Regions of Mind

Self-assured but self-questioning.

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


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



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Tuesday, December 31
 
Conspiracy time, again, for Oliver Stone

The director is setting his sights on portraying the life of Alexander the Great. Stone, who folded and mutilated historical fact in "JFK," says he intends to portray Alexander, dead at 33, as the victim of a conspiracy among his generals. This time, Stone may have better historical footing for such speculation.

Several Hollywood types have expressed interest in the Alexander story. Mel Gibson is planning on a doing a 10-part series on him for HBO. Martin Scorsese and Ridley Scott each displayed an interest in mounting a film version of the conqueror's life, but turned to other projects.

Buz Luhrmann, director of "Moulin Rouge," is planning his own Alexander biopic, with Leonardo DiCaprio possibly in the starring role. Luhrman, not surprisingly, evidently intends to direct lots of attention to Alexander's bisexual appetites.

An article in The Guardian put it this way: "at last the time seems to have come for the first bisexual action hero -- with Alexander hopping, in one script, from the bed of his boyhood friend and lover Hephaestion, to that of the Queen of the Amazons and onward through a host of eunuchs and catamites."

Other info from the article:

More than 2 300 years on, the very name Alexander still sends a shudder down the spine of Iranians and central Asians weaned on tales of his cruelty, while barely a decade ago Greece almost went to war with its newly independent neighbour, the Republic of Macedonia, over its use of his star on its flag. ...

Typically Luhrmann's Alexander will not be short on flamboyance, despite being based on the Italian historian Valerio Manfredi's trilogy of novels about the all-conquering hero.

After taking three male lovers, and diverting himself with the odd eunuch, he will be shown putting politics before pleasure to do his duty with the single-breasted queen of the Amazons, according to scriptwriter Ted Tally. Leonardo DiCaprio is in the process of signing on the dotted line to play him. But as in war, nothing can be taken for granted.

Luhrmann was to start shooting the $150m saga in Morocco in the early spring, having persuaded King Mohammed VI to lend him 5 000 soldiers and 1 000 horses for his battle scenes, but filming has been put back to the autumn.

In a bold flanking move, Vietnam veteran Stone, who has admired Alexander since his days as a GI, has stepped into the breach.

Only a month ago his own project seem to be dead in the water, but now he is back with the Irish actor Colin Farrell in Bucephalus's saddle, and a big studio budget. Stone hopes to start shooting in Morocco in June, having abandoned his first choice of locations in India. Neither he nor Luhrmann would be drawn on whether there was room for two big Alexander films.

While Luhrmann and Tally's script is believed to stick closely to Manfredi's take on Alexander as the great expander of Greek and thus western cultural influence, Stone's take is more heretical, as one would expect from the man who made JFK. It also gives full play to the whirl of conspiracy theories that surrounded Alexander's life and death.

Pointedly, Stone believes Alexander was probably poisoned by his own generals, fearful of his increasing megalomania and cruelty.

"I was intrigued to discover that his famous father, Philip II, had been assassinated under mysterious circumstances," Stone said. "Alexander, not far from his side that day, was immediately suspect. The assassin himself was quickly slain, and the murder remains an enigma. In Alexander's own untimely death at 33 we have again strong evidence of a conspiracy of family clans. Did he die of fever or from poisoned wine? I choose to believe the latter." ...

But the race for who will be first is only half the battle. The other, with Greece and the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia at each others' throats over the right to use the word Macedonian, is about the much more thorny question of who the real Alexander was. Was he a Greek, or was he an ancestor of the Slav-speaking people of the former Yugoslavia and northern Greece who now call themselves Macedonians?

Some Greek nationalists have already protested at the mention of Alexander's supposed homosexuality, describing it as a "disgrace" and a "slur on Greece" -- although the ancient Hellenes had a more relaxed view of these things. Stone has blamed the Greek government for orchestrating the outrage, and its culture minister, Evangelos Venizelos, has withdrawn support from the project. But he has stopped short of condemning it outright. Faced with protests from opposition MPs, he said: "We cannot censor Hollywood. I don't know what I can do."

The Macedonians are also worried about how the film will portray their hero. While they seem more relaxed about his sexual preferences, activists have bombarded studios with letters and emails pointing out that Alexander was not a Greek but a Macedonian, who spoke a different language and who was regarded by the ancient Greeks as different. ...

Of the multitude of failed attempts to bring Alexander and his exploits to the screen, the most unlikely had William Shatner -- aka Captain Kirk from Star Trek -- leading the Macedonian phalanx across Asia. ...

Hey, here's a great idea: Stone should find a role for Shatner in the new movie. During breaks between filming, Shatner could even entertain the '60s-fixated Stone with renditions of a Shatner classic: "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."



 
Coming soon: Al Jazeera in English

Al Jazeera plans to open an English-language Web site in early 2003 and begin English-language news programming by satellite and cable late next year.

The Christian Science Monitor provides details here.

Meanwhile, an online report from South Africa quotes Joanne Tucker, managing editor of Al Jazeera's English-language Web site, as saying the channel new TV coverage "will be original news in English tailored to a Western audience."

The SA Broadcasting Corporation, a South African TV network, is considering dropping its CNN broadcasts in favor of the English-language Al Jazeera coverage.



 
Ann Coulter and Atrios: mirror images

Conservative firebrand Ann Coulter to is casually tossing around the term "treason" in referring to liberals' stances on foreign policy, both during the Cold War and in today's age of catastrophic terrorism. Her claim is precisely the kind of nonsense that ought to be branded and criticized for what it is: cheap partisan opportunism.

Foreign policy dunderheadedness, naivete, misplaced idealism, even contempt for the policy of a sitting administration -- none of those equates to treason, a matter of the greatest seriousness.

Meanwhile, Atrios, in a mirror image of Coulter's shtick, tried to float nasty aspersions against conservatives the other day, implying that they're racists for opposing parts of the Democratic agenda that are far removed from civil rights issues. (Coulter has no shame in casually raising questions about the patriotism of her ideological foes; it's the same for Atrios, except he's impugning people's claims to have rejected racism. She wants to distort the concept of treason; he seeks the same for the notion of racism. And both are doing so merely to gain a political advantage.)

It was great to see Tapped stand up to Atrios' rhetoric and make the case for honest analysis:

Take a look at the NAACP scorecard, and you'll see that it indeed has little to do with what might be considered "traditional" civil rights issues (i.e. voting rights). ... If a politician supports vouchers and thus loses points on the NAACP's scorecard, does that make him or her anti-civil rights? To put it another way: It's no longer fair to call a Republican who scores poorly on the NAACP report card "anti-civil rights." It's more accurate to call them, simply, a Republican.

So, when we warned of a potential overstretch, what we had in mind was the Democrats' habit of casting every opponent of the NAACP's agenda as an opponent of civil rights -- which we think is wrong because the NAACP's agenda has expanded to consist largely of issues on which liberals and conservatives have always disagreed, and it's unfair to tar conservatives generally as "racist" or anti-civil rights for their positions on those issues. Some of our correspondents have argued that the Democrats should take any advantage they can get -- the Christian Coalition, they say, routinely mau-maued Democrats on flag-burning, so why shouldn't we mau-mau Republicans on Head Start funding? We say: That didn't make the Christian Coalition right, either.

That is a fair-minded approach. It's not what the hard-line, cheap-shot-adoring partisans like to hear, but it was a welcome dose of maturity and truth. Congratulations, Tapped.



Monday, December 30
 
What Brink has been up to lately

Brink Lindsey doesn't use his blog to toot his own horn about what he's up to at the Cato Institute, but it needs to be pointed out that he has been doing heavy analysis in recent months in revealing the flawed -- in fact, arbitrary -- methodology that the U.S. government often uses for calculating antidumping penalties. The latest Cato study on the topic, co-authored by Brink and proposing reforms of U.S. antidumping policy, just came out; it's here. Serious stuff. No wonder he hasn't had a lot of time for blogging.



 
Blaming America first

Many foreign policy academicians who specialize in regional studies yield to a familiar temptation: When frictions and problems arise between the United States and a foreign country, they blame Americe first.

By their description, an ignorant, bullying Uncle Sam constantly misinterprets reality, leading to alienation and sometimes to crises. Had U.S. policy makers only possessed the keen understanding that the academic specialists have of the foreign country’s culture and dynamics, it’s claimed, all would be well.

Such academicians too often become apologists for faulty reasoning, if not egregious behavior, by foreign governments.

