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, October 14
Coming up

I'll blog later tonight on these topics: Miles Davis and the hydrogen bomb; anti-Americanism in Greece; interesting nuggets in congressional testimony by a senior military commander.

Southern politics

David Broder explained the fundamental points pretty well in a lengthy piece on this year's electoral battles in the South. Excerpts:

South Carolina shows why, across the South, all elections depend on the Democrats' ability to reduce white voters' propensity to back Republicans. ...

Hodges's close battle for a second term
[as governor of S.C.], against former U.S. representative Mark Sanford (R), is -- like similar challenges for first-term Democratic governors in Alabama and Georgia -- a vital test of the Democrats' ability to hold on to the governorships that are the last redoubts of what was their Solid South bastion. They have governors in Virginia, Mississippi and North Carolina, and are challenging in Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and Texas. ...

"The Republicans' 1994 southern advance to majority standing in both the Senate and House represented ... a clarifying event in the sectional structure of congressional elections," Earl and Merle Black, brothers who have made Dixie's political dynamics their specialty, wrote in their newly published book, "The Rise of Southern Republicans." "Developments in the South have restored a nationwide two-party struggle to control Congress." ...

For two generations, one of the forces feeding the growth of southern Republicanism has been the in-migration of Yankees, some of them tax-averse retirees and others younger people looking to the Sun Belt for economic opportunities.

But when Scott Falmlen, the new executive director of the North Carolina Democratic Party, studied the Election Day voter interviews in that state, he noticed an oddity: People who said they had moved to North Carolina in the 1990s supported Al Gore over Bush by the same 13-point margin by which the state as a whole preferred Bush.

His explanation: Many of them had come to work in high-tech and dot-com companies, and for them, Gore's promise to expand federal aid to education was compelling.

BY THE WAY: I'll get back into the regular blogging groove tonight.

New York politics

I registered surprise last week at George Will's report of the significant electoral inroads Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton made in winning votes in upstate New York; I noted the irony that Democrats had failed to win the mayoral race in NYC. Gary Farber, the hard-working blogger at Amygdala, e-mailed me with some thoughts on the topic (Gary, who's now in Boulder, Colo., grew up in NYC and spent most of 2000 and all but the last two weeks of 2001 on Long Island):

Mark Green would have won were it not for four things. The least is that he's never had a politician's easy bonhonomie with people. That hurt him, but wouldn't have defeated him -- Bloomberg doesn't have that, and neither did Guiliani nor David Dinkins -- Ed Koch was the last NYC mayor with it. The next significant factor was alienating a significant portion of the NYC electorate that self-identifies as "black," and "Hispanic," in an ugly primary campaign to defeat Fernando Ferrer, at a time when many in those communities felt it was Ferrer's -- and an Hispanic's -- "turn," for the first time.

But the two overwhelming subsequent Green-killers were: a) 9/11, which turned Guiliani from a deeply divisive figure into a hero, and thus turned his endorsement, which wouldn't previoiusly have been terribly meaningful, into a deeply powerful factor at a time of unbelievable anxiety; Green, meanwhile, had the opposite of sure-footing in the aftermath; and b) Bloomberg's jillions of dollars of ads, which ended up buying his election at an astounding cost of $92 per vote -- and in NYC, that's a lot of votes.

Friday, October 11
The Exorcist steps, small kindnesses, and the ripple effect

I’ve had three occasions in my life to see movies that were shot in locales where I’ve either lived or repeatedly visited.

The primary example is the campus and surrounding neighborhood of Georgetown University, which was featured in “The Exorcist.” It was funny to see actors spouting their lines in the same locations, especially near the library, where my grad-school buddies and I had debated foreign policy questions back in Reagan’s first term.

In my very first week on the campus, in fact, a student from Pittsburgh who would become my best friend at Georgetown began what turned out to be a fun excursion by asking me, “Would you like to see the Exorcist steps?”

It’s odd to watch the movie and see the steps depicted so grimly in a nighttime scene. I have a lot of pleasant memories of trampling down those steps -- well, actually, they’re steep and you have to be careful -- with my friends.

Another example for me is the Peter Sellers movie “Being There.” (Sellers played an idiot savant house servant who, in a memorable line, told the Shirley MacLaine character, “I like to watch ...”)

Much of the movie was shot in Asheville, N.C., at Biltmore House, a stunning late-19th century mega-mansion with gardens designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the visionary behind the creation of Central Park.

In reality, Biltmore House exists on an expansive estate, in its own tidy little world. The movie scrambled the actual geography, however, by making it seem as if the magnificent house was located in a busy urban setting. The editing was pretty funny, in that regard, for movie watchers with a knowledge of the mansion.

The third example was when, as a young reporter, I covered a film crew in the late ’80s as it shot scenes in Salisbury, N.C. (a terrific small city in the Piedmont, by the way, with loads of historical character and great civic leadership). I worked at the newspaper in Salisbury.

The movie was “Black Rainbow,” a quirky, low-budget supernatural thriller with Jason Robards, Rosanna Arquette and Tom Hulce.

The film crew shot scenes in Salisbury’s once-impressive train station, which by that time had fallen into embarrassing dilapidation. Yet, the crew cleverly conceived the scenes so that the station’s enfeebled condition was masked. (The train station has since been completely renovated, using private donations, into sparkling condition for use for offices and public events -- as I said, it's far-sighted city.)

The highlight for me was when Robards stepped out of his trailer and generously gave me a 20-minute interview. I’ve always remembered and appreciated his generosity of spirit that day. He was a veteran actor with a distinguished career from film and the stage; it would have been easy for him to do the prima donna routine and refuse to speak to a young reporter in the middle of what, to him and the rest of the Hollywood people, surely seemed like Nowhere, North Carolina.

Instead, Robards walked right up, agreed to be photographed as needed by a colleague of mine, and cheerfully answered every question I put to him.

When I learned the news of his death a few months ago, I felt a particular sadness.

I am a great believer in what I think of as the ripple effect -- the notion that our lives, in the long run, tend to be shaped less by enormous changes and epiphanies than by modest interactions and incremental developments that wind up shaping us in important ways.

Such ripples may be a simple word of encouragement from a coach or high school teacher. Or a religious message delivered by a clergyman. Perhaps a book, or a letter from a friend, or a painting on a museum wall, or a scene one happens to glimpse on a TV screen. Perhaps a harsh word. Perhaps a smile.

All of those small moments can, in the long term, accumulate into forces that channel a person’s life in particular directions in powerful ways.

In my life, one such ripple was Jason Robard’s act of thoughtfulness with me on a pleasant fall morning now more than a decade ago. It was a small gesture, perhaps, but it was something I remembered and learned from. And now I pass it on to you.

Thursday, October 10
High-volume ports of entry

An e-mail I got today from the Democratic Leadership Council included useful info on the volume and nature of trade at U.S. ports. Total goods exchanged at the ports was some $1.8 trillion in 2001. The seven leading U.S. ports in terms of trade volume:

  • New York: $205 billion
  • Los Angeles: $203 billion
  • Detroit: $162 billion
  • Laredo: $111 billion
  • San Francisco: $89 billion
  • New Orleans: $78 billion
  • Seattle: $77 billion

  • The DLC's analysis also noted:

    The United States has 96,000 miles of border and over 300 commercial crossing-points. These are divided into 42 customs districts, based in centers ranging in size from New York City to Pembina, North Dakota. Low-population districts can be busy (the Great Falls, Montana district handled $23 billion in trade last year, and Pembina and Nogales $18 billion apiece), but the bulk of U.S. merchandise trade travels through a relatively small number of ports in the largest districts. The top seven districts (New York, Los Angeles, Detroit, Laredo, San Francisco, New Orleans and Seattle) handled over half our $1.8 trillion in goods trade -- the equivalent of nearly a tenth of U.S. GDP -- last year. ...

