Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

History,
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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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Sunday, October 27
 
The EU hobbles along

The euro, I suppose, will somehow muddle through over the long term. But the strains on the EU’s structural arrangements for the currency are really beginning to show.

As part of the “stability pact” that euro members agreed to in order to create the currency, governments pledged to keep their national debt below 3 percent of GDP. Germany recently announced it intends to violate that pledge in the face of continuing recession.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is struggling, not surprisingly, with its obligation to set a uniform interest rate that will somehow be appropriate for the widely varying circumstances of the various EU economies. The challenge will become only more complicated once new members are admitted to the EU as part of its inevitable eastward expansion.

Economist David Malpass offered cogent observations in National Review Online, arguing, among other things, that the focus on the debt threshold is misguided:

With European economies in malaise, fiscal deficits have widened. The fear is that this will turn out to be just the tip of the iceberg in Euroland's growth and demographic problems with the public-debt burden. With tax receipts faltering, budget deficits in a few key countries -- including Germany itself -- will almost surely exceed the arbitrary 3% limit, the German-inspired straitjacket in the Growth and Stability Pact.

Last week, the EU announced that Germany and Portugal both face possible disciplinary action for their deficits, even as European Commission President Romano Prodi was out giving interviews calling the stability pact "stupid."

Rather than balancing budgets on a timetable, Europe's fiscal plan should be built around labor flexibility, tax reform, fuller employment, and faster economic growth, all of which would rapidly improve the fiscal outlook. Instead, weak growth and the concrete fiscal timetable are perversely discouraging the tax-rate cuts critical for encouraging European employment and investment. Germany's ruling Social Democrat/Green coalition has responded to the rising fiscal deficit projections with a patently anti-growth recipe -- a myriad of tax increases that will not only hinder any economic recovery but also undermine the longer-term efficiency of the economy. ...

In effect, Europe has been in a private-sector recession, with the overall growth rate supported by government spending and rising public-sector indebtedness.

In sum, the Eurozone economy is suffering a double dip after a small rebound in the first part of 2002. It needs multiple fixes in order to achieve normal growth.

These include sweeping labor reform, lower tax rates, less government, lower interest rates, and a new monetary policy to replace the backward-looking inflation target and euro instability of recent years. In the meantime, the European outlook, hampered by a powerful but misdirected central bank, is for a half-speed economy and euro weakness.


It’s a sound analysis. But, realistically, there seems small chance that EU members would respond to recession by adopting “sweeping labor reform” and “less government” -- measures widely associated in Europe with the supposed cruelties of American capitalism.



 
Egypt and anti-Semitism

No single document, with the arguable exception of Mein Kampf, has brought more misery to the Jewish people than a nasty screed known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols, as most visitors to this site probably already know, were a concoction of rabid anti-Semitic conspiracy theories peddled by Russia’s czarist regime just over a century ago and circulated ever since by Jew-haters the world over.

It is old news in the blogosphere by now, but Egyptian state television is about to broadcast, with great fanfare, a 30-part series based on the Protocols.

The broadcast, in the country long hailed as the leading light of Islamic culture, will serve as an irrefutable advertisement of the sickness at work within the Muslim-Arab world.

As described in the Jerusalem Post, the series “will be broadcast during the first half of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month and traditionally prime time for serialized television specials.” Ramadan begins next month.

Here is how the historian Howard Sachar summed up the historical background of the Protocols in his book “The Course of Modern Jewish History”:

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion first appeared in 1905, as an addendum to a hopelessly confused religious tract written by Serge Nilus, a czarist civil servant. According to Nilus, the wise men of Zion had entered into a “secret” plot to enslave the Christian world.

The leaders of the Jewish world government, who were variously identified as the chiefs of the twelve tribes of Israel and the leaders of world Zionism, planned to employ the institutions of liberalism and socialism to ensnare and befuddle the simple-minded “goyim.” In the event of discovery, the Jewish Elders apparently had made plans for blowing up all the capitals of Europe. The implication was plain: that resistance to liberalism and socialism was vital if the world was to be rescued from a malevolent Jewish conspiracy.

In 1921 the London Times exposed the Protocols as a crude forgery of a lampoon on Napoleon III, written as far back as 1864. Notwithstanding the exposure, it was in the interest of reactionaries everywhere to promote the circulation of the Nilus pamphlet.


As if wasn't outrageous enough that Egypt is about to show the mini-series, a committee appointed by the country's information minister reviewed the script -- and had the audacity to declare it wasn't anti-Semitic.

The incorporation of ludicrous anti-Semitic slanders into accounts of Egyptian history has an extremely long pedigree, as Paul Johnson explained in his book “A History of the Jews”:

But there was a tendency among pagan writers, from the second half of the first millennium BC, to see Moses as a baleful figure, the creator of a form of religion which was strange, narrow, exclusive and anti-social. Moses is strongly associated with the very earliest stirrings of systematic anti-Semitism. ...

Manetho (c. 250 B.C.) first put about the extraordinarily persistent legend that Moses was not a Jew at all but an Egyptian, a renegade priest of Heliopolis, who commanded the Jews to kill all the Egyptian sacred animals and set up alien rule. The notion of the rebellious Egyptian priest, leading a revolt of outcasts including lepers and negroes, became the fundamental matrix of anti-Semitism, the Ur-libel, embroidered and repeated through the centuries with extraordinary persistence. It is reproduced, for instance, twice in anti-Semitic passages in Karl Marx’s letters to Engels.


And so, with the new Egyptian TV series on the Protocols, the lies of anti-Semitism march into a new century. The ancient anti-Semite Manetho surely would be delighted.

Egyptians ought to be ashamed that such ignorance is about to be displayed so rapturously in their country. That they are not should give Americans great pause about the depths of prejudice and gullibility in the Muslim-Arab world.



Saturday, October 26
 
An encouraging sign in Afghanistan

Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, spoke at length at the American Enterprise Institute recently about the economy in Afghanistan. His speech gives me an opportunity to point with pride to an academic institution here in Omaha that is doing impressive work in helping the Afghan people get back on their feet: the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).

In his speech, Natsios mentioned only one U.S. entity by name, aside from USAID, in talking about organizations that are helping the Afghan people recover from the Taliban period: UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies. (Actually, Natsios said “the University of Nebraska,” but the UNO center is what he was referring to.)

At the start of this year, the Center got the contract to develop and print (in Pakistan) all the new, post-Taliban textbooks for Afghanistan. The Center (which I’ve included in my links section from the start of this blog) has also trained teachers and teacher trainers in Afghanistan.

The UNO center has long been the only U.S. university organization devoted solely to the study of Afghanistan. Its long-time director, Tom Goutierre, is a solid, level-headed scholar and administrator.

The educational situation in Afghanistan provides hope because it indicates something reassuring about the character of the Afghan people themselves. Here is how Natsios explained it:

In the education area, in the spring, we printed 10.6 million textbooks in record time, in Dari and Pushto, the two chief languages.
[Those were the books printed by the UNO center. -- GS] Those were distributed, and I have to tell you, we ran out.

The number of kids below the third grade that came back to school -- because many of them had never been to school before -- was double what the UN was anticipating and the NGOs and the central ministries. We were shocked at the number of kids. There is an obsession among the Afghan people to get their kids into school.

And I have to say this is not only very healthy, it shows the Afghan value system is on target, but it's also important for security reasons. If we have high school students in school learning, they're not going to be joining militias, they're not going to get blown up by land mines. ...

We've trained 1,500 teachers who were trained to go back to their villages and train about 30,000 teachers which we also provided teacher kits to. This was through the University of Nebraska.


Something to be proud of here in Omaha.

BY THE WAY: The simultaneous, coordinated start of school in all regions of Afghanistan this year had tremendous symbolic force for the Afghan people, says Tom Goutierre, the head of the UNO center. The startup signaled, after the tumult of the Tabliban period, that the country could surmount regional frictions to achieve a crucial nationwide goal.



 
Long memories

Natsios’ speech on Afghanistan also mentioned something curious. In Afghan villages, communal memories can run deep -- even back to the time of Alexander the Great. Alexander’s conquests in Southwest Asia are discussed in some villages as part of the local tradition, unbroken over the centuries.

“Some of them claim lineage to Alexander the Great,” Natsios said of Afghan villagers he has met.



 
‘Frighteningly easy’

From an article on weapons of mass destruction in the latest issue of National Geographic:

  • (from a timeline) 1932-1945: Japan kills 260,000 in China with biological weapons, chiefly plague.


  • I knew about the atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking and the awful experiments the Japanese subjected captives to, but I had no idea about the extent of Japan’s use of biological agents.

  • (A photo caption) ‘Frighteningly easy!’: That’s how simple it was for a Pentagon team to build this makeshift anthrax lab inside the Nevada Test Site, according to one participant. Buying equipment from hardware stores and lab-supply outfits, the team took just over a year to produce simulated anthrax. The project was designed to identify detectable patterns of activity of a terrorist lab and to see if law enforcement officials would notice. They didn’t.

