aim last week at what it termed the “Guilty Coastal Cityslicker Elitist problem.” I’ll cite part of the Tapped post, then offer some reaction:

The worst offender is the G.C.C.E. category last year was David Brook. In his book, titled "One Nation, Slightly Divisible," Brooks -- a conservative who lives in Bethesda, Maryland but whose heart is apparently in Kansas -- wrote:

Sixty-five miles from where I am writing this sentence is a place with no Starbucks, no Pottery Barn, no Borders or Barnes & Noble. No blue New York Times delivery bags dot the driveways on Sunday mornings. In this place people don't complain that Woody Allen isn't as funny as he used to be, because they never thought he was funny. ... for the most part they don't even go to Martha's Vineyard.

Well sure. And sixty-five miles from that place, back here in Washington, D.C., is a place with no K-Mart, no Checkers, and no gun stores. ... In this place nobody complains that Jeff Foxworthy isn't as funny as he used to be, because they never thought he was funny in the first place. In this place you can go to a year's worth of barbecues without hearing a Hillary joke first heard on Rush Limbaugh's show. And for the most part people here don't head to Branson, Missouri for the summer.

Our point is that in this rural-urban dialectic, it's always assumed that the urban folks are supposed to pay homage to the rural folks -- that we should know all about Dale Earnhardt. Well, screw that. We're half the country, too! How about this? If they watch "Sex and the City," we'll watch "The 700 Club." Maybe.

Sure, Brooks as well some folks on the right and some regional chauvinists get too rhapsodic about red-state values. President Bush has unwisely contributed to the problem, gushing to red-state audiences that they represent a noble “heartland” of higher virtue.

In reality, no one region of the country has a monopoly on virtue. We’re all Americans, and as such we each ought to exist on the same plane of mutual respect. The American Revolution, after all, led to an overthrow of the old colonial system in which a social hierarchy had been rigidly enforced. The promise of the new republic was that each American would be regarded in an egalitarian spirit as fully deserving of respect and the opportunity for economic advancement.

That principle should still hold in the 21st century, despite the frictions between the blue-state and red-state camps.

If it helps, though, I’ll be happy to cite three principal reasons for red-state resentment against displays of arrogance from some blue staters:

  • (1) Abandoning their much-ballyhooed tolerance. Many blue staters pat themselves on the back constantly for their sense of tolerance and depth of compassion. They act as if one of the worst things an individual could do is to look on another human being as being on a lower plane of existence.

    Yet, if the conversation turns to a consideration of the red states and rural America, many of these same coastal urbanites abandon their tolerant talk with remarkable suddenness. Then, it curiously becomes quite acceptable to look down on red state residents, if not to make fun of them unapologetically.

    I’m reminded of a Los Angeles resident whom Nick Denton quoted in an essay he did about the red state/blue state split:

    Some people, like Raymond, the camp German owner of a boutique hotel just above the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, simply failed to understand what possessed me. "For me, the US is LA, New York, San Francisco, maybe New Orleans. The rest: you can keep it."

    Such a sentiment is incompatible with one of this country’s foundational principles. If you are a citizen, then you should be regarded as fully American as any other citizen, regardless of one's race, gender, politics or sexual orientation -- or region.

    This isn’t, or shouldn't be, a caste society based on one's geographical location. But a lot of people, in the blue-state region as well as the red-state camp, certainly act as if they would like it to be.

  • (2) Happily ignorant. Many blue staters pride themselves on their curiosity about the world. It is crucial, they argue, to open one’s minds to other societies, whether it be the wonders of Paris or the hardships of sub-Saharan Africa. It is a worthy ideal. Yet, many of these same urbanites are proudly ignorant when it comes to rural America. As the owner of the LA boutique hotel indicated in Nick Denton’s piece, what could possibly be of interest about communities in the red-state zone?

    A good friend of mine in Omaha plays in a big band. His band once played in the Windows on the World restaurant that was at the top of one of the World Trade Center towers. My friend had a grand time performing there, a true highlight of his musical career. One of the curious things he noticed, though, was how so many of the New Yorkers he talked to seemed to have so little geographical understanding of the country. He used a vivid phrase to explain the situation: “Anything west of Pennsylvania was really fuzzy.”

    Sure, many red staters are woefully ignorant of blue-state realities. But it’s urbanites who are the ones who stress their cosmopolitanism. Shouldn’t their curiosity extend to the full extent of the country?

  • (3) Popular culture. The familiar blue-state condescension toward popular culture in red-state America -- the jests about country music, hunting, or the enthusiasm for NASCAR -- rub people the wrong way for a good reason: Blue staters are so presumptuous as to define what the “proper” standards should be for people's personal happiness.

    This is America, and what people chose to do for their personal pleasure is for them to define.

    Of course, this principle runs in both directions: Blue-state cosmopolitans can cite it to counter the finger-wagging accusations from middle-America moralists.

    In any case, some blue staters will argue that something like country music just cries out for derision. Perhaps so, but doesn’t the same hold true for the club scene in New York or LA? Or how about the fashion industry? Or the McMansions phenomenon?

    NASCAR, incidentally, is so popular nationwide that, although its popularity is rooted in red-state America, it holds races in blue-state locales such as New York and California. (As the New York Times expressed it two years ago: “NASCAR is now part of American culture. Of the 21 race tracks in the Winston Cup Series, the top races, only nine are in the Southeast.”)

    The bottom line in the red state/blue state flap is really very simple: Neither region should claim moral superiority. The two regions (which each feature fascinating diversity anyway) both contribute significantly to the nation, no matter how petty the sniping between them.

    Generosity of spirit

    I just said above that no region of the country has a monopoly on virtue, and I meant it. But I have to mention two items in the news that reflected favorably on Nebraska.

    First, officials at Penn State have sent a letter apologizing to University of Nebraska-Lincoln fans for the rudeness displayed by some Penn State fans during the recent football game between the two schools.

    The incident reminded me of something special that Nebraska football fans do at home games in Lincoln. A special section in the stadium is designated for Nebraska fans to stand and applaud the visiting team as they exit the field at the end of the game.

    I don’t know if that thing is thing is done anywhere else, but when I was first told about it upon moving here three years ago, I found it pretty classy. I still do.

    Second, Bob Greene’s recent resignation from the Chicago Tribune was felt strongly in a particular Nebraska city, North Platte. Greene has a new book out about the North Platte Canteen, where residents of the Nebraska town were tireless during World War II in greeting and entertaining U.S. soldiers who stopped briefly as they headed west on troop trains to the Pacific Coast.

    On the weekend when Greene resigned from the Tribune, he was scheduled to be in North Platte for events honoring the memory of the Canteen. He wrote a letter that was read at a banquet in North Platte that Saturday night. Here is an excerpt:

    I have never used the word "miracle" in a book title. I seldom have used it in stories. It's a very strong word -- it should not be overused. But what happened in North Platte was a miracle.

    Had the United States government somehow said to North Platte at the beginning of the war: "We need for you, a town of 12,000 people, to feed, greet, play music for, dance with, give gifts to, six million soldiers -- we need you to be there for every train, for every soldier. We need you to be at the platform at the depot for every train, every day and every night of World War II. And by the way -- we can't give you any money or any food -- you have to come up with it yourself."

    If the government had somehow said that to the town of North Platte, and had North Platte been able to somehow do it, that would have been a miracle itself.

    But the miracle is -- no one had to ask. North Platte decided to do this on its own -- North Platte came up with the idea. North Platte was there every day and every night of the war -- no one could have complained if North Platte stopped doing it, because North Platte was not required to do it. But North Platte never stopped. North Platte never stopped, because it knew it was needed.

    We live in some pretty cold times. We lives in times when it seems something like the Canteen could never happen again.

    But North Platte shows that it could happen -- if you come to North Platte, you understand the possibilities that are there if you try hard enough to make things right. North Platte shows that there is always a chance.

    Sunday, September 22
    Yes, that Warren and Bill

    Great item from the Saturday column by Mike Kelly, a terrific Omaha World-Herald columnist:

    Picture it: The two richest guys in the world, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, temporarily stranded in a steakhouse parking lot because Warren's car wouldn't start.

    It happened at Gorat's, 49th and Center Streets, Buffett's longtime favorite Omaha eatery. Gates had slipped into town on his way to play bridge at the championships in Montreal.

    One of the reasons Warren likes Omaha is that he can take Bill out and people don't go gaga.

    After dinner, Buffett says, his car's steering column locked and he couldn't get his key to turn in the ignition. So Gates, the Microsoft chairman worth $43 billion, and Buffett, the Berkshire Hathaway chief worth $36 billion, stood around and waited.

    No limos. No police escort. No horse-drawn carriages. No pretense. They hopped in a cab.

    Warren Buffett's Omaha house, incidentally, is far from a mega-mansion -- it's pretty modest for a wealthy person, let alone for someone of Buffett's jaw-dropping financial resources. Buffett doesn't go in for extravagant displays of wealth.

