Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

History,
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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Musicians
of note:
Prairie Cats

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.)

An excerpt:

However, there are good reasons to think that Mexico will continue to pass between the raindrops of the latest Latin American storm. Mr Fox's government has kept to the strict fiscal and monetary policies it inherited from its predecessor. Despite the weaker peso, inflation and interest rates are low. The public debt is well managed. Mexico's achievement, says Victor Herrera of Standard & Poor's, a rating agency, is to have created an economy that is sound enough to insulate its credit rating from temporary turbulence or the business cycle.


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:

Virtuous leadership required financial independence. Dependent poor folk naturally sunk into selfishness and conspiracy. Lesser sorts should thus be selectively barred from voting and altogether barred from holding office. Independent gentlemen armed with civic virtue could alone elevate dependents and save republics.


Another useful passage:

Slaveholders’ contorted ideology showed difficulties in maintaining the egalitarian pretense. Masters defending mastery kept implying that slaveholders were better than nonslaveholders. Slavery, they often bragged, beneficiently prepared masters of blacks to command whites. Then weren’t slaveholders better rulers than nonslaveholders?

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:

Iraq, Iraq, I refuse to back down.
Most hawks say yup, but some others just frown.
Hussein belongs in a hole in the ground.
Iraq, Iraq, I refuse to back down.

The evil places to target are so many,
Or so my staffers say.
I promised Poppy I wouldn't miss on any,
Cause Saddam's got to pay.
Gonna bomb the whole town.
I'll vanquish that clown, I do pray.
Without delay!

Iraq, Iraq, it's an oil lovers place,
I'll give high-fives when I've conquered that space.
Big bucks are there to be taken posthaste.
Iraq, Iraq, it's an oil lovers place.


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:


We've made a similar argument about the Electoral College: If it's so great, why is it the case that not a single state copies it for the governor's election, nor does a single other major world democracy use it to pick its president?


Not so fast! As I pointed out at this site on Aug. 1:

After the Florida vote-count fiasco in 2000, many Europeans resorted, predictably, to their usual tut-tutting about supposed U.S. backwardness. One columnist grumped in The Times of London: “What moral authority would a man have to hold his finger over the nuclear trigger when he owed his office not to a majority but the byproduct of a bankrupt electoral college?” A German writer sounded a similar note, calling the Electoral College “idiotic.”

What the Europeans conveniently sidestepped, though, was that the European Union has long governed itself by the very principles associated with the Electoral College. In the EU, the votes of small countries are given considerably more weight than mere demographics would require.

Look at the EU's Council of Ministers. Germany, with 82 million inhabitants, has a population 205 times that of Luxembourg's (400,000). If the seats that the two countries have on the Council of Ministers were assigned in proportion to the two countries' actual populations, Luxembourg would control two seats and Germany would control 410.

Instead, Luxembourg has two seats and Germany has 10.

One more example of how glass-house-dwelling Europeans should be wary of throwing stones.


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:

The cover story looks at diverging demographic trends in Europe and America. While Europe's fertility rate is in free fall, Americans are reproducing at the replacement rate. That means the future holds a cheaper labor force and a more entrepreneurial culture for America and a stodgy gerontocracy for Europe.


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":

The British philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said that to understand a culture, one must study its second-rate literature. First-rate stuff, he said, was too good. It offers transcendent truths applicable to all times, to all places. That's why Shakespeare still holds up, centuries and oceans away from Olde England. By contrast, second-rate literature is rooted in the moment, so it's a cultural snapshot. And if second-rate books are a window, then third-rate movies provide a broad vista. ...

Few Americans over 25 will ever see "XXX." But if they did, they'd come away confident that the next generation -- born after the fiasco of Vietnam -- is ready to do its patriotic part in, say, the war on terror.

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:

News of the "Beverly Hillbillies" redo did not sit well with some Southerners who work in Hollywood, who did not wish to be identified for this article.

"They should check on Anna Nicole Smith," said one. "It's like punching a wounded animal on that show. This is going to backfire," added the executive, who predicted the network may have trouble getting some TV stations in Southern markets to air the program.

"This may be what finally galvanizes Southerners. We all know that the last bastion of being able to be prejudiced is against Southerners."

