Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

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

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

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of note:
Prairie Cats

Monday, December 16
Turks, Germans, Henry Wallace and more
Just time to briefly mention a few of the interesting posts or columns I’ve seen of late:

  • Fine material posted by John Smith of Lincoln Plawg about the Henry Wallace campaign of 1948. From his post:

    ... at a press conference during his 1948 convention, he was asked about the resemblance between the CPUSA's platform and his own party's.

    I'd say that they have a good platform ...
    He added gratuitously I would say that the Communists are the closest things to the early Christian martyrs.

  • John Rosenberg of Discriminations writes with passion about the pursuit of a colorblind society:

    Thus, what was wrong with Trent Lott's "time and place" is that it was a society that was, in today's term, "racially conscious." It "took account of race" at every opportunity, to order opportunities. White supremacy was the end, but preferences based on race were the means. Oh, but liberal racial preferences are different because they are meant to include and not exclude? Tell that to Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter.

    Many liberals today appear to have forgotten (and the younger ones may never have known) that colorblindness is not an evil scheme dreamed up by a vast, racist, right wing conspiracy to "turn back the clock" and thwart civil rights. It was originated by abolitionists, and associated with liberals until they abandoned it in the late 1960s. Colorblindness was, and is, the incendiary principle that burned down the walls of segregation, and without it there are no civil rights, or at least no civil rights based on the principle of non-discrimination.

  • UPI foreign affairs columnist Jim Bennett had a great analysis of why Turkey would be better off staying out of the EU. Jim argued for closer trade ties between the U.S. and Turkey and ended the column by observing, “Real friends don't let friends join the European Union.”

  • I liked, and learned from, what Kevin Drum at CalPundit had to say about collaborative blogs.

  • And for the most unusual item I’ve seen in a while, Dutch blogger qsi (a likeable and sensible e-mail correspondent, by the way) posts about the oddity of the Dutch Libertarian Party, which runs a Web site that prominently includes a graphic with the Confederate battle flag. The Libertarians apparently sought to praise the Confederacy's belief in limited government. There's a lot to be said for the principle of small government, but it's also true that the radically decentralized nature of the Confederate government short-circuited Jefferson Davis's ability to coordinate the war effort. Several Southern governors, most notably Georgia's Joe Brown, constantly second-guessed Davis's decisions and attempted to block efforts to centralize power in the fashion of Lincoln's government. Such frictions and backbiting clearly undermined the South's war-fighting capability.

    By the way: qsi also has interesting stuff about German corporate migration, including the observation that German business leaders are warning (in qsi’s paraphrase) that a “crisis ... is developing [that] is going to eclipse anything Germany has seen since the war.”

    The comeuppance over ‘Arming America’

    I’ve been away from the computer for several days and haven’t had a chance to comment on Columbia University’s rescinding of the Bancroft Prize for Michael Bellesiles and the book “Arming America.”

    The Omaha World-Herald, where I work, editorialized in April 2001 that Columbia was “about to display questionable judgment” by awarding the Bancroft Prize to Bellesiles. The editorial called “Arming America” a “polemical work marred by overzealousness“ and “an inappropriate candidate, in short, for one of the history community's highest honors.”
    Substantive criticism of Bellesiles’ claims by James Lindgren, Joyce Lee Malcolm and Clayton Cramer, the editorial noted,

    haven't stopped a stampede of boosters in the academic, activist and journalistic communities from rushing to heap praise on the book. To diehard critics of American gun culture, Bellesiles' book possesses immense ideological value, because, they say, it debunks the longstanding assumptions that privately owned guns were a vital part of early American life and that the Founders approved the Second Amendment as a mechanism for safeguarding such ownership.

    "Arming America," in other words, is being promoted without apology as a political document intended to buttress the restriction of private gun ownership. Blurbs on the book's back cover illustrate the point. Reads one: "Michael A. Bellesiles is the NRA's worst nightmare."

    Columbia University historian Eric Foner and the Bancroft committee only added to their embarrassment last week, incidentally, by attempting to wash their hands of any responsibility. They instead argued that all blame rested with Bellesiles’ publisher.

    Said Foner:

    The Bancroft judges operate on a basis of trust. We assume a book published by a reputable press has gone through a process where people have checked the facts. Members of prize committees cannot be responsible for that.

    Typical academician balderdash. As the editorial above noted, major questions had already been raised by the time the Bancroft committee was making its selection. But the committee dutifully joined in the rush that was on to hold up Bellesiles’ work as a groundbreaking revisionist text that many in the academic and activist communities envisioned as a way to drive a stake through the heart of supposedly retrograde scholarship and political ideology.

    It took a while, but the comeuppance for such cheap intellectual opportunism has arrived. How revealing that people such as Foner and the Bancroft committee, even in rescinding the award, are still in denial about important aspects of what took place.

    Sunday, December 15
    Higher duties

    It's been a terrific weekend, with much Christmas-related activity for my family. It's kept me away from blogging, but family comes first. I'll resume Monday night, if not sooner. Thanks to all who have dropped by.

    Friday, December 13
    Henry Wallace’s 1948 campaign stops in the Jim Crow South

    I ran across a terrific passage on that topic last weekend while looking up historical nuggets on Thurmond’s Dixiecrats in the John Egerton book, “Speak Now Against the Day.” Egerton writes:

    For the first time, a candidate for president of the United States was going around the Deep South attacking segregation, one-party politics, and the denial of civil rights. Wallace wouldn’t address segregated audiences, or patronize segregated hotels and restaurants. His seven-state Southern tour was like a crusade in enemy territory, and he and his biracial campaign crew of young and dedicated associates got a taste of regional hostility that they would long remember. Southerners associated with the campaign ... had seen it all before. Unseasoned Northerners, though, wondered if they had stepped into a war zone.

    “They were terrified,” [Palmer] Weber [of the CIO Political Action Committee] told an interviewer forty years later. “They knew they had been to the edge of hell.” In North Carolina [my native state -- GS] on the first day, Wallace was pummeled with eggs and tomatoes. After witnessing a stabbing and several near-riots, some campaign strategists counseled retreat, but the candidate said no. On they went to Birmingham, where a welcoming party of club-toting whites jeered and heckled the motorcade; police stood by as the mob rocked the candidate’s car and chanted, “Kill Wallace!” [ironic, given the presidential candidacy of an Alabamian Wallace 20 years later -- GS]

    Still, when he finally stood before his audience, he told them that “greedy men, the Big Mules ... have ruled the South for generations and kept millions of common people in economic poverty and political bondage.” And the worst of it, he said, was race, “the major obstacle” to Southern progress: Segregation was not only an economic and political and social travesty -- it was a sin, a violation of “the fundamental Christian and democratic principles in our civilization.”

    This courageous foray was an inspiration to black voters, Palmer Weber told Thurgood Marshall when the trip was over. The “Negro communities were electrified and tremendously heartened to see one white man with guts willing to take it standing up.”

    Wallace’s vote totals in the South were miniscule, however. He “could muster fewer than four thousand votes in any Southern state except Florida, where he got about twelve thousand,” Egerton writes.

    Regardless of his flawed and often radical policy views, Wallace has to be respected and commended for his courage in standing up for his beliefs in the face of such abuse and violent intimidation.

    Saddam's surprise

    My friend and colleague Jeff Koterba, cartoonist for the Omaha World-Herald, drew a most unusual portrait of Saddam Hussein. You can call it up here. (The Saddam portrait should appear; if it doesn't due to an update at the site, you can quickly get the cartoon by clicking 12/10/02 on the "Get Image" box.)

    Look at the cartoon upside-down and you'll find something most surprising.

    In creating the cartoon, Jeff used a traditional, and effective, optical illusion technique. I know because he and I talked about it beforehand.

    By the way: If you like Jeff's cartoon, feel free to e-mail folks a link. I thought he had a terrific idea.

    Liberals have won, yet they still aren’t happy

    A good friend gives voice to some strong sentiments about liberals:

    I feel sorry for them in a way because, despite the fact that they won the culture war, they still don't feel too happy about it. They have abortion and homosexual rights enshrined in law, affirmative action, set-sides and quotas, and they still aren't happy. There are few black people being discriminated against, Title IX or whatever it is makes sure they have a women's soccer team and you can't turn on TV without seeing vast amounts of sexual license paid for by Madison Avenue.

    Yet they're still not happy.

    The good things they wanted, the bad things they wanted, are nearly all enshrined in law in some way or other despite conservative chipping here and there. And yet they're still not happy.

    There must be something puritan behind it all, this feeling that no matter has been done it is not enough. Their glasses are always half-empty. It's hard to find a happy liberal.

    I heard this report on National People's Radio about Spanish speakers in the public schools. What a tragedy! There was only one teacher of English as a second language for every 60 children. So I figured, hell, that guy could teach four classes a day and get them all for some time. Yet this was presented as an unmitigated disaster. And I thought about all the immigrants from Italy, Poland, Russia, etc. etc. who didn't have ANY teachers of English as a first, second or third language, and they didn't have anybody in the liberal education establishment crying tears over them, they just went on and lived their lives and their kids go to Harvard.