    Gorat's steakhouse, incidentally, isn't far from my house. The restaurant is an old-line, old-fashioned Omaha steak place -- by no means a palace.

    All of which reminds me of something unexpected my 8-year-old son asked me today. He and his 6-year-old sister were getting into our van after picking up a few things at the grocery store when he looked at a small sports car beside our car and asked, "Is that a symbol-of-wealth car?"

    I told him no, it was a pretty plain little car. I asked where he got that term about "symbol of wealth." Said he saw it in a book.

    Terrorist attacks and the red state/blue state thing

    Max Sawicky is pretty good at coming up with ways to tweak us foreign policy hawks. (Max's stauchly left-leaning blog is on my blogroll, incidentally -- he has a great site.) In talking about the possible uses that terrorists might put weapons of mass destruction to use, Max cheekily writes:

    What are the most likely targets of such efforts? I would imagine that Tennessee, Colorado, and Provincetown, MA, are relatively unlikely, compared to New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tel Aviv. Ironically, in years past Iraq was in a similar position, from a safe distance urging the Palestinians on to rebellion against the Zionist entity.

    I do not make the foolish claim that rural folks are pro-war and urban anti-war. Obviously there are plenty of each in both places. I do maintain the risks differ by geography, and those in relatively safer locations with a yen to support military adventures ought to be a little solicitious of those in relatively less save ones. The front lines, after all, are different now.

    So to all our country cousins chafing at the bit for vicarious combat experience, I urge you to at least pay a visit to a likely urban terrorist target. Spend a few bucks and give the local economy a break -- the Federal government certainly isn't doing much for us. And if we do fall victim to our enemies while the President pursues his megalomaniacal crusade in the Middle East, remember us kindly and light a candle now and then. You might want to stock up on the candles.

    Max's point about the "front line" is correct, of course, in the sense that the death and destruction visited on, say, New York, from a terrorist catastrophic device would obviously weigh directly on the residents of Gotham. But in another sense, Max is off-point, since an attack that devastated the nation's largest city and financial center would have calamitous ripple effects in every corner of the nation.

    A quote that I've mentioned here before from the Southern studies scholar John Shelton Reed is relevant on this point. Writing in The American Enterprise (the journal of the American Enterprise Institute), John wrote that the 9/11 attack on New York was no more an attack on Gotham alone than a comparable attack on Mount Rushmore would have been an attack only on South Dakota.

    In other words, we really are all in this together. That principle ought to be one to inspire and sustain us. It's only human that politically interested people become polarized over time along predictable partisan and ideological (and regional) lines. But it's too bad to see such divisions extend to the fight against terrorism.

    Sacagawea, traitor

    That's the blunt characterization of her by Tim Giago, a Lakota Sioux editor who writes a weekly syndicated column.

    Here is Giago's take on Lewis and Clark as well as Sacagawea, from his latest column:

    It is historically odd that today several Americans are charged with conspiracy and treason for collaborating with the enemy in the war on terrorism and in the recent conflict in Afghanistan.

    The Shoshone guide Sacagawea did the same thing to her own people. The story goes that she was kidnapped as a child by the Hidatsa and sold to a Frenchman named Toussaint Charbonneau. She would have his child while on the Expedition. Her tribe, the Shoshone, would, to this day, feel the agony of the encroachment upon their lands as would all of the other tribes of the Northern Plains and the Northwest. ...

    In the eyes of many traditional Indians she will always be a conspirator and traitor. ...

    The Time articles by Walter Kirn summarize the Expedition thusly: “Like every road, this one goes both ways. The country that Lewis and Clark returned through (they were gone for two years and four months) was not the same country they had just crossed. Its rivers had been named, its plants and animals sketched and classified, its native people apprised of their new status as subjects of a distant government whose claim to the place consisted of a document, the Louisiana Purchase, that none of the actual inhabitants had signed.”

    It should go without saying that the rivers, plants and animals already had names long before Lewis and Clark saw them for the first time. For instance, the Black Hills were the He’ Sapa and the buffalo was Tatanka and the turnip like plant used by the Lakota was timpsila. The land traveled by Lewis and Clark did not consist of nameless animals, plants, mountains or people.

    There should be no reason why the Indian nations of this region should celebrate the anniversary of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but there are those tribes who would do so.

    BY THE WAY: Lewis and Clark began their journey by heading north up the Missouri River, a waterway which borders present-day Omaha on the east. The Missouri, some may be surprised to learn, is actually the longest river in the United States. The Mississippi is No. 1 by far, however, when it comes to flow and drainage area.

    Saturday, September 21
    The object of my jealousy

    I was walking to my car at the end of a workday recently when an odd thought occurred to me. For some reason, I remembered one of the biggest disappointments from my childhood: the TV show "Lost in Space."

    Even though I was only an elementary-age child when the show aired in the mid-1960s, I remember how I had such high hopes for the series. Indeed, the show in its early episodes (at least as I remembered it) had considerable portions of straightforward adventure. But the show soon decayed into a string of preposterous storylines involving that insufferable Dr. Smith and ludicrous guest villains. Irritating, too, was the series' incessant focus on that silly Robot ("Danger, Will Robinson!") and, yes, young Will Robinson.

    For some reason, in the '60s I was insanely jealous of Billy Mumy, the child actor who played Will Robinson. I can't quite put my finger on why. But the feeling was there. Thirty years later, when he appeared as Lennier on "Babylon 5," my hostility toward him had, of course, vanished. I thought he actually did a pretty good job in B5. (Now that was a terrific sci-fi show, at least in its original, syndicated incarnation.)

    Making room for conservative views

    I posted the other day about a John Leo column that talked about the difficult time many conservatives have in making their voice heard in the university community. David Hogberg, writing at his Cornfield Commentary blog, says a regent with the University of Iowa system, to his credit, raised the same issue in a discussion about the selection criteria the University of Iowa should use in choosing its next president.

    “We talk about gender and ethnicity, but we're boycotting a whole wide range of ideas, particularly conservative ideas,” said the regent, Clarkson Kelly.

    There's more on the topic in Dave's original post.

    Look who had an op-ed in my newspaper

    It was an honor that the op-ed page at the Omaha World-Herald, where I work, today had a column written especially for us by none other than Eugene Volokh. Eugene e-mailed me the column several days ago; he argued that the Omaha City Council will be stepping outside the law if it denies non-citizens the right to own firearms, which is one part of a proposed revamping of local gun restrictions here in Omaha.

    Eugene wrote:

    "All persons," the Nebraska Constitution says, "have certain inherent and inalienable rights," including "the right to keep and bear arms for security or defense of self, family, home, and others, and for lawful common defense, hunting, recreational use, and all other lawful purposes."

    ... surely law-abiding non-citizens need to defend themselves, their families and their homes just as much as you and I do. Denying non-citizens this right because a few non-citizens may abuse it is wrong -- just as wrong as denying citizens the right to bear arms because a few citizens abuse it. ...

    The Omaha City Council's action might also violate the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause: The Supreme Court has held that state and local governments generally may not discriminate against non-citizens, although the federal government may. ...

    If people think immigrants should lack the right to bear arms to defend themselves, they should modify the Nebraska Constitution and seek federal authorization for the discrimination against non-citizens. Until that happens, the City Council should follow the law.

    The City Council, I understand, is scheduled to vote on the gun measure on Tuesday.

    Eugene, by the way, was quite professional in working with me to solve a technical problem late in the week so the World-Herald would be able to publish his op-ed today.

    Thursday, September 19
    The scandal of communist studies

    I’m nodding off at my keyboard (still haven’t recovered completely from the stomach bug), so I’ll note some points raised by Martin Malia in a terrific piece in The National Interest titled “Judging Nazism and Communism,” then sign off.

    Malia argues with passion that a stark contrast separates Western academics’ study of Nazism compared to that of communism. Scholars of Nazism (with the exception of apologists such as David Irving) squarely acknowledge the criminality and brutality of Hitler’s regime and ideology. Many professors of communist studies, whom by Malia’s description ironically characterize themselves as “revisionists,” shy away from making such harsh judgments and, in fact, cling to rationalizations that recently opened Kremlin archives have inexorably begun to discredit.

    From the article (I’m not putting the excerpts in the order they appear):

    [in the 1960s] the totalitarian model was denounced as mere Cold War ideology and gross caricature of Soviet complexities. ...

    [Western study of Soviet communism has in reality been] a sectarian dispute between two species of ideologies: neo-Burkharinists and para-Stalinists. Indeed, Western revisionism overall developed within what was basically a Soviet, or at least Marxist, perspective. Putting matters that bluntly, moreover, was until recently impossible in academic discourse, especially in America. ... But bluntness is presently a therapeutic necessity, for, though the time is long past when the revisionist master narrative was plausible, the time has not arrived when this is adequately reflected in the historiography. ...