  • (A photo caption) A decade after the demise of the Soviet Union and its immense bioweapons industry, vials of plague germs are still kept in an old pea can at a biological institute in Kazakhstan. Until recently the facility had little security.

  • On a related note, an article in the current edition of The National Interest says that “according to Department of Energy reports, two-thirds of the nuclear material in Russia remains to be adequately secured.” This isn't to say, of course, that the Nunn-Lugar initiative begun a decade ago hasn't made a measure of progress in promoting weapons security in Russia, but much remains to be done.



     
    More about Napoleon

    Knowing of Matt Welch’s interest in France, I e-mailed him a link to my Napoleon post below just after I’d completed it the other night. Matt said he’d read a pro-Napoleon biography by Vincent Cronin several years ago that had noted positive aspects of the French leader even as it explained in detail his hubris and fall:


    ... as far as I remember he A) created the Napoleanic Code, which was a pretty useful constitutional document of laws (allowing for stuff like divorce) which was subsequently used as the basis for several European constitutions. B) Liberated (well, sorta) our Polish pals, C) paid eloquent heed, at least early in his career, to near-Wilsonian ideas of national self-determination, though these theories were soon forgotten.




    Friday, October 25
     
    Napoleon the dictator

    Driving home from work on Thursday I heard an NPR piece about how the French are conflicted about how to look on Napoleon -- he was a world-historical figure of enormous talent, but certainly was no promoter of democratic ideals.

    I wonder how many French intellectuals, with their reflexive anti-American attitudes, appreciate an irony. Napoleon was guilty of precisely the sin that present-day French critics accuse the United States of committing: pursuing a relentless domination of other nations while trying to mask such exploitation as an innocuous, if not high-minded, assertion of national energy.

    For all his talk about upholding the grand ideals of the French Republic, Napoleon was a dictator and imperialist who brought enormous suffering to much of Europe. (Not that many of the reactionary regimes opposing him were so virtuous themselves.)

    All the sophistic apologies for Napoleon can be punctured by a single, devastating word: Spain.

    No -- another word is more powerful yet: Goya.

    Nor should it be forgotten that the Napoleonic regime’s efforts to reinstate slavery in the Caribbean triggered a desperate guerrilla conflict in Haiti that saw enormous bloodletting.

    True, Napoleon earned great public support for the administrative efficiencies of his “gilded authoritarianism.” But it seems inescapable that his popularity among his contemporary countrymen rested at bottom on his military victories (which were admittedly stunning). It’s hard to see how the French can remain true to modern European ideals -- such as the requisite swooning at Jimmy Carter as Noble Peace Prize holder -- and simultaneously sidestep the essence of the Napoleonic regime, which was the obsessive pursuit not of peace and universal equality but of something cheap, selfish and dangerous: la gloire.

    ‘THE SEDUCTIONS OF AUTHORITARIANISM’: Historian David A. Bell, of Johns Hopkins University, explored these themes in a highly stimulating review last year in The New Republic. He was reviewing the book “Napoleon and his Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship,” by Isser Woloch.

    Bell wrote:

    Napoleon himself exemplified some of his civil servants' better qualities. He, too, believed in the rule of reason, and while in Paris threw himself into administration with almost the same fervor as he devoted to fighting battles. An aide commented that "he believed he could maneuver statistics like battalions." ... These accomplishments, eagerly embraced by subsequent regimes, have never attracted the sort of heavy irony that drips from the phrase "making the trains run on time." For this reason, they offer -- better than the domestic reforms of Hitler or Mussolini -- an object lesson in the seductions of authoritarianism. ...

    Particularly for a historian concerned with issues of responsibility -- that is, for a historian such as Woloch -- the omission of Napoleon's foreign adventures means omitting an important, and damning, piece of the context. True, Napoleon's domestic collaborators did not bear any direct responsibility for the horrors of the Russian campaign, in which Napoleon blithely led 600,000 men (mostly non-French) to the east, and returned with only 90,000. They bore no direct responsibility for the widespread atrocities committed in Spain, where French soldiers literally scorched the earth to crush partisans fighting the
    guerrilla, or "little war." They bore no direct responsibility for pillage, rape, and murder committed by French soldiers from Portugal to Croatia to Germany to Russia. But they were indispensable parts of the authoritarian system that had ultimate responsibility for all of the above. It was a system built not only on ideals of rational domestic administration, but also, inseparably, on ideals of conquest and glory, of the triumph of strong nations over weak.


    Precisely.



     
    Multilateral loans and realpolitik

    Twenty years ago, an American who held a top-level position at the World Bank sat beside me in a Georgetown classroom and stated categorically that the United States, as a matter of principle, does not threaten to cut off World Bank loans to individual countries. Such loans, he said, need to be considered solely on their economic merit and not become entangled with non-economic policy disputes.

    His remark always stuck with me, because it seemed hard to believe. A few years later, I read in one of the national papers about how the Reagan administration had denied a World Bank or IMF loan to some country over some Cold War-related matter.

    The comment from the World Bank official came to mind this week when I read the details of the Sudan Peace Act, a new, worthwhile U.S. initiative passed with broad support in Congress, to push the Sudanese government to end its slaughter of the largely Christian population in southern Sudan.

    President Bush signed the measure into law this week. One of its provisions is the direct assertion that the United States will seek to cut off World Bank and IMF loans and credits to Sudan if its government doesn't negotiate in good faith.

    BY THE WAY: The special U.S. envoy on the Sudan issue is former Missouri Sen. John Danforth.

    BY THE WAY II: I got an e-mail recently from someone involved in reducing modern-day slavery in Sudan and elsewhere. As I told him in my reply, I need to educate myself more on the issues he is involved in. It's rather ridiculous that I've expanded such great mental energy over the years to study the details of slavery in world history yet remain ignorant, in many ways, of slavery in its present-day incarnation.



    Thursday, October 24
     
    Pakistan as nuclear enabler

    Jim Hoagland pulls no punches in a column about the dangers of Pakistan as the portal through which fateful nuclear-weapons assistance has flowed to North Korea and perhaps Iran:

    Pakistan's role as a clandestine supplier shatters the Bush administration's efforts to paint that country as a flawed but well-meaning member of the coalition against terror. Pakistan today is the most dangerous place on Earth, in large part because the administration does not understand the forces it is dealing with there and has no policy to contain them.

    ...This nuclear-armed country is in part ungoverned, in part ungovernable. ...

    Official Washington will not even tell the truth to or about Musharraf, much less hold him accountable for his lies and subterfuge.

    U.S. policy today amounts to giving money to Pakistan, which agrees to take it. This is a country where American diplomats are limited to one-year tours and not allowed to bring dependents. Nongovernmental organizations that normally would help the U.S. Agency for International Development gauge how aid money is being spent have closed down out of fear. The remaining AID personnel would take their lives in their hands by insisting on effective monitoring. ...

    Pyongyang sent missiles and missile technology to Islamabad in return for nuclear technology. There are strong indications that both nations have helped Iran develop nuclear and missile programs as well. ...

    The past provides no reason to hope that Musharraf is telling the truth about not helping North Korea now, either. He has paid no price for lying to Powell about ending terrorism in Kashmir or about cooperating fully in crushing al Qaeda. The only consequences for duplicity have been rewards and protection. Why in the world would he suddenly change an approach that is working on every level for him?


    Hoagland’s column intensifies my pessimism whenever I contemplate the long-term implications of Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weaponry. It hardly seems farfetched that if -- when -- nuclear terrorism announces itself on American soil through an attack too awful to contemplate in detail, the trail of nuclear assistance could trace back ultimately to a fateful exchange with irresponsible forces within Pakistan.

    BY THE WAY: Twenty years ago, when I was a grad student at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, Jim Hoagland was kind enough to meet with me in his office at the Washington Post and talk about my interest in getting into journalism. Hoagland was already at that time a columnist for the Post, yet he displayed a down-to-earth manner and was generous with his time. His decency and generous spirit set an example I've remembered and continue to admire.



     
    Distant ripples

    Brink Lindsey notes in a post that he, like myself, had a Civil War ancestor (in fact, he had several ancestors) held as POWs at the Point Lookout prison in Maryland. Brink's post is an illustration of one of his great strengths as a blogger: lyrically weaving his personal experiences into considerations of larger questions.

    He shares a vivid family story of what happened when one of his ancestor returned home from the prison.

    Brink mentions that some Confederate prisoners may have signed their oaths of allegiance to the Union with an X not because they were illiterate but as a way of indicating their protest or reluctance in doing so. That may well be the case for some of the prisoners, but in the case of my ancestor, he was indeed illiterate. When he signed an application in, I believe, 1910 for a veterans pension, he also signed with an X. One of his sons (my paternal grandfather) was also illiterate.