    Alternatives for some exporters and importers include airfreight for the highest-value goods, and ports in Canada and Mexico for less time-sensitive products. But substitution costs can be high; an L.A.-to-Hawaii air shipment of fresh California produce during the stoppage cost $20,000, compared to $8,000 for shipping by sea.

    Spooked in D.C.

    A lengthy feature story from Newhouse News Service includes interviews with some residents in the Washington, D.C., area who say they plan to relocate to another metro area due to fears relating to a possible terrorist attack and to the sniper shootings. Among those expressing discomfort with living in the D.C. area is Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., who moved his wife and children to a Maryland suburb after coming to Congress last year. I can't cite excerpts from the article because newspapers have to buy it as a one-shot purchase.

    Realtors contacted for the article said they saw no indications that fear is causing any negative effects on the housing market.

    Naval warfare

    I just saw this week that Ronald Spector, a very talented military historian, has a new book out called "At War At Sea," covering key naval battles of the 20th century. A short review of the book is here.

    My knowledge of military history is by no means very deep, but I do know that Spector, who saw combat in Vietnam as a Marine, displayed impressive scholarship and writing skill in his history of the Pacific theater during World War II, "Eagle Against the Sun."

    I have a particular reason to be interested in the Pacific theater: My wife wouldn't be here today if my father-in-law hadn't survived the horrors of Iwo Jima, where he saw action as a Marine.

    Speaking of New York ...

    ... (as I did yesterday in a post on the D.C.-vs.-NYC debate), George Will's latest column has some interesting political numbers showing how Democratic candidates in New York have begun to do better upstate:

    In 1994, when Republicans gained 52 congressional seats, Pataki, a mild-mannered state legislator, slew a political Goliath, Mario Cuomo, by campaign ing as a tax-cutting skinflint. But Pataki has studied New York's election of two Democratic senators, Charles Schumer in 1998 and Hillary Clinton in 2000. These elections showed Democratic strength waxing in the suburbs, especially on Long Island, and in economically stagnant upstate, where Golisano, too, is tapping into resentments. Schumer and Clinton lost upstate by just 8 percent and 4 percent respectively, while carrying the city 74-25.

    I had no idea that Schumer and Clinton had done that well upstate. How ironic that, despite the Democratic rebound, Democrats in NYC failed last year in getting Mark Green elected as Giuilani's successor as mayor.

    Politics and racin'

    Blogging for this set of post will be on the light side; not enough time to put together anything complicated right now.

    The NYT Magazine had a piece the other day about the plan by some political strategists to appeal to so-called NASCAR Democrats.

    The piece left me a little puzzled. By definition, it seems, a national political party would have no choice but to modulate its cultural tone as needed in trying to take its message to various constituencies, from rural to metro to suburban.

    At any rate, the strategists pushing the NASCAR Democrat approach are involved in John Edwards' prospective presidential bid. Edwards appears to be taking this NASCAR thing seriously: He's sponsoring the "New American Optimists" stock car in Iowa. (Via an item in the always interesting Wyeth Wire political e-mail service.)

    The Wyeth Wire folks also note that when he ran for the U.S. Senate in North Carolina in 1998, Edwards had a "candy-apple red sports car" in which he used "to ride around in local parades." The car was covered all over with political bumper stickers. "Some," Wyeth Wire says, "suggested that he ought to sponsor a NASCAR team."

    The lyrics for his campaign theme song went like this:

    He's a very independent Democrat


    He has no ties

    To special interest groups or PACs.

    Now, doesn't that sound like a fine, upstanding young man to vote for?


    The sandhill crane is of special importance for Nebraska, since each year the hourglass shape of the cranes' migration pattern (from Canada to Mexico and back) brings the birds right through the heart of central Nebraska, where they nest along the Platte River. Most Nebraskans, though, probably don't realize that their state, with its crane tradition, has a connection, at least indirectly, to the Miami Indians of the eastern Midwest.

    Centuries ago, the Miamis were called Twightee, after the call of the sandhill crane. The Miamis considered the crane to be a sacred bird.

    I picked up that little nugget while reading a historical novel the other day about the Shawnee leader Tecumseh.

    D.C. vs. New York

    I lived in D.C. (actually, Arlington, Va.) for 3 and a half years in the early ’80s while I was going to grad school at Georgetown (and afterward did a lousy job marketing myself around town). During my stay, I noticed a pronounced defensiveness whenever Washingtonians had to ponder a comparison between D.C. and New York. The Washington Post once did a long piece on the topic while I still lived there.

    Frank Rich revived the D.C.-vs.-NYC topic in a provocative article for the New York Times Magazine. A few excerpts:

    After its highest towers were taken down, New York rose from its initial shock to illustrate in real time what America actually is, a huge and resilient democracy animated by citizens of every conceivable stripe, pursuit and ethic (from those who gave their lives for others at the World Trade Center to those who looted its shopping mall). Instead of seeming, as it often had, like an eccentric island adrift from the rest of the country, the city found itself valued instead as a concentrated representation of the whole ...

    New York doesn't think of itself as competing with Washington -- the same cannot be said of the reverse -- but periodically it does so, if only to let the world know who's really boss. After World War II, suburban Virginia tried to lure the fledgling United Nations to metropolitan Washington, until someone belatedly realized that an international citizenry would not take kindly to segregated schools.

    From my experience, there’s no question that New York exceeds D.C. when it comes to arts offerings and night life. New York’s fundamental advantage, though, is civic character. NYC abounds with zest and idiosyncracy. The D.C. metro area always struck me as abysmally soulless -- all those dull, upper-income suburbs devoid of genuine character (at least from what I could tell).

    I’ve never lived in an odder place than Arlington, which never seemed centered either in a local culture or local history. Maybe it was my parochial viewpoint as an outsider. Certainly, I’ve known people who enjoyed life in Washington quite much.

    I liked Eve Tushnet’s post on this topic. She wrote that she’s “seen the 'who's bad?!' argument started up at least as often by New Yorkers as by DC-lovers.” That surprised me, but I’ll take her word for it.

    Tuesday, October 8

    One of the things I enjoy about Nebraska is coming across interesting stories of individuals who have made a difference in their community or in the state.

    One of my favorites is the story of a Nebraskan named the Rev. Hiram Kano. He was a Japanese-born Episcopal priest from the western Nebraska city of Scottsbluff who devoted himself to promoting positive relations between white Nebraskans and Nebraskans of Japanese heritage -- even after his internment during World War II.

    Although the writing is a bit clunky, this excerpt from an online article conveys a sense of Kano’s moral seriousness and loyalty to America:

    On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Rev. Hiram Kano had just said mass at an Episcopalian church in North Platte, Nebraska. He was 180 miles from his wife and children at their Scottsbluff home, and half a world and 25 years from his family of origin in Tokyo. He had become a Christian at the age of 20, a resident of the United States in 1916, and as a minister had converted many of the Japanese farmers of Nebraska to Christianity.

    But that morning he was arrested by the local police, taken to the police station, and dressed as a prisoner. He was not allowed to notify his family of his detention, but was sent to Omaha, Nebraska, to be dealt with by the district attorney. He heard the terrible news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war on his native land on the police car radio on the way to Omaha.

