Regions of Mind
Self-assured but self-questioning.
Geitner Simmons is an editorial writer with the Omaha World-Herald.
This weblog expresses his personal views only.
He is also
a husband, a father, a son. And always
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Sunday, October 27
The EU hobbles along
The euro, I suppose, will somehow muddle through over the long term. But the strains on the EU’s structural arrangements for the currency are really beginning to show.
As part of the “stability pact” that euro members agreed to in order to create the currency, governments pledged to keep their national debt below 3 percent of GDP. Germany recently announced it intends to violate that pledge in the face of continuing recession.
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is struggling, not surprisingly, with its obligation to set a uniform interest rate that will somehow be appropriate for the widely varying circumstances of the various EU economies. The challenge will become only more complicated once new members are admitted to the EU as part of its inevitable eastward expansion.
Economist David Malpass offered cogent observations in National Review Online, arguing, among other things, that the focus on the debt threshold is misguided:
It’s a sound analysis. But, realistically, there seems small chance that EU members would respond to recession by adopting “sweeping labor reform” and “less government” -- measures widely associated in Europe with the supposed cruelties of American capitalism.
Egypt and anti-Semitism
No single document, with the arguable exception of Mein Kampf, has brought more misery to the Jewish people than a nasty screed known as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols, as most visitors to this site probably already know, were a concoction of rabid anti-Semitic conspiracy theories peddled by Russia’s czarist regime just over a century ago and circulated ever since by Jew-haters the world over.
It is old news in the blogosphere by now, but Egyptian state television is about to broadcast, with great fanfare, a 30-part series based on the Protocols.
The broadcast, in the country long hailed as the leading light of Islamic culture, will serve as an irrefutable advertisement of the sickness at work within the Muslim-Arab world.
As described in the Jerusalem Post, the series “will be broadcast during the first half of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month and traditionally prime time for serialized television specials.” Ramadan begins next month.
Here is how the historian Howard Sachar summed up the historical background of the Protocols in his book “The Course of Modern Jewish History”:
As if wasn't outrageous enough that Egypt is about to show the mini-series, a committee appointed by the country's information minister reviewed the script -- and had the audacity to declare it wasn't anti-Semitic.
The incorporation of ludicrous anti-Semitic slanders into accounts of Egyptian history has an extremely long pedigree, as Paul Johnson explained in his book “A History of the Jews”:
And so, with the new Egyptian TV series on the Protocols, the lies of anti-Semitism march into a new century. The ancient anti-Semite Manetho surely would be delighted.
Egyptians ought to be ashamed that such ignorance is about to be displayed so rapturously in their country. That they are not should give Americans great pause about the depths of prejudice and gullibility in the Muslim-Arab world.
Saturday, October 26
An encouraging sign in Afghanistan
Andrew Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, spoke at length at the American Enterprise Institute recently about the economy in Afghanistan. His speech gives me an opportunity to point with pride to an academic institution here in Omaha that is doing impressive work in helping the Afghan people get back on their feet: the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO).
In his speech, Natsios mentioned only one U.S. entity by name, aside from USAID, in talking about organizations that are helping the Afghan people recover from the Taliban period: UNO’s Center for Afghanistan Studies. (Actually, Natsios said “the University of Nebraska,” but the UNO center is what he was referring to.)
At the start of this year, the Center got the contract to develop and print (in Pakistan) all the new, post-Taliban textbooks for Afghanistan. The Center (which I’ve included in my links section from the start of this blog) has also trained teachers and teacher trainers in Afghanistan.
The UNO center has long been the only U.S. university organization devoted solely to the study of Afghanistan. Its long-time director, Tom Goutierre, is a solid, level-headed scholar and administrator.
The educational situation in Afghanistan provides hope because it indicates something reassuring about the character of the Afghan people themselves. Here is how Natsios explained it:
Something to be proud of here in Omaha.
BY THE WAY: The simultaneous, coordinated start of school in all regions of Afghanistan this year had tremendous symbolic force for the Afghan people, says Tom Goutierre, the head of the UNO center. The startup signaled, after the tumult of the Tabliban period, that the country could surmount regional frictions to achieve a crucial nationwide goal.
Natsios’ speech on Afghanistan also mentioned something curious. In Afghan villages, communal memories can run deep -- even back to the time of Alexander the Great. Alexander’s conquests in Southwest Asia are discussed in some villages as part of the local tradition, unbroken over the centuries.
“Some of them claim lineage to Alexander the Great,” Natsios said of Afghan villagers he has met.
From an article on weapons of mass destruction in the latest issue of National Geographic:
I knew about the atrocities such as the Rape of Nanking and the awful experiments the Japanese subjected captives to, but I had no idea about the extent of Japan’s use of biological agents.
On a related note, an article in the current edition of The National Interest says that “according to Department of Energy reports, two-thirds of the nuclear material in Russia remains to be adequately secured.” This isn't to say, of course, that the Nunn-Lugar initiative begun a decade ago hasn't made a measure of progress in promoting weapons security in Russia, but much remains to be done.