    I think there's a hollow core to liberalism -- something (I should say someone) missing that makes them see everything so pessimistically. I think that's why liberals love the Trent Lott thing and the ’60s race issue so much. They were right, and they won. Since then, they've won a lot but they haven't been nearly as right.

    I doubt if the people who support legal abortion enjoy looking at the pictures of the fetuses, their children. I bet many liberal parents are uncomfortable when their kids watch the soft-core porn their values brought to the television screen -- even as they refuse to be "judgmental."

    But the 60s! Ah! That was a time for a liberal to be alive! That's why they wax so highly over Lott, because they get to wistfully charge up that hill one more time to do battle with Strom and Lester. But if you wipe the mist off your eyes, the old ghosts disappear and fade. They are galloping after sheets blowing on the clothesline. The moment they curl their hand around a form, it disappears into smoke.

    He later sent an addendum:

    There was a movement in pre-Revolutionary Russia -- I want to say about 1870 or so, when the liberal intellectuals at the universities made a mass exodus into the countryside to teach the peasants about the reforms they were proposing for the government. It was kinds of like those old stickers you still saw occasionally in college on some door: “Build a student-worker movement.”

    But the Russian intelligentsia found out that the peasant thought his spectacles were funny and that it was ridiculous that a man didn't know how to tie up the horses to the plow. They had no respect for them, laughed at them, and listened to none of their enlightened ideas. (Out of that came a contempt for the peasantry that marked later movements).

    If you think about Rush Limbaugh's popularity among the "common man" and the reaction of "Reagan Democrats" to modern liberalism, the parallels seem uncanny: In part what makes liberals unhappy is that the people don't love them. Even when the people put up with and internalize their ideas, they still don't love them.

    My friend’s last point reminds me of a line in George Will’s latest column. In describing the views of Democratic operative Donna Brazile, he writes:

    She blames liberals for conservative dominance of talk radio: "It's beneath liberals to talk to real people about real ssues."

    Update: In a message this morning, the same friend included this point:

    And while I'm at it, National People's Radio was nice enough to point out the other day that Helms had defended Lott on Strom. They reported it straight but I couldn't help but think how happy they were to report it. Like quoting Mussolini in defense of Hitler!

    Thursday, December 12
    'Credibility is earned'

    As so many in the blogosphere say, Lileks does put things so well:

    Look. Every partisan in every party has to learn one thing: Sometimes your people are wrong. To paraphrase an old retort, saying "My party, right or wrong" is like saying "My Kennedy, drunk or sober." Credibility is earned, and standing up and saying "Fie!" now and then reinforces your truthfulness. ...

    Internecine sniping at Lott would give comfort to the enemy; you can see Jim Carville steepling fingers like Mr. Burns on "The Simpsons" and muttering "excellent" under his breath.

    All true. So? For months we've heard calls for moderate Islamic scholars and mullahs to denounce the excesses of their co-religionists -- well, this is much like that. Not that Lott's comments were anywhere near the ravings that flow from mosques in the Middle East; he didn't call for Thurmondism to sweep the world at swordpoint. But it's the same idea. You can stay silent and hope it'll blow over, or disagree for the sake of your party's soul.

    Just because your opponents are making hay over the issue shouldn't keep people of integrity from speaking up.

    Exactly right.

    He puts his finger on a point that used to loom large for me when I covered politics as a reporter during the '80s and early '90s, including both 1988 national political conventions: No matter how big a horse's ass a candidate would make of himself (or herself), the party stalwarts were always (publicly) full of praise. (And that applies to both major political parties, as far as my own reporting experience.) I fully appreciate the importance of party loyalty in maintaining a strong party system. But there also comes a time when activists and elected officials, as adult, thinking beings, need to speak up against foolishness or outrageousness -- as Lileks says, for the sake of their party's credibility. And in the case of Lott's statements, moral credibility.

    Bush's graceful remarks in Philadelphia were intended as an inoculation for the GOP, but it might not take hold as long as Lott continues to hold the Senate leadership position.

    Just the way they are ...

    Don't go blaming
    George Bush for Wall Street,
    Cause fuzzy math is such a bore.
    mmm......... mmm........

    Don't imagine
    He's too familiar
    With anything but waging war.

    He loves to lead you
    To times of trouble,
    Or else he couldn't have come this far.
    mmm......... mmm........

    He took the good times.
    Turned them to bad times.
    He loves things just the way they are.

    Oh, my, it's my friend Madeleine Begun Kane, humorist and blogger, creating another ode to George W.

    She does that so well -- you read the words and you really can hear Billy Joel singing them.

    The full set of verses is here. If you go there, you'll see she even has a midi link for sing-along purposes -- now that makes me jealous.

    Lott to learn from LBJ

    For a British blogger, John Smith is one knowledgeable fellow when it comes to American political and social history. Check out the two LBJ anecdotes he provides. In setting up his post, Smith writes: "If Republican Senators want a reminder of the fact that leadership and Senate are not incompatible ..."

    By the way: As I mentioned a few days back, Smith's site has provided some fascinating historical context for the Dixiecrat issue.

    Wednesday, December 11
    Pointing to the past

    I posted Tuesday about the rural parts of the Great Plains, prodded by a post from Virginia Postrel. A new anthology of poetry and essays has just come out called “Rural Voices: Literature from Rural Nebraska.” Even though many of the writers are amateurs, the collection succeeds quite well in conveying contemporary rural sensbilities.

    One poem is by Marjorie Saiser, a much honored poet who has been widely published. Here is her poem “Going to See the Homeplace”:

    This morning the grass is wet, and the wind
    is blowing songs through the handles
    of the Clorox bottles in the garden.

    We climb into the pickup,
    going to see the home place,
    although, as my father says,
    there’s nothing there.

    Two miles south of town
    I open the gate. A calf watches,
    his black and white face
    new and stark,
    all the edges undefiled.

    Until things changed, my father says,
    the house was there, west of the trees.
    The barn, it was beautiful,
    red and white stripes
    on the cupola. The spring

    inch and a quarter pipe,
    cold water day and night
    flowing into the barrel,
    spilling over the top.

    Almost at the gate I remember
    to ask where the strawberries were.
    I find the clump of trees at
    the end of my father’s pointing finger.
    Not the first draw, but the second.
    Strawberries, he says,
    carried out by the dishpanful.

    The old place at the far reaches of his finger
    rolls down to the river
    rolls high and pretty
    rolls with his hand.

    blows with the wind:
    I myself am seeing it, taking
    he measure of it with my arms,

    as if his grandmother, with my uncalloused hands,
    unfurled a farm
    like a sheet
    into clean cold air.

    That poem reminds me of my late father. Whenever I would drive Pop through his home county in western North Carolina, I would see only the office buildings, strip malls and subdivisions. His vision would extend much farther, but back into the past.

    Here, he would say, was an old homeplace. Or over there was the old mill. Or the barn. Or the dirt road.

    There was where your Mom and I were standing when we got word that they’d bombed Pearl Harbor.

    And there, he would say, that was where my grandfather said goodbye to his sister -- she had been on a stool, milking a cow -- as he headed off to the Civil War. I saw Pop point out that spot out many times, and I know just where it is. It’s deep, deep in the woods, off an old dirt road, untouched (as yet) by either bulldozer or pavement.

    I can still see Pop, his eyes aglow with memory, showing me where to look for the many parts of our shared past. I could see them every time, just beyond his pointing finger.

    Safeguarding the ’60s consensus on race

    I’ve gotten a lot of e-mail this week from conservative friends in regard to the Trent Lott situation. Here is a distillation of what I’ve told several of them in e-mails, in explaining my view:

    Lott's words, as reported over the weekend in the Post, undermined the ideal, now broadly accepted regardless of region, that the country did the right thing in the '60s to take forceful action to end Jim Crow practices. That ideal is something to rally around, of course, and my take was that Lott's ill-considered words were incompatible with it. That consensus stands as one of the country's great achievements, considering the long history of racial friction, alienation and discrimination in all parts of the country.

    A good friend of mine once told me he regarded himself as a "liberal" on race in 1960s terms, but that the affirmative action zealots and black-victimization crusaders had carried the race issue far from the realm of common sense and moral sanity. And, as John Rosenberg points out, their legal arguments have led to them into some hilarious intellectual cul-de-sacs, where they sound like old-time defenders of states' rights.

    But as for what the country should be safeguarding -- the foundational civil rights achievements and ideals of the '60s -- that’s what we should all rally around, regardless of region, race, party or ideology. Lott's words, as reported, departed from that imperative. So, criticism of him was fully warranted.

    By the way: The Lott matter has moved into a new phase. Initially, it involved the legitimate criticism of Lott from the right and left. Now, however, the Lott affair has turned into just cheap another partisan/ideological skirmish for the political and blog communities.

    Liberals want to use the controversy to undermine the GOP and make claims about how the establishment media aren’t liberal. Conservatives are harrumphing about Jesse Jackson’s predictable exploitation of the issue and how the American left should be called on the carpet for its past failures to criticize old pet causes of the radical left such as the Soviet Union’s communist system.