This isn’t to say that U.S. foreign policy isn’t open to legitimate criticism. The point is that analysts from the university and activist worlds too often view matters from a radically skewed perspective: that of the narrow subculture of their specialist community.

Consider this essay about the current crisis with North Korea. Leon Sigal, with a wide-ranging career in government, academics, journalism and the State Department, says North Korea’s actions should be interpreted as nothing more than a cry for help:

North Korea is no Iraq. It wants to improve relations with the United States and says it is ready to give up its nuclear, missile, and other weapons programs in return. ...

To achieve its aims, Washington has to understand that Pyongyang is seeking an end to its hostile relationship with the United States. When Washington fails to reciprocate, Pyongyang retaliates by breaking its pledges in a desperate effort to get Washington to cooperate. ...

In halting Pyongyang's plutonium program [in 1994], Washington got what it most wanted up front, but it did not live up to its end of the bargain. When Republicans won control of Congress in elections just a week later, unilateralists in the Republican Party denounced the deal as appeasement. Unwilling to challenge Congress, the Clinton administration shrank from implementation. ...

Above all, North Korea wanted President Clinton to come to Pyongyang to seal the missile deal and place his imprimatur on the October 12 pledge, thereby consummating North Korea's ten-year campaign to end enmity with the United States. ...

The stunning revelation confirmed the worst suspicions of some, that North Korea had intended to dupe the United States all along by substituting a covert nuclear program for the one it allowed to be frozen. That contention does not seem plausible. ...

Two other interpretations seem more tenable. One is that after 1997 the North began hedging against U.S. failure to live up to the Agreed Framework, but is now prepared to trade in that hedge. Another is that it is playing tit-for-tat to induce the United States to end enmity. ...

Either way, Pyongyang keeps signaling its desire for a deal with Washington -- and not just on nuclear and missile issues. ...

No one denies that North Korea is going to extreme lengths to secure its ultimate aim: a nonaggression agreement with the United States. But Sigal would absolve North Korea of all responsibility for its egregious actions. By his analysis, the Pyongyang regime hasn’t been engaged in a reckless effort to develop and spread weapons of mass destruction; it has merely been pursuing a high-minded “ten-year campaign to end enmity with the United States.” North Korea’s violation of its written pledges to the U.S. government isn’t anything to get upset over; it should instead be seen as “a desperate effort to get Washington to cooperate.”

I’m not arguing that the proper response is for the United States to start dropping bombs north of the Korean DMZ. On the contrary, given the limited options available to the United States, diplomacy -- including contacts with the North Korean government itself -- should be an essential part of the U.S. response.

But the attempt to put all the blame on the United States for the current crisis is way too facile. Such an effort demonstrates, yet again, how erudition has little value unless it is coupled with sound judgment.

By the way: North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il has placed his country in such awful circumstances in part because he suffers from what could be termed the Michael Jackson syndrome.

Jackson, the pitiful self-described “King of Pop,” luxuriates in preposterous behavior because no one in his entourage has the integrity to explain reality to him so he will operate within sensible limits. Freed of the constraints that apply to normal people, he engages in an ever-growing list of disturbing indulgences.

The same applies for North Korea’s pampered, self-deceived dictator. The coterie of sycophants and Machiavellians surrounding him only encourage his paranoia and recklessness. The results are utterly harmful -- to East Asia, to the United States, to North Korea itself.



Sunday, December 29
 
Steel numbers

One reason it doesn’t make sense to attempt to erect a tariff wall to protect domestic steel producers is that the resulting barriers raise costs significantly for U.S. steel users -- which account for a far larger portion of the national economy.

I recently read an article in which Aaron Schavey of the Heritage Foundation, citing numbers from the Cato Institute, underlined that point with a vivid illustration:

... the major steel-using U.S. industries, such as transportation, construction, and fabricated metal, employ 40 times the number of workers employed in steel-producing industries.



 
Race, politics and a No. 1 ranking

Interesting post by Rick Henderson at The Deregulator about race and politics in Nevada: Although few blacks live in Nevada, the state has the highest percentage of black legislators. Check out his entire post, but here is an excerpt:

... none of Nevada's black lawmakers hail from majority African-American districts, and three of the seven reside in districts in which less than 5 percent of their constituents are black.




 
Acceptance

I mentioned the other day that James J. Kilpatrick, who ferociously defended segregationism in Virginia as editorial page editor of the Richmond News Leader during the 1950s, had a recent essay in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution titled "My journey from racism." I didn't take time previously to excerpt any of his essay; here are a few highlights from the piece:


In 1960 or thereabouts, two black reporters came from out of town -- from New York, or Boston, or somewhere in the North -- to report on Richmond's reaction to the changes wrought by Brown v. Board of Education. They were attractive fellows, about my age, obviously well-educated.

Late in the afternoon we had a delightful conversation in my office. If they had been white, I would have invited them to our home for drinks and dinner. A number of such curious correspondents, all of them white, had enjoyed our hospitality. I could not bring myself to offer an invitation. That night I slept miserably. I was ashamed. ...

My late wife and I reared three sons without a racist bone in their bodies. One granddaughter went to her senior prom hand in hand with her black escort; she is happily married today to a Moroccan Muslim. Another granddaughter is happily married to a former captain in the Mexican Air Force. A third granddaughter is dating a Buddhist. ...




Thursday, December 26
 
Lincoln returns to Richmond; slavery reparations in NYC

Some short takes:

  • Political pedigree: A bit of trivia remembered from my old political reporting days in North Carolina: Cass Ballenger, the N.C. congressman who said in an interview that he had had “segregationist feelings” about Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, is a descendant of Lewis Cass, a U.S. senator from Michigan who ran as the Democratic presidential nominee in 1848 on a popular sovereignty platform as far as slavery expansion, losing to Whig candidate Zachary Taylor. Cass Ballenger, incidentally, has long been involved in humanitarian projects in Central America; according to this AP article, he “has been a target of the Council of Conservative Citizens -- the heir to the segregationist White Citizens Councils -- for not seeking to stop the flow of Latin American immigrants to his district.”

  • Father and son: A life-size statue of Abraham Lincoln with his youngest son, Tad, will be unveiled in Richmond, Va., the capital of the old Confederacy, in April. Virginia will become the first state of the former Confederacy to publicly display a statue honoring Lincoln, who visited Richmond in April 1865 just after its fall to Union forces and 10 days before his assassination. (It is possible that one of my Confederate ancestors, captured near Petersburg, may have been among the Rebel POWs whom Lincoln saw during his brief stay in Richmond.) The statue will be on a National Park Service site beside the former location of the Confederacy’s well-known Tredegar Iron Works, a crucial munitions supplier. Curiously, a key backer of the project is a black professor at American University -- a noted Civil War scholar who supports Confederate heritage groups. The theme of the statue is reconciliation; a stone backdrop will display the words “to bind up the nation’s wounds.” A description of the statue’s design, and a photo of Lincoln and his son Tad, are found here. (A pop quiz for non-Nebraskans: Name the capital of Nebraska.)

  • Slavery and NYC: Supporters of slavery reparations are asking the New York City Council to amend the city’s contracting law to require that companies doing business with the city document whether they had any involvement with or profits from slavery. Here is the barbed description of the measure from an article in City Journal:

    Here’s what the bill really is — a Christmas present to Johnnie Cochran, Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, and the billionaire tort lawyers who are now playing the reparations racket for all it is worth. Cochran, Ogletree, and Holocaust reparations lawyer Michael Hausfeld plan to file billions of dollars worth of lawsuits against corporations and governments for their alleged involvement in slavery. The City Council, in an effusion of holiday spirit, wants to make businesses provide Cochran and Ogletree with the historical research that the lawyers will then use to sue them.

    Didn’t New York’s mayor of the Civil War era have Copperhead leanings? I’m not going to take time to look it up tonight, but my memory is that because of his less-than-enthusiastic support for Lincoln’s war policy, the mayor toyed briefly with the idea to turn NYC into some sort of independent city-state that would stand aside from the sectional fray.

  • Political staggering in Maryland: Democratic political leaders in Maryland, stung by the defeat of their party’s gubernatorial nominee by Republican Robert Ehrlich, have received a “wake-up call” to appeal to moderate voters, this article says. The piece notes: “They are reaching right in hopes of hanging on to the loyalty of farmers, factory workers, Baltimore suburbanites and others who broke party ranks to back Ehrlich.”