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:

The funny thing about Beverly Hillbillies and all those other shows is that they were immensely popular in the south and southerners felt ripped off and abused when CBS axed all its hayseed shows - BH, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, Hee Haw, etc - in one fell swoop.


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:

The PRC is on pace to replace the US as the top exporter to Japan and could do it as early as this year, the Japan government said Tuesday. The news comes as Japan reported that total trade with the PRC, imports and exports, rose 3.4 percent to a record $45.12 billion in the first half of the year. The PRC is still Japan's No. 2 trading partner behind the US. But the figures indicated the PRC is rapidly passing the US as the top exporter to Japan. ...

Roughly 17.8 percent of all good imported to Japan came from the PRC during the first half of 2002, according to the Japan External Trade Organization.That's just behind the US, which accounted for 18.2 percent of Japan's imports over the period.

U.S.-Japanese relations do seem to be strong these days. Still, another item from the Nautilus Institute isn't very reassuring:


Nagasaki, on last Friday marked the 57th anniversary of the 1945 atomic bombing by singling out the nuclear policies of the US for condemnation. Mayor Itcho Ito criticized recent US moves, including its withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, its refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear weapons and its suggestion that it may engage in pre-emptive nuclear strikes.

"We are appalled by this series of unilateral actions taken by the government of the United States, actions that are also being condemned by people of sound judgment throughout the world," Ito said. It was the first time a mayor of Nagasaki has denounced the US by name in the annual peace declaration. He also demanded that the government enact legislation "without delay" to legalize Japan's three principles of not possessing, producing or allowing nuclear weapons on its soil.


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:

Two figures who have assumed critical roles in the al Qaeda hierarchy in recent months, including one reported dead by the Pentagon, are being sheltered in Iran along with dozens of other al Qaeda fighters in hotels and guesthouses in the border cities of Mashhad and Zabol, according to Arab intelligence sources.

The two -- Saif al-Adel, an Egyptian on the FBI's most-wanted list, and Mahfouz Ould Walid, also known as Abu Hafs the Mauritanian, whom U.S. officials reported had been killed near the eastern Afghan city of Khost in January -- are directly involved in planning al Qaeda terrorist operations, according to the intelligence sources ...

With Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command, Ayman Zawahiri, in hiding, the sources said, and with the death of the former military chief, Muhammad Atef, the two have assumed operational control of al Qaeda's military committee, which directs attacks, and its ideological or religious committee, which issues fatwas, or statements, to justify those attacks.


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
 
Brief hiatus
No blogging tonight. I'm watching "Gosford Park."



 
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 is time to take a stand against this desire. The Daily Telegraph does not support the doctrinaire libertarian argument which states that freedom is the only good. Clearly, all states have a need for order, and the price of one person's freedom can be too high for somebody else. But we do believe that there should always be a presumption in favour of freedom.

The burden should not be on people to prove why they should be allowed to do something, but on the authorities to prove why they shouldn't. ...

Earlier this week, Parliament solemnly debated whether there should be a law to prevent people having messy gardens: no one said that it was none of their business. There should also be a presumption that the authorities should stop taking more power over people and should start handing power back. ...

Today, The Daily Telegraph starts its "A Free Country" campaign. Week by week, and in major individual investigations, we shall examine how freedom is being taken away, whether by Westminster or Whitehall or Brussels or any other authority. We shall try to annoy the control freaks, whether they are Right, Left or Centre, and we shall welcome allies for freedom from all quarters. The Conservative leadership contestants hardly breathe a word about freedom. The Labour Government's Queen's Speech is a shopping list of attacks on our liberties. There's plenty to do. Libertad o muerte!

It will be fascinating to see where the series leads. A worthy cause, indeed.



Monday, August 26
 
Lileks' achievement

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.

He writes:


Since the Hamasophiles and Saddamites seem to think Amerika is just like Nazi Germany, perhaps we should revisit what Nazism was.

1. Rearrangement of the entire national purpose along racial lines. E Pluribus Unum vs. Ein Reich, Ein Volk. I know, I know -- just because it's on the money doesn't mean it's so, but if you think this nation is trending towards some sort of government-enforced ethic purity, you really need to get out of your suburb more, and visit me in the city. Black people! Brown people! Yellow people! Mingling and living with impunity!