    Because his family in Japan had connections with the Japanese government, and he was so personally influential with the Japanese Americans in his roles as both a minister and a teacher of agriculture, he was rated "Class A" -- the most potentially dangerous of Japanese Americans." He was the only Japanese of the 5,000 living in Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming to receive this rating and to be interned.

    Over 30 years later, as he shared his experiences in stories published in the Triangle Review newspaper, he spoke without bitterness. He had been given a trial but no attorney. "I defended myself and I spoke for about two hours, I had quite a few things to say."

    Kano returned to Nebraska after a two-year internment. He and his wife retired to Colorado in 1957. He lived to be 99. After his death in 1988, his ashes were scattered at a site in Scottsbluff.

    When reparations were offered to Japanese-American internees in the 1980s, Kano refused any payment. God, he insisted, had used his internment to guide him toward a useful purpose, allowing him to spread the Gospel. Viewed in that light, no compensation was necessary.

    Rome and Moscow; Eisenstein and Prokofiev

    Lawrence Uzzell, a longtime observer of relations between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church, has a very well-written essay on the Catholic/Orthodox topic in the current issue of First Things.

    The piece is so interesting and so well-done it would be worth transcribing the whole thing here, but here are a few excerpts, starting with the opening graf:

    To feel the full historical weight of Russian attitudes toward the Roman Catholic Church one should see the 1938 film
    Aleksandr Nevski -- the Stalinist take on medieval Russia’s triumph over the Teutonic Knights. The film demonizes Roman Catholicism as inherently alien and hostile to Russia, and also as an integral part of German imperialism. Though many Russians now have more nuanced views, most still have trouble with the concept of Christianity as a universal faith: Deep down they don’t believe that a Catholic can ever be truly Russian, or a German (or American) truly Orthodox. ...

    In a conversation some years ago with an Orthodox bishop who must remain anonymous, I suggested a thought experiment. Suppose the Pope were to have a sudden epiphany and decide to surrender to us Orthodox on all the doctrinal issues that divide East and West, including the filioque and papal infallibility. What would be the Moscow Patriarchate’s response? It did not take long for us both to agree that the Patriarchate would simply find some new excuse to keep the Vatican at arm’s length. As a human, political institution, the Patriarchate needs Rome more as an enemy than as a friend.

    ... From the standpoint of many Western converts to Orthodoxy, the Patriarchate’s position is scandalous -- in effect declaring that the Orthodox faith is the particular property of the Russians, not a world religion.

    A very stimulating piece. As those familiar with First Things are aware, the journal puts its articles online about a month after the print edition is mailed out. So, the article should be available on the Web in several weeks.

    BY THE WAY: Uzzell mentions Sergei Eisenstein’s much-studied film “Alexander Nevsky.” The approach that Eisenstein amd composer Sergei Prokofiev took in structuring the film score was most unusual. Film historian Louis D. Giannetti described it this way:

    Eisenstein and Prokofiev worked out a kind of audio-visual score, in which the line of the music corresponds to the movement of the images set in a row. ... The result was what Eisenstein called “vertical montage,” where the lines of notes on the staff, moving from left to right, parallels the movements or major lines of the images, which, set side by side, also “move” from left to right. ... If the lines of a [cinematic] composition were jagged and uneven, the notes of music would also zig-zag in a corresponding manner.

    My second-edition version of Giannetti’s book “Understanding Movies” (possibly the most fun college textbook one could ever buy) has a graphic that lines up Prokofiev’s score with the frames of film, showing the fascinating correspondence between the director’s arrangement of images and the composer’s placement of notes.

    The ninth edition of “Understanding Movies” is here. Commentaries on the Prokofiev score are here and here.

    UPDATE: An e-mail from a good friend knowledgeable about such matters points out further wrinkles in the Catholic/Orthodox topic. He writes:

    There's also tension between the Russian Orthodox and the Ecumenical Patriarch at Constantinople, the titular head of the Orthodox churches. Briefly, in Orthodoxy each nation has its own church. But the Russian church still claims jurisdiction over the churches outside Russia in what is the former USSR. So you have an Estonian Orthodox Church that is in a fight with the Russian OC in that country, etc. In Ukraine you have at least three factions claiming to be the representative of Orthodoxy. The infighting gets to be pretty unedifying.

    Monday, October 7
    Moderation at the Washington Post

    A recent post here noted the Washington Post's editorial endorsements of two key Bush judicial nominees. Such an editorial approach by the Post's demonstrated a refreshing independent-mindedness, in contrast to the narrowness and grumpiness demonstrated by a certain journalistic gray lady.

    Another example came last Saturday in an editorial reacting to Al Gore's big speech on the economy:

    Gore asserted that "factors -- principally including economic policy -- were clearly responsible for most of the economic damage that we have suffered.'' But President Bush's main economic policy -- the large tax cut of last year -- was not responsible for any of the current damage. Indeed, given the twin shocks of 9/11 and the post-Enron stock market decline, the short-term stimulus created by the tax cuts has turned out to be fortuitously well timed. To be sure, parts of the tax cut that have yet to be implemented, especially the repeal of the estate tax, are unaffordable and ought to be repealed. It's also true that the administration's response to Latin America's financial woes has been confused. But to blame the weak American economy on Bush is nonsense.

    Gore began his speech by insisting that "our current approach really is failing us'' and that "leadership to completely reassess and change our current economic policy'' was more pressingly needed than leadership in the Iraq standoff. Despite these aggressive claims, Gore offered little in the way of his own policy reassessment. Apart from urging the president to consult Congress on the economy and to make personnel changes in his economic team, his proposals were thin: Invest in renewable energy, foster the deployment of broadband. Gore shied away from calling for a repeal of Bush's planned tax cuts. On the central question of economic policy, therefore, he did not break with the approach that he says is failing. ...

    That's an honest, useful analysis.

    Regardless of its ideological orientation, a newspaper shows welcome maturity and good sense when it points out nuances and isn't afraid to acknowledge facts that many in the same ideological or partisan camp would be happy to see ignored. The Post, to its credit, did not sidestep facts inconvenient for the Democrats. It didn't labor to paint Gore and his arguments as as something they weren't. As I said: refreshing.

    And the same principle ought to apply to newspapers on the right. Bush and his team are hardly without flaws.

    Hiatus interruptus

    My regular blogging schedule will resume later this week. Right now, though, my family and I are busy showing my Mom a grand time here on the prairie.

    Friday, October 4
    The underrated Herbert Hoover

    All the hubbub over the creation of the homeland security agency reminds me of the most successful effort in revamping the federal government in the 20th century: the two commissions under Herbert Hoover that reorganized federal agencies under Truman (1947-49) and Eisenhower (1953-55).

    The first commission made 273 recommendations, about three-fourths of which were adopted. Of the 314 recommendations from the second commission, about two-thirds were approved.

    Hoover deserved to be turned out in 1932 -- like Jimmy Carter in 1979-80, he failed utterly to demonstrate the type of leadership demanded at a moment of economic crisis. Yet, he possessed a lively and curious mind, had wide experience in traveling the world, displayed strong management skills, and was a remarkably prolific writer. In the early ’80s, I did a grad school project on Hoover’s foreign policy writings. The amount of material he produced was surprisingly voluminous.

    Looking for ‘Dixie’ -- and not finding it

    In hunting for a particular article, I ran across an interesting essay by James Nuechterlein in First Things in which he talked about a recent trip he made down south:

    I went in search of Dixie, and discovered that I could find only traces of it.