  • Innovation or idiocy?: Colorado is considering issuing vouchers to help young people cover their college costs. Policy wonks are welcome to e-mail me on the topic to explain the ramifications.

  • Atta in a truck: Charles Schumer has introduced legislation intended to reduce the chances that trucks will be used as instruments of terrorism. “Trucks bring in 2,000 loads of hazardous materials a day, and no background checks are required for the drivers -- even after 9/11,” this New York Post article says, citing Schumer.

    Update: Gary Farber of Amygdala, who lives in Boulder, e-mails some thoughts on Colorado's consideration of college vouchers:

    The key lines in the article you quoted are these: "1992 change to the Colorado state constitution limits the growth of government spending from one year to the next. Overall state spending cannot increase faster than the previous years expenses after inflation and population growth are factored in. Tuition revenue is included in the limit."

    The "Taxpayer Bill of Rights," known as TABOR here, basically is, among other cheery things, making the university system, well, not go broke, but forcing it to lay people off left and right, and cut programs. It's a straitjacket that can't be gotten out of, save by this workaround of declaring the entire university system an "enterprise" system, which then gives it a get-out-of-TABOR-free card. But then the state can't give the University system any money. Thus, the "innovative" idea of tuition vouchers.

    There's simply no other, apparently, choice. Either the U gets run into the ground, shutting down more and more programs as inflation, and increased numbers of enrollees, cause costs to grow while income must remain flat, or they put a flat lid on enrollment -- hard to do in a state with a rapidly growing population -- or they go this route. Because breaking TABOR, that is, revising it, can't be done, since that would, you know, Raise Taxes. And this is, aside from a few pockets such as Boulder and Aspen, a pretty Republican state.

    So this isn't a case of "hey, let's think of an innovative policy" in a vacuum. This is a case of "we're screwed, is there any way to think outside the box to try to get unscrewed" innovative policy.

    More on college vouchers: Linda Seebach, editorialist and columnist with the Rocky Mountain News, points to a recent editorial in her Denver-based paper on the voucher topic. Among the observations:

    ... The unintended result [of past state budget policy -- GS] has been an upside-down pricing structure. The state's flagship university, the University of Colorado at Boulder, charges less than comparable universities in other states. ... raising tuition even for out-of-state students to competitive levels forces cuts elsewhere in the state budget whenever there's a TABOR surplus.

    On the other hand, the state's community colleges, often the gateway to higher education, are less affordable than other states'. That's one reason Colorado ranks so low, nationally, in the proportion of its high school graduates who continue their education.

    The panel proposes giving each Colorado citizen who graduates from high school here a voucher, on the order of $4,000 a year, that can be used to pay for tuition, up to 140 credit hours. ...



  •  
    Vote fraud in South Dakota?

    Given the radically differing claims on that topic by Democrats and Republicans (not to mention National Review and The American Prospect), it would be nice to have an objective look at what's been going on up there, wouldn't it? This article from the Argus Leader (of Sioux Falls, S.D.) fits the bill pretty well. A worthwhile piece.

    It doesn't settle things completely, but it does set out the basic issues in a fair-minded way, shorn of the embellishments and distortions peddled by the political partisans (although they get their chance to sound off).



     
    When there were no ‘farm programs’

    A post here recently cited an Economist article that talked about how anti-globalization activists are, as I put it, “trying to block the creation of factories in rural Mexico, arguing that the traditional farm economy needs to be preserved in its entirety.” Roger Sweeny writes that the activists’ vision is based on a faulty understanding of economics.

    Creating a broadly prosperous economy requires basing it on more than agriculture alone, Roger says.

    He writes:

    There's no getting around the arithmetic, though you can play with it. If you begin with a state of semi-starvation, farmers can increase production (“become more productive“) and everyone is better off. But there are limits to how much people can eat. Farmers can diversify into new and better foods, so that eaters are getting “more bang for the calorie.” Again, there are limits.

    As a simple matter of arithmetic, another way to make way for other things is to have farmers’ income that is lower than average. In such a situation, there would also be a signal that many farmers should look for other lines of work. This was exactly what happened -- very dramatically -- in the USA in the 1880s and 1890s, and in the 1920s. It continues -- more quietly -- to this day.

    If population growth ends, it might be possible to preserve Mexico's “traditional farm economy.” But it would mean preserving a way of life that is physically unpleasant, that has little variety or modern conveniences (or medicine!), that most people looking from the outside in would consider poverty -- and that many people on the inside looking out leave when they have a chance. (And, of course, in a traditional farm economy, population growth will not end. From an early age, children are an economic “asset,” doing farm work, the more of them the better. But when parents work in a factory or office, children are an economic drain and the birth rate plummets. This is one reason for the “demographic transition” all industrializing countries go through.)

    I remember in American history that some people were surprised by the fact that when most of the nation were farmers, there were no “farm programs.” For all the lionization of the farmer as the backbone of the country, “farm programs” weren't a big thing until farmers were a minority. And even though there are relatively fewer farmers all the time, the “farm programs” remain.

    But “farm programs” largely involve transfers from non-farmers to farmers. The more non-farmers there are and the richer they are, the more there is to transfer. When most everyone is a farmer, farm programs would pretty much have to be transfers from one group of farmers to another, and where's the fun in that?

    By the way: Here is a bit of Nebraska demographic trivia. Most Mexicans now coming to Nebraska, either legally or illegally, are coming from urban areas in Mexico, not rural ones.



     
    Senator Fristy

    She makes me laugh. My friend Madeleine Begun Kane, that is, writer of politically barbed song parodies. Here is her latest, directed at Bill Frist and sung to the tune of "Frosty The Snowman":

    Fristy the surgeon
    Was elected on the phone.
    With a White House boost got the Leader post.
    Will he throw Trent Lott a bone?

    Fristy the surgeon
    Made a mint from HCA.
    Rarely casts his vote for the common folk.
    Wants to be the Prez some day.

    There always is some magic
    When Karl Rove lays out his trap.
    He's guaranteed to get his way.
    Makes no difference what the flap. ...

    Fristy the surgeon
    Has a lot of dough it's true.
    He's a drug co.'s dream and makes health cos. beam.
    Votes a lot like you know who. ...

    Thumpety thump thump,
    Thumpety thump thump,
    Watch the heart man go.
    Thumpety thump thump,
    Thumpety thump thump,
    Running the Hill for Rove


    The full text is here.


    Tuesday, December 24
     
    Truce

    H.D.S. Greenway, a columnist for the Boston Globe, writes about the Christmas Truce of 1914, when Allied and Axis soldiers took a respite and shared a moment of Christmas Eve fraternity. The whole piece is worth reading, but one graf stood for me:

    In the French sector, Victor Granier of the Paris Opera sang ''Oh, Holy Night,'' and further down the line Walter Kirchoff of the Berlin Opera serenaded the French. It is said that the Muslim Algerians, under French command, were somewhat baffled at the lit trees but that the Garhwal Rifles from India were reminded of their own Hindu Diwali festival of lights.

    My best wishes to all who have visited this little corner of the blogosphere. A safe and happy holiday season to you all.



     
    Journey

    James J. Kilpatrick (known to many baby boomers as a once-prominent fixture on the old Point-Counterpoint feature on "60 Minutes") spent much of the 1950s propounding elaborate faux-constitutional arguments which he claimed the state of Virginia could use to block desegregation of its public schools. Kilpatrick, the then-editorial page editor of the Richmond News Leader, was dubbed the "father of interposition," referring to the constitutional theory he touted to buttress the continuance of white supremacy.

    Last weekend, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured an essay by the 82-year-old Kilpatrick titled "My journey from racism." He described what led to his eventual, though belated, rejection of segregationist thinking. Well worth reading.



     
    Limits to human perfection

    UPI columnist James C. Bennett gives voice to sound thinking in his latest essay. Jim writes:

    Including several types of conservatives and many libertarians, this broad movement seeks to act upon the last century's advances in understanding human society and action. This thought, particularly that based on the work of thinkers such as F.A. Hayek and Karl Popper, is profoundly anti-Utopian.

    It understands there are inherent limits to the ability of government or political action to create the perfect human society, or bring happiness to people, beyond very specific actions to remove particular causes of unhappiness. Rather than offering a perfect blueprint for society, as Marxism claimed to do, this thought offers rules of thumb suggested by a better understanding of society.