If you wanted to find ein volk in this nation, where would you start? To paraphrase Clara Peller in the Wendy's commercial, where's the volk?

2. Pagan spirituality. Hitler cobbled together his batshit mythos from ancient German myths. The idea that his regime was a Christian outfit is another odd belief trundled out by those who think Ashcroft likes to close the door, put on his hip-high black leather boots and strut around to Wagner arias. ...

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:

[A previous letter writer] asked if 9/11 was "God's hand against us for our unrepentant sin." What kind of sins upset God the most? Can it really be the Supreme Court's enforcement of the separation of church and state and abortion rights?

For all we know, perhaps the following real-world sins are the worst ones (they certainly have enormous negative consequences): racism; glorification of violence; pursuit of limitless consumerism; indifference to poverty and suffering; failure to implement energy conservation measures to reduce our dependence on oil from feudal theocracies; not promoting democracy consistently; supporting repressive regimes; tolerating inadequate health care for millions of Americans; not insisting on reasonable labor and environmental standards in international trade agreements; embracing ignorance and superstition as "entertainment"; failure to protect the Earth and its life; disdaining international treaties on climate change and on banning land mines and nuclear testing; and being by far the world's largest arms merchant.

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.

The column:

A lot of people act as if history on the Great Plains began only in 1804, when Lewis and Clark started up the Missouri. Such thinking, historian Elliott West cautions, needlessly creates a "false divide" in the region's history.

The plains stirred with activity for many thousands of years before the Corps of Discovery's expedition, says West, an award-winning scholar who teaches at the University of Arkansas. To illustrate his point, he suggests an interesting mental exercise:

Imagine that we could hover over the Great Plains and view the full expanse of its inhabited history using a time machine.

Specifically, imagine that we could look down from the height of a satellite. And, he suggests, imagine that the passage of one century at the Earth's surface would seem to us as only one minute. Our time machine would thus allow us to survey the entire region as its history unfolded at fast-forward speed.

If we set our time machine at 1804, it would take just under two minutes to reach the year 2002. We'd watch the wagon trains and transcontinental railroad zip across the land, and, after ducking as Sputnik made a quick pass over our heads, we'd abruptly arrive at the present day.

Now, West suggests, let's set the clock back far deeper in time -- back some 12,000 years, to the earliest days of human inhabitation. For the next two hours, he explains, we would watch the unfolding of a marvelous procession of events.

Aboriginal peoples would move across the plains in successive currents of migration, sometimes approaching from this direction, at other times from that direction.

We would watch large areas of the plains become brown and parched as long stretches of drought seared the landscape. Then we would watch the famous "line of semi-aridity" swiftly move westward, opening a wide stretch of bright green vegetation. Then, just as suddenly, the line would swing eastward again.

We would see lines of travelers stream back and forth across the plains from the American Southwest and Mexico, following trade routes that turn out to have quite ancient origins.

Finally, after watching this human and ecological hubbub for about the length of a feature film, we would see a small group of men -- the Corps of Discovery -- zip across the plains to the Pacific and back. And in less than two minutes we would arrive back at our present time.

West's point isn't that the accomplishments of Lewis and Clark should be ignored. Rather, he says, students of the Great Plains should strive to "rearrange our mental furniture" so that we can better appreciate that long expanse in plains history too often mislabeled as mere "prehistory."

The goal of opening our minds when pondering the plains, of "looking deeper," as West put it, was a key theme in a thoughtful address he delivered a week ago at a symposium in Lincoln sponsored by the Center for the Study of the Great Plains.

West focused in particular on the misconception of the Plains as a land forever frozen and motionless -- an ill-considered stereotype, he said, used to characterize the region from the days of "Coronado to Vermont vacationers today."

Such visitors don't realize, he said, that "the plains are anything but still."

West, I later discovered, had usefully elaborated on that point in a 1995 book titled "The Way to the West: Essays on the Central Plains." He wrote:

"The plains are as historically dense and as geographically, botanically and zoologically complex as most other parts of the nation and world. Anyone who stops his car and walks around for an hour will get some inkling of the range of the topology and life forms within even an acre or two."

Interestingly, photographer Michael Forsberg, another keen observer of the Plains, emphasized the same point in his remarks at the Lincoln conference.