    I'll close simply by quoting the end to Brink's post:

    It's really strange to think about the fact that our two ancestors were in the same place at the same time. Geitner and I know each other only through email and reading each others' blogs, but perhaps our forebears knew each other better. Maybe they became friends. Maybe, in defiance of their dreary surroundings, they shared their dreams of life after the war -- dreams whose distant ripples we now inhabit.




     
    Hallway etiquette

    I recently mentioned a co-worker's question as to whether people in Britain pass each other on the left in hallways. Holly Gallagher responds:


    The answer is yes. My fiance is a Brit and he always has a difficult time readjusting to passing people on the right whenever he comes back from a visit to the UK.


    So now we know.

    UPDATE: Another e-mailer says that in Scotland, people pass each in other in hallways on the left but that escalators use the same arrangement as in the United States, with the ascending escalator on the right as you face it.



    Wednesday, October 23
     
    Not tonight; coming attractions

    I have other commitments tonight, so it will be a blog-free evening for me.

    Topics in the blog pipeline here include a post about lynchings, the electric chair, and a pair of boots; economic policy in the EU; a satirical novel about race in America; Western views on Islam during a particular time period; and a tangent involving American history and Quebec.



     
    War in space and underground

    Russia’s apparent decision to retain multiple-warhead nuclear missiles will probably pose “no significant increase in threat” to this country.

    Military planners haven’t figured out how missile defense will be specifically incorporated into official U.S. strategic doctrine.

    And it hasn’t been decided how the nuclear reductions agreed to by the United States and Russia will be specifically distributed among the three legs of the U.S. triad: aircraft, submarines and land-based missiles.

    Those were among the observations Admiral James Ellis gave in response to recent questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee. Ellis, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom), was being considered for the command position of the newly reconstituted StratCom, which is absorbing the U.S. Space Command. The full Senate recently approved Ellis’s nomination unanimously.

    Ellis’s written responses to the committee underscored strong support for Russia. Ellis expressed no great concern not only about Russia’s MIRV capability but also about its launch on warning ability. He expressed support for continued exchanges between U.S. and Russian nuclear missile personnel as well as for the Bush administration’s plans to cut U.S. strategic nuclear warheads to within a range of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads.

    Ellis specifically stated, “I concur with the determination that given the current international environment, emerging threats, and technology available, the nation’s deterrence needs can be satisfied with 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear missiles.”

    It’s no surprise that a candidate for one of the CINCs (top military commands) would endorse the administration’s strategic policy. Still, Ellis’s comments were in sharp contrast with congressional testimony by Admiral Richard Mies, then-commander of StratCom, in July 2001. At that time, Mies told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee:

    ... we need to focus more on capabilities rather than numbers. There is a naive and mistaken belief that the "nuclear danger" is directly proportional to the number of nuclear weapons and, accordingly, lower is inevitably better. As we reduce our strategic forces to lower levels, numerical parity or numbers alone become less and less important -- issues such as transparency, irreversibility, production capacity, aggregate warhead inventories, and verifiability become more and more significant.

    It is ultimately the character and the posture of our strategic forces -- characteristics like assured command and control, survivability, and reliability -- more than their numbers alone that make the strategic environment stable or unstable.

    Additionally, there is a tyranny in very deep numerical reductions that inhibits flexibility and induces instability in certain situations. We must preserve sufficient deterrent capability to respond to future challenges, to provide a cushion against imperfect intelligence and surprises, and to preserve a reconstitution capability as a hedge against unwelcome political or strategic developments.


    In the Armed Services Committee’s recent questioning of Ellis for the StratCom post, his response was given as “classified answer” when he was asked, “Should tactical nuclear weapons be brought under the auspices of Strategic Command?”

    The committee asked whether Ellis thought that some hardened underground facilities are “beyond the reach of a U.S. military strike.” Ellis’s answer:

    Numerous studies over the last several years have identified facilities that are too hard and/or deep to be held at risk by our current nuclear and conventional weapons. A review of the full range of options the nation might pursue to deal with these facilities is a prudent and appropriate step at this time.


    Many U.S. military studies and doctrinal analyses have pointed to the need for a feasibility on the potential effectiveness of nuclear weapons in reaching underground bunkers, Ellis said. “Our focus,” he said, “remains on conducting a detailed feasibility study, and any production decision would be made as part of a separate process.”

    In other words, Ellis’s testimony indicated, as have news reports, that U.S. strategic planners are indeed interested in including nuclear weapons as a possible tool for attacking bunkers.

    (An examination of nuclear bunker busters is here.)

    The Strategic Command, Ellis told the Senate committee, will have top authority as far as U.S. strategic nuclear forces and will play a major role in regard to military space issues, computer warfare and missile defense. StratCom, he said, “will serve as the primary advocate for all warfighter space-related needs.” It has yet to be determined what role, if any, the command will have in regard to certain tasks relating to space and missile defense, he said.

    Ellis, who has graduate degrees in aerospace engineering and aeronautical engineering, spoke about a range of issues relating to military space policy. He stressed the need to safeguard U.S. satellites as well as the need for a new generation of flexible launch vehicles.

    As for the incorporation of missile defense into official U.S. doctrine, Ellis said, “The relationship between offensive forces and missile defenses merits comprehensive analysis, but this point remains undefined.”

    The critics of StratCom from within the arms control community will criticize Ellis and other U.S. military officials for advocating consideration of nuclear weapons as anti-bunker tools. But it’s hard to see how Ellis can be depicted as some kind of wild-eyed nuclear Philistine, given his generous words about Russia and his endorsement of reduced strategic missile numbers. The contrast with the rhetoric of his predecessor is quite revealing.



    Tuesday, October 22
     
    Musical pitch

    Orchestras tend to play slightly sharp (just above the pitch) because the acoustic effect allows the showcasing of the violin section. Ron Carter, the veteran jazz bassist, mentioned that point to Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” the other day. Carter is classically trained and also plays the cello.

    His point about modulating the performance to highlight the violins reminds me that, if my memory is correct, Beethoven chose a particular key change near the end of, I believe, his Fifth Symphony because in that key the violins could be played at their very fullest volume.

    The topic of musical pitch arose in the "Fresh Air" interview when Gross asked Carter what it was like to play bass behind saxophonist Eric Dolphy, whose intonation was extremely sharp. Trying to complement Dolphy’s idiosyncratic pitch was maddening, Carter said. His fingers, Carter said, had to struggle to achieve what his ears were telling them to do.



     
    Time windows

    A quick note: The vast majority of items here are posted either at night, after the rest of my family is asleep, or in the early morning just before I get ready for work. I do a few items at work, but my opportunity to post from the office is shrinking considerably. I wanted to mention this in case some people ever wonder about the lag time in posts here.

    Anyway, this is one of several reasons why this blog is more of a free-floating essay blog untethered, for the most part, to the day's headlines.

     
    Panhandle politics

    When I posted last night about the description of the Panhandle as “the other Florida,” where residents express a sense of alienation from the rest of the state, I was hoping I would get a response from Florida resident Dan Hobby, who has sent me cogent e-mails on a variety of subjects. The morning e-mail did indeed include some thoughts from Dan. He provides useful info in explaining why statewide politicians generally don’t invest too much time campaigning in the Panhandle:

    Florida's panhandle suffers from relatively low population with few large population centers. Even the biggest city, Pensacola is small by the standards of southern Florida, and doesn't rank in the top 25.

    It does have three of the 20 most populous metro areas, but even combined they would only be seventh in the state (and these three metro areas -- Pensacola, Panama City and Fort Walton Beach -- are a good drive apart). The geography of the panhandle makes a drive from Tallahassee (generally not considered to be a panhandle town) to Pensacola at least a three hour trip via I-10, and longer if one takes the coastal route through the more populated areas. Flying in and out of the panhandle is time-consuming and expensive (with some people opting to fly from Pensacola to Atlanta and then to South Florida).

    Florida has a population of over 16 million people, of which about one million live in the panhandle -- and I'm being generous and including Leon County (Tallahassee) which is about 20% of the total. The fifteen counties that comprise the panhandle have less population than do Miami-Dade, Broward (Fort Lauderdale) or Palm Beach counties individually, and about the same population as either Pinellas (St. Pete), Hillsboro (Tampa), Orange (Orlando) or Duval (Jacksonville).

    This leaves a politician running statewide with a problem. Votes in the panhandle will end up costing the candidate more time and money than will those in southeast Florida. He or she can stay in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties (about a two-hour drive from downtown Miami to West Palm Beach) with their combined populations of about 5 million residents, or the Tampa Bay area (30 minute drive from St. Pete to Tampa) with over 2 million people and reach many times the voters than would be possible in the panhandle.