More about Napoleon
Knowing of Matt Welch’s interest in France, I e-mailed him a link to my Napoleon post below just after I’d completed it the other night. Matt said he’d read a pro-Napoleon biography by Vincent Cronin several years ago that had noted positive aspects of the French leader even as it explained in detail his hubris and fall:
Friday, October 25
Napoleon the dictator
Driving home from work on Thursday I heard an NPR piece about how the French are conflicted about how to look on Napoleon -- he was a world-historical figure of enormous talent, but certainly was no promoter of democratic ideals.
I wonder how many French intellectuals, with their reflexive anti-American attitudes, appreciate an irony. Napoleon was guilty of precisely the sin that present-day French critics accuse the United States of committing: pursuing a relentless domination of other nations while trying to mask such exploitation as an innocuous, if not high-minded, assertion of national energy.
For all his talk about upholding the grand ideals of the French Republic, Napoleon was a dictator and imperialist who brought enormous suffering to much of Europe. (Not that many of the reactionary regimes opposing him were so virtuous themselves.)
All the sophistic apologies for Napoleon can be punctured by a single, devastating word: Spain.
No -- another word is more powerful yet: Goya.
Nor should it be forgotten that the Napoleonic regime’s efforts to reinstate slavery in the Caribbean triggered a desperate guerrilla conflict in Haiti that saw enormous bloodletting.
True, Napoleon earned great public support for the administrative efficiencies of his “gilded authoritarianism.” But it seems inescapable that his popularity among his contemporary countrymen rested at bottom on his military victories (which were admittedly stunning). It’s hard to see how the French can remain true to modern European ideals -- such as the requisite swooning at Jimmy Carter as Noble Peace Prize holder -- and simultaneously sidestep the essence of the Napoleonic regime, which was the obsessive pursuit not of peace and universal equality but of something cheap, selfish and dangerous: la gloire.
‘THE SEDUCTIONS OF AUTHORITARIANISM’: Historian David A. Bell, of Johns Hopkins University, explored these themes in a highly stimulating review last year in The New Republic. He was reviewing the book “Napoleon and his Collaborators: The Making of a Dictatorship,” by Isser Woloch.
Multilateral loans and realpolitik
Twenty years ago, an American who held a top-level position at the World Bank sat beside me in a Georgetown classroom and stated categorically that the United States, as a matter of principle, does not threaten to cut off World Bank loans to individual countries. Such loans, he said, need to be considered solely on their economic merit and not become entangled with non-economic policy disputes.
His remark always stuck with me, because it seemed hard to believe. A few years later, I read in one of the national papers about how the Reagan administration had denied a World Bank or IMF loan to some country over some Cold War-related matter.
The comment from the World Bank official came to mind this week when I read the details of the Sudan Peace Act, a new, worthwhile U.S. initiative passed with broad support in Congress, to push the Sudanese government to end its slaughter of the largely Christian population in southern Sudan.
President Bush signed the measure into law this week. One of its provisions is the direct assertion that the United States will seek to cut off World Bank and IMF loans and credits to Sudan if its government doesn't negotiate in good faith.
BY THE WAY: The special U.S. envoy on the Sudan issue is former Missouri Sen. John Danforth.
BY THE WAY II: I got an e-mail recently from someone involved in reducing modern-day slavery in Sudan and elsewhere. As I told him in my reply, I need to educate myself more on the issues he is involved in. It's rather ridiculous that I've expanded such great mental energy over the years to study the details of slavery in world history yet remain ignorant, in many ways, of slavery in its present-day incarnation.
Thursday, October 24
Pakistan as nuclear enabler
Jim Hoagland pulls no punches in a column about the dangers of Pakistan as the portal through which fateful nuclear-weapons assistance has flowed to North Korea and perhaps Iran:
Hoagland’s column intensifies my pessimism whenever I contemplate the long-term implications of Pakistan’s possession of nuclear weaponry. It hardly seems farfetched that if -- when -- nuclear terrorism announces itself on American soil through an attack too awful to contemplate in detail, the trail of nuclear assistance could trace back ultimately to a fateful exchange with irresponsible forces within Pakistan.
BY THE WAY: Twenty years ago, when I was a grad student at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, Jim Hoagland was kind enough to meet with me in his office at the Washington Post and talk about my interest in getting into journalism. Hoagland was already at that time a columnist for the Post, yet he displayed a down-to-earth manner and was generous with his time. His decency and generous spirit set an example I've remembered and continue to admire.
Brink Lindsey notes in a post that he, like myself, had a Civil War ancestor (in fact, he had several ancestors) held as POWs at the Point Lookout prison in Maryland. Brink's post is an illustration of one of his great strengths as a blogger: lyrically weaving his personal experiences into considerations of larger questions.
He shares a vivid family story of what happened when one of his ancestor returned home from the prison.
Brink mentions that some Confederate prisoners may have signed their oaths of allegiance to the Union with an X not because they were illiterate but as a way of indicating their protest or reluctance in doing so. That may well be the case for some of the prisoners, but in the case of my ancestor, he was indeed illiterate. When he signed an application in, I believe, 1910 for a veterans pension, he also signed with an X. One of his sons (my paternal grandfather) was also illiterate.
I'll close simply by quoting the end to Brink's post:
I recently mentioned a co-worker's question as to whether people in Britain pass each other on the left in hallways. Holly Gallagher responds:
So now we know.