    On a ten-day driving trip in late May with my wife through the lower South -- Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, the Florida panhandle, Georgia --
    I encountered little of the Deep South of my cultural imagination.

    Much of that, of course, is the inevitable homogenizing result of the interstate highway system. If you drive distances of any length in the U.S. today you are driving in Interstate America, and Interstate America, variations in landscape apart, is pretty much the same wherever you are. A cartoon in the New Yorker decades ago captured the point: the sign across an anonymous superhighway announces, "You are now entering Kansas, or a state very much like it.” ...

    I should not exaggerate. Even the limited South we saw is not like everywhere else. As all visitors report, people there are friendlier, more relaxed, and the cuisine retains its distinctive touches (the seafood is remarkable, though I had no difficulty skipping the grits and okra).

    And, more substantially, there is religion. Drive through Mississippi on a Sunday, and on the radio you can't escape Jesus. There's black Jesus and white Jesus, but, AM or FM, he's unavoidable. ...

    Yet it is not so much the God-obsessed South I was looking for as the South of the Lost Cause. And that South, for better and worse, seems truly lost.

    The Confederate flag, to begin with the obvious, is not nearly so ubiquitous as I expected it to be. We saw not a single defiant bumper sticker. There seemed also to be little tourist emphasis on reminders or relics of the Confederacy.

    New Orleans was a particular revelation. Our motel in the Garden district, close to downtown, was within walking distance of two featured museums: one devoted to D-Day in World War II, the other to the Confederacy. The D-Day museum, only a few years old is state of the art. Its name is misleading; it in fact offers a panoramic survey of the entire war experience, taking in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of combat as well as life on the home front. It is commanding and compelling, at once historically sophisticated and as up-to-date in entertainment value as could be imagined. We hadn't the time, but I could easily have spent a full day there.

    Then, just down the street, there is the Confederate museum. It is neglected and forlorn, a museum of a museum. ...

    What little it does have of interest it tends to bury. I almost missed, tucked away at floor level in the corner of one of the cases, a framed photograph of Pope Pius IX. Pius, a devoted champion of the Southern cause, sent the photo to Jefferson Davis while the former Confederate President, a Protestant, was languishing in a federal prison just after the war. ...

    Nor does the museum champion the cause it so languidly records. Its statement of purpose says that it is dedicated to a "nonideological" approach to the Civil War. It in fact displays a number of items relating to the Union side of the struggle. Even the gift shop, also down at the heels, divides its small collection of cheap bric-a-brac equally between the Union and the Confederacy. ...

    Nuechterlein notes that one reason he and his wife failed to see traces of the traditional South is because they stayed in the cities and avoided rural areas.

    The Museum of the Confederacy, in Richmond, incidentally, may be more traditional in its approach to the Civil War than is the museum in New Orleans. But the Richmond museum shouldn’t be stereotyped.

    In the mid-1990s, it had an exhibit on slave life that was honest and compelling. And it put together a well-conceived exhibit called “Embattled Emblem” in which it examined the history of the Confederate battle flag in a fair-minded and thorough fashion.

    Thursday, October 3
    This and that

    Sorry for the lull in posting here, but I've been busy showing my Mom around town.

    I'm tardy in noting several things. Among them: Donald Sensing's great work in revamping the look of One Hand Clapping, David Hogberg's fine analysis on the Harkin campaign rollercoaster (hey, I know InstaPundit already linked to him, but Dave's a next-door neighbor in Iowa and he really has done some good stuff), and Gary Farber's hard work in seeking interesting topics at his Amygdala site.

    There may be radio silence here for a bit longer. I have a ton of topics (responding to a Michael Kinsley piece; a Southern-related topic; traditional societies and globalization; a new book catalog; reorganizing federal bureaucracies; and other stuff). But that will have to wait.

    Wednesday, October 2
    Slavery reparations

    The slavery reparations movement is making headway in Chicago, where the City Council is considering asking insurance companies to disclose their past ties to slavery, according to the AP. The disclosures could lead to the payment of reparations, says Alderman Dorothy Tillman, who proposed the measure.

    Here is the quote from Tillman that leaped out at me:

    The insurance industry is just the tip of the iceberg. The financial industry, textile industry, tobacco industry, railroads, shipping companies and many others got rich off the suffering and free labor of our ancestors.

    I've written at length both at this site and elsewhere about the moral abomination that slavery most certainly was. The reparations movement, however, is basing its legal arguments on quite shaky claims. The legal strategy being pursued by the reparations advocates resembles that of the NGOs promoting the International Criminal Court: Bit by bit, they're dutifully trying to create new legal instruments with which to advance their ultimate aim -- in the one case, massive financial payments from U.S. corporations; in the other, the erection of an international legal structure that will inhibit the United States from exercising its military prerogatives.

    UPDATE: The Chicago City Council voted unanimously (44-0) today to approve Tillman's proposal.

    Trade protectionism

    Nick Denton highlights the central conclusions of a new IMF/World Bank report about how developing countries are hampered by protectionist policies in the industrialized world. (Via Matt Welch.)

    An excerpt of the Denton post:

  • The US has granted preferential trade access to 36 African countries, but only 15 countries have taken up the offer, because of the child labor and workers' rights provisions included.
    li>Tariffs and subsidies mean farmers in the West get prices 31% higher than the world market, and support to local producers of sugar, rice, cotton and tobacco is among the highest. Oh, yes, those are the crops that tropical countries are most likely to produce.

  • Argentine beef, and other meat, faces tariffs of 175% on entry into the European Union. Argentina recently went bust.

  • Many governments in the developing world have learned that import substitution is a poor development strategy, but an embrace of free trade is hardly universal in the non-industrialized world. An essay last year by Edward Gresser, who was part of the Clinton administration's trade policy team, looked at protectionist measures in place in Muslim countries in the Middle East. (I have notes about the post-9/11 report, which I believe came from the Democratic Leadership Council, but a quick search turned up no link to the report itself.) Syria imposes a tariff of 250 percent on automobiles, and it bans all imports of processed food. In Egypt, the government imposes a 54 percent tariff on clothing.

    Eleven of the Arab League's 22 members, and Iran as well, remain outside the World Trade Organization, Gresser noted. As a result, Gresser wrote, "globalization has essentially bypassed the Middle East." Since 1980, he said, "even as the region's population doubled, its share of world investment has fallen by half and its share of world trade by nearly two thirds."

    Openness is a two-way street. Industrialized countries need to knock down more of their barriers. The same can be said of governments in many developing countries.

    Mr. Oliphant and Mr. Spock

    In "The Corbomite Maneuver," the dialogue includes:

    Not chess, Mr. Spock.


    Do you know the game?

    Ship to ship.

    Hailing frequencies open, sir.

    The inspiration, perhaps, for this Pat Oliphant cartoon on Bush and Saddam?

    Tuesday, October 1
    The smartest Supreme Court justice

    Howard Bashman, of the ever-impressive blog How Appealing, points to an interesting piece by Stuart Buck in TechCentralStation that asks, who is the smartest U.S. Supreme Court justice?

    Buck writes:

    The first problem with this is that we seem to have a very narrow view of what constitutes "smartness." O'Connor, to take one example, may not write opinions that sparkle with wit and style like Scalia's. But she chooses to write opinions cautiously, often concurring so as to narrow the scope of the ruling. She is thus a model of the one-step-at- a-time minimalism recommended by that academic luminary Cass Sunstein, who is widely regarded as extremely smart. So why is she not regarded as at least as smart as Sunstein, who doesn't face the difficulty of putting his ideas into practice?