    So revisionism proceeded to discover a Soviet Union that was at the same time social and sociable. As the new narrative ran, the Leninist record, though flawed by Stalin’s excesses, was nonetheless an overall achievement and a durable feature of modernity. The Communist system thus must be understood as an alternative form of “modernization,” one promising, moreover, a social-democratic fulfillment internally and enduring detente internationally. ...

    [Regarding Sovietologists’ pointed efforts to undercount the deaths under Soviet communism:] Even granted that until the opening of the Soviet archives after 1991 our knowledge of the system was incomplete, at no time were these figures anything less than
    prime facie absurd. It is inconceivable that anyone could get away with similarly egregious claims in German history. ...

    ... though revisionism itself ended along with the Soviet regime, the revisionists themselves are still in place and the debris of their narrative still frames our historical discourse.

    The historiography of Nazism is voluminous, rich and varied, where the historiography of Communism, though copious (at least for the Soviet cases) is fragmentary, thin and defective. In fact, much of it is outright misleading. ...

    Consider the distance the latter [studies of Nazism] has traveled. No one talks any longer [as do scholars of communism in regard to the Bolshevik revolution] about “finance capital” or “proletarianized lower middle classes” as basic causes of Nazism. ... Nor is anyone allowed to be value-free; rather, moral judgment is de rigeur and crime is called by its proper name.

    The journal also features an excerpt from the Martin Amis book “Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million,” in which Amis says it is generally accepted “that if Stalin had lived a year longer his anti-Semitic pogrom would have led to a second catastrophe for Jewry in the mid-1950s.”

    Presidents and their vacations

    Philip Terzian writes historically informed columns for the Providence Journal in which he often uses understatement to present well-considered arguments. In a recent column, he calmly offered some telling observations:

    Democrats have a point when they complain about George W. Bush's getting a free ride from the press on certain subjects. Take vacations, for example.

    Since the president took office a year and a half ago, he has spent a total of 250 days at one of three destinations: Camp David in Maryland, the presidential retreat (123 days), his ranch in Crawford, Texas (115 days) and the Bush family home in Kennebunkport, Maine (12 days).

    Or put another way, nearly half his presidency has been served away from the White House.

    The Democratic version is that if Bill Clinton had spent so much time twiddling his thumbs, or watching the scenery, instead of focusing like a laser beam on the economy, the press would have been outraged. Well, maybe. The trouble with this argument is that President Clinton avoided Camp David not because he preferred to labor diligently at the White House but because he didn't like Camp David. And when the Clintons repaired to Martha's Vineyard every summer to sip white wine with William Styron or Donna Karan, the press would swoon.

    Such partisan arguments, after all, tend to get turned on their head. Herblock, the late Washington Post editorial cartoonist, became famous in the 1950s for his incessant criticism of the time Dwight Eisenhower consumed on the golf links. Indeed, this became a running theme in its day: Instead of paying close attention to serious issues, lazy old Ike was reading Western novels or playing golf with his millionaire buddies.

    It is worth noting, however, that President Clinton spent considerably more time playing golf with his millionaire buddies than did President Eisenhower. And Herblock, for some reason, was unaccountably restrained in his criticism. ...

    As I said, understated, but he makes his point strongly.

    Rap and antebellum Southern culture

    I got a ton of e-mail on that topic today, responding to my post below about rap culture. I have included several of the comments and links in some updates to the post.

    Wednesday, September 18
    Low ebb

    Blogging may be nonexistent here tonight. I've been battling what has turned out to be a mild stomach bug. I apparently got hold of some bad tranya over the weekend.

    They remember

    The Weekly Standard article isn't available online (available for free, that is), but this blurb about it from Slate is interesting:

    An article reminds us that Kosovo's Muslims still love America for saving them from Slobodan Milosevic. On the anniversary of Sept. 11, all of Kosovo's TV stations broadcast the Pentagon and ground zero commemorations live.

    Quotas for conservatives?

    What is the partisan affiliation of faculty at highly ranked U.S. universities? John Leo, citing numbers from the American Enterprise Institute, provides some answers. He also touches on a range of familiar culture-war issues involving the academic community.

    One graf especially worth noting:

    Writing in American Enterprise, New York lawyer Kenneth Lee suggests civil rights litigation to open up college faculties. The suits would argue that universities violate equal opportunity laws by engaging in employment discrimination against Republicans and Christian conservative professors. Not a good idea. After arguing for years that colleges should not establish race and gender quotas, how can the right suddenly endorse court-imposed quotas for conservative academics? Besides, the goal is not a set number of teachers for each viewpoint but a genuinely open policy of hiring by talent, not ideology.

    He's right, of course.

    UPDATE: A sharp-minded e-mail correspondent of mine takes a differing view, writing:

    As William Buckley has said about Social Security, it is not hypocritical for one who opposes the policy of Social Security to cash the checks when they arrive. Democrats made the same point about their campaign fund raisers while pushing for campaign finance “reform”. It is called playing by the rules. You may advocate changes in the rules, but you still have to live by the rules until they are changed.

    The hypocrisy claim should be made against the colleges. After successfully arguing for years that quotas and diversity should be strictly enforced, how can they refuse to abide by the rules that they themselves had so much responsibility for implementing? It is they who should be hoisted upon their own petard.

    ... If a coach thinks that the NFL should never have adopted the 2 point conversion, is it an abandonment of principle to try one in a game? Of course not. ...

    Let’s put the focus on the guilty parties here. There is a lot of strong evidence that top quality professors have been excluded from many faculties because of their political or religious views. This is a complete abandonment of principle by the schools. Let me repeat, the liberals in control of collegiate hiring have been violating the rights of conservatives in a systematic and repulsive way. Some conservatives are contemplating using a tool, beloved by the liberals, to force the liberals to do what is right and correct these violations. The tool is perfectly legal because of advocacy by the very people who may now be targeted by it.

    ... And as for abandoning principles – the left has clearly been far more egregious in this area than anything contemplated by conservatives. ...

    In sum, the most interesting aspect to the story is the irony. And if someone chooses to focus on betrayal of principles, there are more deserving targets in the story than those seeking redress.

    Antiwar, with a smile

    Harrumphing in favor of a strong foreign policy is part of the norm at this site, but I have nothing but good things to say about humorist Madeleine Begun Kane, despite her insistent tweaking of Bush. Her wit and good humor are disarming.

    Race, rap and journalism -- and the Old South

    Leonard Pitts Jr., a sensible and always interesting columnist for the Miami Herald, examines the controversy that has erupted over a recent two-part Los Angeles Times series on the 1996 murder of rapper Tupac Shakur.

    The background, as summed up by Pitts:

    The Times reports that the killing, which took place in Las Vegas six years ago this month, was carried out by Los Angeles street gang members and commissioned by a rival rap star, Christopher Wallace, known professionally as the Notorious B.I.G. Wallace himself was gunned down six months later in Los Angeles.

    Members of Wallace's family have vigorously denied the newspaper report and have produced evidence to buttress their contention that he was not even in Vegas that night. The Times piece has produced fierce debate in hip-hop and black journalism circles, much of it critical of the reporting and offering wild speculation about the newspaper's supposed motivation.

    Impresario Russell Simmons has stepped forward to blast the LA Times series, as has journalist Kevin Powell (who was among the cast in the first edition of MTV’s “The Real World”). The Times series “represents the worst form of sensationalized journalism.” Powell wrote.

    Pitts, however, strikes a different note. While saying that he won’t make a judgment on who committed the killing of Shakur, Pitts underlines a larger issue:

    What does that tell you about the world we have made? ''We'' meaning consumers of American pop culture in general, but African Americans in particular. We've created -- or simply countenanced -- a world in which the line between video fantasy and street-corner reality is all but erased, where thug values and gangster mores demand blood for the faintest slights and we -- still talking African Americans -- walk around acting as if this were as unremarkable as fluorescent lights and traffic jams.

    We do not criticize or hold accountable, particularly in forums where whites may be watching, because some of us regard that as an act of racial betrayal. So nobody says the obvious: Pop stars don't shoot each other! There's something wrong when it becomes impossible to distinguish music acts from street gangs.

    I understand the corrosive effects of drugs and poverty on the African-American community. I also understand that those effects have been with us for generations. Not to sound dismissive, but that's old news. What's new is these diseased mores and this collective shrug in the face of them.

    This isn't about liking or not liking rap. It's about surrendering -- or not surrendering -- to a mind-set that allows us to contemplate the murder of young men without crying out, shouting, screaming that this is wrong.

    I can only echo what Pitts has said, while adding one historical note.

    Rap, per se, is rooted in genuine sentiments of the inner city. For many people, it has tremendous cultural resonance. That ought to be respected. But, as Pitts says, many rappers have taken the guns-“hos”-and-platinum thing way too far.