UPDATE: Another e-mailer says that in Scotland, people pass each in other in hallways on the left but that escalators use the same arrangement as in the United States, with the ascending escalator on the right as you face it.
Wednesday, October 23
Not tonight; coming attractions
I have other commitments tonight, so it will be a blog-free evening for me.
Topics in the blog pipeline here include a post about lynchings, the electric chair, and a pair of boots; economic policy in the EU; a satirical novel about race in America; Western views on Islam during a particular time period; and a tangent involving American history and Quebec.
War in space and underground
Russia’s apparent decision to retain multiple-warhead nuclear missiles will probably pose “no significant increase in threat” to this country.
Military planners haven’t figured out how missile defense will be specifically incorporated into official U.S. strategic doctrine.
And it hasn’t been decided how the nuclear reductions agreed to by the United States and Russia will be specifically distributed among the three legs of the U.S. triad: aircraft, submarines and land-based missiles.
Those were among the observations Admiral James Ellis gave in response to recent questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee. Ellis, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom), was being considered for the command position of the newly reconstituted StratCom, which is absorbing the U.S. Space Command. The full Senate recently approved Ellis’s nomination unanimously.
Ellis’s written responses to the committee underscored strong support for Russia. Ellis expressed no great concern not only about Russia’s MIRV capability but also about its launch on warning ability. He expressed support for continued exchanges between U.S. and Russian nuclear missile personnel as well as for the Bush administration’s plans to cut U.S. strategic nuclear warheads to within a range of 1,700 to 2,200 warheads.
Ellis specifically stated, “I concur with the determination that given the current international environment, emerging threats, and technology available, the nation’s deterrence needs can be satisfied with 1,700-2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear missiles.”
It’s no surprise that a candidate for one of the CINCs (top military commands) would endorse the administration’s strategic policy. Still, Ellis’s comments were in sharp contrast with congressional testimony by Admiral Richard Mies, then-commander of StratCom, in July 2001. At that time, Mies told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee:
In the Armed Services Committee’s recent questioning of Ellis for the StratCom post, his response was given as “classified answer” when he was asked, “Should tactical nuclear weapons be brought under the auspices of Strategic Command?”
The committee asked whether Ellis thought that some hardened underground facilities are “beyond the reach of a U.S. military strike.” Ellis’s answer:
Many U.S. military studies and doctrinal analyses have pointed to the need for a feasibility on the potential effectiveness of nuclear weapons in reaching underground bunkers, Ellis said. “Our focus,” he said, “remains on conducting a detailed feasibility study, and any production decision would be made as part of a separate process.”
In other words, Ellis’s testimony indicated, as have news reports, that U.S. strategic planners are indeed interested in including nuclear weapons as a possible tool for attacking bunkers.
(An examination of nuclear bunker busters is here.)
The Strategic Command, Ellis told the Senate committee, will have top authority as far as U.S. strategic nuclear forces and will play a major role in regard to military space issues, computer warfare and missile defense. StratCom, he said, “will serve as the primary advocate for all warfighter space-related needs.” It has yet to be determined what role, if any, the command will have in regard to certain tasks relating to space and missile defense, he said.
Ellis, who has graduate degrees in aerospace engineering and aeronautical engineering, spoke about a range of issues relating to military space policy. He stressed the need to safeguard U.S. satellites as well as the need for a new generation of flexible launch vehicles.
As for the incorporation of missile defense into official U.S. doctrine, Ellis said, “The relationship between offensive forces and missile defenses merits comprehensive analysis, but this point remains undefined.”
The critics of StratCom from within the arms control community will criticize Ellis and other U.S. military officials for advocating consideration of nuclear weapons as anti-bunker tools. But it’s hard to see how Ellis can be depicted as some kind of wild-eyed nuclear Philistine, given his generous words about Russia and his endorsement of reduced strategic missile numbers. The contrast with the rhetoric of his predecessor is quite revealing.
Tuesday, October 22
Orchestras tend to play slightly sharp (just above the pitch) because the acoustic effect allows the showcasing of the violin section. Ron Carter, the veteran jazz bassist, mentioned that point to Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” the other day. Carter is classically trained and also plays the cello.
His point about modulating the performance to highlight the violins reminds me that, if my memory is correct, Beethoven chose a particular key change near the end of, I believe, his Fifth Symphony because in that key the violins could be played at their very fullest volume.
The topic of musical pitch arose in the "Fresh Air" interview when Gross asked Carter what it was like to play bass behind saxophonist Eric Dolphy, whose intonation was extremely sharp. Trying to complement Dolphy’s idiosyncratic pitch was maddening, Carter said. His fingers, Carter said, had to struggle to achieve what his ears were telling them to do.
A quick note: The vast majority of items here are posted either at night, after the rest of my family is asleep, or in the early morning just before I get ready for work. I do a few items at work, but my opportunity to post from the office is shrinking considerably. I wanted to mention this in case some people ever wonder about the lag time in posts here.
Anyway, this is one of several reasons why this blog is more of a free-floating essay blog untethered, for the most part, to the day's headlines.