    Yammer, yammer, yammer.

    One more thing: I remember in the ’80s when Pat Buchanan said on “Cross Fire” that he had a problem in criticizing the South African government because it would require him to stand together on an issue with Jesse Jackson. (I know Buchanan said that because I made a mental note on it right away, and the memory has never left me.)

    Buchanan’s reaction always struck me as wrongheaded. Voicing condemnation of apartheid was the right thing to do, regardless of whether Jesse Jackson was doing the same or not. That doesn’t mean one had to support the entirety of Jackson’s policy prescription about how to deal with the white-majority government in South Africa.

    The same principle applies here: Lott was in the wrong, and he deserved criticism. Sure, Maxine Waters, Paul Krugman and many others on their side of the partisan divide are going to work to depict the GOP as a nest of racists, and such opportunism will need to be answered. But on the fundamental question of whether Lott’s comments were out of bounds, the answer absolutely is yes.

    Language and lightning in South Florida

    I quoted from some listserv posts the other day talking about South Florida. The primary focus was the adoption (or rejection) of English. Also mentioned were some odd thunderstorms in that part of the state.

    Floridian Dan Hobby, always a thoughtful e-mail correspondent, sent these observations:

    1) Miami was hardly a "ghost town" before the Cubans arrived -- it was the most populous city in Florida (about 300,000 in 1960). The Cuban exiles did tend to fill up some of the older residential neighborhoods from which many homeowners had previously moved to the new suburban developments. Still, in this regard (urban vs. suburban development) the City of Miami's experience was not exceptional. If one looks at the Miami-Dade County, there is even less validity to the "ghost town" statement.

    2) It is a mistake to equate “Hispanic” with “Cuban” in today's South Florida. In fact, I've read that Little Havana is today largely populated by people from Central America. From a South Florida perspective (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties), the Cubans are definitely a minority of the total Hispanic population.

    3) I'll address the language issue from personal experience. For well over a dozen years I have coached youth soccer teams. During that time I have had scores of Hispanic youths on my teams, and have had the opportunity to meet many, many more. In some cases it is difficult to communicate with the parents (I don't speak Spanish), but every child who has been in this country for even a short amount of time speaks English just fine. And in several cases, Hispanic parents I have known for a decade or so have improved their English skills markedly. This is not to say you won't hear plenty of Spanish (and Portuguese) in South Florida (especially on soccer fields), but the younger Hispanic generation is at least bi-lingual, and in a high percentage of cases probably are equally or more fluent in English than Spanish. Now if I have to speak with one of the kid's grandmothers, that might be a different story.

    4) To quote an old Joanie Mitchell song, “There's something lost and something gained, in living everyday.” The Hispanic migration to South Florida has produced many disruptions and resentments (which I think are largely due to the politically-charged anti-Castro hard-line among some the Cuban “exile” community). On the other hand, the Hispanics are overwhelmingly good people who want to see their kids do better than they did, and be a part of American culture. Just as we Southerners still like grits for breakfast and use the term “y'all,” so too are Hispanics tied to their cultural past. But when I bring fifteen young teenagers to a McDonalds after a soccer game, you'd be hard pressed to tell me how the American-born, the Mexican, the Brazilian or the Colombian differ in their behavior (they’re all goof-balls!).

    5) On lightning -- there are a lot of summer thunderstorms in South Florida, but even more in Central Florida. Millions of people who attend Disney World, Busch Gardens and the other attractions seem to survive. Obvious precautions should be taken to avoid lightning strikes, but the real danger in the western suburbs is the traffic.

    One more thought on Miami -- the most significant effect of the Cuban migration is that it undoubtedly prevented the City of Miami from become a black majority municipality.

    This is exactly why I love the blogosphere. Thanks, Dan.

    By the way: I normally italicize quotes here, but I thought it was easier on the eyes not to put such a large block of text in italics.

    Tuesday, December 10
    Two views

    There was an amusing contrast between two reactions today to John Snow's selection as treasury secretary -- and to the company he currently heads, railroad giant CSX. (I work in a building directly across the street, incidentally, from Union Pacific Railroad.)

    From Chris Edwards, director of fiscal policy at the Cato Institute:

    I expect Mr. Snow will particularly understand the importance of an investment-friendly tax code given that firms such as CSX form the backbone of a productive economy with large investments in capital equipment.

    For a different take, here is blogger Atrios, who has been having a jolly old time of late in the wake of Kerry's haircut, Lott's birthday-party effusiveness and the reporting on the neo-Confederate views and disturbing racial claims of a Washington Times editor. Atrios writes, in regard to nominee Snow:

    The guy has been collecting a huge salary in an incredibly subsidized industry for years. Perfect!

    Not correct, Mr. Will

    Wyeth Ruthven, who knows South Carolina politics as a Democratic insider, analyzes a recent George Will column on the factors affecting South Carolina presidential primary.

    Among Wyeth's observations are these regarding Will's comments on James Clyburn, the only black member of the state's congressional delegation:

    I don't like this part because it paints Clyburn as a Southern-fried Al Sharpton, with silly notions about yard signs and hustling street money. It strikes me as shades of "Birth of a Nation" carcicatures of Reconstruction era black lawmakers.

    That stereotype DOES NOT apply AT ALL to Jim Clyburn.

    Jim Clyburn got his start in politics as a racial conciliator. In the last election that openly turned on the issue of segregation, the 1970 governor's race, Clyburn ran the field organization for John West, who then repaid him by making him head of the newly created state analogue to the EEOC. Clyburn spent the next twenty years helping South Carolina business get out of discrimination problems of their own making. Jim Clyburn is NOT Earl Hilliard or Cynthia McKinney. He is a savvy politician who deserves better from a national political reporter.

    Yes, it's satire

    I linked the other day to a weird Web site called “” and asked whether people thought it was satire or a vehicle for closet racism, as some letters to the site indicated.

    I received two messages saying the site is intended for laughs:

    It is indeed a satire; the site's authors were guests on WNYC radio's "On the Line" (call-in show with Brian Lehrer) recently. ...


    The only mystery here is how anybody could think this site is something besides lighthearted satire. The makers of the site (a brother and sister team who earlier earned notoriety by starting up a very funny rejection hotline: a person who wants to cold-shoulder you directs you to the line and you get your choice of rejection messages) have been interviewed about it and have made their intention pretty clear. I suppose the spectre of "unconscious racism" could be raised, but the site directs most of its (mild) barbs at whites, not at blacks. If unconscious antipathy is present, there isn't a lot of it.

    Ag subsidies, depopulation and Great Plains farmers

    As Virginia Postrel indicates today, it makes sense for me, as a Nebraska-based blogger, to comment on the NYT's Week in Review article that talked about the striking depopulation in parts of the Great Plains.

    I'm no expert on farm policy, but I have lived in the Plains region for three years now (moving from my native North Carolina), and I have these observations:

    The gross excesses of this year's farm bill has triggered an understandable reaction from urbanites. The Times' article is one reflection of that dynamic. Rural residents in Nebraska and neighboring states saw a flurry of similarly themed articles from Eastern papers in the 1980s, when it was suggested that large areas of the Great Plains be converted into a "buffalo commons."

    To take a small issue first:

    Readers might think, from reading the Times article, that Loup County is prime farmland. On the contrary, it's in Nebraska's Sand Hills -- an area quite ill unsuited to stereotypical row crop farming. It is, however, perfectly suited for large-scale ranching. (Only Texas has more beef cattle than Nebraska.)

    The conditions in Loup County, in other words, were never conducive in the first place to significant demographic growth.

    Nicholas Kristof did a column on the same topic last September, and I wrote an extensive blog essay responding to it. My theme was that parachute journalists such as Kristof tend to paint the Plains region in broad strokes, neglecting to explain nuances (such as the fact that Loup County is in the Sand Hills). A good friend of mine, a native Nebraskan, offered his own thoughts, which I also posted.

    As I mentioned, red-state farmers have become a particular target of ire for The New York Times in the wake of the farm bill's excesses. In addition to the Kristof column and the Week in Review article, a recent Times editorial laid all the blame for Mexico's farm problems on subsidies to U.S. farmers. The piece singled out corn farmers in Kansas and Nebraska.

    Let me take a moment to examine the Times' approach on that topic.

    U.S. ag protectionism unquestionably plays a part in regard to trade with Mexico (although Mexico’s corn subsidies average $150 a ton, compared to $85 in this country). The Nebraska-based newspaper where I work has editorialized against the bloat of this year's farm bill (and against its likely violation of WTO limits on subsidy levels).

    At the same time, however, The Economist recently explained in detail how the Mexican farm sector has brought major problems on itself by failing, in many cases, to invest in improvements for irrigation and transportation. “It is the high cost of Mexican farming that makes it so uncompetitive,” the magazine said. (Many Mexican farmers, however, did make needed investments, and Mexico's overall farm exports have risen since the advent of NAFTA.)