    In fact, the resemblance between the rap culture’s emphasis on hyper-sensitivity to imagined slights, and the hair-trigger resort to violence in the face of “disrespect,” bears an uncanny resemblance to the values system of the antebellum Southern aristocracy, with its support of dueling and fixation on defending one’s “honor.” The hubris and violent excess displayed in the brawls of today’s rappers are quite similar in spirit to that shown by South Carolinian Preston Brooks in 1856 when he used a cane to bludgeon abolitionist Sen. Charles Sumner in the U.S. Senate chamber.

    UPDATE: Wow, I can't believe the volume of e-mail this post has generated. Timothy Sandefur writes:

    Pitts writes that "We've created -- or simply countenanced -- a world in which the line between video fantasy and street-corner reality is all but erased." Compare that with what Mark Twain had to say about the influence of Sir Walter Scott on the South (from "Life on the Mississippi"):

    "Sir Walter Scott ... sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms ... with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless, and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still. ... [S]o you have practical, common-sense, progressive ideas, and progressive work, mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried. ... It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them."

    One might argue that the Rap Culture also embraces the sham grandeurs whereby gang fights are called "wars," peacable times "truces," and the murder of Shakur an "assassination"; sham gauds, in what you call the ho's and platinum thing; and the sham chivalry of the strut and revenge for the "dis."

    Another e-mail offered these observations:

    You raise a good point about the resemblance between rap culture and old Southern dueling culture. I agree with the strength of the resemblance, but respectfully disagree with calling it an "uncanny resemblance." The resemblance is there because the cultures are directly linked. Southern plantation culture was deeply imprinted upon slaves, whose descendants took the culture from the rural South to the urban North. The culture and subcultures changed along the way, but much of black American urban culture still shows its Southern roots. Whether it's "dueling," or food, or language, or what card games are played, the Southern echoes are still in Detroit and Chicago.

    Sorry, I don't have time to look up and supply good links, but tons of historians and sociologists have documented this cultural transmission. For tracing the Southern culture, in turn, to the Southern English countryside, I highly recommend David Hackett Fischer's "Alibion's Seed," which painstakingly explains how America's regional cultures derived from different English regional cultures.

    Clayton Cramer, whose blog is here, points to an article in his book "Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform" (Praeger Press, 1999). (The book and other Cramer historical studies are described here.) The article's provocative first sentence: "Most people are surprised when I tell them that the South led the nation in the development of gun control laws."

    ANOTHER UPDATE: Thomas Sowell, I'm informed in an e-mail, touched on this general topic in a Dec. 4, 1995, article in Forbes. Sowell wrote:

    Many years ago, back when it was still possible to have a rational discussion of race, a professor of economics at Columbia University suggested to me that one of the main problems of American blacks was that they were Southerners. That is, blacks acquired a culture that was much less effective, economically and in other ways, in the modern world.

    Much of what is being celebrated as a black culture today is part of a culture to which blacks were introduced in the South centuries ago -- and which has died out among whites with the rise of education, the standardization of English and other social advances. ...

    Nevertheless, with the passage of time and the slow rise of blacks in both social and economic terms, much of the worst of the old southern folkways began to erode and a growing class of more educated blacks emerged. Yet the rise of the countercultural left among white elites in the 1960's saw much more of a trend toward "accepting" or at least "understanding" the lifestyle of those who
    remained, in effect, black rednecks.

    The always thoughtful Gary Haubold offers these points:

    I think we'd agree that dueling may have been more common in the South than in the North, but the comment below [my comment mentioning rap culture and the antebellum Southern aristocracy -- GS] practically suggests that dueling and fixation on "honor" were exclusively a Southern tradition ...

    It's worth noting that the most famous duel in American history (Hamilton 0; Burr 1) was fought in New Jersey between two non-Southern Americans.

    According to PBS, the first recorded duel in America was in the Massachusetts colony in 1621, and even Abraham Lincoln was challenged to a duel in Illinois, which he successfully avoided.

    AND ANOTHER UPDATE: In regard to dueling in early America, Clayton Cramer e-mails this info:

    Dueling was actually pretty rare in the colonial period, and the idiots involved in the 1621 duel in Plymouth Colony (not Mass. Colony, which didn't exist until 1629) were punished swiftly for their idiocy. Dueling really takes off during the Revolutionary War period, when gobs of European officers bring over their silly notions of dueling and honor. The Hamilton-Burr duel was the last really significant duel in the North, but it persisted in the South and among American military officers until the Civil War. (And in New Orleans, with its French traditions, even later.) California had a dueling craze in the 1850s, which ended with a former Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court killing one of California's U.S. Senators just south of San Francisco in 1859. Of course, California was very heavily populated by Southerners at the time. Lincoln was challenged to a duel, but he avoided it, because as challenged, he had the choice of weapons: cowchips and pitchforks. His challenger decided that Lincoln wasn't taking this seriously, and dropped the challenge.

    Tuesday, September 17

    No blogging tonight. I'm going to get some rest and get back to my old self.

    Lessons from earlier arms inspections in Iraq

    I've previously written about an article by Charles Duelfer, a former top official with the U.N. inspection operation in Iraq. He draws lessons from the previous inspection efforts in Iraq and sounds a pessimistic note. In rereading the article today, I found several additional passages that deserve quoting here:

    Iraq decided moment by moment how fully it would comply with inspectors, and with each case of obstruction the inspectors had to make a decision as to whether they should report it to the Security Council. For example, if inspectors did not receive required biannual forms on the consumption of chlorine at a water purification facility, should they complain to the Security Council? Should an UNSCOM inspector report to New York headquarters if Iraqis at an inspection site said that they did not have a key for a certain room?

    It quickly became clear that the Security Council could not be involved in issues other than major breaches, and Iraq learned that small offenses would not be punished. Simply put, would the council want to go to war because some scruffy, arrogant inspector could not get into a building that might be empty and that Iraq said was important to its national sovereignty and dignity? Clearly not. Baghdad developed a good sense of how to limit access rights incrementally in ways to which the council could not respond proportionately. It learned to keep its obstruction below the threshold that would trigger a response from the council. ...

    Inherent in the design of Resolution 687 was the assumption that Iraq would value the ability to export oil and engage in normal commerce more than it valued weapons of mass destruction capability — an assumption that turned out to be dead wrong. Discussions with senior Iraqi officials eventually revealed the enormous importance the regime attached to these weapons.

    For the regime, possession of weapons of mass destruction was an existential issue. Deputy Prime Minster Tariq Aziz, among others, pointed out that, during the Iran-Iraq war, hitting cities deep in Iran with long-range missiles and countering of human wave attacks (particularly in the battle for al Fao) with massive use of chemical weapons saved Iraq. Moreover, Baghdad believes that its possession of biological and chemical weapons during the 1991 Gulf War helped deter the United States from marching on Baghdad. Thus, the regime has two experiences in which it feels its very survival was linked to possession of weapons of mass destruction.

    Nothing in the UN resolutions changed that judgment by Iraq. If anything, the lesson Baghdad learned from the Gulf War is that such weapons — especially nuclear weapons — are even more important than they had thought. Senior Iraqis privately acknowledged that it had been a mistake to invade Kuwait before completing a nuclear weapon. They are convinced the outcome of the war would have been radically different if Washington had had to consider an Iraqi nuclear capability. Certainly, Saddam Hussein understands that today’s debate about invading Iraq to effect regime change would not be taking place if Baghdad could threaten to hit U.S. forces or Israel with a nuclear weapon. ...

    Iraq has, with good cause, an active air defense system. UNSCOM therefore had to establish procedures for notifying Iraq of UN flights over its territory to ensure they would not be shot down, but by doing so they gave Iraq advance warning of inspections. ...

    To date, the lesson of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction is that they helped the regime survive; and regional states, such as Iran, have taken note. Long-term prospects for diminishing the spreading biological, chemical, and nuclear threat will only be reduced when the fundamental problem — the management in Baghdad — is changed.

    Here are Duelfer's recommendations:

    First, inspectors should be mandated to interview the few hundred key scientists, engineers, and technicians who were involved in the previous weapons of mass destruction efforts and have them account for their activities since December 1998. The UN knows who these individuals are. If, as is suspected, Iraq has been continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction, some or most of these people will have been involved.

    Second, the conditions for such interviews must be changed. Iraqi government observers must not be present. The previous UNSCOM agreement to the presence of such “minders” was a mistake. The fact that junior workers would shake with fear at the prospect of answering a question in a way inconsistent with government direction made this obvious.

    Third, and most important, the UN should offer sanctuary or safe haven to those who find it a condition for speaking the truth. The people are key to these programs. Access to the people under conditions where they could speak freely was not something UNSCOM ever achieved except in the rare instances of defection.

    Duefler gives a new inspection regime low odds of success, however; in fact, he says ultimate failure is inevitable. At a minimum, his recommendations, based on practical experience in dealing with the Iraqi regime, ought to be incorporated into the ground rules for a new inspection effort, if one is approved by the Security Council.