    To take another example, Thomas is often regarded as a not-very-smart follower of Scalia. But anyone who takes the trouble to actually read a few years' worth of Court opinions -- all of them, not just the sexy cases -- will be struck by one thing: When you see an opinion that is so technical and difficult that it would take an Master's degree in tax law just to understand the summary, chances are it was written by Thomas. Since his law school days, Thomas has been known for deliberately seeking out the difficult subjects of tax, ERISA, and corporate law. Why isn't he regarded as smart? ... I would guess that quite a few people who denigrate Thomas as lacking smartness would themselves be incapable of understanding many of his opinions.

    None of the current justices, whether left, right or center, are mental lightweights. The same can't be said, though, for some past justices, at least by my reading of Supreme Court history.

    George 'n Virgil

    Kevin Drum at CalPundit noted my recent posts (here and here) on politics and poetry, then he pointed to a piece in the Onion from April 2001 in which, well, here is an excerpt:

    WASHINGTON, DC — President Bush delighted an intimate gathering of White House dinner guests Monday, regaling the coterie of dignitaries, artists, and friends with a spirited, off-the-cuff discussion of the Roman poet Virgil's lesser-known works. ...

    "The first blush of Spring always reminds me of Virgil's words," Bush said. "In early spring-tide, when the icy drip / Melts from the mountains hoar, and Zephyr's breath / Unbinds the crumbling clod, even then 'tis time / Press deep your plough behind the groaning ox / And teach the furrow-burnished share to shine."

    "Book One of The Georgics, of course," Bush added. ...

    "The Bucolics are my personal favorite," Bush said. "They were basically a thank-you to Asinius Pollio for preventing the seizure of Virgil's land by the Triumvirate when they ordered the lands on the far banks of the river Po distributed to veterans of the victory at Philippi. They are so sublime, so inspirational. But why should I speak, when Virgil can do so himself? And far more eloquently, I might add."

    Aw, come on. It's just satire.

    Must ... have ... Oxygen? Apparently not

    Oxygen, the much-hyped for-women cable channel, has petered out as far as the TV ratings.

    So says an article in The Women's Quarterly, the journal of the Independent Women's Forum. In an article titled "The Pajama Party That Failed," writer Shannon James concludes that the channel's attempt "to create a pink ghetto for the 'sisterhood' " has fallen flat:

    Though mildly entertaining, such programming raises the question of whether Oxygen has achieved its mission of empowering women. Nielsen ratings indicate that women simply aren’t watching. In fact, no one is. Numbers show that in the top ten cable markets, Oxygen achieved a pitiable 0.17 average prime-time rating — about 12,867 homes out of 7.5 million, and 0.08 average for a full day. In fact, the network is actually watched in less than 0.1 percent of the nearly forty million homes it reaches. It appears that “underserved” women are breathing just fine on their own.

    The article has great fun arguing that Oxygen's high-powered founders have stumbled badly in their proclaimed mission to “create a new network that will focus on women and treat us like the busy, smart, and complex people we are.”

    The cable TV universe is so balkanized that it wouldn't seem that hard to carve out some kind of feminine niche. (Not that women's tastes and political beliefs are uniform.) Oxygen, however, doesn't appear to have the right stuff, at least in its current incarnation.

    Terrorism in a different context

    "In his political consciousness and close alliance with a propagandist and power broker, in his efforts to win media attention with his crimes ... Jesse James was a forerunner of the modern terrorist": That is the thesis of a new biography of Jesse James (1847-1882) by T.J. Stiles.

    James rode as a teen-ager with William Quantrill's pro-Confederate guerrillas in wartime Missouri and, by Stiles' description, retained a fierce Southern chauvinism into the postwar era. That Southern connection, Stiles claims, helped fuel James' targeting in 1876 of the bank in Northfield, Minn., where plans by the James-Younger gang went disastrously awry: A former Reconstruction governor of Louisiana had a major stake in the bank.

    Stiles also emphasizes how the James brothers were fiercely supported by their hard-bitten mother, Zerelda, who spoke out for her sons even more loudly after she lost an arm to a bomb that Pinkerton agents had tossed into her house.

    Whether Stiles' book is revisionist overkill, I can't say. I haven't read the book.

    Certainly, mid-19th century Missouri boasted plenty of colorful characters with a penchant for violence. Along that line, I'll post sometime about Davey Atchison (1807-1886), a Missourian whose most interesting life included enthusiastic roughhousing as well as service in the U.S. Senate.

    Monday, September 30
    More on ambassadors

    I posted over the weekend about a listserv discussion about how foreign governments didn't begin to post ambassadors in Washington, D.C., until the very late 19th century.

    Holly Gallagher sent in an e-mail that warrants an update on the topic. She wrote:

    While I'm sure it is true that there were no resident ambassadors in the US before the end of the 19th century, the post that stated that European monarchies did not exchange ambassadors until after the Congress of Vienna is absolutely false. The phenomena of resident ambassadors began in the Italian city states in the 15th century. Spain had quite an efficient ambassadorial system by the end of Philip II's reign. If you are interested in reading a fabulous book about the development of diplomacy in Europe from medieval times onward, I strongly recommend Garrett Mattingly's "Renaissance Diplomacy."

    As I told her in my response, it is a pleasure to be able to correspond with someone about a scholar as esteemed as Garrett Mattingly. Another reason to be grateful for the blogosphere.

    More on politics and poetry

    Over the weekend I posted about a 1991 Salon article that talked about the lack of a poet at George W. Bush's inauguration and quoted several poets who depicted Republicans as Philistines. I mentioned that the Omaha World-Herald had run an editorial on the topic. My memory was faulty when I said in the post that Teddy Roosevelt had received praise for poetry he had written; rather, TR had critiqued the work of a Gilded Age poet in a letter to his son Kermit. Here is the editorial, from Jan. 25, 2001:

    John Quincy Adams, a learned but uninspiring figure who served as U.S. president from 1825 to 1829, once wrote, "Could I have chosen my own genius and condition, I should have made myself a great poet." Poetry was not in evidence, however, in Washington, D.C., last weekend. Unlike the two inaugurations of Bill Clinton, the festivities welcoming George W. Bush's ascent to power did not include the reading of a newly minted inaugural poem.

    That omission was analyzed in an article in Salon, an online magazine, in which various poets were asked to comment. Charles Simic, a Pulitzer Prize winner, said he found it "astonishing that anyone expected Bush to have a poet." Simic said it seems that Bush "and most of his Cabinet have only the vaguest idea that there's such a thing as American poetry, and it has no interest for them. To be a poet or a lover of poetry is to be a traitor to the only thing they care about: money, power and the NRA."

    Any poet who would have read at the Bush inauguration would have wound up being trashed by his or her peers, poet Tom Disch told the magazine.

    William Kloefkorn, Nebraska's state poet, sees things a bit differently, and his observations seem astute and useful.

    "Day in, day out," Kloefkorn said in an interview this week, "I'd say politics and poetry are pretty far removed." But there have been exceptions, he said. In the 1770s, Philip Freneau wrote patriotic verse that inspired American troops fighting for independence from Britain. In the 1960s, Robert Bly wrote searing antiwar poems that earned him a National Book Award.

    As for the Bush inauguration, Kloefkorn said "it's off the mark" to say the new president would have had a problem finding a suitable poet for the inauguration. "I think there are any number of poets he could have invited," Kloefkorn said, "who aren't necessarily in Bush's camp, who would have read and would have read something highly appropriate, something bipartisan that would have touched a human strain."