    I would guess that a Democratic candidate would consider it a better bet to motivate the Democratic voters in SE Florida to get to the polls than to spend too much time in the panhandle which (other than Leon County) is full of conservative Republicans (nee Southern Democrats) who are not likely to switch parties (again).


    Dan also has these thoughts on the fallout in Florida from the creation of “Gulflandia,” a new state encompassing the Gulf Coast areas from Texas to Florida, suggested in the 1990s by a columnist in Mobile, Ala.:

    Unfortunately, the new state of Gulflandia would not help the areas east of Pensacola -- they would be the neglected areas of the new state for the same reasons they are in Florida.

    On another note, establishing a few new states in the lower 48 would balance the new states being created out of Canada's breakup. However, the political reality would be that they would have to come in paired -- likely Democratic and Republican -- so as not to throw balance in the Senate out of whack. The Gulflandia Compromise?


    See why I like this guy's e-mails?

    BY THE WAY: David Hogberg may be a specialist in Iowa politics, but his blog has a good roundup of items relating to the Florida gubernatorial election and the prospect of a post-election lawsuit.



     
    Has the time come for Gulflandia?

    Andrew Sullivan’s letters section this week had an e-mail from a Florida resident who complained about how that state’s Panhandle region is neglected by the rest of the state (even though the capital, Tallahassee, is in northwestern Florida):

    Here is why Tampa Lawyer Bill McBride won't defeat Jeb Bush in November ... The Other Florida.

    Bill McBride, like Al Gore in 2000, has ignored Northwest Florida's Panhandle during his campaign. Not only is Bill McBride an unknown statewide, he has virtually written off the entire Northwest Florida and not bothered to campaign in the Panhandle Counties. Ten of Florida's 67 counties are located in the Panhandle. These are the very same 10 counties that Al Gore took for granted in 2000 and never campaigned in Northwest Florida. ...

    For those of us who live in "The Other Florida," we know that Democrats always take us for granted. This is why they don't campaign in the Panhandle. ...


    Florida is, of course, by no means the only state with a “forgotten” region in which residents chafe at implications that they enjoy only second-class status. I suppose examples could be cited from every state.

    In colonial South Carolina, great tensions arose between the coastal elite and upland residents. One of South Carolina’s central achievements was finally taming the sectional frictions that had plagued the state.

    Regional differences led West Virginia to ultimately break off from Virginia during the trauma of the Civil War.

    Southern Illinois, from what I gather, has long had a pronounced sense of aloofness from the rest of the state.

    Here in prairie country, a similar dynamic is in play for an area informally dubbed Siouxland. It encompassing the area where the states of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota come together. Siouxland is so far removed geographically and mentally from the respective state capitals that Siouxland communities have joined together to promote themselves in an impressive display of cross-state cooperation. (Incidentally, for a medium-sized city, Sioux City, Iowa, has done a marvelous job of recreational development along the Missouri River.)

    In Alabama, an editor at the Mobile Register (a terrific newspaper, by the way) wrote a column in the mid-1990s in which he called, tongue in cheek, for the formation of “Gulflandia” -- a separate state that would encompass the coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida. (Note that Gulflandia would have included “The Other Florida.”)

    The Gulf Coast areas of the Deep South have long felt a sense of alienation from state policymaking elites, he argued, and would do best to go their own way. After all, he said, Gulflandia would include some of the nation’s busiest ports and most popular fun-in-the-sun tourist locations. (Did you know that the Gulf Coast area of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle is called the “Redneck Riviera”? It’s an outstanding beach location.)



    Monday, October 21
     
    In love with LA

    Speaking of U.S. regionalism, Scott Rubush, who’s traveled the United States pretty extensively, talked about the New York-D.C. rivalry in a recent post -- and argued that Los Angeles is far superior to either one.

    He also expressed curiosity about the awesome population concentration of the Northeast corridor:

    During a recent trip into New Jersey a couple weeks ago, I was wondering why the Northeast is the nation's most densely populated region. I mean, my God, I've seen a lot of this country, and there are so many better places than the Northeast. Why don't more people live among the scenic Rockies of Wyoming and Montana or the breathtaking Martian landscapes of Arizona, or even the Appalachian Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina? With so much to see and do and explore in America, why do so many people cluster in the one region with the blandest scenery and the foulest weather?

    I’d never thought of it in quite those terms. I don’t quite get Scott’s point, though, about people being interested in living “even” in the Appalachians. Sure, there’s a lot of poverty in the mountains, but there are also thriving cities (Asheville and Blowing Rock in N.C., Roanoke in Va.). Plus, some of the most gorgeous country around. My wife has hiked so many of the Appalachian peaks that she knows, or at least used to know, a lot of them by sight.

    Scott, a Pennsylvania native who grew up in North Carolina, recently relocated from LA to Delaware. In his post, he painted an evocative picture of the City of Angels (his last sentence is the killer):

    I totally miss Los Angeles. Every day there was an adventure for me as I struck up conversation with neighbors in Spanish and drove past those signs in Koreatown with the weird Hangul script. I miss hiking in the Palisades and I miss rolling along the Santa Monica Freeway and seeing the Century City skyscrapers and the lights in the hills coming on as the sun sets over the horizon. I miss all the great Latin and Classical radio stations (can you believe Wilmington and Philadelphia do not have one single Classical radio station?)

    And I totally miss all the great food in Los Angeles. For some reason the other day my mind got stuck on Jamba Juice. I really wanted to go for Jamba Juice. Or a Boba Smoothie. There's nowhere to get boba around here.

    And I could really go for some sushi in Little Tokyo or one of those great big burritos you can get at Tomas' taco stand at Grand Central Market. And the Trader Joe's grocery stores. I was in Washington about two weeks ago, and found one that had just opened in Old Town Alexandria. I totally splurged on about half a dozen bottles of wine from places like Chile and Portugal and everywhere else under the sun. And they had mochi! Mochi! I didn't think I could find that frozen delight anywhere east of the 605 Freeway, but there I was stuffing the little balls of Japanese green tea ice cream into my mouth as I stood along the banks of the Potomac.

    Ah, sigh. To have all that again in one amazing city, instead of having to drive hours to sample little bits and pieces of it.




     
    Not what the founders envisioned

    A UPI piece on "The Emerging Democratic Majority" book includes this right-on observation about how the proliferation of safe U.S. House seats through redistricting has stood an assumption of the founders on its head:

    Although it certainly wasn't the intent of the Framers of the Constitution, even senators are now more susceptible to the changing moods of the voters than members of the House. (The greater insulation of the lower house from fears of voter retaliation may help explain why 61 percent of House Democrats voted against the Iraq war resolution compared to only 42 percent of Senate Democrats.)




     
    Locke, Hume and those other guys; blog democracy

    Don't unfairly caricature the nature of the Enlightenment, the Insecure Egotist says. He's responding to a point made by one of my friends in the "East Germans/Britney Spears" post below, in which I excerpted comments from two friends commenting on topics including Greece, Western civilization, globalization and other tangents.

    One of my friends wrote, "It's true that the East didn't experience the Enlightenment and the rest, but I would disagree that this was a bad thing. The enlightenment's goal was to focus on man rather than God and the end result in Western Europe is a Godless and decadent society." To which the Insecure Egoist responded:

    Friend #2 is confusing an historical event with later repercussions that were, in turn, influenced by other events and drew off of many different themes. This sort of historical reductionism is not productive when one reduces to serve a contemporary purpose that isn't necessarily related. Furthermore, the argue this way is close to arguing that the Enlightenment was all bad. Far from it; it gave us Locke, Hume, Newton, and others, in addition to the French Revolution, Atheism, and whatever you may consider an ill.


    And the Insecure Egotist isn't finished, either. He has some thoughts responding to a post from a fellow South Carolinian, Wyeth Ruthven (whose Wyeth Wire site has great stuff on S.C. politics from a Democratic perspective). Wyeth recently argued that bloggers strive to narrow the parameters of legitimate debate to unfairly stifle dissent; he also tweaked the blog subculture for its overly cute catch phrases. The Insecure Egotist has a differing view:

    First off, most groups, however defined, have their own jargon. ...

    Second, jargon in and of itself is not bad. It simplifies communication in certain situations. Now, if I went up to a random person and said things like, "TYPICAL RAINESIANS: I've linked to an excellent fisking of this idiotarian and his Sontag-Award Winning Defense of Islamofascist Paleo-stinian homicide bombers.", I'd deserve a big slap across the face. I mean, who outside the world o' blogs cares anyway, right?

    Thirdly, the "Blogosphere" is the exact opposite of 1984. I can't believe I even have to point this out. ... So what if you disagree? Do you run screaming? Do you hear jackboots in your sleep? No. You start your own blog, and hopefully you will find others who think like you, thus restarting the process. There is a word for it...begins with a 'D'....de...dem...


