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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Thursday, October 31
Everything must bow to politics
Interesting take on the Wellstone memorial service by Eric Johnson of the blog Catholic Light (he titles his post "Sen. Wellstone, campaign prop"):
As I've told several friends by e-mail, the Wellstone memorial service illustrated something I saw time and again in covering political campaigns in the '80s and '90s (including the two national political conventions in 1988): the frequent inability of political activists (regardless of party, from my experience) to put things in proper perspective, not least during campaign season.
(My thanks to a good friend who e-mailed me the link to Johnson's post over lunch.)
UPDATE: My friend e-mails a response to my observation:
He's right. I can't think of an example where religious conservatives exploited a memorial service in such a way. Secular liberals do open themselves up to vulnerability on this score. At the same time, though, over the years I've personally seen Republican/conservative activists commit all sorts of gross misjudgments for the sake of promoting their cause. (The same goes for Democrats.) And some fundamentalist preachers, like some liberal ones, have come in for legitimate criticism for using the pulpit as a political propaganda vehicle, deliberately entangling the sacred with the temporal.
The value of 'niche blogging'
South Carolinian bloggers Chris Scott (of The Insecure Egotist) and Wyeth Ruthven (of The Wyeth Wire) have disagreed in the past on the nature of debate in the blogosphere. The two have moved their debate/discussion into an e-mail exchange between themselves. Chris excerpts some of their thoughts at his site. (You'll have to scroll down a bit to the post "Wyeth responds.")
For example, Wyeth writes:
Check out the whole post. It's worthwhile stuff.
Europe sets an example
If only, it’s said, America were more like Europe.
Then, this country would move its foreign policy away from cynicism and begin to deal with other nations on the basis of genuine respect. What’s more, the U.S. government would finally end its shameful habit of selfishly refusing to live up to its international commitments.
But wait a minute -- look at the latest edition of The Economist. European governments, it turns out, aren’t living up to those noble standards either. At least they aren’t when it comes to the agreement governing the EU’s regime for the common currency, the euro.
EU members don’t trust each other when it comes to economic policy, The Economist reports. And now a growing number of them are set to violate the agreement’s requirement that national debt be no more than 3 percent of gross domestic output.
Reports The Economist:
Simply shocking. Who would have imagined that Europeans would be capable of such a lack of open-heartedness, not to mention a penchant for rule-breaking!
After all, European officials and diplomats haven’t hesitated to lecture this country about how it should stop being so cynical toward other nations and fixated on its own interests.
When Gerhard Schroeder stands up for his country's interests, he's called a political pragmatist. When Jacques Chirac does the same for his country, he's calmly regarded as just another French chauvinist. But when George W. does it, he's derided as an out-of-control cowboy.
Perhaps Europeans should look to their own actions before delivering any more lectures about unacceptable U.S. behavior. The gulf between their actions and ours may not be as great as commonly thought.
Wednesday, October 30
History and the crusade against Hitler
Independent scholar Michael Beschloss has a new book out titled “The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945.” He talked about it today with Terry Gross on “Fresh Air.”
The Amazon.com site for the Beschloss book says it doesn’t break any new ground but provides a readable account of the topic. Beschloss’ observations about the Morgenthau plan (which would have converted postwar Germany into a deindustrialized society) covered quite familiar ground, for example.
Nonetheless, Beschloss is an articulate, interesting fellow, and the “Fresh Air” interview had some fascinating nuggets:
Bush has a strategy; what about his critics?
I’ll cite part of John Leo’s latest column, then follow up with a point of my own:
From now on, the United States will need to answer a crucial question: What is the most appropriate response to the terrorist threat?
Bush’s strategy is open to criticism on many fronts, but at least he has an actual policy that can be analyzed and debated.
But what is the strategy of the hard-left academic/activist community on this issue? Aside from negativism (don’t attack Iraq, don’t rely on military responses, don’t have Ashcroft types in charge of prosecution policy), the outlines of a larger, coherent response aren’t readily discernible. Such an approach falls far short of what's needed.
