Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

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



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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"):

This does illustrate the difference between political liberals and the rest of the world. I'm not talking about people who happen to be liberal, but about professional liberals: people who are employed by politicians or unions or government agencies, whose mission in life is to advance liberal causes. The whole event was thoroughly distasteful, though I had a large amount of respect for Senator Wellstone himself.

To them, even death can be politicized, and is worthy of being politicized, because all of life is political, and all justice must be achieved here on earth through politics. So if there is a groundswell of pity for the Wellstone family, the liberal politician thinks, "How can we translate this enthusiasm into votes?" (There are conservatives and Republicans who think this way, but they're the exceptions.) They see no contradiction in attacking Republicans for "playing politics" when they say that Mondale is a poor choice for senator, and then they turn around and hold a political pep rally at a funeral.

Liberals have a problem with sacralizing the secular. What I mean by that is that they treat contingent, transitory things like politics as if they are the most important things. Therefore, death is just one more thing that can be ordered toward gaining an advantage over one's political enemies. ...

Again: I'm not talking about rank-and-file Democrats, just the pros. Please don't get offended, unless you're one of the pros, in which case you can get as offended as you want.


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:

Yes but I think you're trying to dodge one key point: that it is secular liberal activitists who are guilty of this sort of thing. You just wouldn't see this sort of behavior coming from, say a member of the religious right because whatever else you say about them they do believe sacral events are, well, sacred. I think the gauntlet is down for someone to come up with an example of a bunch of conservatives booing a liberal at a funeral.


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:

Too much of the blogosphere looks and sounds the same, where a topic of the day gets repeated on blog after blog, with each one trying to stop the other. I would be curious to learn if there was some way to chart the rise and fall of a certain topic in the blogosphere: OUT: "Left-wing homophobia" IN: The Bellesilles resignation. ...

My own antidote to that is do engage in what I call "niche-blogging" or perhaps "value-added blogging" where I take topics that I have an interest or knowledge in (mostly South Carolina) and try to add something to the debate, rather than seeing if I can shout "fire" in the crowded theater faster and louder than anyone else.


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:

the stability and growth pact ... is a political totem, a symbol that euro-using countries will not cheat each other. The difficulty is that these countries never really trusted each other from the start. In particular the Germans, with traditionally the strongest economy and currency in Europe, were loath to sign up to monetary union with Italy, given its tradition of mountainous debts, a weak currency and inflation. So before the great euro wedding, Germany insisted on a pre-nuptial contract written in blood: the stability and growth pact. ...

Because the euro-area countries did not trust each other to behave responsibly, the pact was drawn up with as little room for creative interpretation as
possible. ...

Germany has accepted that it will cross the 3 percent threshold this year; rumours suggest that its deficit could be as high as 3.7 percent. Italy and France are getting dangerously near the trigger point, and the French barely pay even lip service to the requirement to balance their budget in the medium term. ...

What is likely to happen instead is that, while the 3 percent limit will be kept in theory, it will be repeatedly violated in practice.

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:

  • FDR would be stunned, Beschloss said, if he could come back today and hear that he is now criticized for failing to bomb the concentration camps. At the time, Roosevelt expressed no interest in discussing the plight of Jewish internees. FDR indicated that to focus on the concentration camps, which he had heard of early in the war, would have allowed anti-Semites to accuse the administration of fighting a war for Jewish interests rather than American ones. Anti-Semitism was quite potent and unabashed in some quarters of American society at the time, Beschloss said. Some members of the U.S. Senate delivered remarkably hostile remarks about Jews while speaking on the Senate floor, he said. (That point reminded me of the shameless racist rants that some Southern senators used to make on the Senate floor during the darkest days of Jim Crow in the 1890s and early 1900s.)

  • Even after the war had ended and the full horrors of the concentration camps were revealed, Harry Truman continued to make cutting remarks against Jews in his private written comments. Ironic, of course, given that his administration took the bold step of recognizing Israel at its creation.

  • The assassination attempt against Hitler in July 1944, in which the German leader was fortunate to be only burned from a bomb attack, nearly sidetracked Roosevelt’s central strategy toward Germany. FDR insisted on unconditional surrender (even though some of his top generals expressed reservations, citing the heavy U.S. casualties such a policy would necessitate). Had Hitler been assassinated in 1944, Beschloss said, FDR would have come under enormous pressure to reach a negotiated settlement. The possible result: no denazification, no German embrace of representative government, no incorporation of Germany as a democratic member of a postwar Western alliance against Stalin’s Soviet Union.



  •  
    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:

    Everywhere you turn these days, someone on the left is denouncing President Bush as Hitler, Satan, a terrorist or a tyrannical emperor. A Yale law professor said Bush is "the most dangerous man on Earth." ...

    Some of the angry rhetoric flirts with the fringe idea that the United States planned the terrorist attacks. A Purdue professor said "there is no ground to be certain" that America and Israel aren't behind the 9/11 attacks. ... A Berkeley professor helpfully pointed out that some Indonesian groups think the U.S. planned the Bali bombing.

    The rhetoric accurately reflects the current condition of much of the left -- bitter, stymied, alienated, politically impotent, full of loathing for America and the West, and totally unable to address the crisis wrought by 9/11, except to imply (or say) that the U.S. deserved to be attacked.