    Certainly the poet Maya Angelou made a memorable impression at Clinton's 1993 inauguration. Kloefkorn says he includes Angelou's poem, "On the Pulse of Morning," in classes he teaches at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.

    Appreciation of poetry hasn't been foreign to the Republican Party in the past. Abraham Lincoln commented on poetry in his personal letters and wrote nostalgic poems about his youth for his own enjoyment. A 1905 letter from Theodore Roosevelt to his son Kermit included commentary on a contemporary poet.

    It isn't surprising that Lincoln and Roosevelt, two intellectually curious prose stylists, would have appreciated the value of poetry, which, at its best, employs a free and nimble use of language to examine the world anew, revealing hidden layers of meaning.

    As for the future, Kloefkorn says he's encouraged by the increasing attention poetry is receiving on college campuses and in society in general. The number of periodicals featuring poetry has climbed to impressive levels (as is shown by Creighton University's useful literary Web site for the Nebraska Center for Writers).

    Nor do the two coasts have a monopoly on producing well-crafted verse. The Great Plains and West provide inspiration for a number of talented writers, Kloefkorn says.

    The inauguration lacked something special. Poetry is something to be appreciated by Americans from all walks of life, regardless of region or politics.

    Sunday, September 29
    Demographic advantage for Dems?

    My brain is way too tired tonight to compose any coherent essays of my own. I’d hoped to blog a response to a way-off-base Slate piece by Michael Kinsley, but that will have to wait.

    I will, however, pass along a few links and quotes relating to the new book “The Emerging Democratic Majority” by John Judis and Ruy Teixeira. The new issue of Blueprint, the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council, features a series of articles on the book’s thesis, which is that the rise of an “ideopolis” -- communities oriented toward the high-tech economy -- will soon provide Democrats with a national majority.

    From an article by Judis and Teixeira:

    The Solid South is unlikely to remain solid; some of the mountain and Midwestern states that are red are likely to go blue; and the blue states that Al Gore carried by small margins in 2000 are likely to get harder, not easier, for the Republicans to pick off. Moreover, and crucially, growth trends
    within states favor the Democrats, not the Republicans. ...

    Democrats have been gaining strength in areas where the production of ideas and services has either redefined or replaced an economy dependent on manufacturing, agriculture, and resource extraction. Many of these areas are in the North and West, but they are also in states like Florida and Virginia. Republicans are strongest in areas where the transition to postindustrial society has lagged. Many of these are in the Deep South and Prairie States. As Democratic politics has evolved over the last decade, it has increasingly reflected the socially liberal, fiscally moderate priorities of these new areas -- what we call a politics of progressive centrism. Republicans have continued to espouse an anti-government credo closely identified with business and the religious right -- a politics that plays well in parts of the Deep South but not in a new postindustrial America. ...

    Concluded (economist Richard) Florida, "Diversity is a powerful force in the value systems and choices of the new workforce, whose members want to work for companies and live in communities that reflect their openness and tolerance. The number one factor in choosing a place to live and work, they say, is diversity. Talented people will not move to a place that ostracizes certain groups."

    The always provocative David Brooks of The Weekly Standard has a demographics-related article in the DLC magazine. He makes fascinating points about 21st century surburbs, whose residents, he argues, tend to hold politically mixed views apart from the stereotypical “red state/blue state” dichotomy. He also points to some surprising characteristics of the new suburbs:

    We are in the midst of a great period of suburban growth. Sure, some cities rebounded in the 1990s, but the suburbs grew twice as fast. The suburbs around Atlanta now sprawl for hundreds of miles. In a few decades the greater Phoenix area will have almost 10 million people; it will be a more significant city than Chicago. Already, Mesa, Ariz., has a larger population than St. Louis, Cincinnati, or Minneapolis.

    Moreover, the opportunities and goodies that will attract people in the future are all in the suburbs. The biotech revolution is taking place in towns like Rockville, Md.; other innovations will take place in Douglas County, Colo., and King of Prussia, Pa. The populations of these office park communities are exploding.

    But it's easy to miss the significance of this development because our image of suburbia is motionless. We think of the suburbs as a place where people with families go to live. In fact, a majority of households in suburbia have no kids. We think of suburbia as white. But in fact, the majority of Asian-Americans live in suburbia; half of all Hispanics live in suburbia; and 40 percent of all African-Americans live in suburbia. ...

    Right now much of the Democratic Party is being driven by antipathy for George W. Bush and the people who are perceived to be his corporate cronies. The people in growth suburbs are never going to hate Bush. They are disgusted by corporate greed, but they are never going to be disgusted by country club communities, gated suburbs, and SUVs. In fact, those are the things they are striving for. George W. Bush fits right into their picture of the world.

    Another article in the DLC magazine is by Marshall Wittmann of the Hudson Institute. He argues that non-demographic factors could play a major role:

    Democrats need Field and Stream readers as well as bean-sprout eaters. Don't underestimate Karl Rove's ability to manipulate cultural symbols and passions, such as patriotism, to the advantage of the Republicans. ...

    If the Achilles' heel of the Republicans is their coziness to corporate power, the Democrats' is their perceived weakness on national security. In the age of 9/11 and the war against terror, Teixera and Judis assign this issue too little importance. Democrats must connect with their inner Scoop Jackson. ...

    The ideopolis may be an attractive habitat for an independent neo-progressive movement. Rather than a realignment, we may see an accelerated dealignment of voters who are alienated from both parties.
    The ideopolis may be an ideal breeding ground for the Bull Moose.

    I haven’t followed the demographic debate between Republicans and Democrats closely. The analysis from Judis and Teixeira seems reasonable. But those offering a different interpretation, such as Brooks as well as the redoubtable Michael Barone, have a track record for sound thinking.

    My gut feeling is that while two-party competition generally will remain strong, the country is, on balance, trending long-term toward the Democrats in terms of support for government activism and an alienation from social conservatism. There are plenty of additional tangents to mention on this topic, but that discussion will have to wait.

    Judicial nominations and editorial judgments

    Editorials in the New York Times and Washington Post today make for an interesting contrast.

    The Times strongly urges the Senate to reject law professor Michael McConnell for a federal judgeship. The Post, which endorsed McConnell’s nomination several days ago, has an editorial urging confirmation of another conservative nominee, Miguel Estrada.

    The editorials indicate that the Post is willing to embrace pragmatism from time to time while the Times remains insistent on manning the ideological barricades no matter what.

    From the New York Times editorial on McConnell:

    When the president and Congress select federal judges, they are deciding, in a sense, what kind of nation this will be. With lifetime tenure and sweeping powers, federal judges are in a unique position to determine the rules by which we live. ...

    Professors must be free to take controversial stands. But Mr. McConnell's musings nearly all point in one direction, and that is the reason the administration nominated him. It is the reason the Senate should reject him.

    The Washington Post didn’t mince words in its editorial, either about the weakness of the case against Estrada’s nomination or the use of identity politics in regard to it:

    It is hard to imagine a worse parody of a judicial confirmation process than the unfolding drama of Miguel Estrada's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Opponents of Mr. Estrada, a well-regarded appellate lawyer who served a stint in the solicitor general's office, are convinced that the young, conservative Hispanic represents a grave threat to the republic. Yet Mr. Estrada has not done his foes the courtesy of leaving a lengthy paper trail of contentious statements. And this creates something of a problem for those bent on keeping him off the bench: There is no sound basis on which to oppose him.