When I posted last night about the description of the Panhandle as “the other Florida,” where residents express a sense of alienation from the rest of the state, I was hoping I would get a response from Florida resident Dan Hobby, who has sent me cogent e-mails on a variety of subjects. The morning e-mail did indeed include some thoughts from Dan. He provides useful info in explaining why statewide politicians generally don’t invest too much time campaigning in the Panhandle:
Dan also has these thoughts on the fallout in Florida from the creation of “Gulflandia,” a new state encompassing the Gulf Coast areas from Texas to Florida, suggested in the 1990s by a columnist in Mobile, Ala.:
See why I like this guy's e-mails?
BY THE WAY: David Hogberg may be a specialist in Iowa politics, but his blog has a good roundup of items relating to the Florida gubernatorial election and the prospect of a post-election lawsuit.
Has the time come for Gulflandia?
Andrew Sullivan’s letters section this week had an e-mail from a Florida resident who complained about how that state’s Panhandle region is neglected by the rest of the state (even though the capital, Tallahassee, is in northwestern Florida):
Florida is, of course, by no means the only state with a “forgotten” region in which residents chafe at implications that they enjoy only second-class status. I suppose examples could be cited from every state.
In colonial South Carolina, great tensions arose between the coastal elite and upland residents. One of South Carolina’s central achievements was finally taming the sectional frictions that had plagued the state.
Regional differences led West Virginia to ultimately break off from Virginia during the trauma of the Civil War.
Southern Illinois, from what I gather, has long had a pronounced sense of aloofness from the rest of the state.
Here in prairie country, a similar dynamic is in play for an area informally dubbed Siouxland. It encompassing the area where the states of Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota come together. Siouxland is so far removed geographically and mentally from the respective state capitals that Siouxland communities have joined together to promote themselves in an impressive display of cross-state cooperation. (Incidentally, for a medium-sized city, Sioux City, Iowa, has done a marvelous job of recreational development along the Missouri River.)
In Alabama, an editor at the Mobile Register (a terrific newspaper, by the way) wrote a column in the mid-1990s in which he called, tongue in cheek, for the formation of “Gulflandia” -- a separate state that would encompass the coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to Florida. (Note that Gulflandia would have included “The Other Florida.”)
The Gulf Coast areas of the Deep South have long felt a sense of alienation from state policymaking elites, he argued, and would do best to go their own way. After all, he said, Gulflandia would include some of the nation’s busiest ports and most popular fun-in-the-sun tourist locations. (Did you know that the Gulf Coast area of Alabama and the Florida Panhandle is called the “Redneck Riviera”? It’s an outstanding beach location.)
Monday, October 21
In love with LA
Speaking of U.S. regionalism, Scott Rubush, who’s traveled the United States pretty extensively, talked about the New York-D.C. rivalry in a recent post -- and argued that Los Angeles is far superior to either one.
He also expressed curiosity about the awesome population concentration of the Northeast corridor:
I’d never thought of it in quite those terms. I don’t quite get Scott’s point, though, about people being interested in living “even” in the Appalachians. Sure, there’s a lot of poverty in the mountains, but there are also thriving cities (Asheville and Blowing Rock in N.C., Roanoke in Va.). Plus, some of the most gorgeous country around. My wife has hiked so many of the Appalachian peaks that she knows, or at least used to know, a lot of them by sight.
Scott, a Pennsylvania native who grew up in North Carolina, recently relocated from LA to Delaware. In his post, he painted an evocative picture of the City of Angels (his last sentence is the killer):
Not what the founders envisioned
A UPI piece on "The Emerging Democratic Majority" book includes this right-on observation about how the proliferation of safe U.S. House seats through redistricting has stood an assumption of the founders on its head:
Locke, Hume and those other guys; blog democracy
Don't unfairly caricature the nature of the Enlightenment, the Insecure Egotist says. He's responding to a point made by one of my friends in the "East Germans/Britney Spears" post below, in which I excerpted comments from two friends commenting on topics including Greece, Western civilization, globalization and other tangents.
One of my friends wrote, "It's true that the East didn't experience the Enlightenment and the rest, but I would disagree that this was a bad thing. The enlightenment's goal was to focus on man rather than God and the end result in Western Europe is a Godless and decadent society." To which the Insecure Egoist responded:
And the Insecure Egotist isn't finished, either. He has some thoughts responding to a post from a fellow South Carolinian, Wyeth Ruthven (whose Wyeth Wire site has great stuff on S.C. politics from a Democratic perspective). Wyeth recently argued that bloggers strive to narrow the parameters of legitimate debate to unfairly stifle dissent; he also tweaked the blog subculture for its overly cute catch phrases. The Insecure Egotist has a differing view:
Just asking: If bloggers shouldn't use terms like "fisking" and "idiotarian," does mean the Car Guys can no longer refer to Sonya Henne's tutu?
Into the night
My 8-year-old son and I stood outside under the full moon Saturday night in a most unusual circumstance: We were only a few feet away from a pack of wolves -- literally.
We were participating in a "creatures of the night" program at a wildlife preserve just south of Omaha. A great experience.
The wolf pack -- with 17 members -- is kept in a large wooded area behind an 8-foot-high chain link fence. (The top part of the fence is bent inward at a 45-degree angle; wolves have shown that they otherwise can climb over fences of that height.)
I've seen the wolves there before in daylight. It's quite a different experience, though, to see them on a chilly, moonlight night, staring at you with intense interest.