    One of the fundamental insights offered by this analysis is the limits of action by large, centralized bureaucracies, and the need for decentralization in strong civil societies. This in turn leads to a renewed appreciation of the original design of the American Constitution
    and the federalist framework the Founders chose for it. These brilliant insights had lain under-appreciated during the last century's Marxist domination of social thought. ...

    Genuine decentralism, or in the American context, genuine federalism, is not the defense of petty tyrannies against wider ones. It is the defense of civil society on all levels, of the state against the Federal, the community against the state, the group against the community, and the individual against the group. There are a variety of tools that may be used in this, and sometimes the power of the wider entity must be used to balance a smaller tyranny. Like many useful tools, such power must be used only with great caution, but sometimes it must be used never the less. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were written to provide such uses, and such cautions.

    Exactly. A resort to federal power can be justified in some cases, but that authority should be exercised with prudence and discretion, with an eye toward maintaining the proper overall balance between the various spheres of authority Jim describes.



     
    North Korea and nukes

    I've read two very worthwhile analyses today of the North Korean nuclear situations: a Washington Post piece that talks about the broader considerations of the nuclear proliferation issue, and a long piece by proliferation specialist Henry Sokolski.

    The Post article explains, among other things, about how it is considerably easier to hide uranium enrichment activities than nuclear facilities that produce plutonium:

    Strikingly, both North Korea and Iran managed to fool Western spy satellites by apparently choosing uranium as their fissile material. European technology for enriching uranium for bombs has spread globally in recent years. The technology requires less production space and thus is easier to conceal, weapons experts and intelligence officials say.

    "With plutonium you have big production reactors and lots of signs and signals that give you away," said Rose Gottemoeller, formerly deputy undersecretary for defense nuclear non-proliferation in the Department of Energy and now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It is possible to build a uranium plant without giving off any signals to the outside world."

    In addition, both countries appear to be benefiting from relationships with other countries that possess nuclear know-how and are increasingly willing to share it, weapons experts said.

    Sokolski's piece provides a fine overview both of the background and of the options available to the United States. "By 2008," he writes, "Pyongyang's uranium enrichment program alone might enable it to produce as many as 30 bombs."

    He spells out the potential for an arms race in Northeast Asia, saying that not only South Korea but Japan might consider joining the nuclear club. China might then boost its number of nuclear missiles, he says.

    The United States, he says, should approach North Korea's neighbors about using their economic clout and diplomatic pressure on the regime in Pyongyang.

    Speaking of Korea, I enjoyed an answer Donald Rumsfeld gave this week during a Pentagon briefing:

    Q: Is our rhetoric in any way responsible for pushing them to the point where they feel like they have -- the only option that they have is to pull these restrictions off and start going down a road again of building nuclear weapons?

    Rumsfeld: That's an interesting question. One of those, like, "Stop me before I kill again"? (Laughter.) That type of thing? I mean, really, their actions are result of decisions by the leadership of the country. The leadership of the country is currently repressing its people, starving its people, has large numbers of its people in concentration camps, driving people to try to leave the country through China and other methods, starving these people. ...

    It is a government that has made a whole host of decisions that have nothing to do with us. ... If you look at a picture from the sky of the Korean Peninsula at night, South Korea is filled with lights and energy and vitality and a booming economy; North Korea is dark.
    It is a tragedy what's being done in that country. And the suggestion that it is a result of rhetoric from outside I think is -- misses the point.

    Incidentally, Rumsfeld said in that press conference that the United States will consider closing some of its overseas military bases as well as stateside ones in the next round of base closings.

    Finally, it should be pointed out that the threat from North Korea isn't just from nuclear weapons. In August, Under Secretary of State John Bolton said in a speech in Seoul that North Korea has "an active program" of chemical weapons as well as "one of the most robust bioweapons programs on Earth."



     
    Unfairness, race and social choices

    I've mentioned Gary Farber's observations about affirmative action. Kevin Drum addresses the same topic at the always interesting CalPundit. Among Kevin's points:

    I simply don't understand how Bill Bennett can write 2,000 words about the mote of one white woman who can't get into her top choice of university while utterly ignoring the beam of racism that destroys millions of black lives to this day. Of course affirmative action is unfair to some whites. But given the continuing existence of racism in America, the lack of affirmative action is unfair to blacks. So which unfairness do you pick?

    There is no perfect solution, but anyone who believes that affirmative action is wrong is morally obligated to acknowledge that racism still exists and to explain what they would replace affirmative action with. But Bill Bennett doesn't. For a guy who has practically made an industry out of lecturing America about virtue, he seems to have precious little appreciation of what true virtue is.



     
    More on the 'reptile mind'

    Responding to my post below about the "reptile mind," Aaron Armitage offers a splendid observation on the topic at his blog Calvinist Libertarians.




     
    Upcoming

    I have some good stuff on North Korea I intend to post later today (Tuesday), but for the moment I'm out of time. Blogging will be light this week.



     
    False mirror

    Gary Farber of Amygdala (congratulations on his recent links from InstaPundit and Atrios) writes me that he has a different take on the affirmative action discussion than John Rosenberg, whom Gary says is committing the “False Mirror Fallacy”:

    Certainly the debate about the pros versus cons of using consideration of “race” to attempt to make up for past racism is an entirely valid discussion, and a topic which I have both mildly complicated opinions about, and which aren't set in stone. But it’s always false to imply or state that conditions are identical for a majority and a minority and that each must be considered as if they were in identical circumstances, or that acts from one have equal consequences as the other, because all that’s demonstrably, in many cases, false.

    For instance, of course “black” people can be racist to “white” people, and many are, just as many “whites” are to “blacks.” But the cumulative effect of a majority, powerful, ruling, class discriminating against a weak, poor, minority, brings an entirely different level of harm than vice versa. Yes?

    So whether “liberal racial preferences” are wise policy or not is an entirely valid discussion, but that they “are different because they are meant to include and not exclude” seems indisputable to me. Actually, it’s not that they are “meant to include and not exclude” that per se makes them significantly different, but that, yes, a preference for a minority is obvious different than a preference for a majority, and has a differing, non-equal, consequence. Again, that doesn't mean that either is necessarily good policy, at least, certainly, universally.

    Oh, and this line you quoted from a good friend: “here are few black people being discriminated against ....” That astonished me, and, I'm sorry, I find it hard to believe your friend has a couple of dozen, or even a dozen, “black” friends, who have told him this. This is simply not congruent with the testimony of any given 19 out of 20 “black” people I've ever spoken with on the topic, nor in the least congruent with my own observations of how “black” people are often treated, or how many “white” people unconsciously go out of their way to carefully identify who is “black” and “white.”




     
    Prophets

    Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping, who is a Methodist minister in addition to being a retired Army officer, links to a recent post of mine and analyzes points raised in Norman Podhoretz's new book about the Old Testament prophets.

    Among Don's observations:

    I agree with his point, but I disagree that this is news. In my seminary and personal studies I never heard or concluded that the prophets of the Jewish scriptures were predicting Christianity or the Church. There were substantial prophecies of a Messiah, but Christians and Jews have not agreed on what or who exactly was being prophesied, and neither have modern scholars.

    Don explains scriptural interpretation with the same clarity and precision he brings to his analyses of military affairs. Impressive.



    Sunday, December 22
     
    A dark side of the ’50s

    The frequent mention of Trent Lott and the Council of Conservative Citizens led me to see what historian Numan V. Bartley had to say, in his book “The New South: 1945-1980,” about the formation in the 1950s of the white citizens councils, the forerunners of the CCC. He wrote:

    By the time of the Montgomery bus boycott, the councils had become a formidable force. Organizers had their greatest success in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Virginia. ... At the peak, Citizens’ Councils and allied bodies enrolled as many as a quarter million white southerners.

    ... An FBI investigation caused J. Edgar Hoover to wax enthusiastic: “The membership of these organizations reflects bankers, lawyers, doctors, state legislators and industrialists. In short, their membership includes some of the leading citizens of the South.” Recruiters for the councils spoke before the Rotary, Lions, Civitans, and Kiwanis, and the councils’ officers worked closely with such patriotic groups as the Daughters of the American Revolution and the American Legion. The councils rejected violence, presented their movement as a “responsible” alternative to the Ku Klux Klan, and attempted to attract a “respectable” membership. ...
    Council leaders and other massive-resistance spokesmen harangued ceaselessly about the dangers of “intermarriage,” “miscegenation,” and “mongrelization.” ...