Forsberg, whose pictures of plains landscape and wildlife were featured prominently at the symposium, told the audience: "Here on the Plains, you have to linger. Stand for a minute on a hilltop overlooking a prairie, and you will see nothing. But sit there for a day, and life abounds."

West, in concluding his remarks, expressed this theme in typically vivid fashion.

"We don't so much live on the plains as ride them," he said. "And sometimes we have to hold on for dear life."

West's observations provide us with a helpful lesson. Appreciating the complexity of Plains isn't so hard, once we're willing to open our minds.



 
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:


4) Italy

5) China

6) United Kingdom

7) Russia

8) Mexico

9) Canada

10) Austria

11) Germany

12) Hungary

13) Poland

14) Hong Kong

15) Greece


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:


The reason that Poland does not immediately occur to an American as a tourist destination is the reason that the tourist numbers are junk: Every time a German drives across the border (outside the Eurozone, where everything is cheaper), it counts as international tourism. Europe is smaller than the U.S.; Germans and Northern European practice international "tourism" about as often as Nebraskans visit Chicago (actually much more, since Nebraskans probably work 50 weeks a year in comparison to the 44 or so worked by Germans). If you are forced to take six weeks of official vacation, you start to look for places within driving distance that are cheap.


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:


European nations are small. France, the largest, is not even as big as Texas.

A Dutchman who wants to see mountains has to leave his country. They say in certain campgrounds in Austria, there are more Dutchmen than Austrians, and the owners speak fluent Dutch.

A Floridian who longs for mountains can choose from the Appalachians, the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, etc. etc. -- and never leave the U.S.

What I’m driving at is this: People are much more used to foreign countries here. They spend a lot of time in other countries; they have friends and business partners who are foreign.



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:

Simultaneously, he ... did much developmental work on the concept of the electric guitar. His electrical engineering skills led him to finally develop the electric solidbody guitar, designed initially to reduce feedback and increase the sustain of notes and chords.

Later in that same decade, he began developing the concept of sound on sound recording, first painstakingly overdubbing part after part on a 78 rpm record cutting machine, and then later on magnetic tape. The Beatles' complex and masterful recordings of the late 1960s, as well as virtually all popular music recorded since, use the very methods he developed. Led Zeppelin's albums, with layer upon layer of overdubbed, multitracked guitars, and often recorded in large country homes instead of professional recording studios, would be unthinkable without [his] first efforts away from a studio.


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:


At a time when all developed countries have accepted the direction of farm support away from trade- and production-distorting measures, the U.S. is doing an about turn and heading in the opposite direction.

This proposed legislation marks a blow for the credibility of U.S. policy in the WTO, where the U.S. has presented a trade-oriented agenda wholly inconsistent with the new bill. We cannot negotiate on the basis of “do as I say, not as I do.”


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:

Rhodes documents the organizing and carrying out of this program and introduces the professional men — economists, architects, lawyers — who were the program's commanders and officers, as well as the "ordinary men" who did most of the actual killing.


A reviewer in the Boston Globe points out:


What separates ''Masters of Death'' from the earlier works is Rhodes's attempt to put the Einsatzgruppen in the larger context of Adolf Hitler's ''final solution of the Jewish question.'' He builds a strong case that Hitler and Himmler decided to build extermination camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Sobibor, and elsewhere after efforts to have the Einsatzgruppen kill every Jew and ''enemy partisan'' under their control began to have unanticipated effects on the psychology of their men.

Even among the ranks of the hardened and ardently anti-Semitic SS troops, shooting, stabbing, and bludgeoning unarmed people into ravines, ditches, pits, and trenches day after day apparently took its toll. Some had nervous breakdowns and were sent home, while others devolved into animalistic killing machines who took increasing pleasure in devising hellish ways to commit murder. Either way, they ceased to be the disciplined and unemotional shock troops Himmler claimed he wanted in the ranks.


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:


"A 71-page agenda is hardly a focused conference," Environment Minister David Anderson said. "The agenda is unwieldy," he added. ...

"It's a conference on everything, and as a result it's not about anything," said David Runnalls, president of the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.

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.



 
Self-definition
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:


Elites in developing countries, like their counterparts in the rich world, ... worry about poverty. But they see no link between widening world income distribution and poverty; and they think that poverty can be fixed by providing the poor with welfare and opportunities without changing larger structures like income and asset distributions.