    The left has lost its bearings, Michael Walzer, the political philosopher, wrote in the spring issue of Dissent, the leftist magazine he edits. His article, "Can There Be a Decent Left?" deplored ... the lack of "any visible concern" about how to prevent terrorism in the future. ...

    The favorite posture of many American leftists, Walzer said, is "standing as a righteous minority, brave and determined, amid the timid, the corrupt and the wicked. A posture like that ensures at once the moral superiority of the left and its political failure." He said the left needs to discard its "ragtag Marxism" and its belief that America is corrupt beyond remedy.

    Solidarity with people in trouble is the most profound commitment that leftists make, he wrote, but even the oppressed have obligations, and one is to avoid murdering innocent people. "Leftists who cannot insist on this point, even to people poorer and weaker than themselves, have abandoned both politics and morality for something else."

    An example of that abandonment came two weeks ago at the University of Michigan's pro-Palestinian conference, which could not bring itself to criticize suicide bombings. Save us from moral appeals that leave room for blowing up families in supermarkets.

    Journalist Christopher Hitchens caused a bigger hubbub than Walzer when he resigned from The Nation magazine after 20 years, citing its anti-war stance on Iraq. Saddam Hussein, he wrote in his farewell column, is "a filthy menace" and "there is not the least doubt that he has acquired some of the means of genocide and hopes to collect some more." He thought The Nation had become "the echo chamber of those who truly believe that John Ashcroft is a greater menace than Osama bin Laden."

    In another article, Hitchens wrote: "I can only hint at how much I despise a left that thinks of Osama bin Laden as a slightly misguided anti-imperialist. ... Instead of internationalism, we find among the left now a sort of affectless, neutralist, smirking isolationism" and "a masochistic refusal to admit that our own civil society has any merit."

    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:

    The erasure of racial distinction turns the nation upside down until, at last, “real” whites discover that Crookman’s former “Negroes” tend now to be
    whiter than white, and so racial hierarchy is built anew on the inverse principle of dark-over-light.


    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:

    European elites say European unity -- meaning the EU's bureaucratic superstructure piled atop the nations' bureaucracies -- will give Europe the weight of one great nation to match America's weight. It will not, but Europe's pretense of oneness should be honored. The United Nations should be reformed. It should grant just one membership -- it can be a permanent member of the Security Council -- for "Europe." There should be no separate U.N. membership for the member states of the EU, any more than there is for Ohio.


    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.



     
    Mystery solved

    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:

    That we are apparently at the brink of war is in no small part a result of the influences Dowd describes. The alliance between the Neoconservatives and the Christian Zionists (certain fundamentalists) is, arguably, at the core of the current foreign policy "debate" on war against Iraq. It also explains, in part, votes in Congress relating to the Palestine Question, the issue of the status of Jerusalem, and the like.

    The war rhetoric today has a coded side that is not fully understood by those unfamiliar with the esoteric signs, symbols, and language of certain fundamentalist circles. The White House is intimately familiar with these circles. In this context, Iraq is code for "Babylon" (and the "evil one" there) which has esoteric connotations relating to "Armageddon," "Tribulation," and to "Rapture Theology" ("Gog and Magog" etc.) ...

    Does the separation of Church and State under our Constitution apply to foreign policy?, one could ask. Or do we now have a new official state cult impelling us toward perpetual war (pre-emptive, preventive, etc.) for perpetual (theocratic) empire? Bush as Pontifex-Maximus with religious guidance from the fundis like Falwell, and national security policy guidance from the Neocons?

    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:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



     
    Egypt and anti-Semitism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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



    Saturday, October 26
     
    An encouraging sign in Afghanistan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


    Something to be proud of here in Omaha.

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



     
    Long memories

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

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



     
    ‘Frighteningly easy’

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

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


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

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

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

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



     
    More about Napoleon

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


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




    Friday, October 25
     
    Napoleon the dictator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Bell wrote:

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

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


    Precisely.



     
    Multilateral loans and realpolitik

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Thursday, October 24
     
    Pakistan as nuclear enabler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



     
    Distant ripples

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

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

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

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

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




     
    Hallway etiquette

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


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


    So now we know.

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



    Wednesday, October 23
     
    Not tonight; coming attractions

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

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



     
    War in space and underground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

    (An examination of nuclear bunker busters is here.)

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

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

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

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



    Tuesday, October 22
     
    Musical pitch

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

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

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



     
    Time windows

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

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

     
    Panhandle politics

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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



     
    Has the time come for Gulflandia?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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



    Monday, October 21
     
    In love with LA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




     
    Not what the founders envisioned

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

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




     
    Locke, Hume and those other guys; blog democracy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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



     
    Into the night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



     
    Breaking up Canada; trying not to break up Iraq

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

    Among Austin's observations:

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

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

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

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

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


    Loved that part about the irony concerning the Mohawks.

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

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



     
    Minding the media

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




    Saturday, October 19
     
    Blogs and wordiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



     
    Are they consistent or not?

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



     
    A list of listservs

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



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

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

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


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



     
    Clinton and military pre-emption

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


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

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



    Thursday, October 17
     
    Blogging against the warbloggers

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

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

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

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

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

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


     
    Political winds

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

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

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

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


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