The hierarchy within wolf packs is rigorously enforced, incidentally. There are alpha males, of course, but also alpha females. From what I've seen, those at the bottom display a conspicuous submissiveness. One of the guides once said that when the handlers tried to give the lower-ranking wolves a similar amount of food as their superiors, the alpha members of the pack rushed forward and grabbed the "extra" food before it could be eaten.
Another scene from our visit Saturday night: two majestic male caribou doing battle over a female just up a hill from our car. We could see the males' muscular shoulders and huge antlers heaving during their contest.
The last episode of the night involved playing recordings of owl calls to see if any real owls would answer. Two did. One, a barn owl deep in the woods, shrieked an enthusiastic response. I won't soon forget its call -- a crazed howl of falsetto laughter -- as we stood with a full moon and a canopy of stars overhead.
Breaking up Canada; trying not to break up Iraq
Columnist/author Austin Bay, seeing my quotes from a Patrick Ruffini post about a hypothetical secession of Canadian provinces to the U.S., sent me the text of a draft of an October 1995 column Austin wrote just before a secession vote in Quebec that year.
Among Austin's observations:
Loved that part about the irony concerning the Mohawks.
BY THE WAY: This Austin Bay column titled "Baghdad the Day After: Revisited" was discussed last Friday morning on CSPAN. Austin lists several key invasion-related objectives that would need to be achieved to encourage stability in Iraq. Among them: "The quick arrest and prosecution of war criminals. De-Baathizing Iraq will produce a real renaissance."
Which reminds me: Has anyone blogged on de-Nazification after WWII and the possible lessons for a post-Saddam Iraq? Might be a useful intellectual exercise about now.
Minding the media
Criticism of the media is, of course, a central preoccupation of the blogosphere. Some of my favorite analysis of the press subculture comes from Media Minded, who works as copy editor at a large daily newspaper. One recent post of MM's (titled "Media blow-ups, past and present") concerned alleged sexism in a headline. Another good one was titled "Where does bias come from?"
The links to those posts were extremely slow when I checked them just now from my modest home PC. An alternate approach would be to go to the Media Minded site and scroll down. It's well worth it.
Sunday, October 20
‘Did we tear down the Berlin wall so that East Germans could ogle Britney Spears?’
I blogged the other day about the particular stridency of anti-Americanism in Greece. Two friends of mine (one Protestant, one Catholic, both social conservatives) responded with lively e-mails. The points they discussed ranged from Christian-Muslim clashes in past eras to whether Greece belongs in the EU to John Paul II’s promotion of Orthodox-Catholic reconciliation to globalization’s tendency to promote secularism and materialism.
I so enjoyed reading their observations that I asked them if I could excerpt their messages here, without attribution. They agreed.
Friend 1 (who is Protestant; he is referring to Samuel Huntington’s “Clash of Civilizations”) :
Friend 2 (responding to the e-mail from Friend 1, an excerpt of which I sent him; the book he mentions is "Clash of Civilizations"):
Friend 1 (responding to the e-mail from Friend 2, an excerpt of which I forwarded him):
Saturday, October 19
Blogs and wordiness
Calpundit did a word count on 30 bloggers to see who had the wordiest posts on average. I came in third, after No. 1 Steven Den Beste and No. 2 Jane Galt.
That's OK. Sure, writing long generally isn't a good way to build readership at a blog. And if people visiting this site get turned off by the length of the posts, that's their choice to make.
But a key reason I took the leap into blogging in July was to write essays on serious topics. Space limitations in my editorial work often mean I have no room to mention interesting tangents on certain topics. So, if I think they're worthwhile, I post some of those at this site.
When Nicholas Kristof did that column a while back that acted as if the entirety of the Great Plains is in a depopulation crisis, I wrote a long piece to point out the region's demographic and cultural complexity. When I responded to the counterfactual claim that Britain could have embraced Thatcherite economic policies in the 1940s, my post explaining why such a scenario was extremely improbable ran to considerable length. When I examined the hypocrisy of antebelleum Southern slaverholders, I didn't do so in a little 200-word snippet.
I felt at the time that the nature of those topics warranted the length of the posts, and my view hasn't changed.
I have material for explorations here of American Western art, end-time religious beliefs in America, the history of the Confederate battle flag and a lot of other things, and I have no intention of addressing those topics in little chunks.
In addition, I use this site to excerpt generously from particular pieces, rather than merely provide a link. I intend to continue doing that.
I'm not saying that linking blogs are inferior. I'm just explaining what my vision is for this site.
It's relevant to note that I rarely get e-mail about the shorter items here. But my longer pieces have generally prompted a lot of reponses. And many of them are exactly the kind of thoughtful, well-conceived messages a blogger would hope for.
This sounds like I'm mad at CalPundit, but I'm not. He's a great guy. In fact, some of the e-mails he's sent me in recent months are examples of precisely the kind of thoughtfulness I just mentioned.
Are they consistent or not?
A co-worker raised a good question the other day: In England, when people pass each other in the hallway, do they pass them on the left side of the hall?
A list of listservs
I referred in a recent post to the H-DIPLO listserv; someone e-mailed to ask what that is. It's an online discussion group that is one of many academic-oriented listservs listed at this site.