    The article pointed out the failure of many Mexican hog farmers to control disease. In fact, disease is so widespread for Mexican hogs that only two Mexican states are currently allowed to export pork, and then only to Japan. The U.S. ag sector can't be blamed for that.

    The Times editorial mentioned none of those factors. It focused instead only on the U.S.-farmer-as-bad-guy theme.

    Anti-globalization activists, The Economist noted, are trying to block the creation of factories in rural Mexico, arguing that the traditional farm economy needs to be preserved in its entirety. But even the Mexican government tacitly agrees that many farmers need to be shifted into better-paying factory jobs -- that's why Mexican negotiators (in contrast to the Canadians) decided a decade ago to agree to the elimination of all tariffs on farm trade with the U.S. by 2008.

    Bottom line for me: U.S. ag policy can be legitimately faulted on a range of points. Just beware, please, of resorting to simplistic descriptions of conditions on the Plains.

    Progress for Iraq's Kurds

    An op-ed in Monday's Washington Post seems correct in arguing that the economic and political progress in the Kurdish region of Iraq can serve as a model for the rest of that country.

    Saddam Hussein's regime tried to isolate the Kurdish north after the no-fly zone was established in 1991. Since 1996, the Iraqi government has done its best to short-circuit economic development projects there funded by the U.N.-coordinated Oil for Food program. But the Kurdish region, with a population of 3.6 million, has made impressive strides in terms of development and the promotion of political dialogue and social pluralism.

    From the op-ed, by Barham Salih, prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq:

    Against these odds, we have revived Iraqi Kurdistan. In 11 years we have rebuilt some 4,000 villages, set up two universities and opened more than 2,700 schools. Protected by U.S. and British air power, we have created an environment of freedom unique in Iraqi history, in which Kurds, Turkomens, Assyrian Christians and Arabs enjoy cultural and political rights.

    My home city of Sulaimani alone has more than 130 media outlets, including 13 TV stations and dozens of newspapers -- as well as unrestricted access to the Internet and satellite TV.

    Building freedom has not been easy. Conflict between the two major Kurdish parties stalled democratization and cost many innocent lives. ...

    The hard task of reconstruction has taught us to forsake the dream of an independent Kurdistan. ... Independence might give us a Kurdish postage stamp, but it would mean a dire future as an isolated, shunned statelet in a landlocked corner of the Middle East.

    The disavowal of independence from Iraq seems smart, for the reason he cites, although it wouldn't be surprising if the tumult that would follow a U.S. invasion would spur irredentist calls from some Kurds.

    Robin Wright, a veteran foreign policy correspondent who has traveled extensively through the Kurdish area, described the region's economic progress last month in a "New Hour" interview:

    One of the things that is so striking about the north, which was devastated when Iraq ruled up until 1991 is the way it's thriving today ... Saddam's intention was to starve the Kurds in the north ... But, in fact, the Kurds began to rebuild and under the protection of U.S. and British warplanes and then the Oil for Food program that was introduced in 1996, Kurds began to convert the north, and it is in many ways a model for what the outside world would like to see in Iraq after Saddam Hussein is ousted. ...

    Whether it's a free press -- dozens of different feisty independent newspapers, independent television -- the return of the Kurdish language in the north, the fact that there are a lot of new political parties that have been licensed, there is the beginning of a democracy in the north.

    An article from the San Francisco Chronicle from Sept. 3, 2001, provided useful details:

    Prosperity has not yet arrived, but it can be said that these northern provinces, which until a decade ago were Iraq's most backward, are much better off under self-rule.

    The old currency -- still the dinar -- is now worth more than 100 times its counterpart in Iraq. A university professor earns a minimum of $250 a month; in Baghdad he might earn one-tenth of that.

    There are Mercedes-Benzes, even an occasional BMW, on newly paved highways. Hotels are opening, and open-air restaurants flourish beside mountain streams -- patronized mainly by tourists from the ever-expanding Kurdish diaspora, or Iranians who cross the border for a weekend of dancing, drinking and a veil-free environment for women.

    A swath of territory the size of Switzerland whose population of 3.6 million outnumbers many U.N. member-states, Kurdistan, while technically remaining part of Iraq, is surreptitiously acquiring the attributes -- functional, political, cultural and economic -- of independence. ...

    The article describes ways in which the Iraqi governments attempts to hinder use of Oil for Food money for development projects in the north. Then it adds:

    But there is one field in which Hussein's obstructionism hasn't worked -- one in which his own callous refusal to care for his own people is exposed for the world to see.

    Hussein has made sick and dying Iraqi children the centerpiece of his anti-sanctions campaign. But they are not dying in Kurdistan in anything like the numbers seen in Iraq.

    According to the most recent UNICEF figures, the infant mortality rate in Kurdistan is a high 72 per 1,000. But the figure is 131 per 1,000 in Hussein-controlled territory.

    There is only one possible reason for such a remarkable discrepancy: Hussein himself.


    Monday, December 9
    Since Friday

    The three posts today are all on the same theme: looking at the social prejudices of historical figures. Those posts all flow from a long analysis posted here on Sunday about Trent Lott and the Dixiecrat matter. Other topics since Friday: the debate over conservative domination of the press; South Florida; and a Good Samaritan.

    Topics in the pipeline: French economic policy; judging the "racism" of previous generations; morality and foreign policy; a tangent relating to German history in the mid-20th century; a U.N.-related matter; and some leftover Confederate battle flag aspects.

    Racial prejudice in the 1940s

    The Lincoln Plawg’s set of posts on the Dixiecrat issue, linked by InstaPundit, vividly provides historical context about how many politicians of the 1940s (FDR, Harry Truman, Claude Pepper, among others) were hardly fervent champions of civil rights in some instances. John Smith ably explains at Plawg that by today’s standards, the parameters for accepted discourse in the 1940s, even in the North, often allowed remarkably harsh statements about minorities and often channeled the policy conversation into narrow limits.

    In 1943, for instance, researchers at Fisk University decided to launch a new journal titled A Monthly Summary of Events and Trends in Race Relations. The academicians had been prompted to start the journal by a major urban race riot that year -- not in a Deep South city but in Detroit.

    The journal later reported that for a 10-month period in 1943, 242 “major incidents involving Negro-white conflict” had occurred in 47 cities. Forty-six percent of the incidents were in the South, 42 percent in the North and 12 percent in the West.

    One issue of the journal referred to what it called “interminority conflicts involving, particularly, Negroes and Poles and Irish Catholics in such Northern cities as Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and Buffalo.”

    In his 1998 book “Whiteness of a Different Color,” Matthew Frye Jacobson wrote in regard to the journal:

    From 1943 until the end of 1948, the staff of Race Relations monitored and reported myriad crises, outbreaks, protests, court battles, hostilities and alliances among the races nationwide. ...

    Increasingly, Race Relations also covered acts of white resistance. It reported a case of arson in Redwood City, California, that destroyed the home of a black veteran in a white neighborhood, and the more tragic case of a Fantana, California, family who were engulfed in the flames of a similar, racially motivated arson. It included a strike of white schoolchildren in Gary, Indiana, who refused to attend school with blacks, and the massive “sick leaves” mysteriously taken by white restaurant and hotel workers in Cincinnati during the NAACP convention there. And it included an escalating battle over housing in Chicago -- a “restrictive covenant war.”

    In his posts, John Smith notes that Alabama Gov. “Big Jim” Folsom, among several Southern political leaders, wasn’t regarded as a race-baiter. That follows from everything I’ve read about him -- not that he was progressive on civil rights, either. When the Dixiecrats held their convention in Birmingham, Ala., in July 1948, Folsom, as a Democratic governor, tried to straddle the fence. He made a brief, pro forma appearance at the convention but otherwise made no effort to tie his political fate with that of Thurmond & Co. In contrast, Mississippi’s governor was Thurmond’s Dixiecrat running mate.

    Anti-semitism in that era

    In discussing social prejudices in the 1940s, it is relevant to note how anti-Semitism was expressed openly in this country during that time, even in Congress. I talked about that point in a post in October, describing a Terry Gross interview with historian Michael Beschloss:

    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. ...

    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.

    Truman, to his credit, desegregated the nation’s armed forces and established a national civil rights commission intended to push the nation toward progress in regard to race relations. At the same time, however, John Smith at The Lincoln Plawg cites a quote by Truman, from his Senate days in the late 1930s, in which he said he didn’t personally support a federal anti-lynching although he would feel politically obligated to vote for it.

    TR, too

    One last note regarding prejudice and historical figures:

    William Kristol, to his credit, unhesitatingly criticized Lott’s remarks concerning the Dixiecrat issue. "It's ludicrous,” Kristol said in the Washington Post. “He should remember it's the party of Lincoln.”

    In light of that statement, it’s a bit ironic that Kristol’s magazine, The Weekly Standard, goes to such lengths to heap praise on Theodore Roosevelt. TR, after all, didn’t hesitate to express contempt toward non-whites.

    The new edition of Cato Policy Report, for example, has an essay that is ferociously hostile to Roosevelt. (It’s over the top, really -- a modern, industrial society is going to need government regulation, and it’s no sin that TR recognized that fact. Of course, he did move steadily to the political left so that by the time of his 1912 presidential campaign, his views had veered into outright radicalism.)