    UPDATE: Donald Sensing has a sharply conceived post on the whole topic. He even points to an interview with Duelfer today on Fox News.

    Monday, September 16
    A foreign policy lightning bolt

    A cold has snuck up on me and really zapped me today. So, I’ll just excerpt a few quotes (not that I necessarily endorse all the ideas expressed) by commentators in the current issue of The National Interest, a foreign policy journal I strongly recommend, and then turn in for the night:

  • Joseph Joffe, publisher of Die Zeit and an associate of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard:

    What has
    really changed since last September 11? Not very much. Cataclysmic as it was, that event was more like a bolt of lightning that illuminated the essential contours of the international landscape than like an earthquake that reconfigured it. ...

    The United States is not strong because it has nuclear weapons; it is mighty because it can do without them. ...

    [NATO in its traditional sense] has been replaced by NATO II, best defined as a collection of states, now including Russia, from which the United States draws coalition partners
    ad hoc. NATO II, in other words, is a pool, not a pact.

  • Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century:

    A great power is either losing momentum or it is losing it. There is no stasis ...

    And like the Bush Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine was criticized for its lack of nuance, its failure to appreciate the world’s complexities. ... Conservatives like Walter Lippman also attacked Truman for sending the United States down a strategic path that was not sustainable.

    But, of course, it was sustainable. ...

    The truth is that the United States can never be a normal power, and it invites trouble when it tries. It is rather American “exceptionalism” that is normal, and the Bush Doctrine is the most recent manifestation of it.

    Everybody likes Mr. Spock

    Good heavens -- I watch an old episode of Star Trek, have some laughs about it with my kids, and post some silliness about the Vulcan salute, Clint Howard and tranya at my blog. The next thing I know, Glenn Reynolds takes an interest in it, every third Trek fan in blogdom follows the link to my site, and my little post winds up on Blogdex. (It's listed under No. 103 as "What Being Jewish Means to Me - Leonard Nimoy.")

    I shouldn't feel too proud of myself, though. After all, my post isn't being discussed here at all.

    UPDATE: Gary Farber, who runs the level-headed Amygdala blog, responds. The guy knows his Trek.

    National security vs. personal security

    Very interesting post at Donald Sensing's site in which he deals with an assortment of things relating to antiwar arguments and complaints against Western materialism. What a mix -- Howard Zinn and George Monbiot, but also James Lileks and Orrin Judd.

    I have some thoughts of my own to share on the subject, but I'll need to wait until tonight to post them.

    MY TAKE ON THE SUBJECT: One point raised in the post is whether poor people in developing countries are happy with a modest life or whether they aspire to a higher, more modern standard of living. I won't presume to generalize about what the views of the poor are. But the discussion does remind me of a section in a book by historian Edward Ayers about how many Southerners in the late 1800s enthusiastically embraced a more varied diet, minor luxuries and labor-saving devices. Ayers writes:

    "Breaking the monotonous diet of 'hog and hominy' with a can of Columbia River Salmon was a gustatory event," one historian has written. "Ice, ice cream, lemons, oranges, and other exotic foods ... could not be 'cropped' on a Texas farm." "Southerners are tired of the threadbare, the makeshift, the second-best," a native of the region declared. "Sheer hatred of poverty is as common a ruling passion among them as anywhere on earth." Harry Crews remembered of his family and friends: "They loved
    things the way only the very poor can. They would have thrown away their kerosene lamps for light bulbs in a second. They would have abandoned their wood stoves for stoves that burned anything you did not have to chop." New things promised an unprecedented easing of labor, pain, and boredom.

    Posts since Friday

    For those who haven't seen the site since then, new posts cover territory including counterfactual history, myth-making, Star Trek, tornadoes and "the best thing Bill Clinton ever did."

    Rewinding the course of Southern history

    What if the first crucial civil rights decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1950s had focused not on school desegregation but on equal voting rights for blacks? Had black Southerners been given real political clout a decade before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, would Southern governmental authorities have been compelled to end Jim Crow years earlier than they actually did?

    That is the thesis of an e-mail Roger Sweeny recently sent me. Here is how he set up his idea:

    A few weeks ago, a comment at got me to thinking that although the Supreme Court had declared public school segregation illegal in 1954, the decision had little practical effect for 10 years. It was met by fairly effective (sometimes the quieter the more effective) resistance. The other segregation laws also largely stayed on the books. But after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, governmental support of Jim Crow pretty much collapsed.

    It's not really paradox, and I don't think it's irony but Jim Crow was worst where whites were most frightened. And they were most frightened where blacks made up the highest proportion of the population. Which was where blacks had the greatest potential voting power.

    ... But what if the initial federal intervention had not been prohibiting segregation in public schools (Brown v. Board) and had not been prohibiting racial discrimination in "public accommodations," etc. (Civil Rights Act of 1964) but had instead been "one person, one vote?" After that point, it would have been southerners (mostly black but some whites) changing "the Southern way of life." And maybe not just "some whites." When George Wallace needed black votes post-1968, he campaigned as a friend of black people. When there had been hardly any black votes previously, he had asserted, "segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." Perhaps it would have gone more smoothly. Perhaps there would be less visceral disrespect for local decisions and a less warm and fuzzy attitude toward the federal government by white and black liberals today.

    And perhaps we would look at Jim Crow and white supremacy and racial discrimination in a different way. I think it is fair to say that most people look upon Jim Crow and the bad treatment of black people as something that was essentially private -- private in the sense of not public, not governmental. It was a sociological thing. The bad stuff was people's bad attitudes and a system that somehow made the local governments go along. The end of Jim Crow, on the other hand, is seen as something governmental. The good guys from the federal courts and the Department of Justice (and finally Congress in 1964) opened up the closed societies. I think that is, at the very least, misleading. Jim Crow was very much a public, meaning governmental, thing. It relied on laws and government actions that kept black people down.

    Had "one man, one vote" come first, the more representative state and local governments in the South would have clearly and obviously undone what previous less representative governments had done. There might be less of a feeling among Americans that government is the great problem solver, and more of a realization that governments can also be dangerous.

    It’s a fascinating reconfiguration.

    Still, as I understand things, an early championing of the one man, one vote principle by the Supreme Court probably wouldn’t have provided a powerful enough tool to accomplish the task that Roger has described. Had a Reynolds v. Sims-style ruling come down in 1954, it would have had enormous impact on redistricting, of course, but it probably wouldn’t have meant the end of widespread voter discrimination against blacks.

    The Supreme Court, after all, had already struck down the Southern white primary in 1944 and reaffirmed that principle in a related case from Texas in 1953. Yet, as Roger said, Southern blacks still faced tremendous obstacles at the ballot box.

    In other words, ending Jim Crow voter discrimination in the South probably would have required not an earlier form of one man, one vote but of South Carolina v. Katzenbach, the monumental 1966 ruling that said the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was within constitutional bounds in assigning wide-ranging federal power to finally end the political permutations of Jim Crow.

    It’s hard to see how even the Warren court of the mid-1950s would have gone so far as to assert such an unprecedented assertion of federal prerogatives during the Eisenhower years, especially if specific legislation hadn’t been passed to that effect. And it’s more doubtful still to imagine that the Congress of the 1950s would have passed the Voting Rights Act 10 years early, given the clout and determination of Southern Democratic conservatives in opposing such moves.

    Roger’s scenario is inventive and provocative. And perhaps my powers of imagination, or understanding of the law, are insufficient. But as I see it, forceful federal intervention was still the only way, realistically, to bring about the end of Jim Crow voter discrimination. The tools just weren’t available to reach that goal any other way.

    UPDATE: John Rosenberg, an insightful student of Southern history, takes up a related counterfactual tangent on civil rights history at his site, Discriminations. The irony he points out is terrific, worthy of C. Vann Woodward himself.

    BY THE WAY: Another counterfactual scenario, involving British history, was explored in detail here in August: What if Britain had adopted a Thatcherite economic policy in the 1940s instead of embracing the modern welfare state?

    Sunday, September 15
    Memory and myth

    Andrew Sullivan’s essay to mark 9/11 began with a description of the wobbliness of human memory:

    We will forget.

    Researchers have long found that the memory of epochal events fade with time. The remembering of such events even has a specific name: flashbulb memory. As time passes, the chronology gets jumbled up; we fumble on the details; we airbrush some parts and highlight others. We re-imagine the past to make it more coherent, meaningful, bearable. One ongoing study at the University of Illinois Chicago's Psychology Department -- of a large, country-wide sample of people -- is finding out that we have already forgotten some things about September 11. How much time between the first and second plane? ... Was the Pentagon hit after both World Trade Center Towers? We forget. We conflate. We confuse.

    Yes. His description reminded me of how the fading of memory can open the way to myth-making.