Friday, October 18
Why we did it and Japan and Europe didn't
Robert Shapiro writes in Slate today about the continuing rise in U.S. economic productivity. The increase, he says, stems mainly from business investment in information technology and IT services. A key point:
Shapiro's point doesn't mean American society should reject the regulatory impulse. But it does mean we should be smart about it. Growth, and higher incomes, are linked in a fundamental way to granting businesses operational flexibility. That may sound like a platitude, but apparently the Japanese and Europeans have paid a significant price for failing to heed it.
Clinton and military pre-emption
Christopher L. Ball, a poli sci professor at Iowa State, has an interesting observation on the H-DIPLO listserv this morning:
I wonder how the North Korean admission will affect the South Korean presidential election (set, I believe, for December). Kim Dae Jung's government has, of course, been strongly pushing reconciliation with the North, but North Korea's blatant mendacity on the nuke issue would seem to strengthen the arguments being made by the South Korean opposition party. From what I've read, the fortunes of the presidential contenders have gone back and forth this year, in part because the South Korean party system is weak and volatile due to pronounced divisions along regional and other lines.
Thursday, October 17
Blogging against the warbloggers
(FYI: I've added to this post over lunch today [Friday], so it's in a slightly reworked form from the original. -- GS)
My Southern Democratic/Southern studies acquaintance Wyeth Ruthven takes warbloggers to task, and cites Orwell in doing so. TAPPED, fresh from a Movable Type makeover, takes note.
Aw, come on, how about a little moral equivalence here. I agree that warbloggers can in many cases be criticized for hubris, zealotry and quirky catch phrases. But don't many on the left exhibit similar shortcomings in their approach to political debate?
Thoughtful folks on the political left have written me from time to time to voice complaints about how bloggers leap so quickly to bash anyone who voices even the most modulated dissent from the dominant views in the warblog subculture, at least in regard to the terrorism question. It's a fair point; I've gotten a few zinger hard-line e-mails from some of the blogosphere's true believers on occasion.
But don't sidestep the sins of the American left, either. The reports of left-wing assaults on free speech on college campuses have been covered for years in The New Republic and elsewhere, whether the issue was speech codes used to opportunistically squelch conservative political claims or over-the-top campaigns against conservative campus newspapers. The current issue of National Review, in fact, has a piece about spirited attempts to silence right-wing campus newspapers, including resort to theft of the newspapers themselves.
Wyeth's well-written post is one more chapter in the never-ending squabble over who is more narrow-minded and meaner: those on the right or those on the left. From what I see among the worst offenders, a lot of the time it's a pretty close call.
John Ellis pulls together a lot of useful election-season info. Of course, Patrick Ruffini is always an especially valuable source.
Ruffini, incidentally, had a great post about that poll in which four of 10 American respondents said they would support annexing Canada. Observed the GOP-boosting Ruffini:
A strategy for the GOP to consider down the road, perhaps, if the authors of "The Emerging Democratic Majority" prove correct.
Good news on fighting global poverty?
The reduction in “extreme poverty” may be significantly greater than the World Bank has estimated, Robert Samuelson says in his latest column. Citing a new study by Indian economist Surjit Bhalla, he writes:
Most of the gains occurred in Asia, according to the study. If Bhalla’s findings are accurate, the improvement is stunning, since he reports that as a whole, Asia’s rate of extreme poverty dropped from 54 percent in 1980 to 7 percent in 2000.
“Gains,” Samuelson writes, “are unfortunately missing from two regions: Africa and Latin America.”
Speaking of Africa, I read in a Cato newsletter this week about two free-market think tanks that are getting off the ground in Nigeria and Kenya. (I searched for URLs and found them here and here.)
... now for Samuelson’s bad news
In the same column mentioned above, Samuelson, who doesn’t shy away from inconvenient facts, also talks about how support for free-market thinking is weakening in Latin America, given the economic meltdown in Argentina (yes, I’m well aware that some key economic policies there were statist rather than capitalistic) and the likely election of leftist candidate Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil.
As usual, his analysis makes plenty of sense. Too bad a similar clarity of thought wasn’t displayed at the recent U.N. conference on poverty, which floundered for days trying to frame the issues it took Samuelson only two paragraphs to accurately summarize.
Wednesday, October 16
Greeks seek a new Great Schism
A recent Economist survey described Greece as a country that has regained its confidence and economic footing. Missing from The Economist’s examination, however, was consideration of the remarkable depth of hostility that many Greeks, across political and social lines, expressed against the United States soon after 9/11.
Greek journalist Takis Michas has written in depth over the past year about how Greek anti-Americanism manifests itself with such vehemence across political and social lines. I was first alerted to his writing by an article of his in The National Interest last spring. He has since written on the same topic for the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere.
In his article for The National Interest, Michas described Greek resentment over U.S. support for the military junta that took power in the the 1960s. He also described the numerous anti-American and anti-NATO positions of Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou in the 1980s.
But, Michas writes,
Machis has a new book out that explores Greek support for the Serbian regime in the 1990s.