    The Citizens’ Council systematically attempted to suppress dissent at home. [W.J. Cash, in his book “The Mind of the South,” had termed such a long-time Southern habit “the savage ideal.” -- GS] They employed economic intimidation as a form of suasion when African Americans supported desegregation, voted, or otherwise forgot their place. A council leader in Alabama was blunt: “We intend to make it difficult, if not impossible, for a Negro who advocates desegregation to fine and hold a job, get credit, or renew a mortgage.”


    Bartley’s well-done account (part of LSU Press’s landmark multi-volume history of the South) notes many other interesting if sobering aspects of developments in the ’50s:

  • The ultimately unsuccessful efforts by populist Governors Earl Long of Louisiana and “Big Jim” Folsom of Alabama to distance themselves from the race issue. (After his first election, to indicate his appreciation for black support, Folsom held a well-attended inaugural ball for blacks.)

  • The FBI’s ludicrous claims, touted by some Southern politicians, that racial frictions were in large measure being stirred up by communist homosexuals.

  • The surprising fact that, prior to the volcanic clash over desegregation at Little Rock’s Central High School, Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had been known not for defending segregation (he had tried to avoid the race issue) but for economic development initiatives and good-government reforms. When he eventually found that he would have to take side, Faubus decided to use state power on the side of segregation. (The opposite, incidentally, of events in Tennessee, where one governor used state police and National Guard troops to ensure desegregation at a high school in the east Tennessee town of Clinton.)



  • Friday, December 20
     
    Joe Lieberman, Democrats and anti-Semites

    Lieberman is raring to jump into the presidential contest, according to a story in the New Haven Register this week:

    There is a new edge to Joe Lieberman's voice, a barely constrained exhilaration.

    Just four days after Al Gore announced he will not run for president in 2004, Connecticut's junior senator was sounding like a fairly confident presidential candidate Thursday, even though he's yet to formally announce his intentions.

    "It's feasible and plausible that I can win (the presidency)," Lieberman said in an interview. "Am I as prepared as anyone could be to hold this awesome job? I think the answer is yes."

    Lieberman, of New Haven, has been saying for months that he'll "probably" run, and he insisted this week that he won't make a final announcement until early January. But with every sentence, his future plans seem more like a foregone conclusion.

    As for analysis on Lieberman’s prospects, the article says:

    Selecting Lieberman as their standard bearer in 2004 would give Democrats a candidate who has aligned himself with Bush on several key issues like Iraq and the bulk of the homeland security debate.

    Lieberman's answer to that Thursday was, "I am what I am."

    And that hints at an election strategy that will focus on independent voters and Democrats who don't normally vote in primaries.

    "They're counting on getting other Democrats out to vote, ones that are not traditionally primary voters," said one Capitol Hill strategist close to the issue.

    Southern Connecticut State University professor Arthur Paulson said Lieberman won't have the moderate column all to himself. Several other Democrats eyeing the presidency -- including Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and Sen. John Edwards, D-S.C. -- would also compete for the moderate vote, he said.

    In one poll among New York Democrats, Lieberman enjoyed a strong majority, the article says.

    Which raises two questions: If Lieberman runs, will the publisher of the New York Amsterdam, a black weekly newspaper, run a grossly anti-Semitic screed against him, the same way the publisher did in August 2000 after Lieberman’s selection as Al Gore’s running mate? And, unlike 2000, would Democratic leaders and liberal activists come forward in large numbers to denounce such blatant prejudice?

    In the wake of the Trent Lott debacle, Republicans are no doubt fired up to leap on the slightest indication that Democrats and liberals are failing to speak out against prejudice within their own ranks.
    By the way: What did the Amsterdam News say about Lieberman's selection in 2000?

    “It's the money stupid,” wrote publisher Wilbert A. Tatum in an editorial. “The Gore camp went out all over the world to Jews of means: You've got to show me the money. When you do, one of yours will be given the second spot on the ticket.”

    This section of a Tony Snow commentary from August 2000 is especially interesting in light of the Lott affair:

    Meanwhile, back in New York, the Amsterdam News was running an editorial that accused Gore of selecting Lieberman for the money: “Jews from all over the world ... will be sending bundles of money. ... America is being sold to the highest bidder.”

    The very Democrats who blasted George W. Bush for speaking at Bob Jones University turned suddenly silent, afraid to condemn an anti-Semitic screed in a Harlem newspaper.

    For an illustration, consider this Newsmax item of Aug. 17, 2000:

    California congresswoman Maxine Waters refused to condemn an anti-Semitic attack by a leading black newspaper on Jewish vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman, saying she doesn't want to be diverted from more important issues like affirmative action and education vouchers.

    “I don't want to cloud my issues right now with any talk about -- any questions about anti-Semitism,” Waters told WLIB-NY radio Thursday morning.

    “That's not the issue,” she added. “I think the issues have to do with where are we going and what is good for the black community and where does this Democratic Party stand.”

    Waters was asked about an editorial attacking Lieberman that appears in New York City's Amsterdam News for a second time this week, claiming that “Gore and his minions” picked the Connecticut senator for the second spot on the ticket “for the money.”

    Given the events involving Lott over the past two weeks, it’s hard to see how Republicans would let Waters and other Democrats get a pass if -- when -- a similar situation arises.

    Is Al Sharpton still planning on running for president? If so, in the wake of the Lott controversy, right-wingers will be demanding, understandably, that he be held to account for the Tawana Brawley demagoguery. They'll also insist that Democratic officeholders not be allowed to dodge that part of Sharpton's past. The Lott affair has changed the ritual for such situations, ratcheting up the expectations for scrutiny as well as the level of partisan feverishness.

    One more thing: Lieberman, to his great credit, was a Freedom Rider in the '60s. But as a senator he used to vote against affirmative action -- shouldn't that automatically brand him as a racist, if the rhetoric of some liberal commentators in recent days is to be taken seriously?

    Update: John Rosenberg explores a variety of tangents on this and related issues at his blog Discriminations. Some examples: here, here and here.





     
    Comeback

    In all the world, there are only 3,500 Gunnison sage grouse. The birds’ habitat has shrunk so that it includes only southwestern Colorado plus parts of Utah. As a result, the grouse is listed as an endangered species.

    Yet, the grouse is expected to make a comeback in the near future due to a recent event that humans rightly consider a catastrophe: The Burn Canyon Fire, which was started by a lightning strike and burned 33,000 acres in Colorado last July, has created conditions favorable to the grouse. The state Bureau of Land Management is reseeding with appropriate grasses a 2,100-acre area said to be a fine site for sage grouse habitat.

    Out of disaster comes renewal. A familiar story in the West.



     
    Understanding The Old Testament prophets

    From a review in National Review of Norman Podhoretz’s new book, “The Prophets: Who They Were, What They Are”:

    To the Christians in the first example and the secularists in the second, Norman Podhoretz says: Not so fast. The prophets have their own message, which deserves to be heard and understood in its own integrity before being appropriated in the service of other agendas, no matter how apparently noble.

    ... They [the Hebrew prophets] were, he concludes, not chiefly interested in predicting Christianity, or in propagandizing for secular social justice; they were, rather, engaged in a very this-worldly struggle against the particular challenges of idolatry in their own time and place.

    Podhoretz's training as a literary critic is evident in the seriousness and sensitivity with which he examines the Biblical texts. His response to those who see the "Immanu-el" passage (Isaiah 7:14) as a prophecy of the virgin birth is a case in point. He notes that the Hebrew uses the word ha-almah, "young woman."

    The problem is that the word for virgin in Hebrew is b'tulah, and since that very word appears twice within the first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah (and twice more in Chapters 40-66), it seems highly unlikely that the author or editor of 7:14, whoever he may have been, would not have used it here if what he had wanted to say was "virgin."

    Similarly, in arguing against the secular messianists who seek to build the peaceable kingdom without reference to God, Podhoretz pays close attention to the Scriptural contexts from which their favorite passages have been ripped. The swords being beaten into plowshares, the lions lying down with lambs, and so on all coexist with the harshest of rebukes to idolaters and the bloodiest analyses of real-life power politics.

    The same chapter of Micah that tells us about the nations never learning war again (4:3) also proclaims, a few lines farther down, that God "will make your horn iron and your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples, and shall devote their gain to the Lord, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth" (4:13).

    Combining the two passages -- as Micah or his editors actually did, by putting them so close together in the first place -- we see a prophetic vision of a world at peace because bloody war has been fought and won on behalf of the Lord. It is a vision of peace through strength ...