    Specifically, it reminded me of a passage in “Conquest,” Robert Hughes’ riveting popular history of the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs, about how the god Quetzalcoatl may have once been a real man, but whose story had been bent, then distorted, then gradually transcended -- “a figure perhaps half historical,” Hughes wrote, “half god”:

    For a human Quetzalcoatl had probably once been king, or priest, of the Toltecs. Perhaps he founded Tollan, perhaps he was a conqueror, perhaps he was that city’s last king. At all events his story became fused with myth, his personality assuming the character of several deities.

    The Wizard of Oz meets Kirk

    This weekend turned out, unexpectedly, to be Star Trek-centric in our household.

    I was looking through a Star Trek commemorative magazine with my kids (ages 6 and 8) and found that Leonard Nimoy says Mr. Spock’s Vulcan salute had its origins in Nimoy’s own Jewish heritage. I looked and found this reference online (sorry, I could get only a cached version):

    When I was a boy, there was a particular blessing used in our local shul (synagogue). The four fingers of each hand were split to create the Hebrew letter shin representing Shad-dai, the name of the Almighty. When we were creating the television program Star Trek, we needed a salute. I thought back to that hand symbol and proposed it. ...

    Why did I think back to that hand gesture? Actors are always looking for something personal to bring to their professional lives. Maybe, then, it was the convergence of my spiritual and artistic lives. Maybe, in a way, I can call that salute my Vulcan shalom, my greeting of peace, my yearning for the blessing of peace -- the age-old quest of the Jewish people, my people.

    Reprinted from The New York Times, Sunday, December 22, 1996

    My kids saw their first Star Trek episode today. I rented “The Corbomite Maneuver,” in which Balak (little Clint Howard -- “We must drink. This is tranya.”) brought a bit of the Wizard of Oz to the Trek universe. (I tried to find "The Trouble With Tribbles" but was unsuccessful, but I thought this was a pretty good backup choice.)

    Too scary for the kids, what with the famous grim-faced alien? I decided it wasn’t. The kids had a grand time.

    At dinner, eating on the patio in the back yard after the kids had seen the episode, my 6-year-old daughter and I threw back our heads in imitation of Balak’s laugh.

    It just doesn’t get any better than that.

    Mighty Ireland

    I noted not long ago that U.S. companies invest more in Ireland than in China. A new TechCentralStation article provides a useful examination of the Irish economy. (I saw this in a post at Lynne Kiesling's blog The Knowledge Problem).

    From the article:

    Ireland's successful formula for development for the past 15 years has been a reliance on market forces, lowered taxes, reduced trade barriers and reduced regulatory burdens. This simple, market-driven focus has created opportunities for citizens, industries and businesses -- and the market has rewarded all amply.

    The article also points out the threat to the Irish economy from the insistence by Eurocrats on "tax harmonization" within the EU:

    The path to economic freedom and growth has not been easy, however. Recently the EU pressured Ireland to eradicate its low corporate tax rates to create parity with the EU's high corporate tax rates. Although Ireland agreed to end it's special preferential 10 percent tax rate extended to some corporations, they simultaneously lowered all corporate taxes from 24 percent to 12.5 percent, further attracting economic investment.

    The tax harmonization issue is also a concern for the United States. The topic will be explored here soon.

    BY THE WAY: I intend to post Sunday night on that counterfactual scenario involving Southern history I mentioned the other day.

    Saturday, September 14
    The best thing Bill Clinton ever did

    When Bill Clinton supporters describe what they consider the big accomplishments of his administration, the list usually includes things such as his budget policy, Treasury leadership under Robert Rubin, the declaration of public lands in the West as national monuments protected from development, and peace efforts that led to the Camp David offer to Arafat in July 2000. (I don’t view all those as unalloyed successes, but my intent here is to raise a different point.)

    I have yet to see such a recitation include a laudable policy move that was long overdue by the federal government and immensely helpful in a practical way.

    The policy action: the administration’s 1995 guidelines on how public schools should accommodate religion without stepping beyond proper constitutional boundaries.

    Before the issuance of the guidelines, which were updated in 1998, the list of horror stories was quite long about how public school teachers and administrators had made bone-headed decisions that needlessly stigmatized children who had sought to include their religious beliefs in some form at their school, even if it was something as innocent as making Jesus the topic of a paper or bringing a Bible to school. I’ll never forget a Time magazine article from the early ’90s that examined a string of such mishandled school situations. And it doesn’t take much anyway for religious conservatives to depict themselves as martyrs whenever such controversies arise.

    The Clinton guidelines, issued by the Department of Education under Secretary Dick Riley, didn’t -- and couldn’t -- end the controversies completely, but they did go far to calm the waters and advance common sense.

    Indulge me to cite two short excerpts from the guidelines:

    Student assignments: Students may express their beliefs about religion in the form of homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free of discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. Such home and classroom work should be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance, and against other legitimate pedagogical concerns identified by the school.

    Religious literature: Students have a right to distribute religious literature to their schoolmates on the same terms as they are permitted to distribute other literature that is unrelated to school curriculum or activities. Schools may impose the same reasonable time, place, and manner or other constitutional restrictions on distribution of religious literature as they do on nonschool literature generally, but they may not single out religious literature for special regulation.

    As I said: common sense. It’s telling that many teachers and administrators lacked the sound judgment to implement policies along those lines anyway, without federal guidance.

    The education guidelines, by the way, were precisely the sort of thing that one would expect from former Southern Democratic governors such as Clinton and Riley. Southern Democrats who succeed in statewide races generally construct a winning coalition by looking for the political center and building support across as wide a swath of the electorate as possible. The Clinton education guidelines, in that sense, had a pronounced Southern Democratic flavor to them.

    Clinton, as governor, used to spend part of each summer attending revivals hosted by Arkansas evangelicals, according to an old Washington Post series, probably by David Maraniss, I remember from the early '90s. Clinton, a Southern Baptist, probably had a fair understanding of the evangelical subculture. He certainly got the attention of evangelicals (though not necessarily in a positive way) when he chose to call his policy agenda in the early '90s a "New Covenant."

    Land of the Big Cities

    Quick, answer this question: Which state has the most cities on the list of the 10 most populous cities in the United States, according to the 2000 Census?




    The answer is Texas. Its top-10 cities are Houston (No. 4), Dallas (No. 8) and San Antonio (No. 9).

    I noticed that fact in one of my 8-year-old son’s reference books last night. It struck me as a surprise, even though I knew that Texas has moved past New York in the 2000 Census to become the state second-highest in population after California.

    Three California cities do make the list if you count the top 11: Los Angeles (No. 2), San Diego (No. 7) and San Jose (No. 11).

    A list of the top 50 cities, in terms of population, is here.

    UPDATE: Dan Hobby writes in regard to U.S. metro areas: "Interestingly, if you take the top 48 Metro areas (those with populations over 1,000,000), you find the state with the most is Florida (5), followed by Texas & California with four. New York and Ohio have three." He provides a link to metro area rankings by population.

    Also, David Hogberg weighs in with his perspective as an Iowan.


    To live in the Great Plains is to become acquainted with the palpable threat from tornadoes. The novelist Louise Erdrich (pronounced “AIR-drik”), a North Dakotan whose writings explore Native American themes, offered an unforgettable description of a tornado in her 1998 novel “The Beet Queen”:

    Outside the wind was stronger, a hand held against us. We struggled forward. The bushes tossed, rain battered, the awning flapped off a storefront, the rails of porches rattled. The odd cloud became a fat snout that nosed along the earth and sniffed, jabbed, picked at things, sucked them up, blew them apart, rooted around as if it was following a certain scent, then stopped behind us at the butcher shop and bored down like a drill.

    I pitched head over heels along the dirt drive, kept moving and tumbling in such amazement that I felt no fear, past Russell, who was lodged against a small pine. The sky was cluttered. A herd of cattle flew through the air like giant birds, dropping dung, their mouths opened in stunned bellows. A candle, still lighted, flew past, and tables, napkins, garden tools, a whole school of drifting eyeglasses, jackets on hangers, hams, a checkerboard, a lampshade, and at last the sow from behind the lockers, on the run, her hooves a blur, set free, swooping, diving, screaming as everything in Argus fell apart and got turned upside down, smashed, and thoroughly wrecked.

    Who says the written word can’t match Hollywood special effects?

    Barnes & Noble, incidentally, provides an excellent online overview of Erdrich’s work.

    Friday, September 13
    OK, a quick note on my blogroll

    I intend to add to my blogroll soon. There are some great sites out there, and I have been remiss in not adding some particular ones to my links section.

    I intend, incidentally, to add some left-learning blogs. Since I preach about how we're all Americans regardless of ideology and party, I think it's incumbent on me, as a blogger in the center-right vein on economic and foreign policy issues, to note that the blogosphere contains liberal-oriented sites worthy of respect and attention. Right now, I'm planning on bunching them right in with the right-wing blogs, since, frankly, I disagree on a lot of points anyway with some of the staunchly conservative writers I link to.

    I plan to post again sometime Saturday night.