    Just asking: If bloggers shouldn't use terms like "fisking" and "idiotarian," does mean the Car Guys can no longer refer to Sonya Henne's tutu?



     
    Into the night

    My 8-year-old son and I stood outside under the full moon Saturday night in a most unusual circumstance: We were only a few feet away from a pack of wolves -- literally.

    We were participating in a "creatures of the night" program at a wildlife preserve just south of Omaha. A great experience.

    The wolf pack -- with 17 members -- is kept in a large wooded area behind an 8-foot-high chain link fence. (The top part of the fence is bent inward at a 45-degree angle; wolves have shown that they otherwise can climb over fences of that height.)

    I've seen the wolves there before in daylight. It's quite a different experience, though, to see them on a chilly, moonlight night, staring at you with intense interest.

    The hierarchy within wolf packs is rigorously enforced, incidentally. There are alpha males, of course, but also alpha females. From what I've seen, those at the bottom display a conspicuous submissiveness. One of the guides once said that when the handlers tried to give the lower-ranking wolves a similar amount of food as their superiors, the alpha members of the pack rushed forward and grabbed the "extra" food before it could be eaten.

    Another scene from our visit Saturday night: two majestic male caribou doing battle over a female just up a hill from our car. We could see the males' muscular shoulders and huge antlers heaving during their contest.

    The last episode of the night involved playing recordings of owl calls to see if any real owls would answer. Two did. One, a barn owl deep in the woods, shrieked an enthusiastic response. I won't soon forget its call -- a crazed howl of falsetto laughter -- as we stood with a full moon and a canopy of stars overhead.



     
    Breaking up Canada; trying not to break up Iraq

    Columnist/author Austin Bay, seeing my quotes from a Patrick Ruffini post about a hypothetical secession of Canadian provinces to the U.S., sent me the text of a draft of an October 1995 column Austin wrote just before a secession vote in Quebec that year.

    Among Austin's observations:

    Many of Quebec's Indians, whether French or English speaking, oppose secession. They argue -- correctly -- that they are even more culturally unique than the "European French." Several Indian leaders have tossed the cultural arguments back at the French radicals. The Indians say that if the French secede from Canada then the Indian nations will secede from Quebec. Some Mohawk politicos have already mapped out an independent Mohawk state. The French radicals insist Quebec cannot be divided. (No, they don't get it: Quebecois radicals fail to appreciate the irony.) ...

    What might a Canadian breakup look like? Let's play cartographer and re-draw the economic and political map.

    Say that Quebec does become a separate European-style nation state -- a "people" with cultural, linguistic, religious, and historical identity.

    British Columbia has most of the assets required to make it as a separate nation: Access to the sea, strong industrial and educational bases, raw materials, a well-educated populace with linguistic integration.

    Oil producing Alberta might join the U.S., and find common political ground with Alaska, Louisiana, Texas, and Oklahoma. Bet that the destitute Canadian Atlantic provinces would become states and extend the New England coastline. The remains of Canada might stick together, with Manitoba and Saskatchewan wary appendages of "Greater Ontario." As for poor, isolated Newfoundland -- Would Great Britain like to reacquire a North American colony?


    Loved that part about the irony concerning the Mohawks.

    BY THE WAY: This Austin Bay column titled "Baghdad the Day After: Revisited" was discussed last Friday morning on CSPAN. Austin lists several key invasion-related objectives that would need to be achieved to encourage stability in Iraq. Among them: "The quick arrest and prosecution of war criminals. De-Baathizing Iraq will produce a real renaissance."

    Which reminds me: Has anyone blogged on de-Nazification after WWII and the possible lessons for a post-Saddam Iraq? Might be a useful intellectual exercise about now.



     
    Minding the media

    Criticism of the media is, of course, a central preoccupation of the blogosphere. Some of my favorite analysis of the press subculture comes from Media Minded, who works as copy editor at a large daily newspaper. One recent post of MM's (titled "Media blow-ups, past and present") concerned alleged sexism in a headline. Another good one was titled "Where does bias come from?"

    The links to those posts were extremely slow when I checked them just now from my modest home PC. An alternate approach would be to go to the Media Minded site and scroll down. It's well worth it.



    Sunday, October 20
     
    ‘Did we tear down the Berlin wall so that East Germans could ogle Britney Spears?’

    I blogged the other day about the particular stridency of anti-Americanism in Greece. Two friends of mine (one Protestant, one Catholic, both social conservatives) responded with lively e-mails. The points they discussed ranged from Christian-Muslim clashes in past eras to whether Greece belongs in the EU to John Paul II’s promotion of Orthodox-Catholic reconciliation to globalization’s tendency to promote secularism and materialism.

    I so enjoyed reading their observations that I asked them if I could excerpt their messages here, without attribution. They agreed.

    Friend 1 (who is Protestant; he is referring to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”) :

    Huntington, in Clash, says bringing Greece into the EU was a mistake. He classifies Greece among the Orthodox countries, not the Western ones.

    Greeks are right about Westerners being ignorant of their history. If America had been occupied and oppressed by Muslims for a few hundred years, we might have had a different take on the Balkan wars.

    One of Huntington's biggest points is that countries from a common civilization tend to support one another. No wonder the Greeks felt sympathy for the Serbs, and no wonder they harbor resentment against America.

    (I'm not saying they're right. I'm just trying to imagine their perspective.)

    By the way, Orthodox civilization is the offspring of the vanished Byzantine civilization, which grew out of the Roman Empire. It is important to understand Byzantine civilization, because it witnessed (and survived) the crumbling of Rome, it was a bulwark against Mohammed for 1,000 years, and finally fell to him, in 1453, just as the West was entering the Renaissance and Age of Exploration.

    Orthodox civilization is distinct from Western, Huntington argues, because it had little experience of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the Enlightenment.

    That's important. I was in so many museums in Italy, Geitner. Walking from the medieval halls to the Renaissance halls shocked me I can't tell you how many times. The Renaissance was a Big Bang of creativity. If your civilization missed out on it, it can't be called Western.

    So yes, the Greeks are different. Which is why it amazes me that the EU is even considering bringing Turkey in. Not only are Greece and Turkey rivals, Turkey is even farther from the West than Greece.

    Poland, yes, I can understand Poland being in the EU. The Czech Republic, too. These are Western Christian countries. They are Western nations.


    Friend 2 (responding to the e-mail from Friend 1, an excerpt of which I sent him; the book he mentions is "Clash of Civilizations"):

    The trouble with this book (I haven't read it, I'm just going on what the guy says) is that it assumes that just because Greece is not *western* that it has no place among the countries of *Europe*. This is the whole nub of many complaints from the East: that the countries of Western Europe assume that their historical experience and trajectory has to be normative for Europe as a whole, and that the choice for the East is either to be excluded or made to conform to the West.

    It is interesting in this regard that Pope John Paul II has made a major focus of his papacy the reunion of the churches of East and West, and by extension of the two cultures of Europe. JPII says the church must "breathe with two lungs"
    -- the East and the West -- and that each is incomplete and one-sided without the other. Many of JPII's trips to Eastern Europe have had the goal of helping to bring about the end of this long schism in the church.

    It's true that the East didn't experience the Enlightenment and the rest, but I would disagree that this was a bad thing. The enlightenment's goal was to focus on man rather than God and the end result in Western Europe is a Godless and decadent society. Secularism in the East was imposed by Communist forces, but since the fall of Communism there is a tension between the resurgent religious feeling and influences from the West that seek to remake the East in the West's own image.

    American conservatives tend to see our country's influence in uncritically glowing terms as the triumph of Capitalism, but my church (if I may speak for it) sees mixtures of light and dark. The forces that want free markets too often also want pornography, abortion and all the decadence of Western pop culture. Did we tear down the Berlin wall so that East Germans could ogle Britney Spears?


    Friend 1 (responding to the e-mail from Friend 2, an excerpt of which I forwarded him):

    Huntington does not argue that the European Union should become coextensive with Europe and that countries that don't eventually accede cannot be considered European. Huntington would say, and I agree, that the landmass known as Europe holds at least three civilizations: Western, Orthodox and (in places such as Bosnia and Turkish Thrace) Mohammedan.

    Huntington argues that the EU should encompass only those countries with a Western Christian heritage. He says this because of his theory about civilizatonal brotherhood, that is, that countries from common civilizations tend to stand by one another.

    Civilizational brotherhood is especially strong, my author posits, now that the Cold War has been won. Ideology has taken a back seat to blood and religion as a source of identity.

    Huntington says civilizations are durable and distinct. Even so, marking off where one ends and another begins is, as he admits, a somewhat arbitrary exercise.

    Some civilizations are obviously closer to one another. It is easy, for example, to demarcate the line between Islam and the West. It is harder to find the dividing line between Western civilization and what Huntington calls Latin American civilization. The same goes for Western and Orthodox civilization.

