Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

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


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



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Musicians
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Monday, September 30
 
More on ambassadors

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

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

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


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



 
More on politics and poetry

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sunday, September 29
 
Demographic advantage for Dems?

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

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

From an article by Judis and Teixeira:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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



 
Judicial nominations and editorial judgments

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

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

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

From the New York Times editorial on McConnell:


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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



 
A special week

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



 
When the ambassadors began to arrive

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

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


Another post:

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

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

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

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

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




 
What terrorists devote their minds to

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


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

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


More insight, sadly, into the nature of terrorism.



Friday, September 27
 
The pot wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




 
Norfolk

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

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

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

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



Thursday, September 26
 
Distinctions

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

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

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

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


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

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



Wednesday, September 25
 
Understanding the Germans

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

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

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

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

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


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




 
Intermittent blogging

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



 
Hey, sign me up

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



 
Stock gains as a social entitlement?

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


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

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

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

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

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



 
Gun ownership and noncitizens

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

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



 
Origins

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

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



 
Advantage: Dems?

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

Oliphant summarizes the book's thesis this way:

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


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



 
Sensitive times

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


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


 
Letters

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

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



Monday, September 23
 
Why red-state residents are resentful

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


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


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



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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



  •  
    Generosity of spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




    Sunday, September 22
     
    Yes, that Warren and Bill

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



     
    Terrorist attacks and the red state/blue state thing

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

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

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

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


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

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

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



     
    Sacagawea, traitor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



    Saturday, September 21
     
    The object of my jealousy

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

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

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




     
    Making room for conservative views

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

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

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



     
    Look who had an op-ed in my newspaper

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

    Eugene wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Thursday, September 19
     
    The scandal of communist studies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



     
    Presidents and their vacations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



     
    Rap and antebellum Southern culture

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



    Wednesday, September 18
     
    Low ebb

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



     
    They remember

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

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




     
    Quotas for conservatives?

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

    One graf especially worth noting:

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

    He's right, of course.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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




     
    Antiwar, with a smile

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




     
    Race, rap and journalism -- and the Old South

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

    The background, as summed up by Pitts:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Another e-mail offered these observations:

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


    The always thoughtful Gary Haubold offers these points:

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

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

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


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


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








    Tuesday, September 17
     
    Recharging

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



     
    Lessons from earlier arms inspections in Iraq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Here are Duelfer's recommendations:


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

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

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


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

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



    Monday, September 16
     
    A foreign policy lightning bolt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




  •  
    Everybody likes Mr. Spock

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

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

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



     
    National security vs. personal security

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

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

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

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







     
    Posts since Friday

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



     
    Rewinding the course of Southern history

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    It’s a fascinating reconfiguration.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




    Sunday, September 15
     
    Memory and myth

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


    We will forget.

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

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

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

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




     
    The Wizard of Oz meets Kirk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    It just doesn’t get any better than that.