    Thursday, September 12
    Blogus interruptus

    I probably won't have a chance to post anything new here until sometime over the weekend. When blogging does resume, one item I intend to talk about is a fascinating counterfactual scenario involving Southern history in the 1950s and '60s suggested by Roger Sweeny.


    It's been pointed out to me that not everyone on the political left supports the type of student rampage that forestalled Netanhayu's speech this week, contrary to my contention in a post below. It's a fair point.

    Wednesday, September 11
    The bandits reassert themselves

    Today is an appropriate time to note these three items:

  • From military historian John Keegan, writing in the British magazine Spectator: “The Clausewitzean analysis is breaking down. It is true that war is an extension of policy -- but only by stable states. War is escaping from state control, into the hands of bandits and anarchists. The great work of disarming tribes, sects, warlords and criminals -- a principal achievement of monarchs in the 17th century and empires in the 19th -- threatens to need doing all over again. Not many military establishments possess the skills, equipment and cultural ruthlessness necessary for the task.” What’s most interesting is that Keegan’s remarks were published in March 2001, six months before the 9/11 attacks.

  • John Shelton Reed, a renowned scholar of Southern studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, wrote in The American Enterprise that the attack on New York City was no more an assault on that city alone than an attack on Mount Rushmore would have been considered an attack only on South Dakota.

  • A phrase used by Martin Peretz in The New Republic years ago that has remained in my mind: “the irreplaceable dead.”

  • ADDENDUM: Austin Bay has an eloquent piece, titled "America's Vacation is Over," at The piece begins on another topic but skillfully weaves in a 9/11 theme.

    Extra credit

    I had a great e-mail today from someone responding to my post about D.W. Griffith and Leni Riefenstahl. I thought I'd forwarded the message to my home e-mail for blogging, but for some reason it didn't make it. So, I'll reconstruct it from memory:

    "In a college history class one night, the professor showed "Birth of a Nation" and "Triumph of the Will" as a double feature. Talk about a long night."

    Tuesday, September 10
    Robert Penn Warren, Denmark Vesey

    I accidentally left out an item by blogger John Rosenberg in my recent roundup of Southern liberal journalist items the other day. His blog, Discriminations, is a terrifically conceived site that, most recently, has examined the contention that historians have ignored evidence that the 1822 Denmark Vesey slave conspiracy was in fact based on trumped-up charges.

    At any rate, this point from Disciminations was worth noting:

    Another unsung book by a deservedly famous Southerner also has something to say to the issue of guilty white Southerners. I refer to Robert Penn Warren's thin little book, more a long essay, really: THE LEGACY OF THE CIVIL WAR, Random House, (1961). In it, RPW argues that the most lasting legacy of the late unpleasantness was that it gave the South a "Great Alibi" for whatever was wrong, and it gave the North a "Treasury of Virtue." Whatever the North's failings, it had freed the slaves etc. and hence could do no wrong, or rather any wrong it might do must be excused because of its heroic accomplishent of freeing the slaves.

    I haven't had time to read the Michael Johnson essay that argues that the Denmark Vesey conspiracy was bogus. I'm torn: I respect the analysis by John Rosenberg that I read at his site, and the William and Mary Quarterly, which published the Johnson article, is first-rate.

    But I also have enormous respect for one of the historians Johnson criticizes: William Freehling, who stands as one of the historical profession's most insightful scholars of the antebellum South. Freehling has hardly been one who has offered apologetics for slaveowners. On the contrary, his work abounds in pointing out the hypocrisies and flimsy rationales on which the Southern slave system was built.

    Maybe Johnson is right and Freehling and others did misinterpret the historical documents; at this point, I have no firm view. But it's hard for me to attribute some sort of nefarious motive to Freehling.

    One thing is certainly true. If Johnson is correct about the Denmark Vesey matter, it would be a real shock -- in one fell swoop, a major event long regarded as seminal in the history of Southern slavery would be removed from the record (or, more specifically, radically reinterpreted). It would be somewhat comparable to discovering that, say, Thomas Jefferson actually had not been involved at all in writing the Declaration of Independence.

    Do Johnson's charges amount to something bigger than the Bellesiles matter? It depends on your point of view. Both are very big deals within the community of historians. Some black Americans no doubt have a strong interest in how the slavery record is interpreted. As far as the impact on the general public, though, there's no comparison: For most Americans, guns are a lot bigger issue than how scholars should interpret the documentary evidence on an incident in Charleston in 1822.

    Ted Rall, taking the low road, as usual

    As you can see here.

    He really knows how to mark the 9/11 anniversary with the moral sensitivity it deserves, doesn't he?

    America’s Riefenstahl

    To study the craft of documentarian Leni Riefenstahl, with her calculated use of cinematic technique to promote fascist ideology, raises a fascinating question: Should a director’s technical brilliance be appreciated even if her political message is reprehensible?

    With Riefenstahl, the answer seems pretty clear: Yes, it can. But it is hard to fully respect it.

    The level of imagination and vision she demonstrated in her work can’t be ignored. But neither, of course, can the evil to which she devoted her talents. (The legacy of Riefenstahl, who recently turned 100, is examined in a post below, along with consideration of other documentarians of the World War II era.)

    The same considerations apply to D.W. Griffith, director of “The Birth of a Nation,” a 1915 ode to Ku Klux Klan values that nonetheless set the basic framework for cinematic technique along many dimensions. (Two worthwhile examinations of the film can be found here and here.)

    Among the many techniques Griffith pioneered: cross-cut editing between scenes; using camera shots of various lengths; varied camera angles; camera movement including tracking shots; night photography; and a score, to be performed live, written especially for the film.

    Griffith demonstrated a deep understanding of film tempo. Editing, in other words, was used as a tool to amplify the mood of a sequence. “The Birth of a Nation” was the first film in which that approach was used consistently and effectively.

    The film was pioneering, too, in its sharp sense of continuity. Regardless of whether the viewer was seeing an extremely long shot or a medium shot during the battle scenes, in every instance the Confederates entered from the left and the Union forces from right. (In that regard, see the post below in regard to a John Huston World War II documentary.) Today, that seems merely a tried-and-true technique. Griffith’s achievement was that he was the first to use it.

    Film scholars point out that Griffith wasn’t the first to use some of the techniques usually credited to him. But he was the first to use them together in a coherent way, producing a cinematic vision of powerful effect.

    (The sophistication didn’t extend to some of the special effects. There was a lot of danger on the sets for the battle scenes, since Griffith used real cannons and -- to create certain explosions -- real grenades. Another nugget: John Ford, who would go on to become of the great American directors, was an extra in the film’s Klan ride sequence.)

    Still, for all its technical brilliance, “The Birth of the Nation” stands as a steadfast and appalling defense of white supremacy. The film is the angry shout of a 19th century mindset in which white Klansmen were cast as noble cavaliers and black citizens as sub-human.

    One of the subtitles, in fact, uses the term “Aryan” in a racist context.

    In 1999, the Directors Guild of America, citing the film’s “intolerable racist stereotypes,” renamed its top award, which had been named after Griffith.

    The reaction to the film in 1915 reveals much about American social and political attitudes of the day. Film critic Richard Schickel provided a fascinating account in his biography of Griffith, "D.W. Griffith: An American Life.”

    President Woodrow Wilson watched the movie, at the time the longest and most expensive film of the era, in the White House in February 1915 along with members of his staff and Cabinet, the film to be shown there. His much-quoted reaction to the film: "It is like writing history with lightning. And my only regret is that it is all so terribly true.”

    Wilson had known Thomas Dixon, author of the novel and play on which the film was based, years earlier, when Dixon had arranged for Wilson to receive an honorary degree from Wake Forest College in North Carolina.

    Dixon, who attended the White House screening, persuaded Edward D. White, the Louisiana-born chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, to see the movie. White brought along several of his fellow justices.

    The movie premiered on Feb. 8, 1915, in Los Angeles. The local chapter of the NAACP tried to block the showing of the showing, arguing that the movie would spark racial tensions that could lead to riots. The matinee was blocked, but the evening performance was allowed. An orchestra provided music in a packed 2,500-seat theater. The usherettes were wearing Civil War-era gowns.

    Schickel described the audience reaction this way: “all recall the audience leaping up, cheering and applauding and stamping their feet, not to be stilled until Griffith made an appearance.”

    A month later, the film premiered in New York City. The audience, according to a trade paper, included many representatives of the city’s social and literary elite. The response was enthusiastically favorable. So were the reviews in New York newspapers.

    Schickel writes: “The next day there were lines at the box office and they would continue to form there for weeks, as the initial critical excitement over the film was supported by audience enthusiasm for it.”

    The New York Times' coverage of the premiere consisted of an un-bylined piece that described some of the atmosphere of the evening's event and talked about the film's successful achievement. It skirted Griffith's racist message -- “a rather pleasantly purist view of the critical function by modern standards,” Schickel writes.