    Mr. Estrada's other problem is that the White House does not merely want credit for appointing a first-rate lawyer to an important court but wants to use Mr. Estrada, who had a hearing last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, to curry favor with Hispanic voters. As a result, Mr. Estrada's nomination has been turned into a political slugfest and discussed in the crudest of ethnic terms.

    On one side of this degrading spectacle, Mr. Estrada's opponents question whether he is Hispanic enough, whether a middle-class Honduran immigrant who came to the United States to go to college can represent the concerns of "real" Latinos. The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, for example, complains that his "life experiences [have not] resembled ... those of Latinos who have experienced discrimination or struggled with poverty, indifference, or unfairness." Such distasteful ethnic loyalty tests have no place in the discussion. Yet on the other side, Republicans have reduced Mr. Estrada to a kind of Horatio Alger story. White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, in an article on the opposite page on Thursday, described him as "an inspiration to Hispanics and to all Americans." But Mr. Estrada has not been nominated to the post of inspiration but that of judge. Both sides should remember that there is no Hispanic manner of deciding cases.

    The Times is sticking up for philosophical principles it considers fundamental. That’s a legitimate approach. But it ultimately means that judicial nominations should be nothing more than raw contests between ideological camps.

    Sure, that seems to be exactly what many, if not most, members of Congress would prefer. More appealing to me, though, is the independent-mindedness of the Washington Post editorials. Newspapers deserve respect when they attempt to look at an issue beyond knee-jerk considerations of party and ideology. If that were only the mindset in Congress when it comes to judicial nominations.

    A special week

    My blogging volume for the next week will drop because our family will have a special house guest -- my primary role model in life, no less -- who's flying in from half a continent away. No, it's not Glenn Reynolds. It's my mom. And she is terrific, I assure you.

    When the ambassadors began to arrive

    An interesting little discussion thread in the H-DIPLO listserv talked last week about how European powers didn't begin sending ambassadors to Washington, D.C., until late in the 19th century. Here are two of the posts:

    Although, to my embarrassment, I cannot put my hands on where I wrote about this, I am pretty sure that Washington's first exchange of ambassadors (with London) occurred in 1893. Until after WWI, ambassadors were exchanged only between great powers, and the US certainly was not considered one before that date. Incidentally, while searching for confirmation of my memory, I came across the fact that there were 14 diplomatic missions in Washington in 1914.

    Another post:

    Few countries, before the 20th century, had full ambassadors as permanent diplomatic envoyees. Ancient "embassies" were temporary missions, with appointed people charged with a negotiating task to a foreign sovereign.

    Most of the time, heads of states sent "ministers", or chiefs of legation, as a permanent "diplomatic" representatives to a foreign,
    friendly country (rather, head of state).

    Some European monarchies exchanged "ambassadors" after the Congress of Vienna established some rules on privileges and precedence (Vatican and big powers, of course, were "more equal" than other, small, countries).

    Do not mix consuls with diplomats: those were complete separated careers till the 20th century, and some countries still keep them
    separated. In the 19th century, diplomats only dealt with "high politics," and trade and economic matters, or "low politics" were the lot of consuls or other officials.

    Ministers were appointed with the title of "extraordinary envoyee and plenipotentiary minister," and acted as chief of legation. Great Britain, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, or the big monarchies exchanged "ambassadors" among themselves, but I doubt they sent "ambassadors" to the United States during most of the 19th century.

    What terrorists devote their minds to

    Maybe the topic has already been discussed in the blogosphere, but this information from a recent Mona Charen column was particularly unsettling:

    Doctors in Israeli hospitals had been noticing that when they operated on people wounded in homicide bombing attacks, patients often continued to bleed even after being sutured. Eventually, a young medical resident figured out why: The terrorists filled their bombs with as many nails, screws, glass shards and pieces of shrapnel as they could, and these were first dipped in rat poison. The rat poison worked as an anti-coagulant.

    Now Israeli emergency room doctors can treat bombing victims with Vitamin K to control the bleeding, but as the Rocky Mountain News reported, stronger drugs can cost up to $10,000 per vial.

    More insight, sadly, into the nature of terrorism.

    Friday, September 27
    The pot wars

    I'm subbing at present for a colleague here at work who handles our op-ed material. In sorting through the syndicated columns, I've found several items worth noting here at the blog. I have time right now to mention one.

    Froma Harrop, a columnist who displays a lively writing style at the Providence Journal, had fun recently looking at the drug wars. From her column:

    The Bush administration seems to have gotten its war all right, only it’s on California. The natives are in full revolt over marijuana, inhaling for all to see -- especially U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft. They say his raids on California marijuana clubs will not stop them.

    The first skirmish took place in Santa Cruz, the university beach town known for open-mindedness (within politically correct boundaries). In bold defiance of federal policy, Mayor Christopher Krohn stood before City Hall and directed a distribution of medical marijuana to allegedly ill citizens. People smoked pot on the lawn. (Cigarette smokers were steered to the sidewalk.)

    The unrest has since spread to other California cities. ...

    Some of you might think that federal law enforcement would have its hands full chasing down terrorists bent on mass destruction. Stoned Californians can wait for another day. Well, Ashcroft says he’s on to both. He is perfectly capable of flicking on the orange terrorism alert then sending federal agents to weed out marijuana plants in hostile California territory. ...

    As in most conflicts, no side is without fault. Yes, in a rational world, the Justice Department would transfer its passion for eradicating marijuana to finding anthrax. But it would be also nice, for reasons of elevating the discussion, if the pot advocates would diversify their interests. Marijuana is not exactly the staff of life, and some honesty in discussing its legal status would be much appreciated.

    There’s much righteous talk about medical marijuana -- patients’ urgent need to ease their discomforts with pot. The medical issue is just a wedge for allowing anyone to smoke pot for any reason. That’s fine with me, but let’s just say it and dispense with the dramatics.

    “I have to have marijuana to stay alive,’’ a 35-year-old American, sitting in a cafe in Vancouver, Canada, tells a reporter. He claims pot alleviates pain from spinal injuries suffered in an Army parachuting accident. Surely his doctors have a pill that would do the same job, but he has applied for asylum in Canada.

    Pot-smoking Americans who move to Canada often portray themselves as political refugees. Some compare their plight to slaves escaping to freedom via the Underground Railroad. Not quite. Many are fleeing drug charges in the United States. ...


    The cold-blooded murder of five people during a bank robbery in Norfolk, Neb., is, of course, the lead news item here in Nebraska.

    I heard a news reader on NPR this morning mispronounce the name of the Nebraska city. The error is understandable, since the correct pronunciation here in Nebraska is idiosyncratic: "NOR-fork." Yes, that's "fork." That's because the community's original residents had planned to call it North Fork, but the 19th century postal service misunderstood and incorrectly named it Norfolk. Folks in the community adopted that spelling but not the pronunication that would go with it.

    Incidentally, the suspects were arrested in the Nebraska city of O'Neill. It was founded as an Irish community by John J. O'Neill, who had served a prison term in Canada for participating in the Fenian "invasion" in that country.

    The murder trial or trials for the Norfolk supects will be interesting in regard to capital-punishment aspects. Nebraska is the only state that still uses the electric chair for executions; Alabama switched, I believe, to lethal injection recently. (Only a handful of people are on death row here.) Nebraska is also one of the states whose death-sentence procedures were thrown into question a few months ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that only juries, rather than judges, are to sentence offenders to death.

    Thursday, September 26

    It's good to see that The New Republic has started a blog. It would be good if the site would venture outside the woefully familiar issues of Beltway politics. It would be refreshing, too, if it would draw on a variety of source materials rather than turning by rote to the national papers for fodder.