    The Cato essay includes several atrocious Roosevelt quotes on the topic of race. To cite only one example: “A perfectly stupid race can never rise to a very high place; the Negro, for instance, has been kept down as much by lack of intellectual development as by anything else.”

    Roosevelt, the essay notes, called on white Americans to be “good breeders” to prevent “race suicide.” TR, in line with many elite intellectuals of the day, routinely employed racially chauvinistic language, praising whites as innately superior over other races. The essay quotes historian Diane Paul, who wrote that Roosevelt “probably did more than any other individual to bring the views of academic race theorists to ordinary Americans.”

    Such a discussion raises the point about how far one should go in judging past generations by current moral standards. I intend to address that in a post later this week.

    Sunday, December 8
    Double-speak catches up with Trent Lott

    W.J. Cash observed in “The Mind of the South” that old-time Southern traditionalists had a “tendency toward unreality.” Their mental “world-construction,” he argued, was “mainly a product of fantasy.” Cash’s point would seem to apply to Trent Lott’s egregious public praise for the Dixiecrat movement of 1948.

    Lott’s statement, wistfully delivered at a Thurmond birthday party and captured on C-SPAN, straightforwardly commended the Dixiecrat movement:

    I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either.

    Perhaps Lott felt obligated by some diehard sense of state pride, given that Thurmond’s Dixiecrat running mate in 1948 was a Mississippian -- Fielding Wright, the state’s governor. Perhaps Lott was trying to be polite and in the process forgot to apply the circumspection that politicians normally feel obligated to use when referring back to the checkered political career of Thurmond, a one-time arch-segregationist.

    Most likely, though, Lott was tripped up by the long tradition, among certain Southerners in certain eras, of using double-talk, obfuscation and cynicism in excusing certain things: Describing slavery, at the time, as paternalism. Or lynching, in the 1890s, as justice. Apologists rationalized the disenfranchisement of blacks as essential to social order. They touted underfunded blacks-only public schools, with a straight face, as “equal” to those for whites. They justified opposition to federal anti-lynching legislation as an innocuous safeguarding of constitutional principles.

    And they held up Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign in 1948 as a mere defense of states’ rights.

    Lott's praise for the Dixiecrat movement certainly moves the Republican Senate leader's post a long way from the days of Everett Dirksen, who encouraged his party in 1964 to vote for Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act -- a sterling moment in congressional history. (And a sterling moment for the Supreme Court would come two years later, when its South Carolina vs. Katzenbach decision rejected the states’-rights argument and at long last revivified the federal powers, first enunciated in the Civil War amendments, to enforce the civil rights of all Americans.)

    Other birthday pronouncements for Thurmond sidestepped, out of politeness, the unpleasant parts of his career in public life. Lott’s ill-considered statements serve a useful purpose, though, by drawing attention to what the Dixiecrat movement was actually about. (Kudos to blogger Atrios, in particular, for pointing out the naked racism of that crusade.)

    The Dixiecrat movement began to come together in 1948 when segregationist-minded dissidents walked out of the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia. A leader of the walkout was “Bull” Connor, the Birmingham, Ala., police commissioner whose fascistic tactics in attacking civil rights demonstrators would shock the nation in the 1960s.

    Birmingham, in fact, was the site of the Dixiecrat’s convention, held in July 1948. A scattering of delegates attended from several non-Southern states, including Pennsylvania, Illinois and California.

    Thurmond, as the movement's presidential nominee, easily adopted the time-honored double-speak of Southern white supremacy. As described by John Egerton in his book “Speak Now Against the Day,” Thurmond’s strategy

    was, first, to raise the specter of a black invasion of the South’s lily-white temples of segregation -- churches, schools, theaters, swimming pools, bedrooms -- and then, denying racial motivation, to “defend as a matter of principle” what he described as a federal assault on states’ rights.

    In his acceptance speech, Thurmond, who was governor of South Carolina at the time, repeated his crowd-pleasing line that there were “not enough troops in the army” to force desegregation down the throats of the white South. To reporters, he would say over and over again that he wasn’t preoccupied with white supremacy -- what really worried him were the dangers of “police state tactics ... a federal gestapo ... ”

    Meanwhile, [vice presidential nominee] Fielding Wright, a true believer in white supremacy, would be free to carry heavier weapons, and to fire them at will.

    The night that Thurmond’s nomination was approved by the convention, a group of revelers in Birmingham produced a stuffed dummy, labeled it Harry Truman, put a noose around its neck and conducted a mock lynching. Someone attached a scrawled message to its coat: “TRUMAN KILLED BY CIVIL-RIGHT.”

    Thurmond’s pretense that Dixiecratism was devoid of racist sentiment was hard to square with the South Carolinian’s own stated racism. The national press noted, for instance, an incident involving Thurmond and William H. Hastie, appointed by Truman as governor of the Virgin Islands.

    Thurmond invited Hastie for a visit to the Governor’s Mansion in Columbia, and Hastie responded appreciatively, extending an invitation for Thurmond to visit the Virgin Islands.

    But when Thurmond learned that Hastie was black, matters abruptly soured.

    “I would not have written him if I knew he was a Negro,” Thurmond thundered. “Of course, it would have been ridiculous to invite him.”

    How refreshing: No double-talk, just the ugly truth.

    South Florida

    An online bulletin board included a discussion Friday night on the subject, “Florida vs. New York,” meaning which was the most desirable place to live. A lot of the comments focused on the nature of South Florida. I can’t vouch for one writer’s claims, but I found them interesting:

    Miami was a ghost town when the Cubans arrived in the 60's. ... the kids went to school in english and a natural bi-lingualness developed. (There was a similar but smaller movement in Union City and West New York, two towns in northeast NJ). Most immigrated Cubans knew or learned english.

    Since SoFla it is a bi-lingual area, it caters to many spanish-speaking tourists as Los Angeles does. It attract new immigrants, because they can at least get by while learning english. These people work at all the hotels everyone visits in Miami. They all want to learn english and most do.

    English is still the prevalent language and public school is completely in english besides elective spanish class. People who do not speak english only get dead-end jobs. You have to learn english.

    There is no dissolution of the English language in SoFla, simply there are many bi-lingual people. ...

    There are many, many english only speakers who live and work in South Florida.

    Another writer offered a dissent:

    Sadly this is no longer true. The immigrants in the 1960s wanted to learn English. The Mariel immigrants just don't care.

    By the way: The second writer made this meteorological observation:

    The other problem with Miami (especially in the western suburbs) is that almost every day severe thunderstorms develop over the Everglades and stay around for hours making it very unsafe to go from work-car, car-shopping, car-house, work-bus, bus-shopping, bus-house, etc. Compared to northern storms, lightning usually fills the sky just about constantly giving no safe time to quick scoot outside.

    Saturday, December 7

    I don't claim that this anecdote proves anything cosmic about people as far as class or race. But it's a true story, and it happened early this afternoon.

    I went to a mall here in central Omaha to pick up a Christmas present. The parking lots, not surprisingly, were packed. I had park far away. When I finally got to the crosswalk, I waited and waited for cars to let me cross. (Maybe I should have tried to assert the pedestrian right-of-way, but I wasn't eager to step out in front of cars that were showing no indication of slowing down.)

    Finally, a car stopped to let me cross. The vehicle was a scruffy old car with three middle-aged black people in it. I gave a wave of thanks, which was reciprocated by the driver. I couldn't help noticing that the Good Samaritan's car was quite a contrast to the parade of shiny SUVs and minivans that had failed to let me cross.

    Friday, December 6
    Service in the Senate

    Strom Thurmond isn't the only U.S. senator from South Carolina to enjoy an extraordinary longevity in Congress. In 1944, Sen. Ellison "Cotton Ed" Smith of South Carolina died after serving in the U.S. Senate since 1909. At the time of his death, he had served longer in that body that any prior member.

    Here are the top dozen members for longevity in the Senate, with length of service for current members as of last January:

    1) Strom Thurmond (R-SC), 46 years, 5 months.

    2) Robert C. Byrd (D-WV), 43 years.

    3) Carl T. Hayden (D-AZ), 41 years, 9 months.

    4) John C. Stennis (D-MS), 41 years, 2 months.

    5) Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA), 39 years, 2 months.

    6) Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI), 38 years.

    7) Richard B. Russell (D-GA), 38 years.

    8) Russell B. Long (D-LA), 38 years.

    9) Francis E. Warren (R-WY), 37 years.

    10) James O. Eastland (D-MS), 36 years, 3 months.

    11) Warren Magnuson (D-WA), 36 years.

    12) Claiborne Pell (D-RI), 36 years.

    A list of the top 20 is here.

    One of my most vivid memories from living in Washington, D.C., in the early '80s was the morning I was walking north along the street that runs in front of the Supreme Court building, on my way to one of the congressional office buildings. I happened to look down to see an elderly, fragile man in a suit being pushed in a wheelchair, coming in my direction. My eyes met his, and, in that fleeting moment, the old fellow gave off a sense of deep weariness and eroding physical strength. It was John Stennis.