Academic analysts have a responsibility to counter the current neglect by analysing the relationship between trends in world income distribution and poverty as a way of getting distribution issues on to the world agenda.

... The question is how much more unequal world income distribution can become before the resulting political instabilities and flows of migrants reach the point of directly harming the well-being of the citizens of the rich world and the stability of their states. Before that point is reached we should mobilise our governments, the multilateral organisations, and international NGOs to establish as an overarching priority a more equal world income distribution -- and not just, as now, fewer people in poverty.


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.

Two excerpts:


  • Thanks to scandals on Wall Street, environmentalists who have been bashing "evil" corporations for years have suddenly found themselves with plenty of allies. But the planet needs profitable, innovative businesses even more than it needs environmentalists.

    "It is companies, not advocacy groups, that will create the technologies needed to save the environment," says Jonathan Wootliff, a former Greenpeace executive turned business consultant.

  • The price of goods and services rarely reflects environmental costs. A concerted effort to correct this basic flaw in the market could have a bigger payoff for the environment than would a thousand new national parks. But many environmental groups continue to oppose market-based environmental reforms and instead remain wedded to the "mandate, regulate and litigate" model of the past.

    Take, for example, power-plant emissions in the U.S., which environmentalists blame for much of global warming. In the mid-1990s, the Clinton Administration was fairly close to striking a deal with the power industry that would have established a comprehensive emissions-trading program. ...

    This didn't suit many of the environmental groups involved in the negotiations that believed the market was just a clever way for corporations to skirt environmental regulations. ...

    Result: Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has no ability to regulate carbon, and the old, pollution-spewing plants are still in operation.


  • 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.




     
    Counterfactual history:
    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:

    In later years Mendele’s writing acquired further depth. He did not cease to satirize the life of the Pale, but increasingly the satire was tinctured with tenderness, with wistful irony, with a sharper delineation of character. Because Mendele loved his people, his works breathed with compassion, with an understanding which the Hebrew language, no matter how fastidiously applied, could not duplicate. Mendele did not merely attune the Yiddish language to literary needs; he attuned the language to his people.


    Another example was the intellectual Yiddish writer Isaac Loeb Peretz. Sachar writes:

    Peretz was a
    maskil in the best sense of the word, attacking the fanaticism of ghetto life, its dirt and the needless squalor, and yet retaining at all times an unshakable loyalty to his fellow Jews.


    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):

  • An earlier report, which likewise remains unsubstantiated, alleged that Saudi Arabia may have received nuclear warheads from China in 1990 for its CSS-2 missiles.


  • Saudi Arabia's CW preparations are reportedly limited to defensive equipment, including personal protective equipment, decontamination units, and chemical detectors. ... However, there have been unconfirmed reports that chemical warheads were developed for Saudi Arabia's CSS-2 ballistic missiles.

  • Because the CSS-2 missiles are not accurate enough to be used effectively against point targets with conventional munitions, analysts speculated that Saudi Arabia might seek nuclear warheads for the missiles. However, Saudi Arabia reportedly pledged in writing to the United States that it would not acquire unconventional warheads for the missiles. President George Bush certified in 5/89 that the United States had “no credible intelligence reporting indicating that Saudi Arabia possesses nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons” ...

  • In an interview ... Prince Sultan second Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defense and Aviation, when asked about nuclear armaments said, “We are a nation working for peace but we reserve the right to defend our country. We work towards procuring the weapons necessary to protect our country and this makes us put these weapons through live tests before we buy them, and we make them a shield to protect the safety of the Holy Shrines and the security of our citizens.”


  • 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.



     
    Sontag, again
    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:

    The plays concerned child martyrdom — indeed, one ended with the bloody beheading of a ten-year-old — and during a post-production symposium Sontag congratulated the festival director for importing the dramas to the U.S. “You’ve done something incredible,” she burbled. “To view these works was a privilege and a duty for us who don’t live by the contemptible rhetoric of the Bush administration. The last thing in the world we want to do is cooperate with the jihadist mentality of this administration.”