    He writes that the message of the prophets has not been appropriately "transcended" and universalized in the religious sphere by the Christians, nor in the geopolitical sphere by the secularists; it has, rather, been misunderstood and mangled in both cases. But it would be wrong to view this important work as primarily a polemic against these adversaries.

    When I e-mailed a copy of the review to a good friend (a devout Christian), he responded:

    That's very interesting.

    But it is Jesus Himself who claims the prophecy of Isaiah, so the reviewer isn't going to find much agreement among Christians about the prophetic character of the book:

    Luke 4:17

    "He was handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

    'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has annointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.'

    "Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them"

    'Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.'

    As further proof that Jesus knew the implication of what he was saying, the people in the synagogue became very angry and drove him out of town and up to a cliff where they planned to throw him down.

    "But he passed through the midst of them and went away."




     
    A cheap shot from E.J. Dionne

    Dionne, normally a decent-minded liberal, presents an argument today that ought to be beneath him.

    Dixiecrats, he correctly points out, supported states’ rights in 1948 as part of their segregationist agenda. Therefore, he claims, a particular taint ought to hang over anyone today who stands up for the prerogatives of state governments against federal activism. The intellectual linkage, he argues, between the Dixiecrats and the boosters of federalism today is damning.

    Such a claim is at best illogical and at worst demagogic.

    Here is how Dionne expresses it in his column today:

    In all the denunciations of Sen. Trent Lott's after-the-fact endorsement of Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign, almost no one is talking about the principle on which Thurmond based his defense of segregation. The principle was states' rights. ...

    It was Goldwater's campaign, of course, that began the era of the Republican South. Post-Goldwater Republicanism swept in millions of States' Rights Democrats, as Thurmond's supporters called themselves, including an ambitious young Mississippian named Trent Lott. Goldwater carried only six states in 1964: South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and Arizona. The first four of these had been the only states to vote for Thurmond in 1948. Apropos of some of Lott's comments, the overlap did not occur because Goldwater and Thurmond shared some views on national defense. At issue were civil rights -- and states' rights.

    ... Lott's Republican critics who share his states' rights views on many contemporary matters need to explain why states' rights doctrines that were so wrong as a general proposition in 1948 are right today. If the federal government was right to overturn states' rights in defense of African Americans, why is it wrong now to view states' rights with a degree of suspicion and to continue to see the federal government as a bulwark for individual rights? Even if Lott is hustled off the stage, the question will still haunt his party.

    Dionne is peddling a remarkable guilt-by-association argument: Because Dixiecrats sought to promote immoral ends in 1948 by exploiting the constitutional limits on the federal government’s power, conservatives and libertarians today should be considered suspect if they dare take up the defense of federalism.

    In this way, Dionne attempts to abruptly shrink the bounds of acceptable debate on federal action. By asserting a damning intellectual bond between Dixiecrat segregationists and present-day defenders of federalism, he tries to transform one of the Rehnquist court’s central achievements -- the reining in of congressional and regulatory overreaching -- into something nefarious and morally unsavory.

    Yes, the South Carolina v. Katzenbach decision, which found the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to be constitutionally sound, was a laudable action by the Warren court, even though it meant giving approval to federal intervention on an unprecedented scale. Indeed, reviving federal authority to enforce civil rights under the Civil War amendments was long overdue, given the enormity of injustice under the Jim Crow system.

    That doesn’t mean, however, that all forms of federal activism can be constitutionally justified. One doesn’t have to support moving the clock back to the 1850s when it comes federal-state relations to realize that years of sloppy constitutional analysis by federal courts allowed Congress and regulators to stretch the commerce and equal protection clauses to ludicrous lengths in order to rationalize excessive federal intervention in many areas of life. The Rehnquist court majority has rightly sought to set needed parameters for such activism.

    Reasonable people can disagree on how broad or narrow those parameters should be. Dionne’s playing of the Dixiecrat card, however, tries to forestall debate altogether and leave the activist approach as the only legitimate option, constitutionally and morally.

    Such an argument is transparently opportunistic and intellectually irresponsible. To repeat: It ought to be beneath him.

    Update: John Rosenberg offers thoughts on my post and on the Dionne column.



     
    Room to disagree

    On the same point, many on the left (Juan Williams is one example, from comments he made on NPR last weekend) imply that the range of legitimate opinion on specific civil rights legislation is extremely narrow and that to oppose Ted Kennedy’s position on such measures automatically raises a red flag about one’s racial views.

    Such a contention rests on faulty logic, however. The range of legitimate opinion on major civil rights bills is considerable.

    I'm not saying Lott, in particular, was necessarily motivated by high-minded considerations of law when he voted against various bills. I am saying, though, that it's irresponsible to automatically label anyone as racist merely because he raises objections to particular points in civil rights legislation.

    John Rosenberg cites the example of the Civil Rights Act of 1990. With a title like that, only a racist would oppose it, right? Not necessarily, given that Stuart Taylor of The American Lawyer (whom John correctly characterizes as one “not normally thought of as a Lott-like racist”) wrote quite critically of one of the bill’s central provisions at the time:

    If enacted and enforced as written, the bill's disparate-impact provisions would create a powerful presumption that any employer with a work force in which minorities were significantly under-represented was guilty of racial discrimination.

    The bill would also make the burden of overcoming this presumption so heavy that it could pressure employers surreptitiously to use quotas to improve their statistics -- hiring and promoting racial minority-group members or women, as the case may be, on a preferential basis over equally or better qualified white males. ... [D]isparate-impact rules creating such pressure are strong and socially divisive medicine, and the new bill as written would administer too heavy a dose. [Legal Times, 2/12/1990, p. 21]

    To discuss such considerations, in other words, is to raise substantive points of law on which reasonable people ought to be able to disagree without stooping to slurs about each other's integrity.



    Thursday, December 19
     
    Reacting to Clinton

    Kevin Drum may not be a friend to the Republican cause, but his advice at CalPundit is sound in regard to how GOPers should react to Clinton's pronouncements on the Lott affair. As Kevin says, though, Republicans won't be able to heed his warning.

    By the way: At the moment, Blogspot permalinks aren't working for anyone tonight, as far as I can see. So, as an alternative you could to the main CalPundit address and scroll down to the post titled "Some free and 100% sincere advice."



     
    Brussels leaves no room for debate

    Great stuff in The Economist in an article titled “The Brussels consensus: Why subversive thoughts are frowned upon in the would-be capital of Europe”:

    American think-tanks revel in sharp ideological conflict and their occupants strive, sometimes too hard, to come up with the next “big idea.” Intellectual life in Brussels is different. An American academic familiar with its think-tanks calls the atmosphere “almost Soviet. It is as if they are afraid to work on something, unless the commission has decided that it should be on the agenda.” ...

    Brussels, of course, is not Europe. In EU countries you do encounter real and fundamental debates about the direction of Europe. ...

    One commission official comments: “You do get people with funny ideas arriving in Brussels sometimes, but they usually become house-trained pretty quickly.” ...

    The tendency to “go native” in Brussels extends well beyond officials and academics. Even the Brussels press corps is a pretty “on message” bunch, as becomes evident when its members venture out of Belgium en masse. On a press trip to Sweden in 2001, the Brussels scribes encountered a beast strange to them, Leif Pagrotsky, a cabinet minister — of a country that is a full EU member, after all — who seemed to be a Eurosceptic and who opposed the idea of Sweden adopting the single European currency. As the dinner conversation became increasingly heated, Mr Pagrotsky had a sudden insight: “I thought I was meeting journalists,” he said, “but it turns out that you are missionaries.”

    The power of the Brussels consensus means that the convention on the future of Europe, whose duty it is to rethink the European Union from first principles, is in fact conducting its debate within tight intellectual boundaries.

    The article concludes that the Eurocrats’ narrow focus, while understandable from a bureaucratic point of view, will harm the EU’s ability to establish a positive rapport with many Europeans. Exactly right.



     
    Atrios unmasked

    Max Sawicky reveals all at his blog.

    By the way: Maybe Sidney Blumenthal is the guiding force behind the site, but I would very surprised if he is the one actually doing the writing. The contrast is too great, it seems to me, between Atrios' snideness and the gracefulness and verve that characterized Blumenthal's writing a decade ago for The New Republic.