    There's a twist, though: My impression wasn't entirely correct. Stennis retained enough strength to win re-election in 1982. He served out that full term, retiring in 1989. He died in 1995. That was more than a decade since I'd seen him on that sidewalk in downtown D.C.

    Racial friendliness, or closet racism?

    Check out this unusual site, please, and see if you can decide what it is:

  • A site that is what it appears: a site run by sunny white folks to poke fun at nervousness about cross-racial interaction.

  • A site conceived by blacks to poke fun at white attitudes.

  • A site conceived by blacks out of self-hate.

  • A site that, while cheery on the surface, is actually motivated by white racism (as claimed by some of the letters to the site.)

  • A site that, regardless of who conceived it, unwisely promotes black stereotypes.

  • A site cleverly intended as a Rorschach test on racial attitudes.

  • A site that merely wants to have fun.

  • My view is that it's intended as lighthearted satire. But can we really be sure?

    Update: Here's another weird one to check out.

    Neighborly neighbors

    It was widely reported this week that the Pew survey of global opinion indicated deep strains of opposition abroad to the Bush administration’s foreign policy. The poll results from Canada weren’t as bad, though they did indicate that Canadians retain a wariness about U.S. influence in their country. From a Globe and Mail article:

  • Most Canadians, 72 per cent, have a favourable attitude toward the United States, with 24 percent saying their opinion is very favourable and 48 per cent saying it's somewhat favourable. Only 27 percent have an unfavourable opinion.

  • Sixty-eight per cent of Canadians support the U.S.-led war on terrorism, while 27 per cent oppose it.

  • The influence of the United States in the world is less favourably regarded. More than two-thirds of Canadians, 68 per cent, say American policies increase the gap between rich and poor. Only 37 percent say it's good that American ideas are spreading to Canada, with 54 percent saying it's a bad thing. However, 77 per cent like American music, movies and television.

    'Bowling for Columbine'

    I don't know if it's been mentioned at other sites, but the blog world's least favorite current movie, Michael Moore's "Bowling for Columbine," has won the best documentary award from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. The National Board of Review is made up of teachers, writers, actors and movie production workers.

    The flag

    If you fly an American flag, it should be at half-staff on Saturday, to salute those who died at Pearl Harbor, according to a presidential proclamation. Our household added a flag pole and flag several months ago. It's become a nice part of our lives.

    Democracy and Islam: the Bush view

    Richard N. Haass, director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff (who headed Middle East policymaking in the first Bush White House) gave a speech this week titled “Towards Greater Democracy in the Muslim World.” He framed things in a good news/bad news format. Some of what he told the Council on Foreign Relations:

    In Morocco this past September, citizens voted in the freest, fairest, and most transparent elections in the country s history, creating a diverse new parliament.

    In October, Bahrainis cast votes for the first time in thirty years to elect a parliament. It was also the first time women ran for national office. Just last week, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos announced that he is extending the vote for the Consultative Shura Council to all his country s adult citizens. Earlier this year, Qatar announced a new constitution in anticipation of upcoming parliamentary elections. Yemen now boasts not only a multiparty system and an elected parliament but also directly elected municipal officials and, since 1999, a directly elected president. ...

    Elsewhere, we see many elements of democracy in Muslim-majority states like Malaysia and Indonesia. We hear inspiring Muslim voices advocating pluralism and democracy, from Mohamed Talbi in Tunisia to Nurcholish Madjid, half a world away in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country. These are just a few examples of the democratic ferment taking place elsewhere in the Muslim world, from Albania to Djibouti, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Sierra Leone. These debates are nowhere close to being resolved ... But that should not obscure how much progress is being made.

    Forty percent of Muslims live as minorities in countries such as India, France and South Africa, Haass noted.

    The bad news Haass described is pretty familiar in the blog world. He wasn’t sparing in describing the democracy gap in the Arab-Muslim world:

    ... despite these encouraging signs, we must recognize that there is, in fact, a freedom deficit in many parts of the Muslim world, and in the Arab world in particular.

    Adrian Karatnycky, Freedom House s president, documents in that organization’s 2001-2002 Survey of Freedom, "a dramatic gap between the levels of freedom and democracy in the Islamic countries particularly in their Arabic core and in the rest of the world."

    The democracy gap between the Muslim world and the rest of the world is huge. Only one out of four countries with Muslim majorities have democratically elected governments.

    Moreover, the gap between Muslim countries and the rest of the world is widening. Over the past twenty years, democracy and freedom expanded in countries in Latin America, Africa, Europe and Asia. In contrast, the Muslim world is still struggling. Indeed, by Freedom House’s standards, the number of "free" countries around the world increased by nearly three dozen over the past twenty years, but not one of them was a Muslim majority state.

    Defer to the politicians, eh

    John Rosenberg, at his blog Discriminations, has fun tweaking the Washington Post (here and here), saying the paper’s argument on affirmative action -- well, I’m cite his own phrasing:

    In an editorial today asking the Supremes to avoid "a heavy-handed imposition by judges" and "to leave Michigan's program alone," the Washington Post urged the Court to defer to "the political arena" to deal with the propriety of racial preferences.

    There was an odd sense of deja vu about this editorial, sounding as it did so much like the advice the Richmond and Montgomery papers gave the Court as it considered Brown v. Board of Education.

    John also mischievously takes the text of the Southern Manifesto (a 1956 statement of principle against federally mandated school desegregation signed by a large group of Southern members of Congress) and substitutes "racial preferences" or "diversity" for "segregation" or related terms.

    By the way: One of the signers of the manifesto was a then-Democratic senator named Strom Thurmond. Among the others: Sam Ervin and J. William Fulbright.

    I was a bit surprised to see that another signer was Sen. W. Kerr Scott, a populist-minded farmer who had outwitted Democratic Party barons in North Carolina to win that state’s gubernatorial election in 1948. In 1949, Scott stunned political observers by naming liberal Frank Porter Graham (president of the University of North Carolina, who had served on Harry Truman’s civil rights commission) to fill a U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the death of the incumbent.

    Graham was an enormously dedicated and decent-minded public servant, although his views often tended toward dreamy idealism. He was ousted in the 1950 Democratic primary, in which the topic of race relations was a key factor. He later served as a U.N. mediator between India and Pakistan in regard to Kashmir. After he had left service with the U.N., Graham said he was sure the problem could have been resolved had the two sides only agreed to carry out his plan for reconciliation. He found it hard to believe that sweet reason would be so forcefully rebuffed.

    Stonewalling in Russia

    My friend Fred Ray said it well when he sent me the URL for a most unusual site the other day. “Okay,” Fred wrote, “now I have seen it all.”

    Here is what he’s talking about: a Web site saluting Stonewall Jackson -- based in Russia.

    The site is in English and by all appearances offers a serious-minded examination of some of the general’s campaigns.

    And don’t forget the guestbook, with notes from France, England and the American South (or, as one Alabama sorehead churlishly put it in his message, “an occupied, conquered nation formerly known as the Confederate States of America.”)

    And what language is that one message in -- Greek?

    Thursday, December 5
    A lesson from ‘Albion’s Seed’

    Jim Bennett, UPI foreign policy columnist, sent me some thoughtful observations in response to the mentioning of “redneck” (by me) and of “hillbilly” and “Toby” (by blogger Chris Scott). Jim writes:

    A very interesting thread.

    It should also be remembered that "rednecks", in the narrower sense of lowland Southern whites, and "hillbillies", again in the narrower sense of Appalachian/Ozark populations of primarily Scots-Irish (or to use Fischer's more accurate term, "British Borderers"), have often been on opposite sides of the fence. The interesting and impressive maps and discussions in Fischer's “Albion's Seed,” Kevin Phillips' “The Cousins' Wars,” and Freehling's “The South vs. The South” all demonstrate that the highland areas have often taken the opposite stand from the lowland South on political issues, including secession in 1861.

    It's also wrong to equate the Scots-Irish population with Southerners per se; that population group extends well into Pennsylvania and even into parts of New York State. Western Pennsylvania, where I grew up, has a very strong Scots-Irish component in the countryside. When I went to Belfast a lot of the family names on signs, etc. were very familiar from my childhood.

    Of course, one thing that unites hillbillies and rednecks is having urbanites from the Northeast look down on them. They see eye-to-eye on rejecting that.

    Just as people viewing the world “from the comfort of suburban Tennessee” no doubt bridle at Euro-snobbery directed at them.

    Agents of destruction

    I read Bill Clinton’s speech to the Democratic Leadership Council from the other day to see what language he had used in urging his party, rightly, to pay more attention to national security issues.

    An odd phrase in the speech leaped out at me: “destruction machine.”

    Clinton used it to characterize the conservative activists, commentators, politicians and reporters who, by his description, gang up relentlessly on Democratic leaders. It’s an updated version of Hillary Clinton’s reference to a “vast right-wing conspiracy.” From his speech:

    We cannot wilt in the face of higher negative ratings for our leaders. They have a destruction machine, we don't. Somebody has got to lead the Democrats in the House, in the Senate and in running for president, and the rest of us have got to stand up for them and stand with them when they're subject to these attacks.