To deserve intellectual respect, the hard left’s response has to consist of more than saying “no,” reviving '60s anti-war street threater and luxuriating in a reflexive disdain for the commander-in-chief.
A voice to be appreciated
What may well be the most pungent and intelligent satire on race relations in America is a little-known book that appeared 70 years ago.
The novel is “Black No More,” by George Samuel Schuyler (1895-1977), an accomplished black journalist who was widely published in U.S. newspapers and magazines. Schuyler’s work appeared in the American Mercury (H.L. Mencken, the magazine’s best-known writer, showered praise on him) as well as in The Crisis, the magazine of the NAACP. Schuyler was a well-traveled reporter, editor and editorialist with the weekly Pittsburgh Courier, considered the country’s leading black newspaper.
Over the years, he moved steadily to the political right. By the 1960s, Schuyler was an enthusiastic Goldwater Republican.
The set-up for “Black No More,” published in 1931, is as hilarious as it is fascinating: An inventor named Dr. Junius Crookman creates a device that can transform “Negroes” into Caucasians. Residents of Harlem rush to undergo the change, and American society is thrown for a loop. The hero, Max Disher, changes his skin color from black to white in order to win the love of a white women. He also finds that he must turn his back on blacks and make his way as a member of the dominant white culture.
Over the course of the story, the profound investment that various organizations and intellectuals have in the racial status quo is revealed: On the one side stand the white supremacist yahoos such as the “Knights of Nordica” and the “Anglo-Saxon Association of America.” On the other are black cultural figures such as “Santop Licorice” (Marcus Garvey), “Dr. Shakespeare Agamemnon Beard” (W.E.B. Du Bois) and “Madam Sisseretta Blandish (Madam C.J. Walker).
Schuyler uses the novel to explore the themes of miscegenation and racial identity, and he pokes fun at black nationalism as well as white supremacy.
Writer Matthew Frye Jacobson summarizes the rest of the story:
In early 2001, National Review Online offered a fine look at Schuyler’s career. Another worthwhile analysis of his legacy is found here.
The reader reviews at the Amazon.com site for “Black No More” are especially interesting -- even liberals applaud the book.
“Black No More” is a worthy addition to one’s library, regardless of one’s race or political ideology. A notable achievement, in several respects.
Tuesday, October 29
A single voice for Europe, eh
I see from Don Sensing’s blog that the commission headed by Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has released its proposed new constitution for the EU. George Will had a delicious suggestion this week about an appropriate consequence that should flow from the drive for European unity:
George Will seems to be loosening up. His EU/Ohio line was downright Lileks-like.
Reading what the Europeans are saying
OK, the EU has gotten serious in pursuing monetary union. But here’s an interesting question: How long did it take the United States to achieve true monetary union across the breadth of this country?
The Dutch blogger Dilacerator provides the answer in this post.
Another European blogger worthy of note (if you regard the Brits, that is, as Europeans) is The Lincoln Plawg, who assembled a blistering and sharply composed critique of a recent Foreign Policy piece by the august diplomatic historian John Lewis Gaddis.
For anyone who read my "ice in one's veins" post and wondered how my visit to donate blood platelets went today: It was excellent. The Red Cross has put in new TVs with individualized VCRs, so the next time I donate, I can watch a movie of my own preference. (I would welcome suggestions as far as releases from the last few years; I don't catch many new flicks these days.)
During my stay, I watched the History Channel and caught an episode of "In Search Of." It was one of those typically well-produced installments with that funky background music. Highly informative, as usual: Today, Leonard Nimoy unraveled the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. I'm not sure I understood the explanation, though.
Libertarianism and war
The site for Reason magazine has an online debate this week between Brink Lindsey and John Mueller on whether libertarians should support military assertiveness in response to terrorism. Brink, of course, has ably argued at his weblog that libertarianism is compatible with a forceful response in the wake of 9/11. Here is his opening essay in the Reason debate. He makes the case for invading Iraq.