    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 friend of mine who is a specialist in Arab and Islamic theater was at the same event and said that Sontag is also clueless about the theater on which she was asked to comment -- the Taziyeh are about a very different kind of martyrdom, the martyrdom of non-resistence (after the lost battle) by the family of Ali (the first Shiites) at the hands of the Sunni. It is Muslim-Muslim martyrdom and is about politics and religion in a way Sontag may not be able to understand.

    My friend was very grateful to see these plays, but thought that Lincoln Center did a notably bad job with its little roundtable afterwards to set them in either their original context OR making their actual relevance clear to an American audience. Of the few things that
    might make Islam a religion of peace, this aspect of Shia spirituality is one of them.



     
    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.)



     
    Lost ideals
    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:


    In countries such as France and Germany people can see on their pay slips how much they are paying and arrive at an imperfect but reasoned conclusion about the value for money they are getting. In Britain we do not even know how much we are paying. ...

    Gordon Brown claims that the NHS passes the equity test. Yet, the NHS is notorious for denying care to elderly people. Imagine you have worked all your life and so far enjoyed good health. You reach the age of 70 and your health starts to fail. Would the NHS be there for you? Maybe yes, maybe no. But if you lived in France or Germany high-standard care would be available and quickly. This is the real equity test and the NHS fails it. ...

    The ideals behind the NHS are high, but it has never worked. The NHS is based on the perfectionist illusion of equality, which in practice has resulted in lower standards for everyone, including the poor, without eradicating unequal care.


    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.)



     
    Nothing sacred
    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.

    He writes:

    America's 50 state attorneys general can now wield global power and threaten the steady returns that European companies have come to expect from their American divisions.

    The attorney general of, for example, Kansas could file a suit against, say, Siemens and, with the help of a friendly local judge, force the company to change its world-wide business practices -- even if the regulators at the national level had exonerated the company. The impact would be felt by every multinational that does business in the US.

    This isn't a theoretical concern. Consider Aventis, the pharmaceutical company. In May last year it became the target of a suit by 15 state attorneys general. Though the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled that Aventis' settlement of a patent dispute had not, as the 15 states were now alleging, delayed the introduction of a generic competitor to its anti-hypertensive drug Cardizem, the states kept dogging the drug maker. Even though the FTC found consumers had not been harmed by Aventis's actions, the state attorneys general are seeking damages against it of $100 million.

    Such suits demonstrate that state governments in America are becoming an obstacle to global commerce. Like the steel tariffs, the motive of the state attorneys general is often short-term political gain. State attorneys general are elected and are free to accept campaign funds from the corporate rivals of the firms they sue. And they do. ... But unlike the steel tariffs, the WTO and other international bodies are powerless to stop it.


    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.



     
    Protest language
    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:


    ... Within a couple of decades, Verlan has spread from the peripheral housing projects of France's poorest immigrants, heavily populated with Africans and North African Arabs, and gained widespread popularity among young people across France. It has seeped into film dialogue, advertising campaigns, French rap and hip-hop music, the mainstream media. It has even made it into some of the country's leading dictionaries.

    A language of alienation that has, paradoxically, also become a means of integration, Verlan expresses France's love-hate relationship with its immigrant community and has begun to attract a number of scholarly studies. ...

    But along with its subversive element, Ms. Lefkowitz explained in an interview, "for the young urban professional, Verlan is a form of political correctness expressing solidarity with and awareness of the immigrant community at a time of anti-immigrant politics." ...

    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:

  • Adoption of a Thatcherite program in 1943 under Conservative Prime Minister Oliver Stanley. (Tragedies that year had, in a remarkable twist, taken the lives both of Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his political heir apparent, Anthony Eden.)

  • The postwar adapation of Britain’s wartime code-breaking computer as a key tool for aiding the banking industry and, in the 1960s, as the successful forerunner of e-mail. (Shades of the French and their Minitel promotion of the 1970s and '80s!)

  • The dynamic performance of a British automaker, Morris Motors, as a key exporter. (By 1948, as it turned out, sales to the United States totaled 120,000 units.)

  • The rigid adherence to a gold standard and a courageous postwar devaluation of the pound (thereby stimulating British exports). That approach was coupled with rejection, at British insistence, of the creation of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. (Instead of sending John Maynard Keynes as Britain’s representative to international economic negotiations in 1944, the Conservative government sent someone of far different intellectual persuasion: Frederick Hayek.)


  • 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:


    From all appearances, Francisco de Chicora seemed a completely loyal subject of Spain.