    Republicans, Clinton said, “have an increasingly right-wing and bellicose conservative press,” while “we (Democrats) have an increasingly docile establishment press, to be fair, partly because of the enormous trauma of September 11th and its aftermath.”

    I’m not one for fanatical, Limbaugh-like deconstructions of every little turn of phrase used by Democrats, but Clinton did say that Democrats have the establishment media, meaning, as I interpret it, that Democrats generally have them on their side. I suppose it could be said he meant that Democrats “have” the establishment press as the last hope for objective reporting. But the parallel construction in the sentence indicated he meant the GOP has one media faction on its side and the Democratic Party has another on its.

    Another move by Schroeder

    Some may carp that I'm only piling on as far as the blog world's Germanophobic rhetoric, but it should be pointed out that Schroeder's government is announcing significant defense cuts this week. The Times of London sums them up as "big cuts in spending on key arms projects."

    German criticism of U.S. military muscle and "unilateralism" is hard to take when German officials are unapologetically shortchanging their own country's military capabilities. The same goes for German complaints about the yawning gap between their country's military capability and that of the United States.

    As the Times article points out, the German government's decision directly undercuts a recent pledge by NATO officials to reduce that technology gap.

    Strom Thurmond and Pitchfork Ben Tillman

    Wyeth Ruthven describes a 1909 episode from Thurmond's childhood involving the old-time South Carolina Senator Ben Tillman. Wyeth also links to a post of mine about Tillman -- many thanks.

    By the way: Sorry for the lull in blogging here. Couldn't be helped. Much is in the pipeline, though.

    Wednesday, December 4
    Mayberry Machiavelli

    Former White House aide John DiIulio has apologized for his comments in Esquire in which he blasted the Bush administration, which he said is being run by political opportunists he derided as “Mayberry Machiavellis.” Andrew Sullivan posted some thoughts on the matter Tuesday.

    I grew up about a three hours’ drive southwest of the North Carolina town that served as the inspiration for Mayberry. A good friend of mine (who grew up about four hours to the southwest of the Ur-Mayberry) sent me a wonderful e-mail this week, inspired by DiIulio’s colorful phrase:

    Mayberry Machiavelli!!

    What a delicious title. I wish that such an episode had been made. Who would have been the Machiavelli -- Barney? Goober? Maybe Howard Sprague?

    Floyd: Ohhh, I hadn't thought of that, Andy.

    Andy: Yeah, I know, Floyd. It kind of threw me for a loop, too.

    Floyd: He's a real Machiavelli, isn't he?

    Andy: Well, I don't know if I'd --

    Floyd: A real Machiavelli, Andy. And right here in Mayberry.

    Barney: Aw, cut it out, Floyd. I didn't hear him sing a note!

    Andy: What?

    Barney: You know. The opera singer. I heard him on the radio once in Mount Pilot. (sings) "Sa-an-ta-a Lu-u chee- ee- a!"

    Andy: I don't think that's who he's talking about, Barney.

    Floyd (musing): Mayberry Machiavelli! It has kind of a ring to it, doesn't
    it, Andy.

    I suppose I could try to explain to Andrew Sullivan who Floyd and Barney are, but I'd probably only confuse him.

    Update: In regard to the DiIulio matter itself, Esquire is disputing claims in DiIulio's apology by releasing a long letter he sent to interviewer Ron Suskind in October.

    Cousins to 'redneck'

    One of several e-mail acquaintances I’ve been especially pleased to make since starting this blog has been Chris Scott, a grad student in public history in South Carolina. Chris, who blogs at The Insecure Egotist in between exams, was spurred by my posts about “rednecks” to note two related terms from Southern cultural history: “hillbilly” and “Toby”:

    In my research on Snuffy Jenkins, a Carolina banjo player and "hillbilly" musician, I've found that the term "Hillbilly" created ambivalent reactions. Some hated it, but others thought that it was just fine, a perfect moniker/nickname for themselves. These people embraced the rural aspects of their native southern culture in direct opposition to perceived threats from the Northern cities.

    Encroaching national phenonomenon threatened their regional distinctiveness. As a result, some took what was otherwise a threat and embraced it as the embodiment of what was laudable and superior in their culture to the dominant trends. Although we are seventy-to-eighty years removed from this specific phenomenon, I imagine certain amounts of this same argument still resonate across the South, or any regionally distinctive population for that matter, and also for those who use the term “redneck” in a nonbelligerent manner.

    In another historical parallel, a popular figure in early twentieth century entertainment was the Toby, a red-headed, freckle faced traveling show character that hated sin, loved mother, home, and heaven, and was natively bright, if uneducated. He was so loved by rural audiences that a whole sub-genre of Toby theatre grew out of the traveling show medium.

    To these rural audiences, he represented their culture in caricature in response to the same encroaching threats to their regional culture. And by regional culture I do not simply mean the Confederate flag or racism, but a particular brand of religiousness, a folk heritage, and an economic way of life that the industrial revolution was swiftly changing (after a relatively stable, and long, period of time when the south was predominantly agricultural).

    Good stuff.

    Anyone interested in further exploring such aspects of Southern culture will find a terrific resource here, affiliated with my undergraduate alma mater.

    Tuesday, December 3
    Chris Patten vs. Richard Perle

    The two made clear their differing perspectives in a transcript at FrontPage (The transcript is of a symposium discussion in Prague from October. The Trilateral Commission sponsored the event.)

    Patten fervently made the case for multilateralism. And he bluntly criticized neoconservatives and U.S. “unilateralism.”

    Perle’s point-by-point rebuttal of claims by Patten makes for a good read. After Patten said that Europeans are striving to be an ally but also to serve as a “counterweight” to American power, Perle responded that such an approach hardly seemed evidence of a European desire to be an ally of the United States.

    Among Perle’s other comments:

    Chris Patten said “We must work through the United Nations.” I'm very troubled at the idea that the United Nations is the solely legitimizing institution when it comes to the use of force.

    Why the United Nations? Is the United Nations better able to confirm legitimacy than, say, a coalition of liberal democracies? Does the addition of members of the UN, like China for example, or Syria, add legitimacy to what otherwise might be the collective policy of countries that share our values? I don't think so. It is a dangerous trend to consider that the United Nations, a weak institution at best, an institution that includes a very large number of nasty regimes, is somehow better able to confirm legitimacy than institutions like the European Union or NATO.

    Chris puts a great deal of stock in containment and the rule-book. To be sure, there are situations in which containment is an entirely appropriate policy. And we all wish there was a rule-book that was adhered to by everyone. But there are those who break the rules, we know that, and containment is not always effective. ...

    And by the way, it might be worth some time looking back at the history and results of the Arms Control agreements of the Cold War. We now know that the Soviet Union had 50,000 nuclear weapons, 20,000 more than we ever knew. They hid far more weapons than were ever subject to limitation in the course of those negotiations. ...

    When we talk about unilateralism, let's remember German unilateralism. How else should one interpret Chancellor Schroeder's position that not only would Germany not participate, but even if the United Nations conducted an operation against Iraq, Germany wouldn't participate in that? Is that not unilateralism? What about French unilateralism?

    There's plenty of unilateralism in the world. No one much likes it and it's a tragedy if the United States, in defending itself and in defending the common values of all of us, is driven to acting alone, or nearly alone.

    Perle also made a useful distinction between multilateralism and "globalism." The latter he characterized pejoratively, saying it was the agenda of the Clinton administration and remains the guiding star strategically for the pro-ICC, pro-Kyoto band of diplomats and activists.

    ‘Our relationships with them are fundamentally changing ... ’

    Peter Ross Range, editor of Blueprint (the magazine of the Democratic Leadership Council) recently returned from a trip to Germany. In an article in the new edition of the magazine, he describes a growing gap between Germans and Americans in regard to foreign policy:

    ... most Europeans, still don't get the post-9/11 world. They did not experience the transformative moment that so profoundly changed America. And, absent an attack on their own soil, they're not likely to share America's fundamentally altered notion of national security any time soon.

    Most Europeans, and Germans in particular, still see the world through a pre-9/11 lens. ...

    Americans perceive themselves to be at war. Germans see the war as something that may still come, and they want to avoid it at almost any cost. "To us, war means Dresden," one Greens Party politician told me. (He was born long after the firebombing of Dresden.) In Germany, that trumps any further discussion. ...

    It's important to remember that Germans, like most Europeans, have no worldwide foreign policy. They have some global aspirations, such as permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council, but they have no global vision. Instead, they have interests, they have relationships, and they have a strong notion of process — of how nations should ideally relate to one another (mainly through international institutions). But they have little developed sense of power and its uses ...

    One way to know that Germans still don't get 9/11 is that they often couch their opposition to firm action in Iraq in terms that are more anti-Bush than anti-American. During a long string of conversations in Berlin at election time, my interlocutors always veered quickly from Iraq into a string of Bush administration decisions that they hate: rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, U.S. withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, last year's new steel tariffs. ...