Our end-time-seeking president (so it’s claimed)
Legitimate arguments can certainly be made against an invasion of Iraq. One could argue, for example, that the realistic chances of establishing a functioning “democracy” in Iraq are small, not least in light of the less-than-impressive behavior of the opposition forces in exile. Or that we would be setting ourselves up for an extended occupation, perhaps as tortured as the French experience in Algeria in the ’50s. Or that nobody really knows what the fallout would be in the Muslim-Arab world in the face of Iraqi civilian casualties.
Each of those arguments can be disputed, but the point is that each of them is serious and worthy of consideration.
The same, however, cannot be said for a particularly ludicrous claim being made of late: that Bush administration officials are seeking an invasion of Iraq in order to placate the religious right and its obsession with biblical end-time prophecy.
Evangelical Christians, it is correctly pointed out, have long pushed for closer U.S.-Israeli ties and are a powerful force in influencing how Republican administrations approach issues such as abortion in the foreign policy arena. But some critics of Bush want to take things much further, into outright nonsense, by portraying the invasion policy as guided less by strategy and tactics than by the books of Daniel and Revelation.
Maureen Dowd raised the topic in a recent column (whose frivolities I refuse to quote). Tom Teepen, an Atlanta-based columnist who usually makes an articulate case for traditional liberal positions on national issues, raised the end-time topic the other day, writing, “The long-standing support of Israel among American fundamentalist Christians is curdling in some quarters into an unthinking religious romanticism that moons for a general Middle East war, and the bigger the better.”
Teepen pointed out how various speakers (Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Franklin Graham) had all made public statements critical of Islam. He then concluded:"Well beyond the notice of much foreign-affairs reporting but notorious throughout the Muslim world, this yearning for Armageddon and its concurrent contempt for Islam and antagonism to peace-making are cutting off U.S. policy options and undercutting U.S. credibility."
This supposed Rummy-Rapture connection was made most forcefully on a listserv to which I belong. A listserv member wrote:
I apologize for quoting an example of such woeful eccentricity, but as ridiculous as it is, it needs to be noted.
How to respond to such claims? I know -- they don’t deserve a response. But I can’t help myself. Here goes.
The editorial board for The National Interest, a foreign policy journal, includes prominent neoconservative thinkers including Richard Perle, Midge Dector and Charles Krauthammer. In the many years I have read the journal, I have never seen it feature a single article that analyzed Middle East policy through the prism of end-time prophecy and biblical "code words."
To people like Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, the sound analysis of international affairs relies on intellectual touchstones such as "national interest" and "realism," not "Gog" and "Magog."
Boosters of the end-time conspiracy theory have yet to present a single bit of proof that Iraq policy has been shaped at any point by Revelations rather than realpolitik. Instead, they’re content to whisper suspiciously about the fact that a Bush speechwriter, Carl Gerson, attended Wheaton College, a traditionalist Christian school, and that after 9/11, Bush delivered a speech in which he stated, “God's signs are not always the ones we look for.”
That quote might sound like a pretty convincing indication of end-time belief -- until one understands the context of Bush’s remarks. He was speaking at Washington National Cathedral during a “National Day of Prayer” service for the victims of 9/11. It’s hardly a surprise that Bush would refer to God’s “signs” in such a gathering -- and it’s a good bet he wasn’t the only speaker at the event to comment on God and his intentions.
I suppose this post is more of a waste of time than just about anything I‘ve submitted for the blog world’s consideration. But some foolishness has recently been thrown in my face on this issue, and I felt obligated to respond.
OK, enough of that. Let’s move on to real issues.
Ice in one's veins
That's the feeling I'll have later today, when I donate blood platelets. The procedure at the Red Cross takes around two hours, and the blood that is circulated back into one's body isn't quite up to normal temperature. The result is that the body becomes chilled. So, the nurses wind up wrapping me in hot towels as I watch the History Channel on the TV screen above my head.
I donate platelets at mid-afternoon about once every six weeks. I highly recommend it for anyone who is physically able and has the time to donate. Platelet donations serve an important medical need. I'm lucky to have an employer that allows me the ability to regularly make such a contribution.
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.