    At any rate, a post about a Bill Keller profile of Paul Wolfowitz offered a worthwhile observation:

    So why are Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz so often lumped together in press accounts of administration debates over Iraq? Well, the obvious answer is that they all favor war. But the deeper reason is that the press fails to distinguish between idealists and realists in the hawkish camp the same way that it fails to distinguish between idealists and realists in the dovish camp.

    Brent Scowcroft and Nancy Pelosi both oppose attacking Iraq, but the reasons for their opposition are radically different. Likewise with Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. While Rumsfeld happens to think the best way to serve American interests is to topple Saddam, he might not if he were reasonably confident Saddam would never use his weapons of mass destruction against us. On the other hand, Wolfowitz believes that creating democracies and taking out menacing dictators is an unconditional good. These are, to say the least, important distinctions.

    Yes, that's a useful way of analyzing the debate.

    BY THE WAY: A piece in Slate on an Iraq/terrorism tangent really riled me this week. If anyone's interested, I intend to post on it this weekend. (No time right now for composing an extended essay.) The topic involves considerations of evil, American intellectuals, multilateralism and a lot of other things.

    Wednesday, September 25
    Understanding the Germans

    Martin Devon sometimes uses well-crafted vignettes to underscore his points at Patio Pundit. Here is a great example from the past week, as he drew on personal experience in writing about the Germans:

    I have many nice memories of Germany. I used to go there fairly often for work, and since my parents lived there I would extend my stay whenever I could. Although I got to like it, I must say I was always glad to leave. In some ways I could never shake the knowledge that my father had been in concentration camps there. ...

    A couple of years back, when my work took me to Germany regularly I made a number of German friends. Each one of them is warm, inviting and polite. They're lovely people. Doing business with them was a bit of a challenge, since there are a number of cultural issues to overcome. The office environment is much more formal in Germany than it is in America, even in the record business. If you don't learn the protocol you will make very little progress. The Germans are quite good at the "malicious compliance" game.

    Much has been written about the private/public dichotomy of Germans, but you really have to experience it for yourself to really get it. Germany is the only place I've gone where you can have a terrific business dinner one evening and then go into the office the next day with the very same people to find that your rapport has not changed much. Or at least as much as you would expect from a similar meeting in the States.

    Americans and Germans share many values in common, but there are important differences. In my experience Americans place a much higher premium on results over process. I've had a room full of Germans object to a presentation just because it wasn't signed and dated. They said, "without document control, how can we take these ideas seriously?" You don't know what "red tape" is until you've seen the German version. On the other hand, if you want a really well documented data model, you'd be hard pressed to find a better one than the ones that Germans produce.

    There's a lot more, and worthwhile too. (Both sides of my family, incidentally are German. My mother's family were Rhinelanders who arrived here in the late 1700s. They followed a common migration pattern for the era: first Philadelphia, then eventually southward along the Great Wagon Road. For my ancestors, home became the North Carolina Piedmont.)

    Intermittent blogging

    Extra duties at work will keep me away from the keyboard until the weekend. I intend to post an item about a terrific Marvin Devon post at Patio Pundit, but other than that, I may not be able to post much for a few days.

    Hey, sign me up

    Gotta plug Eugene Volokh one more time. He wrote this week that he wants "centrist/libertarian/free-market/sensibly-pro-war public-issue blogging to succeed." You're talking my language, Eugene. A worthy cause, indeed.

    Stock gains as a social entitlement?

    Robert Samuelson is such a truth-teller on economic matters. His latest column has many great points about the spread of the stock investment habit by middle-class Americans and what the ramifications may be for the political system:

    One casualty of the slipping stock market has been "investor politics." Conceived mainly by conservative commentators, the idea was that the expansion of stock ownership in the late 1990s (about half of households now own shares, up from a third in the late 1980s) was transforming national politics and psychology. Politics was drifting to the right, because more people had a stake in capitalism. Americans favored less government and more free enterprise. It sounds logical, but it is the exact opposite of the truth.

    Greater shareholding leads to more -- not less -- government activism and regulation. It increases -- not decreases -- the political impulse to tinker with business and the stock market. The investor class behaves like other aggrieved groups, from farmers to steelworkers. When they have problems, they look to government for sympathy and help. If there are only a few shareholders, it doesn't matter. When there are roughly 80 million -- as now -- it matters a lot. ...

    One reason that more shareholding didn't change the national consciousness is that stocks were not promoted as an exercise in risk-taking, which is the nature of capitalism. Instead, stocks were sold as a free-enterprise entitlement. ...

    Up to a point, government regulations (disclosure, anti-fraud laws) can make the market work better. But trying to make the market “safe” for the middle class may entail so many rules that they perversely suffocate the genuine risk-taking necessary for a vibrant economy. The market is too complex for the government to control, and the goal -- even implicit -- of making it rise is hazardous. In the end, capital gains cannot be an entitlement.

    I wish he were wrong, given my own stock investments. But, as unusual, he’s stating facts that policy makers would do well to acknowledge.

    Gun ownership and noncitizens

    The Omaha City Council revised the city's gun ordinance on Tuesday. The council voted to forbid gun ownership by noncitizens. Our paper ran a well-conceived op-ed by Eugene Volokh last Saturday arguing that such a prohibition is unconstitutional. The council decided to go ahead with that provision, however.

    ADDENDUM: In reading Eugene's blog over lunch, I noticed that he had used a post to expand on his thoughts from his op-ed.


    In composing my ramble the other day on the red state/blue state topic, I forgot to mention that I got the idea for the post after reading an item at the new blog The Insecure Egotist, which mentioned the original Tapped commentary on the issue.

    The number of interesting blogs out there is fascinating. Unfortunately, since I joined the blogger ranks I've had far less time to check out my favorite sites, let alone new ones, as I did in the old days.

    Advantage: Dems?

    Speaking of the red state/blue state thing, a recent column by Thomas Oliphant of the Boston Globe noted a new book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority,'' by John Judis of The New Republic and and Ruy Teixeira of the Century Foundation.

    Oliphant summarizes the book's thesis this way:

    Judis and Teixeira, with their research, deserve to be taken seriously in their examination of the now-famous political map colors -- red (George W. Bush counties and states) and blue (Al Gore country). To oversimplify, they show that dynamism is in the blue, stagnation and decline in the red. Increasingly, they see political dominance flowing to a kind of super-metropolitan area they call an "ideopolis'' -- a technology-oriented city with its bedroom communities.

    That's a very rich subject. Generally, I'm wary of predictions of partisan triumphalism one way or another, but I'd have to look at the authors' specific arguments before making a judgment. At any rate, John Judis has long demonstrated his fair-mindedness at The New Republic. I see from the book link above that the book has received comment from, among others, The Weekly Standard and Joshua Micah Marshall. No time to hunt for links, though.

    Sensitive times

    An item from the current issue of The American Enterprise, published by the American Enterprise Institute:

    A British theater company has dropped the word "hunchback" from its stage version of the classic novel
    The Hunchback of Notre Dame to avoid offending the disabled. The new title is The Bellringer of Notre Dame.


    My appreciation to all who sent in letters on the red state/blue state topic. Many were thoughtful, and several of the longer ones were simply remarkable as far as the care with which they were composed. It was heartening to see so many people write in to say, in such articulate fashion, how they appreciate the country's regional diversity (while recognizing the foibles of Americans everywhere).

    I learned many things from the correspondence. Among them: Official, DMV-sanctioned NASCAR "race plates" are available to residents of New York. Not available, though, in Massachusetts.

    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.