    The categories can be redrawn. Huntington says that because Latin America only indirectly participated in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, it should not be called Western. But now that Protestantism is making inroads in Latin America, and democracy and the rule of law seem to be spreading, perhaps it will be necessary to consider whether Latin American and Western civilization really aren't one.

    The same could happen with Orthodox civilization, especially if the worthy dreams of the "chief keeper of the bridges" (the etymological meaning of Pontifex Maximus) come true.

    One more thing: In my first comment, I did not say that any of the shaping forces of Western civilization (the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the Enlightenment) were good or bad. I did say, echoing Huntington, that they are normative Western experiences. (As you know, Geitner, I am anything but an "American greatness" or "end of history" conservative. I happen to believe that in its current form, Western Civilization is ill and will continue to wane unless it heals itself.)

    Your friend makes an excellent point about Britney Spears. Huntington makes a similar point. Western civ. is not syrupy, fizzy drinks and MTV. Western civilization is the Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution; it is "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Western civiliation is not Britney or the Beatles or "give peace a chance." Western Civ. is "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears."




    Saturday, October 19
     
    Blogs and wordiness

    Calpundit did a word count on 30 bloggers to see who had the wordiest posts on average. I came in third, after No. 1 Steven Den Beste and No. 2 Jane Galt.

    That's OK. Sure, writing long generally isn't a good way to build readership at a blog. And if people visiting this site get turned off by the length of the posts, that's their choice to make.

    But a key reason I took the leap into blogging in July was to write essays on serious topics. Space limitations in my editorial work often mean I have no room to mention interesting tangents on certain topics. So, if I think they're worthwhile, I post some of those at this site.

    When Nicholas Kristof did that column a while back that acted as if the entirety of the Great Plains is in a depopulation crisis, I wrote a long piece to point out the region's demographic and cultural complexity. When I responded to the counterfactual claim that Britain could have embraced Thatcherite economic policies in the 1940s, my post explaining why such a scenario was extremely improbable ran to considerable length. When I examined the hypocrisy of antebelleum Southern slaverholders, I didn't do so in a little 200-word snippet.

    I felt at the time that the nature of those topics warranted the length of the posts, and my view hasn't changed.

    I have material for explorations here of American Western art, end-time religious beliefs in America, the history of the Confederate battle flag and a lot of other things, and I have no intention of addressing those topics in little chunks.

    In addition, I use this site to excerpt generously from particular pieces, rather than merely provide a link. I intend to continue doing that.

    I'm not saying that linking blogs are inferior. I'm just explaining what my vision is for this site.

    It's relevant to note that I rarely get e-mail about the shorter items here. But my longer pieces have generally prompted a lot of reponses. And many of them are exactly the kind of thoughtful, well-conceived messages a blogger would hope for.

    This sounds like I'm mad at CalPundit, but I'm not. He's a great guy. In fact, some of the e-mails he's sent me in recent months are examples of precisely the kind of thoughtfulness I just mentioned.



     
    Are they consistent or not?

    A co-worker raised a good question the other day: In England, when people pass each other in the hallway, do they pass them on the left side of the hall?



     
    A list of listservs

    I referred in a recent post to the H-DIPLO listserv; someone e-mailed to ask what that is. It's an online discussion group that is one of many academic-oriented listservs listed at this site.



    Friday, October 18
     
    Why we did it and Japan and Europe didn't

    Robert Shapiro writes in Slate today about the continuing rise in U.S. economic productivity. The increase, he says, stems mainly from business investment in information technology and IT services. A key point:

    It's the
    combination of innovation in technology and business operations that usually produces the big benefits. And that's probably why we see no productivity rise in Japan or much of Europe, where IT investment has been nearly as high as here: Labor regulations and other barriers inhibit companies' abilities to use their new IT to change the way they do business.


    Shapiro's point doesn't mean American society should reject the regulatory impulse. But it does mean we should be smart about it. Growth, and higher incomes, are linked in a fundamental way to granting businesses operational flexibility. That may sound like a platitude, but apparently the Japanese and Europeans have paid a significant price for failing to heed it.



     
    Clinton and military pre-emption

    Christopher L. Ball, a poli sci professor at Iowa State, has an interesting observation on the H-DIPLO listserv this morning:


    In an NPR "All Things Considered" interview today, Joseph Nye, then assist. defense sec. for international security affairs, said that a
    'surgical' strike had been considerd when DPRK announced it would be withdrawing from the NPT in 1993. The plan was not pursued because of objections from Japan and ROK as well as concerns over a North Korean attack on ROK. He did not say how far it went in the policy process (i.e., was the president briefed on the option, or was it rejected at a lower level?). It is the first time that I have heard an ex-USG official admitting on-the-record that a pre-emptive strike was considered against DPRK in 1993.

    I wonder how the North Korean admission will affect the South Korean presidential election (set, I believe, for December). Kim Dae Jung's government has, of course, been strongly pushing reconciliation with the North, but North Korea's blatant mendacity on the nuke issue would seem to strengthen the arguments being made by the South Korean opposition party. From what I've read, the fortunes of the presidential contenders have gone back and forth this year, in part because the South Korean party system is weak and volatile due to pronounced divisions along regional and other lines.



    Thursday, October 17
     
    Blogging against the warbloggers

    (FYI: I've added to this post over lunch today [Friday], so it's in a slightly reworked form from the original. -- GS)

    My Southern Democratic/Southern studies acquaintance Wyeth Ruthven takes warbloggers to task, and cites Orwell in doing so. TAPPED, fresh from a Movable Type makeover, takes note.

    Aw, come on, how about a little moral equivalence here. I agree that warbloggers can in many cases be criticized for hubris, zealotry and quirky catch phrases. But don't many on the left exhibit similar shortcomings in their approach to political debate?

    Thoughtful folks on the political left have written me from time to time to voice complaints about how bloggers leap so quickly to bash anyone who voices even the most modulated dissent from the dominant views in the warblog subculture, at least in regard to the terrorism question. It's a fair point; I've gotten a few zinger hard-line e-mails from some of the blogosphere's true believers on occasion.

    But don't sidestep the sins of the American left, either. The reports of left-wing assaults on free speech on college campuses have been covered for years in The New Republic and elsewhere, whether the issue was speech codes used to opportunistically squelch conservative political claims or over-the-top campaigns against conservative campus newspapers. The current issue of National Review, in fact, has a piece about spirited attempts to silence right-wing campus newspapers, including resort to theft of the newspapers themselves.

    Wyeth's well-written post is one more chapter in the never-ending squabble over who is more narrow-minded and meaner: those on the right or those on the left. From what I see among the worst offenders, a lot of the time it's a pretty close call.


     
    Political winds

    John Ellis pulls together a lot of useful election-season info. Of course, Patrick Ruffini is always an especially valuable source.

    Ruffini, incidentally, had a great post about that poll in which four of 10 American respondents said they would support annexing Canada. Observed the GOP-boosting Ruffini:

    Given its marginalization in Canadian politics, Alberta is the perfect candidate for U.S. statehood. It's a free market haven, and it's probably the only area of Canada that could realistically be counted upon to send an all-Republican delegation to Congress — two U.S. Senators, and by my calculation, five U.S. Representatives.

    British Columbia would be an excellent choice for the 52nd state, with six Congressional seats and eight Electoral Votes. Together, these two provinces in the last election produced 50 Alliance MPs and just 7 Liberals (five of them in B.C., along with two socialist New Democrats). Throw in Saskatechewan, and these three Westernmost provinces would produce nineteen Electoral Votes and six Senate seats that would probably lean Republican.


    A strategy for the GOP to consider down the road, perhaps, if the authors of "The Emerging Democratic Majority" prove correct.



     
    Good news on fighting global poverty?

    The reduction in “extreme poverty” may be significantly greater than the World Bank has estimated, Robert Samuelson says in his latest column. Citing a new study by Indian economist Surjit Bhalla, he writes:

    On a global scale, Bhalla puts the poverty rate at 13 percent, down from 44 percent in 1980. These statistics depict massive inroads against human misery. By contrast, the World Bank's poverty estimate is 23 percent.

    Most of the gains occurred in Asia, according to the study. If Bhalla’s findings are accurate, the improvement is stunning, since he reports that as a whole, Asia’s rate of extreme poverty dropped from 54 percent in 1980 to 7 percent in 2000.

    “Gains,” Samuelson writes, “are unfortunately missing from two regions: Africa and Latin America.”

    Speaking of Africa, I read in a Cato newsletter this week about two free-market think tanks that are getting off the ground in Nigeria and Kenya. (I searched for URLs and found them here and here.)



     
    ... now for Samuelson’s bad news

    In the same column mentioned above, Samuelson, who doesn’t shy away from inconvenient facts, also talks about how support for free-market thinking is weakening in Latin America, given the economic meltdown in Argentina (yes, I’m well aware that some key economic policies there were statist rather than capitalistic) and the likely election of leftist candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil.