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Greek government voiced strong support for the United States. But coverage by the Greek press was replete with the notion that the United States itself had brought on its suffering -- an idea also voiced, Machis writes, by
the “immensely popular Archbishop Christodoulos of the Greek Orthodox Church.” Machis recounts a telling incident:
The most striking aspect of Machis’s analysis, however, is his point that anti-Americanism now provides a crucial commonality among Greek Communists, the Greek Orthodox Church and some Greek conservatives.
Describing the attitude of Greek nationalists, he writes:
Such stridently nationalistic views are championed by the Greek Orthodox Church, he observes:
A group of “neo-Orthodox” intellectuals posit an extreme form of xenophobia that is enjoying growing respect and attention. As described by Machis:
I’ve seen some online BBS chatter in which people have raged at Machis’ arguments. These critics have tended not to dwell on substance but instead talk about the (all too true) horrors wrought by the Greek colonels and, frequently, stoop to ad hominem, idiotarian attacks. (Here is one BBS example; the post ends with a slap at the United States as “the largest terrorist nation on the planet.”)
A sharp response to such arguments came from a BBS reader who, after criticizing the U.S. government for supporting thuggish regimes in the past, went on to make this point:
I find it hard to give much credibility to Greek critics who berate the United States for “triumphalism” when those very critics ground their arguments in supporting a raging nationalistic triumphalism of their own. Similarly, Greek complaints against supposed U.S. fanaticism in responding to 9/11 are weakened by the fanaticism on abundant display in Greece whereby Communists and Greek Orthodox join hands while spouting wild-eyed conspiracy theories against the West.
It is encouraging to see Greece’s economic health restored. But it is lamentable to see its attitudes toward the outside world guided by such radicalism and grossly mistaken assumptions.
UPDATE: A good friend, knowledgeable about the Greek Orthodox Church, passes along a Sept. 16, 2001, news article from the Orthodox news service in which Archbishop Christodoulos "called for the unabashed condemnation of 'those who choose violence and blind terrorism.' "
CONSTANTINOPLE?!: More relevant info from my friend:
By the way, I e-mailed my friend back and asked him if he was correct in referring to the "Patriarch of Constantinople." He wrote back and said that, yes, the full name is the "Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople" -- or EP. (Its Web site is here)
Although the Greek Orthodox Church is in communion with the EP, the latter is a separate entity. The EP is ecumenical-minded and has positive relations with the Catholic Church.
Tuesday, October 15
Confederate dead, American unity, family ties
The U.S. Supreme Court refused this week to wade into a court fight over whether the Confederate battle flag can fly over Point Lookout, a national cemetery in southern Maryland where all of the approximately 3,300 soldiers buried there served the Confederacy.
Because of the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case, a federal appeals court ruling prohibiting display of the flag will stand.
A former leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans had filed the suit. A federal judge sided with his claims, but the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- which often takes a decidedly strict constructionist approach -- sided with the federal government. Here is how the AP summarized the court’s findings:
The Washington-based Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld that ruling. The Supreme Court then refused to consider the appeal.
This strikes me as a case where neither side has overwhelmingly strong arguments. Flying a Confederate battle flag in this instance, at a cemetery where the more than 3,000 dead all expressed loyalty to the Southern cause, doesn’t seem a particularly provocative act. Everyone knows the Confederacy is long dead. A lawyer could honestly argue that such a display should be seen as more in the nature of antiquarianism than as an expression of hostility to the United States or an incitement toward racism.
On the other hand, Point Lookout is, indeed, a national cemetery run by the U.S. government, not a Confederate entity. The Union won the war, and there should be little surprise if the Veterans Administration (the federal agency in charge of national cemeteries) sets parameters on which flags can be flown, including a prohibition on a flag associated with the losing side. The Confederate battle flag has also become inextricably entangled with the promotion of racist speech through the commandeering of the flag, generations ago, by the Ku Klux Klan.
On the separate, and far more important, issue of whether the battle flag should be displayed on state property in the South or anywhere else, I can give an unequivocal opinion: State governments would be wise, and fully entitled, to ban such displays.
State flags ought to be instruments for promoting unity among the residents of a state. The Confederate battle flag, in contrast, stands at the very opposite extreme: It possesses a symbolic power that is explosively divisive. After decades of appropriation by the Klan (and through its frequent display in the 1950s and ’60s as a general symbol against the civil rights movement), the flag is irredeemably tainted with deep-seated connotations of racism. It stands as a symbol of allegiance to values hostile to the racial reconciliation toward which so many in the region have striven in recent decades.
I intend to post at length here sometime not just about the flag’s past as a symbol but also about the many fascinating side issues associated with it.
BY THE WAY: As for Point Lookout, the national cemetery, I have a personal connection: My paternal great-grandfather, a North Carolinian serving as a private in the Confederate army, was confined at the large prison camp there not once but twice.
He was captured in Virginia in November 1863 and interned at Point Lookout until November 1864, when he was among more than 3,000 Confederates paroled from the prison.
He was captured a second time, in March 1865, when he and other Southern troops launched a desperate surprise attack to try to break the Union grip on Petersburg, Va. More than 1,600 Confederates were killed or wounded in the assault, and 1,900, including my ancestor, were taken prisoner. It is possible that he may have seen Abraham Lincoln, who inspected captured and wounded Confederates after the attack.