    Francisco, an Indian captured on the South Carolina coast by Spaniards in 1521, spoke a Catawban dialect of the Siouxan language family. He was among several Indian captives sent to Spain to be trained as interpreters and guides in preparation for a Spanish conquest of North America. (The English would pursue a similar strategy with Indian captives, the most famous of whom was Squanto, a Wampanoag from Massachusetts.)

    After his trans-Atlantic journey, Francisco soon "charmed the Spanish court," according to historian David Weber. The Indian, it's reported, particularly intrigued the courtiers with his elaborate descriptions of what the Spanish called "the land of Chicora," a region said to contain fabulous natural bounty.

    Francisco, whose actual Indian name was never recorded, spent five years among Europeans. In 1526, he and several other Indian interpreters joined a group of 600 Spaniards attempting to establish a colony on the South Carolina coast.

    At the first opportunity, Francisco and the other Indian interpreters broke away and bolted into the swamplands. The Spanish never saw them again.

    Francisco had demonstrated his loyalty to the Spanish authorities for five years. But it had all been a sham. Francisco had told the Spaniards what they wanted to hear, especially about the "land of Chicora," which, by Francisco's fanciful description, abounded with almonds, olives and figs.

    His charade illustrates how, when people lack the power to combat an oppressor outright, they turn to deception.

    This theme of defensive mendacity recurs repeatedly in history, in a variety of settings and cultures. William F. Buckley Jr. mentioned the topic in a recent column. He cited the observation of a 19th-century British writer that among Arabs, "lying was a sign not of innate bad character but of creative self-defense in circumstances of relative weakness."

    That was a lesson Francisco de Chicora would have understood quite well.

    In 1570, four decades after Francisco's abandonment of Spanish settlers in South Carolina, another Indian captive/interpreter, Paquiquineo, abruptly deserted a fledgling Spanish settlement at Chesapeake Bay. Paquiquineo, a Powhatan renamed by the Spaniards as Don Luis de Valesco, had traveled to Spain, Mexico and the West Indies over a nine-year period while in Spanish custody. After his escape, he rallied local natives and slaughtered Jesuit missionaries who were attempting to establish a foothold in the region.

    Just as Francisco regaled Spaniards in the 1520s with high-flown descriptions of "Chicora" and its lushness, so an Indian nicknamed the Turk stirred Spaniards in New Mexico in the 1540s with his description of Quivira, a supposed land of gold and silver on the Great Plains. The conquistador Coronado set out to find Quivira and led an expedition that eventually wound up in central Kansas before reversing course. The Spaniards, exasperated by the fruitlessness of their search, took vengeance on the Turk by hanging him.

    (Today, Omahans know Quivira in a far different context, as the tongue-in-cheek kingdom associated with the "royal court" of Ak-Sar-Ben, the Omaha charitable organization.)

    The massaging of the truth in the face of oppression is a theme in Irish history. The notorious injustices imposed on Irish Catholics by English-run courts spurred many Irish to adopt what author William V. Shannon has called "the art of soft deception" or blarney. In the face of abuse by the courts, Shannon observed, the Irish came to rely on "the disingenuous oath which is not really an oath at all."

    Michael Barone touches on this point in his book, "The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again." He cites historian Charles Morris, who noted key similarities between the traditional Irish peasant character and the black slave of the antebellum American South. In both instances, Morris wrote, an individual coped with injustice by becoming a "master of the indirect statement and the half-truth."

    Historical accounts of Southern slavery readily support that claim. In the words of historian William Freehling, while the slavemaster's weapon was the bullwhip, "the slave's weapon was deceit."

    In her much-studied antebellum diary, Mary Boykin Chestnut, a hostess in South Carolina plantation society, commented on the inscrutability of her slaves, calling them "sphinxes."

    Many Southern plantation owners, believing the professions of loyalty from house servants and field hands, expressed shock when their slaves abruptly deserted at the end of the Civil War, if not earlier.

    "I believed that these people were content, happy and attached to their masters," a South Carolina rice planter wrote two months after the surrender at Appomattox in a letter commenting on slave desertions.

    Similar expressions of disbelief no doubt had been expressed three centuries earlier in South Carolina, when Spanish colonists discovered that the stalwart Francisco de Chicora had inexplicably chosen to reject civilized society and flee into the wilderness.