    Samuelson writes:

    what is gone is the confidence that these ideas, if applied mechanically to societies, can automatically induce economic renewal. There is a new appreciation of the complexities: of the role played by local culture in determining countries' success or failure; of the practical problems of introducing some changes -- foreign investment, for example -- too quickly; and of the potential instabilities of the larger world economy.

    Globalization, like the Internet, was overpromoted in the 1990s. It was supposedly an irresistible force that, through trade, technology and foreign capital, would erase borders and pull countries into a higher economic trajectory. Experience has taught that no two countries react identically and that, in any case, success requires patience and persistence. The present backlash partly reflects unrealistic expectations but, perversely, could create self-defeating reactions. Countries that have become dependent on the rest of the world cannot easily withdraw without damaging themselves -- and perhaps others, too.

    As usual, his analysis makes plenty of sense. Too bad a similar clarity of thought wasn’t displayed at the recent U.N. conference on poverty, which floundered for days trying to frame the issues it took Samuelson only two paragraphs to accurately summarize.



    Wednesday, October 16
     
    Greeks seek a new Great Schism

    A recent Economist survey described Greece as a country that has regained its confidence and economic footing. Missing from The Economist’s examination, however, was consideration of the remarkable depth of hostility that many Greeks, across political and social lines, expressed against the United States soon after 9/11.

    Greek journalist Takis Michas has written in depth over the past year about how Greek anti-Americanism manifests itself with such vehemence across political and social lines. I was first alerted to his writing by an article of his in The National Interest last spring. He has since written on the same topic for the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.

    In his article for The National Interest, Michas described Greek resentment over U.S. support for the military junta that took power in the the 1960s. He also described the numerous anti-American and anti-NATO positions of Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s.

    But, Michas writes,

    all of this pales in comparison to the Gestalt-switch that took place
    in Greek foreign policy and in its populist worldview during the wars of
    Yugoslav succession. Throughout those wars Greece supported the Milosevic regime in Belgrade and the Karadzic regime in Pale morally, economically and politically. It repeatedly violated the UN-imposed oil embargo on Serbia and the EU decision concerning the freezing of assets belonging to the Milosevic regime. Greece’s support was massive and involved all strata of society: the political class, the trade unions, the media and above all the Orthodox Church. The victims of Serbian aggression were simply erased from the moral perceptions of the overwhelming majority of the population and the political class of the country.



    Machis has a new book out that explores Greek support for the Serbian regime in the 1990s.

    In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Greek government voiced strong support for the United States. But coverage by the Greek press was replete with the notion that the United States itself had brought on its suffering -- an idea also voiced, Machis writes, by
    the “immensely popular Archbishop Christodoulos of the Greek Orthodox Church.” Machis recounts a telling incident:

    During a soccer match between a Greek and a visiting Scottish club,
    fans of the Greek team tried to burn the American flag before the start of
    the game and then booed during a moment of silence observed for the victims of the September 11 attacks. This happened to the applause of the nearly 20,000 who were in the football stadium at the time.

    "What went on in Athens disgusted me", the coach of the Scottish team told the Associated Press. "What badly disappointed me was that there was no effort made by anyone, the police included, to do anything about it. I could not believe such anti-American feeling in a European country."

    The most striking aspect of Machis’s analysis, however, is his point that anti-Americanism now provides a crucial commonality among Greek Communists, the Greek Orthodox Church and some Greek conservatives.

    Describing the attitude of Greek nationalists, he writes:

    ... it is not simply U.S. foreign policy that offends the nationalist Right. Instead, it is the entire narrative of American history and the values that define the United States, for these contradict the basic premises of nationalist conservatism in Greece: Multiculturalism
    and multi-ethnic narratives challenge the very essence of the linguistic, cultural and ethnic homogeneity that has always constituted the plinth of modern Greek nationalism. Indeed, one of the main fears among conservative nationalists in Greece during the recent Balkan wars was that the United States was trying to export its model of societal pluralism in the region. American support for Bosnia and Macedonia has been interpreted by Greek
    conservatives as an attempt to export multi-ethnic models to Greece’s doorstep.

    Such stridently nationalistic views are championed by the Greek Orthodox Church, he observes:

    Traditionally, the Greek Orthodox populations of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires had always perceived the West as being inhabited by "barbarian Franks", "schismatics" and "heretics" from the True Faith. The religious bond of Orthodoxy that held together the Greek population through centuries of occupation has always carried a strong anti-Western strain. ...

    The fusion of Church and nation has reached a point that the religious leadership has become the spearhead for all of the major secular nationalist initiatives in modern Greece.


    A group of “neo-Orthodox” intellectuals posit an extreme form of xenophobia that is enjoying growing respect and attention. As described by Machis:

    According to these thinkers the West continues to perpetuate the legacy of hatred for the Orthodox Church that started with the Great Schism of 1054 and culminated with the sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204. The West is hostile, and its values alien to the Greek experience. Thus,
    all the misfortunes that have befallen Greeks during their recent history — from the Asia Minor catastrophe in 1922 to the invasion of Cyprus by the Turks in 1974 — are due to Greece’s failed attempt to imitate the West. The continuing decline of Greece cannot be reversed until Greeks realize their cultural and spiritual superiority to the West as members of the Orthodox Church. The rot will stop only when the Greeks substitute the "servility" that characterizes their relation with the West with the spirit of resistance against the latter’s "immoral barbarism." Herein lies Greece’s path to salvation and its moral and cultural rejuvenation. Thus, to the Left’s anger at America’s sabotage of the Communist dream, and the conservatives’ distaste for America’s multicultural legacy, the Church contributes a spiritual justification for anti-Americanism.


    I’ve seen some online BBS chatter in which people have raged at Machis’ arguments. These critics have tended not to dwell on substance but instead talk about the (all too true) horrors wrought by the Greek colonels and, frequently, stoop to ad hominem, idiotarian attacks. (Here is one BBS example; the post ends with a slap at the United States as “the largest terrorist nation on the planet.”)

    A sharp response to such arguments came from a BBS reader who, after criticizing the U.S. government for supporting thuggish regimes in the past, went on to make this point:

    However, I would like to point out that Greece is MORE anti-American than Vietnam or Central America. Why is this? Why are the Greeks, who suffered so much less, still so obsessed by America while the U.S.'s biggest victims forgive? Why do they revel in Vatican conspiracy theories, act as though the Sultan is still in power in Turkey, and hate all their neighbors with such passion (Bulgarians, Albanians, "Macedonians")?


    Indeed.

    I find it hard to give much credibility to Greek critics who berate the United States for “triumphalism” when those very critics ground their arguments in supporting a raging nationalistic triumphalism of their own. Similarly, Greek complaints against supposed U.S. fanaticism in responding to 9/11 are weakened by the fanaticism on abundant display in Greece whereby Communists and Greek Orthodox join hands while spouting wild-eyed conspiracy theories against the West.

    It is encouraging to see Greece’s economic health restored. But it is lamentable to see its attitudes toward the outside world guided by such radicalism and grossly mistaken assumptions.

    UPDATE: A good friend, knowledgeable about the Greek Orthodox Church, passes along a Sept. 16, 2001, news article from the Orthodox news service in which Archbishop Christodoulos "called for the unabashed condemnation of 'those who choose violence and blind terrorism.' "

    CONSTANTINOPLE?!: More relevant info from my friend:

    ... they
    [Greeks] do have a valid gripe that people in the West are largely ignorant about their history and circumstances. We look at the Ottoman Empire as a quaint historical relic but it is all quite real to them -- within living memory there were Greeks kicked out of what is now Turkey and who suffered all kinds of hardship because of it. Even now the Patriarchate of Constantinople is in serious danger of extinction because he must be a Turkish citizen and there are only 3,000 Greeks left in all of Turkey. The Turks closed their theological school. One thing to keep in mind is that the official Greek Orthodox Church is on the left, so to speak. They have to contend with schmatics on the right who are always nipping at their heels. So their ability to maneuver is often quite restricted.


    By the way, I e-mailed my friend back and asked him if he was correct in referring to the "Patriarch of Constantinople." He wrote back and said that, yes, the full name is the "Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople" -- or EP. (Its Web site is here)

    Although the Greek Orthodox Church is in communion with the EP, the latter is a separate entity. The EP is ecumenical-minded and has positive relations with the Catholic Church.



    Tuesday, October 15
     
    Confederate dead, American unity, family ties

    The U.S. Supreme Court refused this week to wade into a court fight over whether the Confederate battle flag can fly over Point Lookout, a national cemetery in southern Maryland where all of the approximately 3,300 soldiers buried there served the Confederacy.

    Because of the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case, a federal appeals court ruling prohibiting display of the flag will stand.