On June 19, 1865, my ancestor was released from Point Lookout after signing an oath of allegiance to the United States. Because he was illiterate, he indicated his agreement by signing with an X. I have a photocopy of the document. It is a remarkable feeling to hold that piece of paper and consider the significance of what it entailed.
UPDATE: Chris Scott, of the blog The Insecure Egotist, has a different take on some aspects of the flag issue. I respect his views, which are well argued, and understand the frustration that some folks in the Confederate heritage subculture feel about automatically being labeled as white supremacists. When I lived in Salisbury, N.C., I saw the local United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter put together a wonderful annual event about the Civil War prison in Salisbury. The event brought together descendants of inmates and prison guards, examined the history seriously and emphasized reconciliation, without any mint-julip sentimentality about the Old South. As far as the battle flag, though, I still find it far too divisive a symbol for display on state-owned grounds.
THE REDOUBTABLE JOHN ROSENBERG: weighs in on the flag topic, disagreeing with me on a key point, at his blog Discriminations.
A scary concept: comedians with law degrees
My Bush-tweaking buddy Madeleine Begun Kane (one of whose blogs is here and whose latest politically tinged song parody is here) e-mails to let me know about a fun idea from Sean Carter, whom she describes as "a lawyer, stand-up comedian, humor writer, author and public speaker." At his site Lawpsided.com, Carter has announced what he calls his Fantasy Supreme Court League contest. He writes:
The contest specifies the cases involved; they cover topics including copyright law, capital punishment and cross burning.
By the way, I like Carter's list of nicknames for the Supreme Court justices. Among them: Justice Anthony "Don't Call Me 'Tony' " Kennedy; Justice Antonin "Fuggetaboutit" Scalia; and Justice Clarence "I've Switched to Pepsi" Thomas.
Miles Davis, jazz-fusion and the hydrogen bomb
Boston Globe journalist Fred Kaplan argued something surprising in Slate the other day. He defended Miles Davis’s recordings from the 1970s and ’80s. (By the way, this post will eventually amble toward consideration of U.S. security policy.)
Actually, I should be more precise. Kaplan defended Davis’s live recordings from that period. He was quite honest in describing the decrepit state of Davis’s studio work:
Pretty sad, especially considering that Davis towered as a jazz pioneer from the ’40s through the late ’60s, releasing a phenomenal string of influential recordings including Birth of the Cool, ’Round About Midnight, Kind of Blue, My Funny Valentine and Bitches Brew. (Here is a Miles Davis discography.)
Kaplan argues that Davis’s venture into jazz-fusion in the ’70s and ’80s shouldn’t be ignored. To back up his claims, he cites the work of Davis’s band on a CD box set, The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux, 1973-1991. Kaplan describes it as “a hidden archive revealing that the great Miles Davis did not fade out with a whimper.”
I’ll take Kaplan’s word for it, and if his argument is correct, I’m heartened. But I suffered through so much astringent jazz-fusion in the ’70s and ’80s in hopes of finding something palatable that I don’t care to revisit the genre right now. (I’ll readily admit that jazz-fusion guitarist John McLaughlin was an awesome technician, even if he wasn’t lyrical.)
For my money, the best jazz-fusion album came out way back in 1973, when the way-hip Bay Area band Azteca recorded Pyramid of the Moon for Colombia. I was just a kid reading Downbeat -- yeah, in milltown/furniture belt North Carolina -- and I well remember the review for the album, which received five stars. I bought the record at Brindles. A wonderful achievement -- inventive arranagements, inspired muscianship.
The band, with around a dozen players and several vocalists, had a lot of notable players: percussionist Pete Escovedo (father of Sheila E.), sax man Mel Martin, trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Paul Jackson, drummer Lenny White. Guitarist Neal Schon, who went on to success with the rock band Journey, provided an unbelievable break-neck solo on a tune called “What'cha Gonna Do?” It’s a blistering composition that still rocks.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE HYDROGEN BOMB?: OK, here’s the H-bomb connection: Fred Kaplan, who wrote the Slate, is the same fellow who wrote a 1983 book called “The Wizards of Armageddon,” about the rise of U.S. nuclear weapons theorists during the Cold War. The book is useful, although it employs a rhetorical framework -- nuclear strategists as a closed priesthood of narrow-minded theologians -- that has since become a cliche. Maybe it was already a cliche by the time Kaplan’s book came out; I don’t know.
Here are a few nuggets from “The Wizards of Armageddon”:
I’ve run out of time tonight. This odd amalgam of thoughts will have to do for now.
Monday, October 14
I'll blog later tonight on these topics: Miles Davis and the hydrogen bomb; anti-Americanism in Greece; interesting nuggets in congressional testimony by a senior military commander.
David Broder explained the fundamental points pretty well in a lengthy piece on this year's electoral battles in the South. Excerpts:
BY THE WAY: I'll get back into the regular blogging groove tonight.
New York politics
I registered surprise last week at George Will's report of the significant electoral inroads Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton made in winning votes in upstate New York; I noted the irony that Democrats had failed to win the mayoral race in NYC. Gary Farber, the hard-working blogger at Amygdala, e-mailed me with some thoughts on the topic (Gary, who's now in Boulder, Colo., grew up in NYC and spent most of 2000 and all but the last two weeks of 2001 on Long Island):