     
    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):


    According to the 19 August issue of Newsweek, 1,000 or more Al-Qaeda operatives had escaped from Afghanistan by mid-December 2001 -- hundreds of them via Iran. These operatives are now lying in wait in small cells in a loosely organized horizontal structure. An unnamed "counterterrorism chief of one Arab intelligence service that works closely with Washington" said in Newsweek, "The most important destination is Iran."

    They initially traveled west via Herat, but as Ismail Khan strengthened his hold they left via a more southerly route toward Rabat and then Zahedan in eastern Iran. One of them, a Saudi named Zouhair Hilal Mohammad Tibiti who was arrested in May, arrived in Morocco in January on a flight from Tehran.

    This Newsweek report supports U.S. presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad's 2 August assertion that hard-line elements in Iran "facilitated the movement of Al-Qaeda terrorists -- escaping from Afghanistan -- perhaps without the knowledge of elected members of government." And when combined with the Saudi foreign minister's 11 August discussion about Iran's extradition in June of 16 Saudi Al-Qaeda members (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 12 August 2002), the Newsweek report supports Khalilzad's assertion that Iran's acknowledgment of the Al-Qaeda personnel and the subsequent extraditions came "only after repeated criticism by the President and other U.S. officials."

    The extradition of 16 terrorists is negligible, despite the publicity it has generated, in comparison to a 15 August report in emrooz.org. Citing an anonymous source, the site reported that Iran has arrested and extradited more than 400 suspected Al-Qaeda terrorists. The anonymous source said that these individuals came from Belgium, England, France, the Netherlands, Kuwait, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. ...


    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.


     
    Mighty Ireland
    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:

    The biggest problem with Kyoto is that it leaves out the two countries likely to be the biggest polluters of the 21st century -- China and India. Developing nations in general get a pass under Kyoto, which requires only developed industrialized countries to impose the controls. There is a voluntary provision for the developing countries to join in once they have grown enough to afford it, but no sign that they will.

    The second biggest problem with Kyoto is that it hits the U.S. particularly hard among developed countries, because of a fancy piece of footwork by the Europeans. The benchmark date for Kyoto is 1990, and the Protocol requires signatory countries to reduce their carbon emissions in that year.

    That sounds fair. But 1990 was the year of German unification, the last year that the filthy old 'brown coal' or lignite that powered Communist East Germany and polluted astern Europe was being produced and burned in full spate. Once the lignite was banned, German carbon emissions plummeted - making it much easier for Europe to reach the Kyoto targets. By the same token, it made life tougher for Americans. ...

    So with luck, the Earth Summit might take a break from bashing the U.S. and George Bush, and think about how an improved Kyoto Protocol Mark II could bring in the developing countries into a broader pollution and carbon control system. After all, now that the evidence is clear that they are part of the problem, they will have to be part of the solution -- which is more than can be said for Kyoto Mark I.


    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:

  • A consideration of counterfactual British history.

  • The notion of democracy (prompted by a point in a Thomas Friedman column).

  • Changing notions of racial identity in America.

  • How arguments over American Western art are a key part of the larger debate over interpreting the history of the Western United States.

  • Rebutting the claims of an inside-the-Beltway public intellectual who played fast and loose with the facts in arguing for certain linkages between George W., Israel and Southern history.


  • 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.)

     
    Saddam's monuments
    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."

    Cities are fairly complex systems. They require fresh water, food, and electricity to function effectively. Furthermore they cannot be defended equally well everywhere at all times. Attackers can avoid most of the pitfalls of urban fighting by cutting off cities, knocking out electricity and other elements of the infrastructure, and then making small-scale attacks in key areas when opportunities present themselves to do so with minimal risk.

    This fits well into the emerging Pentagon concept of Rapid Decisive Operations, which seeks to target an entire enemy political-military system, not simply its front-line defensive positions. The idea is to place the top-to-bottom structure under a variety of constant, non-linear, unpredictable pressures until something gives and the system collapses. It is one of the concepts currently being tested in the Millennium Challenge 02 exercise.


    The writer, James S. Robbins, notes the disdain that Patton expressed for reliance on fixed fortifications, which he called "monuments to man's stupidity."