    "Indeed," he adds, "it is remarkable that so few critics, in their initial responses to the film, even alluded to its portrayals of blacks, its view of the historical incident it purposted to portray accuately -- depite the fact that the NAACP was hauling it into court whenever it opened in major cities, while, of cours, making its opinion of the film known everywhere.”

    The reviewer for the Hearst-owned Evening Journal gave his New York readers this advice: “First of all, children must be sent to see this masterpiece. Any parent who neglects this advice is committing an educational offense, for no film has evern produced more educational points than Griffith’s latest achievement.”

    The trade paper Variety lavished praised on the film, even going so far to praise its portrayal of the historical record. It was a picture, the Variety reporter wrote, that “would please all white classes.”

    The movie continued its run at the New York theater, the Liberty, for some 11 months. Including subsequent runs, Schickel says, it was seen by an estimated 825,000 people in the New York area alone.

    Not that critical voices weren't sounded. The NAACP, then a fledgling organization, received support from Jane Addams and New York philanthropists Jacob Schiff, Lillian Wald and Dr. Jacques Loeb, as well as from what Schickel termed a “group of prominent white Southerners.”

    Addams was scathing in her criticism of the film in an interview conducted with the New York Post (a paper that, along with the Evening Journal, would eventually voice strong editorial criticism of the film).

    The New Republic, which was founded in March 1915 only a month after the movie’s New York premiere, delivered another blow. Francis Hackett, a novelist and playwright, wrote a review in which he blasted Thomas Dixon.

    Comparing Dixon to a yellow journalist, Hackett wrote: “He is yellow becaues he recklessly distorts Negro crimes, gives them a disproportionate place in life and colors them dishonestly to inflame the ignorant and credulous. And he is especially yellow, and quite disgustingly and contemptibly yellow, because his perversions are cunningly calculated to flatter the white man and provoke hatred and contempt for the Negro.”

    “The Birth of a Nation,” he added, is “spiritual assassination. It degrades the censors that passed it and the white race that endures it.”

    New York Mayor John Purroy Mitchell agreed to hear a delegation address him about the film. The delegations included W.E.B. DuBois, who was then editing the NAACP’s journal, The Crisis; Rabbi Stephen Wise, the nation’s leading Reform rabbi; and Oswald Garrison Villard, editor of the New York Post.

    Wise called the film an “inexcusably foul and loathsome libel on a race of human beings.” He also stated, “the Negroes in this city have been patient. They have not yet arisen, like the Irish who attacked ‘The Playboy of the Western World’ when they recognized it as caricature and not as characterization.”

    Mitchell responded by saying that some racist scenes would be cut from the film. The film's opponents found the deletions to be meager and unsatisfactory.

    The film enjoyed considerable popularity nationwide, although protests were frequently mounted in large cities. The criticisms grew strong enough that Joseph P. Tumulty, Woodrow Wilson’s chief public relations adviser, advised the president to back away from his inititial praise of the film.

    Although the NAACP failed in its efforts to block the film, the fight provided what Schickel called an important early "rally point" for the organization. (The controversy also put Booker T. Washington in a difficult position, since he found that he eventually had to abandon the mild reaction he had initially expressed and adopt an outright critical one.)

    A few notes about Griffith's later career. He followed up "The Birth of a Nation" with an extravagance titled “Intolerance” that again displayed great skill. But the film in no way endorsed racial tolerance. And it lambasted social reformers -- the types who had led the fight in 1915 against "The Birth of a Nation."

    Griffith made two talking pictures. One, starring Walter Huston and made in 1930, was “Abraham Lincoln.”

    In 1940, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City staged a retrospective exhibition on Griffith's career.

    Germany has its Leni Riefenstahl; America, its D.W. Griffith. Such awesome artistic genius can be appreciated, but not fully respected.

    Coming up

    An item titled "America’s Riefenstahl" will appear here this morning.

    No new items were posted last night because I worked late at the office.

    Monday, September 9
    Historical linkages

    I just saw that George Will's column on Sunday touched on the importance of the Spanish-American War (the link to the Will column wasn't working at one point today due to what the Washington Post called "maintenance" at its site):

    The Spanish-American War established the United States as a global power, its power projected then entirely by its Navy. In 1941 an important portion of the Navy was based here because -- westward the course of empire takes its way -- the United States had annexed these islands in that eventful year of 1898.

    Some people new to this site might be interested in a previous set of posts here that explored the historical significance of the Spanish-American War. Among the points raised: ):

  • The Spanish-American War led to a remarkable reconciliation between the North and the South -- or, more accurately, between whites in the North and the South. ...

    When Worth Bagley, a young naval officer from North Carolina, became the first U.S. casualty of the war, a newspaper in New York City declared, “There is no North and no South after that.” Bagley’s father had been a major in the Confederate army.

    The United Confederate Veterans, meeting in a convention, declared full support for the U.S. military campaign against Spain.

    Many Southerners said the war provided an invaluable opportunity to prove their region’s loyalty to the nation as well as the military prowess of Southern men.

    In Raleigh, North Carolina, members of a state militia marched into a temporary military camp while wearing Confederate uniforms, then changed into the blue uniforms of the U.S. military.

    Southerners cheered when President William McKinley, a Union veteran, named four former Confederate generals as generals in the war with Spain. One of them was a nephew of Robert E. Lee. ...

  • Racial considerations provided the Spanish-American War with some of its most fascinating aspects -- and certainly some of its most tragic.

    Many black Americans reacted to the war in a similar fashion as white Southerners: They seized on it almost desperately as a chance to prove their loyalty to country. But blacks, especially in the South, held tightly to an even greater hope: that their demonstration of patriotic dedication would be rewarded with recognition, finally, as equal citizens by law and custom.

    From war in Cuba, it was hoped, would spring justice in the Jim Crow South.

    Wrote N.C. Bruce, who volunteered for the all-black North Carolina Third Regiment: “The war has begun for Justice to Humanity -- justice at home as well as abroad.”

    But it was not to be. .....

  • For a conflict regarded by the public at large as a very minor affair, the Spanish-American War actually had great long-term significance for U.S. foreign policy and nation's military.


    Over the weekend I noted Media Minded’s recent post about W.J. Cash, author of a seminal study of Southern history, “The Mind of the South.” Cash’s introduction to the 1941 book included a well constructed passage worth quoting:

    ... the extent of the change and of the break between the Old South that was and the South of our time has been vastly exaggerated. The South, one might say, is a tree with many age rings, with its limbs and trunk bent and twisted by all the winds of the years, but with its tap root in the Old South. Or, better still, it is like one of those churches one sees in England. The facade and towers, the windows and clerestory, all the exterior and superstructure are late Gothic of one sort or another, but look into its nave, its aisles, and its choir and you find the old mighty Norman arches of the 12th century. And if you look into the crypt, you may even find stones cut by Saxon, brick made by Roman hands.

    I'd argue, incidentally, that the end of Jim Crow in the 1960s marked a decisive break in Southern thinking, opening the way to new thinking in several important ways (as if, of course, there were only a single regional "mind" anyway). But that is a topic for another time.

    Intermittent blogging

    I substitute for a computer-operator colleague all this week at work. That means I'll have less time for blogging (and less time for answering e-mail in a timely fashion). So, although I intend for a new post or two to appear each day, the overall quantity will probably be less than usual.

    For anyone who hasn't seen this site since Friday, around 10 items were posted over the weekend. Topics range from the inevitable failure of weapons inspections in Iraq to an examination of Leni Riefenstahl and World War II-era documentaries.

    Sunday, September 8
    Resources for regional studies

    In recent days I’ve received encouraging e-mail from people who share an interest in U.S. regional studies. One person asked for a recommendation about where to turn for scholarly, but readable, examinations of Great Plains issues.

    Although there are a variety of choices, I will recommend, and link to, two first-rate journals: for the part of the country where I’m living, Great Plains Quarterly; for Southern studies, Southern Cultures.

    Each is published by a well-respected institution: the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (the nation’s first center for regional studies), and the Center for the Study of the American South, at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (my undergrad alma mater, I’m proud to say).

    I know academicians at both institutions, and they are doing marvelous work.

    Over time, I will expand the focus of this site to directly include U.S. Western studies; indeed, a set of posts here will soon examine the connection between American Western art and the region’s history.

    I don’t intend for this site to focus exclusively on regional matters. But I do want such material included in the mix, as the very title of this blog indicates. Addressing regional issues was one of the prime motivators for starting this site. I don't envision myself as Walter Lippman. This blog is going to address some headline-related themes, particularly on foreign policy, but a lot of the topics here will simply be examinations of history, regionalism and whatever else strikes me.

    Incidentally, because of the blog discussion of Southern journalists last week, I have several Southern-related topics in the pipeline, thanks mainly to contacts I’ve made in the wake of that discussion. I intend to space those items out in coming days, so that non-Southerners visiting this blog don’t grow weary of the Dixie-related themes.