     
    A columnist’s counterfactual view

    James C. Bennett, foreign affairs columnist for UPI, saw my post below on my friend’s counterfactual scenario about the Civil War and wrote me to say the same Southern-victory possibility has long fascinated him, since it reconfigures the chain of events for North and South in so many ways. Jim writes:

    Most people writing about it seem to speculate as if America were in a vacuum at the time, which was of course not the case. Any independent CSA (it would no longer be the "South", of course -- Virginia would be the "North" of the CSA, and Florida would be its South) would have, sooner or later, come up against the demographic problems of slavery outlined by Freehling in “Road to Disunion.” These would be particularly aggravated if Virginia had not joined the Confederacy, which would have been the case if the Union had not resisted secession by force. In Rosenberg's case, the entire Upper South would have presumably remained with the Union, which he doesn't seem to take into consideration.

    The South Carolinians would be driven to either re-open the slave trade, and come into direct conflict with the Royal Navy, or try to annex Cuba, Santo Domingo, and Puerto Rico from Spain, as additional sources of slaves. The first case would have been a CSA loss; the second they probably could have won. However, it would only have postponed the inevitable, because the Hispano-Caribbean also depended on continued imports of slaves.

    We would also be looking at a divided continent with perpetual tensions over navigation of the Mississippi, border disputes in the West, differing Indian policies, etc. etc. In the above case, with the Lower South seceding and trying to continue the slave trade, we might have seen a USA-CSA war as early as 1865, but this time with the Royal Navy assisting the blockade, and Virginians mad as hell with the CSA over interference with Virginians from Wheeling (no West Virginia, remember) being hassled as they try to sail down the Mississippi to New Orleans. Probable USA commander: Robert E. Lee. He would have actually been a much more successful commander on the Union side; he learned warfare under Winfield Scott in Mexico, whose aggressive, on-the-go style was more appropriate to an invading army than one defending a position in a war of attrition. Prognosis: a shorter war than the factual one. Postwar scenario: possibly a more gradual emancipation, since the USA would have had less pressure for an Emancipation Proclamation.

    It makes an interesting mental picture, however: Lee in blue with his part-Virginian, part-Northern staff; HMS Warrior forcing the forts at Mobile with the USS Monitor at its side, ("I say, damn the bloody torpedoes, full speed ahead, lads!") and perhaps a regiment or two of Highlanders with pipers and kilts marching along with the Army of Southern Virginia.

    I discussed some further counterfactual tangents (possible political party dynamics in the postwar era, the postwar territorial rivalry between the Union and the Confederacy) with my friend who first raised the Southern-victory scenario. He had a most interesting speculation:

    Maybe a Southern victory would have motivated the north to abandon Washington altogether. After all, it was only an overgrown cow town anyhow back then. New Washington would have been built on the banks of the Mississippi, near the point where the states of Missouri, Iowa and Illinois come together!




    Wednesday, December 18
     
    Counterfactual: The Confederacy survives, limping toward catastrophe

    After reading John Rosenberg’s counterfactual description of Northern secession in the 1860s, a good friend of mine (a serious student of Southern history and culture, with great affection for the region) sent me a lively speculation on what might have followed had the South been able to maintain its independence (a not infrequent topic of historical conjecture, I know).

    My friend acknowledges that the scenario here, spun casually from his own musings today, is only one many possibilities. He writes:

    ... How long would slavery have lasted? (My guess -- no longer than the Great Depression, which would have completely destroyed the Southern economy and caused a “voluntary” liberation of the slaves.)

    Texas would have seceded from the South whenever the oil wells changed the economy. The South would have had a lot of trouble staying together politically -- anytime someone didn't like what was going on they would threaten to secede.

    Eventually the deep South would have become a police state run by thugs. There would be constant banana republic-style intervention in the South by the U.S.

    World War II would have given the U.S. a pretext for invading the South. Some Bilbo would have endorsed Hitler, and when Hitler declared war on the U.S., the country would have invaded the South in the interests of national security. The burning question at the end of WWII would be whether to set up a black republic in the remains of Mississippi and Alabama.

    When the U.S. finally got around to invading the South, it would have lasted about as long as the Gulf War. They would have been using cavalry to oppose tanks, just like the Poles in World War II. The invaders would have come into possession of a land in which nearly all the blacks and 60-70 percent of the whites would have been functionally illiterate. To paraphrase Mencken, you couldn't have found a decent toothbrush between Washington, D.C. and Atlanta.

    The postwar boom would have driven millions of these impoverished people north, and every Northern city would have its "Little Dixie." Down South, vote-buying and political corruption would have been rampant. In response, a constitutional amendment would be passed in 1947 giving the federal government explicit authority to depose state governments in the “formerly rebellious states,” and this would happen with great frequency. The Southern states would have no electoral votes and their representatives would have only observer status in the House and Senate. The repeal of these restrictions would be the constant object of Southern politicians.

    The “Great Society” push of the 1960s would have been to bring the South into the 20th century -- sort of an Appalachian project enacted over the entire South. Finally, in the mid-1970s, Southern states would have the opportunity to “rejoin” the nation by passing, with a two-thirds majority, an equal rights amendment to their state constitution banning discrimination against blacks. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Florida would immediately pass such amendments, followed a few years later by Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas.

    Alabama would practically have a mini-civil war over the issue, but would finally rejoin the union in 1984. Mississippi would continue to be under martial law.

    My friend adds:

    I forgot Louisiana. Since I'm making things up, let's say that during World War II the Cajun area declared its independence and became the rear bastion of Charles de Gaulle’s free French. The area remained a source of Anglo-French tension in the postwar era, with the Cajuns even given a symbolic seat in the Franch National Assembly. And who can forget that dramatic moment when De Gaulle shouted, “Vive l'Acadienne libre!” on his visit to New Orleans?

    It’s impossible for me to top all that.

    I will mention two thoughts:

  • (1) Without a Northern victory, would there have been a Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, with its guarantee of equal protection under the law? It’s hard to imagine 20th century constitutional development without that key part of the Constitution.

  • (2) In terms of economic development alone, the continuance of the Confederacy would have been a long-term disaster for the South. The defeat of Lincoln’s attempt to reunite the country would have emboldened the Southern planter elite -- yet that elite was singularly unsuited for guiding the region’s economic destiny.

    The rice planters of coastal South Carolina and the cotton barons of Mississippi often lacked an appreciation for industrialization and the entrepreneurial spirit. Indeed, over the generations many of them had demonstrated far more enthusiasm for the poker table and horse track rather than for the accounting tables and husbandry journals (which is why more than a few Southern estates passed out of the hands of the old elite and into those of the plantation overseers, who possessed a practical knowledge the owners often lacked).



  •  
    Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrats’ ‘square peg’

    The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a lengthy feature piece this week about the Dixiecrats, drawing on an interview with Kari Frederickson, a historian at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa who wrote a well-received book on the Dixiecrat movement.

    In the article by veteran reporter Elizabeth Mullener, Frederickson said that Thurmond didn’t pursue the nomination of the States’ Rights Party (the group’s official name), was considered a moderate within its ranks and quickly severed ties with the group once the presidential contest was decided.

    Of course, Thurmond went on to set a filibuster record in 1957 in his effort to derail a civil rights bill. And in attacking Truman in 1948, he had publicly praised the need for racial “purity.”

    From the article:

    ... Alarmed by the increasingly liberal tendencies of the national Democratic party, their traditional home, and by what they saw as its move away from its true mission to preserve states' rights, a group of Southern politicians in the summer of 1948 bucked the party and launched their own. "But let's not kid ourselves: The real spark was race," Frederickson said.

    What brought the issue to a head was a speech by Truman before Congress in February devoted solely to civil rights. In it he proposed legislation against lynching, against the poll tax, by which poor voters had been effectively disenfranchised, and in favor of a commission to outlaw discrimination in hiring when federal contracts were involved.

    "Truman was motivated by two things," Frederickson said. "First of all, humanity -- it's the right thing to do. And secondly, by politics. He and his advisers have calculated they need black urban votes to win the election in November."

    Reaction to the speech was immediate and dramatic. In an already scheduled meeting of Southern governors near Tallahassee a couple of weeks later, there was new talk of a third party. Thurmond, then governor of South Carolina, was the voice of moderation in the group. He quelled the revolt and suggested instead that they approach Truman and try to barter.

    But Truman would have none of it. He declined even to meet with them.

    That was it. The governors decided to go back to their states and feel out the party faithful about staging a revolution.

    In May they did just that, in Jackson, Miss., where they established the States' Rights Party. It was a rowdy gathering, full of Confederate flags, various renditions of "Dixie" and rousing denunciations of Truman. ...