    A former leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had filed the suit. A federal judge sided with his claims, but the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- which often takes a decidedly strict constructionist approach -- sided with the federal government. Here is how the AP summarized the court’s findings:

    The government's own message that the Point Lookout dead were being honored "as Americans" might be confused by display of the Confederate flag, the 4th Circuit said. The Veteran's Administration was also justified in wanting to prevent counter-demonstrations and demands for other potentially controversial displays, that appeals court said.


    The Washington-based Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld that ruling. The Supreme Court then refused to consider the appeal.

    This strikes me as a case where neither side has overwhelmingly strong arguments. Flying a Confederate battle flag in this instance, at a cemetery where the more than 3,000 dead all expressed loyalty to the Southern cause, doesn’t seem a particularly provocative act. Everyone knows the Confederacy is long dead. A lawyer could honestly argue that such a display should be seen as more in the nature of antiquarianism than as an expression of hostility to the United States or an incitement toward racism.

    On the other hand, Point Lookout is, indeed, a national cemetery run by the U.S. government, not a Confederate entity. The Union won the war, and there should be little surprise if the Veterans Administration (the federal agency in charge of national cemeteries) sets parameters on which flags can be flown, including a prohibition on a flag associated with the losing side. The Confederate battle flag has also become inextricably entangled with the promotion of racist speech through the commandeering of the flag, generations ago, by the Ku Klux Klan.

    On the separate, and far more important, issue of whether the battle flag should be displayed on state property in the South or anywhere else, I can give an unequivocal opinion: State governments would be wise, and fully entitled, to ban such displays.

    State flags ought to be instruments for promoting unity among the residents of a state. The Confederate battle flag, in contrast, stands at the very opposite extreme: It possesses a symbolic power that is explosively divisive. After decades of appropriation by the Klan (and through its frequent display in the 1950s and ’60s as a general symbol against the civil rights movement), the flag is irredeemably tainted with deep-seated connotations of racism. It stands as a symbol of allegiance to values hostile to the racial reconciliation toward which so many in the region have striven in recent decades.

    I intend to post at length here sometime not just about the flag’s past as a symbol but also about the many fascinating side issues associated with it.

    BY THE WAY: As for Point Lookout, the national cemetery, I have a personal connection: My paternal great-grandfather, a North Carolinian serving as a private in the Confederate army, was confined at the large prison camp there not once but twice.

    He was captured in Virginia in November 1863 and interned at Point Lookout until November 1864, when he was among more than 3,000 Confederates paroled from the prison.

    He was captured a second time, in March 1865, when he and other Southern troops launched a desperate surprise attack to try to break the Union grip on Petersburg, Va. More than 1,600 Confederates were killed or wounded in the assault, and 1,900, including my ancestor, were taken prisoner. It is possible that he may have seen Abraham Lincoln, who inspected captured and wounded Confederates after the attack.

    On June 19, 1865, my ancestor was released from Point Lookout after signing an oath of allegiance to the United States. Because he was illiterate, he indicated his agreement by signing with an X. I have a photocopy of the document. It is a remarkable feeling to hold that piece of paper and consider the significance of what it entailed.

    UPDATE: Chris Scott, of the blog The Insecure Egotist, has a different take on some aspects of the flag issue. I respect his views, which are well argued, and understand the frustration that some folks in the Confederate heritage subculture feel about automatically being labeled as white supremacists. When I lived in Salisbury, N.C., I saw the local United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter put together a wonderful annual event about the Civil War prison in Salisbury. The event brought together descendants of inmates and prison guards, examined the history seriously and emphasized reconciliation, without any mint-julip sentimentality about the Old South. As far as the battle flag, though, I still find it far too divisive a symbol for display on state-owned grounds.

    THE REDOUBTABLE JOHN ROSENBERG: weighs in on the flag topic, disagreeing with me on a key point, at his blog Discriminations.

     
    A scary concept: comedians with law degrees

    My Bush-tweaking buddy Madeleine Begun Kane (one of whose blogs is here and whose latest politically tinged song parody is here) e-mails to let me know about a fun idea from Sean Carter, whom she describes as "a lawyer, stand-up comedian, humor writer, author and public speaker." At his site Lawpsided.com, Carter has announced what he calls his Fantasy Supreme Court League contest. He writes:

    Enter this first-ever contest by predicting the outcome of 9 cases to be decided by the Supreme Court this term. The winner will receive a $500 cash price and the title of "Armchair Jurist of the Year."

    The contest specifies the cases involved; they cover topics including copyright law, capital punishment and cross burning.

    By the way, I like Carter's list of nicknames for the Supreme Court justices. Among them: Justice Anthony "Don't Call Me 'Tony' " Kennedy; Justice Antonin "Fuggetaboutit" Scalia; and Justice Clarence "I've Switched to Pepsi" Thomas.



     
    Miles Davis, jazz-fusion and the hydrogen bomb

    Boston Globe journalist Fred Kaplan argued something surprising in Slate the other day. He defended Miles Davis’s recordings from the 1970s and ’80s. (By the way, this post will eventually amble toward consideration of U.S. security policy.)

    Actually, I should be more precise. Kaplan defended Davis’s live recordings from that period. He was quite honest in describing the decrepit state of Davis’s studio work:

    To judge solely from the studio sessions that Miles recorded during much of this era, the detractors have a point. The albums of the '80s in particular --
    Star People, Decoy, You're Under Arrest, and Tutu -- are soulless affairs. The band would lay down its rhythm tracks, then Miles (often in less than stellar health) would overdub his solos, in repeated takes, which the engineers would later cut and paste into a simulacra of performances. "Jazz" is hard to define, but at a minimum it involves improvisation and interplay, which these recordings, by nature, lack.

    Pretty sad, especially considering that Davis towered as a jazz pioneer from the ’40s through the late ’60s, releasing a phenomenal string of influential recordings including Birth of the Cool, ’Round About Midnight, Kind of Blue, My Funny Valentine and Bitches Brew. (Here is a Miles Davis discography.)

    Kaplan argues that Davis’s venture into jazz-fusion in the ’70s and ’80s shouldn’t be ignored. To back up his claims, he cites the work of Davis’s band on a CD box set, The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux, 1973-1991. Kaplan describes it as “a hidden archive revealing that the great Miles Davis did not fade out with a whimper.”

    I’ll take Kaplan’s word for it, and if his argument is correct, I’m heartened. But I suffered through so much astringent jazz-fusion in the ’70s and ’80s in hopes of finding something palatable that I don’t care to revisit the genre right now. (I’ll readily admit that jazz-fusion guitarist John McLaughlin was an awesome technician, even if he wasn’t lyrical.)

    For my money, the best jazz-fusion album came out way back in 1973, when the way-hip Bay Area band Azteca recorded Pyramid of the Moon for Colombia. I was just a kid reading Downbeat -- yeah, in milltown/furniture belt North Carolina -- and I well remember the review for the album, which received five stars. I bought the record at Brindles. A wonderful achievement -- inventive arranagements, inspired muscianship.

    The band, with around a dozen players and several vocalists, had a lot of notable players: percussionist Pete Escovedo (father of Sheila E.), sax man Mel Martin, trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Paul Jackson, drummer Lenny White. Guitarist Neal Schon, who went on to success with the rock band Journey, provided an unbelievable break-neck solo on a tune called “What'cha Gonna Do?” It’s a blistering composition that still rocks.

    BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HYDROGEN BOMB?: OK, here’s the H-bomb connection: Fred Kaplan, who wrote the Slate, is the same fellow who wrote a 1983 book called “The Wizards of Armageddon,” about the rise of U.S. nuclear weapons theorists during the Cold War. The book is useful, although it employs a rhetorical framework -- nuclear strategists as a closed priesthood of narrow-minded theologians -- that has since become a cliche. Maybe it was already a cliche by the time Kaplan’s book came out; I don’t know.

    Here are a few nuggets from “The Wizards of Armageddon”:

  • In the late 1940s, a dispute arose among U.S. strategists over the targeting of Soviet sites. Air staff analysts called for focusing on three types of Soviet industry, to destroy the country’s military economy. Curtis LeMay disagreed, advocating strikes against cities, in the fashion of the conventional bombings he’d overseen during World War II.

  • A poker game in 1928 provided fateful intellectual prodding to 24-year-old John von Neumann to ponder a series of logical observations that eventually blossomed into his famous concept of game theory.

  • A study in 1952-53 by nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter revealed that the Strategic Air Command (located just south of Omaha) was far more vulnerable to Soviet attack than previously thought. From that study, Kaplan argues, would later spring such now-familiar notions as a “missile gap” and a strategic “window of vulnerability.”

  • When the Soviet satellite Sputnik began orbiting the Earth in October 1957, Clare Booth Luce pungently described its beeping as a “raspberry” to American assumptions of this country’s technological superiority.


  • I’ve run out of time tonight. This odd amalgam of thoughts will have to do for now.



    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.