    But what does any of this have to do with going to war against Saddam Hussein? The answer is nothing. Yet the Germans seem unable to distinguish between objectionable environmental and trade policies and desirable security policies. They bundle them all together, and seem to give them equal weight. ...

    In Berlin, I often asked Germans how they would feel about Iraq if the president were named Clinton or Gore, and had supported Kyoto and the ICC, but still had the same Iraq policy as Bush. Almost all said: "Oh, that would be different." They've confused the messenger with the message; their problem is Bush, when it should be Saddam Hussein.

    Despite their preoccupation with Bush, it is nonetheless true that there's latent anti-Americanism in the German body politic. Its most explicit form is the reflexive rejection by the left of certain American values, economic realities, and lifestyle preferences — which they derisively label "American conditions," now a negative political code word in Germany. ...

    Such misperceptions are driving a wedge between the United States and its friends in Europe. Our relationships with them are fundamentally shifting, and will probably never be quite the same again.

    His description seems right on the mark. European naivete and prejudices continue to present huge complications for a realistic U.S. diplomacy.

    Over the long term, though, the United States is going to need allies. The current America-as-hegemon environment isn’t likely to last; even the seemingly intractable Cold War conflict eventually evaporated. In coming decades, other centers of power will arise in the world. Sure, the United States is likely to remain the dominant power, and thankfully so. But over time it would hardly be a surprise if we saw slippage in our ability to convince or coerce other governments. And we could well face problems in exercising our sovereignty to use military force, given the way some NGOs and diplomats are working to reshape international law.

    Range's article ends by saying it might take an attack of catastrophic terrorism on European soil before the Germans and other Continentals awaken to the geopolitical reality. Unfortunately, he's probably right about that too. And even then, many would probably find a way to put the blame on U.S. foreign policy.

    Update: Porphyrogenitus ably pulls together observations on the Euro-American loggerheads topic, at Ranting Screeds.

    Canada and the R-word

    When I asked the other day whether Canada has rednecks, Canadian blogger Colby Cosh rolled his eyes at the very question. In a post he titled “Sheesh, did he really ask that?” he wrote:

    this is a disconcerting question, even coming from an American. Any Canadian can tell you immediately what province Canada’s rednecks are in. The word may actually be more common in this country than it is in the U.S.; there is at least some kind of cultural stigma attached to hatred of the American South, but very little, in Canada, attached to hatred of the blue-eyed sheiks.

    Of course, this use of the word "redneck" is really slightly inappropriate, since it's their affluence Albertans are resented for, not their poverty. Here's an entire two-part radio documentary on Canada's rednecks.

    I got the link to the radio documentary to work once. But in subsequent checks I found that the CBC kept redirecting me to another URL.

    Cosh also links to an article that talks about the promotional use of the term “redneck” in Alberta:

    ... the Globe and Mail [in July 1994] ran on its front page the bemused headline "Albertans proud to stick out their red necks." Since then, countless Alberta businesses have flocked to pitch products to a ready-made niche market. A Calgary stockbroker recorded "The Red Neck Song" in 1995, perhaps while wearing Edmonton-made Redneck Jeans. An Edmonton air traffic controller opened two Rednecks Haircut Emporiums for guys who "hate the smell of hairspray and perm solution." The Regency Hotel in Edmonton opened up a red-meat-laden Redneck Buffet. Now comes what may be the best marketing fit of all: redneck beer. ...

    In 1999, Canadian commentator Judy Rebick used the term “redneck” as an epithet to insult Preston Manning, then-leader of the Progressive Conservatives. In an essay titled “The real Preston stood up,” Rebick wrote: “The United Alternative is dead. Long live bigotry and intolerance, Preston Manning seemed to be saying in his very long response to the Throne Speech. The real Preston Manning finally stood up. ... Manning demonstrated what the Progressive Conservative leadership has always known. Underneath that civil reserve lies a good old-fashioned Alberta redneck. As has been widely reported, Manning returned to what the media is calling "core Reform values." Anti-immigration, anti-Charter of Rights and Freedoms, anti-gay and lesbian families, and, most surprising, a call for ‘defining the rights of the unborn.’ ”

    A Calgary resident responded to her column this way:

    Preston Manning knows how to read us "redneck" (out here many of us treat that as the compliment I'm sure it is) Westerners. ...

    As far as Western intolerance is concerned, Central and Eastern Canada are going to have to get used to the fact that the fastest growing, most politically active and financially strong area of Canada will no longer tolerate things as they are. We created a party that became the official opposition within 10 years. We will not rest until it is in power.

    Another Calgary resident was pointed in rebuking Rebick’s use of “redneck”:

    ... Second, shame on you, especially as you are sooo tolerant and have been granted a national medium for your thoughts, for perpetuating a myth and a stereotype regarding the political beliefs of Albertans. It is an extremely cheap and lazy way to discount any ideas, good or bad, which come out of the mouth of someone that happens to live in my province.

    Rebick eventually felt compelled to try to mend fences. In a message addressed to her readers, she wrote:

    Obviously some people in Alberta were offended by my calling Preston Manning an Alberta redneck.

    I did not intend to suggest that everyone in Alberta is a redneck. If someone called me a Toronto pinko, I wouldn't think that they meant that everyone in Toronto is a pinko.

    I know lots of progressive people in Alberta, where I have spent a lot of time over the years. I also know that a number of people in Alberta wear the title "redneck' with pride. I even saw bumper stickers all over the University of Calgary saying "redneck and proud of it."

    We've got our share of rednecks in Ontario too. It's not an issue of what province they come from. It's the politics I object to.

    When I first expressed puzzlement last week at the use of “redneck” in the Canadian context, I had no idea about the term’s familiar use north of the border. It feels good to have my ignorance reduced, even if by only a smidgen, given its overall magnitude.

    By the way: Readers here in the Midlands might be interested in the results from Google searches for “Nebraska rednecks” and “Iowa rednecks.”

    And: In a post below, I note that a good friend is chiding me for being too flippant in using the term “redneck,” given its frequent use as a slur against blue-collar Southerners. He has a point. I’ve been casual in using the term here and loosened up even further after reading the Colby Cosh post.

    Monday, December 2
    Genetics, monsters and patent law

    I linked the other day to an article about how anti-technology radical Jeremy Rifkin and biologist Stuart Newman are hoping to block human cloning by trying to get a patent for a “chimera,” a part-animal/part-human monstrosity. Roger Sweeny did some digging and e-mailed me additional info for which I'm grateful. Roger writes:

    The patent that Rifkin and Newman filed for was not for a chimera itself but for 3 techniques that might be able to be used to form a chimera. Actually, I think the application is for these 3 techniques when they are used to form a human chimera (which, however, they have not been used for). There is undoubtedly some technical patent law here. A patent can be granted only for something that is "new, useful, and non-obvious." Existing things can be combined in "new, useful, and non-obvious ways" and still be patentable, but just what the standards are is something I don't know. I gather from some of the things I read that these are all existing techniques, and the Patent and Trademark Office said they did not meet the standards of novelty.

    The patent application was rejected in 1999. What's going on now must be part of the appeals process.

    Another reason given for rejecting the patent was that it would involve patenting humans, and the PTO has a policy against that.

    “Regarding whether you can patent something you haven't actually done yet,” Roger writes, “the answer seems to be ‘maybe.’ ” From a link Roger provided to a June 1998 article in AgBiotechNet:

    In many countries, for example the UK and Germany, the creation of chimaeric embryos containing human cells is already banned. In countries where it is not expressly prohibited, a combination of scientific difficulties and ethical reluctance has constrained researchers from conducting such research. Rifkin and Newman have exploited the fact that, in the United States, where no such law exists, a patent application need not be based on an actual experiment, but can be based merely on the description of a hypothetical experiment, provided the patent office can be persuaded of its credibility.

    According to Pat Coyne, one of Washington-based lawyers that filed the patent, there is no need to have actually carried out the experiment, providing the idea meets the standard criteria for patentability. ... If the patent application is rejected by the US Patent and Trademark Office, Rifkin and Stewart are committed to take their claim through the full legal appeals process, including if necessary to the Supreme Court, in order to generate a detailed debate on the extent to which human life is patentable. Rejection by the court would also have important implications for any other patent application on techniques in the same field. ...

    Charles Van Horn, a Washington attorney who until 1988 directed the patent office's biotechnology examining group, said unusual applications like Newman's are traditionally held to a high standard of proof of feasibility. So Newman may not get very far without actually making some human chimaeras. ... The process of dealing with initial comments from the US Patent Office, and if necessary contesting legal decisions through various stages, is likely to take several years. During this time, as a patent applicant, Rifkin will have the legal standing to comment on similar applications made by others. Given this prospect, many in the biotechnology industry are viewing the application and the publicity campaign it is intended to stimulate as frivolous and irritating at best, and potentially disruptive at worst.

    Roger also pointed out a detailed examination of the issue in Policy Review as well as a recent essay on the subject by Charles Colson.

    Thanks much, Roger.