    Thurmond was one of the primary lashers, delivering a blistering condemnation of Truman's plans:

    "Segregation laws are essential to the protection of racial integrity and purity of the white and Negro races alike," he said. "We know that their sudden removal would do great injury to the very people thought to be benefited." ...

    Thurmond was a reluctant standard-bearer for the Dixiecrats.

    At 46, he was nearly a generation younger than many of them and considered some members to be too extreme for his taste.

    "He was the square peg in this movement," Frederickson said. "His record as governor in South Carolina really stamped him as a moderate -- a law-and-order moderate."

    During his term, for instance, there was a notorious lynching in a neighboring state and Thurmond called from the beginning for swift and severe punishment of a crime he considered primitive. "For other Dixiecrats, lynching was not a big problem," Frederickson said.

    In his own state, Thurmond called for eliminating the poll tax and advocated minimum-wage laws. But he was solidly against a federal mandate for these purposes.

    And even on the subject of race he considered himself more enlightened than some of his fellow Dixiecrats.

    "He was not a classic race-baiter," she said. [Blogger John Smith had mentioned that point at the very start of the Lott/Dixiecrat flap, with this post.-- GS] "In fact, black South Carolinians received his election as governor with some hope in 1946. He was seen as something promising for the future."

    Nevertheless, when the Dixiecrats convened in Birmingham, Thurmond was their choice. At least their second choice.

    ... Thurmond had not planned to attend and, in fact, showed up halfway through the daylong gathering. But when offered the nomination, he accepted it, much to the surprise of some of his closest advisers.

    When the election was over in November, Thurmond didn't waste any time.

    "He was gone," Frederickson said. "He distanced himself from those people. He was done with them.

    "I don't think he regretted it because he got a lot of national press. And in the political culture of South Carolina, he was seen to be a man of principle.

    "But it became the defining element of his political persona -- the lone wolf, the maverick. He maintained that persona throughout his career." ...

    The Frederickson interview revealed useful nuances and details. A nice contribution to our understanding.




     
    Man of Reason

    I think I'll enjoy what new blogger Rick Henderson, a former editor at Reason, will have to say. He already has three things in common with me: He's a UNC-Chapel Hill alum, an editorial writer and a blogger. And he comes recommended by Virginia Postrel -- a big plus.



    Tuesday, December 17
     
    Northern secession counterfactual; Western resistance to black suffrage

    A great counterfactual scenario from the mid-19th century, as presented by John Rosenberg:

    what if Stephen Douglas's "popular sovereignty" had prevailed; both Kansas and Nebraska had both come into the Union as slave states, with the prospect of future slave states in the west based on the mining industry joining them later; and the fledgling Republican Party, seeing the North becoming a permanent minority, had led a secession movement?

    We know (this is not counterfactual) that the midwest states opposed the expansion of slavery in good part because they did not want blacks of any kind, slave or free, in their territory, and passed laws barring the immigration of free blacks.

    Lincoln once said that his primary loyalty was to preserving the union, that if he could do that by freeing all the slaves he would do it; if he could save it by freeing none of the slaves he would do that; or if he could save it by freeing some and leaving others enslaved he would also do that. Thus it is interesting to speculate what he would have done if it had been Illinois and the other free states that seceded from the union.

    Certainly if he had gone with his state he would have done so firmly in the conviction that he was being true to the principles of the Constitution and was no traitor.

    I can’t speak for the mindset in Midwestern and Western states during the 1850s and the Civil War years, but it is true that black suffrage was hardly a popular cause in Western states during Reconstruction.

    Congress required that Nebraska’s admittance into statehood in 1867 was contingent on the insertion of an equal suffrage clause into the Nebraska constitution. Nebraska’s legislature was empowered to perform that action, but considerable harrumphing arose among lawmakers critical of the requirement.

    Nebraska Republicans, by one historian’s description, “supported the change but with little enthusiasm.”

    Nebraska Democrats, as described in various newspaper editorials, complained that they were being coerced by an “unconstitutional usurpation.” They also bridled at what they characterized as an “invasion of the principles of States Rights and a dangerous encroachment upon the traditionary principles of our republican right to local self-government.”

    Democratic opposition to suffrage guarantees for black citizens was often outspoken in Plains and Western states in the late 19th century. Republican politicians in those regions by and large straddled the issue, given its lack of popularity.

    Observed historian Eugene Berwanger: “Minnesotans alone were to grant equal suffrage of their own volition but not before the question had been submitted to a public vote on three separate occasions. To the other western states and territories black suffrage was to come by direction of the federal government.”

    Consider the example of Nevada in the Reconstruction era. Again, Berwanger provides perspective: “While the predominantly Republican Nevada legislature was most ardent in its support congressional Reconstruction and pushed for national reform, its outlook was notably less generous at home. Consistently denying blacks the right to testify against whites, to vote, or to attend the same public schools as white children, its members spurned every attempt at revision of Nevada's anti-Negro laws.”

    A few decades later, in 1890, silver-state Republicans from Nevada and Colorado would provide crucial votes to block passage in the Senate of Henry Cabot Lodge’s “force bill,” a sort of precursor of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that would have used federal power to curtail the blatant vote fraud and intimidation used to stifle black voting in the South as the Jim Crow system began to take form and reveal its ruthlessness.




     
    Jefferson Davis’ U.S. Senate seat

    Among the things I learned from Newsweek’s cover story about Trent Lott’s experiences growing up:

    In the curious political culture of Mississippi, the cheerleading post had a storied past: the legendary John Stennis, Mississippi's longtime senator, had been one at Mississippi State, and Lott's future Senate colleague Thad Cochran cheered at Ole Miss four years before Lott.

    Who knew?

    The piece also points out that, despite what one might gather from Lott’s political experience, pandering to the neo-Confederates isn’t essential in getting elected in Mississippi these days. “You didn't have to whistle ‘Dixie’ in order to win anymore,” the article says. “Lott's colleague Thad Cochran did not.”

    Which reminds me of a Washington Post article from sometime in the ’90s about Mississippi politics. As I recall, the piece said that Mississippi has a tradition of sending one smart U.S. senator to Washington and one bumpkinish one. In recent times, the piece indicated, Cochran was considered in the former category and Lott in the latter.

    By the way: Trent Lott occupies the Mississippi U.S. Senate seat once held by Jefferson Davis.

    Davis held the seat from 1847 to 1851.

    On a more progressive note, the seat was occupied by Blanche K. Bruce, a Republican, from 1875 to 1881 -- the first black American to serve a full term in the Senate.

    On the other hand, for much of the 1930 and ’40s, the seat belonged to Theodore Bilbo, one of the most shameless of the old-style “Dixie Demagogues.”



     
    Iraq's Shiites

    Columnist Trudy Rubin makes interesting points in arguing that the Bush administration needs to nurture its relations with Iraq's Shiite community:

    In Iraq ... where Shia Muslims are 60 percent of the population and have been repressed by a Sunni minority, most of the Shia despise Saddam, and there is a chance to reverse those bad relations. That is the hope of Abdulmajid Al-Khoei, son of a leading ayatollah who died in 1992 after long persecution by the Iraqi regime. The al-Khoei Foundation, a large complex of schools, mosque and community center in North London, carries on the ayatollah's tradition of promoting separation of mosque and state while defending Shia rights and culture.

    "No one can give guarantees about post-Saddam Iraq, but we must try to break the misunderstanding'' between the United States and Shia Muslims, al-Khoei told me, as he prepared to hold a meeting of all Shia delegates to the London conference [of Iraqi dissident groups].

    The only official Iraqi Shiite organization attending the meeting was the Tehran-based Iraqi exile group, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Republic of Iraq. The name reflects SCIRI's past support for an Islamic state; it now says it supports democracy and risks Tehran's criticism by dealing with the United States. The Islamic Daawa party claims a similar shift and has met with U.S. officials, although the party skipped the conference.

    Maybe they tell truth; maybe they want to use and abuse democracy. But U.S. officials need to know more.

    ... this is the majority community in Iraq, with many clerics who support the al-Khoei tradition and others who claim support for free political life. Most of its leaders insist they are independent of Iran, with whom Iraq fought a bitter war.

    They aren't as easy for Americans to relate to as the Westernized liberals. But they offer the United States a chance to develop better relations with a key Muslim community that offsets the harsh Sunni Islamists prevalent in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

    This offer the Bush administration can't afford to ignore.

    Sounds right.



    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.